Rain lightly bounces off of Nova’s shoulders, creating a misty halo. She delights in it—any sort of inclement weather drives most other sims indoors, leaving her free to jog the streets without any interruption. She doesn’t know what it is about a young woman jogging, but it drives men nuts. She usually wears headphones to drown out the hoots and whistles of drive-by harassers, but she abandons them today in favor of listening to drumming of the rain.
Life is beautiful.
So she stares in return. Purposefully messy hair, random key necklace, possibly culturally insensitive tattoo: she recognizes him, though it takes a moment. He had been watching her the other night at the bar. She shivers—the coincidence is too creepy. Nova tries not to think about it as she finishes up her training.
“There’s like a million other chairs, dude. Just be cool,” she doesn’t need to up from the magazines in front of her to know who it is. Is this guy following her?
“But none of them are at the same table as you,” the interloper smiles confidently, “so may I?” Nova rolls her eyes.
“Sure, knock yourself out,” she gestures at the chair, “Cool tat, bro-chacho.”
“Thanks,” he says as he looks absently at it, as if he forgot he even had one, “I picked it out of a magazine.”
“Doesn’t have to be meaningful. I just have to like the way it looks,” he shrugs, “so what’s your name?”
“Nova. You got a last name, Mercury?” Nova doesn’t believe for a minute that there’s anyone out there named Mercury. What a stupid name.
“So is this normally how you try to make friends? By being obnoxious?”
“Yeah. It might explain a lot about my social life,” he smiles.
Nova raises an eyebrow, “You don’t say?”
“So, Nova, what are you doing tonight?”
“Homework, probably. Because I’m still in high school, what with being a teenager and all.”
“That’s too bad. I was hoping to get to know you better.”
“I’m terribly boring. You’re not missing out.”
“I find that hard to believe,” His voice is low. Nova blushes, then shakes it off. She should know better than this.
“At least give me your phone number? I swear, I’m not a creeper.”
“That’s just what a creeper would say,” Nova points out.
“You’re interesting, okay? But I’m not interested in you that way. I don’t go for jailbait,” Mercury’s voice raises a little, but he seems more anxious than angry.
“Fine,” she pulls her cellphone out of her pocket, “give me your number first and I’ll text you if I decide I ever want to hang out with some persistently shirtless weirdo.” Mercury rattles off his number, and Nova saves it under the name Creeper.
He watches as the girl saunters away. She’s quicker than he thought, clever and self-possessed for her age. He’s feeling more confident now—she’s who he’s looking for.
“Yes way,” Nova mocks her friend’s tone.
“And he asked you out?”
“I think so. What a creeper, right?”
“You should go for it,” Mia declares, “I mean, he’s way hot.”
“And your standards are way low,” she snorts. He is indeed quite the specimen, but that doesn’t make him any less yucky in Nova’s opinion. Still, why can’t she stop thinking about him?
While Nova is deep in thought, Mia hops off the bed and bounds across the room to the dresser.
“What are you doing?”
“Finding something for you to wear. Wait, do you think he has a friend? We can make it a double date!”
“No, no, and no! I’m not going on a date with this guy.”
“At least let me play dress up? You’re the perfect doll,” Mia pouts. Nova looks skeptical, but she really can’t resist playing dress-up.
“Well, if you insist…”
“Awesome! I want to do something different with your hair, too. And your makeup…”
“Better?” Nova asks as she leans against the doorway, “I don’t know if I like this. I don’t like my hair down. It’s way too hot.”
“You look great,” Mia glances up from the phone she’s holding, “And I think Mr. Creeper would agree.”
“What do you mean? Wait, is that my phone?!”
“You’ll thank me later,” Mia smiles as she tosses Nova’s phone on the bed, “It’ll be fun!”
Nova dives onto the bed and grabs her phone. She opens the last text, sent from the Creeper: cool. pick u up @ 530. Nova groans. “Mia, I can’t believe you did this!”
“It’ll be fun,” Mia says, repeating her catchphrase with a wink.
“You look nice,” he says.
“I can’t believe you drive that thing,” she sneers, eyeing his truck, “isn’t it a gas guzzler?”
“What?” Nova looks confused before she hears her brother’s voice behind her.
“Where are you going with my sister?” Zenith is obviously trying to come across as confident, but he falls short.
“Nowhere special,” Mercury responds, “just gonna hang out and get some coffee.”
“What, can’t find a girl your own age?” Again, Zenith doesn’t sounds confident enough to make that taunt work.
“I can’t believe you’re going out with some random guy! Elysia is missing, and we don’t know who this weirdo is!”
“I can make my own choices, Zenith,” she spits, “and I’m choosing to have some fun for a while.” Who does Zenith think he is, trying to control what she does? She abandons her previous plans to tell Mercury to buzz off. That’ll show her nosy brother.
“Mom’ll be pissed.”
“So?” Nova turns her back on Zenith, “don’t wait up for me.”
Surprisingly, Mercury holds the truck door open for Nova before shutting it securely behind her. She didn’t expect such a gentlemanly gesture from him.
“So where are we going?” she asks as the car rumbles out of the driveway and down the street.
“Nowhere special,” Mercury replies vaguely, “you’ll see.”
The perfect place to dump a body, she thinks, why did I come with this guy? Idiot!
Finally, Mercury pulls up to a long, winding road and stops the car. “We’re here,” he says.
“I figured,” she peeks out the window. It looks like a military base. It’s small and—surprisingly—seems fairly lifeless. Nova always imagined the military base to be bustling, with guards manning towers. “Why’d you bring me to the military base?”
“There’s an airfield out back,” he says. Doesn’t really answer the question, but okay.
“Look casual,” he advises her. Nova’s palms begin to sweat. Stupid sweat glands.
“You know, you’re not very good at this whole going out thing,” she tries to sound coy, but she only ends up wincing at the clumsiness of her flirtations. Mercury ignores her—he seems to be surveying their surroundings.
“Listen,” he finally says, “you’re not going to like this next part. Try not to freak out.”
“What do you—“ Before she can finish the sentence, the breath is knocked out of her.
Sometimes, when Nova is falling asleep at night, she suddenly feels as if she’s been dropped off the top of a skyscraper. It always jars her awake. What happens next feels just like that, except a million times worse. Everything is a blur momentarily as the landscape shifts. Grass then ground then granite then then metal all rip through Nova’s body. The pain is immense.
“Stay calm,” he commands.
Nova tries to speak, but only a whimper escapes.
“I know it hurts. I try not to phase with other people, but I didn’t know how else to get you in here.”
“What are—are—“ Nova stammers.
Nova covers her mouth with her hands, her body shaking uncontrollably. She looks around the room through terrified eyes. So this is where she’s going to die.
“You’re going to—going to—“
“Stop it,” Mercury tries to grab her shoulders, but Nova twists away and bursts out of the room. She’s faced with a long, white hallway.
She’s dead. She’s already dead, and this is the afterlife. She’s sure of it. So she runs, but panic soon descends upon her, bringing hyperventilation with it.
“Water sprite,” the purple-haired creature speaks, her voice like chimes, “water sprite, I command you!”
“Bell, you fool, she’s just a human,” the green-haired one remarks, “she doesn’t have any magic.” Bell squints at Nova.
“Tricky blue human,” Bell says, “why are you pretending to be a water sprite?”
“I don’t know what you mean,” Nova replies. The afterlife is a confusing place.
“Human, do you think you can release us? We will be in your debt,” Bell’s tone is a little too sweet. The green-haired fairy snickers.
“Yeah, I think I can,” Nova doesn’t mean to say those words, nor does she mean to move her body towards a nearby control panel, but she can’t seem to stop herself. She punches number into the panel quicker than she can even interpret them. A loud buzz rings through halls, followed by a unison of clicks.
Bell smirks, “Thank you, little human.” She hurls the ball of light at the window of her cell, shattering the glass. The two fairies shoot out like fireworks. Nova leaps back and presses herself against the wall, giving them as much room as possible.
“Come little human,” the fairy beckons to her, “join us in our revenge. This is our thanks.”
“No—no thank you,” Nova stutters.
“Too bad,” the fairy deflates a little, “oh well, you will be blessed with a choir comprised by the screams of our enemies. Onward, Brynn!”
“Nova, take cover!” Mercury’s shouts at her. The man in black, his hateful eyes hidden by dark glasses, levels a gun at Mercury.
“Freeze,” he orders, “or I’ll blow your fucking brains out, freak.” He doesn’t seem to be aware of the uselessness of that threat.
Before the man can shoot, the fairies let out inhuman, bloodcurdling screams. Nova shivers. Someone just walked over my grave; she recalls a strange saying she heard once. The man in black changes his target to the fairies and steadies his gun with both hands.
“Halt,” there’s obvious fear in his voice, “back in your goddamn cells!”
“Do not worry,” a deep, smooth voice says from behind Nova, “I will ensure that they kill no innocents. I judge you to be safe.”
“You can uncover your ears, girl,” the voice orders, “Bell and Brynn have absconded with the remains of that sadist.” Nova looks over her shoulder to where the brief brawl took place. Brynn and Bell have indeed vanished, leaving only a smear of blood and flesh on the floor. Distant screams indicate that Brynn and Bell have found some new victims.
“What you seek is close,” he smirks at Mercury, his face twisting into an even more gruesome sight, “you are almost at the end. But remember that no good deed goes unpunished.”
“That’s not very reassuring,” Nova snaps, “where are we? And why did you bring me here?”
“Safety first,” Mercury replies, “then explanations. Somehow you opened all the cells in the compound. We have to keep moving. There might be something worse than those fairies.”
As if on cue, they hear shouting.
“You can’t abandon your pack,” a deep woman’s voice booms.
“Irina, let me go!”
“No,” Irina bellows, “the penalty for desertion is death.”
“Release her, Irina,” a third woman’s voice commands, “we need all the bodies we can get. We can enforce compliance, but only if she’s alive.”
“Up yours, you bloodsucking bitch! This is between the two of us.”
“Dr. Covington?!” Nova recognizes the smaller woman as Mia’s mother. She covers her mouth a moment too late, and Mercury shoots her a dirty look. This is why he usually works alone.
The redhead snarls and zeroes in Nova, “Oh, look—a snack!”
“She’s at my house, with my mom and my brother.”
“Huh,” Mercury remarks as he watches January, “never seen that before.”
“But you’ve seen fairies before?” Nova isn’t having a hard time wrapping her mind around the possibility of fairies and werewolves—she herself is descended from extraterrestrials, after all—but his nonchalance in the face of death is a little unnerving.
“Just once before,” he replies, “c’mon, there’s another split in the hallway here.” She notices that he places his hand on the wall as he says that, as if he’s feeling for something.
“Keep moving,” the woman’s voice is steely. Mercury grabs Nova’s wrist and pulls her, motivated by the unspoken threat tacked on to the end of that sentence. As soon as they pass the woman and come to the end of the hallway, Nova digs her heels into the floor. Mercury snaps around and tugs at her wrist with anger in his eyes, but she stands firm. She’s much stronger than she looks.
“This isn’t the time for that,” his voice is harsh.
“You need to tell me why we’re here--what are you planning?”
“I’m not planning anything! I just have to pay back my debt,” he’s practically begging at this point, “Please, we’re almost there. I can feel it.”
“And what am I, currency? Tell me what's going on, now!”
But things seem to have calmed down. Safe escape seems possible. She crouches down and pushes open the door. As she peaks around the corner, she can’t believe her eyes.
“Nova,” she leaps up and runs to her little sister, overjoyed.
“Wait, what are you doing here?”
“Oh,” Nova punctuates the pause with a laugh, “this guy asked me out and so I went on what I thought was a date with him but it turns out he’s some weirdo who can walk through walls and stuff and then I saw some fairies who I think tricked me into opening all the cell doors and Mercury,” she gestures to the aforementioned weirdo, “kept making me walk further and further into this strange, limbo-esque labyrinth and, well, here we are.”
“So…how have you been?” Nova finally breaks the silence.
“Nova, there’s something you need to know,” but Elysia trails off, her eyes wandering to Mercury.
“I brought the girl, just like you wanted. My debt’s repaid,” Mercury feels a weight lifted off his shoulders. He may not consider himself a good man, but he had to repay him: for his life and his freedom, he found his target.
He isn’t met with praise and thanks, as he expects. Instead, his debtor is shocked.
“You did what?!”
Nova instinctively turns to the voice; she could swear she hears Zenith, but deeper, older. Her jaw drops.
Gray eyes meet.