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Roots

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To dream.

He hid in the woods, letting his mind fly into the thing that looked much too much like Irene. She stood, watching Jack talk to the boy. Hector. She smiled as Jack busied himself with preparations, a house burning. She smiled as he directed her to find their guest of honor.

His mind wandered whenever he was forced to watch and wait. To the fame and fortune he lost, the opportunities, the dreams. All because he let himself make a mistake over the course of a year.

He tried telling his wife, in as many ways as he could, that she meant everything to him. That stress, tried and true, could break any man down. He told her that because she knew what he did, he saw the error in his ways. That he would be a better husband, a better father, and that his heart wouldn’t wander anymore.

Was it any wonder she didn’t believe him?

The divorce was a mess. She made sure to tell Irene all about what he did, and she reacted in the way he feared most. She would talk to him, only sometimes, but he saw that disappointment in her eyes. It would only morph into irritation over the months, and he saw hate there the second to last time they spoke. Working with Cauldron only ever made him realize how far he was falling in her eyes.

He became desperate. Anything, he would do anything to make her see him as a father again So he stole a vial, tested but imperfect. The chances it would hurt her were low, low enough to spur him forward. He promised her she could be a superhero, like the ones she liked so much.

That had been the worst mistake of his life, the one he’d never get to fix.

And he ran away from it. From Irene.

He told himself that one day, he’d go back for her. After his grief was quelled, he’d return to being the person he was, fix his daughter, find a way to kill Doctor Mother and the rest. Live out the rest of his days, quietly, until he saw gold.

Sometimes, he even believed himself.

William Manton wept quietly in a van, it’s smell drowning out the thoughts of what he used to be. He would have to clean away the shit and bile. Maybe he actually would.

But it was easier to let himself turn to nothing.

‘I’ll come back, Irene,’ he whispered, letting tears fall. ‘I’ll come back. I’ll fix you. And I promise I’ll be better.’


========================================

As Cody O’Hannigan woke up, he was greeted with memories.

The sounds were fresher, but if he dug deep his mind would still let him see the past, even as it still faded. The looks on his parents' faces when he told them about his failure in highschool, then in college. The smiles of a new family he had made, that quickly turned to grief as one of those smiles was forever wiped away.

Faded, but the pain was still there. so he focused on sounds he liked. The voices of his friends. When heard in the right context, they were all pleasant to listen to. In their own ways.

As Cody woke up, hearing a hushed voice and a pained whisper, there wasn’t anything particularly pleasant to latch on to.

He frowned. He licked his lips. He sighed.

Then, as he tried to sit up, he bit back a scream.

The pain that flared through his arm brought back memories of shouting. Of weeping, distorted and vile, and of a roar that chilled him to his very core. These, fortunately or unfortunately, were all drowned out by the dawning fact that he couldn’t move the damn thing. At least, not the way he wanted to.

Yet he managed to hold in most of the noise. What he didn’t manage to do, however, was stop the pained gasping that flew from his mouth, sounding dry.

That, at least, told him he was dehydrated to all shit.

Something shifted, he heard a sheet rustle, and suddenly a voice called out to him from further away than he expected.

“Cody? I-It’s Evelyn.”

He didn’t realize just how much of a relief those words would be.

He smiled. “Hey, Evie. I’m guessing this is worse than the time Mathew and I woke up drunk at hillside park, huh?”

He pressed his good hand down onto the fabric below him and hummed. Definitely a mattress. He had been sleeping somewhere that was decidedly not his own home, which was becoming more obvious to him now as time went on. He’d remember a room that held a constant, droning hum like this one. Also, it was way too cold.

So where the hell were they?

Footsteps echoed, closer and faster, until he very suddenly felt warm.

Ah. That was a hug. It made him feel better and worse all at the same time.

He smiled and hugged her back, patting her back twice before adjusting his head to rest more comfortably on her shoulder. “Hey there. The uh, the arm…”

The pressure lifted, and he heard Evelyn let out a strained laugh. “Ah! I’m sorry Cody. I was just...well, I was worried.”

“I get it,” he responded, reaching out and finding her shoulder. “I’m amazing. I’d be worried about me too.”

She scoffed, and he grinned. Levity, as always, was good.

What wasn’t good was the fact that he had no idea where they were. Hopefully somewhere safe, if the lack of panic in her voice was anything to go by. Or more accurately, the lack of immediate panic.

The question remained of where in the hell that somewhere was. Or, probably a bit more pressing, how they got here.

Truth be told, he didn’t have a clue. And he wasn’t much in the mood to deduce it himself, not with recent memories from the crash trying to worm their way into his mind.

The roars and snarls that sounded similar to Graf and nothing like her at the same time, the strained and manic giggling from dozens of unfamiliar, twisted voices.

The wrenching of metal and a piercing scream, bringing back a buried and distant memory and too painful to think about.

All of it told a story he was afraid he wouldn’t like the ending to.

Like waking up in a bed, only to realize the nightmare you had never stopped following you. A reminder that clawed and wrenched at his mind, neverending. Waiting and watching.

No thanks. He’d just ask, and hopefully that would erase some of his worry.

Cody gently pulled her towards the bed, feeling her sit down next to him. He propped himself into a better position and was careful to avoid his arm. “First things first. Are you okay?”

“I’m okay, no injuries. Shouldn’t I be asking you that?”

“And everyone else?” he pressed, pausing to listen to the shallow breathing again. “That’s?...”

Cody, admittedly, didn’t like the way neither of them answered right away. She coughed, and he felt a hand on his shoulder.

“It’s Russel. He’s sleeping. Or...I don’t know, he’s trying. He was hit by something bad. He can barely stand at the moment. Can barely do anything.”

She paused to squeeze his shoulder, and he let her. After a moment, she continued. “But that didn’t stop him from trying to put himself in harm's way. Again. He’s insisting on going out there. To fight them.

Cody nodded, taking time to digest her words before he asked who ‘they’ were. That, at least, sounded like Russel. That relief was quickly shattered when he realized that Russel had been ‘hit’ by something bad enough to leave him bedridden.

Something else to worry about, of course.

“And everyone else?”

“They’re safe. Or at least that’s what Beatrice is telling me.”

“She’s here?”

“Yes. Well, no. Not really. There’s a lot of surprises she has that we didn’t know about. But...she’s using them to help us.”

“Like?”

Evelyn sighed. “Like...drones? Mechanical ones with her voice. One led us straight to this lab underneath the copse, then left. She told us we’d be safe here.”

Cody frowned, and digested his thoughts as he listened to the dull hum of the room. “So. Right now we’re in a weird lab that apparently, only Beatrice knows about? Did you know about this?”

“I had no idea,” Evelyn answered quietly. Her voice rode on a wave of dull frustration, drowned out by obvious concern.

It sounded like she needed a distraction, too.

“Help me up? I wanna get a better idea of where everything is.”

He offered his arm, and let himself lean on Evelyn as she locked it with hers and slowly helped him to his feet. The dull ache of his body was uncomfortable, but was easily ignored in comparison to the mangled bastardization of an arm he had.

The room was smaller than he expected, much bigger than a bedroom but nowhere near as large as what he imagined a lab to be, composed of jagged rock-like walls as well as what Evelyn could only describe as a ‘hanging and twisted piece of dull pink metal too high up on the ceiling to reach’. They came across another opening in the wall, Evelyn describing them as a flight of stairs that led down into even more space.

There were also what felt like metal work tables on all four corners of the room. Each bare except for one in the north-west corner of the room, the direction gathered from a quick question to Evelyn.

Finally, they came to another mattress, and Cody knelt down next to what could only be Russel. He listened to Russel’s labored breathing for as long as he could without over-worrying, sighed, and shook his head. “He...doesn’t sound great.”

“I...he’s stable. Beatrice promised she’d find a way to help him, and her drone left so soon after that. There’s still a lot of questions I want to ask her, but…”

Silence. Then, Evelyn spoke in a quieter voice, nearly defeated.

“I don’t know what to do, Cody.”

Neither did he.

He wanted to offer words of comfort, something that would kick them both into gear to prepare for whatever they were dealing with.

Instead, his power floated to the surface, and he heard phantom sounds.

The sound of echoing sighs and pencil scribbles swirled in his mind, and suddenly he knew the exact right words, or at least the right words to start.

The right words to break her.

A sentence, half-formed and struggling, rose to the surface of his thoughts.

‘Well that’s just great,” It whispered. ‘I know who you are, Evelyn. Maybe right now isn’t a good time to bring this up, but why not? Maybe if you actually did something different, we wouldn’t be here right now. Maybe-’

Then with as much hidden fury as he could muster, He stuffed his power down.

Fuck. Fuck. wasn’t using it in town supposed to be...harder? Sort of? And now it was gasping for air, resurfacing against his friend.

Something else to worry about. Later.

Cody leaned for a tiny amount, whispering to distract himself. “Russ? You alright?”

He got a groan in response, and Cody let himself smile. Well, Russ was alive. Now onto the final question of the hour, that being what exactly they were fighting against.

Cody stood, offering his arm to Evelyn and speaking up as she took it. “I’m gonna be honest. This is hell of a lot to take in, about Beatrice. Not calling you a liar, far from it, it’s just her powers-”

“I know,” Evelyn quickly interrupted, voice tense. “Seems there’s a lot of things we just don’t know. All crashing down on us, at the worst possible time.”

He waited for her to elaborate. She didn’t, and he was left with a choice.

He could gather, somewhat, that they were attacked. But why? And why now, of all times? Was it someone he hurt? One of Dana or Russel’s enemies? They tended to get around, and maybe someone was trying something?

“...Evie? What happened?”

She didn’t answer for so long that he almost made himself ask again.

The answer she gave, after what seemed like an eternity, was so much worse than any he could think of.

“The Slaughterhouse Nine.”

He paused.

In that moment, he was suddenly aware of just how fast his heart was beating, how the slow maelstrom of panic and fear was beginning to bubble up and threatening to spillover.

“Like…”

“Jack Slash. Siberian. The...the rest.”

“Oh.”

Words escaped him, and thoughts barely formed. He didn’t know exactly what to say. More surprisingly, he didn’t know exactly what to feel.

The Nine were in town, and everything was worse now.

They promised pain. More than pain, they promised death and blood and gleeful satisfaction in ruining a life. In watching a person bend until they broke, then doing it all over again.

The Nine lived for ruining lives. And he couldn’t understand why.

It wasn’t like he was innocent. He owed debts, paid for in the indirect ruination of lives he didn’t let himself wonder about. He was directed, here or there, to twist a person’s resolve into a quiet defeat. To sap their very drive to succeed from their core, leaving them husks. A stark reminder, he felt, of what and who he was.

The Elite would wring every ounce of power they could from him, until he paid them back. But he didn’t enjoy that.

In the back of his mind, he knew he was distracting himself. The Nine were in town, ready to take everything they could.

And all he could feel was that quiet, ever growing resignation that he had grown used to. They were going to die, at least some of them. And there wasn’t much they could do about it.

Cody said the first thing that came to his mind, in a strained mutter.

“...Where the hell are my shades?”

Evelyn huffed out a laugh, and Cody felt one surfacing too. “Y-Your ’shades?”

“What? I liked them, Evie!”

What he said wasn’t particularly funny in his opinion, but her huff of a laugh turned into something full and light, and Cody felt he had no choice but to join. They stood there in the ‘lab’, laughing more and more until they were both out of breath, manic and energized.

The shadow of The Nine was looming outside their door, but Cody thought they deserved to laugh a bit more, if nothing else.

“Cody, I’ll just make you new glasses.”

“Yeah, but it just wouldn’t be the same. Named them Clementine, y’know, just because-”

He was interrupted by Eveline loudly proclaiming she was going to show him the rest of the lab, laughter in her voice. Cody only shrugged, an easy smile returning to his face.

He was sure he wouldn’t be able to smile in the hours and days to come.

As Evelyn led him to the stairs, she described a larger white room below them with more beds, dozens or piles of scrap metal and empty notebooks littering the floor. Cody tried his best to listen as she recounted what he asked for, but eventually he found himself drifting off again.

Evelyn, of course, led him to a bed and tucked him in.

“Get some rest,” she whispered. “Then...we can figure out what to do. Find the others. Find Dana, Hector, and Beatrice. Then…”

She fell to silence, and Cody gave her a smile.

“They’ll be okay, Evie.”

They both knew he couldn’t promise something like that. He liked to think it made them both feel better, though.

Somehow, he found sleep once she left. He only hoped his usual nightmares wouldn’t find him again.

========================================

He awoke to a crash.

Bleary and wide-eyed, his mind flashed back to the nightmare as he whimpered. A scream, small and tiny, before being silenced. He could reach it now, if he tried. He’d succeed this time, he would-

No.

He was safe. Or more accurately, he wasn’t there anymore. The past was the past, and he was more than glad to leave it there.

Instead, he listened.

The room was silent, save for the shallow, near distant breathing of someone else inside of it. He strained to deduce it, but was saved from doing so by a cough, and a voice.

“Uh?...”

Russel. Maybe?

“Russel?” he whispered, “Is that you? Did you hear that?”

A beat, followed by a pained groan. “It's...It’s Russel. Can’t...jesus, can’t fucking move. Everything hurts. Lights are swimming…”

He had no idea what that last part meant. Unfortunately, he didn’t get the chance to ask as another crash sounded from above, followed by a distant cry of pain.

It sounded too much like Evelyn for him to ignore.

His blood burned, and he whipped his legs over the side of the bed. He paused, sighing once.

He could only hope his power did something good.

“Russ, stay here. I’m gonna try and check that out. It’s Evelyn.”

A groan laced with concern sounded out, and Russel spoke again. “Evelyn?...I’m, I’m coming with you. I can walk, I just-”

“You can’t. You need to stay here. Rest.”

“I have to protect you guys. Fuck, I have to save you. I have to save them.”

“You’ll only be getting yourself hurt. Please, for once Russ. Give this time.”

Russel didn’t answer for a moment, and as Cody pushed himself to his feet, he heard him one last time.

“These fucking lights…”

He heard Russel’s breathing steady, and he let out a relieved breath of his own. He wasn’t sure he could handle the idea of Russel being hurt. The very idea of it gave them all pause.

No more distractions, it was now or never. No matter how much he wanted to be anywhere else.

Using Evelyn’s still barely remembered ideas of direction and layout, Cody made his way to the stairway and leaned on the wall, doing his best to ascend the stairs as quietly as possible. The crashes became less frequent as he went, before worryingly coming to a complete and utter stop. He paused only once before he forced himself up.

As he got to the lab and stepped inside, he heard the shifting and sliding of muted glass. He stopped completely when he heard what he assumed to be Evelyn’s voice closer to him now, reedy and weak.

“Evie?” he called, his own voice feeling impossibly small. He willed himself to be silent once any response he could get was overtaken by the voice of another woman with a strange english accent.

“You didn’t tell me,” it began, quietly smug. “That you had guests. He looks lost, doesn’t he?”

Unfamiliar. Dangerous, with an edge of sadistic curiosity. Muted, as if behind a wall. But apparently, she could still see him?

“Who are you,” he tried. “You-”

“Cody,” a voice interrupted. He paused in recognition, letting Evelyn speak. “It’s Shatterbird. She’s here.”

Oh.

“Oh,” he responded. Suddenly feeling very small. He clenched his hands into fists, and tried to steel his nerves. He wasn’t surprised when he failed.

“Then you’re…”

“Shatterbird. There’s a quote I can’t quite reach right now, that describes this situation perfectly. Would you like to try and guess what it is? No? Too bad.”

That was it.

He was going to die. Alone with Evelyn and Russel, with nobody else to help them. Was there peace in that kind of death? Knowing it was inevitable? He didn’t know. He didn’t want to.

Something still confused him, though. And he used all of his willpower to voice it.

“You’re...you’re not attacking us. Why?”

He heard a laugh. “Oh. I’m trying, don’t worry. But your little friend here is doing everything she can to keep her barrier up. To protect you I imagine. And someone else?”

“I-”
“Just thought of the quote,” she interrupted. “Beware; for I am fearless, and therefore powerful. And I think it’s fair to say fear is the furthest thing from my mind right now. Maybe interest? Curiosity? Don’t worry, we’re not allowed to kill you just yet. But it will be made that much sweeter when we do. When we hunt you down and flay you, from toe to scalp.”

Cody controlled his breathing, unsure as to why. His mother told him once, after his dad died, that everyone thought they were prepared for death until they opened the door and it stood there in front of them. He hadn’t given it much thought, at the time.

Now, he knew exactly what she meant. He couldn’t find the words.

But his power could.

Fuck it. Fuck it. He had her voice now. He’d never forgive himself if he did nothing.

“You,” he began, faltering for only a moment, “Need to think very hard about why you’re here.”

That was met with silence. Then, with a laugh. Equal parts amused and disbelieving, as if the fact that he spoke up again at all blindsided her. “That’s interesting. You think you have something to say?”

In a way, it blindsided him to. If he had the option, he’d hide and pray that the nine would leave. Eventually. He didn’t have that option when Russ and Evie were on the line. He just didn’t. He had to do what he did best.

So, he pushed a faltering and meek voice between his lips, and let the phantom sounds her voice gave him guide him.

A frustrated scream echoed through his mind, interlaced with whispers, crying, and shifting sands. He let the words come to him as he listened. “It's just an observation. Something of a scholar myself, I think.”

He wasn’t. Not at all. But he wasn’t going to second-guess his power now.

Silence, and then a hum. “You are, are you?”

“It’s a passion of mine, truth be told. We all need hobbies.”

That almost got a laugh out of him. Calling him a ‘scholar’ was a bit of a stretch. Still, listening to the sounds always brought the best results. Most of the time.

“It’s good to know someone in this town has taste. Well, from one Scholar to another, I think I can give you a bit of knowledge before you die.”

Evelyn whispered, quiet and exhausted. “Cody…”

“It’s fine. I’m okay.”

Evelyn sighed, and the silence returned. A moment passed before Shatterbird spoke again, and he prepared himself.

Now or never.

“I thought I was satisfied,” she began, humor creeping into her voice. “With running around and tearing apart every town and city we could get to. It was fun. But I only realized what we were missing after our plans were changed. For the better.”

“For the better?”

“What we did was crass. A good starting point, but we were never going to reach the finish line if we didn’t push ourselves to run. You visit a town, you leave an impact, but then they recover. If someone can walk away after you do your best to hurt them, then you haven’t hurt them at all.”

The sounds of muttered fear swirled around his mind like a maelstrom, coupled with the rustle of turned pages and hushed whispers. Words formed and he winced.

“You want to be remembered?”

He imagines that she’s smiling as she speaks again, clearly proud. “Who doesn’t?”

“You won’t be. Not here.”

She sighs, perhaps disappointed. “And what makes you so sure?”

The words come faster now, wrapped in mutterings and resentment. “Think about it, for just a second. If you want to be remembered, you have to have vision. You have that, of course. But you don’t have a method. Trust me, I’d know.”

“Method?”

“There,” Cody continued, swallowing before pushing his voice out again, “are capes more powerful than you. More powerful than most of the hang-arounds in your group. Most of you guys aren’t invincible, not even your leader is. What makes you think that, at some point, someone’s not going to get tired of you and just wipe you all out?”

“People have tried. They failed.”

“Sure. But they always get some of you, every time. Who’s to say you’re not next? After that, you’ll be a footnote. And you are a footnote, really. You...you strike me as someone who thinks very highly of what they do. But I’m not impressed so far.”

She didn’t answer, and he went on the attack. “I follow anything I can find on your group when I can. Want to know something I’ve noticed? Whenever people talk about, say, Jack or The Siberian or Crawler, there’s that quiet fear in their voices that’s obvious, if you listen. I don’t hear that same fear when people speak about you.”

“I think you just don’t know how to listen,” she responded almost sweetly. “You know, I’ve decided: I’m going to make your death that much slower, when I get my hands on you. You’re lucky we can’t touch you, yet. But Jack knows how to bide his time so the moment is that much sweeter.”

He wanted to throw up.

It was a fact now; Shatterbird wanted to kill him, of all people. His power would do jack and shit if he wanted to talk his way out of it. If he begged, if he pleaded, he’d have to fall back on his own words. Not an option.

Nowhere to go but down.

“Hm,” he hummed, letting his power guide him. “That’s curious.”

“What?”

“Jack knows. But I’m guessing you don’t.”

“You and I both know that’s not what I meant. You’re reaching very, very far to come to that conclusion. You’re scared, aren’t you? Trying to act tough as a last moment of defiance?”

He was. More than anything, he was terrified.

“Scared? Not at the moment, not really.”

“I find that hard to believe.”

“Believe what you want. I’d be scared of you if you gave me something to be afraid of.”

“You say you follow what we do. You should know, then, what I do to people. Your skin will be flayed just as easily as anyone else's.”

“That,” he countered, fighting as hard as he could to stop his voice from wavering, “Is something anyone could do. Hell, it looks like you’re repeating yourself, too.”

“Not like we do,” she responded, with no humor in her voice now.

“There it is again. We. Why not ‘I’? Why not you?”

“That-”

“I went over a few things,” he interrupted. “Histories I could piece together. Of all of you. It was fun, seeing how hard some of you went to bury your pasts. People like Mannequin didn’t try very hard. Jack himself? Well, I don’t really...have a clue. But you…”

He found a twisted humor in the fact that his power wanted him to pause. As if for dramatic effect.

Shatterbird didn’t interrupt.

“The Emirates. This huge mess of glass and sand in Dubai made the news a few years back. Took me a bit to connect the dots, but once I did I only had one question; what made you decide to come all the way here?”

Shatterbird didn’t interrupt.

“You dig deep. Like a maggot in desperate search of a way to keep itself alive.”

“Sure. Call it what you’d like. Doesn’t change the fact-”

“You know,” she responded. Her voice was outwardly level, but he could hear a waver or two. “You know, about my past.”

“It took me a while to find, if it’s any consolation.”

He was met with silence. The pained breathing of Evelyn and the agitated shifting of glass combined into an unnerving chorus.

Then, Shatterbird spoke with renewed vigor. So upbeat and outwardly confident that he was afraid his power hadn’t worked. It, in turn, assured him that it did. All he would need was more words.

‘How many more,’ he thought to himself, ‘until I can finally fucking pretend you don’t exist?’

“You know,” Shatterbird spoke, her voice rising in volume. “So what?”

“What do you mean?”

“Getting my powers made me stronger. Smarter. It took me some time, but I finally knew what I wanted to do. Anyone else would be broken, a shadow of their former self. I burn all the brighter.”

“You haven't convinced me.”

“Because you’re too dull to realize what a mistake it was to dig that deep.”

“Or maybe I’m getting too close to something you don’t want to think about, and this is your way of coping.”

“And what makes you think I-” a pause, then a shuddering breath. “Ah. I see what you’re trying to do to me. Manipulation and poisoned words. You think I haven’t dealt with that before?”

“I know you have. I’d be surprised if you didn’t. Doesn’t mean I’m wrong, does it?”

When she didn’t answer, Cody had to stop himself from breathing a huge sigh of relief. Instead, he continued. He was almost there.

“People remember The Nine, because most The Nine go out of their way to make sure they’re remembered. People Remember Jack Slash. The Siberian. Hell, even that new one? Cherish. They’re not going to remember someone who’s a follower, a parasite. Someone like you.”

“And you’re better? Living in some no-name town with a bunch of backwater morons?”

That was anger in her voice, real anger. He was getting closer, and staying silent wouldn’t stop his power from working on her now.

He didn’t dare let himself feel optimistic. The only thing keeping her from leaving outright was his power, good at giving his words weight and keeping someone's focus on him. And even that wouldn’t stop her for long if she really wanted to go, if she thought too long about it. It just made engaging with him seem like an easier choice. A simpler one. So he had to keep the conversation going.

And yet, nothing about this was simple. And if he fucked up, things would become a hell of a lot more complicated.

“Never said I was better. I like my life. It’s simple, it’s quiet, and sometimes that’s all you need. I don’t have the mettle to try and achieve something like what you want. Neither do you, actually, but the difference between us is that you tell yourself you do. That you’re meant for great things.”

He let himself smile, now.

“There’s nothing great about what you’re doing, and know that. Others have done it before, better than you have. So I guess I just don’t understand why a parody of a person like you is trying so hard.”

One last sentence, already forming. Then-

A twisted shriek of metal and a scream from downstairs cut through his thoughts.

Russel’s scream.

Cody gasped, and he heard Shatterbird let out a late chuckle. Russel’s voice faded, screaming and shouting the entire way. And he was stuck. He was fucking stuck.

“What,” he tried, tired panic rising as his power slipped from his grasp. “What did-”

“A friend of mine,” she hissed, eagerness slipping through obvious frustration. “Tore down the walls of your little hole. And we’ve gotten what we’ve come for. Isn’t that lovely?”

“You-”

“We,” she interrupted again, practically singing the word. “Didn’t come here to kill you. Far from it in fact. It was made very clear that his friends would be the last to die, before we tore him apart. That means you get to see another sunrise.”

He forced himself to think. Things, people, that could carve through a wall as easily as the thing downstairs had. Only a few things could do that, when it came to The Nine. None of the answers were good.

He failed. Again.

Evelyn wasn’t moving next to him, more than likely keeping up the barrier that was saving their asses. He wasn’t moving because he could never, ever, escape from who he was. A failure, through and through.

Evelyn whimpered, and he couldn’t even reach out a hand. He could only stand still.

“You call yourself a scholar, but you’re somehow dumb enough to think I’d let you get away with whatever you just did. I won’t. I don’t think I need to tell you what’s coming.”

No. He couldn’t let things end like this. Not here. He had to do something. Speak. Words. They came too slowly to matter, and the sounds Shatterbird gave were now muddled. Undefined.

He couldn’t let things end like this.

But, really, what the fuck did he think he was going to do?

“I’ll be seeing you again, maggot.”

Shatterbirds footsteps faded as she walked away from them, before they disappeared altogether. Minutes later, he heard Evelyn fall to the floor and wheeze. He stood still, unable to bring himself to do anything.

And that was the problem, wasn’t it?

Cody could try all he wanted. He was used to that. He had been trying, ever since he was a kid. And he always found a way to fuck it up. His parents had told him so right up until one of them died, and they tried their best to forget he existed.

Russel was gone. He and Evie were alone, and he had no idea where the rest of his friends were. He didn’t dare say a word.

He always failed. And he thought he was okay with that. So why did he think things were finally going to be different?