Editor’s Note: This is a continuation of a story started in Fighting Demons.

The fundraiser events went better than I expected, despite a few minor setbacks. I was proud of my team for pulling it off with panache. The highlight of the events, for me, was meeting the mortal Stephan Laudner. He was my ticket to the exclusive hunting club that I had been trying to access for the last few months. After the masquerade gala though, I got busy working for the women’s shelter and the maintenance plan for Olympus National Park.

The only time I had stopped working was for the date with…I pushed my thoughts away; I did not want to think of that date or its aftereffects. That was something that I needed to lock away in the deepest vaults of my mind. After the date and the ritual that followed, I threw myself into work. I did not care for anyone or anything. I ignored my family for weeks lest they see through my façade. My agony clouded my mind so much that I did not know or feel the pain of my twin.

Mos, my twin, to whom I was bonded the moment our hearts started beating, was Godnapped, and I did not know! Although I did not admit it to him at the time, I was ashamed of myself. Ashamed of how I had let my pain consume me to this extent.   

I turned to look at Mos one last time as he fought Menoetius before I ran after Ananke. Somebody had to pay for what they did to him, and it seemed that would be Ananke. I materialized my bow and notched an arrow, sending it flying to her back. She turned to face me just in time to miss the shaft.

“Don’t you ever learn?” she asked. A sneer played on her lips as she lifted her hand and made the come-hither gesture with two fingers.

My face turned crimson as my patience reached its saturation point. Ananke grinned and ran into one of the skyscrapers in the city. I tracked her into a ninety-floor building as she entered into one of their eight elevators. I saw the light on the elevator blink the floor number and stood contemplating for a few seconds whether I should take the elevator or teleport to the ninetieth floor.

Before I saw her, I felt her Sais as it met my flesh and made a splash of blood, the tip of the blade penetrating deep into my abdomen. She twisted the Sais in her hands with a satisfying squish, sinking it deeper and deeper. I heard my flesh being torn to shreds as she rotated the Sais. The sound of my muscles and nerves being gouged grew louder. Then, without warning, she jerked it all the way into my back until the shiny metal had disappeared inside me, and the black handle pushed against my broken skin.

I saw Ananke smirk as she heard my guttural chokes. The elevator bell dinged, and the doors opened, only there was no elevator, just the empty shaft. I sank to my knees, convulsing and trembling, the blood now flowing freely from my body. Ananke held onto the handle of the Sais as she plucked the antler headpiece out of my hair.

“You know, I always liked this headpiece, not for its beauty, but its power.”

Trembling against her hold, I tried to grab the headpiece from her hands. In response, Ananke rotated the Sais again; this time, I let out an agonizing roar.

“Touched a nerve, did I?” She cackled with excitement at my anguish. “Now, let’s see what power this headpiece of yours has…,”

“N…no…,” I whispered. “It does n…no…not have powers,” I answered in a raspy voice.

“Is that so? Let’s put it to the test then, shall we?” Ananke pulled the blade out of my now deathly white body and kicked me on the chest, sending me down the elevator shaft.

I opened my eyes in shock. I was falling! My perception of time distorted. Everything slowed down until there was nothing, just me and the darkness, a darkness that seemed to swallow me. I reached out as though to grab onto something, anything, but all I found was the endless abyss of blue-black. Everything was a blur; I knew the pain was coming. Suspended in the air, I closed my eyes and gave myself to the infinite darkness as I hurtled to an invisible floor.

Then, impact.

I felt my bones move in a way they shouldn’t. Every muscle in my body felt tight, sprung for action, but I could not walk, or even sit up. My body screamed at me to sprint down the street after Ananke, to spend the energy from the adrenaline of the chase, regardless of my inability to use it. Even my face felt tight; speaking wasn’t an option at this moment. My usual calm had been replaced by a carousel of ideas, each one more worrying than the last.

I laid there, for how long I was unaware, my limbs tingled, and my brain raced as it tried to find a way out. I wanted to get up and leave this building, give myself time to heal, and then come back for her. I gathered enough strength to look around me. I heard the familiar thumping of my heart; only this time, it felt like it was coming from the outside. I heard someone repeatedly speak, telling me factoids of the dangers I would anticipate in this space.

The voice, it’s familiar. Wait, that’s my voice! But why does it feel like it is coming from the outside?        

My chest felt hollow, yet I tried to focus on my breathing to stop the buzzing. The buzzing, somebody needed to stop that buzzing.

Help me, please, help me! My thoughts screamed, a desperate and primal scream. 

“Yes, I heard you,” she said as if she were some wily hound, and I was her quarry. “Now, shut up!”

Stunned at Ananke’s voice, I looked at my surroundings again hoping to find her. I had not spoken those words out loud, so how did she hear them?

Where am I?

“You really don’t think I am foolish enough to answer that, do you?” Ananke chortled.

As painful as it was, I pushed myself up and sat leaning on the walls. This time, I looked around carefully. With growing apprehension, I realized where I had landed.

This was Anaísthita. My unconscious mind!

Ananke was wearing my antler headpiece and had traveled with me to my subconscious as I fell. A shiver ran down my spine as I contemplated what the Primordial of Misery may have planned for me. I saw her dark eyes staring down at me with satisfaction, but I did not let her near my thoughts. Clearly, she expected me not to be aware of my surroundings in this state. Her reluctance to boast about our location proved as much.

Her eyes wandered around the expanse of my subconscious. The smirk on her face and the refusal to show any regret was her subtle form of emotional warfare. Compassion is a graceful and cooperative social animal, but those like her have learned to abdicate from all that is benevolent, know how to abuse it flagrantly.

If she had learned to “see” me, then I would’ve been impressed, yet her eyes wandered in search of the vault geared only toward her perceptions of the endgame. She expected me to accept her unsaid directive and lead her to the vault, the one place I would never let anyone see.

The thing is, now that I “see” her, the game really isn’t over, is it?

Artemis (Rashmi Menon)
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