Session 1, Chapter 5 – Confrontation

Content Warning: Death, Graphic Violence.

I glare at my father and his guards angrily, he set us up and now he has us cornered. These guards can’t do a thing to us, but I doubt he cares as long as they slow us down and hurt us at least a bit. He’s an intimidating figure, standing just a few inches under seven feet tall and weighing over three-hundred pounds of solid muscle. He wears a black mask over most of his face, with dark red goggles covering his eyes of flame. His lower face is exposed leaving his mouth and beard, a mix of hair, ash, and embers, visible. His chest is covered by black plate armor, as well as his arms and legs. He has spiked boots and gloves. A red aura surrounds his black armor. He resembles some sort of dark knight from a fairy tale or video game.

I don’t waste a second, leaping on a jet of flame towards Heatstroke, flying over the guards. I create a whip of fire in my right hand while launching a knee-height wave of flame out on impact with the ground. The flame sends a few guards back, but Heatstroke makes it disappear as it reaches him. As for the whip, Heatstroke reaches an arm to block it, and the flame slowly turns from red to black. I drop it as the fire disappears, using my enhanced agility to backflip once, just making separation.

“Phoenix, wai- shit. Chimera, can you get the-” Dragon starts.

“On it.” Chimera cuts her off, using her telekinetic energy to throw a few guards around the room like ragdolls.

“You’ve gotten better. Unfortunately for you, so have I.” Heatstroke says, disappearing in a few embers. He’s using his special power, the ability to teleport through flame.

He can teleport through flame, but I can bend it. I grab all the fire from torches and lanterns around the room, forming it into a small ball of red flame. It’s the only place he can come back through, and I’m content with that. I watch Dragon and Chimera, fighting effortlessly against the armed guards, a few of them start to give up and race towards the exit on the left side of the room. I channel the flame in my hand and launch it like a whip towards the door, making sure I can pull it back.

“Phoenix no!” Dragon yells, extending a claw towards me.

My whip of flame strikes the side of the wall, colliding with a viscous black liquid that I hadn’t noticed until the second before I hit it. Chimera and I gasp simultaneously as the room is covered in bright red light and heat.

Chimera was able to act a second before I was, covering herself, Dragon, and I in a shield of blue light. I try to take some of the strain off of her, commanding the fire to flow over the shield like water instead of trying to push through.

Gasoline. God dammit, of course. He coated the floor and walls in a thick layer of gasoline. I took his bait, and now the entire room is covered in hot red flame. The guards and soldiers in the room were turned to ash by the blast, which eliminated one problem and replaced it with a new one. With Heatstroke’s ability to teleport through flame, he could be literally anywhere in this room. I try to lift the fire, to pull it away and make clear spaces, but it can spread faster than I can move it.

“It’s okay, let me ju-” Chimera starts. She is suddenly cut off when a black-clad fist clamps around her throat as a hulking masculine figure lifts her into the air. She puts her hands on the man’s arm, fighting desperately to get out of his grip, but he doesn’t budge.

Heatstroke chuckles as my teammate fights desperately against him. I charge him, but he’s able to see me coming as he easily uses my own momentum against me and throws me into Dragon. My concussed head hits hard against her nearly unbreakable scales as she lets out a low grunt and hisses softly.

“God. I fucking hate telepaths. It’s an obnoxious powerset.” He starts. “I’ve fought with and against other, better Chimeras in the past, you’re nothing special. You’re just a kid, and you’re in way over your head.”

Embers come from Heatstroke’s hand, trying to burn through the neck of Chimera’s costume as her choking sounds get more desperate and panicked. I struggle to stand, but I can’t. She starts coughing, choking, and I can see tears in her eyes.

“Remember this, Spirit pick your next host far, far away from Oru.” He says as he pushes even tighter against her throat. She’s going to die. She’s going to die, and it’s all my fucking fault.

Chimera’s eyes flash deep blue as she lets go of his arms, Heatstroke starts to glow the same blue colors as his head tilts slowly. His hand is blown back with force, dropping her, though she stays floating in place. Chimera throws him into the wall with a wave of her hand, holding him there, trying to push him deeper into the burning wood. He tries to fight, tries to teleport, but his body is immobile and entirely at her mercy.

Chimera lands on the ground as a wave of blue light surges from her body and washes over the entire room, extinguishing all of the flames and leaving just scorched wood, without so much as embers. She’s not finished with Heatstroke. She warps the wood of the wall, his body sinking into it, it piles onto him as more of his body starts to vanish beneath the wood. She’s pulling wood from other walls and floors in the building, creating a makeshift prison. Within a few moments, the only thing visible is his head, trapped in place by scorched, blackened wood.

“First, I’m telekinetic, not a telepath. Yeah, you’ve fought with and against other Chimera’s multiple times, which means you’ve fought me multiple times. I remember every second, every fire blast, and every single breath you took. I am Chimera, every single incarnation of them, and I know everything they knew. Underestimate me at your own peril, but I’m much stronger, much smarter, and much more experienced than you. I’m not leaving Oru anytime soon. I’m The Chimera, people treat me like a God for a reason. If you need another reminder, I’ll gladly provide one.” Chimera says, her voice carries an unusual worldliness. She’s speaking as if she is a millennia-old entity who’s fought in countless wars and not a fifteen or sixteen-year-old girl who started this superhero gig four months ago. Her eyes still glow bright blue as she exerts her power on him to hold him as tightly in place as possible.

Dragon and I slowly get to our feet, Dragon supporting me with her superior strength. It’s hard to tell with her reptilian eyes, but Dragon looks afraid. Her eyes dart quickly around the room as she looks Chimera up and down.

“Holy shit.” Dragon mumbles.

“What?” I ask.

“Nothing, we’ll deal with it later. I have questions for Chimera, a lot of them.”

Chimera suddenly drops, her eyes returning to normal and closing gently. Dragon manages to catch her before she impacts the ground too hard. She doesn’t detranscend, but she’s out cold. It’s not a big deal, Dragon and I can take it from here. We walk towards Heatstroke, encased in solid wood. I lean against the wall and glare at him.

“Finally, you’re going to pay.” I spit, my anger boiling over as I spew light flame from my fists.

“If you say so.” He says with a small smirk.

I ignite a bolt of fire in my hand, sending it into his face. He groans slightly as I reach back and grab more flame. I hit him with another strike of flame, then another, then another. I see his face and mask left with scorch marks and embers. He’s going to pay! I’m going to have my revenge! Fuck this monster and everything he did. I’m going to make him feel every bit of pain he’s made me feel.

Dragon grabs me, holding me back. I glare at her, ready to explode on her for trying to stop me. Until I realize why. Around my father is a ring of burning fire in the old wooden wall prison that Chimera trapped him in. I curse under my breath as my father disappears. I’m so fucking stupid.

I fucked up, badly. Heatstroke appears next to me, teleporting through the fire I had created. I catch a swift, hard kick to the jaw, feeling the metal of the boot impact the metal of my mask. I go flying into a wall and impact it hard.

Dragon was ready, she pounces on him without a second thought. She bites into his neck, one of the weaker areas of his armor, hard but can’t break through. She tries a new tactic, throwing him against a wall and pinning him there with her tail. It’s a testament to Dragon’s pure strength that he struggles to break through. My father, especially transcended, is not a weak man.

Heatstroke fights back, sending a jet of flame right between Dragon’s wings. She moves her tail and lets him up. Heatstroke wastes no time, peppering her with more fire. Dragon moves in close, rather than backing off to avoid the flame, and slashes at his face, leaving three bright, red, slash marks across it.

I’m back up as quickly as I can be, sending a strong kick into him and infusing it with flame. Dragon and I double team him, quickly exchanging blasts of heat and cold. My father trained me in Běishàolín and how to work my fire blasts into it. In a straight up, one on one fight with strict Běishàolín, he would probably win. Dragon isn’t a trained fighter but knows how to use her gifts. I use strikes, quick jabs, low sweeps, and very brief holds, all infused with flame. Dragon, on the other hand, utilizes bites, scratches, tail sweeps and ice breath to keep my father from being able to reverse what I’m doing.

Heatstroke takes it for a while, reversing strikes that would knock him down or hit vital organs, but not striking back with any real force. Dragon pauses for a second to consider it, before pulling on my arm. I hold back when she orders me, but don’t let my father out of my sight.

“Wood.” Dragon says. That’s all I need to hear to get her meaning, I glance around the room and see flames peppering the walls and supports of the building. I thought he had been blocking some of the flame in my strikes and sending them off, but he was sending them into walls. The walls of a wooden building.

I don’t even get a chance to process it before he does it, Heatstroke brings down the ceiling above me, sending a jet of black flame and wood into Dragon and I. I feel planks try to pierce my armor, before getting deflected. Fire washes over me, as I struggle to get back to my feet. Fuck this! I gather the fire around me before it disperses and use it as a jet. I launch into Heatstroke, hitting him with my shoulder. We break through a wall together.

I call on two blades of flame, slashing across his chest once, twice, three times. I growl under my breath as I call the swords off. I strike towards his face, extending my fist upwards, but he blocks, sending his own wave of black flame into my stomach. I lock eyes with him as he stands up.

“Good, good. You’re improving marvelously quickly.” Heatstroke taunts. I snarl under my breath. I call more flame, sending out quick strikes and jabs, my father is on the defensive, block and deflecting.

“Fight me fucker!” I hiss, slightly out of breath.

“Like I fought your brother?”

I unload on him. Jet after jet of searing flame. I throw my hands together and call a torrent on him. He raises his arms to block it, but my flame is stronger, hotter, and pushes him down into the floor. I scream as my flame grows, reaching a peak. I enter The Cinder State, flying behind him and gripping his neck, calling heat to my hands and burning into the armor of his neck.

“Stop!” Dragon yells, following after me.

“What!?” I hiss, not letting go as my father struggles in my grip.

“He’s stalling. He has more power in reserve than you.”

Heatstroke quickly disappears, vanishing into flame. I glare at Dragon, she’s right. I was stupid for not realizing it.

“What do we do then?” I mumble, watching the flames around the room carefully.

“Fight together, he wants to keep us separated, expend our powers.”

“Is Chimera up?”

“Almost, come on, stick together. Anger is your tool, not the other way around.”

I follow Dragon back into the room where Chimera is laying, she’s getting up slowly and breathing heavily. Dragon offers her a hand, and she takes it, leaning against Dragon as she stands gingerly.

“Where?” Chimera mumbles breathlessly.

“He’s in the process of teleporting.” Dragon says. “Come on, you’re hurt, rest.”

“No, let’s end this. Now.” Chimera says, nodding to me. I nod back.

Our quiet conversation is broken by a searing bolt of black fire, aimed right at Chimera’s head. I leap toward it and catch it, turning it red in my hand as I cast it back at my father, standing by a flaming wall in the next room. Dragon, Chimera, and I stand in line, showing a united front. My father looks us up and down, seemingly bored. Then, a bullet deflects off of his shoulder pad. Part of the wall to his right has fallen away, and the same girl in a bike helmet is pointing her scavenged pistol at him, Sarah.

He turns towards Sarah and points his fist, charging a bolt of fire within a few seconds and firing it at her. Chimera and I both move within a fraction of a second. She moves toward Sarah, and I move towards him. Sarah’s a distraction, and she’s putting herself at risk. If she wants to commit suicide by supervillain, fucking let her.

I strike Heatstroke hard in the back with as much force as I can muster. Slamming my fist, infused with as much flame as possible, into him. I pierce his armor, melting a hole in it and hear a sickening snap as my father falls over, writing on the ground. He tries to stand, but his legs won’t cooperate. I see a pulsing, red, bit of spine crumble away to ash in my hands.

I glance out of the corner of my eye, watching the bolt of flame heading towards Sarah. She looks at it like a deer in the headlights. Chimera, ever the superhero, flies in front of it. I watch both of them disappear behind a fireball. When it clears, Chimera is smoking, her costume is scorched from head to toe, her white cape and blonde hair are both on smoldering. Chimera lets out a shuddering breath, her eyes fight to close as she stands there, breathing heavily.

“I… uh… thank you.” Sarah says.

“Leave.” Chimera mutters, her voice is weak and low. She’s barely breathing, and I can’t imagine how badly burned she is. Chimera has struggled with things like fire, water, or electricity in the past, but she had to be able to deflect some of it. She would have been entirely turned to ash otherwise.

“Fuck…” Chimera mutters as her knees give out and she collapses.

My attention goes back to my father. He’s laying on the ground in agony. I feel my fist, still searing hot and glowing red.

“Dragon, fires.” I order her. Dragon spreads ice cold air around the rooms and extinguishes all the fires in the immediate area. Dragon grabs my shoulder, I shrug it off.

“Let’s go. We can restrai-” She starts.

“No. He dies.” I respond in a monotone voice. “Now you pay. You pay for everything you did.” I turn my focus to Heatstroke.

I start to gather fire around me, clinging to my costume and body. I glare at my father with hatred.

“You ruined my life, you ruined this whole fucking world.” I scream at him, if my eyes weren’t made of my fire, I’d be holding back tears. “You killed my brother, my mom, my whole fucking family. You took my father away from me, you took my best friend away for me. I hate you!”

“Phoenix…” Dragon says softly.

“I hope you suffer. I hope you feel every inch of you being burned to ash. I’m going to enjoy and relish this moment for the rest of my life. Leaving me alive was your biggest mistake, I was always going to come back, I was always going to get revenge. You’re going to die at my hands, alone. No guards, no Archduke, no family. I hope you’re happy with your choice.”

A small black fluid leaks out of my father’s spine, Dragon goes to examine it, careful not to actually touch it.

“What the… Phoenix! Sto-!” Dragon says.

“Ra- Rach-” Heatstroke starts, I make the fire around me hiss, crackle, and scream, cutting him off.

“Phoenix! The building is going t-” Dragon starts. I use the fire around my body and hands to make a giant ball of fire, I twist it, forming into an avian shape. I throw the full blazing force down on his prone body, engulfing it and turning him to ash in a matter of seconds. Flame washes over the floor and walls of the building. I did it! I got my fucking revenge! I don’t feel better exactly, not yet, it barely feels real. I feel free, I feel like a burden of grief has been lifted. Killing Heatstroke won’t bring my family back, but avenging them is about as good as I could hope for. I look at the ashes that were his body and shoot one more jet of flame at them.

I hear a loud screech and creak as I feel the ground beneath my feet start to fall. Almost instinctively I ignite my wings, and Dragon’s wings hold her up without the slightest effort. Unconscious Chimera and Sarah, on the other hand, don’t stand as much of a chance. I swoop down quickly, grabbing Chimera in my arms. I don’t have an angle to catch both of them, and I owe, and sort of like Chimera, neither of those things are true of Sarah.

As I hold Chimera against my chest, Dragon dives past me, pursuing Sarah. She’s getting close, but not quite close enough. Sarah is falling faster than Dragon’s bulky body can fly with all this debris. Everytime Dragon gains on her, she seems to be struck by an errant plank or old machinery.

I look down, as much as I don’t like Sarah, and as dumb as I think she is, I don’t honestly want her to die this way. I float there, slack-jawed, as a bright, green, light surrounds Sarah. She freezes in mid-air and Dragon has to cover her eyes with her claws as she dives past the light. Suddenly, where Sarah was floating, is now a wispy, ghost-like figure surrounded by a faint green aura. She doesn’t have wings but seems to float almost like its second nature. Her face is cherubic, but wispy and almost-gaseous, like the rest of her. She has no mask, but her face changes so constantly, she doesn’t need it. Dragon shoots me a confused look, one I give right back beneath my mask.

“Sarah?” Dragon asks.

“Um… I… yes.” she says, her voice echoes slightly and seems to carry on the wind.

“Come on. We can talk somewhere else. We really don’t want other people showing up. You seem to have a basic handle on flying. Follow us.” Dragon orders, I roll my eyes and grumble to myself. We had long talked about adding a fourth teammate, but this is far from the person I had in mind.

Within two or three minutes, we’re over an old rooftop in a slightly run-down part of Oru. I land first, setting Chimera down gently. Dragon isn’t far behind, landing next to me in a huff. Sarah finds us a few minutes after.

“Do we need to have a conversation?” Dragon asks me, her voice has no hint of humor or levity to it.

“What about?” I ask.

“Goddammit Phoenix. You know I respect and care for you, but… fuck. Sometimes you make it really hard to excuse your actions.”

“Fuck off.”

I roll my eyes hard. Seriously? This? Now? After what we just did? After our greatest victory we’ve ever had as a team?

“Look. We got out okay, sure. But it could have been much worse. We had Heatstroke, you let him free.” She scolds me.

“I made up for it.” I insist.

“You used fire, recklessly in a wooden building. You burned him and the building to ash when he was defenseless. Not to mention the-”

“He was defenseless? Are you fucking serious? Like he wouldn’t have done the exact same thing if we were in his position? He was a monster, and he deserved to die. I won’t feel bad about it.”

“I’m not saying you should, but you could have hurt people. Sarah would have died if spirits didn’t work in such weird fucking ways. You could have hurt bystanders if we didn’t get them out. You’re reckless.”

“Would you ask a wildfire to burn a little colder? Would you ask a house fire to spare your bedroom? I am what I am. I am rage, I am fire. You get what you get. You need to accept that.”

“You aren’t your rage Phoenix. You control it. You can be so much more if you just-”

“For fuck’s sake!” Chimera chokes out, coughing heavily as she sits up. Dragon and I both stare at her. “Are you fucking kidding me? Right now, after everything that just happened, you two are still arguing?”

“Chimera, we need to talk about this. Actions have cons-” Dragon starts.

“Yeah! Actions have consequences, fine! Whatever! This conversation needs to happen behind closed doors! I think we have more pressing issues to discuss.” She says, we all look at Sarah, who has been trying her best to make it seem like she isn’t here.

“Fuck this noise. Do what you want with her. I don’t even know if I want to be a part of this team anymore.” I spit, walking towards the edge.

“You don’t mean that.” Dragon says, a bit of disbelief in her voice.

“Fucking try me. I’ll see you around. I could care less what you do with the soon-to-be-corpse. You want me on your side, accept me for what the fuck I am.”

“Phoenix…”

“Bite me.”

I ignite my wings and fly off. I don’t know if they’ll recruit Sarah or not, ultimately, it doesn’t matter. I’m not sure why I’m still here. My six-year long mission is over. I could retire, I could manage in a comfortable, if not fun, life. I want to stop the Archduke, sure, but this has been all I’ve wanted for so long. Now I have it, and I almost feel like I don’t know what to do. Something is keeping me here. Maybe it’s my nature, being a Flamewake means I have to be a “hero,” whatever that means. Maybe I just want to spend more time with them… with her. Fuck, I don’t know.

Within five minutes, I’m detranscended and back into my bed in my dorm. I’ll catch hell for missing all the school did, but it’s beyond worth it. Walking the few blocks to get here was a chore. I wasn’t feeling great at the start of the day and participating in a fight didn’t help my injuries at all. I grab the small bottle of Vicodin that Dragon gave me and pop a pill into my mouth. I can afford to relax here, at least for a few hours.

Before I try to rest, there’s one thing I have to do. I go to my desk drawer and retrieve a small photograph from it. A nine-year-old girl stands with a hulking, bearded man. They’re at an amusement park. It’s crowded, the girl holds cotton candy in one of her hands while the man makes rabbit ears above her head.

My father and I, this was one of my best days and best memories with him. There was a lot of anger in our house, emotions ran high. We never hurt each other, but with all of us having the tempers that we did, we needed ways to cool off and unwind. The amusement park was one of the ways my dad and I would do that. I can hardly believe that this is the same man I had to kill today.

I had gotten rid of most pictures of my dad, destroyed them. This one I hung onto, maybe out of hope, or of nostalgia, maybe as a trophy for when I finally won, but it’s time to let it go.

I pull a small red lighter from my desk and place the edge of it against the photo. I pause for only a second before I strike my thumb against the lighter and slowly start to burn the photo. I look one last time into the eyes of my father, the smiling man who loved his daughter, and myself, the happy little nine-year-old who wanted nothing more than to spend the day with her dad.

But I guess both of those people are dead now.

Session 1, Chapter 4 – Recovery

Content Warning: Violence, Death, PTSD, Panic Attacks.

The next thing I feel is searing pain rock through my body. I feel heat in my brain, like a force trying to claw its way through. It’s tearing my brain apart, rearranging it and changing it into something different. My vision goes from black to white, like an intense light just came on and every nerve in my body comes alive. It feels like needles and blades stabbing into every inch of me, it’s almost unbearable. Then I feel it. Fire.

My whole body is on fire. Not just my skin and hair, but I’m burning up from the inside too. My vision shifts from white to red, everything comes rushing in. My father, what he did to me. Kitsune refusing to help me. That fucker who stripped my powers and shot me through the arm. Needing to have my ass saved by Little Miss Hero Complex. Fuck all of that.

The feeling of fire in my body just gets stronger, hotter, and more painful. I feel like I’m dying like I’m a few seconds away from burning to ash. My head is throbbing and pounding, every inch of me is bright red fire. I sit up with a scream, kicking one of my legs out and knocking something metal over with a clang. I feel relief as fire washes over me, and I transcend. My powers are back, and my physical pain is mostly gone. I take a few breaths as I settle into something resembling normalcy.

I check my surroundings, I’m in a large room with wood floors and unpapered wood walls. One of the windows is broken, the amber light of sunrise pouring through, and the other one is covered in dirt and dust. The room is cluttered, covered in electrical equipment, test tubes, and medical supplies. A girl in a silver-white cloak, Dragon, is crouched down beside the old bed I’m in. Picking up some sutures, needles, and broken glass.

“Phoenix, it’s okay. I’m here. Detranscend, you’re safe.” Dragon says, lifting up her masked face at me.

I drop out of transcendence and feel all the pain in my body flood back. I can barely feel my arm, mercifully, but my head is throbbing, and my neck has an awful, stinging pain where the bullet grazed me.

“My arm. Is it-” I start, my voice sounds weak and strained.

“It’s fine. I’ve treated it. I’ve got you on Vicodin, and you’ve lost some blood. So don’t worry if you feel a little light headed. I need to reattach your IV now that you’ve detranscended.” Dragon says, reaching for a transparent tube, my eyes following it to a clear bag with red fluid hanging above my bed. I lay back and try to relax as Dragon fiddles with the tube and my arm. I see that the gunshot wound in my left arm is covered with some bandages and gauze, I can see a faint red tint under the first layer of bandages.

“I’m so fucking stupid…” I mumble.

“No, you’re not.”

“I went in without any backup. Every enforcer, paladin, and villain in Oru wants me dead. I should have waited, I should have called you. I- forget it.”

“Why didn’t you?”

“Seriously? You’re going to ask me that? After what happened yesterday?”

“After we had a fight? Phoenix, yeah, I was mad at you, and I’d still like to talk about it. But, we’re teammates, we’re friends. Even if I’m mad or upset with you, I’m always going to be there for you.”

Dragon grabs my hand gently and rubs her thumb along my palm.

“I’m a coward. I ran, I texted for help instead of trying to fight. Why did I do that?”

“Your powers were shut off, and you were afraid. You would have been stupid to try to fight an armored person with a gun with no powers. You were smart. You got out of there alive.”

“I just promised myself I’d go out fighting, not running and hiding like a coward.”

“You’re alive, you’re here. You’re not going out yet.”

“Yeah, because I had to rely on a girl who’s had her powers for like four months to save me.”

“Chimera is strong. She hasn’t even reached her full potential yet, not close. You’ve seen what the other Chimeras could do right? The ones that held the mantle before her? She has all of their memories, she can talk to them for guidance. One of the other Chimeras pulled a planet out of orbit. There’s no shame in relying on her. There’s no shame in relying on anyone. We all need help.”

“Oh, bullshit.”

“What?”

“Dragon, I’ve known you for three years, and I don’t think I’ve ever heard you ask for help. If you’re going to give advice, at least follow it yourself.”

“That’s different. If you’re asking if I need you and Chimera on my team, that’s not even a question. I don’t need help in my lab. I’m supernaturally intelligent. I might be the smartest person on earth. My benefactor is a being of intelligence, in the time it would take me to teach you or Chimera how to do something, I could do it twice over.”

“You’re so fucking full of yourself.”

“No. Your spirit is a being of anger, Chimera’s is serenity, mine is intelligence. We’re all skilled at different things. Look, just, just try to rest okay?”

“Whatever.”

I turn my head away from her and take three deep breaths, just focusing on my breathing. Dragon takes a few moments to look at some of her equipment and write some information down in a few different notebooks. Notebooks seem to scatter the room, she has some sort of color coding system and seems to go from notebook to notebook seamlessly.

“I was worried about you.” Dragon says, her words hang there for a moment as I consider them. She speaks again before I do.

“Phoenix, you’re one of the only people I have left. My parents are gone, I don’t have any close friends at school really. I have one sibling, I have you, and Chimera. That’s about all I have left. This world takes everything. I don’t need to tell you that, but… it takes so much more than it gives. The thought of losing you like that, of you dying alone in the street, without me having any chance to help you, that fucking terrifies me. I… I care about you, Phoenix. A lot, you’re probably… shit. You’re probably my best friend.”

“I’m sorry, You deserve a hell of a lot better best friend than me.”

My mind drifts back to my conversation with Kitsune. I wonder if refusing to have friends or even teammates is the right way to go about things. If the best way to deal with this world is to just detach from it. Even with all the anger that my powers give me, I feel like I need to have friends. I need to have something tying me here, it keeps me feeling human.

“That’s not true. You’re a good person Phoenix. You matter to me.” Dragon says as she comes to sit at my bedside.

“I don’t know who you are under the mask. Bu-” She starts.

“How?” I ask.

“I didn’t need to take your mask off to patch you up. Just had to stitch up your neck, treat your arm, give you some painkiller, and let you rest. I know you’re white and a girl, but I knew that before. I know you have long blonde hair, but that could be hundreds of girls in Oru.”

“You weren’t even curious?”

“Of course I was. Still am. I’d love to know who you are, but… I know you don’t want that. I respect that. If I took advantage of you like that, I’d never forgive myself.”

“Thank you.”

“You can trust me Phoenix. I’m your friend, I respect you more than anything. I’m glad you’re in my life, I…”

She places a hand on my forehead, cupping her fingers around the edges of your mask.

“I… I would never ask you to, but if you wanted to show me, I would keep your secret. It’s safe with me.”

I sit up slowly. I want to, I really do. I want to open up and show someone who I am, I want to have a friend as a civilian, I want to… fuck. I want to actually let myself get close to someone again. Maybe actually be best friends… maybe something more. I don’t know.

I reach a hand back to my mask, finding the clasp of one of the straps. I put my hand around it and pause for just a few moments before I slowly start to pull on the strap, feeling the mask start to loosen slightly. Dragon sits forward, her breathing is heavy, and she starts reaching back to remove her own mask.

“Interrupting anything?” We hear a voice ask from the far end of the room. Kitsune, fully transcended, is leaning on the far wall, one foot up against it. The person who shot me, stripped my powers, and tried to kill me, is standing to the side of her. Kitsune is idly waving her hand in a circular motion, before stopping to crack her knuckles, as the shooter does the same. I pull my hand back, securing my mask more tightly. I almost forgot how bad of an idea it is to let people know my secrets, especially with Kitsune around.

“Do you have full control?” Dragon asks.

“No, close enough though.” Kitsune starts, twirling her hand in the same motion. “I have to keep him stimulated, keep giving him orders, or he’ll start to fight back too hard. It’s good enough for what I need him for though.”

“And what is that exactly?” Dragon asks, her voice breaking slightly.

“You don’t need to know that. You needed information, and I needed a meat puppet with high clearance.” She says.

“So you’ll help Dragon?” I ask, trying to give my weak voice a bit of an edge.

“This is a fair trade, not a favor. Glad you’re okay, Red.” She says.

“No thanks to you…”

“It’s not my fault you went out without backup. I assumed you could handle this.”

“Can he see this? Everything that’s happening right now? My lab and all that?” Dragon asks, moving to stand in front of her equipment.

“Yeah, but he won’t remember it. I’ll order him to forget everything about today, I always do.” Kitsune answers, still twirling her hand.

“You can make people forget things?”

“When I have as much control as I do over him.” Kitsune says with a shrug. “Putty in my hands.”

“Alright, well, what did you find out?” Dragon asks, returning to the chair at my bedside.

“A lot of things, very few of them are actually interesting. His name is Blake Porter, he goes by the codename Crackshot. He’s a regime agent, special enforcer. Not a spirit-touched, but someone trained to deal with and eliminate them. He’s trained for years, his body is in peak shape, and he’s an elite marksman. His best weapon, by far, is that fucking pistol.” Kitsune explains.

“Yeah, I’ve been looking into it. It’s coated in some sort of hard plastic, extremely difficult to break. It’s heat resistant, rapid fire, and there’s some sort of magnetic device in the grip. I assume he has a similar device on the palm of one of his gloves. It’s probably used to call it back to him in case he goes against someone like you or Chimera. The gun is interesting, but the darts are the main event.” Dragon says, getting up to look at some of her equipment. She speaks excitedly, almost as if this scientific discovery far outweighs the danger of this weapon existing.

“Yeah, they strip powers. Shut us down for an hour? Two? Three?” Kitsune says, checking with the man as she asks. A kind of grimace appears in place of her Cheshire grin.

“Ugh. This guy’s hard to read, well trained. It’s fucking obnoxious. Okay, let’s try this again. Not a set length, it varies?” Kitsune asks, tilting her head slightly as she tries to read any emotional response. “Cool. Yes. It varies. Based on what? The leng-”

“Yes. It’s based on the length of time it’s injected into someone. It drains relatively quickly, over the course of a minute or two. Max length of its effect is probably about twelve hours if it drains all the way into someone. If someone pulled it out right after it went in, it would probably last like… half an hour? Fifteen minutes?” Dragon cuts her off, looking at an empty dart.

“Killjoy.” Kitsune says, scowling at Dragon.

“Excuse me?”

“Figuring this guy out is like a puzzle. I like a challenge. You stole that from me!”

“I’m so sorry that I answered a question you asked.”

Kitsune grumbles to herself and crosses her arms, going back to waving her hand in a circular pattern.

“It’s fascinating actually. It works like a depressant, blocks the receptors of neurotransmitters in our brains. It doesn’t just shut off powers, but it severs our connection with our spirits. They keep trying to push in, but our brains won’t respond. If those specific receptors don’t work, we can’t have powers or benefactors. That has so many implications! That’s a major fucking breakthrough. As far as I know, nobody has figured out how spirit gifts work. For the longest time, it was just assumed to be a ‘spirit thing.’ If it’s in the brain, not just that, but a localized part of the brain, that opens up a whole world of possibilities for research into spirits and powers! This is crazy! I’m absolutely going to be looking into it. Do you think I could get my hands on a spirit-touched brain? Not to sound creepy or morbid.” Dragon’s voice sounds downright chipper. Her hands are shaking slightly, and she keeps looking eagerly between Kitsune and myself.

“Down girl. Your science boner is visible from across the room.” Kitsune says, rolling her beady, vulpine eyes.

“Can you reverse engineer it? Now that we have access to it. A counter would be really useful.” I ask.

“Yes. I can, I will, and I’m working on it as we speak.” Dragon says, checking on another machine near the one she was next to before. It’s buzzing away busily. “It’s a depressant, so I just need to create a stimulant. The two should cancel each other out mostly. I needed to make the dosage of the stimulant higher than the dosage of depressant. Otherwise, it might not be strong enough. So, it’s not going to be ideal, and the best plan is to not get shot. Taking this is going to make our powers hit way harder, but burn out way faster. We’re also going to feel our increased attribute way, way harder while it’s working. I’d love to just cancel it out straight-up, but better safe than sorry.”

“Great. All we need is a way to make Phoenix angrier.” Kitsune says, unimpressed.

“It’s not ideal, but it’s a counter, and it’s better than having no powers at all.”

“What if we took it without being on the depressant already?”

“It’s made to counter the depressant, and even then it supercharges our powers. It would probably make our powers extremely strong, like, Archduke strong, but make them burn out after a few minutes.”

“Well, glad we got you a gold mine. He’s not the only one with these darts, far from it. This is going to be a problem from now on.”

“Yes, but I may have the key to understanding how spirit-touched powers work. Oh, Technician, you just gave me everything I need.” Dragon says, typing a few things into an old laptop.

Technician is the Archduke’s personal scientist, doctor, and weapon manufacturer. She’s also probably the only person who could realistically challenge Dragon for the title of “smartest person on earth.” There’s no doubt she’s the one who designed this, and this has more than reignited Dragon’s multi-year obsession with one-upping her.

“The one thing I don’t get is how the dart broke through Phoenix’s armor. That’s not an ordinary needle.” Kitsune says, looking towards her meat-puppet.

“Right, that. So that works by-” Dragon starts. Kitsune glares at her and pulls a fan from her backplate. “Okay, okay, sorry. I’ll let you figure that out.”

“Thank you!” Kitsune says, putting her fan away. Kitsune cracks her knuckles and looks Crackshot up and down.

“Okay, not a normal needle. Technician made that too? Okay good. Good thrall. Stronger than it looks. Does it pierce through? No, doesn’t pierce. It drills? Okay, cool. It’s a drill, hyper-fast, too fast for the eye to register. Made to go through armor or scales. Interesting. Okay, I’m satisfied, anything to add?” Kitsune asks, looking towards Dragon.

“Yes. It doesn’t stop until it touches blood. Just keeps drilling. It’s incredibly fast. It can drill through most armor before they even realize it’s there. It has an extremely small motor right above the needle. Honestly, it’s a marvel of engineering.” Dragon lets all of this information flow out in one breath, her foot wouldn’t stop tapping while she was watching Kitsune interrogate the man.

“Okay, cool. Anything else you need to know?” Kitsune asks.

“How did he find me?” I ask, trying to soften my tone a bit.

“Eye-in-the-sky.” Kitsune says. “Part of Technician’s new security system. Anything that flies higher than a plane triggers it and tracks it, then special enforcer comes to check it out.”

Great. It figures that they would find a way to make stealth borderline impossible. Well, at least now I know about it and can try to avoid it.

“Did you get what you needed?” Dragon asks. At this point, we know better than to ask what Kitsune needs, just whether or not she got it.

“For the most part. Sadly, he either doesn’t know anything about Technician or just has trained himself not to react at all when I mention her.” Kitsune says, grimacing and letting out a sigh. “But, he has the clearance I need, and I can use him for information gathering. That’s the closest I’ve gotten in years.”

“He has a chip in his brain.” I say, Dragon and Kitsune’s heads both snap towards me. “He has a chip. I interrogated the guy I was after, he said that anyone at a higher level of clearance than him had to have a chip implanted. It stops them from talking about ‘things they shouldn’t’ with anyone not authorized. Not sure how, but he had no reason to lie about it.”

“Fuck’s sake.” Kitsune mumbles, holding her hand against her head and shaking it.

“Of course. Of course, they would do that.” Dragon says, crossing the room to write something down in a notebook.

“I assume they aren’t supposed to think about it either. Right Dragon?” Kitsune asks, in a bit of a biting tone.

“Yeah. I don’t know if it makes it so they can’t think about it or he’s just well trained enough that he doesn’t, but you aren’t getting anything about Technician or the Archduke from him.” Dragon says, still distracted by her notebook. “So… hey, Kitsune. Can I-”

“No.”

“But-”

“Absolutely not.”

“I just want t-”

“You’re not cutting into his brain, I need him.”

“Come on, when am I going to get a chance to look at-”

“Doesn’t matter, not my problem. We made a fair trade. Unless you can tell me this won’t kill him.”

“I… um, just looking at it wouldn’t.”

“But you want to remove it.”

“Yeah…”

“And there’s no chance that doesn’t kill him, right?”

“I…”

“That’s what I thought. I’ll be off now.”

Dragon paces for a second, tapping a pencil against her mask and letting out a deep breath.

“Okay. Fine. Could I just, please, take a look after you’re done?” Dragon asks, nearly begging.

Kitsune rolls her eyes and brushes her hand as Crackshot starts to leave the room. She looks Dragon up and down and shakes her head slightly.

“You’re fucking obsessed, but I could still technically grab control of him. Talk to me in three days. Make me an offer. Make it good.”

“Thank you, Kit.”

“Yup.”

Kitsune leaves, her thrall in tow. Dragon makes a few quick notes in one of her notebooks and checks a few settings on her machines. She finally comes to sit by my bed, checking my IV and pulse.

“You should rest, Phoenix. You have a pretty nasty concussion, and you’ve lost a lot of blood. It’s the best thing for you.” Dragon says, rubbing her hand down my good arm.

“You’re going to kill that person? Not that I’m judging, but that doesn’t seem to be your style.” I ask her.

Dragon sighs and looks down for a minute, we’re both silent as she looks towards my face.

“Is that bad? I didn’t… I didn’t even think of him as a person. I just, I need to know. I need to beat Technician. Crackshot made his decision when he let that chip be implanted. We’re at war Phoenix, and we need to use every advantage we can get.” She finally says.

“No judgment. I’ve done worse. I will do worse. Do what you have to.” I mutter.

“Just, try to rest Phoenix.” She says. She looks away from me and out the window, I don’t have anything else to say. Sleep has been fighting to take over ever since I woke up and I finally relent to it. Darkness creeps into my vision as I slowly drift off.

——

When I wake up, the bright light of morning is shining into the room from the old windows. Dragon is seated in the chair next to my bed, it looks like she slept there, but she’s awake now and talking to Chimera. Chimera is fully transcended and floating a few inches above the ground. She holds a greasy white bag of fast food in her left hand, which looks downright bizarre for a revered, god-like figure like Chimera. As soon as Chimera sees me stir, she’s at my side.

“Phoenix! Oh, thank God! I’m so glad I wasn’t too late, I’m so glad you’re okay!” Chimera says excitedly, hugging me a bit too tightly.

“I… Thanks for helping me out.” I mutter back softly.

“Of course! As soon as I got your text, I was there. I’m sorry I wasn’t here when you woke up, I really needed to sleep. I’m so so so glad you’re okay! I figured you might be hungry, so I brought you some food.” Chimera says, handing me the bag. To be honest, I’m fucking starving, I look at Dragon for an okay, and she just nods. I tear open the bag and almost forget about my mask. I look at my friends a little awkwardly and clear my throat.

“Um, could I have some privacy? It’s hard to eat masked.” I mutter awkwardly.

“Yeah, of course. Come on Chi. When you need us just press this, okay?” Dragon says, standing up and handing me a small square object with a button in the center. I rest it gently on my lap as the girls leave.

As soon as they’re gone, I throw my mask off. Leaving my hood up in case of cameras and dig into the double cheeseburger and fries that Chimera brought me. I don’t know if it’s the blood loss, the concussion, or just general hunger, but I devour the food in record time. After I finish eating, I put my mask back on and just take a few seconds to myself.

Life without supernatural anger, what must that be like? I got to experience a few minutes of it when I had my powers stripped. It was different, not bad necessarily, just so different compared to everything that I’ve ever known. I was born with my powers, born to be a hero, I didn’t exactly have a chance to be a normal kid or a normal person. Dragon was just a normal girl until a few years ago, Chimera was just a normal girl until a few months ago. I’ve always been as much Phoenix as I am Rachel. I almost long for it, but I’d rather be Phoenix and Rachel than just Rachel. At least this way I have a chance of making a difference and I don’t have to just be a victim.

I secure my mask back into place and press the button to call my friends. Chimera and Dragon come back into the room less than a minute later, Dragon sitting in a chair, while Chimera sits by the foot of my bed.

“So, what is this place?” I ask.

“An abandoned house, Chimera and I have been using it as a sort of hideout for the past few days. It’s safe, for the most part.” Dragon answers.

“We need to talk about Heatstroke.” I say, looking at them somberly.

“Rest. We can talk later.” Dragon insists.

“I’m tired of resting and waiting, we need to move now, as in tonight.”

“Absolutely out of the question.”

“You don’t understand. Heatstroke is moving, that’s how we haven’t found him. He moves his base of operations every few months. Maybe even weeks if we’re getting close. We have to move now. We have to stop him now.”

“Shit. Of course he is, that’s how he ducks us.” Dragon mumbles.

“I know a thing or two about that.” Chimera says, her voice still surprisingly bright.

“Chimera… No.” Dragon orders, Chimera just shrugs in response.

“I’m not gonna lie to her, sorry. I don’t lie to my friends. Not even to protect them.”

Dragon glares at Chimera for a second but stays silent as Chimera continues.

“Some girl gave Dragon a list of addresses and contacts, she was able to turn that list into a few possible locations. I was out scouting them for her when you texted. I, I found it, at least I think.”

I sit up straight, trying to gather all my strength. Dragon grabs my good arm and forces me back down gently.

“Where?” I beg.

“We don’t know. Not for sure. You didn’t actually see Heatstroke.” Dragon hisses at Chimera.

“You’re right. I didn’t see the man himself, but I saw a bunch of armed guards protecting a warehouse that’s supposed to be abandoned. It’s the only one on that list like that Dragon. The only one.” Chimera insists.

“There could be another one.”

“What are the odds of that? Be honest.”

Dragon is silent, I don’t need to see her face to imagine the scowl on it. I look at Chimera desperately.

“Downtown, in an industrial block.” Chimera answers.

“Let’s go. Now.” I say, trying to push out of Dragon’s grip.

“You can barely walk.” Dragon says, pushing back against me.

“Mundane Phoenix can’t. Transcended Phoenix can.”

I call on my power and transcend, pushing past Dragon with my now superhuman strength. My arm still hurts, I still have a terrible headache, and my neck still stings a little, but it’s a pain I can shake off and fight.

“Phoenix, please. Detranscend, come lay down.” Dragon begs.

“I can’t do that. We need to stop him. This ends now!”

“What if you run out of power or they have those darts? Then you’ll detranscend in front of Heatstroke. Then what?”

“Then healed or not, I’m already dead.”

My words seem to hang in the room for a moment. Chimera is the first to speak, floating over to me.

“Phoenix is right. We need to strike while we know where he is. We may never get this chance again.”

“Thank you.”

“But Dragon is right too. You need to rest, we need to be at full power, and we need to plan. We will take the rest of today, make a plan, let Dragon look over some building schematics and get a solid plan and backup plans established. Okay? Is that fair? Can we compromise?”

Dragon and I are silent for a few moments. Staring at each other for what feels like hours. I finally detranscend and get back in bed. Walking is difficult, I’m reasonably sure Chimera had to help with her power, but I get there. Dragon nods to Chimera, who smiles and lets out a relieved breath.

“You’re good at that. You know?” Dragon says.

“Previous Chimeras had to negotiate peace treaties between warring nations, I still say trying to mediate between you two is more difficult.” Chimera says, returning to her seat at the end of my bed.

We spend the rest of the day planning, between the information from my interrogation, Chimera’s scouting, and Dragon’s pure intelligence, we get something substantial together. A couple of backup plans and an escape route, much to my chagrin, and we feel like we have something really good here. We’re going to do it. We’re going to take down Heatstroke. This is going to end, it’s a grind, it’s hard fought, and it’s a small victory in the grand scheme of things, but it’s a victory, and that’s all we can ask for right now.

—–

I sleep in our hideout tonight, so does Dragon. Chimera goes home at about sundown. Dragon stays up in her lab, working, until very late at night. I don’t bother trying to stay up much after we’re done planning. It’s hard to keep up if I don’t fight it, and there’s no real point.

We wake up early and leave before too many people are out to notice us. We walk along rooftops and backroads until we come to a small block of industrial warehouses downtown. We text Chimera once we’re in position and she arrives a few minutes later, glowing a brilliant blue and floating a few inches above the ground. Dragon and I take her cue and transcend. I can’t believe that this is all about to be over. This monster who has plagued my life for the past six years is about to pay for everything he did.

There’s no real point in going with the stealthy approach. I could go into The Cinder State and make it in, but I would be without Chimera and Dragon, which is basically asking to be kidnapped or killed. As soon as we break through the tree line, the gunfire starts. Soldiers, maybe fifty of them, start firing towards the three of us. Chimera does her thing, catching the bullets in the air with her telekinesis, sending them harmlessly into the ground. Chimera sends the first wave of soldiers flying back and tries to draw as much fire as possible. I send a wave of flame towards a few soldiers, while Dragon flies towards another group, clawing into them and throwing them around like ragdolls with her superior size and strength.

A few soldiers pour out of the building, but we can hit them faster than they can get out. There’s a large garage door covering the main part of the warehouse, which Chimera pulls open effortlessly. Inside the warehouse, boxes on boxes are stacked against the walls with many barrels in all different colors lining the floor of the warehouse. Soldiers drop what they’re doing and pick up their weapons. Firing at the three of us. There are hundreds of guards and soldiers littering this warehouse, but there could be a thousand, and it wouldn’t matter. Mundanes can hardly do anything to us with basic weapons. All they’re here to do is slow us down for the most part and hope we run out of power before we get to Heatstroke.

Despite how effortless and easy this may seem, fighting mundane guards, it’s a slog. Every blast of flame or ice, every strike of claws, every object thrown with telekinesis, it all wears our powers down just a little bit. While Heatstroke doesn’t wear down at all. We need a way out, some way to skip these guards and get straight to Heatstroke.

“They’re stalling.” Dragon says, flying just above me.

“Yup, I’ve got an idea.” Chimera says before I can respond.

Chimera’s eyes glow bright blue, brighter than I’ve ever seen her make them, as every box and barrel in the warehouse starts to glow blue. They all topple over as Chimera violently throws her hand to the right. Soldiers inside the building are struck by the falling boxes and flying barrels. Random gunfire hits the ground and walls of the building as a considerable portion of the soldiers are struck and fall beneath the boxes. A few dozen soldiers remain, some of the lucky ones or those who were outside. I have a plan for this.

“Up!” I order, both Chimera and Dragon fly straight up as soon as I tell them. I channel my power in a circle at about waist height, forming fire in my hands. Spinning the red-hot flame around my waist as quickly as I can. Then with a quick motion of my hands, I dismiss it in a shockwave, striking every soldier near me and sending them flying back with force. They aren’t dead, most of them, but some of them were running anyway, so they don’t look too motivated to get back up.

My teammates fly down to join me as we walk into the warehouse, Chimera clearing a path for us through the debris and broken boxes. Chimera and I both had to expend a ton of power, but it’s less than we would have if we kept taking them out wave by wave. I walk into the warehouse, my teammates following behind me. I hear a click from behind me, about a fraction of a second before Dragon does, and I turn on my heel.

A girl, dressed in a boarding school uniform and a pink bike helmet with a visor. Stands at the far end of the lot, holding one of the soldier’s pistols. She’s examining it, waving it towards us. Someone is pointing a gun at my teammates and I. I don’t even think about it. I act, leaping towards her on a jet of flame. I land a few inches from her and lower myself, ready to infuse fire into a strike. I feel my hand meet resistance as it starts to flow blue, Chimera’s power holding it tightly in place. The girl looks terrified and lifts the visor of her bike helmet.

It’s Sarah fucking Garvey.

“It’s okay! I’m on your side! I’m here to help!” She says, raising her hands.

“Help, you want to fucking help?” I say, stomping my foot down, leaving deep red cracks in the pavement.

“I… I could hear the gunshots and fire from my school. I grabbed a helmet and my bike and got over here as soon as I could.”

“You cannot actually be that stupid. You’re going to get yourself fucking killed. I should just do you a favor and k-”

“Thank you!” Chimera cuts me off, I glare at her. She darts her eyes to the side, telling me to step away.

“Thank you. We really appreciate it. We’re going to make this world okay again, and citizens should help however they can. You’re a hero, just like us.” Chimera says, offering Sarah a high five, which she gladly accepts.

“Yes! Thank you so much for saying that Chimera! What’s next?”

“Well, we’re gonna go fight a spirit touched, that’s a job that’s a bit too dangerous. But, it would be equally valuable and heroic of you to go to the neighboring warehouses and make sure everyone evacuates. We don’t want Heatstroke to hurt anyone.”

Chimera’s voice is a sickening mix of summer camp counselor and comic book superhero.

“Uh, o-of course! Yes, ma’am!” Sarah says, saluting Chimera before getting on her small, pink, mountain bike and riding towards the other warehouses. Chimera floats back over to us, and we start to walk back to the warehouse.

“That girl is an idiot.” I grumble.

“Yeah.” Chimera says with a shrug, dropping the kindergarten teacher-esque voice she was using. “But, she believes in us, we don’t want to alienate someone like that. We need all the public support we can get.”

“What are you? A politician.”

“No, I just know how the game works. If we’re perceived better than the regime, we might actually have a shot.”

“Sounds like a politician to me…”

The three of us walk through the main section of the warehouse, through a side door and up a set of stairs. Dragon had spent a few hours going over building schematics and deduced about where Heatstroke would be. On the top floor in the largest, most open room. Surprisingly, we don’t encounter any resistance, it looks like all the guards have either been taken out or left on their own accord. Good, no more wasting power.

This ends now. My father is finally going to pay for what he did. Today, I get revenge for my mother, my brother, and every other person I loved who he needlessly cut down. I get revenge for the lives he ruined, for the world he helped ruin. I get revenge for me. It’s a small step in the grand scheme of things, but it’s going to feel so fucking good.

I throw the door to the room that Dragon identified open. Immediately, forty or fifty red dots line the bodies of myself, Chimera, and Dragon. A full squad of guards line the room, guns trained on us, ready to fire on a moments notice. Behind them, seated in a throne made of dark red pumice stone is Heatstroke, my father, smiling and chuckling to himself.

“Sweetheart, how nice of you to visit your dear old dad.”

Session 1, Chapter 3 – Pursuit

Content Warning: Violence

School on Wednesday is painfully and endlessly dull. I’m incredibly relieved when it’s over and about half an hour after school ends, I change out of my uniform, throw my cloak and mask into a backpack, and walk to the bus stop just outside campus. The bus ride takes about half an hour, and I’m constantly scanning the bus. I’m meeting Kitsune downtown and, as far as I know, she’s a student at the Archduke’s Boarding School too. Could anyone I’m sharing this bus with be a vigilante anarchist with mind control powers?

I look around the bus again, the only thing I actually know about Kitsune is that she’s a teenager and she’s of Japanese heritage. There are a couple of Asian girls on the bus, my classmates. None of them have white hair or a Cheshire grin, but I doubt identifying Kitsune would be that easy. None of them have obviously large backpacks either, so I sigh and look back to the road. Twenty-six minutes later, on the dot, I’m at my stop, the buses in Oru are always on time, we don’t have traffic or accidents. The Archduke mandated that all vehicles be self-driving and run on a fairly strict schedule. Nobody else got off at the stop with me, but that was intentional. I can’t afford to have my identity revealed, so I got off about two stops ahead of where I’m actually going. I can just change here and walk.

I walk about a block before ducking into an alley, checking around constantly to make sure I’m not being watched and that nobody followed me. I quickly pull my cloak and mask out of the backpack, throwing my jacket into it and leaving it tucked away behind some old boxes. The mask feels uncomfortably tight on my face, pressing up against my glasses. I couldn’t take them off, because, while having a conversation and walking a few blocks without my glasses is entirely possible, trying to read street signs from a distance isn’t.

I climb the fire escape up to the rooftop of the far building of the alleyway, ducking down to avoid being seen. I glance down every few blocks and try to make out the names of the streets through my painted lenses. Eventually, I see the street I’m looking for, it’s in one of the poorer districts of Oru, an anarchist district that basically treats Kitsune like a spirit. I knew if I were going to meet her, it would have to be on her terms. I climb down to street level and look at signs of shops until I finally see the place, Baldur’s, and the cloaked and masked figure outside it.

She’s dressed in a black cloak, slightly darker than mine, and is wearing a bright white mask with a fox face on it. Beneath that, she wears some kind of black long-sleeved shirt, white gloves, loose black jeans, and black combat boots. She’s slightly taller than me, her transcendence apparently makes her shorter, but more agile. She tilts her head curiously upon seeing me looking at her, before giving me a brief nod.

“Kitsune?” I ask.

“In the, extremely mundane, flesh,” she says, her voice comes out through a filter, sounding electronic and impossible to identify. That’s smart, I wish I’d thought to do that before now.

“Shall we?”

“After you.”

I open the old wooden door to this nondescript building and am fairly surprised to see an old-school bar. Multiple people are inside, none of them making efforts to hide their faces, I doubt any of them are spirit-touched, but they’re Kitsune’s people, so I know we’re mostly safe. As soon as we walk in every set of eyes in the room locks on me. Kitsune raises a hand and nods, and the people seem to go back to their conversations. I’m not sure if Kitsune meant to send the message that this was her turf, but either way, message received.

Kitsune leads me to a small leather booth around the back of the bar, it’s about as private as two people can be in a bar I suppose. She kicks her feet up casually and looks me up and down.

“So, what can I do for you Red?” she asks, I roll my eyes at the nickname.

“I need your help,” I answer.

“Yeah, you mentioned. What with?”

“I found this guy, he used to work for Heatstroke. He quit, and he’s trying to hide, but… I found him.”

“If you already found him, what do you want from me?”

“I want you to interrogate him.”

Kitsune scoffs.

“What information do you need from him?”

“Anything I can get on Heatstroke. Every little bit helps.”

“So, you just want me to come with you to find this guy, get what he knows, and then leave? No fighting?”

“Yes! Can you help?”

“Oh, easily.”

“Thank you so mu-”

“But, I won’t.”

“What!?”

“Look, I’m not your teammate. I don’t care about this suicidal revenge mission that y’all keep trying to do. Yeah, Heatstroke is a dick and should die. He’ll get his eventually, but I have more important things to do. We’re not teammates, we’re not partners, and I’m not wasting my time and power to help you get yourself killed by your dad.”

I feel the anger boil up in my chest as I grip the corner of the table hard, glaring at Kitsune and take three deep breaths, closing my eyes for just a second.

“Kitsune, please. I’m asking for a favor.”

“Yeah? And?”

“We’re friends, right? You said we were last night.”

“Friends is more evocative and carried more weight with that guy. Acquaintances or allies would be a more realistic word. I’m fond of you, I even like you, but I don’t keep friends. It’s generally bad business in this line of work.”

“Well, next time you ask me for a favo-”

“I won’t. I take care of my business myself. When I see a mutually beneficial job, I expect you and your team to help.”

I let out a deep breath, gripping the table even tighter, I can’t fucking believe her. She’s been working with us for almost two years, and she still won’t help me with one simple thing? Fuck this girl! I stand up and grab Kistune by the cloak.

“Let’s get this straight, you may have creepy mind control powers, but you don’t have any secrets on me. Let’s see how long you can keep up your misfire bullshit when I center an inferno on-”

I stop, I can feel every eye in the building bearing down on me. I glance behind me and see that every person in this bar is brandishing some sort of weapon. I could take them, even the ones with guns would have trouble hurting a spirit-touched. But it would tire me out, it would use my power up, and it would give her time to get information on me.

Kitsune has barely moved since I grabbed her, she’s eerily calm. She knows exactly the position that I just put myself in, and she didn’t even have to move a muscle. She’s won. The fight never even got to start properly, and she won in a landslide. I drop her, and she effortlessly slides back to her position in the booth. She raises a hand, and her people stand down.

“Some ally you are, you can’t even help me with a small favor.” I mutter as I walk to the exit, trying desperately to control my anger until I leave this place. As soon as I get within one step of the door, I hear Kitsune call out.

“I just did.”

—–

Within a few moments, I’m out the door and transcended. I fly high above the cloudline of Oru, I don’t want to deal with any enforcers or paladins today. Flying was something that was extremely hard to get the hang of at first, but now it’s basically second nature. Not every spirit-touched can fly, but almost all of us have some form of mobility power. Kitsune has zip line shooters, Chimera can’t technically fly, but she lifts herself with her telekinesis.

I arrive at the house I’m looking for within a matter of moments. I start to enter The Cinder State mid-flight and fly right through the roof of the old two-story house in a suburb of Oru. I scan the house, and it doesn’t take me long to find the man, he’s in his kitchen, making some sort of sandwich. I drop out of The Cinder State, and strike him in the chin with a high kick, knocking him to the ground hard. I put my foot on his throat and create a small blade of flame in my hand.

“That looks good, sure you don’t want that toasted?” I say, moving the blade closer to his throat.

“What the fuck!? What do you want?” The man says, desperately scrambling to get out of my reach.

“Just want to ask some questions. If you cooperate, we won’t have any problems. Got it?”

“Questions about what?”

“Your former employer.”

“Go ahead. I want him dead as much as you do.”

Okay. Good, this should be easy.

“I doubt that. Where is he working from?” I ask.

“Don’t know. He moves around every couple months, it’s been almost a year since I left. He should still be in Oru, when I left we were working out of a warehouse by the docks, past the old fish market and the enforcer precinct.”

“How many soldiers on site at one time?”

“At night and in the morning, maybe like twenty-five, if Heatstroke’s in, probably about fifty. They may have grown since I left, I really don’t know.”

“When is he in?”

“About ten in the morning, usually.”

“What was your job? What is he planning?”

“I don’t know. My job was simple, guard an entrance or patrol the perimeter, don’t let anyone in. Unload crates and barrels if someone tells me to. It’s basic grunt work, I never even talked to Heatstroke, and I have no idea what he’s planning.”

“Crates and barrels of what?”

“I don’t know! I didn’t ask!”

Great, useless, he’s nearly useless. I’m no better off than when I started.

“Give me more names then. Someone who would know!”

“I can’t…”

I make the fire in my hair and eyes grow and seem to burn hotter as I lean closer to the man, expelling hot steam and embers from my fists.

“You better have an extremely fucking good reason why not.”

“Anyone above me, anyone with more clearance has to have a chip implanted. It prevents them from talking about their business with people they shouldn’t. I don’t know how it works, I just know that it works and everyone above me had one.”

“Alright, so he has tons of soldiers and watches things extremely tightly. We aren’t sneaking up on him. What’s his escape plan? What does he do if a spirit-touched comes after him?”

“He… He doesn’t plan to escape. Nobody’s dumb enough to challenge him on his own turf if a spirit-touched came, we were told to try to pen them into a room with him so he can finish the job. Trying to attack him in his base is a suicide mission.”

“Yeah. People keep telling me that.”

“I swear, that’s all I know.”

“Is that it? Think really hard. If I find out that you hid anything from me, I’m coming back.”

“I…” The man goes silent for a second as he thinks. My ears seem to twitch, almost like I can hear something out of place, odd, something that shouldn’t be there. Suddenly I feel something strike me from behind, right in the base of my neck. It pierces right through my armor, and I feel something break the skin beneath. I don’t have time to investigate it. I immediately stumble back and grab my head. I feel bile trying to force its way up, I feel pain rush through every nerve and tendon in my body.

“What the fuck?” the man says, looking past me and towards his back door. The man starts to try to stand, but he doesn’t get the chance. A bullet impacts his skull, and he falls to the ground, dead.

I feel like my brain is being torn apart and unraveled. It feels like some part of me, some integral part of my soul, is being ripped from me. My heart starts to flutter a bit, I feel a bizarre feeling, a mix of panic and eerie calmness wash over me. I can finally think and breath again, I feel empty and different, but I’m not in pain.

I look towards the door and see a figure, dressed in black armor and a heavy leather duster. Their hands are covered by leather gloves, while their feet are covered by heavy-duty black boots. Their helmet is slightly domed, with red lenses covering the eyes and a small apparatus of some kind over the mouth. They’re holding a large rifle in both hands, a small pistol is visibly holstered on their right hip.

I try to focus my rage, to channel it into fire. I feel no heat in my fists, I don’t even feel any anger to call on, just fear and anxiety. I look down at my hands and see no fire, only my ungloved pale skin. I’m back in my cloak, mask and street clothes. I try to transcend again and feel nothing inside of me, no anger, no fire, nothing. I can’t even feel the pull of The Cinder on me. My soul, for the first time in my life, has no pull or connection with a spirit. For the first time in my life, I don’t see everything through a lens of anger.

“What the… what the fuck?” I mutter out.

The only response I get is a gunshot that I duck out of the way of. I quickly crawl on my hands and knees, stopping by an old kitchen table. I reach for my neck and pull out a small, white, dart. I fiddle with it in my hands and drop it. It’s almost impossible to see in this mask, and I can feel my glasses being pushed into my face. I need to get out of here as soon as I can.

I pick up one of the dining room chairs and throw it at the gunman. They knock it down easily, but I quickly follow up by coming from under the table and striking the figure in the mask. I recoil and feel a hot rush of pain run down my arm as my hand strikes hard metal. I feel the figure grab me, trying to pull me too close to move. This person is stronger than me, I’m not used to anyone, much less a mundane, overpowering me like this.

The figure strikes me in the head with one of their guns, it hits against one of the straps of my mask, which takes some of the hit for me, but it still hurts badly. I struggle to get free, I’m trained in Běishàolín and have been training since I was young, but I’m not used to using it with my mundane body, or without access to my powers. My father did always warn me I wouldn’t always be able to rely on my powers, I guess he was right about one them.

They have me grabbed tightly around the midsection, I try desperately to reach an arm under their arm. I manage to get my arm around as they bring their gun down on my head again. I use as much of my strength and momentum as I can to drive their helmet down as I drop my knee and it impacts. I flip them over my knee, and they land hard against the wood floor of the kitchen. I keep my hold on their left arm and bend it as far as I can. My knee is throbbing with pain from the impact with the metal of their mask, and I can feel them starting to break free from my grip. I feel my head throb and ache, my hood has fallen down, and I pat my hair, relieved to not feel any blood.

I can’t lock in a solid grip, so I wrench their arm and break the hold. I sprint through the back door and onto the main street of the neighborhood, the sun has nearly set, and a light fog is rolling through the street. I don’t want to run, it’s not something I’m used to doing. I feel out of my element, almost counter to who I should be, but I don’t think I can fight this person, and I don’t have the rage or adrenaline in me to try right now. I consider the risk as I run, but I need to see if I’m going to get out of this alive. I undo the straps of my mask and am immediately relieved by the clarity once I’m not seeing it through paint stained lenses.

I take a few random turns to try and throw off my pursuer, before finally crouching down behind a large row of bushes. I take a few seconds to catch my breath and compose myself. I need to think, I need a plan. I know that attacking him isn’t going to work, I need to escape, but, can I really just hope that this hiding spot works?

Think Rachel, think. What would Dragon do? Dragon… after how I left things yesterday, I didn’t want to tell her what I was doing, but I need her help. I feel around in my back pocket and am relieved that I left my burner phone in it. I quickly pull open the phone and open the group chat.

Me: SOS, Under attack, can’t transcend. I’m behind bushes near 7249 W Sycamore road. One assailant, armed.

I turn the volume on my phone off as I tuck it into my pocket, the next few minutes are excruciating, just laying in the bushes, hoping that one of my friends reaches me before my attacker does. I try to get my breath under control, I still don’t feel any anger. It’s almost like my connection with The Cinder has been completely severed.

A few minutes into hiding, I see the beam of a flashlight hit the street corner. I watch and desperately try to keep my breath steady as the figure rounds the corner, their gun raised. I try to stay as still as possible and take very shallow breaths, just hoping the fog and bushes obscure me. It doesn’t matter, they fire a bullet from their rifle at me, and it grazes the left side of my neck, a few inches from killing me.

I fall down from a mix of shock and pain. I quickly put my mask back on as I struggle to get away. The figure catches up to me in a matter of seconds and tries to shove me back down, I keep my balance and throw my elbow towards their gun as they try to take aim at me. The gun fires and I feel a searing pain rock through my arm as I feel blood trickle down. They shot me just above the elbow.

I use my right arm to grab the pistol from their holster, aiming for their mask as I pull the trigger. I drop the gun as I see a small, white, dart penetrates the forehead of their mask. Its needle cutting through the metal like paper. I exhale in relief as I watch the figure. A faint sound, almost like a laugh, comes from the filter on their mask. It did nothing. Fuck, no. I turn to try and run as they grab me by my cloak and throw me down. My head impacts the concrete hard. My vision starts to go fuzzy as I hear a ringing in my ears. I don’t know if it’s from the blood loss or the impact, but the fight from me is gone. I can’t run, I can’t hope to win. I’m so stupid. I let a stupid, petty fight and some awkward feelings put me in a situation where I didn’t have back up, and now I’m going to pay for it. I don’t know if I’m going to die or spend the rest of my life in The Wall. I don’t know which fate I’d rather have.

The figure leans down, reaching for my mask and gripping the corner of it. They give it a tug and see that it stays, much to their annoyance. They shrug slightly and raise their rifle, readying to shoot me again. I blink and try my best to prepare for what’s about to happen.

The figure is blown back off me with some force, their rifle drops harmlessly at my side. I watch their body as it impacts a small chain link fence outside a house. The figure starts to stand, trying to fight back, but the fence begins to glow a bright blue as the metal begins to warp. First, it locks around the wrists of the figure, locking their hands in place, then the fence starts to wrap around their ankles, then their midsection, and finally, their neck.

I let out a few staggered breaths as I watch Chimera descend from the sky, landing gracefully amid the fog. She stands over me, looking down at me. Her eyes are drooping slightly, and her breathing seems almost frantic, she puts her hand on my neck and feels for a pulse. Her hand comes back slightly bloody, but she seems to calm a little. She turns to the figure trapped in the temporary fence restrain she made and says something, but I can’t make it out as darkness starts to overtake my vision and everything stops.

Session 1, Chapter 2 – History

Content Warning: Violence, PTSD/Anxiety, Death

I wake up suddenly from a nightmare, sitting upright in bed and gripping the sheets tightly to my chest. Every bit of the nightmare felt so real, I could feel the flames on my face, the burns on my sides, the fear in my family members eyes as Heatstroke burned them to death. In the first year or two when I would have nightmares about Heatstroke, I would transcend in my sleep and end up burning the sheets or the scorching the walls. I haven’t done that in the past few years, I have better control of my powers now.

I reach for my phone and check the time, it’s just before four in the morning, which I set my alarm for anyway. I figure it’s time to get up, so I grab my robe and towel from my dresser. The showers are just a few doors down from my room, and luckily, they are almost always empty this early in the morning. Today is no different, so I quickly step into a stall, undress, and turn the shower on. All throughout the shower, I try as best as I can to avoid looking at my scars, to avoid thinking about how they mark me for life, and how if I ever wanted to get intimate with someone, they would have to know exactly who I am.

I turn the water off and stand in silence for a moment, thinking back to the conversation with Dragon. Could we really be on the brink of finding Heatstroke? Could I really be on the brink of avenging my family? I don’t want to get my hopes up, but I trust Dragon. I grab my towel and dry myself off before putting the robe on. Once I’m sure that no parts of my scars are even slightly visible, I leave the shower stall and the bathroom to return to my bedroom. Waking up this early has become as much a routine for me as anything since I started attending this school. I’m cautious about my identity being discovered, but I need to be. If someone discovered who I was, my life would be effectively over.

Anyone with powers would be picked up by the Archduke’s regime, but people like myself, Dragon, and Chimera wouldn’t even be given a trial or a chance to work for them. We’d be locked in The Wall, or maybe even the Archduke’s tower. We’d be tortured for information, and when our usefulness ran out, we’d be killed or brainwashed to serve the Archduke.

I often wonder why Heatstroke hasn’t given them my identity yet. For the first few years, I was expecting a full troop of the Archduke’s soldiers to show up at my door almost every day. Some days I still expect that. Maybe my dad still has some sort of protective feelings for me, or maybe it’s just a sick joke and they’re letting me get a small sliver of hope before they take me away in the night when I start becoming too much of a problem.

I go to my dresser and open up the top section where I hang up some of my clothes, pulling out my uniform and rolling my eyes at it. The uniform includes a skirt, a short sleeved polo, a small ascot, and a jacket. The polo is entirely white, as is the skirt, save for a small purple stripe running across it a few inches from the bottom. The ascot is purple with a pristine purple gem in the center, meant to match the armor of the Archduke. The jacket is a very dark purple with the crest of the Archduke Valentin’s Boarding School in Oru on the left breast pocket. I put the uniform on and check in the mirror to make sure it looks perfect, nothing seems out of place, and there are no noticeable wrinkles. The only deviation from the average student at all is my glasses. I put on black socks and shoes to complete the uniform and take one last look in the mirror.

I glance at my phone again and see it’s a quarter before five, which means I still have to wait almost two hours before the dining hall opens for breakfast. I decide to pass the time by working on some of the homework I didn’t do last night. I finish up some math and music theory, which takes me about an hour, then I glance at my history book. The book is pristine, printed within the past three years. When the Archduke rose to power, most of the old history books were burned and replaced with a “corrected” history. A history that paints my family as monsters and barbarians. A history that calls being different a bad thing. The history books that exist now may as well be propaganda, calling the Archduke a “heroic champion” and calling his decision to outlaw gay marriage a “return to traditional values,” among other things.

I don’t want to read more of this vile pseudo-history, but I know I have to. I read slowly, taking a few seconds to breathe between pages. I’m a Flamewake, I’m a superhero, and I’m a lesbian, so almost every page of this book reminds me that I’m “wrong” and “deviant.” Fuck this place.

I finally reach the end of the chapter and slam the book closed, shoving it back into my backpack. To my annoyance, I see it’s already half past seven, which means that if I want breakfast, I’m going to have to walk through a horde of other students. I glance out my window to the courtyard, seeing a massive line of students outside the dining hall. Getting food isn’t worth it at this point, so I lay back on my bed and focus on my breathing until my alarm goes off, signaling it’s time to get to class.

I head to my first class of the day, history, focusing on my breathing all the way there. I enter the classroom and take a seat at the back of the classroom as a few other students pour in. Kailee Consin, one of the more popular girls in the senior class, gives me a dirty look. I don’t blame her necessarily, we had a bit of a thing last year that we tried to keep very secret. When she wanted to get physical, I broke it off. I wasn’t willing to risk my identity and she wasn’t willing to wait. She didn’t take it well and still holds a grudge.

I sit up and try my best to listen and stay calm as the lecture begins. If reading about my family being murdered was bad, hearing a speech about it is excruciating. Our teacher, Mrs. Fields, starts out with just the “facts,” clearly distorted by the regime, but she’s mostly just parroting the book. Eventually, however, we get to the discussion.

“Heatstroke turned on his family, becoming a hero of the state. This couldn’t have been an easy decision, but it’s one he’s revered for. Even if his family were marauders and raiders, they were still family. What does it say about the man, at his core, to make a choice like that?” Mrs. Fields says. I choke down my anger, biting my lip and gripping the edge of the table slightly.  What does it say about him? That he betrayed his family to serve the fucking Archduke? It says he’s a monster, that he’s a traitor, that he’s a murderer, that he-

“He’s a patriot.” A boy in my class says “he put what’s best for his country over what’s best for him.”

Fuck that. Fuck all of that. He killed my entire fucking family with a smile on his face, and we get to remember him as a “patriot.” No, he’s a monster.

“Very good, now, we aren’t exactly looking to examine morals in this class often, but I think examining the reason behind Heatstroke’s decision is important. His decision significantly affected the war and allowed other heroes to follow in his footsteps. So understanding the reasoning behind his choice is, in part, understanding the history.” Mrs. Fields says.

“Why did his family have to be killed?” a girl in the front row, Sarah Garvey, the class president, asks. “Why not just imprison them? I know the regime wasn’t in power then, but they had enough power to hold them until they could arrange for a proper prison.”

“Heatstroke says he would have preferred that route, but they didn’t accept his offer to take them into custody. He was heartbroken about having to hurt them, but it was his only option.” Mrs. Fields answers.

No fucking way! He asked us to surrender? He tried to take us into custody? We tried to take him willingly, to convince him to turn himself in every day for months until we finally decided to hunt him down. That bastard said he tried to offer us a chance to surrender? He’s not just a cold-blooded killer, he’s a liar.

“Bullshit,” I mumble, a little louder than I mean to. Mrs. Fields head snaps towards me.

“Yes, Ms. LeFeu?” She questions. “Did you have a comment?”

“No, ma’am.”

“No, please Rachel, by all means. We’d love to hear your input on this discussion.”

I freeze, glaring at Mrs. Fields. I feel the anger pounding in my chest, every instinct I have is begging me to transcend. I want so badly to turn into Phoenix and set this whole school ablaze. I know that wouldn’t accomplish anything in the long run, it would just speed up my death. I take three deep breaths, just trying to force the anger to subside and let me think. I feel my anger, the essence of The Cinder inside of me, push back. I push harder.

“Um, yeah.” I say, my voice cracking. “Uh, he di-did what he had to I guess.”

A ringing starts to fill my ears, sending pain coursing through my head. I try my best not to react, barely letting my eyes flutter. My whole body feels hot and wrong, I can feel my body screaming at me, just wanting to feel the power of transcendence and unleash it on this prison. I force the anger back down, sure that my face must be turning red.

“Very good.” Mrs. Fields says “Rachel, perhaps you’d like to reiterate the theme of this lesson for everyone. In your own words, what does this chapter teach us about the Great War? About Heatstroke?”

Fuck, no, not me, not now. I close my eyes to get my bearings. When I open my eyes, I see flames in the corner of the room and feel the heat of fire on my face. What did I just do? Did I just transcend? Did I hurt someone?

I glance down to see that I’m still in my school uniform, and when I look back up the fire is gone. That doesn’t make me feel any better, or any less hot. I’m hyperventilating and sweating, I can’t get my ears to stop ringing or my head to stop throbbing. I feel my hands shaking slightly. I need to get out of here, now. I need to escape. I need to be Phoenix. I know that storming out or even asking to leave is just going to make a scene. It may even get me found out.

“Heatstroke is…” I start, I glance at Mrs. Fields, only she’s gone. Standing in her place is Heatstroke, and the whole room is ablaze, all of my classmates reduced to ash. I feel my anger and hatred welling up in me, begging me to transform and fight. I start to feel the anger, and the power of The Cinder take over.

“Well, Rachel?” I hear Mrs. Fields ask. I focus my eyes on her again, she’s back. She’s fine. There’s no fire. All my classmates are fine. It was… it was all in my head again. I try to take a deep breath and stomach what I’m about to say.

“Heatstroke is a hero who paved the way for other heroes to change their ways and reform themselves.” I manage to choke out, not worrying the slightest about sounding convincing or making sure my voice doesn’t shake.

“Mrs. Fields, may I go to the nurses’ office?” I ask, begging her with my eyes.

“Yes, of course. You do look a little flushed.”

I don’t wait for her to finish her sentence, as soon as I get permission I grab my books and bag, and I’m gone. I run straight back to the dorms, shoving my key in the lock as soon as I can reach it. I slam the door closed, throw my bag down and collapse on my floor in tears. I’m shaking, I’m hot, I’m sobbing, I need to escape. I need to escape.

I call on the power of The Cinder, the anger boiling in my chest and transcend. Within seconds I’ve gone from Rachel to Phoenix. I feel the leather of my gloves, the metal of my mask, the flame that makes up my eyes and hair. I feel the stronger, better trained muscles and the more resilient body. I’m safe. I’m safe. Nothing can hurt me, not here. Nothing can hurt me. My headache is gone, I can think clearly, I can’t cry when my eyes are just fire. I’m fine. Everything’s fine.

—–

   I stay in my room for the rest of the school day, but I only remain transcended for a little less than an hour. I spend the day meditating and thinking. At about four-thirty, I realize that I haven’t eaten breakfast or lunch, so I head down to the dining hall. School’s been out for an hour, so I’m hoping not many people will be around. I enter the hall and see it mostly devoid of people and, to my disappointment, food. It’s the awkward phase between lunch and dinner, so there isn’t much that’s left out. I do manage to scavenge up an apple and a couple of chocolate chip cookies, but it’s hardly a meal.

   I head down to the choir room, a tiny room behind our schools’ auditorium. Three rows of risers line the far wall, along with the motivational and instructional posters that hang on every wall in this room. The main thing taking up space, and the only reason I’m here, is the old grand piano that sits in the center of the room. It’s not pretty, nor is it performance worthy, but it’s in tune and it’s accessible, so it’s good enough for me. I’m not technically allowed to be in here without a staff members permission, but if any of the staff actually cared enough to write me up, it’s such a minor mark on my record that it’s worth the risk. Besides, playing the piano isn’t exactly the biggest crime I’ve committed.

   I sit down and start to play Chopin’s Nocturne in C# minor, one of my favorite pieces and one of the first I truly mastered. It may seem unusual for the girl with the power’s fueled by anger to be a pianist of all thing, but it soothes me, and I can find a bit of bliss in it. My mother taught my brother and I to play from a young age, and we both found it to be an easy way to calm down and relax.

   My eyes close for a minute, getting lost in my own music. I think back to my family’s home and our lives before this whole world went to shit. I was ten years old and sitting at our grand piano, an instrument as beautiful as it was expensive, playing this same piece. It was almost Christmas, and just past nine in the evening. I casually glanced to my right while playing, the entire far wall of our living room was made up of windows, and saw the ocean and sand of the beach our house overlooked. The light of the moon was reflecting so peacefully off the water.

   My brother Zion, fourteen at this time, was sitting by the fireplace, doing some sort of artwork on his tablet. He was a talented digital artist, and I always loved to look at his work. The fireplace was lit, we could easily afford to heat our house and just have an electric fireplace, but it figures that the family of fire-based superheroes would want a real fireplace.

   My mother was standing by the Christmas tree. The tree was unreasonably large, ours always were, we had to have it shipped over here on a proper semi truck and set up by professionals. It fit in our house just fine, the ceilings were high enough that we’d have plenty of clearance, even for flying. Not that we ever flew in the house… and told our parents about it. Being a famous superhero actually paid quite well, so our parents were able to afford such a large beachside mansion and, essentially, whatever we wanted. Not to say we were spoiled, we weren’t. We had lessons on work ethic and responsibility instilled in us since we were in diapers. We were just very wealthy and got to enjoy the fruits of my families labor. My mother was examining some of our ornaments idly while listening to me play. I knew she was paying close attention to any missed note or tempo mistake. She was a great teacher, and I knew she would gently correct any error after I had finished.

   My father had just come in from the kitchen, finishing the glass of wine he had been sipping for the past hour. He watched the whole scene for a minute, the fire, the tree, the music. He just sort of smiled and kissed my mom. We were happy. Things were different. We had faced adversity, but the LeFue family, the Flamewakes, always had each other’s backs. Until the day that one of us didn’t.

   Sometimes I still think that I’m going to wake up from a nightmare. That I’ll be in my bed at home, that Zion and my parents will be there, that I’ll go back to living the privileged life of a rich, celebrity, superhero. But no, every morning I wake up, and the Archduke is still in power, I’m still in this school, my dad is still a supervillain, and I’m still a criminal vigilante.

   I play the final few notes of the Nocturne and pause as I think of what to play next when I become aware that the door to the choir room is being held open. I turn around, hoping a faculty member doesn’t actually care enough to kick me out and am relieved to see Sarah. I shrug and eye her carefully. Sarah’s a petite girl, fairly waifish, with big green eyes. Her long blonde hair is almost always done up or tied back. Her pale skin is covered by just the slightest bit of makeup. Her outfit and shoes are kept immaculately clean and proper, without a thread out of place.

“Yes?” I ask.

“Hey, Rachel. I was just walking by and heard music. I wanted to find out who was playing it.” She says, her voice shaking a little.

“Well, now you know.”

“Right. It was lovely by the way, Chopin?”

“Mhm.”

“I thought so. Hey, are you doing okay? You didn’t look so good in class earlier.”

“I’m fine. I just wasn’t feeling well. I was up late doing homework and didn’t get enough sleep.”

“It’s good to hear you’re feeling better. Are you sure you don’t want to talk? I am the class president. I’m supposed to help out my fellow classmates.”

“I’m fine. Just overtired.”

“You did seem pretty upset by the Flamewake discussion.”

“Well, it’s a little sad, don’t you think?”

“The Flamewakes? Yeah…”

“A whole family, gone like that.” I try desperately to mask the bitterness in my voice.

“Well, except his daughter.”

“Phoenix. Yeah. I bet he regrets that now.”

“Maybe he really loves her.”

“Maybe. Sure.”

“What do you think of them? Phoenix, Dragon, Chimera…”

Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me! I just can’t catch a break today.

“Idiots.” I say.

“Really? I- I think they’re heroes.”

“The two aren’t mutually exclusive.”

“I think they’re brave and cool. I’d like to think I’d stand up for what I believe in if I had powers. I’d want to help people.”

This feels like a trap by Valentin’s regime, but I highly doubt Sarah Garvey of all people would be a spy.

“No. You wouldn’t. That’s not how the world works. Not anymore.”

“I believe things can change. I think all that’s needed for change is a few good people to really believe in something.”

“You’re naive. This isn’t a world for naive people. You either get wise or end up a victim. I know which I’d rather do.”

“What happened to you to make you this jaded before you’ve even finished high school?”

“Life, Sarah. Life happened to me.”

“Well, I think they’re heroes! If I ever got powers, I’d want to help them!”

“They’re going to die.”

“We all are.”

“Young.”

“I-”

“Very young. You’d die too if you had powers. This isn’t a world for heroes anymore.”

“Maybe it’s not…”

“Let me ask you something, what’s the purpose of life?”

“To leave the world a better place than it was when you came into it.” She says, her voice trailing off when she meets my eyes. I sigh and shake my head.

“The point is to survive. Every day that you survive is a victory. You do what you have to in order to survive. Anyone who puts that at risk is either a fool or suicidal.”

I smirk for a moment, I believe what I said. I wonder, for just a moment, which one of those I am.

“I still believe. They’re going to make a difference. There is more to life than surviving. You make everything sound so, hopeless.”

I hear a soft ding from inside a hidden compartment in my backpack, my burner phone. Dragon or Chimera are trying to contact me, which means I need to leave.

“Look, I’m just being honest. Anyway, I need to go. See you around.”

I turn on my heel and head toward the door. I forgot, however, that my backpack was open and my math book loudly clatters to the floor. I bend down to pick it up and feel a searing pain run down my side.

“Ow!” I let out a breathless yelp of pain as I drop to my knees.

“I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I was just trying to h-” Sarah starts, she had tried to grab my book at the same time I did and accidentally knocked her elbow into my side. Dragon’s warning about nerve damage pops into my head for a brief moment,

“Give me that!” I mutter gruffly as I pull the book out of her hands.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to hurt you. I was just trying to help.”

“Like I told you, stop trying to help and start trying to survive.”

Sarah and I exchange the briefest glance before I slam the door shut. I’ve never had a talent for reading faces, but hers is somewhere between “I’m really sorry” and “holy shit, you’re Phoenix.” I’m really, really hoping it’s the former. I hurry up to my room and pull my phone out of the hidden compartment in my backpack. I quickly pull up the texting app, and the message I see means that this day isn’t about to get any easier.

   Chimera: Duty calls, girls. Bank robbery in progress.

—–

Dragon and I meet on top of the sky bridge just above a long stretch of road in downtown Oru. We’re both in our cloaks and masks, waiting until the most crucial moment to transcend. She and I crouch, watching the roadway and waiting for the getaway car to pass under us. This isn’t the type of mission we would do when it was just Dragon and I, we were more like freedom fighters than vigilantes. Chimera has an obsession with public image, and it’s one that we entertain to have her on our side. Chimera still believes in heroes and wants to make the public believe in them again.

For a while, I entertained the idea that Sarah could be Chimera, but I’ve seen them in the same place way too many times for that to be the case. They just have an annoyingly similar outlook on life. I used to think the world needed people like them, but it doesn’t.

Dragon and I made an effort to get here stealthily and conserve our transcendence, Chimera doesn’t care much for such subtlety. She arrives just a few minutes after we do, fully transcended and floating through the air. She looks like a superhero torn straight out of the nineteen-forties. Her body is covered by a form-fitting blue body glove, accented by her clean, white gloves and boots, A cape hangs from her shoulders to her knees, it’s the same shade of white as her gloves and boots with a bright gold trim. She wears a cowl that leaves her eyes, mouth, and hair uncovered. The cowl is the same blue as her suit, with a small white mask around her eyes. On her hip hangs a three-headed whip. Her lips are a stunning deep red, her eyes are a sparkling crystal blue, and her hair is a wavy, shoulder-length, golden blonde.

“Good afternoon ladies.” She says in a chipper tone, her whole body glows blue as she levitates slightly.

“Hey Chi, you’re sure they’re coming this way? It all seems pretty quiet.” Dragon replies.

“That’s what the police scanner said, enforcers should be in hot pursuit, so we have that to deal with too. Transcend up, we need to be ready.”

“Any spirit-touched?”

“One spirit touched robber. No spirit-touched cops, but they have two paladins.”

Dragon and I both transcend without a second thought. I feel the energy of The Cinder flow through me and let the anger I’ve built up over the course of the day take over in full force. Transcending is, quite possibly, the greatest feeling on earth. The rush of new energy and power flowing through my body, the strengthening of all my muscles and the pure electricity in the air after my body finishes transcending. I smirk behind my mask at Dragon and Chimera.

“So, what’s the plan?” I ask.

“Well, first of all, I brought a friend.” Chimera says.

As if on cue, a zip line launches and hooks onto a pole on the near side of the bridge. A thin girl in white and black armor slings herself up to the bridge via the zip line and does an athletic flip as the zip line shoots back into her wrist-mounted launcher. She stands up and gives us a full view of herself. She’s rail thin and average height, maybe an inch or two shorter than I am. Her armor is white padded cloth with black leather plating covering her chest, back, elbows, knees, and neck. She wears black boots and gloves, with metal cuffs just below the gloves. She has two war fans neatly tucked behind her back plate, her only true weapon. She has long white hair cascading down to her chest, which blends seamlessly into her white fox mask which covers her full face. The mask is pure white except for a bit of black around the eyes and a menacing Cheshire cat style grin on the muzzle of the mask.

“Thought you said you could keep up.” Chimera taunts.

“Considering I can’t fly, I think I made pretty good time.” the girl responds.

“Thanks for coming Kitsune,” Dragon says, extending a claw to shake her hand.

“This job seemed mutually beneficial. I’ve been meaning to take a look around some enforcer vans. You know my rules. I don’t help cops, we aren’t letting these guys get arrested.’

“We aren’t evil. We’d never let anyone get taken by the regime. We’ve never sent anyone to The Wall, and we aren’t gonna start now. Enforcers are on the way, we take them out too.”

“Then what’s your endgame?”

“Money goes back to the bank, the thief goes home safe.”

“The enforcers die?”

“Yes.”

“Then I’m in.”

“So, what’s our plan?” I ask.

“Take out the enforcers first, then paladins, then we deal with the thieves.” Dragon says, looking out on the horizon.

“Do we have a more specific plan?” Chimera asks, tapping her foot, which looks admittedly odd while she’s floating in the air.

“Yeah, cover the roadway below us in water.”

“I can try. Fluids are hard for me.”

“That’s why I’m having you do it now.”

“You’re the boss.” Chimera says with a shrug. She takes a step forward and stares into the water of the bay that runs alongside the far road. She points a hand towards the water, and slowly a small orb of water emerges from the bay.

“Anything obviously alive in there?” Chimera asks, holding her head.

“Nope, clear of fish.” Dragon informs her.

The orb of water quickly flies from the bay to just under our bridge, quickly settling on the ground and covering a small stretch of road.

“Is that enough?” Chimera asks, letting out a deep breath and sitting on the bridge.

“It’ll do. Nice work.” Dragon says, flying down to the newly drenched cement. Dragon takes a deep breath in and focuses before letting out a torrent of white light from her jaws, the light quickly washes over the water and leaves a thick layer of ice laying over the roadway. Dragon now turns her attention to the barricade separating the road from the bay. She grabs down on the barrier tightly and pulls up, sending bits of concrete and metal into the air. She tosses the destroyed bit of barricade into the water.

“Now we wait.” She says, leaning on a still intact section of the barricade as we start to hear police sirens in the distance.

Within a few minutes, we see a black sedan turn the corner and speed down the road towards us. A man sits in the driver’s seat, his hood up and a bandana and sunglasses covering his face. He’s driving with one hand and holding a pistol out the window with the other. In the back seat sits another man, dressed in a hooded jacket and a Halloween mask of some sort of wolfman. He’s holding a large shotgun and pointing it out the rear window, which has been fully broken open. Lastly, in the passenger seat, is the spirit-touched. He’s got dark black skin with glowing blue marks running all up his arms and continuing down his chest. He has large, blue, angelic wings tucked neatly behind him. His eyes are glowing with the same blue color as the markings on his arms. The image of this figure sitting calmly in the passenger seat of a car is almost comical.

“Chimera, you’re up again.” Dragon says. “Let them go.”

Chimera points a hand toward the car as it starts to glow blue, the wheels of the car spin as it’s slowly lifted off the ground. The panicked driver unloads a clip at Chimera as the gunman in the back shoots for Dragon. Kitsune moves a fraction of a second faster than I do, pushing Chimera to the side and letting the bullets harmlessly impact one of her fans, creating a dull metal on metal sound with each impact. The shot aimed at Dragon barely managed to hit her and almost certainly didn’t break through her icy scales. She shrugs it off nonchalantly as the car flies over the patch of ice and Chimera sets it down on the road. The car speeds off and quickly turns the next corner available to it.

Before we even get a chance to breathe, we hear the sound of thrusters blasting as two paladins, ten-foot tall hulking chunks of metal in a vaguely humanoid shape, fly over us and follow after the car, the turn it took not throwing them at all. Just before it turns, one of the Paladins glances at us for the briefest of moments.

   “Chimera, don’t lose the car. We’ll be right behind you.” Dragon orders as Chimera begins to glow with blue energy, quickly taking to the air and following after the metal giants. As soon as she round the corner, two black and white enforcer vans show up. The Cheshire grin on Kitsune’s mask seems to grow for a second as she watches the cops, focusing on them.

“Kit, do it.” Dragon orders.

Kitsune throws her hand to the right as the driver of the first van hits the ice. Just as the driver hits the ice his arm jerks violently to the right as he crashes the van into the metal wall of an office building, almost totally flattening the front end. Kitsune wastes no time dealing with the second, this time throwing her hand to the left. Just as this driver hits the ice, his arm jerks violently to the left. The second van slides and skids awkwardly as it finds a location where the barricade has been torn out and careens into the bay, sinking beneath the water.

“You know? Your power is really fucking creepy, but I’m so glad you’re on our side.” I tell Kitsune as she draws both of her fans and starts to jump down from the bridge.

“Yup, I’m a fucking freak. Now you two go, I need to have a conversation with the police.” she yells back up to me. Dragon nods to me, and we both take to the air, her with her natural wings and me with my wings of flame. We’re worried for a second that we may have lost Chimera, but we start seeing clear signs of laser fire and Chimera throwing things from ground level at the paladins. We actually manage to get pretty close to them, the sound of laser fire becoming obvious the closer we get. We’re actually pretty sure we’re getting close.

I hear a loud blast from behind me as Dragon is struck by a red laser and impacts the ground hard, leaving a small crater in the pavement. I immediately turn and check for our assailant, seeing one paladin with a laser turret coming out of its shoulder. Great, these things have learned how to set traps, that’s all we need.

The paladin lets loose a few blasts of lasers at me, not finding the mark as I dodge between them. I lower my hands and clasp them together as I fly closer to the robot, I swing my hands upward quickly and call fire to them, sending a concentrated jet of flame at the robot. The fire hits it square in the chest, but it doesn’t seem to bother it at all or even make a dent in the armor of the paladin.

It ejects a second turret from its right shoulder, this one looking more like a rifle. It fires both at me simultaneously as I fly back slightly, looking for a better angle of attack. I feel a searing pain in my knee as I see the cannon from his right shoulder made contact with my knee. My costume isn’t broken by it, but it still stings pretty badly. I quickly fly down to street level and grab Dragon, checking to make sure she’s breathing, which she is. She was hit by the stun gun of the paladin, which basically feels like an intensely localized flashbang going off in your face. She’s probably out for a few minutes.

I get back to the sky, flying around to the back of the paladin. It tries to grab me as I fly around it but doesn’t actually turn. I grab onto the back panel of the paladin and call flame to my hands. If I can maintain a grip, I can probably burn my way in. It tries to fly to shake me off, but I manage to hold on well enough. It switches tactics, this time landing on the ground as I start to feel part of the top layer of metal giving way. I see the hinges of its mechanical jaw open as a small cannon appears in its mouth as white energy begins to gather. Fuck, it’s not trying to get me off of it, it’s trying to hit Dragon.

   I can probably melt through it if I keep at it, but I have no idea if I’ll be even close to fast enough to shut it down before it hits her, so I jump off. I fly to the crater that Dragon’s laying in and call on every bit of my enhanced strength to lift her scaled body out of the crater. I throw her over my head as she starts to come to. As soon as I’m finished moving her, the paladin fires its mouth cannon at the crater, catching both my legs below the knee. It isn’t painful, but both my legs go numb as soon as it hits me. I look down at my legs and see them encased in an opaque crystalline substance, rooting them to the spot.

   It’s a containing carbon, meant to hold spirit-touched in place. It won’t actually kill or leave lasting damage, but I can’t move or feel my legs, and it would take a huge portion of my powers to get out of. Lucky for me, Dragon’s back in the fight, and she’s angry.

   Dragon flies at the paladin, pouncing on it, and pinning it to the pavement. With a quick blow, she knocks the stun gun off of its shoulder and bites hard into the bare shoulder. She’s not able to break through, and lets loose a blast of ice in its face. The paladin shakes it off and doesn’t seem at all phased. It hauls back and hits her with one of its massive, metal fists, sending her flying into the side of a nearby building. It fires a few of its burning lasers at her, but they don’t seem to have much of an effect on Dragon’s scaled hide.

   It’s a stalemate, and in a fight with a paladin, that’s a death sentence. Paladins don’t run out of power or need to detranscend like us, so we’re basically fucked if I can’t do anything. I’ve fought paladins before, but I’ve been lucky enough to never get hit with carbon until today.

   “Dragon, any ideas?” I ask, futility trying to burn through the carbon.

   “I can’t slash through it or freeze it. Can you get loose anytime soon?” She asks.

   “Trying, but… actually, maybe! Hold on.”

   I’m struck with an idea. I call on my special power, the ability to enter my Cinder state, and I’m relieved as my feet start to disappear, leaving empty carbon behind. Within a few seconds, my entire body has disappeared, and I’m in the Cinder state, totally invisible and intangible. Instead of dropping out of it now, I get an idea to take care of the paladin. I float towards the Paladin, locked in combat with Dragon, and slide through its back panel. I look around the chest cavity of the robot, seeing a thick metal frame and a mess of wires and cables. If I can make myself appear in just the right place, I should have enough room. I’m not exactly sure what would happen if I tried to materialize into a solid object, but I don’t plan on finding out.

I focus the fire within me and start gathering it. I’m such a fucking idiot for getting jumped by a two-ton robot, I’m such an idiot for getting my feet encased in carbon, and we shouldn’t even be here in the first place. If Chimera didn’t have such a fucking justice boner, I’d be in my dorm right now. Not like I’d be having a better time there, but I wouldn’t have a massive robot trying to lock me in a high-security super prison for the rest of my life. I grit my teeth and drop out of the cinder state, curling into a ball. A wave of flame erupts from around my body, slicing the paladin down the seam. I land on the concrete and look at Dragon.

“Let’s go, we have lost ground to make up.” I say as I take to the air. Dragon follows after me, but I’m faster than her at this point. My fire is burning hotter than it has in a few weeks and I’m not planning on slowing down. Within a few minutes, I finally catch up to the stopped black sedan. The two guys with guns have them trained on the paladin, their bullets deflecting off of its armor harmlessly. The glowing man is fighting Chimera, throwing bolts of electricity at her, which she is mostly dodging rather than deflecting.

I waste no time, charging into the glowing man and striking him in the chest while letting loose a jet of flame. He falls onto a nearby rooftop and I land next to him. I don’t give him the chance to get up, striking him hard in the face and letting for flame loose. He takes a step back and takes to the air, laughing softly and staring at me.

“You’re not too bright. Are you?” he says, creating an arc of electricity between his hands.

“Phoenix! Stop! He absorbs energy and turns it into electricity!” Chimera warns me, I turn back to the figure just in time to take a blast of electricity to the chest, I go flying back along the roof and hit hard against a ventilation shaft. My head is pounding and my hands can’t stay steady. I open my eyes and I’m seeing double. There’s a solid chance that hit just gave me a concussion. I growl under my breath and see he’s back to fighting Chimera, who’s frantically dodging him.

Dragon arrives a few seconds later, landing on the roof right next to me. She gives me a hand up which I begrudgingly take. She watches the man fight for a second, trying to get a decent read.

“So, what’s the plan?” I ask her.

“Chimera isn’t hitting him, why?” she asks.

“He absorbs energy. Hitting him just makes him stronger.”

“That’s a passive effect?”

“Seems like it.”

“No, he… he’s spending powers to use his shield. He has to be. Nobody is that strong on a base level, not even the Archduke.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes.” Dragon sounds mildly offended that I even asked.

“So what do we do about that?”

“Get him to use his power up, evasive maneuvers, keep him shooting at all three of us. Don’t engage him, just keep dodging him as best you can.”

Dragon takes off towards him before I get a second to reply. Okay fine, she wants us to draw fire, I know a thing or two about that.

I fly to the nearest rooftop to the fight and look him dead in the eyes.

“Hey!” I shout. “I never caught a name.”

“Didn’t give you one.” he replies, firing a bolt of lightning at me. I take a step back to dodge out of the way.

“I like to know who’s ass I’m about to kick. For records and all that.”

“You’re fucking crazy. The name’s Voyager. You?”

“You’re kidding, right? That’s not even in the top hundred coolest electricity based names. Fucking Voyager?”

“Yeah, come say that to my face.”

“Whatever, I’m calling you Sparky.”

“Yeah, and I’m calling you an ambulance!”

Voyager throws two bolts of lightning at me, I backpedal and dive off the back of the roof, quickly calling on my wings again, I swing around the base of the building and fly up towards him, very nearly hitting him but changing course in his face. He fires a shot that almost grazes me as I spin to avoid it. Dragon flies in front of him to get his attention and now it’s more bolts her way. Not long after, Chimera cracks her whip right next to his ear and dodges a few blasts herself.

“Hey, Sparky!” I yell when I see Chimera getting a little worn out. He turns his head to look at me and I flip him off. He readies another beam of electricity, and I prepare to dodge it. He smirks at me as he fires the beam right into Dragon, who wasn’t anticipating it. The beam hits Dragon hard in the chest, and he locks it in on her. She crashes into the ground, but he doesn’t let up, keeping the electricity trained on her.

I fly into him, bumping him slightly. He does stop shocking Dragon but instead grabs me by the hair. He tries to shock me that way but ends up burning his hands on the flames. He swears loudly and shakes his hand as I fly past him. Dragon is down, but as long as Chimera and I can keep up her plan, we have a shot. He extends his hands and tries to train one bolt on me and one on Chimera, but we are both able to dodge those pretty easily. I fly closer to him and slow a little as I pass under him. He stops his beam of electricity and suddenly fires it ahead of me, I was expecting that. What I was not, however, expecting, was his second beam to be right behind me.

I feel waves of electricity course through my body. I can feel my heart quake with each jolt that passes through it. It’s hard to breathe or even focus. I crash hard into the dirt of an alleyway, he doesn’t stop until he’s sure I’m down. Getting a little extra in for good measure. I’m not unconscious, but I’m in no shape to stand and fight.

So it’s just Chimera and Voyager. They eye each other for a moment, Chimera staying rooted in the air. Voyager fires a blast of lightning at Chimera, which she dodges with ease, sliding right back to her original position once it passes.

“Missed me!” she taunts.

“Wasn’t aiming at you.” he says.

Chimera gasps as sparks spread onto her back, she’s next to a transformer, and Voyager just overloaded it. Before she can move, the transformer explodes violently, baptizing her in bright light and electricity. She falls to the ground below hard, smoking and scorched.

Voyager floats about us, calling more electricity to himself. He’s going to kill me, this is how I fucking die, to a petty bank robber in some alley in Oru. I’m not going to make a difference, and I’m a fool for thinking I could. My death doesn’t mean anything, I’m just going to end up a dead in a street fight. Fuck. At least I didn’t give Heatstroke the satisfaction of killing me himself.

His blast misfires into the sky, he looks at his hands, confused. As if his wrist called for his electricity to go well before he meant it to. Suddenly, in a bright flash, he drops out of transcendence and back into his mundane form. He’s a dark skinned man with short curly hair and a thin mustache, he’s dressed in a grey sweatshirt and blue jeans. He starts to fall out of the air and to the ground, the drop is more than fatal, but suddenly he stops. A razor-tipped hook poked through his hood. Kitsune stands on a rooftop, a fan in one hand and a zip line extending from the wrist launder on her other hand.

—–

   It takes a few minutes for her to pull him to a rooftop and for Dragon and myself to carry Chimera up there. When we all get there, she has a closed fan in her hand and is eyeing Voyager.

“What are you supposed to be? What did you do to my powers? What the hell is that fan supposed to do?” he says, trying his best not to let his voice shake.

“A fox, but I could easily become your worst nightmare if you don’t cooperate. I made the line of communication between your brain and fine motor skills hiccup, which is why you shot lightning at nothing.” She explains, she pulls back slightly and shoves her war fan into his chest in a quick strike, extending the fan on contact.

“And that’s what this fan does. Question its usefulness as a weapon again, it’s not a mistake I let people make twice.”

The man stays silent. Kitsune walks around him, pulling three backpacks and a large duffle bag from behind some vents.

“So, here’s the deal. You try to run, and we kill you, you try to fight, and we kill you, you try anything we don’t say you can do, and…  

“You kill me?”

“Good. I’m glad you’re learning. Oh, and if that girl dies from her injuries, we kill you, is that clear?” Kitsune explains, indicating to the unconscious Chimera.

“Weren’t y’all supposed to be the good guys?” he asks with a small chuckle.

“Yes, so think about what the enforcers would have done to you.”

“Look, what do you want?”

“Well, first off, we’re taking the money, but you aren’t in a position to negotiate where that goes. Secondly, I just want some information. Here’s what I got so far, correct me if I’m wrong. You’re either Trent Long, Jalen Howard, or Michael Lewis.” Kitsune pauses a beat after each name and takes a second to look at him afterward.

“Okay, so you’re Michael.” she says, it’s not a question.

“Wait, what the fuck?” he asks.

“I’m not getting into it, but I only have to ask you a question to figure out the answer. You actually answering is optional, it also means that lying to me is pointless. Understand?”

“Fine, yeah, I’m Michael.”

“You have a younger brother, Edward. Goes by Ed, no, Eddy. Yeah? Yeah. Parents are working in internment, and you’re his guardian. I figure you want the money to start a new life, somewhere far from Oru. Maybe Fangar, or the Diamond Coast. Yeah, Diamond Coast. So that’s why you stole the cash. You aren’t a criminal mastermind or anything.”

“Okay, what do you-”

“Shh. You just got your powers when, last week? Two weeks ago? Three? Three, okay cool. This is your first outing, and you’ve never pushed them to their limits. You’re confused as to why you detranscended. The bad news for you is that just happens when someone pushes themself too far. That’s why you have to conserve energy. Strike smarter, not harder. You weren’t ready for this, you got way too far in over your head and actually put on a pretty good effort against my friends, but you burned too much power way too fast, and it should have killed you.”

“Yeah. Okay, fine. So, if y’all really are the good guys, why did you stop me?”

“Cause we’re the fucking good guys. The Archduke deserves to have his shit stolen, but you need to take directly from him. All your doing with this is making sure that some bank workers get reprimanded and possibly imprisoned by the Archduke. You’re making your life better by making someone else’s worse. That’s no better than them.”

“Banks are insured, nobody’s go-”

“You buy that? You think the Archduke is gonna actually provide insurance to money that isn’t his? No, that’s a lie that petty thieves tell so they can sleep at night.”

Michael stays silent and looks at the ground for a second.

“Here’s the deal.” Kitsune starts, reaching for a small bundle of credits in her backplate. “Your friends are dead. The paladins killed them before I got here. You’re going to take this. It’s 5,000 credits. I can afford to give this to you, it’s worth it. As long as you take your brother and go. You’re going to take your friends’ car and their guns. You’re gonna leave Oru forever. You’re gonna teach your brother how to defend himself, you’re going to master your power, and you’re going to lay as low as possible. You’re a spirit-touched. Ninety-five percent of people in the world will never be anywhere close to as powerful as you are. Fucking own that and turn it into something positive.”

“Okay. I-”

“Okay, and one last thing. If you ever threaten my people’s livelihood or hurt my friends again…”

Kitsune throws her hands out quickly, and Michael spreads his arm in a spread eagle pose. She then raises her hand gently, and Michael stands. He looks downright terrified, and his eyes quickly dart around the roof. Kitsune twirls her finger, and Michael spins on his heel. His feet start to move in an almost unnatural way as Kitsune waves her fingers, walking him to the edge of the room.

“All I have to do is flick my wrist, and you jump five stories to your death. I won’t hesitate to kill you next time. I know your secrets Michael Lewis, and that means I have all the power. Now go. Leave Oru. Don’t come back.”

Michael drops his arms and sprints to the fire escape, trying to get as far away from Kitsune as quickly as possible. Kitsune’s power can be downright terrifying, and it’s still uncomfortable to watch someone she has that much control over.

“Did you fully control him?” I ask. I’m not even totally sure she can do that.

“No. I just had temporary full control of his limbs, I had like five secrets on him and nothing big. I could only make him walk very slowly, I wasn’t gonna get him to sprint or beat someone to death or even talk. I need way more than that to make someone a total meat puppet.” Kitsune says.

“You can do more?”

“Yeah. Give me some of your secrets, and I’ll show you sometime. It’s great, I promise.”

“I think I’ll pass. But seriously, how do you do that interrogation bit?”

“I get some pieces of information that could pertain to them, like a list of names, and say them until I read a mild panic or fear reaction on the correct answer and try my best to make logical leaps. All I had to do to get started on that guy was search his backpack. Part of my gift is the ability to read emotions. Of course I was going to find a way to weaponize that.”

“Please never turn to the darkside. Your powers freak me the fuck out.”

“Don’t plan to. Burning to death in a rage inferno freaks me the fuck out.”

“Fair enough.”

“Speaking of death, I did just save all of your lives. So, how about a favor?”

“Sure.” Dragon says with a nod, Chimera is finally sitting up, but her hands are shaking and she’s gripping her head gently.

“I took this from the paladin, it’s a memory core. Can you decrypt and analyze it for me?” Kitsune says, handing Dragon a small metal box with some torn wires.

“Yeah, that’s no problem at all. I can get it to you this weekend if that’s good.”

“That’s great, you know how to contact me. I trust you can return the money.”

“Yeah, I can do it.” Chimera says, her voice shakes slightly as she picks up the duffle bag. “I was the one who said we should go on this job. It’s my fault that we almost died, I’ll take it back.”

“Chi, you can barely walk.” Dragon insists.

“I don’t need to walk, I can fly.” Chimera says taking to the air as she straps the bag across her chest.

“Chimera!”

“Just let me do this. Please. I think the people are starting to trust me, at least a little.”

Chimera flies off. She’s clearly still in pain, but she’s determined. Kitsune shrugs and fires a zip line in the same general direction as Chimera.

“I’m headed that way anyway, I’ll keep an eye on her.” she says as she takes off swinging down the block.

“Thank you.” Dragon says.

“Well, see you next time?” I say, igniting my wings back and walking to the edge of the rooftop.

“Hey! Phoenix! Dragon!” I hear a voice call from the street, I look down and grumble when I see Sarah Garvey of all people. That’s all I need to end my day. Of course, Dragon flies down to meet her on the street, and for some stupid reason, I decide to follow.

“What can we do for you civilian?” Dragon asks, going into her full “professional superhero” mode.

“I know Phoenix must be looking for her dad. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I did some research and checked out a few buildings. I think I might have found some interesting information.” she says, holding a thin manila folder.

You’re fucking kidding me. She thinks she can find anything that we, a team of superheroes, can’t? Fuck her.

“Leave.” I order.

“But I just wa-”

“Don’t care. Don’t presume to know what I ‘must be’ doing. Don’t mess with me today. Leave and stay out of our way.”

“I’m just trying to help.”

“You wanna help? Then stay out of the way. You’re not a hero, you don’t have powers. You’re just a liability if you keep trying to look into the business of a fucking supervillain.”

“You think that’s all that makes a hero? Powers and a suit?”

“They certainly help.”

“You can’t believe that. I know you have the heart of a hero.”

“Maybe I did. If you wanna find it, go sifting through the pile of ash that is the rest of my family.”

“You’re our best hope for the future, and you don’t even believe in yourself? Why do you even do this then? Why not go join your father?”

“I’m sorry. Did you just say what I think you fucking said?”

Sarah clasps a hand over her mouth and looks at me with genuine fear as I step closer. I feel heat and flame expel from my fists. Every inch of me wants to light her on fire, every inch of me wants to make her pay for that comment, every inch of me wants to make her an example of what happens to naive victims in this world. I grab her by the neck with my right hand and pin her against the brick wall of a nearby building.

“Repeat what you just said.” I order her.

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I didn’t me-”

“Repeat. What. You. Said.”

“Phoenix. Stand down.” Dragon orders me, bearing her claws and teeth.

I drop Sarah, she immediately cowers, crying and apologizing.

“It’s probably best you get home civilian, thank you for your information. I’m sure it will be a big help.” Dragon says, picking up the folder. Sarah runs off, leaving me alone with Dragon.

“Really? We’re threatening civilians now?” She asks.

“Don’t start with me.” I say, brushing past her.

“If we’re trying to rebuild the image of hero-”

“I don’t give a shit about the image of heroes! I care about finding the bastard that killed my family and making him pay! After that, I could give a fuck what we do! Maybe I’ll quit!”

“Phoenix…”

“Don’t fucking talk to me.”

I take a few steps past her before igniting my wings and screaming into the sky on a jet of flame. Fuck everything about today. I almost died, and I’m not even sure if that cracks the list of the top three worst things that happened to me today. Fuck all of this. I don’t need her. I don’t need anybody. I’ve been on my own since I was twelve, and I could be alone again if I had to. I could be a solo hero. She and Chimera wouldn’t last one week without me!

Or maybe I’m holding them back. I’m not sure which possibility I like less.

Session 1, Chapter 1 – Phoenix

Content Warning: Death, PTSD

“Fuck this.” I mutter under my breath, bouncing my pencil against my knee. “I’m done studying for today.”

I slam my book shut and grumble. History is bad enough when it’s just boring, but when it’s boring and inaccurate it’s insufferable. Everyone gets it wrong, but they all think they have it right. I guess history truly is written by the victors. I know I sound bitter, but you would be too if you had to read a textbook about how your entire family was murdered by a psychopath.

I go to my dresser and pull open the bottom drawer, pushing aside some sweats and shorts to reveal a false bottom. I push on it slightly and lift it up just enough so I can grab what’s inside. I pull out a modified gas mask, painted and thinned out slightly, a deep black cloak and a cheap cell phone. The phone is a burner that I should probably get around to replacing soon, while the mask and cloak are just so I can conceal my identity without having to transcend sooner than I absolutely must.

I shove the mask and cloak into my backpack and put my password into the phone, opening the texting app and clicking on the group chat at the very top of the app. I quickly type a message and pace around my tiny dorm room waiting anxiously for a notification. Finally, a reply comes.

   Me: Need to blow off steam. Anyone up for sparring?

   Chimera: I would love to, but I have homework. Sorry, Phe…

   Me: No worries.

I sigh and angrily toss my phone onto my bed. I need to get out of this dorm in the worst way, and I don’t want to have to go looking for a petty criminal just to clear my head. I feel my rage swelling within me, begging me, ordering me even, to transcend. To transform from the simple, quiet Rachel into the powerful and confident Phoenix. To burn the book and the person who wrote it to the ground. I try to push these thoughts to the back of my mind, I take one breath, then another, then a third, feeling the anger subside just slightly. I glance out the window at my school’s courtyard. I swear, sometimes Archduke Valentin’s Boarding School seems more like a prison, but it’s allegedly the best school money can buy.

I look out at the courtyard, standing still and empty, a few lights from lampposts in the courtyard provide the faint light in the winter evening. There’s no snow, if there were things might actually look cheery. Everything feels cold and still, everything feels dead. The city has no life or substance, the city feels abandoned on nights like this. People certainly aren’t my favorite thing, but a dead, empty city isn’t better.

I catch a glimpse of my reflection in the window, shrugging. I’m about as plain and unassuming as possible, nobody would ever guess that I’m a superhero when I’m not at school, and if they did, I’m pretty sure Phoenix would be the last person they assumed I was. I look at my face, I have relatively average features, a small slightly upturned nose with chapped lips and dull brown eyes beneath small glasses. My cheeks are fairly pale and my whole face tends to lack color, I’m light skinned so that isn’t a huge surprise, but I lack the rosy cheeks or colorful eyes that some people have. I look at my hair, long, straight, and dirty blonde, it sits at the middle of my back. I don’t usually like to put my hair up and today is no exception. I’ve been lucky enough to have fairly low-maintenance hair, which is one of the few blessings I try to be thankful for. I look down at my clothes, a plain black tee shirt, and blue jeans. I’m just thankful that it’s still the weekend and I don’t have to put on that awful uniform until tomorrow.

I’m pulled out of my self-analysis by another notification from my burner phone.

   Dragon: sure

   Dragon: in 20

   Dragon: where

   Me: Roof of the old bank?

   Dragon: cool

I roll my eyes slightly at Dragon’s texts. I struggle to understand how someone as intelligent as her, whose power is literally fueled by her own intelligence, texts in the jumbled, punctuation-free way she does. She’s mentioned a few times that it saves her a few seconds and she’s usually distracted with her work when she’s texting, but it just seems unusual to me. I brush it off and breath a sigh of relief, grabbing my bag, leaving the room and eventually, the school.

I walk a few blocks until I hit a park that’s fairly dense with trees. I double check to make sure I’m not being followed and that nobody happens to be idly watching me and am relieved to be totally alone. I duck behind a tree and quickly pull my glasses off, put them in their case and tuck them in my bag. I don’t have to take them off to wear my mask, but it’s certainly more comfortable. I only really need the glasses to read anyway, my vision is a little worse without them, but I can manage walking a few blocks. I pull the mask on and secure the strap around my head, making sure I can see somewhat clearly out of the paint-stained lenses. Once I’m at least somewhat satisfied with my mediocre and obscured vision. I pull the cloak out of my backpack and pull it over my shoulders, struggling a little to get it over the hose of the mask. I pull the hood up, double and triple checking that all my hair is covered by the black hood. I sling the backpack back over my shoulders and continue my walk towards the old bank. It would be much easier to just transcend and fly there, but not only would it waste energy for sparring, it would also probably cause a scene that I really don’t need right now.

I climb around the back of the old bank, a relic of about four years ago, just like the rest of the old town. This was where the remain great superheroes made a last stand against Archduke Valentin and his forces. Every single hero involved in that fight was killed and this ruined bank stands as a monument to their failure. The bank was an unusual place to fight, but it’s where the heroes got pushed to and cornered. Patriot, the last to fall, managed to kill three villains by himself before he was finally killed. They were all burned in corpse piles by Valentin’s regime, their names have been all but scrubbed from the history books.

I find the old rickety fire escape as best I can with my impaired vision and pull it down to me. I climb up to the top of the bank in a few seconds. I’m surprised this fire escape hasn’t totally broken based on how rickety it is, but for some reason, it’s hanging in there. There’s probably a metaphor for what I’m doing in there somewhere, but fuck that.

I stand on the top of the bank and wait for Dragon, she usually tends to be a few minutes late. If she doesn’t have her head in a book, she’s stumbled onto some old website that hasn’t be taken down or she’s working on some new machine or pill. The girl’s a genius, even without her powers upping her intelligence, but she does have a tendency to get lost in her projects.

As I’m waiting, I notice white flakes landing on the lenses of my mask, I jump back and raise my fists, ready to transcend. It takes me a few seconds until I register that it’s just snow and I finally let my guard down. I let out a staggered breath and hold out my hand as I let the snow fall onto it. It’s light, the first snow of winter, but all it does is add to the eerie haunted mood that resonates through this city. My thoughts are broken by a voice from behind me.

“You sure know how to pick places to hang out Phoenix.” I hear Dragon say, I jump back and tense up for a moment, but Dragon’s voice is distinct and easy to ground myself on.

“You shouldn’t sneak up on me you know. That’s a really good way to get burned.” I reply, only half meaning it.

“Oh please, like you could even start to melt through my scales.”

“So you do jokes now?”

“Why not? This place is thoroughly fucking creepy, so I might as well try to lighten the mood.”

“Welcome to Old Town, it’s not exactly pretty.”

“Fuck. I can’t believe they just left all this standing.”

“They want a reminder of what happens to rebels. I know a thing or two about that.” I touch my side gingerly, Dragon nods grimly at me.

“It still hurts?”

“Occasionally, not often and not nearly as bad as the first year.”

“That’s not good, could be nerve damage.”

“Of course it could, that’s all I fucking need.”

“I’m sorry, do you want to talk about something else?”

“We’re here to fight, let’s fucking fight.”

I turn my whole body to Dragon, getting a good look at her. She’s dressed in a white mask, a mix of rubber and metal that covers her face completely. She wears a light blue, nearly white cloak, similar in style to my black cloak.

“You sure you want to do this now? Wanna take a second to cool off first?”

“Nope. This is the only way I know how to do it.”

I channel the rage I feel, all the anger and hatred I have for Heatstroke for burning me so badly, for killing my family, for ruining my entire life. All the anger and hatred I have for the heroes who failed, and the villains who saw fit to end their lives for standing up for what they believed in. All the anger I have at this world that I can’t fight back against as Rachel. I feel the anger burn up in my chest and boil over, sending a burning sensation all through my body. I see flames appear from seemingly nowhere and wash over my arms, replacing the soft fabric of my cloak and tee shirt with hard black leather armor with a red accent and covering my bare hands with matching gloves a black emblem covered in red flame appears on the back of my gloves. The same changes occur for my chest, an emblem appearing on my leather chest piece. I feel the leather armor pushing up to protect my neck, covering it completely. I watch as my jeans are transformed into black leather pants with the same red accents and the same emblem on my belt. My boots transform into soft shoes, almost similar to that of a jester. They’re soft and flexible, incredibly easy to move and run in, I feel as if all of the skin beneath my armor is turning to pure flame, just wildfire contained in a human shape. I feel fire reforming my muscles, giving them a supernatural strength and agility, and giving them a muscle memory it would take years or decades to master. I feel my mask becoming a solid black face mask with a grey bar of metal along my eyes. The lenses of my mask disappear, and my eyes along with them, leaving empty black sockets visible through the metal of the mask. I’m blinded for half a second before two balls of fire replace my eyes, I can see through them with flawless vision, far better than my usual vision, even with glasses. I feel the straps of the mask solidify themselves and become nearly unbreakable. The final part of the transformation is my hair, the cloak burns off of my head in one fluid motion as my long, straight, dirty blond hair turns into bright red, curly hair made of pure fire. My curls fall effortlessly, slightly shorter and just to my shoulders. They don’t burn me, but they’d burn anyone who got remotely close to my hair. I stand still and take a few big breaths, feeling the power of The Cinder course through me.

I glance over at Dragon, watching as she starts to transcend. White scales, a mix of ice and chitin, begin to cover her arms, once they reach her hands they grow quickly and become sharp claws. The chitin continues to cover her chest and travel down her legs, turning her feet into similar claws to those on her hands. A large tail bursts forth from the base of her spine as two large wings start to grow from her back, growing to a full, impressive wingspan in a matter of seconds. The scales keep growing up her neck and within a few moments her mask is gone, replaced by a full draconic muzzle and snout, an impressive row of teeth clearly visible, even at a distance. Her eyes shift back and place themselves on the side of her face. Her cloak finally fades as the scales completely cover her and her hair disappears. As a human, she is a few inches shorter than my 5’7 frame, but now she’s well over eight feet tall. She nods at me and smirks, as well as she can as an icy reptile anyway.

“Alright, let’s do it then.” She bellows, her voice is slightly deeper and carries a guttural resonance.

“Gladly.” I say, assuming a fighting stance.

I charge forward at Dragon, taking a few steps before calling on my increased strength and agility to jump high into the air, using a jet of flame to propel myself higher. Dragon’s ready for me and flies up to intercept me, I let her get close enough to just barely touch me with her claws before I send a circle of flame out from my mid-section, blowing her back and giving me some space as I land back on the roof. Dragon recovers quickly and swoops down for me and I’m barely able to dodge out of the way. I generate my own wings of flame just under my arms and use them to soar after her. She goes higher, going into the clouds. I know that the higher I follow, the more of a disadvantage I’m at, but I need to keep the offensive pressure on her. I let out a few torrents of flame, firing blindly into the clouds.

I feel strong claws grab me from behind, forcing me down towards the ground with them. Dragon pushes me down to the roof and holds me there, pinning me.

“Too aggressive,” Dragon says. “In the air, I have the advantage. Force me down. Don’t let me dictate the terms of the fight. You’re the aggressor, you need to have the upper hand, otherwise, you’re just being reckless.”

I struggle against her, but without being able to move my hands it’s hard to get any fire going. I always have a way out of situations like this though. I take a deep breath and call on my ability to enter The Cinder State. I feel my body fade away, slipping from Dragon’s grasp. My body becomes little more than a hot wind as I disappear completely. I can’t feel anything, but I’m generally aware of where I am as I position myself behind Dragon. I would normally take a second or two to charge more flame against an opponent, but Dragon knows what my power can do, and I have to catch her before she’s ready.

I drop out of my cinder state and land on Dragon’s back, letting a blast of fire loose onto the top of her head. I pull back and unleash another torrent of flame, feeling the anger build inside me. I am so fucking tired of being held down, I am so fucking tired of being ruled by the people who killed my family, I am so fucking tired of knowing I’m going to die for nothing, I am so fuckin-

“Phoenix!” I hear Dragon call out and pull me from my anger fueled state. “I said I give up, three times.”

I look down at Dragon, she has scorch marks covering her head and back. She’s cowering behind a shield of ice and shaking out of pain, fear or anger, maybe a combination of the three. I get off Dragon’s back and take three deep breaths, feeling my anger burn off and dissipate.

“You lost control.” Dragon says.

“Yeah. I’m sorry.” I say, looking away.

“You could have really hurt me.”

“I know. It won’t happen again.”

“You need to keep your anger under control. What if you end up hurting someone or even killing them? Someone who doesn’t fucking deserve it.”

“That won’t happen. My power is fueled by anger, sometimes it can be hard to control, but I’m stronger than it. I control my anger, it doesn’t control me.”

“Usually I believe you, but you seem different today. Angrier, more aggressive.”

“It’s been a rough fucking week. I’m sorry.”

I take a seat on the rooftop and look over the ruins of Old Town. I sigh and let out a deep breath before de-transcending, sending my powers away and turning back into mundane, human Rachel. I check to ensure that my hood and mask are still secure and then look back at Dragon.

“I should have been better. I need to control my anger. I knew I was mad tonight and I shouldn’t have asked you here. I should know I couldn’t control myself. I’m sorry.” I say.

Dragon de-transcends herself and walks towards me, taking a seat next to me on the roof. She is silent for a moment before looking at me.

“I’m your friend you know. At least I try to be as much as I can. I don’t know who you are behind the mask, and I can respect that you don’t want me to, but I’d like to think we’re still friends. I can help you, I can be there for you. Just open up to me, please, tell me what’s wrong.”

I sigh and take a second to think, can I tell her what’s really bothering me? She knows I’m a Flamewake and that my entire family was killed, but if I tell her we’re about to study that in history, I’m going to show my hand and tell her exactly what year I’m in. Can I afford to have Dragon know that?

“It’s just, this sucks, you know? The world I grew up in so different from the one I live in now. When I was a kid everything seemed full of hope and life. Now everything just seems still and dead. I know, we lost and the Archduke gets his way, but it just sucks. Someone born just now, they have no idea what our world used to look like, but we had to watch our world fall apart and we couldn’t do a fucking thing about it.” I say, looking out across the old and dead horizon.

“I know. I’m sorry Phoenix. I didn’t have powers when the Archduke took over. My parents and I were separated a few years ago, they got on a train and… I never saw them again. The next thing I know, I’m being told that I have to attend a boarding school in Oru. I felt powerless and helpless, I wanted to fight, but it would still be almost a year until I was touched by Ienath and became Dragon. I can’t imagine what it was like having powers when the Archduke took over.”

“After the fight with Heatstroke, I was laid out pretty bad. I was taken in by a family friend to recover and by the time I felt well enough to fight again, we had already lost. I gave up the hero thing for a while, but I couldn’t just do nothing. I’m not going down without a fight.”

“Neither am I.”

There’s an awkward pause for just a moment as the snow falls onto our masks and hoods. I take a deep breath and drum my fingers on the edge of the roof.

“And… I’ve been forced to relive what happened to my family, again and again, almost every year at school.” I say, letting the words hang there for a minute.

“I’m… I’m so sorry. Do you want to talk about it? What really happened, not the version our history books tell us.” She asks.

“Are you sure you want to hear this?”

“As long as you want to tell it.”

“Okay, then settle in. I’ll tell you the whole thing.”

I cross my legs and close my eyes, trying to center myself. True rage never dissipates, especially not from a Flamewake, but if I’m going to stay in control while recounting this, I need to hold my anger back. I take three deep breaths and focus on the rage in my heart, calming it, spreading it through my limbs and into the ground. I take another deep breath and open my eyes, looking over at Dragon.

“I assume you know about Heatstroke. How he went to fight the Archduke with Nova, my mom. Nobody is totally sure what happened there, but all we know is that my mom died and Heatstroke came out of there changed and evil.” I start, quelling the building anger inside of me.

“Of course. It’s framed a little different now, but I remember the news reports.” She says.

“Well, Heatstroke went on the warpath, hurting and killing other heroes, stealing weapons, even executing civilians. My grandfather, Wildfire, could no longer ignore what he was doing and with the help of my cousin Bonfire and my uncle Fuego, who both had abilities that could track him, our whole family cornered him in a warehouse hideout. All forty-two living members of my family went to bring him to justice. I was the youngest, at twelve.”

“They let you come?”

“Yes. He killed my mom, they weren’t stopping me. My older brother, Blaze, he tried to talk me out of it, but I needed to be there. Anyway, we showed up at this warehouse and maybe twenty people came charging out of the building with guns and tire irons. They didn’t even get close before my family put them down. Nobody even got scratched. Bonfire, who could see heat signatures, was able to identify where he was in the building and we all headed there. Blaze tried to talk me into going home, but I didn’t listen.”

“Wait, I’m sorry, but, your cousin could see heat signatures? Just her? Don’t you all have the same powers?”

“No. Our benefactor is the same, The Cinder. They’re the spirit of fire and rage. But our powers are slightly different. Every member of my family is touched by The Cinder, either by birth or marriage. We all have the power to create and control fire, however, we all have a special unique power. My power is the ability to go into my ‘Cinder State’, where I can’t touch or be touched by anything and I can move unimpeded. Heatstroke has the ability to teleport through fire. Bonfire was born blind, when she transcended she could see via heat signatures. The Cinder saw fit to give her sight.”

“I see. Sorry, I just knew that both you and Heatstroke can both basically teleport, so I made an assumption.”

“I understand. Anyway, we followed Bonfire and she lead us right to him. He was waiting for us, on a fucking throne made out of pumice stone. My grandfather fought him for a while and the rest of us started acting on our plan. Those of us who were better at creating powerful fire, like me, started making it as fast as we could. Those of us who were better at controlling fire, like my brother, started calling all the fire to a central point, forming a massive fireball. My grandfather called the fire forth and covered Heatstroke in it. We had the idea that if we hit him hard enough, fast enough, he couldn’t teleport away. We were wrong. He was able to teleport as soon as the flame made contact. For a second, we thought we had won, but then the fireball started to turn black. Then my brother grabbed me and used his special power, an unbreakable shield of fire, to protect us just before it exploded. Almost half of my family was instantly turned to ash by the blast.”

I hesitate for a second, feeling the anger build in me again. Begging me to transcend and hunt him down, to get revenge for what he did. I let out a deep breath and try to regain my composure.

“The rest of them burned to death. Nobody even survived the blast except for my brother and I. He tried talking to us, Heatstroke, he told said he was ‘glad it was just us now.’ Zi-uh-Blaze tried to fight him. Heatstroke burned him half to death with a wave of his hand and turned his head to ash right in front of me. I tried to fight back, I told him to go fuck himself and used my power to get behind him and try to take him out, but he was ready and channeled my flame through himself and harmlessly into the ground. He hit me once, and I was down. He just had to slap me and I was down. He told me that ‘they’ wanted me alive, wanted one Flamewake to serve as a reminder. Then he… He grabbed my sides and held me in place while he called ash and flame to his hands and… well. He left me with a permanent reminder. He left me with these fucking burn scars running down the length of both my sides. Then he made me watch as he burned the corpses of my family to nothing but ash. Said he was doing me a favor. ‘If the medics and police could identify even one body, they’d figure out your civilian identity.’ to quote him exactly. Then he was gone, I was alone. The last Flamewake, laying on the ground and sobbing in pain. It took less than ten minutes for him to kill my entire family. I’m going to get my revenge.”

“I know.” Dragon says, placing a hand on my shoulder. “I’m going to help you. He’s going to pay.”

“He better.”

“Phoenix, do you ever worry you’re too close to this? That… that you are letting your desire for revenge get in the way of the mission?”

“Fuck no. I wasn’t gonna stay home then, and I sure as hell am not going to now. Besides, you and Chimera wouldn’t stand a chance without me.”

“We can get help, we’ll talk to Kitsune. if you could give her any secrets on your father she coul-”

“He is not my father!” I scream in her masked face. I stand up, letting out a deep breath and storming towards the fire escape.

“I’m sorry… Phoenix, I…” she says, looking at me sheepishly.

“He’s not my father. My father died with my mother the day they fought the Archduke. When he joined the Archduke’s regime, he stopped being my father. Is that clear?”

“Yes. I’m sorry.”

“It’s… it’s okay. I just want to get this over with as soon as possible. I know I may be a little reckless, but I’m also one of the strongest ‘heroes’ still willing to fight. When we face Heatstroke, you’ll need me.”

“I know. The day we face him is coming. I’m this close to locating his base of operations. As soon as we do, this is over.”

“It’s never over.” I mutter.

We don’t say much for the rest of the night, we just watch the snow fall for a bit before silently going our separate ways. We don’t need to speak, the inevitably of our fate is something we both accepted a long time ago. That’s why we just focus on the next mission until we fail one. After that, well, after that there are no more missions.

We aren’t going to succeed, we both know it, but we aren’t going to go down quietly.