Eli took a deep breath and knocked on the door quietly. Cory would be mad that Eli had gone without him, but the lout wouldn’t get up. Eli wasn’t going to sit around and wait for his friend to wake up around noon.
Angela opened the door, heavy bags around her eyes. “Oh – Elijah! Sorry. I forgot you were coming. Come in. Come in.” As the door hung open, the faint aroma of a brothy soup wafted out of the apartment.
Eli waited a moment before walking in. He had called her only half an hour ago, yet she had already had forgotten? “I told you Angela, you can just call me Eli.” She looked completely worn out. Had she slept at all? “Sorry if this is rude, but, uh, you don’t look so good.”
“Huh?” Angela took a quick look at herself in a small mirror on the fridge. She sighed and rubbed her eyes. “Oh, yeah. You made the same observation as Robyn.”
Eli squinted. “Rob came by? When?”
“Earlier. She and the rest of her new roommates had to go shopping for a new wardrobe. She came by to borrow a… nevermind.”
Eli let a humorous snort escape his nostrils. “A bra?”
Angela’s droopy eyes shot open. “H…how did you guess?”
Eli rubbed the back of his head. “That thin shirt she wore last night really accentuated that she wasn’t wearing one.”
Angela scowled. “Oh. You noticed that?”
Eli groaned. “I feel like an ass, but yeah. Kind of hard not to. I mean, it’s horrible but I am guy.”
Angela nodded and rubbed her eyes, “I suppose that is true.”
Eli shook his head. “Forget that though. Why are you worn out? You sleep at all?”
Angela shook her head and sighed, “I had a lot of trouble sleeping last night.” She glanced up at Eli with a weak smile. “You look like you haven’t slept well either.”
Eli did feel tired. He slept some, but he kept thinking about Rob’s sacrifice and his sister’s brush with death. He could never sleep with heavy things like that on his chest. “No. I really didn’t. Our new roommate showed up.”
Angela sat up. “New roommate? They replaced Robyn?”
Eli decided to sit down at their small, coffee-stained kitchen table. The table was barely bigger than his desk. Eli knew the stipend their father gave Mallory plus her volleyball scholarship would cover a much nicer place than this. Why was Mallory living in a place that was so run down? “They didn’t technically replace Rob, but it sure as hell feels that way. He’s just our fourth roommate that never showed up. He just so happened to move in about an hour after Rob moved out.”
“Oh, uh, well, that is… rather awkward,” Angela stammered.
Eli nodded, “Yeah. I mean, he was cool and all. Really friendly. But…”
Angela rubbed her eyes again. “But it just wasn’t a good time.”
“Exactly.” Eli groaned and decided to move the topic along. “So, is my sister awake yet?”
Angela glanced back at the mirror on the fridge and fussed with her hair. “She woke up briefly but fell back asleep.” She smiled weakly. “First thing she asked about was you though.”
Eli sat up straight in his chair. “Me?”
“Yeah. She wanted to know how you were doing. I think she forgot having asked Robyn the same thing last night after the fight. She didn’t seem to remember much after Spirit Guard Serenity’s arrival.”
Short-term memory loss. The sign of a concussion. “I thought Kara’s healing was going to take care of her injuries.”
“And it did,” Angela affirmed, “but these things take time to sort of, I don’t know, stick. Charity’s healing put her body back together, but there’s still more healing to be done by our naturally augmented healing.”
“I think you mean unnaturally augmented healing,” Eli scoffed. “There isn’t anything natural about what you girls do.”
Angela chuckled. It made Eli feel good. He may have been pursuing Kara, but it always boosted a guy’s ego when he could get a girl to laugh – especially one as attractive as Angela. “You may have a point there,” Angela conceded, “but the fact remains that she will be healing on her own as long as we keep her fed.”
Eli leaned back in his chair. The leg wobbled and he immediately let it rest back on the ground. Was everything in this place rickety? “Why do we have to keep her fed?”
Angela shrugged, “Vivian theorizes, and her experiments seem to back this up, that our healing uses calories as it’s fuel. If we need to do a lot of healing, well, our body has to have extra calories or it starts burning up fat and muscle.”
Eli grimaced. “That doesn’t sound pleasant. Has Mallory eaten anything yet?”
Angela sighed and shook her head. “I tried to feed her when she was awake earlier but she just grumbled and rolled over and fell back asleep.”
Eli laughed. “Yeah, she’s never been much of a morning person.”
“In her defense, she did just have her ribs broken and her lung punctured.”
Eli hopped out of his chair. “Well, she needs to start eating it sounds like. That soup still upstairs?”
Angela looked nervous. “You’re going to wake her up? She needs to rest.”
“From the sound of it,” Eli countered, “she needs to eat too. She’s been sleeping for, what, fifteen hours now?”
“Something like that.”
“Then,” Eli continued, “it sounds to me like she has gotten enough rest for the moment and needs to eat if she’s going heal properly.”
Angela seemed to shrink back, “True, but she…”
Eli smiled. “I’m her little brother. Annoying my big sister and waking her up against her will has been my job for quite a while. All my life in fact.” Eli dropped the levity in his voice. “Plus, again, she needs to eat and you need a break. Just lay down on the couch and get some shut eye.”
That stopped Angela in her tracks. “I… what?”
“You’ve been up all night worrying about her and Rob. You need some sleep too.”
Angela straightened her back and tried to look as tall and alert as possible. “I’m the leader of the team. I can’t just sleep while my teammates are recovering and needing to deal with…”
“You’re a human being,” Eli interrupted. “You have limits. Being a leader means knowing when to be there for others and when to delegate to others. You can’t do everything yourself. You know this. It’s why you have the Twins and…” Eli trailed off as he had, again, forgotten the ninja’s name. Started with an ‘N’. Or did it? Maybe he was just thinking “ninja” and the ‘n’ was popping in his brain because of that. “…and a ninja. To do the things that you can’t do for yourself.”
“I… but…” Angela folded her arms as her mind obviously searched for some point to argue with. Her lack of rest was clearly affecting her brain more than Eli. Then again, looking at her closer, Eli figured he had gotten more rest than her. “That’s the Hush Corps. That’s different. It’s their job.”
“And this is my job,” Eli proclaimed. “She’s my sister. Family takes care of one another.”
Angela opened her mouth but nothing came out for a few moments. Finally she sighed and looked at the ground. That’s when Eli remembered how she was the night before. While helping Cory and himself move all of Rob’s stuff, she had been frustrated she couldn’t be there for Mallory and Rob in person. She was the type of personality that had to be everywhere at all times. It was probably killing her that the other girls had gone shopping for Rob’s clothes while she stayed to watch Mallory.
“Did you sleep at all last night?” Eli asked.
“I don’t think so,” Angela admitted. “Then again, maybe I drifted off for a few moments here and there.”
Eli put his hands in his pockets. “Thanks for watching her while I couldn’t. But if you really are the leader, you need to know when to let the other people do what they can. Now is one of those times. Go sleep. I’ll take care of her.”
Angela’s eyes were, for a moment, filled with defiance. However, in a moment he could see her body language soften, as if she finally was just letting her exhaustion come over her. “You’re right.” She rubbed her eyes once more. “Sorry for being stubborn.”
Eli shrugged and made his way to the steep, narrow stairway. “Hey, you fight with rocks or something, right? I think you’re supposed to be stubborn.”
Angela smiled. “Maybe so. Never thought of it that way.” She turned to the window and closed the shutters to block out the sunlight of late morning.
Eli chuckled. “Maybe I’ve just been hanging around Cory too much and his logic is starting to infect me.”
Angela reclined onto her love seat, having to bend her knees slightly in order to fit herself comfortably. “I’ll just take a short nap. Wake me up in twenty minutes.”
“Sure thing,” Eli lied as he ascended the stairs. It was obvious she needed a lot more rest than that. He’d stand watch over his sister and let the blonde recover. Angela may have been the Spirit Guard’s leader, but blood was thicker than water. Or magic. He really needed to improve his metaphors. Or uses of sayings in general.
The upstairs was somehow smaller than the downstairs. Eli found only two doors. One was open and led to a tiny bathroom that barely had enough room to fit both a toilet and a shower. How his sister, who was over six feet tall, got clean every morning was beyond him.
He didn’t bother knocking on the other door. He just waltzed right in. The bedroom was a bit better than the bathroom. While not the biggest, it had a high ceiling that allowed enough space for a bunk bed. Eli’s sister snored under the covers. Each breath sounded difficult. A twinge of guilt hit Eli right in the chest. She wouldn’t have needed to get that punctured lung if it wasn’t for his inability to get them out of that mall without the monster finding them.
He found the bowl of soup Angela had mentioned by the sink. Odd that the sink was in the bedroom and not the bathroom. Why not just make the bathroom slightly bigger and put the sink in there? Eli shook his head, “Nothing in this dump makes sense.”
Mallory groaned, and Eli smiled as he touched the bowl of soup. It was still slightly warm. It hadn’t been long since Angela had tried to feed Mallory. He grinned. Angela really did care for his sister. Eli knew he was dopey for thinking it, but he couldn’t help but feel better knowing his sister had found someone that truly was her friend.
Eli grabbed a chair from the desk and pulled it beside the bottom bunk. The sheets on the bottom bunk were obviously Angela’s. Purple with polka dots definitely wasn’t Mallory’s style. He cleared his throat. When Mallory didn’t stir he cleared it louder.
Once again, she didn’t stir. Eli groaned and nudged the bed with his foot. “Mallory. Wake up. You need to eat something before your muscles eat themselves… or however that super healing works.”
That elicited nothing more than a protracted groan. Eli responded with his own groan then kicked the bed harder. “Mal! Wake up!”
“Son of a biscuit!” Mallory’s eyes shot open and glared daggers at Eli. “Nnnnng! You angelcake! I have broken riiiii… Eli? What are you doing here.”
Eli raised an eyebrow. “I thought Kara fixed your broken ribs.”
Mallory’s eyes filled with panic for a moment. “How did you…” She trailed off and sighed. “Oh, right. You know.”
Eli took a deep breath. Just how badly damaged was her memory? “I also thought she took care of your concussion.”
Mallory waved him off. “She did. I’m just tired. I sort of got my but kicked from here to Sunday.”
“Here is Sunday, Mallory.”
Mallory rubbed her temples. “I have a killer headache. Please don’t use your Cory Fu on me.”
“Sorry. Need any painkillers? Or, I, well, I guess I expected all that magic stuff to take care of it.”
“I have some ibuprofen in that drawer. Hand it over.” Eli happily obliged his sister’s request. “As for the magic, yeah, it helps out with it, but when you get yourself this hurt, I guess you still feel it as your body finishes it up. Not really sure what to expect. No one has ever been this thrashed by a monster before.”
Eli nodded. He tried to hide his nervousness. Talking about how badly his sister, the toughest person he knew, got beat up made him worry for her safety. “I guess being a superhero doesn’t really come with a guide, huh?”
“Supposedly it does,” Mallory snorted, “but she doesn’t seem to know enough to be more than vaguely helpful.”
Eli handed her two tablets and a glass of water he found on Mallory’s nightstand. Or was it Angela’s nightstand? “You talking about the marsupial?”
“Kunapipi?” Mallory swallowed down the two tablets. “Yeah. I mean,” Mallory sighed, “in her defense, she wasn’t really given much to help us. I mean, from what I gather, we are very much different from her past heroes because of our connection to the Ardent Empire. Because of that, it feels like Fate is leaving us mostly to our own devices and amusing herself by watching us flounder.” Mallory glanced up at Eli and frowned. “I’m sorry Eli.”
Eli sat up straight. “Sorry? For what?”
Mallory pushed some stray strands of her brown hair out of her eyes. It was weird seeing her without her ponytail. “For making you worry. Can’t exactly be comforting to see me bruised up and complaining about flying blind.”
Eli averted his eyes. “I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit disturbed to hear you are getting no help from the… wallaby?”
Mallory nodded. “Yeah. Wallaby. But, I mean, it’s not like she’s unhelpful. She’s been invaluable in getting the Hush Corps together and covering for us when we are off fighting something. I mean, I’ve had to miss two volleyball games. That is not something I could get done without serious help. I just wish she had something a little more helpful for us fighting all these monsters instead of relying on all our past lives’ battle experience.”
Eli smiled, trying to lighten the mood and give the impression he wasn’t that worried. “Well no one has died yet.”
“I should have,” Mallory said with the subtlety of a dropped pot. “If it weren’t for your buddy…” She trailed off. “How is he doing?”
“She is shopping with her new roommates for clothes.” Eli, try as he might, couldn’t keep the venom from his voice. “And wearing one of Angela’s bras apparently.”
Mallory closed her eyes and shook her head. “Still can’t believe he did it. Threw his entire life away to rescue me. Someone he didn’t even know.”
Eli could feel his heart sinking into his gut. Would he ever be rid of this guilt? “Rob’s an amazing… person.”
Mallory swallowed down a lump in her throat. “I didn’t see much of her. And she was in super-mode anyway. I gotta know… was she as attractive as I thought she was?”
Eli buried his face in his hands. “When Cory and I saw her for the first time… she wasn’t wearing a bra.”
Mallory grimaced harder than when Eli kicked the bed. “Wow. That’s just… wow.”
“Does Fate hate Rob or something? I mean, isn’t it enough that they made him a smoking hot scarlette? Did she have to make her so juggy and then deny her a bra to start?”
Mallory rubbed her temples. “Fudging awkward. Only way it could have been weirder for you would be if this somehow happened to Cory and he came out a beautiful bluenette.”
Eli’s eyes shot open. “Do not tempt Fate! Literally! Don’t tempt her! So far she seems like she just wants to watch us squirm.”
Mallory let out a laugh that instantly warped into a pained groan. “Okay, yeah, those ribs are still tender.”
Eli smiled, happy to get his complaints off his chest. “But, yeah, Rob is hot. I hate that I have to say that and that I’m not exaggerating.”
Mallory shut her eyes and leaned back into her pillow. “She’s going to need help. From all of us. I’ll bet she puts on a great face, but no matter how cool you are…” Mallory trailed off, looking like she’d fall asleep again.
Eli poked her in the shoulder. “Hey, no sleeping. We got to feed you or you’re going to wither away.”
She groaned again and opened her eyes. “Okay Mom. Give me my food then.” She winced as she sat herself upright against the headboard. As she peaked over the covers Eli could see she wasn’t wearing a shirt, but rather just some tight bandages around her chest. Eli instinctually averted his eyes.
Mallory glanced down. “Huh. Thought it was a bit cold. Wonder when I got this.”
Eli raised an eyebrow and handed her the bowl of soup. “You don’t remember Kara doing that?”
Mallory shook her head and dug into her soup. She didn’t bother to avoid talking and eating at the same time. “No. I don’t fink she did fis. I mean, if she had, the tape would have difappeared with my Fpirit Guard outfit.” Mallory swallowed a down her food. “I think this was done after I transformed. Probably while I slept.”
Eli raised an eyebrow. “Ninja?”
Mallory nodded. “Noriko doing it would explain why I didn’t wake up.”
“Noriko!” Eli exclaimed.
Mallory grinned. “Forgot her name?”
“Constantly,” Eli lamented.
Mallory chuckled and took another bite. “Grab me a sweatshirt. I should have one in that closet there.” She pointed to a small, cabinet that barely qualified as a closet.
Eli hopped up and grabbed a green sweatshirt with SAU’s logo emblazoned on the front. He handed it to his sister and was careful to keep his eyes averted. Seeing his sister wearing nothing but bandages wasn’t exactly a comforting sight.
“Thanks.” As she pulled the sweater on, she let out a small wince at lifting her arms over her head. Still, once the sweater was on, Eli let out a sigh of relief. She responded with a small chuckle and continued to eat her soup.
Eli sat back down and hunched over in his chair. As Mallory ate her soup, he thought about seeing her getting swung around like a rag doll at the mall. Seeing her now, wincing slightly at small stabs of pain she felt here and there, he thought of the sounds of her snapping bones and his sister’s quiver-inducing screams of pain. She had nearly died yesterday. If it hadn’t been for Rob, his sister might not be sitting here. Eli began to wring his hands together and stare at the floor. It had been far too close.
The quiet of the room was only interrupted by the sound of the air conditioner kicking on. Mallory took another bite. Eli continued to wring his fingers together. Mallory sighed and put her spoon down. “What is it?”
Eli tried to look innocent. “What is what?”
“You’re wringing your fingers together. You only do that when you have something on your mind but don’t want to say it. Spit it out.”
Eli bit his bottom lip and thought for a moment. She really did know himl. He sighed and leaned back in his chair. He stared at the ceiling, not wanting to make eye contact. “How close were you to dieing yesterday?”
“It’s not important,” Mallory said in an attempt to dismiss the conversation.
“It is to me,” Eli insisted, meeting her eyes with a determination that matched her own. “I nearly lost you.”
It was Mallory’s turn to wring her hands together. For a few moments, she didn’t say anything. She didn’t even breath. Then, with a long exhale, she told a story. “I thought I had her, you know. Like, she was wailing on me in the fountain, but I thought I had the perfect plan. Monsters like to talk, right? I was going to draw her in with the perfect opportunity to gloat over me. Then, with a clap of my pompoms, will my sword into existence right in her face. Then, bam, Determined Arc before she could hop away.”
Eli nodded his head. It sounded like a good plan. One that would work in a movie anyway. “What happened?”
“It’s the donutest thing. I mean, I went to do it but my right arm wouldn’t come up. I looked down and she had pinned my wrist to the floor. There it was, trapped between the heel and toe of her stiletto. I didn’t even feel it. That’s what is so amazing. I was so punch drunk I couldn’t even feel my own arm properly. I’ve been in some bad fights but, nothing like that.”
Eli frowned. “What happened then?”
Mallory shrugged. “I guess, in the end, the monster’s need to gloat saved me just as much as your buddy. I mean, if she hadn’t bothered to sit there and lord her victory over me, she could have just ended me there. But she did gloat.”
Mallory smirked. “That’s when I heard the squeakiest, shrillest voice yell, ‘Noooooooo!’ at the top of her lungs! Seriously, full blow scream of ‘no’ just like in the movies. Day LaMode hadn’t even turned her head before Serenity had buried her foot in that freak’s back.”
Eli nodded. “Were you scared?”
Mallory took another bite of soup. Eli could see she was considering her words. “Scared? I don’t know. Maybe a little? I was more, what’s the word, embarrassed?”
“No. It’s the wrong word. I was, like, you know, worried I guess.”
“Worried? Worried about what? Death? That sounds a lot like scared to me.”
She waved him off. “No you idiot. Not worried about death. I wasn’t worried about me.” She cast her eyes down into her soup bowl. Eli thought he could see the hint of some tears beginning to form in her eyes. “I was worried about you.”
Eli sat up. “Worried about me? Why?”
She shook her head. “It’s stupid… but all I could think of… was what you’d have to tell Mom and Dad. That I was going to die and it was you that was going to have to tell them why I suddenly disappeared. Because the news wouldn’t know. They’d just know Spirit Guard Tenacity died. So you’d have to be the one to carry the burden of my secret and loss. All yourself.”
Those words hit Eli like a kick to the nuts. What would he have done? What would he have told his parents? During the entire crisis, all he could think of was Mallory’s safety. Eli now felt retroactively terrified of the thought. He found it suddently hard to breath just thinking of how impossible it felt.
Mallory reached over and placed her hand on her little brother’s shoulder. “I thought about what you said, at the Circle, about Mom and Dad.”
“Huh?” Eli looked up.
“You talked about how they deserved to know that I’m in danger. Now, I still don’t think they need to know I’m in danger. However,” Mallory’s eyes, normally so intense and cold, were uncharacteristically warm. “if something were to happen to me, I don’t want to have to have it fall on you to explain everything. Up until now, even with the close calls, I felt invincible. It’s why I didn’t feel any need to let anyone know what I was doing. But this fight…” Mallory trailed off. She squared her jaw and frowned.
“What are you saying?” Eli hoped she was saying what he thought she was saying.
“I’m saying I’m going to tell Mom and Dad.”
Eli felt a weight that he didn’t know was there lift off his shoulders. “Seriously?”
“Won’t Nagano be pissed?”
Mallory gave an amused snort and shook her head. “Yeah, but, after this, if she raises a fuss I’m just going to tell her to go pound sand. It’s my decision, not hers.”
Eli smirked. He could get on board with any plan that involved telling that bossy ninja to pound sand. “Glad to hear you’re not afraid of her.”
Mallory rolled her eyes. “Why would I be afraid of her? I’m a super-powered heroine. What she does is amazing, but I’m the one who shoots lightning.”
“What if she has some sort of ancient ninja mastery that lets her shoot lightning?”
Mallory rolled her eyes again. “You’ve been watching those weird Japanese cartoons with Cory again.”
Eli chuckled. “It’s called anime. You can just call it that.”
Mallory said nothing and just shook her head before she took another bite of food. Eli took a deep, relieved breath. The heaviness that had been in the pit of his stomach was gone. Somehow, knowing Mallory would be telling their parents, put Eli completely at ease. Mallory smirked and swallowed. “You’re grinning like a dope again.”
That only caused Eli to smile more. Mallory had always said he had a dopey grin. “So when did you decide all this? I mean, you’ve only been awake for a few minutes.”
“When I was on that operating table,” Mallory explained between chews. “While Kara worked on me she sedated me a bit so I didn’t feel too much pain. Still hurt like honey though. Having bones set in place, not much you can do to sedate that! Had to focus my mind on something while Kara did the medic work.” Mallory smiled wider and raised an eyebrow. “And why is it that as soon as I mention Kara that you somehow manage an even dopier grin?”
Was Eli grinning wider? He couldn’t be sure; he didn’t have a record for keeping a good poker face. He attempted a weak denial, “What are you talking about?” He cursed himself. Now he could feel himself grinning even bigger.
Mallory shook her head and took another bite. “You patch things up with her after the spying fiasco?”
“Yeah. I did.” Eli left the part out where he gave away Cory’s Gamestation for a month.
Mallory nodded, “Good.”
Mallory nodded again. “Yes. Good.”
“Because, you’re both dopes.” Mallory gave him a playful punch in the shoulder, though she winced slightly when she extended herself. She quickly pulled back and tried to cover the wince with another bite of her soup. “But despite your dopiness, I think you two could be adorable.”
Eli rose up to defend his would-be girlfriend’s honor. “Kara’s not a dope.”
“She’s a total dope,” Mallory countered with a laugh. “But one that I like. She’s nice. She’s selfless. She’s a honey of a cook. And she’s into that dorky hopping game you like. You two go well together. Plus I know you like blunettes.”
“The game is called Hop Dance Mania,” Eli explained in a transparent attempt to steer the conversation away from his fondness of blunettes. It was weird that his sister knew his kinks. There was something just disturbing about discussing that with your sister.
“Regardless,” she said with a dismissive wave of her spoon, “I think you two are adorable together.”
“I’m in college now, Mallory,” Eli whined, “I shouldn’t be adorable. It’s emasculating.”
Mallory leaned over and ruffled his hair. She winced again, but the pain seemed worth it to her; teasing affection always would always be worth the pain to Mallory. “You’re my little brother. You’ll always be adorable to me.”
Platicore was going to be pissed. Trace had to figure out a way to smooth things over once she got back. Hopefully he was calm when she returned. It wasn’t her fault her stealth bands were drained. It was that stupid scarlette that had chased her off before she could harvest Day LaMode’s Investiture haul. If she hadn’t seen her everything would be fine.
Trace skulked across the food court. It had taken her all night to find a way into the Rale Valley Mall. Normally these buildings had one or two doors unlocked by lazy employees, but it seemed Day LaMode’s attack had limited the usual security flaws. She could have picked the door locks, but almost all the the exits were electronic locks as well.
Though she had hated to do it, she finally got in by throwing a rock through a window on the other side of the mall to set off alarms so she could sneak through the door the cops were using while most of them went to check out the disturbance. It had taken a long time to move through the parking lot without being seen, but in a way it was exhilerating. Having Platicore’s stealth band had made her grow soft; it felt good to get back to some classic sneaking.
Now in the food court, Trace checked all her angles and made sure there wasn’t a soul who could see her. Trace realized she was taking cover behind the same trash bin she had been behind when that scarlette pompom found her. That reminded Trace to check the rafters; Trace well knew that the Spirit Guard would have had someone who destroyed evidence for them, and those types tended to be even sneakier than herself. Even if Trace knew that whoever the cheerleaders’ obfuscator was would have logically been long gone, Trace felt much better checking every nook and cranny first.
Once she was satisfied that no eyes were on the food court, Trace hurried to the center of the carnage. A headless mannequin was sprawled across the floor, cordoned off by yellow police tape. Bits and pieces of melted mannequin splattered across the tile like blood from a bullet to the head. Why were the pieces melted? Didn’t the pink cheerleader already have the fire angle covered? From what Trace knew, these magically empowered Amazon squads tended to avoid doubling up on powers.
Trace crouched over Day LaMode’s corpse and shook her head. “Wish I could have seen how you went out.” This new girl couldn’t be using fire. Fire wouldn’t have blown the head open like this. Though the bits of LaMode’s head were melted, they were also separated, like the head cracked into a thousand pieces before the individual pieces melted. What could cause that fracturing? Maybe ice freezing her head and shattering it? But then why did the plastic melt? She was going to need some way to figure it out.
Trace pushed back a few strands of her lavender hair and fished Platicore’s Investiture collector doodad from her pocket. Trace mentally groaned as she did so. The device looked like a sex toy with a tuning fork attached to it. Platicore had insisted that it didn’t look anything of the sort. Platicore was wrong.
She turned the unfortunately shaped device on and a black pearl phased into existence. This never ceased to amaze her; Trace thought she had seen it all, but little magical touches like this always seemed to amaze her.
Trace pushed the tuning fork end of the gadget into the pearl which rippled as if it were a drop of water. The device hummed and pieces of the pearl flaked off. The flakes fell before they floated into a small vent on the side of the device as if it were vacuuming the flakes up. The device took on a soft yellow glow. Trace only hoped it was glowing purple by the time she was done. Though she didn’t quite understand the scale perfectly, she knew that as long as it glowed somewhere between purple and blue, Platicore would be happy.
Trace forced herself to stop watching the mystical pearl interact with the gizmo and scan the food court again to make sure no one was sneaking up on her. Her eyes lingered on Day LaMode’s remains once more. As she thought about it, the Spirit Guard didn’t tend to leave much of a corpse. Their powers usually consumed the entire body. But this Serenity chick had somehow left a body. How would that have worked?
Trace mentally put herself back in the scene. The scarlette bimbo had been using daggers, right? Whatever she did, she probably stabbed Day LaMode in the head first. That would explain the reason the rest of the corpse was intact. Stab the mannequin in the head then use your magical attack. No chance to miss that way, plus whatever element she used, it’d build up inside the head then explode out. Water maybe? Boiling water would explain both the spray pattern and the melted plastic.
Trace couldn’t help but grin. Stabbing your enemy’s face then blowing it up was so unlike the Pompom Posse. For one, it would look amazingly badass. The Spirit Whores didn’t do badass. They did long-range, surgical attacks stuff. But this… this was so up close and personal. Messy. Visceral. Hardcore. Serenity might have looked like your standard hot-to-trot cheer slut, but maybe Trace was wrong to judge the girl by her curves and hair. Maybe she had a bit of badass to her.
Trace rolled her eyes at herself. A badass cheerleader. The phrase itself made her want to laugh. What a notion. Still, going for an attack like that had to mean that this girl was either sneaky or fast. You don’t get to stab someone in the face if they could see you coming. Trace made a mental note to relay this to Platicore. It could affect the design of his next goon.
Platicore’s device stopped humming and Trace sighed to see what color it glowed. To her surprise, it glowed an almost greenish-blue. She had never seen it glow that color. Was that good? Blue tended to be good. She had never seen greens. trace had a feeling this was a very good sign.
Trace touched her stealth band to the back of the device. Some of the green bled away to the regular blue. Her stealth band was completely charged and it was still in the blue range? This was a very good sign. She might not get yelled at tonight.
Trace gave a content sigh as she activated the stealth band and went invisible once more. She truly had taken for granted how much she relied on this. She’d need to be more judicious with her use in the future. But with cops crawling over the mall now wasn’t the time to start.
Trace didn’t bother scanning the food court anymore. Even if the Spirit Guard’s obfuscator was here, she’d be unable to see her now. She pocketed the device and casually strolled to the exit.
Her mind lingered on the idea of the cheerleaders having an obfuscator. Platy had said it was pointless to try to figure out their identities because the disguise field would prevent her brain from putting it all together. If that were the case, why would they go to such great lengths to hide their identity? As far as Trace could tell, all teams of super-females had someone similar helping them hide stuff. Platicore’s claim and that fact seemed to be in direct opposition.
Trace decided she’d ignore Platicore and try to figure out their identities. She wasn’t sure where to begin but that college campus was probably the best guess. That or the high school. Regardless, if she did it during her free time, of which she had a lot, Platicore couldn’t complain. The way Trace saw it, if Platicore was right then she’d never have to tell him he was right. If Trace figured out who they were, boom, Platicore would have to admit he was wrong and they’d be done with his stupid vendetta, and she could be free of him. Either way, she was in the clear.
Plus, if Trace found their identities out, maybe she’d get to meet this new Serenity chick and find out just how badass the bitch really was.
A little bit of heartwarming and a little bit of… Trace. I again hesitate too much to talk about what it is Trace is doing as obviously that could give away stuff. However, I do feel it’s important to point out that Trace, in some ways, is an audience surrogate. I’ve had several readers point out the conflict between saying “You can’t see through the disconnection effect” and “we have a team of hackers and ninjas to hide our identities.” I think, with those facts in place, it’d be perfectly normal for Trace to decide she’s going to try to figure stuff out anyway.
I also think it’s perfectly natural for Trace to see the curvy, booberific Serenity (I put the word booberific in as a courtesy to our host, Pip, who has insisted to me several times that it is a word XD) who is wearing a cheer outfit and assume she’s just another stuck up alpha bitch cheerleader from the movies. And sorry for linking you all to TVTropes. Let this be a lesson about judging books by their cover or something like that.
Enough Trace, for me the highlight of the chapter is Eli coming over to check up on his sister. For one, I felt a need to show how much Angela really does care and worry about her team. Especially Mallory. I figure those two have been fighting together the longest so nearly loosing Mallory would have been particularly devastating to Angela.
Angela’s need to have someone else come in and tell them to relax is based off of a friend of mine who is constantly trying too hard. People like this can have a really guilty conscience over the fortune they’ve had and view everything through the lens of responsibility. People like this need their friends to remind them that they need to help themselves as much as others. And Eli, with a lifetime of hanging around Cory, has no problem relaxing.
Last comes Mallory’s decision to tell her parents. I hope it feels like natural reasoning as to why she wouldn’t before but she will now. As an older sibling myself I can say the logic feels real to me. I hoped it worked for all of you too.