Part I: Life Interrupted
I closed my eyes. Took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. My Magpie costume stuck to my skin with sweat, I’d been training all day.
I opened my eyes and fixed my gaze on the training mannequins; strewn around in different positions. Just as I’d been taught I unsheathed my birdarangs and threw them one by one.
The three projectiles hit their target; slicing into carotid, brachial and tibial arteries. Had they been flesh and blood, they would have bleed out in seconds. When training I liked to imagine that it was Zachariah Blackthorn and not just a mannequin; dying like he’d had my parents murdered…
I didn’t stand to admire my handiwork; paintball turrets buzzed to life; having detected movements. I tumbled down and into cover before dropping a smoke pellets to obscure their sensor.
I leaped out of cover and kicked the turret’s killswitch before its sensors could adjust; turning back offline.
“Reset simulation.” I said after collecting my weapons and going back to the starting pad. An opaque barrier closed down the simulation space behind which Small drones rearranged the place into a new scenario.
“Not bad. You sure make me glad not to be a mannequin.” Ian said. I turned around and saw him propped against the door frame in his Raven costume. “What did this one do to you?”
I didn’t answer, he wouldn’t have approved.
“Hey dad. Going out tonight?” I said instead. He wasn’t my birth father but he’d taken me in after my parents death, teaching me his skills.
“Well, it’s almost time to open Ravenhold again and the Legion still has some last minute preparations to do. Which reminds me.” He opened one of the pouches on his costume and took out a folded letter, which he gave to me.
I took it and read it. It was short; just a formal approval for Ravenhold academy.
“But I didn’t apply.”
“You didn’t have to. I think you’re ready so I decided to register you.”
“Give the spot to someone who needs it.”
“Dad, I’m ready to go out with you, I’ve been training almost constantly for eight years, I don’t need anymore frickin’ baby sitting and hand holding.”
“Charlie, listen.” He cut me off.
“It’s not your skills I question, it’s your frame of mind.”
Once again he cut me off. “When was the last time you went out, last time that you talked to Marian or did something other than train?”
“I don’t know, I’ve been preoccupied.”
“You’ve been held up in here all summer and before that you spent most of spring here when you weren’t at school. All of your friends have stopped calling.”
I shrugged. “I don’t even like them. This is more important anyway than wasting my time watching TV or talking about meaningless crap…”
“You have to have balance in the life we live or it will devour you from the inside. I’ve had too many friends go down that path and come out as little more than hollow shells. And I don’t want you to go out that way.”
I sighed aggressively.
“You just don’t understand how I feel.” I tried to storm out but he caught me I tried to break free but he didn’t let me..
“Charlie, I do understand.” He said, looking into my eyes, I averted my gaze and focused on the ground. “My own family rejected and abused me. I’ve lost friends, people I considered family killed before my eyes; by villains, by aliens, by illness. I’ve known loss, I’ve known pain, more than once I’ve lost everything that was dear to me… What happened to your parents was horrible, but you can’t let it destroy you.”
My hands were shaking. I balled my fist as hard as I could to stop them but instead my eyes got watery.
“I swear to you before everything that’s holy and sacred; we will get justice. But you can’t let anger consume you because it’s not justice you’ll find at the end of that road.”
I couldn’t hold the tears back and he wrapped his big powerful arms around me, dragging me closer in a hug.
“Monday, we’ll go to the academy and you’ll be going to live there. And maybe you’ll find something to value…”
“I already have you. Even if I suck at being your daughter…”
“That’s only because I’m a bad father; I dragged you into this life rather than give you the chance to heal. Why don’t we get dinner? The legion can wait an hour.” He said, removing his cowl.
“So long as you go nowhere near a stove.”
“That sounds great.
Monday came and I resigned myself to doing what Ian wanted me to. Rather than my costume, I put on civilian duds; ripped jeans, flannel under a hoodie, and a baseball cap.
Ian chose to appear in full Raven regalia to greet the new students; the previous years students had already began the week prior. I followed him to the gate and to the horde of new arrivals.
Nearly eighty students were waiting in the loading area of the bus station. All carrying bags and personal effects. None of them seemed to pay any attention to me; being far too interested in my adoptive father. Among them I noticed about a dozen non-humans; some mutated parahumans, and even a pair of aliens.
The Tzari stood out like a sore thumb; dressed in armor with ceremonial paint and bearing weapons among teens in civilian clothes. I couldn’t tell if it was male or female; Tzari sex looked really similar. It’s species had attacked earth four years ago but had been defeated. In the aftermath, a few hundred of their civilians, support crews and apprentices had been left stranded on earth, one of them had been granted a spot on the Legion; Praetor Kiorga who served as de facto leader of her fellows.
The other alien was even more surprising; unlike Tzaries, the Itharii had come to earth peacefully at the turn of the millennium, fleeing the destruction of their homeworld on a repurposed colony ship. Whereas Tzari were warriors, the tiny amphibians were known for two things; having spit venom glands that you could get high of and being the most gentle and docile creatures on earth.
But this one was different; their bright orange skin was cracked with glowing blue veins and their eyes glowed equally.
Ian gave one of his classic speeches to the students who hung onto his every words. They seemed so amazed to be in the presence of a flesh and blood superhero. I however had become jaded and used to it; in addition to having been raised by Ian since I was six, I’d been babysat by members of the Legion and spent time on Gateway; their orbital headquarter.
Once he was done with his speech he began listing off the names of the students, assigning them to classes. My name was called and I joined a group. I took a good look at the others; they didn’t look like much, just your average teenagers, although we’d been assigned to the same group as the Itharii and one of the mutated parahumans.
Class assignment over one of the academy lackey guided us around the campus grounds, which I already knew the layout of by heart before he brought us to one of the many houses dotting the edge of the property. Once inside the others jumped onto the pizzas, unlike me they’d spent the day in a bus.
I took a seat away from the others and absently nibbled on a slice.
“Hey, I’m Mace.” One guy said, sitting next to me. “You are?”
“Hella gay.” I answered flatly. That stopped his attempt at flirting.
“Hello miss gay, can I just call you hella?”
“Charlie works too.”
“Charlie it is then.”
I didn’t say much more beyond the occasional ‘uh-huh’ to whatever he was talking about.
Once pizza time was over, the others began looking at the room assignments and finding their roommate. I just stayed there until a girl came my way. Her eyes found my name tag and then she looked back at me.
“Hi. I’m Caroline. Looks like we’ll be rooming together.” She said, flashing her big white smile. She extended her hand toward me and I shook it, taking her appearance in.
She had long white hair that reached only a few inches above her waist, fine muscled arms, the brightest liveliest green eyes and the most adorable short-legged jeans overall, black tights and white tee shirt combo.
“I’m Charlie.” I meekly answered after an awkward pause. I’d been staring.
“Nice to meet you.”
Frak me; she was gorgeous and we were rooming together…
This was going to be a long year.