Your name is LIAM TIERNAN and you are HAVING THE TIME OF YOUR LIFE.
You’ve been powering through the HORDES OF UNDERLINGS in your path and rocketing up your ECHELADDER for your victories. You’re on your way to the LAND OF SNOW AND CRYSTALS with VITA HIROYUKI at your side. Even without the aid of your server player, you’ve found WAYS to get off the LAND OF BLAZE AND STONE.
You have discovered that you can BEND ENEMIES TO YOUR WILL, thanks to the CONTACT that messaged you the moment you entered the INCIPISHERE.
—reset rewind: 50 minutes ago—
—contemptuousCavalier [CC] began trolling adeptTraducer [AT]—
CC: Well Then.
CC: I Take It That You’re The ‘Of Mind’ For This Session.
CC: Is That Correct?
AT: whoa what
AT: who the hell are you?
CC: As Charming As My Session’s ‘Of Mind,’ I See.
AT: man you need to tell me who you are
AT: i think im gonna be busy here
CC: Oh, You Will Be.
CC: But We Need To Talk.
CC: Have You Been Contacted By Anyone Else?
AT: you mean by some random jackwagon like you?
CC: Excellent. I Got To You Before She Did.
AT: ok for real
AT: tell me who you are or imma block your ass
CC: Very Well.
CC: I Am Mahima Virote, Sylph Of Blood.
CC: I Am Contacting You In The Hopes That I Can Prevent Our ‘Of Mind’ From Negatively Influencing You.
CC: You Must Be On Your Guard Around AnlaceAgent.
CC: Devaki Rapoto.
CC: The Grand Highblood Of Our Generation.
CC: The Rogue of Mind.
CC: And My Kismesis.
AT: what the fuck
AT: at least youre a dedicated jackwagon
AT: you gave me a fake name and everything
CC: Excuse Me?
AT: yeah ok
AT: youre a good troll
AT: weird type and big damn story
AT: but i dont have time to get trolled
CC: I Will Inform You Now That Placing A Block On My Handle Will Accomplish Nothing.
CC: I Am Not Attempting To Troll You.
CC: I Am Making A Concentrated Effort To Help You.
AT: why am i supposed to believe that?
CC: Because Rapoto Is Going To Be The Cause Of Death For One Of Your Allies.
AT: youre a fucking liar
AT: no ones here other than us
AT: were alone and im going to make sure none of us die
AT: you fucking get me?
AT: dont you say shit like that
CC: Would That I Had The Powers Your Aspect Grants You, I Would Force You To Believe Me.
AT: you just turned into a shitty troll
CC: Based On How Upset You’re Getting, I’d Say I’m Being A Very Successful Troll.
CC: But That Is Not My Intent.
CC: Rapoto Is Going To Be The Death Of Your Seer Of Void.
CC: She Will Kill Amie Laurent.
CC: I Have The Means To See Future Events, And I Have Seen Laurent Die At Her Blade.
AT: what no
AT: theres no way you can see the fucking future
AT: Amies not gonna die
AT: fuck you
CC: Please Stop.
CC: I Want To Help You Stop Her.
AT: and why the fuck would you do that?
CC: She Is My Kismesis.
CC: I Hate Her To The Blackest Depths You Can Reach.
CC: Any Opportunity To Ruin A Plan Of Hers Is One I Will Take.
CC: You Can Accept My Help And Advice And Work To Save Your Friend.
CC: Or You Can Refuse And Allow Her To Die.
AT: school me
AT: what do i need to know?
CC: How To Tap Your Power As The ‘Of Mind.’
AT: thief of mind?
CC: You Are Her Countertype, Gifted With The Same Power.
CC: I Will Teach You Of The Mindgrip.
AT: mind control?
CC: Yes. But She Has Had This Power Since Birth.
CC: You Will Need To Train Extensively To Come Close To Being Able To Combat Her.
AT: nothing im better at than training my fucking ass off
CC: Excellent. Let’s Begin.
“What does it mean when the sky flashes?”
Hugh looked up from the designix, leaving his fingers on the keyboard. “What?”
“The sky flashed,” Amie said. “Twice, just a second ago. It looked like the sky changed colors.”
“Gold and green.”
He paused, but came away from the machine to stand at the floor’s edge beside her. He looked up, peering at the purple epicycloid forms above. They shifted in design lazily, turning as they went. The sky remained gray.
“I’m not sure,” he said. He looked down and his eyes widened. “Oh wow.”
“What?” She looked down and froze. Underlings were gathering in a swarm below: lumbering giants with armor on their shoulders, wide mouthed and long bodied creatures with swept back horns, and innumerable imps with both dog heads and masked faces. They drew in slowly, and those closest began to climb the walls.
“Which chisel do you have equipped right now?”
She pulled the hammer and chisel from her deck. The hammer’s head was colored in bright splatters of red, gold, and blue, and the chisel’s body was clear to show the dancing plasma within. “The Firestorm Chisel.”
“Fantastic.” He took out twin wrenches, colored in the same fanciful fashion as her hammer. “Jubilation Wrenches for me.”
“Wait, are you saying we’re going to strife? With all of them?”
“We’ve got no other choice.” He grinned and bumped his shoulder against hers. “C’mon, don’t you want to test that thing? You were so jazzed when you brought that plasma ball up and made me give you my fireworks card. It’ll be bitchin’.”
“But there’s a ton of them.”
“You beat an imp with just your normal chisel, remember? You’ll be fine. Besides,” he said as he twirled his wrenches in his fingers, “you’ve got a guy with ten levels on you at your side. We’ll kick ass.” He bounced on the balls of his feet, stepping to the very edge and looking at her. “Come on!”
Before she could respond or react, he reached back, grabbed her wrist, and pulled her with him when he jumped off the building. There wasn’t even a moment to scream, because a masked imp leaped from the wall with a drawn sword aimed toward her neck. A backhanded swing of the hammer made edge meet blunt force, and the spark of metal on metal she expected was replaced by a starry explosion that flung the imp back against the wall. Only a short distance more was passed in freefall; an ogre caught hold of her in the air. It brought her close and roared in her face, its mouth all gleaming white fangs. She jammed the chisel into the ogre’s hand and swung the hammer down. Another explosion cracked the stony carapace, letting the purple lightning that arced from the chisel into the flesh below. The ogre shrieked aloud and its hand convulsed around her. The tightened grip made her bones creak, and she slammed the hammer down three more times. With another shriek, the ogre ruptured, and she fell into the snow with the grist that was left behind.
It no longer a terrible thing to sink into the snow with the Wondertop and Frostjeans, and she was able to rush to her feet with the Fluffy High-tops protecting her toes. She dodged a throwing star and ran at the offending creature. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Hugh leap high into the air at a horned basilisk with his wrenches above his head. They cracked against the underling’s head as Amie drove her chisel into the imp’s chest. The explosion broke through the carapace, but the lightning spread to the small imps that had sprinted in and stunned them. Another pound at the imp sent a greater burst of lightning out, and as the basilisk shattered under Hugh’s wrenches, the imps broke apart.
Immediately, a new wave started toward them. Though she had thought she would tire within moments, unaccustomed to real strife as her arms were, a surge of strength washed down her body and let her jump at the next hound imp with a growing smile. Even when she was knocked down by a blow to the back, she returned to her feet and the fight without hesitation. As enemies were mowed down, ruined by wrenches and carved apart by a chisel, her speed increased. Her arms swung harder; her hands gripped tighter. Her breathing started to deepen. Her throat began to ache.
Amie kept battling. She felt the muscles in her right arm seize around the stitches; heat surged and spread into the bandages wrapped there. An ogre snatched her up, tossed her into the air, caught her by the legs, and hurled her into a cloud of imps. She rolled over a horned head and felt the sharp tips dig into her back before hitting the ground. Her body sprang up and her arms smashed the chisel into one imp and the hammer into another. The explosion rocked her in one direction, and the lightning made her fingers tingle. Without sensing anything behind her, she spun on her heel and jumped to a basilisk advancing on Hugh. He swung his wrenches down on its face and she hit the back of its skull with a full blown strike to the chisel.
They hit the ground at the same time, Hugh grinning madly. He lifted one hand, the wrench disappearing as he waited for a high five. The moment was ruined when he was tackled by a larger hound imp and she was jerked backward by an ogre. Before she could be fully thrown, the ogre roared and dropped her. She turned to see her sprite with his arms raised. In bursts of violet, chunks of granite were summoned and flung at the ogre. It rose to its feet with another howl, but a chunk crashed into its open mouth and returned it to the ground. She ran to it, meaning to strike its chest. Her legs launched her further, and the chisel sank into its glowing eye.
She wanted to reel back, wanted to stop, but her legs stood frozen. At a shrieking howl, she looked up. A hound imp was charging at her, panting with its tongue hanging out. Grimacing, she wanted to retreat; her legs remained frozen. Well before the imp could reach her with its outstretched arms, a ball ended chain whipped out, wrapped around it, and wrenched it to one side. She turned and found the same black-clad young man that had been on her screen nearly an hour ago. He pulled hard and swung the flaming sickle at the other end of the chain harder. The imp’s head parted from its body and the grist flew past him. He gave her a brief smirk before catching the ball and flinging it at a nearby ogre. It caught its horn, and he pulled himself from the ground when it was tightly wrapped.
Amie felt someone come to stand at her back, and she looked over her shoulder. At first, all she could see was the long, shining black hair of the person there. They turned, and she saw the broad smile on the taller woman’s face. It was a smile she had seen in many pictures sent with stories of trips and rallies, and she returned it instantly. The woman spun a wooden sword before her and started away with a cheerful laugh. With one more push that was not her own, Amie followed after her.
“Oh ow. Jesus, ow!”
“You big damn baby, hang on a minute.”
Amie went quiet, but grimaced as Vita rolled up her sleeve and peeled off the stained bandages. The stitches had popped and the skin had shorn; ragged edges of flesh still wept blood.
“Holy crap,” Vita muttered. “How hard were you swinging that thing around?”
“Enough to bust motherfuckin’ heads,” Liam said. Though he sat low in the chair, arms crossed over his chest, he gave her a grin. “Gotta give you props, strife-newbie. That was pretty awesome.”
“Here, hang on,” Hugh said. He had come back from the kitchen with clean towels in hand, and plucked something from his sylladex as he walked to the duo on the couch. He held out his hand, revealing a bright blue piece of hard candy. “Eat it. It’ll fix you up.”
“What is it?”
“Healing candy. It’s what Liam gave me when my leg was broken.” Vita folded the bandages haphazardly, setting them to one side on the floor. “Go on. It tastes fine, and it’ll heal everything by the time it’s gone.”
She grimaced again when she reached out to take the candy, but put it in her mouth dutifully as she took hold of the towels. Sitting back, tasting the cotton candy flavor spreading on her tongue, she pressed gently on the wound and sighed.
A long while of silence passed, tinged with awkwardness. When it was broken, it was with Hugh’s quiet voice saying, “Hey.”
“What?” Liam asked.
“Hey—look.” He smiled and straightened where he stood. “We’re all finally together. Years of chatting and this is the first time we’ve gotten to see each other in real life.” He turned to Amie and snickered. “You’re shorter than I thought you would be.”
“And you’re like a boxer for god’s sake,” Amie replied. A giggle of her own made its way from her mouth. “You’re this big square guy, man. No wonder you can kick so much ass with wrenches.”
“Hey, any sucker can wail on a guy with wrenches,” Liam said. “Takes fuckin’ skill to use a kusarigama and not take off your own head.”
“Is that seriously what it’s called?” Amie asked.
“Man, bite me. You gonna give Vita crap for her sword’s proper name being ‘bokken?’ I don’t think so.” He smirked. “At least we’ve got real weapons in our decks. You’ve got a chisel, for fuck’s sake. Next thing you know we’re gonna be sipping blends from your fancy cappuccino maker with our berets on, arty snob.”
Hugh and Amie both opened their mouths to reply, but their words were beaten to the air by Vita’s. “Actually, I know what we’re going to do next.”
“What’s that?” Liam asked.
She turned to Hugh, gaze calm. “You’re going to explain these dreams of yours. The ones that told you to make us play this insane game and blow up the world.”
Liam’s brows shot into his hairline. “What?” He sat up with a jerk, leaning toward Hugh. “Hey, is she serious? Did your dreams make you do that?”
“No.” He sighed, ran one hand through his hair, and started to pace. “Look, no. My dreams didn’t make me do anything. They don’t work like that. They—” He faltered in a step, heel digging into the floor. “Do you guys know anything about your dreams? Like if you ever had a dream that kept happening?”
“No, man,” Liam said. He sat back slowly, crossing his arms once more. “I don’t dream. Fuckin’ ever.”
“That’s crap,” Vita muttered. “You’ll go nuts if you don’t dream.”
“Okay then, smartass. What do you dream about?”
She paused, looking at the floor. “I don’t know. I just see colors. Bright ones.”
“That’s how my dreams started,” Hugh said. “It got brighter and brighter—and then I woke up.” He smiled, looking at the ceiling. “I really woke up in a dream, and I was in this gold room.” He began to pace again, but slowly. “I was on this whole different planet. I went outside, and there were a ton of white skinned people. Not even skin—they’ve got this hard skin like bugs. Like all the underlings we’ve been fighting. And I started seeing things in the clouds.”
Silence came paired with hard stares all round. He did not stop pacing because he did not look at them. “They aren’t around all the time. They only come around when the planet comes close to this bright blue star in the sky. But I’ve been seeing things for years.” He gestured vaguely. “They’re actually the reason I started messaging you guys. And that made me really happy, because you’re the best friends I’ve had. It’s the reason I’ve been dealing with my dad being...gone all the damn time. So, when they started showing me this game, I was really excited about getting into it.”
He grinned. “It was like—we could get away from all the stupid ass things our parents wanted us to do. My dad wants to go into business, but—but I want to be a leader, and here I am, Heir of Time. And you guys! We’re supposed to be heroes! We’re gonna be heroes! We’re this awesome team! My dreams always told me that!”
He stopped and turned to them, his smile growing smaller. “I knew you’d freak if I said the game was going to blast the hell out of the planet and we’d have to fight all these imps and stuff. And I knew you’d say no because—” He laughed. “Because who the fuck wants to be the last people from Earth and fighting all the time?
“So...so I’m sorry that I didn’t say anything about this. But I’m really, really sure that we can do this. Even if I don’t know what the fuck’s going to happen now with all these weird new underlings and—things that aren’t underlings and screwing with our game.”
He looked at Liam, blinking at the anger that twisted his face. “Huh?”
“What not-underlings?” he asked. “No one told me about these goddamn game fuckers. What’re they doin’ here?”
“They threw us off a roof,” Amie said. “Didn’t actually hurt, but it scared the hell out of me.”
“Okay, didn’t hurt you,” Hugh said. “My head still aches.”
“You. Got thrown off a roof.” He sat up and looked at the floor. He brought his hands together, clenching one fist in the other. “What’d that thing look like?”
She hesitated, but pointed her thumb over her shoulder at empty air. “Kinda like my sprite. Like a troll out of a story.”
His eyes flicked up to hers and held her gaze. She faltered at the way he stared, brows low and dark gold eyes steady. “You sure?”
“Well, yeah. She looked at me and smiled. I saw her—weird-ass candy-corn horns and everything.”
“Her. It was a chick.” He looked to the floor. Swiftly, he rose to his feet, jammed his hands in his jean pockets, and started toward the door.
“Liam—man, wait!” Hugh reached out to take Liam’s elbow in hand, but was thrown off in an instant. With a quick glance back, he followed the other man out the door and slammed it shut behind them.
A moment passed, and Vita asked, “What the hell was that about?”
Amie said nothing for a long while. She swallowed and took the towels from her arm. Her brows rose at the sight of clean, healed skin. “Wow. I didn’t think that’d really work.”
Vita sat back with a sigh, putting her hands behind her head. “I told you it fixed my leg.” She stared at the ceiling, a frown growing on her face. For a time, she tapped one foot on the floor. “What’s going on?”
“We’re in a freaky game with things that want to fucking eat us.” She shrugged. “Now there’s something that’s probably insane running around wanting to kill us even more.”
She looked at the shorter woman beside her from the corner of her eye. “You know that’s not what I’m talking about at all.”
With another sigh, she reached down to drum her fingers on Amie’s head. “So. Why’d Liam freak like that about that monster? He only got worried when he heard that it tossed you off the roof.”
“I don’t...really want to talk about it.”
“C’mon.” She rubbed at her hair and smiled. “I’m your best girlfriend. You can tell me whatever. What’s going on between you and Liam?”
“Can you get your hand off my head first?”
She curled her fingers back to her palm in a heartbeat and brought the loose fist behind her head again. “Oh. Sorry, I do that to everyone.”
“No, just kinda touch them.” She snickered. “I think I like petting people, though. Feels like I’m connecting more.” With a low exhale, she said, “I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable, sweetie.”
“It’s okay.” She pulled her feet off the floor and brought her legs to her chest. “My mom and I don’t really hug or anything, and it’s not like I’ve ever had a real girlfrie—” Her mouth snapped shut and she put her face against her knees. Her muffled words were still intelligible when she said, “Oh fuck forget I said that. Fuck fuck fuck.”
Vita burst out laughing, legs rising as she wrapped her arms over her stomach. She laughed so hard she began to cough; she folded in half to try and calm her chest. A full minute passed before she could stop, and she had sat up to wrap Amie in a tight hug by the time she did. “Oh my god, sweetie! You’ve totally gotta chill about that!”
“No no no no. I take it back immediate take-backs you didn’t hear anything.”
The laughter returned, and she pressed her face to Amie’s shoulder to muffle it somewhat. Amidst snickers, she said, “Sweetie, why do you think I’d get worked up over you being—what, is it bi or gay?”
“I’m not saying anything else. This conversation is not happening.”
The words let Vita stop laughing, and she brought her legs up to cross them on the couch. Looking down, she tapped her knee on Amie’s foot. With her shoes off, she could feel how tightly curled her toes were. “Yeah, it is. What’s wrong?”
“Nothing’s wrong. This isn’t happening.”
“Hey, you want me to tickle you? Swear to god I will, Laurent. Right to death, unless you tell me why you finally outing yourself to me is making you lose your shit.”
“I said nothi—” Her head rose. “What, ‘finally?’”
“Yes, finally.” She loosened her hug, but kept one arm around her shoulders. “You’re always way interested when I talk about the gay rights movement rallies I go to, even though you know how completely straight I am. And you act so nervous and uncomfortable when I talk about what kind of guy I’d like my husband to be one day, even though I never ever ask why you use ambiguous words to describe what you’d want.” She squeezed her shoulder. “Sweetie, I like goofing off, but I’m not dumb. You know that. So. Really, hand over my hippie heart, it’s okay. Tell me what’s wrong.”
A long pause. “I’m gay.”
“Oh, that’s not wrong and you know that, too.”
“Tell my ‘it’s just a phase every artist decides to go through’ mother that.”
She reeled back. “Are—are you for fucking serious?” A groan left her as she gave her another squeeze. “Christ, I knew you had problems with your mom and the art thing, but come on. She’s gonna go with the phase thing?”
“She said the art thing was a phase first.”
Three blinks came before a stare filled with disgust. “What—what—oh bullshit! I have seen your art! You sent me an amazing painting for my last birthday! Every single one of my friends who saw it said they wanted to commission you for god’s sake! My dad likes it, and he hardly ever goes for anything that’s not from Japan!”
“I didn’t know he liked it.”
“Well he does. Because you’re totally awesome at art and your mom’s wrong about everything. Most of all you being in a phase.” She put her hand back on Amie’s head, gently rubbing her fingers on her hair. She heard an inhale, but said, “I know, I know. I’ll stop soon.”
“I don’t...it feels weird to get touched.”
“I know, I’m sorry. I just really need to hang onto you right now.”
“Sweetie, I just do. I don’t want you to freak, and if I freak you will too. This is how I don’t freak out. I hold people. And I really feel like I need to hold you and you need me to hold you.” She smiled, laying her hand flat on her head. “Because see? It’s totally cool if a straight girl hugs you. And it’s totally cool if you have a crush on a straight girl.”
“Hey what no—”
“Pfft. Please, sweetie.” She tapped her on the head and grinned when she was looked at. “Like you wouldn’t. I’m awesome. I get it. I know you’re not some spaz who’d attack me and try to turn me or whatever. It doesn’t freak me out, and it doesn’t make me mad.”
“So it doesn’t make you mad to know that I’d like to kiss you?”
“Nope. You can, but only on the cheek.” She smirked, turning her face to one side. “G’head.”
“Are you serious?”
“Yeah. Go ahead.” She closed her eyes, raising her brows slightly, and continued to smile. When the kiss was delivered by warm, chapped lips, she patted Amie’s head once more. She did not laugh at the dark blush on her face when she drew back, instead tapping her cheek once. “See? No problems at all with me.” With a final rub at her hair, she brought her arm away from her shoulder, returned it to her lap, and leaned gently against her. “So tell me what the problem is with Liam.”
“I think he likes me,” she said.
“And since you nearly had a full-blown panic attack by outing yourself to a hippie, there’s no way our favorite angry guy knows you go for girls.”
“Yeah. We don’t ever talk about stuff like that.”
“What do you guys talk about?”
“Our parents, a lot. He says talking to me about art calms him down after fighting with his dad.” She shrugged. “And I like hearing him talk about his martial arts stuff when my mom’s been bugging me.”
“Yeah, but he doesn’t chat with me about that. Not to calm down, anyway.”
“I know. But it makes me feel better when I listen to you about your rallies and projects, or when Hugh talks about his volunteering and stuff he’d like to do. Liam’s not special.”
“Does he know that?”
Amie took a slow breath. “I haven’t ever said he’s not special. But that’s because you’re all my friends.”
“Oh, sweetie.” Vita sighed and reached out to take her hand. “You need to tell him that he’s not going to find anything if he comes after you.”
“I know.” She turned her hand over and laced their fingers together. “But I don’t think I can do it right now when he’s so freaked out without making it worse on him.”
“Don’t worry. Even if he gets upset, I can kick his ass and make him knock it off.”
“Are you serious?”
“Oh yeah. I can totally kick his ass. So don’t freak out about this, all right. Right now, we’ll let him be angry about that thing out there, and then we’ll all kick its ass when we come to it.”
She rolled her eyes. “Fine, her. Deal?”
Amie smiled. “Okay.”
The thought of using mind control on his friends made him sick to his stomach, and so Liam argued with Hugh as they went away from the house. He kept his hands jammed in his pockets and did not look at the other man. He spoke between tight lips, and his words grew sharper and darker until he almost snarled them through his teeth.
“Bud, I have no idea why you want to do this alone right now!”
“What level are you?”
“What fuckin’ level are you, Tanner? What, like ten or some shit?” He twitched his head to one side. “I’m almost to level twenty. I’ve been slamming fuckers down right and left, and I’m going up no matter what. I’m winning, okay?”
“We’re all doing something to get better,” Hugh said. “You’re not the only one winning.”
“Then I’m playing best.”
He sighed, letting his breath sink into a growl. “Liam, chill. That thing attacked me, too. It—Christ, it laughed at me. Grabbed my shirt, lifted me off my feet and laughed in my face, and threw me off the roof. It took out this insane snake in one attack. And you want to take it on alone? We don’t even know how many levels we can go up, and we don’t know how strong it really is.”
“I have a pretty good idea.”
His eyes narrowed. “Why?”
Liam finally looked at him; he looked from the corners of his eyes. “You get trolled yet?”
“Vita got trolled, and she told me Amie got trolled. Each time they got told something about the game. That’s why Vita grilled your ass about these dream things. There’s people out there who know something. They know about what’s going on.”
“So—what? Did you get trolled?”
He neither smiled nor frowned when he said, “Nah. I got taught.”
“’Bout this game, man. About what we’re supposed to do. What I’m supposed to do. And right now? I’m supposed to be the one staying here and figuring shit out.” He paused and turned to face Hugh. “Look. I’m, I’m not trying to be a huge asshole. I really know what I’m doing. I don’t want Amie to get hurt, and I don’t want you to get hurt ‘cause of me. I can take care of myself. I know I can.”
“What do you want me to do then? Just go back to my planet and let you run around here looking for a fight?”
“It’s what you all do anyway.” He smirked. “That’s how I like it.”
For a long while, he stared. He made as though he would step forward. He made as though he would retreat. His thumbs tapped against his thighs. He ran his hand through his hair. Finally, he held his hand in the air and looked at Liam’s face. “Okay. Fine. You go show me that you don’t need help with this. But you fucking listen. You tell me the minute you need help. I’m not going to let us start breaking up when we just started. You’re with us, man. Get it?”
Slowly, he nodded once. “Got it, boss man.”
“Good.” He turned, but smiled faintly. “Smartass.” He started away toward the house and the gates hanging in the sky with a wave over his shoulder.
Liam watched him go before continuing on deeper into the hills and snow. He made clear footprints, picking his feet up neatly. He shoved his hands deep into his pockets, hunching his shoulders far more out of habit than out of the need to protect against the buffeting wind and kisses of snow. All along his way, he went alone. No underlings broke the silence to ambush him; no swarms surrounded him as he strode into valleys of crags. The dead dawn gave little defined light, and he had no real shadow under the gray sky.
He stopped in the middle of nothing. There was breath hissing against his neck. He did not whip around, did not clap his hand to his neck with a shout of shock. He took his hands slowly from his pockets and turned just as slowly. The footsteps he had left stretched into a distance he could not see the end of, and for all that unending length, there were footsteps matching his pace for pace. When he turned back, he expected enough not to leap backward in shock.
The gray skin of the woman’s face almost matched the sky, darker by only a few shades. The hood of her cloak was down, bunched around her neck, revealing the scraggly, truly unkempt black hair hanging round her thin face and small glasses. Her lips parted slowly in a widening smile, and her long incisors were paired with a fine set of fangs. At the center of her yellow eyes, indigo irises stared out at him. When her teeth parted, hissing flickered out between them to begin a soft chuckle.
Liam punched himself in the face so hard he toppled from his feet. Lip split by his teeth, he tried to push himself up on his elbows. He found the woman crouched over his legs, her right hand resting gently on her temple. Heart leaping to the center of his chest, he brought both hands to his head and sent out his mind.
She looked at him a moment, eyes half closing. He could feel the edges of a mind before him, but it was liquid and impenetrable for it. There was no grip to be had, and his touch was violently rebuked. He punched himself again, this time in the nose. He rolled his body over and scrambled out from beneath her, but turned a somersault that shoved his face and bloody nose into the snow. Coughing, sputtering, he fell on his back.
Her hand grabbed hold of his face. His legs and spine twisted, forcing his knees beneath him and his back to arch. She did not pull him up with her hand; his body followed her up. Still chucking her sibilant noise, she came with him as he stood up fully. She stepped close enough that he could feel her breasts against his back. Then a wire cut out inside his skull and he fell into deep, dark sleep.
—anlaceAgent [AA] began trolling adeptTraducer [AT]—
AA: I can almost feel her filthy fucking hands all over your mind.
AA: I don’t care what she’s told you, but I’ve got a good idea what she’s saying.
AA: Leave it to my kismesis to try to fuck me in every single way.
AA: She is a damn wonder.
AA: Understand me, you shitty little thing.
AA: The Mindgrip is mine.
AA: It always has been and always will be.
AA: If you try to use it against me, you will fail.
AA: It may end in your death.
AA: You’re going up against a fucking God, after all.
—anlaceAgent [AA] ceased trolling adeptTraducer [AT]—
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