Mitchel was gone. The monster who had butchered my orphanage had been right in front of me, and I hadn’t been able to do anything.
I ran to the edge of the roof, hesitated for the barest of moments, and jumped off, ignoring the surprised cries of my friends.
My reservoir was replenished now, and I still had my armor on. I might not have a lot of practice flying, but I still remembered that time Akane threw me out the window. Slowing my fall wasn’t difficult.
I went off running the second my feet hit the ground. I didn’t really have any idea where they were, but I did have a vague direction to go on.
The secondary aspect of my ability, the sensing, wasn’t really useful most of the time, but I had felt something when they disappeared a few minutes ago. I had been practicing with it a bit more, so my range was vastly improved, but detail was not. It was just a tug on my perceptions, to the north.
Maybe they had gone that way. Maybe they hadn’t. But it was better than sitting in my room for the next few hours, wishing I could have grabbed Mitchel.
So I ran north as fast as I could, doing my best to ignore the little voice in my head saying I was going the wrong way.
And I was going the wrong way. I had to be. We were directly south of NHQ—the only thing to the north was Butler’s fortress. There was no way Elizabeth’s base was there. Sure, it was common for the villain to be closer than anyone expected, but come on, it was Necessarius. They didn’t let people camp out under their noses.
My phone rang. I reached into my pocket and silenced it without looking. I knew who would be calling.
Akane would be after me soon, I knew, but I didn’t have the breath to spare to answer the phone and explain myself. I guess I should have asked her to come with me before jumping off the roof, or…I don’t know, I should have done something.
But then I felt something at the edge of my senses, and my train of thought came to a screeching halt.
It’s…hard to describe running around with my…earth-sense turned up as far as it will go. Sort of like the entire city was covered in thick, dense fog. What good is having the ability to sense everything around you when you can’t tell the difference between a tree and a person?
Unless the thing you’re sensing is in the air.
There was a big blob of solid matter, too big to be a bird, maybe a hundred feet ahead of me, landing on the roof of a building. It couldn’t be Robyn Joan, either, since she would be behind me. And considering what Akane had said about her refusal to put herself in danger, I doubted she would be after me anyway.
My first instinct was just to grab my armor and levitate to the roof as fast as I could, but that be suicide. I was getting better at fighting…and killing, but I couldn’t handle Elizabeth, let alone Mitchel and that demon, all at the same time. Not to mention I couldn’t tell if they had already met up with others yet or not.
I’d have to be subtle about this. Sneaky. I could be subtle, if I had to. I mean, I had never found a reason to try, but I was sure I’d be able to pull it off. I wasn’t like Akane, burning down half the buildings I walked into.
After taking a quick glance around to make sure no one was watching, I used a levitation-assisted jump to land on the fire escape, five floors up. It rattled a bit, but not too much; I still had the element of surprise.
Still, I made the effort to creep up the next ten floors as slowly and quietly as I could, using what little reserves of patience to keep from screaming aloud and just running up the fire escape.
It took almost half an hour to go a distance that could have been done in under five minutes, but finally, I reached the roof. Clinging to the ladder, I poked my head over the balcony…
There was no one there.
No one at all.
Velvet—I mean, by Tezuka’s name, I had taken too long. I vaulted onto the roof, then immediately sat down cross-legged and closed my eyes.
I extended my senses as far as they could go, but no luck. I felt a few things moving around in the building below me, but they probably weren’t Mitchel and the others. There was nothing in the air, as far as I could tell, and whatever subtle clue that had led me in this direction in the first place was gone.
I screamed in fury and smashed my fist against the roof, barely noticing the resultant crater.
He had been in my sights. Less than a hundred feet away, and I let him go because I was too cautious. Fortune favors the bold! I knew that. That was my guiding principle in soccer, why had it failed me now? Was it just because I hadn’t been playing recently, so I had fallen out of practice?
Or was it because I was afraid of killing someone?
Because I would have killed him. I knew that. He was down a hand, weakened by loss of blood, and I would have had the element of surprise. It would have been my best chance.
But I didn’t want to kill anyone. Heroes don’t kill people.
Derek kills people, a small part of my mind whispered.
I didn’t have an answer for myself.
I broke down crying.
I sniffled, and turned to see Adam clambering onto the roof.
“What are you doing here?” He was the last one I expected to come after me. Well, after Laura.
“Akane and Robyn got into an argument about that one Blackguard’s hand,” he explained. “So Laura sent me instead.” He looked a little annoyed, though I couldn’t tell if it was because he was being ordered around or because it took so long to find me. “Have you been crying up here this whole time?”
I wiped my nose. “No, I just…” I sniffed again. “I thought I had him, and I didn’t.”
The plain-faced man raised an eyebrow. “And that made you start crying?”
I rolled my eyes and looked away. “You wouldn’t understand.”
To my surprise, he sat down next to me. “I don’t know, I might. You grew up with this guy, right? And now you feel like he betrayed you?” When I opened my mouth to object, he held up a hand. “Sorry, he did betray you. Is that about it?”
I pulled my legs closer to my body. “There’s a bit more, but yeah. I’ve never been so angry at anyone before.”
He leaned back. “I have a cousin—three, actually, but this is the one my age—and we used to be really close. Thick as thieves, my mom used to say.”
I didn’t interrupt, even though that wasn’t really anything like my relationship with Mitchel. Let him have his rant.
“When we were fifteen, he…” Adam paused. “Well, the details aren’t important. Let’s just say that I think it’s a good thing I wasn’t as well-armed then as I am now.”
That made me smile, just a tiny bit.
“My point is, I understand being betrayed by someone you trusted—” when I opened my mouth to object, he quieted me with a raised hand again. “—even if all you trusted was for them to be too cowardly to betray you.”
Okay, yeah, that described my relationship with Mitchel pretty well.
“But one thing I don’t understand is the crying. Betrayal, in my experience, leads to anger. And that’s what you’ve been doing ever since you found out he burned down your orphanage. Stomping your feet, grinding your teeth, swearing revenge and so on. Seemed healthy and normal, to me.”
He put his hand on my shoulder, and I looked up to see him with a serious expression on his face.
“I…” I closed my eyes and looked away. “You wouldn’t understand.”
He sighed. “Yeah, well, maybe not, but there’s no way I’ll understand if you don’t tell me.”
I fidgeted a little. “I don’t want to kill him.”
“It’s not about Mitchel,” I corrected myself. “I don’t want to kill anyone. I’ve never had to kill another human being, and I kinda want to keep it that way.”
“The screamers don’t count?”
“No! I mean…” I sighed. “I don’t know. I don’t think so, but I’m not sure.”
“Ah…” he said. “That’s why you’ve been asking about the conditions of the captured screamers, suggesting non-lethal ways of getting rid of them, all that. You’re worried they might be people.”
“I’ll admit, I can’t really empathize with you. Whether by choice or not, the screamers—and the renegades—are the bad guys. We have to be willing to kill them.”
“I know,” I whispered.
“The Blackguards at least seem simple enough. Most of them are clearly enjoying themselves. I wouldn’t spare too much thought over them.”
I winced. “You still don’t get it. It’s not whether these guys, specifically deserve to die, it’s whether or not that gives me the right to kill them.” I sniffled, and brushed my hair out of my eyes. “Tezuka’s broken pen, never mind. I’m in the wrong city to be asking questions like this.”
He put his arm around my shoulders. I didn’t look up. The last time a boy had done that to me, I had looked into his eyes and…things had led places I did not want to go with Adam.
Thankfully, that wasn’t what he had in mind. “Ling, do you know what a pacifist is?”
I frowned, trying to remember. “I’m—I think so. That was some anti-war political party in America?”
He smiled. “Close enough. I can’t really help you out with this. But I think talking to our city’s resident pacifist will be a step in the right direction.”
I wiped my nose. “Whatever. Worth a shot.”
Behind the Scenes (scene 168)
I always have trouble writing from Ling’s perspective. I’m not sure why. Still, I think this came out well.