III. Cold Snake Memory Charm
Two weeks passed without any news. The frats were fined for the race and forbidden to hold another. I expected Ylissa to find me and gloat, but I didn’t see her again–not that I would have. After my outburst at the council, I hadn’t gone back to the Underground.
I grabbed coffee with Mag a few times (I got the feeling he was checking in on me, though I had nothing new to tell him) but they often ended early in awkward silence. John had stopped talking me entirely. He spent more time on campus studying, and soon I started doing the same thing–spending time elsewhere.
I poked into Gus’s classes, trying to find anything that might tip me off about what had happened. At first I asked if his classmates knew anything, but after the missing persons fliers began rolling out in the campus papers, I stopped talking. In the back of large lecture halls I could be invisible. I started spending more time in his classes than in mine. I got fascinated by biology. It was the only class that seemed even remotely likely to have been the place I’d find the super who attacked him, but in a class of three or four hundred, I was only a speck on the wall. I’d arrive early to watch people as they came inside for anyone who might look like her, like the super I’d seen take Gus down, but all these freshmen and sophomores were nothing more than empty-headed dolts who needed science credits. This wasn’t even a real bio class–it was Biology for the Humanities. They looked at drawings of cells and avoided big words like “photosynthesis” and “mitosis.”
I stopped eating. “At least have a muffin,” Mag told me one day during our regular coffee talks; I swear we’d been meeting for about a month and a half now. The semester must’ve been mostly over. I hadn’t been to my classes in a week and a half. I was certain I had a paper due sometime, but I couldn’t concentrate. “And if not a muffin, how about a cookie?”
“I’m not hungry,” I told him, slouching over the table. I felt my face pressed against the cold tabletop, staring through the cafe’s windows at all the people walking by: they were blurry specters transmogrifying themselves into short, red-headed homos who spouted fire from their fingers, their lips, their eyes until all that blew past were clouds of grey ashes and the unburned fragments of their shattered bones.
It was snowing. I kicked my foot through the grass, listening as the fine particulates crunched under my feet. I should’ve had a jacket on, but I didn’t; I was shivering, but didn’t mind the cold so much. I twisted my hand in the air, trying to reach all the bits of ice in the air and move them together: I’d only been able to move larger, heavy objects–aggregates would be a good skill to have, and I knew I could get there by mastering my powers. As I moved, I noticed the snow starting to form little eddies around me. I grinned, not looking where I was going, as I fell into it deeper: soon a small whirlwind about two or three feet tall was spiraling alongside me as I moved forward with the snow.
I looked up and stopped short; the snow fell in a pile around my feet. There were half a dozen people staring at me from every direction. I felt suddenly warm. Suddenly feverish. I spun around and raised my arms, lifting a wall of snow around me and dashing off into the cloud. I bumped into someone and pushed them out of the way, perhaps throwing them back a few feet, and then continued running until I doubled over somewhere between a bunch of trees, water running over my feet. I looked back, but no one was following me, and then I fell backwards into the stream, letting the water splash on me. In a few minutes I was numb, but I kept my eyes open, breathing jagged, icy breaths as I tried to bend the water over my body. The snow went fine, but the water was a fight: I could make it bubble, start to rise up slightly higher than it should have, but then I couldn’t move my fingers anymore and the trees were becoming blurry and I just wanted to sleep.
– – –
I felt warm tentacles flowing across my skin and opened my eyes to see Mag standing over me and, behind him, Ylissa. I blinked a few times to see if she was really there, and she was, holding a ring of rosary beads in her fist with the cross dangling below her.
“You with us?” Mag stopped moving, and I noticed he’d been the source of the warmth: I was in a tub, mostly undressed, and he’d been spraying warm water down my chest. I nodded slowly, looking between him and Ylissa, who backed away and left the bathroom I was in. “You had us worried,” Mag said. “For a while there I thought we lost you.”
I rolled my head back and sunk deeper into the tub. I was shivering again.
“Come on,” Mag said, turning the water off. “Get dry and dressed. I’ll wait for you inside.”
I watched him go and drifted deeper into the water. The light was bright and everything was blurry, even though I could blink my eyes a few times and get things to come into focus. I heard the heat click on somewhere and felt the warm air blowing over me, but I was still mostly naked and wet and it felt icy in the end anyways.
I looked at the door; it wasn’t latched, still hanging open a few inches. If I didn’t join them soon, they’d come back and force me from the tub. I looked around until I saw the towel nearby, draped across the top of the toilet. I lifted my hand, flexed my fingers, and willed the towel to come to me: it lifted from the air and met my fingers in a moment. I began dabbing myself dry as I sat up. When I pulled on my clothes, still warm from a run through Mag’s dryer, I really started to feel better.
I walked through a short hallway to the living room in Mag’s apartment. He was sitting on a fluffy white couch next to Ylissa. “Have a seat, Elliot,” he said. “We need to talk.”
I took a seat in a larger plush chair that made me feel like I was still wrapped up in the towel. I was shaking slightly, and my head hurt, but nothing was blurry anymore.
“I’m sorry,” Ylissa said. “I–I never realized this whole thing would affect you so much.” She shut her eyes tightly and for a moment I thought it looked like she’d been crying.
“Ylissa helped me find you,” Mag said. “The council’s been growing suspicious without any news surrounding Gus’s whereabouts, and they asked Ylissa to look at it again. They compiled some research from the authorities, and let her use that as a starting point.”
“Your paths crossed,” Ylissa said, looking at me and swallowing, “and then his trail went blank but yours lit up.” She shook her head. “All his classes, Elliot, you went to all his classes?” She raised her hands, but then lowered them with a sigh. “You practically became him–and then I saw you in the snow, in the river. What were you trying to do?”
I looked away from her and my eyes ended up on Mag. His face was screwed up and his eyes were watery. “Were you trying to kill yourself, Elliot? You–you could’ve just talked to me, I’d have helped you.”
I looked down and pressed my teeth together. “I was just trying to move the water,” I said, waving my hand to show them what I meant. “I wasn’t thinking.”
Ylissa stood up abruptly. “Well, Elliot, try thinking for a change. Maybe it’ll do you an ounce of good.” She was shaking, her hands clenched even tighter than before. “And if you ever, ever do that again–well, don’t come crying to me for any hormones of mercy!” She practically screeched in anger and then stomped off toward the kitchen.
I kept staring at the empty space where Ylissa had been a moment before.
What was that all about?
Finally I looked back at Mag. “I really wasn’t trying to…you know…”
He smiled and wiped his eyes. “I believe you, man, but come on, that wasn’t smart.”
“I know,” I said sheepishly and scratched my head as I looked away. “I, um, I don’t really know what day it is.”
Mag laughed, but it was a bitter, harsh sound.
“Why don’t you stay here for a few days and I can help you get things back in order, maybe figure out which classes you can still pass?”
I looked up at him and smiled, but I really didn’t know what to say. After a few moments, I looked over the back of the chair and toward the small galley kitchen at the back of the apartment. “I guess I should go, um, tell her sorry or something?”
“You definitely need to do something,” Mag said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen Ylissa this shaken up before.”
“Are they adding her to the council?” I asked.
“I don’t think so,” Mag said and shrugged. “Pace said he’ll be around another year, and Mikaela doesn’t seem too content to be replaced. Honestly, I think Stop Motion just wanted her in their favor. She’s got some pretty strong skills that no one else has, you know?”
“I know,” I said. I looked back at the kitchen. “Do you think she likes me?”
Mag snorted. “You two have had a love-hate thing going on for years. But I wouldn’t rule it out completely.”
“Well,” I said and stood up, “if that wasn’t suicide, this might be.” Mag didn’t laugh and I looked over at him. “Too soon I guess?”
He nodded and I frowned, but started moving back to the kitchen. “Hey, Ylissa,” I called, tying to think back to the jokes we’d used to tell–jokes that for some reason always involved me calling her a cat and poking fun at that. “Come to get some milk?” I laughed, hoping to lighten the mood before I had to face her. “Moo, moo, goes the–Ylissa!”
She was on her back on the kitchen floor, the rosary beads scattered across the room, convulsing, hands twitching, eyes jolting back and forth and all around in every direction.
“Mag,” I yelled, as I dropped to my knees, and he was there already next to me. “Ylissa,” I said and tried to hold her down. “Ylissa, can you hear me?”
I looked up at Mag. “I don’t think she’s controlling this anymore.”
“She isn’t,” Mag said, pushing his arm against me so I knew to move out of his way.
“Pray this works,” he said, and placed one hand on her head and one around her chest. Strange, ethereal light began pulsing through his fingers, at his nails, and then Ylissa began gasping, her hands clutching at the floor for her beads–I grabbed them and placed them in her hand, and as soon as she closed her fingers around them, she calmed down, her legs no longer shaking, her back falling from its arch until she was limp on the ground.
“Ylissa,” Mag said softly, moving his hands away from her, “Ylissa, are you alright?”
Her breathing was heavy still and she only nodded. Mag reached under her and helped her up, leaning her against the fridge. Her eyes were lidded, blinking slowly, and she grabbed the beads in both hands, her fingers shaking she held them so tightly.
“Ylissa,” Mag said quietly, his face pressed close to her, “can you tell me what you saw? Do you remember?”
She swallowed and opened her eyes, nodding so slightly maybe she was still shaking and I couldn’t tell the difference.
“I saw him,” she said quietly. “I saw Gus. He was there. In the biology department. That’s where they met.”
NEXT PART: Metamorphic