Disclaimer: Exalted is White Wolf's, Worm is Wildbow's (Don't forget to vote.) I'm just playing with their toys.
Second Breath 1.1
A cabinet sat in a dusty room. Its pale green surface was illuminated only by a window, the light filtered through ages of grime. Gentle whorls marred the otherwise perfect surface of the cabinet, combining to form a graceful handle and lock.
In it, surrounded by stale air, shelves of tiny pots – of gold, silver, and glimmering steel – sat in neat rows. Each one labeled, and placed exactly with its cousins. Some were plain, others so intricate to seem impossibly fragility, but all were in perfect condition, with nary a scratch.
A faint rattle broke the stillness of the room. Another, and than another, until it became a constant buzzing. A golden pot, streaked with lines of bronze and black, shook in its place, vibrating so fast as to be a blur. Tiny cracks spider webbed out from the lid, and a faint green and purple glow emanated from them.
The crack of a thunderous detonation shook the room, rattling the window and pots, and blasting a wave of dust away from the cabinet. In it, a ball of shadow, purest black, covered the offending pot. As the dust settled, so too did the ball fade away, leaving a broken pot, with nothing in it.
I screamed. Begged, even. Cried, sobbed, and wailed. Or, at least when I could. My elbows were already bruised and bloody from beating at the door. I could feel vomit, and other things best unspoken of. I had been surprised by them before but this, this was just too much.
Upon returning from Winter Break, my detente with my tormentors had been called off without my knowledge. Or, it was never really real, if the volume in my locker was any indicator. My bullies – Sophie, Madison, and Emma, had been waiting for me. As I opened my locker, I received a full inhalation of its contents; used pads and tampons, fermented. I retched, and nearly vomited. Until I was shoved into my locker, and did vomit. And the door was shut behind me. I could hear the lock click, even over my messy evacuation of my stomach, and followed, of course, by what could only be laughter.
I wasn't laughing.
My cries for help broke down to whimpers, as I knew no one was coming. Class had started, and no one was patrolling the halls right after a vacation. It was getting harder to breathe, and when I did, it was followed by dry heaves. My stomach had long ago reached empty. I was trapped here, and I could feel the metal walls closing in, with their sticky cargo. I tried to think of anywhere else, to be somewhere else, anything to help.
Nothing. Just the merciful grasp of unconsciousness.
An instant later, I scrambled off the bed, scraping at my body to get everything off.
"Miss Hebert!" Ms. Fletcher, the school nurse, stunned me out of my panic. "You are all right. Calm, deep breaths, now."
She made gentle gestures for me to fall back onto the bed. My heart beating a thousand times a minute, and sucking in the amazing disinfectant-tinged air, I did. My arms moved almost on their own accord, to spread out, and prop me up facing her. The ability to move did more than her words to calm me down.
"Good, nice and easy now. Deep breaths." She exaggerated her breathing, matching it with mine. For several minutes, the only sound was our breathing and faint rumble of the heater. "Are you feeling okay?"
I gave a shaky nod. "Very good. Now, can you tell me what happened?"
She reached for a clipboard behind, and turned expectant eyes on me. I took several more deep breaths, and exhaled with purpose.
"I was pushed in there."
Her eyebrows rose, even as she wrote. "Pushed? By who?"
I wanted to scream that of course I was pushed. But, this was my chance. They had crossed too many lines with this, this crime, and finally it would be over. I slowed my breathing from its again increased rate, and sat up.
"Sophia Hess, Madison Clements, and Emma Barnes."
Nodding as she transcribed my words, she stood. "A moment, please."
She crossed the room, and opened the door to reveal the principal. I could only see her hair, but the blond bowl-cut could only be her. They spoke a few quiet words, and Ms. Fletcher handed her the clipboard. She turned back to me, and gave me a smile. The principal, however, barely looked at me, and closed the door. My stomach clenched. No sympathy or kind words. My hands tightened around my arms, even as I realized I had been rubbing my them. I stopped myself, and looked to Ms. Fletcher.
"Could you call my father? He should be working today-"
"Already done. Not five minutes ago, the Union said they had reached him, and he was on his way. Something about a meeting with an aide."
At least my Dad would be here for me. I closed my eyes to gather my thoughts, until interrupted.
"Ms. Hebert? I think you may want this."
I opened my eyes to see Ms. Fletcher offering me a small, plastic cup of water. I nearly snatched it out of her hands, and drained it. It tasted faintly of blood and vomit and -
She offered me another, and gave me a sympathetic look. "I thought you might want to rinse out your mouth first..." She trailed off, and her face became a bit more contrite. "I couldn't clean out your mouth."
Embarrassed, but touched, I took the second cup and handed her the first. I drank this one far slower, merely sipping. The office went quiet as I finished my water, and as I looked up, I saw her carrying a tub of sponges, faintly stained red, and my clothes, also stained. Shocked, I looked down, and found I was wearing a blouse two sizes too large, trousers one size too large, and socks that barely reached above my ankle.
Noticing my surprise, Ms. Fletcher said, "You couldn't wear those, so I put you in some clothes we keep on hand in case of lice or accidents. Mostly for Chemistry accidents."
"Thank you." I said, quietly. She gave me a friendly nod, and went back to work. I brought my feet up onto the bed, and wrapped my arms around my legs, resting my chin on my knees. I focused my eyes on the wall, and thought.
I had thought it was over. The bullying had simmered down in November, with no incidents at all in December. I had become hopeful that it was completely over. Maybe Emma would even apologize. Evidently not. I wiped the beginning of tears from my eyes.
The door opened again, and the principal walked in, along with Sophia, Emma, and Madison. Behind Sophia, a taller man, in his late twenties stood, with his hand on her shoulder. He was the only one of the four giving me a sympathetic look.
"Ms. Hebert." The principal began, "These three have something they want to say to you."
"I'm sorry, Taylor." Madison said, with the other two repeating after her. Emma and Madison gave me exaggerated looks of pity. Sophia gave me something mixed between pity and a sneer.
"Thank you girls." The principal made a shooing motion towards the door. All three girls turned and began moving towards the door, with her following. Sophia's (stepfather?) stayed and opened his mouth.
I beat him to it. "That's it?"
The principal turned back from then now open door. "Ms. Hebert?"
"They assaulted me, shoved me into a locker with used tampons, and that's it!?"
I finally got a response from her; a false face of pity and real exasperation. "Ms. Hebert, it is your word against theirs, and your homeroom class, who were in the same hall as you, all say that nothing of the sort happened."
I was speechless, but only momentarily. "I sure didn't put myself in there."
"And when the custodian removed you, you were facing in. You might not have gotten a good look at who did this, and we -"
"Good look? I got a good look when they dragged and forced me in!"
"Ms. Hebert, please. We are trying to solve this altercation- "
I interrupted again, "And this isn't even the first time! They have been threatening me, stealing from me, harassing me, abusing me."
The principal frowned, and gave a quick look at the girls, "When has this been happening?"
"Ever since last September."
"And why have you not come forward with this?"
Because you wouldn't take my word. You would take Madison's over mine. You would take Emma's, my friend, and Sophia's, who is glaring a hole in me, over mine. I wanted to say it, but didn't. The principal waited, then sighed. "Ms. Hebert, this is the first we have heard of this. These are serious allegations. However, at this time, I will not assign punishments without due cause."
I could feel tears in the corner of my eyes, and let out a bitter laugh. "Due cause."
"Ms. Hebert -"
"So nothing is going to happen then?"
"A proper investigation will be conducted."
"And actions like this will not be tolerated." The first words from Sophia's guardian, and in my support. He was giving her a look I couldn't see, but I could see her sullenly glare at him.
I wiped away my tears, and stood. "So nothing. No justice. Nothing."
The principal frowned, and said, "I will not hand out punishments for some form of eye-for-an-eye."
I brushed past her, and the four of them. "Ms. Hebert, where are you going?"
The nurse's and principal's question overlapped, but I ignored them. I could feel fresh tears replacing the ones I wiped away.
Mrs. Knott was in the hallway, shepherding my homeroom class out from an unused classroom. "Taylor, are you alright?"
I ignored her and walked faster to the end of the hall, and the exit. But I couldn't ignore all of my classmates. Most didn't even look. I saw few give me pity or sympathy. I saw Madison's friends give me smirks, knowing they had gotten her off clean. I broke into a run.
"Taylor! Please come back!"
I could hear Mrs. Knott calling for me, but I just ran harder. I slammed into the push bar for the door to the front lot, and kept running. Tears streaming.
I stopped, out of breath and sobbing. I had run all the way to the edge of the Docks, and was now sitting against the side of an abandoned building, hidden by the shade and crumbling brick.
My Dad was going to show up to school, and hear everything that had happened to me. My accusation, this incident, and their stories. I hadn't wanted him to know what had been done to me, with as much on his plate already. And I was going to have to explain it all to him. The emails, Mom's recorder being stolen, the locker, and more.
And it would get worse. Much worse, now that Madison and Emma wouldn't be punished. And Sophia's guardian wouldn't be there to enforce his order. My fear that if I reported them that they could spin it was turning out to be horrifically true. And now, they would have free reign.
And there was nothing I could do to stop them.
I started, as a voice shouted above me, then shrieked, and scooted backwards. Not two feet above me, a spider over half my size was clinging to the wall, staring at me with a plethora of eyes. And it talked.
"Weak. You struggled, and failed. Doomed to be chattel before the stronger, the victors." As it spoke in a sibilant whisper, it jumped behind me. I flipped around, and put my back to the wall, breathing hard.
"Oppressed, denied, and feeble. Forever weak..." It trailed off, and slowly walked first onto my feet, then knees, until it was resting its forelegs on my knees, staring into my face, as I shook and tried to press myself deeper into the brick. It looked like a jet black statue come to life, and had fangs the size of my hands not six inches from my face. Intelligent eyes bored into mine, as it seemed to stare through me.
It spoke so quietly that I could barely hear it, "But I too share in those failings. Your fears, your pain. I serve those who were betrayed, who were cast down, as were you. Who have been unjustly usurped by those who were to serve them. And they see your potential, your greatness. That was denied from you!"
"Who?" I stammered out.
"The Titans, who built Creation and all within it. They offer you service without slavery, power beyond mortal knowledge. You have been chosen too be their agent, their princess, their harbinger in all things. Decide now, for it has been too long, too far for me to hold this. The power you could have is killing me as we speak. Will you accept you right? Will you accept your charge to restore Creation to its rightful order?"
Did I want powers?
They wouldn't even be a blip on my screen anymore. I could help my dad. I could be a hero. I could do so much more as a cape. My answer was easy.
I stated clearly, "Yes!"
Without pause, the spider exploded into a cloud of shadows, and enveloped me, with nothing I could do but scream.
Second Breath 1.2
My prison shattered, pieces falling in a ring around me. On my hands and knees, I shivered in the biting wind. Reflected in the black, glassy surface of my cocoon, a pillar of pure black, chased with greens and bronze punctured the sky. It blotted out the stars and moon, and gave an eerie glow to everything within sight. Around me, a sea of shadows writhed and frolicked, as bronze shapes darted to and fro in my peripheral vision.
I was also naked.
More importantly, I was naked, in the Docks, at night, with a come hither light show playing above my head that put New York City to shame. And, I had powers. Hopefully. Standing, I used my arms to preserve what modesty I had left. Or, I tried to, as I missed. My arms were longer. Fascinated, I stare at my hands, now subtly longer, and more, spidery.
I stopped myself, and made the connection that my impromptu debutante announcement might attract other attention, specifically of the cape variety. I took a hesitant step onto the concrete, and winced at the feeling. Another, and another, until I was shuffling, one arm high and the other low, across the abandoned lot. A glance over my shoulder showed the pillar collapsing, with bursts of green and bronze exploding with eye-searing brightness.
Shit. I shuffled faster, reaching the alley between a pair of buildings as the glow around me subsided to a corona of green light, with my feet covered in shadows. I passed a dumpster as I heard the sharp report of someone landing on gravel. I had been found already? They must have been only a thousand feet away to get here so quickly. I slipped behind the rusted dumpster as I heard metal plates crash together. And thankfully, I had finally stopped glowing green.
Standing in front of my cocoon, kicking the plates, was a cape. Wearing a camouflaged cape, even. I looked them up and down, eyes straining in the dim light to take in everything I could, and as I stared at her I felt a strange, almost-burning sensation behind my eyes and in my tear ducts. Was I about to start crying again? Was this some strange toxic power of the cape, a tear gas effect or something?
The burning didn't hurt - in fact, it felt strangely good, and as I took her in a wave of synaesthesia washed over me. I felt more than tasted a sharp jab of smoky wind on my tongue, and opened my mouth, nearly gagging. An irrational spike of spite accompanied it, clenching my mouth back together. I screwed my eyes shut, blinking heavily, and when I opened them again, the sensation was gone. But I could feel it lurking in my mind, like - I don't even know how to explain it, like something I knew how to do as easily as blinking. Close my eyes - I can no longer see; make my eyes feel hot and sting - taste-smell-see-feel-hear power. Strange, but I knew what I was now; a Thinker, apparently.
I suppressed a grin of fierce joy, followed by shivering teeth, turned, and shuffled, low to the ground in the general direction of home. I had barely reached the corner of the building and the road when the roar of a motorcycle stopped me in my tracks. I crouched lower, and leaned against the building, wincing at the bricks abrading my skin. This cape I knew. The entire country probably knew him. He even had action figures. Armsmaster, his Halberd held like a knight's lance, roared past the entrance. I could hear a squeal of tires, and the engine moved around and behind me, finally stopping.
A male voice, raised in anger, but incomprehensible, erupted behind me. I could hear a faint female voice, and then a new male and female voice. A flash of white marred the sky, but still paled in comparison to the still shrinking pillar. I bit my lip in concentration. More capes had arrived, and I would bet that was Photon Mom, a flier, from the light. I didn't know if I could leave without exposing myself. Literally and figuratively.
I didn't want to be unmasked before I even had made my costume. I couldn't fight heroes, and any moment one could fly over the road if I tried to cross it. I would be easily visible to the naked eye with the faint green light pervading from behind me. A disguise, preferably as resident of the Docks would be my best bet. If I could reach the dumpster, I could possibly find some clothes before the heroes searched the surrounding area. I fixed the image I wanted, fervently hoping I could find a disguise, and took a deep breath to steel my nerves.
As I stood, I could feel cool arms wrapping around my body. I nearly shrieked in surprise, but they were accompanied by the same feeling that I should know what this was, that it was natural. I was cloaking myself in shadows. I stood fully upright, and looked down. I now looked like a man, taller and bulkier than I was, wearing stained and well-worn clothing. With a smile on my face, I resumed my shuffle across the road, trying to look inebriated.
I thought my heart would explode before I reach the other side, but I made it. I crossed two more lots, another road, and two lots, before I reached a street that I knew would lead home. A wave of relief eased my feet, only eclipsed by my delight in having two powers.
A muffled thud behind me nearly stopped my heart. Dreading who could be behind me, I kept moving.
"Excuse me, sir."
I resisted the urge to bolt, and turned. One of the Wards, and the only one I knew by name was behind me. Aegis, in a dark red costume, whom the only thing I knew about was that he was nearly as tough as Alexandria. My mouth went bone dry.
I grunted at him.
"Sir, have you seen anything strange this evening?" He politely asked.
Another grunt, and I pointed over his head, at the nearly exhausted pillar, for effect.
A pained look crossed his face, and he replied with a bit of exasperation, "Anything else, anyone leaving that area?"
Urging him to leave in my mind, I felt something empty within me as I lied, pointing repeatedly in the direction of the buildings to my right, and turned around to walk away.
"Thank you sir. Aegis here, sighting west of the site."
I moved far quicker, now. As fast as I could, shaking as adrenaline wore off. And from relief that he had bought that.
I only had 5 miles to go.
Tired, freezing, and with bloody feet, I finally turned onto my street. Not four houses down, I could see the lights on in my Dad's bedroom. I winced, as I had disappeared from school and was just now showing up, in the middle of the night. He had surely talked to the principal, and was probably worried sick about me.
But I was a cape. I had something no one could take away from me. I was something that Emma, that Sophia and Madison could never be. I had a silly smile on my face.
Now I just had to think of names, and a costume. My disguise definitely didn't block out the wind, so I couldn't use it as a permanent costume, or at least go naked beneath it again. But I could have a disguise on top of a disguise now.
I could call myself Mata Hari. Or Spy Lady.
I really needed to sit down in my warm home. I wasn't thinking quite straight.
I reached the backdoor, and paused. If it was locked, I would have to knock, and drop my disguise, and be naked on my back porch to greet my Dad. I didn't want him to know I was a cape quite yet. Or if I walked inside, disguised as a very shabby drunk, I would let him know I was a cape, or have the police called on me.
My worries turned out to be for naught, as I turned the unlocked handle. Closing and locking it behind me by habit, I dropped the shadows from my body, and rushed towards the linen closet. A fresh towel wrapped around me, I returned to the kitchen, and placed my right foot on the sink. I winced at the dirt, and the small cuts it covered. Spraying hot water on it wasn't pleasant, but I needed them clean.
I nearly dropped my towel in surprise. The sprayer fell into the sink, and sprayed right into my back until I reached back and turned it off.
"Dad, I'm sorry I was out-" My apology was cut off as my Dad rushed over and hugged me tight. I squeaked in surprise. He pulled back, but kept his hands on my shoulders, smiling with relief.
"I was so worried, Taylor! Are you okay? Are you hurt?"
"Just my feet, Dad. I'm sorry I left school today, I just couldn't -"
He cut me off again, this time with worry twisting his face. "Taylor, it's been five days."
Second Breath 1.3
My jaw dropped, and I closed it with a neat click. Five days? I had been gone for five whole days?
"Taylor," He paused, "Why are you naked?"
I worked my mouth, and turned back to the sink, placing my left foot in the sink. I need to clean my feet, and to think. I didn't want him to know I was a cape, but I didn't want him to worry. I couldn't begin to think what he had imagined had happened to me. I turned the sprayer on, only for him to reach over and turn it off.
"Taylor, please talk to me."
"I need to clean off my foot," I half-whispered to him, twisting my foot so he could see it.
He switched the sink back on, and picked up the sprayer, angling it so he washed my foot. "Taylor, where have you been?"
"Dad, can you just – well, stop asking for a second?"
He nodded his acquiescence, and we washed my foot in silence, him spraying, and me picking out the few rocks, pieces of asphalt, and glass out. He turned the sink off, and went behind me. I removed my foot, and rested my arms on the sink. Behind me, I heard him open up the linen closet.
What could I say? That I had made a deal with a giant black spider, woken up in a cocoon, and then celebrated New Year's late? That I had a dozen heroes, or more now, in all likelihood, searching over where I changed? And that they didn't seem to be looking for me in a friendly matter?
"Taylor," I turned, and saw that my dad had placed a towel at the feet of my chair at the table.
With a quick, "Thank you," I sat at the table, as my dad busied himself at the stove, fixing a pot of tea.
"I talked to the school on Tuesday. They told me what happened." He turned back towards me as the water heated, moving slowly, and sat down, eyes apprehensive as he looked at me.
"That I ran away?"
"That you were assaulted by some students, and shoved in a locker full of.." He trailed off, not wanting to say what it had contained.
Or maybe he noticed my face twisting into a rictus of hate. A burning, almost soothing ball of the same fire from earlier seemed to ignite in my stomach at his reminder. I took a breath, and forced myself to relax.
"That they locked me in with used, fermented tampons?"
"Yes." He paused, and looked down at his hands on the table. "Taylor, I thought that you were having problems at school, but I didn't think that it was this bad."
"It wasn't," I said, clipped. "They stopped in November."
He frowned, "So this was a different group, or?"
"No. The same ones. Madison, Sophia, and Emma."
His head snapped up. "Emma, as in -"
"Yes, my friend." I nearly snarled the last word, and had to force my hands to stop gripping the table.
"And she was one of the ones -"
"Yes," I cut him off again. He seemed stunned.
The phone rang, breaking the momentary silence. My dad stood up, and crossed to the phone, behind me. At my inquisitorial look, he said, "The police."
He stopped at my yelp, the phone still ringing, and walked back into my view. "Taylor, you disappeared. No one saw you after you left school, and I worried that – that, something bad had happened to you."
He started to the phone again.
"But you don't need to say you found me right away?" My panic stopped him in his tracks, and he returned to his seat. The phone stopped ringing, and I watched him collapse into his seat. On second glance, he was exhausted. He hadn't shaved in days, and had dark bags under his eyes. A stab of guilt pierced my panic, but only intensified it. Scrutiny wouldn't help either of us.
I spoke slowly, "Dad, I don't want to talk to the police right now. I don't want to be shoved in a room and question right after I finally got home."
He let out a breath, and gave me a shaky smile as the phone rang again. "Ok. I'm just happy to have you back. I won't say anything yet."
My own smile answered him. He answered the phone, "Danny Hebert."
"Nothing yet?" The faint sounds of a response.
"But where are they going instead?"
"Please, call me with anything you find out."
He hung up, and moved to the stove, pouring the just boiling water in to a pot. He brought over the pot and my favorite mug, the Woodstock one.
I sipped, and burned my mouth in my haste. I hadn't realized how parched I was. Dad rose from his chair, but I waved him down with the mug. Blowing on the mug, I gathered my thoughts.
"After I left school, I wasn't in the best mood – or place. Did the principal tell you about everything?"
"She said that you were in the locker, had been stuck inside until the janitor let you out, and after you gave your statement, you ran out of the school."
I nearly snorted my tea. "She forgot a part. The part where she said that she couldn't do anything, and brought in all three of them to say, 'I'm sorry.'"
"Taylor, she said that she couldn't do anything without investigation. All three of them have been suspended for the past week, and have to go to counseling."
"She said nothing of the sort! She said she wanted to solve it. And I bet they were only suspended because I was -" I cut off my rant, and an uncomfortable silence fell.
"Taylor, what happened."
"Dad, please. I don't want to -"
He cut me off, "Taylor, do you need a hospital? Are you... injured?"
I caught his meaning. "No! No, no, nothing like that. I just don't want to talk about right now, please. I want to shower and sleep. Please."
He looked like he wanted to argue.
"Dad, I promise I will be here in the morning," I joked with a crooked smile.
He returned it, and walked over to me. He gave me a tight hug, and left the kitchen. I sat back down, and picked up my tea.
"Taylor?" He said, poking his head into the kitchen.
"Good night, and thank you for coming home."
"Good night, Dad."
I could hear him move upstairs, and his bedroom door closing. I finished my tea in silence.
My shower was strange. Not strange as in blood coming from the showerhead, but strange in that my limbs still weren't in their proper place. Or, were too long. Each of my arms and legs seemed to have gained an inch, at least, overall. My hands looked even more spidery, looking oddly thin.
Stepping out, luxuriating in washing off the grim I had accumulated, I looked in the mirror. And was stunned. I looked different. My skin seemed healthier. Little scars and imperfections I knew had been there before were gone. And, I had more on my chest. Turning, I saw the mole on my lower back was gone.
It looked like I had just gotten an airbrushing in a magazine.
I ran my hands over, feeling if it was another disguise like earlier.
No, all flesh.
Wrapping a towel around my middle, I left the bathroom thinking hard. More powers? Was I a shapeshifter in addition to making shadows disguise me and sensing powers? Sitting on my bed, I focused, practically popping a vein, trying to shift myself to turn my hair red.
I focused, like I remembered from the alley way. I pulled at the shadows, and twisted. I felt the cool shadows from around the bed pool at my feet, and covered myself. But this time I felt an almost prickling of my skin as well, instead of an emptying in my stomach. As they fell away, my hair was red.
And a void black disk sat on my forehead, and a green corona surrounded my head, as bright as any light.
Second Breath 1.4
The glow pulsed, and lent the room an eerie vibe. Behind me -
I turned around, heart racing. I thought I had seen a long, bronze spider leg reaching over my shoulder. But all that was behind me was the glow.
So, I could only use my power tw times before I started glowing like when I awoke? Not ideal, at all. I released my disguise, and was disappointed to see no change; my mark was still there, and no decrease in brightness. And no idea on how long it took to reset. Or if it ever would die down.
So two uses of disguise? I could use that, at least to sneak places. Once to get in, and one to get out. And I could scout before hand with my sensing powers. All it had taken was worrying my dad half to death, five days of my life in which I was in a cocoon, and a deal with a giant spider.
That soured my mood, immediately. Who were the Titans? I could only recall the Greeks had Titans, but I knew nothing about them. And had it been a cape or a cape's minion, just weird? And what service did they require? It had made that part very clear. Restore the rightful order?
With a sigh, I figured I couldn't do anything without information, and I had none at the moment and no way to get it. I'd work on it in the morning. Opening my dresser, I got out a set of pajamas. Nice to not be naked, I thought.
Except my bottoms barely reached above my ankle, and my shirt was a bit tight. Right, changes.
I crawled into bed, with my personal night light still going, and fell asleep.
I awoke, groggy, to the sound of someone opening my door.
The door closed, and I went back to sleep.
I stretched to the sound of the radio in the shower; my dad was in there every week day before 6:30, radio on, without fail. It was a relaxing sound; at least some things were still normal. And I didn't have a mark nor glow.
I pulled a pair of jeans out and switched out bottoms. And, I had forgotten, again, the height difference. Crouching and rummaging through my closet revealed an older pair of jeans, that was I certain had been my mom's. On top of them was an Alexandria t-shirt. Sad and nostalgic, I rocked by on my heels and sat down. When I was a 9, she had bought an Alexandria t-shirt just like mine to show solidarity with me. She had been infinitely patient, buying me a lunch box and find pictures of Alexandria online.
What would she say, knowing I was a cape?
That I had made a deal with a something to become one?
Sobered, I put on her old clothes and maneuvered to the kitchen. My dad walked in at the same time, still in his bathrobe. He looked uncommonly pleased to see me. Guilty, I hung my head. I hadn't meant to worry him.
His arms wrapped around me. I whispered, "I'm sorry."
He hugged me tighter, and went to the stove. As he rummaged in the refrigerator, I sat back down, examining my new hands in the daylight. The smell of sausage cooking reminded me that it had been nearly a week since I last ate.
His back still turned to me, he asked, "Hungry?"
The kitchen was silent but for the sizzling of the pan, and the scrape of the pan. French toast was added, and he paused in his spatula-ing.
"Taylor, we are going to have to go to the police. They are still looking for you."
And me showing up naked right after my announcement would effectively unmask me. I walked to the fridge, and poured us each a glass of OJ.
"We do. But, Dad, could we not say I showed up last night?"
"Because I told them you hadn't shown up."
"Yes," And for other reasons.
He nodded, and brought over a plate. I stopped talking, and inhaled my food. I looked up to see him looking bemused at the speed.
"Sorry. Been awhile."
A quick grimace flashed across his face. Guilty at reminding him, I changed topics.
"So right after this, police?"
Finishing his mouthful, he nodded, than elaborated, "I'll get dressed, and then call them."
I drained my OJ, and took my plate to the sink, and made to return to my room.
I stopped in the doorway, looking back at him, "Dad?"
"How are your feet?"
I pulled my left leg up so both of us could see.
It was pristine.
Quickly, I said, "So about 15 minutes?"
He nodded, looking a bit stunned.
Socks and shoes on, I plopped onto the couch. I would have to get new shoes, they were now uncomfortably tight. I squirmed slightly with guilt. New clothes weren't cheap, and I hadn't been the slowest of growers; at 15, I was already 5'8", making pants more of a quick fix than a long term solution. Now, I was probably closer to 5'10", nearly as tall as my dad.
I grabbed the remote to distract myself. The TV flicked on, and it was already set to the local news.
"- And still no word from the PRT, Megan?"
"That's right, John. Here at the scene, we have received no information either from last night's event. As you can see behind me, the area is still cordoned off, and the PRT and Protectorate are out in force."
The view had switched from the news desk, to a blond woman standing in front of Police tape, with several PRT officers loitering close by. Behind her, large white coverings were on all the visible buildings, and a line of vans could be seen. The faint whop-whop-whop of a helicopter could be heard.
"Megan, who all has been at the scene?"
"Well John, early this morning, we saw Armsmaster, Shadowstalker, and Aegis leaving the scene," at this point low-res footage playing of the said capes driving, jumping, and flying played, only to be replaced by almost a dozen capes, over multiple clips, "And they were replaced by Clockblocker, Kid Win, and Vista from the Wards, Brandish, Manpower, and Glory Girl from New Wave, and Dauntless, Velocity, and Miss Milita from the Protectorate."
"That's some serious Manpower, if you pardon the pun, Megan."
"Quite right. They are really pulling out all the stops."
"Thank you Megan, and now, on the street, we have Stephen. Stephen?"
"Taylor?" For a single horrible moment, I thought they had I. me. But it was only my dad. I turned the TV off, and grabbed my jacket.
"Just the news. Calling them now?"
He nodded, and went back to the kitchen, dragging a chair to the phone, punching in numbers with the ease of familiarity.
I sat down in my chair, resting my head in my hands.
"Lt. Knight, please."
My dad started absentmindedly curling the cord in his hands.
"Lieutenant – No sir, I don't need the update. She showed up!" Real joy lit up my dad's voice. He paused, the faint sound of another voice on the other end.
"No, she showed up this morning."
"Well, she showed up with blood on her feet, and she was naked -"
"We will wait right here."
"Thank you sir, for all you did. Goodbye."
With a heavy sigh, he turned to me. "They are sending a squad car and an ambulance, and are going to take you to the hospital."
I nodded my acknowledgment, oddly spent yet brimming with energy. We waited in silence for but a few minutes, before the faint wail of sirens pierced, and grew louder. At the sharp pounding on the front door moments later, my dad went to the door. A pair of paramedics, rolling a stretcher, and two police officers entered the kitchen.
The older paramedic spoke, "Ma'am? Are you able to get onto the stretcher?"
"Yes." I kept my reply short, and moved to the stretcher. They removed the bag on top, and let me lay down before strapping me in. With quick movements, we left the house, and I was loaded in the back of the ambulance. My dad, locking the door behind him, got into the squad car as the doors closed.
"Ma'am?" the older paramedic asked, holding a clipboard, as the younger began attaching machines to me.
"First, can you tell me your full name?"
"Taylor Hebert." A mark on the clipboard.
"Where are we?"
"Brockton Bay." Another mark.
"What time and date is it?"
"About 7 AM, on the 10th?" Another.
"Thank you. Now, are you feeling any pain or do you have any injuries?"
The younger one stated, "Rate of 55, Pressure at 115 over 75, Temp at 98."
The older made quick marks, before asking me, "Are you feeling a bit hot, Taylor?"
"A bit," I agreed.
"Have you been around anyone sick recently, eaten any bad food, or anything else significant you can think of?"
"Well, okay then. You just relax, and we will take care of you, okay?"
I nodded, and leaned back, shutting my eyes. Resting as well as I could over the ambulance's wailing.
In what could only be less than five minutes, the ambulance pulled to a stop. The paramedics removed my stretcher from and briskly moved me through the entrance of St. Anderson's Hospital, into an elevator, held waiting by a uniformed police officer. The ride up was quiet, and as the door opened, another uniformed officer joined his comrade, and walked in front of the stretcher as we moved down the hall, followed by our earlier policeman.
We moved to a room, with two more uniformed policemen on either side of the door. As we wheeled inside, a man and a woman, both in suits, stood from their chairs by the door.
As the paramedics lifted me from the stretcher into the bed, and hooked me into new machines, the man stepped forward. "Ms. Hebert, I'm Detective Lee, and this is my partner, Detective Manheim. Are you feeling up to answering some questions?"
I nodded, as the paramedic attached a final doodad to my left index finger, and left.
"Do you wish for your father to be here?"
"Taylor, here is what we know. There was an altercation at your school, and approximately 1200 you left, and have not been seen until today. Can you please explain what happened?"
I spoke slowly, choosing my words carefully, "After the, uh, altercation, I went to the Boardwalk. I remember getting there, but after that, nothing."
"And this morning?"
"I woke up, behind a dumpster, and walked home."
"And nothing in between?"
"Where did you wake up?"
"I'm not sure, it's a bit fuzzy. I think, west of my house. Way away from the Boardwalk."
His partner, writing down everything, looked up quickly at that, and then returned to her notebook.
"About what time, would you say?"
"I'm not sure, maybe, 3 am?"
"And what makes you say that?"
"Because right after I got home, I washed up, my dad fed me and called you."
"Your father said something about bloody feet?"
"When I walked, they got cut up, and they bled a bit."
"And, you are absolutely certain you can remember nothing at all?"
His partner flipped her notebook closed as he turned towards her. "Okay. Taylor, would you be up to answering a few more question? We are worried that a villian might be involved."
I nodded, and said, "Of course."
"Thank you Taylor. Officers O'Conner and Quinn will be right outside if you need anything. Thank you for you cooperation."
I nodded again, and they left. Moments later, a nurse and my father entered, speaking to each other.
"And she's in perfect health at the moment, so far as we can tell."
"So far as you can tell?"
"Well, we haven't run any tests, and a purely physical examination is somewhat limited. But you said that she hasn't complained of anything?"
"Nothing, miss. She had no bruises or anything that I could see, aside from blood and some cuts on her feet. But they were gone this morning."
"Well, we are going to draw blood, and we will look at her feet."
With that, the nurse split off, and my dad walked to my bed, nodding to the officers on the way in.
"Are you all right, Taylor?"
"Fine, dad. Just ready to go."
He gave me a quick smile, and squeezed my shoulder.
One of the officers had stuck his head in the doorway.
"Officer O'Conner?" I ventured.
"Quinn, ma'am," he replied, flashing a grin, "Are you up to answering more questions?"
"Ready," I confirmed.
"Here they come, then," he said as he waved to someone out of my sight.
Armsmaster, the leader of the Protectorate here in the Bay, walked in. Tall, covered in dark blue armor, and with his signature Halberd, he was undoubtedly a superhero. Following at his heels, a slightly shorter woman in the camouflaged cape I had seen last night followed, dressed in black with a hood. Shadow Stalker, I thought the news had called her.
"Ms. Hebert?" Even his voice was heroic.
"Yes," I paused, then ventured a guess, "Mr. Armsmaster?"
He gave a gentle chuckle, and shook his head. "Just Armsmaster is fine. I wanted to make sure you were alright. You gave quite a few people quite a scare. Including your father there."
I looked down, clenching the edge of the bed. Shame and anger warred within me. Shame, that I had hurt my dad, and probably pulled people off more important things. Anger, that none of this wouldn't have happened if I had been stuffed in a damn locker.
Sounding chastised, I replied, "I know."
"As long as you are safe, we are all happy. Now, Detective Lee said you were having problems remembering what happened to you?"
I nodded, and elaborated, "All I remember is getting to the Boardwalk, and then waking up behind a dumpster."
"Nothing in between those two times?"
I shook my head.
"Well, I hope you feel better. We might be back to talk to you later. Is that okay?" He half-asked me, and half-asked my dad.
As I nodded, my dad replied, "Yes."
As they turned to leave, I experimented. I might not have an opportunity like this again, so I made my eyes burn. I resisted the urge the tear up as my ducts protested, and I learned.
Looking at Armsmaster first, a million tiny pinpricks erupted on my tongue, stinking of an electrical fire, dust and old books. A snarl of hate built in my throat that anyone could dare to be stronger than me. Suppressing it, surprised and breathing heavily, I turned to Shadow Stalker and let them burn again. Last time without glowing.
Shadow Stalker gave the same feeling as last night, a sharp dart of smoky wind. This time, I coughed, and my dad patted me on the back.
Behind my hand, I grinned.
Second Breath 1.5
Leaving the hospital was near-divine intervention. After being poked, prodded, and put in a giant noisy tube, and subjected to the humiliating experience of something called a "Physical Evidence Recovery Kit," as apparently ordered from above, I was released with instructions to report anything out of the ordinary happening.
Barring some obvious complications, I added to myself.
With a clean bill of health, I was rolled out in a wheelchair by Officer Quinn before noon, with my dad and his partner talking in low voices behind me. A squad car pulled up to curb, and Officer Quinn held the door open for me.
"These two fine officers will see you safely home. Stay out of trouble, and it's good to have you safe, Ms. Hebert."
My dad, in the other back seat, and I waved at them as well pulled out. Out of the lot, the officer in the passenger seat twisted back to face us with a grin and asked, "You folks want to get home fast?"
"Yes, please!" I replied. I could really use the time to figure out my pow-
With a squeal of tires and the wailing of an alarm, we screamed down the road, cars parting before us. My dad and I slid back and forth on the seat in back. In an easy 3 minutes, we screeched to a stop in front of our home.
The officer in passenger seat turned back around, and said, "Here you go. It's nice to see you back with us."
Moderately embarrassed, I said a quick, "Thanks," and got out of the car, my dad saying something I couldn't hear behind me. We waved to them as they pulled out at a more sedate pace than before.
"That was bracing," I commented to my dad.
"Hmm," he murmured in agreement. I turned to look at him, and I felt like kicking myself. He looked like he hadn't gotten any sleep. So, him checking in on me hadn't been a dream. He'd probably checked every few minutes.
Or maybe he saw my glow.
Fear compounded guilt, and I turned back away. How much was I actually hiding from him?
We made it inside silently, and went to the kitchen together by unspoken consensus. Dad started a pot of coffee, and I claimed my chair. Breaking the silence, I asked, "What did the doctors say?"
"Perfect health. They said they could find nothing wrong, and that there were no traces of any sort of drug or known compound that could cause memory loss."
Swallowing the lump in my throat, I asked, "And did they have any ideas what happened, then?"
He shook his head. "They asked Armsmaster for advice while he was there, and he said that he made some calls. He did say that new drugs and poisons show up all the time, and it's a losing battle trying to ID them all. And that the usual resources he would put on this case were occupied."
I knew the answer, but had to ask, "Occupied by what?"
"I didn't ask, but I figured that light last night. Did you see it, then?"
"Part of it," I admitted, technically true.
"What did the news say about it, this morning?"
"Only that nothing official had been said, and that there were a lot of heroes sitting on top of it."
He nodded, and sat across from me. He said gently, "You are going to have to go back to school."
Or I could go to Arcadia High instead. I knew that much, at least. Wards got in there, even with the huge waiting list. But, then I'd have to reveal myself to a bunch of people I didn't know, and possibly my dad. And I didn't seem to be their most popular person at the moment, if their response was anything to judge by.
So, I answered, "I know. And I'll have to see them again, and deal with being gone."
Dad's mouth flattened into a line as he remarked, "They didn't even send your school work to me."
Nice to know I hadn't been expected to make it back. "What else happened to them? Suspension and counseling?"
He nodded, and elaborated, "At least till today was what the principal said, with a month of counseling. And a black mark on their records."
Relief? Maybe that wasn't quite the right word. More, satisfaction. Finally.
"Back tomorrow then?"
His eyebrows rose, "Are you up to it?"
"Only one way to find out."
He smiled, then yawned. "I'm glad to have you back, kiddo. What's your plan for the day, then?"
"TV, I guess, to see what the fuss is about," I paused, "And could we go to the library after lunch? I'd like to do some research before I go back to school."
"All right. We'll go after lunch. Lacey dropped off some food yesterday. Half an hour sound good?"
Nodding, I made my way back to couch. I doubted dad would let me out of sight for any significant amount of time, barring school. I'd have to get used to a bit more involved dad.
I suppose I deserved it. Especially hearing that his friends had to have come by to make sure he ate.
The TV clicked back on to the local news.
"-And it's the top of the hour, and here are your updates. So far, we have received no word on last night's event. Local heroes are still at the scene, in numbers. Just in, happier news, the Brockton Bay Police Department reported that Taylor Hebert, the missing student, has been found. According to the police, she managed to make her way back home with no injuries."
"That's good to hear, Tom."
"A spot of good news today, Kathie."
I clicked it off, horror dawning. I was just on the news.
Library, now. My stomach growled.
Well, food. Then library.
The computer line was very short, and I managed to sit down in only a few minutes. Which was good, because my stack of books was rather heavy. I had a smattering of Greek mythology to start with. I needed to figure out my powers, and just as importantly, where they came from.
I hadn't spent much time on it, aside from idle browsing, but I knew Parahumans Online had a vast amount of information of capes. I searched for Titans, Spiders + Black, Creation, and anything else I could remember.
Nothing. Nothing relevant at least. Titan was an Alexandria knock-off. There was a cape who looked like a giant spider, but he wasn't jet black and he wasn't even on the same continent as I was. Creation only brought up arguments in the message boards over some cape's powers. I tapped my fingers in thought. A total bust.
Defeated but not daunted, I tried searching for the previous night's events.
Definitely not a bust. The forums had practically exploded. Capes everywhere had been spotted on high alert. Rumors, from close (I had triggered) to outlandish (The Earth had triggered, and was growing genitalia). Nothing I could do though, until something official came out. I was almost as in the dark as everyone else.
Closing out and leaving the station, I looked for my dad, and found him quite easily. He was sitting not 10 yards away, not reading, but looking up at me. Guilt slowed my steps towards him. He really still didn't believe I was back?
"Ready?" He asked.
Sitting at the kitchen table, munching on bacon, I thought. I had read two of my checked-out books from cover to cover, and had gotten almost nothing. The only Titan that matched what I could do was Astraeus, because of the dusk associations, and that was tenuous at best. Erebus, darkness personified came relatively close as well, but he didn't have a giant green glowy head either.
I was frustrated, as so far the only knowledge I had was that I didn't know who had given me these powers, and that at least 18 hours was sufficient for me to use another power without glowing. I had cloaked myself while dad was in the shower, in to a combination of my dad and the mayor, which had been very disconcerting. I had to wear the Alexandria shirt again, as it was the only thing that fit me without showing off too many changes.
"Can you do it?" My dad asked.
"Hmm?" I mumbled through bacon.
"Go back to school. Can you go back today?"
I nodded, and swallowed. "I can."
He looked troubled, and chewed his words for a moment. "Will Emma and her friends cause you anymore problems?"
I shook my head. Even if I thought they would, I wouldn't say. I hadn't wanted to tell dad about her in the first place. It had slipped out, and now I had to live with it.
"I don't think so. And I think the school won't let it happen again."
He nodded, still looking pensive. "When did... it... start?"
I shifted, uncomfortably. "Around September."
"This September?" he said, pointedly.
"Last," I admitted.
He let out a breath. "I knew you and Emma weren't as close anymore, but this, I didn't expect this."
We were silent until it was time to go to school.
My dad pulled into a parking space in the school lot. I could guess fairly easily that he want to walk me in. I was carrying a pair of notebooks, as all my books and belongings had been left at school when I had fled. I'd probably have to buy new ones.
"No work today?" I asked as we got out.
He shook his head. "They told me to take care of myself and you. I go back tomorrow."
"Maybe the city will listen to you more, after all the sympathy."
He tried hard not to smile, but I could see the corners of his mouth twitch up.
"I'm not sure this was enough to get through to them."
Turning back to him as we reached to doors, I gave him a hug. He returned it with interest. "I don't think I can get you anymore, so it's up to you now."
Breaking away, and in a dead serious tone, he replied, "Well, I think I can manage. Have a good day at school. I'll pick you up at 3."
Waving over my shoulder to him, I walked inside.
Into a crowd of staring students. I moved quickly, embarrassed by the attention. I skipped my locker, not wanting to see if I had any forgotten presents. I slowed down as I saw who waited for me, blocking the way into Mrs. Knott's classroom.
Emma and Sophia.
I ignored them and tried to make my way through, but they didn't move. Resigned, I stopped, and stared at Emma.
"Taylor, we are so glad that you were are okay! We were all super worried about you." I remembered her saying comforting words in the same voice when my mother I had died. But she hadn't said them then with the smile she wore every time she tormented me.
I clenched my fists. So, it wasn't over.
"It's nice to have you back. I even got taken off the track team, so if you need anything I have plenty of free time to help you." Sophia's voice could be described as a combination of saccharine and poisoned.
They turned and walked inside, chatting low voices. A knuckle popped as I clenched my fists tighter, and tears burned behind my eyes. Tears, and a wellspring of hate. My power activated on reflex, and I knew that Emma was but a bug, with no special worth. Sophia nearly made me cough.
Stunned, I fell against the doorway.
Sophia was Shadow Stalker.
Second Breath 1.6
Dazed, I fell into a seat in the back row.
Sophia was Shadow Stalker.
Was she a new cape? I hadn't really heard of her before today; but I hadn't paid more than cursory attention to capes. Did Emma and Madison know? Was that why the principal had given her a pardon until I disappeared?
What's more, did she know who I was? She had been first on the scene last night, and had been very close to there where I had changed. Had she been tracking me?
Startled, I looked up to see Mrs. Knott giving my a concerned smile.
"Are you alright Taylor?"
I nodded, not trusting myself to speak.
"Well, we're all glad to have you back, safe and sound."
I kept myself from rolling my eyes, and merely nodded. She turned back to the board, talking. I tuned her out, and stared at the back of Sophia's head. She was chatting across the aisle with Emma, ignoring Mrs. Knott as well.
What could I do? They were going to still bully me, whether Sofia was a cape or not. I couldn't blackmail her; she would just ignore it, or worse, get more violent. Already, she was the most physical of my tormentors. I didn't want to give her further cause to escalate.
"Taylor, do you have your books with you?" Mrs. Knott interrupted me, again.
"No, I haven't been able to replace them, yet."
She nodded, and directed me to share a book. I'd have to put the important things off, for now.
The last class before lunch was Computing, back with Mrs. Knott. I had a full week of assignments to catch up on; and this was only the first half of the day. At least Emma, Madison and Sophia weren't in here, though several of their hangers-on were. I had been getting mocking glances the whole morning from the trio and their flunkies, whenever the teacher wasn't looking.
Mrs. Knott had given me a test, a preliminary exam, to see where I was with computers, and told me I had the whole period to complete it, followed by free time. She then went back to the rest of the class, who had split off in assignments. My mother had made sure I was computer literate, and I finished it in half the time.
I used the remaining half to look up Shadow Stalker. Parahumans Online had basic information: She was rated as Breaker (who could break physics) 3, Shaker (could affect her environment) 2, and Mover (superhumanly fast) 1. She turned into a shadow-her, and could move and jump faster. And became intangible. So, she was essentially invincible while in that state. Worse yet, the message boards had stories and rumors of stunning brutality prior to her joining the Wards. She had been a solo hero, and rumor was that she had been arrested or charged, and dumped into the Wards as rehab.
In other words, I couldn't hurt her. Physically.
Class ended, and I picked up my notebooks. So far, none of the teachers had told me how much I'd have to pay for new books, but I knew it wouldn't be cheap.
I saw Emma and Madison, but not Sophia in the lunchline. Had she left? On a hunch, I went right out the closest door from the cafeteria, and saw her ponytail bobbing in the distance. I glanced behind me, deciding. No one was in the corridor, so I held the door open, creating a small patch of shadow between it and the door. I stuck my hand within, and pulled. Tendrils wrapped around me, and revealed a mix of Emma and Madison, strawberry blond and average height.
I walked back outside, and stalked after her. Until I nearly slapped myself for foolishness. Was I glowing? It didn't look like it, so was the time between usages without even longer? Relieved, I quickened my pace, trying to keep her in view. I could work on that later.
I followed her for nearly a mile, heading towards the Docks, until she walked into a yard full of storage units, at the edge. I waited across the street, leaning on a wall. What was I doing? Even if I saw Sophia leave as Shadow Stalker, it wasn't proof. I couldn't take it to the PRT, and say, 'Stop her from bullying me or I will release her info.'
And that wasn't even counting that the PRT had colluded to keep her out of trouble. I would bet my powers that the man with Sophia in the nurse's office hadn't been her guardian, but a member of the Protectorate. And, why she was sent to visit me in the hospital; she had to eat crow. And for all I knew, they might even counter blackmail me, or even charge me with conspiracy or something. I didn't know, and that was the problem.
Shadow Stalker left the yard, not from the front gate, but jump/floating from the middle of the yard up to the roof top of a building behind me. Confirmed on the identity.
I followed her, but she was moving fast enough that I could only see the apex of her jumps after only 7 of them. I broke into a run to where I had seen her last, and I realized I had lost her. I couldn't see her on any of the rooftops around me, and I hadn't seen her make any more jumps. She had probably gone on foot for some reason. I turned back around, hoping that I could make it back in time for my dad to pick me up; I was already on shaky ground with him, and I didn't want him to worry more.
A sharp pain exploded in my stomach, and a spray of blood erupted out, misting onto the wall in front of me. An arrowhead poked out, bloody.
Sophia's voice came from above and behind me,"You are going to tell me who you are and why you are following me, and then I might call for an ambulance."
Second Breath 1.7
I staggered, gasping in pain. Sophia had shot me. Surprise froze into pure, cold, rational hate -
- Sophia clicked her tongue -
- I had to flee, so I spun, twisting to nearest building to my right, throwing my notebooks with my right hand, discus like, shedding paper as they flew -
- The twang of the crossbow -
- with a scream of concentration, I forced myself to move faster. I pivoted on my right leg, twisting back towards the left, my left hand swinging behind me -
- A bolt punched threw a piece of paper with a thwock -
And my left hand closed around it with nary but a scrape, a pulse of green fire exploding out from me.
Grasping my catch, I sprinted towards the door on the building to the left, black streamers in my vision. I jumped as I reached it, both legs extended forward, and the door blew off its hinges with me as a passenger.
I came out in a forward roll, and ran further inside, unnaturally silent, towards a set of stairs going up and down, illuminated by a broken window. The sound of boots hitting concrete alerted me, and I went down in a slide, as a bolt impacted the concrete in front of me with a sharp crack. I slid all the way to the stairwell, tearing my shirt in the process, rolled over, grabbed the lip of the floor, and swung myself down to the next floor. Only the area immediately around the stairs had any light from the window. I sprinted, bumped off something, ducked around it, and put my back against a wall, panting.
My ankles hurt, my hands were raw, I was out of breath, I was behind a table, and I still had a fucking crossbow bolt in my stomach. And I felt stronger than ever. I managed to calm my breathing down just as I heard the crunch of glass being stepped on.
Sophia's voice echoed from the stairwell. "I was impressed."
She stopped, and chuckled. "You are very good at dodging. But you ran instead of fought."
The sound of a cord in tension, and a faint click. If she came into the room, I could possibly sneak past her. My hand tightened on the stolen bolt. Or I could end this right here. If she kept talking, I could run, silently and hit her with everything I had. I could feel hate waiting, just to be focused into a point to burn her. If I could touch her, I would win.
If I couldn't, I would die.
I breathed quietly, not daring to sneak my head out or speak.
Sophia spat, "If you are that weak, you should have just given up."
I swept my hand across my injury, and winced. It hurt, and I could feel blood coating my hand. I steeled myself. I reached behind me, and pulled. The faint shlorp of the bolt being pulled out was barely audible to me as I clenched my teeth and screamed my rage inside my own head. Now I had two weapons, but I was not quiet enough.
"That was stupid. You just pulled out my bolt, didn't you? Stupid. I'm giving you free advice; you aren't going to last long, now."
I turned the burning rage inside me to my stomach, roaring indignity that my body had failed me. My right hand felt the bleeding stop. I transferred a bolt to it, and waited.
"Here, I'll even give you a break." Something rattled, and stopped. "I'll throw these out there. If you cuff yourself, I'll take you to Panacea. You know who she is, right? You won't have a hole in you as you rot in prison."
A pair of what I could only assume to be cuffs were tossed across the room, landing with a series of clanks.
I'd pass on those, thank you.
The room was quiet for several minutes.
"No? Well, that's okay. Whatever scum you work for won't miss you too much. He might even visit you in the hospital if this is over soon."
I'd have to make my move soon. For all I knew, the entire cape population of Brockton Bay was on the way now. If I could use the shadows to disguise myself, could I use them to move? Could I become them?
I moved to the edge of my cover, and sympathized with my shadow. If it could cover me, couldn't it be me?
I broke from around the edge of the table, throwing my left hand bolt across the room.
It landed with a clatter, and the twang of a crossbow followed it, with a shriek of pierced metal.
I reached the light, and her second crossbow was but a few degrees off. She stepped back, surprised at my frontal assault, and loosed her remaining bolt. It pierced me.
Or, it pierced my shadow, as I came apart into a cloud of darkness, reforming behind her, right hand coming down, bolt in hand, point holding my carefully nurtured hate and glowing with green flames.
She moved enough, out of reflex, that instead of the base of her neck, I pierced the section between her shoulder and upper back plating, breaking the bolt as I twisted it in. With a green flare, flames erupted in the cut, and spread almost instantly.
With a piercing scream, she jumped, intangible, through the roof. She left behind her crossbows, a stench of burning meat, and her right arm. The burning bolt clattered to the ground, sputtering as it was consumed by the green flames.
I paused, breathing heavily.
Second Breath 1.8
With a series of pops, the bolt shard died down to faintly glowing embers.
Shit, shit, shit.
I ran up the stairs, my steps silent, stomach protesting. I had a dozen powers now, felt stronger, and had just almost killed Sophia. But most of all, I needed to get out, but without Sophia taking a potshot at me. For all I knew, she had a third crossbow. I checked over my shoulder, and then used my half of the bloody bolt to clear out the remaining shards of glass in the window. I pulled myself through, cutting my hands on the frame.
Wincing at my new additions to my aches and pains, I looked back. A faint green glow lingered, showing above the building, back where I had caught Sophia's bolt. With a grimace, I carefully moved in the direction of the school, trying not to aggravate the hole in my stomach more.
Of course, I had large patches of blood on my front and back, so unless I wanted to blow my cover, I had to clean up. I change directions, limped to where I knew there was a gas station.
The door was locked, and with the trash can underneath the handle to keep it closed. In the streaky mirror, I could see a black disk on my forehead, dimming the light around it. The bathroom was disgusting, and I wouldn't have been caught dead in there in other circumstances. But I couldn't go out looking like the person who just burnt off Shadow Stalker's arm, nor did I want an infection. Beggars couldn't be choosers.
I pulled off my jacket, my disguise rippling, wincing as fibers pulled out of my wound. The disguise held, but I nearly tore my jacket apart, wrenching it with my hands in pain. Panting, I dropped it on the toilet lid, and started to pull my shirt up. Fibers pulled through congealed blood and raw flesh, and I clenched my jaw, strangling a scream. I rolled my shirt up at my midriff, and inspected my wound.
A big fucking hole sat barely an inch up and left of my belly button, slowly dripping blood. Clenching my whole frame in concentration, I stopped the bleeding. A neat trick, but I had more important things to do right now. I turned on the hot water, and started cleaning blood off my stomach and back with damp paper towels. I desperately tried to scrub the blood out of my jeans, but it was a bust. All I had done was make it look like I pissed myself, and then bleed from a stomach wound. I rolled my shirt back down, gingerly, and put my jacket it back on.
I sat on the toilet, and sobbed. I had tried to, and nearly killed Sophia. Even now, she probably didn't have my stop bleeding power, and was probably spraying blood everywhere. So, I had killed her. It would just take longer. And she had been trying to kill me.
It had been easy. I had stopped thinking of my powers as such, and just acted. I hadn't kept that invisible separation from my powers. I hadn't acted as cape, I had acted as myself. And what was I? I had way too many powers to be a cape. I had dodged a crossbow bolt, survived its predecessor, had stopped the bleeding, turned into a shadow, and lit Sophia on fire, in addition to my previous powers. I couldn't think of any capes with that many. That damn spider hadn't explained anything, and now I was even more in the dark.
On the plus side, I thought bitterly, I had an idea about my glowing.
Someone pounded on the door, and yelled, "Hurry the hell up!"
I stalked to the door, pulled the can back, and brushed right past the middle-aged woman.
"Well, excuse me! Manners!"
I ignored her. I had to get back to school before I missed my pick up.
A block from school, I ducked into an alley. I used a broken piece of glass to examine my forehead. No mark. I dropped my disguise, shadows slithering off me, taking off my jacket as well. I tied it like a half skirt around my left side, blocking the bloodstains from view, barring the entry and exit wounds on the jacket itself.
I moved back onto the grounds carefully, not wanting to be spotted. I re-entered by the same door I had left, and moved to the front of the building. If my dad was here early, I could leave with a minimum of fuss.
Instead, I retreated to the girl's bathroom, and sat down on the windowsill, mind empty. Barely ten minutes later, the bell rang. One of Emma's groupies came in on its heels, took a look at me, and left. I sighed. At least they were leaving me alone for now.
They probably would for all time when they found out I killed Sophia.
Not a minute later, Emma and Madison walked in to the bathroom. Behind them, I could see more of their clique standing and chatting in front of the door.
I groaned. Not what I needed right now.
"I'm surprised you didn't just leave again, Taylor," Emma said.
"Crying," Madison added.
I just stared at Emma. Did she know that Sophia was Shadow Stalker? Or more probably, had been? They were close, I knew that, but Sophia didn't seem like she would take off her mask for kicks. She had been very serious with me, I knew.
"I bet she didn't even get kidnapped," Madison remarked to Emma, "Maybe she just sat in her room and cried."
"It wouldn't be the first time," Emma said, smiling at me.
"Would it, Taylor? Did you just cry all week?"
I popped off the windowsill, and pulled my fist back, pouring hate into to the very point of it, throwing it forward to connect right in her mouth -
Emma's eyes widened in surprise. What was I doing? I stopped my fist, spinning slightly as I bled momentum. They were as stunned as I was, but I moved first.
"What do you think-" Emma shrieked, before I pushed her and Madison out of the way. I ran into the door, knocking both girls who had been leaning against it into their friends. More shouts, echoed behind me, as I ran towards the front. I shoved past more people in my way, and I heard more complaints behind me. I slipped through the opened door, and stopped, searching.
My dad stood by his car. I walked towards him, and picked up the pace as I went, until I slammed into him, into a hug, eyes streaming.
My dad wrapped his arms around me, and whispered, "It'll be alright, kiddo. Everything will be alright."
CHAPTER ONE: END.
Director Emily Piggot walked into the conference room, clutching a cup off coffee like the Holy Grail. She took a sip, and set it on her coaster. She nodded to a man behind a camera. He spoke, "This is January the 10, 2011, at 0930. Meeting begins."
"What do we know? Washington is eager, to say the least, for anything more than preliminary information."
A man in the uniform of a PRT officer spoke, "So far, we have constructed a timeline, and have some observations, and guesses."
"Guesses?" The Director asked.
"At this point, we can offer nothing concrete. To be honest ma'am, this is a bad one."
A projector clicked on, and the timeline was displayed across the room from the Director.
"At exactly 21:32:45 yesterday evening, a pillar of light exploded at this location,"
With a button press, the screen showed an over head of the Docks, with a location encircled in red, followed by multiple angles of said pillar, colored black, green and purple.
"At the same time, all precogs we have been able to contact experienced severe disruptions, if not total black outs, immediately. It lessened in severity later, but.. Well, any attempts to use precog on Brockton Bay returned nothing, incomprehensible information, implausible information, or for some few, different information even when queried with identical conditions."
"Weathervane on three tries; Snow, Sunny, and Sunny."
Director Piggot, looked out the window, at the overcast skies. "Continue."
"However, at this time the event's effect has lessened. All precogs are able to use their abilities, however any focusing on the Bay are still giving inaccurate information. For example, Kaiser's attack on the ABB this morning went unpredicted by both Appraiser and Eleventh Hour."
"They rated a Blue and a One."
The Director waved her hand, frowning.
"However, any attempts to see who or what did this have been completely fruitless. That's all on my half. Jim?" He said, handing over the remote to an officer wearing a lab coat.
The projector clicked, this time showing a lower shot of the scene, in color. "This is the most recent overhead shot, at 0814 this morning. We have begun analyzing the scene, and we have several findings. First, the epicenter was some sort of egg-shaped object, made of metal similar to brass."
A click, and pictures of people in hazmat suits holding large bronze pieces of metal, all curved. Green writing, glowing faintly, could be seen.
"And the writing?"
"Unknown. We ran in through every database we have access to, and it's still unknown. The closest match we got was Mayan script, but it didn't translate. In addition the material began to rapidly decay. Smaller pieces within minutes, and the last piece decayed at sunrise, 7:12 this morning. Tests on the material before it decayed revealed it to be abnormally stronger than it should have been."
"Chemical analysis revealed it to be bronze, however, we were unable to identify the green or black materials. Additionally, the bronze had a pH of 1.2." At the looks of confusion, he said, "Slightly less acidic than stomach acid. In addition, we preformed several tests on the pieces that lasted longer."
A quick successions of photos; "We tested a 9mm, a 7.62, and a .50 caliber, all of which failed to penetrate or damage a plate less than a centimeter thick. Pressure tests were unable to break or bend it, and it took up to 1500 Kelvin without melting. In other words, it is a very, very strong material."
Another photo, this time of the whole scene from about 50 feet up. "As you can see, the area around it has been changed as well; metals have become bronze – actual bronze, not this wonder bronze- bricks and stone have changed to some sort of obsidian analogue, and all plants died within a 200 yard radius. That's all we know at this time."
Behind the Director, the door opened. Armsmaster walked in, and took an empty seat. She arched an eyebrow at him, and he nodded.
"Unknown. We have never seen an Endbringer being made or born, so the theory that this is one could be valid. In addition, the precog blocking supports that theory, as does the timing. However, there has been no attack, so unless this Endbringer is radically different, we can say it is probably not, 60% confidence."
"Then what do we tell Washington?"
"A, ready to go to S."
The Director stood, and said, "Thank you for your time, gentlemen. The tape and my recommendations are going to Washington."
The officers filed out, the man with the camera following. Armsmaster walked to the Director, instead.
"Is it her?"
"No. I ordered an MRI, and she is definitely not a parahuman."
"Well, that would have been too easy. Shadow Stalker still adhering to her new probation?"
Armsmaster grimaced. "Somewhat. She doesn't so much slip the leash so much as tug on it every chance she gets."
"I'll have another talk with her."
Topic: Disco Disco Good Good: The Brockton Bay Lights Official Thread
In: Boards: News: Events: America
WaterArthropod (Original Poster)(Moderator)
Posted on January 10, 2011
On the night of 9 January, a pillar of light popped up in Brockton Bay. Keep all discussions on it in this thread, please.
Known Facts: Pre-cog powers didn't work quite right off the bat, and still aren't working perfectly.
It is not the Illuminati.
Nor the aliens.
Keep it civil.
Edit: I mean it people, I will ban.
Showing: Page 58 of 58
Replied on January 10, 2011:
And it could be an Endbringer.
Replied on January 10, 2011:
I don't disagree.
But at this time, we have no information, both from official and unofficial sources.
Making guesses out of our asses won't help.
Replied on January 10, 2011:
So, still no releases?
Replied on January 10, 2011:
Scion's evil twin?
Replied on January 10, 2011:
Would he have a reverse goatee, then?
"How is she doing?"
Panacea looked at Armsmaster. He looked exhausted as he stared through the observation window. She debated giving him a boost, but he would probably take it the wrong way. "Better. But it was close. If the hospital hadn't called me immediately, and if she been a moment slower, it would have been too late."
"What happened to her?"
"First, I will say the damage was unique. I've never seen anything like this. Probably a high powered pyrokinetic, limited to close range."
She pointed to a diagram of the human body across the room. "Some sort of sword or edged weapon entered her right shoulder, right in between the scapula and clavicle. It erupted in flames. I can tell it erupted in the wound because the burning was evenly distributed. Had it been on fire prior to entry, the entry wound would have significantly more damage."
"And the damage?"
"Not like any burns I've handled. The fire seemed to eat the flesh and bone, almost like an acid, and left only ashes. Normally it takes a very high heat to ash bone, upwards of 1500 Celsius, but from the fact that her costume didn't catch fire, its clear we are dealing with a parahuman's power."
The room they looked at had a single bed, with its occupant breathing steadily. The dark skin of her face stood out against the white sheets, as did both of her uncovered arms.
"When we she be out of sedation?"
"Tomorrow. She was in shock, and very panicked. I don't want her to wake up and injure herself."
Armsmaster smiled, tiredly, "Thank you."
Panacea shrugged. "Just tell Shadow Stalker she owes me one."