A tendril slices through the geyser of oil from Ross’ hand, and another, and another, and Bedevil’s invisible clubs batter him to the floor as all his men die around him. Gunfire accompanies her bestial screams as she descends onto Ross’ body. His arms come free of his torso.
As she falls upon him, her scream dies out. She says no words, she makes no sound. Her tendrils rip Ross into dozens of pieces and rip those pieces apart even further until it’s like she put the man through a grater. I finally find strength in my legs to move. The rest of the gang is literally minced, worse than when Pandahead’s gang wiped out the Storm Knights.
Kitsune — Bedevil, not Kitsune — sobs as she keeps pulling Ross’ remains into ever tinier parts, as if she’s worried some part of his flesh will knit and come back. Blood pools around her, soaking her jeans below her knees as she kneels by the corpse.
“What in the fucking fuck was that?!” Saw Off screams behind me.
Bedevil doesn’t look up from her work. She weeps and tries to climb to her feet, but slips on the blood. “He hurt children, Gabe. He hurts children.”
I hear where the years of drink came from in those words. I can hear where this girl, one of the greatest heroes in the world, turned into a mask on the street, not caring if she brutalizes the gangs she fights. I understand her in those words, at last, because those words echo into my heart and I know exactly why she did this. That realization quenches the rage that rises up at the loss of our most tangible lead. I help her to her feet, where she clings to me like a drowning man to a lifesaver.
“That was our one fucking lead!” Saw Off shouts at me. “I’m gonna put a fucking bullet in her!”
“You’re gonna put a bullet in Bedevil, and make the 2nd Amendment the most wanted criminals in the world. Right.” I glare at her, though I don’t think she could see it from behind my goggles.
Saw Off wipes blood from her eyes. Mil-dot pokes at the guard by the door with her rifle while Lugs watches in, and Vaquero just stares at the carnage as he shakes his head.
Body parts and broken furniture, a truck screeching out its alarm. This place is a wreck and the capes or the fish will be here soon to find out what happened. They wouldn’t let this alone, not with all that screaming or gunfire.
Saw Off grabs one of Vaquero’s pistols and aims it at Bedevil. “I’m gonna!”
I stand in her way. “Look, we’ll find something else. The Underground is working with Iso, we’ll find another way at Pandahead.”
“Move.” Saw Off stares daggers at me and cocks the hammer of the revolver back. “Move, Gabe! This is an Archimedes Bullet and I’ll put it in you if I don’t put it in her.”
I stand my ground. “Here I am.”
Saw Off screeches in anger, releases the hammer without firing, and slams the gun back into Vaquero’s holster. “Fine! Fine! Then you still owe me a favor! You owe me a whole dick-ton of favors, or else I’ll go to Iso and the fish and the capes and tell them that your girlfriend mask is the Bedevil. Come on. Let’s get the fuck out of here.” Saw Off stalks out of the building, and the 2nd Amendment follows her. Mil-dot gives me one last pitying look before they’re gone.
Bedevil sobs into my chest. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”
“Let’s go. Grab your mask. The fish will come soon.” I help her stand by herself and find her mask from the floor. She fixes it back in place and we flee the scene of the crime.
Combining our powers once again to travel as far away from the Cabellero Santo hideout as possible, our movement stutters as Bedevil struggles to regain her composure and I stop to try and help her move. It takes us a full thirty minutes just to make it back to the Third Ward, where we stop off on the top of an office building, nestled in between taller towers, before getting ready to make our next jump.
Bedevil collapses to her knees and falls face forward onto the ground, and her tendrils fall from me. She weeps prostrated, hands clawing at the cement helplessly.
I attempt to pry her from the ground but she’s gone limp, and while she’s not heavy, dead weight is hard to lift up without using my power. I don’t want to hurt her accidentally, so I just sit down next to her to wait it out, feeling exposed on a low rooftop where a passing janitor in the nearby buildings could see. It’s late at night, so hopefully… but hopefully isn’t certainly.
“Why?” I ask.
Bedevil does not reply, she only sobs.
“What did you do that for?”
“Bella… Bella Villa,” she manages at last.
“What is that? I don’t know what that is.”
Bedevil pushes up and climbs to her knees. She takes off her mask, the inside of which is smothered in her tears and snot. She shakes that out and sets it aside, and then rests on her feet. “A cult. The Sanctified.”
“The Sanctified Remnant?” I ask.
Bedevil wipes her eyes and nods. She swallows and breathes in shallow gasps, hyperventilating for a few seconds before she manages to steady herself. She grabs onto my arm and squeezes until she calms down.
Once she’s no longer panicking, she clears her throat. “There was a cult called the Sanctified in Columbia, led by a guy named Alexander. He could heal neurological diseases and had convinced some people that he was Christ Reborn, and that he was born of a virgin. Alexander got assassinated by one of the cartels he was trying to destroy, and his cult picked up a lot of steam.”
Bedevil finally manages to look up at me. Hazel eyes; she’s beautiful. Drone was right, just my type. Golden strands of her hair cling to her face, soaked down to the scalp but slowly drying out. “They were led by a few guys. Ross Lorenz was one of their cell leaders. They took this little town and named it Bella Villa, and started a commune there, buying up virgin girls from the trafficking circles to try and make a new Alexander.”
“There was… well, Templar, Nero, and the platoon cleared our way in. They did it pretty quiet until we got to the compound doors. That’s when the fighting really started. I was part of the group that went down through the basement… where we found the rooms… I can’t…” She stops and puts her hand to her nose, red and swollen, and is almost brought low again. She may be beautiful but she’s the ugliest crier I’ve ever seen.
“I-” I realize I have no idea what to say, so I just grab her hand with my own.
Bedevil sniffles, she shakes her head a few times to recover. “There were these rooms, full of young girls. Some of them were bound, some of them weren’t. The ones that weren’t bound were brainwashed. They screamed at us in Spanish, clawed at us, told us that God would strike us down. We grabbed the ones we could. I got a girl that was a little older, unbound, hissing at me while I tried to help her. She tried to bash her head in on every wall and door we passed. She…” Tears race down her cheeks again, a new waterfall opened up by her memory.“We were ambushed outside the basement. The girl got free of me… she grabbed a gun…”
“He hurts children,” I echo at last, the first thing I’ve managed to say. “Kit… Bedevil… Ruby. I’m so sorry.”
Bedevil nods and falls into me. She doesn’t even cry or make another noise other than to breathe, and that is ragged and weak, barely discernible above the dim night-murmur of the city. After a few minutes, she swallows, and says, “Gabe, I’m sorry.”
I sit up, help her to her feet, and we stand together.
Bedevil picks up her mask. “I should have told you earlier, back when we went on our date. I guess I didn’t know if I could trust you.”
I stammer. All of my words fail me, as few as they are.
“You’ve been so kind to me.” Bedevil raises her gaze to me. “I don’t care if you are some wanted Cloak or if you’re a renowned Mask, or whatever you’ve hidden from the world. Your heart is good.”
“Ruby.” After I whisper her name, I fall silent, unable to voice more. I’m not sure what I should do, or what I should say.
“I haven’t been lonely since I met you. Everyone treats me like something to sweep under the rug but you, you wanted me around, even though…” She trails off and frowns, and looks up at me. “Please, tell me who you are. I want to know.”
Her question spurs me at last to speak my pain. “I can’t. I can’t.”
The words hit her like a hammer and new tears sprout in her eyes and fall from her cheeks. “Please,” she half cries-half says. “You can trust me, Gabe. I trust you. Please. I love you. I don’t care who you are, I love you.”
“No, you don’t,” I reply. “You don’t know who I am, how could you love me?”
“I know you. I know who you are.” Bedevil speaks with fervor, even as she weeps. “You’re Gabe. You’re Gabe and you’re the kindest person I’ve met since I came here. You save children. You fight like I’ve never seen before, not since Megajoule.” She advances on me and I can see that she really does love me. Beneath the pain and the agony of her life, she really does love me.
I hold my hand out and retreat back. “But you don’t know me. Not really.” She doesn’t know that I’m a pale imitation of that man, she doesn’t know that everything I have I stole from him. Surely if she knew, she’d no longer love me, and that thought I also can’t bear.
“Then show me who you are. Please. Show me who you are and I’ll love you anyway. I don’t care if you’re hideous or if you’re scarred, or if you’re literally the hottest thing on earth, I just know that I love you.” Her repeated mantra has become a religious chant, the cry of the faithful realizing there is no God coming to save them. “I love you, Gabe. Please. Please.”
I am ashamed. Because my next action is to turn, summon all of the kinetic energy I can, and flee from that rooftop while she screams my name after me. Her words chase me all the way back to my apartment, worming their way under my skin like her telekinetic tendrils, and I curse myself for not accepting what I knew sooner. I knew she was Bedevil, deep under my denial and my desire. I knew who she was, truly, and I let this happen because I’m weak.
She calls me dozens of times, she leaves me voicemails that alternate between breathless sobbing and whispered pleading for me to come back, for me to tell her who I am, for me to accept her love.
I crawl into my bed and listen to those messages; I listen to Bedevil break her heart against me, all the while feeling my own heart collapse in on itself. My body shakes without my control as I climb under the sheets and Doc knocks on my door, asking me what’s wrong.
I come out and he sees me weeping and he wraps his arms around me. He asks me what happened and I can’t tell him, so he goes and he turns on the news, and it’s all about me, it’s all about Home Run and how he massacred a random gang, there’s a CCTV shot that was out of range of Drone’s scrambler in my watch and perfectly angled to catch me leaving the hideout with Kitsune— with Bedevil.
They’re scared, they’re scared, they’re blaming me, they’re blaming masks and gangs, everyone but themselves. I retreat to my room, away from all of this.
I curl up in my bed, and like my heart, collapse into myself as I fall asleep.
“Julian,” my wife whispers in my ears. “I love you.”
I am not Julian and she is not my wife. She is Bedevil and I am a ghost.
I have stolen his body. We move together. We kiss our wife/Bedevil, our lips intertwining into the deep of a dream. All four of us merge: Megajoule and his wife, Bedevil and me.
I scream inside his head. This isn’t me.
I am a ghost. I am not here.