November 9th, 2019
Teresa Slagen is here.
Amin’s dead. He has to be, or it’s coming soon. For her to be here means that conversation with Samir happened/is happening/will happen, and I almost don’t even blame them. After the way he blew up yesterday it’s obvious that he’s unhinged and—from the perspective of a secret cabal—having someone like that can only spell trouble. It makes pure pragmatic sense for them to remove a loose end like that.
But Amin isn’t a loose end to me. He’s a friend—or, well, a colleague—and I can’t even start to think about how I’ll be able to do this without him. To do this alone? I’m not sure I have the guts, the willpower… Hell, I’m not sure I even have the sanity to do it. I’m not sure it will take much longer for me to become just as unhinged; pulling out my hair because a stanza or verse in the text doesn’t make sense.
I’m not even sure why I used those words just now. That makes it sound more like poetry and song lyrics than prophecies written down by a demonic crow two thousand years ago. Or seven hundred. The timeline has gotten a little wonky on me, especially once I found out the discrepancies between what they told me and what happens in the text.
It’s something I should have figured out a lot sooner. They told me that the first translation was made back in 616 AD, but that can’t possibly be true. How do I know this? That scene with Räum, when he gave his new prophecies to Lucifer and Azazel? That didn’t just talk about things that happened in the 14th century, it happened in the 14th century. That’s when Räum died, or at least, that’s what I’ve been able to gather.
By gathering, I mean that’s the scene I was reading today while alone in the Zodiac office.
Well, alone is the wrong word. My handler was there. Not sure what Fennsler was doing; they must have had him doing something more important than babysitting me, possibly even strangling Amin or something. I’m not sure; all I know is that when I got to the Zodiac Office this morning, Baum was sitting alone and reading something on his screen.
I tried to get a look at it while I was passing by him—caught a few lines about some political demonstrations happening in Chicago—but he had already minimized the browser before looking at me out of the corner of his eye. He smiled, just the regular kind with his mouth, but I didn’t get any warmth from it. I just saw a cold, calculating man hiding behind social niceties.
I remember a time when Baum was the dependable one, the person I could look to for a sane companion. Now he’s just… he feels alien. Like he’s wearing a mask.
I guess that’s only fair, though. Lately I’ve been wearing my own kind of mask.
After smiling back at him, I shuffled over to my desk and booted up my machine, waiting for the cluttered desktop to flicker onto my screen. Once the computer was awake and ready to use, I clicked on the directory for the prophecies and looked at the table of contents. Two-thirds of the entries were purple while the last, unexplored third of the sections was a bright blue. I didn’t think I had made that much progress since I had gotten here, but as the next folder was opening up, I realized that I had skipped one of the sections.
It was that same scene where Räum gave his prophecies to Lucifer.
Since I hadn’t actually read the raw text from that section, I decided that I needed to at least look at it. Maybe something would click now that my mind is becoming more… aware. I can’t read these things word for word, yet, but it’s really not that difficult to figure out the meaning, the context. The closest thing I can relate it to is when I was learning Latin way back in High School. I’ll miss the prepositions or flub the adjectives, and the more nuanced grammar rules fly over my head, but I can kinda figure out the sentences, or at least what happens. Back when I first read this passage, the only thing that made sense were the translations and only some of the annotations.
So I clicked on the folder and read the translation again.
Nothing was different from the first time, nothing made me think it was any different even from the dream I had before I had read it. I didn’t feel any powerful connection or anything like that, and the annotations were almost pure nonsense once I got around to them. I have no clue how they got references to the Black Plague just from how they were talking about the apocalypse, or how Räum’s comments related to the mass hysteria the plague caused.
It made me wonder if they were like me. If the last seers were starting to just make things up just so someone in this infernal order wouldn’t kill them for being useless.
Things changed once I got into the raw text. I was making way more connections than usual and it was a complete 180 from the last time I tried to read the section. The scenes flowed naturally, with just a few exceptions that really confused me, but even then it only took me about an hour to decipher each little phrase. By the end of it I didn’t really learn much more than what I already knew—the scene was exactly the same as I remembered—but then I realized that the words that stuck out to me weren’t supposed to be there.
Or, rather, they were definitely supposed to be there, but only as red flags.
Turns out that Räum hadn’t lied, he had put down incorrect words as code; a code I couldn’t necessarily understand at this point. The only thing I really know right now is that there is something buried within those phrases, something that only people like me can see. I can tell now why they need me, even if Samir and whoever else can actually read the text. Honestly wouldn’t be surprised if Baum and Teresa are in the same boat, but I digress. There is a cipher, but it’s not for the text itself.
I am the cipher, just like Amin had been saying, like I had been thinking. These little quirks that Räum left in the text are only obvious to us seers, whatever our connection is to that crow. It was enough of a revelation that I smiled and leaned back in my chair. I even got excited enough that I turned to Amin’s desk, but it didn’t take me long to realize I was turning to empty air. I immediately tried to hide my disappointment and everything going on in my general face area, but it was too late.
Baum cleared his throat and I turned to find him tilting his head at me.
“And just what did you find?” he asked, his tone friendly even if it didn’t feel like we were friends anymore. It really sank in at that moment that Baum was never really my friend; he was always just the man assigned to watch me. At once, everything became adversarial; giving him the whole truth seemed like it would be against my best interests.
And yet he was just looking at me all innocent and welcoming, so I knew I had to play my part.
“Well, I just tried my hand at reading one of the prophecies I had skipped over before, since I couldn’t read the raw text back then. It was all just circles and scribbles and lines,” I said, laughing at the end in an attempt to sell my innocence. When I looked at Baum, though, I realized that he wasn’t buying. With a weary sigh, purely to convince him, I waved back at my computer screen and shrugged. “Now it’s really starting to click.”
“I’m glad. That it’s coming to you this easily now means that you’re well on your way,” Baum said, but then I saw his eyelids narrow by a few millimeters. “However, you didn’t look at Amin’s desk because you were excited about that.”
“I—uh,” I stammered, but I forced myself not to glance back at Amin’s desk and reinforce Baum’s assumption. I bit my lip to make myself seem nervous, try to put on a show for this man, and turned back to him sheepishly as I replied. “It’s… something he would have liked to hear.”
“Oh? And what’s that?” he asked, slower this time, like a patient teacher catching kids passing notes in class. Except that I’ve never met a teacher who had that underlying sinister tone before. I thought through my response, double-checked it in my head, but I knew that it was a flimsy one.
“It’s… I realized how you the previous seers got all those details in the annotations. The words themselves are in the translations, but it always bothered us,” I said, nodding at the desk my comrade left behind, “that these guys were getting so much information that just wasn’t there.”
“And you found out where it was all hiding, is that it?” Baum asked, and I nodded a few times before giving him a weak smile.
“Yeah, well, no, but I have a good lead now. I noticed that some of these symbols in the raw text are a little out of place. Not like that they don’t mean anything, or that they don’t fit in the sentences, but it’s something Räum wouldn’t have used. It’s there as a sort of clue,” I explained, forgetting halfway through that I was talking to a potential enemy. I got caught up in it, the excitement came back, and I didn’t realize it until I saw Baum giving me a sly smile, vertical slits where his pupils should have been.
At least, that’s how it looked when I first looked back at him. After I blinked, they were back to normal. Freaky, definitely put me on edge, but that one definitely seemed like it was my imagination. Only now am I really putting thought into it, but at the time I was too distracted to think it was anything but my eyes playing tricks on me. I just watched Baum as he leaned back in his chair and straight-up judged me. I felt like a piece of meat while he was looking at me and it made it seem like minutes before he spoke, though it was only enough time for me to take a breath.
“You are certainly on your way now, Ray. How does it feel?” he asked, and I realized that Baum wasn’t here just to watch me, to see what I learned from the translations. In a very real way, he was there to watch me as I developed. As I turned from Raymond Corvus, average accountant, into… something else. Something deranged, disconnected, desperate…
Perhaps even dangerous.
“I—it doesn’t…” I said, pausing as I worked through my feelings on the subject. I opened up my mouth to speak a few times, but I abandoned each of those stillborn sentences for fear of the inevitable consequences. Eventually I looked away from him, toward Fennsler’s desk, just so I could escape from this man I once trusted.
“I don’t feel human,” I said, or at least that’s how it sounded to my ears. My mouth had betrayed me once again, given too much information that I wanted to cram back into my brain, but for some reason I… I kept speaking. “Not like how I used to be. I feel different.”
“How so?” Baum asked, and I couldn’t stop myself from explaining.
“I still feel, my skin is still mine, I breathe stale air, taste food just the same, but… the quintessential parts of me, my mind, my soul, whatever I am, it doesn’t feel like the Ray Corvus from before 616,” I said, and I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to keep this information from Baum. I needed to say it to someone, to anyone, even if I couldn’t trust them. Saying it in a diary is one thing, but without Amin around, I had no confidant, no kindred soul to keep me company; to hear my thoughts and my voice and tell me I’m not crazy.
Well, no, it’s not about being crazy anymore. It’s… I need someone just so that I can know that I’m still me.
“I just…” I hesitated, drawing in my hands to my stomach and wrapping my fingers around each other, stressing each joint by rotating my hands and intentionally trying to feel that discomfort. It felt alien, like it was just a sensation that was being related to me by the neurons and nerve tissue spread throughout this body, and that’s when I turned to him, defeat in my every word. “I don’t feel like one of them anymore. I feel like something else.”
I hated myself for saying all of that, especially to Baum, but what I hated the most? It was that smug look on his face; that look that told me that my failure at compassion, my disregard for pain, my detachment from the human race, was another step toward victory.
“It’s just this place, Ray,” Baum said, giving me an excuse I could not accept. Yet he still leaned forward and supported his head as always, a slight turn to the corner of his lips. “You’ve been underground for more than a month now. Did you even notice? Cabin fever isn’t something that people just made up. You may regain some of those feelings if you spent time outside of our bastion of scientific progress and occult research,” he said, and I could tell that it wasn’t just to throw me off his trail.
But he wasn’t exactly hiding it very well.
“I’m not sure about that. Never did too much outside when I was living in the real world,” I said, staring at the floor to make it seem like I was reminiscing about something or other. Then I started thinking about how I was before and how I am now, the differences between past and current Ray, and how 616 was just this giant cleaver that split my timeline in half. Once I started thinking about timelines, though, that’s when it hit me.
The timeline they gave me was wrong.
“Hey, Baum,” I said, jerking my head to look at him, and I only realized how sudden it all was once I saw him retreat a little bit from leaning on his hands. It was only a momentary shock and he was back to his usual position quickly, but it made me a little more cautious with my next words. I crossed my arms and nodded at my computer screen just to give him context. “Question for you.”
“And what is that?”
“This scene talks about how Räum gave Lucifer the prophecies, right,” I said, not bothering to make it sound like a question, “and it’s clear from the translation and annotation that this scene occurred in the 14th century.”
“That seems to be the case, yes,” he said cautiously; I think he already knew where I was going with all of it.
“So that means we couldn’t have possibly gotten these prophecies until after then,” I said before turning to make the hardest eye contact I possibly could. “So how on Earth did anybody translate the first passage by 616 AD?”
Baum didn’t like the question; I could tell. He glared at me for what I thought was an eternity, which made me think that it was only a few seconds, like usual. However, I glanced at the clock on the wall behind him and realized that it was a full minute from the beginning of that stare until he finally leaned back and lowered his hands below the desk to… whatever he put them on; I couldn’t see from my position.
All I knew was that he wasn’t happy about the question, but then he rolled his eyes, sighed and then gestured with a nod at the projection screen behind Fennsler’s desk. I glanced at the wall as he hit a few strokes on his keyboard and clicked on something with his mouse. After a second, the projector whirred up and then a picture of the prophetic book was on the screen. The screen brought with it a flash of images in my mind—memories of my own life and dreams of Räum, accompanied by a mild sinus headache—but that was all over before Baum started speaking.
“Would have thought you had figured this out without needing me to say it, Ray,” Baum said, causing me to tear my gaze away from the screen as he continued. “When you first got here, we were dealing with a few… let’s say half-truths. We didn’t necessarily lie, but we definitely didn’t tell you all the information that you should know by… now.”
“What do you mean?” I asked, furious and curious all at the same time. I couldn’t just badger him with questions; I had to let him explain at his own pace, make mistakes he shouldn’t make.
Though with Baum, I knew there was small chance of that.
“What you’re reading isn’t one text, Ray,” Baum said as he pointed at the picture, and I turned just as he clicked his mouse and apparently went to the next slide in his presentation. The ancient book was opened halfway, a black page on the left and a passage on the right that was scrawled more… frantically than the ones I have already read. Though now that I saw it like this in the book itself, I realized that it was only different compared to what I had been reading for the last month.
The one I had just finished had the same kind of handwriting.
“There were two sets of prophecies,” Baum claimed, and I believed him. “The passage you just read was about Räum’s revisions, the new material that would foretell events after the apocalypse. By the accounts of the first set of prophecies, the world was supposed to end in the 14th century, in line with the Black Death. At this point that shouldn’t be a surprise, since you’ve read the notes and annotations.”
“I… it… I didn’t see any mention of the world ending then,” I said, but that just caused Baum to look at me with disappointment.
“Really? You can read the raw text, but you didn’t see the timeframe? Hmm,” he grunted before turning back to the book on the screen. “In any case, that was the clear dividing line between the two sets of prophecies. Räum’s original visions were relayed to the Order through seers starting in the first century. They were not translated until 616 AD like you have mentioned, but that doesn’t mean they did not exist. Even if no one knew what they meant, the timing was more than just convenient.”
“What do you mean by convenient?” I asked, unable to stop myself from getting drawn into the fairy tale.
“They were independently written at the same time as the Book of Revelation, or at least that’s what our records tell us—”
“But how do you know that? How does the Order possibly have the information and consider it reliable?” I interrupted, frustrated by the nonsense Baum was spouting, but the serious man turned to me and scowled.
“Because these passages were the coded parts of the prophecies, Ray. It wasn’t all like this; scribbled in incoherent symbols no human could read. Much of it was written in the local dialect, horrific stories told by people held captive in trances that frightened their loved ones,” Baum explained, his tone darker than anything I had heard from Baum. “Wracked with pain, feeling like fire was burning through their veins, these poor people told of everything that happened in the Book of Revelation, just as they wrote the original verses in the Bible. They told of things they should never have known.”
“Ray, you are not allowed to interrupt me while I speak about this subject. I will not warn you again,” Baum interjected, forcing me to feel like a child. Eventually his gaze softened, but he continued his explanation by pointing back at the screen. “They spoke of things in the Bible, but these passages are what they wrote, on whatever they could find. Sometimes it was ink on paper, sometimes it was blood on flesh.”
“Baum…” I muttered, in awe of this history I could not trust. From the way Baum looked at that screen, I could sense how personal it felt to him, but I could not understand why. I could only watch the man as he continued.
“The Order collected these writings and assembled them as best they could. Eventually they found seers; they started to understand what they had collected. They told of things outside Revelation, things no human could know. Once this was discovered, the Order realized that these prophecies were more important than their lives, than the lives of most of humanity. They would tell us our future, if only we found a way to understand them.”
“So, when the Order heard tales of random men and women throughout the world suffering from trances, speaking demonic tongues and lashing out at others, writing down unknown symbols before killing themselves or hurting people in spectacular fashion, they knew they had to act. They had to collect this second batch of prophecies, had to find the people who could understand them. This, Ray,” he said, pointing at the black page and the frantic scribbling on the other, “is the culmination of the Order’s work. Before this black page is everything we have discovered and translated and combed through for every detail.”
“Everything after that page is unfinished,” Baum said, the weight of that statement almost dragging his words out of earshot. “Half-translated passages, half-discovered prophecies, and that is unacceptable; it is of utmost importance to the Order that we find out every single, solitary detail. When Räum and Amon relayed the first set of prophecies, it ended with a potential apocalypse.”
“And you think that these prophecies end with a second,” I muttered unintentionally, but it was exactly what Baum wanted to hear. He turned to me slowly and nodded, and I realized that actually he needed me. He needed me to be the person who translated these passages, for better or for worse. I knew that, at the very least, he would protect me and guide me until that moment.
After that, I could not be certain, but my safety was no longer one of my concerns.
“We don’t know, Ray. That’s why this project is so important. That’s why we need you to work on these passages for us,” Baum said as he nodded past me at the cluttered desk of my abandoned partner. “That’s why I need you to let me know before what happened to Amin happens to you. I need you to promise that you’ll tell me before it becomes a possibility.”
“I—I…” I started, stunned, but I regained my composure with an audible gulp. “I will. I don’t—that won’t happen.”
“Good. I trust you, Ray,” he said, looking at the screen with what I could not believe was anxiety. I’d never seen Baum anxious before—he was always so calm and collected—but this obviously worried him. Then he turned to me and… God, it feels weird to say this, it seemed like he looked at me with fondness before he spoke again.
“I believe in you, even if you don’t,” Baum said, and I was almost driven to tears. It had been so long that someone had… believed in me. My parents had abandoned that prospect a decade ago; Renee had not even tried, Andrew never even considered it. Amin, for all his bluster, didn’t believe in me; he believed that there was a massive conspiracy and that I had some crazy connection to it that I didn’t deserve.
But this man, a representative for an ancient order devoted to… sheer insanity, honestly, believed in me, and with the way that they devoted resources to this thing, it made me realize that the Order believed in me. At first, I was just overwhelmed by the prospect, but then I had this… this arrogance start flowing through me. Somehow, I felt like I deserved that faith, that this is what I was owed my entire life, and I felt this division within myself. Part of me was this arrogant entity that knew that this was mine by rights, and part of me was my scared, usual self that second-guessed everything.
Before I could work through my little crisis however, a headache split through my brain and all I could see was shadows and darkness.
At least at first. When the scene first started, all I could even perceive was the screaming of metal as something sheared it apart, the roar of flames crawling along the cramped space, the darkness dancing back and forth as the fire consumed and then let it surge back to take its place. Blue sparks appeared and vanished in the distance, streaking through the dark like fireflies doomed to burn away. It was almost too much to take in, the chaos swarming through that hallway, but then I heard something that gave me focus.
I could hear a man breathing.
It had been drowned out by the flames when the vision had started, but eventually I could hear it, the whine in his lungs as he took in too much air, the staccato of his cough once the smoke tore out of him. Once he stopped seizing from the coughing fit, I could hear the panicked breaths, the hyperventilation that could not compensate for the maelstrom around him.
But I couldn’t see him. From my vantage point he was behind me, and nothing I could do could get me to turn. All I could see was the hallway in front of this stranger, the fire in front of him, smoke rising and obscuring the damage it had caused to the walls and ceiling. Then I realized that fire had not done all this.
There had been an explosion.
As I realized this, I desperately wanted to turn around, see who was panicking behind me. I needed to know the identity of this person—to figure out if I knew him or if that was some random person elsewhere in the facility—but eventually that desire dissipated. Since I could not change my perspective—I only had the option to see the hallway and the sparks flickering in and out of existence—and I soon realized that there was something beyond my perception. The sparks were not acting as fireflies, blinking in and out.
There was something between me and those sparks, and it did not take me long to see the silhouette of a giant man walking toward me. I was afraid; afraid to see exactly what I expected, to know that this was the outcome of everything I had already assumed.
When the fire finally let me see him, it was almost too late. I was back in the Zodiac Office and heaving out breaths just as I recognized him.
“Ray, are you alright?” Baum asked, but I could only just barely hear him. After what I had just seen, I couldn’t talk to him; there was no prospect of a civil or coherent conversation. I tried to stand and scramble out of the room so fast that I tripped over my chair and sent it clattering to the floor beside me, but I was up and rushing to the door before a real thought even went through my brain.
“Ray!” Baum shouted, and I realized that I had to give him something. At the door I paused and steadied myself against the frame, turning to look at him over my shoulder. I panted for a moment—trying desperately to force some oxygen to my body—but eventually I was able to gulp down my anxiety and give him an excuse.
“I—I… I just need some fresh air. Something… I—I’m feeling sick all of a sudden,” I said, at which point Baum was already standing up. Before he could get closer, I left the room and started toward the elevator, holding my hand to my stomach to try to keep myself grounded. Luckily, it made it seem like I was nauseated, but I needed that touch. I needed something to hold me together.
“You look green, Ray. You sure you don’t want me to come with you?” Baum called after me, but I couldn’t turn to look at him. I just made my way down the hallway and hit the call button for the elevator, maybe one too many times. Maybe four too many times. I could hear Baum walking down the hallway and didn’t know what to do, but eventually I turned and tried to wave him off with my free hand.
“I’m f—fine,” I stammered, shaking my head as I pressed my hand even harder against my stomach. “You were right about the cabin fever, is all. Feeling… need some air, is all.”
“I don’t mind coming wi—”
“I’m fine!” I shouted back at him, and I finally caught a glimpse of him just a few yards away, pausing midstep. I could see the concern on his face, but I could also see something else. It made that my previous feelings of safety evaporate, made me stumble into elevator and place my back against the far wall after I hit the button for the ground floor.
Baum was satisfied.
“I just don’t like people seeing me like this. I’ll… I’ll be fine,” I tried to make up an excuse, but I broke eye contact and stared at the elevator wall, silently urging the elevator to hurry up and close its goddamn doors.
“Alright then, Ray, but don’t feel like you need to do—” Baum tried to say, but my prayers were answered and the elevator doors shut before he could finish whatever encouragement he was trying to offer. Only once the elevator started to rise and I could see the numbers change in the digital display did I even consider that I was remotely safe. Only once I was alone did the muscles in my abdomen stop twisting and contorting within my body.
But then I was alone in that elevator, and the only thing I could see in my head was that vision of Samir coming out of the darkness, half his suit and facial hair burned away, menace flowing from his red eyes.
It tore at me, frightened me, but I knew that this was not some mistake or trick of my mind. When it was happening I didn’t notice, but that blue tinge was there. This was the future, one that I might not be able to avoid, and it only told me that I had no idea what was going on. That hallway had been destroyed; solid walls and paneling torn apart, metal rent every which way, fire consuming everything in its path.
Yet, at the end of it all, there was Samir. He had obviously been affected by the explosion—his suit was shredded and half of his beard had been burned away—but he was intact. I don’t mean like he was still alive or even still standing, but everything apart from his hair was immaculate. I could see the tone of his muscles; his skin seemed light in comparison to the darkness around him, but there were no burns or scars. Whatever damage had been done to him was so superficial that he did not have even a scratch on him.
By the end of the elevator ride, I knew Samir was not human.
I mean, seriously, there’s no other explanation except that maybe he’s a super-soldier, which—now that I just submitted it as a theory—is totally just as acceptable. I have no idea what Catalytics or the Order gets up to. Hell, Samir could be a robot for all I know, but that doesn’t go with the themes. After all of this, after what I’ve seen—after the way that Baum and all of them treat the prophecies—it’s obvious that demons exist, or at least existed.
And Samir can read the raw text! So far I’m the only other bastard who can do that, and I’m apparently the chosen seer for this generation. If Samir isn’t like me, which is what they’ve been saying, there has to be another explanation. That explanation, from what everything I’ve learned, is that Samir is a fucking demon. As nice as he is, there’s something supernatural about him, something demonic, and that makes me one thing for certain.
Scared out of my fucking mind.
I have no clue what I am, the role I play or how the fuck I got chosen for it, but that “man” is obviously dangerous. Whatever he is, I got a vision of him stomping down a destroyed hallway like he’s the goddamn Juggernaut and I know for fucking sure that I can’t stop that. I have no chance against something like him, and this man is apparently in charge of everything in giant underground base.
By the time I got out of the MedCorps building, cursing it for the front it was and ignoring the receptionist who called after me, I was convinced. I knew that I had to leave. I knew I had to get out of Grand Fucking Rapids and get out of this nightmare. I needed to go back home, crawl back to Renee and try to forget that all of this ever happened.
If the Order is employing demons or monsters or whatever the fuck Samir is, then that means they’re on the wrong side. They have to be; they have to be the ones who want the world to end. That’s what demons do, right? They trick you into liking them right before they tear out your heart and dance with the devil in the pale moonlight. Doesn’t matter what I’ve seen, what I am, how sympathetic Lucifer was or any of that bullshit; it could have all been tricks and hallucinations given to me by evil, immortal creatures.
I was convinced that I needed to go home—to the point that I was shaking. Before anybody could notice me, I scurried over to the terrace on the side of the building and paced between the tables as I brought out the phone from my pocket. Yeah, whoever they were, the Order would probably be able to track it, but I wasn’t thinking entirely straight. I thought that if I did it fast enough, bought my ticket back home in just a few minutes and got an Über to take me to the airport before anyone noticed, I might have actually been able to escape.
Then something behind me touched my shoulder and I was so surprised that I jumped in the air like a cartoon fucking cat; my phone even flew out of my hands and landed on the ground with a sickening crack. That wasn’t even the end of my spasm, as I jerked around and slapped away my attacker before hopping back against one of the metal tables of the terrace.
Terror wrenched through my gut as I realized that I had just slapped Teresa Slagen’s arm.
“Ray, stop! It’s me!” she urged, warding off any attack with outstretched palms. I calmed down when I realized she wasn’t going to jump forward and tear out my throat, but I was still terrified of that woman. Now that I knew the nature of her friend, how he regarded her, I knew I wasn’t safe around her. It didn’t matter that she was looking at me with compassion, that she was calm and gentle in that moment.
This woman was no friend of mine, even if I knew that I would have to act like she was.
“Ray,” she stressed, keeping her distance as she furrowed her brow, “what’s going on? Why are you like this? I saw you burst out the door just now and—and,” she paused, obviously considering her words. After a moment, her face softened, her gaze became less guarded, and I felt the kindness flowing from her next words. “Just calm down. We’ll get you through this.”
“Don—” the first syllable escaped my lips, almost became “don’t come any closer,” but I knew I couldn’t say that to her. It would only serve as a death sentence, so I tried to force regular breathing, tried to ignore the fear lingering on every one of my muscle fibers.
“It… it was a panic attack,” I said, curling my fingers around the edge of the table serving as my seat. “I’ve been down there for… for so long that I—that I… it just all came at me at once.”
“Okay…” Teresa said—the word drawn out far too long—and I knew she didn’t believe me.
When I looked up and made eye contact with her, she was approaching slowly, her palms still outstretched, but she had lowered them down to her midsection; she was easing off because I wasn’t freaking out anymore. Once she was within a few feet of me, she sidled over to a nearby table and mimicked me, sitting on the edge and supporting herself with her hands. Then she gave me an understanding smile and nodded before looking away.
“You’ve been lying, Ray,” she said, and klaxons blared inside my skull as I tried to think up an argument.
“…and you don’t have to,” she talked over to me, turning back to make eye contact again and stealing the words from my throat. “We’re in this together, Ray, and I don’t want you to feel like you had to hide anything from any of us. It’s not like the movies or the shows you’ve watched, honey; there isn’t someone waiting to kill you once you’re done with these translations.”
“What…” I started, but then I thought better of it. What about Amin? would have just sealed my fate. Instead, I frowned and shook my head. “What will happen to me after it’s done?”
“After you translate everything?” she asked, surprising me with a laugh that sounded so pleasant. I stared as she looked up at the sky, a weary smile on her face doing nothing to distract from her beauty, the softness of her cheeks, and I was still looking when she lowered her head and turned back to me. “Sweetie, I have no idea what will happen to anyone once you’re done with the translations. That’s kinda the point, after all. You’re the one who gets to tell us the future.”
“And what if I see my death?” I asked, my tongue lashing out at this mystery of a woman, and I saw something I didn’t expect. As soon as she heard that, Teresa balked—gasped, even—and stared at me in horror.
“Have you?” she asked, and for a moment I thought she was worried I had seen her plans to kill me. Then I realized—and this is the only thing that has calmed me down—that it was genuine concern. She wasn’t asking for her own sake, for the sake of her Order or company or anything else.
She was asking for me.
And that’s when it turned for me. These circumstances are beyond horrific—I don’t know if I’ll be killed at any minute, among other things—but the person who’s in charge of this whole operation really does care about me, somehow. It could have all been an act, it could have been a masterful manipulation by someone incredibly dangerous, but I knew that wasn’t the case. Something had been triggered between us—some connection I don’t understand, that she might not understand—but the very thought of my death brought tears to her eyes.
I watched as they fell down her cheek, watched as her breathing staggered and shook her whole body.
“I—” a whole confession almost burst out of me, but a sudden thud rumbled through the ground and the branches of the surrounding trees swayed. If it hadn’t been for that vibration, I might have told Teresa everything; I might have let her know every detail of my visions. That’s how deep my trance had become, how enamored I had become with this powerful and dangerous woman.
But once Teresa felt that vibration, whatever she felt for me was abandoned. In that instant, her expression became stone; her full attention was on the entrance of the building. She knew that something had happened, something unexpected, which made me realize that whatever she felt for me was just a distraction.
Her emotions, whatever they meant to her, were something she could sacrifice whenever necessary.
“Catch your breath, Ray. Think about what we’ve talked about,” Teresa said, but she was staring at the entrance the entire time. “If that ever becomes something you worry about—seeing your death—you just let me know. If you tell Baum, I’ll be on the first plane out. I don’t want you to ever feel like this.”
“But I have to go, sweetie,” Teresa said, turning to face me with the term of endearment. Her gaze was a little softer, but I could tell that it was all an act for me. “I can’t imagine that was a good sound.”
“Yeah, I don’t think so, either,” I added, trying to make it sound like I didn’t know what happened, but I don’t know if it worked. All I could see was Teresa bite her lip and look back at the entrance in thought.
“Take your time up here. Think about what you really want, Ray. Think about how you’ll feel if you ever try to leave here without finishing those translations. I know that sometimes… sometimes you’ll want to escape,” Teresa said, keeping her eye on the door. “But running from your destiny just means that you’ll never know what your life was supposed to be.”
“Teresa,” I muttered, intent on trying to respond to that sentiment, but she turned to me with a light smile and transformed me into a mute.
“I’ll see you soon, Ray. I promise,” she said, and then she walked through the entrance and let the door close behind her before I could string together a coherent thought. It seemed faster than what should be normal, but then I realized that I was moving and thinking in slow motion. Just processing what she had just told me was taking me much longer than normal. My mind felt like a swamp, murky, obscuring the danger below each footfall.
And though I knew I should have walked away at that moment, what Teresa said to me resonated with my very soul. Not just the arrogant part—that fragment of me that felt like it deserved some greater role in this world’s destiny—but with my very human nature, with my self. I needed to know, needed to understand why all of this was happening. I had always been under the impression that 616 that was responsible for this, that the number had driven me here.
But I realized, standing in the terrace of a remodeled Wal-Mart, that I had driven myself here.
So that’s why I went back to the elevator, went back to the dormitories, returned to my room and my obsolete laptop and this ridiculous diary. Common sense would have driven me back home or, more likely, into hiding from this world-spanning Order. After prophetically witnessing the murder of Amin by some monster resembling a man, you would think I would run away as fast as I can. Thing is, Teresa made me realize something that I should have known already. Baum got me close, but that woman really forced the point home.
I could run away, but eventually, even if it was years from now, I would come running back.
Unfortunately for me, I’m pretty sure they already know this.
END OF ENTRY
Well, Teresa's in on it, too, whatever it is. Next passage goes up tomorrow!