… EPISODE EIGHT…
I only thought I was mixed-up before.
Because the moment I cross the threshold and get a good look at who Rebel’s hanging out with, everything I thought I knew, everything I thought I saw, gets a little more chaotic.
Dante stands there looking whole and healthy and entirely untortured. His fauxhawk’s perfectly groomed, though his eyes look dead and his face is completely drained of color.
It’s as if I had only imagined the scene back at ESH.
But I didn’t imagine it. I might be confused, but I’m not crazy.
“You… Y-y-you’re… I saw you.” I shake my head. “How is this possible?” I can’t help but back away from the ghost. As I do, I collide with something. Someone.
“Deacon.” Draven’s voice is low and hard against my ear. “You saw his brother, Deacon. This is Dante.”
“Deacon?” I echo
“Identical twins,” Rebel says as she wraps her arms, her whole body, around Dante as if she’s trying to protect him.
“I—” My voice catches in my throat. “I didn’t know.”
When she said they were brothers, I never imagined they might be twins. Does that make it worse? I look at Dante and think maybe it does.
For several long, heavy moments the room is silent except for our breathing and the soft, gentle words Rebel whispers into Dante’s ear.
I can’t hear what she’s saying, but it seems to be having some kind of soothing effect on Dante because he’s clinging to her like she’s the only thing keeping him standing.
Not that I blame him. Not when he just found out that his brother is being tortured as we speak.
His twin brother. Deacon. The guy they broke into the lab to find.
The puzzle pieces start assembling themselves to form a picture.
No wonder they had been so angry and frantic. No wonder Nitro nearly blew the place to bits.
If they had even a clue what was happening to Deacon, then their restraint was actually pretty impressive. If something like that was happening to Rebel and I couldn’t get to her, couldn’t find her… Well, let’s just say I’m shocked they didn’t do more damage to the lab. A lot more damage.
I want to say something, to apologize for what’s happening. To apologize for ratting on them to the SHPD last night, for stopping them before they found him, for not doing more for Deacon than pulling the fire alarm tonight.
But before I can get out much more than “I—” Draven slams his fist into the wall.
Slams it through the wall, to be more exact.
“Two-faced sons of bitches.” He hits the wall again. And again. By the time he pulls back to smash his fist into the drywall for a fourth time, his knuckles are bruised and bleeding.
“Hey.” I don’t know what possesses me—or why it bothers me so much to see him hurt himself—but I wrap my palms over his fist. “Don’t. That won’t help anything.”
I rub my thumb gently over his injured knuckles. He stiffens and glances down at where our skin touches.
His voice is rough when he says, “How do you know what will—”
“Was my dad there?” Rebel interrupts, talking over him.
I can’t even form the words. How do you tell your best friend that you saw her dad standing over her boyfriend’s twin, casually watching a torture session as if it were a baseball game? Tears spring to my eyes as I drop Draven’s hand and shake my head helplessly. Not to say no, but because I don’t know how to tell her yes.
“I knew it,” she whispers, then turns back to Dante. “I’m so sorry, baby.”
He doesn’t answer. While Draven looks like he’s ready to tear the whole world apart, Dante just looks like he’s in shock.
Who could blame them?
“Of course Rex was there.” Draven wipes his bloody knuckles on his jeans. “It’s as bad as we feared. It goes all the way to the top. The whole damn hero world is corrupt.”
“That’s not true,” I say. “It’s not all heroes.”
He sneers at me, his fierce eyes blazing with a rage that paradoxically sends a shiver up my spine. “Don’t be naïve, hero girl.”
While he didn’t say “hero-worshiper,” his tone tells me that’s exactly what he means. He thinks I’m no better than the men who are torturing Deacon.
“Draven’s right,” Rebel says, like she’s begging me to understand. “It’s time you finally saw the truth.”
“You’re wrong.” I’m not trying to be difficult, but I can’t accept the idea that all heroes are bad. “I work in that lab. I see heroes being heroic every day. Just because a few bad apples—”
“No, Kenna,” Rebel interrupts. “It’s not just a few. I’ve been digging into this for almost a year. It’s way more widespread than you think.”
My mind reels at the thought. It’s bad enough to think that a small group of rotten eggs have worked their way into power.
What she’s talking about is so extreme it’s practically incomprehensible.
Some heroes, yes. Obviously. But not all. Not even most.
I can’t believe the League would let that happen.
“I don’t—” I shake my head. “There must be a logical explanation. Like mind control or—”
“You don’t get it!” Rebel shouts.
I jerk back, stunned at her rage. This is my best friend, the girl I’ve known all my life, the girl I know better than anyone. How could I not realize how bad it’s gotten?
“Of course she doesn’t get it.” Draven again. “She’s been drinking the League Kool-Aid. Cherry-flavored, is it?”
“Hey, screw you!” I turn on him, frustrated and furious. “Just because you think you’re so big and bad doesn’t mean you’ve got all the answers. In fact, last night you seemed pretty—”
I freeze as it hits me that I’m not supposed to remember the break-in. Rebel might have told me about her boyfriend, but I’m not supposed to know who Draven is, am not supposed to remember him at all.
The last thing I want is for a bunch of villains to know about my immunity, even if they are friends of Rebel’s.
Whatever Draven does to push my buttons almost pushed me into revealing my biggest secret. I can’t lose control like that.
“Stop,” Rebel says, calmer now that she’s taken a few breaths. “Just…stop. You can’t defend them, Kenna. You have no idea—” She closes her eyes. “This is only the tip of an iceberg of evil. Trust me when I say it’s not just a few bad heroes, and it’s not as simple as mind control. It’s much bigger and much worse than anything you can imagine.”
I open my mouth, but what can I say? I trust Rebel. The villainous identity of her secret boyfriend aside, she has never lied to me. And while she may be a bit out there, she’s never been one to leap to unjustified conclusions or make unfounded accusations. Why would she start now?
Part of me refuses to accept her claims though. Part of me believes that she’s wrong and there is some non-world-shattering explanation. Except right now, it doesn’t matter. Right now, the only thing that matters is getting Deacon out alive.
As if reading my thoughts, Dante whispers, “Tell me.” My heart thunders.
Rebel turns to him, taking his face between her palms. “Babe, no.”
Behind me, Draven says, “Don’t.”
I don’t want to relive any of it. What I saw—I’m not sure I can put it into words.
I’m not sure I should.
But when Dante pushes Rebel’s hands away, his cheeks splotchy and eyes glistening, I can’t look away. I try to imagine what I would want if I were in his situation, if it were my mom or Rebel in that chair on sub-level three. I can’t even begin to imagine what it would be like if it were my twin.
Still, if it was me, I’d want to know. I would need to know. And as painful as it will be, Dante deserves to know.
I have to tell him.
“They had him strapped to a chair,” I begin, and have to pause to maintain my composure. “I think they were shooting electricity through him.”
Dante squeezes his eyes shut and Rebel hugs him tighter, petting him softly while she rests her head on his chest. I want to close my eyes too, to shut out the memories, but I can’t take my gaze off Dante.
As I replay all the horrifying details for him, for all of them, Dante’s legs give out and he collapses onto the couch. Rebel goes down with him, holding him still.
“I pulled the fire alarm on my way out,” I tell them, “hoping it would”—I look at Draven—“distract them, maybe.”
I feel so helpless. When I stopped these villains in the lab last night, I hadn’t known the truth. But tonight…I know. And I couldn’t do anything to stop it. I’m not used to feeling helpless.
Powerless, yes, but helpless? It’s not a feeling I like.
There must have been something more I could have done for Deacon. I should have burst into that room and made them let him go. I should have threatened to expose them. I should have done something, anything, rather than run away.
I don’t realize there are tears streaming down my cheeks too, until Draven reaches out to wipe them away. His eyes are distant, but his hands are gentle.
Rebel, the girl who never cries—not even when she broke her ankle flying off the swing set in fourth grade—sobs into Dante’s shoulder.
The seconds tick by as we each dwell in our own private torment. Then Dante lets out a primal scream.
The windows rattle and a picture falls off the wall.
“Dante, no—” Rebel shouts, but she’s cut off by a roar of wind.
Draven shoves me behind him as a dining room chair flies across the hall, slamming into the wall and splintering into kindling. Books fly off shelves and the TV crashes to the floor.
A mini tornado tears through the house, tossing around everything in its path. Every time Dante yells, it gets stronger, adding another gust of wind to the destruction.
Guess I know what Dante’s power is.
“Baby,” Rebel yells above the din. “Baby, come back to me. We’ll find him.”
Draven shields me against the nearest wall.
“You shouldn’t have told him,” he growls at me, as debris pelts him in the back.
Who is he to decide what Dante should hear? “It’s his brother. He has the right to know.”
I shove at his shoulders, but Draven doesn’t move. He just glares at me. His obvious blame mixes with my own guilt about abandoning Deacon, leaving me angry at myself instead of him.
I stop trying to push him away. Take the protection he’s giving me.
“We can go get him,” Rebel says, still trying to get through to Dante. “Kenna knows how to get to the secret level. We can rescue him.”
In a blink, the wind is gone. Airborne objects fall to the ground and the windows stop rattling.
“Now.” Dante’s voice is rough and harsh. “We go now.”
“Damn straight now,” Draven replies, backing away now that the threat is gone. He asks me, “How do we get in?”
“The hell we don’t. Either you tell us how or I will make you.” His voice is calm, which only underscores the menace in his gaze. And the absolute confidence that he can bend me to his will.
His irises grow colder, start to crystallize, and I know that if I don’t stop him, he’s going to use his mind power on me. And when it doesn’t work, I won’t have to worry about keeping my immunity a secret anymore.
“I mean you can’t,” I hurry to explain. “No villain can.”
He frowns, like he wants to argue, but his eyes go back to normal.
“She’s right.” Rebel squeezes Dante’s hand. “The new security protocols the zeroes put in place will keep out anyone with a villain power signature.”
“They can’t keep me out,” Draven insists.
Everything about him—his shoulder, his jaw, his voice—is tense. He might be looking for a fight, but he and Dante would be dramatically outnumbered. They would never stand a chance, and then neither would Deacon.
“Even without the new protocols,” I interject, trying to be the voice of reason, “the place is swarming with guards and heroes. They’re on high alert, especially since I set off the fire alarm.
There’s no way we’ll be able to get in, get him, and get away without being caught.”
Draven’s eyebrow shoots up in the middle of my speech. I lift mine right back up, as if saying, Yeah, I said we.
“Then what do you suggest, hero girl?” he asks. “Call and ask them to release him? Politely?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t gotten that far.” In fact, my thinking hasn’t progressed much beyond don’t-get-killed. “But I know that running in, powers blazing, will only get us caught and you dead.
Deacon too, probably.” It’s a low blow, but I figure even if they’re willing to endanger their own lives, they won’t want to do anything that might turn retribution against Deacon—especially after everything he’s suffered.
They might have broken in last night with a stolen security pass and a guy who can wipe minds, but under the new protocols they wouldn’t get through the front door if they had Mr. Malone’s own badge.
“We go to my dad,” Dante says.
“No way,” Draven counters. “Telling Uncle Anton is a bad idea.”
“Uncle Anton?” I echo. “As in Anton the Annihilator? As in—”
“Yes,” Rebel interrupts, ending the questions.
Dante’s father—Draven’s uncle—is Anton Cole, the leader of the Core, the supervillain equivalent of the League? The guy is a legend, in the worst possible way.
Rebel’s own father—who usually only gets involved in the most heinous of cases—is the one who set the price on his head. Fifteen million dollars. No villain anywhere has ever commanded such a steep bounty.
Rebel couldn’t have picked a more dangerous family to hook up with, which is why I return her look with one that says oh-boy-do-we-need-to-talk-about-this-later.
“Dad will get him out,” Dante says. “No matter the cost.”
“Exactly,” Draven argues. “No matter the cost. We bring Uncle Anton back from the negotiations early and this will turn into all-out war.”
Dante snarls. “Sounds good to me.”
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“Not to me,” Draven counters. “You know what happens in a war? People do stupid things that get other people killed.”
“As long as heroes are getting killed,” Dante replies, “then what’s the problem?”
“The problem is that heroes wouldn’t be the only ones to die. And what if Deacon is one of the first casualties?” Draven sits next to Dante on the couch. “If we’re not careful, he could get…hurt in the crossfire.”
I bite my lip when he hesitates over the word “hurt.” I know he almost said “killed,” but that’s the last thing any of us want Dante thinking about.
Getting Deacon out safely has to be the number one priority, not worrying about Dante going off the rails and doing something that might get everybody killed.
“It has to be the two of us.” I look at Rebel. “We can get him out.”
“You’re right,” she replies.
“No way,” Draven argues, at the same time as Dante says, “Absolutely not.”
Rebel’s jaw clenches in a stubborn gesture I am far too familiar with. Even with all this going on, it’s nice not to be on the receiving end of it for once.
“There’s no other choice,” she says. “You guys can’t get in. We can.”
“How will you get him past the guards?” Draven asks. “How will you even carry him? If he’s in as bad shape as Kenna says, he won’t be able to walk.”
“Carrying him out is no problem.” To prove her point, Rebel channels her power to move the living room couch back to its pre-tornado position. “Telekinesis comes in really handy sometimes.”
Draven looks skeptical. “But the guards—”
“I can take care of them,” I insist. And I know exactly how I’m going to do it.a About a year ago, Mom developed a new knockout serum that can render someone unconscious. It’s another one of her not-for-League-knowledge projects. It works so fast that when she tested it on me, I was out for two days. I woke up with the mother of all headaches and the dryness of the Sahara in my mouth. She has since refined the formula so that it only knocks out its victim for an hour. If we use it on the heroes, it’ll give us more than enough time to get in, free Deacon, and get him out.
Mom has a whole supply in the refrigerator in the garage, along with modified tranquilizer guns to deliver the dosage from a safe distance.
The guards will never see us coming. Or going. I grab Draven’s arm and look him straight in the eye. “I need to get to my house.”
“What?” He looks appalled. “No way! How do I know you won’t tell your mom and blow the whole thing?”
It’s a good question, and I don’t really have a good answer. At least nothing beyond, “I guess you’re just going to have to trust me.”
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