If there’s one thing that this little adventure had taught me, it was that people were stubborn as hell. I try to push and they plant themselves like a tree, forcing me to deal with it less like a psychiatrist and more like a lumberjack. They’d dispersed off the streets, they’d stopped going on public dates, but I knew that they hadn’t learned a single damn thing.
They were adaptable, I’ll give them that much, but they tipped the scale in the exact wrong direction. They learned almost immediately not to show their faces to me, and opted instead to bunker down and wait until I got bored, I would assume. I didn’t want it to come to this, but I needed to force their hand. After the Christmas season, many people went back to work, crowding together once more. Sitting ducks.
Auburn didn’t have any skyscrapers, or even many large buildings to begin with, so I was forced to start modestly. I got a good system going, I’d bar the front door, break in through a window, and work my way up each floor. Many of the workers were airheaded enough to keep a picture of their lover on their desk or in their wallet, so it was easy to work out which ones were deserving of justice.
On this particular day, I had raided a decent-sized game development studio, and employed my regular practices, dagger in hand. However, once I had stabbed my way to the third floor, something incredibly peculiar happened. An anomaly that had never happened once in my campaign, and one that would haunt me for the remainder of it.
This particular fool, whose desk read ‘Nielson’, might as well have worn a gigantic arrow directing me to him. He not only had a framed picture of him and his girlfriend on his desk, but also a small black box containing an engagement ring.
When I turned my attention to him, the man was able to get the jump on me, landing a good hit or two before I grabbed a stapler off a nearby desk and clubbed him with it. That got him down on the ground and gave me a moment to regain my composure. I was startled by his resilience. I wasn’t at the level of strength I could’ve been, having gotten used to victims going down without a fight.
Even still, the man kept on fighting, leaping at me and throwing blow after blow. It wasn’t enough to halt my ambitions, especially not after how far I had come.
At first, I was only able to land smaller cuts on his shoulders and sides in between strikes, but at one point, he left himself wide open, allowing me to get an easy stab into his back. There was no more fighting after that, he slumped against that wall, and I took the moment to catch my breath and use my manipulation powers to heal the bloody nose I had been given.
However, in the time that I took to get myself back to fighting strength, a large crash sounded from a couple of floors down. If I had to hazard a guess in the moment, I would say that someone had slammed open the front door. The jarring sound took me out of the moment, as did the pounding footsteps I heard after it. It wasn’t long after that when the door to the floor I was on burst open.
I didn’t recognize the girl at first, but once she got closer I was able to identify her as the girl from my newest victim’s desk photo. She charged, and I originally thought that she was coming at me, and as such, got my knife ready to defend. Much to my surprise, however, she darted right past me and threw herself onto the boyfriend whom I had just brutalized. No one had ever done that in front of me before.
I turned to her with a simple command, “Move.”
That was the first real sign that something was off. I was dumbfounded at the refusal, and stepped closer, brandishing my knife so the girl knew that I was serious.
“I said move.”
“And I said no!”
“You don’t understand who I am.”
“I don’t care who the hell you are! If you’re going to kill him, then you’re gonna have to kill me too!”
“I don’t want to kill you. You need to learn!”
“What the hell am I supposed to learn from this, huh?! I don’t care what you do, I’m not leaving him!”
I noticed that despite the girl’s defiant expression, she was trembling in fear. Typical. I dropped my knife off to the side, using both of my hands to pick up the fool by her collar and lift her off the boy.
“Listen to me. Your love is just-”
I didn’t even get a chance to finish that sentence before the girl raised her elbow and hit me right in the throat. I gasped for breath at the attack, dropping her and falling down to a knee. While I was struggling to breathe, the girl returned to cuddling the bleeding body that was her boyfriend, whispering to him over and over again.
“It’s gonna be okay… Just stay awake, Zizi…”
I stood back up once I had finished my coughing fit, growling as I picked up my discarded knife off the office tile. I walked back over to look down upon the girl. I had no intention of killing her, but in that moment, I really wanted to.
“Who do you think you are to defy me?! Whatever precious higher power you believe in sent me down to keep people like you in check, and you have the gall to strike back against me?! I had to endure the worst pain imaginable for what seemed like an eternity because you all led me astray! I have to watch human beings bleed by my own blade every single day because of your idiotic ways! I’m trying to save you from having to endure that torture that I did, and you treat me like I’m not even worth your respect?! Are you even listening to me?”
“I hope you burn in hell!”
“I’m already in hell, you moron!”
My patience had already run out several times over, but yet, I resisted the urge to slit her throat right then and there. If there was one thing that I could admire about her, it was her courage, even though she was applying it in the absolute worst way possible. If I were to remove that pesky weight that was holding her down, I’m sure that she could do wondrous things.
Even so, I was full to bursting with anger at this utter trampling of my good name. She deserved death far more than that boyfriend of hers, and if anything, she was likely the one that kept him from reaching his full potential. Holding true to my philosophy was proving to be harder and harder, and I was just about to abandon it when I was… Interrupted.
Needless to say, I expected humanity not to welcome me with open arms, but the lengths they went to was enough to astonish me in ways that I had never expected.
Tockman and I were panicking. Penny had sprinted out the door with tears in her eyes mere moments after taking a call from the boy she seemed to love more than anything else in the world. Tockman was the first one to put two-and-two together.
“It’s the Auburn Demon.”
That was the thought that was lingering in the back of my mind as well, but I wanted so desperately for it not to be true… Penny and Zinovi were so happy together… If they lost each other, one of them could turn into… Me. Losing someone you love is the absolute worst feeling any human can ever experience. I couldn’t let that happen!
“Tockman, we have to help her!”
Surprisingly, Tockman didn’t disagree. He grabbed his coat and ran after Penny, me leaving right after him. It was made apparent very quickly that we had no hope of catching up to her. She was too far ahead, and the burst of adrenaline put her leaps and bounds ahead of Tockman and I when it came to speed.
We made it to the office after Penny did. As soon as we walked in the door, it was obvious that the Auburn Demon had left his mark. People were in shock, holding close to each other for comfort. They were shuddering and sobbing profusely. It was an absolutely awful sight to behold.
Tockman and I dashed up the stairs toward where we assumed Penny was going, the floor that held Zinovi’s office. We were fully prepared to see Penny in shambles over her boyfriend's corpse, or him over hers… But somehow, an even more terrifying vision awaited us there.
Penny was holding a broken but still alive Zinovi. She had wiped the tears from her eyes, and all that remained was a look of anger and hatred, directed at the man who had hurt Zinovi to begin with. The demon was there as well, standing a few feet from the couple, shouting at Penny.
It turned to face me and Tockman as soon as we walked in the door. As soon as it laid its mismatched eyes on us, it cursed under its breath, before turning back to look at Penny and Zinovi for another moment.
“I shouldn’t be surprised anymore, should I?” the demon asked, twirling the knife around in its hand and looking back and forth between me and his would-be victims.
The doctor could tell I was serious, as he followed my orders without question. Fighting back the urge to cry, I got my breathing under control, and managed to summon an orange dagger to match the demon’s purple one.
Just like Tockman taught me, I cupped the knife close, quickly running it through the open space in my hands. As it passed through, the blade got longer, until I was armed with a shortsword more equipped for battle.
The Auburn Demon’s jaw instantly dropped. Its eyes darted in every direction, as if it was looking for any kind of answer as to what was going on. Trembling, it performed the same action that I did, extending its dagger into a sword, and its other hand, forming a purple shield-like object.
Its voice shaky, the demon asked, “What have you done…?”
I didn’t give a response, instead charging forward and swinging my sword toward the demon. It instantly brought up its shield to match mine, and the manifestations clanged together with a strong and resonating metallic sound. I focused my next swing toward its legs, but the demon brought its sword downward to stop that advance.
The demon looked scared, but I guarantee that I was a thousand times more terrified, even if Tockman trained me not to let it affect me. It switched tactics, raising its leg up to deliver a precise kick to my side.
The kick landed and I lost my advantage, being knocked off to the side and to the ground. The demon didn’t use this opportunity to strike, instead focusing its sword into a hammer and knocking out one of the third floor windows. Glass shattered and fell to the street below, leaving a large opening, which the demon used to escape the building.
I was extremely hesitant to follow it, both because I barely had any practice with my wings, and also because of the possibility of getting sliced open by the glass on my way out. I swallowed my fear, and managed to summon my wings, carefully maneuvering myself out of the open window.
After that, though, it was clear that the Auburn Demon had a ton more experience with its wings then I did. I was hardly able to hover, while the demon managed to stay afloat without any effort whatsoever, and even managed to summon its dagger while in the air.
That power imbalance, combined with my ever-increasing fear, was enough to cause me to lose my focus, and my balance, sending me tumbling to the ground. It wasn’t a large fall, but landing on the hard concrete, and a few loose shards of glass, completely put me out of fighting shape.
The demon, however, was still perfectly healthy. It gracefully glided down, landing on its feet next to me. I braced for the worst, but instead the demon began to speak.
“Look at what you’ve become…”
“Without me to hold you down, you’ve been able to soar.”
“I… I said shut up! If you’re going to kill me, just get it over with.”
“I’m not going to kill you.”
With that remark, I fought through the pain and sat up to look the demon in the eyes. Sure enough, it dissipated its knife, and even kneeled down to get on an even level with me.
“I would never squander your potential like that. But don’t even think about interfering with my plans again, or I won’t hesitate to clip those wings right off of your back. Is that clear?”
“I don’t care about the wings…”
“Then what do you care about?”
“You want me dead?”
“I want you back.”
“I want things to go back to normal. Back to the way you were… I… I wish I was the one on that day. I should’ve been… Travis, I…”
My vision got clouded with tears. The demon’s eyes showed a smidge of pity, and maybe even some remorse buried deep inside them. He stood up straight and looked down at me.
“Good luck to you, Ava.”
He turned around, and with one last glance back at me, took off into the sky.
Travis… What happened to you…?
Everything was spiraling out of control.
Zinovi was hurt, Penny was insane, and Avalonia stood ready to face the Auburn Demon. I was forced to stand outside and wait for any kind of resolution, and I didn’t get one until Penny ran out the front door, cradling Zinovi in her arms. I offered to carry him, afraid that Penny wasn’t strong enough to carry his weight, but she gave me the directive to wait for Ava and took off down the street.
I wasn’t going to leave Ava behind, anyway. I saw Travis take off, and feared the worst, but Ava came around the corner a minute or two later, not seeming to have sustained any wounds besides a few cuts on her sweater.
“He spared me…”
She recounted the rest of the story to me on the walk back to the clock shop. Clearly this demon wasn’t entirely devoid of humanity. If he was, I’d have to speak at the two girls’ funerals. Cops started to pull up after we left. Ava and I briefly discussed the possibility of talking to them, but I didn’t want them to flip out at Ava’s powerset and have to explain how she got them. Ava also seemed pretty adamant about getting back to the shop so she could rest.
She didn’t have any major injuries. The glass she landed on had thankfully only put a few holes in her sweater, and the only sizable damage was a bruise or two on her chest.
“Now, why do you think Travis would spare you if he’s now this cold-blooded monster?”
“The demon is a lot of things, but… I don’t think he’s a hypocrite. I’m not in a relationship, he doesn’t intend to kill me.”
“Not even after you charged him with a sword?”
“He took me down without ever landing a single hit on me. I’m not a threat to him, and we'd both have to be stupid to think I even have a chance..”
“Do you still love him?”
“I still love Travis, but I can’t show any level of affection toward whatever that thing is, no matter what he looks like.”
“Do you think he still loves you?”
Ava stayed silent for a moment before averting her eyes.
“Even if Travis is still in there somewhere, I don’t think he could ever love me again after what I did.”
We continued in silence for the rest of the walk back to the clock shop. But when we walked in the door, I was shocked to find Penny nursing Zinovi’s wounds with a first-aid kit.
“Penny, take him to a hospital.”
“No. I need to be with him.”
“Then be with him at the hospital. He can’t be here.”
Penny ignored me for the most part. Ava was uneasy and pale from the encounter, but also shocked that while Penny looked every bit as terrified as her, probably even moreso, and her hands were trembling terribly, as was the rest of her, but she still managed to tend each and every wound, disinfecting and bandaging every cut and applying medicine and ice to the swollen, bruised areas that were everywhere on his body.
She was starting to piss me off. First it was running out and leaving us behind to speculate. Then it was throwing herself in front of the oncoming train that was Travis. Now, she had her bleeding boyfriend laid out in the middle of my floor, and thought that she knows better than doctors and nurses who have been healing people for years.
I couldn’t just let her be as ignorant and downright idiotic as she was.
"Penny, what you did was the stupidest shit I have ever seen in my entire life."
Ava's eyes widened as she held out a hand to stop me. "Tockman, I don't think now is the time to-"
I didn’t have time to deal with her. I marched over to Penny, who turned her head to face me but didn't move from her boyfriend's side.
“I have been training Ava for a month. Do you know why? Because even with the power to summon whatever the hell she wants, she can’t beat Travis. He would’ve killed her if he was just a smidge less merciful! Yet, that never registered to you! What gives you the right to take on this abomination? This isn’t some purse-snatcher, Penny! It’s a being with the means to kill anybody he wants!”
“He targets couples! You know that, and you seemingly don’t care! You ran off and poked this demon with a stick when I doubt that he even knew you existed. He didn’t know that I existed. Most importantly of all, he didn’t know that we were building up Ava to be a weapon against him.”
“And yet, because of you, all of that hard work might as well have been thrown out the window. Because you don’t think before you act. You get something on your mind, and you instantly devote every single morsel of your time and attention to it. Now, you pluck some random boy off of the street and decide that he is worth dying for?”
"Life is more precious than that, Penny! What if you died? Everything in your life would’ve been pointless! I don’t know what kind of life you lead anyway, be it your swords and your fancy little books, but I would hazard a guess to say you have something worth living for. Anything, really, it doesn’t matter.”
“I could care less if you had a boyfriend normally. Hell, I could care less if you were married with kids. But because of you, we have a massive target on our backs and are now in jeopardy of losing our very lives whenever we leave this building!”
“Now all is ruined. Travis knows that Ava has powers and has promised to slaughter her if we ever try anything again. We’re more than lucky that we get a second chance, but honestly, we shouldn’t take it. Travis knows who we are and he’s stronger than all of us combined. We can train all we want, but whatever we may be able to do, he can do ten times better.”
“No, Penny, he may not have a vendetta against us, but he certainly has one against you and your little boytoy here! He will kill both of you if you ever show your face around him again. I didn't want to have to say this, but apparently, nothing gets through to your insignificant tiny brain. Get rid of this man and erase all contact with him immediately or I will be forced to throw him into the rain myself."
I turned away, having said my piece. Even still, I sighed and said one last thing that had been on my mind as of late.
“Maybe Travis has a point…”
…I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
As Doc spoke, Ava paled and slowly backed away. She nervously glanced at me and saw that Doc had struck a nerve. She only backed away further as I stood up, let go of Zizi's hand and punched Doc as hard as I could across the cheek.
Not expecting the blow, he stumbled and fell to the ground, holding his slowly swelling cheek. I was shaking even more than before now, but not from fear.
It felt good to finally do that… To finally have control in a situation like this… To finally be able to speak my mind uninterrupted. And boy, did I have a lot to say.
I spoke in a sort of whisper, "Everything's always my fault, isn't it…?" Ava winced. My tone was deadly low and full of venom. She never knew happy go lucky Penny could get so angry, now did she?
"'Penny, stop that racket', 'Penny, don't touch that', 'Penny, watch the shop', Penny, sit still', Penny, Penny, Penny!"
With the last iteration of my own name, I grabbed a screwdriver from a table and threw it to the ground hard enough to break the plastic grip into pieces. Ava and Doc winced at the sound. Doc seemed a bit surprised at my change in behavior as well. Perhaps even a bit scared.
I slowly walked towards him and threw other things to the ground or at him as he dodged and crawled away from me, us two never losing eye contact.
"You never praised me or thanked me for anything I did for you! All you ever did was rant to me about your bullshit and critique how I decided to live my life and conduct myself! You never replied to anything I said or carried a conversation that wasn't all about you!”
“And that's just it, isn't it?! You don’t care about anything but yourself! You rant and ramble constantly about your time travel shit and I haveta sit on my ass and take it and be interested, but god forbid I try to talk to you!"
Doc gasped a bit when he found himself against the wall looking up at his enraged assistant.
"You ever wonder why no one comes out here, Doc?! You really wanna know?! It's because no one cares about clocks or time for that matter! No one but you! Isn't it ironic that the one man that cares the most about time does nothing but waste it?!"
Ava winced again. She never knew I could be so harsh, I guess. I always seemed to just go with the flow and laugh things off, even when stuff seemed bad. Now though, I needed everything off my chest in one fell swoop…
"I don't have superpowers, or-or-or super fighting abilities or genius IQ, but I'm not some stupid, dumb, clueless bitch that sits on her ass as the world walks by! I'm the only normal person in this damn group, and I'm the one getting shit for this?! No! I don't think so!"
Ava shrunk down and raised a hand to interject. Doc looked about to reply too, but I grabbed a hammer and slammed it to the ground. It actually got stuck in the floorboards. The two jumped.
"NO! THIS TIME, PENNY IS MAKING THE SHOTS! I'M THE ONE WHO ALMOST LOST HER BOYFRIEND, SO YOU ASSES LISTEN TO ME!" Now Doc looked legitimately afraid. I turned my scowl to him, still shaking.
"You keep wasting away your life alone in the middle of goddamn nowhere trying to accomplish something that can't be accomplished by one person and that won’t be accomplished for years! That's not brilliance. That's high functioning stupidity!”
“No one will call you a god, or a savior, or whatever the hell you want people to call you! You're gonna waste your pathetic excuse for a life away, and you'll die and be forgotten. No one will show up to your goddamn funeral cus no one will know you even existed!"
I was pretty much screaming into Doc's face at this point, and to my slight surprise and satisfaction, he was turned away from me, shivering a bit, and even tearing up.
"What's the matter, Doc? Finally realize that maybe, just maybe, I'm not as pathetic and dumb as I look? Finally realize that I'm right and you're wrong?"
He didn't answer me.
"…Face it. The only reason why you think he's right is because you're just like him."
"You don't give a shit about anyone but yourself and you expect people to kneel before you and kiss your feet just because you're smarter than everyone else. But guess what? The world doesn't work like that. It never has."
"That damn energy bracelet saps the life out of me every single time you use it on me. Apparently I can’t have anything at all, not even a pinch of happiness, without you stripping it away from me!”
“Why don't you go into your lab and sit on your ass alone with your ego, like you do best?"
I still wasn't done, yet Ava somehow got the impression that it was okay to speak.
“Penny, calm down…”
My head snapped towards her. "Why do you get to kill him, hm? Why you, huh?"
"Don't give me that shit! You were pissing yourself when I first brought you here. What makes you think you can take on something the military should be called in for?"
"What makes you think you can take it on, since that's what you seem to be suggesting with your tone?!"
"You had a panic attack when you couldn't make a tennis ball in your hands! You cry over everything like a baby! The only reason why you're here and why Doc pays any attention to you is because you have fancy powers and wings that make you a freak!"
"I'm the one powering his machines the past few months, I'm the only other company he has here, and what do I get?! Nothing! While over here, you breathing gives him an aneurysm!"
"Shut up! I'm talking now!"
"You didn't have anyone almost die in front of you to have a reason to kill that thing!-"
"That ‘thing’ was my boyfriend, Penny! He did die in front of me, and all I did was run like a coward-!"
"BECAUSE THAT'S ALL YOU ARE!"
Ava gasped, and I was still shaking like crazy.
"If you love someone, you should be willing to protect them, to die for them… At the very least run to get help… And if not, then that obviously says a lot, doesn't it…?"
"…I wouldn't be surprised if he was killing everyone else in love out of revenge for what you did…"
Tears began to drip down Ava’s face…
"Aw, what's the matter, baby? Gonna cry your eyes out again? Good. It's the only thing you seem to do right besides cause Doc to foam at the mouth just by existing."
"You and Doc can get the hell out of my life!"
I ripped a necklace of mine from my neck and threw it at Doc's face, who yelped in pain when it hit his forehead. He took it and looked it over, his face falling when he saw the slightly bloodied cog on the leather cord.
He looked up at me pitifully, but I was focused on Zinovi again. Ava, still crying, helped the doctor up and he shrugged her off, limping into the clock shop to leave us alone. Before she closed the door behind them, they probably heard Zinovi whispering to me, since he didn’t have much strength to speak normally.
"…P-…Penny…? Why was there yelling…?"
I was silent before I let out a shaky sigh and started sobbing.
"…It's ok… …It'll be ok…"