Chapter 22:

The Skirmish in Static

Tetraprisma: Chromatic

“Shiera!” Aubrey hissed, running over. I had lost my balance and fallen onto the ground, my hands clammy and pale. “What’s happening? Are you okay?”

I took in a breath, then slowly exhaled. “I’m… fine. Sorry,” I whispered. I took Aubrey’s hand and balanced myself.

“Didja lock yer knees, or what?” Aubrey asked. “I was real worried there.”

“No, I just…” I looked away. “I don’t know. I thought about something too hard. It was nothing.”

Aka groaned. “Can we hurry it up? We gotta go.”

Aubrey glared at him with knives. “Go ahead without us. We’ll catch up. We know the route.”

He grimaced. “Don’t wait for long. We need backup.” Pushing open the door quietly, he let the rest of the sector through. He shot me a look before slipping out himself.

Aubrey turned back to me. Her hands were on my shoulders, her ears flattened. “You’re stressed. Tell me what’s going on.” Her accent vanished.

“It’s not important. We need to go with Aka and the rest of them.” I pulled back, but Aubrey gripped harder.

“Do you know why I’m holding you here?” she questioned.

“Because I fell on the ground. I’m better now, I swear! I can walk, I can–”

“No, you dolt. Your cortisol’s higher than it’s ever been before, including the arena match against Aaron. You can’t cast magic until it goes down. That’s why I’m holding you here, okay?”

I tried to pull her off of me. “You’re only making it worse!”

“Stop it, Shiera. Relax. I’m also holding you because I care about you. I don’t want you to do something reckless and get hurt. Just stop moving for a second and breathe,” she ordered.

I wanted to push her away with my magic and run. What good was staying here going to do? I’d just get more and more stressed. I breathed in, breathed out…

Then pushed free.

The red runes flashed on Aubrey’s ghostly skin, and suddenly, she was flying back, unable to control her speed. She spun in the air and skidded on the ground, sticking the landing with both feet and a hand for support. I made a run for the door.

I tried to yank them open, but they wouldn’t budge. “What did you do?!” I screamed at her. “Are you going to kill me down here?!”

She twitched. “I’m not gonna kill you.”

I thrust a hand out. “I’m not taking that risk!” She began to float in the air— she frantically grabbed at the ground to no avail. With a swipe of my hand to the side, she began to fall to the right wall. She grabbed onto a storage cabinet and hung from it.

“Stop it! You’re gonna get us both killed!” Aubrey snarled. She unstrapped her axe and held it with her free hand.

“You are trying to kill me!”

“No, I’m– what can I say to get you to believe me?”

“You can unlock the door and put down the axe!”

Aubrey tightened her grip on the axe. “Not until you cut this out!”

You think you can take me? “I’m not cutting out shit ‘til you’re begging for mercy!” My iron bracelets looked like they were glowing red-hot as I swiped my hand the other direction.

Aubrey brought her axe around and wedged it into the cabinet’s wooden frame. She used it as a bar to hang on as her gravity flipped. The room was wide— if she let go, she would fall some fifteen meters down on either side.

“Shiera, stop!” she hissed. Magenta began to seep from her axe, like blood drip-dripping to the ground. I watched the flow creep steadily towards me.

I yanked my arm back, sweat flying off my hand. Aubrey’s eyes went wide. To either side of her was a fifteen meter drop, but to the wall behind me, it was at least twenty-five. Worse, she had nothing to grab onto. She held tightly to her axe in hopes it was lodged tightly enough to support her.

It did support her. But only for about half a second.

The cabinet fell over— her axe had pulled on it too hard. She began to fall. As she helplessly spiraled, trying to right herself for the landing, I felt a tug. I looked over at my arm.

Her magic! Magenta blood wrapped itself around me. In a single moment, it pulled my arm down to my side. Suddenly, instead of falling, Aubrey was tumbling on the stone-cold floor. She hit the wall with a sickening thud, sending the shells around her rattling.

The blood constricting me disappeared, its fuchsia glow shimmering away. I put my hands on my knees and gasped for air. I hadn’t known how tiring magic was until now.

Bzzzt! My earpiece vibrated. “Come in, Beta. Over.” Ms. Copper’s voice was louder than I’d expected.

“What is it? Over,” I whispered.

“Sumisu’s vitals are looking bad. Where is she? Over.”

I didn’t know what to say. “She… uh, she got hit by a spirit. She’s alright. Over.”

“She’s not responding on her mic. Over.”

“Can you give me the stats on her vitals? Over,” I asked.

Ms. Copper’s keyboard clacked through the mic. “Her heartrate is at 152 and dropping. She’s already losing blood, over.”

I stepped towards Aubrey tentatively. She was limp, cuts and bruises circling her limbs. Her forehead was bleeding. “She’ll be fine. Over.”

“Beta, are you sure she–”

“I said over. Over.” I tapped my intercom thrice, blocking out Ms. Copper’s signal. I kneeled over next to Aubrey and checked her injuries more closely. There wasn’t as much blood on her head as I’d thought, and her cuts were mostly surface-level.

I flipped her body over to check for injuries on her backside. As before, scrapes lined her lower back. I noticed a bit of red under her tank top and lifted it up to check.

Her entire upper back was lashed with red welts, like scars. There was no immediate bleeding— these weren’t new wounds. I carefully put her tank top back down and sighed. I pushed her back over and tapped on her cheek. “Aubrey, you awake?”

She wasn’t immediately conscious, but her eyelids flickered. “Wha…?”

I got up to my feet and offered her a hand. “You good?”

She took a shaky breath. Even if she was awake, she was still injured. “I’m alive. Ain’t that what matters?” She didn’t take my hand. Instead, she tapped on her intercom twice.

I shook my head. “If you’re not ready, that’s fine. I’ll go get Marissa–”

Aubrey stood herself up against the wall and slapped me in the face. “You dumbass! What were you thinking?!”

“I’m sorry, I just wasn’t thinking about–”

“Don’t you think that’s what she wants?”


Aubrey hissed at me like a cat. “You know Copper’s possessed. She wants us to fight each other.”

“But she didn’t tell me to do anything,” I reasoned.

“She told me to lock you in here until your cortisol went down. By yourself.”

I watched the blood seep down around her eye. “Then why would you stay in here?”

“To make her think it’s all going according to her plan. She knows I can’t just leave you here. I just didn’t expect you to actually try to kill me.“

I swallowed. “Sorry.”

“I’m not dead, so it’s fine. Plus your cortisol’s gone down. We need to be heading out with the others.” She wiped the blood off her face with a swipe of her hand.

“Can you move?”

“Yeah. My magic got to you before my legs shattered on the wall,” she snarked, stepping forward. She shook out her arms. “Let’s go.”

We slipped over to the doors and tugged on the handles. Still locked. I looked over to Aubrey, who seemed to be lost in thought.

“What do we do?”

Her ears perked up, and she turned her gaze towards the crack underneath the door. “The handles turn all the way, but the doors don’t open. They’re blocked off from the outside.”


“Cast a little cyan pillar just past the crack under the doors. Push it up and see if it knocks the lock off.”

I sighed. My arms were tired. “Why can’t you do it?”

“I can’t cast cyan.”

“Oh. Right.” I kneeled down and pressed my hand up to the door to cast. A bit of cyan glowed through the crack in the door… clack! Something wooden fell to the ground.

Aubrey pushed open the door to check— the doors had been barricaded by a single wooden beam. “Maybe Aka put the lock up to keep us safe,” she suggested, “but he didn’t really think it through.”

I floated myself up from the floor to get back on my feet. “Is it safe to call Copper for directions?”

Aubrey pondered this. “Go ahead and try it. I’ll switch back to my accent so she thinks nothing’s wrong. Pretend you’re really mad at me.”

I tapped once on the device. “This is Beta and Sumisu. We’re in, over.”

“Do you need directions? Over.” Ms. Copper asked. Her voice sounded less scratchy than usual— smoother, almost seductive.

“Yes. We just left the storage room,” I said. “Aubrey— screw her, by the way— is here with me, and we–”

“You don’t need to say any more,” Ms. Copper laughed. Aubrey turned to me with a confused look on her face. “A certain miss Beta deafened her mic, but she never muted it.”

Confusion turned to fear. We were speechless. “And because you two already caught on, I don’t need to explain,” she continued.

“Who are you?” Aubrey hissed into the mic.

“Is Lieutenant Kayla Copper not a sufficient answer?”


The intercom went static for a moment. “Destiny Kitakawa.”

Aubrey shivered. “I thought only Sakira had a name.”

“That’s what they’ve been telling you?” Ms. Copper— rather, Destiny— chuckled. “Atlas is so naïve. That or corrupt.”

I didn’t know whether to speak. Did she know about my pact with Sakira? And if I did say anything, wouldn’t Aubrey hear?

“And Shiera, don’t think I forgot about you. I had you pinned down on that battlefield, thinking you were easy prey…” Destiny growled into the mic. “I thought Sakira was going to kill me for getting beat out there. He’s a hell of a lot more merciful than you all think he is.”

Aubrey looked around— the hallways were empty, for now. “What about the map? Why would you give us that if you wanted us to fail?”

“You think I’m dumb enough to give a group of high schoolers the real layout of a military base?” Destiny scoffed. “Spirits aren’t stupid, miss Sumisu.”

The map was wrong. We don’t know where anything is. We can’t locate the rest of the sector. We can’t find Kori. What do we do? I felt my cortisol rising and took a deep breath.

Aubrey’s eyes had narrowed down to slits. “We won’t be able to get out.”

Destiny’s harrowing laugh echoed through the device. “You can always jump out.”

“What?!” Aubrey snarled. She looked the other way, to the end of the grey-tiled hallway— a window. She dashed over and pressed her hands against it. I ran over alongside her.

“You must have thought the storage room was in the basement,” Destiny cooed. “Why don’t you try to guess what floor you’re on?”

The dark streets below flashed with bullet trains and neon lights. I could barely tell it was the ground, we were so high up. We were both at a loss for words.

“Long way down, isn’t it? Have fun sticking the landing,” Destiny giggled. She clicked off her intercom.

All that remained of our plan, and maybe even our lives, was the sizzle of the intercom’s static.

Slashed Ink.
Steward McOy