Month: February 2021

Promise And Peril 11-06 (Heretical Edge 2)

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A/N – The non-canon chapters were posted over the weekend. If you haven’t seen the one for Heretical Edge yet, you can find it right here

“If we’re going back to the ship, we need to hurry,” Avalon announced, her voice tense as she looked around. “I don’t know how long it’ll be before those things down there make their way up, or another group finds us.” 

Jophiel was already nodding. “Yes, the… she’s right. We need to be quick, but also careful. We’ve already tried transportation magic and it’s still not working, so we’ll have to go the long way. If everyone ca– down!” 

In mid-sentence, the woman interrupted herself, suddenly diving toward me. Her hand snapped up, throwing some kind of round, ping pong ball-sized object over my shoulder. In the next instant, the ball exploded, but almost all of the force and heat of the grenade (I supposed that’s what it was, anyway) went in one direction, away from me. One more instant passed, and I half-felt the presence of something there before Jophiel was yanking me out of the thing’s way and shoving me over toward Elisabet while leaving herself in the spot where I had just been. 

“Go!” she was shouting, “get ba–” Then she stopped talking. Or rather, her words turned to a gurgling sputter. A figure, previously invisible either through magic or through some other genetically tinkered camouflage, rose up behind her through the heat and smoke of the explosion she had just set off. It was a good seven-feet tall, its bulbous head an awful grayish-green color. The thing’s black eyes were much too large for its face. There were six arms on the thing’s torso, each a slightly different size and length, with different numbers and types of fingers or claws. One of those arms had a jagged sawblade attached to it, and that blade was currently shoved into Jophiel’s back as he tore her backward away from us.

“Why leave so soon?” the actual, full-strength Fomorian demanded. With a contemptuous toss, he hurled Jophiel to the ground, where she lay, still alive but horribly wounded. Elisabet was right there on top of her an instant later, using some kind of power or spell to stop the bleeding. 

The Fomorian continued in a voice that sounded darkly amused. “It seems to me that you just got here. And we have so been anticipating entertaining guests.” 

Sariel, Tristan, Vanessa, Avalon, Shiori, Elisabet, and me. Those were who we had to face this Fomorian. Oh, and Jophiel, though given the wound she was suffering from, I wasn’t really counting her in this. And Elisabet was iffy too, given it looked like it was taking all she had to keep the woman she loved alive. There must have been some kind of special poison on that blade of his, because it had clearly done a lot more damage than a simple stab should have. I could hear the woman stammering about how her healing power wasn’t working right. 

So basically I couldn’t really count Elisabet or Jophiel (especially since apparently neither of them had access to the Committee-level powers, which would’ve been pretty useful then). Which left Sariel and us teens. Yeah, not exactly a winning combination against a full-strength, fully-aware Fomorian. Especially considering we’d already been told in no uncertain terms to run the fuck away if we ever saw one of these guys. Specifically, we were supposed to use the escape spells to get back to the ship (or, failing that, the ones that would just send us away). Or even the rock Mom had given me that was supposed to take me to her if I got in trouble.

But would they even work? We’d already established that transportation magic was down. That had to mean the emergency escape spells too, right? And if they did work, would we have actually listened to that rule? Would we really have abandoned Sariel to fight the Fomorian practically alone? Would Tristan and Vanessa, or Tabbris inside of me, have accepted that in this particular situation regardless of what we had agreed to earlier? 

I didn’t know, and we didn’t have the chance to find out. Before any of us, even Sariel herself, could move, the monster slammed two of his hands together. The instant he did, what looked like large boils or something on his palms, like enormous zits or puss-filled… bubbles were popped. Instantly, the air was filled with a thick cloud that smelled sickly-sweet before I even thought about holding my breath. At least it wasn’t poison, according to my power. But what did it–

“No magic,” the Fomorian was saying. “Let’s have a clean fight now. No cheating, with–” 

A knife abruptly appeared in his eye, where Sariel had thrown it. It didn’t penetrate the eyeball itself, which I was sure was protected somehow. Instead, the blade found the space between his skin and the ocular orb, embedding itself in that infinitesimally small area. It still didn’t seem to do a lot, but it shut him up for a second. 

“Kids, get out of the way now!” There was absolutely no room for debate or argument in Sariel’s voice. It was so forceful, so commanding and intense, that we were already moving by the time she finished speaking. But we weren’t just running away. By mutual, silent agreement, we threw ourselves to where Jophiel and Elisabet were. Tabbris was screaming in my head about not leaving her mother alone, while Vanessa and Tristan were saying the same thing outloud. 

“We’ve got her!” That was Avalon, snapping at the hysterical Elisabet. She reached out, grabbing the much-older woman’s arm to get her attention. “We’ll keep her alive, I promise. But everyone’s going to die if you don’t help Sariel!” 

Meanwhile, the Fomorian had rocked backward, hand snatching up to yank the knife out with a scowl at being interrupted. Even as we were diving over to where the two women were, he crushed the knife in his hand, snarling something in Latin that my still-not-perfect understanding (Tabbris wasn’t auto-translating for me) said was something like ‘if the prey insists on stinking.’ 

Elisabet didn’t respond immediately. She’d only just been reunited with the woman she had loved for so long and now this happened. Plus, if that gas stuff really had stopped magic in the area from working, it probably wasn’t doing any favors for trying to keep Jophiel alive. 

But the Fomorian wasn’t waiting for her to work through her shit. Annoyed by Sariel’s attack, he’d already cracked his neck (by turning his head in a full three-sixty) and was stalking toward her. Beside me, Tristan tensed and started to pick himself up, but Vanessa grabbed his arm. “We’d get in the way,” she snapped, sounding like she was pissed at herself for even saying it. 

“What’re we supposed to do then?!” Tristan blurted, while Sariel back-pedaled a few steps from the Fomorian. She was pulling him just a little bit further from us, making every step count. 

“Trust our mom,” was Vanessa’s retort. “And get her some help that’s actually help.” 

Unfortunately, she followed that up by suddenly calling, “Uh, and speaking of help, we might need some!” 

Sure enough, looking the way the other girl had turned, I saw a dozen or so Fomorian creations coming our way. Of course, the monster wasn’t content to just let us sit here and deal with the wounded Jophiel. He had to sic more of his pets on us. 

My mouth started to open to say we had to cover the injured woman. But my head abruptly snapped back toward Jophiel and Elisabet. Shiori, Avalon, and even Dexamene (who had spent more time with her over these past months) had been trying to talk to her to no avail. But they suddenly got some help, as a glowing figure appeared in front of me. Tabbris. She stepped free, form solidifying just as her small hand lashed out to slap Elisabet across the face. 

“Hey!” the kid blurted. “My mama’s fighting the guy that hurt Jo right now, and those other monsters are coming! If you don’t help, we’re all gonna die! Now pull yourself together and go do something useful!” 

It was enough. Finally, Elisabet’s frantic gaze seemed to focus. She looked over to where Sariel was seemingly effortlessly dodging and avoiding everything the Fomorian threw at her while equally unable to actually do damage to him. He clearly wasn’t kidding about halting magic in the area. Whatever that gas was, it really did the trick. Sariel was fighting without any spells, while the Fomorian still had all his bio-tricks. Only the fact that the Seosten woman was really hard to hit, thanks to her accuracy power extending to making her own body move, was keeping her alive.

“Watch her. Do what you can.” Elisabet’s voice was strained, but far more in control than it had been a moment earlier. “Please.” That was the last thing she said before pushing herself up, gaze locked on the Fomorian who had done so much damage to the woman she loved. Without another word and without glancing their way, she gave a dismissive wave of her hand toward the incoming monsters that were bearing down on us. 

In response to that wave, the ground seemed to open up around us. Several massive holes appeared, as more Fomorian horror-show creatures clambered out. Which panicked me briefly. Yet there was something different about these ones. They weren’t totally biological. Rather, pieces of them were covered in gold. It wasn’t just golden armor, it was like parts of their skin, shells, or scales had actually been replaced with gold. The altered Fomorian creations rushed to meet the incoming regular ones, both small armies colliding. 

Elisabet. Somehow–she’d taken control of some of the Fomorian’s own monsters, and had them buried under the sand waiting to ambush them. 

As that realization came to me (and the others), the woman was already launching herself at the actual threat, the full Fomorian himself. 

Which left the rest of us sitting there with a critically wounded Jophiel and no idea what to do about it. Well, most of us anyway. Dexamene and Avalon both seemed to be more ready for this, each checking the entry and exit wounds. Avalon produced prepared and medicated bandages from somewhere, while Dex had a small vial of liquid that she hurriedly said would slow and dilute any poison. They worked together to apply both, while Shiori and I carefully held the limp Jophiel up. Elisabet had already torn the shirt open to reveal the wound, right in the stomach and back. It was… it was awful. It was terrible. Without spells to heal, and or regeneration, or… it was just bad. 

Speaking of bad, my gaze kept snapping over to see what was going on with the fight. Sariel and Elisabet versus a full-strength Fomorian. If Elisabet had been connected to the Committee, it really would’ve helped. As it was… with Sariel cut off from using spells, I had no idea what was going to happen. 

“Tabs,” I started, looking that way. 

“C-can’t,” she answered my unspoken question about her wings. Her voice was weak, the intense fear she was feeling written across her face. “Too soon. I can’t… I can’t do it yet.” She sounded miserable, as though terrified that something was about to happen to her mother, something she couldn’t stop just because she was too weak to use her wings again. 

She couldn’t use the doom wings, and the rest of us–the adults were right, we’d just get in the way. Which meant the only thing to do, the only thing we could do, was sit here and try to do what very little we could to keep Jophiel alive while Elisabet and Sariel faced that monster by themselves. 

Which was exactly what we did. Kneeling there around the too-still form of the Seosten woman, all of us stared that way, taking in the scene.

The Fomorian lashed out with one arm, the saw-blade on the end cutting through the air just as Sariel ducked under it. He was trying to follow up by lashing out with every other arm together to force the woman backward, where a scorpion-like tail that had simply popped out of his back was already lashing downward, right where she would need to retreat. 

But Sariel didn’t retreat. Instead, she lunged upward out of her duck, somehow managing to twist her body just enough to barely slip through an incredibly narrow space between two of his arms. Her foot planted against one of those arms as she drove a knife sideways into his opposite eye. Again, she hit the space between the skin and the eyeball itself. It looked like she was attempting to cut the whole eye out or something. 

Either way, using the foot she had against his arm, Sariel abandoned the knife there and hurled herself up and over the monster. She caught his bladed tail as it lashed out, using her own momentum to pull it over and down with her as she landed behind him. 

The Fomorian started to turn. More precisely, his upper torso simply rotated to face behind him a hundred and eighty degrees while he reached up for the knife still in his eye. Before he could grab it, however, an invisible force seemed to grab the knife and shove it in even deeper. That made him reel, though he gave no audible sign of pain. 

It was Elisabet, marching that way while holding her hand out as she took control of the knife and used it to carve all the way around his eye socket. With her other hand, she kept punching the air. And with each motion of that fist as she slammed it forward, I saw a distortion shoot that way before slamming into the creature, along with the sound of miniature sonic booms. They hit with enough force that each strike literally sheared little pieces of skin and muscle away from the monster. Not that it seemed to slow him down at all, though he did pivot to react, snarling a little as his mouth opened far wider than it should have to reveal a miniature spear-like construct inside where his tongue normally would have been. That spear shot outward with lightning-speed toward Elisabet. Fortunately, Committee-level powers or not, she was faster, snapping her arm up. Instantly, a wall of gold rose to block the spear, catching it with a loud clang. On impact, the spear disintegrated into a cloud of gas. But the wall of gold had already reshaped itself into an orb around the gas, containing it before any damage could be done. 

Even as the glittering orb fell to the ground and rolled away across the sand like a giant beach ball, Elisabet had drawn that golden sword. With a sharp swipe of the blade, she summoned a four-foot tall gold vice-structure out of the ground. It clamped onto the Fomorian, pinning three of his arms tightly. At the same time, the woman thrust her free hand forward, palm out. The sand itself reacted to the gesture, rising up into the shape of a battering ram. An instant before colliding with the briefly trapped Fomorian, it visibly hardened and was sheathed in gold. Then it slammed into the monster with enough force that the entire thing shattered apart. As did the vice holding him. 

It was enough to draw a hint of blood, the Fomorian staggering back a step just as an arrow clipped past his neck. Sariel. She had her bow drawn and had sent the shot directly through one of the tiny wounds that Elisabet’s earlier sonic-boom air punches had created, opening it just a few more millimeters. 

Now the Fomorian had Elisabet on one side of him and Sariel on the other. But if he was worried at all, he didn’t show it. Which was fair, considering these guys were supposed to be able to take on a lot more than just a single high-end Heretic and one Olympian Seosten. The Hiding Man back at Koren’s house had needed Deveron, Nevada, Katarin, Dare, and (a secretly-possessed by Manakel) Kohaku to deal with him. And he hadn’t even been geared toward straight combat at the time, but rather stealth. This… this could be bad. This was bad. 

At least Elisabet’s stolen and controlled creatures were holding their own against the ones the Fomorian himself had sicced on us. A quick glance that way revealed that fight was still going on, but was under control. 

Sariel was already moving, sprinting forward toward the monster as she loosed three rapid arrows from her bow, one after another. At the same time, Elisabet closed the distance from the other direction. As she ran, the ground tore itself away from him, leaving a deep pit everywhere aside from the exact spot where he was actually standing. Then even that vanished, dropping out from under him. 

The arrows that Sariel had fired sailed past the monster without even touching him. Because they weren’t supposed to. Instead, as Elisabet threw herself right over the open pit, she did something to freeze each arrow in place, walking across them like they were steps. While the Fomorian was just starting to fall as the ground opened up under his feet, Elisabet lashed out with her sword. And it wasn’t just a normal (though gold) sword at that point. In mid-swing, the blade suddenly began to glow brightly. So bright it almost hurt to look at. It sliced through two of the monster’s raised arms, cutting all the way through them. 

Elisabet kicked off that last arrow, launching herself upward over the now-plummeting Fomorian as one of his hands narrowly missed her leg. But she wasn’t in the clear, as a little… slot in the creature’s wrist opened up to shoot out what–well it looked like a thick, dark-green tongue. Yeah, a tongue from his wrist. Either way, it acted like a rope, wrapping around her ankle to start dragging her down into the pit with him as he fell. 

But Sariel was there. She had just reached the edge of the pit on that side, loosing a quick shot from her bow before launching herself up. The arrow cut through the tongue-rope thing to free Elisabet. Sariel, meanwhile, had clearly boosted herself because her leap took her a good twenty feet into the air. As she crossed the middle of the pit, the woman inverted herself to face downward. There were already three arrows nocked and ready, and she shot them straight down toward the still-falling monster (all of this was literally happening in the span of time it took him to fall out of sight into the pit). 

Those three arrows shot downward, but they weren’t alone. In mid-flight, Elisabet abruptly did something with her hands, and three suddenly became a hundred. All followed the same path as the ones Sariel had loosed, cutting through the falling Fomorian over and over again. Arrow after arrow after arrow, like an entire storm of sharp hail, sliced through him.

By then, he was mostly out of sight, falling into the pit. But that wasn’t enough for Elisabet. As a glowing forcefield appeared under both her and Sariel’s feet to hold them in the air, the woman snapped both arms up. In response, the sides of the pit rose a good ten feet. I caught a brief glimpse of the Fomorian perched between two eight-foot tall gold spikes that had clearly lined the bottom of that pit. In the next moment, the walls were covered with those same spikes, and all four sides of the pit came together to slam shut on the Fomorian. It was like an iron maiden device closing in on him, spikes hitting that monster from every side and angle as the pit itself closed to trap him within. Once closed tightly, it left a fifteen-foot tall, six foot thick pillar sticking into the air. A pillar that was sheathed in gold to hold it steady and firm against the Fomorian’s attempts to escape. 

Sariel, by that point, had produced what looked like two small metal orbs. She flicked her thumb against either, and they abruptly started to glow. Just as the thought ‘more grenades’ came to mind, she chucked both together. They arced up and over, falling toward the pillar. At the last second before they would have bounced off, Elisabet opened a tiny slot, allowing the two bombs to pass through. 

They detonated then, exploding with so much force that the pillar itself blew apart in every direction. The Fomorian’s burning body was sent flying, hitting the ground and rolling several times before it lay there smoldering. 

And… and then it got up. With a grunt, the creature put two of his remaining arms down, pushing himself up to a kneeling position with a cough. He was burned, charred, bleeding, but it wasn’t enough. He rose, giving a soft chuckle. “This…hehe… this has been fun,” he informed us all. Despite his words, it was clear that he had been hurt. Very hurt, not that he really seemed to care that much. I had the feeling the concept of pain didn’t mean much to these guys.

With a glance toward the spot where what remained of Elisabet’s captured creatures were finishing off the last of his own creations, the Fomorian gave a low snarl. “Very fun indeed. But I feel it’s time to tell you I’m not here alone.” His eyes (well, eye, the other one still had the knife embedded in the side of it) narrowed. “Your turn.” 

He said those two words dramatically, yet… nothing happened. I could see Elisabet and Sariel tense, watching for the incoming threat. The rest of us twisted around too, scanning warily. But there was nothing. 

After a brief pause, the Fomorian spat some kind of acidic blood at the ground and raised his voice. “Take them!” 

Again, there was nothing. Well, almost nothing. After a few long seconds, there was finally a response, but it clearly wasn’t what he was expecting. 

“I’m sorry,” Larissa suddenly spoke, appearing from behind one of the nearby dunes. She was bloodied, bruised, burned all along one side of her face to the point that it hurt just to look at her. Her voice sounded strained, yet… cheerful. “Were you talking to this guy?” She was dragging a figure behind her, abruptly snapping her arm forward to hurl what turned out to be the massacred, dead figure of another Fomorian out in front of her. 

“Cuz I don’t think he’s gonna be answering you anytime soon.” 

“Yeah, you might need to get him to a doctor or something. He doesn’t look so good.” That was Haiden, who came into view following her, looking just as beat. He too, however, sounded cheerful despite his appearance. And Kohaku was right with him as well. All three emerged together, having clearly killed that second Fomorian while he was waiting to ambush all of us. 

“Neither does this guy!” Lillian Patters called. She, Deveron, and my mother came out from the opposite side, the two women dragging another body of one of those monsters behind them before dropping it unceremoniously. 

Now the already-injured Fomorian was left staring at two of his dead brethren while he was surrounded not only by Elisabet and Sariel, but also Kohaku, Larissa, Haiden, Deveron, Lillian, and my mother. 

Suddenly, he didn’t exactly look quite as confident as he had a moment earlier. Which was a look he kept for the rest of his life. All three seconds of it, before every single adult Heretic there hit the monster with a barrage of fire, lasers, ice, blades, and everything else they could throw at him. 

Finally, he was down. The Fomorian collapsed in a broken, half-melted heap before being thoroughly disintegrated by one last blast of energy from a vindictive-looking Larissa. 

With one quick glance my way to assure herself that I was okay, Mom called out, “Someone conjure a stretcher for Jophiel! 

“We’re getting the hell off this planet.”  

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Interlude 15B – Dani and Amber (Summus Proelium)

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A/N – The Non-canon chapters were posted on Patreon over the weekend and can now be viewed by EVERYONE, even if you are not a member. The Heretical Edge Non-Canon can be found here and the Summus Proelium Non-Canon can be found here

“So, your friend’s pretty weird.” The conversational announcement came a few seconds after Dani and Amber had been left standing by themselves in front of the school when San dragged Cassidy away after simply and unsubtly announcing that the two girls had a lot in common. 

“Which friend?” Amber retorted easily while folding her arms as she regarded the new girl for a moment. “The billionaire princess skater girl who’s way nicer than you’d probably expect, or the dude named after a city who thinks he’s equal parts Casanova and Cupid?” That last bit was added with a squint toward the retreating figures in the distance. 

“Yup,” came the encompassing answer as the black girl grinned. She rocked back on her heels a bit before adding, “Soooo, like he said, I’m Dani and you’re Amber. And the Frisco Kid there might’ve been super-unsubtle and all, but he did get one thing right. I mean, besides the names.” 

“Wow,” Amber remarked. “That is a deep pull for a reference. What’s that, early seventies?” 

Dani’s head shook. “Late. Seventy-Nine. And what can I say, my dad used to love him some Gene Wilder and Harrison Ford. Anyway, that thing he was right about is that it’s breakfast time and I am like, super-fucking hungry. So, I’m gonna see if I can find that enormous cafeteria again. You wanna help me do that a little faster? I hear I’ve got something called an expense account there and I’m pretty eager to see what kind of damage I can do to it in one day.”

Snorting despite herself, Amber turned. “Yeah, come on, it’s this way. I’ll show you. And does that mean you’re not used to having an expense account attached to your school meals?” 

The response was a chuckle as the other girl moved to keep up with her. “Trust me, babe, there’s a lot about this whole situation that’s new to me. I’m not exactly what you’d call old money. Or new money, for that matter. The entire having money concept is a bit shaky.” 

Something about the way the girl said that made Amber glance toward her as they walked toward the school entrance. There was a somewhat strange sense of deja vu, but it was momentary. Shaking that off, she curiously asked, “Did you win a scholarship here?”  

Dani’s response to that was a laugh. She practically doubled over, head shaking. “Sorry, sorry. Just the idea of me getting a scholarship for anything is pretty fucking hilarious. Unless they’re giving out ‘mediocre achievement awards’ now.” Still chuckling, she explained that her mother had been gone since before she could remember and that her father bounced years back. Apparently she’d done the foster family circuit for awhile until the government found some rich great-aunt who lived in Europe. It was that great-aunt who put Dani in this school. 

“She also put me up in an apartment in the city with–” The girl’s face twisted just a bit. “I guess you’d call her a nanny? Anyway, she basically leaves me alone for the most part. I think she’s just glad to have an easy job. Whole thing’s stable enough. And now I get to go to rich kid school. But lemme tell ya, I was not expecting the first student I met to be Sterling and Elena Evans’ little princess. Not that she’s anything… uhhh…” 

“Anything like you’d expect, yeah.” With a nod, Amber gestured as they entered the cafeteria. “Anyway, here we are. If you’re really hungry, this is definitely the right place to go. Pretty sure the head chef used to work in one of those fancy hotel restaurants before this place stole him.”

“See, and here I am just trying to get my head around the idea that lunch isn’t mystery meat casserole served with an ice cream scoop,” Dani muttered while looking around the room. The two were attracting a few curious looks from people who clearly didn’t recognize the new girl. 

Ignoring that, Amber was about to point out where Dani could order that food she wanted. Unfortunately, a new voice interrupted before she could speak up. “Well hey, Amber, hey Jae.” 

Great. Knowing that voice, Amber turned a bit. Yeah, of course. It was Arleigh Fosters, the tall, blonde chick who had decided to make Jae her mortal enemy at the beginning of the school year just because her then-boyfriend had said something about Jae looking cute. Yeah, it was stupid, but it wasn’t like Jae asked for his opinion. 

As soon as the two turned toward her, Arleigh made a show of looking surprised, hand covering her mouth and all. “Oh,” she faux-gasped, “you’re not Jae. Hah, well then! Silly me. I thought maybe she finally took that trip to the doctor to get her whole… pigment situation fixed.” Her hand waved around as though to encompass Dani’s entire body. “And, you know, they just went a little overboard.” 

Sighing inwardly as she yet-again reminded herself that smacking the other girl would be very against the Minority rules of not standing out or attracting that kind of attention, Amber demanded, “Seriously, Arleigh? What’re you doing, trying to bully by proxy? You know I don’t give a shit what you think, right? Neither does Jae. And, oh, she’s not even here. Who exactly are you trying to mock? Yourself for pretending you’re too stupid to know the difference between a black girl and an albino Asian girl? No, seriously, what exactly was your plan here?”

“Wait, is that what this is about?” Dani looked back and forth between them before settling on the blonde girl. “You’re seriously like, trying to be the bitch bully of the school? Do they pay you for that? Cuz if you’re really like… targeting someone who isn’t even here, they should really dock your salary. That’s just lame.” She glanced toward Amber then with a slow head shake. “Gotta say, I’m pretty disappointed, I expected more effort from rich kid bullies.” 

“One, I’m not a fucking bully,” Arleigh snapped. “This isn’t some kid’s movie or an afterschool special. Her friend is a fucking freak. Worse, she’s a boyfriend stealing bitch freak. And I don’t have to explain anything to you. I’ve already heard what you really are. You’re just a broke fucking–” 

And then she said it, a word that she never should’ve said. A word that no one ever should’ve said. A word that immediately made Amber’s eyes widen, breath catching as a feeling of disgust and rage filled her. 

In the background, she heard Dani coldly and dangerously demanding, “What did you just–” 

Without thinking, Amber lashed out. Her fist collided with Arleigh’s stomach with enough force to double the other girl over, her cry muffled by the fact that the wind had been knocked out of her.

The moment she did that, a rush of fear ran through Amber. What the hell did she just do? God, she was attracting attention. Now the school was going to get involved, and that would–

She was distracted by Dani, who stepped up closer to the doubled-over Arleigh and put an arm around her to help the girl straighten up before too many people could notice. Clearly forcing her upright, Dani leaned in closer to whisper in the girl’s ear. Amber couldn’t hear what was being said, but she could make out the dangerous, intense tone of the new girl’s voice. And she saw the way Arleigh’s eyes rapidly widened while her face grew almost pale enough to make the girl bully herself if she stuck to the same standard that she used for Jae.

Finally, the blonde managed to pull herself free, staring at Dani, then at Amber, then back again. It looked like she couldn’t decide which of them was more dangerous. Her face twisted a bit as she sputtered, “You two freaks deserve each other. Just go fuck yourselves.” Despite the harshness and certainty of her words, the girl’s voice caught a bit. She was clearly blustering. With one hand over her stomach, she staggered away, muttering curses under her breath. 

“Dude,” Dani announced with a look toward Amber. “Nice hit. Great follow-through. You take boxing lessons from your dad or something?”

The question made Amber flinch, thoughts of her father rushing through her head. “I–no. No, he…” 

“Aww, shit, I stepped in it, didn’t I?” Wincing, Dani asked, “Yours run off too?”  

“What? No!” Amber hurriedly blurted. “No, he didn’t–I mean–” She swallowed the thick lump in her throat. “He died, a little over a year ago. Hit and run.”

For a moment, the other girl stared at her, before closing her eyes with a heavy sigh. “And here I am, standing with both feet in the shit now.” Opening her eyes, she met Amber’s gaze. “Seriously, I–I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said anything until I knew what was going on. I just–sorry.” 

Biting her lip, Amber shook her head. “You didn’t know. You couldn’t know. It’s–I mean, it’s okay. I miss my dad, but you don’t have to feel sorry for me or anything. I–” Cutting herself off, she gestured. “You’re still hungry, right?” 

So, the two of them went through and got food. In Dani’s case, she truly did stick to her plan of seeing just how far she could stretch that expense account. Which, as it turned out, was pretty far. She had a tray laden with a truly remarkable array of meats and pastries, along with some very delicious fruit and yogurt. It was a veritable feast, and even the girl herself looked a little overwhelmed as she set the tray down. “Eesh,” she murmured, “I might’ve gone a tad overboard. But hey, waste not, want not.” 

Raising an eyebrow, Amber remarked, “I’m pretty sure that’s not what that phrase means. Like, I’m fairly certain it means the exact opposite of whatever this is.” 

Dani seemed to consider that for a moment before simply offering a shrug. “Eh, whatever. The point is, I’m about to dive into my first spoiled rich bitch meal. You might want to send for help if I don’t surface within ten minutes.” With a thumbs up, she found her fork and knife and set to work.

Despite her words, the other girl did keep talking while devouring her meal. The two of them chatted mostly about what Amber thought about the school and most of the people in it. It was clear that Dani didn’t exactly hold the wealthy in high esteem. Which, again, bugged Amber. Not in the way she might’ve expected, given a lot of these people were her friends and not nearly as bad as Dani seemed to think they were. But because it… it felt like she was missing something. 

More to the point, talking with Dani felt far more normal than it should have. It didn’t seem like they were having their very first conversation, awkwardly feeling each other out. Instead, it felt as though they were picking up from a previous conversation that neither of them have ever had. Yeah, it was weird. It was weird because it wasn’t weird. Because they were so comfortable already. They just started talking and the words flowed easily. It was one of the most normal and casual conversations Amber could remember having in a long time with someone who wasn’t Jae, which was just… odd. Did she really like Dani that easily? 

Noticing that the other girl kept taking a bit of meat and rolling them into small balls before setting them aside, Amber asked, “You got a dog at home or something?” 

“Huh?” Dani blinked, then looked down and coughed. “Oh, uhh, no. I mean, it’s more like a couple rats.” She gave a short nod. “Yeah, just a couple rats. They like it when I bring extra food.” 

“You keep rats? That’s cool, what’re their names?” Amber had always wanted to keep a pet rat, but her mother wouldn’t stand for it. Which was totally unfair bullshit. She was a superhero, she should be able to keep a pet rat if she wanted one. 

Dani seemed a little surprised that Amber would ask that. Taking a second, she finally replied, “Oh, you know, Remy and Nicodemus.” 

“From Ratatouille and… Secret of NIMH?” Amber guessed before being rewarded with a nod. “That’s so cool. Maybe I can see them sometime. I mean–” Belatedly realizing what she had just said, Amber turned pink, waving both hands. “Never mind, I mean–never mind.” 

The other girl seemed just as flummoxed, words catching in her throat a few times before she managed a quick nod. “Right, yeah, maybe sometime. That’d be… cool.” 

“Yeah, cool. Sometime.” Feeling awkward, Amber thought about excusing herself. But that would’ve been running away. Instead, she sat right where she was, telling herself not do anything else as stupid as inviting herself over to the home of a girl she had barely met. 

Finally, Dani brushed her hands off, picking up a napkin to wipe them while asking, “So, where does one get doggy bags? No way I’m leaving the rest of this here. Actually, do they let you put stuff in a refrigerator around here? Wait, don’t tell me, there’s coolers inside the lockers?” 

Snorting despite herself, Amber shook her head. “Sorry, we’re not quite that spoiled. But we do have pretty big lockers compared to the public school. And I’m pretty sure if you ask, they’ll put whatever you want in one of the coolers at the back of the kitchen and put your name on it.” 

So, the other girl did just that, taking her leftovers up to be put away. The lady behind the counter seemed a little surprised, but willingly put the food in a bag, scrawled Dani’s name on it, and sent it to be put away. 

“Right,” Amber started once that was done, “come on, I’ll show you where your first class is. And we should probably talk about how we’re going to avoid Arleigh for the rest of eternity.” 

Dani, however, responded with a shrug. “Meh. If she wants to start shit again, I say let her bring it. She really doesn’t know who she’s fucking with.”

Squinting toward the other girl, Amber asked, “Hey, that reminds me. What exactly did you say to her when you whispered back there? She looked pretty freaked out. Not that I feel sorry for her or anything, but seriously, how’d you do that?” 

Dani, in turn, gave an almost feral smile. “Oh, you know, I just made up some shit about being connected to a street gang who would make her life a living hell if she kept pissing me off. Something about stripping her car for parts, shaving her head, sending a bunch of my older cousins to fuck with her house.” 

“You said you didn’t have any cousins or anything, just a great-aunt,” Amber pointed out. 

With a grin, Dani nodded. “Sure, but she doesn’t know that. Anyway, she’ll probably start shit again eventually, but I think she’ll back off for now. Hey, when she starts up again, you think she’ll go with the black thing, the poor thing, or the gay thing?” 

“All of the above if she can manage it,” Amber replied. “Especially since she’ll have time to really think of something good. I mean, ‘good.’” She used her fingers to make the quotes. 

“Yeah, well let’s see what she comes at me with.” Dani sounded unconcerned, shrugging both shoulders. “Maybe I’ll just hire you to be my full-time bodyguard, huh? You did a pretty good job the first time.” 

Both girls smiled at each other briefly, before Amber’s blush returned. “R-right, um, speaking of the whole gay thing. I mean, what you mentioned before, and like San said about us having things in common. And like–I mean I just, I’m sort of…” 

Sort of what? She wasn’t in a relationship, because she couldn’t be in one. Pack had expressed obvious interest, yes, but that couldn’t happen. Pack was a bad guy–girl. Damn it, why did bad girl have to have such a very different connotation than bad guy? She was a villain, there. She was a villain and had no interest in being anything but a villain. All she really cared about was making money. Well, okay, she did have important lines she wouldn’t cross, and she’d been really helpful before. But still, she was far from a hero, and had absolutely no interest in changing that fact. She and Amber could never actually be something, right? So why would she tell this totally normal, cool, and super-hot girl that she wasn’t interested? Especially given that would be a lie. She was absolutely interested. And the thing with Pack couldn’t go anywhere. And… and…

“Yo.” Dani was waving a hand in front of her face. “You okay in there? I think I lost you for a second.” 

Realizing that she had literally spaced out like that made Amber’s eyes widen, and she shook herself quickly. “Sorry, I just–I um, I don’t think I’m ready to… um.” 

“Dude, we’re just talking, chill.” With a small smile, Dani gave the other girl a thumbs up. “It’s all good. I’ve sorta got someone I’m interested in too.” For a moment, she gazed off past Amber, seeming to get lost in her own thoughts before shaking that off. “I dunno if it’s gonna be anything. It’s kinda complicated, you know?” 

Oh boy, did this chick have no idea. “Trust me,” Amber assured her, “I definitely know complicated. I hope you figure it out though. And if you wanna talk about it sometime…” 

“Yeah, you too. Good luck with your whole thing.” With that, Dani pivoted on one heel to start walking down the hall with her guide. “Hey, if we both figure our shit out, maybe we can all double-date or something.” 

Briefly thinking about how ridiculous that would be, bringing Pack to a restaurant along with all her lizards, Amber nonetheless found herself smiling. Because the only way that would ever happen was if she was honest with Pack, and the two of them worked through their differences. And that really was something to smile about. “Yeah,” she murmured under her breath. 

“It would be pretty cool to do something like that someday.”

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