The Downing Building
New Hebron, California
The world around Amy sputtered and flickered, dissolving like snow on a hot day. Her mother smiled, displaying her razor-sharp teeth, and waved before evaporating. Amy shuddered. The image was burned into her mind; it was the thing of nightmares, and she knew the creature would make an appearance in her dreams.
Amelia looked around and her breath catch in her throat. She was back on the street where she’d last seen Sapphira. A mass of misshapen bodies were writhing in a heap. The other exemplar was nowhere in sight, but Amy’s instinct told her where she could find her.
She lurched forward, grabbing at a limb with both arms, dug her feet in and tossed the creature over her shoulder. The creature screeched and wailed as its form dissolved into the air. She didn’t stop to marvel, but rather grabbed the next and flung it away. It too disintegrated. When she reached for a third, she gasped and jerked back.
A twisted version of her own face grinned up at her, but although disconcerting, that was not the worst feature of the creature. It was the body, a mash up of male and female dripping fluid from its privates and penises for fingers, that had elicited such a strong reaction.
From the moment she’d come out as transgender, people treated her like a freak. This creature was the visual manifestation of so many of the slurs and insults slung at her over the years.
Mock-Amy jerked to its feet, grinned with a mouthful of razor-sharp teeth and pounced at the agent. Amy dove sideways and slammed into the creature as it lurch into the space she’d just vacated. It stumbled to the ground and Amy gritted her teeth kicking it in the side as it stumbled to the ground. It howled, crying out in pain, but the agent did not relent.
She drew her gun and opened fire, but didn’t bother reloading. She didn’t need to. Her weapon was as much of an illusion as the creature. Her clip was full because she wanted it to be full.
The creature seemed immune to the conjured bullets. It didn’t even flinch when one of them struck dead center in its forehead. Amy backed away and slipped the gun back into its holster. She sensed that something had changed, but she did not muddle it over. Her duplicate jerked forward, and the agent slammed into it with her shoulder.
She might as well have run into a brick wall. Amy grunted and stumbled back staring at the creature with wide eyes. It grabbed out and latched its hands around her wrist. Amy jerked back, but her other self seemed to have developed super human strength. She kicked and clawed at it, but nothing she seemed to have any effect.
The monster laughed, a cackle which sounded similar to her own. It tugged on her wrist and Amy dug her heels in struggling to keep herself from being pulled forward, but her opponent was just too strong. The creature pulled her in and latched another hand around her free wrist. It grinned at her, displaying all its teeth then sank them into her shoulder.
Amy shrieked, her shoulder erupting with stabbing hot pain as her counterpart’s teeth ripped and shredded through her flesh. She renewed her struggle, but the creature only tightened its grip around her wrists. She kicked her captor, but it didn’t even so much as a grunt.
The creature lifted its jaws, Amy’s blood dripping and splattering on her shoulder and neck. Its mouth brush her ear, and it cackled again, this time sounding less than human.
Amy shivered, her mind racing as she felt the creatures breath on the back of her neck. If it killed her inside this conjured reality would she die? She’d faced death more than once, and she’d be lying if she said she didn’t fear it, but the thought of what Chemosh would do if left unopposed terrified her.
The creature’s grip was like iron and no amount of struggling would free her. The agent screamed out for help, but no aid came.
“You really think you can beat me, Amy? This isn’t your mind.” the creature said and bit into her shoulder again.
“No, it’s mine,” A voice spoke, and a figure emerged from out of street.
Sapphira stood between the creature and the agent. She looked worn, her clothing was tattered, her hair was a mess and scrapes and scratches covered her arms and legs, but to the agent’s eye she looked fierce. The other exemplar held her hand out, and Amy heard the creature gurgle. The monster’s grip around her wrist loosened, and the agent fell to her knees.
It screamed and Amy rolled away, gritting her teeth against the pain in her shoulder. She climbed to her feet and spun back around to face the creature, but it was already in its death throes. Sapphira clenched her open palm shut and in response its arms and legs jerking and contorting before plunging into its torso.
Faux-Amy emitted one more screech before the rest of its body, twisted and bent into itself. Before long, it faded into nothingness and leaving Amy and Sapphira standing in an empty street.
Amy glanced at her shoulder, though her flesh had mended, her clothes were still torn. She couldn’t say whether it was the work of the creature, Sapphira or her subconscious.
A long drawn out cackle echoed through the street, and both exemplars spun around seeking to find the source, but the laughter seemed to be coming from everywhere. A figure emerged from a side street, it was Chemosh.
The agent felt her breath catch in her throat, not at the sight of Chemosh, but at what followed. Hundred’s of figures came pouring out of the adjoining streets, every single one of them were Chemosh and they were all grinning.
‘This place is but an illusion, the only limits are those which you impose upon yourself.’
Ashtar’s words rang through Amy’s mind. It was that single sentence that had given her the foreknowledge to defeat the ghost of her father, escape her mother, and destroy two of the creatures that had been terrorizing Sapphira.
There was now an endless stream of Chemoshes pouring into the street from all directions. Amy hadn’t even bothered trying to count them, there were too many to even make an attempt. She wasn’t going down without a fight no matter how futile the attempt would be. Her heart hammering in her chest, she reached for her gun, but hesitated as the final words of Ashtar’s warning repeated in her mind.
‘Chemosh is powerful. He has lived for millennia, and there is no limit to his depravity. Though you hold power within your own mind, he will overcome you if you standalone. Only if the three of us merge our wills, shall we be successful.’
Amy furrowed her brows raised her weapon and opened fire on the flood of Chemoshes. Why had the once-goddess chosen such a strange way to phrase that last sentence? She hadn’t thought it over, but now faced with her own demise her mind had returned to the conversation in some hope she could unlock a secret meaning.
Where was Ashtar? If they must somehow join their wills why wasn’t she present? Realization struck the agent. Not once had Chemosh shown any sign he even knew the former goddess had left an imprint on Sapphira’s mind. She must have been hiding, but how then could they hope to defeat the once-god?
Realization struck, with the force of a physical blow. Amy dropped her gun and grabbed Sapphira by the shoulders and pulled the other woman close and locked her lips with her. She reached out, touching the other’s mind. Moments ago, she never would have ever made such an attempt, but Ashtar’s message had landed home. She had been imposing limits upon herself.
Understanding dawned in Sapphira’s mind. The other exemplar returned her kiss and a brilliant burst of light enveloped them. Nothing would ever be the same.