I wrote this story last week and spent the last few days editing it. I tried to write a more intense story than what I usually write. I might use this concept or these characters again, because I’m pretty happy with what I came up with.
The world around us is white and blank until one of us forces it with our mind into a definite object. The abyss is putty in our hands. Physics is vague. “Possible” is up to interpretation. Logic is optional. Power comes only from a durable mind.
We are dueling in our imaginations.
We want to kill each other.
There are no rules.
The only thing that will be real is if one of us succeeds.
I feel her mind grab at the abyss and a sword materializes in her hand. She lunges at me, and I duck and jump back, creating a cliff to fall over. I push the ground farther and farther away from me as I drop, giving myself time to think.
She trips over the sudden edge and gravity catches her. The sword disappears as surprise trashes her concentration.
Fear for her clenches my heart; I shove it away. It’s just a reflex, left over from a different life, the way your knee jerks out when you hit it just right.
I focus on how much I want to hit her.
My mind unfurls a parachute and I jerk back. I stop pushing the ground away and focus on landing safely—and hoping she doesn’t.
She wrestles free of gravity and takes her captor prisoner. The world around me rotates ninety degrees and I slam into the cliff face. Ready for the shift, she catches herself with a roll along the new ground. I pop onto my feet, the parachute gone with a thought, and throw myself at her.
“That was a cheap trick, Alyssa,” I growl, tackling her. I head-butt her, wrapping my hands around her head, shoving her skull into the ground. In the milliseconds as her head falls, my mind flails outward, groping around the invisible fibers of the abyss for Alyssa’s control over the ground, gracelessly trying to turn the nondescript flatness into rocky spikes to impale her on.
“You’re mad because you didn’t remember it, Jenna,” Alyssa smirks, turning the ground beneath her into a plush mattress the second before her head slams into it. I curse, beaten at my own game, and push myself off of her.
One more thought and I set the bed on fire, making the burning sheets knot themselves around her limbs. Her panicked mind slams into my own and I lose my control of the flames. The sheets go limp and the fire vanishes. She jumps off the bed and runs away. Her arms are charred. I smirk.
I don’t chase her. I let the bed disappear, grateful to be free from the mental drain of imagining realistic flames.
I’m proud of my fire, because I know it hurt her, because I know what burns feel like. If you want something to feel real, you have to know what real is.
She never had the dedication to learn the things I did.
I’ve lost her. I bounce on the balls of my feet, waiting for her attack.
An arrow appears from the whiteness and lodges itself in my heart. Not a problem, as long as I act fast. I slow my heart and imagine cells that can survive a few more seconds without air. We can’t make ourselves immortal, but we can tweak the laws of nature to our advantage in this landscape. I imagine the arrow—it is part of the abyss and can therefore be manipulated—as a part of my internal organs, making the idea as detailed as possible. My mind bumps against hers and I shove until her illusion gives way. The arrow melts into my flesh and the pain disappears.
I make the distance between us shrink and hope to catch her by surprise. She smiles at my incurable impatience and the whiteness vanishes.
I’m in my bedroom and there is a knife driven through the back of my hand. Two inches of the blade are embedded in my writing desk below. Alyssa sits cross-legged in the corner, watching from my bed my blood flow with bland eyes. “What does if feel like?”
This memory is from a lifetime ago, back when we were training together. She has recreated it perfectly, mirroring back the pain I described to her all those years ago when she first asked the question.
“Cheater,” I snap, trying to break the illusion. But while my skill is recreating experiences I’ve been through, hers is a parasitic ability to imagine stories she’s been told.
I’ve told her a lot of stories.
I can’t keep myself from admiring her handiwork. This room is a masterpiece, and I can’t imagine how much strain she has put on her mind trying to hold every detail together like this.
I don’t try to break the entire illusion. Continuing it is easier, working within her construct, using her energy instead of mine. Following the plot of the memory, I grab the hilt and yank the knife out of my hand and the wood. Before she can react, I break from the past—using surprise and blunt force to rupture her illusion—and hurl the blade into her arm, carefully forcing a pain illusion into her mind.
She winces, and the remains of the shattered memory vanish. I start constructing my own attack in secret, only dropping the knife illusion when I slam the new memory down around us.
She’s in the dean’s office, a large room made small by towering bookshelves and the dean’s anger. It’s hard to recreate an entire person, but I spare no detail, nearly passing out from the effort of controlling so much of the blankness. Every volume on his shelves, every freckle on his face, rebels against my control, longing to revert to their natural, blank state. I clench my teeth and my fists and my muscles, trying to hold my body—and my mind—together.
The dean is young for his position but deserving of it, brilliant but stupid, arrogant but loveable. He has messy golden hair and wears a suit that would fit better if his chest and shoulders filled out. Faithful to the past, I stand silently at his side and watch her destruction unfold. My hair is combed and my blouse is ironed for the occasion; I am the picture of professionalism. Cowering in the chair before his desk, hair ratted from a lack of sleep, face mauled by tears, she is the absolute opposite.
The dean hadn’t been able to see the problem with telling Alyssa anything. I’d…enlightened him. I considered my mission to be fact-optional. It would be true eventually. It had been true enough times before.
She is expelled from the university. I play the scene over and over, torturing her, waiting for her to overpower me as the effort of manipulating so much of the abyss drains away my strength.
She throws off the illusion the third time he calls her a whore. Blood flushes back into my face and I catch myself before I faint. She sees my weakness and laughs. Neither of us bothers our surrounding and we stand in silent whiteness.
“Are we fighting with memories now?” she asks.
“You started it.”
She waves her hand and a knife appears, the blade in her palm, the hilt extended toward me. “You want another knife to stab me in the back with?”
“Sure.” The knife vanishes when I reach for it. “You deserved it.” The first time, I mean.
“I never betrayed him. I would never have betrayed him.”
Right. “You would have eventually.”
“You betray everyone. I was protecting him.”
“Why didn’t you ‘protect’ any of the hundreds of students, if you care so much about keeping the world safe from me?”
“He was more important.”
“He was more important to me.” She gnaws on her bottom lip. “You knew you were destroying me.”
“I was returning the favor.” I long to show her the hundreds of scars I bear that she exploited.
She glares and the knife is back in her hand, the point aimed at me this time. “I’ll kill you.”
We haven’t seen each other in ten years. She took everything from me, until I figured out how to take the one thing she wanted from her.
Taking the dean from her wasn’t enough for me.
My death won’t be enough for her.
I snap my finger and the knife vanishes. “You can’t kill me. I know everything you’ll try. We learned everything together, remember?”
My sister can’t argue the fact. “Dad always was the best teacher.”