The Street Rat did not weep, though. She didn’t have it in her to get that emotional invested, and on top of that, also didn’t see the purpose in showing that emotion. However, she was definitely stunned.
She looked back over to the city of Neyrk. Her city. That packed a bit of weight on her heart, it didn’t make her cry, but it silenced her thoughts to see it destroyed like that. Drowning in that dark terraforming fog with no beacon of light left standing other than a monument to the Mad Genius’s betrayal. The Airship had almost arrived at the Chancellor’s Tower.
“The Matriarch of the Magni was a great woman.”
Jamie turned her sight to the lifeboat, which was hanging by ropes and rocking back and forth before the wind that was probably going to give them all a cold.
Amara, the Lady of Light, stood up and walked around so as not to block view of Eliza. It gave the old sorcerer one more moment of silence.
Amara kneeled again and repeated, in a louder voice.
“The Matriarch of the Magni was a great woman. She and I, some will know, have stood at opposite ends on many issues in the past. We are, in a way, from opposite walks of life.”
The Hunter was sitting outside of view, at the very end of the little boat, leaning on its edge and looking out at the city. Thunuk had his head down and a hand on her shoulder. Amara watched over the crowd.
“I have said many times that whether or not we are in the Light, we are most certainly in their plan.”
Jamie rolled her eyes, but only half-way. She thought of leaving, she wanted to go get a change of clothes, but it occurred to her that the least she could do for Eliza would be to not disrespect her now. However, she did make a point of crossing her arms.
“She was the leader we all needed. The leader that I couldn’t be. With her final act, she saved everyone who is now drenched in water.”
Jamie frowned, mostly because that was fair to say. Eliza had only talked directly to her people, but especially during the days of Brithan, and even more so in Neyrk, she had been an ever-present paragon of leadership. All these people didn’t know her personally, or even in the way Jamie did, but they knew her as the one leading the last effort to defend them.
“We should all be grateful to the Light for her life. For knowing her.” She paused and looked at Eliza’s pale face as if it was peaceful and lovely. Few could see how bad it really looked. “I know I am,” Amara added, caressing her forehead.
People remained silent for no more than a minute, Jamie judged, before the first one spoke out in concern.
“What now? Did we lose?”
“Now,” the Lady of Light smiled, “we trust in the Light.”
“Yeah, okay,” someone else said, “but concretely, though?”
Jamie snorted in reaction and finally turned around, going through the crowd to head towards the door leading into the ship.
“We are betrayed by the Mad Genius, Falk Goldschmidt,” Amara patiently explained, “he heads to my loving husband’s tower as we speak.”
“What happened to the chancellor?” “What’ll happen to us?” “Did we lose?”
“My husband is most likely with the Light,” Amara said, sadly but not distraught, for the Lady of Light could not be distraught. That would show a lack of faith. “What will happen is the same thing that was always going to happen…we will be happy, or sad, and hopefully do what’s right. And then, in the end, eventually… we will walk into the Light.”
Psh, you think they’ll be satisfied with that? Jamie thought dejectedly.
Honestly, dealing with a crowd of questions and worries would be Eliza’s job. They wouldn’t want comfort now, they would want a plan, an idea, a future. And all of Amara’s futures existed after death, how would that satisfy anyone?
It was cruel to leave her to deal with it alone, but Jamie didn’t much care about it, she was wet and exhausted, she wanted a change of clothes.
She kept weaving past people, witnessing them hearing about what was going on outside in the deck by way of a chain of second-hand reports.
“The Lady is talking, she said that magic woman who was leading is…” “doesn’t seem like they know what to do.” “What’s gonna happen then, did they say? Are we leaving? What’s happening?”
As usual, the children were the most interesting to watch. They were either attuned to the mood around them — and thus crying and afraid — completely oblivious — and thus playing around happily to contrast all the gloom — or they were Scavengers.
These are who the Street Rat planned to find.
No one else would catch sight of them that easily but Jamie knew how to spot them, they would have claimed a big chunk of the ship for themselves. She eventually found a door, half-open, leading to a corridor which had no lights on. More noticeably, a group of children was scattered around it. They looked sad and intermittently coughed, seemingly sick with something. Jamie smiled and approached.
They were in the middle of other people, so she had to stick to protocol. Still, she breezed through it. Ask what’s behind the door, get told it’s closed broken messy or something, say she’s going in anyway and then complain at the terrible smell all the way in.
She soon came into view with River. The woman was dressed much more conservatively than usual, wearing an overcoat which covered her from neck to shins. She edged out of what was supposedly her room.
“Well look at this,” River said, leaning against the door frame, “you’ve failed.”
“Depends on how ya look at it, River,” Jamie retorted with a shrug, “didn’t exactly do anythin’ wrong.”
“Did you do anything right?” River asked, crossing her arms.
“At least I did somethin’,” Jamie threw out as she passed her fellow teen by, mostly ignoring her room, there would be nothing useful in there.
“Better to do nothin’ than to fail,” River pointed out after Jamie.
“Thinkin’ like that’s why yer not getting anywhere anymore,” Jamie replied, without looking back, and while waving her hand dismissively.
Used to be that Jamie couldn’t treat River like that, but as an equal, she was supposed to. The old song and dance of the Scavengers never ended, it was simply that the people one did it with just got better as the ones who could follow one’s tune got fewer.
As expected, Jordan came out to meet her.
“Jamie! Cow tie, you look terrible,” Jordan remarked, he always knew exactly what to say.
“Thanks, Jordan, that’s just what I need to hear,” Jamie said displeased, “where can I get some change of clothes?”
“Oh yeah, we got lots o’ stuff, follow me.”
The Street Rat passed by a considerable number of her charges, once friends. They eyed her, they gestured or vocalized a greeting. Her eyes caught it all, aware of it, but she didn’t really see any of it. Images of what she had witnessed for the past hours blocked it all as a hard state of apathy worked to take over her demeanor. It was all she could do to keep the smirk, her trademark sign of confidence. That would keep her unresponsiveness understandable.
Jordan opened the door to show a small cabin, sized for two people and yet rigged just for her.
“Clothes are in the cabinet,” Jordan said, “Just knock once you need me, I’ll be right outside.”
“’Kay,” Jamie acknowledged, walking inside.
“You gonna lemme know what happened?”
She turned towards him with a suggestive smile, her wet hair draped around her face, and closed the door without comment.
Turning around again, Jamie became aware there was also a mirror in the room, on top of a desk and chair. She walked towards it slowly, taking off all her clothes as she approached. Once there, she pulled the chair back, sat down, and looked at herself in the mirror.
The Street Rat brought her hands to join them over her mouth and nose and just stared. She did this so she could get a focus on her eyes.
She saw gory visages of death and suffering all around her in the mirror, albeit transparent. It was as if it was a lake, the mirror, and the things were being reflected off of it. She watched fragmented images of gruesome struggles and painful defeats that were in her head, some of it still in her short-term memory.
She breathed deeply and heavily, the sense of cold and wetness now an after-thought.
Jamie needed to look into her own eyes, look deep inside through them and past them, past all the imagery that was imprinted into her retina and refused to dissipate.
Jamie needed to make sure she was still in there somewhere.
After some time, she didn’t know how long, she took a deep breath, a specific one that carried with it finality. She blinked, ending the self-imposed trance, and looked down to refocus her eyes.
Jamie paused, getting a clear view of her legs, dressed in drenched and dirty trousers. “It’s not over,” she told herself.
The Street Rat looked back up and smiled, shaking her head.
“It’s crazy, but it’s really not. Come on.” She nodded at herself. “Get up.”
The confidence in that smile, the smugness of the smirk, the proactivity being displayed by how her hands lightly tapped or massaged each other. Anyone would expect her to get up the very next instant.
Yet she didn’t. What was outside didn’t match what was inside.
“Get up, let’s go,” she said again, quite casually. However, she didn’t. Groaning, she surrendered to her last resort, which was to assume indifference to her own death. That was a hard thing to do, but it was made easier by the fact that if it happened, it meant it was happening to everyone else, and that was why.
The Street Rat wouldn’t be losing to anyone, then, she simply couldn’t win.
That did it, and she finally stood up. Promptly, Jamie opened the small closet to find a decent selection of clothes. Her eyes caught sight of her usual style but were instead drawn to other things. She stood there for a few seconds, thinking about it.
If ever there was a time for a change, she thought, meaningfully.
Still smiling victoriously, Jamie grabbed the pieces of clothing she was interested in and threw them on the bed, then went back to the desk. There, she cut her hair to a manageable size, leaving its back a bit longer. It could stay messy, it would still work.
Trembling from the cold but dry enough, Jamie put on the black leggings, and over them, the blue skirt. It reached down to her knees but no further, she would maybe need to run. It actually felt good on her legs, she felt freer, albeit less safe for some reason. She put on the bra, it wasn’t like she really needed it but might as well start getting used to it. And on top, she dressed in the sleeveless gray top that was tighter around the belly than she was used to. Jamie put a vest over that, one made of black leather, and a dark blue overcoat over that, which she kept open.
Hands in pockets, she stood and looked herself over in the mirror. At Jamie, Teen of the Scavengers.
Her smile didn’t change an inch, but it was much more honest, she could feel it.
“Cool,” Jamie said gladly.
She turned around, noticing her messy hair didn’t look that put together from certain angles, but hey, the world was dying, some concessions should be expected. Finally, Jamie put on the black socks and the sneakers, because some things were just better the old way.
“Jordan, get in ‘ere,” Jamie called.
The boy followed through immediately, opening the door. He was then visibly stunned. Jamie grinned happily.
“Cool, right?” She asked.
“Pff,” he shook himself back to awareness. “Sure, that’s one word for it. You look great.”
“I know,” Jamie said, hands on her coat’s pockets, exuding a confidence she had never really felt comfortable with.
“What about the hat?” Jordan asked, pointing. “It was hard to find, but I managed.”
Jamie followed his pointing finger to find a hat, the kind she had always wore, hanging off a hanger. She considered it for a moment.
“Nah,” Jamie said after that moment. “Don’t you geddit?” Jamie walked by him with a newfound purpose. “I’m a Teen now. That means I’m all grown up, don’t gotta hide anymore.”
“Hiding’s a skill, right? N’ yer pretty good at it,” Jordan pointed out as she walked out of the room.
“’m pretty good at a lotta things. Hey, Bobbi.”
“Hey?” Bobbi flinched at the sight of her. “Whoah, hey, Jamie!”
“I’m not the Street Rat anymore. Eliza got rid of her title when she got too old, right? That’s where I’m at, now,” Jamie said, nodding as people reacted to her and greeted her again, each with a different tone of voice. “‘m pretty sure.”
“Pretty sure?” Jordan asked, still following her like a bodyguard, which was essentially what he was, intentionally or not.
“Whoah, Jamie, that you? You’re a girl?”
“Yer hilarious, Peyton,” Jamie said, side-glancing at him.
“Yeah, I know,” Jamie rose her head a bit as she said it. “I’m going back out there.”
“Seriously?” Jordan asked. “You got a plan?”
“A concession,” Jamie corrected. “River,” she greeted, exchanging glances with the young woman.
“Well, well, look at you, Jamie. Decided to grow up, huh?” River asked, still leaning on the door frame, but the time the door was closed.
“We all gotta some time, right?” Jamie asked.
River chuckled and nodded.
“Get the Teens together,” Jamie said. “I’ll figure out a plan with the Shadow Conclave and report back soon.”
“The Shadow Conclave? Eliza’s dead. Falk did it, right? The clown’s down below, they say he might die too.” River scratched the back of the head, adding, “is there even any Shadow Conclave left?”
“Me and the Hunter’s left,” Jamie told her.
“You always got us,” River said, suggestively. “I’d think we’re smart enough.”
Jamie shook her head and glanced at River patronizingly as she turned to walk away.
“You’re not Shadow Conclave, remember the prophecy? We’re the two who are left,” she stepped on, feeling the skirt flowing along with her steps and sensing Jordan at her heels, “we’ll have ta be enough.”
The best of the Shadow Conclave would solve the situation. Was that the group as a whole? Was that one single individual? Was it best in terms of character, as Amara had suggested, or in terms of skill, and if so, what type of skill?
There was only one way forward, only one path to fulfilling the prophecy, and that was to go talk to the Hunter and decide on what to do.
If not for anything else, the Hunter was a woman of action, she would want to do something, and Jamie had some ideas.
Perhaps if the Circus Freak were conscious, they’d consult him as well, just to make sure. That’s what Eliza would do.
Jamie sighed in a moment of doubt, but quickly shivered and walked on, noting as the strangers in the halls of the ship failed to recognize her, and yet took note of her. They knew she was important and wondered why.
There was a newfound purpose, which was the old one, but it felt new to Jamie.
Eliza was dead. The Don was dead. Falk was a traitor. Jamie was the last thinker available to the group and sociopathic enough to disregard all the pain and suffering that she had been a witness to. It was all buried, done away with in the same way she did away with fear or terror during all her cons. The nervousness, the jitters, it was the same, only on a different scale.
In a vastly different scale. It was why she had had the need to take however long she took, in front of that mirror.
Eyes were drawn to her as she walked, no longer timidly without value, but with posture and grandiosity. They did not look like they had looked at Sarah. They looked because they could feel her importance. As much as it was irrational, they knew instinctively the power she was carrying.
“This is weird,” Jordan pointed out, intimidated. “We’re supposed to go unseen.”
“We go as we need to go, doofus,” Jamie whispered, unheard from anyone and with the intention of retaining familiarity with the boy she wanted to be willing to sacrifice himself on her behalf, “and right now, we need to be seen.”
Jamie climbed the stairs with purpose, with a plan, and she carried on like that. It was clear everyone could tell that she was about to do something about the whole situation. The worried whispered and tense discussions would silence as she passed, in expectation of who she was and what she was going to do.
Jamie was, after all, probably the only person in the ship not wondering what was going to happen next. But what she was going to do next.
Despite that, as she climbed the final stairs, onto the bow, she was met with people gaping. Gaping away from her, at something else.
“Clear outta the way,” Jamie demanded.
Nobody was demanding passage anywhere on the ship, so if someone did, it was probably good to surrender to that, and that’s what people did. It took a few more seconds but, before long, she got enough of an angle to see what people were looking at.
The Hunter was on the bow of the ship, with Thunuk by her side, as usual, and Amara was behind them. Amara saw Jamie first, and her face was lit up. Lit up with this heavily hopeful glare.
It was weird.
Jamie glanced a few inches down to notice Thunuk and the Hunter were helping a young woman stand up. Jamie didn’t immediately recognize the woman, she was dressed in torn up clothes, bloodied and darkened by water. She seemed to still be bleeding out of her right arm. She had a good full head of hair all wet and completely covering her face. Jamie still should’ve recognized her at a glance but the possibility of who she was was so beyond her expectations that she didn’t.
“What’s going on?” The young woman asked, concerned about the people around her, even in the state she found herself in.
Jamie reacted to the voice and looked closely at the woman. Through the hair, Jamie saw a very familiar eye. It was bright red. It gleamed in the dark. She had first seen those eyes, filled with worry and doubt and question, on the very first day that the Beasts had invaded.
It was the Shadow.
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