Eli wiped his tears from his eyes as he ran. Rob had told them to get out quickly; the least he could do was comply. He had to focus getting out; if he let his mind drift, he knew the tears would return.
He had been so worthless. While his sister was dying, all he could do is cry. Even now, as Rob was sacrificing the entire life he had lead up until now, all Eli could do is run. Worse though was the fact that this thought brought Eli comfort. He wouldn’t dare say it out loud, but Eli knew in his heart that the moment Day LaMode started beating his sister was the moment Eli silently begged for Rob to transform and fight.
The shame burned like it was a hot coal that Eli had swallowed. The tears welled up once more. He tried to will them down and remind himself that he couldn’t have done a damn thing to the monster. He was only human after all, but that thought did nothing to assuage his guilt.
“Almost there,” Cory muttered. The only exit that was nearby and didn’t have any fighting mannequins was the movie theatre entrance. It’d be a long jog back to their cars, but they were almost free from…
A shadow dropped from the ceiling and fell directly in their path. Panicked thoughts raced through Eli’s mind as he tried to stop himself. Was this a mannequin coming to collect them as collateral? Was someone else getting involved? The panicked thoughts ceased when Eli realized Cory’s attempt to stop his own momentum had caused him to trip. Eli grimaced knowing he was about to trip over Cory’s falling body.
The shadow darted forward. A small hand gripped Eli’s elbow and used his momentum to spin him to the left towards the movie theater entrance. Eli stumbled, full-speed, towards the ticket kiosk, but slowed himself enough that when he crashed into it, he didn’t injure himself. He spun around in time to see the shadow holding Cory up by the back of his shirt collar.
Now that the shadow wasn’t a blur of motion, Eli saw this wasn’t a shadow but a diminutive girl clad in clingy, all-black clothing that revealed nothing but her intense, almond-shaped eyes and the physique of a gymnast. Eli instinctively took a step back from the ninja-girl. He racked his brain, trying to remember her name.
Ninja Girl let go of Cory’s collar and let him drop to the ground. “Mr. Frost, get to your feet. We haven’t much time.”
“You again?” Cory grumbled. “What are you accosting me for this time? I didn’t record anything.”
Her voice remained even despite Cory’s accusatory tone. “I am confident you did not. More to the point, we need to get you two out of here.”
Eli rubbed the arm that he slightly bruised. “Yeah, we had that covered. This is the exit.”
Ninja Girl removed her mouth cover, though she left the rest of her head concealed in her… Eli wasn’t sure what to call it. It certainly wasn’t a shawl, but that was the only word Eli could think of. “Yes. This is an exit. But an exit the police are watching.”
“They are surrounding the mall, cutting off all the exits. They are following standard protocols, meaning they intend to interview everyone who witnessed the events unfold.”
Cory sighed. “Last time they did that with us we didn’t get home until super late.”
Ninja Girl rolled her eyes. “That isn’t the main concern.”
Eli rubbed the bridge of his nose since he understood what Ninja Girl was getting at. “Cory, if the cops interview us again we’ll have to explain why we have been at the past two monster attacks.”
Cory’s shoulders sagged, “Oh.”
Ninja Girl nodded her head, a tinge of disapproval in her voice, “Which would not be as big a deal if it weren’t for the fact that you both now know things you should not.”
Eli wanted to argue with her on whether or not he should know that his sister was in constant peril, but he knew now wasn’t the moment. “How do we get out of here without being seen?”
Ninja Girl pointed to the movie theater. “Go inside, through theater number six, and out it’s emergency exit. A few people already went through it so we need not worry about it sounding an alarm. Once outside, you will find a large, dark grey van with tinted windows. The doors will be open. Get in and there you will meet the Siekert twins. Answer any questions they ask to the best of your ability as it will help us keep the Spirit Guards’ identities safe.” She then held up her left hand, displaying Cory’s keys. “Also, I will be taking your car after we are done here. I promise to drive it responsibly.”
“What the…” Cory fumbled through his pockets. “How did you…”
“If the cops find your car still here when they finish their interviews they will no doubt get suspicious. We do not wish anyone to take a long look at you two ever again. I’ll sneak in with the people they interview, and, after they dismiss me, I’ll drive it back to your dorm and return it to you. Now you two must be off. The window of opportunity for you to get to the HushMobile without being seen is closing.” Without another word, Ninja Girl darted away from the pair, ran up the wall, swung around on a few hanging light fixtures, leapt up to the rafters, and then bounced out of sight.
Cory stood there with his mouth open. “First my laptop. Then my GameStation. Now my car! Why is everyone taking my things?”
Eli wanted to chuckle, but Ninja Girl had made it pretty clear what needed to happen. Frankly, Eli was happy for the mental distraction. “Cory, come on. We need to get moving.” Eli rushed towards the movie theater knowing Cory would follow.
Cory huffed behind Eli as the pair barreled through the movie theater doors. “This is stupid. She’s stealing my stuff again. Why are we trusting her? And what the hell is a HushMobile?”
“We’re trusting her,” Eli reminded him, “because Mallory trusts her. That’s good enough for me.”
“Fair enough.” Eli was glad to hear that Cory didn’t object to that logic. “And I guess she did return my laptop.”
Eli ducked under the ropes that blocked off the concessions area from the actual movie theatres. Eli did a quick scan and found theatre six at the end of the hallway. It was apparently showing some film that Eli could only assume was a low budget horror flick called “It Came From Beneath Mortis Lake.”
Eli got to the entrance and waited for Cory to catch up before going in. “That title bugs me.”
Eli shook his head, opened the doors, and jogged in. “Not right now, Cory.” As he turned the corner, he was greeted by the sights and sounds of a chesty blonde screaming while she ran away from a shoddy, CGI merman-monster.
Cory bounded down the stairs a step behind Eli. “See, this is what I’m talking about. The monster is clearly aquatic in nature. Thus, it didn’t come from beneath Mortis Lake but from within Mortis Lake.”
“Really? That is what you’re worried about?” Eli asked as his thoughts drifted back to Mallory’s situation. He normally would be okay with Cory’s inanities, but right now they were just stressing him out.
“Well, I mean, the fact that they expect us to believe someone named a lake Mortis Lake is really the lead story here but–”
Eli stopped short of going through the emergency exit. “Not right now, Cory!” Eli was surprised by how sharp his voice was. When was the last time he yelled at Cory?
Cory took a step back, confusion in his eyes. “I was just trying to lighten the mood, dude.”
Eli sighed. “I know, Cory. I know. I just– I can’t take it right now.”
Cory put a hand on Eli’s shoulder and smiled. “Hey, don’t sweat it. Rob’s got this. He’s going to save Mal. He wouldn’t let us down.”
Eli winced at the mention of Rob again. “It should have been me.”
“What? What does that mean?”
“The responsibility shouldn’t have fallen on Rob.” Eli pushed his hair back and shook his head. “She’s my sister. I’ve known her my entire life. I’m the one who should be having to make this sacrifice. But instead, it’s Rob. Someone who we’ve known for a little over two weeks and has known Mal for only a few days. It’s… it’s just not right.”
As if to punctuate his sentence, the busty blonde in the movie screamed in terror. Both Eli and Cory glanced up to see her get tackled and dragged off-camera where she was presumably devoured with a spray of chocolate syrup and stock munching sound effects.
“Wow. That’s bad,” Cory chuckled. He turned back to Eli and smiled sheepishly, “Well, this is an odd backdrop for this conversation but… well… Eli, Mal and Rob had to do what they thought was right. It doesn’t matter who it should have been; reality is for whatever reason, Fate didn’t choose us, but we chose them. We chose to be Rob’s friend and Mal’s… okay, so maybe we just chose Rob. So we just gotta do whatever we can to help him and Mal. It’s as simple as that.”
Eli let out a long breath. “Yeah. I guess.”
“C’mon, pal.” Cory walked past Eli and opened the door. “Right now the best thing we can do is find this van and not blow our friends’ covers.” Cory flashed an impish grin. “But if this van has ‘free candy’ written on the side, I’m going to take my chances with the cops, personally.”
Eli gave a half-hearted smile. Cory was trying really hard to break him out of his self-loathing. If Eli was honest, it had kind of cheered him up. “Probably a good policy.” Part of Eli wanted to keep hating himself; making himself suffer felt, in some odd way, appropriate punishment for being so useless. Yet beating himself up wasn’t helping Rob or Mallory. He needed to find the so-called HushMobile and the twins the Ninja Girl had talked about.
The emergency exit led to an alley that had loading bays into some of the mall’s larger stores. Various semis and delivery vans lined the narrow street. Cory scratched his head as he scanned the street. “What color van did Swordy Suzuki say we should be looking for?”
“Gray.” Eli walked down the steps of the emergency exit and searched for a gray van. “And Swordy Suzuki? Isn’t that kind of racist?”
“How is that racist? I can’t remember her name, and the only two character traits I know about her are that she’s threatened us with a sword and is Japanese. Suzuki is a common Japanese name. Plus, alliteration.”
Eli rolled his eyes. “Alliteration isn’t a good point.” There were no gray vans in sight, but there were a lot of parking space hidden between the various semi trucks. “Plus, how do you know she’s Japanese? She could easily be Korean or Chinese or something, and then you’ve offended her because you’re saying all Asians look the same.”
“She’s Japanese,” Cory insisted.
Eli sighed, “You’re saying that because she’s a ninja, right?”
“Yup! Cinematically it only makes sense.”
“Need I remind you we aren’t in a movie?”
“Counterpoint: Super-cheerleaders and mannequin-monsters.”
Eli could only groan in response; he really hated how good of a point that was. He walked past a row of semi-trucks and checked between each one for a gray van. “You’re going to be impossible to deal with.”
“I’m just hoping the Secret Twins are hot like the rest of this group.”
“The Secret Twins?”
“Isn’t that what she said? ‘Go in the van and talk to the Secret Twins?’ I mean, to be honest, I was just excited for the prospects of twins, so I might not have been paying close attention.”
Eli bit his bottom lip and thought back as he tried to remember her last words. “I think she said the Sigurd Twins or something like that. I’m pretty sure it was a last name. Not Secret Twins though.”
“A shame,” Cory shouted, his voice echoing in the alley. “Secret Twins sound hot.”
“What is wrong with you?” Before Cory could answer, Eli cut him off, “Don’t answer that.”
“Damn. Had a zinger that time.”
“My point is, why would Secret Twins be a hot idea? And aren’t you sweet on Vivian?”
Cory frowned. “Yeah, but she hasn’t talked to me since the incident at the Standridge Stones. I’m worried I might have blown my chances there. But with twins so hot they have to keep them a secret, well maybe I could take some chances there.”
“You’re insane.” Eli rounded the corner of another semi and found a large, dark grey van with tinted windows hiding behind the trailer. “Cory, I found it.”
Cory jogged over and the pair approached the vehicle. It wasn’t quite the size of a delivery truck, but it was a big vehicle nonetheless. If Eli wanted to look through the rear windows, he would have to stand up on the rear bumper. Even if he did stand on the bumper though, Eli wouldn’t have been able to see in because the windows were completely opaque. It was apparent Ninja Girl had completely undersold just how tinted the van’s windows were.
Eli scratched the back of his head. “So, do we knock or something?” As if a response, Eli heard the tell-tale click of the doors unlocking.
Cory clapped his hands together. “See how inviting the Secret twins are? This is already boding well for my chances. With luck, they will have an experimental and inquisitive side.”
Eli rolled his eyes. “I wouldn’t give up on Vivian just yet.”
Cory rolled his eyes back as he gripped the door handle. “Please, my history with women leads me to believe it’s a good idea to have a backup plan.” He grinned lecherously. “Or two backup plans if you get my meaning.”
Eli buried his face in the palm of his hand. “Yes. I get your meaning.”
“You see, it’s because they are twins.”
“Just open the door.”
Cory dramatically flung the door open. The scent of sodas, pizza, and body odor immediately reminded Eli of every Invokers draft tournament he had ever attended. It was just about as cramped too; the left side of the van had a thin but long desk that held three monitors splayed across it and two large computers underneath. Yet the most interesting sight was who was manning that desk: a gangly, sweaty, scruffy, bespectacled, emeralde guy with his hair pulled into a ponytail.
Another guy who looked like a much cleaner cut version of the first popped his head around the driver’s seat. “Hey guys. Welcome to the HushMobile. Hurry in. Cops are driving around looking for stragglers.”
Eli couldn’t help but smirk at Cory. “Nice backup plans. Totally your type.”
“Well this is disappointing,” Cory grumbled.
The twin at the computer chuckled. “Noriko didn’t mention we were male twins, did she?”
Cory climbed into the van. “Noriko! That’s her name! It’s been bugging me the entire way here.”
“Yeah,” Eli chided. “It’s not Suzy Suzuki or whatever you called her.” Eli didn’t feel the fact that he had been mentally calling her Ninja Girl was pertinent to his teasing of Cory.
The twin in the front seat joined in on the fun. “Yeah, if we had a dollar for every time someone met us hoping we were hot fantasy twins, we’d have… like, I don’t know, maybe eleven or twelve bucks by now.”
Eli followed Cory into the cramped van and shut the door behind him. “Hi. So you guys the rest of the Hush Corps then?”
The twin up front nodded. “You got it. I’m Nick Siekert and the one typing away on the computer is my brother, Will. He’s having to hack into various cameras around the mall.”
Will nodded and downed a can of Thundercrest soda. “Yeah, sorry, not going to be really social.” He adjusted his glasses and squinted at the screen. Eli tried to make sense of it but the coding was far beyond anything he had done in his high school web design class.
“Don’t worry about it. We understand completely,” Eli assured Will as he twisted and shuffled along the floor of the van, trying to get comfortable.
Nick pointed at Cory. “Tall guy, why don’t you sit up here so we can make more room?”
Cory happily squeezed between the driver and passenger seats to get a cushy chair. “An excellent suggestion. Shorty will be much more comfortable on the floor than I ever could be. Name’s Cory by the way.”
Eli grumbled and moved to the spot near the front Cory had vacated. There he found two boxes of pizzas, one already empty. “I’m 5’5″. I’m not that short.”
“Keep tellin’ yourself that, buddy.”
Nick’s tone turned more serious. “So if he’s Cory, you must be Eli. You’re Mallory’s brother, right?”
Eli felt the pit in his stomach return. He had been distracted long enough that he hadn’t been thinking of his sister’s body being broken by that monster. “Yeah.”
Nick nodded and took a deep breath. “Look, I know this is a lot to take in at the moment and you’re going through a… hold one second.” Nick turned away from Cory and Eli and held a finger up to his left ear. Eli hadn’t noticed it at first, but Nick was wearing a bluetooth earpiece. “Yes Noriko, they got here just fine… yes, I’m asking them now.” Nick turned back to Eli and Cory. “Sorry, there’s going to be a lot of this. Noriko needs to know; did Robert go through with it? Did he transform?”
Eli and Cory glanced at one another. Eli felt the guilt return. Cory nodded, “Yeah. He went to save Mal.”
“Where did he do that? Noriko needs to know so we can start hiding evidence and such.”
“The Kickers Outlet near the food court on the second floor,” Eli answered. He’d never forget abandoning his friend there.
Nick held his finger back up to his ear. “You get that Noriko? … good. Let me know as soon as you need anything else.” He smiled and reached between his door and his chair. “Sorry, I have a feeling she will be interrupting us a lot.” He pulled a tablet computer and turned it to face Cory and Eli; it displayed a map of the mall. “We’ll need to start by finding out what stores you went into. We’ll need to know so she can remove any evidence you were there.”
Cory raised an eyebrow. “You mean like fingerprints and stuff?”
“What? Fingerprints?” Nick chuckled and pushed his glasses up. “No, not really. I mean, what would they do? Dust the entire mall for prints? I don’t think they have enough dust or time for that. I mean electronic records. Did either of you buy anything at any stores? Did you leave anything there that could be evidence of your presence at the mall? The devil is in the details and remember that the electronic evidence could be a bigger deal than anything else.”
Eli shrugged. “The only place we bought anything was at Dungeon Direct. And I paid cash so we don’t have to worry about a money trail left from our end. Dunno about Rob, though. I mean, he bought his comic there but I don’t know what he paid with.”
“Dammit,” Cory exclaimed.
Nick leaned forward. “What? Did you think of something? Did you connect to the mall’s wifi maybe?”
Cory shook his head. “No. Well, I mean, I did leave something but I don’t think it’s going to incriminate us or anything.”
“What? You forget your wallet or something?”
“No, but it’s almost as bad.” Cory sighed. “I dropped those Invokers cards Eli bought while we were being chased.”
Nick blinked incredulously. “Invokers cards?”
“Yeah, now Eli loaned out my GameStation and I got jack squat out of it.”
Eli once again buried his face into hands. “So yeah. Rob might have paid with a credit card. You might want to check on that.”
Serenity took a step back and surveyed the damage her fight with Day LaMode had caused: two destroyed storefronts, countless shattered tables and chairs, and deep gouges that scarred the tiled floor wherever she had missed with her Geyser attack’s whip form. She really hoped insurance covered monster attacks.
A smile crept over her face as she turned away from Day LaMode’s lifeless shell. She had been completely hardcore in that fight. She had identified the monster’s strengths and weaknesses quickly. She came up with a solution to the teleporting problem. The mannequin woman had come completely unglued at all of Serenity’s verbal barbs. Serenity had completely goaded the monster into doing exactly what she wanted. And then she went for the killing blow, complete with the quip to end it.
As Serenity thought about it, perhaps fighting these monsters was less like the player versus player combat she was used to in Aspect Realms and more like fighting bosses. You had to identify the boss mechanics and then attack appropriately. It was an interesting–
No. She didn’t have time to ponder. The danger had not passed; Tenacity was still clinging to life in the fountain. She couldn’t allow herself to get distracted, even if she had been pretty awesome.
Serenity turned on her heels and headed back for the fountain. Rather than jogging, she took a quick step and jumped into the fountain. It was strange but felt much easier to move around by jumping rather than running now that she did not need to be stealthy.
The water did not splash when she landed in the fountain but merely rippled. The water didn’t seem to cling to her skin either; instead, it glided around as though she were standing in a pool of mercury. Maybe it had something to do with water being her elemental power? Did Valor never get dirty?
Tenacity took long, gasping breaths. Her eyes were shut, but Serenity could tell she was awake by the pained grimace that accompanied each breath. The eye that wasn’t swollen fluttered open. Tenacity smiled then shut it once more. “Dead?” she wheezed.
Serenity nodded and leaned down to inspect Tenacity’s wounds more closely. “Dead as disco.”
Tenacity let out a pained sigh. “Nice one, Ace.”
“You probably shouldn’t be talking. Save your strength.” Something was definitely wrong with Tenacity’s breathing. Exactly what was wrong was completely beyond Serenity. All this power and she had no idea what to do. It really made her regret not listening to her Uncle and dropping out of scouting. She was certain they would have given her some first aid training there.
“Yeah,” Tenacity winced.
“I’m going to get you out of the water. Sorry if this hurts.”
Tenacity nodded. “‘Kay.”
Serenity looked at her daggers, unsure how to get rid of them. She had clapped her pompoms together to create the weapon. She clapped her weapons together and they morphed back into pompoms. Now she just had two pompoms though instead of daggers. She thought back to the night at the Standridge Circle and didn’t remember the Spirit Guard having their pompoms. Serenity let go of the pompoms’ handles and thought hard about not needing them. The balls of bright blue evaporated from existence.
“Neat.” Serenity knelt down and put her hands under Tenacity’s knees and neck. She lifted the drenched Spirit Guard from the fountain. Tenacity bit hard on her bottom lip and, though she tried to muffle it, whimpered like a child at the dentist’s office. She was in so much pain. Serenity needed to do something.
The hospital didn’t seem to be a good idea if they wanted any hope of keeping their identities secret. She needed to find the other Spirit Guard. They had been doing this hero thing for a while; certainly this couldn’t be the first injury they had, right? Perhaps they had a member of their Hush Corps who was a doctor or something. It seemed a bit farfetched, but, then again, they had a ninja too. Everything seemed like it could be possible once that was brought into consideration.
Serenity reached out with her extra sense and felt her impressions of the other three Spirit Guard rapidly approaching. Odd. She hadn’t felt them move at all. Maybe her extra sense wasn’t that good when she focused on other things. This would need more testing.
Spirit Guards Valor, Charity, and Felicity popped over the guardrails of the food court and landed next to the fountain. Valor’s eyes shot open at the site of the new Spirit Guard. “Serenity?”
“Something is wrong with Tenacity’s breathing.” Serenity did her best to hold Tenacity as still as possible; every little movement seemed to bring a wince. “What do we do?”
Charity dashed forward, and her normally squeaky voice sounding a lot more authoritative than Serenity remembered, “Put her down gently on that table.” She pointed to one of the few dining tables that hadn’t been overturned by Serenity’s fight.
Serenity, surprised that it was the quietest girl of the group taking charge, gently laid Tenacity down on the table. Charity slung her bow over her back; strangely, despite not having an actual string, the bow remained in place. The bluenette closed her eyes and rubbed her hands together. “Giving Hands!”
Balls of soft yellow light sparked in her hands. She then pressed the spheres of light into Tenacity’s body and ran them up and down the broken Spirit Guard’s body like she was smoothing out a sheet. Serenity marveled as she saw her pause at certain spots to change how deeply she pushed the balls into the skin. As Charity pushed, Serenity could see into Tenacity’s body. It seemed the depth controlled what organ system would be revealed by the ball. Sometimes odd symbols of lines and dots would spark around the balls, though Serenity could only guess what they meant.
Charity’s hands settled over Tenacity’s right breast. She pushed deep. Muscles, nerves, and veins flashed until settling on three cracked ribs. Charity shook her head and pulled her hands away. “This is very bad.”
Valor and Felicity approached the table. Both openly wore their fear on their faces. “What is it, Charity? What’s wrong?”
Charity pulled her bow into her hands and nocked an arrow. Serenity raised an eyebrow but said nothing. They were the veterans. Surely, they knew what they were doing. “By my examination, she has a mild concussion, two cracked ribs, one broken rib, a punctured lung, internal bleeding, and a sprained ankle.”
“Can you fix her?” Felicity pleaded.
Fix her? How could Charity… that’s when it dawned on Serenity that Charity had been known as the Mender in their past lives. They didn’t need a Hush Corps doctor. She was the doctor. “I can, but it’s going to take at least half an hour of surgery, and I’m going to be completely drained.”
“That could be an issue,” said a monotone voice from behind the girls.
Instinctively, Serenity summoned her pompoms to her hands and spun around. There stood the same ninja from the night at the Standridge Circle. With a sigh, Serenity dropped and dismissed her pompoms again. “Don’t do that!” Even with her heightened senses, Serenity hadn’t heard or felt the ninja’s approach. What was this girl?
Valor took a step forward. Serenity noted that the step moved herself slightly between the ninja and Serenity. “Why would that be an issue, Noriko.”
If the ninja was worried that Serenity would have attacked, she didn’t show it. Her eyes didn’t show anything. “The Twins tell me the cops are about to enter the mall. We have about two minutes before they will be swarming the place for evidence.”
Felicity groaned. “Why are they always so inconvenient?”
Valor tapped her fist to her lips, lost in thought. “Charity, can we move Tenacity?”
Serenity turned and was shocked to see Charity pointing her arrow at Tenacity. With her unnatural speed, she darted forward and grabbed Charity’s wrist. “What the honey you doing?”
“She needs anesthetic,” Charity looked unusually frustrated with Serenity. She never had seen that expression on the bluenette’s face before.
“With an arrow?”
“Yes. With an arrow. That’s how my powers work! Now let go!” Charity shrugged off Serenity and fired the arrow straight into Tenacity’s chest. “Clement Pierce!”
To Serenity’s surprise, Tenacity didn’t scream in pain but gasped with relief. She still sounded short of breath, but each inhale and exhale weren’t accompanied with a grimace. Tenacity sputtered her appreciation, “Thanks.”
Serenity glanced at Valor and Felicity with a panicked and confused look. Valor shrugged sheepishly, “It is how her powers work, Serenity.”
Felicity scratched her chin, “Though, to be fair, now that you bring it up, we really should have probably questioned that more the first time she used that to help relieve our pain.”
Noriko cleared her throat, “Need to have a decision in about a minute, ladies.”
Charity bit her lip. “I can save Tenacity, but I have to start operating on her now. We don’t have time to move her.” As if to demonstrate the point, she rubbed her hands together once more. “Giving Hands!” The orbs of light returned and she proceeded to run them over Tenacity’s body again.
Valor sighed. “This is bad then. We’ll need to delay the cops some. Maybe there is someway we could hide Charity too.”
Hide. Serenity paused and thought about her Placid Mist ability. Could that be used to hide others along with herself? Something in her bones told her the answer was yes. “I can hide them.”
Valor stepped back. “You can?”
Noriko narrowed her eyes. “How?”
“I just… can. Stealth seems to be my thing. I can make myself invisible. Something called Placid Mist. It made me completely invisible to the monster.”
Felicity let out an impressed whistle. “That’s going to be useful. Think of it! We can actually scout ahead now!”
Valor waved Felicity off. “Not the time for that.” She put her fist up to her list again, thought for a second, then nodded. “Good. Then Serenity, I don’t mean to heap this all on you since we all know what you just sacrificed to be here, but you remain here with Charity and keep her and Tenacity concealed.” She turned to Felicity. “Felicity, think you can make a small distraction to delay the cops slightly?”
Felicity grinned. “Would me shooting a giant pink flamethrower with the fire looking like a heart qualify?”
Noriko gave a conciliatory nod. “I believe it would.”
Valor patted Felicity on her shoulder. “Get on it, Felicity. Meet me at Kunapipi’s office so we can debrief.”
Felicity winked at Valor. “On it.” The short girl then smiled at Serenity. “I know this isn’t the best time, but welcome to the insanity, girlfriend.”
Noriko cleared her throat as Felicity bounded away. “Spirit Guard Valor, there is the other matter of the disappearance of Robert Dreese and the appearance of a new girl. The Hush Corps is getting pulled in a lot of directions. Assistance will be appreciated.”
Valor nodded. “Anything you need, just tell Kunapipi and we’ll get on it.”
“Excellent. Thank you.” Noriko made eye-contact with Serenity for the first time. “For what it is worth, Spirit Guard Serenity, I can confirm your friends are safe, and though the situation isn’t ideal, it appears Spirit Guard Tenacity will be safe as well. Your sacrifice was successful and, more importantly, noble. You have my respect.”
Without another word she dashed off, using some fancy parkour moves to pull herself up to the rafters. Serenity wasn’t sure of much, but she was definitely sure that their little ninja unsettled her somehow. At least she now had her respect. It wasn’t much, but it was something. Hopefully she could parlay that into her not threatening to kill anyone else. “She’s the one in charge of keeping our identities safe?”
Valor nodded. “Indeed. And if I know Noriko, she’ll be keeping us busy.” Valor put a hand on Serenity’s shoulder. “You probably should get to hiding Charity and Tenacity. The cops will be here soon.”
“Are they really a danger?” Serenity asked.
“Physically? No. Their weapons have no magical charge. They can’t pierce our auras.”
Serenity raised an eyebrow. “We’re bulletproof?”
Valor smiled. “You could put it that way. But the bigger worry is while we do have our while the Disconnection Effect we generate will prevent them from positively IDing us, repeated exposure can cause the Effect to weaken. Cops see us more than anyone else.”
“I see.” Serenity nodded. “Yeah, I’ll get on hiding them.” She turned towards the table. Valor tightened her grip on Serenity’s shoulder. Serenity gulped since she was afraid that she was about to be hugged.
Valor hugged Serenity tightly from behind. “Thank you so much for saving my friend. For sacrificing so much. Thank you.”
Serenity shifted uncomfortably within Valor’s arms. The fact that one of Valor’s arms was under her breasts made her suddenly much more aware of them than she had been before and did not help with her uncomfort level. “I just did what anyone would do.” Out of the corner of her eye, Serenity could see Valor was crying.
“No they wouldn’t,” Valor insisted. “What you did, few would ever do. Don’t ever minimize your sacrifice.” Valor sniffed, finally let go of Serenity and wiped away her tears. “If you need anything, and I mean anything, to help you get through, this just say the word. Okay?”
Serenity rubbed her arm as she looked everywhere but at Spirit Guard Valor. “Sure. Yeah. Thanks.”
Valor paused, looking like she wanted to say something more before she sighed. “I must be off. Head to Kunapipi as soon as you are done here. She’ll help you with the, well, logistical matters of your… I’ll see you later tonight.” Valor turned and, like Noriko, jumped up into the rafters before she hopped away.
Serenity sighed and walked over to the table where Charity was working on Tenacity. Charity had at some point tied her hair back into a tight ponytail with a string of pure light as a hair tie. Charity glanced up for a brief moment as Serenity approached and smiled. “Not much for touching are you?”
Serenity summoned her pompoms back into existence. “How could you tell?”
“The fact that you went stiff as a board as soon as Valor hugged you was pretty telling. Ahead of time, let me just say, ‘I’m sorry,’ to you.”
“Why is that?”
“Because we girls like to hug. Especially me. At some point I will hug you when you don’t want it, and I’m sorry for that.” Charity pushed the orbs of light in her left hand deep into Tenacity’s chest. Serenity could see the cracked and broken ribs. Charity pushed deeper, and Serenity could see what she thought was Tenacity’s lung, but it looked shriveled.
“Can you bring me a straw?”
Serenity raised an eyebrow. “A straw? Shouldn’t I be making us invisible?”
“You’re my nurse for this operation. I really need a straw. Grab one, quick.”
Serenity shrugged and hopped over to one of the nearby and intact fast food places and grabbed a straw. With another quick hop she returned to Charity’s side. “Here you go?”
“Thank you.” Charity didn’t take the straw yet though. She held her left hand at the exact depth where she could see the collapsed lung. With her right hand she made a squeezing motion. Serenity felt waves of generosity flow from Charity and into Tenacity. Serenity watched in awe as she saw the gash in the lung close.
Charity though didn’t look impressed at all. Her eyes were focused on the image and sweat started to form on her brow. Serenity then realized that, even after a stress-filled fight, she had never broken a single sweat. But Charity started sweating as soon as she started healing. Just how draining was this process?
The sounds of voices off in the distance reminded Serenity she was supposed to be hiding them. She clapped her daggers into existence then clinked the blades together. “Placid Mist!” She focused her thoughts on hiding all three girls and the mist sprayed over them all. She was surprised that she didn’t need to concentrate too hard to keep it over three people. She suspected there was likely a tradeoff, though.
Charity paused her healing for a moment to examine her hands the same way Serenity had the first time she went invisible. Charity whispered, “Wow,” and to Serenity’s surprise, Charity’s voice didn’t echo throughout the food court the way her own voice had during the Day LaMode fight.
Serenity tried to whisper as well to test how the voice amplification worked, “Will this cause problems with your operation?” To Serenity’s delight, her voice didn’t echo.
“Not at all,” Charity went back to work. “This only seems to affect visual sight, and, thankfully, the way I look into the body is all magical in nature.” Charity leaned forward and whispered into Tenacity’s ear, “You’re going to feel this through my anesthetic. Try and bear with it.”
Serenity leaned on the table and “watched” Charity as she went to work on Tenacity’s ribs. The bluenette kept her left hand steady to give her a firm view of the broken and cracked ribs. With her right hand, she would flex her fingers like she was gripping a baseball, and then she would set the bones back in place. Tenacity bit her bottom lip and groaned as she did this. Serenity had to hand it to her; Eli’s sister was tough as nails if that was all she was doing. Rob had screamed like a doctor reset his dislocated knee his freshman year of football.
After setting the ribs, Charity closed her eyes. She took deep breaths and made a motion with her right hand that reminded Serenity of a painter working on a canvas. Some yellow… stuff appeared between the breaks and cracks in the bones. When she was done filling in the gaps, Charity gave a few labored breaths and supported herself with the table.
A cop walked walked up the escalators and surveyed the food court. Serenity held her breath as he surveyed the carnage. Instead of settling on the three Spirit Guards, his gaze passed to the headless corpse of Day LaMode. He grabbed his walkie-talkie and radioed his findings unaware of the heroines there with him.
Serenity gave a sigh of relief and turned her attention back to the panting Charity. “You all right?”
Charity wiped some sweat from her brow with her forearm. “I am fine. It’s just that, well, the way my healing works is that I use up the energy I have to heal others. It’s normally not this intensive, but none of us have ever been this injured before. Normally we can let our enhanced healing take care of any small injuries we have.”
Serenity stood upright. “Wait, you mean we have a healing factor?”
Charity smiled and removed the straw Serenity had grabbed earlier from its plastic wrapping. “A very super-hero movie way to put it, but yes.”
Serenity gave an amused snort. “So the healer restores life by spending mana, and we regenerate hit points out of combat. This is like Aspect Realms.”
Charity raised an eyebrow. “Let’s get back to the task at hand. Now that I’ve sealed the punctured lung and set the broken bones there is no more risk of further injury but we still have to remove all the air in the chest cavity.” Charity held her right index finger up and a short yellow laser extended from it like it was a needle.
Charity smiled and handed Serenity the straw. “Thanks. It seems precision was a particular specialty of the Mender’s order.” Charity carefully took aim with her laser-needle then burned its way through the skin. Charity twitched her thumb and the laser-needle’s width increased, burning a larger hole. “Can I have that straw back?”
“Sure.” Serenity gave her the straw back and watched as Charity slid it through the small hole before she healed the burn-wound so that the skin formed a seal around the straw. With her right hand, Charity created a barrier of light around the top of the straw that had an opening at the top. Serenity thought the small barrier looked similar to the Altruistic Barrier that Charity used to protect Robert, Eli, and Cory back at Loose Change. Charity squeezed the barrier and the hole at the top sealed up. She let go of the barrier and, then, the hole returned. A scent like a pile of meat filled the air.
Charity repeated this process several more times and the smell got stronger. It wasn’t foul smelling but it wasn’t exactly appealing either. Serenity watched through the lens of Charity’s orb of light and saw the collapsed lung gradually reinflate. “You’re using your shields to create a pump.”
Charity nodded, looking even more tired. “Yes. My shields can’t do anything complicated, but simple tasks like this make them a godsend in the field.” After the lung had fully inflated, Charity carefully blocked off the air hole the straw created, removed the straw, and hastily healed the hole back up. She wiped even more sweat from her forehead. “We’re through the most dangerous part. Can you hand me those napkin dispensers?”
Serenity looked where Charity pointed and found some napkin dispensers on the floor. She picked them up and handed them to Charity who propped them up under Tenacity’s feet as she explained, “With all the injuries she has suffered, Tenacity is going to go into shock. She’s in Spirit Guard form now so a lot of the effects will be muted, but as soon as she powers down, we need to get her wrapped up and keep her feet elevated. Her face is already looking a bit too pale for me to be comfortable.”
Serenity pursed her lips, considering Charity’s words. “Why don’t we just keep her in Spirit Guard form then?”
Charity shook her head and resummoned her light orbs. She began searching for spots of internal bleeding and healing the wounds. “Not our call. The moment we lose consciousness we fall out of form.”
Serenity stood up straight. “Wait, you mean Tenacity is still conscious right now?”
Tenacity slowly grinned. “You got it, Ace.” Tenacity gave a contented sigh, “Charity just has some really good sugar.”
Charity frowned. “No talking. I just repaired your lung. I won’t have you tearing at it while the healing is still fresh.”
Tenacity grinned wider. “Okay Mom.”
Serenity chuckled. Charity gave an exasperated sigh and continued her search for more internal injuries to heal. “So we have an empathokinetic healing factor? How does that work?”
“Why not just say magical? It’s a lot easier.”
“Because it isn’t magic. There is a process. We could say magical instead of electromagnetic but that wouldn’t accurately describe it.”
Charity smiled, but Serenity could tell she was getting worn out. “Such a scientist.”
“Whatever.” Charity waved off Serenity. “I don’t know exactly how the healing works. It appears to use our own natural healing processes but just accelerates them. For that reason, if we need to heal a lot, it’s advisable that you eat a lot more calories since the energy has to come from somewhere.”
Serenity folded her arms and leaned against the table. “At least that law is consistent.”
Charity snapped her finger as if she had almost forgot something. “That reminds me, before I power down make sure I drink a lot of fluids.”
Serenity raised an eyebrow. “You don’t look that beat up.”
Charity shrugged and moved from treating internal wounds to healing all the surface cuts and bruises over Tenacity’s body. “I took enough of a beating from those dumb mannequins that it wouldn’t have been a bad idea for me to drink up a bit regardless. But, as I said, the energy to heal has to come from somewhere.” Charity let out another tired sigh. “Tenacity doesn’t have the energy to heal this up. So the energy is coming from me. That’s the secret of the Mender’s sect. That’s what charitable emotions can do. They allow us to transfer energy from us to others. It’s why precision is so important for me. If I’m frivolous I can quickly drain myself.”
Serenity nodded. It made sense. Frankly it relieved her that the energy was coming from something; had it been free energy, she didn’t know if her brain could handle it. “So when you power down, you’re going to be drained?”
Charity nodded and pulled some napkins out from the dispensers she placed under Tenacity’s feet. She wiped even more sweat off of her face and increasingly sweaty hands. “I’ll be surprised if I don’t collapse on the spot and fall right asleep.” She smiled. “Maybe stand where you can catch me before I power down, okay?”
Serenity nodded, pushing her annoying bangs out of her left eye experimentally. Just as it had before, her right bangs fell in front of her eyes. She pushed both bangs back to see what would happen; she felt some sort of force pushing against her left hand, wanting to cover her eye. After a few moments she relented and let it cover her face. “I really hope my hair isn’t this annoying when I power down.”
Charity glanced up, smiled, then went back to work. “I doubt it will be. All of our hair changes some when we transform.”
Serenity raised an eyebrow. “How do you mean?”
Charity pursed her lips as if trying to figure out her words. “It seems magical…” Charity paused and grinned, “or rather empathokinetically charged hair was a fashion thing in the Empathic Empire. Your hair waves as if it were water. My hair never moves. I mean, seriously, the amount of hairspray I’d have to use to get this feathered look to hold during a fight would cause a hole in the ozone itself. And I’m sure you’ve noticed how Valor’s hair practically glows it’s so shiny.”
Serenity shrugged. “What does this have to do with it being less annoying in civilian life?”
“Huh? Oh, right. Well all of our hair changes. Valor’s hair goes up into pigtails. Tenacity’s hair falls down into a more formal style instead of her normal ponytail. My hair actually gets shorter but all, you know, all done up. Felicity’s hair is the one that is least affected as she only gains her pink tips. Your hair is by far the most elaborate so far so it stands to reason you’ll have the biggest difference between your powered up hair and your casual hair.”
Serenity tugged at her flowing locks. “I hope so… gummi donut why did it have to be red?” Gummi donut? It happened again. “And why can’t I fudging swear?”
Tenacity chuckled but Charity sighed with exhaustion. “No laughing either. Keep that lung breathing and nothing else. We can’t have you strain it. I’m spent and don’t have enough left to heal it again if you re-injure it.”
“Can I power down then?” Tenacity grumbled. “It’s taking a lot of focus to stay powered up.”
Charity shook her head. “Not yet, Tenacity. We still need to get some food in you before you sleep. Just hang on a bit longer.” Charity breathed heavy and lifted herself off the table. “Can you carry Tenacity?”
Serenity forgot about her swearing issues. “Sure. Do I need to carry her a special way?”
Charity waved Serenity off. “Just be gentle. A bridal carry should be enough.”
Serenity scooped up the lanky Spirit Guard, careful to not jostle her too much. “Where are we going?”
Charity turned and started walking. “You know how we walked through one of the stone pillars in the Standridge Circle a few nights ago?”
“Yeah. That was a fairly neat trick.”
Charity nodded. “We have a few companion stones scattered about the city. They allow us to use the Standridge Circle as a sort of travel hub.”
“Convenient for getting around. But what if someone is at the Circle?”
Charity kept staggering forward. “Because the Circle is protected, no one can be there without one of the park guides. It’s usually unoccupied. If it is though, the stones will warn us.”
“What happens then?”
“Then we have a long walk ahead of us.”
Serenity sighed. “Great.”
“Serenity, before I forget, can you let Kunapipi know to tell Noriko to bandage up Tenacity’s ribs? We don’t want to risk her bones re-breaking while she is healing up.”
Serenity nodded. “Can do.”
The pair walked by a gaggle of cops examining the destruction in front of Current Subject. Though Serenity was fairly certain the Placid Mist would prevent them from being heard, she didn’t risk speaking. They stayed silent as they exited the mall. If any cops noticed the doors opening on their own, they didn’t show it.
Serenity glanced around. There was a large amount of cops here but no news helicopters. There were only two or three news vans at all. The cops interviewed people beside the mall but otherwise looked rather calm. A monster had just attacked; shouldn’t everyone have been more high strung about all this?
Charity lead Serenity through the middle of the parking lot towards the nearby industrial district. Luckily, with the cops blocking off traffic, they were able to cross what would have normally been very busy streets without incident. Serenity wondered what would happen if a car hit her now. Would it even hurt? She was bulletproof apparently, so why not car-proof? In any case, she decided it probably wasn’t a good idea to test it out.
Charity cleared her throat. “Serenity. Thank you for what you’ve done.”
Serenity didn’t want to have this conversation. If she could just keep avoiding conversations like this, she wouldn’t have to deal with the reality of her decision. “You don’t need to thank me.”
“You’ve sacrificed your life for us. Well, not your life but, your way of life. It’s all going to change. In some ways that you don’t even know yet. I just… I want you to know that you did the right thing.”
Serenity nodded. “I sure hope so.”
“I know so.” Charity stopped walking and gave Serenity a small hug from the side. “And I know Eli and his friend agree with me.” Serenity tensed up, but not from the contact. It just hit her she was now shorter than Charity. This was going to take some getting used to. “You’re a hero, Serenity.”
The generous aura of Charity was a soothing force. Amidst all the turmoil of the past hour or so, it helped make Serenity feel better. She had done the right thing. Her Uncle would be proud. If she ever could come up with a way to explain all this weirdness, she knew, deep in her heart, he’d agree with Charity and say she was a hero.
As the hug lingered, Serenity grew uncomfortable. She just didn’t like all this touchiness. To be fair, Charity had warned her that moments like this would come, but it didn’t persuade Serenity to be any more comfortable with it. She came up with the first excuse she could think of to break the contact. “You’re all sweaty.”
Charity gave a tired, but wry smile. “What? You afraid of a little sweat now? Don’t be such a girl.”
So I need to give a BIG BIG BIG shoutout to a couple of people for this chapter. First of all, thanks as usual to my wonderful editor for helping me fix all the mistakes and relook at the chapter to improve it. Secondly I need to thank reader Richard Sheaves-Bein who was invaluable to this chapter. Why? Because he’s an EMT and let me pick his brain over for how Charity would actually approach the healing of Tenacity’s injuries. Our discussions opened me up to new angles that I had not considered before plus I feel lends a bit of authenticity to the chapter and the situation.