Chapter One (Psyche) by Lucy.
Chapter Two (To the other side) by Andrada Costoiu.
Chapter Three by B.V. Stratton.
Chapter Four (The fateful night) by Smita Ray.
Chapter Five (Insight Part I) by Amitbhat0912.
Chapter Five (Insight Part II) by Amitbhat0912.
Chapter Six (They’re still out there Part I) by Lucy.
Chapter Six (They’re still out there Part II) by Lucy.
Chapter Seven (Cycles of violence Part I) by Lucy.
Chapter Seven (Cycles of violence Part II) by Lucy.
Chapter Eight (Fragments of the past Part I) by Shweta.
Chapter Eight (Fragments of the past Part II) by Lucy.
Chapter Nine (Flashes from the past) by Smita Ray.
Chapter Eleven (Glitch) by Lucy.
Her feet crunched on the oak-wood leaves. Indigo tucked upon the cave-wells, Artemis and Lauren went deeper into the subsumed shadows; both women traced along to the dwelled moans, entrancing, rattling against each umbra and rock. They reached the cavern bowels, and in preparation, Lauren stealthily leapt off of Artemis’s back, twisting her makeshift spear as the light engulfed them all to first a glitch into cyclicity. From what Lauren saw, it was two lines of this reality and then the next was as if it never happened; Artemis gave no indication of having been bothered by this.
A catastrophic eye was now facing them on their trail.
Lauren intertwined the spear into the figure’s chest; she was concealed in the detached tenebrous of the cave, yet stepping closer only one word was uttered.
“Anastasia.” Artemis curved her palms. Beyond these depths, an additional figure flooded through to Lauren’s relief, but she had to quell her emotions—sinking the spear deeper than the initial cut.
“My child,” the bloodied seductress crooned. “Do you think this even phases me?” She impelled the spear out of her heart, it too discarded upon the ground.
“Lauren,” the cat-like mutant hissed, “I only needed you to help me, not take it upon yourself. You would need to get her arms and legs anyway—she’s a sorceress,” Artemis murmured.
Lauren whispered back, “What does that even mean?”
“SILENCE, all of you. I finally have what I want and it is here where I need it.” Anastasia grinned, leaning closer. “You’ve escaped beyond what I could have ever predicted. But, I never fail. It would always have to be a given possibility as you must always account for what you least anticipate.”
Lauren clenched her fists, while Artemis lurked back in the shadows; only the gate of her yellow eyes remained in the corners.
“You didn’t anticipate us here, did you?”
“I knew in one circumstance or the other, if I have one sibling and the other is alive, they are bound to try and find them. Common sense is something you don’t have, little girl.”
She’s trying to provoke me. I know that. It’s one of her mind games, she’s a master manipulator like Artemis said. “I just want Tom,” she growled.
Anastasia breathed, her hold dissipating on the brother. “I think there’s something else that would fancy you.”
“…Fancy me? What are you on about?”
“The more you remember, it is exactly what you want.” She began to look at both of them. “Don’t you want Tom’s daughter back?”
Tom wanted to succumb after each emotional hit and blow, tears threatened to pour out. “Lauren,” he gritted his teeth, “she’s lying. It wasn’t real—it was never real at all.”
“What?” Lauren’s brows knitted tightly, a dizzy spell began to loop about her. She swallowed—tried to swallow it back, but she felt herself drifting into bemusement. “Your daughter…” A part of her remembered, but not entirely, though it was pivotal to the forefront of her subconscious. Floating like a shadow, she could almost reach it, almost see a face—
She looked at her hands as if they had blood on them, and she searched for Tom’s winded gaze.
The siblings met halfway consoling each other in a shoulder hug as Anastasia paced about them.
The ground cavities began to sink in, a light creased over the sorceress’s eyes. “If that is something you do not know you want, at least I know what I want now and that is one of you. I despise you, siblings, but why, why do you fascinate me? I must know, I must take you back to my laboratories—”
Her breath was cut off, her eyes dead. Artemis crouched behind Lauren, twisting her fingers and she could not look away. She had limited time.
“Lauren, we have to leave immediately.”
“What’s happening?” Tom murmured, but felt his shoulder being dragged further, further away from the site of agony.
“Just go!” and the reverberations kept crossing into “go, go, go, go” until it was no longer thumbing in their ears.
The siblings used the adrenaline they had like ecstasy in their veins—absorbing it, breathing it. This was their reality now. His pieridae, his hell, Tom didn’t know what his fate was anymore as their surroundings morphed more into the woodland enclosures of the cave. He didn’t even remember the initial pathway, his mind flickering, wondering if an exit was as illusionary as Anastasia.
Lauren inspected the cave, hoping for an exit, hoping for something as the humidity draped over her skin. The visualization of a hideout—it made perfect sense if Artemis helped make this like a bunker in the past; but she didn’t know this for sure, it was pure guesswork of course.
Tom caught his breath on a stump, dragging it out like a dull and old cigarette. “Where can we hide? Are we trapped?”
“No, no, there has to be a way out. You came in through this way, remember. We can’t go into the forest again at the moment, we know what’s out there and it’s still dark out. We need to find a way to hide in this cave until we recover enough to fight. There’s too many—too many against us and we’re vulnerable. There’s something about this cave that draws me to it, Tom.”
Artemis gasped for breath as her power was draining, energy becoming wasted; her heart was beating faster than the swing of a pendulum, and if she exerted the rest of her magic, she was certain she would die.
She would have needed Lauren’s help as diversion if she were to aim for Anastasia’s limbs—the flood where her power resides in. She could take a guess where it generated from.
“Oh, sweetheart, are you feeling weak?” Anastasia choked, the skin of her throat coiled around—to the rhythm of Artemis’s fingers. The sorceress grinned sickly but as she waned blood, she heard only laughter—her own laughter.
“Fuck you,” her hand was frozen as she balanced the light through her palms as dark streams began to metamorphose from her skin. She was on the verge of collapse. She imparted what remained of her power onto Anastasia—hoping it bought enough time for the siblings to get as far away from here as possible.
Her fingers parted, and both women collapsed. Artemis was the first to stand, grappling her sight on the roof of the cave. She looked off into the distance as she could feel the wind sing. It was an atmospheric cycle, but she pushed the blood to her fingertips hoping her fatigue wouldn’t give in.
Anastasia was stirred to the sound of heavy breathing. “You are surely to die.”
“Then perhaps you will too.”
Her head peaked skywards, and she ran as the stranded rocks tumbled onto Anastasia. Artemis sprinted with what she had left, her eyes trained on what was ahead. She didn’t know if this would kill Anastasia immediately or even at all, but it gave them time. Time was of essence and to Anastasia, it was pure, Artemis knew. She didn’t care to give a glance of what was behind her, instead she took in the air letting it roam through her nostrils.
She didn’t like using her powers especially not in combat. She wanted a fair fight, but with Anastasia, it never would have been fair. But as she sought closer into the depths, her heart knew Anastasia survived. She could feel it. It’s hard to rid of such connection, especially when she was—
“Alright, this is as far as I can go here.”
Lauren nodded, head pressed against her knees as she slid down. “How’s your wound?”
“It, um, it’s good.” He lied. Tom didn’t know how to tell her it simply vanished from Anastasia’s powers.
“Last time I saw you, you were on the verge of death and now it’s all good? Let me see.”
“It’s, I–I don’t know, she healed my wound. Anastasia,” he clarified. “I don’t know if she did that on purpose or didn’t account for it.”
She cupped her chin. “That is… strange. Apparently, she accounts for everything, even the things she cannot see.”
“But, maybe, she takes a sick pleasure from this. A power over life; she heals me, perhaps to let me know that she can just as easily take my life away.”
“Don’t–don’t talk like that,” she shuttered, closing in on him. “I am just so fucking glad you’re alive,” Lauren trembled and before she knew it, she engulfed Tom into a real hug, which he reciprocated with just as much intensity. “I don’t know, I don’t know what I would have done if you were gone.”
“I’m dead weight,” he chuckled through his tears, “like you said. I wouldn’t survive without you here.”
“I mean, no shit you wouldn’t.”
“No. I mean, just, just even with memories lost—”
“I know, you don’t need to explain it.”
They stayed in the embrace, swaying in each other’s arms. The song of Melpomene struck them in reverberating booms that made the cave tremor beneath their feet. Lauren broke away from Tom, her face snowy, as her heart flipped in her chest.
She felt crushed. “Artemis, Artemis was out there. Tom, she—”
Tom gathered whatever mental bandwidth he had left, pouring it into holding his sister as she cried into his arms. He couldn’t understand what she kept murmuring, but even he was a tad concerned why she felt this devastated over Artemis dying. She felt much less for Benzino at that possibility, but he brushed away the thought like firewood placed under a sun-set kissed sky. It didn’t take too long until they were in a rhythmic silence; him, stroking her hair and tending to her convulsions; her, in a fit of shivering. It was cold, cold all over and delirium hummed throughout her head and body. It was like a quilt.
She didn’t even know what she felt in these past few hours. It was more than familiarity. She didn’t want to embark on the possibility of what meant, not now. It might have been long gone as the thought even arrived, and Lauren could only wish she had a few more moments within the in-between, taking it graciously, and memorizing each fragile twitch, touch, and gaze.
In dissociation, she couldn’t feel the hand on her shoulder, perched with claws. Tom exhaled in relief, while Lauren had yet to turn around. It was lost on her until it wasn’t; she stirred in his arms until her head rolled to the side. “Oh my god.”
Artemis didn’t think that at over six feet she would be getting smothered by a woman who’s not even 5’4. She almost preferred the possibility of the rocks. “I take it my presence was sorely missed?”
“Fuck you,” she laughed, sobbed. “Fuck all of you, I’m glad you’re here. I miss you.”
Artemis’s brumal eyes glazed. Was it a memory? She tensed in her arms, before relaxing. “What did you say?”
“Hmm? I said I missed you.”
Tom placed a hand on her shoulder as she and Artemis pulled away. “I think you’re tired, Lauren. Let’s just take a minute to rest.”
Her brother ushered her away from the cat-like mutant who was then inspecting where she built her stock house (well, it wasn’t exactly a stock house, more of a burrow she created in case it all went to shit and she could no longer rely on her own to survive). It was one thing to the next in her mind, no time to sit and think too much about it. Tom, however, was desperate for Lauren to be alright, but his questions were just bothersome.
“I am fine, dummy. I think you’re the one who has problems.”
“It’s just that you barely know her and to say that?”
“What did I say!?”
Tom looked over in hesitance, thankful to their lucky stars that Artemis was far off, feeling for a tunnel. “You said you love her.”
“I—what?” Lauren laughed. “I said I missed her.”
“No, you didn’t.” Tom was solemn. “Look, she brushed it off. Slip of the tongue, it’s fine.”
“I mean, we do have something going on but Jesus fuck, don’t you think that would be too early for that?”
“Well… You two did seem pretty familiar with each other.”
“Whatever, Tom. You’re just dumb, no surprise it would come up that you’re deaf too.”
“Believe what you want to believe,” Tom shrugged, “but you should have seen the look on her face.”
With her talons, Artemis began digging through the wall. It was soft, shallow—this was it. This was where she made her hideout; in the distance, darkness began to slide through a brighter pigment. Atmospheric pressures were lessening, and in her sight, she could see the supplies she stole from other survivor bunkers. Those were long gone too, no need to fetter guilt for people that would die either way, she rationalized.
She closed her eyes. No, she wouldn’t let it bother her.
Footfall began to ascend from the opposite direction. The pixelated night had brushed down into an early, early morning—each strand was a shadow hoping their presence was made known of. Artemis emitted a deep growl as she ushered the siblings inside her sanctum.
“Someone’s around here, but we can’t go back in that direction. I don’t know if it’s Anastasia, but we are not in any capability of taking her on right now. Grab what I have here and we’re leaving immediately.”
Eyes glittered with fatigue, Lauren was able to collect some articles of clothing and a beaten first aid kit. She didn’t have time to wonder how it got torn apart like that, Artemis didn’t really seem to be the raging kind, but what did she know? She only knew from her mind and its hallucinations, the kind that she had been forcing herself to overlook since the time they began. Tom, however, was scrutinizing a couple pistols before arming himself; he shuddered as he thought back to Zara, how the webs of green parted from Zargaff’s flesh, bones as big as logs crushed to dust by the repetitive notion of the trigger, all in image of his love who was brutally tortured by Anastasia’s hands.
Reality was no longer. As he shook himself out of the thought, it glitched in the air in front of him—sprinting until it was liberated in the dark. “Artemis,” he called distantly, “when did you find the time to collect these supplies?”
Artemis hauled a carry-on bag that could fit enough food and water for a month. It almost looked silly on her, though that was no fault of her own except her height. What a nice predisposition. She almost missed Tom’s question at Lauren’s beckoning eye. “Years of roaming survivor tents and killing them. Though, really, I only kill if I perceive a threat and some were more than happy to try and kill off what they thought was the mutant population… Not many understand that, maybe not as common, there are people like me that aren’t… like that. You know.”
Lauren and Tom glanced at each other, the latter being the first to speak up. “I can see why, though. Victims who break out of the loop have no idea what’s out there and if they see someone like you, they’re not going to be so welcoming.”
Someone like me… “Right.”
Lauren zipped up what she put in her satchel, swinging it around her waist. “Alright, I think we can go now. This should last for enough time to think of where to find more food in the next couple weeks.”
“Eh,” Artemis rolled her shoulders. “It’ll do good for you and him for awhile. I’m more for the fresh kill.”
“Being mutanized really deprived you of your taste, didn’t it.”
Now Artemis was cheeky as she settled her things. “I never had taste.”
In the clambering winter chill, Tom could feel the memories creep up on him. Forcing himself through it and his worries, he followed the two women off their progress out of the lost woods. He couldn’t give in just yet, but maybe there was a chance later for it to end, that perhaps there was a hidden serenity. After all, you often live for the things in dreams than reality; and this was more technicolored horror than his usual preference.
Artemis kicked her foot through the dirt for an aperture, but instead of finding an opening, her leg was grabbed by the other side pulling her towards that gravity. It’d be foolish to admit that she wasn’t expecting this, that perhaps her hearing was off—but yes, she couldn’t quite ascertain the footfall she heard. She should have known better that someone else cased the cavern, barring her.
Tom was driven out of his reverie to the sight of Lauren’s hands wrapped around Artemis’s waist, providing auxiliary in keeping her from being pulled through the other side. He patted his forearm before withdrawing his pistol.
The dirt wall crumbled, and the figure succumbed to the dust they inhaled. Coughing, hacking. Clearing their eyes, they scanned ahead—eyes most notably to the tallest one of them all: Artemis. Lauren took the chance, grabbing her spear and hitting the target over the head until their body went still, their murmurs vibrating into whimpers—then nothing.
She liked to think she learned from Anastasia today, to wound and not kill. Not yet at least. When Lauren examined the figure more thoroughly, it was to her horror that it was a human hunter.
“I thought she kept people like us in loops…” Lauren muttered.
Artemis explained that they were only both sides of the coin. If they are mutant, they are generally assassins and hunters. If they are human, yes they are tasked to being put under loops to enforce Anastasia’s dictatorship. “Sometimes,” she began, “she would recruit humans that she had a personal… flavor for. Ones that she felt strongly of.”
Tom quirked an eyebrow, asking the question that lingered on Lauren’s mind. “And how do you know this much about her? You speak as if you’ve seen it before.”
“Oh, I have.”
“And…?” He prompted.
“I have nothing left to say. Whatever information or knowledge you look for will not be from me, Tom, not until Anastasia is dead. And I do not believe she is dead. She likes a chase and she likes it her way, can’t you tell? If anything, she is giving us the belief of time we have against her—to utilize against us.” She dragged the hunter’s limp body over her shoulder as they trekked into early daylight.
The mutant’s pensive gave slipped and she slowly smiled. “I think we may have found something from Anastasia we could use to lure her to us when the time is ready.”
The hunter only stirred, blood trailing from her head wound.
I rewrote this chapter entirely, only keeping two vague plot points that were stuck in the later chapters: the hideout and the hunter hostage. The original chapter was written by my friend and due to recent circumstances, I had to axe out his character rewriting the chapter from the start. Hope you could enjoy what I wrote here. It doesn’t change anything major in the plot, but only adds more foreshadowing and context like when I revised and added a scene in chapter ten. Not major, but just more clues throughout.