A/N: Thanks to the folks who read and took the time to review this! Also, thanks to the Allusive Man for letting me bombard him with my writing and giving feedback. Much appreciated. This is the end for this story, unless I decide to check in on Aeian in the future. I'm hoping to write more on the general war stories heard throughout the game.
Aeian wanted that once. When Neaira's eyes go black all Aeian feels is terror. She's just out of the shower. Moments ago her limbs had been loose, relaxed. Now they're stiff, locked, her movements stilted. She's gasping.
The husks are everywhere. Run. Run. She needs to run. Neaira reaches for her. This won't be like her caresses of the past. Aeian ducks her touch, knowing she could be reduced to ribbons. The husks are growling, teeth gnashing. Humans. Farmers? Where did they come from? A ship or the farm? She wasn't in the shower that long. It doesn't make sense.
The husks are blasted back before she knows she's done it. She hyperventilates and runs on awkward legs. Past Neaira who slowly turns to look at her. Hilary is cowering in a hallway corner, murmuring, hands covering her face. Run. Run. What are you doing, girl, run.
Aeian can't talk. Neaira is close but leaving the girl would be murder. Aeian hurtles down the hallway unsteadily and grabs Hilary's arm. "We have to go," she jerks her to a standing. Husks are crawling out of the room, legs mangled off, still pushing forward, like mindless zealots.
Ahead, Neaira touches a farmer, gums and teeth bared in a frightening grin. The farmer splatters, blowing apart in every direction. Hot blood splashes on Aeian and Hilary. Hilary screams again. Aeian doesn't let go of her arm, she pulls her and runs. The farmers are panicked, horrified. They look at her and Neaira—their guardians.
The look of betrayal in their eyes doesn't last. Neaira turns them to liquid. Others she tears apart. It's chaos. The farmers run but Neaira catches them. Aeian knows how to dodge, how to hide in plain sight. The farmers provide cover for her escape.
It doesn't take more than a minute but it feels like hours by the time they make it outside into the cold night. Aeian's lungs are burning. There is a foul taste in her mouth. She doesn't know if it's blood or goop, or the taste of her failure, the abandonment of her duty.
Hilary is struggling, slowing them. "My dad is still in there!" Hilary yells when Aeian slows enough to let her speak. "I have to go back, you have to let me go back, we have to save him!"
"If you go back in there, you're dead!" Aeian grips her arm more tightly. "I'm sorry." A fountain of words remain lodged in her mouth. She dams them. Anything else she could say would be self-pity.
They head for the hills, Neaira's and the farmers wailing following after them.
She left the gun and the radio.
How could she? What was she thinking? Why did she shower? Why didn't she think to take the gun when Neaira came? She's a huntress, damn it. She's trained for centuries.
They sit atop a hill, cold, frosted grass beneath them. Aeian wraps her arms around herself and exhales white fog. Hilary weeps, sniffling now and then before breaking down into sobs again.
"The shuttle will be back soon," she tells Hilary. If they survived whatever support mission they got called to. If they didn't… No. She can't think that way. "I don't see any of those things around here." Neaira is one of those things now. Is this why the humans and the turians were so terrified? Aeian considered Neaira the most beautiful asari she'd known. To think that she was turned into that… Why her? How? She was the best of them. She always knew what to say, what to do, to make things better. And now…
Tears roll down her face. She's thankful for the cover of night and the brief, heat along her face. She brings a hand to her mouth, fingers curling into a fist. She bites down to keep herself from making any sound. She'd hate to scare the girl.
"I wish Jeff was here," Hilary says brokenly. "You said you'd take care of us. You promised you'd get us out of here safely. I bet Commander Shepard could have helped us."
Aeian's voice is barely there. It quivers, much as she fights to keep it steady. "I didn't mean to lie to you. I wanted to help. We wanted to help."
Hilary cries too heavily to hear her.
Aeian doesn't sleep. The night passes without incident. Screams waft through the air like a discordant symphony. Aeian wonders how many Neaira has killed now. There's been no sight of the shuttle.
Maybe she should have told Neaira she loved her. That thing, that reached into her mind… that imposter, masquerading as Neaira, did she know? Did it move her? Neaira was always the better huntress. How did she escape? Did Neaira let her escape…?
Aeian loses herself in thoughts of her.
The sun rises too slowly, staining the hills and landscape a pale red. Hilary is curled on her side, awash in blood and goo that has caked to her face and arms, clothes. She must be freezing. Aeian wishes she could help her, warm her, but what has she got besides a towel?
Hilary's eyes open with difficulty. She groans softly and looks at her. Aeian stares back, lacking the energy to muster even the faintest of encouraging smiles. "Is the shuttle here?"
Hilary sits up. "It's freezing." She begins to yawn but doesn't finish. She rubs her face and looks at her bloodstained hands. "Do you think my dad is okay?" Aeian attributes the hopeful nature of her voice to her youth. This farm girl, fragile and powerless holds hope that Aeian isn't sure exists.
"I hope so." The breeze picks up. How much longer can they stay out? Will those things find them? Aeian's eyes are fatigued. "The shuttle should be here soon."
"Maybe that Samira will come back. She's a good fighter, right?"
Aeian bites her tongue. Minutes pass. "I don't know."
Night falls again.
The stars are specks in a black sky that is only occasionally illuminated by a decimated airship.
"I'm hungry," Hilary says.
"What do you want me to do about it?" Aeian swallows the lump in her throat. She's hungry too. There's no food nearby. No wildlife to feed off, no rations. Hilary turns her head as if she's been slapped. "I'm sorry, I just don't know how to help. The shuttle should be back soon."
"It's been a day and it's not back. What if it doesn't come back?" Her voice wavers and Aeian is unsure if she's only stung from her words or simply weak and exhausted. Maybe all of it. "What are we going to do?"
"We wait. That's all we can do."
"Aren't you a biotic? Can't you go back there—you said that one of you was worth twenty soldiers?" Hilary pulls her knees to her chest and wraps her arms around them. "Commandos can do anything. Right?" Aeian wonders if all the farmers are dead. If more husks and marauders have come. If there are more of what…Neaira was turned into. She doesn't have her gun. She doesn't have her radio. If only she hadn't taken a shower. If only she hadn't let her guard down. Hilary presses her forehead to her folded arms. "I'm so scared."
"Me too." In the past she's undertaken many operations, painstakingly planned. Most she did with Neaira, but even the ones she undertook on her own went off without a hitch. She knows the enemy, she knows the layout, but this is different. Returning before the shuttle does would be suicide. Her biotics are strong but that creature Neaira was changed into…. She's never seen even the matriarchs wield that kind of power.
Aeian grasps the grass absently, pulling out blades. Her stomach turns from hunger. She experimentally brings the grass to her lips and chews. Hilary watches her cautiously before doing the same. She makes a face but collects another few handfuls and eats them. Aeian follows suit. The grass is cold. It has no flavor that she can identify other than that of grass. It cuts along her tongue.
"You have grass on your face." Hilary tells her. Aeian searches for it, not finding it before Hilary starts to giggle. Aeian smiles. "Your towel is all dirty. Didn't you just take a shower? Maybe you shouldn't have taken a shower. Maybe I shouldn't have offered."
Aeian laughs awkwardly. Soon they're both laughing so hard they're crying and hunched over. "We have to be quiet," Aeian warns her, "those things might hear us."
But they can't stop. Aeian wonders if they've lost it.
The rising sun sheds light on marauders moving across the hills.
The shuttle still hasn't arrived. The night was spent huddled together, hungry and cold, their hope slipping by the moment. They keep low to the ground and watch the twisted turians roam the land. There don't appear to be many of them.
"I have to get a weapon," Aeian says. She's been obsessed since leaving her pistol at the farm. Those turian things shoot at them—whatever they use, it looks different from what the cannibals and… what Neaira… If she can get her hands on a weapon, maybe she can get back to the farm, get the radio, call the shuttle back.
"A weapon? How? At the farm?"
Aeian nods to a marauder in the distance, some three hundred feet removed from the others. It's possible that cannibals are on the way or maybe he got separated from the others. She has no idea what their intellectual capabilities may be. They can fight. Is it a trap? Returning to the farm would be easier if she had a weapon.
She has to try. She's a huntress. This shouldn't scare her. She's weak and dizzy. Her head feels as if it's taken a shotgun blast. "You stay here."
Hilary takes her arm when she stands. "Will you be okay?"
"Yeah." Aeian rips the towel around her and fashions it into a tunic. She needs it to stay up if she's going to be fighting anything. She ties it tightly at the shoulder and looks at the distance she must cross. Normally she'd wait until night but without weapons, she's at a disadvantage. She doesn't know that she can afford to wait any longer. She looks at Hilary, face smudged with dirt, eyes circled black, pale and freckled. "If something happens… you have to hide. That's the most important thing. You can't fight these things. Wait for the shuttle to arrive."
"I thought you said you'd be okay," her voice shakes. "I don't want to be out here alone."
"One marauder won't stop me." She turns swiftly, moving stealthily down the hill. Frosty blades of grass stick to her feet. Later they will be soft and wet but the night has been cold. Her breath fogs in the air as she moves. She's an expert at hiding but who knows how many marauders and cannibals are spread throughout the area. The hill has a good vantage point but a ship could show up at any minute.
Everything could go wrong. Again.
She treads carefully, closing in on the marauder's position. She's nearly to him when vertigo hits. Her foot slides across the grass. She bites hard on her tongue to keep from crying out in surprise. For a split moment she is slouched, nausea turning her stomach, making everything spin.
The marauder turns. Sees her. If he shoots it's over. Instinct kicks in. She lifts a hand, ripping the gun from its arms and into her own. It's heavier than she thought but she's comforted. She can breathe again. She can kill again. She's good at that. Everything will be okay now. The marauder growls, launching at her. It's fast but she's faster.
She pulls the trigger. Nothing happens. In a panic, she looks down, is the safety on? The marauder knocks her to the ground. They've hit her before, with the butt of their rifles, sometimes but she's had armor then, a squad. More than a damned towel.
The blow registers. She can't shout; there's no air in her lungs. She tries the gun again but it doesn't respond. A taloned fist raises and she lifts a barrier, blocking it. One swipe could rip her open. He 's propelled away and she scrambles to her feet. The grass is slippery. She throws him and he hurls back, crashing to the ground. It's so quiet except for the movement of grass, some birds in the distance and their grunts as they battle to survive. She needs to survive. She'll do anything to survive.
She races forward, knees still weak and lifts the butt of the gun. She slams the hilt into its throat to keep the thing from alerting anyone. It gurgles and she smiles with relief before bashing the rifle into its skull. Turians have hard heads, they're made of bone, metal and goddess knows what now.
In time she hears a satisfying crack but she doesn't stop. Blue blood and whatever that goop that covers them is slathers her. She can't stop. Over and over again she lifts the rifle, arms aching, until the creature stops moving. There isn't a head anymore.
She stares at the corpse, panting, throat dry. It was always easy before. She didn't have to think of how the creatures were someone's father or mother, brother or sister, daughter or son, husband, wife. Who has she killed? Did their family already mourn them?
Slowly, she makes her way back up the hill, clutching her aching side, dragging the useless weapon with her. The towel stayed up. That's something. But no working gun, no shuttle, no way back to the farm, no food.
Aeian experiments with the gun for hours but gets no results. It's a phaeston—the same as the turians use. It should work but against all reason it doesn't. Aeian sets the phaeston aside and looks at the girl. She's lost weight. They both have. Hilary has become more monosyllabic with the passing hours. Initially she had been gripped by despair, anger, resentment at Aeian for failing in her duty. She'd cried for her family, her mother, father, the brother she hadn't seen in too long before tiring and speaking in a wistful, empty way.
"I really thought I was going to be a pilot," Hilary's eyes are half-open, fingers lethargically threading through the grass. "I was going to show Jeff up. But I wasn't really. I just said that. He's the best pilot in the Alliance. I mostly saw him through vids. He's twice my age and he has Vrolik's syndrome." Aeian looks at her, not knowing what it means. "By the time I was old enough to start remembering things he had enlisted and was training. He once sent a vid saying he wished he could pick me up and swing me around like all those other kids got to be. For a long time I just thought he was lazy. All I ever really wanted was to leave Tiptree and see the world. Jeff's kind of a hero around here. He left. Everyone around here always says they'll leave and do something more than farming but they never do. I mean, Mom did but now Mom—." She stops. Aeian thinks she's finished when she starts again. "I wanted to be different. I wanted to be more than just Jeff Moreau's sister. Even though it's awesome being his sister." She closes her eyes. "I can't believe I'm going to die without ever being kissed. That's so depressing. At least I won't have to be mortified too long about it."
Aeian isn't sure if Hilary's making jokes. It sounds like she is but maybe Aeian doesn't know her well enough. "This isn't over yet."
She faces what she has been denying to herself for days now: the shuttle isn't coming back. Not without a call, anyway. She has to get to that radio. They haven't had any water—at this rate they'll die of dehydration before they starve to death. Hilary lies motionlessly on her side. Aeian nudges her side gently. "Hey." The girl's eyes settle on her, taking some time to focus. "I'm going back to the farm." Hilary slowly begins to sit up. "I'm going to try to get to the radio. If I can get it—I can call the shuttle back here. We can leave this place."
"I'm coming with you." Aeian shakes her head but Hilary takes her arm, her grip surprisingly strong for someone who'd been laying motionless for hours. "I can't stay here. I can't stay here by myself." She looks around fearfully. "Anyway… I have to look for Dad. Maybe he's okay. Maybe we can save him."
"It's not safe. You saw what happened with…" She thinks about the thing that Neaira became. Aeian isn't sure she wants to see her again, wants to battle her. Could she?
"I'm going to the farm," she says again. She gets to her feet. "With or without you." She doesn't wait for Aeian to speak and begins charging down the hill.
"Wait." She doesn't wait. Stubborn human. Aeian doesn't know how to keep her on the hill. Leaving her would be dangerous. She catches up with her. "If you're coming with me, we do it my way. Follow my lead and be quiet."
Hilary nods grimly.
The trip to the farm takes longer than Aeian anticipated. She isn't sure if it's the exhaustion that makes it seem longer or if in their initial terror, the night of the attack, they ran in a panic for too long. They avoid the marauders. Hilary is a quick learner, imitating her movements well enough to not give them away.
They come across a broken fence along the way. Hilary looks at a broken section wrapped in barbed wire. "This used to keep the cows in." She tells Aeian quietly, stooping over to pick up the four feet long stick. Aeian helps her rip it away from the rest of the fence. "I don't know where they've gone. I guess we're the cattle now."
They keep walking. Hilary has stopped complaining of hunger though now and then Aeian must slow when the girl starts too lag too far behind, catch her breath or fend off dizziness. Aeian worries. Dusk is nearly on them and night will be here too quickly.
They're near the farm when husks begin to straggle out. Just three of them. Aeian hits them with enough force that they're thrown near thirty feet away. She glances back at them but they're lifeless. A husk sprints towards Hilary. Her face is hard and determined. Aeian doesn't have a clear view of the husk. Can't get it without hitting Hilary.
Hilary lifts the stick, twisting to the side and swings. The blow nearly takes off its head. It bends sickeningly to the side before falling over. Hilary's expression is one of bewilderment, disgust and pride. She looks at the stick she holds as if it were as mighty as a cannon. The barbs drip blood.
Aeian grins, feeling an inkling of hope. If this farm girl can take husks out, then getting the radio won't be quite the ordeal she thought it would be. Aeian goes to her and nods with approval. "Not your average farm girl," she squeezes her shoulder reassuringly before they sneak up to the farm doors and peer inside. Aeian doesn't see anything immediately. Everything's quiet but there are voices.
"I hear them!" Hilary whispers excitedly. "That's Mary and Chris! I know it!" Her eyes are bright, lively again. She tries to go in but Aeian holds an arm up to bar her path. "I want to find Dad."
"No. The radio first." They won't be going anywhere if she can't get to that. She doesn't like how quiet it is. Where's Neaira?
"I don't see anyone. Weren't there bodies before?"
"They've been cleaned up." But why? Are they making more husks? Did a rescue team come? No. They wouldn't clean up the bodies and leave the farmers. They must be making more of those things. She tries to remember of how many farmers Neaira killed while she and Hilary had still been at the farm. Some had been reduced to bits and pieces, something that would be useless to the Reapers. She hopes, anyway.
The sun is nearly gone. They're both washed in the red light, matching the paint of the farm, the dark stains of the straw covered floor within. If the radio is where she left it, on the massive table in the center of the room she'll have to walk some distance to get to it. "Be on your guard," she says to Hilary and steps inside. The voices they'd heard earlier are definitely those of the farmers.
They creep further into the farm, taking cover by the giant bales of hay, careful to not trip over the farm equipment littered everywhere. Aeian motions to Hilary whenever there's some piece of equipment where it shouldn't be.
The farmers are held not too much further ahead, in simple, steel barred cages. They must have brought those in. They've got their arms tied behind them, some rudimentary farm locks in place. Amazing they haven't escaped. Hilary tries to run to them but Aeian stops her. Neaira is ahead. Hard to think that she can wrap her head around that now: that thing is Neaira. Aeian's lost her. It looks like she's leading the group of husks that are with her. The cleaned up farmers. No way it was going to be that easy. If she had her pistol she could put a bullet between Neaira's eyes. It would be over. Aeian wonders if she's suffering. Aeian wonders if she could do it even with the pistol.
"We have to release them," Hilary says vehemently.
She looks around. There are various hoes, pitchforks, scythes hanging along the walls, littered on the tables. "Fine. If we arm them, maybe we'll stand a better chance at getting out of here. I'll go ahead. Follow on my say so." She walks low to the ground, getting to the cages. The farmers look tired and weak. Aeian pulls at the door. It's latched. She studies the locking mechanism—it doesn't appear to be strong and sure enough with a small amount of biotic force, the door swings open. The farmers remain where they stand. They must be in shock. Aeian beckons Hilary over. "Unshackle them," she says and moves over to the other cage. Hilary goes to them, eyes wet, smile bright still despite the danger. She finds her father, hugs him, though he is unresponsive. Aeian hears her tell him, tell them all that it will be okay.
The farmers remain in the cage even when the second one has been opened. Hilary is nearly through releasing the second set of farmers when one of the ones in the first cage screams. Aeian looks at him in alarm. A second farmer follows suit, then a third, like a wave they each begin to yowl.
"What's going on?" Hilary asks in a panic.
"Get out of there!"
Hilary runs, tries to slam the cage door behind her but it's too late. They push past, streaming out, howling, arms stretched, lunging at them. Indoctrinated. They're indoctrinated. Damn it! Hilary screams, no louder than the shrieking farmers but it's too late.
Neaira turns, eyes still oily black, empty. Don't do this, Aeian thinks but whatever that thing is that she became, it's indifferent. Even if Aeian can feel her mind, can see herself in her mind, can see and feel who she used to be. Neaira lifts an arm and husks are lunging at them, goddess, there must be—
A farmer gets its hands on the girl. Aeian shouts. The farmer is cast back, his body slamming into the other farmers. They're undeterred. They get up. They continue screaming. Aeian pushes Hilary behind her. "Run!" They're coming. She reaches her arms out, pulling at the air and a farmer is ripped in half. She flings the torso at another one.
They advance. They're going to kill her. They're going to kill them. She panics. Neaira is still in her mind, pressing into it, her thoughts are scattered. Aeian sees herself, sees Neaira. She sees memories of their first meeting, a younger self, Neaira, things that she wanted to happen but never did, things imagined differently. Neaira's desires? Her own? She doesn't know who thinks what. She only knows to react, to react, she only wants to live.
Neaira eviscerated the farmers before. Aeian fights as if to outdo her. She tears the farmers apart, heads twisted off, limbs severed. It's easy. They're nothing. They're paper. For days she's felt helpless but now she feels good. This is what an asari huntress is. In the end, they always work alone, in the end, they do what they must to get the job done. The farmers stop screeching. She's decimated them, reducing them to something unrecognizable. She sees their spleens and their guts. The floor runs red with blood. It's pooled at her feet. She's drenched in their blood and flesh. She breathes heavily, happily, triumphantly. The victory is short lived.
Hilary is screaming, clutching at her leg.
There are dead husks. Hilary's doing. But the stupid girl has tripped over one of the farm machines. Aeian rushes over and sees bone sticking awkwardly out of her shin. She glances back. The husks are coming their way. Aeian stoops, picks Hilary up, wrapping an arm around her shoulder and yanks her to her feet. Hilary cries out again and when the husks are nearly upon them Aeian pulls at the ceiling, fueled by the terror moving through her, by the adrenaline of her recent kills.
The farm roof collapses, raining over the coming husks, over Neaira. Aeian hopes she got the reapers but who knows. She can still feel Neaira in her mind.
They only have a small window to get to safety. With Hilary's leg in the condition it's in they can't make a run for the hills again. She thinks quickly and summons a warp field, running off desperation. It's massive and booming. It knocks them to the floor and a wall crashes down. It was a desperate maneuver and they nearly pay for it—it stops only a foot above their heads. The space is so tight it's hard to turn, the walls press into their shoulders. There's concrete and wood littered around them. Aeian gasps for breath, getting a mouthful of dust in the process. Hilary is alternating between hyperventilating and crying.
She didn't get the radio. She didn't get the gun.
But it should be okay. They should be okay.
The dust has settled. It's night and cold again. They've been hiding for hours. Aeian hoped she had killed the reapers but she hears them, moving, groaning, shuffling. She's refined her sense of hearing for too long. They're alive. She didn't get them all. And now, they're trapped. If they're discovered…
There's a light swinging somewhere in the farm. It moves like a pendulum, piercing into the crevices of where they hide and cutting light across their faces. Hilary is crying still. Aeian has tried for hours to comfort her quietly but nothing she does helps. What Hilary needs is medical attention, not words. Aeian's not a doctor. Even if she were, what could she do for her with no equipment? She looks for broken wood to create a splint but there's nothing suitable.
Aeian kneels beside her, a hand to her forehead, stroking her hair. "It's all right," she says quietly to her, "I know it hurts but we're safe here." For the moment. Hilary's eyes go every which way, they lock onto hers, frightened before filling with tears again. "You did well. You're a natural. We'll make a huntress out of you yet."
"It hurts," Hilary whimpers. She pulls into herself, fingers tentatively going to the bone before releasing another little shout of pain.
Aeian's fingers dig unwittingly into her hair. "I know. I know. But you're tough. I know it's hard," she whispers, "I know it hurts but I need you to be quiet." The tears have dried and caked on Hilary's face only to begin again, streaming down her cheeks, over Aeian's fingers. She lowers her face to Hilary's, pressing their foreheads together. "I can hear them out there. They can probably hear us, so please. Please, please, please, I need you to be quiet."
Hilary nods painfully and Aeian's heart swells for this brave girl. "I wanted to save them. I thought I could save them." Her voice is pained, slow, high and then low. Aeian takes her hand. "Dad's gone now, too." Her eyes fill with tears again. Aeian nods. Hilary squeezes her hand tightly, perhaps reading something in her face that Aeian doesn't know is there. "It's okay."
"We'll get out of here," she doesn't know why her eyes are burning. Another nod. Hilary's face is crumpled and pained. She bites her lip so hard it bleeds. Aeian wipes it carefully. Aeian thinks to meld her mind with hers, to ease the pain somehow, to transport her to another place where the Reapers don't exist but for the life of her she can't draw any memories, anything pleasant, to give her some peace. Her mind is still tainted. She can smell the stink of blood on her.
Hilary gasps, letting go of Aeian's hand. "Oh, God. I'm sorry," she breathes hard, the tears spilling faster. "It hurts. It just hurts so much. I'm trying to be quiet. I'm trying—"
"It's okay," Aeian says but it isn't okay. Maybe she imagined hearing them. Maybe—she scoots away from her and looks through a hole in the boards of the wall. Her heart sinks. Neaira is still there, walking in that slow, heavy way of hers, as if she were walking on broken glass. She's close. Goddess, she's so close. Her eyes are still black.
Aeian wonders if her eyes are black.
She killed as many as Neaira did, didn't she? More. Goddess. Is she some kind of monster? Neaira was… that thing when she did those atrocities. What's her excuse? Neaira stops. Hilary's cries are growing louder again. Aeian backs away from the wall, crawling back to her. "They're out there," she says, "I know it's hard, sweetie, but I need you to stop. We're going to die. We're going to die if they hear you. Please, Hilary, please, please," she's crying, "if you're quiet we can hide here. The shuttle might return and get us out of here. You can show Jeff up and be a pilot but not if you keep crying."
Is there something on her face? Is there something terrifying in it? Hilary cries harder. "No," Aeian whispers, "please, no. It's okay, it's okay, it needs to be okay, please," but Hilary's cries grow louder.
Aeian puts a hand over her mouth, forcing her, if nothing else, to keep silent but Hilary thrashes, moves her broken leg in the process and her muffled scream is still too loud. Aeian can hear everything too clearly. They can too. "Be quiet! I'm not going to hurt you—"
Hilary's cries irrationally become louder. They're going to hear. Aeian's breathing becomes erratic. She covers Hilary's nose. Hilary's eyes widen, looks at her, too—intense—too— She can't stand it. "I'm sorry," Aeian breathes. Shakes her head. Sorry. Sorry. So sorry. The swinging light continues. It illuminates Hilary's eyes. Aeian doesn't want to see. Hilary flails. She bites her hand, bites into it but Aeian is strong, she's a huntress, she's known how to be merciless when necessary. "I wanted to get us out of here. Sorry. Sorry. I'm so sorry."
Hilary's body moves, contorting, eyes begging, pleading. Aeian holds her down, irresolute until she's still.
Even in death her eyes are accusatory.
Aeian back away from her mortified. She clasps her bloody hand over her mouth, makes herself hold it there to be quiet. The tears run down her face. What is she? What has she done? What has she done? What she had to. What she had to.
She looks over at the girl's body and curls into herself. What is she? A monster. Is she like Neaira now? And she doesn't know it? Does Neaira know what she is? Are her eyes black? What if her eyes are black?
She brings a hand down fitfully and it touches on a frame. Aeian picks it up. The family picture. Hilary's father. Aeian searches her mind. Her father. She tore him in half not too long ago. The brother, Jeff, smirking, an arm around Hilary's shoulders. Hilary's smile is bright, impish.
Aeian looks away from it. Goddess. Goddess. What has she done? What has she done besides kill them all? She's killed them all.
She looks out the hole in the wall again. No Neaira. No husks. She did it. She did it.
Hours later she hears voices. Is it Neaira, still in her head? Are they the same now? Bullets fire intermittently. Aeian remains, holding her head. She hasn't dared to close Hilary's eyes. She's afraid to touch her. Can't get her eyes out of her head no matter how she tries.
Voices. It sounds like Erisa. Samira. Is it? "Oh, Goddess!" One of them shouts. Neaira shrieks. Aeian closes her eyes. Maybe she should have let Neaira kill her. Maybe. Maybe she isn't worth living.
After some minutes she hears a massive explosion.
Stone and wood dig into her back and legs. Time passes. She doesn't know how much. It doesn't matter anymore. When the wall is pulled away she sees shadows cut into the light. Is that the sun? Is it day? The voices are foggy in her head. Are they in her head? Erisa and Samira pull her to her feet. Aeian clutches the family picture.
Aeian looks back at the girl. What was her name? Hilary. She wonders if she will forget her name. Can forget her name. "They were going to hear," she whispers hoarsely. "Neaira was going to hear." Erisa and Samira exchange glances. Aeian mentions a funeral arrangement. She thinks she mentions a funeral arrangement. They can't leave Hilary. "I promised her we'd get her out of here. I promised her."
The other commandos collect Hilary. They take her to the shuttle.
Samira, Erisa and Aeian linger behind before joining her. They pass an area of the farm that is scorched. Aeian doesn't see Neaira anywhere. Erisa leads Aeian by it gently, as if she were delicate. Aeian looks around wildly. "Are my eyes black? What color are they?"
Samira looks Erisa. What's the matter with her? Her eyes seem to ask. Aeian isn't sure if she's asked at all, or if she's peered into her mind somehow. Why won't they tell her what color her eyes are? Have they told her? Maybe they're lying. What if they are black? She can't focus on anything.
If only she hadn't taken a shower. If only she'd had her gun.