The Hollow Half – Chapter 20

Sometimes people can be what lifts us up. Other times they can be what drags us down. The times to watch for are when both of those happen at once. Those are the times that can tear us apart.

“Want me to tell her you’re not feeling well if she calls back?” James asked, seeing my ambivalence at the news of Minnie’s call.

I didn’t know.

If Minnie called back, it would be because she was desperate. I could almost see how the journey back to the physical world had gone for her and the others. One moment they were adrift in interplanar space, the next they were back “home”, but not to a home they’d ever known. New memories of a life where they’d never been abducted by the Shadow Court would have fought with the memories of what they’d suffered at the Shadow Court’s hands. I had my meta-awareness to help me sort it out. They would have been left thinking they were going crazy. I knew the feeling.

James interrupted my thoughts with a racking cough from out of nowhere. When I looked over he’d clutched onto the doorframe for support but was recovering quickly.

“Wait, how are you doing?”, I asked. He hadn’t been coughing earlier. He hardly ever got sick in fact.

“I’m fine.”, he said, clearing his throat forcefully. “Just sucked in a bit of dust or something. I’ll go load up on vitamin C though. Can’t miss the meet this weekend.”

In addition to football, James was on the Track and Field team, which was probably why he managed to stay so healthy. He was always watching what he ate and getting enough sleep and exercise. I loved him, but I hated him as brothers and sisters do too since he was a hard act to follow. Jerk even got better grades than me.

“If Mom and Dad need to talk to us when they get back let me know ok?” I asked before he left. I needed to make things right with them, needed that down to the marrow of my bones, but I didn’t know how I could manage it.

“Sure. With all that’s going on, they probably won’t get back till pretty late, so they’ll probably want to talk tomorrow.” he said.

That was the worst of both worlds in some ways. To have that conversation looming over me, while having plenty of time to worry about it. I was going to stew in anxiety all evening and get nothing even remotely resembling a wink of sleep.

I flopped over onto my back after James left and tried to think about something else. Anything else.

Food was unappealing, but I knew I should eat something. Maybe later. Maybe when Mom got back? It occurred to me, far too late to do any good, that I’d once again refused food in exactly the same way an evil faerie trying to dodge the Laws of Hospitality would. I was so brilliant. That wasn’t a healthy train of thought though so I looked for something else.

School? I might have had a test coming up, but I honestly couldn’t remember anymore. Even assuming I did, I couldn’t find enough functioning grey cells to care about it. I’d always tried to get good grades. Mom valued education and had always made time to help me with my homework when I needed it, so it was important to me too.

I pictured her not being there to help me with a math problem, the way Dad wasn’t there anymore. That brought me back to the edge of screaming.

I had to tell her. I had to show her. To make her believe.

I could see her face if I did though. I could see that careful, brittle, calm expression finally shattering and revealing the horror she felt underneath. She’d know I wasn’t daughter. That I was something different.

She couldn’t know what I was. Ever. I couldn’t let her see that. I didn’t want to lie to her, but I didn’t want to lose her a whole lot more.

Pen had said I couldn’t give up the powers that I had. I could chose not to use them though. If that’s what it took to keep her, I could pretend that I was the same girl I’d been before I’d left in the morning.

I flipped over onto my stomach.

And when the weirdness comes? What will you do then? I asked myself.

When Minnie came over tomorrow to see how I was doing? When she said things in front of my Mom about what we’d seen together?

I could talk to Minnie. She wouldn’t blow my secrets open if she knew. None of them would.

Even the former Queen?

I could deal with her. I’d been unwilling to bring the police in the burning station over to the Dreamlit world for fear of what it might do to them. I couldn’t have that fear with the former Queen. If she was a danger still, I would have to deal with her.

Deal with her.

The thought shocked me. I was thinking in euphemisms. I meant kill her.

I flipped onto my back again.

Could I really kill her? Did I even want to think that way? Did I have a choice? I wanted her to be redeemable, but did she want to be redeemed? She’d been a monster. She’d hurt and destroyed people. Children. Helpless children. Did she even deserve a chance at redemption?

I flipped over again.

What about the others? What if they wouldn’t play along with me? Would I “deal with them” too?

Even asking the question sickened me.

One more flip, onto my back, and I was staring at the ceiling.

No, I wouldn’t “deal with” them. And I wouldn’t “deal with” the former Queen either. Not like that.

I glanced over at my phone.

So what was I going to do about Minnie then?

Talk to her. I had to. Whatever my Mom might think, I couldn’t abandon someone who needed me that much. I couldn’t become someone my Mom would be ashamed of in order to win her approval.

A thought occurred to me. I remembered James mentioning Aegis.

Aegis had only operated in Brassport for a few years but he already had developed a good reputation. He’d saved Heartbeat from an early mishap when a group of metahuman terrorists had turned out to actually be a group of bloodless robots. They been sent to cause mayhem as part of a pointlessly convoluted real estate scheme but they’d almost succeeded in taking out our cities fledgling super heroines on one of her first solo outtings.

Since then he’d showed up a number of times, defending people from harm and saving the day when the official heroes were tied up elsewhere. There were reports that he worked with the police sometimes and that he’d actively busted up a few groups before they had a chance to enact any of their plans.

Despite all that, no one knew who he was, apart from “a solidly build, reasonably tall guy”, and even that could have been a trick with the way his (or even her I suppose) superpowers worked.

I turned that thought around in my head.

I couldn’t be a hero. Even if Agent Haffrun checked out, Mom wouldn’t understand and wouldn’t be able to live with the fear of what might happen to me or what I might become. Even if I got certified by the FBMA as fully trained and safe to be around, seeing me would mean acknowledging the violence and danger in the world. I’d become a symbol, rather than a girl, or a daughter.

If I became a Mask though nothing would have to change. I could hide who I was, but still be me inside. That idea was terribly attractive. With the way my powers worked it would be all too easy to pull off. I could have my family and my friends. I could help Way and deal with the Oblivion Knight. It would mean leading two different lives but, as I’d seen with Jenny and Molly, I was already leading a lot more than that.

I breathed in and out in slow repetitions. It felt wrong, but I didn’t have any other answers. I couldn’t lose my Mom and I couldn’t hide from what I knew, or what I could do. Becoming a Mask meant living a lie, but the truth looked like it would destroy me.

“So what do I tell Mom?” I wondered to myself. The answer was simple, even if I didn’t like it. For her I was Jin, so I’d tell her the truth as it applied to Jin. I’d left the police station before the fire. I’d never been in any danger. Whoever was responsible wasn’t targeting a normal girl like me.

If she didn’t believe me then whatever security measures she wanted to take were fine. I’d sleep on a bed of iron nails if that’s what it took. For her, I’d be as normal as I’d ever been.

“And Minnie?”

I’d go visit her, but not as Jin. She really knew me as Jenny anyways so it made more sense to go as a goblin, though I suppose she had the same new memories that I did of meeting on the first day of high school and hanging out together with the other “misfits”. That’s why she my phone number. I had hers too, but I talking to her in the real world about the kind of stuff we had to discuss seemed terrifying. I just knew someone would overhear us if we did that. Fortunately I had another option available.

I projected myself out to the Dreamlit world as Jenny and was stunned for a long moment. My house was a castle! Or at least my room belonged in one.

My room in the real world was a plain little space with yellow painted walls and shelves filled with all the stuffed animals, books, dolls, toys and various clutter that I’d accumulated over the years.

In the Dreamlit world on the other hand, my room was enormous and decorated in the kind of rusted iron plating and open rock facings that would have looked appropriate for a sword and sorcery villain’s lair.

My Dreamlit bed was lusciously outfitted with red silks and white lace. That was the only color I could see in the room. Everything else was black and foreboding. The default accessory for the walls and ceiling seemed to be “spikes” with an occasional accent of “chains” to keep it properly dungeon-esque.

I blinked trying to understand how this could possibly be the nearest reflection of the comfy little space I called my room. Meta-awareness directed my attention down to my left hand where a burnt out gem the size of a large marble lay.

The Heart of the Shadow Court’s realm.

I’d brought it with me.

Because I was one of their Queens.

I screamed, only in the Dreamlit world fortunately, and flung it away from me. Dead or not, the artifact was unbelievably dangerous.

On the plus side, I knew why my room looked so strange. For Jin it didn’t fit at all, but for a Queen of the Shadow Court it felt, if anything, a little too drab. Some part of me knew that to be a proper Shadow Court bedroom it needed more red. Liquid, warm red. Preferably with plenty of screaming.

My Mom was right to be scared of me.

I jumped out of my window and took to the skies. In the open air it was easier to gain some perspective. I carried the Queen’s title, but I’d never been a member of the Shadow Court. If anything I’d been an instrument of their destruction. I’d feared them, but with what I learned I could do I knew they had every reason to fear me as well. If they didn’t…if they didn’t I’d be more than willing to “deal with” them.

I tucked that thought away though and focused on finding Minnie. There were a lot of options for dealing with the Shadow Court and some time before they regained enough strength to be a threat. Minnie needed me immediately.

From my new memories I found where her home was. On the outside it looked like mine; a normal small family home on a quiet side street. Given what was inside mine, I wasn’t surprised when I looked in the window to Minnie’s bedroom to see that it looked just a bit out of place too.

Her bedroom was the entrance to a labyrinth. From within it came the roaring of great beasts.

Of course. Nothing could be simple after all.

It would have been a lot easier to just pick up the phone and call her, but I couldn’t do that. It was the labyrinth or nothing.

I knocked on the window and it swung open invitingly. Minnie hadn’t consciously opened it but she did want to talk to me so the Dreamlit world reflected that. That made me wonder what the labyrinth meant.

If only Pen were here.

Stealing from mythology, I imagined a ball of yarn in my hands and felt its soft weight squish under my fingers. Suitably armed I entered the labyrinth.

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