Authors: Emily Thompson
“What just happened?” a voice asked, far away in another world.
“Please, just let me touch him.” This voice was deeply sad and instantly familiar.
Twist couldn't understand why the world was so dark. Weren't his eyes open? He blinked to check and found to his surprise that they had been closed.
“How stupid do you think I am?” the first voice asked again.
The dim light of sunset rushed in to fill his vision. He looked down to himself and was slightly confused to find that his clothing showed no signs of the fire. The pain was over, but the ghost of it still lingered on his skin. He was kneeling now, and his hands seemed to be bound. There was someone standing in front of him on the glass floor. He looked up slowly.
“I won't do anything, I give you my word,” Jonas said from across the room. “Just let me touch him. Just once.”
Twist finally recognized Loki standing before him. Then he recognized the metal arm, and knew why it was there. The metal plates on his face and neck were there to replace the flesh he had lost. His eyes... Twist shuddered, drawing Loki's attention to him.
“Are you better now?” Loki asked coldly. “That was quite a scream you let out.”
Twist's body continued to shake. He took in a breath. “Fire.” His voice was weak and thin, but he forced it out. “You should be dead.”
Loki crouched down to look at him, his scarred face paler than it should be. “What did you just say?” he asked icily. Twist mastered his will to look up to the white lenses over Loki's eyes … or whatever was left of them now.
“Please don't touch me again. It doesn't get any dimmer with repetition.”
“You saw the forest,” Loki said slowly. “You know what happened there.”
Twist shook his head. “I felt it.” Now, he was starting to sense the buzz once again. It seemed to have disappeared in all the pain. It felt unreasonably soothing.
“Impressive,” Loki said with a thoughtful tone. “Just with a single touch. Does it only show you the past, or the future too?”
“That's an odd one,” Loki said. “I've never heard of a Sight like that. I'll bet you avoid human contact because of it. That's not a benefit, that's a handicap...” he added thoughtfully.
Twist closed his eyes again and reached into the buzz at his neck. It was cool and soft, and edged with grief. Loki stood up and talked to someone else. Twist looked up to see that it was one of the guards. The other one was still on the floor. He looked towards Jonas and saw that his eyes were closed. His face was grim and still. He looked like he was concentrating very hard. After an instant, Jonas opened his eyes and looked right back at Twist, his eyes so deeply purple that they were almost black. Twist felt the subtle connection in the buzz snap tighter instantly. Frightened, Twist turned his eyes away. Jonas could sometimes see his visions if he looked too close. Twist couldn't give him something like that.
The cloaked man picked up his fallen fellow and took him away before Loki walked back to Twist and crouched before him, the syringe in his hand once again. Twist vaguely realized that he and Jonas were now alone in the room with Loki.
“Well, now that you two aren't going to get away and cause me any trouble,” he said brightly, tapping the bubbles out of the needle, “let's see what you can really do.”
Fright flashed down Twist's spine. Now, it was far too late. Even if he got a flash now, it wouldn't save him from anything. They were only good for a few seconds, most of the time. Loki jabbed the needle in Twist's neck and pushed the plunger down. Twist saw Jonas look away in disgust and rage, before a deep, cold, electric sensation began to fill Twist's bones.
The feeling rushed over him with alarming speed, starting from within, and shining outward like a brilliant and blinding light. His vision blanked to white, but there was no fog. His emotions vanished, leaving him cold, and anything but hollow. He felt his mind fill to bursting with the violent electric light and his body shuddered, trying to contain it. In the end, it was all he could do just to keep himself breathing.
Slowly, the light faded from his vision—or else his eyes grew accustomed—and he began to see once again. Loki was watching him with curious interest. Twist looked at the white lenses over his eyes, and then his vision reached deeper, to the glass, mirrors, and artificially sustained human nerves. Loki had rebuilt his own eyes, around what was left after the fire. Looking over Loki now, Twist suddenly understood what each prosthetic piece was for. Coupled with the vision he'd had, he perfectly understood how delicate the man before him truly was.
“Now,” Loki said. “Can you sense the future?” he asked easily, as if expecting fully to be answered with the truth. Twist felt a distant part of himself compelled to do so, but it was easily dismissed.
“That's funny,” Twist said, frowning slightly. “I thought this would hurt or … something.”
Loki looked startled. “Did you not hear me? I asked, do you see the future?”
“I heard you,” Twist said easily.
His eyes were attracted to the gleaming gold of the chair Loki had been sitting in. Now that he saw it again, it was obvious that there were controls on one armrest. Looking at them, Twist's vision passed through the buttons, past the panel, and ran along the wires all through the ship to the engine rooms, the weapons platforms, and the radio communication controls. Twist snapped his eyes away as he realized that what his vision had just done wasn't even slightly normal.
“Then why isn't it working?” Loki asked, looking at the syringe.
“You put a truth serum in with the drug,” Twist said, making the connection easily. “That was a good idea.”
“Then why isn't it working?” Loki asked, growing annoyed.
“I don't want to answer your stupid question.”
“Stupid? Answer my question or I'll touch you again!” he snapped.
Twist looked at his raised hand, saw the muscles and sinews underneath, the vision of fire waiting on the surface, and decided he didn't want Loki to touch him again. His own hands were bound. That was a problem. As Twist focused his attention on the leather straps against his own skin, he could almost see the clasps. They were locked tightly. He realized how easy it would be to open them if he could reach, and almost saw it happen in his mind. Instantly, the straps loosened.
“Hello?” Loki said, waving the threatening hand. “Are you listening to me?”
Twist stood up and looked down at him. “No, I'm not.”
“What—?” Loki gasped, jumping to his feet. “How did you do that?”
Twist's eyes caught sight of something else, across the room. Jonas had collapsed on the floor. He was unconscious, but alive. As Twist looked at him, he somehow saw that there was something missing in him. Even though his eyes were closed, Twist knew the light was gone. The buzz that always drew Twist to him was gone. No, it wasn't gone. He frowned, searching the world for it. He shivered, realizing it was inside of him, running through his own blood: it was the electric fire that had turned the world into light.
“All right, that's enough,” Loki said. “I order you to sit down on the floor again.”
Twist reached into the now fathomless depths of his own mind, which seemed far larger and more foreign than it had before. He followed the buzz of Jonas's presence now pulsing in his own blood. The chill, numb, comfort of his touch was everywhere, coursing under his skin. He looked back at the straps lying on the floor. They weren't broken. They had been simply unlocked when he'd wanted them to be.
“Oh for heaven's sake,” Loki grumbled, turning for the door.
Twist knew that he would call for more of the Cyphers to help subdue him. Twist wanted the sliding metal door to close and it did, a mere inch from Loki's nose. Loki jerked in shock and turned to him with something like fear on his face.
“You did that,” Loki said stiffly. “How did you do that?”
Twist smiled at him. “You know, I can see now. You're the only real problem I have. Your men will do whatever you tell them. All the other Cyphers will listen to you. If you tell everyone to leave me and my friends alone, that we're not worth the trouble, then Myra would be free.”
“Why would I do anything like that?” Loki asked.
Twist considered his question calmly. It was a reasonable one. Killing Loki wouldn't help Twist at all, if he could get him to do what he wanted. Of course, as fragile as Loki's reconstructed body was, it would be easy enough to threaten something other than death. Something that would get more of Loki's attention. Twist looked at his chest, at the clever device that made up for the lung that had been removed after all the smoke damage. He thought of the valve closing. Loki gasped and fell to his knees, his hands grasping at his chest.
No, that wouldn't work. Twist needed something that wouldn't eventually kill him if Loki refused to comply. Twist let the valve open again and Loki gulped down hurried breaths. He looked up to Twist with real fear now. Twist looked back at his eyes and smiled. There was a reservoir of a chemical solution behind the white lenses that kept his optic nerves alive, with a slow drip feeding them through thin, hollow wires that ran deep into his eye sockets. Twist thought of them getting crimped. Loki shuddered and reached up to the white lenses with his hands.
“What did you do?” he shrieked. “Stop it!” Twist could feel the waves of Loki's fear—true, deep, animal fear—wafting off of him like smoke.
“You never should have touched me, Loki,” Twist said, almost laughing. “Now I know exactly how all those clever little things inside you work. Your optic nerves can survive if I unblock those little hoses in the next minute.”
Loki put his hands on the ground. They seemed to be shaking slightly. “What do you want?” he asked, his voice hollow and cold.
“Freedom,” Twist said. “I want to be left alone. I never want to see another Cypher again. You can have all the other myths and legends you want, but Myra is mine. And she will never belong to any of you whether I'm alive to protect her or not.”
“The others won't like that,” Loki said quickly. Twist could almost see him counting down the seconds in his head. Twist could still see life in the nerves.
“You will make them understand,” Twist said gently. “You're one of their most influential leaders. They'll listen to you.”
Loki seemed to think it over, even though his shuddering breath made it obvious to Twist that his thoughts were frantic. “Fine, I'll tell them.”
“You'll make them understand,” Twist corrected him.
“Yes, I will make it very clear,” he said more loudly.
“And you'll also tell them what happens when you give this little drug of yours to someone with a truly powerful Sight,” Twist added.
“That I'll do straight away,” Loki said, nodding. “Now please,” he added, looking down blindly. “If I lose the nerves, I'll never see again. There's no way to replace them.”
Twist watched as they began to wither. He closed the valve on Loki's lung again, watched him gasp for air and then collapse. He opened the valve again as soon as Loki lost consciousness, and then let the solution flow back into what was left of his ruined eyes. Twist stepped closer over the glass floor and watched carefully to be sure that Loki would be able to see when he woke again. Otherwise, he would never keep his word.
Twist walked to Loki's golden spider chair. On the way, he glanced at Jonas's still form. He looked like he was simply asleep, except that every sign of his Sight—maybe even his soul—was missing. Twist wasn't too worried. He thought he had a pretty good idea of how to fix that as well. He sat in Loki's chair and looked at the controls again. It was no trouble at all to figure out how to set off a pulsing signal from the radio emitter, and point it down at the water. He only hoped that the Rooks would hear it, wherever they were.
Next, he considered escape. He needed to find the others. He looked at Loki's unconscious body on the floor. He'd obviously planned to pick Twist and Jonas out of the crowd from the beginning, thanks to the ghostly image of the two of them, still hanging in the air, but he would also know exactly where the others had been taken. Twist got up and walked closer, looking down at him thoughtfully. He could see Loki's heart beating softly under artificial aid. He decided against waking him. The information was there in him now. Twist could almost see it wafting around, like the shadows of leaves under a tree.
He bent down and reached out a hand, touching a finger gently to the back of Loki's head. His Sight didn't show him fire. Twist hardly noticed any real change except that his awareness could now wander more freely through Loki's sleeping mind. Flashing, random thoughts—sipping hot tea, hearing someone else close a door, the scent of a musty book, a flash of fear in another man's eyes—fell over Twist's mind like autumn leaves. He looked among them calmly until he saw Arabel's face. She was in another room, just a few feet down the hallway outside. The non-Sighted had been taken to the holding cells. Twist stood up, taking his hand away, and Loki's mind returned to shifting mist before Twist's eyes.
Twist then went to Jonas and untied him. Jonas's eyes opened slightly as Twist pulled an arm over his shoulders and began to try to lift him. Twist paused, looking at the dull, empty, sea-green eyes. He felt a sudden tug in the depths of his mind: an intense gravity and a will to return. Twist snapped his eyes away and the feeling subsided. Somehow, he knew he couldn't allow that to happen yet. A very small part of him knew that something was very, very different since Loki had given him the drug. But everything made such perfect and simple sense to him, that it was hard to imagine seeing the world any other way.
Twist dragged Jonas's limp form along with him as he moved out into the shadows. Jonas's body complied, stumbling along, but his mind was obviously still quite inactive. Twist was halfway down the empty hallway—listening around corners for any approaching Cyphers—when he realized that he could see in the darkness as clear as day. That seemed odd as well. He came to the door that led into the room Loki had sent Arabel to, and it opened the moment he thought of it.
A sand-cloaked man was standing over Arabel in the black room. Her hands were bound behind her back, to a hook in the center of the floor. There was an array of chemicals and lab equipment against one wall. Twist knew instantly that this was where they perfected the drug, by trial and error. The man in the cloak turned when the door opened, a full syringe in his hand.
“Twist, run!” Arabel screamed.
The man drew something that looked a bit like a pistol and trained it on Twist. Twist saw a cloud of strange energy wafting off of it. He didn't want to be shot. The man's finger was tightening on the trigger. Twist wanted the barrel to point back at the man, instead. The instant the Cypher's mind ordered his finger to pull the trigger, the barrel raised up to point at the man's chin. There was no bullet, but a jolt of the bizarre energy rushed over him and he fell to the floor.
“Did he just shoot himself?” Arabel asked.
“Looks like he did,” Twist said as he thought of the bonds on her hands untying themselves. Her arms went slack as the tension disappeared, and she pulled her hands forward, staring at them in surprise.
“What's going on?” she asked, looking to the bonds suspiciously.
“Can you help me with Jonas?” Twist asked. “He's heavier than he looks.”
“Are you going to explain what's happening, or not?” Arabel questioned as she got to her feet and walked closer to him.
“Later,” Twist nodded. “We need to escape now. The Rooks will find us soon, and they'll probably start shooting as soon as they see this ship.”
“All right...” Arabel said, obviously stacking her questions up. She didn't ask them, however, and instead drew Jonas's other arm over her shoulder. Her hand touched Twist's shoulder. “Oh! I'm sorry!”
“It's fine,” Twist said, watching with mild interest as a few of her thoughts flitted brightly at the edges of his vision. “Come on, it's this way,” he said.
Arabel fell silent as she helped Twist carry Jonas along through the darkness. The holding cells were a bit of a distance away. Many times along the way, Twist had to pull them back around a corner to keep out of sight as Cyphers walked by. Since he heard or saw them coming every time, it was fairly easy to avoid being seen. Twist waited until there was no one in the hall outside the door to the holding cells before he opened it.
The room inside was as black as every other part of the ship, except for stark, electric spotlights that hung above four large, cube-like metal cages. The
crew was together in one cage. Two cages were empty, but the last one held a single woman inside. Twist recognized Storm's mother, Kima, immediately but couldn't imagine why she would be on Loki's ship. Then, it struck him. Once Storm had escaped, he would need a reason to surrender.
“Twist!” Aazzi called fearfully from the cage.
Twist turned just in time to see the Cypher come to within a single step of him, and the chain swinging in his hand was only an instant away from crashing down on Twist's back. Startled, Twist's first thought was just wanting the man far away from him. As he watched, the Cypher flew off of his feet and across the room, crashing against the far wall. He fell to the floor in a heap and didn't move.
There were two other Cyphers in the room, each standing stunned in the shadows, their weapons now forgotten in their hands. Twist looked at them and nodded at an empty cage. At the same time, he thought of the door unlocking and opening on its own. He thought of the weapons in the Cyphers' hands falling to pieces on the floor, and they did instantly. The two Cyphers stared at the useless pieces of metal at their feet in horror, before they stepped slowly to the cage and then inside, while Twist watched silently. The moment they were inside, Twist thought of the door closing and locking. It complied swiftly, making the men jump.
“What the hell is going on?” Howell asked.
“I think Twist is doing it,” Arabel said, looking at him fearfully. Twist frowned at her, wondering what she was frightened of.
“Where is my son?” Kima asked, now standing at the bars of her cage.
“He's fine,” Twist said. “He's in Santiago, with a Rook. I just saw him this morning.”
Relief broke over her face. “Thank you,” she said softly.
Twist wanted the door of her cage to open, and it did. “Come with us,” he said, opening the cage holding Jonas's family as well.
They all walked out of their cages, leaving the Cyphers behind, and Howell and Dr. Rodés took Jonas from Twist and Arabel. The others followed Twist quickly and he shut the door to the holding cells the moment everyone was through.
“Anyone have a light?” Howell asked as he and the others stopped behind Twist.
Twist gave a sigh and thought of the light in his walking stick. It flashed to life and sent a wide ring of cobalt blue light against the black metal walls. Why was everyone else thinking and acting so slowly? They were doing things the long way around, and insisting on understanding everything completely before they would act at all. Twist began to wonder if they were drugged too, with something that was meant to keep them docile.
He came to the last room he'd found in Loki's memory. Past the door, the floor was a wide square of glass, with a large sliding panel in the center. There were mechanical hooks hanging over the panel, and a variety of small airships resting in neat rows at the sides of the room. None of them were ready to fly. Twist saw the basket of a deflated moonship—the first quarter phase this time—and looked to Kima.
“Would you please get that ship ready to fly?” he asked her.
Kima nodded and hurried to it while Twist turned his attention to the glass panel. It slid open easily, letting a breath of chilly air into the huge, open room. The moonship's hot air burner lit up and started to fill the ship. Twist hardly noticed as Howell and Dr. Rodés lowered Jonas to the floor, the doctor looking him over.
“Twist, what is going on?” Howell asked. “What's wrong with Jonas?”
“He'll be fine,” Twist said. “I think.”
“How is everything moving on its own?” Howell asked.
“Nothing's moving on its own,” Twist said, looking at him confusedly.
“Twist, are you doing this?” Arabel asked him gently. She peered at him in the last of the day's sunlight that still bloomed up through the glass.
“Of course,” he said easily. Arabel looked at his eyes strangely. “What?”
“Your eyes look different,” she muttered.
are you doing it?” Howell asked. “Is this technology? Magic?”
“What do you mean, my eyes look different?” Twist asked Arabel.
“Twist?” Howell asked, moving into his vision with a stern expression.
“Well,” Arabel faltered. “It's just, in this light your eyes look … brighter. And they're not blue anymore, they're a sort of a sweet, teal color.”
Twist felt something stir deep in the mysterious, shifting depths of his mind, while Howell began to speak again in a measured and firm way. Of course, there was no physical change in the color of his eyes. What Arabel was seeing was something else, something conceptual. It was like the flashing colors he usually saw in Jonas's eyes. It was like the pink everyone saw in Storm's.
A sudden, violent shock nearly knocked everyone off their feet. Twist hurried to the nearest wall and pressed his hand against the metal. He threw his Sight into the ship itself, searching for the source of the shock. He found a gaping hole in one of the glass floors of another room, and in the ceiling above it. An explosive cannonball had been launched at the ship from below. Twist looked down to the water beyond the glass under his feet, and his eyes easily found the powerful submersible ship as it rose to the surface and turned its weapons on the sky.
“We're out of time,” he said, running to Kima and the moonship. The balloon was still far from full. Twist wanted more air to flow through the burner. The burner's flame roared and grew. “Come on, everyone get in.”
The ship's basket slid across the floor beside Twist, towards the open panel in the floor. Twist wasn't sure he could slow their descent, but he was certain that any upward force could slow their fall enough to allow for a safe water landing. They didn't need to fly away, they just needed to survive the fall.
“Twist, we can't!” Howell growled, finally catching Twist's attention. “That ship isn't ready. We'll just fall!”
Twist stopped the ship at the edge of the opening and went back to take hold of Jonas. He dragged him to the basket and was pleased to see Kima join him. She looked pale with fright, but determined as well. She took Jonas's other arm and helped Twist hoist him up into the open second level of the basket. Once he was over the edge, Twist looked to the others.
“Are you coming?”
At that moment, another shock rocked the ship. Twist didn't have to touch anything to know that that explosion had been very close. Glancing at the balloon, Twist saw that the burner was still raging, screaming out the hot air as quickly as physically possible. It was nearly half finished now. Arabel moved for the basket, and Zayle followed her.
“I'd rather die trying to do something then stand here and get blown to bits,” she said stiffly. Aazzi looked to her husband. The doctor nodded.
“Come on, Howell,” he said. “What have we got to lose?”
“This is insane!” Howell grumbled.
“Then stay here,” Twist said, wanting the basket to slide over the edge.
“Ah, hell,” Howell grumbled as he hurried to climb inside just before the basket began to fall.