Nineteen Years Ago — September 1997
It was a short fly to Priest island on the Raven’s private jet. We landed on a small uncontrolled airport and a car was waiting for us. We hopped in and drove through the thick foggy woods that occupied most of the island until we reached a gate at the end of a small path. The driver punched in a code before it opened letting us in.
There was about a minute long drive until we arrived in a large clearing where a house stood. The Raven’s house was impressive; it was one of those uber-modern type with glass and cement walls where you could see through a good chunk of it, with two stories and a large wing on the left. On the right side there was a massive garage big enough to hold a dozen cars. Just behind the house I could see that was a small cliff that overlooked the ocean and a small beach, a set of stairs leading down to it.
“Welcome to your new home.” John said, holding the door open for me.
“Glad you like it because you’ll be spending most of your time here for the next few years.”
We walked to the door and came in. The heart of the house was a large room that served as both a living room as well as a kitchen and dining room combo. The walls of both the entrance and back were made of glass which let in a lot of the evening sun’s light. A pair of open stair cases lead up and down.
“You’re back!” Someone yelled, accompanied by the sound of footsteps on hardwood floors.
Out of the left hand corridor came a boy, a few years older than I was. He was tall and stocky with short dirty-looking brown hair and a frown on his face. He wore a simple set of sport shorts and wife beater. He was holding a long wooden pole in his hand.
“Who’s that?” He asked, glaring at me.
“That-” the Raven began, putting a hand on my shoulder, “-is Maggie, who will be staying with us from now on.”
“You brought a girl home?”
“Michael, be nice.” Raven said, his tone severe.
“Maggie, this is Michael Coleman, he’s my other apprentice. From now on, he’s going to be your brother.”
“I will be legally adopting you, so yes.”
“Won’t my parents have something to say about that?”
“Let me handle that detail.”
“Alright, now that we’re here, I have a few errands to run and I’ll be back soon. Michael, why don’t you show Maggie around and then make something to eat?” John said.
“Who’s that?” Michael asked, nodding at Grump who calmly waiting at the end of his leash.
“That’s my dog Grump.”
“That’s a stupid name.” He mumbled.
I grumbled something equally impolite which got John’s attention.
“Kids, do I have to send you to the corner to think?” John said. From his tone, I was pretty sure he was serious…
“No.” Michael said before turning my way. “Come on. I’ll show you around.”
I was a little apprehensive of being alone with Michael who wasn’t making himself likable in the last. Still John left without having to discipline anyone.
Michael’s tour wasn’t exactly eloquent, just pointing at something and saying ‘kitchen’ or ‘my bedroom’ and nothing else.
In addition to the common room, the first floor held a bunch of other rooms; a gym, a dojo like you saw in kung-fu movies and one larger room that faced the ocean which was apparently the ‘reception room’ it was really open, had a bunch of art works arranged about, a grand piano along with a few instruments and a large banquet table along with chairs neatly stored in a corner. The second floor contained six rooms; three relatively small bedrooms, a small bathroom, an office and the master bedroom.
“Which is mine?” I asked.
Michael just shrugged before pointing out his and making it clear it was his personal space and I wasn’t allowed there…
I opened the door to one of the other room, the one furthest away from Michael’s and found a fairly boring and modestly furnished room. A double bed, a drawer, a bookshelf and a vanity. There were a few decorations but it was impersonal.
“It’ll do.” I said with a shrug.
I lead Grump in and removed his leash and harness before sitting on the bed. He hopped on and I gave him some cuddles.
“I’m supposed to get you food.” Michael reminded me.
I went downstairs with him and he nuked some leftovers in the microwave. Not exactly rich and glamorous but I’d been eating whatever I could get my hands on for months I would have eaten just about anything.
“See ya.” He said once his dinner was finished, heading back to where he’d come from, which I imagined was the dojo. I stuffed myself and took Grump out for a walk; he’d been holed up in a hotel, a plane and a car all day. Thankfully he was potty trained.
When I came back in, Grump decided he was tired and found a spot on one of the couch to lie down.
Curiosity got the better of me and I decided to check up on Michael, see what exactly he was up to in the dojo.
I found him in the middle of some exercise; repeating the same movements over and over; some staff hits and throwing one of the Raven’s iconic birdarangs, trying to get it down perfectly.
“Why are you spying on me?”
“I’m not spying.”
“Whatever you say.” He said continuing his exercise.
I saw that rack of weapons and got a terrible idea. I walked toward it and took one of the staves, just feeling the way it moved about in my arms and its weight. When I was satisfied, I turned toward him.
“What are you doing?”
“Come on, I want to see what you’re made of.” I said.
“What’s the hold up?”
He took a moment to answer.
“You’re not going to cry are you?” He asked.
“Who do you think I am?” Was all I answered.
That got my blood boiling. And I wanted to smash his stupid, arrogant and insulting face.
“Fight me then or are you just afraid?”
“Pff.” He seemed genuinely insulted by my comment.
He took position and I did the same.
Still hot blooded, I charged at him, only to be met with a dodge and a hit to the back of my leg which made me stumble down.
“Get up.” He said.
I grit my teeth and ignored the not so insignificant pain and faced him again. This time I was more careful and advanced closer to deal a flurry of blows as fast as I could. Still, he easily parried them. I backed off and it was his turn to go on the offensive.
He charged at me, staff raised for a strong downward hit. Taking clue from earlier I dodged out of the way and prepared a counter attack when he hit me with his elbow right on the jaw as he spun around. The second it took me to recover, he kneed me in right in the crotch. I folded over in pain and couldn’t help but scream.
“That’s wasn’t fair.” I yelled at him.
“Everything’s fair in a fight. And I went easy on you.”
“You’re a fucking jerk, you know that?”
“Whatever.” He said before throwing the staff away and walking off.
Once the pain diminished a little I got up and dragged myself outside to wait on the porch. John came back about an hour later, but I still was pissed off at Michael. Contrarily to what some idiots thought, getting hit there was horribly painful for those with my body type too…
“Are you alright?” John said, sitting by my say.
“No, that fff-” I stopped myself, “-fracking jerkwad kicked me right in the fracking privates…”
John just sighed.
“I’m sorry. Do you want something for the pain?”
“I’ll be alright.” I said trying to be tough. John however saw right through it and got up for a moment before coming back with some aspirin.
“Where did you get that guy anyway?” I said, spitting out the g-word with all the hate and contempt I could muster.
“Michael was in juvie when I found him.” He calmly said.
“What was he there for?”
“Assault on a teacher.”
“He seems like such a nice guy.” I answered sarcastically.
“Michael’s a good kid, but he’s got a lot of pent up anger and frustrations, which I’ve been trying to work out with him. He’s had it hard.”
“Can’t be that bad.”
“He was battered as a kid, his dad disappeared a few years ago and his mom’s been in jail and still has four more years to go for possession.”
That didn’t really excuse anything… I’d had some horrible life experiences too, what with the transphobia and having a strict, controlling hyper conservative father, it hadn’t turned me into an asshole.
“What did you go out for anyway?”
“Had to get a few things; Including dinner for a big hairy pooch.”
He got up and opened the back door of his car. There were some basic essentials for Grump as well as some stuff for me. Nothing complicated, tooth brush, basic hygiene and grooming products and most impressively; a cellphone.
“Tomorrow, we’ll get some shopping done. Anything you want or need, we’ll get it.”
“And I’ll talk to Michael, get him to be nicer. Did you pick a room?”
“Blue or Beige?”
“Alright. You can do whatever you want for the rest of the night, I’ll be downstairs in the basement. You can’t go there without permission. Is that clear?”
I got back inside and sat beside grump on the couch. He woke up for a moment, only long enough to lie back down on my lap. I gently gave the guy some affection while browsing through the different TV channels, not finding anything which caught my interest.
At some point, I feel asleep in front of the TV. It was the sound of John coming up the stairs from the basement and to his room which woke me up. I waited a few minutes until curiosity got the better of me… I gently slid Grump off and snuck into the basement. Thankfully the door wasn’t locked.
The door lead to a staircase which itself lead down to something out of this world. The basement wasn’t a normal one. It was like being transported to the set of a sci-fi tv series. A massive terminal was the centerpiece of the back wall. Weapons of all kinds were lined up and there was even a futuristic looking car parked in a special spot.
I couldn’t help but keep browsing, examining everything. There was even a ‘trophy’ display full of supervillain loot. But the thing that caught my attention was a simple sculpture of a teenage girl wearing a costume similar to the Raven’s. Around it were a few picture of the same girl, both in and out of costume. Underneath the statue, the words ‘Helena Coleman, The Gray Jay. May you forever be remembered.’ were written on a golden plaque.
I felt a hand on my shoulder and I jumped up.
“You’re not supposed to be down here.” John said severely.
“I’m sorry I just…” I had no excuse. “Who was that?” I then asked, trying to change subject.
“Helena was the first person I took under my wing.” He said, looking away remorsefully.
“What happened to her?”
“She died because I wasn’t good enough…”
“I’m sure it wasn’t your fault.” I said. “I mean, I’m sure she knew the risks.”
“Did she?” Was all he said before going silent for a minute. “She was just a kid. She always counted on me to protect her but I was too distracted to even notice she needed my help until it was too late…”
I wrapped my arms around him. In answer, he looked down at me, smiled and ruffled my hair.
“How old are you?”
“Thirteen and a half.”
“And a half.” He said with a small chuckle.
“My birthday’s in three and a half month.” I defended myself.
“And then you’ll be fourteen and no half.”
I pouted at his mockery.
“Alright, let’s get you topside. And, as I said, I don’t want you to come in here without permission.” He said getting up and gently pushing me toward the door.
“Why not put a lock on the door then?”
“In the event of an emergency, the few seconds it would take to open the door could mean the difference between life and death. It only has an emergency lock which can only be opened from the inside.”
“Oh… Say, If you feel so guilty about what happened, why take on other apprentices?”
“Someone has to look out for the kids. You and Michael, you don’t live the life you’ve had without getting tangled in this crap, the world’s gone nuts and it’s the ones whom nobody look after that get hit the worst. This world is cruel and it doesn’t stop for kids…”
“Why does it have to be you?”
“Because if I don’t, who else will?”
I couldn’t think of an answer…