“You threatened her and she forced your hand? This is why you can’t play games with dangerous lunatics,” I said.
“I can. It’s doable,” Tattletale answered me, leaning back in her seat, sticking her tongue into her cheek so it poked out. “Doesn’t always work out.”
“The issue is when others suffer because of the games you’re playing,” I said.
“Here we go. Sanctimonious heroes being sanctimonious,” she said. She rolled her head back, heaving out a sigh.
“I’m not arguing for morals, Tattletale. I’m arguing for sanity.”
“Yeah. That’s overrated too.”
Was it possible to respect the fact that she’d been capable enough to take over and keep a city, and yet have zero respect for her as a person?
I knew she prioritized sanity – or she prioritized stability. She’d gone into laborious depth about how she was working to those ends when we’d first met in New Brockton. But now, because she was hurt or because she was petty, she shrugged it off and pretended it didn’t matter. Tongue in cheek, joking, but still so tone-deaf.
“What else do we need to know?” Rain asked, stepping up because I hadn’t followed up. A small part of me had been content to let the awkward comment hang.
Tattletale sat up straighter. She saw her henchman coming, carrying a tiny paper cup like the sort used for ketchup in fast food places and a regular paper cup for water. She took both, drawing out the pause before she gave her response. “You, Precipice, need to make a decision when it comes to March.”
“I picked up on that.”
“I’ve had to deal with her more than a few times, because that’s the price of having Foil with us. As a professional she is efficient, dangerous, and dramatic. She’ll almost always be in the right position, she’ll almost always hit, and she’ll almost always kill whatever she hits, provided she wants to. Her underlings support her well. She combines that professional effectiveness with being petty, unhinged, and lopsided in her focus in non-professional things, and lets the two things bleed into each other.”
Gee, I wonder what it would be like to talk to someone like that, Tattletale, I thought. There might have been something in the look I gave Tattletale, because she rolled her eyes slightly.
“Unhinged in person, still dangerous,” Rain said.
“I’ve had to deal with some incredible pains in the ass in the course of my villainous career,” Tattletale said. “Some were on my team. March? She ranks up there. Trust that I know what I’m talking about when I’m telling you this stuff.”
“Sure,” Rain said.
“My advice? The thing you need to know? If I were in your shoes, with the same relationship to that bunny-eared train wreck, I’d suck it up, say goodbye to your little team of damaged, overzealous heroes, and join March’s group.”
“No way, that doesn’t make any sense at all,” Lookout said.
“It really doesn’t,” Rain said.
“She doesn’t make sense. She’s this fixated on Foil, and Foil has barely interacted with her. She actually did you a huge favor, Precipice, getting involved when she did, providing sanctuary, and saving you from the Mathers witch. You owe her and if you give her an excuse, throwing that debt you owe in her face and ignoring her? You will become her focus.”
“Is this your power talking or is it just you?” I asked Tattletale.
“Both. It’s always both, and anyone who tells you it’s one or the other is lying to your face. The powers always tie in.”
“If everything you’re saying is true, it seems like it’d be more dangerous to stick with her,” Rain said.
I respected the ‘if everything you’re saying is true’ part. It showed he wasn’t getting sucked into Tattletale’s vortex.
“Hon, she hunted down and recruited the Graeae twins for a Foil-related reason. I’m certain of that. Let your imagination run wild as to why. Think of the most sketchy of the ‘kiss’ applications of that power, I’m sure Victoria can come up with something if your imagination fails you. Then think of the most sketchy ‘kill’ application. Start with how she can functionally keep Foil alive forever. Then combine the two ideas. That’s when she likes Foil. If you cross her, Precipice, then she won’t like you.”
Victoria can help you come up with something. The words went past barbed to being something else. Bitter, even monstrously ugly if I considered that she’d been there when I’d been eaten alive by acid, and she knew what had happened after. She hadn’t been able to resist getting the dig in, for cleverness’s sake.
Chris had been the same, when I’d first met him. Jessica had warned him.
No wonder that she was alone at a time she was this hurt. There was no friend at her side to make sure she was okay or to get her her medications.
Dwelling on that was easier than dwelling on the words themselves. Things were just a little bit less ‘turn around and she could be there’ than they had been in recent weeks, but nothing was fixed.
Rain leaned back- he was still at the foot of the long staircase to the high-ceilinged basement area, and leaning back meant resting his tailbone against the end of the post that was the railing. He didn’t talk, and with his mask on, his expression was hard to read.
“I can’t help but feel you have ulterior motives for approaching this this way,” I said. “What was it you said about having multiple reasons for everything you do? That’s how you have to operate at your level, isn’t it?”
“It would be, but maybe I’m not in charge of New Brockton while March is on the warpath, and maybe I’m operating on two fewer cylinders.”
Her hands gently touched her knees, indicating the injured legs.
“‘Maybe’ is such a weak word, and you used it twice,” Swansong said. “Be straight with us.”
“I’m being remarkably straight, considering you came here of your own accord and possibly led March to me – we’re going to find out soon,” she said. She winced. “I should have asked for more pain meds. I did have multiple motives, yes. I’ll be straight: when you do what I do, you end up playing games of chess with other masterminds, and that’s its own thing, but you also end up playing five simultaneous games of chess with lesser players. March doing what she’s doing has forced me to stand up and take my eyes off the boards. If you want to be on top of this, you need to be on top of that.”
“Watching chessboards?” Swansong asked.
“No. The moment I had to stand up and walk away, they got to make their moves, knowing I couldn’t respond. Big plans can unravel.”
“Your plans,” I said. “You’ll have to give us more details if we’re supposed to think that your plans are our priority.”
“Ashley knows how a sudden void in the criminal structure can shift the landscape. If I’m not there to supply key information or resources, then others will. People will move into New Brockton, and they won’t be as nice as I am. Other people are going to move outward. This will have ripple effects, and when a city is held together with yellow duct tape, ripples can rip.”
“You want to use us to protect your position?” I asked.
Tattletale sighed loudly. “I didn’t invite you to come here. If you want my opinion, you want to use yourselves to protect my position. You want to protect the status quo, keep things sane, as you put it. You brought up how I aimed to do multiple things at once. Apply that to yourselves.”
“You think we aren’t?” Swansong asked.
“We’re in the middle of other things, and this plays into it,” I said.
“I know what you’re in the middle of, and you know I know. You’re organizing the heroes, sharing information, making sure that the city still has a way to deal with the real threats, when thrown-together prisons don’t have what it takes. How well do you think that’s going to go over when you take the initial steps and then the crime rate jumps three hundred percent?”
“And clearly the answer is to throw our lot in with yours and help you,” I said.
Tattletale put both hands on the seat, lifting up her upper body a fraction so she could adjust how her ass rested on the seat’s surface, her face momentarily screwing up. She eased herself back down. “Clearly it’s going to happen whether you help me or not. But if you work with me on this, then I’ll point you in the right direction, so you can work against the ripples. You can get ahead of this problem.”
“And we finally see what she’s after,” I murmured, keeping my voice barely audible.
“It’s not the worst deal in the world,” Sveta murmured back. “It’s sharing info, which we wanted. And we know she’s good.”
“It’s sharing select info,” I kept my voice quiet. “If a police chief has his officers focus on majority-black neighborhoods, those officers end up acting in support of someone else’s bias. If we target specific criminals that Tattletale points out for us, what does that mean?”
“It means we get some easy catches,” Rain whispered. “We’re not locking ourselves into anything.”
“It’s not that simple or easy,” I murmured. At a normal, louder volume, I addressed Tattletale, “It can’t be you listing them one by one and us picking them off. You give us the information, we decide what to do with it.”
“It’ll take me a bit to pull together. I can do that, with one caveat.”
“Caveat?” I asked.
“What does Caveat mean?” Lookout whispered Ashley.
“Rule?” Lookout whispered.
“It’s a condition, a drawback,” Tattletale said. “I’m going to give you that full list, that’s fine. Known locations, associations, some details on powers. You’ll have it as soon as I’ve finished typing, and you can distribute it to your team. But.”
She placed emphasis on the ‘but’.
“The caveat,” I said.
“I’m going to give you all one very strong suggestion for who you specifically go after first. Take it as motivated or me serving my interests if you want. You can think it over for the next few days, ask a thinker to double check, whatever, you’ll find it really isn’t. It’s just sensible.”
“Who?” I asked.
“Why?” Ashley asked.
“Because if March tells Cradle the quote-unquote ‘secret’ to taking over the cluster, Cradle has two options. One is to go after Precipice, who is expecting it, with an organized group at his back. The other is to eliminate Love Lost and co-opt that power.”
“She has a team at her back,” Ashley said.
“Disorganized and reveling in that disorganization. And Cradle can get close enough to bypass that team and stab her in the back. Her team is also violent and swiftly rising to the top of the public’s most wanted list. They’re just high profile enough to grab attention, they’re striking from a visual standpoint, they’re noisy, they cause property damage, and they’re vaguely reminiscent of the old Slaughterhouse Nine. People want them gone.”
“And getting them gone wins us points with the people?” Byron asked.
“What’s the secret?” Rain asked. “You said you told people. How are the Lady in Blue and March breaking the balance of their clusters?”
Tattletale smiled. “I could ask for a favor or payment for this information.”
“I’m going to find out somehow,” Rain said.
“You might find out because Cradle or Love Lost use it on you. Knowing helps you to avoid it.”
“Tattletale,” I said. “If we’re helping you by taking out your potential rivals and leaving you alone, you can throw Precipice a bone.”
“When I first met your team, Vicky, I commented on Precipice and how I don’t think he’s a great person. Cradle is twisted up inside in a way I’d need a whole lot more time to wrap my head around. Love Lost is an emotional wound so open that the contents pour out to people nearby. And Snag is dead. All thanks to him. Through his inaction, he condemned people to die. Children died.”
“You act outraged, you have morals, but sufficient money, favors, and-or necessity let you put that outrage and those morals aside?” Sveta asked. “That doesn’t seem right.”
“Are you trying to convince me not to help him?”
“I had to face down people like that once. At least have the decency not to act. Do the victims that much respect,” Sveta said.
“It’s the other way around, Sveta. Tress. Garotte. I am bothered. I don’t trust him. I’ve seen his type before. If I’m going to give a teenager of that particular type access to a whole new level of parahuman power, I need to double check things.”
“Then why ask about money or favors?” Rain asked.
“Cauldron sold vials with powers in them. They created things like Sveta, Weld, Gregor and Whippersnap on their way to making those vials. The vials were expensive. Why, when they had a man like the Number Man working for them? He could conjure money from thin air.”
She’d named a few of the other case fifty-threes. I looked- Gregor and Shamrock had long since moved on. Faultline seemed okay leaving just the mercenaries who were hanging around the area to watch us.
“Why?” Tattletale asked again, for emphasis, her right eyebrow piqued.
“It limited things to the people who really wanted the powers,” Sveta said.
“Yes, but it also ensured that the people who got the powers respected the impact of it. If your team is willing to pay my price, then I know they’ll walk away from that payment just a bit more mindful. Every time the pocketbook smarts, you should think of him.”
“How much?” I asked.
Tattletale paused. Her eyes searched me. “Not money. You seem fairly confident you can pay. That’s interesting. Do you have a sponsorship?”
“What do you want, Tattletale?”
“I’d ask for access to your information network-”
“No,” she said. She nodded. “I want a ‘get out of jail free’ card.”
“No,” I said.
“Let me clarify. You have a way of imprisoning the parahumans we all need gone. ‘Disappearing’ them. Fine. Undersiders are exempt.”
“Scared?” Swansong asked.
“Yeah, a bit,” Tattletale said. “Vicky has a grudge, and I wouldn’t one hundred percent put it past her, in a theoretical future where this worked you streamlined the process, and you had me at a disadvantage. Frankly, the idea of teenagers being the ones to arrest, judge, and condemn should scare anyone. And yes- let me interrupt you before you get started or figure out if you’ll say something. I know you’re not making all those decisions. I know you have lawyers and you’re talking to the city. I also know who some of those lawyers are and the kind of people we have running the city right now.”
That last line was punctuated by a serious look Sveta’s way.
I saw Sveta nod slightly.
Tattletale continued, “It’s still scary. I want exemption for my people. If we help you here, you don’t do that to us.”
“We don’t do it to you?” I asked. I thought for a second. Most of the Undersiders could go in a regular jail. In a theoretical universe where the villain team that took over a city was well and truly arrested. Take Rachel away from her dogs, put Imp in a sealed cell with the right kind of monitoring, put Tattletale in jail and limit her human contact, limit Parian’s access to materials…
I looked at the others. Byron nodded slightly, then switched out to Tristan, a nod.
“Can’t guarantee that another team won’t push for it,” I said. “You meet us halfway. Stay out of the kind of trouble that makes people want to ‘disappear’ you.”
“Okay,” she said. “You have twins and a clone on your team. You should know how shards map things out.”
“You’re talking about agents? And they use DNA.”
“The Corona and the tendril of shard-ness that the shard extends to the person are kind of the real-time location tracking. It’s as if they’ve got a hand on your shoulder, and if you travel halfway across the world, their hand still on your shoulder, they have an intuitive sense of where you are. With some exceptions and special cases in there. But the DNA? That’s the bar-code for the verification check.”
“I’m supposed to put my DNA inside them?” Rain asked.
I looked at Sveta, who was next to me, raising a hand to draw her attention to the line. She only nodded solemnly.
“That sounds way more kiss than kill,” Tristan said.
“Huh?” Rain asked.
“I’m pretty sure Rain doesn’t like boys that much,” Lookout said.
“Oh, ugh,” Rain said. He looked at Tristan. “Um, not ugh because boy-boy, but because Cradle.”
“I get it.”
“Also, pretty sure Love Lost is twice as old as I am.”
“I can’t believe I got Capricorn’s line before Precipice did,” Lookout said.
Tattletale butted in, “You’re getting ahead of yourselves, little miss precocious especially, you’re about three years too early to be getting that.”
“Two years maybe,” Lookout said.
“Whatever. Back to the subject at hand. Step one is confusing the signal,” Tattletale said. “Location? Close proximity, for a long period of time. Think staying within arm’s reach for days, even weeks. Probably with no interruptions, breaks, or time apart.”
“The Lady in Blue got one member of her cluster back and the transfer was immediate,” I said.
“Signal was already confused. The means of transferring power were already established. When shards kick down doors, through second triggers, some trump effects, whatever, the doors never go back to the way they were.”
“So step one is kidnapping someone and keeping them close for a long time,” Rain said.
“I can see why Foil wasn’t interested,” I said. “Sleeping next to March for a long while?”
Tattletale smiled. “Step two? DNA. When they check their paperwork and see that one person has four different powers, they check the bar-code. You want them to get the wrong ones and kick down the doors. The go-to method seems to be a blood transfusion. That’s if you’re lucky enough to be compatible. If you’re not, then you can try doing the Bathory thing, go full cannibal, you can try other things to confuse the signal like borrowing skin or other tissues, or you can be patient, and hope the signal confusion occurs without you going that far, though by the time you’ve spent weeks with someone like that, you might be ready to end it and wrap yourself in their skin, bathe in their blood instead.”
“Jesus,” Tristan said.
Tattletale shrugged. “Helps if you leave the other guy weak as part of what you’re doing. Means they can’t fight it, they dwindle, and you grow comparably.”
“I don’t think I could do that to them,” Rain said.
“No, probably not,” Tattletale said. “But they might be willing to do it to you, and now you know what to look out for.”
“Thank you,” Rain said.
“Don’t thank me. Just don’t throw me in that alternate dimension of yours and lock the door behind you. And unless there’s something more pressing… let me get my Russian nesting doll back. These gunshot wounds hurt enough that I’m willing to dilute my existence down and kind of not exist.”
There wasn’t anything more pressing. We all had food for thought, and we had things to do. We left her be.
It was like a weight came off my shoulders, leaving an underground meeting with Tattletale, even though it had been a brightly-lit, high-ceilinged base of operations.
The snow was swirling around us, and the air was cold, but it was a refreshing cold. Below, with heaters going and a winterized costume on, I’d been a touch on the warm side. Now I was finding a happy middle ground. I’d probably find myself on the cold side when the light sweat chilled, but for now I was happy enough.
Our breath fogged around us, with Sveta as the exception.
“Gregor had to go somewhere. Do we have a pen and paper?” Sveta asked. “I’d like to leave him my contact information.”
“I’ve got some,” Lookout said. “My scratch pad for tinker ideas. Give me a second.”
Lookout rummaged and then took dictation. The others joined me, leaning against a bike rack that wouldn’t see much use for another few months. Tristan in his Capricorn armor, Rain, and Swansong.
“Deal with the devil,” I said.
“As the resident expert on devils, I don’t think she’s a devil,” Rain said.
“You’re the resident expert on a lot of things,” Tristan said.
“Yeah? I fucking earned it,” Rain said, without any hostility in his voice. “And before you get annoyed with me for going easy on her, Victoria-”
“I’m not ann-”
He didn’t stop talking, despite my interruption. “-I’m also the resident expert on shitty human beings. And I don’t think she’s a great person. But she’s trying in her own way.”
“You’re an expert on that too, hm?” Swansong asked.
“I’m- aren’t we all?”
“Yeah,” I said. “Difference is, I’ve never known her to apologize or acknowledge the things she did.”
Sveta joined us. Kenzie had run off.
I had my concerns about that- Kenzie ducking out of sight into a hive of villainy and mercenary tendencies. We’d talked very recently about how tinkers were prime targets for that sort of predation, being used for their powers.
Sveta seemed to notice. “She ran off as soon as I said I was done, sorry.”
“What do we think?” Sveta asked.
I looked in the direction of the stairwell. “What she said about the power dynamic? I can believe most of it. Location and DNA? It fits with things we’ve seen before.”
“Things like Byron and Tristan,” Sveta said. “Proximity.”
“And twins and clones,” Tristan added. “Same barcode.”
“You said most,” Rain said.
“Who?” Sveta asked.
“Victoria. She said she could believe most of it.”
“She said the process works best if the person being drained is weakened. Bled out, skinned…”
“You don’t think so?” Tristan asked.
“I think it makes sense if you don’t think about it. I also think that powers tend to target the disadvantaged. Victims. Trigger events target them. Second triggers do. When your power fluctuates because you’re in a mindset aligned to your trigger? It’s rewarding that mentality.”
“Tattletale misled?” Sveta asked.
“Or she was wrong,” Tristan said. “How sure are you, Vic?”
I had to think about it. “Fifty percent.”
“That’s not helpful,” Sveta chided me. “That’s the opposite of helpful.”
“If we ever find ourselves in a position to consider doing that, we should be aware of the risk. Weakening one person risks a second trigger, and it might work the opposite way.”
“Great,” Rain said.
“There’s an upside!” Sveta said, encouraging. “If they get you… you kind of have a chance, whatever they do?”
From the stairwell, Lookout emerged. She had Chicken Little with her, as well as Whippersnap and the lace girl. I could see the defensive body language in the two case fifty-threes. Whippersnap folded his arms, while the lace girl stepped a bit behind him. Her hand found Whippersnap’s.
“…shot a target and all of the smashed-up bullets came out looking like birds,” Chicken Little said.
“That’s crazy. But you know, that’s a trick of the eye sometimes. Like when you look at a cloud and it looks like something? I remember when I was really young, in those good old days when you were automatically friends with whoever was the same age?”
“Yeah,” Chicken Little said. “I remember those days.”
“Yeah! So we were pulling bits of concrete away from this ruined wall with cracks running through it, and every single piece had a pattern in the broken side that looked like a face. That’s the effect I’m talking about. I experimented with it, when I was working on my cameras.”
“I think I have one of the bullets in my pocket. It’s sharp so it’s sometimes useful. Here.”
Chicken Little reached into the front pocket of the coat that had been built into his costume- it had tails at the back like an old fashioned coat, but the tails had a feather-like cut to them, like a bird’s folded wings. His mask was full-face, with beady black eyes set fairly low, in a way that made the forehead and the crest at the top stand out more.
He produced a bullet, like a soft slug pried out of a wall or floor, or out of a bullet-proof vest. Sure enough, it had broken up into a shape that looked a hell of a lot like a robin in flight, the splits separating head from wing and wing from tail.
“Oh wow. That really does look like a bird.”
“So do all the others. If I catch her going to the range again I’ll see if she can do another.”
“Or other things,” Lookout said.
“Oh yeah! Like an elephant! I like elephants.”
“Imagine if you controlled elephants. That’d be nuts.”
“I couldn’t, though. They’d get hurt and that would suck. Aunt Rachel’s dogs get hurt or die a lot and it sucks.”
“Bitch, or Hellhound, but she doesn’t have a secret identity, obviously-”
“Nonono, obviously. Yes, I know her name and everything, I get it. I just blanked.”
“Chicken,” Whippersnap said. “We should let them go. They’re waiting and they have things to do.”
With eyes that bulged out, each looking like there was too much moisture inside them, to the point they weren’t quite round anymore, he still managed to glare.
“Okay,” Chicken Little said.
“You’re lucky that you have people around your age to hang out with here,” Kenzie said.
“Maybe you could come here and hang out sometime, and-”
There were noises of protest, muted and not, from more than a few corners. Whippersnap was louder. Sveta, Ashley and I were at different places on the spectrum of dissuading and the more logical pointing out of issues.
“-or not,” Chicken Little said.
“Security issues,” Whippersnap said. “And we’ve heard enough about her to know she’s a walking infosec breach.”
I really liked how the young teen was using words like ‘infosec’. The company we keep.
A bummer, that Kenzie couldn’t meet up with a potential friend.
“Maybe neutral territory,” I said.
Whippersnap’s focus seemed to remain primarily on Sveta.
“What’s your name?”
Swansong, addressing the lace girl.
“Does it matter?” Whippersnap asked. “What do you care?”
Swansong shrugged. “I just like the dress. It’s pretty, and I’m a fan of the style.”
As if to indicate, Swansong’s fingers brushed against her own skirt. White fabric, like the lace girl seemed to be covered in. Swansong only had a bit of lace, though.
The lace girl nodded, lips set into a firm line behind her veil. Her hands looked like they’d been covered in gloves, then had the lace pattern punched in repeatedly, passing through glove and flesh both. Most of her looked that way, and the parts that didn’t just had extra layers, with only hints of it.
“When a case fifty-three can’t choose their appearance, pointing out even the parts you like about how they ended up can be disconcerting,” Sveta murmured.
“Sorry then,” Swansong said.
“I did make it myself,” the lace girl said. “Most of it. Thank you for liking it. I’m Chantilly.”
Chantilly smiled slightly.
Whippersnap shielded her with his body, as if we had guns and she was in danger. He looked at Chicken. “Come on. You should go downstairs. You’re a target too. Tilly, let’s go.”
I saw Lookout start to take a step forward, then stop herself, rocking back on her heels. I put a hand on her shoulder.
“Hold on,” Swansong said.
The trio stopped.
“Do any of you want to share emails, phones? So you can see about the meeting on neutral ground?”
Chantilly shook her head, quickly.
“I will,” Chicken Little said.
I could see Whippersnap’s active impatience, as Chicken Little wrote down a number or email on Lookout’s scratch pad.
As soon as he was done, he was ushered away along with Chantilly, Whippersnap continuing to be protective, shielding the lace girl from us as if from a physical danger.
“I know your rules say you can’t ask or push contact on people,” Swansong said.
Lookout nodded. “I wanted to so badly.”
“It’s good you made a friend. That looked like a good conversation.”
“I didn’t talk too much? Or say anything weird?”
“Nah,” Tristan said, from the side. He looked at me. “We should go.”
I nodded. “Things to do.”
The snow continued to fall, done its frenzied dance higher above, where our proximity to various portals and the weather they stirred up made the snow travel in wild courses.
“How do you feel about going after your friends?” Tristan asked.
“Friends?” Rain asked.
“Swansong, going after the members of Love Lost. If that’s what we end up doing.”
“It’ll be nice to see them again. Nicer to show them what I’m made of.”
“That simple, huh?”
“Not simple, but I like where I am.”
“I like where you are too,” Lookout said. “And I like that Chantilly liked you too. The white dress comes with its upsides, huh?”
The conversation continued. Tristan asking Lookout if she had a map, so we could find her family’s van. She had a tracking chip inside it. Because of course.
Tristan swapped out for Byron, because Rain had asked a question, and I heard my name, a ‘Vicky’ tossed into it – a question aimed at Byron. On answering, Byron swapped out, and Tristan said something about how quick that had been.
My focus was more on Sveta, who was staring off down a side street.
“Sveta,” Tristan said.
“What do you think? Love Lost?”
“We can. We’ve fought a lot of them before.”
“Tonight, you think? Or do we plan more?”
“I’m fine with whatever. Weld gets back super late. Crystal too?”
“It would be nice to tell him we scored a big win.”
“Tonight then,” Tristan said.
“Okay,” Sveta said. She looked off to the side again.
“See something?” I asked. I saw the mild surprise on her face. Before she could answer, I said. “Come on. We’ll check it out. If we’re being followed, it’s important to know.”
“Do you need help?” Swansong asked.
I shook my head. “Stay put, or go to the van and wait there. Keep an eye out.”
At the nod, I took Sveta’s hand, and I pulled her along with. She used her tendrils, reaching out and grabbing things, hauling herself further down the way.
Once she was on a rooftop, she waited for me.
I looked back at the others, who were smaller in this new perspective.
“Come on. We’ll loop around.”
“I didn’t see anything.”
I brought her along with. She gripped my arm and in the doing she held my injured hand.
We stopped on another rooftop.
“I thought we could use a break,” I said. “Get away.”
I saw her expression shift slightly. The slip, the facade going back up.
“I’m sorry that sucked. Whippersnap. Chantilly.”
“I barely knew him. He was a kid in the group. But he was supposed to be like a brother to me. Like how he said brother Gregor.”
I nodded. “Yeah.”
“He was supposed to be mine, not possessive or anything… but they’re the only family I get and I don’t get to have them.”
The facade slipped away.
“And Chantilly, yeah.”
“Yeah! Fuck!” Sveta said, angry.
“Fuck,” she said, sad.
I hugged her, and she buried her face in the crook of my neck, mumbling now that she was talking into cloth. “She wears a white dress and that gets her points with Chantilly, but I’m the outsider? I’m the odd one out? What the fuck.”
Yep. Better that the anger get out now than in a release of bottled-up feelings. Especially when we were going up against an emotion manipulator.
I had tears in my own eyes, now, just listening.
“And she shows off her hands? I’m happy for her, I really am, I’m not that much of a bitch that I wouldn’t be, really. I’m sorry.”
“You’re not a bitch at all,” I said.
“But she’s smug and showing off about how they’re practically indistinguishable from regular ones and what the fuck!”
There was a thud at her chest, then a thousand more. A hundred fists striking against the shell, the inside of the cage, protesting, unleashing pent-up feelings. It was only my grip around her shoulders that kept her upright.