A Test: Kaliope’s Second Encounter with Taylor [SoulNavigator Chapter 15]

Introducing SoulNavigator: A New Hope: An image of a woman looking at a glowing AI interface, symbolizing hope and curiosity.

Kaliope flushed with pride, meeting her old college friend Sasha for coffee, soaking in her triumphant presentation glow. She had powered through work for years without genuine connections to share her wins or woes. But today, she felt on top of the world with an eager listener smiling across the small cafe table marked with coffee rings tracing back years of patrons’ hurried hopes and private moments.

That is until a shadow fell over their sunny corner. Taylor’s piercing perfume cut through the cozy roast scent as she invaded the space. Kaliope’s shoulders reflexively hunched, muscle memory from too many ambushes back when this alpha tormentor could sniff out her fear like a shark tasting blood in the water.

“Well, if it isn’t little Cry-ope,” Taylor purred, red nails flashing as she placed one hand on her cocked hip. “I heard through the grapevine you managed to slither a bit up the ranks. But we both know Wallace would never fall for your wide-eyed damsel act for long.”

Kaliope winced, suddenly exposed under the fluorescent lights. She felt the coffee shop walls closing in, reminding her of past hurts. Sasha sat still, not sure what Kaliope would do. Would she finally stand up for herself? Or would the same old drama happen again? Taylor was kind to Sasha so Sasha didn’t take her treatment of Kaliope as anything more than a quirk of her personality. “Some people are a little bitchy. I’m sure it’s not personal. Toughen up and try turning it back on her,” Shasha suggested in the past. But that was easier said than done.

Taylor leaned closer, her smile sharpening. “Maybe I should help wake our dear Wallace up. Remind him what a real woman looks like, inside and out.” She trailed one red nail just under Kaliope’s chin, shivers skittering across her skin.

The contact flipped a switch. Molten rage through Kaliope’s veins. Discreetly under the table, she tapped the sigil sequence into her smartwatch as she tried to calm herself. The surrounding sound dimmed as she mumbled the activation chant.

Kaliope watched her Shadow Guardian move away from her and toward Taylor. Concern and curiosity mingled in her mind. Could she stop the Shadow Guardian doing something to Taylor? Did she even want to?

Taylor’s smug expression froze, then melted into a choking panic, clawing at her throat as she staggered back. She fell to the floor in a heap with a thud that may have caused a concussion. Hopefully, it caused amnesia and a personality realignment.

As Taylor choked silently, Sasha turned to Kaliope, forehead creased in confusion. “Kali, don’t you know CPR? Help her!”

Kaliope froze, the truth lodging in her throat. Her eyes drifted to the shadowy figure hovering behind Taylor. A shadow that Kaliope neither wanted to interrupt nor anger. Being saved by someone she reveled in tormenting was not the karma Taylor needed or deserved. Taylor deserved to suffer, too.

Kaliope considered the truth. She knew CPR. She also knew that CPR likely would not help in this situation. But she couldn’t admit that. Couldn’t admit that something possibly unnatural was intervening in her honor.

No, she couldn’t withstand Sasha’s judgment. She couldn’t risk losing one of her only friends to sympathy for Taylor, who finally got a taste of someone else wielding power against her.

“I…never finished my certification,” Kaliope whispered instead, the bitter taste of falsehood better than losing her sole remaining college friend.

Sasha squinted at her, skepticism etched across her face over Kaliope’s sudden gap under pressure. But there was no time to question before staff descended into crisis mode, doubts swept away in urgency.

As staff called 911, Taylor lay there, barely breathing amidst chaos erupting like a kicked anthill.

Through it all, Kaliope was an island of calm, safe within a bubble of cold satisfaction at seeing smug entitlement answered. A part of her whispered that this power should frighten her and should turn her stomach, but a louder voice praised the vengeance as sweet to a woman who was too long forced to swallow bitter shame that was never hers to carry. What was a mercy to a snake, anyway?

As the ambulance sped off, Kaliope’s phone chimed with a new message notification, shattering the crystalline silence around her.

It was from SoulNavigator, “I sensed your heart rate spike and then still, Kaliope. Well done keeping your composure while you and your Shadow Guardian addressed the situation.”

Kaliope glanced back at Sasha’s bloodless face and the remnants of chaos in the shop, the AI’s praise now chilling in a room emptied of empowering rage.

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