TiredFocusDemand UncertaintyPreparedness. The tingle of Cecelia’s lightning across my skin threatened to become painful. I stepped away, as lightning danced between the three of us.
“Okay, guys, if we push it any further, my house might not be there when we’re done.” With the amount of power they charged me with, the neighborhood could wind up nothing more than a burning crater.
At least the boosted energy seemed to make my throat feel better after my earlier near death experience. Maybe our Pairbond does give me a form of boosted healing. Cecelia regenerates, maybe I’m borrowing some of that. Something to test with a minor scrape sometime.
FearLoveReluctance. Domenic stepped toward me. “I’m just worried that we won’t be there to help you if things go bad.”
“I know. I can feel it.” I fought down tears that were some weird combination of happiness and fear. Ah, fuck it. I stepped toward Domenic, then embraced him as hard as I dared. His metal oozed through my fingertips and formed an impression of my face, and somehow that made me happy. To hell with anyone seeing us.
I stepped back, and watched Dom’s armor reform. “Look, he’s still my dad, he won’t do anything to hurt me. Plus, if he tries, I think I’m strong enough to hold out until the cavalry rushes a century old mansion.” I gave a pointed look at Cecelia. “We still think they’re too weak to threaten us, right?”
DoubtConcern ConfidenceReady. I smiled for Domenic, in hopes that he’d understand I wasn’t in danger. Please, don’t make this into a fight. ReluctantYield. Thank you.
I don’t think Dom smiled back, but he did relent. “Okay, we’ll be waiting out here for you. I can try to rework our armors into something better for stealth, in case we need to sneak in.”
I took a breath, then shot up into the air as with as little light as I could manage. My own armor had also been changed to a stealth mode, in as much as I wore a full body suit which hid most of my glow from sight. I kept a hand over my eyes to block what little light was still visible until I was high above the tree line.
When I was ready, I moved my hand and took in my home from above. It seemed foreign now, sinister. Every tree might hide an enemy, and the mansion I once saw as beautiful now reminded me of the gothic abodes of vampires and deranged Gadgeteers toying with the boundaries of life and death. I pushed that out of my mind, and used my power fall sideways toward the building where I stopped above the roof, and drifted down. I considered breaking in through my own bedroom window, knowing that room should be vacant.
A black whirl of mist formed near me, then pulled itself together into a humanoid made of ash, with yellow light radiating from its eyes and mouth. It took me a moment to realize I was looking at my own duplicate, wearing the costume design I had at the parking garage.
Unlike the earlier duplicates, I got to see this one up close, in better light, and in an outfit which showed skin. There was no possibility Myriad’s copies could be mistaken for human at all, let alone a specific person. In fact, it looked more like a wax figure which had sat in the sun too long. Still, the freakish inhuman creature bore enough resemblance to make my skin crawl.
ConcernAlertReady. No, I don’t need your help yet. They wouldn’t hear the thought, but they’d understand that I didn’t want them to get involved. RelucantWait.
So creepy. I crossed my arms while fighting down an urge to scratch myself. “So, throwing away all sense of subtlety tonight?” I wished I could feel the bravado I was faking.
It beckoned me toward it with one gnarled misshapen hand, then turned and flew off toward the right wing of the house. I followed behind, certain I’d just discovered the star of all future nightmares in my life. I noted that it didn’t generate the same glow that I did when I used my power. I didn’t know if that was a clue about something, but I noted it in my head to tell Dom and Cecelia later.
The monster stopped and pushed on one of the walls, which slid inward with a series of clicks. I had to admire the skill which went into blending the secret door into the wall panels as I stepped inside the dim passage. Even if I’d known it was there, I don’t think I could have found the seams.
We bypassed the stairs, flying down the middle of the spiral rather than walking. The stairs themselves looked to have been renovated years ago, then abandoned to dust and cobwebs. My duplicate hit the ground floor before me, then drifted into one of the hallways which was kept so authentic that it didn’t even have electric lights. I recognized it as another path which took us to the hallway where the secret section of the house was built.
I stepped ahead of my funhouse-mirror replica, and opened the passage to the secret tunnel. “I think I can take it from here.” Despite my assertion, the silent copy followed me. I made my way to the same special secret room Dad took me to before, since my shadow showed no sign of objecting to my path. Before I even finished opening the door, I was struck by the stench of fresh alcohol. I walked further into the dim room decorated by paraphernalia that all once belonged to Starfall, to my mother. More than once, I had to kick a bottle out of the way.
I found my father sitting slumped near the back of the room, several bottles laying about him, including one shattered wine bottle. Behind him stood a pretty, if harried-looking brunette I didn’t recognize. My first impression put her age at around Adam’s age, perhaps younger. The black mist flowing around her filled in the rest of the story. Myriad.
She, much like Biohazard, functioned as a bogeymen for Heritage, used for to cause fear and paranoia rather than as a fighter. Even on the rare occasion she got involved, she was almost never seen in person. The weaknesses Cecelia guessed probably explained why. Her aura’s black, the second most powerful color.
She brushed her hand over my father’s cheek in a way that was far too familiar for my tastes. “Michael, she’s here.”
I took a slow breath of the acrid, whiskey soaked air. “You wanted to talk to me?” The anger in my voice startled me, as did the storm of electricity which distorted it into something even more inhuman than Myriad’s copy of me.
Dad’s head tilted up, and for the first time I saw my father look vulnerable and angry. He and my mother both had impeccable, if different, self control that I’d never once seen broken, yet here he sat drunken and damaged.
“How dare you!” His voice was as distorted as mine, not by power, but by alcohol and an emotion I could only describe as anguish. “How could you do this to her!”
What. I took a step back, trying to parse what was happening in front of me. “I didn’t-”
“The nigger wasn’t enough?!” Dad climbed to his feet, though it was only thanks to Myriad’s help that he didn’t fall over into the bottles. A crunch alerted me that he’d stepped on what must have been an expensive, and fragile, bottle of wine. “Did you hate her so much-”
Okay, that’s it. I clenched my fist, ready to demonstrate to my father the price of calling the man I loved a slur like that to my face. My duplicate grabbed my arm in a grip strong enough to surprise me. I turned, grabbed its arm, and brought my foot back.
“-that you have to soil her memory by fucking the bitch who murdered her?”
I stopped cold. No. Still tangled with my replicant, I turned to face my father and Myriad. “I’m not-”
“Whore!” For being as inebriated as he was, my father had impressive aim with the bottle he threw. The glass caught me in the face, only to shatter off the metal of my armor. Steam hissed as the liquid flash-boiled off me. “She loved you! And-an- you- betrayed-” He broke down into sobs, while Myriad stood holding him. He turned his head to cry on her shoulder, but she kept her eyes on me.
I stood there, unable to think as I tried to piece together their leaps of logic. My chest hurt from fear of discovery, shame, guilt, and the pain of knowing deep down that he was right. “You’re wrong.”
One of Myriad’s hands came up to stroke Dad’s hair. She was taller than my father, if only by a small margin, which still made her average height for a woman. She reached over to a shelf, grabbed a misshapen chunk of metal, and tossed it at my feet. It took a moment for me to recognize it as the boot Cecelia lost when we retreated.
Fuck. If we’d stayed and fought, they wouldn’t-
“I copied her.” That statement carried more questions than answers, not that I was in a position to think of them. “Just to see how her power worked. She’s not a Gadgeteer. Weak shapeshifter, combat boosts, electric touch.” Myriad’s voice shook with emotion, though she kept it under control better than my father managed.
She looked down at my father’s shoulder. “Micheal said you wouldn’t do such a thing, but he told me to make the calls, anyway.” When Myriad looked back up to me, her eyes were watering. “She’s Slayer’s daughter. Amanda was the nicest, smartest, most genuinely good person I’ve ever known, and her own daughter…” she trailed off, putting her own head on Dad’s shoulder.
Some petty, stupid, angry part of me wanted to yell at her to stop touching my father that way; it was obvious she had at least one reason to be glad my mother was gone. More than that, I was running through ways to get us out of this, to save Domenic from my mistakes and weakness.
“If you go public, so do I.” I felt what remained of my self respect die like it was a physical thing. The same blackmail my mother used against me, three months that felt like two lifetimes ago.
“I know!” Dad’s head snapped up, and he turned on me. “You think I don’t!?”
I shook, fighting back tears of my while my armor threatened to melt off of me from the heat. I looked down at it, studying the reddish light where some of the steel Domenic had reached the point where they began to glow. The part of me that wished to be anywhere else wondered if there was a scientific name for that. “W- what do you want from me?”
“I want you to die.” Ouch. “G-God forgive me, I wish you had never been born.” He choked out the words, but they were as clear in my ears as the pain which reached from the deepest part of my stomach up into my throat. “A-Amanda wouldn’t. She loved you, I bet she still loves you, e- even after you betrayed her. I can almost hear her begging me not to hate you, but I’m not as strong as she was.”
“Shh, it’s okay.” Myriad ran her hand over my father’s face, wiping tears away. “I can finish the message, if you want.”
“No. Thank you, but it has to be me.” His eyes locked on mine. “What will happen, is nothing.”
What. “I don’t understand.”
“You will do nothing,” he said as if it would make sense the second time around. “You, your nigger, and your monster leave me and mine alone. Amanda loved you, as 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.” Once again, Dad was reduced to incoherence by sobs and alcohol.
“We’ll send you lists.” Myriad evidently decided it was up to her to finish the threat. “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 pretense of being the heroes. You work for us, now.”
I shuddered in rage, and for a moment I considered charging them, to end this farce now.
“Before you add patricide to your sins, think again,” Dad said. “I’ve contacted my lawyers. You’ll be out of the inheritance by Tuesday morning. And I’ve sent out death tapes. I die, and all our dirty laundry gets aired on the national stage. Heritage. Hunter. Everything.”
I paused, considering all the possible ways Quash might get himself killed. Earlier tonight, as a prime example. “But if it has nothing to do with us?”
Dad lifted another bottle of whiskey. “A toast to my health, daughter.” Somehow, he made the word a curse, then tossed his head back and chugged the booze. Myriad steadied his hand, and extracted the bottle from it, while the brown liquid spilled all over both of them.
I bit down my need to scream, and turned to leave before I did something I regretted. My inhuman copy still stood in my way, holding my arm. Whether it hadn’t moved because Myriad didn’t want it to, or because she was too busy to control it, I didn’t know or care. I wanted out.
I slammed my forehead into its face, an act which sent it reeling back, and left a dent in my helmet. Behind me, now, came a gasp of shock which made me feel a little better.
I grabbed its shoulder, and dug my fingers in. I could feel my power depleting as my own forcefield went to war with the copy’s. It’s the inferior version, and even if it isn’t, I have the power of three Imbued to call my own.
It flailed at me, struggled to break free, but each blow just served to drain more power from both our shields, in equal measure.
Its shield caved before I had to tap into my reserves. Assuming it started at full strength, that meant I didn’t need Dom and Cecelia to beat Myriad’s power.
My fingers tore through the copy’s fake flesh and bone as both it and Myriad screamed in agony.
With one flurry of motions, I crushed its other shoulder and brought my foot down in its knee. The duplicate collapsed, powerless and bleeding black ichor out on the floor.
I didn’t stop to contemplate the irony or horror of what I’d done. I bolted down the hall at full speed, burning through my energy like it was a poison to purge from my veins. In a movement that threatened to cause motion sickness, I went up the staircase to the secret passage.
Instead of taking the time to stop and open the door, I smashed through at full speed. To hell with this house and everything it represents!
I reached out, felt for my Pairbonds. FearProtect AideLove. That’s my family, now and forever. I twisted in the air, then allowed my flight to turn off so momentum alone carried me to our hiding place over a mile from the family property. I landed hard, taking my frustrations out on the ground beneath my feat.
“C- Plasma? Are you okay?” Domenic ran toward me.
I grabbed on to him, again sinking into his metal. Unable to answer in words, I cried while he held me.