Trials: Part Twelve

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About a month had passed since Johan’s duel. Vanessa had grown to tolerate Ashley and her friends, but still tried her best to keep to herself. She had no particular love for Ashley, or her ‘healing to accrue favor’ gimmick, but it was helpful to have someone to talk to to stave off the madness. Additionally, she noted this morning, that the pieces of her broken disc had remained for all this time, despite the fact that her discs normally disappear after a few minutes of not being actively used.

Today, however, she had noticed something strange. Ashley was fine before assembly, but after assembly, where she wasn’t burned, she had a grotesque burn on her arm. This was peculiar because Ashley didn’t know the man being punished, to the best of her knowledge. In this month she hadn’t taken anyone’s burns away from them as far as Vanessa knew. She definitely had a bad feeling about this, so she elected to keep her distance the next day.

As Vanessa was reflecting on this, she heard her cell door click and squeak as it opened. The other guard barged into the cell. Vanessa’s heart was racing, but she remained silent and still. He grabbed Ashley and pulled up her sleeve, revealing the burn. The guard reached to his radio, and spoke into it.

“Jones here, you were right. The prisoner has the same burn on her arm.”

Takeo replied over the radio. “Bring her to me.”

Vanessa looked at Ashley, who seemed to have lost her calm demeanor. She scrambled away from the guard and towards Vanessa. “Help me!”

Vanessa froze. She felt light headed, and her mind raced. She couldn’t afford to start trouble, and whatever Ashley had gotten into was her own fault. She had to keep her head down if she was going to get out.

The guard looked at Vanessa with a twisted smile. “Well, are you gonna help her?” He laughed and began to move towards them.

“Jones quit being a dick, and get it over with.” Another guard appeared in the doorway. His name patch said ‘Gaines’.

“Yeah, yeah.” Jones replied, before dragging Ashley out of the cell.

As quickly as he had came, Vanessa was alone again. She looked down at the floor. In the scramble, Ashley had knocked Vanessa’s pillow to the floor. She shakily got to her feet, and bent over to pick it up, when she felt ill. She scrambled to the toilet and began to dry heave. She used to be a hero, someone people would look up to, and now she just let a girl go to her death because she helped someone, and Vanessa just sat and watched. She may not have always been a monster, but she had most certainly become one.

She heard Paul’s voice. “You can make this right.”

Her heart skipped a beat. She looked around the cell and saw no-one. She fell onto her back and tears began to stream down her face. She had finally lost it. She was hearing voices, and of all voices to hear, it was Paul’s.

“You’ll know what to do.”

“How!?” She called into her cell, knowing she wouldn’t receive an answer. She wiped her eyes and chuckled. Of course even the Paul in her head wouldn’t give her a straight answer. She stood to her feet, dusted herself off, and put her pillow back in place. According to Paul, she would know what to do, and when to do it. That or she’s snapped, so either way, she’d make this right.

She went through dinner in complete silence. She couldn’t bring herself to sit with her usual group, since she knew they’d ask questions. She had a feeling that Ashley would be brought out front during assembly. Paul had said she’d know what to do, but she still couldn’t figure it out.

Once dinner was over, the buzzer went off, and everyone began to shuffle to the yard. Once there, everyone sat in their usual places, and waited for Takeo to begin.

“Greetings, monsters.” He addressed the crowd.

“Greetings.” Everyone, now including Vanessa replied.

“Yesterday, I engaged in a duel, and I mercifully allowed the monster to continue living, with only moderate injuries.” He began to pace the stage. “Injuries hurt, yes, but they are a valuable teaching tool. If you do not feel the consequences of your actions, you will not learn from your mistakes.” He motioned to some guards standing off to the side. “One of you decided that you would take that monster’s injuries from him, thus denying him, and others, a valuable learning experience.”

Vanessa’s heart pounded, as they brought a girl with a bag over her head out front. She already knew who it was, but secretly hoped she was somehow wrong. She wasn’t.

“Monster, I’ve taken note of your for quite a while.” Takeo looked down at Ashley. “You have not directly defied me until now, so I have not taken action. I would like to teach you a lesson now. Doing charity for monsters will earn you nothing, as you are about to witness.” He then turned back towards the crowd. “Now, I am nothing if not fair, and I know this monster’s power is not in direct combat, but in healing. She has healed many of you, taking on the wounds herself. As such, I would like to offer any of you the opportunity to be her standin. You would duel me, in her place.”

The audience was silent. Vanessa looked around, and saw all of the people that Ashley had been friends with staring down at the ground. She couldn’t believe it. After all Ashley had done for them, they were about to damn her. She took a deep breath, and stood to her feet.

“I’ll do it.” She said, with as much confidence as she could muster.

“Ah, the cellmate.” Takeo smirked, and turned back to Ashley. “You’ve gotten lucky, but take note of the fact that only one of the countless monsters you’ve helped, cares to help you in your time of need.” He turned back to Vanessa. “Well, come forwards.”

The audience parted around Vanessa, as she began to walk forwards. She put herself between Takeo and Ashley, and the world went silent.

“Now, the terms of the duel are as follows: if I win, you both go to the pit. If you win, you both go free.” He smirked again. “As an added bonus for your heroism, if you win, I’ll tell you a secret about your father.”

Vanessa’s heart skipped a beat at the mention of her father. She took a deep breath, sighed, and nodded. She had to win this. “That works for me.”

Takeo took a fighting stance, and Vanessa followed suit. They were both still for a moment, then Vanessa made the first move. She hurled a disc, but Takeo sidestepped it. He then advanced, and began a flurry of flaming blows.

Vanessa managed to block punch after punch with a series of discs, but he was moving too fast. She had to do something now. She noticed him going in for a kick, and she sent a disc towards his other foot.

His foot began to slide, but he caught himself with his hand. Vanessa felt an impact at the back of her head, and everything went dark.

 


 

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I wish you all safety and courage to follow your convictions during these times. I talk more about current issues on my twitter, @CJAWorks, so if you want to hear more, please look there. I am not a POC so above all, please listen to them.

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Trials: Part Eleven

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Anastasia looked out across the ruins, as she neared the point where the woman had disappeared. There were gray stone pillars and bricks scattered about a gravelly landscape, leading up to a rocky shore. The skies were filled with dark clouds, as though a storm was approaching. There was no way there were people here, but then again, a woman had just disappeared before her eyes.

She took held Paul’s hand in hers and led him out onto the uneven terrain. She took a few more steps further, with the earth crunching beneath her feet. She was almost where the woman stood when she vanished. She took a deep breath, before her and Paul simultaneously crossed the threshold.

Suddenly, she found herself in a completely different, yet still similar place. The skies were bright and sunny, and all of the buildings stood tall. There was green everywhere, and people went about wearing colorful clothing, doing their business. In front of them stood the woman who had vanished only moments ago.

“Welcome to the Hodegon monastery. I am Adara.” She spoke in perfect English. “No, I did not deceive you, I do only speak Arabic. Here, everyone hears people speak in their native tongue.”

“Wow… This is beautiful!” Anastasia stammered.

“Truly magnificent.” Paul added.

“How is this place hidden?” Anastasia asked. After a moment had passed to process what Paul had said, she gave him a light elbow in the ribs.

“The short answer is ‘magic’” She arced her hand slowly as she spoke, and a faint trail of sparkles appeared. “Now, come along. We have a meal ready for you. Then we can discuss why you’ve come to us.”

Anastasia nodded in amazement, and followed Adara through the monastery, with Paul in tow. She attempted to relay some of the things she saw to him as they walked. They walked along a stone path until they reached the largest building in the monastery. It looked almost Greek, with grand columns, but it had a domed roof. Inside was a large dining hall, with a long table. Five places were set at one end. Adara took her place at the head of the table, Paul and Anastasia sat on one side, and two monks who had not spoken yet sat on the other. Once they had all sat down, a few more monks came out with a tray of food, which they placed in the middle of the five. On it was a selection of fish, all with herbs and spices and miscellaneous vegetables.

They all ate in relative silence, until they’d had their fill.

Adara spoke up. “Now, I wish to ask why you have sought out our monastery.”

“When the green light hit, I lost my vision, and gained powers that gave me visions of the future. I came across legends of an ancient monastery which the blind would seek out to be healed, and I subsequently had visions of you. I knew I had to come.” Paul bowed his head. “Now, I humbly request your help.”

Adara nodded thoughtfully, then turned to Anastasia. “And you?”

Anastasia was startled for a moment, after being addressed. “Oh, I don’t need anything. I came to help Paul find you.”

“You don’t need anything, do you?” Adara asked. “There is nothing that you desire to improve in yourself?”

“I-I don’t know…” She stammered.

“Perhaps we could help you find what it is you want.”

Anastasia looked down in silence for a few seconds. “I suppose trying couldn’t hurt… Since Paul has to be here anyways.”

“Excellent.” Adara stood to her feet. “We will begin at dawn. You will each receive individual attention, and will do so separately. I believe we can help you find what you’re looking for.”

“Thank you so much.” Paul smiled.

“Yes, thank you.” Anastasia stood to her feet and helped Paul get up.

“Now, I have things I must attend to.” She turned to the monks that had sat down with them. “Coombre, show them to their quarters. Siobhan, fetch their things from the hotel.”

Siobhan, a tall pale woman with red hair, stood to her feet. She chanted a few words in a language Anastasia didn’t recognize, and vanished.

Adara rolled her eyes. “Coombre, when she gets back, remind her that she doesn’t need to blink everywhere she goes.”

Coombre, a short dark skinned man, nodded, and turned to Paul and Anastasia. “Please, follow me. Siobhan will have your things here shortly.”

Anastasia nodded, and took Paul’s hand. Coombre led them out of the dining hall, and along a cobbled path to a large stone building. The building had many irregular rooms jutting off of it, but in the center had two large wooden doors. He pulled the doors open, and gestured inside. Anastasia took a few steps in, and saw what must have been fifty rooms. Some were even on top of other rooms, with wooden stairs constructed, leading up to them. Corridors went off in every direction, and people milled about.

Anastasia looked around in awe. “This is… Not like anything I’ve ever seen!”

Coombre laughed. “That is what everyone says their first time in.” He led them into a corridor, and gestured to two doors, side by side. “This is where you will stay. You each get a room.”

Anastasia’s heart sank a little, noticing that she and Paul would be in different rooms, unlike in the hotel.

Coombre glanced, knowingly, in her direction, and laughed again. He patted her back, as he began to walk away. “Make yourself at home! Siobhan will be back soon!”

 


 

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Trials: Part Ten

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Vanessa stuck with Ashley’s group of friends as they went to ‘exercise block’. Once they got there, she paced around the sides of the court while most of them played a game of basketball with some people she didn’t know. She didn’t feel very much like being active right now. She noticed Ashley standing near her, watching the game.

“You don’t have to babysit me, you know.” Vanessa said. “You can do whatever it is you normally do.”

“Oh, don’t worry about me. I’m just a little not into it today.” She smiled. “So are you feeling okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine.” Vanessa nodded. She figured it was best to keep her personal stuff to herself. After all, she had no idea who this girl was.

“Alright, well just feel free to talk to me if you need something.”

“Hey, Ashley. Come here for a sec!” Another prisoner called from across the yard.

“I’ll be right back.” Ashley smiled before running off.

Vanessa sighed with relief. She had a second to herself. That was at least what she thought before another man approached her. He was middle aged, and in pretty good shape. He looked vaguely familiar to her, but she couldn’t recall from where. Her heart began to race. What did this guy want with her?

“You’re Vanessa Smith, aren’t you?”

She froze. If someone knew who she was, this could be bad. Between her dad and her, they had more than enough enemies. He clearly already knew who she was, though, so there was no point in lying. “Yes.”

The man smiled warmly. “I knew it was you! I’m Johan Burke! I worked with your dad!”

Vanessa sighed with relief. That was where she knew him from. This guy was a contractor that his dad routinely hired. “It’s good to see a familiar face here, Johan.”

“It sure is! Is this your first day here?”

“Yeah, it is. I woke up here this morning.” She nodded.

“Damn, I’m sorry.” He shook his head. “Listen, if you ever need anything, just know I’m looking out for you.”

“Thank you Johan.” She was holding back tears at this point. What were the odds of finding a friendly face here?

“So I see you’ve been hanging around with Ashley and her group. They treating you alright?”

“Oh, yeah.” She nodded.

Much of the rest of the day passed uneventfully. Ashley kept trying to talk to her, but eventually eased off. They went to lunch, then back to the yard, then back to their cell. After that, they went to the dining hall again for dinner. Lunch and dinner were both fine. The food was warm and edible. The rest of the time, she kept to herself and watched. She hadn’t noticed Johan around since he’d talked to her, but she didn’t think much of it. Once dinner had wrapped up, the buzzer went off again.

“Alright Vanessa.” Ashley walked next to Vanessa. “Next is assembly. It can be a little intense, so I’ll stay with you. You just have to power through it, okay?”

“Alright?” Vanessa thought she sounded a little weird. She hadn’t talked like that before. She wasn’t sure what she meant by ‘intense’ either.

They filed into the yard, and the prisoners all took a seat around the basketball court. A thin white teenager stood in the center of the court, and watched as everyone filed in. As she took a closer look at him, he was actually a little muscular, but still thin. Everyone seemed very tense, and they were unusually quiet.

Once everyone had filed in, the teenager addressed the crowd. “Greetings, monsters.”

“Greetings.” Everyone said in reply.

His voice sounded just like the one she had heard over the speaker in that room. She wondered if this was Takeo.

“Tonights assembly will be brief.” He began to pace the court. “I have but one matter of business.”

There was no doubt about it, it was definitely the same voice. This had to be Takeo.

He motioned to some guards, and they brought out a man with a bag over his head. He fell to his knees, and the bag was taken off. Vanessa gasped. It was Johan

“Johan, you failed to salute me as you walked past. When addressed, you proceeded to ignore me.” He paced around Johan. “You appear to hold yourself in very high regard. On your feet, and prepare yourself.”

Johan staggered to his feet, and took a fighting stance. The pair circled for a moment, before Johan rushed forwards. As he ran, he seemed to be blowing, but an immense wind burst forth. Takeo smirked, and stood his ground. Just as Johan approached, Takeo sidestepped his punch, and landed his own to his back, sending the man to the ground. Takeo’s foot erupted in flame, and he slammed it down towards Johan, who rolled out of the way, just as it landed. Takeo then went in with another kick, as Johan tried to get to his feet. He blew as hard as he could, but the kick still landed. Johan cried out in pain, and crumpled to the ground.

Vanessa stared blankly in horror at what had happened. Johan was down, and the guards threw him onto a gurney, and rushed out of the yard.

“If you seek to challenge me, make sure you have the power to back up your words. Dismissed.” Takeo walked out of the yard.

The prisoners waited until Takeo had left, and began to file out. Ashley was silent for once, as she led Vanessa back to their cell.

Once they’d returned to their cell, Vanessa sat on her bed for a moment, still in shock. She hurled a disc at the wall, and it shattered into pieces.

Ashley yelped, and was silent for a moment.

Vanessa’s heart sank. She had tried to be careful about where she aimed so it wouldn’t hit her, but she must’ve thrown it too hard. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine, you just startled me.”

“Okay. Sorry.”

“It’s alright. The first day is hard.”

Vanessa curled up in her bed, and tried to keep her crying quiet.

 


 

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Trials: Part Nine

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Jude sat on the sofa, watching some football. Sunday afternoons were his best solace from everything. Everyone just let him be, and more importantly, he let himself be. It was a time to be unproductive, and not think about your issues. Issues like being confined to a house with nothing to do. He supposed he could exercise, but he just didn’t have the energy. He noticed his mind wandering, and tried to stop, but it was futile. As much as he had tried to quiet his issues, football wasn’t cutting it.

He closed his eyes, and took a deep breath. He opened his eyes, and felt a kind of zen. This feeling of zen was shattered instantaneously by a pathetic 20 yard sack.

“Oh, come on! What are you doing!” Jude yelled at the screen.

The doorbell rang several times. Jude looked around, but saw nobody else. He sighed and got to his feet. He looked through the peephole, and saw some woman he didn’t recognize.

He sighed and opened the door. On the other side, stood a woman. She looked to be about his age, average height, and had short black hair, with an undercut. He also noticed that she wasn’t holding any pamphlets, just a book bag , and that there didn’t appear to be an unusual car nearby.

He started to speak, but she cut him off. “Are you Dayspring? I need to speak with Dayspring.” She had an earnest expression on her face, as though something were terribly wrong.

He weighed his options for a moment. In the end, she was most likely just another fan, and this really wasn’t a good time for this. It was a Sunday, after all. Heroes need days off too. Once he thought that, the thought occurred to him that every day was a rest day for him right now, but he stuffed that thought back where it came from. “Nope, no supers here.”

She looked at him for a moment, but then looked past him. She seemed to be in disbelief. Jude turned around to see Deven standing behind him, and shook his head.

“Is that the pizza guy?” Deven asked.

He knew that it couldn’t have been that easy. Jude turned back around and offered a weak smile. “Yes I’m Dayspring, what do you need?”

“Do you mind if I come in? This is kind of a lot.” She hesitated for a moment. “I’ve also been walking a lot today and really wouldn’t mind sitting down somewhere air conditioned. I’m Arte by the way.” Once she mentioned it, she did look rather tired.

“Uhhhh…” Jude looked back over his shoulder. He wasn’t proud of it, but the place was a mess. Pizza boxes were stacked up next to the couch half as tall as him, cans and bottles littered the floor, there was a mountain of dishes in the sink, and that was just the start of it. He felt a moment of intense shame. Two weeks ago he was gonna turn his life around, and already… This. “It’s kind of a mess…”

“Oh I don’t mind any mess… Please?” She made a pained smile. It was the kind of smile you see on fast food workers, who have put their dignity in a box, in exchange for a paycheck.

“Alright… Don’t mention the mess to anyone.” He opened the door, and headed for the kitchen, tidying up small messes along the way. He collected the pile of letters on the table, and threw them on the counter, then cleared off the rest of the clutter and food.

“Thanks for letting me in…” She followed Jude through the living room into the kitchen, taking special care to avoid the clutter as she stepped. She pulled a weathered manilla envelope out from her bag, placed it on the table, and took a seat. Jude sat down next to her, and watched as she pulled out several documents and pictures. “Okay, so I’m trying to not do this whole thing twice, is your blind friend here?”

“Blind friend? You mean Paul?” He debated for a moment how much information to give her, and decided on minimal. While he liked to assume the best of everyone, it was feasible that she could be against him. “He’s not here right now, why do you ask?”

“Okay, well I guess I’ll just go into it.” She sighed, opened the envelope, and pulled out a picture. A girl, about Jude’s age. She was smiling, and wearing a letterman jacket. “This is Ashley. A few months ago, she went missing. There was a shooting at her office, but her body was never found.” She slid a couple of documents discussing a shooting at a firm in Atlanta towards him. “I think she’s still alive.”

Jude looked over the documents for a moment in silence. “Touchdown, Falcons!” sounded in the background, but Jude resisted the urge to check the game. “So why do you think she’s still alive?”

“Well, I’ve spent the past few months investigating mostly.” She pulled out a few more papers, and handed them to Jude. “The thing is, I’ve been unable to find where she went. She was sighted at the airport, but the trail goes cold. That’s when I switched gears to ways I could find her, and realized that your friend could be the key! Do you think you could help me?” Her eyes were pleading, and Jude felt the pressure mounting.

Jude pretended to read the papers, and tried to hide the fact that he was panicking. Some girl had been investigating for a month, and came to find Paul, and it just happened to be while Paul was in Turkey for who knows how long. Additionally, he wasn’t really sure how she knew about Paul’s powers. “Well, the thing is…” Jude watched the hope fade from her eyes as he spoke, and it crushed his soul. “Paul is actually out of the country right now… For an indeterminate amount of time.”

Arte stared forwards for a moment. She lowered the file and papers to the table, and a tear emerged from her eye. The one tear was followed by many more, and she buried her face in her hands.

Jude scooted his chair closer to her, and placed his hand on her back. “Hey, it’s gonna be alright. This isn’t the end, I’m sure you’ll find your friend.”

“Dayspring, you don’t understand!” She spoke into her hands between sobs. “This is the end! I’m out of money, I don’t have anywhere to go! I needed this to work!”

“Oh… Shit.” Jude muttered. His brain stalled, he had no idea what to say to that. A stranger was sobbing in his kitchen, because he couldn’t help her.

Jude considered some options for her. The obvious solution was a hotel, but she said she was out of money, and while he had disposable income, he didn’t exactly have THAT much. It wasn’t like he really knew anyone around here either. The homeless shelter was an option, but not a good one. Not to mention, he didn’t actually know where it was or if there was one near here. The realization set in that he had two people in a five bedroom house. “Well, I guess I could clear out a room here. You could wait around for Paul to come back.”

“Really? Are you sure?” She wiped off her face and lowered her hands.

“Well, I mean, might as well. We can work out some of the details later. Let me show you where it is.” Jude got up from his seat and started towards the hall.

“Th- Thank you!” She got up and followed behind him.

He led her around some junk, and into the hall. He opened up a door, and entered into a small bedroom. In contrast to the rest of the house, this room was actually rather clean. A few boxes were stacked in the corner, and a keyboard stood against the wall. The bed was dressed and untouched.

“This was gonna be Paul’s room, but I can move his crap somewhere else. He doesn’t have much stuff.”

“Thank you so much!” She placed her bag at the foot of the bed.

“So, uh, yeah…” Jude paused. “Have you eaten today?”

“Well… Not really.” She looked down at her feet.

“Alright then, I’ll fix something. Probably chicken. I’ll let you know when it’s ready.” Jude started to turn, but something caught his eye. He noticed her necklace, an eight-spoked wheel. Something about it seemed familiar to him, but he couldn’t put his finger on it. He figured he could worry about that later. Jude smiled, and went out of the room. As soon as he was out of earshot, he sighed, “Another Sunday gone…”

 


 

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Hey everyone! Don’t know who Arte is? Shame on you! Go read Artana. It was also my birthday some time this past week, so you are now morally obligated to follow me. Sorry, I don’t make the rules. Hope you have a good week!

 

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Trials: Part Eight

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Vanessa sobbed on the concrete floor. Her arms stung. She figured she must have skinned them during the fall. She rolled onto her side, and groaned. She contemplated what the voice had said. This was punishment for Jamal? He was a dangerous criminal, who had it coming. It wasn’t like she snuck into his house and shot him. He abducted Paul, and tried to kill her twice. It was a combat situation, and she made a decision.

She felt a warm hand on her back, and scrambled away.

“Hey, sorry. I didn’t mean to frighten you.” A woman spoke. “I’m Ashley. I just wanted to tell you everything is gonna be okay.”

Vanessa took a moment to collect herself, and stop sobbing. She didn’t realize anyone else was here. She looked up and saw a girl, about the same age as her. She had fair skin and long brown hair. “How do you know that?”

“Because I remember my first day. It looked a lot like yours, but I’m still here.” Her smile radiated warmth, and she held out her hands. “Let me see your arms.”

Vanessa reluctantly complied. “Does it look bad?”

“No, you’ll be okay. Hold still.” She took Vanessa’s hands, and after a moment she winced and released them.

In that moment Vanessa read a flurry of thoughts, but she gathered that Ashley really believed everything was going to be okay. She then noticed that her arms didn’t hurt anymore, and looked down to see they were completely fine. “What…” She started to ask, when she noticed Ashley’s own arms were bleeding.

“Don’t worry. The first night is already hard enough without injuries.”

“Can you…”

“Yes, that’s my power. I can heal others, but I take on their injuries myself.”

“No… I can’t let you do that for me.” Vanessa wondered what she was up to. She had to have some kind of ulterior motive, but she couldn’t sense anything in the brief mind reading she was able to do.

“Too late. I can’t undo it.” She laughed playfully.

“Well you should’ve asked first. I don’t need your help.” Vanessa scoffed.

“Really? Alright then.” Ashley shrugged and went over to one of the two beds. “Well, the days about to start, so I recommend you get some sleep.”

“Whatever.” Vanessa had to know what this girl was up to. She figured the most likely scenario was that she preyed upon anyone with injuries, trying to indent them to her so that she had a system of protection. If that was her plan, Vanessa refused to play into it. She just needed to find a way out. There’s know way the people here knew all of her powers, and there’s no way they could’ve super-proofed this prison completely. There had to be some kind of weak spot in their defenses. She would have to see how this first day went. Vanessa was not going to go down without a fight.

After about an hour had passed a loud buzzer sounded for about half a minute, followed by the cell doors swinging open. Vanessa was about to exit the cell when she felt herself being pulled back.

“Let most of the people get out first. You don’t want to accidentally start something.” Ashley said, before sitting back down on her bed. “Listen I get that you don’t like me right now, or whatever, but please stick with me for at least your first day so that you don’t get killed. This is a prison full of a bunch of angry people with superpowers. Most are fine, but enough aren’t that you need to be careful.”

“Fine.” Vanessa sighed. It would certainly be useful to have someone to show her the ropes.

They waited for the crowd to thin out, before joining at the tail end of it. There were guards lining the hall, and Vanessa noticed the guard who someone had called Darryl. She figured that he might be a valuable ally once she had a plan together. He seemed to have some shred of humanity left. She would have to vet him more thoroughly.

They followed the flow of the prisoners until they found themselves in a large room with benches and tables. The prisoners seemed to be forming a queue at a counter, so she figured this must be the cafeteria.

Ashley whispered into Vanessa’s ear. “The food selection will be sparse, but it can get nasty at the front of the line.”

Vanessa nodded, and made no reply. She looked at people that were already eating as they passed, and noticed that most of them were eating some kind of beige goop. She grimaced. She couldn’t let the food get to her, she had to keep her strength up.

“You seem to be feeling better.” Ashley smiled.

Vanessa nodded again. She made her way through the slow moving line, and by the time she was given her slop, she was hungry enough to eat it. It was at least warm, so it wasn’t all bad. She picked up a cup of water and gestured for Ashley to lead the way to a seat.

Ashley took the cue, and they made their way to a table towards the back. It was packed with people making small talk, but they all went silent as Ashley and Vanessa approached.

“Hey everyone, this is Vanessa. She just got dropped off, so be nice.” Ashley smiled, and a few people shuffled to make room for them to sit.

Vanessa smiled at them and silently took a seat. She said as little as possible and focused on listening to what everyone was saying. Nobody offered up too much useful information, but they all seemed nice enough. The group seemed to gravitate to Ashley, which made sense, given her power. Who wouldn’t flock towards the girl who could heal you? She thought about asking some questions about Takeo, but decided that was best saved for later. For now, she just needed to keep her head down.

 


 

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Heads up for my fellow slackers who celebrate mothers day, but have forgotten to get a card or do anything. You have two days left!

 

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Trials: Part Seven

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Paul followed Anastasia’s lead, as she stepped out of the airport and onto the sidewalk. People were milling about, and cars and taxis came and went along what was presumably a road in front of him. The smell of exhaust filled the air.

It had been a long flight, but he had managed to sleep through most of it, thankfully. Anastasia had said she got enough sleep, but she sounded tired and had been yawning a lot, so Paul figured they had differing definitions of the word ‘enough’. Nevertheless, she seemed to be navigating fine; hopefully she would get more sleep once they got to the hotel.

“Alright, Paul. Let’s take a cab to the hotel, drop our stuff off, and head to the monastery.” She grabbed his hand, and led him into a taxi.

The cab smelled of cigarettes masked by new car smell. The man in the taxi proceeded to ask him several questions in a language he didn’t understand, to which he responded with confused silence. Anastasia entered the cab soon after, and simply handed the man a piece of paper with the name of the hotel on it. After a moment, they were on their way.

 


 

Anastasia fell backwards onto her bed, and sighed with relief. After such a long day, it was good to be able to just lay down for a second. She looked over at the other bed, and saw Paul sitting on the edge. He was looking off into space, as though he was having some deep thought. As she looked at him, a thought occurred to her.

“Hey, Paul? Where exactly is this monastery? How far away is it?”

“Oh, well the thing is, I couldn’t really find an exact location on the internet, but I figured we could work it out once we got here.”

Anastasia stared forward for a second, in mild shock. She figured he must have just not looked very hard, and pulled out her phone. She searched every variant of Hodegon monastery she could think of, and only found a couple of ancient stories of blind people going there to be healed. “Wow, you weren’t kidding, I can’t find anything useful, other than it being in Istanbul.”

“Well, I know its near the coast, and there aren’t a lot of tall buildings in the area. Maybe its a historic district or something?”

“Alright…” She turned her search to historic districts in Istanbul that were near the coast, and that narrowed it down to about 50. “Can you remember anything else about it?”

Paul thought for a moment. “Not really anything that would be helpful. Maybe we can go ask some locals?”

“Guess we don’t have much of a choice.” She put her phone away, and got to her feet. She took Paul’s hand again and led him out of the room. While she knew this was really just to guide him, it still felt nice.

They made their way to the elevator, and went to the lobby. A smiling woman stood at the desk, “Can I help you with anything?”

“Yeah, actually.” Anastasia made her way to the desk. “I’m interested in visiting one of the historic districts, I have one in particular in mind, but we’re not quite sure which one it is. It would be by the coast and have a lot of ruins. Do you know any like that?”

The woman thought for a moment, and reached under the desk for a pamphlet. She flipped through it and found a picture of a ruin. “Is this what you’re looking for?”

Anastasia looked over the pamphlet. It was ruins, and it was by the sea, but it was hard to be certain. “I’m not sure… Does ‘Hodegon Monastery’ mean anything to you?”

The woman looked confused, but thought for a moment. “I’m sorry, no it doesn’t.”

“Oh well. I guess we can check this one out. Thanks.” Anastasia turned back to Paul, and was a bout to say something, but she was interrupted by a woman with a nose ring.

She spoke a language they didn’t understand, but Anastasia was pretty sure she said the word ‘Hodegon’.

“Can you understand her?” She turned back to the woman at the desk who nodded.

“She is offering to take you to this ‘Hodegon monastery’. I don’t know this lady though, so up to you if you want to take her at her word.” She shrugged.

“Does she have long black hair and a nose ring?” Paul asked.

Anastasia was a little caught off guard, but then again, this was standard business when it came to Paul. “Yeah, did you have a vision?”

“Yeah, I think we can trust her.”

“Can you tell her we’d like her to take us there?” Anastasia turned back to the woman at the desk.

“Sure.” The woman spoke something in what was presumably Turkish, and the woman with the nose ring beckoned them to follow.

Anastasia took Paul’s hand again, and went after the woman. She led them mostly along big streets, eventually onto a bus. The bus was brimming with people, and the rumbling was nauseating, but after what seemed like an eternity, the woman got off. At that point she led them through some alleys and eventually stopped in front of a set of sandstone ruins, blocked off with caution tape. A clock tower sounded in the distance, and the sound of waves crashing against the shore permeated the air like the smell of sea salt.

“This is it.” Paul said.

Anastasia looked out over the ruins. There was nothing that appeared to be overly whole, and certainly nothing for a bunch of monks to live in. The view was certainly still beautiful. The color of the stone meshed wonderfully with the blue sea behind them.

“If you’re sure.” She turned to thank the woman, but saw she had gone under the tape and was beckoning them forwards. The ground was littered with rubble, so Anastasia was worried about leading Paul into it. She looked hesitantly at the woman, but she suddenly vanished.

Anastasia’s jaw dropped, as she stared at where the woman stood. This was definitely weird, even for her. On the other hand, they’d come all the way here, and Paul did have a vision. She didn’t have much of a choice. Anastasia took Paul’s hand, lifted the tape, and cautiously led him into the rubble.

 


 

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Trials: Part Six

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Jude paced around the new house silently. It certainly was nice, fully furnished with actually decent furniture. Two stories and a finished basement, two bedrooms upstairs, two on the main floor, and one downstairs. There was even a home gym in the basement. He gathered that they really didn’t want him leaving the house if he didn’t have to.

He stared down at his ankle and saw the black band. They’d told him they’d be observing all of his outings, and he had to notify them to go off of the property. He still had his car, but they encouraged him to walk. After all, why wouldn’t he? Everything he needed was within walking distance. He wondered if this would be a new start for him. He could get fit again, maybe get his degree.

He found himself sitting on his bed upstairs, looking at the pamphlets for care homes for Deven. There were three, one in Atlanta, one in Houston, and one in New York. They advertised themselves as supernormal ready care homes. Jude supposed this made sense, since the green light didn’t discriminate, there would naturally be some people with supernormal powers that needed care, and normal care homes wouldn’t really be capable of handling someone who could destroy the building.

He quickly ruled out the New York and Houston ones, as he felt he needed to at least visit Deven if he was going to keep his promise to Jamal. He contemplated just how much weight his promise held. Jamal was a criminal after all, then again, he wasn’t necessarily a bad guy. One of Jude’s friends, who he still believed was a good guy, was doing ten years for a robbery, simply because he fell on hard times. Jamal was hitting only big banks, and only fought when cornered.

He glanced down at some boxes in his room. A stack of them were labelled ‘Comics’. Jude sighed. He had hoped superhero morality would be more along the lines of his comics, where there was a clearcut bad guy, and the good guy stopped him. Crime was simply always wrong, and whenever someone stepped out of line, they were then one of the bad guys until they came back around. Sure they wrote more complex stories sometimes, but Jude always loved the simpler ones, because they gave him hope that one day the bad guys would lose, and everything would be good again.

Jude looked back down at the pamphlet. He pondered what Agent Daniels had said about Deven, how he would be deployed on missions still. He wondered how they would treat such a malleable person with such great power. Deven was a military’s wet dream, tough, strong, and does what you say. Jude didn’t know much about the DSR, and honestly wasn’t quite sure if he should trust them. This was certainly an arc he’d seen go badly before. A hero joins an agency and trusts them, then finds out that the agency is the bad guy, and has to fight them.

Jude had also learned at a young age to never trust the government. He learned the law was to be feared and obeyed to the letter. That could’ve just been a thing for his hometown, but he had his doubts.

Jude decided to reframe the issue. He wondered how he would feel if Paul was taken in by the agency with nobody else to look out for him. He felt certain they would lock him in a room and have him predict the future 24/7. He couldn’t let them do that to Paul, and he knew what to do.

He pulled out his phone and called Agent Daniels. It rang for a moment and went to voicemail.

“Hey, Agent Daniels, this is Jude. I’ve decided I’ll take care of Deven myself. There will be no need to have him put in a home. I made a promise to take care of him, and I’m gonna keep it.” He hung up the phone, satisfied.

He was about to go to Deven’s room to discuss dinner plans, when he heard the doorbell ring. He ran down the stairs, and answered the door. It was almost dark outside. A man and a teenager stood on the stoop. The teenager held a foil pan.

“Hey, I’m Guillermo Rodriguez, and this is Zoey, my daughter.” He smiled and patted her back. “We live in the house next door,” he gestured towards their house, “and Zoey told me someone moved in, so we thought we’d make you some food as a welcoming gift!”

“Oh, wow, thanks!” Jude smiled. He thought about calling Deven over, but thought it would be best if he didn’t scare the neighbors this soon. “I’m Jude by the way.” He shook Guillermo’s hand

Jude heard loud footsteps behind him, followed by a voice. “I’m Deven.”

Jude supressed a sigh and stepped aside, so they could see Deven. He wasn’t going to introduce him, but trying to hide it would only make it worse now.

“Oh my god, are you guys supers?” Zoey asked, before Guillermo put his hand up.

“Zoey! That’s rude.” He turned back to Jude. “Please forgive her, she just got excited.”

“No, it’s fine, don’t worry about it.” Jude smiled at them. “We are supers, actually.”

“Wait a second… Are you Dayspring?” Zoey’s eyes widened.

Jude sighed, but covered it up with a laugh. There was no hiding it, he had face recognition. “Yup, that’s me.”

“That’s so cool! I have so many questions!” Zoey was again cut off by her father.

“Well, Zoey, I’m sure they’re tired from the move. Maybe another time. Why don’t you give him the lasagna.” He turned back to Jude again, as Zoey passed off the still warm tray. “Well Jude and Deven, I’ll let you get back to whatever you were doing. It’s a pleasure to meet you, and don’t hesitate to come over if you need anything.”

“Will do. Thank you for the food.” Jude smiled as they walked back off towards their own house. Jude waited for a second, then closed the door.

Jude placed the pan on the dining room table, and breathed in the scent. It smelled and looked delicious, and he was definitely hungry. “Alright, Deven, do you want any?”

“Sure.” Deven meandered into the dining room, and sat on a chair.

Jude remarked at the sturdiness of the furniture here. Deven broke at least two chairs at the Smith mansion when he moved in, so clearly the DSR put special thought into their accommodations. Jude grabbed a couple of plates, glasses, and forks, which he had saved from his apartment with Paul, and set the table. Sure enough, the lasagna tasted as good as it smelled. Jude felt like this might actually be amenable.

 


 

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