Last time we saw MICA… (click for recap)
Mica flees Windrose City with Ben, Aaron, and Dr. Henderson, the Windrose doctor Aaron and Paul, and Cassandra had risked so much to save. On their journey to the Unseen City, Aaron convinces Dr. Henderson to explain what the Watchers really are, and what the beings on the Wall are. She does so, and as Mica understands what her world is really like, reality becomes grim. The group makes their way to Haven, where Ben restores Burners memories. But upon remembering, one of the Burners is wild with grief and anger. Ben apologizes, but the Burner is inconsolable. Mica asks what happened, and Ben says the man intentionally Burned himself to forget something terrible, something they now both remember. Mica claims it is always better to remember, no matter how painful. Ben bitterly disagrees. With a strange rift now between them, they journey on to the Unseen City where they are met by Seers and escorted into the hidden city…
Darkness engulfed her.
The transport jostled its way up the mountainside towards the Unseen City, and Mica was grateful for the time to be alone with her thoughts. She could forget about everything if she wasn’t looking at Ben, or Aaron, or the small, scared face of Dr. Emma Henderson, the doctor saved by the Unseen to continue her work on the Watcher. She wondered if she should tell Dr. Henderson, but, despite what this woman said, she couldn’t imagine that this doctor didn’t know she had been recruited to experiment on Watchers. And now Ben.
Mica leaned back against the swaying transport, rested her cuffed hands on her knees, and thought maybe she’d sleep. She was so exhausted, and the darkness over her eyes provided a brief rest from her questions.
Although she knew that Colonel Alayla Mason would interrogate her soon enough, she wondered if she would see Stephen again. The black fabric over her face grew damp and cold as it wiped the tears from her eyes.
The transport rumbled to a stop, and the door opened. Someone lifted the hood from her head, and Mica blinked up at the craggy-faced guard. He nodded to the open door. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Ben look at her as soon as his hood was lifted. But she did not look at him.
Mica jumped to the ground. Finally, they had made it to the Unseen City. The transport bay hummed with activity. He struggled to clamor from the transport, and Mica noted that Ben’s crutch had been taken, and he limped badly without it. A soldier stood close by, watching him, his arm out in case Ben fell, but not offering help.
Then Mica saw Colonel Mason. She watched them, motionless, her hands clasped behind her back. Mica flinched at her expression, stern gaze and mouth pulled taught. Colonel Mason did not look at Mica as they were led to the medical bay.
“Shouldn’t you go say hi to your friend,” Mica said to Aaron.
“Standard procedure. Medical bay for tests and the entering interview. You know that.”
“Yeah, yeah. Thought maybe they’d make an exception for the all-powerful Perseus. Oh, and if Alayla murders me for petty theft, consider it your fault.” Aaron did not respond but gave her an odd look. “Hey, hey you. Where’s Stephen?” she shouted to the colonel. “What did you do to him?”
The colonel turned a sharp gaze to Mica, but a rush of wind and light filled the transport bay. And a roaring filled the cavern and echoed and pushed on Mica’s chest and sent her heart pounding.
“What’s happening?” she yelled above the thunder. Aaron shook his head. Dr. Henderson had fallen, and Ben struggled to help her up, but his own bad leg made that impossible. Everywhere people ran, yelled, it was chaos. Then Mica realized a ship was trying to land in the transport bay.
“Back there, by the door,” Aaron said and herded her towards the doors to the medical bay where Colonel Mason stood. He helped Dr. Henderson up and held out an elbow for Ben.
“Who authorized this?” Colonel Mason screamed above the noise to a terrified soldier. “We don’t have any airships scheduled to land.”
“I don’t know, but it was Cassandra Whitaker’s code, ma’am.”
The colonel went stiff. “Seers. Get me Seers! Now!” she screamed.
“They’re on their way, they’re coming,” the soldier said, bobbing his head before scurrying away.
Mica stared. Cassandra was on that ship. Ben and the others reached the wall by the doors, and Aaron tried to get them through the doors, but Mica shook her head and pointed to the ship. Ben turned to look.
A bright airship floated into the transport bay. The ship, white and silver and gleaming, hung in the air for a moment before gently touching down. Then the noise stopped, leaving a pulsing, thundering silence behind. Seers and soldiers ran for the airship. Hannah, her eyes shrouded in white, stood off to the side, waiting, watching.
“Is that… does that look familiar?” Ben asked.
Mica nodded. It was the little airship that had flown overhead as they tried to escape over the Wall. “Ben,” she said. “It’s Cassie.”
The setting sun shot red rays over the ship’s smooth hull, reflecting like fire. The back of the airship opened, and a large man with thinning hair appeared from the darkness inside. Mica blinked in surprise. Styx, from the Inn at West One. He smiled at Colonel Mason with sly eyes before tramping down the ramp from the cargo bay.
The Seers surrounded him and moved in a slow circle. Styx eyed them, and his joints seemed tense, ready to spring into action.
“Enough,” a Seer said, and they all stepped back a pace, waiting.
Colonel Mason walked over to Styx, and they exchanged greetings. He even nodded to Aaron, who nodded back. The large man’s eyes flicked over Aaron’s cuffed hands but did not linger. His face darkened when he saw Mica and Ben. Colonel Mason turned to look at Mica, and her expression did not change, but somehow that made it worse.
Styx turned and motioned towards the ship like he was calling someone out from the deep shadows inside. In the darkness, Mica could barely make out three figures standing close together. Styx motioned again, and the first figure stepped forward.
Out of the dark ship and into the setting sun stepped Cassandra. Her hair had been shaved but was beginning to grow out black tinged red in the sunlight. Mica felt Ben tense. Even Dr. Henderson seemed glad to see Cassandra.
“Ben, it is Cassandra,” Mica said.
Cassandra walked a few paces from the ship and then paused as the Seers surrounded her. Her eyes narrowed, and her fists clenched. She turned like a cat trying to keep its prey in sight, but this time she was the prey.
Aaron smiled, his eyes crinkling sadly around his eyes. “It seems that Cassandra’s escape coincided with our own. Their airship was the one we saw at the Wall. Their flight served as the distraction which gave us the window to escape. We owe Cassandra and Styx our lives.”
“Looks like he got us out of Windrose after all,” Ben said.
“Come on,” Mica took a step forward, but Ben touched her shoulder with his bound hands. “What?” she asked.
“Cassandra was Burned. She won’t remember us,” he said. “Not yet.”
The Seers pronounced her enough, and Mica watched as Cassandra joined Colonel Mason and Styx. The colonel smiled at her, her eyes warm with remembrance and kindness, but Cassandra crossed her arms across her chest and gave her a curt nod.
“But you can save her,” Mica said to Ben.
Cassandra looked over to them, four cuffed and guarded figures, and her gaze slid over them without recognition. Mica flinched as Cassandra’s eyes passed over her without as much as a blink.
The colonel said something to Cassandra, and she turned back to the airship. She motioned to the two remaining figures, and they slowly moved out of the shadow.
As they stepped into the warm glow of the sunset, Mica’s heart skipped and then raced, but shame tugged on her sleeve, always there, always wanting attention.
“Ben….” she said, but it came out as a breath.
Ben swayed but held steady, watching their sister descend the ramp. She was thinner than Mica remembered, and her white hair had been shaved, but it had a few month’s worth of growth. She still had that watchful look that Mica knew so well. A man, probably in his twenties, followed her. His dark hair pulled back into a tight, long, glossy braid. They both had red and dirty bandages around their wrists.
Anda and the man stood in a circle of masked Seers, awaiting their judgment. The man held Anda’s hand, and Anda clutched something at her neck.
“Enough,” an old Seer said, and the Seers disbursed.
Unable to contain herself, Mica gasped. Her legs went weak, and she dropped her bound hands to her knees, bent over from shock. Anda was supposed to be gone. Unreachable.
“Mica?” Aaron said, but his voice was thin and far away in her ears. The world turned and spun a little but righted itself as Mica forced herself upright and ran forward towards her sister.
“Anda!” she screamed and ran for her sister, barely able to contain her joy. Aaron and Ben yelled after her, begging her to stop.
Colonel Mason turned and yelled something. Cassandra stepped in front of Anda and took a fighting stance, her fists out and ready to strike. The third figure, the young man, wrapped an arm around Anda’s shoulder. Mica saw her sister flinch at his touch, and something protective and wild filled her throat. An Unseen guard grabbed her shoulder, halting her mid-step.
“This your Burner?” Styx asked, pointing to Anda.
“No, that’s Anda! That’s my sister, that’s my sister—please, let me go!” she screamed at the guard who held her by the shoulders with powerful hands. “Alayla, that’s Anda, please!” she cried, looking to the colonel for help. But the colonel glared at her.
Mica flailed and desperately tried to free herself from the guard. She slipped and fell to the ground, slamming her cheek against the rock. Sparks flickered like comets in her eyes, but she looked up from the floor and locked eyes with Anda.
Anda watched her with fear and distrust. Her eyes held no sign of recognition or love. Mica’s heart melted away inside of her as Anda looked at her like she was a stranger. And shame laughed at her.
“That’s enough. Get them out of here,” the colonel said to the medical team, pointing to Cassandra, the young man, and Anda.
“No, please!” Mica yelled. She feared that if Colonel Mason took Anda away, she would never see her again.
Commotion behind her. Shouting. Ben limped towards them.
The colonel put a hand on his shoulder. “No, not now. Not like this,” she said. “Your sister won’t understand. Wait, and let me work this out.”
Mica watched Ben. The fiery determination in his eyes faded to sadness, and he nodded. She tried to shove herself up from the ground, but the guard put his knee on Mica’s back. “No, stop it. Stop it! That’s my sister!”
“Yes, you’ve already mentioned that,” Colonel Mason said to Mica, but her eyes were still on Ben. “Would you all just calm down already? How do you think they feel? Some screaming lunatic writhes on the floor and keeps screaming that she’s family? Will you never learn to think, Mica? Get them out of here.”
“Please, Cassandra,” Ben held out his cuffed hands to Cassandra, pushing gently past Colonel Mason, his limp unassuming and nonthreatening. The soldiers moved closer, obeying the colonel’s words, and laid hands on Ben to pull him away. “Get your hands off of me—I am Perseus,” Ben said. “I am the man from the Empty Places restoring Burners, and I am Perseus.”
And the soldiers stopped, exchanged shocked looks, glanced at Colonel Mason, and released Ben.
Cassandra eyed him with dark amber eyes, her arms still outstretched and shielding Anda.
“Please, Cassandra, that’s my sister,” Ben said. “I haven’t seen her in months. I thought… Anda, I thought you were… we thought you were dead,” he said, looking around Cassandra to Anda.
She peeked out from behind Cassandra, her eyes interested and bright but without recognition. Her eyes flicked from Ben to Mica. Mica stopped struggling under Anda’s gaze and rested her cheek on the ground. The woman before her was only a thin shadow of her sister.
“You don’t remember anything, you’ve been Burned,” Ben continued. “I was there. I tried to save you but… I couldn’t. But I can help now.”
“What are you talking about?” Cassandra asked.
“I can restore Burned memories.” Ben held out his bound hands in a silent plea to Cassandra. “I won’t hurt you. I’m sorry I startled you, but I can help you. Please, will you let me?”
“Is this true?” Cassandra turned to Colonel Mason.
“We are looking into his claims, but we haven’t been able to prove anything as of yet. Believe me, if there was a way to get your memories back, you’ll be the first to know. The Burned are our top priority. But if you will follow this guard, we can begin the standard entrance procedure and then the tests,” Colonel Mason said, gesturing for Ben to follow the guards.
The guards only stared at Ben, a myth in the flesh, a breathing legend.
“I can restore your memories,” Ben said to Cassandra. “Do you want that?”
She looked between him and the colonel, and Mica saw her waver.
The colonel stepped forward. “I said, follow me, and we’ll get this straightened out,” she said, her voice urgent and deep like a striking bell.
“Yes,” Cassandra said. “I want my memories.”
At her words, Ben instantly reached out with his still cuffed hands and touched her face. His hands strained against the cuffs, but he held her cheek gently. A crinkle formed in between Cassandra’s closed eyes, just over her nose, and she tensed. Her breath became shallow, and she gulped like she was gasping for air.
Colonel Mason reached for Ben with a snarl, but Aaron grabbed her wrist with his still bound hands. “Wait! Wait, let him try,” he said, pleading with her.
“I won’t lose Cassandra like this,” Colonel Mason said. “I won’t—” but she gasped as she saw Ben’s eyes glow dark blue, dark like deep water, blue like hope.
“She’s already gone. He’s trying to get her back—just wait. I’ve seen it. He can do this.”
Cassandra’s eyes shot open. Her pupils constricted to pinpoints, and her eyes glowed deep, dark blue like Ben’s. She grasped his hands and kept her eyes fixed on him.
“Aaron?” the colonel said uneasily.
“Give it a moment.”
Cassandra trembled and winced.
“I’m stopping this,” Colonel Mason warned. “Guards….” she raised a hand for the guards to move forward, but they ignored her and stood watching Perseus restore a soul.
“Just wait,” Aaron said. “Wait. I’ve seen him do… incredible things,” he said. Colonel Mason tilted her head in question, and Mica saw something pass between them, an unspoken and silent conversation, and Mica was afraid for Ben.
But Colonel Mason held her hand steady, watching Cassandra and Ben intently. Mica’s gaze flicked back to Anda. The strange man with the dark hair still had his hand on her arm, but Anda stared at Ben. The disgust and repulsion on her face ate away at Mica like acid.
Cassandra let out a low wail, and Ben released her. She gasped and clutched her head, her hands trembling. Her eyes ceased to glow and returned to their natural amber color, and she doubled over. Aaron released the colonel, and she ran forward to Cassandra.
“Cassandra? Cassandra?” she asked, keeping a safe distance from the panting woman.
Mica looked at Anda, hoping she hadn’t been too scared. Anda’s eyes were wide, and she reached out to put a hand on Cassandra’s back, giving Ben a dirty look. The strange man, who had his hand on Anda’s arm, looked paler than before but less shaken than Anda.
“…Ben?” Cassandra asked.
Anda dropped her hand, and the anger and fury drained from her face. Cassandra stood.
“What do you remember?” he asked. He, too, was pale.
Cassandra’s face contorted with an emotion that Mica could not read.
“You made me milk that damn cow,” Cassandra said, her face breaking into a smile. She punched Ben on the shoulder, then wrapped her arms around him.
Ben looked like he wanted to hug her back, but his hands were still cuffed.
“Everything. I remember everything. Thank you, Ben,” Cassandra said with her face buried in his neck.
She stepped back from Ben with a smile and laughed. He laughed too. Mica couldn’t remember seeing him so happy before, his face flushed bright red, and his eyes squinted with a wide smile.
Colonel Mason stood silently.
“So he really can restore memories,” Aaron said and blinked. He spoke with a lilt that Mica could not interpret, but it didn’t matter. After all this time, she would finally get her sister back, and then they would keep Ben safe together.
Colonel Mason reluctantly nodded to the guard, who still had his knee on Mica’s back. He released Mica and helped her up.
“Styx!” Cassandra turned to him, wrapped her arms around him, and buried her face into his shoulder. She greeted him and the colonel like old friends.
“Welcome home, Cassie,” Aaron said.
Cassandra looked up at him with bright eyes and smiled. “Aaron…. you made it.”
But Colonel Mason studied Cassandra’s face. Mica wondered if she actually believed that Cassandra had been restored or if she was coming up with tests to run and experiments to perform even now.
“And now, I think Anda needs her memories back,” Cassandra said, turning to Anda.
“Yes, I think it is time,” Colonel Mason said, but her hands were clenched tight. She nodded to Ben. “Please, help your sister.”
Anda looked down at the ground, her eyebrows drawn together.
“You don’t have to do this,” the young man said to Anda, leaning in and whispering into her ear. “You don’t have to believe them. We don’t trust them.”
“Get back, Jason,” Cassandra said. “This has nothing to do with you. So back off.” Her sudden anger and malice towards him startled Mica. She had thought this man was a friend of theirs, but Cassandra’s harshness made him look like an enemy.
Jason lifted his hand from Anda’s shoulder, his eyes fixed on Cassandra, and stepped back. Something about his mouth unsettled her like his jaw was working, but words were not coming out of his mouth. Guards flanked him, ready to restrain him, but he stood and watched with crossed arms.
“Mara?” Cassandra turned to Anda. “Would you like your memories back? I remember who you are, Mara. And that is not your name.”
Anda looked up at her with wide and curious eyes. “You trust them?”
“Yes. Do you trust me? I’m home. And this is your home, too.”
“Do you really… I mean… Do you think I belong here?” she asked. Her voice was so soft that Mica almost couldn’t hear.
“Yeah. You belong here,” Cassandra said. She turned to Ben and Mica. “With them. They are your family, Ben, and Mica. And your name is Anda. Would you like to remember?”
Anda looked from Ben to Mica, her eyes lingering on Mica’s face.
“It’s me, Anda,” Mica said, stepping forward. “Your sister. We’re twins.”
She raised an eyebrow. “We don’t look like twins.”
Mica let herself laugh. “Yeah, I know. I’ve been looking for you,” she said. “Ben and I went all the way to Windrose City to find you.”
“And, can you do things too? Like Ben?” Anda asked.
“Nah. Seems he’s the only special one.”
Anda studied them both, deep in thought, then nodded. “Okay. You can try to get my memories back.”
Mica almost collapsed in relief.
Ben smiled. “You ready?” he asked, his hands outstretched but still cuffed.
Anda nodded, and Ben touched her face.
Mica watched as Ben closed his eyes, concentration etched across his face.
“Don’t worry, easy as pie, Mics,” Cassandra said to her.
Anda kept her eyes open. Her pupils shrank to pinpoints, just like Cassandra’s, but they did not glow. They stood that way for a few moments. Mica watched and felt fear rising like smoke from a fire. Something wasn’t right. Panic gurgled up in the back of her throat, but nothing came out, and she just stood and watched.
Ben began to shake. Beads of sweat formed across his forehead. He trembled.
“What happening?” Colonel Mason asked and stepped closer.
“I don’t know,” Cassandra said.
Anda closed her eyes and breathed deeply.
“Ben?” Mica stepped forward.
Cassandra put a hand on her arm to keep her back. “Something’s wrong,” she said.
Suddenly, Ben yelped and released Anda like he’d touched a hot stove. He staggered back and gasped.
Cassandra rushed to him as he staggered and caught him before he fell to the ground. Anda stumbled back but kept her balance.
“Anda?” Mica asked, reaching for her sister.
Anda shook her head. “Why don’t I remember?