|Written by Carolyn Agee / Artwork by Lee Kuruganti
The air breathes cold. I shiver underneath my thick gray overcoat, not sure I want to step through
that door. I shift my weight onto my back foot, taking a final glorious gasp of fresh air, then blow
fog into my cupped hands. Time to go in.
A pink mist swirls around me as soon as I enter, warm as a bright spring day. It winds in my hair
and down my throat. I feel my femininity melt away under the mist’s tingly heat. In its place is
my armor, hard and unyielding. I skim the weaponry and select a long curved knife. Slice the dust
motes. It will do.
I walk into the shadowy passage toward the rusty, twisted, stairs wishing this ancient stuff were
equipped with a backlight. But we can’t have everything.
Backpack down. I can’t afford to take anything with me. I’m weighed down enough as it is. I close
the metal gate, then the glass doors. This familiar ritual is part of my process: I press the circular
button and feel the lift lurch beneath me. Whatever this assignment will unleash on me, I’ll be
ready for it. Even without Lilith…God, I miss Lil. But I will prove to them I can do this solo and
there is no reason to take me off the field while they look for a new partner. None at all…I am
The doors slide open and I’m standing on an ice covered plane. Damn it. I dig my heels in and
slide across to the tip of the portside wing.
Beneath me to my left, there is a shelf of rock jetting out of the mountainside. I could swing to it.
If I concentrate. Otherwise, well, Mr. Naismith is going to have one less pre-calc student to pick
Grab hold of the wing tip, focus on a crevice in the rock in front of me and—
I will my fingers to let go. Air rushes against my skin. And is knocked out of my lungs. My right
greave gives. Flakes of snow begin to filter into the slit. My leg rages in pain. Fire shoots up into
my thigh. There is a sharp intake of breath as I look down.
The ragged edges of the breech are stained red with blood and tissue. I unsheathe my kukri and
set it beside me. Still breathless, I remove all of the lower-leg armor. It would be more dangerous
to be unbalanced than to leave my left leg exposed.
I feel my eyes water as I heave it over the side and watch its decent into the abyss below.
Right. Now, where is this thing? Let’s take it out, so I can get back to pre-calc.
I edge my way around the outcropping, hands groping against the rough, rocky edges searching for
an opening. My footing is narrow, and I take my time. Every motion seems extended, as though I
am watching someone else. At this altitude, it all requires so much focus; it’s exhausting. My
chest feels shallow, my heart flutters. I try to take a deep breath; all I feel is wheezy.
I sink down, numb feet hanging off the ledge. Eyes closed. Head between my knees.
Every part of me wants to call in. Send in another team. Send back up. Send me home. Just don’t
leave me here, thousands of feet in the air, frigid and alone.
“I CAN’T DO IT!”
The noise echoes around me. Accompanied by the clink of falling pebbles and weight pressing
against my armored shoulder.
Not an avalanche, not an avalanche, not an avalanche. My lips move in an almost silent prayer.
Carefully, I stand. The movement makes me breathless as I move from the edge. The tumult
continues. Buffeted from above, I press against the ledge, partially sheltered by a narrow
overhang. Obsidian cuts deep into my back and I know that the armor is no longer viable. I will be
going into this fight nearly naked, and half frozen. The echoes slow and I turn to find myself
hemmed in behind a new-laid wall of rock.
A quick survey shows its sound enough to support my weight. I scramble up the rubble back onto
the wreckage. My hands are ice-cold and stick against the wing as I crawl, millimeter by millimeter
toward the door opposite.
I grasp the latch. My feet start to give way. Suppress the urge to scream. You would not be
screaming if Lil were here. Guardians do not scream.
Slowly, I open the door. The hinges groan. Something seems off about the air…wait. It’s
grounded, so it’s unpressurized. Same air outside as in, of course.
In a swift smooth motion, I pull out my blade. Near the galley, I hear a strange, almost metallic
rushing noise. I move cautiously towards it. Clacks begin, seemingly overlaid with the squeaking
of old boots. Therianthropy?
I slip into shadow. A rustling. My blade comes down. A whimper. Wait? What? It didn’t connect. I
would have felt it connect. I feel a rush of empathy…empathy for what? I don’t even know what
I’m fighting. Then I see her eyes in the moonlight.
She opens her mouth but all that comes out is the metallic clacking.
“Holy shit. Lil.” I go to embrace her and am met with scales and batwings. My skin crawls, but I
feel her…what would have been…her arms…around me, Lil’s arms and I soften. A tear swells and
threatens to drown me. I move to avoid it. Looking up to ensure there are no more where that
came from, I see it swinging from her neck—a dimly glowing ruby talisman.
In an instant, my kukri is raised. The next, so is Lil’s locust-like leg, threatening to crush me. Her
stamping continues, but there is no time to explain my motives. I climb a wing and slice the
“What the hell, Lil?” I breathe.” I was trying to fix you.”
It’s good to see her short little human noise. Her dimples. Her eyes though…Her eyes are still an
amalgam of shame, rage, guilt and gratitude.
“Yeah, well, thanks.”
She shoves a piece of shattered armrest around with her toe. We watch the twilight deepen
through one of the heavy plastic windows. I start to shiver.
“Where did you get that thing anyway?”
“Griftala. Double agent. Said it would protect me. Managed to do the opposite.” She shakes her
As I hack the amulet to pieces, the shards glow and flare in the thick darkness of the plane. They
ricochet off the blade in a dazzling display of pyrotechnics. I pocket the evidence. They’ll need it
in internal affairs. We walk back out into the ice and take the lift home.
The smell of old books hits me as soon as the doors open. I scoop up my backpack and head
upstairs. The air is clear. Crisp even.
“I WANT IT BACK!” I scream. No hint of a mist. “I’ll wrestle it from you myself!”
Who am I kidding? You can’t wrestle mist. I knock over a chair. I cracks and splinters. I pick up
one of the spindles. Run my fingers over the now sharpened edge. Maybe the mist is part vamp. I
hurl it against the wall and sink to the floor. Reaching into the outer pocket of my bag, I begin
methodically opening and closing my zippo.
“Nara?” I feel Lil’s hand on my shoulder. “It always required a trade.”
I exhale in a slow whistle. Of course, armor for femininity. Femininity for—
“RAGE!” Then, quietly, I address the air, “I offer you rage.”
The mist appears then. It is white this time, shimmering, beautiful, dancing in the most elegant
of spirals. As it enters in my eyes, floating down my throat and through my diaphragm, coming to
a stillness below my navel, my body, too, becomes quiet. Pleasure sings through my muscles. I
turn and look into Lil’s eyes and know from the softness of expression, I am once again myself.
The mist is gone. Finches sing outside the window. My hair shines red in the early morning light.
Lil puts her arm around me. “I could do with a coffee.” She says.
“Double whipped cream and sprinkles?”
I snag the spindle on the way out. A stake like that is far too beautiful to pass up.
Carolyn Agee is an actress and author whose recent
publication credits include Petrichor Machine and Building
Red-The Colonization of Mars. She enjoys knitting and
baking in her spare time.
You can visit her website at http://www.carolynagee.com