My eyes blinked open slowly, and as my consciousness returned I couldn't help but feel that I was in a dream.
Everything looked different.
I was breathing, but through some mask attached to my mouth. A thick tube led from it to outside of the tank I was floating in, presumably to some oxygen supply.
I soon realized that I was indeed suspended in what appeared to be water, with multiple other cords protruding from my skin in various places.
Everything should have been hurting, but I presumed that morphine was being pumped into my system.
"Hello, Camilla dear."
I craned my neck to see Wiseacre standing outside the tank and I pressed my hands against the glass, trying to find a way out.
"I do hope you didn't mind your fall. It was a necessary precaution. Now that you are dead to the world, you will be free to serve your purpose, little bat."
My hands clenched into fists and I looked on in shock as curved black hooks slid out from between my knuckles.
"Impressive, are they not? I think I'll have them named 'talons'."
I punched the glass and it cracked, but Wiseacre only tutted and shook his finger at me.
"I suggest you refrain from that. The reformation of your spine still has a few hours until its completion."
That explained why I was only just controlling my arms and head.
Wiseacre chuckled to himself and strolled off with his cane, either oblivious to or completely ignoring my silent curses.
One of the doctors appeared shortly after and turned up one of the dials on the tank, and I was promptly knocked out.
When I woke up again I was no longer in the tank. I was held in a standing position by multiple harnesses around my waist attached to the ceiling, and a single IV in my arm.
Strong scents assailed my nose, of disinfectant and blood. Constant squeaking and pumping sounded like thunder in my ears.
I shut my eyes and tried to drown it all out, but was interrupted by a tap on my shoulder.
It was another of the labcoats.
"And what in the name of Wiseacre would you want?!" I hissed, lunging at her only to be held back by my restraints.
"I'm here, Miss St. Croix, only to help."
I had to say, Boltake was impressively resourceful. His associate had freed me and promptly had me in a padded van zipping away from the lab.
My senses were still over-sensitive, but focusing on the newly-inked barcode on my wrist helped to keep me calm.
Something felt wrong with my back, but I attributed it to the drugs I had just been pumped full of.
That was, until I was escorted into Boltake's lab.
Boltake, upon seeing me, instantly tensed.
"I am unspeakably glad that you are still sound in health, Miss St. Croix."
His people were swarming around me, taking samples of my spit and blood and checking my blood pressure simultaneously.
"Can you please call them off?" I muttered, feeling overwhelmed.
"Of course, anything you say."
Gabriel waved a hand and they dissipated. He looked me over with his usual pensiveness and sighed.
"I am also deeply sorry that you have had to endure-"
I cut him off, stepping forward shakily.
"Don't pity me, Boltake. I just fell fifty feet and had myself mutilated with god knows what surgeries, but it's nothing new."
Boltake was silent and I continued.
"You, and your sense of self-righteousness. You're no better than Wiseacre. For as long as I've known you, all you've done is threaten and monitor me like some kind of pretentious dictator."
My hands balled up and the talons slid out of their own accord.
"And you know what? That...is exactly what you are! You're sick!"
I pushed him to the wall with a strength I didn't know I had, holding the glistening hooks a hair from his throat. I could tell he wasn't fighting back or even resisting, but I didn't care.
Boltake met my eyes evenly without a flinch.
"Fine," he said calmly, "Kill me. It's only fitting that you do. You're a monster of my creation."
He cut me off.
"-Wiseacre didn't clone you, Miss St. Croix. I did."
I froze, letting him go.
"I foolishly thought that I could save Luna with my science. My workers gave you what memories could be salvaged from her corpse but it wasn't enough. You could never be the Luna I cared for.
What I did know, however, was that you were a valuable asset. I had skills programmed into your mind. Stealth, combat, agility, emotional control. And, of course, an undying hate for Wiseacre. The only problem was that your fabricated past conflicted with some of these skills, and you subconsciously made them dormant. The Luna and soldier inside of you were unable to coexist.
When I heard that Wiseacre was looking for another trapeze artist I couldn't believe my luck. I sent you in, with a cover so believable even you believed it.
Wiseacre had to take you on, what with your resemblance to Luna. It was his own overwhelming desire to know everything that confirmed you would be able to infiltrate his circus.
It was your own excursions to where he kept his guinea pigs that was the deciding factor. When he was certain that you knew too much he had no choice but to make you one of us."
My mind worked quickly considering that I was still groggy.
He smiled demurely, straightening his suit.
"You always were so observant, Miss St. Croix. Yes, I was experimented on as well. It was the reason I was able to escape so easily from the circus unscathed."
The air in front of him rippled and I stared in awe as he dissolved into nothing.
I heard him step around me, chuckling.
"Poor Sebastian. You should have seen the look on his face...but then again you can't even see the look on my face, can you? It won't be in your favour, I'm afraid. No matter. All it will take is a little reprogramming and you will remember your loyalties."
"Don't even dare mess with my head again, Boltake!" I yelled, turning again and again and wondering where he was.
"I'm afraid that is not an option, Miss St. Croix. Prepare to be reborn."
A fist connected with my cheek and I stumbled back, swinging at empty air in retaliation.
This wasn't going to work out well. Unless...
I shut my eyes and listened, clicking my tongue in concentration. A mental image instantly conjured itself and I had to feel grateful to Wiseacre for whatever he had done to me.
The next time Boltake lunged I shifted in time and managed to rake the talons along flesh.
He let out a sound of pain and I struck again, landing a flurry of blows.
Those 'dormant' skills? They were waking up again, seemed like.
"Don't think you've won just yet." he hissed, moving out of my range.
"Just give up, Boltake!" I taunted, "You can run but you can't hide!"
Soon afterwards a knife whizzed past me, just grazing my abdomen.
"Ha! You missed!"
The cord that the knife had cut fell and so did the cloth that had been wrapped around my torso and over my shoulders.
I fell to the ground, feeling an immense weight on my back.
"I never miss, Miss St. Croix. And now you are an even greater target."
I had to open my eyes. When I did, I caught my own reflection in the gleaming floor and I had to do a double-take.
I had two huge, leathery black wings behind my shoulders, and they were moving.
No, I was moving them.
When I stood, carefully, I folded the wings almost instinctively.
My weight felt a little odd on my feet, but in a good way.
"Fight me face-to-face, Boltake. I can find you even when you're invisible."
"Yes, but do you dare close your eyes again?"
I didn't have to. I could see a trail of blood steadily dripping around the room. And I could smell it.
Time to have some fun.
When I charged, I charged purposely in the wrong direction. Boltake scoffed, just until I had sped toward him head-on and unsheathed the talons.
He revealed himself at the last moment and I hesitated.
"You are weak, Miss St. Croix!" he laughed, sending blood gushing down his face, "Regardless of the programming, of Wiseacre's military-grade improvements, you are held back. The Luna in your blood will always have control! You are weak, just like she was."
I looked at him a moment, and walked towards the center of the room. I picked up the cloth that had tied my wings to my back and walked toward him with it, calmly proceeding to peel off his tattered shirt and binding the places I had gouged him.
"You could have easily called in twenty subordinates to detain me." I mused, "But you didn't. Why?"
Boltake didn't interrupt what I was doing but looked at me with surprise.
"You're afraid. I'm not the weak one here, Gabriel."
"I'm still going to end Wiseacre's tyranny. But it would help if you didn't hamper my progress by wiping my brain."
He looked at me with a mix of emotion and I could see the confusion in his face. I could see the guilt as the mask of indifference fell apart.
Boltake was no different than I was, when it came down to it. We were both young and scared, and even more scared of letting it show.
We both had toyed a little too freely with matters of life and death.
What he said next surprised me immensely.
"You're....free to go."
After having a quasi-epic showdown with him, that was the last thing I expected.
"Uh...Thank you." I paused and pointed at the cuts I had just bandaged, "You might want to get those looked at."
And with that I turned, and walked out the way I had been led in.
Now all I had to do was find a way back to the circus.