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Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/2244600-Stormflower
Rated: 13+ · Fiction · Fantasy · #2244600
Ocean world, Female lead with PTST related trauma. Action with light mystery elements.
Stormflower 1&2





Chapter 1



To experience death was to perceive the breadth of eternity in the confines of a single thought. To reawaken from this purity of being, reemerge from the trackless current of death, was to experience the end of divinity and forget all it entailed. Thus the Soul roused from death and relinquished eternity, waking to the world of Aeria.

It spent a moment exploring itself, measuring the extent of its being, perusing the memories of its past lives and compiling all the knowledge that survived its resurrection. Aeria gradually materialized to its perception, emerging from the muddy brown mist that was La Neblina in concert with its expanding consciousness and evolving sentience. Everything it perceived, the Soul recognized and knew intimately, from the cracks in the hollow stone floors and ceiling, to the exquisite silhouette images streaking across the slender corridor’s walls of aged, yellowing paper.

The Soul completed its manifestation into the physical world, its consciousness realized as shreds of colorless, drifting energy without nucleus or font—Luce. These shreds the Soul accumulated into a spherical shape before directing its attention to the paper walls on either side and the stark images painted thereupon, unconstrained by absent sensory organs. It ‘watched’ a long-feathered crane dive into a pool of ink, spraying black liquid, and then resurface as an imperious, flaming lion. A field of streaming reeds grew into soaring edifices and floating palaces. The lion stretched, growing taller as it settled onto back limbs, became a man, and entered the city. A wind swept down the wall and returned everything to dust. A half-second passed and the sequence recurred.

The Soul breathed and formed new lungs. A heart emerged in the center of its form and beat, pushing blood down veins and feeding muscles. It stretched taller, inhaling the stagnant air. Bones formed, followed by organs and nerves. It spread long fingers and trailed them through La Neblina, feeling its chill. Skin streamed from its chest and across its arms and legs, followed by horizontal streaks of black fur. It reared back a proud head, and a crimson mane sprouted from its skull.

The Soul settled onto broad haunches, satisfied with the form it had assumed. Tattered strips of black cloth littered its surroundings, fluttering in drafts slithering from cracks to the corridors and chambers below and above the Soul. In observing this fabric, it remembered the final moments of its lifeless existences as Embers. It recalled listlessly wandering the infinite catacombs of Aeria’s hollow world, Palacio, of consuming Sparks and lesser Embers before being consumed in turn. The memories of these insentient, emotionless existences encompassed a thousand different lives as Sparks were absorbed, becoming Embers, and Embers were absorbed, becoming Pyres, before culminating in the birth of consciousness beyond base instinct and renewed life: a Soul.

The Soul robed itself in the tatters, not because it felt shame in nudity, but because its memories always showed it being clothed. This done, it straightened and ventured along the corridor, gliding effortlessly over a crumbling floor choked with Arbol’s ubiquitous sprawling roots, their passive heat seeping into its body. A menagerie of painted creatures and flora tailed it along the walls, attracted by its Luce, its fire of life.

The Soul climbed, sometimes vaulting through fissures in the ceiling, and others scaling Arbol’s bulkier roots up vacant shafts through dozens of floors. Small rooms and endless corridors transitioned to vast chambers, mausoleums, and vacant thrones. These in turn concluded at a wide stair leading to a final ceiling. The Soul stilled on the first step, vibrant gold eyes drifting to the left-hand wall where all but one black silhouette stood motionless, a smoldering Phoenix orbiting a circle of illuminated paper.

The Soul dismounted the stair, circumventing it through a curtain of Arbol’s roots. Past those it discovered an archway into a secondary room inhabited solely by an ancient, lightless chandelier of pale stone. La Neblina swirled along the corners and the alcoves of the room but refused to trespass on the open space because there, hanging from the chandelier by a wispy green vine, dangled an orb of Luce.

The Soul crept into the Luce’s fiery luminescence and extended its senses, scouring the room for other Souls without result. It released muscles tensed against potential adversaries and approached the chandelier. Once there, it plucked the orb and swallowed it whole. Renewed life flooded its being, deepening its reservoir of energy and strengthening its spirit. Overhead the green vine crumpled to dust and vanished as La Neblina billowed inward through the cracks and doorways.

The Soul returned through the archway and Arbol’s curtained roots to ascend the stairway, received by a frigid breeze sweeping down the stair to invade Palacio’s dull warmth. The Soul lengthened its stride, mounting one of Arbol’s thicker roots to avoid the cracked and entangled stairs. Every step soothed its feet with warmth, but the air turned icy as it breeched into the exterior world, stepping a vast openness beneath a trackless sky, where the world became a city of stone edifices drowning in the drifting fathoms of La Neblina and strangled in Arbol’s roots: Mar, the surface of Aeria.

La Neblina eddied around the Soul, jostled by a breath of wind, spilling between its legs, over its shoulders, and dredging its fur with silt. The Soul hastened to veil its eyes with fabric scraps snatched from the cobbled street, obscuring their empyreal glow before a hungering scrutiny glimpsed them.

Satisfied with its precautions, the Soul prowled forward, approaching the largest of Arbol’s protruding roots, and vaulted up. Landing atop the pale, knotted bark, the Soul scaled to its arching zenith and there subsided in a crouch, probing outward, functionally blind from the bandages and La Neblina but infinitesimally aware of all that surrounded it. The Soul expanded its consciousness, scrounging Mar’s every crevice for flickers of Luce.

It waited for a span of days, motionless and unblinking. La Neblina swirled around it with its inscrutable tides, affixing to the Soul’s body strands and sheets of the black cloth, torn lose from some distant desiccated tree where it had grown, before wresting them free of it in turn. Oscuras, hollow beings without fire, stumbled upon it and huddled themselves against its free and limbs until they became a congregation, enamored of its radiance and warmth against Mar’s bitter shrouds. Then, finally, a flash of warmth skittered through a corner of its mind. The Soul exploded forward, shucking the newly attached Oscuras, and crossed an expanse of miles in a beat of its heart.

The Spark sensed its approach but could only tighten its muscles to leap before the Soul pinned it against the ground. The Spark thrashed, not for fear of dying—for it lacked true soul—but simple instinct. The Soul rent the Sparks black fabric with a swift, but detached cut and consumed its Luce. A dozen heartbeats passed, and with them new memories suffused the Soul’s consciousness.

Content, the Soul retired to Mar’s cobbled earth and reclined beneath the eaves of a wide, arching root. Even as it did, however, it perceived the advent of a new consciousness and roused, emerging from Arbol’s shelter.

The foreign soul slunk down the root’s side with a susurration of indistinguishable speech. It dropped down with a swish of fabric and straightened to an easy, humanoid posture. The being’s small stature betrayed it as a Predator Soul, a consciousness dependent on the Luce of Sparks, Embers, and Pyres to prolong its existence. They assumed smaller physical forms to deceive their prey because Sparks and their ilk—Embers and Pyres— could only navigate the world by somatic senses and where a Soul would recognize its kin by the splendor and depth of their Luce a Spark could inspect solely whatever physical form they chose to assume.

The Predator Soul exhaled a slow breath of golden light, the particles lingering briefly—like the ejected embers of an open flame— on the cloth swaddling its beaked visage. “Greetings, newborn.” It did not speak with words or sounds, or in any language divined by a living species. It conveyed pure meaning into the Soul’s conception.

The Soul responded in kind, “What is your name?”

“I am Koin. Have you chosen a name?”

“I have not. What brought you here?”

“I sensed the presence of a Spark, but it appears you move quick for a newborn.”

“Why do you linger?”

“Because you are a new soul and interest me.”

“You do not interest me.” The Soul turned to depart.

“Wait.”

The Soul stalled. “Why?”

“Because I wish to offer you a place and a name.” The Predator glided forward, effortlessly navigating the ruptured ground and entangling roots on stilted, carapace legs. “An infinite reservoir of Luce and the protection of a Greater Soul.” Koin swept around the Soul, perching on the ruins of a sundered bench, hands clicking as they undulated and swirled a mist of Luce.

“I have no need of your name or the belonging you offer.”

“I do not ask that you decide now, only that you accompany me and witness for yourself what I offer.”

“Is the journey long?”

“No, just a sliver of time, and effortless.”

The Soul settled, relinquishing independence for the other Soul’s direction. “I will accompany you.’”

“Good.” Koin lifted its beaked head and issued an echoing call, introducing first pregnant expectancy then an answer in the dull, labored beat of cumbersome wings. The Soul raised its gaze to the heavens and extended its consciousness. A leviathan swept into its perception with another wingbeat, causing La Neblina to coil and eddy around its body. The leviathan–a corporal, barely sentient denizen of Aeria that survived without Luce–emerged from La Neblina, its dark undersides sleek and legless. It descended, circling until it hovered about a hundred feet over the two Souls. It uttered a metallic call and lowered a sinuous tail for them.

Koin mounted it without hesitation and beckoned the Soul to emulate. The Soul hesitated, for Koin’s essence throbbed with unspoken avarice and a voracious hunger he strove to conceal. It did not fear Koin, but it distrusted the Predator Soul’s intent. Nonetheless, it scaled the leviathan’s tail to its flat back and situated itself beside Koin.

“Where do you take me?”

“To Revenance: a communion ground for Souls.”

“A city?”

“Of Sorts.” A flicker of deceit slithered through Koin’s essence, igniting the Soul’s curiosity. It warped its own essence, consuming a spark of its Luce to project an illusion of wrath and lethal purpose toward Koin. Koin demonstrated no reaction, either unperturbed by the Soul’s murderous intent or ignorant of it, blind to its essence and his own. The Soul relinquished its deception and focused on the emotions afflicting Koin’s spirit: hunger, excitement, and fear, attempting to parse meaning and plot from their presence without success. It persisted in this endeavor, thoughtless for the crumbling edifices soaring skyward all around them, until Koin disrupted the rustling silence of La Neblina and the leviathan’s wings, “Look, newborn, and see Revenance. We have arrived.”

The Soul shifted its focus at its companion’s prompt and observed the resplendent false glory of Revenance: It occupied a sunken cavity in Mar, smothered with Arbol’s roots beneath a sky choked by smaller leviathans, many burdened with itinerant Souls, all of it aglow with hollow Luce: a vivid, but lifeless brilliance bereft of everything but its basest physical attribute.

“Is it not beautiful?”

“No, it is not.” The Soul extended its senses, scouring Revenance for a flicker of the Greater Soul that presided over it.

The being’s consciousness responded instantly and ensnared the Soul’s, cavernous in its depths. “Who are you?”

“None of your concern.” The Soul retreated its consciousness, eluding the Greater Soul’s grasping attempts to recapture it.

Koin shuddered and whirled on him, essence and voice sharp with a frightened pitch, “What did you say?”

The Soul straightened on the leviathan’s back. Its consciousness still echoed with the Greater Soul’s anger and, more prominently, its rapacious desire. Both the Greater Soul and Koin desired something of it, a desire they wished concealed. The Soul approached the edge and peered through La Neblina at Revenance, stripping the folds from its eyes and releasing them into the eddying mist.

Koin pursued it the precipice. “Foolish newborn, why did you anger him?” His meaning echoed with rage, but his essence cowered with mounting desperation. He snatched a knot of the Soul’s wraps, but the Soul brushed his arm aside.

“I no longer require your hospitality or possess any interest in your promises. Do not follow me.” It stepped off the leviathan and plummeted. Koin screamed a mental and physical howl and plunged after it, Luce billowing within its form as it transformed. Two great wings split from his back, spread wide and yanked his wild fall to a controlled descent.

The Soul paid its pursuer no heed and simply twisted midair to land with a thunderous crash in a crouch on one of Arbol’s highest roots. It dug fingers into the bark and scraped, exposing the sapphire liquid coursing within.

Koin landed with a thud opposite it and lunged to grasp the Soul’s throat, restraining it to its knees. “You will not leave this world. I will not allow it!” His essence seethed with fear and his grip tightened, burrowing his fingers into the Soul’s flesh. Luce bled out, coating his fingers and dissipating into the air.

The Soul wrenched Koin’s hands free and the Luce ceased bleeding, its skin healing. “You cannot hold me.”

Luce erupted from Koin as his form mutated anew, skin hardening to a substance like rock and nails lengthening into talons. “But I can delay you.”

The Soul regarded Koin and knew the Predator Soul spoke truth. He possessed sufficient Luce to combat the Soul and survive its assaults, and the Soul had no interest in expending the Luce necessary to subdue him.

Koin’s terrified essence flashed across its consciousness again, sparking a thought. The Soul reached up, pressed a hand against Koin’s midsection, and inhaled, drinking the Luce from Koin’s essence.

Koin hissed and recoiled, clutching his midsection. “What did you do?”

“It seems I do not need to destroy your physical form before consuming your Luce.” The Soul exhaled its breath and only a thread of stolen Luce escaped. Dropping its hand, the Soul stepped forward and into the sapphire current. Its body flared and reverted to pure energy.

Koin howled and lunged, but the Soul had already begun its journey between worlds, from the lands of the transcended to the realms of the living.









Chapter 2





Jade woke into a state of perfect lucidity and sat up on her mattress. The ambient soporific music and faint vanilla incense continued to float through her surroundings, trying to lull her back to sleep. She swung her legs from the bed and sagged, her muscles aching with familiar exhaustion. She brushed her thumb across her left wrist, changing her adaptive suit from sleeping to waking with a muted hiss. The clear material shifted against her skin and warmed to a pleasant temperature as she vacated the comfort of her bed. The music and incense deactivated with a click at her rise and lights ignited along the walls and ceiling.

She surveyed the room for what had disturbed her sleep, waiting for the adaptive suit to finish injecting nutrients and energy stimulants. It appeared unchanged: discarded clothes littered the floor, the picture of her brother still stared at her from behind its black veil, and the door remained locked. Two other containers occupied the mantle beside her brother’s portrait, one housing a mottled scorpion on a bed of sand, the second a Stormflower plant with its roots immersed in water and its ruby leaves incandescent with constant streams of electricity.

She padded to the room’s center, listening for sounds other than the atmosphere moderator and the indistinct crash of rain, muted by her apartment’s sound dampeners. She heard it a second later: a persistent muffled beep from her closet.

Jade crossed to the right-hand wall and pressed her palm against it. The seamless door slid aside with an exhale and her closet lights activated, revealing a ransacked space of open drawers, overstuffed containers, and empty hangers for the littered laundry. The beeping intensified, piercing the heaped junk.

‘It can’t be, not in a retirement district…’ She burrowed into the mound, relocating boxes and ducking beneath what spare clothing remained until she exposed the back shelves and a sleek, grey crate. She shucked the covering debris and tapped the box’s console. It initiated, flicked to a retinal scan, followed by voice recognition.

Jade passed the various tests and cracked the lid open. The beeping immediately intensified along with a pulsing blue light. She rummaged through the box, retrieved a thin wristband, and closed the lid, which resealed itself with a hum as she vacated the closet.

The wristband came alive in her hands, glowing with green lines, blue numbers, and a single red dot. She cursed under her breath and slumped onto her vanity chair. ‘What the hell is a Revenant doing here? And how did it even gain entrance.’ She rubbed her eyes, ignoring the wristband’s incessant beeping. The green lines represented the canals and buildings around her, the blue conveyed the water depth and—during storms—violence, the red marked the Revenant. ‘Just ignore it’, she told herself, ‘the Purifiers will handle it’. She shuddered, her fingers tightening on the wristband. ‘But when? The nearest Core will be miles away, minutes out at the soonest.’ Minutes might seem like a brief span, but that’s all a Revenant required to consume dozens.

Activated by her protracted proximity, the vanity mirror initiated without prompting, issuing a prim female voice, ‘Miss Jade, would you like to change your appearance? It has been two thousand and ninety-six days since you last adjusted your hair color, two thousand and ninety–”

“Power down.” The mirror dulled, leaving only her reflection with her awful strip of pink hair. She raked her fingers through it and stood; Purifiers never patrolled the Retirement districts because Revenants never materialized there, preferring the denser populated city complexes. In a hundred and twenty years of Purifier history, and tracing the Revenants, this represented the first instance she had encountered, and only the third ever recorded.

Her hair—mostly a lovely dark purple—fell back over her face, and she raked it back. Memories broiled in the recesses of her mind, rising up and fragmenting her thoughts. ‘No, don’t think about it!’ She repressed the memories and strode from her room. ‘Just act, you can do this; it’s only one Revenant, just breathe through it and you’ll be fine.’ The rest of her apartment lights powered on at her appearance, illuminating a desolate kitchen, a slim ascending stair and a central room of hard tiles flush with strewn pillows. She brushed through this space without a thought and opened her entrance closet with a yank. In contrast to her bedroom, this closet room maintained strict military organization, with her shoes arranged along the bottom and her gray dress coats atop hangers.

She snatched a small disk from the inside of the door and pressed it against her chest. “Combat Protocols Activate.” It spun awake with a whirr and emerald lines shot outward through her adaptive suit, tracing the contours of her muscles and nervous system. She stamped her bare feet into a pair of boots and then carefully donned a button-up coat of faded red made almost entirely of pockets, some of which were locked. Lastly, she grabbed a pair of dull metal bars and attached them to the back of her adaptive suit. “Power up.” The Siphons warmed against her back and a steady, if faint, white brilliance pierced their dull exterior.

She stood there for a moment, striving to soothe her thundering heart. Then, steeling herself, Jade spun on a heel and strode to her apartment’s exterior wall. A wide window occupied most of the surface area, offering her a view of the deluge outside. Rain pounded the world in huge sheets, some so thick they obscured all that existed behind them. Jade opened the window with a tap and emerged onto a patio enclosed in transparent walls, raised high enough above the ocean level to breathe even in flooding season.

Ordinarily placid, knee-deep waters rushed beneath her in engorged depths, so agitated by the torrential rain and squalling winds they almost rose above the complex’s stilts. She yanked her hood up and retracted the patio’s central wall with another tap. Rain immediately besieged her, dousing her coat and patio’s interior before spiraling into the drain. She swung out and dropped into the freezing waist-deep water with a stifled groan. Her adaptive suit warmed further in response, insulating her as she closed the patio, which blinked once with internal light and turned opaque.

Jade wiped the water from her eyes with an unspoken curse at having forgotten her goggles and snapped her heels together. The water skates activated with a flood of heat and a buzz. She shot from the water and settled on its turbulent surface where the stabilizers thrummed on.

Jade leaned into the wind and thrust forward, skating over the ocean’s surface, the raised apartment complexes on either side barely white impressions behind the deluge. The wristband beeped and sparked against her right hand. She turned down the corresponding river-alley and zipped two blocks before taking a left onto another main canal. Hovering illumination-bots patrolled overhead, offering meager clarity to her environs and paling before the golden radiance ahead of her. She pushed harder, streaking through parked skimmers and circumventing tangled aquatic flora.

The burning radiance vanished abruptly, provoking a desperate curse and launching her into a full sprint over the last hundred feet. A shriek struggled to pierce the rain as she skidded to a halt and leapt onto a patio through its shattered door. The radiance blazed inside the apartment, almost too bright to face but still shallow enough to betray the creature within.

It spun at her appearance, its form wreathed in writhing black fabric and ablaze with light. She squeezed her wrist-piece and it brightened, emitting a loud fluting music that caused the creature’s eyes to flare and fixed its attention on her. The creature issued an eerie, musical note and glided toward Jade, effortlessly surmounting an overturned table.

She retreated, luring it toward the canal and away from the elderly man cowering in the apartment. Her earpiece clicked on, wakened by the Revenant’s proximity. “Spirit level seven, classified as a first-tier revenant.”

“Good.” Jade released a soft sigh and detached the Siphons from her back; she only had training Siphons, but they should suffice against a first tier Revenant.

The creature hissed, its empyreal glow fading as she ignited the Siphons. They buzzed in her hands and then punctured her skin with minute needles, coupling to her nervous system. The Siphons flared brighter and deconstructed into gaseous energy, one orange and the other amber.

The Revenant flared in response, issuing another musical note as its brilliance inflamed to a new peak.

Jade skimmed backward as her lenses darkened against the creature’s brilliance. It pursued, stepping from the apartment to submerge up to its knees in the current on a parade of discordant, leg-like hands. “That’s it,” she murmured and drifted further back. The Siphons’ energy coalesced and solidified in her hands: one into a thin serrated blade and the other into rope with two attached stakes, both of their respective energies’ hue. Unlike professional Siphons, training Siphons could manifest into just about anything, but they compensated for this boon with inferior strength and capped growth.

The Revenant shot forward, its serpentine mouth expelling a violent musical note.

Jade leapt back, projecting herself higher with a burst of energy from her boots and twisting midair to land with her feet against the opposite building’s patio walls. The force of her collision jarred her boots, provoking their reassessment protocols and instigating the conversion from water-skates to magnetized. They snapped onto the strips of metal buried in the opaque walls and fastened, activating strips of metal and force emitters in her adaptive suit to support her, courtesy of her combat protocols disc.

The Revenant smashed against the wall just beneath her and swiped. She lunged aside, skating along the metal veins, and planted the first stake. The Revenant pursued, half-crawling its sinuous body up the wall. She dove, ducked beneath its groping swipe, twisted up and dashed back across the building while impaling the revenant’s hand with the serrated blade.

It shrieked a terrible note and reeled back, its vibrant essence bursting in the air and dissipating. The serrated Siphon flared brighter, converting from amber to gold as it drank the Revenant’s life blood. The creature screamed again and leapt after her.

Jade launched forward, yanked the string taught, and vaulted back onto the water. Her water-skates snapped on with a disgruntled cough but kept her above the water’s surface. The Revenant splashed down after her, and she snaked past it, dragging the cord tight against another of its limbs. It flailed after her, lashing with hands, mouth, and tail.

Jade wove around it, wrapping the cord tighter as she vaulted from water to edifice and back again without cease. Her boots protested with every conversion, but she knew their tolerance and the exact amount she could push them.

Enraged by her ceaseless evasion, the Revenant drew itself up and spat golden energy into her path. She cursed and veered up the adjacent building, practically hurling herself aside, but a tendril lashed out from the core mass and flayed her right boot as it blasted the water beneath her.

Pain lanced up her up leg, and the circuits in her boot failed, flinging her off the wall and into the ocean. She spun beneath the surface, dug her unimpaired foot in the mud and propelled herself forward just before the Revenant stabbed one of its multitudinous limbs into her previous location. She surfaced and yanked the rope Siphon taught while retracting the string. It snapped rigid, searing into the Revenant’s body and guzzling its essence. It howled and tried to lunge at her, but the cord snared it.

She shuffled to the side, dragging her injured foot until she could plant the other stake in the wall. The revenant continued to struggle, but its brilliance dimmed with every lapsing second. The Siphons consumed its life-force with slow, indefatigable voracity, but they themselves retained none of the power as a full Siphon would.

Jade waded back toward the invaded apartment and hauled herself onto its patio. The elderly man still cowered in the wreckage of an olive couch, his hands pressed against his ears as he whispered a frantic torrent of words, “…a monster of some kind and a woman out of nowhere…”

Jade shuffled toward him. “Hey, Mr.”

He jerked and refocused on her. “Is it gone?”

“Yes. Is there anybody hurt? Anyone else here?”

He shook his head.

She nodded and sagged into a nearby chair, the memories rising again, stronger this time. His petrified stare reverted to the Revenant and a sobbing whimper crawled from him. It should not have; the Revenant should have withered in death. A cold sensation needled her spine. “What is-” Her voice died mid-utterance, silenced by the spectacle of a new Revenant crouched over the deflated ruins of its predecessor.

Jade grabbed the man by his shirt collar and thrust him toward the front door. “Run.” He fled and she forced herself to creap toward the patio, slinking from shadow to shadow. The new Revenant towered outside, an immense shrouded mass wreathed in black fabric, entirely dark but for its radiant eyes.

She scanned her surroundings, desperate for a weapon of any sort, and found nothing. Her Siphons, left to finish draining the original Revenant, glowed beneath the water’s surface a short distance ahead, but she could not reach them without engaging the new Revenant. She inhaled a deep breath, slipped into, then beneath the water and kicked off the patio’s foundation. A retired, and arguably senile, Purifier lived nearby. She knew the codes to his apartment from a previous event and knew he retained possession of his Siphon. She needed to hurry though. The new Revenant had already consumed most of its predecessor’s essence.

Her earpiece hummed on as she submerged, “Spirit Level Zero, classified as a tier zero Revenant.” She stopped mid-motion and surfaced. “Rescan.”

“No spirit signature.”

Jade flicked her earpiece where it clasped the top of her ear and hissed, “I can see its essence.”

“No spirit signature.”

Jade cursed under her breath and started to submerge, then stopped. She uttered a low groan and stood in a cascade of water to face the Revenant.

It loomed over her in a crouch, a humanoid creature with red hair and streaked skin. Its head cocked to the side as she stared up at it. “Why are you afraid?”

Jade almost buckled at the Revenant’s words, shocked beyond response. She tried to muster her voice, to discard her stupefaction and strike or answer the Revenant but did neither.

It straightened before her, pulling her gaze up with its eyes until she could see naught but the sky and its luminous gaze. Finally, she found her voice and spoke, the words soft as a spring mist, “Who are you?”

“I have yet to decide on a name.” It turned away from her, perfectly soundless except for the rain pummeling its flesh. She watched it depart, watched until it vanished into the dark, then collapsed to her knees. The current continued to flow past her and the rain never relented. Nonetheless, several minutes passed before she roused herself and returned to her seat in the shattered apartment, where she waited for the Purifiers to arrive, the tormenting memories overshadowed by the Revenant’s voice.

A legion of gray-uniformed officials and assistants swarmed into the retirement district soon after, landing atop the rooves of surrounding complexes in three lugubrious personnel aircraft, and proceeded to inundate both the surrounding apartments and the one she inhabited. A Core of true Purifiers—typically four operatives— in colorless exo-armor dropped from a gunship and scattered through the district in search of other Revenants. One of them, the leader by the silver bars on her forearms, assessed the first creature’s remnants before intruding on the medic and clerk attending Jade.

“You the one who contacted us?” She asked, assessing Jade’s bedraggled state with evident disdain.

“No,” Jade jabbed her thumb at the front door without lifting her head from the chair, “he went that way a couple minutes back.”

The Purifier frowned. “Then what are you doing here?”

“Just passing through.”

“At this hour?”

“Yep.”

The Purifier stifled a low growl and the Soul Siphon, a true Siphon, darkened in its holster at her side. “May I have your name please, Miss?”

Jade cracked open an eye, regarded the woman, and then tapped the medic tending to her leg. “That’s enough, you can go now.”

“But, Miss, I haven’t finished applying the stimulants–”

"Don't worry about it, I’m fine.”

The medic glanced from Jade to the Purifier, then left.

The Purifier seethed, her Siphon flashing a venomous red. “Will you answer me or–”

“That will suffice, Sergeant Mavis.”

The Purifier snapped to attention and spun with a salute. “Yes, Lord March.”

The new arrival circumvented her and indicated the patio. “Leave us, Sergeant, and take the others with you.”

“Yes, Lord.” She departed, dragging the inspectors, clerks, and police officials in her wake.

The man, a member of the Purifiers’ Sovereign Cores, reverted his attention to Jade, inspecting her as the apartment emptied. For her part, Jade assessed his pale mask and stiff black suit, then returned her head to its reclined position.

He delayed until the last assistants vacated the premise before addressing her, “I thought you had retired?”

“I am; I just happened to be passing by.”

“The clerk said you provided little to no information on the Revenant and distanced yourself from the whole act, claiming to have been ‘just passing by’ when a vigilante killed the creature.”

“And what? You don’t believe me? I’m hurt.” She dragged herself onto her aching leg with a groan. “B.S. aside, there’s something you should know, another Revenant—”

Lord March instantly spun about and stormed to the patio, barking orders that catalyzed those assembled outside into frenzied action.

Jade rubbed her brow. “Lord March…Lord March.” He ignored her, too preoccupied in excising the surviving Revenant to heed her steadily louder addresses. Finally, nerves frayed to razor’s edge by the evening’s nightmare, she barked, “Theraan, listen to me!”

His commands trailed off. “What is it, Jade?”

“The Revenant spoke.”

He froze, a single second of deathlike stillness that represented more of his abilities than any command he had thus uttered. “Are you certain?”

“Yes.”

He tapped his earpiece. “Contact active Purifiers in the area.” He waited, then spoke again, “You have new orders, return to the site of first contact immediately. Out.” His eyes flicked back to her while his hand implemented a particular pattern on his earpiece. “Do you have a description?”

“Red hair, big, humanoid, and no spirit signature.”

The last detail elicited a grimace, but nothing more. “Thank you. Yes, Serras, rendezvous at my coordinates immediately. Yes, I know you have a date. No, the perfection of his physical appearance does not sway me. Just get over here; we have a speaking Revenant. Good; red hair…”

Jade trudged past him and dropped into the water. Someone offered her a ride on their skimmer, but she declined and clambered into one of the small rentals dock in a river-alley further along. The door slid shut behind her and the opaque roof cleared to bestow a view of clouded but dry skies. She sank into the plush chair, which immediately warmed against her body, and brushed her wrist along the console.

“Welcome, please state or input your destination.”

She typed her address into the console and then slowly stripped off her coat as the skimmer’s low, angular body slipped out into the main canal. The coat’s old cloth boasted enough scars, rips, and patches to bespeak several lifetimes. She turned it in her hands, every new scar a small cut in her heart. She could not fix it. The skill simply eluded her; no living person could teach her. It had been her brother’s coat, and their mother’s before him and so on through generations of their family.

She flipped it front-wise and stroked the lovely gold buttons, each one emblazoned with a creature from myth. One, two, three…. She stopped and counted them again. One, two three…–

“God dammit!” Jade leaned over the coat and clutched her head.

She had lost another button. The memories finally rose, engulfing her in a barrage of agonized voices. Jade curled up, burying her head in the coat, and screamed to silence the voices inside.

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