Content Warning: Violence, Mental Illness
The weekend is uneventful. I spend most of it indoors, working on some homework and catching up on some reading. I have a stash of old books I salvaged from before the Archduke took power. They are technically illegal now, but nobody is going to search where I hid them. I have a small compartment under my bed frame, much like the one in my dresser where I keep my cloak, mask, and burner phone, it’s an easy place to store a few books and anything else small that I need to keep hidden.
The snow of last week turned to rain, Oru isn’t exactly the coldest place in the world and snow never sticks around for too long. The sky has been grey all weekend and even when it isn’t raining, the ground is soaked. I thought a lot about my father over the weekend, I’m at peace with what I did, and I think I’m ready to let go. I feel more peaceful, I feel a steady presence of cool relief. Getting revenge has been my goal since I was twelve, now I feel free. I actually did it.
And I have no idea what to do now. When you achieve the only goal you’ve had for years, you’re elated, for a few minutes, then you just feel sort of lost. I haven’t decided if I still want to be a superhero, if I want to hide in plain sight, or if I want to just disappear and try to live on my own in the wilderness.
Now Monday is here, and I feel a knot of an anxiety in my stomach. I’ve missed the past two days of school, both of the absences were unexcused. I have a few pangs of anxiety at the realization that someone could connect my absences with the Oru Vigilantes taking out Heatstroke, but that happened on Friday, and I missed Thursday too. More than likely, they would just think I was sick. To be honest, I do look a little sick.
I was shot just four days ago and got a nasty concussion on the same day. I’ve felt weak and tired, my whole body aches, and It’s been all I can do to just stay awake, eat, and do my homework. I’ve barely left my room all weekend, and I’m honestly not sure I should go back to school today, but I have to try.
I get out of bed, shower, change my bandages, and get dressed in my uniform. I don’t usually wear my hair over my shoulder, but I need to today to hide the stitches in my neck. Dragon told me that she can take them out in about a week, and hiding them until then is going to be difficult. Explaining them would be more difficult though, so I guess I should count my blessings.
I go to my classes for the day and am relieved that, with the exception of Mr. Knot, my math teacher, nobody even asks me about my absence. I’m generally a good student, and I turn in the work that was due today, so I guess they just trust me. Seeing Sarah in class was strange. It’s astounding, and a little horrifying to think that she has powers now. I don’t know what they are, aside from flight obviously, but it’s strange to think that a Spirit would decide to bless her with powers. I can’t tell what her enhanced aspect is, so either she’s good at hiding it or it meshes so well with her personality that it barely affects her. She keeps stealing glances at me, I wonder if she knows.
I really hope she doesn’t.
Today was draining on me, at least physically, but if I spend another large chunk of time in my room, I’m going to go crazy. I go back to my dorm to grab a few things and put my backpack down. I decide it would be wise to check my burner phone and see a text from Dragon.
Dragon: hey i don’t know if u want to talk to me right now
Dragon: i hate how we left things
Dragon: can we please meet up and talk
It’s heartfelt, despite the lack of care she put into the text. I don’t think she would even consider texting any other way. I honestly don’t know what I want to do. I didn’t know this weekend, I didn’t know this morning, and I don’t know now. I tuck the burner phone back into the hidden compartment and grab a jacket and a small bag. I need coffee, and I need a walk to clear my head.
One good thing about Oru is that it’s efficient. The buses run on time, the streets are always clean, and the coffee is always hot. If you ignore the bombed out and broken sections of Old Town, which Oru was basically built over, it looks like a utopian city. As much as I want to burn Oru to the ground, I’m grateful for the high-quality coffee shop a few blocks from campus.
The walk to the coffee shop is peaceful, serene almost. It’s cold out, the sun is getting lower, and the winter air isn’t exactly warm to begin with. I was always alright with the cold. Having fire superpowers, most people would probably assume the opposite is true, but winter is my favorite season. My core temperature runs a little bit higher than an average person, and the cold air, while not exactly comfortable, is a hell of a lot more manageable than a one-hundred plus degree day. It also helps that my birthday is in December. With Christmas and my birthday happening in the same month, and my family being as rich as they were, I’m bound to have positive nostalgia around Winter.
I get to the coffee shop, it’s mostly quiet, just a few people around. An older man in a suit with a little girl, his daughter presumably, is sitting at a corner table. A few boys from my school are crowded around a table by the window, they’ve pulled chairs from other tables so all seven of them can sit at the same table for four. A mousy, fair-skinned, teenage girl with glasses and long, curly, chestnut brown hair sits in the opposite corner from the man and his daughter. She’s sipping on a coffee and looking at her phone. She’s dressed nicely and her phone looks expensive. She’s probably quite well-off, meaning her family aligns themselves pretty closely with the Archduke. I can’t shake the feeling that I recognize her as I put a few credits into the ordering kiosk and place the order for my plain black coffee. I stand by the kiosk, grabbing a few packets of sugar and a small pod of cream, as I watch the one human worker in the shop make sure the machinery is working correctly. After a few minutes, my coffee is up and the order number displays on the screen.
I grab my coffee and make my way towards the exit, the teenage girl stands up as I pass by her and extends a hand, gripping my lower arm, the one that took a bullet, hard. I try my best not to react, and I do a passable job, but my hands start to shake and I let out a small groan of pain. She seems to smirk, almost like I confirmed something for her. She lets go of my arm, grabs her purse and follows me outside.
I look back at the girl, raising an eyebrow at her. She follows closely, but not close enough to look suspicious to an onlooker. That’s when I realize why I recognize her. She’s Esther fucking Valentin. Esther is the youngest daughter of the Archduke, she’s spirit-touched and calls her alternate form Exodus. Her older sister, Ruth, is known as Genesis and the two of them are sort of seen as a package deal.
Genesis has the power to raise the dead, she can use the risen corpses as warriors or servants. She’s not much for hand to hand combat, although she is spirit-touched, so she has physical prowess far exceeding a human, but she’s nearly unstoppable with a horde. The most terrifying part is that when she reanimates a spirit-touched, they retain their powers. If she even has one, fighting her alone is suicide.
Where her sister operates from the background and shadows, relying on others to attack for her, Exodus can fight from almost anywhere, and only needs to rely on herself. Exodus has the power to destroy anything. It doesn’t matter what, she can flatten buildings, vaporize city blocks, and turn people to dust. Her power works on spirit-touched the same way it does on mundane, turning them to nothing but dust within seconds. She can fire this power as a focused beam, a wide spray, or just a strike with her hand or foot, the result is always the same, total annihilation. She usually fights from a range, because nobody is dumb enough to get close to her, but she’s also an expert in Krav Maga. Trying to survive against her, with her power, along with her expertise, is nearly impossible. Getting close to her isn’t any easier than fighting her from afar.
She’s also, in a word, unhinged. She has a kill count higher than some countries militaries. She kills people and destroys important buildings with reckless abandon, I don’t even think she’s capable of seeing people as anything but tools or obstacles at this point. She’s been known to enjoy, even relish in destroying people and lives. It’s almost like she lives for it, and she’s right behind me, smirking to herself.
Esther gets closer to me, as I turn a corner, she picks up speed and is nearly directly behind me. I groan, this isn’t going to end well, and I need a way out of this fast. Otherwise, I’m going to be cornered by a psychopath who would be all to happy to turn me to dust within an instant.
I throw a quick strike with my good arm, dropping my coffee a fluid motion, in time with the turn I make. She puts both her arms up to block it. She strikes me in the face twice with her left and follows up with the right. Before I can get more offense in, she slaps a hand on the back of my head and forces it lower, throwing a few quick punches at the base of my neck. She knees me in the temple and I stumble backward as she holds me right where she wants me. Her other leg strikes the back of my right leg, knocking me off balance as she drives another knee into my temple. She gives me a few quick strikes to the head, which I move to block, she switches to body blows almost instantly. She hooks her left leg behind my right, kicking hard and forcing me to fall to the ground while she stands firm. I hit my head on the pavement, aggravating my already bad concussion. I feel a boot press against my throat and look up at Esther.
“You give?” She asks, with dead eyes and a monotone voice. I just nod in reply.
“Good. Then we talk.” She says with a smug smile, extending a hand to help me up. I don’t take it, standing up on my own power.
“Please. I don’t know you…” I stammer out.
“Oh please, everyone knows exactly who I am.”
“Fine. You’re Esther Valentin, what about it? What do you want with me.”
“You’re Rachel LeFue. What don’t I want with you, Phoenix?” She lets the word Phoenix hang in the air, drawing it out for effect. I stammer back, it was a joke. Of course, it was all a joke. The Archduke knew exactly who I was the whole fucking time. He could have taken me out any time he wanted, but he let me get my small revenge, and then sends daddy’s little psycho after me.
“Yeah, we know exactly who you are.” Esther says with a devilish grin. “Dragon and Chimera too. That’s much more interesting actually. Would you believe they’re actually related? What are the odds? And we’re working on figuring out Kitsune’s identity, but she’s not really part of your team, is she?”
“I don’t know what you’r-” I say.
“Shut up.” She orders me, pressing me hard against a nearby stone wall. “If I wanted to, if I really, really, wanted to, I could turn you to dust in a matter of seconds.”
“Fine. You know I’m Phoenix. Congratu-fucking-lations, what’s the point of stalking me? I guess I must be getting quite the fanbase.”
“Hardly. We haven’t come after you yet, because you’ve been that little of a problem. However, you just killed one of my father’s generals. That little thorn in our side, it’s becoming a lot bigger. If it becomes too big, we’ll have to remove it. You understand? Walk away, Rachel LeFeu.”
“I don’t take orders. Least of all from some privileged little princess wh-”
She cuts me off, punching me in the nose, hard. I feel blood trickle down and into my mouth as she shakes her fist gently. She could have hit me harder, made me suffer worse, and we both know it. She elected not to out of a sheer desire to send a message. She controls this situation, and I’m at her mercy.
“Don’t call me a princess.” She says, her voice practically dripping with malice. “You think you’re the only one who was born spirit-touched? I’m stronger, I’m smarter, and I’m more adept with my powers than you. You will quit if you know what’s good for you. Your friends are going to die. Chimera has a hero complex, and Dragon’s too proud to know when she’s beaten. But, you’re a smart girl. You could just walk away. I assure you, being turned to dust is a quick death, but it’s a lot more painful than it sounds.”
“Fuck you…” I mutter. “You wanna go, the three of us against you, just name the time and place, princess.”
Her brow furrows as her smug smile turns into a frown. I assume a fighting stance. She raises her hands and starts on the offensive, jabbing at me, then kicking low with her right leg, and high with her left. I manage to block and get out of the way, for all the good that’s doing. I strike at her, she blocks easily and almost locks me into a loose armbar before I slip away, not taking my eyes off her. I kick with my right, the same time she does with her left and we cross legs. She gets closer to me, faking a few jabs before trying the real ones, I block them. She tries another hold and I slip away. She kicks high and grazes me, forcing me to back up farther. She strikes high, I block it, but she kicks me in the shin at the same time she drops to the ground. I try to strike her while she’s low and she grabs my arm hard. I try to slip away, but she pulls me down to a sitting position by the leg and quickly wraps her arms around me.
I try, desperately, to clasp my arm around her head, to take advantage of whatever opening I can and take control of her. She is able to anticipate me going for the hold and brings both her hands up to open-hand strike me in the back of the head, I gasp in pain and let go. She brings one arm around my neck, then the other. She uses her superior strength to pull me from the sitting position into a choke hold. Totally prone and at her mercy. I tap weakly on the concrete, she keeps the hold locked in for a few moments afterward for emphasis. She stands up quickly, and I just lay there, struggling to stand.
I hear her laughing as I try to stagger to my feet. As I’m supporting myself on my knees and forearms, she comes over and kicks me in the gut like a punter would a dropkick. I howl in pain as I collapse to the ground again, still and unmoving. I glance up at her, tears in my eyes from the pain. My vision is blurry from a mix of tears and the fact that my glasses are lying a few feet away on the pavement. She’s laughing even harder, watching my body tremble in pain.
“Hahaha, oh my God, you stupid fucking…” She starts, taking a break to laugh. “Seriously, you try to fight? Against me? After one of our agents shot you? Are you fucking dense? Even if I hadn’t studied your fighting style extensively, this is a fight I win ten times out of ten.”
“Don’t ever be that goddamn stupid again.” She says, adopting a more serious tone. “The next time, I won’t hesitate to kill you. I’m better than you Rachel, never fucking forget that. Quit. Stop being Phoenix, stop whatever it is you hope to accomplish, just leave this all behind. Or I’ll make you regret it. Fucking listen to me, Rachel. You don’t need to die like your friends. My father and I are not to be fucked with.”
With that, she leaves me. I lay on the ground for a while, just shaking and feeling the pain wash over me. By the time I get up, it’s already dark. Laying on the ground in pain was a terrible experience, but it reassured me of something. I know what I have to do. I walk, more accurately limp, back to my dorm room and grab the phone from its hiding spot. I quickly open up the messaging app and send a text to Dragon and Chimera.
Me: Okay, I’m in this for the long haul. I’m recommitting. If we’re gonna do this, we’re gonna do this together. We’re a team, and I’m with you both until the end. Let’s meet up tomorrow and talk. Some things went down today.
Chimera: 🙂 Love you Phe
Dragon: im glad see u tomorrow.
I put the phone back in it’s hiding place and look up at the ceiling. If she wants a fight, she’s going to fucking get it. Exodus is strong, she’s going to be difficult to beat, but I’m strong too. With Chimera and Dragon, we’re stronger than she is. I’m not watching this from the sidelines, and if I’m going down, I’m going down fighting.
I’m not done yet, not even close.