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Phase (Worm/Moon Knight)

Discussion in 'Creative Writing' started by ellf, May 12, 2022.

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  1. Prognostic Hannya

    Prognostic Hannya Knight of the Yuri Crusade

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    Huh. Nazi archaeologists in the Worm setting? Interesting.

    Also elf I love this story so far, I'm curious if you have a cohesive way of tying together both magic/gods and powers/shards? Has magic always been around on Earth? If so, do Entities know about it? How does it relate to their own dimensional abilities? Are all the pantheons real? If so, where are they, or their heroes/champions?
     
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  2. ellf

    ellf Know what you're doing yet?

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    I've got the basics of something in my mind. Oh, and this chapter reads better on SB/SV because they have some capabilities that QQ doesn't with the tech stuff. The AO3 version of this chapter is going to be a lot like this one.
     
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  3. Threadmarks: Crescent 2.4
    ellf

    ellf Know what you're doing yet?

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    Crescent 2.4

    The images that got sent to Lisa's email account were fairly close in images on something golden, displaying only the hieroglyphics. She'd gotten them printed out before we returned home, and I went for the old books that we had. Translating Ancient Egyptian wasn't perfect, but the Rosetta Stone did help significantly. There were cross-references within the books that Mom and Dad had that would help with the translation, and this was something I really enjoyed doing. It was not, however something that I enjoyed doing while cooped up in the house.

    After packing up the books and pictures into a backpack and grabbing some cash, I went to grab my dogs' leashes. Well, I suppose the proper term would be our dogs' leashes. Brutus and Angelica needed the exercise, and I knew they were well-behaved enough to be out in public. Rachel had trained them well, and thanks to her, I knew how to keep them under control. Of course, given Angelica's condition, I did worry about how some people would react to her, but if they decided to be a jerk about how she looked, I'd give them a piece of my mind.

    Or I'd do something far worse. Wait. Worse? What worse? Why? Nobody fucked with my dogs. I didn't care who they were. I mean, I should care who they were. There were ways to measure out what was deserved to who. Fucking with the dogs alone wasn't it. I mean, it did mean that the person was probably a bad person, but that didn't mean I needed to pound the shit out of them. Even if it would be satisfying. If they ignored a warning, that was at least partially on them, but for the most part, it probably was a bad idea to do anything to random people. God, that was just wrong. Though, Nazis were fair game. They chose to be Nazis; they could reap the consequences of that. Fuck 'em. The rest, though? I could give a warning before they decided to do something. Our dogs deserved protecting.

    I went to the landline and dialed a familiar number. Aisha's. I figured that she should at least be kept apprised of where we were, given… things. I still wasn't entirely sure how I felt about the whole secret relationship sort of thing that she had with Alec, even if she was cute, but I did want her as a friend. Plus, she was cute. Still though, she definitely meshed more with him.

    The phone rang a few times before clicking over to her voicemail. I knew she didn't drive yet, but the fact that it went to voicemail still made me feel better if she was traveling. Mom died because she'd been on her phone while driving. I didn't want to have a cell phone cause any death because of me.

    "Hey Aisha, it's Taylor," I said, after the voicemail beeped. "Just wanted to let you know that I'm taking Angelica and Brutus out for a walk to the Boardwalk. For once, I'm feeling a little like Fugly Bob's."

    "This is a terrible idea," Lisa said, as she was still close enough to speak out loud. "Do you even know how much we'll have to work out to deal with that?"

    I shrugged. "They have outdoor seating and I'm sure both Brutus and Angelica will like getting some of the meat. Anyway, Aisha, if you want to join us, you're welcome."

    "Yeah, I suppose what she said," Lisa said. "Oh. Make sure you don't bring your brother. He might be a bit biased when it comes to us doing things like this."

    "What's that supposed to mean?"

    "Never mind. Just… Aisha, please don't bring Brian. I trust you more than him," Lisa said.

    Well, that I agreed wholeheartedly with. "Bye Aisha. We'll talk more when you show up."

    I hung up the phone, and as I went to hook the dogs up to the leashes, I decided to comment aloud. "Things like what? Egyptian translations?"

    "Research," Lisa said. "That guy has me… has us looking into the specific research topics of a specific archaeologist in addition to this whole thing with Dad and Bushman… there's a lot I don't really want to go into with Brian."

    "But Aisha already knows," I said. "And…"

    "She won't tell him without good reason. You and I both know she can be trusted. Here, make sure the bag's on tight before we go."

    I nodded, adjusting the backpack's straps, and then I gave a whistle to our dogs. They kept to my side.

    "We really should go somewhere other than Fugly's," Lisa said.

    "I like it," I said, and I felt some agreement from some of the others. At least, I thought I did. Assuming some of the stuff Lisa showed me was real, that there were others in similar situations to us, then maybe… Well, maybe it wasn't all in my head. Well. I mean, it literally was, but maybe I didn't just invent them. Maybe they had been there all along.

    "Aww…" Lisa cooed as we started toward the door. "Well, if you're going to be like that, I guess we can go there. It does have some nice outside seating that we can use."

    I nodded, and I made sure to lock the door once we were outside. It wouldn't take that long for the bus to show up, and for the most part, they were okay about dogs on leashes. I suspected that we might get some odd looks, but I wasn't about to just leave them home all day when they needed to go out for some exercise. Once the bus showed up, we boarded without much issue, and as suspected, Angelica did get a few looks.

    I didn't care though. So long as nobody messed with her, I could ignore the looks. Brutus stood guard over her as she did the same for me, and my heart melted. I couldn't help but give them both exactly what they deserved. When we finally reached the stop for the Boardwalk, I took my dogs off the bus, and together, we made our way over to Fugly Bob's.

    Fugly Bob's was a restaurant on the Boardwalk located just around the edge of the Market, overlooking the beach. It was pretty much fast food of the most shameless kind, sold out of a strange bar/restaurant/shack hybrid that pretty much anyone who lived in the area had eaten there at least once at some point. Of course, most people with sense waited a year between visits because the burgers were just that greasy. Honestly, when you got takeout, the grease was so bad that by the time you got home, you could see through the bag. I loved it. I understood why Lisa didn't though. The specialty burger there, of course, was the Fugly Bob Challenger: if you could finish it, you didn't have to pay for it. Most people never finished it. Judging from the pictures on the wall, the latest success was some cape that went by the name Chubster.

    Independent, I guess.

    I ordered a bacon cheeseburger and a couple of Fugly Bob's Pupper Patties for my dogs. Somehow, I knew Rachel wouldn't really approve of that, but it would make the dogs happy enough. I suspected the Pupper Patties were actually designed to have less grease, given the eponymous Fugly Bob had a dog-friendly restaurant. I remembered when Dad took me here for the first time. We saw so many dogs sitting outside, eating what Brutus and Angelica were going to, and I think Dad spoke with the manager a little bit. I couldn't really remember what it was about.

    Probably was about the dogs and their food. It might not have been Dad though. Wait. Was he really like that even back then? Well, if the research and Bushman were right, he was probably like that since before we were born.

    I took the table number and made my way to a seat outside, where I pulled out the pictures and one of the translation books. After indicating for Brutus and Angelica to sit, I grabbed my notebook and started to jot down the hieroglyphs, leaving lines underneath them for the transliteration and then the translation. The photographs were too close in to get an accurate picture of whatever the item LegendsGirlfriend had with these glyphs on them, but at least the hieroglyphs were clear.

    I really got into my work, focusing primarily on the copying for now. I'd start the transliteration once I had the entire thing. Unfortunately, based on the pictures, I had to determine which parts were the first actual line.

    Lucky for me, just because I was focused on this work didn't mean that the others were as well. I could feel Lisa taking glances around the restaurant between lines. My memory was good enough that I didn't always need to look down as I drew the hieroglyphics. I focused on my thoughts and drawings while Lisa was looking.

    "Heads up," Lisa murmured, barely loud enough to hear. The dogs heard it fine, of course. Brutus perked his ears up, and Angelica tilted her head. Lisa pointedly looked over at a group of three approaching the restaurant.

    Two were people I'd seen before. One, a brown-haired mousy-looking girl with many freckles, was the girl that had been in front of me in the bank. She looked a little uncomfortable in the green blouse and jeans combination she wore, even if it did accentuate her body a little. Perhaps it was less the clothing that made her uncomfortable so much as the company. On her right was an absolutely gorgeous blonde girl I'd seen before. She wore her own white blouse with a red leather half-jacket and her own set of hip-hugging jeans. She knew she looked good, and she held herself with a confidence that practically had her floating. Wait. She was floating. That was Victoria Dallon, Glory Girl. Which likely meant the girl next to her was her sister, Amy Dallon, Panacea.

    Like I'd been trying to tell you at the bank.

    Not now, Lisa.

    The boy with them, I didn't recognize, but from how close Victoria was with him, he must have been her boyfriend. He was a little taller than she was, probably maybe an inch taller than me, and well, white. He had blond hair perfectly coifed and short, and he wore a red silk button-down shirt with his khakis. He was, however, wearing a pair of black sneakers with his outfit, indicating that he didn't just come from work. Probably from school, to be honest. He looked to be maybe a year or two older than us.

    Probably the same age as Victoria, if I were to guess.

    A benefit to them being in their civilian clothes, even as an open cape, meant that Victoria wasn't getting swarmed by fans at the moment. A negative was that she apparently had spotted me and recognition came to her eyes. She lowered herself fully to the ground and practically dragged her companions over with her.

    "—Vicky, we should just go ahead and order," said Panacea, not even bothering to look at me.

    "Ames, she helped at the bank, and things were so crazy there that I didn't get to thank her properly," Victoria said as she approached. She gave me a smile while they walked.

    "Vicky, I healed her jaw up from what Trickster did," said Panacea. And… that was something I would have liked to have been told. It wasn't Amy's fault I didn't remember that, but if one of the others had mentioned the healing…

    Well, to be fair, I never did ask about exactly what happened at the bank. Why hadn't I? Because Greg mentioned a video being online and it's Greg. That's… fair, I guess. Greg was… well, Greg. There really wasn't a better way to put it. As for why I didn't remember it… that was another question that I'd need to deal with. I didn't remember anything that

    I kind of like him. Alec's voice echoed. Nobody asked him though.

    "You sure you want to do this, Vicky?" asked her boyfriend.

    "Absolutely," Glory Girl said, and she approached closer. "Hi, you probably already know who I am, but in case you don't, I'm Victoria Dallon."

    I smiled back at her, with a nod. She was a little imposing this close, even out of costume. I felt a little nervous tickle in my stomach as I spoke up. "Taylor Hebert."

    "Nice to meet you, Taylor," Victoria said. "I think you've probably already met my sister, Amy."

    "Yeah," I said, and I idly rubbed my jaw. "I was behind her in line at the bank. Thank you again for the help, Amy."

    Panacea gave me a neutral look, but she nodded after a second. Guess she wasn't a woman of many words. That was fine, honestly. It wasn't like I wanted to end up in her care ever again. I'd rather her not have to spend time saving my life when there were others who probably needed her far more.

    "Honestly, thank you for being willing to step up. I'm not sure what would have happened if you hadn't," Victoria said. "And this tall lump of antisocialness is Dean, my boyfriend."

    "He just looks a little lost in thought," I said as I noticed him looking me over. That… was a little creepy, to be honest, even if he wasn't terrible looking. He had a girlfriend, and said girlfriend could probably pick him up and throw him in a dumpster if she so wanted. Hell, she could probably throw a dumpster at him if she were so inclined. "Nice to meet you Dean…"

    "Stansfield," Dean said automatically. He shook his head. "Nice to meet you too." He then bent down and offered a downturned hand toward Brutus. "And who are these adorable ones?"

    "Brutus and Angelica," I said. "Brutus is the rottweiler, while Angelica is my sweetheart little one."

    Angelica barked at that.

    "I'll admit, the whole bank thing happened so fast," I said. "It's kind of a blur."

    Victoria nodded. "Fights can be like that. Especially if it was your first time. Was it?"

    I honestly had no clue. It was possible that it had been the very first real fight I'd ever been in. It might even have been likely. However, I wasn't even fully sure on that one, and Rachel wasn't speaking up. Honestly, my first fight was likely when she and I teamed up against the Nazis.

    "It's the adrenaline," Panacea said, glancing down at the dogs. Her gaze lingered on Angelica for a little, but then she gave me a sharp look. "How's your jaw?"

    I rubbed it and gave a small wince. "It's okay. I'll be okay."

    "What, did you get in another fight?" Panacea asked. "What, did you fight Lung this time? Well, considering you hadn't ended up in the hospital, asking for burn treatments, it's probably not him."

    "Some Empire guys wanted to take my dogs," I said. "I politely told them no."

    "That's… terrible," Victoria said, glancing down at the dogs at my feet. "The Empire has dog fight rings, where they would use dogs like that."

    I nodded. That wasn't something I wanted to talk about. Dog fighting rings were some of the lowest ways dogs could be treated. Right down there with being food.

    "Luckily, they weren't capes," I said. "But I managed to stop them with the help of one."

    "That's good," Victoria said. "Do you mind if we share the table with you?"

    I grimaced. It wasn't that I minded, per se, but I wasn't sure Aisha would want to sit with them. But at the same time, it almost looked like two of them were on a date yet Victoria had to bring Amy with her. I didn't know how true that was. Maybe she wanted to bring her sister with her. Maybe there was some other family dynamic thing going on that I didn't understand.

    Heck, I barely understood my own family dynamic and I only had one body to worry about. That said… it would be cool to dine with a superhero or two. Sure, the Dean guy would be there too, but he seemed to be letting his girlfriend take the lead in this. Smart, I guessed, if you had a superhero girlfriend. If only he'd just stop staring at us.

    We hadn't even really dressed up that much. There was no way that he would find us more attractive than his own girlfriend. So, it was a little on the confusing side.

    Of course, I wasn't really worried about the whole thing with the translation. The odds that any of them read Egyptian or would recognize it beyond some basics were very slim. Ancient Egypt just wasn't a big subject in school. Well, at least at Winslow it wasn't. I had no clue about Arcadia.

    It wasn't big in Arcadia either. But that didn't mean certain movies weren't seen. Even I remembered that Ben Stiller film in the late 90s that was a humorous remake of the Boris Karloff classic. The Mummy was a great movie.

    The Aleph version is way better. Brendan Fraser plays the male lead instead.

    "Feel free to join us," I said, and for a brief second, I internally winced. Thankfully, the dogs were here with us, but I almost gave the whole thing away. I had no clue how any of the three of them would react to the situation I was in. I still wasn't fully sure about it, but what Lisa had found had helped a little. "If you don't mind a little bit of table crowding."

    "Not at all," Victoria said. "Dean, you mind getting mine and Ames's orders in? I'll have the mushroom Swiss burger, and Ames…?"

    "The Portabello and Cheddar," Amy said. "I know flying burns a good amount of calories for you, Vicky, but you really shouldn't go for too much here."

    "Got it," Dean said. "And… did you already order, miss?"

    "And paid," I said. "Two Pupper Patties and a bacon cheeseburger should be coming any minute now."

    Dean nodded, and I glanced back down at my notes, dismissing him. He mentioned something about how he'd be back before heading off for their order.

    "So, Taylor, that's what, two times in two weeks that you got in a fight with cape involvement?" Victoria asked. "You've gotten pretty lucky."

    I shrugged. "Didn't really feel that way at the bank. They would have hurt people…. Could have hurt me."

    "And the Empire?"

    "Nobody fucks with the dogs," I said, a bit of Rachel's conviction shining through.

    She nodded. "Ames… she doesn't… y'know, right?"

    "You know I can't tell you that, Vicky," Amy said.

    "I know, but…" Victoria shook her head. "Look, Taylor. You clearly have a heroic bent to what you want to do, but it's dangerous for people without powers to get involved in situations like that."

    I nodded. "One of them had me at gunpoint before I got some help from the cape."

    "I'm glad you managed to get free of that," Victoria said. "Even if you got some bruising for your trouble."

    I shrugged. "My dogs got worse. They didn't take kindly to the attack."

    "Ames, do you think you could?" Victoria asked.

    "You don't need to," I said.

    Amy shrugged. "I can tell you what if anything is wrong with them. But if it's brain related, I can't do anything about it."

    Huh. For a brief half second, there was a microexpression on her face of worry. She was lying about the brain thing. Lying well, but lying, nonetheless. Why would she lie about handling brains? Well, brains were complicated things. If she fucked it up, who knew if she'd be able to fix it easily? I didn't know exactly how her power worked, and really, it wasn't like I had any ideas. So what if she didn't trust herself to do brains? Our brain was complicated enough without any power working on it. And our dogs were too.

    "I don't want you to force yourself or anything," I said. "But if you wouldn't mind checking Angelica first."

    "Which one is she?" Amy asked.

    "The terrier," I said. "I don't think they really need any parahuman healing, but I just haven't had the opportunity to bring them to a vet."

    I wasn't sure what vets to trust yet. Most wouldn't treat them with the dignity they deserved. Okay, that probably wasn't true. But if they were going to work on our dogs, they needed to be trustworthy. That, I agreed with. That didn't mean that no vet could be used though.

    Amy nodded, and she reached down. A brief microexpression of disgust passed through her as she looked at Angelica, and before she could touch her, I scooped the dog up.

    "What?" Amy asked. As if she didn't know.

    "You don't need to do anything." I shook my head, petting Angelica. "They'll heal up on their own, and I can find the time to get a vet to check them over."

    "Fine," Amy said with a huff. "They look like they're fine enough. How long has she been missing the eye and ear?"

    "Since I've had her," I said. Which was true on multiple levels. When Rachel had acquired her, she'd been missing the parts, and well, I had just met her a few days ago. "Think her previous owner is the reason."

    "Poor thing," Victoria said. "You sure you don't want Ames to heal her?"

    I shook my head. "Neither of them. Brutus doesn't need it, nor does she."

    "That's too bad," Victoria said. "But if she doesn't have permission, so be it." She glanced at my notebook and then the photos. Careful consideration passed behind those blue orbs. "That's interesting. Translating some Egyptian?"

    I nodded. "Didn't want to do it at home. I called a friend to meet me here, but I think she was out or something."

    "What's the translation?" Victoria asked.

    "Haven't really gotten started yet," I said. "But, well, if I've copied this down correctly…" I frowned as I looked down at my notebook. "It looks like it might be something out of the Book of the Dead."

    "What makes you say that?"

    Interesting. She seemed genuinely curious. Amy, by contrast seemed to have occupied herself with glaring either at my dogs or me, but I wasn't entirely sure I cared which it was. She wasn't going to get to touch my dogs. Not with how she looked at Angelica. Yes, she probably could give Angelica her eye and ear back, but the dog had adjusted to life like this.

    "I recognize these hieroglyphs here," I said, pointing at the start. "A rough translation is something like 'Khepri, on a boat, ancient one…" for that phrase. If that's correct, then this next line should actually be down here. Which means that this line should be second."

    "Why would someone send you pictures of something with a passage from the Book of the Dead in it?"

    I shrugged. "Maybe it's a test. There's someone at the university that can probably verify it for me."

    "Couple people, I'd imagine," Victoria said. "I'm taking some classes over there as dual enrollment. One of the class options was an introduction to Ancient Egypt, run by Professor Abdol."

    I nodded. "He worked there when my mother did. He's supposed to be very good."

    Victoria shrugged. "I haven't taken his classes. I focus more on parahuman studies. Powers are one of the most important things we've had happen to the world. We need to understand them."

    "Makes sense to me," I said. She came from a family of capes. She herself was a cape, albeit an open one. Studying how powers worked might even be a way to help with the handling of her own powers. It wouldn't help us much other than just learning more about the crap we'd dealt with. I doubted that any class like that would cover divine intervention. Khepri. Khonshu. Both were out there, apparently, and I knew that neither was a result of us going nuts.

    Progress, I knew. We were slowly making our way to progress.

    Dean made it back to the table before Victoria got the chance to ask her next question. He gave her a smile and took a seat next to her. As he glanced at me, he looked down at the terrier in my lap. "Huh. She seems happy."

    "She is," I said, petting Angelica behind her good ear. Her tail wagged behind her, albeit not as fast as it could. I took a free hand and closed the notebook, putting the pictures away. If this was indeed from the Book of the Dead, I could probably open up our copy at home to make sure. That said, Professor Abdol would probably have a copy himself, and I hadn't seen him in a long time.

    Not since Mom's funeral, anyway. Was that genuinely when I saw him last? Yes. I hoped he remembered us. Of course, whether he did or didn't was beside the point. He probably remembered Mom.

    Ugh. Mom.

    Stop that already. She was our mom and she loved us.

    She loved you, Taylor. Not me. Never me.

    She just didn't understand. I still don't understand. I doubt all of everyone understands.

    "—lor?" Victoria asked, and when I shook myself a little, she smiled. "Taylor, sorry, looked like you were a little lost in thought there. Do you think that Professor Abdol will be worth it?"

    I nodded. "He's very smart, and I think he might have been working on something that tied powers to Ancient Egypt, but I can't be sure. I just remember Mom talking about things like that when she would help review some of his papers for editing."

    "What happened to your mother, if you don't mind me asking?" Dean asked. I must have made a face or something because he immediately raised his hands in mock surrender. "You don't have to answer the question if it makes you uncomfortable."

    I shook my head. "She died in a car crash a couple years ago. I still miss her every day."

    "So, it's just you and your dad?" Victoria said, and she reached across the table to take my hand. She gave it a light squeeze, a comforting one. "I'm sorry for your loss."

    "It's okay," I said with a small, thankful smile. "Thank you. She'd probably like me having the chance to meet you… all of you, really. I don't think the two of you were active as capes before she passed, but I remember her and Dad talking about how what your family did was brave. Being open about who you are can't be easy."

    "When they're not in costume, they're not acting as capes," Dean said. "But still, they do get recognized, and they have to deal with fans."

    "And what happened to their aunt," I murmured before shaking my head. I put the pictures and books in my bag as a waiter brought my burger over with the Pupper Patties. "I bet having the powers makes up for it though. Both of you are amazing."

    "The way you stood up to Ballistic without powers was pretty cool too," Victoria said. "I love watching the video of it."

    "I still haven't seen it," I said. "And like I said, it was a bit of a blur."

    "Dean, can I borrow your phone for a second?" Victoria asked.

    "Why aren't you using your phone for this?"

    "Because yours has a bigger screen, and I'm pretty sure you have unlimited data," Victoria said. "I have to save my data for patrol route communication and research for my classes."

    "Can you even receive data when you're flying?" I asked. It was probably a stupid question.

    "Sure, I can," Victoria said. "You don't think that the cell signals only go down to the ground, do you? Sure, when I'm flying faster, there's a chance that my phone jumps between towers, causing disconnections, but if I keep below a car speed, and I don't go too high, I get data fine."

    Dean sighed, and he pulled out his phone, one of the newer radial models. The phone easily cost more than Dad sent me every month for food and bills. He navigated to YouTube, and he pulled up one of the videos from the bank.

    As I watched the video, my lips pursed. The video clearly showed me getting swapped with what appeared to be a pylon or something like it near Ballistic, and then it showed me closing my eyes. My body opened my eyes, but just from the look and pose alone, I could tell that wasn't me. It had to be Rachel. The pose, anger, and the whole demeanor she had when attacking Ballistic was purely Rachel. She clocked the ass across the jaw, sending him stumbling. That was actually pretty cool to watch. Then, the body relaxed, almost as if I had breathed out a heavy sigh, and my body held itself differently still. This wasn't the casual arrogance that I associated with Alec, but the smile that came to my face as I removed my glasses was something I associated with Lisa. If she truly was what Sarah was calling herself now, she was certainly the reason I had that mac and cheese that night. Had to be Lisa.

    "Huh," I said.

    "Yeah," Victoria said. "That was a nice hit. And you said you fought some Nazis a couple nights later? Taylor, officially, I should tell you to get away from the gang members if you run into them. That you shouldn't be trying to fight capes without any cape powers yourself. And really, that's mostly correct. You shouldn't be putting yourself in any unnecessary danger. That said, what you did there? With Ballistic, with the Nazis you spoke about? That's awesome."

    "Just don't do it again if you can avoid it," Amy said.

    "Basically, yeah," Victoria said. "You don't have powers, and those without powers typically have a hard time dealing with those who do. Be careful. I don't want to see you get hurt."

    "Believe me, I have no intention of playing "hunt the Nazi." I shook my head. None of us did, really. Even if beating Nazis up was a wonderful pastime. In the meantime, we still needed to find out more information about Dad. Bushman too, for that matter, but mostly Dad. "It's hazardous to my health."

    "Glad we're on the same page," Victoria said as I set Angelica down next to her Pupper Patty.

    That thing looked good for them. My own burger looked like a heart attack on a plate, and I loved it. I took my first bite, and the juices dripped down my lips as the smell and taste made all of us, including Lisa, temporarily speechless. The food was so good.

    Dad might have preferred to keep kosher most of the time himself, but there was no reason for us to do so. Judaism passed matrilineally and Mom wasn't Jewish. I wasn't entirely sure what religion she had been, if she'd been any, but Jewish definitely wasn't it. She might have been Muslim, but if she was, she wasn't a practicing one. She never wore any sort of hijab or burka or anything like that.

    No, Mom was… well, she was definitely not religious. I suspected some of it had to do with the whole Lustrum thing, but other bits crept in there too. Maybe we needed some more research on how Mom was when she was with Lustrum. If fit mattered, honestly.

    "If you'd like, I can come with you to meet with that professor," Victoria offered. "Since your friend hasn't shown up yet."

    "You don't have to," I said. I didn't really want to inconvenience her. "I know mostly where I'm going."

    "I'm there a couple days a week for my classes," Victoria said. "It really is no trouble."

    Okay, if it wasn't going to be trouble for her, that might be okay. I felt myself smile. Sure, with my dogs here, I wouldn't be able to go flying or something, but it would be nice to spend an afternoon with a nice girl who wasn't already the girlfriend of someone inside me. Yes, Victoria had a boyfriend, but it wasn't like that. And there wasn't anything wrong with Aisha, but wow, that kiss was far from platonic. That part of the relationship was primarily Alec. This could at least be my attempt to get a new friend. "That could be nice, thank you."

    "No problem," Victoria said, and she leaned closer to me. She lowered her voice. "Anyone who deals with Nazis or enemy capes like that is a friend of mine, no matter how many of you are there."

    Wait. She knew? How? We'd been careful. But she found out?

    Fuck.
     
    Last edited: Jun 19, 2022
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  4. Prognostic Hannya

    Prognostic Hannya Knight of the Yuri Crusade

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    It's a toss-up between Dean and Amy. It'd be interesting to see if she has a different brain than a "normal" human.
     
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  5. Threadmarks: Crescent 2.c (Crystal)
    ellf

    ellf Know what you're doing yet?

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    Crescent 2.c (Crystal)


    Brockton Bay's State University might not have been the best in the state for many things, but its Parahuman Studies program and its Criminology departments were among the best in the nation. While her cousin certainly was interested in the former, Crystal Pelham had taken up studying the latter, as knowledge gained from it would be useful if she ever decided to do more than just be a part of New Wave. Not that being a part of New Wave was a bad thing. Plus, the Criminology studies would even be helpful in her duties with New Wave. Knowing just what laws the perps were breaking and how to best handle it in a way that would ensure charges stuck were among the things she focused on in her studies.

    It killed her to see how many gang members just ended up walking because the cape that caught them didn't follow proper procedure before turning them in to the LEOs or PRT. Supervillains were different, as it seemed like a different set of laws applied to them because they had powers. Her mother did have a point about accountability. By fighting unmasked, she did ensure that she was accountable for her own actions, something that masked capes, especially masked vigilantes, did not. It might have been understandable why they might have a secret identity, but that didn't mean that Crystal had to like it, in an effort to be fair.

    Being that this was her second year in the program, she had to take some electives that were outside her major's coursework. One of which, HIS1034 – Introduction to Egyptology, was taught by a professor that had been with the University for eight years at this point, Doctor Ahmet Abdol. The insights the man had into Ancient Egypt were remarkable, and he made the class anything but boring. The class wasn't just an easy A; she actually had to do some studying on top of her Criminology courses, but there were items that could be used from this class that could actually be applied to solving crimes. Surprisingly.

    Crystal grimaced as she looked down at her latest practice test grade. While she wasn't quite as much a scholar as her younger cousin, who would likely be attending the university full-time next year, assuming things kept on track, Crystal did care about her grades. As a minor celebrity, people paid attention to the grades she got nearly as much as she did. It got a little frustrating, to be perfectly honest. She couldn't just fail a course without someone writing about it on some blog or in a minor newspaper.

    Her mother liked to mention that being a hero was only about thirty percent stopping crime or saving people. The rest of it was Public Relations. Until Crystal could change that, it was something she'd have to deal with.

    Which meant the grade on the practice test wasn't something she could just ignore. After verifying Professor Abdol's office hours, she flew across the campus to land in front of the Egyptology department. Really, it was just a wing of the school's history department, but Professor Abdol had made it his own.

    Hieroglyphics decorated the entrance to the Egyptology department, placed on pillars designed to look like they would fit right within the tomb of some ancient mummy. Some of the hieroglyphics were arranged in a way to mean something that Crystal had zero clue about, but she suspected that whoever actually did the design chose these because they looked cool. Which they did.

    The mixed smell of coffee and some sort of scented candle wafted into Crystal's nose as she made her way across the room. One of the TAs, an adjunct professor named Richard Mark, waved at her when she made it past the initial threshold. He had a slightly balding brunette head along with a matching goatee. He wore a tweed suit with blue patches sewn onto the elbows, and when he stood up, he was a little above average height. His fair skin looked like it had seen a bit of sun recently, perhaps after coming back from some sort of dig.

    "Oh hello, Miss Pelham," Professor Mark said. "How can I help you?

    "Well, I'm actually here for Professor Abdol's input on my test."

    "You know, I'm something of an Egypt researcher myself," said Professor Mark. "Maybe I might be able to help you with whatever problems you might be facing."

    "Well, I'm in Professor Abdol's class," Crystal said. "And I took a practice test for the upcoming one, and I didn't do as well as I would have liked."

    She pulled out the practice test printout with the grade on it, showing that it was nowhere near her best. She knew that, given another chance to take it, she would do better, but she needed to figure out exactly where she was going wrong on it. If grades weren't as important to her, she would have left it well enough alone and just taken the test properly.

    "May I see that?" Professor Mark asked, holding out his hand. When she handed the test over, he looked through it, flipping from page to page. "Hmm… Ahmet never really half-asses things with his classes, does he? This is supposed to be for an introductory course, right?"

    "Yes, sir," Crystal said. She wondered what the professor was getting at. Professor Abdol was thorough in his teaching, sure, but there weren't really any particular things that stuck out at her as out of place. "Why do you ask?"

    "Just some of the wording in here," Professor Mark said. "You know that he has some strange theories about the Ancient Egyptians. That they were actually the first people to develop parahuman powers of their own. Supposedly, the gods themselves were actually very powerful parahumans, per his theory. On the level of the Triumvirate, or even perhaps on the level of you, yourself."

    Crystal frowned. It wasn't that she had a secret identity, but she hadn't expected to be recognized right off the bat.

    "Oh, come now, Miss Pelham," Professor Mark said. "Even out of costume, you are still fairly recognizable. It isn't like you change your hairstyle much between wearing your costume and your civilian form, and you don't wear a mask. All it takes is a little paying attention."

    Crystal nodded. "Members of New Wave do have public identities."

    "Precisely!" Professor Mark smiled. "Within Ahmet's theories, back in the times of Ancient Egypt, you may have been considered either a god yourself or an avatar of one. Of course, that's a simplification. Parahumans might be considered gods among men back then, but now you put on the costumes and fight criminals or each other."

    Crystal nodded. Though, to be fair, the costumes were pretty much a uniform. They helped to identify her and her powers, keeping her separate from the standard normal person, but she understood why some people might find the idea a little silly. She liked her costume, however. It looked good, and it was comfortable when she was flying.

    "However, regarding the test here, I can suggest some books that you should look at to supplement the books that Ahmet is giving you," Professor Mark said. He wrote down a list of titles on a separate piece of paper. "You'll want to study works about the Middle Kingdom and focus a little on the mythological relevance."

    "What's this one here?" She pointed to a book titled "Rama-Tut, Myth or Legend?"

    "Ah, that one…" Professor Mark said. "If you can manage to work in a reference to that book into one of your essays, I think Ahmet will give you a good grade regardless. Rama-Tut is one of the missing Pharaohs. There's references of him appearing, a couple statues here and there, but there's no direct evidence that he ever truly existed. No tomb was ever found for him, nor were any referenced in any literature that has been found. Unfortunately, Egypt is more difficult to do digs in these days, but we will still send people out there. With hired parahuman protection, of course."

    "Of course," Crystal said.

    A door opened back behind Professor Mark, revealing a tall, dark-skinned man stepping out of Professor Abdol's office. The man was dressed in jeans and a black polo shirt, and he had his hair and beard trimmed short. The man shook hands with her professor, who looked more of Arabic descent, standing slightly smaller than the man. The man stepped out into the lobby and he offered a smile to Crystal as he came close.

    He paused for a second and did a double-take. "Oh. I'm sorry, and you must get this all the time, Miss Pelham, but I'm a huge fan."

    "Crystal is fine," she said. "Since I'm out of costume, but if you wanted to use Laserdream, I'd be okay with that too."

    "Of course," said the man, and he offered his hand to shake. He didn't look all that much older than her, maybe in his mid-twenties. "Nathaniel Richards. You can feel free to call me Nathan, if you wish."

    Crystal smiled. He wasn't too hard on the eyes. She took his hand. "Nice to meet you, Nathan. You know Professor Abdol?"

    "Yes, quite well," Nathan said. His voice was tinged with what sounded a little like an English accent. She couldn't quite place from where, but she recognized at least it was from over there. "He's a former colleague of mine. He was a TA for one of the courses I had at my university, and we were reminiscing about another one. She passed a few years ago today, actually."

    "I'm sorry," Crystal said. "That must be hard."

    "Yes, she was a good professor of English. She would doublecheck both of our papers before we sent them out for publishing," Nathan said. "Ah, but you're not here to hear about that. What brings you to the office?"

    "Professor Abdol's office hours," said Crystal. "I'm not sure where I was going wrong on the practice test, and I was hoping he could clarify some things for me."

    Nathan nodded. "And Professor Mark here was helping you in the meantime?"

    "I was, Doctor Richards," said Professor Mark. "Even gave her a list of books to look at."

    "May I see?"

    Crystal offered him a look at the list, a smile on her face as he stepped closer to her. Though his body was slightly imposing, she didn't feel unsafe around him at all, even without factoring her powers in. "The book that confused me a little was the Rama-Tut one."

    "Ah yes, Rama-Tut," Nathan said. "That's a fun read. Sometimes you have to wonder just how much historians get right and wrong when rebuilding from what's left. It's a pity that no tinker has come up with something like time travel or anything of the like. Historians and anthropologists would line up to study those who remained behind."

    Crystal nodded. "I can completely understand that. There's a lot that I'd be curious about…but there'd be people tempted to change the past."

    "Yes, that could be a problem, couldn't it?" Nathan asked. "There might need to be some sort of safeguards in place, to prevent the past from changing the future. I'm not sure exactly what would need to be done, but that's all theoretical, isn't it?"

    "Yeah. For now. Who knows what sorts of tinkers or powers are out there?" Crystal asked. "Though, that's more a question for my cousin."

    "Victoria, correct?" Nathan asked. "I doubt Panacea would be studying parahuman power development. It makes more sense for her to be studying medicine to better understand what she's doing with her powers."

    "Yeah," Crystal said. "Victoria's always been very interested in powers and understanding them."

    "All valid pursuits, and you?" Nathan asked. "You're taking Introduction to Egyptology. Are you genuinely interested in the study, or is that just covering a requirement for your real major?"

    "It started as the latter," Crystal admitted. When Nathan's face got a little disappointed, she quickly continued. "But Professor Abdol has made it interesting enough that I might continue on with the studies."

    "Good, good," Nathan said. "Ah, well, I've perhaps taken a bit too much of your time."

    "Not at all," Crystal said. "But I should probably go talk to Professor Abdol."

    Nathan nodded, and he held up his right hand. With a flick of it, he produced a small business card. "Well, Crystal, if you would like to discuss your classes or anything else in a little more depth, we can… perhaps, over coffee?"

    Crystal took the card. "I think I'd like that. This is your personal number?"

    "Personal and business have very little differential for me," Nathan said. "But yes, feel free to call that number at any time."

    "Thank you, Nathan," she said with a smile. The man certainly seemed charming enough, and he certainly was cute. There wasn't enough from this conversation alone to determine how worth it he'd be, but he didn't seem intimidated by her powers. Better still, he was a fan, but so far, it didn't seem to be to the creepy level of fandom. "We can set something up, sure."

    "I look forward to it," Nathan said. "Good luck with Ahmet in there. He's a sharp man, but he does have his soft points."

    Crystal nodded, and then she stepped past Nathan to head toward the Professor's office. She shared a smile with the man as she passed him by, and then she continued onward.

    Professor Ahmet Abdol's office was decorated with a number of Egyptian and imitation Egyptian artifacts. On one of the shelves in his office, a pair of shabti bordered a canopic jar that looked like it came from the British Museum. Perhaps it did at some point. Professor Abdol wasn't super old, but the person who'd had his office before him might have been. When she made it all the way in the office, she noted the professor bent over his desk, reading from a book full of hieroglyphics.

    Crystal cleared her throat. "Uh, pardon me, Professor…"

    Professor Abdol startled for a second, and he lifted his head. "Oh! Miss Pelham… It's good to see you. For a second, I thought that you might have been Nathaniel coming back to speak some more on this fascinating passage."

    "What are you reading?" Crystal asked.

    "Oh, this?" Professor Abdol asked, lifting the book. The cover was written entirely in hieroglyphics, along with some traditional Egyptian paintings of a jackal-headed person dressed in ceremonial gear. Anubis, if she was correct, the Egyptian god of the dead. "This is a copy of the Book of the Dead, but it's not one of the typical copies that have been found in most tombs."

    "What's different about it?" Crystal asked, knowing that since he was a tenured professor, this was one of the best ways to get him to help her with what she needed.

    "For one, the material it's printed on. This isn't the standard papyrus or even the vellum or parchment that are sometimes used in later editions. Actually, if I am correct, the parchment that this is printed upon is made of one of the rarer forms of base material. Well, rarer only because of the distasteful ways of obtaining it."

    "What do you mean?" Crystal asked.

    "Well, first of all, Miss Pelham, do you know how parchment differs from paper or papyrus?"

    Crystal thought for a second. Many people these days often used the terms interchangeably, but from what the professor was saying, it would be reasonable to assume that the materials were actually quite different. The specific differences were lost on her at the moment, but she suspected that the professor would tell her if she admitted to not knowing the material differences.

    Crystal shrugged. "If you don't mind telling me…"

    "Not at all, my dear," Professor Abdol said. "So, I'm sure you know quite well that paper is made from wood pulp, prepared and treated in such a way to create a writing surface. Both parchment and papyrus paper are made differently than that. Papyrus paper was made from shavings of the papyrus plant, aligned in such a way that it created a writing sheet. Parchment is typically made from the skin of a dead animal, dried and prepared so that it could be a writing surface. For example, vellum is made from the skin of a calf."

    "A calf?" Crystal had to keep herself from gagging at the idea. That was almost worse than the way veal was made. At least here, they likely slaughtered the whole calf to make the paper. The question then became… "What makes that book so different then in its material?"

    "If I'm right, and that's a big if, the books pages are made from a special kind of parchment, one that is likely to be something like human skin. A copy of the Egyptian Book of the Dead should be on normal parchment, but this copy is on that.

    "Human skin," Crystal said. "That book is written on human skin."

    "Yes, and it has some major differences between the book that's found in most tombs as well," Abdol said. "There's even some rituals listed in here. Assuming that this book is legitimate, there's the chance that… never mind."

    "Never mind?"" Crystal shook her head. "Anyway, what are the odds of any sort of ritual working, even if the book is legitimate. It's not like the Egyptian gods were real. Or magic."

    "No, but parahuman powers are," said Professor Abdol. "As you well know, Miss Pelham. Laserdream."

    Crystal smiled. So, her professor really knew who she was. On the one hand, it meant he was paying attention to who was in his class, but on the other, it meant he was paying attention to her in particular. "The earliest records of parahuman powers are just after Scion appeared."

    "Yes… and no," Professor Abdol said. "While I'm not a specialist in parahuman studies, I have investigated adjacent things in my research into Egyptology. There are mythological things that can be mapped to parahuman abilities, and there are pieces of evidence that the gods walked among the Egyptians."

    "That's… interesting?" Crystal really wasn't sure how that was relevant to the class that he was teaching, but he just contradicted her statement about the Egyptian gods and their veracity. She wasn't sure how she felt about that, but this man held her grade in his hands. "I really just came to talk about the practice test."

    "Ah, the practice test," Professor Abdol said. "That wasn't one I fully came up with myself. There's a curriculum that I am required by the university to follow. I don't recall exactly what happened with your test, exactly. May I see it?"

    Crystal nodded and handed the paper over. Professor Abdol looked it over and made some considering noises. After a few seconds, he smiled, and then he started to go over what exactly each question was looking for as the answer and why. The points made sense, and he mentioned that on the actual test, he would be grading on a curve. This was an introductory course, after all, and it wouldn't be right if he allowed people to fail for not getting things completely right. Egyptology was about getting people to love the idea of it, at least on the introductory level. This particular course wasn't meant to weed out those who weren't dedicated to the craft.

    "I'll send a better study guide to everyone in the class for the next test, which should help significantly." Professor Abdol stood up with a smile. "Now, if you like, I would like to give you the chance to earn some extra credit."

    Crystal's eyes widened. He couldn't mean… "Wait… I'm not that kind of girl."

    Professor Abdol's eyes widened, and he held up his hands. "What? No, no… Not that. Genuine extra credit, Miss Pelham. It is something that I could use your specific help with, but… gah. No. I was married, young lady, and you're young enough to be one of my nieces."

    "Not daughter?" Crystal asked.

    "You're what, Nineteen?" Professor Abdol asked, and when Crystal nodded, he smiled. "I was about fourteen years old when you were born then. While technically I could be old enough to be your father, fourteen is a little too young to have children."

    "Right… so what sort of extra credit assignment? Why do you need me specifically?" Crystal asked.

    "Well, some of it is your power. Your capabilities. If I remember correctly, you are able to shoot beams of light that deal damage upon impact, correct?"

    "Yes, and fly and make shields," Crystal said. "It's why I call myself Laserdream."

    "Excellent," Professor Abdol said. He flipped through the book on his desk a little, before he came upon the page he wanted. "Have you had your output tested before?"

    "A couple times by the PRT," Crystal admitted. She'd been tested with her abilities before, and she made sure that she stayed up to date on current PRT regulations. She intended on doing some drills on them with her cousins later and… well, maybe Eric too. Her little brother was much better at defensive bits than she was, but his offense kind of sucked. "They said they aren't normal lasers, but they are functionally energy beams that emit light, heat, and concussive energy. What specifically they are, I don't know."

    "I might have an idea, and if they are what I think they might be, you may be able to help me with a project that I've been working on. How controlled can you make your beams?"

    "Very," Crystal said. "I can focus them well enough to burn clothing down into nothing."

    "Good, good," Professor Abdol said, and he fished around in his desk. "Which means you can use them here in this office without destroying everything. That's what I was hoping for."

    "I suppose? Why would you want me to use them here? What on?" Crystal asked. This was definitely not the normal sort of extra credit. At least it wasn't the creepy kind that she feared it would have been. She might have used them on him if that had been the case. Well, probably not, but she'd have been tempted to.

    "On this!" He pulled out a faceted silvery clear-ish gemstone. It was the size of her fist, and she couldn't quite identify what kind of gem it was. "If I'm right about your power, this gem should be able to absorb the energy from your blasts, but if I'm wrong, there's no real loss here as long as you focus your blasts purely on the gem."

    "What is it?"

    "A gift from a former student," Professor Abdol said. "That will be helpful in some of my future research. Please, Miss Pelham, if you will."

    "Could you place it on the desk and move anything you don't want burned out of the way, just in case?" Crystal asked.

    "Yes, of course," Professor Abdol said. He pulled the book off the desk and cleared some papers away. He put all of them in a briefcase that he set to the side of the desk and took his spot next to it, leaving the gem sitting at the Desk's center. "If you accidentally blow up the laptop, that gives me an excuse to get a new one."

    Crystal laughed, and she focused on the gem, holding her right hand out. With her left, she formed a small reddish force field between the desk and the professor just in case her control lapsed a little. She pointed a finger directly at the gem, and she used her power. The beam came out tight and focused, crimson energy striking the gem, causing it to glow brightly. She focused and kept the firing up for several seconds, keeping her focus.

    "Okay, I think that's enough," Professor Abdol said, and she stopped. He stepped around, looking at the gem, which still retained its glow, a bright red instead of the somewhat pale color it had been before. He smiled at the gem, and he lifted it up. "Yes, this will do quite nicely. Thank you, Miss Pelham. I will be sending you an email with the better study guide, and I will also be reaching out to you for the continuation of this extra credit project."

    "Thank you, Professor," Crystal said, even though she was confused as to what she actually did with the crystal. "What is that crystal, anyway?"

    "Oh, it is an item from one of my digs that was supposed to be able to absorb cosmic radiation," Professor Abdol said. "Supposedly it was used in certain Ancient Rituals to help to power them."

    "Huh. And what are you going to be using it for?" Crystal asked.

    "You'll find that out at our next extra credit meeting. Oh, and I'll make sure to add a donation to New Wave to sweeten the pot," Professor Abdol said. Then his office phone rang, and he answered it, holding up a hand to Crystal. "Yes. Oh… yes, I remember Miss Hebert. I can set up an appointment to meet with her this afternoon. Four PM is fine. Thank you."

    When he hung up the phone, he turned back to Crystal. "My apologies. The child of a former colleague is coming here with some Egyptology questions. It would be remiss of me to not speak with her. I would appreciate if you kept our extra credit assignment between the two of us for now. If we manage to go further with it, and if it succeeds, it will be potentially something that could get us both the Nobel Prize."

    "For what?" Crystal asked.

    "You'll see," Professor Abdol said. "They'll all see. It will be wonderful; I promise you that."

    Crystal nodded, once more a little creeped out. She considered whether she should report the guy to her mother, at the least. The gem supposedly containing cosmic energy was a little revelation to her, but he was an Egyptology professor, not a Parahuman Studies professor. Also, what defined something as "cosmic energy?" Yes, there was something here that her mom needed to know about, but hopefully not Aunt Carol. Her father could have benefited from some of the information as well, but she trusted her mother's judgement.

    "I'll be seeing you in class, Professor," Crystal said, turning to walk away from him, almost missing the smile on his face. She tried not to shudder at how creeped out it made her, with that glowing red gem sitting in his hands, knowing that she'd been the one to cause that. Her power.

    "Yes, I suppose you will," Professor Abdol said as she stepped out of his office.

    She shivered once outside, and she quickly made her way out of the building. She needed to think some things over, and one of the best ways to do that would be in the air. She stopped in a bathroom to change and then she took off. Crystal Pelham was tired of her worry, tired of being creeped out.

    Laserdream needed to be on patrol.
     
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  6. Threadmarks: Crescent 2.5
    ellf

    ellf Know what you're doing yet?

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    [H1]Crescent 2.5[/H1]


    After having borrowed a phone to call Aisha and let her know where we'd be going, I went with Victoria to Brockton Bay's state university, where Mom had worked when she was alive. Dean had offered to give Amy a ride home while Victoria and I went, and she'd taken it. As the two of us walked along the edge of campus, I glanced over at her. Now that we were alone together, there were things that I was more comfortable asking than I would have been around her boyfriend and sister. They didn't know about us, but Victoria seemed to. I wanted to find out why.

    However, before I could ask my questions, Victoria spoke up with one of her own. "So, Taylor, I didn't want to ask this around Ames in case it made things more awkward between the two of you. Or more of you. But… what's the reason you didn't want Amy to heal your dogs or even touch them?"

    I blinked. Well, that wasn't something I expected, but maybe I should have. She was obviously protective over her little sister, and maybe I'd hurt her sister's feelings by not letting her do her thing with the dogs. Still, I couldn't help but feel it was the right idea. The right plan. I shook my head. "I don't know if you saw it. Honestly, I barely did. But Amy… the way she looked at Angelica when she looked her over, it didn't seem right. I don't know how her power works exactly, other than the touch thing, and I didn't want to chance that her being upset at how Angelica looked would affect things. She looked a little tired and worn out anyway."

    Victoria grimaced for a second. Probably was mulling my words over. I probably would if it had been some comment about Emma back in the day or Sarah.

    Not that people would have known Sarah was real. Especially with what Mom said about her. The sense of annoyance that passed through me could only come from Lisa. She really didn't like thoughts about Mom, but they couldn't really be helped here. We were going to the campus where Mom worked.

    "I suppose that I could see that," Victoria said. "Ames has been working herself harder than she should at the hospitals. Mom says that she needs to limit herself there to no more than an hour a day, but I think the hospital is all too eager to have her doing her thing. There're too many people that get hurt by the gangs and other things."

    A flash of guilt came over Victoria's face. At least I assumed it was guilt. Her poker face was either terrible or amazing, and I wasn't really sure which. "Other things? Something happen recently?"

    "No," Victoria said, a little too quickly, but she hadn't put any extreme emphasis on the word. It was enough of a denial that I wouldn't push it further, but it wasn't enough of one that I believed it. "I'm sorry, Taylor, but we don't really know each other well enough for me to get into too many personal things."

    "It's okay," I said. "The real question I have is more related to something else. Why did you say the thing about 'no matter how many of you there are' to me earlier?"

    Victoria laughed. "Yeah, I suppose that'd be something. Most people won't get it right away, and while we really didn't talk at the bank, I heard about how you were acting from Ames. I'm not sure she really put two and two together, given she wasn't really that close with Uncle Mike and Fleur, but I did. I was."

    "Which of them?" I asked.

    "Fleur was," Victoria said. "She went to some small support group once every few months, and well, there were times where she wasn't Fleur, you know?"

    Fleur. She'd been the one killed by that Empire kid a few years back, and then when he got out… Lacey and Kurt had noticed something odd about Dad. Given what we now knew about Dad… it was possible that another part of him had gone out to do something about it, but there was no way of knowing for sure without confronting him. That was something that wasn't exactly easy to do without him here.

    "So, you knew?" I asked.

    "Honestly, she… they, I guess… weren't exactly upfront about it at first. The others tried to pass themselves off as Fleur around my parents and Aunt Sarah and Uncle Neil. I got the feeling that Uncle Mike knew about it, but either he didn't care, or he liked that part of them. I don't really fully understand it," Victoria said. "And if that's something going on with you too, I meant what I said. You guys are anti-Nazi. That's a good thing in my book."

    I laughed. "I don't understand it either, honestly. I uh… only found out about what was going on with us… last week? Some people might have said I was going crazy."

    "You aren't though," Victoria said. "I'm not a psychologist, and really, I do recommend that you maybe look into getting one. But regardless of that, I can say confidently that you aren't crazy. Well, no crazier than anyone else. There's just more than one person in there."

    I nodded.

    "If I might ask… how many?" Victoria asked as we passed a fountain on our way toward the Anthropology Building.

    "Four of us," I said. "Rachel, Lisa, Alec, and me."

    "Alec? Sounds like a guy," she said.

    I nodded. "He is. Very much a guy. I think… my friend Aisha and he are dating."

    "Those two and not you?" Victoria asked.

    I shrugged. Aisha was cute, but I wasn't sure that we had that connection. I didn't want to try and take away from what she'd developed with Alec. I still was iffy on the whole situation to begin with, but there was nothing lost by giving them their own space.

    Thanks, dork. But you deserve some nice things too.

    Well, at least I wasn't hearing them out loud now.

    "Which do you prefer?" Victoria asked. "Guys or girls?"

    "Not planning on setting me up on a date or something, are you?" I asked.

    "I don't know you well enough to try that yet," Victoria said. "But I don't want to make you uncomfortable in general."

    "Honestly, I don't know," I said. "I've had… Well, I haven't had much time with either. There're things about both men and women that are intriguing, but…"

    "You'll figure it out," Victoria said with a smile. It was a very nice one, but I couldn't let myself even think of her like that. She was with Dean. Yes, Dean Stansfeld, clearly a rich guy, and possibly one who was only with her because she was a superhero. Well, maybe she was only with him for the money. No, Victoria wasn't like that, and I knew that already. Yes, but some people might have thought that. Maybe there were good things about Dean besides his money. He hadn't been super talkative, but then again, neither had Amy.

    Amy had spent most of her time looking at her sister or looking at us, annoyed that she was paying attention to us. Protective of her sister, maybe? It fit, but there might be something more there. Eh, not something that really pertained to us. We only just met them properly after all. I just knew that there was no way that Amy was touching Angelica or Brutus.

    Speaking of, I pulled out a plastic bag to handle what Brutus just did on the quad. It was polite to pick up after your dog, and I made sure that if I was going to bring them anywhere, I would be prepared to deal with things like that. I didn't want to give people reasons to mess with the dogs, after all. There were times that I would be okay with them getting pet though.

    "Angelica, Brutus, heel," I said as the pair had started to pull off toward the hustle and bustle of the college campus. Both obediently came to my side, and I lightly rested a hand on Brutus's head, scratching behind his ears. "Good."

    "They're well trained," Victoria said. "How long have you had them?"

    I shrugged, and I thought inwardly. When did Rachel get them? Could I let her out and answer? I knew she'd been paying attention. Probably. She could maybe come out… and… I don't know. Maybe she didn't want to speak right now? "I wasn't the one who got them for us. Rachel was. She rescued them, and they're… well, our dogs. Wonderful, thoughtful, dogs. I… well, I met them last week."

    "Huh," Victoria said as we got closer to the Anthropology Building. "So, you've had moments where the others were in control, and you didn't know about it?"

    I nodded.

    "The bank was one of those times, wasn't it?" She shook her head after a second. "Yeah. You probably should find an understanding psychologist for that. They'd have to speak with all of you, but if you can figure out how to make that work…"

    "I'll—" I stopped for a second. I didn't really

    "We'll think about it," Lisa said. "It sounds like it might be a decent idea. Thanks, Victoria."

    "It's not a problem," Victoria said. "So, you're coming here for help with that translation? I think my cousin's taking an Intro to Egyptology course here."

    "Might be with the person we're here to meet up with," Lisa said. "Professor Ahmet Abdol is one of the best out there, which… does beg the question as to why he's working here rather than some other more prestigious university."

    "Maybe there's something wrong with his research," I suggested. "Or maybe he likes Brockton Bay for some reason."

    "Cape capital of the Northeast?" Lisa asked. "Feel free to chime in, Victoria… can I call you Vicky? Or rather, can we call you Vicky? Or do you prefer Victoria?"

    "Actually, I would prefer the longer version," Victoria said. "And… I didn't know you could switch rapidly like that. Fleur's switches were a little more involved."

    "We're not really switching," I said, honestly. While I didn't know everything about what was going on, I did know this. "Lisa's here with me."

    "Been here since this morning. Alec and Rachel both are paying attention too, but I'm not sure why they haven't spoken up," Lisa said. "I think either Taylor or I would have to switch out for them to come to the forefront, and we're both kind of needed for this."

    "For talking with Professor Abdol?" Victoria asked.

    "He was Mom's friend," I said. "We've met him before. Well, I did."

    "I remember him," Lisa said. "But yeah, Taylor's the one who will do the talking here."

    At that point, I knew Lisa was talking out loud more for Victoria's benefit than our own. We didn't necessarily need to speak out loud to get our thoughts across to each other, but to people who weren't in our head, it was a different story. Victoria being knowledgeable about the situation made it easier to talk with her about related items, yet we still weren't telling her everything we were here for.

    "You did manage to translate those pictures, right?" Victoria asked. "Do you really need to speak with this guy?"

    I nodded. "He might have a copy of the Book that we can doublecheck with. Make sure the line is actually in the book, and then we can see what's around it."

    "Where'd the pictures come from anyway?"

    "Some person on the Internet," Lisa said. "Asked for a little help in this sort of thing. Oh, by the way Victoria, how was the Medhall Charity thing? Did you get to see the things they were auctioning off?"

    "Not before they got stolen by the Travelers," Victoria said. "Mom doesn't exactly get along with the people at Medhall, so we didn't go to the gala itself out of protest, instead donating directly to the charity. We were, however, among the first capes to arrive. Even before the Protectorate. Of course, we have more flyers than they do."

    We nodded.

    "They got away though?" I asked.

    "Trickster's slippery, and I don't think Genesis ever is really at the sites of the robbery," Victoria said. "It doesn't seem like she has a changer power. The creatures we see at each of the robbery events are much more likely to be a sort of projection. They're a strange group, and they work together fairly well tactically."

    "I wonder if eliminating things that are around the same size as them might mess with Trickster's teleport ability," Lisa said. "He seems to have some sort of limitation like that."

    "I'll suggest it at the next strategy meeting about them," Victoria said as she pulled open the door for us.

    We headed in and made our way to the reception desk. The woman sitting there looked to be some sort of graduate student, as she wore a green blouse that had Miss Militia's logo embroidered on the front. Her fair skin was made up well, and her red hair was pulled into a braid that went halfway down her back. Her eyes widened a little as they locked onto Victoria, and then she looked over at me and our dogs.

    It wasn't disgust that hit her eyes when she looked at Angelica, but instead it was pity. Perhaps sorrow. "I'm sorry, but dogs aren't really allowed back in the building."

    "You can't make an exception for my friend?" Victoria asked.

    "Mm…" The receptionist gave Victoria a considering look, and for a brief second, she looked even more amazing. I felt the strangest sense of awe as I just looked at her, desired to please her.

    That's very weird, dork. She's not that amazing.

    I rubbed my eyes, and as quickly as that feeling came, it went. The receptionist gave a brief smile. "Maybe. I can ask some questions at least. Who are you here to see? And who are you? You both look like you're in high school."

    "Well, we are, but I take some classes here," Victoria said. "In the Parahuman Studies department."

    "Right, yes, I think I've seen you around campus, Glory Girl," said the receptionist.

    "Please. I'm not in costume. You can call me Victoria," she said. "And this is Taylor."

    "Hebert," I added. "And I'm here to see Professor Abdol, miss…"

    "Hardy. Jessica Hardy," said the woman. "I can call the professor, but I think he might be in the room with either a colleague or a student right now. I can't guarantee he'll answer."

    "Please do," I said. "Let him know about me."

    She nodded and made the call. I could tell she'd called the right person because I heard his voice coming out of her phone's headset speaker. The school definitely needed a new phone system. Or at least the Anthropology building did. Something in Professor Abdol's voice felt a little off, but then again… he had been one of Mom's friends. I'd go talk with him.

    Then Jessica Hardy called someone else to ask about the dogs, and she got a negative response. "Well, I've got some good news and bad news for you, Miss Hebert."

    At least she was pronouncing the name correctly. The sheer amount of people who thought the last name should be pronounced like Alec's was ridiculous. It got remarkably frustrating over time.

    "What's the news?" I asked.

    "Well, Professor Abdol is eager to see you, but unfortunately the dogs aren't allowed to go back there," Jessica said. "If you're willing to leave your dogs out here, I can let you back."

    "I can watch them for you," Victoria said. "I don't think you need me to be with you when you're actually talking to the guy."

    "Thanks, Victoria," I said. "You think you'll be okay with them?"

    As she looked over the dogs, I didn't see a single trace of disgust or pity on her face. Both dogs already seemed to like her, and I couldn't help but smile at that. I passed her the leashes before turning back to the receptionist. Continuing to smile, I nodded. "If you'd like to pet them, be careful. They aren't vicious, but their last owner was abusive."

    "Awww," Jessica Hardy said. "Go on back there, Miss Hebert. Professor Abdol's expecting you."

    "Which office is his?" I asked.

    "He's on the second floor, in office 2234," she said. "You can't miss it. The entire Egyptology department is specially decorated."

    I smiled, and I made my way to the elevator located not far behind her. It didn't take long for it to arrive, and I climbed in, pressing the button for the second floor. While waiting in the elevator, as the doors closed, I looked over to Victoria with the dogs. Was that the right thing to do? Leaving the dogs with Victoria? She seemed capable of handling them, but we didn't know her all that well yet. I hoped that'd change soon. She was pretty cool and knew another like us.

    As for Professor Abdol. I needed to figure out what we were going to ask him. Yes, the obvious was for help with the translation work, but I also needed to know one way or another if he knew about Doctor El-Faouly's work.

    "You can do this, Taylor," Lisa said. "Professor Abdol used to be one of your mom's friends. Maybe he'll have a soft spot for you."

    "Is that why you're letting me do the talking on your part of things?" I asked.

    "If you want me to sound like you, I can," Lisa said. "I've done it before."

    "When?" I asked. Her sounding like me bugged me some. The fact that she'd needed to or the fact that she was able to scared me a little. I didn't know how many times she'd done it or needed to do it in the past. I knew there'd been times where I just… wasn't there. I'd zone out and end up somewhere else, like what happened with the bank. How often had she done it?

    "Well, the bank was one of the times, but sometimes at school," Lisa said. "A few times when we were younger. I tried to make it so that people didn't question, that we kept going."

    "Lisa… Sarah, you never really went away, did you?"

    She didn't answer, and instead, the elevator opened. It was oddly comforting to know that she had always had my back. Still, it was a little disconcerting to think that the others could pretend to be me. How much else were they hiding from me still? Did they even really need me around?

    Don't think like that, dork. You're as real as the rest of us.

    Alec might have been a shit, per Rachel's parlance, but he was our shit.

    The shit, if you please.

    I did still need to figure out how to handle the thing with Aisha. It wouldn't be fair to Alec or Aisha to ask that the two of them break up. Yes, they were doing things in our body that I… mostly… didn't realize, but at the same time, they said they hadn't gone further than kissing. I believed them.

    I shook my head as I made my way through the department that was obviously Egyptology here. I recognized each of the pieces that they had on the walls, and I followed along as a blonde woman left the office rapidly. She looked a little troubled, but I wasn't entirely sure about that.

    "Taylor Hebert is that you?" a familiar voice asked. I glanced over to it. Huh. I didn't know that Professor Mark still worked here.

    I smiled. "Professor Mark! I thought you'd moved on to other places."

    "I did, for a bit," he said. "Here to see Ahmet then?"

    I nodded.

    "I think he's done with the student he had for office hours, so you should be able to go on in. Second door on the right."

    I smiled, and I nodded again to him in thanks as I made my way to room 2234, which was, as Professor Mark said, the second door on the right. I did glance back at Professor Mark. It was a little strange that he would be back after supposedly having moved on to one of the better schools in the country. He didn't even say why he came back. Weird. Maybe he didn't do well there. Except I knew he knew his stuff. Mom even wrote his recommendation.

    Well, we knew how much that was worth. A lot, really. Yeah, but those who knew Mom's past with Lustrum might take it some other way. Except she was recommending a man, not a woman. How else would she take that? Okay. Let's deal with Professor Abdol.

    I knocked on the door.

    "Come in! Taylor, is that you?" Professor Abdol's familiar accented voice cheered me up a little. I remembered coming in and seeing the things he was working on when I was a kid. Lots of cool things.

    "Yes, Professor," I said as I opened the door.

    "Look at you," he said. "Grown so tall. And you look a lot like your father. Your hair is like your mother's though."

    I nodded and looked around his office. On his desk was a copy of what looked like The Book of the Dead, but it wasn't a version I'd seen before. A faceted light of some sort sat next to the book, and it looked like the specific page that the Professor was on had nothing to do with what we had been looking into.

    "Sorry that I hadn't come to see you sooner," I said. "It's… well, it's just been hard."

    "Yes, I understand," Professor Abdol said. "I might have lost a colleague, but you lost a mother while Danny lost his wife. Speaking of, is your father here with you?"

    I shook my head. "He's out of town on business."

    "Of course," said Professor Abdol. He gestured to the chair in the room. "Please sit down. I assume this isn't merely a pleasure visit."

    "No, not really. I have a bit of a research project that I'm doing for…" Say extra credit. "Extra credit in school, and it involves finding out a few things and doing some translation work. I wanted to doublecheck what I had so far on the translation work and to see if maybe you might know somewhere I can find some information related to the other thing."

    "Anything for you," he said. "Annette would have done the same for me or my future children in a heartbeat."

    I nodded. "Which would you rather do first?"

    "The translation can work. May I see what you've done?" he asked.

    I nodded and pulled out the notebook along with the pictures. After handing them over, I watched him look over the notes I did. Of course, it was right. There was no way I was wrong about this. Well, unless there was a transposition error. That happened sometimes. Except it didn't this time. Just need to keep my expectations tempered though. But I still got things right.

    "This looks like a quote from the Book of the Dead, etched onto something…" Professor Abdol said, flipping through the book on his table. He stopped on a page. "Yes, this is definitely it. Speaking of Khepri and his role."

    Khepri again.

    "So, the translation?"

    "Mostly correct, though I would have gone with a bit stronger phrasing here," he said, pointing at one part of my translation. "What else did you want to talk about?"

    "I'm supposed to be looking into the research of a man known as Abdallah El-Faouly," I said. "Have you heard of him?"

    "Heard of him?" Professor Abdol laughed. "I cite his research all the time. He wrote such fascinating work prior to his unfortunate death."

    "What do you mean?" I asked, and I took my notepad back, pulling out a pen.

    "Well, Doctor El-Faouly had a theory about Ancient Egypt. That the gods themselves walked among the Egyptians, helping them, leading them. Either through granting abilities to select people known as avatars, or by just being there themselves," Professor Abdol said. "He took the appearance of Scion as evidence of such things having happened, but he wanted to prove things. A respectable thing to do, after all."

    "So, how did he die?" I asked.

    "He was executed by some mercenaries," Professor Abdol said. "In Egypt, near a dig site that he had been working on to prove his very theory. From what I understand, his daughter went back and found the site itself, a temple to the god of the moon, Khonshu."

    "Khonshu, not Khonsu?" I asked. "Why that pronunciation?"

    "Because proper translations exist, and the so-called Fist of Khonshu exists," said Professor Abdol. "The Moon Knight, when he appears, insists on using that pronunciation, and given there are records of someone in those vestments around during ancient times… I'm inclined to believe him."

    And we'd spoken with him. Temporarily, at least. "You say you've cited his work in yours. What kind of work?"

    "I agree with him that the gods existed and walked with the humans of the time," said Professor Abdol. "But where we differ is the idea that they were actually gods to begin with. No, my theory is that they were parahumans, just like any member of the Protectorate or supervillains such as Lung would be. They were able to perform supernatural feats, sure, but this was because their powers were from the same source that parahumans had."

    "So, you don't believe that there was any magic?" Lisa asked, using my intonation. It was her question, after all, but it was a little creepy to hear my voice when she was the one using it.

    "I never said that," said Professor Abdol. "Magic and parahuman powers are likely two sides to the same coin. Magic is just a term for something we don't fully understand. Put a few words together with the right kind of energy, and you can direct the energy in a specific way. Is that science, parahuman powers, or is that magic?"

    "Sounds a lot like magic to me," I said.

    "Yes, but then you have things like this," he said, gesturing at the crystal on his desk. It was pulsing with the red it glowed. "Items that historically were associated with magic yet they absorb parahuman abilities. Science's job would be to study this, to understand it. I intend to harness it."

    "How?" I asked.

    "In a way that would make you happy," Professor Abdol said. "I can forward you all the information that I've used from El-Faouly's research, and I suggest you enjoy it. But, I would like to get something from you first."

    "What would that be?" I asked.

    "One of your hairs. It doesn't have to be that long."

    I blinked. Why would he want a hair? He never seemed creepy in the past. Because we were always there with Mom and he was paying attention to her. Wait, really? Yeah. He had eyes for Mom and only her the entire time we were there. She never did anything about it, one way or the other. Strange for someone who used to follow Lustrum. But maybe the castration thing left a bad taste in her mouth. Thinking about it left a bad taste in mine.

    I pulled out a single hair from close to my neck, and I offered it to the professor. He gladly took it and started winding it around the glowing gem, for whatever reason.

    "Yes… Yes…." Professor Abdol smiled widely. "This will work nicely. Taylor, I will have to find you again once this project starts to reach fruition. Your mother will be very proud of you."

    "You mean would, right?" I asked. "Right?"

    He smiled, and I frowned. What did he mean?

    "I'll make sure you get your assignment done right," he said as the door creaked open behind me.

    I tensed up and turned to look, only to find Professor Mark standing there. "Ahmet, we do have a six o'clock."

    "Of course, of course," said Professor Abdol. "I'm sorry to cut our reunion short, Taylor. But believe me, all will be revealed soon enough. I'll get you those books."

    "Thank you, Professor," I said, standing. I smiled at Professor Mark on my way out, and he returned it

    The elevator door opened to reveal the towering form of Raul Bushman right in front of me. He offered me a sympathetic smile. "Sorry to do this this way, I did want you to come on your own."

    He grabbed me by the arm, pulled me into the elevator, and then he shoved this strange smelling cloth in my face. I tried to hold my breath, but I couldn't. The world began to fade around me, surrounded by the smell.

    Rachel… help.
     
  7. Prognostic Hannya

    Prognostic Hannya Knight of the Yuri Crusade

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    So... no question for the creepy older dude who wants your hair? Really, nothing? I thought you were more on the ball than this, Lisa.

    Also, is the existence of ancient artifacts that can interact with parahuman abilities common knowledge? Related: how widely accepted is the idea of ancient parahumans in this AU?

    I'd ask questions about other pantheons, but I assume that involves spoilers.
     
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  8. ellf

    ellf Know what you're doing yet?

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    Ancient Parahumans are not so widely accepted as a theory in this AU. Much like Abdol's 616 self, his theories are considered somewhat ridiculous.
     
    Jaime01 and ArcaneReader like this.
  9. Threadmarks: Crescent 2.6
    ellf

    ellf Know what you're doing yet?

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    Crescent 2.6


    When I next opened my eyes, I had to blink and then squint at the bright lighting above me. The hum of fluorescent bulbs cut through my brain, and I let out something halfway between a groan and a growl. That fucker had done something to us, and now I had no clue where we were. I tried to sit up, but something across our chest held me in place. Held us in place. I blinked again as my eyes adjusted to the lighting and I looked around where we were. Electric beeping continued behind us, and I noted several wires attached to me, heading backward. They'd placed shit on my chest, side, my leg, stomach, and on my arms. Wires led back from each of those points. There was a tube sticking out of my left arm that led back to some sort of bag that held something in it.

    Lisa'd probably be able to guess what it was, but I thought she was still out of it. I needed to figure a way to get out of here, to save all of us. Wait. Shit. Where the hell were my dogs? I squirmed in place, trying to get a better look around the room. A short slightly bald man in small round-rimmed glasses wearing a green sweater and jeans stood across the room, back to us. He gave us a glance over his shoulder before continuing what he was doing, applying some sort of needle to…

    Wait, those legs were too small to be an adult. Was that a little girl? Who the fuck was this guy?

    "I'll be with you in a second, Miss Hebert." His voice was deeper than I would have thought from a man his size. "I need to finish this round of treatment."

    "Treatment for what?" I asked, my voice low and scratchy. I sounded like none of us at the moment, and then I coughed, my throat dry. Whatever was going on with us wasn't normal. Bushman had done something. I'd deal with being called Hebert later, after I figured out what was going on. Maybe Taylor could wake up and help out too. Either her or Lisa. I'd take either one.

    "That's not your business," said the man. "And don't speak yet. You've been sedated for the past two days in order to allow the degradation of the initial chemical introduced into your system."

    Two days? My dogs. I'd… Taylor had left them with that cape, Glory Girl. While she had been reasonable about them, her sister had not. If anything happened to the dogs, I'd find out. Though I might want to pay more attention to what was going on here first. Worry about us first, the dogs after we got out of this. We'd do what we needed to. I attempted to rub my head for a second, but my arm was caught by the strap.

    Probably should have paid attention to that. It felt strange. I felt strange, not quite like myself, yet not quite like any other part of me. The fog in my head hurt some, and I worried about the others. I worried that Glory Girl wouldn't take care of the dogs, that she'd let her shitty sister do something to them. No. If Aisha found them, she'd take care of them. She paid attention.

    Where were we? I didn't know. But Bushman, that fucker, brought us here.

    The short man turned toward us, looking from us to the machine behind us. He walked over to what must have been a nearby sink, as I heard water coming from a faucet, into a glass. He practically appeared by the bed with a cup and straw.

    Placing the straw at our mouth, he looked at me. "Drink. It's water. Nothing more."

    I sipped at the cup warily, ready to spit it out if it was something else. But if there was something other than water in the cup, I couldn't taste it. I didn't feel different than usual at this point. After a few sips, my throat wasn't dry anymore. I pulled away from the straw.

    "Who are you?"

    "Call me Pitter," he said. "Your caretaker, for the moment. My employer asked me to make sure you recovered from what your kidnapper used on you."

    Employer. Lisa would ask something more. But I wasn't Lisa. Well, I did have a way of asking. "The fuck is that?"

    Maybe I should talk instead? Taylor gently suggested. Normally she was the one primarily out, but we were in some sort of danger. Sharing with her could work though. If we could figure out how to do it. Near as I could tell, Lisa and Alec, the shit, were still out cold.

    Pitter shook his head. "You don't need to concern yourself with my employer. I assume you know who your kidnapper is."

    "Bushman," I said. "Fucker."

    Pitter shrugged. "He grabbed you and knocked you out with an enhanced form of chloroform. Bushman couldn't help but brag about it. The biggest thing was that it worked just like the movies. Knocking out in seconds whereas normal chloroform takes literal minutes. At the least."

    I had no clue what that meant. So many words to say so little. The fuck was with that anyway? Bushman used something that knocked us out. That much I gathered. Special stuff to knock us out. Ah. Maybe that was why we'd been sedated for however long. Maybe. Still was too much talking. Just be straight. Fucker.

    "Why?" I asked, looking at Pitter intently. I'd get out of this somehow, and then I'd get us out of the room. Maybe the other person too.

    "I'm not at liberty to say the full reasoning. Needless to say, Bushman is fulfilling the contract he had by bringing you in." Pitter's lips curled up. I got a hint of disapproval in his look, and I shook my head.

    "Why help?"

    "My employer has no desire to see you harmed, Miss Hebert." Pitter glanced over across the room. "You and our other guests are safe while you are under our care. I assure you of that."

    "Who is the employer?" I asked, but it felt more like a Taylor question. Or a Lisa one. More words were not what I really wanted. I wanted action, but we were still tied to the damn… bed? I thought we were in a bed.

    "As I said, none of your concern at the moment, Miss Hebert. When it becomes your concern, I am sure my employer will let you know directly." A chime came from his pocket, and he pulled out his phone, using its radial menu to check it.

    Look at Rachel with the big words.

    I was going to strangle Alec. Somehow.

    "Miss Hebert, if you'll permit me to examine you, I will be able to get you unstrapped prior to some food," Pitter said, putting his phone away.

    I shrugged. Wasn't like I could stop him while tied up. Didn't trust a single word out of his mouth, but unfortunately, he was our best chance of getting free. "Not Hebert."

    "Your records state otherwise," Pitter said. "Though perhaps it should be Miss Spector, assuming Bushman is correct."

    I narrowed my eyes, but I said nothing. Lindt was the name I chose, and that scarab-headed thing recognized that at the least.

    Pitter approached me and gently did medical bullshit on me. I won't pretend to understand the words he said while doing it, and Lisa wasn't awake to pay attention. The words probably would have been confusing to her too, and there were far too many of them.

    When Pitter finished, he nodded. "It looks like the drug he used has left your system, Miss He—pardon, Miss Spector. I will be undoing the strap on you, but you still need the IV drip, and I would like to monitor you for a bit. So please don't get out of the bed."

    I gave him a glare. "Bathroom?"

    "If you need help getting to the bathroom, I can unhook you from the monitor, and you can use the IV stand to help," Pitter said. "Miss Alcott won't need the help for a little while herself."

    I glanced over to the other occupant of the room. Now that Pitter wasn't standing nearby, I saw that she was a young girl, maybe either in her early teens or a preteen. I couldn't exactly tell from this angle. "You okay?"

    A giggling noise came from over there along with a muffled word that sounded vaguely like "candy." That… wasn't right. Did Bushman take her too and we both were being held hostage here? She didn't matter. We mattered. Except if she was a kid… she mattered to someone. Then some capes would save her. Once we got out.

    "Miss Alcott has been given a painkiller to help with her headaches. This facility is designed to treat situations like her own," Pitter said as he started unhooking the strap from us. "Your own treatment will be able to come soon enough."

    "Don't need anything," I said, sitting up. Then I grimaced. Almost intentionally, but this wasn't entirely a lie. Facial expressions could fool a lot.

    "Oh dear, are you okay?" Pitter asked, reaching over to support me. After my shaky nod, he nodded and started disconnecting me from the electronic beeping machine behind me.

    EKG. It's called an EKG.

    Whatever. I really didn't care. The thing made an annoying long beeping noise before silencing once I was fully disconnected, and I gave Pitter a baleful look.

    "We did need to monitor your vitals, Miss Spector." He helped me out of the bed, supporting me as I stood, and I let him do that. I didn't want to give away the plan. I allowed him to lead me from the bed toward the door, where I got a good look at the other bed.

    In the bed was a young girl with long brown hair. She wore a hospital gown, and she looked off. I couldn't tell exactly what was wrong with her, but something seemed wrong. "She awake?"

    "Not at the moment," Pitter said. "She has had a trying day, and the medication is helping her sleep."

    I nodded. I didn't trust any words out of this man's mouth, but he seemed to at least be somewhat straightforward. That said, if I was here because we were kidnapped, wasn't it possible that she was too? That didn't matter though. We needed to get free. But she was a little girl. We could tell someone when we were free. I needed to keep focused.

    "Why did Bushman bring me here?"

    "That, unfortunately, is not something I am qualified to speak on. Raoul Bushman is a mercenary that does things for his own reasons," Pitter said.

    "Who is qualified?" I asked. Lisa would want to know, and as much as I wanted to just get out, I needed to look interested.

    "My employer, when he speaks with you," Pitter said. "Or perhaps Bushman himself, if he deigns interest."

    "What are the chances of that?" I asked.

    The girl on the bed stirred. "Fifty-five-point nine two percent within twenty-four hours. Seventy-three point three four six within forty-eight."

    "What the fuck?" I asked. Was the little girl serious? Pitter had called her Miss "Alcott" but that could easily be a fake name. How many Alcotts were in the city? I'd have to look it up later. Well, more accurately, Lisa or Taylor would. Alec wouldn't care at all.

    I care a little bit. She's a cape.

    Obviously.

    "Please refrain from asking questions about the future in front of her," Pitter said as he started to lead me out the door. "She is not truly able to stop herself."

    Wow. That was a shitty power.

    I shook my head and wobbled a little, almost intentionally as I passed her bed.

    She reached out and grabbed my hand for a second. Meeting my eyes, she smiled the smile of someone hopped up on something. "Good luck."

    I shook her off, frowning at the sudden weight in my hand. She'd deposited a small scalpel. Where had she gotten that? It wasn't quite the same as the blade Taylor and I had used almost a week ago, but it was still useful. I wouldn't look the gift horse in the mouth here.

    Pitter continued to lead me out, giving the girl a glance. "It's probably best if you ignore her, Miss Spector. She'll only get you into trouble."

    He led me out into a hallway with stone walls and more fluorescent lighting above us. The door behind us was metallic, and there were several similar doors, each numbered further down. It was like some sort of prison or shelter or something. Each door had a number by it, and there were lines on the floor along with cameras that I saw above.

    "Where's the bathroom?"

    "Two doors down this way, to the left. I'm sorry, but each time you need to go, you will need to be escorted. There will be a call button available to you in your room to allow that," Pitter said.

    "Will be?" I asked as he continued supporting and leading me. "What about a way out?"

    "For the current time, you are to be confined with Miss Alcott," Pitter said. "Until my employer is able to speak with you."

    "Who the fuck is he?" I asked. "And why take me?"

    "I'm sure you are well capable of figuring it out," he said as we continued down the hall.

    Once we reached the bathroom door, he started fiddling with some keys and reached for the handle. After he pulled open the door, he stood slightly to the side, gesturing for me to go in. It was now or never.

    I stepped forward quickly and placed the blade of the scalpel against his neck. "Mister Pitter, give me your keys."

    He reached into his pocket, holding them out. I snatched them out of his hand. "Now what, Miss Spector? Do you really think you can get out of here on your own? Not knowing where you're going?"

    I pulled the blade from his neck and slammed my forehead into his chin. I shoved him back into the bathroom and closed the door. We weren't a killer, and really, this guy wasn't our kidnapper. He just aided them, whoever they were. Be they Bushman or someone else, we needed to get out of here.

    But the girl…

    Could wait until after we were out. We knew a superhero. Fine. Which way then?

    Right. The hallway lines went down that way, and that probably meant there was an exit that way. I followed them along, passing by several doors. Part of me was curious about what was behind each one. Guess Lisa was awake, after all. About time. I pushed onward, following the lines before we came upon a fork. The hall continued onward but also forked to the right.

    The lines on the bottom crossed, and the signs I saw weren't all that helpful.

    OSHA would have a field day with working conditions in an underground base. Why did I think it was underground? Because the smell was too musty to be above ground, and the walls were solid stone. That didn't answer which way to go at this point though. True, and it looked like the lines split off between the two directions. Maybe there would be stairs if we just kept going straight.

    Straight it was. I pushed forward another three minutes. My eyes drifted up to the cameras. Either nobody was watching, and no alarm was being raised because of that, or someone was watching, and no alarm was being raised. For some reason. Either way, I kept going, running into a large garage-sized steel door, almost shaped like a vault door, the kind that would roll away. As I stepped closer to it, red lights lit up and it started to roll to the side. Quickly, I hid around the corner from it, looking onward. Light came from the room beyond, and someone was coming out.

    A familiar cape dressed like an idiot magician stepped out of the doors, and he continued walking as the doors started to close behind him. Trickster. This must have been the way into the base, and perhaps he was working with Bushman? That would have been a reason for them to take us. The Travelers would have some sort of grudge.

    I slipped in through the door, just as it shut behind me. Trickster seemed to hear me and shout out, but I ignored the call. There was a second vault door behind the first, approximately twenty feet back. The doors to it looked very thick, and I really couldn't understand. Maybe this was meant to be some sort of safety feature for whatever this place was. Meant to keep out something dangerous like an Endbringer.

    Or if this wasn't an exit… meant to keep something in?

    The second door opened, and I slipped further inside. Immediately I was assaulted by the smell of rotten meat, in this massive room made of concrete. The lights weren't fluorescent here, instead they shone incandescently, creating shadows from the steel girders, making them shaped more like a cage at the internals of the room.

    The concrete was stained in areas, covered in blood and other similar fluids, both dried and not. It almost made me want to vomit.

    "Krouse?" A female voice came from across the room. Movement drew my eyes, and for a second, it looked like there was a young woman there. For a second. The torso and head of a woman were attached to something out of a nightmare. It was a mixture of animal and other creature parts, made to form some sort of cross between animal parts for legs, and a massive animal-like torso that seemed both scaled and furred simultaneously. The human head looked around some more. "Krouse, is that you?"

    I had frozen in place. Unintentionally.

    "Oh, you're new. I thought Krouse had forgotten something," said the thing across the room from me. It stepped toward me, and my first instinct was to run, to get out. But I couldn't make my feet move. I couldn't lift my leg or even make my mouth work.

    None of us could.

    "Come to gawk at the monster?" said the thing, getting even closer, and as the light shone down, illuminating it, somehow it made it even worse. It seemed to be taking its time. "Or come to feed me? Coil seems to be sending younger and younger ones these days."

    Coil. Did I know that name? Didn't matter. We needed to survive the next few minutes.

    "Uh. Sorry. Wrong door."

    Alec. Really? That was the best we could do?

    Everyone else was speechless. I did what I needed to.

    I swallowed.

    The creature's eyes narrowed as it drew even nearer. "Oh… that's such a pity." With each step closer, I backed up toward the door behind me, until I had my back touching cold steel. It took a sniff at the air. "Ah, so you're not even a cape. And you look too young to be one of his mercenaries…"

    "Who are you?" I managed to ask.

    "Noelle," it said. Maybe it was a she, but it was a monster, and I wasn't sure I wanted to dignify it with that sort of thing. "And you are?"

    I tried to reach back for the handle, for something, but I couldn't find it. "R—A—T—L—S—Rachel…"

    I didn't know what to do. It wasn't night. It wasn't…

    "Well, Rachel," Noelle said, slithering practically inches away from me. It leaned its human half down to look me over. "I really am sorry."

    "Sorry for what?" I asked, possibly naively.

    "I'm just… so hungry."

    Then she grabbed me. Us. There was a sucking sensation. Then…

    Darkness.
     
  10. Jaime01

    Jaime01 Your first time is always over so quickly, isn't it?

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    And just like that, one became four. Goodluck Coil.
     
  11. Threadmarks: Crescent 2.a (Aisha)
    ellf

    ellf Know what you're doing yet?

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    [H1]Crescent 2.a (Aisha)[/H1]


    The past four days had been a rollercoaster of emotion. The immense low that had happened initially when she'd been caught by surprise, the high when she'd managed to get out of the whole situation, and then the low again when the real predicament set in. Aisha had powers now. Powers. She knew that her brother had them, and New Wave existed, so it wasn't like it was a stretch that she'd get them too. But these powers weren't at all what she'd have expected, nor were they what she'd have hoped for.

    They'd saved her, sure. Her attackers had forgotten all about her, walking off into the metaphorical sunset. Hell, afterward, Aisha had a bit of fun with it, swiping some things off a shelf in a store where the owner didn't even seem to notice. She even tried messing with some random bystanders, just to see if they even noticed. None did.

    It got creepy when she got home. Her key still worked, luckily, and as she opened the door, she saw something no kid should ever see their parent doing. Normally her mother would have retreated to the bedroom when she heard the door opening, assuming she wasn't too high to notice. (Thank God for Alec that one time she was.) This time, however, she didn't even seem to acknowledge her presence. Aisha instead had hurried to her own room.

    Brian hadn't even noticed her when he came over. He even seemed to forget that she existed. He had come over, sat down, and after having a terse discussion with their mother, he left. Aisha couldn't believe him.

    Alec hadn't come. Taylor hadn't either. They'd left a voicemail on her phone while she had been dealing with trying to eat, and she'd been too much of a coward to try and go to them. If Alec or Taylor couldn't remember her, what would she do? What if the reason they hadn't come was because her power was wide-reaching enough that they didn't remember she even existed? Except, the voicemail clearly indicated that wasn't true. Lisa and Taylor had been arguing about her. About where they were planning on eating.

    If she'd joined them, she'd have found out. But her power affected everyone nearby. She couldn't just have her power affect them.

    Aisha held her face in her hands and let out a sigh.

    "Stupid," she muttered. "Really fucking stupid."

    The door to her bedroom opened, revealing her brother. Brian stepped into the room, determination and worry on his face initially, but that faded to confusion the moment he stepped inside. He looked around the room and frowned. "Why did I come in here again?"

    "To find me?" Aisha asked. "Not that you'll pay attention to me like this."

    True to form, Brian didn't seem to realize she was even there. Fuck, that was terrible. Four days without anyone acknowledging her existence beyond the texts and voicemails was just not what she wanted to go through. "Came over to Mom's, but… why?"

    Aisha screwed her face up into another frown. This was worse than just being ignored. It was like he didn't even know she existed in the first place. She remembered hearing that very few powers lacked any way of controlling it. Those that did usually had people ending up getting help for their powers, but she didn't know how she could get any help, given what her power did. That said, as long as Brian was here, she wanted to try something.

    She focused. If others could turn off their power, maybe she could too. There was something in her mind that was almost like a valve. At least, that's how she pictured it. She could turn the valve all the way to an off position, but it wasn't easy. She felt like the valve would snap back open the moment she let go. But she did it. She fully turned the valve closed.

    Brian had turned toward the door when she did that, getting ready to step out.

    "Brian?" She needed to see if it would work.

    There was no small amount of satisfaction that flushed through her when her brother jumped at the door. "Holy shit, Aisha!"

    The Laborns weren't really a hugging family, outside of significant others, so it said a lot when she ran up and wrapped her arms around him. And when he returned it. "Brian… I'm sorry…"

    "Fo—Oh." Brian's grip tightened. "Powers. You got powers."

    "Yeah," Aisha said. "And just now figured out how they work."

    Well, she only figured out how to turn them off. Which was definitely something she had to keep a focus on. She could focus on it without too much effort, but she felt like if she slipped at all, she'd be back to not being remembered.

    "That's…" Brian shook his head. "I never wanted this for you. I don't want to know how it happened, as that's personal."

    Aisha nodded. The circumstances surrounding her powers were not something she wanted to relive. "Okay. Thank you."

    "How long was it like this?" Brian asked.

    "Less than a week," Aisha said. "I've been cooking and stuff while Mom didn't even remember I was there. Believe me, you really don't want to see what she gets up to without us here."

    "I'll take your word for it," he said. Brian frowned. "Alec hasn't been by?"

    Aisha shook her head. "Not since the other day. Taylor called me to let me know they were going to Fugly Bob's, but I'd been…" She looked down. Maybe she would have figured out how to turn her power off sooner if she'd gone to see them. Instead, she sat at home, eating the food, seeing things that no child should ever see their parents doing.

    "And you haven't heard from any of them since?" Brian asked.

    "I thought that maybe my power…"

    "Look, I remembered you out there, and I even came in your room looking for you," Brian said. "I just… couldn't seem to notice that you were here and even forgot why I'd come into your room. I didn't forget that it was your room though."

    "But Mom…"

    "Mom forgets you exist all the time," Brian said. "Your power probably just added to that."

    Aisha let out a breath. Well, that was something, at least. Brian remembering her up until the point he could see her meant that her power required her to be nearby in some fashion. Maybe it was more like being invisible, after a fashion, even if it wasn't necessarily true invisibility. Aisha wondered what would happen if she just stopped turning her power off here. Maybe in the middle of him talking…

    "Thanks, Brian," Aisha said. No need to warn him. She needed an unbiased answer, anyway. She could warn him next time.

    "You're my little sister, of course I care about—" Aisha stopped holding her power back, feeling it rush into place. Brian blinked and looked past her. He took a look around the room. "Wait, what was I doing? Why did I come into Aisha's room?"

    "Can you hear me, Brian?" she asked.

    He didn't seem to respond, and he'd even started toward the room's door once more. She reached out and turned off her power again, and then she tapped him on his shoulder. Brian jumped.

    "What the fuck, Aisha?" Brian asked as he spun to look at her. "You were here the entire time?"

    Aisha nodded. "Had to test something. Now that I know…" Well, she knew that she could turn off her power, and she knew that her power only worked when people were near her. Any other limits, she wasn't sure about, but at least she could go find Alec and show him now. "Brian, can you give me a ride to Taylor's?"

    "Shouldn't you give her a call first?" Brian asked.

    Aisha rolled her eyes, but she went over to her charging cell phone. Pulling it off its charger, she pulled open the contact, and dialed it. After four rings, the phone kicked over to the answering machine, so she hung up and dialed again.

    "No answer?" Brian asked.

    Aisha shook her head.

    "Can you call her cell phone?" Brian asked.

    "Taylor doesn't have a phone," Aisha said as she hung up and dialed the phone a third time. "Something to do with how Mrs. Hebert died. I don't really know the specifics, since I haven't talked with Taylor about it, but Alec said it was something of a bugbear with the family. One he wanted to respect."

    This time, on the third ring, she heard someone pick up the phone. A masculine voice answered the phone, speaking in a British accent. "Hello, who is this?"

    "Who are you?" Aisha asked, and Brian gave her a confused look. She covered her phone's mouthpiece and hissed out, "Some guy at her place. British."

    "I asked you first," said the man. "You don't sound like Emma."

    "That bitch?" Aisha asked. "Of course, I'm not Emma fucking Barnes. I'm actually Taylor's friend. Who the hell are you?"

    "You know Taylor?" asked the man. "I'm her… well, I'm not her Dad, but I'm sort of her uncle. My name is Steven. Steven Grant."

    "Oh." Aisha shook her head. She'd seen some of the research that Lisa and Taylor had managed to find on Bushman's claims, but she hadn't really been paying too much attention to that. She'd tried, but there were only so many blacked out lines that one could look at. She did connect a photo of Marc Spector to the one of Danny Hebert though. She wasn't sure if Taylor had mentioned an uncle or not though. "And yeah, I'm Aisha. I'm good friends with Taylor." And Alec. And Lisa. And Rachel, as much as that was possible. Girl did not make it easy.

    "You can call me Steven," he said. "As one of her good friends, do you happen to know where she might be?"

    "You mean she's not at home?" Aisha asked.

    "No, she isn't," Steven said. Though the way he said it, something wasn't quite right. Maybe he was someone working with Bushman? She knew that guy wasn't trustworthy when they met him. He just pushed all of her buttons. "I'm really not sure where she is."

    "Don't bullshit me," Aisha said. "You're working with that Bushman guy, aren't you? Taylor never mentioned an uncle. Where is she?"

    Brian's eyes widened. Maybe he wasn't expecting her to get this animated about this, but if Taylor was genuinely missing, that meant so was Alec. Of course, maybe leaping right into that wasn't the best idea, but she'd been sitting around without any social interaction for the past four days. She could probably be excused for jumping into things when her friend and boyfriend were on the line. Bushman just felt off. So did this Steven person.

    "Wait, Bushman?" Steven asked. His voice changed slightly, deepening a bit and dropping the accent. "What do you mean Bushman? Who did you meet named Bushman?" Whoever this was sounded worried.

    "He said his name was Raul Bushman," Aisha said. "And he wanted to talk to Taylor. I went with her."

    She could almost picture the man on the other line run a hand over his head in frustration. "He wanted to talk, with Taylor. About what?"

    "He had some interesting things to say about her dad," Aisha said. "Said he wasn't who he said he was. But it's more than that, isn't it? Bushman said his name was something else, not Steven though. And you're not Steven, different voice."

    "Observant, aren't you?" asked the man. "I'm not working with Bushman. Steven isn't either, and I can tell you that there's no way in hell that Danny Hebert would work with him. You can't trust anything that man says." She could almost hear him looking away at something. The microphone on that headset was remarkably strong. He was talking to someone else in the room with him.

    "Who exactly are you?" Aisha asked. She had an inkling of an idea, but she couldn't be completely certain. There was a reason that Taylor and Lisa had reacted as poorly as they did when they found out what Bushman had said. Something was going on. This guy… "Are you Marc Spector?"

    "He told you that name?" asked the guy. Marc. Maybe. "I was hoping to keep Taylor out of that part of my life."

    "So, you are her dad then," Aisha said. "Where the hell have you been?"

    "Away," Marc said. "And Danny's her dad. I'm…"

    "Someone else, that Bushman thinks is more or less the same person, who is in the Hebert home, and are the dogs there?" Aisha asked. It was possible that Marc Spector was in the same situation with Mr. Hebert as Alec, Taylor and the others.

    "What dogs?" Marc asked. "There's no dogs here…"

    Aisha frowned. It was possible that Taylor was out walking the dogs. Well, Rachel could have been walking them too. Still, something about this didn't feel right. "Taylor has a pair of dogs, Angelica and Brutus. How long have you been home?"

    "We just got here…" Marc said. She heard him shuffling over on the other side. "There's a couple messages on the machine. Let me play them."

    "I thought Taylor's dad was Danny Hebert," Brian said. "Who's this Marc Spector guy?"

    "Complicated," Aisha hissed, covering the microphone again. "We just found this out from Bushman."

    Brian shook his head. "Come on, then. We can head over. Stay on the phone if you need to."

    She heard Marc push the button on the other side, activating the answering machine while she followed Brian out of the house.

    A female voice came on. "Hey, Taylor, I had to look your number up in the phone book, so I hope I got the right one. This is Victoria Dallon, as a reminder. I'm keeping an eye on your dogs still as you didn't seem to come back after talking with that professor guy. Call me back if you get the chance. I'll make sure they stay okay. My number is…" Victoria rattled off her number.

    Glory Girl. When had Taylor met with Glory Girl? Well, maybe it had been at the bank, but this sounded more recent, if she was taking care of the dogs.

    "Well, sounds like you weren't wrong about the dogs, but professor? What sort of professor?" Marc asked.

    The next message started. "Taylor, this is Ahmet Abdol… I managed to find the research you wanted from Abdallah El-Faouly. You can come pick it up at your leisure at the university. I'll leave it with Miss Hardy at the information desk so you can get it. It was good to see you. Danny, if you're getting this message, we should do lunch sometime. It's been too long."

    "Oh, that professor," Marc muttered. Or was it even Marc? The voice sounded a little different. "Why would Taylor go see him?"

    "Hey Taylor, Victoria again… I'm getting a little worried. I went by your place, and I didn't see any evidence you were home. I asked my cousin to ask around about you at the college, but we haven't found any evidence of you. I'll fly around and keep an eye out, but if you're out there, please just call back."

    Aisha bit back a couple of words she shouldn't say as she got into the car. "Glory Girl's taking care of her dogs, Brian."

    "What?" Brian asked. "When did that happen?"

    "I'm assuming the Fugly Bob's day. But it could have been any other day."

    "She went to Fugly Bob's?" Marc asked. Or was that one of the others? It wasn't Steven. Aisha didn't know them well enough to differentiate between them. Especially not on the phone. "Hold on, there's another message."

    It started, and the accented voice of Raul Bushman could be heard on the machine. "Marc, I'm sure that you are listening to this message. Paying a thinker to track you down and get you a message that would draw you back to this city was not an easy task, as I'm sure you understand. We have things we need to speak about, you and I." A button was pressed on the machine, pausing it.

    "Aisha, I'm going to have to talk to you later," Marc said, or it might have been one of the others. Aisha wasn't sure. He sounded slightly different than earlier. "I will give you a number. If you find out anything about Taylor's whereabouts, please call it and leave a message on the voicemail or send it a text."

    "Fine," Aisha said. "What's the number?"

    Marc rattled off a number, and she quickly input it into her phone, storing it. Then he hung up.

    Aisha looked to her brother in the driver's seat. "So, it's possible that Bushman may have kidnapped them. Somehow."

    "Where are we going?"

    "Remember that place where you picked Taylor and me up from, after we fought some Nazis?" Aisha asked. After Brian nodded, she continued. "There."

    "Fine." Brian started the engine and started to drive. He noticed Aisha dialing another number on the phone when he glanced over to her. "Who are you calling?"

    "The last person I know saw Taylor before they were taken," Aisha said. "We're going to need more than just us to get them back."

    "Okay…" Brian trailed off, focusing on the road. "That doesn't actually answer the question. Who are you calling?"

    "Glory Girl," Aisha said. "If she's half the hero she claims she is, Victoria Dallon will help."

    She had to. Aisha couldn't lose her friends.
     
  12. ellf

    ellf Know what you're doing yet?

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    With that, my backlog is now empty. 2.7 is taking a bit. So next week might not be an update week. (RL has been kinda kicking my ass recently)
     
    Jaime01 and Anor like this.
  13. Threadmarks: Crescent 2.7
    ellf

    ellf Know what you're doing yet?

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    Content Warning for this chapter: Transphobia, Animal Abuse, Implied Assault, Traumatic Memories, Unpersoning.

    Crescent 2.7

    Darkness, tight spaces, walls closing in. Oxygen limited, gasping for breath, over and over again. I couldn't. I couldn't do anything, couldn't see, couldn't touch. I was completely cut off, away from the world.

    Nobody came to help. Nobody would. Nobody could. I was alone in this. Without any of them. I couldn't feel them with me, couldn't feel anything other than trapped. The world pressed in on me, isolating me further, thrusting me into my own space. My mind raced, and adrenaline pumped. In and out, I gasped. Rachel. Lisa. Alec. Where were they? Why couldn't I feel them? Why couldn't I talk to them? I couldn't even scream out in pain or fear. I couldn't do anything. What if I was just trapped inside my body? Inside my head? What if they would keep me here forever, unable to interact with the world? What if they could just take over? What if I wasn't the real me? What if it was one of them that was? What if the reason I was trapped, unable to see anything, to feel anything was because they didn't need me anymore and they trapped me here, pushing me further and further down? Abandoning me the way Dad had. The way Emma had. The way Mom had.

    Over and over, I felt myself shoved deeper down. Deeper, and deeper. Harder and harder. I screamed voicelessly, raging, pleading with the world to let me out. Let me free! I needed to leave, to be free from everything.

    Where were they? Why couldn't I feel them? I knew they were there. They had to be. I couldn't just be alone, could I? I wasn't… I'd never really been alone, had I?

    God.

    Gods.

    Was I really alone? Was I the only one left, slowly suffocating under this entrapment? This crushing force that I felt, this painful squeezing? Gods… what was even going on? What…

    A flash came before my eyes. I could see. Stars. So many stars. What was I seeing? What was that thing that was so big? Massive creatures, two of them, talking to each other in a language that I couldn't hope to understand. Some sort of agreement between the pair, something splitting off of the larger one, coming down to find me. To find us.

    And then the vision flared brightly with sunlight, and I felt myself land on my back on solid ground. I still felt like something was squeezing around me, but it was faint, in the background. Instead, a crystalline landscape took up my vision, spreading far beyond anything else that I could see. The crystals reflected me, showing many different variations of me, some with four other mes that weren't me, some with just me by myself. Moments. The crystals showed moments from my life, from their lives… They also glowed with a multihued luminescence.

    Where… where was I? What was this place?

    Where were the others? Why did I feel so alone in my head?

    Gold light suffused the area for a brief second, and a bandaged hand appeared above me.

    "Taylor Hebert." Khepri's voice came from the general direction of the scarab on his head as he offered the hand. "Take my hand."

    "Where am I?" I asked.

    "A place between," Khepri said. "Let me help you up."

    "I haven't agreed to anything," I said, taking his hand. He lifted me to my feet with ease that could only come from an ingrained strength. "What do you mean between?"

    "Between reality and dream, much like the space within your mind where you and your fellows gather," Khepri said.

    I looked around some more. His statements implied that they were here somewhere themselves. "Why am I here? And where are they?"

    Khepri gestured at the crystalline structures surrounding me. In one crystal, I saw that creature, Noelle, pulling us into her form. What the heck was she anyway? Was she an Endbringer? Did whoever it was that Bushman brought us to have an Endbringer locked up in the base? That didn't quite make sense, but neither did any of this. The next crystal over showed me… trapped within her, mirroring what had happened at camp. I'd gotten stuck within a storage closet, trapped under some fallen materials, and nobody had come. Not one single person had come to even look for me for hours. At some point, I'd blacked out, and when I came to, I was sitting at the camp cafeteria table, I hadn't even told Emma that. I'd planned on it, but she'd started bullying me… and then stopped, moving to just ignoring my existence.

    "Your need was determined, but the first time, it was yours alone," Khepri said. "Now… it is all of you. This Noelle is going to kill you."

    That meant that our body, our real body was still inside that thing. Noelle… whatever, had us, and here I was… in between. Khepri was here, saying that Noelle would kill us. God help me, I believed him.

    "Are you able to save us?" I asked, looking up at the Egyptian god. "Are you even real? Is this real?"

    "This, young Taylor, is very real," Khepri said. "And if you come to a consensus and agree to become my avatar, I can save you. But only then."

    "Why only then?" I asked. "Aren't you a god?"

    "Even the gods have limitations," Khepri said. "We have rules that we must follow, and to interact with the world of humanity, we must have avatars."

    "And you need us to agree," I said. "All of us."

    "I will not force anything upon you," he said. "This deal must be one that most favor."

    "Where are the others?" I asked, and the god gestured once more at the crystals. Great. That meant I needed to go looking. I walked further along the crystalline landscape, looking for any of them. All of them.

    Each facet of a crystal showed something from my life. Or perhaps something from one of theirs. In one crystal, I saw an image of me, wearing a black costume with an insectile mask. The only reason I was sure it was me was because she removed the mask.

    "I need to find Alec, Rachel and Lisa…" I muttered, and the crystal shifted, briefly showing echoes of me in different costumes behind the one in black. One wore purple with a blonde wig. The smirk indicated she was Lisa. Another wore a hoodie with a dog mask. Definitely Rachel. The final one appeared to be a tall, lanky guy in a costume that wouldn't be out of place at a renaissance fair. But his curly hair was pulled back into a ponytail, and it clearly was the same as my curls. Alec.

    "Not what I meant. I need them right now," I said. "Where is Alec?"

    I touched the crystal as I asked my question, and the crystal shifted once more. A flash of light pushed me forward.

    Fluorescent lighting came on above me, one by one, revealing rows upon rows of lockers. This wasn't the girl's locker room, not at Winslow, anyway, and judging from some of the items on the benches, I doubted it was a girl's locker room. It just didn't resemble any locker room that I'd seen before either. Those items better fit for a man, and judging from the specifics, it might have been at a gym. I immediately slid up to a locker and looked around.

    There! Standing in the next row over had to be Alec. He had a loose shirt on overtop of the chest binder he wore and a pair of men's gym shorts. Clearly, he was getting ready for some sort of workout or something.

    Then the nearby entrance swung open with a creak, and two somewhat muscular boys made their way in, laughing. Even without looking at them, I clearly could see their faces. Both were white, and one was shaved bald while the other had lightly trimmed blond hair. Both wore shorts and their own light shirt.

    "What do we have here, Carl?" asked one of the boys, the blond.

    "Looks like a girl in the locker room, Hank," said the bald one. "Not a good looking one, but hey, chica, you do know that the ladies' is across the hall, right?"

    For a second, I thought they spotted me, but they were looking at Alec. He was ignoring them, putting his items away in the bag.

    Hank slammed a hand against the locker near Alec. "Hey, girlie, we're talking to you."

    Alec looked up at Hank. "Hmm? I'm sorry, I don't speak meathead."

    "I think the chick thinks she's a guy, Hank," Carl said, sidling up next to his friend. "Got news for you, sweetie. You ain't. You never will be."

    Alec shouldered his bag and turned to walk away from the boys, attempting to slip under Hank's arm. I gripped the edge of the locker as I watched, wondering what would happen next. The sinking feeling in my gut knew that it was only going to get worse.

    Hank switched from his hand on the locker to placing his hand on Alec's arm. "Oh, no. Girls like you who come into the men's locker room only want one thing. And we're gonna give it to you."

    Oh. Hell no. I might not have been certain about Alec or any of the others before, but there was no way I was just watching this happen. I spun around the locker and charged the boys, screaming at the top of my lungs. They barely got to look at me before I slammed into one full-force, and Alec kneed the other in the groin. He looked up at me in confusion.

    "Rachel?" he asked.

    "Taylor," I said, offering him my hand. "Let's get out of here."

    "Where to?" he asked, taking it.

    "Anywhere's better than here, right?" I replied, and with his hand in mine, I focused on the outside, pulling him with me. With our hands touching, I could feel his trepidation, but he extended me his trust, and the locker room faded around us. We found ourselves standing outside that crystal panel, with each of us having our free hand placed on it.

    Alec blinked and pulled his hand away for a second. "Oh, what the hell, dork?"

    He was more disheveled than he'd been in the vision. His hair was sticking up some, and his clothes were torn in places. His face was paler than normal too, and there was a hint of bruising.

    "How many times?"

    Alec shook his head. "It doesn't matter. Where are we?"

    "How many times did it happen, Alec?" I asked, softening my voice. It was our body, and if that had actually happened… I didn't really want it to be true.

    "In there or… It never happened, dork," Alec said, meeting my eye. "Well, not exactly, anyway. They tried something, but I got away."

    "But…" It was bad enough that he was hurting from it. I felt the need to help him somehow.

    Alec shook his head. "Don't worry about it. Where are the others? Hell, where are we?"

    "Crystal world," I said with a shrug. "And I think the others are in there…"

    I pointed at the crystals in front of us. It really was better than focusing on what I saw in Alec's vision. I wondered what we'd encounter for Lisa and Rachel. One way or another, we needed to get them out of there so that we could figure out what to do next.

    "How do you know?" Alec asked.

    "You were," I said. "And Khepri seemed to think you were inside."

    "Wait, Khepri's back?" Alec glanced over his shoulder, looking directly where the Egyptian god loomed. Alec frowned. "What's he doing here?"

    I shrugged. "He still wants us as his avatar, whatever that means. But we all need to be out here to say yes, or at least most of us do."

    "So, how do we get the others out?" Alec asked. "Just place our hands on here and think about them?"

    "It worked for you," I said, as the two of us did so, still holding our right hands together. My thoughts shifted to Rachel and our dogs. I wondered if they would still be okay with Victoria. If she was taking care of them for us. We weren't close enough to call her a friend yet, but if she took care of our dogs for us, that would probably be enough to start. I was sure Rachel would agree with that, once we got her with us.

    The world around Alec and me faded from crystals into some sort of metal-walled warehouse of sorts. A crowd of mostly white people stood in a circle in front of us, cheering. Some displayed Empire colors, and others just had associated regalia or tattoos. Coming from the center of the circle, I could hear the sounds of a scuffle along with low growling.

    Oh. Oh. Why would this place be where Rachel would be? I glanced over toward Alec, whose face was draining of some of its color.

    "Fuck."

    "What?" I asked.

    "I know where we are and when… Rachel should be…" He pointed, and there she was, dressed in a hoodie, approaching the center of the crowd. The crowd shifted around us, either sliding through us, or we slid through them, following Rachel with her hood up. Nobody seemed to be paying her attention as their attention was on the center of the circle.

    "Ladies and Gentlemen, your winner this evening!" A shirtless man with Nazi tattoos stood at the very center of the ring, lifting a dog, a German shepherd, by the look of it, by its collar with one hand, and he supported its weight with the other. He wore a metal mask over his face, shaped like a wolf. "Say hello to the new alpha dog of the pack, the great Razor!"

    The crowd roared around us, and I looked to see next to Hookwolf's feet, a beaten dog, shaggy with blood-matted fur, struggling to stand.

    The masked man, Hookwolf, sneered and kicked at the dog. The moment his foot struck the dog, the world flashed around me, and it was a different man kicking a different dog. The second blow had it be a woman, kicking a small dog, and as the dog whimpered, the one in Hookwolf's hand turned around to bite him.

    "Stupid mutt!" Hookwolf yelled, and he spun around, throwing the dog in his hands toward a metal locker set up at the edge of the circle.

    "No!" Rachel yelled out, running toward the dog.

    "Grab her!" I called to Alec, running after Rachel. I didn't even look to see if he was running with me, but I knew he was. Mounting dread built in the pit of my stomach, but I knew it wasn't only mine. Rachel's horror suffused through me as well as we watched the dogs. Oh no. The dogs. Hookwolf transformed, blades protruding from his body, and he took them to the dogs at once. With each strike, the dog shifted to another, and the abuser shifted from Hookwolf to someone else. A woman with a bat. A teenager with a nine iron. A border collie. A Doberman. A man with a truck. A drunk man with a steel-toed boot. A chihuahua. A Yorkshire terrier. God… how could anyone do that?

    I got to Rachel's side and placed a hand on her shoulder. "This isn't real, Rachel. This is just a vision."

    She tried to shrug it off. "But… the fucker deserves… he hurt…."

    "We'll help you," Alec said, taking her other shoulder. "But the dork's right. This isn't real. It didn't happen this way."

    Rachel met his eyes, and she nodded. As she did so, the world fell away, leaving us out in that crystalline world. Rachel looked confused as she looked around. She met my eyes, and I simply hugged her. Gods, seeing all that… seeing those dogs hurt… I'd felt her pain.

    "What actually did happen?" I asked.

    Alec snorted. "Oni Lee attacked, and in the confusion, Rachel grabbed two of the dogs and ran."

    "Brutus and Angelica," I surmised.

    Rachel nodded, and she grabbed my right hand with her left and squeezed. "They… it wasn't real, right?"

    "How many times did you go through it?" I asked.

    "Too many."

    I nodded. Which meant, whatever Lisa was going through… it was repeating for her too. I glanced back over toward where Khepri had been standing, and found that the god had moved.

    "Do you know what's going on, Khepri?" I asked.

    Khepri approached, each step making a crunching sound on the crystalline surface, even though nothing cracked or crunched beneath his feet. "You are dying within the makeshift stomach of the monster, and within you see visions of your worst times."

    "Why am I not seeing it still?" I asked.

    "I managed to pull you from it, to insulate you and allow you to overcome the worst of it," Khepri said. "Your need for the others gave me my way to spread the insulation to the rest of you. You needed them as much as they needed you. And you will be able to do even more as my avatar."

    What did he mean to spread it? Why was he able to specifically insulate me? It wasn't completely clear, even with that. My need for the others? My loneliness? But… Lisa was still stuck in there. I didn't want to do anything without her. If we were to make this decision, we needed to make it together.

    I looked over to Alec and Rachel, and some wordless understanding seemed to pass between us.

    "Let's get her," Alec said. "She doesn't deserve being stuck in there, seeing whatever she's seeing."

    Rachel nodded. "We'll find her."

    "We will," I said, agreeing with them. Whatever this was, it proved something to me. Rachel and Alec were real enough to have their own fears, their own wants and desires. Yes, we may have shared a body, but they were their own people. Which meant that Lisa was too. I reached out toward the crystal once more, simultaneously with Rachel and Alec. We needed to find Lisa. We needed to make our way to her.

    "Good luck," Khepri said, his voice echoing around us.

    Then the crystals fell around us once more, revealing a familiar sight to me, a classroom that I had visited many times when I was a child. It was a college room at the local university, and Mom would bring me into her job to show me off to her coworkers.

    The room itself was as I remembered it, decorated with quotes from various authors that she considered classics. There was feminist iconography that was hidden among the décor, and the desks were arranged in a circle. There were a few lockers in the back of the room that I knew Mom had kept some of her additional teaching supplies in, and when I walked over to one of them, I verified its contents were as I remembered.

    "I don't recognize this," Alec said, walking around the room. "Where's Lisa?"

    "Where are we?" Rachel asked.

    "Mom's classroom at the university…" I said, and I glanced toward the door. I had a sinking feeling in my stomach. What would be the most horrific thing for Lisa? She'd long expressed her dislike of Mom, but…

    The door opened, and Mom walked in, escorting a young version of someone who at first glance, could be mistaken for me. But the way she held herself wasn't the same, and I could tell from the way she was looking over the edge of her glasses frames that she just wasn't me. This was Sarah. And…

    Oh. Oh no. I remembered this. I was here with her.

    "Taylor, I don't know what to do with you," Mom said, looking at Sarah. "You have some real friends now, and you're getting older. You don't need to keep pretending."

    "I'm not pretending!" Sarah said. "Not Taylor either! She's here, but I'm not her! I'm Sarah!"

    "Taylor, that's enough!" Mom said. "You know as well as I do that Sarah's just your imaginary friend. Imaginary. Which means your mind made her up. That's not a bad thing, in of itself, sweetie. Your mind is creative enough to make up a new character, and give her a full personality and everything. But it's time to get real. You have some real friends now, with Emma Barnes and Jessica Smythe, but if you keep focusing on this sort of thing, you could lose them."

    "I lost Emma anyway," I said, stepping up to Mom. Sarah's eyes widened as she looked up to me, tears starting to go down her face.

    Mom continued onward, as if I hadn't said anything at all. "But you need to know that Sarah isn't real. God, if you hadn't been so cute when Danny and I…"

    Wait. What?

    She shook her head and knelt down next to Sarah. "Look, Taylor. I just need you to repeat after me. Okay? Repeat after Mommy."

    "Oh… Okay…" Sarah managed to squeak out.

    "Sarah." "Sarah." "Is." "Is." "Not."

    Sarah shook her head, closing her eyes. "I am too real! I am! I'm real, Mommy! I don't want you to get rid of me! I don't want Taylor to lose me! I'm real!"

    I shoved Mom out of the way and scooped Sarah into a hug. Mom… I remembered some of this from my perspective. I remembered believing Mom. Mom knew so much, but I didn't remember this from Sarah's perspective. I didn't remember how she must have felt. I didn't know. Maybe I should have. But Sarah… Lisa… she'd been remembering this. Mom's denial of her existence.

    If she hadn't been dead, we might have been able to prove her wrong.

    "It's okay, Sarah," I said softly. "I know you're real. I know, Lisa."

    Alec and Rachel stepped up then, each placing a hand on my shoulder, and the walls of the classroom faded around me, back to that crystalline landscape. Only this time, we were facing away from the crystal wall, looking directly at Khepri. Lisa was still being hugged by me, but she was Lisa now, not the young Sarah I had been hugging. She was the same age as me, with the blonde streaks in her hair.

    The god had crossed his arms, looming and watching. Something resembling a smile came to the scarab mouth that he had. He looked at us and nodded. "Taylor Hebert. Lisa Wilbourn. Rachel Lindt. Alec Herbert. I will repeat the offer once more for your benefit. Become my avatar, serve the world of the Light and protect the innocents from the perils of the dark. Those who would harm all travelers would fall under your purview. In exchange for your service, I guarantee your life. What I provide to you will save you from the beast."

    I squeezed Lisa, who nodded, placing her forehead against my own. Alec took a moment to squeeze my shoulder in response, and Rachel followed afterward, a little more forcefully. We were in agreement here. We would accept the offer.

    "Yes, Khepri, we'll do it," I said out loud.

    Khepri nodded. "You swear to serve the Light, to protect others from the perils of the dark?"

    We nodded. "Yes."

    "You swear to act as my fist, fighting for innocent lives?"

    "Yes."

    "Then we are in [Agreement]." Khepri smiled, and he placed his hands on my head. "Rise, Knight of the Morning Sun, rise, Dawnstar!"

    We did.
     
    ArcaneReader, Anor, Ragnafox and 4 others like this.
  14. ArcaneReader

    ArcaneReader Master Of The Arcane (Not)

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    Are Khepri and the other gods actually entity's? Or did he interrupt he trigger?
     
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