“That can’t be right. Mom died in a car accident. I know your mom was a racist bitch and had a power that could get away with it, but what motive did she have?” Domenic was inscrutable behind his armor; it hid his features and disguised his voice. I couldn’t tell if he was upset or not. “I think you’re jumping at shadows.”
“Believe me, I hope I’m wrong.” I pray I am. Isn’t everything else enough? Why is my family so toxic? “But it makes too much sense. If you’re a Mark of Cain, you’ll have powers to beat the killers. The way you stood up to my dad’s power alone is-”
“You stood up to it, too.” I didn’t know how to explain to Domenic how wrong he was; I took a small amount of the splash effect, but Domenic was dead center. He went through much worse than I did. “Quash is powerful, sure, but fighter pilots survive worse all the time.”
The Greenwitch cackled. “The Dawn-Child has the right of it.” I shivered; something about the old woman terrified me. Perhaps the way she seemed to have all the answers, despite her delusions of sorcery. “You, Thrice-Blessed, were baptized in the blood of a Loa’s priestess, chosen as an agent of revenge on those foolish enough to strike down one of their own.”
I wasn’t surprised that the Greenwitch knew about Retributive Imbuement Transferal. After all, the phenomena was recorded near the beginning of the bible.
I floated toward Domenic, still unwilling to use my mangled leg. “It… it doesn’t have to be your mom. Maybe your father, or another relative? But, roughly six years ago Starfall got into an incident with a new vigilante. The woman didn’t survive her injuries. It fits the timeline.”
Domenic stood there in silence. I wanted to put my arms around him. I wanted to beg him for forgiveness. I wanted to gloat that now he knew how I felt about Hunter and Killer. I wanted to flee in shame. I wanted to perhaps kill my father so he wouldn’t have to. Unable to decide, I floated uselessly in the air.
“This changes nothing.” Of all the things I expected Domenic would say, it wasn’t that. “There was never a chance I would get away without a rematch against Quash. I hate to use the old cliché, but there isn’t enough room in our town for the both of us. If you’re right, it only means I won’t feel as bad about beating a middle aged man to within an inch of his life.”
I wanted to say something, as if there was anything I could offer to make this better. If I had a chance to trade my power for something that gave me answers I’d have made the exchange without hesitation, but no such offer came.
“The answer of a fine young king in the making.” I’d almost forgotten the Greenwitch’s presence. “Your arms carry no weight, but the crown still sits heavy on your head. Make your choices wisely, for they will ring forth into your future.”
Domenic took a breath. “First thing is first, we still have to stop Hunter and Killer. They won’t stop killing until they’re made to stop. And I think, to do that, I need to know what happened when we fought them.” No. I’d almost let myself hope he’d forgotten. “Our powers changed in the battle, and one of them found a way through my armor. I need to know how it happened, if it can be stopped.”
The Greenwitch cackled, pointing toward me with her long, bony finger. “Why ask Granny, when you know the Dawn-Child can answer the question?”
“I don’t know. I guess I was hoping you’d say something else.” Even with his armor warping his voice, his words carried his disappointment. “Chloe, please?”
“What she wants me say is Pairbond.” I had to force myself to spit out the word. The same as Mom and Dad had. Knowing everything I desired my perfect relationship to be was an artifact of their powers disgusted me.
“Pairbonds are a special sort of Power Interaction, ones that let the users share feelings empathically. But that’s impossible. Pairbonds only happen between two people. Thus the name.”
The Greenwitch let out a raspy chuckle. “Impossible? Granny has lived enough to know that to the Loa, nothing is impossible. They set down the Law. They have changed it before, and they may yet change it again.”
“Jibberish.” I turned to face the withered woman. She was ancient, bent, and small even compared to me. I wouldn’t let myself be intimidated by her. “Imbued may look like they disobey the laws of physics, but that’s just because our understanding of physics is incomplete. Clarke’s Law- just because it looks like magic doesn’t mean it’s not science.”
“This Pairbond? How does it work? What does it mean?” Domenic interrupted me.
“Ah, to ask that is to ask about love,” the Greenwitch answered. “It has as many answers as there are people feel it. The Loa gift us with their power, their contract is written not on flesh or mind, but on the soul. A melody shaped by both the priest and the Loa and birthed in our world. Your songs are not in harmony, but you have found one who completes both.”
No! “No!” My power swelled out, burning the weeds closest to me. Orange lightning jumped over my skin and the armor Dom gave me. “The bitch who killed my mother is NOT my fucking soul-mate!” I approached the Greenwitch. I didn’t need to listen to this garbage.
She uttered some sound while gesturing at me. I landed on the ground hard; I’m sure I’d have screamed if not for the drug. The lightning was gone, my strength was gone. For the first time, I realized just how heavy all this metal of Domenic’s was. I couldn’t pick myself off the ground without my powers there to help me.
“Chloe!” Domenic hobbled toward me. For the first time, I realized how hurt he must be. Even the old woman was faster.
“Do they no longer teach children not pick fights with a priestess in her home?” I watched the witch in an entirely new light. She shut off my powers with little more than a wave of her hand. It likely wouldn’t take much more to kill the both of us. She watched me right back. Instead of creeping up my spine, my terror danced merrily across my everywhere.
“The Pairbond, song, whatever,” again, Domenic cut in. “It still sounds like it’s only supposed to be two people. Why’s it different for us?”
The Greenwitch looked toward Domenic. I could have kissed for distracting her gaze away from me. “There are many who will harmonize with each Loa’s song, but once they find one they will not seek another. If your Third had met one of you first, her harmony would be denied to the other. But she found you both at the same moment. You are two made one, twice.”
“Doesn’t make sense. If this is some sort of other half of the soul thing, it should be complete two halves, not three.”
“No one has half a soul, Thrice-Blessed. One plus one is equal to one.”
I shivered, weeping in my spot in the dirt. “Why?” It’s not fair. My one, my only, wasted on a monster. Stolen from me. “Why couldn’t I have a Pairbond with Domenic? Our powers could interact, right? Metal and electricity are a perfect for each other.” It should have been him.
“The Loa provide the instruments, but it is the priests who play them.” I couldn’t lift my eyes up to look at the Greenwitch. “The song must be completed, not repeated. The Lover and the Fighter, the Provider and the Builder, Seamstress and Soldier, Queen and Jester, Dragon and Knight, dances repeated through history. The same, and yet the opposite. Two sides to the same coin. Both your songs complete your Third, but not one another.”
“I take it we’re both knights, in this analogy.” Domenic sounds tired. “Set up to slay the same dragon. For us to have… what Chloe and I experienced can’t exist without Hunter?”
“You were closer than most. Had your souls been marked differently, it may have been enough.”
I grieved for every word she spoke as it damned me further. It’s my fault, I’m so headstrong and stubborn. If I’d just been less pushy, maybe Dom and I could have had something. Now it’s impossible. I’m stuck with a monster.
“How powerful are these bonds?” I’d learned enough about Domenic’s voice through his armor to recognize the moment of introspection. “I get they’re false emotions, an Infiltrator effect of sorts. Can they be blocked?”
Greenwitch’s raspy laughter reminded me of a horrid chain smoker. “One right question, one flawed belief, and a wrong question. Perhaps the Dawn-Child will give you the answer you seek. She can tell you what you already know better than Granny or Greenwitch.”
Curse you, you evil sadistic fossil. She’d taken from me even the option to lie to myself. I looked at Domenic. “Strong enough to make me… attracted to you. Even right now, a little bit.” Forgive me.
“We have no choice in the matter at all? We’re forced to feel what we felt by these Loa?” The faded reflection of our temporary bond gave me insight into the part which disgusted him most, the violation, not just of our flesh, but of our minds.
“You cannot deny who and what you are, Thrice-Blessed.” Granny hobbled a little closer to me as she spoke. “We gave ourselves to the Loa, offered our souls as their temples. They give us the strength to defy the laws of this world, but we follow other laws in their stead.
What a fancy way of saying we made our beds, and now have to get fucked in them. I stared at the mud below me, feeling as if somehow I dirtied it with my wallowing.
“Then there’s nothing we can do,” Domenic said. I wanted to yell at him for how cavalier he was. “But how do we fight her? Pairbonds mean our powers react to each other, but we couldn’t do anything before. She took control of my metal and almost killed Chloe.”
Right. Pairbonds are supposed to be, if not equal, then at least balanced. We should have been able to fight back, yet we were destroyed. Maybe that means it’s not a Pairbond, and just some weird Infiltrator ability.
“A good king must know when not to enter battle.” Of course she has an answer. “Inexperienced and wounded soldiers will always lose against a rested, skilled enemy.”
“So, basically, as long as we’re injured, we don’t stand a chance.”
“Granny’s surprised you hadn’t asked sooner, Thrice-Blessed. The Greenwitch can heal you.”
She didn’t wait for us to ask, or give permission, or whatever. I felt something alien and wrong course through me. It was like every part of my body was being massaged on the inside by worms. All of which had other, smaller worms coming off of them. Or maybe it was more like having tree-root tendrils moving around inside me. I was too busy shuddering in horror to take notes.
Domenic doubled over, his metal folding away from his face so he could empty his stomach on the ground. Moments later, the wave of nausea forced me to do the same. If I had access to my powers, I might have tried to kill the Greenwitch right then, just to stop whatever she was doing to us.
Then the pain started, like nothing I’d ever felt in my life. The root-system inside me was shifting things, pulling material away from one spot and pushing it into another like I was nothing more than soft clay. If I had the air in my lungs I would have screamed, but I didn’t and couldn’t. On top of everything else going on inside me, I was paralized.
I could hear the Greenwitch cackling, though I couldn’t move my head to look at her. “Granny’s sorry, but you were given a year of healing in seconds. Even the Greenwitch can only do so much to protect you.”
Now that the pain and worse sensations were fading, I could tell whatever she did countered the Gadget-drug. I managed to climb to my feet; a struggle, but one I could do now that my body was healthy again. Even my fatigue from poor sleep over the last few days was gone. If not for the taste in my mouth and the emotional rollercoaster I’d been through this last couple months, and the memory of how that healing worked, I’d even be willing to say I had never felt better in my life.
Domenic’s armor folded back to reveal his face. “I… thank you.” More diplomatic than what I might have said. Either way, I swore then and there that I would sooner die than go through the Greenwitch healing a second time.
“Y-yeah. Thanks.” I may have been less than enthusaistic about the experience, but she did heal me. The weight of the armor lessened. No, not that, I’m getting stronger. My powers are returning. With the metal no longer chafing and pinching my skin, I stretched, then returned to the air. I’d never been in an area so dense with plantlife for my power to draw upon, and it was amazing how little power I was losing.
“So, now that that’s out of the way, does this mean I can stop Hunter from taking control of my metal?”
“No.” Fuck. “It is her part of your song to share in the metal-craft, but she will be unable to harm you with your own weapon.”
“And it’s the other one that hurt me,” I added. “Maybe next time we’ll switch targets. I don’t think Hunter can hurt me, and you should be able to keep Killer at bay. We can beat them.”
“If we can find them.”
“Do not worry about that, Thrice-Blessed. Her Loa are tied to yours as surely as yours are tied to hers. Assuming you all survive, then your Third shall come to you. It is the will of the Loa.”
“Maybe someone will get to them first.” Even healed, Domenic looked tired. “If she dies first, we won’t have to kill her.”
My stomach clenched at his words. He’s right, we will have to if we find her. We have no other choice. “Or maybe they’ll leave the city now that they know we can fight back.” I didn’t believe it for a second, but it was a comforting lie to tell.
“I guess that leads us to the last question.” Despite his emotional fatigue, at least Domenic sounded stronger than before. “You said there’d be a price, and I’ve already agreed to pay it. Could you tell me what it is, now?”
“The Greenwitch demands the orphan born between two worlds, yet at home in none.”