Several things happened at once.
As the blazing light around her died down to a soft glow, Xia became aware of an oily, smoky smell assaulting her nose. Her eyes swept the area in front of her, seeking the source of the foul odor. A soft crunch turned her attention downward.
Rei’s head snapped up as Xia wailed. The connection in her mind broke, and her shield collapsed. Her body flopped twice and stopped. She pressed her face into the dirt; it felt nice and cool on her feverish face. She heard Uno moving around behind her, but lacked the strength to care.
Xia staggered away from the burnt and twisted remains of Greeley. A sharp clenching in her gut drove her to the ground, retching and gagging. Tears fell unchecked from her eyes, and a feeling of overwhelming guilt threatened to smother her.
“I… killed him?” she whispered between heaves. “I killed him. It’s true. I AM evil. I’m a murderer. I deserve to die, too!” A howl rose from her raw throat. She buried her face in her hands, trying to hold back the grief and the noise.
Uno stepped close to the fallen female, Rei, and raised his weapon. In his mind, this woman was a danger to everything The Council had established and needed to be eliminated. His arm shook as he brought the butt of the rifle close to the back of her sleeping head, and he gasped as the iron gun was yanked from his grasp. A blow he did not see landed in the center of his chest and sent him flying through the air.
“I would not do that, if I were you. But I am not you, and you are not me, so I must stop you in your place,” said a soft, hissing voice. “I do not mean to hurt you, but I can not allow you to hurt her, see? You must sleep now.” Uno’s eyes grew heavy; the last thing he saw before he succumbed to the darkness was a small body lifting Rei effortlessly into the air.
All around the field, loud bells begin to clang and ring. The alarm had been raised. Xia tried to stand. She knew that the only chance she had for survival was to get off the field and into a building. She had to run, to seek shelter, to find these Circle people that Rei spoke of. Her legs refused to obey her brain and she crumbled, landing hard on one knee. Harsh laughter bubbled from her mouth.
“Of course I can’t run,” she reprimanded herself. “Who cares if these Circle people really do exist? I’m a criminal. I killed my mother, destroyed a town, and now, I’ve horribly murdered a man. I’m slime! I’m a snake!” The Mark in the hollow of her throat began to burn. She hissed at the pain, and clawed at the Mark as if to rip it away from her skin.
Her body heated up, and Xia flew into a panic. “What now? Isn’t this enough! Hey, you’re there right?” she shouted into the air. “You said you’d be watching me. What are you waiting for? KILL ME!” The edges of her vision began to blur as she felt a presence rise up behind her. She turned, expecting to see The Other, ready for whatever punishment she was due.
“Yessss,” a soft voice hissed. “You are correct. I AM always watching you. You belong to me. Release your skin and follow me.”
“Eh?” Xia whirled around, landing on her back, and stared in disbelief at a small child. Rei was slung over the child’s shoulder like an empty sack. “What are doing with Rei? Where’d you come from? What in the name of-”
“Do not speak that name!” the child hissed viciously. “Release your skin and follow. You feel the burn, see?”
“Ummm….” Her worries and crimes forgotten, Xia struggled to make sense of this new development. She opened to mouth to speak, and only a soft hiss came out. Stunned, her eyes widened and she realized that she was staring up at the child instead of down.
“Release!” the child urged. Heat flared, and Xia saw the ground rush up to greet her.