Prologue: The Creed

I ran all the way home, legs burning from exertion and eyes stinging with tears. How could she do that? No matter how cruel Emma had been, I had never expected that she'd stoop so low as to destroy my mother's flute. She didn't just break it, no, that would have been too kind of her: the instrument was horrifically corroded and caked with all manner of scum, left on my desk for me to find. And then, before I could truly process what had happened, it was gone all over again.

I was so busy crying that I didn't even remember the rotting step – my foot went through the wood, splinters impaling me as I crashed forward, slamming face-first onto the welcome mat. I released a soft groan, the only noise I had left in me, as I pried myself loose. Blood ran down my leg from the jagged cuts, part of my shin looking like ground beef, and I collapsed against the door. Clutching my wound, I buried my face in my knobby knees and sobbed.

Some time later, I finally wrenched myself to my feet and unlocked the door, limping to the kitchen for the antiseptic and bandages. "I'm sorry, Mom," I whimpered. Why did this have to happen? I needed her support. I couldn't rely on Dad; when the going got tough, he shut down. We almost lost the house when he was wallowing in his misery over Mom's death. If he had a relapse, we didn't have enough saved up to cover it. I knew I was weak and desperate for a crutch, but what else could I do?

I hobbled through the house to the basement, to throw my pants and sock in the washer. As I added the bleach, I looked around at all the clutter. Other than photos and Mom's flute, everything we had to remember her by was packed into these boxes – Dad hadn't had the strength to sort through her things and decide what was worth keeping, so we stored it all away. On a whim, I stumbled over to one of the boxes and opened it up. Inside was a collection of different knickknacks from what I assumed to be her college days, as well as several journals just starting to yellow. Dad had said that she'd been a hellion back then, though she was always too embarrassed to talk about it when she was alive. "Maybe I could use some rebellion," I muttered, opening one up and flipping to a random page. I found the paragraph break, and started from there.

"That the government keeps us safe is both truth and lie. Police deal with criminals as best they can, but they also arrest people for actions that are only crimes because of frivolous laws. If you don't pay taxes and obey arbitrary rules, you have rights stripped from you and are thrown in prison. From one point of view, the government is the biggest protection racket of all and only maintains order because carnage and murder are bad for business.

"Even before parahumans, governments were already spying on their own citizens. The World Wars and the Cold War gave excuses for curtailing rights and invading privacy. Here in the US, the 'party of human rights' instituted internment camps during WWII. The two-party system is a lie: corrupt politicians playing both sides against the middle while they advance their own agendas and line their pockets.

"I can already hear Uncle Kane's voice. 'Annette, remember: be clear, be concise, be straightforward, be honest when you can, and don't let yourself get pushed onto the defensive.' And here I am anyway, rambling in a journal. His advice served me well in debate club. And everywhere else, really. My point is that the only way to keep governments honest is to keep them afraid of their people. In the past, that meant having militias and plenty of weapons. But nowadays there are tanks and bombs and missiles, not to mention literal superhumans. Ordinary people just can't muster the kind of military force to oppose the government. This is the reason that the pen is mightier than the sword. George Washington may be considered the father of our country, but I credit Thomas Paine more. His 'Common Sense' books galvanized the American colonies into full-blown revolution against a tyrant.

"That's the secret: appealing to people's humanity, finding what they value and tying that to your cause. Perhaps it's manipulative, but it's always the listener's own choice to agree. If you can't fight the government, then get the government's fighters on your side. Ordinary people can change the world: they just need strength of numbers and even stronger convictions."

That was an interesting rant on Mom's part. It sounded like she was planning some sort of full-blown uprising; weird to think that she was content as an English professor. I flipped back to the front to see if there was some sort of inscription. I knew from pop culture that people would often include some personally relevant quote on the blank first page. I found a quote, but it definitely wasn't in Mom's handwriting. It was a sort of fusion of print and cursive, sharp lines but with an elegance to them rather than an aggression. It consisted of three words.

"Peace through Power."