Chapter 54: Purification
MEREK raised a hand, separating more boards from the bridge, ready to bring them down on Dad. As the boards shot forward, someone slammed into Merek with waves of crackling electricity.
She no longer moved like a ninety-year-old lady. Grace and power flowed through her. She launched herself at Merek, dropping onto his chest before he had a chance to react, then pounded his face. Blue-white electricity spidered through his head with each blow. His shield couldn’t block the arcs of power.
Merek knocked the woman off and got to his feet. Unmanned rifles took flight toward Emma. But as soon as she landed another shocking blow, the weapons lost momentum and fell from the air. Just like she’d said, electricity and Telekinetics didn’t mix. Which, oddly enough, meant that the only citizen of Winter’s Edge I needed to fear was a little old lady. Well, Joseph and a little old lady. And that little old lady was Merek’s kryptonite.
Note to self—don’t piss off Emma.
Emma kicked Merek hard between the legs, releasing a strong static discharge, doubling him over. She grabbed his neck and lifted him into the air just as he’d done to her years before.
Electricity arced from everything around her, pulling into her body.
“Remember me?” Emma’s eyes screamed vengeance and madness.
Merek’s skin went pale as he realized who she was.
A bright arc of electricity traveled through Emma’s arm and exploded at Merek’s throat, launching him across the town square. He hit the stone wall and sunk to the ground, dead.
Emma fell to her knees, then over onto her side. I waited a moment, afraid I’d have to put her down if she went mad and started killing anyone in sight. But the far-too-young granny just laid still on the cold grass. She’d likely just killed herself with that last release of energy. If she were serious back in the gardens, it was what she wanted. Revenge and death.
I dropped to the ground beside my dad who lay unmoving on the grass. His eyes were open, but blood poured out of several of his wounds.
I tried to cover them. “Why save me now when you tried to kill me in Denver?” It was hard to be angry with him after what he’d just done, but I needed answers.
“I wasn’t trying to kill you, Ian.” Dad coughed, blood trickling down the side of his mouth. “I was trying to save you.”
I frowned as the pieces fell into place. “I’m sorry, Dad. I— I didn’t know.” I closed my eyes, lowering my gaze. “I thought you hated me.”
Dad shook his head awkwardly and coughed again. “I’ve never hated you, son. Why would you think that?” He’d never called me son before. Dying in my arms, he was changing into a different person. Or was he just showing me who he’d really been all along?
“But you were so hard on me.” My eyes teared up. “You kicked me out. You looked at me like I was some kind of monster the first time my powers came out.”
“I looked that way because I knew I’d brought your powers out of you,” he said. “I was ashamed of myself, not you.”
“That wasn’t your fault.” I adjusted my hands, trying to cover more of his wounds. “I shouldn’t have gotten so angry.”
“I could never get rid of my powers,” he said. “And I wasn’t able to keep yours from coming out either.” He shook his head, eyes closing. “I failed you.”
“Stay with me, Dad.” I grabbed his face and his eyes opened again. “You didn’t fail me.” I moved my hands back to his wounds as if that’d help. There was so much blood. “You couldn’t stop them from coming out.”
“And I couldn’t teach you to control them either.” Dad coughed up more blood. “Heck, I had to go to the woods and release mine from time to time, but I didn’t know what your powers were or what would happen if you released them. It might have driven you mad.”
That’s where the frozen trees had come from outside the house the day he’d kicked me out. He’d released his powers before they exploded out of him, and he’d kicked me out to protect me, to get me away from there before the Hunters found me. He’d even managed to keep his powers a secret from me and the Hunters, probably afraid they’d collar him and come for me. I couldn’t imagine how difficult it must’ve been for him all those years.
“The people here taught me how to control my powers.” I smiled but probably looked more worried than anything else. “They’re not evil. They’ve figured out how to keep from going mad.”
“That lady that saved me sure didn’t look sane.” He half-smiled, then reached a hand up to my shoulder. “I’m sorry I wasn’t a better father, Ian.” He cleared his throat and coughed again, his eyes starting to phase out.
“Stay with me.” I fought back tears, but it was useless. “I’m gonna get you out of here.”
“I’m proud of you, son.” He squeezed my shoulder and tried to manage a smile. “I love you.”
“Ask your mother about—” He grunted. More blood draining out. “...secrets.”
“What?” I looked into his eyes. “What do you mean?”
He was drifting.
“No, don’t go.”
Then something changed in his features. His breath released slowly, but he didn’t inhale again. His eyes glazed over and closed as his body went limp.
I bent forward to put my forehead to his.
My whole life had shifted in his final moments. I wasn’t a disappointment to my dad. I wasn’t some monster to him. He was a good man who’d done everything he could to save me from my powers.
Unable to deal with the emotions, I buried them deep with the others I’d forced down from the last few days. I just hoped it’d be enough to trigger my powers when I really needed them.
I got to my feet and surveyed the area. Emma’s body lay lifeless not far from me. When I looked across the park, most of the citizens were being pushed by the Hunters toward the North Passage, but their escape was blocked by more Hunters. They were being herded like cattle.
Not far away, Kat kept Rawlins busy, disappearing as he would throw a punch or fire a bullet. She’d reappear with a Hunter in hand and throw him at Rawlins.
Something was off about the way Rawlins fought. He wasn’t using his powers. He was saving them for a devastating blow at the end of the battle.
We’d been trained not to use our powers unless absolutely necessary. Pacing was important, but we wouldn’t last long with all of these Hunters. Having witnessed Rawlins’ powers, I could only imagine how brutal his attack would be when he began fighting full force.
On the front lines, Joseph punched a Hunter with an electric shock that sent him flying through the air, seizing. He was cutting a path to Rawlins.
Joseph cleared the last Hunter from his path and leapt for Rawlins. Rawlins threw up a hand at him. Joseph lifted into the air, suspended as if in zero gravity. His magnetic poles had been shifted to counteract gravity. It was one of the coolest things I’d ever seen…and it scared me to death.
Rawlins hung him above some of the other citizens, facing up, ensuring he wouldn’t try to use his power haphazardly. Joseph kicked and cursed at being rendered useless.
Kat appeared in front of Rawlins, but her body was sucked back against a stone wall. She hit hard and stuck there for a moment before she vanished.
Asa came at Rawlins using her powers to throw loose weapons and metal at him. Rawlins smiled with a raised hand and sent Asa floating into the air horizontally, face up. The hurled weapons suddenly shot toward her and slammed into her back, staying attached. Rawlins had reversed her magnetic energy, making her a human magnet.
Rawlins could only do so much, though. If he hung too many people in the air, he’d eventually reach the limit of his powers. Unless his power didn’t work that way.
Not far from Rawlins, Chen looked as if he were shadowboxing. But the shadow fought back. His head snapped to the right, punched by an invisible Abby. He gritted his teeth, a look of frustration in his eyes. Feigning one punch, he threw another more powerful punch. This one connected. Chen smiled wickedly.
I had to do something. Deep inside, I drudged up every bad memory I could muster. Every mistake I’d made. The sadness and anger of my dad’s death. The fear of Abby dying. I kindle hate within me.
If there were any chance of defeating Rawlins, I’d take it.
The power inside of me welled up. Darkness pushed from my bones, wrapping itself around my muscles, surging energy through them. The tainted sensation twisted my stomach. The monk was right—my powers were still present.
I began clearing a path that would bring me around to join the other citizens.
A Hunter trained a gun on me. I sent him spinning into the stone wall twenty feet away with a burst of energy. Two others came for me. I smashed them together telekinetically, then threw them into the river. My powers were stronger than I remembered. But the darkness was more ravenous, more twisted than before.
“Yes, yes,” said the dark voice in my head. “Kill them all, Ian. Destroy them.” I had no problem carrying out the voice’s wishes this time. I let the darkness consume me.
Rawlins’ head snapped my direction and his eyes grew wide with wrath. There was fear beneath the wrath, though. He was scared of me for some reason.
He scanned the ground quickly and locked in on something. Abby’s body.
I gasped. Rage broke through my tendons. It was then that I realized fear was behind my anger, just like Rawlins. I was no different than him. I fought to keep what I feared losing, and it made me vulnerable.
“Wipe them out, Ian,” said the cold voice.
Rawlins levitated Abby’s body, then snatched it out of the air and put a gun to her head. “Stop, or I’ll make her a spirit permanently.”
The fighting around us stopped at his command.
Why were Telekinetics so frightening to him? Could I counteract his power somehow?
Without moving a muscle, I reached out toward Joseph. My energy pushed itself around his body like gel. I sensed the magnetic shifts Rawlins had made to Joseph. There was something else there, too. A thread of power tethered from Rawlins to Joseph sustaining the pole shift. I pushed hard against the invisible force, determined to break it. It didn’t budge.
The edge of Rawlins’ mouth curled slightly as he felt what I was attempting to do. “Keep trying that and your girlfriend’s dead.”
Beside Rawlins, Chen held Abby’s invisible body. He had me in a hard stare as if threatening to kill her. Between him and Rawlins, they held everything dear to me in this life.
I gritted my teeth and released the energy. Everyone pulled closer to me and the floating Joseph and Asa. No matter how much power I had, I couldn’t save Abby. I couldn’t even save myself.
Brother Lawrence’s words came to me again. Your powers won’t help you save your friends. You will need the greater power.
Where was the monk, anyway?
No sooner than I’d asked the question, Brother Lawrence materialized behind Chen and wrapped his arms around him. “Hello, brother,” he said, then vanished into black smoke with Chen.
They appeared high above us, just beneath the painted sky, dropping at an alarming rate.
“See you soon, brother.” The monk had his usual cheery tone.
He disappeared again, but Chen remained, plummeting toward the stone floor. Before he could hit the ground, Brother Lawrence burst out of black smoke with a huge smile on his face and kicked Chen hard enough to send him skidding across the park, nearly into the river.
“Told you I’d see you soon.” The monk was entertaining himself.
His stunt had saved Abby’s spirit body, but what about her physical body?
“I said stop!” Rawlins pushed the pistol to Abby’s temple.
Brother Lawrence vanished then reappeared next to me. “My apologies, sir. I couldn’t resist.”
The monk turned and gave me a crooked smile. Was he trying to tell me something?
The remaining thirty-some-odd Hunters stood spread out behind Rawlins. We were in a stand-off.
The monk’s words about the greater power would not leave my mind.
I leaned over to him and whispered, “How do I get the greater power?”
“Isn’t it obvious, brother?”
“What manifested the powers?”
“What manifested the anger?”
“I thought my dad didn’t love me.”
“And whose fault was that?”
My heart sank as I remembered my father dying, and how my perception had skewed everything, causing me to hate myself from a young age. A hate so intense that I’d redirected it to my dad without realizing it because he couldn’t save me from it. That’s what had brought the powers out of me, or if the monk were right, that’s what had opened the door for a dark one to come in and give me my powers. But if I truly accepted that, I’d be one step closer to my powers vanishing, and I had no guarantee that I’d get the greater power.
The inscription from the Old City flashed through my mind. He will come to the people in darkness, having great powers. He will sacrifice them to free them from darkness and bring them into the light.
I couldn’t shake the feeling that the inscription was speaking to me. And the only way to find out would be to just do what it said. I’d wanted to be normal all my life, but I was afraid everyone would die if I gave up my powers.
As if the monk were reading my mind, he whispered, “Remember, brother, there are very few things you can control in this life.”
He was right. With or without my powers, I couldn’t control the outcome. I’d been trying to control things just because I was scared. Well, screw fear. I was done being afraid.
If me hating myself had caused my powers, then finding a way to stop hating myself would get rid of them. Getting acceptance from others wouldn’t work. I needed something else, something the shining man had shown me. His words came back to me, No, no…not good or bad, not right or wrong…just a lesson learned. That was it—life wasn’t a morality test, it was a lesson. I just had to accept the lesson instead of judging myself on moral standards.
And in that moment, something in my heart actually believed it was true—that I was measured against no standard. That’s when I finally stopped judging myself and accepted myself unconditionally.
A sudden surge of darkness churned my stomach. The wicked sensation reached out of my bones as if it were trying to consume me, but something was different. It wasn’t wrapping around my muscles, strengthening them, trying to twist me. It sought a path out of me before it was consumed, screaming in agony all the way.
Then I realized it wasn’t the darkness trying to get out, it was something attached to it. Something darker. Something that was never truly a part of me.
As it ripped apart from me, my body released tension I didn’t even know I had. In its wake was the ragged, broken darkness. Instead of escaping, it burned and shifted, its boiling anger converting into something else entirely. It burst like a dam of emotions flooding me with an incredible peace I couldn’t explain, like the peace I’d felt while I was dead, just not nearly as strong. But merely a sliver of that peace was astounding to experience.
I’d gone from rock bottom to cloud nine in a matter of seconds, like I’d been in the dark all my life and someone had turned the lights on. The world suddenly made sense to me. All of the puzzle pieces in my life had fallen into place to bring me to that point and prepare me to help the citizens of Winter’s Edge and myself. All of that darkness had been there to teach me to accept myself, and now that I had, the darkness had converted into something amazing. Had the situation been different, I’d have cried tears of joy just then, laughing all the while at how absurd I’d been all those years not to see the truth.
The image of the graveyard door showed in my mind, of the demons going through the fire and coming out as angels on the other side. That’s what had just happened to the darkness in me. It had finally found its peace.
But no greater power came. I felt like I’d received something much greater than any power I could ever obtain, though. I had peace for what seemed like the first time in my life, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Whatever happened, I was finally able to accept it. I wouldn’t fight it out of fear anymore. It would come and I would face it.
Then something abruptly changed.
Something powerful surged through me, like electricity coursing through my veins down to my bones. A sixth sense came over me. I closed my eyes and breathed deep. All of a sudden, I was aware of every single person around me, almost like I could see them with my eyes closed. I sensed the stone beneath me, the flowing water of the river behind the Hunters. Even the stone of the bridges and city walls. I’d somehow connected with reality on what could only be described as a spirit level or energetic level. I was connected to the energy all around me that made up matter, almost like when I was dead.
The energy I felt was like emotion—like energy in motion—and everything around me had it in some form.
The monk’s eyes grew more excited than usual and he smiled. “Ah…you have the greater power. This is going to be fun.”
In front of me, a sharp contrast of energy signaled something out of balance. Something struggling. It was incredibly familiar. It felt like…Abby.
In Rawlins’ grasp, Abby’s body jerked. Blood pooled in slashes under the skin of her arms. Rawlins frowned but kept a firm hold on her.
Abby was near me, and she was not okay.