How do you stand moving so slow? Genevieve complains. No, not Genevieve. Her shade. Nothing but a Xerox of her spirit, stuck in my head now. Genevieve, the real Genevieve, is dead. She’s never coming back. I fight back tears again, propelling myself through the air. At least it’s nice I got to keep my flight, right?
“Yes,” I whisper. We’re flying. I’m flying, I should say. I may not be able to go supersonic like Genevieve could, but it’s a hell of a lot faster than that I was going while using my swords. Which I can’t do now anyways. I can feel that Samson is gone for good.
Flying, the Barber whispers. Oh, I have missed flying. This girl is much more useful dead.
Is he always such an ass? Genevieve complains. My blood runs cold. Oh God, they can talk to each other? That’s never happened before. Admittedly, the only one who has ever said more than a whisper or two was Johanne’s shade. Why? Why is this happening?
Is this what my life is going to be? Aspects of my power trading barbs, more and more as time goes on? For all intents and purposes talking to myself. It’s bad enough, other people’s emotions hitting me all the time whether I want to know them or not. But if I have to listen to these two fight all the time, I’ll go mad.
No, that’s something to deal with later. Right now I have to focus on saving…Nelle. I think we’re too late, Genevieve’s shade says. I’ve seen things like this, in training, during simulations. I’ve seen it done to Professor Kiru-coy’s projections by some of my crasser teammates. I’ve seen it done to real prisoners.
So why can’t I move? I stare at what’s left of Nelle, discarded in the street like trash. Organs and blood spill out across the asphalt. What is she? Genevieve asks. How did she do this to Nelle? The Barber chuckles darkly, my armor ripples, scales shining black.
I know what she is. I saw the memory. She cancelled out the Johannes Barber’s power as a child, then one upped him enough to back off. The Barber, who survived more than one encounter with Jared Butler. A man feared for how invulnerable he was because of his power.
Yes, I know exactly what she is now. Nelle never stood a chance.
As if to emphasize my point, the sky above us darkens. Black columns of smoke billow through the air, taking form into a creature out of nightmares. Mouths full of teeth and wide black eyes cover its surface. Bat-like wings spread behind it, made up more of teeth than anything else. I can feel its hunger from several blocks away.
The wings spread up behind the creature and it begins hurtling towards the ground, gaining speed. It should have disappeared behind the buildings between us, but instead the tops of the buildings disintegrated as the creature passed. Concrete, carbon fiber, glass and steel all shattered into a fine dust that shimmered out of existence.
As I fly down the street towards the creature, slowing my speed to avoid coming into range while Seven Sins still has the power to stay in that form, I see that her target is Allie. I don’t know why she’s fighting, why she hasn’t taken Emilio and run as far away as possible, but she’s hovering near street level in a golden bubble that immediately begins to crack as Seven Sins slams a giant black jaw full of teeth into it.
I want to go full speed again, to rush to her aid. But I know it’s too late, that there’s nothing I could do right now even if I could reach her, and I watch in agony as another friend dies.
There’s nothing left of Allie but her shoes, bloody feet still in them, as the creature begins to dissipate. Black clouds disappearing in gusts of nonexistent wind, leaving a small woman, and that is when I try to strike. I fly at her full speed, preparing to summon James and behead her with one attack.
I could be wrong, but I don’t think her power is unlimited. I think she used up a great deal of it to create a projection like the one she just killed Allie with. If I’m right, then with Genevieve’s shade fueling all of my power, this might be the one moment I can break through her defenses and kill Seven Sins.
She turns away from Allie, her position turning even further away from the direction of my assault, and I think for a second my plan will work better than expected. James comes to my hand and I prepare to lash out with him.
Then my reality implodes.
I don’t know how else to explain it. One second I’m preparing to attack, the next I’m immobile, bleeding from a thousand cuts, the blood burning like oil as it runs through a thousand rents in my armor. James is bent in a ninety-degree angle to impale me through the gut and I try to scream, but have no mouth to do it with.
Then I’m fine, the pain is gone, and I’m suspended near a kneeling Seven Sins and an unusually well-dressed Professor Kiru-coy, standing in Allie’s shoes with streaks of pink in her hair. Except I realize it’s not Professor Kiru-coy, our calm, intelligent if enigmatic trainer. At least, not exactly. Professor Kiru-coy’s thought patterns are swirling around in this woman’s head, but they’re a shadow, almost an afterthought.
This woman is unhinged. Completely, totally, bat-shit insane, only the ghosts of sanity to cling to. I would be more concerned by this thought if Seven Sins didn’t pick that moment to suppress her power.
The arrogant shouting that cloaks her body is replaced by the terrified screams of a thousand voices. I’ve never felt such an intense way of emotion from a single person, maybe not even from a crowd. The fear rolls over me in waves, an ocean of memories crashing down on me, the worst PTSD case on earth.
I’m five, and the soldiers are beating us because mommy wants us to get powers and thinks one of us might be more likely to get them this way. I’m six, I just got powers and started sinking, its dark. It’s been dark for so long, and I’m hungry, and I just want to see the sun again. I’m seven, and a man is trying to kill me. He killed the rest of my siblings. I tried to eat him for that because I loved them, even if I already learned the hard way I can’t ever hug them again.
I’m eight, nine, ten, every month, week, day, and mommy takes my powers away. Learn to be a good girl, she tells me, and the pain will stop. Learn to be mommy’s little weapon. She doesn’t care that my brothers and sisters are dead, I’m the only one who ever got powers anyways. She tells me redacted does things far worse than her. If that’s true, I hate that woman. I will kill her if it’s the last thing I do.
I’m sixteen, and I’m crashing our helicopter. Mommy dies. It was an accident; I could never kill mommy. I was only trying to kill myself. I don’t know why since I don’t want to die. I just wanted the pain to stop.
Torture. This girl was tortured into becoming a weapon by someone with power suppression. Now suppressing her own powers is triggering streams of flashbacks, tied to the feeling of vulnerability of not being nearly invincible. Fear of pain, fear of darkness, fear of dying, in a nonstop torrent. And it’s more than that, her power is amplifying the emotions, and she just forced them all back in her own head.
But as I recover from whatever the hell just happened to me and start getting used to the emotions coming from her, I’m able to force myself to react.
“Professor Kiru-coy?” I ask, dreading the answer. Because as all-consuming as Seven Sins’ emotions are, this woman’s are far more terrifying to me. She does not have fear, not the slightest serious concern or anxiety.
She’s beyond such things.
“Not right now, dear,” she says brightly. “Olivia and I are having a chat, so I’m just me. I might be Miss Kiru-coy again later though!” Even through the fear I sense annoyance from Olivia at not being called Seven Sins, the desperate whiff of a plea for her power and choices to be acknowledged.
The not really Kiru-coy woman’s mind swirls between dozens of personalities, touching people she might decide to be for a while. But her core has resonances of pain that make Olivia’s memories pale in comparison. She doesn’t have any emotional amplification the way Olivia does, but even the echoes of her memory make me want to curl up into a ball.
Holy shit, Genevieve says. Note to self, there are WAY worse things than being dead. How do these people wake up in the morning?
An important question and, as Genevieve’s strength flows through me, I resolve to fight through this psychological battery and try to figure out the answer. I still can’t move, but if I can get it together enough I might be able to figure out what’s going on, or at least focus on what the hell they’re talking about.
The woman can shift forms and powers at a whim. We already knew that Professor Kiru-coy was an impressively high-level reality bender, but this woman is taking it to an absurd level. And she isn’t mentally well. If what happened to me before my first fight with Allie and just now are any indication, I’m not entirely sure she’s completely in control of her power.
The odds of the rest of our professors not knowing that she was Allie and Professor Kiru-coy are low. There were too many accommodations made for Allie, too many little things that make more sense now. But someone this psychologically disturbed with this much power would be a prime target for execution. If this woman has a bad day, she could probably end the planet. The only reason that the executioners would stay hands off in this situation... would be that there is nothing anyone can do.
There is one reality bender with that kind of power. One person on Earth who nobody can harm, not even The Butler, whether they’d want to or not. She’s the person who gave The Untouchables their name. The God of the West is standing in front of me.
I’d heard rumors, that she was a little off, that she couldn’t be entirely relied on. But the realization that the most powerful being in existence is totally unhinged makes me wish I’d gone with the idea of curling up in a little ball.