Most of the books had been banned or burned or sent off into space, the way they did with the people they didn’t like, but there were still some hidden, tucked away in places even Kasius and the rest of his goons didn’t know about.
You could get to them, if you knew where to look.
Or knew the right person to ask.
Tristan was the right person to ask, though she didn’t care much for the books. She’d flipped through them here and there -mostly in between secreting them from one person to the next- studied the printed words or the pictures on the page. She’d read enough to know that things hadn’t always been this way, to know that there had been a different earth, a different way of doing things. That there were strong and brave people and Kree only in fairytales and fiction.
She knew enough to know that this place definitely hadn’t earned the moniker The Lighthouse, which was supposed to be a structure to protect and guide ships out of danger. She didn’t know what an ocean was or what type of ship was made to sit on the water, but it was a nice thought -that there once existed a structure whose sole purpose was to warn things of danger.
Tristan supposes that, in some ways, this Lighthouse still warns of danger. If you know how to listen.
Which, Tristian does. She’s had to learn, over the years.
Everyone in the Lighthouse had thought that Virgil was the best there was: the best smuggler, the best at keeping secrets, the one who had all the insider information. Most of them didn’t know where that information came from. Which is exactly how Tristan wants to keep it.
It’s hard to be efficient and successful if everyone is looking for you.
So, Tristan hides, she sneaks, she smuggles, and, most importantly, she listens.
Which is how she hears about the strangers long before anyone else. Which is how she realizes that Virgil, with his stupid ideas, might have been onto something after all. People from the past, here to save the future?
They certainly don’t look like much.
Tristan studies them from the eaves and corners of the Lighthouse, slipping silently above their heads, reveling -as she always does- in the sheer amusement of how stupid humans are, how loud and oblivious they are to the things around them. This group doesn’t look like much, though she is impressed that one of them handles the Roaches without even touching them. Even still, she can’t see what Virgil was so worked up over. She can’t see how these people are supposed to save their world.
The longer the group is here, the less Tristan believes in their abilities to save themselves, let alone anyone else. They make too much noise, call too much attention to themselves. Tess tries to help, but she does it poorly, which honestly doesn’t surprise Tristan much. Virgil trusted Tess, relied on her too much. She thinks he’d be disappointed to see Tess’s inability to keep these all-important strangers safe.
Tristan thinks about intervening, doing something to help Tess and the others, if only to see if there is something to Virgil’s stories before all the idiots manage to get themselves killed.
But then Kasius picks one of the strangers to be one of his special, his Chosen, and Tristan values her own hide far more than anyone else’s.
Curiosity is not going to kill this cat.
Or, well, wolf.
Of course, she can get up to the upper levels; of course, she can slip into Kasius’ private chambers. But that doesn’t mean she’s going to do it on behalf of some human, regardless of the stories that Virgil might have told.
It’s touching, in a stupid sort of way, when another one of the strangers -the one who took out the Roach like it was nothing- starts running around the Lighthouse like an idiot, looking for her missing friend. Tristan watches her, cataloging her progress, amused by drive, her determination. Humans are stupid but loyal. At least, some of them.
Tristan realizes long before the girl does that she’s playing right into Deke’s hands. He’s not trustworthy, not when it really counts. Tristan can’t blame Deke for looking out for himself first and foremost; it’s how she lives her life, of course, how she’s managed to stay alive this long. But she feels like she almost shares in the stranger’s indignation when she realizes that Deke has sold her out to Kasius.
Another Inhuman for his collection, a real one, one he didn’t have to make himself.
And that’s when curiosity finally gets the better of her.
It’s worth it just to see the look of complete surprise when Tristan drops from the ceiling in front of the cell where Kasius is keeping his latest treasure.
Though, the look of shock that crosses her face when she takes in Tristan’s appearance is equally as entertaining.
“What?” Tristan says with a shrug, picking a bit of dust off the cuff of her shirt, feigning boredom. “I’m the weirdest thing you’ve seen here?”
The Inhuman girl blinks at her. “What are you?”
Tristan frowns at the question. “I’m the one standing outside of this cage while you’re the one in it.”
The comment is enough to get the girl to close her mouth, at least.
Tristan can see herself the way this woman does, knows what she looks like to this human. Her ears and tail, so mismatched on the rest of her body. Much like her fangs, and the sharpened points of her fingers. Not wolf, not girl. Just some freakish in-between that Kasius and his love for perfection cannot abide by.
The woman gets to her feet, moving out of the corner of her cell to come closer to where Tristan is standing. “Are you another one of his pets?”
Tristan grimaces, baring her teeth. “I’m no one’s pet,” she assures her quickly. “I don’t help Kasius.”
Instantly, the woman’s face changes, shifts, brightens. Becomes more open and hopeful. Idiot. “Can you get me out of here?”
Tristan swishes her tail as she considers the question. “Not easily,” she says finally. “Kasius isn’t an idiot. He’s always with Sinara and they would…not be happy to see me.”
Hiding in the shadows isn’t just about listening. It’s about, well, hiding.
The woman frowns, brow furrowing, considering. Finally, she says, “My name is Daisy. What’s your name?”
Tristan cocks her head. “Why?”
The woman, Daisy, exhales, puffing out her cheeks with the exasperated breath. “I thought we might be able to help each other. Since it seems like we have a common enemy.”
“I don’t have enemies,” Tristan assures her. “That’s how I’ve stayed alive for so long.” She smirks. “You might want to take my advice.”
Daisy looks momentarily annoyed, her eyes sparking with frustration. She exhales once more, long and slow, between her clinched teeth. “It’s a little late for that, don’t you think?” She asks finally and Tristan has to admit that she has a point. “Look, if you can’t get me out of here, can you at least do me another favor?”
Tristan’s brow furrows and she shifts, uncomfortable. “Why would I do you a favor?”
“How did you get here?” Daisy asks, rather than bothering to answer what Tristan thinks is a perfectly logical question. “You didn’t come from down the hall.”
Tristan scoffs. “I know how to get around this place, trust me,” she assures Daisy. “I’ve been doing it for five years.”
Ever since Kasius took her from her family, younger than he takes the children now. Now he takes them when they’re eighteen, close to adulthood, more likely to be successful. He didn’t bother with her, a girl hardly a teenager, afraid and lonely and still prone to tears.
Daisy grins. “Exactly,” she says. “Which is why I need you. I’m stuck in here, but you aren’t. And I have friends-”
Tristan nods. “I know,” she says, managing to resist rolling her eyes. “I’ve been watching you guys.”
Daisy looks momentarily baffled but she turns her confusion back into a smile. “See? You can help me.”
Tristan has heard this before. This phrase is not exactly new to her. Virgil said it to her dozens and dozens of times, and other people on the ship who needed something. The phrase that follows is equally as familiar, “What’s in it for me?”
Daisy can only look at her, lifting an eyebrow. “Well, nothing right now, clearly,” she says, gesturing to the cell that she’s stuck in. “But when I get out of here, I’m going to kill Kasius and something tells me that you might be into that kinda thing.”
“You can’t kill him,” Tristan assures her. “You think you’ll be the first person to try?”
“Yeah, but I haven’t tried.” Daisy’s smile is confident, arrogant almost. But a promise.
Tristan can’t help but find her intriguing. “What’s the favor?”
“One of my friends, her name is Jemma, she’s stuck here, with Kasius. I’ve been trying to get to her,” Daisy says quickly, the words tumbling out of her mouth in a rush. “I need you to get a message to her.”
The stranger, the one that Kasius has Chosen. Tristan manages to suppress a shudder. “I know her.”
Daisy exhales, her shoulders slumping in relief. “Okay, okay, good. Is she…is she okay?”
Tristan studies the expression on Daisy’s face, trying to interpret it. She’s not used to seeing the people around her looking like Daisy does now: relieved and desperate, invested in the well-being of another person. That’s dangerous here, though Tristan knows that some people are still foolish enough to grow attached to something that can so easily be taken from them. Clearly Daisy hasn’t yet learned that lesson.
“She’s the one you’ve been looking for,” Tristan observes. “You’ve been trying to rescue her.”
Daisy nods. “Yeah, I need to get to her,” she says. “I…she’s…”
Tristan gets it. She thinks.
She was attached to people once. Once she would have done whatever she could to save them, to help them. But that was a long time ago and she was young and stupid and scared.
She’s pretty sure that Kasius will teach Daisy the same lesson he taught her, if given enough time.
“What message?” Tristan interrupts with a touch of impatience, lest Daisy go off on some of sort rambling tangent about why she has to get to this Jemma.
“Tell her that I’m here and I’m trying,” Daisy tells her. “That I’m going to get us all out of here.”
Tristan considers. “How are you going to do that?”
Daisy offers her a lopsided grin in response. “That I haven’t figured out yet.”
With a scoff, Tristan rolls her eyes. “Great plan.”
“You deliver the message and I’ll keep working on the plan, okay?” Daisy lifts an eyebrow. “Think you can handle that, Spot?”
Tristan furrows her brow, annoyed by the confusion that flares through her body. She doesn’t understand this Spot, doesn’t know what Daisy is talking about, but she’s not sure that she likes it. “What is Spot?”
“What else am I supposed to call you, since I don’t know your name?” Daisy gives her a look, as if to say the next move is Tristan’s. The ball is in her court.
But still, she’s not entirely sure that she can trust Daisy. It doesn’t matter in the long run, she knows. That Daisy not having her name isn’t going to matter if she tells Kasius that she was here. There’s only one half-wolf girl in this place so it’s not like Kasius will need her name to believe what Daisy has seen.
If Daisy decides to blow her cover and sell her out.
If she doesn’t, well, then maybe Tristan will tell Daisy her name. Maybe.
Instead of answering, Tristan crouches down, feeling the way that her muscles bunch, a coil tightening, ready to spring. In a way, she has a lot to be grateful to Kasius for. He’s made her this way: powerful, clever, quick. Adept at surviving in this world that he’s created for all of them.
Not that she’s going to go around thanking him, or anything.
Tristan leaps, disappearing into the catwalks that run like warrens throughout the top of the Lighthouse. The tunnels and vents and pipes go everywhere, the right ones capable of taking you anywhere. If you know how to navigate them.
As she moves, quick and silent, her ears swivel, taking in the sounds of the Lighthouse, the groaning of the ship, the murmur of people and the constant hum of equipment somewhere. Up here, where Kasius keeps his quarters, it’s harder to hear things, to feel them, to be in touch with the ship and the people on it and how they move. Though, it doesn’t matter. Here, there’s only one person she needs to be listening for.
Tristan finds the quarters where the Chosen are kept, perches on the edge of the piping to watch them, to ascertain that Sinara or the other Kree are not in the room. All seems quiet, just as it always is around the Chosen. Kasius does not like excess noise, does not like people who can raise their voices in dissent.
She can see the person that Daisy is looking for. Jemma. The newest of the Chosen, the hardest to break, to manage. Tristan admires her, at least, for that.
Even still, she’s putting a lot of faith into these strangers. A lot of trust in Daisy and her friend and the hope that neither of them will tell Kasius they’ve seen her, that she’s not about to drop down into some sort of trap.
Tristan rolls her eyes at herself and her foolishness right before she slips down to the floor, startling the Chosen in the room. She doesn’t trust them, but she doubts they’ll say anything to Kasius about her, unless they are asked directly. She ignores them, turning toward Daisy’s friend, who is currently staring at her with wide-eyed surprise.
It’s different, though, then the way that Daisy looked at her. There’s interest in Jemma’s face, not shock or revulsion.
Tristan isn’t sure that she looks the fascination either.
“Are you Jemma?” Tristan asks, keeping one ear turned toward the door, the rest of her focus on the woman in front of her.
Jemma nods but gestures to her ear and Tristan feels a stab of annoyance. “Of course, Kasius loves his toys.” She scowls, considering. It’s going to be a little trickier to get Daisy’s message to Jemma if Jemma can’t hear her.
It’s almost enough to make her throw up her hands and get the hell out of here before Kasius or Sinara walk in and find her hanging out among the Chosen. Every nerve in Tristan’s body is on high alert, urging her to run, to hide, to go to ground like she does so well. She’s in enemy territory, in a place where she is not protected, not safe, not hidden away.
But what if Daisy can really do what she said? What if she is the one capable of getting rid of Kasius?
Tristan can’t bear the idea of being left behind again.
And so she sighs, frowning as she tries to think of what she can possibly say to Jemma. Not that Tristan needs to spend too much time worrying about it because Jemma is turning away from her, heading toward the bureau against the wall and Tristan just stares after her, strangely disappointed. “Oh, okay, never mind. Whatever.”
But Jemma hurries back just as quickly, a paper and pen in her hands, which she quickly thrusts into Tristan’s hands. The items are unwieldy and difficult to hold because of her claws and she doesn’t think she’s had cause to write anything down since she was twelve and didn’t imagine that the worst thing that could happen to her was being personally selected for one of Kasius’ experiments.
A brief flare of embarrassment spreads through her as she wonders if she can even remember how to write. But her fingers manage to hold onto the pen, the paper pressed firmly down on her thigh. Daisy is here, she prints onto the page and then adds, she has a plan, which isn’t entirely true, but it seems better when she puts it on the paper.
Jemma takes the paper, closing her eyes, taking a deep breath. In her face, Tristan can see the same expression that so puzzled her when she was with Daisy, that hope, that desperation, that need. The connection to someone else. It doesn’t look dangerous or foolish or useless right now. It looks important, meaningful, worth something.
“Daisy.” No sound comes out of Jemma’s mouth, but Tristan can read the word as her lips form the name, can see it in Jemma’s eyes. Tristan wonders what it would feel like to know that there was someone there who cared what happened to you. Someone brave and stupid enough to break every rule in the place just to make sure you were safe.
Footsteps from the opposite end of the apartment catch Tristan’s attention and her ears flatten, her body tensing. Once again her muscles coil, her body desperate to react. She has to go, to run, to hide, to-
Jemma takes the pen from her, writing something on the same paper that Tristan just fumbled with, before folding the paper in half and holding it back to her. “Please?” She mouths.
With a frown, Tristan takes the paper back from her, rolling her eyes. “I didn’t agree to be everyone’s messenger,” she grumbles, even as she slips the paper into her pocket. Daisy is going to owe her for this little favor.
Though, if she really can get rid of Kasius then…Tristan will consider their debt paid.
The footsteps grow closer and Tristan doesn’t wait, doesn’t dare waste anymore time. She springs up to the rafters once more, disappearing into the shadows. The door to the room swings open and Sinara walks in, cold and confident, and Tristan’s breath catches in her throat. She still has the scars from the last time she was in the same room as Sinara and she’s not in the mood to add to them.
No one says anything to Sinara about Tristan’s presence. Jemma doesn’t even glance toward the ceiling overhead, doesn’t let on that anything is out of the ordinary. Maybe Daisy and her friend are trustworthy after all.
Maybe all of this will amount to something.
Maybe Virgil’s stories were more than just fairytales.
Tristan hurries back through the warrens of the Lighthouse until she finds herself in front of Daisy’s prison once more. She thinks this is the first time she can remember someone actually being glad to see her. It’s an odd sensation.
“Did you find her?” Daisy asks before Tristan has even completely found her footing. “Is she okay? What’s going on?”
Tristan shrugs. “I guess she’s okay. I mean, as okay as someone can be in her situation.” She reaches into her pocket, unfolding the paper. “She gave me this.”
Tristan presses the paper up to the glass so that Daisy can read Jemma’s words. Whatever she sees there must mean something to her because Daisy’s eyes suddenly become harder, more determined. Tristan can see the shift in her body, the way she suddenly stands with new purpose. Tristan has felt the same change come over her own muscles, the feeling of letting your body become a weapon.
“Okay, let’s do this thing,” Daisy says to herself, tightening her hands into fists.
“What, exactly, is this thing?” Tristan crosses her arms over her chest, tail twitching with impatience. “You don’t have a plan yet, do you?”
Daisy purses her lips. “No. But I’m a fast thinker.”
Tristan doesn’t know her well enough to disagree but she’s starting to have her doubts.
“You’ve been here a while though, right?” Daisy asks, and Tristan gives her a look, one equal parts annoyance a confusion. A while? Where else is she supposed to have been? “Duh, right,” Daisy says with a nod. “So why am I locked up here? Why does Kasius want me?”
Tristan shrugs. “Kasius loves Inhumans. He’s obsessed with them. You’re just one more in his collection, he likes to show them off.”
“Is that what you are?” Daisy asks her. “An Inhuman?”
An Inhuman. Tristan’s chest feels tight at the memory of what Kasius had done to her, of what he had tried to make her. “No.”
Daisy, thankfully, doesn’t ask her to expand on the subject. She says, “Okay, shows us off for what? To who?”
Another shrug. “Visiting dignitaries from other planets,” she says. “He makes the Inhumans fight each other to prove that his are the best.”
Daisy scoffs. “Hunger Games, great. Got it.”
Tristan raises her eyebrows. “What is-”
“Never mind,” Daisy interrupts with a wave of her hand. “So Kasius is there to watch these fights, right? What about the rest of his entourage?”
“You mean Jemma?” Tristan asks and Daisy nods sharply like there’s nothing else she could possibly mean. “Possibly. He likes to show off his Chosen, too. And he seems to like Jemma.”
Daisy makes a face, barely suppressing a shudder. “Okay, Spot, believe it or not, I might actually have a plan.”
“It’s Tristan.” The words are out of her mouth before she can consider swallowing them down. “My name is Tristan.”
Daisy smiles at her and nods. “Alright, Tristan. Let’s do this.”
Tristan still doesn’t know what this is, but she admires Daisy’s confidence.
Daisy brings the house down. Quite literally.
Her powers, it seems, are even more impressive than Tristan had witnessed upon her arrival. She catches Kasius by surprise, which is by far the most impressive thing, considering all the planning and plotting Kasius puts into every move he makes.
Daisy fails to keep her word, she’s doesn’t manage to kill Kasius. But she does manage to reunite with Jemma, which Tristan suspects was the real motivation for her actions.
Especially considering the fact that Daisy seems to have forgotten all about her.
Tristan figures that shouldn’t come as a surprise, this being forgotten, being left behind. But that doesn’t take away the sting, the annoyance she feels mostly at herself for thinking that a stranger might possibly be capable of doing something for her.
Not that she has a lot of time to ponder the feeling of inevitable betrayal, seeing as Daisy’s dramatic escape also rendered the upper foundation of the Lighthouse incapable of supporting Tristan’s weight and sends her sprawling to the ground below. Despite the chaos and panic, Sinara still has the wherewithal to notice her there amongst the debris.
“You,” Sinara says, twisting her silver balls around her fingers. The skin on Tristan’s back stings from the memory of their last encounter. “I should have known you would be in the thick of this. Though, I had hoped you were already dead somewhere, tossed out with the rest of the trash.”
Tristan attempts to scramble to her feet but Sinara doesn’t give her the chance, the heel of her boot cracking down on Tristan’s tail. Tristan can’t help the cry that passes her lips, though the howl quickly dissolves into a pathetic whimper as she realizes that she can’t escape Sinara’s grasp.
“Something good might come out of this after all,” Sinara muses, continuing to toy with her favorite weapon. Tristan doesn’t have much experience being the mouse that the cat enjoys playing with, though she hopes she won’t have to endure the sensation for long. She hopes Sinara will just get it over with and-
But suddenly there’s no Sinara. No pressure on her tail, no one pinning her in place. Sinara is gone, thrown backward by an invisible force, just like earlier with the-
Tristan whips her head around, surprised to see Daisy standing there, hand raised, a look of satisfaction on her face. Jemma hurries forward, grabbing Tristan’s arms, pulling her to her feet.
“We have to hurry.” Jemma’s voice is soft and melodic, lilting in a way that Tristan has never heard before on the Lighthouse. It seems oddly perfect for her soft features. “Are you alright?”
Tristan nods, holding tightly to Jemma’s arm as she finds her footing.
She knows the Lighthouse better than anyone, and especially better than Jemma and Daisy, who doesn’t protest when Tristan takes the lead, hurrying them through the maze of tunnels and different floors until they reach the lower levels, the parts of the Lighthouse that she feels most comfortable hiding in.
The places where Virgil used to sneak around, the places where he laid low and hid his own private stash.
This is the place where she takes Daisy and Jemma. It’s more instinct than actual plan, though Tristan figures that no one is using Virgil’s quarters anymore so it’s not like he’s going to mind. It’s a door with a lock, which also seems important, though she knows it’s only a false sense of security.
Not that she feels that unprotected with Daisy around.
“Your powers are pretty cool,” Tristan says as she drops onto the edge of Virgil’s bed, making herself at home. “No wonder Kasius wants you for his collection.”
Daisy offers her a shrug in response, her focus mostly on Jemma, who is attempting to study her reflection in Virgil’s cracked mirror to wipe the paint off her face. “But you said you aren’t an Inhuman, right?” She asks. “How did you get all…” She gestures at the whole of Tristan. “Teen wolf?”
Tristan absently rests her hands in the fur of her tail, the habit she’d developed when she was all alone in the room Kasius had kept her in before it was clear that she was not going to be the perfect creation he’d hoped her to be.
“Kasius,” she says, even though the name threatens to stick in her throat. “Before he figured out with the whole thing with Terrigenesis, he tried to make his own Inhumans. Through-”
The word experimentation sticks in her throat; it takes cold and metallic and sharp, like blood and instruments and metal.
Jemma supplies, “Genetic modification” instead and that somehow sounds better and worse at the same time.
Tristan nods. “Yeah.”
Daisy’s eyes narrow, her expression growing hard. “He did this to you.”
Another nod but Tristan doesn’t bother to expand on the subject. She isn’t sure there’s anything else to say.
“We’re going to fix this,” Daisy says firmly, with more certainty than Tristan has seen her display so far. “We’re going to make this right. Get rid of him. Start everything over.”
Tristan doesn’t believe her. She doesn’t believe anyone can truly get rid of Kasius, can make the world into the type of place that used to exist in the books that she’s read. It doesn’t seem possible.
It seems like too much to wish for, too much to expect.
But still, Tristan finds herself listening to Daisy’s words, finds her chest expanding, her body tingling with anticipation.
She feels something warm and delicious seep through her muscles, all the way down to her toes.
It makes her nod, mimicking the steady certainty of Daisy’s posture. “Okay,” Tristan says, “where do we start?”