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Henryyyyyy, you are soo goood! Come hang out with us on the Discord channel! It's just us dorkin' around and being goof-balls most of the time, but I wanna pick your brain about mutants also!
Forge

19:40, the day before the meeting.
Los Angeles, south side.


Zoë idly fussed at the hem of her jeans in the dying light of the California evening. She had been waiting for an awfully long time on this roof, and while she never felt the heat, the triple digit temperatures were beginning to take their toll on her accoutrements. Her foot stuck for a moment as she lifted it to examine her sneaker, which had the unfortunate composition of rubber that had allowed them to melt to the tin roof she was sitting on. She hissed out a string of vulgar French in annoyance. She may have bought them as cheap shoes for doing this job in, but she had expected that she would be the one to melt them, not the sun. This would be yet another crime to be avenged against the days targets.

Across the street from the roof she occupied was, ostensibly, a distribution warehouse for a low-level computer parts manufacturer in China. The beige exterior of the three story building didn't give anything away, and one could assume they rented out spare space if they had it to other companies. Zoë, however, had uncovered information that this was a Hounds operation, and her own unique ability to scout most places being halted by some interference material in the outer walls only served to confirm this. So she had perched outside, with a pair of sunglasses and in a non-descript tee shirt and jeans, waiting to see what happened. That had been last week. As she had learned, today was the "meeting day", when all of their operatives and informants and facilitators of horror would all gather in the building for their monthly intelligence briefing, and to clap each other on the back for their atrocities.

Two of them would be missed today. She had encountered them just as the had begun pouring gasoline over the body of a teenaged boy they had obviously beaten to death. It had been late at night, a parking lot no one had used, and even she had only been passing by on her way through on foot. No one had heard the boys cries for help, and he had died scared and alone, and now they were getting rid of the evidence of their crime, excepting that they had painted huge bloody letters in their typical fashion around the boy.

It had taken several hours to get the information she wanted out of them, and they had been incapable of moving or seeing by the time she had left. If they had lived, she didn't care.

Now, as the last of their cronies filed in from the city, she made her way over to the side of the building she was on, where a ladder had granted her access to the roof in the first place. Upon reaching the ground, she activated her 'disguise' and headed for the front door of the Hounds place, mentally keeping her anger as far down as possible. She would not be able to infiltrate the place if she gave herself away with an errant heat wave. Of course, she still had yet to figure out a way to know what others were seeing when she was projecting her disguise, but at least it was better than guessing what might not arouse their suspicions.

Passing through the front door, she noted that even the front desk was empty and mentally cursed. Cameras were a weak spot, and one she didn't have a subtle counter to, but thankfully no one was around to witness as she tested her phasing on the nearby wall. Still blocked somehow, though only the wall, which means she could still use it to hide. Glancing around in the front area, she noted three doors. One, flanked by corkboards full of memos, was obviously a staff room or office. Another was clearly a bathroom, which meant the third was the one she was looking for. No security devices barred her way as she pushed the portal open.

The other side was the open warehouse area, and it was packed with people. Most had at least donned an armband to show their loyalties. Three men were standing on a series of crates set up as an elevated stage, and much of the place was darkened to highlight them. With no one paying attention to her, she slipped into an unobserved corner and phased herself so she could slip as close as possible to the stage. Her plan demanded that she be able to grasp the crowd's attention. As she moved, she took in the crowd. Some were day laborers and working class young folk. Others had the look of middle class business types. Police and military postures were evident throughout much of the crowd, that stiff-backed, never-quite-out-of-parade-rest stance. Nothing like she secretly hoping for: some clear delineation that made sense of all the seething hatred for metahumans. No key. Just the same sort of mindset that made racism and sexism as prevalent as they were these days.

Two younger men were setting up some sort of free standing projector screen on the jury-rigged stage, in front of which stood what seemed to be the leader of this cell, speaking with two subordinates. Unlike a good portion of the crowd, he wore the standard black fatigues the Hounds seemed to favour, and had a heavy pistol at his hip. The two he spoke with had only the same, but carried odd-looking assault rifles and wore body armour and balaclavas as well. Others like them were scattered around, the permanent detail and probably the strike force for this group. They, along with the leader, would have to be dealt with.

Zoë's breath caught in her throat. She had been thinking all day about what this job would entail. She had hurt and even killed people before, but this was well beyond the pale for her. Most of these people, if she had observed the group dynamic correctly, would die tonight. Some might try to flee, but she couldn't allow them to. They would simply carry even more zealotry with them when they formed their own groups, and fuel the fire of hate. Either she convinced them here and now that they were wrong or she burnt the entire branch down root and stem. There were no other options with fanatics like these. What this might do to her moral balance she wasn't sure, but that damage was probably already done. Now it was simply time to cauterize the wound.

She moved onto the stage, unphasing with her fingers through the triggers of the men's assault rifles, and shoulder checked them out into the crowd as hard as she could, while burning the straps for the guns so they stayed with her instead of being dragged with the men. Shout and cries of alarm went up as she appeared, but they were mostly angry and not frightened. She spun on her heel and snapped a kick into the main target's sternum, adding a blast of flame that ignited his clothing and sent him reeling, buying her time to adjust the rifles so that she could fire them. Which she did, directly at the men now charging the stage and aiming their own at her. There was no kick, and almost no sound, as jets of hot light punched into them, leaving scorch marks on their armour but otherwise having no effect.

"Stupid freak," she heard behind her as two arms seized either of hers. The screen crew, she thought. "You think we would make armour that our new rifles could be used against?"

More men assembled. Most of the crowd stood just outside of a semi-circle of soldiers, all pointing their odd light guns at her. The leader, which she noted suddenly looked more middle aged than he had after she had broken his authority and presence, walked around in front of her. She smiled, while he sneered.

"Well, looks like we can officially ring in the meeting with the disposal of a piece of trash," he called out to the crowd. They cheered their response. "Any last words, mutant, before we cleanse the world of your taint?"

Zoë's smile widened, as the air temperature began to climb extremely rapidly. The man's eyes widened and he stepped aside and shouted for the men to open fire. Of course, while her clothes suffered, she knew from firing them that they would have no effect on her at all, being light and heat based weapons, so she did nothing but laugh as the two men holding her scurried back away from her.

"You small minded fools! You build laser weapons and armour, you organise in a way that would be enviable to most, and what do you use it for? All of this hatred, what does it do for you?" She called out the question to the whole crowd. Several had begun moving for the steel doors, only to find them unbearably hot and starting to glow.

The leader snarled his response. "We'll purging the world of filth like you."

"Oho!" Zoë laughed again as the air around her shimmered with a heat haze. "Filth like me? I was born this way, no fault of mine! I can use fire the same way others are born with long legs or blonde hair! You are just an old evil in a new skin."

She watched almost idly as he grabbed his pistol and drew it. As it moved up to point at her she heated it swiftly and mercilessly. His hand was seared within a second, but he managed to drop it at his feet before the ammunition exploded inside. The shrapnel flew everywhere, though she was unharmed. He took a chunk of twisted metal to the leg and dropped to one knee.

"You are a brave man, it seems." The heat had gotten to the point where the crates she was standing on had begun to blacken. "But your bravery is twisted by your hatred and the world suffers for it. I will not let the forces my grandfather fought come back to haunt him in his retirement. This stops here."

"You can't stop us! We are saving humanity!" The voice from the crowd was echoed several times. Zoë wheeled away from the man formerly in charge and glared at them.

"Saving humanity? What humanity have you saved? You kill children for being born different from you! You have let yourselves become monsters, and you cheer yourselves on because people like him have convinced you that people like me are not human!" Her finger jabbed out at the man, then swept the crowd, causing many to cringe and flinch away despite her not doing anything with it but point. "You fear me now, but if you saw me on the street, you would have no idea I am anything other than a girl! You can shut off your compassion so casually!"

Suddenly, flames burst forth from crates all over the warehouse. The doors slagged suddenly, but the walls around them were now alight. "See now what it means to have compassion that could save you so closed! Any of you who survive tonight, remember this: If any of your organisation are still inside this city within forty-eight hours, I will come and burn you out of every nest, every hole, every single hiding spot! I will not rest until the meat is charred from the whole of your rotten group!"




Zoë walked casually into her own lair, flopped through the couch, then remembered to phase herself back into the physical world and gingerly sat down, this time. Her skin was bare, covered in soot, and she knew she smelled of burnt wood, but no one else ever came here without her knowing about it, so she didn't care. She picked up the remote, turned on the television, and flipped idly through the stations for a while. In the back of her mind, she knew that her people were now unloading the crates of weapons and armour and other military goods she had found earlier and carefully kept from damaging. Soon, she would have the resources to actually start making a name for herself, but for now, she had to stay as quiet as possible, barring excursions to hunt down the terrorists.

The upcoming move tomorrow would make her more secure, but she was still financially dependent on her mercenary work. As well, if she admitted it to herself, she enjoyed the mercenary life. But the world had to change, and if she had to be the spark to start the inferno, then so be it. She would make sure the whole world knew it was her who started it.

Feat. @DearTrickster as Carrie




Time: Morning - Present Day
Location: Carrie’s Apartment, Lost Haven


Metal rang harsh in Berenice’s ears as her talons gripped tightly onto familiar rails. She felt very imbalanced from the extra weight of the passengers she was carrying. While the morning was dawning, and the air was just barely reaching normal summer temperatures for Maine, Berry was already sweating. Partially from nervousness, partially from heat, she supposed. But a good portion was holding so many other heat sources, who were already scattering from her body to check and make sure no observers were watching, and no alarm systems were tripped.

Berenice’s conscious mind had no idea any of this was happening. She had made it to her friends house, and felt moderately secure now. But it was so early, and she knew from the children's stories that humans didn’t wake up with the dawn all that often. Worried that she might have arrived too early, Berry panicked slightly, and decided to announce her presence the way the Sallyman had taught her in their short time together, and mimicked the call of a cockerel.

At the shrill sound of a rooster cawing, Berenice was met with a chorus of barks, birdsong, meows, and then angry neighbours shouting various forms of ‘shut up!’ On the other side of the door Carrie scrambled out of bed tripping over a pile of laundry, quietly trying to calm all her various pets. The locks on the door clicked, two black noses poked out from the wedge of the open door pushing out to see who was there. The black lab and wiener dog woofed and snorted happily up at Berenice. Carrie cracked her eyes open then a grin soon followed at the sight of the Siren. Oscar, the raven flew to Carrie’s shoulder corking in greeting as well.

“Berry! I’m surprised but come in! Come in!” She shuffled back from the door opening it wide.

Distinct thumping from neighbours below, got a few stomps back from Carrie with a ‘Sorry!’ She was in a purple hoodie and pajama shorts. Her long brown hair was in the messiest of buns. Inside her apartment the living room where most of the pets had a home, a big bookshelf held various books relating to magic with knick knacks for decoration, protection. Beyond the pet smell, the smell of sage was present. Crystals of various type sat in a pewter bowl in the window catching the morning sun, recharging. Down the hallway the lights for all the fish tanks were off, Carrie backed up as much as she could stepping on a squeaky dog toy as she did.

The middle of the living room floor had been cleared with a few open books, one of the cats had claimed it for her bed. A glass was full of old black feathers, while a wooden bowl was full of ash.

“Don’t mind the mess, please. I had been up late last night performing a protection rite and it was a doozy.” She said patting her leg to call the dogs back inside.

The siren stepped awkwardly through the entry, trying to ignore the violent abuses to the floorboards her friend was making. She wasn’t at all certain that was normal behaviour, but this was only her third time inside a building, so she didn’t really have a reference to make yet. She felt oddly tickling sensations as her stowaways immediately abandoned her plumage and scattered into the apartment in as secretive a way as they could manage. Berenice did her part to help by shuffling from talon to talon, blocking the view of the various animals, which was no small task itself.

Carrie had used words she knew the meanings of, but in an odd pattern, and cocked her head to the side as she finally settled down, using her left hand to preen a few tangled feathers. This caused her to notice that her shirt was coated in blood again, and some it was black instead of red. The monster had been flinging gore about quite a bit in its throes, it seemed. She pulled off the shirt without a care for propriety she still didn’t understand and began dabbing bits off of herself. I will have to go for a dive and bath later. No chance with the clan on me.

Sunheart dodged nimbly around the effort of taking off the shirt, then looked horribly embarrassed as she realised what Berry had done, hissing into her companion’s ear, ”Great Bird! You should not expose yourself! The Big Folk hate naked skin!”

Berenice muttered a grumbly response as she busied herself, then realised that Carrie might be concerned about the blood. She looked up again, grinned her sharp-toothed grin, and said, ”It is okay, this is not mine. What is a rite?”

Carrie scratched Oscar’s head, rightly not missing the blood on her shirt. “That’s a relief, but who does it belong to? I thought we’d be meeting you at your nest, Charlie at the very least was planning to.” Carrie went over to Oscar’s perch letting him climb on, stifling a yawn. “Are you thirsty? I can get you another shirt.”

The dogs padded over to Berenice sniffing her up and down, their tails wagging happily. The cats seemed to be preoccupied with something else entirely. Oscar corked at Berry for attention as well. Berenice warbled off a greeting to Oscar in his own language while she tried to keep the dogs from licking her shirt, yet give them head pats at the same time. She was not at all sure the stuff from the monster was safe for them, or even her. Thankfully, they seemed perfectly fine with just getting petted distractedly. Sunheart kept her position at the nape of the siren’s neck, hiding in her hair as much as possible. It was far too exposed to the dogs to try and rejoin her clan mates, one of whom was now giving her the all clear signal from a back corner of the living room.

”Oh. I do not have a nest anymore. The monster and those men destroyed it.” She held up the stained shirt and pointed at the appropriate bits while speaking. This is from one of those men in black clothes that shot at me and the sword girl Eva, and this is from the monster that Sebastian sent after me. It smelled awful and was made of dead bodies.”

She paused as her belt shifted and the photograph she had stolen from the detective fluttered to the ground. She picked it up and held it out to Carrie. ”And then, when I was on my way into the city, I stopped by a bridge to fish, and a police man with a long coat stopped and tried to arrest me because I am missing.” She screwed up her face in concentration, trying to piece together what information might be helpful and what might be useless human garbage.

”He said something about this girl missing and a bad wizard stole her and turned her into me? Or the police man thinks so. It was all very confusing and he talked for so long. But then I got away and we ate and slept and then I am here!” She beamed, proud of herself for giving so concise a response. It had included even bits that Carrie might not know!

Carrie blinked, looking pained then she waved her hand about. “That sounds great, I need coffee stat if I’m going to keep up with this. I’ll get you some water too, let’s shuffle over to the kitchen.” And shuffle she did, mumbling over what Berenice had told her. When they all moved to the small kitchen, Carrie gestured for Berry to sit at the small two seat breakfast bar. She flicked on the electric kettle, preparing a cup of instant coffee. While it boiled, she fumbled past some of the clutter grabbing a pencil and notepad. She held up her hand asking, “Can I see that picture again, please?”

The grey tabby cat followed on Carrie’s heels, climbing up to the breakfast bar staring intently at Berry’s head where Sunheart was trying to hide. Her tail swooped back and forth with interest. She received some pets from Carrie, distracting her briefly from Sunheart. “What’re you looking at, Mary?”

Berry followed and flapped once to help her jump onto the seat she was directed to, causing a mild stir in the animals, but since they knew her, they did not panic like food. She slid the photograph along the bartop and then glanced at the cat, at the same time wincing at the pinching sensation as Sunheart heard Carrie’s comment and then crawled up into the tangled mess of Berenice’s hair. The little woman was breathing hard, and apparently was not a fan of either the attention or cats, but Berry could do little to help her without giving her away. She folded her wings close in and tucked her head in, roosting up as if she was going to sleep, which obscured the back of her head from view.

”I am not sure how he got my face, or why this Gloria Adams has it. Is this some sort of magic too, Carrie?” Berenice’s voice took on a slightly pleading tone. It was clear she was talking about the way the image of her face was on the paper, not how someone else would look like her. At least she thought so. After all, just pointing at the picture would illustrate that clearly, yes?

Carrie peered at the picture, holding it up to compare the two. She sucked in her bottom lip to chew on. It was eerie, having evidence of the before and after such a thing. It sent shivers along her arm. She placed the photo back down, shuffling back to the kettle to pour some hot water. She grabbed a glass of water for Berenice as well. “Let me get this straight, so a police officer - a detective had come up to you with this photo and said you were missing? You’ve been wearing the circlet right? He didn’t see you as you normally are?”

Carrie blew over her coffee, she was concerned. Having the authorities involved would make all this more complicated. Lifting the veil on their secrets to a stranger would be a disaster. “We can trust each other to keep secrets but strangers can’t be trusted. Magic secrecy is how we survive.” Carrie stressed, a lesson drummed into her by her coven and family. The monster that attacked her nest, what of it? Who was this sword girl? Carrie wrapped her hands around her mug. She wished Charlie were here, maybe she could visit her later to check in.

”Yes I was wearing the circle. See?” She retrieved the item from her belt and gently placed it atop her head. Now disguised again, with ‘combed’ hair and with her eagle eyes and teeth covered up, she looked precisely like the girl in the photo once more, sitting calmly at the bar instead of perching like a gargoyle.

”But then he took a picture of me with his phone thing, and I think he saw my wings on that. And then he talked for a while. I think he wanted to send to photo to the girls mother? I do not know. It was all very confusing.”

As she spoke, Berry reached up as subtly as she could, ostensibly scratching at the back of her neck. It took a few seconds for Sunheart to catch on to her plan, but then she hopped into the siren’s hand and curled into a fetal position as fingers wrapped around her as gently as possible. Once she was secure, Berenice swiftly moved her hand from her neck to her lap, releasing Sunheart out of view of Carrie and the feline. Sunheart scrambled as quickly as she could down and away towards the wall. While she was reasonably certain any human habitation would have gaps she could slip through, the sheer number of animals was causing her no end of anxiety, so she hurried as much as she dared. A fellow clan member stepped out into her view and ushered her through a tiny gap between the plaster of the wall and the bar side panel.

Carrie frowned, “Gloria Adams.” Writing that name down, “I’m sorry Berry, I think…”

She took a moment, “I think you are lucky you don’t remember who you used to be. The magic used to create you was foul. A true meddling with nature, there is no return from that. I pray, you never remember. Gloria Adams is gone.” She sighed noting roughly the week she could have disappeared.

“If this detective saw your true self, that’s not good. We’ll have to be more careful when moving about the city now, even in your disguise.” Carrie said. “So what about this monster? You said it was made of a bunch of dead things-” Mary jumped off the counter following her nose, the weiner dog came to join them in the kitchen following the cat’s attention.

“Okay what are you two looking at? So distracting.” Carrie huffed, leaning down to check out the floor. “If it’s a mouse or a roach don’t kill it!”

Berenice’s eyes went wide as she looked down. Several more animals were beginning to get curious as well, but the siren was fixated on the poor Clan member who had helped Sunheart through the gap. He had become somehow stuck in the gap, and was struggling desperately to wiggle out of view. But the animals had spotted his frantic efforts, and were now closing in. She could see Sunheart’s arms reaching around him, trying to pull him through, but it didn’t seem to be working. Apparently his armour, which looked to be fashioned from bottle caps, had gotten a rough edge stuck into the plaster, and now it dug in tighter with every tug. Berenice didn’t know what to do. They had just been talking about secrets and why they should keep them, and now her own secret was about to be exposed for the second time in as man days, but this time not out of necessity!

Sunheart struggled desperately as her clanmate whispered to her, “Just go! I’ll get away!”

”I will not leave you behind to get eaten by that creature! Undo the straps we can-”

Berenice had finally hit a breaking point of panic after only a few seconds, and leapt across the small gap between her and her little friends, landing between them and the animals. Instinctively, she let out a warning cry, like an upset eagle whose nest had been disturbed. The sound set off the animal’s own instincts, and suddenly the entire apartment erupted into chaos.

The weiner dog woofed in fear, Mary jumped back with a hiss both of them had hair standing on end. The other dog and cat came rushing down the hallway making their own array of noise. Oscar was the last to come to investigate the noise adding his own call. Angry neighbours began hammering at the ceiling again. Carrie jumped back with a yelp. She sprung back trying to quiet them all, both Berry and her pets. Even the fish joined in splashing about in their tanks, sloshing water onto the carpet. “Guys guys! Please! What the hell!”

Just as suddenly as the chaos began the small phone on Berry’s hip started playing loudly vibrating just as loudly. “Berry! Berry, answer the phone!”

“For the love of god, quiet down!

Berenice dropped out of defense mode as her panic settled down, only to flip right back up as the phone made noises at her. Charlie had told her it would do that, so she fumbled at her belt, where it hung by sliding the belt through either half of its folding structure. She managed to get it off the belt, but then dropped it. She stumbled around the cat, snatched the device back up, opened it, remembered to hit the green button, then held the device up, staring at it confusedly. Her glance flicked up to Carrie with a pleading look on her face.

Carrie said, “C’mere Berry, you’re holding it upside down… Hello? Charlie? Hey girl!”

Carrie spoke with Charlie over the phone, reassuring her as well as she could. She carefully stepped over her pets, quieting them down now. She leaned over the counter, sipping at her cooled coffee listening to Charlie, as she expected, her friend insisted on joining her immediately. Carrie put a firm stop to that, dropping the obvious reminder of what only happened the day before at the university, then wrapped up the conversation.

She closed the phone pushing it back over to Berry. “Charlie says Hi, she saw your nest and well…” She trailed off, “She had a rough day yesterday. So she’s going to take care of someone else before she comes to see us.”

“Don’t know when that’ll be though…” She commented, mostly to herself.

“Oh no, that is right, she was supposed to come today!” The siren’s plumage fluffed up as she realised her mistake. “Maybe it is okay? The Sallyman was supposed to be there too, may be they will cross paths and everything will be okay?”

Berenice glanced behind her. Apparently the two Clan had managed to get into cover while she had been distracting the animals, though the dark glances the cats were giving her let her know that her actions were not going to be forgiven any time soon. The dogs, however, seemed to be doing fine now that the excitement was over. She quorked at Oscar in apology, then turned back to Carrie.

“I need to wash, Carrie. Are we near the sea?”

“By what Charlie said, it sounds like whatever happened was long over by the time she got there. Nobody around. As for a bath…” Carrie thought tapping her chin, “If you promise not to make a huge mess, you can use my tub. It’s like the ocean, but inside!” She said happily.

She finished off her coffee then beckoned for Berry to follow. “Oh! I think I have leftover bubble bath too! Some essential oils to help you uh- smell better. Like herbs or flowers. Then maybe I can help detangle your hair.” She bubbled, heading into the bathroom running some water.

“I thought oil was what you washed off? Like if it is in the water it is bad?” the siren asked as she hop-skipped after her host, her disguised image walking slowly and carefully in a reflection of her. The steam from the bath running confused her. “And why does the water need to be so hot? Cold sea water feels fine, I do not want to get boiled!”

“No, silly. There’s good oils, good smelling oils, the warm water helps relax muscles and loosens dirt. Trust me, you’ll like it.” She filled the bathtub, pulling free some rosemary oils dropping a few droplets into the water. Next, she opened a bottle of liquid bubble bath soap drizzling it through the water, churning it up under the running water. She pointed to the bath, “Now get in, I’ll scrub down your back and take care of your hair. No buts!”

Carrie was firm, the animals around them shied a little at the authority.




Berenice sat at the kitchen counter again, playing with the comb her host had given her for brushing out her feathers, since she lacked the spine flexibility or beak to clean her plumage the same way her natural born cousins did. It wasn’t fancy, just simple plastic, but she was still engrossed in admiring it after her bath, which, despite her promise to not make a mess, had left Carrie’s bathroom looking like a warzone. The towelling had been the worst, since she hated being dried with the things as Carrie had found out, going so far as to snap and claw at them as if they were prey. She had been polite enough to help clean up afterwards, and now that she was scrubbed and clean, her feathers were a wonderfully shiny affair. She busied herself with straightening them, a task that looked to occupy her for a long while.

Carrie huffed, dragging her forearm over her brow closing the bathroom door. She changed out of her pajamas and into something dry. Carrie plopped into an armchair, looking over Berry. Carrie scrubbed and untangled her hair, fully knowing it would not last past the day. Grit of various origins came off of her then promptly disappeared down the drain. She once thought her bathtub would never look as disgusting as it did after Charlie had once used it to rinse off from dumpster diving. Today easily beat that.

The witch pushed off from her chair and lit some an incense, bringing out a small brass dish and digging through a little plastic baggy of cone shaped incense. It was dark blue, the label on the baggy was ‘Fresh Rain.’ With a new smell drifting through the air she sat back down and immediately the grey tabby hopped into her lap.

“Berry, we went over that huge dead monster thing that attacked you but what about the men with guns? What did they look like? I really really hope they were just some weird hunters but the coincidence is too fantastic.” Carrie sighed, scratching between her cat’s ears the purr rumbling across her stomach sounding like a furry lawnmower.

The siren looked up from her task, eyes wide. “The big men? They were wearing dark clothes with lots of straps. Their stupid leg coverings made swishy sounds like plastic and cloth, I think?” She thought for a second, and then opened her mouth very slightly and repeated the sound of nylon clothes rubbing together almost perfectly.

“They had those two hand guns, the long ones. And they shot bullets with light in them that was hard to blink out of my eyes because it was night. All of them were wearing helmets and had all sorts of straps and pockets all over. Does this help?”

Carrie swore under her breath, “I was afraid of that, you were attacked by the Hounds of Humanity. How the hell did they find you… That really doesn’t matter I suppose.” She said mostly to herself when she looked back to Berry her expression was rather serious, far more now than typically could ever be. “Those men with guns have been hunting and killing us recently. Metahumans and anyone apart of the magic community. They’re just monsters, that’s why Charlie didn’t get to you on time like she said she would. They attacked the university Charlie was at yesterday and she had to fight them. She survived but it did a number on her so... I kept her away today so she can take it easy until she recovers.” Carrie said swallowing a dry spot in her throat, whenever she saw footage of the attacks it really drove home the reality. She never felt so scared for her life let alone the lives of all her friends and family. “They’ve been attacking orphanages, nightclubs, and now stomping in on schools. Thank God you got away safely.”

“But we really have to be careful about your disguise, where you go. This detective on your tail now will make things worse. If he can run into you there’s no telling how capable these Hounds of Humanity are at hunting you down.” Carrie sat back, slowing down. Allowing Berenice some time to digest.

Berenice fluffed her feathers out and made a disturbingly war-like sound, fairly bristling on her seat. ”These people attacked Car-lee? They went after a place of children!? Sebastian has an army!?

Faint sparkles floated off the ends of the siren’s wings, and they shimmered slightly with the rainbow shine of an oil slick. Magic was suddenly very much filling the room as her temper flared. Loose papers skittered sideways as she beat her wings once in frustration, and the tiny motes of light in the air zipped about as if they themselves had become angry.

”Carrie, tell me where these foul things make their nest! If they are attacking nestlings, then their own nest should be taken! I will rend their feathers from their flesh and stomp the life out of their wings! They shall fly no more, and their blood shall feed the grass!”

“Woah woah woah!” The cat screeched and clung to Carrie in fear of Berry’s anger. The incense was quickly overpowered by the smell of the sea and a lightning storm, static charged the air around them raising the hair across her arms. TVs and other electronics surged brightly.

Carrie hugged the cat in one arm and stood up mustering all of her strength to reign Berry in desperate to calm her animalistic side. Her own magic being heavily battered against, it was raw power. “Berry! Please! Calm down, please!”

Berenice’s eyes, glowing slightly, flicked over her friend, and she saw the terrified cat hugging tight to her guardian and immediately felt a wash of regret. The power surge left her as quickly as it came, and her eyes grew even wider with terror as she looked around, checking to make sure there were no animals who had been hurt during her tantrum.

”I am sorry, Carrie, I do not know I could do that! I am sorry! I am sorreee! She hopped up and down on her perch, flexing her talons and going from side to side and running her hand through her hair. ”Are you okay? Are the animals okay? Oh no! The Clan!” And with that she shot off the perch and came to a halt pressing her nose to the cabinet where problems had started earlier.

”Sunheart! Are you unhurt?” Her finger claws scritched gently against the cabinetry, trying to signal her friend. Several moments went by before Sunheart sighed and reached through the tiny gap, patting her companion’s nose once to say everything was fine, before squeezing her way out completely and clambering up onto the siren’s shoulder. She seemed utterly unconcerned by Carrie, standing in plain view, and grabbed her friend’s ear in a tight hug, whispering something that did not carry the distance to their host.

Once the magic storm Berenice generated calmed down, with it all the electricity in the apartment shut off then popped back on a few seconds later. Carrie had her eyes squeezed shut, when she heard the telltale beep of the microwave coming back on she opened one eye then both, relaxing with a slump of her shoulders. She slowly approached Berenice, “... The Clan? Did I hear that right? Is that… Is that who I think she is?” Carrie squinted at Sunheart, petting and calming the grey tabby. She hardly paid attention to the scratch marks she was sure to find later. “No fucking way.” Her voice rose in an excited octave on ‘way.’

The cat shook with fear but squirmed out of her arms racing away, the other animals had taken cover into other rooms.

Sunheart backed off of her hug, finally, and stood with her tiny chest puffed out, glaring in the direction of the disappearing feline as Berenice turned to face Carrie again. Her wings twitched agitatedly, and her hands couldn’t seem to find a single position. Her eyes, however, were full of vigor tinged with rage, and she looked levelly at Carrie.

”Carrie, I need to learn magic. I need to learn it very quickly. Because I am tired of seeing these things happen and just running away. I can claw and I can sing, but it does nothing against these people and monsters. I need a way to do something useful, and I do not trust the Sally Man to do it well. Could you teach me? Or can you tell me where to go?”

Carrie blinked then pointed to herself, “M-me? I-... I mean I’m no magic slouch but I’m hardly my Nan. I’ve never taught anybody anything. Well…” She began with doubt hanging on every word, she swallowed again. She ultimately made a promise to Charlie she’d take care of Berry, and if teaching how to control her now, apparent magical abilities without needing to rely on Charlie’s help. Carrie could do it, Salamander is an old wizard with a shady connection to Sebastian and out of anyone else in the city Carrie could connect with both sides of Berry.

She squared up, “I can teach you and I will. You’re right, Berry. You need to nail your basics, learn your limits not just for yourself but for everyone around you. I’m not some hedge witch, my family has been embroiled with witchcraft for generations. We have always had a strong affinity for animals.” She took up Berry’s hands in her own, “We can do this.”

The tiny woman on the siren’s shoulders looked Carrie up and down several times, staring hard
At her eyes and hands especially, before Berenice spoke. Her voice was a little hushed. ”This is my friend Sunheart. I was sworn to keep her and her clan secret, but she says now is the time to speak with you. You need to be close, though, her voice doesn’t carry far.”

She did her awkward shuffling step over to the counter and placed her left hand down flat. Sunheart jogged herself down the arm and onto the counter, her head moving rapidly as if checking for threats, before spinning on her heel and facing Carrie again. She said something to Berenice, who shuffled back towards the gap the Clanswoman had appeared out of and sat quietly, watching.

Carrie nodded taking the small woman seriously, crouching low and leaning close enough to hear what she had to say. The young witch spoke truthfully, “It is a pleasure to meet you, Sunheart. My name is Carrie Ludwig. Usually I notice when things sneak into my house but… as you probably know Berenice is kind of a big deal.”

“So where did you meet Berenice?”

”She is the Great Bird who guarded my Clan’s territory. And rescued us when the Rotting One attacked. She is an honorary member of the Clan. But you put us in an odd position, Carrie Ludwig.”

She put on hand on her hip while she explained, plucking at an errant fiber of her leaf armour. ”One of the reasons you would not have noticed us entering your home is that we are very good at hiding. One of our laws state that we must not be seen by you Big Folk.” She took a deep breath, steeling herself for the next part.

”I don’t believe that can save us any more. We are here because our home was destroyed, and we would all have died had we not introduced ourselves to the Great Bird Sister. We must not follow the path that nearly led to all of us, even the children, dying. So I am going to act as an ambassador to you Big Folk. This also allows us to ask for supplies instead of taking what we need invisibly, something you Big Folk seem to take to….poorly.” She fidgeted, looking hesitant even though for the most part she seemed to project herself as a brave warrior.

”Part of the reason I can do this is that our elders and our Clan Chief are not here yet. We had to separate. There will be fights when they return. But I feel, even if I am driven out of the Clan, that this is a necessary step.” Her New Englander accent was soft, and her voice was thick with meaning as she stared up into Carrie’s eyes, unwavering and searching. ”Please don’t make me regret this.”

Solemnly Carrie nodded, this was a big deal for Sunheart and her people. Sunheart expected it to be treated as such. Cheerfully she replied, “Sharing is caring! As I said to Berry and you heard as much for yourself, I’m a witch. I’m more than happy to open my home to spirit as I am for you and your clan. The animals will take some time to grow used to seeing you around, but they’re quite good at listening to me.”

“I really hope this doesn’t force them to move on without you, breaking sacred laws is a really tough one to face. My cousin, once removed, had gone hunting once used his gifts of animal communion to lure a deer easier. He thought it was okay to hang the head as a trophy. He was exiled, stricken from the family tree and goes unmentioned. He broke a law of respect to animals, broke the trust he created with the deer using the family’s inherent gifts then gave no purpose beyond decoration. A real waste of life.” She said tapping her chin, then moved on quickly. “When you do reconnect with your elders, let me know what I can do. If it’s privacy, proof of my good intentions or provisions. Anything, really.”

“I truly do believe in earning your trust, Sunheart.”

”Well. We’ll see how that goes under the bridge when it comes downriver. For now, we would prefer to stay hidden. Not that we like hiding, but when you are normal size instead of freakishly tall, it is better to hide, and then it becomes second nature. If you could tell me where to get some thread, some gauze, toothpicks, and a few bits of wire, it would be good. We can feed ourselves well, but some of our vital supplies were left behind, and others we’ll have to come up with a new way of doing anyway.”

Berenice cooed softly to herself, staring out the window. Her golden eyes seemed to be searching for something past the other buildings, and despite her apparent relaxation, her talons were flexing into the flooring ever so slightly. She was agitated, clearly, but the set of her jaw said ‘anger’ more than ‘nervous’.

“That’s no problem, I have lots of junk around here. Probably the tidiest places are where the animals hang out, haha.” Carrie replied, Berry’s cooing caught her ear but her feelings flowed off of her in waves. Carrie shuffled over to Berry. “You know Berry, we’ve got ourselves a full sized plate of trouble. You, me, Charlie, and Sunheart.”

“I think if we take things one day at a time, one problem at a time. Whether it’s some terrorists, or a mad necromancer. It’s starting to feel normal for us here. One city shocker after another. It’s good though.” She said looking out the window too. “It’s good to be angry. We have to stay angry until things get better. Actually better.”

The siren shook her head. ”Patience is good, I understand, but this problem with Sebastian,” as she pronounced every syllable of the man’s name separately, ”He needs to be killed as the hawk strikes the spine of her prey. One swift, breaking attack that renders the prey incapable of action. But it is like striking a crab, yes? Your talons can pierce the shell, but with hitting the squishy grey things, you cannot disable them without splattering them across the beach. And then you have a mess to clean up.

“I would be okay with this, except the mess where he is concerned may include horrors being scattered into the city, and we cannot risk that. So I must know precisely where, when, and how to hurt him to minimise the damage.”
She turned her gaze to Carrie for just a moment.

Carrie crouched down listening intently, she held her hands together fingers interlaced. Berenice’s tone, her speech, it all changed so much. It really threw her for a loop, how exactly someone could mature emotionally in just a month’s time. Not to mention the instinctual battle of wits between her humanity and animal sensibilities. She had no baseline to empathize with. It really was fortunate she couldn’t remember what it was like to be Gloria Adams. It’d make things so much worse. Where Sebastian was concerned, she was right. Left to his own devices for much longer and he’ll cause more damage as he has time to prepare. Carrie didn’t interrupt.

”Can we even make that decision, Carrie? Can Car-lee? Could even the Sallyman? It is deciding to put hundreds, thousands of lives at risk, but for the betterment of the entire city.” Her hands reached up to paw at her temples, clearly agitated.

”If we do this, we may be dooming children to die, due to things we cannot control. But if we do nothing, and ignore Sebastian, everything becomes worse.”

She shook her head, eyes taking on a very forlorn look as she turned her head to look out of the window again. ”When I was just hunting for myself, everything was simple. Nothing ever meant anything more than ‘I was eating” or “I was not eating”. Now everything is so complicated, and I do not know what to do, Carrie. Every choice carries weight far beyond what my wings could bear, but to not choose is even worse.

“This is why I need the magic.”
One clawed finger tapped against the glass, then slid down nervelessly. ”Maybe, somewhere deep in the recesses of what it can do, there is a solution that is not catastrophic.”

Carrie brought her hands up to her chin, thinking on what she could say. Berenice was feeling the weight of the world, being settled to deal with her creator’s bullshit. Taking responsibility. She wondered where Berenice picked up on that, the need to hold Sebastian accountable and his removal.

“S’why you have us, your friends. We support each other and we equally take a portion of the weight you’re carrying. Seriously, as cheesy as it sounds.” Carrie began, looking out the window as well. “It’s not just your problem to deal with on your own Berry. Things in life get more complicated regardless of what you were doing before, it happens like a baseball bat being swung over your head. You get dragged into stuff whether you’re willing or not.” She said with a little smirk.

“I will teach you how to control your magic. We’ll act and as… uneasy as it makes me think to hurt someone else. It makes me way more uneasy to think how many people could get hurt because of Sebastian. Some things have to happen, they happen for a reason. I don’t believe in coincidences, Berry. Paths crossing, lines of fate. The will of gods.” Carrie had a faraway look, she snapped back to reality suddenly needing to make an offering at her alter. “Charlie hates when I get in about fate, we’re opposites like that.”

She pushed up on her knees to stand, “We’ll begin our lessons this afternoon with basics.”


Banner credit to Nitemare Shape. Thanks Boss!


Nicky groaned for what felt like the millionth time in just a few minutes. Crawford's 'talk' had been a bunch of bullshit meant to make her feel better, and maybe there was some stuff to think about, but Nicole MacNamara had never really been one to think too hard about much. She brushed her hair out of her eyes and stared at the popcorn ceiling of the office from her position lying stretched out on a third- or fourth-hand couch that had been dragged in for her. The material was probably scratchy and old, but she couldn't really tell. She had told the doctor that, but except for various stabs and pokes, they hadn't really been able to figure out why she couldn't feel anything. What they had figured out was that most of her senses were fine, but touch and taste were both all but gone. Doctor Grisham had been especially confused about her sense of taste, since her nose worked perfectly fine. All Nicky knew it meant was yet another thing that she wouldn't be able to enjoy ever again.

She reached out one pale, lanky arm and snagged a pencil from the pile they had left her, next to a spiral notebook and a sketch pad. Ostensibly, these were to help alleviate boredom, and possibly let her write her feelings down, but she hated that sort of thing, so she was mildly amusing herself with trying to stick the pencils into the ceiling. She got three before the first one fell from the impacts. She flinched before she knew what she was doing, and then cursed at herself. If bullets and knives couldn't hurt her, a pencil didn't stand a chance. At least my reflexes aren't gone, I guess.

The loss of time was bugging her the most. She couldn't concentrate on how long anything took, and her brain just kinda made up whatever it thought seemed reasonable, but reasonable to it and reasonable to her were apparently very different. The blurring of her vision was also troubling. Grisham had no idea, but Crawford had gotten that little light in his eyes that said his theory was piling up. Nicky had already learned to hate that look. It told her that apparently she was too stupid to share with, despite the fact it was her all of this was happening to.

She tossed her arm over her face, putting the bridge of her nose into the crook of her elbow and cutting off all light to her eyes. Immediately, her mind flashed to the scene in the police interview room where she had met Crawford the first time. The detective or whatever had said she had blurred, and her vision had gotten worse. And then the handcuffs were destroyed when she had yanked on them, becoming nothing but twisted lengths of steel. They had had to call someone in to cut them off of her. It looked almost like...Wait, what?

The teen practically threw herself off of the couch, bolting through the door of the unused office that had been declared her territory, and out into the dim hall. She had been permission to wander around on this floor, but she felt her rebelliousness kick in and snuck around like a thief anyway. She probably looked like a complete dork, but she didn't care. She had to get back to the hospital area, two hallways over and a floor down, which meant the stairwell, since the elevators were apparently 'disabled for security reasons'.

Once there, she swung the door open quietly and slipped inside. It took a few minutes for her to locate the weights she had used earlier. They seemed like the sturdiest and least expensive thing in the place, so she grabbed one. Taking one side in each hand, she held it up and tried to focus on the blurring. Then she tried her damnedest to pull the weight in twain. Her fingers didn't hurt, and the effort, though she was putting everything she had into it, didn't so much as make her sweat. She had no idea how long it was before she heard a giggle from the other side of the room.

Perched on a bench, leaning back with one leg dangling, was another young woman. She wore stylishly worn down jeans and a black baseball tee with some sort of white design on the front, though she was at the wrong angle for Nicky to see it clearly. Her blonde hair was a curtain of curls and waves hanging behind her, and her head was lazily tilted to one side so she could watch Nicky from across the room. Nicky knew she hadn't been there when she had come in, and had never heard the girl come in, though she would be the first to admit she was not the most observant of people.

She spoke with a sweet, lilting tone, in an accent Nicky didn't know. “So, you're going to waste your whole night sitting there to try and make it work, when you don't even know what it is? You're a dork.”

Nicky growled, and threw the weight at the girl. It wouldn't, shouldn't cross the whole room, but it somehow accelerated in midair and flew into the intruder's hand, snapping to a halt without even jolting the girl's arm even though it had moved at nearly twenty miles an hour. The girl sat up and grinned, her features best described as “fox-like.” Her eyes were narrow, always half closed, and she had a condescending grin, as if she was smiling at a joke only she was in on. She opened her hand, and the weight flew back at Nicky, who tried to catch it out of reflex and was dragged out of her seat and through the rack of weights, which collapsed on top of her. The noise was deafening, and when it stopped, she could hear the girl tittering.

“Oh, you are a treat! My name is Rose. You must be Nicole. I heard we had a new resident and had to come make introductions.” She strode across the room, long legs flicking out in an odd gait as Nicky extricated herself and spat.

”The fuck are you?”

“Language! There are children in this hospital! But to answer your question, I am a telekinetic. Move stuff around with my mind, you know? Fairly good at it, too.”

Nicky stared for a moment before shaking her head. ”So you move shit with your mind? Fucking lucky bitch.”

Rose took a step back. “Whoa, hey, it's not all sunshine and skittles, kitten!”

”Oh yeah?” Nicky snarled, “Can you still fucking taste food or feel wind in your hair?” She took a step forward, fists flexing at her sides. ”Did your entire family die when you got your fancy ass useful powers? Huh?”

And then suddenly Nicky was flying through the air. The only indication she had even had Rose was going to do something was a sudden narrowing of the girl's eyes. She was slammed into the wall with enough force to knock over a nearby bookshelf and dent the plaster. Rose stalked forward until she was nose to nose with the girl.

“Listen here, you stupid little girl. Everyone here tries really fucking hard to figure out how powers work, where they come from, why some people get stuff like mine and others get stuff like yours. If your life is so shitty, then maybe try and improve it instead of wallowing in fucking self-pitying piss poor attitude and actually try and help! I don't even know what the hell your problem is, but you have a miraculous ability or you wouldn't be here!”

Nicky tried to open her mouth to scream at the woman, but her jaw wouldn't open.

“No! You shut up for once! I get that you're angry at the world, okay? Life sucks! But no one here is responsible for whatever happened to you! Stop taking out your anger on everyone else! I've been listening to your stupid bullshit all day! Your family died and you lost your senses, and that sucks and I am sorry. But try cooperating and fixing it instead of just lashing out.”

They stared at one another for several moments. Rose finally sighed, let Nicky go, and walked back across the room. “We have group sessions tomorrow. Maybe it'll help you, maybe it won't. But I suggest coming. You never know.”

And with that, the girl stepped through the wall like a ghost, leaving Nicky standing, dumbfounded, to clean up the mess their tussle had made.
Popping in to say I am cautiously interested. I 'member how suddenly I had to shift priorities last time you guys saw me.

But I am interested. Maybe after this upcoming holiday weekend I will try to toss together a CS and see where that takes me.

In other news, I am glad you guys managed to get this together, it looks great!
Oh hey, this is where you guys ended up, neat-o!

Banner credit to Nitemare Shape. Thanks Boss!

Morning


A frustrated growl escaped Darya's lips as she stared in the mirror and gently tugged her brush through her brown curls. They hung well below her shoulders, and brushing them one-handed was not exactly easy. Thankfully, her powers seemed to have accelerated her healing, according to the doctor, though not by so much that she could pull off film stunts. It still stung like crazy, and reaching up was not allowed yet, nor was any heavy lifting. She had been given enough off time from her uncle's store to do whatever, and amid her protests he had let it slip that he had hired a new worker to replace her. She had nearly broken down, but she understood. Everyone in her family knew that her hero work would be her only focus for a while. Still, the loss of her normal life was almost as bad as the gunshot, another stinging pain, though not physical this time.

She set her brush down, and was reaching for her kohl pencil when her cellular buzzed angrily at her. Her hand switched directions and she glanced warily at the number. It was six thirty in the morning, none of her friends were even awake yet, so who the hell was this? She certainly didn't recognise the number, but thumbed the answer button and held it up to her ear.

”Good morning, this is Tiamat.”

The voice on the other end was recognisable as Agent Reeves, and identified herself as such. Darya sat up straighter. She had been waiting for this call.

“We have a location for the facility. I have been notified you were wounded during your activities.” Darya noticed that she stressed the last word with a degree or irritation. “Are you capable of coming down and doing the stress tests and marksmanship scoring?”

“Yes, of course. Where's it happening?”

She listened intently to the address, then slipped the phone between her shoulder and ear so she could reach over and type it into her browser, staring at the map that popped up. ”I can be there by eight.”

“Excellent. You'll be working with a few other metas and a...well. It's a diverse team, any way. Please show up in uniform, and pack for an overnight stay.”

”Pardon? Overnight? I thought this was a day activity?”

“Parameters have changed. I'll explain once you get here. See you at eight.”

The call ended with a click as Reeves hung up, Leaving Darya to pull the phone away and stare out of the window. Something must have happened. Something bad. She saved Reeves' number on her phone, set it down, and typed in a few keywords into the browser. Videos and news reports from a university in Maine popped up. She watched a few seconds before slamming her laptop shut, tears swelling in the corners of her eyes. She stood up, fury and vigor in her step as she made herself ready for the day.




08:03


Darya made her way up to what looked like an old, refurbished gym, the type that made all of its money from real athletes instead of New Year's memberships and thus failed miserably at paying it's rent. One bored looking man sat outside, reading a book. At first glance he looked like a normal guy taking advantage of the lack of guards, but three things popped out. The first was his obvious lack of surprise at a hero walking around the corner, where she had come out of the alley. She had had to walk a block through the area behind the buildings and changed back there, between a stinking dumpster and a wall that was already beginning to put off an uncomfortable amount of heat. Thankfully it was too early, and in the Warzone, for her to worry a lot about being spotted.

The second was his build, which through his thin white t-shirt resembled a soldier, or one of those heroes from the films. The buzzed blonde hair didn't detract from that at all. And when she saw his hair, she noticed the earpiece he had in. She definitely had the right place. He waved her over, and she stepped forward, trying to look confident.

“Tiamat, right? You're the first to show. Head on in and you'll see Reeves. I think you're in the pool for the morning.”

Reeves was decked in a pinstriped power suit and sensible shoes, what Darya had imagined was probably standard attire for female agents anyway. She had been too nervous to take in many details last time they had met, but Reeves was maybe five six, carried herself well, and had the air of someone who wanted to get through her day quickly, while getting as much as possible done. Her black hair was pulled back behind her ears. She kept it much shorter than Darya did. Black eyes glittered as she watched Darya approach. She felt somewhat like a cow being measured up for cuts.

“You move pretty well for someone who got shot two days ago. Been through that before?”

”Um. No? Never been shot before, no.”

“Well, I'd say let's keep it that way, but this isn't exactly a safe job. Still, good stuff at the bank, though I wish you wouldn't throw yourself into danger immediately after joining my team.” While Reeves sounded angry, her eyes still held a shine of humour. Even so, Darya didn't feel like pushing her luck.

”Sorry. I'll be more careful in the future.”

Reeves looked her up and down once more, then nodded. “Alright. Follow me.”

They made their way through what had once been the main gym, now converted into what looked to be a medical office. She saw a lot of fitness testing machines, ones that she had used only yesterday at her doctor's office to check her mobility. Reeves talked as they approached the back wall.

“Since you went to the hospital in costume, and your doctor's as well, he just snagged the data from there. We'll need a few other things, but for the most part you'll get a pass, both because of your martial arts background and your injury. Today's going to be about powers and guns.”

Reeves opened a back door, one of the steel types that Darya would normally assume was an exterior, but it led into a hallway branching off to her left and right. Reeves pointed her to the left, and they made their way down for some ways. Darya smelled some sort of chemical mixture and realised they must be approaching the pool the front door guy had mentioned. Reeves paused at another steel door in the same wall, looked at the hero, and grinned.

“Today, we'll see how much you can do, I think.”

The door swung open to reveal an enormous body of water. Easily a hundred metres long and fifty wide, with a deep end on the opposite side of the door that looked to hit at least twenty feet. That end also held diving boards. Reeves stepped beside her as the door swung closed, and Darya realised she had stopped moving. She had never seen this much clear, clean water at once. Her community pool was barely a quarter of this size at best, and her family had been adamant that they not swim in the river.

“New thing, huh? We figured as much from your entrance exam talk.”

Darya glanced at the woman through her goggles, mind whirring. ”But...This ceiling is twice what the building is from the outside!”

“Hahaha! That would be courtesy of some things above your very low pay grade. Rest assured, it doesn't come cheap. And, between you and me, getting authorisation for it is a bitch. But we got it, and not for long, so we'd best make use of it.” She held out her hand for Darya's bag.

“I'll stow this in a locker in the main room. I believe you remember Agent Davis.”

The gym shorts man who had worked with her before was walking over from the side of the pool as Reeves moved past him. She was heading for a door on the other side, it seemed. Her...what, trainer? Examiner? This was a weird new world, but whatever. Davis approached and shook her good hand.

“Good to see you again, Timid,” he said with a wink. “I'll take it easy on you for today, owing your injury, but I'm still gonna put you through your paces. Your pal Broadway said you could take it.”

”Broadway? You've talked to her?”

“Yep. Had to do the same with her, though in a much different setting. Getting a feel for your powers when you're not sure of them was going to be a pain, but I know you've worked with them before. So let's get started, yeah? Jump on in.”

The girl hesitated for barely a second before leaping into the water, trying and failing to contain a yelp of joy. As soon as she hit the water, the exam faded from her mind for a second and the pure joy of being in her element took over. The water that had splashed up suddenly dropped back into the pool, and she formed a vortex as she rocketed through the water like a torpedo. She already knew, through her own experiments, that she couldn't breathe underwater yet, though it felt possible somehow, but she could stay under for much longer than most. She did so, pushing herself to go faster. In the community pool, she hadn't been able to do this, and had only been there once since her powers came in anyway. Even if she had felt rebellious, there were too many people. But here, she had all this to herself, and took shameless advantage. Finally, after almost ten minutes, she came back up, sitting five feet off of the surface of the pool in a swirling column, right where she had gone in.

Davis had a few pieces of equipment next to him now, and was clicking a stopwatch and staring at her. “Damn, girly, that was a treat to watch. Can you breathe down there or something?”

She shook her head, and he clicked his tongue. “Well, you might as well have been. Twelve minutes and twenty-six seconds. And you move like a missile.”

She cocked her head to her side, and he waved at what looked to be a modded radar gun cops used. “I clocked you at over forty at one point on a straight shot. That as fast as you can go?”

”I don't know, really. First time I have been able to cut loose.”

Alright, well, we'll stress that in a bit. Right now, I want you to lift and move as much of this as you can.”

Darya spun in her little column, which clung to her waist, thinking about what might be the most effective way to do this. She had made a huge wave in the Rio, once, to stop a kidnapper from escaping, but that was in open air. Then she realised she should just build on what she had.

She moved her 'chair' out into the middle of the pool, and lifted herself up to the ceiling, thirty feet above her. When her raised hand brushed the rafters, she began drawing everything up into a funnel. Not caring about form for the moment, she simply swirled as much as she could into her column. It grew rapidly in diameter. Five, then ten feet. Fifteen. The water level in the pool changed visibly, and the shallow end was almost empty by the time she hit a thirty foot column. The roar of swirling water drowned out all other noise. Once she had hit forty feet in diameter, she wanted to see how much control she could manage, so she suddenly stopped the swirling.

The noise abruptly died off. The column was as still as a calm pond. Slowly, she moved tendrils, maybe two feet wide, out of it. One, then three. A dozen. Finally stopping only when she had about a hundred going at once, because it was beginning to make her very dizzy, even with them still. She dropped it down to fifty and began lashing them around in very basic, whip-like motions, extending them out to about a hundred feet and then hauling them back in. She noticed as she did so that her column lost it's neat shape, more so than they should have distorted it, and that she was ten feet lower. She kept it up for as long as she could and then slowly let everything sink back into a normal, not physics defying shape, then gently pushed herself along until she could climb out next to Davis.

“Alright,” he said quietly. “I take back what I said the other day. You are certainly not on the weak side. You okay?”

”Bit dizzy.”

“Probably from not pushing it like this before. Anything else major you can show me? I know you can freeze it, how about that?”

Darya glanced at the pool. She had actually been practising this a lot. The ice formed fast, and spread across the surface even faster as she concentrated. It hit the opposite edge within two minutes.

”IIt's about two inches thick right now. I can tell you exactly how thick any given expanse of ice is. Dunno how far that goes, though. Actually, I could give you real time numbers for all of this.”

She waved her hand, more for effect than anything else. She had been practising this as well. The ice melted off. And then steam began to rise off of the surface.

“That should be around a hundred and ten. At least on the surface. It would take ages to heat the whole thing.”

Davis stared out over the pool. “Huh,” he said. He repeated it twice, then nodded to himself suddenly. “Alright, Tiamat, looks like you are damn well capable. We'll get back to you in a bit. I got a couple more I need to check out in the pool solo, and then some group stuff for those that don't have anything like this. Head through that door over there and find Reeves. She'll take you to the range.”




15:40


She had met far too many people in the past day. Aside from Reeves and Davis, there was one other FBI member, Special Agent Zimmerman, an obvious war veteran who worked on the range right now. He had not liked her right up until she started shooting, and then warmed up immensely. Much like Davis, she was sure he was less about heroing and more about making sure any of the heroes didn't accidentally shoot someone in the line of...Well, she couldn't call it duty.

And of the heroes, there were five of them here today. A gun-toting guy who called himself Dragon, though she wasn't sure where his name came from. One who was piloting some sort of suit like Iron Knight's. A speed demon kid who hadn't bothered with a concealed identity, redheaded and she suspected very much a minor. He also acted like a total asshole, almost fighter pilot like. A girl who could teleport and hear almost anything near her, Darya thought. And a guy who was super strong.

On top of all of these were a variety of DHS and ATF agents, a handful of police, and a few vets. The non-powered people who had volunteered. She couldn't remember all these names. Reeves assured her that was normal during lunch.

“Everyone's here for the same thing, but no one's gonna learn everyone's name in just a few hours. It usually takes a day or two. And then there's wherever you'll be working, too.”

”I thought we'd be working here in New Mexico, or near by?”

“What?” Reeves looked at her incredulously, then shook her head. “No way. There haven't been any credible moves made by our target here. Everyone's going to be split up, linked with whoever else the high strategists think will make effective teams, and then sent to hotspots.”

”Hotspots?”

“Yeah. Places in-country where they've been particularly active. Los Haven, where that university attack yesterday was, or Pacific Point. New Orleans, New York. Areas with high threat risks, as well.” Reeves leaned in conspiratorially over the shitty Chinese food they had all ordered for lunch.

“Personally, I hope to be put on the main team, the ones who'll be tracking movements and will hit the main base of operations when we find it.”

”You really want these guys, huh?”

“Don't you?”

That conversation kept replaying in the girl's head for the rest of the afternoon as they paired off and sparred with one another. She was exempted from this due to her injury, but helped with the pool obstacles for group assessment. What did she want out of this? She knew she should be doing something, helping against these monstrous people. But she wasn't bent on blood as much as most everyone else was. She hadn't lost family and friends, thank Allah's mercy, but even with information about losses, she couldn't really understand the need for revenge.

As she was sitting there, pondering it yet again, one of the ATF agents walked over to where she sat leaning against a wall. They were apparently nearly done for the day. This woman was at least two inches taller than Reeves, and unlike Reeves and herself was not a willowy sort at all. She looked like she power lifted. Her dark red hair was kept in a ponytail today, but during the sparring Darya had noticed she kept it pinned even further so as to not present a target or distraction. She held out a hand to the seated heroine.

“I'm Rollins. You're Tiamat, right?”

Darya gingerly took the offered hand and was hauled up to her feet as well as getting a handshake. She nodded. ”Yes, that is me.”

“Heard you weren't a bad shot from Zimmerman, and saw you on the pool stuff. You're gonna be really useful in the shit, arentcha?”

Darya didn't really know how to respond to that, but thankfully the larger woman didn't seem to want to give her a chance to.

“C'mon, they're gonna start the briefing soon.” She clapped a hand on the girl's back to get her moving and walked along side her out of the pool area where they had been waiting for the undisguised people to come back from changing.

“So how long you been doin' this hero thing, Tiamat?”

”N-not long? Perhaps six months officially, and this is really the first thing I have done with an official capacity. I worked with the USHA....Wait, the UHO. For a few jobs before this, but it was more like a...a junior invitee, or something.”

“Haw haw!” The woman had a genuine, if rather abrasive, laugh. She was reminded of caricatures in literature about stupid southerners and other 'non-intellectuals'. “You were a probie with Broadway, huh? That's great!”

”How is it that everyone I meet today knows Broadway somehow?”

“Well, I don't know about anyone else, but me and her dated in high school for a bit.”

Darya was taken aback. She hadn't been aware Broadway was gay. Then again, they did tend to try and keep their personal lives to themselves when heroing for obvious reasons. She was about to ask more when they walked into the 'main room', which was more a combination meeting room and locker area than a lounge like Darya had been expecting. The folding tables from lunch had been stacked away, and all the chairs were now facing a tall, thin man in the 'standard goon' suit. His grey hair was also of the standard set, close cropped and neat. He held his hands behind his back and waited for everyone to be seated, then cleared his throat and began speaking in a slow, deep voice.

“Good afternoon. I am Deputy Director George Boothe. As many of you have no doubt heard, yesterday we suffered yet another assault on national security, at a university.”

A chorus of growls answered this. Boothe held up his hands.

“I know. I feel the same. Which is why, with how many attacks have occurred there, we are putting together an emergency team. I need volunteers.”

All hands immediately went up.

“You have no idea how good that sight makes me feel. Hands down. We have a short list we want on this. Reeves, Rollins, Hallows, Phillips, and Faulkner. For metas, Dragon, Tiamat, Naia, and Doc Holliday and Broadway will meet you out there.”

There were some grumbles, but Darya paid them no mind as she stood with the rest. Naia, she knew, did some sort of magic. Her grandmother would be very pleased to hear about that later on. She wasn't really sure what qualified that tiny little blonde girl or Dragon as metas, but she could figure it out later. Boothe was still talking.

“You eight will rest up this evening. Jet will take you out tonight, and you'll hit tarmac at 0600 tomorrow morning and link up with the field office there. Tiamat, you and Broadway will be trying to link up with any other heroes in the area, since you two are currently the most recognisable. Reeves, you'll help 'em. Everyone else is on response and research.

“The rest of you will be waiting until I get orders, but you'll probably be hitting New York. Rebound,” he pointed at the speedster, “I know I'm sending you to LA. I'll need to discuss that with you later.

“Now look,” he said louder, addressing the whole room again. “We all want these bastards. I know I do. But we do this by the books. If any of them are arrested, I want to make damn sure there's no mistrials or dismissals. Any of these assholes we catch, we keep. And,” Darya saw his fists whiten with tension. “If any of them happen to resist arrest or threaten our lives, well. I'm not gonna complain.”

He looked over the room one more time, then nodded. “Dismissed.”

While excited, Darya was also a little anxious. This would be the first time she had ever been away from her family. Reeves let her know to go grab whatever she needed from her house and be back here by seven. Her weekend was looking more exciting by the minute.
New Additions!


Blood Wars




Heritage


Create-A-Hero

PCs









NPCs


Nomadic Fist

Currently not active, maybe again later on?


Shine City

This seems to have died, but I like Rowan anyway.


Misthoporoi

Another seemingly dead RP, but I don't think I can use this one anywhere else without a serious rewrite.
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