I woke to a pounding in my head in tandem with the sudden and frantic beats of my heart.
He registered as an unmoving form surrounded by a mass of bugs even before my sight did. They crawled over him, screaming and biting into his skin.
The world cohered into dots and dashes of light, surrounded by large swathes of darkness—the bookcase that faced the outer wall. It was silent, but for the furious buzzing of flies. Pain rang across my jaw, and I swallowed the scream. My fingers found purchase upon the wood and clutched it tight. My body felt like something that needed a trellis to pull itself upright. Something pressed in my thighs as I shifted, something sharp that seemed to dig into the skin.
But it didn't hurt. And so it didn't matter.
I stood and walked over to him, letting the bugs guide through the building. There were so many of them in here, far more than there had been when I'd fallen.
The buzzing intensified, sounding almost like the unremitting roar of a jet engine.
He was sprawled on the floor, near the door that I had entered from. His face had slackened in death, mouth drifting closed, but I could feel the spiders and flies in his throat. I dispersed the bugs that carpeted him and stared down.
On the floor around him were these wet sickly smudges, a mix of greys and reds. Vomit, I thought for a moment before realizing it. Bugs. He must have killed them as he flailed, mashing them against the floor hoping for some reprieve.
He hadn't gotten any.
The bugs coated the walls around us, loud in their stillness. I could feel the tears welling and wiped them away angrily. I was unhunt, unharmed in the ways he'd tried to harm me. And he was dead, his skin mottled and livid with bug bites.
It was a distinctive death.
When they found him, there would be no doubt as to who had done this. Would they even listen? There were enough bugs around to condemn—
My head canted upwards. There was an enormous mass of bugs around me, far more than what could have been in the building. Which meant that I must have brought them in while unconscious, somehow.
Which meant that they could have been seen.
My jaw throbbed as I spoke. "Fuck!" My foot lashed out, hitting him in the head with a dull thump. My awareness was concentrated mostly in library, and I could feel almost every exposed inch of it. There were some bugs at the fringes of my range, and a vast blackness in between. I couldn't even tell if anyone was gunning towards me, yet. I drew my arms closer to my body, feeling defenseless in a way I hadn't in a long time.
My power had never been a lot but—as I'd thought when I'd taken those long looping run around the city—it had always been enough for this.
I calmed myself, trying to think it through and bent down and felt for his arm, and then the neck.
They were both cold. Cold enough that he'd been dead a long time.
For a brief hysterical moment I wished that I'd read up more, about livor mortis and how to determine the time of death. If he'd been dead a long time, I'd been unconscious for a long while too.
But the PRT wasn't yet here.
Sending the bugs back out in web-like pattern around the library, I stood, wanting to move away from him. Blood had congealed from my head down to the ear in a thick crusty trail that cracked and flaked under my thumb.
This wasn't the best of neighborhood, hadn't been even before Leviathan had emptied most of it. I'd barely registered anybody on my way from the bus stop. Maybe nobody had seen the bugs swarming? Or, maybe, those that had didn't care to go to the PRT with it.
I paused, almost stumbling against a bookcase as I felt the pain spike. Learning there, I took deep breaths, and felt my thighs for the wound I had noticed and dismissed earlier.
It wasn't a wound.
Feeling the urge to scream grew, I fished out the broken remains of my mobile phone from my pocket. I stared dazed at it for a moment before pushing myself off the shelf and stumbling back towards him, and patting down his cold and slab-like body for a replacement. He didn't have it. At least, it wasn't on him.
But he'd had a bunch of clothes too, and books besides. He could have concealed his phone there, along with his wallet and his name.
I stood up and felt my heart speed up at the act. I needed a phone. I knew I couldn't dispose of him, not with flies and spiders in my arsenal. And I couldn't call Amy: I didn't think she could accept this.
I barely knew how I was.
And that just left Lisa.
The walk back was far harder than the first one had been. I used the bookcases for support, feeling the dizziness mount and recede in rapid intervals. My breath came in huffs. Too much exertion, too soon such after injury. I had seen cases like this, in the hospital. They hadn't ended well.
The web around the library had extended to two blocks by the time I plodded back. He'd discarded the book it poetry after hitting me and it had fallen against the shelf, beside my duffle bag. I paused over it, seeing the blood gleaming on its spine.
She was a cultured women.
A bitter laugh came tumbling out. The fucking bastard.
Nudging at my bag with my legs, not wanting to bend, I plodded along that narrow strip towards where his bundle lay, wrapped in grey cloth. It was easy to unwrap, the knot barely there. The cloth fell away, leaving a mound of clothes whose pungent smell speared down my throat. Steeling myself against that feeling of disgust, I began to dig through his clothes, desperately hoping to find what I needed.
I stopped almost immediately, feeling something silken in my hands.
I extracted it, trembling. It was a large bra, pink, with broken straps.
He slept on this. Rested his head.
I started digging into the mess again, disregarding the smell, and the slightly slick feeling some of the clothes left against my fingers. My hands shook as I unearthed the trophies, feeling as if a large minefield was opening up in front of me.
Three bras and a couple of torn dresses. The bras were of different sizes. And the third one was half covered with blood. And below that, at the bottom of it all, a phone and a plastic bag with some bills and identification.
I groped for the phone unable to stop my hands from shaking. It rang thrice before Lisa picked it up, but I was already speaking into it before she did.
"Taylor," she said, "Taylor calm down. I can't understand what you're saying."
I scrambled on my knees, pushing myself into a corner, away from the clothes and the books. Belatedly, as the darkness enveloped me, I realized that I couldn't see anything, that's Amy's modified bugs just weren't there.
He had killed them too.
"Taylor! Taylor, what's wrong?"
Keeping the phone as far from my face as I could, I spoke into it, begging her to come to the library, and telling her the address and how to enter when she agreed.
"But why," she added. "I'll be there in 30, but what happened?"
"I killed someone."
"Oh, god," she replied, after a shattering pause. "Don't keep the phone down, okay? I think you're in shock—"
"I can't. Please, just get here," I said, and threw the phone away as hard as I could. Frantically, I felt inside my shirt for a bra I knew was there.
Hearing the phone fall far away from me, I began to calm.
I didn't want to think, not about this. My breast still hurt, or seemed to hurt, from the savage way he'd grabbed it.
Anything other than this.
The bugs were spread far, but weren't pinging on anything. Nobody was moving towards the library with too concentrated an effort. If I'd still had her bugs, I could use them to get visual confirmation. But he'd killed them. And all I had was an ability I just couldn't figure out.
Not anymore. Never again.
Drawing myself close, I shut my eyes, and opened theirs. A cacophony greeted me, but it was a cacophony that I knew I could make myself understand.
The minutes passed as I churned through that noise trying to make it into something I could use to save a little girl whom I felt I'd almost forgotten about.
AN: I hope this brings a greater unity to 2.4, which, alone, that chapter lacked. The attempted rape was never intended to be a cliffhanger, it just unfortunately worked out that way, given the kind of updates I've been making and thoughtlessness on my part.
A huge thanks to my beta readers for their help here.