A crack-snap sound woke me from my sleep. Another followed not long after. I noted with some displeasure that it was a tree branch brushing up against the side of the house. I’ll have to mention to Dad that the groundskeepers are getting lax in their duties. Oh well, that can wait for tomorrow. I caught a glimpse of motion, this time unrelated to the tree: the silhouette of a person passed across the face of the moon.
My heart slammed in my chest as I jumped to my feet and ran to the window for a better look. My room had the advantage of access to the roof, despite not having a patio of its own, as well as a tree which offered decent concealment. A detail Dad pointed out with a wink and a nod when I turned seventeen. With a wink and nod of my own, I neglected to mention I had already been exploiting it for the better part of a year.
From my hiding place, I could see the unidentified silver-covered figure talking to Plasma on the roof. Her I recognized; as part of the superhero team who avenged Mom, how could I not follow her career? Though I much preferred her old codename of Daybreak.
I had hoped to one day express my gratitude in person. Unfortunately, I had no means to contact her which wouldn’t be part of the public record. I had a political career to consider, and being associated with vigilante Imbued could be problematic. Even association with Imbued officers, or anyone else who put on a costume as a uniform, could damage one’s career.
We were too far away for me hear what they were talking about, though I was more concerned with the question of why Plasma was standing on my roof. Perhaps Dad thought the same thing I did, and made contact through his own channels. No one loved Mom as much as he did; in fact, I never met anyone who loved like the two of them loved one another. Nor had I seen anyone soldier on through loss the way Dad had. It was the least I could do to help him through her loss, especially since Chloe seemed to have vanished. I tried to remind myself she was coping in her own way, but it galled me that she had so little sense of responsibility to her family.
I chose to ignore that in favor of wondering about Plasma on my roof. If Dad wanted to talk to her, he had resources to make contact while maintaining discretion. Perhaps that was where the silver Imbued got involved. Plasma turned and led the silver Imbued up the roof to the wall, which opened for her. And this is where things take a turn for the bizarre. Stupid though it was, I began to climb up the roof.
“You’ll never catch the Dawn-Child that way, Fate-Sealer.”
“Who-” I twisted around in surprise at the voice behind me, only to see a small, elderly woman. “Wha-” I stumbled backward, on a sure course to roll off the roof for a two story fall to the ground below. A gnarled green hand snapped out of nowhere and caught me by my boxer shorts, then pulled me forward with more strength than someone so small or old had any right to be. I fell to my knees, gasping in terror.
The ancient woman stepped out of the shadow, revealing that the dark green color of her arm was shared by her entire body. “Oh, Fate-Sealer, you have much to learn.”
The woman eyed me in a way reminiscent of a predator regarding a chunk of meat. Not the first time in my life I’d been on the receiving end of such a gaze, but never had it felt so demanding, so cruel, and so clinical. The cold, solid, deep-green color of her eyes offered no sign that she recognized me as human.
“What the f-” I caught myself. No sense in upsetting the Imbued of unknown levels of power. “Who are you?!”
“Oh, how Granny weeps for the generation which forgets even the Greenwitch.” She turned and climbed through my window. Given her age, it was quite the impressive feat. She stuck her head back out the window. “Come now, the Dawn-Child is moments from her role in the grand drama, and the Greenwitch demands an audience. Perhaps, though, it is better if you do not, Fate-Sealer. For if you do, you shall see your father and sister for who they truly are. It is not good to stare into the truth, any more than the sun. You’ll go as blind and mad as ol’ Granny!”
Granny Greenwitch? The knot growing in my stomach threatened to burst out and run away, perhaps while gibbering in terror. I knew of the Greenwitch, as would anyone with a reasonable knowledge of American history. Not including Lee, Grant and Lincoln, she was arguably the most famous name of the Civil War. She was also rumored to be terrifying, insane, and, if this woman was to be believed she was now in my house. I climbed in my window after her against all good sense.
“Wait!” She’d gotten to the hall, already. I ran after her. “What does this have to do with Dad and Chloe!? What are you going to do?”
“Nothing,” the woman claiming to be one of the scariest still-living people on the planet said. “We need only watch, Fate-Sealer. Watch and learn and see the drama as it unfolds. Come now, Granny is an old woman, let us not dally lest time get impatient with her.” She started to cackle to herself while walking at a pace brisk enough I needed to jog to keep up.
Despite making no effort to hide ourselves or remain quiet, the woman and I alerted none of the staff or security. I couldn’t fault them; this was more likely than not an Infiltrator of some description. Thus explaining why I followed her in my underwear, rather than a rational behavior such as hitting the house alarm, or putting on pants. Whether she was the actual Greenwitch or capitalizing on the legend was less pressing than the undeniable fact that she had powers.
She led us into the historical wing, down a dusty hallway, and opened a door so well hidden in the wall that there weren’t even seams. I’ve lived in this house my whole life and never realized there were secret passages, but she walks through the place like she built it. “Quiet now, Fate-Sealer. No matter what you see, you must remain quiet. To speak is to ruin the play.”
I lifted my foot straight up, then stepped forward on the ball, while keeping control of my breathing. Dad’s idea of sending me to a survivalist camp for summer a couple years ago now payed off in a way no one expected. No doubt about it, she’s an Infiltrator, that’s why I’m obeying.
By the time we arrived, the silver Imbued was grappling with Plasma, but it was Dad who was shouting. “-soil her memory by fucking the bitch who murdered her?” Plasma stopped struggling, perhaps to object, but Dad was on a tirade. “Whore! She loved you! And-an- you- betrayed-”
Granny knelt in a dark corner, and I followed suit. The hell are they talking about?
I saw my father, drunk, in the corner. The stench of alcohol in the air suggested he hadn’t been careful about his consumption. Some mousy-looking woman around my age was with him, though I didn’t recognize her. Perhaps she’s one of the newer staff members? I couldn’t imagine who Dad would trust enough to take into a situation such as this one, but I also couldn’t imagine Dad being in a situation like this one.
The young woman spoke next, talking about how she copied someone, and going through a list of powers. “She’s Slayer’s daughter. Amanda was the nicest, smartest, most genuinely good person I’ve ever known, and her own daughter…” the woman stopped to hug Dad.
Chloe. What does Chloe have to do with this mess? For that matter, what is Plasma doing here? Some nagging part of my mind told me I knew the answer, but I ignored it.
“If you go public, so do I,” the silver-Imbued said. The crackle of electricity made it impossible to identify the voice as male or female, and the metal armor was unisex as well. All I could be sure of now is I was watching Dad get blackmailed.
“I know!” Dad shouted. “You think I don’t know!?”
The silver Imbued began to show an orange glow. Even from out in the hall, I could smell ozone and overheated metal start to overpower the stench of alcohol. “W- what do you want from me?” Perhaps I was wrong in my assumption it was Dad getting blackmailed.
“I want you to die. G-God forgive me, I wish you had never been born. A-Amanda wouldn’t. She loved you, I bet she still loves you, even after you betrayed her. I can almost hear her begging me not to hate you, but I’m not that strong.”
The sinking feeling in my gut grew worse as I began to suspect I knew who was in that metal costume.
The woman muttered something while touching Dad’s face. From here, I couldn’t tell more than that. They had dropped the shouting for words too quiet for me to hear from my hiding place, at least for a little while.
“What will happen, is nothing,” Dad said.
“I don’t understand,” Silver-Imbued said. I wouldn’t mind some clarification, either.
“You will do nothing. You, your nigger, and your monster leave me and mine alone.” I cringed at the language; I’d never known Dad to use a racial slur before, but honestly I’d have been surprised to learn he ever donated money to the NAACP. An unpleasant truth, perhaps what the Greenwitch had rambled about. “Amanda loved you, she loved your brothers, and she loved what we were creating. I won’t hurt her by going after you, but I will not allow you to destroy everything she helped to build.”
Oh god. It is Chloe. For a moment, I tried to cling the hope that perhaps I’d misunderstood. Even the idea that I had a sibling I knew nothing about was preferable to the scene before me. Worse still, was how much sense it made when I stopped to think about it. If nothing else, it would explain why the last time I saw my sister was Mom’s funeral, and even then she and dad both vanished as soon as was polite.
“We’ll send you lists,” the woman said. “Some are our interests, some belong to other gangs, and some are decoys just to keep you on your toes. You’ll leave them all alone, and you won’t call in some anonymous tips, either. Behave, and we’ll even send you locations for other gangs that you can destroy to keep up your sick lie of being the heroes. You work for us, now.”
Other gangs? Pretend to be heroes? The only recent set of heroes I could think of were Arclight. Who picked up a third member not long after Hunter and Killer were destroyed. They killed one, but the other went missing. A double-cross? One sister betrayed the other to… I considered the photo of Arclight’s female members kissing on the front page of the newspaper, and fought down a wave of revulsion. The idea that Chloe was gay made sense in hindsight, but with one of the monsters who murdered Mom? How could she?
Not quite as bad, the implications the woman made about gangs. In this area, the only gang of note was Heritage, which lent itself to Plasma being here alongside the silver-Imbued. Heritage had Myriad, who could create duplicates of other Imbued. And if Myriad is taking orders from Dad, he must have paid an awful lot to Heritage to make it happen.
“Do not blame your sister overmuch, Fate-Sealer,” the Greenwitch whispered. “The Serpent holds fast, a chain which binds them together along with the Thrice-Blessed. As with your parents, their Destinies have been made as one.”
The Greenwitch’s message was too cryptic to be useful, so I ignored it in favor of continuing my thoughts.
Meanwhile, the argument came to a head when Chloe, the real Plasma, attacked her duplicate. The copy didn’t survive the brief skirmish, and began to dissolve into a shimmer of white light. In the room, the woman with Dad screamed out and dropped to the floor. Chloe didn’t stick around to gloat or finish her attack, instead retreating down the hall in the opposite direction from where I hid.
I had never given much thought to the phrase ‘shaking like a leaf’ before, but that was the only way I could describe my current status of paralysis combined with the inability to force my limbs still.
This isn’t real, it can’t be real. It’s a delusional fever-dream or some Imbued fucking with my head. My father has enemies, my family has rivals, all it takes to destroy someone is too much money and too few scruples.
“Truth and madness, one and the same. You now know as Granny knows. Is it yet enough, Fate-Sealer?” The cackling madwoman walked somewhere behind me, yet I could not take my eyes away from the scene before me of this strange woman laying insensate next to my inebriated father. “Can you feel them in the back of your mind, waiting to construct your temple?”
For the love of all that you hold dear, do not ask the question. The answer will be worse than anything you can imagine. Do not ask her “What do you mean?” Shit!
“The greatest madness of them all, the blessing of the Loa,” she said. Her tone betrayed eagerness, an almost childlike glee as she danced around behind me. The pressure in the back of my mind grew stronger with every word. “Your Destiny. Take up your fallen mother’s sword, and use it to destroy her murderess. In doing so, free your sister from their mutual chains. Redeem her or end her, it matters not to the ebb and flow of Fate. What matters is you open yourself as a Temple to the Loa.”
Power danced through my mind. So much power. The power to heal, the power to slay, the power of love and hate, it could be mine. It will end my career. If association with Imbued was enough to damage a career, becoming one ended it. The power began to ebb away.
“The Loa demand a Fate-Sealer,” the witch said. “Your mother’s death demands retribution. If not you, then the other. Would you force such a child to shoulder such a burden? Would you have him be the one to slay his sister’s lover?”
The Truth of her words crashed through my denial. If not me, then it will be Jason. He was a child, he’d accept without giving a thought to the consequences, and one of the few certainties of Imbued was that the younger they gain their powers, the worse it was for them.
I opened myself to the power offered, reached out for the metaphorical sword. What I got felt like a literal tidal wave, crashing down on my very soul. Confusion turned to fear turned to panic turned to pain as I was unmade and rebuilt from the ground up.
If I had not already been on my knees, I would have fallen to them. Purple light, my mother’s color, swirled around me. Instead of warmth and comfort, they brought only cold chill and the barest hints of what I’d lost.
What did I gain? I looked with a new set of eyes at my father and the woman who lay beside him. They looked to me like rotting corpses, kept moving by a force yearning to be released from the mortal chain.
Their pain, their hopelessness, expressed itself as a rot in the spiritual flesh. In dad’s soul, a recent, bloody wound I somehow knew was where Mom had been torn from him. He sought to fill it with hatred and work, and where that failed he turned to alcohol and… that woman.
She bore perhaps more wounds than him, though many had long healed into distorted lumps of scar tissue. The fresh wounds were shallow in comparison to Dad’s, a new laceration every time Dad took another drink from the bottle, every time she gave herself to him knowing he might never love her. The guarantee he’d never love her like he loved Mom, or like she loved him. Each drop of blood or puss which oozed from her soul, another tear she wouldn’t allow herself to cry.
They’re so small, so miserable, so covered in suffering big and small. The second half of my power made itself known. The power to give them what they yearned for most in the world. Forget politics, with a power like this I could conquer the business world one unfulfilled executive at a time. What this pair yearned for most, however, was peace. The peace of the grave. I can give that to them with but a thought. It would be so easy to reach out, to unlatch the soul from its shackles of flesh.
I could tell most people were immune to this attack; I could unlock the cage, but the bird had to leave on its own. Only the truly despondent, those who yearned for death, could be freed by my power. Though perhaps with time and clever use of my ability to sense desires, I could make someone yearn for death. One moment of weakness was all I’d need to sever the bonds between soul and body.
It seems Granny was right. I am the Fate-Sealer.
“It won’t be enough.”
No longer paralyzed by my own insecurities, I turned to face her and protest her dismissal of the incredible power I now possessed. No words came as I gazed upon the magnificent creature before me. She carried her scars, just as Dad, and Myriad, and I suspected everyone did.
The Greenwitch, and now I knew without doubt she could be none other, differed in that she carried her scars as an artist’s tapestry rather than a disfigurement. She was a powerful battle-worn specimen, ancient and magnificent as a mountain range and just as untouchable by my power. I was a man staring into the soul of a force of nature.
“You have housed your Loa in a grand Temple,” the Greenwitch said. “Greater than any who have parts to play in this drama, save for myself.” I dared not ask what role she played, nor would I dispute her being greater than I. “But the enemy you face has beautiful temples of their own, and they are three who sing in unison to your lone voice. You can defeat any one, perhaps any two, but not the three. Do not expect Granny’s aid in your mission, as she is far too old, and the Greenwitch will remain forever capricious.”
She’s right. She had no Infiltrator power, at least not any which she used on me. Her power here was the truth, and the madness that came from it. Or is it madness that delivers truth? In either case, she was right, and in both the facts were the same: I wasn’t good enough. I’ve sacrificed everything and it is not enough. A familiar presence touched the back of my mind, caressing it more intimately than any lover could ever hope to do. I have more to offer.
“You can expand your Temple, sacrifice more to your Loa,” the Greenwitch said. “More, for if you open your temple while Granny is near, the Greenwitch shall provide Loa to join with your own, Loa stronger than you could possibly imagine. Together, they shall make you glorious.”
I took a breath. I’ve gone this far, I have little choice but to go one step further. I accepted the Truth and opened myself again. Great and terrible power danced through me, changing me yet again. My purple light, same as my mother’s, faded to dark gray and then turned solid black.
“For what it’s worth, Granny is sorry.”