Hopefully, the phrasing would lead them to consider it a pseudonym – which it was, in a sense. Just not in the sense that mattered.
“Hi, Callmeorae!” Remy said cheerfully, provoking an eyeroll from Zarah. “What? What’d I say?”
“Just- Just Orae. And,” they added quickly, seeing Remy’s mouth open, “if you call me ‘Just Orae’, I won’t be held responsible for my actions.”
“Okay, ‘Orae’.” The light touch Zarah put on the name told them their ruse had at been at least somewhat successful. “First things happening first; I presume you were following me, and not Remy?”
Orae inclined their head, seeing no reason to deny it. “Just so.”
Zarah matched their gesture with one of her own, to precisely the same angle. It didn’t seem conscious, but Orae found themself unnerved all the same. “And you are not attacking me now, or at any point since. Why?”
Orae sighed. “As I said, I regret my actions. I was… overcome, you might say.”
Zarah said nothing, but Remy let out a little snort. “So I guess you could say you… saw red?”
Orae and Zarah both stared at him, and he withered under their combined glares.
“The hammer, then.” Zarah’s voice was quiet, and Orae nodded in confirmation.
“I think it’s safe to say you had no hand in its creation, no? Or in any of the… actions it was utilised in?”
“No. It was… I found it, abandoned.”
As Zarah went on to describe the scene she’d witnessed at the paper station, Orae found their thoughts growing cold, becoming still and icy and disconnected. Your fault, Oraena. Your failure. Your cowardice. The visualisation of her story twisted and distorted, changing into scenes from their past, phantom voices rising in their ears to drown out Zarah’s, the-
“Uh, Orae?” Remy’s voice cut through the visions, snapping them back to the present. “You, uh. You good, bud?”
“Why would I not be,” Orae snapped.
As one, he and Zarah glanced down at the edge of the table, where their hand was clenching hard enough to distort the metal.
“Ah.” They forced themself to relax, pulling the hand away. “My apologies. Please, continue.”
“Or maybe don’t?” Remy said. “I mean, if you’re gonna start wrecking shit again…”
“I won’t,” they said flatly.
“Done anyway,” Zarah cut in. “You, I am guessing, have similar experiences.”
“Experience, singular,” Orae forced themself to say. “More than enough.”
“Eh,” Remy said casually, leaning back in his chair. “I’ve seen worse.”
The corner of Zarah’s mouth flickered downwards. “Bravado.”
“No, I’m being serious. You ever seen someone get beaten to death with their own skull?”
The question hung in the air for a moment.
“That seems…” Orae said, “logistically improbable.”
“Ha, yeah. That’s what he was yelling.”
Zarah and Orae exchanged a silent glance, and mutually agreed to pretend they’d heard nothing.
“So,” Orae said. “I admit to being curious as to how you got from… there, to the Aruspex building.”
Zarah stiffened, and they immediately knew they’d hit on something. “…some documents,” the girl said, eyes flicking off to the side momentarily. “At the power plant, bore her name.”
Lie. A plausible lie, but a lie all the same.