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Pure-Hearted



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Sun Feb 09, 2020 3:22 am
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AlyTheBookworm says...



Daniel Lapitan



Danny woke up to dim sunlight streaming through the old van's windows, uncomfortably cold and stiff in a curled up position. Blinking groggily, he ran a hand through his hair and sat up in the passenger seat. He was alone. He didn't remember falling asleep, and for a moment his mind was blissfully blank as he tried to remember how he'd gotten there and what he'd been doing.

Then he remembered everything.

Ion.

The realization made Danny's eyes burn and he struggled to swallow over the lump in his throat. It still didn't feel real.

He found himself wishing that he was able to use his power on himself. He'd always been able to give his friends some measure of comfort or peace or hope or confidence, but he was helpless to do anything about the emotions that were smothering him. Choking. Crushing.

Breathe.

He let out a shaky exhale and grasped for the door handle, then stumbled outside. The trees around the clearing they'd parked Betsy in dripped with condensation, and the air was full of a chilly fog that hadn't yet been burned off by the rising sun.

With a twinge of panic, he wondered where everyone else was. Images of Jack, Yohan, Mira, and the others being captured by Onyx flickered through his mind, and his heart began to race.

Then they came tromping out of the woods and into the clearing. Nat and Mon were in the lead, holding plastic shopping bags and talking quietly to eachother. Jack wasn't far behind.

The sight of them filled Danny with relief. "Where've you guys been? Where's Mira and Yohan?"

Mon looked up and raised an eyebrow as Danny's disheveled appearance. "We needed supplies. There's a gas station not too far from here, so we went out and bought what we needed."

Jack plopped a couple bags of chips into Danny's arms. "I hope you don't mind doritos for breakfast. They didn't have much to choose from."

"And Mira? Yohan?" he insisted.

"Here."

Danny turned to see Yohan climbing out of the back of the van.

"Mira's still sleeping," he said.

"You're jumpy today!" Nat noted as she, Mon, and Jack headed towards Betsy.

Danny felt his face flush in embarassment. He scratched his neck and shrugged noncommittedly. The fear and panic had drained away as quickly as they had come, leaving him feeling silly. When had he gotten so paranoid?

When Ion... He forced his mind not to follow that line of thought.

"After Mira's woken up and we've all eaten something, we should talk about our next steps," Mon said.

Everyone nodded their understanding, and the group settled into the familar routine and rote actions of an ordinary day on the road.

After the other day's disaster, it felt wrong. Nonetheless, time kept on tumbling forward, and they still needed to do normal stuff like eating and breathing and figuring out how to not die. The world hadn't stopped for Ion, and it wouldn't stop and politely allow them to grieve either. Nope. Onyx wasn't going to let them slip through his fingers just like that. He'd be after them again in no time.

The thought made Danny sick. As he ate, the chips tasted bland and seemed to stick in his throat. Still, he manged to choke them down eventually.

The rest of the group was ready not long after Danny finished, and the six of them gathered together.

"Onyx is going to be after us. We need a plan." Yohan summed it up concisely.

There was a pause, and then Danny spoke up. The words felt strange, like something someone else would say. But still right somehow.

"We have to stop him. Whatever it takes, we can't let him keep doing this."

A flicker of surprise crossed over his friends' faces as they turned to Danny, and he felt his face heat up again.

"...We will," Mon answered. "But we can't just yet. We're not ready- yesterday is proof of that."

"Then what's next?"

Mon took a deep breath. "I suggest that we get as far away from Onyx as possible. Just find a safe place to lay low for a while. Onyx will have his guard up and people out searching for us after our break-in the other day, so it'd be stupid to try something now."

Mira chipped in, her voice wry. "Also, we've been sleeping in a van in the woods and living on snacks and fast food. We'll need more resources if we're going to take on someone like Onyx."

There was a short silence as they all realized the same thing. Their odds were so, so terrible. Jack shot Danny a pleading glance and he obliged her. Stirring up his power, a kind of burning warmth in his chest, he reached out to his friends and gave each of them a little bit of courage, confidence, hope.

They all seemed to stand up a little straighter, to breath a little easier, and Danny felt grateful that he could at least help them in this small way.

He met each of their gazes, willing them to feel his conviction. We can do this.
  





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Tue Feb 25, 2020 6:43 am
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ShapeOfVoid says...



MIRA




Even as she felt the surge of hope tingling her nerves, Mira thought: I can't do this.

Even as the others made plans; where to go, where to stay, Mira thought: It's my fault my fault all my fault.

Nobody was saying it, but she knew. She knew. It was so reckless, going to that base. Going with the barest hint of a plan; with no backup, no resources, straight into the heart of the fire. If they hadn't, Ion would be here. If Mira had let go of her hardheadedness, if she'd thought a minute beyond that rush of adrenaline she'd been missing, wanting, she'd have seen that it was a bad idea.

But Danny was making it better, wasn't he; that wave of confidence was him, wasn't it? Mira almost didn't want it - she wanted to punish herself. But she smiled at him. And she smiled at Nat, who'd soothed her to sleep.

And Reaper was right there, nuzzling her foot.

So she pushed herself up.

"Right. Alright." She said. She breathed, in and out, in and out; and started pacing.

"Okay. First, let's pool in our remaining cash," she said.

Jack nodded. "We're gonna need clothes, food that isn't chips, some upgrades for Betsy..." she trailed of, her eyes faraway, and Mira understood that this was what it was going to be like from now on: everyone a little of kilter, a little bit sad.

They were going to make it work.

Jack cleared her throat. "I.... know a place. Where we can crash. It's not much, but..." but more than a truck and clearing in the woods, Mira thought. No offence to Betsy.

"Okay. Okay, yeah, we need accommodation first," Monica said. She looked so sad, and Mira knew she was blaming herself too. It was so Monica of her; to blame herself for something she didn't have any hand in.

Yohan was stoic, his yo-yo going to and fro, to and fro. He'd gone back for Danny. So selflessly. Mira wished she'd gone back for Ion, but she knew herself. She lacked that kind of courage. She was not a hero; she didn't belong in Pure-Hearted. She was just a deceiver. A cowardly fox.

They cleared away their traces from the clearing, erased some of the obvious truck tracks. After an hour or so they clambered back on to Betsy.

"Where are we going then, Jack?" Natalie asked. She'd been so strong, and Mira admired her for her resilience. For not breaking down at the first sign of hardship.

"I'm not sure," Jack said. "But I think I can find it."
I was eleven years old
and I'd lost my mother,
and my soul.
And the crucible
gave me you.

mA
  





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Sun Mar 08, 2020 9:32 am
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Europa says...



MONICA


A dark room. The air clogged by a black vapor. Onyx sat in the middle of the cloud, eyes closed as if in prayer, chest rising and falling smoothly. A tiny frown crossed his face as the beam of a flashlight found it through the gloom. The figure behind the beam shied back, obscured by the mist.

"Sorry, Onyx. I didn’t know you were busy.”

Onyx opened his eyes and stood up, the mist congealing around him and settling back underneath his skin. He gave the intruder a pleasant smile. “Oh, don’t worry about it, Kaz. I’m sure you have a very good reason for disturbing me.”

Kaz nodded, but Monica could see him nervously lacing and unlacing his fingers. “I thought you’d want a report on the damage.”

“Good man.” Onyx patted Kaz on the shoulder and he relaxed. “Luckily, you caught me just as I was finishing up.”

Onyx’s eyes drifted to the corner where Monica was standing. She felt the sudden urge to hide, to find some way to wake herself up, but Onyx’s gaze had returned to his visitor. “Well, go on.”

Kaz puffed out a quiet breath. “It’s not looking great. The deserters managed to cave in a good half of the compound on their way out and We—we’re still finding bodies.”

Onyx’s pleasant expression hardened. “Any survivors?”

“A few but...” the visitor shook his head and rubbed at the back of his neck.

“I see.” Onyx pulled the curtains away from a window, illuminating his face. In all her time in his service, Monica had never seen him wear an expression so dark. He stared out at the piles of rubble, his Grims crawling over it like an upset colony of ants. “I’m afraid this is my fault."

Kaz was quick to protest. “You never asked for them to attack like this.”

“No, I didn’t” Onyx looked over his shoulder at his visitor. “But Monica Brazen was with them.”

“So she really was here.” Kaz shook his head. “I was hoping it was just a rumor.”

“If only it was.” Onyx turned his attention back to the window. “But the fact remains that it’s true. She’s allied herself with our enemies, who it seems I’ve underestimated.” His scowl deepened for a moment, then he took a long, steadying breath and the smile was back. “No matter. we know better now, don’t we?”

“I...guess?”

“Of course we do. Now, if you would tell Caroline and her team I’d like to see them, that would be extremely helpful.”

Caroline. Monica’s stomach twisted. She remembered that girl, her eagerness and drive. Her viciousness even compared to her fellow Grims. Kaz grinned wolfishly and hurried to carry out his task, and Onyx let out a satisfied sigh, all the guilt and pensiveness from earlier gone. Almost imperceptibly, his eyes slid back to the corner where Monica was standing.

“Your move.”


Monica jolted awake with her heart racing. The RV was still and Jack was standing over her.

"Oh, sorry. I didn't know you were such a light sleeper." She backed up a few steps. "We're here."

Monica nodded, then sat up and stretched. She followed Jack outside, where the rest of the Purehearts were already gathered. Monica came up to stand beside Natalia and looked out at their new sanctuary.

"An abandoned motel?"

Daniel shrugged on her other side. "It worked before. There's a crazy amount of abandoned buildings in this city, Jack and I stayed here for weeks and no one even gave it a second look."

"Yep." Jack jerked a thumb at Yohan. "The only reason we left before that is because this guy smashed through our wall and caused a commotion."

Yohan shrugged. She expected him to order them onward, but he remained silent. Instead, Monica nodded to Jack and Danny. "You know this place, lead the way."

Jack blinked, taken aback. "Oh...okay."

As she and Danny moved to the front of the pack, Monica dropped to the back and put a hand on Yohan's arm. "You okay?"

Yohan jerked his arm away and scowled over at her, his chain clinking oppressively. "I can handle myself."

"That wasn't what I was asking."

"I'm fine." Yohan pulled ahead of her. "Why don't you do something productive instead of wasting your energy on something so pointless."

Monica watched him work his way into the heart of the group and shook her head.
He's licking his wounds, just like the rest of us.

The thought made the passing headlights of cars look like glowing eyes, the flickering shadows all containing Onyx's form. She shook her head again, more vigorously, but the way his eyes had lingered on her stuck in her mind.

"Monica?" Natalia's voice snapped her back into reality. The group was all in front of one of the Motel's peeling doors, several yards ahead of her.

Monica jogged over, and when she caught up Nat gave her a questioning look. Monica waved her hand dismissively as Yohan rammed the door in.

Samirah frowned. "Jack, couldn't you have just tripped the key reader thing?" She gestured to the boxy contraption below the handle.

Jack shook her head. "The thing's dead. Nothing I can do without a power source."

They filed in, plopping their sparse supplies on the moldering counters.

"How'd you and Dan get in on your own then?" Samirah persisted.

"Our room had a broken window."

Monica looked around. The room wasn't much, a square of bare floor with the remnants of appliances and a lone bed frame. The smell of old dust and mildew thickened the air. She tried not to think of Caroline and her cronies prowling the hall, spotting the broken door. She dug her fingernails into her palms.

It was just a dream, keep it together.

"I've already had some rest, I'll keep watch first."

No one was awake enough to protest. Jack and Natalia went back to get blankets from Betsy and they settled in for the night. Monica sat near the door, alert for any stray rustle in the air, the crackle of disturbed earth. She thought of Onyx's easy, menacing stare. It was as if those eyes were still on her, daring her to defy him again, urging her to make a move.

It was just a dream. she told herself again firmly. just a dream...but it was so clear...

She jumped as she felt someone settle down beside her.

"It's okay, it's just me." Nat's voice wreathed around her, calming her nerves.

"You should be asleep." Monica caught a glimpse of her eyes reflecting the moonlight and quickly looked back toward the door.

"I know, but you seem a little out of sorts right now."

Monica's heart thudded once against her chest as she felt Natalia scoot closer. "I'm not out of sorts."

"Monica, I know you just as well as you know yourself. You're out of sorts."

They were almost touching now, close enough that Monica could smell the faint scent of herbs that always surrounded her. Monica tore her mind away from the thought and tried to focus on their situation. In the morning they'd need to look at their money. They needed to restock their food supply, look at getting better civilian clothes...

Natalia leaned her head against her arm. Monica looked down at her. Everything she wanted to say but couldn't making her mind swim."You don't need to talk about it if you're not ready," Nat's voice was feather-soft. "just know that when you are, I'm here for you."

Monica swallowed. "Yeah. Thanks, Nat."

Her attention drifted back towards guard duty, senses buzzing with her nerves and the warmth of another body against hers, but the sky lightened and Jack took her shift without incident.

Maybe it really was nothing. But the feeling of eyes on the back of her neck didn't wane as she lay down, and she couldn't bring herself to sleep.

...


Morning came too slowly. When she was shaken from her fitful doze to find the rest of the group gathered in the remains of the kitchenette, she let out an invisible breath of relief and stood. "How's it looking?"

Mira looked up at her, slightly dumbfounded. "Um...actually pretty good."

They moved aside to let Monica get a look. Sitting open on the counter was a case full of hundred dollar bills.

"That's Onyx's case!" Monica whipped her head around to stare at Yohan. "How did you..."

Yohan gave her a bored look. At least that meant he was feeling better than last night. "I saw someone carrying it back when I went back for Danny."

Monica nodded. She could imagine how easy it would have been to take down one Grim with a wrecking ball and the element of surprise. "I guess that takes care of money. Let's figure out what we need."

Jack leaned thoughtfully against the counter, then jumped back when it cracked. "Well, I know Betsy is long overdue for a tune-up. And obviously, there's food and stuff,"

"Clothes," Monica added. A couple of them gave her an odd look. She sighed. "Look, the goal here is to blend in and we can't do that if we look like a pack of homeless kids. Some well-meaning normal person might start poking around, or at the very least it'll make us easier to spot for Onyx's Grim."

Yohan nodded. "We'll each take a bit of this and split up. Mira, you can make yourself look like an adult. Why don't you and Jack take care of the repairs for Betsy."

Monica resisted the urge to roll her eyes as he continued to delegate. He'd always assumed he'd had the right even before the rebellion, and the habit still grated on her. Then again, none of the others seemed keen on taking charge.

Jack and Mira dropped them off in a crowded shopping center, the few hundreds in their pockets illusioned into less suspicious tens and twenties. Monica tried not to feel too exposed as they entered the nearest department store and tried to look casual as she rode the escalator with Nat to the women's section. It had been too long since she'd been in a place so crowded. The pressure of their presence weighed on her chest. Monica felt Nat's eyes on her and did her best to channel her inner Yohan and keep her unease below the surface. Nat nudged her.

"Hey, why don't we shop for each other?"

"What?"

"Shop for each other. We could split up and each pick out outfits for the other."

Monica frowned. "I don't know, we're already spread out as it is."

"Oh come on, Mon." Nat tugged her into the aisles. "You used to be more fun!"

Monica wanted to protest, but then she made the mistake of looking into Natalia's eyes and noticing how they shone with enthusiasm and found herself saying "I guess it wouldn't hurt anything..."

"You're sure you're okay with it?"

"Uh, yeah. Yeah, I'm fine with it."

And then Natalia was jogging away. "Meet you back here in a few minutes then!"

Monica stood at the top of the escalator alone, the music coming over the intercom bouncing around the walls. She blew out a breath. "Okay, clothes shopping. I can do that."
  





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Mon Apr 06, 2020 6:36 pm
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Europa says...



Jack


The waiting room of the auto shop was spacious and clean, even Jack had to admit it was a step up from the inside of Betsy--there was only so much you could do in such a confined space that was home to six teenagers, no matter how neat they were.--but it smelled like tires, just like the garage back at the compound. It was strong enough to dull the fluorescent lights to the same yellows of the old light bulbs, bring back the feeling of grease between her fingers as she navigated an engine, the eyes of a stone-faced instructor boring into the back of her head until she was sure she was being watched by some kind of predator.

"Jack, is something wrong?" At the sound of Mira's voice, Jack shook herself out of the past. Mira was staring at her, frowning like a concerned mother, which given the circumstances was a scarily accurate descriptor. To sell the lie they were related, Mira had turned herself into an older version of Jack. It was a little disorienting to look at someone and literally see yourself, but Jack supposed an upside would be that forty apparently looked good on her, at least in Mira's mind.

Jack did her best to smile. "Yeah, I'm good."

Mira raised an eyebrow. "You sure? Cause you seem a little tense."

Jack sighed. That was another side effect of living in such close quarters. People noticed things about you. "I guess I could use some fresh air, is all. It's nothing."

Mira stood up. "Well, the guys would probably appreciate us doing a bit of grocery shopping, anyway. I think there was a place down the street."

Jack gratefully followed her out the door and took a long breath of clean air. "Thank goodness, the smell in there was giving me a headache like you wouldn't believe."

She kept pace with Mira's easy stroll, squinting against the Florida sun. A long silence passed between them before Mira spoke again. "So...how are you holding up?"

Jack felt herself begin to tense. "What do you mean?"

"I mean Ion. After he...after we paid our respects, you sort of...disappeared. I guess I just feel kind of bad for not asking earlier."

Jack wavered for a moment, watching as Mira stumbled through the sentence like she was trying to find her footing on unexplored ground. "You're checking up on me?"

"I guess."

"That's new," Jack muttered to herself, then mentally kicked herself as Mira winced a little. "Sorry, I didn't mean it like that, I was just surprised. I mean, we don't talk that much."

Both girls slowed as the truth of the words sunk in.

"I know." Mira continued quietly, then offered her a small smile. "Maybe we should start fixing that."

Jack smiled. It was like Daniel said, everyone was moving forward in their own way. "Yeah."

Mira's smile turned sheepish. "I guess getting right into the personal stuff isn't a super great start though."

"Yeah...I'd start with favorite color or something."

Mira chuckled, then frowned a bit. "Come to think of it, I don't think I know what your favorite color is."

Jack couldn't help laughing a little. "I thought that'd be obvious."

"Why?"

Jack held up the purple ends of her hair. and Mira mouthed a silent oh "I see what you mean."

"So what about you?"

"I think that's a little obvious too." She held out the sleeve of her blue dress.

Jack nodded. "Touche"

"Okay, so I'll add that to the list of things I know you." Mira started ticking them off on her fingers. "You're a cat person, you like the color purple, and you hate the smell of tires."

"Yeah," Jack fought the urge to wince. After all, Mira didn't know. She shook away the feeling. "Speaking of cats, you didn't just leave Reaper in Betsy, right?"

Mira smiled slyly. "Nope." She opened her bag and tipped it so Jack could see inside. Reaper was curled inside, asleep.

"So we're sneaking a cat into a Target?"

"Looks like it."

Jack grinned. "I like the way you think."

...


Of course, they had to stop in the pet care aisle. Jack looked over the labels of the various felt mice and cat teasers as Mira loaded cat food into the cart.

"We should get him one of these."

Mira frowned. "That doesn't seem super essential."

"Well, no, but we do have literal thousands to spend. We don't have to, though."

Mira rolled her eyes and pulled a cat teaser off the rack. "You don't need to be so apologetic, you know."

"Sorry." The word slipped out on instinct, and Jack grinned sheepishly.

Mira tossed the cat teaser in the cart. "Seriously, Jack. Has anyone had a problem with you having your own ideas before?"

Jack once again though back to the garage, standing in a line with other Technopaths. The ghost of that tire-scent burned the inside of her nostrils. "Not these days."

Before Mira looked back at her, Jack didn't realize she had said it out loud. She started to apologize again, but Mira cut her off. "Hey, it's okay. I get it."

Jack's felt her breath catch a little. "You do?"

Mira stared back down into the basket of their cart. "Yeah, we all have something we'd rather forget. That's why the Purehearts chose us, right?"

"Oh...right." Jack felt her nerves settle. Whether it was in relief or disappointment, she didn't know.

...


They regrouped with the others with Betsy's cabinets stuffed with target bags and Reaper tussling contentedly with his new toy. Mira glanced over at Yohan, who as carefully pulling the tags off a dark green sweater.

"I still don't understand why you bought that," Monica said. "it's fifty degrees out."

"We're supposed to be blending in." Yohan pointed out, tossing a tag in the trash.

"Yeah, and?"

Yohan gestured out the window at the people on the street, all of whom were bundled in jackets. Monica stared for a moment, then shook her head. "Floridians are weird."

Jack parked in the lot of the old motel and started to follow the others out, but bumped into Daniel's back as he stopped suddenly. Beyond him, the others were also frozen. Jack squeezed around Daniel and down the steps.

"What's going--" She stopped. Spray painted on their door was a compass rose nestled in the center of a heart, the symbol of the Purehearts, with one grim edition. Surrounding the heart was the black image of a snake eating its own tail.

"Onyx." Yohan said the name with so much venom they almost stung as they hit the air.

"This doesn't make any sense," Danny muttered. "he's usually more discreet. Why would he risk being found out?"

Monica stared hard at the door. Her face was still, but her eyes were shadowed by dread. "Maybe he's decided he's done hiding." She turned away, towards Betsy. "We need to move before--"

Monica jumped back as a wall of concrete erupted from the ground in front of her and spread to surround them. Monica shouted something else, some kind of order, but Jack hardly heard. She stared at the wall, adrenaline building inside her like electricity. There was no way it could be her. Out of all the people Onyx could have sent, there was no way it would have been her.

"That was pathetically easy." The voice drove a nail through the back of Jack's skull, poisonous and full of contempt, but still familiar. "How on Earth did Hannah and Vittorio lose to you people?"

There she was, walking through a small opening in the wall at the head of the group and sealing them all in. Jack felt as if she were being petrified, her body slowly becoming rigid, heavy stone. "Caroline?"

"Jaquelin," Caroline sneered. Jack could remember what she'd looked like when she smiled, how her eyes sparkled as she laughed. "Don't think I'm going to waste my time on some Technopath."

She turned to signal her teammates. "Leave Monica to me. As for them, keep them alive." Her eyes flashed wickedly. "But just barely."
  





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Fri May 29, 2020 5:58 am
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AlyTheBookworm says...



Daniel Lapitan



“Keep them alive. But just barely.”

Danny felt a cold dread creep over him at those words. He gritted his teeth, balling his fists at his sides he fought the sudden fear that threatened to paralyze him. He hated that. He hated how afraid he became in these kinds of situations, how he froze up and time seemed to slow to an agonizing pace- every heartbeat pounding in his ears, his body beginning to shake uncontrollably.

It had always seemed so hilariously ironic to him in the past, so pathetic. He could control other people’s emotions, but controlling his own was near-impossible.

He felt his friends stiffen beside him at the subconscious recognition of his fear spilling over to them, and wrestled his emotions under control. Ion. Remember Ion.

The memory of Ion’s makeshift funeral shocked Danny back into reality, and he felt a cold calm creep over him as the terror was replaced by anger. They need to pay for what they did. For what they did to Ion- and to every one of us.

The wall of concrete now surrounded Danny and his five friends on three sides, leaving only one opening in which the Gatekeepers stood. The girl Jack had called “Caroline” was tall and wiry, with blazing eyes the color of amber- full of amusement and malice. At her side was a boy who looked like an angel, with golden curls, violet eyes, and a pair of tawny wings. As Danny watched, two other Grims entered the concrete enclosure and took their places at Caroline’s side: a small, black-haired little girl who resembled a doll and a somber, dark-haired boy who Danny recognized as a technopath named Liam.

Danny was almost disturbed by how much he hated them. He wasn’t used to feeling angry at other people. He tended towards a forgiving, patient, and gentle attitude. He’d always disliked fighting or confronting other people, even when they probably deserved it.

But something about him had changed over the past few weeks. All he’d ever wanted was to live peacefully. He never hurt anyone else. He only used his powers to help people. He kept to himself. But because of Onyx, his friend had been murdered and now he and the rest of his friends were in danger. The hatred and anger he felt towards the four people standing in front of him was so intense that he felt it burning hot in his chest- the same sensation he felt when he used his power.

“It’s our six against their four,” he said steadily. “They don’t have a chance.”

He reached out to each of his friends with his power, sending each of them a wave of confidence, courage, and hope as strong as he was able to create.

Caroline smiled, her expression full of contempt. “Make that five against five. Mari?”

Danny frowned, glancing at their surroundings as if a hidden fifth enemy might pop up from nowhere. What is she talking about?

Then someone shouted a warning. Too late.

Something heavy slammed into him from the side with the weight and momentum of what felt like a moving car, throwing him across the enclosure and into a concrete wall with bone-shattering force. Pain exploded all over his body at the impact, and he felt something break.

Suddenly just the act of breathing was agonizing, and Danny had to fight not to fall unconscious. His vision swam with spots, his eyes fluttering as he heard someone shout his name, tiny and echoing, as if it was coming from a great distance. Breathing raggedly, he recognized the feeling of bits of gravel and glass digging into his cheek and causing little beads of blood to well up from the cuts, his body crumpled and curled up where he’d hit the wall and fallen on the cracked asphalt of the motel’s parking lot.

A figure was walking towards him, swinging a weapon that seemed to blur in Danny’s swirling, flickering vision. At first it looked like a hammer. Then he recognized it. A giant metal disk, hanging from a heavy chain shackled to the person’s wrist.

“Yohan?” he breathed, nearly inaudible.

Why is my friend trying to kill me?

Danny reached out to Yohan with what power he was able to muster in his not-so-great condition of struggling not to pass out from the pain and panic, but came up against some kind of barrier. His friend’s mind was walled off, immune to the effects of Danny’s power. As if… As if someone else was in control.

Then it clicked. The little girl in the frilly, lacey dress. Danny had written her off as harmless and focused immediately on Caroline’s terrakinesis powers and the winged guy, whose powers he hadn’t figured out yet. The little girl and Liam the technopath hadn’t seemed dangerous, but now a fuzzy memory came to mind as he remembered the girl’s face, and that creepy, maniacal smile that seemed so out of place on her sweet, doll-like features.

He’d met her before, back before Onyx took over and overthrew Father. He couldn’t remember her name, but that wasn’t important. He remembered what she was. A puppeteer.

Danny pulled himself to his feet, every tiny movement sending fresh waves of pain through his body, and threw himself to the side just as Yohan’s “yo-yo” slammed into the wall where Danny had been standing a split second before.

“Yohan,” he gasped. “Fight it! She’s- she’s controlling you-“

His friend seemed totally uninterested in Danny’s pleas. He was wearing a vacant expression, his dark eyes glazed over as he moved forward slowly but steadily, swinging his yo-yo of death.

Danny looked around himself but, walled in as they were, there was nowhere to run.

I can’t fight Yohan. Not like this. He’ll kill me as easily as swatting a mosquito. I need to find the puppeteer and break her concentration.

As he staggered backwards, he noticed other fights going on around him in his peripheral vision. Monica, Nat, Mira, and Jack were each struggling against attacks from Caroline, Liam, and what looked like a giant cat. So the blonde guy was a shape-shifter. Great.

But where was the little girl?

Yohan suddenly lashed out with his yo-yo, faster than a striking snake. Danny tried to dodge, but his weak, bruised, and battered body wasn’t following through with it. The metal disc struck a glancing blow on his upper arm, throwing him to the ground again, and he felt bones shatter.

Danny bit back a scream, gritting his teeth against the mind-numbing pain. Tears welled up in his eyes, and the world seemed to sway and swirl around him… getting darker… He wanted to give in to it, just fall unconscious. If he did, it would stop hurting. He wouldn't have to be scared, or sad. He wouldn't have to fight anymore.

But then he’d die. And his friends would probably die too.

He looked up at Yohan’s dispassionate face hovering above him, eerily blank and expressionless. Then his gaze slipped down and he saw the little girl standing behind him.

She was giggling, her face lit up with a disturbing and sadistic glee as she slowly urged Yohan forward, to make the finishing blow.

Danny’s eyes locked onto hers, and she met his gaze. Then he used every ounce of his power to overwhelm her with a petrifying terror. He put everything he had into it, every bit of energy and will left in his body, to force her to feel the same crushing fear and horror he’d had to live through over the past month, all of that emotion crammed into a single moment.

The expression of malicious joy melted away, and the little girl started screaming uncontrollably.

At that exact moment, Yohan’s gaze became clear and alert. His eyes widened as he took in his surroundings, and what he’d been about to do.

Then Danny passed out.
  








"And what is the use of a book," thought Alice, "without pictures or conversations?"
— Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland