My Dearest Amelia
If you ever decide to follow in my footsteps, or even forge your own path as a cape, know that I will always be proud of you.
However, before you lock yourself into any one route, you must prepare. You must be sure of the path you are embarking upon. Time is an unyielding god. Once you do something, you will never be able to take it back.
Either commit to something with all your being, and never look back with regrets, or you pick your battles very carefully. In each case, there is something vitally important you must do for yourself.
A Code of Conduct, Rules of Engagement, Laws of Honor. Whatever you may call them, you need to put them in place to govern yourself.
Most civilized society is composed of implicit rules. It exists because humanity, as a collective, has agreed that certain things are improper and unacceptable. When one becomes a parahuman, however, the "rules" change.
There is some ineffable aspect about becoming a parahuman that sets them apart from most humans. Perhaps it is the stress and trauma that comes from triggering in the first place? A crucible that forges our souls into more impulsive reflections of our former selves? Or maybe it is the power we have tied to our very minds, the ability to have something completely unique to us, something pushing us beyond the limits of humanity?
Whatever the case, before a trigger, you are one person. Afterwards, a different being emerges. One not so constrained by the limits of human nicesties or common sense. For good or for ill, parahumans will consider the meager laws of man as guidelines, mere stepping stones in their bids for power and glory. Rare is the parahuman who can keep themselves from diving into the murky waters of cape culture.
I am far from the exception in this, and in writing these journals, I look back and consider it my downfall. I cannot say I truly regret what I've done, the lives I've taken and families I've ruined, but neither do I relish them.
I have lasted as long as I have because I do not allow myself to fall into a net of false security. I have power, yes, but even for all my individual strength, I am nothing but a pebble in the ocean of humanity. If I step too far, make too many waves, I shall be crushed on all sides. I have picked my battles and carved out what little corner of happiness I can.
The seduction of greater wealth and power sings to me. It would be so easy. Delving into the trades of flesh and pleasure would surely provide me with riches and influence beyond compare. But that invites greater challenge, greater risk to all I care about. And to what end? At what cost?
Your mother, your birth mother believes in laws beyond that of man, commandments from God himself that supersede anything our flawed minds can come up with. While I don't quite agree with her on all things spiritual, I must admit that there are rules, edicts etched into our very nature as humans. These things go beyond simple things judged in a court of law.
Many have tried to tried to quantify them, to write them down as hard rules that can be properly organized and structured. And yet, they always seem to fall short of what we feel as men.
I have attempted to craft my own code of honor. Axioms by which I've constructed the masquerade known as Marquis. It is my burden and my foundation. Without my honor, I would be lost, adrift in a sea of meaningless violence and sadism. Drifting from conflict to conflict, only chasing the next high, the next level of power. With each power grab, I would only seek more, never to be satisfied.
Instead, I made anchors, things to hold my way. My honor, my code, was one such anchor. Another, your mother. Soon, you too became an anchor in my life.
I plead to you, my dearest Amelia, create these anchors. Find or create pillars to tie your desires down. As a great man once said, "If you don't stand for something, you will fall for anything".
It is for that reason, among others, that I have attempted to leave in the care of Annette Hebert. While we do not see eye to eye on everything, even most things, there is a measure of respect between us. She is a woman of honorable principals, someone who stands for something noble, and damn anyone who stands in her way.
For once in my life, I pray. I pray that you are safely in her care. I pray that she can raise you to be the woman I know you have the potential to be. I pray that she can succeed where this old fool has failed.
Because, my dearest Amelia, for all that I will hold onto my honor unto my dying breath, I know that it will lead me to an early grave. For that, I only hope you can forgive me.
Your father, Batholemew Lavare.
There was a knock on the door.
"Amy?" My dad's voice slurred through the door, "You in there?"
"It's open, Dad." I called out, forcing my throat back to normal. I wiped the tear streaking down my face away and restructured the cells in my face to wipe away any sign of them. I folded up my father's journal and put it back on the dresser.
By the time I was done, Dad opened the door wearing an exhausted face, one hand clutched around the doorknob, the other a large mug of black mud so hot I could feel the heat from here. He walked in, closed the door behind him, looked up at me, and stopped.
"...Why?" he comments dryly as he stares at me.
My heart skipped a beat. For a second I thought he was talking about the journal, that his distaste of my Father was deep enough that he disapproved of me even reading his journals. Then I noticed the way his eyes flitted to me. Well…
Both of me.
I looked at him and offered a sheepish smile. As did the other me.
I was standing in front of the dresser of my room, wearing a long simple and clean black dress of knitted silk. The bottom of the skirt came down to my ankles, while the top came up to a turtleneck along with long sleeves reaching my wrists.
And on top of the dresser, staring back at me, was another, smaller, Amelia Hebert wearing a mirror of my own apparel. An Amelia Hebert who was also me, though physically aged to about seven. Since I was also her, I saw was staring at both dad and me, and also me, at the same time.
"It's better than a mirror?" I offered from the older me.
"So you made a mini-me...to have a mirror?" He questioned.
"And I can adjust my the fit and stuff from another perspective?" The younger me offered. "And, I mean, we're both me."
"Technically," Older me added, "I'm more me than she is, since I have most of the biomass in me, but she's still got enough in her to be a sentient me in her own right."
The more I tried to explain all of this to Dad, the more I felt like it wasn't making any sense. But it was just so hard to put into human terms. How was I supposed to explain that I was the same 275 Trillion cells he'd talked to last night, just..divided into a bigger and smaller form. How was I supposed to explain being both? How did you explain to your father that, if you really wanted, you could be a dozen smaller you's that were all still the same individual you?
"But we're both still me so-" I tried to explain from the younger me.
"You know what," Dad cut me/us off with a raised hand and a strained smile "I'm too tired to care."
He gestured his mug in my direction with that same smile, "How'd the list go?"
"...Good?" I said, slightly worried about the mental health of my dad. Then felt guilty because that probably wasn't helped by that fact that I was kind of talking to him with another younger version of me I'd made out of spare biomass.
I gave him another sheepish smile while the younger me hopped off the dresser and started cleaning up the room.
"So I have the list!" I perked up, holding out an open hand, which the younger me placed a notebook in.
His eyes narrowed as he scrutinized the two of us. "...How often do you do this?"
"Well, I mean, normally I just make, like, a mouse or something," I admitted, "But then I did the thing with Clank, and I was like, 'Why not another me?'. But then I didn't want an equal division, because then which one would be me, right?"
"...I'm tempted to add this to the list," He said before taking another long sip of coffee.
"It's not that bad, right?" The older me pouted.
"Please daddy?" Younger me pleaded.
"That" He gestured to younger me, "is not helping. Kinda disturbing."
"How is this disturbing?" I asked through the younger me innocently, while also twisting the vocal cords and air cavity inside her to produce a deep, distorted, and inhuman voice.
Dad stopped, his mug an inch from his lips, and just stared at the younger me with wide eyes.
I had to suppress the smiles on both of our faces.
"Not again" I heard him whisper under his breath.
"Dad?" Older me inquired.
"Right...right," He blinked, finally taking a sip from the mug at his mouth. "So that list?"
"Well, one of the things my Father mentioned in his journals about revenge was there were several ways to go about it. One of those ways was to instill as much fear and horror in possible as quickly as possible in the people who wronged you so that they might know to never do it again." I explained.
"Hmm…" Dad's face twisted into a frown, "Sounds like you're missing some important factors there."
"Heh, yeah…" The older me rubbed the back of my head nervously. "I uh, forgot to account for the fact that you kinda of need a reputation to pull it off well. People need to know what they did and who they crossed, but you also need a big enough reputation and record for people to not just consider you an upstart that needs to be crushed."
I paused. Even with roughly four times the brain mass+ as a normal human at the moment, it still felt like I had to take an eternity to figure out the right words to say, and even then, they always seemed to come out wrong.
"One of the things he mentioned was that fear was a double-edged blade," I said, "And that...it could take civilized people and turn them into rabid dogs if you weren't careful."
"And I…" I allowed myself a contrite wince, one I genuinely felt, "...haven't exactly been careful, have I?"
"No." Dad took a sip from his mug, "No you have not."
The both of me looked at our feet in shame. Over the night it had dawned on me how close I'd come to absolute disaster. If Dad hadn't stopped me when he did, I'd still be doing this, and in a few weeks, I could have been dead.
I wasn't really sure what to say next.
Dad looked at young me with a curious look for a second, "Hey, can she stay when you head out?"
"That's not how my power works, Dad," I sighed in the older version of me. I had the younger me palm her/my face.
"Once I leave her range," Younger me gestured with a free hand to the older me, "I turn back into inert goo."
To accentuate my point, I had the smaller me's hand melt into said goo. A transparent mass of inert me fell onto the floor. It wasn't 100% accurate since it was still in my range, and as such still me, but given the way Dad nodded, I'm assuming he got the point.
"Still haven't found a workaround for that," Older me admitted as I had the younger me hop down from the dresser and dip her/my stump in the goo. On contact I had the cells in the pile reorganize back into the structures they'd just been. In seconds, she/I had a hand again.
The whole time, Older me continued unhindered. It was only the managing of cells, after all. "It's kind of frustrating. I mean, I could do so many things if I could just exist outside of my range."
"Can't you just...cut it off? Make it not you?" Dad offered, "I mean, if you could do that, you could do amazing work healing people."
I waved the idea off, "Not how it works. Cutting off a piece of me and making it not me would be like you deciding that your hand isn't you anymore."
"You can't just will a part of you to stop being you," I explained with younger me as I had her flop belly first on the bed, "And even if you did cut it off physically, it'd just lay there and die, not be its own thing. That's kind of what happens when I leave my range."
"And anything made of cells or biomass is me," Older me continued, "I can't make biological materials that aren't me."
"Hmm," Dad sipped his coffee again, "And I suppose it would be pretty bad to give someone a new heart, only for it to melt into goo on them if they get too far from you."
"Yeah, and my range is pretty shit," Older me grumbled, "I've got nothing on Mom's range."
"But, if I remember correctly, you can go wake your sister up before it gets too late and she gets mad at both of us for letting her sleep the morning away," Dad suggested. "And all while you stick around to talk to your dear old dad."
I had older me tsk and scowl in a way that felt appropriate. Younger me, however, was free to whine pitifully asI embraced my inner child.
Still, I complied.
Dad smiled at the leaving me and pointed out, "This way you can keep your sister occupied so she doesn't listen."
I had to admit, that was a good reason. God only knows when she's actually wake up, but if Murphy had anything to say about it it would be at exactly the wrong moment.
"So, back to the List," Dad turned back to the me still in the room. "You went through it?"
"Yeah," I said. I moved to put the notebook on the desk to show him, but then realized that I wasn't currently tall enough to see over it that well.
I cursed my short-sightedness.
Dad snickered, "Problems,"
"Shut up," I mumbled under my breath, moving to the bed instead.
"Ok," I began, unfolding the notebook. Folded up inside the first page and tucked between it and the cover was the list. I took it out and unfolded into a long sheet of paper. "This list has a lot of rules...especially weird ones."
I gave him a bemused look, " Like, 'Don't eat yourself. What's up with that?"
"Oh…" Dad's eyes gained a faraway look as he recalled some distant memory. "That…"
"Yes...that…" I repeated with eager eyes.
"Well," He pursed his lips, "Like many of these rules, the story starts with 'one day your mom was bored and had an idea.'"
"What kind of idea?"
He gave me a kind of exaggerated shrug, "She wanted to know what it would feel like to eat one of the bugs she was focusing on."
"Wait, how's that eating herself?"
"Because she can feel everything the bug feels. So she could feel herself eating another instance of herself."
My eyes widened. My jaw went slack.
"I should do tha-"
"No," He cut me off sharply with a finger
"But Dad, hear me out," I held up my hands.
"I could make myself taste like anything. Like beef, or frogs, or" I gasped as a new thought struck my mind, "I could make myself taste like something new! I-I could experiment! I could be a chef! I-"
I flinched as something wet with a sharp and familiar smell of honey hit my face. I looked up to see dad with mom's little bottle of perfume and half annoyed, half amused, look on his face. "No! bad Amy. I stopped your mom before she swallowed a live cockroach 'for science', I'm not going through this whole thing again."
I...could see his point.
"Mhm," He gave me a skeptical look, but put the bottle back in his pocket.
"Are you just gonna carry that around all the time?" I asked.
"It pays to be prepared," he pointed out with a shrug.
"I guess…" I frowned.
"So, what did you get as the theme from the rules?" Dad said, changing topics with a deep breath.
"Don't escalate." I said, "Didn't I say that earlier?"
"And I said you were wrong."
"Umm…" I looked at the long list of rules, restrictions, and exceptions. I tried to think about everything I knew. Then I remembered the journal I'd just been reading from my father.
"It's about being a better person?" I said in a questioning voice.
"This isn't Jeopardy," He quipped with another sip, "Please, do not phrase your answers in the form of a question."
I rolled my eyes, but restructured my explanation.
"Ok, so parahumans, as a rule, tend to be more...chaotic, than your average person." I began, "But not inhumanly so. They just tend to be the types more likely to act on their desires."
Dad rocked his from side to side, rolling the thought around in his head like liquor in his mouth to judge the depths of its flavors. "Not how I'd put it, but I can see what you're saying."
"And having a proper code of conduct in place is important, because without it there's nothing holding you back. There's nothing keeping you human." I explained, "Without rules, we're just animals, wild beasts with no honor. Having rules by which we conduct ourselves keeps civilization alive, and without them, we are no better than those we fight against."
"If I go out and fight without constraint, without law or honor, only to hurt those who offend me, that makes me no better than the Nine."
"Well," Dad took another sip, "Technically the Nine have rules. Or, at least, they did when they swung by here."
He pinched his face in consideration, "Though, I suppose they were less stringent rules for how to conduct themselves, and more like rules for a game so it would actually be fun."
"Regardless," he waved it off, "I think I get what you're saying."
I breathed a sigh of relief. I really wasn't great at communication in general, speeches, essay, all of it. I prefer doing over saying any day.
"Still, another thing to consider is The Show." He pointed out.
I frowned, "The what?"
"The Show," he said, placing his mug on a terrarium with a clack. The tarantula inside flinched, rearing up at dad, but he didn't so much as blink at the dinner plate sized spider. "It's a term used to describe the, uh, …'pizzazz' of being a cape. I mean, you think your mom put on a silk bodysuit for fun?"
"Well...yeah?" I shrugged helplessly.
Dad just sighed, slouching in defeat.
He shot me a look and straightened up. "Still, the Show is, essentially, cape culture as a whole. Heroes, Villains, all of its a performance."
My face scrunched up in confusion, "Uh...I think all the victims have something to say about that."
"Yeah," He shrugged, "That's the Job. The actual things they do. The Show is the performance the capes put on to play to an audience. Gangs and police have existed for a long time, as have notorious and famous people on both sides, but it's only recently from the emergence of parahumans that Heroes and Villains have happened outside of a comic book."
"Do you know why?"
I think my father had mentioned something about that.
"...so people don't freak out?" I ventured.
"So people don't freak out," he repeated with a nod and a sip from his cup.
"You see, a person is smart, but people on the whole are dumb panicky animals. You give some people powers that defy nature as we knew it, and everyone will freak out. Now you've got dumb panicky animals with superpowers, and dumb panicky animals with guns."
"Wait, but can't parahumans use guns too?" I questioned.
"You gonna let me finish?" Dad raised a challenging brow.
I groaned loudly, letting my inner child out again. "Fine."
"Right, so, the Show is all about being flashy and making people forget that each cape is a human with a laundry list of chips on their shoulder and have at least on fundamental aspect of themselves that is better than any human could hope to be. Get the right trigger, and you get a walking WMD with a grudge like Nilbog or Archon."
"But people don't think about that, they think about the icons. The Heroes and Villains. They think about the Show."
"Honestly," He shrugged, "We're lucky that parahumans aren't being rounded up in camps or cutting the nation up into their own little fiefdoms like Africa."
I allowed myself to wince at the metaphors.
Dad looked sheepish, "Ah, right, sorry."
"No, no, you made your point." I sighed. "And I'm guessing my 'Show' wasn't exactly convincing people that I don't need to be put in a camp?"
He gave me another strained smile, "No, no it was not."
"Ugh," I groaned, flopping back on my bed. "How the hell did Mom get away with that? How did Father?"
"Well," Dad said, the bed creaking ever so slightly as he sat down beside me, "Technically he didn't. He did a lot better than he could, and possibly should have, given his propensity for turning people into bone trees, but there's a reason he's not with us today."
"Annette died the way she lived, saving people without any regard for hew own life," Dad shrugged, "Part of me wants to punch in the face for dying like that, but hell if I could do anything to stop her."
A pit opened in my stomach as a lump the size of a mountain found its way into my throat. An enormous wave of guilt hit me, and I had to look away from Dad. I felt ashamed, like a coward, but I couldn't look him in the face.
He shook his head, "That's in the past now."
"Let's see what you came up with while I was asleep," he said, trying to switch topics, if a bit inelegantly. I wasn't really sure what to say to him about that, not with my own feelings on the matter. So instead I just handed the notebook I'd written in to him silently and laid back on my bed.
At the same time, in another part of the house, the Older me was walking up to my little sister's room as I tried to bury the guilt and depressed feelings as far down as I could shove them. I'd gotten some buttered toast, apple slices, and milk from downstairs since she was always hungry when she got up.
I stopped in front of her door, waiting for a moment as I strained to hear inside. Her heat and breath rates were slow and steady. I could hear her doing that little oh so cute snoring of hers when she slept soundly.
I opened the door, and there she was. Laying in under her covers on her belly, like a bug under a rug. One arm outstretched, fingers brushing against the crumpled pages of her book, the other crooked against her titled head.
I walked over to her bedside, gently placing the breakfast on the table to not wake her. Part of me wanted to scream in her ear, to do something suddenly to jolt her awake.
But I didn't.
She was so peaceful. Not crying, not panicking, not rambling, not manic. Just...sleeping. Just at peace. I carefully sat down on the bed without so much as a creak, shifting biomass inside me to balance everything out. I reached out and picked up her book.
Taylor would throw a fit if she saw what she'd done to this book I thought with a small smile I allowed myself to have. A few of the pages were crinkled by her tired hand smushing them together. But she doesn't need to know.
I smoothed the pages out with a gentle grin and closed the book, putting it on her nightstand so she'd think that she'd put it away. I even slid a bookmark into the last page she'd been on.
Turning back to my sister, I just took a moment to enjoy the serenity. I loved Taylor to bits, but normally she was a whirlwind of activity and emotion. It was so sweet but so draining. Like this, however, I could enjoy a quiet moment with my sister. Just being here with her, cherishing time together, it made that pit of guilt and pain ebb away. I don't know if it was really healing, or just smothering the pain in something else, but it helped.
I moved around carefully, in some places letting the cells of my body flow and become more like a liquid, all so I could place her head in my lap without waking her. As I moved her, she mumbled something under her breath and shifted around into a more comfortable position. I stifled a giggle at the sight.
I didn't know what it was, since I didn't normally go for what most people considered cute, but something about my little sister made me just want to squeal and hug her until the sun died. I settled for humming a tune as I stroked the beautiful midnight locks she'd gotten from Mom, patiently waiting for her to wake peacefully.
I'd done it before, and I knew it worked. She'd wake up slowly, but happily. No stuttering heartbeat or panicked brainwaves. She'd be at peace, just like she was meant to be.
As I touched her hair and scalp, I could sense her entire cellular structure again. Her DNA wound and unwound itself in my mind's eye. Her entire physiology like an open book before me.
No new viruses or infections. No new injuries. No signs of nightmares in her brain. No changes to shadows in her mind. There was potential for mild soreness in the arm she slept on, but nothing significant. She'd probably want to go to the bathroom when she got up, though. And to round out the checkup, I took another very close look at her brain.
And let out a sigh.
Still only a Corona. I took another, long look at her amygdala and hippocampus. But still no improvement...
Dad, in my room, looked at the younger me with a strange expression.
"What's up?" he asked. From his perspective, I just trailed off and frowned at a wall.
"Taylor still hasn't gotten better," My young self said glumly.
Dad just nodded, knowing better than to expect that.
"But she still hasn't triggered, either,"
At his questioning look I elaborate. "I'd been worried that maybe all the stress from Emma might have gotten to her, but she's still got just the Corona Pollentia."
He frowned, "Corona Pollentia...that's the brain thing that gives parahumans their powers, right?"
I nodded, letting the feeling of contentment from snuggling with my adorable little sister wash over all forms of me, "Yeah, people who can trigger have just the Corona, people who have triggered have a Corona and a Gemma."
"Dunno the specifics of it," I shrugged on my bed, "haven't been doing a scan while someone triggers. No idea how it works, really."
"Don't you get a nice blueprint of everything?" He questioned.
"Most everything," I answered, "The Gemma is a...weird spot. Everything else, I can figure out by watching it work or reading a textbook. Those two anomalies? Fucked if I know" I shrugged, "They don't exactly follow the laws of physics, and most of the time I can't make heads or tails of 'em."
"You can't do anything with it?"
"I think I can, but it kinda feels like poking your eyeball," I explained.
Dad gave me a puzzled look.
"It's not a great metaphor, but it's the best I got," I shrugged, "Sure, I can technically do it, but I really don't want to, and I have a very bad feeling that nothing good would come of it. Kinda like if a normal human tried to, say, dig out their own eyeball and eat it."
"I...guess that's one way to put it," He said with a raised brow as he stared at me.
I shrugged again, "I don't know what to tell you,"
"You could tell me why half this stuff includes being an edgelord." He asked.
"Dad," I groaned.
"What?" He shrugged, "Taylor told me what that means. She says you're turning into one."
He glanced back at the notebook I'd given him. "...I'm starting to agree with her."
"It's not that bad, right?" I ventured.
"Most of this is about being as scary as possible to the criminal populace, without being labeled a psycho. Or being caught." He gave me a look with a raised brow, one loaded with questions. "One of them is called, 'The Thing'."
"Another, 'the blob'."
"Can't forget, 'Blade Worm'. Or 'Night Slayer'."
"Ok ok, ok," I groaned.
"Oh, wait, I'm just getting to the best," He ignored me, looking at the notebook intently. He jammed his finger at a specific line in on the page. "The Infestation"
He shot me a look with both brows raised to his hairline, "the Infestation? Really?"
I want to die
The sheer embarrassment borne from the look caused my face to heat up, regardless of my ability to suppress it. Saying it out loud made it sound so incredibly stupid. I just wanted to melt into the floor.
So I did.