Female strength half guiding, half carrying me to the bathroom.
This girl had seen me at my absolute weakest.
She’d been witness to whatever hallucinations I’d endured. She’d stood over me while I was unconscious...touched me without my permission.
I wanted to be sick.
Not even Quell, Zanik, or Wes had ever seen me so weak.
I’d always been the strong one—the one who screamed in his sleep but never shed a single fucking tear while awake.
My mind swam, black filth blending with fists and kicks and blood.
I was alone when I finally decided to live instead of die.
My eyes opened painfully, eyelashes sticky and struggling to lift as dried blood cracked and crumbled. I was cold, lying in a puddle of piss and other unmentionable waste.
I didn’t move to begin with. I hovered in a space of existing and fading, trying to gather the will to survive.
It was a while before I finally managed to crawl on my hands and knees, every piece of me bellowing in pain. Time splintered again, slipping into nothing until I had the strength to crawl up the basement steps and into the kitchen.
My hollow stomach howled for food, but when I raided the pantry, I vomited it all back up again. I lived in a vicious cycle of eat, vomit, pass out, try again.
Days after days of agonizing sameness.
One foot in death and one in life, unable to find the strength to move forward.
I had no clock or calendar to know how much time had passed.
I had no one to ask who I was or why I was all alone.
I couldn’t remember anything.
Not a single, tiny thing.
I was a stranger.
I pinched the brow of my nose with my good hand, no longer willing to be a little puppet for my scrambled mind.
Goddammit, no more.
With a heavy exhale, I gathered up the slithers of memories, snatched up recollections, and erased all emotion from the past. They all went into a box. And that box went into the sea. And that sea held monsters that devoured them until I had nothing in my head but her.
My prisoner who thought she could manipulate and control me.
I had to admit. She’d done a better job than any of the mistresses in my past. No one else had made me feel. No one else made my heart kick or body harden for her touch.
She was my enemy.
It was time she relearned her place.
Turning on the ball of my foot, I ordered my wobbly, bruised legs to walk out of the library, up the stairs (breathing hard and condemned to multiple breaks to gather strength), and into the bedroom where my trespasser had demanded a toilet and shower.
There, on the bed, was the leather cuff I’d stolen from Storymaker’s closet.
A leash that’d been used on all of us more than once.
A leash that would now be hers.
Snatching it from the covers, I dragged it over the carpet, the leather hissing behind me. My strength rapidly dwindled. My eyelids threatened to shut. My mind held autumn leaves and bracken.
I just wanted to sleep.
The ringing in my ears upset my balance. The fuzziness of my vision made me tired. The throbbing in the back of my skull hinted my broken arm wasn’t the worst of my injuries.
Touching the bump on my forehead from where she’d hit me with the shovel, I stiffened when I found none. No bump. No cut.
How much time had passed since that day and this?
What did it mean that I still suffered a concussion? One that seemed to have the power to steal, not just hours but days from me.
Gritting my teeth, I shoved away my questions, commanded my body to stay lucid for just a little longer, and tripped my way down the stairs to the library.
My steps were no longer coordinated as I stumbled over the threshold, back into a room full of paper words and fictional worlds. I crashed against the doorframe, the bookshelves spinning, my mouth turning sour with sickness.
I kept my swirling attention on the girl still sleeping on the floor.
Had she heard me buckle against the door? Was she still unconscious or just faking? If I went over there, would she pounce on me again? Would she use my weakness against me like she’d done ever since she’d pushed me off the fucking cliff?
Bits and pieces came back to me.
Her tying a rope around my wrists.
Her apologizing but still trapping me like all the others.
It didn’t matter that she’d tended to me. Storymaker himself had given me drugs and overseen my healing when a guest had grown particularly cruel.
My health was valuable to him. I had to stay alive to do his bidding. We all did.
She’s the same.
I didn’t think she’d found my valley by accident after all. I bet it was all planned. Her trespassing on my home, her running so I’d follow, her skills at climbing and knots and ropes, giving her the chance to push me into the sky.