Her father would never approve of this. As she stood on the roof of one of the tallest buildings in Detroit, Melissa Abbot knew that much for sure. He didn’t know she was here, and if he had, he would have bent reality in half if that was what it took to get her away from there. The nine-year-old girl wasn’t sure exactly how he would react to seeing her standing with her toes on the very edge of the roof, but she did know it would be dramatic. Her father was good at being dramatic. It probably came from being the leader of a gang of supervillains. You had to be dramatic for stuff like that. Deicide, Cuélebre, Sandon, even Pencil, they were all dramatic.
Did the Ministry have something to do with that? She knew they kept crime in the city under control, but still present, so they could get rich off of it or something. It was weird, and she didn’t completely understand the whole thing. But she did know that they wanted a lot of tourist people to come, and they wanted a lot of exciting Touched things to happen. It brought money to the city in plenty of ways. Money and power. The government sent the city money to help deal with the Touched situations, which allowed them to recruit more Star-Touched, which made people see the city as being safe so they brought more tourism dollars and business. They just had to like, balance it and stuff.
The way Melissa saw it, the Ministry was sort of like the sun. It was big and powerful, staring too hard at it would be bad for her, but she needed it to stay alive. Also, if it was suddenly gone with nothing to replace it, she was pretty sure life everywhere she looked right now would get a lot worse. And yet, if it got too much stronger, that probably wouldn’t be good either.
Not that the actual sun was out right now, of course. It was too late for that. The sun had gone down before she finished with her patrol with Wobble and Whamline. And oh how tempted she had been to come up with a W name so they could be WWW.
Heee, patrol. Last month she had been completely bedridden. No, not just last month. She had been bedridden basically her entire life, as far back as she could remember. She was always too weak to run around like a normal kid. She just sat in her bed and dreamed up stories. She imagined grand, epic adventures. Adventures that some part of her had always known she would never get to have for herself.
Known. She had known it, and yet, here she was. She had used a spray of her glass shards to trap a man with a knife earlier. He had been harassing this girl who was only a few years older than Melissa herself, barely a teenager, which was just super-gross. He’d threatened to cut her if she didn’t do what he said. He was a bad guy, a real bad guy, and she stopped him. The boys were busy with other things down the street, but she had seen the man drag the girl into an alley, and she stopped him.
It was possible that she was still a little hyped up after all that. Going from being trapped in her bed with a body that would break if she stepped too hard, to being… well, technically she still had a body that would break if she stepped too hard, but now it didn’t matter. She had been metaphorically made of glass, and now it was literal. But it was also better, because she could shatter apart over and over again, and just put herself back together.
Not that that stopped her father from worrying completely. Hence why he would probably freak out a little bit if he saw her standing on the edge of this roof. He’d asked her more than once if she had a death wish, and not jokingly every time. He was seriously worried about her. Which was silly. Of course she didn’t have a death wish. The whole reason she kept throwing herself into these situations and doing the stuff that made him worry was because she wanted to live. She wanted to experience everything.
She had spent years trapped in her bed, imagining the things she would do if she ever had a chance. Now she had it. Her body was fine. Well, in a manner of speaking. Every memory she had up to the moment she had Touched was filled with the fear of breaking.
But now? Now breaking couldn’t kill her, so she refused to be afraid of it. She refused to be afraid of falling as she tilted her head to look at the ground down far, far below. From now on, she was going to live.
It was now or never if she was going to do this. Her ride back home didn’t know she was already done with patrol, but he would be coming soon, and would want to know why she wasn’t waiting at the usual spot. If he wondered more than a few moments, he would call her father, and that would start a whole thing. If she was going to try this, it had to be now.
Of course, she could’ve tried it from much lower, or even the ground, but hey, her dad wasn’t the only dramatic one in the family.
Taking one last look down and around at the street below (mostly empty thanks to the curfew), Melissa walked back several long, deliberate steps. She glanced at her glass arms and legs, currently not hidden behind the incogniter. Then she looked over her shoulder at the crate full of glass bottles she had carried up here. Without wasting another moment, she clapped both hands together hard enough to make them shatter. Then she sent the resulting shards from her broken hands flying out to hit the bottles. Every bit of glass they touched, she could suddenly sense and control.
A moment later, the pieces of her hands came back and reformed themselves before safely attaching to her wrists. Meanwhile, the bottles she had taken control of rose and hovered in the air behind her. There were a hundred of them, and they all shattered at once. The resulting thousands of shards all flew around like a swarm of bees around the girl as she looked across the street toward the next building once more. Taking a moment to collect herself, Melissa smiled very faintly before whispering, “This is for you, earlier me.”
With that, she ran forward and leapt off the roof of that enormous skyscraper. The nine year old girl plummeted rapidly toward the ground, even as her swarm of broken glass shards dove after her. Several hundred of the shards merged under her feet to form an angled ramp that swooped down and around. Landing on it, Melissa maintained her momentum by racing along the ramp toward the steep, curved slide that the rest of those shards were making. With a loud whoop, she dove onto the slide head first, riding it down through midair. Shooting off the end and tumbling through the air, she laughed riotously even as the ramp and slide disintegrated, their pieces swarming after her to form a sideways, slightly angled path right in front of her. She hit the ramp hard enough to shatter her feet, but that only made her stumble very slightly before the glass reformed and she was able to keep running.
To one side, she could see a few people looking out the windows of the building. She waved at them cheerfully before making the glass walkway shatter under her so she could drop once more. Tucking her arms to her sides and angling her feet downward, the girl plummeted and spun, squealing out loud. This was the most amazing, wonderful moment in her life. No, no, that was when she had been able to run around the block alongside her father. Yes, maybe most would have found that shockingly mundane in comparison to this. But for Melissa, it had been everything she dreamed of while being stuck in her bed.
She was still falling and squealing as something flew in from the side to form a different ramp under her. No it wasn’t a ramp, it was a funnel of some kind. Melissa barely had time to notice it appearing before she was suddenly sliding down the funnel. It carried her around in circles, like a spiral slide while she tried to focus on using her glass to break through it. But it all happened so quickly. The twisting slide was carefully angled to slow her descent until she finally came to a stop lying directly on her back, cocooned within this weird material. Wait. Curiously, Melissa moved her arm a bit and easily cut through it with her sharp glass finger. Paper? Wait, the slide was made of paper? That meant—
“Are you okay?”
The question came from everywhere at once, the words filling the air even as the top of the enclosed paper slide opened to reveal an armored figure standing there on top of two floating books, one foot on each. A dozen other books were hovering around this figure, the source of the voice. The books would open randomly and flip to a page before a word on that page was spoken aloud in that loud, seemingly omnipresent voice.
Taking all that in before focusing on the figure in armor, paper armor, Melissa pointed while blurting, “Deicide? Wait, do we have to fight right now? I was having fun.”
There was a pause as the figure stared at her before the box flipped through pages again and the voice spoke. “Fun? Are you saying you weren’t in danger?”
The question made Melissa giggle a little bit before she quickly covered her mouth. “Oh, sorry. I mean, not really?” To demonstrate, she focused on her own glass form and made it float up off the paper slide. She hovered there in the air and spread her arms to either side. “See? I could stop whenever I wanted. Besides, if I hit the ground and broke, I’d just put myself back together again. Thanks, anyway? But, um, I thought you were a bad guy?”
There was a mix of faint annoyance and dry amusement in the voice now as Deicide replied, “There are different types of bad, I would have you know. Allowing a small child to plummet to her death is slightly worse than I prefer to see myself as. Even if others would disagree.”
That made sense, of course. Melissa’s own father was one of the nicer types of bad. Still, she didn’t want to say that. Instead, she formed a new ramp under her feet so she could stand there next to the villain. “Everyone says you’re really angry right now. You know, after—”
“I know what they’re referring to,” the books interrupted. That armored figure folded her arms while continuing to seemingly stare at her. “I’m still not about to let someone like you fall and die. Doesn’t matter how pissed off I am. I’m not a monster.”
After another moment of hesitation, Melissa asked, ”But you are going to kill other people, right?”
The armored figure seemed to shrug. “Why, do you want to try to stop me?” At first, Melissa thought the voice was taunting, but then she realized it was more curious. It was as though Deicide really wanted to know if the girl was going to try to intervene. “You might have trouble with that. I can be pretty persistent.” Another pause came, before she added, “Especially when I’m pissed off.”
Once more, Melissa hesitated. She wasn’t sure she should bring this up, but then again, when would she ever get a chance like this again? “How come you hate Cuélebre so much? A lot of people keep saying this seems personal. It’s not just about taking territory. It’s like you really wanna, um, hurt him.”
Several long seconds of silence passed. Deicide seemed to be staring off at nothing. It was like she couldn’t decide if she was going to answer or not, like the way Melissa’s dad would get when she asked him how bad her illness was getting. The young girl waited before starting to speak up to tell her never mind, not wanting to push her luck. But before she could do more than open her mouth, that voice came again.
“Let’s just say, I am one of his many victims, whom he has never thought about. The specifics don’t really matter to anyone but me, certainly not to him. But he has hurt too many people. He has a reckoning coming, and I am going to give it to him.”
Melissa raised both shoulders in a shrug. “But aren’t you hurting people too? And not just to get to him. You run one of the biggest gangs in the city. They definitely hurt people.”
“Hardly one of the largest gangs right now,” Deicide pointed out with a dark tone. “Not after those arrogant mother—” She stopped, seeming to take in who she was talking to. “Oh well. They’ll get what’s coming to them just as he will. They were useful for a while, now they’ve proven not to be.”
Melissa wasn’t sure how to react to that. It was obvious that she wasn’t going to be able to talk Deicide out of her whole revenge thing. Not that she expected to be able to, but hey, getting confirmation that there really was some sort of personal history between her and Cuélebre was more than she expected. There had been rumors about it for a long time, and all the online stuff that she read. But she was pretty sure this was the first real confirmation.
Finally, she replied, “So, I guess that means you’re not gonna just let it go and walk away?”
The pages of the book flipped rapidly, as sounds emerged. They were all ‘Heh’ sounds, but seemed to be taken from the start of words. It was as though the woman was creating a slightly unsettling approximation of a laugh by simply taking the H sounds from the start of words like Home, Hamilton, Harris, or Hockey, without allowing the rest of those words to be said. It was… weird. The whole thing was weird, really. Was she mute? Did she have to talk through her books? Did her being mute have something to do with why she hated Cuélebre so much? Did he do something that made her lose her voice?
She couldn’t spend too much time thinking about that before the off-putting laughter stopped. Deicide spoke flatly, that eerily omnipresent voice sounding even stranger now. “No, I will definitely not be walking away. But you should, now. Your ride is here, I believe.” With that, the armored figure pointed downward and over a bit, to a spot where an unmarked sedan was idling. The driver got out and looked around as though wondering where Melissa was. Then he looked up. Melissa could see the way his eyes bulged at the sight of her and Deicide standing in midair, before he fumbled to get his phone out.
“You should go now,” Deicide informed her. “Before your… driver does something unwise.”
The way she said it made Melissa blink that way very briefly. Did she know something about who Melissa’s family really was? Her tone… it was clear that she knew the man down there wasn’t her father or another relative. Maybe she just thought he was an Uber driver or something? But that didn’t really fit with the way she said it.
Still, she couldn’t exactly ask about it. Not without giving something away if the woman didn’t actually know much. She might’ve been fishing for information or something. Melissa really wasn’t sure, and she didn’t want to mess anything up by saying too much. Plus, Duke down there really did seem like he was freaking out. He was probably trying to call Melissa’s dad. And if he thought she was in trouble–oh no, she couldn’t let that happen. Dad already had enough things to deal with, and he’d already been hesitant as it was to let her come out like this.
With thoughts of her father losing his mind and sending an army of his people filling her head, Melissa quickly waved at the woman and let herself drop toward the ground. She caught herself right before landing next to Duke, blurting, “It’s okay! I’m okay, I’m fine. It’s okay, okay?” She was saying okay too much, but the rushed words came out before she could think about that.
Duke, a short, unassuming-looking man with graying brown hair and hazel eyes, stared at her with the phone to his ear. He hesitated slightly before speaking. “Hold on a second, I think we’re good.” Slowly he lowered the phone. “You sure we’re good? That–” He looked up, only to give a doubletake. “Where’d she go?”
Sure enough, there was no sign of Deicide anywhere. The woman had vanished already. Melissa looked around, but the only other sign of life on the street was a teenaged Latina girl walking past at a quick pace while talking on a cell phone to someone who seemed to be her mother, telling her she was just going to the store to get a drink and that it was no big deal. She did give a double-take at the sight of the glass girl, waving excitedly with a called, “Hey!” Then she quickly informed her mother that she had just seen one of the Minority and she should guess which one. Other than that, the street looked empty.
“I guess she had to go,” Melissa replied with a shrug after waving back to the passing girl. “She probably didn’t wanna deal with the police she thought you were calling.” She almost pointed out that she thought Deicide might’ve known about her connection to La Casa with the weird way she had mentioned Duke as her driver. But she definitely didn’t want to let her father know about that. He’d freak out even more.
“Okay, well, let’s get out of here before she starts another war and we end up in the middle of it.” With those muttered words, the man opened up the backseat of the sedan, gesturing for Melissa to get in.
Melissa, in turn, had just started to climb into the car when something came flying up from behind to slam into her. It was more paper, this time hundreds of sheets shaped like a large hand. It knocked Melissa to the side, before catching hold of Duke to hold him tightly within that enormous fist.
Landing hard enough on the pavement to make several pieces of herself shatter, Melissa stared as Deicide came into view once more. “Wh-what’re you doing?! Let him go!” She focused on bringing her swarm of glass shards back, wondering if she could actually do anything to hurt the Fell-Touched leader.
“I don’t think you want me to do that,” Deicide’s assortment of flying books replied, before the woman walked right up to the struggling, cursing man. She reached out, making the paper fist open just enough for her to stick her hand inside his jacket. His struggling got worse, as did the cursing. But she managed to pull out a folded piece of paper, and some sort of remote control. “Here.” With that, she held the paper out.
Melissa stared at it uncertainly. On the paper was written, ‘Do it tonight and the debt is forgiven. Stand back from the car when you hit it. See if that little bitch can rebuild herself out of this.’
Once Deicide was sure the girl had read it, she held the remote up for Melissa to see, then pressed the button. As she did, the entire inside of the car, the car she had been about to get into, was suddenly engulfed in flames. It wasn’t a simple explosion. The car, centered on the backseat, had been transformed into a ridiculously intense blast furnace or… or something. It was really hot, that was all Melissa knew. Hot enough that, within a few seconds, there wasn’t much left of the car. The flames died out soon, leaving Deicide, Melissa, and Duke, who was still held tightly in that paper fist.
“So,” the armored woman started after a moment.
“I think you need a new ride. And a new driver.”