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Chapter 16

King’s tower.

It wasn’t his building, but there were few other residents. I was riding an elevator on my way up to his penthouse. I couldn’t stop fidgeting and adjusting my gloves. There were no expectations other than the likelihood of everything going against me. I prepared myself for the worst.

When those double doors opened, I jumped out like a wild animal from a bush. With my back tall and hands ready to fight, there was something in me.

“King, you have your distraction, go be diabolical, but give me my friend,” I called out as I entered the weapons room I remembered being held captive in before.

“King,” I called out again to no avail.

He wasn’t there. He should have been waiting for me. Hell, I expected some kind of trap. The longer I stood with my fists up, the more I felt stupid.

“King!” I yelled once more before sighing and lowering my guard.

I had to look for him. I had to look for an evil genius in his own home.

It was a long search, so long I almost forgot there were life or death stakes on the line. With more than a dozen rooms connected by convoluted hallways and unmarked doors, I crept around what might have been a maze. Every room was cold. I felt that familiar feeling of ice down my spine, in my breath, and the locking of my motor skills. I had to give it to King, though; he had a consistent style. His “royal robotic” aesthetic prevailed from his lavish bedroom to what I assumed was a torture chamber. Still, I searched.

Was I in the right penthouse?

Scratching my head, I was stumped until I looked out a window and noticed something flying my way. At a distance, it looked like a bird, but as it grew closer, I knew what it was. I jumped to get out of the way of an impending crash, but there was no need. Suddenly, that same window opened just before King, inside his mechanical suit of armor, flew inside. I was knocked back by the sudden gusts of wind, but I quickly picked myself up.

I didn’t have enough patience for funhouse madness.

King turned off his armor and popped the back open to climb out. I don’t think he noticed me until he was done parking his car. With a theatrical turn and flip of his cape, he finally faced me, and his eyebrows went up.

“Twig, how nice of you to join me,” he said with glee.

He must have already stolen whatever he needed. It was all the more reason why Cloud should have been handed over on a silver platter. I tried to go back a half-hour to when I first made my entrance.

“King, you have your distraction,” I started to say until the metal menace cut me off.

“Yes, Yes, and you went above and beyond expectations,” King cheered while walking past me.

His stride was fierce as if he meant to run, but I followed him down a corridor.

“Where is he?”

“Who?” King answered as if he forgot our deal, and the entire reason I agreed to help him.

“My friend, Cloud, where is he?”

We entered a room I’d yet to venture inside. I’m not sure how I missed it. I checked out every square inch of the penthouse, so I found it hard to believe I missed the last door at the end of the only straight hall. Inside was a work station with a sort of stage set up with extra lights and balloons.

It was meant to look like an event, a going-away party. On the stage appeared to be the technology King must have been working on. It was a ring made of various metals and cords. I couldn’t begin to understand what lunacy stood before me, but it was well constructed, symmetrical, and conjured my attention.

“Your compatriot is there,” King said as he continued to walk.

He never broke his stride, but he pointed to a canister lying on the floor in the corner of the room. It was like an afterthought, the way he gave me my reward for setting some of the worst people ever free from Section 2.

I could see inside there was gas, but it could have just as easily been knockout gas. Still, I quickly retrieved the canister.

“You’re just giving him to me, no fight, no nothing,” I said with much disbelief.

I expected a fight. I fought for so long how could the finish line be unprotected?

“A deal is a deal,” he said with his back to me while he went to work on his way home.

No one ever respected me, but at that moment, I don’t think I cared. I still remembered our conversation. King offered to send me home if I helped him, but I had what I came for. I had “who” I came for. How could it be so easy? How could it be so simple?

All I had to do was walk away. It would have been smart to walk away. But I didn’t. I couldn’t.

Cloud was safe. My only friend in the world, or any other, had been rescued. Why wasn’t that enough? King was a Murderer. He killed people. But I killed people. I got people killed.

At least he did it to get home. Or so he claimed. If it were the truth, it was a truth I could believe. I lived in Mock City, and it was a terrible place. It was a cruel place. I saw it’s worst parts. I saw its heroes who should have been shining examples of justice but might have been no better than the people they put away.

I saw life die, and no one flinched. No one balked at the loss of life. I learned not to either. Not in Section 2 or the rest of the city. Everyone was in it for themselves, trying to survive. So I could understand wanting to leave. I could understand doing everything to return to a better place.

I could understand King.

That’s why I didn’t move. I didn’t take a single step for at least a minute after I got what I came for. Cloud wasn’t all that I came for. I wanted a choice, because frankly, who could stand living in a place like Mock City? Who could wake up every morning and smile in a place like that? Who could like, who could love that city enough to stay when there was a way out? Regardless of whether or not King was a bad guy, who could love Mock City enough to stay?

Love needs a reason.

If we’re lucky, we have more than one. Either way, we get to choose what our reasons are. We have to decide if those reasons are good enough, secure enough, safe enough to stay. More often than not, I had to question whether my reasons were good enough.

I didn’t love Mock City...but I wanted to.

If I left, everyone else might have been shit out of luck. Between heroes who killed just as much as the bad guys, and bad guys who killed for fun, who could people turn to? If I left, I couldn’t stop someone else from growing up on those streets the same way I did. If I left, there would be no one so sick, tired, and hurt by Mock City to want to make a change rather than escape.

Was that my reason? I wanted to make things better. The thought felt crazy, but love was rarely a rational creature.

I wanted things to be better. I wanted to live in a place I could be happy. I wanted to stop people from surviving, so maybe they could start living. Were those good enough reasons? No relationship was comfortable forever, but there had to be peaks to break up the valleys. Maybe a one-sided relationship had the potential to be great. I didn’t love Mock City for what it was, but for what it could be and what I never wanted it to be to anyone else. Anyone else like Cloud, who I held in my hands.

Was it an easy decision? No. But I was given one, and I had the strength to walk away. It felt good to know I finally made a choice. I finally had power, and I did something with it.

I was going to do something with it.

King wasn’t about to stop me. He was going to have everything he worked for. There was no need for sneaking around. I casually walked to the door. Unfortunately, just before I left the room, something stopped me.

Of course, it wasn’t that easy. It was never that easy.

There was a sound loud enough to rattle King. We both froze. Before either of us had a chance to move, a hole was blown through a wall. Brick and metal flew like sheets of paper.

King’s machine was destroyed.

Through the smoke, I watched as silhouettes came through the debris. When the dust cleared, I saw who it was. Scarlett, Hatch, and Kid Ninja. They found King. Or more accurately, they found me. King was all sorts of bad news, but I let some of the worst criminals Mock City ever had walk free. Not two seconds earlier, I decided to stick around to help the city, but there were its original heroes ready to put an end to my plans.

If I was going to stay, there was much I had to make up for. There were battles to be fought and hopefully won.

-To Be Continued-

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