Rose was the first one out of the club, stumbling forward as she wobbled on her heels. Right behind her was Lily, still trying to calm the woman who was demanding a fight with Rose.
“No, please don’t,” Lily said. “She’s sorry, she didn’t realise he was with you–”
Rose swallowed down the sick that was threatening to escape and wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. “I bloody did. Figured if he chose that he’d be pretty easy–”
Anything else that either of them were going to say was lost to the jilted woman’s tirade of cursing. From years of experience Lily knew where this was leading, and she grabbed Rose’s arm and started running away. The thrown bottle shattered on the pavement right where Rose had been moments before.
Flipping off the woman over her shoulder Rose dutifully jogged behind Lily as fast as her heels would let her. Two streets over they stop, and Rose started laughing.
“What is wrong with you?” Lily did her best to look annoyed, but Rose had known her long enough to see through it. The smirk at the corner of her mouth always gave it away.
Rose held her arms out defensively. “What? It was getting boring. I just thought I’d liven it up a bit.”
“It wasn’t boring. I was enjoying it.”
“Yeah, well. I made it more enjoyable.”
“Damn it, Rose. You do this every time we go out. Can you go anywhere and not get in a fight.”
“Oh, lighten up, Lily. You know I’m careful to pick who I go against. Half the time they’re too drunk to even land a hit. Besides.” Rose swaggered over and draped herself over Lily’s shoulders. “I know my knight in shining armour will be there to save me.”
“You mean the sucker you drag around to watch your back for you?” Despite her words Lily doesn’t push Rose off. “I never should’ve shared my lunch with you in high school.”
“You fed me, I stayed.” Rose’s grin split her face in half, and Lily gave up trying to be angry. When she laughed Rose knew she’d won. “So, where are we going next, boss?”
“Cameo is the next street over, isn’t it? Or did you get barred from that one?”
“Nah, Cameo is all right. It was Carnage I got barred from.”
“Oh, of course. Wasn’t that because you hit on the owner’s boyfriend?”
“Okay, that time I legit didn’t know he was taken. I mean, he didn’t look gay.”
“That’s because he was bi. Hence him coming onto you as well.”
“See? He came on to me. So why did I get barred?”
“I’m not having this argument with you after half a dozen shots. Come on, let’s just head back to the main street and get to Cameo.” Lily pulled herself free and started walking off, but Rose didn’t follow.
“The main street? Why not just cut through the alley?”
“Cos it’s dark, it’s late, and we’re two drunk women?”
Rose snorted and set about fixing her hair. “It’s one street, Lily. And there are two of us. If anyone attacks us one of us can run away and get help.”
“Unless there’s a group–”
“Oh, come on! One street, barely a minute. We’ll be through and gone before the maggots can stir.”
But Rose had already left, marching as best she could in her ridiculous high heels. Even though no one’s looking she struts. The mid-thigh skirt almost demands it of her.
When Lily caught up Rose grinned. “See? We’ll be fine.”
They were almost through the alleyway, and Rose was sure she can hear the sound of the club, when there was a noise behind them. Keep going, get out and find witnesses, Rose thought, and she reached out a hand to take Lily’s arm.
But Lily wasn’t there.
“Lilith,” said a deep, echoing voice from behind.
Rose leapt and spun round, trying to hold her clutch bag as a weapon. A few steps behind, Lily had already stopped and beyond her Rose can make out a shape in the darkness. It’s human in shape, but far too large.
“Lily?” Rose whispered.
“Get out of here,” Lily said over her shoulder. There was an edge to her voice that made Rose’s blood run cold.
“This doesn’t concern you. Just go, get to the club. And try not to start any fights of your own. For once.” Even in the shadows of the alley Rose can see the smile on Lily’s lip, though it was more severe than usual.
“Don’t be stupid. This isn’t any of our concerns, let’s just go and leave them to it.”
“I told you, go!”
The shadows grew longer and darker, until the far wall of the alley was hidden. Out of instinct Rose took a step backward, but she couldn’t leave Lily. Even though she’s shaking she moved forward and reached out for her friend. When she grabbed Lily’s arm though, and Lily turned to look at her at last, there was no understanding or fear in her friend’s face.
Little Lily – who fled at the first sign of a bar brawl, who apologised to anyone and everyone just in case, who was constantly berating Rose for her recklessness – looked annoyed at the interruption.
Before Rose could work out who the woman standing at her side was, the voice came from the darkness again.
“It’s been a while, Lilith.”
“Not long enough if you ask me,” Lily replied. With a sigh she crossed her arms and glared at the shadows. “What do you want, Damien?”
“We weren’t finished with our last… discussion.”
“We were. I told you, I’m not interested in your schemes. Leave, now.” Lily (or was it Lilith? Rose had never heard her use that name before) took a deep breath to gather herself. “Go now and I won’t say anything else about this, Damien. Go before you make a scene.”
“A scene?” The shadows laughed and crept round behind Rose. “What makes you think I’ll cause a scene?”
“Because you always do. Let the civilian go and we can talk about this.”
Civilian? “Lily,” Rose hissed, “what are you doing? Let’s go. P-please.” Rose hated how much it sounded like begging, but she would swear the shadows were overhead now as well. The street lights looked too far away, and the sound of the club had faded to nothing.
“Rose.” Lily took her hand and looked in her friend’s eyes. “I’m going to make a way for you to leave. Just run. Go, and don’t look back. I can take care of myself. Get to the club, get inside, and stay safe.”
As the world shifted into something she couldn’t understand, Rose clung to the one part of that sentence that she could focus on. “You can’t take care of yourself. I’ve seen you punch, it’s pathetic. And that time you got slapped you dropped like a stone. I can’t leave you here alone.”
“You have to. This is about old scores, and you’re not involved in those.”
“Lily? Or… or is it Lilith?” Though the shadows were growing Rose could see some things clear enough. She could see the mask of Lily shatter, and now she was stood in an alley with a stranger. For years Rose had done everything she could to get Lily to grow a backbone. Now the sight terrified her.
The other woman just shrugged. “Lilith attracts too much attention. I figured Lily was similar enough, without getting the weird looks from civilians.”
That word again. “Civilians?”
“That’s one of the less offensive terms used for you people.”
That off-hand sentence was a slap in the face for Rose. For some reason an image of the friendship necklaces they’d bought in high school crossed her mind. Friends forever. But that girl would never have been this casually callous.
At last Rose let her hand fall back to her side. Although the person in front of her looked the same, it was as though a filter had been removed. Lilith’s true colours showed now, and they weren’t anything like Rose’s any more.
“Get ready to run,” Lilith said.
“Are you sure you can handle this?” Old habits die hard, and for the sake of everything that had come before Rose knew she couldn’t just walk away.
Then Lilith summoned a ball of pulsing blue light in her hands. “I’ve got this.”
Rose opened her mouth to ask if she was drunk, or high, or passed out, but the shadows attacked before she could. A whip of green light darted out from them, and Lilith deflected it with one of her orbs.
Rose gave up, and screamed.
“Shut up!” Lilith barked. “Stay close to me. Do what I say.”
Twenty minutes ago a command like that from Lily would’ve been laughed away, and Rose would’ve spent the whole night teasing her for it. When it came from Lilith there was no way to refuse it.
“Yes, ma’am.” Rose moved up closer to Lilith and stumbled on her own heels. With one eye still on the shadows she ripped them off, and after a moment’s thought tossed them to the kerb. The shoes were new a week ago, but they’d been brought on a shopping trip with Lily. A lifetime of happy memories were getting tainted already.
There wasn’t time to think. Rose tried her best to keep up with Lilith’s dodging, but she hadn’t done exercise since high school. Back then they’d been on the netball team together. The twisted mockery of this fight compared to all those matches is just the sort of thing Rose and Lily would’ve laughed about. A shiver ran down Rose’s back.
Another dodge and Lilith throws one of her orbs. As it crackled through the shadows Rose spotted wings and long, gangly arms.
Lilith shoved Rose towards a gap in the darkness. “There, go!”
Rose took the chance and slipped out. Breaking out of the shroud was like surfacing from water. The normal world returned; the smell of kebabs, the sound of shrieking, the drumming of bass, the glare of the overhead lights, the taste of cheap booze on the air.
Turning to look back Rose could see the divide, the doorway between normality and… whatever that was. Lilith was still on the other side fighting the monster. Not once did she check that Rose had gotten out safely.
Rose stood and watched as the shivering started. On this side Lily existed, on the other it was only Lilith. One was already dead, discarded now that she’d served her purpose, but the other one was still fighting. If Rose went back she could help defend Lilith…
Rose turned and fled into the night, leaving the mages’ duel and all traces of the girl that was Lily behind her.