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Phase (Worm/Moon Knight)

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

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  1. Threadmarks: Wax 1.1
    ellf

    ellf Know what you're doing yet?

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    Wax 1.1



    You know that feeling you get sometimes, when you're halfway between being awake and being asleep? You feel trapped in your own body, unable to move, unable to do anything but breathe as you watch the world around you. You start to see strange things out of the corner of your eye, feel the pressure pushing down on your chest. It's not a comfortable feeling, and I feel it way too often. During those times, the times where I linger between the light and the dark, the awake and the asleep, I see things. Strange things.

    Monstrous things.

    Shadows surrounded by bandages reach at me, claw at me, and I can do nothing but watch. I know it's not real. Sleep paralysis happens to everyone, and it can cause hallucinations in the dark. The monsters I see aren't real, they're not, and they can't do anything to me. It's funny that I imagine these fake monsters, supernatural creatures that want my soul, when there are many very real monsters that live within my hometown. From the Nazi wannabes of the Empire 88 to the Asian diaspora gang, the Azn Bad Boyz, to the various independent villains that make their home in this city… yes, there were plenty of monsters to be scared of without adding to the mix.

    No matter what I saw during my sleep paralysis, it wasn't real. It couldn't be.

    I shook free the cobwebs as I finally managed to get out of bed that morning. Dad's latest check had come early, and I needed to make sure to visit the bank after school, then probably go get some groceries for dinner. God, what had my life become? I got dressed in a pair of jeans and a hoodie, glancing in my room's mirror as I walked out. I must have brushed my hair on autopilot before I got dressed. I really was tired this morning.

    When I got downstairs, I put the kettle on the stove and got out one of my teabags. I grabbed the last pouch of Pop-Tarts and started preparing for the school day. I opened the letter from Dad that I knew would have the check and pulled the cashier's check out, tucking it in the last page of a book I'd found on Dad's shelf regarding Egyptology. I didn't know anything about hieroglyphs, but at least the pictures in it were kind of cool. I glanced at the letter.

    Taylor,

    This check should cover the groceries you need and the bills that aren't on autopayment. Remember to pay the water bill on the 15th. If you go out, don't forget to bring your pepper spray, and you know what to avoid.

    I love you, my Morning Sun,

    Dad.

    The postmarks at a glance, didn't have any indication as to where Dad had sent it from, but there were four of them there. Different ones! However, there wasn't a return address; I grit my teeth. It wasn't fair. Dad did this too often, gone when he should have been here. I thought he'd have changed when Mom died two years ago, but no, he was only gone even more often now, claiming that it was for the betterment of the Dockworkers Association.

    I crumpled up his letter and threw it in the trash just in time for my water to finish boiling. After I poured the water for my tea, my eyes drifted back to the four postmarks. I really didn't recognize any of them, but one of them wasn't even in English lettering. That looked a little like Cyrillic. Was Dad in some sort of Eastern European country? Russia? What would he be doing there?

    I went to the phone and called the number Dad had left. Like always, it went straight to voicemail. I was half-tempted to just hang up and leave it, but I'd made a promise. Not like Dad kept his, but I could keep mine.

    "Dad, it's me," I said. "Got the check… It's addressed to me. Don't worry, I have it in a safe place. When are you coming home? Nobody's asked anything yet, but…"

    It wasn't like anyone cared. Emma'd given up on me for her new friends. And they… Well, at least they weren't actively doing anything to me anymore. Just pretending I didn't exist. I wasn't sure which I liked less. Yes, I was able to get things done now, but… I still didn't have any friends at school. I still got the feeling that Emma and Sophia pressured the others to keep them away from me. Sometimes it felt like they were speaking about me behind my back.

    They probably were.

    I sighed and decided to finish up my voicemail. "Please, just come home soon, Dad. It's not the same around here without you. Without Mom. Thanks for the money. Bye."

    I hung the phone up and drank my tea. Three months now. Dad had been gone for three months, and he'd left without even saying goodbye. At least when he'd been here… he was here, even if he was still mourning Mom for some of it. I just…

    I shook my head and finished packing for the school day. I promised Dad I'd go, after all. Briefly, I wondered why I even bothered. It wasn't like the teachers would even care that I wasn't there. Nobody did. They hadn't cared when Emma and Sophia led the bullying campaign. Why would I expect any of them to care about a student like me, anyway? My grades had fallen completely since leaving middle school, and I wasn't even sure I cared about that. I felt I should have, but… there were times…

    That said, I did promise Dad that I'd try. I'd go to school. I slung my backpack over my back and made my way to the bus stop while eating my Pop-Tarts. Today was one of those extra-curricular days that Brockton schools were famous for, anyway. I'd be able to get off early for the bank without having to sit through Quinlan's terrible attempts at teaching math. I only regretted that I'd end up missing my art class, but I doubted the art teacher would care much.

    The school day was a blur marked with something that felt like it might have been a barb from Emma, but really, I was pretty sure she just ignored me like always. Nothing she said really stood out. None of them said anything important, after all. I was sure I noted down whatever the homework was for Gladly's class and Mrs. Knott's.

    I found myself getting off the bus at the bank, not even remembering the point I got on. I'd been lost in thought about… something, couldn't even say what. A glimpse of blonde hair behind me snapped me out of it. Glory Girl had flown by the bus.

    God, she had gotten lucky to get some amazing powers like that. Our city's own Alexandria-lite. Really though, almost any powers would be amazing to have. Sure, there might be some bad powers out there, but I really wouldn't know specifics. It wasn't like I had them. I didn't have anything, really. No mother, absent father. Some family friends checked in on me from time to time, but it really wasn't the same.

    Brockton Bay Central Bank was honestly, like any bank that I'd ever been to in the past. The tellers were behind a counter up front, with a line denoted with a rope marquee leading up to them. There were offices off to the side where the primary bankers would be, and I assumed the vault was in the back along with whatever safety deposit boxes were back there. Ultimately, they weren't what mattered for me today, anyway. I just needed to grab a deposit form and fill it out, so that I could use it with the check Dad had sent.

    Idly, I did that and glanced around the bank. This time of day, the lines weren't too long. It was mostly adults standing in line, but I noticed a few other teenagers. A mousy brunette was getting in line ahead of me, and she looked maybe a few months older than me. Ahead of her was an older man in a suit, and I really didn't care to look ahead of him. I finished filling out my slip and stepped in line behind the brunette.

    She seemed to be focused on her errand, just as I was with mine. There really wasn't a point in talking to people in the line, after all. Even if the girl looked a little stressed. I caught a glimpse of some white cloth peeking out of her bag, but the girl just shoved it back in before I could get a closer look at it. It really didn't matter, but it was probably one of the more interesting things to happen today.

    "You know who she is, right?" a whispered voice came from behind me. I glanced back to see a green-eyed blonde girl with a wide smile. She nodded to the girl in front of me, and I followed her gaze back to the brunette.

    I shook my head. She'd kept her voice down, presumably so that the girl in front of me didn't hear, but I didn't want to say anything. My eyes were focused up ahead though.

    "Really?" asked the girl. "I'd have thought it would be obvious. You've probably seen her before, right?"

    Had I really? I thought it over. The girl behind me seemed confident that I would know who the brunette was, but really, she seemed like the familiar one. Maybe I'd seen her on the bus? She hadn't followed me off, to my knowledge, but I barely remembered being on the bus at all. Maybe it had taken her some time to get to the bank.

    "Not me," said the girl behind me, and I almost felt her nodding toward the girl in front of me again. "It's obvious who she is."

    "Leave me alone," I hissed out in a low whisper, turning back toward her. I didn't know what the blonde wanted. "I don't care who sh—"

    "Shush," said the girl, holding up her hand. She pointed to just behind the counter of the bank, and I followed her finger. Standing behind one of the tellers was a guy built like a football player dressed in bulky, angular black armor. He had a square mask on.

    The cape flicked something at extremely high speed at one of the fluorescent lights above our heads, and it shattered.

    "Everybody down!" called another voice, a man wearing a black costume with a red mask and a top hat who had appeared in the place of one of the marquee pylons. His mask had a mouth hole in it and sticking out was a cigarette. "Nobody needs to get hurt here… Face down, please."

    The blonde already was going to the ground, and she gestured for me to do the same. I followed her lead, but I adjusted my glasses a little bit, trying to get a good look around at what else was going on.

    A woman dressed in black body armor emblazoned with red suns stepped out of the back alongside what looked like an actual griffin. Given that she rested her hand on the thing, that probably was just a cape projection of sorts.

    "This, right here, is a robbery," said the man in the top hat. "If everyone cooperates, you all will get out of here with a simple story to tell whoever you want. If people try to play the hero, Ballistic?"

    The guy behind the bank counter flicked another… something, and yet another fluorescent bulb burst. Some of the shattered glass fell down, near me, and I flinched away. The glass seemed to almost fall through the blonde near me, but that was impossible, right? I had to be seeing things. The glass couldn't have done that.

    "Now, I am Trickster, this is Sundancer, and Genesis," Trickster said, gesturing at the girl and the griffin respectively. "We would very much like to have all of you returned safely to your homes. So, if you allow us to do our work in peace, we will do that."

    "The Protectorate will stop you," said a black-haired security guard. Suddenly, he was by Trickster, the potted plant that he'd been standing by taking the man's place.

    "What was that?" asked Trickster. Then the security guard was in the place of one of the Tellers that had been peeking over the counter, and she was now next to Trickster. He grabbed her by the back of the uniform.

    "Ballistic, feel free to deal with him," Trickster said.

    "Trickster," said the girl… Sundancer. "We don't need—"

    I didn't pay attention to them talking, I just looked at the security guard. If only I'd had powers, I'd be able to do something here.

    "I really hope she's texting her sister," muttered the blonde near me.

    "Shhh!" I hissed to the blonde. "Don't draw att—"

    Suddenly, I was falling through the air, two feet to the ground. My chin bounced hard off the linoleum floor, and I let out an involuntary cry of pain. I rolled to my side and looked up. Ballistic stood there, next to the security guard. God, he really was built like a football player, and he was reaching in his pocket for one of those… whatever he'd used on the lightbulbs. A rock, maybe? Steel ball? I couldn't make it out.

    My heart pounded in my ears as I looked up at the cape. He could easily just take me out if he chose, kill me. Would it really matter to anyone if he did? Mom was dead; Dad was gone, and the only people who seemed to care at all that I was alive were Kurt and Lacey when they checked in on me. It wasn't that I wanted to die, but all I could think of at the moment was how the world wouldn't even miss me if I was gone. Then my eyes shifted to the security guard, in a similar position to me. He'd dropped his gun, or maybe Trickster'd taken it somehow. He was in just as much trouble as I was. Maybe…

    Maybe I could do something. Anything. I didn't want to die. I didn't want the security guard to die. My heart continued pounding louder and louder. My chin throbbed where I'd hit the ground, and I balled my hands into fists. I had no clue how long response time would be for the authorities, or anything. I didn't know what to do, but I just felt like I needed to do something. It wasn't likely that I could stop the robbery, take down Ballistic, but maybe I could do something to distract him?

    I grit my teeth, the throbbing in my chin getting a little worse, and I closed my eyes, forcing myself to breathe slowly in and out. Maybe I could summon the strength. To do something. And like I said, while I didn't want to die, it wasn't likely that anyone would actually care if I did. Dad probably wouldn't even find out for a few weeks when Kurt and Lacey told him. I took another breath, focusing on what I was going to do. I really had zero clue about it at all. I just—

    I opened my eyes.

    What? My kitchen?

    I was on my feet, standing in front of my stove. A pot of pasta boiled in front of me, starting to boil over, and I swiftly went over to it, using the noodle spoon to stir it. I lifted a noodle out with the scoop and frowned at the elbow-shaped macaroni. A glance to the side showed the box that the macaroni had come in along with the seasoning pouch. When had I purchased the box macaroni? Normally it wasn't something I'd prefer to make, but there it was cooking on the stove. Obviously I'd started it.

    Had I even been to the bank today? If so, had the bank been robbed while I was there, or was that just something my mind had made up to spice up the day? Was it possible that I was still at the bank, somehow hallucinating this whole thing with the macaroni in the first place?

    I only knew one way to test that.

    I pinched myself.

    Wincing at the pain, I determined that no, I was not hallucinating the whole situation here. I was really in my kitchen, smelling the macaroni as it boiled. Mac and cheese was almost a comfort food, even if it wasn't one that I liked often. I remembered that a friend my mom told me was imaginary had liked it when I was a kid. Sarah had liked it, but she'd never really been real in the first place.

    The loss of a few hours of time wasn't really anything new to me. I'd kind of coasted through school, and it was entirely possible that I just coasted through the bank as well, followed by a bit of grocery shopping. As I rubbed my jaw, the one major indicator that the robbery happened, I was surprised to find a lack of pain. Given how hard I would have hit the ground there, that was surprising. I should have been hurting quite a bit. Yet I wasn't. Maybe I'd imagined the whole thing.

    Even the girl who had talked with me… Sad, wasn't it? Me imagining a girl that'd talk to me because nobody else would. Whoever that girl was in front of me in line… I didn't know. It didn't matter. I finished making the macaroni and cheese, and I sat down at the table to eat my simple dinner.

    Mac and cheese definitely wasn't something I'd buy normally, but apparently, I had. In a way, I suppose it was something nostalgic. Mom had made it for me and some friends when we were little, while Dad was away on one of his business trips. Sarah really enjoyed it, but Emma hadn't. Sarah's bowl had always been empty when we were finished. Even mine hadn't been so completely licked clean as hers had.

    I shook my head and glanced at the notebook I'd left out on the table. Next to the notebook was Dad's note that came with his check, rather than whatever homework I'd had for the day. On the page that was open, there were several handwritten notes, talking about… something. Dad's location, maybe? The notes separated out the four different postmarks, and there even seemed to be a translation of the Cyrillic one. Georgia? The country, not the state. There were some notes about the country there, and the number that Dad had me calling.

    Lightning struck outside, and I looked toward the window. A strange figure loomed there in the flash, tall, and the head didn't quite look human. I blinked, and the figure was gone in the next flash of lightning. What was going on here?

    I looked back at the bottom of my notebook. Highlighted with a starred outline was the following words: "You are not alone, Taylor."

    Had I really written that?
     
  2. Threadmarks: Wax 1.s (Sabah)
    ellf

    ellf Know what you're doing yet?

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    Wax 1.s (Sabah)



    It was three and a half hours into her shift, and all Sabah could think was, Fifteen minutes is entirely too short for lunch. Her employers at the Dollhouse Boutique kept her on for her fashion knowledge, but their policies were archaic, to say the least. She kept working there for three primary reasons. One, the clothing that they sold was top of the line, and given her own aspirations, being around this type of clothing would end up helping inspire her own line of clothing one day. The second reason was the pay. Despite the archaic policies, her employers respected her knowledge, and they paid her accordingly. She made enough money with this work to support herself in this city. The third was… well, to be perfectly honest, the eye candy. Sabah hid it from most of the customers well enough, but she did appreciate some of the clientele that tended to shop there. Even if they were overly entitled rich white folks who might be well at home in the Empire. Okay, those probably weren’t worth appreciating the looks of. She did though. The women, mostly. She supposed the occasional man looked okay, but mostly the women.

    There were way too many Nazis and Nazi-wannabes in Brockton Bay for her liking, but she just couldn’t bring herself to leave.

    Today had been especially trying. The owners had decided on this new Egyptian-themed line and had each of the employees wearing it. Sure, the silks looked good on her, mostly, emphasizing appropriate parts and de-emphasizing others, but she wasn’t there to be objectified. Sometimes she felt she wasn’t worth objectifying, but she dismissed those thoughts. She was there to make sales, after all, and that primarily was what they used her for.

    She made sure to start folding back up one of the tables that some customer or another had decided that they didn’t want clothing from as the bell rang, indicating a customer entering. Sabah looked up and saw Mary and Jeshua skittering their way toward the back, and she internally blanched. They usually tried to get the good customers.

    It was a small group of three. Wait. Four. The older woman with the group was holding a small baby girl. She was a brown-haired mousy woman that was quite short, and she was maybe in her early thirties. She escorted a husky blond boy and a girl with long blonde hair that had a haughty sneer on her face. The boy looked a little put upon, and while their clothing screamed of the upper crust of Brockton Bay, she already knew that at least two of them were going to be problem customers.

    The blonde’s sneer seemed to grow wider as she approached her. “Well, I see that the Boutique’s got some color going to it.” She looked at the nametag on Sabah’s lapel and her upper lip curled. Great. She was one of those. “I’m not sure that you can help me, but I’m willing to let you try.”

    “Now Tammi, that’s not the right way to treat the help,” said the older woman. She came closer and she gave what Sabah felt was a slightly condescending smile to her. “I’m sorry for Tammi, but if you are capable of helping us, we would be grateful.”

    Sabah took a breath and counted to ten. There was no reason to alienate customers just because they were rude. Then she plastered her best customer service smile on and she nodded to them. “Welcome to the Dollhouse Boutique, ladies, and gentleman. How can I help you?”

    “The mope and I are going to a dance at his dad’s work,” Tammi said. “And Kayden insisted that she come along to pay for the dress with his dad’s money.”

    “’m not a mope,” said the boy.

    “Well, we have a variety of fashions here,” Sabah said. “Do you know what sort of dress you’re looking for?”

    “Certainly nothing like that,” Kayden said, looking Sabah over. “I don’t know why they would let you dress up like that and work here.”

    “I thought you said that what I said was no way to talk to the help,” said Tammi. “Even if she looks like she’s trying to be Cleopatra. I’ve got news for you. She was white and you aren’t.”

    “She was Macedonian,” Sabah said, correcting Tammi. “And this outfit is from our Egypt-inspired line. Which is the theme for this week. Last week was a different one. Maybe if you told me the kind of event you were planning on wearing the dress at, I could help you select it.”

    The boy spoke up. “It’s a fundraiser at Medhall. Dad insisted I bring a date.”

    “You’re lucky to be bringing me, Theo,” said Tammi. “With the sluts that go to your school, who knows who you could have ended up with?”

    “A Medhall fundraiser?” Sabah asked. She didn’t desperately need the commission on this, but it wouldn’t hurt. Even if the two ladies here were trying, she’d be able to spend their money on any number of things. New clothes, good food, vid—no, fashion magazines. Yes, that was the ticket. She’d deal with them for some new magazines, at least. Maybe some good cloth too, and some nice bowls. “I’m sure we can find something for that. Do you know your sizes, miss?”

    “Of course, I do!” Tammi exclaimed. “I’m not stupid.”

    “Theo, why don’t you hold your little sister while Tammi and I work on getting her a dress?” Kayden asked, passing the boy the baby she held in her hands.

    Theo nodded, quietly replying, “Sure…” He stared a little at Sabah as he made his way to the side, carrying the little girl.

    Sabah gestured for the women to follow her, and she led the way to the Dollhouse Boutique’s high fashion section. “Here we have the types of dresses that are typically worn to fundraisers. Personally, I would recommend, with your complexion, wearing some darker colors to contrast with your hair and eyes. Of course, given that you are a pale blonde, we could go with some pastels.”

    Tammi narrowed her eyes. “I want to go with a red dress. I’m going to stand out at Theo’s side.”

    “Perhaps you should consider going with a dusty pink instead,” Sabah said. She really was considering just grabbing the girl and shaking her. Or punching her. Well, no, she would never punch a customer or shake one, but there were limits.

    “She said she wanted red,” Kayden said. “I want one for me too, in a vibrant gold. Shimmery, if you can do that.”

    Sabah swallowed down a retort that she knew would be inappropriate. “Right. A shimmery gold cocktail dress. And a red one. Do the two of you have material preferences, or would you be willing to take suggestions?”

    “I don’t know why we should take suggestions from you,” Tammi said. “You clearly don’t know what you’re doing. Why did they even hire someone like you?’

    “They must be needing to meet a quota,” Kayden said. She shook her head. “What sort of material would you suggest?”

    “For the red dress, I would suggest a chiffon or a marble velvet,” Sabah said, once more ignoring the urge to commit violence on these ignorant women. “Both fabrics would help create a good look on you, miss.” Even with her wearing a color that was so far out of her complexion that it would make her skin look orange.

    “Hmm,” Kayden said. “Maybe you do know something after all. I think that she would look good in that style there.” Kayden pointed to one of the mannequins.

    The mannequin on the side had a cocktail dress that, sized properly for Tammi, would still be age-appropriate for the girl to wear at a public event. The skirt wasn’t too short, stopping at maybe mid-thigh, and there would be room for adjustment if she wanted it longer. Of course, with Tammi choosing to wear red, she’d stand out, just not in the way that anyone really would have wanted.

    “I want chiffon,” Tammi said. “I heard that’s a nice fabric.”

    “It is,” Sabah said, and she brought out some fabric samples. “You said you wanted red. Here are the reds that we have the ability to provide the dress in for chiffon. I suggest one of these darker ones.”

    “You would,” Tammi said. “No, this brighter, bolder red is better. I want Theo to say wow when he sees me in it.”

    “You really like him?” Kayden asked.

    Tammi shook her head. “No, but he’s my uncle’s boss’s kid, and… well, you know how Mr. Anders is.”

    “All too well,” Kayden said, and she let her gaze come back to Sabah. “Now, miss… Sabah, is it?”

    “Sabah, actually,” she said. Clearly, the woman hadn’t intentionally pronounced it wrong, but she hadn’t really tried to pronounce it right either. She must have been thinking too much about her ex-husband that was apparently the boss of Tammi’s uncle. Combined with the Medhall connection, that meant that could only be one person: Max Anders. Which meant that they had some serious money to throw around.

    She started trying to figure out what she could say to encourage them to part with that money. If only some of what she thought of wouldn’t make her feel dirty for saying it. Rich people. Entitled rich people at that.

    “Don’t correct me,” Kayden said. “Sabah, what sort of fabric were you thinking for my outfit?”

    “That depends,” Sabah said. “Are you looking to stand out and make Theo’s father jealous? Or are you just hoping to be one of the crowd in the party? I know you said that you wanted some shimmer gold, which would work wonders with your complexion, but this is the difference between silk satin and a sequined fabric for you. One will look more self-assured, and the other will definitely draw the eye of everyone at this gala.”

    “I’m the one that’s supposed to be drawing eyes,” Tammi said.

    “You will,” Kayden assured, but she looked at Sabah curiously. Perhaps she was considering what Sabah had suggested. “Assuming that I wanted to draw some attention away from Max’s… twins, what else would you suggest?”

    Sabah smiled wickedly, and she started to describe everything that would help Kayden with her goals. Dresses, makeup, and even down to shoes, stockings and jewelry were among the things Sabah described. She was lucky that Kayden seemed somewhat amenable to the color choices she recommended, unlike her younger counterpart, even if the woman looked like she really would rather not be dealing with her. Kayden seemed like the type of person who was trying not to appear racist, but certain aspects of her gaze, her phrasings, and even her own choices all seemed to subtly dig at the fact that Sabah wasn’t of Kayden’s race.

    Tammi’s snide commentary didn’t help there.

    Their poor male companion, Theo, holding his baby sister, seemed embarrassed by these actions, but really, none of it was anything Sabah hadn’t heard before. Brockton Bay was easily the Nazi capital of the Northeast, after all. She’d long since learned to ignore these barbs, even if it would be somewhat satisfying to just grab the blonde and slam her face against a display over and over again until she learned that she was not the right kind of blonde to be wearing the shade of red she wanted.

    Still, it was a sale, and the commission that she would end up making on this was a good one. Two custom-made dresses, and then a potential tuxedo rental as well, meant that she would be walking home with another couple hundred dollars on top of her hourly pay.

    “I suppose you could put this back before you measure Theo,” Kayden said, gesturing to the fabric swatches that Sabah had taken out. Of course, Sabah nodded and got ready to grab them.

    “Wait!” Tammi said, and she quickly came over to them again and ran her fingers on each one. She frowned as she passed over the chiffon and then smiled on the silk satin. She tapped that one. “This, in the red we discussed, for certain. Make sure you note it down after you put them back.”

    “I will, absolutely,” Sabah said, and she started gathering the swatches together. She placed them up on the shelf behind the counter.

    “Um,” Kayden said. “I hate to tell you how to do your job, but I think I saw you get those swatches from the third shelf from the top.”

    “It’s okay,” Sabah said, holding up her hands. Why were her coworkers still hiding in the back? Did they know these two specifically? The fact that they hadn’t had more customers in for her coworkers to help was a little less bizarre, as people only really came in the Boutique if they both could afford it and absolutely needed it. It wasn’t strange to only have a few customers at a time. “They can be put back up after I finish helping you out.”

    “I really think you should put them back,” Tammi said, gesturing toward the ladder against the shelf. “Go on, Miss Cleopatra-wannabe.”

    Sabah grit her teeth behind her lips as she turned to grab the ladder. “Fine. I’ve got it.”

    “You don’t need to take that tone,” Kayden said. “Just do your job properly.”

    Sabah focused on the job at hand, and she took the swatches off the lower shelf she put them on. Climbing the ladder, she placed them on the shelf Kayden had indicated, making sure they were secure before climbing down again.

    The moment her foot touched the bottom rung, one of the swatches fell off the shelf, clattering to the ground behind the counter.

    “Oh, dear,” Kayden said. “That should really stay up there, shouldn’t it? Isn’t it your job to make it secure?”

    Sabah frowned. Had she failed to put it back properly? No, she had to have, but it still fell. She scooped the swatch up to place it there again. After placing it up there, she gave a quick glance to her customers. Tammi looked like she was hiding a smirk, and the look on Kayden’s face was knowing as she looked over at the girl. There was something off there.

    When Sabah climbed down, she noted Tammi make a slight twitch of her fingers. Less than a second later, a different swatch tumbled to the ground with a loud clatter as the wooden binder hit. While the twitch of her hand could have meant anything, Sabah had suspicions.

    Both Tammi and Kayden had certain attitudes toward her from the start, and it wasn’t unheard of for certain members of Brockton’s hometown white supremacist gang to come down to the boardwalk to mess with minorities. However, that Tammi was being so brazen about what she was doing suggested that either she didn’t think she would get caught, given the level of what she was doing, or she didn’t care because of who she was doing it to.

    Power display combined with her age meant Tammi likely was Rune. What that meant about Kayden, Sabah was uncertain, but she had guesses. One of them might have even been right. The one thing she did know was that she did not want to get them angry enough to come back in costume. This job was good for her. They worked around her school hours, and she was able to make enough money to help supplement her other financial aid.

    “I’ll get this back up,” Sabah said.

    “No, you don’t bother,” Kayden said. “You clearly can’t do it right, after all. Maybe you should go get one of your coworkers. They can check us out as well.”

    “I’m perfectly capable,” Sabah said.

    “Clearly you aren’t,” Kayden said. “If you can’t do something simple like put a swatch back. Go get one of your coworkers, and please make sure they’re more… capable.”

    Sabah frowned. Did she really need this job? Was it worth putting up with people like this? Normally, yes, but that didn’t change the desire she had to just show them how wrong they were to treat her or her coworkers like this. Now Kayden hadn’t indicated that the coworker she grabbed had to be white, but unfortunately, none of the other non-white workers were on today. Saturday afternoon shifts only had three people on, after all.

    “Okay,” Sabah said. “I’ll go get someone else.”

    She went into the back room where she saw, immediately inside the door, Mary folding clothes. The redhead gave Sabah a smile, and she gave a quick glance at the nametag on her lapel.

    “What’s going on?” Mary asked. “And you know you didn’t have to grab that nametag. There were others out there…”

    “It’s my name,” Sabah said.

    “Who wants the customers to know their name?” Mary asked, gesturing to her nametag that said “Denise” on it. “Speaking of, what has you back here?”

    “Couple of maybe Empire rich people,” Sabah said. “They want someone ‘competent’ to help them. You know what that means.”

    “You shouldn’t be taking that sort of thing,” Mary said. “What do they have?”

    Sabah listed off the styles and colors, along with what she’d suggested for each of them over what they had chosen instead.

    “Don’t worry Sabah,” Mary said. “I won’t steal all of your commission, but since you’re making me go out there… 80/20?”

    “Larger amount for me?” Sabah asked, mostly to confirm. While she’d teed the Empire patrons up, Mary could finish the sale much better than she could. She’d been tempted to argue for a greater portion, for a few seconds anyway. 90/10 did sound a little fairer, but Mary could have just taken the entire thing. She was offering a good enough split.

    “Yes, of course,” Mary answered. “Though if I can convince them to listen to your suggestions, I want 25.”

    “Done,” Sabah said. She trusted Mary to close the deal, and she wouldn’t have to deal with the snobbish white people again. Well, these snobbish white people anyway. It was both a blessing and a curse at times to work here.

    As she watched Mary go into the main room of the shop, Sabah caught one last smirking glimpse from Tammi. She knew that the Empire occasionally sent people into the store for whatever reason, but she never expected to run into one of their capes out of costume using their power to mess with people. God, why did a racist bitch like Tammi deserve any kind of superpower? She didn’t, really, but Sabah had looked into it once. People became capes through some sort of significant event, traumatic or uplifting, and Sabah had had neither. Her life had been pretty normal so far. People like Sabah just didn’t get powers.

    But wouldn’t it have been neat if she did?
     
    Last edited: May 13, 2022
  3. Threadmarks: Wax 1.2
    ellf

    ellf Know what you're doing yet?

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    [H1]Wax 1.2[/H1]


    The weekend passed without significant fanfare. Nothing important happened at all, and I spent the time I had at home either working on my homework or mulling over the note I'd found. I'd written things before without remembering why or when, but the specific words that were there… I wasn't sure. It could have been reassurance, a warning, or anything in between. I spent maybe a little too much time on it, and reminiscing about parts of my past.

    But today was a school day. Yay. I did have some parts of an art project to turn in, a set of papier mâché pieces that I was proud of the work I'd done. I based them off of drawings I'd seen in Dad's Egyptology book, and they turned out pretty well. According to the notes I had, they fit the assignment. After verifying they were set in their bags, I continued getting ready for school.

    That morning, I made sure that my hair was brushed completely out as I looked myself in the mirror. I frowned for a second at my face. Something seemed a little off about my reflection. It wasn't the clothes; I'd chosen to wear a gray hoodie and jeans that morning, and I just wore the new-looking boots that had been sitting in my closet forever. It was my hair. Wearing it loose today just felt off. I couldn't put my finger on the why it felt so off, but it did. So, I tied it back with one of the few dark hair ties that I owned, and I did a second tie lower on the tail to keep it together. I didn't want my hair just spreading everywhere.

    God, if I spent this much time caring about my classes as I did my hair, I might have had better grades despite what had happened at the start of the year. Of course, my grades were far from failing now, but that didn't mean I cared. Well, maybe for a couple of them I did. I spent some good time on these ushabti, after all. Well, technically they weren't true ushabti. True ushabti were done in the style of a pharaoh's servants so that they might serve him in the afterlife. Mine were done in a similar style to those ushabti, but in a bout of inspiration, I had done them in the shape of some Egyptian gods. I hoped that Mrs. Norris, the art teacher, would end up liking them.

    With my art project the way it was, I couldn't take the bus. Luckily, I didn't have to this morning. Every Monday morning since Dad had gone on his trip, his coworkers at the docks, Kurt and Lacey, would come over to give me a ride to school. This morning would be no different, and predictably, at quarter till eight, I heard knocking on the front door.

    As I walked over to the front door, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. For the briefest of seconds, my reflection's lips tugged themselves into a smile before I continued on to the door. Upon opening it, I was greeted by Lacey's warm smile. She was shorter than me, but far burlier. Her dark hair, like mine, was pulled into a ponytail, but she wore jeans and a denim jacket over a black T-shirt with a Dockworker's insignia on it.

    "Taylor, glad you're up," Lacey said. "Means Kurt and I don't have to get the battering ram."

    "That joke gets worse every time you tell it," I said. A few snappier responses flitted through my mind faster than I could grasp onto them, but a much more laconic one felt more appropriate anyway. "I'm up, and I'm here."

    "You ready to go?" she asked.

    "I may need a little help with the art project," I said, and I stepped aside so she could come in the house. After she followed me in, I led her to where I'd set up the bags. "If you could just grab one of those bags there, I'd feel a lot better. They might be a little fragile."

    As she picked up one of the bags, she gave a look inside. The look on her face was remarkably satisfying to me. "Oh, these are cute. They look a little like something out of a museum. What'd you make them out of?"

    "They're just papier mâché, really," I said. "I couldn't get clay for them, and it's not like we have a kiln."

    "They look really good, Taylor. What are they?" She then pulled out one of them that had a falcon head. "Wait, this one… is it supposed to be with the bird head?"

    "That's supposed to be Horus," I said. "God of the sky in Egyptian mythology. I have Ammit, Anubis, Khonshu, and Khepri as well."

    "They're well made," Lacey said. "Did you reference some of your mother's books?"

    "Some of hers, some of Dad's," I said. "They both were into it."

    "Odd thing for Danny," Lacey said. "But maybe your mom got him into it." She gave me a consoling look. I wondered if maybe I'd been looking a little sad, given we were talking about her. "Your mom was good people. She was always willing to help out me and Kurt when we needed it."

    I swallowed and tried to put on a smile. Something easier said than done, given the churning feelings within me. Mom… I'm not sure she would have understood… I don't know what she'd understand. I knew she'd run with Lustrum for a bit, at least until a little before she met Dad. Maybe… I really don't know. Lustrum stood against the Empire and the Marche, and Mom definitely hated both for equally good reasons.

    "Sorry for bringing her up," Lacey said. "You ready to go to school?"

    "Not really," I said honestly. "But I can go."

    At least at school, I could focus on other things. Or not focus, depending on the class.

    "You're not feeling sick, are you?" Lacey asked. "You're dressed a little…"

    "What?" I asked. I glanced past her toward the mirror in the hallway. Yes, sometimes I was a little self-conscious about my looks, but the hoodie and jeans looked fine on me. My hair was okay in a ponytail. It felt right today, for some reason, anyway. Briefly, I saw myself smirk in the mirror, but I quickly glanced back to Lacey. "We can go."

    "If you're sure," she said. "I suppose you do want to get this art project turned in."

    "Yeah," I said, and the two of us walked out of the house. I locked up and followed her to the old beat-up pickup truck that her husband sat in. Kurt was a muscular dark-haired man that was a little taller than my father. His skin was a little lighter than mine yet he looked a lot more like he worked outside than I did. Some people tanned well, I guess, especially as a dockworker.

    He gave me a smile. "Took you a little bit. Looking good this morning, Taylor. How you feeling?"

    I gave a noncommittal shrug and climbed into the back seat of the truck's cab. My eyes flitted to the mirror once I was inside, and I met his brown ones with mine. "Got Dad's check deposited Friday."

    "Hope you weren't caught up in that robbery," Kurt said as he reversed out of the driveway. "Heard it was the Travelers. Lucky the Wards were able to show up and stop them."

    "Who?" I asked. So… the bank thing had happened, but what happened while I was there? I rubbed my jaw slightly at a phantom pain that wasn't actually there.

    "Some villain group that came here from Boston, I think," Lacey said. "They're maybe college-aged? I don't really follow cape news that much other than trying to figure where the Empire's hitting next."

    "You aren't having any issues with them at Winslow, are you?" Kurt asked. "I know that they and the ABB both recruit from there, and I've seen some kids wearing the colors."

    I shrugged. "They haven't bothered me much."

    "I'd hate for something to happen to you while your dad's away," Kurt said. "But I'll let him know you weren't caught in that robbery when I speak to him."

    I blinked and gave him a quick look. He'd spoken to Dad? I hadn't even spoken to my father in over a month. Judging from the way he phrased that, he maybe even had a planned call with him. Why was Dad more willing to speak with Kurt than me? Had I done something wrong? No… but maybe this could be an opportunity to figure out what was going on. I just needed to ask the right questions. "When are you going to speak with him?"

    "He's supposed to call into an Association meeting on Friday. Something about a new contract that he's going to have for us," Kurt said. He turned onto the street that led to Winslow. "Has he not been speaking with you?"

    "I call the number he left," I said, shaking my head. "He hasn't answered. I assumed it was because of the time difference." There were approximately nine hours difference between Brockton Bay and Georgia, but that assumed that was where he was. I had no clue what he would even be doing.

    "He's supposed to be on his way to Canada," Kurt said. "He said he had a meeting with some higher-up in some company that I can't remember the name of, joked about maybe needing to break a few legs to get things done."

    Lacey let out a loud guffaw. "Come on, Kurt. You know that Danny's not big into breaking legs. Faces, occasionally if someone pisses him off, but legs?"

    "I said joking, Lace," Kurt said. "You know Danny. He does like to make jokes about things like that every so often. It's not like he'll really go and do something like that."

    "I don't know. You remember how he looked after that news report that Fleur's murderer got released…" Lacey shook her head. "It was like he was a different person entirely."

    I vaguely remembered something like that. It wasn't long after Mom's funeral that the guy got out of jail, but…I think he'd been found dead a few days later. I doubted that Lacey thought Dad actually did something like that to him, but the timing and phrasing…

    "You and I both know that Danny probably just had a drink that night," Kurt said. "It was probably Lung or something that killed that kid. Lord knows I didn't lose any sleep over the loss of another Nazi wannabe. You shouldn't either, Taylor. We all know what they'd want to do to you."

    I shook my head. "Fucking Nazis."

    "Exactly," Kurt said as he pulled into Winslow's car drop off. "Keep your head up and an eye out for them here. Never know if one of them's going to do something that you can't deal with."

    I nodded. It was the easiest way to deal with this sort of thing, anyway. "Got it. Thank you for the ride and have a good day at work."

    "We'll try," Lacey said. Once I was out of the truck, she helped me get my bags in such a way that I could keep the art project stable.

    After having my locker broken into early last year and having Mom's flute stolen, I had taken to carrying all my books and things with me. So, when I went into the school, my first destination was anywhere but my locker. In this case, given that I had my art project, and art wasn't until after lunch, I made my way to the classroom, holding the bags in hand. Mrs. Norris and I had come to an agreement after my last art project got ruined due to a… school day "accident," that I could just bring it by her classroom in the morning.

    I couldn't remember exactly how I'd managed be so convincing when I talked to her after that so-called accident, but it had worked. I must have said something special, but I suppose it was possible my father spoke to her as well. It didn't matter anyway. The results were that I could turn my stuff in here.

    I stepped into the art classroom and placed my bags in the cabinet that the teacher had set aside for me for days like this, and then I left. I hoped that the current trend with my… I guess they would be former bullies, would continue as I stepped back out of the art classroom.

    Once out of the classroom, I nearly bumped into Emma and her clique. She looked nice today, her red hair pulled back into a braid, as she wore a flattering emerald green blouse and blue capri combo that went well with the black boots she had on. Honestly, the only thing that ruined how she looked was the ever so slight sneer she had when she looked over me. Sophia stood next to her, wearing her track gear, like she just came from practice. She gave me a once-over and a simple nod of acknowledgement. I really didn't get her.

    Last year around this time, she was all for the physical violence as a part of her bullying campaign against me, but that changed just before the end of the year. She'd lightened up significantly, and now she barely acknowledged my existence, just giving me that nod with what looked like a slight bit of challenge in her eyes.

    "Let's go somewhere else," Emma said to her group, almost intentionally not looking at me. I could tell she wanted to do something, but from the way Sophia placed an arm on her shoulder, she was following her friend's lead. "We don't want to start our day off with the stench of loser on us. You can make sure you get to class on time, Mads."

    The smaller girl with them nodded, and she gave me her own somewhat wary look. "Yeah. Let's go hang out somewhere else until first bell."

    The three of them walked off, followed by some of their hangers-on, and I really wasn't sure what was going on there. Things just made very little sense.

    "Tch. Is that the best you got? Losers!" A masculine voice rang out beside me.

    I turned toward the source, but he stepped around me. All I caught a glimpse of was his dark curly hair, similar to my own. "What the heck are you doing?"

    "Come on, they can't just ignore you like that." I turned to look for him. "Even if you are a dork, you're not worth ignoring."

    "Will you just stay still?" I asked. I really couldn't find out where he was. Somehow, he was staying either behind me or right out of my sight. I caught a glimpse of him for a second time in the reflection off one of the windows.

    He smirked at me and waved. When I turned to where the reflection was coming from, he was gone. Was I just imagining him being here?

    "Can't just sit still for you, dork," he said, and then when I looked over toward where his voice was coming from, I noted a blond boy dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, Greg Veder, coming my way, escorted by the long-haired stoner-looking kid that I knew as Sparky. "Oh. Well, they're here."

    Greg grinned when he saw me. "Taylor! How's it going today? What did you end up doing Friday after the early release? You heard about the bank robbery and the Wards fight, right? I thought I saw your hair in one of the videos. Were you there? It looked scary. You're not a cape, right?"

    I held up a hand for a second. "Not a cape, Greg. Not that I'd tell you if I was. But I'm not."

    Greg deflated for a second, but then he perked up again. "But you were at the bank, right? Sparky, you saw the video too, that was definitely Taylor there, wasn't it?"

    I shook my head. I didn't remember enough to be having this conversation. When in doubt, I needed to lie. "It wasn't me in the video." Also, who the heck was taking video there? "What happened?"

    "Well, the video only shows this dark-haired girl punching out one of the robbers before Glory Girl and Kid Win got in the bank. Then it focuses on them," Greg said. "It was just like that one level from Seize and Project, but with worse focus and a grainy camera."

    "Oh, that sounds interesting," I said, noncommittally encouraging him more toward the video game path. I really didn't want to be dealing with this right now, and as my mouth moved again, I said, "How else was it different?"

    Greg started to talk some more, but I just couldn't bring myself to care or pay attention to anything he was saying. I closed my eyes, and I heard the other guy's voice again. "Sure, dork. See you later."

    Greg's voice faded away, and for the briefest of seconds, I felt a little strange. I felt my head in the clouds, kind of nodding along with what Greg was saying, as if what was said was unimportant. To be fair, it was Greg, so it probably was. It was just so boring that I couldn't help but zone out. My body moved almost on autopilot through the rest of the school day, saying appropriate things, turning in my art project, and then I walked… somewhere.

    I yawned, blinking my eyes open, and I glanced around. Where… was I? It felt familiar here, but I couldn't… quite place it. Wait. It was dark outside. When had it gotten so late? It couldn't have been that long since the school day ended, could it? My eyes came into focus, looking at a DVD loading screen for one of the Star Wars prequels, but that actor playing Obi-Wan wasn't the one I'd seen before. I'd spoken with someone about maybe watching the Aleph imports… had that been today? With…

    My hand rested on something silky that smelled kind of nice… A girl was leaning on my chest, under my shoulder. God, she was gorgeous, with her high cheekbones and shapely form. Her strapless green top and denim shorts really accentuated that. She was a girl I'd eaten lunch with before at Winslow… Talked with her about Star Wars, and we… lived relatively close to each other. God, how could I have blanked on that? Her name… what was her name again? I couldn't remember.

    "Uh…" I frowned, trying to remember.

    Her eyes opened, and she looked up at me with an impish grin. "Guess we fell asleep, didn't we?"

    "I guess?" I said questioningly. I couldn't really place her name, and it wasn't like I'd planned on cuddling up with a girl while watching a movie. Given the TV, we were certainly at her place, not mine, and I must have come up. Maybe the guy from earlier introduced us? God, why couldn't I remember her name? This was embarrassing.

    "Huh. That's… different." Her grin softened into a normal smile. "You'd be Taylor, right?"

    "Yeah…" I wondered why she was trying to confirm that. Wasn't she just snuggled up to me? Of course, I couldn't really remember her name. "I'm sorry… I don't usually do this… I'm usually much better with names."

    She laughed. "Oh, no. Waking up next to a cute girl and you've already forgotten my name? How horrible."

    I frowned.

    She just smiled and shook her head. "I'm Aisha Laborn, Taylor. Good to finally meet you."

    "What do you mean finally meet?" I asked. "Clearly, we know each other, I just forgot your name. Which I'm sorry about, by the way."

    "It's fine, really," Aisha said. "He said that might be the case. Not that he really knows a whole lot about what's going on."

    "He? What he?" I asked.

    "Alec," Aisha said. "Give me a sec."

    She squeezed me in a hug and then pulled away from my embrace… It felt so good to be hugged like that. I hadn't known how much I missed it. She gave me another impish smirk before sauntering over to the coffee table, drawing my eye. Okay. Perhaps I wasn't as straight as I once thought, or this girl was just… It didn't matter. "You're… how old are you, exactly?" In some ways, she looked like she could be a senior, but something about her looked a little younger.

    "Fourteen. I'm a Freshman at Winslow. You knew that, didn't you?" Aisha asked.

    I… felt like I did. Probably. "Maybe. We haven't… done… stuff, have we?"

    Aisha laughed again as she picked something off the coffee table. "Define stuff. If you mean… well, more than this? We haven't, no. I wouldn't take advantage of you, ever."

    "But Alec…" I frowned. It felt interesting to put a name to the voice from earlier. That was almost certainly who he was.

    "What Alec and I do is between me and him, mostly," Aisha said. "Beyond that, you'll have to ask him."

    "I don't even know Alec," I said. For a brief second I felt like I was lying.

    Aisha handed me an envelope addressed to "Stop being a dork."

    "He knows you," Aisha said. "And he thought you might show up here at some point. Turns out he was right."

    I opened the envelope, and I pulled out the letter inside. On it was an address and a note that simply read "We should talk" in handwriting eerily similar to my own. According to Aisha, this was from Alec. I'd definitely heard the name before, but I couldn't place it.

    "I know where that place is," Aisha said, looking over my shoulder. "I can show it to you, if you need directions."

    "I can probably find it on my own," I said.

    "I'd feel better if you didn't go alone," Aisha said. "You might have to cut through Empire territory, and those dickwads aren't exactly kind to people like us."

    I grimaced. I did want to avoid the Empire, but it felt wrong, possibly putting her in danger too. "You don't really need to come, Aisha. If Alec wants to talk…"

    "Like I said, I've been there a couple times," Aisha said. "And I'm sure that you'll get to talk to him."

    I sighed. I probably couldn't force her to stay away. Grimacing, I stood up and adjusted my clothing some. My hoodie had been unzipped revealing the blue men's dress shirt I'd put on that morning underneath it. And… was I wearing a binder? When had I put that on? What exactly was going on here, and who was this Alec anyway? How did I know him?

    "You're not alone, Taylor." Somehow, Aisha had echoed the earlier words. It was a little eerie.
     
  4. Threadmarks: Wax 1.3
    ellf

    ellf Know what you're doing yet?

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    [H1]Wax 1.3[/H1]


    It was comforting to have Aisha walking by my side, even if I barely knew her. It was kind of funny, in a way, that she was familiar, like a friend, but I hadn't even really known her name before she told me it. She knew me though. Through this Alec guy. Weird. He must have taken her to wherever we were going, yet even as she led the way, I felt like I'd walked this path before, a number of times. Perhaps I had, and I just couldn't quite place the time when. Thinking about this sort of thing set my nerves on end. The familiarity, Aisha, Alec, and the notes over the past few days. Heck, the bank robbery had actually been real, but I couldn't even remember what had happened after I'd ended up next to Ballistic.

    At least with Aisha, I could… well, sort of remember getting to her place and putting on the movie. It was kind of boring though. Something about sand getting everywhere. No wonder I didn't really pay attention. I should have been paying more attention to the girl I was watching it with, given how close we were when I woke up.

    "What you thinking about, Taylor?" Aisha asked, prodding me in the arm. The familiarity of the movement astounded me.

    "Just the trip over," I said. "I swear I've been this way before."

    "Maybe you have," Aisha said. "You probably have passed this place at least a few times, if you did any sort of exercise."

    I shook my head. Well, I had been working out in the mornings, jogging really, but I got so into the zone with those sessions that I wasn't entirely sure I would have known everywhere I jogged by anyway. Still, Aisha definitely knew something. What it was, I wasn't sure though. If she'd been to our destination, she probably knew why Alec was choosing to have me go there.

    The one thing I wondered about was why I was going now rather than waiting for morning or after school tomorrow. Well, I was wondering that as I was partway there, anyway. I just had felt the strong urge to get going, and I knew that I'd end up continuing to feel that until I just went. Still, it was a school night, and Aisha was coming with me.

    "You sure you won't be missed?" I asked, glancing over to Aisha as we passed between some marked gang areas. Empire colors were on one side, and on the other were tags for another gang I didn't really recognize, painted over the Empire's offensive imagery. "I mean, it's a school night and you're not home."

    "I doubt Mom will even notice I'm not there when she gets home," Aisha said. "The only person who might would be Brian, but he's out doing God-knows-what with his bullshit job. I just hope he doesn't come back—" She silenced herself after a few seconds and looked at me.

    Briefly, I had the mental image of an older black teenager that had some amazing muscles and a nice smile. His hair was in cornrows, but the image I really had was of him in a leather jacket and pants with a crossbow bolt sticking out his gut. He'd been on a couch much like the one we watched the movie on, and…

    "I'm sure he'll be fine," I said, cutting off that train of thought. Though, I wasn't entirely sure where my confidence came from. "Your brother's a smart guy who can take care of himself."

    I wasn't even sure I'd met the guy, but I was pretty sure I could pick Brian Laborn out of a crowd if I needed to.

    "Yeah, and I can always call his cell to let him know where we are," Aisha said. "You can help me with my homework."

    "Maybe," I said. "What about your Dad?"

    "Tay, my Dad lives in Clarendon's district. You think I'd fit in at that hoity toity preppy bullshit school?" Aisha asked. She then smirked. "He won't know I'm gone, just like yours won't know about you."

    "You know about Dad?" I asked.

    "Alec's mentioned him, once or twice, when we've talked," Aisha said. "Seems like a good guy, when he's around."

    Why would Alec be mentioning my father? It didn't make sense.

    "Before you ask, I can't tell you," Aisha said. "Made a promise to let Alec explain things when they did finally come up."

    We made our way a little further down the street, still talking a bit. She told me a little more about herself while being coy on why Alec knew what he did. She did, however, want to know more about me. Alec, who knew more about me than he should have, had told her things, but she wanted to hear about them directly from me.

    Then we finally made it to the address. It was a standalone building in the heart of the Docks that looked long-since abandoned. The building looked dilapidated, with peeling paint and boarded up windows, but the doors were closed tight. A sense of familiarity washed over me as I walked up to the side door, Aisha at my side, and I carefully slid my hand along the doorframe. After a second, my fingers found a catch, which I pushed in at the same time as turning the door handle, and the door opened.

    Immediately upon entering, Aisha and I were greeted by two rapid barks. A male rottweiler with a docked tail rushed up alongside a terrier of some sort that had only one ear and eye. Both rushed up to each of us, sniffing and barking.

    I glanced over to Aisha warily before looking back at the dogs. I really wasn't good with dogs, but here they were. Aisha didn't seem surprised that they were here, as I was. I wanted to ask her what to do here, but then I had a flash of inspiration. I gave a sharp whistle, and both stopped in place. "Down!" I'd instinctively pitched my voice differently, kind of like I'd seen a trainer do on TV. The sharp tone felt right when dealing with them.

    The dogs went back down on all fours. They seemed very familiar with me, and I… knew them somehow. I couldn't quite place what their names were, but they were

    The rottweiler looked at me eagerly, his stub of a tail wagging behind him, and I internally winced. I knew docking tails was done to dogs like that, but it wasn't right. "Brutus, heel."

    Wait. Why had I called him Brutus? I mean, his name obviously was Brutus, I knew that… no, not really. He kind of just looked like one. And the little female terrier… maybe Angelica? Yeah, that felt right. She looked like that, anyway.

    Might as well try something. "Angelica! Sit!"

    The one-eyed terrier sat down in front of me, and I reached down to scratch her behind her good ear. I wasn't entirely sure that she was following because I used the name I thought she had or if it was because I was looking at her.

    "Good girl," I said. They were such well-behaved dogs. Why wouldn't they be? I'd spent good time training them… but when had I done that? It didn't matter right now though. They needed to be fed.

    Aisha reached over to pet the rottweiler I'd dubbed Brutus, and I nodded.

    "They need some food," I said, looking to Aisha. Maybe she'd know where the food was. Then again, the moment I'd mentioned it, both dogs started wagging their tails faster. "I thought Alec was going to be here."

    "Oh, he probably will be," Aisha said, looking at me a little strangely. "You know where the food is, right?"

    Even as I shook my head, I felt urging to walk into a room two doors down. Both dogs were at my side, walking with me, and Aisha followed along. She had a mysterious smile on her face as we made it into the next room over. The first thing I was greeted with in the room was the smell of some sort of flea shampoo. The room had a large porcelain tub in it on the side, along with a sink set atop a row of unpainted wooden cabinets that ran along the wall. Hanging above the sink was a mirror, and I caught a glimpse of myself in it. With my hoodie open and my hair tied back as I wore the binder, I really did look a little on the masculine side. That wasn't entirely a bad thing, as sometimes I knew I felt a bit like that, but it wasn't me, not really. For the briefest of seconds, as I looked at my reflection, I swore it was someone else staring out back at me.

    I shook my head and glanced toward the food and water bowls on the floor. "Aisha, fill the water, I'll deal with the food."

    "Got it, Taylor," Aisha said with a smile as she picked up the water bowls and went to the sink.

    I ran a hand along the row of cabinets until I came to the one on the far left. That felt right. I opened the cabinet, revealing two bags of kibble. One of the bags clearly was marked for large dogs, while the other was for medium or smaller ones. I took both bags over to the bowls, each of which were labeled with names… "Brutus" and "Angelica…"

    I knew their names? How did I know their names? I mean, why wouldn't I know the names of my dogs that clearly, I'd spent time training? But how come I couldn't remember getting them? And why did I keep them here of all places?

    They needed feeding. That was more important.

    I put just enough food for a single serving in the appropriate bowls, and I gave another sharp whistle. "Dinner! Come!"

    Both dogs scampered over, and Aisha placed the water bowls down next to them. She helped me put the kibble away in the cabinet. "I can't get over how well you have them trained."

    "I uh…" I looked to Aisha. "How much have you been here? And with me?"

    "Shit. Taylor still?" Aisha asked.

    "What do you mean still?" I asked.

    She shook her head, raising her hands. "Sorry, thought you were someone else for a second. I promised Alec that I wouldn't tell."

    "What exactly is there to tell?" I asked. "Who did you think I was?"

    Aisha pursed her lips. "Rachel. She trained the dogs."

    For a moment, I stared at the girl. Alec. Rachel. I hadn't met either of them, not myself, yet both seemed involved with me somehow. Then I glanced down at the dogs, and I let out a sigh, realizing something. "Could you deal with the pads? Or whatever… if they've been in here all day, they needed to go somewhere."

    "I can, yes," Aisha said. "What are you going to do?"

    I shrugged. "Alec's supposed to meet me here, apparently. I guess I need to explore and find out where."

    Aisha nodded. "There's a room with a cot across the hall. You might find him there."

    I smiled, and the two of us separated. I went into the room she spoke of, which apparently had been an office at one point in time, back when this place had been an active kennel. A cot was set up where the old desk would have been, and I suddenly found myself extremely tired. I sat down on the cot, reaching up under my shirt to undo the binder. I laid it down on the cot, and who should come into the room? Brutus and Angelica came to join me. The terrier plopped herself down on my lap, and then Brutus, understanding how large he was, simply laid his head next to her. I pet them both, and I laid back. The cot was surprisingly comfortable.

    I yawned, closing my eyes. I didn't realize how tired I was. Maybe Alec would wake me, or I suppose Aisha could, when he got there. I felt myself drifting off to sleep, feeling as safe here as I did in my house

    I found myself opening my eyes underneath the metal girders of what seemed like a roof's framework. I was lying down on a nice white couch that, as I looked around, was set at a right angle to another red couch. Next to the couch was a coffee table and across from the couch I was on was a very large television that had a video of what looked like Brutus's sleeping mug on it. He looked really cute there. I looked further around, and I saw some more tables, rugs, and shelves against the walls. Some of the shelves had books I'd read before on them. Others… I wasn't entirely sure, it was a little fuzzy.

    There were some rooms lined up as well along the wall. Each one was marked with some sort of art. A pawprint for one, an eye for another, a crown for another, and then there were a couple that seemed a little on the fuzzy side.

    "Hello?" I called out, looking around, standing up. "I thought I was asleep…"

    "You are," said the guy's voice from earlier that morning. I turned around behind me, and sitting on the couch was… well, me, but not really me. He was kind of me as… a guy. His hair was pulled back into the ponytail I wore, was a little curlier than my own, and he wore a pair of slacks and a ruffled shirt. He gave me a smile that looked a little more natural on that wide mouth. "Hi, dork."

    "Don't call her a dork," said a feminine voice, the one I'd heard at the bank. She was sitting on the other couch, her legs crossed. She looked a lot like me too, but she had blonde hair and green eyes. She even had some freckles, along with a somewhat smug looking smile. She wore the nice blouse and capri pants Emma had been wearing. "It's been a while, Taylor."

    "Wait… Sarah?" I asked. I recognized her. I hadn't seen her in… a long time.

    "Lisa now," she said. As if she weren't my old imaginary friend newly appearing again.

    "And… Alec…"

    "Yep," he said.

    "Which would make Rachel…" I frowned, looking around, and another girl who looked like me, albeit somewhat stockier, wearing jeans and a torn t-shirt. Her nails were a little on the dirty side.

    "Taylor," she said in greeting.

    "What is this?" I asked.

    "Our head," Lisa said. "Well, you might say it's your head, but it's our head. We're all here. You're just the one still named Taylor."

    "The name Mom and Dad gave me," I said.

    "Ah, yes, Dad. Daniel Hebert… Did you know that his birth certificate's fake?" Lisa asked. "It's a very good fake, but it's fake."

    "I don't understand what's going on," I said. "Am I going crazy?"

    "Not any more than anyone else," Alec said. "Sure, most people are alone in their heads, and you aren't, but that doesn't mean you're crazy dork. What's crazy is how bad you suck at noticing us. I mean come on, I got us dressed this morning. We looked good, but would you have worn that?"

    "The hoodie, maybe," I said.

    "Yeah, but the other shit?" Alec grinned. "You didn't even really notice until later at Aisha's."

    "So, what is this? Multiple Personality Disorder?" I asked. "Each of you are… a different…"

    "I believe the more PC term is dissociative identity disorder, but that doesn't really describe us," Lisa said. "Not fully, anyway, Taylor. You might have some dissociative issues, but I don't really think that's the issue. There's others like us. Plural. Many people, one head."

    I'd heard of powers that could… do something like this. But the only time I knew about encountering anyone with powers was the bank… and none of them seemed like they could do something like this.

    "Oh, this is from long before, Taylor," Lisa said. "Remember when we were a kid? You and I…"

    Sarah. Well, Lisa now. I'd sworn she was just an imaginary friend.

    "You disappeared on me," I said, without really meaning to. This was an old wound that I didn't even realize I had. "You were there, and then… you stopped. We stopped talking… why did you leave?"

    "I never really left, Taylor," Lisa said. "The woman we called Mom was much happier when we were playing with Emma, not each other. With Dad gone half the time I didn't want to just completely alienate you from either of them…"

    "She was a good person," I said.

    "Never said she wasn't," Lisa said. "Just not comfortable with us. She loved you, and…" She shook her head.

    "So, this is…what sort of powers could do this?" I asked.

    "This isn't from powers, dork," Alec said. "We're just like this. We're here in our head, all of us. And I don't really like the disorder term. I don't really feel disordered."

    "Alec, you're very disordered," Lisa said immediately. "Disorder's basically your thing, and that's one thing Aisha likes about you."

    "So… you're all, what? Parts of me? Basically me?"

    "Fuck no," Rachel said, shaking her head. Her eyes had a harder take to them than my own, and she didn't wear glasses. "You're you. I'm me. Lisa's Lisa, and Alec's a shit."

    "Hey!" Alec yelled. "I'm the shit, thank you very much."

    "He likes to talk shit," Lisa said. "But he's a good guy."

    I held up a hand, giving each of them a level look. I really wasn't sure what to make of all of this. They did all look like me, at least in some way. I didn't really know how this sort of thing worked. "So… the whole wanting to talk… why now?"

    "We can't just stay completely separate anymore," Alec said. "You need to know about us, the way we know about each other. We had something pretty good working before, with me getting to hang with Aisha, Rachel with the dogs and the exercise, and Lisa doing her studying thing."

    "My dogs," Rachel said. Then she met my eye. "Our dogs. Can't be alone all day."

    "The bank robbery, and Dad being gone were a bit of a wake-up call," Lisa said. "Keeping you in the dark isn't a good idea, and I'm not sure it ever was."

    "About Dad…" I frowned. "You said his birth certificate was fake. How could you even know that?"

    "I've been trying to figure out where he goes," Lisa said. "Where he's getting the money, and what he's doing. I haven't puzzled it all out, but I did figure out that Daniel Hebert didn't always exist. I mean, legally, yes, he does now, but…"

    "Merde," Alec said. "Let's not focus on Dad while we're having our first talk with Taylor."

    "But…" I frowned. Wait, had that been French. I mean, it was a curse word in French, but that didn't mean he spoke it. I gave Alec a questioning look. "Why are you cursing in French?"

    "Because I'm Quebecois, of course," Alec said. "Et toi, ma chère, tu n'es qu'une Américaine."

    Rachel stepped over to Alec and slugged him in the shoulder. After he yelped, she looked back at me. "See? A shit."

    Lisa snorted. "We do need to talk about Dad at some point, though. I don't like that he's running off and leaving us alone, even if we can take care of ourselves."

    I nodded with a sigh, looking at three… people? Imaginary friends? Lisa had been Sarah who had been imaginary, hadn't she? Or at least a creation of my mind, anyway. But they all were… here. They all were something to me. Alec could speak French, and I barely remembered the lessons I'd taken when I was little. Rachel… was good with dogs, and she maybe did more… Lisa was… smart. If she was like I remembered her to be, she was the best at playing hide and seek. She always knew where to look for me and Emma. Which… come to think of the former part, might have just been cheating if she was a part of my head. Or I wasn't really hiding. This hurt to think about. This was too much. Just… a lot.

    Rachel walked back over to my side and placed a hand on my shoulder, giving it an encouraging squeeze. "Lots of words. Lots to think on. They talk to each other." She smiled at me. "We're here for you, and each other."

    Briefly, I smiled at her. She didn't really seem like she spoke up a lot herself, more handling things with her body language. She seemed strong too, at least from her grip, but this was, theoretically, my mind… our mind… whatever. She still looked physically strong. "So, what do you want from me?"

    "Stop ignoring us, dork," Alec said. "Acknowledge us. It's safer for all of us if you do. Plus, there's weirder things out there."

    "Weirder than you?" I asked. Was I really so desperate for anyone to acknowledge me that I just… created my own friends? Were they even real? I had enough trouble being my own person, and now I was going to be four? That couldn't be right.

    "Trust me, kiddo," Lisa said. "We're very real, and we're here for all of us. That woman that we called Mom did have one quote I liked from her. 'There's more on Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.' We're in a city where there's a guy that can turn into something like a dragon. There's a fucking Nazi supernova cape and you got teleported in the bank by another one. If it weren't for Rachel…"

    "Oh, that was great," Alec said. "Pow, right in the kisser. Lisa's right. Fuck the Nazis. They'd go after us anyway, best we get prepared for them."

    Rachel nodded in agreement. Frankly, I couldn't help but agree with that sentiment. The issue was that this wasn't powers-related here. I didn't know how they could help against the Nazis. I mean, I guess, if… somehow, they had helped against the bank robbers… But why would anyone stand with me like that? Why would they?

    Still, I needed to ask a question that had a more tangible answer. Maybe, even if they weren't really real, they could have an answer. Something to help me ground myself a little bit. This just… I wasn't able to control it. How did I know I wasn't crazy? Coming up with them?

    "Where did the dogs come from?" I asked.

    Rachel glanced to Lisa, who sighed. "Rachel found the both of them one night when she was exercising. She rescued them… by putting us in some danger."

    Rachel crossed her arms and gestured to the screen with Brutus and Angelica snuggling up to us. I got the gist of what she wanted to emphasize, but I worried about what Lisa was talking about with the danger.

    "We're safe now, and so are the dogs," Lisa said.

    "Why not bring them home?" I asked.

    "You weren't ready," Rachel said. "Are now though."

    The dogs were something tangible that I felt I could do. Something real. The others… they were there, but I wasn't sure what to say about them. Lisa… Sarah… she'd been my friend when I was little, one I was convinced was all in my imagination. Mom had said that Sarah was imaginary. That I needed to play with real friends.

    Of course, given I was asleep, wasn't this place pretty much my imagination? Wouldn't all of them be a part of that imagination? Did that mean they weren't real? They were… They seemed real. But there were a number of things that seemed real. The things I saw when I had sleep paralysis did too. I knew the mind could play tricks. But… if they were real… If there really were three other people in my head, what did that mean? It couldn't be real. This place really was all in my head, wasn't it?

    A knocking came from one of the doors down the hall, and all four of us glanced at each other. Alec and Lisa's faces depicted some worry, but Rachel's was a mask of determination. She'd moved between me and the door, really placing herself between each of us and the door.

    "What's that?" I asked. And why did it appear when I was thinking about this all being in my head?

    "Not normal," Lisa said. She sounded worried. "Alec, you should get it."

    "No way," Alec said. "Maybe Taylor should. It's her first time here."

    The knocking repeated, more insistent this time, and the door loomed larger, closer to us. The drawing that had been stuck on the door was one of a rising sun, and as the knocking got louder, the drawing fell to the ground. As the paper fell, the door behind it shifted from a wooden one to one of stone, engraved with various hieroglyphs.

    "What the Hell?" I asked. Why would I think that up? Why would any of them think that up?

    "I'll go," Rachel said. "Stay."

    She walked up to the door, even as the knocking grew louder. When she got close, she tapped the door frame, and then she reached for where the handle would have been, turning it. The door rose slowly, revealing what appeared to be a man dressed in the garb of Ancient Egypt. He wore a white cloth around his waist, and his neck was adorned with some sort of golden neckpiece. I'd have to look at Dad or Mom's book to be sure. What got weird… was his head. Instead of that of a human, his head was that of a beetle, a scarab to be precise.

    Great. Now I was imagining Egyptian gods in my head. I supposed it was no weirder than imagining my imaginary friend back and two more. Except they were… maybe more than that… but the gods weren't real. I knew that.

    "Greetings, Taylor Hebert, Lisa Wilbourn, Rachel Lindt, and Alec Herbert," said the Egyptian god, Khepri.

    "Herbert?" I hissed out to him. Both Rachel and Lisa seemed torn between giving him funny looks and looking back at the literal god in the… whatever this place was. In my head. Our head. Why had he used different last names for everyone?

    "What, you'd rather me use Hebert?" Alec asked. "I could! But I won't!"

    "Shush, moron." Lisa glared at Alec. She turned her attention to Khepri. "Uh. Hello, sir. How are you?"

    "Quite well, Lisa," said Khepri. "Thank you for allowing me into your mindspace."

    "Just opened the door," Rachel said.

    "Khepri," I said, standing. "What would bring the god of the morning here of all places? As far as I know, you aren't exactly worshipped anymore."

    If this was my imagination, I must have had something very strange for dinner. That could have explained some of the things with the others too, but it couldn't explain Aisha knowing Alec. I had to lean on the fact that they were… at least partially real. But did that mean Khepri was?

    "Not per usual, no," said Khepri. "But this world is troubled, and though many of my fellows have chosen not to interfere, the god that is partly my opposite has. It has been a long time since I have had an avatar."

    "When you say troubled…" Lisa trailed off. "What do you mean?"

    "I believe that you would call them capes," Khepri said. "Their power sources are not of this world, and they upset the balance. However, unless they commit evil, they should not be punished. None should be for simply existing."

    "When you say avatar, you mean… proxy for you on Earth, correct?" I asked, thinking back to notes I saw in Dad's book written by someone named Abdullah El-Faouly. Maybe I was imagining things based on that book. "How do we know you're real?"

    "I can prove that when we are no longer in your mind space, Taylor," Khepri said. "Of all the humans on Earth, you, all of you, are the most compatible with what I want from an avatar."

    I wasn't sure why he would want that, but at the same time, I wasn't sure it was the best idea.

    "What would you want us to do?" Lisa asked.

    "Be my representative. Shine a light on those who would harm innocents. Protect people, and fight those who need fighting."

    At the word fight, I tensed, and I shook my head. No. I wasn't willing to do this. Not after the first bombshell dropped on me tonight. Lisa met my gaze, and she nodded. Alec nodded as well.

    "Our answer is no, sir," Lisa said.

    "Yeah, we can't do it," Alec said.

    "Not today," I agreed. Rachel simply mustered her agreement nonverbally.

    "Very well. I will not force your choice," Khepri said. "However, the offer will remain open until a new avatar is found. Keep yourselves safe, children."

    He then walked back through the door he came in, and it disappeared.

    "What. The. Fuck?" Alec asked.

    "It's… he's…" I rubbed my head, sitting down on the couch, rocking back on it. Oh God, what the fuck? "It's not real. None of it is. He isn't. He can't be…."

    He wasn't real. None of this was. I just needed to wake up, and I'd… maybe be at home. I had to be there. It wasn't… I'd already been thinking about them not being real, and these

    "You're not real," I muttered out, looking at the door, then the others. "I'm… I have to be… this isn't really happening…"

    "Taylor…" Lisa came over and wrapped her arms around me. "No matter how real you think I am, I'm not going away. I told you before… We all did…"

    "You're not alone," Alec said. "You've got us, dork. Gods or no gods."

    "Always," Rachel affirmed.

    I closed my eyes. Even if they weren't real… maybe it would be good to have friends again. I hoped they wouldn't betray me. God, what if they were real? What did that make me?
     
  5. Threadmarks: Wax 1.4
    ellf

    ellf Know what you're doing yet?

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    [H1]Wax 1.4[/H1]


    I felt the movement of small paws as I woke up. Angelica scampered off my lap to the ground, the terrier carefully moving out of my way so I could stand. Brutus let out a groan, but he stood up next to me as well. Calmly, I rested my hand on his head, looking down at the rottweiler. He came up to my waist, after all.

    The dogs were real, at the least. That I was fairly certain about. Sitting on a chair in the corner with a cell phone out, was Aisha, the person I'd come here with. She was real too. Were the people in my head real? Did I imagine them entirely? The whole thing at the end…

    Dreams. I knew dreams were supposed to be something like the mind firing on all cylinders. Any sort of memory of dreams was more the conscious mind trying to make sense of things. It really followed the same principles as the visions seen while under sleep paralysis. Logically, there was no reason I should have been able to remember what had happened as clearly as I did. Well, other than lucid dreaming being a thing. But…

    Wait. When had I done research on dreaming anyway? Had Sarah-no, Lisa… had she done the research and I was just remembering what she'd done? Could someone imaginary really do that sort of thing?

    For a brief second, I felt a little bit insulted by that thought. God, what was happening to me?

    Aisha looked up from her phone to me, resting my hand on the largest of my dogs. Her lips quirked. "Rachel?"

    I shook my head rapidly. I wasn't her. I was me. I wasn't even sure what I felt about her. If she was real. If any of them were real. "Taylor. You knew?"

    "Tay, Alec and I are close," Aisha said. "Of course, I knew. We've been sitting together at lunch since the beginning of the year. You think I wouldn't notice when he's a different person?"

    I pursed my lips for a second. I needed to process this. So, they were with me… if they were with me, they were actually there since the beginning of the year.

    "Fine. Taylor," Aisha said, maybe misinterpreting my mulling over things as being upset about the nickname. I suppose maybe a part of me was a little annoyed. "I mentioned that I'd been here a couple of times. I've seen Alec and Rachel swap out… switch out? Whatever you want to call it, and I helped her with the dogs before."

    "Switch out," I said. "What do you mean switch out?"

    Aisha shrugged. "I don't know how else to explain it. Kind of like what happened with you and Alec. Alec and I watched the Aleph version of Star Wars because Brian had got it, but you woke up. Theirs was just… a little more real-time."

    "Was that really what happened?" I muttered. Assuming that they were real. If they were real. I wasn't even sure about what was going on anyway.

    "Studying up on that shit isn't my idea of a fun time," Aisha said. "So, I just roll with it. Alec's my…" she looked me over for a second. "friend. Who happens to share a body with some other people."

    "So, you think they're real?" I asked. "Not something I made up?"

    "Taylor, we're in a city with something like forty or fifty people that run around in costumes beating each other up," Aisha said. "Yeah, they have cool powers while doing it, but at the end of the day, they're still wearing underwear on the outside and fighting each other."

    "I don't think—"

    "Yeah, yeah, none of them are actually doing that," she said. "Could you imagine though? Armsmaster with his logo on some underoos he wore on the outside of his armor? Miss Militia with flag panties? Kaiser with a sword-bra?"

    Somehow, I found that last bit extremely hilarious. I mean, I'd literally seen some underwear with Armsmaster's logo on them, but that last bit? I started laughing, and Aisha only managed to keep a straight face for a few seconds before she burst into giggles herself.

    "God, I can picture it now," I muttered, and I pitched my voice to a lower, adding an over the top, fake German accent. "Sieg Heil, those who disobey me and undesirables will be impaled upon this bra on my manly pecs."

    Aisha's giggling just got worse. "Alec, that's terrible…"

    Wait. What? Alec? Wasn't I—?

    "Oh? And vhere are your papers?" I asked in the same tone, not really able to stop myself. I wasn't even sure where this was coming from, but it was kind of funny. Was it coming from Alec though? Was I Alec? Wasn't I—?

    "Alec, I was trying to reassure Taylor," Aisha said, after she gave me a significant look. She did look really cute like that, and a part of me wanted to get closer and get her giggling again. It wouldn't even be all that hard.

    But she was trying to reassure me. Taylor me. I was Taylor. I let out a breath. I could control myself. I was me. I really was. I spoke up in my normal tone of voice. "I'm still here, Aisha."

    It just had felt natural to use that tone for the joke. To even do that joke at all. I wasn't even sure if I could talk to the others outside whatever that was. Khepri had called it a mindscape.

    "Ah… sorry, Taylor," Aisha said. "Sometimes Alec and I… we make fun of the Nazis. Because…"

    "It's easier to deal with the idea of them if you're making fun of the idea," I said, nodding. "Sarah, Emma and I used to do it when we were kids. We'd make fun of the villains."

    Funny how despite Mom telling me Sarah was imaginary, she still featured prominently in my memories of the time. I mean, I trusted Mom, and she'd said that Sarah wasn't real. The loss and disappearance of my friend had hurt, but Mom still said she wasn't real. I loved my mother, but Lisa… why had she called her the "woman we called our mom?" It might have just been the hurt from her rejection, but there might have been more to it than I had at the time.

    Aisha nodded. "Does Sarah go to another school now?"

    I shook my head. "She was… an imaginary friend when I was younger, according to my mom."

    "Lisa?" Aisha asked, tilting her head so that her hair fell in a cute way.

    I nodded. "Maybe. Lisa looks a lot like an older version of Sarah."

    Because she was an older version of Sarah, of course. All of them appeared to be around my age, maybe a little bit older when I looked at them. But I supposed that made sense. They would be my age because they used my body. Right? But then again, I really didn't know how any of this worked. If it worked. Assuming that they were real, could it be possible that one of them was older? Alec was already a guy. Maybe they didn't have to look like me anywhere but out here where my body limited things.

    Our body?

    My body. I was Taylor. That's what my parents named me, and it meant I was me. They were… there. Real, or not. I just didn't know what to do about it. How to deal with it.

    "Lisa's interesting," Aisha said. "I haven't spoken to her much. Or Rachel much for that matter. But Alec likes to complain about them."

    "I get the feeling that he likes to complain a lot," I said. For a brief second, I almost heard an affronted "Hey!" that threatened to slip out of my mouth. Alec could keep his mouth shut, if he was real, and doubly so if he wasn't. I was in control for now. I still wasn't entirely sure that it wasn't me giving the joking responses to Aisha. They were still pretty funny.

    "Well, depending on the situation," Aisha said. "Alec just kind of likes pushing buttons, in my experience. Which might be why Brian got him into video games."

    I shook my head. Video games could be fun to play sometimes, but there were some people that took it too far. I didn't want to be one of those people who did, but Alec… God, I really didn't know. This whole situation weirded me out, and I kind of wanted to go home. I wouldn't be able to get away from anyone inside my head, but if I was just home and not here, I felt like I might be able to deal with things better.

    Brutus turned his head toward me, and I just scratched him behind the ear. He was a good dog, and so was Angelica. Carrying their kibble back to my place would be difficult, even with Aisha's help, but there wasn't really another option I could see… unless…

    "Aisha, would your brother be able to give us a ride back to my place? Or one of your parents?" I asked. I didn't own a cell phone, otherwise I'd consider calling Kurt or Lacey. But I also didn't really want them to deal with this sort of thing.

    "You want me to come over to your place?" Aisha asked. She sounded both confused and surprised.

    I couldn't help but smile at that. It probably wasn't a usual thing for her, given the confidence she displayed. Maybe Alec was good for something, if Aisha could be a real friend. I just… it really was a lot. I was me.

    I was me. Having more than just me in my head sounded… crazy. How could it really be true? The issue was, Aisha seemed to know them as well. Admittedly, it was mostly Alec she knew, but… still.

    "I can't just leave the dogs here," I said. "They might be used to being here, but I want to bring them home."

    Aisha nodded. "And you need some help. Rachel give you the idea?"

    I shrugged. Her guess was as good as mine. "Maybe. I don't… I really don't know. Meeting all of them… Seeing them, I don't know. They're there, but there was something else there too. Not them."

    I really didn't want to go into too much detail about what happened in the mind loft… where had I even seen a place like that? This place, this kennel? It wasn't like that. Had I… or if I'd let one of them be in control, had they seen something like that? Or had we somehow generated it together?

    I could explain the Khepri thing away with what we… what I did for the art project. The others… I had a much harder time explaining because of Aisha and the dogs. All three of them knew me, and I knew them. However, Aisha knew the other names. She knew Lisa even before I mentioned the name, but she hadn't even mentioned her until after I woke up.

    Lisa didn't like that Mom had said she was imaginary. But Mom had. Sarah was with me until I was around eight years old, but then after that talk… I wasn't entirely sure Mom spoke to me or if she spoke to her. After the talk though, Sarah stopped showing up. I started focusing more on Emma and some other friends that we'd had. She'd had. Emma was always the social butterfly.

    Aisha nodded. She let out a small sigh. "Would it be okay if I hugged you? You look like you could use one, but I don't want to make you uncomfortable."

    I nodded. "Yeah, I… yeah. Sure."

    Aisha stepped up to me, gave Brutus a pat on the head, and then she wrapped her arms around me, leaning into me. "Feels a little different than Alec."

    I returned the hug on the shorter girl. I supposed the main reason it'd feel different from Alec would be Alec's gender. He's well, a he, and given the binder I was wearing… It'd create a different feeling for the hug. "Thank you, Aisha. For being here, even if it's not really for me."

    "Dork," Aisha said, which I almost heard echoed. She patted my back. "You're my friend. Why wouldn't I be there for you?"

    "You barely know me," I said. She'd primarily been with Alec, and today was really the first time she'd spoken to me.

    "That's not true, Taylor," Aisha said. "I'm pretty sure you were there at least some of the time, even if you weren't paying attention. Of course, I don't really know how your mind works. Shit, I don't know how mine works."

    "Right…" I shook my head. I didn't really have an answer on that one. "About your brother."

    "I can try," she said. "But we might have to hoof it. The dogs look like they might be able to make it, but it's getting close to midnight."

    "How long was I out?" I asked.

    "Maybe two hours," Aisha said. "I guess there was a lot to talk about?"

    "Dreams are weird," I said, and we each simultaneously released our hug.

    She walked back to where she left her phone, and then she made the call. As she did, she walked into the other room, and I started to follow her. However we did this, the dogs needed leashes, and I knew the most likely area to find them.

    While I heard her getting on the phone with her brother, I made my way back into the room with their bowls. Opening the far-right cabinet, I was able to find two proper leashes and collars that went with them. I wasn't completely certain, but I thought Brockton Bay did have a leash law. It sucked for my dogs, which were clearly well-behaved, but I'd deal with it.

    I gave a sharp whistle, and both dogs came into the room. Upon seeing the leashes and collars in my hands, both started barking and wagging their tails.

    I placed both leashes in my left hand and gave a snap with my right. Using the same tone I'd used before, I gave an order, "Shush."

    They stopped their barking, but their tails still wagged.

    I shook my head. "Brutus, sit!"

    He sat down. Angelica came closer to me, sniffing at my shoes. I held up a hand.

    "Angelica, sit!" Angelica sat. I crouched down and attached her collar, pulling the leash up from it. Happily, it wasn't a choke collar. I wasn't comfortable using something like that on either of these dogs. My dogs would behave properly without something like that. I trained them well enough. Choke collars just seemed like abuse to me. And fuck anyone who abused their dogs.

    I put Brutus's collar on next, attaching his leash, and then I clicked my tongue. The two of them were at my side as we went to find Aisha. We'd have to get a wagon or something if her brother couldn't come to take us back to my house.

    Aisha was only around the corner, and she hung up the phone. She gave me a smile when she saw the dogs with me on the leash. "Oh, you found the leashes. I wasn't sure you'd be able to."

    "Same place they always are," I said, admittedly a little tersely. "He coming?"

    "He's almost done with the job he's doing, but he should be able to pick us up at the corner around the street in ten minutes. I didn't tell him exactly where we were because I didn't think you wanted him to know about this place." The way she stressed the "you" indicated she was talking to more than just me. I supposed, given what she knew. A large part of me appreciated that fact.

    I nodded. "Let's get the food."

    "Which one?"

    I thought for a second. Angelica's would be the easiest to carry, and Brutus technically could eat it too, even if it wasn't the best for him. It might do until I could either make my way back here for it or make my way to the store to purchase it. Either way, they'd have food for the morning, and they'd be okay with our fenced back yard over being stuck in this kennel all day. "Smaller food. I'll grab the bowls. You get the bag."

    "Gotcha," Aisha said, and the two of us went to grab the respective items. She picked up the four-pound bag and I got the bowls, holding the dogs on their leashes.

    They both looked eagerly at what Aisha held, but they behaved. Just as I'd trained them to do. We made our way outside. Aisha directed us toward the corner that her brother was supposed to pick us up at. She spoke a bit on the way, but I was more focused on the night at hand.

    Street lamps illuminated the corner far more than the clouded night sky, though a crescent moon did peek out through the clouds. Few cars were on the street at this time of night, leaving us only able to hear the occasional exhaust blow-out from streets away. Somewhere to the north, gunfire rang out, too rapid to be anything but, and the strange mixture of tobacco and cannabis smoke assaulted my nostrils coming from somewhere to the east. I didn't really want to know what else was being smoked that way too.

    "Should be here soon enough," Aisha said.

    I nodded, but a bit of movement caught my eye. Four men, older teenagers, young twenties, really, walked down the street, maybe half a block away. They were all white, with shaved heads, and I caught a glimpse of a red armband on one of them along with other indications of gang colors. The way they were looking, they'd spotted us already.

    Damn it. They had increased their approach speed when they saw me looking. I quickly glanced around. We could back away, but there was no guarantee that we'd be able to get away fast enough.

    "Aisha, Empire…" I indicated, nodding toward them. "Brutus, Angelica, ready?"

    Both dogs took somewhat protective positions near us. There weren't any real escape routes. We'd have to ditch the food, find another area for Brian to pick us up. Immediately, I placed myself between Aisha and the men, letting Brutus be between us.

    "Can we leave?" Aisha asked, following my lead. We were slowly backing off.

    "We'd have to run," I muttered. "Text your brother."

    "He's still…" She shook her head and started texting even as we continued backing away.

    Unfortunately, the Empire 88 gang members were still coming fast. I didn't want to flat-out run if we could avoid it.

    "Well, look what we have here, boys!" said one of them, the ringleader up front. My jaw clenched at the sound of his voice. I recognized it. The fucker worked at the docks at one point. Dad had gotten him fired for some reason or another. "A pair of little girls who shouldn't be out in this neighborhood. With some dogs that look perfect for Hookwolf."

    A growl rose in my throat. Nobody threatened Brutus and Angelica with that. Not after what I went through to get them out. "Fuck off! You're not touching my dogs!"

    "Oh, the little… has fight in her. Maybe she'd do well in those rings too!" One of the other members said. I suppose he called me a slur or something, but I was too angry about my dogs.

    I stepped closer to them, leashes in hand. They weren't going to touch them. My dogs. My friend. Me.

    "Tay—Rachel, we need to go!" Aisha hissed. She pulled at my shirt, trying to pull me away. I didn't listen to her, instead shaking her off.

    "Oh, shit boys," said the ringleader. "I think I recognize her. She's D—" I met him mid-path with a punch to the gut.

    I dropped the leashes. "Brutus, hurt!" I snarled out, and then I pointed back toward Aisha. "Angelica, guard!"

    Brutus tackled the next-nearest Nazi, snapping his jaws toward his throat. I ducked under a pipe swing from the one on my left and kneed dad's coworker in the groin. When he fell, I stomped his hand. I felt the bones crack there.

    "You bitch!"

    "Rachel!" Aisha called, dropping the bag of kibble. "The bowls!"

    I brought up Brutus's metal bowl in time to block a knife. I slammed it into the Empire guy's hand, moonlight reflecting off its surface. The knife dropped, but the skinhead struck my side with his own fist, knocking the air out of me. Fuck.

    "You fucking bitch!" yelled the third skinhead as he swung his pipe again. "Hookwolf will kill you, bitch!"

    Brutus grabbed the pipe mid-swing, and his weight wrenched it from the gang member's hand. Catching my breath, I sharply whistled, and he dropped the pipe.

    Aisha slid across the ground, Angelica chasing her, and she picked the pipe up. "Got your back, Rachel!"

    She slammed the pipe into the fourth Empire guy's leg as he tried to get up. She followed up with another swing to his arm, causing a metallic ring and sickening crack. Good for her. Angelica followed up the blows by biting down hard on the other leg. Brutus tackled the third Empire member to the ground once more, and he bit down on the guy's arm. Good dog. I got ready to square off with the second guy once more.

    Suddenly, my head rocked to the side. The first guy hit me across the jaw with something heavy. Blood trickled out of my mouth, and I felt him pull me to my feet. When had I even fallen from them? A clicking, cocking sound came from next to my ear, and a cool metallic cylinder pressed against my temple. "Call your mutts off, bitch, or I blow your brains across the pavement."

    I spat out some blood. The arm across my chest held me close, but the gun at my head was the worrisome part. I needed to do what I could to stop this, which meant… probably obeying him.

    "Rachel, do it!" Aisha said. Her worries were understandable.

    I spat out more blood, and then whistled. "Brutus, Angelica, down!"

    "The fuck is she calling you Rachel for, bitch?" asked the guy who held me, hissing in my ear. "You two might be little animals, but I remember your name. I remember you, little miss Taylor Hebert."

    Taylor…. Wait. I was… but… This situation was… No. I wasn't…

    "You've got enough fight in you, and your dad was a shit boss," said the guy. "Win-win, if I bring you to the ring. Especially with your dogs. Hookwolf will probably get me a shit-ton more money."

    Taylor, I'd been Taylor, but Taylor didn't really know how to fight. And my dogs… Rachel knew how to handle both of them. Which of them was I? Taylor? Rachel? Was I one of the others?

    A soft voice whispered in my ear. "Traveler of the Night, you need only ask for my blessing."

    Moonlight shone down on us, and as I looked around, I could see something akin to smoke billowing onto the street. It was an unnatural darkness that blotted out the light from the streetlamps, and it quickly enveloped the Empire members that were lying on the ground, while also enveloping Aisha. She didn't seem super surprised about it.

    "Cape!" I heard yelled from within the darkness, along with the sounds of leather-encased fists hitting flesh.

    I glanced up at the moon. Khepri had come to us, and now something else… if the God of the Night Sky were real, would he really give a blessing? I didn't see how that would help.

    "I'll kill the fucking girl if you don't come out!" Called the guy holding me.

    What did I have to lose other than my life? I whispered out the prayer, and then I felt a weight settle into each of my hands. I started laughing.

    "What the fuck you laughing about, bitch? You'll fight for Hookwolf and die, and your daddy won't even know what happened!"

    "You talk too much," I said, and I punched the crescent blades into his arms, pulling them out again as he reflexively let me go. I spun around, punching again. This fucker knew my name. This fucker threatened my dogs. This fucker threatened my friends. He dropped to the ground, and I punched again, driving the blades into his shoulder.

    The man screamed in pain. It would be easy. Eliminate the threat to my friends, to my life. He knew about me. He knew my father, and he threatened my dogs.

    "Deliver the Night's justice upon him, traveler," said the voice of the god. "Eliminate him as a threat, permanently."

    I can't say I wasn't tempted. It would be so easy to do here… I held the crescent blades in his shoulder, thoughts racing through my head. Would Dad want me to be a killer? I tried to shake off that response. This man would have killed me, killed my dogs, or worse. He needed to be eliminated, but my hand hesitated. I didn't feel bad for him, and in fact, logically I knew that he needed to die, yet somehow I just couldn't let myself do this. Why? Why couldn't I do it? Why couldn't I just get rid of this threat? Let him die? Everything felt distant from me, even my own arms, yet the weight of the blades in his shoulders was perfectly clear. He deserved death. But I couldn't let myself be the one to do it. I let out a growl of frustration and rage, and then, using my leverage, threw the man away from me, and I pulled the blades free. I just couldn't do it.

    "More's the pity, traveler," the God of the Night Sky said, disappointed. "Rachel Lindt, Taylor Hebert, we will be speaking again."

    I shook my head, and I spun around to throw the blades toward the wall. They disappeared before they could hit it, and my eyes went wide when I saw the second Empire member, the knife wielder, approaching. The darkness roiled over him and me before he could get close.

    I couldn't see at all. Within the darkness, I heard the sounds of fighting, and I felt the clammy heaviness of it like I was walking through fog. I tensed up as a leather gloved hand placed itself on my shoulder. When I spun to attack the source, another caught my punching arm.

    "Enough," said a distorted voice. "It's done. You're safe now."

    After pulling me a bit further away, the darkness around me started to dissipate, revealing the person holding me. He was a tall, muscular man dressed in motorcycle leathers. He wore a motorcycle helmet that had a visor sculpted to look like a skull, with side-vents upon it. At his side, attached to a belt, he had a crowbar.

    "The fuck are you?" I asked.

    "He's Grue," Aisha said, coming over to me, holding the leashes of my dogs. Both looked like they'd seen better days. Angelica had a small limp on her front left leg, and Brutus had several lacerations on him. "He's… complicated."

    I turned to look for the fuckers who dared to harm them…

    "The Empire members are taken care of, and I'll be alerting the PRT," said Grue. He seemed to look me over. "What the hell did you hit the guy with?"

    I shrugged and looked down at my hands, then looked over toward where I'd tossed them. They really had disappeared when I threw them, but I wasn't the one who brought them. I couldn't even begin to know how they even showed up in the first place. I didn't have powers, but was their appearance evidence that the gods were real? That Khepri was?

    Aisha patted my hand, and judging from the way she was looking at Grue, she knew something about him. Maybe she knew his secret identity. Wait. I had a guess. "Br—"

    Aisha covered my mouth. "Not here. Grue, can you escort us to my brother's car? He was supposed to give us a ride."

    Grue nodded. "Yes, I can. I'll keep any Nazis away from the two of you and the dogs."

    "Good," I said, once Aisha let go.

    "Rachel?" Aisha asked quietly. At this point, I wish I knew.

    Now that the fighting was over, I didn't really feel like I was her. I didn't think I was Rachel still, I thought I was… me. But I could feel Rachel's anger and protectiveness beneath the surface of my skin. Lisa was there too, watching. I was sure of it. But was I Taylor? Alec? Someone else who hadn't even shown up in the dream? I wasn't sure. None of this answered any questions about how real they were, but at the least, it proved… something. What specifically, I didn't know.

    Eventually, we made it to a pickup truck, and Grue stepped off for… reasons. Minutes later, Aisha's brother arrived, dressed in Jeans and a tank top with a bag over his shoulder, and he took us to my home, promising that he'd talk more with me and Aisha later, when it wasn't so late on a school night. Not that I was going to school in the morning, anyway. I didn't want to explain my injuries, if anyone noticed.

    Instead, when I got home, I took my dogs inside, and we made our way for the second floor. On the way, I noticed a blinking light on the answering machine, indicating at least one message. Deciding that I needed ice for my jaw, I started it while I went to prepare an ice pack.

    The first message was just something from Kurt, telling me that he and Lacey would be coming by on Thursday after school to pick me up for some dinner. The second was some telemarketer. The third, however…

    "Hello, this message is for Taylor Hebert," said a deep masculine voice on the message. It had a slight African-sounding accent that I couldn't place. "There's something you need to know about your father. I'm an old friend of his, and I think you need to know this information. I'm staying at the Radisson Boardwalk Hotel here in Brockton Bay. You can contact me there by giving them my name, Raul Bushman. You do need to know this. Your father isn't who you think he is."

    The message ended, and I let out a curse. Dad not being who I thought was already something that a part of me suspected. But that still begged the question. Who was my father, exactly?

    Who?
     
  6. Threadmarks: Wax 1.m (Moon Knight)
    ellf

    ellf Know what you're doing yet?

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    [H1]Wax 1.m (Moon Knight)[/H1]


    The moon hung high in the sky as he leaped between the rooftops, his cape spreading out in its trademark crescent shape to extend the jumps. Moon Knight had arrived in Montreal a few days ago, and he'd taken a walk around the city to determine where he needed to go. He'd been careful as he walked the streets, having seen a picture of his target before, and he kept an eye out for any children or young adults that resembled the target. Nikos Vasil would receive the justice of Khonshu this night, and Moon Knight was certain that the Protectorate would be uninvolved, at least for tonight. They didn't have the information he had. There may not have been a kill order on the man, but that didn't matter.

    Nikos Vasil, alias Heartbreaker, had been kidnapping women for nearly two decades at this point. With his power affecting emotions, potentially even after his death, there were worries that Moon Knight had, even as he continued toward the man's Montreal location. If Vasil's thralls still remained under his control after his death, would it be kinder to send them to the authorities or to just eliminate them? It wasn't something he liked to think about. Not any part of him liked to think about that. It was one thing to kill a murderer or rapist, but it was another entirely to kill an innocent under the control of said murderer or rapist.

    "Move faster, idiot," Khonshu said, floating alongside him as he made his way across the rooftops. "You don't want to let him get away!"

    "He's not going to get away," Moon Knight said with a Northeastern accent. "You made sure that he's still there, right? There aren't too many thralls between him and us?"

    "Yes, yes, he's still on the fourth floor of the hotel, but he has that actress with him. Saile," Khonshu said. Internally, Moon Knight cursed, and parts of him agreed with the sentiment. Sidney Saile had disappeared from her Vancouver home two weeks ago, and he knew that Protectorate teams from both Vancouver and Montreal would be moving on this as soon as they could. There was a set window that Moon Knight had available for this action, and that was this night alone.

    "Any of his kids there?" Moon Knight asked, jumping another rooftop. He was getting close.

    "Two. Cherie and Guillaume Vasil. The former can control emotions and detect them, and the latter can see and disable senses of those he touches. The suit should be as protective against them as it is against the effects of their father," Khonshu said.

    "Should be?" Moon Knight asked. He shook his head, glowing eyes focused on his objective. "Whatever. Don't let them touch me, and deal with the problem directly, I suppose. Worse comes to worst, I'll switch."

    "I would rather you switch ahead of time, idiot," Khonshu said. "Jake would be far more effective in dealing with these people."

    "Jake's busy dealing with some personal problems. So sorry that you get to deal with me," Moon Knight said, jumping one last time before pausing at the edge of a building overlooking the Hyatt Place Montréal. His suit allowed him to focus in on the target room across the street and down below. The shades on the window were remarkably open, and Moon Knight could see a slender dark-haired woman standing at the window. She had a red streak running through her hair, and though she was young enough to be his daughter, she was certainly attractive enough. If not for her father, she'd be breaking hearts on her own. This had to be Cherie. Idly, Moon Knight wondered what she sensed from him, if anything at all.

    A young man of similar age and build sat down next to an attractive blonde woman that held a tray of grapes in one hand and she was leaning over the bed, feeding a shirtless man that looked in his late thirties, maybe early forties. The man had black hair and some muscles, but he looked like he hadn't ever really been in a fight. Draped around him were several more women, each clearly in some state of adoration for him.

    Under his mask, Moon Knight smiled. While a large part of him was complaining about how it wasn't fair to treat women like that, another part of him reminded himself that the man was using powers to accomplish this feat, and there was a reason Khonshu wanted him dead. Moon Knight found himself muttering, "Shush. We're about to go in."

    "Brilliant," said his British voice, without changing the suit this time, since he was in control. "And what are you going to do about the girls?"

    "Deal with it," Moon Knight said. "Shut up, Steven, unless you want to help."

    "No, no, mate, you've got this one," Steven said.

    "Enough, idiots. The window is coming due," Khonshu said. "Go, now!"

    Moon Knight rolled his eyes and pushed off the building, fighting the urge to scream "Parkour!" at the top of his lungs. Instead, while using his cape to glide, he grabbed two crescent blades from his chest. He threw them at the window, intending on using the momentum to create initial cracks. "Go, random bullshit!"

    The crescent blades struck true, creating an X right where Cherie stood. He slammed into the window, feet first, cracking his way through the plated glass. The glass broke inward, and the girl on the other side fell back, her head cracking on the ground. For the briefest of seconds, he felt some guilt over her, but she was alive. The Heartbroken were all threats so long as their father was alive, after all. They possibly would remain so after his death.

    "Kill her too," Khonshu said. "Her power makes her a larger threat, and she has taken pleasure in what her father has had her do."

    Moon Knight shook his head. "No, not this time."

    "Who the hell is this?" asked Heartbreaker's son.

    "Doesn't matter," Heartbreaker said, giving a languid glance toward Moon Knight. "You really should just leave now. You don't want to be here."

    "Well, no, I don't, you fucking would-be incel rapist," Moon Knight said as he pulled two more crescent blades from his chest. "But you, you great big fucking rapist are a problem that keeps going. But no more, after tonight."

    "The fuck?" Heartbreaker asked. "Ladies! You want to protect me!"

    "Yes, Nikos, of course!" said the women, pushing over themselves to get in Moon Knight's way.

    "He dares use innocents?" Khonshu's anger wafted through the room, and wind arose, blowing papers and clothes off the ground.

    Each time one of the women grabbed onto Moon Knight, he simply wrenched her hands free and tossed her to the side.

    "Guillaume, you worthless trash," Nikos Vasil said. "Use your power on him! Make him unable to find me!"

    Moon Knight threw two crescent blades at Heartbreaker's son, forcing him back against the bed. Each blade pinned an arm. He pulled two more from his chest, shrugging off a scantily clad blonde.

    "Bloody Hell, he's really got them knackered," said his British headmate.

    "Steven, if you aren't going to help, shut up," Moon Knight said as he watched Nikos Vasil scramble away from the bed, heading toward the door.

    "Why aren't you following what I want?" Heartbreaker asked. "You're crazy! What's wrong with you?"

    Moon Knight sneered and as Heartbreaker climbed to his feet, he threw the blades again. "Random bullshit, go!"

    Instead of two blades, four appeared mid-air, each one embedding into Heartbreaker's back. Shrugging off the actress and a fairly attractive Asian woman, Moon Knight finally reached his target. As Heartbreaker slumped forward, sliding against the door to the ground, Moon Knight drove one of the blades in further.

    "I'd heard the stories about you, as you started," Moon Knight said, flipping Vasil over. "You took, and you took, but you always retreated. I could never figure out where you ended up. With my wife, I worried that one day you might come after her. She didn't have the protection I do. Nor does our daughter. As a father, I could not let the same thing happen to them as everyone else."

    "Finish him off, idiot," Khonshu said.

    "I'm getting there," Moon Knight said. "I want you to understand, Nikos Vasil, that in the end, you are still the same pasty fucking nerd that grew up to hate women. And you deserved none of the love you got. You are a rapist and a murderer, and I give you the Night's justice."

    "Fuck. You." Vasil said.

    Moon Knight simply pulled another pair of blades from his chest and drove them into the man's sides. He threw him out the window, so that he'd land on them. Then he surveyed the room.

    "Heartbreaker's bodyguards are coming. You had best leave the way you came in," Khonshu said.

    "He's dead?" Guillaume asked. "Is he really dead?"

    Moon Knight looked at the boy, but he gave a nod.

    "What about the rest of us?"

    "I don't have an answer," Moon Knight said, and he ran toward the window. Extending his cape, he caught an updraft, thanks to Khonshu, and he made it across to the skyscraper he'd come from.

    After passing two more blocks away, Moon Knight stopped, and he allowed the mask to come off his face. Standing near him, in his full regalia was Khonshu. The bird-headed god wielded his crescent moon-staff and had a wide grin on his beak.

    "Well done this evening," Khonshu said. "Marc couldn't have done it better. Perhaps Jake could have."

    "Marc and Jake are busy working things out, so it was either me or Steven."

    "You are an adequate substitute, Daniel," Khonshu said.

    "Danny," said the man in the costume. "My name is Danny."

    "Quite right," said Steven, the costume shifting to a suit but leaving his face uncovered. "Danny, are you really okay leaving the children there like that?"

    "We needed to get away before any authorities came," Danny said as it shifted back to the avatar vestments. "A good portion of his kids have powers, and I'm not sure how much the suit would be able to protect from everything."

    "Do you not trust that I would protect you?"

    "In a word?" Danny asked.

    "No," Steven continued. "We've already done tonight's work for you, so piss off."

    "You mean I've done it," Danny said.

    "Perhaps I should pay more attention to the goings-on in Brockton Bay," Khonshu said.

    "You leave my daughter out of this!" Danny said. "We had a deal."

    "Easy, mate, easy," Steven said. "The bird's trying to get a rise out of you. Taylor's fine. Probably missing you a lot, but fine. Khonshu, leave us alone for a bit, please. Seriously, piss off."

    "Very well," Khonshu said. "But I will have more for you tomorrow."

    Danny grimaced. "Fine."

    "Enjoy the night," Khonshu said.

    Then he was gone, and after Danny descended to the streets of Montreal, he allowed the suit to disappear completely.

    "We still should do something about his kids," Steven said quietly.

    "Calling the local Protectorate is an option," Danny said.

    "Bollocks to that," Steven replied. "There's one person we can trust that will help."

    "She's not going to like it."

    "No, really?" Steven asked. "You and Marc really are cut from the same cloth. I'm surprised Annette put up with you."

    "She liked me and our daughter," Danny said. "Taylor was a cute kid."

    "Still is, mate, still is," Steven said. "Still, it's the right choice. Those kids need someone to guide them, someone who… isn't a killer."

    Danny nodded, and he reached into his pocket, pulling out something that he really hated he even had. He'd lost Annette because she was driving while talking on a cell phone. Still, it wasn't his phone. It was Marc's. And when he next got to speak with the original person that came with the body, he was going to find a way to punch him in the metaphorical nose for leaving him and Steven to deal with this shit.

    He scrolled through the contacts in the phone until he came across the one important one, "Layla."

    "She likes you more, you talk to her," Danny said.

    "Bloody coward," Steven said as he pushed the dial button. It rang a few times.

    The phone clicked as Layla El-Faouly answered the phone. "Marc, where the hell are you this time? And why has it taken so long for you to call me?"

    "Um, sorry Layla, not Marc right now," Steven said. "Hello."

    "Steven?" Layla asked. "I mean, same questions apply, but why is it you calling and not him?"

    "Because Danny's too much a chicken to dial himself, and Marc's on a bit of a holiday with Jake," Steven said. "Say hello, Danny."

    "Uh…" Danny said. "Hello, Layla."

    "Danny Hebert," Layla said, and she snorted. "Okay. If Marc's not around, can the two of you answer where the hell you are?"

    "Montreal," Steven said. "We uh… Well, mostly Danny, really, but we dealt with a problematic cape for Khonshu."

    "What? Who?"

    "Nikos Vasil," Danny said. "He's experiencing Khonshu's justice now."

    "Couldn't have happened to a nicer guy," Layla said. "Why choose now of all times to call me?"

    "His kids," Steven said. "He has a bunch of children who are capes like him, and… I just don't think it's right that they should be put in the system. But they're too dangerous to go around unchecked. Just… it wouldn't be a good idea for us to be the major influence in their lives."

    "And you want me to, what? Find them homes? Be their mom?" Layla asked. Her voice took on an edge. "Is that what you want, Daniel?"

    "You're the only person we can trust," Danny said. "I trust you to do what's right for the kids."

    Layla cursed quietly. "I'll be there by tomorrow. Where are they staying?"

    "They were at the Montreal Hyatt," Danny said. "But from there, I don't know."

    "I'll be able to find them," Layla said. "But we will be having words, Daniel Hebert. And Marc too, whenever he gets his head out of your collective ass."

    "Of course," Danny said. He just wouldn't be in Montreal when she arrived. Even if he had to knock Steven out to ensure it.

    "Looking forward to seeing you, Layla," Steven said in almost a sing-song.

    "You too, Steven," she said. "Goodbye."

    She hung up, and Danny put the phone in his pocket once more. He knew that Khonshu would be focusing on getting him toward the next target the following night. Which meant that he had perhaps sixteen hours to get out of Montreal before Marc's wife arrived. It wasn't that he didn't want to let her know what was going on, but if she did, she'd want to get involved further. Being an avatar of Taweret did come with certain responsibilities, the same as being an avatar of Khonshu.

    He just needed to be sure those responsibilities kept her away from Brockton Bay. There was no way he was letting any of the gods get near his daughter. She was his wife's Little Owl, but she was his Morning Sun. That couldn't change.

    Even if Layla should have known.

    Shut up Steven.
     
  7. Threadmarks: Crescent 2.1
    ellf

    ellf Know what you're doing yet?

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    [H1]Crescent 2.1[/H1]


    The day's sunlight filtered through the blinds of my bedroom, which, on any normal day, would bring me to wakefulness. However, this morning, what woke me were two wet tongues repeatedly licking each of my facial cheeks. One tongue was larger than the other, but both eagerly pulled me from my slumber, and I was greeted by the acrid smell of dog breath in the morning. Lightly, I pushed on them both, and my two dogs moved away. I did not giggle at the sight of them, partially because I hadn't really giggled at anything since I was a little kid with Sarah—since I was a little kid, and partially because I still needed to put on my glasses. I did smile at them, however, and as I sat up, I playfully murmured to them, "Morning. Off the bed."

    Both dogs almost immediately backed off slightly as they looked me over. They nudged closer for a second, but at a look, they followed my order. Brutus let out a small whine, and Angelica tried to look a little pitiful, not really a hard task, given the missing eye and ear. I wasn't buying it. The two of them were trained well enough to be able to follow orders and wait. Sure, they probably were hungry, but the food was in the kitchen, where I'd left it last night. I'd get them fed when I went downstairs. I let out a yawn, something immediately copied by both dogs, and then I winced. My chin. A bruise was forming where that asshole had hit me last night.

    I'd… wanted to kill him. Eliminate the threat he represented. It would have been easy, just drive those blades into him. I'd really wanted to seriously hurt him? To stop him from hurting me? To prevent him from doing worse than he already had? All of the above? Yet, I hadn't. I'd stopped myself from using those blades, wherever they came from, from doing worse to him than I had. I'd been the one to do it, right? I stopped me?

    Or… had it been one of the others? More of them? Could they have stopped me? I didn't really understand it, any of it, really. If they weren't real, how could they have stopped me? But if they were? Shouldn't they have been able to stay something out loud? Why wouldn't they have?

    Because they weren't able to? Because I wasn't able to hear them properly? Whatever the reason, I just couldn't figure it out, and I probably needed to before things got worse. Before I was in another situation like that. There was just… It was too much. I could barely handle being me, how could I handle being other people as well?

    Brutus gave a little whine as I stood up, and he nuzzled into my hand. Angelica leaned against my leg so she could reach my other hand, and I couldn't help but smile at them both. "One thing right is you two. Though…"

    I frowned as I looked over their bodies. There were little patches of fur that had been cut and scraped up, one or two patches of blood. I had managed to clean them off some last night, but it was possible that they would need a vet. I wasn't sure I could afford one.

    I could, but it might mean not getting some of the nicer food for a bit. I'd need to check them over properly now that I'd had some sleep. Unfortunately, I really didn't know much about dogs. Except… I remembered looking into them, reading up on them. When had I done that?

    Had I done that? Or had it been someone else who did it, and I just remembered?

    "Rachel," I said softly. "You know about the dogs."

    A feeling of affirmation rose within me. Okay. So that was her. She'd been the one to train the dogs, to take them back to the kennel. Alec had been with Aisha, and Lisa… she'd been doing the research on us. On what was going on with us, and on what was going on with Dad.

    "I don't know how to let you talk," I said. "Any of you. I'd love to let you. So, we could figure things out."

    For a brief moment, my mouth curled up as if I was going to speak. But maybe I was the one doing that, not one of them. How had they managed to communicate with me before? Lisa and Alec both… I knew I'd seen Lisa in the bank, and Alec had been at the school…

    I closed my eyes for a second. Maybe I could force it? I'd… it just would… No. I couldn't just let go. Even if it'd be so easy. There was too much to do today to just let go. Let someone else handle things. But if it helped with the communication… it wouldn't though. I needed something to stop it from happening. Something… I don't know. I had to ground myself.

    Brutus pushed his way against my hand, nosing in. I ran a hand over his head, scratching him behind his ears, and I let out a breath. He and Angelica had to be hungry.

    "So, let's feed the dogs already, damnit," Rachel said. "Stop wasting time."

    "Rachel?" I asked, just to be sure.

    "Downstairs," she barked, and I got the strongest feeling that I should just head down to the kitchen to feed Brutus and Angelica. It made sense to follow that, but I did insist on getting dressed first. A light green blouse and dark slacks with a dark hoodie was enough with my glasses.

    I started for downstairs. But I'd managed to get something out of her. Sure, Alec and Lisa still were quiet, but baby steps. I got something.

    "Come on, you two, let's get you breakfast," I said.

    Angelica barked her agreement, and Brutus chuffed. They escorted me down the stairs, Brutus looking at me a little like I was going to fall over at any moment, while Angelica stayed a few steps ahead of me, never going out of my sight. I wondered just how smart the two dogs were. Then, momentarily, I felt insulted. Obviously, my dogs were smart. No dogs were truly stupid. There weren't really such thing as stupid dogs, just stupid owners.

    "Sorry, Rachel," I said softly as I made it to the landing. I hadn't meant to be insulting toward her at all. Other than the wondering if she really was there. That couldn't really be helped.

    "Brutus, Angelica, heel!" My mouth snapped the moment I saw the two of them start running toward the kitchen. I'd done it on autopilot, similar to how I'd handled them in the kennel. Of course, maybe that had been Rachel.

    They sheepishly came back and stood by my side some more.

    "Good dogs," I said, giving them pets. Rachel had trained them well, and I supposed I had managed to give them their orders that they followed. I adjusted my glasses some as we stepped into the dining room.

    In the kitchen were two people, Aisha and someone I could only identify as her older brother, Brian. Aisha was wearing a cute red silk blouse this morning with another pair of cutoff denim shorts that showed her legs off. Right now, she was barefoot, but I had caught a glimpse of her boots over near the front door. Brian by contrast wore a pair of jeans and a black muscle shirt. It showed off how thick his arms were, and wow, I could tell he worked out. While he looked pretty good to me, Aisha pulled her outfit off much better.

    Brian was working on some food in the kitchen that didn't quite smell as strong as the coffee, but now that I was closer, smelled a bit like eggs and bacon.

    "Oh, you're up," Brian said when he noticed her. "You feeling okay this morning, Alec? After what you went through last night… Wait, you're wearing glasses?"

    I blinked. Had he not met any of the others? Also, his confusion over my glasses was strange. Did Alec not wear the glasses somehow? That didn't seem fair.

    Aisha cackled. "Bro, take a closer look. That's not Alec. She's Taylor, right?"

    I nodded. "Taylor Hebert. You must be Brian Laborn, right?"

    "Uh… yeah," Brian said, and he went back to the eggs. "Wait, I thought your last name was Herbert, not Hebert."

    "No r until close to the end of the name," I said. "We pronounce it the American way too, not the French. He-bert. So, can I ask why you're here?"

    "After the shit that went down last night, Tay?" Aisha asked. "We didn't want to go home super late in case Mom was there, and I wanted to make sure you were going to be okay."

    "I'm fine," I said, and as I approached the counter, Aisha placed a mug of coffee down in front of me. As if on autopilot, I took a sip. For once, I didn't gag as I drank the coffee down. This wasn't the stuff Dad had hidden away, but it tasted… not half-bad. I still preferred tea, but this was drinkable.

    "How much food for the dogs?" Aisha asked. "I mean, I know for Angelica, but we weren't able to bring back Brutus's food."

    At the word food, both started wagging their tails. They were hungry, and… I did know how much to give them.

    "Put twice as much food in Brutus's bowl," I said, the idea coming to mind almost instantaneously. "We'll need to go back and get his food next. He can't keep eating small dog food at his size."

    Where had that come from? I mean, it made sense, given Brutus was a bigger dog. But… had that actually been from Rachel? It felt no different from any thought I would have had otherwise, but I knew I didn't know much about dogs. Plus, she'd spoken up earlier.

    Aisha nodded as she prepared the bowls. When she'd finished pouring the food, Aisha gave her own sharp whistle. "Breakfast, pups."

    Brutus and Angelica looked to me first, but at my nod, they went and dug in.

    I tilted my head slightly and took a sip of coffee as some pride welled up within me. It was surprisingly comfy to be sitting here in the kitchen and watching this. I was able to relax some.

    "You've been paying attention," Rachel said, giving her a nod. Smiles didn't really feel right, even if most people did them. They showed too many teeth. "Good."

    You had to praise people when they did well, the same as dogs. It was the only way to make sure that they kept doing well. I'd do the same for any other one of us, when they needed it.

    Wait. If they needed it? People weren't dogs. No, dogs were better sometimes. That was beside the point. Aisha was a friend, not a dog.

    "Of course," Aisha said. "You're my friend too. Not just Alec."

    See? It still surprised me that she was friends or more with Alec. He was such a shit sometimes. Yes, there were times when he wasn't as much of a shit, but he still was sometimes.

    Wait. Or more? What did I mean, or more? I'd woken up snuggled next to her last night, but that didn't mean anything.

    I shrugged and took another sip out of the coffee mug and made a face. The fuck was this? I gave Aisha a sharp look. Well, maybe that was Rachel. I helped.

    "What?"

    I looked down at the cup and back to her. "Why—the fuck—did you pick this?"

    Did Rachel just interrupt my question just to add that to me asking about the coffee? I didn't know that was possible. Of course, there was a lot about everything I didn't know. To be fair, I didn't know that we both could be up front at the same time.

    "Alec likes his coffee like that," Aisha said. "It's his coffee that I found in the cabinet. A French Colombian Roast."

    I got an innate urge to somehow find a way to beat Alec up without hurting myself. That one, I was going to blame on Rachel, even if I agreed with the sentiment. "Tea's better."

    "Water's good," Rachel said. "Tea's weird."

    Aisha gave me a look before shrugging. "I don't know everything you like in the morning. I do know Alec better than I know the rest of you."

    She did have a point there. Even if she considered herself a friend to… each of us, she wasn't extremely close to any of us other than him. Possibly more than just friends.

    "You keep talking about Alec," Brian said. "But you said she wasn't Alec. Just to confirm, she is a she, right?"

    "Pretty sure," Aisha said. "She hasn't corrected me on that. What do you say, Taylor? What do you prefer?"

    "I'm a girl," I said. "So is Rachel. And Lisa."

    Aisha nodded. "See, Brian?" She skipped around the counter and came over to give me a hug, which I felt myself happily returning. "Girl. Alec's a guy."

    "But she looks just like him," Brian said. "Sorry, Taylor, but you really do. And why were you talking to yourself?"

    "It's… complicated," I said.

    "Alec, Rachel, Taylor, and Lisa are all in this noggin," Aisha said, tapping my head with one of her hands.

    "Apparently not that complicated," I muttered, a flash of annoyance passing through me. "You don't have to share that with everyone."

    "Sorry, Tay," Aisha said in a tone that I knew meant she wasn't really all that sorry after all. "But it was going to keep eating him up inside the whole time."

    "Oh," Brian said, giving me a strange look. "So, there's four of you in there… Just four, right? Not Fourteen?"

    "What are you asking?" I asked. A chill went down my spine at the thought, and instead of Rachel, I felt a senses of curiosity. Like I needed to study him, figure out how he ticked. He was getting at something, and I needed to know what specifically it was.

    He shook his head. "No screaming, right? None of them telling you to do something you wouldn't normally do? Trying to get you to hurt people?"

    Oh, that's what he was getting at. A large part of me was affronted. Actually, scratch that. All of me was affronted.

    "I'm not the Butcher," I said. "I don't even have powers."

    No, having multiple personalities did not count as a superpower. Multiple people in my head meant that I had to deal with multiple conflicting wants and desires and even memories. There were many others like us out there, I knew, from the research I did.

    Wait. Research I did? I didn't remember doing any research. Well, it must have been from one of the times I went to the library and wasn't paying attention. Wait. Was it Lisa that did the research?

    Got it in one, kiddo.

    "That's bullshit," Brian said. "You produced those blades that you used on that Empire douchebag to help you get away."

    He had a point. Most people weren't able to summon disappearing blades. Then again, there was that voice I'd heard. It seemed crazy at the time, but… I had been desperate.

    "I offered a prayer to the Egyptian god of the night sky," I said with a shrug. Then I grasped a bit for a better explanation. "Look, I'm not sure exactly what happened, but isn't summoning weapons Miss Militia's thing anyway? I'm clearly not Miss Militia."

    "I don't know," Aisha said. "You're definitely close in skin tone."

    "She's older than me," I said, giving Aisha a withering look. "She was in the Wards before you and I were born."

    Aisha cackled and just gave me another hug. It felt nice. I'd missed something like this. With Sarah, it hadn't been quite the same as with Emma, but I'd missed it too. I hadn't even realized just how much I had been missing that.

    "So, what, you're saying a god helped you out?" Brian asked. "That's a little farfetched."

    I gave him a funny look, and I got the feeling of a request for permission. It wasn't Rachel. Rachel had spoken up earlier because we had been focused on the dogs, but now?

    "We don't have powers, Brian, like she said," someone said using my mouth. The tone was amicable but smart and familiar. Sarah… no, Lisa. She was Lisa now. Lisa was the one speaking. "I'm not sure how we managed to have two encounters like that in one night. But if the gods are real, there should be other evidence to it, right?"

    "I… what?" Brian asked. "Look, if you're a cape, I can keep it secret."

    "There's no powers here," I said, insistent.

    "None at all," Lisa added. It was strange that both Lisa and Rachel had been able to speak now when I was having so much trouble trying to let them do so earlier. Was it because I was more relaxed thanks to the familiarity of the breakfast smells? To Alec's coffee that… Rachel hadn't really enjoyed, but I could tell Lisa was okay with? With the gods thing, was I cracking up? The weapons had been real. But I didn't think they came from me. What about Alec, Rachel, and Lisa? Did they really exist? I mean, I clearly knew they existed in some way. They were able to talk, after all, and they did have their own memories somewhat separated from my own. But were they truly separated from me? Their own people? How did that even work? How would it work? What would be fair to everyone? It was my life, but… if they were real? If they were separate people, wasn't it also theirs? I might have been here first, but Sarah… no, Lisa, she'd been there with me a long time ago.

    She'd helped me, even when Mom said she was imaginary. Even when I believed she was imaginary. I still sort of believed that. But were they really? I knew they felt real. And one thing they didn't want me to be was alone.

    Brian shook his head, but then he seemed to want to change the subject. "Don't worry about school today. Aisha had me call Winslow and pretend to be your father. It's like that principal hasn't met him before."

    "She hasn't," I said, shaking my head. "Dad… he's usually out of town. Blackwell wasn't there when he enrolled me in Winslow, and neither was most of the staff. Some conference or another."

    "That… explains some things," Brian said. "Aisha and I heard that message last night, Bushman?"

    "Dad's friend, right," I said, frowning. I thought I'd known most of Dad's friends. Then again, he had come to Brockton Bay from out of town. Plus, there was the fact that his records were odd. There was a lot in the research that just didn't add up. But this person might be able to help. "Might look him up today, since I'm not going to school."

    "I'm coming with you," Aisha said. I gave her an incredulous look. It wasn't that the company would be unappreciated, but if it was dangerous… Not that I had reason to believe it would be, but there was a point to being cautious.

    "Is your homework done?" Brian asked as he plated up some food, placing some in front of each of us. I suspected that he didn't want to have Aisha risk herself, even for me. Even if there was no evidence of a risk.

    Aisha pouted and stuffed a strip of bacon in her mouth. Clearly, she hadn't quite finished her homework yet and was trying to hide that fact. The reaction was a little funny.

    "Mine won't take long," I said, assuring Brian. "And I can help with Aisha's when I get back."

    "When we get back," Aisha said, placing a hand on mine.

    "Good enough," Brian said with a sigh. "I've got another job tonight to go to."

    "What do you do for work, Brian?" I asked. Though, I suppose I had my suspicions.

    "He probably works as Grue," Lisa said, speaking up again. She gave him a wide, smug grin that settled on our face. I could feel the pride she had at figuring it out. The logical connections made some sense, but I wasn't sure she was right. She then tilted our head, without losing the grin. "Sorry, was that not supposed to be obvious after last night's save? You even mentioned the blades, which we definitely didn't have out around you, just him. Personally, I don't care if you're a hero or a villain. You helped us out against the Empire, and you're Aisha's brother."

    Brian looked at me… us with confusion on his face. I did get some smug satisfaction from him looking at us like that. Or maybe that was Lisa. Both of us? "What? How do you go from asking me what I do to that?"

    "She didn't ask you about it, Brian," I said, emphasizing that it wasn't me who spoke. "I did. She has a different voice than me. She was right though, wasn't she? You're Grue?"

    "He totally is," Aisha said. Bless that girl. "Though I don't think he knew I knew before today. He's a little dense like that, Taylor."

    "Wait, you're saying that you weren't the one who spoke up there," Brian said, gesturing to me.

    "By me, you mean me," I said. "Taylor, not Lisa, right?"

    "Wait. Who's Lisa?" Brian asked.

    "Seriously?" I asked.

    "Aisha told you that Taylor shares her head with me, Rachel and Alec, a bit ago, and you even compared us to the freaking Butcher!" Lisa crossed our arms. "It's not a good look on you, Brian. You still did help though."

    Yeah. We weren't the Butcher. We were nothing like the Butcher. I didn't hear them screaming in my head like that cape supposedly had. The damn cape did so much horrible stuff for people like us. Wait. People like us? Well, I'd done some research into our situation. The Butcher and some other cape stuff came up, but there were other things. People without powers. Oh. That made some sense, but it was strange. When did I do the research?

    At the library, of course. Maybe I hadn't been fully aware. Likely.

    Brian raised his hands. "Sorry, sorry… you have to understand I don't really have much context for this sort of thing. You said there's four of you in there."

    "That we know of," Lisa said.

    Wait. Were there more in there? It didn't seem like there were, but Khepri did show up. Yeah, but he was a god. Wasn't he? Based on the Khonshu thing, probably.

    "I… guess that might explain some things about Alec," Brian said, mostly to himself.

    And what was that supposed to mean? A part of me felt largely insulted by that. Rather than having Alec rush forward like Lisa and Rachel had and having him ask the question, I decided I'd speak up before he could get the chance to. "What do you mean by that?"

    "Just… Alec's been good for Aisha, but he seemed a little bit clueless about some things. I thought it was a lack of a good male role model for someone clearly trans, but…" Brian trailed off, looking at me. "Well, he helped out, so I helped out."

    I… really wasn't entirely sure what he meant by that. Well, I supposed that I didn't know much about male fashion and what would look good on me if I were to dress that way. I didn't, at first, anyway. Brian helped out with that, sure. And he knew a lot about video games. That… huh. Guess that made some sense.

    I sipped the coffee again, this time practically savoring it as I felt Alec's approach. If this was his favorite flavor of coffee, I'd lean into it while drinking it. He deserved some time, since the others had it. Maybe instead of doing the dual thing, what I'd done with the other two, I could figure out a way to switch with him. The others had managed to say their piece this morning. Didn't Alec deserve his shot? I… right now, I was just wanting to let him go ahead and do it. I just didn't know how.

    It's called stopping being a dork, dork. Well, that wasn't exactly a good explanation, but I took another sip of the coffee and gave a smirk to Aisha. "Thank you, ever so much, Bri-bri."

    Aisha stifled a giggle with another slice of bacon. Clearly she knew how funny I was. The rest of them were all philistines. Well, I didn't exactly find it super funny. Thus being a philistine, dork. It was a little different being out as me with her still paying attention, but I'd roll with it. Taylor was a bit dissociated right now, but it was less than normal. Which was fine. Everything was fine.

    "You weren't bleeding last night, were you?" I asked, pitching my voice appropriately. Because Brian knew me better. "Because one thing I do not want to try to do is make the dork explain why there's blood on the couch the way you had Aisha explain to her mom. Should have guessed you were Grue then, but I really didn't care."

    Seeing him come into Aisha's place with a seeping gut wound was definitely awkward. He bled all over the nice couch they had, and almost all over my clothes as I helped with the first aid.

    Wait. Bleeding from his stomach? How'd it happen?

    Heck if I knew. We got him patched up enough that he was able to go see a doctor without questions being raised. Luckily Aisha's mom was out getting high or there'd be more questions.

    "No, Alec, the only ones bleeding last night were you and the dogs," Brian said, giving me a pointed look. Oh good, he recognized me. Still…

    I grimaced, rubbing my chin. The bruises there were painful, and I especially felt it right now. Less so when I wasn't the one in charge. Neither the dork nor Rachel were killers, and I wanted to keep them that way as long as possible. Lisa and I managed to hold them back. Things were probably simpler when we weren't all paying attention at the same time, when the dork wasn't. But it wasn't fair to any of us, especially her. She didn't know what was going on.

    I still didn't. This was a new experience, and a little disquieting. But if it was like this for them all the time… they needed their time out.

    It wasn't like that all the time. Most of the time the dork got to ignore it. We did too, unless we were out. But after last night, we needed to be aware. If the gods were real, and they wanted us, we needed to be aware.

    "Everything okay?" Aisha asked. "Wanted to see you this morning, Alec."

    "I wanted to see you too," I said, cupping her cheek and rubbing it with my thumb. "You even made my coffee for me."

    "Of course, I did, Alec," Aisha said with that smile that looked so good on her. "Why wouldn't I?"

    I nodded and gave a surreptitious glance to her brother. I debated with myself about doing what I wanted, but Aisha had been so good to all of us. Lisa and Rachel almost certainly knew this already, or at lest they suspected. I wasn't sure Taylor knew or even if she realized.

    Rachel had mentioned the or more. What was the "or more," Alec? I mean, Aisha was a pretty girl, but… what was the "or more?"

    I decided to just show her rather than argue, and I leaned forward, kissing Aisha in a familiar, pleasant manner. Oh, it was nice to kiss my girlfriend.

    "Hey!" Brian said. "You know I'm right here, right? I really don't want to be watching that."

    His words jolted through me, and I pulled away from Aisha, a little disoriented. Had I? Had he? Wait… why did I feel so tired? What? I still kind of… what?

    "Alec, are you okay?" Aisha asked. Then she looked closer at me, specifically at my eyes. What was she looking at my eyes for? "Wait. Taylor?"

    I held up a hand, swallowing. What the Hell? "Aisha." I tried to compose myself. Think about the words I wanted to use. "Aisha. You. Alec. What?"

    That wasn't quite right.

    "What, what?" Aisha asked. "The kiss?"

    "How long?" I asked.

    Aisha reached out and grabbed the hand that I had outstretched with both of hers. She stroked the top of my hand in a comforting manner. "Technically, Taylor, we're not actually dating. Not officially yet anyway. We've just had some fun together. Mostly. I know that you all are figuring your shit out right now. I know you aren't him, and neither are Rachel or Lisa. All I want from you is your friendship. Could it be something more eventually? Maybe, I don't know. Alec's the one I like in that way, but you all do have the same body. You're just different people. I mean, I know you just found this stuff out, but I've been paying attention to you guys for a while. It has to be confusing for you."

    "Wait. Taylor just found out she has other people in her head?" Brian asked, clearly incredulous.

    Immediately, I shifted over to the side and gave him a strong glare. His attitude sucked. "If you aren't going to be helpful, Brian…"

    Intentionally, I tried to imitate the tone Rachel used. It seemed appropriate for the situation. "Fuck off. Go home, be Grue, whatever. Stop talking so much."

    Well, maybe that last part really did come from Rachel, even if she wasn't really up the way things were. I got the impression she didn't like a lot of talking. Though, to be fair, neither did I.

    "Thank you for breakfast though," I said.

    "Yeah," Brian said, looking at me oddly. "Clearly, you have some things you need to work out. Aisha, do you need a ride?"

    "I'll stay with her," Aisha said. "Go take care of your shit, Bri."

    "Yeah, Bri-Bri, take care of things," Alec said, smirking and making a shooing motion with our hand. That definitely was him, but he was doing what Lisa and Rachel had earlier rather than the full switch that we'd done that let him kiss Aisha. Did it really matter if he was imaginary or not? He was real enough for Aisha… what did that mean for the others? "The five of us need to talk."

    Brian looked at us like we were crazy. Very briefly, a part of me wondered if that might be true. But the larger part of me knew it wasn't. Well, I might have had some mental issues, but the multiple people in my head weren't necessarily one of them. "Fine. I'll be back. I'll bring some dinner later."

    I gave a nod, and he left the kitchen, heading for the front door. A few seconds later, I heard the door open and shut, indicating he'd left. Then I heard a loud curse and a cracking sound. He'd stepped on the broken step out front. Fun.

    Once he was out the door, Aisha turned to me. "Since neither of us have to go to Shitslow today, and I know you're trying to work some things out… what do you want to do?"

    I frowned and looked between her, my dogs, the answering machine and the door. I knew Alec and Rachel both probably would want to do something with either Aisha or the dogs themselves. Depending on which of them I asked, if I could figure out how to just ask them. That kiss certainly wasn't their first together, even if it had felt nice. It almost felt like it was me doing it, even if it really had been him. Maybe it had been both of us, given the body was still me.

    Still though, there was one thing that ate at me, and I knew it ate at Lisa's curiosity as well. "Mister Bushman. I think I need to find out what he knows."

    "I've got your back," Aisha said. "Wherever and whatever."

    I nodded, smiling at her. Hopefully we'd go to a place that allowed dogs. That'd help all of me be happy.

    But just who was Raul Bushman anyway? And how did he know Dad?
     
  8. Threadmarks: Crescent 2.2
    ellf

    ellf Know what you're doing yet?

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    [H1]Crescent 2.2[/H1]


    The Radisson Boardwalk Hotel surprisingly, wasn't actually on the Boardwalk itself. Instead, it was located a little over half a mile from the shopping area, and it bordered on some shops that catered mostly to fairly rich set of clienteles. I'd been by them once or twice to just peer in, but it didn't seem like Aisha had, from how eager she was to look in the windows as we passed. Some of the people in the shops gave a smile or two at her eagerness, and a couple of the workers gave polite nods.

    "How much do you think some of that stuff is, Taylor?" Aisha asked as we passed another shop on our way to the Radisson. It was kind of cute.

    "Honestly? Probably runs anywhere from a couple hundred to a couple thousand dollars, depending on what you get there. Nicer fabrics will run you toward the thousand-dollar range, but you can get similar effects with some of the cheaper ones. Where they really get you are the accessories. Each dress has to have something that goes with it, matching it, for whatever event you wear it at," I said. That was a very detailed answer to a question I was not entirely sure that I should have known the answer to. Maybe I had been paying attention when Emma went into those sorts of things when she hung out. The strangest things could trigger memories, I suppose.

    "Huh. Learn more about someone every day," Aisha said. "Wouldn't have pictured you to know that much about fashion."

    I shrugged. "My ex-best friend is an amateur model. I picked up some things from hanging out with her when we were younger, and I guess that some of it stuck." The memory seemed fresher than I would have expected, but that didn't mean anything. Alec had apparently needed help with men's clothes, and Rachel didn't really seem like she cared all that much.

    Lisa might. It wasn't wrong to want to look good. Okay, make that she did care about that, but that didn't mean those words came from her. They definitely came from me, not her. I was pretty sure about that, anyway. Process of elimination. If not from Lisa, Alec or Rachel, they had to come from me.

    Okay, I needed to stop arguing with myself. Or whoever was arguing with me. We were coming up on the Radisson, and Aisha was poking me in the side. "—lor we're here. You were the one who wanted to do this, so where are we going?"

    "Mr. Bushman said that he'd be waiting in the lobby, wearing a red beret. I told him that we'd show up around 11:30, and he offered to buy us some lunch," I said. It still felt a little off to me, but this guy was one of the best chances we had to find out anything about Dad. He said he knew him and that Dad wasn't what we thought he was.

    I wasn't sure if it was the right idea to go here, but at least meeting him in the lobby was a public area. Lunch could be at a nearby restaurant, which also would be public. It seemed like the safest option. I doubted that any friend of Dad's would do anything to harm us, but I wasn't so sure he was Dad's friend.

    "What kind of last name is that, anyway?" Aisha asked. "Bushman. It almost sounds like a lame cape name. Beware, Bush Man! With the power to… shake bushes!"

    I snorted. "Don't forget the sidekick, Tree Lad. With the power to climb trees."

    "Sounds like something that'd be on those old Mouse Protector cartoons," she said with a wicked grin. She then gave me a curious look. "So, Taylor, any idea how we should handle this, or should it be someone else?"

    "He's expecting Taylor," Lisa said. Apparently she'd been paying attention. Of course, she had. I'd been wanting to look into more about Dad, and we were close to getting it. It was possible there were threats. "So, she's going to have to take point. I'm not quite as practiced at imitating her."

    "You imitated me?" I asked, and if I could, I'd give her a sharp look. Instead, I just cocked an eyebrow.

    "Later. We need to focus on this now. I'll be paying attention to what I can though, and I'll try to get things across," Lisa said. "Sorry that I can't get them to you too, Aisha, but you should keep an eye open."

    Aisha nodded. "You're eager to meet this guy, but are paranoid about him…"

    I shrugged. "How come Dad never mentioned him? There has to be a reason."

    "And Taylor's mom never did either," Lisa said. I guess Mom calling her imaginary still ate at her. I… wasn't entirely sure Mom was wrong, but even if she was imaginary, she was still there, nonetheless. Handling things like this, our whole situation… I felt we needed to understand. The god thing would be nice too. "Trust is earned, Aisha."

    "But we do have to at least give him a chance to earn it," I said. "If our computer was better, I'd have looked him up before this, but… it felt like there was a timetable here…"

    "Right," Aisha said. "Well, I do have your back. Can't let anything bad happen to you. Alec would never let me hear the end of it."

    I snorted. The reverse was far more true. Especially now that I knew what I did about their relationship. I still wasn't sure how I felt about that other than the fact that the kiss felt nice.

    "His name's still weird though," Aisha said. "Isn't Bushman some sort of derogatory name for people from Africa?"

    I shrugged. "Might be a pseudonym?"

    "Could be," Lisa added, quietly. "Or it could be his real name. I hadn't had the chance to look into him yet."

    "Guess you can do that later," Aisha said.

    I glanced toward the door. Well, it was now or never. "Game faces on…"

    "You mean acting like normal girls?" Aisha asked.

    I nodded, and the two of us entered the lobby of the Radisson. The bougie doorman gave us a funny look, given our clothes and age, but he didn't seem to have any of the hate I'd come to associate with the standard "you don't belong here" look. The hotel was one of the nicer ones in the area, and it was evidenced by the lobby.

    It was a fancy hotel with a restaurant inside, and the nice tile lined the floor, all yellows and whites. It reminded me a little of sand. Then I saw him.

    Even if Raul Bushman hadn't been wearing the red beret, somehow I was certain I'd identify him. The man was tall, somewhere on the higher end of six feet, broad shouldered, and dark-skinned. His hair was buzzed off, and he wore a set of camo pants with a tanned silk shirt and a camo jacket. I noted under the jacket was a pair of lumps, one larger and one smaller. The larger one was too large to be any sort of weapon, but perhaps it was some sort of documentation.

    "Taylor?" Mr. Bushman asked as he saw me and Aisha walk in. His voice had a rich bass to it that matched with what I figured would come out his mouth. "Taylor Hebert?"

    I nodded.

    "Come here, girl," Mr. Bushman said with a wide grin. He opened his muscular arms wide, and when I approached, albeit stopping far enough away that he couldn't hug me, he continued jovially. "It's good to finally meet you. You're the spitting image of your dad."

    "Thank you," I said. "Not really big on hugs from strangers, sorry…"

    "Oh, no worries. But believe me, we won't be strangers long. Your father and I go way back," Mr. Bushman said. "But we can talk about that later. Who is this?"

    "I'm Aisha," she said. "Taylor's friend. We didn't really know what to expect."

    "I bet," he said, and I could hear the slight accent in his voice. I had no clue where he'd originally come from, but it was likely that he was either from somewhere in the Caribbean or Western Africa. "So, if you're hungry, the hotel's restaurant is pretty good, but if you can wait, we can talk in a meeting room here and then go get something. Actually… I would recommend eating first."

    "Why?" Aisha asked.

    "You may not be hungry after you hear what I have to say," Mr. Bushman said. "You deserve to know the information, but it may ruin your appetite."

    "I'm not really worried about eating," I said. "I came here for the information you had, more than anything else, Mr. Bushman."

    "Do you know where your father is?" he asked. "And you can just call me Bushman. Most people do, even your father."

    I shook my head. "He might be heading to Canada, but I couldn't tell you from where or for why or even for how long he'll be there."

    "That's fine," he said. "Are you comfortable meeting in one of the meeting rooms here? There's an office space not too far from where we are."

    "If Aisha comes with," I said.

    "While I'm okay sharing this information, it is about your father, Taylor," Bushman said. "Are you sure you want her along to find it out?"

    "I can handle it, and I'm her backup," Aisha said. "Emotional support and whatnot."

    "I'm okay with her finding out whatever," I said. Even if I felt really uncomfortable following this man anywhere. Something about him just set my teeth on edge.

    He's got information about Dad. But the question is how much of it is the truth? Well, there's no way of finding out what he knows without finding out what he knows. But if he's trying to get us alone for some reason… to find out the information? What did he mean about losing appetite? What exactly are we going to be looking at?

    "That said… do you have any proof that you know my father?" I asked.

    "That I can go ahead and show you now," Bushman said, and he reached into his pants to pull out his wallet. He opened the wallet and flicked through it before pulling out a picture. He flipped it around to show us, and in the picture was a man that looked a lot like a younger version of Dad, dressed in military fatigues.

    While he looked a lot like some of the older pictures of Dad I'd seen, something seemed off about the picture that Bushman held. Close up on him, that wasn't Dad. It could maybe have been his brother, but I didn't think it was Dad. Still though, Bushman was sure this meant he knew him. Maybe it would be worth humoring him?

    But he showed us a picture of someone not Dad while claiming to be Dad's friend. Of course, it was possible that Dad might have his own version of what we were going through. It was a wild theory, but it might have been true. If it was, the man in the photo could have been Dad. Just another part of him instead of the Dad we knew.

    "That looks like him," Aisha said, and grimacing, I had to agree for now. I didn't want to tip off anything. There really was no way of knowing for certain without him here.

    "I suppose that could be Dad," I said. "But it's an old picture."

    "Yes, I suppose it is," Bushman said. "It's from around when your father joined the Marine Corps, back in the late 80s. I was his commanding officer, helped him out."

    I supposed Dad being an ex-marine made some sense, given his physique. However, he certainly didn't act like I expected a marine to act. Of course, if he were another part of someone else… then why wouldn't he have said something when Mom told me Sarah was imaginary? Maybe he believed it too? Didn't think that I could have someone like her?

    Honestly, I still wasn't sure Mom was wrong, but Lisa was there now. She was paying attention now. And the indignation that came from the thought of Dad being like us and still going along with her being imaginary wasn't just from me. Such an asshole. Wait. I wasn't even sure he necessarily was like us. But if he was, he was an asshole. Maybe he had good reason to go along with Mom. She was an asshole too. No, she wasn't, but she might not have been operating on full knowledge. It's possible she was just wrong. Being wrong doesn't make her an asshole.

    This guy might be though. Well, yes, that might be true, but so far, all he'd done was show us a picture and tell us that Dad was in the marines. Didn't mean he wasn't an asshole. Okay. Seriously, stuck on a word much?

    "So, he served in the marines," I said. "Never really came up…"

    "I expect it wouldn't," Bushman said. "We can discuss further in private, though."

    I glanced to Aisha.

    "Your call, Tay," she said quietly. "Or… well, y'know."

    I frowned, closing my eyes for a second. Right now, he hadn't done anything that had completely earned distrust, but something about him just felt off. I couldn't quite place what, but his smile didn't quite reach his eyes. Those eyes were cold, calculating, and I didn't really know what that meant.

    Well, I had an idea, but until proven otherwise, the idea wasn't necessarily accurate. While I trusted my instincts, the desire to hear what information he had won out. This was probably a bad idea. He still had information we needed to hear. When it went south, I'd deal with the consequences then. Well, maybe I wouldn't be too smug about it.

    Maybe. Wait. Who would be smug?

    Two names overlapped echoing in my mind. Lisa and Alec, somehow at the same time. Not the time. This was not the time to argue with ourselves.

    "Okay, we can go into the office, if it's open." I gestured for him to lead. "There's people who know where we are and what we're doing…"

    "Good," Bushman said as he started to lead the way. "That is a very good way to look at things, especially with your father being who he really is."

    He made his way to one of the small conference offices that the hotels had reserved for their guests, and he opened the door. Inside was a relatively small conference table, and Bushman intentionally walked to the other side of it and sat down, facing the door. He gestured for Aisha and me to take a seat across the table from him, allowing us easy access to the door behind us.

    Clearly, he wanted us to seem comfortable. Or maybe he was genuine. For now. The smile he had still didn't reach his eyes, but something about his expression had softened a little.

    I pulled out Aisha's seat for her on autopilot, and she sat down, letting me push her in before I took a seat myself. The door closed automatically behind us. "Okay, so, you mentioned that Dad was a marine, under your command. And you said that it was understandable why he might not have mentioned it to me."

    "Well, yes," Bushman said. "Now, some of this story I only have second-hand. I retired from the military a few years after your father joined my command, and I formed my own private military company."

    Private military company. Wasn't that a politically correct way to say he was a mercenary? Soldier of fortune? Wait, when did I look that one up? Another time while looking into Dad. Why did I look that one up? It was a possible explanation for why Dad had so many postmarks on his letters. It didn't make a whole lot of sense unless he was deliberately trying to obscure where he was from either us or someone else trying to read his mail. And that was linked to mercenaries how? Well, it was a bit of a theory as to why he might have enemies to hide where he was sending from. So, Dad still was a mercenary? Maybe.

    "You mean you made a merc company?" Aisha asked. When I looked over to her, she smirked. "I pay attention in Gladly's class sometimes."

    "If you wish to be crass, yes," Bushman said. "A mercenary company, or group. We were often hired as protection for varying archaeological groups or as support for the military. But we'll come back to that in a bit."

    "So, Dad worked for you after he got out of the military then?" I asked.

    "Yes," Bushman said. "But you won't find any records of Daniel Hebert in the military. The name he joined under was Marc Spector."

    "Marc Spector," I said, giving a skeptical look. The name sounded… well, it wasn't that bad, but it was a strange one. Danny Hebert not being Dad's original name did match with the finding that his birth certificate was a fake. While I had suspected that he had either changed his name and created a new identity, that combined with the picture… Maybe he had a situation similar to me, after all.

    That asshole.

    If he'd recognized the signs, maybe he or they could have sat down with us to explain it. To make it better, to help us understand it. But maybe he hadn't? I wanted to give Dad the benefit of the doubt. He had been gone a lot, and maybe Mom hadn't talked to him about it. Maybe he genuinely thought Sarah was imaginary, or maybe he thought that she was one of my friends he hadn't met. I certainly spoke about her as if she was as real as Emma.

    I mean, she was as real as Emma, but Mom said she was imaginary. And I believed her. I wasn't sure whether I still did or not.

    "Yes, Marc Spector, a man who was dishonorably discharged from the military after he went AWOL for a bit in a fugue state," Bushman said. "Likely did a lot more during said fugue state too, but that was all the records said and what Marc told me when he joined my company. I haven't quite managed to piece together everything he did then."

    Fugue state added another point to the like us column. That could easily describe what Lisa had called me being dissociative. But it still didn't prove anything. The man in the picture could easily just have been a relative of Dad's instead. I mean, it totally was Dad's body, even if it wasn't Dad in the driver's seat. Probably. He held himself different in the picture than Dad would though. Which again pointed to the like us thing.

    That asshole.

    "Okay," I said. "So, Dad was a mercenary named Marc Spector, but now he's the contracts and hiring manager for the Dockworkers Association here in Brockton Bay, going to external sites for contracts."

    "If only that were true," Bushman said. "He was a good employee of mine for several years. Followed orders, did what was necessary. He protected our clients the way he needed to. Except… when we were hired by a group of archeologists in Egypt to guard their dig site, something happened."

    "What happened?" Aisha asked.

    "You sure you're okay with her seeing this, kid?" Bushman asked. "It isn't pretty, and it doesn't paint your father in a good light."

    "Seeing?"

    He pulled a folder out from within his jacket. "Seeing."

    "Aisha's a close friend," I said. "She can handle it. What happened?"

    "I'm not sure, exactly," Bushman said. "One second, we were guarding them, afraid any rebels nearby might show up, and the next, Marc started screaming about the Guardian of the Night or some shit. He gunned down every last one of them."

    He opened the folder and spread out several pictures of dead men. Clearly, they were executed by someone, and the person that Bushman claimed did it was my father. Well. He claimed Marc Spector did it. I knew Marc wasn't Danny. It was obvious from the pictures, but somehow something felt off about this.

    "What were you doing during this?" I asked. "You were his CO."

    "I tried to stop him," Bushman said, his voice low and steady. "He was crazed. It was like he had turned into a cape… I even shot him, trying to put him down so he couldn't hurt anyone else."

    "You shot her dad? Must have been a shit shot if he was well enough to have Tay," Aisha said.

    Bushman shook his head. "He must have gotten powers around then… I don't remember much of what happened next, but I next heard of him showing up in a few random places around the world."

    He put out more pictures. Each one had a dead body, and each one had a date and location on the bottom of it. "And everywhere Marc showed up and left, someone showed up dead."

    I only gave cursory glances to the dead bodies. He didn't offer any proof that this Marc guy was the killer, and he seemed very interested in making us believe it. I wasn't sure how he'd acquired the second set of pictures, but judging from where they were, they were crime scene photographs. Which meant he likely acquired them in extralegal ways.

    "When I found out he'd changed his name to Danny Hebert, after a brief stint as Steven Grant in the UK, I did some more looking," Bushman said. "Imagine my surprise when I find out he's got a daughter. I'm really sorry to shatter your mental image of him, but… it seems like my old friend might be a killer."

    Wait. Steven. That name seemed familiar. Uncle Steven? He was at Mom's funeral for a bit while Dad was off dealing with other things. If Marc was Dad, and Marc was Steven, that meant that Uncle Steven was Dad.

    That asshole.

    I didn't buy the murder story for a minute, or at least I suspected there was more to it than what Bushman was telling us. What if there wasn't, though? What if the reason Dad was away so often was that Bushman told the truth? He was a murderer… It could be plausible, but then that Guardian of the Night thing happened. The God of the Night Sky had been prompting us… to try and kill that Empire member.

    Khosnu… Khonshu… whichever spelling was accurate, he'd wanted the Empire guy dead. I had wanted it too, but I managed to stop myself. Well, we managed to stop me? I'm not sure about the proper phrasing.

    Dork.

    "I'm… not saying I believe you," I said, pushing the pictures on the table together and putting them back in the folder. "But I'm not saying you're necessarily lying… why come to Brockton Bay and tell me? Why specifically seek me out?"

    "Because you might need protection," Bushman said. "And if any part of my old friend is left in that noggin of his, he'd want to make sure that his daughter is safe. You aren't, not with your father not in the custody of the PRT. You sure as shit aren't here in this town full of Nazis. You deserve safety, kiddo."

    He pulled out his phone to check it, and then he shook his head. "But… it has to be your choice. I have a safe place I can take you and your friend, but I won't take you against your will. I do understand if you're not hungry anymore after seeing what you saw here."

    The phone. It was a little weird for him to check his phone during a meeting, but it wasn't unusual. Maybe he was expecting a message or was checking the time. Maybe he had an addiction to something. It wasn't like it applied to me. I wasn't all that interesting.

    Bite your tongue. I was not going to bite my tongue over that. But I had three other people in my head besides me, and Aisha found at least one of them interesting. But that didn't mean I was interesting. That's stupid. I was totally interesting, and at least some of me thought that. Not that it directly applied to what was going on here. But Bushman checked his phone during a conversation with me. Clearly, I wasn't interesting enough to hold his attention.

    "No offense, Mr. Bushman," Aisha said. "But… I think Tay needs some time to process. If you're still good about that lunch, maybe you could give us cash so the two of us could go to Fuglies while she does?"

    "Not Fuglies," Lisa said, and I let her. I still was reeling as I went over some of the possibilities. She didn't quite take on her normal pitch, but I knew it was her this time. Even if she sounded like me. "We can go somewhere else. You gave us a lot to think about, Mr. Bushman. Do you have a way of contacting you beyond the hotel in case we do actually get into trouble?"

    "Of course," Bushman said, and he gave me his card. Lisa took it and put it in my hoodie's pocket. He then reached into his wallet and pulled three twenties out. "And for your time today, kiddo. Take your girl somewhere she might like."

    "Oh, we're not together, Mr. Bushman," Aisha said. "Just friends."

    "Yeah," Lisa echoed as she took the money from him as well. "Thanks."

    Aisha and I stood, and we left the room. The two of us power walked out of the hotel proper, and we started on our way toward the Boardwalk.

    "So," Aisha said once we were outside. "Your Dad might be a serial killer… or a mass murderer… Almost makes me feel better about Mom just being a junkie."

    "One, it's okay to not like that last bit," Lisa said. "Two, Raul Bushman is a liar. I couldn't tell about what, exactly, but he was lying at least part of the time."

    "You sure you're not saying that because it's Dad?" I asked, speaking up.

    "Of course not," Lisa said. "Dad's an asshole, but he's our asshole. He's not a murderer." Her voice grew small. "He can't be."

    I echoed her, in a similar tone. "He can't be."

    Aisha placed a hand on my shoulder and squeezed. "Lisa, Taylor, even if he is, you probably need to know."

    Which meant we needed to do more research. And our home internet was shit. "Guess we're going to the library."

    To look up records on people as little as three months dead. And to look up an ex-marine named Marc Spector. Who, in all likelihood was like us.

    That asshole.
     
    Last edited: Jun 5, 2022
  9. Threadmarks: Crescent 2.3
    ellf

    ellf Know what you're doing yet?

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    The library computers really were much better than working from home on some of the homework assignments that I'd been given. It really didn't take all that long to get the initial work done, and with Gladly's assignments, the set of research came to me quite easily. Of course, then I found myself searching for other things, almost as if a part of me wanted to look into more. Parahumans Online was a staple for finding out some of the current cape events, seeing as it was at least a little relevant, but there were other things I wanted to find out.

    I started some more searches into what was going on with me… with us. Things that seemed familiar, that I knew I'd seen before. The first few pages weren't all that promising. The psychiatry sites were either far too technical, or, well, blatantly insulting for them to be of any use whatsoever. Instead, I went for the sites that seemed to treat it as less of a disorder. Yes, Dissociative Identity Disorder was a thing, and I did dissociate sometimes. I just… I didn't want to think of myself that way. I wanted to understand what was going on. I needed myself to understand what was going on.

    I'd help all of us understand, show us what we needed to see. And if there were some interesting threads on PHO to read in the meantime, I'd also take a look at those. My fingers quickly found my username and password, and I opened the first tab. Now those were some interesting threads.

    Welcome to the Parahumans Online message boards.
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    ■​

    ♦ Topic: Heartbreaker Found Dead in Montreal Hotel Room
    In: Boards ► International ► News
    Bagrat
    (Original Poster) (Veteran Member) (The Guy in the Know)
    Posted On Apr 13th 2011:

    I’m just going to directly quote from this article in the Toronto Star:

    It then goes into detail about some of the wounds that Vasil suffered (he was killed by blades) and that police have no leads at this time. If more information is released, please keep it to this thread.



    (Showing page 1 of 2)


    ►ArmiPants (New User)​
    Replied On Apr 13th 2011:​
    First! No really, couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy. I’m surprised it took him taking Sidney for any action to be motivated.​

    Guess a superfan got to him first.​

    ►General Prancer
    Replied On Apr 13th 2011:​
    It said several of the Heartbroken were brought in by the PRT. @Bagrat, any idea which of them?​

    ►Bagrat (Original Poster) (Veteran Member) (The Guy in the Know)​
    Replied On Apr 13th 2011:​
    No clue. There’s not a whole lot of information on Heartbreaker’s kids out there.​

    ►XxVoid_CowboyxX
    Replied On Apr 13th 2011:​
    One less supervillain out there in the world. Fuck that guy. I wonder who did it and how. Blades means it was up close and personal, right? How did Heartbreaker not use his power on them?​

    ►FlippinMad
    Replied On Apr 13th 2011:​
    A smart comment from Void Cowboy, will the wonders never cease?​

    ►Spiritskin
    Replied On Apr 13th 2011:​
    Ah, leave him alone. Heartbreaker’s dead. We don’t have to worry about where we go in Canada anymore.​

    ►Aloha
    Replied On Apr 13th 2011:​
    Or our women.​

    ►FrenchieCanuk (Verified Canadian)
    Replied On Apr 13th 2011:​
    That’s sexist.​

    ►Aloha
    Replied On Apr 13th 2011:​
    Literally most of the people Heartbreaker mastered were women. If anyone’s sexist, he was.​

    ►FrenchieCanuk (Verified Canadian)
    Replied On Apr 13th 2011:​
    U’re Sexist. Lol​

    ►Aloha
    Replied On Apr 13th 2011:​
    That’s the laziest troll I’ve ever seen.​

    ►FrenchieCanuk (Verified Canadian)
    Replied On Apr 13th 2011:​
    Une vache espagnole… Is what you are, you sexist pig.​

    ►Trumpet Nerd (Moderator)​
    Replied On Apr 13th 2011:​
    Hey, knock it off both of you. No need to turn this into a slugging match.​

    ►FrenchieCanuk (Verified Canadian)
    Replied On Apr 13th 2011:​
    That official? Fine. Fine. I’ll lay off the sexist.​


    End of Page. 1



    (Showing page 2 of 2)


    ►Trumpet Nerd (Moderator)​
    Replied On Apr 13th 2011:​
    Right, giving you a break from this thread for 72 hours. Take it.​

    ►Albino Lupa (Verified PRT Agent)​
    Replied On Apr 14th 2011:​
    Yeesh. Wonder who ended the man’s life. As far as I knew, no kill order had been authorized for him. Mostly, given his capabilities, we wanted to make sure that nobody went after him half-cocked. It was for protecting civilians as best we could. Still, given the situation with Sidney Saile, something was going to give. Of course, with no kill order, this will likely be investigated as a homicide, albeit with the justifiable one attached. This falls under the Provincial Law regarding vigilantism, but it's possible that a kill order may be issued posthumously. Not my department though.​

    ►MacNCheeseIzGreat
    Replied On Apr 14th 2011:​
    Looks like someone went in there full-cocked though, Alb. Can you share what actually killed the guy? Yeah, Baggy said that it was blades, but that could be anything from a machete to a dagger to something like what that racist prick gang leader in Brockton Bay uses as his power. Anything?​

    ►Albino Lupa (Verified PRT Agent)​
    Replied On Apr 14th 2011:​
    Nothing I’m authorized to share at this time. We are working with one of the Protectorate’s allied traveling heroes, the Scarlet Scarab, to investigate some of this matter.​

    Re: Kill orders posthumously… It’s happened before. but not really my call.​

    ►MacNCheeseIzGreat
    Replied On Apr 14th 2011:​
    Ooh. I like her. (Scarlet Scarab, I mean) She has such a cool costume too, and some sort of flight, right? Nice.​


    End of Page. 1, 2



    ■​

    ♦ Topic: Announcing the Medhall Charity Gala 2011
    In: Boards ► Brockton Bay ► Society
    WhiteCoatVic
    (Original Poster) (Verified Medical Professional)
    Posted On Apr 14th 2011:
    Just wanted to announce the Charity Gala that Medhall is putting on this weekend at Brockton Bay’s own Forsberg Gallery. The proceeds are going to a near and dear charity to Medhall, Doctors Without Borders. If you are among those able to attend, I would like to remind you that the silent auction bids are due by 10 PM on April 16. The list of options is found on Medhall’s website, located here: Medhall – Silent Auction. Among the items are pieces of Egyptian artwork and artifacts donated by the Forsberg Gallery’s private funders, and other pieces donated by the gallery itself.

    If you are unable to attend the gala, either due to lack of funds or other reasons, you can still support Doctors Without Borders. Their charity site is here: Doctors Without Borders | Médecins Sans Frontières.

    Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières, MSF) is a large, international medical humanitarian organization, focused on providing care “to people whose survival is threatened by violence, neglect, or catastrophe.” They are especially focused on handling relief in areas affected by Endbringer Attacks.

    Edit: Apparently the incorrect link has been posted. Check further down in the thread to have the correct donation link.



    (Showing page 1 of 1)


    ►Lasersmile
    Replied On Apr 14th 2011:​
    Wow, a bunch of rich people getting together to get a tax break. Woo hoo.​

    ►Laserdream (Verified Cape)​
    Replied On Apr 14th 2011:​
    MSF are a great organization though. If the money’s all going to a good place, isn’t that a good thing in the end?​

    ►MorningCloth
    Replied On Apr 14th 2011:​
    Good place, yes, but that money could also be used to support some of the less fortunate here in our own city. Have you seen some of the areas in the Docks, or do you stick to the Boardwalk and college areas when you patrol?​

    ►Glory Girl (Verified Cape)​
    Replied On Apr 14th 2011:​
    I’ve been by the Docks, and I agree with you MC. There’s a lot of people who probably need more help than are getting it, but MSF is supporting people who have lost everything thanks to the Endbringers or other catastrophic events. I’ve even heard that they risk their own lives at times going in after times where the Nine have visited.​

    Ames has talked positively about all interactions she’s had with their members. They’ve been quick to help her when there’s something she doesn’t understand about the medical side of her powers.​

    ►VerTheCal (Site Supporter)​
    Replied On Apr 15th 2011:​
    If you’re going to post a donate link, at least have the courtesy to post the correct one, Doctor. Here is their main site. I recommend going to click the Donate button in the corner if you want to help.​

    ►Glory Girl (Verified Cape)​
    Replied On Apr 15th 2011:​
    Whoops, didn’t even notice that one. Good catch, Vert. So, WCV, what was the point in linking the wrong one? Where did that link end up going?​

    ►WhiteCoatVic (Original Poster) (Verified Medical Professional)​
    Replied On Apr 16th 2011:​
    My apologies. I must have misclicked when I created the link. My original post is not able to be edited easily, so I would advise people to use the link that VertTheCal posted in order to do their donation.​

    ►MacNCheeseIzGreat
    Replied On Apr 16th 2011:​
    Gotta say, that’s not a great look, Vic. You’re representing Medhall here when you’re advertising their event. Glory Girl and Laserdream are right about the real charity, but linking the wrong site just looks suspicious. Makes me question whether Medhall was trying to phish us. Careful out there everyone. Make sure the links go to the right sites.​


    End of Page. 1



    ■​

    ♦ Topic: Travelers Attack Medhall Charity Gala!
    In: Boards ► Brockton Bay ► Society
    Dawgsmiles
    (Original Poster) (Veteran Member)
    Posted On Apr 16th 2011:
    Oh. My. Freaking. God. I was at the Medhall Gala, you guys, and while it started out pretty cool, and I got to see some really cute dresses on some people, about half an hour before the whole Silent Auction was supposed to finish, this guy dressed up like the world’s smarmiest Magician showed up with a whole bunch of capes. They called themselves the Travelers. They stole a bunch of cash from everyone along with some of the items from the silent auction, and they made it out before the Protectorate was able to show up. Luckily New Wave was there, but still.

    I don’t know what they managed to make off with, but it was a lot. I got some of it on video, posted here



    (Showing page 1 of 2)


    ►Bagrat (Veteran Member) (The Guy in the Know)​
    Replied On Apr 16th 2011:​
    Oh jeeze, Dawg, are you okay? Hope you are. Really, going from a bank robbery last week to this? The Travelers really seem to be doing a lot lately. You’d think after the bank, they’d know to avoid anywhere New Wave was though.​

    For reference, the Travelers main discussion thread is here, but a brief rundown of them and their powers are as follows:​

    Trickster – the Magician looking guy in Dawg’s video. He has the ability to swap the locations of two things. The current estimate is that they have to be of equal sizes. He can even do it on himself.​

    Ballistic – The guy that apparently still has a bruise on his jaw from when he got hit by that dark-haired girl at the bank robbery. He has the power to accelerate objects he throws to near-lethal speeds.​

    Sundancer – The girl in red. She’s apparently got some power related to fire and balls of it. Not fully clear on that one.​

    Genesis – The creature thing. It’s different each time. Current estimate is that Genesis is either a changer or a projection of some sort. No clue exactly how it works.​

    There used to be another member back when they were in Boston and before that, but nobody knows what happened to him.​

    ►XxVoid_CowboyxX
    Replied On Apr 16th 2011:​
    Holy… Wait, I think I recognize that kid. Isn’t that the Medhall CEO’s kid with that girl in the red dress? Freaking gold diggers, man.​

    ►FlippinMad
    Replied On Apr 16th 2011:​
    What the heck is with this week? Void Cowboy says another thing I agree with. Clearly, the girl doesn’t know what’s going on, or someone dressed her bad. That shade of red does not go with her hair. Her skin’s so orange she looks like a pumpkin.​

    ►XxVoid_CowboyxX
    Replied On Apr 16th 2011:​
    She doesn’t look bad though. Just not like she belongs with him. Clearly, she’s after his money.​

    ►MorningCloth
    Replied On Apr 16th 2011:​
    For pale blondes you usually want lighter, softer colors, otherwise you get that effect. But really, how she looks isn’t important. Sundancer’s costume is kind of cool looking though, even if she helped them steal some of the auction items and money that would have been going to charity.​

    ►MacNCheeseIzGreat
    Replied On Apr 16th 2011:​
    Any idea which items were stolen? Genuinely curious here. Not entirely sure why they’d bother stealing these things, but maybe there was a reason.​

    ►Reave (Verified PRT Agent)​
    Replied On Apr 16th 2011:​
    The PRT is currently investigating the missing items and compiling a list of them. If the Forsberg Gallery authorizes a release of the list to the public, expect to see it in the news. Sorry, I realize that’s not what you wanted to hear.​

    ►MacNCheeseIzGreat
    Replied On Apr 16th 2011:​
    Eh. Figured that was likely, especially this soon after the robbery. Hey Glory Girl, you able to post yet? New Wave have any statements on this event?​

    ►Glory Girl (Verified Cape)​
    Replied On Apr 17th 2011:​
    Mom’s still working on one, but really, dealing with these people so soon after the other, and they still got away? Trickster’s an annoying asshole.​

    ►MacNCheeseIzGreat
    Replied On Apr 17th 2011:​
    Certainly seems that way. Hard to believe Ballistic still has the marks on him from last week.​

    ►Glory Girl (Verified Cape)​
    Replied On Apr 17th 2011:​
    Oh, that wasn’t from last week. Something ended up ricocheting into his chin a short while after he got in. It was like his stuff was on a string or something. Weird.​

    ►XxVoid_CowboyxX
    Replied On Apr 17th 2011:​
    Maybe there were more capes at the gala than just New Wave. But they weren’t in costume so they couldn’t openly fight. I wonder if it’s anyone from the video.​

    ►Judge (Moderator)​
    Replied On Apr 17th 2011:​
    Void Cowboy, this is your only reminder to not speculate on cape identities publicly in these threads. Feel free to do so in private, but don’t keep doing so in the thread.​

    ►XxVoid_CowboyxX
    Replied On Apr 17th 2011:​
    Fine. Secret identities are bullshit though. It’s not fair. I want to know if I actually know any capes in person.​


    End of Page. 1



    (Showing page 2 of 2)


    ►FrenchieCanuk (Verified Canadian)
    Replied On Apr 17th 2011:​
    Void Cowboy, my brother in Christ, you probably know several capes at your school. Feel free to shout your theories from the rooftops, the very very tall ones, and then pray that none of them know you know. Pray that you are not right. For if you are…​

    ►Judge (Moderator)​
    Replied On Apr 17th 2011:​
    Right. Frenchie, no encouraging possibly suicidal actions. That’s blatantly against site rules. I’m giving you an infraction which may trigger a site ban, but regardless, you will not be able to post in this thread for the next 72 hours.​

    ►MacNCheeseIzGreat
    Replied On Apr 17th 2011:​
    Judge, good decision. Void Cowboy, don’t listen to Frenchie. Hey, can I be a mod, Judge?​

    ►Judge (Moderator)​
    Replied On Apr 17th 2011:​
    Not my decision, Mac. You’re free to apply to it though. Let’s get back on topic.​


    End of Page. 1, 2



    ■​
    [/CENTER]
    Lot 2475 – Golden Scarab – Engraved with hieroglyphs dedicating the scarab to Khepri. This scarab will make a fine addition to any collection. The scarab even has an ability to extend and retract its wings. The picture here shows it with its wings extended. This piece was donated anonymously to this auction through contacts at the Harrow Foundation.

    Lot 2764 – Ankh of Life – This Ankh, beautifully decorated with the hieroglyphs indicating that it is a Key of Life, is made out of 18 karat gold, and it is rumored to have been found in the tomb of an unknown Pharaoh back in the 1930s. This piece was evaluated by archaeologists of the British Museum and is often seen in tours. The donor for this piece has wished to remain anonymous.

    Lot 2947 – Book of the Dead, copy circa 230 BC – This beautiful piece has been carbon dated to indicate that it is from the era of Ptolmey II. It is a copy of the Egyptian Book of the Dead, wonderfully preserved save for the slight burn marks on the edges of the papyrus. It is rumored that this piece may have been in the original Library of Alexandria. (Sorry, not the Triumvirate member.) This piece was donated by the Fleischer estate.

    Lot 3175 – Burial Mask – This Burial Mask was found, sans its mummy in a place called the Tomb of the Morning. It is said to be the burial mask of the Great One, En Sabah Nur, according to hieroglyphs found by the archaeologists exploring the tomb. Legend has it that the reason the tomb was empty was not because of robbers, but because En Sabah Nur was never mummified. This piece was donated by the Harrow Foundation.

    Lot 7145 – Shabti Collection – These small statues were once a part of a larger collection that has since been returned to Egypt’s government from the British Museum. Egypt’s government authorized the distribution of these small amounts to private collections so long as the proceeds went to charitable functions. These were donated by an anonymous donor.

    Lot 8144 – Collection of Various Jewels- ….
    Khepri – Also spelled as Khepra, Khepera, Khopri, Kheprer, or Chepera, is the Egyptian god of the morning sun. Often depicted with the head of a scarab or simply in the form of a scarab beetle himself, Khepri represents the creative, transformative power of the sun. As the morning sun, Khepri was considered to be a part of the Egyptian sun god, Re.

    Khepri symbolized the resurrection of the body, rolling the sun across the sky as a dung beetle rolls its ball across the land.

    Khonsu – Also spelled as Khons, Chons, Khensu, or (rarely) Khonshu. He is the Egyptian god of the Night Sky, depicted in many positive incarnations as a healer, however in earlier incarnations, he is depicted as a violent god. One thing that is consistent with each incarnation is that he seeks justice, protecting those who would travel under his watchful eye. Ramses III built a temple to him, honoring the god.
    Pluralism - Plurality is the state of having multiple headmates collectively sharing a single body. A group of headmates is called a system. Plural experiences are extremely diverse. Systems may be spiritual in nature or secular, median or partitionary, small systems or ones with thousands of headmates.

    Headmates are generally assumed to have their own unique personality. They often have their own names, pronouns, goals, and preferences.

    Referring to the system they belong to is often done using plural pronouns like we, us, them, and they, although it is best to ask. They may want to be seen as an individual, a part of a whole, an accompaniment to the core or host, or any other state of selfhood. Plurality comes in many forms. [1]

    While there are parahuman powers that may create situations that are similar to plurality, it is important to note that not all plural people are parahuman, nor are all parahumans plural. No psychiatrists or psychologists have acknowledged a link between parahuman powers and plurality or multiplicity.
    This site is meant to gather stories and media from people who experience multiplicity or pluralism. This is not a site that gathers stories about abuse or similar activities. If you are someone who has suffered from abuse, there are many sites that can guide you to resources for help there. This site is simply to gather accounts from those who are people who live with it. What is it like for you? What are your experiences as multiples? What do you hear, smell, taste, see? Do you share experiences? Where do you go when you’re not running the show? What is it like for you? We want to know. The people below shared their own experiences.

    Me, myself, and we – A take on the idea of the unwanted personality, how Jacob dealt with it, and how they came to terms with their other selves and their headmates. The walls between them all blurred at times, and there were fears they had, which they described.

    Multiple lives -This article is an interview with a system that does not consider themselves to be disordered, at least not in the traditional Dissociative Identity Disorder way. They speak of their experiences, how one of their members has PTSD, and how they themselves just are. They wish to remain anonymous, and this site will honor that fact, but until the world writ large can accept multiples as reality, this will often be the case. We accepted superpowers, didn’t we?

    Multiplicity is Not a Superpower, But We Can Get Powers An account from an anonymous cape that goes into the realities of handling multiple identities while having multiple personalities. Told in the first person, they avoid giving anything specific away, but they speak in generalities of what they have had to deal with.
    Let’s get one thing straight. You don’t want to get superpowers. Pretty it up all you want, the experience of getting any form of power is Hell, and actually using the power itself is a reminder of the Hell you went through in order to get it. Every. Single. Day. Yes, the standard line is that powers can come in times of great need or in triumphant times but ask any cape when they’re not on camera how they managed to get their powers, and the answer will be the same. And if it isn’t, they’re lying.

    The experience was the worst day of our lives, and we didn’t actually think that we could get worse than what we had gone through as children. It still happened though. We won’t go into any specific details but trust us. You don’t want to have it happen to you. Trying to force it doesn’t usually have it happen anyway. Shoot, it was strange enough even before we had powers, but throw the powers in the mix and it creates a whole new barrel of monkeys to try and sort out. It took us a bit to figure out how to work all toward the same goal, to realize that we all wanted what was best for us. We just didn’t always agree on what that specifically meant.

    When we realized we had our powers, however, we were elated. We immediately set out to test them, to try and figure out our limits. Sure, that probably is what any cape does when they get powers, but not many capes have a sounding board. We’re a system of eighteen people, and each one of us had different ideas on how our costume should look. As our powers were similar, albeit not exactly the same, we felt that we should share our costumed identity between all of us. Which meant we had to have concessions on the costume to each of our choices. You can imagine what the first attempt looked like with eighteen people inputting. We’re sure that designing by committee often gets similar results. Still, we did manage to get something together before we joined the Protectorate.

    We won’t say which branch, but our branch leader has been better about noticing which of us it is under the mask. They even managed to start calling us individually by our own names. The director, on the other hand, was less good about that. They’re learning though.

    We’re a lot like a set of siblings, really, each with our own likes, dislikes, wants, and desires. The one thing we can agree on completely is that being a part of the Protectorate, with our power, is completely worth it.

    Continues on next page
    Marc Spector – Interpol File

    Age: 43

    Nationality: American

    Wanted for Questioning regarding the following incidents. █ █ █ █ █ █ █ █ █ █ █ █ █ █ █ █ █ █

    █ █ █ █ █ █ █ █ █ █ █ █ █ █ █ █ █ █ █ █ █ █

    Kissing█ █ █ █ █ █ █ █ █ █ █ █ █ █ █ █ █ █ █

    █ █ █ █ █ █ █ █ █ █ █ █ bear trap.

    Warning: Treat Spector as if he is armed and dangerous. Take caution when approaching him, and treat him as if he were a brute with a rating slightly above human norm. (Brute 2, per latest PRT protocols)
    ■​


    Welcome to the Parahumans Online message boards.
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    ■​


    FrenchieCanuk (Verified Canadian), you are temporarily banned from PHO, preventing you from posting in threads or viewing individual threads. Your ban will expire in 47 hours and 34 minutes.

    I pushed back from the computer for a second, and I let out a sigh, glancing around the library. There weren't that many people here at the moment, which definitely helped me relax some. The stories had been interesting, at least, especially that one about the cape. Idly I wondered which Protectorate hero it was. I hadn't even realized that it was possible for people like us to get superpowers. What he'd described for how his headmates interacted was interesting and still different from how I interacted with mine. Every story on there was different.

    Perhaps it was because the human mind wasn't all that well understood. I wasn't sure that made me special, but it made me feel kind of nice. Well, somewhat. I could practically feel someone else getting ready to mock the nice feeling. What a little shit. The vague offense there didn't bug me at all.

    What did bug me, however, was the strikingly small amount of information on Marc Spector. There was record of him serving in the US Marines before we were born, and he had a highly redacted record on the Interpol database I… made my way into. I'd searched a bit more for him, to try and confirm other things that Bushman said, but there was nothing that confirmed nor denied that he was a murderer. Uncle Steven had a record of existence as Steven Grant, an employee of the British Museum in London. The blurb was mostly small, but it was about him

    It seemed that he was, at one point in time, a member of the gift shop staff. I empathized with him, even if him not telling us the truth was a bit of a dick move. If he knew that we were in a similar situation to him and this Marc Spector person or with Dad, then he should have worked it out.

    Maybe he just hadn't figured it out. I'd give Dad the benefit of the doubt, at least for now. It was the right thing to do. Well, right-ish, anyway. It'd be hard to confront him with him out of town, anyway.

    A librarian passed by us as I let out a short yawn. Doing research was a tiring proposition, but it was necessary to help us decide what the best next move was. At least assuming Alec didn't screw everything up.

    The feeling of self-righteous indignation that flushed through me at my thought nearly made me laugh aloud. If we hadn't been in a library, I might have. I probably would have done this research back at home, but the internet speeds we had were abysmal compared to here. The issue with here was the limits on how much noise could be made.

    Which meant that talking to the others was… not something I really wanted to do at the moment. Only one of them would care about the research's results anyway, and I knew she was paying attention as I browsed. She prompted me every so often, which helped with some occasional things. There was a stub in the plural wiki site about plurals with superpowers, but really, the only one that we'd even shown hadn't been ours. Khonshu had provided those blades, I was sure of it. The Egyptian research had been far more useful on that front than anything relating to plurals and superpowers. Even if that account from the Protectorate cape had been interesting.

    If I could find someone in a similar situation to our own in the future, it would be wonderful to talk with them, if they were willing. I wasn't exactly sure how I'd locate them or not, but that would be a problem for future us. Who knows, maybe I'd even find someone like us with superpowers. That would be pretty cool.

    Honestly, in the meantime, looking more into Dad and what was going on with him and this Bushman guy made sense. Why would Bushman choose to contact us now of all times? Did he only just find out about Dad and found out he had a daughter?

    A sneaking part of me suspected that he might have been here on a job for some reason. He claimed to be a mercenary, after all, and he was staying at one of the nicer hotels in the area. But why would a mercenary be staying at such a nice hotel? Well, he could be rich. Locating his finances wasn't something to do on a Library computer. We really needed to get to a place that had better, more secure internet. Getting it at home wasn't really an option due to the whole "needing an adult" thing.

    I shook my head. It really bugged me. Something about Bushman just felt off. Yes, those pictures had been real. At least some of them. I hadn't had the chance to really examine them closely, but I didn't know why he would carry around fake pictures of dead people. Either way, Dad was getting blamed for these murders by that guy.

    The blade wounds though. One of the more recent pictures had the man being stabbed. It was… similar to the wounds that we'd inflicted on that Empire guy's arm. Wait. You aren't seriously thinking… Dad and Khonshu?

    There wasn't enough information on that general site about him. We probably needed to go talk to an Egyptologist or something. Find out more about them. Wasn't there one at Mom's college? One of her colleagues?

    Ugh. "Mom." It was sad that she was dead, yes, but… she had been a very opinionated woman. Yes, but she loved us. Loved you, maybe, but me? It hadn't surprised me at all to find out she followed Lustrum. How Dad managed to get her to his side at all is beyond me. Well, Dad might have been able to be a suave person.

    With Lustrum in the Birdcage, it's not like we could ask her, anyway. If Dad ever showed up, we could ask him. Yeah, but would we be asking him that, or would we be prodding him about Marc Spector and Uncle Steven? Both was an option. True. Both was good.

    The computer let out a beep of an alert, calling attention to the tab that had PHO open. Well, to the tab that had my PHO sign-in. Alec, that shit, was still sulking about his own PHO time being cut short. He really needed to learn to troll better. I opened my PHO tab on the browser and scrolled over to the alerts. I was getting a chat request. Unusual, I suppose, but I could roll with it.

    Wait, getting a chat was unusual? Yes. Despite my winning personality, I don't usually get people trying to talk to me personally. After the bank, I had a couple people that I messaged, but for the most part, not much. I was not going to link us to that event if I could avoid it, anyway.

    God, I really didn't want to think about the bank. I still didn't fully know what had happened.

    I did, but… huh. Why would someone name themselves "LegendsGirlfriend?"

    Good question. Legend's been out for how long, exactly? Nearly his entire time as a Protectorate member. Maybe there might have been a short time at the beginning… How old was this account messaging me?

    I went into the background, frowning. When exactly was PHO founded? This account seemed at least that old, albeit without much post history.

    Might as well see what they wanted.

    <LegendsGirlfriend> Hey MacNCheeseIzGreat, hope you don't mind me contacting you here. You always seemed fairly observant and knowledgeable when you post on this site. I've got some things that I might need some help on.

    I would have cocked an eyebrow if it was something I could easily do. Instead, I just rubbed the bridge of my nose.

    Wait, where were my glasses? I didn't need them, so they were in their case in the pockets of my hoodie. Why didn't… what? I didn't need our glasses. Just because one of us needed them didn't mean all of us did.

    Weird.

    Response time.

    <MacNCheeseIzGreat> Two questions. One. Why that username? Two. What sorts of things?

    They responded quickly after my response.

    <LegendsGirlfriend> Well, for the first question, this was… made roughly about a month prior to him coming out. I got stuck with this. I've requested a name change several times, but it hadn't worked out. As for the second question, I could use some help with translation work and some research.

    <MacNCheeseIzGreat> What sort of research, what sort of translation? My time isn't completely free.

    <LegendsGirlfriend> Oh, no, I wouldn't expect you to work for free. There's a set of hieroglyphs on an item that I have acquired that I need translation work from. I can send pictures of the symbols blown up, and then I could use a little help looking into more information on something. I don't want to get too much into it before you agree.

    <MacNCheeseIzGreat> I need to know what I'm agreeing to. Why not go to an Egyptologist? I'm sure there's one at a university near to you.

    <LegendsGirlfriend> You seem more effective and the cost is probably better.

    I smiled despite myself. It was nice to be seen as more "effective" than someone whose specialty was what this person wanted me to look into.

    <MacNCheeseIzGreat> Fine. My rates for hieroglyph translation are 200 dollars per page-effective. Other research rates depend on the specific research and content of the data. I value my time.

    <LegendsGirlfriend> As expected. I can front you $2000 for the initial translation along with some cursory research.

    Holy shit. What the fuck was he wanting me to research?

    Why he? I agree about the research. Can you even translate hieroglyphs?

    Word choice feels masculine. And no. I can't. But…

    I can.
    Mom showed me how.

    Exactly. I remembered that, but since she didn't want me around… I didn't bother paying attention to that. Research-wise, however…

    <MacNCheeseIzGreat> Assume I'm interested. How would you be handling the payment?

    <LegendsGirlfriend> I would give you a phone number. You contact that number and give your banking details. If you would like to keep that money separate from other money, that can be done too.

    This guy had some experience with things like this. That was strange, but research could still be fun. Plus, it was a chance to get some more money that wasn't Dad sending it.

    <MacNCheeseIzGreat> Sure. That could work. Send over the pics and the research topic. How quickly would you want the info?

    <LegendsGirlfriend> Check the email linked to your PHO handle. The number will be there. A second email will have the pictures. As for the topic… I'd like some information on the research done by Abdallah El-Faouly, along with any possible links between Gesselschaft and Egypt.

    I blinked.

    <MacNCheeseIzGreat> Wait. The first topic seems reasonable. The second… what?

    <LegendsGirlfriend> Call it a hunch. Take a look, Mac. Please. I really could use your help.

    I grimaced. I'd heard rumors about Gesselschaft and what they had done. I'd come across it in my research on what was going on with us. They had links to the Empire 88, and now this person was saying they had a link to Egypt.

    Everything was coming back to that place recently. I had to wonder. Why us? If the gods were real, why us?

    Still though.

    <MacNCheeseIzGreat> Give me a target date. I'll get it done.

    Two thousand dollars to start wasn't bad. If it helped find something out to hurt the Empire, even better. I'd do what I could.
     
  10. 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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  11. 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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  12. 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.
     
  13. 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.
     
  14. 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.
     
  15. 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.
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