He had a head start, but that wouldn’t help him in the end. None of my targets were able to stay ahead of me for long—not without me letting them, at least. No matter how hard he ran, I’d catch up to him. And he’d lose.
I sprinted up the stairwell, taking the steps three at a time. My hand skimmed the railing, my eyes trained on the man in front of me. The thief. He’d regret stealing from me—if I decided to be merciful and let him live. For this crime, though, that wasn’t likely.
My mind flashed to the reason behind this all. Would she approve? No. No, she wouldn’t. She’d give me that stern look, call me by a name I wish I could forget, and ask what I was doing. And when I wouldn’t—couldn’t—answer, she’d tell me to think about it.
Get your head out of the past, I thought sharply, eyes narrowing. Focus on the task at hand. You’re trying to kill someone, remember?
I shook my head and, in a burst of energy, boosted myself up the last flight of stairs and barreled onto the roof. The man’s eyes were wide with fear, realizing his costly mistake. A cold smile spread across my face. “Nowhere to go now.”
He glanced at the fire escape on the other side of the roof, past me. My eyes narrowed. “Don’t even think about it.”
I regarded the man before me. He was middle-aged with thinning brown hair, plastered to his face by sweat. There’d been a child’s bedroom in his apartment—he had a family. What would make a man like this steal from a notorious supervillain? And, more importantly—how had he known of the necklace’s existence?
I thought back to the apartment. There hadn’t been much—the cabinets were mostly bare, the clothes were old with rips in them. He didn’t have much—it went to the child. This is a very desperate man.
Words flashed in my mind, spoken by a voice I knew like the back of my hand. A desperate man is more dangerous than a wild animal. They’re reckless, unpredictable. But once you find what makes them tick, you control them.
I blocked the memories that surged at the voice. Now wasn’t the time for the past. Not that part, anyway.
I took a step forward, and the man retreated, his wide eyes flicking between me and the fire escape. If he died before I got what I wanted—
Don’t think about that. I couldn’t accept failure—hadn’t in over twelve years. Focus on your humanity. Make him see you aren’t what the media portrays you as.
Well, the media does a pretty good job of making me look like a monster.
I locked eyes with the man. “I saw the bedroom—you have a child?”
Fear flared in his eyes, and I internally cursed. Nice going. Now he thinks you’re going to murder his kid. Well, I could improvise.
“I can see you care about them,” I continued conversationally. “Everything you have goes to them, am I right?” I glanced at his terrified face. Good. He should be on his knees after stealing from me.
“Please,” the man blurted. “Don’t hurt him. He’s only seven.”
Seven. My stomach knotted. More memories surged. Seven, seven, seven. I blocked them off. Stay in the present, out of the past.
A smile played over my lips. “Oh, don’t worry. He’s perfectly fine—for now. But if you don’t tell me where you hid the necklace...” I tsked and shook my head. “Well, I can’t guarantee anything then.”
“Don’t,” he pleaded, tears filling his eyes. “He...He hasn’t done anything. Please. Don’t hurt him.”
I leaned forward. “Where’s the necklace?” I asked softly.
The man scanned my face, presumably taking in the white mask that covered the top half of my face. I pictured the way my victims must’ve seen me—a monster in white, hair blowing in a nonexistent wind. Searching for humanity in pale, cold blue eyes. I wondered what they’d found in the depths.
“It’s important to you, isn’t it?” the man asked abruptly. A small, triumphant grin spread across his face. “I should’ve known when he asked for me to steal a necklace—why else would a supervillain hide it?”
I scowled, hiding what I sensed. My leverage was slipping here—he was beginning to realize a fraction of the necklace’s value.
I shrugged, channeling the two people I hated most. “Well, if you prefer the necklace, keep it. I’m sure your child will fetch a good price from Paladin. Might be a little scarred, but...” I shrugged. “Oh, well.”
And just like that, I was back in control. “You wouldn’t hurt a child,” the man growled. Fear glimmered in his eyes—he had no idea what I’d do. He laughed, pretending the threat didn’t rattle him. “You’re, what, fifteen? You don’t have what it takes.”
I arched an eyebrow. “Maybe you haven’t taken a look at the news in the past three years because I’ve killed plenty. A child wouldn’t hold a candle to what I’ve done.”
“You’d never,” he hissed.
I shrugged. “It’s your child’s life on the line, not mine.”
The man opened his mouth to respond when something struck me. I staggered back a step, my fingers curling around the shadowy javelin in my shoulder. Blood—my blood—stained my white clothes red, seeping into the fabric.
Where—? I scanned the nearby rooftops, but there was no one. The man tore past me, seizing his opportunity to escape. My mystery attacker would have to wait.
I turned around, summoning a strong wind to my side. The gale coiled next to me, shrieking in eagerness. Just as the man was approaching the fire escape, I released it, letting the wind send him over the edge. I ignored his desperate cry, the sound of his body hitting the pavement.
I exhaled weakly and studied my injury. I immediately recognized the handiwork—a shade. Which could only mean...
Don’t finish that sentence, I ordered myself, turning my attention to the gaping wound in my side. The weapon was strange but familiar to me—a type of solid shadow, shaped into a point to penetrate the skin. It wasn’t jagged, though—this was to send a message, not kill me. That was worse.
I swallowed and reached for a power I hadn’t used in nearly five years. More memories rose to the surface, ones I couldn’t deal with right now. I was bleeding out—now was not the time to relive the most painful parts of my life.
My fingers sunk into the darkness. Feeling the tangible-but-not substance sent shivers up my spine, and I quickly turned to the task at hand. My eyes narrowed as I commanded the shadows to unravel, watching as the weapon came undone before vanishing completely. Immediately, blood began to pour faster out of the wound. I sighed.
If you’re going to use three of your powers today, why not use all of them?
I concentrated, pulling light from my surroundings, pushing it into a solid form. It emitted a fragile glow as I pressed it against my injury, sealing the cut in seconds.
I gritted my teeth and stood up, wincing at the jolt of pain the movement caused. I wrapped an arm around my side and limped to the edge of the building. The winds coiled around me as I floated to the ground, landing by the thief’s body.
The outskirts of Dawswich were sparsely populated, despite being the old city. Many viewed them as being crime-ridden, but I didn’t mind. It kept nosy people from ratting me out to Paladin, which I appreciated.
I crouched by the crumpled body and searched his pockets. They were empty, aside from a key ring, a business card for a car dealer, and a wallet. All of them useless in my search for the necklace.
“Where?” I snarled, gritting my teeth. “Where did you hide it?” I knew he’d be smart, but not keeping it in the apartment or on his person? It had to be nearby, somewhere he could discreetly check on at any hour of the day.
I scanned the dull walls of the alley. Brick buildings, two dumpsters, a couple of bags of garbage, some cigarette butts, and a storm drain. If I was a thief who’d just stolen something valuable from a supervillain, where would I hide it?
I recalled my brief conversation with the man. He asked for me to steal a necklace. And if there had been a shade nearby...
“Back away, Genesis,” someone said. I stopped myself from rolling my eyes; Paladin’s cavalry had finally arrived. It was Resonate, with Clairvoyance, Blizzard, Voltage, and Riptide. The least they could’ve done was use decent, non-cringe-inducing names.
I bit back a sigh and an injured whimper as I straightened and turned to face them. They were heroes—to the public, anyway. I wasn’t as blind as the media was when it came to government-monitored organizations. After years in Dawswich, I knew about some of their less favorable supers—take Sun, who’d do anything for the spotlight.
I smirked at the heroes. “Resonate! Good to see you. I was getting worried—it’s been, what? A week since I last saw you?”
He gritted his teeth. “Just turn yourself in, Genesis, and we can stop this charade.”
I rolled my eyes. “As appealing as that sounds, it’s gonna be a hard no from me.”
“You don’t have a choice,” Voltage hissed. “We’re taking you in.”
I glanced at Clairvoyance. Her eyes were clouded, and she trembled slightly. “Well, your seer seems to think this turns into a blood bath. And honestly, I have to agree. You’re finally starting to get on my nerves.”
“Do we get a badge?” Riptide muttered. I suppressed a grin.
“Now’s not the time,” Resonate snapped, glaring at his teammate. I lifted my head as our eyes locked. “If you cooperate, this will go a lot easier.”
“I agree.” My eyes narrowed. “If you stay out of my way, this will go a lot easier.”
Voltage roared, apparently dissatisfied by the way this was going. Electricity jumped from him, sending me into a building. The brick around me spider-webbed with cracks. I inhaled sharply, pain stabbing through me. Oh, that’s definitely fractured.
I shoved the agony away and stood up, laughing softly to hide the hot knife slicing through me. The lightning had left a scorch mark on the white suit. Yay, laundry.
“It’ll take a lot more than that to keep me down,” I said, mustering a smirk. “Unlike your— What was he? Your friend?”
Clairvoyance bit her lip and looked away. “Cousin,” she whispered. Close enough. Voltage started forward, but she held him back. “Don’t. She’ll kill you.” Fear and concern flashed in her eyes as she glanced at the rest of her teammates. “She’ll kill all of us.”
I smiled. “I’m glad to see at least one of you has some common sense. I was getting worried.” The grin faded, and my eyes narrowed. “Stay out of my way, or you’ll suffer the same fate her cousin did.”
I flicked my fingers, and the earth rolled forward, knocking the heroes off their feet. I shoved aside the pain and boosted into the air, the wind supporting me as I flew over them and landed in the alley beyond. Every movement was agony, but it was nothing I hadn’t dealt with before. The stakes here were high—I could deal with a little bit of pain.
Vaguely, I heard Resonate shouting at Voltage to wait while they took care of me. Despite the failure of tonight, a smile flitted over my face. When had they gotten the impression that I was going down without taking them too?
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