A blog by Luke Garrison Green of Thrythlind Books and Games.
Here he discusses writing skills, reviews books, discusses roleplaying games and refers to Divine Blood, Bystander and his other books.
Sunday, December 13, 2015
Chimera Sirens - Session One - Consequences and Discoveries
Statues formed out of the walls and ground surrounded a man with resilient stony skin as he stood in the entrance of the bank eyeing the situation outside. He grumbled to himself as he tried to decide on his approach to the situation. The Eiyu-Tai were across the province dealing with some lunatic trying to make the volcano erupt so he’d taken the opportunity to rob a bank when it was just going to be the police on hand. Then these…people showed up.
“Everyone note that the number of statues is remaining more or less constant.” The speaker was a green-haired woman in modern tactical armor watching from a perch overlooking the bank parking lot. Her name was Minako Kita but had recently begun operating as Jade Chimera since becoming part of this team. “I have the feeling that they are being animated by Stone-skin rather than being independent creations. Try to focus attention on taking him out and we could probably end this.”
Standing nearby, a woman seemingly literally made of bronze stood by wearing casual clothes and a flight jacket as she took in the situation. Her name was Umeko Hayashi and she would have said that she was mostly involved because of the money, but she was less of a mercenary than she liked people to believe. Her code name in the team was, appropriately enough, Bronze Chimera. So far she’d been the only one not to bother with getting a real costume.
Almost casually, she cast her mind forward into the security systems of the bank and found what she was looking for. A moment later and the bank vault was closing itself tight and engaging its anti-superhuman format, thus separating the villain from the bulk of the money he’d been hoping to acquire. As she did so, the system itself shut down, effectively locking her out of accessing it, probably a safeguard against technopaths like her.
“Okay, so the vault is sealed,” she noted calmly. “There were people inside when I locked it closed, though.”
“Damn it,” Jade snapped. “Okay we’re on the clock now. We’ll need to end this so that the bank and security people can get to the people trapped inside before they suffocate. Get to Stone-skin and take him out.”
A tall woman with a long reptilian tail and small horns darted forward, plowing through the minions as she worked to reach the man in the front of the bank. She was wearing pieces of black and white armor similar in ways to the long and straight black and silver hair she sported. Yellow marks were alit and shifting all over her body. Light of an unidentifiable color spilled out from behind the sunglasses she wore on her face. She was given the name Katja Holgersson as a child, but currently she was Marble Chimera.
“I’m working on that,” she shouted into her communicator. “There’s a lot of these things.”
The relentless approach of the monstrous woman certainly brought concern from the robber as he darted over to one of the cars parked in the lot and hurled out and across, trying to smash it into Marble. The monster woman simply shifted out of its way, however, and the car continued its flight until it slammed into the gas station. It was barely more than a blink before the station exploded in a cacophonous and bright flash of fire and light.
“There are civilians in danger,” Jade shouted. “I’ll try to kill the fire, but I don’t think it’s going to be in time.”
“I’ve got them covered.”
The speaker was a young girl, the youngest of the lot, dressed in the traditional robes of an Okinawan priestess with her hair cut short save for some long bangs. She was a member of a long history of heroes of magical ability. Her family name was Higa and her given name was Kyou and she currently was going by the name Amber Chimera.
As she spoke, she released a fan of paper charms which flew to the space between the rapidly spreading fire and the various civilian onlookers. Her first attempt burned up in the flames and she had to move quickly to release another line of charms to raise the barrier of distorted space preventing the fire from reaching any of the bystanders. The distortion did more than just separate the bystanders, however, pushing the flames to wash over her position.
“Amber!” another woman called out.
Decked out in pieces of pink samurai armor and a pink oni’s mask, the woman hurled a spear past the mystic, hoping to snatch as the spear pulled her toward its position at accelerated time. Her real name was Ayako Wakahisa but she was currently operating as Pearl Chimera. Unfortunately, she was off target and the path between her and the spear did not let her get near enough to protect the mystic.
The spearwoman did note, in the last moment, as Amber raised a paper charm and appeared to become small and distant just moments before the fire crashed over her.
“I’m all right,” Amber informed everyone. “I raised a barrier just before it hit.”
As her message went out, the air surrounding the fire suddenly grew thin and scarce. Almost as quickly as it had appeared, the fire had been suffocated.
Roughly simultaneously, Marble had crossed the ground necessary and gotten past the animated stone statues so that she had come face to face with the stone-skinned man. Her fists, feet and tail lashed out in a punishing barrage that brought cracks to the surface of the man’s skin even as she forced him to drop another vehicle before he could turn it into a projectile.
“What the hell is this crap?” Stone-skin demanded. “When did the city get another team.
Unfortunately, while her barrage forced all the villain’s attention on her, the focus on dealing damage and preventing him from damaging the surroundings any more left her open to retaliation and she suffered a similarly withering barrage of blows from her opponent. A low growl escaped her lips as the angry flooded her and doubts about her ability to handle this sat in the back of her mind.
Focused on Marble as he was, Stone-skin almost failed to notice the spear landing behind him with a trail of high speed after-images flowing into it. He caught it just barely out of the corner of his eye but before he could respond to it or notice that Pearl was incoming, a bronze skinned woman had grabbed him from behind. Immobilized and off-balance by Marble’s earlier assault, he could do nothing as Pearl slammed into him with the heel of her foot.
“Fine, fuck you all then!” Stone-skin shouted as he directed his attention to the statue minions, suddenly causing them to run about at random, attacking hostages and destroying property and buildings.
“There’s too many of them for me to isolate!” Amber shouted out.
“Yeah, don’t even try…” Stone-skin stopped talking mid boast as he started to choke and claw at his throat shorty before he passed out, falling into a slumped form on the ground. As he did so the statues around the scene crumbled to dust and his skin reverted to simple flesh.
In the aftermath after handing over Stone-skin to the police the five young superheroes spoke to each other from within a simple van carrying them back to the bare-bones office that the mysterious Himura had set up as their interim base.
“All right,” Marble shouted. “That’s the way to do things. Umeko, Pearl and I shut that guy down!” As Umeko held out one hand in a manner intended to suggest that Katja wait, the excited monster woman reached out to slap the hand in a high five.
“I think you need to calm down a bit, Katja,” Umeko said, trying to ignore the part of her that was reminded of how life used to be with her family before the accident and the treatment that had saved her life.
“It could have been much worse,” Kyou said. “If Minako hadn’t been keeping an eye on things we might have had a lot of casualties from the bystanders.”
“Actually, Kyou, you prevented most of the collateral with that first barrier against the fire,” Minako pointed out.
“We kicked ass,” Pearl agreed, keeping her mask on. “That was awesome.”
After they delivered their after-action report to Himura, Katja was walking stiffly out of the unassuming building. She’d changed and not just her clothes. The monstrous outer image she had displayed was replaced by tiny young Swedish woman who needed to eat more and had long brown hair. The sunglasses remained, but the glow of her eyes was much dimmed and more or less covered by the shades.
“Holgersson-san, come over here a moment please,” Minako called out to her from behind.
Katja turned to look at the teenager in her boring, conservative civilian clothes contrasting with her grayish pallor, pointed ears and green hair. The girl was two years her junior and always walked around looking so sure of herself. And she always had either advice or orders to give. It was a little grating at times. She was tempted to just head out and forget about it.
“Okay, what is it,” Katja asked. “What did I do wrong now?”
“I want to make sure you’re not seriously injured,” the green-haired girl said bring over an ointment of some sort which she dabbed at the bruises on Katja’s face. The lingering pain of the bruises faded away with an icy sort of relief. “That will keep the pain down and hide the bruises. By the time you take a shower next the bruise should be dealt with. Do mind if I try to check further?”
Minako was holding her hand out flat and gesturing toward it and then Katja.
“How would you do that?” the shapeshifter asked.
“I want to feel if there’s anything out of place. You took a few heavy blows.”
Biting her lip, Katja looked at the other girl doubtfully before nodding and raising her hands. “Fine, just make it quick.”
Minako nodded and very clinically placed her hand against Katja’s chest, stomach and then moved about to her back. Overall it didn’t take much more than a minute or two. “You’re a lot tougher than you look, Holgersson-san. I’m guessing you only have a few bruises. Nothing’s broken or out of place that I can tell and your breathing is perfect. You appear to have been eating better since I met you as well.”
The compliments swirled around in Katja’s head, driving away the doubts she had felt earlier as she dealt with the dizzying blows from Stone-skin. “Yeah, well, Himura pays us a good wage. My brothers and sisters are eating regular too.”
“That’s good to hear,” Minako said, taking a breath. “I am worried about you. You’re very reckless once we start fighting. I worry that you’re going to overextend yourself and get in a situation you can’t handle and we can’t support you from. Maybe you should be a bit more cautious.”
“To hell with that,” Katja said snapping away from Minako as the expected criticism came in. “I can take the blows, no problem. I’m built to take punishment and dish it out. Let the bad guys hit me with everything. I don’t care. That just leaves an opening for the rest of you to use. I’m fine just being the shied.”
Katja folded her arms and hesitated before continuing. “While on the matter of what someone should or should not be doing, why don’t you stop spouting orders all the time? All you’re going to do is tell the bad guys what’s coming that way.”
The accusation didn’t even seem to register with Minako as she responded. “If you’re wanting to focus on protecting people then get some training.”
“Training, what the hell do I need training for?” Katja protested.
“Instinct is only going to take you so far,” Minako instructed. “Imagine if you could harness all that power of yours into a fine control. That would be a sight to see.”
“Yeah, well focus on yourself,” the shapeshifter snapped back as she started to pull away from Minako. “I’ll handle my affairs myself.”
“Wait,” Minako insisted, drawing a look from Katja before handing her the small jar of ointment. “For the bruises I can’t see.”
“Thank you,” Katja insisted before taking the jar and then stomping away towards the exit of the building.
Behind her, Minako turned back in, probably to do some sort of paperwork or something like that. She was pushing up the unassuming glass office door that concealed the location Himura had set up for them to use. She turned about and then stopped as the door almost opened in her face.
“Oh sorry about that,” the man on the other side of the door said. “I had my attention elsewhere. Are you all…ah, wait, you’re one of my sister’s teammates aren’t you?”
Katja held back her comment and examined the man carefully. “Are you talking about Umeko?”
Isamu was about her age, maybe a little older. Umeko was almost the youngest of her family as the shapeshifter recalled. She wasn’t sure just how old that youngest sibling was but the man speaking to her right now was in the right age range. He was also well-groomed with fashionable clothes and neatly cut hair.
“No, I was talking about Minako,” the man said. “I’m her brother Isamu Kita. It’s a pleasure to meet someone she’s working with.”
“Oh, so I guess you’re all spooky and mysterious like she is,” the shapeshifter suggested.
Isamu laughed at that, though there wasn’t any harm in it. “Sorry, no, there’s not much more to me than what you see. I was just coming by to get a look at where my sister is operating these days.”
“Commanding is more like it,” Katja responded. “She’s a little bit of a dictator.”
Isamu nodded soberly and took a breath. “Don’t stress out too much about my sister. Someone with a normal upbringing isn’t going to see things the same way she does.”
Katja narrowed her eyes a bit and looked closely at the man and his perfectly placed eyes and excellent cheekbones. Fighting down the blush that was waiting to come to her face, she responded. “My ‘parents’ turned out to be imposters who running an experiment to make me a shapeshifting monster. Then their employers killed them for helping us escape. How am I that different from Minako?”
“Did your parents train you or just secretly experiment on you?” Isamu asked pointedly.
“Ugg, training,” Katja insisted. “You and your sister are both on me about training. Are you going to back up that with doing something or just tell me to get it done?”
“I’m afraid Minako would take my head off if I started spending personal time with one of her teammates like that,” he said in a teasing manner. “I’ll try not to get on you anymore then. Nice to meet you though.”
Katja mumbled a response, ducking her head as she walked out of the building and hid her blushing face behind her umbrella as she walked out into the sunny spring day.
“You know…Pearl Chimera,” Kyou noted as she hefted the bag with her robes and paraphernalia in it, “You should probably consider telling Minako and Katja who you really are. Using our names might be a good thing too.”
“I don’t think that’s happening anytime soon,” Pearl protested calmly, still in her armor and mask. “For one thing, Marble was just…rude when she asked.”
“Yeah, she had a concussion and her family had been in danger,” Kyou pointed out. “I doubt she was at her best.”
“Well, maybe, but one thing is for certain,” she pointed out. “I definitely do not want Jade knowing that my medical situation.”
“Didn’t you say the spear take care of that?” Kyou asked. “For that matter, I thought you said you did meet Katja as yourself and even took the wig off and mentioned chemo.
“It was crooked and that was Ayako, not Pearl,” the spear-woman insisted matter-of-factly. “Anyway, I’d rather not admit to it. I don’t want anybody treating me like I’m made of glass or anything. Why do you care?”
“Umm, well,” Kyou fumbled about for a bit thinking of how to respond. “I was just thinking it might be good to get together…you know…outside of bad guys needing to be fought. Maybe a movie or go out to eat…”
“I don’t know, Amber,” Pearl noted.
“Please at least call me Kyou,” the mystic protested. “My family doesn’t use secret identities you know.”
“Anyway, can you imagine Umeko or Minako deciding to just hang out?” Pearl asked.
“We’ll never know if we don’t try,” the blonde teen pleaded.
“Okay, maybe,” Pearl admitted. “But right now, Ayako Wakahisa has to show up for yet another follow-up check. So I’ll catch you later.”
“Right, but think about it, okay?” Kyou asked.
“Why don’t you go talk to Marble about it,” the pink samurai asked, pointing as the small Swedish girl came out of the office hiding under her umbrella.
“That might be a good idea,” Kyou said. “Good luck on the check-up.”
“Yeah, thanks,” Pearl noted as she tossed her spear out into the air and let herself by pulled up toward it.
Pearl repeated the process several times, flashing across the city staying out of easy line of sight until she’d reached her destination. Then the spear was released and pulled back into its “tattoo” on her upper left arm leaving her in her untidy clothes and the wig she had been wearing before the fight.
Ayako could still feel the rush from the fight earlier, still felt so powerful and alive. It was almost blasphemy to be heading into a hospital almost immediately afterwards. Still, it had to be done. That was the problem with cancer she’d learned. It was never guaranteed to be actually gone and there was always the chance that it could come back.
With a slight shrug, the young woman walked up to the door and started to push it open.
“There you are,” a familiar voice called out from behind her. “Where the hell have you been?”
Rolling her eyes and smiling slightly, she turned around to look at her elder brother and spoke to him in a calm and casual tone of voice. “Why if it isn’t Officer Wakahisa here to make sure this is as awkward as it could possibly be. I’m ten minutes early, Ryouta, and that’s not your problem anyway.”
“Mother’s been trying to get a hold of you,” he told her. “Did you turn your phone off.”
“I was at work,” she said as walked into the hospital and headed up to the admittance desk. “Wakahisa for a follow-up.”
“Dressed like that?” he asked, gesturing at her.
“What’s wrong with how I’m dressed?”
“That T-shirt is barely holding together,” he told her. “And the jeans need replacing as well.”
“That’s just the fashion these days,” Ayako said.
“I’ve seen clothes with fashionable ripping,” her brother protested. “Yours just look like they belong on someone homeless and why are you working anyway? Our parents can make sure you have all the money you need.”
“I had plenty of staying home and ‘relaxing’ for six years,” she commented. “Now I want to do some living.”
“Do it more responsibly,” Ryouta snapped. “You’re not some daredevil.”
Ayako smirked slightly walked forward and then quite casually leapt up and flipped backwards over her brother’s head to his grim and disbelieving face. “I feel better than I have ever felt before, Ryouta. Don’t worry about me. I can take care of myself.”
Ayako glanced over toward the nurse and started walking towards her. “I’ve got to go Ryouta. Talk to you later.”
“Act like you at least pretend to know your family cares about you,” the police officer said as he walked out of the hospital.
The nurse watched him go and looked toward Ayako. “Is there a problem, Wakahisa-san?”
“Just my family being overprotective,” she said. “That’s all.”
The appointment went pretty much how they always went. An examination was done, some blood was taken and the doctor asked her some questions about how she was feeling and what sort of activity she’d been getting up to.
“Well, it seems like everything is going unaccountably well, Wakahisa-san,” he noted with a tone of pleasant surprise. “I haven’t seen a recovery this complete before. Have you noticed any sort of unusual symptoms or side effects recently?”
“Nope, Dr. Yukimura. I’m just really energetic recently,” Ayako noted. “Been trying a few things I had to stop while I was sick.”
“Such as what?” he asked, writing notes on the pad in front of him.
“Rock-climbing, mountain climbing, motorcycle lessons,” she shrugged as she listed the activities. “I’m studying to get into the University, four years late, I know, but better late than never I suppose.”
“Code blue on the floor! Code blue on the floor!” a voice announced.
“Excuse me,” the doctor said, setting his clipboard aside and failing to notice as it tumbled to the floor. As the doctor ran out to help in the alert, Ayako reached down to pick up the clipboard. Her original intention had been to place the clipboard on his desk, but she stopped as she caught sight of some of the writing.
“Results confirm that shikome virus remains present.”
“That’s the first I’ve heard of a virus.” Ayako hesitated and considered this for a long moment before sitting down with the clipboard and taking the documents off as she started looking through them.
Before she could get much more than a few looks at the different pages, she could hear the sound of her doctor’s voice down the hall. Looking about quickly, she snatched up her smart phone and started taking pictures of the documents as quickly as she could before stacking them all up again and setting them on the clipboard which she placed on the desk before moving back to her seat in plenty of time for the doctor to arrive.
“Okay, let’s finish this up so you can get home,” he said.
Less than fifteen minutes later, she was looking through the photos on her phone, trying to make sense of what was going on. It seemed to her that the biggest matter of concern to her wasn’t so much the presence of a virus as it was that none of the doctors so far had seen fit to tell them about the existence of the virus.
“I’m going to need help on this.”
A few minutes earlier and back at the Chimera Sirens offices, Kyou watched as the mosaic of reality that was Katja walked out of the base. As usual with other people, the mystic tried to concentrate and force those spinning and twisting images coalesce into something more unified and useful, but it wasn’t helping at the moment.
Presented in front of her she saw differing variations of the setting and people. There was a spot in the middle of the window that was reflecting an apocalyptic wasteland right next to one that was reflecting on a wedding ceremony in winter and yet another showing flashes of an active riot. And, as she watched, those images rotated away and replaced by other mismatched pieces.
Katja was no different with a shoulder piece revealing some sort of hospital gown stitched right next to a patch of entirely inhuman skin. One eye was bright, friendly and innocent but then flipped over to being filled with despair as the other eye appeared to be lost to injury for a moment and then was replaced by something dulled by what Kyou assumed would be drugs. None of the things she was seeing appeared to be close to what she was actively experienced and the image in front of her never unified enough to give her much of a clue.
The young woman looked up and saw Kyou and, after a few moments of deliberation, Katja walked over to where she stood.
“Hey, could I ask you a favor?” Katja asked. Her voice was similarly a bizarre mix of tones and whispered half-heard wordings from any of dozens of other realities where Kyou’s soul touched.
“Yeah, sure, what do you want?” the mystic asked.
“I’m wondering if maybe you can help me train,” the shapeshifter noted.
“You want training?” Kyou asked. It did make sense, intellectually speaking, but as they talked, the image of Katja that Kyou was seeing spun about into a mostly unified presentation of someone innocent and naïve.
“Minako and her brother are pushing me to get some training,” Katja commented.
“Why not ask them then?”
“Because her brother seems to think Minako will assume he’s flirting with me and as for Minako…” Katja let that trail on, but Kyou definitely got the impression that Katja wasn’t comfortable with asking Minako either. “Anyway, don’t you practice some sort of martial art?”
“Well, I could try,” Kyou decided. “I’m not sure how much use I’ll be to you. My family’s training regimen is rather specifically tied to…well, what we are. I’m not sure how much of that applies to the average gifted person.”
Katja stared at Kyou. Yet again in dealing with her teammates, they had suggested that they considered her to be the normal one. It left her more than a little unsure have where exactly she stood in matters. What did it take to be one of the weird people if secret experimentation didn’t count? However, Kyou’s eagerness to help, the fact that she was almost starved for companionship, certainly read out clear to the Swedish young woman.
For her part, Kyou wasn’t exactly sure what she wanted to tell the young woman yet. The mystic could tell that there was something unusual about the shapeshifter, something that was both familiar and strange. Until she knew more about what it was, she didn’t feel like broaching the subject to Katja.
The classic and familiar strain of the original Godzilla theme slipped through the air and Kyou quickly reached into her pocket and pulled out the cell phone to answer it. She turned partially away from Katja as she spoke.
“Jun…Oneesama, you saw the fight? I think we did quite well for a new…what? What I did wrong?” Kyou flinched and hunched into her shoulders. “Cousin Maya is there too? But, I don’t understand, I thought it was a good…but…but…how am I supposed to come to see you? Maya did that? Okay…do you have the address? All right…I’ll be right there. Yes, ma’am.”
With a sigh, Kyou disconnected the call and slipped the phone back into her pocket.
“Don’t let them tell you that you weren’t doing a great job,” Katja insisted. “They weren’t there.”
“Yeah, thank you, but….” Kyou shrugged before continuing, “this isn’t the sort of thing I can refuse.”
Kyou was not surprised to find her cousin waiting for her at the small house that the Higa family had acquired in the surrounding hills for Kyou to stay in. Maya was very much more the conservative Okinawan woman when compared to the younger cousin. Her long black hair was bound in a pony tail that moved to her mid-back and her manner of civilian attire was something rather like Minako would wear. Only the other Higa had a knack for picking flattering clothes in that style while the green-haired girl simply looked boring.
“Should I give you some time to change first?” Maya asked, eyeing the brightly colored party clothes that Kyou favored.
“Jun knows how I dress,” Kyou noted.
“That may be but you should probably not look to antagonize her,” Maya noted with a shake of her head.
“You know I think making a show of not trying to antagonize her would just antagonize her more,” Kyou suggested meekly.
“I shouldn’t be surprised,” the other Higa woman said. “Well, the bridge is established, let’s go talk to your sister.”
“Right,” Kyou commented.
Following Maya brought Kyou to the doors of the old storage shed towards the back of the property. She waited as her cousin chanted, proceeding to strip layer after layer of reality from the location until they were faced with an ornate torii standing before a stairwell leading down into the depth of the Earth.
“Why does it go down instead of up?” Kyou asked.
“Do you really need to ask?” Maya spoke as they walked down into the tunnels past intricately sculpted walls showing the illustrious history of the Higa bloodline as far back as could be traced.
The wall carvings were a particularly theatrical touch in Kyou’s opinion, but she couldn’t deny the effectiveness. Each time she passed one of her ancestors in the process of defeating some being of great evil, she couldn’t help but compare it to her own feats, such as they were. Maya, of course, walked ahead of her completely calm and unaffected by the display, well aware that she belonged in the ranks of those heroes. For that matter, Maya had shaped the bridge and the carvings along with it.
Most people probably wouldn’t have made too much of a note of the walls or the tunnel itself, other than to examine the carvings of course. For Kyou, however, it was immediately clear when they had left the confines of the reality within which she had been born. The mosaic of reality echoes that she lived with cleared and she saw simply the surroundings as they were in this neutral place between realities.
Eventually, they reached a familiar barrier, one that Kyou had helped to set up herself. Stepping through that would mean they were entering Earth again, but into a pocket of space where the natural laws and physics of the world had been at least partially warded off.
As they stood on the threshold, Maya turned around to face Kyou, her green eyes had become slitted and reptilian and her nails were darker and curved out in the beginnings of a talon. A light touch of copper scales had taken appearance on her neck and when she spoke, it became clear that some of her teeth had become sharpened fangs.
“Drop that silly illusion,” Maya insisted. “It may be a polite mask outside, but here it is simply rude.”
“Right,” Kyou responded nervously, a moment of focus later and she was similarly revealed to be slightly other than human.
Her eyes had become slightly larger and more watery, the first hints of webbing had appeared between her fingers, a touch of golden scaling appeared and three matched pairs of shallow grooves appeared alongside of her neck. Despite the clearly inhuman appearance, or maybe because of it, her beauty only seemed to grow. Even Maya took a moment to catch her breath at the appearance.
“You’re further along than I am,” Maya commented. “But then your heritage is rather fresher than mine, isn’t it?” The older woman gestured for Kyou to pass her into the dark space beyond. “Let’s not keep her waiting.”
Kyou nodded silently, took a deep breath and walked through the barrier into the realm of darkness beyond. The mosaic returned, though the edges of the fractured pieces were muted and blended as compared to when she was in a normal part of the reality. The spin and flu of the echoes had slowed and when they twisted, they pulled at other pieces of the mosaic around would also shift, keeping the images she had more or less unified in theme and origin.
Maya followed along behind her through the darkness where the walls were too far back to see. There was a cool, humid feel to the area and what little light they had came with a wavering quality that felt much like they were walking through an air pocket in a darkened aquarium.
“Keep walking, girl,” a voice snapped with a harsh accent. The sound echoed throughout the chamber, making it difficult to track the exact source. “I want to show you something.”
“Okay,” Kyou noted weakly, looking to Maya who gestured for her to continuing walking forward.
The young mystic was uncertain how long they were walking before they came to a large television attached to a DVD player. The device might have seemed out of place in the lightless void but it wasn’t anything particularly new for Kyou.
“I want you to watch these records of your recent battles,” her sister’s voice spoke again.
This time Kyou was almost certain that the voice came from the direction to her right but she didn’t look. Maya stood behind her calmly watching Kyou expectantly and waiting. Hesitantly, the youngest of the three walked toward the TV, turned the power on and started the DVD. What followed was a jerky record of her and the team’s first fight, the one against Azure Shrike, obviously spliced together from various smart phone films uploaded to the internet. That was immediately followed by footage of the Sirens in action against various other criminals in the three weeks since they officially formed.
“Illusions,” her sister’s voice declared, this time from the left. “Tricks, barriers.”
“We are the Higa, Kyou,” Maya noted. “We are the mighty. We do not stand in the back like some petty sorcerer.”
“We might have been tolerant of your loss against the Shrike,” Jun growled.
“Do not interrupt,” her sister snapped, voice harsh. “And do not worry about my condition unless you think this barrier you helped make will be equally disappointing to your performance in battle.”
“As your sister was saying, the Shrike is a dangerous foe,” Maya commented. “Not particularly clever, perhaps, but he has great reserves of power. It is not your loss against him that disappoints us, it is your performance.”
“You should have confronted him directly,” Jun snapped, voice coming from another direction now. “Not hidden behind your friends.”
“But I’m different from you,” Kyou responded. “Mother’s mabui had changed before she had me and our younger siblings, you know that. I’m ningyo, not….”
“Do you think your team members weak for not being Brethren?” Jun demanded loudly, a stiff wind washing over the two woman in the center. Kyou stumbled while Maya simply brushed her hair out of her face and cleared her throat. “You can turn air into acid, crush a heart without touching the victim’s body. You have it in your power to deal terrible blows.”
“There are numerous non-lethal options as well,” Maya pointed out. “If you wanted, you could use that ningyo beauty to turn your enemies against each other. You are a force to be reckoned with if you would just step forward and let it out.”
“My team doesn’t need someone to bring the fight to the villains,” she responded. “It’s…it’s like a fire-fighting company. If someone doesn’t keep the civilians back away and keep the water flowing then it will be a disaster.”
“I believe the Jade Chimera is well suited to those tasks.” Maya pointed out.
“And she does not have a reputation to maintain,” Jun added from wherever it was that she was now speaking from.
Kyou took a deep breath and then looked around. “Do you want me to do something flashy out of pride? Or do you want me to do what is needed out of honor? Because if it’s the first, what makes us different from Hi…from her? Aren’t we also supposed to be wise?”
There was an extended period of near silence only punctuated by a sound of something shifting in the darkness. Finally, Maya sighed and looked toward a seemingly random point over her shoulder. “The girl does have a point.”
“I realize that,” Jun admitted slowly before continuing in a more even tone of voice. “This is what I shall suggest. We will be watching your activities with these…Sirens. If your actions show purpose and the address of a legitimate need and duty, then I shall be satisfied.”
“But if you are acting out of cowardice and a desire to avoid the danger of a direct confrontation,” Maya noted. “Then we will know.”
“I swear I will not fail your expectations,” Kyou promised with a relieved tone.
“See that you do not,” the sister in the darkness responded.
“I do have another concern, however,” Maya commented as she stepped forward and walked around Kyou, examining her. “Your hair, your clothes…I was told you’ve even been trying your hand a drinking.”
“It was one time,” the youngest Higa said. “And it was horrible. It’s not going to happen again.”
“That’s fine as far as it goes,” Maya accepted. “But it is only a symptom.”
“A symptom of what? I’m not sick as far as I know,” Kyou commented with deliberate obtuseness.
“You’re trying to be like them,” Jun commented. “You’re trying to fit in.”
“Most people wouldn’t say dying my hair or cutting like this is an attempt to fit in, Onesan.”
“It is camouflage,” Maya pointed out. “You’re making an effort to be what they consider strange. It makes it easier for them to overlook what you are.”
“You use illusions to appear fully human, don’t you?” Kyou asked.
“To conceal my strength,” her cousin answered, “not to pass as one of them.”
“What’s wrong with being one of them?”
“There is nothing wrong about being one of them,” Maya answered drawing a confused look from Kyou. “But we can never be one of them.”
“You can live with them, respect them, work with them, love them. They can even be family,” Jun continued. “But no matter how much you love and respect them. You are not one of them. In the long run, Brethren are only visitors to any distinct reality.”
“This is the nursery for us,” Maya noted. “We are born in these places and grow in their shelter. But…”
“But eventually children grow up,” Kyou finished reluctantly.
“Precisely,” Jun confirmed in a harsh tone from an uncertain direction in the surrounding dark. “It has been suggested that your lackluster performance has been due to a lack of a proper temple. Maya has been good enough to prepare one for you.”
“Um, thank you,” the younger sister said uncertainly.
“I’ll show you the way in once we leave here,” Maya finished.
“You won’t have any excuse to lag in your performance from here on out,” Jun’s harsh voice warned her.
It was moderately surprising to see a thirty-something Algonquin woman in the sort of outdoors apparel that was common in Canada. Minako had assumed that she’d have returned back to her home after the issue with the Shrike had been resolved. Though she had suspected that someone had been watching her.
“Acquin-Sensei,” Minako said as she approached the woman.
“Have you mentioned this place to your brother or parents?” she asked.
“No,” the green-haired teen answered.
“Good, it is always good to have a private safehouse,” the woman said approvingly. She looked around at the surrounding mountains and hills. “How does it compare to Finland?”
“There’s less snow,” the teenager answered. “People are a bit more…intrusive.”
“It must be a nightmare for you,” Acquin commented with a smirk. “Take us inside, if you would. We shouldn’t stay outside for too long.”
Minako nodded and turned to open the door on the house, stepping inside. “Why didn’t you wait inside, if I may ask?”
“I did not design the defenses to be removed from this side, Minako,” the woman responded. “Most people, myself included, will trigger every curse and trick I’ve placed along the way in.”
“So someone magically inert has to walk in and open the way for anybody else to follow,” the girl reasoned, gesturing around the entryway until the older woman pointed to a particular painting, which Minako turned to face the wall. “What about people who are like me?”
“There are a number of mundane security measures as well, of course,” Acquin assured her. “No security is perfect.”
They walked through the entry hall, Minako reminding her sensei to doff her shoes, and Minako noticed Acquin waiting at the edge of the hallway.
“The umbrella stand there,” the older woman noted calmly pantomiming the opening of an umbrella and placing it down. “I’ve been watching your team in action.”
“We’re a little rough,” Minako admitted as she opened one of the spare umbrellas and stuck it back in the stand.
“I would be surprised if you weren’t,” her sensei admitted as she walked into the hallway and gestured for Minako to move on. “What concerns me is that I don’t see the sort of growing pains that would come from an attempt to correct that.”
At the next room, Acquin pointed to a statue and quietly instructed Minako to turn it so that it was facing a different direction. She then walked to a particular wall and waved her hand at it. Minako nodded and started to search about for a latch in the wooden wall.
“There hasn’t yet been discussion on the subject,” Minako admitted.
“You’re not a team if all you do is show up at the same place to occasionally fight bad guys,” Acquin warned her. “You are all going to need to put in some personal time working things out. As it stands, you’re trying to micromanage and your teammates are mostly just doing whatever makes the most sense to them.”
“I’ve thought about talking to Himura…”
“Talk to her certainly, but it’s more important to talk to the team,” her mentor said. “I’d try to work out a regimen and suggested tactics to practice, but that’ll take an amount of time I simply don’t have right now.”
“If you don’t have time to talk about it, why bring it up?” Minako asked. “It isn’t like you to bring up a problem without offering a suggestion.”
“I trust you’ll be able to find a way to handle the situation,” Acquin commented. “My reason for contacting you relates to a specific member of your team.”
“Sensei?” Minako looked up as she found the catch and the wall opened up to lead them down into the hill.
“I want to warn you to keep an eye on Katja Holgersson,” Acquin explained as she pointed out how to deactivate the magical defenses in the secret passage.
Minako stumbled a moment in surprise as she realized that her mentor was asking her to spy on one of her teammates. Specifically one that she had been making an effort to connect with earlier. “I don’t understand. You were just lecturing me about not cooperating with the team enough. Now you want me to spy on them?”
“This is important, Minako,” the woman insisted. “She could be dangerous.”
“I’ll…keep an eye on her,” the green-haired team commented hesitantly, not liking the way it felt to agree to spy on Katja. “Does this have to do with how Kyou said she was foreign? Is she Brethren?”
Now it was Acquin’s turn to pause and fix Minako with serious look.
“Your Higa friend told you about the Brethren?” she asked in surprise. “What did she say?”
“Not much,” Minako said. “We were discussing her renegade sister and she let slip that the reason Hinako Higa turned rogue was due to the discovery that being Brethren was a biological trait.”
Her mentor considered that information for a moment. “That explains some things. Since you do know a little, I shall make the picture a little bit clearer.”
They reached a wide and mostly bare room which, after being made safe by Minako, her mentor walked into and sat down upon one of the chairs within. She considered what to say for a long moment as Minako sat herself down as well.
“Your teammate is, for lack of a better word, possessed.”
“It’s not so simple,” Acquin corrected with a shake of her head. “Part of her self…her soul…has been changed and she doesn’t have the genetic trait that lets people like myself or the Higa handle living in a reality our souls consider unnatural. At least without going insane.”
“Okay, so possession is not an attack but more of an…injury or condition,” the green-haired teen said. “I assume there is a treatment.”
“If it were a standard possession, certainly,” her mentor noted. “But only part of her soul is changed. I’ve never seen anything like it. I can’t be sure that any current exorcism methods wouldn’t just kill her.”
“And I’m supposed to watch her and wait for her to go rabid?” the green-haired girl asked.
“That is essentially the case.”
Minako stood up in a sudden motion and started pacing through the room for several seconds before answering. “I…I can’t do that, sensei. You’re asking me to accept that there’s no way to save her and you’ve always told me that I should keep my eyes and mind open for ways to save as many people as possible.”
She walked across the room once and turned back around. “You’re the one who taught me that if it exists there has to be a reason for it. You can’t just ask me to forget everything you’ve ever taught me and just assume the worst case scenario. You are the one that told me I’m not a freak. And tou’re asking me to sacrifice this woman because…you’ve never seen anything like her?”
Acquin-sensei waited for her student to finish pacing and focus back on her before answering. “I am not asking you to simply kill her now. I’m asking you to watch her and see if my fears are founded.”
“And if they are, we’ll find a way to save her,” Minako insisted.
“I hope you succeed,” Acquin-sensei commented. “All that said, make sure to speak to your Higa friend. The Marble Chimera would find it in her best interests to never meet the elder members of the Higa family. They are less tolerant than I am and would consider her a danger to be eliminated.”
“I…thank you for the warning, Sensei,” Minako said.
Acquin nodded and stood back up. “Escort me out of the building?”
Minako sighed and then nodded, escorting her mentor in silence until she had left the building and they had exchanged farewells. Once the woman had walked down the road and faded into the foot traffic, the green-haired teen shut the door and leaned her forehead against it. She started slapping the wood of the door with her hand, growling in frustration.
Slowly she recovered her controlled exterior and, after checking the various rooms Acquin-sensei had arranged for her, she walked out of the building herself and took out her cell phone.
“Moshi moshi.” The voice was distinctly lacking in emotion or excitement making identification easy even if Minako hadn’t been the one to dial the number.
“Hayashi-san,” she commented. “This is Kita. I need to ask you about Holgersson-san.”
There was a long-pause before Umeko answered. “What do you want information about her for?”
“There are…concerns,” Minako responded, unwilling to relay her mentor’s fears. She didn’t want to have Katja finding herself ostracized because of something that wasn’t even confirmed.
Unfortunately it didn’t seem like Umeko was willing to accept that as a good reason. “Ask her yourself, I’m sure she knows far more about herself than I do.”
Minako thought about pushing the issue, but decided against it. It wasn’t like she had much of a synergy with Hayashi and she didn’t want to risk the little bit that they had. “I’ll see about that. However, there is another matter. I want to see about presenting the possibility of a training schedule to Himura. We’re not really acting in concert right now.”
“Not everyone is doing what you say, you mean,” Umeko commented.
“Nobody should have to say much of anything other than call out warnings,” Minako commented. “We should be able to anticipate each other and know what to expect. Right now we don’t. For instance, I’m not as well suited for keeping an eye the situation as you are. At least within range of any technological devices.”
“Or Google’s satellites,” Umeko added dryly.
“Correct,” Minako agreed. “It shouldn’t take you, me and Kyou to do what is within your ability to handle alone. We’re not being efficient.”
“Well, thank you for that praise then,” the bronze woman responded in a deadpan manner, making it hard to tell if she was offended or not. “I’ll look into this training schedule idea and don’t worry about asking me to keep the first part of the conversation to ourselves. I’ll let you handle Katja on your own.”
Minako grimaced at the gibe.
Umeko shook her head as she continued walking down the streets, ignoring the various looks she was getting. At least as much as possible. She’d liked to have said that she was used to it, but it wasn’t really true. Sure, people with gifted abilities had been a thing for thousands upon thousands of years and that had always included people with unusual appearances, but those that appeared significantly inhuman were quite rare. Usually it was something like Minako with her unusual skin and hair colors, or Katja’s monster form with her horns, tail and glowing marks.
There was also the fact that Umeko was the result of an experiment rather than anything else. Neither of her parents carried the apotheosis virus, which meant it was impossible for her to do so. Nor did she have any magical training. Yet she had abilities like a triggered carrier would have. The nanites that had been used in her experimental treatment had apparently gone far past what anybody had expected them to.
The bronze woman hadn’t gotten far down the street after disconnecting with the call from Minako before another ring tone rose out of her jeans pocket. The melody and voice were calm, measured and soft, the sort of thing you’d expect from a mother’s lullaby, but the lyrics spoke of excitement and thrills. The dichotomy had struck her before as the perfect representation for Ayako Wakahisa given the girl’s meditative and introspective manner of talking combined with her love of thrills and physical exertion.
With a thought, Umeko connected again to her phone and opened the call. Internally she created the dialogue she wanted to send to Ayako. “This is Hayashi speaking.”
“Hello, this is Ayako,” the other young woman’s voice responded. “Umeko, I was wanting to ask if you could do me a favor with that hacking ability of yours.”
“Hello, Umeko, how are you today?” Umeko answered. “Are you feeling all right? What do you have planned? And do you mind if everybody expects you to be their personal hacker?”
“Right, I apologize,” Ayako commented. “That was a bit too pushy. I’m just a little bit adrift at the moment, probably not thinking as clearly as I should be. Would you like anything done for you?”
“I’d like to know why you want me to go hacking for information,” Umeko told her flatly.
“Well, I’m just coming out of my latest medical check,” the other woman noted, “And I got a look at some files. They talk about something called the ‘shikome virus’…and I’m wondering if that had anything to do with my cancer.”
As the mention of the virus came up, Umeko discretely directed some searching power towards looking for references to that name. Aside from the obvious mystical references and a few anime, she didn’t find anything relating to a virus by that name. “Are you certain you read that correctly?”
“I took some photos of the documents before the doctor came back,” Ayako explained. “I could send them to you.”
“No need,” Umeko answered as she used the connection to enter her teammate’s phone and seek out the pictures. It didn’t take long to find what Ayako was talking about. The doctor’s scribbled and hurried handwriting did mention a dormant virus and the cancer in ways that made it seem like the two were indeed connected to each other.
“Wait, are you accessing my phone right now?” the spear-woman asked. “Wow, see that’s why I called you. This is the sort of thing that you’re best at. It’s like hacker is your class or something.”
“Class?” Umeko responded in a coldly judgmental voice. “What are you talking about class for? This isn’t a game, Ayako. There’s no save button or reload. The people we fight are trying to kill us more often than not.”
“I know this isn’t a game,” Ayako retorted in her own calm tone. Despite the soft tones it was clear to Umeko that she’d struck a nerve and Ayako was a bit upset at her accusation. “That’s why I’m trying to get someone to help me look into this. If this virus is what caused my cancer and it’s still in my body, that’s something I want to know. Really, Umeko, you need to work on the way you talk to people sometimes.”
“Uh huh,” Umeko responded, untouched by Ayako’s last suggestion. “I’ll see what I can find about this virus of yours.”
“Yeah, thank you,” Ayako noted in return. “I’ll see you later.”
The bronze woman disconnected the call and let herself pick up the pace. However, she didn’t get far before she found the direction of her passage blocked by a small host of journalists. They were checking their watches and chatting until someone noticed her come around the corner.
“Hey, Hayashi-san, we’d like to ask you a few questions.”
Suddenly, Umeko found herself surrounded by men and women with cameras, microphones, notepads and more.
“How do you respond to the questions raised about how you’ve so far shown a casual disregard for cyber privacy in your actions?”
“Excuse me, what?” Umeko asked. “Are you seriously ambushing me like this and then complaining about whether or not I respect other people’s privacy?”
“It is a valid question,” one of the reporters suggested as the bronze woman regarded him through a disdainful expression. “Your abilities make you uniquely suited to performing identity thefts and other sorts of data crimes.”
“Yeah, and Yurei could drive a person permanently insane,” the bronze woman commented in a dry, unimpressed tone. “No one thinks she’s going to be doing that. If you’re seriously wanting to ask me stuff, why not contact me for an interview instead of ambushing me on a walk as if you were some American paparazzi or something.”
There was some shuffling amongst the reporters as she said that and Umeko started to push through the crowd. At least until some man in a high quality suit stepped forward past the reporters and adjusted his tie as he looked at her.
“Actually, lots of people suspect Yurei of such things,” the man said simply. “In any case, even she has not demonstrated your casual disregard for society’s laws.”
“And who are you now?” Umeko asked.
“Kento Mikosatsu, I represent Maedosu Industries,” he noted. “We are currently pursuing a civil case against you regarding the illegal use and destruction of our property due to your actions.”
“What are you talking about now?” the bronze woman asked.
“We are talking about the fight with Azure Shrike and your unsanctioned appropriation of the Tri-rider prototype vehicle,” the lawyer explained.
“And if I hadn’t done that the bastard would have gotten away before Jade and Amber arrived on the scene,” Umeko said with a dismissive wave.
“Then earlier today you sealed four people inside a vault to prevent the minor villain Stoneskin from getting into it,” he added.
“They were fine,” she retorted. “And, again, if I hadn’t locked down the vault one of those people might have been hurt by the guy’s statues. I don’t see the issue here. Hell, your vehicle there fought an A-list villain. That should be virtually free publicity for you.”
“We were marketing the vehicle as a recreational vehicle, Miss Hayashi,” the man noted. “Your display of its use in combat ended the interest of several major automobile companies and scuttled the crowdfunding attempt. We are now dealing with a social media outcry over our ‘secret weapons research’. The result of which is that your actions have directly resulted in Maedosu having to let go a number of researchers and developers.”
Umeko tried to keep the twinge in the back of her mind from expressing itself physically. She still quietly clenched her fists and narrowed her eyes at the man as he spoke. A brief search of the past week’s news headlines proved the matter was true. The man’s company had fired a large number of staff from their positions after a public outcry.
When she spoke, her voice was noticeably more emotional than it had been before. “Oh please, do you know how much work it should have been to program that thing on the fly to do all that? You had some excellent protocols already built into that thing. It was just like playing a video game.”
“If you’re not even aware of how easily you can overwrite things,” the lawyer said, “then the matter is even more serious than I thought.”
The reporters started pressing back in at her asking a barrage of questions while that supercilious man in the suit simply stared at her with a look that mixed caution and disgust. Behind the performance, there was a smirk somewhere. She just knew it and the fact that he could just stand there without anybody even questioning his motives sickened her.
Closing her eyes, she backed up towards an automatic door in the building behind her. Then she focused and like a waving cascade, each of the cameras and microphones simply shut down. Phones turned off. Cars stopped. The door behind her froze in the process of opening as its motion detector triggered and she walked through the gap. Then the door snapped shut behind her and refused to open again as she walked through the building toward the backside and whatever other exits she could locate, electronic locks snapping open as she approached.
Behind her, the reporters vacillated between trying to get their equipment started again to rushing towards their cars and trying to fire up the motors in an attempt to get around the building before she got through it. The newspaper journalists were having much less in the way of stress as they simply jotted down notes on their pads. Almost unnoticed by anyone, Mikosatsu finally allowed himself to smile before turning to head for his car and wait for the tech in the area to start working again.
“That went about as perfectly as I could have hoped for,” he said to himself as he straightened his suit.
“Kitsu?” the news anchor asked. “Kitsu are you there?” He looked around, towards the co-anchor and then hesitantly toward the camera. “Well, we seem to have loss connection with Kitsu-san on the ground in an interview with the so-called ‘Bronze Chimera’ of a recently established rookie superhero team, the Chimera Sirens.”
“We can only hope that she didn’t do anything to them,” the co-anchor said nervously. “I find it hard to tell what she’s thinking. Looking at that face is like looking at a statue.”
“I agree, Chinako. Such a…” and the image paused as Himura walked in front of the television holding the remote.
“This was unfortunately repeated on several programs, some international,” the woman noted. “So far, most of the press for this group has been good, especially given your debut against the Shrike, but this has been a noticeable hit. Hayashi-san needs to make an attempt to be more approachable and sympathetic to the bulk of the people. Incidents like this make you look like you think of yourself above everybody else.”
“I’ll agree it was a mistake,” Umeko responded, “but it more shows that I’m like all the rest of you reactionary and paranoid people rather than that I’m superior to you. I’ll try not to lower myself to your level again.”
“Perhaps that is one way to look at it,” Himura noted.
“If I may,” Minako said stepping forward. “I’d like to suggest that we begin a training regime of some sort. That would solve lots of problems.”
“I…could use some help with figuring out how to get the best use out of my spear,” Pearl agreed after some thought.
“And that way Minako can practice giving us orders,” Katja added dryly.
“That is part of the problem,” Minako said, turning toward Katja. “Right now, there’s a lot of chatter between all of us asking the others to do something. I am the worst offender, but that is one thing that regular training should address.”
“It would give us a better idea of what we’re each capable of and how to anticipate the needs of the situation without broadcasting it for the enemy to hear,” Kyou commented.
“And also set some standard priorities for each of us to focus on,” Minako added. “Right now we’re just sort of going in as a bunch of individuals more than anything.”
“That is a well-reasoned suggestion, and having such sessions is a long-term goal,” Himura noted. “Unfortunately it might be difficult to accomplish without having access to training facilities.”
“I don’t know,” Pearl said. “Why can’t we just schedule a time to get together and work some things out?”
“Training superheroes isn’t the sort of thing that we could just do. At the very least there are security matters involved,” Himura explained, leveling a look of exasperation at the pink-armored samurai who still refused to show her face in these meetings. “We’ve been looking into the costs necessary to create a training ground and at the moment. Beyond that is the fact that it will simply take time to build such a thing. We could look into working with the Eiyu-Tai and seeing if they would allow us to make use of their facilities until we could can get our own.”
“How about we publicize some training events,” Umeko asked. “It would allow us to generate some income and perhaps pass on some misinformation in the process.”
“I’m afraid that would not be appropriate,” Himura commented. “Having a separate mode of training for the public and private sessions is problematic. It could create confusion in a tactical situation as well as publicity concern should the fact that we fake public events be revealed.”
Kyou cleared her throat before the argument could continue. “If I may. I can create a space for us to train in.”
“How so?” Himura asked.
“The distortion of space is a basic capability of magic,” she explained. “Well, space and time, but I am more practiced in warping space. Anyway, I can stretch a region of space like putty and make it a lot larger on the inside. Then we’d just need a spare room of some sort. It’s not the best solution….”
“No, that could definitely work as an interim solution,” their sponsor’s representative answered. “Would you be able to participate if you’re maintaining the arena as well?”
“I believe so,” Kyou assured the woman.
“So I guess all that’s left is to get someone for us to fight,” Katja noted.
“I might be able to arrange something for that as well,” Himura suggested with a smile.