The voice rang fresh in my ears. I shivered as I felt a tug on my elbow. Fingers. How could I feel them? I should have been dead by now.
“Are you sure she’s alive?” Another voice, deeper than the first. This one, male.
“Mm-hmm. She’s got a pulse…but she’s bleeding really badly.”
I willed my eyes to open. The silhouettes of a red-haired girl bending over me and dark-haired boy sporting a bloody arm cast appeared. Isolde and Harrison.
“Madeline! Thank God!” Isolde squealed. A sharp pain stabbed my side as she squeezed me.
“Don’t hug her too tight. She’s alive but she’s not that far from being dead either.” Harrison furrowed his eyebrows. I knew I must look horrible. He had kept his head during all of the bomb blasts and ammonia gas attacks but he was struggling to hide his panic now.
“I—I’ll get a paramedic.” Isolde pushed through the flocks of injured on cots and families mourning their dead. I tried to sit up and survey the damage. We were in the Drewchine Old Auditorium. It looked so much different from my childhood visits to see my Dad’s community plays. Seats were jammed together as makeshift beds for the injured. Grief rippled through the crowds. The walls were cracked and collapsing from the blasts.
“They’re gone, aren’t they? Mom? Nathaniel? Gemma?” Harrison failed to meet my eyes. He had lost his entire family to the last gas attack. I couldn’t bear having to go through the same.
“The last bomb blast took your mom and brother. We thought we lost you too.” I shuddered. Silent tears rolled down my cheeks reviving the throbs of the cuts on my face. Harrison gingerly placed his hand on my shoulder. I wanted to scream. But if I did, I would be disgusting. I would be seeking attention. Everyone here had lost some close relatives if not all. I was by no means put together but it was my duty to look strong for all the orphaned children. We were their hope.
He gazed around the rubble. Isolde returned with a nurse who began tending to the wounds in my side. “But…the worst’s over. The rest of the Valiants imprisoned them all—they’ve lost power.” Harrison continued. I nodded. What difference did it make? More than half of the population had been wiped out already. We were left with just a handful of now mostly handicapped survivors. We didn’t deserve to call ourselves the Valiants. There weren’t many left to be valiant for.
‘Wait…you never mentioned Gemma.” A sliver of hope reignited within me. Maybe I hadn’t lost all my family. I braced myself for the worst: to hear she was lost after the attack. It’s what happened to most if not death. Instead I received even worse news. Isolde and Harrison exchanged nervous glances.
“Umm Madeline,” He squirmed. “She took her. She took Gemma and she’s on the run. A Valiant tried to stop her but she killed him.”
“H.M.” I gasped. We were never to take her name aloud. She was taboo in our world and the reason for the apocalypse we had faced. Five years ago, Heather Maverick was my high school classmate. A quiet and intelligent girl, she was broken after her father was lynched for allegedly killing my aunt. A crime he had never committed but was framed for. Her mother had cursed him and had left them. I had no words for Heather and harboured deep resentment for the first year or so before her father was deemed innocent.
I rose quickly, pushing the nurse away and limping towards the doors of the auditorium. “Madeline! Stop! She’s probably killed her by now. There’s nothing you can do.” Isolde pulled me back.
But I knew Heather. She would make me pine for my twelve year old sister until I would come to her. She would keep Gemma alive only to murder her in front of me. After all, the entire apocalypse was her plan for revenge. She recruited the deadly base of convicted innocents who wanted to avenge the world that hadn’t supported them. It was my fault. I should have realised this was coming the day she dropped out of school and spat at me. “You look like your aunt. Same hair. Same nose.” She had said, before walking through the school gates for the last time. A girl was found dead in the school bathroom that day. She was the daughter of the judge who had sentenced Heather’s father. HM had vanished ever since.
“Gemma’s alive!” I exploded at Isolde. I pushed away Harrison who was blocking the doorway. He was more sensible between us but I was stronger. “And I’m going to find her whether you guys come or not.”
I stumbled out to the blood-painted road. Unclaimed bodies littered the sidewalk. A crumpled piece of paper fell out of my pocket. I ran towards a nearby streetlight to make out what was written. Harrison and Isolde’s footsteps followed mine. The words ‘come watch your sister get lynched’ were neatly written in thick black ink. My heartbeat fluttered as I flipped the note over. ‘Drifbas High Court. My favourite place’.
“Do you have any idea where they might be?” Isolde asked. I handed the note to her.
“A Vindicator must have planted the note in your pocket when you were unconscious after the attack.” Harrison suggested.
“But they left you alive!” Isolde shook her head. “HM has a big ego for wanting all of this instead of just killing you!”
Drifbas High Court wasn’t too far from here. I limped towards the corner street. My two knives were still strapped to my ankle. “You guys have tools, right?” They nodded briskly. Heather didn’t have a big ego. True justice was the Vindicators’ motto. Justice for Heather would be the day she could rip my family apart one-by-one. It didn’t matter to her if she died in the process.
I wrenched open the iron gate to the courthouse. We were graced by the ghastly presence of Vindicators on guard who did not spare us even a glance. It was as if they were expecting us. We had our knives in hand ready for an ambush as we’d been trained.
Isolde gagged as the raw stench of ammonia aftermath hit our nostrils. I looked at her and felt pangs of guilt. Somewhere, this was my fault. Isolde, my greatest childhood friend, whose smile was contagious to all now had bruises on her cheeks where her dimples used to reside. She was still beautiful but the visible spark in her eyes was now diminished by her hooded eyelids.
“I’m sorry you guys…you don’t have to come. Gemma’s my sister. You don’t have to go through all of this.” I inhaled. We had reached the main entrance. “There’s still time. Go. Go back.”
I was met by incredulous stares. Harrison gripped my hand. “We’re the only family each of us has left.”
“But Isolde, your mother—”
“She won’t make it.” Isolde said, very frankly.
I nodded gently as we entered the building. Before I could make anything out of the darkness, a vicious cackle burst our ears.
“There you are! It’s been a long while since someone accepted my invitation. Oh and we have guests too—how delightful!”
“H.M.” Isolde nudged towards the judge’s bench.
“That’s Heather Maverick for you. Isolde—isn’t it?” Isolde tensed beside me. “What, don’t remember? We had chemistry class together!”
“Where’s Gemma?” I demanded. The place was surprisingly empty. Where are all the Vindicators?
She displayed a wide grin. “Zainab, bring it!” We bared our knives forward but Heather kicked her legs over the bench resting comfortably in the seat and laughed. “Oh you won’t attack me until you have your precious Gemma.” She snorted at Harrison's confused expression. “What, boy? Why so amazed? Do you people really think I would run? Run from what? Well, I’m sure Lina knew better.”
I froze. Only my father would call me Lina. Which means she had killed him as well.
A masked Vindicator tossed a grey duffel bag towards me. “There’s your Gemma.” Heather taunted. I bolted to the bag and untied it. A wave of shock chilled my spine. I laid a stiff, pale Gemma with a tight rope around her neck, onto the ground. I couldn't believe she killed her. I felt betrayed myself and had betrayed Isolde and Harrison too. That was it. In a split second, I leaped over the bar lunging for Heather’s throat and pinned her down with my knife.
She didn’t call for any Vindicators neither did she produce any weapons. Instead, she smiled. And it was the real smile of the Heather Maverick maybe five or six years ago. The one who would have never caused such a disaster. I saw myself in her tear-filled eyes.
“How could you kill her? You lied.” I felt guilty. Guilty for thinking Gemma would be alive. Guilty for believing the note. Why would she be spared when so many other Valiants’ children had been murdered?
“I waited. Until I couldn’t anymore. She had a peaceful death. Don’t worry. She never knew about the court case.” She paused. “You look just like your aunt. And I, like my father,” she whispered. “True Justice. For me and for you.” A grenade plummeted to the ground from her coat pocket. I only saw the shocks on Isolde and Harrison’s faces before the explosion took us all.
And that was the last explosion that ever happened. The fight between the Valiants and Vindicators finally ended. I’m glad we were the last to exact our revenge.