Chapter Three

In the dim light of a hallway, the girl stands in front of an elevator admiring her own reflection in the mirrored doors. Her skintight black running suit makes her nearly invisible in the dark hallway, yet she still turns from side to side and nods her approval at her faint reflection. A small ding fills the hall as the elevator comes to a stop. Its doors slowly slide open and light from inside the elevator casts an eerie glow down the dim hallway. Cast into silhouette, the girl’s body breaks down into a series of curves. She freezes, her silver eyes locked on the elevator’s interior.

Inside the elevator stands a tall figure draped in a cloak the color of midnight. From underneath the hood a dark and heavy-lined face emerges, and the girl lets out a shriek.

“Christ, Lazarus,” she chides him with a sharp edge to her voice. “What are you doing in there, anyway?”

“Get on, Elix,” his voice emerges from within the elevator.

She steps inside without complaint and the doors slide shut with a gentle hum. “Thank you,” Lazarus says quietly, his green eyes flashing with a hint of surprise under his hood. “Now we can start.” He sweeps his arm towards the girl in a fluid arc, as if aiming to strike her. The movement is captured in the infinity between the mirrored walls as his finger comes to rest on the button pad behind the girl’s head.

“Jeez,” the girl cries as she jumps back and presses her sleek figure against the mirror behind her. She rolls her eyes as the doors slide closed.  A muffled whoosh accompanies the silence and a moment later the doors open again. The hallway has been replaced by a workroom of sorts, very large and lined with tall windows. Tools and weapons hang on hooks and a large wooden table stands in the center of the room. Artwork is stacked on easels and clipped to the windows. Dust and wood shavings carpet the floor.

Lazarus takes the girl by the wrist and leads her off the elevator. “Surprised?” he asks, a glimmer of humor in his voice. “This is my workroom.” He sweeps his arm out of his cape once again, making a violent arc to display his lair. “Look around, Elix. My things could help you.”

Elix laughs and snatches her hand out of his grasp. “Fat chance,” she mouths under her breath, but she begins to look around, occasionally taking a tool off its hook.

“Familiarize yourself with my things. You’re going to want to remember them,” Lazarus continues, flashing the girl a disapproving glare. “Your journey is simple yet deceiving. Any one of the things you find here in my workroom could save you later. Don’t underestimate anything,” he closes the gap between them and meets her eyes.

She pretends to shiver and moves past him, running her hand along a row of knives. She removes one, tests the blade, then tries to pocket it. Lazarus restrains her wrist once more. “Put the knife back, Elixer.” His voice is deep and calm. She sneers but returns the blade to its hook. “You’ll find your own weapons,” he continues, “if you need them.” He leads the girl to one of the windows. From their vantage point, the city spreads out like a map before them.

“Look,” he says, indicating the city below. Elix stands beside him by the large window and cocks her head in his direction. “It’s simple. You’ll start from here, make your way through the city,” he draws his finger through the air as if tracing the streets on a map. “You choose your path. You deal with what comes.”

“By myself?” Elix asks.

He nods. “You’ll find what you need down there,” he sweeps his hand across the city. “Take cover if you need to, but don’t hide. You have to keep moving,” he warns. “Remember, nothing is as it seems.”

“Then how the hell am I supposed to know what to do?” Elix snaps.

“That’s what we’re going to find out,” Lazarus says. “Don’t worry, I won’t be far. And you’ll be able to hear me as well.” He turns back to the window while Elix snakes one hand across the counter behind her and clutches a small blade, which she slips inside her sleeve. A second passes and Lazarus takes her hand and pins it to the window behind her. He’s angry but he barely shows it. “What do you think you’re doing?” he growls as he pulls the blade out of her sleeve and puts it back on the counter. “You can’t keep secrets from me. And,” he lowers his voice, “I told you. You’ll find what you need down there.” He turns her face toward the street below.

Elix nods nervously. “Sorry,” she squeaks.

Lazarus gives her a few more warnings then cranks open the large window. A breeze catches the edges of his cape as he steps close behind her.

“I’m going to push you now,” Lazarus mouths into her ear, his hands gripping her shoulders.

Elix looks down at the busy street some thirty stories below and pushes back against his hands. She thrashes with terror, but her scream comes out silent. “Use your voice,” Lazarus demands. “It’s your best weapon.” Then, as he pushes her through the open window, “Take a deep breath.”

As she falls, the air rushes up to meet her face, pulling her hair every which way and displacing her body parts. Watching her drop is a delight.

The ground comes fast and she stiffens, bracing herself for the inevitable smash. A bright yellow string of taxis blurs past, revealing the gray asphalt of the street. Pedestrians hurry by on the sidewalk, so engrossed in their thoughts that most of them don’t notice the girl hit the ground and disappear.

The asphalt gives way and swallows her. She drops until the friction of the cold, dark water slows her fall. She blinks in the darkness and panic takes hold. Spinning and thrashing, she fights the water.

“Swim,” comes Lazarus’ voice from within the water. Elix blinks again. Bubbles escape her mouth but she reaches up and pushes herself up through the dark water. Only seconds pass before she breaks the surface, gulping for air. Buildings rise up around her, most pedestrians don’t notice the pool that’s formed in the asphalt, they don’t see the girl swimming in the street. They don’t see, and just like that the water vanishes and Elix is lying in the middle of the street, wet and panting. A black sedan pulls to a slow stop next to her and a door opens for her.

On the sidewalk, a girl stops dead in her tracks. Pedestrians flood past, jostling her, but her eyes stay locked on the street. She watches Elix emerge from the water, watches the phase transition in the street, watches Elix disappear into the car.

“Did you see that?” she asks no one in particular when the sedan continues down the street. No one answers.