I stared down at Domenic, trying to reconcile what I thought I knew about him with that display back there. More, I couldn’t believe he took the brunt of Quash’s attack withough so much as flinching. I started descending; there was a nice little clearing in the trees near the edge of the forest.
“You don’t. Have to …. About me.” I could barely hear Domenic over the wind. I assume he said ‘worry’ in there.
I landed us in a cluster of wildflowers, and felt water seep through the joints in the boots Domenic made for me. “Not for you.” I didn’t care about the wetness; I was exhausted both physically and power-wise.
Domenic sat in the mud as well, but I bet he didn’t get any water in his armor. The plate over his face folded back, showing his mouth. Sweat was dripping down the parts of his face I could see. “Sorry, I thought your power protected you.”
“It does.” If I wasn’t so afraid of drowning, I’d have let myself fall on my back. “But there are limits, and Dad’s power is stronger. Do you have any idea what he does to a body?” Stupid question, he was caught in it as well.
“It wasn’t that bad. He held back because you were there.”
What is he talking about? “Didn’t you see his aura? He was going full power and then some. My power was the only reason I could move at all, and it hurt like hell.” On the other hand, I now knew my father’s power was orange when going all out. It wasn’t lost on me that Mom was purple and I got green.
“Oh. Sorry, I just thought that he wouldn’t use his full strength if it put you at risk.” Domenic’s breathing was as ragged as my own. “I guess he thought your invulnerability protected you.”
It did, that’s the only reason my heart didn’t explode. As it stood, it felt like I just got done with a triathlon in the middle of death valley. “I don’t think that’s it. I think his power’s like mine; he has trouble with control when he’s emotional. You got to him.” Between Mom’s death, and me holding hands with Domenic at the meeting, he couldn’t have been in the best mental state to begin with.
“Well, good.” Domenic’s lips went up into a smirk. “I’d hate to think I went through that for nothing.”
“Why the fuck did you do it!?” It hurt to yell. I put my hands over my face. “You could have ruined everything.”
“I should be asking you the same thing.” More of Domenic’s armor folded back. “You volunteered us for a fight with super powered serial killers. I know you’re upset about your Mom, but-”
“That has nothing to do with it.” I glared at him. “I’m a hero, heroes stop the villains, it’s what we do. Even, especially, if it’s dangerous.” I looked down, at the mud we were sitting in. My mother died fighting to protect people from those monsters. If I’d stayed home, maybe I could have been out there with her, maybe I would have been enough to save her.
“We’re teenagers, we should be focused on school, not out hunting psychopaths. We should leave that to the professionals. Judge, Jury and Executioner can do it, that’s how they make their living. Going out for revenge is just-”
“Says the idiot who provoked my father into a fight in front of like fifty people?” My power crackled around me. Steam rose up from the water at my feet. For whatever reason, I was jealous that he mentioned Jury. I saw the way everyone looked at her, including Domenic, or myself for that matter. The only person who didn’t seem even a little distracted by her was my father. He never had eyes for anyone who wasn’t Mom.
Domenic looked up. “Exactly. I fucked up bad, and now I’m backed into a corner. If my family gets hurt because of me, I’ll never be able to forgive myself.”
Oh, Domenic. “This isn’t completely unsalvageable yet.” Now that I was able to rest, I could think. “I can convince him to back off, by the time things start to settle back down, he’ll have other things to worry about. I was planning to go back any-”
“No.” Domenic’s voice cut me off. This was the first time he’d ever ordered me. “I won’t let that happen. I would rather unmask myself and out him with me.”
Part of me was unreasonably happy at his words. It was a small part of me, drowned out by the other parts which were absolutely livid. “And what makes you think you have any right to tell me what to do?” I was still physically burned out, but my energy levels had returned to something close to full power. I lifted myself so I was standing. “Or are you planning to blackmail me, too?”
Domenic struggled to his feet. “That’s not what I meant. I just don’t want you to have to go back.”
I could feel the tears coming, and this time I wasn’t going to let him see them. “You don’t want me to do a lot of things.” I focused on anger, instead. “Well, it’s my decision to make, not yours. I don’t care if it’s justice or revenge, I am going after Hunter and Killer.” I lifted off the ground.
“Wait!” Domenic flinched, gasping for breath. I tried to ignore the pang of guilt. I was the one who inflicted the first set of injuries on him, and my dad did it again today. “Where are you going?”
I almost said it wasn’t his business. “Back to my family.” It might have been kinder if I had. “And so we’re clear, if you do anything to hurt them, you’d better pray that Heritage finds you first.” I kicked my flight into high gear, taking off toward home. We were less than half a mile from Domenic’s car, he could get that far on his own. I was a mile or two away when I remembered I left my cell phone and street clothes there as well.
Rather than turn back, I decided I’d rather buy new stuff. I went straight for the place that had been my home since the day I was born. I avoided heavily populated areas it added a few miles to the trip, but I got home without running out of energy. I dropped low into the forested part of the propery, staying within the tree lines. Dad’s security was top notch, but hopefully it couldn’t watch everything at once.
I went for the trailing edge of the property rather than the mansion proper. My music teacher, Mr. Knapp, lived out here away from everyone else, and it was here that my brothers and I would go for our music lessons. I felt I could trust him, in part because he was Imbued, and in part because he was weird. Not in a creepy way, he never gave me that vibe at all, he was just odd. In fact, I doubted he had any interest in sex with anyone. Unless some Altered came along who was made of living music, in which case things might get bizarre.
I dropped down in the bushes near his guest house. Before today, I never really gave much thought to the fact that this building was once the slave quarters. It was one of those things I filed away as part of Dad’s obsession with all things historical. It wasn’t as if our family wealth came from slavery; Mom and Dad were self-made success stories, and bought the place right before they got married. Now, I couldn’t ignore the more sinister implications.
I could hear the music before I made it to the door. I recognized it as a dirge, that much was obvious, but it was unlike anything I’d ever heard before. I wanted to stop and listen, but under the circumstances I couldn’t afford to be seen. I dipped into the alcove and knocked.
Mr. Knapp yanked the door open. He was roughly my parents’ ages, but looked decades older than either of them. A lifestyle of music as his only interest in life left him pale, thin, and frail. His look of annoyance turned to surprise and perhaps a bit of fear when he saw me. “Who are you?”
“I need a place to get changed.” I gestured at my mud covered steel costume. “Before I go to the house.”
“Chloe?!” He stepped back. “Get in before anyone sees you.”
I levitated as I entered, staying a half inch or so off the floor to avoid tracking dirt everywhere. I closed the door behind me. “You don’t seem too surprised by this.”
“I suspected, after you ran off the other day. It has been quite the subject of speculation amongst the staff, as you might imagine.” He stepped into the main area. “You can use my shower to get clean.”
“So you know about my parents?” I tried not to be surprised or disappointed.
“Miss, does it truly matter what I know or don’t know? If I do know some juicy tabloid secret or another, I clearly am not inclined to talk about it.” He kept his voice level, passive even. “And if I don’t, then that question just lets me know there’s some secret to be known. For that matter, if I know any secrets, they might not be the same ones you think you know. In all scenarios, it’s better not to ask.”
He definitely knows. “I’m sure your loyalty’s appreciated. Mom and Dad always did know how to find the best help.”
“You’re wondering why I work for them.” He walked over to a door and pushed it open, the dirge got louder. “This is my library.”
I followed him in, glancing around at this part of his home which I’d never been in before. True to the description of library, there were shelves lining every wall, but packed with CD cases rather than books. There had to be tens of thousands of them lining the walls. I looked back at him. “So they gave you every song known to man?” If there was any bribe I could see working on Mr. Knapp, it was that.
“Quite the opposite, in fact.” Knapp always had a somewhat tired, sad air about him, but it was never so obvious as today. “This is all music of my creation. Some full songs, other experiments with certain chords and harmonies. All told, if one were to listen for eight hours a day, it would take roughly ten years to hear it all. To date, almost no one’s heard any of it.”
“Do you remember what it felt like, right before your Manifestation? That feeling in the back of your mind, promising power?”
I nodded. “I don’t know how anyone could forget. It was like meeting God.”
“Hmmph, if that was God, then we’re better off going to hell.” Knapp’s voice dripped with bitterness. “I got my power not too much older than you are now, less than an hour before I was to go on stage at the Boston Opera House. I was something of a prodigy.” Somehow, even his brag sounded bitter. “But that wasn’t enough. I needed to know I’d be perfect, and that’s exactly what my power gave me.”
I could tell he wasn’t done with his story, so I waited while he kept looking at the walls. Either this dirge he was playing was really long, or it was set to loop and so perfectly timed that I couldn’t tell where it began and ended.
“I went on stage to play, and could feel every person watching me. Their emotions, their thoughts, and it was wonderful. The music came to me in a way it never had before, as natural as breathing. Then I learned my power was too good.” He took a slow, pained breath. “I could see everyone who listened to my music. Present, and future. Live, or recorded. It was too much, and for the next three years I was insensate.”
Oh. I stayed silent, for lack of anything to say.
“Your parents are two of the few who’ve ever heard anything in this room,” Mr. Knapp continued. “You see, my power to sense those who will listen to my music ends with my death.” He trailed his fingers along some of the cases. “I can sense that, too, to the day. Some days, I have only weeks to live. Others I can expect another forty years, but one day I die. I’m not one of those Imbued for whom aging has stopped. One small favor, I suppose. Your parents promised me that after my death, they would see to it that my music was distributed properly. In that way, I follow the footsteps of Emily Dickinson.”
And in the process, my parents have a precog that might give them warning against attacks. I wasn’t sure how, but if anyone could figure out a way to turn Knapp’s power into an alarm system, it was my mother.
“And if they die first?” It was the only question I could think to ask.
“It’s written into a contract so thorough that not even their lawyers could get them out of it. Though I’ve never known your parents to go back on their word once they gave it. I can’t imagine you and your brothers doing it, either.” Knapp allowed himself a smile. “Besides, aside from certain stipulations that my share goes to my sister’s children or grandchildren, there’s quite a fortune to be made when the time comes.”
I didn’t know he even had family. He was no doubt right, however; If even a fraction of the music here was marketable, there was easily millions in potential profit. “The literal investment of a lifetime, then?”
“Amanda said almost the exact same thing, over twenty years ago.”
I choked back a sob. Once, I took it as a matter of pride when someone compared me to my mother. Now, other than a stark reminder of the loss, I wasn’t sure what to think. “I… should go take that shower. I’ll need clothes.”
“Of course.” Mr. Knapp reached for his phone, and pushed a button.
“Security. What’s the situation, sir?”
“I need to speak to Frederick,” Mr. Knapp was back to sounding like his usual professional self. The security guy tried to say something, but Knapp cut him off. “I am aware he’s busy. This is a priority, I’ll take responsibility.”
“Uh, of course.”
Knapp looked at me. “I’ll explain while you’re cleaning up. Don’t worry, your parents trust Frederick completely.”
That’s the opposite of reassuring. “Okay.” I floated out of the room and toward the bathroom. Once inside, I got a look at myself in the mirror. I was well concealed in my armor; to the point where it would have been impossible to guess my age or sex, let alone identity. Without Domenic, I’d have to undress the old fashioned way.
I dug my fingers into the metal covering my face and peeled it away. The only signs of effort were the cry of metal torn in half, and the loss of around a fifth of my power reserve. Bruises were already showing themselves from exposure to my dad’s power. Forget makeup, I’m going to need a can of paint. I gripped the metal on my arm, peeling away another strip.
I hope Domenic’s okay.