Saturday, August 30, 2014


Chapter 35

*Jack Frost*
Without warning, the placid dawn sky bursts into a thousand bolts of lightning. Thunder starts booming overhead, an overture worthy of the cataclysm I’m experiencing right now.
Across the field, Courtney sinks to her knees, seemingly in slow motion.
“NO!” I scream, desperately trying to claw Christy off of me. “COURTNEY!”
A grotesque smile stretches across Christy’s face as she pins me to the ground. “I’m afraid it’s too late,” she cackles.
“Let go of me!” I rear back my fist, ready to break her nose, but before I can connect, she releases me and spirals off into the sky.
I resolve to deal with her later. Turning back towards the spot where Courtney fell, I begin my race against time. I’m only a few hills away now-- it’ll take me barely a minute-- if only she can hold on until then--
I’m almost there when the clouds open and literally deluge me in rain. Icy and cold though it was, the avalanche was no match for the algid ache in my chest that had begun the moment I saw Courtney fall.
I know the feeling. It’s something I’ve been living with for quite a long time.
The tempest pushes against me stubbornly, as if it, too, is trying to keep me away from Courtney. Gritting my teeth, I drive myself through the roaring winds. Courtney. Get to Courtney. Other than those words, my mind is a blank.
Coughing and gasping, I finally scale the last hill and tear towards Courtney’s broken form. Oh, no, please don’t be dead...
As I approach Courtney, I notice another, smaller girl kneeling in the grass. She raises her head, and I recognize Sophie’s tear-streaked face.
Then, my gaze travels to Courtney.
“No,” I whisper.
Courtney’s eyes are closed, her face relaxed in an image of tranquil beauty. I’ve never seen her look so still and calm before. A serenity like that can only come with the silence of death.
And suddenly everything’s happening at once. I’m shaking Courtney’s shoulders and Sophie’s sobbing softly and the storm’s raging with even more cruelty than ever, and all I can think is, I’m too late, I can’t help her, she’s dead.
“Jack,” Sophie cries, grabbing my arm. “Stop, please.”
I sink to the ground. This can’t be happening, I must be dreaming... Courtney can’t be dead. Courtney must be full of life, laughing and smiling like she always is, not lying on the hill in front of me. This has to be a dream.
But when I see Sophie's grief-stricken expression, my fantasy falls apart. I’m standing in a world without Courtney, a world I’ve been condemned to for the rest of my life.
“She wanted me to tell you that she loved you,” Sophie says softly. “It was the last thing she said.”
She loved me. Loved, past tense, because she’s gone and she’s never coming back.
And I love her. Love, present tense, because she’s gone and I’m still here.
My tears mix with the rain as I scream into the wind. “Not Courtney! Anything but her! Please... I’ll do anything...”
But there is nothing I can do.
I bend over Courtney’s body and press my lips to her forehead, wishing my heart would stop beating so that I can be with her, but it’s no use. She’s gone and I’m still here.

As I turn away, thunder booms overhead, knelling Courtney Tern’s life to a close.

*Chris Velis*
We congregate around the grave, maintaining a respectful silence for our fallen friend. It’s the third funeral I’ve had to attend.
Sophie speaks first. Her words of praise and regret blur together while Jack curls into a ball and clamps his hands over his ears, his eyes taking on a crazed quality.
I shake my head to clear it. I’ve never taken funerals in my stride; it’s time to escape before I go mad.
Squeezing through the throng of grieving people, I block out Sophie’s droning and Jack’s quiet sobs. A quick look around tells me that going back to the firearms shop isn’t an option; the Asphodels aren’t at the funeral, so they must be back in the shop, and I have no intention of staying in a room full of crackheads.
Just as I turn towards the city gates, something comes careening through them. I catch sight of shadowy wings, gargantuan and batlike. Wings like those can only belong to Christy.
I sprint for the funeral, my mouth open to shout a warning, but before I can utter a word, Christy bowls into me and knocks me over.
“How did you know?” she snarls, her breath warm on my cheek.
“Know what?” I grunt, struggling against her grip.
Christy’s hands tighten around my shoulders. “You must have come here for a reason.”
“We came here for guns and allies,” I snap. “What else is in Obcasa that we might want?”
“Liar,” she hisses in reply. “It was Jack. He told you, didn’t he?”
“He can’t tell us anything,” I say. “He hasn’t spoken since Courtney died.”
Christy smirks. “That’s my doing.”
“I’ll hunt you down and kill you personally if you hurt anyone else,” I threaten, my words braver than I feel.
“You can’t kill me if I kill you first,” she cackles, letting go of me and preparing to strike.
Her first blow sends my head spinning, leaving me staggering with dizziness. The full reality of the situation hits me next: I can’t fight Christy. No one can fight Christy. Everything we’ve been doing is completely useless.
She rains blow after blow upon my defenseless frame. I collapse to the ground, unable to fight back, and see her draw back her fist to deliver a deathblow.
I turn my head to see Sara and Sophie racing towards me. No, stay away, you’ll die trying to help me.
Just as I’ve resigned myself to dying for nothing, Christy disappears from my field of vision with a startled yelp. Ignoring the throbbing pain all over my body, I clamber to my feet unsteadily to watch the action unfold.
My savior is a mystery -- a tall, hooded stranger. His hands burst into flame as he hauls Christy away from us.
“Traitor!” Christy howls, extending her wings while backing away from him. “I’ll get you for this!” With that threat, her wings flap twice and she soars away, into the sky.
I rush over to the hooded boy. “You saved my life; I’m boundlessly grateful.”
“Don’t be,” he responds, extinguishing his flames with a whoosh.
There’s something familiar about his voice. But it couldn’t be -- that boy is dead...
“Who are you?” I ask.
The stranger hesitates, then raises his hand and throws back his hood.
My jaw drops as I recognize the face of...
“Dean?” Sophie gasps.


Chapter 34

*Leo Qi*
“Obcasa. The Cosmo Prison is in Obcasa, and Christy’s there right now,” I say.
Right after I arrived in Vale, Alex had called an emergency meeting in Town Hall. He, Suchet, Alisha, Ramya, Nidhi, and I are seated there now, contemplating what to do.
“What about the Obcasa gang? Do you know if they’ll help us?” Alex asks.
I shake my head. “I don’t know, sorry. Jack’s the one there -- I haven’t been able to have any connection with him.”
“So, basically, we have two options,” Alisha suggests. “We can send everyone we’ve got right now, while Christy’s right where we want her to be. Or we can send someone over to ask the Obcasa gang to come and help us so we can regroup and launch a more organized attack.”
“I like the sound of that second plan better,” Suchet says.
I glower at him, still angry from our previous confrontation. “That’s just because you don’t want to risk your own neck, which you would have to do if there’s an immediate Zerg rush.”
“No,” Suchet insists. “I just thought that plan would be more effective -- that it would save more lives!”
“Calm down, both of you,” Ramya interjects, putting a hand on Suchet’s shoulder. “We don’t have time to argue like this. Every second we waste is another chance for Christy to hurt our friends in Obcasa.”
Suchet takes several deep breaths. “Okay. Truce, Leo.”
“Just don’t talk to me and it’ll all be fine,” I grumble, still fuming.
“Let’s vote,” Nidhi suggests. “All in favor of Plan A?”
I’m the only one to raise my hand.
When Plan B is called, all the other hands shoot up. Grimacing, I sigh in defeat.
“Plan B it is, then,” Ramya says ebulliently. “Who’s going to be our ambassador?”
Everybody looks at me out of the corners of their eyes.
“Yeah, yeah, I know,” I deadpan. “You all want me to go.”
“It’s okay if you don’t want to--” Alex stammers.
“No. I do want to... and the rest of you guys do as well, so it’s a win-win situation, right?” I snap back.
I’m met with blank stares and speechless mouths.
Pushing back my chair with a bang, I rise out of my seat, carefully masking my expression. “I’m going, then, if there’s anything else.”
The tension in the room is almost tactile, but no one speaks.
“Screw you all,” I mutter as I stride out of Town Hall. “I’m out of here.”

*Sophie Koh*
I’ve just reached the bottom of the hill when I hear a high pitched scream from behind me.
I whirl around just in time to see something careen into Courtney. It bursts into a million sunbeams, inundating Courtney in a supernatural flame.
Then, as quickly as it came, the anomalous fire dies out and Courtney’s attacker rockets down the side of the hill.
I sprint up the hill and rush over to my fallen friend.  “Oh, my God. Courtney.” Her clothes are literally steaming.
Courtney stirs slightly. “Sophie...” Her voice is barely louder than an exhale.
“What happened?” I yelp, falling to my knees beside her. “Hold still, I’ve got to get you medical attention.”
“It was Christy,” Courtney mumbles. “No doctor can help me. There are none left here anyways.”
“But there’s got to be some way we can heal you! I can’t just give up!” I drape her arms over my shoulders and try to lift her. I’m not strong enough, but I keep straining and struggling.
Courtney touches my arm lightly. “Stop, Sophie. Don’t waste your energy.”
“No, it’s okay, I can--”
“No one can help me now,” she says. “You’ll just tire yourself out.”
Reluctantly, I lower her back to the ground. “Wait here. I’m going back to Obcasa to get the others--”
Courtney grabs my hand. “No, please... don’t leave. I don’t want to die alone.”
“It’s not too late! If I can get help, you’ll be fine!”
She shakes her head. “I’ll be gone before you even get to Obcasa.”
I’m torn between my choices. If I don’t get help, her death will be certain -- but if I do go back to the city, Courtney might die alone. And I can’t let that happen, no matter what she’s done in the past. No one deserves to die that way.
“Please,” Courtney whispers again, reaching out to me. “Don’t leave.”
I make up my mind.
Kneeling down next to her, I whisper back, “It’s okay, Courtney. I’m right here, and I’m staying.”
Courtney smiles slightly. “Thank you.”
And then I lose it. Tears flow freely down my cheeks and I start to choke up. All I can think is, Courtney’s going to die and I can’t do anything about it. I can’t help her. I’m useless.
“Don’t cry, Sophie,” Courtney murmurs.
Those words drag me back to the past, to that awful day of Dean’s funeral, when I spitefully commanded Courtney not to cry -- when I blamed her for Dean’s death. When I told her that she was a monster, and that I never wanted to see her again.
How could I have treated her so badly? Courtney saved my life that day. And in return, I was horrible to her. Now, she’s the one dying.

“Are you okay?” Courtney whispers. “Please don’t cry. Everything will be okay.”
Some part of me recognizes the irony of the situation: she’s the one suffering, and she’s telling me that everything will be okay.
I don’t want Courtney to get worried about me, so I lie, trying to quell the feeling of despair rising inside me. “I-- I’m okay.”
My voice comes out in a hoarse, strangled croak. I swallow, fighting back the lump in my throat. “I’m okay,” I say again, more firmly this time.
We’re both silent for a moment. All I can hear is Courtney’s ragged, labored breathing.
Then a new expression crosses her face. “Sophie, can we make a deal?”
“Anything,” I respond.
“When I-- when I go to the other side of the stars, can you take care of Jack for me and make sure he stays safe? I’ll take care of Dean for you... up there.” She gestures vaguely at the sky above us.
“Don’t worry. I’ll keep Jack safe.” Tears well up in my eyes again. “Tell Dean I said hi, will you?”
“I’ll do that,” Courtney responds.
Another moment of silence passes.
“I love Jack, you know,” Courtney murmurs, her voice barely audible; I can almost see her begin to fade. “But I never told him, and now, I’ll never be able to.”
Her grip on my arm slackens. “And do me one last favor, will you, Sophie?”
“Of course.”
“Tell him for me," she whispers. “Tell him how I feel -- that I love him.”
I nod, my gut twisting. “I will, Courtney. I will.”

Courtney’s lips curl into a smile and she relaxes, her breaths slowing.
I don’t want to watch another friend die. So, when Courtney closes her eyes, I close mine as well.

When I open them again, Courtney is on the other side of the stars.