A Goldfish in the Ocean (Part 5)
A Second Generation Whateley Academy Tale
A Goldfish in the Ocean
Sunday, September 25, 2016 - 10:50 am
Back alley behind Yang's Antiques, Berlin
“Vic! Vic! Vic! Hurry!” Iggy hissed in desperation. Every fifth second he threw his body back to make sure that his captors hadn’t wizened up as to what was taking place down the alley. Of how their prey and target was about to be stolen right out from under their noses -- or at least would be if the situation wasn’t so suddenly hectic.
Too much motion was throwing off Vic’s game as the tendrils of water reached for the control of the pinning mechanism, only to miss every time Iggy jumped, either to look over his shoulder or to cringe whenever the dirty water touched his skin. Not that Vic could blame him. The mucky liquid felt much like an eel in his hands, and it couldn't be any more pleasant for the forger.
“Ah!” Iggy squealed. “Please don’t touch me with that!” The man grimaced at the darkened blob and the particles of grime that floated within. There wasn't much else to be done, though, so: “Sorry, sorry… J-just make it quick…”
Vic rolled his eyes as he had the two tentacles draw closer to the lock. A strained look crossed his face as he fumbled with it. A couple of seconds later, when Iggy threw his head over his shoulder at the sound of something that might have been a police siren, Vic was close to his limit. “Stop moving!”
Between the unsubtle screaming and all the rattling, it should not have come as a surprise when Vic caught sight of a head peeking in from around the corner. Time seemed to slow down as he realized they would be on to him soon, and he'd had no progress undoing the simple zip tie. The more he tried to pry the locking tab, the more taut the little piece of plastic became, and it was thick enough to resist being broken by millimeters of water. It didn't seem too crazy an idea when Vic began to consider ditching Iggy to save himself. After all, on paper this was supposed to be a trip to get himself a tablet at the mall, and now he was standing in an alley with his hands covered in water mixed with cat piss and trying to free up a criminal from other criminals.
“How?! How does this happen to me?!” he almost blurted out, just as the man at the back of the corner started shouting.
“Hey! What are you doing back there! Who the hell are you!?”
“They're onto us! What's taking you so long? It’s a ziptie! You shouldn’t have that much trouble dealing with it!” Iggy might have sounded impatient if he weren't so desperate.
“Yeah! It’s a zip tie,” Vic muttered as he tried to concentrate, already at wit's end. “You're keeping the locking tab tight! Get your hands closer,” And with that Vic clasped Iggy’s wrist and forced them together with the water wrapping completely around the restraints. The forger let out a startled groan of revulsion as the boy’s strategy became far more aggressive and effective.
It worked, loosening the locking tab and flicking it out of the inner teeth. That was all that was needed to release Iggy.
There wasn’t time to talk, with three men dressed in street clothes running their way down the alley, Vic quickly stepped back and pushed Iggy with his elbow towards the gate in the fence he'd come through. “Kid! What the hell are you doing?!” shouted the man running second in line down the alley as he searched his coat for something. Whether it was a gun or a knife, Vic didn’t care.
The student reached down for the trash can that had the knife resting on it. Grabbing the canister by the handle, he threw it towards the first runner. The man was forced to dodge back, and the others stalled as the contents were spilled into the alley.
“Hurry!” Iggy called out as he hobbled towards the exit. Vic could tell the man had been beaten quite badly. That only made things less pleasant… but he’d already gotten himself involved. No way out of it now but to run and hope Iggy could keep up.
He sprinted, slipping in through the gate within the chain link fence and throwing it shut behind him.
“Iggy, can’t you run any faster?” Vic prodded hopeful once he'd caught up.
“I’m giving it all I've got, so give me a break!” Iggy grunted, panting with every step.
“You’re dead, Iggy!” the leading man called. The guy stood tall and there was probably muscle under that jacket. The sight of the gun in his right hand was enough to keep Vic running.
“Shit!” he muttered as the gate was kicked open, throwing it off the rusted hinges. The pistol was pointed straight towards them. Right then they passed a large dumpster, so he threw his water coated hand back and gave it a shove.
The thing should’ve weighed too much for the normal person to do what he was trying. But given how Vic’s power was essentially telekinesis through a conduit, he prayed that moving it wouldn’t be a problem.
It wasn't. The single swing of his arm sent the dumpster rolling down the alley, just as a gunshot was heard. There was a sharp clang as the bullet collided against the plated surface of the dumpster. And then there was a thunderous crash as it hit some trash cans, toppling itself over into a messy heap that would be hard to climb, or so Vic hoped. Either way, that gave them time to escape.
As they reached the end of the alley, Vic tossed the stained water into a corner of the alley. There was nothing he could use it on, and it would only call the wrong sort of attention. In the rush, he almost forgot the shopping bag he'd left stashed behind a garbage can, nearly twisting an ankle to turn and grab it at the last second.
They returned to the street and quickly made towards the right, further from the mall but also away from the alley where the pursuers would most likely exit to resume the chase… if they were ever so inclined to do it, which he hoped they weren’t.
“Gross…” Iggy muttered. The forger slowed his steps, but was still hurrying along at a reasonable pace as Vic caught up with him. “But thanks, Vic. Really, you saved my life there. I have no idea what would’ve happened if it weren’t for you." Iggy rubbed his wrist to ease up the chaffing and wipe away whatever grime was left on.
“Don’t mention it,” Vic muttered. An encounter like this, meeting an old friend after a long time, should have been more peaceful, if not happier, but he kept on at a brisk pace, casting glances over his shoulder, hoping against the expectation to see some of the thugs rounding out of the alley.
“Please, tell me you have somewhere to go…” With his friend rescued, Vic was now looking forward to the point where they would part ways until this blew over. He was supposedly still hanging out with Tanya and Erica, and now he had to make it back to the mall to meet up with them… though that felt increasingly unlikely now that those thugs had seen him. If they spotted him again then it would just be the whole song and dance all over again.
“I don’t… I’ve been in this city for weeks, barely have an apartment,” Iggy muttered as they reached the intersection. Rather than turning around the corner as Vic did, he stopped by the side of the road.
“Can’t we go there?”
“No, I can’t risk all my stuff!” Iggy objected. “I just arrived in this city and paid a lot to get where I am!” As he was saying it, the forger bent down and tried to force a manhole open.
“What are you…” Vic's voice tapered off. Of course. Experience made it clear that Iggy was trying to set up fake tracks. Without another word, he stepped up and helped the man pull the manhole open, leaving it ajar on the road, ignoring the occasional horn or insult from passing cars. Once the diversion was set, Iggy pulled him to the side.
“We have to lay low for now,” the forger, shadows of desperation in his voice, as he guided Vic over to a nearby business.
It was a simple Italian cafe with a small business area that had about six tables for everyone’s use. At this time of the day, late morning on a Sunday, it was almost a miracle that they managed to spot an empty spot for them to take.
A couple of stares turned towards them but paid them no mind, which, after the rush they'd gone through, was a relief.
After taking a pause each to visit the restroom, wash their hands clean -- and in Iggy’s case, freshen up some of the bruises, take the sweat off his brow, and hide the dirt marks on his clothes -- the two former acquaintances in crime sat face to face in a quiet corner of the cafe. Iggy’s seat was out of view of the window, while Vic moved his chair so that he would have his back turned. He'd changed into the shirt he'd just bought that day. Hopefully that would be enough.
“Huff… now we just have to wait for this to blow over,” Iggy muttered with a bit of relief as he grabbed the menu and skimmed it contentedly.
Vic's face was heavy in his now-clean hands. “Why did this have to happen?” he groaned as he reached over for his phone to check the time. It was eleven past eleven, an hour since he'd split from Erica and Tanya, and fortunately they hadn’t noticed his absence yet. Now it was a debate between sharing his predicament with them or trying to handle it on his own. So far, the latter idea was winning, though he was open to alternatives. “We shouldn’t even be staying here. I want to leave,'' Vic whispered.
“You can’t,” Iggy muttered, looking over the menu with a bit of a frown. That did little to hide the underlying panic as his eyes twitched to the window and back. “Believe me. We’ll lay low for a moment. The guys after us…”
“I don’t think they’ll see it like that for much longer." Iggy tried to smile, but it turned into a wince as certain muscles pulled the wrong way. Considering he had gone from someone beaten, bound, and awaiting the police, that could still feel like a victory. “As I was saying… We lay low, they believe that we ran forward, potentially down the sewers. Wait for them to sweep over and we just go back. Isn’t it simple?”
“Is that the best plan you could come up with?” Vic sighed. Iggy was the one who'd planned about half of the heists and plots back in Urresti’s gang. The man was methodical to a fault, though. Many of his plans were incredibly thorough and might appear sound on paper, but it was always that gap between reality and concept wherein the difference lay. Which was why his attention to detail, and practicality, was better suited to falsifying documents.
“It’s the only plan I can follow, Vic,” Iggy whispered in a hushed tone as he waved to the nearest waitress and pointed at the menu.
“Should you be ordering anything while others are chasing us?” Vic whispered.
“Don’t worry, I ordered two… I’ll be paying,” the forger said. He was trying to ease Vic onto his plan, treating him like a little brother. “Running is by far the worse option we have. If there is anything I’ve learned in the past half an hour, it's that I can’t outrun them. I also got beat up quite badly, I need to rest.”
“You were limping as we ran,” Vic noted as he leaned back, just as the server approached them with two cupcakes on a plate. They were the kind one would expect to see in a top-notch restaurant: steamy warm, still fresh from the oven with a nice glaze and bits of sliced fruit on top.
“Besides, you seem to be in a rush to go somewhere else. If we stayed on the move, we’ll just be walking further and further away from whatever you’re up to." Iggy carried on as the server gave a polite nod and moved away.
“That’s true,” Vic conceded. Truth to be told, the logic was sound, and sitting down to wait, enjoying one of the desserts he could spy from the glass display, was not the worst way to spend a chase… there was just so much at stake on this gamble, though, that it kept him gazing over his shoulder at the window.
“I just can’t believe I got myself dragged into this,” Vic groaned, resting his forehead against his intertwined fingers. “I didn’t expect to keep on getting into this sort of crap without Josh around.”
“For what it’s worth…” Iggy said as he devoured his cupcake. “I would’ve been screwed if you hadn’t shown up when you did. You could’ve left me there, but you didn’t, and that counts in my book.”
“I don’t know if that counts just yet,” Vic conceded as he picked up his own cupcake.
“What are you even doing in New Hampshire?” Iggy asked again. The first time had been back when he was zip-tied to the ladder, and the question seemed to have been nagging him for a while. “Last I saw you was during the big show I made when I quit Urresti’s gang.”
“That was… a bit of a show." Vic conceded tasting the sweetness of the dessert and finding already craving for the next bit as the vanilla, cream and banana flavors danced in his mouth. He knew he would have to work out to compensate for this but it felt like a good treat, especially for one of the sore topics he knew they would end up touching on. “Back then, you made the right choice.”
“I heard what happened. I followed the news report of the events. For a while, I thought you had died along with them… So I think running into you again is a miracle." The two took a moment of silence to honor their former partners in crime, as much as Vic hated the idea. Urresti and his gang were bad people, there was no doubt of that, but they at the very least looked out for the two of them in their own way. And in the tough times, that was worth a lot.
Vic released a heavy sigh before carrying on with the indulgent dessert.
During the silence, the two froze as a stampede of men crossed down the window at high speed, all dressed in street clothes. Watching out of the corner of his eye, Vic could already guess they were part of the group that was chasing after them. They held their breath for a moment as the men sped past, hoping that none would think to check inside the cafe. Vic noted this was a bit of a regular occurrence as the lady behind the counter let out a heavy sigh of her own as she reached down behind the counter.
Fortunately, the moment passed, and so did the men.
His first reaction was to get up and leave now that the road was seemingly clear… but his cautious side told him to wait just a little more.
“I knew Urresti was overreaching when he accepted the Syndicate jobs. I knew that was an idea that would only end badly,” Iggy resumed their conversation, providing a distraction as he kept an eye on the side-street.
“It turned out that way…” Vic said with a small sigh.
“Then how did you make it here?” Iggy asked again.
“I feel like that’s a long story. And I don’t think we have the time.”
Iggy gave him an accommodating look as he gestured at their surroundings within the cafe, which happened just as a couple of the customers were in the process of leaving. “I don’t know about you, but we have enough time.”
Vic just chuckled to hide his frustration at the situation. “No, we don’t. Believe me. How I got from there to here is a story of its own, not to mention many of the things here are supposed to be secret. All I’ll tell you for now is that someone took pity on me and got me into a school near here.”
The man across the table was done with his muffin just in time to make an opportune pause to clean his mouth with a napkin. “A school here? It wouldn’t happen to be a certain place with courses suitable to your skills?”
“Yeah, it is,” Vic conceded as he took a bite of his half-finished dessert.
“Well, congratulations Vic… I’m glad that you at least found yourself on the road to a stable life. That’s what you wanted, right?”
“Yeah… well, things aren’t as easy as they seem." Vic muttered.
“What happened?” Iggy muttered.
I can’t stand out? No matter how hard I study I can’t get a perfect score? No matter how much I train and I sacrifice, I can’t even beat a single martial arts sparring match? All of those were perceived problems he'd had before, problems he’d ranted to his stepsister, Ronnie, back during their talks… But now that he had someone actually asking, while in the middle of being chased by what looked like some sort of gang, it didn’t feel like the most pressing of matters. “It’s nothing… Normal... well, mostly normal school stuff. Now, can you tell me what the hell are you doing here and why those people are so hellbent on pinning a murder on you? Who did you piss off?”
“I didn’t do it on purpose,” Iggy protested. The forger leaned back and groaned. “Where to start… After I left Plymouth. I moved back to my parent’s place for a couple of days before I set off for New Hampshire. There was a job opportunity there for me -- a legit job, don’t worry about that. Low hours and enough pay to subsist, so I took it without a second thought.”
“Then how did you get involved with them?” Vic waved a thumb over his shoulder.
“Relax, I’m getting to that,” Iggy said as he leaned over the window, to see if the search was still on. So far things seemed calm and normal, and that just spurred the forger to pull a twenty-dollar bill from his shoe and set it on the table between the two plates. “We should move though, we might make it back to the mall. We’ll definitely lose them there.”
“Yeah, that would be best,” Vic agreed. “Just give me a second.”
Sunday, September 25, 2016 - 10:51 am
Whitman, Main hall.
“Careful! Careful!” Caro almost screamed right after an almost slip as they were carrying Ekene Banister, a.k.a. Ophidian, back to her bedroom. This was a feat that was easier said than done, quite like everything about this morning. It wasn’t because the girl weighed over two hundred pounds or anything, in fact, the Kenyan girl had a slim figure when compared to the last girl they'd carried home. The problem was her ‘hair’.
Ophidian was apparently a Latin word for 'snake-like,' or so Caro'd been informed at the start of the year. And as that implied, Ekene had a serpentine physiology that imitated the idea of a gorgon, emphasized by the green mambas that grew from her scalp and dangled uncomfortably as their controller was being carried around.
Poor Leslie had said she'd carry the next girl’s upper body, after the last victim had proven quite bottom-heavy. Little did she know that the next Whitman girl to be found sleeping just outside the showers, readying herself up for her day, would be like this. Every step or so, the red-head would bear a panicked look on her face as she felt the snakes swing against her body.
“I think one of the snakes is awake! I think it moved!” Leslie gasped as they turned into the girl’s bedroom.
“Leslie, no. We already confirmed that the snakes are fully asleep." Caro sighed.
“It moved,” was all the copper-topped China girl said as they positioned the sleeping cottage-mate in parallel with the bed and lowered her in.
“They’re asleep, not dead,” Caro said with a sigh of relief once they had successfully dropped the girl and untangled the snakes.
“It’s still scary, you know?” Leslie sighed once the door was closed and they were standing in the hallway. “Is that all of them?”
“I think it is." Caro sighed with relief as they set their way back to the common room.
“Good… what a day,” Leslie groaned. She was just short of collapsing on the carpeted floor, but she made it to the couch right next to the still-sleeping Faollass who had her head resting on the upholstery and her tongue unrolled on the fabric. “So… what's the next step? We undo the spell?”
“Yeah… we do." Caro leaned against the backrest of the sofa and glanced down at her phone with growing concern.
“Still no answer?” Leslie asked.
“No. Neither from Chris nor Tanya. I’m not sure if I’m worrying a lot over nothing." Caro checked the texts she sent them. “I mean, how likely are they to run into a brass bell out there?”
“Well, it’s been over an hour since they left, and the sooner we fix this the better. If checking on them is one thing less on the list that would make it easier for all of us, we should.”
“I know… I’ll try calling them again. It’s just frustrating how everything spun out of control.”
“I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a cartoon with a witch or sorcerer… but the base lesson is always something along the lines of ‘don’t use magic to solve your problems’.”
“Do you have any idea of how bad the last couple of days have been? Lost my bed, had to sleep out here, missed my chance to go out with friends…” Caro sighed, though by this point the frustration, while still burning, was weighed down by the exhaustion. “When I saw my spell ruined by my friend’s drinking problem, I snapped and just wanted to deal with it as fast as possible.”
“But what if it’d been Chris or Gwen who accidentally ruined your spell? Would you have flown off the handle like you did?” Leslie inquired, scratching the back of Faollass' ear just to see it flick. While time was at the essence, it was a warranted break.
“I probably wouldn’t have,” Caro admitted. “I know what you mean. I should’ve thought differently when it all happened. Taken a deep breath and considered everything.”
“Yes, but mainly, don’t cast curses on cottages,” Leslie joked with a timid smile.
“You know… I’m starting to feel glad that I’m not in Poe with you, Gwen and Chris,” Caro smiled.
“Aw, don’t say that. I’m sure things would get twice the crazy and thrice the fun if you were there.”
“Well… When I come back, then, I’ll ask Sofia what really happened… with as much patience as I can muster." Caro still didn’t approve of her roommate’s friendships and her habits, and was certainly not looking forward to approaching her… but she understood that she couldn’t enforce her wants on everyone else. Especially with magic. It was actually a lesson she felt destined to relearn quite a few more times before it sunk in. A hard lesson she should have learned back when she used to manage her old school’s popular strata. In a sense, she could understand why she reacted the way she did, outright accusing Sofia like that, screaming and yelling. “Just wish it hadn’t come to this.”
Leslie, though, was lost in thought looking down at her shoes for an idea that was formed. “What if there had been someone else in your room?”
“What?” Caro blurted out.
Leslie got off the couch to elaborate on her hypothesis. “When we were carrying Sofia, I noticed the stack of papers that were scattered on the floor. You told me that you knocked those when you left the air mattress at about three in the morning." She pointed down to Caro’s feet, where she wore a simple pair of slippers with rubber soles. “I assume you didn’t change footwear, right?”
“And Sofia was barefoot, but there was the imprint of a short heel on a couple of the pages like they'd been stepped on. And I know I didn’t do it because I was extra careful when stepping around.”
“So, you think someone slipped into the room and ruined the spell?”
“I don’t know, it’s just an idea. So..." Leslie said with a hasty clap as she checked the time on her phone. “It’s about an hour till noon. Even for high schoolers, that's a late morning.”
“Right, right, undoing the spell,” Caro said. Whatever validity there was to Leslie’s hypothesis, it would have to wait till they broke the spell. From her pocket, she produced a single piece of catgut string, fine and strong yet smoother than one would expect to see in a guitar. She offered it to the girl.
“You said I just need to pluck this thing within the girl’s earshot?”
“And you’re sure this won’t backfire?” Leslie asked, earning a small stern glare from Caro. She raised her hands. “It’s a valid question considering how the morning has been going.”
“ It will work. And only you can do it,” Caro said with a bit of relief.
“And you are sure I can’t have… say, record the sound and have it play at a high volume?” Leslie said hopeful, holding out her phone. There was certainly some sort of trick intended, considering it was being held by a gadgeteer.
“What are you thinking of?” Caro was hesitant at the shortcut suggestion. Leslie hadn't necessarily been wrong about stuff backfiring.
“Just make it so that the phone will play the recording up the volume. It would be faster. Heck, give me a few minutes and I can make all their phones play it at the same time.”
“I’d prefer we didn’t involve phones… but I have no objections as long as I feel the curse dispelled,” Caro said as she pushed herself up for the final stretch of her back and forth marathon.
Sunday, September 25, 2016 - 11:25 am
Cafe La Romana, outside
Enough time had passed that they felt safe in taking to the street, but the road wasn’t by any means safe or lacking in peril. With the potential risk of the gang members rounding back, which would start the whole mess up again, it was good that Iggy seemed to have recovered the ability to walk without a limp.
“Explain it again… You had a modest job that gave you plenty of time, so why leave that behind to get involved with the local gangs?” Vic said as his eyes scanned the area for anything suspicious. Iggy was doing the same. The forger was sweating nervously but seemed to be comfortable enough to lend words to his explanation.
“I didn’t leave it. No, it was a friend that got me into this." He said it so nonchalantly that Vic almost did a double take.
“How? Is your friend a gang member or something like that?”
“Not really, no. A businessman and cook,” Iggy said. “Old buddy from highschool. As soon as he caught whiff of my moving to town, he got in touch with me and pitched his idea. Wanted to start his own cafe around this part of town.”
Vic held silence for a bit, though mostly as he cast a look over his shoulder, thinking he heard someone call out something. Fortunately, it didn’t seem like it was any of their pursuers. Though the more he recalled it, back in the alley, he saw three people chasing them. Wearing clothes that were so common, he’d easily forgotten their exact color or brand. He could be passing some of those guys across the sidewalk and he probably wouldn’t be able to tell. In fact, looking around like someone chased would easily get him to stand out in their eyes. Iggy seemed to have the correct mindset as he carried on with his retelling with anything but a discreet side by side glance.
“He had a menu and everything. His food, let me tell you, was top notch… Or at least, I felt he had what he needed to make it. Not that I was an expert critic -- my diet back in Massachusetts was terrible, remember? Anywho. I believed in his work and thought he would go far. So I agreed to be his business partner.”
“And you got involved to get the money for him?” Vic asked as Iggy motioned for them to cut through the alleyway where he had been cuffed previously. Once again the young man hesitated. On the one hand, he could understand the choice: it was an isolated area which their pursuers would assume they wouldn’t go near… however, just because something was sound on paper didn’t mean it would work as expected. But alas, Iggy had already guided him in and there was no point in arguing.
“Oh, I didn’t need to… I was already making enough money to push a quarter of the total investment, which was all my friend needed to open his shop. I would’ve provided the remaining part as time went on.”
“Then how did all this happen?” Vic asked as they got back to the point where the dumpster had been upturned. The pursuers had made an effort to move it to the side to ensure passage, though they didn’t make an effort to pick up many of the contents, much to the dismay of his nose. Still, passing by the container Vic couldn’t help but appreciate the bullet mark that had been left during their escape, leaving a cracked, sunken dent in the otherwise smooth surface. It was a reminder of just how dangerous organized crime could be and how close a call this whole situation was.
Some time passed before Iggy answered the question. By then, they were back to the L intersection, crossing the fence back and passing the ladder that had served as the restraining post. “Well… Here’s the thing. You know how I like to research everything pertinent to an operation?”
“Yeah, you used to scout most of the jobs we did,” Vic said, reminding himself that he hadn't been a full time assistant of the gang, just a part-timer.
“Well, when my friend told me that he would be opening his cafe in this part of Berlin, I did my usual investigations. Found out that there is a gang lead by a guy that goes by ‘D’ around the place. Nasty fellow, according to the rumors, he runs the place like a rather different business. He holds a lot of the local stores in a stranglehold and milks them for their money at regular intervals, and he does it while holding a sort of control over the police within the district to make sure there is as little information about him as possible. Nothing ever makes it to court. He’s even normalized the whole extortion angle by giving good payers a sort of benefit plan…” Iggy paused as they stopped by the back-door of a business. “Can you open this door?”
“Sure…” Vic produced the water bottle he bought in the cafe. It was a sturdy, no-nonsense half-liter thing, but it was his conduit and it was clean. “But why?” he asked, retrieving the liquid out of the nozzle and working on the lock.
“I noticed a public laundry on the way here, this door should lead to the backroom. From there we can move over to the waiting lines and hide behind the machines and use the sound as cover. Take a small break before crossing the street to the mall,” Iggy explained quickly, ending just as Vic heard the doorknob click and opened it.
As Iggy said, the door led to a laundry, connecting into the rear of the store right by the bathrooms. And, other than one of the customers giving them a rather startled face as she came into the hallway, there was hardly anyone to notice their sudden appearance as strange. The aisles of washers and dryers drumming and humming together provided a decent cover and made for a good hiding spot. Though Vic still felt quite exposed within the aisle of white machines and in the light. Fortunately, business was light at this time of the day and they found a good point to continue their stories. Iggy sat down on the waiting bench while he leaned against one of the machines occasionally peering around the hallway.
“Continue?” he asked.
“Are you sure? Don’t you want to go back to the mall?”
“Well, I haven’t gotten a call, and it’s not every day that you run into a friend. If you plan to stay around the city, might as well catch up,” Vic said as he produced his phone and offered it to Iggy to exchange numbers.
“Nice model. Waterproof, I see,” Iggy snickered as he recorded his digits before handing it back.
“Where did I leave off? Oh right, this guy ‘D’. He runs his operation here but he’s also a rather accomplished career criminal, with his crews pulling off some daring bank heists over the past couple of years. I figured that a guy like this could only be bad news for the cafe. I tried to warn my friend but he’d already rented the place.”
“Crap,” Vic said with a sigh.
“You could say that twice. The deposit was made and he was already moving furniture. No way to hit the brakes on that, so instead I tried to do the next best thing: play the system." Iggy said it with a tinge of pride, completely and deliberately ignoring the past hour or so of his life.
“At first, I figured that I could cut a deal, so I tried to fix a meeting with one of ‘D’s men. See if they could use a skilled forger in exchange for leaving the cafe out of their business.”
“Sorry, Iggy. But that sounds like a stupid idea. Why would you even seek them out? What would you do if they found out where you live? Or if they were to find your friend’s cafe? They are obviously pissed off at you." Vic did get a reaction out of Iggy, getting him to clench his fists and bite his lip, but the forger controlled himself through the still flowing sweat off his brow.
“Don’t you think I know that?” the man stuttered. For a moment the mask fell away and Vic could see the stark terror that had been hidden behind meticulous planning and reminiscing. There was something familiar about it. Iggy was close to a total breakdown, but the forger held his tone. The man took a deep breath with his eyes closed and quietly muttered a ten-count before carrying on. “Sorry, Vic… It’s been… quite a trial… everything.”
“It’s okay… I’ve kinda been going through a lot too, as of late,” Vic said.
‘Not the usual high school stuff?” Iggy asked with an envious smirk.
“Some parts are… other parts aren’t." Vic added.
“Well, you don’t have to worry about me,” Iggy resumed the topic. “I went to great lengths to make sure my place and my friend’s cafe couldn’t be linked to me. Things like having the meeting set in a different spot and making sure I wasn’t followed. And if that wasn’t enough, I live upthe highway in the western fringes of the city, which for some reason the thugs seem to leave alone.”
“Why is that?” Vic wondered out loud as he checked his phone for the time
“Beats me… some sort of dispute with another gang? I haven’t investigated that far." Iggy took a pause to glance around the machines. There was nothing out of place, other than a couple of the customers glancing their way in suspicion. A couple of girls, one of whom they’d ran into on the way from the alley, seemed more wary than anything. The two took notice but chalked it to curious concern. “Anyway… I offered my services but they weren’t particularly interested. Claimed that they didn’t need my help. Can you believe that?”
“Not everyone has a place for someone that copies documents,” Vic muttered as Iggy continued.
“They probably lied and have their own copy guy. So my next plan was to see if I could ‘cheat the system.’ Which is what you saw the result of today,” Iggy said. “I tried to hijack the papers they use to award businesses around here with payment exemptions. Figured that if I could find a way to let my friend get out of paying the dumb tax every now and then he would be well better off. So I came by and found this business that is going through rough times but just happened to have the fabled payment paper." He made a small pause as he buried his forehead on his hand. “Damn… I don’t even know what happened to her,” he said with a heavy sigh. “I’m sure Mrs. Ying got into plenty of trouble because of me…”
“And that’s when they discovered you?”
“Yeah… they'd bought my trick, which proves to me that their system was fallible… But just as I was walking away, I got made by one of their men. That’s when I tried to run and, well, the rest is history." The forger scratched at his neck, only to hit one of the many bruises he'd received. With a hiss of pain, he pulled his hand back.
“I see…” Vic sighed, leaning against the wall. “Why did you go this far? I mean, I get it, he has a project and you want to see him succeed… but why go this far for him? If they apply this tax to everyone, is it that unmanageable? I’m sure he can pull out and move away once he saves enough, right?”
“The tax isn’t as predatory as, say, what the other gangs used to deal with back in Massachusetts,” Iggy mumbled. “But it’s not really a matter of money." And with that, he quieted down, if not for just a moment.
“What is it then?”
“I don’t know if you would understand,” Iggy sighed as he rubbed the bruises. “But I come from a rather... let's say low income family. I got into Urresti’s gang to escape the family debt, which is why I tried to make as much money on the side and charged so much for my services.”
“Yeah.” Though Vic wasn’t part of the group during the time one of those situations happened, he recalled how many of them got on to Iggy for charging so high for a couple of jobs. It had even driven one or two clients away.
“That is my goal and focus. To get myself a lot of money and live the good life. Have a tranquil place and job where I can do what I want and with no one bossing me around.”
“And is that why you went over to the gang to try to strike a bargain for a cafe?” Vic asked.
“It was the first step. Let me tell you, I work hard for this. I’ve spent nights doing side jobs, the mornings making sure my day job is done before noon and this whole urban exploration and investigation is what takes place on my afternoons. I’ve put in my one hundred percent to even reach the hundred-k mark… but no matter what I do to pull myself up, it keeps pulling me back down. So I look for good deals.”
Vic felt close to saying, “That’s a bad plan… it’s a desperate one, and all you’re doing is burning yourself out…” but held his tongue. There was something about that comment that struck an irritating chord within him but couldn’t tell what it was.
“You have to take it easy," Vic told the man. “You’re taking things too far.”
“It is what I live and work for,” Iggy snorted as he pushed himself up.
“That’s not what I mean… You said you’ve been here a week and you've already picked a fight with the local mafia? You should’ve been more careful and, and at least let some time pass, focus on other stuff...” Vic felt close to finally piecing together the personal epiphany when his phone buzzed.
It was a text from Erica. “Vic? R u at the mall’s side park?” it read. Soon followed by another. “Tanya and I are waiting.”
“Those your friends?” Iggy asked.
Vic nodded. “Just a moment,” he muttered as he quickly texted his reply: “I got a bit sidetracked, I hope to be there soon." And sent it before he realized the word ‘hope’ might raise some flags within the seemingly normal trip. “Tsk.”
“Are you heading off, then?” Iggy asked.
“Yeah. I don’t want to worry them,” Vic sighed as he adjusted his clothes, taking a moment to sniff them out to see if the back alley smell and sweat were too obvious. He couldn’t tell. “Do you think you can make it back to your place?
“Won’t be a problem. I have enough for a cab… You know, we should probably hang out another week. It'd be great to have a buddy from our time back in Massachusetts. We could even play some games.”
Vic could only nod in agreement. “Yeah… that would be nice... Oh, by the way,” he added, slipping closer towards the corner of the aisle to peer out. “You said the crew here worked for someone that went by the name ‘D’. What does it stand for? Demon? Devil? Domination?” He figured he could do some investigation on the side or, at the very least, that it was something useful to know.
Iggy looked his way with a bit of fear in his eyes and a fixating worry. “Decaf.”
“You’re joking, right?” Vic was about to say more when Iggy suddenly grabbed his shoulder and pushed him back, shoving him against one of the laundry machines, but that put him into view of what he’d missed due to the conversation.
At the other end of the aisle, five men were staring down their way with frustrated glares. They all looked to be about in their twenties or thirties, dressed in outdoor street clothes. It didn’t take Vic that much to realize they’d been found out by their pursuers.
Sunday, September 25, 2016 - 11:35 am
Dodge-A-Rama Skate Park.
Gwen had been in the bleachers at the fringe of the skate park for about an hour and every exclamation of excitement for the participants of the contest was now blurred into the sound of a ‘woo’. That was not enough to keep her attention every time one of the skaters reached the end of a half-pipe and performed a different variation of the same five tricks. And by this point, she could only focus her drifting attention towards whatever would spare her the boredom.
But since she wasn’t the kind of girl that would find hours of entertainment sifting through social media, there weren’t many options open to her. She’d even avoided installing any games on her phone. Sure, she was free to get up and leave at any time and knew Chris wouldn’t hold it against her, but she still worried that her friend would do something reckless, like get herself in an accident that would force her to use her powers, or get included in and win the competition that was taking place, effectively cheating. At one point already the girl had come really close to doing just that, when she ‘accidentally’ wandered into the exhibition halfpipes during the time between contestants, pulling off a rather complex triple jump and graceful landing that earned her the applause of many viewers and a couple of the competitors.
“That fool,” Gwen sighed to herself as her mind wandered. From Caro, whether her being here would’ve changed what she was doing right now or not, to Chris trying to play it cool, and the many ways things could still turn wrong with this situation. And then there was her homework and list of to-dos for the week of school. And when all that was exhausted, she would take another look at the posters, in particular the one promoting an upcoming candidate for public office. She was sure she’d heard the name Crossby before, something about parties at Emerson. It had to be a coincidence -- the name wasn't that uncommon, she thought -- but it was a theory to entertain herself with as she saw Chris wave at her and the crowd as the girl prepared herself for some rail-grinding.
Fortunately, that trick came out with no accident and looked pretty much like what her friend had been practicing back in the parkour course.
At one point it was a bit hard to keep her posture straight, and she found herself slouching over. Not that it mattered since she was among strangers focused on the event, but at school she had been so used to keeping up the appearance of being prim, proper, and most importantly, feminine. Something that her friend had an evident problem at doing, but it got her thinking on the whole topic of identity and if they, and many of their cottagemates, would be able to keep on with the whole ‘fake it till you make it’ part. It didn’t really help them make friends with people like the Amazons who were almost too close to outing Poe’s secret. And then there was Pat in the freshman wing, who simply didn't seem to care...
Speaking of living with someone hostile, Chris’s identity debate and her current presence in the city brought up the topic of Vic, her stepbrother. He was certainly a handful. His ideas felt reckless, and almost senseless… and the mystery of how he'd made it to the school would plague her for quite some time… But she couldn’t help but wonder if doing nothing was the right thing. Her arm still hurt every time she thought about it, and the moment she saw him reach out for it, she'd reacted by catching his wrist before he could do anything.
She knew he'd wanted to use the old telepathic link to converse with her, assuming it even still worked… but all the bad things he'd done had surfaced in the form of a loud “no” to keep him away. With the time to think, she wondered if she should’ve taken the chance to talk. There were both good and bad points to that, and she found herself feeling like the villain for not giving him an outlet for a conversation.
But the frustration was still fresh in her mind, from the pain in his arm to the anxiety his sudden departure cast onto the rest of their family. The troubles it got her were still hounding her up until this day. And that just brought to her mind Dereck and his personal crusade to hunt down the man who'd put her in a cast. There was no way she’d tell her boyfriend it was a freshman at the mutant school. A guy that came with such pull could only stir up trouble and…
Bzzt! Bzzt! The sound came from her purse. Muffled as it might be, it luckily made itself present at a time where the people around the bleachers were in between woos.
“Hello?” Gwen whispered after fishing the phone out of her bag, without even bothering to check the ID.
“At last! Why weren’t you answering your phone? I called you three times already." It was Caro, who sounded frustrated, in her usual snobby kind of way, and oddly winded.
“Caro… What happened?” Gwen flinched at the sudden shouts. “I left my phone in my bag. I’m still not used to keeping it in any other place than my pocket.”
“It’s fine. It doesn’t matter.” Once Caro got her outrage out of the way, she quickly quieted her tone. “Is Chris with you? Is everything alright?”
“Huh? Yeah, she’s been out there in the park, pulling her tricks before a crowd of unsuspecting skaters." Gwen once again centered her attention on her friend, just as the girl was doing another handstand at the pyramid before rolling down, grabbing the attention of a couple of the contestants… and a hint of anger from some of the judges and the other participants. As she did, she checked on Chris’ duffel bag to find the girl's phone tucked in between a towel and a shirt, reading 37 missed calls.. “Thirty-seven calls?! What happened? She’s doing what you imagine she might be doing…”
“So she’s awake? That’s a relief,” Caro’s tone shifted lightly, drawing closer to that of someone who had somehow just dodged a bullet. And that was another red flag for Gwen.
“Awake? What does that mean?”
“I… I might’ve cursed her,” Caro muttered.
“What?” Gwen said plainly.
“The reason I couldn’t go this morning was because Sofia ruined my spell and I was having a huge discussion with her. Shortly before that, I cast a spell that went out of control and it apparently hit all the people at the cottage at the time. I don’t know if they were included, but Tanya and Chris were there…”
“The whole cottage is cursed? What were you thinking?!” Gwen blurted out. If something like that had actually happened and the school were to find that out they would certainly put Caro on a watch list and have her stay under close supervision of a teacher. The student body would leap on this source of gossip, and the Capes would already be filing for her expulsion from the group… though that last part might not impact Caro much.
“I have it under control for the most part. Leslie and I have been working to fix it. So don’t worry about it.”
Leslie? My roommate? Gwen thought, though Caro didn’t give her time to react.
“Listen, I know she’s a handful… but can you take care of Chris for the time being? At least until you come back?”
“What curse did you cast?” Gwen whispered now that the conversation was turning rather unsavory for outsider ears.
“A sleeping beauty spell. Only with a bell instead of a spindle,” Caro admitted with a bit of shame hidden behind her urgency. “It will put the person into an instant and deep slumber whenever they hear a brass bell ring.”
Gwen just rested her forehead out of concern. “That’s all?”
“There are some minor details here and there… but Chris will be fine as long as the spell isn’t triggered." Caro explained. “Is Tanya there with you?”
“No… we split off. She...” Gwen was close to continuing with "must be around Vic," but she wanted to avoid dragging her problems into Caro’s. “Is she cursed? Because I don’t know how to reach her.”
“I’m a bit worried about her, if you could find out where she is and if she’s fine I would owe you.” There was a bit of a sound on the other end of the line before she added. “Though not as much as I owe your roommate.”
"What did you get into?” Gwen said with a small sigh. “Are you sure everything is okay? I mean, I know it’s against the rules, but I could fly back there in less than half an hour if you need me.”
“I have it under control, Gwen.”
“Clearly." Gwen sighed, even as she tried to sass her friend it came out as concerning. “So, all I have to do is look out for brass bells?”
“Yeah, the moment a brass bell rings, both Tanya and Chris might end up asleep on the spot if they were really hit by the curse.”
“That would be dangerous… I mean, I’m at a skatepark. Everything here is either concrete, cushion and steep pipes. I hope there's anything to worry about…” Gwen trailed off as another "Woo!" arose to her left.
“Come on, Justin! You can do it!” exclaimed a girl a couple of years older than Gwen, directing her voice to the side. By the entrance of the skating park, right next to the pillar of an underpass, was a climbing wall. So far that day things like it, the jumping pit and the padded parkour sections of the park had been left pretty much abandoned because of the contest, which made it easy to single out the girl’s company. The apparent Justin was the guy who was up about ten meters away from the road’s underside. The young man was drawing close to the goal… where a line of bells hung for a victory chime.
Gwen’s stomach sank as the guy made a risky full leap to overcome a gap, both for the guy’s safety were he to fall (even though he had a lifeline) and for Chris’ safety if he were to succeed. The action was met by crowds and cheers from other onlookers as there were only three stones left to cross.
“Gwen? Is everything alright?” Caro asked, after the brief seconds of suspicious silence.
“How far does the bell have to be for the curse to kick in?”
“I don’t know. I didn’t test the spell beforehand and I had no idea at the time I cast it… Though even the girls farthest from the common room were affected. Why do you ask?”
“I’ll call you later,” Gwen muttered hastily, tossing her phone into her purse and leaving it aside as she vaulted over the bleacher’s separation and made her way over to the skating ditch. Chris was still dancing about to the rhythm of her own music, nonchalantly pulling a couple of stylish flips.
“Chris?! We gotta go!” Gwen redoubled her pace, though in between the words of the announcer as they were awarding the final scores for the most recent half pipe extravagance, her modest words were left off the wayside of attention.
Still, Chris noticed her friend and gave a puzzled look, cocking her head. The girl did as Gwen wanted, though, and allowed herself to roll over to meet at the edge of the canal… though she did it with her usual style, grinding along the edges before dipping down and zooming up on the other end, to make a couple more risky jumps..
Gwen cast a quick glance over her shoulder at the climbing wall and saw the guy had made his way up already to the second-to-last stone, stretching himself as he reached for the rope that was tied to the clapper. And just as that was happening, Chris built up speed for a leaping finale, one Gwen had seen the girl practice before at the benches of the school.
There wasn't enough time to even blurt out the word "Stop!" Instead, Gwen broke into a sprint.
It all happened so fast that the world seemed to be running in slow motion. Her ears picked up the strong and thunderous rings of the bell as it was savagely swung, far stronger and more powerful than it had any right to be. Whether it was the effect of the magic or of her hyperawareness of the moment, Gwen couldn’t care. All that mattered now was Chris.
As the girl reached the edge of the slope, she took to the air. And then the spell hit. Gwen got a firsthand view of how her friend immediately fell into the predicted slumber. Chris's eyes rolled up and closed like she was fainting, and her body went limp in mid-air, losing whatever control she had coming down. Whatever happened, Gwen feared for her friend suffering a bad fall.
So she jumped, throwing herself into the air to catch her friend. In her panic she might have overshot herself, but she didn’t employ any superhuman energy that would cause a flashy reaction.
Arms wrapped around her friend’s back and clasped around her skull in the middle of the air and presenting her own back against the concrete surface for the rough landing.
The whole event put them on the spotlight as people from the bleachers that saw her vault off let out gasps that were audible from her point of view and the announcement of the scores going on in the next field came to a sudden halt as people were already drawing in closer to aid. “What happened? Are they okay?” some asked.
“Ow…” Gwen muttered as she allowed herself to breath. Even though she could bench press a car and could survive gunfire, that didn’t mean she was oblivious to pain and she was certain that, if she wasn’t a mutant, she might’ve ended up with a severe injury, if not with a broken back from the landing. “Chris? Chris…” she repeated as she checked on her friend, whose head was nested against her chest with Gwen's own hand clutching her skull and an arm wrapped around her back to prevent any sort of spinal damage. Loosening her grip, Gwen looked down at her friend. “Chris? Chris? Are you okay?”
“Zzzz” came out from her friend’s nose, in the form of a throaty snore that filled her with relief. Despite the nasty fall that took place, she seemed alright, but in a deep sleep. A couple of cuts went down her right arm, which Gwen couldn’t safeguard from the landing, with the same repeating down her leg. Fortunately the pads and protective gear and Gwen’s back had mitigated the rest of the damage.
“Thank goodness you’re alright,” Gwen muttered, already thinking of ways to thank Torero for offering that special FSHA approved workshop on the proper way to catch falling civilians and important yet fragile objects. She pushed herself up to get a better look and became aware of the breeze that was hitting her back. There was no doubt that her shirt and jacket had been torn against the rough concrete.
“Are you alright?” she heard some of the nearby skaters ask as they were drawing closer.
“Y-Yeah. I’m fine. All good,” she said hastily as she pushed herself up, one hand reaching back to assess the damage and pull the flaps of fabric over her back. The last thing she wanted was for someone to worry and another was to notice how her skin was barely bruised from the hard fall. “She just passed out. You know, she kinda had a sugar crash and that knocked her out. I'm always nagging her to keep checking, but..." Gwen hoped her shrug looked natural and not too unbruised. "She's had a hard time. But she’s okay.”
Gwen's heart was thumping as she desperately lied through her teeth, once again showcasing her poor skill at coming up with credible excuses on the spot. The moment was made even more awkward by Chris letting out a loud snore. Even the skaters had no idea what to do with it.
Her hand quickly reached over to softly pinch the bridge of Chris's nose, just enough to get the girl to stop snoring.
“See? She just passed out. You know, because of shock,” she muttered as she hoisted Chris’s arm over her shoulder.
“Are you sure? T-that was a nasty fall.”
“Oh, she’s okay. I-I’ll just help her to a cab and find some help,” Gwen assured everyone as she adjusted Chris over her shoulder so that she would hide her own torn clothes.
“At least let us help you,” one of the guys said, taking a step closer.
“No, t-there’s no need for that. I have this,” Gwen said hastily, even going as far as holding up her arm. “You go back to your competition.”
“A-are you sure?”
“Ye-Yeah. I’m actually pretty strong!” And with that, she pushed herself up on her feet. Truth be told, Chris was barely a problem to her. The real challenge was to make sure she would stay in place and wouldn’t fall off as her friend made her best interpretation of a ragdoll. She had to constantly keep on adjusting her grip until she settled, holding the left arm on her shoulder and the right thigh around her waist.
Which would certainly make carrying the bags on her way back even more troublesome.
Gwen would know that her answer didn’t suffice. As she returned to the bleacher, she could still feel the scrutiny of the many eyes set on her. There was obvious confusion as to what happened, and she was almost certain no one bought the story she was trying to sell them, but they did not raise any objections, nor try to stop her as she carried the still sleeping Chris away.
Awkward was a word that probably didn’t suffice for Gwen’s walk. She could feel the eyes down at her, something she was never really good at dealing with, especially without her costume. Her lie was all but believable and it was a matter of time before her friend’s breath down her ear and neck would get to her. But probably the thing that bothered her was the close contact she was having. Holding Chris's body close to her, her breasts against her back reminded her of the things she imagined she would’ve been feeling a couple of years back, if a girl had been that close... and yet she found nothing.
She wasn’t sure which was worse, and as she somehow managed to grab her purse and Chris’ bag, in a juggling act that was definitely showcasing her super strength, and pushed on to the exit, she wasn’t sure who she was pissed off at the most. Whether herself for this whole mess, Caro for the spell, Chris for her recklessness, or just the guy who rang the bell. She even thought of blaming Vic. She could only endure and hope there was a discreet and quick solution for this thing. Knowing Caro, there probably wasn’t.
Sunday, September 25, 2016 - 11:44 am
Berlin’s 103 Mall, Art’s and craft’s store, Toulouse
The Mall’s leisure section had some of the best places for a girl like Josephine, introverted and artistically driven. There were always so many things for her to enjoy. And so it was to no surprise that her visits to the mall were the highlight of her weekend, where she would get to learn about the works of others and, if she should have the money -- which now happened more often than not since the Imp hooked her up with a middleman to market her works -- she could treat herself to new tools and materials.
Since she'd parted ways with the crew of younger students, she took her time and enjoyed the rest of her morning. Already keeping in mind that she had only a few hours before she had to make it back to the car, she moved on with her usual list of business.
The hobby and pastime stores usually had something or other that would be a good conversation starter or a game for Dickinson, and after browsing those Josephine got herself a couple of new plain white shirts that would most likely sport a new design and pattern by the end of the next week. After that, she just strolled around, taking the remainder of her time to wander around some of the popular small galleries that were peppered across the shopping zone. Some new artists had rented the spots while in many others the same familiar pieces could be seen.
It didn’t really matter to Josephine; she enjoyed standing before the paintings and getting a feel for the artist’s work, mindset, and the image they were trying to conjure. Occasionally she would drop by the gallery manager to greet them or meet the posting artist, which would unfold into a conversation. That was something many of her classmates back at school would not have imagined: that the girl that spent most of her days doodling in class, studying, or watching TV would turn out to be a social butterfly when in the proper milieu.
Josephine had a charming way around words and that got her deeper into the galleries, meeting new artists and sculptors. Sometimes she would even get a sneak peek at the new pieces to be exhibited in coming days.
But alas, she needed to focus on the trip's raison d'être: to buy herself some new art materials. And for that, she could only rely on her favorite store: “Toulouse.” While not one of the bigger brands in art equipment, it made up for the fact with a homely charm and attention to customer needs. And Josephine had been a regular to the place since she'd first came to town with the Imp, years back.
It was a quaint family establishment that ran itself as a workshop and a store. Half of the business was dedicated to the wares, with the items sorted out in categories of medium, style, and art. From home brands to professional, there were items for everyone, and Josephine felt like the proverbial kid in the candy store.
Her credit card and wallet itched for some spending, but as she had come to learn the first time she'd received her hundred dollars for her first piece, she needed to rein in her interest and instead enjoy the atmosphere. That did not keep her from window-shopping for a good chunk of time.
“Let’s see… cadmium yellow, ochre, more distilled turpentine… carving chisels? I think they only have clay carving tools here… don’t know if she wants for metal or wood,” she half joked to herself as she reviewed the list her teacher sent her. The amount of items requested was far more than she'd imagined, which made her think that there were either shenanigans going on or the students were a tad too wasteful with their materials.
At the back of her head there was a concern as to whether the school, now under new administration, would cut their funding. She wasn’t sure she could afford to supply the class entirely from her own pocket.
“Are you running errands for Mrs. Kade?” the clerk said to Josephine as the girl placed the two shopping baskets on the counters. They were filled with oodles of tubes, brushes and other assorted extras, like some clay instruments and flasks of henna ink.
“Yeah,” Josephine replied with a polite smile. She gestured at the first basket, filled to the brim. “Put this one on the school’s tab." And then she slid the other, more conservatively stacked container. “And this one's for me. Separate checks, please.”
The cashier sighed, with the pleasure of someone who was about to make a good sales commission. “The usual, then? Alright, I’ll be sorting this.”
“The usual packaging, please,” Josephine smiled.
“It might take a while,” the clerk smiled back. Despite having a couple of years on Josephine, it was as if the two were old school friends, laughing and smiling whenever they met. That was part of the appeal. “Why don’t you hang around and I’ll let you know when it’s ready. The usual.”
“Sure thing,” Josephine said as she drifted away from the counter.
Truth be told, the baskets didn’t have that many things and it certainly wouldn’t take much time to process the two receipts. But this was the traditional song and dance Josephine played whenever she came here to do her shopping. She would get what she needed and then proceed to hang around the other area of the store: the showcase.
This other part of the store had many of the products out in the open for people to play around with. From clay and colorful plasticine for the kids to mold into funny shapes, to erasable boards and surfaces for people to try their hand at drawing and painting. This was Josephine’s little guilty pleasure, as every time she came by she would find the inspiration for a new piece.
Much to her delight, she saw that her contribution from her last visit to the store was still on display, untarnished. Which was a bit of a pity, as Josephine supported the idea of an active audience. But she guessed not many people were interested in treading on the ground of others.
The piece bore the image of a pre-teen working with paints, his fingers scrawling something upon a piece of canvas. Around him was a forest with large decorative flowers which grew past the limits of the apparent frame and blossomed far beyond, circling to the side with vines until it formed the true limit of the canvas. The inspiration, if she recalled correctly, had struck when she'd caught a glimpse of a kid who was making a project for school and was asking for recycled paper.
Despite being crude in concept and a bit on the nose, as she thought, Josephine was happy with her piece of work. The composition flowed well and the shades of colors and lining supported the trompe l'oeuil effect handily. Seeing as it had been done with simple B-1 pencils over the span of an hour, she was proud she had even managed to make it look as good as it did, even if it was only the sketch of what someone might paint.
The appeal of the image was not lost to the crowd, she thought pleasantly as she spotted a man standing before the drawing wall. Dressed sharply and conducting himself in a formal manner, he held his hand under his chin as he gazed at it with curiosity, evidently missing Josephine.
At least that gave her the chance to study him. About the age of her father, he looked like a man that took care in the appearance of his appearancee, wearing the image of a suit rather than owning it. There was something slick about his image, lacking the strictness of a tie or buttoned coat. Written in between the lines there was a certain aura of self-control and ambition in his posture.
Josephine shook her head before she lost herself in speculation. The movement did not go unnoticed.
“Oh, sorry. Did you want to work on the wall?” the man said with a certain casualness. There was a flicker of hesitation in his voice that outed him as someone who'd only stepped in this store for the first time.
“No, I’m okay. I was just happy to see someone admiring the art." Josephine smiled. “Though if you want something better, there are a couple of galleries down the street.”
“Oh, no worries," the man said with a small smile in between glances at the image. “I’m not an artist… Just here to get some things for my daughter.”
The man nodded. “She graduated school last year and… she’s still trying to find her way. Her latest career aspiration is artist.”
“Oh… I see. If you want, I can give you some pointers… If you need to know my qualifications, you’re looking at them,” Josephine said, pointing to the mural piece. She wasn’t particularly thrilled about bragging, but she enjoyed teaching and helping.
“You did that?” the man said. “It is marvelous.”
“Thank you.” Josephine blushed. “But it’s not that impressive. It’s just something I did during a free hour.”
“Within an hour… That is some skill. Are you a professional?”
“No… but I’m in my last year of school. I help around the class, selling some paintings.”
“That makes you a professional, sweetie.” The man looked back at the mural. “Was it hard to do this in an hour?” he repeated as if having a hard time believing it.
“Well, I draw a lot, so making this wasn’t that difficult. Practice makes perfect and all.”
“And how did you come up with the concept? The leaves coming out of the canvas and the little details like the insects fluttering around… This doesn’t feel like something that could be done on impulse." He paused before adding the caveat. “I’m not an artist, I just imagine that something like this requires more planning than doing it on-the-go.”
“You could say I have my way with metaphors," said Josephine. “I look at someone and just come up with an idea.”
“Hm…” the man said with the hints of a smile. “Then what do you see about me?”
Josephine took this as one of those creative challenges she set herself to. Stepping back to admire the man again, the more metaphysical gears in her brain began to turn. Beyond her eyes, she could see the layers that comprised the person. Where the pieces moved, jumped and then fell into place. Time began to lag behind as the composition came together in her head.
“I see you, an image of you as you are right now standing in front of a glass window but behind a desk, gazing into the distance of a city landscape.”
“So far, I’m interested,” he added.
“I see that you bear a smile. A wide smile as if you just got something that has been missing to you and is now returned. A drink in your left hand, many times golden, rare times green, a couple red, and many clear. Making a toast to the city behind you. And that’s about it so far." Josephine said. “What do you think?”
“I like the idea…” the man agreed with an eased up smile.
“I don’t know if you are very perceptive or have seen me before or I just look the part, but I haven’t introduced myself." He produced his card and offered it. “My name is Preston, Preston Crossby, and I’m currently running for my second term as mayor of the city.“
“Oh, that explains it,” Josephine murmured, accepting the card.
“Since you are a professional, how about I commission from you a piece such as you described. It would certainly brighten up the office and be an interesting topic of conversation.” Preston took one more look at the mural before moving away. “It would be interesting to have it ready by the time I win the elections. What do you say, miss…”
“Josephine, Josephine Moore… and I’d be more than happy to help,” Josephine said with a bit of pride. “Though is it okay to ask for the painting before the elections? That sounds like you're inviting bad luck.”
“Don’t worry; positive thinking is what’s gotten me this far. And I’m sure nothing wrong can come from treating myself like this.”
“Very well, I’d be happy to, though, right now, I’m quite busy with school and work,” Josephine said. Truth be told, she wasn’t used to being the one approached by customers. Usually that was the point of a middleman. “But I can give you my handler’s number.”
“A handler, this’ll be interesting. You’re a local?”
“No… Well, I’m not from around here, I just study close by." Josephine figured she could trust him a little more now that she knew his name. Glancing back at the counter, she confirmed she would have at least a few more minutes before her friend was done sorting the items. So she carried on. “So, about your daughter…”
Sunday, September 25, 2016 - 12:01 pm
East of Berlin’s 103 Mall entrance, Laundro’s Laundry service
Iggy's breath was stopped, his throat completely tied in knots the moment he saw the men walk around the corner of the aisle as if they owned the place. Quite possibly they did. There was no concern in their faces at the chance of being caught, but rather an air of triumph and frustration that showed in the droplets of sweat that raced down their reddened faces. These men had been running around the blocks looking for their quarry.
And now they'd found them. Iggy felt preemptively sick.
He put himself in front of Vic. The last thing he wanted was to get the kid involved in his problems again, especially now that he seemed to have a chance at a normal life. Running and fleeing were their best options, but what with the soreness of his leg, Iggy very much doubted he would put much distance from them. But he still had to try. Yet as his mind was already trying to think of the best place they could run to…
Those thoughts were quickly dashed as he reached the end of the aisle and saw that the path out was already blocked by two more heavyset men. And just at that moment he caught a glimpse of the two women who'd been casting suspicious looks their way for the last few minutes, sneaking out through the two thugs by the entrance. Neither of the ladies seemed to be particularly bothered by them, just busy to be elsewhere. Iggy couldn’t help but feel he'd underestimated D’s influence over the area and the regular customers.
“Fuck… Vic, sorry I got you into this,” Iggy said. He might have said more, but the men at the end of the aisle stepped up. Dark-skinned and dressed in a long, patched coat with the hood slipped on, the forger recognized him as one of the men from before, the one who'd made him back outside Mrs. Ying’s restaurant.
“You are a piece of work, do you know that?” the man said with an exhausted voice. “I got blamed for your escape, can you believe this? I’m just glad that someone caught your rotund body slipping by into the laundry…”
“If your boss isn’t here, then is there a chance you’ll let us go?” Iggy ventured to ask.
“Bitch, are you really asking me to risk my neck for you?” the man said, earning a couple of laughs from the men around. “You really have the nerve to ask that.”
“What do you expect me to do? To beg for my life? Or to strike a bargain?” Iggy cried. Despite being as logical as he could, the frustration in his voice was evident. There was no way they would think he was anything other than desperate. “I’m willing to do anything, but I’m not going to jail, and that’s final.”
“Are you serious about this?” The man laughed. “I would be worried about your life if I were you.”
“I-I don’t think any of you is planning to off me. Firing a gunshot in broad daylight? I-I doubt even your connections to the police would make it easy to get out of something like that.”
The answer came heralded by confused expressions from the gang menbers, almost as if they couldn’t believe the man would propose that. And behind Iggy, Vic was somewhere between scared for his friend’s safety and dying of embarrassment. Sure, it was logical to think you would be safe from getting shot if the criminal knew they would get caught if they tried anything… but that was assuming that everyone was thinking about it with the same level of logic.
“You’ll be dead. You won’t care," the man said plainly.
“I just told you the reasons why you won’t fire at me. And seeing how none of you have pulled a gun on us, then that is all the reassurance I need," Iggy replied, shifting gears and topic. “So what will you do? Beat me up? Try to pin another murder on me? Or kidnap... me?” His voice slowed down to a halt as his sense of self-preservation finally caught up with what his mouth was saying.
“Stop giving him ideas,” Vic hissed, reminding Iggy that the teenager was still present behind his back. Suddenly, the whole logical gamble he was willing to stake his courage onto wasn’t enough.
The crew leader snorted with a small smirk. “That seems probably like the best option, given how I still have the knife we were supposed to plant on you. But I like your idea. If we get you in our car we can just arrange a drop off by the police station.”
“They really have the police on their side?” Vic whispered.
“At least let the kid go. He has nothing to do with this!” Iggy gestured behind him. He took notice of how the men to the side were starting to creep in closer.
“The kid is a friend of yours?” the crew leader spoke. His face just spelled out how much of a trouble this would be, grimacing at the idea of asking his captain for advice but also paining at the fear of making the wrong choice. “He’s the one that broke you free, wasn’t he? I didn't look at him, but he’s a teenager, right? Tsk… I hate dealing with kids… especially those that have the gall to step in when they shouldn’t have… He’s already seen too much, but I doubt the boss wants to have a missing children report filed in his end… Maybe his parents would be happy to pay a ransom. What do you say?”
He asked in general, but his hands were already gesturing at the others to step ahead and walk closer towards their captured prey. Out of the corner of his eye, Iggy could see even the ones that had been stationed by the door began to take steps closer. The forger was already hard pressed to find a solution for the kid he’d dragged him into this mess. And in his hasty grasp for an answer he added, “He has no parents. You won’t make any money out of him, just let him go.”
“Well, that is unfortunate,” the man said. “Then, I guess this will just be another bad memory for you in the big house.”
“Tell me, does this ‘D’ guy uses mutants in his crew?” Vic asked quietly as the men crept forward, forcing them into a corner. With his back pressed against one of the washing machines, the boy could feel the steady vibration and the heat of the warm cycle that was going on.
“Be sure to give 'em a good, hard lesson, then separate and hold them down. We’re taking them for a trip." The black man snorted, turning to someone out of view of their aisle. “You! Go and get the van.”
“Alright,” came the answer and not long after, both Iggy and Vic heard the door open. “No officers in sight. Do I bring it over here?”
“Take it close to the alley. We’ll leave through the backdoor," the man ordered as the men drew closer. None of them carried guns, or if they did, they weren’t reaching for them. That was fortunately accurate of Iggy’s deduction of not wanting to cause a stir, though some did flip out telescopic batons. And one of the men approaching from the side was slowly raising a lead pipe, readying it for a swing.
“Iggy!” There was the sound of a plastic bottle being hastily opened. “Do they have mutants working for them?”
“What? No, ‘D’ doesn’t have many mutants that I know of." Once again, Iggy’s mouth ran off before his cautious side could rein it in. “Vic, don’t. I’ll throw myself to the right and give you an opening.”
“I’m not going to let you do that,” Vic muttered from behind. Iggy couldn't see for himself, but the man with the lead pipe was now staring at whatever the boy was doing. The forger could only imagine from experience.
“You should run!” Iggy urged but by then Vic was already on the move, tossing the empty bottle at the man. It landed hard on the ugly face with a solid but ultimately soft thunk, bouncing to the floor. On reflex the man brought the pipe down, just as the teenager darted forward, raising his arm to catch the blow. The swing connected with a strength that should have broken the boy's hand yet, on impact, it struck something both hard and malleable, like a padded glove.
Now the powers were out for everyone to see: a thick layer of water that covered the back of Vic's hand, stretching down to mid-arm where it had inflated into a bubble that had the pipe bounce off with a solid smack.
The surprise robbed the man of seconds of reaction time. Vic rushed as fast as he could to the door of a nearby machine in the middle of its wash cycle, and with almost superhuman force the boy swung it open into the man’s face. This time it was a solid hard clang that sent the goon flying back, toppling into men who stood behind him.
And as the clothes from the still-moving cycle spilled over onto the floor, the water glove that coated Vic’s hand picked up the wash in a fluid motion that added volume and allowed it to grow to the size of a giant tentacle. It swung forth and whipped at another man who was making an attempt at Iggy. The lash landed precisely on the wrist before that goon could even grab at the forger. It pulled back hard, forcing the man to dance around and take another lash to the side of his face that sent him face-first into the hard white surface of another working washing machine. And as it pulled away, the tip of the tentacle forced that second machine open as well, sending the water and soaked clothes to the floor.
“Damn!” was all Iggy could muster. The Vic he remembered could only use water to pick locks, and that was all that had been needed of him by the boss. Urresti'd said that both him and Josh had a lot of untapped potential that could be developed with the proper training, but to see it in action... Despite the old boss's many faults, the man'd had a heart, trying to keep the teenagers from overexerting themselves and his lackeys from pressuring them into becoming the muscle of the team in the short three months they were all on the same metaphorical boat. As it turned out, Vic could've carried that damn boat.
“Watch out!” Iggy called out, a little too late.
One of the other thugs was already sprinting down the aisle with his fist raised. There was a fear in the man's eyes now that he realized he was up against a mutant. No attempt at restraint; he threw a punch that managed to connect with Vic’s cheek, sending the boy in a hard spin to the floor. The tentacle fell to the floor and burst with a splash..
The surprising part came when Vic, in mid fall, spun around to harness the momentum into a kick that managed to connect with the man's knees. The goon let out a shout of pain as he fell down, too. The boy didn’t stay idle once he hit the floor, instead proceeding to kick at his downed opponent. Even though the barrage of kicks wouldn’t knock the man out, it was keeping him at bay and even forcing him back. For some reason, Iggy always forgot that the boy worked out and was pretty much sporting what he'd thought of as a jock physique, much as the word did not fit the kid.
“You’re done, mutant!” one of the men bellowed, bringing the attention back to the real danger as the rest of the thugs moved in on them.
“The water!” Iggy blurted, pointing to the floor.
The boy heeded the warning, immediately slamming his hand into the puddle of water. The next part went pretty much as the forger expected, knowing the kid’s abilities. Yet it still surprised him when he saw the rows of men suddenly tripping as the floor became suddenly un-traversable. Slipping and throwing themselves back, they were suddenly like a row of dominoes as the rearmost of the gang members hit the washing machines behind them.
Without bothering to watch them fall, Vic collected enough water to rally the liquid tentacle and throw it up against the man he’d been kicking, once again lashing at the height of the eyes to get the goon to roll over and hold his face.
“Get up, we have to get going,” Vic said as he pushed himself up and reached over to help Iggy to his feet.
To be honest, Iggy had found the young teenager endearing back in Plymouth. A young man making an effort to strike out on his own, looking forward and, unfortunately, tagging along with negative influences. He could barely use his powers to fight, or rather, never really had the chance to exercise them. Seeing how the kid had somehow managed to fend off their would-be captors on his own was worthy of admiration.
Iggy latched onto Vic’s arm and pulled himself up. “Behind you!” he shouted as one of the men by the door pushed himself up moved to intercept.
But all Vic had to do was swing his arm, with the tentacle condensing itself into a large palm that smacked him up against the machines, taking him down almost right away, along with all the water held with a sordid splash.
With the road clear, there was no need to repeat the order to run. Vic and Iggy stepped quickly over the toppled thugs and made their way out the door.
Sunday, September 25, 2016 - 11:46 am
Whitman, Main hall.
I’m glad that’s over… Caro thought to herself as she laid down her favorite couch within the Whitman common room. Her head nestled on the soft pillow she'd brought from her room, and her eyes closed to rest after the disjointed morning she'd had.
If only the same could be said about the rest of the common room which was at this time bustling with activity. Aside from the quiet ones such as Faollass, who'd sat down for a good read, the girls were making plans or going on about something new they had just seen or done. It was such an annoyance but it painted a vivid image that was far more welcome to Caro than the heavy breathing of the girls' slumber.
She closed her eyes and began her meditation, hoping she would catch some extra peace or even a little sleep before lunchtime.
“Shit! Shit! I can’t believe I overslept!" came the frequent complaint as one girl after another complained to the world as hasty steps made their way to the exit. On this occasion, the late-riser bumped against another of her fellow cottagemates before skidding away.
“I’m sorry,” was all Caro could say, under her breath so no one would actually hear. Every time one of the girls complained or she heard any sort of allusion to the epidemic of oversleeping, she wondered if that was the moment she'd be caught out. And while Caro knew that she probably deserved as much for causing the trouble in the first place, she still wanted the day to be over with, to at least claim the victory of coming out unscathed.
The easiest solution would be to leave the cottage and go elsewhere -- say, the cafeteria -- since she'd skipped breakfast, but she was exhausted and just did not have the energy or mood to move around. Even Shisa seemed to recognize that, as the almost-cat-girl rested close by her feet.
The girls kept pouring out and coming back in from the early morning. Some asked others about the late morning rise, with the occasional stray comment about dreaming of having woken up before, only for it to be a dream. There was even one incident of a girl asking how the meeting was, only to be met with confused looks. Fortunately, that subject was dropped right away.
Caro could only consider herself lucky that the spell had respected that segment of the wish. Blurring the memories of the last ten minutes before the ringing of the bell, and making sure the sleep was at least pleasurable so as to be quickly forgotten, felt like a tall order to complete. But it was something she had to bank on.
Releasing the spell had been an ordeal. They'd made sure that every girl was back in their bed in a position where they would dismiss being awake as a dream. Everyone's phone was located and placed in such a way that it would look natural, and then she and Leslie walked the halls to confirm visually that the devisor's trick with the broadcast worked. Much like when the brass bell was rung, there was a sort of mystical echo that came from the muffled note that spread through with every pluck, and thankfully that echo carried across the phone connections. And while Caro was still feeling too drained of mana to be of any use, she could at least tell when the magic of her spell was being released back into the ether.
Once they'd confirmed the curses had been dispelled and returned to the common room, Caro bid farewell to Leslie, thanking the Poesie in whispers and assuring her that she was owed a great big favor for this mess. It took some discreet questioning to confirm that Faollass didn’t remember the entire discussion of what happened with Sofia, and the dog girl just assumed she'd fallen asleep right after Caro went to search for her glamour spell.
“The spell wasn’t ready, There were quite a few kinks that needed ironing out,” was Caro's answer when asked why she hadn’t left as planned.
After that, she saw the other girls leave the hallway, one by one and none the wiser of the whole mess that had transpired. As she'd feared, there were a couple who couldn’t reconcile their seemingly sudden dozing off on the spot, but none were too upset over it -- at least not enough to suspect there had been foul play.
Now, all Caro wanted to do was rest, regain her energy, and wait for her friends. Or perhaps go back to doing her Friday homework just to give herself more time off. Perhaps there would be good news later that day and Mrs. Savage would return. It was sheer fortune that the other housemother hadn't been around when it all happened.
Just as she felt herself dozing off, a voice stirred in the back of her mind. A soft, courteous laugh announced that Grimma had decided to make herself present. “My dearest little thing, what ill fate hast befallen thee? Magic and energy have been drained away, leaving but mere dregs.” There was surprise in the spirit's voice but also enough nuance to tell Caro that her mentor was finding the situation delightful. Whether the spirit had any degree of omniscience was something Caro herself did not know, but she found the attitude irking.
“You just showed up? I could’ve used your help, you know,” Caro answered in her mind. With her eyes still closed she perceived the objects in the room, from the sounds to her memory and the feeling of the couch she rested upon.
A shadow emerged from the gentle darkness. There were no identifying features, as was Grimma’s habitual way of presenting herself, but there were shades of white and swirling tones which danced about her silhouette. On this occasion, it was pale skin and green tones to form an imaginary dress.
“My apologies, yet felt I the need to take a whirl upon the winds. I do hope that nothing of great interest happened… though by thy state might I see that the opposite holds true,” Grimma said coyly. The mirage of a woman leaned forward to stroke Caro’s hair, between the horns. Despite not having any physical form, the hand felt real enough. “Wouldst thou care to share with me the story?”
“I’d rather not… but if I must...” Caro's sigh was not entirely mental. “I think you know what the issue is.”
“I may hap to guess,” Grimma mused. “Did a spell turn out not as thou didst expect?”
Caro called the spell to mind and within the imaginary space, her notebook appeared in the thin air for Grimma to pick up and read. “I see. Was this the spell which thine hand did toy earlier? I had thought thou wouldst not set it loose upon a friend.”
“I... had a bad morning," Caro grudgingly admitted. "And I really thought she deserved it at the time. But instead, it blew up and affected the entire cottage."
“Is that so...” There was a huge sense of pride and mischief in Grimma's voice as her figure leaned in closer to Caro. “So thou went ahead and put thine entire castle keep into deepest slumber? Ah! such nostalgia does that bring.”
“Did you know this would happen?” Caro didn’t even try to ease into the subject within her thoughts.
Grimma’s shadowy self appeared taken back before placing the back of her hand on her forehead and posing piteously. “O! woe is me, for my own apprentice hath lost all confidence in her mistress.”
“Can’t you just tell me? I had a very exhausting morning,” Caro shot back. “You read the spell, and said it would work. Did you know it would blow up like it did?”
“Blow up? Explode? Dost thou my magic mock?” Grimma protested, but when Caro sent her a mental frown, the spirit did concede: “Very well. Yes, I read the spell and it would have worked as thou meant it… in principal.”
“Then… why did all my cottagemates fall asleep?”
“If I were to make a guess… I would say that thou hadst too much upon your mind, but so little patience to give," mused Grimma. The spirit sat down next to Caro upon the mental shadow of the couch, her wispy hands brushing the girl's horns.
“I don’t understand.”
“The spell was well formulated and, if thou hadst wanted it so, would it have acted as thou desired."
“Are you saying that I did this?” Caro gasped. “That I caused this? That can’t be! But the wording of the spell… and the thoughts in my head when I wrote it down...”
Grimma smiled -- devilishly, Caro imagined. “Remember that which I have told thee? My power alloweth thee to tap into multiple aspects of magic, from the natural to the ethereal and even unto the dark arts, reining them in under the laws of contractual magic. Yet they can be thrown into chaos with but one emotional outburst.”
“What?” Caro blurted out.
“Thou hadst one thought when writing down and infusing the magic to the words… but at such time as thou madest the magic a reality, thine intent upon that moment didst seep through, tearing down the limits of thy fabrication.”
Caro was stunned by the idea and began to drift her mind back to the memory of the spell's creation, from formulation to ideation. Sure, she'd grown skilled at the safety phrases and extra clauses she tended to add… but she was certain she hadn’t meant for the outcome to be... that.
“It’s been a rough week… has it not?” Grimma continued as she sat down in the same manner a friend would to comfort her, yet the mental image she chose to appear in made it appear more sinister. Her mentor spirit seemed to be almost motherly, for the very picture of a witch. “Thou hast learned that thy friend of old was having the fun of her life… that everyone upon thine old street treat thee as the monster witch… that both father and mother are going through hard times in a bond most strainèd… and even thine old friend and paramor hath forsaken thee with the string of his heart being drawn by another. And that was some time ago.”
With a wave of the hand, the dark void that enveloped the imaginary couch shifted to depict the scenes, the pictures she'd browsed the social networking web of old acquaintances, of people whose lives she could still watch but could not be involved in. Each reflected the words Grimma uttered, hammering her with truths.
“But that's all in the past. I’ve cast spells since then without a problem." Caro sat up, though in the real world she was still lying upon the couch in the Whitman common room with her eyes closed.
“More recently...” Grimma mused. With the wave of a shadowy hand, Caro saw herself going to talk with the school’s administration on one side, her argument about the teacher rejecting her deadline, her conversation with Megaton and almost having an outburst, and much more recently, the image of Sofia arguing with a copy of her. Caro wasn’t sure if Grimma was conjuring the images out of her memory or if the spirit was embellishing them, but they still felt true nonetheless. These were the moments that brought her either frustration or despair. “Friendships denied, achievements failed, insistent friends -- but hardest of all are the friendships that had been turned against you, made your life harder. Even if they compare nothing to the pains and anguishes of yore, they feel true to you.”
With a flicker of the glowing hand the images became dust to float upon the dark wind and fade to nothing. “Little by little, the anguishes and frustrations pile upon thee.”
The spirit leaned forward and picked up a shape, an ethereal shadow just like herself yet cast in a different color. It was Shisa, or at least a shadow presenting itself in ethereal white smoke that danced in the shape of a cat, wearing the cloak her cottage-mate always wore to keep herself from being mistaken for an animal. In her mind, Caro knew her girl-cat had been sleeping at the foot of the reclined couch and she had to convince herself that the feline was not a part of this mental conversation. Yet when Shisa lay cradled in Grimma’s arms, she looked far more defined than the spirit.
“And then, there is this poor soul," Grimma continued. “The young four-pawed one with the impossible task to ask of thee. I know well that thou hast been keeping the pen to trace upon the parchment in the back of thine head, dancing about the words for the spell, for the ritual and conditions to make it work. Thou hast given it a mindful effort and yet still is it not enough. Thou holdest pity in thy heart for the girl and know that she hath asked of you that which thou wouldst wish unaskèd. Whenever thou seest her draw closer to thee, in thine eyes, her intent is to keep her request in mind… even if she hath affirmed her lack of hurry… thou feelest as though she doth impose… and that bringeth frustration to thee as well, perhaps even as much as doth the menagerie.”
“No… that can’t be it. I’m not angry at my friends. Not angry at Chris or Shisa…” Caro knew she sounded frustrated, but... It was one thing to be stuck with her magic like this, and she was no stranger to her spells working out with a couple of kinks or even misfire… but in a moment where nothing could have, should have, gone wrong, the unexpected still happened.
“Is there not a part of thee which, in the moment thou cast the spell, weighed in. The moment thy finger touched the page and activated the magic. Was there not a wanting reach within your mind? A slight idea which bloomed to grow? Would not the words for silence and the world to sleep be more to thy yearning?” Grimma said as the words began to appear in the air. The spirit's fingers traced the same stanza that Mr. Kim pointed out. “All it would take is for an instant wherein the spell’s meaning bent to thine will and pushed to the extent of conditions. A lack of sleep, fatigue, stress, not to mention the poor timing and thine lack of the ritualistic practice carried thee to this point.”
“I might’ve been frustrated, and low on sleep…” Caro muttered with a mental sigh. “I get it, it’s my fault. I cast this spell when it was just musings on my page… I thought it would work much like last time.”
“Ashes to rushes. So whilst it might have worked, reckless still it was,” Grimma lectured as she stroked the sleeping shadow of Shisa, with the figure softly snuggling in the smoky arms. Caro had to remind herself that this was all in her head and that the spirit was doing this to mess with her. And before Caro could call her mentor on it, Grimma released her arms and the cat dissolved into smoke.
“Fine,” sighed Caro, just wanting the conversation to be over. “I learned my lesson. No more shortcuts. No more casting when in a bad mood.”
“I am not saying that thou shouldst never do so.” For a silhouette without discernible face, it was still easy to see Grimma's smirk as the spirit strolled through the dark, giving a small twirl on her shapeless legs. “Admire thy handiwork and claim victory where thou can. Let it be a lesson on the power of emotion and the special aether which maketh thy spirit. Wonderful things can happen were thou to embrace it, but at the same time can they be also terrible. Wish that for the next time thou dost reach, thou shall not drawn overly much.”
“And I hope I never have to repeat this,” Caro sighed.
“Ah, but do not be like that," mused Grimma, standing at Caro’s right. “This has been naught but a learning experience. Delightful and chaotic as it be, I am sure it must have been a burlesque odyssey for my young ward.”
Caro could only smile at the corner of her lips, wondering if she was right for predicting it. “I think you need to update some of your word definitions. And it wasn’t all that enjoyable to me.”
“Find thy pride, Caroline," said Grimma. “Thou art on thy way to fulfilling stories of legend and leading them to repeat themselves in this age. The accursèd queen placing a spell of slumber unto a keep of young maidens fair." The shade’s glowing eyes narrowed as an ethereal finger ran along their lower edge, feigning the wiping of a tear.
“Oh piss off,” Caro snorted as she swung her arm at the shade, which disappeared just like the smoke it appeared to have been made of. Yet then the back of her arm struck something hard and cold.
In a world where everything was non-existent, even to the couch she feigned to lay upon, where everything was at the control of her imagination and nothing was real, the touch of an object that was not part of the imaginary stage snapped her back to reality.
Eyes opened to see that her arm had struck a nearby standing lamp. Only weakly, and yet strong enough to have the fixture topple slowly, at a speed to prompt a call of ‘timber.' That was not fast enough to escape Caro as she threw herself over to grab the lamp’s trunk.
“That was close…” Caro muttered to herself as she returned back to her spot on the sofa.
A groan was held behind her lips. Rolling her eyes, she sat up. The sudden scare and jump had pushed the need for sleep as far away as it could get. “Well… there goes my nap,” she muttered to herself as she sat up, ignoring the looks of amusement directed at her for the little stunt.
Out of the corner of her eye, she spied Shisa who lay by the legs of the couch, with her ears perked, doubtless awoken by the sudden jerk… though Caro couldn’t help but wonder if it had to do with some weird dream or presence.
“Everything okay?” Shisa asked. Despite talking, the girl looked a lot like a cat, which served as a reminder…
“Yeah, it’s fine,” she answered with a sigh. She would have to talk with the Whitman girl about this. Share the worry that she was coddling the sophomore too much, that it was only bringing them both stress.
Yet before she could say anything, the girl-cat pushed herself up and padded away, giving Caro a small “See ya,” as she crossed the common room.
And before Caro could ask what that was about, another person had drawn too close for her to miss. It was Sofia. Having woken up from what was presumably a good sleep, the girl known as Zoo was ready for her day out, dressed and showered. Her face bore a neutral expression, a little concerned and confused, but certainly felt much more mellow than during the screaming match earlier that day.
“Hey,” Sofia greeted.
“Hey,” Caro echoed with a sigh, sitting up alongside the reclined couch.
“I thought… I thought you had a day out with Chris and Gwen.”
For a second, Caro forgot about the effects of her own spell. It was a couple of seconds before she would collect her bearings for an answer. “Yeah… the spell I was working on, it wasn’t good enough.”
“Oh… That’s a shame,” her roommate said slowly as she quietly took a seat next to Caro.
What followed was an uncomfortable silence between the two roommates.
“So… I had the strangest dreams,” Sofia began after what felt like minutes. “I don’t know how to say it, but I think I was having a fight with you. Think it had to do with your spell.”
“My glamour?” Caro asked, making a bit of a poor effort at feigning the proper ignorant tone, but Sofia wasn’t paying attention.
“I dreamed that you were blaming me for ruining it and then you were chasing me… I don’t remember much afterward other than I woke up,” Sofia muttered. The world around them might have been going on about with the girls going at their usual dealings but none paid mind to the two roommates talking of things that would have answered the question of their missing morning hours.
“It might’ve been a dream.”
“I don’t know… but it felt kinda real. And then I saw you, still here, and you’ve been looking forward about all this time and… it got me thinking.”
Caro held her silence. Many thoughts ran through her head in that short pause, from Grimma’s conversation to the whole events of the morning. About the troubles she’d had for relying on only a few select friends and how she'd needed help exactly when they weren’t around. It would have been nice if she could’ve trusted her roommate in the first place. Perhaps this could’ve all been avoided. The idea of setting aside her friend’s guilt and reassuring the girl worked its way from her head to her lips, as it would certainly work better than the truth. “I just couldn’t make it in time. I didn’t think the spell was ready.”
“Can you say for certain? Sure that nothing else happened or that there is no reason behind that dream?” Sofia pressed.
“I… I don’t think so… no." Caro reassured with some trepidations with her mind rushing to find another argument. “I didn’t go, partly because of the glamour, partly because my neck hurt from sleeping on the couch. In the end I couldn’t really handle the air mattress.”
“I see…” Sofia trailed off with a sigh. “For what it’s worth… again, I’m sorry for the trouble I caused.”
“It’s all in the past,” Caro said. “Though I don’t think I’ll be sleeping on the air mattress tonight.”
“The offer to switch beds is on the table… until you get your new mattress that is.”
“I think I’ll take it this time. If that’s the better option.” Whether it was the exhaustion or the ordeal, Caro just wasn’t in the mood to complain right now. Though she did express her displeasure with her tone.
“Fine,” Sofia replied dryly as she pushed herself up. “I’ll get myself something to eat… For some reason, everyone seems to be up and about later than usual. Not that I mind.”
“Yeah… how about that…'' Caro said with a nervous laugh that could’ve been guised as a modest one. And now that the topic of being up late was brought up, she was already getting worried about the usual trouble. “Are you going to be out at Crossby’s?”
There was a moment of consideration from Sofia. “No. I don’t think I will today. At least until the whole mattress thing is fixed. I wouldn’t feel right going out and partying." The words were a victory for Caro. Her roommate wasn’t as selfish and imprudent as she’d expected and this could be the best way to mend the bridge… yet a small side of her wondered if this was yet another effect of the spell, if she had used her magic as a shortcut again, or if this was how Sofia would’ve reacted if she hadn’t confronted her friend in the first place.
“Besides,” Sofia continued. “Giselle dropped by last night to tell me that Crossby began his whole lockdown protocol. I have to stay clean for a good couple of days.”
“Giselle was in our room?” Caro gasped.
“Just for a moment. She dropped by to atomize one of the bottles I had with us… and before you say anything. I was going to get rid of it today. I’m sorry,” the girl said preemptively, evidently having had enough of the arguments for the weekend. “To be honest, I would’ve guessed that was also a dream. But the bottle was still gone when I woke up.”
“At least… that would be a couple of days of peace," Caro said in a small tease. "Though I would prefer if you didn’t hang out with him at all. You deserve better.”
“I’m not breaking up with him on your whim, Caro,” Sofia noted, going back to her usual tone as she marched towards the exit of the living room.
Now a couple of minutes past midday, Caro at least felt herself ready to start her day. With the promise of peace, even if fleeting, and normalcy seemingly restored a smile brightened up, moving her to get ready to go through her routine.
While not much progress was achieved with Sofia, at the very least she was mindful enough to be kind to her and, in return, so could Caro. Even if Crossby was still an ever present annoyance and dangerous habits were still a bother, baby steps were achieved and that was all she could want for.
Now it was just waiting for Gwen and Chris to return so she could explain and apologize for the curse… while also making them promise not to speak of this again.
Sunday, September 25, 2016 - 12:20 pm
Berlin’s 103 Mall, Crepe shop by intersection
In the little crépe shop near the far end of the mall, Tanya glanced at the smartphone now propped upon the table. It politely refused to give up its secrets without a fight, and even though all she needed to do was to tap the touchscreen to check for new messages without even bothering her friend, she was still too nervous to raise a finger. “Did he say anything new?”
“No, he hasn’t… at least I don’t think so… Nope, he hasn’t” Erica informed her. The blonde took a bite off the end of her crépe, strawberries and bananas with fresh cream. It was a nice snack, not too healthy but not too much not. It was nothing like the monster of a concoction Tanya had procured for herself, and was almost done with.
“Where do you think he is?” She sighed as she looked down at her own phone with its dead black screen. “Can’t believe I didn’t bring my charger,” she said dejectedly as she took a bite off her own crépe.
“Easy, Tanya. I’m sure he just got distracted with something. Maybe he found a cool toy he wanted to buy. Maybe get some clothes to wear around town. Perhaps he got distracted when trying out those clothes. It could be he ran into an old flame from his old school and the two hit it off and decided to ditch us." All the while she painted the imaginary scenario, Erica's grin grew ever more impish.
“That’s not funny!” Tanya pouted. “You know I like him.”
“I know,” Erica chuckled. “It’s just that my cousin is usually the one doing the teasing. I wanted to try to see what it was like, for once. Quite fun.”
Tanya sighed. “I know. It’s just that I never had a boyfriend before. And I kinda like him. I feel something for him." She made a pause as Erica let out an audible snort of a chuckle. “You think I’m being clingy?”
“Not sure if clingy is the right word… I’d say compassionate or driven?”
“Please don’t say that. You make me sound like Ratel,” Tanya said dryly.
“I say it in the best way possible,” Erica said with a soft smile. “Besides, I think it’s beautiful to see you get so interested in him.”
Tanya blinked for a moment, realizing that her friend was looking over to the side of the table where a simple store-brand bag sat. “Do you think he’ll like it?”
“He’d be a fool not to." Erica agreed.
“I figured, this could be something he might be in need of if we’re planning to do outings like this more often.” Tanya peeked into the bag once she'd put her crépe out of its delicious misery. “I haven’t seen his closet, but I figured if someone had been living with just the clothes on their back for weeks, he might not have that much of a wardrobe.”
“He wasn’t raised in the streets, Tanya. Just spent the three or four months before Whateley there." Erica gave the clarification. “And he has luggage; we saw him with it.”
“You know what I mean.”
Erica let the doubt hang on her face. “I just think you’re focusing too much on where he came from. I haven’t known you for long but I know you’re the virtuous kind. That you would be more than happy to help any person in trouble and I feel like that’s how you see Vic.”
That gave her pause for thought, and she wasn't too happy about it. Was she looking at Vic like a basketcase in need of rescue, or was she really interested in him? There was fear at the idea that her affection was part of her hero complex and that she would end up dis-enamored once things started going better for him. She'd found him handsome at first glance, and if she had to decide again, even at a school where half of the student body could be mistaken for models, she knew she would pick him. He had that earnest personality combined with a geeky attention to detail that made her want to know more about him.
“Do you hang out with him that often? You’ve known him for what? A couple of weeks?” Erica asked cautiously.
“I know… but I want to know more about him. Isn’t that what getting into a relationship means? Just get close enough to learn more of the person?”
“You make it sound like wetwork,” Erica said with a small smile. “You’re not wrong, though.”
“So what do I do now?” Tanya asked out of the sudden.
“Why do you ask me?” Erica blinked.
“I just thought you… or your cousin would have some sort of advice.”
“Sorry, but I've only had the one boyfriend so far, and after this past week... I wouldn’t know what to tell you,” Erica said with a small, disappointed sigh. Whatever that was supposed to mean, it went unnoticed by Tanya as the phone began to vibrate violently on the table, drumming ever so persistently.
“It’s him…” Tanya gasped.
“About time…” Erica muttered as she reached for the phone. “Vic? What happened? We got your message about-- what?” The girl’s expression went from casual lighthearted banter to ever more serious as she kept her ear to the phone, slowing her words until she was only listening. And that didn't bode well for Tanya's own anxiety.
“Where is he?” Tanya asked.
Erica had to mouth the word ‘trouble’ her way before answering the other line. “Where are you headed? We’ll be there…” And with that, she promptly hung up.
“What happened?” Tanya asked.
“Vic is in trouble and he needs us,” Erica summarized briefly as she got to her feet.
“What? Where are we going?” Tanya asked as she rushed to follow. She nabbed the purchase bag on the way out.
“The mall’s inner parking lot. Third basement. He’ll hold out close to the northernmost entrance.”
“Hold out? What's going on…” This was not how she'd thought her not-a-date would turn out.
Sunday, September 25, 2016 - 12:25 pm
Berlin’s 103 Mall, Parking lot, second basement access
“One of them's gaining on us!” Iggy panted as he took quick, unsteady steps down the ramp. The forger continued to look over his shoulder in between strides and almost fell on his face as his top-heavy frame overbalanced. “Help!”
“I know, I know!” Vic muttered to himself, already several steps ahead of him. The teen reached the bottom of the curving ramp way before Iggy and quickly turned right around the corner to get ready.
Even as Iggy reached the bottom of the ramp, two of the men from D’s crew were hardly an inch away from latching to the man’s collar, both hands reaching at the same time for the shoulder in a synchronized catch. That was exactly what Vic needed. The chance was there and he threw himself at them with all of his might, blindsiding them.
He poured as much strength as he could into the shove, toppling the two pursuers. One of them was nice enough to cushion the impact of his knee in their gut.
“Hurry!” Iggy called, already a good ten steps ahead. The forger actually paused in his tracks to wait for him.
Vic couldn’t answer; instead he glanced to the upside of the ramp where he could hear the sound of multiple sets of footsteps chasing after them. A couple of the men were shouting and cussing them out. Vic had no idea how strong these guys were. He was, after all was said and done, just a regular teenager, albeit a very fit one. If these grown men spent any time in the gym, the odds wouldn’t be in his favor -- and even if they didn’t, he would be at a numerical disadvantage. The surprise attacks and shake-off obstacles were the only thing he could think of, and for their part they were working. From what had begun as a pursuit of fifteen individuals, the numbers had dwindled down to seven, including the two on the ground beneath him. Tricks like toppling a shelf the moment they crossed a store or jamming the fire access to the parking lot made sure the chase was hard. Many of them seemed to have caught the hint and were either successfully shaken off or had decided it just wasn’t worth the trouble.
That was the main way how the pursuers had been filtered. Yet seeing them already making their way around the far side of the ramp, it was clear to Vic that these men were still trouble and, more importantly, were much too pissed to let this matter go. It wasn't just a question of when they would catch up, but what they'd do.
Vic didn’t want to stick around to find out on his own. But before he could push himself up, the man he'd tackled came to his senses. One thick-fingered hand lunged for Vic’s throat only to be met by the teen’s arm. And in that brief moment he realized he was in trouble. The man's grip felt like it was about to break bone.
His first reaction was to copy the man’s strategy. His free hand managed to latch onto the man’s neck and pressed fingers in hard. The thing was, he had no idea what to do next. He certainly hadn't ever knocked someone unconscious, and he had a hunch he was doing it wrong.
The thug tried to use his other arm but it was quickly pinned down by Vic’s leg, keeping the man from getting the proper leverage to do anything but pitifully swipe. So Vic’s arm stayed in some sort of deathgrip without any real change in the situation. And the teen understood that this was the point: to keep himself in place before the other five men running down the ramp would catch up.
“Crap,” Vic spat as he wrestled to free his arm, but there was no chance. The man was built like a linebacker with arms bulging from the muscle. The bastard even had the luxury to laugh as the teenager tried to pry his fingers away.
And it was then that Vic saw a chance in the form of the other toppled man, who was loading a leg for a hard kick from the prone position, straight at Vic's face.
Seizing his chance, Vic reached for his captor’s neck, this time grabbing the collar of the man's shirt and throwing his own body back as hard as he could. The sudden motion forced the goon to sit up, putting his head right in the path of the other man's kick. The impact was clean and wince-inducing, a clear knockout. With that, the grip on Vic's arm was suddenly released.
The boy wasted no time as he pushed himself up, though not before employing a cheap trick, throwing a kick at the still-conscious man’s ankle. There was a loud, yelping scream as the thug was momentarily crippled, and with that, Vic ran away, making up for the wasted time as the men were chasing not far after.
“We’re almost there,” Vic told himself as they sprinted past the cars. He almost believed himself. The biggest issue with the parking lot was that there weren’t many things he could do or use to stop the five pursuers that were only a good couple of steps behind. It was a trial of endurance and they were already at their limit, especially Iggy who was clutching his chest and barely managing a staggering trot. “Come on, you can do it!”
He couldn’t help but feel responsible, as this had been his plan and it was essentially a marathon. One of the hardest ones he’d ever done… but he needed to buy time for Tanya and Erica, and reduce the number of thugs as best as he could. Even then it felt like a failure.
From the laundry, they’d run the equivalent of three laps around a block, crossing stores, throwing traps, and occasionally blindsiding their pursuers with attacks whenever they could catch one of the guys in the front by himself. Which was why Vic suspected the gang was now chasing them specifically to beat him to a pulp.
“Why didn’t you bring your water?” Iggy said in between pants and steps.
“Keep running,” Vic panted back as they approached the next ramp. Truth be told, he wished he had kept his water from the laundry; it would’ve certainly made giving those thugs the slip much easier. But it was for the best if as few people as possible saw him as a mutant. To bystanders, it would just be a matter of criminals chasing the two of them for a good beat-up, and that might even attract the attention of the police in their defense. If others saw him use his powers, odds were that the MCO would soon arrive to open an investigation. Even without the strict commandments of the Whateley student conduct rules, that was something he knew to avoid at all costs. Which was why he was leading the thugs to the most secluded spot he could think of.
The rush down the ramp gave Iggy the extra boost needed as the forger zoomed down to the bottom level. That was in fact more speed than the man's legs could take, and not ten steps passed before Iggy tripped himself and went tumbling the last few steps, just by the pillar of an empty parking space.
“This is the spot,” Vic thought as he caught up with Iggy, panting. He fell to his knees to catch his breath after the run. The place was particularly devoid of any people, much to their luck, both bad and good.
“Whatever happens, Vic, I want you to know... I’m glad we got to see each other again,” Iggy gasped out as he pushed himself up against a column.
“Don’t be so melodramatic, please,” Vic replied. His heart was beating raggedly from the long run, and the short pause was barely enough to let him realize he needed a much longer break.
It was considerate of the pursuers to follow in suit, taking a pause the moment they saw that their targets had no intention of keeping up the frustrating race. “You… you’ve caused so much trouble." The man in the front was panting, his strained voice barely hiding his simmering fury as he spoke. “There is no way we’re letting you leave with both of your legs after this stunt. And that's what you're gonna get after the boss's decided what to do with you two.”
“Yeah!” echoed one of the thugs to the rear.
“So, lie down, and prepare for a proper beating!” the man in the middle said as he took off his coat. Unlike the guy before who'd evidently lifted weights in his free time, this one had more of an athletic build, with thin arms that were taut with sinew and would probably pack a punch. Vic made a quick scan around and assumed that the others were in similar condition.
Vic didn’t bother to react to any of their jeers. Instead, and against his better judgment, the teen chose to stand his ground in place, holding his fists up while focusing on steadying his breath and getting his heart to stop beating frantically. He needed to be in a more stable place, physically and mentally. That was one of the lessons from Sensei Tolman’s class he’d bothered to practice outside of class, and it certainly felt like it was paying off. He felt himself ready for another round even as the thugs shambled their way to cover the potential exits. A few were struggling to catch their breath, and one of them was even clutching his chest. The whole runaround had left them worse for wear, but Vic would be hard pressed to consider betting on himself against five bodies.
“Just leave. We didn’t want a fight, or a chase, but you forced us into it,” Vic said, with more conviction than he felt. He stood close to the column with Iggy. “All that happens next is on you.”
“It’s a pity we don’t care," said the black man who'd been the first to speak earlier, now appointing himself as the de facto leader of this group. “If you hadn’t got in the way, we would’ve taken your friend there. But now, well, we just can’t take any shit from you. Sorry.” The thug's voice didn't match the sentiment, confident and cocky that he would be able to take down Vic.
With the other four men surrounding them, they seemed keen on making sure Vic wouldn’t abandon the makeshift fighting ring. Not that he had any plan to, with Iggy still down from the run. The biggest concern was that they wouldn’t sucker punch him from behind the moment he was winning. These were thugs, not fighters.
“Come on, aren’t you going to use your powers? I dare you." The leader laughed and gestured to the man next to him. Thug #2 opened his coat just enough to show off the gun holstered inside.
The teen's eyes flicked to the firearm for the barest fraction of a second, but that was enough for the man. A heavy fist flew straight at Vic's face, only to be blocked at the last by the boy's arms. It was still a hard impact that pushed him back.
“You should leave. You can claim we slipped away,” Vic said to buy himself some time as his brain worked towards an alternative course of action, another plan, anything. He knew he could control the sweat that the hard workout had provided, but he was also certain that mere millimeters of water would not stop a bullet.
“Sure, and get scolded by our boss? No, thank you,” the leader said with a breathless cough as he stepped forward to throw another punch. This time, Vic was prepared and willing to counter attack. Recalling some of the lessons and examples Sensei Tolman took in class, he reacted. A simple deflection, an elbow attack, a stomp aimed for the foot, both of which narrowly missed, though they were followed by a forward step and a hard kick that sent his opponent staggering back.
“Let’s off this mutie!” one of the men shouted behind Vic.
Oh wait, they still had guns. Vic turned to look their way, just by natural reaction, and that brief moment turned around ended with a sudden tackle from his opponent. The two of them rolled down on the ground, though it was Vic who bounced back up into a standing position by putting his knee on the man’s chest, leaving the guy without breath. But that was the extent of his skill. Dizzied, Vic staggered around until one of the men at the edge of the fight hit him with a hard double-punch to the chest, sending the teen down to the concrete.
“You can’t do that to our bro,” the man snorted as he took a step closer, rubbing his knuckles for a follow-up.
“Let’s just finish this. Throw the mutie in a van and send it over to the MCO. Heck, let’s call them here,” another member of the crew blurted out, eager in that way Vic had seen before among the ranks of purist groups.
“Idiot, the boss will make sure you pay for his ire if he discovers you’re bringing the heat into this section of town.”
“Doesn’t look much like a mutant to me,” the leader wheezed, trying to catch his breath with a raspy wheeze that Vic's own chest could sympathize with. “But he throws a mean punch." There was no sense of admiration in that line.
“V… Kid?” came in a scared voice. It was Iggy, who had managed to recover his breath and wits, just in time to see the teenager he'd dragged into this take the fall.
“I’m okay, I’m okay…” Vic answered, glad he'd caught the fall with his arm.
“Oh really?” The man that towered over him laughed. His words were interrupted as two of the men behind him screamed. One of them was thrown to the floor while the other was held in an arm lock.
“Thank goodness you’re here...” Vic sighed with relief. Standing by the fringes of the circle were two girls his age. One of a statuesque and slim physique, with blonde hair and porcelain skin, the other was a petite girl with lavender hair. The blonde had the one man restrained, while the lavender still had a hand outstretched from pushing the other man to the ground. Erica and Tanya had arrived.
“V- I mean, you! There you are,” Tanya called, catching herself before she would blurt out a name.
“Honestly, what did you get yourself into...” Erica sighed as she spun her thug around the axis of the arm just to put his face in the way of a knee strike that sent him flying back.
“I didn’t mean to get involved in this. I swear!” Vic replied.
The man Tanya'd pushed was already picking himself up and running to grab the girl. Maybe the thug thought it'd been a fluke, or that a short girl like that couldn't take him in a fair fight. Either way, he was mistaken.
Tanya dodged, but the man’s fist still connected across her cheek. The hit barely made her flinch. The girl's PK cloak already enveloped her with a soft light, one that might go unnoticed in broad daylight, but in the dark place that was the parking lot the outline was clear to Vic.
The thug's face showed nothing but a stunned shock. He must have felt like he’d struck a brick wall. Tanya seized the moment as she slammed the man with an open palm in a hard shove that threw him even farther away.
“Should we be fighting? I don’t think we’re allowed...” In the now-quiet parking lot basement, Tanya’s whispers reached even Vic’s ears. It wasn't a good time to laugh, but he felt like smiling anyway.
“They're mutants!” the leader shouted.
“Watch out!” Vic called as one of the men pulled their gun out and held it threateningly.
“He wouldn’t dare,” Erica taunted.
“Oh yes I would, muties. No way two little girls can take out the guys in D’s gang." It was the same vocally bigoted thug from moments ago, and his answer was to pull the trigger, filling the basement with echoes of gunfire to a backdrop of sadistic laughter.
“T- remember that I’m immune to bullets too?” Erica said. Her friend had stepped up in front with her arms outstretched and her entire body glowing in a lavender tone. “In fact, I've got more experience at it than you do. More discreet, too.”
“Sorry, I wasn’t thinking,” Tanya said sheepishly. An embarrassed smile did little to hide her concern about breaking the school rules.
“The boss will hear about this. You!” The leader grumbled as he pushed himself up, calling out to the man that was towering over Vic. “Get the boy and his fat friend. We’ll use them as hostages. And you! Moron, stop wasting those bullets and point them this way!”
“Not if I can do anything about it,” Erica snapped as she sidestepped around Tanya and sprinted towards the man with the gun.
As the big guy reached for Vic, the teen saw his chance and threw another kick, this one directed at the man’s shins. And as the thug lost balance, his own arm was pulled way behind him, throwing him down to the ground where a fist met his face.
Still, it wasn’t within Vic’s strength to knock out a man with a single punch as he’d seen in games. By the time he could pull back for another hit, the thug had wrested his arm free and delivered Vic a kick right down the chest, forcing him back. And as the teen stood up and stood strong to cancel the momentum, a minor detail he'd forgotten came to his attention. What followed evaded his understanding.
A small round bell flew out of his pocket, soaring through the air before striking the ground, letting out a sudden, cutting note that reverberated throughout the enclosed space.
To Be Continued