So. Once again I appear, like a confluence of planets or a blue moon, bearing another chapter of the Story That Refuses To Die. I don't mean that sarcastically, or anything, I really don't. Every time I think I'm done and okay with this story just being abandoned, something (or someone whose name shall remain Cypher) prods me to get just that last little bit done.
And so I have. Through a Glass, Darkly is nearly complete and shall be completed (Jesus Christ, ten years after I started it!) within the next couple weeks. There are two more chapters lined up and ready to be put up on my computer, and the finishing touches to be added and edited on the ending and then this baby will be DONE. So no, not abandoned. I can't honestly believe that it's almost over...so much has happened since and because of this story. Cypher became my best and closest friend, my longest relationship outside of family because of this story. My first book is on sale at Amazon because this story and the response to it gave me the confidence to write outside of fandom. I've been able to see the progress my writing has made just looking at the older chapters. I've seen fanfic culture utterly change since I started this story. It's incredible. I am truly, truly grateful to everyone who has stuck with this story and kept reading and commenting-it's been an unbelievable ride. I hope you enjoy (finally!) the end of it.
The TynaCorp building's lounge was packed to the gills, every available space filled. Metahumans lined the walls, milled around on the floor, perched on every available horizontal surface. The injured were propped against the walls and their friends' shoulders. Those that couldn't make it out of the make-shift infirmary were shoved around the intercom speaker. Meetings were typically a raucous affair, full of shouts and friendly (and not-so-friendly) shoving matches. Now, though, an air of quiet tension hovered over the space. This was no weekly meeting, no gathering to show of power. Rumors of Static's appearance after the battle had gotten around, and their leader was not used to being the losing party.
The last—and only—time it had happened, three of their own people had died in his devastating retaliatory strike.
Talon kept herself aloft in the room, eyeing the disquieted metahumans and wondering where Deimos and Nightengale were. It wasn't like either of them to be late. Deimos preferred to be early, find himself a niche in the crowd and settle in with his back to the wall. And the Nightbreed, she tended to work the periphery of the room, gathering gossip and the general mood of the gang. More often than not, Talon herself was the one who was late, which made her wonder if a war council had been called. But if so, why hadn't she been invited? With a flutter of feathers, she swept around the perimeter of the room, scanning. No, there was definitely no sign of her fellow gang officers. It was just her for this meeting.
Well, she'd handled it before she had backup, she could do it again. Though, as the crowd parted for their esteemed leader and she took in his appearance, she had to quietly admit she'd prefer to have someone watching her back. Silently landing in the center of a table near the front of the room, just a few feet from Static, she prepared to handle Static's temper the instant it flared.
Except, it appeared, it wouldn't be necessary. Static was calm as he waited for even the quiet talking to die down, his eyes flat and hard. She would have expected his power to be crackling around him in a dangerous aura, blue light sparking off of every metal surface. Instead, he was tightly reined in, still and controlled in a way that usually meant someone was about to die. Painfully.
"For a while now," Static began in a disturbingly light voice, "we've had a rat problem." There was a consensus of agreement, no one would dare argue with that. "Some of you faced them down today. And you lost." A dark aura flickered for a moment. "That is not acceptable." He cast his gaze around the room for a moment, glaring darkly.
Then, the menace was gone. "Fortunately, you'll get a chance to rectify your fuck up." He crossed his arms, and now his power flickered to life, sparking energy racing up and down his arms. "The rats are coming," he growled, "and that other me will be with them." His grinding teeth echoed in the room. "And tonight we are going to wipe. Them. Out."
There was no room for debate. It was an order, an absolute fact.
"If any of you let one of those goodie two-shoes through, let one of them get in this building, let one of them even step foot in here," he snarled, "I will take you apart! You'll be begging me to turn Deimos loose on you!"
Talon glanced around the room, searching the faces. Puff had shifted subtly behind Onyx, who was staring at the ground as though it held the answers to the universe, and even Shiv appeared to be trying to shrink out of Static's sight. The threats weren't unusual. Static threw his weight around any time he felt like it, and seemed to delight in unsettling his people. Those moments were all fiery rage, though, hot and intense as an explosion and over just as quickly. Talon had rarely heard him so matter-of-fact, so quietly intense. In some ways, it was more frightening than his incandescent temper.
Turning her attention back to the front, Talon found Static had reined in his power again, and though the death's-head grin was in place, his eyes were hard, cold. "Luckily for you, I've had our little night bird call in the big guns, so it won't all be on your heads." He chuckled darkly. "You know the rules. Keep outta his way, and he'll leave you alone. Now, Deimos is on special assignment. So Talon will be coordinating the attack outside. Those of you who are too weak to join the main battle," his grin became sharp, "you'll be with me." He swept his gaze from one side of the room to the other. "I want everyone who follows my fucking sister dead, capiche?"
There was a unified 'yes boss,' from every person in the room. Static didn't even acknowledge it, simply marched out, his gaze focused inward. Their people parted for him like the goddamn Red Sea, giving him wide berth on either side. Talon watched his back as he headed for the lobby elevators, and realized that he was serious. He actually would tear apart anyone who failed him, including her, and probably with his bare hands.
She'd have to check in with Deimos before the siege arrived. Standing up, she let out a sharp whistle. However calm Static had been, she couldn't help the feeling that everything was spiraling out of control.
She let out a sharp whistle, taking to the air again.
"All right, let's set up a perimeter…"
Pearson Square was only two blocks away from the TynaCorp building, with a branching network of side streets and alleys that funneled down to the west side of the building. It was well within view of Static's security systems, but it was also the only area that provided even minimal cover. The team would only have four, five minutes tops before Static's gang would be upon them.
Virgil intended to use every minute of that advantage.
Rather than climb out of the manhole as was typical for Sharon's gang, Virgil used his power to lift them out from the sewer and move them yards away from the entrance so they could settle in a defensive semicircle. They weren't alone, of course. They were the power houses of the group, but Richie—their Richie—had made friends with the entire underground. The majority of Sharon's people followed behind them, some carrying firearms, others just carrying knives and makeshift clubs. One way or another, this protracted war was going to end tonight.
Sharon wasn't exactly happy, but Virgil thought she was underestimating her people. He'd seen regular police take down metahumans in his Dakota, and these people were highly motivated. Their heroism and determination humbled him, and he silently vowed to do whatever it took to make sure any casualties they took wouldn't be in vain. Even if it meant doing what this world's Batman, what Sharon had asked of him.
He'd never been at this point before, had never thought he would get to the point where he was willing to…to kill. He knew, abstractly, that there was a chance—that someday he might be responsible for ending someone's life, for some innocent dying in what the press would call 'collateral damage'. But he'd honestly never thought he would ever set out with the intention of killing. He still hoped it wouldn't come to that—that somehow, some way, he'd be able to resolve this without destroying the other him. In his heart, though, he acknowledged that that was a fool's dream. At some point in the upcoming battle, he was going to have to make the hardest decision he'd ever had to.
He…he was willing. To protect Richie. To protect the people who had sacrificed so much, had risked their lives and their cause, to help him. To give this world's Sharon some kind of closure, some kind of peace. He was willing. But he knew it wouldn't be an easy choice.
He didn't want it to be an easy choice.
Raising the saucer higher above the group, he ignored Francis' fire blazing to life and Maria drawing in the local water to peer ahead. In the sky, he saw the red feathers of Talon and that was definitely Onyx to the side, by the main entrance. They hadn't been spotted just yet, but it wouldn't be much longer. He ducked down and made sure the team was in position.
Before he could say anything, though, Backpack let out a startled, defined 'Beep!', and its eye extended up over his shoulder to shine on the ground. Virgil dropped, lowering himself to hover just a few feet above Sharon, and the shine resolved itself into a shimmering projection. The others backed up, spreading out to allow Backpack to magnify whatever it was they were seeing. Sharon leaned forward, her good eye wide. It looked familiar, but Static wasn't entirely sure what he was seeing—it looked like a targeting map in one of the video games he and Richie played.
"It's a map," Adam exclaimed. He pointed to the three gang members just starting to head his way, and then to an area inside the grid-like projection, where three corresponding dots were also moving. "And their positions! It's gotta be Richie! He must've gotten access to their security systems!"
Backpack whirred in excitement, a yellow dot blinking at the top of the building. "Is that Richie?" The legs around Virgil squeezed him gently. Near the yellow dot was a red one. "Is Static with him?" He couldn't keep the anxious tone from his voice. There was a pause, then the projection seemed to zoom in on the lobby, where a smattering of a dozen red indicators blinked. Good.
"We got a problem," Francis said, and Virgil quickly refocused his attention to the TynaCorp building and the blockade. As the projection revealed, the perimeter of metahumans had congregated to Talon's position before them. Onyx and Puff were the ones Virgil really worried about. The rest he was pretty sure Francis could handle. Hotstreak in his world had beaten all of them once or twice, he was pretty sure.
"We can take them," Virgil insisted.
Francis just shook his head. "Not that."
Sharon frowned, drawing her weapon and racking the slide. "They're not moving forward."
"It ain't right, kid," Carmen contributed. "Static's up to something."
No sooner had the words been uttered than darkness erupted around them, and a blast of purple-pink energy slammed into his chest, knocking him off his disk and into the void.
Inside the Tynacorp building, Deimos clenched his fists, glowing eyes staring blankly at the security screens. It was a strange double vision, seeing Static in two places at once, though the more he watched, the more obvious the differences between the two Statics became. It wasn't just the lack of tattoos or scars. This other Static didn't exude the same kind of unstable menace, the same taste of insanity.
And however much static wanted to deny it, this other version of him was more powerful. Already, Deimos could tell he was fully recharged, when his leader in the lobby was only at half power.
"Hey D," Static's voice came over the radio. "Everything good?"
He hesitated a moment, taking the time to focus. "Yeah, boss," he finally replied. "He's secure in the, in his room." He swallowed, casting a quick look to the bedroom door behind him.
Foley—Foley was in bad shape. For a few moments when he'd entered the bedroom, he'd actually thought Static had killed him. Again. Foley was beaten to hell and back, what looked like every inch of exposed skin bruised and cut and battered. One eye was swollen impressively shut and Deimos was—well, he couldn't say he was worried, exactly, but Iconcerned/I at the ugly bruising right at the boy's temple. More than that, though, Foley was totally unresponsive. Not quite unconscious, Deimos didn't think, but his good eye hadn't been tracking anything, just drifting back and forth in some imitation of REM sleep as Foley stared at nothing. If his pupil hadn't responded to light, Deimos would have thought the boy had suffered some kind of brain damage.
"Good man. I'm counting on ya, D. I'm gonna take that bastard apart, and then I'll bring his head to Richie. He'll see. He'll see there's no one else, and finally," his voice took on a possessive, malevolent quality, "finally he'll be mine. All mine."
Deimos let out a slow breath through his nose, sighting Nightengale and D-Struct arriving on scene. That was a deadly combo, one that had taken out the other Nightbreed when Static had consolidated his powerbase. "I'll make sure he stays safe."
"You're a good second, D. I won't forget this. You'll see, it'll be as if it didn't happen. We'll finally be kings and then, then Richie'll hand me the world."
Except that's not how it'd go. No, he was sure, beyond sure, that this Foley wasn't going to break. No, he'd bet Shiv's life that if Static showed up with the corpse of his counterpart, the boy would snap. He wouldn't break, he'd do everything he could to take Static down.
Deimos wasn't entirely sure he wouldn't succeed.
"I'll let you know if anything changes," he finally said, waiting for the radio to disconnect before leaning back on the couch. This was it. All he had to do was be the lookout, find any rats that escaped the kill box set up by Nightengale, notify Talon, and finally win the war for Dakota. Foley wasn't even in any shape to put up a struggle this time, to fight or escape. It would be the easiest battle of his career.
So why was his stomach clenching unpleasantly? He'd trusted Static time and time again. There shouldn't be any doubt, shouldn't be any hesitation. There was no Ireason/I for there to be any hesitation or doubt. He just had to follow orders and win the day.
He knew what he had to do, what was the right course of action. He knew it down to his bones. Right.
He stood and headed for the door to Foley's room, letting Phobos leap from the building to the ground. The time for indecision was over.
And there we have the start of the new chapters. More will be posted this week, and Cypher and I sincerely hope everyone enjoys it. If you have followed my writing for this long, and are interested, my first novel "Burnout" is available on Amazon under the pen name Alex Barnett.