Allison Kinsey ran through the bush, bounding over branches and rocks with no conscious effort. Her muscles screamed under her skin until she silenced them. She would have played Cardea’s, or Jumpcut’s, or even Britomart’s songs, but all she could find of them was echoes in the air.
Windshear’s song had stopped first. Then Linus’ had reared to life, clear and glorious, before going jagged and ending mid-note.
Ending. How could a song end?
The Institute’s children had all vanished—extinguished in an impossible explosion of music—leaving only the Watercolours and nearly a hundred strange, banal human songs.
And, of course, its prodigal son.
Alberto and Allison collided with no small force, both falling backwards into the undergrowth.
“Ow, fucking ow…”
Allison recovered first, springing catlike back her feet and looking down with bewilderment at the esper in soldier’s costume sprawled before her. “Alberto? What—I thought—why are you dressed like that?”
Alberto lunged at the little girl, slapping a gloved hand over her mouth. “Shut up, shut up! They’ll hear you!”
Allison backed away from the man, out of his grip. “Those soldiers?” She scowled at Alberto’s uniform. “Are you with them?”
A gasp of pure frustration throttled its way out of Alberto. “No! I mean, yes, but—” A choked noise that might have been a sob. “It wasn’t supposed to go this way.”
Allison realised there were tear-streaks on the man’s face. Quietly, she asked, “Alberto, what’s happening?”
“Valour sent his bloody people after you. Cormey went nuts, and they started shooting! Christ, Mary and Windy are dead!” Alberto’s eyes darted around like he thought there were demons in the trees. “How—where’d they go? Oh, God, I think they’re all dead.”
Allison just stood there.
She couldn’t get a hold on the idea. She knew what death was supposed to mean. How could she not? Sometimes it seemed to be all grown ups thought and wrote about. But those were only words. She’d never known anyone who died. Even Adam had been a brief passerby in her life, exiting quietly out of her sight.
But then, hadn’t that just happened to all the other students?
Everyone was dead. People Allison had played with everyday for nearly a year were gone, their songs silenced forever.
Bella was barely seven. Mrs Gillespie had put flowers in Allison’s hair and held her when she cried. They’d both been shot.
Allison’s nails dug into the skin of her palms, radioactive-green light coursing through her from head to toe. “I’m gonna kill them.”
“I’m going to kill them all!”
Alberto stared at the little girl. There was no fear in her, only pure, untempered fury. A child’s anger, a hard gem of flame that burned away everything else.
The only other supers within Allison’s grasp were the other theatre kids. Could she take on over a hundred armed men with just those powers? Normally, Alberto wouldn’t have hesitated saying “Yes!” and running far, far away, but somehow those soldiers had put out dozens of their lot, all at once.
He didn’t want to feel another child die.
The child burned brighter. “No?”
“They just managed to rub out two footy teams worth of you! At once. I don’t know if the Physician packed them a fucking tactical nuke or what, but you can’t fight that!”
“They killed my friends! Don’t you care?”
Alberto was surprised to find he did. “They’ll kill you too, if you don’t turn around and run.”
Allison marched past the psychic. “You can’t stop me.”
Alberto had never thought much of himself. Truthfully, he was right not to. But couldn’t he stop this stupid little girl from wandering into her death?
He slipped off his gloves. “No, I guess I can’t.”
He swung around and grabbed Allison’s shoulder. “You are going to turn around, go get your friends, and run far, far away, you hear me, kid?”
For a single moment, something inside her resisted.
It was as she turned to leave, orienting towards the still ringing sound of Arnold and Mabel’s songs in the distance, that she heard a quiet pop in the distance, and Alberto staggered as something struck him in the arm. “Fuck!”
Allison stopped walking, and turned to stare at Alberto. He was on the ground, cradling a bleeding shoulder with his remaining good hand. His song was fluctuating. Spiking. What if it went away, too? Like all the others had.
She couldn’t let that happen.
She didn’t really think about what happened next. It was like reflexively reaching for an apple when you dropped it. The next thing Allison knew, she was upon the psychic, her knees pressing against his chest and pinning him there as, for the first time, she dug her power into him, pulling his song into her own.
“Oh, Christ,” he whimpered, the pain apparently forgotten. “Not like this, you little cunt.” She felt his hand against her forehead, trailing fresh blood across her scalp. “Sleep!” he commanded. “Fucking sleep, Allison!”
Why was she so tired all of a sudden? Allison ignored it. No time for that. She had to help Alberto.
“Stop fighting me.”
Alberto had been halfway through a yell when his voice cut off, his hand, halfway through trying to shove the girl away, fell back. He stopped.
“A—Allison,” he begged, a few fresh tears trickling down his face. “Please don’t. I don’t want to die like this.”
Die? Allison paused for a moment, confused. Why die? She was saving him.
“It’s gonna be okay,” she whispered, not sure how she knew that. “You’ll be fine. I promise.” For a moment, Alberto tried to object, but then she pressed his power into him, and that look of panic seemed to catch on something.
“… You promise?”
She gave him another reassuring wave of his power, and nodded.
“I’m gonna get us out of here.”
Alberto closed his eyes.
A dozen or so seconds later, Allison stood back up. Then, she turned on her heel, and set off, leaving the thing that had once been Tiresias bleeding from every hole in his face. His song was nothing but noise now, but that was okay. It was still playing inside Allison.
She felt good. The anger was still there, but even that felt good. Like a thousand birthdays.
There was a soldier in her path. An old man, with a still-smoking pistol hanging limply at his side like a child’s toy.
“Good God, girl, what did you do to Moretti?”
Allison kept walking, her head tilted. There were lights inside the man’s head: fireflies dancing in his skull. And they told her things, like Morse code. His name was Harris Yellick, and he had done very bad things.
“Why’d you kill them?”
Allison knew Yellick was going to shoot at her before he even raised his gun. The lights screamed it, but that wasn’t the only tell. It was like he had to do everything twice before it happened.
She dodged the bullet like it was a tennis ball.
Allison roared with Billy’s voice, toppling the major like a blade of grass in a hurricane. In a split second she had a foot on his throat.
“You killed Mels.” She didn’t know why she’d used that name.
“You made someone do it.”
Allison was wondering what she was going to do with the man when she heard the song.
It rose and ebbed in a tide of flame over her. Its notes and harmonies couldn’t be counted, reaching higher than the uppermost reaches of the night, where stars lived and died. It was the voice of comet and asteroid. It was the growth of flowers, the white-gold of dawn, and the foam-wrought sea all at once.
It was everything.
Allison started to babble words born under different constellations. She knew the webs of birth and death, the pathways between ancient suns, and the very language that wrote the universe. In that moment, she could’ve reconciled quantum physics, gravity, and magic in a single sentence.
It was too much. She couldn’t take it all in.
It did help fill in some gaps, though.
Allison could remember snippets of songs. David’s, Veltha’s, Snapdragon’s, even Windshear’s. Beautiful, but powerless. Incomplete.
But then, she’d already worked Alberto’s song into her pattern, hadn’t she?
Allison burst into flames. It was ecstasy.
Major Yellick thrashed and struggled, staring up at the ashen-skinned spirit.
She looked down at him with yellow, burning eyes. “You hurt my family.”
Allison didn’t answer him. Not with words. A globule of magma bubbled into existence in her hand.
The conjured liquid rock coiled and spiraled down through the air like a river of sunlight. Major Yellick’s flesh burned. His bones blackened. His blood turned to steam in his veins. His screams were lost in that boundless song.
Allison stepped back from the smouldering body. His song was gone now. Good. She looked up through the trees, towards the source of the new music. She’d always been able to hear songs. But now she could see them.
It was thousands upon thousands of layers of mystic violet and nearly white lavender, with countless stars pressed between them like specks of gold in stained glass. They came together like rose petals.
And at the centre of it all, the Flying Man hovered above the Institute.
“What’s going on?”
Allison turned to look at her friend. The others were standing a little behind the boy, holding onto each other.
“What the hell is that?” Mabel said, pointing at what was left of Major Yellick.
“It’s nothing,” answered Allison, meaning it.
“Something wrong with Alberto,” Billy said. “He’s all… bleeding.”
“He’ll be alright.”
Billy, Mabel, and David all disappeared in a blast of lightning. Allison’s new fire had been replaced by Arnold’s electricity.
“Allie! What are you doing?”
“I had to put them somewhere safe. The Flying Man’s here.”
“…The Flying Man?”
“We need to leave.”
“How?” Arnold’s voice was very small.
“But one of us will get left behind!”
Arnold’s aura grew brighter in Allison. She held out her hand. “Not if we zap each other at the same time.”
Slowly, Arnold started glowing, too. He reached for Allison. “You sure this’ll work?”
“Yeah. The Dam.”
The two children’s hands touched—