Closing her eyes briefly, her body shaking, Crystal whispered in her mind a plea for forgiveness from all the others present in the building…but mostly, from her brother. Opening her eyes, she turned her gaze upon Aubrey, her eyes controlled, empty…as blank as his own.
"I want to tell you, Aubrey, that I still love you," she said in a very even voice, not betraying her emotion. "I love you, and I forgive you. I just hope you'll forgive me."
She did not see his startled expression at her words, his puzzled glance at Amos. For when she fixed her attention back on her foe, her eyes narrow slits, she raised her arms with slow deliberation, pushing back the sleeves of her hoodie so the bands nearly embedded into her skin were plainly visible. Then with a short cry, she struck out at Amos, releasing a stream of her power in such force her entire body jerked.
Amos's eyes bulged as the power he had been exerting so strongly was thrown back at him, magnified 100 times. She watched, face contorting, as she felt the bands break, falling of her arms as if they were nothing more than plastic. Still the reflection was pouring out of her, reverberating through the room, slipping down the hall and under doorways and down the stairs, spreading through the building.
She watched as Amos flew across the hall, his body hitting the wall with such force it left a dent. He fell onto the floor in a heap, and his limbs began to twist.
Suddenly her brother, whom she had not been watching in those moments, who she had not even allowed herself to think about in those moments, screamed a high, terrible sound that pierced straight to Crystal's heart. She knew she would hear those screams for years to come. Aubrey had been gawking at her as she began to reflect against his master, not trying to stop her or help Amos. She didn't know if this was because Amos hadn't told him to, or because he feared Crystal would turn to him. But now he fell to the floor too, limbs contorting, face screwing up in anguish.
Crystal wanted to cry, to scream along with him, to stop the flow of hurtful energy pouring from inside her…but she knew she could not. She had made her decision, she had already begun. She could not back out now.
Out the corner of her eye she could see that the two unconscious empaths in the hall were also being affected. Though they did not awaken, their bodies convulsed, and she knew it would not be long before they were dead. The skin was beginning to peel from Amos's head, from Aubrey's head, from the empaths…Aubrey's shrieks were now hoarse cries. But Amos did not scream, made no noise…there was only silent horror in his expression.
Then Aubrey's screeches stopped abruptly. Still releasing her power in a steady stream, Crystal glanced at him. He had gone still, his face slack, limbs motionless and frozen in highly unnatural positions.
She saw that the two empaths were still as well. They were all three dead. But Amos was not…she could still see him twitching. Did he ever die…would she never kill him?
It took another seven minutes before Amos finally went still, the longest, most excruciating seven minutes of Crystal's life. Her body was shaking as violently as his from the effort of continuing to aim so steadily at him her reflection, while continuing to keep her shields in place. Her head felt as if a giant metal claw had clamped down on it, squeezing her until she felt it would implode. Her eyes hot and aching from staring fixedly and holding back tears, she wasn't sure how much longer she could hold on…and then he went still.
She was sure at first Amos was faking, making her think he was dead so he would be able to strike back when she relaxed her guard. She didn't relax her shields, waiting another minute, then two, still determined plying him with her reflection. But his body no longer shook, her power was bouncing off him, echoing around her…it was no longer effecting him, because he was dead. He was really, truly dead…she had killed him.
Slowly she began to ease up on her releasing, then stopped gradually. It was hard to stop, to cut herself off after having got started so strongly and for so long, without holding back or filtering its strength. She almost collapsed with the shock and exhaustion of it all, her body flinching as if she had been hit, and her knees buckled, her head and shoulders sagging. She would have fallen had she not leaned against the wall, closing her eyes and cradling her head in her hands. After releasing herself, the pain in her head had lessened to a dull throb, but she felt weak, shaky, emotionally as well as physically. Still, Crystal had enough presence of mind to not let go of her shields, on the off chance that Amos had somehow fooled her.
After a few moments of taking long, slow breaths, she took her hands from her face and stood, walking across the room to Amos's body. Grimacing at its grisly appearance, she knelt beside him shakily, looking more closely. She didn't want to touch him, but his chest did not rise or fall, and she could not imagine how a pulse could pump through a throat that was nearly ripped out. He was definitely dead…and if he was, surely all the others in the building were as well. They had been so much weaker…there was no way they had survived.
Too weak to stand, Crystal began to crawl painfully over to where her brother's body lay, several feet away. She felt herself shiver, her throat convulsing, choking against suppressed sobs and her urge to vomit at the sight of her brother's tortured form. She had done this to him.
The tears blinded her, blurred her vision so she saw two, then three images of her brother, all pitifully twisted, all staring, seeming to shout the truth of what she had done. Finally allowing her shields to come down, Crystal began to sob, stretching out by her brother's side.
"Aubrey," she gasped. "Aubrey, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."
Jaguar came awake in slow, gradual stages, out of her unconsciousness. She first began to hear, a car going by, a bird's song, the roar of a motorcycle in the distance. Her hearing was indistinct, far away and unclear as though they came from underwater. Gradually they sharpened in clarity, and she realized that she could feel. The soreness crept into her legs, the pulsing ache in her head, the soft towel against her cheek…towel? Why was she lying on a towel…and what was that digging into her side. It felt sharp, cold, metallic.
There was a bitter taste in her mouth, a flavor she had come to associate with unconsciousness. Slowly Jaguar opened her eyes, squinting into the light flooding into them. Shielding her face with one hand, she let her eyes adjust, then lowered her hand to see. She was lying in the backseat of a car- her car, she realized. She was in a parking lot…and seeing the building in the distance, Jaguar realized it was the parking lot of The Eyes of Man.
With this the memories began to flash through her mind so quickly she closed her eyes again, trying to slow their coming. She had been shopping with Crystal when she felt terrible pain…she had known it was Amos, but she couldn't get herself together enough to block him. After that, she could not remember…
Crystal. Crystal had been with her. Crystal must have gotten her into the car and driven her here. But where was she now? Why had she just left her in the car…how long had she been gone?
Jaguar sat up quickly, ignoring the way her head spun, and after a few moments she felt stable enough to step out of the car. Thinking of Crystal had alarmed her. If Amos had attacked her, there was no telling what else he had done. He could have hurt others, he could have hurt Crystal. She had go to into The Eyes of Man, she had to see what was going on…she had to find Crystal.
She stumbled at first as she clumsily made her way to the building, her legs rubbery, but by the time she reached the door she felt better, more sure-footed. She punched in the code and stepped inside the building, dreading the stairs.
After the first flight of stairs, Jaguar's breathing was shallow, her legs hurting worse than ever. But she pushed on doggedly, stepping into the hallway of the second floor. What she saw made her lose her breath, sick with horror.
There were three empaths lying in the middle of the floor, so mutilated Jaguar couldn't recognize them. The skin was peeled from their faces, and their limbs were frozen in what looked to be extremely painful positions.
Her hands shaking, drifting up to cover her mouth, Jaguar tore her eyes from the unfortunate three, nearly running to the next staircase, forgetting her weakness and pain in her adrenaline. She had to find Crystal…that had to have been the work of Amos.
All she could think as she took the stairs was that Amos could still be there, she might have to face him again…he had killed her friends, her boyfriend, her father, but she could work up no anger, no grief, only fear that she might be next…or Crystal.
The third floor was no different from the second, containing four empaths in identical positions in the hallway. Jaguar was sure that if she should look into the closed doors, she would find more. But she didn't. she hurried to the next staircase, her panic growing.
The next two floors yielded the same results, no Amos, and as far as she could tell, no Crystal. It occurred to Jaguar that maybe every person in the building was already dead, every last one…she might be the only one, the only empath she knew, left alone in the world.
Except, of course, for Amos.
It had also crossed her mind that maybe Crystal was dead too…maybe Crystal was one of those unidentifiable bodies left behind.
It was with even greater speed she approached the sixth floor, eyes wild, body shaking uncontrolledly. If this floor yielded the same results as the others, she had a feeling she would not be able to go on. Let him take her…as he had all others.
But that floor did not contain only the bodies of the other empaths…the sixth floor was where Crystal remained hunched beside the body of her brother, weeping heavily.
Jaguar heard her before she saw her, the moment she entered the stairwell. Her heart leapt, overwhelmed with excitement and relief. Someone else was there…someone was alive! She was not the only one.
Though excited, she put her shields around her mind even more tightly than they had been placed, and stepped forward, an anxious yet almost happy look on her face, just to find someone else. She could see more bodies, but beside one of them was a person, a person clearly alive. Skinny frame, baggy clothes, spiky short hair…Crystal!
Jaguar relaxed, a tremulous smile spreading over her face. Crystal was alive…she was alive! Amos had not killed her…Jaguar was not alone.
"Crystal?" she called, "You're alive!"
Crystal's head jerked up, and she stared at Jaguar, her face freezing. Gradually her expression became incredulous, even as tears still trickled down her cheeks.
"Jaguar?" she whispered. "You're alive…but I thought…I thought I killed you."
"No!" Jaguar said hastily, holding up her hands. "No, I'm fine…I thought you were dead, I thought I was the only one alive…oh god, Crystal, I'm so glad you're alive!"
She ran up to her and flung her arms around her, hot tears flowing down her cheeks with her relief. "They're all dead, all the others, I thought you were too."
Crystal's arms came around Jaguar's waist, and she squeezed her fiercely, burying her face against her neck. The two clung to each other, weeping, as Jaguar asked her, "Are you okay? Did you see Amos? Did he hurt you? Where is he? Crystal, are you okay?"
"Yeah," Crystal choked out, her voice breaking, then a few seconds later, "No…"
Her crying intensified, and she couldn't explain herself further. Jaguar hugged her tighter, managing to stop her own tears.
"Crystal, what happened?"
"I, I-" Crystal gasped, then gulped, sniffled, face still pushed into Jaguar's neck. Finally she burst out with, "I killed them, Jaguar, I killed them all! I didn't want to, but I had to…I had to, to kill Amos. I killed my own brother, Jaguar, I killed Aubrey…I killed my father, and now I killed my brother too. I'm so sorry, I'm sorry. I didn't want to…"
Jaguar gasped, staring down at her. It was she who had killed everyone…but how? Why?
But Crystal couldn't reply. Seeing this, Jaguar took a deep breath, steeling herself, and prepared to enter her mind, drawing out her memory of what had happened.
It didn't take very long for her to find it. Crystal's shields were down, she was so emotional she would have had a hard time keeping them up even if she'd wanted to. She passively let Jaguar in, let her see her thoughts, her inner self, as she never had before.
The first thing Jaguar saw was the pain, the guilt, and the anguish Crystal was going through, so she nearly lost herself in it. Crystal's grief was overwhelming, and Jaguar hurried past it, deeper into her mind.
It came to her in a series of images without words, but Jaguar did not need to near anyone speak to understand. She knew from the core of her soul , the core of Crystal's. She saw through Crystal's eyes, felt her pain as she struggled, and she finally knew what she had endured in its entirety.
She pulled from Crystal's mind as gently as possible, but in their weakened states both jerked. She saw Crystal's eyes fix on hers, waiting for her reaction.
Jaguar smiled, sympathy, empathy, pride, and admiration showing in the gesture…but dominantly love.
"You know," Crystal whispered, closing her eyes. "You know what I did. I'm sorry…I killed Amos. He won't bother us…but I killed everyone else too. I killed Aubrey."
Jaguar wrapped her arms around her, pulling her tightly against her. Crystal allowed her to, sagging against her listlessly. She felt so tiny…Jaguar could feel her sharp shoulders blades even beneath her baggy clothes. This was the first time Crystal had ever really broken down in front of her, the first time she had allowed Jaguar to comfort her rather than the other way around. This was the only time she had ever let herself be the sad, confused child she was.
"Shh," Jaguar whispered, running a hand over her hair. "If you need to cry, it's okay. But Crystal, what you did…it's okay. You did what you had to, the only thing that would have worked. I'm not angry. I understand. I understand, and I'm proud. You defeated the most powerful and experienced man in the world…none of the rest of us could have done it. Even if we were strong enough in our powers, we wouldn't be strong enough emotionally. But you are, Crystal. You are."
She rocked her slightly. "I know it's horrible, I know what it must have been like, and I'm sorry you had to do it. But you shouldn't feel guilty. All of them were dead the minute Amos began to screw with their minds. He would have killed them if you didn't…and others, as well. He would have gone on to kill anyone who opposed him. You saved more lives than you took, Crystal. You saved mine. If you hadn't killed him, I would have died."
"I couldn't stop," Crystal whispered. "Once I aimed it at him, I couldn't control where it went, it was everywhere, on everyone…I broke my bands."
"We'll get you new ones," Jaguar promised.
"I thought I'd kill you…why didn't I kill you?" Crystal asked, looking up at her with wide, teary eyes. "Why didn't it reach anyone outside? I thought my range would be bigger."
"I don't know," Jaguar replied. "Maybe it's the steel inside here…maybe it kept your power inside, wouldn't let it penetrate the walls. Maybe the steel reflected it off only onto the inside of the building. That would make sense."
Crystal nodded wearily, too exhausted to question. "What are we going to do? I mean, now that Amos is gone, we're free…but we're alone now. We're the only two left…what will we do?"
She searched her face anxiously, and Jaguar sighed, tears stinging her eyelids. Crystal had a point…all of their friends, their fellow empaths, the only people who really knew and accepted her for who she was and what she was, were gone. What could they do now…where would they go?
Don't worry about it now. You are free, after all this time…and your father and Luke have been avenged.
Luke…thinking about him now, how hard he had worked to escape his father, how desperately he had tried to defeat him…and how now he could not even be there with her, enjoying the satisfaction of seeing his father brought to justice…
She changed the subject, to both distract herself and Crystal.
"Amos still has some followers out there, but I think with him gone, they won't bother us. They'll probably be too afraid of you to try."
But Crystal wasn't put off so easily. Looking Jaguar in the eye, she said, "Jaguar, what are we going to do now?"
Jaguar took a slow breath, trying to think.
"I don't know," she said finally. "We need to cremate the others, give them space in the memorial room. And then…I guess we start over. I guess we seek more people with powers, empaths or not. I guess we show them how to develop their powers. Maybe…maybe we can start a school. A school for children and teens with powers. A place for people like you, a place they can learn to control their powers and at the same time be with people of their own kind, people who understand and accept them. I think that could make a difference."
She looked at Crystal seriously, eyes locked on hers. "If I did this, Crystal, would you help me?"
Crystal regarded her just as intently, her face somber, but Jaguar saw her eyes begin to shine.
"Yeah. I will."
Slowly she got to her feet, and extending a hand, helped Jaguar to hers. The two walked down the hallway, eyes averted from the bodies, and made their way towards the start of their new chance- the new beginning- they had been given.
January 14, 2006- June 4, 2006