Some time ago
The wall crinkled, like a sheet of paper being crushed into a ball in one’s hand, only here, the crinkling led to expansion, with flat petals of plaster, sharper than razors, jutting out in unpredictable patterns.
Jared dove at the last second, his arms around the warm body that’d been clinging to him since she’d appeared above the city, and barely avoided getting sliced into coasters.
Kizzy cried out, but it was weak, her voice hoarse from crying and screaming into his chest, and he didn’t have time to pay attention to it anyway.
The house was crinkling and distorting around them, rapidly turning from the safe haven they’d been holed up in into a death trap – seconds counted, and Jarod made them count.
The door out was nearest, but the door had already started to crinkle, so he went for the open window on the far side of the room instead, leaping onto the couch beneath it, and then through it – since it had been open, the crinkling glass and frame hadn’t blocked it off yet, though even so, he only managed to get out half a second before the window was blocked off by blades so thin they seemed two-dimensional.
His feet hit the soft ground of the empty flower beds outside – his mother had been heartbroken, when she’d lost her prized tulips to an untimely storm – and he ran, looking around wide-eyed.
All around him, buildings, lamp posts, cars, everything that was above ground, was crinkling out, turning into twisted works of modern “art”.
But not the ground itself, nor any of the trees he could see.
Kizzy whimpered, and he paused as he stood just underneath a big tree planted in front of the three story building that’d once been his home, taking his eyes off the distortions around them, off the bright lights above that shifted as she moved, and checked his little sister over, making sure she hadn’t been cut somewhere.
She was fine, the gold-and-white summer dress with Lady Light’s weird symbol on the front still completely pristine, her bare legs and feet unharmed, save for a few scabbed-over nicks and cuts she’d gotten from rough-housing with friends in the park.
”Jared, I-“ she began to say, starting to raise her head, but he put his hand on the back, and pulled her in close.
He didn’t want her to see the people who hadn’t gotten away from the distortions in time.
Even as he did that, he saw the elderly Mister Teeper and his wife, Madison, holding hands for a moment as they stared out over the street, their eyes empty – they’d been impaled by their own house, he horizontally through the gut, and vertically through the back of the head, she diagonally across the chest, between her breasts, and through the right thigh, severing her leg there entirely.
The petals were so sharp, though, they didn’t stay there, their own weight easily enough to cause them to slide and fall over. Mister Teeper feel to the side, she to the back, and they were reduced to the consistency of minced meat, falling through thicket of crinkle-blades.
“Everything’s going to be alright, Kizzy,” he soothed her, holding on tight. He was never going to forget that sight, but he was going to do his best to avoid her seeing anything like that. “Just, keep your eyes closed, and I’ll get us out of here.”
“B-but what… what about mom and d-dad?” she pressed, her voice barely audible even to him. “They’re still at th-th-the office, downtown…”
Whatever confidence Jared might have had, it died, and its corpse dropped to the bottom of his stomach like a leaden weight.
Kizzy didn’t know, she was too young to be told yet, but their parents weren’t office workers – they were superheroes, the both of them. Jared had found out about it years ago, when he’d snuck down the stairs in the middle of the night, only to see his tired mother use her power to pick up the tv remote from the kitchen table… while lying on the couch, a room away.
They’d told him who they were in costume, then, and he’d been sworn to secrecy. Kizzy, meanwhile, was to be kept ignorant until she was at least fourteen years old, they’d said.
They’re not that strong. If they fight that monster, they’ll…
He shook his head. No, he couldn’t afford to go down that road. If he had no confidence they’d be alright, then he at least had to pretend that he did, for Kizzy’s sake.
“They’re going to be alright, you’ll see,” he said, though the words rang hollow to him. “We’ll just, uh, I mean, they’ll find us, you’ll see. Just need to, to keep moving…”
His sister whimpered again, clinging to him as hard as she could, which wasn’t that hard, considering she’d just recently turned ten.
Still, while she was a lightweight, in the lowest percentile of height and weight for her age, he wouldn’t be able to carry her like this…
“Kizzy, I’m going to put you down, and then you have to climb onto my back and hold on tight, ok? But, uh, don’t open your eyes, k?” he spoke to her, his own eyes wide open, watching the crinkle-petals shifting around in waves.
“Ok…” She did as she was told, climbing onto his back, nearly knocking her and his glasses off when she smashed her head into the side of his, once she was on his back. He didn’t comment on it, grabbing her legs and getting up.
They said on tv that she changes her powers, now and then. As soon as the crinkling stops, I’ll, I’ll start running. Running towards…
Looking up and around, he could see the light above shift, a light show unlike any he’d ever seen, as if the northern lights had decided to form a dome over the city. It was supposed to move around with her, but the riot of colors was so confusing to look at, he honestly couldn’t tell whether it was moving at all.
Still, there were explosions and other power effects, in the distance, that told him the fight was most likely taking place at or near the beach front.
So the best way to go would be straight away from that. Just run, run, and keep running, until he was out of her desolation field – how big was it, again, a mile? Two? Three at most, he was sure.
He could run two or three miles, he was sure, even with Kizzy’s weight on his back. All that running he did for the track team had to be useful for something, for once!
It took minutes, which felt like hours, before something changed. Time spent holding Kizzy, speaking to her, keeping her as calm as he could.
Then, the petals stopped shifting around – they’d been moving into and through each other, like bad graphics in a video game or something – and went still.
In the distance, light seemed to be drawn in towards a single point, the entire area starting to grow more and more dim, save for the coruscant lights above.
She’s changed her powers.
He took one last deep breath, half crouched, shifting his shoulders and hips a bit to make sure Kizzy was properly balanced on his back.
She whimpered, clinging tighter, so tightly she started to choke him. She wasn’t very strong, but he couldn’t run for long like this.
“Kizzy… ease up a little, please,” he begged her, only to have her break into tears again, sobbing into the nape of his neck.
“I-I… I’m sorry, I… I’m so, so scared! I’m a stupid scaredy-cat, I-” she began to ramble, but he shook his head, his heart twisting into itself at hearing the sheer horror in her voice.
He had to distract her, somehow.
“How about you sing something?” he asked, out of the blue. She loved singing, even took classes, and anything would be helpful right now.
“S-sing? What, could I sing?” she asked, easing up on her grip, if only to use one wrist to wipe her runny nose.
“How about… that song you were practicing with mom yesterday? You know, that really old song about a bottle and stuff.” He’d barely listened to them, having preferred to focus on his video games – he really wasn’t into that old kind of music, at all, particularly when it was in a language he didn’t care for, but this wasn’t about him.
“Ok…” she replied, sounding dubious about what sense it made right now. Yet, she cleared her throat, and began to sing – it never took much to get her to sing.
At the same time, he took off, barely restraining himself from going all-in all at once – instead, he remembered his track teacher’s words, to work up to his top speed when he needed to run for a while.
“Freude, schöner Götterfunken, Tochter aus Elysium,” Kizzy began to sing, her voice far steadier than it had been since this nightmare had started, soft and sweet right beside his ear; she was almost whispering, a performance just for him to hear.
He ran straight onto the center of the street, where there were the fewest petals visible, and turned right, putting where he thought that monster was right behind him.
“Wir betreten feuertrunken, Himmlische, dein Heiligtum!” Her voice picked up, as she got into the song, seemingly forgetting the now.
She usually did that, once she started to sing.
His feet pounded the concrete, his eyes held wide open, looking out for the slightest hint of a petal in his way, even as his surroundings kept growing darker. With how sharp these things were, if he so much as brushed one, he was going to slice himself and Kizzy to pieces before he even noticed something was wrong.
“Deine Zauber binden wieder was die Mode streng geteilt; alle Menschen werden Brüder, wo dein sanfter Flügel weilt.”
Mom, if we all make it out of this, I swear I’ll try to learn a little more about Germany, he thought, tears in his eyes, though those might have been due to him not daring to blink while running through this forest of razor-sharp death. I’ll even make an effort to talk to Gramps.
He’d never even been to Germany, but his mother had been born there, grown up until her father had packed up what little they owned and all but fled the German States, first to Britain, then across the pond. She’d always encouraged him and Kizzy to connect with that part of their heritage, but he hadn’t wanted anything to do with it since he’d been eight.
“Wem der große Wurf gelungen, eines Freundes Freund zu sein; wer ein holdes Weib errungen, mische seinen Jubel ein!”
His mother loved this song, even though it’d been Weisswald’s favourite, and his anthem besides. You couldn’t sing it, or even play the lyrics, anywhere in Europe, and not get lynched.
Whenever he’d brought that up, his mother would just say that Weisswald had liked to breathe, too, and no one was condemning that.
“Ja, wer auch nur eine Seele, sein nennt auf dem Erdenrund!”
The encroaching darkness suddenly shifted, spots of light appearing, radiating out from a single point far behind him, and slightly to the left. Like flashlight beams, only much more focused, creating spots of yellow-white light on the surroundings.
Some of the beams of light shone right through his and Kizzy’s bodies, as if they weren’t even there, illuminating the ground ahead of them as he ran.
The hell! This can’t be good!
He jumped to the side, into beam-free area, just as the beams suddenly became so bright they seemed solid, yet without blinding, as if the light had hardened rather than intensified.
Then they turned back to just light, and started to shift around, like the lights from a disco ball being turned.
Wherever the lights had hardened, they’d cut right through whatever had been in the way between them and the ground, though without damaging the ground itself.
Kizzy’s singing was briefly drowned out, as several buildings around them collapsed.
He ran faster. The drills they did at school every few months said that her attacks often came in waves, starting out… not weak, because there was nothing truly weak about her, but less powerful, and built up over time, becoming more powerful with each successive wave.
If the heroes and villains… no, right now, they were all heroes, if the heroes didn’t force her to change her powers, the next attack would cover even more ground, or penetrate deeper, or set fires in the aftermath, or be better in some other way he couldn’t even think of.
His feet hit the concrete, getting into a steady rhythm again. He wanted nothing more than to just go all out, to run as fast and as hard as he could, but he had no idea how long he’d have to run, so he had to pace himself.
“Und wer’s nie gekonnt, der stehle, weinend, sich aus diesem Bund!” Kizzy picked her song back up, though she was off-key, choking back tears.
“Keep your eyes closed!” he told her, hoping to God she hadn’t caught a glimpse of the carnage they were rushing past.
He was doing what he could not to notice it, either – the people who’d survived the petals, most of them had been cut down by the solid beams. There were bodies littering the street and the front yards.
His feet splashed as he passed a section of road positively flooded with blood flowing from a school bus that’d somehow escaped crinkling out into petals, but had not escaped being turned into swiss cheese by the solid beams.
Some of the bodies within were visible. Some hung out a window, or were pressed against the glass.
None of them was older than Kizzy.
Jared wanted to stop, he wanted, more than anything, to go in there, as much as he didn’t want to get close to that carnage, see if there were survivors, wounded or not… the thought of leaving a boy or girl of Kizzy’s age behind to die, it twisted him up inside like nothing else.
He’d want someone else to do so for Kizzy, too, if he wasn’t there.
But there was no time. If he stopped, if he went into as tight a confinement as that bus, there would be no dodging the next wave of solid light.
No time to dodge, no time to help.
How many big brothers had lost their little sisters, just in that bus?
His feet hit dry concrete again, leaving bloody footprints the shape of his sneaker’s soles behind.
He left the bus behind, and in that moment, Jared had never hated anything or anyone near as much as he now hated that monster.
Jared stepped up to the rim of the crater, crunching gravel under his white boots. He was exhausted, in body and mind, so much so his legs were trembling to hold up his body, but he could not bring himself to care.
He had to see this.
Below, Mindstar was staggering around, arms and shoulders slack, her head lolling around as her eyes refused to focus on anything, shedding streams of tears to accompany her incessant babbling, completely oblivious to the blood she was stepping around in, the bits of flesh and other parts she occasionally stepped on, or the blood-soaked, golden hair that filled more of the crater than the blood and the flesh combined did.
His eyes moved past her, seeking for something of the monster to focus on. Her lower body was mostly intact, and nude as ever, but that was not what he wanted to look at.
Instead, he found an eye, with a bit of messy, torn nerve and blood vessels attached to the back, having fallen so that it seemed to stare almost directly at him.
With its powers gone, the iris was purple, the only similarity to the princess being how deep, almost gem-like, the color was. Like looking straight at a circular…
What was the word? Something fancy, with an A… Amethyst. That’s the word.
Looking straight at an amethyst, where the princess’ eyes were more akin to sapphires. Beautiful, objectively, he, his very core, it refused to ascribe anything of true beauty to this monster.
Not even now, not in death.
The princess is going to be heartbroken.
The thought came unbidden, unwanted. He shouldn’t care about that, and yet…
He had a sibling, too. Though comparing Kizzy to the monster was ridiculous, or his relationship to her to the princess’ and the monster’s, he couldn’t hate the princess for feeling that way, not really.
He did hate everyone else who’d tried to defend the monster. And there were many. Imbeciles and ingrates who said it was just a victim of its own powers. Innocent, for its ignorance. That they’d regret the necessity of its death, if it could not be saved.
Jared would have spat out on its remains, if his mouth wasn’t dry as sandpaper. He’d run out of water six hours ago, as he’d been running himself ragged getting others into safety. Spending nearly all of the time he’d accumulated, leaving him with only seconds, which were now recharging, second by second, like grains of sand trickling into an empty hour glass.
This is good. As good as I could have hoped for.
To Hell with the people feeling sympathetic for it.
He had held Kizzy as she’d fallen apart at the news that their parents hadn’t made it.
He had held her hand when they’d buried the empty caskets of their parents, and what little had been found of their cantankerous, snarky, cuddly old fool of a grandfather.
No family left. No friends. No home. The entire southern side of Miami was gone, the people who’d lived there almost all dead.
Only Jared, Kizzy, and the powers he’d manifested, gathering up seconds to spend. Powers that he’d leveraged into building a new life for the two of them, with the right kind of foster family, with money and prestige.
None of it was enough to fill the holes left in their hearts, but it was a start.
He stared at that eye, feeling the black, tar-like weight of his hatred in his chest, his stomach, his head, coursing through his veins.
Fuck it. Fuck you, DiL. May you fucking rot in Hell, you fucking monster. I hope this hurt even worse than it looked, and I hope someone made a recording of it, so I can watch it every night before bed.
Maybe if he did that, he’d finally be able to sleep without having nightmares of her.