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The Embedded is restless.
I can feel it clawing at my spine and throat. Gnashing its teeth deep inside me.
“Not yet,” I plead, weaving in between the crowd of people.
People I want to murder.
It’s nearing midnight, and that is when the beast grows hungry. But not for food. For souls. I can’t let it out until I find someone worth killing or it will simply break free now and attack the nearest person to me who happens to be a little girl selling flowers. I move away from her as quickly as possible.
Out! The Embedded scampers up my throat towards my brain.
“No!” I gasp, reeling him back in and clutching my throbbing head as I continue to move through the throng of people. I’m not paying attention anymore, and I accidentally step on a wealthy woman’s golden cloak.
The woman turns on me with cold fury in her eyes that immediately dims to fear when she sees my mask. It is a simple white one painted with flowers with lace around the edges, but it strikes her as terrifying nonetheless.
“I-I’m sorry,” I apologize, lowering my head.
She doesn’t answer and I continue to walk, nearing a jog as the Embedded whines and groans and my hands reach for the daggers hidden beneath my cloak on their own accord.
“Just, please, hang on!”
“Ah,” a merchant waves a blue fan in front of my face, “the beauty wants one. Yes?”
I shove his hand away and start to run.
I’m out of time.
I near the edge of the crowd and dart down an alleyway that smells of sewage. It’s not as far from them as I would like, but I could use it to get to the other side of the market, which is a straight shot ahead. But the Embedded is done waiting. Already I can feel the OS taking over reality and distorting it. Lines aren’t straight and the cobblestone before me seems to be breathing.
The Other Side is a messed-up version of our world, a place where people like me can become invisible to humans. That way we can kill without ever being seen.
I take deep breaths and lean against the grimy brick walls, “Please,” I beg, “I haven’t found anyone yet.”
“You all right, miss?” I turn towards the sound, my heart hammering against my ribs. A boy around my own age steps toward me, a concerned smile on his face, “I saw you running and was worried.” I whimper slightly and his smile twists into a full-blown frown, “Is someone after you?”
“Are you sure, miss? I can help.”
Not him, I reach for the Embedded, trying to wrap him in metaphorical chains. But it’s too late.
“Miss?” The boy steps closer, “I can tell you are afraid.”
The Embedded forces me to pull back my hood and untie the ribbon holding my mask on. It falls to the cobblestone with a clatter and my face is revealed. I do not doubt that he sees the white, puckered scars marring my face, but he barely blinks.
“I can help.”
He doesn’t care.
Click. The Embedded curls around my brain, but I manage to fight off the OS. I want this boy to see me.
To know who did this.
“Gods keep you,” I tell him.
I withdraw my daggers, steel blades gleaming in the light as I swipe towards him. He stumbles back, still somewhat confused.
Run! I want to scream, but the Embedded clamps my mouth shut.
I lunge at him again, both of us dangerously close to emerging into the market. We were too close as is, someone might see us. But my blade makes contact. It slices through his neck and my other dagger arches above my head, coming down to split across his face.
I grin as he collapses, relishing in the coppery scent of his blood. No, I tamper down the feeling, replacing it with raw horror.
The Embedded urges me forward and I drag the boy further into the alley, leaving a thick trail of blood.
He gurgles and I pause, dropping his leg.
I swallow back the command and kneel at his side. His eyes are slightly open and they’re green. A bright green that probably made girls go mad. I wonder if he had an intended. His clothes look fairly expensive, so I can only assume someone had been promised to him.
“I’m sorry,” I squeak, “I didn’t want to. I swear!”
He gurgles again.
I stab my blade into his throat and twist it to the left with a sickening squish sound.
His bright green eyes dim to nothing, and the scars on my face evaporate for a short time.
A life for a beautiful face that only lasts three minutes. What a joke. Someday, once I’ve killed enough people, it will be permanent. I hope I never get there.
The Embedded releases me and I drop my bloody daggers to feel for the boy’s pulse. Nothing.
I use the wall as a support and stand shakily, daggers clutched in my bloody hands. The body can’t stay where it is. I fumble inside my pockets until I find a small vial of swirling black dust from the OS. I uncork it and it shoots out of the vial and into the night sky. The dust twists into millions of scavenger birds that dive toward the boy at my feet.
I scoop up my mask and turn away as I listen to them tearing and fighting for the meat. I glance back and see one of the birds tear out one of those bright green eyes.
I start walking, tying on my mask as I do so. I hate the thing inside me, but I can't escape it and it can’t escape me. We are one, the Embedded and me. There are so many in Rome who are like me, so many who are learning to relish in a death as I have been.
And we call ourselves the Beautiful Monsters.