Artemis had always been that kind of person that could go unnoticed through the streets of downtown New York. If you saw her, you may think of her as a normal person and she was, in fact, just that at first glance. But maybe, if you gave her a second thought, you would notice something odd about her. The way she carried herself was more mature than any of the many people around her. The path she wove through the crowded streets was that of one she had walked a million times over. Maybe you would have even noticed the slight scar under her eye had she gotten close enough to you. But you could never give that second thought because as soon as you saw her, you forgot about her.
That’s how she was. She was invisible to the people around her, walking in broad daylight yet being ignored as if she was a ghost. She preferred it this way, honestly. After all these years, she had gotten used to it.
But today wasn’t a day to dwell on the past or the future, but rather the present. She carried a white plastic bag as she boarded the subway, resting it on the ground between her feet to keep it from moving as the sub car started. If you had noticed anything about her, you would have noticed the look on her face. It was far off, a distant smile lingering on her lips but it was far from present. You might have even said a small ‘hi’ or at least nodded to her as you ducked out her way. But you would have to notice her in the first place.
She wouldn’t have noticed you either, in her own world as she drummed her fingers on her leg. She normally wasn’t impatient but today was different—today she had limited time to get back home.
The subway car stopped and she got off, disappearing into the crowded streets as people made their own way home. She arrived at her doorstep and turned the handle without thinking. She stepped into the foyer, immediately emerged in the smell of old books. Taking a deep breath, she tossed her jacket onto a chair and made her way to the back of the house to the kitchen where her friend stood by the stove, whistling an old tune.
“Smells good.” She dropped the bag onto the counter and sat down at the table.
She supported her chin in her hands and watched him cook. She had known him forever and yet today was the last day she would get to talk to him as a friend. After today he would be nothing more than a stranger to her, walking by and forgetting her.
She sighed and closed her eyes. This was the time she would be able to enjoy this. And even then, in the moment, she knew she would miss it.
“Are you okay?” he turned, running a hand through his wavy black hair. It brushed against the top of his ears and was in need of a trimming yet he always got it cut to the same length. He called it stylistic choice.
She smiled. “Yeah, Tay, I am.”
He stopped what he was doing and slid the pot off the boiler before sitting down across from her. “It’s okay, you know that, right?”
She forced a smile, one she knew he could see straight through. After all these years, there was barely a lie that could get past him. “Yeah, of course.”
She let her hands drop and stood up, picking up the job that he had neglected. With a sigh, she ran a hand through her tangled brown hair. “I got your favorite ice cream. You should probably put that in the freezer before it melts.”
He obeyed, squeezing around her to get to the refrigerator. “I feel bad.”
Artemis stopped stirring. She knew what was about to follow. After all it was Tay. 400 years of knowing him and he hadn’t changed at all.
“Why?” she knew why but she knew he needed to say it—to get it out of his system.
“Is it okay for me to leave now? After all this time?” his dark brown eyes met hers and for a split second, she was tempted to tell him he couldn’t go. He was one of the last things she had managed to hold onto after all this time. But she knew she couldn’t do that. His sentence was over and it was wrong to hold him back.
“It’s time for you to go,” she answered. “After all this, you need to live.”
He blinked. She could see it in his eyes. He was torn. Torn between living the life he had dreamed of or staying there, in that place that time had forgotten, for heaven knew how long.
“Just go, okay?” her voice cracked and she swallowed. “Forget about me, this place-“ she waved her hand around. “-and just go.”
“How can I?” he totally forgot about the pint of ice cream he was holding in his hand as he continued. “How can I just walk away and forget about it all, huh? How does that work?”
She bit the tip of her tongue to keep her from lashing out at him. “Just… take this chance to get out of here, Taylor.”
He set his jaw. “It’s Tay.”
“Not when I’m mad at you!” she yelled. She slammed her fist against the table to calm herself down. The pain brought her back to her senses and she took a deep breath.
“Listen, this is your last day here so let’s pretend that it’s not, okay? Let’s just live as if it’s another day. Another normal day. Please?”
His eyes searched hers, trying to find some part of her that might ask him to stay. Even if there was something inside her that wanted that, she would never tell him. He had an opportunity she had wanted for so long.
“I’m sorry,” he muttered, stuffing the ice cream between the frozen peas and a loaf of bread. “I really am.”
“Don’t be,” she ordered, her voice strained. “Just…”
She trailed off. She didn’t want to finish that sentence. Just what? Just forget her like everyone else? How long till she was all alone in the world?
He sighed and she looked at him, finishing her sentence. “Just… promise me that you’ll live a good life. Please.”
He smiled slightly. “You should come visit once in a while.”
She also smiled. It was sad and painful but it was what she was feeling. “You know that’s not how it works.”
He nodded, looking away. “But maybe it will this time.”
She laughed. The sound carried throughout the empty house, echoing to ever corner of the rooms, into the attic and back down to where they stood. That’s what she hated the most about this old house. It carried you secrets everywhere.
“It won’t, Tay.”
The corner of his mouth flinched into a smile. “I know. But I can still hope.”
Something stirred in her stomach as he turned back to the food. It was sadness, an emotion she had stopped herself from feeling a long time ago. It was useless getting sad over someone who wouldn’t remember her the moment he stepped out onto the street.
He wouldn’t be coming back—ever.
Let me know what you think!!
Artemis lay on her bed, her arms spread eagle as her mind wandered. Once Tay left, it would just be her. She could leave too. She could go with him but at the same time, she couldn’t. Her sentence was over but yet she hadn’t forgiven herself—she couldn’t let herself off the hook so easily.
She did this every time another one left. It made her doubt her decision to stay as she watched them walk away.
With a sigh, she stood up and walked to the window where she brushed the lace curtains aside. Peering out the glass panes, she watched the cars and buses below her as they made their way down the road and towards the outskirt of the city. The moon was at its zenith and illuminated the water below the Broad Bridge.
The window made a screeching sound as she pushed it open and let the night air wash over her tired body. She took a deep breath and relaxed against the window sill. The sound of traffic and scattered bits of people’s conversations drifted up to her but she ignored them, focusing only on the night sky.
The stars shown so brightly, appearing ever so close but in reality, they were so far away, so far out of reach and yet they continued to shine. She closed her eyes. Orion was 2,000 light-years away and yet it still shone 375,000 times brighter than the sun. She could see the constellation in the sky, watching the stars twinkle.
The air danced around her and through her hair, tangling it slightly. She knew she would have to pull a comb through it before she went to bed or else it would become a mess of knots by morning. She reluctantly pulled the window shut and let the lace curtains cover it.
She wished she could be like Orion—lost in space but still shining as bright as it always had. The star had never lost its gleam but had consistently shown through the late winter sky.
Her silk robe danced about her ankles as she jogged down the stairs. Tay sat at the kitchen table, coffee mug between his hands. He was staring off into space as she sat down across from him and waved a hand to get his attention.
“Oh,” he said, snapping too. “I thought you had gone to be already.”
She shook her head. “Too early. And besides, it’s your last night here.”
Forcing a smile, he rotated his mug, making the liquid splash against the sides in a hypnotic pattern. He was doing it absentmindedly, a habit he had developed many years ago and continued to do whenever he had something weighing on his mind.
“What’s bothering you?” she propped her chin on her hands.
He looked up from his drink. “Should I do this? Should I leave?”
She was quiet. She could tell him not to go. She could tell him to stay with her, to remain where he always had as time went by around them. What would a hundred more years do to an immortal soul?
Frowning, she tried to find an answer. It would be wrong to make him stay—she had already come to that conclusion. But now she realized it would be wrong of her to affect his decisions. It was his to make and her say should have no impact on it.
“Do what you want to do,” she answered, sliding down in her chair. “You’ve done your part. You’re free to leave. Whether you want to or not, I don’t care. Go or stay. It’s up to you.”
Her words were cold and detached and they burned her mouth as she said them. She almost regretted them as they hung in the air. She tried not to let her mind linger on the fact that the things she had just said where a lie but she couldn’t focus on anything else. If she focused on Tay, she would be reminded that he was leaving. If she focused on her, she would realize how long she had been in that house and how long she would continue to be there.
The thought of being alone once again scared her. The last time the last one had left, she had almost killed herself. And now, Tay was leaving and the cycle would start over. She’d be alone for several months and then the Masters would send another clan to monitor the city until their time was up.
With a sigh, she pushed back from the table and stood.
“Just make sure you have your mind made up by tomorrow morning,” she told him. “Seneca will lead you back to the Library.”
He nodded. “Good night, Artemis.”
“Good night, Tay,” she returned.
The stairs creaked and groaned as she made her way towards her bedroom. They seemed to be crying out in the pain she couldn’t express, speaking with words she couldn’t understand.
Her door shut behind her with a gentle thud, leaving her to stand in the middle of her room, alone. It was suddenly suffocating but she couldn’t make herself move to open the window. It felt as if the walls were getting too close, trapping her there. But in reality, they weren’t moving.
Taking a deep breath, she sat on her bed and pulled her legs underneath her. As she surveyed the room, she tried to convince herself that she’d be okay if Tay left.
It would be fine.
It had to be.
She let out the breath she had been holding, hating how her brain worked. Tay had been around for 400 years—she couldn’t imagine her life without him. So many times they had sat in that kitchen, sharing a meal. So many times they had lounged in the living room, enjoying some sort of entertainment. And so many times, they had sat in silence in the libraries as they read of the past histories of the city. They would be reminded of the days they’d forgotten as they read the journals written by their own hands. They would be reminded of all the things the two had gone through together.
She flopped down on her back and stared at the ceiling, willing to tears to disappear. There would be no more happy days with Tay. There would be no more opportunities for her to share a meal with him or sit around and do nothing.
“Stop,” she commanded. “It’s not like he’s dying.”
Frowning, she once more let her brain wander, a habit that was in desperate need of breaking.
He wasn’t dying but yet, somehow to her, it felt like he was. His memory wouldn’t die. That would be preserved in the Great Libraries system forever but his memory of her would be completely gone. As would his memory of the past 400 years. He would live the life of a normal human being, something he had been denied while he did his sentence.
She closed her eyes as the tears welled up. She knew it would be easier for them to escape that way but she didn’t want to stare at the artifacts around her room—another reminder that everything was changing and she wasn’t.
A day would come when she did. She knew it would. It just wasn’t today.
Artemis let the globe spin, letting it barely brush against her fingertips as she watched the front door. Tay had walked out of it a moment earlier, looking back briefly to give her a small smile. For the first time in a long time, she wished she was more of a hugger so she could have at least told him she would miss him.
With a sigh, she stopped the globe and walked to the bookcases where Seneca stood, his whitewashed hair falling in his eyes. He pushed it back with his fingers and then trailed the tip of his finger along the spines of the books before him.
“Are all of these Tay’s?” he asked, looking up at her. “This is the most I’ve ever seen.”
A sad smile played across her lips. “Yeah, those are his.”
She thought of her own collection, each written with her own pen yet each one told of a different year. The shelves that lined the walls to the living room where all Tay’s and the ones in the study were hers.
“A crew will be here in a few minutes to take the ones we need,” he sighed. “The others, you can keep if you want to.”
She nodded, not speaking.
Her mind was still lingering on the sight of Tay as he stood in the doorway, sun shining against his silhouette. She could see the side of his face as he looked back and the single tear that had slipped free.
It felt so wrong to say goodbye to yet another person—another person she would never forget. She remembered every one of them that had left and whether they had looked back or not. Some couldn’t wait to leave, determined that they didn’t need to be disciplined for their actions and somewhere more hesitant to step out. They knew what they were paying for and had to take the last step of forgiving themselves.
She would only allow herself a few seconds to remember before she snapped back to reality just as Seneca crossed the room.
“Hey, are you okay?” Concern flooded his voice.
“I’m fine,” she snapped, her voice cold as ever.
Seneca was like her, paying for a sin he committed so long ago. She remembered the first time she had met him. Candlelight had cast shadows around the room, masking his sharp features and bright eyes. The first time she had gotten a good look at him, blood was splattered on his face and had dried in streaks where he had tried to wipe it away.
For a split second, she felt the cold hilt of his sword to her neck on the night they had met. She could feel his warm body pressing against her back as he held her captive, threatening to kill her.
She absentmindedly smiled at the thought.
“What are you smiling about?” he asked, leafing through the journal to her right.
“You’re smiling like something’s funny,” he shut the book with a loud snap. “But I see nothing funny about this situation.”
“Is it sad then?” she challenged.
His eyes met hers and for a moment of silence, they held eye contact. His green eyes sparkled with mischief as a grin slowly formed on his face.
Seneca had always been with her, serving his sentence right next to her. For over 900 years, she had watched him change, reforming from his original actions. He rarely ever brought up the reason the two were stuck together and often changed the subject whenever she brought it up.
But right then, that didn’t bother her. What bothered her was the fact that one day she would have to watch him walk away too. Would he look back? Would he regret it for a moment?
She turned, brushing her long black hair over her shoulders, and headed for the stairs just as the doorbell rang.
“You and the crew do your things,” she started as she walked up the stairs. “I’ll be in the study.”
“What are you going to do after?” he asked.
She paused and looked down at him from the second-floor landing as she chewed on her lip. The crystal chandelier hung a few feet away and she debated reaching out and sweeping the few cobwebs off it. Deciding against it, she answered him. “I have to pay a visit to the dead.”
He raised an eyebrow, setting his jaw as the door swung open. “Don’t stay out too long.”
“Okay, fine, Mom,” she rolled her eyes. “I’ll do what I want, thank you.”
The door slammed behind her and she was left by herself. Her thoughts filled her head as she leaned against the wall, trying to steady herself. The room was freezing cold but burning hot at the same time. The light filtered through the lace curtains creating interesting shadows on the wood floor.
She slid down the wall and let her head fall onto her knees as the tears pooled in the corner of her eyes. With a sigh, she wiped her face and looked up at the many paintings that surrounded her.
Each had an interesting splash of coloring, each drawing attention to scenes that they had captured. One was a silent forest, basking in the warmth of the afternoon sun. Another was a village burning as its flames reached up to the night sky, screaming to be saved.
She hated it. She hated the thoughts that seemed to dance through the flames in her mind, reminding her of the sins she had committed so long ago. Wherever she went, the fire seemed to follow. It haunted her in her dreams; it stalked her while she was awake. The memories—they hurt.
Standing, she patted at the wrinkles on her shirt and walked across the floor to the window. Her footsteps were the only thing that sounded in the empty room. The sun was blinding as she leaned against the windowsill and watched the crew belong load up the many books.
They were ancient manuscripts—not as old as hers, but they were still old. Many were falling apart at the binding but not a page was missing. They were special books—they may deteriorate and eventually totally disappear from existence but until the contents they held were recorded, not a page would crumple.
Was she like those books? Was she falling apart from the inside, unable to actually die until everything she held prisoner inside was finally released? She hoped—prayed—that it wouldn’t be the case.
The sound of the car doors shutting snapped her back to reality. She looked down, catching Seneca’s eye as he turned to look back at the house. He gave her a nod, signaling that he would be leaving before climbing in. The car revved up and disappeared down the road.
With a sigh, she shut the window and stepped back. She was glad the books were gone. The longer they stayed, the more painful it would be to look at them. As it was, it was a painful reminder that Tay wouldn’t be coming back.
She turned and headed for her closet, searching for an appropriate dress to wear on her visit. Nothing too bright. As it was, the sun was quickly retreating behind storm clouds, darkening her mood. She pulled out a black lace dress and studied it. It had a basic black fabric under-dress with a lace covering and lace sleeves that went all the way down to her wrists. She turned it around, examining it before deciding to wear it.
Just as she laid it down on her bed, the doorbell sounded through the house. She froze. No one had used the bell in years. Those who knew the house was here came in without knocking. She leaned her head to the side, trying to hear for any noise.
The doorbell rang again so she quickly but carefully made her way for the front door. Her hand wrapped around the golden doorknob but she hesitated for a moment. Who would it be? What would they want? Would they know her? Was it just Seneca?
No, it wasn’t Seneca. He would have walked in, ignoring the need to knock. It had to be someone from outside that hadn’t stumbled upon the house before.
She looked around, searching for something to use as a weapon if needed and snatched the ancient letter opener from off the entryway table and held it behind her back as she opened the door.
Before her stood someone she had never seen before. His dark curly brown hair was frizzy from the sudden rainfall as he pressed himself against the doorway, trying to avoid the water as it dripped off the eaves. He clutched the flowers he held close to his chest, protecting them from the relentless wind.
“Can I help you?” she asked slowly.
He seemed so familiar yet she couldn’t place her finger on where she had seen him. Had she ever seen him? Just a second ago, he had looked just like any other person on the road but now, as he smiled, she was sure she had seen him somewhere.
“Um,” his smile widened, dimples appearing. “Is it okay if I step in for a moment?”
She narrowed her eyes. “Why?”
He bounced from foot to foot. “Well, see, um…I’m kind of in need of saving.”
922 Years Earlier
Artemis had always been told that the world would end in silence—not a bang. It would die with a whimper but as she watched her world burn, she realized how wrong they had been. Fire raged through the streets, the flames reflecting off the blade of her sword. The blood on her face was starting to dry in streaks as the cold night wind whipped through her hair and through the robes that covered her.
The screams that sounded through the air were deafening as people fled, each meeting their demise at the gates of the city. The sound of blades cutting through flesh made her flinch. After all of this, she wondered if she would ever be able to look at a blade again.
A woman rushed at her, panic blinding her as she shoved past to get to the gate. Artemis yanked her back by her arm and pushed her to the ground, holding the tip of the sword to the woman’s neck.
“Artemis,” the woman breathed.
She and her husband owned the town stables where Artemis boarded her horse. She was such a kind lady, a bit of a busybody but in such a boring town, who wasn’t?
“What are you doing?” Elise asked, pushing the sword away. “We need to leave.”
Artemis gritted her teeth and pressed the edge of the blade into the flesh below the woman’s chin, drawing blood. It shimmered in the moonlight, so bright in the dark night.
No survivors. It had been a simple command, something she had thought she wouldn’t have problems with doing but now, she hesitated. These people were her friends, her family. She had known these people her whole life.
But which was more important to her? Her freedom or a handful of people that had always shunned her anyways. They ignored her unless her father was around. Her father demanded attention—his rank was high enough to make people cower in fear if he looked at them out of the corner of his eye. And yet, no one gave her any respect.
Her father. He would be the last person she killed. After everything he had done, it was fitting for him to die by her hand.
The doubt was gone from her mind as she let Elise stand up. The woman reached for Artemis’s hand to drag her after her but Artemis stopped her.
“Where’s your husband?” she questioned, face blank.
“I don’t know,” she answered, hurriedly. “Is that important right now? We need to leave!”
With one clean motion, Artemis pierced the sword through the woman’s gut and let go of her forearm as she crumpled to the ground. Blood puddle around her, staining her already-dirty clothes. Her eyes were wide as tears of pain formed. She couldn’t form words as the breath left her lungs for the last time.
“Oh, don’t worry,” Artemis crouched down and pulled the woman up so she was inches from her face. “I’ll put a dozen of your favorite flowers on your grave.”
She released her and Elise fell against the ground, dead. Artemis watched the body for a moment, studying the eyes. They were unfocused, staring off into the night sky.
“At least you have a good view of the stars,” she muttered as she headed for the town council building. The guards at the door saluted her as she pushed past and into the meeting room.
Her father stood up, eyes going to her bloodied sword. “What’s going on?”
She smiled, the fatigue catching up to her. “Don’t worry, Father. I have it all under control.”
He sighed in relief and sat back down on his cushion, tucking his legs under him. That’s the kind of town ruler he was—he would sit by as his people died and his village burned. He wouldn’t raise a finger to stop it.
She stepped forward. It was a small step but it brought her closer to her father.
“Father,” she started. “A band of renegades is making their way here. We need to leave.”
His head jerked up. “Renegades?”
She nodded. “Yes, sir.”
He looked around the room, thinking. “I’m going to wait for my escort. They’ll keep us safe as we head for the capital.”
Biting her tongue, she stopped herself from protesting. He wouldn’t take her. She knew that. He didn’t want to take her to the capitol. If he did, the King would see what a disappointment she was.
“Father, it’s not safe to wait,” she argued. “I can protect you. We need to go now.”
He stood. “We wait!”
“No!” she shouted. Her voice calmed a little but her heart continued to race. “Father, trust me. Just this once, please.”
He searched her face. “Artemis—.”
The rest of his sentence lingered on the edge of his lips, unsaid.
He nodded. “Let’s go. The escort can catch up.”
Her heart rate spiked as he walked from his cushion to her. He stopped before her, eyes searching hers.
“But if I die,” he started, voice low. It was barely a whisper and gravely, reminder of how terrible he could be. “I blame you.”
He stepped around her and walked to the shoji doors. He parted them slightly and peered out, watching the world as it burned outside. People ran about, frantic as they were cut down, one by one.
“Can we make it?” he turned, coming face to face with Artemis as she held her sword at arm’s length, level with his face. “Daughter—.”
“What?” she snapped, a smirk appearing on her face. “What are you going to do? The same thing you did to my mother?”
He couldn’t find the words to say as she stepped closer, bringing the sword closer to him. Stumbling back, he was stopped by the paper-windowed doors.
“Your reign ends here,” she growled.
In one movement, she lowered the blade and stabbed it into his gut. He let out a gasp as his legs gave way beneath him and he fell to his knees. She kneeled down before him and yanked her sword back. He would bleed out faster without the blade blocking the blood flow.
“What are you now?” she muttered, lifting his chin to meet her eyes. “Nothing. You. Are. Nothing.”
He gasped for air, clutching at his gut as she stepped back.
She opened the doors behind him and kicked him in the chest, making him fall backward onto the porch. Stepping over him, she stepped off and into the dirt, turning back to smirk at him one last time before disappearing into the night.
As she made her way to the outskirts of the village, many people begged for her help but her answer was to push them away. So many times they had pushed her away when she needed their help and now, she could return the favor.
It was strange. As she stepped through the gate and into the woods outside of the village, it felt as if she was coming home. She looked over her shoulder at the fire behind her. Her past would be gone, reduced to nothing but ashes.
The boy before her smiled as she stepped to the side and let him in. Something about him made her trust him. She shut the door behind him and leaned back on her heels. Folding her arms over her chest, she studied him. He wore black jeans and a white t-shirt with a worn yellow and red logo on in.
He ran his hands through his hair, making it frizzier than it had already been. As he peered at this reflection in the hallway mirror, he gave her a small nod.
“Thank you,” he spoke.
She frowned. “It wasn’t raining that hard.”
He turned. “You’re right, it wasn’t. But I wasn’t running from the rain.”
“What were you running from then?” she raised an eyebrow.
Who exactly was this guy? She knew him from somewhere but she couldn’t place where and it was annoying her.
“Well, see,” he sighed. “I bought these flowers at the stand down the road but they were the last red and white roses the woman had. The dude behind me wanted them but I told him they were for someone important and refused to give them to him.”
“If you got there first, they’re yours,” she said.
He shook the flowers at her. “Exactly! But anyways, he was really mad, saying he needed them for his girlfriend or whatnot and was following me. And, well, I’m not the kind of person that can get involved in a public argument.”
He wiped at the water on his shirt, trying to straighten out the wrinkles that were already appearing. “So, sorry for barging in like this but I needed to get out of the situation as quickly as possible.”
She nodded towards the flowers. “Are those for your girlfriend?”
“Look,” he looked at her. His eyes were a shade brown darker than they had been a moment ago. “Just because it’s Valentine’s Day and I bought flowers doesn’t mean I have a girlfriend.”
“Why wouldn’t you have one?” she questioned. He looked to be around seventeen or eighteen, old enough to have a girlfriend. He was certainly cute enough to get attention from any girl.
“Because,” he sulked. “I just don’t.”
She turned and looked out the living room window. The boy followed, leaning over to see over her shoulder.
“Is he gone yet?” she asked.
He shrugged. “I don’t know. He’s probably confused as to how I disappeared so fast.”
She leaned her head to the side. “How did you see this house? There are houses on either side of it, why didn’t you knock on their doors.”
He looked at her, confused. “I… I don’t know. It’s just the one I picked.”
She shook her head, muttering. “It shouldn’t be like that.”
“What?” he asked. “What did you say?”
“Nothing,” she excused it. “What’s your name?”
“Hayden Hills,” he extended his hand. “Yours?”
“Artemis,” she answered. It was okay to tell him. He would forget as soon as he left.
“No last name?” he questioned with a hint of a smile in his voice.
She shook her head. “That’s not important.”
Hayden Hills. Even the name was familiar, rolling off her lips smoothly. She had heard it before but where?
She took a breath. “I feel like I’ve seen you somewhere.”
He nodded. “You probably have.”
“Where?” she asked. It was like an annoying itch that she couldn’t seem to reach. It was irritating her more and more with every passing second.
He shrugged with a mischievous smile. “I don’t know.”
Glaring at him, she nodded towards the door. “I’m sure he’s gone by now.”
“And if he’s not?” he challenged jokingly.
“Then knock on someone else’s door,” she snapped. “I have things I need to get done.”
The smile disappeared from Hayden’s face as he realized she was annoyed. He sighed and ran his hand through his hair once more before opening the door.
“Thank you,” he nodded, pulling the door shut behind him.
She stopped him by opening the door. “Of course. Have a good day.”
He jogged down the few front steps and onto the sidewalk. He didn’t look back but continued on down the sidewalk, swinging the flowers by his side. She watched him go for a moment as a saddening feeling sunk in her stomach.
He wouldn’t remember her or anything that had happened—just another person that she would meet but continue to walk past.
With a sigh, she headed back up to her bedroom where she changed into the black dress she had picked out earlier. The heels of her shoes clicked on the wooden stairs as she headed out the door.
Once on the street, she quickly bought a dozen of roses and headed down the sidewalk in the same was as Hayden. She wondered if she would see him as she crossed the street.
The soft green grass caught on her heels, pulling her down into the ground so she stopped and slipped them off. Continuing barefoot, she walked up the hill, winding her way through the maze of grave stones and monuments.
She stopped, reaching the one she had been looking for. She had come many times and knew where it was yet she liked to take the long way to reach it. She knew many of the names engraved on the headers. Every one brought a face to mind of when she had seen them. None of them remembered her of course but she couldn’t seem to forget them.
The stone she stood before was obviously old as moss climbed the sides of it and filled the edges of the engraving. She picked it from the cracks and leaned back on her heels.
The name on the stone was Mark Acker, a descendant of Elise. She flinched at the memory and closed her eyes for a moment. She made herself stop thinking about the woman and looked back at the grave before.
Setting the roses down, she stood up. “I promised Elise I would leave a dozen roses on her grave and yet here I am, leaving them for her descendants.”
She laughed sadly. “I’m sorry, Elise.”
The woman hadn’t deserved such a brutal death. She could have let her go. One survivor wouldn’t have made a big difference.
Artemis hung her head, hair falling over her face so she couldn’t see the world around her. She liked that—it was like it was protecting her from the reality that made her eyes sting with tears. She pulled a flower out of the dozen she had laid down, running her thumb over the area where the thorns had been removed.
Sniffing, she looked around, a lone figure a few rows up catching her attention. He looked familiar, frizzy brown hair, black jeans, and a worn white t-shirt. She looked closer as he gently set the bouquet of flowers down.
He turned and walked down the hill, never looking back. She watched as he wiped his face with the back of his hand. He disappeared below the tree line and she turned back to look at the grave he had just been at.
She was curious. Why had he come to the cemetery? Hadn’t the flowers been for someone special?
Picking up her shoes, she walked over to where he had been and kneeled down to get a good look at the name.
Mia J. Hills
A loving mother and wife.
She looked down the hill, trying to see if there was any trace of Hayden but there was none. Turning back to the grave, she set the rose down. She had been planning to take it home and put it in a vase but now she felt it was better to honor the deceased. She felt bad, assuming that the flowers had been for a girlfriend.
After all, just because it was Valentine’s Day doesn’t mean he was in a relationship.
The back of Artemis’s head ached as she leaned her forehead against the table before her. Seneca sat across from her, hands folded in his lap as he watched her.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
She looked up, glaring at him. “Find something new to ask.”
He rolled his eyes, laughing. “Do you think I don’t know?”
She looked at him. For once, she didn’t see the bleached blonde hair but rather the dark brown hair he used to have. Once again, blood was spattered on his face, marring his sharp features. His eyes were cold as steel, concentrated and full of fury. He had changed so much since she had first met him.
That was a good thing, right? The whole purpose of his sentence was to change him, to change her. Yet she remained the same, changed only slightly.
“Do you regret it?” she asked, sitting up. “What we did.”
The smile disappeared from his face. “I told you not to bring this up. I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Do you regret it?” she repeated, ignoring what he said. “At all?”
“Of course I regret it!” he snapped, slamming his hands down on the tabletop. “Every night I am haunted by it. Every night I wake up in a cold sweat, hating myself for the things I did. How could I not? Did those people deserve it? Did they, Artemis? Your father may have been a bad person, but what about the others? What did they do wrong for us to slaughter them?”
“It wasn’t your command and it wasn’t mine either,” she clenched her jaw. “We were just the people that had to carry it out.”
“Do you regret it?” he asked her the question. “At all?”
Rolling her head to the side, she sighed. “I don’t think I do.”
He raised an eyebrow. “It doesn’t keep you up at night?”
“How could it not?” she glared at him. Subconsciously, she drummed her fingers on the table counter, thinking. “How do you just walk away from something like that, unscarred by it?”
“So you regret it,” he stated.
She shook her head. “No, I don’t. If I had the chance to go back and do it again, I would.”
His eyes widened.
“Because, when all is said and done,” she continued. “It was my decision to join the renegades. It was my choice to kill those people, to kill my father.”
“You don’t think you made the wrong decision?”
They had the same conversation a hundred times and their answers never changed. The reason they repeated it so many times wasn’t to get through to the other what they were feeling but rather to solidify what they thought. Over 900 years and Artemis still couldn’t decide whether she regretted it or not.
“Maybe I did,” she stood. “Maybe I made a drastic mistake and that’s why I can’t forgive myself.” She leaned forward. “Because deep down, in the bottom of my heart, maybe I do regret it. Just a little bit.”
His eyes met hers and she realized what she had said. She had never admitted to that, ever. For a moment, she got lost in her own mind, unaware that Seneca had stood and walked around the table. Only when he wrapped his arms around her shoulders and pulled her closer to him did she realize she hadn’t been paying attention.
Seneca had changed so much—even his hugs weren’t the same. In the past, when he had hugged her, it was to comfort her and the hugs were cold and empty, a mere arm around her shoulder. But now, they were warm and tight, begging for her to be okay and for him to stay strong.
She had forgotten what it had felt like to feel someone pulling her close to them, the warmth of their body spreading over her, making her feel as if she belonged. She went to put her arms around his waist but stopped and let them fall back to her side. The fact that Seneca had changed was something she hated. She missed the old him, the one that didn’t hesitate to do what needed to be done.
Pushing away from him, she turned and headed for the stairs. She stopped at the base, hand resting on the banister.
“Good night, Seneca,” she spoke. Her voice was soft and tired as it seemed to dance through the foyer of the house.
He nodded, not speaking so she walked up the stairs, their creaks following her all the way to her bedroom. She stopped, her hand resting on the doorknob while regret settled in her stomach.
She shouldn’t have pushed him away. He needed someone to be there for him just like he had always been there for her. But she couldn’t be that person. Not now, not ever.
With a sigh, she slipped into her room and shut the door as silently as possible. She didn’t bother to turn the light on but rather tiptoed across the room where she slipped around of the black lace dress and into an over-sized hoodie.
She collapsed onto her bed, staring off into space. If she couldn’t be that person for him, why should he have to waste so many years being that person for her? She sat up and looked around the room, trying to find something to distract her yet everything she saw somehow reminded her of the past.
“Why can’t I just forget?” she sighed, burying her face in a pillow. “Why can’t I just forget already?”
Her eyes burned as the tears formed but she refused to let them fall. She was so sick of the sadness resting in the pit of her stomach, making her heart ache. It would be a matter of weeks until she got used to Tay’s absence and a few weeks later, a new Clan would be sent.
Just a few more weeks of this torture and she’d be okay. Just a handful of days avoiding the thoughts and she’d make it through.
A car went by on the street outside, its headlights illuminating the wall on the opposite side of the room and the painting that hung there. The painted flames seemed to spring to life for a split second, burning in her mind as the memories washed over her again.
A few weeks was too long.
Hayden frowned slightly as he unlocked the front door. The lock stuck like it always did, making him grunt in frustration as he jiggled the knob. The lock gave way and he nudged the door open with his foot. With a sigh, he leaned back and examined the dark hallway.
“Seriously, Dad?” he called as he shut the door behind him. “You can't turn the lights on?”
A bitter laugh came from the kitchen. “I didn't feel like it.”
Hayden rolled his eyes and switched on the lights, basking the kitchen in fluorescent white. His father sat with his back to him, hunched over the photo before him. A coffee mug sat next to him on the table, empty.
“Dad,” Hayden swept up the coffee cup and placed it in the sink where it would eventually get put into the dishwasher. “Get yourself together.”
“Don't talk to me like that,” his voice was crisp and sharp, making Hayden flinched for a moment. “I'm still your father.”
“Mom wouldn't want this,” the words were full of bitterness and sadness yet they came out sharper than he had intended. He knew it was wrong for him to throw that at his father but it wasn't a lie. His mother had always kept the family in shape, cleaning up the messes they made even though they had hired housekeepers.
“What does that matter?” his father’s voice was husky, tired. “She's dead now.”
“Dad,” Hayden yelled, slamming the heel of his palm down on the counter. “Get yourself together already!”
His father's head snapped up, eyes glaring at him. The hardship of losing a key member of their family had taken quite a toll on both of them but Hayden didn't let it show as much as his father did. Gray hair had started to creep in on the man's hairline despite the fact that he was barely forty. Dark circles seemed to always be under his tired eyes and he was quieter, more withdrawn.
“Yes, she's gone,” he agreed. “So why are you crying around, acting like your tears will bring her back?”
Hayden had wished that his voice had cracked, that he had felt some emotion as he said those words yet nothing hit him. His heart didn't ache and his head didn't spin like it had many times before. His gut seemed to flip as a single tear fell from his father’s eye, slipping down his cheek and onto the tabletop.
“So let's get over it, okay?” he asked. “Let's get over it already!”
Anger raged through him, the opposite of what he wanted to feel. He wanted to feel sad, depressed, upset, anything other than rage. The sudden urge to punch something waved over him as he turned away from the kitchen and towards the hallway that led to his room.
He stopped and turned back. “I've already lost my Mom. I don't need to lose you either so please, go back to how you had been.”
His dad hadn't always been the best father but he did make an effort to be there for his family. He had tried but in the grand scheme of things, his business had always come first. His money was always more important.
Hayden's footsteps echoed through the hallway as he made his way to the room. There had used to be family photos on the wall but his father had taken them down the day after the funeral. He had put them in a box and shoved it in the back of the hall closet, telling Hayden to never get them out again.
He missed them. He missed the happy smiles that were on their faces and the memories each image brought back. As he walked down the hallway, it seemed as if he was walking into a tomb. There were no signs of human life and no hints that there had ever been there.
As the door opened smoothly on the hinges, he stood in the doorway, surveying his newly-cleaned room. He hated how spotless it was. The bedspread was wrinkle-free, every piece of clothing he had left on the floor was either now in the wash or hung in his closet.
The urge the rip the shirts from their hangers and throw them around the room was sudden and strong as he moved around the room. He wanted to tear the sheets from the bed and toss them to the floor. He didn't care if it made or mess or not—he just needed a way to get rid of the feeling inside of him.
Instead of creating a mess, he dropped onto his freshly-made bed and curled up into a ball. He pulled his knees up to his chest as a small whimper escaped his lips. He hadn't expected the tears to flow so easily yet he didn't mind. Just as long as he would feel numb by the time the tears stopped.
Some people hate the way they feel after crying but Hayden felt the most relief after he let it all out. Once all the emotions were all gone, he'd feel numb, emotionless and somehow in control of his own thoughts once again.
There was a knock at his door, startling him. He sat up, wiping his face as the door cracked and his father stepped in.
“The business banquet is tomorrow,” he spoke. “I want you to be there.”
He shook his head. “I don't feel like it.”
“Hayden, you need to be there,” he persisted. “I don't care if you don't want to be there. You're in the public spotlight just like I am. You need to show your face every now and then.”
He smirked. “Ah, yes. Because I'm famous. Are you sure you don't just want the added reporters because of my presence?”
His father shook his head. “You're my son.”
“I wish I wasn't,” he muttered. Looking up at his father, he nodded. “Okay, fine, I'll be there.”
“Bring someone with you,” he added. “A girl.”
“Not gonna happen,” Hayden shook his head. “Not in a million years.”
“You'll do what I say.”
“Dad, I don't even have a girl that I'm that close to,” he explained. “And I don't want to be that close to someone anyways.”
“Find someone and bring them,” he snapped. “I don't care if you're close to them or not. Don't do it for me but do it for the attention it'll draw.”
“I knew you just wanted me for the publicity,” he sighed. “That's all I am to you—money signs.”
His father didn't reply but rather exited, shutting the door behind him. Hayden laid down on his back, a sigh escaping. His vertebrae hurt, the bones cracking and popping as he took a deep breath and let it out.
“Just—,” he sighed. “—leave me alone please.”
The gray ceiling seemed to loom over him like a storm cloud on a rainy day, making his chest hurt. It felt like a hundred pounds was resting on his chest, crushing the air out him.
He stood up and smacked the light switch, turning the lights off. He didn't bother to change out of his clothes but just pulled his shirt off and crawled under the covers. The last thing he wanted to do was attend one of his father’s banquets, let alone bring someone with him. He mentally went through the list of people he could bring with him and although it wasn’t a long one, he knew that none of the possible candidates would work. All of them would take it as a signal that he was interested in them. The ones he could call ‘friends’ were the ones he kept as far away from him as possible. The closer they got to him, the more damage they could do.
His mind wandered to his trip to the cemetery yet something felt off as he remembered buying the flowers. It felt like his brain was skipping over an important fact, one he could really benefit from remembering right then.
Of course! How had he forgotten about her? She seemed a little odd at first but now it seemed normal. The way she had acted was cold, withdrawn, and exactly what he needed for tomorrow.
He sat up, sheets falling away from his body as he climbed out of the bed and started to pace. If he could somehow manage to convince her to go with him, he could make an impression on the media and his fans but also his father. His father would never want him to bring a plus one ever again.
A small smile crept across his face.
“Wait,” he stopped walking. “Who am I thinking about again?”
In his mind’s eye, he saw the foyer of the house he had stood in, bouquet in his hand. But before him stood a faceless person, long black hair draped over their shoulders. He knew it was a girl—that much he could remember yet he couldn’t recall anything else.
And then he did. It came to him suddenly, forcefully.
How had he forgotten that again? He leaned his head to the side in thought. She seemed like such an ordinary person yet something about her was so different. But that wasn’t what was bothering him. What was bothering him was the fact that every few seconds she seemed to disappear from his memory.
Frowning, he sat down on the bed and rested his hands on his lap. He needed to figure out a way to get her help before tomorrow. She was his only hope now.
Artemis couldn’t sleep no matter how she positioned herself in the one-size too large bed. She couldn’t get comfortable—either it was too many blankets or too little. Sighing, she rolled over and stared at the ceiling, trying to will her body to sleep.
It wasn’t working. It never had.
She stood up and walked for the door. She knew the nightmares would haunt her if she did manage to sleep. If she could avoid another horror-ridden night, she would do it.
As the familiar creaks of the steps greeted her, she jogged down to the foyer where she pulled her hair up into a messy bun and headed for the living room. Seneca was still there, head propped up by his fist as he leaned back on the couch. The news was on but he didn’t seem to be paying attention.
She sat down on the opposite side of the couch, pulling a pillow onto her lap to hold. He glanced at her, not saying anything for a moment.
“I thought you went to bed,” he spoke.
She nodded slightly. “I can’t sleep.”
“I don’t want to sleep,” he laughed quietly. The blue light from the television gave his silver hair sea blue tint and the images shown on the screen reflected in his clear eyes.
“Yeah,” she muttered, agreeing.
She didn’t want to sleep either but she knew she needed to. Tonight would be long without getting any rest and tomorrow would be hard. She knew Seneca couldn’t stay for forever but a small part of her hoped that he would once more be selfless and stay.
She didn’t necessarily trust herself to be alone. Too many times she had done stupid things out of depression and loneliness. She knew that this time would be no exception and didn’t know what she would impulsively do.
Turning her attention to the news at hand, she tried to pay attention to something else besides the fact that she couldn’t sleep.
“So we have some exciting news!” the news anchor crowed.
Her co-worker plastered a fake smile on. It was so wide that it looked painful. Artemis had no clue how shows like this got good enough ratings to stay on air. Maybe the people that watched it were just like her—looking for something to distract them from their hellish reality.
“Ooo,” the other woman threw her hands in the air. Artemis didn’t know her name but she looked like a Summer to her so she decided to think of her as one. “What is it?”
The other replied, reminding Artemis of a Jennifer. “So you know that piano prodigy that seemed to disappear for the past seven months?”
Summer nodded over-exaggeratedly. “Hey, Hayden Hills, right?”
Artemis straightened, interested. “Wait, who?”
Seneca studied her, a small smirk appearing on his face. “Do you know the guy? Are you a fangirl?”
He poked her in the side, teasing her but she smacked his hand away, glaring at him. He retreated with a pout and curled up on his square of the couch.
“Yes!” Jennifer laughed and turned her attention to the camera. “We’ve gotten an insider scoop that he will be attending his father’s business banquet tomorrow.”
Summer let out a sound, one that Artemis assumed was from excitement. It sounded like she was choking on water but when Jennifer also started doing it, she realized they were happy.
She reached for the remote to change to channels, annoyed by the news anchor’s behavior when a picture popped up on the screen. She stopped, recognizing the boy.
“So it was him,” she muttered, leaning forward.
“This is the last picture that was taken of Hayden Hills before the accident that happened seven months ago,” Jennifer sobered. “His mother was killed in a freak-bombing accident and since then, he has had no performances or appearances in public. Some fans say they’ve spotted him around downtown New York City but whether he’s actually been out is something we don’t know.”
Summer started talking. “So, for seven months, Hayden has been staying away from the public eye but, tomorrow evening, he will be making his first public appearance!”
With a sneer, Artemis switched the channel and leaned back against the couch. Seneca watched her, unsure of what was going on in her head.
“What do you know about that Hayden kid?” he finally asked.
She leaned her head to the side, thinking. “I don’t know a lot actually. He stopped in today—that’s a long story—but, he’s just been stuck on my mind since then. I saw him at the cemetery when I visited Mark.”
He raised an eyebrow. “You know he doesn’t remember you right?”
She nodded. “No duh. No one does. That’s how the Great Library designed it. It’s more painful for us that way.”
“True,” he agreed. “But also because if the public found out about something like the Great Library right now, they wouldn’t be able to handle it.”
She looked at him, scrutinizing him. “What does that mean?”
“They wouldn’t be able to comprehend all the knowledge of other worlds and universes that are out there,” he explained. “Come on, these people still believe that flying saucers belong to green bean aliens.”
She laughed. “Good point.”
They settled into silence, each lost in their own thoughts. Seneca curled up, head resting on the back cushion and closed his eyes. She turned slightly to face him, studying him.
Every time she looked at him, she remembered all the time they had spent together and all the times they had sat in silence, watching the world move by outside while they didn’t change.
She reached out, the tip of her finger brushing against his cheek, tracing the slight scar that ran from the end of his chin, along his jaw line, and up to his ear. When she reached the end of the scar, she pulled back, sighing.
He had never told her how he’d gotten that scar and never talked about. She was starting to think he’d forgotten he even had.
“Why do guys always have such long eyelashes,” she muttered, studying his closed eyes.
A small smile appeared on his face and he opened his eyes. “Am I handsome?”
She raised an eyebrow, sarcasm dripping from her words. “Like an angel.”
“Hey,” he frowned. “At least I’m cuter than that Hayden kid.”
She laughed. “He’s the same age as us I think.”
“904?” he asked.
She shook her head. “Our actual ages.”
“Eighteen,” he spoke.
Seneca scooted forward, fingers wrapping around her small wrist and pulling her to face him. His green eyes searched hers, a certain look lingering behind them.
“What are you doing?” she asked, pulling back.
He didn’t let go of her wrist but did relax his hold on it. “I want to know if your eyes have changed.”
“What?” she was suddenly very aware of her heartbeat.
The seconds he didn’t answer seemed to drag out for an eternity but she knew it was only a split second before he answered.
“Someone once told me that if you fall in love with someone’s eyes, you’ll never stop loving them because a person’s eyes never change,” his voice was low and soft like a feather falling through the air.
“Have you fallen in love with my eyes?” she joked. She nudged at his fingers with her knuckles and he let go, straightening.
He shook his head. “No, not just your eyes.”
She was quiet. “What’s wrong with you?”
“I don’t know,” he shrugged. “I felt like saying it so I did.”
“Some things you shouldn’t say,” she pointed out. “And that is one of those things.”
“Why shouldn’t I?” he challenged. “Just because you don’t feel the same way doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be able to admit it.”
“Is this why you’ve stayed with me all this time?” she asked, her stomach flipping. She wanted him to say yes but at the same time she wanted him to say no.
“No,” he answered.
Relief washed through her, followed by disappointment. A part of her had wanted to hear yes as an answer, to know that someone was fighting to keep her instead of just letting her wander through life.
“Not at first,” he continued. “Our sentence was only one hundred years, Artemis. For the first half of those years, I hated you. If it hadn’t of been for you, neither of us would have gotten got and sentenced in the first place. But then, when our time was up and I was allowed to leave, I realized I didn’t want to.”
She blinked, trying to wrap her head around what he was saying.
“And when you said you were staying,” he paused. “I panicked.”
“Why?” she asked.
“Because I know how many times you’ve tried,” he answered. “How many times you’ve sat there with a knife in your hand, debating suicide.”
She swallowed. “How could you?”
He shrugged. “I saw you.”
Tears stung her eyes but she refused to let them fall. It would be useless. He would comfort her but it wouldn’t make her feel any better inside.
“Why?” she asked. “Why would you like someone like me? I almost killed you, Seneca.”
He smiled. “After one hundred years I guess I realized how much you meant to me. You were the only thing that I still have from my past.”
She hated how that sounded. Clearing her throat, she shifted on the couch. She didn’t know what to say or how to express what she was feeling. All of this was new to her.
“Thank you,” she spoke. “For loving me when I couldn’t but I don’t see you like that.”
“I know that,” his smile dropped a little. “I’ve known that all this time. To you I’m just something the cat dragged in, right?”
She couldn’t argue with him. She didn’t want to. Her words would get tripped up by each other and it would come out sounding harsher than she intended them too.
Shaking her head, she spoke carefully. “No, you’re not like that. To me, you’re the rock that’s supported me all this time. You are the person that I can rely on for whatever and I don’t want that to change. I know it’s selfish but…”
She let her sentence hang. “I still need you by my side so never leave.”
“I wasn’t planning on it.”
Hayden sat on the edge of his bed, notebook balanced on his knee. He played with the ring that hung from a chain on his neck as he thought.
“Name,” he muttered. “What was her name?”
The moment it came back to him, he wrote it down along with the other things he had remembered. He was confused as to why he kept forgetting her so he had decided to write down everything as he slowly remembered it.
It had been a long day and he was tired. His head was spinning and his whole body felt like it was about to fall apart. The sorrow he had smashed down inside of him was starting to bubble back up. Shutting his eyes, he took a deep breath and tried to turn his attention back to his project at hand.
He narrowed his eyes, looking at the sketch he had done on the opposite page. It was supposed to be Artemis but no matter how he looked at it, it looked both right and wrong at the same time.
With a sigh, he snapped the notebook shut and fell back on his bed. It supported him, giving in slightly under his weight, cradling him in a comfortable hug. He tossed the book onto the nightstand and rolled over on his side, pulling the comforter over him.
He closed his eyes but his mind wouldn’t go to sleep. His body was tired, aching, crying for rest yet his brain kept reliving the day over and over again. It kept getting stuck on Artemis but each time, it remembered more than the first time.
Eventually, he drifted off even though he didn’t exactly want to. He hoped that it would be a quiet, quick night. He didn’t want any dreams.
But it seemed that the universe was conspiring against him, determined to give him a terrible night. As he tossed and turned, he was haunted by the memories that couldn’t seem to leave him alone.
The air was sucked out of his lungs as the shouts erupted around him. His mother grabbed his wrist, pulling him towards the back of the store. They stumbled over fallen people and groceries that had been knocked off the shelves in their panicked flight.
“Stop!” the man yelled, dark eyes glaring at them.
They froze and Hayden slowly looked over his shoulder. His heart was racing and the adrenaline was pumping through his veins. His head felt like it was about to explode as the headache started. He couldn’t take the shouts of fear and panic. He couldn’t handle the emotions that were rushing through him.
The black barrel of the gun made him jerk to reality, realizing how bad the situation was. The man wasn’t just making empty threats; he was going to actually blow the place up.
Hayden swallowed as he put his hands in the air in surrender.
“Get on the floor!” the man yelled, voice shaking.
He waved the gun around in the air, threatening to fire it. Everyone dropped as did Hayden and his mother. The man stepped over the bodies of the scared people and stopped before him, crouching down. He pressed the barrel against Hayden’s skull.
The cold metal made his skin crawl as did the man’s voice as he spoke up. “You—you’re rich. I am holding all of these people hostage until you pay me.”
He couldn’t speak, couldn’t register what was happening around him. The only thing he was aware of was the coldness of the gun and his mother’s hand wrapped around his wrist, hanging on for dear life.
“I,” he stuttered. “I..I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
The gun dug into his skull more. “You’re Hayden Hills, a rising celebrity with tons of money. Pay me and I’ll let you go free.”
He went to answer but his mother squeezed his wrist, stopping him. He looked over at her out of the corner of his eye and she very slowly shook her head.
“Don’t do it,” she mouthed.
Hayden was snapped out of his dream by a knock at the door. He sat up, shoulder aching and heart racing. Sunlight filtered through the curtains, telling him that morning had come. With a sigh of relief, he fell back onto his pillow as the door opened.
The door opened and a man somewhere in his early twenties stepped in. Leaning against the door, he smiled and flipped the lights on.
“Time to rise and shine,” he teased. “You need to photosynthesis.”
Hayden laughed as he ran a hand over his face in an attempt to wake up.
“Christopher,” he breathed. “My father wants me to bring someone to the banquet tonight.”
The blonde-haired boy let out a laugh. “Your father just wants the extra reporters.”
He spoke with a light Australian accent which Hayden found strange seeing that he was born and raised in the United States. He often wondered if the boy faked it but he had never lost the accent and it even got thicker when he was upset.
“How ’bout you get out of bed and then we’ll talk about it,” he suggested before shutting the door behind him.
Hayden swung his legs over the edge of the bed and stood up stretching as he did so. His muscles ached, especially his shoulder which he rubbed in an attempt to loosen it up.
Pulling on a shirt, he shuffled into the hallway and down to the kitchen where a plate of food was already waiting for him. Christopher leaned against the counter as he drank the last of his orange juice.
“So who do you plan on bringing?” he set the glass down on the counter and slid it over to the sink.
Hayden was quiet for a moment as he tried to think of a way to explain his plan. “I have an idea.”
Christopher leaned his head to the side. “I don’t know if that’s a good thing.”
He laughed. “Trust me this one time.”
The boy leaned his head to the side. “Should I?”
Hayden took a bite of the bacon and chewed for a moment before answering. “See, the thing is, Christopher, I know her but, at the same time, I don’t know her.”
“That doesn’t sound good,” he frowned. “Just go with someone you know. Invite them and just deal with it for one night.”
He laughed. “I don’t want to do that!”
“Because then my father gets what he wants and I’m at a loss,” he explained. “This is my first public appearance since everything fell apart. I refuse to let my father ruin it or use it to his benefit.”
Slight anger coursed through him, waking him up the rest of the way. He wanted to prove to his dad one more time that he wouldn’t give way to his father’s commands anymore. Even before his mother died, his father’s love of fame and money was always more important.
Christopher nodded. “Look, I get that but it’s my job to keep you in line.”
“Just turn the other way,” Hayden argued. “Just this once.”
He sighed. “Fine! But if I get fired because of this—.”
“I won’t let you get fired,” he assured him. “I’ll simple obeying my father’s orders.”
Christopher watched as a smirk spread across Hayden’s face and he frowned slightly. “You scare me more than your father does.”
He laughed. “That’s because I take after my mom.”
"That scares me even more."
Artemis had always hated how sausage smelled and tasted but whenever Seneca made them, they were delicious. He never told her what he did to make them taste so good no matter how much she begged him to share.
As she chewed on her food she watched him clean up the dishes he had used. He glanced at her every now and again, satisfied that she was eating the food he’d made. Smiling, he remembered the first time they had eaten breakfast together—he had burned the food and she had yelled at him for the rest of the day.
“Zypher’s stopping by later,” he announced, sitting down across from her. “He said he had something to talk to you about.”
She frowned and leaned her head to the side. “Wasn’t he just here?”
“It’s been ten years at least,” Seneca corrected her. “Ten years.”
Sighing, she shifted in her seat, taking a sip of her orange juice. “What does he want? Do you know?”
“No,” he shook his head. “But it probably has something to do with the next Clan.”
She put her fork down on the edge of her plate and leaned back, appetite gone. “They won’t be here for a while though. There has to be more than just that.”
“I don’t know,” Seneca shrugged. “Zypher is Zypher. He has a reason for everything he does although we may know always know what it is.”
“Which is why I dislike him,” she explained. “He’s always doing stuff but never telling us why and it’s annoying.”
He sighed. “Just be respectful. Although he’s younger than you, his rank is higher.”
“I know, I know,” she waved him off.
“And he’ an Akijah,” he continued. “So use the right speech form.”
She rolled her eyes.
“I’m serious!” he raised his voice. “The last time you really offended him and he ranted to me for forever afterwards.”
“I’ll be polite!” she said exasperatedly. “You’re not my mom.”
“Thank heavens for that,” he teased, a smile appearing on his face. “I would never want to raise someone like you.”
She glared at him, half-joking but also half-serious. “My mom was a better person than you’ll ever be.”
He leaned against the counter, dishcloth slung over his shoulder. He was wearing a light blue button-up shirt with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows, matched with worn jeans that had slight holes on the knees. His light bleached hair was curly, unruly and frizzy from the recent washing and the color went well with the jeans he wore.
“Why are you dressed like that?” she asked, taking a bite of toast as she studied him once more.
“They’re moving me to the Docking Department,” he explained. “Today is my first day.”
“Ah,” she nodded. “Sounds fun.”
He supported his right wrist as he rotated his hand around. “I mean, it’s about time for a transfer. I swear if I had to record one more bit of data—.” He stopped and took a deep breath. “—I was going to get early arthritis.”
She laughed as she scrapped the rest of her food together and quickly finished it. “You should head out so you’re not late.”
He nodded and handed the towel to her before scooting around her and grabbing his backpack from the couch. “I’ll be back tonight so save me some food.”
“I’ll probably eat out,” she told him.
Turning to look at her, he frowned slightly. “Do you not want to eat with me?”
“I’ll wait then,” she sighed. “Don’t stay too late or I won’t.”
He smiled and opened the door. Before he left, he gave her a small but quick wave and shut the door behind her. As soon as the door clicked shut, she leaned against the counter with a sigh. The back of her neck hurt from sleeping on it weird and now matter how much she tried, she couldn’t get it to crack.
She finished wiping the counter before she turned off the lights and collapsed onto the couch. Across from her, above the TV was one of Tay’s favorite paintings. It was a lush green hill with a house off in the distance and a herd of sheep grazing. Fluffy clouds soared in the sky, touched by the glimmering rays of sunshine. She sighed and closed her eyes.
She wondered what he was doing right now. Had he gotten out of bed yet or had he decided to sleep in for the first time in his life? Was he living alone or had the Great Library managed to find someone else to keep him company. She knew how much he hated being alone and she was certain that even though his memory would be gone, the habit of always keeping someone by his side would remain.
There was a knock at the door, startling her from her thoughts and bringing her to the front door. When she opened it, Zypher stood there, hands tucked behind his back patiently.
He looked like any normal human even though he wasn’t one. His eyes were what gave it away as they were a soft purple , the only part of him that couldn’t be masked by his camouflage.
She opened the door and he stepped inside, nudging the door shut behind him.
“Would you like something to drink?” she switched to his native tongue, using the right form to show respect. He smiled, obviously pleased at the effort she was putting in.
“Oh, um, maybe a glass of water?” he spoke with more ease, letting the words roll of his tongue unlike Artemis who sounded stiff and unsure of herself. “I like your pronunciation.”
She gave a forced smile. “Thank you.”
“It sounds so—human,” he laughed. “But I appreciate the effort.”
Good. She thought. You should.
She got him some water and slid the glass across the table to him. Before posing the question she had been wondering about since Seneca mentioned Zypher would be visiting her.
“What do you need to talk to me about?”
He seemed to hesitate for a moment too long before changing his mind and taking a sip of his water. “The Master’s will be sending another clan in six months.”
“Six months?” she echoed. “That’s longer than usual.”
“And they want you to be gone by the time they arrive,” he finished.
She froze, hands folded in her lap. “They want me—gone?”
He nodded. “I’m sorry, it’s out of my hands and I—.”
“Why?” she tensed, her hands forming into fists as she waited for him to answer. When he didn’t, she added to the question. “Did I do something?”
He shook his head. “No, Artemis, you didn’t do anything but the Master’s think that it’s best if you were gone before the new Clan arrives. As it is, you’ve been here for over 900 years. What are you running from?”
“Life,” she answered bluntly. “I’m running from life. I don’t want to live just yet, Zypher. Why are you taking this from me?”
“I’m not,” he sighed and rubbed his temples. He didn’t lower his speech form but she could tell he was tempted to do so. Why was she blaming him? It wasn’t his fault. It was the Master’s. “I didn’t want to tell you but there’s no one else to do it.”
“Who will take my place?” she questioned. “There has to be a Leader here and I’ve always filled that role.”
“MJ,” he answered. “He’s around your age, maybe a year or two older—human years that is—but he’s only 200 or so years old.”
She rolled her eyes. “And when does he show up?”
“He’ll be arriving a few days from now,” he explained. “Please take good care of him and make sure you train him properly.”
She was quiet as she chewed on her lip. “And what about me? What if I refuse to leave?”
“People are going to start remembering you as of today,” he announced. “From today onwards, you won’t be able to run from the consequences of your actions. The Master’s have it planned so by the time you do move out, you’ll already have a bit of social standing to support yourself off of.”
“This is stupid,” she lowered her speech form and he instantly frowned. “Why should I have to obey every order the Master’s tell me? Am I slave?”
“No,” he shook his head, distain making its way into his voice. “But you’re a convict and they’re the judges. Just be happy they didn’t kill you back when they first found you.”
She glared at him. This is why she disliked him. He was always the bearer of bad news and although that wasn’t his fault, whenever she saw him now, she always expected something to happen.
“I don’t want to,” she gritted her teeth. “If Tay was here, what would happen to him?”
“He would have been asked to leave too,” he explained. “After the new clans are sent out, no one will be allowed to stay longer than their sentence unless they’re a Leader.”
“Because this is a punishment, Artemis,” he snapped. “Not free therapy.”
She ignored his comment.
“What about Seneca?” she asked.
“His sentence was over a long time ago and he actually left for a few days,” he explained. “It wasn’t long enough for us to completely erase his memories so he came back and is now being paid to stay at the Library.”
“Then pay me,” she suggested. “Move me up to the library.”
“I’ll see what I can do but I’m not promising anything,” he sighed. “The new Master seems to have it out for you.”
She was quiet before standing up. “Okay, fine. I’ll be gone by the six month mark. Now, please, leave.”
He looked at her, the frown slowly disappearing from his face. “I’m sorry, Artemis. I’m just the messenger—don’t shoot me.”
She sighed. “You know why I shoot the messenger?”
He shook his head slightly.
“Because it sends a message,” she snapped. “Now get out of my house.”
She had dropped all formalities and was speaking very rudely, something that was very disrespectful for an Akijah to speak that way to someone of higher rank. She didn’t care though as she was several hundred years older than him so, in reality, he should be speaking respectfully to her.
She didn’t move from where she stood until she heard the door click shut behind him. Only then did she let out the breath she had been holding. Why now? She shut her eyes and hung her head, the confusion washing over her.
The door bell rang but she didn’t move to answer it. If it was Zypher, she didn’t want to see him. She couldn’t control what she was feeling anymore and would probably haul off and punch him.
It rang again and she got the idea that maybe it wasn’t Zypher. He would have just come in instead of ringing a second time so she straightened and headed for the door. Opening it, she saw a familiar face there.
Hayden wore black pants and a light green shirt that was loosely tucked in on the front. He smiled and extended a small bouquet of three white roses.
“Thank you,” it sounded more like a question than an actual thanks but she took the flowers from him.
“What do you need now?” she raised an eyebrow.
A sheepish smirk crossed his face. “Saving.”