"You are putting yourself in danger."
A metal door screeched in strain as a slim-fingered hand pushed it open. Sunlight streamed through the fluffy white clouds as a human form stepped onto the roof. The young woman walked forward, remnants of snowy patches crunching beneath her grey and purple sneakers. Squinting at the light, she moved to a nearby ladder and clung to it. Chills raked her body, igniting where her skin met the frosty metal.
Arriving at the top of the small overhang, the woman kneeled at the edge; the undisturbed snow clung to her jeans. Crisp winter air nipped at her cheeks and fingertips, furthering the cold that plagued her. Her soft breaths became water particles in the air and her thin spring jacket did little to protect her from winter's remnants.
"Ann, you know what will happen if you continue."
Ann unfurled her fingers from the large bag she held in her left hand and set it on the cement platform. She unzipped it and pulled the contents out with her right hand. Large and black, the longbow extended her full height. She pressed lightly against the white string and smiled, satisfied. It moved with her pressure and fought back enough to show its strength.
People wandered the streets below, clothed in thick winter garments, and cars raced by, their owners too afraid of the temperature to risk walking. Intensity loomed just out of reach; darkness crept along the walls of her building and seeped into her every pore. The sensation slid into the depths and wrapped around her heart like a ribbon, wrapping tighter with each passing second.
Ann's smile faded and she rose. Her gaze flitted from person to person on the street below, scanning, searching. "Where are you..?"
The intensity rose the nearer the person came. A single person exerted dark pressure; an evil desire. Her attention snapped to it in an instant, ignoring the other people on the street as they went about their day.
Within a few moments, Ann spotted a man who waltzed into the street. He wore a blue sport's jacket and loose jeans; his blonde hair, only a few inches long, shifted in the wind and with every step he took. A middle-aged man, no different from the next; perhaps he worked as a teacher, or a coach.
Returning her bow to her left hand, Ann stared at him as he entered a small café. Unconsciously, her mind connected to his. She let his thoughts slide into hers, noting nothing aside from his buying a cappuccino, so she delved deeper. Ann found her way into the darkest depths of the man's desires, the ribbon clenching tighter the closer she came to the truth. She unlocked the path to what she sought and stole a glimpse into his mind.
At night, he watched a woman through her open window; he observed her when she forgot to close the curtains as she changed. She lived in a rural area in the outskirts of town, unaware of the unwanted attention she received. Ann investigated deeper still and her lips thinned to a line.
Intentions of making the woman his whether willing or unwilling. Not above killing her if she struggled too much. Ann shook her head and began to retreat from his mind.
In the man's memory, a young girl ran into her mother's room, smiling and begging her to read her a story before bed. No more than six years old. A distraction, the man's thoughts told her. Someone who would only get in his way.
Ann's heart sank and she removed herself from his mind. Unwrapping the ribbon of darkness from her heart, she hesitated but for a moment. Ignore the situation and let a child lose her mother, or worse, her life? Every fiber of her being screamed at her to change the inevitable, to protect the child and her mother, the small family. A mother and a daughter; just like her home situation.
"Please, sweetie. I know you want to help, but the more you do, the more he notices."
Let him notice.
Ann's brows furrowed and she stretched out her left arm, clutching the string with her index and middle fingers of her right hand. Arrows filled the quiver she wore on her back, abandoned. Without an arrow, the woman focused on the essence within her and pulled the string back. An arrow of shimmering baby blue appeared where her real arrows rested when she used them. The essence connected to her core, relaxing her muscles without weakening her grip. She shifted her foot and adjusted her aim.
The man paid for his drink, unaware of the arrow aimed at the door, just as the woman and child did not know about the salvation Ann granted them. Just as they would never know. Shutting her eyes, Ann waited, grateful for her patience. Two lives would be spared a horrible end or a worse fate tonight. A soft jingle wafted through the air when the door opened.
Ann's eyes shot open and with planned precision, she released the string.
He never stood a chance.
The arrow passed through his body, through his heart, and shattered into a million pieces on contact with the door. The man stopped in his tracks and a flicker of confusion crossed his expression. He felt it, like a dull throb; she knew it. After a moment, he shook his head and moved away from the doorway and proceeded down the street, sipping his cappuccino.
Ann watched him for a moment and brushed against his inner mind. Thoughts of the woman, who dated him once and chose not to repeat it a second time, had vanished. No longer did he remember the single mother who lived in the rural area on the opposite side of the city. It was as if they never met.
No harm would befall the mother and her daughter. Not from him.
"You meddle in his affairs, Ann. He will not take lightly to that. Do you want him to find you?"
He could find her even if she refused to meddle.
Packing her things, she slung the bag over her shoulder and descended the ladder. Unrest hung in the air; it loomed in the distance, out of reach of her bow, lest she shot through buildings.
Her hand clenched the doorknob and she pushed it down, pulling the door towards her. The fresh air morphed into nauseating thickness, hidden from the outside world and the natural change of things. Few people ascended the steps to the roof and the door often remained sealed.
Ann's footsteps echoed on the steel steps as she drew closer to the street. The stillness unnerved her; not a single sound echoed aside from her footsteps. Once on ground level, she exited the main entrance of the apartment complex and smiled as the sun's warm embrace caressed her. Her smile lasted only a few seconds as she remembered the feeling of unrest and hunted it down; her feet led her down the street and closer to the unnerving, but familiar, sensation.
"You need to protect yourself."
Ann turned a corner and found herself in an alleyway that led to a dead-end. The feeling of unrest washed over her, switching into sorrow and intense fear as it reached her. Ann's steps faltered and she paused, glancing around the dark alley. A small form huddled in a far corner, hidden from normal eyes.
Striding closer in slow, even steps, Ann's breath caught in her throat. The small form stayed small as she neared it and she felt her heart break at the sight of the young boy. No longer of the living, but not yet passed on. In the darkness, she barely recognized the truth; his form appeared almost solid. Glimpses of light revealed his true state and it horrified her. So young.
Ann kneeled in front of him. "Are you ok?"
He let out a gasp and looked up, eyes wide. "Y-You can see me?"
"Yes," she smiled warmly. "I can."
Who are you?"
"A friend." She reached out, ignoring when he flinched back, and patted his head gently. "How long have you been out here?"
The young boy's eyes widened more when she touched him. "I-I think
Three days. Winter brought more dangers more death. A backlog, and that poor boy suffered for it.
Ann fought back her frown and maintained her small smile. "You need to move on."
"Every person you help endangers you."
The boy, no older than nine, looked up at her fearfully. "I can't. My parents "
"Shh." She stroked his cheek and flashed a reassuring smile. "You will see them again. This isn't forever. Have you visited them?"
He nodded slowly, staring at her. His eyes were just a shade darker than her vibrant green ones.
"Do they care about you as much as before?" Ann purposely refused to mention his death.
Her smile broadened. "Then nothing will stop you from seeing each other again. Trust me."
The boy hesitated, and then repeated his nod. "Thank you."
Ann grabbed his hands and rose, pulling him to his feet. "You're welcome. There will be a man waiting for you; he will take you on a boat ride. After that, you'll find peace. Everything will be fine."
He allowed a small smile and inclined his head in understanding.
She pressed her right hand over his heart, hidden by a red shirt. She strained and focused until a light of the purest white, similar to the arrow, illuminated in her hand. The boy began to fade, his body becoming more immaterial than before. Slowly, he vanished from the land of the living. Ann closed her eyes and maintained focus. The energy of the male spirit vanished and when she reopened her eyes, she found him gone.
She turned her back to the dead-end and stared up at the sky. Her mother's words echoed in her mind, plaguing her whenever she helped the living and the dead. She warned her not to do it, pleaded her to stop and distance herself from her powers; to separate herself from what made her, her.
"You risk your life for people you don't know, people you never knew. Why?"
Because no one else could. And she'd be damned if she let petty fears stop her from helping people who needed it. He might find her, he might be angry, he might hurt her, and she might be in danger.
Why bother with 'What ifs'?
She had lives to save.