When I awoke, I felt as though I was both burning and in an ice-cold ocean.
I shook myself awake and realized Nolan was trying to contact me.
"Emily, talk to me!"
"I'm alright, Nolan," I said into my speaker.
"Emily! Please report!"
Something must be jamming my transmissions. It's got to be something around here, I thought.
"I'd better find the jammer and check that Aiden's okay, not forgetting what I came here for."
It was when I tried to stand up that I discovered the source of my burning feeling.
Right… my plane was shot down out of the sky as we were preparing to land here in the Arctic. That's why it's so cold. Everyone was killed on-board but me. I crawled to where I am now and blacked out.
Aiden was on-board.
Charlotte was on-board.
My mom was on-board.
I stood up and limped over to the site of the crash. The plane's sealed up. There's a crowbar.
"Aiden?" I called out. "Charlotte? Mom?" Where was my lover? My sister? My mother?
"Mom?" I asked again.
"Mommy, what are you doing?" I asked her.
She looked down at me from the stool she was on and tried to hide the fly swatter behind her back. "Oh, I didn't see you there, Amanda."
"Were you gonna kill that spider?" I asked.
"Don't do that, mommy. The spider didn't do anything to you." I said.
"But there are so many of them in this house, it's not healthy!"
"Oh, alright. But we're not keeping it as a pet. What do you want me to do?"
I walked over to the cupboards and tried to jump up to the glass cabinet, but couldn't reach it.
"Mommy, catch it in a glass."
"Okay, sweetie." She came over and lifted me up so I could grab a glass, then she brought me to the spider. I sent it outside and watched it crawl away.
"There, now it's safe."
My mother chuckled and kneeled down in front of me, grinning as she pinched my cheek.
"You're so innocent, Amanda. I love that about you."
She then kissed the top of my head.
I had to smile as I remembered that simple memory, back when we lived in a rundown lodge in the Catskills. How ironic that I was the spider, and my enemy was the human to kill it.
I turned around and saw a blood-caked hand reaching out on the floor.
"Mom?" I asked.
Her nose was bleeding and she spat out a tooth.
"Mom… where's Aiden and Charlotte?"
She moaned. "Sent them as lookouts."
"Alright, look," I said. "You're going to be fine. Just… stay here, I'll weld the door shut and come back when I've finished the job."
"What do you mean, no? Please tell me you'll be fine. Please…"
She smiled. "Do you… remember when you stopped me from killing a spider?"
"I was just thinking of that as I came in here."
She gave a weak laugh. "I still think of that. I thought of it even as I was in hiding."
"Believe me, Amanda," she said. "I would never have married Gordon if I knew he hurt your father, and tried to hurt you."
"He was hired to kill you, too."
She nodded. "I know, Amanda."
She reached for my hand and tried to take it. I held hers instead.
"When you find her…"
"…have no sympathy…"
"I'll be as cold as the Arctic." I said.
She smiled. "That's good…" she whispered. "That's a good girl. You take your strong-will from your father…"
I stroked her hair as tears rimmed at the back of my eyes.
"Amanda… I'm so sorry I thought… that girl was you."
"It's fine… she deceived Charlotte and Jack, too."
"What?" She mumbled out her last words.
"I lo you… ifiny… time... ifinity…"
As her hand went limp in my own, I knew I had lost more of my family.
The tears came slowly at first, simply sailing down my face as I closed my eyes in a vain attempt to suppress them. The stages of my grief went by quickly. I tried to deny my mother's death by simply tricking myself into believing she'd fallen asleep out of exhaustion. The red blood on her face and body was merely because she had been mixing up the sauce for her famous Halloween candy apples, and she'd made quite a mess.
The anger stage came seconds later, where I ripped the loosened padding off one of the plane seats and threw it as the sobs came and wracked my body. I don't even remember what the bargaining phase was like, but then the depression came when I collapsed to my knees and the crying softened.
I stroked my mother's face and closed her eyes, before adjusting her so that she was in a more respectable position, folding her hands over her body. I didn't have flowers with me, so I instead placed in her hands a picture of her, my father and me.
"Goodbye, mom…" I stood up, loading my gun and taking one last look at her before I left the plane and locked it with one of Nolan's locks. Only he could decrypt the code.
I now had more reason to be out for her blood.
Shivering at the feel of the cold, I started a jog forward, before I broke into a run. I brought out my pistol when I saw two men up ahead, and dropped them. Looks like she brought some to fight our little war.
They were guarding a heavy, box-shaped device. Shooting the lock off, I ripped up all the wires and tried to contact Nolan.
"Nolan, can you hear me? Nolan?"
I could practically hear the relieved expression on his face.
"Emily, thank infinity you're alive!" I smiled at his reference. "I was beginning to think you went the way of Papa Clarke."
"Mama Clarke as well, now." I told him as I turned right and moved on.
"Your long lost mother bit the dust too?" he asked.
"Killed by the crash, but, no worries. Your lock technology will keep her safe."
"My god, Ems… I'm sorry." After a pause, "Still sticking to the plan, Batgirl?"
"With even more determination," I said, concluding the call.
Up ahead were her safely landed plane and a lone soldier keeping watch over it. Backing up a few feet, I attached both a scope and silencer to my gun and shot a piece through his temple. Ensuring the coast was clear, I ran up to the plane and smashed open the cockpit window.
Searching the plane, I found what I was looking for with the plane's flight recorder: a map of the entire Arctic showing everyone's intended positions. I took out a pair of NolShades and put them on, scanning the entire map and uploading it to Nolan's computer.
"Got the map, Ems. Hm… your bestie's very north of here."
"Thanks. Do you think you can find Aiden and Charlotte? Mom said they were sent to be lookouts."
"I can try, but… mmmm… their signals have dropped off my map. Either they're dead or their trackers have been compromised, hopefully the latter."
"Nolan," I said. "I don't know how to thank you. Your assistance these last few years… we've been through so much together."
"Her blood will be thanks enough." He said, ending the call.
I exited the plane and turned to face it, taking out a grenade and throwing it into the middle. Three seconds later, when I was far enough away, the plane imploded. I knew she would probably think I found her location with the map, but it didn't hurt to deceive her just in case. I'd done that with my identity for years, after all.
Dropping another soldier farther up ahead, I didn't stop running forward. I turned around a bend and dropped another man, and then another. The bend reached a canyon, and I fired my final four rounds at the two guards up ahead. Holstering my empty weapon, I got out the assault rifle that was attached to my back and took the guards down from afar. One plane's wheel was embedded into the deep snow, but I didn't bother to check whether it could have been from my plane or hers.
Turning left, I entered a cave and looked down at the drop just beneath me, taking down the two guards that were there. As I began to climb down, another guard surprised me, but I felled him quickly. I reached the bottom and saw a figure with long brown hair.
"Charlotte!" she turned around, and I could see she was gagged, with evidence of crying.
"You did not heed my warning to stave the search for your mother," a deep, Japanese voice hissed. He came out of the shadows holding Charlotte by the neck with a gun to her head.
"Satoshi Takeda," I growled, my gun immediately going up. "Don't bring her into this."
"Your plan has only destroyed pawns, and not the real players of this complicated game of retribution."
"You were working with the Graysons all this time, weren't you?"
"I'm afraid so, Amanda." He said. In Japanese, he declared, "Your revenge has cost you the life of your mother, and soon, your sister."
"Not at all, it won't!"
Takeda turned and shot Aiden only once, and he was down. Charlotte used this to her advantage, headbutting him to get free. As he was about to shoot her, I fired directly at his chest, and then shot him several more times. I approached his body to inspect it, when he leaped up and pinned me to the floor.
"I am the wolf, come to tear the rabbit limb from limb."
I headbutted and rolled over on top of him, trying to hit him in the stomach but finding something hard there. Must be a bulletproof vest. He kicked me into the wall of the cave and held a knife to my throat.
"Before you venture on a path of revenge…" His eyes went blank and blood exploded from the back of his head as he fell to the floor.
"Dig two graves, yeah, we know." Charlotte plucked the knife from the back of his neck and sheathed it along with his own knife. She then pulled me into a hug.
"I'm so glad you're safe." she said.
It was then that I remembered Aiden.
"Aiden!" I pushed Charlotte off of me and checked his pulse, but there was none.
"He's gone now… just like my mom."
"She's dead too?" Charlotte asked. I simply nodded.
"My god, Emily, I'm so sorry…" she pulled me into another hug.
The two of us picked up Aiden's body and dragged it with us, dropping a guard that showed up out of thin air. I called Nolan as we emerged from the cave.
"Almost here, Nolan?"
"As a matter of fact Ems, I'm about to land. Clear the way."
Sure enough, his helicopter was beginning to land. Charlotte and I tredged out of the way. Nolan got off his copter, which was marked by the logo for Nolcorp, and pulled us both into an awkward embrace, his thick winter coat crushing us.
"The Clarke Sisters working to end the conspiracy." He said.
"Aiden died protecting us." I motioned to Aiden's body at my feet.
"I'm sorry to hear that about him. Seemed like a nice guy, when you ignore the part where he strangled you."
"Get over yourself, Nolan." I said with a smirk.
He loaded Aiden's body into the copter.
"If you don't mind my asking, was it anyone special who killed Aiden?"
"Surprisingly, yes. Our own mentor, Takeda. He'd have killed me too, if it weren't for Charlotte."
"I had the impression he was nothing but a bag of scum." He winked. "Rest assured, the bodies of your boyfriend and mother will be there with a welcome home sign back in the Hamptons."
"Thank you, Nolan." It was me who hugged him this time, his return of the embrace as awkward as mine usually were.
"Well, way to be bold, Batgirl." When I released him, he said, "Kick some ass." before getting into the copter and starting it up. He saluted us before taking off.
Charlotte and I sprinted back toward the cave and emerged from the other side, where I encountered the plane tire. We trudged up another side of the mountain and pressed forward.
"The end is near, Charlotte." I said to her. She nodded.
"Are you going to kill her?" she asked.
I didn't have to answer.
We descended the cave and entered a tunnel in pitch blackness. I turned on my NolVision goggles and discovered that the cave was chock full of guards.
"GET READY TO RUN, CHARLOTTE!" I screamed. She picked up the ammo from every man I dropped and stashed it in her backpack.
"That was almost too easy. You're amazing," she said. I winked.
We emerged, finding ourselves in the cave again. Unable to resist, I assaulted Takeda's corpse some more before Charlotte and I returned to the dark tunnels. I stole intact armor vests off two guards, giving the other to Charlotte. We ran up a slope, where I killed four men before we found ourselves on another engraved pathway on the mountain.
Another guard up ahead surprised me, but I turned the tables on him when I rolled forward and slammed the butt of my rifle into his face, knocking him over the edge. If the gun didn't kill him, the fall would.
I entered a different cave that seemed almost empty, until a time grenade was fired at me. I moved out of the way just in time, but it exploded in the cave wall and sent me onto my stomach. The shooter was surprising.
"Padma Lahari…" I gasped.
"Interesting that you didn't realize my intentions, from the start, Emily, especially when you are the queen of secrets."
"My name is Amanda Clarke, and if you don't drop that I'll drop you!" Charlotte helped me to double-team her.
"I'm not interested in killing you."
"Then what are you interested in?"
I heard muffled screams to my right and saw Charlotte in a neck lock, once again being gagged.
"Daniel?!" My ex-lover pointed a gun at me.
"Did you ever really love me, Emily?! Huh? Answer me!"
"Why would you kill our sister, Daniel?"
"Answer my question!"
I sighed. "Once. But your choice to cover up your father's crimes is what made me end it, end us. That moment I had with Jack was out of grief for his dog. We didn't know Amanda would be coming back, never mind pregnant. I don't care for the happiness you and your little whore share."
"HEY!" he shouted. "At least Ashley is smart enough not to cheat on me!"
"I was not cheating on you. You're just a pawn to be used! You know she was once a stripper?"
As I was about to ready myself to die, I heard something fall behind me. It was Padma. She collapsed, blood quickly trickling out of her abdomen as she gasped for air on her back, a gun in her hand.
He let go of Charlotte.
"Believe me, I wanted her to take you down. You might be fighting for true justice, but you still kept secrets from me." He pushed Charlotte to come toward me.
"You're letting us go?"
"Yes. If I could summarize all the things my… she did to me, to the both of you and to others, I would write a book as long as War and Peace."
"If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is: infinite." I quoted.
"William Blake," he breathed. "How did you know that?"
"You honestly don't want to know," I said. He nodded.
"Good luck." was all he said before leaving.
I turned to Padma, ripping the gun out of her hand and pressing it into her shoulder. I took great pleasure in her scream, but I needed her to stay alive until I learned why she was placed in Nolcorp. For a sweet, frail-looking girl, she was holding up her wound very well.
"Why did you join Nolcorp, Padma?" I asked.
"The… Initiative. Some chick, Helen something…"
"Helen Fielding." I said. She nodded.
"She was the director of the Initiative, which you probably know… and she contracted me to investigate your father's ties to Nolcorp. She knew Nolan was working with you, and wanted me to kick the hornet's nest, so to speak, to make Grayson Global take over the company, destroy any evidence of David Clarke's innocence, you know the drill."
I shook my head. "You played with Nolan's heart, Padma. You played him like Tyler. Maybe not as physically, but when I tell him of your betrayal he'll probably never want to speak to you again, provided you make it out of here."
"Please don't tell him… I legitimately love him…"
"You Initiative scumbags have no capacity for love, no hearts. You have no sympathy even when faced with death. Ask Helen Fielding, when we fought neither of us had any remorse for the other. Have you heard from her lately?"
"That's because she lost. End of story." I winked in an almost sadistic way.
"Let me live… please… I can help you save Nolcorp…"
"It's too late for that, Padma. Besides, I've already burned Grayson to the ground and destroyed any proof of their controlling interest in Nolcorp. I'm here to finish the job."
"Say goodbye, Padma."
I didn't allow her to say no before I planted two in her throat and her chest.
"Poor Nolan," I heard Charlotte say. "Can't catch a break with any dates."
"Maybe you can change that." I said. She grimaced.
"I'm just kidding! God," we burst into laughter and hugged.
"I'm not going to help you."
"What?" I asked.
"Help you kill her, I mean. I'm not going to stop you, but I won't help you either. She's still my-"
"Alright, alright. You don't have to do anything you don't want to."
She nodded. I wrapped my arm around her and guided her out of the cave.
We then found ourselves in an area where several dying evergreen trees stood tall in the snow. From afar I destroyed the autodefenses and dropped two more guards, before I finally spotted her.
She began to cackle, the laughter chilling me to the bone and rendering me almost unable to press on, to finally enact my revenge. I shook off that fear and loaded up my gun to full capacity.
"Victoria Grayson!" I called out.
She turned to face me, her raven black hair framing her devious smile.
"I hoped you'd be able to get through my minions and defenses, Amanda! But you've yet to face the real challenge!"
"You think this is funny, Victoria? Your husband has been destroyed, your name tarnished and your children turned against you."
Upon her confused look, I continued. "That's right, even your precious son couldn't stand your shenanigans anymore!"
I noticed that she wore a long white dress with a white overcoat.
"Thinking you can absolve yourself by killing your lover's daughter?" I asked.
"Yes, actually," she replied.
"You'll never absolve yourself of anything, mom," Charlotte said.
"Charlotte, why are you helping this miserable girl? She's a violent sociopath whose father was an easy patsy, whose mother's psychology set her on this destructive path. She deceived you for the longest time-"
"For my protection!" Charlotte countered. "Grayson Manor is probably the most destructive home on the planet, and it was for my own safety that Emily concealed her identity from me, just as she did you."
Victoria looked at me. "And you, Amanda. Do you think killing me is going to make us even? I didn't order Gordon Murphy to kill your father."
"And Conrad has paid for that," I said. "with his life. And now you will join him in the depths of hell, to burn in flames for all eternity!"
"That is, if you win… don't sell me short, Amanda, I am quite capable of killing, as with you." she displayed her own rifle, which resembled an assault rifle with a grenade launcher attached.
To be honest, I had underestimated Victoria's preparation. I didn't think she would put up much of a fight, but clearly I must have been wrong. However, only fate could tell who would leave this battle standing.
With a click of her gun, Victoria said, "Let's get to it!"
This was going to be fun.
She began to fire first, emptying half of her rounds at me, but I was too fast for her. I saw Charlotte retreating.
"Looks like it's just us two. No longer quite a split fight, is it, Amanda?" Victoria taunted.
"Count your lucky stars she wasn't planning to kill you!"
We then heard gunfire from above us. The group of soldiers patrolling the upper mountain of snow in the area were quickly falling to Charlotte's gunfire. She gave the shooters no chance as she followed in my footsteps and took down her targets one by one.
When the moment of distraction was over, Victoria and I returned to our fighting. She could only run to one side, which I decided I would use to my advantage, since unlike her I was robust and fit enough to roll out of the way.
She fired her first grenade, but missed, hitting a soldier just above me. He fell to our level with a yelp.
I looked up and away from Victoria, my eyesight focused solely on my sister, who was looking at me and aiming at Victoria.
"CHARLOTTE, LOOK OUT!" I screamed. A bullet tore through Charlotte's leg, my sister falling hard to the snow below with a scream.
Victoria whirled around and saw what had happened, and despite her daughter's loathing of her, still sprinted to her side.
"CHARLOTTE!" we both screamed at the same time. Her shooter was still alive and prepared to shoot me. Victoria, surprisingly, dropped him before I could.
I made it to Charlotte's side before her mother, and immediately gripped her hand in a death grip.
"Charlotte… Charlotte, please, stay… don't go…"
"CHARLOTTE!" Victoria wailed as she got closer to the two of us. "Charlotte!"
I noticed that she had dropped her gun. As she kneeled down, I pointed mine at her.
"Stay back, you miserable bitch!" I screamed.
The Queen raised her hands and stood up. A second later, I stood as well.
"You've caused her enough pain. I don't want you to be near her ever again." When I was sure she would comply with my demand, I knelt beside Charlotte and began performing CPR.
"Charlotte, stay… stay…"
I could see her gaze turning away from mine, to her mother. Her mother's eyes were glassy and tears spilled out of them onto her frozen face. Her makeup streamed down with the tears as she began to cry, a rare sight to behold. Victoria Grayson almost never cried.
"Amanda, please, no matter how much you both hate me, no matter the unfathomable grief you feel over the loss of your parents, she's still my daughter…" she approached slowly. "Please, please let me speak with her, just one last time…"
I looked at Charlotte, who nodded. I stood up and nodded at Victoria, sighing.
"Don't try to apologize."
Victoria shook her head as she closed her eyes and began to sob. She approached her daughter and knelt by her side, ignorant of the gun I held behind her back.
"Charlotte…" she whispered. "Charlotte, I know you can't bear to speak to me… all I expect from you… is that you listen."
"Go," Charlotte said.
"I loved David with all my being, and my betrayal has haunted every breath since, robbing my ability to trust others, and in those few cases where trust is possible, having it ripped from me results in an irreparable fracture. Just ask Lydia," she smiled.
"You could have come clean, you could have realized destroying others for the sake of self-preservation is not the right thing to do. You destroyed my sister's life, and in turn, mine. While I hate you for that, I'm also glad you didn't marry my real father and adopt Amanda as your stepdaughter. I'm sure she's glad as well."
Victoria looked at me for confirmation. "I am," I said.
She turned back to Charlotte. "Charlotte… no matter what you think, no matter how much you hate me, no matter what Amanda tells you…" she struggled to get the words out. "I do love you."
Charlotte whispered, "You're a monster…"
Victoria sobbed and nodded. "I know, darling, I know…" Charlotte sat up, ignorant of her wound.
"I never believed in heaven and hell," Victoria said. "and I'm sure neither of you do, either. But we can all agree if we did, I would end up in the latter."
I nodded. "Most certainly."
Victoria smiled at me. "You know, you have David's eyes," she said.
"So I'm told."
"And you look so much like your mother."
"Whose husband you stole." I added.
She nodded. "I won't say I'm proud of that."
"You shouldn't be." Charlotte said. "Emily and I are going to start our lives far away from your icy clutches."
"Only if Emily can best me!" Victoria turned and lunged at me, trying to blow my head off with a grenade. It was then that Charlotte threw a spear-like component of Victoria's autodefenses straight at her heart. She fell backward as it sliced right through her.
Charlotte went into hysterics.
"MOM!" she screamed, kneeling beside her mother. Victoria tried to touch Charlotte's face, but her hand fell back weakened.
"You chose… your sister and… the truth over your… original fami…ly…"
"I chose myself, mom." Charlotte said. "I didn't choose Emily, I didn't choose you. I chose myself."
With a disgusted look on her face, she ripped the spear out and threw it aside. Victoria took several final breaths before she lay still.
It was then that Charlotte entered her own grief.
"Charlotte, Charlotte, it's alright, it's alright…" I rushed to her side as she began to collapse, already shaking with sobs.
"My mother is dead, Emily… both my parents are…"
"Hey, hey, so are mine… you don't have to be alone… you have me, Charlotte. You have Daniel. You have both your siblings, if that makes up for it."
She sniffed. "It doesn't, but it does help, knowing I do have some family."
"Yeah, see, and you also have Declan and Jack, and baby Carl."
"Who isn't my nephew!" she moaned.
"There doesn't have to be a blood relation, Charlotte. Nolan's considered Carl's uncle, there's no blood relation with him…"
Her head fell into my lap. I stroked her hair as I dreamt I would for years, and planted a kiss on her temple.
When I didn't answer, she clarified.
"You've saved the world from an extremist group, and you've destroyed the monsters that are my parents while saving my life…"
I smiled. "Well, I never really thought about that, the saving the world part, but I guess I did."
"Now go after another!" she giggled. I chuckled myself.
"Come on," I said. "Let's get going. Are you cold?"
She shook her head. "Not really… all this gun violence can warm me up enough that I don't even need this coat."
"Well, I'd say we've had enough violence for one day."
I started to walk, reaching for Charlotte's hand and holding it as we left Victoria's corpse to decompose in the climate. We would return to Nolan, Declan and Jack, have a funeral for my mom and Aiden, and toast our successful plot against the wealthiest family in America.
Revenge is a dish best served cold, and I served it in just that way.
Granted, our return home was not easy. Charlotte had a lot of nightmares where Victoria would rise from the dead and kill me and our somehow reincarnated father while forcing her to watch.
We landed on top of Grayson Global HQ. Nolan had taken over the company when he lied through his teeth to become CEO, and then through a lot of bribing he had rebuilt Nolcorp. I was proud of him and I was sure my father would be too.
After leaving the HQ, our first stop was my beach house. While it was no fortress from my enemies, it was my old home and I vowed to protect it and never to sell it.
The time came when I had to tell Jack everything. Initially, he didn't take it well. He was rather mad about how I lied to him, and how he fathered a child with the wrong Amanda (although it didn't change his love for his son Carl). Eventually, he forgave me and we started going out as a couple for real.
I have to say he was entirely shocked that I committed numerous felonies without ever getting caught, including my most recent, Victoria's Arctic murder. Only a scientist would ever find her body, and by then it'd be too mauled and too mangled by polar bears, seals or any other Arctic animal who found the corpse of Victoria Grayson to be quite appetizing.
I cried a lot at the joint funeral for Aiden and my mother, but I had my family with me: Charlotte, Nolan and the Porter boys.
One night, I dreamt I was talking to my father. He was proud of me for all my hard work despite encouraging me to forgive the conspirators.
"But I did it for you, dad."
He nodded, saying
"Amanda, I love you infinity times infinity."