Chapter 120:

Chapter 120 - Black Holes and Revelations


They looked on in stunned silence as Marka disappeared from view. He phased into the ground at Viper’s feet without a sound, with nothing–not even a ripple or a plume of dirt–to mark his passage.

It was like he’d evaporated. Morgan didn’t know what to make of it, but he did know one thing: the man who’d made it possible, this “Viper”, was definitely a ghost from his past. The memories he’d unearthed back in Truvelo told him as much.


Beretta rose from her place at Joan’s side and charged toward Viper. He looked on with a crooked smile as she skidded into a kneel and began to dig, her little hands scooping up mound after mound of dry, cracked earth as if she expected to uncover the top of her daddy’s shiny dome any minute.

“You won’t find him down there, kid,” the man taunted. “I don’t really get how it works, but the new guy’s power lets him drag stuff directly into the shadows. The only way he’s coming out is if Diallo decides to let him out.”

The girl looked up at him sharply. “Diallo? Uncle Diallo is here?”

“Ahh… Shoot, I probably wasn’t supposed to let that slip,” Viper said with a grimace. “Whatever. The point is, your dad’s gone. You may as well forget about him.”

With that, he pulled the gun from his hip and brandished it for all to see. “It’s me you should be worried about!”

Luca chose that moment to dive for his fallen pistol. To his credit, he managed to get it in-hand and roll onto his back before Viper caught on… But he wasn’t quite quick enough to get a shot off.

He paid for it dearly. The merc moved like lightning, snapping his aim to Luca’s head and pulling the trigger without missing a beat. Blood spurted from the young man’s temple, and he sprawled out on his back, the weapon bouncing from his hands.

“Nice try!” Viper growled. He turned his gun on them next, eyes flitting between each member of the posse in his search for further holdout weapons.

It wasn’t long before his gaze fell on Morgan.

“Well, well. Long time no see ‘boss’.”

“...Boss?” Roulette echoed. She turned her head to look at him, then, her brow knitted in confusion. “What’s he talkin’ about, Morgan?”

He heaved a weary sigh. He’d been hoping to avoid the topic, but there was nothing for it now. “I’m sorry, Roulette. I’ve been meanin’ to tell you,” he lied. “Ever since we got stuck with Turu’s darts, things have been comin’ back to me. One of those things… Is the fact that I used to run with a pretty bad crowd.”

“Our crowd,” Viper finished proudly. “Morgan here did more than anyone to put the Czars in power.”

His eyes slid from Roulette’s. He couldn’t take it–the look of betrayal, of total surprise. How could he have fooled himself into believing a secret like that would stay buried? One way or another, the truth was bound to come out.

He was just sorry that it had to come out like this.

“You… You…!” she sputtered. “You worked… With them…?” The girl’s fists clenched and her body trembled. Her cheeks flooded with color, contrasting with the dark circles under her eyes. After going through so much, Morgan could see it plain as day: she was reaching her breaking point.

…And his failure to disclose his past had just pushed her over the edge.

She was on him in a second. Mimi did her best to hold her back, but Roulette refused to be contained; she tackled him to the ground and started punching, the sheer ferocity of her attack stunning him to the point of inaction. By the time he got his arms up to block the worst of it, he’d already taken a bruise or two.

His attempt to defend himself only seemed to infuriate her further. “It was you! YOU killed them!” she hollered. “If it wasn’t for you, I’d still be happy…! I’d… I’d…!”

Her words degenerated into alternating gasps and sobs just as Beretta came to Mimi’s side. Together, the two girls managed to wrench Roulette backward, giving Morgan the time he needed to shuffle beyond her reach. Thankfully, he wasn’t seriously injured, and the fight had mostly left her by that point anyway; she just relaxed into her friends’ grip, shoulders shuddering as she rode out another wave of overwhelming grief.

“I don’t blame you,” he said stiffly, rubbing at his aching jaw. “I feel like beatin’ the tar out of my own self, some days. But that ain’t goin’ to get us anywhere… And it won’t bring your parents back.”

“Oh, bravo!” Patricia interjected from her place behind the desk. “It gets so dull around here, sometimes, but seeing you all fight and argue for the last ten minutes has been sensational!” As if coming to a sudden realization, she sat up straight and waggled her pen at Viper. “I’ve changed my mind. You can’t have them. Not until they’ve completed my tasks, at least.”

“WHAT?!” Viper glared at her, incensed. “That’s not fair!”

“Life’s not fair, darling,” she purred. “In fact, my dollhouse is feeling a tad empty since Joan and that large fellow kicked the bucket. I could use a new playmate…”

Her implication was clear, even to Viper. He set his stance and narrowed his eyes, ready to fight for his life… But the sight of the half-dozen gun-toting gate guards behind her seemed to give him pause.

“Ah, so you understand the situation,” she observed, slipping her goggles into place. “Good. I like my subjects pliable. Now, hold still–this won’t hurt a bit!”

Morgan knew well enough what was coming next. He shielded his eyes for a moment, waiting for the flash to pass… And when it did, he opened them to find a hysterical Viper watching in horror as his beloved weapon literally slipped through his fingers.

“PEACESTALKER?!” he gasped, “Don’t do that! Don’t melt!”

But melt it did. And when the puddle of goo at his feet finally reformed, it looked nothing like the gun he’d been waving in their faces all this time:

It looked like a sheet of arithmetic problems.

“Math? MATH?!” Viper collapsed to his knees, looking more defeated than any man Morgan had ever seen. “No… Please, no…! Anything but this!”

Patricia cackled with delight, stowing her flashcannon away again before sinking back into her seat. “Oh, but it can only be this, my dear ‘Viper’. You see, our destined weapons are a reflection of our very souls. Following that line of logic, you can think of my destined weapon, Trivium, as a funhouse mirror; it warps that reflection, turning each Gunslinger’s greatest asset…

“...Into their greatest challenge.”

She pointed up at the sun, then, still somewhat visible behind the veil of smog above. “Only by completing that challenge before the sun has reached its zenith can a Gunslinger wrest their power back from me.”

“S-So you’re saying I have to finish this sheet of math problems in the next…” Viper began, gradually trailing off. He looked at the sun, then frowned deeply and looked at it again. Then he started counting on his fingers. Then he looked up at the sun again. Then he closed his eyes. Then he started counting on his fingers again, starting from zero.

Then he looked at the sun again.

“Half an hour,” she sighed, burying her face in her hand. “You have roughly half an hour.”

Morgan couldn’t contain his schadenfreude. “Tough break, buddy,” he snarked. “But hey, don’t feel bad. She’s makin’ me build a ship in a bottle.”

“Due to your total inability to commit anything wholeheartedly, no doubt,” Patricia surmised. “Each challenge tends to be a manifestation of one’s greatest weakness. For example, Joan’s weapon became a hamster–likely because she never took care of anything properly once in her miserable life.” At that, Roulette stood up with a start, fists re-clenching in anticipation of further conflict.

Patricia only laughed. “Case in point,” she chided. “What did you get, again? Oh, right–a deck of cards, wasn’t it? You were supposed to fool one of my interns with a magic trick.” She laced her fingers and rested her chin on her hands, smiling smugly. “Sounds like that would require a great deal of control. How’s that working out for you, kitten?”

“Uhm, what about Beretta?” Mimi babbled, obviously seeking to head off the possibility of another brawl. “I can’t help but notice that her gun is still whole.”

“I am only interested in testing combatants,” Patricia replied. “That is Czar Gunn’s wish. Those incapable of hurting him are of no interest to me, so I have spared the little girl’s weapon. You two are free to enter the enclave at any time.”

Upon hearing this, Beretta ran right up to the woman’s desk, looking up at her with pleading eyes. “Before we do that, are we allowed to help them with their challenges?”

The gatekeeper appeared to consider this for a moment, looking between Mimi and Beretta with an air of faint amusement. “I suppose. You had better get started, though. The clock is ticking!”

Morgan blinked, his eyes drawn to Beretta’s feet as she idled by the desk. Granted, he had just taken a few blows to the head courtesy of Roulette’s brutal offensive, so he might’ve been seeing things…

…But he could’ve sworn he saw a patch of particularly deep shadow oozing out from beneath the soles of her feet.

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