Next day I got up early and staked out the school, keeping an eye out for – either Nikolas if he decided to go today – or for Jesse to make sure he was at school for the day.
After I saw him go in, I wasted another 1-2 hours – checking a few parks to see if my target was there – before I headed for the empty lot I’d followed him to the other day. As I did, I donned on my disguise.
If I was Jesse, they were bound to let me in, and they were also going to be encouraged to tell me the truth.
I approached the slab and gave a wave, and to my glee the wall trembled and opened to let me pass.
I walked the halls, imitating Jesse as best as I could.
I hesitated to ask anyone for help in locating Nikolas until I hit someone who looked like a minor.
“Hey do you know where Nikolas is?” I asked her.
“It’s my day of no Niko today, so I’m doing my best not to know where he is.” She said with a shrug before rounding a corner.
I continued to wander until I hit a red head and I remembered seeing Niko hang out with a red head near the end of last year.
“Hey!” I said. “Do you know where Niko is?”
I think his name was…Zac. Yes it was Zac. Zac turned around and cast me a frown. “Don’t you have school today? Don’t tell me you’re skipping too. The school year is almost over.”
I shook my head. “My class was cancelled; do you know where he is?”
Zac eyed me suspiciously and I tried to keep my cool.
“One of his teachers wanted me to pass on an assignment.” I tempted.
He sighed at that. “He’s probably downstairs sparring with Ara.”
I nodded and resisted thanking him before leaving.
Now the problem was, I didn’t know where downstairs was, and I was too afraid to ask directions. That would be suspicious. I tried to be subtle about my getting lost.
“Hey Jesse! What are you doing here?” A tanned boy asked me.
“Oh I was just going downstairs to see Niko.” I said.
“Great I’ll come with you!” He said falling into step with me, and effectively guiding me downstairs.
The trip was thankfully short and all I had to answer was a you’re not at school? question.
We walked right into the middle of an intense sparring match. The two people exchanging blows were moving rapidly, so it was little hard to identify them, but I had little doubt on who the guy was.
The tall green-haired girl easily avoided his blows, cornering him down several times and letting him try again. Eventually he must’ve had enough.
Ara was pinning him down with a harmless hold. He managed to slip out with some maneuvering, and just as she lunged towards him, he took step back and instantly slapped his fists together.
A bubble of magic radiated from his hands and pushed her back violently on the ground. She rapidly got up and stormed to him – Nikolas immediately going into shame mode.
“That was the last time Nikolas!” She shouted.
“Look it was just refl-”
“Last time!” She repeated sharply.
Nikolas decided not to reply and stormed past us. In a panic I tried to grab the bug in time to slip it into one of his pockets, but I was too slow.
The boy grimaced beside me.
“Why does Niko keep doing that? He knows using magic is cheating when he spars.” The boy shook his head and I shrugged. “And it sucks the fun out of it.”
I ran to catch up with Nikolas, and I did just as he was meeting a witch who I’m pretty sure is Aleccas Whitelight.
“You used magic again on Ara didn’t you?”
“Everybody’s acting huffy about it, but I haven’t hurt her.”
“We finally craft you wands that fit you and you use them to cheat at sparring? Really?”
“I’d think you’d be proud of how originally I’m using all those defensive spells you keep teaching me.”
“You’re just proving why I shouldn’t give you anything offensive. No I’m not training you today, or tomorrow, or forever, until something changes.” The witch declared.
I followed Nikolas as he left again – without a word -, the beacon ready in my hand this time. I just needed to get him alone – or really just close enough.
“Hey Zac I need a teleport.” I heard him ask as I approached the place where I’d found Zac.
I peeked in, seeing Zac give Nikolas a pointed look.
“I’m suffocating here please, anywhere I really don’t care.” Nikolas pleaded, looking up at him. I stepped closer to the entrance.
Zac grinned at him then. “Just in time for your math class!”
“Anywhere, but school! Zac no, ah fuck.” Nikolas rolled his head as Zac placed his hand on his shoulder and he began to disappear.
I stumbled fully into the entrance then, cursing that I’d missed him as he vanished.
But just before he did, a fraction of a second beforehand, his half disappearing eyes latched onto mine.
Serious and cold, I felt a paranoid chill go down my spine as he fully disappeared.
I headed for the room with a proud stance. One more day. That’s all I need! Tomorrow, I’ll just need to stake out the forest until I see Nikolas leave.
“Refuse, refuse, REFUSE, I refuse!” I walked in to Salandra chanting and turning in a circle.
I made myself silent as the scientist groaned. “You said you would.”
“I’ve changed my mind.”
“Don’t be a bitch about it.” He snapped. “We made a deal.”
“I said NO, didn’t your mother ever tell you to respect when a girl says no?” She snarled.
If she noticed me, she didn’t make it known.
I jumped a little as he pressed the shock button. My eyes widened as Sal fell to the ground in pain. She wasn’t even being aggressive!
“I told them you were cooperative.” He repeated as she laughed. Is that just her natural response to pain?
Frustrated and annoyed as she kept laughing at him he pressed the button again – and again – and again – and I ran in.
“Stop it! That’s unnecessary!” I shouted.
“Yeah, come teach me a lesson like a real man would.” Salandra taunted, heaving from the shocks she’d gone through.
The man stared at her enclosure and then at me, before he got up and left to get some fresh air.
Salandra slumped further against the floor, trying to get her breath back.
I tentatively went to sit in front of her cage.
“What was that about?” I asked.
“Me fucking with him.” She answered.
“I have nothing else to do here Ice Queen.”
“My name is Gloria.” I offered.
“Gloria looks boring. I remember Ice Queen.” Sal said, giving me a wink – the pain momentarily gone from her features.
I smiled. I remember her too. As horrible as the aftermath was, the experiment itself was fun.
Salandra leaned back against the window, closing her eyes as her breathing finally returned to normal. I watched her recover from the abuse the man had just delivered. She rubbed her arm.
“I saw Nikolas today.” I said. She didn’t respond, her eyes remained closed. “I saw him get into another fight again. He hasn’t changed that much has he?” I tempted with a smile.
She opened her eyes then and smiled. “He’s a stubborn hothead. It’s how he deals. That won’t change in a year.”
“Tomorrow is my last day.” I announced. “I won’t need another one. I’ll be completing my mission.”
“Did you take a picture this time?”
“I wish I could switch places with you. I haven’t been outside in months – a year. And I probably never will again.”
“That’s nonsense! The Hans will hire you and then you’ll be a field worker, like me.”
“No offense – actually full offense – but I don’t want to work for the Hans.” She stated. “I’m not impressed with their work. Makes we want to blow up again, but that was a one time thing.”
I grimaced. “Some of the employees are mean, but they don’t represent the compa-”
“You’re a Green Pass darling. I don’t get much here, but I’ve heard enough bragging about what’s going on. Green, Yellow, Red? We were already pretty racist, but the Hans slapped a label and validation to it now. The task force’s only goal is to apprehend Reds and watch Yellows. And what are Yellows?”
“They’re potentially dangerous people. It’s just prevention!”
“Prevention my ass!” She shouted angrily. I felt myself slink back. “Anyone who’s a supernatural is a Yellow! Can you believe it? I’d be a Green. And my fairy science teacher, would be a Yellow. What kind of distribution is that?” She declared, sharply.
I frowned, unnerved by this. It’s just that she’d be judged according to different laws.
She’s not being judged. And she hasn’t. And she won’t.
Salandra had undone and redone her hair while I was in thought.
“Can you do me a favor?” She asked. “When you see Nikolas tomorrow, can you look like me?”
“Are you trying to get me killed?”
“You think he’d kill me?” Sal asked, her voice rising up an octave.
“I just don’t think he’d be that receptive and he seems really violent.” I said.
“Well in that case I’ll know what I wanted to know.” She shrugged. “I just needed closure, but it’s been a year, I can swallow it for another.”
I blinked, torn between how she’d casually accepted me possibly being killed by this and how much I felt this closure would do her good – or just the fact that I was concerned about her emotional wellbeing.
“You’d ask me this knowing he could kill me?”
“If Nikolas kills you then I don’t know him at all.”
“You murdered his family.”
“He didn’t like them anyway.”
I gaped. “How can you say that?”
“Because it’s true! Boring, pathetic, selfish, if I was in his place I’d have begged him to do the same.” She rolled her eyes.
“I can’t understand you. Do you feel remorseful for what you did or don’t you?”
She eyed me with a slight grin. “What would make you feel better?”
“We work in a manner of deals you and I. What would you like? In exchange for this closure of mine?”
“You just want to torture him. You don’t want closure. You’re digging up the past on him again. You’re doing this on purpose. Hasn’t he suffered by your hands enough?” I demanded.
Sal’s eyes grew distant. “Has he? I’ve been wondering that for a year now. If he sees my face, will he be angry? Or will he be…distant?”
I felt my anger deflate as I saw her quite literally drift off somewhere else. Oh now, now I think I get it. Salandra’s intentions never have the right presentation.
“I’ll…try, but if anything goes bad I’m putting it all on you.” I said, not convinced myself of my decision, but Salandra’s huge grin seemed to dissipate that.
“Perfect! I want all the blame.”
“I got there early, really early. I was sure I’d gotten there too early, but I ended up only waiting for an hour. I spotted Nikolas – not coming out of the place, but just running on the sidewalk with his dog.”
“Nato!” Salandra grinned. “Oh, I haven’t jogged in ages. I miss it. Not really, but it’s better than being in here.”
“I followed him from far away, mostly with my eyes, so I saw it when he and the dog took a break by the riverside. It made it all really simple so I made my way over.”
“You’re purposefully dragging this out. Are you trying to build this up?” Salandra asked, leaning heavily on the window.
“Sorry, I can just skip to when-”
“No no,” She said with a coy smile. “I like the foreplay.”
“I had to walk there, but he was still there when I arrived. I almost forgot, but I switched like you asked me to.”
“You turned into me?” She grinned.
“Yeah, but I was hoping he wouldn’t turn around. I managed to slip the bug on him, without him noticing, but the dog saw me and that alerted him.”
Salandra’s eyes were glued on me, anxious to hear what happened. “So then he turned around and saw you?”
“What did you see? How were his eyes?” She asked.
“I don’t…pink I think? Some pale beige?”
“Yes I know that, but what did they say? Was he angry? …relieved?” She asked with a tinge of hope.
“There – there wasn’t really anything on his face. It looked more like he was frozen. In shock you know? Maybe even a little like a deer in the headlights. Like he was in fight or flight mode.” I said.
Salandra said nothing, waiting for me to continue.
“This was the weird part. Because after that he smiled. But not like a happy smile or anything, like a creepy unimpressed smile. Arrogant almost I guess.”
“What is it? A tattoo? An illusion ability?”
“He spotted it immediately. My disguise.” I said. “Which is impressive. People get suspicions, but I’ve never seen someone so sure. So I couldn’t help it, I asked him how he figured it out.”
“If you knew her, you’d know.”
“I guess I wasn’t acting psychotic enough. But he only saw me for a second! I guess he’s just that confident that you’re stuck here.” I shrugged, but Sal wasn’t listening to me anymore.
The utter joy I’d just brought her had her far far away from me, in a land that gave her this permanent soft and pleased smile.
“He knows me.”
Whatever else I said now was going to be lost on this wall between us. So I didn’t tell her about how he pressed – how he figured out easily that I was working for the Hans. How scared I started to get when he brought up Jesse’s attitude from the other day. The fact that he’d made the link with only a half-second look he’d gotten before teleporting away – and a few reports from the people I had interacted with. The fact that my silence did nothing to deter his guesses.
The trembling I got when he started to threaten me, to never step into the Dragons’ den again. That he’d spot me now from a mile away.
And the worst part was when he continued to guess right. That I probably had met Sal. That it was probably a requirement to shapeshift. That Sal herself had made this request.
That I’d better go back and tell that murderer to lay down and rot like a proper corpse.
So I didn’t mind that much, that Salandra was too preoccupied to hear the rest.