Trials: Part Eighteen

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Vanessa led onwards into the tunnel, with Ashley following close behind. It was dead quiet except for the sound of their footsteps and breathing. This tunnel seemed to be leading upwards at a mild incline. She was starting to get a little thirsty, but it was possible that was due to her knowing that they didn’t have water. Regardless, she needed to push on.

“So, Vanessa, where are you from?” Ashley asked. They’d been walking for about fifteen minutes, and neither of them had spoken.

“Atlanta. What about you?” It occurred to Vanessa that they hadn’t ever really talked about where they came from. Any talk they’d had was very surface level. She decided it would probably be good for both of their nerves to keep some kind of conversation going.

“Hey! I’m from Atlanta too! Well, at least I lived in Atlanta. I was born in New York, and my parents moved me down to Georgia when I was in high school.”

“Wow. I wonder where this prison actually is… If we’re both from Atlanta, it might be close to home. I guess it could be a coincidence…” Vanessa reasoned that if they were actually somewhere near Georgia that would be ideal. Then again, unless this cave let out near people, it didn’t make too much difference where they were. She just had to hope it would. “Say, Ashley. Do you have any camping or hunting experience or anything like that?”

“No, why do you ask?”

“No reason. I just thought about my dad, and how some of his best stories were hunting stories.” Vanessa realized a little too late that she probably shouldn’t be making Ashley think about what happens if they escape, but recovered well enough. She needed to deal with one issue at a time.

“Oh, my gir-” Ashley cut herself off.

Vanessa stopped and looked back. Ashley looked a little startled. “Are you alright?”

“Yeah, sorry, I thought I saw something, but it was just a rock.” She laughed weakly.

“Well, we’d better make sure.” Vanessa carried on slowly, and made sure to thoroughly check everything, but there was nothing there. She wasn’t even really sure what she meant by a rock, as there wasn’t anything that big within view. “I don’t see anything.”

“Probably just my imagination…”

“Yeah, maybe.” Vanessa was worried now, but she didn’t want to tip off Ashley that she was. She turned around, and held out her hand. “Here, take my hand so we don’t get separated.”

Ashley obliged, and Vanessa led on. She didn’t want to probe too deeply, but she did pick up genuine fear of something specific. She tried to see if she could catch a glimpse of whatever Ashley saw, but couldn’t.

“So, um, what do you do? Are you in school? Or, were you, I guess?”

“Well, I actually was a superhero. If you lived in Atlanta you may have heard of me. I went by Psyche, I worked with Dayspring.”

“No way! You worked with Dayspring? I didn’t realize I was friends with a superhero! No wonder you’re so good at this!”

Vanessa laughed a little. “No, trust me, you’d much rather have Jude than me. Not counting that his power is light and that he can fly, he’s way better under pressure than me. Besides, I’m kinda rusty. Something happened, and I kinda stopped doing superhero stuff.” Vanessa sighed. She didn’t need to give up unnecessary info about the Jamal incident.

“Oh that’s right… The thing at the bank. I’m sorry that must’ve been hard.”

Vanessa winced as she recalled being blasted across the bank, and waking up in the hospital. “Yeah, that was rough…”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to dig up bad memories.”

“Don’t worry about it, that’s in the past now.” They were both quiet for a moment. “So, what do you do?”

“Oh, I’m an electrical engineer. I work-” She hesitated, “I guess I worked at a firm that did some of the navigation equipment for airplanes.”

“Oh, wow! You’ve got a degree and a real job? I thought you were about my age.”

Ashley laughed. “Well, I’m not that much older than you! I’m only twenty-five!”

“I’m twenty, but I probably wasn’t ever going to actually go to college.” She sighed. “Just didn’t find anything that interested me. Didn’t see much point in working either.”

“Don’t say that! You can always pull yourself up! You just have to set your mind to it.”

“No, it’s just my dad can pay for everything, and I just don’t see any point. He’s an executive for the  CinniStar tech company.”

“Oh, wow! That’s where I worked! Who’s your dad?”

Vanessa laughed a little. She hadn’t intended to drop that she was well off, but it just slipped out. “David Smith.”

“No way! You’re Mr. Smith’s daughter? He was always so nice to us! He’d come by our office and meet us and buy us coffees!”

“Wow, that’s some kind of coincidence, huh?” Vanessa laughed, but something was up. Johan was here too. Her dad had too many connections here.

“Maybe I can actually get my job back when we get out of here then.” Ashley laughed. “I’m just joking, you don’t have to-”

“Hold on, be quiet.” Vanessa whispered. She definitely heard footsteps. She flipped off the flashlight, got against the wall, and carefully pulled Ashley in next to her. The footsteps continued to grow louder, and Vanessa’s heart began to race. She wondered if it was a guard, or if maybe this was one of the tunnels that lead to death. Either way, she had to be ready to strike.

The footsteps were almost to them. She held her breath and waited for whoever it was to be near. When it sounded like they were almost next to them. She covered Ashley’s eye’s, closed her own, and flipped on the flashlight. She opened her eyes and saw someone in a guard’s uniform. She kicked him in the stomach, causing him to fall, then conjured a disc next to his throat.

 


 

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Trials: Part Seventeen

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Anastasia sat on her bed. She was ready, but wasn’t entirely sure what to do. Paul had said he was starting his training today, so he would be busy. She figured she may as well go walk around the monastery, as long as she took care not to get lost. She opened her door, stepped out, and saw Siobhan and Coombre waiting for her, leaning up against the wall.

“Get bored yet?” Siobhan laughed. “We were surprised it took you this long.”

Coombre rolled his eyes, and stifled a grin. “Have you thought of what you seek yet?”

Anastasia was caught off guard by this. She had put in some thought last night, but she honestly wasn’t really sure what she could say. Paul had a clear issue, his blindness. Unless they wanted to help her with her love life, she wasn’t really sure what to ask. “Not really, to be honest.”

“Ah, wrong answer.” Siobhan laughed and turned to Coombre. “I told you she wouldn’t have anything!”

“I know, I know.” He turned to Vanessa. “Alright, Adara thought that would be the case, so she thought of something for you to do. It has been too long since the monastery was given a thorough cleaning.”

Anastasia’s heart sank. She had seen how big this place was. Were they about to ask her to clean an entire town? “So you want me to-”

“Yes.” Siobhan jumped in, looking serious. “Jokes aside, you need to clean the entire monastery.” She maintained a straight face for a few seconds, but broke when she saw Anastasia’s mortified expression. “I’m kidding. Kinda. You do actually need to clean the whole thing, but just not by yourself.”

“Adara said she would be dedicating her entire attention to Paul, and other personal matters. She has left you in charge of a cleaning initiative while she’s busy. You will have most of the monastery at your disposal.” He pulled a folded piece of paper from his pocket. “Here is a map. What are your orders?”

Anastasia stared blankly down at the map. It was going to be insane. Cleaning every building would take weeks. She also couldn’t believe that Adara had left the entire monastery in the care of a complete stranger. She imagined that if something were to go badly Coombre or Siobhan would step in.

“How many monks are there?”

Coombre thought for a moment. “About fifty.”

“And how long do I have?”

“As long as it takes.” Siobhan nodded.

“Alright.” Anastasia looked down at the map again. She had never dealt with leading this many people before, so she had no idea how long this would take. If she was going to do it, though, she thought it would be easiest to do it one week at a time. “And is this going to be done with magic, or just normal cleaning supplies?”

“We have not developed any magic for cleaning. We simply try to maintain our surroundings as best as we can.” Coombre replied.

“And, sorry, but why am I in charge of this?”

Siobhan shrugged and looked to Coombre.

“Mysterious ways?” Coombre shrugged as well.

“Alright. Well, I guess we’d better get started. Let’s start with the quarters, since that’s where we already are.”

“I will summon the monks.” Coombre nodded, and went off down the hall.

After a few minutes, people began to congregate around Anastasia. While she was waiting, she worked with Siobhan to compile a list of cleaning tasks that needed to be done. This continued for a few minutes, until Coombre eventually returned with the last one.

“Alright, if this is everyone, I’ll go ahead and group you. Each group will be assigned a task, and if you need anything, return to this room.” She tapped on the door to her quarters. “I will be out helping as well, but someone should be here, or you can leave a note.”

She organized them into groups, and eventually had a group with enough people for each task. Once they were assigned, everyone went off to get to work. She assigned Siobhan and Coombre to help supervise, and asked that one of them be around headquarters if she couldn’t. Once everyone had gone off, she figured she should get a sense of the monastery, and work out where everything was. She did have a map now, which made that easier.

She made her way down the main path, and went to down all of the major paths, taking note of any shortcuts she found as she went. All in all, a thorough tour of the monastery took a couple of hours. She decided next to check out buildings that they hadn’t yet gone in, and thought she’d start with the building where Paul was training. She hoped she’d be able to say hi to him, and see how his training was going.

She made her way there, and entered into a completely silent hallway. Open doorways lined the walls. It was definitely a little bigger than she had expected. She looked into each room to see what was inside. Most of them consisted of shelves of books and oddities. Some looked neatly arranged, others had stacks of junk scattered around. This would definitely be a nightmare to get cleaned. She wondered if she should send over a group to start to inventory what was and wasn’t junk, since it would take a while.

She eventually came across a large mostly empty room, and saw Paul sitting in silence. He looked like he was concentrating on something, so she figured she’d leave him alone.

After doing a little more inventory of other rooms, she heard voices from down the hallway. She drew closer and recognized Adara’s voice. She was talking to some man, whose voice sounded familiar. She took a few more steps, then realized that it sounded just like Jean. She edged towards the door, and peaked in. It was definitely Jean. He and Adara were sitting at a table with books and papers scattered across it. She got as close to the doorway as she could without being visible and tried to listen in.

“Yes, I believe it should be here.” Adara said.

“If that’s the case, then I should make haste to retrieve it.” Jean replied.

“No, you should see your job through, and get Paul and Anastasia home.”

“Are you sure? Time is of the essence.”

“Yes, go have some fun in the city.”

“I know you still look the same, and for you it’s not been that long. However, I’m an old man now, so I think I might like to rest.”

“It’s been longer than you know…” She paused for a moment.” I suppose that’s right, though. I do appreciate your help.”

“I do regret that this will likely be the last time we meet.” Jean sounded sincerely sad.

“Perk up François, one never knows for certain what the future may hold. I have a feeling we’ll meet again.”

“I go by Jean now, don’t you know?” He laughed a little.

“Goodbye, Jean. I’ll let you know when to meet them.”

“Goodbye, Adara.” He paused for a moment. “I do wish I could’ve stayed with you.”

“It was how it had to be.”

She heard footsteps coming towards her, so she ducked into the next room. She wondered what that was all about.

She looked down at the map, and noticed a building labeled ‘Archives/Library’. She figured if she was going to figure out what the deal with this place was, and how Jean knew Adara, she had better start there.

 


 

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Trials: Part Sixteen

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Jude sighed. It’d definitely been nice having someone around the house that could actually leave at will, but that didn’t really make it any less boring for him. He had even decided to look through everything Arte had about her friend, Ash, since she’d come all this way, but she seemed to have been very thorough. Even devoting hours to it, Jude hadn’t been able to uncover anything. Jude remembered when he’d lost Paul because of Jamal, and that was one of the most painful moments of his life. He couldn’t imagine not being able to do anything about it.

He remembered what he was supposed to be doing. He’d come outside to meditate, not to dig up bad memories. This was new to him, and the website said it would probably take a while to get decent at it. He definitely felt like floating twenty feet in the air helped. He figured that since it was night none of the neighbors would see and do something like call the police. That was definitely the last thing he needed right now.

He heard a door open, and opened his eyes. He saw that it was just Zoey, and decided to continue. He wasn’t really feeling like talking to anyone right now, so he figured he’d just stay where he was and act like he hadn’t noticed.

He closed his eyes again and brought his mind back to meditation. He wondered what Arte would do if they actually found Ashley. He assumed she would leave, given that was the only reason she sought him out. He hoped they’d stay friends at least. He wondered if she was single. He definitely didn’t want to go putting moves on someone he lived with, that couldn’t possibly end well, but it didn’t stop him from wondering.

At this point Jude swore it sounded like Zoey was throwing something. He looked over, and sure enough she was throwing some kind of ball that disintegrated into powder. That was most certainly strange. He considered popping over and getting a closer look. He didn’t even need to reveal himself, if he didn’t want to. That idea was quickly thrown out once he remembered what it would definitely look like if he got caught.

He closed his eyes again, and began to reflect on his day. He got up at around noon, ate some lunch, did some poking around on the internet for anything about missing people to see if it could be related. Interestingly there was actually another employee from Ash’s company that had also gone missing, but they’ve been missing for longer than her. When he raised it to Arte, she said that she already followed that lead and it wasn’t any more hopeful than the last. After that he ate again and watched some tv. He figured he really needed to start exercising again. It would look pretty bad if he got called out to a mission, and was so out of shape that he couldn’t keep up. He probably wouldn’t get called out again if that happened. Then again, he was doubtful he was even going to get called out in the first place. Maybe they’d call him out if some kind of world ending threat presented itself. He really wouldn’t want that though, because he hadn’t actually fought much of anyone who didn’t just immediately give up.

Jude could stand it no more. He floated over towards the Rodriguez’s house to see if he could figure out what Zoey was throwing. Whatever it was, she certainly had a lot of it, and she wasn’t slowing down.

She had a tee-ball setup towards the back of the yard. She was standing about as far as she could and trying to hit it, but whatever she was throwing seemed to fall apart before it reached it. He looked around for some kind of bucket or something for her to be pulling from, but didn’t see any. She seemed to produce it herself, whatever it was. He reasoned that she must have powers.

He wondered what kind of odds that was, for the government to move a bunch of supers into a house next to a teenager with superpowers. It had to be at least improbable. He figured he should go talk to Arte about this. He knew he should at least talk to Zoey about this, but he also wasn’t sure how he felt about bringing a kid into the fold. Especially when they already had someone with the freedom to leave, who also had superpowers. He definitely didn’t want to report Zoey to the government. He didn’t want to see her life get upended, after all.

He carefully hovered back down to his patio, and decided to see if he could talk to Zoey, without looking like he was staring down from above this whole time. He opened and closed the door to the house fairly loudly and made his way into the yard. He meandered around the yard, like he was looking for the source of the noise. As he made his way into the yard, Zoey went for the door to her house. He didn’t say anything, but they definitely made eye contact.

He made his way back inside, and found Arte sitting at her desk. Jude told her she could use Paul’s computer, and figured he wouldn’t mind.

“Hey, Arte. You busy?” He leaned in the open doorway.

“Oh, no. Not really. I was just looking to see if I could find anything on that other guy that worked at the same place as Ash, but I couldn’t really.”

“Oh well. Sorry about that.” Jude and Arte both nodded silently for a moment. “Uh, anyways, found out something interesting. I think-” Jude was cut off by a crash and the sound of breaking glass.

A man clad in all black burst through the window, carrying a large gun. Jude blasted him out of the way but he was replaced by three more. The men were all barking orders which Jude couldn’t understand, Arte was screaming, and Jude felt like he was having a heart attack. He wasn’t sure what to do. Was this the police? Were these thugs? What were they saying? His ears began to ring.

 


 

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Wrote this a while ago, but I’ll take this opportunity to remind you that Black Lives still matter even if it’s not plastered on your twitter feed.

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Trials: Part Fifteen

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Vanessa woke up feeling cold. Wherever she was, it was dark, and the floor was hard and uneven. She pulled herself to her feet, and conjured a disc. The light wasn’t much, about as bright as a glowstick, but she could see within about a foot of the disc, which was a notable improvement.

“Who’s there?” Someone asked. Vanessa nearly dropped the disc. It was definitely a woman, and it sounded like Ashley. Her voice was shaky.

“Ashley?”

“Vanessa is that you?” She heard some scraping, followed by footsteps from the same direction as the voice.

“Hey, I have light, let me come to you.” Vanessa conjured another disc and slowly floated it towards the voice. “Grab it when it gets to you.”

The disc floated for a few seconds, before someone grabbed it. They pulled the disc close to them, revealing their face. It was Ashley.

Vanessa sighed with relief, and made her way over. She conjured two discs to float by her feet and illuminate the ground. Once she was near enough, Ashley wrapped her arms around her. Vanessa could sense fear radiating from her, and hugged her a little tighter.

“Ashley, do you know where we are?”

She took a shaky breath and sighed. “We’re in the pit. It’s a network of tunnels, all stemming from this room. One tunnel leads to freedom, some lead to dead ends, some lead to the prison, and some lead to… Death. Nobody has ever made it out before…”

“Alright… It’s gonna be alright, we’ll find our way out.” Vanessa thought for a moment. Based on what she knew about Takeo, he’d want people to have some small chance, or else it wouldn’t be a fun game for him. If they were supposed to have any chance, they’d need a flashlight. “Do you have any kind of light?”

“No…”

“Alright, that’s fine.” Vanessa pulled away, but Ashley still clung tight.

“Wait, don’t leave me!”

Vanessa thought for a moment. “Alright, I’ll stay by you, but I need you to let me go, so I can see if we have any supplies in this room.”

Ashley slowly released her, and Vanessa sat down next to her. She conjured as large of a disc as she could, ending up with one a couple of feet wide, and slowly floated it across the cave floor. It was very uneven with lots of rocks sticking up. They didn’t stand a chance without a light.

“So nobody has ever made it out?” Vanessa asked, keeping her eye on the disc.

“No.”

“How do they get us here?”

“I don’t know… I just woke up a few minutes ago and I thought I was alone.”

“We were both asleep, so we had to be brought here… You said some of the tunnels lead back to the prison, and it wouldn’t be much of a game if there was just a quick way into this area… Whoever brought us here had to have a map, or at least know the way. Then again we’ve been asleep, so that wouldn’t work… They’d be long gone.”

By this time the disc had gone all the way around the edge of the cave. It was a pretty large cave, large enough to accommodate about twenty tunnels coming off from the sides. Vanessa moved the disc towards the center of the room, and sure enough, there was some kind of black tube. It had to be a flashlight. Vanessa moved to get up, but felt Ashley grab her arm.

“Wait!”

“Ashley, do you see that in the center of the room? I think it’s a flashlight. I’m gonna go grab it. Then we’ll work out a plan. I’ll come right back here.” Vanessa smiled, and Ashley released her arm.

Vanessa conjured two more discs to light the floor as she walked, and made her way to the center, being careful to avoid anything that might trip her. A fall on this floor would be bad. She picked up the object, and held a disc to it. Sure enough, it was a flashlight. She found the switch and turned it on. The room was filled with white light, and the sudden change blinded Vanessa for a second. Once she regained her vision, she did a quick scan to make sure they were alone, and that they hadn’t missed any other supplies they’d been given. There was nothing else. Vanessa sighed and made her way back over to Ashley, sitting back down by her side.

“So, this is all we’ve got. I’m guessing the challenge is supposed to be avoiding dehydration. I think that takes about three days to set in, but we don’t want to cut it that close if we can.” She flipped off the flashlight, and felt Ashley jump next to her.

“What’d you turn off the light for?” She sounded panicked.

Vanessa pulled her in next to her, and conjured a disc to illuminate them. “Hey it’s alright. We need to save the battery, we don’t know how long it has left. I guess that could be another part of the challenge…”

Ashley let out a quiet sob. “How are we gonna make it out of here?”

“Hey, I’ve made it out of worse situations that this. Besides, we have superpowers! We can do this! What happened to the Ashley who told me everything is gonna be okay when I got tossed into your cell?”

“I just can’t do it anymore! I’ve had to reassure everyone for so long… I had to keep telling them it was gonna be okay, even though nothing was okay! We were stuck in a prison with no way out, and now we’re gonna die in a cave!” She sobbed a little louder now, and leaned into Vanessa’s side.

“Hey, don’t worry. I have a plan. We’re going to make it out of here okay.” She hugged her, and waited for the crying to subside.

After a few minutes, Ashley sat back up and wiped her eyes. “Okay then, what’s your plan?” She asked shakily.

“Alright, so just now, I counted about twenty tunnels. This is meant to make it look like we have less than a couple of days to find one tunnel. Our first limiting resource is probably the flashlight. I imagine that we’re not the first ones to be sent here though, so there must be other flashlights hidden around. Additionally, the tunnels to the prison wouldn’t be that bad, when the alternative is dying, and there’s always the chance that we run into the guards who dropped us off an we could jump them for a map or supplies. Now, do you have anything else on you?” Vanessa felt all of her own pockets, but came up with nothing.

“No…”

“That’s fine. I learned something about my power while I was here.” She conjured a disc in her hand. “Normally my discs disappear after a few hours, which isn’t great for a trail of breadcrumbs, but if I break it,” she broke the disc in two, “It stays for a lot longer. The one I had in my room hadn’t disappeared yet, so that should leave plenty of time to follow a trail.” She turned to Ashley. “So, I figure we have about a 25% chance on any given tunnel we take being a decent option, and if we have time to hit at least four tunnels, then we should find some kind of way out. Alright?”

Ashley took a deep breath, and smiled. “Alright!”

Vanessa helped Ashley to her feet, and flipped on the flashlight, making sure to look away this time. “Alright. Let’s get going.” Vanessa picked a tunnel, and ventured into it.

 


 

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Trials: Part Fourteen

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Adara led Paul by the hand through the monastery. It had been a long time since Paul was this excited about something. Today was the day his life was about to change. He wondered what the process would be like. Maybe they had some kind of special ritual, or a cure-all medicine.

After they walked for quite some time, Adara helped Paul sit down, and sat down across from him. “Now, what troubles you? I know that you did not tell me everything the last time I asked you, so now that we’re alone, please leave nothing out.”

Paul nodded. He was surprised that Adara knew how much information he was holding back, but then again, these were magic monks in a hidden monastery. He supposed they would be able to tell things like that. “Alright. My vision has been getting worse. I know I was already blind, but there’s degrees, ya know? I used to be able to tell the blobs apart, as different objects, but now they’re all blending together.”

“Yes, I understand. What else troubles you?”

“Well, to be honest, I’ve been having some pretty horrific visions.” Paul really didn’t want to relive them, but he figured if you go to the doctor, you should let them know about the issue so they can help fix it.

“Yes. What things are you seeing?”

“Well, I keep seeing my own death. Every time, it’s at the same place, and by the same hand, even though the people around change. I’m not really sure where it is, but it always ends with a shot to the chest.” Paul shuddered.

“What you see, are different things that may come to pass. If you are having visions of them, I have no doubt of that. Is that all that troubles you?”

“Well, yeah. Pretty much everything else stems from my visions of the future. It’s hard to look at someone the same when you’ve seen them kill you and your friends over and over again.”

“As far as what to do about the visions, that is a puzzle you will need to solve for yourself.” Adara stood up. “I hope, however, to give you greater control over these visions, so that you may better discern the correct response.”

“Alright, what do I need to do?”

“I want you to sit and meditate. Start with trying to induce a vision of a friend, then move to whatever the cosmos draws you to.” Adara began to walk away. “I will return in two hours, and you may update me on your progress.”

“Okay…?” Paul wasn’t expecting this to be what the monks told him to do. He did make a point of putting the most important problem out there first. He didn’t figure it would help any to complain, since they’d probably just tell him to trust them. He may as well give this a try, and they’ll probably get to that later. This was only the first day after all.

He took a deep breath and tried to focus. She told him to focus on a friend first, and there wasn’t much point in doing Anastasia since he could just see her whenever. He turned his mind to Vanessa. He’d been weird around her before he left, and she seemed to be taking it pretty hard. It was just difficult to be around her, after Jamal, and with his vision. He concentrated as hard as he could on Vanessa’s face. Adara wasn’t especially helpful in her instructions, but he figured he’d probably have to work this out himself.

Suddenly he was in a small room. It looked like a prison cell, and Vanessa was there with another girl. There was a commotion and someone was tugging the other girl. Paul couldn’t hear clearly what they were saying, but it looked like the girl was begging for help, and Vanessa was frozen. The man tugged the other girl out of the room.

Paul was now in a different place. It was some kind of prison yard, with rows of people sitting on the ground, watching some kind of spectacle. He looked towards whatever held their attention, and saw Vanessa fighting a teenager. The teenagers hands and feet shot out fire as he fought, but Vanessa kept blocking his blows. He saw the girl from a moment ago standing off to the side, watching in horror.

Paul found himself back in the cell. It seemed to be the same vision from earlier. He wondered why he was back here. It wasn’t really typical for him to have the same vision twice so close, but he supposed he had never tried to induce it before. The scene was almost painful to watch, though. After the girl got hauled off, Paul was expecting to find himself somewhere else, but instead his hearing clicked in. It was like he was there. Vanessa ran over to throw up, and Paul bowed his head. It was natural that she’d feel bad after freezing up like that. He wished he could say something to her. Something about how she could make this right.

Vanessa looked around the cell, as though she had heard something, then fell back crying. Paul’s heart raced. He wondered if she’d heard him. He had to try again.

You’ll know what to do.

Vanessa looked around again, and called out, “How?!”

Paul was about to reply, when he found himself in a different place. He was in a bedroom, and there was a girl on the bed. She had short hair, and didn’t seem to be doing much of anything. He looked around the room and realized he saw some of his own things. His keyboard was here, as was his computer. He decided to try to say something again.

Can you hear me?

The girl sat up. “Yeah? Jude is that you?”

Paul thought that was strange. This had to be his room, since he saw his stuff, but this girl didn’t recognize his voice. Perhaps she just knew he was out of the house.

Paul saw Jude standing in the doorway. “Did you say something, Arte?”

Paul was about to say something again, but he found himself in a different place. This was a darker room. A man sat crosslegged on a white rug, with light shining down on him, also illuminating a bunch of notebooks. He had his eyes closed, and seemed to be meditating. Paul started to look at one of the notebooks when he heard a voice.

“Ah, you’re finally here.”

He looked around and saw nobody else in the room, and he didn’t see the man’s lips move.

Can you see me?

“Yes, Paul. I can see you, and I know who you are. I’m unsure when or where you are, so you may not know me. You will certainly make a worthy adversary.”

Paul gasped, and found himself back in the monastery.

 


 

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Trials: Part Thirteen

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Arte couldn’t resist collapsing into the bed. It had been ages since she had a bed that she could call her own. First she had been staying in hotels, then she moved to motels. Just before this, she had moved to couch-surfing, but had run out of good will with friends.

Ashley’s parents kicked her out the second they could. They didn’t outright stop associating with Ash, but they definitely didn’t approve of the relationship, as they had outright stated on numerous occasions. Since the apartment wasn’t in Arte’s name, as Ash made more money by a longshot, they were able to remove the stain on their legacy with ease. In one day, Arte had to move all of her things she wanted to keep into a storage unit, and move out.

She wasn’t reckless, so of course she had money saved, but it could only go so far. The payments on the storage unit were probably about to start not going through. It wasn’t like she could’ve kept that job for long anyways, living out of a hotel, but she knew Ash was still out there so she had to at least try to find her.

Arte’s own parents had stopped speaking to her entirely, once she had come out, and they were all happier for it. She realized what she was thinking about, and redirected.

She needed a job. She couldn’t get an engineering job, as she was still a semester short. Then the thought came to her mind, Jude had to make money somehow, so perhaps she could be a hero too. It was something that had come to mind, as it would with any actual human being granted superpowers. If it came to it, she could get another retail job or something of the sort. It was Ash that was the priority here, not her comfort.

She recalled the party that Ash had thrown for her when Arte had quit her last retail job. She had bought loads of party poppers and some cheap wine. They were still finding bits of confetti in the apartment for ages afterwards.

Arte found herself laughing. The laughter grew and grew, until it eventually began to turn to tears. She considered the idea that she was holding onto an impossible hope, based on the fact that they couldn’t find a body. That just meant she had been abducted, which could be even worse. She tried to banish the thought from her mind, but it kept coming back, with more details every time.

She heard a loud crack, and jumped. She saw the metal man from earlier, with a piece of the door in his hand, hanging from the still intact door knob. She quickly tried to hide her face, and wipe her tears.

He stared at her for a moment. “Why are you sad?”

Arte debated what to say for a moment. She didn’t just want to dump on him, so she decided on a brief version of events. “I’ve lost someone close to me, and I miss her.”

He moved towards her, and moved in to embrace her. She tensed up, but was surprised to find his touch was gentle. “I lost my best friend. It was sad. He said he had to go, and that I wouldn’t see him again. Maybe we could be friends, since we both lost our friends?”

Arte laughed. “Yeah, I’d like that.”

The man smiled from ear to ear. “Jude wanted me to tell you that dinner is ready.” He got up and almost ran out the door.

She looked around the room, in hopes of finding a mirror, but found none. She cleaned her face up as best as she could, and followed the man out of the room.

She returned to see Jude clearing three spots at the kitchen table. At each of the spots was a plate of chicken and macaroni, one of the plates having more than the other two. She took a seat and Jude gave her some water. The TV was playing in the background. It was a news piece about an upward trend in supernormal crime.

“Deven, turn off the TV and come have dinner with us!” Jude called into the den. He then turned to Arte. “So, Arte. Is the room fine?”

“Oh yeah, totally.” Arte nodded and stared down at her plate. “I was thinking about something, and I’m sorry if this is rude or forward or whatever but… How do you afford such a nice house? What do you do for money?”

Jude forced a smile. “Well, it’s a little complicated, but long story short I work for the government and they pay me a salary and let me live here. There’s even an equity plan if you can believe it…”

“So they pay you to do superhero stuff?”

Jude was silent for a moment, then sighed. “Well, it really looks like they’re paying me to not do superhero stuff…”

“Oh…” Arte looked down at her plate again. “Well, it’s just that I could really use a job, and that’s why I asked what you did. Do you think that they’d hire me?”

Jude laughed a little. “Well, not unless you have superpowers.” He looked up from his plate at her, and suddenly stopped eating. “Wait, do you have powers?”

Arte sighed, “Yup.” She got up from her seat and began to do some hand gestures. A light formed at her fingertip and she began to draw the frame of a square in midair. Once she was finished she grabbed it. It was hard and faintly warm. She tossed it over to Jude, who examined it for a moment before placing it on the table.

“Wow, wasn’t expecting that.” Jude nodded. “In that case, let me tell you a bit more about my job.” He got up from his seat and rolled up his pants leg, revealing his ankle monitor. “I’m basically on house arrest. I can ask permission to go anywhere, but I get the feeling they’d really rather I not. So I’ve basically been stuck in the house for the past two weeks. I wasn’t given too much of a choice about taking this ‘job’, really. They told me I was encouraged to recruit more supers, though, so if that’s something you feel like you could live with, then I guess you’re welcome to it.”

Arte’s jaw dropped a little. On the one hand, she really needed the money, and she doubted a part time job would cover it. On the other hand, this wasn’t exactly going to help her find Ash, given that she’d be stuck at home. Although, now that she thought about it, she had basically exhausted all the leads she had and turned to Jude’s blind friend. The government likely wouldn’t take kindly to a super, even one who didn’t get their powers from the light, living in their house intended for their superhero prisoners without an ankle monitor. Then again, she couldn’t risk a lead coming up and her not being able to explore it. She had to try to hide.

“I think, if it’s alright with you, I’ll just look for a regular job, and not be on house arrest.”

“Fine by me. We could use someone around here that can freely leave the house.” Jude smiled and took his seat again.

Arte followed suit and began eating. She immediately gathered that Jude was not exactly a great cook. The food was alright, but it was quite lackluster. Unfortunately, she also didn’t know how to cook, and she wasn’t gonna turn her nose up at a free meal.

 


 

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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!

 

(Art credit: WordPress Free Photo Library)