“I honestly shouldn’t be surprised.”
Not long after my blazing escapade, I found my search for more safehouses interrupted by a calling of my name. When I turned around to face the voice, I saw the same trio that had stood their ground at the game development studio.
There was good ol’ Penny, covered in battle scars and wrapped in bandages, clutching a blade in her hands. The sword was not the same as her signature sabre, it looked to be a smaller, skinnier, and duller blade, not situated for combat in the slightest. Her stupidity knew no bounds.
The sharpshooter stood beside her, the still blood-tipped spear and a shortsword to his name, as opposed to the silver gun he once brandished. The clock goggles were strapped to his forehead, allowing me to meet his confident and determined gaze. A single look gave me loads of information about the older man, and the most important fact of all was that he was not afraid of me… Something that would no doubt work to his detriment.
Then, of course, there was Avalonia. The shining beacon of hope that all of humanity should follow the guidance of. An Auburn Angel, if you will, clad in orange, and ready to defeat the “big scary demon”… She disgusted me.
“You should thank me,” I spoke. “You all should be dead. Unfortunately, I must’ve been tormented to insanity. I can’t think of any other possible reason that I would have spared you three.”
I laughed out loud at the thought, “Perhaps there was a part of me that still had an ounce of respect for your kind! That part befell the same fate as all those bodies, burned to a blackened, purple crisp.”
“But, oh no!” I shouted out. “That fate is far too good an ending for any of you! I want to make sure that you feel every single incision I make, and I want each and every one to hurt more than the last. You won’t die until I want you dead, and that won’t come until I’m absolutely sure that I can’t make you suffer anymore. Then, you will die. Your families will die. Your friends will die. They’ll be wiped off the face of this planet, never to be remembered again.”
I expected Penny to lash out. If not her, then Avalonia. However, both stayed still, balling up their fists. I kept trying.
“In medieval times, people were forced to get fairly creative. My favorite innovation of theirs was designed for the most vile, disgusting creatures. They’d tie a man to a boat, and then send them out to float in a lake. Bugs would eat the man alive, and the only thing they could do is watch… Until their eyes were torn apart, of course. A fitting fate for your little cripple over there.”
Penny was starting to shake…
“Oh, don’t worry, you won’t be alone! I like you, so I’ll let Nielson go right along with you. You can offer him what’s left of your heart!”
Penny didn’t move.
The sharpshooter did.
He came rushing at me, dropping the shortsword to the side in his advance, switching to handle his spear with both hands. Not expecting the attack, I was only barely able to avoid his piercing motion. I maintained a defensive position, walking backwards as fast as I could without tripping over my own feet.
The spear came within inches of my sweater with each and every strike. I was too focused on dodging it to have enough willpower to summon my wings, and the sharpshooter knew that, not letting up for a second. Worried at the prospect of disaster, I made a move, switching directions to dive toward the approaching sharpshooter.
He wasn’t expecting a counter attack, and a power struggle ensued as I tried to remove the spear from his grasp. The sharpshooter was an older and far more well-built man than I, there was no way that I could’ve been able to best him in hand-to-hand combat. A punch to my eye was all it took to separate me from my opponent.
He moved his hands down the spear. I was too close for him to get a decent stab in, so he took to striking me with the back end of it. He was doing fairly good as well, hitting me twice in the ribs before I got my act together. I managed to catch the spear with one of my hands, preventing a third blow. I moved my other hand up to snatch at it, and attempted to yank the weapon away from the sharpshooter.
I was close to succeeding in my plan when Penny intervened, stabbing at me with the twig that she had chosen to classify as a sword. Even still, it was a blade nonetheless, and I was forced to take my attention off the sharpshooter and begin another retreat. If I could take to the skies, neither would be able to touch me, and I had enough faith in myself to believe that Avalonia would be easy pickings.
As I started running, I willed my wings into existence, taking off and flying over the barren road beneath, gaining altitude. I glanced down below, where Penny and the sharpshooter were getting their bearings straight while Avalonia pursued me through the winds. I didn’t go far, touching down on the roof of a nearby building, where Avalonia would soon land beside me.
My winged adversary mimicked my movements as I ran my hands together and summoned my blade. We clashed together, the swords meeting above our heads.
“Is this really what you want, Avalonia? Do you want to kill me?”
“What’s the alternative?!”
“Want to find out?”
Avalonia jumped back to get out of the swordplay stalemate. Quick on her feet, she ran at me with the intention to send me tumbling off the roof, and with her momentum, she very nearly succeeded. Before I had time to react, one of my feet was already angling off the side of the building, and it wasn’t long before my other foot joined it.
Falling was not a big deal at all. I had become quite experienced with my wings, and was able to catch myself before I crashed into the pavement below. I glided to a perfectly peaceful landing, unhappy that Avalonia now held the high ground. I took off running down the street, summoning a knife in my hand as I flew up and into the air.
Avalonia took to the skies as well, following me as close as she could. I used her strategy to my advantage, and led her around town, until soon enough, we were gliding above Auburn’s park. The site had a way with making your problems disappear into nothingness.
Hopefully, it would work on this particular problem.
As I pursued my adversary, I thought about the wind that propelled me forward. The death of Travis Montgomery, the emergence of the Auburn Demon, my run-in with Tockman and Penny, the birth of my powerset, the duel at the office… It all culminated beneath my wings, guiding me toward a fate that was unknown, even to me. But even with everything on my mind, one thought took center stage.
“I’ve got to get out of here.”
The demon and I moved at equilibrium, with neither gaining an advantage over the other. At least, not a physical advantage. I was beginning to descend into hysterics, and Travis no-doubt noticed that. In fact, he took full advantage, and before too long, completely shattered my focus by coming to a complete stop mid-air.
With no reaction time, and no ground to generate any friction, I smashed right into the back of the Auburn Demon. The sudden stop took all of the momentum out of me, and when I saw Travis turn to face me with his dagger, I knew that I was done for. Faced with no other options, I tucked my wings to my back and began to drop down, completely vertically.
As I fell, I began to slope, until soon, I was soaring right over the surface of the lake. I was close enough to see my reflection in the water. In conjunction, I was also able to make out the reflection of the Auburn Demon as he dive bombed toward me.
The startling sight didn’t even register until after I had already rolled out of the way of Travis’ strike. My feet felt solid ground once more as I touched down onto the park’s grassy terrain. Within the span of a few seconds, I heard a cacophony of pitter-patter erupting from my collision with the ground, as well as a splash that resulted from the Auburn Demon’s subsequent submersion under the lake.
Realizing that I had caught a lucky break, I scrambled to my feet as Travis struggled to break free of the water’s hold on him. By the time he succeeded, I had already switched into a more battle-appropriate position, sword to my side and ready to duel.
I tried to calm myself down and focus on the fact that he now had less maneuverability and more wind resistance than I had, as his shield dropped and he shot towards me with his knife in hand again.
I gasped and just barely dodged out of the way, too caught up in my thoughts to properly move immediately. I parried a few of his attacks once I got back into the heat of battle, but despite the demon now being completely wet, he still constantly put up shields to protect himself as he fought. Any opening I found, I clashed against a shield and just barely missed getting cut… Or I was cut ever so slightly.
After a few minutes of constant attacks, I was starting to get winded. Thankfully though, so was the demon. He shouted and parried hard, pushing away from me. I did the same and we stood staring each other down as we panted. “You’ve gotten better, I’ll admit…”
I scowled. I was sick and tired of his monologues. I caught my breath before he did and took off into the air, Travis following soon after. As I shot around trying to think of a new strategy, I barely heard him yelling behind me. My flying faltered and wavered as I registered that he was calling me out for my weakness and worthlessness.
As I continued to try to stay in flight, most of my thoughts were the usual: they were right. I was weak. I was worthless. Travis was going to beat me, then Tockman, then Penny, and he would continue to terrorize Auburn before moving onto another city to repeat his cycle of murder. I was shocked when a moment later, after those thoughts had started, an opposing thought shot to my attention: No you’re not!
Focusing on that burst of confidence only made it ring louder and louder in my head. My flying evened out and I was able to get back into the air. The demon must have noticed this, because his verbal attack ceased. Coming to the realization I was about to crash straight into a tree, I jerked to my left, some branches grazing me. From the sounds of things, the demon didn’t react fast enough, and I turned to see him not only crash into the tree, but grunt and yell as he fell through it.
He hit limb after limb after limb before thudding onto the ground, his dagger getting tossed aside. Even though he was a crazed psychopath, I couldn’t help but wince at the sound. Wary of him still despite him laying on the ground no longer moving, I walked over slowly with my weapon. This was it. I was armed and he wasn’t. I could finally end everything. I could save Auburn and—
I froze. Travis was looking up at me. His face had softened, just as it was whenever he used to look at me when we were a couple. His eyes now were different, though. They showed regret… This was the closest Travis had ever been to looking back to normal, and I was caught off guard by it. He slowly and shakily held out an empty hand towards me.
I hesitated. He was unarmed. He looked as he used to. I had the upper hand. I could kill him then and end it all… Or I could be the better person and have him stand trial for what he did. He would certainly be put in prison, but if he really was my Travis, he would serve it. Maybe he would be let out on good behavior and we could live a life together. It wouldn’t be perfect by any means, but at least we would have each other.
Landing and folding my wings behind me, I held out my hand and helped Travis to his feet, my sword still in my other hand. Just as I was about to speak, I felt a powerful stinging sensation on my cheek and cried out, falling backwards to the ground as the sound of the slap echoed in the nearby area.
If Penny was angry when she yelled at Ava and I, she was downright livid once she saw Travis slap Ava across the face. Once the two had taken off, Penny got up and started to race after them after she had grabbed the shortsword that I had dropped earlier. Concerned for her well-being, I ran after her, trying to get her to slow down before she worsened her existing injuries.
We both came to the park and saw what looked to be Ava staring down the demon. Evidently he had taken quite the beating, and now looked battered on the ground. If circumstances were different, I’d raise an eyebrow and question how Ava managed to accomplish the feat alone, but I didn’t have the luxury to do so.
Penny and I both tensed when we saw Ava help Travis up from the ground. “…She can’t be serious…” I muttered.
Penny glanced at me a moment, seemingly sharing my sentiments. After he was on his feet though, he showed his true colors that we all came to fear, and that’s when my assistant’s cheeks turned bright red as she launched into the fray.
Before I could stop her, she was racing towards the two. Neither Travis nor Ava had a chance to react before Penny screamed and shoved the blade all the way to the hilt through his back and out his stomach. He yelled in pain and tried to turn around to face his assailant.
“Go! Ava, run!”
Ava’s eyes wide, she scrambled to her feet and backed away to calm herself down and heal any injuries she had. I moved closer to get Penny away before the demon took advantage of her weakened state, but I froze once I heard what she was saying.
“You want to get rid of love,” she asked, practically growling. “You think that’ll make us stronger? That’ll make us better?!”
Before Travis could open his mouth to laugh or answer, Penny ripped the sword out and bashed the side of his head as hard as she could with the hilt, sending Travis to the ground. Focused more on healing his profusely bleeding injury than putting up a shield, Penny kicked at him, stabbed him, sliced him… I could see her shaking with rage. It was terrifying. When I first met Penny, I never would have thought her to be capable of doing anything that she was currently doing.
“I’ve never hated anyone or anything as much as I’ve hated you!” This time, he was stabbed in the shoulder. The injury mirrored the dislocated shoulder on my assistant. She leaned on the blade and twisted it, making Travis yell and scream in pain. I glanced at Ava. She, too, was horrified.
“You really wanna know what happens to humans when you take love away…?! Do you?!” She stomped on his chest, Travis at this point coughing up blood. She leaned in close, her sword now at his throat. “It doesn’t make us stronger… It breaks us.”
What happened next was in slow motion. Penny sat up, her leg on Travis’ chest still. She rose her sword up, as if to slash it downwards across his neck. I gasped when I saw Travis materializing a dagger in his hand. Despite him fighting to stay awake and breathing, he wasn’t going to go out unless Penny was going right alongside him. I immediately ran forwards and grabbed Penny.
She yelped and started to writhe around to break free. Before Travis could get up, heal himself, finish forming his dagger, or make a shield, Ava ran over and stabbed the bastard through the heart with both her swords as Penny and I looked on. Penny screamed as Ava sat there, staring Travis down with tears in her eyes and on her face.
I heard a faint, “Goodbye, Travis…” as the demon sucked in a final breath, his eyes wide in shock. He let out a sigh and went limp. His dagger, which had almost completely formed, disappeared into nothingness.
Penny stopped struggling and shrank down in my grasp, sobbing. Ava just stared at the demon’s mangled corpse in shock before slowly sitting up and ripping her swords free of the corpse. I cleared my throat softly, my face most likely as pale as Travis’.
“…There… …It’s done… …It’s finally over…”
After Travis was killed, Doc decided to leave his body in the open. He said that we didn’t want to explain how we killed him, and we especially didn’t want to explain Ava’s powers to the authorities and the public that would probably assume she was just like Travis had been. Due to the racket the fight caused, Doc must have grabbed me and Ava and whisked us away to the clock shop before anyone caught us. I say “must have” because I don’t remember the mad dash back to our little sanctuary at all. Doc must have treated us both for shock, too.
It wasn’t too long before the authorities found Travis’ body. It was all over the news. The Auburn Demon was finally dead, and his reign of terror was officially over. Just to be safe, the safehouses would remain in hiding for a few days before officially opening up. Places destroyed or ransacked by the demon were rebuilt and such in the meantime. As for us… The silence after the storm was deafening.
Ava secluded herself in the backroom of the clock shop once she cleaned it up a bit to truly fit a guest. Doc constantly checked on her and made sure she was ok, but I guess she just needed time to process things, just as I did. I stayed up in the lab with Doc. He bought some camping lanterns to use for lighting so I wouldn’t have to power anything. I mostly stayed curled up in a blanket in the lab. Every so often Doc would check up on me, too. But I didn’t want to talk, for once. It wasn’t out of spite this time. I just didn’t really know what to say.
Eventually though, after getting Ava and I something to eat for lunch one day, Doc closed the door to the lab, pulled up a chair in front of me once I had my food, and sighed, running a hand through his hair.
“Penny… You know you can talk to me now, right…? Are you ok to talk about what happened…?”
A knot formed in my throat and a pit formed in my stomach at his question and serious yet worried look on his face. Was I ready? I sat there and stared at my sandwich for a minute before slightly nodding my head and putting it aside on a plate. I shifted under my blanket before clearing my throat softly.
“I was supposed to be the one to kill him…”
“Penny… This was never our fight. It was Ava’s.”
“And why’s that, huh?” I snapped my head up to glare at him. Tockman winced and shifted in his chair. “She had nothing holding her here. After Travis died the first time she could have gotten therapy, moved out, and found a better life for herself. She didn’t need to deal with this. She didn’t need to continue that constant cycle of sulk!”
“And you have something keeping you here?”
“Yes! I have family here, I have a boyfriend here, and I have good jobs here. I don’t have the time or the money to move away and start a new life somewhere else!”
“Penny, with all due respect, you and Travis had no real connection or reason to despise each other until Zinovi was attacked.”
“I had a problem with him from the beginning!”
“You never mentioned needing to kill him until Zinovi was hurt.”
“He’s always had to die! He disturbed the peace and hurt so many innocent people!”
Doc paused and sighed again. “Penny… Are you certain that you were killing him for selfless reasons? Or were you after him because he had hurt someone important to you? Was this justice or revenge?”
I froze as I thought over Doc’s question. He watched me, as if waiting for an answer. When I didn’t give one and just shrunk down into my blanket, Doc’s expression softened.
“Whether or not she or you had good reasons to kill him, he was going to die. Hell, I would have killed him if anything happened to either of you.”
Doc put a hand to my uninjured shoulder. “We all had one reason or another to end things, Penny. And now that it’s over, don’t you think we should celebrate?”
Doc smiled at me. “I would have thought you of all people would be up for such a celebration… After all, today is the day the bunkers are opened up again.”
I bit my lip. While I was anxious to hear about my family, there was something I had to do first.
I looked up at Doc. “I’m not ready to go yet.” He looked surprised at this until I continued.
“I apologized to you, but there’s still someone I need to say sorry to.” He smiled and nodded, hugging me gently for a moment before taking my blanket as I stood and letting me go. I went downstairs and walked over to the backroom door that was still closed. I hesitated before knocking.
“…Ava…? Can I come in…?” I jumped when, after a few moments of silence, Ava opened the door. I didn’t even hear her go to open it… We stood there awkwardly, not really looking at each other for a few minutes as I tried to figure out what to say.
“…Ava… I’m really sorry for yelling at you…” That seemed to get her attention. I could see her relax a bit from the awkward tension between us. “I just-… I was terrified of losing Zinovi… And I was just so angry… I wanted to be the one to help people… “ I teared up a bit and bowed my head.
“…But I just lost it, and-” Before I could finish, Ava grabbed me in a hug and held me. I winced due to my shoulder but didn’t object. I hugged back, our tears dripping onto each others’ backs. “It’s ok… I forgive you…”
We stood there for a bit before pulling away and wiping away our tears. For the first time in a while, both of us smiled, and the air didn’t feel tense, awkward, or heavy.
We jumped and snapped out of it when Doc called out to us from the door, his car keys in hand. “Come on, you two. I think Penny has some people to see.”
My eyes widened slightly and I went with Doc to the car. Ava took a few minutes to join us, but once she did, we headed to the bunkers. I directed Doc to the correct ones before going silent. I was nervous, even though I probably didn’t need to be. Ava must have noticed my silence.
“Penny, what’s wrong? I thought you’d be excited!”
I bit my lip. “I’m just a little worried… What if Zinovi doesn’t like me anymore? We haven’t talked since he went into the bunker… He might’ve found a girl that’s better than me…” I paused before mumbling what I was really worried about. “…What if he sees me like this and thinks I’m ugly…?”
“Penny, are you nuts?! This is Zinovi we’re talking about! He loves you!”
Doc piped in as well. “Ava’s right. He’s still the same man who gave you that necklace for Christmas. And besides, if he somehow doesn’t feel the same, just get me a hair or two from his head. I was just thinking the other day about dabbling in cloning technology on the side…”
He smirked at me playfully, making me crack a smile and slap his arm in jest. “Doc!”
He chuckled, “Our points still stand, Penny. You’re just experiencing a bit of nervousness. Once you two see each other, it’ll be like all this was just a bad dream…”
I hoped he was right as we pulled into a parking lot across the street from the bunker. People were already outside embracing their loved ones and crying tears of joy. Parents reunited with children, siblings and cousins reunited with the rest of their families… I looked around nervously for Zinovi or my family. I was starting to think that they had already gone home when I saw a familiar figure with black tousled hair and two casts.
I immediately teared up and cried out his name. He turned around and immediately reacted similarly to me. After calling for me, he started to hobble as quickly as he could on the crutches he had to me. I started running over, too. People saw us and parted so we had a clean shot to get to each other, but Zinovi still managed to trip over something and stumble right as we got to each other. I caught him with my one good arm and let him lean against me as we caught our breaths.
We laughed shakily as he caressed my face once he was standing up with his crutches properly situated. “I missed you… So much…”
I tried so hard to keep my voice from shaking but didn’t exactly succeed. He nodded, “Yeah… Me too…”
Still overwhelmed by being together again, I hugged him as tight as I was able. He did the same. When we finally pulled away, he smiled at me. “Now… There’s something I have to do…”
I was about to ask him what he meant when he looked behind me. I turned to see Doc and Ava, the ginger girl walking over and handing something small to Zinovi. As she backed away, I turned to my boyfriend, who not-so-gracefully went down on his good knee using his crutches…
“…Penelope Novoa…” He opened the box, revealing a shining emerald engagement ring: my favorite gemstone. “…I never want to be separate from you like this again. Will you marry me?” I ignored the awing crowd around us as I brought a hand to my mouth and teared up again. I just stared at my boyfriend for a moment before nodding.
“…Yes… Yes!” He grinned and grunted as he stood up and put the ring on my finger. Still teary-eyed, I wrapped my arm around his neck and kissed him.
The crowd cheered. When I pulled away, I was greeted by my family and friends who were running over to hug me. Everyone was crying tears of joy. I showed off the ring and that elicited more joy from the people I loved the most. I turned around to see Ava and Doc flashing smiles at us.
I saw some guy bump into Doc, surprising him. The man evidently apologized before leaving. I observed Doc watching him leave, blushing, then jumping as his cheeks went bright red, and he worked up the courage to go strike up a conversation with the man. I giggled at the sight and the absolute happiness I was feeling in that moment.
Now Doc was right. It was over. Finally.