A crack-snap sound woke me from my sleep. Another followed not long after. I went over to the window, to see that the tree near my window smacking against the side of the house. The trees were supposed to be trimmed enough to keep that from happening.
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 stuck my head out of the window for a better look. My room had the advantage of roof access, despite not having a patio of its own, as well as the tree to offer decent concealment. In fact, I could sneak in or out that way; 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’d been doing so for over a year at that point.
From my hiding place, I could see the unidentified black-armored figure talking to Plasma on the roof. What the hell is Plasma doing on my roof?
It took only a moment to guess that perhaps Dad wanted to speak with her, just as I did. 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. It would make sense that he’d have some message for the Arclight team, or at least the two members involved in killing Hunter.
Once the ‘why’ was answered, ‘how’ was simple. My father was a consummate businessman, and I held no illusions that he created, let alone maintained, a multi-billion dollar empire without being involved in at least some shady dealings. If he wanted to arrange a clandestine meeting, he had the resources to make it happen. Perhaps that was where the black armored Imbued got involved; a escort or bodyguard of some nature.
We were too far away for me hear what they were talking about, but the conversation didn’t last long. Plasma turned and walked with the silver Imbued up the roof to the wall, which opened for her. Our house has secret doors? And this is where things take a turn for the bizarre.
Stupid though it was, I began to climb out onto 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. A trail of wetness worked its way down my lower back.
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 before I cursed at the Imbued. No sense in upsetting the being of unknown, but no doubt incredible, power. “Who are you?!”
“Oh, how Granny weeps for a generation which can forget even the Greenwitch.” She turned and hobbled toward the door to my bedroom. “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 stay, Fate-Sealer. For if you do, you shall see the Truth about your father and sister. 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 flee whilst gibbering in terror. I knew of the Greenwitch, as did everyone who knew American history. With exceptions for Lee, Grant and Lincoln, she was perhaps the most famous name of the Civil War.
She was also rumored to be terrifying, insane, and believed herself a god to be worshiped by all her were in her presence. If this woman’s claim was to be believed, one of the most powerful Imbued on record was now in my house. Against all good sense, I chased after her.
“Wait!” She’d gotten to the hall before I caught up. “What does this have to do with Dad and Chloe!? What are you going to do?”
“Nothing,” she said. “We need only watch, Fate-Sealer. Watch and learn as the Truth reveals itself. Come now, let us not dally lest time get impatient with Granny.” She cackled to herself while walking at a pace brisk enough I needed to jog to keep up.
Despite making no effort to hide 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 power.
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 all you care about.”
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 dark armored 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 is going on here? She said I’d see the Truth. Is this what she means?
I edged closer, then got a look at 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 couldn’t imagine Dad being in a situation like this one.
The young woman spoke next, muttering something I couldn’t hear, so I edged a little closer. “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.
Amanda’s… 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 already knew the answer, but I ignored it.
“If you go public, so do I,” the dark Imbued said. Even this close, 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. Is this what the Greenwitch wanted me to know? That my father’s involved in something shady? That’s not-
“I know!” Dad shouted. “You think I don’t know!?”
The dark Imbued began to show an orange glow. Even from out in the hall, I could smell as 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.
After a short exchange I couldn’t hear, Dad began to speak again. “What will happen, is nothing.”
“I don’t understand,” the armored figure said. I would have liked more clarification, myself.
“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 he wasn’t known for donating to the NAACP, either. 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. It explained why she wasn’t home, it explained why she wouldn’t explain what she was involved in. There were huge blocks of missing information, of course, but the pieces were coming together.
“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 pretense 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 was 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 recalled the photo of Arclight’s female members kissing on the front page of the newspaper, and fought down a wave of revulsion. I knew Chloe was gay, 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 other Imbued. Heritage had Myriad, who could create duplicates of other Imbued. And if Myriad was taking orders from Dad, he must have paid an awful lot to Heritage to make it happen. Which he would do, he’d do worse by far if it meant going after Mom’s killer.
“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 the scene in front of me..
The argument came to a head when Chloe, the real Plasma wearing the black armor, attacked her duplicate.
The copy didn’t survive the brief skirmish, and began to dissolve into a shimmer of black mist. 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. Somehow, she failed to notice me hiding near the doorway.
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. The only sane choice is to walk away now and forget what you saw, to imagine it was naught but dream or psychic sabotage. To Know is to lose Everything. “What do you mean?”
“The greatest Truth 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 she spoke. “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 mean the loss of everything. If association with Imbued was enough to damage a career, becoming one ended it. The power began to ebb away; I was stronger than the temptation.
“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 war with his sister? The Greenwitch demands your answer.”
The Truth of her words crashed through my denial. If it’s 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.
The power returned, a second offer, and this time I opened myself to the Madness, reached out to claim my mother’s sword. To be that 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, Starfall’s aura, swirled around me. Somewhere inside the chaos, I imagined Mom’s voice. Instead of warmth and comfort, it brought only cold chills and the barest hints of what I’d lost.
What did I gain? I looked with new eyes at my father and the woman who lay beside him. They were 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 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 as his concubine, knowing he’d never love her. The guarantee he’d never feel for her what she felt for him. Each drop of ichor which oozed from her soul, a 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 Know what they yearned for most in the world. Forget politics, with power like this I could conquer the business world one unfulfilled executive at a time.
What this pair yearned for most, however, was peace. He wanted Mom, she wanted him, and in the grief of knowing their dreams were impossible, they wanted 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, and they would be no more.
Still, most people are immune to this attack; I can unlock the cage, but the bird must leave on its own. Only the truly despondent, those who yearned for death, could be slain 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 is right. I am the Fate-Sealer.
The damnable crone spoke. “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 other who 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 all 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 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.
“And so it has come that you have surpassed Granny, Fate-Sealer. For what it’s worth, I am sorry.”