July 4th, Epsilon
I bite my lip and work on the breathing that Luci and I practiced. In. Out. Big breaths. It works for a second, but the serenity dissolves into thin air the minute I catch wind of the screams coming from the market front and the sound of flames roaring. “Why does it have to be like this?” I whimper, looking at the lady I met in the alley as she stands next to me, her weight shifted to one side.
“Because,” she snaps, “this is the way.”
“The only way? It’s not possible to j-just—”
Stomping my foot, I ball my fists by my sides. “What if something happens to Luci?”
She whirls around in my direction. “What if something happens to her? Do you know how much I paid you to do this? What I’m giving you to do simple, simple tasks?”
“Well, I-I don’t want your money.”
“Oh, but you do. You need it more than ever.”
“That’s not true.”
“If it wasn’t, then why are you still here?”
Why am I still here? I take a shaky step out from the concrete wall that we hide behind, searching for Luci in the smoke and flames. Where are you, Lucia? A figure running across the roofing of the market bus stop catches my attention out of the corner of my eye, and I squint to make out who it is. I would have said Dasha, but the gold-streaked windbreaker of the girl gives her away. Luci’s favorite colors are black and gold.
She stops and crouches on the edge of the roof, her hair whipping in the wind. Standing, she turns to go when I see a hand raise from behind Dasha’s bike. It holds something shiny, something…
Spinning around, she looks in all directions for the origin of the sound and takes a step back. One step too many. Her arms flail wildly as she falls through the air, seeking for something to hold but coming up empty.
No… “Luc-” A hand is slapped over my mouth from behind and I’m dragged backward, just the way I was two days ago in the alley.
“If you ever,” the lady hisses through gritted teeth, “do something so reckless and stupid as that again…”
“I’ll hunt you down. I’ll ruin your reputation, your honor, your pride. And then I’ll kill you.”
“What?”I gasp, stumbling back and covering my mouth with the back of my hand. “What?”
“Don’t cross me, child. It won’t end well for you.”
She’ll do what? “This is not what I signed up for. You promised me a Cure-”
“And a Cure you’ll get.”
“-if I helped you influence Luci. Then it was killing Dasha. Now you’re threatening to kill me? I didn’t ask for this.”
“Sweetie,” she puts an arm around my back, “things are so much more complicated than you know. So much. I would never do that to you and you would never destroy me or what I’m trying to do. Because we’re friends, right?”
Are we? “Okay.”
“Marvelous.” She walks back to the wall, pulling her phone out of her pocket and calling someone before sliding it back and eyeing the scene.
I follow, unsure of what else to do. As I search the rooftops once again, though, they’re bare, and Luci is nowhere to be found. She can’t be dead. It’d be all my fault and I would never be able to forgive myself and-
My thoughts are interrupted by a bent-over, crooked figure clutching their stomach and rising from the ground in front of the roof where Lucia was. I open my mouth to call out to her but quickly snap it shut, remembering what the lady said. Kill me…
A furbished Buggati pulls up behind us and the lady turns away. “Let’s go, Lilium.”
Furrowing my eyebrows, I point at the silhouette not 5 yards away from us. “But-”
Begrudgingly, I shuffle my feet and trail close behind her, sliding into the backseat and closing my eyes. What have I become?
The car stops by the alley where the lady and I first met, and she gets out to open the door for me. “Thank you,” I whisper under my breath.
“Of course.” She leads me to the spot where we talked two days ago, brushing a bit of hair out of my eyes.
“Why are we here?”
“I’ve got a little something for you.” She turns around for a moment, producing two duffels that bear a striking resemblance to the one she’s already given me.
“More money?” Again? “What do you want me to do with it?”
“Oh, you’ll know. Soon enough.”
Something feels off. “O-okay,” I say slowly, shrinking back slightly.
“And,” she rifles through her pockets, drawing out a set of keys on a carabiner with a small note attached, “these are for you. I didn’t write much.”
‘Brand new house keys! Enjoy! Your friend, Kadiya.’ “Brand new house…” I mumble in amazement, looking up at her giddily. “A house? All for me?”
“All for you. That’s what friends are for!”
I bend my head down, gazing at the hills and valleys that the ridges in the keys create. Kadiya… I can’t believe this. This is too good to be true. “What’s the catch?”
“I…” he picks at her nails absentmindedly, “need a favor.”
Not again. No way. “No. No more-”
“Lilium, hear me out.”
“-of your sick favors. I did you a ‘favor’ before, and what came out of it? You hurt my best friend in the whole world.”
“It's bitter before it gets better.”
“You-you’re a monster. You’re a sadist. A sadist, monstrous, lunatic who deserves to rot in hell-”
“And tell me, what happens when your ‘best friend in the world’ finds out that you’ve been behind the whole thing? That all of the pain she’s gone through in the last two days was started by you?”
“She…” For once, I blank. What would Luci do if she knew? If she knew that I watched her suffer today and didn’t help…
“She’ll kill Dasha, fair.” Kadiya’s voice has fallen from the yell that it was just moments ago, and it sounds like she really, really cares. “But when she does that and gets her Cure, honey… she’ll kill you too.”
Would Lucia do that? Would she kill me? Me, of all people? “What should I do?” I look to Kadiya, the one person I feel I can trust now. She’s the only one who can understand what I’m going through, the only one who can walk me through it. She may get upset sometimes, but she trusts me. And so easily. On Taxitas, those aren’t qualities you find every day.
“I… I only see one way out of this.” She takes a deep breath, then looks me straight in the eyes. “You have to kill her before she kills you.”
My breath catches and all of a sudden I can’t breathe and my face is incredibly hot so I collapse to the ground because I think they teach us in school that if you can’t breathe you should stop drop and roll but actually that sounds like the fire drill so I stand up again but now I feel really dizzy and I can’t think straight and I think I can hear Kadiya calling my name but it seems so distant like she’s standing on a mountain millions of miles away from me and I’m about to run away and go find her when oxygen reaches my lungs and my brain and I suck it in quickly and my thoughts seem to make a whole lot more sense now.
“Lilium, are you okay?” Kadiya’s voice is jumbled and rushed, and she plants both hands firmly on my shoulders to steady me.
“I-I can’t kill Lucia.” I look up at her, my eyes wet and glistening with tears. “She’s-she’s like my older sister. She’s always been there for me.”
“I know,” Kadiya whispers, rubbing a hand on my back. “I know, Lilium. I do. I gave up being with someone I loved for all of her life because I knew it would be better for her. Better for both of us.”
“But this is different.”
“It’s not. All you have to do is let go of her in your heart, and it’ll all be easier.”
If you say so… “O-okay. Okay.”
“Good girl.” Smiling, she walks me to the curb and pats me on the head before stepping into her car and shutting the door. The window rolls down and she pops her head out. “If you want a taxi or something to get you home…”
“That’s alright. Thanks, though.”
“Well, then.” The corners of her lips turn up into a smile and she offers a wave as the car screeches off.
I watch the car drive away, prying my attention away from the cloud of exhaust and dust and running my fingers over the set of keys in my cupped hands.
Part 5 Available Next Week! (I ran out of submission slots :(