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16+ Mature Content

Strays, 1

by KocoCoko


Warning: This work has been rated 16+ for mature content.

“We are here to commemorate one of our greatest allies, or something like that,” Paranoia said, holding an unlit Molotov cocktail. She handed me the bottle. “Go ahead, Piper. I think you should have the honors” I took it hesitantly. I looked ahead of me, only to find a dumpster with an arm and leg sticking out of it. Apparently, dumping them into a garbage can and setting it ablaze was the traditional way to dispose of and honor our friend. I didn’t see the glory in it, but I suppose it must be better than having heroes have anything to do with it.

“Now,” Arachnie said, her voice posh and delicate, like always, “That seems a bit harsh, Noreen.” Only Arachnie and Lifeforce were allowed to call her by her real name. “Why don’t we say something nice? The Toymaker was a good friend to us and dear little Piper. It’s cruel not to give our final regards!”

Paranoia impatiently twisted her long hair around her finger. “Fine. Go on and say something. Make it quick.”

We all looked at the green dump. Paranoia's foot was bouncing erratically. We were able to sneak away into the dark alleys fine enough, but a bonfire would certainly catch a hero’s attention. “He was a good friend,” Lifeforce said, “I loved all the little puppets he made.” He spun a cigarette between his fingers. I sometimes feared that he’d lose it and burn me with those, but I think that’s just something Paranoia put in my head to keep me in line. Lifeforce was the calmest of the adults. He crossed his arms and closed his eyes, waiting for someone else.

Phoenix, who I forgot was standing beside me, spoke down to our newest member. In reality, the newbie was about as tall as him. “Crybaby? Any thoughts?”

“It’s Aura!” he yelled. I thought Crybaby fit him better, too. Out of them all, he got the most sucky power. Tears started welling in Phoenix’s eyes. Then I noticed my own eyes getting wet. “Dang it,” he wiped his cheeks, “Sorry guys.”

“Told you,” He sniffled and drew back, “Crybaby.”

“Will you two stop?” Arachnie shot us a glare with all eight of her eyes. Usually, she kept her non-human ones hidden, but now that they were bubbling with tears she couldn't hide them. Her fangs were freaky, too. She told us that they made her look less pretty, but I’m fairly certain an outer spine of spider legs moving on their own was what did it. She had piles of makeup and elegant clothes just to hide her features. “Phoenix, say your goodbyes,” she sobbed.

We were all outcasted, though. That's why we're here.

I wiped my face as fast as I could. The only one who wouldn’t cry was Paranoia. I think she was impervious to any emotion. Except for fear. She knew fear very well. Honestly, it was a bit annoying how easily she could psychoanalyze people. Let’s just say she wasn’t the best person to talk to in times of need. She twirled the black hair that reached the bottom of her back around her finger.

“Phoenix,” Arachnie wiped her tears with a handkerchief, “Go.”

Phoenix stepped up, his wings of flame flaring bright as ever. Sometimes, when he got mad enough, his arms and the corners of his eyes would flare up. I wonder if steam came out of his head, too… “Uh, we’ll miss ya. Youse was definitely entertaining.” His hand came and rubbed his neck. “I got nuttin’ else,” His accent was so strange to me. Deep in the heart of the city and yet he had a southern drawl. I think Arachnie had one, too, but she trained herself to hide it. It wasn’t ‘lady-like.’

Paranoia was next. “Bye, Winston. Sorry you’re dead.” That was the end of it.

We knew that having Crybaby speak would cause him to burst into tears, so I was the only one left. When I opened my mouth, my mind went completely blank. I couldn’t think of anything better than her. “See ya later, alligator.” No crocodile called back. Phoenix lit the Molotov in my hand, and I chucked it with as much force as I could. The garbage dump went ablaze in mere seconds. Heat washed over the group of us. There was silence as fire entranced us.

I couldn’t distinguish garbage smoke and burning flesh by the time I woke up. Lifeforce had chuckled. “Besides most of the adults, plus Paranoia, Winston was one of the first Strays… I think he’d be happy to have a traditional funeral. He would’ve been forty in a month,” He greased his hair back, just a few strands sticking out from his hold. “I remember when he was just fifteen and walked in on us. He sent these creepy Victorian dolls after Polar and the rest is history. That 'hero' was screaming like a little girl while those things chased him!”

Arachnie nodded with a solemn smile. “I remember back when we did burnings more often, dear ten-year-old Noreen asked if we could make s’mores! Over a dead man’s corpse! I couldn’t believe it, but then the Toymaker took marshmallows out of his pocket and we had the fire going all night!”

“I still don’t get why,” Paranoia said. “I was just hungry. And an open fire made me think of stuff on a stick,” she explained methodically. Then I heard her scoff, “He always was a bit of a child, wasn’t he?”

I smiled when I thought of him. Every day, Winston was the one who entertained the younger kids. He made puppet shows and toys all day, every day. I could tell him anything and he’d keep his pinky-promise no matter what. He was a real friend to us, despite his eccentricities. The teddy bears he stuffed were always so willing to comfort us, and the dolls he painted would dance and play whenever we were bored. They loved playing dress up with me and Winifred, specifically. Oh, right.

“What are we gonna tell Winifred?” I asked. Phoenix and Arachnie both became very uncomfortable, constantly shifting on their feet.

Paranoia shrugged. “Your brother has died. We give you our condolences.”

Lifeforce didn’t feel like arguing with her cold approach right now. I suddenly really wanted marshmallows.

Phoenix gritted his teeth. “Hey, Crybaby? Can you stop thinking about food right now? You’re making us all hungry.” Crybaby apologized as quickly as he could.

Arachnie peeked out the alleyway and grimaced. “The supes are here…” The rest of us sighed. Paranoia turned into a cloud of black smoke and floated into the sky with Phoenix soaring close behind. Arachnie used her webs and spider legs to help her climb up the building, despite her best attempts to not look like that girl from the exorcist. Us land dwellers were left to hide our faces in hoodies (except Lifeforce. He wore his face with pride) and quietly stalked home. A small apartment my dad owned that just barely fit most of us. At least the kids could have their own room now that Winston was gone, right?

Yeah. Positives, Piper, think of the positives. I think Cherry Bomb moved out to live in the undercity too. She needed more space to mess with explosives, so she and her sister Bubble moved out into the undercity, an abandoned subway tunnel that housed more outcasts. Sometimes you were born down there. Sometimes you didn’t like the hero government. Sometimes your powers were too deforming to ever be accepted by a world of strong, blonde superheroes with skin made of steel.

The thought of them made my blood boil. They were making the world weaker. Dependent. They were heroes. They always saved the day, but no one thought about when they didn’t! Nobody batted an eye when Crybaby was made an orphan and cried his eyes out when he lost everyone he loved. That’s where 'villains' came in. We were wronged our whole lives, demanded justice, and this is what we get? Hatred and disgusted looks? It just wasn't right.

We were the good guys, so why did those 'superheroes' have the big building and all that control?

Lifeforce took in a huff of his cigarette, amused by the smoke that he blew out. He'd been smoking since I remember. He did it for kicks. Would it kill him? There wasn't an effect on his stamina yet, so we all doubted it'd be the thing to kick his bucket.

"Do you think Winifred will be sad?" Lifeforce said, smiling as he took long and confident strides.

I didn't respond. Instead, Crybaby did. "She's just some living doll. I dunno if she can. She doesn't cry with me, so probably not."

Lifeforce shrugged. "Maybe she'll be dead when we get home."

"I don't think Winston made her. She's been a doll since forever."

"Well," Lifeforce smiled, "Relatives are known to have similar powers. Look at Piper.”

Under both of their gazes, my face went red. It was true, me and my dad had similar powers. He was the Rat King and I was the Pied Piper. I smiled when I realized I still had a piccolo in my pocket. I was tempted to grab it and start playing, but I’d certainly get made fun of and probably teased by the Strays. Whatever. I’ll just start playing really loud when Arachnie’s trying to get her beauty sleep. Then it would be everyone’s problem. I grinned to myself.

“So, um, Piper,” Crybaby walked right next to me, twiddling his thumbs, “Did you wanna go do something tonight? Like… Dinner, or something?”

I bit my tongue. “I’ll see what my dad thinks. Maybe we all can go.” I saw him deflate at the thought of it, but eventually smiled and nodded. I wasn’t sure about my feelings with him were yet. Mostly because, well, he could alter ours's so easily. I had to wonder if one day he’d make me love him. It seemed attraction didn’t spread easily, though. Thank goodness (evilness?). I had someone else already, anyways, but none of them knew that. Crybaby quickly scuttled up to Lifeforce and was stuck in awkward small talk the rest of the way home.

I kept my face to the sky. Upside was far better than the undercity, despite how many friends and family I had living down there. Nothing beat the twilight skies, even if light pollution was a bit overbearing. There were stories about how all heroes came from stardust. It was just some fairytale, but I could dream, right?

Before I could even think, the sky was gone and replaced with tiled ceilings. Pavement was now concrete stairs, and then we were in front of apartment 634. Lifeforce knocked very specifically. Three with his knuckles, two with his full palm. It was a beat any Stray knew by heart. Then, suddenly the door swung open. Arachnie greeted us with bared fangs. Then, her face turned back to the features of a human woman. She happily let us in, then locked three deadbolts and another four locks, then another five after that. She ran back into her room as fast as she could to stitch more webs together. It was a death-trap going into her room. You’d be stuck in a web, and… Well, she was nicknamed The Man-Eating Spider for a reason.

Phoenix sat on the couch, scrolling through his phone with a bored expression. Winifred, with all her locking, wooden joints, watched a teddy bear dance around the table. She was more like a mannequin than a doll. She couldn’t talk, so hopefully she hadn’t asked about Winston yet. Or, someone said it and she didn’t feel anything. She was called the Puppet for a reason. Thin strings were wrapped around her fingers. Besides that, nothing much was out of the ordinary. Nobody ever knew where Paranoia was. Sometimes she was stalking behind you, and sometimes she was sitting in a running bathtub with her clothes on (I get she liked feeling clean, but it was a bit much).

Then, my favorite. The Rat King was at the table petting Rascal, his favorite rat. Usually Rascal lived in a bush called my dad’s hair, but today he was being scratched on the head. The Rat King looked up at me. “Welcome back.” I smiled at him. His voice was like a warm blanket. Even in the cold depths of the undercity, he could somehow wrap around and make you laugh all night. “We heard the news. I’m glad you put him down the right way.”

In the corner I heard a dingy TV talking about Toymaker’s death. One of the gentler and younger supes was up to the microphone, with Osmosis and Commander standing in the background, overlooking a burning dumpster. She was about my age. “It’s…” Songbird hesitated. She looked over her shoulder and the Commander nodded to her. She turned back to the camera like a scared cat. “It’s unfortunate. We– We would’ve liked to have taken him into custody, but, well, um, he used– What’s it?” She turned to Osmosis, who yelled something inaudible to the camera. It zoomed in on her, then abruptly back to Songbird. “Excessive force! Yes. He used excessive force and, well, Thundershock can be kind of aggressive.”

Songbird, otherwise known as Carol Nancy Dixon, wasn't like your normal superhero. I've come to learn that she was much sweeter than Commander could ever pretend to be. She looked different, too, with albino eyes and hair as white as snow.

She was beautiful in a way only few could appreciate. I was one of them.

"Tā sǐ dé hěn píngjìng ma?" Dad said, staring mournfully at the television.

I nodded "Shì de." Winston was the friendliest, albeit creepiest, Stray that I had ever met. "Where's Winifred?"

"She went to Arachnie's room. She'll tell her about the news," Dad responded. It seemed he always knew who to talk to, when, and why. He always knew what to do. That's why he was our leader, despite Lifeforce clearly being more powerful.

"Hey, Dad? Do you care if I go out today? I wanna meet up with some friends," I asked, taking a seat next to Phoenix. He rolled his eyes and scooted over.

"Of course, lùzhū. Nobody saw your face, right?" Dad asked as Rascal scampered back up into his hair.

"Nah. I'll be fine."

So, as protocol, I left through my room window and ran down the iron-gridded stairs. I could still see a part of the building the Phoenix had burned with his wings. Now, another hero was trying to fix the damage. Stopwatch, able to reverse the effects of time on objects. Sometimes, I wonder what would happen if that was used on a person. Unfortunately, Stopwatch said it didn’t work on organic material.

No matter, the stroll was actually quite peaceful. My greatest strength was that I was unknown. Nobody knew the Pied Piper was me, despite just adding Pied to my name. There were hero interviews surrounding me. Whenever I passed by one of them, I snuck a middle finger or secretly spat on their shoes. Only a few of them noticed, but with cameras on them, they wouldn’t do anything. I was just another kid who hated supes and was probably racist or something. There were a lot of protests about how unnatural us powered-beings were, but they failed to realize how easily you could become one. A chance encounter with falling from a cliff could have you flying one second later. Only 33% of the population was actually born with powers.

The suburbs were much better than the heart, though. The hustle and bustle of city-life calmed down here. Attorneys were replaced with dads grilling and clerks were now playing with little kids in the yards. What if I was one of those kids? If we gave up our fight against oppression, I’d be living the best life. My dad was a smart guy. He’d be successful in anything he did. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I liked life now. I didn’t feel anything as a little girl was spun around a tire swing by an older boy.

There was a cat stuck in the tree next to them, though. I was urged to play a tune and slowly guide it down, but maybe this wasn’t the best time for that. Especially with all these goody two shoes families. I noticed a few of them already looking me up and down with a stink-eye. So, I climbed up on the tree and slowly scooped him into my arms. A few bites and scratches were nothing compared to the hidden bruise on my leg (Thanks a lot, Osmosis). The cat ran off into a bush as soon as I let him go.

Finally, I approached the largest house in the neighborhood. I scanned the front entrance, and then the side of the house. A blush crept onto my face as I jumped the fence. Careful to stay in the camera's blind spots, I climbed up to the second window. There was a balcony right beside me, but this was more romantic. The curtains were closed, but that didn’t stop me from trying to peak in. I gently knocked on the glass, in case her dad was there. I heard her fall off her bed and come running to the window, opening it with less excitement than usual. I was here for a reason, after all.

Her white hair shone in the setting sun, her red eyes turning to the amber off in the horizon. Her black dress was cotton soft whenever I wrapped my arms around her. Usually, her smile was so wide and full of life. Now, she wore a scowl full of irritation. “Well hello, Romeo. Nice to see you drop by,” she said, wryly. “Didn’t lure any heroes on your way here, I presume.”

“Sup, Canary,” I said back, smirking with as much charm I could muster.

Carol rolled her eyes. “Yeah, that’s not getting you out of this,” she said. “Now get in before you cause an accident or something.” At her command, I stepped into her room and she slammed the door shut. The first thing I did was greet the little dove that sat on her head frame. I rubbed his head and neck before Songbird cleared her throat. “You done?”

“Aw, little robin, why are you mad?” I said, sitting down on her bed. It was plump and soft. It came with being kid of the greatest hero in the land. Much better than an air mattress shared with a living doll. “Did my friends rough you up too much? I tried redirecting them.”

Carol crossed her arms and gritted her teeth. With a glare, she grumbled, “You spat on my face.”

Ah. Right… “The cameras ate it up?”

“Do you know how much teasing I suffered because of that?! It was humiliating!” She stepped closer to me, leaning over my head.

I sighed, “I’m sorry, okay? I had to stay in character! What do you think my dad would say if he saw me help the Songbird up after being knocked down?”

“You could’ve just stomped on my arm or something! But no, you decided spitting on me was better!” she argued back.

I gently put my hands on her shoulders, rubbing up and down in an attempt to soothe her. “Canary, I said I’m sorry,” I couldn’t muster up anything else. I felt absolutely terrible, like I always did after a fight broke out, but I just wouldn’t think of things to say. Even when I tried, I felt my mouth go dry and look stupid because of it.

Thankfully, caressing her arms did seem to help. The fury in her eyes settled to annoyance. “It’s all over the news,” she whispered, crumpling down onto my lap. She hid her face in the nape of my neck. “Every newspaper is using that image of you over me, just about to…”

“Can I make it up to you somehow?” I asked as gently as I could.

Carol nuzzled deeper into me. “I have a concert tomorrow.”

“You want me to drop by?”

I heard her giggle a bit. “Our star violinist got sick. I want you to perform with me.”

I felt my face go even redder. I stuttered for a moment. “Are you sure? What would your parents think? I mean, I haven’t even touched a violin.”

“They don’t know you. My dad doesn't like admitting that you're my girlfriend and Mom thinks you’re a bum,” Carol said. “Oh, and um, I’m sorry about Winston.”

I simply shrugged. “He was a mad man. It was bound to happen at some point.” That came off much more somber than I anticipated. The death of a villain was sad, of course, but there're so many villains that die on the daily that I felt a bit numb to it, even if I cared about Winston. The toxic air in the undercity got to them much more than upside heroes did, but they’d never admit that. Heroes and their investors would never accept the fact they were letting people die underground.

“Anything else you need me to do, birdie?”

“Hm…” She made a long hum while deep in thought. It sounded heavenly. “Well, you did spit on me. That’s a pretty big offense in the world of dating.” She pushed me down suddenly, locking her fingers into mine. I’d never seen her with such a wanton look. “But I’m pretty sure this is a good way to make it up. You wanna?”

I nodded eagerly with the dumbest grin on my face, “Of course.”

Everything was a haze of fun after that. Her touch was so soft, her kisses so sultry, and her voice was heavenly. Songbird or not, she alone sounded like an angel choir. Just as she slipped her hands under my shirt, whispering sweet nothings… Carol gasped and practically leapt off of me. “Dad! It’s not–”

The door was wide open. My greatest enemy leaned against the doorway and I made straight eye-contact with him. Blonde, blue-eyed, tall and imposing. Invincible.

“You know we have a front door, right?” Commander said, “Ever heard of knocking?”

I shrugged and smirked. "When Carol learns how to lock a door, I'll knock."


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Tue Jun 18, 2024 3:34 am
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ToastK wrote a review...



Hello! I’m Toast and I’m here to leave a quick review and overall thoughts your book “strays”!

First of all,
I love the settings of this story! The urban cityscape, the crooks and alleyways that the “Villains (strays? outcasts?)” are forced to live in, they are set up wonderfully for such creative yet detailed world-building.

I really love stories that are focused on the POV of the villains, and you did an amazing job portraying their life!

For the story,

First of all, I love how you started the story with a funeral of one of the villains. It builds empathy to the characters and makes it a good chance to introduce all the characters one by one.

Her fangs were freaky, too. She told us that they made her look less pretty, but I’m fairly certain an outer spine of spider legs moving on their own was what did it.

I love the brightening remarks that our MC makes (like this one) even in solemn, serious moments. It gives a nice break on getting too emotion heavy and lightens up the overall story in a positive way.

Tā sǐ dé hěn píngjìng ma?" Dad said, staring mournfully at the television.

I nodded "Shì de." Winston was the friendliest, albeit creepiest, Stray that I had ever met. "Where's Winifred?"

From what I can see (and guess,) Are our MC and her dad from china? This seems like mandarin ,but anyways, the dad asking a question in his (I presume) native tongue adds a layer of depth to the cultural background of our character and makes the story more realistic.

Her white hair shone in the setting sun, her red eyes turning to the amber off in the horizon. Her black dress was cotton soft whenever I wrapped my arms around her. Usually, her smile was so wide and full of life. Now, she wore a scowl full of irritation. “Well hello, Romeo. Nice to see you drop by,” she said, wryly. “Didn’t lure any heroes on your way here, I presume.”

“Sup, Canary,” I said back, smirking with as much charm I could muster.

Ooh, a forbidden love between the hero and villain! I love it! This reminds me of the dynamics of the anime “Love after world domination” and I eat up these kinds of stories! (lol)


“You know we have a front door, right?” Commander said, “Ever heard of knocking?”

I shrugged and smirked. "When Carol learns how to lock a door, I'll knock."

What a cliffhanger! I also love that even in this scenario, against her arch nemesis, she still can crack a joke!

Overall,
I love the way you set up this world. It’s vibrant, vast, and has so much potential in many expansions. I feel that the chapter was a little long, but honestly, thank you for giving me something I can read during math class (i should’ve been paying attention.. but o well).

Have a nice rest of your day!
and happy writing!




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KateHardy wrote a review...



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Good Morning/Afternoon/Evening/Night(whichever one it is in your part of the world),

Hi! I'm Kate and I'm here to leave a quick review!!


First Impression

Well this is quite the start here. A very interesting little scene in that funeral to introduce everyone and also the state of the world and then a couple of interesting reveals that I honestly didn't think would happen so early on.

Anyway let's get right to: Kate's Line by Line Reactions;

“We are here to commemorate one of our greatest allies, or something like that,” Paranoia said, holding an unlit Molotov cocktail. She handed me the bottle. “Go ahead, Piper. I think you should have the honors” I took it hesitantly. I looked ahead of me, only to find a dumpster with an arm and leg sticking out of it. Apparently, dumping them into a garbage can and setting it ablaze was the traditional way to dispose of and honor our friend. I didn’t see the glory in it, but I suppose it must be better than having heroes have anything to do with it.

“Now,” Arachnie said, her voice posh and delicate, like always, “That seems a bit harsh, Noreen.” Only Arachnie and Lifeforce were allowed to call her by her real name. “Why don’t we say something nice? The Toymaker was a good friend to us and dear little Piper. It’s cruel not to give our final regards!”


Well that's quite the start. Definitely a very unusual way to handle a scenario like that but it looks like in this world at least among these people its a fairly common practice. Definitely makes you think about what could cause a situation like that one.

Paranoia impatiently twisted her long hair around her finger. “Fine. Go on and say something. Make it quick.”

We all looked at the green dump. Paranoia's foot was bouncing erratically. We were able to sneak away into the dark alleys fine enough, but a bonfire would certainly catch a hero’s attention. “He was a good friend,” Lifeforce said, “I loved all the little puppets he made.” He spun a cigarette between his fingers. I sometimes feared that he’d lose it and burn me with those, but I think that’s just something Paranoia put in my head to keep me in line. Lifeforce was the calmest of the adults. He crossed his arms and closed his eyes, waiting for someone else.

Phoenix, who I forgot was standing beside me, spoke down to our newest member. In reality, the newbie was about as tall as him. “Crybaby? Any thoughts?”


Well these names are definitely interesting, it definitely looks like not all of them were given by people trying to be complimentary. The little way this message is taking place is also making me wonder if people actually liked this person or well if specifically our protagonist here liked this person.

“It’s Aura!” he yelled. I thought Crybaby fit him better, too. Out of them all, he got the most sucky power. Tears started welling in Phoenix’s eyes. Then I noticed my own eyes getting wet. “Dang it,” he wiped his cheeks, “Sorry guys.”

“Told you,” He sniffled and drew back, “Crybaby.”

“Will you two stop?” Arachnie shot us a glare with all eight of her eyes. Usually, she kept her non-human ones hidden, but now that they were bubbling with tears she couldn't hide them. Her fangs were freaky, too. She told us that they made her look less pretty, but I’m fairly certain an outer spine of spider legs moving on their own was what did it. She had piles of makeup and elegant clothes just to hide her features. “Phoenix, say your goodbyes,” she sobbed.


Well that still doesn't seem like a great name, power being somewhat appropriate or not. That's quite an interesting way to introduce a couple of these other characters too. I think its quite nice and subtle there.

We were all outcasted, though. That's why we're here.

I wiped my face as fast as I could. The only one who wouldn’t cry was Paranoia. I think she was impervious to any emotion. Except for fear. She knew fear very well. Honestly, it was a bit annoying how easily she could psychoanalyze people. Let’s just say she wasn’t the best person to talk to in times of need. She twirled the black hair that reached the bottom of her back around her finger.

“Phoenix,” Arachnie wiped her tears with a handkerchief, “Go.”


Well its definitely an interesting set of powers. And we have that very classic mention of them all being outcasts in some ways. Definitely hitting all of those fun points when it comes to little tales like this. We'll see where this takes us from there.

Phoenix stepped up, his wings of flame flaring bright as ever. Sometimes, when he got mad enough, his arms and the corners of his eyes would flare up. I wonder if steam came out of his head, too… “Uh, we’ll miss ya. Youse was definitely entertaining.” His hand came and rubbed his neck. “I got nuttin’ else,” His accent was so strange to me. Deep in the heart of the city and yet he had a southern drawl. I think Arachnie had one, too, but she trained herself to hide it. It wasn’t ‘lady-like.’

Paranoia was next. “Bye, Winston. Sorry you’re dead.” That was the end of it.


Well we can see different levels of attachment here and on top of it different levels of vulnerability too. Definitely makes for an interesting bunch and a very interesting place to start as well, just in a literal funeral here. I don't think I've seen that used before.

We knew that having Crybaby speak would cause him to burst into tears, so I was the only one left. When I opened my mouth, my mind went completely blank. I couldn’t think of anything better than her. “See ya later, alligator.” No crocodile called back. Phoenix lit the Molotov in my hand, and I chucked it with as much force as I could. The garbage dump went ablaze in mere seconds. Heat washed over the group of us. There was silence as fire entranced us.

I couldn’t distinguish garbage smoke and burning flesh by the time I woke up. Lifeforce had chuckled. “Besides most of the adults, plus Paranoia, Winston was one of the first Strays… I think he’d be happy to have a traditional funeral. He would’ve been forty in a month,” He greased his hair back, just a few strands sticking out from his hold. “I remember when he was just fifteen and walked in on us. He sent these creepy Victorian dolls after Polar and the rest is history. That 'hero' was screaming like a little girl while those things chased him!”


Hmm well you can see why its called strays I suppose. It looks like once the burning has happened its released something in everyone just a bit and they're onto that stage of just telling those old stories and reminiscing. I think it really brings across how fondly these people must've known him, as we move onto this section.

Arachnie nodded with a solemn smile. “I remember back when we did burnings more often, dear ten-year-old Noreen asked if we could make s’mores! Over a dead man’s corpse! I couldn’t believe it, but then the Toymaker took marshmallows out of his pocket and we had the fire going all night!”

“I still don’t get why,” Paranoia said. “I was just hungry. And an open fire made me think of stuff on a stick,” she explained methodically. Then I heard her scoff, “He always was a bit of a child, wasn’t he?”


Well it sounds like this was very much that one older person among this group of much younger kids that almost took care of them in some way besides the one or two other older people who were around long enough to remember said person in their younger days. You can feel the loss a lot more then, seeing as maybe Winston was almost a big brother figure or father figure in this group.

I smiled when I thought of him. Every day, Winston was the one who entertained the younger kids. He made puppet shows and toys all day, every day. I could tell him anything and he’d keep his pinky-promise no matter what. He was a real friend to us, despite his eccentricities. The teddy bears he stuffed were always so willing to comfort us, and the dolls he painted would dance and play whenever we were bored. They loved playing dress up with me and Winifred, specifically. Oh, right.

“What are we gonna tell Winifred?” I asked. Phoenix and Arachnie both became very uncomfortable, constantly shifting on their feet.

Paranoia shrugged. “Your brother has died. We give you our condolences.”


Well there we go. So it would appear a lot of the slighter colder ones from earlier were in fact like I thought people just trying not to full break down in the face of what was happening. Well it does make for a pretty interesting set of emotions for the start of a story. And now it seems we have a little bit of a sibling situation here.

Lifeforce didn’t feel like arguing with her cold approach right now. I suddenly really wanted marshmallows.

Phoenix gritted his teeth. “Hey, Crybaby? Can you stop thinking about food right now? You’re making us all hungry.” Crybaby apologized as quickly as he could.

Arachnie peeked out the alleyway and grimaced. “The supes are here…” The rest of us sighed. Paranoia turned into a cloud of black smoke and floated into the sky with Phoenix soaring close behind. Arachnie used her webs and spider legs to help her climb up the building, despite her best attempts to not look like that girl from the exorcist. Us land dwellers were left to hide our faces in hoodies (except Lifeforce. He wore his face with pride) and quietly stalked home. A small apartment my dad owned that just barely fit most of us. At least the kids could have their own room now that Winston was gone, right?


Oooh well that's an interesting moment to think about. I mean it was pretty clear already they were on the whole villains side of the superhero-villain thing but as far as we know now, that's just names, so it's interesting to see what that sort of hierarchy is like in a more moral sense.

Yeah. Positives, Piper, think of the positives. I think Cherry Bomb moved out to live in the undercity too. She needed more space to mess with explosives, so she and her sister Bubble moved out into the undercity, an abandoned subway tunnel that housed more outcasts. Sometimes you were born down there. Sometimes you didn’t like the hero government. Sometimes your powers were too deforming to ever be accepted by a world of strong, blonde superheroes with skin made of steel.

The thought of them made my blood boil. They were making the world weaker. Dependent. They were heroes. They always saved the day, but no one thought about when they didn’t! Nobody batted an eye when Crybaby was made an orphan and cried his eyes out when he lost everyone he loved. That’s where 'villains' came in. We were wronged our whole lives, demanded justice, and this is what we get? Hatred and disgusted looks? It just wasn't right.


Hmm well that feels strangely like you were listening on my review there xD But well here we go, that's what I was wondering to try and get a better perspective on this world. It almost feels like one of those everyone has superpowers of some kind worlds but there's not evidence on that. Although it does definitely look like what we have is some sort of superpowered force controlled by the naturally evil governments and corporations that are just called superheroes and our cast her is branded villains when it appears they're maybe vigilantes at best.

We were the good guys, so why did those 'superheroes' have the big building and all that control?

Lifeforce took in a huff of his cigarette, amused by the smoke that he blew out. He'd been smoking since I remember. He did it for kicks. Would it kill him? There wasn't an effect on his stamina yet, so we all doubted it'd be the thing to kick his bucket.

"Do you think Winifred will be sad?" Lifeforce said, smiling as he took long and confident strides.

I didn't respond. Instead, Crybaby did. "She's just some living doll. I dunno if she can. She doesn't cry with me, so probably not."


Oooh well this is definitely going to be an interesting social system to try and unpack here. I'm looking forward to learning more about that. The worldbuilding for that sounds like it would be really cool. Also interesting little introduction to the sister here.

Lifeforce shrugged. "Maybe she'll be dead when we get home."

"I don't think Winston made her. She's been a doll since forever."

"Well," Lifeforce smiled, "Relatives are known to have similar powers. Look at Piper.”

Under both of their gazes, my face went red. It was true, me and my dad had similar powers. He was the Rat King and I was the Pied Piper. I smiled when I realized I still had a piccolo in my pocket. I was tempted to grab it and start playing, but I’d certainly get made fun of and probably teased by the Strays. Whatever. I’ll just start playing really loud when Arachnie’s trying to get her beauty sleep. Then it would be everyone’s problem. I grinned to myself.


Well its an interesting little conundrum there about he sister although I have to imagine how little time they must've spent here to not know a detail like that which seems to be quite an important one.

“So, um, Piper,” Crybaby walked right next to me, twiddling his thumbs, “Did you wanna go do something tonight? Like… Dinner, or something?”

I bit my tongue. “I’ll see what my dad thinks. Maybe we all can go.” I saw him deflate at the thought of it, but eventually smiled and nodded. I wasn’t sure about my feelings with him were yet. Mostly because, well, he could alter ours's so easily. I had to wonder if one day he’d make me love him. It seemed attraction didn’t spread easily, though. Thank goodness (evilness?). I had someone else already, anyways, but none of them knew that. Crybaby quickly scuttled up to Lifeforce and was stuck in awkward small talk the rest of the way home.


Well that's how you know we are in fact dealing with teens here. None of those stories are complete without some classic awkward romance and I'm sure there's enough angst around the corner.

I kept my face to the sky. Upside was far better than the undercity, despite how many friends and family I had living down there. Nothing beat the twilight skies, even if light pollution was a bit overbearing. There were stories about how all heroes came from stardust. It was just some fairytale, but I could dream, right?

Before I could even think, the sky was gone and replaced with tiled ceilings. Pavement was now concrete stairs, and then we were in front of apartment 634. Lifeforce knocked very specifically. Three with his knuckles, two with his full palm. It was a beat any Stray knew by heart. Then, suddenly the door swung open. Arachnie greeted us with bared fangs. Then, her face turned back to the features of a human woman. She happily let us in, then locked three deadbolts and another four locks, then another five after that. She ran back into her room as fast as she could to stitch more webs together. It was a death-trap going into her room. You’d be stuck in a web, and… Well, she was nicknamed The Man-Eating Spider for a reason.


Okay well that seems a tiny tiny bit questionable. Eating humans is generally quite frowned upon there. I really hope we get a little bit of an expansion on that at some point, if whether she can actually chose who to eat and she has some sort of moral code or if she has control over things when someone's stuck in her web.

Phoenix sat on the couch, scrolling through his phone with a bored expression. Winifred, with all her locking, wooden joints, watched a teddy bear dance around the table. She was more like a mannequin than a doll. She couldn’t talk, so hopefully she hadn’t asked about Winston yet. Or, someone said it and she didn’t feel anything. She was called the Puppet for a reason. Thin strings were wrapped around her fingers. Besides that, nothing much was out of the ordinary. Nobody ever knew where Paranoia was. Sometimes she was stalking behind you, and sometimes she was sitting in a running bathtub with her clothes on (I get she liked feeling clean, but it was a bit much).

Then, my favorite. The Rat King was at the table petting Rascal, his favorite rat. Usually Rascal lived in a bush called my dad’s hair, but today he was being scratched on the head. The Rat King looked up at me. “Welcome back.” I smiled at him. His voice was like a warm blanket. Even in the cold depths of the undercity, he could somehow wrap around and make you laugh all night. “We heard the news. I’m glad you put him down the right way.”


Well looks like the one that is definitely confirmed as the dad is quite an interesting little character here. This whole rat petting scene is quite a cute little introduction. I love how you paint a little picture of his personality too with just that description.

In the corner I heard a dingy TV talking about Toymaker’s death. One of the gentler and younger supes was up to the microphone, with Osmosis and Commander standing in the background, overlooking a burning dumpster. She was about my age. “It’s…” Songbird hesitated. She looked over her shoulder and the Commander nodded to her. She turned back to the camera like a scared cat. “It’s unfortunate. We– We would’ve liked to have taken him into custody, but, well, um, he used– What’s it?” She turned to Osmosis, who yelled something inaudible to the camera. It zoomed in on her, then abruptly back to Songbird. “Excessive force! Yes. He used excessive force and, well, Thundershock can be kind of aggressive.”

Songbird, otherwise known as Carol Nancy Dixon, wasn't like your normal superhero. I've come to learn that she was much sweeter than Commander could ever pretend to be. She looked different, too, with albino eyes and hair as white as snow.


Ooh this is giving me the sort of vibes you get from that one tv show the boys. I haven't actually watched it but I've heard enough to get the feeling of these superheroes that tend to dominate with an unnecessarily iron fist just because they and this whole thing feels like one superhero who's not as corrupted yet practically held at gunpoint and forced to give this speech.

She was beautiful in a way only few could appreciate. I was one of them.

"Tā sǐ dé hěn píngjìng ma?" Dad said, staring mournfully at the television.

I nodded "Shì de." Winston was the friendliest, albeit creepiest, Stray that I had ever met. "Where's Winifred?"

"She went to Arachnie's room. She'll tell her about the news," Dad responded. It seemed he always knew who to talk to, when, and why. He always knew what to do. That's why he was our leader, despite Lifeforce clearly being more powerful.


Well that's a good bit of confirmation to be sure but it definitely was clear by now that the dad was in fact that one that had to be the leader of this little house of outcasts.

"Hey, Dad? Do you care if I go out today? I wanna meet up with some friends," I asked, taking a seat next to Phoenix. He rolled his eyes and scooted over.

"Of course, lùzhū. Nobody saw your face, right?" Dad asked as Rascal scampered back up into his hair.

"Nah. I'll be fine."

So, as protocol, I left through my room window and ran down the iron-gridded stairs. I could still see a part of the building the Phoenix had burned with his wings. Now, another hero was trying to fix the damage. Stopwatch, able to reverse the effects of time on objects. Sometimes, I wonder what would happen if that was used on a person. Unfortunately, Stopwatch said it didn’t work on organic material.


Well that's quite the power and also a very chill dad there about being careful. You can definitely see why everyone loves him. That's one thing from stories involving teens typically I am so glad hasn't made it into that one. Its a refreshing change.

No matter, the stroll was actually quite peaceful. My greatest strength was that I was unknown. Nobody knew the Pied Piper was me, despite just adding Pied to my name. There were hero interviews surrounding me. Whenever I passed by one of them, I snuck a middle finger or secretly spat on their shoes. Only a few of them noticed, but with cameras on them, they wouldn’t do anything. I was just another kid who hated supes and was probably racist or something. There were a lot of protests about how unnatural us powered-beings were, but they failed to realize how easily you could become one. A chance encounter with falling from a cliff could have you flying one second later. Only 33% of the population was actually born with powers.

The suburbs were much better than the heart, though. The hustle and bustle of city-life calmed down here. Attorneys were replaced with dads grilling and clerks were now playing with little kids in the yards. What if I was one of those kids? If we gave up our fight against oppression, I’d be living the best life. My dad was a smart guy. He’d be successful in anything he did. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I liked life now. I didn’t feel anything as a little girl was spun around a tire swing by an older boy.


Well this is getting kinda funny now how all my questions are being answered later xD but so that 33% is a hugely significant number. I don't know many other traits humans share that 33% of the population can have the same one of. It definitely seems very common and now you can get an even better sense of the society too and the kind of environment that's resulted. Its almost a dystopia it would seem where these superpowers have totally rewritten what we'd recognize as a social hierarchy now.

There was a cat stuck in the tree next to them, though. I was urged to play a tune and slowly guide it down, but maybe this wasn’t the best time for that. Especially with all these goody two shoes families. I noticed a few of them already looking me up and down with a stink-eye. So, I climbed up on the tree and slowly scooped him into my arms. A few bites and scratches were nothing compared to the hidden bruise on my leg (Thanks a lot, Osmosis). The cat ran off into a bush as soon as I let him go.

Finally, I approached the largest house in the neighborhood. I scanned the front entrance, and then the side of the house. A blush crept onto my face as I jumped the fence. Careful to stay in the camera's blind spots, I climbed up to the second window. There was a balcony right beside me, but this was more romantic. The curtains were closed, but that didn’t stop me from trying to peak in. I gently knocked on the glass, in case her dad was there. I heard her fall off her bed and come running to the window, opening it with less excitement than usual. I was here for a reason, after all.


Ooh well this has a very cute little vibe to it, just going off to meet what I would assume is her girlfriend here if all the subtle clues like that little mention of the TV was any indication, and the little moment with Aura. (Yes I'm taking a stand against Crybaby).

Her white hair shone in the setting sun, her red eyes turning to the amber off in the horizon. Her black dress was cotton soft whenever I wrapped my arms around her. Usually, her smile was so wide and full of life. Now, she wore a scowl full of irritation. “Well hello, Romeo. Nice to see you drop by,” she said, wryly. “Didn’t lure any heroes on your way here, I presume.”

“Sup, Canary,” I said back, smirking with as much charm I could muster.

Carol rolled her eyes. “Yeah, that’s not getting you out of this,” she said. “Now get in before you cause an accident or something.” At her command, I stepped into her room and she slammed the door shut. The first thing I did was greet the little dove that sat on her head frame. I rubbed his head and neck before Songbird cleared her throat. “You done?”


Well this is a cute little moment. Love the little foreshadowing there earlier that comes in full force now. Not too often my hairbrained theories actually get proven in the exact same chapter so I am very happy about this.

“Aw, little robin, why are you mad?” I said, sitting down on her bed. It was plump and soft. It came with being kid of the greatest hero in the land. Much better than an air mattress shared with a living doll. “Did my friends rough you up too much? I tried redirecting them.”

Carol crossed her arms and gritted her teeth. With a glare, she grumbled, “You spat on my face.”

Ah. Right… “The cameras ate it up?”


That looks like a small spat beginning there. Its hard to decide if this is mostly teasing at the moment or if Songbird is actually really hurt but I'm leaning heavily towards the latter here.

“Do you know how much teasing I suffered because of that?! It was humiliating!” She stepped closer to me, leaning over my head.

I sighed, “I’m sorry, okay? I had to stay in character! What do you think my dad would say if he saw me help the Songbird up after being knocked down?”

“You could’ve just stomped on my arm or something! But no, you decided spitting on me was better!” she argued back.

I gently put my hands on her shoulders, rubbing up and down in an attempt to soothe her. “Canary, I said I’m sorry,” I couldn’t muster up anything else. I felt absolutely terrible, like I always did after a fight broke out, but I just wouldn’t think of things to say. Even when I tried, I felt my mouth go dry and look stupid because of it.


Well yup that's a confirmation again there, and it looks a little questionable now how well things are going here if Piper talks of this like this happens relatively often.

Thankfully, caressing her arms did seem to help. The fury in her eyes settled to annoyance. “It’s all over the news,” she whispered, crumpling down onto my lap. She hid her face in the nape of my neck. “Every newspaper is using that image of you over me, just about to…”

“Can I make it up to you somehow?” I asked as gently as I could.

Carol nuzzled deeper into me. “I have a concert tomorrow.”

“You want me to drop by?”

I heard her giggle a bit. “Our star violinist got sick. I want you to perform with me.”


Well that's a little turnaround. It feels a tiny bit fast as far as mood changes go but I'll allow it for the moment. They are teens after all I would assume judging by all the other clues we have.

I felt my face go even redder. I stuttered for a moment. “Are you sure? What would your parents think? I mean, I haven’t even touched a violin.”

“They don’t know you. My dad doesn't like admitting that you're my girlfriend and Mom thinks you’re a bum,” Carol said. “Oh, and um, I’m sorry about Winston.”

I simply shrugged. “He was a mad man. It was bound to happen at some point.” That came off much more somber than I anticipated. The death of a villain was sad, of course, but there're so many villains that die on the daily that I felt a bit numb to it, even if I cared about Winston. The toxic air in the undercity got to them much more than upside heroes did, but they’d never admit that. Heroes and their investors would never accept the fact they were letting people die underground.


Hmm well that seems to be okay for the moment, I also love the details you manage to bring across to us there through the mention of how villains tend to die and the little detail about the undercity.

“Anything else you need me to do, birdie?”

“Hm…” She made a long hum while deep in thought. It sounded heavenly. “Well, you did spit on me. That’s a pretty big offense in the world of dating.” She pushed me down suddenly, locking her fingers into mine. I’d never seen her with such a wanton look. “But I’m pretty sure this is a good way to make it up. You wanna?”

I nodded eagerly with the dumbest grin on my face, “Of course.”

Everything was a haze of fun after that. Her touch was so soft, her kisses so sultry, and her voice was heavenly. Songbird or not, she alone sounded like an angel choir. Just as she slipped her hands under my shirt, whispering sweet nothings… Carol gasped and practically leapt off of me. “Dad! It’s not–”


Well that's a classic move. Definitely opens up an interesting little can of worms here about how this little relationship is going. Its going to be an interesting road through superheroes and villains to make sense of that one because I can only assume that the Commander dude from earlier is this dad if the way they were interacting had anything to say about it.

The door was wide open. My greatest enemy leaned against the doorway and I made straight eye-contact with him. Blonde, blue-eyed, tall and imposing. Invincible.

“You know we have a front door, right?” Commander said, “Ever heard of knocking?”

I shrugged and smirked. "When Carol learns how to lock a door, I'll knock."


Well there we go. For once I don't hate being right about a prediction there, looks like this one was a rare wholesome one although I am very curious to learn just a bit more about this dynamic. To that end, this is a wonderful cliffhanger to end this first chapter on.

Aaand that's it for this oneee!!!

Overall

Overall a solid start here to this tale. I think you've got a very interesting world created there and the characters within are also pretty interesting. There's definitely a lot of complex little threads running through here that I'm very excited to see more of in a later chapter.

As always remember to: Take what you think was helpful and forget the rest!

Stay Safe and Have a Nice Day!
Kate


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if ya mention chickens, i have to show up, that is the law.
— alliyah