Thank you once more to J. Deo (@JDeoWrites) for their fantastic sensitivity reading!
TW: violence, threats towards a child, sexual harassment, emotional abuse, attack on/near a place of worship, trauma, reality distortion
I opened the gurdwara doors with both hands, walk turning into a march across the asphalt as I approached her. My feet ached with each spike of the asphalt, but I could ignore that – what I couldn’t ignore was the bile in my mouth, the blood welling from my tongue where my teeth were digging into it, the salt from – I don’t know where.
“How dare you? How dare you?” My vision swam, and for a moment, I thought it was the Mercury affecting me even more. Then I dragged the back of my hand over my face, and it came away wet. I was crying. That was just – that was pathetic. I knew why – it was because for all her horror, I’d hoped that Kiera – that anybody – would be better than this. I didn’t feel that way often. “This is his funeral.”
“I figured you’d be here,” she said, sweeping hair out of her face. It was slightly longer than before, messier, less elegant than it had been. Her coat was tattered at the edges, too, although I knew I couldn’t trust what I saw. “I didn’t take you for the sentimental type, though.”
“There’s sentimentality, and then there’s not being a shit excuse for a human being. I’m not giving you what you want.” It stung. I knew it was meant to, but sentimental was just another word for weak.
“Even if I were to, say…” She unsheathed her sword, balancing it by its tip on the pavement, “give you some incentive?”
“Nice try. I’m not delivering some poor innocent kid to you so you can… god, I don’t think I want to know what you want with her.”
“Uh huh.” Kiera cocked her head. “What if I just asked you to spend time with me?” She lifted her eyebrows questioningly.
“You’re threatening to attack a place of worship so I’ll go on a date with you? That’s new levels of disgusting.”
“Oh, don’t be silly. I have no intentions of attacking the temple. There’s enough gods I have to deal with on their own. I’m not adding another one to the mix.”
I couldn’t get my head around that statement. I knew Kiera wasn’t exactly sane but also, I didn’t know anything. I wasn’t sure how comfortable I felt with the idea of actual, real gods being a thing. “Good. I was hoping you still had some humanity.”
Kiera’s eyes grew very cold. “You don’t know anything about me.” She lifted her sword from the ground and raised it to my neck.
I gulped, trying not to think about how sharp it was. Or the fact that Kiera was stone cold enough to threaten somebody with a sword in the first place. “Alright. You got me. I don’t.”
“There’s nothing human about me. Nothing at all,” she spat.
I raised my hands. “Then what are you?”
“Didn’t your mother read you any fairytales?” she asked mockingly, and if the sword had been anywhere else than hovering against my jugular, I would have punched her in the face. That had to be deliberate. I didn’t know how, but it had to be. “I am Aes Sidhe. One of the thousand hidden people.”
“A-and for those who don’t speak anything that isn’t English?” I asked. My voice had gotten all funny and high pitched again.
“The monster under your bed,” she crooned. “The darkness in the light. The children of the new moon.” She was getting closer and closer to me, and something sparked on my skin like fire. Then she was so close that I could feel the static between our bodies. Her long coat was swishing against my legs. I could feel her breath on my cheekbone, full of malice. “I’m a faerie. And you are nothing.”
“Then why are you so close to me?”
Her hand rose to my chin. “Because I know you,” she said, her voice full of astonishment. “You’re nothing, because you’re human. But…” She let it hang in the air, inviting me to read into the quiet speech, to feel the longing in her touch.
She was going to kiss me.
“Where’d you get a sword?” came the voice from behind me, and I suppressed the urge to cry. What had Chandra been saying earlier? I’d ignored it. It hadn’t been relevant. “It’s cool! I want one.”
Kiera lowered the sword from my neck, hatred simmering from her eyes. I glanced over my shoulder, wincing as the bronze blade bit into my skin. A little boy, maybe six years old, stood there staring at us. In one of his hands was a samosa he must have nabbed from the temple kitchen. He had Gurjas’s eyes, and my brain filled in the name. Ruben.
“A child.” Kiera’s mouth twisted, and then she smiled again, her teeth turning black. “Another of you. Everywhere I turn around.”
She raised the sword, and several things happened at once. I saw Ruben’s eyes widen. Behind him, Chandra was hammering on the lobby door, held back by some other congregation members. The door swung open, and Kiera raised the sword over Ruben, who stuttered, fell backwards and stared up at her with growing horror.
I swung out at Kiera, my fist landing against her face. She stumbled back, and Ruben began to crawl backwards, looking back over his shoulder at his mother. Then the claws came raking out of her sleeve, sharp and cruel, and I felt then lash across my face. I barely felt it.
I grabbed at her arm, but she tore it away, then went for Ruben again. It was like slow-motion, watching her ready the point, ready to kill him where he stood for some crime I couldn’t understand…
A splintering crash shattered the air, and something wooden flew through the air from the lobby, shedding shards of broken glass as it came. Kiera saw it coming, and turned away, but not fast enough – it hit her lengthways with a sick ‘thud’, and continued the length of the parking lot.
I stared at it, then turned my head to look back at the shattered lobby. Chandra was running out of the temple, her feet bleeding from the shattered glass, her eyes wild and hair coming out of her veil. She crouched over Ruben, gathering him into her arms. “Shh, shh, it’s okay…”
The wooden bench – torn out of the floor, I realized, looking at the pieces of carpet still embedded to its legs – began to move, and Kiera emerged from underneath it. I’d resisted whatever she did to the world before, but now it was getting worse. The parking lot asphalt was shattering, blooming with flowers that disappeared once I tried to clutch them. The sky was dropping.
I plunged my hand into my pocket. I hadn’t brought most of my stuff with me, but funeral or not, I was always paranoid, I was always ready for something to happen. My wallet, my keys – I tossed them aside for later. And then, there it was. My knife.
Kiera ignored me, setting a beeline for Chandra and Ruben. She passed by me, and I lunged forward, burying the steel knife into her thigh.
The howl of pain that came from her mouth proved to me that she wasn’t human at all. She sounded more like a wolf, or a panther. I was too dazed to make much sense of it, why my knife had worked so well. She collapsed to her knees, turning on me with a seething expression.
Then the earth began to shake. I looked away from her, searching around for the source of it – I wasn’t stupid enough to believe that a random earthquake had just happened. When I looked back, she was gone. But the ground was still trembling.
I looked over at Chandra, who had Ruben held tight to her chest and was murmuring something under her breath. Then I remembered what Will had said about Salts. Why I was so important. How we got our powers. It all clicked into place.
I stumbled over towards her, and wrapped my arms around both her and Ruben.
“Is she gone?” Chandra whispered.
“She’s gone,” I murmured in reply. And I could feel it – the tension easing out of her arms, the heartbeat beginning to slow, the breaths evening out. The quaking stopped, finally, and Chandra began to cry. Not the desperate but still restrained crying she’d done when she first came to my office – instead, these were heartbroken sobs, tearing out of her throat like knives.
“Not my children, please, not my babies, not this time, please…”
“You’re safe. Ruben’s safe.”
“I miss him,” Chandra sobbed. “I miss him so much.”
She took more and more deep breaths, then reluctantly released Ruben as Hushaima came over to us. The ground below us really was shattered – it wasn’t one of Kiera’s tricks. Chandra had caused a real earthquake – just a small one, but a real one nonetheless.
Finally, she turned to me, eyes red and sore. “What’s happening to me?” she whispered. She’d been scared for her kids before, and for her husband, when she’d first come to me. Now she was scared for herself.
“I can’t tell you. Or at least not very well. But I know somebody who can.”
My hands were tingling. I didn’t know if it was from adrenaline or from calming Chandra down. But the anger, the fury at Kiera for her destructive presence – that was still there.
Fuck being protected and looked after. To hell with it.
Kiera was going to need protection from me.
And that’s all for now, folks! Ghosts in Quicksilver WILL return in June with Book 2; in the meantime, learn more about the universe on the @AlkimiaFables twitter.