The sun is already sinking low by the time I take a taxi back to my apartment. It is hard to leave Hunter’s side, but at the same time, I feel more at home in my own skin than I have for a long time. Being alone is comfortable and even pleasant in a way I never realized it could be; I’m impatient to feel Hunter’s warm touch and to hear his soothing voice again, but I’m also excited to be able to explore my own life in ways I have neglected for far too long.
Since losing my singing I’ve been existed in purgatory – unable to move on, waiting for something I could never identify to suddenly change. Well, things have changed, but I still haven’t moved. I see the paths branching out in front of my feet, new ones and ones that I’ve ignored all this time, but I still haven’t taken a step forward. I want to do something, to care about something more than getting from one day to the next. It seems logical to approach the problem by starting with the familiar.
After I change into some comfortable clothes — another comic book tee (Sandman this time) and some jogging pants — I open the small closet beside my bed. Inside is a haphazard stack of items Brie managed to scavenge from my apartment with Wynn. At the very back, almost completely concealed, is my guitar. Holding it in my hands elicits an onslaught of emotion; the sensation is painful, but in a nostalgic and comfortable way. I can’t sing, but I can still play and I can still write. I run into the kitchen to find a pen and paper before slouching onto the couch. The curves of the guitar’s wooden body fit against me comfortably and it takes only a heartbeat before my fingers find their own way across the strings.
The rough vibration against my fingertips and the familiar thrum of the notes is hypnotic. My mind empties and any thoughts that do pass through are tranquil and productive. Is this the kind of mental control that Hunter and the other mages strive for?
I play late into the night, writing down tabs and lyrics, focusing on creation while refusing to dwell on songs written in a previous life. I’m just fiddling with the last line of a song, a day later, when my phone begins to chime. I’m so caught up in the music that I almost miss it and only answer on the last ring. It’s Grant.
“Selene?” There is a tremor in his voice, a weakness that hints at desperation.
“Grant? What’s wrong?” My guitar slides down my lap onto the floor.
“They caught him, Selene. Yagher must have had everyone watching for him and they fucking found him,” Grant sounds angry and choked, as if with tears. I don’t need to ask who he’s talking about.
“What is Yagher going to do with him, Grant? We have to save him. We have to do something,” the words sound hollow and stupid. I’m not crying yet, though I’m sure I should be. It’s as if the idea of Hunter in danger is so deplorable, my mind has to hold it at arm’s length to examine it.
“I… I don’t know. I think we should…”
Three sharp knocks on my apartment door. Surely Yagher doesn’t know where I’m living? Even if he did why would he come here?
“Someone is at the door,” I whisper.
“I don’t think it’s Yagher – he called me on his drive to see Marle an hour ago. If he was going to see you first he would have been there already.”
Three more knocks. I stand slowly, forgetting that my guitar is leaning against my legs until it lands crashing to the floor. Shit. Well they know I’m home now.
“Is everything okay?” Grant asks.
“Yes, just stay on the line for a second.” I continue listening to Grant’s reassuring breaths as I walk the four steps to the door. When I peer out of the peep hole adrenaline instinctively rushes through my veins before I can consciously acknowledge who is standing on the other side. It’s not easy reminding yourself that your enemy is now your… well maybe not friend, but at least not your enemy anymore.
“It’s Mirena,” I tell Grant. I hesitate to open the door even though I’ve already made my presence known.
“Hunter was on his way to meet her. It’s possible she saw what happened. I don’t see any reason for her to hurt you.”
She’s a psychopathic sadist for one, I think, but I twist the lock and open the door anyway. Mirena walks into my apartment, bursting past me into the living room before turning to face me.
“That son of a bitch took Hunter,” her voice is pure acid. She looks at the phone still pressed against my ear and adds, “But I’m guessing you already know that.”
I nod and tell Grant I’ll call him back shortly. I hang up the phone and but continue standing uselessly by the door. My legs feel unsteady, and I refuse to show any sign of weakness in front of Mirena. Besides, I’d have to walk past her to get to the couch and I’m not sure how much I trust her right now.
“You saw?” I ask her, not really wanting to hear the details but desperate for any conversation that might lead to action.
She shakes her head and sneers in disgust, “No. I just saw that bastard driving away with him. Hunter was in the back seat. I think he was unconscious.”
Unconscious, I reassure myself, not dead. She would be able to tell the difference, right? Grant would know if Yagher had taken things that far. Wouldn’t he?
“So what do we do now?” It’s strange, asking Mirena for help. Even stranger is the brief desperation that flashes across her face, as if she was hoping I would be the one with the answers. “And why do you care about what happens to Hunter anyway? I thought you hated him.”
She sighs before looking away and dropping onto the couch behind her. The familiarity and vulnerability of the gesture are disorienting.
“I hate everyone,” her voice is distant, almost resigned, “But he’s like me.”
He’s nothing like you, I want to tell her. Instead I slowly close the gap between us, reminding myself that she’s not a wild animal. That, whether she wants to be or not, she’s still human. And, as much as I may hate to admit it, in some way she’s right. Both of them were forced to become something neither of them asked for. They know what it’s like to experience pain, to give and receive it. Two of the only people who know what it’s like to live multiple lives, be multiple people, and all the more alone for it.
I sit gently beside her. She doesn’t react or even turn in my direction so I prompt her: “That’s why you hated him so much when you thought he had sided against you.”
She gives the tiniest of nods. Her eyes are unfocused and trained forward, unblinking. Whatever she sees, she doesn’t share it with me. “I was so happy when they chose another child. That someone else would understand. Every day I hated humans more and more, I thought that if I could have just one person to share that hatred with…”
“But he didn’t, did he?”
“No,” her voice is soft now, so low I have to lean forward to hear her. Her eyes are glossy and they make me feel self-conscious. Like seeing a parent cry – the taboo of witnessing someone that should be stronger than you break. Mirena hardly seems aware of me as she continues, “The more I showed him how deplorable humans were, the more he hated me. I thought if I showed him what they were like, we could retreat together. We wouldn’t have to be alone.”
“You hurt him. He thought that you just liked seeing him in pain.”
“He showed you.” It isn’t a question. She turns her head to look at me, her eyes clearing. I nod and she looks away again, “After a while I think I did. I was so angry at him for not being what I wanted.”
“Why are you telling me this?” I resent the part of me that wonders if this is a ruse, but I know how well trained she is in emotional manipulation.
When she looks at me again her green eyes are hard and intense, “I don’t hate you.”
“I didn’t think there would ever be a human that didn’t disgust me, but you managed to change my mind.”
“When I interrogated you I thought you were pathetic and weak. Hating and hurting yourself every time you didn’t do what someone else wanted,” I cringe at the same words I’ve often used against myself. The revulsion in her voice doesn’t help, “But then you defended me. Even after what I’d done to you. You continued to defend Hunter, even knowing what he was. I’ve started wondering if… maybe I’ve made judgements too quickly. Too… broadly,” I can see her struggling with the words, and I’m sure admitting she’s wrong doesn’t come naturally.
“What about Johannes?” I ask, trying to direct the conversation away from myself, “You don’t seem like you hated him.”
She shrugs, as if she could care less. “Johannes was an idiot who got himself killed trying to show off.”
Another shrug, but her nonchalance feels flimsy; her tone is defensive, “He followed me around like a pathetic puppy. Always trying to get my attention. It wouldn’t surprise me if he thought he could impress me by going on some mad killing spree.”
“You said you didn’t want to be alone,” I begin, but she cuts me off before I can finish.
“He couldn’t understand,” she spits, “He would never understand what I’d been through. What I am.”
“You could have shown him,” I murmur, afraid of angering her more. She doesn’t react, though I know she must have heard me. I suddenly recall Hunter’s speculations about Johannes’ motives, “Is it possible he was looking for the stone?”
She looks at me out of the corner of her eye and thinks for a moment, “Hunter said something to that effect. All I know is that he kept telling me that he had learned something and he had some big, stupid plan. Something even I couldn’t ignore. But what difference does it make now? It’s not going to help Hunter.”
I feel a tiny bubble of hope rising in my chest. I try not to think about how small it is. “What if Johannes did know something? Some lead on the stone? If we found it… well… like you said before, it would make for one hell of a bargaining chip.”
She hesitates. Her expression is sceptical but still thoughtful; she hasn’t dismissed the idea completely. The bubble of hope grows infinitesimally.
She asks, “Do you remember anything about the night he attacked you? Did he seem like he was looking for something?”
I open my mouth to answer but she doesn’t wait for me to speak. Instead, she grabs my arm and pulls me back to the moment after I killed Charlie; I’m inwardly thankful she has at least spared me that experience. Terror rises with every step I take up the wooden stairs. Despite knowing how everything ends, I still feel the panic of the unknown. The me in that moment doesn’t know what’s waiting for her in the room across the hall.
I feel the cold glass of the beer bottle against my hand as I snatch it from the table before turning towards Brie’s room. It’s a strange sensation, both understanding and not understanding what I’m witnessing for both the first and second time. Being divided by the me of the moment and the passive viewer. Watching a man that I both recognize and don’t digging around the stomach of a good friend. Shifting his arm in and around as if… Oh God… as if he’s looking for something.