Hint 39. You Are Strong Enough
The streets are empty as we tramp along the ruined tarmac. Our four person super squad strides ahead, Ripley at our side and an entire army of navy-clad policemen at our back. I scan the shadows in the cracked windows with open caution but the fear is dampened by the strengthening power of the mask on my face and the companions at my back. Jack Docklen must be stopped, no matter what the cost. I know this because it was a realisation I came to myself. After everything, after all the times I forgave him, I finally believe it wholeheartedly.
“He’s here,” Shark breathes at my side.
I swallow, attempting to steel myself for what must be done, and at Shark’s other shoulder, The Lady’s knuckles slowly begin to turn white on the hilt of her blade.
“You gave up on me.”
Jack’s words aren’t an accusation as he drifts into view. They’re oddly musing, as though he can’t believe we finally arrived at this point, as though he can’t believe he eventually managed to break me.
“You became something I couldn’t save,” I breathe, words so light they almost don’t exist.
Jack hears them anyway, brow darkening immediately.
“You sold me out,” he spits.
“What else did you expect me to do?”
There’s something about him now, a physical manifestation of the power that bubbles through his veins. He almost seems to glow and, as I look closer, I realise his feet are hovering just half an inch from the ground, as though the earth itself couldn’t bear to touch him.
Jack steps forwards, hands thrust casually into his pockets, and peers curiously between our shoulders.
“You brought all your little friends,” he says. “How sweet. Was that your idea or his?” Jack’s eyes turn hard, flicking onto Shark. “I’m guessing it’s his. He’s the one that doesn’t mind sacrificing pawns.”
“I’m not going to rise to your bait, Jack,” Shark says.
Jack just shrugs. “Don’t need you to,” he replies. “I’m going to kill you anyway… or you’re going to kill me. She certainly seems to think that’s the way it’s going. Look at her.” He waves a dismissive hand over The Lady. “She’s replaced me already.”
“That’s definitely the way it’s going,” The Lady growls.
Jack ignores her, sauntering up to Alex.
“So who is he?” He asks, staring at Alex’s face as though the power of his scrutiny could simply peel away the material of his mask.
Slowly, Alex smiles, rocking back onto his heels. “I’ll give you three guesses, Docklen,” he says.
Jack grins. “The housemate,” he breathes, “oh how quaint. Yes, you always were so desperate to hurt me. That’s nice. They gave you an outfit and a mask and now you think you might actually manage it. Don’t get in my way, Higgs. I will happily kill you too.”
“Are we quite finished with the pleasantries?” Ripley growls. I notice that, in a very un-Ripley-like display of restraint, he hasn’t mentioned anything about all this talk of killing.
“Not quite, old man,” Jack says. He turns back to Shark, standing directly opposite us, anchoring himself in the centre of the roadway, one foot either side of the dotted white line. There’s nothing behind him but empty street, a stretch of open road so long it disappears behind the curvature of the earth. There’s more at my back, a whole host of readied companions, but just for a second I look at him and I feel alone.
“So tell me,” he asks, “what does our surrogate father think of all this? Did he give you the go ahead? Put down my rabid son, Shark, he can’t be contained.”
Shark doesn’t say anything. He continues to stand, stance wide, arms folded, eyes hard. Nothing appears to change in him but, still, there’s some small flicker of movement, a softening of his gaze, a break in his concentration, and Jack catches it.
“Ah,” Jack says, face twisting up with an air of victory. “He doesn’t know. Of course he doesn’t. Do you think he’d ever be able to forgive us? If you win, will he speak to you again? He was always so desperate for us to play nice, it seems such a shame to break his heart.”
“There’s an easy solution to that one,” The Lady spits, stepping forwards slightly. Jack eyes her cautiously. “He was never a father to me, I couldn’t care less about his precious sentimentality.”
Maya, Shark’s voice crackles through my brain, insistent. It was never my plan to endanger innocents in this but it was the only way I could persuade your Chief of Police to aide us. If I can get hold of Jack, will you be able to take us somewhere far away, somewhere where we can finish this without anyone getting hurt?
I’m shaking my head before Shark has even finished the words. I can only take three people at once. There’s too many and I’m not leaving anyone alone with Jack. I can’t afford to make two journeys, anything might happen.
You can do it, Maya. I believe in you.
It’s too many people. I’ll get confused, mix them up the wrong way round. It’s suicide.
Let me help you, I can hold the people together in your mind. I’ve done it before, remember. I can trigger your power.
Shark rolls his shoulders back, preparing himself for movement. I don’t say anything.
We can do it, he says, trust me.
Jack’s laughing. The Lady glares at him, teeth gritted, and I can see her fingers hovering desperately over a knife on her thigh. Jack hasn’t missed the movement, there’s an awareness that rolls through his eyes, a certain tensing of his muscles. “You have,” he says, “quite forgotten about your own precious sentimentality. Can you kill me when you love me?”
“I haven’t loved you since I was eighteen. Our memories are ash.”
“A lovely metaphor, no doubt,” Jack says, “but somewhat in juxtaposition to what you felt a fortnight ago. I never realised the trick to opening your steely heart was to try and drive a bullet through your brother’s brain. If I do a better job of it this time, will you fuck me again?”
“You slept with him?” The words are bursting from my lips before I can stop them.
“I did what I had to do to calm him down,” The Lady growls. For a second her face is a storm, a callous mask of fury, emotion so strong it burns, but then her hand is falling away from the knife at her thigh and the smile is curling out across her lips. “I did what I had to do and I said what I had to say. Every word of that night was a lie and you fell for it, Jack. It was pitiful.”
It happens immediately, the hazy ceasefire shattering into a thousand tiny shards. Jack’s eyes glaze over as he allows his power to consume him. The Lady’s already moving. She clenches her knife in a white knuckled grip, blade pointing backwards from her fist. It’s a solid hold but graceless. She has to pull her arm fully across her body before she attempts to plunge it into his neck.
Shark’s tugging on my hand, racing forwards before anyone who doesn't deserve to be here gets caught in the crossfire. He darts under her flailing limbs, one hand landing on Jack’s forearm, the other latching securely around her wrist. I move without thinking, grabbing hold of Alex and tugging him with me. I allow my palm to fall to Shark’s shoulder. It lands with all the gravitas of fate and I make us disappear.
Jack’s power fights with me every step of the way. I can feel it coiling along the linked chain of our combined limbs. It makes the process a slow one, giving me more than enough time to watch the furious disappointment as it clouds Ripley’s features. I leave him there, abandoned with the rest of his men, taking this fight to places he’ll never be able to follow.
Jack’s so strong I buckle beneath his will. Even though I can feel Shark there, always at my back, holding everyone together, it’s taking up too much of my concentration. We curl through the emptiness between places like blossom in the breeze and eventually I give in. I stop planning where we’re going, focus fully on guiding the dancing, drifting parts of myself, and let Jack’s power pick the destination.
He doesn’t even falter as he lands. The Lady’s not far behind. She rips herself free of Shark’s grip, throwing herself at Jack with all the force of a toppling tree. He bends beneath her flashing blades, a savage grin spreading out across his features.
I can’t watch any longer. The strain on my power was too much after such a long period without it. My legs feel like jelly, my mouth filling with saliva, and I fold forwards, emptying the contents of my stomach to the floor.
Alex’s hand finds its way to my back, a comforting pressure as I straighten and take in my surroundings. Jack and The Lady have increased the distance between us, just two small dots of whirling humanity. Somehow he’s mirroring her, a matching knife in each palm.
“How did we get back here?” Alex breathes and I look away from the pristine stately gardens before us, turning back to look at the familiar mansion at my back.
“Don’t know,” I say. “I had to let Jack steer.”
“And I steered Jack,” Shark murmurs. He’s watching Jack with an avid intensity, calculating. Eventually he seems to come to a decision, turning back Alex with finality. “How fast are you now?” He asks.
Alex shrugs. “Fast,” he says.
Shark seems to accept this answer, drawing his pistol from the holster at his side and forcing it into Alex’s palm. “Can you shoot him from here? He asks. “Can you shoot him and not shoot her?”
As Alex thinks about it, I want to tell them both to stop being so stupid. But before I’ve even had the chance, Alex is nodding slowly. “Think I could manage that,” he says.
He resets his grip on the pistol, pulling it up with two hands, and sighs out a single smooth breath. For a second my heart stops. I can almost see the bullet as it makes its way towards The Lady. In my head she dies a hundred terrible ways before, in the real world, she curls her body, drawing back from a vicious swipe and the bullet passes just an inch in front of her stomach and hits Jack in the arm.
I can feel the tightening in my chest as his power swells upwards. For a second his skin resists and then it ripples out, his whole arm ballooning, warping and pulling back together. The bullet travels straight through and his bone knits itself back into shape.
At my side, Alex is grinning.
“Yes,” he says.
“Did you know she was going to move?” I ask.
“Yeah but I think it’s a bit different to last time,” he says.
“So I guess you got your power back.”
He shakes his head like a wet dog, as though he’s trying to get something to settle back into place.
“Sorry,” he says, “I think I’m running ten seconds ahead.”
“What’s happening?” I ask.
My eyes narrow and he smirks.
“We’re all cool,” he says. “I let you catch up.”
I turn, surprised to find Shark’s already gone, sprinting across the lawns. Alex’s stunt with the pistol seems to have done nothing more than push Jack further over the edge. His bicep twitches, raw power crawling beneath his skin. The sight sickens me but I don’t have time to dwell on it. He swipes a palm through the air and though he isn’t even close to touching her The Lady stumbles backwards, slipping to the floor.
Jack turns his attention back to Shark. His palms hit the ground with enough force that he leaves handprints in the turf and the whole earth begins to shake. He rips the garden in two, rocks skittering down into the deep chasm.
Shark pulls himself skyward, barely seeming to even notice the destruction that daggers out beneath him. I grab Alex before it can reach us, flicking forward the length of the lawn to reappear at The Lady’s side. I step back as Jack turns to the three of us, chest heaving, and Alex stretches out a hand, pulling The Lady to her feet.
It seems to be a seamless decision on their part. Perhaps Alex is running ten seconds ahead again or perhaps they just think the same, but he pulls her back to standing, takes a step to the side, and they both draw their swords in perfect synchronicity.
Jack sneers. “Don’t be ridiculous.”
“Doesn’t matter what it looks like it looks like if I can get it through your throat,” The Lady spits.
“Anna, calm down,” Shark breathes. “You’ll change if you don’t stay in control.”
He drops from the air, landing softly at my side, but she isn’t listening. They’re moving already, closing the space between them, and this time Alex is as much a part of the dance as she is. The Lady rolls the blade around her wrist, wincing slightly as it pulls at her bandaged side, and brings it high above her head.
The breeze almost seems to split as her weapon falls. Jack watches it with mild detachment. I’ve never seen something so deadly in my entire life but he doesn’t even move. At the last minute, he reaches his right hand high. She screams in frustration, a painful animal sound, and her momentum jars to a sudden halt, blade suspended in midair. Jack swipes his other arm to the side, deflecting Alex without thought, and turns back to face her. He smirks and brings his hand down. It’s a leisurely movement, as though he’s languishing in it, forcing her blade to the side with nothing more than his mind.
“Fine,” he says. “If you want to play pretend like children, then we’ll play pretend.” He sways like he’s holding a matching blade and the air hums with the pace of his movement.
They circle warily, the three of them. It wouldn’t be wise to intervene and Shark glowers at my side.
“You can’t win this, Jack,” he growls.
“Stop trying to distract me.”
“You should have stayed hidden,” Shark says. He’s smiling but it’s a grim expression, too tight to denote real pleasure. “You should have known it was always going to end this way. The whole policeman thing was just a fantasy.”
Jack snarls, a base carnal sound, and the hairs on the back of my neck ripple upwards. The Lady launches forwards, Alex following her step for step, echoing so smoothly I’d almost imagine they were tied together with tiny pieces of floating silk. They dance across the damaged turf, all three of them, and The Lady’s pace grows with every falling footstep. She seems to blur until I can barely see her. Alex matches the movement, slowly coming to terms with the upper boundaries of his new body and its superior capability. The ring of clashing steel echoes out across these stately gardens. Somehow Jack matches every blow. They’re moving too fast, I can’t focus on their whirling movement.
“What do we do?” I breathe.
“We wait,” Shark replies. “He’ll make a mistake eventually.”
There’s blood on the grass.
The edges of my vision turn white as I see it. It’s too much to ignore. Too much to pretend someone isn’t seriously injured. They’re moving too quickly for me to gain any indication of the owner. It could be any of the three of them.
At my side Shark fidgets, powerless and impatient, until eventually the whirling mass before us begins to slow. They pull apart, all combatants struggling, and The Lady slips to one knee. The bandaging on her upper arm is soaked in crimson, wounds reopened, and the blood trickles in tiny streams all the way down her arm until it collects at the centre of her palm, thick droplets falling from the tips of her fingers.
Alex doesn’t look much better. He clutches at a deep gash on his right thigh and his skin looks waxy, as though he’s still not quite recovered from his night of agony. He stares across Jack, who pants between them, and I watch his eyes flick over Anna with growing concern.
“We can’t just leave them there,” I say.
Shark nods, a small terse movement, and his hand wraps around my arm. We’re running before I know what’s happening. Halfway across the lawn, he skids to a sudden halt, pulling me round to face him.
“Get me there now,” he demands.
There’s no hesitation as my power responds to his voice but, in the end, I think he was the one that was too slow, he was the one that thought we’d make it in time. I don’t hear what Jack says that pushes her over the edge, we arrive when it’s already done.
My blood turns to ice, the standard symptom of her change. It seems worse than usual, amplified by whatever poison it is that rolls out from Jack’s shoulders. I want to curl up into a ball. I want to hug my knees to my chest and tremble.
With a sound that’s worrying close to the snap of wet bedding in a sharp wind, she changes. Jack isn’t ready and she switches so fast. Her jaws are clamping round his throat before he can move and, just for a second, his eyes clear of their madness, shining in terror.
The screaming starts in my head but it isn’t long before it reaches the real world. I don’t know whose voice it is, perhaps it’s my own, perhaps it’s nothing more than the tortured wind.
Jack’s power burns, twisting the clear air like a desert mirage. My limbs don’t belong to me. I’m walking forward but I never chose to do so. Jack’s hands curl up in her fur and her eyes roll back. I can smell burning flesh and the sensitive skin on my wrist spasms. I remember what it feels like to be beneath the heat of his desperate hands.
By the time I make it to him, she’s limp. He pulls himself free and my eyes fall to the mangled flesh of his neck. He wheezes as he breathes, blood somehow managing to turn his black shirt a shade even darker.
“Maya,” he chokes. “Come here.”
I’m still walking. I don’t even want to stop. My whole head feels like fog, white and soft and empty. There are things hidden in that fog, dark terrifying memories that loom up as though there’s something I should know.
Jack reaches out his palm and I take it. There’s a second of stillness and then pain. It’s too strong to comprehend. I just allow myself to feel it, waves pulsing out across my chest, burning away the fog of my mind.
He reaches out, his hand as insubstantial as air, yet somehow much sharper, and places his fist through my chest. He takes hold of that part of me, just below my ribs, where my power lies. He finds that pulsing energy and tears it free.
Shark’s at my side as the blackness fades. My hand’s on my chest in a second but there are no holes, no blood, just a strange sullen emptiness.
“It’s gone,” I say.
“Get up,” he commands. He’s trying to be as kind as possible but there’s an urgency in his tone, a desperation I cannot defy. I pull myself to shaky feet.
Alex crouches over The Lady. She’s not moving and he looks lost, patting hesitant hands over the fur of her neck.
At my side, Shark straightens.
“Don’t come any closer,” Jack warns.
His eyes are manic, pupils so wide there’s almost no blue left. His skin is damp with sweat as he clutches at his savaged throat. The blood curls over his hand and down his arm. He’s using only his left hand, the right dangles at his side, strangely slack, as though it’s numb. I cannot help the savage pleasure at the sight of it. He put that limb through me. If it hurts him even half as much as it did me, I’ll be happy.
Jack grimaces. He takes his hand from his throat, leaving gory smears across his lifeless arm as he cradles it to his chest. His eyes flutter closed, just for the briefest of seconds. Shark takes a step forward, Jack tenses, and when his eyes flick open, they’re empty. His power explodes outwards, hitting me in the chest, an entire wave of chaotic energy, and I stagger backwards.
Too much is happening to comprehend. My heart stutters as he calls on my stolen power, the last flailing tendrils that connect me and my ability burn like ice under the pressure of his desire. I can’t fight it, it doesn’t belong to me anymore.
I expect to find myself rocketing across the world, lost forever to the nothingness of the in between, but Jack’s not interested in taking us anywhere. I can feel him latch onto anyone and everyone, pulling them close. They slowly begin to appear, shimmering into existence on the ruined lawn, and clustering together.
Shark eyes the new arrivals warily. There’s a strange vacancy to them. It manifests itself like nightmare, a listless hunger. Shark is pale, eyes darting about nervously. I wonder what they’re thinking, what they could possibly want that fills him with such fear.
You don’t want to know.
Jack’s already leaving, staggering back up towards the mansion. I expect Shark to follow, to take advantage of his sudden weakness, but he doesn’t move. He tilts his head slowly, taking in The Lady’s prone form. Alex catches his eye and stands. He still has his blade in his palm and as he passes his gaze across the mass of approaching humanity, he tightens his grip on the hilt once again.
“Maya,” Shark breathes. “You’ve got to follow Jack.”
I can’t. I ache with cold, the pressure on my chest making it almost impossible to breathe. I can’t follow him. I’ve never been able to stand up to him, not once, and now he’s something too strong to believe. He’s a god, a demon, untouchable.
“Well you think of a way to move her,” Shark snaps, “I’m the only one here in any kind of position to make them think properly. They don’t even remember what kind of creatures they are. They’ll tear her to shreds.”
“I’ll help defend her,” I say. “We can fight them off.”
“You’d take innocent lives because you’re too afraid to face the only guilty one?”
I look up at him. His gaze is steel. He doesn’t understand how broken I am. He doesn’t care.
“I love you,” he breathes. “I love you and I know you can do this.”
I turn away. His fingers brush out along my arm, lending me strength for just a second before they fall away and I’m cold once again.