Daisy watched the healer patch up Mason. Shrinking the swelling and bruising on his face until no trace of the beating remained. She fixed his eyes, which were actually quite damaged from Angela’s repeated blows. The trauma would have left the Super partially blind if not for the available healing. The healer fixed the severe concussion that was only possible on a strongman due to receiving one too many blows from a hammer made of pure energy. Mason also nearly bit his tongue in half when the maul uppercutted him across the room, so that needed to get fixed on top of his dislocated jaw. The simplest repairs were the bruised shoulder he got from the first blow, and the broken nose. His blood loss was minimal, but Daisy could only guess how painful a ruptured testicle was. In the end you could say Mason got pretty fucked up.
The strongman got in a few good hits himself. He’d shredded one of Angela’s wings and probably did a bit of internal damage from his wild donkey kick. Despite this, there was no disputing the clear victor. Angela was strong, quick, possessed a keen tactical eye, and knew how to fight a hell of a lot better than Mason. Her shifterd form’s arsenal of power was very impressive, so impressive Daisy was glad she’d been able to take her down so easily with her leeching. There was no doubt in Daisy’s mind she would beat Angela in a straight up fight. The girl might be impressive, but that was impressive when compared to other HCP freshmen. Daisy’s decades as a Hero gave her insight Angela couldn’t dream of, and the scars that were the cost of such information.
“Money!” Craig was making a “make it rain” motion with his winnings.
Miles looked on with a good natured shake of the head, while Dr. Sanderson gave Daisy a victorious grin. “Better luck next time.” Sanderson pocketed the cash.
Daisy wasn’t sure if it was the doctor’s tone, the taking of her money, or the way she knew he felt about her, but her anger nearly boiled over. The healer didn’t know shit about what it was like to be in the type of fight those two students had just been in. He saw blood and guts, sure, but not his own strewn of the ground in front of him.
Memories flashed before Daisy’s eyes. A vivid image of her large intestine flopping out of a huge gash in her gut. Her reaping had been too slow to take down the powerful shifter, and he’d been too fast for her to avoid the whirling blade where his had should have been. She’d been forced to stuff the organ back into the hole, try to hold it together, and walk two blocks to the aid station. She’d also been shot multiple times. It was all well and good to absorb the kinetic force of the bullets, but when someone hits you with a .50 caliber sniper rifle from a mile away there’s not much you can do to anticipate that. She learned quickly to engage that part of her ability when she went into the early stages of an operation. Losing most of a lung in an explosion of blood and bone is the best teacher money can’t buy.
“Daisy…” Craig was trying to convey calm, but his tone was flush with anxiety.
Daisy didn’t even realize the subtle electrical explosions happening around her. Little blue bursts of energy were erupting all around her. They weren’t too dangerous. They’d feel more like one of those unpleasant shocks when you touch a doorknob than a police issued taser.
Sanderson was stepping back, fear painted all over his face. Daisy knew she was confirming his suspicions of her, and that more than anything brought her out of her flashback. A few deep breaths and the mini explosions stopped. Her heart was still beating a mile a minute, but that would calm down soon.
“Don’t be a dick, Doc,” She attempted a smile that probably came off a little homicidal. “Unless you want to step into one of those rooms with me.” She couldn’t in good conscious leave out the last bit.
Sanderson visibly gulped, before shooting her a glare. “You’re crazy.” He quickly made an exit through a nearby door.
“I’ve been called worse,” Daisy muttered as the door closed behind his retreating back.
She slid into a chair and took more deep breaths, bringing her heart rate back down to normal. The anger still simmered in her gut, and the memories were still there, but Daisy tried to push it aside. She still had work to do.
“You ok?” Craig asked quietly, still standing guard in front of the door Sanderson had left through.
She knew the look she gave him was unfriendly, but she couldn’t help it. “I just hate assholes like him,” she pointed towards the door. “They’ve always judged me because of what I am. It gets the best of me; I’ll try not to let it happen again.”
“I’ll believe that when you die of old age,” Craig’s comment prompted a laugh from Daisy, a laugh that helped bring her further away from the edge.
“You’re probably right,” she sighed as she got to her feet.
Craig stepped out of the way so they could exit the room, but he stayed close. Together they walked back into the viewing room, where everyone was gathered. Angela had arrived, and was swarmed by students who thought she was the best thing since sliced bread.
<She’s definitely in the running for the number one spot, but we have a couple more rounds to go,> Daisy thought, interested to see if the shifter could go all the way.
“Round four, people. Get ready.” Her voice snapped people out of their celebratory mood.
The seven remaining in the competition quickly search for their room assignments. Six ran off to their destination while the seventh remained in the room. Daisy vaguely recognized a girl whose ability animated inanimate objects, and then grew them to monstrous sizes. It was an interesting ability that had gotten her this far in the competition. She did a mental tally of who remained.
<Cook, Kemps, Martin, Bates, Shaw, Animation girl, and I’ll have to remember the last one when I get back,” she shrugged at the name on the board, not being able to put it together with the faces from their files. <But on the bright side five of the last seven are women.> That brought a smile to her face.
“Supervise this round, Craig,” she headed for the exit, not waiting for a reply.
“Where are you going?” Craig tried to make the question sound casual, especially around the students, but Daisy knew better.
“Don’t worry,” she shot him a grimace. “I’m just going to make an appointment.”
“Fuckety, fuck, fuck, fuck!” the girl clad in all black clothing, and a ski mask, danced around on one foot.
<Three days of planning ruined! All because of a stupid stubbed toe.> She clutched the throbbing appendage and tried to maintain some of her dignity in front of the camera.
All the cameras in the jewelry store were trained on her, red lights were flashing, and a low grade sonic hum was pulsing through the air. The cameras were there as much to help the police catch the intruder as it was to record what items were taken for the insurance company. The red lights were to draw the attention of the proper authorities, and keep back those not trained to handle the situation. The low sonic hum was supposed to disorient the intruder enough so they couldn’t use their ability to escape. All were pretty standard issue security items against a Super.
Ordinary people forgot what a threat some Supers could be to civil society, instead focusing on the Heroes and their courageous deeds. Security companies knew better. For every Hero there was a hundred normal Supers, another dozen or so criminals, and the rare supervillain. So, these companies advanced with the evolution of Supers. The days of an overweight security guard and a locked vault door standing between money and criminals was long past. They were still there for the sake of the human population’s perception, but more was needed to stop people who could walk through walls or teleport into sealed rooms.
The girl in black was one of the latter, and a very talented one at that. “Fuck you!” she flipped the bird to the nearest camera while gingerly putting weight on her injured foot.
Under the black outfit and cliché ski mask the girl’s name was Lilly. Her last name was a closely guarded secret, and this outing was supposed to be her big debut.
<Some asshole moves the damn display case, so I look like a loser on my entrance,> she was still steaming from the debacle. <I had it all planned, it was going to be so awesome!>
Tonight was another bust in her mind, despite the escalation in target. The jewelry store was one of the more popular ones in Atlanta. Lilly saw it in one of those stupid housewives’ shows, and thought it would be a great target. So far she’d only knocked over a bank or two in the Midwest, and mugged a couple of people at the ATM in Oregon. It was all minor league stuff to hone her craft and prepare for her big move into the spotlight.
She’d made sure to do the research on the store, and was pleasantly surprised. For such a high end, reputable store their security sucked. They had the standard package to identify teleporters. Air sensors recognized the displacement of air and the sudden rise in temperature, so the silent alarm was tripped, and the other countermeasures were activated. A small hack got the information on those countermeasures, and the only offensive one was the sonic hum. The decibel level it was operating on was just disrespectful to any self-respecting villain. And Lilly had no misconception of what she really was. In fact, being a villain was the family business. This made the failure sting that much more.
Like her father, Lilly was a teleporter with flair. First, everything and everyone she teleported vanished or appeared in an explosion of darkness. The darkness even spread a bit before dissipating. Anything the darkness touched, Lilly was intimately aware of. The shadows were an extension of her senses. This was a fantastic intelligence gathering tool, since the wave of blackness usually went a few hundred feet before vanishing.
The thing was, Lilly needed to be paying attention. Tonight she was so wrapped up in the routine she’d worked out she didn’t recognize the display case that had been moved. She’d cased the place a week ago, buying a cheap necklace with cash to avoid suspicion. Sometime between now and then they’d rearranged the entire store. Thus her current painful predicament.
In her own modest opinion, the routine was beautiful. A dramatic emergence from the darkness, followed by a cursory examination of the merchandise. She knew the police’s best response time was five minutes, so she’d teleport jewelry out of cases to model them before returning them. The whole display would showcase her darkness teleporting ability. She’d then proceed to taking what she wanted, smash up the store, and flip off the cameras for good measure before vanishing.
Lilly was still deciding on a name. <Shadow Spawn, Shadow Stalker, Phantom…> she’d run through the potential names a hundred times in her head. Ultimately it would be the press or the Heroes who’d name her, but she could always send a threatening video to a news station announcing who she was.
All that was out the window now. She’d screwed up the big entrance. She’d smashed her foot into one of the displays and looked like an idiot on camera. A real villain had panache, flair, didn’t monologue, and above all else was competent. The recordings the police would review were anything but that, so there was no point in putting on much of a show.
Lilly drew a retractable baton, flicking it out to its full length. It felt cool every time she did it, and it helped improve her sour mood. She then proceeded to smash all of the cases in her vicinity. The store was pretty big, so she couldn’t get to everything. After a minute of that she found the expensive items, and they vanished in a puff of darkness. One of the things that made Lilly unique was that she didn’t need to touch anything to teleport it, she just needed to see it to send it anywhere in the world she wanted.
The expensive stuff went home. She had a fence in New York set up for that, and was going to get a decent cut. If the store’s assessment of the quality of the stones actually matched reality, then she stood to make high six figures. Money didn’t matter that much to her; she already had more than she could ever conceivably spend. Then, just to screw with the store, she sent whole display cases to their rivals around town. Now the police would be responding to a dozen more teleportation intrusions. This would hopefully make the store keep their surveillance videos between themselves and the police. It wasn’t good business to show everyone you got robbed by someone who looked incompetent. Hopefully she’d get another chance for her debut.
With that completed, she took one last look at the camera, flipped it off, stuck out her tongue, and vanished. Her teleportation was nearly instantaneous, but there was a small amount of time she spent in the darkness. Those she’d traveled with described it as eerie and unsettling, but it was just the opposite for Lilly. She felt the darkness embracing her. She’d never known her mother’s embrace, the woman died giving birth to her, but she guessed it felt something like this.
The darkness always put her at ease, but the curse of her ability was that she never got to stay there more than a few seconds. She exploded back into reality, a wave of darkness crashing throughout the room she entered. As it spread outwards she realized she wasn’t alone. There were four men in the room. She knew one was her father; she’d spent hours memorizing his impression in the darkness. The other three she didn’t recognize, and one was reacting violently to the suddenness of her entrance.
She saw the outline of the gun in the man’s shoulder holster, and felt him go for it. Before he’d even got his hand around the grip it was gone, dumped somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Then she vanished from the other side of the room, producing another wave of blackness that collided with the initial wave as she reappeared on the other side of the man, baton at the ready. The man was still reeling from the psychedelic blasts of darkness when she brought the baton down on the man’s arm. The cracking of bone showed he didn’t have any physical enhancements.
Another quick jump into the darkness put her behind him. The man was swinging wildly where she used to be, putting him off balance, and making the back of his knee a prime target. He screamed as her blow buckled his leg, and in another deluge of darkness she’d moved again so she could bring the baton down on his head.
“Daughter!” her father’s command brought her up short of splitting the man’s skull like an egg. The waves of black dissipated as she stepped back, putting distance between herself and the remaining men. “My deepest apologies for this misunderstanding,” her father gave a slight bow to the man at the center of the group.
He was a menacing figure, robed in black, with nothing visible except his black eyes and the brown skin around them. There was no colored iris, no white, nothing but orbs blacker than night. “It is quite alright,”the robed figure evaluated Lilly with a calculated gaze. “My subordinates shouldn’t have offended the lady of the house,” the refined English accent sounded out of place.
“Daughter,” Lilly’s father’s gaze was hard. She’d embarrassed him in front of guests. “If you could please grab us some tea.”
Lilly hated serving her father’s friends and business partners, and he knew that. This was as much a punishment as it was an attempt to make restitution for the scene she’d created. The only bright side of getting to sit on these meetings was the wealth of information. She nodded silently, and retreated toward the kitchen.
The kitchen was huge, and only the first of three on the sprawling estate she called home. Lilly might be trying to make a name for herself, but he father was already well established. Hellgate, as the Heroes called him, was one of the most adept teleporters in the world. He’d received the name due to the rings of fire that erupted from his teleporting locations. He was also classified as a fire elemental manipulator because of the way the fire would attack anyone who tried to stop him. This wasn’t true. He told Lilly long ago that the fire had a mind of its own. That didn’t stop him from encouraging the myth.
In no time at all the water was boiling, and Lilly retrieved some tea bags from the cupboard. She returned to the room and poured the tea, first for the guests, and then her father. She caught a glimpse of the papers on the table between her father and the robed man. Who she guessed was the remaining body guard quickly snatched the papers away, but not before she studied the picture of a young woman. On top of all her talents, Lilly had a photographic memory, and she filed the image away for later use. She pretended she didn’t notice the photo, completed pouring the tea, and retreated to a respectable distance.
Her initial guess was the men were from India, the Middle East, or Northern Africa. Either way they were from male dominated societies. To make up for the beating she’d inflicted one of them she needed to play the dutiful woman. She needed to speak only when spoken to, and do nothing until called for. She would remain in the background to gather whatever information she could. Unfortunately, her father knew her too well.
“You are excused, Daughter. I will come for you later,” luckily Lilly was still wearing the ski mask or the scowl she shot him would have worsened the situation.
She gave a slight bow and retreated out of the room. She quickly dumped the teapot in the kitchen and sprinted towards her room. Her room actually contained three rooms. The bedroom contained a massive bed covered in the finest cotton and the fluffiest pillows producible by mankind. There were a few stuffed animals carefully arranged among the pillows; precious enough that despite her age she couldn’t bear to throw them out. The only other piece of furniture in this room was her thick mahogany desk filled with thousands of dollars’ worth of makeup, and tens of thousands of dollars of jewelry, including her stolen wares from tonight. She didn’t even pause in this first room as she rushed into the second. Her wardrobe room was twice as large as her bedroom, it contained hundreds of outfits, shoes, purses, more makeup, accessories, and anything else an 18 year old girl with more money than some countries wanted.
It was here that she stripped off the ski mask to reveal brown hair that fell in curls to her shoulders. Her diamond shaped face reflected the olive skin of her Greek heritage, and was topped off by a small dainty nose and almond eyes. Lilly’s father always called her beautiful, just like her mother, but she doubted her mother’s eyes were as cynical as the ones staring back at her. Lilly didn’t even know if others people thought she was beautiful, after all she didn’t get out much unless she was committing a felony.
With the mask off she dove onto the ground and began to toss aside the perpetual layer of clothing covering the carpet. She tossed away a sparkly top and a cocktail dress before finding what she was looking for. She pulled her hair to one side of her head, and stuck her ear to the air vent. He room was directly above the den her father used for meetings. It wasn’t nearly as good as being in the same room, but it was better than nothing.
“Will pay handsomely…must find…utmost importance,” Lilly only caught snippets of the conversation from her snooping point, but it didn’t take a mind reader to put two and two together.
Whoever the dangerous-looking man was, he was looking for the girl. Her father wasn’t as good as the Hero, Hunter, but he had eyes and ears everywhere. If anyone could discreetly find this girl it was him. Another few moments of listening revealed the contract negotiations, with seven and eight digit numbers being thrown around.
<Shit, he really wants this girl,> the bit of inspiration hit Lilly like a bolt of lightning. <What better way to make my debut than getting a hold of her.> she had more than enough in the way of resources, especially with a few hundred grand more coming in over the next few days. She also had the girl’s picture clearly etched into her memory.
There was no downside. She’d find the girl, and deliver her to her father. He was always telling her to be bold if she wanted to make it in the family business. She’d receive his praise, and standing in the villain community. It would also set her up from future contract work. No more knocking over banks and jewelry stores for her. She was still imagining the look on her father’s face when delivered the girl with the silver tattoos to him. Very few things in life are truly priceless, and this would be one of them.
Daisy walked with a purpose towards Dr. Johnson’s office. So far, she hadn’t seen the empathic therapist in her entire time at West. Of course, that was only a few days, but she thought he would have been at her introduction dinner. After all, his brother was the one who assisted in getting her this job. She just hoped the two doctors weren’t too much alike.
Dr. Johnson’s office was in the infirmary, something Daisy forgot to account for. She had pride and an ego just like anyone else, and the last thing she wanted her students to see was her walking into a therapist’s office. Then there was the small issue of this being Dr. Sanderson’s home turf. She didn’t want him to think she was coming after him; although, the look on his face might just be worth it. So instead she entered the room with the intention of checking on the injured students. Even though she knew this rate of procrastination was eventually going to get her fired.
The infirmary smelled like chemicals, and Daisy doubted there was a single microbe of harmful bacteria in the room. It looked like a hospital bay, with a row of pristinely made white beds on each side of the room. A quick calculation showed there were enough to hold everyone in the entire HCP program. There were curtains for privacy between each bed, but everything was open now.
Daisy didn’t like this. She’d been in too many hospitals; either because she was injured or someone she knew was. She should have known better than to come walking in here without mental preparation. Flashbacks pushed against the mental barricades she was able to erect, but it was like the Mississippi pressing against a beaver damn. She needed something to distract herself.
Daisy spotted Mason at the far end of the room, and made a beeline for him. He wasn’t alone. The big strongman was sitting upright in one of the beds with Kyoshi Schultz by his bedside. The tall telepath seemed to have recovered from her own beating, and was absentmindedly stroking Mason’s hand. Mason definitely noticed, and had a big shit eating grin on his face.
<Young love is such a precious thing,> Daisy sighed, knowing she had to intrude on their moment to keep her sanity.
“Mr. Jackson, Miss Schultz,” the pair jumped in surprise. “How are we recuperating?”
“Uhhh….good, ma’am,” Mason stumbled through the sentence.
<It is impolite to intrude on people’s thoughts Miss Schultz, and I can promise you that you will not like what you see,> Kyoshi looked down, her face going bright red.
“In case Mr. Jackson hasn’t told you yet, I am fully aware of your knowledge of who I am,” Kyoshi’s face went from red to white quicker than the stripes on the American flag. “So, in the nature of getting everything out in the open, you may call me Ms. Meyers, or Coach Meyers, from here on out. I’ll be letting your class know at the end of the combat trails. However, you will keep my Hero codename to yourselves, understood.” Both students gulped simultaneously, and nodded.
“Good,” she saw the reflection of her smile in the metal of the wall behind the bed. It was not comforting.
The smile looked strained and fake, like someone who’d watched actors smile in movies and tried emulating them, only to fail completely. Daisy didn’t know if it was her chaotic mindset at the moment, or if that was how it always looked. Whatever the case, she wasn’t going to do any more smiling if she could help it. It seemed to put people off more than uplift them.
“You two had good fights,” she continued the conversation, erasing the fake smile. “Schultz, you showed considerably more skill than I gave you credit for. Your use of your limited telekinetic ability was also well employed. Unfortunately for you, Mr. Cook was just too powerful. I have an idea of what I want to do with your training, but I need to converse with Coach McMillian first. Mr. Jackson, you’ve displayed considerable tenacity during your trials. There is no question Miss Martin is far better trained than you are, but if we round out your disciplines I am confident you’ll be able to walk away from a fight with her without being beaten to a pulp.”
Daisy could see the confusion on the two students’ faces. They couldn’t tell what was stranger, Daisy’s smile or her complimenting their matches. <And here we have my fundamental personality flaw,> she tried not to let her frustration show. <You try to be candid and honest with someone, and it comes off the wrong way. Fuck!> Despite her best efforts, the anger that had reduced to a simmer since her confrontation with Dr. Sanderson was returning. It was magnified by the fact that the last person she was able to be truly candid with was Danny, and he was gone. Head popped off like a pimple. She needed to get into see Dr. Johnson soon before she lost it.
Kyoshi’s eyes went from confused to wide and fearful as she picked up some of the Daisy’s ambient thoughts. “Thank you, Coach Meyers. We can’t wait to improve and become better Heroes.”
Daisy nodded, not trusting herself to speak. The simmering anger was reaching a boil now. She was pissed at herself for letting things slip, especially in front of a telepathic student. She was frustrated that she couldn’t meaningfully connect with someone. She was pissed these flashbacks kept popping up at the worst possible moments. And worst of all, she loathed that there was no end in sight. Sometimes she just hated her life.
“You must be our new alternative instructor,” Daisy hadn’t heard the approach, but she should have known better.
Her emotions were probably radiating like a bonfire for any empath in the vicinity. The concern in the therapist’s eyes only made Daisy more frustrated. To top it all off, the two Dr. Johnson’s were twins, so she was looking into a face she immediately disliked and associated with failure.
“Why don’t we step into my office, since we haven’t been formerly introduced,” his smile was genuine, conveying the warmth that had been snuffed out of Daisy long ago.
She wordlessly followed Dr. Johnson into his office, and was pleasantly surprised that the two Johnsons’ tastes were not as similar as their looks. West’s Dr. Johnson’s office was void of the niceties that decorated his brother’s back in New York. There was a sturdy desk in the center of the small space, but it was built for utilitarian purposes. It wasn’t made of rich, expensive wood from some far off country. The bookcases were the same as every other office at West, but they held many of the same volumes of texts as his brother’s far pricier ones. Beside those two features, the only other furniture in the room were two simple chairs. These chairs could have been found in any office in the country, and best of all, one of them wasn’t that stereotypical therapist chair.
<God, how I hated that fucking chair,> Daisy sat in one of the seats, trying to wrangle her bucking emotions.
Instead of jumping right into things like his brother, Dr. Johnson sat in the other chair and waited patiently for Daisy to make the first move. It took several minutes for Daisy to get the memories to stop, especially the ones about Danny. Those were always some of the hardest.
“I’m just here to make an appointment,” Daisy stated, wiping away a tear she didn’t realize she’d shed.
“Of course,” the therapist took out his planner and quickly scanned it. “How about we meet Saturday morning at ten? We can do a full two hours to meet your weekly requirements, and then get you on a schedule going forward.”
“Whatever you say, Doc,” she was not looking forward to spending her weekend time sitting in this office.
<You don’t have anything better to do,> she admonished herself.
“Excellent,” he jotted a note in his planner and then placed it on his desk. “Before I let you go back out there,” he gestured towards the closed door. “I’d like to talk about your anger for a minute.”
“Nothing to talk about,” she got to her feet, despite the therapists statement. “I’m always angry, just depends on how I handle the situation.”
Dr. Johnson nodded, lost in thoughtful contemplation for a moment. “Thank you for your time, Daisy,” he got to his feet and went to open the door for her.
“That’s it?” Daisy was more surprised than relieved.
“Of course,” Dr. Johnson hesitated with his hand on the knob. “Therapy is a two way street. It won’t work if you aren’t ready. Unlike my pretentious brother, I’m not going to force you into anything.”
Daisy laughed at the reference to her DVA therapist. “He is a douchebag.”
“He is indeed,” her new therapist smiled, but hesitated again in turning the knob. “May I ask one question before you leave?” Daisy nodded. “Are you planning on hurting yourself or anyone else before now and Saturday?”
The normal response would be “No” or a more convincing “Hell no”, but Daisy needed to stop and think about it. She had no intentions of harming herself. Some days she did, other’s she didn’t, but she had a purpose now, so she was in the latter category. Others though, she couldn’t speak for their safety.
“I’m not planning to do anything, Doc. But that doesn’t mean something won’t happen. I’m sure John will keep you in the loop if something does,” surprisingly the therapist nodded and opened the door for her to exit.
Mason and Kyoshi were gone now, probably back in the viewing room watching the in progress round. There were a few injured still lying around, but all were completely healed. Sanderson just liked to keep them around for a little bit to confirm everything was ok before releasing them. She spotted the man, standing next to one of his healers as they checked on one of the students. He visibly paled at the sight of her. No doubt his mind was thinking of all the horrible things she could do to him. She just smiled and kept on walking. This wasn’t the fake comforting smile she’d failed to give Mason and Kyoshi. This was something much more natural, a predatory smile. If Daisy was nothing else, she was a predator. A necessary evil unleased by the powers that be to take down other predators.
<Stop fucking around, Daisy,> she pulled her thoughts away from the doctor. <You’ve got work to do.>