Intercepting Xander at Victoria Underground Station had been child’s play for the prince, but regardless, the agents who had been assigned to help him retrieve the traitor were rather incompetent. Though he would have rather worked with fey, the amount of iron at the station made that notion impossible. Having chased the traitor for nearly a week from Aberystwyth to London, the prince had come so close to capturing him, time and time again, just before inadvertently allowing him to slip through his fingers. But no more. Xander would be brought forth before the king to face judgement. It was the prince’s solemn duty to ensure it.
And yet, he was torn between his duty to his court and his loyalty to his friend— a friend who had betrayed their court.
As Ariel climbed the stairs to exit the Circle Line, he concentrated on pushing his senses outwards, feeling the strands of memories all around him, entangled together like a tapestry. He only needed the immediate memories of the past five minutes or so. There was little hope that Xander could have gone very far, injured as he was.
Images of a dishevelled young man running through a crowd of busy commuters passed through Ariel’s mind’s eye. It was still strange to see his long-time friend at all. In all the years he had known Xander, his body had always been unseen by everyone around him, including himself. The gifts of the Galatea came with a hefty price, and Xander had clearly grown tiresome of paying for it.
Filtering through all the memories in chronological order so that he could actually make sense of them was difficult. Not every mind was of use, and not every mind was quite as susceptible to Ariel’s probing. Some commuters with slightly stronger minds tried to fight him, giving themselves headaches in the process. Ariel had encountered people like this before, who seemed to do this more subconsciously than actively, but regardless, it was a futile attempt.
Following Xander’s trail was like following a ghost only he could see. Ariel located the exact turnstile he had used to exit the underground station, taking note of the blood smeared onto the oyster reader. He passed through the turnstile using an Oyster card, all the while scanning the memories of the commuters surrounding him.
At some point, one of the commuters had noticed a dark haired young man flicker before him, but had passed it off as some sort of hallucination, perhaps due to exhaustion. The young man had been clutching onto his stomach; a dark crimson stain appeared through his blue t-shirt. His jaw had been set stiff, perhaps to stop himself from groaning in agony, with his dark eyes darting through the crowd— presumably in search of any threats. And when he looked down at vanishing hands, he swore to himself and hid behind an arch. Ariel could only guess what he did next as no one in the crowd had seemed to notice the mysterious young man.
Out of leads, and running out of time, Ariel ran towards the arch he had last seen Xander hide behind. There was nothing to be seen.
Ariel walked around the arch to be certain and found himself step on something. All he could see beneath his foot was the dirty floor and yet it did not feel right. Ariel kicked at the floor and saw clothing beneath a sheet of Memory Blanket. It was a material akin to the idea an invisible cloak, only it did not grant the user invisibility so much as a high form of camouflage. Xander always kept some with him and the fact that he had so carelessly left it here for anyone to stumble upon meant that he was running out of ideas… or he was clueing Ariel in on his whereabouts.
The N9 bus that night was reasonably busy, with several people boarding the double decker bus towards Heathrow Airport. The cold nipped at Ariel’s exposed skin, but the adrenaline of the chase kept him from thinking of the pathetic summer weather.
“I wouldn’t advise boarding if I were you,” Ariel stated. A few of the people at the bus stop stared at him, wondering if he was addressing them. Despite their confused demeanours, they got on the bus, regardless, tapping their Oyster cards one at a time.
“And why is that?” A voice called out. Ariel quirked a smile. He knew Xander would not be able to resist asking.
“Because I have your companion, and because this must end, once and for all.”
There was a moment of silence and Ariel watched as the last passenger boarded the bus. He heard another footstep trail behind the passenger and Ariel stuck his foot out to stop the doors of the bus from closing. Ariel snatched an invisible wrist before the traitor could slip away, unnoticed.
“My apologies,” Ariel said, directing his words to the bus driver, but also meaning them for the invisible Galatea he was further injuring. He tapped his own Oyster card and headed up the stairs, with his captive in tow. “Speak with me for a while and I will give you something for your injury,” he whispered.
“And why should I trust you?” he asked.
“You shouldn’t. But you wouldn’t have left that clue if you didn’t think that the person you once trusted was still there.”
Xander did not reply to that, but he did at least stop struggling. They took a seat upstairs at the back of the bus, with Xander sat by the window.
“He’s dying, you know— the boy you knew when we were kids,” Ariel stated. “The one who wanted nothing more than to just be free. The one who swore every promise under the sun just so he could have at least one real friend.” Ariel felt a twinge of guilt as he realised that Xander and he will both creatures. Xander may have betrayed their court but Ariel knew that he was betraying someone far closer to his heart.
“Then save him,” Xander replied. “Leave the court with me.”
Ariel could not stifle the bitter laugh. “They would find me. I let you leave because I thought you might have a chance."
“So you finally admit it?”
"Yes, I do. But it was an illogical choice. You shouldn’t even have survived this long.”
“Well, as you might have realised, I had a bit of help.”
“And you will certainly need all the help you can get, but it will not come from me.”
“You can save your begging for someone who gives a damn. What I need to know right now, is how far you are willing to go to find out the truth. This isn’t just about all of us as individuals anymore. It is about all Galatea, living and deceased. What are the courts hiding from us and why? Would you be willing to put your life on the line for all our kind?"
"That is a cause I will gladly give my life for.”
“Good.” Ariel removed something from the pocket of his jacket and before Xander could get away, he plunged a syringe through his stomach. “I promised something for your wound if you spoke with me."
“G28-Dex? Yes. But this version is rather special. I designed it myself, and I do believe that your friend will be feeling the effects of it too. I suspect, of course, that she was stupid enough to attempt an escape plan. It’s non-lethal though, so be thankful… or don’t be. The symptoms are not very pleasant but it will heal your wounds. I wouldn’t want to deliver an old friend to the court completely battered and bruised like a rag doll.”
“You…” Xander started, but he was already losing coherence. That was due in part to his blood loss.
Ariel grasped Xander’s head, placing his thumbs by either side of his temple. Physical contact was not usually needed to weave the memories of others, but Xander was a fellow Galatea which made manipulating his memories somewhat more troublesome.
Ariel had made several modifications to the original G28-Dex formula, and one of them made sure that he would be enabled easy access to the minds of those he used his gifts on. It was almost impossible to use his Memory Weaving powers on another Galatea, but this serum would turn Xander’s mind into well malleable putty— or near enough.
Ariel felt the strands of memories that made up the tapestry that was Xander’s mind. Many of the memories he saw had been shared with him, such as childhood Christmases, even if the fey did not celebrate this occasion; winter and summer solstice— the only time when a hand full of the members of the Iabal court and the Ivbal Court could return to Faerie for a short while.
The King had sent Ariel to capture Xander in the hopes that their friendship could be used in order to ensnare Xander in a trap. Through it all, in the last few days, Ariel had used their friendship time and time again in order to do this, only to then again warn him so that he could evade the trap. The real trap, however, was the existence of their friendship. Ariel didn’t have what it took to erase his own memories of Xander, and considering how long they had known each other it was probably not even possible. But warping Xander’s own memories of him would be a kindness.
Ariel reached out to that memory not even a fortnight old. Xander was right to think that that person who could betray his court to be with his friend existed, but if he could do anything about it, Ariel was determined to ensure that Xander did not know he existed.
The night of Xander’s escape, Ariel had been on watch at the West Wing of the Iabal court. Not many people could have seen Xander, as camouflaged as he was to the point of invisibility, but in his haste to escape, he had triggered an alarm in the middle of the night. Though it was his duty to report Xander to the King, Ariel had turned the other way, allowing his friend to depart swiftly into the night with his debit card.
To Ariel, memories were like clay. They hardened over time, making them more difficult to alter. Paradoxically, the older a memory was, the less a person could actually remember of it in detail. But the mind was a strange thing.
Ariel began to shape the memory, contorting it so that it became something else entirely.
Ariel grabbed Xander’s wrist, twisting it so that he released his grip on the gun he held. The gun immediately became visible again once in Ariel’s possession. Xander always had trouble camouflaging other items, and although he could fool most people, Ariel noticed that the level of transparency around the barrel of the gun was not quite right.
"Reveal yourself,” Ariel demanded, pointing the gun at his friend.
“You’re not really going to shoot me,” he said. “You know this has been a long time coming. I was always going to leave this court, one way or another.”
"Xander, don’t make me your enemy.”
"You may have noticed that I hadn’t actually been pointing that gun at you to begin with,” Xander stated. “I know you fear the King’s wrath, and you have every right to. Just let me go this one time and we can call this even — I’ll never ask anything of you again.”
Ariel tensed his right hand, bringing his finger closer to the trigger. “You know that’s not true, Xander. If you leave, I’ll be forced to hunt you."
"If I let you capture me now, I will be charged with treason. Potentially, I’m a dead man anyway.”
“Not if you do as I say. I can still get you out of this."
"I don’t want to get out of this, I just wanted to get out of this court. I’m sick of being their slave — unappreciated, unloved, and undervalued." Whether consciously or accidentally, Xander’s clothes started appearing, ever so faintly. On missions, he always wore a specialised jumpsuit, tailored by the pixies in order to stay invisible at all times. At least now Ariel had a faint idea of Xander’s stance. He stood rigid, leaning slightly on his right leg, ready to strike at any time.
"And where will you go? Xander, you’re invisible!”
"Then it should be fairly simple for me to slip under their radar," he stated, taking a step back.
Ariel gave a warning shot, shooting at the floor beside his next step. Xander made a strangled sound, and despite the discomfort of having his friend fear him, Ariel did not lower the gun.
“Please Ariel," Xander stated. “Don’t do this.”
“You made your choice, now I must make mine." Ariel ejected the gun’s round, and dropped to the floor, bringing out his sword. He swung at Xander, aiming at his stomach. Xander dodged just in time, and grabbed Ariel’s wrist. Twisting it in a similar manoeuvre that Ariel had done to him before, he was unable to completely disarm him, but had enough time to bring out his own weapon. Ariel kicked Xander’s legs from underneath him, and Xander hit the ground. Pinning him to the floor with his foot on his chest, Ariel stared down at the shimmering suit, unable to see his friend’s facial expression — unable to see the fear he must have been feeling. For a moment he was paralysed and in that instant of uncertainty, Xander used it to strike. He plunged a needle through Ariel’s leg.
How Xander had acquired the drug was beyond him, but there was no doubting that the sharp shooting pain coursing up his leg was due to the effects of G28-Dex.
With one bullet and one serum, their friendship would be changed forever.
Ariel pulled away from Xander when he had completed his work and quicker than he could have imagined, Xander twisted Ariel’s arm behind his back, shoving his face towards the window.
"What have you done with her?” He demanded.
"We are taking her, and there isn’t a damn thing you can do about it."
“Is that a challenge?”
Although Ariel was starting to regret it slightly, this was what Xander needed. His friendship with Ariel could get him killed and he knew that he would not be able to live with himself if that were to happen. It was better that they would be enemies. There would be no more restraining and there would be no more mercy.