“Is something wrong?” her mother had asked at breakfast.
“Non,” she replied, “I just need a break today, I’ll be ready to attend tomorrow. I asked Monsieur Guy if can email me the homework assignments.”
“Very well,” her mother consented, attempting to conceal her worries of her daughter’s unstable behaviour, “since you are going out, I’ll give you a shopping list.”
“Oui maman, I’ll be back before noon.” she assured.
She donned one of her more mature dresses and put her hair in a lady-like bun, wanting to look old enough for people to not presume her truant. In front of a mirror she bit her lip and pulled a curly bang out of her bun, letting the ringlet hang playfully against her cheek. Océane had forgotten how much she missed primping before a mirror. Now that Claire agreed to give her some space, she could approach her reflection without interference. Once satisfied she could pass as an adult, at least at a distance, she gathered her things and left for her walk.
Under her arm she carried her stack of sketches. One at a time she pulled each out and walking down their depicted path. She did not know what she expected from following Claire’s directions, but oddly she felt better as she walked. It was as if she had been underwater for the past few months, but now she had come up for air. Every step she took felt as though another piece of the crushing weight over her melted off. Still, when she turned the corner and saw the old barber’s shop, she felt intense apprehension. She stopped and stared at the barber's sign before her and the alley beyond. She took in deep breaths of air, waiting for the right moment; when her heart slowed down and she would be ready to move.
The occasional passers-by cast curious glances at the young woman, standing still, taking in deep, anxious breaths, but none approached.
One more breath, one more heartbeat, and she was ready. She walked towards the alley entrance, her chest tightening painfully. She stopped one more time at the corner, at the precipice between the warm brightness of the avenue, to the dim recesses of the ally. She gasped for breath, forced a resolute expression to conquer the frightened one, and dove in.
She raised up her sketch, the one depicting the nightmarish lines and strange shadows. She scoffed, comparing the picture to what she saw before her, “It doesn’t look scary! 'Quaint' would be a better word.” Filled with a new confidence, she strode deeper, hurrying past the skip to see the wall beyond.
At the final reveal, she felt slightly disappointed. The place which had been haunting her so terribly; now when viewed with her own eyes all that she saw was a brick wall.
“With my own eyes…” she muttered. She pulled out the last picture, and looked at it. Something was wrong. The perspective was entirely different, even from her vantage at the far end of the alley, the section of brick wall under the fire-escape looked wrong.
“Everything is too big-" a shiver ran down Océane’s spine. Raising up the picture, she slowly kneeled down, the farther she went, the more twisted her stomach felt inside.
It was when the picture finally matched up with reality that her fear was confirmed. The height of the perception was just over seventy centimetres when the angles lined up perfectly. Tears welled in her eyes, the knot in her stomach twisted harder, making her feel nauseous. Her breath began to come in heavy sobs.
“A child... a small child!” she cried through trembling lips.
Uncontrollably, she raised her voice in mourning, feeling overcome with the pain carried by someone else. The world became hard to see through her watery eyes. She grew weak, and unable to move, slouching to the ground as the pain in her stomach became unbearable. She wept in agony, inhuman sympathy clawing at her heart, every sensation becoming shards of glass, dancing through her veins.
"Maman, maman! Wake up!" she cried as the still spectre of the dead woman appeared before her, blood running from her chest, raven hair framing her lovely face. She crawled on hands and knees, pressing her hands to the woman's breast to try to staunch the flow, but the red, congealed blood slipped around her fingers, cold and lifeless. She remembered the rest of the vision she was reliving. She was not alone. Just as in the sketch a shadow was cast upon her.
She looked behind her to see distraught, blue eyes and a slender, unshaven face topped with close-cut, sandy-brown hair. The head rode the broad shoulders of a working man's physique. Blood stained his hands as though he too had attempted to staunch the flow. She blinked and the horrific scene was gone and she was alone in the alley.
Evan walked into the hospital room. Mashka looked up at him with a small smile.
“Hey, I brought lunch.” he said, raising two white bags.
Mashka’s smile broadened, “What did you get?”
“I decided on Korean this time.”
She removed her hand from its grasp of her brother’s and moved to sit by the small coffee table where her friend had placed the food.
Evan was about to serve up the bibimbap when he saw the room darken.
“A power surge?” Mashka asked.
Evan was about to agree when he looked out the window behind Mashka, the sky had turned a strange sepia colour, and the sounds of the outside world became muffled by a static buzz. Before his eyes, the window glass distended and as a mermaid from the sea, The Apparition emerged and walked upon the air as if it was the floor.
“Y-you,” he stuttered, staring awestruck at the white clothed girl.
Mashka rose from her seat, her hand reaching for something to grab, but finding nothing.
“Greetings,” she said grinning good naturedly, “It’s been a long time.”
“Who are you?” Mashka asked, balling her hands into fists in the folds of her skirt.
“You can see her?” Evan asked in surprise.
“Yes, of course I can, who is she?”
“My name is my own, to give out as I choose.” the blonde answered. “You may know me as Evan does, The Apparition.”
Mashka shuddered, frightened speechless.
“What do you want?!” Evan demanded.
The blonde rolled her eyes. “I would think you would speak more respectfully to me. After all, it is my charity and grace that is keeping all three of you from certain death. I was intent on contacting Aleksei again, but he is otherwise occupied at the moment. So I require your services in his stead.”
“Excuse me,” Evan responded, “we can’t do anything for you, we are in hiding.”
“I don’t believe I gave you the opportunity to refuse.” She replied authoritatively. “You will do what I say.”
She seemed to notice Mashka for the first time and walked over to her. The Apparition stared directly into the woman’s blue eyes with her lavender ones.
Mashka’s vision was captivated by the hypnotic eyes. Gradually she slipped back into her chair as the room seem filled with an oppressive weight, which kept her trapped in place. She could hear Evan’s racing heart, and nervous breathing. 'I can hear!' she thought frantically. 'I can hear, as if all this time I’ve been deaf… my powers, they are coming back!' Dread mixed with hunger clawed at her gut.
“Evan!” she gasped.
“Leave! Now!” Evan ordered, reaching for the being’s shoulder.
The Apparation raised her hand towards him, then as she lowered it, he felt himself be pulled to the ground, he fell to his knees, barely able to draw breath. It was now that he realised, whoever the Apparition was, she had much more power than he had assumed from the last time they had met. Her very presence was oppressive, but at will she could increase it. She wasn’t just making audio-visual illusions anymore, now she was affecting all his sensations.
“I don’t have time right now to be pleasant,” she said warningly. “My plans have already been delayed enough. I want you to find a certain man for me. He is in Edinburgh and is in grave danger. You must leave now.”
Mashka shakily rose from her chair, forcing herself against the invisible weight, glaring angrily at the poltergeist. “You cannot do anything to make me leave my brother’s side!”
She raised her eyebrow, impressed by the woman’s strength. “What an ironic predicament you are in.” she said, smirking, “That sisterly devotion to your brother will be his undoing.” She raised a hand and lowered it, forcing Mashka to fall back into the chair.
For a moment she looked intensively at Mashka’s eyes, or more specifically what lay behind them. Mashka felt a strange movement, somewhere in her head, like a lever being moved.
Suddenly the air became less oppressive as the Apparition smiled compassionately at her. “You cherish him, but have no fear, your brother is far from being alone. He will be cared for even in your absence, you have my unfailing word that as soon as he recovers I will send him to you.”
The Apparition stepped back, walked to the window and said, “Leave to Edinburgh, be there this evening. I will tell you more then." She raised a finger in warning, "Fail to follow my instructions and I will end my contract with the Association and hand you back to them.”
Her visage began to fade and vanished as a hushed whisper tickling both Evan and Mashka’s ears, “I made a contract, your lives belong to me… remember…”
As soon as she left both of them gasped for air. They stood up, panting, perspiration wetting their faces. Mashka looked worriedly at her brother. 'It's happening again. We were free and now we are being used. Why did we even run away from St. Petersburg?'
Evan placed a comforting hand on Mashka’s cheek, turning her face towards him. “Mashka, th--,” his voice died as he peered closely at her eyes.
She looked back at him questioningly.
“Your eyes…” he whispered.
“What?” she asked, then snatched her purse, pulling out a mirror. She looked at her eyes and gasped in fright.
"They are changing?"
“Da,” she replied shakily, looking back at Evan. Her pupils had lengthened, looking like kayaks in the middle of blue lakes.
All Evan could do was stare back helplessly.
“She did this,” Mashka whispered.
“What do you mean-?”
“She did something to me!” Mashka cried.
“Can you stop it?” Evan pleaded, grabbing her shoulder. “Just relax, you remember how to return to normal right?”
Mashka closed her eyes, breathing deeply, and clearing her mind. She relaxed her irises and opened her eyes again. The expression on Evan’s face was not comforting.
“It’s not going away, is it?” she asked.
“No, it’s gotten worse.”
She shuddered and clutched at her chest.
“I don’t want this!” she cried. “I left this behind... I’m scared, Evan.”
He slowly wrapped his arms around her as he searched for something to say.
“I’m scared…” she echoed.
“I know,” he replied. After a brief silence he continued, “If she did this to you, we are going to have to go to Edinburgh, then maybe she’ll tell us how to stop it.”
“Why are you so calm?” Mashka accused, trying to break away.
Evan held on and replied, “Because, I know what she is doing.” He let her go and continued, making eye contact. “She has created a hostage situation, first with Aleksei, threatening to turn us in, then with you, initialising your ability. At this point she has the advantage. We need to move along with her plan, for now.”
“So you’re just giving up?”
“Mashka!” he said firmly.
She jumped at his tone.
Evan explained the rest calmly, but with authority, “I am not giving up, and I promise that I’m going to find a way around her. I have dealt with her before, back when her objective was to save you. I am quite certain that she is a Jinn like us, and though we have no reason to trust her, she hasn’t done anything to directly harm us, yet.”
Mashka nodded, “I trust you… I’m sorry.”
He smiled. “I’ll call Jake, ask him to check in on Nikita regularly, but then we need to go.”
After Even made a few calls he went to inform the nurse to allow Jake as a guest. Mashka was careful to avoid looking anyone’s direction, lest they catch sight of her changing eyes. After a goodbye kiss on Aleksei’s cheek, she left with Evan, unsure of what she would encounter.
Vladimir crouched down behind the edge of the roof. There were two SICA agents in the alley below him.
'Alleged agents,' he reminded himself.
They might be nothing more than a drug deal or something else he could care less about. Vlad would have preferred just apprehending the two, but the Czech insisted they not act haphazardly.
He hated to admit it, but he was too hot headed. 'Maybe it’s because of my ability?' he wondered.
He heard the two clicks over his radio. 'That’s the signal!' He rose with his muscles tense like a compressed spring. Then his hairs on the back of his neck stood up. Instinctively he dodged to the side. He looked over and the roof explode beside him as the shotgun spray made impact. He rolled over the roof, catching sight amidst his tumble of the sentinel agent, dressed in a mechanic’s jump suit.
'Overkill much?' he thought ruefully. He jumped up, heard the familiar ‘chink’ of reload so he launched into a swan dive just as the space he had formally occupied likewise exploded. 'Great, with all this ruckus, we only have minutes before the police arrive.' He laughed at himself as he landed and scrambled behind a broad chimney. 'Oh wait, these are British police with their scary nightsticks, the real problems will take a little longer to get here.'
He took a few deep breaths, placing his hand against the wall. He could feel the heat inside the building, and the sun on his face. 'It's my turn.' he thought as he leapt to a lower rooftop before him.
'He went this way,' the gunman thought as he moved. He dropped down to the lower roof, making a wide arc as to see around the corner. He saw the blond young man facing him, standing casually, as if he had no care in the world. Not asking questions he raised the gun and fired, there was no way he could miss.
The spray reached the stone-faced Vladimir and vaporised into dozens of tiny flashes. He released a chuckle then raised a single hand. The air rippled between them as the heat was drained from the Sentinel member’s body and moved to Vlad’s palm. The agent was stuck still, like a wax statue. His body couldn’t even fall over because his feet had frozen solid onto the roofing.
Vlad ran past the body, patting its sub-zero shoulder saying cheerfully, “Caught cold have you?”
He heard a commotion below. “Anya…” he groaned and hurried to the fire escape. As he leapt over the edge he examined the situation below him. Anya was facing off against two men and a woman, and though she was to a certain extent holding her own, it would not last for long once one of them broke away to use his firearm. He slid down the ladder, hopped to the platform then leapt the remaining four metres. Wrapping his legs around the biggest guy’s neck, he used the centrifugal force of the fall to both pull the guy down and swing himself in full orbit around his neck to land on top as he cracked the enemy agent’s skull on the cobblestones beneath his knees. Next, he leapt back, kicking the woman in the stomach, sending her smashing into the brick wall. He heard Anya run towards him from behind so he bent over vertically so she could use him as a ramp. She leapt off of his back, made a sweeping kick catching the two standing agents in the jaw. Vlad meantime drew his knife and threw it, puncturing the smaller man’s jugular vein.
“Let’s get out of here.” Vlad suggested.
“Good idea dear.” Anya replied as she knocked the woman unconscious.
As they ran Vlad questioned, “SICA is as thick as thieves. Why they are so certain that Subject Three is here?”
“It’s almost as if they’ve figured out the algorithm, or at least they are very close,” she grumbled, “Less lip more leg!”
“Like you have room to talk, motor-mouth.”
“You are such a child!” she scoffed.
“One of these days I will fry you, woman.” Vladimir promised.
“Not if I shoot you first.” She reminded him.
The two hopped into a blue Saturn and Anya drove down the sunny streets, away from the sound of sirens as the Scotland Yard arrived to the scene of the commotion.