Scylla sits in the back of the transport van. Shackled. All alone, waiting for the army to take her away and do Goddess knows what with her. She leans her head against the cool metal and tries to get some peaceful sleep while she still can. She almost succeeds, but a few minutes later the door whips open bringing with it a rush of chilly air and the last person she expected to see.
Her heart takes off at an immediate gallop, lodging its way in her throat as the van door slams behind Raelle. She strains through the dim light, desperate to make out her features. Poker face intact. Eyes swirling with conflict. Her stomach twists into knots as Raelle takes a seat opposite of her. Bracing herself for whatever came next.
“How are you?”
“Alive.” Scylla releases a hollow laugh, “For now. How are you? You look good- um healthy, I mean.”
Raelle winces and averts her eyes, looking down at her boots. “Thanks to you.”
Scylla looks, because she can’t help herself. Drinking in every second of Raelle.
“I don’t know how much time we have, but we need to talk and clear the air while we still can.”
Scylla nods, “You’re right. I know you don’t trust me. So, instead of talking, why don’t you see for yourself?” She leans forward and closes her eyes. “The whole truth. Nothing but the truth.”
The next few seconds are agonizing. Measured by Raelle’s strangled sighs of indecision. Eventually, warm hands cup her cheeks. Scylla relaxes into the touch.
“Ok.” Raelle whispers, “Show me everything.”
Scylla scrambles off the bus as fast as her little legs will carry her. Practically skipping the entire length of the neighborhood all the way to her house. She unlocks the front door, kicking off her shoes as she rushes inside. The aroma of freshly baked cookies greets her. Her mouth watering with anticipation.
“Momma! Poppa! I’m home!”
She scurries into the kitchen, finding her mother dressed in a flour dusted apron placing cookies on the wire rack to cool.
“Hello sweetie. How was school?”
“Really fun. We got extra recess time today and I made something special for you and poppa!”
Momma smiles and pats her hands on her apron. “You made something. Can we see it?”
She nods enthusiastically and sets her bag on a chair in the dining room. Before she can rummage through it, a pair of strong arms wrap around her waist and lift her straight into the air.
“Poppa put me down!”
“Oh come on, humor your old man. One day you’ll be too big to twirl in the air. Let me have a little fun!”
She giggles while poppa spins her around. Feeling a little dizzy when he finally puts her down. He places a gentle kiss on her forehead before releasing her. She quickly rummages through her backpack, retrieving the coveted item.
“Ta-da!” She holds the drawing up with both hands beaming with pride.
“Did you make this all by yourself?” Momma asks, marveling with wonder.
“Wow sweetie, it's beautiful. Is that us?”
“Uh huh.” She shimmies the drawing, lowering it under her chin pointing as she speaks, “That’s you, and momma, and me!”
“And who is that?” Momma asks, pointing to the fourth person in the drawing.
“Oh, that’s Samantha. She’s my new friend.”
Her parents exchange a nervous glance.
Poppa takes the drawing and hands it to her mother, then kneels, lowering his body until they are eye level.
“Listen Scylla, your mother and I are very proud of you for making a new friend, but…” He looks away for a second, wincing slightly. “We want you to be careful. Friends can be fun, but they often disappear. Sometimes forever.”
“But Samantha said we’d be friends forever.”
“And she’d be lucky to have such a kind and loving friend like you all the time.”
“What your father is trying to say is that someday we might have to leave this place and that means leaving our home and our friends too. We just don’t want you to get too attached and have your heart broken when that day comes.”
“W-why do we have to move momma? Why can’t we stay here? I like it here. Do you not like it here?”
Sadness flashes across momma’s face, “I like it here too Scylla. It’s safe for now, but one day it might not be. When that day comes, we’ll have to leave and go somewhere new that is safe where we can all be together.”
“But…but-” Scylla stammers on the verge of tears. “I don’t understand.”
Her father pulls her in for a hug. “We love you so much sweetie. And we are trying to protect you. Unfortunately, that means we are going to move around a lot. I’m so sorry but that’s just the way that it is.”
She clutches onto her father, burying her face into his shoulder. “It’s not fair.” She mumbles through her tears. Poppa tightens his hold in response.
“I know, sweetie.”
“You must be the new transfer student.”
Scylla nods and shakes the towering woman’s hand. “Yes, I’m Scylla Miller.”
“Welcome to Viewpoint Middle School, Ms. Miller. I’m Principal Harding.”
“Nice to meet you, ma’am.”
“It’s lovely to meet you as well. I see here you moved all the way from California. That’s quite a long journey.”
“Yes, it was.” Scylla swallows down the lump in her throat, fidgeting with her nails under the desk. No matter how many times she does this, the lying never gets any easier. New name. New place. Same old guilt. “I’m happy to be here.”
“And we are happy to have you. Welcome to Iowa.”
Principle Harding hands her a folder with her name on it. Inside are several documents including a copy of her class schedule, itinerary for all the sport teams’ games, and a compiled list of all the after-school clubs. A reminder of all the things she wasn’t allowed to partake in.
No attachments. Hang in the shadows and don’t draw attention to yourself. That was the Dodger motto her parents engrained in her since birth. It’s what kept them alive and together for years. Scylla doesn’t dwell on it too much. She trusted her parents to know what was best for her.
Principal Harding escorts her to class rambling on about the history of the school and all the wonderful people that have walked these halls. Scylla nodded along. To her the halls looked just like all the others she’s walked through. At this point, she’s lost count of just how many schools she’s been to. She briefly wondered what it would be like to be so passionate about a building. That would require her to live in one place longer than a couple of months.
Classes proceed just like all the others. She sits by herself at lunch, resigned to her fate as a wallflower. Watching the other students chat and share snacks. Counting down the minutes until she could go home and be with her parents.
In her final class of the day, her biology teacher assigned everyone their longitudinal assignment to grow a plant and document it’s stages of growth. She distributed one seedling potted in a small dixie cup to each student. The concept of caring for another living thing was foreign. Because of their constant relocating, Scylla wasn’t allowed to have pets and they never stayed in one place long enough to bother establishing a garden. This was something new. Equally exciting and terrifying.
Scylla brings the seedling home and sits at the kitchen table reading over her instructions. Determined to get this right.
“What have you got there, sweetie?
Momma quickly scans over the document. “A little petunia to look after.” Momma’s eyes glaze over in reminiscence, “Your grandma used to take me to gardens when I was a little girl. We weren’t allowed to keep plants of our own. I moved around a lot too when I was your age, but the time we spent in the gardens was special.”
“I’m scared I’ll kill petunia by accident.”
“Aww sweetie. Death is natural. Necessary, and sometimes beautiful part of the life cycle. But from the looks of it, little petunia here is strong, just like you. She wants to grow big and strong. And she’s going to need your help.”
“How do I help her?”
“Grandma taught me a thing or two about plants. Did you know they like it when you sing to them?”
Scylla shakes her head no.
“Want me to show you what songs they like?”
Scylla lights up with wonder while momma teaches her every song she knows. Marveling as little petunia grows right before her eyes.
She develops a watering and sunbathing schedule for her sprout. Making sure to sing to her every morning and night. She even develops a few tunes of her own that petunia really seems to enjoy. Within a few days, she has to buy a bigger pot for her plant, and petunia blossoms well before any of her classmate’s plants.
Her teacher praises her in front of the entire class. Tossing around phrases like ‘gifted’ and ‘born with a green thumb’. Encouraging her to seriously consider botany as a future career path. Scylla beams with pride. Head swimming with thoughts of a hopeful future.
Less than two months passed before Iowa was no longer safe.
In the dead of night, Scylla packs up her few earthly possessions while her parents scrub the house clean. She meets her parents in the living room, taking one last glance around.
“Can I bring petunia?” Her mother wants to say no, Scylla can see it in her eyes. “Please momma?”
“Tell you what, as long as you can carry petunia then you can keep her. Deal?”
Scylla smiles, “Deal!”
“Time to go.” Poppa grabs Scylla’s bag, packing it in the trunk with all their possessions.
Scylla settles in the back seat and buckles herself in, securing petunia safely between her legs. She softly hums a song to petunia as she watches their home recede into the darkness.
“So, class. We have a very important historical anniversary coming up. Does anyone know what it is?”
A few hands dart up from the typical teacher’s pets.
“Milton. What important moment in American history am I referring to?
“The Salem Accord, Miss Newberry.”
Scylla’s heart drops straight into her stomach.
“That’s correct! Would anyone else care to enlighten us about the Salem Accord? Ah-yes, Nicole.”
“On February 19th, 1692, Sarah Alder and the Massachusetts Bay Militia drafted this document which gives witches freedom from persecution in exchange for military service.”
Scylla clenches her fists under her desk.
“Correct. Wow, when did y’all get so smart? Y’all must have an amazing history teacher or something.” Miss Newberry chuckles at her own joke. “Why is this such an important day for us now? Jenny, what do you think?”
“The Salem Accord guarantees we will always have a witch army to protect all of us.”
“Yes! Plus, the Salem Accord made it possible for us to live in peace and accomplish great things as a nation.”
She raises her shaking hand above her head earning a surprised look from her teacher.
“Uh Scylla, is there something you would like to add?”
“Yes. This document made it possible for civilians, like us, to live in peace by enshrining slavery into American history.”
“That’s not exactly what the Salem Accord established.”
“Hence forth, all those born a witch shall be required to serve in the armed forces of the United States of America. And by further decree, all descendants of said witches that also possess the powers passed down from their mothers shall also serve as their mothers did before them.” Scylla recites the cursed passage from memory causing her teacher to squirm.
“Language seems pretty clear. The lives of all witches in exchange for American prosperity.”
“Okay yes, the Salem Accord does say exactly that, but-”
“We are safe, sitting here without a care in the world while all witches are required to fight and die on our behalf. Without having a choice. Simply for being born different. Is that really a document to celebrate and hold on a pedestal in a supposedly free and just society?
“Why is it so difficult to call it what it is? It’s modern-day slavery. Plain and simple. If we want to be truly proud of America, we should abolish it all together and celebrate the liberation of witches instead-”
“That’s enough Miss Stone.” Miss Newberry casts a warning glare, “You’ve made your point.”
Scylla bites her tongue so hard it bleeds, trying to ignore the word ‘freak’ murmured amongst the class.
“Now, let’s get on with today’s lesson. I believe we left off with the creation of the Cession-”
Scylla kept to herself. Nose buried in her book hiding behind the tall, lanky guy sitting in front of her. Stewing in silence for the remainder of class. When the bell rings, Scylla leaps out of her seat, possessions in tow, beelining for her locker. Whipping the metal door open so fast she nearly takes out one of her classmates.
“Whoa, I come in peace.”
“Sorry. Didn’t see you there.”
The blonde-haired, blue-eyed boy from her history class rubs the back of his neck sheepishly, avoiding eye contact. “That’s ok. You see me now.”
“Umm, sure do.” Scylla says as she exchanges her books.
“What you said back there, in class, just now, was really incredible.”
“Oh, thanks. Thought what I said was obvious to everyone, but I guess not.”
She closes her locker door, surprised to discover the boy was still standing there smiling at her.
Tending to petunia was a nighttime ritual Scylla looked forward to all day. Just the two of them sharing each other’s company in peaceful coexistence. Scylla sang, watching petunia’s flowers blossom and leaves stretch towards the sky. Being able to dote on another living creature was immensely satisfying and petunia gobbled up every ounce of her affection.
Just as she was about to begin her second verse, Scylla hears unfamiliar voices coming from the kitchen causing the hairs on the back of her neck stand at attention.
She sneaks out of her room as quietly as possible. In the kitchen she finds her parents hunched over the table talking with a group of strangers.
“Oh, hi sweetie. Did we wake you up?”
The dim light highlights the uncharacteristic dark circles under her father’s eyes.
“No poppa, I just heard voices...” Scylla furrows her brows when she notices Porter sitting at the table, “W-what’s going on?”
“These are the Tippetts. They are Dodgers, like us.”
“Nice to meet you.” Scylla says, casting a curious glance in Porter's direction, “Mind if I join you?”
“The more the merrier.” Porter’s mother says. The older woman looks as exhausted as her father with equally kind eyes.
Porter scrambles to get her a chair, placing it next to him. Scylla takes the offered seat, soaking it all in as the adults strategize how to keep their families safe from the army. The fact that her parents met with other Dodger families was no secret. Usually, momma would tuck her away in her room, but this was the first time she was offered a chance to be an active member, not just a bystander. It was thrilling to be included.
“The kids go to the same school. They can look out for each other too.” Porter’s mother says, casting her son a warm smile.
“That would make me feel better.” Momma echoes.
Momma’s approval of her new friendship sends an unfamiliar buzzing energy coursing through her body.
After shop talk concludes, the families exchange a few colorful anecdotes about their travels and almost run-ins with army and law-abiding civilians. Scylla even joined in on the conversation chiming in with a few entertaining stories of her own. It was liberating to just be herself, talking freely among people just like her. Those who’ve endured the same hardships and still retained their positive outlook. Finding small ways to be happy. It brought her immense comfort to know they weren’t alone, and she finally had someone her own age to talk to. Someone who could understand her.
She lingered behind after the Tippetts went home, helping her parents tidy up the kitchen.
“Are Dodger meetings always like this?”
“What do you mean, sweetie?” Momma asks.
“Only focused on hiding and running. Swapping almost war stories.”
“That’s what keeps us safe. Shared experiences bind us together.”
“Yeah, I know, but doesn’t anyone want to do anything about that? Instead of running, why can’t we all try to- I don’t know... Change the law, maybe? Then we wouldn’t have to hide. We could be free.”
Poppa casts a nervous glance in her direction. “Witches have tried before… Most died trying. It’s a battle we can’t win. Our best chance at survival is to keep to ourselves and stay off their radar. It’s better to stay alive than throw your life away for a hopeless cause.”
Scylla opens her mouth to protest but stops when her father rests his hand on her shoulder.
“The years we have all together, as a family, is something the army can’t take away from us. It’s something we have just for ourselves.” Poppa taps his own chest, right above his heart. “The memories live here, safe from Sarah Alder and her drones. Living is winning, Scylla. Never forget that.”
She closes her eyes and inhales, savoring the salty air. The chilly breeze coming off the water perfectly counterbalances the blistering heat. Scylla always loved the ocean. Some of the few civilians she related to were the explorers of the past enamored with the sea. Those that dedicated their entire lives to exploring the vast waters filled with endless possibilities.
It was romantic, in a certain kind of way. And a form of freedom she never had.
Giggling off to the right pulls Scylla from her pleasant daydream.
Her parents were sharing a blanket. Content in their own little bubble. Momma resting against poppa’s chest. All toothy smiles and carefree laughter. Scylla almost felt like she was intruding on a special moment. One where neither of them were worrying or working. A rarity, like finding a pearl in the ocean.
Scylla secretly hoped she could have love like that one day. Easy and real. Without all the lying necessary for survival.
A far-fetched dream.
For now, she has her parents, and their love is all she needed. They made the hardships worth every second.
She turns her attention back to the ocean, giving her parents a bit of privacy. They’ve been here for days, making the most of the brief vacation. Something they desperately needed. Scylla’s spent most of her time on this beach, watching the ships and barges come and go. Wondering where they were going. Envious of their freedom to travel the world as they pleased.
Her parents call her over and she joins them, settling her blanket next to theirs. Momma breaks open a picnic basket and they dig into lunch.
“If you could board a ship, like that one out there, where would you want it to take you?” Scylla asks.
“Somewhere warm.” Momma hums.
“The mountains.” Poppa adds, “There’s nothing like being on top of the world.”
“Where would you go, sweetie?”
Scylla thinks about it, and she settles for the safest place she can think of. “The beach.”
“Scylla… Wake up sweetie.”
“Scylla you have to hide. Now!”
Wide-eyed and frantic, her mother ushers her out of bed.
“What’s going on?” she whispers. Her sleep-addled brain barely registers what’s happening, but her feet somehow manage to keep up with momma’s relentless pace towards the garage.
“They found us.”
Ice courses through her veins. Her knees would have given out beneath her, but her mother’s vice grip on her waist kept her upright and moving into the garage. Crippling fear takes hold as momma scrambles in the dark, setting up a last-minute protection spell around her. Repeating over and over, “Shhh. You’re going to be ok sweetie. You’re going to be ok.”
Before she completes the spell, momma hugs her. Scylla digs into her back, inhaling a deep whiff of her mother’s floral shampoo mixed with detergent. One of her favorite smells in the entire world.
“I love you more than anything. I’m so proud of you. Promise me you’ll stay here until it’s safe.”
Scylla mumbles into her mother’s shoulder through her tears, “I promise momma. I love you too.”
Momma retreats into the house leaving Scylla all alone in the dark. Sitting on the cool concrete, eyes tightly shut, trying to hold the tears at bay. Feeling utterly helpless while her parents confronted the United States Army.
She tries to stay calm. Tries to keep quiet, just like momma wanted her to. She grits through the crashing in the house. Keeps her eyes tightly shut through the shouting. Hugs her knees to her chest, clinging tight, when she hears a blood curdling scream that sounds an awful lot like her mother. She rocks back and forth through the thunder and lighting, and keeps rocking, hot tears trailing down her cheeks, when the eerie quiet comes.
She reaches out to feel her parents’ energy, like her momma taught her years ago, but couldn’t find them.
There was nothing. She had nothing… except the cold, and the darkness, and the loneliness that was suddenly surrounding her and seeping into her bones.
She curls into a ball while a silent stream of tears continues pouring down her cheeks. After what feels like an eternity, a group of Dodgers find her in the garage, Porter and his parents among them. Mrs. Tippett undoes her mother’s charm, and collects Scylla, cradling her into her body.
“I’m so sorry Scylla.”
She latches on to Mrs. Tippett. Breathing through the heaviness in her chest.
“The others are... taking care of things. But we need to get out of here. You have about five minutes to pack your things, okay?”
Mrs. Tippett helps Scylla off the floor, recognizing her legs were too unsteady. Porter appears by her side, taking over for his mother and guides Scylla back inside the house. As they cross the living room, Scylla catches a glimpse of two body bags in the center. She runs to the bathroom, hurling her insides out into the toilet.
After she cleans herself up, she makes use of her precious remaining minutes. Moving around her soon to be ex-home in a hurried daze. She grabs her suitcase from under her bed, and packs her clothes, pictures, as many memories as she can carry. As she had done so many times in her life.
But this time was different.
She was the only Ramshorn moving on from this place.
Scylla sneaks into her parent’s room in search of something she could pilfer. She opts for the picture on momma’s nightstand of her and poppa. After pocketing the photo, she runs her hands along the bed sheets. Their warmth still lingering on the fabric and poppa’s pillow. Scylla burrows into poppa’s pillow, inhaling his scent one last time. A wave of sorrow crashes into her as she realizes she will never get the chance to tell him she loves him or to even say a proper goodbye.
She returns to her room for one last look around.
Her only remaining possession left unpacked was petunia. She was too big to carry, Scylla knew that, but leaving her behind trapped in a pot would surely condemn her precious plant to death.
In her last remaining minutes, Scylla runs outside with petunia, digs a hole in the backyard, and plants her in the ground. She sings to her one last time through her tears before Porter escorts her away.
“Who could have tipped off the army?”
Mr. Tippett sighs heavily, “I don’t know Sheryl.”
“Do they know about all Dodgers in this area?”
“They’d be knocking down our doors if they knew about all of us, but it’s only a matter of time before they come back with a search party.”
“Do you think they know about the girl?”
Scylla feels all eyes in the room settle on her. The sympathetic glances and looks of pity sends her stomach into washing machine mode. She slumps into the couch next to Porter, nestling her hands under her thighs to calm the shaking.
“I honestly don’t know,” Mr. Tippett admits, “But we can’t risk them finding her. We will relocate tonight. As for everyone else. I suggest we get ahead of the army and coordinate an evacuation of all Dodgers in this area.”
While the Tippett’s pack up their home, Scylla retires to the backseat of their station wagon. Savoring the few peaceful moments of solitude. Still shaking and processing the horrific events of the past few hours. Porter joins her as soon as he’s finished. She curls into his side, taking comfort in his warm embrace. They stay like that in comfortable silence during the midnight drive.
Sorrow takes root in the core of her being along with a blossoming anger nestled firmly in her chest. As she falls into a fitful slumber, her mind races with burning questions.
Who was responsible for this?
Was it something she did?
How does she live without the only people in the world she ever loved?
“What’s it like living with the Abbots?”
Scylla shrugs, “Same as living with the Jones, and the Wilsons, and all the others. Dodger families are basically all the same. Hope for the best and prepare for the worst.”
High pitched squeals across the park draw her attention. She notices a young girl breaking away from her group of friends by the jungle gym, rushing into her mother’s open embrace.
The loving scene before her invokes a flood of mundane memories with her parents. Simple moments she took for granted. The love and stability her parents gave her was something Scylla wished she could have back rather than spend the rest of her life bouncing around from family to family.
“I’m sorry you couldn’t stay with us.”
Porter slips his arm over her shoulder, pulling her in close. Scylla burrows into his side, tearing her eyes away from the playground and focusing on Porter.
“Me too, but I can’t blame your parents for imposing boundaries.”
They share a flirtatious giggle. Scylla smiles at the noticeable blush creeping along Porter’s cheeks.
“At least my parents are allowing us to move around together.”
“Together for now. That could always change.”
“Everything is temporary.” Porter whispers, eyes dropping to her lips.
Scylla gravitates closer, leaning in. “All we can do is make the most of the time we have.”
“We interrupt this regularly scheduled programming with breaking news. A civilian attack took place in a grocery store chain in the Pacific Northwest. Fourteen confirmed dead, and dozens injured. Police and the Army have not yet identified who was responsible for the atrocity. Anonymous sources believe this is the work of the terrorist group of witches calling themselves the Spree who were recently implicated in the amusement park massacre in the Cession last month. The army does not have a call to action at this time and assures us they have everything under control, but in this reporter’s humble opinion it seems this insidious group is giving our combat heroines a run for their money and all of us non-magical folks will pay the price of their shortcomings.”
“Can you believe witches would do something like this?”
“Push back against the army and complacent civilians? I can think of a few reasons why witches would do that.”
Porter furrows his brows, “No, kill innocent civilians.”
Scylla scoffs, “I don’t see civilians holding candle vigils every time a witch is slaughtered in the name of protecting them. Our bloodshed keeps them innocent.” She releases a bitter laugh, “And blissfully ignorant too.”
“Falling in battle is not the same thing as dying at the grocery store.”
“No, it isn’t, but if the enslavement and carnage happened to civilians too, maybe they would finally give a damn.”
“Scylla, w-what are you saying?”
“I’m saying civilians should put themselves in our shoes. Literally. Witches are constantly denied so many things they take for granted. Civilians are free to go shopping whenever they please. Pursue whatever career interests them. Marry whoever they want. Meanwhile we are forced to fight and die for them or live a life in hiding. Do you really not see the injustice here?”
“Of course I see the injustice, I’m not blind, but civilians aren’t the enemy. Killing them is not right-”
“Not right? None of this is right! We are surrounded by enemies: civilians, conscription, all of it! What are we supposed to do? Nicely ask General Alder to willingly give up her 300-year reign of power? Beg enlisted witches to abandon the military system they’ve been born and bred to obey without question? Those that do escape, are scattered to the wind. Too scared to do anything. We’re just sitting ducks. Soon to be war-meat.”
Scylla takes Porter’s hands, brushing his knuckles attempting to quell his anxiety before continuing. “At least what this group is doing has the army’s attention. Maybe this is a starting point? If enough of us could band together, then maybe we’d have a fighting chance at change. Real freedom. For all of us.”
“I-I don’t know. This seems… extreme.”
Scylla bites her tongue, swallowing down her disappointment that the one person she’s closest to doesn’t understand how important this is. He doesn’t see the good that can come out of this like she does, but it appears there are witches that share her anger, and more importantly, they are actively doing something about it.
“Good evening, Scylla.”
“Hi Mrs. Tippett.”
“I could have sworn Porter said you’d be over for dinner tonight.”
Scylla fights the urge to squirm under Mrs. Tippett’s concerned gaze. “Last minute change of plans. I’m sorry for not calling ahead of time.”
Mrs. Tippett steps aside, allowing Scylla to enter through the front door.
“That’s ok. I saved you a plate in case you’re still hungry.” Mrs. Tippett offers kindly, souring her stomach immediately.
“Oh, thank you. That was really thoughtful. Maybe later, if that’s okay?”
“Whatever you’d like dear. Just let me know.”
“Porter’s in his room.”
Scylla takes off her shoes and hangs her jacket before making her way to Porter’s room. She enters, finding him lying on his bed reading a book. They lock eyes. His brows furrowing, immediately tossing the book aside.
“Where have you been? I was worried something bad happened to you.”
She balks for a second, tripping clumsily over her own words. “Oh, I- well, s-something came up-”
Porter grabs both of her hands, turning them over. “Why are your hands covered in paint?”
She pulls them quickly out of his loose grasp.
“I was working on something.”
“Really… Sudden interest in art?”
She crosses her arms across her chest, “Something like that. Art can be cathartic, you know.”
“Cathartic for who?”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“You’ve been acting weird lately. Like you’re hiding something from me.”
“Hey, hey. I got caught up at the Robinson’s. That’s all.” She squeezes his hands, rubbing soothing circles on the insides of his wrists. She lowers her voice, practically purring in a disarming tone. “Margie loves to talk. Remember how she kept you in the kitchen for two hours talking your ear off the first time you came over?”
“Still have nightmares about it.”
“Poor baby.” She plants a quick peck on his cheek. Relieved when Porter’s shoulders visibly relax.
“And what about the paint?”
“I told you. Art project. It helps me relax.” She reiterates, fighting the urge to fidget.
“What’s the matter? “You seem tense.”
“My birthday is less than six months away, which means I’ll be of age for…”
Scylla’s heart drops. “Conscription.” She finishes.
Porter releases a heavy sigh and plops down on his bed, burying his head in his hands. Scylla joins him, sitting next to him and rubbing small circles along his back.
“What are you going to do when the time comes?”
Porter runs his hands through his hair, “I don’t know. Saying the words means joining the army, the thing we’ve been running from forever. And saying nothing means a lifetime of running and hiding. I’m so tired of all of it.”
“Exhaustion aside, being a Dodger isn’t so bad. Likeminded witches that band together to protect each other, no matter the risk. It’s like a fairy tale, but at the same time, witnessing so many good witches constantly living in fear isn’t right.”
“Dodger or Army, either way we spend our lives surviving. Barely living. I wish there was another way.”
Scylla’s wondered about that every second since her parents died. Nagging at her incessantly. Until one day she found a solution. She wants to tell Porter, hopeful he’d understand, but the words die on the tip of her tongue every time. Just like now.
“I think I’ll daydream about that. A life where we are free. It’ll be my version of cathartic art.”
Scylla nods along in silence.
“What will you do on your conscription day?” Porter asks, pulling her from her thoughts.
“I’ll never say the words.” Scylla growls, “I’d rather spend a life outside the army fighting tooth and nail for my freedom than willingly enslave myself and dishonor my parents’ sacrifice.”
Scylla steers the topic away from conscription. Successfully distracting Porter for a few hours. Afterwards, she takes a quick detour along her route to the Robinson’s house to pass by city hall. She stands under the cover of dark, admiring the new mural on the side of the government building. Written in black paint along with a pentagram read the words:
Freedom and justice for ALL.
Scylla smiles at the approaching young woman. “Thanks Kyla, but I should really thank you for the satisfying assignment.”
The low-level agent chuckles. “This is child’s play. Just wait until you get a real assignment. One that will make the history books.”
Scylla smirks, internally thrilled.
“There’s someone I’d like you to meet.”
Scylla takes a deep breath, staring at the front door buzzing with nerves.
Kyla smiles, then knocks on the door. A shifty eyed young man with wild curly hair greets them.
“Over is under.” Kyla recites.
“And out is in.” He finishes, then side steps, allowing the two women to enter. “Who’s your friend?”
“This is Scylla. The new recruit I was telling you about.”
“Ah, yes. I’ve heard so much about you. I’m Jonas.” The boy shakes her hand.
“Scylla. Nice to meet you.”
“She’s here to meet Cell Mother.”
Jonas straightens his spine, “Better not keep her waiting then.”
Kyla ushers Scylla towards the back of the house into what looked like an office… or a war room. All four walls are covered in maps. Each one littered with colored thumbtacks. In the center lies a large, circular wooden table covered in newspaper clippings and photographs. An older woman with short, dirty blonde hair sits hunched over the table pouring over the documents.
Scylla remains behind Kyla, just outside the door.
The woman looks up. Intense blue eyes darting between the two of them.
“Kyla. What can I do for you daughter?”
“I’d like to introduce you to someone.” Kyla motions for Scylla to approach, “This is Scylla.”
Cell Mother looks her up and down. “The promising young witch I’ve heard so much about. Please, take a seat.”
Scylla takes a seat at the table, rubbing her sweaty palms discreetly on her jeans.
“Thank you, Kyla. You may leave us.”
Kyla takes her leave shutting the door behind her.
“Kyla thinks you’re ready to join us full time.”
Cell Mother flinches, “Please, don’t call me ma’am. This isn’t the army. Willa will do just fine.”
Scylla nods again, taking a deep steadying breath. “Okay, Willa.”
“Are you prepared to leave everything behind and devote yourself to our cause? Total liberation for all witches. By any means necessary.”
Scylla swallows a lump in the back of her throat. “Yes.”
Willa casts a curious glance, “How do I know for sure you’re serious about joining us full time?”
“I’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain.” Scylla lays her hand across the table, “See for yourself.”
Scylla’s no stranger to linking. It was the safest form of communication among Dodgers. But still, every time it left a dizzying sensation and the lingering feeling someone else was invading her mind. When it’s over, Willa sits back in her chair mulling things over in agonizing silence.
“You’ve been through a lot for a woman your age. More than most I’ve crossed paths with.”
“The army and civilian bystanders took everything from me. My parents. My sense of safety. Parts of my sanity.” She chuckles, trying to hold back the tears welling in her eyes, “If witches are out there actively trying to end this madness, then I want to be a part of it. I need to help make this stop so other girls don’t have to live the life I did. All witches deserve better than that.” She dabs her cheeks with clenched fists.
Willa gets out of her chair and engulfs her in a hug. She melts into the hug, savoring the contact. Imagining momma and poppa holding her tight. The aroma of flowers mixed with fabric softener fogs her mind. She welcomes it. The comfort and familiar feeling wading along the constant undercurrent of rage and fury.
“You deserve better too, Scylla.”
She doesn’t feel like she deserves better. Maybe once, a long time ago she did. But now...
Now she’s dedicating her life to honor her parents’ sacrifice by working towards a better future for all witches. It’s something, deep down, she knows her parents wanted, but were too afraid to do anything about.
She swallows back the rest of her tears, pulling out of Willa’s embrace.
“When can I start?”
“Nervous?” Willa asks, casting a quick glance at the wall clock.
Scylla scoffs, “Nervous? About the moment I’ve been hiding from my entire life? Course not.”
Her current emotional state was more akin to a raging storm of fury. Every atom in her body screaming to run away. Willa must sense her turmoil. They’ve been working together long enough for her to recognize tale tell signs of unease. She gently rests her hands on Scylla’s shoulders.
“This is for the greater good. Eyes and ears in enemy territory can only help us. Besides, they will train you. Give you new weapons in your arsenal. It will only make you stronger.”
“Make us stronger, you mean.”
Willa beams as the clock strikes 12. They exchange a knowing glance, reciting in unison, “We are the Spree.” split seconds before the conscription scroll appears.
Scylla steadies her voice, preparing to say the dreaded words.
Alone again. Unpacked and fully settled into her newly issued quarters, courtesy of the necro division. She lies on her bed, tracing over the photo of her parents. The last tangible piece of them she has left. It isn’t long before the hairs on the back of her neck stand at attention prompting her to shove her treasured picture under her pillow. The familiar buzzing in her ears draws her focus to the mirror on the far end of her room where she finds a floating blue balloon.
The object bobs up and down before fogging the mirror with details of her new mission.
Middleberry, Vermont. Baylord Auto-plant, 6th floor. Noon, tomorrow.
“I’ll be there.”
Send them a message. If we can’t be free, no one can.
The balloon and message vanish into thin air leaving Scylla all alone with her reflection. She releases a shaky breath, opening and closing her fists several times. Trying to quell the oncoming tremors.
Scylla kills the car engine, taking a moment to inspect her features in the rearview mirror.
Long light brown hair. Freckled cheeks. A face easily lost in a crowd.
She takes another deep breath.
This is it.
Her big mission. The one for the history books.
She grabs the blue balloon in the backseat and marches into the mall. Scanning the crowd of aimless civilians as she strides. Each step fueled by injustice. A fire burning in the pit of her belly. All of them oblivious to witches’ pain… her pain. Everything her parents struggled and endured just to keep her safe. How they paid the ultimate price for it and the world just kept on turning. These people would never know the gaping wounds she carried every single day. The ones that never fully heal. Scabbing, opening, and bleeding over and over in a vicious cycle.
Things needed to change.
Something needed to break.
Scylla focuses on the balloon. Salvation harbored inside, waiting for her to beckon it…
She halts in the middle of the mall.
If civilians got a taste, they would finally understand. If they lost loved ones or lived in constant terror, just like she did, then maybe, just maybe this would all stop.
Violence to end violence.
A simple solution.
She whispers the Work, just like Willa taught her, watching the balloon inflate. She continues chanting and releases the balloon. Eyes fixed on the expanding object soaring towards the ceiling.
Her heart skips an entire beat when it bursts. Then takes off at a full gallop as the bodies fall from the upper balcony.
She walks away as the civilians drop like flies. Feeling a sense of relief. A small fraction of justice for her parents’ death. Coupled with a tiny ounce of sorrow for the loved ones of the fallen. Hopeful, their suffering will call them to action too. Compel them to advocate for abolishing conscription, dismantling the army, and giving witches back their freedom.
Now they will know what the Spree is capable of and understand the Spree won’t stop- she won’t stop- until justice is served.
The adrenaline, tremors, and jumbled emotions finally subside by the time she reaches the Spree safe-house. Immediately beelining for Willa who was sitting at the kitchen table nursing a glass of whiskey. Eyes glazed over like she was lost in thought.
“It’s done. Our message was sent.”
Willa looks up from her drink, eyes focusing slowly on her. She nods, blinking a few times before releasing a defeated sigh.
“Thank you, Scylla, but it seems we’re too late.”
“What do you mean?”
“Another conscription is happening. Soon.” Willa croaks out before downing the rest of her whiskey. “I have a new mission for you. A soon to be conscripted cadet. Very powerful witch. She could be an asset to the Spree.”
“How can I help?”
“I need you to get close to her and deliver her to us when the time is right.”
She marvels at the beautiful mighty oak. It’s thick trunk and cascading branches dipping towards the earth. Each majestic branch littered with thick leaves dappling golden sunlight that warms the ground beneath her. The picturesque beauty only matched by the breath-taking woman resting against the bark. The one playing with her hair, absentmindedly scratching her scalp. Scylla hums into the touch, nestling her head further into Raelle's lap.
“I vote for the country. We could get a big house out in the Cession with no one around for miles.”
“Sounds like you’re trying to take me out into the sticks to murder me.”
“Never! I just think you’d like it. It’s peaceful. Don’t worry, Pops taught me how to shoot when I was a kid. Got my own crossbow. We’d be plenty safe.”
“Your own civilian weapon? Not really convincing me about the whole not murdering me thing Collar.”
Raelle cups her cheek, whispering reverently, “You’re always safe with me.”
In that moment, Scylla does feel safe- a dizzying concept in and of itself, but she also feels... a shift.
The unbridled anger constantly coursing through her wasn’t there. In its place is a warm feeling. Something new. Tingly. Magical.
It felt good. Felt right.
“I know.” She utters breathlessly, grabbing Raelle’s hand, the one that made its way to her cheek and interlocking their fingers. “A ranch in the country. That’s where we’ll go.”
Raelle flashes a charming smile, “Just you and me.”
“Aw come on.” Raelle groans, throwing her head back dramatically and knocking it accidentally against the tree, causing them both to laugh.
Everything around them from the trees to the bees looked happy and energized. Even the staggering cadets, with tousled hair, clothing askew holding their shoes at their sides, had a new spring in their step. Scylla couldn’t help the pang of jealousy from missing out on the festivities.
“So… did you have fun last night?”
“A cadet never kisses and tells.”
Scylla drops her jaw dramatically. “Is that right?”
“Uh huh.” Raelle chuckles while Scylla playfully swats her arm. “Especially when there’s nothing to tell.”
The reverent tone coupled with Raelle’s affectionate gaze causes Scylla’s heart to flutter.
“That’s just what a cadet would say after an eventful Beltane.”
“Would have been eventful if a certain necro was there. Then there would be stories to share.”
“I’m really sorry that didn’t work out.” Scylla says, genuinely sad.
“You had things to take care of.”
Scylla rubs her arm, “Yeah, I did. I’m sorry about that.”
Raelle shrugs, “It’s ok. Not sure how much fun I would have been anyway.” She releases a small sigh, “Mostly felt weird all night, but then I woke up and all of Porter’s bottomless despair was gone.”
The mixture of guilt from lying to Raelle and heartache for her suffering was unbearable. This sensitive subject was one she tried to avoid at all cost. For Raelle’s sake… and her own.
“We’ve been over this. Porter wasn’t well.”
“I know, I know. And now it’s all gone. Like magic or something.”
“I’m glad you feel better.”
“Me too.” Raelle kisses the back of her hand without missing a stride. “Now if I remember correctly, you have the morning off, and I have the morning off…”
Scylla bites her bottom lip casting a knowing smile in Raelle’s direction. Guilt temporarily forgotten.
“How will we pass the time?”
Scylla cracks open her fourth lobster claw when a distraught Raelle saddles up next to her. Dabbing her cheek and immediately downing an entire flute of champagne.
“Rae, what’s wrong?”
Raelle releases a huff, “Came this close to confronting General Bellweather about my mom’s last mission. She was her commanding officer. One of the last people to see her alive.”
“I-I’m so sorry.”
Raelle grabs another flute from a passing waiter and drains half of it in one gulp. “I can’t stand this.” Gesturing her empty hand wildly at the wedding festivities, “All the ancient rules, the facades, five-year marriage contracts… It’s awful. We have no say whatsoever in our own lives. Don’t we deserve better than that?”
Scylla moves closer into Raelle’s space, rubbing soothing circles along her back and whispering into her ear, testing the waters, “There are other ways to live besides the army.”
“That’s one option.” She pushes.
“Is it? We’d be living on borrowed time. They’ll find us eventually. Face it, we’re trapped. No matter what. Might as well lean into it.”
“Draft up a five-year contract?”
Raelle rolls her eyes, chuckling into her drink trying to brush it off, but Scylla feels her back muscles tensing under her finger pads. She wraps both arms around Raelle’s waist, purring along the shell of her ear.
“We could start with that walk on the beach. What do you say?”
The cogs turn in Raelle’s mind as she mulls it over. Scylla licks her lips, mouth suddenly dry. “Getting out of here might help you clear your mind for a bit.” She hates herself for pushing this, but she didn’t have much of a choice. Heart sinking when Raelle smiles.
“Yeah, okay. Let’s go.”
Raelle laces their fingers together, leading her towards the exit, but doesn’t make it more than a few steps before Tally and Abigail urgently call her over from across the venue.
“I’ll be right back.” Raelle husks just before planting a dizzying kiss that leaves her a little weak at the knees. “Maybe work on plan B while I’m gone.”
“A five-year contract, of course.”
Scylla blushes furiously as charming Raelle swaggers away.
Scylla should go after her. She needs to deliver Raelle to the Spree, but she doesn’t. She’s so taken aback by Raelle’s casual suggestion. She stays there, rooted in place, and allows herself to imagine what a life married to Raelle would look like. Finding it impossible not to smile from the thought alone.
She made her choice and now her fate is sealed.
“No matter what happens. I love you.”
A swarm of blue balloons elicits an eruption of chaos.
Scylla dips into the shadows. A jolt to the side sends her to the floor just before it all fades to black.
She rouses in a dark, dank cell surrounded by witches in military uniform.
Enduring hours of starvation and psychological torture. Demands and commands to spill on the Spree. She holds out, clinging tight.
Until Raelle appears.
Then the flood gates breach. She’s begging, pleading Raelle not to believe what they are saying about her. To know she loves her.
That’s real. That’s true. It’s the only thing that matters now.
In the blink of an eye, Raelle’s gone… and she’s alone, again, in the dark, dank cell.
The cycle of torture resumes ending in her death sentence announcement.
One last visit from Raelle.
Her wounded features send Scylla’s heart plummeting.
She knows. She believes it all too.
Scylla pours her heart out while she can. The truth falling on deaf ears. She was too late to salvage this, but she had to try.
Raelle leaves with final parting words expressing her regret they ever met in the first place…
Scylla wakes up in a cold sweat gasping for air. Groggy, sore, and disoriented in an unfamiliar room. She stiffens, adrenaline kicking into fight or flight mode. But after a few seconds, her brain catches up to the present moment and she realizes she's no longer dreaming.
She’s not in a cell. She’s with the Spree. She’s safe… for now.
She contemplates sleeping off her weariness but her rumbling tummy protests immediately. She dresses and pads out into the living room headed for the kitchen in search of food. Scouring the cabinets for sustenance.
The sun rises over the horizon bringing with it the dawn of a new day. It’s been so long since she’s seen a sunrise. Scylla stares, soaking in the natural beauty while her coffee brews. Afterwards, she sits at the table with her mug of coffee, inhaling the heavenly aroma. Savoring the warmth and caffeine coaxing every atom in her body back to life. The comfort it brings is short lived as reality sinks in.
Her mind drifts back to the dungeon, replaying her last conversation with Raelle over and over until her appetite is gone completely.
“You’re up early.”
“Couldn’t sleep.” Scylla admits. “What about you?”
“Waking up with the sun is an old army habit.” Willa pours herself a cup of coffee and joins Scylla at the table. “Not a bad one in my opinion. It’s peaceful in the morning.”
Scylla nods, taking a sip of her coffee.
“Plus, this gives us time to catch up.”
Scylla squirms. “Yes. Things went well, until they didn’t.”
Willa cocks an eyebrow, “I’m going to need more details than that.”
Scylla releases a heavy sigh, “I got to the wedding. Stuck with her the entire time, but I couldn’t get her to come with me to the extraction location.” She averts her eyes, hoping Willa won’t see through the half-truth.
“Then the balloons swarmed, and all hell broke loose. We were separated and then… Next thing I knew I was in a dungeon all by myself. Not sure how long I was there being tortured and pressed for information about the Spree.”
“Did you tell them anything?”
“No. I would never tell them… But they forced a linking and saw what they needed to know.” Scylla hangs her head in shame. The raw emotions from Anacostia’s linking prickle under her skin.
Willa nods, “That explains the Baylord raid. Not to worry, we were prepared for that.”
“How did you escape?”
“Anacostia let me go before they shipped me off to the Caribbean to die.”
“Unclear. I think it was more sympathy driven than anything else. Turns out she’s an orphan too.”
“And my daughter?”
Scylla’s heart pounds against her rib cage. “S-she’s with the army. She’s safe.”
A heavy silence falls. They sip their coffee as the sluggish seconds pass by.
“Regardless of the outcome,” Willa begins, “you still failed your primary mission. That’s unlike you. So, I have to ask, have your priorities shifted?”
Scylla immediately thinks of Raelle. Unable to conceal the little smile forming out of the corner of her mouth.
“Ah, I see.” Willa says, chuckling and shaking her head. “Who knew my daughter would be such a charmer when she grew up? She must get that from her father.”
“She’s so much more than that. She deserves so much better than any of this.” Scylla omits the ‘including me’ opting to keep that painful truth to herself.
“Couldn’t agree more.”
“May I ask you something?”
“Why haven’t you reached out to her?”
Willa fidgets, nails tapping an unsteady beat against the ceramic mug.
“She really misses you.” Scylla presses.
“I want to. More than anything.” Willa tries to smile, but it doesn’t quite reach her eyes. “I joined the Spree in pursuit of a better life for Raelle. Furious over everything the army put us through. Mistreating Raelle’s father. Purposely separating our family, just because we didn’t follow their precious rules. Never mind the forced military service.”
Willa averts her eyes, staring into her coffee mug.
“Knowing one day, my daughter would have no choice but to follow in my footsteps was something I could not sit by and watch happen. So, I left my family in the hopes of protecting them. No communication meant they couldn’t be implicated or punished should the army find out about me. Years passed. Anger was my only comfort. It kept me focused on the Spree’s mission, like blinders on a racehorse.”
“But in the end, the army got what they wanted. I’m here, away from my family. Never saw my daughter grow up into the woman she is now.”
Willa’s words resonate deeply. Anger was her driver as well. Pushing her into action, no matter how extreme. But now, she feels different. She is different. That burning rage was gone, extinguished by the kind and loving blonde haired, blue-eyed woman that changed her life. Her salvation in human form.
Regardless of whether Raelle wanted her in her life after all this, Scylla knew, the very least she could do was protect Raelle from a far. Knowing she was alive and well was all she needed.
The shouting and crashing coming from the adjacent room where Raelle’s parents were… reuniting, produces a synchronized flinch from everyone in the living room.
The truth was out and not everyone was taking it well.
Scylla had a gut wrenching feeling Raelle felt similarly to her father. The morphing mixture of shock, horror, relief, and betrayal plastered on Raelle’s face after learning her mother was still alive was forever burned into Scylla’s memory.
Her knee bounces relentlessly, unable to dispel the immense guilt from her part in this. Every fiber of her being screaming to go to Raelle. To be with her. Help alleviate her pain in any way possible.
But she doesn’t.
Raelle doesn’t want her to. She can feel it. Past wounds born from her deception are still raw.
So, Scylla settles for this. Sitting in the den, with Raelle’s unit casting side eye in her direction, under the same roof as Raelle… but miles apart from where they once were. Her only consolation was that Raelle is currently safe and alive.
“What now?” Tally asks, breaking the awkward silence.
“Goddess knows. Back to base, I guess.” Abigail concedes. The Tarim boy next to her places a comforting hand on her shoulder.
Back to base. It was inevitable Raelle would leave, again. Likely thrown back into danger by the army.
A wave of nausea washes over her.
“I need to um-”, get out of here… “-use the bathroom.”
Scylla leaves, walking away from the weary glares and the muffled shouting into the first room on the far end of the hallway. She switches on the light, revealing Raelle curled up on the floor sobbing. The heart-breaking image stops her dead in her tracks.
“Oh, I’m sorry I was looking for the bathroom and got lost… I’ll uh- leave you be.”
Just as she turns her back to leave, Raelle speaks.
The uncharacteristic desperation in Raelle’s voice beckons Scylla back into the room. She shuts the door behind her.
Raelle rises to her feet. Her eyes are bloodshot lacking their normal brightness. She looked smaller. Lost, like she was spiraling out of control. Scylla’s heart ached and, in that moment, she would give anything to make it stop.
“Rae, I’m sorry about-”
“Stop.” Voice cracking, fracturing Scylla’s heart all over again. “I don’t want to talk right now.”
Raelle slips off Scylla’s jacket and it clicks.
“Oh. R-Rae, I’m not sure-”
Raelle sniffles, “Scyl, please. I don’t want to feel like this.”
She knows this is a bad idea. Doing this will only make things harder in the long run. But the devastation swimming in Raelle’s hazy eyes and the pleading request makes the decision for her. Scylla can’t deny Raelle what she needs. If she can’t talk, then she’ll settle for showing Raelle how much she loves her. Determined for Raelle to feel it. To erase her suffering and pain, if only for a little while.
“Ok.” She whispers just before capturing Raelle’s lips.
The second they connect, Raelle’s hands are everywhere. Her neck, her back, her thighs, finally settling on her waist. She doesn’t realize she’s moving until her back meets a cool hard surface. An embarrassing primal noise emerges from the back of her throat when Raelle deepens the kiss. Tongues tangling in practiced slides.
They pull apart, gasping for air. “You taste different.” Scylla mumbles in between pants.
There is a tug at her waist, followed by a release of pressure as Raelle removes her belt.
“Must be Mother Mycelium.” Raelle comments as she unbuttons her jeans.
But Scylla doesn’t get to finish that thought because Raelle cuts her off with a searing kiss and her wandering hands travel much lower, managing to derail Scylla’s thoughts entirely.
Camarilla. Army. A sprinkle of Spree.
In the thick of battle, it’s next to impossible to pin-point friend or foe. Scylla homes in on one person amongst the bloodthirsty chaos.
Raelle harnesses the mycelium’s power. Wielding it to keep the enemy at bay. But harnessing such an entity comes at a cost. Scylla can feel it. The shifting life forces. The mushroom blooms, while the witch shrivels.
It’s suffocating her.
Can no one else feel it too?
Raelle’s knees quake, like they are about to buckle. Hands wavering at her sides.
Scylla’s running out into the line of fire before her brain registers anything else. Driven by instinct.
Raelle collapses just as Scylla reaches her side… but the spell is far from broken.
Ash, dust, earth, rubble swirling all around, engulfing them. Colorful fungi sprout from the destruction. It was beautiful, in a morbid kind of way. But the woman that made it all possible was far from ok.
Raelle was dying. Slipping away. Scylla felt it. So, she did what any witch that made it out of basic training would do. She grabbed Raelle’s hand and closed her eyes. Focusing on Raelle. And only Raelle.
Matching their breaths. Their heart beats. The blood coursing through their veins.
Memories and feelings revealed.
Tornadoes and a new cadet. First words exchanged.
Panting against a wall, moving in sync.
Peaceful mornings. Vulnerable confessions. A tall and majestic oak tree.
Raelle’s love shines through every single moment, even the last ones. The darker ones.
Tied to a chair screaming her voice hoarse. Eyes burning with fresh tears, but they aren’t her own. They belong to Raelle. She follows Raelle’s vision, embodied within her memory, storming out into the dank hall past Anacostia. Immediately slumping to the floor. Tears continue falling.
Scylla feels Raelle’s heart breaking as if it were her own. Fracturing into tiny painful pieces. Scylla bears it, welcoming the depths of Raelle’s suffering. The very heart break she caused.
Bodies synchronized down to a molecular level… but there was something else there.
Scylla could feel it… feel her.
An ancient presence woven into Raelle’s DNA. She concentrates, trying to link with Raelle and only Raelle, but the foreign power was everywhere.
Scylla doubles down her efforts. Transferring more of her life force to the dying woman to combat the leeching mycelium refusing to relinquish her host.
The more she gives Raelle, the harder it is to concentrate.
“I’m not giving up on you.”
She collapses, on her knees at first, then lying fully on her side. Gripping Raelle’s hand for dear life.
“L-let go. It’s killing you!”
Raelle’s voice is stronger than before. A small victory in and of itself.
Scylla summons enough energy to open her eyes, gazing at Raelle one last time before she loses consciousness completely. Focusing on Raelle’s hand inching towards her face, welcoming the touch.
But it never comes.
Reliving a lifetime of ups and downs takes its toll. They both take a minute after linking to catch their breaths and process everything that transpired. Letting reality sink in.
“Now you know everything.”
“Yeah. That was… a lot.”
“I’m complicated. To be fair, I warned you a long time ago.”
“And I told you I do complicated.” Raelle states matter-of-factly, adding a crooked smile that restores Scylla’s fragile hope.
She presses on before Raelle has a chance to add a ‘but’ to that statement, or worse, get up and walk away.
“I know the truth doesn’t make up for everything I did. But I hope this is a start… for us. In whatever way you want an us to look like and be. I have a lot of things to make up for, but I love you. I know that. And you love me too. I felt it when we linked.”
“I know.” Raelle begins, “I felt your feelings too. The last time we were on base, I wanted to hurt you for hurting me and I know now I succeeded. I wish I didn’t.” She releases a hollow laugh and shakes her head, “I had no idea your only thought in that moment was ‘I wish I could take it all back’. And you carried the pain I caused you afterwards, just like I did. Somehow, I was always on your mind. You put me before you so many times, even if I didn’t know about it. Just because you care. Because you love me. Even when it almost killed you.”
“I couldn’t stand by and do nothing while you died. I had to stop it.” Scylla confesses.
“That was reckless, putting yourself in danger for me.” Raelle half-heartedly scolds.
Scylla scoffs playfully, “You do that for strangers on a regular basis. Risking my life to save the most important person in the world to me is a no brainer.”
“The world is a dangerous place…” Raelle trails off, averting her eyes.
“Especially for us. We could die at any moment.”
“Yeah.” Raelle meets her gaze, “And I don’t want to die without trying this thing for real. You and me. No more lies.”
Scylla is so happy she could cry, but then she remembers…
“Want to break me out of here?”
Raelle smirks playfully, “I thought you’d never ask.”