I am afraid to speak, still unsure of what is happening or what I can possibly say to make it better. Mr. Harris holds Mariposa tightly, occasionally patting her head. He kisses her soft, red fur and stands to look at me.
“She’s gone now. It’s all gone,” he says, gesturing to the barren concrete around him.
I walk over and hug the old man tightly. He hugs me back and I can feel the silent sobs wracking his body. We stand that way for a while, in silence, until he finally pulls away and wipes his eyes.
“It shouldn’t have failed. Not yet. I don’t understand,” he strides past me and snatches a large tablet off of the counter. He sets it on the kitchen table and starts tapping at it furiously. Peeking over his shoulder I can make out lines of code comprised of unfamiliar symbols.
Sometimes he shakes his head and mutters to himself and once he even bangs his fist loudly against the table. I stand silently, waiting for him to tell me how I can help or ask me to leave. When he finally seems satisfied with his work he lifts the tablet like a camera, scanning the room with his eyes glued to the screen.
“Something malfunctioned,” he says without looking at me, “there must have been some kind of interference with the life support system I built for Mariposa. It also interfered with the imagine matrix, causing the flickering we witnessed. I should be able to detect an energy leak somewhere.” He walks the entire perimeter of the floor with me following uselessly behind him. He stops and inspects the occasional object – a wall outlet, a floor lamp, the couch, a blank piece of wall. Each time he mutters, shakes his head and moves on.
“Come on… where is it? Where is it!?” he shouts and his words echo hauntingly in the open space.
“Mr. Harris… maybe you should rest,” I say. I reach out for him, but I can’t will my shaking fingers to connect with his shoulder, “Is finding the source really going to help now?”
He swivels towards me as if suddenly recalling my presence. He aims the tablet’s camera at me and then bends forward a little, shifting its focus to my purse. I’m completely unprepared when he snatches it off of my arm and tosses it onto the kitchen table.
“What are you doing?” I stand helplessly beside him as he rifles through my personal belongings. I tense as he lifts the unopened bottle of pills, but he quickly throws them back when something else catches his eye. He lifts a clenched fist and from it dangles a long silvery chain ending in a round amulet. The stone is now black and charred.
“Why do you have this?” his voice is low but quivering with anger.
“Harvey Yagher gave it to me,” I answer, realization dawning on me, “He said it was…”
“Do you realize what you’ve done!?” he shouts, interrupting my explanation.
“I didn’t know!” My muscles feel strangely loose, like I’ve lost control of them. Like I might fall over, or faint.
“Of course not. You just do whatever Merlin House tells you, is that it?” He takes an angry step towards me and I back up. He continues walking and I find myself being forced towards the elevator.
“Mr. Harris, please hear me out,” I say, “I came here today to tell you everything. If I had known…”
“Then maybe you would have thought twice before taking everything away from me? Before stealing everything I’ve ever loved?!” Tears stream down his face and I drop my gaze, unable to bear the image of him suffering. I hate myself for what I’ve done to him, and I hate Yagher for lying to me.
“It’s not fair,” I whisper and I hear the elevator doors open behind me. Mr. Harris looks up and his face droops in defeat. I turn to see Yagher standing in the elevator car flanked by two other officers. They order Mr. Harris to lie on the floor before cuffing his hands tightly behind his back and shoving him back onto his feet.
“You said it was a protection charm!” I shout at Yagher, trying not to watch as the other officers lead Mr. Harris into the elevator.
“It was!” Yagher shouts back. He towers over me but I take a step closer, refusing to be intimidated.
“Mr. Harris would never hurt me! You have no idea what you’ve done to him!” The elevator doors close as Yagher’s men lead him to the cruiser I’m sure is waiting. Yagher and I are alone.
“If it was triggered than you must have been around some kind of dangerous magic. Sean Harris has been known to dabble in arcane technology…”
“And what the hell is wrong with that?” I’m almost dizzy with rage as the blood rushes to my head, heating my face along the way.
“We don’t know much about it. We’ve already warned him that it could be detectable, give away our existence,” he lowers his voice, an attempt to mollify me. I’m not having any of it.
“So your definition of dangerous is anything you don’t understand? Do you realize how archaic that sounds?!” My refusal to back down only revives his frustration.
“If you hadn’t kept this a secret none of this would have happened! Why didn’t you tell me you had found him? That you were friends with him?”
“Because it was none of your business! Why does it matter who my friends are? Why should I have to tell you everything? Clearly you’re not being straight with me either! And what would have happened if I had told you? Wouldn’t you still be dragging him out the door for, what was it, dabbling in things you don’t understand?” I withhold my angry tears; I won’t let Yagher see me cry this time. “What is it like to live in a world where you can erase anyone you want because they’re an inconvenience?”
“Christ, Selene, I’m not going to kill him! I just need to know what he’s been working on. Who he’s been talking to,” I raise an eyebrow at him, emphasizing that he’s still proving my point. He takes a breath and his eyes become as cold and hard as ice. “Maybe my father was right. Maybe it’s better if you just forget all of this ever happened.”
“No,” I say, all of my anger evaporating into fear as I back away from him, “Yagher you can’t.”
“What else am I supposed to do, Selene?” There is desperation in his words, and defeat. The massive apartment is suddenly claustrophobic and my panic feels sharper than that day in Mirena’s warehouse. I wrack my brain, looking for a way out. With nothing else to lose I offer the only thing I have: the truth.
“You can’t take my memories, Yagher,” I intentionally slow my breathing, hoping to seem calmer than I am. I need him to believe me. “If you do that you’ll never find Hunter.”
“What are you talking about?” he tilts his head to the side and I can tell he’s hooked.
“I lied to you, Yagher. I know him. He saved me the night of the party and again from Mirena’s. He gave me back my memories. He wants to make things right with you but he knows you’ll never forgive him. He wants to talk to you.”
“Bullshit,” he says simply.
“It’s true. You have to hear him out, Yagher. He wants to make things better. For everyone. He wants to stop the fighting and the innocent people getting hurt and manipulated,” I watch his face for any indication that he believes me, that he’s actually listening. I can feel the weight of judgement in his stare, “You want to know why I stand up for people like Mirena? People like Johannes? It’s because I’ve seen the way they live. The way they were treated as children. This stupid power struggle has fucked everything up. They pushed Hunter to his limits as a child, training him so that they might stand a chance against your family one day. Against you. He was a lonely, suffering kid and he took it out on you. Do you really want that cycle to keep repeating?”
If he feels any empathy for Hunter or the others, he doesn’t show it – his eyes are harder than ever. “And how is that our fault? They’re the ones who keep trying to rebel against us.”
“Because you guys are the only ones allowed to call the shots. Because you rule over them based on some decision your ancestors made centuries ago and if they put one toe out of line you’re the ones who decide if they live or die. So everyone pretends to play nice while quietly passing on their prejudices from one generation to the next until the tension builds so high that someone snaps. Like Johannes,” I know I’m losing. Like the children of Solomon and Frejya, Yagher has grown up with his own prejudices.
“You let him touch you, didn’t you? He’s fucking brainwashed you into thinking he’s some well-intentioned saviour come to save the world,” he takes a step towards me and grabs my arm tightly, “Where is he, Selene?”
“You’re wrong,” I push my face further towards his. I won’t let him see my fear.
“I’m asking one more time. Where is Hunter?”
“I’m not letting you hurt him. Take my memories and get it over with.” I’m sorry I failed, Hunter. I wanted so badly to see you again.
He stares at me for a moment longer, breathing like a mad bull. He suddenly turns and yanks my arm so that I follow along beside him. He presses the button for the elevator. I expect him to take me to my apartment and strip away my memories before leaving me, empty and alone. He pushes the lobby button instead.
“Where are you taking me?” I ask in a panic. Can he not perform the spell on his own? Does he need someone’s help? The last thing I want is to see Marle again, even if I won’t remember it for long.
He drags me out to his car and I see no signs of the other officers anywhere. I wonder if they’re members of Merlin House too or just mislead subordinates acting under false pretences. He opens the back seat and forces me in, slamming the door shut behind me and climbing into the driver’s seat. I notice some movement on the sidewalk and turn in time to see a small black animal disappear around the building.
“Yagher, answer me! Where are we going?!”
“I can’t make you tell me where Hunter is,” he starts the car and begins backing up, deliberately avoiding eye contact as he stares out the rear window, “But lucky for me, we happen to have a guest who might be able to help us retrieve that information anyway.”
“Guest? What are you…” Mirena. I collapse against the padded seat and close my eyes in defeat. If she hates Hunter as much as she says, she will probably be all too happy to hand him over to Merlin House. I might be able to resist her at first, but who knows for how long. I have to try to change Yagher’s mind. “So you’re willing to use a skin mage to exact revenge, eh Yagher? Is that the justice you were talking about last night?”
“I told you before, Selene. I don’t care what you think about me. Hunter is a danger to everyone, including you,” his voice is calm now, intent on his goals. I watch his impassive face in the rear-view mirror.
“Based on what? A single encounter with him three years ago? During what you yourself admitted was a time of war? Do you even know anything about him? Or is the only thing that matters that he’s a skin mage?” For half a heart beat the reflection of his eyes flicker to mine.
“A single encounter where he tried to kill me. I told you, he’s brainwashed you. If he knows who you are then of course he’s planning to use you. That’s why he gave you back your memories. If he kills you, the spell is broken. I’m not letting him use you as a bargaining piece.”
“I’m done talking, Selene.” As he drives he fishes in his pocket for something and places a crystal on the tiny ledge between him and the plexiglass barrier. I continue trying to appeal to him, but it seems he can no longer hear me. I kick and punch at the glass to get his attention, but he only spares me the occasional glance in the mirror.
There’s one chance left, and it’s not a good one. I close my eyes and start focusing as hard as I can on the trial ahead.