Written in Blood (Part 3)
A 2nd Generation Whateley Academy Story
Written in Blood
Chicago, Il, Thursday afternoon, July 28th, 2016
I stared down at the sheet of paper in my hands, which had a single rune that had been copied on it almost a dozen times. I’d practiced this rune for a couple hours, first with the demonstration version that Tessa had provided, and then from memory. Our lessons had actually ended a short time ago, but I was killing time by practicing this rune a little more, making sure that I had it memorized.
“I’ll never need matches again,” I joked as I pushed just a little essence into one of the symbols. The rune burst into flame, which quickly spread to the rest of the paper. I was actually feeling pretty pleased with myself for mastering my first magic spell.
“Perhaps,” Tessa responded. “But essence is far too valuable to use on something you could simply do with a match.” Then she paused and admitted, “You have far more essence available than any of your Hands, but you do not want to get into the bad habit of wasting it.”
I nodded at that, feeling appropriately chastised. From what Tessa had told me previously, throwing magic around to do something you could easily do without it, was not only a waste of essence, but was also considered as showing off.
Just then, the doorbell began to ring. Marcus was instantly on his feet with a gun in hand. However, Tessa didn’t seem the least bit concerned, probably because all the wards around the house would have stopped most people from reaching the door, and most hostile intruders wouldn’t bother to ring the doorbell.
“It’s Dominic,” Marcus announced after he’d looked through the peep hole.
A moment later, Marcus opened the door, revealing a tall and athletic looking man with ginger hair. Dominic was one of the Loyal, and as such, he not only knew about the safe house, but could also be trusted completely.
“I would like to introduce you to Bianca St. Claire…the new White Lady,” Marcus told Dominic before gesturing to me.
I tried not to wince or look awkward as Marcus introduced me by my new name of Bianca. After all, that was the new name I’d picked, and it was one I’d have to get used to since it would be mine for the rest of my life.
Dominic stared at me for a moment before bowing. “My Lady. I am Dominic Cantrell, and I am at your service.”
I knew who Dominic was, though I’d never really talked to him before now. He’d always been distant and professional, too busy to waste time with a teenage boy. However, he didn’t know who I was, or at least, who I had been.
“Thank you,” I said with a forced smile, suddenly feeling extremely self-conscious about my body and the way I was dressed. I was dressed up in order to look the part of the White Lady, so I tried to continue acting the part as well. “It is nice to meet you.”
“Dominic will guard the house while we’re away,” Marcus told me. “Another Loyal will be following us at a short distance, ready to jump in if we run into trouble.”
I frowned slightly, not liking the idea of having bodyguards watching me all the time since that kind of thing seemed pretentious and kind of paranoid. Then again, after what had happened last week, maybe it would be a good idea to have people watching my back, even if it hadn’t done a lot of good at the party. I shuddered at that thought, suddenly feeling even more nervous about leaving the safe house.
I glanced down at myself, feeling self-conscious since I was still wearing the nice white outfit that I was coming to think of as my new uniform. At that moment, I was announcing to the world that I was the White Lady, and I wasn’t ready to do that, or to even have everyone look at me as a girl. However, I silently reminded myself that I didn’t have much of a choice. The alternative was to present myself as being easy prey for my enemies.
A minute later, I stepped out of the house, then I hesitated a moment to glance around nervously. This was the first time I’d left the safe house since my transformation had finished, and I was almost afraid that someone would point at me and laugh.
When I looked around, the only other person I saw, besides my own small group, was an old man across the street. He looked to be in his late fifties, with short gray hair, and he was staring right at us. That caught me by surprise since there were spells around the house that were supposed to keep people from paying attention to it. Then again, this obviously wasn’t an ordinary old man.
Marcus had told me that a retired superhero lived across the street, so I wondered who this guy was, or at least, who he had been. From his age and build, a couple possibilities sprang to mind, though they were only guesses.
“His name is Arnold Bosk,” Marcus commented as he opened the car door for me. “He used to be Citizen X.”
I was a little startled at that since Citizen X hadn’t been one of my guesses as to his identity. Citizen X had disappeared from public view a long time ago, around the time I’d just been a toddler, so I didn’t know much about him other than that he’d been a solo hero who occasionally fought alongside the Crusaders.
Marcus said something about introducing me to Arnold when we had more time, right before he ushered me into the car. Right after we pulled out of the driveway, I noticed that there was another car behind us, just like I’d been warned. However, I couldn’t tell who was driving it.
We left Chicago and drove about twenty-five miles to Arlington Heights, where we finally pulled into a nice neighborhood. The house we stopped in front of looked to be about the same size as the one where I’d lived until last week, though I still had no idea about who lived there. Neither Marcus or Tessa had really told me much about where we were going or who we had an appointment with.
“What are we doing here?” I asked as we got out of the car.
“We’re here to see a woman whom your grandmother had an arrangement with,” Tessa answered, looking towards the house with a frown. “I believe she may be able to answer some of our questions.” She hesitated a moment, then admitted, “Whether she will or not is another question.”
“But I thought we had an appointment,” I responded, feeling a little confused about why we’d come out here if we didn’t even know if this person would help us.
“We have an appointment to speak with her,” Tessa explained with a frown, “but we don’t know if she’ll be willing to help.”
That didn’t exactly answer any of my questions, but I tried to be patient. A minute later, we knocked on the front door, and it opened to reveal a dark haired woman who looked to be in her mid-thirties, and who was wearing a pair of dark sunglasses so I couldn’t see her eyes.
“Come in,” the woman said, quickly ushering us inside, then looking around the outside as if trying to make sure none of her neighbors saw us arriving. Once she seemed satisfied, she closed the door and turned to look at me. “So, you are the new White Lady.”
“Yes, ma’am,” I answered carefully. I wasn’t sure if it was appropriate for me to call her ‘ma’am’ when I was in character, but I’d always been raised to be polite and that much seemed appropriate.
“Let me have a look at you,” the woman stated, removing her sunglasses and revealing a pair of glowing yellow eyes. She nodded slightly, then abruptly asked, “Would you care for some tea? Or would you prefer hot chocolate? My son is nearly your age, and he loves the cocoa.”
“Hot chocolate please,” I responded, then followed her to the living room where the rest of us had a seat before she rushed out of the room. She came back in mere seconds later, handing cups of tea to Marcus and Tessa, while giving me a cup of cocoa. She’d obviously had this all prepared ahead of time. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” the woman said, giving me a faint smile before looking to Marcus and Tessa.
“Mrs. Merchell,” Tessa said carefully. “You had an arrangement with the previous White Lady. You came to the Lady for assistance, and she provided it in exchange for a cessation of hostilities and three favors to be named later.”
Mrs. Merchell took a sip of her tea, though she kept her golden eyes firmly fixed on Tessa. “There were conditions to those favors,” she pointed out calmly. “I would not assist with any criminal activities, do anything that I find morally questionable, or do anything that would endanger my family in any way. And as of this time, one of those favors has already been repaid.”
Tessa bowed her head faintly. “As you already know, the previous White Lady is no longer with us.”
“Yes,” Mrs. Merchell agreed before looking to me. “I am sorry for your loss. Your predecessor was an honorable woman, in her way.”
“Thank you,” I told her awkwardly, not sure what else I could say.
“As interesting as it is to meet the successor of my old nemesis,” Mrs. Merchell commented. “I believe that you came here for a reason.”
I stared at Mrs. Merchell, a bit surprised by her comments about being my grandmother’s nemesis, as well as confused. How did someone who considered my grandmother an enemy end up making this deal with her?
“Indeed,” Tessa agreed. “The new Lady has some questions that only you can answer.”
“Of course,” Mrs. Merchell responded wryly. “And why should I answer these questions?”
“By your own admission, you owed the previous Lady a debt,” Tessa answered. “Will you repay this debt for her heir?”
Mrs. Merchell paused at that and stared at me again, her eerie gold eyes making me a little uncomfortable. After several long seconds, she said, “Very well. I acknowledge my debt. Ask your questions. This will count as one of the two remaining favors.”
Tessa nodded to me, indicating that I should go ahead. I tried to steady myself so that I’d look and sound confident, the way I’d been taught. I was pretty sure that I didn’t really pull it off that well.
“I wasn’t supposed to inherit this power,” I said carefully, not wanting to give away too much. The last thing I wanted to do was to tell a complete stranger that I’d just gone through a sex change. “I wasn’t supposed to become the White Lady, and I want to know how it happened.”
“Very well,” Mrs. Merchell responded as she stood up. “As long as you have not warded yourself the way your predecessor had, I should be able to discover the answer.”
With that, Mrs. Merchell held out her hand and whistled a short but eerie tune. Suddenly, a glowing golden sphere, about the size of a bowling ball, flew into the room from the hallway. It stopped right in front of Mrs. Merchell and just hovered there.
I stared at the sphere, realizing that I’d seen the thing somewhere before, though it took me a couple seconds to remember where. A moment later, an image snapped into place in my mind, of a woman in a white costume, who had a long golden cloak, with a hood that obscured her face. In nearly every picture I’d seen of her, she had that golden orb either in hand or floating nearby.
“You’re Soothsayer,” I blurted out in surprise and even a bit of shock.
Soothsayer was a local superhero as well as a member of the Windy City Guardians, or at least she had been. While growing up, I’d heard my mom complain about her on countless occasions, because Soothsayer kept interfering in Family business, and she was one of the few superheroes who was still going after my grandmother. However, a couple years ago, someone outed her real identity to the public, and her enemies immediately took advantage of that. Some supervillain blew up her house, killing her and her entire family in the process.
“You’re supposed to be dead,” I added, still stunned by this revelation.
“Rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated,” Mrs. Merchell stated. “And I would prefer that they remain that way.”
“Your grandmother helped Soothsayer to fake her death,” Tessa quickly explained to me.
“What?” I asked, staring at Mrs. Merchell and wondering why my grandmother would help the superhero who’d spent years trying to arrest her, but the answer was obvious. Or at least, they’d already given me the answer a couple minutes ago. By helping Soothsayer, Grandmother not only neutralized her enemy, but also got that enemy to owe her three favors as well.
Mrs. Merchell scowled. “When my identity was made public, my family was put in grave danger. And after my husband barely survived an attack on me, I turned to the one person that no one would ever expect me to ask for help. The White Lady. She helped us to fake our deaths, then provided new identities.”
I stared at Mrs. Merchell and then Tessa. Marcus just sat back, being quiet and trying to avoid notice. As I watched the former hero, I suspected that there was more to her arrangement with my grandmother than what she’d said. If all she’d wanted to do was fake her death and go into hiding, she probably could have had the other heroes help her, unless she really wanted them to believe she was dead as well.
“Now, as to your question,” Mrs. Merchell announced, staring deeply into the floating orb. After a few seconds, she turned and stared back at me before announcing, “You are a changeling…”
“A what?” I asked.
“One who has changed genders,” she explained casually.
I winced at that, suddenly wishing I could turn invisible and vanish. Unfortunately, invisibility didn’t seem to be one of the powers that I’d inherited from my grandmother.
The orb floated higher into the air until it was nearly brushing the ceiling. It glowed with a golden light that covered most of the room, though Mrs. Merchell was no longer watching it. Instead, her eyes remained fixed on me.
“You have inherited the mantle of the White Lady,” Mrs. Merchell stated in an eerie tone of voice, “though you believe it should have been impossible for you to receive it. The power could only go to a woman of the correct bloodline, and though this is true, there is another factor you are unaware of, one that has made this possible.”
“What’s that?” Marcus asked, speaking for the first time since we’d come into the house. Tessa gave him a dirty look at the interruption, though Mrs. Merchell didn’t even glance in his direction.
“You are a mutant,” Mrs. Merchell announced, still speaking in that eerie tone.
For a moment, I just stared at Mrs. Merchell in surprise, trying to wrap my head around that. She had to be wrong. I wasn’t a mutant. I couldn’t be. Until I’d become the White Lady, I’d never had any powers or shown any signs of being a mutant.
In spite of being a fan of Darius Shepard and all his mutant conspiracy plots, I didn’t have anything against mutants. I’d met a few while growing up, mostly because they were working with the Family, and I hadn’t seen any real difference between them and anyone else with powers. However, I couldn’t see myself as being one.
“Specifically,” Mrs. Merchell continued, “You are an avatar.”
“An avatar?” I asked, feeling a knot in my stomach.
One of the books in the Darius Shepard series had dealt with a villain who had been an avatar. In it, the villain had been possessed by an evil spirit that drove him to commit horrible acts. As with everything else in that series, I was sure the author had exaggerated some details about avatars, but that was about the only real knowledge I had of them.
“Avatars have the power to host spirits,” Mrs. Merchell explained patiently. “They can bond with a spirit to form a symbiotic relationship, providing energy for the spirit while gaining some of the spirit’s power in return.”
“You think Br…Bianca is an avatar?” Marcus asked, sounding just as skeptical as I felt.
“Indeed,” Mrs. Merchell answered, still not taking her eyes from me. “You are an avatar, but had not yet bonded with a spirit. When the White Lady passed, the power within her could not find a suitable replacement host and would have dispersed had it not sensed a possible solution in you. You were of the required bloodline, though not of the correct gender. However, as an unbonded avatar, you had an available hollow and the power was able to use that to create a tentative bond with you…enough so that it could convert you into an acceptable host.”
“You make it sound like the White Lady’s power is alive,” Tessa commented, watching Mrs. Merchell with a thoughtful expression.
The former hero bowed her head faintly in acknowledgement. “It is, in a way. It was created from a fusion of powerful magics and has been bonded to a series of human souls for centuries. It has…evolved into something greater than the collection of spells it began as.”
I was still reeling from what she’d told me, but one word stuck in my mind. “You said it was a tentative bond…”
Mrs. Merchell gave me a sympathetic look and shook her head. “It was the tentative bond that allowed the power to change you. Your bond has since become complete and permanent.”
I just bowed my head slightly at that, feeling for a moment like I was drowning. I’d already accepted the fact that this was all permanent, at least intellectually, but now I’d let myself get my hopes up again…only to have them dashed. I really was going to be the White Lady for the rest of my life.
“So, I’m a mutant as well as the White Lady,” I finally said, forcing a weak smile. “Does this mean I get other powers too?”
“Perhaps,” Mrs. Merchell told me with a faint smile of her own. “Though I doubt it. You are already hosting something akin to a spirit, and I do not believe your avatar powers are strong enough to host another.” She hesitated a moment, then admitted, “None of your predecessors have been avatars, and even I cannot say for certain what that may mean for the power you now wield.”
With that, she gestured to the sphere, and the light coming from it receded back to just being a dull glow. It lowered itself down and settled into the air right above Mrs. Merchell’s shoulders.
After this, we talked with Mrs. Merchell for just a few more minutes before we left, more to be polite than anything else. She’d already answered my questions, though they weren’t quite the answers I’d hoped for. Still, at least I knew why this had happened to me, and I felt a little better because of that.
Chicago, Il, Friday, July 29th, 2016
Today was the big day, the day I was going to be officially presented to the Family as the new White Lady. I climbed out of the car, trying to look poised and confident, though the truth was, I was anything but.
Though I was wearing a nice and professional looking outfit, my thoughts kept turning to the fact that I was also wearing a bra. The straps were digging into my shoulders a bit uncomfortably, but I was even more unnerved by the fact that I was wearing one at all. Of course, I’d been wearing a bra for the last couple days, but for some reason, it felt even more noticeable and awkward today than it had.
Today marked a full week since the murder of my family, and when I woke up thinking about that this morning, I’d immediately gone into another bout of crying. I remembered the way Mom, Dad, and Paige had all been brutally murdered in front of me. I couldn’t really stop thinking about it since the images came back almost every time I closed my eyes.
With my grandmother gone, Aunt Clarice, Nicolette, or even Paige should have been the one here, the one to become the White Lady. But they were all gone, and though the sheer coincidence of my having been an avatar, I was standing here instead. Something that any one of them would have been honored to receive, had been dumped on my unprepared shoulders instead.
Even though I’d been lucky enough to survive the Messenger’s attack, Bryan St. Claire had still died anyway. My old life was gone completely and there was no going back. But instead of resting comfortably in a grave, I would be forced to continue on, pretending to be someone I wasn’t. I was uncomfortable, miserable, and scared out of my wits, but I didn’t even dare show it. As far as the Family was concerned, I had to be strong and capable, regardless of the fact that I was really in way over my head. I was such a fraud.
I took a deep breath and braced myself for what was to come. I stood in front of a large house that belonged to Uncle Andre. It was bigger than the house where I’d grown up, but not quite the size of my grandmother’s. It would have been more appropriate to have moved into my grandmother’s mansion and then have everyone meet me there, but I couldn’t bring myself to go back to that place, not even for this. And thankfully, both Marcus and Tessa understood and supported me in that. Fortunately, Uncle Andre had offered the use of his home for the meeting, which would help to sell the idea that he was my grandfather.
I looked around, suddenly feeling even more exposed and vulnerable. At that moment, I was being protected by Marcus, Dominic, and two other Loyal, but I couldn’t help but thinking about how easy it would be for a sniper to take me out. Marcus and Tessa had both impressed on me that I had enemies who would want to hurt me, and they’d done their job well. Between that and what had happened last week, I was feeling a bit paranoid.
Suddenly, there was a loud cawing sound, which drew my attention to the white raven which perched on top of a yard light. Lenore was watching us, which seemed to please Tessa a little because I saw her smile faintly. Then, as if she’d simply been waiting for us to see her and acknowledge her presence, Lenore flapped her wings and flew off.
“It seems that Lenore has come to bear witness,” Tessa told me.
We went up to the door where two men stood guard. Neither of them was Loyal, and I’d seen one of them around before and knew that he took his job pretty seriously. Both of them stared at me for a moment, looking a little surprised.
“My Lady,” the one I recognized said before opening the door to let us inside.
“Thank you, George,” I told him, earning another look of surprise at the fact that I already knew his name.
As I stepped through the doors, I silently repeated the mantra, “Poise and confidence,” over and over, trying to stay in character.
I was almost immediately met by three women, who were standing just inside the house and obviously been waiting. I recognized these women since they’d often been guests in my home, coming to visit with my mom. They were Sabine, Alice, and Tanya, the rest of the remaining Hands.
Before last week, there had been six Hands, women my grandmother had trained to cast most of the spells that the Family needed, while she only dealt with the most important ones. Mom and Aunt Clarice had been among their number, while Nicolette had been at the point where she would have been initiated as a member within a year or two. But now, Tessa and these three women were all who remained.
Alice was in her fifties and was the oldest of the Hands, but due to Tessa’s work as my grandmother’s personal assistant, she’d been the one left in charge of the group. I was pretty sure that Alice resented her for that, just as she’d resented Aunt Clarice, who had been the previous leader of the Hands.
Tanya was a chubby woman, who had a sweet tooth and usually carried a small supply of candy on her. But in spite of her harmless appearance and pleasant demeanor, I’d once overheard her calmly telling my mom about how she’d arranged for her former husband to have an ‘accident’.
And then there was Sabine, who was not only the youngest and most attractive of the Hands, but also the one I knew best. Sabine was my second cousin, on my mom’s side, and when I’d been younger, she had sometimes acted as a babysitter for me and Paige. But in spite of that, we’d never been close. Though she always got along great with Paige, she’d pretty much ignored me, just like nearly everyone else.
“My Lady,” Tessa said pleasantly. “May I introduce Alice, Sabine, and Tanya, the other three Hands.”
“It is a pleasure to meet you,” Tanya told me, giving me a slight bow of her head. “Though I do wish it had been under more pleasant circumstances.”
“Thank you,” I responded with a forced smile.
“You are…younger than I expected,” Alice said in a careful tone, though from the look in her eyes, she was clearly disappointed. And since I was dressed and made up to look a little older and more mature, she was probably going to be really disappointed when she found out how old I actually was.
Sabine just watched me with a speculative look, then introduced herself, “Hi. I’m Sabine.”
It was a strange conversation, having to pretend that I didn’t know these women, especially Sabine. It was even stranger to have all three of them realizing that I was their new boss…or at least their future boss since I wouldn’t have any real authority for a few more years. I was just thankful when our brief conversation was over, though a minute later, I wished that I was still talking to them.
Uncle Andre hobbled into the room, moving slowly and using his cane. Then he saw me and abruptly stopped, staring for a moment with a look of surprise which served as a reminder that he knew who I really was.
“Bianca,” Uncle Andre greeted me with my new name, helping me to establish my new identity. “I was told the power changed your appearance, but to see how much…” He paused and shook his head, then gave me a sympathetic look before adding, “To think, a change in pigmentation could make you look so different.”
“It is taking some getting used to,” I admitted, trying to keep my voice even so I didn’t sound nearly as self-conscious as I felt.
Uncle Andre nodded at that, then slowly came towards me. “So, how is my favorite granddaughter doing?”
I hesitated a moment, knowing that I couldn’t tell him the truth, not when there were too many people listening in. After all, it wouldn’t do for the Family to hear the new White Lady admit that she was on the verge of freaking out and running from the house screaming. That would defeat the entire purpose of this act.
“I’m...adjusting,” I told him carefully, which was about as honest as I could afford to be at the moment. He nodded in understanding. “I’m still getting used to the new skin color and power.”
“You’ll do fine,” he assured me, giving me an awkward hug. Then when he was close, he whispered just loud enough so that I was the only one who could hear. “I’m sorry that you are the one who must bear this burden. I’ll do my best to try making it easier for you. If you need anything, just let me know.”
“Thank you,” I said, giving him a sincere smile, though I had to fight back the tears that wanted to come. I bit my lip and the sharp pain was enough to distract me from that, at least long enough to get myself under control.
Uncle Andre looked like he wanted to say more, but he was just as aware of our audience as I was. So he gave me a smile and asked, “Now my dear, can you help an old man into the dining room?”
I’d been to Uncle Andre’s house before and I knew that he had a large dining room, but at the moment, it was being used for a different purpose. Four people were already there, sitting around the table and making it look as though I’d stepped into some kind of office meeting room. These were my grandmother’s lieutenants, the people who actually ran the Family. And though I’d never been involved in Family politics, at least not directly, I knew who each of them was.
First, my eyes went to Robert Montagne, or Bobby the Mountain as he used to be called when he’d been a young leg-breaker and enforcer. That had been a long time ago, and though he was still a large man, he was in his early sixties and no longer as physically intimidating as he’d once been.
To Robert’s left sat Martina Lambert, who was in her early fifties and looked more like a professional business woman than someone who was part of a criminal organization. At the moment, she was texting something on her cell phone, though when she noticed I was there, she put the phone away and adjusted her glasses, much the way I used to. And though I didn’t know Martina very well, I was somehow related to her by marriage, on my mom’s side.
The next member was Madelyn Belle, a frumpy woman who looked like a stereotypical housewife or soccer mom. My mom had never liked her, and I’d often overheard her complaining about Maddy, who she saw as a rival for some reason. However, I’d always gotten along well with Maddy. Unlike a lot of people in the Family, she’d never kissed up to any of the heirs, and she’d always been nice to me.
Debora Hanson was the last of the four who’d been waiting in the room, and she was the only one who wasn’t at least a third generation Family member. She was in her late forties, looked about fifteen years younger, and was quite beautiful and striking for her age. Between her long red hair, killer body, and tendency to dress in a revealing fashion, she was actually quite popular among the men in the Family. Of course, her rather direct demeanor and the patch she always wore over her left eye, helped to keep anyone from thinking of her as just a pretty face. Family gossip also said that she’d once been a supervillain, but that my grandmother had saved her from a bad situation in exchange for her services and loyalty.
Uncle Andre put a reassuring hand onto my arm, giving me a faint nod and smile before taking a seat at the table. He hadn’t been involved in Family leadership for a long time, but since I was supposed to be his granddaughter, he’d invited himself to the meeting in order to show support. Tessa, as the new head of the Hands, automatically had a place reserved for her, though she didn’t sit down just yet.
“I would like to introduce Bianca St Claire,” she announced to the room. “The new White Lady.”
Everyone was staring at me, though I tried hard to keep my expression calm so that I didn’t show how uncomfortable that made me. After all, I’d come here knowing that I’d be receiving this kind of attention and Tessa had prepared me to deal with it.
“I thought she was illegitimate,” Debora commented, giving Uncle Andre a curious look.
I wasn’t at all surprised by the question since Tessa had warned me that someone would point out the contradiction of my having the same last name as Uncle Andre, when my ‘father’ had been a ‘bastard’. “I changed my last name,” I explained in a voice that sounded a lot calmer than how I felt. I’d practiced it all morning. “To symbolize that I’ve cut ties to my old life in order to focus on my responsibilities in this new one.”
For a moment, I stood there frozen, sure that they’d call me on that, and it looked like they definitely had questions. However, a loud ‘caw’ suddenly filled the air, drawing everyone’s attention to the corner, where Lenore was sitting on a perch. I was surprised since I hadn’t even noticed her there before. She ruffled her feathers a bit, then looked right at me and nodded her head a little.
“It appears that Lenore has come to offer you support,” Tessa said, looking somewhat amused by that. Lenore nodded her head in what I assumed was agreement.
Lenore’s sudden appearance seemed to have distracted the group a bit, but a few seconds later, we went back to the introductions, though this time they were the ones who were introduced to me. I’d met all of them before, though I had to pretend that this was the first time. As with the Hands in the other room, the experience was a bit strange and awkward.
“I’m afraid that you have us at something of a disadvantage,” Martina said, giving me a thoughtful look. “We were unaware of your existence, until very recently.”
“When the Lady and her heirs were murdered,” Debora stated with a scowl and a flash of anger in her eyes, “we thought there wasn’t anyone who could succeed her.”
Tessa bowed her head in acknowledgement. “I know that her sudden appearance is something of a surprise, but I wasn’t allowed to tell anyone about her until now. The previous Lady thought it would be prudent to keep at least one of her heirs hidden…”
“In case something like this happened,” Robert finished for her, nodding his head in understanding. “I would have said that she was being paranoid, but the events of a week ago proved her right.”
“She’s just a kid,” Debora pointed out with a scowl, fixing me with her gaze. There was definitely a lot of skepticism in her expression, and I could see that she was already dismissing me. “She’ll be damn near useless to us.”
“Don’t underestimate her because of her age,” Tessa pointed out. “Though Bianca was never expected to inherit, she has received some training and preparation in case it became necessary.” Of course, she neglected to mention how little training I’d actually been given, or the fact that all of it had been in the last week. “And in accordance with the previous Lady’s instructions, if her successor is a minor, she will choose a regent to speak on her behalf until she comes of age.”
“And let me guess,” Maddy commented with a faint smile. “Since you’re the only one here who knew she even existed, you’re the new regent.”
“No, she isn’t” I said, once again struggling to keep my voice calm and stead when it really wanted to shake. “I’ve asked Marcus to be my regent.”
When I’d first decided that I wanted Marcus to be my regent, I’d expected Tessa to be disappointed by that decision. After all, she’d been my grandmother’s personal assistant and knew more about how the Family worked than anyone. However, to my surprise, she’d actually been relived. Apparently, she hadn’t wanted the extra responsibility on top of what she already had. And more than that, it seemed that by having Marcus as my regent instead, it allowed both of them to be on the council, giving me one more supporter there than I would have had otherwise.
“I am honored to accept the position,” Marcus announced. He had been standing back, but now took the opportunity to step forward so that the others could see him.
“Not a choice I would have expected,” Martina commented, though I couldn’t tell if she thought that was a good thing or bad. Then she glanced towards Uncle Andre, suggesting that he was actually the one she’d expected me to pick.
“Marcus is a good man,” Uncle Andre said, nodding his approval. “And no one can question his competence or loyalty.”
Uncle Andre’s support of Marcus seemed to ease some of their concerns, because a couple of them nodded thoughtfully. Without another word, Marcus sat down at the table, making a point of taking his place in the meeting. Tessa nodded to me and I sat down in an empty chair next to Marcus, while she sat down on my other side.
At this point, the conversation quickly shifted to the current status of the Family, and what my appearance would mean. Though Marcus and Tessa both took an active role in the discussion, I just sat there, listening in without saying a word. Most of the people around the table seemed to ignore me, or talked about me as though I wasn’t even there. This was quite familiar to me, and certainly not unexpected. For once, I was more than happy that no one was paying attention to me anymore.
Most of the conversation was boring, dealing with things I didn’t really have any knowledge about, but I didn’t dare let myself nod off like I wanted to. I’d already been warned that even if everyone seemed to ignore me, they’d still be paying attention. They were still formulating their opinions about me so it was critical that I continue to present a strong and capable image. Because of that, I sat up straight, trying to look as though I was paying attention and understood everything that was being said, while I silently repeated the mantra, “Poise and confidence.”
Eventually, the topic turned to something that immediately grabbed my full attention…the attack from last week. “We still don’t have any proof over who ordered the hit,” Robert pointed out grimly. From the look on his face and the way he cracked his knuckles when he said that, I had the impression that as soon as he knew for sure, he might very well try to go after them himself.
“The Outfit insists that they had nothing to do with it,” Maddy added with a thoughtful look. “And I believe them.”
“They wouldn’t put a hit out on kids,” Robert said in agreement. “That ain’t their style. Besides, the Lady had an arrangement with them, and they wouldn’t go after her or declare war on us without a damn good reason.”
“They did send their condolences,” Maddy said, looking through some papers.
“Condolences don’t mean anything,” Debora stated with a scowl. With that, she pulled out a pack of cigarettes and lit one. Uncle Andre gave her a dirty look since he didn’t like anyone smoking in his home. However, he didn’t say anything and made a point of ignoring her instead. “They have the resources to come after us.”
“But not the motivation,” Maddy insisted. “Besides, they aren’t happy that someone targeted our kids. That kind of thing sets a bad precedent, so they’ve promised to give us space to deal with the issue, and to pass along any information they get about who ordered the hit.”
Debora took a long drag on her cigarette, then blew the smoke to the side before stating, “It’s Scorn. It has to be.”
“Scorn hasn’t claimed responsibility,” Martina commented with a grim expression, “but he hasn’t denied it either. The fact that his people began making moves against one of our supply lines, as well as demanding the protection money from several of our clients, is rather telling.”
“While I agree that it probably was Scorn,” Tessa pointed out, “we can’t act against him without proof. If we declare war on him right now, or even just retaliate without evidence, some of our business associates may see us as the aggressors and worry that we’ll go after them next. With the previous Lady gone, everyone is watching the Family closely for any signs of weaknesses. We are on delicate ground and will have to be careful how we tread, because one wrong step could be disastrous.”
“I agree,” Marcus said grimly. “I want to rain hellfire and damnation down on Scorn as much as anyone else, but we’re going to have to be careful how we handle this.”
The others nodded and made a few grumbles and comments as they shared their opinions. Debora and Robert seemed the most annoyed at having to hold back at the moment, but they agreed on the necessity. Still, Debra pointed out, “But if we can find the Messenger, we might be able to get the proof we need. I’ve got a couple people looking for him already.”
“Me too,” Marcus stated in a cold tone. “But for now, we still have to be careful with Scorn.”
“Fortunately,” Martina said, glancing to me, “As soon as Scorn and his people heard that there was a new White Lady, they pulled back and stopped trying to pressure our associates. Of course, if he’d continued, that would have given us the excuse we needed to act.”
“He’s wary of the new White Lady,” Tessa said with a smile, her eyes seeming to gleam with amusement. Her eyes darted to me momentarily. “She’s an unknown quantity and he doesn’t want to risk confronting her until he knows more.”
“I suspect he won’t be the only one to hesitate until he knows more,” Martina mused. She turned her attention to me, watching me for several seconds with a thoughtful expression. “At the moment, she’s a complete mystery, which can be to our advantage…”
“The Lady also has another advantage,” Marcus announced, and I could see that he was holding back a grin, though just barely. “In addition to bearing the power of the White Lady, she’s also a mutant.”
An instant later, nearly everyone at the table was staring at me, and I could see the wheels turning in their heads. Thanks to Marcus’ revelation, they all knew I was a mutant, and they were trying to guess what other powers I might possess. I could see the moment of realization in their expressions, when it dawned on them that I was almost as much of an unknown quantity to them as to our enemies. Because of that, they too would be hesitant to start something with me, which would buy me more time to build my reputation and power. Unfortunately, the thought of working to build my reputation and power actually made me kind of nauseous, because that was the kind of thing my mom always lectured Paige about.
While this was going on, it took every ounce of willpower that I possessed to not react or show just how uncomfortable all this attention made me. Instead, I smiled faintly but kept silent, letting Marcus talk for me. After all, that was the point of having him as a regent.
“For the moment, I say we play up the new Lady being a bit of a mystery,” Marcus said as he looked around the table. “Maybe give a few hints that she’s a mutant, just to make them even more wary about making a move against us.”
“That sounds like an effective strategy,” Martina stated, looking right at Marcus, Tessa and myself and making it perfectly clear that she realized we were pulling the same thing on them.
Uncle Andre chuckled slightly as he pointed out, “That sounds like something my mother might have come up with.” Tessa looked quite pleased at that while Marcus’ expression was a little harder to read.
The meeting continued for a bit longer, but the conversation once again drifted away from topics that really interested me. I continued to pretend that I was paying attention, doing my best to look competent and in control, even though I didn’t really add more than a half dozen words during the rest of the discussion. When the meeting ended, I said some polite goodbyes, to everyone in the room as well as to the Hands who’d been waiting in the next room. Once I finally reached the safety of the car, I finally allowed myself to collapse from emotional exhaustion.
Chicago, Il, Sunday, July 31st, 2016
I hated funerals. I’ve hated them since I was six years old and had attended my first one, where we said goodbye to one of my dad’s oldest friends. I didn’t remember the man very well, though I clearly remembered standing outside in the rain and wind for over an hour, as well as being wet and miserable the entire time.
At the moment, I was attending my grandmother’s funeral, and though the weather was much better than it had been during my first funeral, I was even more miserable. I stood in the middle of the cemetery, silently watching as my grandmother’s casket was slowly lowered into the grave. Her body wasn’t even in it, or at least not her intact body. She’d been cremated in order to keep any of her enemies from messing with her body, and the casket contained the ashes. But even so, the Hands had also placed a number of spells on the casket, which would make it very difficult for anyone to open.
The funeral was a Family affair, which meant that there were unobtrusive guards scattered about, making sure that we wouldn’t have any unwanted intruders. Two of the Loyal stood close to me, not only to act as my bodyguards, but to also keep most of the Family members at a distance while I grieved.
This was my first time really being out in public as the White Lady, at least in front of the entire Family, and I was very aware of the way everyone kept looking at me. I understood why everyone was staring, as well as how I looked. However, that didn’t it any less awkward.
I was currently wearing a nice black suit, which was appropriate for a funeral, and a wide brimmed hat with a veil across the face. Not only did this help to obscure just how young I actually was, it would also hide some other things. After all, it wouldn’t do for anyone to see the White Lady crying…even at a funeral.
Today was my grandmother’s funeral, but yesterday had been everyone else’s, including my own. I’d wanted to go, to say goodbye to Mom, Dad, and Paige, but Marcus and Tessa had said it was a bad idea, that I needed to keep my relationship with them hidden so that no one could guess who I really was. I’d begged, pleaded, and even demanded that they let me go, because there was no way I was going to miss their funerals. In the end, we’d compromised. I’d gone to the funeral, but I’d stayed in the car, watching through heavily tinted windows while I sobbed uncontrollably.
I’d already used up all my tears, and at the moment, I had none left for my grandmother. But in spite of my lack of new tears, I still grieved for her. I had a heavy heart as I watched her casket descend. In many ways, my grandmother had been a hard woman, and a difficult one to know. However, she’d been one of the cornerstones of my life, and I had no doubt that in her own way, she truly had cared for me. I already missed her a great deal, but at the same time, I was also angry with her.
“How could you do this to me?” I quietly demanded of my grandmother, keeping my voice to a low whisper so that even those closest to me couldn’t hear. “This is all your fault…”
I’d grown up with the firm believe that my grandmother was powerful…that she was virtually invincible. After all, even the original Champion, the greatest superhero to ever come out of Chicago, hadn’t been able to take her down, and several generations of subsequent heroes hadn’t done any better. And in spite of all the talk about heirs and succession, I’d never truly thought it was necessary. Until a week ago, I’d honestly thought that she would outlive us all.
But now, the Messenger had proven otherwise. My grandmother had powerful magic, but in spite of all her protections, the assassin and his daughter had simply walked right through them as though they weren’t even there. My grandmother hadn’t been anywhere near as invincible as I’d always believed, and the loss of that certainty in my life hurt almost as much as the loss of my family. I was angry at my grandmother…and disappointed. If she’d only lived up to the faith I had in her, then none of this would have happened. She would have stopped the Messenger and I would still have my family…and my own life.
“You should have been stronger,” I continued to whisper, clenching my hands together so tight that my nails dug into my palms and drew blood. “You should have been able to protect everyone…”
Because my grandmother had failed, not only had she died, but so had everyone else. Mom, Dad, and Paige were gone, along with Aunt Clarice, Nicolette, and too many others. And because of all those deaths, I’d been forced to become the White Lady. All the responsibility and expectations that came with the title had suddenly been dropped on my shoulders, and I felt like I was about to be crushed by it. I grimaced, clenching my fists even tighter, almost savoring the sharp stinging pain. At the moment, I was bursting with grief, rage, and frustration. Tears began to form again, even though I thought I’d run out.
Three hundred years ago, Isabelle Dubois, the third White Lady, had been the one to form the Family. For three centuries, my ancestors led the Family and protected them. Now, whether I wanted it or not, that responsibility had been given to me. I was responsible for my family legacy as well as the Family. After all that time, after centuries of hard work and service, and after my grandmother had pulled the Family from the ashes of ruin and rebuilt it…I couldn’t be the one to lose it.
“Damn you,” I muttered to my grandmother, silently cursing her for what had happened to me and the position I’d been put into.
I hated my new body and life, seeing a girl staring back every time I looked in the mirror, and having to sit down just to take a leak. I hated the fact that everyone who saw me now saw me as a girl, and I had to act the part just to keep up with their expectations, no matter how uncomfortable it made me feel. And then, there was also the little thing about how I’d wanted to avoid the Family business, but now I’d been pulled right into the very middle of it.
Unfortunately, my personal feelings didn’t seem to matter. I had a responsibility to my ancestors, to my family, and to the Family as a whole. Regardless of my personal feelings, I had a very heavy obligation, and I didn’t dare let them down. I owed it to my family and everyone who’d come before me.
I continued to brood for the entire ceremony, though once they began to actually push the dirt into the hole, my anger and frustration softened back to grief again. I just stared at the spot and whispered a final goodbye to the woman who’d been such a key part of my world, and who’d left me far more than she should have.
At this point, the small crowd was beginning to move around and talk again, with several people coming up to me and offering their condolences. I just said a few polite words but didn’t really engage in any conversations. The Loyal standing nearby gently encouraged them to hurry on their way, much to my relief.
Then I saw Tony coming towards me. I’d heard that he’d been badly injured during the attack, and at the moment, his arm was in a cast and he was walking with a cane and a pronounced limp. Since he was Loyal, and therefore had some of my grandmother’s healing spells tattooed onto him, the fact that he was still in this shape was a good indication of just how bad he’d been.
“My Lady,” Tony greeted me politely. “I am Anthony Gullette. I am very sorry about your great grandmother, and wish I could have prevented her death. He gave a pained smile and admitted, “I am ashamed that I failed her, and promise that should you give me an opportunity, I won’t let you down.”
“Thank you,” I told Tony, not sure what I could say. “What happened to her wasn’t your fault. Even she couldn’t stop the Messenger.”
“You know the old saying about how you shouldn’t shoot the messenger?” Dominic asked from the side.
“Yeah,” Tony said, giving him a faint grin. “I say it’s time to change that policy…”
I agreed with them completely, but I wasn’t sure if it would have been appropriate for me to say anything, so I did what I usually did when unsure…I remained silent. Half a minute and a couple of polite comments later, Tony took off to go talk with some other people. I just looked around, eager to get out of here and to some place where I wouldn’t be stared at. I knew that even when people weren’t staring directly at me, they were still watching. After all, I was the new White Lady, and this was the first time that most of the people here had seen me.
Marcus and Tess had been mingling a little, but at least one of them stayed near me at all times. Marcus moved a little closer and asked, “How are you holding up?”
“I’m managing,” I answered flatly. But after a few seconds, I asked, “How much longer do we have to say?” I knew that I probably sounded a bit whiny with that, so it was a good thing that no one else was close enough to hear.
“Not much longer,” Marcus assured me. “I figure we can leave in just a few minutes.”
“Good,” I said with a sigh. Then I asked, “So, what are the chances that we can go spend the rest of the day fishing?”
Marcus chuckled faintly at that. “Not good, I’m afraid.”
I just nodded at that since I hadn’t really expected anything else. Then I frowned, wondering if I’d ever be able to go fishing again. It was one of the few activities that I really enjoyed, but that was probably the kind of thing that the White Lady couldn’t be seen doing. My mood sunk even lower at that.
Just as we were getting ready to leave, I noticed Debra walking straight towards us. I was a little surprised at that since the Family leaders had already greeted me when I first arrived, giving their polite condolences at the same time. I hadn’t been expecting that one of them would want to talk again afterwards.
“Hello, Bianca,” Debora greeted me, not referring to me as ‘my Lady’ as most other Family members seemed to do. She’d always been straight-forward and didn’t kiss up to anyone, not even my grandmother. At the moment, I actually appreciated that quality.
“Hello,” I responded politely, curious about what she wanted.
“The other day,” she started off, “Marcus said you were a mutant.”
“I did,” Marcus agreed in a careful tone from beside me. He was giving Debora a wary look, obviously wondering what she was up to.
“Yes,” I responded as well, since she was speaking directly to me. “At least, that’s what I’ve been told. I haven’t been tested yet.”
Marcus scowled faintly, making me wonder if I’d just given away too much. However, Debora merely nodded, keeping her good eye on me. “Then you’ve just answered the question of whether or not you already had your MID.”
“MID?” I asked blankly.
Of course, I knew what an MID…what a Mutant Identification card was. They’d been mentioned a few times in the Darius Shepard books, and in the second book, part of the story involved him investigating an MID forgery ring. However, this was the first time I’d considered the fact that as a mutant, I would need to get one.
Debora scowled, looking a little annoyed. “How long since you manifested?”
I hesitated a moment, not sure how much I should tell her. Marcus looked a little uncertain for a moment as well, then apparently decided that we should just be honest. “She manifested around the same time she inherited her grandmother’s power.”
“So you haven’t had either long,” Debora mused, not looking the least bit surprised. “Which means that you probably haven’t mastered your power yet either. Being able to hold up an extra power as a veiled threat can be useful, but you have to be able to back it up, which means understanding the full scope of your powers and their limitations.”
“Are you a mutant?” I abruptly asked Debora. I knew that she used to be a supervillain, and I’d heard my mom mention that Debora had powers, but I had no idea what those powers were or how she’d acquired them.
“Imbued,” Debora answered simply. “But I have friends who are mutants. Which reminds me, you should be aware that announcing that you are a mutant will create another complication. Specifically, the Family has always dealt with scrutiny from heroes, law enforcement, and our rivals. Now, we might have the MCO and possibly even Humanity First to deal with too.”
“A very good point,” Marcus admitted with a grim look, which suggested that he hadn’t considered that until now.
“I recommend we find someone to do the testing, who knows how to keep quiet,” Debora continued with a thoughtful look. “And you should get an MID as soon as possible. You could probably manage without one, but having one could be useful for keeping the MCO off your back, especially if you need to travel anywhere.”
I started to nod at that, then caught myself and realized that this wasn’t the body language I needed to project to everyone who was watching. “Poise and confidence,” I silently reminded myself before telling her, “Thank you.”
Debora nodded as she pulled out a pack of cigarettes and lit one. “Right now, you’re a bit of a wildcard,” she finally said, looking straight at me. “You might end up as an asset to the Family…or a liability. The way I figure it, my job is to help you become an asset.”
Marcus smiled at that. “I just wish we could count on everyone feeling that way.”
Debora nodded again as she turned to stare at my grandmother’s grave. After a few seconds, she said, “The previous Lady… She was damn good at turning liabilities into assets. I’m just following her example.” And with that, she nodded to me in acknowledgement before turning and walking away.
“I think we can probably count her as an ally,” Marcus told me once Debora was gone.
Since the funeral was over, everyone was already dispersing and leaving the cemetery. I was relieved when we were finally able to leave too. The car we’d arrived in was not only a small limo, but also an armored car. And in addition, my grandmother had cast some spells on it, which added a few more layers of protection. Once we’d climbed in and took off, I finally allowed myself to let out a long sigh of relief and relax.
I was in the back of the car, playing the part of VIP while Dominic drove and Marcus had shotgun…literally. He had a large shotgun right next to him, just in case we ran into trouble. There was a small fridge in the back with me, and I was delighted to find that it was stocked with ice cold Black Cauldron root beer. This was definitely a nice way to relax after such a rough day.
We were just driving through the middle of down town when I suddenly heard ‘pink pink pink pink’ noises coming from above me, as though someone was throwing gravel at the car. I was momentarily confused by the sound, but Marcus snarled, “Gunfire.”
“What?” I exclaimed, looking around though I didn’t see any bullet holes in the car or window. Then I remembered that this was a magically enhanced armored car. I gasped in realization, feeling a mixture of fear and relief.
“Hold on,” Dominic ordered, right before he yanked the wheel right, taking us into a sharp turn, then hit the gas. We took off as fast as traffic would allow, swerving back and forth and trying to escape whoever was attacking us. However, just when I thought we were getting away, more bullets began to hit the car.
“It’s coming from above us,” Marcus said, looking out the windows but apparently not seeing anything. He held the shotgun firmly in hand, looking pissed off that he couldn’t see who he had to shoot. “See if we can lose them...”
Dominic snapped back, “That’s what I’ve been trying to do.”
I clutched the ‘oh shit’ handles so tightly that if my skin wasn’t already the color of fresh snow, my knuckles would have turned white. Though none of the bullets had gotten through the armor, I was terrified. My heart raced as all I could think about was the last time there had been gunfire near me, and everything I’d lost as a result.
Suddenly, there was a loud BOOM and the entire car jumped about a foot into the air and them came crashing down a moment later. The car slammed into another car, bringing us to an abrupt and somewhat painful stop. I gasped in shock, hurting from the sudden impact and the bruising that my seatbelt would leave on me.
“The engine is dead,” Dominic exclaimed, pulling a high tech looking gun out from beneath the seat.
I was still dazed, but looked out the window, or at least tried to. All the windows were shattered, though the safety glass held everything in place. With the spider web cracks covering nearly every inch of each window, I could barely see anything through them.
“We’re sitting ducks,” Marcus stated in a cold angry voice. “If they hit us with anything else like that, they’ll crack us open for sure…” Then he glanced to Dominic before looking back at me. “Dom and I will see if we can deal with whoever this is. Be ready, because if I give you the signal, I want you to run and get clear…”
I just remained where I was, terrified and frozen. It was like the party all over again. I began hyperventilating, knowing that any moment, they were going to come finish the job. They were going to kill us…
Dominic and Marcus looked to each other, and just as they were both about to open their doors and jump out with guns blazing, there was another boom. An instant later, flames exploded all around the car, and I could see a wall of fire surrounding us in every direction. The whole front hood was burning, and I knew that the roof and everything else on the outside was as well. My eyes widened and I gulped, the feeling of cold dread terror taking hold.
“We’re pinned down,” Dominic snarled, and for a moment, I thought he was going to jump out of the car anyway, even though it would mean running straight into the fire.
“Bianca,” Marcus exclaimed, turning to look at me, though I barely even registered this until he called my new name again, this time much louder. That finally caught my attention, shaking me out of it enough to look at him. “You’ve got to take care of this…”
“Me…?” I started to protest, wondering what I could possibly do about this, when it dawned on me. I knew exactly what he meant. “It won’t work…”
“You have to,” Marcus insisted. “You’re the only chance we have…”
I winced at that, knowing that we were in DEEP trouble if I was our only chance to get out of this. However, I nodded at that, then mentally reached for one of the switches inside my head, for a specific spell that had been permanently grafted to my very being. A moment later, all the runes on my body began to glow with a faint reddish orange light, as did my eyes.
I felt the tingling of power in my right palm, and when I looked, I saw that a new rune had appeared there. It said ‘FIRE’, though it wasn’t written in the primary rune that I’d practiced starting fires with. This was a different rune…in a different language…and I could sense that the power and meaning behind it was much greater.
With this magic unleashed, I could suddenly feel the flames burning all around us. I reached out with this power and pushed the flames away from the side of the car, then I opened the door and climbed out so I had better access to the fire. Though I was still scared, I focused on the fire, knowing that if I didn’t put it out, then we wouldn’t be able to escape.
Several seconds after I’d left the car, I suddenly realized that I wasn’t alone. I looked up and gasped in shock at the sight of an armored figure floating in the air a short distance away. It looked like a man in a suit of red and white power armor, which completely covered his entire body. The right arm from the forearm down looked like some kind of gatling gun while he seemed to have small rocket launchers mounted on both shoulders.
“So, you are the new White Lady,” the armored man announced. “I am Overstrike, and I will be your death.”
For a moment, I just stood there, frozen in terror. It was just like what had happened with the Messenger, all over again. I was too scared to move, to even turn and run.
An instant later, the passenger side door was flung open and Marcus leapt out of the car, not hesitating before shooting at Overstrike. Overstrike just laughed, his armor protecting him from Marcus’ attack.
“Run,” Marcus ordered me, standing his ground and continuing to shoot at Overstrike, trying to provide a distraction if nothing else so that I could escape.
I nodded, but then, it suddenly dawned on me that if I ran, Marcus and Dominic would probably be killed. They were supposed to be my guards, but at that moment, I was the only thing standing between them and death. And though I was terrified out of my wits, there was no way I could let them die without even trying to help.
“No,” I whispered, desperately trying to think of something to do, then realizing that I was already doing it. Then with more energy, I yelled, “NO.”
With that, I held out my right hand and the rune that was glowing in my palm, suddenly appeared in the air in front of my hand. I reached out with my power and all the remaining flames around the car were suddenly pulled towards me, gathering around the burning glyph until I released it, pushing it all at Overstrike. A blast of intense flames shot out at the armored man, washing over him until the flames burned out just seconds later.
I remained standing there, motionless, though this time it wasn’t in fear. My heart raced with excitement. At that moment, I no longer felt weak and helpless. I actually felt powerful and in control. Unfortunately, that didn’t last long at all.
The flames around me where entirely extinguished, which was good because the runes on my body were no longer glowing. I’d used up all the power that had been stored in that built-in spell, and I wouldn’t be able to use it again until it had recharged, which would take a couple hours.
I looked at Overstrike, who’d fallen from the air under that wave of flames, and he looked badly charred. However, it only took me a few seconds to realize that I hadn’t really done nearly as much damage as I’d hoped. In fact, I probably hadn’t done much more than burn off the paint.
“Oh no,” I whispered, feeling the fear return as I desperately tried to think of what I could do. I’d only memorized two runes so far, and I was pretty sure that neither of those would be of any use, even if I could somehow write them on his armor.
“You caught me by surprise,” Overstrike announced, carefully moving his body as though testing to make sure his armor still functioned.
Overstrike raised his arm, the one with the built in gatling gun, but suddenly, there was a flash of light and he staggered backwards. For a moment, the armored figure looked like he might fall to the ground, though he caught his balance and avoided that. Then I noticed that he had a hole, several inches across, melted right into the front of his armor. There was another flash of light, followed by a second hole.
“Eat hot plasma,” Dominic exclaimed, standing on the other side of the car and using his high tech gun to shoot another beam of energy at Overstrike. “I’m definitely gonna have to send Giz-Tech a positive review for this beauty.”
“I’m gonna kill you for that,” Overstrike announced, still not going down.
“You were going to kill us anyway,” Dominic pointed out, firing another shot before his gun began to spark and smoke. “Damn. Overheated…”
That last shot seemed to have tipped the balance, because Overstrike dropped to his knees. A small amount of smoke was coming from one of his shoulders, and his movements seemed a bit jerky. But unfortunately, he still wasn’t down and was already starting to stand up again.
My heart raced and my mind wasn’t far behind. I remembered that I wasn’t completely helpless. I’d already used up the built-in fire spell, but I had four others, even if they probably wouldn’t do much in this situation. I flipped another mental switch, and once again my eyes and runes came to life, this time glowing green.
Suddenly, a figure dropped from the sky and punched Overstrike. The armored figure went flying back from the impact, though I barely paid attention to him. Instead, my attention was locked on the newcomer.
The woman was absolutely gorgeous, with a killer body, big breasts, and long golden blonde hair that was both metallic and glowing. Her costume was a revealing blue and gold spandex outfit, that even had a window cut into the chest in order to show off her cleavage.
“It’s Sensation,” Marcus stated grimly.
Marcus wasn’t the only one to immediately recognize Sensation, the famous local hero and member of the Chicago Crusaders. Actually, it was hard to avoid knowing who she was since she seemed to love the spotlight and always want out of her way to make sure she got as much media attention as possible.
“Overstrike,” Sensation exclaimed, completely ignoring us. “I have you now, evildoer…”
“Evildoer?” I asked Marcus, hardly able to believe that she was actually talking like that. It sounded so…cheesy.
“She’s playing to the crowd,” Dominic responded with a smirk. “And also providing a great distraction.”
With that, the three of us hurried away, leaving Sensation to finish dealing with Overstrike. However, once we were far enough away, I stopped to look back, to stare at Overstrike and remember that brief moment of confidence I’d felt…and the fact that my attack still hadn’t been enough.
Earlier, I’d been angry at my grandmother because she hadn’t lived up to my expectations, because she hadn’t been strong enough to protect my family. But now, I was the White Lady and people were expecting me to be the strong one. But I wasn’t strong. The three of us had almost died because I hadn’t been powerful enough to fight off Overstrike.
I hated my new body and the life that came with it, but I had a responsibility that superseded my own personal feelings. I had an obligation to my extended family, to the people who looked to me as the one to lead and protect them. That meant I had to learn and get stronger.
Chicago, Il, Tuesday, August 2nd, 2016
I was sitting in a comfortable chair with a glass of root beer beside me while the old movie Against All Flags was playing on the TV. I’d always been a fan of old Errol Flynn movies, and this was one of my favorites of his. However, I wasn’t really paying much attention to the movie. Instead, I was focused on the book I was reading.
The book that my ancestor had written was filled with a lot of useful information, and not just on the history of my family legacy and what it allowed me to do. About half the book was filled with magical runes I could learn to use. Most of those were primary runes, but there were also some from other languages but which would be very useful once I learned how to use them.
Along with all the runes, there were also a lot of notes about how to manipulate them and their magical effects. Apparently, I could do things to make them more energy efficient and powerful, or even give some of them a time delay or trigger to make them activate later. However, I still needed to master the basics before I could focus on the fine tuning.
Sitting beside me was a notebook, which I’d spent all morning drawing runes in. I picked it up and flipped through the pages, seeing several runes that I’d drawn over and over while trying to memorize them. I’d found that while practicing my spells, I had a shortcut that let me do so much more efficiently, and without wasting essence. Since I could tell when a rune was drawn right just by looking at it, I could practice drawing the runes over and over, without actually using my essence to test it.
One of the runes that I’d been practicing the most over the last couple days, trying hard to memorize, was one that translated to rust or corrosion. I thought that if I’d been able to draw this rune on Overstrike’s armor, I might have been able to ruin it. Of course, that would have meant getting really close to him and having him stand still while I doodled on him, but I had to start somewhere.
I took a sip of my root beer, then looked over to Dominic, who sat on the other side of the room, watching the movie and the door at the same time. Another one of the Loyal was somewhere outside, keeping an eye on the house from there. I frowned, not exactly thrilled about the idea of so many people going out of their way for me, but I knew better than to protest it.
Marcus was gone at the moment, attending to Family business. Since I’d made him my regent, he had a lot of other things to do and could no longer focus on protecting me, hence Dominic and the other Loyal who have been taking turns. As if I was some little kid who needed a constant babysitter.
Dominic got up and asked, “Would you like anything from the kitchen?”
“I’m good,” I told him. “Thank you.”
Just as Dominic came back with a grilled cheese sandwich for himself, Marcus and Tessa both returned. Tessa hadn’t come for my morning lessons, so this was the first time I saw her today. Her eyes immediately went to the book in my lap and she smiled faintly, apparently pleased to see that I was studying.
“One of our people just finished talking to Overstrike,” Marcus told me without preamble.
That immediately caught my attention. After the fight the other day, Sensation had finished Overstrike off pretty quickly and had dropped him off at jail. Apparently, Dominic and I had done enough damage to his armor that the hero didn’t have to do much to take him down, not that we’d get any credit for that.
According to Tessa, there were a couple local cops who were ‘sympathetic’ to the Family and our needs, and they were going to ‘talk’ to Overstrike about the attack. Specifically, we had a few questions about why he tried to kill me, and they were supposed to get answers from him.
“Let me guess,” Dominic commented in a wry tone. “Scorn hired him.”
“Not exactly,” Marcus said with a scowl. “Carlos…Overstrike’s real name, wasn’t hired by anyone. He’s a relative newcomer and came on his own because he thought that taking down the new White Lady would build his reputation.”
I scowled at that, feeling a knot in my stomach at the idea that some complete stranger would try killing me, for no other reason than because he thought it would make him look tough. “I thought the whole point of this was to make people think twice before coming after me.”
Marcus gave me a pained look. “It is working, but…” He hesitated a moment, then admitted, “Someone put Overstrike up to this. He told our people that he was contacted by an anonymous source, who strongly suggested that if he could take out the new White Lady, he’d prove to everyone that he was ready for the big leagues.”
“One of our enemies made a move against you,” Tessa said with an awkward expression, “and a lot sooner than we expected. However, they didn’t want to risk acting against us directly or having their name tied to it, so they manipulated Overstrike to do it instead.”
“Scorn,” Dominic stated as though this was a simple fact.
“Probably,” Tessa admitted. “But we can’t prove it yet. The truth is, we aren’t even sure if he really wanted Overstrike to succeed…or if this just a test.”
“Probably both,” Marcus stated with an angry expression. He looked at me and explained, “He probably wanted to see what you were capable of, and if you happened to die in the process, so much the better for him.”
“Damn,” I blurted out with a mixture of fear and frustration. I’d agreed to project this whole White Lady persona because I’d been told it would protect me, and it wasn’t working.
I was starting to get worked up, but Marcus put a hand on my shoulder. “This proves that he’s worried about you, and after Overstrike failed, he’ll be cautious about making another move too soon. And if nothing else, I seriously doubt he’ll find anyone else gullible enough to take the job without payment.”
“But you don’t know,” I snapped. “We don’t even know who killed…” Then I stopped, glancing to Dominic and silently reminding myself that he still didn’t know who I really was, or who I had been. “We still don’t know how killed my grandmother.”
“We’ll keep you safe,” Marcus promised me, and I could see from the fierce look in his eyes, that he meant it. “We’ll find out who did this, and we will make them pay. We just need to be patient a little longer.”
I nodded at that, but I was too choked up to really say anything. As it was, I was on the verge of crying again, and I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to be stronger, so I could protect myself against people like Overstrike or the Messenger, and I couldn’t do that if I began crying every time I ran into a problem.
“I need to learn more,” I told Tessa, who nodded agreement.
“We’ll practice more tonight,” she promised me. “And we’ll try to find some spells you can use in a fight.”
“Which reminds me,” Dominic said. I gave him a curious look as he came over. He held out a hand gun and asked, “Do you know how to use one of these?”
I clenched my jaws and nodded, taking the gun from his hands. Without a word, I verified the safety, ejected the clip, and then checked the chamber before reloading it. Then I glanced to Marcus, who was the one who’d taught me how to handle a gun. He nodded faintly in approval.
“I guess you do,” Dominic commented with a grin.
“Which also reminds me,” Tessa added, bringing my attention back to her. “One of MCO power testers owed a significant debt to the Outfit, and today, I bought that debt from them. I’ve notified him that we’ll forget the debt, in exchange for his cooperation and silence.”
I stared at Tessa for a moment and nodded in understanding. “He’d going to give me my power testing and MID.”
Tessa nodded agreement. “You’re scheduled for it tomorrow.”
“Good,” I said with a sigh.
I wasn’t exactly thrilled with the idea of walking into an MCO testing center and going through whatever the testing entailed, but I had to admit, I was definitely curious about my abilities. Mrs. Merchell had told me that I was a mutant and an avatar, and even though I was pretty sure she was telling the truth, I wanted to get a second opinion.