Content warning: Violence, Implied gore, Loss of freedom
“Fuck.” Dragon says, slamming her fist down on the table. “Of course they would know, it was dumb of us to think they wouldn’t find out.”
I glance around the living room of our hideout, most of the windows are boarded up, just a couple letting the early evening light in. I sit on one side of the old, dusty coach, Dragon, in her mask and cloak, like myself, sits next to me, and Chimera, fully transcended, sits on the far end. Across from us, in an old leather armchair, sits Sarah, not transcended or masked. Kitsune stands against the far wall of the room, transcended, watching the rest of us.
“God no.” Chimera mutters. “How did we let this happen?”
“It’s okay Chi, It’s okay.” Dragon says, taking a deep breath and clasping her hands around Chimera’s.
“If they know I… You know. Fuck! What’s going to happen to me?”
“Nothing! Chimera, look at me, nothing! We wouldn’t let them. I promise, nothing is going to happen to you.”
“I just… Just…” Chimera says, zoning out and breathing heavily.
“Now do you understand why I keep some professional distance?” Kitsune asks, her beady eyes narrowing.
“Now isn’t the time for a lecture, Kit.” Dragon says, glancing towards a shaking Chimera.
“Really? Cause I think now is a perfect time.” Kitsune says, her voice carrying a haunting resonance in the old house. “Red has an excuse, her dad joined the Archduke. It sucks, but of course, they were gonna know her identity. You two, on the other hand, have some explaining to do. I’m waiting. Give me an excuse, something good. Something that gives me a reason to think my identity is still safe when I associate with you.”
“Kitsune, we can talk about this lat-” Dragon starts, attempting to give Kitsune an order, Dragon cuts herself off, her voice trailing to sputtering coughs as she grips her throat. Kitsune stares her down, her fingers making a small flicking motion in time with Dragons coughs.
“No, we talk about this now. If anyone tries to say anything unrelated, they’re going to have the same coughing fit. Understand?” Kitsune says, glaring at Dragon and taking a seat in an old wooden chair.
Silence hangs over the room, Kitsune’s eyes darting between Dragon and Chimera. Dragon is glaring back at Kitsune wordlessly challenging her. Chimera is shaking and hugging her knees, staring off into the corner, in her own little world. I glance out of the corner of my eye at Kitsune, almost begging her to end this stand-off. Sarah is the first to open her mouth. Before she can even get a syllable out she starts shaking and coughing, Kitsune glares at her, flicking her fingers.
“You don’t have anything to say here. Stay quiet.” Kitsune says in a monotone voice. Sarah just makes a small whimpering noise and sits back in her chair. Kitsune watches Dragon closely, her Cheshire grin reduced to a small smirk. Dragon glares back, her eyes obscured by the dark blue lenses of her mask. Chimera hasn’t moved, staring off into the corner, it’s almost unnerving.
“Kitsune, I’m sorry, we fucked up. Chimera and I were talking in civilian form an-” Dragon says, only to be cut off again by coughs.
“Wrong answer. You’ve seen each other unmasked? Do you have any idea how fucking risky that is? How can you be so fucking stupid?” Kitsune says, shifting from a sitting position into a crouching position on her chair and drawing her tessen fans.
“We didn’t have a choice, it was an accident.”
“There’s always a choice. You two put our whole operation at risk. Do you not understand how important anonymity is?”
“Of course we do. It was an accident.”
“How do I know it won’t happen again? How do I know it won’t happen with me?”
“Extenuating circumstances. It wouldn’t happen with you. It couldn’t.”
“Why? Extenuating circumstances? Okay, so something that you know for sure can’t happen with me? You two ar-”
“Kitsu-” I say, glaring at her. Before the word even gets out of my mouth I feel something in my throat tighten and my chest constrict, followed by violent bursts of air being expelled from my mouth in a loud coughing noise. I cough three times before losing my desire to talk.
“Quiet.” Kitsune mutters, keeping her eyes locked on Dragon.
I grumble to myself, glaring daggers at Kitsune. I feel heat welling up inside me and my anger bubbling over. The Cinder starts calling to me, begging me to transcend and end this stalemate. I can take her, I know I can. She’s being ridiculous and unfair. Yeah, it sucks that Chimera and Dragon had their identities compromised, but this isn’t all about her. It isn’t their fault.
“Now, let’s see, what could happen that makes it so you’re sure this couldn’t happen with me?” Kitsune says.
“Seriously, you’re going to interrogate me? We’re supposed to be friends.” Dragon says, her voice sounding a little hurt.
“I don’t have friends. I have to know, I’m sorry. If you just tell me, it would be a lot easier.”
“Fine. Don’t use your powers on me, Chimera and I ar-”
Dragon stops talking when I strike Kitsune hard in the face with a high kick, transcending at the same time. She falls backwards out of her chair and rolls to a crouching position on the floor, extending both her fans. By the time she looks for me, I’m already gone. I’m in The Cinder State, floating behind her and readying flame.
“Shit.” Kitsune mumbles, her eyes darting around the room frantically. I hear Dragon let out a small gasp.
“Your power doesn’t work if you can’t-” Dragon starts, her sentence trailing off into coughs and gasps.
“Finish that sentence and I will end you.” Kitsune warns, one fan pointed at Dragon while she keeps frantically looking around the room.
See them? Is that what Dragon was going to say? Her power doesn’t work if she can’t see the target? That would make sense, and that means I have a huge advantage. I’m not going to waste it.
I drop out of The Cinder State and hit Kitsune in the face with a quick strike, letting fire graze her face. I quickly jump back into The Cinder state and fly into the corner of the room. Waiting for her to leave another opening.
“Seriously Red? Why do you give a fuck about this? Is your lady boner for Dragon throbbing that hard?” Kitsune taunts, I oblige and strike her in the face again. She reacts before I can drop back into The Cinder State, my knee buckles when it hits the ground and I feel a fan strike my chest hard, sending me sliding back. I enter The Cinder State again and repeat the process. She got me pretty good, but I got her worse.
“Stop. Both of you.” Dragon says, her voice shaking a little.
“She made her choice. I’m not backing down.” Kitsune says, still glancing around the room.
“If you stop, I’ll tell you why this won’t affect you!”
“But I’m just starting to have fun.”
I go for Kitsune, coming from behind this time. I throw a flame-infused fist at the back of her head, striking true and sending her stumbling forward. Before I can re-enter The Cinder State, I feel my knees go limp and my hands go numb. Kitsune is glaring at me with a gigantic Cheshire smile. I struggle to stand, to use my power, to do anything to retaliate, but I can’t. Every attempt I make is easily countered by her power.
“Seriously dumbass? You don’t think I know everything the regime knows about you? I’m the one who’s been scanning and digging through regime records since before I got my powers. I know enough about you that you’re basically my puppet. I know exactly who you are…” Kitsune starts, walking over to me and places a hand on my shoulder before getting right next to my ear and whispering. “…Rachel.”
Panic grips me as I look up at her, a victorious grin plastered on her vulpine face. She’s beaten me soundly, again. I look at her helpless when I feel something grab me, like an extremely tight cord wrapped around my whole body. I try to move my head and can’t, but I can see Kitsune’s entire body is frozen and glowing bright blue.
I feel the same force pull me back at speed and pin me against the far wall, Kitsune’s body hits the same wall on the opposite side of the window. Chimera is floating towards us, her eyes glowing bright blue and her hands extended. I try to enter the Cinder State, to get any part of myself free of her hold, but I can’t. Even the minuscule amount of movement I need to enter The Cinder State is completely impossible like this.
“Stop.” Chimera orders both of us. Dragon stands up immediately and wraps her right arm around Chimera’s left, giving her a pleading look. Chimera barely acknowledges her. “Kitsune. You want to know how they found out so badly that you’d violate Dragon’s privacy with your powers like that? You really want to know that badly?”
Kitsune doesn’t respond, I doubt she can when Chimera is holding her like that.
“We’re sisters. Dragon and I found out each other’s civilian identities and found out that we’re sisters. We found out because I was in the hospital after Heatstroke nearly killed me. If we hadn’t been sisters, if she hadn’t found me, I probably would have died. Dragon made the connection in the hospital. We shouldn’t have talked about it there, it wasn’t smart, but we were both in shock. Are you fucking happy?” Chimera says in a heavy, monotone voice. She lets us go and we both drop to the floor. A small pause and silence hangs over the room.
“Was that so hard?” Kitsune says with a small wheeze as she feels her face and ribs. She glows blue again as she’s pushed back into the wall. Chimera walks towards her with purpose.
“You have to know everything, don’t you Kit?” Chimera says, letting Kitsune move her head slightly.
“Kinda the point of my powers.”
“We know each other’s identities because I had to jump in front of Sarah to save her. I wouldn’t have had to do that if you would fucking help us on personal missions. But no, you only care about a job if it benefits you, you can’t possibly let yourself get close to someone because that would make you ‘weak’ and ‘dependant.’ Well, you wanna know something Kitsune? You are weak. You are alone. You’re a slave to your solitude, more so than I am to peace, or Phoenix is to rage. If someone exposed you, if they knew all your secrets, you’d be nothing. You’d have nothing. You’d just be a scared little girl who made a choice to isolate herself.”
“Do not fucking blame m-” Kitsune says, stopping short when her tongue glows blue.
“You’re not the only one who can shut someone up.” Chimera says, not moving an inch, but letting Kitsune have her tongue back.
“Fine. If you think that, I’m gone. We’ll see how I do on my own.” Kitsune says. “Unlike you, I know I can survive alone, some jobs are just easier with help. You want me to go? Then I’m out.”
“You agreed to do a job with us tomorrow, you’re going to honor that.”
“You still want me on your side? You still trust me?”
“Not really, but we need you. You need us. You aren’t part of our team, but our arrangement has been beneficial, and it’s going to stay that way.”
“What if I say no?”
“Then you’d be fucking yourself over because you got embarrassed.”
Kitsune glares at Chimera for a few seconds before sighing and climbing to her feet. She starts to head for the door, tucking her fans behind her backplate and very pointedly avoiding the gazes of Dragon and myself, she opens the door and places a hand on the door frame, letting out a heavy sigh and mumbling something to herself.
“Fine. I’ll see you tomorrow.” Kitsune says.
“Good. One more thing.” Chimera says, folding her arms.
Chimera raises a hand and makes a grabbing motion. Kitsune stiffens and her eyes go wide, her smile fading, her breath coming out in a shallow stuttering motion.
“You feel that? That’s your heart? People think my power is all about moving big things, like boulders or battleships, but my power is much more precise, it can grab something as small and specific as the heart or the brain, and all it would take to kill you would be a wave of my hand. If you ever feel like using your powers to fuck with my sister or my friend again, just remember that I can do this, okay?”
Chimera drops her hand and Kitsune takes a deep breath, she quickly closes the door and runs off, launching a zip line from her wrist not far from the hideout. Chimera offers me her hand and I take it, detranscending.
“I’m not going to give you the same lecture, just please, no fighting amongst our few allies? Okay?” Chimera says as if she’s scolding a misbehaving child.
“Fine.” I grumble, returning to my seat next to Dragon.
“I’m sorry about that.” Chimera says, looking at Sarah and exhaling deeply. “We aren’t usually like this, I promise.”
“Uh, no, it’s fine.” Sarah says, glancing around awkwardly. I had almost forgotten she was here, she had gotten out of the way when Kitsune and I started fighting.
“So, Esther Valentin.” Dragon says, almost musing, but trying to call us back to the original topic. “Exodus comes after you, but to warn you instead of attack you. Why?”
“Yeah. It’s weird. Maybe she just sees me as that little of a threat? I’ll prove her wrong if that’s the case.” I say with a shrug.
“No, it’s not… let me bounce something off you for a second.” Dragon says, leaning towards me.
“It’s the opposite, she fears you or fears us? It’s the best I’ve got, I don’t see why else she would just warn you instead of taking you out.” Dragon questions, shrugging for a second.
“Maybe she didn’t want this situation to turn violent?” Sarah suggests, Dragon and I stare at her for a second.
“That’s a very good suggestion!” Chimera says, humoring her. “But Exodus is sort of renown for being a murderer, she’s killed other spirit-touched and whole mundane armies without much of a second thought.”
“Oh. I see.” Sarah says, dropping her head. Dragon perks up, turning towards me.
“She wants to drive a wedge, put doubt in us. She’s sending a message.” Dragon says.
“So, she thought I would leave? Or at least think about it?” I ask.
“No. The opposite, she knew she was gonna reaffirm your desire to be a hero, she mostly just wanted an excuse to kick your ass. Which tells me she was under some sort of order to not kill you, which is strange, to say the least. She calculated this and played it fucking perfectly. She knew I’d overanalyze, she knew Kitsune would turn to isolation and hostility, she knew you’d become determined to get revenge, and she knew Chimera would panic. She wants us to be distrustful and doubting each other when we face her down. She knows we can all move fast, probably faster than she can react with her power, but if we doubt or don’t trust each other completely… that’s when she stands a chance in a four on one fight. She’s good.” Dragon says leaning back. “But I’m better.” Her smile is nearly audible, despite the fact she’s wearing her mask. “She took a gamble that I’d guess her motives wrong, I didn’t.”
“You’re sure?” I ask her.
“Positive. And if I am wrong, what exactly do we lose by reaffirming our faith in each other.”
“Five on one.” Sarah says, looking at Dragon.
“Right.” Chimera says. “Five on one now.”
“You have a point actually.” Dragon says.
She does? I think to myself.
“I do?” Sarah asks.
“Yeah. They probably know your identity, and if not, they’ll probably figure it out, but they don’t know your powers, you’re sort of a wildcard.” Dragon explains.
“But, I don’t even know my own powers.”
“Well, we can figure it out before they do. What do we know so far?”
“I can fly, and phase through walls I guess?”
“Okay, good start, have you tried to do anything else?”
“Not really, I don’t know what to do I guess. How did you find out about all your special powers?”
“I’m kind of a one trick pony.” Chimera says, making a chair float across the room. “My power is essentially an extension of my arms with about one-hundred times the strength. As far as contacting the former Chimeras’, I learned that I could do that from researching past Chimeras. I just have to meditate.”
“My intelligence is always active, but when I’m transcended, all of my powers are obvious. I figured wings would let me fly, my body could handle lifting more weight, my claws and teeth could be used as weapons, and the ice breath was sort of an educated guess. Sorry.” Dragon says.
“The fire was also pretty much second nature to me, making it anyway, controlling it took practice. The Cinder State though, my brother taught me how to do that. Every Flamewake had a special power, and my brother told me that I had to focus, and sort of surrender myself to the influence of The Cinder. You don’t even know who your spirit is, do you?” I ask.
“I… No.” Sarah says, looking down.
“Transcend.” Dragon says “Chimera will help you test them.”
“Okay…” Sarah says as her body is surrounded by green light, her limbs and face quickly become more and more translucent, her clothes seem to transform into a dress made of vines and weeds. A green aura flares to life around her and she appears to float in mid-air. Her body, face, and hair seem to flow and move freely as if she were mist.
Chimera floats to her feet and calls her three-headed whip out of its sheath on her hip. Chimera seldom needs the whip, none of the previous Chimeras have ever used it as their main weapon. It’s only really needed for close combat, but it has a magical property that allows her to briefly paralyze anyone she strikes with it. Chimera reaches out her hand, parts of Sarah start to glow blue, but the mist quickly evaporates or drifts away. Chimera grimaces slightly but then perks up.
“Well, your unique form means it’s incredibly hard for me to grab you or move you with my power. So you have that at least. May I?” Chimera says, extending her right hand with the whip gripped tightly in it.
“Yo-You’re going to whip me?” Sarah says, backing up slightly.
“No, just gonna touch you. I promise.”
“O-okay. Is it gonna hurt?”
“No. It shouldn’t do more than just sting if it will even touch you.”
Chimera passes the heads of her whip gently through Sarah’s body. She doesn’t react, and the whip just hangs limply inside what should be her stomach. Chimera gives the slightest motion of her eyes and the whip heads glow blue, quickly snapping in different directions through Sarah’s body. She screams and floats backwards.
“Are you hurt?” Chimera asks, reaching a hand out towards Sarah.
“No… it just surprised me.” Sarah answers.
Chimera and Dragon exchange a quick glance, Chimera floats over to Sarah and stands in front of her.
“Hit me.” Chimera says, setting her feet gently on the ground.
“What? No, I co-” Sarah starts.
“The third Chimera survived having a small moon thrown at him, the seventh survived the volcanic eruption that destroyed her village, and it took The Archduke, Technician, Oracle, and Exodus to kill the last Chimera. I can take a hit from you, just try.”
“O-okay.” Sarah says, swinging her fist at Chimera, her fist swings straight through Chimera’s chin and dissipates into mist, reforming only when her hand has room to do so.
“Interesting.” Dragon says, walking over to the two and running her own hand along Sarah’s body as it harmlessly passes through her. “Try to make yourself solid.”
“Just will it, tell your body to do it. When I want to lift something, I just will it to move.” Chimera says, moving her whip around herself with her telekinetic powers.
“Okay.” Sarah’s body shimmers slightly and she seems less translucent. She’s still shifting and gaseous, but she seems mildly more solid. Dragon touches her arm and seems to feel resistance, something solid.
“Fascinating. Phoenix, Chimera, you two remember when we fought Voyager?” Dragon asks.
“Yeah…” I grumble out, still feeling bitter over having my ass handed to me by a brand new spirit-touched. Chimera just nods.
“His abilities let him make a shield of electricity that absorbed energy and turned it into fuel for his own power. He had to concentrate and spend power to make that shield. It’s almost the opposite here, Sarah is intangible in her base form and has to spend power to interact with the world around her. So she can’t act upon anything, nor can she be acted upon.” Dragon says while walking around Sarah and inspecting her. “This is just a guess, but, can you turn invisible?”
Sarah concentrates for a few seconds, but nothing happens. She shrugs and looks at Dragon, almost apologetically. Dragon shakes her head and keeps walking around Sarah. Sarah’s powers are strange, to say the least, and the fact that nothing is coming to her naturally is almost making me suspect as to what spirit gave her powers in the first place, especially without any aid.
“We should find out who her benefactor is.” I say.
“Yeah, working on that.” Dragon says, not taking her eyes off Sarah.
“Not yet. I’d need to learn her enhanced aspect, then I can narrow it down. Which leads me to my next question. Sarah, you should feel a little different since getting your powers, do you feel different in any, even the smallest, way?”
Sarah closes her eyes and scrunches her mouth up slightly. So far, Sarah’s been fairly non-offensive. She’s quiet, she stays out of the way, she does as she’s told, and only speaks when spoken to. Maybe it’s the fact that she’s in awe of three superheroes, maybe Kitsune terrified her, maybe she’s just not that type of person when she doesn’t have to live up to a roll like class president. Sarah eventually looks at Dragon with her brow furrowed slightly.
“I’m sorry. I really can’t think of anything.” Sarah says, her voice trailing off.
“Totally okay.” Dragon says, returning to her seat next to me. “Before we get back into our next move, what do we call you?”
“Right, I’ve been thinking. Um… I think I’d like to be called Unicorn.” Sarah says, detranscending and returning to her own seat.
“Unicorn?” I raise my eyebrow.
“If you haven’t noticed, our names kind of have a theme. Dragon is an actual dragon, my powers are fire-based, Chimera has her three-headed whip.”
“Chimera is hardly an actual mythical Chimera, she just has the whip and the legacy to carry on. Why can’t I have the name Unicorn? It fits the mythical creature theme.”
“But it doesn’t fit your powers. Why not Will-o-wisp, or Pixie, or even Ghost?”
“I like unicorns. I rode horses as a kid.”
“Of course you did.”
“And unicorns always seemed really cool. I only get to be a hero once, I only get one name, this is what I want it to be.”
“I think it works.” Chimera says, putting her hand on my shoulder. “Unicorn, it’s very… ‘you’. Besides, I don’t exactly look like a ‘Chimera’, so it’s fine. Your name, your choice.”
“Yeah…” I say, this argument honestly just isn’t worth it.
“Excellent. Unicorn it is. Now, we have a bigger matter to attend to, what do we do now?” Dragon asks, leaning forward to look at all of us.
“What do you mean?” Chimera asks.
“Exodus, the Archduke taking us more seriously, our clock has just been forcibly moved up. We need to strike fast or we’re not going to be able to strike at all.”
“So, what do we do? Attack Exodus head on?”
“No, that’s how we get ourselves killed. We’ve got to strike bigger targets. I’m talking Neogen.” I cut Dragon off.
A silence hangs over the room. Neogen is the largest technological development lab in Oru. It’s Technician’s personal pet project, basically her baby, and the Archduke is extremely protective of its secrets. Nobody’s managed to pull off a heist of Neogen and live. It’s speculated that there is always a spirit-touched on staff for security, not always an a-list spirit-touched, but powers are powers.
“How the fuck are we going to take down Neogen? Even with Kitsune, that’s a hell of a task. If we could even get in, who knows what could be waiting for us in there.” Dragon says.
“Yeah, I know, but it’s THE target. Everyone said we couldn’t take out Heatstroke.” I rebut. Dragon shakes her head.
“This is a different animal entirely. I’m in, but we need proper setup, we can’t go in all guns blazing. We need passwords and schematics at a minimum.”
“Where are we going to ge-”
“I have a suggestion.” Sarah says, her eyes locked on her shoes.
“What?” I ask.
“When I was looking for possible bases for Heatstroke, I found this old base that the resistance overtook during the war with the Archduke. It was Fort McCord, there was some sort of basement room that the resistance was never able to get into, but it’s speculated there was something down there that held a wealth of regime info. It might be a start.”
“Yeah, we know about Fort McCord. Phoenix and I checked it out a few years ago. It still has a pretty active defense system and we don’t really have a way in without triggering the alarm. That much noise is almost guaranteed to draw unwanted attention.” Dragon says.
“I could phase in!” Sarah says.
“No. The turrets would still scan you and the alarm triggers if the door is opened from either end without the code.”
“Well…” I start. “I can call in a favor. Someone I’m pretty sure would know the password, but… he and I don’t really talk anymore. If I’m gonna do this, I need to be sure the base has the info we need.”
“Fort McCord almost certainly will. If we can get into the basement and find what’s down there. I can’t guarantee it will get us into Neogen, but I can guarantee it will give us information that the Archduke doesn’t want us having.” Dragon says.
“So it makes us a bigger target?”
“And it brings us closer to actually winning.”
“Well, guess I’m calling in my favor then…”
“Thank you, Phoenix.”
“Yeah, I’ll talk to you all later.”
With that I grab my small bag and make my way towards the door, the others say their goodbyes and I give a nod as I leave. I’m not looking forward to what I have to do next. I haven’t seen Monolith since I was thirteen. He blames my father, and by extension, my family for the fall of the resistance. Now I have to go crawling to him and beg him to give me the password to a base he used to operate out of as part of that resistance. It might almost be easier to just convince the Archduke to kill himself. I sigh and grumble curses to myself as I get on the bus and make my way to the closest bus stop to the heavily wooded part of old town.
The bus ride takes forty-five minutes and the walk takes another twenty. It’s nearly dark by the time I arrive. Before the bus ride, I change out of my cloak and mask and into a grey hoodie. I push open the gate to his old, abandoned-looking house and see the only light coming from the garage. I approach slowly with my hands in the air, trying to show as much as possible that I’m not a threat.
I find monolith sitting on a bench in his garage, working away busily on an old motorcycle. He’s dressed in a long-sleeved leather jacket, dark blue jeans, and heavy combat boots. His head is bare, shaved. With a small, slightly greying, goatee on his face. He has dark brown eyes and light brown skin. As I approach he looks at me and scoffs, almost like this a joke.
“Rachel fucking Lefue. Didn’t think I’d be seeing you again” He says. I take a deep breath.
“Daryl, please, I need your help.” I say in a half whisper.
“Yeah? This should be good.”