Lyna Wethers was on the move.
She strode down the central staircase of the Golden Moon, going in the same direction as Kaplen. I followed as close as I could, keeping track of her Pith’s position with my projection.
If she gets to Kaplen, she’ll –
No, I couldn’t think about that. If I got caught up in my anxieties, I wouldn’t be able to save him.
I descended the spiral staircase, just half a floor above her. Stay within twenty meters. In that range, I’d be vulnerable to her Whisper Vocation too, but I had to keep my illusions on her. Had to stay hidden.
Below, Honeypot had stopped at the bottom of the staircase. I cast my Pith out around her, and felt the Pith of a guard in front of her. I added my illusion onto him as well, making myself invisible to both of them.
I continued down, hanging just a few paces behind Wethers’ back.
“Evening, ma’am,” said the guard. “Going below?”
Honeypot sounded irritated. “What does it look like?”
The guard bowed, and unlocked the deadbolt on the door, opening it. “My apologies.”
I stepped close to Wethers, walking less than two feet behind her, and followed her through. The door grazed my suit jacket as the guard pulled it shut.
Wethers strode down a carpeted hallway. Further down, twin rows of doors extended on both sides. The private rooms. Wes had told me about these during our planning session. These were our best shot at getting Honeypot alone and knocking her out.
My hand tightened around the metal pillbox of Kraken’s Bone in my pocket. I’m sorry, Wes. It was reckless to go in this early, but if I waited for the perfect moment, Kaplen’s brain would be turned to mush. Wes couldn’t know that. Though if he did, he’d still stay back.
But there was a strategic value in going in, too: If we waited too long, Honeypot would control the entire ship, and we’d be fucked one way or the other.
Two guards approached us from the other end of the hallway, outside my Vocation’s range. I edited my illusions on Wethers, making them walk past without saying anything.
They walked past her, and stopped at me. My stomach clenched, and I switched my Wethers illusions to auditory, blocking out the sound of the guards’ voices.
“Who are you?” One of the guards said.
I projected into their minds, faking Honeypot’s voice calling out from behind. “He’s with me.”
The guards nodded, and walked past me. I ran to catch up to Wethers, maintaining my illusion on her.
The swing music from the band echoed from above, muffled by the ceiling. The red carpet on the floors softened the sound of my footsteps.
Another guard stood at the end of the hallway, in front of a huge, round steel door, like the kind you’d see on bank vaults. The panic room. According to Wes, the lock on it was pure voidsteel. If Wethers made it in here without us, our chances of capturing her went to almost zero.
The guard looked at me as I approached, suspicious. Before he could say anything, I projected an audio illusion into his mind, of Wethers talking, letting my visual illusions on Wethers drop for a moment. “He’s with me. Don’t ask questions.”
To the guard, it would look like Wethers was talking without moving her lips, but I hoped he would attribute that to her various projection powers.
“Let me in,” said the real Honeypot. I resumed my illusion on her, making myself invisible to her.
“Certainly, ma’am.” He pulled out a keyring and twisted keys in several holes on the door. Honeypot stepped forward and tapped the steel twice with her fingernail.
Mechanisms inside the door creaked, and it opened. A hand opened it from inside, and I projected my Pith forward, adding my invisibility to the guard inside.
The panic room wasn’t a room. It was another staircase, descending onto a lower level of the ship. But it looked nothing like the rest of the Golden Moon. The stairs and walls were metal, and the ceiling was low. Lamps hung from the ceiling, shining harsh pale light on Honeypot’s green dress.
It looked like something you’d see on a battleship, rather than a luxury yacht.
Lyna Wethers stepped in, and I followed her. The guard shut the thick door behind her with a metallic groan, and the muffled music from the deck cut out. The panic room was dead silent, soundproof.
Wethers strode down the staircase, her high heels clanging on the metal steps. I slid off my shoes, grabbing them in my hands, and followed in my socks.
The lower level was a hallway, laid out the same way as the staircase, austere and cold, with no windows. The lights got dimmer as they went further down, and the far end of the hallway was too dark for me to make out.
Honeypot opened the door to her right, stepping in. Inside was a cramped office, complete with a desk filled with cabinets, a small machine pistol, and a radio.
There was an empty whiskey glass on the desk, next to a bottle of gin. Perfect.
As I reached for the pillbox in my pocket, Wethers poured herself a glass and gulped half of it down. She put it down and grabbed a folder from a cabinet, reading it.
Kaplen must be at the other end of the hallway. I didn’t have a lot of time. But as long as she was here, she was out of his range.
Maintaining my visual illusions, I flipped open the box and dropped a single white pill into her glass. It dissolved into the clear gin, making a faint white cloud that faded in seconds. One would knock her out.
I’d use illusions to clear the guards and thralls on the level above, and deposit her in one of the private rooms. Then I’d find Wes and we could make our escape.
Honeypot didn’t take a second sip. She just pored over the documents, flipping from one page to the next. I glanced over her shoulder, reading what she had. It looked like a list of passwords and addresses, each corresponding to one another.
Wethers reached into the cabinet, pulling out an envelope and slicing it with a letter opener.
She shook it, and ten library cards fell out. They were blue, silver, gold, their otherworldly materials shimmering even under the dim light. The highest one went up to Level Three in the Great Library.
Quinten Keswick. Gillian Apworth. I was certain I’d seen Gillian talking in Harpy’s tactics class, and Quinten had talked to us on the deck. How many Paragon students has she taken?
With people like this, Honeypot was well-positioned to infiltrate Paragon.
I didn’t see Kaplen’s name mixed in. But some of the cards were flipped upside-down, and I couldn’t reach for them without risking a collision with Wethers’ hand.
Wethers took out a slip of paper and copied down the serial numbers on the back of the cards.
There was a knock at the door. Two sharp thuds. I reached my Pith forward, adding my invisibility illusion onto the new person.
Lyna Wethers opened the door, to reveal a middle-aged woman with short, ragged blonde hair and tired eyes. She wore a bright green dress, and a blue party mask hung around her neck.
I choked on my next breath.
Another Lyna Wethers. No, an imposter wearing a copy of her body. Or they were both imposters.
The second Honeypot strode into the tiny room, and I backed against the wall. My Vocation couldn’t alter touch sensations, and if one of them bumped into me, I’d be done for.
“Gods, you’re beautiful,” said the first Honeypot.
“How is the work going?” asked Honeypot number two. “I’m Marjorie.” She was identical to the first one, but her dress was covered in dirt and stains. Dark purple circles were etched under her eyes.
I slipped past the first Honeypot and crawled under a desk, squeezing myself into a corner and keeping myself invisible to them.
“I’m Ingrid. Slow,” said number one. “Where’s the real Lyna?”
“Upstairs,” said Marjorie. They’re both imposters. “With Jeylen.”
My stomach sank. The real Honeypot is closer to Wes.
Ingrid rolled her eyes. “Jeylen gets to be with the party and her, while we’re stuck down here with those.” She indicated her head down the hallway.
Marjorie folded her arms. “Why are we even keeping them around? We could tie rocks to them and toss them in the sea, and they’d smile all the way down.”
“How else is Lyna going to test her limits? Cut down your sample size, and your results curdle like milk in the desert.” Ingrid put a hand on Marjorie’s shoulder. One twin to another. “Lyna will avenge her greatest love. If we want the same passion from her, we have to earn it.”
They must be keeping prisoners here. And Kaplen was one of them.
But if the real Honeypot was upstairs with Wes, he might need my backup. He might be in trouble. And if Kaplen saw my face or heard my deeper voice, he’d connect it to ‘Ernest Chapman’ in an instant.
And there would likely be more enemies down the hallway. I couldn’t make myself invisible to all of them.
But they were running experiments on the people here. And Kaplen may not have figured out his Vocation yet, but he could project. We could use his help.
Who did I care more about? Kaplen Ingolf or Wes Brown?
I crawled past the two Honeypots to the door, and created an illusion of a guard leading me down the staircase. When they looked away, I added some footsteps too.
My guard illusion walked back up the staircase. I had the Ana-illusion move where I was, and then dropped my Vocation. To them, it’d look like a guard had just taken me down here as a new thrall.
“Another one?” said Ingrid.
I used my illusions to make myself look awe-struck at the Lynas, adding some tears running down my face. “E – eat anywhere nice lately?”
Marjorie looked me over. “You don’t have to use the code, sweetie. We’re all friends down here.”
“T – there are two of you?” In the illusion, I made my eyes bulge, putting on my best dazed impression.
“It’s complicated,” Ingrid sighed. “Let’s get back in.” She strode back down the hallway, fading into the darkness at the far end.
Marjorie nodded. “I’ll take this one.” She stepped forward and took my hand. “Follow me.”
I blinked, gaping at her. “Where?”
“This way. Don’t worry, you’re safe now.” She walked down the hallway, slow and deliberate. Her hand was cold on mine, guiding me forward.
I forced myself to take slow, deep breaths. If you panic now, they’ll catch onto you.
The light bulbs strung above us got darker as we went forward, step by step. Inch by inch. The temperature dropped in the hallway, and my skin prickled.
The hallway ended, and we pushed past a curtain at the end, hung over in place of a door.
We found ourselves in a square room, made of the same metal as the rest of the panic room. It was as wide as the ship, but the ceiling was short, just a foot taller than the top of my head.
The entire room was lit by a handful of faint orange ceiling lamps, making it hard to see. The sound of voices filtered into my ears – many voices, but I couldn’t make out what they were saying. I squinted to see what was in the middle of the room.
When my eyes adjusted, I flinched. My legs froze, unable to take another step.
Men and women crawled on the grey steel floor, wearing stained, wrinkled suits and gowns, their masks all taken off. Some were on their hands and knees. Others were on their bellies, pulling themselves forward with their legs hanging limp behind them.
They were gathered in tight groups. At the center of each one was a Lyna Wethers in a green dress, standing above them all.
Some of them were unconscious, or dead, lying flat in a ring around one of the Lynas. The others crawled on top of them like they were part of the floor, crushing them beneath their collective weight and forming a pile of bodies.
As I got closer to a group, I saw their eyes. Bloodshot and wide open, with dark circles underneath, and focused on the fake Wethers. Their intent didn’t seem lustful, but reverent.
As Marjorie approached, several outliers in a group made a whining noise from their throats, and dragged themselves towards her. Others wailed, or sobbed, or whimpered, falling at our feet and reaching towards Marjorie.
Marjorie took their hands, one at a time, and squeezed them. “Hi,” she whispered to each one of them. “Hi. Hi.”
I tapped one of them on the shoulder. “Eat anywhere nice lately?”
He responded with a whimper, opening and closing his mouth in my direction. His face screwed up with effort, and a gurgling noise came from his throat.
I realized why I couldn’t understand the sounds they were making. They all have aphasia. They were mute. Half of them felt around them with their hands, bumping into walls and each other. Blind, too.
Forcibly making major alterations to someone’s Pith often came with side effects. The more alterations, the more side effects. Wethers’ Vocation was no exception.
One Lyna hefted a bucket in the middle of her throng. She dipped a wooden spoon into it, scooping out a heap of rotten, damp oatmeal. She fed it to the men and women around her, pouring it into their mouths one by one. Her thralls lapped it up, porridge dribbling down their chins.
They were like animals. Livestock. And the fake Honeypots were herding them like cattle.
Soon after they ate the oatmeal, the men and women dropped to the floor, unconscious. The Lyna in the middle of them dragged them by their feet to the corner of the room, checking their pulse.
The Lyna placed a finger on the neck of one girl, sighed, and dragged her to the end of the hallway, separate from the others. She’s dead.
Marjorie let go of my hand. “See? You’re safe.”
I suppressed my nausea and forced a smile onto my mouth. “Thank you.” I climbed out of the circle of blind, mute men and women and looked back.
A thirty-year-old woman took my place, clinging to Marjorie’s leg like it was her mother’s. She rocked back and forth, eyes wide with terror or shock or devotion.
Marjorie stroked the woman’s hair, petting her like one would a dog.
There were dozens and dozens of people packed into this room. Maybe two hundred, if you counted the handlers, who were also under the real Lyna’s sway.
Where’s Kaplen? I scanned the room, casting my gaze into every corner. The dim light made it hard to make out faces.
Did they kill him? Did they dump his body into the sea already? My breath quickened.
A boy with red hair sat in the far corner of the room, slumped against the wall, with no mask. He wasn’t moving.
I walked towards him, as fast as I could without looking conspicuous. As I moved through the center of the dark room, the stench of blood, weeks-old body odor, and moldy porridge filled my nostrils, and I gagged.
As I got closer, I made out the round face, the dimples and the freckles. That’s Kaplen. He was sitting alone, far from any of the groups in the middle, or any of the other individuals spread along the outside of the room.
My pace quickened, and I projected towards him, and felt the network of his Pith glowing inside his mind. His chest was rising and falling. He’s still alive.
I threw up an illusion to disguise my appearance, replacing my appearance with that of a blonde girl my age, wearing the same suit and with a similar haircut.
“Hi,” I said, kneeling in front of him.
I spoke with a higher pitch and a softer resonance, closer to the feminine voice I naturally used. Kaplen was used to how Ernest Chapman sounded, so this way, maybe he wouldn’t recognize me.
Kaplen said nothing, ignoring me.
“Hi, I’m Clara. Nice to meet you.”
Silence. Is he in a coma? I took his hand in mine, shaking it. He yanked his arm back, recoiling from my touch. Not in a coma.
“What’s your name?” I asked.
I took a deep breath, and asked the question I was most frightened to ask. “Eat anywhere nice lately?”
Kaplen opened his mouth as if to speak, taking in a breath. I froze. The air of the room felt like ice on my skin. I watched him for several long seconds, blood rushing in my chest.
“Eat anywhere nice lately?” I repeated. Don’t give the code answer. Please don’t give the code answer. If he responded with that, then it would be too late for him.
“No,” mumbled Kaplen.
Thank the scholars. Honeypot hadn’t taken control of him yet. What’s he doing here, then? If they were running experiments in this room, then they might have taken him here so Wethers could test her Vocation on a fresh subject.
Why is he like this, then? Judging by his state, they might have drugged him to keep him docile.
If that was the case, I needed to suss out his mental state, find an opening, and convince him to leave with me. If I left him, he’d be at the mercy of the fake Lyna creeps here.
I tried another series of questions. “What are you doing here? What brought you to Bhais Baldana? You like masquerade balls?”
“I liked parties,” he said. His voice was a hoarse monotone.
Keep him talking. If we talked more, I could convince him to leave with me, and I could get him to a safe place before going up to help Wes. “Why did you like parties?”
“When you go to sleep,” said Kaplen, his speech slurred. “You have to confront the fact that you’re going to have to wake up and confront the day. Parties are a great way to avoid that, for a time.”
“Personal failure,” said Kaplen. “Selfishness. Exhaustion.”
“You seem smart,” I said. You got into Paragon. “You can change your circumstances.”
“People told me that a lot when I was young,” he said. “My parents. The fool who let me into Paragon. That I was smart and earnest. They put their money and power and trust in the hands of a selfish deadbeat. How do you think I repaid them?”
“But you still care about them. You still care about things.” You care about Cardamom and baking and learning. You care about me and Tasia. It felt like someone was twisting a corkscrew through my guts. “You can keep fighting. You’re capable of change.” Take your own advice. Write the next page.
“I tell people that a lot. And believed it, at some point.” He sucked in a deep breath. “But to be honest, there’s only one thing that’s made me feel like my old self again.”
“Do you know where Lyna is?” asked Kaplen.
No, that can’t be right. He hadn’t answered the password correctly. He couldn’t be controlled by Honeypot.
Unless he was just taken over. The purpose of the code was to identify other thralls on the deck of the ship. If he was taken down here right away, there was no point in teaching it to him.
“Where’s Lyna?” he asked again. “The ones in this room are fake. They have her voice, but lack the nuances of her personality.”
It’s alright. I didn’t know how heavily Wethers had used the Vocation. Kaplen could still have basic autonomy. He could go through therapy, or something.
“I want to find her,” said Kaplen. “But it’s so dark down here.” He waved his hand around me, reaching it in my general direction. He touched my face with it, feeling its contours, staring straight past me. “Where’s Lyna?”
The realization hit me.
He can’t see me.
My vision and hearing went blurry. I felt dizzy, lightheaded. I watched my chest rise and fall like waves on a seething ocean, up and down, taking huge, rapid breaths. My senses were faint, quiet, like the volume on them had been turned down.
It felt like I was watching myself from a far distance. As if my Pith were floating far, far away from my body, dissolving into nothingness, while my chassis continued to move and act on its own.
“Please,” said Kaplen, feeling for my hand and taking it in his own. “She’s my only chance. Where’s Lyna?”
This is permanent.
He already had endogenous depression, and she broke all the reward centers of his Pith.
My body stood up, pulling his hand off of mine. “Stay here,” it said. “I’m going to go fetch the real Lyna.”
I strode towards the curtain covering the room’s only exit. There was a fake Honeypot leaning against the wall next to it, smoking a cigarette.
When I got within twenty-five meters, I projected into her Pith, making myself invisible to her, and made the curtain look still.
My body pushed through the curtain, speed-walking down the hallway, out of the darkness and back into the light.
My breathing was shallow, rapid. My jaw was clenched. My feet moved of their own accord, carrying me to the office at the other end of the hallway.
The machine pistol sat on the desk, a sleek metal weapon with two blue stripes running down the sides of the barrel. My hand stuffed it in an inner coat pocket, tight enough where it wouldn’t get jostled around easily.
My hand yanked open the cabinets on the desks, sorting through the contents inside. They threw aside a lighter, a box of cigars, and a bottle of arak. No incriminating evidence.
Then my hand grabbed the radio, twisting the dials and tuning it to the frequency of the local police scanner. The static crackled, fading out and becoming a muffled man’s voice ringing from the speaker. He was muttering about a seven-eight-three at some address in lowtown.
“Please help!” I whispered as loud as I can. “Please, scholars, help me.”
“Who is this?” crackled the radio. “Identify yourself.”
“I’m on the Golden Moon yacht. I don’t know where we are, but we left the port a few hours ago for this party. Please, you have to help us.”
“This is a channel for law enforcement communications only, if you are not a member of – “
“There aren’t any phones,” I said. “Please. I think – I think they’re killing people here. Or worse. Some kind of Whisper Specialist. Please, you have to come, they’re going to kill everyone.”
“Please stay on the line while we contact the relevant department.”
“Someone’s coming,” I said. “They’ve got guns and they’re going to kill us all. The Golden Moon yacht. Please.”
“Sir, please stay on the – “
My hand reached forward and turned off the radio. I’d mentioned projection and violence, which should be enough for them to contact Paragon and the city’s Guardians. And that meant Major Brin would know.
I ran out of the office and up the staircase.
My senses had returned to me, but it still felt like I was in some sort of dream. The world around me felt unreal, almost. Like I was seeing the world through a thick haze, and my subconscious was puppeteering my body, moving my limbs and thinking all my thoughts for me.
A few auditory illusions, and I was past the guard at the top of the stairs and out the giant metal door.
I ran down the hallway, dress shoes thumping on the carpeted floor. The gun bounced against my chest. Damn this suit. The jacket was tight, constricting my shoulders.
A guard pulled open the door on the far side of the hallway and stared at me, a good forty meters away.
I stopped running, freezing in my tracks. Can I lie to him?
The man glanced at the pistol at his waist.
I sprinted towards him, arms pumping.
The guard reached for his pistol, pulling it out of his holster. Thirty meters.
He lifted it, aiming it at me. Twenty-five meters.
I projected at his mind, layering an illusory version of myself on top of my body, and turning my real body invisible. I dove to the floor, and he pulled the trigger.
A deafening crack rang in my ears. I made the illusion of myself stagger back, with a bloody hole in its chest. It dropped to the ground, dead.
I stood up with my real body, maintaining the illusion. The guard ran forward, training his gun on the fake corpse of me, and I pressed myself against the wall to avoid him, running through the door.
I clambered up the staircase four steps at a time, extending my Pith upwards and feeling a pair of glowing Piths running down just as fast. More guards. Investigating the gunshots.
I projected into their minds, making myself invisible to them, and flattened myself against the wall to stay out of their way.
The guards ran past me, both carrying their pistols. One of them brushed my suit jacket. Another one bumped past my back, and glanced at me. Seeing empty space in place of my body, he moved on, sprinting down the hallway.
I continued upward, running to the main deck. In the main dining room, the partygoers were chatting and nibbling on appetizers like nothing had happened. I slowed my pace to a fast walk, blending in among them.
Another two pairs of guards ran for the stairwell, drawing pistols. I didn’t have a lot of time. Sooner or later, the guards would realize I slipped past them, and they knew my description now.
I need to find Honeypot.
Outside, on the main deck, a few dozen men and women were gathered around the starboard side of the boat, gazing over the edge at something in the ocean.
I pushed open the door to the dining room and ran towards them. They were pressed to the railing, shoulder to shoulder, making it difficult to see what they were looking at.
I slid around the edge of the group, leaning forward.
Everyone was staring at the ruined metal tower, the Great Scholars’ skyscraper jutting out of the black water a short distance from the boat. Something, or someone was on the third floor, their pale skin visible through a large hole in the wall. I squinted to see better, as my vision adjusted to the darker light.
When I saw what was happening, my stomach dropped. Blood rushed through my chest and face, heating up my skin.
Honeypot stood on the third floor in her signature green dress, hands folded behind her back.
Wes was lying on his back beneath her, twitching. A guard touched a cattle prod to his neck, and Wes’ body shook. Another guard kicked him in the stomach, then poked his electric baton into Wes’ leg.
The boy’s suit and face were covered with red bloodstains. He’s in too much pain to project. And I didn’t see any paper around him.
Lyna Wethers stared down at him. Blue lightning crackled around her hands. She’s the real Honeypot.
She’s taking him over.
Wes would become just like Kaplen. Or worse. Mute, crawling. A half-dead, hollow slave to Honeypot, unable to experience pleasure or joy through anything other than her.
The water lapped up against the side of the boat. Men and women muttered to themselves, watching the action on the far side of the building.
The building was far out of my Vocation’s range. I couldn’t aim well enough to hit anything with my new machine pistol, and if I illusioned one of the guards here to shoot at Wethers, they’d just as likely hit Wes with their bullets.
The only boat was locked up with a Voidsteel lock, and the key was nowhere to be found. And I couldn’t swim.
I felt a sort of pressure building in my eyes, like I was about to cry.
But I didn’t cry. I felt nauseous and hot and out of breath from my running. But I didn’t cry. I just let the pressure build inside me, filling up every inch of my body.
The world on the other side of the tower gained a sharp sort of clarity. The two guards with cattle prods. Wes. Lyna Wethers. Everything else to the side and behind blurred into background noise.
I slid off my jacket and shoes, ripping off my black party mask. My belt, pants, and shirt were too tight to remove. Not with the time I had.
I leapt over the side of the Golden Moon, stretching my Pith thirty feet beneath me into the water. Liquid-air interfaces. Cohesion. I willed the surface of the ocean beneath me to harden, solidify.
My feet slammed into the water, and it bent beneath me like a trampoline, absorbing my momentum. It was like an invisible cloth had been stretched over the top.
A splitting headache exploded inside my skull, and blue lightning crackled around my legs. I couldn’t keep this up for long. Go.
I sprinted forward across the surface, hardening and holding up the water beneath me. It felt like my brain was bursting within my skull.
The water quivered beneath my feet, as the tower drew closer and closer. Wind rushed in my ears, and the blue lightning spread to my chest and arms, crackling around my entire body. The side of my stomach ached, a stabbing cramp right under my rib cage.
I stretched out with my Pith, reaching forward and upward towards Honeypot’s guards. It came up short. I’m still out of range. I was almost at the base of the tower.
My control of the water slipped. As one of my feet came down, the surface turned to liquid again. My foot sunk in, tripping me and throwing me forward.
I belly flopped onto the ocean, two feet in front of the tower, and my projection broke, crashing me into the sea. The headache was overwhelming, like a drill being inserted into the back of my head. I reached for the water around me, but it felt so heavy, so thick. I couldn’t summon up the energy to move it.
I kicked my feet, thrashing in the water and pulling my arms through the water. I’d seen guidebooks on how to swim before, but scholars, it was harder than it looked.
The tips of my fingers grazed the cold metal wall of the tower. My hand scrabbled against the steel, trying to grip onto something, but there was nothing. The wall nearby was rusty, but unbroken, a flat surface with no handholds.
I kicked with my legs, splashing in the water to keep my head above the surface. My shirt and pants clung to my body, heavy, weighing me down. My head dipped below the surface as I took in a breath, and my throat sucked in liquid. I surfaced again, coughing water out of my mouth.
I stretched my Pith above me again. This time, I felt four other Piths. One lower down, two standing above, and a third to the side. Wes, the guards, and Lyna Wethers.
As I struggled to stay afloat, I imagined specific changes to the world, forcing them onto their sensory inputs.
I layered over Wes, replacing his body and face with Lyna Wethers’, making it look like Honeypot had been kicked into his position, and that Wes had rolled to the side, unconscious. I made the movements look natural, realistic, transitioning smoothly from reality to illusion.
Then I replaced Honeypot’s image with another woman, a female Guardian aiming a gun at Honeypot.
In real life, Honeypot was still standing next to Wes, but to the guards, it looked like she was lying on the ground, and someone else was about to shoot her.
Above me, through holes in the wall and floor, I saw one of the guards swing his flashlight into the real Honeypot’s face, mistaking her for a threat. Lyna Wethers dropped to her back, and the other guard jabbed her stomach with his prod, shocking her.
Lyna Wethers’ men were beating her to death, believing that they were defending her. I could hear the dull thuds of their metal batons on flesh and bone.
My head dipped beneath the surface, cutting off my oxygen, but I was still in range. I layered on auditory illusions, straining my tired Pith even further. The headache grew, and it felt like the insides of my skull were being scraped away with a rusty knife.
I edited out Lyna Wethers’ real voice with my Vocation, replacing it with a replica I was controlling.
“Neck and face!” my illusion yelled to the guards in Honeypot’s voice. “Hit her neck and face! Don’t let the Guardian project!”
The guards obeyed, smashing their batons into Lyna Wethers’ neck and face. She shook, current running through every nerve in her body.
As I strained more, the blue lightning expanded, swirling around in an underwater storm. My Pith screamed at me to stop, to withdraw my projection before it broke me, but I held onto it, reaching and reaching as I sank and sank.
Drowning wasn’t anything like it was in the movies. There was no screaming, no splashing, or the opportunity to cry for help. It was dead silent, as my arms and legs moved back and forth under the water, getting more and more exhausted.
“Break her!” I screamed with my Lyna illusion, into the guard’s ears. “Break her and break her and break her and break her and break her.”
My lungs burned. The pressure inside my chest built and built, as I held in my last breath and maintained my illusion. The world under the surface was dark, blurry. Or was my vision getting fuzzy? My body was tired, so tired, and the ocean was so cold.
I gasped, and bubbles escaped through my mouth. My lungs sucked in an involuntary breath of water, and I choked, spasming. I couldn’t tell whether I was breathing out, or in, but still, I held up my illusion.
“Break her!” I imagined Lyna howling to her guards. I imagined her voice cracking, the spitting rage etched onto her face. “Break her!” For a moment, I couldn’t tell if she was roaring, or if I was. “BREAK HER!”
The two moons seemed to spiral around me as my body spun in the water. I sank out of range, and my Pith snapped back into my skull.
In the far distance, I heard a boy’s voice shouting my name. A large, dark object splashed into the water nearby, too blurry to make out.
I’m sorry, Kaplen.
The world faded away, and my eyelids fluttered shut.