Welcome to Emberly

What do you do when you find out that you can do things other people can't do? Simple- you wait. Eventually, someone will show up on your doorstep, tell you that you're the Chosen One, and send you off on some mildly perilous quest to save the world.
At least, that's what the plot of every fantasy novel ever written tells you should happen. But sometimes, real life isn't quite as simple as the books you read, and when you've spent years waiting for destiny to come knocking on your door, the idea of being patient a moment longer can make you mad. The question, then, is this: when fate leaves you on your own with the power to change the world, what so you do?
Believe it or not, the answer to that one is just as simple.
You take matters into your own hands.

*FINALIST in Movella of the Year 2017!*

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20. Happy Birthday to Me

Eleven o’ clock. The milky fog beyond the school field’s back fence was so thick that Raegan couldn’t even see the city in the distance, and the white-and-grey cold pressed in on her from all directions, making the wideness of the world around her feel weirdly claustrophobic. Almost everyone else had opted to stay inside for break. She dumped herself onto the bench next to Evelyn and mumbled, “Hey.”

“Hi. How was, um…” Evelyn’s eyes went cloudy for a second before brightening again. “French?”

“It was shit.” Raegan spat out the last word with a bit more ferocity than she’d meant to, and, remembering what time it was, unzipped the front pocket of her bag and began fishing around inside. “How was Latin?” Her words were edged with scorn, but that wasn’t her fault. Who the fuck chose to study Latin anyway?

The pocket was empty.

Evelyn smiled. “Not too bad. We-”

Raegan stood up, grabbed her bag by the two bottom corners, and upended the contents onto the wet grass with a series of soft thuds. What fell out was two exercise books, one ragged textbook, an unreasonable number of snacks, and her pencil case. She shook the bag again. Nothing. She’d been sure that she had been missing something all bloody morning, and now, she knew what it was. The familiar, annoying-yet-comforting rattle of her pill bottle in her bag, jumping up and down as she walked.

“SHIT!” Raegan kicked the bench, only remembering exactly why this was a bad idea when her foot split the wood apart like it was paper, dislodging a good eight inches from the end of the seat with a vicious crunch. Anger welled up in the back of her throat. “Fuck! Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck!”

“What’s wrong, Raegan?”

Evelyn’s voice had taken on that soft, condescending tone she always used on Raegan, like she was talking to a kid who was throwing a tantrum. Raegan groaned and forced herself to sit back down. The broken chunk hung onto the seat next to her by a few splinters, jutting out from the end of the bench like a loose tooth. “I forgot to bring my fucking meds,” she moaned, smacking her hand into her forehead. “The fuck am I gonna do now?”

“Um…” Evelyn’s voice was annoyingly cool. “It probably doesn’t matter that much, right? I mean, it’s just for one day.”

“The fuck are you on, Ev?” Raegan spat. “I’m gonna die. Literally. I will die.”

Evelyn smiled. “I’m sure you-”

She never got a chance to finish her sentence, because at that moment, Mara appeared from nowhere and sat down next to her, saying a quiet “Hi” as she did so. Her voice was every bit as soft and innocent as it always was, and it sent a thin, hot shiver of hatred down Raegan’s spine. That sweet little smile wasn’t fooling anyone. Apart from Evelyn. Evelyn, Raegan knew, was way too trusting for her own good. It took Raegan a couple of seconds to realise that Mara had come alone, and a couple more on top of that to remember why that was a problem.

“Where’s Val?”

“Um…” Mara’s smile disappeared. “She just went to fetch something,” she said quietly. It sounded like a lie, but Raegan wasn’t about to question it. Her morning dose had been three full hours ago, but she wasn’t crazy enough to start a fight with the freak just yet.

“Uh, fetch what?” Raegan asked casually.

Mara blinked. “I dunno,” she said distantly.

A cheerful shout of, “Hey!” from a long way away caused Mara’s head to whip around so suddenly Raegan was surprised that she didn’t hear a crack. Valerie was walking towards the table with her red-and-silver balloon still clutched in her left hand, and Raegan’s stupid fucking brain, as usual, slowed everything down like it was a damned movie scene, making non-existent sunlight ripple in gold through Valerie’s hair as it bounced up and down on her shoulders. Because of this, Raegan barely noticed that the skin under her best friend’s eyes was red, raw, like she had been crying, or that her balloon string was knotted near the top, like it had been snipped and hastily tied back together. Valerie jumped up to sit on the tabletop. “How long’ve we got till we have to go down for the tests?” she asked.

Raegan unlocked her phone and checked the time. “Uh, it’s eleven fifteen that we have to be there, right?”

“Yep,” Evelyn said.

“We’ve only got, like, five minutes.”

Valerie stuck out her bottom lip. “Aw, rubbish,” she whined. “I don’t have time to open my presents.”

“What presents?” Raegan feigned a frown. “You mean, we were meant to buy you shit?”

Valerie smirked. “’Course you were, idiot. And it’d better be good. You’ve got to make up for last night, remember?”

Evelyn frowned. “What happened last night?”

Valerie looked expectantly at Raegan, and Raegan snorted. “What? I was just trying to be a supportive friend,” she sniggered.

“Piss off, you arsehole. You called me at midnight,” Valerie said indignantly. “I was trying to sleep.”

“I just wanted to be the first to wish you a happy birthday.”

“You screamed the birthday song down the phone. In the middle of the shitting night,” Valerie complained. “And it was out of tune. I thought my ears were gonna start bleeding, or something. You can’t sing for shit.”

Raegan snorted. “Rude.”

“Um…” Evelyn laughed. “D’you reckon we should go? We don’t want to be late.”

“Sure.” Valerie’s response was instantaneous. She jumped down from the tabletop, her balloon bouncing up and down in the air as she landed, and began to walk across the grey lawn towards the main building. Raegan followed suit. Her right hand was already beginning to clench and un-clench on its own, like it sometimes did when she was on the edge of a meltdown, and her heartbeat had moved from her chest to her throat. Focus, she ordered herself, clenching her hand into a fist so tightly that it shook. She took a deep breath, and the air was so cold it made her mouth hurt. I’m fucked, she thought.

Either I’m fucked, or everyone else is.

As Valerie flung open the door to the main building with such enthusiasm that it crashed back against the wall behind it, Raegan could practically feel her cool starting to slip away, like water down a drain, leaving her last few droplets of reason to rattle uselessly around in her empty head. Focus. Why was this happening so quickly? Oh, that was right- she’d missed her morning dose, too. Her mother had been yelling at her about something, something that had made her scream until her throat ached, and she’d stormed from the room in a huff, distracted. Raegan stepped into the echoing gloom of the school hall, pausing to hold the door for Evelyn and Mara. She barely heard Mara’s soft “Thank you” over the roar of panic that filled her head. She wasn’t meant to go three hours without a dose, and today, she had done four. Four hours. Or was it five? Raegan gritted her teeth and stood still for a second, pressing at her temples with her fingers like she was turning the focus wheel on one of those fancy cameras, forcing the world around her to sharpen. Focus.

She blinked, once, twice, and her vision steadied, painting itself with the browns and blacks of the assembly hall. The high-ceilinged, wood-panelled architecture of the place was probably supposed to make it look imposing, but in the grey autumnal light, it was just gloomy and depressing. The floor-to-ceiling windows that covered the far wall were the only windows in the school that were ever kept clean, but they still never seemed to let in any daylight; all they did was sketch pale parallelograms of light onto the cheap lino floor, filling the rest of the room with all the coldness of the world outside, none of the brightness. The dark figures she could see gathered at the far end of the hall were uniformed police. They had set up a little table piled high with papers and, weirdly, a white marquee-looking construction towards the back of the room. They weren’t dressed like Emberly’s standard police, either; they looked more like SWAT officers, with their bulky black uniforms, weird hard-hat looking headgear, and-

“Why the fuck do they have guns?” Valerie exclaimed, her voice shot through with an icy streak of panic.

Not all of them had guns- in fact, it was just the three on the end, all standing further back than the others, their stances relaxed. One of them had his foot up on the wall behind him, leaning back with a bored expression on his face. The weapons themselves were big, black, cumbersome things, each one held casually in two black-gloved hands. They looked fake, Raegan thought. Like something out of a video game.

“Don’t worry, girls,” said one of the unarmed men, side-stepping the table in front of him. His voice echoed thinly in the gloom. “My colleagues won’t be using those today, they’re just a precaution.” As he stepped forwards, Raegan could see something that looked suspiciously like the butt of a handgun sticking out of one of his trouser pockets. She frowned. It was common to see armed police around Emberly, but in a school? It was strange. “First of all, I’d like to say hello to you all. I’m Sergeant Davies, I’m in charge of this precinct of the city.” The four girls mumbled their hellos, and Davies continued. “Now, hopefully this won’t take too much time out of your day… I’d like you to come forward one by one, give my colleague here your name, and then step aside for the tests. There’ll be no needles, no scary machines, none of that, so I don’t want you to worry. We’ll just take a swab stick and swipe it along the inside of your cheek, and Bob’s your uncle. That okay?”

“Uh, sir?” Raegan raised her hand, feeling instantly dumb for doing so. “There’s one more guy in our group. He hasn’t showed up yet. Should we, uh, wait for him, or…”

“He’ll be along, I’m sure.” Davies smiled. “No harm in getting you four done in the meantime. Now, it doesn’t really matter who goes first, but…”

Evelyn stuck up her hand with a smile. “I will.”

“Great. What’s your name?”

In an attempt to drown out the crescendo of dread that was welling up in her head, Raegan forced herself to listen to every word that was being said. She was trying to tie her senses down to the real world, trying to stop the knives of panic that stabbed into her mind from cutting them loose.

“What’s your name?”

“Evelyn.” A pause. Then, “With a Y. Not an I. Sorry.”

“Sorry, love.” A soft scratching sound. “Surname?”

At that moment, a frantic flurry of footsteps splattered the ground behind them, and Raegan turned around just as Dylan skidded to a stop next to her, panting like he’d just run a marathon and, as usual, looking just as pleased with himself as someone who had. “Sorry… I’m… Late…” Each word was its own sentence, his pained gasps forming perfect full-stops between them.

Davies looked up from the book he had begun to read and smiled good-naturedly. “Don’t worry about it, kid,” he said. “We’ve only just gotten started. Just wait in line with the girls.” Dylan nodded. Although his clothes were windswept, his rock-hard hairdo was still in perfect condition on top of his head. Raegan scowled down at him as he took his place at the back of the line and pulled out his phone. She didn’t like him. At all.

“Sorry, Evelyn. Surname?”

“Taylor.” Another long pause.

“Um… With a Y?”

A light laugh from Evelyn. “Yeah. Yeah, that’s right.”

“Lovely. If you’d like to follow me in here…” He gestured towards the marquee. Raegan stared straight ahead, screwing her eyes up until only the slightest bit of light bled through, trying to focus on keeping herself still, but she couldn’t. Her hands were clutching at the air, both hands this time. She couldn’t stop them. Whenever she tried, her entire body would just start shaking, like she was resting her forehead against the window of a moving bus. Her thoughts were turning sharp, growing teeth and claws, gnawing and scraping at the inside of her skull like wild animals trying to scratch their way out of a cage. Valerie had her back to Raegan- she couldn’t help. Evelyn was stuck behind that canvas screen. Dylan’s face was hidden behind the ridiculously large screen of his smartphone. Three down. One left.

“Um, Raegan?” Mara stepped into view next to her, her thin little voice audibly shaking with every word. “Are you okay?”

Raegan couldn’t speak. If she opened her mouth, who knew what might come out? Screams, swear words, secrets. All of them were best kept locked up inside her head. All she could do was avoid Mara’s gaze and try to calm herself down, though now she thought about it, really thought about it, why the fuck should she be calm anyway? Sure, Evelyn had asked her nicely to keep the peace, but since when had she ever done as she was told? Never. Besides, she had every right to be angry. Especially with Mara, that slimy, skinny little piece of shit. Who the fuck did she think she was? Raegan didn’t know what she was, but she did know what Mara thought of herself. She thought that she was a god. Well, Raegan was going to show that empty-headed, lying little freak just how pathetic someone like her could be made to look in the right hands. Raegan wasn’t scared. The monsters in her head had eaten up all of her fear, ripped it up into bloody pieces and made it disappear. She wasn’t scared.

“Raegan…” Valerie’s voice was little more than a whisper, lost in the symphony of screams that filled Raegan’s mind. Mara was small. Raegan looked down at her, and in that moment, she wouldn’t have been able to tell anyone who asked what Mara’s face was doing, whether she was scared or smiling or oblivious, because everything was a blur. All that mattered was how tiny she looked, how insignificant she was.

“Raegan, stop it.”

Raegan took a step forwards, and Valerie screamed, properly screamed, and the scream seemed to have form, strength, slamming into Raegan with the force of a speeding car. Suddenly, the entire world was moving.

For a few seconds, she had no idea where she was. All she knew was that her hair was in her face and the air was slashing at her skin and her feet weren’t touching the ground anymore. Someone screamed- not Valerie, a short, sharp scream, laced with fear rather than anger. Mara. Why? The world was a whirlwind, sucking her deeper and deeper into its aching whiteout of darkness and light.

Then she heard glass shattering, and her back hit something hard, and she was falling. The fall felt like it lasted forever, and even as she fell, she could hear footsteps approaching her, frantic voices yelling her name. Well, Evelyn was yelling her name, anyway. Mara was just shrieking. Her screams sounded muffled, like she had her hand over her mouth, but the shrillness of them still made Raegan’s skull ache. Her feet hit the floor first and the rest of her body followed, crumpling to the ground all at once like an old ragdoll. She could feel pieces of glass poking at her skin; millions of tiny fragments were clinging to her neck beneath the collar of her shirt, reminding her of the little bits of sand that crept up under your clothes after a trip to the beach. They itched, but, of course, they didn’t hurt. Nothing did. Almost as soon as she landed, she was up again, hooking her hand around the base of the broken window to steady herself, dragging herself to her feet just as somebody flung their arms around her neck. As soon as she realised who it was- or, rather, who it wasn’t- she brushed their hands away from her shoulders with a dull “No.”

Evelyn retreated. Her face was as white as ice beneath the dark strands of hair that straggled free from her ponytail, and she was repeating over and over again in a whisper, “What… what…”

Raegan ignored her. She looked at Mara, who was standing back, nervously knotting her fingers together. “You…” Mara shook her head frantically, sending waves of light cascading down those dark curtains of hair. It was only then that Raegan noticed Dylan, standing a few feet away from her with his phone held up in front of him. Was he filming? Why the fuck would-

“No, Rae,” came a steady, empty voice from the other side of the room. Raegan hadn’t even thought to wonder why Valerie hadn’t run over to console her with the others. It was probably because she knew, from their chat a few days back, that Raegan would be totally fine. Yeah- that was probably it. For some reason, Valerie had been holding her left hand out towards Raegan, and she was only just starting to lower it now; Raegan could see her whole arm trembling as she brought it back to rest by her side. “It’s time to stop this,” Valerie muttered. She wiped her hand across her face, smearing black eyeliner down her cheeks, and turned to face the little group of police officers who had- Raegan noticed with a frown- only just started to move from their previous positions behind the table.

Then Valerie opened her mouth to speak again, and Raegan felt herself go so cold that she shivered.

“You might as well stop the tests,” Valerie said, “because it was me. Ashwell was me. It was all me.”

No.

Suddenly, Valerie had three guns pointed at her head, and the scary thing was, she didn’t even look bothered. Davies stepped towards her, digging his hand into his pocket. “What is your name?”

“Valerie Hunter. V-A-L-E…”

“I know the spelling. Valerie Hunter, you are under arrest. Anything you say after this point can and will be used against you, you have the right to remain silent…”

This wasn’t real. The words he was saying, they were taken from a movie script, they were a joke. They had to be. Valerie lifted her head and laughed bitterly. “I’ve never been too good at staying silent, Sergeant.”

“You are not required to.”

“What’s… what’s g-going on?” Evelyn, the smartest girl Raegan had ever met, was gasping and stuttering her way through the simplest of three-word sentences like a frightened kid. Out of the corner of her eye, Raegan saw Mara reach for her hand.

“So, uh…” Valerie took a deep breath and tossed her hair over her shoulder. “If I’m not required to shut the hell up, do you mind if I keep talking? Like, start a nice conversation? I feel like you guys are really nice to talk to.” She looked so small, standing there in her too-big blazer and school shirt, her tights laddered all the way up her legs above her old Doc Martens. “Y’know- once you get past all the scary outfits and big-ass guns and shit.”

“Put your hands on your head and turn around.”

Valerie shoved her hands deep into her blazer pockets. “So, did you dudes have a nice weekend? I did. I saw this one really cool movie. It was called-”

“Put your hands on your head!”

It wasn’t Davies who had spoken this time; it was one of the gunmen, and as he spoke, he pressed the butt of his weapon a little harder into his neck. He was obviously unnerved, and Raegan could tell that Valerie had noticed it. “Oh, I’m sorry, uh…” Valerie stood on tiptoe to read the badge pinned to the man’s pocket. “Johnson? I’m sorry, dude. I think there’s been a misunderstanding.”

Davies frowned, snapping his notebook shut in his hand. “You didn’t do it?”

“No, I did it,” Valerie said distantly. “It’s just, you’re acting like I’m turning myself in here. But the thing is, guys…” She smirked. “I don’t wanna go to jail.”

“Put your hands on your head, or we will shoot.”

Valerie laughed. “Aw, you guys are mean. Aren’t you at least gonna wish me a happy birthday before you, like, blow my brains out?”

“We’ll give you till zero. Three…”

Valerie took her hands out of her pockets and blew out a long sigh. “Well, happy motherfucking birthday to me,” she muttered irritably.

“Two…”

She took a deep breath. Raegan saw her eyes flick towards the door. Not the door that led outside; the door to the main corridor, with its permanent hustle and bustle of people coming and going. Was she really planning to make a break for it?

“One…”

Raegan snatched her hand away from her mouth and screamed, “Don’t let ‘em hurt you, Val!”

Why the hell had she said that?

Because I don’t believe it.

Not yet.

Valerie looked at Raegan, a grin forming on her lips. “Gotcha,” she said.

Then she took a deep breath, spun around, and ran.

The world was moving in slow motion, like it had glitched out somehow, like someone had hacked into it and fucked with the frame rate. Raegan watched Valerie run for the door, hair fanning out behind her, hand reaching for the door handle, even though she was nowhere near it. It was like watching somebody running through water. Why was everything moving so slowly? As she watched, she saw Valerie flick her hand out to the side, and the door swung open on its own. Raegan frowned. Was there a window open somewhere? The wind must have opened it, she told herself. Did she really believe that? Suddenly, Raegan realised why the world had slowed down for her; within the next fraction of a second, it wanted her to make a choice. Stay, or go. Accept the lies she was being told about her best friend, or run after her until she turned around and proved them true.

It was an easy decision, in the end. Valerie vanished through the door, and Raegan gritted her teeth, dug her heels into the ground, and launched herself after her.

She ran faster than she had ever run in her life, faster than she’d even thought it was possible for somebody to run. Valerie had a head start, but Raegan was faster. Much, much faster. She could hear footsteps on the ground behind her as the police gave chase, voices yelling for her to stop, stop, but that just made her go faster. Who the fuck were they to tell her what to do? Her footsteps were in time with her heartbeat; the faster she ran, the faster her blood pulsed through her head, making her stronger, sending electric waves of adrenaline shrieking through her body. Faster. The onlookers were shouting, too, but they were just a grey-and-black blur, painted onto the white wall behind them. She was already gasping for breath, not because she was running too fast, but because she was using every last scrap of oxygen in her lungs to yell Valerie’s name over and over and over again. Valerie wasn’t answering, but Raegan wasn’t going to give up on her, even if she had to scream until her throat bled.

Valerie vanished around the corner ahead of her. Around this corner, Raegan knew, was a dead end and a flight of stairs, but by the time she had rounded that corner herself, Valerie was nowhere to be seen. Raegan sprinted forwards and cleared the first dozen steps in one leap, not knowing or even caring how she’d done it, and as she did so, she frowned slightly, grabbing the banister to steady her landing and then using it to launch herself forwards again. Valerie couldn’t have run up all those stairs in one go, could she? Apparently, she had, because Raegan could see her vanishing into one of the top-floor classrooms, flinging the door shut behind her as she went. Raegan’s feet hit the landing and she paused for a second, gasping for breath in the cold daylight.

Up here, the walls were all glass, and the mist that pressed against them was so thick that it rendered the outside world utterly blank. She felt like a character in some open-world video game, someone who had run for so long that she had reached the end of the universe that had been programmed for her. When she was done admiring the scenery, she rushed over to the door Valerie had vanished through and grabbed hold of the handle, but before she had even started to turn it, it came away in her hand, leaving a jagged, tennis-ball-sized hole in the wood. Shocked, she dropped the thing, hearing it sing as it hit the floor. She was shaking again. She was losing it. Suddenly, she heard herself snarl, properly snarl, like a wild animal, and she was raising her right leg into the air and slamming it into the door, sending the rotten old thing crashing to the ground with a deafening boom. The room on the other side was startlingly dark, spilling shadows into the light-soaked corridor. She took a deep breath and stepped inside.

It didn’t take her long to find Valerie in the darkness; she was standing with her back to Raegan, facing the window despite the fact that the dark-green curtains were drawn almost all of the way across. Her silhouette was blurred around the edges, so it took Raegan a little while to realise that she was shivering slightly, bent as she was over the windowsill with her elbows resting on the ledge and her hands covering her face. She was crying. Raegan could hear her quiet, strangely childlike sobs shivering through the greenish gloom towards her. “Val?” She barely managed to choke out the name, stumbling across the room towards her best friend. Instead of hugging her, like she so badly wanted to, she grabbed Valerie’s wrist and used it to turn her around. “Val, look at me.” Valerie kept her head down. Her eyes were shut tight. “Val…” In the distance, she could hear the police starting to run up the stairs. They wouldn’t know which room Valerie had run into- this room was darkened, one of a half dozen disused classrooms on the corridor. Raegan kept hold of Valerie’s wrist and dragged her over to the doorway. Bending down, she hooked her free hand under the top edge of the door and lifted it back into the frame, hearing it clunk back into place when she aimed a kick at it. Valerie didn’t react to any of this, but Raegan could feel her arm shaking as she held it. She was shaking too. “Don’t worry, Val,” she mumbled. “I’ve bought us some time. They’re not gonna hurt you.” She sniffed. “Now, you’ve gotta tell me what’s going on, because I don’t…” She sniffed back tears. “I’ll believe anything, Val. So long as it’s you saying it. I know you wouldn’t lie to me. Go… go on.”

Everything she was saying was true. Valerie was the most important thing in her life, the only important thing in her life. Seeing her in the morning was the only thing she ever looked forward to, but Raegan didn’t really want to look at her now, because she wanted to know the truth, and she didn’t want something as stupid as feelings to get in the way of that, but she also knew that seeing her best friend cry would wipe her mind clear of all of that powerful anger, and that one look into the beautiful, familiar green of Valerie’s eyes would fill her empty head with the bullshit that being in love always did. Because of this, Raegan supposed, what she saw when Valerie finally lifted her head and opened her eyes was helpful, really, when she really thought about it. Valerie wasn’t crying; she was laughing, and each little giggle sent a violent spasm through her body.

And her eyes weren’t green anymore.

“I’m sorry, Rae,” she said, “but I’m gonna need you to let me go.”

“I…” Raegan lowered her head and shook it, slowly. She couldn’t feel her heartbeat. She couldn’t have breathed if she had tried. “I can’t,” she said simply.

Valerie smiled slightly, and Raegan could see that it wasn’t a wicked smile- it was an understanding one, weak and watery beneath the fiery glow of her eyes. “I’m not asking you to let me go in a metaphorical sense, Rae,” she said softly. “That’d be a pointless request, considering how attached you’ve let yourself get to me. But…” She nodded towards her own left hand, still clasped in Raegan’s right, and flexed her fingers. “Could you…”

“Oh, yeah.” Raegan’s voice was dead as she relaxed her grip, watching Valerie rub at her wrist with her other hand. When she was done, she held both hands up to her face, wriggling her fingers like she was trying to shake off a bout of pins and needles.

Then she smiled and said, “Oh yeah is right, dude.”

She wove her fingers together and thrust both palms upwards, and Raegan caught her breath as every single desk and chair in the room left the ground at once, crashing into the ceiling with a deafening whumph. Valerie nodded to herself. Her hands fell back to her sides, and the furniture collapsed back onto the carpet again. Raegan closed her eyes for a second, swallowing all the little sobs that threatened to shake her to pieces, telling herself over and over again, I won’t cry. I won’t cry. She could hear the police swarming the landing, bursting through doors one by one. Valerie was walking away from her. One swipe of her hand hurled the door aside, smashing it in two against the corner wall. Then she stepped towards the hole in the wall and cried, “Over here, losers!”

Instantly, the bright rectangle of the doorway was filled with dark figures, and Valerie was walking forwards into the light. Raegan dared to detach her hand from the windowsill it was grasping and move herself into the middle of the room, giving herself a better view of what was going on. “Hey, there you guys are!” Valerie’s voice was shockingly cheerful. “I was thinking you’d never catch up. Anyway, what were we talking about?” She paused, cocking her head to one side for a second, and Raegan found herself wondering what Valerie’s plan was. The corridor ahead of her was narrow, and the police were filling it up. A couple of them had produced handguns from their pockets and were pointing them at her with shaking hands. They’d probably seen the eyes. Raegan was impressed that they hadn’t run away already. She wished they had.

“Get down on the ground, kid! We don’t want to hurt-”

“Oh yeah, I remember!” Valerie put her hands on her hips. “We were talking about that cool movie I saw at the weekend, right? It was one of the Star Wars movies. I dunno which one. To be honest, I’ve always thought that they were all kind of the same. I guess that’s kind of an unpopular opinion, but what’re you guys gonna do? Like, shoot me extra hard, I guess. Anyway, this one had this really cool bit near the end where-”

“Get down on the-”

“Y’know, you guys are being awfully rude, interrupting me. As I was saying…” She took a step forwards and continued. “It had this one bit near the end, where Darth Vader was trying to get to the other end of this long-ass corridor, and there were a bunch of good guys with guns trying to stop him, and he kind of just…” She raised her left hand and curled her fingers, and the nearest man was lifted into the air, scrabbling at his throat with his fingers, kicking at the air with his feet. “Did that.” Then she threw him aside. “To all of ‘em.”

Raegan screamed suddenly as gunfire splintered the air, drilling into her head, smashing her thoughts into rainbow fragments that dug their sharp edges into the inside of her head. She shoved her fingers deep into her ears and let herself crumple, feeling the cheap carpet grating against her knees, then her elbows, then her forehead. She hugged herself tight in the darkness, because nobody else was coming to comfort her, and she couldn’t take this anymore. She wasn’t strong enough. For fuck’s sake- she was just a kid. She was a stupid little kid, and she wasn’t supposed to know what heartbreak felt like, or betrayal, or despair. She wasn’t supposed to be fighting monsters with blood-red eyes and familiar faces. It was all fucking ridiculous, and she needed it to stop.

The gunfire stopped, and the silence was so empty it made her ache as she pulled her hands away from her ears and stood, legs shaking beneath her, beginning to push herself towards the door. She wasn’t sure what she had expected to see upon stepping out into the light, but the scene that greeted her still made her go cold. Valerie was standing at the far end of the corridor, once again facing away from Raegan. The still, black-clad bodies of her assailants were everywhere, but there was no deformity, no blood. Raegan was careful to step between the puddles of clean, copper-coloured bullets that littered the floor beneath her. Valerie turned around. “Don’t worry,” she said dully. “They’re unconscious. Not dead.” Her eyes were still crimson holes, but their glow looked so much stranger in the stark light of the corridor. She raised her left hand with a smile. Where Raegan had grabbed her wrist, there was a purple, hand-shaped bruise, swollen and bright against the white skin of her arm. “Check it out, Rae. You really pack a punch, huh?”

“I… I’m sorry,” Raegan mumbled, sniffing back tears. Then, “I’m sorry! I swear, Val, I didn’t mean to. I… I’d never hurt you. Ever. I…”

Valerie’s smile disappeared. “If all of this is going where I think it’s going, Raegan, you might want to change that mindset.” Raegan said nothing, and Valerie sighed and continued. “That night in your room, you said something, like…” Valerie clicked her fingers again and again until she remembered what she wanted to say. “You told me that I should stop acting like I’m in a movie, didn’t you? Something along that vein. Because this is real life, and we don’t have to stick to a script, because we can make choices for ourselves. Right? Well, you were wrong, Raegan. This situation, this story that we’re all stuck in? It’s not gonna end our way. Doesn’t matter what we do. We’ve all been… typecast, I guess you’d call it. You’re just lucky that you get to be the good guy. Me, well, I guess I just got bored of being your wacky sidekick, y’know? In it for the lols, kinda shallow, you know the type.”

“You’re not shallow, Val.” What the hell was she saying?

Valerie laughed bitterly. “Not anymore, I’m not. I didn’t want to be the bad guy, but someone up there obviously did, ‘cause that’s how things have turned out,” she said. “It sucks.” She sighed, then forced her face into a grin and said, “Well, if you need me, I’ll be off making my evil plan somewhere.”

“Val, you don’t have to-”

“In the meantime, just…” Her smile dropped. “Just try and forget I ever existed. Makes things easier on you, right?” She shoved her hand upwards, and the skylight above her head shattered, showering her with a thousand jagged fragments of light.

Then, “You don’t deserve this, Rae,” she said quietly. “Nobody would. But especially you.”

Her feet left the ground, and Raegan screamed for her to stop until the tears ran down her cheeks, but it was too late. She was gone, swallowed up by the sky.

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