Content Warning: Death, Loss of a child, Suicidal thoughts
“He’s dead.” I say, letting the words hang in the cold air. I glance at the dark sky with storm clouds overhead and let out a deep breath.
“You kill him?” Daryl asks, not looking away from his motorcycle.
Daryl doesn’t respond right away, the only noise is the sound of his wrench cranking against the bike and a faint gust of wind.
“Excuse me if I don’t throw you a fucking parade.” He says, still not looking at me.
“I’m not asking you to.”
“Then why are you here?”
“I need your help.”
“Go home Rachel, I’ve got nothing for you.”
“You have information. Information I need.”
“The only information I’m willing to give you is a bus schedule. Go away. I don’t know why I should help you.”
“I didn’t choose to be birthed by a monster, I’m just as much a victim as you were, as much as Des-”
“Don’t you dare, Rachel.”
Daryl glares at me, I look down and bow my head slightly. He keeps busily working on his bike, tightening something on the front wheel axle. Desiree, his daughter, was killed by Heatstroke a few months after he killed my family. She was part of a young team of heroes, they never even stood a chance. Daryl stopped appearing as Monolith after that. I’m not sure if he blames me, or if seeing me is just a reminder of what my father did. I glance up at the sky and see rain starting to fall from the dark clouds.
“Look, I just came to ask for one simple thing. I just need the access code to Fort McCord.” I say. Daryl audibly snorts and chuckles slightly.
“Now what the fuck would you want with those?” he says, actually looking at me now.
“We need to go in, my team and I.”
“Yeah, and what do you want there?”
“Information, whatever’s behind that old door.”
“Please, we never got down there, even I couldn’t move it. Neither could any of our teleporters or intangibles, something made the wall resistant. It’s airtight too, so your little Cinder State power isn’t going to work either.”
“We have a way around that, a new member, she’s intangible, without any other input from her power, she just goes through anything. She’ll get us in.”
“Whatever. No, I’m not giving you the code.”
“Why? You don’t even know what I want that information for.”
“You’re planning to face down the Archduke and want all the knowledge you can get, you think whatever is down there is going to make you strong enough to beat the Archduke. You’re wrong.”
“Maybe, but we have to try. We can’t just give up.”
“Yeah… Whatever you have to tell yourself. This plan is stupid, and it’s just going to get you killed.”
“That’s what everyone said about killing my father. They were wrong, besides, weren’t you called stupid for your plan to kill the Archduke?”
“Yes, because I was.”
“We have a plan.”
“So did we.”
“If my father wasn’t weak and tempted b-”
“Quit talking about things you don’t understand.”
I stare at him as the rain and wind start to pick up. He’s abandoned all pretense of working on his bike and is fully committed to staring back at me. I take a few deep breaths as the wind tugs on my hood and the rain turns my grey jacket nearly black. I let out a few deep breaths and look at him. I feel my powers screaming inside of me, begging to be let out.
“This is happening one way or another. If you don’t give me the code, I’ll just melt my way in.” I say, trying to stand firm.
“Try it. If the turrets don’t get you, the Archduke’s lap dogs are gonna be on you within minutes.” He says, dropping his shoulders slightly.
“You’re a coward, Daryl.”
“You’re not listening to me. Don’t look too far into this.”
“You aren’t gonna like what you find. Some things deserve to stay buried.”
Seriously? Some things deserve to stay buried? Is he working for the Archduke now? I can’t fucking believe him. The Daryl I knew, the Monolith I knew, wouldn’t be talking like this. It doesn’t matter the risk, any risk is worth taking to get a good shot at the Archduke.
“What are you hoping to do here Rachel? Seriously. You think you have any sort of shot at taking down the Archduke? You’re eighteen, you’re a child. Just go home. You did a good job, but we’ve got enough dead kids.” Daryl says, looking me directly in the eyes for the first time. His deep brown eyes lock onto mine. He looks older, almost as if he’s aged decades in the last five years. I sigh and take a few steps towards him.
“We know that we’re going to die, or end up in the Wall, or worse, bu-” I start, he raises a hand.
“What is that ‘worse’ Rachel? Do you know? Do you know the worst possible outcome? Do you want to end up like your dad?”
Fuck him. He’s is seriously going to try and tell me I’m going to be like my father? I’m not a monster, I’m not going to hurt people that I care about, I’m not going to join the fucking Archduke.
“Fuck off” I mumble. “You really think that little of me?”
“I don’t know what to think of you. I don’t know you, not anymore, you’re not the same person you were five years ago.” He says. “And you’re underestimating the Archduke. That’s a mistake you can’t afford to make.”
“We’re not underestimating hi-”
“You are. However tough you expect him to be, double those expectations, then double them again, then you might be close. He always has an out, he always has a plan, if you can’t match every one of those plans, and cut off every one of those outs, you will die. Do you understand?”
“Believe me, we’re not taking him lightly. He’s an old, pompous, fool, but he’s strong, we know that.”
“No. You aren’t listening. The most cunning thing he ever did was let the resistance believe he wasn’t fully competent. He’s strong yes, he’s skilled with his power, but he’s smarter than anyone gives him credit for.”
“I didn’t come here to listen to you shill for the Archduke, I came here for your code. I’m going to be taking it with me, one way or another.”
I assume a fighting stance. I don’t want to fight Daryl, not at all, but I’m desperate and I’m willing to. This is our final push, win or lose, and I’m not letting something this trivial stand in my way. Daryl raises his hand.
“Fucks sake kid. I’m not going to fight you.” Daryl says. He’s a coward, everyone I used to look up to has disappointed me. My father was an asshole who turned his back on my family, the rest of my family wasn’t strong enough to stop him, Monolith is an old coward, Patriot and the rest of the resistance weren’t strong enough to stop the Archduke. Every single person I was supposed to be able to turn to and rely on has done nothing but disappoint me.
Fuck this! Fuck all of this! I clench my fist and step forward. I feel the fire in my chest begging me to use it. Every inch of me wants to lash out and show this coward exactly who the stronger one is. I look up at Daryl as I feel my eyes turn to fire, he recoils as the rest of my body starts to transcend. Within seconds I’m Phoenix.
“Stop this! I don’t want to fight you!” He says, stepping back and grabbing a wrench, almost instinctively. “Don’t be this stupid. I’m not a shill for the Archduke, I’m still me! I’m not your father!”
“Fuck you!” I scream as I charge him, he transcends as soon as I move and throws a sheet of metal in front of himself. I melt through it and strike him in the face with a kick. I dodge a small chunk of metal that he threw at me, I respond by wrapping flames around myself and diving at him. He takes the hit and falls to the ground of his garage. I feel a metal bar hit my head as he gets to his feet.
“Now you’ll fucking fight.” I spit from behind my mask. “You’ll use your powers against me, but not the fucking Archduke. I see exactly who you are now.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“I know exactly what I’m talking about. Desiree would be ashamed of you.”
He charges me, launching an edge of sharpened metal at my skull. I duck under it as I feel a wrench impact the back of my knee. He squares up to hit me with another blast, but I’m already gone. I’m in the Cinder State and quickly circling behind him. He swears under his breath as I drop out of it and blast him with flame. He hits the ground hard, heaps of flaming metal fall around both of us as I press my boot against his neck.
“Finish it.” He says, calling off his transcendence. I lower my fists towards him and glare. “Do it. Prove to me that you’re a slave to your anger. Prove to me that you’re just like your father. Finish it and send me to be with Des”
God dammit. I glance at my hands and the molten metal carnage I left in my wake. I’m a destructive, angry, person and I don’t know how to control my anger. The Cinder uses me as a weapon, as a tool, and I just serve my own anger. Maybe this is why my father turned. Maybe that’s how I’ll turn.
I fucking hope not.
I detranscend and let out a deep breath as I take my foot off his throat. We both just look at each other for a long time. I’m the first to break the silence, after what feels like hours.
“He took my father from me.”
“The Archduke?” Daryl asks, looking towards the corner of his garage.
“No.” I shake my head. “Heatstroke. He took my father, the man who raised me, the man who I thought loved me, away from me. Heatstroke and my father aren’t the same person, and Heatstroke took my father away from me. That’s a realization, or I don’t know, maybe a hope, that I’ve been coming to over the past week.
“Rachel. Heatstroke took my daughter from me, way too goddamn young. Your dad was my best friend. When he turned, whatever reason he turned for, he became a monster. He was still the same person, he was still the same man that I called a friend for two and a half decades. You need to realize that, reconcile that. When someone dies, the good and bad parts of them go. The man you knew as your father was gone, but he was still the same person that killed your mom and brother. You can’t separate the two, you need to accept that.”
“Yeah.” I say, my voice trembling slightly as I say it.
“Look, Rachel, I care about you. You may not believe it, but I do, okay? I don’t want you to get hurt. I don’t want you to die this young. Please, lay off and take it slow. Too much young blood has been spilled pointlessly. I just want you to have a real life.”
“There is no real life in this fucking country. I’d rather live a short life where I die for something than a long life where I live for nothing.”
“Then I can’t stop you. I hope you know what you’re doing, and I really really hope you get there. I’m sorry this is all I have for you. I’m done fighting. I don’t think this is going to end well for you, but good luck Flamewake.” Daryl hands me a small rock with a combination of numbers and letters engraved into it. I nod gently and get to my feet.
“Thank you, Daryl.”
“Yeah, and hey, Rachel?”
He remembered. I don’t think I’ve been wished a happy birthday since my twelfth. Tomorrow is my birthday, my nineteenth and quite possibly my last. I sigh and head to his garage door. I glance out at the rain and the dark sky before turning back to look at him.
“Thanks. Daryl? I take back what I said. Desiree would be proud of the man you are.” I say before putting my hood up and making my way out.
“Thank you.” he starts, I take one last second and just listen to the rain hitting the metal roof of his house. His voice comes out as a gruff, low whisper.
“Prove me wrong.”