She had never seen another's blood before.
She had seen her own, of course, splattered on the cracked mirror when she tried to crack her skull against it; running in ribbons down her wrists when she tried to slit them with a coat hanger; dried and flaking from her skin when she awoke in her bed to find that jumping from the roof hadn't worked.
Her own blood was thick and russet-toned, but the watery ooze that trickled from the cracks in Doctor's head was clear and glistening. Her wands hummed in her hands, tips still smoking as she backed away from growing puddle dampening the Doctor's suit. White splinters cracked under her feet, sharp and brittle as glass, and she wondered how a man who had held such power over her was able to break so easily.
Finally, she forced her feet to move again, and picked up speed as the Doctor’s body began to glow. Logically, the Doctor should be able to heal himself, as damaged as his body was. He had patched her up from much worse, after all.
But she wasn't planning to stay long enough to find out.
The carapaces stared, but didn't stop her, and for that she was grateful. It was easier to move through the bustling streets as they parted for her in puzzled waves. She could understand their confusion, at least, for she was the tallest and most colorfully dressed being in sight. But that also made her the most easily spotted.
She had no idea where she was going, only that she needed to get as far from the mansion as she could. She considered taking a transit ship that would take her planetside, but she didn’t know where to find a station, and asking for directions would only slow her down. Her lack of money wasn’t an issue; her wands were tucked neatly into her bun, and she doubted any carapace would stand up to a hijacking if they were faced with the choice between taking her wherever she wanted to go or being blown apart. But again, the less easily she could be traced, the better.
The easiest course, then, was to escape the heart of the city. She wove from alley to alley until the sounds of traffic were replaced by the snap of laundry on stories-high clotheslines and the clang of trashcan lids being shut. Away from the crowds, the night chill settled like a blanket over her, and she folded her arms across her chest, shivering. She passed flickering neon signs advertising motels and boardhouses, the siren song of a warm room making the bite of the wind on her face ever sharper. She had never owned a coat, and she thought ruefully of the jacket she had left on the Doctor’s body.
When she could stand the ache in her toes no longer, she huddled in the doorframe of an abandoned casino. She spread her hair around her shoulders in a makeshift blanket; it would keep her neck warm, at least.
She fell asleep as the sun rose and a siren wailed in the distance.
She awoke to the smell of moth-eaten corduroy and cigarettes, and bumping her head on an armrest confirmed that her bed was indeed an old couch. Someone had tucked a dingy afghan around her.
There were three shadows conversing above her.
“Where the hell did you find it?”
“Right outside! Poor thing was so cold, I though it was dead!”
“Well you should’ve let it die, cause we’re not keeping it around.”
“But we helped the ones on the computers, didn’t we? Why can’t we help this one?”
“Deuce, were you paying attention at all? These things are vicious.”
“Might be good to have it around then, Droog. Slick still ain’t back yet.”
“Yeah, well, he’ll come back. He always does. And when he gets home, I don’t think he’ll be real happy to find this thing in our lounge.” The thinnest of the shadows bent over her while it spoke, smoke billowing from its jagged teeth. She coughed, and all three jumped back with a start.
“Jesus! It’s awake!” The biggest shadow growled and hefted something over its head, aiming for her. In an instant, she was up, wands glowing in her hands, majyyk sparking around her fingertips. The shadow yelped and all three scattered away.
She could see now that the figures weren’t shadows, but carapaces, all three dressed in neat black suits that matched their ebony shells. She examined their positions: the big one blocking the door still held the chair it has meant to throw at her; the thin one had drawn a handgun and moved to the wall at her right; and the smallest, who barely came up to her waist, was unarmed and right in front of her.
“Easy there!” it squeaked, tiny hands outstretched. “We don’t want to hurt you!” The other two held fast to their weapons.
“Let me out,” she said, and grimaced at how weak her voice sounded. She had rarely spoken to the Doctor. Giving him the cold-shoulder had never accomplished much, but at least she’d withheld from him the satisfaction of a civil conversation.
Nevertheless, the thin carapace nodded to the big one, and it carefully edged its way away from the door. She advanced slowly, wands still drawn.
“But…where will you go?” the little one called. “Do you have a place to stay?” She didn’t answer.
She was nearly through the door when it ducked past her, planting itself directly in her path. She crossed her wands at its throat, and the other two tensed behind her, unsure whether to attack or not.
“You can stay with us, if you want!” it chirped, smiling even as her majyyk flickered in its eyes. “We can give you a job!”
She hesitated. “A job?” the thin carapace repeated, echoing her thoughts.
“Yeah! You can join the Crew! We could use someone who can do magic!”
“Majyyk,” she corrected, but the tiny carapace only smiled wider.
She glanced through the door, but the hall rounded a corner on both sides of the room, and she couldn’t see any further down the corridors. She would leave this place and then…
Then what? Spend the rest of her wandering in alleys, just waiting for the Doctor to find her again? Even if he was truly dead, the Felt were still at large, and she doubted any of them would pass up the chance to make her pay. She was homeless, penniless, and the sole living member of her race.
The thin carapace squinted at her, and lowered his gun.
“What kind of majyyk?”
“Time,” she croaked. The big one groaned, and was shushed.
“Show us,” said the thin one, dragging on his cigarette.
So she did.
The one they called Slick burst through the door with white foam on his coat and blood on his mouth.
“Welcome home. We got you an early birthday present,” Droog said, gaze glued to the sports section. She watched as Slick’s eyes—eye—flickered over her. For a long moment, the only sounds in the lounge were the ticking of the alarm clock in Deuce’s hands and the crinkle of paper as Droog turned the page.
“What. The fuck.”
“She’s great, Slick!” Deuce said, placing the alarm clock in her hands. “Watch!”
She performed the same trick she had for the other three. She tapped the clock face with her wands, and then, slowly at first, the hands began to move. The air changed color as they picked up speed: red, blue, black, yellow. When the hour hand had gone full circle, she set the clock down. Slick stared.
“Check the time, Slick,” Droog ordered, and Slick hissed.
“You know I never have a watch on me, idiot.”
“I know,” Droog answered, and pointed to the date under the heading of his paper.
It wouldn’t be due on stands for another three hundred years.
She cleared her throat. “The others said that I’ll be paid. I’ll work for you if you can house and feed me, but when I want to leave, you can’t stop me.”
Slick waved her away with his left hand, which, she noted, wasn’t made of carapace shell.
“Whatever. Hey, can you blow stuff up with that?”
It was easy work. All she had to do was point and shoot, and the Crew paid her handsomely. She could eat what she wanted and sleep when she wanted, and as long as her walks didn’t take her too close to any police stations, no one minded where she went on her free time.
Her wardrobe was another matter, however. It seemed that she was always doomed to be someone else's dress-up doll.
“I’m the one who pays your bills, kid. You’ll either wear this suit, or you’ll have to find another employer,” Droog mumbled around the pins between his teeth. “I even let you cut off that’s rats nest, so the least you can do is look presentable.”
She had clipped her hair short after she was certain they wouldn’t throw her out, and now it hardly graced the back of her neck. Her head had felt eerily light the first few days, as if without her horns to hold it down, her neck would have floated right off of her shoulders.
The suit was black and plain. When Droog finished, she examined herself in the mirror: ashy complexion, wide red-rimmed eyes, spindly limbs. Her horns had grown, spirals tightening at the ends, the bases beginning to deepen in hue.
She wondered distantly what other trolls might have looked like.
“You look good, kid,” Droog said, admiring his handiwork, “if I do say so myself.”
“As long as it’s not green,” she grunted.
She had known from the moment the Doctor has fallen to the floor that she could not avoid Snowman. But it was still a surprise to have gone nearly a decade without running into her.
“My, how our little maid has grown,” Snowman crooned, sitting atop the smoldering crate as if it were a throne. The stars on her coat blazed gold in the light of the burning bank behind them.
“What do you want.” Tongues of multi-colored fire danced up and down her arms, flaring threateningly as Snowman approached.
“Tch, to think of how your upbringing’s gone to waste.” Snowman twirled her cigarette holder lazily in her hand, and then swept the tip through one of the majyyk flares, lighting it with a purple flame. “I’ve only come to pass along a message.”
She didn’t blink as Snowman blew smoke in her face.
“There’s still a spot open for you, if you’d like. He understands, in light of your situation. But He’s not forgiving.”
“I’d rather die.”
Snowman smiled, a bright crescent of gleaming fangs.
“You have six hours.”
She was alone then, alone with heat and fire and smoke.
“Back up,” Boxcars said, rubbing at his temples. “Who’s this dame, again?”
“The leader of my race,” she replied, “and the only one left alive, besides myself.”
“And that means you have to kill her?”
“She serves Him. I do not. I never have, and I need to make sure that I never will.” She thought of her four green walls, her childhood cage. Of all the ways to kill a person, and all the ways they could fail. She thought of loneliness, and of choices. “I don’t expect you to understand.”
Droog chuckled. “Well that’s good, because we don’t. But,” he stood and straightened her lapels, picking a loose thread from her collar, “you do what you gotta do, kid. We won’t stop you. That was our deal.”
“As long as you’re killing more Felt bastards, s’fine by me,” Slick grunted, fiddling with a pistol hidden in his coat. “I’ve got my own business with them to take of.”
Deuce—who had once come up to her waist, now only to her thighs—clasped her hands in both of his own.
“I’m glad you’re on our side,” he said. She agreed.
Though she had never before been in the presence of another troll, she knew instantly that the Empress was beautiful. She was beautiful, with her sharp teeth and tall horns and dark, tangled hair that trailed behind her like a cape. The Empress was graceful and beautiful and very, very powerful, and the latter was something she could see too, in the bright green glow that surrounded the two of them.
“You are of a low caste, I see. A pity.” The Empress’ voice was dry and hoarse, as if the woman hadn’t spoken to another person for a long time. She had to stop herself from laughing aloud at the sound of it.
“Nonetheless, it is clear that you have talent.” The Empress inclined her head, eyes appreciative of her wands, her stance, the ferocity in her eyes. “It’s a great shame that you have used it only to destroy.”
“Destruction is all I know,” she replied, and her voice did not waver, did not fracture at the edges or catch in her throat. She was loud and clear and the Empress’ eyes narrowed when she closed her mouth.
“So, peasant, are you ready to die?”
She always was.