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Chapter One (Psyche) by Lucy.
You can submit your continuation here.
Chapter Seven (Cycles of violence Part II) by Lucy.
Content Warning: References of blood, minor gore and violence in this chapter.
“A-artemis, hey, Artemis, slow the fuck down.” Lauren put her hands on her face, wiping off sweat. Artemis stopped abruptly, waiting for Lauren to catch up. Pfft, humans.
There was a steep up ahead, causing Lauren to exhale in mental, emotional fatigue; and when she looked back up, nocturnal eyes found hers. Honestly, it startled her, since it felt like Lauren was dealing with a threatened lynx. There was so much ferality in Artemis that she would have to remember to tread lightly and not go knock for knock.
“I can carry you.”
“What?” Lauren narrowed her eyes, as the atramental stars twinkled.
“You’re going to fall behind. You look weak. I can carry you.”
“No thanks. Wait, what are you—AHHH!”
Artemis grabbed her forcefully, placing Lauren on her back, and in the darkness descended, Lauren held her breath as the speed began to acclimate; it then went to a full on sprint, Lauren grabbing Artemis’s jowls lightly before sliding her hands (in an internal panic) down to her shoulders.
She’s like a fucking cat. Lauren started to laugh as they gained speed in the forest to avoid the lights.
“Nothing. It’s just, you’re like a giant bear kitty. Well, not giant, but on all fours, you look like you can maul someone to death. Hey, do you have whiskers?”
They slowed down to a stop, until Lauren’s sight pivoted from first the ebony shadows of tree-lines to then the light of the navy azure, faintly. Artemis slammed her back hard against a tree. Lauren moved her hands back to Artemis’s shoulders after regaining her balance, where could feel the stress build up on the mutant’s back muscles.
“Don’t talk about my appearance. Don’t talk about what I look like. I do NOT want to remember anything of what they did to me.”
Lauren ran her fingers through her hair, digits clinging back onto Artemis. The distinct features of Artemis were indeed cat-like, and in reflection, Lauren understood why the comment bothered her. She wasn’t an animal mutant, she was still human but with distinct features of the feline species. In a hazy moment, Lauren opened her mouth to say something but the words did not form over the sounds of a firearm being discharged.
It was very far from where they were, but it carried over. Both women lied still. Artemis dug out her claws, scratching them on a piece of red tree-bark. Satisfied, she roamed around in the tenebreux darkness identifying the trail they would need to take.
They moved in silence, not following the remaining marks on the map, but rather relying on Artemis’s survival skills to live through the night. As Artemis told her when they geared up to murder Anastasia, they needed to think only seconds in the future, and not by minutes or hours.
The world around them, as Lauren noticed, was dark, dreary, and torrential by the rain. She lowered one hand to Artemis’s neck, sensing as the woman tensed before placing it back on her shoulder. The wind in her face convulsed, and screaming in the far distance broke the silence they had.
Artemis’s eyes traced feet ahead and briefly stopping her gaze, she twisted her mouth open to attack.
Lauren gripped onto her tighter and asked. “What is that?”
Lauren turned pale. “They got Tom. They got him then.”
“The wailing… That sounds like a death rattle. Seems like your brother just killed one of them.”
“How can you–Are you sure?”
Artemis merely nodded.
Lauren swallowed, processing this information. Still, she did not say a word. Her satchel bumped into her backbone as Artemis started running, but her mind flickered to what the transmutant just revealed. Her brother was still alive, and although they still engulfed peril, Tom was alive and he was able to defend himself. He didn’t bleed out to death. He wasn’t captured or mauled by the night-slayers.
The smell of humidity hit her, and they reached the beginning of a natural sanguineous cavern. Rattling against the surface, echoes and drops of water shed from triangular, engineered crystals that housed white lattices in them like glass. Feeling Lauren’s hesitancy of their whereabouts, Artemis reassured her. “I set this cave up as a hideout when I first arrived. They don’t know about it, as I never drew anyone over here. Not even to kill. I had other hiding places. No mortal ever thinks about looking in the trees.”
“Well, I might.”
As Lauren hopped off her back, Artemis huffed involuntarily. Turning to Lauren, she winked when she said, “Only because I told you.”
“You flatterer,” Lauren chuckled in return. She turned to the entryway. “We should set up a barricade to isolate ourselves here for the next few hours.”
“Then they’ll know that we’re hiding.”
“But, that’s… That doesn’t make sense, Artemis.”
“Remember, we want them to come after us. We camp out here, we hide in the depths and remain on watch for them. We can kill them together. Anything that will lead us to her or her to us, that is the goal.”
“Right,” Lauren blew the air out from her cheeks, and then exhaled, “I didn’t think we’d be sitting ducks here. But, fine, we’ll go with your idea because it’s as sure as shit that I don’t have anything to go on right now. I just need to see my brother when this ends. That’s all that matters.”
Artemis frowned. “It might be awhile, though.”
“Yeah. It might.” Lauren pushed herself off the ground, heading over to the entrance of the cave. “I have to pee. I’ll be right back.”
“No! Don’t pee out there.”
“…There’s grass and dirt. I think that’s pretty good, no?”
“I said we should lead them to us, but not in this way and not even now. They’re night-slayers in these hours, don’t give them the chance to come here now.”
“Then where am I going to go?”
Artemis stared at the ground they were on.
“Yeah, fuck that.”
“It’s not bad when it’s your only choice. I’m not letting you leave.”
The human looked at her, almost pleadingly. All Artemis did was look away toward the opening of the cave. “I won’t watch.”
Lauren rubbed her eyes. “Just never mind. It’s not an emergency.” But, she noticed that Artemis was no longer there.
Artemis passed by the entrance, teeth visible against her lip, her cold eyes set themselves on the outside. She revealed her claws, throwing back her head to let the strands of blonde gather to her back.
Artemis felt it in her bones that someone was around, but all she could recognize was the grassland and the blood Sandalwood trees that lay in their way. It began with a synchronized hum before a mutated creature threw itself onto Artemis’s face.
The creature sniffed the woman’s face, gathering its lips and teeth to feed on her skin. Artemis tried pulling the thing off of her, but it only struck deeper into her flesh, breaking the skin and drawing small streams of blood. Lauren stood, her fear submerged in the veins of her wrists as she grabbed her bamboo spear.
The creature was fat and round like a Ceratogyrus darlingi, but with black Mamba eyes, shaved, and a tail that slipped out from its arching, boney spine that resembled a white flagella. Lauren ran to Artemis, first trying to latch the creature off with the dull side of the spear, but to no good result; she twisted the point carefully (as carefully as she could in spite of it), and stabbed the creature in the neck. Blood spattered from the back of the creature as it hissed, finally letting go of its talons on Artemis’s face; the cat-like mutant’s teeth revealed, blood splayed all over, that she ate the abdominal part of the mutant that clung to her.
“Jesus,” Lauren uttered. She tore a piece of fabric from her shorts, using the water from the cave to dampen it. She helped Artemis up, cleaning up first the blood on her cheeks, nose, and jowls; soon she grabbed the first aid kit from the satchel, tending to her superficial wounds.
Artemis had a twisted smile on her face, all throughout, though still considerably not used to someone else trying to help her.
The human sighed, squeezing the cloth in hand. “Just… Just don’t do that. It’s fucking creepy.”
Artemis grinned even wider. “Do what?”
“Stop smiling,” Lauren laughed. “You have blood all over your teeth. Just, just, here,” she turned over a clean portion of the cloth and wiped it over the transmutant’s teeth. The cloth levied on Artemis’s neck, as Lauren wiped off the blood that spread. She swirled the rag around in water before leaving to wring it out in a deep black pit of the cave, and when she returned, Artemis’s arms were draped over her chest as she set her eyes on the vestibule once more. Lauren knelt in front of her to try to finish cleaning her face.
Rainfall came and went, but Artemis did not take notice of it. She licked her lips from the act of desecrating Anastasia’s creation, letting her ears twitch at a faint rustling sound far off from the cavern. The noise unfolded itself at last, which let Artemis trample over Lauren, her gaze dropping down to whatever else would be after them.
It was a squirrel.
Lauren groaned, rubbing her head at the collision, meeting once again wild eyes. “What was that about? What did you see?” When Artemis didn’t respond, Lauren twisted her head around at the source of trepidation, causing her to chuckle. “You got scared of a squirrel? Really?”
Artemis snapped her head up which caused an immediate reaction out of Lauren to inch herself slightly away. “No. I thought it sounded like that creature that followed us here. I wanted to be ready this time.”
“You were ready that time too.”
“Never thought of having those things just leech off my face. I think it was trying to inject me with something.”
Lauren blinked. “What? Did it?”
“No, I don’t think so. We acted quick enough.”
“Okay, good,” Lauren murmured, staring above her head at the translucent crystals, lifeless in their form, only flickering droplets of water onto the rocks. The human still didn’t know what unfolded before her earlier, she only acted on autopilot but now it was starting to sink in that she had just killed someone.
It didn’t quite have the autonomy of Zargaff, Zara, or Artemis, it rather resembled a rejected mutant than a mutant with both human features entwined with genetic engineering and serums. But, while not the first time to defend herself, it was the first time she committed murder directly. She supposed if she shared this thought to Artemis, the mutant would tell her it was just a taste of what is ahead. She lowered her head into her hands. Her thoughts soon drifted back to Tom; what he had been through these past few days, how he killed Zargaff.
She now understood how callous she had been after he just took a life, and not even that, he watched Zara die. Her breath hitched when she stared back at Artemis.
She had been too impassive. Now she thought she understood.
Lauren felt heavy breathing against her neck, the tired limbs of Artemis lain at her sides. The human quietly stroked her cheek, nails lightly scraping off the residue of blood in the process.
The transmutant’s nocturnal eyes illumined, and Lauren closed the gap between them. Artemis responded in kind.
Tom grunted as he traced through every tree-line in the dark atmosphere; the wilderness had acclimated, hardened over the hiss of cold that surrounded the bands of callous plants perverting into the air in bodies of pink and bodies of water. His strength weakening, flashes came in his sight, he recognized the cut glass shape of the ranch he and Lauren once lived in.
…Before it all went to entire shit. He wished he could remember more, but some memories were better than none. He secluded himself by a bramble bush and inhabited the shadows to feel around for his wounds and cuts from the attack. He didn’t have a chance to look thoroughly before going back on the run, but now the pain began catching up to him.
The dark shadows of the moon watched him, the lantern lights still flaring in the sky for the continuing search. He commanded his body to keep moving, every bone crunching down from his knees, and snapping from his chevilles, he continued on for her.
An inseparable part of the darkness guarded him, as he almost tripped over an elongated tree-branch that had most likely fallen years ago. He wouldn’t be surprised if the forest was capable of lighting itself on fire, it looked on the cliff of death itself. Every atom of his body burned, quite frankly, when he lifted up the fallen limb of the tree. He heaved as he put it aside some type of rock, moving steadily to continue the path he forged mentally. All he would need to do is to survive the night in hiding, and then he could go find Lauren.
He wasn’t too worried about her, he tried telling himself that. He knew she had the street-smarts to survive, and coupled with acquired skills from living as escapees and “criminals” on the dark isthmus, she could remain in hiding.
But, she has nothing to defend herself with. His heart sank. She gave him the gun. Why would she do that? He’s the one who’s most likely to die because of how much of a risk he was to them both. He sat down on the ground, clutching his head. For fuck’s sake, she was out there with no weapon to use. If she were mauled… Fuck, fuck, fuck! Fuck me dead.
He didn’t even remember if she had any self-defense skills, or if she were physically equipped to be wrestling with mutants. He was hardly adequate, but if anything can kill you, it’s being strangled from behind; a loss of control, the life desperately leaving scattered with the tightening grip that arranges pre-determined darkness in all sight.
Tom stretched his back out, then his legs though with a tired painful strain as his wound was still not fully healed. He withheld a gasp, feet inching away out of fear of being heard by anyone around. He could have easily not have noticed he hit a small object in the ground had he not discerned a green, painted piece of wood in the open lip of his boot. He inspected it with his slightly lanced fingers, eyes widened in almost a generated bolt of shock.
He was at the second X. He flipped over the beaten cross in his hands.
The cross was labeled with an “N”, which Tom assumed meant north. That was where he was now headed to. He could hide for the remainder of the night before coming back out to locate Lauren.
Tom didn’t know if he should make a temporary mark so he would know where to find the area again, or charge on further without a clear path or direction. Lauren had the map, and he was unsure what she would think of it. Lauren would want him to be safe, but they both had wanted freedom, and it comes with risks.
She had said so herself that there are sacrifices to be made. If he died, then that was on him, not anyone else. He was going to find a way out of here with Lauren, and if not, then he could hope this would provide some auxiliary in two things: one that it may help her find a way out, and two, that his death would finally provide her relief.
He didn’t notice the tears coming from his eyes.
In an abrupt blue-white aura of light, two clotted hands glittered in the moonlight merely sobered by the ocean waves. Anastasia swam to the shore, the linens of silk flapping against the white sea foam; she went by instinct, two distinct rebounded scents in her nose. Her hands shook from the toiling cold, ambushing through the cold soggy grounds of the forested area. The scents were stronger, one reaching her nose with poignancy; a sting that caused her eyes to burn, widening in shock.
“Still alive…” She murmured, touching her throat.
Her mutants, her creations had astonishing senses of smell, but often, there were set-backs that caused delays such as with their personal (very poor) decision making skills and cognitive abilities. Her team was still attempting to find alternatives to the ingredients that caused such effects. Debris rattled in her lungs, their souls, the heart of this island was enchanted with death and she was nature’s force, the abbatoir under the moonlight that would kill, kill, kill. She would bring people to live or to die based on their actions.
She paused within the forest’s ruins, setting her sights on both bodies, blood rushing to her ears, heartbeat in the waiting of fate.
Stealthily, she forged through the pathways.
Inhibiting isolation, the cave’s belly resembled cyclones of frozen ice on its top, innermost layer, it almost could be mistaken for teeth as it engulfed the carvings of the darkness. Suspended in the chill, Lauren wrapped her arm around Artemis who kept watch while they hid in the valley of the shadows.
“Hey,” Lauren mumbled, blinking away the sleep from her eyes. “How are you not tired?”
“I don’t need sleep in this season.”
“Oh. Right. You hibernate. What’s that like?”
“A lot of darkness.”
“How’d you defend yourself then?”
“I… I have adaptations. Some of the long term effects from the serums that stayed with me. I don’t want to talk about it.” Artemis glanced down at Lauren, but she let her focus cover the light at the full aperture of the cave.
“Anything I should be aware about?”
“Nothing that would concern you, surely.” Artemis snorted.
Lauren winced. “I’m sorry.”
As the human lied awake, she caught herself holding her breath. She shifted in sequences, stared at the caricatures of ice carves in the encircling blackness they were in, yet nothing could wash away the guilt she felt. She made a face. She never was so emotional, so concerned with the emotions or feelings of others at all.
She always looked out for Tom. That was her job, being the older sister, being the protector. Yes, she was more careless than he was, but she took risk with her impulses to help them both. She was only selective in the allies she would make and the company she would keep that once more, her only emotions were revealed to Tom. To an extent.
Memories too had bothered her. She worried how much Tom remembered, all the while, she was remembering too much, and how she ceased to act with knowledge of the consequences; the will to live, she was surprised she still had. She blamed Tom for that one.
In the distance, hinges of cold tenebrosity swam into her vision, devastated to the asymmetry of the pathway ahead–the deeper it went, the geometry of the dark twisted and tethered in fruitless unknowns. “Artemis.”
“I killed someone.”
The mutant raised an eyebrow and smiled gently. “If you feel guilt over killing that thing earlier, don’t. I’ve killed plenty that were more sophisticated and less animal-like. I’ve killed humans that were ready to kill me.”
This made Lauren pause. “Why didn’t you kill me then? I almost had.”
“I didn’t take it seriously. I don’t think of you as a threat.”
“I would have, you know,” she stammered, “killed you.”
Artemis said nothing, only listening.
“I’m sorry,” Lauren mumbled. “Artemis, I’m sorry.”
“Why be sorry if nothing happened? It doesn’t matter, so don’t think about it.”
“Aren’t you… Aren’t you offended?”
“God, no,” Artemis gave a deep belly laugh, allowing the echoes to plaster over themselves. “I like a good fight. You didn’t know what you were doing anyway. Most people hesitate before going in for the kill, so you would have a split second of doubt–which would give me the chance to defend myself or move away.”
“Oh,” Lauren nodded, head still fuzzy. “I, I suppose. But, about earlier…” She looked away back at the entrance, which was now somewhat occupied with distinct silhouettes of birds. “I killed a person before. Not directly.”
Artemis was blank. “How?”
“I was with a small group that had already banded together to escape the island. Some people there were radicals, others remained in the shadows like me and my brother, Tom. Well, Tom wasn’t part of the group, his only connection was through me; he stayed away from it for the most part, not that he’d remember.” Artemis squinted at that, bemused. “Though I used a lot of people to get where we are now.”
“It’s for survival, Lauren,” Artemis stroked her hand. “That’s the important part, is it not?”
“Still doesn’t make me any less of a shitty person.” She cleared her throat, then continued. “I found this ranch to gather stuff at. I had to go through one of my contacts to get it, which meant… Artemis, they killed the owner of that ranch. They killed him and I helped them hide the body. This was an old man, maybe sixty or seventy. He was a nice man, always talked about his wife, and fuck, that was all he ever spoke about. If it wasn’t endearing, I might have killed him myself for it. I befriended him out of curiosity before reaching out to my radical contacts. This was the only solution that would not trace back to us. The dude was old, he was still in the loop, and he was too weak to contribute to the island anyway.”
“How’d you get that under their noses?” Artemis was getting more intrigued at the story, which both comforted and disturbed Lauren. The human was relieved though that she was in the company of one who could embrace her darkness and understand it, but, perhaps it was enough to scare Lauren as well.
“We filed a missing persons claim,” Lauren bit her lip, “after we dumped his body in the river. There’re so many bodies in that body of water alone, they wouldn’t know what actually happened to him. He’s just old bones now. I just… I just, I don’t know why this shit is coming back to me emotionally; I tried to remain together for Tom, but fuck if I’m not slowly breaking down. I just don’t know what to do, Artemis. I can’t ever tell Tom this. He actually has morals… Disgusting, right?” Lauren tried to laugh, but it came out shakily with an air of desperation that made her want to go puke. Artemis’s face did not even flinch.
“I don’t like killing people, Lauren.” Artemis admitted. “We both did what we did to live. Without getting that house, how else would you be able to hide? If you had asked that man if you and your brother could live with him, how would you know they weren’t watching you through him? You don’t and never will know what they are completely capable of.”
“Doesn’t make it right.”
“On the island, there are no sense of morals. It’s a bloodbath if you disobey, you know that, don’t you?” When Lauren weakly nodded, she went on. “I understand you, but I think you did the right thing.”
“Tom will want nothing to do with me.” Artemis did not say anything at that, so Lauren turned to her side on the ground to try and sleep.
“Lauren,” Artemis ran her fingers through her hair, “I think you should stop thinking about others for once. Think about your own survival, and let’s try to get through the night. Daylight will come and I’ll help you find Tom. Then,” she now wore a toothy grin, “we can kill Anastasia.”
“Sounds like a plan… Commander.”
Sleep had arrived in hazy fits of dream-like sway.
Fun fact: This story, altogether, is nearly 30,000 words at this point in time.