My Sister still Speaks
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She and her sister had the same birthday, of course, but she was younger by two minutes and so by rights, Hannah should have gotten the sword. Grandpa Jen however had noticed during training Hannah’s knack for the training kusarigama and searched far and wide for metal that matched the ancestral sword.
This meant that Meridian was given the sword on their fourteenth birthday, and Hannah had to wait until her sixteenth to get her weapon. Meridian was sure it hadn’t bothered her. There’d never been any secrets between the two and she’d asked and knowing her sister better than anybody judged the answer honest and true. When she lied, Hannah’s face would always flush in a band across both cheeks.
I hated that you got it. You always showed off. It was mine by rights and you took it from me.
Meridian ignored the voice. It sounded like her sister, but it couldn’t be because it never said anything kind, and her sister-- if she’d been anything else-- was kind.
When they were much too small for real weapons, Grandpa Jen had shown them how to make training swords. The path to the forested buildings was long. Boating was too dangerous because many of the buildings along Lexington weren’t cleared and the mutilated Licentiates of Churel could swim, or worse launch themselves off of buildings to try to hit your boat.
These half metal undead creatures scared Hannah more than any of the others. As powerful as the vampires were, they lacked the visceral appearance of a corpse that had its teeth ripped out and replaced with blades. Meridian understood this fear, but did not feel it herself.
The danger was real, and so their grandfather led them along the rooftop route. Many of the buildings were connected via improvised bridge walkways. There were designed to be easily collapsible in case the Enemy found their way into the cleared areas, but this also made them rickety. Meridian had been terrified. Hannah seemed to relish the danger. The two girls complimented each other in this way. They were scared of different things, and since these things never overlapped collectively they were scared of nothing.
“The Enemy never sleeps,” Grandpa Jen had said as they crossed one of these bridges. A slight breeze up the avenue made it rock slightly. “Some may appear to sleep during the day, but I believe that’s when their master rewrites their minds.”
“What are they?” Hannah asked, almost skipping behind him.
“Don’t rock the bridge!” Meridian said, hands out as if that could save her if they fell.
“Reanimated corpses,” Grandpa Jen said.
“No, I mean, what are they really? What is the Enemy?”
“I don’t know what it is,” Grandpa Jen had said. “I do know it controls all of them at once. A collective mind, or something broadcast to them from some central point.”
He stopped and pointed to a large building visible from the bridge.
“Look,” he said. “That is the Empire State Building. The point at the top is a radio antenna. That used to send out a signal to all the radios in the city. Used to send out music, and if you had a radio, you could listen to it. I think the Enemy-- our true Enemy-- is something like that. It sends out a signal to all its little creatures and they, in turn, come after us.”
“Can we destroy the antenna?” Meridian asked. “Destroy all of them at once?”
“No idea,” Grandpa Jen said, “and it isn’t our mandate. We are here to protect Manhattan.”
“But wouldn’t killing the source protect Manhattan better than just killing the individuals?”
“We’d have to leave to do that,” Hannah said. “They’re not from here.”
“That’s right,” Grandpa Jen said. “Besides, at the height of the Empire, America had a population of 325 million. Now, they’re all our enemies. Some of these things date to the initial invasion, and to get to the source you’d have to fight all of them.”
“But on our island we can deny them access!” Hannah said. “They can’t swim!”
“They can too swim,” Meridian said. “They just don’t like crossing water.”
“Quiet,” their grandpa said. “We need to be careful.”
They’d crossed the bridge onto a skyscraper's first setback. The roof had two inches of water on it and large woody vines grew out of the building’s windows. These vine’s roots grew thick and there were pink blossoms dotting the growth.
The twins followed Grandpa Jen along the roof to where one of the busted windows had a gap between the plants that had shattered it.
“I cleared this building out when I was young,” Grandpa Jen said. “It’s safe enough from them, but the floor is rotting out. We must go lightly.”
Crossing what might have been a restaurant in gaudier times, the two girls followed their grandfather closely, only walking where he walked. The middle of the restaurant had fallen away and a drop of seventeen or so stories ended in water that would be as hard as concrete if one fell from here. The decor of the restaurant was gold leaf and terrazzo with intricate designs running up and down the walls. A few tables remained. So did a few chairs.
Jen moved around a counter and back toward a gap in the wall. This led to an overgrown kitchen with large shoots of--
“Bamboo,” Hannah said. “I didn’t know it grew here.”
“I’m not sure it’s bamboo,” Meridian said. “Does bamboo have flowers?”
“It’s not bamboo,” Jen said, “but it’s close enough for our purposes. Sit.”
“But the floor’s all dirt!” Hannah said.
Jen gave her a look and the girl promptly sat.
“Now,” Jen said, drawing a knife, “you never want to use a sword for this. Dulls the blade. You want to cut the stalk. Meridian, gather as many as you can. Hannah, you’re going to cut off the hard outer layer. We’ll probably be returning at night.”
Jen was right. They returned late and the rest of the clan had already gone to sleep except for the night sentry who greeted them on their way back.
The next few days was spent collecting resin and smoke to cure the stalks and then tanning leather for fittings, and many lectures from Grandpa Jen. By the end of the seventh day, both girls could make the practice swords with their eyes closed.
Then came the drills.
But I already know all of this.
Meridian started. The memory had distracted her, and only the cruel voice brought her back to where she was. Hornepayne, Ontario. The other girl, Alaska, had been talking about how they were going to make it past a watchtower they could barely make out on the horizon.
This is bad, Meridian thought. If I don’t pay attention to my surroundings anything could sneak up on me. Wildlife, people, or Them.
And it was unfair too, because these were private thoughts-- sacred memories. She didn't have anything of her sister left except memories and those were tainted by foreign voices and a thing that could talk as her sister but had none of her heart. Hannah, who had stood with her when they had stormed Grand Central, who had watched her back at the Nameless Building, who had helped her defeat the Lich of the Bronx, was gone forever, replaced by the very thing she had fought; walked around like a puppet by something that parroted her voice.
I already know this, the voice said. It wasn’t her sister, but a particularly bored voice that Meridian called the Ice Queen. It was steely and cruel, tinged with an arrogance and overly enunciated.
Everything your sister knew, we now know. Tell me something I don’t know already. Tell me something new.
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prologue 1 2 3 4 5 6
My Sister still Speaks