A Path Divided
(Worm AU/Star Wars)

'How long has it been?' I wondered to myself. How long since I'd gotten my powers? How long since I'd tried to be better, tried to make my debut, to be a hero?

How long had it been since I'd encountered them? Since they led me to him, and he snatched away my freedom?

How long had it been, since I'd been trapped in this room, working, tinkering, under the pretense of making him a weapon, the likes of which this world had never seen before?

How long had it been, since I'd swallowed my most recent dose, and was subject to a false euphoria that rattled my senses and clouded my mind?

"Shhh! Shhh!" I hissed out into the darkness of the room from my position on the floor, curled up against the wall, shivering and sweating. Clutched in my hands was an egg-shaped pod, as tall as the length of my hands, and radiating warmth from the labor of my constant attention.

"I know! I hear you! It hurts right?! I'm sorry! I'm so sorry! But I need you, so please forgive me! Forgive me! I beg you!" I desperately tried to soothe the entity within, as its agonized cries echoed through the turbulent static of my mind. It was the most important piece in the design of the weapon I could see within my latent memories. Without it there would be no weapon, and without the weapon, I'd never be able to lure him in.

It was hard to tell whether or not he was actually here most of the time. I could feel it, sense it, that if I made a wrong move, acted too suspiciously, he would somehow vanish away.

But with this I had a feeling that I could do it, that I could lure him in, and finally have my revenge!

I was jolted from my labored meditation by a shock down my spine, as I sensed his attention drift to me.

He was coming again to check on me, to try to reinforce my submission, and to check on my progress. He thought that he had me under control, that I was working for him, but he had no idea what I was truly capable of. I would never let myself be broken by him, but I could swallow my pride and pretend. After all, that was how I'd always endured my problems before, wasn't it? Keeping my head down, letting myself get pushed around in the vain hope of avoiding unwanted attention.

As pathetic as it was, this time it might actually work. This time, I had an actual plan to take matters into my own hands, rather than leaving everything to chance and the indifferent hands of fate. I could endure the humiliation, because I knew that when the time was right, my wrath would be his undoing.

In the distance, I felt him begin to move, stalking ever closer to me at a leisurely pace, unhurried, unworried. It was still too early; I wasn't finished with my work yet, but as I turned my attention back to the growth pod in the palm of my hands, I had a sudden premonition.

Incomplete, but only barely. If I could buy myself just a little more time, it would be finished, and I could bring an end to my torment today!

I did my best to hold onto my focus, clamping down on my turbulent emotions to direct the entirety of my attention towards developing the precious entity in my hands. After what felt like an eternity, the door to my cell finally opened.

As the light to the room clicked on sending lances of agony through my addled brain, he walked in with confident, arrogant steps.

"Good morning, my pet. Were you able to sleep well in such a place?" he crooned through that vile, disgusting mouth, feigning sentimentality about as well as any snake.

'Taylor! My name is Taylor, you miserable sack of slime!' I bellowed out within the confines of my mind. My private curse was met with renewed vigor in the psychic screams of my creation.

Heedless of my enmity, he continued.

"The bed was specially prepared with your body type in mind, and I'm told it's of the highest quality. Don't you think you'd rest more soundly there?" I'll rest soundly once I've broken your spine and seared your skin to ash! Met with my silence, he let out an indifferent chuckle and continued. "Well, it doesn't matter as long as you're working diligently. Tell me about your progress, and I'll call Mr. Pitter to bring you your reward."

I felt my body's trembles intensify, as my rage welled up and almost boiled over. My attention snapped to him, and I could feel his perverse satisfaction swell up at the sight. He must have thought that I was afraid, or maybe that my sense of reason was already overcome by my body's cravings.

Before he died, I would make sure he learned how wrong he was.

Carefully controlling my emotions so that they wouldn't leak into my voice, I finally rasped out a response. "It's almost ready. If you bring me the other pieces, by the time I finish putting them together, it'll be done." I thought that my tone was a bit too unnaturally flat, but he didn't seem to notice, or at least, he didn't care.

A sense of joy and expectation flared up within him, diluting his ever-present and enduring caution.

"Are you certain, pet?" he asked, letting none of his inner feelings seep into his voice. "You've been so careful with it up to this point. I can understand that creating one of these supposed crystals from scratch, would be an extremely delicate process, given your claims of their final capabilities. I can be patient for another day or two, if it would ensure a better end-product."

This endstoday.

"No, it- the hardest part is already over. Leaving it any longer could have a negative effect instead," I seamlessly lied, drawing him closer with a bait too tempting to ignore.

"That would be a shame, indeed," he bit down, concern overlaying suspicion. "I would prefer to witness its full capabilities. To think, an energy focusing crystal that is stable under forces as extreme as those at the center of a star. I wonder how much Toybox would be willing to pay for something like this," he mused to himself, and I could imagine the dollar signs floating in front of his eyes.

"If- if you could get enough of them, they're powerful enough to focus an energy beam capable of destroying entire planets!" I fanned the tempting aroma harder. Maybe it was a bit too much, as his wariness once again began to rise.

"Yes, so you've claimed." He paused for a moment and seemed to think things over, before I sensed him come to a final conclusion. "Very well, the rest of the materials have already been prepared to your specifications. I'll arrange for a space to be set up in the main vault, so we may witness you complete your first great work. If it meets my expectations, I'll reward you appropriately, pet, so be a good girl and make sure you behave."

As I poured all of my hatred into the forge in my hands, the crystal within it seemed to cry out so loudly that I was afraid its voice would reach him. Fortunately, its anguish was only apparent to me, and he turned to leave without another word.

It wasn't long after that the door to the room opened again, and a team of his mercenaries filed in with their weapons at the ready. Four of them stood back, ready to react to any sudden movements I made, while two more stepped forwards with a set of heavy manacles designed to restrain brutes. They approached me cautiously, wary of a possible attack, before they bent down and snapped the devices closed around my wrists and ankles. I paid them no attention, as I continued to direct the majority of my will into the forge in my hands, and the Force that streamed into it through my body.

Seeing that I was still docile, the mercenaries completed my accoutrements with a bulky collar around my neck, and hoisted me into the air, not even bothering to prompt me to walk on my own.

I was jostled about on a short journey, my annoyance flaring into an inferno as the depths of my concentration were tested, before I was dropped into an uncomfortable metal chair set in front of a utilitarian table. The men who'd brought me locked an additional set of shackles to my limbs, which were attached to heavy chains and massive anchors set into the floor, before removing the original set and backing carefully away.

Sparing a fraction of my attention, I glanced around to find myself in a wide-open room with a domed ceiling and walls of smooth metal. Nearly thirty armed mercenaries were arranged in a semi-circle along one of the walls, flanking an enormous, thick vault door as it slowly sealed shut. Across from me, a number of targets were set up along a separate wall, spanning a wide range of materials and shapes. Some of them were even glowing with visible energy that I could only assume was some sort of barrier.

Standing behind the row of mercenaries, he was actually present for once, but in the back of my mind, I could still sense the incongruity of his form, as though his body might vanish into mist the instant my hands wrapped around his throat.

"Everything has been prepared, pet," he called out, oily voice echoing around the space off the featureless metal surfaces. "I look forward to you finally proving your worth."

A spike of pure rage shot through my mind, before I shunted it into the forge and turned my attention to the table in front of me. Laid out on its surface were numerous parts and tools that immediately called a familiar blueprint to the forefront of my mind. As I looked them over, I could tell that some of the pieces were uncompleted, but thanks to his benevolent foresight, the tools and devices to make the final preparations were also present.

Opening my hands, the egg containing my greatest treasure floated into the air to trace a slow orbit around my head. I could feel the gathered mercenaries ready themselves in anticipation for an attack, but I ignored them, and reached out to begin assembling the weapon that would be my salvation.

I began to work with automatic motions, as my deepest attention remained focused on the precious crystal. It was like I was a robot, programmed to complete this assembly, this task alone, from the very moment of my birth. That's how important this weapon was to the essence of my being. It didn't matter that I'd never worked with these tools or components before, because they were integral to that which made me, me.

My sense of time evaporated, as I entered an almost meditative state, and at the critical moment, when I sensed my crystal's completion, the final piece of its destined home slotted into place.

I snapped out of my reverie, as though woken from a vivid dream, as the forge drifted down to rest in the palm of my hand. In front of me on the table was a cylindrical device, constructed to perfection but not yet complete. I reached out to it with the Force I'd become aware of ever since awakening to my powers, and it lifted into the air, fluidly deconstructing into a blown-out version of its component parts. In my hand, the forge did the same, separating out in every direction, to finally reveal the fruits of my greatest labor.

It was a crystal, no bigger than a segment of my thumb, that seemed to glow with a deep red hue like a pool of luminescent blood. Even now, I could feel its pain and sorrow, as it seemed to entreat me with desperate queries of betrayal and despair. For a moment, my conviction wavered, before the uncertainty was replaced by an all-consuming rage.

He made me do this. He drove me to torment you with my anger and loathing. I couldn't undo what I had done, but at the very least, I would grant us both closure as you helped me bring about his end.

Casting aside the pieces of the forge, I turned, and finally faced him directly.

"Do you want to see?" I called out with a hollow voice, concealing my inner feelings while simultaneously drawing strength from them. I could sense his attention on the crystal, and the greed and expectation it inspired. They were emotions I could use to cloud his reason and draw him into my trap.

I could feel him hesitate, before beginning to refuse. "That-"

"This may be the only chance you get," I spoke over him, a slight he would never have ignored if not for the power layered into the enunciation of my words. He sputtered off, seeming to stumble over his thoughts, before I seized his inner greed and self-assurance, and twisted them to my will.

"Come and see what you've so strongly desired!" A shudder seemed to pass through his body before he took a halting step forwards, and after a moment, false confidence surged into his stride.

"Boss?" One of the mercenaries called out in concern, watching me with eyes full of suspicion.

"Relax, it'll all be over soon," I spoke, and the caution fled their bodies like a specter answering my call.

He crossed the distance to me, blinded by a haze of greed that was central to his being, before reaching out with a cupped hand as though to caress the space around what he surely viewed as his greatest prize.

"Magnificent," he breathed out in adoration, his reason muddled by my design. "It's as though I can feel it radiating power! What is this?!"

Turning my head, I met where his eyes should be behind the cloth of his mask and voiced my greatest concern. "Hey, are you really here?"

He dropped down to one knee to view the crystal at eye level and delivered an absent-minded response. "Of course, my pet. Where else would I be?"

My shackled hand snapped out to the furthest extent of the chain, and I latched on to the side of his head, forcing my way into his mind. It was polluted, sickening to behold, but I cast aside my disgust and dove deeper regardless of what damage I did, and when I reached the core of his active thoughts, I found It.

It was like a vision, a dream of a parallel world. There he saw himself, sitting in his office within this underground bunker, deliberating whether or not he should humor my request or simply take the crystal from me to run his own tests. He was concerned about its capabilities, worried over the tales I'd fed him of the crystal's extreme capabilities in enhancing power, and its wild uncertainties if not properly contained and directed. He needed the devices I could create to properly control it, as he'd somehow seen the explosive reactions if it were improperly used.

Forcing myself to draw back, to avoid becoming lost in the vision he was seeing, I reached in and took hold of the precognitive core, before tearing it into countless, effervescent fragments.

I snapped back to myself as he violently recoiled away from me, smacking my arm aside and tumbling onto his back. He rolled over in a panic, frantically struggling to get his legs beneath himself and to put as much distance between us as he possibly could. The mercenaries seemed to return to their senses at the same time, looking around in bewilderment as they tried to get a grasp on the situation.

As I pulled the crystal into the core of my disassembled weapon, he finally managed to stand and backed away from me, terror surging to fill his mind.

"You!" he breathed out in a tremulous whisper, continuing to retreat until his back was pressed against the wall. "What did you do?!"

As the pieces of my greatest work seamlessly collapsed together, I felt my face split with a manic smile, as the completed lightsaber dropped into my waiting hand.

"Finally. I finally have you!"

With a natural familiarity, I depressed the activator switch and a blade of pure red plasma ignited from the hilt of my weapon with an ominous hum. As it shot out to its full length, it effortlessly carved through the thick metal shackles binding my arms. With my free hand, I reached up to the collar around my neck and called on my power to pull at the internal mechanism locking it in place. As soon as it snapped open, I switched my mental grip to the collar itself and threw my arm out, launching the collar away from me towards one of the mercenaries who was beginning to respond.

It collided with his neck, snapping shut an instant before the explosives packed inside it detonated, blasting his head from his body. The men standing beside him were disoriented by the shockwave, flinching and clutching at their ears, but those who were farther away had finally regained their composure and were bringing their weapons to bear.

"Kill her. Kill her!" he screamed out in panic, before turning to rush towards the vault door. A warning alarm blared through the space as the heavy door began its ponderously slow opening sequence. Realizing his intent, a surge of incredulous fury welled up within me and dissolved the haze brought about by the drugs in my system, bestowing me an absolute focus.

"Like I'd let you!" I screamed with all my might, as his loyal mercenaries began to fire.

My hand moved with an automatic grace, guided by a power so much greater than myself, to direct the blade of my lightsaber into the path of every projectile fired towards me. It didn't matter whether it was a pulse of energy or a conventional bullet, anything that touched the beam of red plasma was either deflected or utterly destroyed.

My free hand shot out, curling as though to grasp his fleeing form in the distance and his body jerked to a stop. With a sharp gesture of my arm, he was lifted into the air and flung to the far side of the room, flailing wildly like a helpless rag doll before crashing heavily into the floor. To seal his fate, as I continued to deflect the continuous stream of projectiles, I reached out again, feeling for the mechanism moving the vault door, and clamped down on it. The entire assembly ground to a squealing stop, and with a motion as though I were crushing it in my hand, I permanently disabled his only route of escape.

My greatest fear allayed, I clenched my free hand into a fist and drew it to my chest, condensing power into my body. Then, with a primal scream I cast it out and a wave of immense force exploded from my form, blasting into the mercenaries arrayed against me and slamming them back into the wall hard enough to shatter bone. Like puppets with their strings cut, the lot of them crumpled to the ground and I could feel the life leaving their bodies, filling me with power and purpose.

With the annoyances cleared away, I spun my saber with a deft flourish to cleave through the remaining shackles on my legs, before turning with a deliberately measured speed to see the object of my deepest loathing. He was sitting on the ground with his back pressed to the wall, clutching at his ribs with an arm that didn't seem to lie perfectly straight. There was a pistol in his one good hand, trembling so violently that when he pulled the trigger, I didn't even bother trying to block it. It shot wide, whipping past my head with a sharp crack as I took a step forwards.

"Stop!" he screamed, seeming to beg for an accord even as he pulled the trigger again. This time, he managed to get lucky and the bullet was on point, but with a simple twirl of my lightsaber, I intercepted it with laughable ease.

"I'll give you anything!" he pleaded, as the report of the pistol followed another wildly inaccurate shot. My annoyance finally getting the better of me, I reached out with my power and tore the weapon from his hands, flinging it across the room.

"Anything I have to offer will be yours! Spare me!" he pleaded with abandon, casting aside any shred of dignity he might have possessed in fear for his life.

As I deactivated my lightsaber so that I could bring both of my hands to bear, I delivered a cold reply.

"There's only one thing I want from you." I declared as he toppled over onto his side, trying to use his one good arm to drag himself away from me.

"Name it! Name it and it's yours!" he cried out, and my mouth twisted into a hateful snarl.

"Before I kill you, I want you to suffer!"

As though directing it with my venomous scream, I gathered every last shred of my animosity and poured it into the power that surged through my hands. Responding to my will, a violent torrent of blue lightning erupted from my fingertips, lashing out wildly in a violent arc in front of me.

For a brief moment, as the energy left my body, I was struck by an overwhelming sense of dread. This power was an extremely dark and savage thing. Even as it flowed according to my will, it was not wholly controlled and contained. Sparks of the violent energy seemed to rebound from my fingertips, crawling back up my arms to sear my skin. It was agonizing, incomparably so, as though the energy was targeting my nerves themselves to bring about as much torment as possible.

Then, my attack struck him, and the doubt was swept away by the reassuring symphony of his agonized screams.

As soon as the energy enveloped him, his body nearly leapt from the floor as his back arched violently, every muscle instantly going taught beyond his control. The scream that escaped his mouth was so loud, so visceral, that I could hear the damage it was doing to his throat. And above all else, what captivated me the most, was the raw sensation of his suffering that seemed to flow directly into my mind, filling me with the satisfaction I'd longed for ever since he'd made me his prisoner.

Abruptly clenching my hands, I cut off the torrent of energy as a fit of laughter bubbled up out of my throat.

"Ha. Ha ha ha! Ah ha ha ha ha!" I realized how cliched it was, to stand there cackling like some cartoon villain when their master plan finally came together, but if those guys experienced even half of what I was feeling right now, then I guess I could forgive them for indulging in the desire to gloat.

I felt good, spectacular. The high brought about by the drugs he had had his doctor forcibly pump me full of was nothing when compared to the euphoria I felt now. It was almost like I could taste his agony, like some sublime nectar handed down by the gods of ancient mythology. His despair, and the feeling that I was the one to bring it about in realizing my revenge, filled me with a satisfaction that no other accomplishment in my life could compare to.

But even that could be called a mere garnish in comparison to the sense of power that now coursed through me. It was as though the world itself had recognized my struggle, my trial, and rewarded me for my success. Gone were the days when a bully or a demon could do whatever they liked to me without consequences. Now if I were to be wronged, I would make them pay, I would make them suffer for it, and I would be rewarded.

A choked sob brought me back to the present and I sneered down at the husk of a worm at my feet. He was curled up in a ball, quivering as wisps of smoke rose up from patches of charred fabric and flesh. His face was pressed to the floor, hiding as though if he couldn't see me I'd forget his existence.

"Don't you dare ignore me!" I hissed, as I reached out with my power, wrenching his body from the floor to hold him aloft. With a sharp gesture, I spun him around to face me directly before yanking him closer, so I could address him eye to eye.

"You thought you'd won, hadn'tyou?! You thought you'd broken me!" Casting my hand out as though I were brushing him aside, his body shot away from me to slam into the wall. With a choked scream, a spray of blood erupted from his throat to stain the front of his disgusting cloth mask.

"You were wrong!"

A new torrent of lightning erupted from my hands, more powerful, more controlled than the time before. This time it didn't rebound, and when his body was enveloped, his screams, and the perception of his agony in my mind were so much more poignant.

When I finally cut off the attack and allowed his sniveling form to collapse back to the ground, an ecstatic shudder ran down my spine. As I took a moment to bask in the feeling of my triumph, he dared to speak to me.

"P-please…" he choked out through phlegm and blood, muscles spasming wildly beyond his control. "M-mercy, p-please."

For a moment, I froze, my thought process stalling on one word.

"Mercy?" I repeated in an incredulous whisper.

There was a long stretch of silence, the only sounds provided by the rasping of his ragged breaths and the muted bustle of activity of his remaining loyal dogs, locked outside.

After choking down a quiet sob, he tried again. "Plea-"

Vision suddenly overtaken by a haze of red, I reached out and clenched my fist as though to crush him, choking off his words before he could finish. Squeezing with my power, crushing the very air from his lungs, I lifted his body from the floor.

"Mercy?!" I asked again, my incredulousness breaking off into laughter as I watched him helplessly clutch at his throat. "What do you mean by mercy?! Did you intend to show me mercy?! Or did you think the way you treated me was merciful?! Maybe I'm just too narrow-minded to recognize your benevolence!" As my speech devolved from incredulous to enraged, I stalked closer to him.

"Listen to me, you sick sack of sniveling slime! I'll give you your fucking mercy!" As though striking him with my spite, I unleashed a brief torrent of lightning while continuing to hold him aloft. "Because I have no intention to make you a slave! A captive! My miserable, disgusting, toy!" With each exclamation, I poured every ounce of my vitriol into my power, electrocuting him, torturing him, as much as I possibly could.

As I finally reached his suspended form, hot, miserable, furious tears escaped from my eyes.

"Because I don't look at people as things! As pets!" As I felt his consciousness slipping away, I reached out with my power and latched on to it, drew it back to the surface, and forcibly sustained it so that he would hear what I had to say.

"Because I'm not a monster like you." As I took a moment to stare into his manic, terror-stricken eyes, through the gaps in his mask where my power had burned it away, I rolled my lightsaber in my hand and found the activator switch.

"Be thankful that I was the one who awakened to these powers. That I was the one youchose to make a slave. Because here, at the end, I'll be benevolent, and grant you the mercy of death."

With a screeching hiss of ignition, and a tremulous hum as it flashed through the air, the glowing red blade of my lightsaber cleaved through his body.

"Have I proven myself now you fucking animal?!" I howled, continuing to swing and carve through his broken form until it was unrecognizable. Then, with a final tormented wail, a torrent of lightning erupted from my free hand and blasted what remained across the room and out of my sight.

For a long time I stood in place, panting, gasping to catch my breath, glaring into the distance as though somehow he'd manage to put himself back together and stand up, like some sick joke.

When minutes passed and nothing happened, it finally sank in.

He was dead.

I'd killed him!

I'd gotten my revenge!

My breath caught in my throat as four figures flashed into my mind.

The first part of it, anyway.

Come to think of it, there were many people who'd wronged me, weren't there? They were only the tip of the iceberg.

Winslow High, for one, was full of scumbags and sycophants: the trio, their hangers-on, the faculty, the gang members!

That's right, the gangs too. They could be considered the root of all of this couldn't they? They were so deeply ingrained into the city, that maybe it was time to tear everything down, and burn the cancer away. Before, I was powerless to act, but now

I turned to the disabled vault door and approached with long, heavy strides. I could feel the mercenaries beyond it plotting something, uncertainty dominating their minds. They had no reason to stay and fight if their employer was dead, but it seemed that they hadn't been able to confirm what was happening inside.

Good.

They were all complicit in what was done to me. They had all turned a blind eye and followed his orders, no matter what they were.

I would make them pay!

When I reached the thick gateway of reinforced metal, I set my stance and plunged the blade of my lightsaber straight into it. It was laughably easy, the beam of plasma facing little resistance even against material with a depth that could be measured in feet. Immediately, the metal around it began to glow and sag, becoming molten from the extreme temperature of the blade.

Not wanting to expose myself too soon, I slowly dragged the blade of my weapon to the side, widening the affected area without destroying it all at once. Then, as the radiating heat began to get oppressive and a huge chunk of metal started to droop, I withdrew the beam, took a step back, and concentrated.

With a mighty scream, I threw my hand out and unleashed my power. A wave of pure force impacted the molten section and it exploded outwards, showering the space beyond with lances of burning steel. Immediately, I felt the surge of panic, and relished in the pained screams that followed.

Wasting no time, I gathered my power and focused it on my body, enhancing it before I launched myself through the newly made hole, the blade of my lightsaber tracing a blurred red line behind me. As I emerged onto the new battlefield, time seemed to slow as I mentally catalogued my enemy's positions.

'Almost another thirty, split between the lower and upper levels. A variety of weapons: normal guns, tinker tech, heavy weapons.'

As I crossed the wide open space, fast enough that the wind seemed to tear at the rags he had dressed me with, a vicious smile split my face.

'I wonder if I should even give them a chance?!'

I slammed into the ranks of the mercenaries on the far side of the bunker's central space like a missile, dispersing the power in my body on my arrival and blasting them away. As I steadied myself, I sensed the groups flanking the vault door on either side whirling around to face me. Once again gathering my power, I dashed to the right, just as they began to fire.

Waiting in front of me was a small group, hunkered down behind a stack of the supply crates that littered the space. As I approached, they opened fire with tinker tech rifles emitting glowing purple packets of energy. In response, I brought my lightsaber to bear, holding it at an angle to intercept two of the projectiles before flicking it down to redirect the last one. It was deflected by the glowing blade and bounced back to slam into the chest of one of the group, passing straight through his armor with an obvious ease.

The next moment, I'd reached them, and without giving them a chance to fire a second volley, I brought my weapon down in a mighty sweep and cleaved their torsos in half.

Whirling around, I deactivated the lightsaber and dropped to one knee, positioning myself behind the crates to use them as cover. Then, I held both hands forwards, reaching out with my power to take hold of the boxes here, as well as throughout the rest of the room.

Closing my eyes, I ignored the countless bullets that rained down into the space around me and focused on my task. All at once, the dozens of heavy supply crates shuddered and slowly rose an inch off the floor. Alarmed shouts echoed out as beads of sweat formed on my brow from the mental exertion.

Clenching my fists, I rotated them a half turn as the boxes all aligned on their intended targets, before with a triumphant roar, I thrust my hands forwards and pitched them in all directions.

As the crates shot out, they smashed into any group unable to escape in time, bodily bowling the mercenaries aside or crushing them beneath their mass.

Rising to my feet, I slowly walked into the center of the space and surveyed what was left.

Most of the mercenaries on the floor hadn't been able to escape from my impromptu projectiles, there were simply too many of too large a size. Only half of those struck had been killed outright by the impact though, with the remainder split between crippled and injured.

The mercenaries positioned on the level above had been a bit luckier. Because of the angle, most of the force behind the projectiles had been dispersed by the metal walkway on impact, and the majority of them had escaped with only minor injuries.

Raising both of my arms into the air, I opened my hands, reaching out with my power to latch on to all of the mercenaries scrambling to get to their feet above me, and clamped down, wrenching them towards me.

As though the pull of gravity had suddenly changed to the center of the room, all of their bodies jerked violently off the walkway, slamming through and over the guardrail with a cacophony of sickening sounds. Then, like some demonic conductor, I brought my arms down with a grand gesture and they plummeted into the ground.

Turning, I found a survivor with broken legs crawling towards his weapon. With unhurried steps, I stalked towards him.

Noticing my approach, he abandoned his dignity and began to beg. "No. Please!"

The veritable roar of my lightsaber igniting drowned out his scream, and then a moment later, silenced it.


It didn't take long to dispose of the rest of the trash. They'd already been broken, what little fight remained was a feeble lie. Now, there was only one more matter that required my immediate attention.

I could sense two more people waiting in one of the rooms on the upper level.

Waiting for me.

I could tell, based on the dread, and apprehension that filled their minds.

With a casual pace, I made my way up the stairs and down the broken and deformed walkway. It would be rude to keep them waiting, but that didn't mean I had any reason to rush.

When I finally reached the closed door to the room they were in, I could feel the tension in one of them building.

'They have a way to see what's going on outside,' I realized, a moment before I ignited my lightsaber.

With two sweeping cuts, the blade of red plasma carved through both sides of the thick security door, and after taking a quick step back, I took hold with my power and tore it from the frame.

Boldly stepping forwards into the room, I came face to face with them.

That man was lying on the ground, bound, bleeding, and quivering in terror. As a small and generally unassuming person, one might be deceived into feeling pity when seeing him in such a state. For me, the rage that boiled up at the sight of him was second only to one.

That man had been the one to administer the drugs at his instruction. That man had been the one to carefully think it through each time: what quantity would be appropriate for my weight, by what amount should they be increased over what timeframe, how long should the interval between doses be to maximize the cravings and the subsequent high? He'd made it his business to make me suffer.

I would return that favor!

With a furious scream, I cast my left-hand forwards and a now familiar torrent of lightning erupted from it. That man's body was enveloped, and once more a chorus of agonized screams erupted out to reassure me, to reaffirm my path.

For too long, I had suffered in silence and torpor. For too long, the slights against me had gone unpunished. This was the start of a new chapter in my life, where no ridicule would go overlooked, where every wrong would be returned tenfold.

A spike of fear and a sudden flinching movement brought my attention to the other occupant of the room, even as I continued to pour my hatred into that man. As I turned my head, it was with a flash of recognition that I set my eyes on her.

With blonde hair, a skin-tight purple and black costume, and a domino mask that did nothing to hide the pallid color of her face, she was the one most likely to have betrayed me, to have sold me to him. I was a fool to think she was kind, to think she cared about me despite how little she knew.

It was already too late once I'd realized that she was in bed with the snake! I'd already been captured and locked away when I sensed their connection. She knew him, worked for him, it only made sense that she'd sold me to him too!

As I clenched my free hand into a fist, cutting off the cascade of violent energy, I met her eyes as I felt my blood begin to boil in my veins.

"You." I hissed through clenched teeth, so much venom packed into the word that the accusation was self-evident. She flinched, her eyes snapping shut as a visible shudder crept down her neck. Her lapse in composure lasted only a moment before she sucked in a deep, shuddering breath and looked up to resolutely meet my eyes.

"You've got it wrong," she declared, speaking slowly and quietly as she gingerly raised her left hand and held it up in a placating gesture. Slowly, she brought her right hand up to point at that man, sobbing in a heap on the floor. "I caught him for you, kept him from hightailing it out of here, as a sign of good faith. So, can you give me a chance, and hear me out?"

My eyes narrowed as I glared at her with suspicion. I knew she was a Thinker, even if I didn't know the exact details of her power. It was obvious that she'd try to talk her way out of meeting her fate. But. If what she said about stopping that man from escaping me was true, then she'd done me a great favor, one I'd have to repay. It didn't come anywhere close to settling the debt she owed me, but if all she wanted was a chance to say her final words, I could allow her that.

Before I'd voiced a decision, she spoke up again, maybe taking my silence as permission.

"I was in a position similar to your own, you know," she began, speaking slowly and carefully enunciating each word. "It hadn't reached the same severity, but one misstep, one wrong move on my part and I might not have been far behind."

Incredulous anger bubbled up inside me as I saw the direction of the conversation. I took an aggressive step forwards, swinging my still activated lightsaber wildly in the space between us for emphasis.

"Oh, I see," I declared, my voice thick with derision. "I was your scapegoat, wasn't I?!"

"No," she immediately denied, holding up her hands in an attempt to pacify me, but I continued ranting over her.

"A convenient fool who appeared just in the nick of time for you to use to save yourself!"

"No!" she insisted with vehemence, backing away from me as I stalked forwards. "Listen to me! I told him nothing about you that would have interested him enough to lead to this. But I had to give him something! Doing otherwise would have been way more suspicious. He may have been a scumbag, but he was a smart scumbag."

Temporarily, I stopped advancing on her, my eyes narrowing in scrutiny. I couldn't sense any misdirection in her words, but I wasn't sure whether or not a strong Thinker would be able to deceive my ability. It was possible that she was toeing the line, saying precisely what she needed to so that I wouldn't suspect her.

"Look," she tried again, fighting to keep her voice steady. "The last thing I'd ever have wanted would be for anyone else to wind up trapped under his thumb. I was trying to gather people to my side to take him down! It- it was the same for you. I wanted- no, needed you to work together with me.

"Yes, I'm a Thinker. Yes, I know quite a bit about you. Yes, he asked me, interrogated me for details. But I held firm. I measured each and every one of my words, gauged how much to give and how much to hide, to avoid drawing suspicion to either one of us. I give you my word that his conversation with me was not the deciding factor in what was done to you. I swear."

"Your word isn't good enough," I spat out, before turning and reaching my hand out towards the worm trying to inch his way out of the room.

With a simple gesture, my power wrapped around that man's prone form and wrenched him from the floor to slam him bodily into the ceiling. He collided with a sickening crunch and a garbled scream, as his bound arms took the full brunt of the impact. Flippantly opening my hand, I released my hold on him and allowed his body to plummet back to the floor, enjoying the satisfying crack as his skull bounced off the hard surface. Then, with a final enraged cry, I threw my hand out and poured lightning into his body, continuing until his screams finally stopped, and I felt his life slip away.

Closing my eyes, I basked in the feeling of victory and power. Now, there was only one more loose end to tie up before I'd need to plan the next stage of my revenge.

"You know I'm not lying," she called from behind me, disturbing my thoughts. Slowly, I turned back to regard her.

She was facing me resolutely, standing tall and meeting my eyes, even as her clenched fists trembled at her sides. I might consider it admirable if it didn't piss me off!

"Your power lets you tell, doesn't it?" she continued to press me.

"I doubt it's infallible," I replied with a sneer, glaring at her as I once again began to stalk closer. "Everything has weaknesses, vulnerabilities to exploit. You're good at finding them, aren't you?"

"True," she admitted, slowly backing away with every step forwards I took. "But, you have another way to verify the truth, don't you? One that doesn't rely on my word alone. Use it, and you'll see that I'm not lying to you. That I'm. On. Your. Side."

I stopped my advance, scrutinizing her as she stopped to match me, staring intently at my face. Certainly, if I used my power to scour her memories directly, I would know the truth without a shadow of a doubt; but something was making me hesitate, some voice at the back of my mind.

It's a trap.

A scheme against you.

Don't trust her.

Don't get close to her.

Don't give her a chance to corrupt you.

Kill her.

Kill her before she gets into your head.

She'll use you.

Use you the same way

he used you.

Don't let her manipulate you.

Kill her before it's too late!

"Taylor," the soft, gentle voice pulled me back to reality. I realized I was panting, gasping violently for breath as though I'd just finished a lengthy marathon. As I looked up to meet her eyes, she slowly reached up to hook a finger under her mask and pulled it off of her face.

'She has freckles,' I thought absentmindedly, as I realized just how much a simple change could disguise someone's features.

"Please," she entreated me, capitalizing on my off-balance state to worm her way through my defenses. I grit my teeth and tried to focus, to decide what I should do.

As she opened her mouth to speak again, my body reacted before my mind could come to a decision. My left hand shot out and I exerted my power, clamping down on the space around her body to freeze her in place. Immediately, she stiffened, snapping completely immobile aside from her frantically searching eyes.

Swallowing down the lump in my throat, I took a faltering step forwards, before biting down on my cheek and using the pain to center myself. Then, I approached with a steadier stride, as her eyes flicked back to meet my own.

Stopping directly in front of her, I stared down and met her gaze.

Her mind was abuzz with a flurry of emotions: panic, fear, anticipation, concern, conviction, hope.

My teeth ground together as I stared into her eyes, her arrogant, challenging eyes.

"Fine," I eventually spat out, only to be met with a surge of pure elation. Deactivating my lightsaber, I held it at my side and reached my free hand out to hover beside her head. "If you're that confident, then I'll have you show me everything, in detail."

As though crashing back down into a murky sea, her elation vanished with a gasp of realization, only to be replaced by a new blossoming of panic and fear.

As a vindictive smile split my face, I let her stew in her predicament for a moment longer, before abruptly diving into her mind.

Unlike the time I'd reached within his consciousness, there was no sense of disgust or revulsion with her. Though her mind may have been a somewhat chaotic place, it was not the vile and twisted cesspool of a psychopath.

Ignoring unimportant details, I focused on her active emotions, searching for a thread to follow first. There was the expected fear, of me and my power and for the uncertainty of her life, but it was rebuked and counteracted by an almost single-minded determination and hope, giving her the strength to act.

As I looked more closely at the source of her faith, the greater picture began to become clear.

She knew that I would come for her once I was free, so she chose to stay here. She knew that I suspected her and believed that she could convince me that I was mistaken. Now, she knew that she was in danger, but could see a way through this situation, a way to escape with her life.

Tracing that notion to its root, I searched for the truth of her plan. Was she attempting to deceive me, to carefully speak her way around lies to elude the notice of my power? Or did she have some other scheme, some method to confuse and mislead me, to point me in other directions?

She wants to help you.

As a jarring shudder ran threw me, it took every ounce of my willpower to maintain my focus. What I had found was surprising, to put it mildly.

Her master plan was to 'help me' as though a bit of goodwill could undo the magnitude of the wrongs stacked against me. Who did she think she was?! I didn't need her help. I had already freed myself, taken my own revenge.

Which was more than I could say for her.

I could see it now, the enmity she harbored for him. The plans she'd been making that had amounted to nothing. It had been the truth that her position was similar to mine, if only in the possibility it represented.

He had found her, threatened her, and forced her into his service, offering hints of the fate that might await her if she didn't do as she was told, if she stepped too far out of line.

She had chosen to make her resistance subtle, slow. She schemed in the long term, believing him to be too well fortified to act against openly, his power an uncertain variable. She moved to slowly usurp his organization from within, gradually, ever so carefully collecting his accounts and weaknesses, making plans to draw his subordinates to her side.

Too bad that it was all too little, too late. Maybe if she'd managed to unseat him before, this never would have happened to me; I could have continued my life, my path towards heroism and self-fulfillment, but that was all in the past. There was no one left for her to save, no good will to be earned. I'd seen arrogance before, but egocentrism had its limits!

She moves to save you from yourself.

"Ah!" With a gasp, my vision swam, and my concentration slipped as my hold on her mind suddenly loosened. Gritting my teeth, I steeled myself and focused, deciding to withhold my judgment for now.

Peering deeper into her psyche, a thought occurred to me: Why was she so concerned with me in the first place? Using that question as the guide, I traced my way back through her memories, and stumbled across the night of our first meeting.

It was surprising, the sheer breadth of information her power could provide her from a minor interaction. It wasn't wholly accurate, but she had learned far more about me on that one night than I was comfortable with. It was a mark against her in my suspicions, but, there was a curious shade that colored her perceptions of me. Something cloying that I didn't quite understand.

Latching on to it, I was led to a vision of her past, and it was then that she began to struggle.

Mounting a feeble resistance, she tried to block me, to keep me from seeing into this memory. Unconcerned, I brushed her will aside and studied what she was trying to hide.

What I found was no great secret, no linchpin to the plot against me, but the specters of a broken family, and the scars it left on her heart. She had distant parents, disinterested with their daughter until she was of value to them. Her brother, she loved him, but resented him in equal measure for never being more than a simulacrum of true family.

Maybe that was why it was so hard on her when he killed himself. She'd noticed that something wasn't quite right, that his behavior was changing for the worse, and she'd done nothing, said nothing, until it was too late. Her family blamed her, and soon, she too began to blame herself.

Regret: for the actions not taken, and the family lost.

Anxiety: when confronted with a situation so similar to the traumas of her past.

Motivation: to make a difference, to right the ghost of a wrong in the present day.

She had seen her lost brother in me, and decided that she could not ignore my plight.

As the realization dawned on me, my rage began to swell.

She pitied me, like a pathetic dog cast out into the rain. I was something to be saved, a helpless wretch stumbling through life.

How dare she look down on me!

Compassion blooms from disparate seeds.

"Gah!" I exclaimed, flinching away from her when my connection to her mind snapped as my concentration crumbled. Stumbling, I fought to keep my balance even as my head continued to swim.

'What was that?' I asked myself as my gaze whirled around, wary of an attack. For some reason I felt vulnerable, exposed, like I'd been hiding and suddenly my cover had been torn away. To make matters worse, I was weaker, I could feel it, as though a portion of my power had been stripped off, and when I looked down at my hands, I realized that I was trembling and cold. It was similar to the experience of withdrawal that I had suffered from his drugs, only somehow, even more visceral.

Grinding my teeth, I clenched my hands, desperately trying to stave off the shaking, and returned my attention to her.

She had backed away from me when I recoiled, managing to reach the far wall before the strength had fled her legs and she'd sunken to the floor. She was glaring at me, a mixture of indignant anger and tremulous fear coloring her emotions as silent tears dripped slowly down her cheeks. For all her disapproval though, she had made no move to act against me, and even now seemed to be waiting for my decision.

As I took a moment to regard her, she seemed to gather her courage and sucked in a shuddering breath.

"Satisfied?" she spat out, her voice oozing with acerbic reproval.

Unbidden, I felt my shaking begin to subside as an amused snort escaped my nose, and my mouth twisted into an accompanying sneer. What color was left in her face drained away and her body stiffened as I casually extended my now steady hand.

"No," I returned coldly, and once again extended myself outwards to reach into her mind.

I'd established her background, her motive, her circumstances, and her character. I could see the who and the why, but all of that could fall apart in the face of extreme circumstances. Ultimately, it didn't matter to me whether or not she was a scumbag or the salt of the earth, a demon or a saint, if she had been the one to have sold me to that snake, I would make her suffer for it all the same.

Searching through the tangle of her memories, I focused on the connections to him and myself, and withdrew the vision of an office in this very bunker. He was asking her for details about me, and surprisingly, she had come prepared to mislead him. What she hadn't expected, was for his interest in me to already be so strong.

He seemed to be obsessed with me, almost spiteful. She had aimed to undersell my abilities, to frame me purely as a Tinker with very minor supplementary powers aimed primarily at assisting my construction, but he already knew something. He seemed to have firsthand experience with it, and though she wasn't sure what it was, she could tell that it was important.

She changed tacks.

She emphasized how valuable it would be for the Undersiders to add a Tinker to their ranks. She insinuated that alone I wouldn't amount to much, but with the synergy of a team, we would be a force to be reckoned with.

He took her advice in stride, his interest neither stoked nor quelled. She realized he'd made a decision before even calling for her, even if he hadn't realized it himself. For some reason, I was an obstacle to him, and one way or another, he would have the problem resolved.

In the end, she had decided to act first, to move to get me onboard with her before he could do whatever he had planned. She believed he'd be more willing to compromise once I had already joined the team. Unfortunately, she never got that chance.

Releasing her, I whirled around, pacing across the room with furious energy.

She was telling me the truth. Through her memories, and through the insight her ability provided, I could tell that something else had been responsible for leading him to me, for resulting in my plight.

It hadn't been her. She hadn't lied to me. She'd tried to protect me.

As I tore through the space, pacing back and forth as my mind churned with unanswered questions, I could feel her attention on me. The fear was beginning to subside, replaced instead by cautiousness and anticipation.

I whirled on her, taking an aggressive step forwards, and she flinched.

"Who then?! Your teammates? Could it have been one of them?!" I demanded of her, glaring down as her eyes snapped shut. Reaching up to quickly wipe the traces of tears from her face, she took a quick centering breath, and once again met my gaze.

"No. I was our point of contact," she declared definitively, projecting as much conviction into her voice as she could manage. "Even if they knew something more about you, which they didn't, they had no way of contacting him, and he never would have reached out to them. He was paranoid, careful, always trying to limit his vulnerabilities. You know he wouldn't trust them."

"Then who?!" I screamed at the top of my lungs, my voice reverberating through the silent bunker, as the entire structure shuddered under the weight of my fury.

Her eyes snapped shut again as she curled in on herself, trembling fists clutched in a white-knuckle grip on top of her legs. Still, her determination didn't waver, and I felt her working herself up to something. Eventually, once she'd gathered her courage, she took a breath to reply.

"Why-" she choked off, her voice weak. Clearing her throat, she forced herself to sit up straighter and raised her head to meet my eyes. "Why does there need to be someone else?" she asked me, her voice clear, but only just above a whisper.

My thoughts ground to a screeching stop as I stared at her, uncomprehending. After a long, silent pause, I finally managed to give an ineloquent reply.

"What?"

A twitch ran through her neck as her jaw clenched, and I felt her anxiety once again beginning to rise, but she soldiered on regardless.

"Why haven't you considered that this is it? The end." she meekly raised her hands and spread her arms wide as though inviting me to look around. "You've already won."

As we watched each other, a note of unease began to creep up my spine. Somehow, it was as though I understood the words that she was saying, but their meaning was missing me, passing straight over my head.

As the silence stretched on, and the disquieting feeling continued to grow, I opened my mouth to say something, anything to break the tense atmosphere, but she spoke over me.

"Is revenge that important to you? Important enough to throw everything else away?" My eyes narrowed as I sensed her building up to something, and she glared resolutely back at me. "That's not the girl you were before."

"Be careful," I growled out, unconsciously rolling my lightsaber in my hand. Undeterred she plowed ahead, building up steam in the face of danger.

"A bit drastic for a personality change, if you ask me; pretty much a complete one-eighty from the way you were before, and you know I know."

"Be careful!" I warned her again more insistently, my rising temper seeping into my tone. In response, she forced her way to her feet and spoke louder, as though she could drive her point home with insistence and vigor alone.

"If I had to slap a label on it, 'abnormal' is the word I'd choose. And you see it too. You've just chosen to focus on the ways it benefits you, ignoring all those pesky, unfortunate consequences."

"Yes, I see it." I hissed out, interrupting her tirade and taking another aggressive step forwards. "Of course I fucking see it. So what?! I am what he mademe!"

"Wrong!" she cut in, stepping forwards to match me for the first time. "He may have been the catalyst, but this is something else," she declared, gesturing between me and the body of his doctor on the floor. Meeting my eyes, she paused for a long moment as the silence seemed to settle in around us, before delivering her earth-shattering verdict.

"Your power is manipulating you."

"Shut up," I snapped immediately, my rejection so intense, so visceral, that it surprised even myself.

"It's playing off your emotions, emphasizing the more raw, intense ones to make you volatile."

"Shut up!" I shouted back at her, trying to control myself, even as my body trembled with rage. She continued anyway, offering me no quarter.

"Then, when you act as it wants, you're rewarded with power, and the illusion that you're the one in control!"

"Shut your fucking mouth!" I screamed, reaching out with my power to silence her, once and for all.

As my hand clenched and an invisible pressure crushed down on her throat, her body lifted from the floor and a choked gasp escaped her mouth. Eyes shooting wide with panic, she stared down at me, grasping at her neck as her legs helplessly kicked at the open air.

As I took in her futile struggle, seething with a reignited rage, she abruptly reached down and fumbled to open one of the pouches on her belt. Wary of a weapon, I ignited my lightsaber, its screech drawing a panicked flinch, but didn't dissuade her. Managing to open the pouch, she reached in and pulled out what seemed to be a makeup compact, and hurriedly snapped it open. Finally, with the same confidence of a person bearing a loaded gun, she held it up, pointing the mirror straight at me.

In that moment, I came face to face with sulfurous yellow eyes, ringed by a starburst of angry, fiery red. Black, cancerous veins spread out from my eye sockets, spiderwebbing across my face, offering a stark contrast to the sickly, pallid color of my skin.

I recoiled, flinching away from the reflection of my own visage so violently that I practically threw myself across the room. My hold on my power fled me, control slipping through my fingers like grains of dry sand, and Tattletale dropped to the floor, coughing violently as she fought to suck down deep breaths through the mucus in her throat.

Collapsing against the wall, I instinctively deactivated my lightsaber as my legs gave out beneath me, dropping me to my knees. Slowly, I brought a trembling hand up and ran the tips of my fingers along the bottom of my eye.

"No," I uttered in a whisper, my rejection feeble, a lie not even I believed.

"You have to face it," Tattletale choked out between fits of coughing, peeling open one teary eye to watch me. "It's not- It's not unbeatable, or irresistible, but you can't ignore it. It won't go away."

"I-" I tried to speak, faltering before I'd started, my voice barely a whisper.

When she'd gotten her breathing a bit more under control, Tattletale faced me again, not bothering to move from the spot where she'd crumpled down onto the floor.

"You want to go home, don't you?" she tried asking me, aiming for a gentle tone that was spoiled by the slight rasp in her voice.

I flinched, realizing that I hadn't even thought about where I'd go now that I was free. Certainly, I wanted to go home, but, how long had I been gone for? How much would things have changed? What was my dad doing? How was he doing?

I was afraid.

Afraid of the uncertainty, the uncomfortable questions, the judgement, afraid of the answers to questions I didn't even want to ask.

It was so much easier to let myself be consumed by anger, than it was to face these painful fears.

"You can't," Tattletale called out, before her voice took on a desperate edge. "You absolutely can't!"

I leaned forwards, pressing my forehead to the floor as I reached up and twisted my free hand into my hair, gripping, pulling, trying to distract myself with the pain.

"Taylor, please, you have to think about this. The way you are right now, if you tried to go home, if you tried to live with your father, you would end up killing him."

As I tensed up, my fingernails digging into my scalp, I sucked in a long, hissing breath, and blew out a hollow reply.

"So what?" I asked. For whose benefit, I wasn't quite sure.

"Taylor," Tattletale mumbled in a feeble whisper, even as my thoughts swirled chaotically in my head.

"He- that man was barely a father to me in the first place," I hissed out, trying to suppress my trembling hands.

"You don't believe that," she asserted, projecting conviction into her voice. "You loved him- you still love him, despite whatever shortcomings he may have had."

"Shortcomings?!" I repeated, incredulousness welling up to drive my voice louder. "Shortcomings doesn't even begin to describe it!"

"Taylor!" Tattletale tried to interject, a resurgence of desperation driving her to match my volume. Heedless, I carried on, as anger once again began to boil up.

"He abandoned me when I needed him most, too wrapped up in his own misery to see that his daughter was suffering too!" Tattletale opened her mouth, tried to say something, but I pulled my hand from my hair and slammed it into the wall, the sound making her flinch and clutch at her temple.

"Of course we drifted apart, keeping a comfortable distance so that problems could be easily ignored." My strength returning, I fought my way to my feet so that I could glare down at her. "Guess what? Ignored they were, for two whole years!"

As a bout of sarcastic laughter oozed up out of my throat, I spread my arms wide to emphasize the area around us. "Look where that's got me now."

As I stared down at her, for once, Tattletale remained silent, her lips pressed tightly together in a thin line. Seeing that she had no response, no words of wisdom for me, I shook my head and turned to stare off at nothing, stewing in memories of my past.

Finally, with a hollow chuckle, I shook my head and muttered to no one in particular, "It wouldn't surprise me if he didn't even realize I was gone."

As though in response to my words, I was struck by a violent wave of vertigo, my vision swimming as I toppled to the floor. Clutching at my head, I found myself assaulted by a turbulent storm of visions and voices, that gradually resolved themselves into a familiar man.

"I need to report a missing person," I recognized my father's voice, laced with anxiety as he tried to keep his tone level. "My daughter, she never got up this morning so when I went to check on her, I found her room empty. I- I tried calling around to see if she was at her friend's house or the library, but then, she never came home tonight so… No, no, I know that it's twenty-four hours but- my daughter wouldn't- Now you listen to me!"

As though moving on to the next scene in a film, my vision changed.

"Kurt! Kurt, you gotta help me!" My father practically shouted into the telephone, growing frantic as the hours ticked by. "We need to get out there and look, but, someone has to stay near the phone. I- I've just got a bad feeling about this, a really bad feeling, so… Yeah, yeah thank you Kurt! I'm going to make a few more calls, but I owe you for this."

As the visions continued on, dad visibly became more and more disheveled, as his desperation grew.

"Have you seen this girl?! She's my daughter, she- she's about this tall, rail thin, you can't have missed her. Okay, well, take this flyer, my- my cell phone number is on the bottom so if you see her, please call me right away. Doesn't matter what time, alright? Thank you! Thank you."

As the cycle of agonizing scenes carried on and I was powerless to turn away, eventually, the vision seemed to resolve itself into a feeling of greater clarity, of substance.

Dad was collapsed at the kitchen table, head in his arms and surrounded on all sides by stacks of missing persons flyers. The house was a mess, with dirty dishes and takeout boxes piled high in the sink and on every available counter, while muddy footprints tracked in and out over all of the floors and carpets.

Still reeling from the emotional shock, it took me quite a while to realize that I was no longer a helpless spectator but could move through the vision freely.

With cautious, faltering steps, I approached the kitchen table. Curiously, I leaned over to study one of the flyers and the first thing to cross my mind were that they had to be homemade. With 'Missing Person' in big bold letters across the top, a slightly outdated photo of me below it, and then a number of bullet points with descriptive information, everything seemed to be just off center in slightly different ways, such a bizarre alignment that I wondered just how dad had managed to do it. The final detail on the page was his contact information, including the house phone, his work number, and then a big hand-written number, scrawled out in marker, that I could only assume must have been for his cellphone.

Turning to study my dad more closely, I found the surprising article, a cheap flip phone, clutched securely in his muddy hand. He had sworn them off after mom's accident, refusing to so much as touch one if he could help it, with an almost religious antipathy, but now…

Swallowing down the lump in my throat, I looked up to his face, or at least, what little of it I could see, and noticed the deep dark circles under his eyes. Even now, practically sprawled as he was across the table, what little sleep he got appeared light, and fitful.

He couldn't allow himself the rest, not when the call could come at any moment, with news, good or bad. He couldn't miss it, the uncertainty gnawed at him more than anything, his mind providing variations on the worst possibilities he could imagine to plague his nightmares.

He was so close to breaking, but still could not give up.

As hot and heavy tears dripped from my eyes, I reached out to place a hand on his shoulder, and quietly whispered, "Dad."

As though he'd been struck by lightning, my dad shot awake, jerking up in his chair to scan the house with a manic, desperate urgency.

"Taylor? Taylor?!" he called out, his voice raspy and dry, and it was with horrifying clarity that I realized this was real and that he had heard me.

Dad leapt to his feet, crashing into the edge of the table before stumbling over with an obviously dizzy gait. In a panic, I reached out and grabbed onto him, wrapping my arms around his chest in the hope of keeping him steady, and securely upright.

Suddenly unable to move, he looked around in bewilderment, blinking furiously and reaching up to rub at his bleary eyes.

'He can't see me,' I realized with no small amount of guilty relief. Emboldened by my relative anonymity, I reached up and gently cradled the side of his head, hesitating for a moment before making my decision.

"It's okay dad. I'm okay," I spoke aloud, layering power into my words, this time not to mislead and confound, but to comfort and soothe.

"Tay-Taylor?!" dad gasped out, his eyes going as wide as saucers.

"Shh," I crooned as he began to struggle, pressing my face into his chest. "You need to rest, to sleep." As his legs buckled, I gently lowered him to the ground.

"No! I-" he tried to resist, struggling to keep his eyes open.

"I'm fine dad. I'm safe now, but, I can't come home just yet. Not until, I…" As my voice choked off, I twisted my hands into dad's shirt and shuddered with my efforts not to sob."I'm sorry. I'm so sorry, dad."

It was with as jolt of shock that my body stiffened when dad's arms wrapped around my back, pulling me closer to him with a strength he shouldn't have had on the verge of sleep.

As I laid there on top of him, too stunned to move, and his eyes finally drifted shut, he whispered a promise meant only for me.

"I'll find you. I swear."

Blinking, my vision resolved itself on a cold, sterile white floor.

It was finally over, that damned, unwanted vision, but even now, I couldn't stop the tears that were streaming from my eyes.

Curling into a ball on the floor, I pressed my hands to my face and muttered aloud, "You'd never have found me here dad, not in a million years."

As I laid there reflecting on what I'd seen, I was violently startled back to my senses when another voice spoke up.

"There are two," Tattletale declared with an awed whisper, making me realize that she was far closer than I last remembered her being.

With a frantic movement, I pushed myself away from her and tried to jump to my feet, only to collapse back to the floor a moment later. My legs felt like gelatin, and my entire body was trembling with violent motions. I was cold, shivering with a bone piercing chill that had nothing to do with the environment, and more than anything I realized how weakI felt, a powerlessness so much more defined in contrast to the indomitability I held before.

As my gaze snapped to Tattletale, slowly backing away from me with her hands clearly held up in the air, it was with a spike of pure terror that I realized I wasn't holding my lightsaber.

Pushing myself up onto my hands and knees, one half of my body pressed securely to the wall, my head snapped around, searching with frantic movements, before I spotted my weapon lying on the ground a few feet away.

I dove for it, barely managing to throw myself half the distance, before I reached out with my power, desperately calling it to me. The hilt trembled slightly, before my fear centered me enough to move it, scraping and sliding across the floor into my waiting hand.

As soon as I had it, I threw myself onto my back, igniting the blade of red plasma and holding it out defensively between us.

As I lay there trembling, panting as I struggled to catch my breath, Tattletale simply watched me, keeping her distance as she regarded me with a single-minded focus.

Wrestling with my suddenly muddled thoughts, I tried to come up with a plan, some avenue of attack to get me out of this new desperate situation, but I just couldn't think straight. It felt like I was blindly grasping at slick spheres, gliding away from me through a thick, murky sludge.

Then, my mind completely froze as I felt the rage, roiling off of Tattletale in hot and heavy waves.

'I'm going to die. She's going to kill me!' Shrinking in on myself, a whimper escaping my lips, I frantically struggled to call up even a fraction of my power before she-

"I'm not angry at you, Taylor!" Tattletale abruptly called out, a note of frantic worry in her voice. I flinched, swinging my lightsaber wildly in the space between us as I shimmied back to press as much of my body to the wall as I could manage.

She grit her teeth, pressing a few fingers to the bridge of her nose to massage it with more force than necessary, as she noticeably tried to calm her raging emotions.

"I'm not angry at you," she repeated again more gently, using the phrase like a mantra as she took a deep breath.

Folding one arm across her chest, she propped the other between her hand and her chin, taking up a thinker's pose. Then, she met my eyes and I sensed the conviction in her heart.

"I'm going to help you, Taylor," she announced, not asking for permission but stating a fact. A shudder ran through me, and I opened my mouth to reject her, but I watched as her jaw set, and a blaze of relentless determination lit up her in eyes, cowing me to silence.

"I'm going to help you figure this out," she once again repeated herself as she took a confident step forwards, and I cringed away. "You can use whatever reasoning you'd like to convince that wordless voice in the back of your head: maybe I'm repaying a debt, maybe it's quid pro quo." She'd continued her approach, stopping just outside the reach of my lightsaber to spread her arms wide. "Use me and my power to get whatever you want, wring me dry until I've got nothing left to give!"

She crouched down, propping her elbows on her knees to cradle her chin in her hands. I shied away, pressing half of my face into the floor as she studied me with narrowed, implacable eyes.

"But I'll figure this out," she continued, her very voice a promise in and of itself. "I'll find you a way. After all, you want your power to stabilize, don't you? It would be mighty difficult to set off on a quest for revenge knowing that your strength could vanish away at the drop of a hat, right?"

Slowly, the corners of her mouth began to creep upwards, her placid expression blooming into a positively foxlike grin. I grit my teeth. She was up to something, I could sense the machinations churning away in all corners of her mind.

But.

There was no antipathy, no ill will or scheme of harm against me. She meant what she said, and at the very least, was not an immediate threat. So, even if I couldn't trust her, perhaps I could make use of her, at least until I was better prepared.

Slowly turning my lightsaber aside, wary of a sudden trick, I turned my head back to fully meet her eyes.

"You-" I tried to speak, stopping as my voice faltered to quietly seethe at my own frailty, before forcing myself to continue. "Can you even figure something like this out?"

Carefully schooling her expression back into a more sedate, confident smile, she nodded and replied, "I believe that I can."

Struggling to swallow down the lump in my arid throat, I dug within myself to muster up a portion of the dominance I'd felt before, and tried to project it into my voice.

"For your sake, I hope that's true," I growled out with as much intimidation as I could manage. In response, she slid a hand over to briefly conceal her mouth, before a moment later, she leaned forwards, and I was overpowered by the resolution in her eyes.

"For your sake, I'll make sure that it will be."


EDIT: (2/26/18) I went back through and did a pretty sweeping sanitization of extraneous italics. I have a bad habit of wanting to apply the emphasis I'd personally use if I were narrating the text aloud. I'm still pretty liberal with it in character dialogue, but I cut back on that too.

The italicized pronouns throughout are purposely calling attention to her consciously avoiding the usage of their names. Whether or not it's necessary, I chose to give it some extra attention.