Sleeping had been a privilege Natalie couldn’t let herself enjoy. But the sound of the family she’d saved was comforting, and she was tired, and a few moments off peaceful oblivion had overwhelmed her.
But she fought back. She always fought back. She remembered the monsters. And when she’d woken up, she’d known the truth.
She couldn’t stay in the same house as the gentle family that had tried to save her. She was far more dangerous than any of the monsters outside. She was the mother of monsters.
She crouched in the shelter of a shack, away from the endless sky, and stared at the weapon in her hand. It was the monster of monsters, no different than the ones she’d made at Hatherly’s command. It mastered the darkness that shadowed her, and channeled the darkness inside of her. And it was always hungry.
The first of monsters Hatherly had drawn from her lurked at the door off her shelter, but she didn’t want to see it. The second one fluttered above her head, whispering, but she didn’t hear it. She concentrated on the blade in her hand, and the darkness dripping from her other hand. She could, if she wanted, shape it into one of the shadows. To be one of the true monsters she would have to put something of herself into it and she wasn’t sure what she had left to give it. Hatherly had made so many monsters and retained so much of himself. Maybe it was a learned skill.
Fascinated, she stared at the creature she was crafting. It seemed to grow more solid as she studied it. She could push her will inside it, shape it. She shaped it like loneliness, like responsibility, like despair, like meaninglessness. She shaped it like self-awareness. And it grew larger and larger. It started to pull something from her–
A voice, a human voice, spoke to her.
“That looks sticky.”
She looked up. A little boy flickered in front of her vision, before becoming a young man. She knew his face.
Panic exploded over her. She couldn’t—
The creature leapt off her hand toward the boy, and she fled, unable to watch the result.
The two Cambions she’d made kept pace with her. “Go away,” she threw at them, and the moth was caught by the wind and carried into the sky.
The cat, though, just smiled. “Not yet.” The boy was chasing her. “He wants to take you back to where you belonged.”
“They want what can’t be. Shut up.”
“Natalie!” the voice before her called, and it hurt. She remembered he was cunning as she fell to her knees. The cat moved in front of her. It didn’t want her to escape. Her own monster, her own servant and it wouldn’t let her escape this boy who looked like her and called her name.
“Seth,” whispered the cat. And the word made her feel better. She could stand up again. They were on equal ground, and it helped, although she was dreadfully afraid.
The boy approached her, and for a moment she thought she could see behind him a long line of people, all looking at her with their hands outstretched. But she couldn’t go back.
“Hey,” said the boy. “Don’t run. I’m better at tag than seeking.” She looked at him warily, the cat pressing against the back of her legs. He went on, “We used to play in the upper floors of the Tower, do you remember?” The moth fluttered over his head, then came to her head.
She remembered, rocking back on her heels as if struck. He moved forward, catching her arm. “It’s okay,” he said soothingly. “You can come back. ”
She shook her head wildly. “I can’t. I’m— I can’t save you anymore, Seth. I can’t be what I was. I can’t be your sister anymore.”
His expression froze. Flatly, he said, “Nothing can make you not my sister.” His fingers moved on her arm, and then he pulled his hand away, leaving her to steady herself.
The moth fluttered between them. Its name was Surreptition, Natalie remembered. It kept secrets away from Hatherly. But what secrets had she ever had from Seth? She raised her hand to the moth and let it light on her fingers. Then she watched, fascinated, as it crawled back into her anima.
And it brought her everything she’d left behind, she thought. Seth, her other siblings, her parents, her teachers, their hopes and expectations. But she still wasn’t what she had been. She could never be that again.
“I’m not her,” she told Seth. “Your sister.”
He stared at her, then reached out a hand to brush his fingers across her uninjured cheek, her ear, her matted hair. Then, his hand shaking a little, he touched his own pale hair. “You are.” But his voice was cracked and broken, as if it hurt him to say that.
Something dark surged inside. “I’m a monster too now,” she insisted.
“Too?” he inquired softly. “Then why does it matter? But you’re still my sister, in the end.”
The moth in the depths of her soul have one last flutter of its wings, and the darkness crashed over her. “You don’t want me to be your sister,” she said, knowing it was true.
Seth’s entire body, already tense, coiled as if to move, and Natalie responded, not sure if she was going to run or fight or do something else. But then his hands came up to thread through his hair in a remembered gesture of deep frustration, and his eyes when they met hers were full of anguish. “I can’t do this,” he muttered. “I was the wrong person for this. I’m not who you need right now. God, I wish I was. I wish–” He cut himself off, and fumbled in his jeans. “Don’t you worry, Natalie. I’m going to get you somebody too dumb to try and argue with you.” He spoke into a little walkie-talkier. “I need—” his voice broke again. “I need Ajax.”
She wondered who that was.