Chapter 24:

Suspended Animation (Redux)

Tetraprisma: Chromatic


The glass shook as I pounded on it— I needed answers. If Kori wasn’t in his test tube, where was he? What did Sakira need him for? If we were too late, then…

Sydney hmphed. “He’s likely not dead, if that’s what’s got your panties in a twist.”

“I know he’s not dead, dumbass,” I groaned. “That’s not the problem.”

“What’s the problem, then?” Sydney questioned. She opened another drawer and drew out a folder. Her eyes flicked over them. “Ah. I see.”

Aubrey raised an eyebrow and lowered her posture. “What?”

“Says here that–”

“I can read. Gimme the files.”

Sydney handed her the folder. “No need to be rude about it.”

Aubrey pounced on it and looked through the papers inside. “‘Hypothesis: gene manipulation can be used to change the subspecies of a human.’ What’s that all about?”

“Keep reading,” Sydney urged.

“‘Using a virus capsule from the recent pandemic, I took a few of the subject’s cells and carefully edited the exon for…’” Aubrey gulped. “Lycanthropy.”

I took a breath and hid my fear. “He turned Kori into a werewolf?”

“Hold on, I ain’t done yet,” Aubrey said. “‘This particular strand of the virus has been placed in safekeeping. Because it’s changing very little about the subject’s genetic code, it should take only minutes to fully affect him.’ It doesn’t say he’s used it already.”

“Does it say anything else?”

Aubrey flipped to the last page. “Yeah, there’s a note here. ‘To Kitakawa— the virus is in the compartment on the roof. I cannot bring myself to use it, so I’ve left the decision to you. If and when Sector 53 arrives, do not halt their progress. I cannot let…’” She trailed off.

“What does it say?” I snapped.

“Uh, that’s it.”

“You sure?”

Her eyes darted from the file to me, then back again. “Yeah. Actually, I think we can just put this back.”

I snatched the folder from her before she could put it back in the drawer. “Tell me what it says before I read it.”

Aubrey was strangely silent. Her mouth opened and closed as if she were trying to find words to say. Whatever. I flipped to the file and read it to myself.

…do not halt their progress. I cannot let Shiera know of my manipulation, else the plan will fall out of our favor. She has already begun to suspect me after talking to the Queen, and just the smallest push could tip her over the edge. I’m aware of your beliefs that I’ve formed a bond with her, and I hope this note reassures you that I have not.

“So…” Aubrey whimpered, “Kori’s gonna get werewolfed, and Sakira wrote a letter to the commander who possessed Copper about manipulating Shiera. This mission is going great!”

My eyes glanced back and forth on the paper, trying to find anything that would disprove it. I wanted to believe Sakira had truly cared, but after that… “He never manipulated me. I saw through it.”

“What’s that supposed ta mean?!” Aubrey snarled. “So you were in kahoots with ‘im the whole time?”

“I– well, yeah, but I didn’t… he never…”

Aubrey was pale. “That’s where your powers came from. Sakira… possessed you, didn’t he?”

“Inhabited,” Sydney corrected. “It’s a lighter form of possession that allows the victim free control over their bodies. It’s mutualistic in nature.”

“So you mean… you agreed to partner with him?”

“I… but…”

“Then you knew about the spirit possessing Ms. Copper!”

I clutched my amulet. “No! I didn’t know shit!”

“You can’t prove that!” Aubrey shouted. Her voice, now hoarse from yelling, echoed through the dark lab. Distrust settled in the cold air.

“You’re gonna have to trust me,” I said, shuddering. “I didn’t know anything.”

“Sure you didn’t,” Aubrey hissed. She jabbed a finger into my sternum. “Aaron told me that Copper talked to you after one of the meetings. She woulda been possessed by then.”

I backed up, my hands breaking into a sweat. “She probably was, but… I–I couldn’t tell.”

“So when did you find out, then?”

”It was, like, five minutes before we left,” I said. With a breath, I tried to calm my nerves. “I wish I’d known sooner.”

Aubrey still looked tensed up. Her breathing was tight and fast, her eyebrows lowered in frustration. “…I guess we don’t have a choice.”

Sydney closed her eyes. “You’ve just realized?”

“I just– what?” Aubrey said.

“Even if she’s lying, it doesn’t matter,” she explained. She shot a glare, but not at anyone in particular.

Aubrey grimaced. “Because if we’re this far into her trap, there’s no turning back, ain’t that right?”

“That’s exactly it,” Sydney said. “I’m glad you understand.”

I took a deep breath. This was big news for them— it would take a while for them to fully regain their trust in me. No amount of convincing would change that.

“I don’t care if you think I’m lying, we need to go up to the roof.” I didn’t dare look either of them in the eye. “If that virus is still there, we have to do something about it.”

I saw Aubrey look down out of the corner of my eye. “But how do we get to the roof?”

“Doesn’t the elevator lead there?” I said.

“How do you know that?”

“We pressed the second-to-last button on that elevator, right? If we’re on the top floor, that last one should get us up there.”

Aubrey took a second to process it. “That’s the button that said ‘T’ on it.”

“What is the word for roof in Atlean?” Sydney asked.

She started snapping, murmuring to herself. “What was it…? Uh, uh… tagolana? I think it’s tagolana,” she said.

Sydney nodded. “Then the T stands for that.”

“Great. Let's go.” I made for the exit, sickle in hand. “If the virus isn’t there, Sakira definitely will be.”

We made our way out of the lab and over to the elevator without any issue. We hit the ‘up’ button outside and began our wait.

“Shiera,” Sydney said, turning to me. “Do you care about Kori?”

“…Yeah.” It wasn’t easy to admit, but after everything that’d happened, I couldn’t lie to myself about it. After all, we were only here in Reapra because I’d wanted to rescue him.

Sydney gave me the first look of shock I’d ever seen from her. “Well now, look who’s come around. I guess I won’t be antagonizing you, then.”

“…Antagonizing me?”

“If I were you, I wouldn’t worry about it.”

The elevator doors ka-clunked open, and the three of us stepped over the spirits still unconscious on the floor. When the doors closed behind us, I kneeled down and inspected one of them.

This one, the male one as it seemed, wore wrappings underneath all his armor. I could only assume Sakira did the same. I noticed something strange, though— there was a long, silky ribbon sewed into the side of his neck. I didn’t know spirit anatomy, but from what I could see of his translucent skin, the ribbon was sewed in pretty damn close to his carotid.

I felt the ribbon between my fingers. “What the hell is this thing?”

Aubrey looked down at where I was kneeled. “It’s a spirit. Yer tryin’ too hard to convince us you ain’t possessed.”

“No, dumbass, I meant the cloth thing.”

She squinted at it. “Oh, that thing’s called a nyura.”

“Okay, but what does it do?”

“It’s basically a tattoo for spirits. Makes it easy to figure out which ones are more powerful.”

I got up from my knees. “Wouldn’t it be a weak spot?”

“That’s the idea,” she said. “Gives the stronger ones more to think about in battle. Not that they… nevermind.”

“What?”

“I was gonna say ‘not that they can think in the first place’, but I don’t think that’s true anymore.”

I stared out the window. “Hey, did we ever start going up? Because we aren’t moving.”

“No, we never clicked the button,” Sydney replied. “Only Aubrey can read Atlean.”

Aubrey smacked herself in the forehead, turned around, and tapped a button on the dashboard. “Damn, I totally forgot. Sorry, y’all.”

The elevator began to move upwards at a fairly quick pace. We’d be on the roof in no time. As we stood idly, watching the ground shrink even further away, my mind went on an adventure of its own.

Who is Sakira? What is he really like? I saw through what he was doing, and I’ve heard all about him— he’s the most skilled manipulator in Dianoct. Then why couldn’t he turn me to his side? Why did his tricks… fail?

Teresa said if I ever made conversation with him, it was already too late. But I’ve been talking to him for at least half a month, and… well, now I’m riding an elevator and getting ready to kill him. Is Sakira just not as good at manipulating as everyone thinks? Or am I invulnerable to being manipulated?

That note to Kitakawa is still weird to me. ‘I’m aware of your beliefs that I’ve formed a bond with her…’ Why would she think that? She would know Sakira better than anyone… except maybe me. And maybe that’s it. Maybe she thought Sakira was getting close to me because he spent so much time pushing me to do his bidding.

Or maybe not.

Something isn’t adding up. Why would he have to tell his own subordinate that he wasn’t forming a bond with me? Why would she suspect that at all? It doesn’t make sense. And… then there’s that. The first part of the note.

‘I cannot bring myself to use it, so I’ve left the decision to you.’ Why can’t he bring himself to use it? His whole plan was to use Kori as a bargain. Using that virus would only be of benefit for him. So… so why can’t he use it?

The ding of the elevator snapped me from my trance. As the doors slid open, a frigid gust blew through the entrance and hit the three of us. I led the way, shivering.

The roof was mostly a desert of concrete, save for a landing pad and catwalks. We walked along one of the catwalks, shielding our faces from the wind. I faintly heard Aubrey’s voice, but I couldn’t tell what she had said.

“What?” I called, turning my head.

“I said the note said it’s in a compartment on the roof! We need ta be lookin’ for a compartment!”

“Got it!” I turned back and kept on moving forward, with an occasional glance to my left and right to check for compartments. My hair was flying all over the place, so it was hard to see, but I did notice something.

This catwalk led to a balcony made of solid glass. It seemed almost out of place, especially this high up. It was definitely dangerous. But I had to see. Just in case that virus was there, I had to check it.

I ran up ahead to make it there before the others. With a hesitant step, I made my way out onto the balcony. It was certainly a view from here— the streets and lights below seemed insignificant from a vantage point like this.

As I was looking down at the city, I bumped into someone. I looked up expecting to see Aubrey, who might have run out in front of me. “Hey, how’d you–”

His messy brown hair was just a little longer than I’d remembered. His outfit was dripping with what seemed like liquid from the test tubes. But it was definitely him.

But why was he up here?

I looked him in the eyes, and I understood.

“…Sakira.”

Kori backed up to the railing of the balcony, but not out of fear. “Shiera, I’m sorry.”

“Sure you are,” I replied. There was a lump in my throat, making it hard to swallow. I had to look away from his possessed body for just a moment— the sun was just beginning to rise over to the east. “Since when could you be sorry for anything?”

“Since you almost–”

“Tell me where the virus is,” I cut him off. The clouds around us were beginning to glow with the pastels of the sunrise, and the streaks of argon were crackling through the sky. I still couldn’t look him in the eye again.

I wasn’t looking at him, but out of my peripheral vision, I saw him look down. “Kitakawa used it before I could tell her not to.”

“Really? Is that what it was?” I tried not to react to the heartbreaking news— we were too late.

“I wrote a letter to her saying she had the choice. She chose to do it before I’d made up my mind.” Kori’s hands clasped the railings harder. “I’m so sorry.”

“And what about the second half of that letter?” I spat. “Remember that?”

We locked eyes, red on red. “Kitakawa read my private log. She knew I was changing, so I tried to convince her otherwise.”

Click, click. “You were… trying to deceive her.”

He didn’t respond. His breathing was almost as shallow as mine, though I could barely hear it over the rough wind.

“And you had to make it look like you were just manipulating me to get her to believe you.”

“…yes,” Kori said, our gazes still locked.

I grimaced. “So why did you send her to possess Ms. Copper?”

“I… I didn’t.” He said it as if he was just hearing this for the first time.

“What?”

“Kitakawa must’ve… gone behind my back. Which is why she read my log. She must have found out about our partnership.”

Suddenly, I heard footsteps behind me. Louder, louder— I turned around to see Aubrey and Sydney just behind the balcony. “Shiera! Who the hell is that?”

I turned back to Kori. “You tell them,” I muttered.

He pushed me aside and made eye contact with Aubrey. “I’m possessed.” Did he just admit it to her?

Sydney didn’t seem to find this surprising whatsoever, but Aubrey was flabbergasted. “Guh– yeah, yer eyes are red, ya got the other stuff… Why’d ya tell me that?”

“I’m tired of deceit,” he responded quickly. “Lying puts me on edge.” He walked around me, putting an arm on my shoulder.

“Who are ya? But really this time. I need ta know if yer a threat,” Aubrey said.

Kori smiled at her— whether or not it was genuine, I couldn’t tell. “Don’t worry. I’m not a threat to either of you two.”

The wind blew another big gust at us, sending my hair into a disarray. “What does that mean for me?”

“It means if that sickle comes anywhere near me, my mercy might run dry,” Kori said.

“You think I want mercy?” I spat. “All I want from you is my brother, you bitch!”

Kori’s face fell. “I… I wish it were that simple, Shiera.”

“What’s complicated about it, Sakira? What’s complicated about giving my brother back? Is it that you need him for this stupid-ass war you’ve been fighting?”

“No,” he sighed. “If… if you want him back, I can release him from my control. But…”

I took my sickle and held it to his throat. “But what?”

“He’ll get stressed from waking up in such a strange environment. And since I was too late to stop Kitakawa, that would mean you’d have a werewolf running rampant on a glass balcony.”

Aubrey took a firm step forward. “Shiera, what’s this guy talkin’ about? What’s gonna happen?”

I steeled myself. “Step off of the glass. It won’t last long.”

“Wha–” Aubrey hopped back, grabbing onto the catwalk’s railing. “Whaddya mean by that?”

I set my eyes back on my brother’s red eyes. “Do it. Get out of my brother. Let us fall.”

Kori was hesitant. “…I don’t want you to get hurt, Shiera. I really don’t.”

“Fuck you.”

Kori’s eyes quickly turned a light hazel before he fell back, unconscious. His body thudded against the glass, but the balcony hadn’t broken, as far as I could tell. I kneeled down and tried to pull him upright.

He began to stir as I looked down at him. “Shi…era?”

“Yeah, it’s me. Nothing’s wrong, alright? You’re doing fine.”

“Wha… what do you mean?”

“I need you to stay super calm, okay? Like, ‘dad not coming home when he says he will’ levels of calm.”

He sat up. “Where are we?”

“Doesn't matter. We have to get back, alright? So just stay calm and stand up.”

I grabbed his hand and helped him up. Despite having been in a test tube, he seemed fairly strong. “Was that whole magic thing a dream?”

“No, it–” I noticed him turning his vision downwards and tilted his face towards me– “don’t look down, okay?”

“Why? What’s wrong with looking down? I’m probably gonna look down just to spite you.”

“Just… just trust me, Kori, don’t look down.”

And that’s when I heard that awful, sickening sound.

Crack!

Kori’s footstep had been too heavy, because I’d never told him we were walking on glass. He immediately looked down, down at the thousands of meters between us and the ground, down at the CMYK abyss below us.

The sound of shattering cyan pierced my eardrums as the floor gave out beneath us. I instinctively held myself in place for a second or so before realizing Kori had fallen. With a quick glance, I could see what was happening.

Glass shards shrouded him as he fell, but his transformation was quick and obvious. Grey fur creeped its way into every inch of his skin, his eyes widening to a deep amber. His hair became mangy and jet-black as his face grew into a gnarly snout.

But I didn’t care if he was a werewolf or not. I took the dive and reached out to him, hoping whatever consciousness he had left would take my hand. I pressed my other hand against my arm to steady it.

In the air, we locked eyes. Whether he still knew I was his sister, I had no way of knowing. But even if his whole body had changed, he was still Kori. Those eyes, now sharp and amber, were the same eyes of the dumbass I wanted dead for years. Ironic that instead of killing him, I was saving his life.

I felt Sakira’s power pulsate from my bracelets in waves, slowing the world down little by little. The ground below looked as if it had stopped approaching, and the chromatic shards surrounding me paused with us.

The cyan, magenta, and yellow of the city lights reflected harshly against the two of us. It was as if we were in a perpetual dance, gliding downwards towards a fate still unknown.

There we were, intertwined in suspended animation.

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