This story was originally posted on SpaceBattles. It now has a mirror on SufficientVelocity. I post chapters to those two sites every Monday and Friday within two hours of 7 PM GMT.
Many thanks to Phinnia for the fantastic coverart. She's produced other fanart for this story, which is available on the SpaceBattles thread.
I decided, earlier today, to get mirrors for it both here and at Archive of our Own. Those mirrors will be updated two days after the forum mirrors are-so, Wednesday and Sunday. The reasoning for this delayed release schedule is twofold: First, the SpaceBattles readers often find errors which I want to only have to edit in two places rather than four. Second, I want to encourage people to take part in the robust discussion on the forums-SpaceBattles especially, where this fic was somehow the most popular story on the entire forum for five weeks straight, going by viewcounts.
One more note: I have a [Pat reon] (apparently the word itself is blacklisted in ffnet's algorithms). I do not release fanfiction chapters early there, nor do I release any fanworks there selectively. There is, in effect, no strict benefit to donating to it-it is a purely opt-in donation service to show your appreciation for my work. I intend to add patron-only original fiction there at some point, but have not yet.
I will not be including the translation guide to the Sindarin, Quenya, Valarin, Black Speech, and Khuzdul phrases and terms I use in this story. That guide can be found on either of the forum threads, but doesn't work so well in this context. It is kept fully up-to-date, and I add terms to it as they appear in the text.
My first beta, dwood15 on Spacebattles, only started assisting following Twinkle 2.2. My later betas trickled in around the beginning of Arc 3. I will credit them in each chapter they assisted with.
The early chapters of this story are currently undergoing edits. I will note at the start of each chapter when it has been edited.
I think that's it. Without further ado, please enjoy...
Ash nazg durbatulúk,
Ash nazg gimbatul.
Ash nazg thrakatulúk
Agh burzum-ishi krimpatul.
Many thanks to BeaconHill and skyrunner for betareading. This chapter was edited on 9/15/2017.
The grey light of the early dawn filtered through my bedroom window as I looked over my newest—my first—creations. My teeth slowly worried my lower lip. Some Tinker I am, I thought ruefully. Can't even use more than one of my inventions at a time.
I hadn't tested that, of course. The knowledge was as instinctive as it was certain. To wield a single Ring of Power was a burden; to carry two at once would have been unconscionable, even to the Ring-Maker herself. It would have left me a burned-out husk—if that—both in body and in spirit.
Shaking those thoughts away, I took the first of the Three into my right hand and turned it around in my fingers, watching as the light caught on the golden band. "Narya," I whispered—its name. This Ring would have the power to keep its wearer, and their allies and friends, safe from domination and despair—including master effects. It was probably a trump power, by the PRT's classifications, since it would operate on other parahuman powers—but that was a woeful understatement.
In a slow, smooth motion, I slid the Ring of Power onto the index finger of my left hand. Its band was smooth and burnished and fit perfectly, seeming to pulse like a beating heart. In an instant, there was a rush of heat. Flame ignited and coursed through my veins, warming me from the tips of my toes to the peak of my scalp. Narya, the Ring of Fire.
A weight seemed to melt away from my shoulders. Winslow High suddenly seemed so far away. Emma, Sophia, and Madison seemed even farther.
I smiled, then glanced across my desk. The clock read 6:35 AM. Time to start my morning run. Staying up all night was usually a mistake, but with Narya on my finger I felt more invigorated than I would have after any mere night of sleep.
I was ready.
I tried to keep the smile off of my face as I walked through Winslow's gates, and found I couldn't do it. Narya was there, secure on my finger, as warm and nostalgic as the comforting embrace of a mother, and I just couldn't help smiling at the absurdity of fear in the face of that fact. Fear fled before me like some nocturnal thing, scampering away to its hiding place before the light of the dawn.
"Look at that," whispered one of Emma's lackeys—Julia? Was that her name?—as I passed a gaggle of them in the hall. "Think she's high?"
"She's got no other reason to smile," said another snidely. "Not like anyone here actually likes her."
The malice slid off of me like cold water running against a steel blade. It meant nothing—less than nothing. Malice was without value unless it was backed by power, and not one of these sycophants had any.
And yet I couldn't really be angry with them. It wasn't as though they knew; they were just children playing out a role. I flashed them a faint smile as I passed them and entered the classroom.
My good mood didn't quite last all day. I had to meet Sophia eventually.
She shoved me aside roughly with her shoulder as we made our way to our shared math class. "Watch where you're walking, Hebert," she hissed as she passed.
Had she been anyone else, I'd have given her the same treatment I'd given others that day—a smile, and no other acknowledgement. But as I looked at her, Narya tightened slightly around my finger in warning, and a faint chill wormed its way up my spine.
I wasn't afraid of her. I knew what it was like to fear Sophia Hess, and this wasn't it. But, for the first time that day, I was suddenly cautious. Her eyes, glimmering with the same unabashed malice I'd seen in so many others, spoke of something more.
Sophia Hess, I realized, was more dangerous than the rest of Winslow High's population put together.
And I was her target.
Lunchtime came. Rather than cause myself trouble by trying to avoid notice in the cafeteria, I brought my food into the third floor girls' bathroom and started to eat my packed pita wrap in one of the toilet stalls.
It wasn't exactly what I'd call five-star ambiance, but then, neither was anywhere in the shithole that was Winslow High. Nor were many places, here in Brockton Bay.
Unfortunately, my peaceful lunch was not to be. I was about halfway through my wrap when I heard a gaggle of girls enter the room with a giggling and a chattering to wake the dead. I recognized the voices—these were girls who took an active part in my torment.
There were six stalls in the third-floor girls' bathroom. There were six girls' bathrooms throughout Winslow. So there was no doubt in my mind, when they knocked on the door of my stall, that they were looking for me.
I waited for the second knock before I sighed. "Occupied."
"Oh my God, it's Taylor!" one of them shrieked.
How many bathrooms had you already checked? I wondered, but didn't bother to say aloud. Instead, I slipped my unfinished pita back into its bag, stood up, and undid the lock.
"Do it," another girl said in response to a whisper.
There was a thump on the door just as I touched the handle. A gentle push failed to open it.
My lips twisted as I heard somebody squirm, as though stretching to reach a height. They were going to toss, or pour, something over the top of the door.
Well. Narya tightened gently over my finger. There was being non-confrontational, and then there was being weak. I was more than happy to do the former, but the latter did not sit well with me
Narya flared with power, augmenting my strength as I pushed the door open. I heard a startled cry as it bowled over both the girl who'd been holding it shut and the girl that had stood on her toes to pour—a can of cranberry juice, apparently—onto my head.
The red liquid spread across the floor as I appraised them, my lips twisted into what was probably a vaguely disapproving look. "Really?" I was less angry than annoyed. "You couldn't think of a better use for cranberry juice?"
They blinked up at me, the juice spreading into one girl's hair. I took pity on her and grabbed her hand, pulling her out of the puddle. "You'll want to wash your hair," I advised sagely, nodding at the mess. "That stuff sticks, you know?"
They stared at me, blinking, without reply. After a few moments, I shrugged. "Well, anyway. Unless you want to try that again, I'm off. Done with lunch anyway."
I turned and walked out of the bathroom, waving nonchalantly behind me as the door shut. Vaguely I registered that this would seem out of character for me… but really, what could they do to me?
Sophia was dangerous, it was true, but the rest weren't. Not any more. I had Narya. I wouldn't be trapped in any lockers ever again.
Still, that girl hadn't had a handbag with her. No soap. Juice in one's hair was no joke—she'd be glad to get some help.
I made my way into the cafeteria and slipped through the crowd. They parted to allow me passage, often without even noticing they were doing it.
I flowed through them to the middle of the room, where Emma and Madison were sitting across from Sophia, talking merrily.
I came up behind the two. Sophia started as she saw me approaching.
"Hebert," she said, and there was a wary edge to her voice. "You're… here."
There was an odd note in her words, I noticed, and Narya tightened around my finger, but I ignored it. "Emma, Madison," I said, my voice low and casual. "A friend of yours got cranberry juice in her hair in the third floor bathroom. I told her to wash it, but that stuff sticks. Do you happen to have something to help her? You know, soap or shampoo?"
"What's it to you, loser?" Madison asked, sneering.
"Nothing, but I'm sure she'd be grateful for a bit of help getting cleaned up before class." I smiled at her before turning to leave.
"Wait a minute," Emma hissed, standing up. "You think you can just walk up to us like that and tell us what to do?"
I frowned at her. Not an angry, thunderous frown, which would take more effort than it was worth, but just a blank frown of bemusement. "Well, since the cranberry juice in her hair was supposed to go in mine, I don't really care whether you help her or not. I just thought I'd let you know."
I turned and left. No one stopped me. It struck me, later, how strange that was.
Not that they could have stopped me, of course. But they'd usually have tried.
I considered the three Rings before me, arranged in a small triangle on my desk. Already I itched to put Narya back on. Without it my body felt weak; my spirit, even weaker.
But there were two more Rings to experiment with, and today was Friday. I could wait for Monday to give the other two a proper test run, but something in me rebelled at the delay.
No. I was a cape. I was a superhero. I'd damn well act like it.
With a thought, my silver—no, mithril—hammer appeared in my right hand, and I turned to find the mithril anvil behind my chair. My power allowed me to summon them at any time, although neither was visible to other people around me.
(Learning that had made for a long and slightly embarrassing story. I'd been forging the Three downstairs in the afternoon, thinking Dad would be home late, when he'd walked in just as I raised my hammer over the anvil. He'd seen neither and had, in fact, walked around the anvil without noticing on his way to the kitchen. Stranger powers were... strange.)
I passed my left hand over the anvil's smooth surface, thinking. The Three had been the first designs to come into my head, but as I'd considered the need for a costume over the past weeks, more had risen in my mind: armor forged of mithril, platemail made to look like folded, silver leaves. It would be light as a feather, and harder than steel.
I crossed my bedroom, reached into the closet, and pulled out the beginnings of my armor. The breastplate and backplate were done, as were the boots and the leggings up to the knees. My thighs would be exposed if I went out in this, although my hips would be at least partly protected by the tassets.
That was good enough for a cape's first night out, I figured. Especially a cape bearing one of the Three.
One thing, however, was missing.
I smiled and took some of the metal junk and scrap I'd been salvaging over the past months back to my desk. I grabbed the long lighter I always kept there, lit it, and set it on the anvil, with the flame facing into the pile of scrap. I took a deep breath, exhaled, and began to strike at the twisted fragments with slow, steady blows from my hammer.
Bit by bit, the rusted metal began to transform—the tarnished steel and iron transmuting itself into bright mithril, reshaping into the form I desired. It would have been much faster if I had access to a fire hotter than a damn lighter, but a proper forge wasn't exactly something I could order online for a hundred bucks.
I was at it for hours, although I only occasionally noted the passing time. I greeted my Dad when he got home, and even went downstairs for a quick hug before returning to work. I went down again for dinner about half an hour later.
I hammered away at the metal until the early hours of the morning, but when I was done, I knew it had been worth it.
The shining silver helmet in my hands seemed to cast a glow as soft and luminous as the moonlight streaming in through the window—but where the moon lit only a thin strip of my floor, the helm's light seemed to spill over every surface in my bedroom. I turned it over in my hands and, after a moment, slipped it onto my head.
It fit perfectly, as I knew it would, but there was one more thing I wanted to try. I took it off, gathered up my long hair, and threaded it through the hole in the back as I put it on again, so that my hair ran down it like a plume.
The front of the helmet covered the skin around my eyes and nose like a store-bought domino mask, but infinitely higher in quality. I crept out of my room and slipped into the bathroom to study myself in the mirror.
I closed the door gently behind me, flicked on the lights, and was struck dumb, blinking at the unfamiliar visage in the mirror.
Nothing had changed besides the fact that I was wearing a mithril helmet. And yet, somehow, my too-wide mouth fit perfectly into the space between the side panels, and my large eyes seemed almost to shine from within behind the mithril plate. My pale skin, rather than being washed out by the glow of the metal, seemed instead to subsume its incandescence, it too glowing with starlight.
I never wanted to take this helmet off. I hadn't felt this good about my appearance in… well, ever.
I smiled, and the radiant person in the mirror smiled back. Sure, she was a little blurry without my glasses, but any of the Three would work in place of those.
Well, that settled it. Tomorrow, on Saturday, I would take up the mantle of a superhero for the first time.
A glance at the clock cut my musings short. For now, however, it was almost four in the morning, and in just two and a half hours, I would need to be rested for my run.