“Now, I know he’s inside your head,” I said as I strolled into the forest, “The Aretha I know would never scold me like that- especially not after such a bold confession.” Her eyes widened in understanding, even though I didn’t let her speak. “Don’t look so surprised,” I continued, “I mean, did you really think he was just gallivanting about without a plan? A man like that? I daresay you know whoever he is even better than he knows himself. Are you really so naïve to think he wouldn’t manipulate you?”
I could tell my words were cutting into her, deeper than a knife; I could see her confusion, quickly followed by understanding. Painful, numbing understanding. Tearing people apart from the inside out; that’s my strength. It is the only thing I can do to help bring about the coming of the Faceless Ones. It still isn’t easy.
If I’m honest, I hurt myself just as much simply because I was hurting her.
I had always been drawn to her, and my affection for her was real, even though it wasn’t as strong as I had initially claimed. But all of it is necessary. Sacrifices have to be made in order to make the world a better place. There was something Aretha herself told me- a line that I always look back on for strength, especially in times like these. I think she read it in a book or something.
It was the end of her first month on the job, and she had to take a count of the people she had killed. All high-class criminals, of course, and only the ones she couldn’t bring back alive, but they were still people, and she seemed so destroyed by the fact that she had taken their lives. I did my best to make small talk, meaning to distract her, but she wasn’t going for it, so eventually I told her
“If you really hate your job so much, you can always quit.” And she met my eyes for the first time- hers seemed to be made up of flecks of every shade of brown and green in the world, and they were heavy with sadness and something else.
She told me, “There are times when we must choose between what is right, and what is easy. I want to make sure I do something to leave the world a better place than I found it, even if it ends up tearing me apart.” And in that moment, I was sure no human being had ever been so perfect. I resolved that I wanted to somehow do what she did; I wanted to make a change in the world. All my life I had been a bystander, but just seeing her come in every day and keep her head up through all of that death- and sometimes even watching her cry when she thought no one could see- made me wish I could do something too.
We stood in silence, just out of earshot of my comrades who still waited in ambush. I knew she didn’t believe in our cause, but she had never really understood anyway… If I just explained, I was sure she’d realize why the Faceless Ones have to come back. After all, we were all essentially doing the same thing. I tossed the idea back and forth in my mind until I couldn’t stand it anymore.
“Aretha?” I turned to her, my eyes pleading, “I know you think I’m cruel and what I’m doing is wrong, but just listen to me for a moment, ok?” I saw her expression harden, but I was being honest now. I really wanted her to see our side of the story. “Please,” I begged, and although she was still closed off, I knew she would pay attention. “How much do you actually know about the Faceless Ones?” I gave her the ability to speak again, and she utilized it immediately.
“I know they kill.” She answered, her eyes cold and determined.
I hesitated, then replied, “So do you.” I knew the effect it would have on her before I said it, but she had to hear this. She opened her mouth, but said nothing. I could feel her struggling inside herself; her aura twisted around her, glowing so much more faintly than usual. At least it was still there. Tears pooled in her eyes, but didn’t fall.
“But you know,” She started, then faltered, and continued, “You know that some people live to cause others pain. And you know that I always try to bring them in alive! How can you say that I’m…” She trailed off, shaking her head, and I watched her piece herself together again. Her purple aura pulsed around her in tune with her heart, and the color strengthened along with her resolve. “I do what I have to in order to protect the lives of innocent people. The Faceless Ones are senselessly cruel and destructive. They had their turn to wreak havoc on the world, but it’s over. If they return, they will destroy everything, kill everyone. Rosa,” She met my eyes, and they were so intense I thought I might melt, “You may think you’re doing the right thing, but the Faceless Ones are evil and as long as I have the will to, I will fight against them.”
“Aretha…” I murmured, in awe. She looked away again, and I remembered my purpose for speaking to her. “But did you know,” I persisted, “That the Faceless Ones are powerful enough to kill any disease on the planet? And they can save the environment! Just because a lot of them only cared for destruction the last time they were here doesn’t mean all they can do is destroy. We can let them back into this world, and let them rule it, in exchange for their promise to help us. We can make the world a better place! Isn’t that what you’ve always wanted? A better future for all the people who will live on once we’re dead?”
I could see a part of her considering what I was telling her, but she shook her head again. She had already made up her mind, and there was nothing I could do to dissuade her.
“Not like this,” She said softly. “I’m sorry- I know you think you’re doing the right thing, and I thank you for telling me this so I can understand, but you can’t achieve your goal this way, and I want to make you see that.” She smiled, and kept going, just when I thought she had nothing left to say. “You’re a good person, Rosa. I just wish we could be on the same side again.”
“No…” I started quickly, “No- no, I’m really not a good person. I’m really a terrible person. You don’t know… The things that I know.” I paused, wondering how to continue. Even if it meant she would hate me forever, I couldn’t keep the truth from her anymore. I pulled up the sleeves of my shirt and coat, revealing a circular symbol on my forearm; the exact inverse of the scar that had been carved into Aretha’s neck.
“This is a symbol for control,” I explained, waiting for my point to sink in. It didn’t. “I’m the one that made you kill your own family. I’ve been controlling you all this time. Mevolent instructed me to make this mark on myself so that I could do it. My number one job was to tear you apart so you couldn’t pose a threat to us.” I was crying now, not even bothering to hide it, and her hand on my shoulder was the last thing I expected.
“Rosa…” She began, her whole body shaking. I could tell a large part of her wanted to hit me- probably wanted to kill me- but all she did was tighten her grip on my shoulder and whisper, “Don’t cry.”
Then one of the men from the ambush approached. It was the leader of our little mission- a tall, broad-shouldered man with dark skin and no hair. “The target isn’t coming.” He said in a deep voice, “It’s time to initiate Plan B.” I froze for a moment, uncomprehending; there was too much happening at once. My mind was at a standstill.
Then Aretha’s breath hitched, and she clung even harder to my shoulder- if that was possible- as her other hand flew up to her neck. Her head jerked back violently, I heard a sickening snap, and her body hit the ground at my feet. He had worked his magic on her- done his duty beautifully- and none of my comrades could figure out why I cried silently all the way back to Ireland.