Greys 10-IV

Take It From Me.

So,” I asked the girl, as I sat down on the edge of the roof and swung my legs out over the gap, “do you have a name? I’ve been calling you Mirror in my head, but that was more out of necessity than anything else.”

I'd brought us back up to the rooftop where my real body was stashed. It was relatively private, and it was definitely reassuring to be back near my body. Plus, the weather was nice, so hey, why not?

Mirror was leaning against one of the ventilation stacks, arms folded over her chest, jacket held closed against the wind with a piece of what looked like string. She’d pulled another, identical pair of reflective sunglasses from one of her myriad pockets, and donned them almost immediately. Maybe it was a comfort thing, maybe she didn’t want me seeing any more of her face than I already had, or maybe she was just photophobic or something. I dunno. Whatever it was, they seemed to settle her, and she was a lot calmer now.

“Yeah, no offense, but I'm not in the habit of just giving out my name. To anyone.”

“That’s fair,” I conceded. “Is there something I can call you, then?”

She considered it for a second. “Kai,” she eventually said. “It’ll do for now.”

“Alright, it's a start. I'm H-Wisp.” I managed to catch myself just in time. Should probably practice that. Is that something people do? Practice introducing themselves with their cape names? I mean, it makes sense, right? You don’t want to do… exactly what I almost did just then. But then you might get into the habit of using that name instead of your real one, so you'd have to also practice introducing yourself with that, and then you’re right back where you started. Oh! You could train yourself by putting on the costume and practicing with the cape name, and then practice with your real name in civvies! Yeah, that'd-

“Hannah. Conversation.”

Oh. Right. Kai had just finished saying something, and was looking at me expectantly. “Sorry, could you repeat that? I drifted off for a moment.”

“You… what?”

“Drifted off,” I repeated with a sheepish grin. “Sorry. My thoughts run away from me sometimes.”

She gave me an odd look. “You’re… uh, not very… heroic, for a hero.”

“Hey!” I exclaimed, affronted. “Who just saved your sorry butt?”

“Uh, right, sorry. I meant, like, behavior-wise.”

“Oh yeah? And how does a hero behave, according to you?”

She shrugged. “I don’t know, just less… whatever you are. Distracted, for one.”

“Well, let’s see you- ah no, sorry, let’s not make a thing out if this. What was it you were saying?”

“Oh- it was just some snide comment about your name. Forget I said anything.” She sounded contrite, so I decided to let it slide.

“Right. So, anyway…” I paused for a second, gathering my thoughts, “there’s a few things to discuss. Primarily, and probably the most important to you, is the question of whether or not I hand you over to the police.” She stiffened, her hands instinctively grasping at the points on her jacket that, I assumed, corresponded with the pockets she'd hidden the money in. She realized she was doing it, and hastily returned them to their original position. “Yeah. First things first, I'm assuming you’re homeless?”

She bit her lip. “…yeah.”

“No family? Friends? Can’t you… uh, okay, I'm gonna admit, I don’t really know anything about being homeless, but are there not… shelters? Aid or something?”

She scratched at the back of her head awkwardly. “There is some stuff, yeah, but… well, it's not available to me for certain reasons.”

“Which are?”

“Personal,” she said curtly.

Oooookay then. I didn’t pry, although I really wanted to. “Right. Well, what I was obliquely asking was whether stealing is the only way to get by for you, which I'm guessing it is."

“Yeah,” she repeated. “I don’t go around picking pockets or whatever; I just stick to stuff like this, salvage, I guess.”

I nodded. “Okay, assuming you’re telling the truth, and I’m somewhat inclined to believe you are, that makes my opinion towards you a little more favorable. I'm not making a decision yet, but I’m having a hard time feeling judging you poorly for stealing from them. Do you do this a lot?”

“No,” she shrugged, “as little as I can. Usually, I get by with whatever I can get busking before someone comes along asking for a license, plus trading for stuff. Sometimes I do ‘magic tricks’,” and she created a small mirror for a second, “for kids or whatever.”

Busking? Oh right, the singing. “If you’re good enough to make money performing, can’t you just get a license?”

She shook her head. “Not that simple. Technically, or legally or whatever, I don’t actually exist. My parents were…” she trailed off for a second, lost in thought. “Well, not exactly top-notch, and because of a whole bunch of other stuff, there isn’t a system in the world that has my name or face in it.”

“Huh. I can see why that might make things difficult.”

“You don’t know the half of it.” She created another mirror, slightly larger this time, and inspected it turning it on different angles. “Though there are some benefits, too.” I imagined it would be rather easy to be a thief when you don’t exist from a bureaucratic standpoint, for one.  “Anyway, I try to only do stuff like this when I need something that I can’t afford, or, like with this one, when an opportunity opens up.” She snorted. “Look where that got me.”

“Safe and unharmed, with pockets full of cash, thanks to a certain someone?” I asked wryly.

“Okay, fine, but you know what I meant.”

“A thank you wouldn’t go amiss,” I muttered. “How do you know when ‘an opportunity opens up'?”

She shrugged one shoulder. “Grapevine, I guess. It’s easier to keep an ear to the ground when you’re already at the bottom of the totem pole.”

Interesting. Interesting, and potentially useful. “Okay then. I’ve made a decision. I'm going to let you go.” She breathed out slightly, although she thought I didn’t notice. “I’ll even let you keep the money. But.” I held up a finger. “In return, I need something from you.” I felt a little bad, making decisions from a position of power, but I wasn’t asking that much, and I was being pretty generous to boot. “I’m looking for some people. Villains, three of them; a woman in a green cloak, a man in red with a metal mask, and a man in navy combat gear. I want you to keep your ear to the ground, like normal, and if you hear anything about them, let me know.”

“How?” she asked, sounding intrigued.

“Can you memorize a number?” She nodded, so I rattled off the number to the burner phone the Outliers had given me. “Call that number if you do hear anything, and let me know. Deal?”

“It’s not like I have a choice,” she said, but with no real malice behind it. “Deal. As long as I can also call that number if I’m in trouble, and need a ‘hero’.”

“I don’t like those implied quotation marks,” I said with a smile, “but yeah, sure. I'm… I’d be happy to help.”

She smiled back at me for a moment, but then quickly looked away and coughed. “So, uh, what were the other things you wanted to say?”

“Oh right! Well, first of all, you’ve got to tell me how your power works. It's fascinating!”

“What, really?” she sounded surprised.

“Sure! Are they actually mirrors, or are they some kind of portal or something? How did you reach through them like that, on an angle? How big can you-”

“Whoa,” she said, a little hastily, holding up her hands. “Calm down.” I looked down to realize I'd been leaning forward towards her. Just a little creepy, so I leant back and tried to relax. “Sorry, I just get excited.”

“For the record, this is what I meant when I was talking about behavior.” I'd like to see you meet Fog, I thought to myself, see how heroic you think she acts. She summoned a mirror. “As far as I can figure out, they're like portals, but where the entrance and exit points are the same.”

I cocked my head. “…I’m not sure I follow.”

She moved the mirror so it was perpendicular to me, and held her hand out. “So a normal portal, stuff goes in one end, out the other, right? But if the out and in are at the same point,” she moved her hand towards it, “then you can’t go through, because you hit yourself coming the other way.” Her hand stopped as it reached the mirror. “But if you come in on an angle,” she retracted her hand and did so,” then you can avoid hitting yourself, somehow.” She stuck her hand in, and her fingers emerged on the opposite side, waggling slightly.

I stared at it. “My brain is telling me that that shouldn’t work like that.”

“Well, it does, so tell your brain to shut up.”

“No, seriously. If you're stopped by your own hand coming the other way, then coming in at an angle shouldn’t matter. You'd still-”

For a second, everything froze. There was a sound, like a frog being blended, only backwards, and then the whole world warped and distorted. When it snapped back into place, two figures were standing on the rooftop with us. One in rainbow armor, and one that appeared to be made of branches.

“Dammit,” said Stump to Instance. “I told you we should’ve flown.”

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Greys 10-III

Not With Magic

Another fist smashed through the wall behind us as we ran, sending a shower of splinters spraying outwards. I ducked instinctively, and the girl let out a small shriek.

“This is your plan?” she yelled at me as I dragged her down the stairs. Another fist, this time accompanied with a stream of slurred profanities, lodged itself in the top stair. “This is a terrible plan!”

“Oh, I'm sorry! Did you miss the bit where he poofed me with one hit? It's not like I can fight him!” Although, logically speaking, I knew I didn’t have a pulse or any adrenaline glands, I still felt my heart pounding and the rush of energy flowing through my non-existent veins. It made me wonder if it was psychosomatic, or if my body was actually generating those chemicals and increasing its heart rate. Anyway, the point is that I was a little more snappish than I'd normally be. “Hey, you probably handled him better than I did, so why don’t I just leave you here on your own?” I said sarcastically. “If you have any better ideas than running, I would love to hear them.” Okay, so quite a bit more snappish.

“Okay, fine, geez. You don’t need to be- waugh!” I yanked her sideways as a fist hurtled through the space she had just been occupying and down the stairs we'd been about take. I caught a brief glimpse of the Disciple as I pulled us into the next room, standing at the top of the stairs, literally foaming from the mouth. I shuddered. Where the heck had they gotten this guy? He seemed legitimately insane, in a straightjacket and horse tranquillizers kind of way.

We were back on the second floor, with its impromptu open floorplan and wreckage.  I’d screwed up, I realized. The third floor, while not the best place to be, at least still had walls and obstructions. This one was completely open, and that gave an even bigger advantage to the Disciple, with his disgusting flail-arms. I, meanwhile, was basically only viable in close quarters, and it seemed the girl had no offensive options at all. I needed to get in close, without taking any hits, and with the option of surprise taken out of the equation, I’d have to chance it on intangibility. 

The girl, Mirror, had lost her glasses somewhere, and there was real fear in her eyes as I looked around at her. “If I distract him, do you think you can get out?” I asked hurriedly.

“I-uh, well-”she stammered.

“Yes or no?!” I cut her off.

“Y-yes. I think.”

“Good. I'm going to try something, but there's a decent chance it won’t work. Get outside and run.”

“What about you?” she asked.

“I’ll be fine. And that's not reassuring empty words, he can't actually hurt me.” There was an incoherent snarl, and the Disciple stepped round the corner into view. “Go!” I said, giving her a shove as the man reared his arm back.  Again, the fist hurtled towards me, and I took a deep breath, preparing myself, and went intangible.

And then I stepped to the side and let it fly past me to bury itself in the concrete.

What? I wasn’t going to let it hit me just to test a theory. That’d be stupid.

He roared, spittle flying from his lips, and the stretched-out flesh of his arm tightened, yanking the fist out of the wall and back towards him, like an old-school measuring tape. It snapped back into place, and he readied his other arm.

Behind him, on the other side of the stairs, I could see Mirror crouched by the edge of the wall. She'd managed to sneak around to the other side, but with the stairwell still occupied, she couldn’t get down. So I needed to get him to move somehow.

Physics are my new best friend.

He threw his arm forward again, and again I stepped aside. This time, though, I kept an eye on the arm, and when it began to tense, I went solid, grabbed it with both hands, and went dense, for just a second.

The floor creaked dangerously, but held the brief moment of extra weight. The Disciple, though, was dragged forward with a sudden jolt, shock sweeping over his face. Like I'd guessed, his arm operated like an elastic, and when I'd created a new heaviest point, instead of the fist pulling itself back towards him, both ends were now being pulled towards me. I let go and stepped away as the fist went flying past, straight at his off-balance torso. Now, I'm not a vindictive person, but I'd be lying if I said there wasn’t a certain amount of satisfaction involved when it slammed into his chest and sent him tumbling to the ground a few feet in front of me.

I gestured at the girl, who was staring at me with an unreadable expression on her face, and she started and hurried down the steps, out of sight.

Well, at least she was safe, for now… safe, with her pockets full of stolen cash. I mentally facepalmed. In my defense, I'd had other things to worry about. I'd figure that one out later.

The man staggered to his feet, one hand clutched against his ribs and obviously in pain, but his features were still contorted with rage. I was actually starting to think that he was really genuinely unhinged. He hadn’t said a single word that wasn’t a slur or curse, and as I looked into his eyes, there was nothing there but rage. I don't know why, but I held up my hands, palms out.

“Can you… can you actually hear me?”  I asked tentatively. “Do you understand the noises coming out of my mouth?” He didn’t give any indication that he did, but he also didn’t attack me, so I continued. “Look, you're obviously hurt. Just… stay down, and I won’t have to do any more, okay?” I mean, I didn’t think I could do any more; that had been a one-time trick. But I had to try.

It actually seemed like it might work. A little bit of the terrifying energy seemed to seep out of him, and I had the audacity to sigh slightly. His vision snapped back into focus, directly at me, and he let out another roar as he moved again. I stepped back, expecting another straight throw, but instead he flung it in a sideways arc, twisting to give it more momentum. Caught off guard, I barely had time to react before his arm slammed into my side and sent me flying across the ground. I tumbled and rolled, hitting the wall with a thump. Or maybe it was more of a thunk, I’m not sure.

I groaned, suddenly very glad that injuries on these projections didn’t carry over to my real body (I'd figured this out when I'd woken up in the middle of the night, firmly convinced there was still a fork sticking out of my hand). It didn’t feel like I'd broken anything, but that brought up the question of whether or not I even could break bones. Pain was simulated accurately for smaller wounds, I knew that much, and it simulated blood, but if I hit myself on the arm with a hammer, would it behave like a broken arm would? What if I chopped off an arm? Would the separated limb have permanence? What if-

There was a loud noise, like a cross between tearing and crushing, and I looked up to see a long hole torn in one of the walls at about chest height.

“Probably not the best time to be thinking about this, Hanners.”

Yeah, I know. I pushed myself onto my feet as he reeled his arms back in. I couldn’t tell if he'd added the new window on purpose, or if he'd just lost control, but obviously I was leaning towards the latter. He was panting now, and his posture was all slanted and weird.

So. Problem: insane man with organic flails attached to his wrists wants to kill me. Caveats: he can destroy me in one hit, and I can't go dense for more than a split-second, otherwise I'll just… collapse... the… floor…

I kicked myself forward, running towards the Disciple. He swung a fist at me again, but I was ready for it this time and slid underneath the swing. As it passed over, I went light and grabbed ahold, and when he pulled it back towards him, I flew through the air along with it.

His eyes, his crazy, crazy eyes widened as I shot towards him, and he brought his other hand forward, but I'd already let go, dropping down and pushing myself forward into a dive. I grabbed his legs, wrapped myself awkwardly around them, and went as dense as I could.

Everything's kind of blurry and shaky after that. Next thing I knew, I was lying in a pile of rubble, clouds of dust swirling around me, and the limp form of the Disciple on top of me. I pushed him off, and he groaned slightly, but stayed limp as he rolled onto the ground.

We were back on the ground floor, having crashed through the ones above, resulting in the pile in which I now stood. Thankfully, the structural integrity of the building seemed to have remained intact.

I rose, inspecting the damage around me. Physics 1, Disciple 0. And the best part was, I didn’t even feel hurt!

I brushed off the dirt and dust as best I could, then looked up. We'd actually fallen right next to the entranceway, and the door had been knocked over in the impact. Outside, staring in from the open doorway with mouth agape, was the girl.

“Oh good,” I said with a weak grin hidden by my scarf, “you’re still here. We should have a chat.”

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Greys 10-II

I Aten't Dead

The girl didn’t seem to have noticed the other man. She whistled tunelessly to herself as she continued to pocket the money. For a thief, the thought crossed my mind, she has rather poor situational awareness.

Still, I wasn’t going to let her get killed. I stepped out from behind the wall, moving to get between them, just as the man reared back his glowing fist. The girl’s head snapped up towards me as I covered the steps between us and the man pushed his arm forward. It was a sideways motion, not quite a punch as much as a flick, but when it reached the end of its swing, his arm stayed in place. His hand, though, did not.

His wrist stretched like putty as his fist shot forward, propelled by the momentum of the flick. It barreled towards the girl, and by extension, me, and I raised my arms in front of me as I turned my power in the opposite direction. Think dense thoughts, think dense thoughts, think dense-

I was standing back on the rooftop, fully visible again. I had a moment of confusion, before it hit me. Whatever that glow was, it had destroyed my smoke clone, and now the girl was in there alone with the Disciple.

I almost began to run towards the edge of the roof, before I remembered that it would kill me.  I stopped, scrunched my eyes shut and concentrated. Clone, step back, switch perspectives, go. The whole process took me about ten seconds, which was ten seconds too long as far as I was concerned. I was not going to let someone die on my watch, darn it. I tried to ignore the thoughts saying that there was a decent chance she was dead already.
Instead of just dropping off like I had last time, I sprinted all the way up to the edge and leaped out, going intangible as soon as my feet left the ground. 

With a lot less mass to move, the push sent my flying almost horizontally towards the building. I hit the wall in between the second and third floors, fingers digging into the depressions in the brickwork and holding me there. I was still solid enough to grab a hold, but light enough that it was a breeze to clamber up the wall to above the window. I curled my legs up to my body, placing my feet in between my hands, then pushed out. As I swung back in towards the window, right before I hit it, I went all the way intangible. I passed through the window cleanly, and as soon as my eyes passed the glass, I went back to being solid, and landed in a slightly ungainly crouch. I'd waste time basking in the warm glow of how cool that was later; the room I'd landed in didn’t have line-of-sight to where the girl and the Disciple had been. I could hear indeterminate noises; hopefully that meant she wasn’t dead yet.

I launched straight into a sprint, rounding the corner with the bookshelf propped up against it. I wanted to go dense, but my common sense was telling me that it had a decent chance of collapsing the floor underneath me, especially while running. I hadn’t been thinking when I'd done it earlier.

I rounded another corner, skidding slightly, and the noises resolved themselves into clarity. It didn’t make them any less weird, but they were clearer.

She was still alive, thank goodness. She was also holding her own against the guy who had taken me down in one hit. I felt an irrational pang of irritation at that, but quashed it. Now was not the time.

The Disciple was swinging his fists around on the end of his putty-like arms like flails, with a surprising amount of control and speed. He kept them spinning at his side, lashing out with one while keeping the other in reserve. When he missed, chunks of whatever he hit instead went flying all over the place. I shuddered to think what it would do to human flesh.

Thankfully, I wasn’t getting a live demonstration. The girl was clearly on the back foot, scrambling away from the Disciple as fast as she could. Her sunglasses had slipped down her face to reveal panicked eyes, but she was still managing to hold up. In the space between the two of them, in the path of his fists, small, perfectly reflective mirrors were appearing. When a fist connected with one, it shattered into fragments that disappeared before they hit the ground, but the fist stopped dead, and the glow around it disappeared for a second. Barely even realizing I was doing it, I mentally assigned the girl the name ‘Mirror’. I mean, I couldn’t just keep calling her the gender noun.

The Disciple was also ranting at the top of his lungs, something about ‘street filth' and ‘f***ing with us' and other nasty stuff. I tuned it out.

How to handle this? He'd already demonstrated that he could knock me out with one hit, so charging in was out. Plus, I think a punch at full density would turn him into jelly, and no. Just no.

The problem was, I didn’t know whether that punch had destroyed my clone because it was just strong enough, or because of some form of power interaction. Some powers could mess with each other or cancel each other out, seemingly at random, as Mirror and the Disciple were now demonstrating. If it was the former, I could go intangible and get in close that way, but if it was the latter, it would destroy the clone anyway. And the only way of finding out was to get hit, which was just - no thanks.

No, I was going to be smarter about this. I tried focusing on my mass, going for a fine adjustment rather than a toggle. I'd managed to go just slighter denser than intangible, so I should have been able to do the same from normal mass with ease, right?

Apparently not. It felt like grabbing at a bar of soap on a rope, swinging back and forth as it popped out of my grasp. The floor splintered under me as I went too dense for a brief moment. Whoopsie-daisy. Thankfully, I didn’t tear my way down to the ground level.

I managed to place it after a second, denser than average, but not enough to destroy the floor. Just enough to give me some extra strength. Physics were my new best friend.

I picked up an oak drawer from where it lay next to me, and threw it as hard as I could, directly at the Disciple. My aim was a little off, and it only clipped him on the shoulder, but there was still enough force behind it to spin him around completely. He screamed as he dropped to the ground, one of his hands spinning off to bury itself in the wall. I didn’t know how long that would keep him down, so I grabbed another drawer and held it at the ready.

The girl turned to stare at me, wide-eyed. “What are you waiting for?” I yelled at her. “Run!”

She held the deer in the headlights look for a second, then moved. But instead of running, she came and stood behind me. Like, directly behind me. As if I was a barricade.

“What are you doing?” I asked, trying to look at her while also keeping my eye on the Disciple. “Do you want to stay here with him?”

She pushed her sunglasses back up over her eyes. “Do you? Why aren’t you running?” Her voice was calm, but there were definite tremors in it

He was groaning now, pushing himself upwards. “Did you not see the costume? Superhero here. Besides, he might have information I need.”

“You don’t look like a superhero, you look like a cheap cosplayer. Besides, you're not a hero. They just added Stump, they're not going to get someone else so soon.”

He was getting onto his feet now, glaring at me and Mirror. “Is now the time for this? Really?”

“Sorry, sorry. My mouth runs on when I get nervous, it's a bit of an issue-”

He growled and began to move towards us, so I threw the second drawer. It flew straight this time, straight for his center of mass, but he just punched straight through it, pulverizing it into splinters. He kept walking towards us, spinning his arms again.

“Was that your only plan?” Mirror asked nervously from behind me.

“No, I've got another one,” I replied. “Run.”



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Greys 10-I

HANNAH

You Had All The Fun

Breathe in, and out.

In…

And out…

In.

Out.

In.

Out, and…

Go.

I opened my eyes, blinked once, and stepped off the edge of the roof.

The air rushed past my ears as I fell, tugging on my braid where it trailed behind. It wasn’t a long fall, a few seconds, and the concrete rushed up to meet me too quickly for my liking. As it neared, I dropped almost all of my mass, slowing down drastically, and landed on the tarmac light as a feather. These powers were so intuitive; I'd only had them for a few days and already it felt comfortably simple doing stuff like that. I still had to concentrate for certain aspects like the initial split or switching perspective, but the mass-shifting was coming very naturally.

Upon reflection, I'd realized I'd hit the metaphorical jackpot when it came to my powers. I mean, any one of them on their own, invisibility, density manipulation or duplication, would’ve been pretty nothing to sneeze at on their own, and I had all three! I'd checked with Sabi, and the mass-shifting was pretty much an A-class power on its own. Not to get egotistical, but that meant I was kind of a big deal. Which was exciting, but also scary. I’d dived in head-first into this world, and while I'd managed alright, I'd seen quite clearly how many ways it could’ve gone bad. Still, I was pushing forward, because - aw jeez, it sounds silly when I say it, but – justice needed to be served. Thus, here I was, walking towards the Disciple lair I'd learned about yesterday. I didn’t know exactly what I expected to find, but it was better than doing nothing, right? And, more and more, I was getting the impression it was definitely better than expecting the Tower to handle it.

It was a run-down old apartment block, significantly further from the warehouse avenue than the Disciple had implied it was. His directions hadn’t been the most specific, and I'd been worried I'd have trouble finding it, but it turned out to be unfounded. Gang signs littered the walls of the building and those around it, jagged symbols in washed-out pastel colors. Trash littered the curb and the corners, and there were more broken windows than not. This was definitely the place.

I approached slowly, peering through the windows. The complex seemed abandoned, but you never knew; I got the impression it had looked like this even when populated. Gangs, you know? The fact that the door hung loosely from its hinges lent credence to my notion.

Once I stepped inside, I found more of the same, if slightly more clean. Every wall that could be knocked down, and some that looked they really shouldn’t have been, had been cleared out, leaving a fairly open floor plan. Dirty couches and old boxes formed most of the, I hesitate to call it furniture, that filled the space. A broken flatscreen lay on its back near some beanbags that had torn open and spilled their contents onto the ground. The whole place smelled like alcohol and sweat, and I wrinkled my nose in disgust.

It was definitely abandoned, and in a haste: chairs and tables had been overturned, scattered pieces of paper covering the ground, shattered beer bottles strewn about around stains in the musty carpeting. That explained half the smell; it worried me that even after being abandoned it still held the body odor. I didn’t want to think about the amount of sweat that was probably required for that.

“Soooooooooo,” I thought to myself. “Where do we start?”

Not sure, I admitted. I was hoping there’d be someone here.

“And when you assume, you make an-”

I didn’t say assume.

“Pretty sure you did.”

No, I absolutely did not.

“Suuuuuure you didn’t, Wisp.

One, shut up. Two, shut up. Three, shut up.

“Fine. Try going upstairs, see what else there is in here. This can’t be it.”

Good idea. I began walking towards the stairs at the back of the room, stepping gingerly over the broken glass. There was a vomit stain on the stairs, because of course there was.

Second floor was more of the same, but with a tableau that strongly suggested someone being thrown out a window. Seems the… I really needed a name for them. Green Cloak and her two thugs had apparently pulled no punches. Halfway up to the third floor, I froze. There were rustling noises coming from above, and some form of modulating noise. Jackpot. I crouched low and crept up the rest of the stairs, slow and quiet. 

As I approached the landing, the noise resolved itself into a woman’s voice. And it was singing. Really well, actually.

“…I'm afraid these don't grow on trees, you’ve got to pick a pocket or two,” they were bouncing along, “you’ve got to pick a pocket or two, boys, you've got to pick a pocket-” it cut off. “Although,” the voice said normally, “I suppose it isn’t really accurate, is it? This is basically only tangential to pick-pocketing. Maybe…” there was a sound of fingers clicking, “got it!” Then, singing again, “Gotta keep- one jump, ahead of the bread line! One swing, ahead of the sword! I steal, only what I can't afford! (But that's everything!)”

The third floor was just as trashed as the other two, but it still had all its walls. It also had desks, the contents of which covered the floor. It also had a large room with a map of the city on the wall, half torn to shreds. Rifling through the papers was the singing woman.

Girl, I mentally corrected. That was definitely a girl, probably around my age. She had heavily tanned skin, sorta leathery-looking, and black hair bound in a long braid reaching down to her waist. She was dressed in street clothes, jeans and one of those jackets with all the patches, and wore a pair of large mirrored sunglasses over her eyes. She was digging through the papers and detached drawers on the ground, tucking pieces of paper and pens and other trinkets into her jacket, still singing that song all the while. It sounded vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t quite place it.

Her voice descended into vaguely tuneless humming as she stood, spinning around. I ducked back behind the wall, but she didn’t seem to see me. After a second, I heard a muffled exclamation of ‘aha!’, and the sound of footsteps. Given that they were moving away from me, I took a chance and peered back out.

She was pulling a safe out from underneath an overturned desk with exaggerated groans of effort. With a grunt, she let go of it and flopped backwards down onto her backside. Scooching up to the large black box, she stuck her hand out, seemingly concentrating. For a second, nothing happened, but then a shimmer appeared in the air before collecting itself into what looked like a mirror. She breathed a sigh of satisfaction, then moved her hand forward into the mirror, where it disappeared. She moved her arm around for a few seconds, as if rifling, then made a hooting noise and pulled her arm back out, the hand reappearing as it moved away from the mirror. Clutched in her fingers were rolls of bills. “Aww yes,” she said, clutching them close to her chest before tucking them away, “momma’s eating meat tonight.” She repeated the process another time, coming back with more money, and she whistled cheerily as she stowed it.

I was conflicted. On one hand, she was very obviously a thief, and that was the kind of thing heroes stopped, right? On the other, it wasn’t really relevant to what I was trying to do, and she might have info. Plus, she was stealing from other bad guys, which is not as bad? I think?

I settled for talking. No harm in trying, right?

I went to step out, but I was beaten to the punch. On the opposite side of the room, a man had appeared. Dressed in rags, head shaved with a veritable rainbow of tattoos etched along his scalp, he was glaring directly at the girl, fists clenched and glowing slightly.


Aw nuts.

Enemies 9-Vignette


Back Into Your Life.

2 years ago, or thereabouts.

“And so the first guy says, ‘look, I don’t know what you want from me, I just make the dough'!” Flint delivered the punchline with a goofy grin.

Edith frowned down at him. “I don’t get it. What's the context? What’s the setup? It’s not a joke, it’s just… a line.”

He shook his head. “No, no, it is a joke: it's meta-humor! You know how in TV and movies and stuff they always cut into a scene halfway through a joke? It’s an intentional pastiche of that concept, isolating a punchline of a non-existent joke, then delivering it without the context as an intentional parody of the concept!”

She considered this, lips pursed. “No,” she decided, “no, it’s still not funny. Sorry. I appreciate the effort, though.”

He visibly deflated. “You are no fun today, E. No. Fun. At. All.” He poked her lightly in the chest with each word, and a little giggle escaped her lips. “Ha!” he said triumphantly. “Sadness, fall before the might of Flint Perez!” He struck a pose, fists on hips and head turned to nobly stare into the distance.

Edith snorted involuntary, then took a sip of her coffee, trying and almost succeeding to hide her smile. “You're such a dork.”

He dropped the pose and grinned. “You know you love it.” She smiled and said nothing.

The two of them were sitting across from one another at a small table in a coffee shop. Midday on Saturday business was quiet but steady, and the buzz of conversation around them was low under the hum of the grinders. A cold snap had hit the previous night; frost coated the windows, snow fell gently outside, and heavy coats hung from the backs of their chairs, a tan parka for Flint and a long black coat for Edith.

He wasn’t showing it, but Flint was worried about her. The last few days, she’d been surly and bitter, shooting daggers at anyone who even mildly inconvenienced her. She’d been avoiding him, too, and he didn’t know if it was just to spare him from her mood, or something else. He'd hoped this… date, he supposed, would help, and surprisingly enough, it actually seemed to be. She was much less hostile than she’d been, and a smile and a laugh was good progress.

He couldn’t pinpoint the exact moment their relationship had moved from friendship to… whatever this was. They'd still done the same things, still chatted and joked and hung out and everything, but slowly, a closeness had entered it. This was probably, he realized, the closest thing to a first romantic moment they’d had.

Unconsciously, he reached up, pushing his ponytail back over his shoulder. Edith made a face. “You should really get a haircut.”

“What? Why? I’m channeling my cultural heritage.”

“No, you think you're doing the sexy Latin lover thing, but actually you just look like a black girl whose parents forced her to straighten her hair.”

“Hmph,” he sniffed. “You’re just jealous.”

She fingered her own thin, dry hair, twirling it around one finger. “You said it, not me.”

Leaning forward, he reached over and mirrored the gesture. “What you need is better conditioner. You’d be amazed the difference it makes.” His tone was very different from his words. He let his hand hover there, twirling the hair around.

“I really feel like this conversation should be going the other way round,” she said, blushing slightly. “You know, me lecturing you about hygiene.”

“Sorry to disappoint,” he said quietly.

“I didn’t say that,” she replied with a hint of smile.

For a moment, they held there, staring into each other’s eyes. Very slightly, Flint's hand began to drift towards her face. It might’ve gone further, but they were interrupted by the appearance of a waitress, asking if they wanted her to take their plates. They coughed, awkwardly, retracting hands and looking away, muttering vague confirmations while avoiding eye contact with the server or each other.

The waitress, a young, dark-haired girl who couldn’t have been older than Flint, obviously realized she’d interrupted something; she swept up the crumb-laden plates with quick, efficient motions, and swiftly departed.

They sat for a moment in silence, both of them sneaking darting glances at the other when they thought they weren’t looking, smiling small smiles they tried to keep hidden. Outside, a street-cleaner rumbled past, salting a trail in the snow.

Flint broke the silence. “So, how's Eve?”

Edith looked up from her lap, where she’d been studying the surface of her coffee a little too intently. “Hmm? Oh, she's good... ish. Mom's been… pretty hard on her recently. She's not handling it so great.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah, sulking and tantrums a lot. It's not been fun.”

He winced in sympathy. “Eesh. Do you…” he hesitated.

“What?”

“…do you want to stay at my place for a few days? Um, get away from it all?”

She actually smiled properly at that. “You’re cute when you’re flustered.” Now it was his turn to blush. “That’s sweet of you to offer. But no, there's no way mom would-”

She froze, eyes locked on a point above his head. “Edith?” he asked. “What’s-”

“Shit,” she muttered, scrabbling at her purse and jacket. “Shit shit shit shit shit. Flint, we need to go right now.” She stood up from the table, knocking her chair backwards, still looking past him.

“Edith?” he asked, standing up with considerably more care and picking up his coat. “What's wrong, what's happening? Why do we have to lea-” she grabbed his wrist and started dragging him towards the exit. “Hey!”

“I’m sorry, Flint, I'll explain later. We just-” she stopped suddenly, and he almost ran into her before stopping himself.

Standing in front of them, blocking the way to the exit, was a short woman with cold eyes set into a stocky face, and light brown hair hidden under a tattered beanie. She was dressed like a homeless person, clothes torn and shabby, but Flint could see from her posture that she was obviously concealing multiple weapons. He'd always complained to his dad that there was no way he’d ever be in a situation where it’d be important to know that, but he’d never been more glad to be proven wrong.

“Well, ain't this just a mighty fine coincidence,” the woman said.

Edith swallowed audibly. “I'm sorry, I don’t know what you’re talking about. Could you please move? You're blocking the exit.” She attempted to push past, still holding an iron grip on Flint's wrist, but the other woman stepped in front of her.

“Nah, I don' think so. Ya really think ya can try that crap and get away with it? I’ve seen your face.” She smirked, and Edith's face frosted over.

Flint looked back and forth between them, confused, and worried by the sudden change in his girlfriend's demeanor. “Edith-”

Not now, Flint,” she hissed, and he jerked back at the sheer venom in her words.

The woman chuckled. “Flint, huh? Tell ya what, why don’t ya get out of here. Go on, git.” She flicked her hand towards the door dismissively.

He spun on her. “Why don’t you? I don’t care what imaginary beef you have with my girlfriend, but you need to back the hell off.” She actually took a step back, faced with his sudden outburst, and then her face went still, and her hand dipped inside her jacket.

For Flint, instinct took over. He stepped into her, one hand using his momentum to pin the arm reaching for the weapon against her body, and the other coming up into a quick jab into her throat. As she jerked back, he pulled her arm out and away, pointing it and the gun at the ground and twisting sharply. The motion forced her hand open, dropping the gun to clatter onto the floor, and made her fall onto her knees to avoid dislocating the shoulder. He kicked the gun out of her reach and pushed her backwards, then yelled out “she’s got a gun!”

From start to finish, it had taken less than three seconds.

There was a brief moment of stillness. Then the screaming began. Everyone in the store began running or hiding, ducking behind cover or sprinting for exits. Flint grabbed Edith's hand and followed them. They burst through the doors at full pelt, the cold smacking them in the face, and as he looked back, he could see the woman glaring after them.

They ran for a few blocks before ducking into an alleyway, breathing heavily. Flint leant against the wall, trying to calm himself. Edith was almost doubled over, hands on knees as she took deep, gasping breaths. Eventually, they looked up at each other.
“What the hell was that?” they asked simultaneously.

“You first,” Edith said.

Flint shook his head. “Nope, nope, nope. That woman just tried to kill you, E! What the shit?!”

“And then you took her down like it was an action movie! Where did that come from?! You're the scrawny little art nerd!”

He glared at her. “One, scrawny? Really? I take back the nice things I’ve said about your body. Two, I’ve mentioned doing martial arts multiple times! Did you think I was joking?” She opened her mouth, but he waved her down. “No, don’t answer that, don’t divert. Who was that woman, and why did she try and kill you?”

She looked away, avoiding meeting his eyes. “Flint, I… can’t tell you. I’m sorry, I really am, but I can’t.”

“What? Why not?”

“I can’t tell you that either.”

He stared at her. “Edith… what does your mom actually do?” She’d always danced around the question before.

Edith looked up at him, and he found that there were tears in her eyes. “I… don’t think we should see each other any more.”

“Wh- what?”

“I’m sorry,” she said again. “I'm so sorry.” And with that, she turned and walked away from him, slipping her coat on.

“Edith?” he called after her. “Edith! I don’t- why are you- just stop and talk to me!”

She didn’t look back. She just kept walking.

Enemies 9-VI

So Wrong It’s Right.

Ever seen concrete peel back like a flower? It’s a strange combination of disconcerting and beautiful.

With a rumbling groan, the roof of the room split in two, beams of sunlight piercing through the clouds of dust. Under different circumstances, I might have taken the opportunity to laugh at Foresight's hacking coughs, but I was slightly distracted by the fact that the room we were standing in had been literally torn out of the ground and pulled up through at least twenty feet of concrete.

As the dust settled, I surveyed the situation. The secret lair had been under the road, it seemed, and the central lab was now turning a four lane into a one-way. It hadn’t been brought all the way up to the surface: the floor was still about a foot below the road. It would’ve taken ridiculous amounts of power to do that, an earthmover or telekinetic, and judging by the rough nature of our ‘ride’, probably the latter. And in this city, that meant-

I raised my eyes up to look through the split-open roof at the afternoon sun, and the caped figure silhouetted against it. My goggles are polarized, so I could just make out the silver and black bodysuit and the stylized ‘A’ on the chest.

Awestruck.

Barely even thinking, I threw my hand out, flinging everything I had left at him, dredging as deep into my power as I could, and pulling up everything I had left.

It was about as effective as running into a brick wall, brain first. I staggered backwards, reeling from the blowback. God, it fucking hurt. It was like an ice-cream headache hatefucked a trepan performed by a blindfolded ape.

I fell onto my ass, clutching my head, scrunching my eyes closed to protect them from the light that was suddenly far too bright. Great. I’d just thrown away my best shot and had nothing to show for it but the icepick up my nostril. He hadn’t even-

I squinted up into the light for a brief second and corrected myself. He’d definitely dropped a few feet. I didn’t know I’d done it for sure, but he was just hovering there, and there was no reason for him to have dropped on his own. Point: Flint, I guess.

“That wasn’t wise,” the hero said in his booming voice. He sounded a bit peeved.

“Skew!” a voice called out across the room. Lis-, no; Ricochet; I was out of it enough that it took me a second to recognize her voice.

“‘m okay,” I called back, as loud as I could without blowing out my own eardrums. “I think.”

I probably wouldn’t have noticed if my eyes weren’t screwed shut, but it was quiet. Almost eerily so. There was the faint hum of cars in the distance, but otherwise, nothing. It wasn’t portentous or anything, just a subtle detail that helped accentuate how completely and utterly f-ed in the a we were.

Let me give you a run-down. Awestruck is basically the face of the Tower in NC, and for good reason. He's a Dragon Class, which is basically just a slightly longer way of saying ‘you’re fucked'. It’s also sometimes called the Superman Class, because... well, do I really have to spell it out for you? Basically, it’s a designate for a set of powers that in some way include flight, strength, speed, toughness and some form of offensive ability. Doesn’t matter how: Pyrhha's basically the ultimate Dragon Class, and pretty much every one of her abilities come from the same power. There’s about twenty of them all around the globe, and Awestruck's up there with the best. I've seen video of him getting hit in the face with a passenger jet. He barely flinched, and the jet looked like it had been torn in two by the hand of God. He can also create directed shockwaves powerful enough to blow through buildings, and fly faster than the speed of sound. Blonde hair, blue eyes, jaw of steel, build of a Greek god, adored by the public, because, really, he’s the closest to Superman we’re gonna get.

Say it with me now, folks: “You’re fucked.”

I missed the next bit, because, again, skullfucked with a pinecone dildo, and I’m sorry for the crudeness, I’m just trying to communicate the sheer amount of pain I’m talking about here. I’m actually running out of similes. Anyway, best as I can figure, someone, probably Ribbon or Ricochet but I wouldn’t rule out Foresight, tried to attack Awestruck.

This went about as well as you’d expect.

The next thing I knew, I was lying in a pile of rubble about twenty feet down the road, covered in even more dust than before. Also, pain. More pain than before too. Remember that bruised rib I'd recovered from? Neither do I, because it turns out I hadn't, and it had invited some friends over. And then the friends got drunk, and did some hard drugs and completely trashed the place. And then some idiot tried to light his own fart and set the entire place on fire. And then Flint remembered that he was in the middle of a combat situation and snapped out of his stupid little story. 

Every part of the lab that was above street level had been - heh - leveled. I'm pretty sure I was resting on the remnants of a desk and supporting pillar. The other Outliers, as well as the unconscious bodies of the Prowlers, were in similar positions to me, except for Foresight, who had somehow landed on his feet, and was staring back at the giant cloud of dust with narrowed eyes.

I hate him so much.

Out of the cloud floated Awestruck. No dust settled on him, and he left a small plume behind him as he left. It was pretty cool-looking, I'll admit. Three silhouettes faded into being behind him, and then resolved themselves into fully-realized figures. 

Okay, awkward admission time. I knew they were the other three members of Valiant, the Tower's premier hero team. I knew that they were a telekinetic, some form of... something, I dunno, and a Forge. What I didn't know were their names. Look, not all of us can be cape nerds, okay? Some people have better things to do.

On the left, a hulking suit of mechanized armor, sleek in some sections, and oddly bulky in others, hovering slightly off the ground. In the middle, a thin man in a business suit with a bright purple bow tie and bowler (everyone's got a schtick these days). On the left, a woman with glowing golden armor and wings of the same material stretching out behind her. With Awestruck, they were the four strongest heroes in the city, possibly the country.

I couldn't help it. I started giggling. "Skew?" came a wary voice from nearby. It sounded like Tide. "Why are you..."

I seriously could not have stopped if I tried. It just kept spilling out. 

"Skew! What the hell is wrong with you?!"

I managed to stifle the giggles for a second. "We," I choked out, "are so completely fucked."

Hilarious, innit?