The story so far:
The door swung open behind him, and in she floated like she hadn’t a care in the world. If sheer hatred was all it took to remove a seal, I’d have cleared a whole county’s worth.
“My dear, dear friend,” she said again, using her own voice this time.
I should have seen it. I should have realized. It took more than my influential power to turn around someone as thick, uninspired, and spineless as Grif.
It took magic.
“I’m so glad you were able to come,” she continued. A couple of Urnets wandered in behind her. Her brand new matching set. She ignored them and fluttered to Grif’s side, trailing a finger along her shoulder. “Sorry to have had to keep you entertained from a distance so long, but it took some time to prepare things. You understand, of course. We had to have everything just right for someone of your… talents.”
Several juicy phrases formed in my mind, but it was no use. Once again I found myself merely feet from her and yet unable to move. Or speak. Or do anything. And this time I had no one to blame but myself.
Willsey continued on, gloating in that obnoxious way arrogant prats tend to do. I stifled the temptation to wallow and set to work instead.
The seal was solid, but this was my own mind we’re talking about. I drew myself together inside and began probing the immoveable shell encasing me. It was thick, solid, and almost airtight.
Almost. She wanted me alive.
She laughed at something she’d said. Ire swelled in me, but I forced myself to concentrate.
I flowed along the interior surface of the shell, prodding at every slight dent, every crack, any tiny air hole left free. None gave way under my investigation, however. She’d made this seal solid.
She patted Grif again. He still smiled, but his eyes were blank. Puppet eyes. Would she overpower me, make me into one of her puppets, like she’d done to him? Or would I spend the rest of my life in a several-thousand-dollar box, feeding her with my own magic power?
My search grew more desperate. She was good, but she wasn’t that good. There had to a breach. A flaw. A weakness. I had to find it.
Willsey’s tone warned me that she was wrapping up her posturing. She gestured to her new Dee and Dum. They obediently crossed the room and took my arms.
I pushed harder. There! It was only a glimmer, but it was there. I wedged myself into it and pushed with all my might.
“You should be honored, really,” Willsey said. “I gave up an entire collection for you. I hope it turns out to be worth it.”
Dee and Dum lifted me off the floor. Stood me in the box.
The glimmer widened into a large crack.
“I did enjoy our little game,” she said wistfully. She floated closer and stroked my cheek.
I wanted to bite her hand.
Had to keep focused. The crack widened.
“But you understand how it goes. How it must go.” She nodded to the men.
The crack gave.
All the force I’d been pushing into the breach shot out like water from a dam. I cleared the short gap between us, leaving my immobilized body behind and focusing in on her.
Her eyes flew wide. I had the satisfaction of seeing her shock moments before I passed the barrier of her forehead and pierced the mind of a lunatic.
Everything was dark. Cold. She was trying to block me out, to push me back through the surface. Her effort was disorganized, though. I’d had time to collect myself in this form; she hadn’t.
I dodged her first block with ease. Had to find the central system. Had to gain control.
The next block hit me squarely, sending a shudder through my entire being. I was dimly aware of a twitch in my body, but I ignored it.
She was collecting herself, coming after me. I only had seconds before—
There. She was so focused, concentrating so hard, that her whole control center whirred and glowed stronger than anything else in her mind. She’d thrown some blocks up around it, but they wouldn’t slow me for long.
Something smacked me from behind. Numbness crept through me.
I cleared the first block.
I felt her now. Snakelike, wrapping herself around me, trying to pull me back away. Threatening to choke my connection to my body.
But I was determined. And so very, very close.
Second block down.
She pulled harder, tugging, tearing. The numbness mingled with pain and sharp jolts of fear.
I didn’t bother trying to work around the next block. I didn’t have time. I just bashed straight through it.
She clawed at me. Desperate. I had her.
And then I ran straight into her. Like a wall of fire and ice. She collapsed around me, chortling at the cleverness of her trap. I fought to break through, but she had me. We both knew it.
She’d split. I hadn’t even thought it possible in the short time she’d had. It wasn’t possible.
It had to be the tapping.
I was never one to give up easily. I spun around, struggled to backtrack, to work my way out from under the collapsed wall.
She pushed, tumbling me over myself time and again, dumping me through her mix of pain and numbness. It grew harder to concentrate.
I would break through. I had to. Determined, I spent myself in one final shot, giving it all I had.
I woke up in darkness.