“So this is it, huh?” I said, a little impressed. We were standing outside one of the fanciest-looking skyscrapers in the city. The Celestial’s lair.
“Be careful,” Envy cautioned. I ignored her.
“Little over the top, don’tcha think?” Rachel replied, hands on her hips. “I don’t remember him having this much of an ego.”
“Seriously? I can’t picture him with anything but a massive ego,” I said.
“I’m not kidding, this is dangerous,” Envy said. “Just let me help. All you need to do is touch the glass, close your eyes, and listen to me.”
Fine. I walked up to the glass doors, and reached out, pressing my fingers against them. Nothing happened, so I closed my eyes.
“What, uh, what’re doing, there?” Rachel asked.
“Not sure,” I confessed. “Give me a minute.”
“Whatever you say…”
“Good,” Envy said. “Now, envision a ripple that starts at the very centre of you. Let it grow, until it fills your entire body.”
Ripple, ripple, ripple… Ah, there it is. Feels… warm? Should it feel warm? That’s weird…
“Now, let it grow beyond you. Let it flow into the glass. Feel the glass vibrating, until the rhythm is in sync with your own.”
Sounds like some hippie bullshit… Oh! Okay, no, I can feel the glass. It’s… rectangular. Cold. What does this achieve, exactly?
“Got it? Now keep pushing. Match the rhythm. When it pushes out, push harder, until you can feel more glass.”
Push! No, missed it. Wait for it…
Push! Got it! Okay, I can feel the other door. And the windows on either side? And there’s a row of small windows, just above. I can feel all of it. Still not sure what good this does, though.
“Keep pushing. You can go further.”
Another push, and… is that the second floor? It is! And there’s a mirror inside on the first floor, too. Okay, I think I’m starting to get the hang of this.
Push! Another floor. Brilliant. And the shape of the first floor, and some of the second.
Push! Oh, it’s like a 3D map of the building. Or at least, the glass. And wait, is that… It is! Polished metal! So, anything with a reflection?
Oh, this is how Envy was moving around, before she could move in the real world. However she’s doing that.
Alright, I’ve got most of the building now. I’m still not sure what the point of this is.
“Now that you’ve got the resonance down pat, it’s time to open your eyes. Just think about it first, imagine opening your eyes, without actually doing it. Trust me on this.”
Okay… Opening my eyes…
OUCH. What the fuck am I looking at?
Without physically opening my eyes, suddenly my vision was bombarded with colour. It was like my eyes had fractured into a kaleidoscope, fragments of scenes overlapping and moving about. It was impossible to focus on anything, and already my head was beginning to ache.
“Breathe. Relax. This is normal. Your vision has been expanded. You’re looking through every clear and reflective surface in the building, all at once. It will take some getting used to.”
“Try to find something moving, and focus on that. Push everything else to the side.”
I tried to follow her advice, but it was like being in a room full of TVs, all showing different programs, and trying to focus on just one. Oh, and they all switch around what show is on what at random intervals.
Wait, right there!
Something moved, and I instinctively followed it. As soon as I did, the rest just fell into place. All of the surrounded images parted, creating space for me to focus on the movement.
Him? What the hell is he doing here?
Inexplicably, the boy from months ago, the one who’d seen me transform, was sitting in an empty office, idly tossing a ball against the wall. I could barely remember his name, but his face was familiar.
It didn’t make a lot of sense. He had nothing to do with… anything. Except that one encounter we’d had. Had the Celestial found out about that? Did he think I cared about this boy? Or was that encounter not a coincidence?
Either way, it didn’t matter. I’d found the Celestial.
He was on the fiftieth floor, with two others. One, I recognised. Miss Murder. The other, I didn’t, but I could guess. A young-looking woman, with long red hair, fair skin, freckles. Unconscious, it seemed.
The Celestial was… not what I expected. He was young, same as Miss Murder. Equally familiar. Another classmate? White, skinny, sitting. No, that was a wheelchair.
I opened my eyes. The rest of the vision faded a little, but it didn’t leave. It felt weird, but somehow manageable.
“Fiftieth floor,” I said. Rachel raised an eyebrow.
“Just like that, huh?”
“Just like that,” I said. “Got a problem with that?”
“Nope. Just insatiably curious, as always.”
“Anyway, he’s probably waiting for us. We shouldn’t be rude.”
“You first,” Rachel said, taking a small step back.
I rolled my eyes, and walked up to the glass doors. They were locked, so I decided to just smash through them. The second I did, an explosion tore through the lobby, sending my flying backwards and singeing the front of my costume.
“Motherfucker,” I growled, picking myself up off the ground. My flesh was already healing, but it stung. Rachel laughed. Worse, my weird mirror-vision was severed, and there was no glass left to try the process again with.
We walked into the ruined lobby together, certain the Celestial knew we were there, even if I couldn’t see him anymore. Well, it hardly mattered. It wasn’t like he could go anywhere.
Glass crunched underfoot as we walked. The elevator light activated, the number counting down from thirty-four. The floor that boy was on. What was his name? Qiu? Qiu.
“Looks like we’ve got company,” Rachel commented. “Got any more omniscient insight for me?”
“It’s just one person. Don’t know much more than that.”
The elevator dinged, and the doors opened. Qiu stepped out, but he looked different to before. A little bigger, a little older. Almost like he could have been his own older brother.
He’d bulked up, with toned muscles that were very much on display thanks to the tight vest which was the only top he was wearing. His hair was a little longer, and he’d learned to apply eyeliner. His thin smile oozed confidence. Inappropriate as it was, part of me was a little distracted admiring him. Or it was, until I noticed the black star tattooed on the back of his hand.
“Ladies,” he said, sizing us both up.
“Nice of you to join us,” Rachel said. “Your boss must have a lot of faith in you, sending you in alone.”
“He’s just a delaying tactic,” I said.
“I see you’re still rocking the white girl look,” he said.
“Not like I have a choice,” I muttered.
“You two know each other?” Rachel asked.
“We met once,” I said. “He saw me… change. He was different, then.”
“It’s Zoe’s blood,” Rachel said. “They must have taken some when they raided our old facility. Now that I think about it, that’s probably what they were after.”
“Why are you here?” I asked him.
“Why do you think? After we met, the Stars approached me, made me an offer. A chance to be like you. Special, you know? Make a difference. All I had to do was sign up. And, well…” He held up his hand, showing off the tattoo. “I couldn’t refuse.”
“You’re an idiot,” Rachel taunted.
“We’ll see,” he retorted.
Envy appeared again, a look of concern bordering on panic spreading across her face.
“Jump,” she said.
Too late, I processed what she meant. All across the floor, inch-high spikes emerged, puncturing the soles of my feet. I heard Rachel swear, and knew they’d got her too.
The following electrical surge shouldn’t have come as a surprise, but it did. Rachel and I were brought to our knees, all but paralysed by the current. Qiu just laughed, walking casually over to us.
“You know, he told me you’d be this arrogant, but I didn’t quite believe it,” he said, carefully extracting a long, thin blade from the back of his boot. “You really did just come barging in the front door, though. But I’m the idiot. Sure.”
I couldn’t even reply. The current had rendered me completely incapacitated. Envy had vanished.
“You’re such a waste of superpowers. Both of you. I’m honestly a little disappointed.”
He stood over me, blade pointed at my throat. In that moment, I was genuinely frightened. I hadn’t really considered myself vulnerable before, but the Celestial clearly knew how to hurt me, how to weaken me. What if he knew how to kill me?
Qiu thrust the blade forward, but it never reached my skin. Rachel’s hand wrapped around it, snapping it in half. A small amount of her blood dripped to the floor, and Qiu took a step back, clearly surprised.
“Don’t compare us, kid,” she grunted through clenched teeth. “You’re just some brat who got handed a step up on a silver platter. You’ve got a long way to go before you’re on our level.”
“Yeah, keep talking,” he snapped, throwing a punch that looked like it would have knocked her flat. Instead, she twisted and grabbed his wrist, using his momentum to slam him face-first into the spiked floor. His entire body convulsed.
“You go on ahead,” she said to me, lifting me up off the spikes. Almost immediately, I felt my body relax. She bent her knees, then hurled me across the room. I crashed through the door to the fire stairs, landing on a concrete floor that was thankfully devoid of spikes. “I’ll take care of this clown, then catch up with you!”
Just leave him, I thought bitterly. Then again, the Celestial could probably disable the electric floor, and we’d just have to deal with him again. Maybe it was better if she put him out of commission first.
I raced up the stairs, leaving her behind. On several levels, I nearly tripped over explosive traps, but Envy was running ahead, pointing them out to me. Without her, it would have taken me twice as long to get to the fiftieth floor, and a whole lot more pain.
By the time I kicked down the door to his office, I was primed and ready to beat the living daylights out of him. After everything I’d just endured to get here, I was going to make him pay. Then I was going to take Haylie, grab whatever it was that Envy needed, and track down Charlie.
Except he was gone. Somehow, almost inconceivably, he was gone, and Haylie with him. The only person left in the office was Miss Murder, apparently waiting for me, a grim look of determination plastered across her face.
“Where is he?” I snarled, knowing she wouldn’t answer.
She drew a knife.
Have it your way, bitch.
Speed was the key. I knew that. I could move faster than she could react. So long as she couldn’t predict my movements…
I dashed across the room, fingers locked into a claw shape, ready to rip her open. She was quicker than I’d anticipated, almost as if she’d know exactly what I was going to do. I felt her pop back into existence behind me, already turning, ready for the trick.
The world warped and twisted around me, and I realised she’d teleported us both. Everything was far away, and cold, and windy…
She disappeared, leaving me along in the air, fifty floors above the street. I was falling, and I had no way of knowing if I’d survive. Even if I did, it was definitely going to hurt.
A black-clad figure collided with me, the momentum carrying us both back into the side of the building. I twisted to resist, but they were surprisingly strong. They hit the building feet-first, kicking off and sending us flying in the other direction, landing crudely on the rooftop of a shorter building across the road.
As soon as we touched down, they ran, leaping off the side of the building and disappearing into the night. I was too surprised to even consider following them.
Who the fuck…
I knew that smell, though. It was familiar, even if it had changed a little. Once sweet, almost floral, now tainted with a vague hint of rot.
“Veronica?” I said aloud, to somebody who was already gone.
Next: You Should Have Joined Me When You Had The Chance