Kingdom of Lethe

“I don’t have any beautiful memories.”

The woman who uttered those words perched on the cracked edge of Nedra’s leather chair with all the grace of a Queen of Sheba. She leaned forward. Tiny diamonds crested at the curves of her eyebrows, making her over-large eyes seem abnormally bright, almost predatory. “It’s occurred to me,” she murmured. “That shouldn’t be the case.”

Nedra peered at her prospective client through bleary, caffeine-deprived eye-slits.

The woman’s eyeshadow was a delicate blend of red and blue, creating a beautifully bruised-seeming hue. Her slightly swollen lips were painted bloody burgundy. She wore a glittery silver sheathe of a dress that clung to her delicate bones. The fluffy boa tossed carelessly over her shoulders matched her lipstick to a tee. This beautiful creature belonged to the glitz of the upper crust’s night life.

What was she doing here then? In broad daylight, on the dinky outskirts of town. Why’d she come to roost here, in this shabby little private detective’s office with the leaky roof and brazen rats crawling under the floorboards?

Said private detective cleared her throat and croaked, “come again?”

Nedra’s brain had failed to process the woman’s last words. She had a sweet and smoky voice, though. It possessed a strangely powerful timbre. Sent a tingly tremor running down Nedra’s spine.

The woman leaned farther toward Nedra’s desk. The detective got an eyeful of the soft mounds enveloped in the delicate fabric of the little bombshell’s bosom.

“My beautiful memories,” the nocturnal diva answered lowly and slowly as if speaking to a child. “They’re all gone.” She eased back into the soft folds of the leather chair. “You can help me get them back, yes?”

“Augmented?” Nedra queried, just to be on the safe side. Snapping to full alertness, she couldn’t help thinking that this woman was perfect. Way too perfect.

The woman shook her head and eased back, shooting Nedra a lazily confident smile. “Not in the slightest. One hundred percent Natural, Baby.”

She was born with it. That mind-numbing Nubian beauty.

The woman shot Nedra a sugary grin. “Call me Anna.”

Nedra considered. Maybe Anna was lying. It wasn’t always easy, telling trans-humans and Naturals apart these days. Hell. Half the time, Nedra forgot her own brain casing and half her heart were mechanical. Still, inexplicably skewed from logic, Nedra’s instincts veered toward taking Anna at her word. You couldn’t just snatch memories from a Natural’s brain, though, could you? Did that kind of technology even exist?

“Encountered anyone strange lately?” Nedra ventured, for starters.

“Where I come from, everyone is strange.”

Nedra’s brows shot upward. “Where would that be?”

“Bitter,” Anna answered. “Ever been?”

Bitter was an enclave located sixty clicks west of the capital. Dubbed the Fae Underground, Bitter’s denizens were the uber-rich and despots who dabbled in the darker aspects of the technical arts. It was the sort of place where you’d hear disturbing things about from time to time. Ordinary city folk would venture into Bitter, never to be seen again. Sometimes their wrecked corpses would be found days later, floating downriver somewhere.

Something else flickered in the recesses of Nedra’s mind. There was something important about Bitter. Whatever it was, flitted away in a flash, leaving her feeling oddly bereft. “No,” she mouthed after a few seconds of insecure silence. “Never been to Bitter.” She switched gears. “You’re sure those memories were taken?” She prodded when Anna said nothing more. “You didn’t lose them? Drugs. Maybe a little… accident?”

“I’m sure,” Anna insisted, visibly irked at being second-guessed.

“Alright,” Nedra sighed. “I’ll take your word for it.”

She hadn’t eaten breakfast, but it wasn’t just hunger clawing at the insides of her gut. Her old cop instincts flickered to life. Anna’s story was too sketchy, but her desperation made it impossible for Nedra to turn her away. The private detective knew she was rapidly falling prey to the lovely woman from Bitter’s hauntingly seductive gaze. She knew it, but she couldn’t seem to do anything about it. Caffeine withdrawal and lack of sleep were factors, but she couldn’t blame just the brain-fog. Nedra didn’t quite know why. She just couldn’t find it in herself to say no to this mysterious woman.

“You’ll take the case?” Anna asked, turning up the wattage on her smile.

She’s a master manipulator, Nedra thought. The ex-cop turned P.I. squashed her doubts, though, and flashed Anna a wry smile. “A girl’s gotta eat and all that, after all.”

“Wow,” Anna murmured when Nedra fished an ink pen and a notepad from her desk drawer. “That’s a pretty old-timey way to go about things, no?”

“I like old-timey,” Nedra grunted. “Tell me about your daily routine.”

“No need,” Anna replied. “I tend to be very careful about my personal security. But there’s a certain a nightclub I frequent. It’s the only place a snatch and grab would have gone unnoticed.”

Surprised at the sudden cop-speak, Nedra looked up, eyes narrowing. “Why’s that?”

“Complicated,” Anna answered. “It’s the sort of thing you have to see for yourself.”

Nedra set her pen down. “So, scoping out this club comes first.”

Anna smiled, seeming to like how quickly the detective was catching on. “Tonight, you’ll be my special guest.”

“Sure. Why not?”

Anna’s nose crinkled. She eyed Nedra’s weathered leathery jacket and two-day old yellow shirt critically. “Got anything decent in your wardrobe?”

“Heh,” Nedra’s grin was completely unapologetic. “What you see is what you get.”

“Guess a little shopping trip comes first,” Anna mused.

“Your tab, not mine.”

“Yes, of course,” nodded the glam diva. She stood, tilting her head toward the exit. “Let’s go get on with it then.”

They went to Daylilies, a boutique someone living on Nedra’s budget could never even hope to set foot in within a lifetime. Since it wasn’t her own wallet taking the hit, Nedra went along with her client’s whim without complaint. For someone who only just met her first the first time, Anna sure seemed to have a decent grasp on what type of clothes suited Nedra best. The first outfit she suggested was from a famous brand of punk Victoriana couture.

Nedra swallowed her trepidation and tried on the long-sleeved-white silk blouse with ruffled lace at the collar and cuffs, cream-colored jodhpurs, and black silver-buckled high boots. The mustard yellow high-low tailcoat contrasted well with Nedra’s cacao skin and completed the fancy, yet somehow fierce affair. Nedra spun slowly, studying her reflection in the dressing room mirrors. She rather liked it, this look. She had to admit. She rather liked it quite a lot. She tried on the black velvety fedora. She untied her ponytail, letting her curly black, red, and glittery golden locks spill out with wild abandon.

“Verdict?” Came Anna’s voice from outside the dressing room.

“Love it.” Honest answer there. No hesitation whatsoever.

“Fantastic,” Anna laughed with almost childlike glee. She slung something over the dressing room door. “I’m guessing you’ll need this too.”

Nedra caught the black, leather double-shoulder holster mid-fall. She frowned. This was unnerving. She hadn’t told her client, she was sure. That when working, she always carried two sidearm guns.

Evening fell as they entered the domed enclave. Anna’s car descended earthward, thrusters humming as it slid through the opening between massive gates of tungsten steel. The gates were anchored to great stone columns shaped like angels with terrible, sightless eyes. Each angel stood with one arm outreached, silently beckoning as they welcomed all who entered Bitter’s cold embrace.

Bitter was an eerily enticing, alien world. The car eased through a maze of anachronistic cobbled streets punctuated by the soft glow of methane gas lamps. Anna’s car hugged the stony ground, riding side by side with robotic horse drawn carriages driven by mechanical men wearing long coats and tall top hats. Nedra glanced upward at the multitude of steam-powered airships and flying cars jostling for room in the high-tech fairy kingdom’s abbreviated sky. Masked men, women, and neo-genders wearing punk Victoriana populated the sidewalks. She spotted one buxom lady stalking northward, leading a tiger on a leash.

“Is that even real?” The private detective wondered aloud. Tigers were supposed to be long-extinct.

“Who knows?” Anna shrugged. “In Bitter, just about anything’s possible.”

The car came to rest outside a tall but squat, white building. The balconies of each floor were adorned with lush, meandering hanging gardens. The words “Memory Palace” were etched on the front sign. The ground opened and the car sank downward into an underground garage complex. They exited and Nedra followed Anna toward a set of elevator doors.

“Isn’t Memory Palace a weird name for a nightclub?” Nedra wondered.

Anna shook her head. “That’s my company’s name. The business office and labs occupy floors two to ten. The nightclub is called The Playground. It occupies half of the ground floor.”

“Oh?” Nedra mouthed as the entered one of the elevators. “What kind of business is the Memory Palace?”

“Exactly what the name suggests,” Anna pressed the button for the ground floor. “I made the theoretical concept literal.”

“So, you download memories,” Nedra glanced over at Anna. “From Natural brains or just augmented?”

“Both,” said Anna. “With Naturals, it’s a bit tricky, but not impossible. If you had a memory palace three years ago… who knows? Maybe you wouldn’t have ended up leaving the police force.”

A chill ran down Nedra’s spine. She couldn’t exactly find fault with a client who researched her background before hiring her, but wasn’t this a bit much? “Just how deep into my background did you dig?”

“You took two point-blank shots. One to the heart. One to the head,” there was a slight, puzzling tremor to Anna’s voice. “Guess that makes you lucky. Unlucky, and you’d be dead.”

Nedra shrugged. “Kinda sketchy on the details myself.”

“You don’t remember…”

“Two years of my life before and the first six months after,” Nedra quipped. “Gone. Like they never happened.”

“Don’t you miss it? That life. Being a cop.” Ann prodded gently.

“Can’t say I don’t miss the police force sometimes.” Nedra shot Anna a glance askance, wondering why she was probing. “Can’t miss what I don’t remember, though. Can I?” The private detective forced a cheerful tone. After all, she wasn’t exactly interested in making anybody, least of all a client, feel sorry for her.

The ground floor of the building was blindingly opulent with marble floors and filigreed gold-leaf walls. Anna led Nedra down a long corridor which opened into a wide lobby. A few arms chairs were scattered about. There was a bar.

“Tess,” Anna called out to the bartender, a plump African beauty wearing a red bustier with glittery buttons, as they approached.

“Wow! It’s been a while,” Tess greeted the pair, eyes focusing on Nedra for a few seconds before darting Anna’s way. The bartender’s lopsided smile faltered, just enough for her dimples to disappear. She nodded once at Anna. For split second, Nedra thought she saw a glimmer of raw fear in in the bartender’s eyes. “Wh-what’ll you have?”

“Cherry Bombs,” Anna held up two fingers.

Tess served up what was requested, sliding two small glasses of red liquid toward them across the counter. Anna swallowed hers in one greedy gulp. She smacked her lips and closed her eyes. “I’ve been wanting one of these all day,” she smiled with the look of a cat that just gobbled up a canary. “Bottoms up, Ned.”

When Nedra gave her glass a dubious look, Anna leaned in close and grinned. “Try it. You like it.”

Nedra’s head tilted at Anna’s slip of the tongue. She took a tentative gulp. The red liquid went down like a raging fire.

“Holy shit!” She managed hoarsely, eyes stinging and watery. Once she got past the initial burning sensation, though, the flavor was pleasantly sweet. She gamely took another, much smaller sip.

“There’s a good girl,” Anna nodded, grinning wildly. “Enjoy your drink. I’m going to freshen up.” She disappeared into the nearby elevator doors while Nedra nursed her Cherry Bomb with a grim sort of determination.

Nedra swallowed the last drops of her drink, feeling foolishly proud of herself for managing that much. Tess retrieved the empty glass. “you can wait for Anna inside the Playground,” she offered. “The twins will let you in.”

Nedra frowned. That Cherry Bomb was something strong sure for sure. She was already feeling slightly woozy. “What twins?”

“That would be us,” came a voice from behind her. “Wouldn’t it, Sis?”

“It would, wouldn’t it, Brother,” came another voice which was eerily like the first.

Nedra turned around.

They stood side by side, a pale neo-gendered pair. Which was the brother? Nedra couldn’t tell. She managed a tentative smile. The twin on the left nodded and smiled back.

The one on the right shot the private detective a snide look and released an eloquent sigh. “At least you’re somewhat dressed for the occasion. This time.”

Piqued, Nedra stood. “This time?”

“Forgive my brother,” the twin on the left said hurriedly, shooting the other a scathing look. “He forgets his manners sometimes.”

The brother’s eyes widened, but he seemed to recover quickly, and bowed slightly. He gestured toward the side of the lobby perpendicular to the bar. The pair of double doors over which an ornate “Playground” sign had been hung, opened as if on cue.

“Welcome to the Playground,” he said. “Let us know if there’s anything your heart desires.”

The entrance to the Playground widened into a cavernous beehive of dancehalls and smaller rooms. Nedra glanced inside as they passed one of the smaller rooms. A small crowd of masked characters had gathered inside. Nedra caught glimpse of a frail-looking man strapped to a metal contraption shaped like a throne in the center of the room. She stopped in her tracks. Wires spilled from the throne-like machine and coiled along the floor. Clips of random, bizarre video footage was being projected onto three of the walls. Nedra drew closer to the crowded room.

“The dream machine can be brutal,” warned the friendly twin. “You’re sure you want to watch?”

“I’ll be fine,” Nedra murmured, eyes glued to one of the projection screens.

“Suit yourself,” said the brother.

Attendants wearing gray tunics began attaching wires to the nodes to the helmet cradling the restrained man’s head. They fed him something.

“Hallucinogens,” whispered the sister.

The dream machine started up with a whir. The man groaned, gasped, then fell silent. The projection screens flickered wildly. The scenery changed. Then it began, the sickening sideshow. The man’s nightmare, a violent spectacle unlike anything Nedra had ever seen, flared to life on the screens. On screen, a bloody-beaked, gang of gray harpies tore into the man’s flesh. He crouched low, flailing uselessly at his spectral attackers, howling in agony.

The masked audience was rapt, watching the Promethean scene unfolding before them with unabashed glee. Those closest to the dreamer strapped to the throne were wired to the machine. They cried ecstatically. They trembled. They gasped, and they wept. Nedra recoiled, sick to her stomach and shaking from head to toe. They were enjoying it, these sick bastards.

Nedra plunged blindly through the degenerate throng, escaping into the hallway. Bile bubbled up in the back of her throat. She swallowed hard, forcing it back down. Her throat felt tight suddenly. Tight and dry.

What she just watching? What the hell was that?

A passing waiter presented a tray laden with drinks of various colors. Nedra chose randomly, gulping down the tart liquid in one go. She walked unsteadily and soon found herself inside a crowded dancehall. It was even noisier in here, that inside that godforsaken dream-room. The dancehall spun. She clung to the wall for support and fought to steady her breath.

The large doors on the opposite side of the hall opened. In marched a procession of caged song-dolls riding houdah on the backs of mechanical elephants. The dolls sang a beautiful but terrible song. The masked revelers hooted and cheered. Nedra’s drunken brain couldn’t keep up with the clamor. She moaned. The empty glass slipped from her fingers and shattered. Her breath came in rapid, shallow bursts. The room started tilting. Her boots crunched into the broken glass as she staggered sideways. She was going to pass out.

A hand grabbed Nedra’s shoulder from behind. Miraculously, that grounded her. She turned around to say thanks, but the word dried up in her throat. Anna had changed into black, high-waisted shorts with suspenders, silver buckles and a frilly-necked silk white blouse. She’d changed her curly mass of hair’s color from black to electric blue. Translucent fairy wings sprouted from her back. Dainty toenails painted black peeked out from the front opening of her silver-strapped, high-heeled slippers. Two mechanical Dobermans with red eyes and tungsten teeth stood by her side.

Anna extended a hand. Nedra followed where she led. They wound their way through the throng. The music stopped. The dancehall fell so quiet, Nedra could clearly hear the click-click of Anna’s heels on the marble floor. The masked revelers followed their progress with rapt attention, each, Nedra noticed, keeping a careful distance. Fear mingled with awe. She could feel it rolling off them in waves. If the Playground was a kingdom, Anna was its queen.

Anna led Nedra to a cordoned-off area in the dancehall. She gestured for Nedra to take the seat on her right, and then sat the head of a massive banquet table laden laid out with obscenely delectable offerings. Nedra caught glimpses of lobster tails protruding from golden goblets and even a whole roasted pig on a spit. Her belly twisted as the luxurious riot of colors and aromas assaulted her senses. Sinking into the plushness of the chair, she was overwhelmed by an inexplicable sense of Déjà vu. She’d done this before, sat at Anna’s right hand at this very table. She was certain. But how could that be possible?

“Must be losing my marbles,” Nedra muttered under breath.

“What was that?” Something about Anna’s innocently curious smile rankled.

Nedra shook her head. “Nothing.”

Irritation started to fester. She’d yet to see what any of the evening’s proceedings had to do with solving Anna’s case. The victim herself, didn’t seem all that keen on getting to the point any time soon either. Hunger warred with impatience and won. The private detective picked up a ladle and reached over to serve herself something soup-like. She froze mid-scoop when a sudden commotion broke out near the dancehall entryway.

The man who’d been strapped to the dream machine came bolting into the dancehall wearing nothing but a loosely hung medical gown. Movements frantic and ungainly, he advanced. The light in his eyes was deranged but determined. He climbed atop the dining chair at the other end of the table. Snatching up a steak knife, he stepped onto the table. He stomped down the length of the banquet table, upending drinks and trampling over uneaten food. Dishes broke and silverware clattered in his wake. His menacing gaze was locked on the head of the table.

Nedra’s gaze swung toward Anna, who hadn’t moved from where she sat. She simply watched the crazed wraith of a man with bright-eyed interest but seemed otherwise unconcerned. Her mechanical guard dogs stood and started growling, but they didn’t budge. Someone screamed. The masked revelers closest to Anna were in a panic. They clamored, tripping and shoving at each other, desperate to flee. They weren’t trying to avoid the attacker. It was painfully and puzzlingly clear. They were trying to put distance between themselves and Anna.

Nedra’s gaze swung back to the madman, focusing on the brandished knife. She had to stop him. That singular thought speared into her mind. If she didn’t, something awful was going to happen to him. She leapt to her feet and grabbed one of the dining chairs. She hurled it at the rampaging man. The chair knocked him sideways and off the table across from Nedra. She clambered onto the table jumped over to his side. He’d lost his grip on the knife when he fell and was now desperately scrambling to reach for it. Nedra brought her booted foot down, painfully pinning his dominant hand to the floor. He howled. What that agony or rage? Nedra couldn’t tell.

“Free me,” the emaciated man whimpered, curling up into a defeated ball. “Enough is enough! Enough is enough! Enough…”

The revelers, seemingly startled in silence by Nedra’s actions, waited with bated breath to see what would happen next. The mechanical dogs quieted and sat back down at Anna’s feet. The neo-gendered twins and several gray-uniformed staff from the dream machine room appeared. The gray ones took the despondent man by the arms and led him away.

Irked, Nedra picked up the abandoned steak knife and set it on the table. She looked to Anna. The dark faerie was smiling.

“You saved my life,” Anna murmured. “Thank you.”

“No, Anna.” Nedra felt a brief prick at the back of her neck, but honestly, she was too annoyed right now to give it any thought. She frowned at her client. “We both know that’s a lie. Drop the pretenses and while you’re at it, explain why you really brought me here.”

Anna’s mouth twisted wryly. “Once a cop, I guess?”

Nedra was sure she had some witty comeback to that in her arsenal, but she couldn’t seem to summon words. She felt strangely wool-headed. Her vision wavered in and out. The room swayed. She found herself fighting off wave of nausea and dizziness. Her legs gave out. The pain of falling on her ass barely registered. An all-consuming darkness slammed down. Nedra was unconscious before her head hit the ground.

“That took a while,” the mean twin observed.

The twins raised Nedra’s body, placed one of her arms around each of their shoulders, and got ready to carry her away.

“Gently now!” Anna warned sharply before turning to face the gawking crowd. “What are you all still doing here?” She bellowed. “The party’s over. Get out!”

Pain tore into Nedra’s head. A drilling pain like she’d never known. The back of her eyelids felt like sandpaper. Her tongue felt heavy. The inside of her mouth tasted bitter metallic. The air stank of antiseptic, stale booze, and burning wire. Her eyes creaked open. Bright lights assaulted. Her eyes slammed back shut. The pain in her head intensified. She groaned.

“The lights!” Someone hissed. “Turn them down.”

“Ned?” Came a gentle voice. A familiar warmth enveloped her hands. “Ned, open your eyes.”

It wasn’t easy. The pain in Nedra’s head made her feel as if her brains would start leaking out of her nose. She cautiously opened her eyes. No blinding pain this time. Her vision was blurry at first, then it cleared. Anna was seated next to where she lay, her trembling fingers grasped Nedra’s hands.

She leaned over and asked lowly, “do you remember?”

“Sweetie…” Nedra blinked and looked up at her girlfriend of two years in puzzlement. “What kind of question is that?”

Anna drew in a long, shuddering breath. She started to cry. Confusion growing, Nedra reached up to touch her cheek. That’s when she noticed that she was strapped into a curved metal object. Her head was encased in a bulky helmet from which long wires protruded. The dream machine. The pain in her head made it hard to think.

What manner of madness was this?

“Anna,” she asked hoarsely. “What’s going on? What happened to m — ?”

As if on cue, the walls started to flicker. The scenery playing out was harrowing. Nedra being wheeled down a long corridor on a gurney. Anna perched atop the gurney, frantically keying commands into some device with bloody hands. Begging Nedra not to die. A screeching noise that Nedra’s brain could only associate with intense pain filled the air.

“Anna, what is this?” Nedra felt wetness at her nostrils.

Maybe her brains were starting to leak out. Anna grabbed a tissue and wiped at Nedra’s nose. The tissue came away bloody. Nedra’s heart started hammering wildly. The machine started to emit shrill warning noises. She struggled against the restraints.

“Why am I strapped into in this infernal thing?” She ground out. “Let me out, Anna!”

“I can’t!” Anna was weeping openly. “I have to make you the way you were before.”

“Before what?” Nedra croaked. “None of this makes sense — ”

No. Wait. It made sense. If the scenes that had just played out on the walls were true and something terrible had happened to Nedra. If Anna was desperately trying to make her whole again.

“How bad is it? Nedra asked. “Pretty bad… is my guess. For you to put me in this thing.”

“The initial memory loss was catastrophic enough.” She dew in a shuddering breath. “On top of that, your short-term memory seems to be deteriorating as well.”

Nedra couldn’t find any words to lessen Anna’s distress.

“I did manage to create an emergency memory palace for you after the shooting,” Anna explained. “I ah… made some modifications to the dream machine. I’m hoping I can teach your brain to bypass the damaged area.”

“Hoping…” Nedra echoed woodenly. “You already tried but it didn’t work.”

“It works!” Anna was quick to object. “As long as you’re hooked to the machine.”

“Oh sweetie…”

How many times? Nedra wondered. How many times had this conversation played out? How many times had Anna strapped her into this infernal contraption, hoping for the best, only to be disappointed?

“You can’t keep doing this.” Nedra breathed. “This is insane.”

“Insane? I’ll tell you what’s insane,” Anna eyes flashed. She stood, reaching out to check the IV line. “Taking a bullet — no, two bullets meant for me.”

Nedra’s mind shot back to the deranged man who’d charged into the dancehall earlier. “That was him? That was the shooter?”

“That animal,” Anna fumed bitterly. “I’ll make him suffer for the rest of his miserable existence.”

Her words sent a chill down Nedra’s spine. “So, you’re a law onto yourself now?”

Ann whirled around. “That man killed his entire family! It was the law that you love so much that let him get away with it. He came to Bitter, demanding that I free him of the memories of slaughtering his wife and children. When I refused…”

“You still can’t — ”

“That man deserves his comeuppance!” Anna snapped.

Nedra sighed. There was never any point in arguing with her whenever she got like this.

“I’m not giving up,” Anna declared flatly, changing the IV fluid. “I’m not.”

“Don’t I have some say in…” Nedra’s words trailed away, drowsiness smothering her voice.

“Get some sleep,” she heard Anna say softly. “I just need to run a few more diagnostics.”

Nedra woke up in her office chair. Good god. She groaned. Had she really spent the whole night here again? She started to stretch, twisting around to get the kinks out of her back. She stopped midway. On the desk before her was a packet containing two blue pills. She picked up the packet, spun it around between her fingers.

“What exactly would these be for?” she murmured to herself.

“For your headache,” came a low, mellow voice which had the private detective looking up sharply.

The woman sitting on the sofa on the other side of the room was dark and petite. She was wearing black and silver, high-waisted pumpkin shorts with suspenders and a white blouse with ruffles at the throat. She sported silvery fairy wings. Her curly mass of hair was electric blue.

“And you would be?” Nedra inquired, forcing a polite half-smile.

The woman smiled, though somehow, she seemed so very sad. She crossed the distance between them and sat in the chair across from Nedra.

“My name is Anna,” she said. “I came here to ask for your help.”

Nedra shivered slightly, overcome by a strange sense of Déjà vu. “Yeah?”

“You see,” Anna leaned forward, trapping Nedra with her desperate, hypnotic gaze. “I don’t have any beautiful memories.”

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