TW: mental health reference (vague)
I came to slowly, glimpses of memory mingling with whatever I’d been dreaming about. Ophis’s hair, pale blonde like cornwisps escaping from her bun; dappled forest glades, but I doubted those were real; the quicksilver glimmer of Kiera’s skin shifting and screaming; the images were scattered and distorted.
The stars I’d been staring at turned into a fuzzy light on the back of my eyelids, and when I opened my eyes, I was instead looking up at the scattered dots of a dropped linoleum ceiling. I would have sat up, but my entire body was aching. Adrenaline took its toll.
“Are you awake, or do you just sleep with your eyes open?”
“The first. I’m not enough of a freak for the second,” I mumbled. My mouth was dry.
I supposed the owner of the voice was Ophis – it sounded like her, and from what I could remember, I’d followed her home. “So, uh, about the minor memory loss,” I asked, somewhat nervously, “Is that your way of keeping me in line, or just a side-effect of…whatever that was?”
Just out of my peripheral vision, the owner of the voice snorted. “Even if I subscribed to that kind of brutish cruelty, I have no means with which to affect your memory. So it’s either a holdover from Kiera, or just you being overtired.”
“Brutish cruelty,” I mimicked. “Somebody grew up a smart kid.”
“Says the pre-pubescent detective.”
I jabbed a finger in her direction. “Firmly pube-whatever, thanks.” I struggled into a sitting position, taking in my new surroundings.
At first, I thought she was just short of furniture. The room was almost empty, with a few desks pushed up against the wall and a stack of chairs in the corner. Then I realized what I was looking at – an old classroom with cheap flooring and fluorescent bar lights. I was sitting on a thin mattress by the wall; Ophis was writing on the chalkboard nearby. I thought it was notes or maybe a to-do list until I saw how the lines bowed and curved out. She was drawing a mandala.
How do I know what a mandala is, you ask? Blame my court-mandated therapy. They’re meant to calm you down, center your mind, something like that. I never got the point, but it certainly told me something about her.
“Where am I?” I asked finally. “And I’m holding you to those useful answers, so no B.S.”
“Second floor of the old Tech school, downtown Ottawa.”
“That was somehow both completely informative and utterly useless.”
“I answered the question. Rephrase and try again.”
“Okay…” I glanced down at the mattress, rumpled sheets pushed off to the side. “Do you live here?”
“I’m temporarily homeless. Do you have any interesting questions?”
Wow. She’d been serious about useful answers. Time to try something better. “…You can fly.”
The chalk scratched against the blackboard, but I caught a hint of a smile when she angled her head slightly back towards me. “That wasn’t a question.”
“Okay, fair.” I propped myself up against the wall, still watching her draw the mandala. She looked like the kind of girl who would have gone to Immaculata or Ashbury, one of the fancy rich schools, with the bun at the nape of her neck and the suit-jacket over the pencil skirt. She carried herself like one, too, arched shoulders and straight back. But that was the thing, wasn’t it? Perfectly put together rich girls didn’t live in abandoned school classrooms, or spend entire conversations with their back turned, drawing meaningless designs.
We’re all a little fucked up.
I wondered if she’d gotten her mandala from therapy, too. “Flying is the Air thing, right?”
“Did Will tell you that or was it a lucky guess?”
“Obviously a lucky guess.”
“Sarcasm. Funny.” She dropped the chalk and turned around, arms crossed. “I think it’s my turn to ask some questions.
I shrugged, not knowing what she could possibly care about. I was pretty much what I seemed.
“You’re a private detective?”
“Yeah, I mean… Sort of.”
“I’m seventeen and my first case involved a dead body. I’m rethinking my career choices.”
She stifled a smile at that, and icy demeanor or not, I decided I like her. “Understandable.”
“Is your name actually Ophis?”
“No, that’s just what Will calls me in her phone. I’m The Cassandra.”
I blinked. “The Cassandra? I’ve met like, six Cassandras.”
“It’s a title… but also my name.”
“With or without the ‘The’?”
She waved her hand at me in irritation. “It confers authority.”
“I’m sure it does,” I said, trying not to crack up.
“Anyway, back on topic, I understand Willow and Avery have given you a bit of an incomplete – not for the first time,” she added under her breath. She didn’t roll her eyes, but I could hear it in her voice. Somebody was tired. “Given your precarious position, I’ve brought you here so we can think up the best strategy to protect you.”
Well. That was a shift in the wind. I’d heard all the stuff about how there were only two Salts left, but it still took me by surprise. I wasn’t anything special — except thanks to some mass-murderer, apparently, now I was.
Which brought up the main issue.
“Who -” I stopped. “What is Kiera?”
Cassandra chewed on her lip, uncertainty clear on her face. She was probably deciding how much she wanted to tell me. For all that she was promising me useful answers, I wasn’t dumb enough to trust her completely. Whatever authority ‘the Cassandra’ was meant to imply, she had some sort of power over Avery and Will. “Kiera is… a wild card.”
“A Mercury elemental, yeah.”
“Yes, but –“ Her hand braced on the chalk tray of the board. “Something else as well.”
“We don’t know,” she admitted. “She showed up a few months ago, out of the blue, and the murders started around that time too.”
“So it’s definitely her.”
“We have no actual proof.” Her eyes flashed cold. “But she’s certainly dangerous.”
“No shit, Sherlock.” A shudder ran up my spine thinking about the way she’d talked to me. Looked at me. It had to be because of my powers. “I’m guessing she’s after me for the same reason as everyone else.”
“Afraid so. Hence why we’re offering you protection-”
I held up a hand, adjusting my seat on the mattress. “Okay, backing up. Who is we? I’m not just letting anybody tell me what to do, you know.”
Cassandra’s face lit up, and she grabbed the chalk, standing in front of the other half of the chalkboard. “Oh, there’s lots of us. We are –“she took a breath and reconsidered, “What do you know about anarchism?”
“Uh, not much,” I said with a bit of concern. “Is this the secret society thing?”
“Not so much. Alright, different explanation.” She drew several interlocking circles on the board. “We’re a community, a-a collective. Not a secret society in the traditional sense, those were sexist and awful. Instead, we share resources, keep each other in check, use transformative justice methods-”
“I know what like, five of those words mean.”
“It’s a lot less appealing for somebody to use their powers to screw around or hurt people if there’s ten other people with powers ready to stop them. And it’s not like we can call the cops.”
I snorted. “Okay, that’s the first thing you’ve said that makes sense. I guess that’s why all of Will’s texts were encrypted.”
“Among other reasons,” she said glibly. “You better not have broken her phone.”
“It’s fine. Anyway, so, you’re the superpower squad. Why aren’t you guys all out solving crime?”
Cassandra actually did roll her eyes this time. “Aside from the inherent impracticality of vigilante justice? We don’t have time.”
“Oh, come on.” I rested my arm loosely on my knees, trying not to look too skeptical. “Who needs a job when you’re psychic?”
“Who’s going to pay somebody who isn’t supposed to exist? Besides, we’re not all psychics.”
I’d known that. It just… didn’t sit right with me. I couldn’t place why. Instead, I glanced back over the classroom. “So what do you help people with?”
“Money, places to stay, food.”
“And you’re the boss.”
“I’m one of them. I oversee the downtown area. You’ve met Lila – she runs Hintonburg on the north side of Wellington.”
That sounded more like gangs than one united community, but I didn’t say that. Lila had said something about it – her turf. Her territory.
Something wasn’t fitting. A few things, actually. Kiera was a wild card, Cassandra had already admitted that much. But once again, the girl went unmentioned. And-
I swallowed it down, hiding my sudden weakness. All I wanted to ask was where they’d been all my life.