𝕊𝕖𝕡𝕥. 𝟙𝟜, 𝟚𝟘𝟚𝟘 / / 𝕌𝕊𝔸ℝ𝕀𝕃ℕ 𝔼𝕒𝕤𝕥 / / 𝔾𝕣𝕠𝕦𝕟𝕕 ℤ𝕖𝕣𝕠 / / 𝟘𝟠𝟛𝟘
Entering Ground Zero, music blared from Callan's headphones as she kicked at a pebble on the ground. The rain pattered on her umbrella and, with every gust of wind, smacked at the back of her hood. The poor citizens of GZ fought the storm through raised elbows and tilted umbrellas, but for all of mother nature's harshness, Callan remained unphased and lost in thought. The news about Marcus and Emma shouldn't have come as a surprise-- but it did. Perhaps hope was something she should be a little more careful with in the future.
Some GZ man suddenly ran into her shoulder, ricocheting sideways as if he'd run right into a brick wall. He seemed to be in too much of a panic to notice, however, as he simply resumed running without so much as a second glance. Removing her headphones, the screams became more audible as several more people rushed by. Up ahead, she spotted Zoe. Finishing up with... some... whoah. Not of her own accord, she started to tense up. Callan quickly returned her free hand to her pocket, trying to seem more relaxed as the redheaded aberration took notice of her.
" she tore her eyes away from the grisly scene. She was probably just sating her stigma. This was normal. Perfectly normal. "Hey Zoe. How's it... goin'?
" She smiled, but it was easy to see she was a bit perturbed. Of course, by now she was familiar enough with Ground Zero to know its true purpose. These people weren't real and Callan was well aware of that. She was able forget about the carnage wrought by Misery several days ago thanks to that very fact. That
was not her concern.
Zoe's ability was incredible as well as incredibly spooky. She'd melted through that person in seconds. No wonder her cuff had gone off as soon as she started melting that blonde kid's face.
Zoe was almost disappointed by the distraction, irritated as she watched the remainder of the people run away. She'd lost herself in the fight there, for a while - Forgotten about everything she'd had to deal with over the past few days. Still, there'd been more than enough time for her to sate her stigma. It almost begged the question of why she'd kept going past that point, but that wasn't something she really wanted to think about right now. Too much else came with it, too many questions she didn't know how to answer.
She looked at Callan with a shrug, noting the other girl's obvious discomfort. "About as well as I could expect, considering."
Glancing at her hand, Zoe quickly melted away the last of the gore, not really bothered by it herself but figuring it didn't exactly scream 'approachable'. "Something bugging you?"
Urgh, he seriously hated the rain. Ernie squinted as the wind and rain battered his face, his legs working furiously to speed-walk him to his destination as quickly as possible. Even with a heavy, blue parka and umbrella, the weather was a total pain in the ass.
He'd checked at the dorms first, Room 201 as Angelique had told him. The dorms first because goddamn, who in their right mind would be out in this mini-cyclone? Unfortunately for Ernie, the only result he'd gotten from loudly knocking and calling from outside the door was angry threats from the neighbours. So he was forced to head out to Ground Zero but not before stopping by his own dorm to fetch some things. His coat, for one, but also his tomahawk and pistol. If him and Zoe were going to have some kind of training-bonding moment before the mission, Ernie wanted to be properly prepared.
Ernie arrived after a short while, seeing a conspicuously tall ginger further down the street as screaming Ground Zero fakes raced past him. A ginger girl that was tearing through a crowd of pseudo-civilians like a rabid animal. Oh boy. Ernie could only pray that she'd have her crankiness worked out before he had to work with her.
He was only about a block away but stopped in his steps as he saw a familiar head of aquamarine go up to Zoe. Cal? After finding out her crush was into another girl, Cal, an Arbiter, came to Ground Zero of all places? Strange coping mechanism, but understandable. He wasn't quite close enough to catch the conversation yet, though.
At Zoe's casual dimeanor, Callan's smile turned more genuine. "I'm just glad you're on my team,
" she laughed quietly. Her posture relaxed considerably, but she still held on to the tiniest sliver of caution. The feeling was similar to yesterday-- when Sander had informed her that he could probably take on Misery. However, in lieu of wanting to test Sander's limits, Callan felt significantly less inclined to do so with Zoe. Even so-- the embodiment of Supergirl could probably survive disintigration... right? "Guess I'll take that as a compliment. Not gonna be much help today, though."
Zoe smiled slightly, though it didn't seem quite right to her. If anything, she still felt like a liability - but she'd take it at face value for now. No denying that her ability was at least effective when it worked, anyway. Raising her eyebrows, she looked at Callan questioningly. "So what're you doing here? Just last-minute training or what?"
Unless she'd gotten something confused, the other subnatural wouldn't have a stigma to deal with.
" Callan visibly perked up at the question, folding her umbrella as she continued, "I'm here to practice my new trick.
""New trick, huh? Sounds fun."
Zoe grinned, figuring anything that distracted from her own powers was a good topic. Hopefully whatever Callan did was less disturbing. "So what's it like? You just get stronger or what?"
" her smile widened, "Pick a weapon and I'll show you.
" Callan's expression didn't change even as the she started to second guess her decision to show Zoe. She didn't know the girl well enough to really trust her and this shift in her ability... it was still Misery. She'd come here to test it out on her own. Perhaps she was getting too carried away.
Zoe shrugged, thinking for a moment. She'd figured Callan's powers were just the whole super-strength deal, but this was interesting. "How about a knife? Nice and simple."
It made sense to Zoe not to try anything too complex - they weren't exactly in a position to waste anyone's energy today.
" The question was steeped in dissappointment. Staring down at her shadow, Callan couldn't help feeling like the suggestion was a bit underwhelming. Knives were small.... but maybe starting off small would be best.
At her will, Callan's shadow darkened and writhed about on the ground. Almost as if in protest to what she was about to do. Suddenly having so much power over the very thing that had caused her so much trouble. It almost seemed wrong and yet she couldn't be happier. Crouching to greet her shadow, she set down her umbrella and pressed her palm against the wet cement that currently housed it. Following the steps she somehow knew by heart, Callan began to draw the weapon from the ground. As she pulled, her shadow shrank-- like a shockingly black cloth being picked up from the center.
At first, the dark mass did not resemble a knife in the least, aside from its size. As a small ball of black smoke with tendrils and sentience, it squirmed weakly in her hand. Against her skin it felt cool and irregular. She furrowed her brow in concentration, imagining the smooth handle and sharp edge of a knife. No sooner had she solidified the thought when the wispy black tendrils tensed outward and snapped into the shape she desired. The rest of the smoke slowly started to fade, revealing a stark black kitchen knife. A cheeky grin spread across her face. What had she been so nervous about?
" Callan turned her eyes on Zoe as the knife finished forming, "That was eas--HURGH
The sudden weight completely caught her off guard. Nearly yanking her arm off, Callan's body lurched forward and sideways. She might've caught herself if it hadn't been for the merciless rain. Her inside foot slipped out from under her, knocking the other foot aside as it went. With a wet smack, she landed on the pavement, catching her fall on her elbow and hip. Fortunately, her body seemed unmarred by the incident.
"Whoa. What the--
" Callan grunted as she moved to her knees, ignoring the uncomfortable dampness. "This thing is-- hella-- heavy!
" She at first tried to lift the knife with one hand, but to no avail. Resorting to the use of two, she regained her footing and held the immensely heavy little object up for inspection. "Woah, hey!"
At the sight of Cal falling, Ernie's walking pace had sped up to a heavy jog. The girl managed to get back on her feet before he arrived, but her hands were weighed down by something she pulled... from the ground? Could she summon weapon now?"Is that a new trick?"
Ernie asked, giving Zoe a small apologetic wave as he greeted Cal first, "It looks, uh, hard to work with."
Recognising Ernest, Zoe nodded in acknowledgement of the greeting before turning her attention back to the scene in front of her. Strange, really. It wasn't a large weapon at all, but there had to be something unusual about it if it weighed that much. Whatever it was, Ernest wasn't wrong about it looking like a pain to deal with. "No kidding. Maybe save the 'that was easy' stuff until you're sure you won't fall on your ass next time."
She remarked, a slight smirk unconsciously appearing on her face. On the one hand she knew it could be hard getting to grips with new powers, but on the other Callan didn't seem to be hurt from the fall so Zoe didn't feel too bad about finding it entertaining.
Callan chuckled sheepishly, but her expression quickly grew more serious. "No,
" Callan disagreed, contemplating her dilemma. She wasn't going to give up on this new trick of hers so easily. "I think I just need something... bigger...? Something a little easier to hold in two hands.
""You want to hold more?"
Ernie raised an incredibly skeptical eyebrow. That was some stubbornness worth admiring. Or maybe it was just stupidity. Ah well, no harm done, "Okay. Want me to hold your umbrella for you?"
At least she was determined, if nothing else. Ernest seemed to be going along with the whole idea anyway, although he didn't seem too certain about it. Zoe wasn't entirely convinced herself, but figured she didn't know enough about the power to question it. If it weighed the same no matter what, then maybe it'd make sense to use a larger weapon. Had to wonder if there was a restriction on the size, but pushing that kind of limit seemed better for another day.
Shrugging, she took a step back. "Your call. Just don't hit me with anything."
A little rich for Zoe to worry about someone else hurting her, considering everything, but she didn't really feel like dying 'cause Callan dropped something on her head.
"Yeah. Thanks, Ernie,
" Callan smiled. A mental command to dissipate allowed her hands to close through the shadow knife. The matter dispersed through her fingers in all directions before slowly sinking back down into the shape of her shadow. Watching the display with reserved awe, she did her best not let on how cool she thought her newest trick was. Geeking out over a thing like this probably wasn't the best thing she could do. Especially considering everyone's current predicament.
Picking up her umbrella, she handed it to Ernie. It was nice to see that he wasn't hung up on her out of place comment during lunch. That was one thing she liked about Ernie-- he was generally really positive and few things ever seemed to really bother him. Save Sander apparently-- though she wasn't about to bring that up any time soon.
"Might as well give it a shot, right?
" Stepping back for extra girth, Callan repeated the summoning process again-- this time imagining a large hammer. Drawing it from the ground, the handle was a great deal longer. As the tendrils snapped into the form, she braced herself for the sudden increase in weight, holding the heaviest end at a downward tilt. Once finished, Callan held on to the handle as the head fell and hit the ground with a heavy crash, leaving a good sized dent in the concrete. It wasn't anything ornate. Just a generic war hammer with a spike on top. Perhaps if she did a bit more research, she could come up with something better. This would have to do for now.
Callan pulled, managing to lift the hammer off the ground. It was still heavy. She could tell that swinging it around wasn't going to be a picnic, but she could probably land a few blows with it before tiring herself out... probably
. Carefully holding it upright for a moment to further test the weight, she rested it on her shoulder with a strained grunt, shifting her body to the side to help balance the weight. Though her arms shook precariously with the movement, she smiled triumphantly.
Ernie stifled a laugh at Cal's unsteady stance. Her determination was almost cartoonish to him. Kind of adorable, in that clumsy, blind, and three-legged puppy sort of way."Wanna take a few test swings?"
Ernie glanced up at the sky, squinting irritably at the rain, "Maybe somewhere less wet? I don't think I'll be able to umbrella you safely while you fling around that hammer."
Zoe had forced herself to ignore the weather for the most part, but Ernest's suggestion made her keenly aware of the fact that she was both cold and soaked to the bone. Probably should have brought a jacket, 'cause her stubbornness wasn't doing her any favours right now. She laughed awkwardly, looking away from the pair of them. "Now that you mention it, I wouldn't mind finding some cover. I'm, uh, kind of freezing to death here. Didn't exactly dress for the weather."
Callan adjusted her shoulder beneath the uncomfortable weight of the hammer, "Yeah... Not sure if swinging this thing indoors is a great idea, though. Probably gonna have to change my clothes after this anyway. So you don't have to worry about 'umbrella-ing' me.
" "Huh. Alright then,"
Ernie looked to Zoe, spying an abandoned clothing store behind her, "I guess we'll wait inside then? Maybe find something so you won't die of hypothermia? Cal, we'll get you something too."CLANK.
Callan set the hammer head-down on the pavement. "I don't need anything,
" she said, pulling up the hood on her maroon windbreaker. "The cold never bothered me anyway,
" she joked, cinching it tighter.
After a second of silence, Zoe grinned, shaking her head. "Right. Just come find us when you're done I guess. Shouldn't be too far away."
Zoe glanced at Ernest, shrugging as she turned towards the abandoned store. "Come on, let's get out of her hair."
Ernie snickered all the way to the store, nodding at Zoe's suggestion. "Sure thing."
As they walked in, Ernie noticed that the selections on display were predominantly... black. Oh, he should've guessed from the font of the store logo outside. With his phone flashlight, Ernie flipped through a pile of cartoon graphic tees. Nothing warm enough. Maybe those gaudy leather jackets would help better? He turned to his future teammate."So, you're Zoe, yeah? With the melty powers?""That's not exactly how I'd describe it, but yeah, I'm Zoe. And you're Ernest, right?"
Zoe had been waiting for Ernest to start questioning her, and sure enough, there it was. It was logical to try and have the discussion, at least. Turning away from him, she searched through a heap of crumpled hoodies, eventually just sighing and picking one up at random. "Lot of this stuff isn't exactly practical, huh? Just toss me a shirt."
It'd hopefully help to keep her slightly warmer, if nothing else. Zoe just couldn't be bothered spending a long time searching around for clothes. If they got this out of the way they could move on to something that was actually important.
A tee emblazoned with the emblem of some punk band he'd never listened to was tossed to Zoe. Seeing Zoe holding a fluoro green Invader Zim hoodie made Ernie's eyebrows shoot up and he struggled to contain a smirk."I like that colour,"
he grinned, completely failing in his efforts, "But yeah, I'm Ernest. Everyone calls me Ernie though. Are you pumped for the mission?""Oh, you know, I was going for the 'subtle' look."
Zoe chuckled as she looked at the hoodie. Yeah, that was definitely a colour of some description, but putting it back now felt like an admission of defeat. After pulling on the shirt, she spoke, her smile fading."Not this time. I'd be happier if I could actually be any help. Last time we got sent out, a lot went wrong, I had to bail several people out, and I kinda got eaten alive."
Still hadn't been enough to save everyone, but Zoe stood by most of what she'd done out there. This wasn't the same situation. "And now this time I'm gonna be stuck on my ass without the ability to do anything about it when things go wrong. You know, metal enemies and all.""Yeah, I've been there,"
Ernie replied distantly, recalling his own missions that had gone downhill, "The 'lot went wrong' stuff, not the getting eaten alive. Wow, you've got to tell me that story sometime."
Zoe's mention of the impracticality of her powers triggered something in Ernie too."My power only really makes me harder to kill. Guess they wanted me to play as some sort of human shield for the healer, since I'd be useless anywhere else on the battlefield. Looks like got paired for the safest job. Biggest danger we've got is pulling a leg muscle from all that running and healer transportation."
He didn't dare reveal that he was happy with that promise of security."Go team useless, huh? I feel like you're tempting fate here, though. Saying 'we shouldn't be in much danger' basically guarantees we get chased by something."
Zoe shook her head, not quite sharing Ernie's optimism about the situation. Besides, even if everything did go right for their group, it didn't change how frustrating the whole thing was."Nothing we can do about it though. Whatever happens, happens, we can think on our feet and deal with it. It's the others I'm worried about."
She trusted most of them to handle themselves, but there were some issues weighing on her mind about the whole thing - Issues that she wasn't sure the others would cope with."Heh, yeah. Can't mess with those jinxes,"
Ernie smiled and looked out the window, seeing Cal practicing with her hammer. She still looked ridiculously clumsy. On a whim, Ernie began recording the spectacle. That was how athletes improved their technique, right? With taped matches? He addressed the rest of Zoe's comments as he watched."Well, we're the ones with the healer. It's up to us to keep the others on their feet,"
Ernie paused briefly, remembering the talk about games and missions, "This is a game of endurance. We're gonna be the ones juggling the health of the support team. The strike team's the timer, yeah? If... or when they take down the big guy, that's when the match is finished. So we just gotta make sure he doesn't run out of blood before then, I guess."
He observed Cal finally taking out a small building after a few too many clumsy misses. She was the most sensible of the strike team, from what Ernie had seen on Monday. Not really inspiring for the small fry like him and Zoe."You're right, but that's not what I meant. The problem is, we're fighting another subnatural. Another person. I'm more than capable of doing what needs to be done, but I'm not likely to have the chance. The others..."
At the sound of a loud crash, Zoe gestured towards the doors. "Well, take Callan out there as an example. She could probably snap most of the people here in two if she wanted. Almost definitely one of the strongest in our little group. I've not talked to her too much, but you tell me - Do you honestly think she's capable of killing someone? Not in retaliation, not by accident, but making the decision."
Zoe's expression had darkened, a hint of the girl that had attacked Gregory visible on her face. "Even if they make the choice, I don't trust that they'll know how to deal with it afterwards. They're decent people."
'They', in this instance, not including her, although she didn't realise herself how telling that was. Just didn't think of herself as one of the good ones.
Ernie peered at the girl curiously, feeling a tentative spark of... something light up in him. The closest thing to respect he could muster for someone he'd only just met. Perhaps admiration?
Zoe was a real Aberration. Not like Angelique who was still coming to terms with her new identity. Not like Emma who was far too 'normal' for Ernie to ever be comfortable with. Not even like Sander, who hid his true nature behind meek smiles and an infuriating calm. Ernie was reminded of the patrons back at Reno, the ones he'd learned to fear and admire in equal measure. He was reminded of Owen. Suddenly, he was very glad to have Zoe on his team. He turned to the windows again."I don't think Cal could hurt anyone,"
Ernie hoped that Zoe wouldn't see the continued smile on his face despite the somber topic. He couldn't really do anything about that. After all, he'd only just received the good news that he'd been paired with a mental powerhouse, "But she's got Sander with her. He'll probably be all the muscle she needs to get her head on straight. As for the rest of them..."
Running through his mental database, Ernie was mildly surprised to see how little he knew about his classmates, even the ones he'd talked to. Well, he'd only known the lot for a week."They're... we're all just a bunch of teens. We've got so many rookie mages who've only had their powers for like a week or two. That, on top of having to kill someone?"
Ernie chuckled ruefully. As if he had any experience in that area. He refused to think about Rain."I'm gonna be honest here. Majority of our classmates aren't people I trust with that sort of thing. The best thing we can do is just hope that when the time comes, they'll do the sensible thing. Decency's got no place in a warzone."
It was cold, he knew that. But he didn't want to get trampled by a robot just because some kid lacked the balls to do what had to be done. The dark-haired Aberration sighed. It seemed that Cal was finished with her practice. She looked exhausted so Ernie chose then to step out."As long as they don't leave it too late."
Zoe hadn't noticed Ernie's expression, instead too caught up in her own thoughts to really pay attention to it. Maybe Ernie was right. She expected he was to an extent - There weren't many people who wouldn't kill to save their own skin when it really came down to it. The question was how far they'd have to be pushed first. If they overestimated themselves, waited too long when the opportunity appeared, it would lead to a whole lot of trouble.
But in the end there was nothing she could do about it short of threatening them herself. With a shake of her head, she followed his lead, heading back out into the street where Callan stood.
Don't think about it.
Another swing of the hammer sent her dancing sideways.Ugh, why is this thing so damn heavy??
A swing and a crash as she took out another wall of the building in front of her.I mean... what's so great about Emma anyway?
Another swing and a crash.Well, she dresses better than you. For starters. And she doesn't dye her hair for attention.
A swing and a miss.I do NOT dye my hair for attention.
She swung the hammer downward, crushing a blue city mailbox like a pepsi can. So... heavy....
With a heavy thud, the top of the hammer's head hit the ground as Callan leaned against it, out of breath for the first time since Tuesday. Needless to say, the school still seemed to be working on a proper training regime for the girl who couldn't turn off her ability without sending a giant shadow monster chasing everyone down and murdering them. Was that why? Callan couldn't say much when Marcus brought up what a pain afternoon training was. Not like Emma. It was hard work for both of them. Not her.
" she grumbled, pushing back some stray hairs that had stuck to the side of her cheek in her collection of rain and sweat. Since Ernie and Zoe had left, she'd been trying to keep herself from dissecting the conversation at lunch. It wasn't complicated and it wouldn't do her any good to try and make it so. Hell, it wasn't even that big of a deal. She'd had a few crushes before. Maybe she was just getting everything mixed up. She was still pretty sad about the whole ordeal with her parents. Perhaps that was why she felt like she needed Marcus around? To cheer her up? Make her feel happy?
But that was ridiculous. Apparently he and Emma had been dating since Tuesday and he hadn't spent any less time with her and Siena because of it. So why? Why did she feel so jealous?
Callan did her best to shake off the conundrum of feelings clouding her brain as she noticed Ernie and Zoe approaching, each donning some spiffy new clothes. From Hot Topic, if she had to guess. She offered them an exhausted wave and smile as they approached.
Looking Callan up and down, Zoe met the other girl's gaze with a mixture of surprise and irritation. It was apparent that she'd been pushing the limits of her stamina, seeming genuinely tired out for the first time Zoe could remember seeing. It didn't occur to Zoe that there would be much of any reason behind it, considering how annoyingly relaxed and easygoing the others always seemed to be - As far as she was concerned, without any context it just seemed like a case of poor judgement."You do realise we're fighting later today, right? Swinging yourself out's not gonna do anyone any favours."
She spoke sharply, though it was at least clear her words came from a place of concern. Whether that concern was about Callan's well-being or just the worry that it'd affect the fight was anyone's guess.
" Callan smiled apologetically, pressing her foot down on the hammer head to disperse it, "Don't we still got like five or six hours before we have to leave? Plenty of time to sleep it off. Don't worry, I'll be back at 100% by the time we get there.
. Callan hadn't expected to tire herself out so much, but, while she thought she understood Zoe's concern, she simply wasn't worried about it. Maybe because she had other things on her mind."She's right, Cal,"
Ernie handed back the umbrella, realising too late that Zoe would be completely uncovered again. Whoops. He shrugged apologetically, hoping that the girl wouldn't mind too much, but continued addressing Cal, "Don't let us catch you doing any more hammer stuff. You should be resting now."
Zoe shot Ernie an appreciative look before turning back to Callan. At least he was backing her up here - Made her feel like her concerns were at least somewhat grounded in reality. She smiled, speaking before the girl could raise any objections. "You might think you're totally fine and I get that, but I really don't care. Quit the training for now, or I will personally drag you outta Ground Zero and make you get some sleep. We clear?"
An unlikely-sounding proposition, but Zoe sounded just serious enough that it was hard to tell whether she was joking or not."Woah, alright alright,"
Callan chuckled, raising both hands in defeat. The last of the hammer sank into her shadow. "No lie-- a nap sounds like a pretty good idea right about now."
Zoe's gruff attitude and Cal's relaxed tone brought a quiet giggle out of Ernie. It was pretty nice, seeing normal conversations right before a mission."Yeah, get some rest. Some place warm and not wet preferably,"
Ernie stretched, but in a strange manner that still kept the umbrella fixed above his head, "We wouldn't want our MVP to be tuckered out or sick during the big mission."
The trio made their way out of the broken city together, with Ernie constantly constantly fretting over the allocation of umbrella space. Talk of preparation for the mission kept the looming uncertainties from crashing down. It made things better, for Ernie at least. The smile on his face was genuine. He hoped that it would stay that way, since he knew what exactly kind of teammate he had now.