Miriam Achison felt the rage again.
It was always there, hovering just below the surface, threatening to shove its way through and overwhelm her reason. Normally Miriam pushed it back down. She’d climb onto its shoulders, beat it to the ground, and bury it beneath layers of practiced control, refusing to allow the rage to get the best of her. With the power she commanded as a Holder of Light, it was too dangerous for her to lose control. Someone could get hurt. But now, standing alone in the middle of Alice’s living room, still reeling from the ass-kicking she’d just received, Miriam let the rage wash over her.
She did not understand how she’d failed.
For months she had hunted that monster, the Vetala, alongside her brothers. Jacob kept them moving forward, and Aaron made sure they were headed in the right direction, but it was Miriam’s passion that lit the fire beneath their feet. Despite their best efforts, their enemy always managed to elude them. With each failure Miriam nursed her impatience, stoking the fires of her anger and waiting for the chance to unleash her frustration on the one who had caused it. She’d dreamed of the encounter countless times, seeing in her mind the moment when she finally caught up with the Vetala and burned it to ash with her rage and her power. That was why she’d left her brothers behind when she followed Alice: she wanted the victory for herself. She intended to prove to Aaron and Jacob that her passion and intensity were an asset and not a weakness. She wanted to destroy their enemy all on her own and then rub it in their smug boyish faces. But when the moment finally came, she’d been defeated with ease.
And yet, she knew she shouldn’t be surprised. Her connection to the Light was strong, but Miriam knew damn well that she and her brothers were much more powerful together than they were apart. She never should have tried to take on the Vetala alone, and that knowledge grated at her pride like sandpaper down her spine.
Miriam felt her pulse quicken. The shame of her failure was too much. She didn’t even try to contain the rage this time. It built into a white-hot glow in her head, fogging out her vision and punching each exhaled breath from her lungs like a blow from a fist. She reached down inside herself, calling up Light from her core and sending it into her limbs, using it to add strength to her body. Normally when she used this trick, it was a tool for fighting evil. But this time she used it to pick up the living room couch and throw it across the room. The couch hit the wall like a bomb, it’s a wooden pieces bursting into splinters, and the broken remains landing on top of the shattered TV and entertainment center. Miriam stepped over to the armchair lying on its side, took hold of one of the legs, spun in a circle and smashed the chair through the wall and into the kitchen.
After that, she lost track of what was happening. The rage was all that mattered. She moved through the space in a frenzy, kicking and punching holes in things and throwing objects at random. She found herself in the center of the room, her fist rising high into the air and then driving down with all the force she could bring to bear, crashing into the bare wooden floor where the carpet had been ripped away. A sound rose from her throat, something between an air-raid siren and the roar of a cornered predator. She hit the floor over and over until her arm finally broke through into the basement. Then, at last, the rage abandoned her.
Miriam knelt on the living room floor and examined her bloody knuckles, breathing in slowing gasps as the fire in her veins began to cool. The bones in her hand were shattered. She called up Light again, building it into a furnace in her chest and letting it burn. The expended power would speed her healing, and her hand would be good as new in a matter of hours rather than weeks. Already she felt the bones beginning to bind themselves back together.
Miriam closed her eyes and grimaced, swallowing a bitter mouthful of shame at the violence of her outburst. Good thing Aaron wasn’t there to see it. He would have given her one of those looks that spoke of both disappointment and disgust at the same damn time, shaking his head and muttering about her lack of self-control. Miriam hated that look. Jacob would laugh a little, tossing a sideways smile as his silly little sister. He never expected much from her. She kept a wall up against the rest of the world, but with her brothers, she was an open book. All she really wanted was to make them proud. To prove to them that she was as talented and capable as they were, and able to fulfill their mission as Holders of Light. But she seemed to fall short every time, as if to say “yep, that’s right guys, I still suck.” She was determined that one day she would prove herself to them. To everyone. One day they would all see that Miriam Acheson was the strongest of the Holders of Light.
That was why Miriam had run off on her own to follow Alice. This was her chance to prove what she could do. But somehow she’d managed to screw everything up again. Perfect.
Miriam clenched her broken hands into fists, flaring her Light against the pain. A solid sheet of pure determination dropped onto her shoulders like a suit of armor, and she stood. No way was it going to down like this. She would not go running back to her brothers empty-handed and beg them to fix her mistake. She’d gotten Alice into this mess, and she would be the one to get her out of it.
Miriam glanced around the ruined living room, searching the rubble for something she could use to find Alice and Royce. Her eyes caught on the broken remains of the couch where it sat in a mangled pile on top of the entertainment center. One shredded cushion had tumbled a few feet away, lost and alone on the threadbare carpet. Miriam took a step closer, confirming a suspicion. Three ragged lines marred the surface of the cushion. They were clearly not the result of Miriam’s rampage, so she assumed they’d been made by the Vetala when it came for Royce. A closer inspection revealed a scattering of small discolorations on the fabric. The sight drew a cold smile across Miriam’s lips. This was what she needed.
Miriam tore a small swatch of fabric from the cushion and stood, examining her prize. The odds were high that the blood spatters on that couch belonged to Alice’s brother. And the odds were equally high that wherever the Vetala had taken Royce, it had also taken Alice. Find Royce, find Alice, find that shit-eating bastard, the Vetala. Then Miriam could do what she’d intended to do all along: destroy her enemy, save the day, and prove to her brothers once and for all that she was just as capable and powerful a Holder of Light as they were.
Miriam had an idea of how she could use the blood sample to locate the owner of the blood. It was a terrible idea. But it was the best she could dredge up at the moment, and she was prepared to go to nearly any lengths to get this done.
Aaron and Jacob were going to be pissed. They would come looking for her soon if they weren’t already on their way. She knew she should probably leave a note or something so they didn’t think the monster had gotten her too. Miriam scanned the wreckage of the living room half-heartedly, searching for a pen or pencil, some paper, anything she could use to write a quick note. Nothing jumped out at her.
“Ah, to hell with it,” Miriam said.
She pocketed the square of bloody fabric on her way out the front door.