E7 opened her eyes to the all familiar blandness of her cell. Voices hummed in the hall, grew louder, coming
toward her. She hadn't heard voices for a long time, in the corridor or anywhere else. For months only the knocking
of keys, the grating of corroded hinges, and then the ting of the dish holding bread and broth being shoved through the slot
in the door let her know others lived in the world outside her door. She saw no one; no one spoke to her.
They said she was their experiment, said she had no emotional needs, but she didn't feel the same. She felt emotions. She
felt hopelessness. Hopelessness so deep she begged for death.
She lay still, her ear pressed to the cold floor, her palms flat against the smooth stone. The footsteps
were odd. One set was heavy and slow, the familiar sound of the morning guard, but the other two sets were different,
soft and light. Women. One walked slow and dragged her heels.
E7 raised up on her arms, alert with apprehension. She flexed her powerful biceps and eyed the stone door through the straggly
ends of her long bangs. The last time a woman came to see her, they made her kill. She didn't like to kill.
The only light in the room came from a constant opening in the ceiling behind layers of swirled glass. The first layer
hung twenty feet from the floor and showed a web of cracks, a victim of her frustration. It now cast a pale hue over
the floor to the base of the door and the constant flowing pool of water in the left corner.
Keys knocked against stone. The door was as featureless as the walls with no doorknob for her to watch, but she heard the
workings of the lock and the latch ground when it turned. She despised the small cell that caged her, but for as much as she
hated it, she hated the thought of leaving it even more.
The heavy door pushed inward and cast faint shadows to her hands. She sprang to her feet, her knees never touched ground,
her bare skin caused no sound to rise from the stones. The guard glared at her from under his hard brow. In his sculptured
hands he held the shock baton. It delivered a charge of lightning to cripple the muscles, but the last few times he used it
she realized its effects were weakening. Or she was growing immune.
He stood in the entrance for a moment before moving aside to allow a tall woman entrance. Stunning, jade eyes peered
out from her creamy face with perfectly arched cheekbones and curving lips.E7 remembered Chione too well. Chione wore a gown
of silken gold, snug over her ample chest and small waist. The flowing skirt brushed the floor as weightless as the clouds
E7 remembered floating in the pale orange sky.
"Hello, E7," Chione said, her voice thick with authority.
E7 studied Chione and then slid her gaze to the guard and the doorway he blocked. Another woman stood there, just
outside the room.
"I finally have another assignment for you," Chione said.
E7 clenched her fists and pressed her nails deep into the flesh of her palms. She had no reason to do anything to please
Chione. Avoiding a beating wasn't cause enough. She withstood many beatings. Maybe one more would be the final one.
Maybe she could be freed of the hell her life had become.
"And if I refuse?" she said.
"Still defiant, I see." Chione nodded and hooked a slim finger over her chin. "You are not so bad in appearance you know,
could almost pass for one of us if it not for the hair and those eyes."
"I was one of you."
Chione laughed a hearty sound. "No, you never were. But your appearance will help you in your hunt. And you will
hunt." Chione turned to the door. "Bring in the mother."
E7 stepped back. Her mother? She hadn't seen Alana for so long, had spoken with her in her mind, but it had been many
months since their last conversation. She felt Alana slipping away then, eaten up and in pain. She feared death claimed her.
Alana had told her things were going badly, a new plague had emerged and it had taken hold of her.
E7 heard murmuring now, a whisper in her thoughts.
The guard moved aside and the woman in the doorway lifted her head. A pale-green tunic clung to her skeletal shoulders
like a wet rag and covered most of her long gown of white. Her once golden hair was a shade of bleached yellow. Her once bright,
emerald eyes were gray with imminent death.
Alana attempted a smile, but her ashen lips quivered as if the effort was too much.
E7 looked to the floor, unable to tolerate what had become of her mother. Sorrow raced through her chest, sorrow she
hadn't felt for a long time.
"So you do recognize her," Chione said. A sly smirk thinned her lips. "You see what happened to her? She is dying. There
are only a few more days of beating in her heart."
Blood roared in E7's ears. Energies burned hot in her center. She glared at Chione and wondered if the woman had inflicted
the torment on Alana.
"There is nothing we can do for her or the many others." Chione walked to E7, staying just out of arms reach. "But you
can take revenge, yes, a creature like you can take a great revenge on the one responsible for releasing this horror on your
mother. Would you like to know how?"
Revenge wasn't something E7 felt a need for. Revenge never accomplished anything. Alana had taught her that.
Chione continued to study her. "The one who created this plague is attempting to escape our world. We need you to hunt
it down, to kill it."
E7 glanced at Alana. Was killing a necessity? She wished for some guidance but none came. Alana stared blankly at the wall
as if she saw nothing more than the doors of death.
E7 paced from the soundless pond of running water to the barren corner several paces across from it. The thoughts in her
mind swirled, mixing what Chione had spent years beating into her with the faint memories of Alana's teachings. The tug of
war tightened every muscle in her body until she felt her thoughts begin to snap.
"You will do this," Chione said. "You will, or your siblings will suffer this fate. So far they have avoided this plague,
but it can be injected and will be if you refuse."
E7 stopped still. She clenched her fists at her thighs. How could the woman threaten children?
"Please don't do this to her?" Alana said. Her voice, once as strong as Chione's, sounded as a husky croak.
Chione peered down at Alana and shook her head. "How does one become so emotional toward an experiment? That is all it
was and is. You treated it as one of us, but it is not and now it needs to repay us for giving life and allowing it to keep
"That's what you said last time," E7 said, anger hastened her breaths. "You said to do one final kill, then I would reclaim
my life and go home. It didn't happen that way."
Chione huffed. The corners of her dark eyes tightened. "Of course not. We cannot permit you to roam about. Your counterpart
has proven why and now it is out. It is the one you must hunt. It has no family ties like you, though, no emotions at all.
Your reward will be your brother and sister's lives. I brought your mother here, had to see if the emotional attachment was
strong enough to keep you in line. I believe it is. I believe you cannot stand by while your siblings suffer the same torment
your mother is enduring. I will return with your orders."
Chione stepped out the door and turned to wait for Alana to follow.
"I wish to hug her, please," Alana said.
Chione shook her head with disgust and turned away. "Fine. Yes, but hurry."
Alana shuffled forward.
E7 found herself dreading the touch she had once cherished. She stared down at the guard's feet. Alana reached her.
Can you hear me, please hear me now.
E7's heart fluttered. The loneliness besetting her for so long lifted a bit. She gazed into her mother's drawn face.
I can hear you.
You must get out, escape. I am dying but Keelyn and Kian are well. You need to go to them, take them away, to the place
your father comes from. I need you to do this for me and for them.
Alana reached out and wrapped her bone thin arms around her daughter. E7 felt a trembling hand against her waist, felt
a cold vial slip into the waistband of her pants.
Use these when you reach Keelyn and Kian. Chione has them locked in her tower on the far eastern corner. Reclaim the
name I gave you, Ravyn, and live a life. I doubt anyone will follow you and the twins, but even if they do, you will be able
to hide there. Take care of yourself and your brother and sister. Know you are loved, by me and them.
Alana slid her arms down and stepped away. Her breaths grew heavy from the effort. E7 wanted to cry out to her, to be held
again like when she was a child. But she wasn't a child any longer. And Alana was dying.
Alana disappeared around the corner, gone from sight.
The guard smirked at E7. He was a tall man, built strong as all of Chione's guards were. He lifted the shock baton. White
bolts snapped from each of the five claws at its end.
"Is that sadness I see in you, E7?" He sneered at her.
E7 calculated the distance, his height, his approximate weight. She breathed deep and focused her energies to her core.
"Sadness is weakness and Chione hates weakness," the guard said.
E7 lunged forward, grabbed the baton, and twisted it from his grip. She pinned him to the wall with her right hand. His
windpipe compressed beneath her fingers and his green eyes grew wide, first with anger, then with panic. She pressed harder,
easily holding his powerful body, her every muscle rigid with the control of her mind. His tongue licked the air; his fists
pummeled her, but only for a moment.
When his eyes rolled up, showing nothing but white, she released him. He collapsed to the floor with a thud. His chest
moved with life. She strode through the door, the only door strong enough to keep her captive. Freedom was now hers.
"Not sadness," she mumbled, glancing to the right and then left. "I believe it's called determination, and my name's Ravyn."