The next morning, I went to school. Sat in class. Listened to teachers. Did the busywork.
The whole time, I had the Skull Formula wrapped up in something, snugly wedged between my math and biology textbook. Along with a few other odds and ends.
When I saw Anna in the cafeteria, we talked about the plan. Went over it two more times, to make sure we hadn't left anything out.
After school, I went straight for the Metro City bus.
I should have been scared. I should have been terrified. I was plunging headlong into danger--into a situation I scarcely understood against an enemy I didn't even know.
But in all honesty? I was kind of excited.
The Metro City Station was an immense, gothic-like structure; it towered in the center of a network of criss-crossing roads, with the train yard and ocean directly behind it. People slipped in and out at a steady trickle; no one glanced twice at the sixteen year old school-girl with the backpack and tired eyes.
The place was enclosed in an immense warehouse with upper windows tinted to a metallic tangerine hue. Iron bars sliced the colored glass into wide plates that ran across its roof, shading the afternoon's sunlight to a dark and pleasant orange. Statues lined the walls--Greek, naked and bold. The sort of thing that sent stuffy church-goers into a tizzy.
Near the back of the lobby sat a man. White suit, white hat, no nose. Looked like the crypt-keeper. He stood out--people kept their distance.
I made my way to him and sat down.
"Lovely afternoon," he said. I recognized the voice.
"Why are you so obsessed with this thing?" I asked him.
"Your family never understood its significance. Elizabeth did, but she never capitalized on it," he said.
"Elizabeth? She was the second one, right?" I said.
"Yes. She was--" he paused, as if searching for the right word. "--a worthy adversary."
Somehow, I had the notion that he didn't like admitting that.
"Fine," I said. "I just want Sumerset back. You can have it."
He laughed, then. "Do you know how long I've strived to acquire this? Over a century, now--plans and plots ranging from the brutish to the brilliant. And here I am... receiving my life's work thanks to nothing more than a girl who probably thinks Machiavelli is a type of noodle. It is like that song, yes? The one that Canadian twit sings. 'Ironic'."
"I don't care as long as I get Sumerset back," I told him. I dropped my backpack between my legs, opening it. "Where is he?"
"In one of the substations here. He's sedated, but alive," Scourge said. "The potion, if you will."
I removed it. I'd cushioned it with a thick, lumpy towel; Scourge drew the towel away. When he caught sight of the glass, his fingers began to shake.
He uncorked it with a gentle 'pip' and gave it a sniff. Then he closed his eyes, sighed, and closed it, carefully rewrapping it. When he was finished, he put it back under his coat.
"Thank you," he said. His voice was barely a whisper. "You have no idea how happy you have made me. All these years..."
"Sumerset. Where is he? Which substation?"
"Ah. Yes. About that," Scourge said, and then he smiled. "Regrettably, my dear, I've decided to change the deal."
I narrowed my eyes.
"Rather than releasing Sumerset into your custody, I've decided it would be far better to kill you, raise you as undead, and keep you as my pet," he said. "Purely for my own amusement, you understand. Nothing personal."
I jammed my hand into my pocket and pressed my thumb over the switch. "And how are you going to do that out here in public?" I asked.
"Very violently and messily. The Society is busy with a little extraplanar excursion--and Metro City's defenders will not have enough time to respond. Killing you should only take a few moments, perhaps a minute of--" Scourge stopped, staring at me. "...what on earth is that noise?"
"You guys are all the same," I told him. "Every single last one of you--dumb as bricks. You could have had it all. If you'd just kept your mouth shut, if you just kept to the deal, you would have won. But now?"
The sound increased in volume. Realization hit Scourge's eyes--along with violent frustration.
The sound was a steadily building 'noot'.
"Now, you ain't getting shit, Sherlock."
I hit the switch just as my noot suit went off. In an instant, two things happened: I disappeared and the explosive pellet Anna and I stitched into the towel exploded.
The Skull Formula erupted in a brilliant shock of red flame, spreading across Scourge's chest. He screamed, arching back as his suit was ripped apart in the swell of heat and force; meanwhile, I re-appeared in the alleyway directly next to the station.
The noot suit was done; I'd toasted some of the circuitry last night, but now it was torched--embers smoldered along its length, burning through the clothes I wore over it. A thick stream of smoke emerged from every inch of it. I could feel the heat through the dark suit.
Anna had left the helmet in the dumpster. I put it on and activated it with a hum. Anna's voice flooded my ear.
"You ready, starling?"
"Ready," I said.
I ripped off the burning remains of my school clothes and emerged, dark and featureless, in the uniform of the Skull. And then, as people screamed and ran out of the train station in terror, I walked in.