Note that there was a commissioned interlude for Heretical Edge focusing on Avalon and Gaia posted yesterday. If you have not read that and would like to, you can click right here
My hand was over my mouth, pressing tight to cut off the sound of my gasp. My eyes were practically bulging their way out of my head, and all I could do for that moment was stare at the door ahead of me. My God. Oh my God. My gaze, staring at that door, was distorted by the tears that suddenly leapt to my eyes. No, no, no. Please, no. Not them too. Not this, not this. Why? Why?!
Move, move, Cassidy! Move before he catches you, or someone else does! Move! Jerking visibly to my mental scream at myself, I turned and quickly made my way down the hall as silently as I could. The whole time, I kept frantically looking over my shoulder, expecting to see the man suddenly burst out with a gun pointed at me or something. Or someone to jump out in front of me. I stumbled, almost falling before catching myself. Go, fuck, go, Cassidy! Fucking go!
Only when I was already to the stairs and had retreated up them back to the third floor did it occur to me that I had the black silencing paint. Fuck. I could’ve–I could’ve just made it easier to get out of there. I could’ve, but I wasn’t thinking straight. I was barely thinking at all, after… that.
Mr. Jackson did work for my parents. And he was going to kill a girl. Kill a girl. What girl? What girl were they talking about? Wait, not… no, not Izzy. Of course not, why did my brain immediately go there? But who? What– He had said that the girl was snooping around. Someone was snooping around and he caught them? And now he was going to have them killed?! Wait, he also said something about his power not working on her. Power? What power? What girl? What the hell was going on?!? Why did it have to be like this? Why wasn’t he just a normal guy? Why did my ex-boyfriend’s father work for my evil parents?! Had he worked for them–he had. He’d worked for them the whole time. That was the only thing that made sense, the only–oh God, did Tomas know? Did he know? Was he involved? And if he did, if he was… had he ever actually cared about me? Or was I just an assignment? Was he supposed to babysit me or something?
My hands were covering my ears, pressing so tight against my head it actually hurt. No, no, please. Please no, I didn’t want this. Please wake up, please. Just wake up, wake up!
Wake up. Wake up, Cassidy. This wasn’t going away. Yes, Tomas’s father was evil. He was evil and he worked for your parents. And Tomas might have something to do with it. Maybe. That sucked. It sucked so much. But what was worse than that? Being murdered. Being dead. And some girl out there, some girl in the back of some van, was about to be just that. So just get the fuck over yourself and your issues, stand up, and do something about it before that happened.
Just as I thought that, the sound of rapidly approaching footsteps from the direction of Mr. Jackson’s office penetrated my head. He was coming. This time, I actually remembered my black paint, making a spot of it appear on my shirt before looking both ways quickly to make sure the coast was clear. Then I shot a bit of red paint up to the ceiling and yanked myself up there, managing to get out of sight in the little overhang area just as Mr. Jackson walked by directly below. He was still on the phone, walking purposefully as he ordered someone to pull the van around. So, he wasn’t talking to my dad anymore. Instead, he was on his way out to… to do what he’d promised he would. Kill the girl. He was on his way out to kill the girl, if I didn’t do something.
Once he was gone, heading further down the stairs to the first floor, my paint faded and I dropped, landing in a crouch before pushing myself up. Fuck it. Whatever other issues I had, whatever horrible thoughts and fears this whole revelation had spawned in me, I would deal with it later. Right now, the only thing that mattered was getting that girl, whoever she was, away from Mr. Jackson without letting him know who I was. My problems could wait. Her life couldn’t.
First, I had to get out of the house. To that end, I made my way downstairs. There was no way I’d be able to sneak out of here the way I did my own house. I didn’t know the security well enough, and it was all much smaller, with at least one guard on the roof. I couldn’t sneak out, so I was going to have to just leave the normal way while trying not to let on… anything at all.
Reaching the bottom of the stairs, right there by the living room, I was immediately put to the test as far as keeping myself together went, as Mrs. Jackson suddenly appeared in front of me, holding a wine glass in one hand and a plate of brownies in the other. “Oh!” A smile appeared, one that… looked awfully genuine. “I was just going to bring these up for you and Tomas.”
Did she know? Did Mrs. Jackson know that her husband was evil, and that he was on his way out to kill some girl right now, a girl that he had in the back of a van out front? Did she know?
Shaking that off, and swallowing the hard lump that had formed in my throat, I forced myself to reply, “Tomas fell asleep, Mrs. Jackson. I’ve got some homework to do anyway, so I better get home.”
“Aww, that’s too bad. I’m sure he’ll feel bad about crashing on you.” With a conspiratorial wink, Mrs. Jackson added, “We’ll only make fun of him for it a little bit, okay? Here, take one at least.”
Reminding myself to act as normal as possible, as hard as that was, I forced my hand to take one of the brownies. Knowing what the woman expected, I took a bite. It felt like biting into cardboard. Not because it tasted bad, but because all I could think about was how much the woman in front of me knew about the evil things that her husband and my parents were up to.
Still, I forced myself to swallow and brought a smile to my face. “Thanks, Mrs. Jackson.”
She started to say something, but was interrupted by a voice from behind me. “Okay, I’m heading out.” It was Mr. Jackson. He had his phone in my hand, as I saw when I whipped around. Seeing my reaction, the man simultaneously winced and chuckled. “Sorry, Cassidy. I didn’t mean to scare you.” He paused then, seeming to think about something before adding, “You leaving already? Don’t tell me Tomas said something dumb and made things awkward.”
“He fell asleep,” Mrs. Jackson informed him, a not-insubstantial amount of amusement in her voice. “Poor boy’s still turned around from the sudden move.” There was a hint of… maybe reprimand in her voice? Not much, just a little bit that told me maybe she wasn’t completely cool with the fact that their lives had been suddenly uprooted to bring them here. But it disappeared in her next words, as she added, “If you’re heading out, maybe you can give Cassidy a ride.”
“That’s okay,” I quickly put in before the man could open his mouth. “I sort of already called for a ride, and you know how much it sucks for those Uber people to get a call that cancels.”
Quickly masking the look of relief that came to his face, the man gave a short, polite nod. “I’m going the opposite way, in any case. Good night, Cassidy. I hope to see you again soon.”
It was clear that he wanted to stay and say something to his wife, so I quickly excused myself. Leaving out the front door, I glanced to the side. The van. There was the van that Mr. Jackson had mentioned, sitting in the driveway. It looked like any other ordinary white van. For a second, I froze, before catching myself. Forcing my feet to keep moving, I nodded to the guard at the gate and he let me out. On the way, I glanced back to say thank you. But I used that moment to check the license plate on the plain-looking van, committing it to memory as well as I could.
Right now, there was a girl in that van. And my ex-boyfriend’s father was going to kill her unless I did something about it. I could worry about everything else that came with this revelation later, after I saved her. But I couldn’t do that as myself. I had to change, and I had to do it fast. Unfortunately, I couldn’t look like I was in a rush, so I forced myself to walk normally to the end of the street, looking down at my phone as though checking for my ride.
As soon as I reached the end of the block, I sprinted for the building I’d left my costume on. At least I had it close. Thank God I’d been planning to visit Wren after dinner. I honestly had no idea what I would have done if I didn’t have it. Try to disguise myself some other way?
Whatever, the costume was nearby, and it only took me a minute to get myself up onto the roof and quickly change into it. As I pulled the helmet on and secured it, my eyes looked out toward the cross street just down from the Jackson house. There it was. I saw the van. At least, I thought it was the van. It was… it was turning this way. Quickly, I dropped down, laying flat on my stomach behind the metal air conditioning unit. It was dark enough now, being past dinner, that I was pretty sure no one in the van had seen me standing up on the roof of the restaurant.
Keeping myself low, I listened to the van as it approached. It passed beneath me and I poked my head out to look off the edge of the roof. There. I saw the license plate below, and it was definitely the right one. Okay, that was the van. Now what? I couldn’t just jump in and attack them right now. Not only were we too close to the house, but I had no idea how many people were in the van, what kind of condition the girl was in, or how the bad guys were armed.
Right, I was going to have to follow them and try to intervene once we got there and before they killed this girl. Which meant I had to keep up with the van without letting them see me. And the only way I was going to be able to do that was by staying far enough behind, taking shortcuts, and hoping that I didn’t end up losing them. At least I knew that they were heading for the water. Mr. Jackson had said something about a pier, so that helped a little bit. Okay, Cassidy, do this right. Shove everything else about this shit aside and whatever you do, don’t lose that van.
Watching the tail lights of the van as it kept going down the street, I took a running start and launched myself upward, using red paint to reach the next building on the opposite side of the street before running a few steps, popping my skates out with a quick blurted command. From there, I followed the rooftops, trying to stay low while painting my costume black so I wouldn’t stand out. My eyes stayed focused on those tail lights, doing my best not to lose track of which ones were the actual van. A couple times I had to get close enough to double-check, but for the most part I stayed as far back as I dared, using the darkness and height to my advantage, as well as the fact that whenever I saw the van at a stoplight with its turn signal on, I could move ahead and catch it further on. The whole time, we got closer and closer to Lake St. Clair. Or rather, to the Detroit river that the lake fed into. We weren’t going to the lake, we were going to the river.
The van pulled off the main road and took some side streets. I had to abandon the roofs and make my way through the wooded park area on the side of the road on foot while doing my best not to be seen by anyone. Again, being able to make my costume completely black helped. I had no idea how people went around doing the superhero thing without being able to change the color of their costume at any given point to match the situation. It sounded much harder.
Now I was running through the forest to the side of the road. Or rather, I started running, before realizing that was dumb. Instead, I jumped straight up to the top of the nearest tree with the aid of a bit of blue paint, then leapt to the next, using a mixture of that and my red paint now and then to yank myself onward much faster. With the help of green paint for speed, my feet barely touched each tree before I leapt to the next one. It felt like I was some super-modernized and colorful version of Tarzan or something.
Some small part of me wondered how I could navigate the dark forest I’d never been in that well. Seriously, I jumped from tree to tree like I’d been there my whole life and knew every branch. What was that about? But there were far more important things for me to focus on.
Finally, the van reached a rest stop or something, an open space with one small building labeled restrooms, lit by a single struggling lamp post. Sure enough, there was a path leading down to a pier overlooking the river. This was it. This was definitely it. As soon as I saw the van stop, I threw myself out of the tree, using black paint to land silently on the ground behind a bush. We were here. This was it. I had to do this right. The girl. I couldn’t let them kill her.
Maybe she knew something about their operation. Not only was this my chance to save her, whoever she was, it was also my chance to find something out about my family’s organization. Whatever she knew, it was important enough for Mr. Jackson, a British diplomat (seriously, how did that fit into my family’s criminal empire?) to personally make sure she was dead. This wasn’t just any old victim. She knew something. I had to get her out of there, without revealing who I was.
But Mr. Jackson had a power. He’d said that his power didn’t work on this girl. Why didn’t it work? And what was his power? Something that should have allowed him to avoid killing her? That was sure what it sounded like when he’d been on the phone. But I wasn’t sure what that meant. So, he had a power that I knew nothing about. This was going to be fun.
The van doors opening caught my attention, and I squinted that way through the dim light to see three men get out. None of them were Mr. Jackson. But the man himself stepped out a moment later, as the first three looked around, clearly watching for any uninvited guests. They were armed with what looked like submachine guns, all of them dressed the same as his security detail. They probably were from his security detail, actually.
Mr. Jackson turned in a slow circle after exiting the van. His gaze passed over the bush where I was hiding, but didn’t slow at all. He scanned the lot before snapping his fingers. As he did so, one of the men reached back into the van and yanked a struggling figure out before giving her a toss to the ground.
The girl. Her head was covered by some kind of black hood, and her hands were cuffed behind her back. She started to curse as the man pulled her out of the van, but it turned to a yelp when she was thrown to the ground.
“No one saw you grab her?” Mr. Jackson demanded of one of the men beside him.
“No, sir,” the man replied. “No one was around and we took side streets to get her to the house.”
“Get her up,” Mr. Jackson ordered then, speaking in a flat, bored voice that told me he just wanted to be done with this and move on. He didn’t care that he was about to kill some girl. He wanted it over with so he could go home, or whatever he was going to do. This was nothing new to him.
One of the men yanked the girl up by the arm, setting her on her feet. She started to say something, but her words were unintelligible. She was clearly gagged somehow under the hood. Not that it mattered, as she’d barely gotten a few sounds out before Mr. Jackson pulled a pistol from his suit jacket and pressed it against her head. “Stop,” he ordered, and she fell silent.
Just as I was building myself up to send a shot of red paint that would yank the gun away from the girl’s head, he lowered it. “Not here,” the man said simply. “Bring her to the pier so the body lands in the water.”
That was enough to make the girl start to bolt, even with her hands still cuffed. But two of the men grabbed her by either arm. They carried the struggling girl after them while she gave some kind of muffled scream. She was fighting, struggling with everything she had. But it didn’t matter. They were stronger, bigger, and they bodily carried the girl with them, down that path.
Okay, Cassidy. This was it. Quickly, but silently thanks to black paint, I made my way in a running crouch behind the van and over to the trees on the far side. The men were pulling their prisoner right down there. She fought the whole time, kicking and muffledly screaming. Not that any of them cared.
Raising both hands, I focused on my red paint and got ready to yank their weapons away, while they pushed the girl right up to the edge of the pier.
Then Mr. Jackson reached out and yanked the hood off her head, snapping, “It didn’t have to be this way, kid. But you wouldn’t stop digging, and people who keep digging… eventually they make a grave.”
The hood was gone. I could see her face. I could see the girl they were about to kill, the one who knew enough about my family’s criminal empire that they wanted her dead.
It was her. The girl who had spent years mocking me for looking like a boy, who had started a whole thing about ‘male cheerleaders’ when I’d been on the team in junior high, the girl who had always seemed to hate me for no reason.
I was here to save Paige Banners.