Hunted: Part XII

Hunted

Part XII: The Sound of Drums

In the end, we got to witness the new guys (and Allison) get their butts kicked, which admittedly made me feel a little better about myself… For once in my life I wasn’t the worst at something…

The fights over, the Rook left and people divided into three groups; Allison and Sage remained there since the former was stuck in some kind of big foamy bubble, over half the remaining others went to the classroom building while a handful accompanied Jaeger to the doctor’s office.

Amber and I followed the school-going group and got into our first science class of the year which was held by a teacher who either high on speed or in dire need of medication to calm him the heck down… At least the next class, history, was a breeze with a much saner teacher.

After an evening of gaming with Tyler as I’d promised while showing Amber the ropes of HotM, I retired early to nap before waking once more before midnight. I left my room quietly and settled in the downstair living room. Thankfully Ahti didn’t seem to need me that night.

Rather than boot up a game, I decided to try to find some answers. Why the heck was magic so completely unknown? We had aliens, mutants and people who had become imbued with powers following freak accidents… It wasn’t like there was a lynch mob waiting for them spanish-inquisition style. There had to be a reason it was all hidden from the world…

Sadly getting my powers hadn’t come with an instruction manual and the only two people I knew who might help me; Abraxas and Síthmaith, I had no way to know where they were or how to contact them…

I was in the middle of my research when Amber went down the stairs. She went for the coffee machine and microwaved a cup old coffee from the pot before coming toward me.

“I thought you’d gone to bed.” She asked, holding the steaming cup of coffee.

“I just took a nap. I get nightmares if I’m sleeping around this hour. What about you, not sleeping either?”

“What is this ‘sleep’ thing you speak of? I’ve heard many legends about it.”

“Ah, very funny.”

“But in all seriousness, I just haven’t been sleeping well since the accident…”

“I noticed; last night you practically ran down to the bathroom.”

“Had to clear my head.” She said, looking down at her cup. There was a few seconds of silence. “So, what are you working on?”

“I was researching magic.” I sighed. “Well, more like magic themed capes. I tried looking into magic itself but I mostly got a buttload of dubious grimoires and old superstition about witches or newage-slash-neopagan stuff.”

“Any luck on that front?”

“Not really. Those who weren’t confirmed as scams are just believed to be mutants, even Abraxas whom I know is the real deal.” I sighed. “You know what? I need some fresh air. Care to join me for a walk?”

“Sure, I better get a thermos.”

She skipped back to the kitchen and put her coffee into a more portable thermos before joining me. We grabbed our coats and left the house. Her hand found mine and we walked along the paved path of the academy with no clear destination. There was a cold breeze and I was positively freezing.

“Damn it’s chilly.” I sighed, putting my arms around my body.

“Not used to the season?”

“This is cold winter temperature in San Francisco.” I sighed. She wrapped an arm around me and dragged me closer in answer.

“Stay close, I’ll keep you warm.” She said with a grin.

I stopped and she turned her head to look at me, so I took the opportunity to kiss her nose.

“Guess I made the right choice letting you be my girlfriend. You’re really warm and I’m hella cold.”

“Thermal-equilibrium; the true goal of any relationship.” She laughed, contagiously enough that I couldn’t resist joining her.

“You know, I never asked where you’re from.”

“Seattle. Well, Renton really, but it’s like right next door. But I moved a lot because of my parents’ job.”

“What do they do?”

“Eh…” She bit her lips and looked away.

“What’s wrong?”

“They run a family business… At least officially…” She sighed. “They’re vigilantes.”

“Your parents are heroes?”

“Not quite… They’re not the type the Legion would approve of… June, she joined this place to get away from them… I guess they felt sorry for me after what happened and took me in without question.”

“Oh… I’m sorry.”

“What about your folks?” She asked.

“They’re alright. They’re bakers, spend most of their times in the bakery we own. I just kind of which we could communicate better…” I sighed. “Being the difficult child, I just don’t feel like they love me as much as Emma.”

Amber didn’t say anything just yet. Rather she wrapped her arms around me and hugged me with superhuman strength.

“I know how you feel…” She muttered.

“Thanks… Why don’t we—” I didn’t finish my thoughts as a repeated noise came to my ears, like the frenetic pounding of drums.

“Do you hear that?”

“Hear what?”

“The drumming.”

She looked at me strangely.

“I don’t hear anything except crickets.” She timidly said. “Are you…”

I knew what she meant, after all she knew of my schizophrenia, but this wasn’t an hallucination. I’d been dealing with them since I was young, I knew the difference.

“No, this is different.”

I examined my surrounding and I could feel it growing stronger when I looked at a specific spot…

“It’s coming from there.” I said pointing toward it before starting to walk again.

“Annabelle, I’m not sure you should be following it…”

“I have to.”

With that, she hesitantly followed me as I followed the drumming in my head deeper into the academy and into a thicket of wood alongside the perimeter walls, hoping it’d find the source. We came to a tiny clearing and there it was; A snake perched on top of a rock with black and yellow scales. The snake was balled up except for its head which was raised and stared at me intently. I could feel it in my bones, feel it calling to me. I didn’t know why, but I just knew that the drumming had come from it…

I took a step forward but had to stop as Amber grabbed my arm.

“Annabelle. Please, wait a second. What’s going on? This is seriously weird and creepy.”

“Let me go…” I muttered.

“No I’m not—”

I jerked my hand away and the words of a spell spontaneously came to my mind. I didn’t even think before reciting it. A bright shimmering barrier formed between the two of us. She pounded on it but it did nothing.

“Annabelle!”

“I’m sorry… I have to.”

I took a few steps forward and with the tip of my fingers touched the snake. The contact sent a jolt of power coursing through my body. And just like that, I was somewhere else…

I floated through space, or maybe it wasn’t space… I didn’t know the words to define what it truly was. All I knew was that around me there was an endless swirling, pulsating vortex where innumerable presences dwelled just beyond my perception. That world, drew me in, calling me to its center, my form following its siren song.

And there was another presence, a figure clad in white basked in a radiant glow. It sit on a throne that laid on a mountaintop. It called my name and I came forward. It extended a hand and my body moved to take it. The contact made, Thousands of images seared themselves into my brain within the span between seconds, so quickly I couldn’t make sense of them individually, but I knew the meaning of them;

Heaven
Rulership
Power
Wisdom
Magic

And then I fell back to earth, back to my body. When the experience was over, I stood there, still shaken by what I’d felt. It wasn’t the type of thing that could be explained with words, at least not without failing to catch the awe and majesty of it…

The barrier I’d cast must have fallen as Amber had rushed to my side and had wrapped her arms around my body, holding onto it tightly.

“Annabelle?” Amber said, but I didn’t have the clarity of mind to answer. “Annabelle, you’re scaring me… What’s going on?”

I tried to form the words in my mind but couldn’t…

“I understand now…” Was all I answered after a moment.

“Understand what?”

“Why this is happening.” I turned around and faced her. “I’ve been chosen. By god itself.”

“Annab—” She began.

“I know how it sound, please trust me.”

“I…” She bit her lip. “Okay… I trust you…” She took my hand and squeezed it. “I have no goddamn idea what’s going on, but whatever it is, I’m at your side.”

“Thank you. I couldn’t ask for anything more.” I wrapped my arms around her and held her for a moment.

“I so fucking need a smoke right now…” She sighed once we broke apart.

“We better head back. But before that…” I turned back to the snake which was still waiting there. I moved my hand closer and it climbed onto it before coiling itself around my arm.

“What are you doing?”

“It was sent for me, I can’t just leave it there.”

“We’re going to have a hell of a lot to explain.”

“We have an antlered bunny in our dorm, I don’t think a snake is the worst of their worries.”

“Correction: I need two smokes.”

“Pff. As if I’m going to be kissing an ashtray.” I mocked her before starting to walk back toward the dorm.

“That is so not fair!” She answered, jogging to catch up the meter or two of advance I’d taken.

“If you have to put up with me, I guess I can put up with some smoking.” I answered after pondering it for a moment. “But you are going to need all of the breath mints in the world.”

“That sounds like a fair deal.” She said with a smile.

Her hand found mine and together we walked the rest of the way.

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Generation: Part XIV

A new generation of heroes

Part XIV: Enjoy the Moment

The movie ended, with Sage still firmly nested up against my arm, but I didn’t wake them just yet, they were clearly so tired from the fight that I opted to let them sleep a little. Not long after the others had come back, I gently slipped out of bed, making sure not to disturb them just yet.

I went into the kitchen and saw the others had broken off into little groups. Ahti and Rowan seemed to be playing some kind of board game, Allen and Caroline were busy making some kind of dough, Annabelle and Tyler were fixated on their computers while Amber hovered around the former.

I went to the kitchen part and plugged one of the electric kettle in the sockets after filling it until it was full. Since I knew Sage liked hot chocolate, I opted to prepare a pair of them as a waking up gift. I typically drank coffee myself, but I didn’t feel like cleaning and changing the machine.

“Hey, everything alright? Mace asked, coming up to me. “You weren’t in class.”

“Had a headache and the refractory period of my power on top of it kicked my ass.” I explained, finishing what little prep I needed before the water was hot.

“Oh alright, is it any better?”

“Yeah. Took a shower, some aspirin and got to relax.”

“So… I noticed Sage wasn’t in class either…” He then said in a suggestive tone.

“They stayed in to relax with me and then fell asleep while watching a movie.”

“Watching a movie, just the two of you, in your room?” There was a clear nudging in his tone.

“Getting jealous? Wishing it was you?”

“Damn. I’ve been found out, you’re too clever for me to fool.” He answered with a mocking grin.

“In all seriousness, I might have noticed you and Jamie seemed to be getting closer…”

“It’s complicated.” He said with a sigh. The playfulness that had been there a moment ago had vanished.

“Guess I’m not the only one with a complicated love life.”

“You don’t know the half of it.” He said with a self-depreciating snort. “We sort of know each other and kind-of dated for a while.”

“Kind-of dated?”

“Last summer was a bit of a mess…” He sighed. “I’m not even sure if I should tell you… Especially with people around…” His eyes darted toward Caroline and Allen who were only a few feet away.

I nodded toward the bathroom and he nodded in answer. We both skipped there and closed the door behind us.

“Since you’re from Brooklyn, have you heard of the villain Sliver?”

Sliver had been a new figure on the local scene about a year and a half ago, beating a few high-profile local heroes before getting taken in by Columbia in early spring.

“Wait, you don’t actually mean to say that…”

“Jaime and Sliver; Same person.” He said with a sigh.

“Damn…” I muttered in shock. I knew Ravenhold had reformed some villains, but knowingly having one in the same dorm as you was something else. But if she was here, she was probably trying to reform her ways, right? It wouldn’t be fair to judge her for her past…

“Say… If she was a villain and you two were together… Does that mean that you also were…” I didn’t find the guts to finish my thoughts, but he understood regardless.

“No, I wasn’t. Well, I helped her out of a bad situation or two, but I didn’t do anything else.”

“Ah alright.” I nodded and there was a moment of silence. “I should go check on the kettle.”

We left the bathroom and I went to the kettle which was surprisingly already boiling. I filled the two cups which left plenty in the kettle for more. Because of my OCD: I didn’t like partial things or fractions so I had put a whole liter of water in it.

“Would you like one?” I asked Mace.

“Sure, why not.”

“Alright, coming right up. Get me the milk?”

He did as I asked while I poured him a cup and added the hot chocolate powder. As we did, Jaime came down the stairs and scanned around the room before finding Mace. She walked to his side but didn’t say anything, just looking at what we were doing.

“Hey Jaime.” I turned around and made her a cup before giving it to her.

She frowned at that but took it without another word before staring down at it for a moment.

“Just hot chocolate.” I said with a snicker. “Just thought it’d be nice.”

“Thanks, I guess.” She muttered.

“You’re welcome.”

Jaime and Mace having got their drink, I took my own two and headed back into my room. — Obviously, after carefully setting everything back in place until it felt just right — When I went in, cocoas firmly in hands, I found that Sage had woken up by themselves and now sat on the bed.

“Afternoon sleepyhead, or rather evening.” I said, giving them a smile.

“Why didn’t you wake me?” They shouted, the panic evident on their face. Their answer made me froze for a moment. “Sorry,” they sighed, “I shouldn’t keep falling asleep randomly like this. It completes throws my sleep schedule out and exacerbates my narcolepsy more.”

“It’s okay.” I answered coming next to them and putting down the two mugs of hot cocoa. “I didn’t realize. Next time I’ll wake you up.” I said with a smile and they gave me a nod.

I took a moment to look at them and struggled not to laugh: With their hair all ruffled up from sleeping, they looked pretty darned adorable. They could definitely pull off the grungy look.

“What?” They mumbled, clearly annoyed.

“You have cute bed hair.” I answered, which had them let out a snicker. I reached out with my hand and ruffled it even more which prompted them to give me a look. Their hair felt like straw in my hand, most likely due to the repeated bleaching.

“I should probably not bleach it again for a while.” They murmured, inspecting their hair with their finger.

“What’s your natural hair color?” I grabbed one of the cocoa and gave it to them.

“Thanks.” They whispered. “And it’s brown, not easy to make white.”

“You should ask Caroline, she seems to have gotten it down.”

“I might. Should probably ask how she keeps her hair looking all nice and not like this…” They sighed.

“For the record, I think your hair is great.”

“I think yours is so much better. Your braids were the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen.” They said with a dopey smile.

“Oh you big flatterer.” I said with a chuckle. “But if you like braids so much, I’ve got no choice but to do your hair now. And I won’t take no for an answer.”

“As if I’d ever say no to you.”

Their answer made my heart warm up. Maybe they liked me as much as I liked them. Sheila’s shadow still hung over me, but in that moment, I didn’t care. I didn’t want to torture myself thinking about who to pick, what to do.

“Turn around and prepared to be bored for a while.” I said with a chuckle.

“Well, we can watch another movie. I can show you one of my favorites.”

“That’d be great.” I said with a smile, taking the first lock of their hair and getting ready to work them.

All I wanted was to enjoy the moments Sage and I had together without doubt, guilt or questioning. We could put a word to what was growing between the two of us and what we might be another time.

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Lionheart Part II

Vanessa Marino, Leonine

One year ago — October 2015

“Ravenhold?”

“It’s a school for people like us, for those who want to help the world, fight for justice and freedom. I can get you in if you’d like.”

I had to think a moment.

“I don’t want to pressure you, but we need to get moving before the Syndicate can retaliate.”

“Alright.” I answered. “I’ll go there.”

“Perfect.” She said before going to the side of the van and tapping the door, which caused it to drive off.

She then nodded in a direction before getting a move on and I followed. She lead the both of us to a motorcycle which was waiting not too far. She got on and passed me the helmet.

“Put that on, get on and hold onto me tightly.”

I didn’t question her and sat behind her, wrapping my arms around her waist and we darted away. Tachyon was nowhere to be seen anymore, she’d probably left at fast as lightning. Nusaybah drove through the town, taking some obvious detour for reasons unknown until we stopped in an alley behind an apartment. We went up the fire escape and onto a second floor apartment.

The apartment was very relaxed; smooth earth tones, bamboo plants, wooden furnitures, lots of books but otherwise very little clutter. It was all one open plan with three doors leading to others rooms.

‘We’ll get you to Ravenhold by morning.” She said. “You can stay the night, it’ll be simpler that way.”

“Alright…” I nodded. “Thank Nusaybah… I mean, not just for this, but for getting everyone out.”

“You don’t have to thank me. If anything, I’m sorry we didn’t get you you sooner, we failed you for a long time.”

“I can’t ask for anymore than what you did.”

“Well, i still want to help you and hopefully together we can work on making sure this never happens to anyone else.” She said with a tender smile. ’Oh as long as we’re not in costumes, you can call me Zainab. What’s your name, I can’t really call you Leonine…”

“Vanessa Marino.”

“You’re a girl?” She asked visibly shocked which formed a lump in my stomach. I knew I didn’t look or sound the part…

“Yes…”

“I see.” She said with a nod before removing her headscarf. “So uhm, this is my home. You can stay in the spare room for tonight. It used to be my sister’s but she’s moved out a few months ago to be with her new wife in their new Atlanta home.”

“New wife?” I asked, feeling a hot flash fill my chest.

“My sister is a lesbian.”

“I don’t know what that means…” I muttered, looking away.

“Lesbians are women who love other women.”

“Oh.” I awkwardly nodded.

There was a moment of silence before she spoke up again.

“Why don’t we get you dressed in something else?” She said, putting a hand on her hip and looking me up and down. “You know, you have almost the same figure as my sister, I’m sure we can find something in what she left behind.”

She took lead and went through one of the door which lead to a bedroom which I guess was pretty average for other people’s standards, but compared to the cramped, dirty cells I’d spent most of my life, it was luxury. She went to the closet, opened it and took some boxes out which she opened on the bed.

“This is her old stuff, feel free to take anything you want, I’m sure she wouldn’t mind.” I hesitantly approached the boxes and looked at their content; mostly masculine looking outfits. There was a lot of dull colors; beiges, grays and dark blues or blacks. “I hope it’s alright for now, I can get you some money so you can get your own, but that may take a day or two.”

“No, it’s perfect.” I said taking a turtleneck and inspecting it.

“Alright, I should probably leave you to try them on and get some rest. It’s late after all.” She took a few steps toward the door.

“Wait… I need to know; where are my friends being taken?”

“I’m afraid I don’t know.”

“You don’t?”

“No, all I know is that they’ll be brought to the Legion headquarter and from there they’ll be taken somewhere safe. To avoid any possibilities the Syndicate reads our mind or something similar only a few people know the details. People I would trust my life with in a heartbeat, so I know they’ll be safe and taken care of.”

“Thank you.”

“Goodnight Vanessa.”

With that she left the room and I decided to try on some of the clothes. Once I’d removed my ‘stage costume’, I couldn’t stop myself from ripping it to shreds out of spite. Never again I would allow myself to be someone else’s pet… Nusay- Zainab’s sister’s clothes were adequate, some of them were a little on the tight side, but not so much that it was uncomfortable.

That done, I lied down and tried to sleep. Even though the mattress was the softest thing I’d ever been on, I couldn’t stop thinking; about the others, about our captors, about my future. Lost in thoughts, I caressed the scars etched onto the flesh of my left arm which crudely spelled my name. The men who owned us didn’t like us using our names, we were supposed to be nothing more than animals. They’d taken my life and my family away, but not my name…

I must have fallen asleep somewhere in the middle of the night because I woke up all curled up and was greeted with the first rays of sunshine peeking from atop the skyline. I stayed in bed, not sure what else to do. It was a little later that I heard a door open which was quickly followed by ruckus in the kitchen. Still, I didn’t leave my room, I mean, I didn’t know if I was supposed to… I waited for a while until it stopped. A moment later there was a knock on the door.

“Yes?”

“May I come in?” She asked, surprising me.

“Of course.”

She opened the door to the room and stepped in, still wearing what I assumed were her night wear; plaid cloth pants and a loose fitting t-shirt but no footwear.

“How did you sleep?”

“I didn’t sleep much.” I confessed. “This is all so new… I couldn’t stop thinking about things.”

She nodded.

“Well, you must be starving. I made some breakfast.”

We went into the kitchen and I saw that there was a platter left on the breakfast bar. It held flat bread, cheeses, a pair of spreads I didn’t recognize and some scrambled eggs. There was a pot containing mint scented tea which filled the room. We sat down and I instinctively waited for her to take the first bite before eating.

“Tea?” She asked pouring herself a cup.

“I’ve never tried it.”

“Do you want to try?”

I shrugged and she poured a cup for me. I brought it to my nose and smelled it. There was a strong bitter smoky smell that mixed with that of mint. I brought it to my lips and tasted it, before spitting it back in the cup.

“That’s gross…” I said grimacing.

That made her laugh.

“It’s a bit of an acquired taste.” She said with a smile before taking my cup away and pouring it down the drain.

“What will happen now?”

“Well, first we’ll finish breakfast. Then I’ll get you a ride to the school. It’s quite a ways from here tho. There you’ll learn how to be a superhero.”

I nodded and thought it all over.

“Having doubts?”

“I don’t know… I’m lost in all of this…”

“You can still go with the others, that door remain will open indefinitely.”

“I think I’ll try this road a little further.”

“Alright, better eat and get your strength up, you’ll need it.”