Author’s Note: So… Cress was on his own, and it was a bad plan…
“You like the rain, don’t you?”
“Don’t you?” Cress asked, feeling the drops cease even as he spoke. He could start it again, but if he did, all he would do was exhaust himself, and he knew that was not in anyone’s best interests. The idea was to get the others enough time to extract Stone, and he could do that, but only if he was careful. He had to do this just right, keep the balance between him and the head of Aether, let the man think that he had Cress where he wanted him.
Trouble was, Cress knew that the last part was true, regardless of how the rest of it turned out.
“It has its uses.”
“Everything has a use. Not all of them are practical or good, but they all have uses.”
“True.” The other man smiled, giving Cress a look that made him want to shudder even before the words that followed it. “What do you suppose yours is?”
“I have no interest in finding out what you want me for,” Cress told him, being honest about it. He was a coward. He didn’t want to know. He couldn’t get a good sense of the man’s emotions—there was a smugness to him, he did seem all too pleased with himself and the situation—but beyond that, Cress couldn’t pin him down. He did not like this, but then he’d come here knowing how this would play out. He had no illusions about the outcome.
“That cannot be true. Curiosity and fear always win out in situations like this. You need to know what I’ve got planned for you, and if you don’t know, then you can’t possibly combat it, now can you? You’re practical enough to know that you need that information.”
“I don’t know that we should consider me… practical.”
The other man laughed. Cress wasn’t going to bother calling him Smith, that wasn’t his name. That didn’t fit. It was a cover for the normals, a lie to obscure what he was to anyone who might stumble on Aether, but his real name would be like the rest of theirs, a dead giveaway. “You are a leader. That means you make decisions based on what is best for all concerned, and that must assume some practicality.”
“Why are we discussing semantics?”
“To give your team time to get what they came for. Or are you going to deny that you’re here for the earth elemental?”
“If you know about that, why are we talking?”
“You and I have more important matters to discuss. He was bait; you knew that all along. That is why you met me here and not there. You have already made your decision, haven’t you?” The other man smiled. “Yes, of course you have. You’re loyal enough to give up everything for them, and I knew you would be. Tell me, do you know why we have to break the mirrors?”
“I have theories.”
“I will tell you mine. We break them to shatter our illusions of ourselves. We must be able to break free of the confines of normalcy, of what this world tells us is impossible. We can control elements, but only by first accepting that we can.”
Cress shrugged. “That’s one way of looking at it. You going to say there isn’t another world on the other side of the barrier, that it never bleeds through because it’s all in our heads? The line is arbitrary, and we simply hide behind it because we’re not capable of facing how great we are?”
“I find your tone less than amusing.”
“I find your ego overinflated and annoying.”
The other man took hold of him, and Cress shuddered as all of his abilities went haywire at once. He could feel emotions—too many, damn it, way too many—from everyone around him, maybe for miles. He couldn’t be sure. It hurt too much. Rain pelted down, challenged by the flow charging up from the street, pouring out of everywhere, and things started to freeze across the street, glass cracking and bursting, the windows shattering through all the buildings.
He was dying.
In that instant, he understood—the other elemental was going to bleed him dry. His abilities would kill him, as he’d always figured would happen someday.
The hand came off; he fell to his knees, sickened by the emotions rolling off the other man. “Oh, that was incredible. I’ve been waiting for someone to come along with half your skill, but you… now you’re a gift.”
Cress forced his head up, glaring at the elemental. “What are you going to do?”
“Oh, come now. Don’t you know?”
He didn’t have the energy to argue with the bastard. “No.”
“It’s time we saw the other side, don’t you think?”