The halls of the school's dorm are practically silent except for the soft sound of snoring coming from behind the occasional door. There are night-lights built into the walls at each end and each side of the hallway, but Monet doesn't need them. Even if her vision were not nearly perfect even in darkness, she has made this journey enough times to know the way blindfolded. Her steps take her quietly to the stairs leading to the attic, and she pressed that appropriate code into the lighted keypad beside the door. A soft buzzing sound tells her that the lock had been released, and she softly turns the knob and steps inside.
Pausing only to be sure that the door closes and latches behind her, she makes her way to the window at the far end of the spacious attic. Her twin sisters are there, awake and alert, as if waiting for their visitor. Sitting alone on the windowsill in the dark, staring out into the night beyond, both young girls inhabiting the form of one being with only one name: Penance.
Monet sits down on the padded window seat, paying no attention to the slashes in the fabric caused by the razor sharp fingers and toes of the creature that is her sisters. She doesn't speak yet, but waits silently for some sign that they are aware of her presence. She has done this so many times. The angry red skin and harsh angles that make up the body of Penance seem softer somehow by moonlight, but Monet is not fooled. Two small children inhabit a body untouchable by another when they should be in their own, able to speak and run and play. Monet knows how they must be feeling: isolated, lonely, empty, afraid. They were the same things that Monet had felt when she'd worn that skin. And now it was the cross that her sisters chose to bear in her stead. A fact that has haunted the beautiful young woman every moment since they traded places. And so she waits.
Monet thanks God that at least her sisters are spared to the fate that she once knew. Being the nearly sole sustenance to their brother Marius, who feeds on mutant DNA for his survival; a vampire against his own race. She shivers involuntarily as the memories and the dream try to regain their hold on her.
Finally, with something close to a sigh, the twins look at their sister through glassy, expressionless eyes. Monet has no way of knowing how much they comprehend in this form, for her telepathy does not work on her sisters. She longs to take the tapered, razor-like hands in hers, but dares not, and instead says, "Bon soir, ma petites; Nicole, Claudette."
She expects no answer, and receives none.
"I had the dream again. I know I have told you about it so many times before, but I can never be sure you understand. Sometimes I think you must know what I am saying to you, but then I fear you must not, or you would reject me as I feel you should.
"It's that night again. I can hear mother and Marius shouting in the foyer downstairs. The two of you are already at the railing at the top of the stairs, watching with frightened and amazed eyes. Our mother, who never raised her voice before that we can remember, shouting at Marius to calm down and let her help him."
Monet stops in her recollection to see if the story is
having any impact on the still form in front of her.
Penance does not move, but continues to stare blankly as the tale unfolds. No twitch of an eyelash, no change in respiration gives away a thought or feeling from the red-skinned being. Monet takes a deep breath and carries on.
"I was so horrified by Marius's altered appearance that I didn't even stop to think before rushing to him. I called out to you, my sisters, to run, to go find help as I blindly ran headlong into my fate. Mother tried to stop me, and even Marius shouted at me to stay away from him, but I was impetuous and ignored them both. Marius put his hands... those horribly changed hands on my bare arms, and could feel the change almost immediately. Mother screaming out for him to stop; Marius cries out to God for mercy! Mon Dieu!"
Monet pauses to gather her shattered composure and is not surprised by the tears that slide unchecked from her cheeks. Penance is as still as stone, giving no sign of emotion.
"My body changes at his touch." She says on a whisper, "Into the body that you share now. Hard and unforgiving. I believe that he was genuinely horrified at first by what was happening to me. Mother pried his hands from me, and he lashed out with my inhuman strength added to his own, his powers surging uncontrollably. Mother, who only wanted to love and help her children, was his second victim that night. He did not seem able to control himself, and fed on her in a frenzy of wild greed, her meager mutant abilities in addition to mine, apparently enough to sate him for a time.
"But mother's body did not change as mine did. She merely fell limply to the ground, with scarcely enough energy to open her eyes and speak the words, "Oh Marius."
"Marius fell to his knees beside mother, and I thanked God the two of you were not witness to the horrors that were unfolding then! I was unaware of the extent of the change in myself until I saw our mother gasping for her last breaths on the floor of the foyer. Marius bent over her dying form, weeping to God for intervention!
"It was then that I acted. With the little strength I still possessed, I put my hands between them and pushed them apart with all my might. Marius, who was not unchanged by his feast on my genetic marrow, simply fell backward, practically invulnerable, now that he had my powers to add to his own. But Mother had no such defense. The claws that I didn't even know I had, had rent her delicate skin. The last of her life slipped away as I pulled away in horror, having pierced her heart and ended her pain."
Monet wipes at her eyes, then her nose with a tissue from the pocket of her robe. Unable to bring herself to look at her sister's form now that she has admitted her part in her mother's death, she takes a deep breath.
"Marius recovered first from the shock, and kept saying over and over, "What have I done!," but I can only stare at the blood on my hands. I don't even remember exactly when or how Marius got us out of there. I can only assume he used his dimensional warping powers to transport us. I never even knew where he rook me to, for that was the last time I saw light for what seems like an eternity.
"My days at first were filled with grief for Mother and what her death would mean to the two of you and to Father. I felt my guilt keenly in those first months, and then my mind began to shut down. To protect itself against the horrors of the feedings, and knowing that my own brother was slowly cannibalizing me. Knowing that I alone could survive his feedings and sustain him indefinitely as long as he fed often enough to keep me weak. I forgot about the two of you. And father. And God.
"And now look at us."
Monet gestures a little wildly to herself and to Penance, and to the world outside that was growing gradually lighter as the sun nears the eastern horizon. She wipes again at her nose and whispers, "Please forgive me."
She isn't sure what she is begging forgiveness for anymore, only that
she must. The quiescent figure beside her can't bestow the absolution
she seeks, and can't show any judgement or emotion, and so remains silent
After a few moments of silence, Monet slowly rises to her feet and composes herself. She puts on the mask of untouchable perfection that has served her well in the past, and prepares to face another day.
"Nicole. Claudette." She says softly, meaning to tell them that she loves them, that she is sorry. Instead, she merely says with a sad smile, "I'll see you soon."
She walks back down the stairs with a heavy heart, and doesn't see Penance's
barely perceptible nod as she turns to face the coming dawn.