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.
Nova jogs all the way to the gym with plans to work herself to the bone. Her coach had recommended that she begin to weight train, so Nova begins with the lightest setting on one of the gym’s weight-lifting machines. The machine screeches a little with each rep, producing a steady beat. She finds it soothing.
But Nova’s precious solitude is short-lived. A young, shirtless man wanders in, his footsteps throwing off her beat. She narrows her eyes at the interloper, willing him to turn around and find another spot of the gym—this is her turf. But he settles on a nearby punching bag and begins half-heartedly punching; Nova swears that he’s staring at her out of the corner of his eye.
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.
After her workout, Nova gets a protein shake from the nearby smoothie bar and sits down with a selection of magazines. She sighs a little as she scans the covers: beautiful, normal-looking people stare back at her. Nova isn’t the type of person to second guess herself, but there’s nothing like fashion magazines to really make a girl’s self-esteem plummet.
“Can I sit here?”
“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.”
“How meaningful,” Nova is unsure of what is compelling her to be so rude to this guy.
“Doesn’t have to be meaningful. I just have to like the way it looks,” he shrugs, “so what’s your name?”
“I asked first,” he says. When Nova stares at him blankly, he laughs. “I’m Mercury.”
“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.
“I better get home,” she rises from her chair, but Mercury jumps up as if to stop her.
“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.
“That guy from the bar?!” Mia practically screeches, “No way!” After their night out, Mia opted to sleep over for a few nights. She’s decided that since she hasn’t been able to get in touch with her mom, she has free reign to go and stay wherever she wants. Polaris is fine with the arrangement—she likes it when the house is overflowing with children.
“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…”
Several hours later, Mia has finished with Nova’s hair and makeup, and she’s chosen what she thinks is the perfect outfit. She sends Nova into the bathroom with a pile of clothes to put on. A few moments later, Nova emerges from the bathroom, her transformation complete.
“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?”
“It was all I could find at the time,” he shrugs, “hey, man. ‘Sup?”
“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.
“Stop,” Nova whips around and hisses at him, “this is none of your business!”
“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.”
Mercury drives past the center of town, where all the cafes are located. He continues through the suburbs, towards the mountains. As they get further and further from her home, Nova becomes more and more worried. As far as she can recall, there’s nothing out here except trees and hills.
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.
Mercury opens the door for her again, ever the gentleman, and then leads her across the front walk and towards the back of the base. As they walk, he grabs her hand, intertwining his fingers with hers.
“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.
And then she finds herself crumpled on the floor of a cavernous, bright room. Mercury kneels in front of her.
“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.
“I told you to fucking stay calm,” Mercury snaps. Nova notices his body flicker, and the air crackles around him.
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.
So then she walks, hoping to reach the end. The hallway twists; she follows it. Her periphery vision is closing in, her knees feel like they are going to buckle. She’s so unfocused she shrieks when she hears a tittering voice call to her.
Thick glass windows line the wall to her left. Behind the glass stands two figures in prison uniforms, their presences amplified by sparkling wings and an aura of glitter. Their eyes are inky, glassy, reminiscent of insects’.
“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.
“Humans aren’t blue, nor do they have pointy ears. Sprites do. Tricky, tricky, tricky,” Bell smiles, “but I have tricks, too.” Bell waves her hands together and a ball of light begins to form. Nova stares at it, entranced.
“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.
The green-haired fairy looks around, searching for an obvious exit, but Bell stops and hovers in front of poor, terrified Nova.
“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!”
But Brynn is already flying down the hall, heedless of Bell’s words. She almost collides with Mercury, who rounds the corner at the same moment. His body instinctively goes intangible, allowing Nova to see a man in black pursuing him.
“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!”
Bell waves her hand just as the man fires six shots in quick succession. The bullets disappear as the leave the barrel, never reaching the fairies.
Mercury, meanwhile, kneels in front of Nova, his body solid again. “Don’t look,” he warns her. She obediently averts her eyes right as Bell and Brynn descend on the man. He screams, but those shrieks are soon replaced by blood-filled gurgles. Nova thinks she can hear him trying to say help before she plugs her ears with her fingers. Despite her attempts to deafen herself, she can make out sickening snapping and ripping--the fairies are literally tearing him limb from limb.
“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.”
“Uh, thanks, man,” Mercury looks unsettled.
“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.
When Nova looks back to the man, she yelps. A misshapen face stares back at her. She covers her mouth in an effort to conceal her fright, but he’s unsurprised and unimpressed.
“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.”
Mercury nods and grabs Nova by the arm, pulling her up. “Stick close,” he says, “I’ll do my best to keep you safe.” He grabs her hand and yanks her forward, forcing her to sprint to keep up with him.
“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.”
As they turn the corner, they spot a statuesque redhead shoving a much smaller woman against the wall.
“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!”
January, seeing her opportunity, roars. Fur begins to rapidly cover her, and her mouth morphs into a gaping maw. The transformation is lighting quick and looks incredibly painful.
Before the redhead can look back, January pounces on her, pushing her down and sliding her across the floor. Her newly formed claws encircle the redhead’s neck, the points digging into her flesh. January shakes the woman’s neck, bouncing her head off the metal floor a couple of times. Only when the redhead goes limp does January stop. She looks over her shoulder at the two humanoid sims, drool dripping from her mouth.
Moving preternaturally fast, January leaps over to Nova. “Mia,” she growls, her voice at least an octave deeper, “Where’s Mia?”
“She’s at my house, with my mom and my brother.”
January snarls and bounds off, running on all fours. She may not be the best mother, but instinct kicks in—she must preserve her young.
“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.
Nova tries not to look as they pass the limp form of the redhead; Mercury, on the other hand, surreptitiously glances over, locking eyes with a woman, the third voice. I see you, he wills his thoughts to the woman. Prey never looks its predator in the eyes, but he’s no chump.
“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.
“Hold on,” she puts her hands up, “I’m not going a step further until you explain what the hell is going on.”
“This isn’t the time for that, girlie,” 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!”
When her cell door had unlocked, Elysia was unsure of what to do. Screams echoed through the halls, and she could feel terror, anger, joy, vengeance. She didn’t want to walk into that mess.
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.
“Elysia,” Nova is equally elated. Elysia wraps her arms around her, hugging her tightly.
“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.”
The girls stare awkwardly at each other, letting the situation sink in.
“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.
Mercury, unimpeded by the girls’ reunion, continues down the hall, peeking into each cell. He smiles when he comes to the last one and opens the cell door, beckoning to its cautious inhabitant.
“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.