Parts 1 & 2 are over there. -m
If I hadn't've been sprinting after the ever-changing form of my ex-boyfriend, I probably would have taken at least a couple of moments to revel in the crazy luck we'd had in finding him in one of the first antique shops we'd tried. Just the ridiculous timing of it all made me grin. But then Avel would try to change his hair color, and my mind would be whipped back to reality. If I didn't pay better attention, my luck wasn't going to stick around very long.
Kadey's feet were pounding behind me, and I could also hear her having a hard time with other people on the sidewalk. I wanted very badly to glance back and check on her, but I had to keep both eyes on Avel. He was heading deeper into downtown.
How had he gotten so fast? Geez. It was like his legs were slurping up the pavement and spewing it out in dust. And I was eating it. My breathing was so labored I was certain that any moment I was just going to collapse, and then we would never find him again, because there was no way that Kadey would keep up with him.
Avel flung himself around a corner, the first one in several blocks, and I pushed harder, trying to keep up. I was only a few steps behind him, but once I came around the curb he was gone. I screamed in frustration. I needed to focus and look for him, but I was breathing so hard that all I was good for was leaning over and putting my hands on my knees. I saw Kadey's shoes on the pavement.
"He's gone!" she said. She was breathing hard, too.
"I know," I said. I took one huge breath and straightened. "You put your arms down!"
"I'm sorry," she said as she warded off a slap on the arm. "They were getting tired, and I honestly didn't think he was there any more!"
"Fine. Ok. Where would he go?"
"Why are you asking me? You're the one who knows him," Kadey said. I could almost hear her adding, You're the one he made out with and almost married....
"Ugh. I know! Ok, let me think," I said. I closed my eyes and leaned against the building. The art museum, movie theaters, restaurants, angsty poet hovels... all these ran through my head. But to no avail. That dang street corner was going to pay for making us lose him. I punched the wall. Ow.
"Hey, that's weird," Kadey said.
"I could have sworn 46th went all the way through here," she said. Kadey took a couple of steps forward. I'd completely forgotten where we were during our run, but while I'd been thinking Kadey had looked up at the street signs. People rushing to their cars and to the metro from work ran into us from every angle. But we didn't move.
"Where are we?" I asked. I spun and looked at the sign. 46th and Jelly. I looked around, getting my bearings. If this was Jelly, and the sun was there... 46th should go straight through, crossing Linoleum. But a block away was a skyscraper, and 46th turned into a right-or-left choice. A choice that had never been there before. I started running, and Kadey followed me.
"Brace yourself!" I yelled over my shoulder. The transition point was coming up, and there was nothing weirder than passing through one of Avel's illusions without warning. It was like getting hit with a wall of marshmallows. Didn't leave any bruises, but it didn't exactly leave you feeling very healthy. We hit the edge of the illusion at a sprinting speed and I felt my hair get caught in the magical wall. Everything was kooky and soft for a second, and then we were through, and 46th didn't run into a skyscraper anymore.
"Whoa," said Kadey. "That was awesome!" I kept running, but I still grinned at her. I don't know why, but part of me felt a little proud of Avel for being able to pull off something like that. It didn't even occur to me that maybe I should have wondered why I hadn't seen the illusion in the first place. Something that huge should have been obvious.
"There!" I yelled and veered to the left. A gray haze was just disappearing into the alley behind the movie theater. We darted through the narrow opening and were suddenly the only people within view. Something told me that he was hiding in the theater. Avel couldn't have gone far while maintaining that illusion. I yanked open the back door and Kadey and I practically fell into the theater. After the bright sun of the streets it took a while for my eyes to adjust.
Kadey grabbed my arm and I started walking slowly, picking my way around shadowy obstacles. A few seconds later I found another door and opened it. We were in the back of a giant IMAX theater that was filling with people. It was then that I noticed that I wasn't seeing things very well. Everything was black and white and gray. I looked at Kadey. Her normally dark blue eyes were still dark, but they were gray. My hands were shaded, too; the flesh tones were gone. I choked on air in my rush to speak, but by the time I cleared my throat a theater attendant was at the top of the stairs leading down to the door we had just come out of.
"Excuse me, but you can't go down there. Employees only," he said. Kadey and I apologized and mounted the steps, pretending to look for our seats. The attendant wouldn't let us do anything but sit down. Every time we tried to head away to the exit, he corralled us and led us back to the seats. We sat, resigned, and stuck our heads together to figure out a battle plan. I kept staring at my hands in their gray creepiness and at the ends of my hair, which was just plain black. All the richness of color was gone, and I knew it wasn't because I had suffered any trauma. Avel was here and was doing it to me.
"What's wrong?" Kadey whispered. The lights in the room had just dimmed and people were putting on 3D glasses.
"I can't see," I said.
"No, I mean, I can't see colors. Everything's gray and black," I said. Kadey spun around in her chair, trying to look all directions at once.
"My vision's fine," she said. I sighed. If everything was already gray and black, I wasn't going to be able to find Avel. Not a chance. And he knew that. He remembered.
The screen flickered once, and the audience "Ooohed". Every seat was full and I could see two people in the aisle, walking up and down the stairs as they looked for open seats. Immediately I felt guilty, but there was nothing I could do. I needed this seat so I could keep looking for Avel. I tried scanning the crowd for him the way I'd looked for his work in the antique store, but everything looked hazy and gray in the darkness.
I slouched in my chair, frustrated. Kadey was still looking, wide-eyed, at all the people in the auditorium. With no chance of finding him, I closed my eyes. And saw Avel.
"Don't react," he said. I suddenly found I couldn't open my eyes, but I could still hear everything. Avel's voice was coming from just a few feet away. I struggled to sit up, but the weight of magic was on top of me. I was frozen and felt sick whenever I tried to move.
"I said, 'Don't', Meli. Don't move," he said. My mouth wouldn't open to speak. "Stop chasing me." I gave in to the illusion and let down the smallest of my mind barriers, so that I could at least yell at him.
Shoving my own magic back in his face, I said, "Give me back my sight!" Avel laughed, overjoyed.
"Finally! Doesn't it feel good to let it out?" In my mind Avel sat in a leather-backed chair, grinning like crazy as he ran his hand through his hair. "Let's play with them, shall we?" My stomach sank. Play?
The crowd in the theater gasped, and one woman screamed. Avel let me open my eyes to see the screen. The scene was from the perspective of a person walking on a dark road. Footsteps sounded from behind, and the person turned to look. Three thugs in gang gear were following the person; they smiled maliciously. The same woman screamed again.
"Meli?" Kadey said. There was a worried hesitance in her voice that I didn't like.
Suddenly the scene changed and Kadey gasped.
"That's my house," she whispered to me. This time I understood. Avel was ruffling through the audience's minds like they were picture books. Every five seconds, the picture changed, and a different person screamed or at least gasped in surprise. He was still in my mind, and I pushed my way up to his chair.
"Stop it!" I said as I reached out to slap him. But even in my own mind I was slow, and he blocked it before my fingernails could do any damage.