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There was no way someone this cruel was Thys. The kettle weighed heavily in Viv’s hand, and for a moment she thought she should swing it—try to take this monster by surprise, stun it, hurt it, kill it if she had to. Not just let it win.
But no. The candle flame she felt trembling nearby, that delicate, faltering life, that had to be Thys. It might be pretty bad to let the creature escape, since it presumably had exactly what it wanted now, and besides, last time… it had taken part of Thys with it.
But if there was still even the slightest of chances she could save the real Thys, she had to take that chance
She lowered her head, as if accepting that Thys was leaving her, and told the lanternfish, “If you leave now, Thys, don’t come back! I never want to see you again!”
“I don’t intend to return,” the lanternfish retorted, voice cool but somewhat pleased, and it pushed open those doors and strode through.
Viv watched it vanish into the darkness outside, her breath coming hard, almost strangling her.
And then she whirled, searching for that strange, new power inside her, trying to find where it led to.
This wasn’t her power, it wasn’t something she could even do—or, at least, it hadn’t been until now. It felt familiar, felt alien, all at once. It was like, she thought, with a dying wish. Thys had sent whatever power they had left as a bequest—
No, Viv thought furiously. She couldn’t think that way. Whatever cause was behind her power now, she needed to use it, not mourn it.
She didn’t have her pendant with her, having left it up in the apartment, but technically any form of divination could work to track wherever this dying life was. She grabbed a pencil off the table next to the mail slots and held it loosely by the tip between two fingers, so it could rotate freely in any direction.
This was not a reliable method, usually. Usually, it was easy to get false results by accidentally putting pressure on it and forcing it to lean this or that way, or to simply have it rotate due to her own movement.
This time, as she focused her energy on it, it almost leapt out of her fingers, tugging tangibly, as if something had grabbed the eraser and was pulling it.
Viv tightened her grip on it out of necessity—it felt like it was going to be pulled away from her if she didn’t—and followed the tug. It led her back to the elevator where, afraid of what she’d see inside but desperate to look, she pushed the button to open the door.
The power was still out.
The lanternfish had, apparently, not bothered to turn it on again when they left—or simply hadn’t been gone long enough. Perhaps they were taking no chances that they could get trapped or followed.
The elevator doors didn’t open.
“Fuck!” Viv swore. She jammed the pencil into her bra to keep it available, and felt it tug against her sternum even though she wasn’t holding it in a proper divination form any longer. “I don’t have time for this!” she screamed at the elevator, and dug her fingers in between the two doors, hauling at them.
Slowly, they were pried open. Inside, it was dark, but she had no chance to worry that perhaps this was a trap that had been laid for her; if Thys was inside there, she needed to go. The pencil was pulling forward, the tip digging into her stomach, and she stepped through the doors.
They stayed open for now, the lack of power to them keeping them from closing as much as it had kept them from opening. Fumbling, she dug the flashlight out of the pocket in her leggings—they were meant to be for yoga, and usually a phone or wallet would go there. She’d left both wallet and phone at the apartment, which wasn’t great if she found Thys and needed to get help fast, but at least she still had her flashlight.
Except that had been the side she’d fallen on. As she pushed the switch on its side, the light flickered slightly, but didn’t come on.
There was nobody else in the elevator, nobody she could see, but that didn’t mean anything, not with Thys. “Come on!” Viv begged, shaking the flashlight.
It went out entirely, and she almost shrieked. Tears were gathering in her eyes now, and her entire world came down to this light, how she needed it to work, how she needed to see, because if Thys was some moth dying somewhere, losing them because Viv couldn’t work a fucking flashlight would be the worst thing in the universe. She frantically thumbed the switch, shook it, pleaded, felt that broken floodgate in her swell like she was going to start screaming, sobbing, something, and then she pushed that feeling out of her body, and the light turned on.
All the lights turned on.
The one in her hand came on first: the flashlight not flickering into life but abruptly flaring brightly, too bright, more than the lightbulb inside it should have been able to manage. And then the elevator came on too, the lights popping on with an audible sound, even the buttons glowing almost unnaturally brightly. Then the lobby, too, flooded with light, and the light outside the doors lit up the entryway.
And she saw, briefly, before the elevator’s doors closed behind her, that all the lights in the apartment tower across the way had also come on all at once.
There was no time to think about that, though. The elevator was perfectly lit now, but she cast the beam of the flashlight around, letting the pencil’s pushing and tugging lead her to one wall.
She was looking for a fairly large moth. When previously, part of Thys had escaped and survived the lanternfish’s carnage, the moth’s spread wingspan had been larger than both her hands put together; when it had closed its wings, she’d been able to cup it in her hands, but only just.
There was no moth that size here, and she thought, well, the others she had seen torn up, those had been a more normal size. So she looked for that instead, and then smaller still, until she was angling her beam and looking for the tiniest bump, hoping to make Thys cast a shadow that would make them easier to see.
And finally, she saw it.
The moth was barely the length of her pinky nail. It wasn’t clinging to the wall, as Viv had hoped, but collapsed on the floor.
Even scooping it up might hurt Thys at that size. Viv could kill them accidentally with total ease. Terrified of that, she reached up to slam the second floor button, then pulled the pencil out of her bra and used the tip to gently lift the moth up.
It tumbled off almost immediately—please, please just be unconscious, Viv begged silently—but she got a hand underneath, catching it in her palm.
The lights were on in the second floor hall too, and several confused residents had stuck their heads out their doors, looking around as if they were trying to figure out what was going on. Viv ignored them, heading into Thys’s apartment and shutting the door. It was warded here; if that thing had any connection to Thys still, hopefully trying to save Thys here would keep the lanternfish unaware.
“Guard the door,” she told the cats. They didn’t even pretend not to understand her, heading over and taking up positions around it.
Viv gently tipped her hand, letting Thys fall onto the kitchen island, and stared down at the tiny moth. Power was throbbing in her chest still—how had turning on all the lights, and without even using a spell, not left her exhausted?—but she didn’t know what to do with it.
She could phone for help, maybe. Isaac would know what to do, and she could follow his instructions.
But she wasn’t sure if she had the time. That candle flame of Thys’s life was guttering, and that sense of death was approaching.
Viv felt like whatever she did, she had to do it quickly, or it would be the end.
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