Price Nothing Given, Chapter 12

I’m such an idiot. By the time I got home, I had an itemized list of reasons I was a complete moron. Not the least of which, the kiss brought on by the excitement of using my powers for what they were meant for, or maybe the adrenaline rush from facing off against Sapphire and Sympathy.

I had to admit, watching Zach run his mouth on those evil bitches was amazing. Better than amazing, it was everything I had spent the last decade wishing I was brave enough to do. By that measure, I was glad it happened, even if I went and ruined it after.

I began dismissing summons the moment I closed my window, sending Valkyrie and my armor back to the Everywhere. Meanwhile, my pixies flitted about, taking position in front of me like tiny monster soldiers waiting for marching orders. “Nobody came by?”

“You need not worry, My Queen.” The head pixie did an excellent imitation of a curtsey for something floating midair. “A sparrow attempted entry. It was an unimpressive foe.”

Somehow, its insectoid mouth managed to emulate a cruel smile that told me everything I needed to know about how the poor bird died. I hate my power, the only thing I hate more than my power is Sapphire and Sympathy, because they’re responsible for me having this burden in the first place.

Now that I was paying attention, I noted a couple pixies wore red stained bandages. Which led to all sorts of questions, not the least of which being whether or not the smell of burnt feathers was a figment of my imagination. An act of will dismissed that thought from my mind for the more important concern. “Where did it get in? Show me.”

“This way, my Queen.” The summon flitted up into the rafters that defined my living space, landing on one of the topmost points where the frame linked into the stone of the building. “It is here.”

Lovely. “Tuatha, you are dismissed. Get your rest.” The bloodthirsty little beasts flew off to hidden cubbyholes, then their burden on my power vanished.

Further investigations with an imp revealed the entrance to be a stone which somehow broke loose from the rest of the building. The gap was no more than a few inches thick, enough for a small bird to gain entry. Where the original stone went off to, I couldn’t begin to guess, but through the imp’s senses I assumed it had happened some time ago.

My summons can hunt and kill with a single-minded effectiveness that hunters spend years training into their dogs, but they can’t even tell me my house is falling apart. What does it say about me that I got such a power?

“Gargouille, come forth, protect me in my slumber.” Something akin to a chill ran through my body as my power’s battery depleted. All sources of light and sound from the outside vanished under the protective wings of my draconic summon.

I shouldn’t have called him so soon. I had other things to worry about, like checking in with Muwth or basic hygiene, but I didn’t care. For a moment, I stopped and considered the pill I was supposed to take, supposedly to help me with my problems.

As I said, I considered it for a moment, then decided not to bother. I never ruined all of my friendships by kissing anyone until I was on that damn medicine, and unlike my father, I wasn’t going to take chemicals that made my life worse.

Needless to say, I wasn’t feeling my best when I woke up. Not for lack of the medication, but for having trouble sleeping with everything on my mind. The screeching of my alarm clock was the last straw of my patience, and before I could react a hideous green creature with over sized ears sank its teeth into the target of my misdirected anger. A pop-crackle and the taint of ozone was the only fanfair of the horrid noise machine’s last moments.

There’s twenty bucks well spent. Guess it’s better it than my cell phone again. Meanwhile the gremlin retreated into the shadows, where it joined the rest of the fae-like summons I had in my repertoire. Such was the auspicious beginnings of my day.

Forgetting to brush my teeth or didn’t do me any favors, either. I went through the motions of cleaning up, but again skipped the medication. I still couldn’t see the point in resorting to drugs that did more harm than good. An hour or so after waking up, I made my way downstairs in the golden Eufron armor that Anima was known for, a shield to protect me from the world. Of all the questions my power brought up about my inner nature, this armor was perhaps the one that made the most sense.

I was a little early, but April had her position near the stairs, mumbling over her lines. As much as I hated how she was more beautiful, talented, and happier than I ever hoped to be, I couldn’t deny that she worked hard for it. Which was worse than if it had all been handed to her on a silver platter, because I couldn’t even hate her without admitting it was me who was wrong. She even greeted me with a smile when I stopped near the bottom of the step.

“Hi, Anima,” she said. “Just going over the script one last time. Mind helping me practice?”

Oh, and she’s nice, too. Dammit. “Sure, I could go for a run.”

“I want more work interacting with, uh, the ‘ghosts’.” I could hear the quotations in her tone, which was fair enough since we all know they weren’t real ghosts. “Funny how acting with something that isn’t there is easier than trying to act with something that is there, but kinda isn’t.”

My power is many things, but I would never call it ‘funny’. “The summoning scene, then?”

“You know it.” She smiled and took a step back, stretched her arms out, and began to raise them upward. “Come, my dark servants!”

Eric and Ben glanced over at us, out of curiosity and amusement rather than concern; it wasn’t the weirdest thing they’d seen working here. Meanwhile, I pulled the will-o’-the-wisps out of the Everywhere near April’s feet. Their method of appearance was always the same, drifting up from the ground in order to swirl around in as imitations of nebulae, complete with semi-solid orange and yellow lights inside and the occasional burst of sheet lightning within.

“Behold my power!” April dipped her hands back down, touching the glowing gaseous forms, which wrapped around her arms like living things. April had a solid understanding of how to lure them, get them to respond to her motions and chase where she wanted them to chase. There was nothing supernatural about her talent, simply a matter of time and pattern recognition. She had more experience with the wisps than myself in some ways. “The very souls of the damned are at my command!”

She chewed the scenery, unaware that the things I’d summoned were trying their best to chew her off face. They were harmless enough, unable to interact with the physical world save as visual and to some extent audio illusions. Dangerous in that they could obscure vision, but not much more than that. April kept a manic grin on her face while she played with them, moved so they chased her as they were wont to do. To her it was a game, to them it was combat.

April twisted, almost danced with the pair latched to her arms. “Slay my enemies!” She flung both arms toward the guys, and the wisps followed her gestures, leaving her hands and traveling forward. Without my active guidance, they were faked out by her gestures and continued forward. They spotted the guys before they recognized that they lost target, and so attacked them instead.

“Oh god, I’m being eaten by a Pokemon!” Ben flailed his arms around as if trying to bat the thing off his face. It almost went after one of the hands, but decided the movements of Ben’s mouth were more interesting.

Eric, meanwhile, remained calm in his wisp. “Just like in your slash fics.”

Ben stopped his frantic movement mid arm swing. “Dude!” He dropped his arms, now that he’d gone from playing along to humiliated. He looked over at us, or at April at any rate, before looking back to Eric. “I have no idea what that’s supposed to mean.”

“Oh, you know ex-” Eric’s retort was interrupted when the other wisp made the jump over to his face, blinding him.

Dammit. The wisps must have reacted to the fact that I did not like Ben. Much like April, he was good looking and had talent enough that when there was a leading role to fill, it was a safe bet he’d get it. Unlike April, he was also the kind of asshole who liked to put down others. Somehow, he managed to avoid anything overt that could be called out on, just ‘good natured’ jokes that weren’t so good natured.

I unsummoned my wisps, and they began breaking apart like smoke in a breeze.

April’s smile never faltered. “Thanks, Anima, your power is the coolest thing ever. If I had it, I’d be tempted to conquer the city or something. Playing the bad guy is so much fun!” I forced myself to remember that she had no comprehension of what she said to me while she walked over to the boys. “Hey, Eric, thanks for playing along with me. Want to help me rehearse some of my lines?”

His face lit up like my wisp never left. “Sure!” He hesitated for a moment. “Got your script with you?” Ben wasn’t in this particular play; in fact none of the regulars were save for the prop people and April, with her playing the villain of the story. Other than us, the crew performing the play was from a separate group renting the stage for the week.

“It’s in my bag, I’ll go get it.” April started to walk off, still talking as an invite for Ben to follow. “I wanna work on the laugh some more. Like, I’m not sure if I should go for menacing cackle like the wicked witch, or manic happy laughing?”

“I dunno, maybe you can do both depending on what’s going on. Like, happy early on when you’re winning, then evil witch later?” Ben seemed more than happy to take April’s invite, chasing after her into the other room.

The question was absurd; someone like April would never have gotten this close to showtime without an answer to such an important part of the performance, but it seemed to do the trick. With an act she was too skilled an actress not to have calculated, she’d made Ben’s day and punished Eric for being a jerk.

Nobody in the room thought for a second that Ben had a chance with April, but at the same time it was no secret that Eric wanted a ‘private rehearsal’ with April, and she had no interest in giving it to him. How far Ben thought into it was anyone’s guess, but the smug look he gave Eric suggested he understood something of the drama acted out here. Eric’s look of general displeasure confirmed that he got the message as well, but there wasn’t much he could do other than pick up his props and leave me alone in the storage area.

I had my portion of the script memorized, in as much as I existed as special effects for someone else’s performance. I wouldn’t be needed- or wanted- until the late afternoon when the play got started. I stared at the stage and marveled at how much I sucked, since it seemed all I could be trusted not to fuck up.

Tina came up to me after I’d spent an hour or so wallowing in self pity. “Anima?” Even with the platforms in my armor, she had the height advantage on me. “Do you know where Zach is?”

I bet he quit because of me, and now I’ll have to explain what happened to Mrs. Battle. She’ll forgive me, which will make me feel worse, just like April did. I took a slow breath. “I’m sorry, he didn’t tell me anything.” I can’t blame him. “Check in with Clyde if he’s late?”

She frowned a little. “No, he doesn’t come in until this afternoon. But he said he’d come in early to hang out.”

Sounds like something he’d do, and I ruined it.

“Oh, I’m not sure, then.” Given that Zach was one half of the most powerful precognitive power I’d ever heard of, he would have got in contact if it was important. If only because there was no way in hell that Muwth would let him off the proverbial hook. So long as she was a factor, and human lives weighed in the balance of our team, Zach would not shirk his duties in costume. It’ll be kinder if I quit the team. My fault, after all. “Maybe he had extra homework to finish or something?”

“Maybe.” She didn’t sound convinced, but there wasn’t much she could do about it either way. “If he calls, ask him what’s up, okay?”

“Don’t worry, I’ll let you know.” Knowing he wasn’t going to call rendered the promise empty, but I made it all the same.

The next interruption to my personal pity party was Mrs. Battle herself. “Are you alright?”

I looked down at the woman; even without my platforms, I had an inch or two on the elderly woman. My first instinct was to deny that I was upset, words that died before reaching my lips. Lying to Mrs. Battle felt like lying to my grandmother, if I had one to lie to.

“It’s a long story.” Being honest, I didn’t wanted to talk about it.

She sighed, then turned to look at the stage. I noted that her blonde hair no longer showed gray roots. She must have gone to her stylist yesterday. “Problems with your boyfriend?”

“He’s not my boyfriend!”

“He’s not?” I couldn’t quite identify the tone of her voice. As long as she’d been an actress, I imagine she could have faked any emotion she wanted by now, anyway. “Well, you’d better work on that. He won’t make the first move. He’s a nice young man, but too polite.”

I tried not to laugh, and instead managed the least dignified snort in human history. “You should meet his sister.” Or not, because if she heard you say that, we’d know for a fact if it’s possible to laugh yourself to death. “In fact, I don’t know which of them is more polite.”

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5 thoughts on “Price Nothing Given, Chapter 12

  1. A/N- Anima chapters remain hard to write. They’re a different type of dark to what I’m accustomed to- less fun violence, drama, cliffhangers and ‘oh crap’ moments, and more (in her own words) ‘wallowing in self pity’.

    Quite a bit more challenging than my usual stuff, and for that I am glad- that’s how you grow as a writer, after all.

    Hopefully the joke at the end lightened things up enough that the readers don’t get fatigued by the story- because striking the right balance between ‘correctly portraying depression’ and ‘not making it depressing’ will forever be my fear during this particular novel.

    PS- don’t forget to vote.

    http://topwebfiction.com/vote.php?for=price

    Like

    1. Damn, this chapter really hit close to home. Having had people close to me where Beth is right now brought back a whole slew of feelings on the matter. Seeing her skip her meds and then be too down to bother keeping up with basic hygiene in particular did it for me. Between that and her constant putting herself down I feel like you really nailed the tone of the whole depression thing. So congrats on that, I suppose.

      And I did like the joke at the end there. Ending the chapter on a lighter note really helped balance out the rest of the downer parts. I have some thoughts on some of the little throw away lines from this chapter as well, but I will have to come back to those once I am less busy at work.

      Liked by 1 person

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