The Aftermath Academy - CH56 (Pyrrha)

I know this is getting redundant…but what the fuck? asks Genevieve. My sword just committed suicide. I didn’t know that was possible. Then again, I didn’t realize a shade could have a strong enough will to force me to move or summon itself, and Samson proved me wrong on that.

But to the extent existential self-termination was on the table I wouldn’t have expected James to be the first shade to do such a thing. Yet… “He was protecting us,” I say. “From her attack. I could feel….” My words fail me, unable to describe what Olivia had done. May told us she might be able to do something like this, but to experience even a shadow of it was… defeating.

The death of happiness. The erasure of it. All joy, all hope, all memories of good times, all sentiments of fondness were gone. I didn’t even realize James’ shade held onto such things until she touched him and their sudden absence ate at my mind like a gaping wound. And I think what she did would have spread, if he hadn’t destroyed himself. To Genevieve, to me, her power would have resonated through us, eating away until everything that gave our lives meaning was gone.

The Barber laughs. Do you remember what I did to your parents? he hisses. I gave them the will to kill, filled their hearts with hatred so when Lilly died and triggered the Purge, it took them too. But she doesn’t need a second trigger, does she? She’s so much more efficient than I was. She can give the world the will to die.

Olivia bursts through the ceiling and comes to a halt, hovering a few inches above the floor. Her nearly nude form becomes clothed with darkness as the devouring hunger and manifest arrogance begin to solidify into scales that mimic my armor.

I can tell the more formal structure, the combination of the two abilities, they aren’t to protect her from me. The armor she’s creating screams out her desire to live, her desire to dominate, her desire to win. But I think it’s weaker even than her usual defenses, physically. Its purpose isn’t to stop external threats like me, it’s to protect her from her own power.

Because as strongly as her defense projects her desires, they are almost drowned out by the aura of apathy now surrounding her. I can guess what happens to anyone encompassed within that aura. Their will to live will be snuffed out, every thought they view as worth thinking about will be stripped from them, until all that is left is an endless depression with no anticipation of joy again.

I think the Barber might be able to block it, the power resistance of the armor could probably save me without a channel like James for her ability to flow through. There’s a chance I could escape unscathed; could even beat through the flimsy physical defense she’s now wearing. And I can feel the Barber and Genevieve preparing to fight within me.

There’s only one problem if we fight. Even if we could win, just how many people would she kill first? She killed a sizable chunk of an army with this ability, one disbursed all over a small country. What’s her range? Does she even have one? With a thought she might expand this aura to the entirety of Hope’s Bastion or beyond. It would be The Plague all over again. The lucky ones would get up, leave the city, and kill themselves. The unlucky ones would sit here listlessly and starve to death a thousand times over unless Hope was inflicted too. And that’s assuming Oliva doesn’t have worldwide range.

I can feel it, that she’s not going to stop until I’m dead. That she’ll remove me from the playing field, no matter what it costs. And I realize I can’t risk it. Maybe she can control the power, maybe there’s no danger of her wiping out millions of people out of frustration or spite. But whether I can beat her at all, I don’t think I can do it before she can spread that aura over everything.

“It’s over,” I whisper. What do you mean, it’s over? Genevieve asks as the Barber hisses in frustration. I force the armor to retract and feel the Barber resist, trying to force myself to stay clothed in his protective embrace. It has nothing to do with me, of course, the bastard shade is just trying to save itself.

But I’ve been expecting the possibility of this kind of resistance ever since Samson’s unexpected sacrifice and this time I’m prepared. I mentally force the Barber’s shadow of a consciousness back, using my power drain on my own armor to help. I kneel as the Barber drops away from my face and starts to recede off the rest of my body. The faces of Blue and Ray and May flash through my mind and I’m sorry that I won’t even get to say goodbye to them. I would have really liked to have traveled through life with them, just a little bit longer.

Olivia floats toward me slowly, perhaps fighting her own cloud of apathy to move. When she gets a little closer she speaks. “I wonder sometimes, if it weren’t a trap that those two executioners set up, if their offer had been real, whether I could have been one of you.” Her body is now completely clothed in black scales. At the joints it looks like interwoven teeth. “I don’t think I could have ever killed children…not on purpose anyways. It’d make me too sad. Not that killing someone I think I could have been friends with under different circumstances doesn’t.”

Her aura has retracted entirely into her hand now that I’m submitting, and she reaches towards me with it. It takes everything I have to keep the Barber from taking over. I can feel him trying to move down my hair, to force some part of my extremities to defend myself, something I have only the slightest control over. I assault him mentally, attacking my own powers in every way I can.

But as her hand approaches I can’t help but let out a whimper. “Please,” I say. She halts, just for a moment. “Not with your apathy. If what you’re doing is really right, please kill me with that pride of yours. Kill me with your certainty.” I won’t beg for my life. But as I think about my friends, the thoughts of losing my memories of them, even for a moment, is almost too much to bear. Even the ones who are dead, like Gabriel, Genevieve, Nelle and Reader. Even the doofuses like Emilio.

Olivia hesitates, that sin that’s so great for executioners, but somehow makes me feel sympathy for this monster that’s about to take my life. She nods, then begins to reach out for me again, this time with her other arm. Dammit girl, what are you doing? Screams Genevieve in my head. Don’t just let her kill you!

But if it means she’ll put that awful power away, if it means the rest of the world might be safe from it, then that’s exactly what I’ll do. Her fingers outstretch, brushing past hair. I can feel the certainty now, shining through clearly now that the aura of apathy isn’t completely covering her.

A split second before she touches my flesh there’s a blur and Olivia is gone. In her place stands Blue, poleaxe swung upwards. He looks down at me from staring at where there’s a new hole that’s appeared far above us in the dome of the Bastion. He smiles the most beautiful smile in the world.

“Did you miss me?” he asks.