Why They Cry

Why They Cry

A short story set after my novel-in-progress Irongate (so spoilers in case that ever gets finished I guess.

12-year-old superhuman Tenley Tych confronts old enemies and memories as a Cold-War experiment tries to get inside her head.

Genre: Science Fiction

Word Count: 5300

Warnings: Death, suicide. I don’t really write tear-jerkers but this one has a sad ending.

Sunbeams broke through slits in the blinds, the warmth tickling young Tenley’s nose. The girl didn’t want to wake but the beams persisted, her nostrils twitching and flaring as they filled with a homely aroma. Eventually there was no more space for the aroma to go and she bolted upright, throwing off her blanket.

Was it eggs? She didn’t know why that should seem strange. This was her house, her room. On the table below the opposite wall herds of dinosaurs drank by the painted river while others were embroiled in an eternal struggle with the predators. Raggedy Isea Little sat propped up next to the computer, overseeing everything with her one unpatched eye. Old dollhouse in the corner, books on their proper shelves, toys in their boxes – everything was in its place. But Tenley had a suspicion – a feeling – that it shouldn’t be. Squinting through the morning haze Tenley saw the same room, but decayed; smudged windows, peeling walls, the herd all scattered. And what she’d tried to dismiss as a stray thought, a remnant of a dream, kept repeating over and over:

‘Remember the rabbit…’

Tenley never had a rabbit. Never had any pets as mother wouldn’t allow them.  Mother was also a drunk who most times couldn’t or wouldn’t feed herself, so how could there be eggs if Tenley wasn’t preparing them? It felt wrong. The message was important, but as scrunched up as her face became she couldn’t put her finger on why this was wrong. Only thing for it was to investigate.

Skipping down the stairs dressed in her usual blue and black, it all seemed quite normal. Why should normal feel wrong? There were party balloons in various stages of deflation all around the living and dining rooms – surely, nothing could be more normal than party balloons? Yet, Tenley couldn’t remember ever having a party. Not in this place.

“Oh, there you are, sleepy-head!”

Tenley jumped at a voice that was familiar yet wasn’t expecting, a hodgepodge of emotions jostling inside her; fear, relief, guilt, confusion. “Mother?” She gasped. It was mother, but – the wrong one? There were two other faces she saw; one cold and strange, but the other – or was that a friend? Sister? Why couldn’t she remember?

“What’s wrong?” Phaedra flashed a smile, which Tenley found deeply unsettling for some reason – it just didn’t seem right on her mother’s face. “Something you want to talk about?” Phaedra went on, gliding around the dining table to place a plate holding eggs with strips of toast. “Come on – sit down. I’ve made you breakfast.”

Tenley was hungry, so sidled into a chair keeping her eyes fixed on the woman. This kept getting curiouser and curiouser. “You,” she peered suspiciously, “made breakfast? And the kitchen didn’t burn down?”

Phaedra snorted and chuckled, “now, even I couldn’t set fire to boiled eggs.”

Tenley’s lips curled in one corner, “If anyone could find a way, it’d be you.” It must have just been a weird dream she’d had – this couldn’t all be wrong. She swiftly sliced the top from the egg, dipped in her toast, then her eyes widened as a warm wave of flavor rode from her mouth to her chest. “This is perfect.”

“I’m glad,” mother smiled at her, “I was afraid you’d sleep through your birthday.”

Tenley squinted, “my birthday?”

“Don’t tell me you forgot, silly!” Mother moved to the back of Tenley’s chair then draped her arms over the child. “You’re thirteen. Happy birthday!”

“Thirteen?” Tenley repeated as she received a peck on the forehead. That didn’t seem right – not yet, she thought. But why would mother lie? There was no reason to.

“Finally a teenager,” mother sighed as she gently brushed Tenley’s bangs. “You’re so pretty. Soon all the boys will be after you. You’ll have to fight them off.”

“Fight?” Tenley was good at that, wasn’t she? There were flashes of battles; with men, women, tulip-headed hounds – she seemed to be winning in most of them. But it was so silly and unrealistic – that had to have been a dream. Tenley shook her head to focus on now. “Boys stink. I’m not going to have time for them when I’m training to be a paleontologist.”

“That will change,” Mother assured her, “you’ll soon find there’ll be many more things competing for your time.”

“I doubt any boy could compete with a T-Rex,” Tenley insisted. “I mean, it’s so big…”

Mother tapped Tenley’s forehead. “Enough of your facetiousness. Speaking of stinky boys though, your father sent you a card. It’s on the mantelpiece. Go ahead while I clean up.”

Father? Tenley had never – no, she just hadn’t heard from him in a long time. So long she couldn’t recall what he looked like. But there had to be a picture somewhere, yes? She hopped from the chair and bounced to the fireplace where there hadn’t been a real fire since long before Tenley was born. The several cards on the mantel were safe and she knew instantly which one was from him. The blue fairy, just like the one inside the music box he’d left her. Inside was some sappy poem:

‘The greatest gift I’ve ever received was you… the greatest gift I could ever give…’

“Yeah, yeah,” Tenley muttered, “where’s the cash, old man?” She read on:

‘You’re probably wondering where your money is. The greatest gift is your happiness, so try the orange envelope – but don’t spend it all on ice-cream.’

“No promises,” Tenley told him. The shop in town had just launched a dozen new flavors, so of course she was going to treat herself. The envelope stood out despite being tucked behind a photo frame but as Tenley reached for it something struck her – the photo. It was herself on a farm hugging a rabbit…

Remember the rabbit!

Mother never took her to a farm. She’d never had a single thing from her father – she didn’t even know his name. She’d told herself he’d left her a music box, but she didn’t know that was true – it was just a silly dream she had. That girl in the picture was happy, smiling, but Tenley’s reflection in the glass – eye-whites turned to black and the rage of a storm behind them. She remembered, “this isn’t my life…”

 “What are you talking about, dear?” Phaedra was clearing the table. “Of course it’s your life.”

It was the wrong mother – it was all wrong. The answer to Tenley’s next question would prove it: “Are you proud of me?”

“Of course I am,” Phaedra’s face twisted in utter bemusement, “you know I am. Always.”

A stone sunk to the pit of Tenley’s stomach. This wasn’t quite a normal dream but as she lifted her hand, sparks crackling between all her fingertips, she was certain it wasn’t real either.

“Mother,” Tenley lamented, “would never tell me these things.” She turned to face the woman, night filling her eyes and fury pulsating through every muscle in her body. “Did you really think,” she hissed, “that you could fool me by wearing her face?”

Phaedra’s face twisted again into fear – just further proof it wasn’t really her. “Please, child. You need to calm down…”

No!” Lightning lashed from Tenley’s palm striking the woman in the chest. Phaedra fell up and away, the wall shattering like glass as she was thrown into it. The whole house shattered and fell away.

Tenley found herself adrift in a void. No walls, no people, no up or down; nothing except her. Then the voice which asked, “why do you resist?”

No left, right, front or back. The voice just was everywhere and everything there was here. Tenley asked it, “who are you?”

“I’d like to be a friend.”

“A friend?” Tenley harrumphed, “friends don’t lie, or pretend to be each other’s dead parents.” Except for Kaya that one time for a completely ill-judged practical joke. There were still gaps in Tenley’s memory – she couldn’t recall how she came to be in this not-a-place – but most of it had come back.

“You’re just not ready to see the real me.”

Right – nothing was real. Tenley had heard Sayuri talk about ‘lucid dreaming’ and journals and signs and a whole lot of fluff that probably wasn’t important. What did matter was that now Tenley knew it was a dream, of sorts, maybe she could control it. If she could picture a door, maybe it would lead to a way out.

“Whoever you are,” Tenley said as she closed her eyes, “I’m going to find you. And when I do, you will die a million deaths!” She growled angrily. “I am going to cut you, grind you up, then jump up and down on the pieces, then feed the pieces to a cat then wait for the cat to poop and set fire to the litter tray then launch the ashes into a blackhole so that they fall back in time and land on your lunch!” Finally she paused for breath, then added, “no-one keeps me in a cage!” She reached out, found the handle, and stepped through.

Then she was in the park at the center of Irongate. The sun was warm, skies clear and blue, men and women with their children walked side by side, laughing and smiling, while someone was selling hotdogs from a car. It all seemed like a very pleasant, ordinary day. But Tenley sniffed and it wasn’t hotdogs. Irongate wasn’t a seaside town, so why was she smelling salt? Was that where she really was? The ocean? But she still didn’t remember how she got there.

A shrill whistle pierced her ears, Tenley’s hands covering them as she winced. Ever since she’d been changed her hearing was far more sensitive; sudden noises like that still bothered her, but it was only passing. In the park some kids were playing soccer, and the sound had come from the referee. Her usual response to any sort of pain was attack, but she saw this was just a game with no harm meant.

“Why are you so angry?” The voice came back. There were many faces around, but none of them belonged to it. Just like in the void, the voice just spoke and Tenley heard. “I only tried to give you what you wanted.”

Tenley bit her lip. She couldn’t deny she had wanted that life, once, but “it wasn’t real.”

“But how do you know what is real? It could be as real as you want it to be, if you would just stop-”

“Uh-uh!” Tenley stomped, holding up a finger to shush it, “you should have got Jenn or Kaya if you wanted to talk all that Star Trek nonsense. I don’t care. Besides – I already know you’re full of it.”

“What do you mean?” It asked. Tenley had decided the voice was feminine even though there was no body to put it to. It just seemed right somehow – if only she could remember. Maybe it was just that it had been her mother first.

“If your little dream-world were as good as real life,” Tenley shrugged, certain at least of this, “you wouldn’t be trying to trick me into staying here. I think you want me to stay because I’m the only thing here that actually exists.”

The voice hesitated, Tenley reasoning therefore that she’d struck a nerve – if she or it or they had nerves. They definitely hadn’t in one sense or they’d show themselves. “I have never encountered anything like you. You are hard to read. Your mind has so many defenses – it’s fascinating.”

“I’m just a kid.”

“No. Look,” the whistle screeched again, halting the soccer game. One of the bigger boys had tackled a skinny one, launching him head over heels through the air. Now the victim sat rocking himself on the grass, knee bent close to his quivering lips as tears streamed freely down his cheeks. The offender circled around with a smug grin – it must have been deliberate. “Most kids cry when they hurt. But you never have.”

Every muscle in Tenley tensed as she watched the scene, fighting a powerful instinct to leap over there to shove the football and that annoying whistle up the bully’s backside. A part of her was annoyed that the other players weren’t already doing that. But finally another part reminded her that none of this real. It didn’t matter. She exhaled and turned away.

To her disembodied companion she explained, “they cry because they think someone will come to help them. But what if no-one comes? Better learn to just get up and help yourself.”

“Sure, you’re tough,” the voice said mockingly, “but I’m in your head. You never stop hurting. Except when…”

A car exploded. One second it was parked, then a thuddish bang and it erupted in flames, setting off every alarm in the vicinity as a thick cloud rolled away from the ex-vehicle.

“Eek!” Something squeaked from somewhere within the smog. “I-I’m so sorry! I only meant to knock down a coconut. My calculations may have been off by just a smidge…”

“What the hell?” Tenley coughed and fanned. The smog cleared just enough to see a young blonde woman behind a tripod on which was some sort of death-laser. A short distance away were some posts, all with untouched coconuts resting on them.

“Ten!” The blonde gasped. She leapt from behind the tripod, pulling off and throwing away a pair of goggles as she bounded to the girl. “Are you okay?” She took hold of Tenley’s arms, fastidiously checking her for any injury.

“I’m fine,” Tenley was uncertain she enjoyed being made a fuss of like this.

“Thank goodness!” The blonde woman put her hand around and nudged Tenley’s head to rest on her chest.

Tenley could feel her heart, her warmth. She supposed it wasn’t too bad. It would have been nice to stay like this a while longer, but the voice had made a mistake by probing her mind; it had shown her another reason she had to get out. Someone had to take care of Jennifer, the real Jennifer – she was totally hopeless. “I have to go,” Tenley said. Jennifer looked confused but couldn’t stop her.

There had to be a way out. A way to wake up. Unfortunately, it probably wouldn’t be as simple as finding a door with ‘exit’ on it. It would be more irritatingly symbolic. The lighthouse? Those were meant to guide people, or to warn them of danger. No – didn’t feel right for that to be a way out of this place. What about something that was an actual portal between worlds?

In the real world, Tenley possessed over a hundred times the strength of a normal person. In the dream world it really wasn’t much different; a little spring in her step was all it took to fly into the air, traversing rooftops then the forest canopy in leaps and bounds. In little time she reached the circle – a large fairy circle, the grass all dead inside a ring of bioluminescent fungus. At night it was quite was a sight, and beyond it a world of perpetual twilight. That was in the real world  – Tenley was hoping for something very different; that stepping through would end the dream. Just step in, activate it, and that would be that.

Of course, the voice wasn’t just going to let her go. She wondered what obstacle it would create to stop her, then realized it was kind of obvious; she could feel them long before she heard their whispers surrounding her. Could only see them in the corners of her eyes, but as Tenley’s toes touched the ground she knew one was very close. “Oh,” she sighed, “crap…”

Tenley raised her arms to block an incoming blow, but the force still threw her clear over the circle. A normal person would have broken against the unyielding trunk of a tree, but Tenley survived. Real or not though, the pain shot up her arm, which had taken most of the collision, leaving her writhing and gasping on the floor. She ground her teeth, wincing and squinting through it to see a tall woman in a long red dress and cape, bright skin pulsing in a rainbow of colors.

“Ooh,” the woman with a wolfish grin held up her arms as if seeing her hands for the first time, “I like this form! Such grace! Such beauty! Such raw, unbridled, power!” Raising her hands higher, a ball of energy crackled and cackled between them. Tenley thought it best to move despite the pain, rolling aside just in time to avoid the lightning that struck the tree behind her, cinders and ashes flying as it creaked and fell.

Titania – only not Titania. No – this was the voice. It had just taken the form of the former Queen to prevent Tenley leaving, which at least meant she was probably right about the circle being the way out. Unfortunately, this was one enemy Tenley couldn’t punch into submission – Titania had all the same strengths as her, and more.

First things first – she had to fix her arm. Tenley stumbled back into another tree and swung herself against it, hoping to just knock all her joints back into place. It worked, but the pain was eye-watering, bringing her to her knees. The way through such pain was to stay focused on a single thing – and very conveniently there was a murderous Queen bearing down on her.

“I gave you all of my gifts,” the face of Titania sneered, “so much power – and you betrayed me!”

Tenley couldn’t avoid the next lightning strike, so instead just took it, absorbing the energy through her own hand. Titania kept unleashing power, a chain of electricity singeing the very air between them. Tenley knew she wouldn’t be able to keep this up for long – as a battery, Titania was just, well, bigger.

“You know what I think your problem is?” Titania jeered as she loomed more and more over Tenley, “You’re so used to having a miserable existence that you can’t just accept being happy.

Tenley groaned and pushed back, but no matter how much she strained and gritted her teeth, this time she just wasn’t strong enough. She was forced further and further back, being burrowed into the ground like a –

Remember the rabbit.

Of course. Why did she keep forgetting none of this was real? Or rather, she thought too much about how things should work. This was a dream; all she had to do was close her eyes, reach out, and take the glaive.

One swish and Titania staggered back, hands grasping at her own throat to stem the flow of liquid there. The Queen’s black eyes tried to track Tenley as she pole-vaulted above her, landing low then thrusting upward with the pointy end of her stick, snarling, pushing, and pinning the Queen against the bark through her heart.

“You and I both have the same problem,” Tenley panted as the Queen twitched helplessly. “But at least I don’t have to put up with you in my head anymore!” She twisted one time for good measure. This wouldn’t have killed the real Titania, but she only needed to be slowed down. Just long enough for Tenley to reach the center of the circle, place her palm on the ground so the mycelium below could feel her command, then look back one final time. “See you on the other side,” she winked.

And she was gone.

***

Tenley awoke with a sharp intake of breath, then several more. That hadn’t been a normal sleep – more like being submerged. She was, as she’d reasoned, near the ocean. She could hear the waves echoing along a dark tunnel, could smell the salt-air. And something else. Something rotten.

She propped herself up, adjusting her eyes to the surroundings. A passage with cold, wet, rocky walls. She saw more and her hand covered her mouth and nose as she gulped, fighting the instinct to vomit. Next to her was a tiny, rotting corpse – the rabbit. It was missing patches of fur where the bare skin looked like it had been burnt, but… silly, really – It wasn’t the first time she had seen a dead thing. Although, she didn’t usually sleep next to them. Didn’t stay around them very long at all. Even for an ex-human she doubted that was healthy.

Whatever had invaded her mind must have also killed the poor bunny, although why anyone would kill a bunny was beyond her. She had to push on and find it before it killed more but be aware that it definitely knew she was coming. Good – bunny murderers deserved to sweat a little.

There was a bag next to her as well which she knew was important, but it was only as she made her way deeper into the tunnel that it all started coming back.

A few days ago, as far as she remembered, the ‘dibbles’ as Kaya called them came to the lighthouse. Jennifer was grumpy and honestly a little grouchy about it – she always was when people came by unannounced, especially if it caused the number of people around to cross over the threshold of what she was comfortable with, which seemed to be about four.

They said some kind of creature had escaped from a lab, as creatures were wont to do. Sergeant Delainy said it was a ‘relic of a cold war’, or something like that. It was still a bit hazy, but after a bit of wrangling Jennifer reluctantly agreed that Tenley was one of the few other creatures that could safely get close to this thing. Jenn was encouraging Tenley to more nice things for people and stopping something dangerous seemed a nice thing to do so she’d tracked it here.

The splashing of the waves grew louder. There were more corpses, all of small animals, some of them surrounded by rotten vegetables and what seemed like makeshift grass bedding that a child might have made. Curious, but any answers were still ahead. The tunnel opened into an alcove from which could be seen the dark blue sea, pale moonlight causing all the waves and rocks to glisten. The creature was waiting, but so was Tenley – it waited for her to step inside then clamp her forearm, but Tenley straightened and twisted her palm, reversing the grip, then thrust her other hand into the creature’s chest sending it rolling away from her into a corner.

“Bunny murderer!” Tenley cried, ready to leap on and finish it with righteous fury. But then, the creature just looked up, quivered, and burst into tears.

“Please!” It cowered, arms over its head in a pitiful attempt to protect itself. But ‘it’ was really just a woman. Very old. Well, over thirty anyway which to Tenley was very old. It was hard to say the age exactly as Tenley wasn’t used to seeing women that had bulbous bald heads with thick, black veins pulsing on them. And the way she sobbed in the corner, terrified of being hit again – somehow, she seemed more like a child.

Tenley lowered her fists, suddenly unsure of what to do. It was much easier when the things she was up against were trying to kill her – then the decision to defend herself or her friends was already made. But this – this was suddenly very awkward.

“Please,” the woman, dressed only in a once-white medical gown, sobbed. She’d been on the run and hiding for a week at least. “I didn’t mean to hurt you, or the rabbits, I swear!”

Tenley crouched, regarding the creature curiously until with a resigned sigh she knew she was going to need something other than she or it or the voice if they were going to talk. “Do you have a name?”

The woman wiped her face as she inched forward on her shins. “In – in the laboratory, they called me Vala.” It seemed like talking didn’t come quite naturally to her as she mouthed a few times first as if to make sure sound was coming out before embarking on a sentence.

“Vala – what happened to the rabbits?”

“I-I,” Vala swallowed, holding out her hands as if holding something in them, “I tried to take care of them, I really did! But, t-they just kept getting sicker, and…” she burst into tears again. “I’m sorry! I tried! I’m sorry! I don’t know why they all got so sick.”

The bag – Tenley remembered there was something in the bag she was supposed to use. It was a cylinder, almost like a microphone, attached by a cable to a yellow box. It started clicking as soon as Tenley turned it on, louder and faster as she pointed the tube toward Vala, the clicking becoming an almost continuous tone.

“That’s not a good sound, is it?” Vala asked.

“I don’t think so, no.”

“I’m the reason everything is dying, aren’t I?”

Tenley didn’t know if Vala was still trying to get into her mind – she would probably feel it if that were the case. Likely she was just reading her expression, but to remove all doubt, she nodded.

“I tried to take care of them, but I… I was only making them worse,” Vala sniffed and sagged back into her corner. “But then you came and you didn’t get sick, so I… I had to make you stay. I just… I just wanted…”

“A friend?” Tenley remembered.

“It was wrong of me. I’m sorry. I truly am,” Vala solemnly lowered her face. “I’ve only ever known the laboratory. The doctors said it was dangerous for me to leave, but never told me why. I just wanted…” she swallowed again then turned to Tenley. “ Do you know why I was made like this?”

“Not exactly,” Tenley admitted, “I just know that, a long time ago, there was a war. Well, not really a war –people thought the world was going to end with nuclear bombs. So then someone had the idea to design new people to live in the wasteland after – they made you. But then I guess the real war never happened, and…” Tenley trailed off. She felt she wasn’t explaining it very well at all. “Sorry. I don’t really get history and politics. People do a lot of dumb stuff – I guess it must have made sense to someone at the time.”

“So the war never happened, and I was forgotten,” Vala turned to look glassy-eyed over the ocean. “Left to grow up in a lab. Doctors would come in, sometimes, to stick needles in me and take my blood. They always wore bulky suits and devices meant to stop me getting in their heads. But, I caught glimpses of what the world was like outside. I just… I wanted to see it for real. Wanted to be a real person, but, that’s not possible is it?”

“I’m not human anymore,” Tenley sadly sighed, “that’s why I don’t get sick. But anything else you go near; animals, people – they just can’t live around you.”

“So they sent you to take me back?” Vala shook her head and toughened her jaw like she was getting ready to fight, although it was a fight she couldn’t win. Yet her eyes shone with renewed determination and resolve. “I won’t go back! I can’t live in that cage anymore!”

Tenley had asked the dibble – Sergeant Delainy – what she should do if Vala refused to return. His face had crumpled as he passed her a vial. ‘Give her this. You know what it is, don’t you? She won’t feel anything.’

Tenley could feel the vial stashed safely in her coat. It was cleaner than other deaths, but could Tenley really get Vala to swallow it? Did she want to? Why couldn’t Vala have just been a monster? She had to go and make it all complicated.

“Look,” Tenley let go of the vial and stood, “I have friends; Jennifer and Doctor Sarkis. Real nerdy science types. Sayuri would try to heal you with crystals or something – she’s useless. But the others, between them, they have to be able to think of a way to cure or make it safe for you to be around people.”

Vala narrowed her eyes cautiously. “You really think they could help me?”

“Of course! They have to. They’re good people,” not completely understanding the mechanics of the situation, Tenley couldn’t assure them both any better than that.

“But then, why did they just send you to deal with me?”

“They just – they thought you were a monster,” that was it, Tenley told herself. “Once I explain the situation we’ll find a way to help you. Although, in the meantime, we do still have to get you someplace where you can’t make anything else sick.”

Vala narrowed her eyes, scrutinizing the child, then with a weary smile said “Of course. Any ideas?”

“I’m thinking,” Tenley paced as she pondered the problem.

Vala turned to look out over the seafoam. “Well, there’s no rush, is there? We can stay here the night.”

Tenley shrugged, “I guess.”

“Could you tell me more about your friends?”

Tenley paused her pacing, regarding Vala suspiciously. “You promise won’t try to trap me in some weird virtual reality again?”

“No,” Vala chuckled, “you’re the strongest girl in the universe. I’ve learned my lesson.”

“Well – all right, then.”

Over the next few hours, Tenley regaled Vala with the tales of her adventures, bouncing and leaping as she acted out some of the scenes. She grimly recalled hunting her mother’s killers, but jumped and pirouetted all around the cave as she recalled a battle with another changeling called Ella. With a whoosh and a swoosh she recounted forays into other worlds, fighting a man who was half-machine, punching a velociraptor, and her friends being surprised by twists and turns that any child would have seen coming, and did.

“You have quite a life,” Vala whispered breathlessly at the end.

“I guess,” Tenley shrugged and sat next to her. “It’s been a lot more fun since I met Jennifer.”

“You love her?”

Tenley choked. No, that just – that wasn’t a word that she used. Ever. “I – I have to take care of her. It’s not the same.”

“It sounds the same- “

“It’s not,” Tenley insisted. “It’s just, she’s clever, but also really dumb. She couldn’t fight her way out of a paper bag but goes and picks them anyway. So someone has to protect her.”

“I was in your head,” Vala reminded her. “You love her. You loved your mother, too, even though she never loved you back. Or never showed it. So much love. So much pain. Is that what real life is?”

Tenley narrowed her eyes warningly. “What did I say?”

Vala sighed, “no Star Trek nonsense.” After a long silence, she said, “I just want you to know – you’re good people as well, Tenley Tych.”

Tenley fell asleep shortly after that. If she had any more dreams she didn’t remember them once she woke, again by the sun tickling her nose but this time it was real. But it was strangely quiet. She could hear the wind and the waves and the seagulls, but something was missing. Then it hit her – since she’d changed, her hearing was far more sensitive. She’d quickly adapted to filter most of the sound when it wasn’t important, but she knew – hers was the only heart still beating in here. Vala was lying a short distance away gazing out over the waves, eyes wide open but completely still.

With trepidation Tenley crawled over to her, but she already knew – the vial was gone from her pocket and despite all her power, all her hopeful words, there was nothing that could be done by her or anyone.

Breaths caught in Tenley’s throat as her hands couldn’t keep up with the flow of tears.

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