36: White Turtleneck
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The next morning, Brook wasn’t feeling much better. We hadn’t been able to cuddle properly like I’d hoped, her chest just hurt too much for it. When I thought they would be awake I went to politely knock on mum’s door to ask what we should do, and Petra answered the door, already dressed.

“Good morning Elsie,” she smiled pleasantly.

“Um, Brook isn’t feeling good. She’s been trying to hide it, but she’s in a lot of pain,” I said hesitantly. “Oh and um, good morning.”

“Ah, yes,” she nodded, then turned to look inside at mum.

As she turned, I got a look inside too and saw… well, not a whole lot. The bed was presentable, even if they hadn’t made it yet. Definitely not destroyed like they’d had a night of wild sex. Mum was sitting up and tapping away on her phone, hair up in a bun to get it out of the way for sleeping. Was I wrong? Were they not dating?

“Diana, Brook is still injured, should we go now?” Petra called back.

Mum looked up from her phone, looking thoughtful for a moment, then gave a shrug and nodded, “Let me get dressed and find that mask.”

“Give us a moment Elsie, we’ll be out soon,” the half-goddess told me, shifting to block the view into the room again. “I suggest you and Brook also get yourselves presentable, we’re going out.”

“Where?” I asked, confused now. They had something planned?

“To Penrith,” she winked, then gently closed the door.

To… Penrith? What the hell? Why were we going on a portal adventure while Brook was hurt? Unless it was to see a healer emerged…? Probably.

I turned and went back to my room to get both Brook and myself moving. I’d never been to Penrith before, and I heard it was a bit… intense there right now.

Fifteen minutes later and we were stepping through a portal created by a bored looking girl in some sort of goth outfit turned superhero costume. She looked so goth in fact, with her dark streaky mascara and makeup that I thought she looked more like a villain than anyone who’d answer a phone call from Petra. The large and heavily modified gun she had slung over one shoulder didn’t help either. It had skulls on it.

“Thank you for picking us up on short notice Lethargy,” Petra said, tugging at the collar of what I was calling her goddess casual-wear.

Both of the older women had changed into clothing that was both casual and still in line with their hero personas. Petra wore what could only be described as a robe-like shirt and pant combo, while mum wore ice blue jeans and a white turtleneck. Both had masks on that covered the upper halves of their faces.

“No problem boss,” Lethargy shrugged, not a smile to be found on her anywhere. Maybe she kept them at home? “Saved me from having to follow Seraph around while she does… whatever it is she does these days.”

“Something useful, I hope,” mum sighed, rolling her eyes.

Lethargy just shrugged again, going back to her phone like we weren’t all chatting through a rift in space. “For someone without any self-protective powers, she sure does like diving into the thick of it all. At least she’s admitting she needs someone to watch her back these days.”

With a wave of her hand, Petra ushered us all through and we stepped into what appeared to be some sort of featureless room. Our rifter immediately opened another one, and we were stepping through that one too.

“Payment should be through… now,” Diana said, tapping at her phone.

“Cool,” Lethargy said in a monotone, closing the rift without another word.

Gosh, that girl had been something. I wish I’d had enough time to maybe try and talk to her, or work up the courage to anyway. She was just really interesting to my weird as fuck brain. Ah well, I wasn’t a social butterfly anyway. It probably would have been Brook doing all the talking while I cowered behind her...

Anyway, the goth girl had dumped us in front of a fairly nondescript suburban home, except for some rather conspicuous front lawn decorations. Namely, a twin pair of automated turrets. They were squat, brutal looking things, painted all in black that swivelled this way and that as they lazily scanned their surroundings.

“Um…” I began, faltering as I stared at the two large weapons.

“We take care of our old girl,” mum winked, opening the front gate and stepping onto the path that led to the front door of the house. Damned mysterious hero stuff.

Tentatively, Brook and I followed mum and Petra until we stopped in front of the door. Raising her hand, mum had barely knocked once before the door flew open to reveal the tiniest elderly woman I’d ever seen. It was like the wikipedia page for “lovely old woman” had come to life and stepped out of the screen. Although, I didn’t even know if such a page existed… point stands though.

“Ah, Levice and Pallas, good to see you my dears!” the woman exclaimed with a surprisingly strong voice. Then the old woman’s eyes fell on the two of us behind them, and her happy smile almost blinded me. “Who are these two lovely young women? Oh please, all of you, come inside!”

“The small one is my daughter, and the tall one is her girlfriend,” mum said blandly, taking the door and holding it open for the rest of us as the tiny old woman tottered off into the house.

Wait, why were there two very deadly looking automated turrets guarding this old woman’s house again? Because like, they could have just gotten her a big dog or something. Actually no, that wouldn’t work, because she seemed like the type to turn even the most terrifying attack dog into a happy drooling puppy in about three seconds flat.

“Oh that’s adorable!” came the old woman’s reply from further into the house. “Come, come, what can I do for you fine ladies this morning?”

“The tall one, Brook, is injured and requires your… expertise,” Petra stated, sounding rather bewildered. You and me both Petra.

We all followed the small woman into what looked like a living room, except it was missing the staple TV set, as well as anything else close to being recognisably from this century. In the center of the room was a small dining table, floral tablecloth thrown over it and chairs with matching cushions.

“Please, sit down everyone,” the older woman said, ushering us all into the seats. “What is wrong my dear?” she said to Brook with a caring smile.

“Uh, some di— someone threw me against a wall and busted up my ribs,” Brook replied hesitantly, glancing at the two heroes for confirmation that she said the right thing.

“Oh, had a bit of a bump did we?” she asked with a sombre nod. “Let me go get you some tea for that, it’ll fix you right up.”

“What?” my girlfriend asked, looking very confused now. I felt the same, how the hell was granny’s tea going to fix probably broken bones?

Mum was quick to shush the both of us with a warning glare, and we settled back down into our chairs and exchanged one of those looks that communicated a lot more than any words could. If there had been words though, they would have been something like, “What the fuck is going on?”

We were silent for several minutes as the sound of tea preparation echoed through the house, before she finally came back with a little tray containing tea and biscuits. It even had a cute little floral cover over the tray that matched the tablecloth.

Humming as she did so, she poured the tea out for us all into tiny cups, then dished out the little biscuits. They looked like the type of flavourless kind that you always found in this type of setting. The kind that companies kept making exclusively because old ladies like this one liked to have them with their tea.

“Drink up girls, it’s very good for you,” she urged us with a beatific smile.

Shrugging, Brook did as asked, taking the cup and sipping gently from the hot liquid. Instantly her eyes were wide, and she stared down at her tea in shock. I saw her mouth the words, what the fuck, although she had the presence of mind to shield her lips behind the cup.

Seeing her reaction, I reached down and took a sip from mine as well. Oh my goddess… it was incredible. Not the tea, that was the same old thing, but what happened when it hit my tongue was something magical.

It was as though every single little bump and bruise I had was soothed, and with the next sip the effect increased. My whole body felt soft and warm and calm in a way that I had never felt before. I couldn’t imagine what it must feel like to Brook, who was probably having everything fixing itself within her. It certainly looked like it from the way she was poking at her ribs.

“Thank you,” Brook finally breathed, awe in her tone. “That’s some really good tea.”

“That’s alright, dearie,” she replied, smiling again as she mimed lifting a teacup to her face. “Now make sure you both finish it, we wouldn’t want any to go waste. Would we?”

Our visit after that was short, and we never learned the old lady’s name, which I don’t think was an oversight on our two chaperones’ part. I got the distinct impression that she was a very important and well guarded secret of the OMR. Someone who could heal like that would have all sorts of awful people hounding her… or worse.

 

****

 

With Brook healed, life seemed to settle into a weird new version of normal over the next week or so, and a number of things happened. Most terrifying of all was that my father was let out on bail, free now to roam the streets with his new crew of emerged haters or whatever it was he did these days.

On a far better note though, we managed to get a few videos done with the guys, who were now treating us as part of their crew, including paying us. It was starting to look like we’d be setting up a youtuber network together, the girls having a few channels of their own, but we pooled all the income in a single company and then dished it out in a way that kept everyone afloat. It was pretty amazing, and I was getting more and more pumped for the future.

Speaking of the future, Petra, who I was now quietly referring to as my future mum, began staying over almost every other night. She apparently lived alone, and had been getting lonely. Or so the story she told us went anyway. I saw the looks that she and mum shared though, the way they stood close together, the secret little touches when they thought no one was looking. I was totally not imagining thing now.

Brook and I were not nearly as subtle. We giggled and tumbled around the house frequently, wrestling over who got the last cookie that we’d bought and other stupid shit that had mum rolling her eyes at us. She loved it though, I caught her smiling at us goofing around on more than one occasion.

Other than my relationship with Brook beginning to flower in ways that seemed to build on our long friendship rather than replace it, there was one important moment. It was the next saturday after she moved in, and we were cuddling on the couch looking at lesbian memes on our phones, when Petra snapped into the living room. Like, literally just… crack, and she was there in full armour. Gave me a hell of a fright.

“Diana!” she called, her big cape snapping as she turned.

“Yeah?” Mum asked, wandering into the living room.

“Those blasted spikes in leyline drainage are happening again and it is incredibly frustrating!” the bronze helmeted woman exclaimed, thumping down into one of the breakfast counter stools. “Who on earth could be using magic around here?”

Oh. Oh dear. I’d kinda forgotten about that little thing… Maddy and her new friend.

“Um,” I said into the silence that followed Petra’s mini rant. “I think I know who…”

That got everyone’s attention, and I shrank away from their stares. Petra had an almost manic expression on her face that was kinda terrifying.

“Who?” she demanded.

“Maddy and her new friend,” I said meekly. “She uh… this is going to sound crazy, but she had a woman from another dimension fall into her house. That woman was a mage and she taught Maddy as thanks for helping her.”

Petra was silent for a long moment as she stared at me, until a smile slowly crept onto her face.

“You need to tell me everything about them,” she said excitedly, leaning forward with a gleam in her eyes. “I thought it would be years before native mages began to crop up, but if there’s already mages here, especially one from another reality. This is exciting news!”

I only hesitated for a moment, but then I spilled what I knew about them. Which honestly wasn’t a whole lot. I didn’t even know where Maddy lived, or at least I couldn’t remember if she’d told me. I was a little confused by her response in the end. I thought she’d be like, going after them for the illegal practice of magic or something, but apparently not. Petra rushed off after that, intent on tracking down the new mages, mum sighing exasperatedly in her wake.

Other than those events, not a whole lot happened. Not a peep from my father, who was apparently staying home most of the time. Going to college was a bit of a problem though, we were still wary, so Petra enchanted these little necklaces that we had to wear. We just had to mentally yell at her through them and she’d come running to help us. Neat, if a little worrying that we even needed them.

Everyone had heard about what had happened with dad too, and I mean everyone. My cousin’s friends, Rosie’s old friends, had been trying to spin it that I was some sort of dangerous emerged on the loose, and somehow a video had gotten out to show just that. They weren’t entirely wrong either… I was dangerous, or at least my powerset would be in the wrong hands.

People knew who I was now, you could see it in the way everyone looked at me as I walked around campus with Brook or my other friends. The story even got picked up by local news at one point a few days after the incident. The world was beginning to treat powerful emerged the same way it treated celebrities, which is to say they went off on wild tangential speculation about them and who they might be, what they might be like. All that kind of thing and more.

There seemed to be some growing question about which “side” I was on. Was I a villain, was I a hero? Was I one of the few who rode the line between those two? Some even thought I might already be one of those, and they had just discovered the identity of some hero or other. All in all, it was a mess and it was playing hell with my anxiety. The only positive was the amount of traffic our youtube channels were getting but… fuck, I just wanted to go to college, be gay and skate.

So on the monday after dad had attacked Brook, we made our way off campus with the guys to film more skate videos when a reporter ambushed us. Not just any old reporter either, but some bitch from Fox News.

“Elsie Monahan, may I have a word?” she called, rushing over towards us.

“Oh shit,” Eric growled, shifting his skateboard to hold it like a shield along his forearm. Giving the woman a death stare, he said, “She’s not talking.”

The reporter didn’t budge, she just ignored him. “Elsie, is it true that Mystrix Pallas has said that you are significantly more powerful than her?” the reporter called, trying to get past my friend.

Oliver joined him, using his board to block her the same way Eric was, while Brook shielded me with her body. What she asked worried me though, the school faculty had been talking it seemed, which meant they weren’t my friends.

“Pallas was talking her up so that the idiots who’d dragged her into a room to interrogate her would let her go,” Brook said derisively. “Do you really think anyone is stronger than Mystrix fucking Pallas? Come on, even Fox News can spin better lines of bullshit than that.”

“I’m surprised they still have reporters out and about,” Oliver laughed acidly. “I thought they only had the one that sucks the president’s dick in press briefings at the whitehouse.”

“Do you think the president’s dick is all busted up from injecting it with steroids or whatever like that other guy, his friend, whatever his name was,” Eric asked casually, passing a sidelong grin to Oliver.

I was about to say something about that all being really gross, when I realised what they were doing. If they said awful disgusting stuff about the president and Fox, they wouldn’t be able to air half the footage they got.

“Elsie!” the reporter called, ignoring the guys. “Is it true that you are secretly a villain?”

Okay that one was stupid.

“Considering I know two heroes very well,” I laughed, peeking out from behind my girlfriend. “Two heroes who know my full powerset, yeah no… that would be dumb.”

“No, no more talking,” Brook said, moving me back behind her. “We’re going now.”

And we did, hopping into the guys’ car as the woman followed us and continued to throw dumber and dumber questions at me. If this shit kept happening, I was going to have to drop out or something awful like that. I couldn’t handle being pushed into the local media spotlight… my anxiety would tear me apart.

They tried to follow us in their dumb van thing as we made our escape, and suddenly we had a bigger problem on our hands. Something odd was up though, something had my hackles standing on end.

“Shit,” Brook swore, glancing at me. “Should we call her?”

“I don’t know…” I said worriedly as Eric pulled up to a red light.

“Call who?” Oliver asked, turning back to look at us from the passenger seat.

Closing my eyes and ignoring his question, I pulled the simple little necklace up from around my neck and spoke clearly into it. “Mystrix Pallas, there is a reporter and her crew following us. The situation feels weird. We’re in our friends car.”

When nothing happened to indicate it had worked, I opened my eyes and frowned down at the little silver bead on a chain. Had it worked? Had she heard me? Wait… no, I needed to like, mentally say it, not physically. Just as I closed my eyes to try again properly however… she arrived.

She slammed into the space above the intersection like a space ship coming out of hyperspace, cloak and robes whipped into a frenzy by the force of the arrival. She was pretty damn intimidating when she was in full righteous hero mode, helmet shining with the afternoon light and all.

“Reporter of Fox News,” she boomed, her voice amplified as she stared over us at the clearly labelled van. “You will not follow this girl any more. She is under my protection, and I would not see her harassed or harmed for your viewer’s entertainment. Begone!”

Just as suddenly as she’d arrived, she was gone again. The only warning we had for what happened next was the hiss-roar of the missile as it came in. Pallas was slapped out of the air like she’d just met the fist of a god, and the explosion rocked the car, shattering the windshield. Then the airbags went off with a bang, and our view of the outside world was shuttered, all except the screaming.

 

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