Archive for July, 2015

4 ~ Heroic Expectations

Posted: July 26, 2015 in Entropis

Some superhero she was. Her first call to adventure and she wasn’t flying through the air, or driving dramatically through the streets. She couldn’t do the anti-gravity thing Kia could. The text from Kia had appeared mid-afternoon, and she’d rushed out to boldly take on the new Schism that was threatening the city! And now she was on a bus.

How embarrassing could it get? There’s some tear in reality destroying the world, and she’d stood there for fifteen minutes waiting for the bus to arrive, and it was going to take another half hour just to get there. So much for The Silver Beam of Luna Light. How could she possibly use her powers to travel? Sure, she could change one thing into another, but that wasn’t going to help her fly or run super-fast or whatever, was it? Maybe she could change water into petrol, but she didn’t even have a driving license, and with London traffic she wouldn’t even get anywhere. She could see it now. ‘Sorry Kia, I couldn’t help you save the world, the traffic on the north circular was awful…’

Still, with three line changes on the Tube and no transport of her own, the bus was her fastest option for now. Maybe she’d talk to Kia when she saw her about ideas of how to get around. She must’ve known another girl with Metasis powers, surely? How had they done it?
The bus juddered into its stop, the doors opening with a hiss to let people on and off. The ticket machine beeped a greeting to each customer. Everyone stared at their own little patch of nothingness and on they went, the bus wheezing its way through the streets of London. As they travelled, she felt it. That little tug she’d felt just before the Schism at Jake’s place had erupted into being. But this wasn’t a pulse, this wasn’t the gradual increase she’d felt before as it slowly formed. This was constant. The strength increase she could feel as she travelled wasn’t from it getting stronger, but from her getting closer. She could feel the power. An otherworldly wrongness drawing her towards it. Was the Schism calling to her? Could it feel her like she could feel it?

The bus felt horrendously slow, creeping through the streets like an old dog, stopping to pant in bus stops before plodding on, ignored by the rest of the world. She took the time to practice some more, focussing on the pendant she’d found in the boxes of her stuff that had been in her old room. Three rings, interlinked together on a chain, one silver, one gold, one bronze. She’d liked the symbolism at the time, seeming to mirror the triangular, yet interlinked cycle Kia had described, but since leaving she’d found a better use for it.

Holding it in her hand, she focussed on changing the material of each ring separately, without contaminating the other rings. She could feel it in her hand, and nobody else could see, but only when she was really sure she’d transformed the ring did she open her hand to check. Now she’d slept, and was calmer, it was definitely easier. She’d only messed up twice, and she’d been able to change the ring back each time. Maybe one day she’d be able to change all three simultaneously. At least the bus ride would feel less like a waste of time.

~☆~

She arrived at the nearest bus stop and ran towards the address Kia had given her. As she turned onto the right street she staggered to a stop, staring at the building up ahead. It was mostly whole, unlike how Jake’s block of flats had been, but while the building hadn’t broken apart huge cracks had been hacked through it. Through the cracks came thick bushes and climbing plants, moss spread across the brickwork like a skin disease, and the windows were cracked and faded. How could people not see this? How could they walk by it without realising what had happened?

Her phone trilled in her pocket, with Kia on the other end.

“Don’t go in yet. I can see you, come down the alley next to the news agents, go up their fire escape. I’m on the roof.”

The phone booped dead.

Why the rooftop? Did Kia have a thing for them, or did they genuinely provide some useful quality she didn’t know about? Nobody else could see that they were anything other than normal people, so there was no need to hide. She crept around the back, pulling herself up the ladder and onto the flat, modern rooftop. Between ventilation boxes and the skeletal fingers of aerials she spotted her, the almost glowing purple dress just as beautiful in the sunlight.

“Hey, look, I’m really sorry, I got here as fast as I could but I can’t do the gravity thing or anything, and I had to get the bus and it was really slow and took forever, and traffic and, well, I’m here now. I’m not too late, am I?”

Kia shook her head, ignoring her babbling,

“No. Actually you’re a little early.”

“Early? But it’s right there!” The roof joined with the cracked, Schisming building next to them, the thick clusters of climbing vines probing along the ground where they joined, “Shouldn’t we go in and shut it down?”

“Not yet.”

Kia was sitting on the edge of the roof, watching the streets below. She must have seen her arrive by bus, moments before, but she was just sitting there as if unconcerned. Her only real greeting had been a glance over her shoulder.

“What if we take too long? What if it collapses? Aren’t…” she almost couldn’t bring herself to criticise the elder girl, “Aren’t we wasting time?”

“No, don’t worry, we’ve got hours yet.”

“Hours?” She frowned, “We were barely in the last one for one hour, and you were saying how it was gonna collapse any moment!”

Kia sighed, stretched, and turned to face her properly,

“Trust me, it’s fine. Time works differently in there to out here. Some Schisms last for days before they collapse, even if it seems like a couple of hours on the inside.”

“What? … No, that… that doesn’t make sense…” Why was there always more? Why was nothing ever simple? “When we came out it was like, one in the morning! If hours had passed, it wouldn’t still be night!”

“We’d been in there just under an hour. When we met, it was two o’clock. We were in there just under twenty four hours, reality-time.”

“That’s not… that can’t be possible…”

“You’re still saying that?” Kia glanced back down at the street, then at her phone, “With everything that happens inside a Schism, with all the insanity you witnessed last night, you really think time is gonna remain the same?” She looked back down at the street, “Time is a part of reality. When reality goes wrong, so does time. You’d be better off just assuming time doesn’t apply, and checking the time and date when you get back.”

She gripped the ventilation unit next to her, letting it support her. She felt tired, all of a sudden. Was there more she didn’t know? Would Kia have even told her this if she hadn’t wanted to go in early, or had she just not told her before to save her the shock?

“It’s almost time, don’t worry. Let’s give it a minute or two longer.” Kia stood up on the edge of the roof, the two floor drop below ignored. “Now that you know, it’ll give you time to tell your family you’ll be away.”

She hadn’t thought of that. Really, the only people it affected were her family, who’d wonder where she’d been the last day or so. But what would she tell them? She bashed out a message to her mum, hoping her excuse would dodge most of the hardest questions.
‘Decided to visit a friend for a bit, will be back in a day or so.’
Kia glanced down at her phone again. She was clearly waiting for something. She was about to ask what, when Kia cut her off,

“Looks like this one’ll be mine.”

“Yours? What do you mean?”

“My element, Entropis. The building’s all crumbled and overgrown. Accelerated decay. Over the next day or so this will gradually spread and the places affected will collapse in on themselves, at which point it’ll all be gone from reality and everyone’ll think it’s always been that way.”

“Always? But what about everything that happened in it?” She stared at the decaying building, “People’s memories of it?”

Kia’s face went dark, inscrutable. She turned away in silence for a moment, looking out over the rooftops and down the street.

“You’d be amazed what people forget.” She stepped towards the cracked wall across from them, “There’s no memories of something that never existed. But we don’t get the luxury of neat little rewrites. We’re outside reality’s filing system, so we get to remember.” She paused at the wall and dissolved one of the cracked pieces of brick with her hand, creating an entrance, “Our little curse.” She said, her tone acidic, “So let’s get started on making sure everyone else can remember it too, shall we?”

She felt lighter, that was her first impression. The air tasted strange and plants that had seemed to infest the building on the outside had vanished within. The crack Kia had made had deposited them out of a ventilation shaft, which crashed to the ground behind them, the metal corroded with rust.

“You smell that?” Kia asked, “That’s the smell of dying. The bricks, metal, wood, even the air, it’s all going bad.”

“It doesn’t seem nearly as extreme as the last one.”

Kia snorted. The room seemed to be some kind of office, the desk in the middle of it sagged as books on shelves moulded more with each second. The weight of the computer was finally too much, and the desk collapsed.

“It’s not as abrupt as that, but trust me, it’s just as strange.”

She turned the handle of the door, pushing against the rotten wood, which mushed even as it opened. The handle fell out as she let go.
Kia walked out, calm and confident, but the feeling of being anything other than a normal girl was driven out of ‘The Silver Beam of Luna Light’ by the noises she could hear. The low moans of utter, unrestrained despair. Howling, screaming, and somewhere, echoing down the hall like an audible strobe light, unhinged laughter. Facing strange paranormal dangers was scary, but these sounded like people, a lot of people. And utterly insane.
She peered around the doorframe,

“What is this place Kia? A mental hospital?”

“It may as well be now.” Kia was glancing through the windows of other offices, “But it was a police station.”

“But all these people, they sound…” A gunshot sounded from somewhere below, and more screaming broke out from somewhere, “What was that!?”

“Damn, I was hoping they wouldn’t have an armed unit here.”

She ran over to Kia, following her down the hall,

“Stop, wait, just… just tell what’s going on! Why is everyone insane?!”

She spotted someone inside the office, the overturned rusting filing cabinets and moulding desk blocked most of them from sight, but still, at the back, a white shirted man rocked back and forth gripping himself. She stared, transfixed. Horrified.

“People don’t stand a chance in here. It’s no different to what you saw in the other Schism, it’s just less… obvious. Everything’s decaying in here, faster and faster, and when it comes to people the first thing to go is always the mind.”

“We… we can’t just leave them…”

“Yes. We can. They’re as good as dead now. Let’s go find the Heart, and if you still want to save them by the time we get it, then you’re welcome to try your best.”

Kia’s dry, emotionless tone sapped the hope from her. She spoke like it was already a foregone conclusion. These people were gone, in their mind here, and from reality soon. What would their families think? What of all the husbands and wives back home waiting for their loved ones after work? Were these the missing people on milk cartons and posters? It seemed too cruel. They’d had no idea what was going on, or that this was going to happen. This was no understandable disaster for either side. No tsunami or terrorist bombing that people could imagine. They’d just vanish.

“Come on, you’ll get used to it. Let’s go.”

Kia’s words didn’t reassure her. Part of her hoped she’d never get used to it. How much did you have to lose to stop empathising with these poor people? Just how much had Kia seen that made all this so easy?
They made their way down the stairs, the howls and screams and maddened chants getting louder as they descended. Another gunshot rang out, followed by three more. Kia had stopped at the sound of them, waiting, listening for more.

“Don’t underestimate guns. We may have elemental powers, but they only respond as fast as we can think, and focus. There’s no magical shield you can throw up or whatever, if you get shot your only option is to heal yourself as fast as you can.” Kia went to the bannister and peered over, checking below before continuing on, “Which there isn’t much chance of, given the shock. So, just don’t get shot.”

“You’re actually serious… we’re in here to stop reality collapsing and there’s insane cops with guns… I’ve never even seen a gun before, why do they have guns?!”

“Certain stations have armed response units in case of emergency. Like riot cops and stuff.” Kia kept close to the bannister as she edged down, watching for any movement, “They’re pretty common in London, I’m surprised you haven’t seen them.”

“I never expected to be fighting them!”

“Nah this ain’t even close. There’ll be one nutter who could access them who’s decided to go get one. We’d not last five seconds against a proper trained team.”

“You’re really bad at this reassurance thing…”

She followed Kia, and as they left the stairwell they looked out into the main lobby. They could hear muttering and screams coming from inside, but desks and pillars blocked their view. One of the large glass windows for an office had shattered, and bullet holes appeared sporadically up one wall. Hairline cracks laced the walls and ceiling, with occasional tiny showers of plaster sprinkling down from above. Kia gestured, then ran in a crouch to behind one of the cubicles. They peered up and over the top, spotting one officer hiding face down and muttering under her desk, and a few feet away from her, another walking slowly down the aisle shouting,

“I’ll find you! I’ll find you!”

More shots rang out, and the walking officer jerked, blood and a gasp spurting from his lips before he collapsed to the ground. Red blossomed across his back, and the policewoman under her desk screamed, burying her face in her arms. They ducked back down behind the cubicle, and Kia somehow still looked calm.

“Right, so the gunman’s here.”

“That’s it!? Some… someone was just shot! Right there, in front of us! And that’s your only response!”

“Shh! Keep it down!” Kia glanced up over the cubicle again, “It looks like he’s gonna be in the corridor over there. Come on, let’s go take a look.”

“And now you want to go closer!

Kia ignored her, creeping around the side over to the edge of the hallway, glancing around the corner. She nodded to herself, then Kia gestured for her to take a look too. There was a man at the far end standing against the wall at the end, looking down both directions of the L-shaped hallway. A rifle was in his hands, and he held onto it like it was all he had left, clutching it to the bulletproof vest. His eyes were wide open, staring manically down one way, then the other, and as his face turned towards her she ducked back around.

“He’s not gonna hang around for long.” Kia whispered, “Chances are he’s gonna come straight down here, and put a hole in anything that moves on the way. He’s probably trying to get out, I’d imagine.”

“So what do we do?”

“We deal with him. We may not be able to withstand bullets, but if we’re smart, we shouldn’t need to. I’m going to go underground, tunnel beneath him, and collapse the floor under him so I can disarm him.”

“While I do what? Sit here and wait for him to shoot me?”

“No, no,” Kia shook her head, “You need to watch how far he gets. Once he gets to…” she glanced around the corner again, “There’s some dried blood up the wall on the left, once he gets level with that, stamp on the ground. I’ll take him down.”

“You’re kidding me!” She swapped places with Kia and glanced around the corner. The gunman had begun to move, slowly moving along the hallway, watching for movement, “He’s coming. He’s coming now!”

“Calm down,” Kia crouched down, placed her hand on the floor and a circle began to erode, “Don’t give yourself away. If you can slow him down then great, but if you don’t keep your voice down he might work out where you are.” The floor gave way beneath Kia and she dropped down into a hole just big enough to contain her. “It’s pretty much solid concrete foundations down here, so it’ll take me a few minutes to get there. Just… just relax, alright, and keep an eye on him.”

She watched Kia dissolve her way through the concrete, wishing she could do a little more than just watch. Why was she here? Kia could deal with this on her own. The pretence that she was helping to break this Schism was so transparent she wished Kia had just told her to wait. It’d take her several minutes to tunnel through under the floor before she’d make it. Were hours really ticking by outside? Was life going on out there in fast motion, or were they in here in slow motion?

Thinking about all that wasn’t going to change anything. Morphing a shard of glass into mirror was easy enough, and using it to spy around the corner made things a lot safer. But the feeling of uselessness was starting to weigh. This Maddy girl she kept mentioning, what had happened to her? Was she dead? Probably. But how? If she’d been as powerful as Kia and Schisms seemed easy to her alone, then why would they ever get into trouble together? There was so much she didn’t know, and the more questions she asked, the less she seemed to understand. Better to focus on what she did know, and make something of it. Was there any way she could help? She watched the policeman twitch his rifle around as he slid his way along the wall, slowly padding closer. If Kia’s friend had been vulnerable then that meant Kia was too. A stray bullet could kill her only hope of learning enough to be able to take on these Schisms alone. Maybe of getting out of here alive. And he was almost there…

The flash of movement in the mirror was all she had. The wall gave way behind the officer, and the shout of surprise from him echoed down the corridor. A purple glow came through the rubble as it fell, and for a moment she thought it was Kia until a dark blue joined it, a pair of girls wrestling with the lone officer. She stared in shock, unable to move, or even process what was happening, before the floor beneath all of them collapsed. They disappeared in a cloud of dust, and she scrambled up off the floor to run after them.

“Aa-agh— get, get back, away!”

“What’s going—”

“Hold him d—”

“Get away!”

“That’s not, stop, that’s me!”

“Where’s the gun!?”

“Stay back! No, stay… st… nngh…”

The dust cleared, revealing four figures sprawled in the remains of what had once been concrete foundations. One was Kia, the officer’s forehead clutched in her hand as she lay on top of him, holding him down. Her dress, and one other, had shone purple through the dust, and the other belonged to a shocked looking blonde girl, her dress adorned with rings of silver drops around her curves, who held the remains of what seemed to be a much melted rifle. But the third girl glowed a deep blue through the sifting dust, the silver trim rigid over her dark skin, an intense look pointing her features. None of them had noticed her as she’d watched from above, and instead the pair kept their eyes on Kia.

“You’re another one!” The blonde girl spoke, pointing as if at a zoo, “You’re like me!”

“Perceptive,” Kia smiled, patting the officer on the head, “Guess we’re not alone in here after all. You’re new.”

“Yeah!” The blonde girl got up and dusted herself off, tossing the rifle away, “We didn’t even know there were others in London, let alone here!” The girl in blue got up too, but stood just behind as her friend talked, “Man, I’m so damn glad! We barely know what we’re doing!”

Kia floated off the ground a little before putting her feet down to stand, suddenly seeming a mixture of friendly and cocky.

“Well, you’d be welcome to join me and, oh,” Kia looked up out of the hole at her, “There she is. This is—”

“You’re green!” The blonde girl interrupted, “Man this is like some kinda movie! Have you got like, forest powers or something? Or, wait, do either of you have special names?”

Kia tilted her head, smirking,

“Special?”

“Yeah man! Aliases! Like, I’m Euphoria! And, this is Iris!” The other girl raised a sceptical hand in greeting, “That’s how it works, right? We get magic outfits and powers and aliases to protect our families from villains and stuff, yeah?”

Kia shook her head,

“I just use my name. Kia. I don’t really need an alias.”

“Aw, man. It’s a pretty cool name, though. He-ey, I bet you’ve got a name!”

“Well, uh,” The Silver Beam of Luna Light lowered herself down to a crouch at the edge of the hole, “Not, not really…”

“You totally do!” The blonde girl, Euphoria, grinned, “I can see it in your face! Come on, tell me!”

“Euphie…”

Iris, the girl in deep blue, put a hand on her arm, but her friend shook her off.

“Come on! We’re superheroes! Everyone knows about ‘em, man! The comics, the movies, everyone’s seen ‘em, and now we’re them! You blatantly thought about it, so come on, spill it!”

“Uh, well…”

She stared at this girl, caught in the headlights of such energy. The girl clearly had no problems with being surrounded by insane police in magical balls of collapsing reality, as if she was caught up with the novelty of it all. A little part of her was jealous. She had thought about taking on some sort of superhero persona, but she hadn’t planned on telling anyone. I mean, if she told them it, they’d probably laugh. Kia had played it cool and confident, even after being so unemotional earlier. The Silver Beam of Luna Light would definitely get laughed at. They both had one word names, how could she think of something cool on the spot like this?

“Sil…ver…?”

“Silver, huh? Man, I’m the only one with a really cool name…”

“As important as this is,” Kia broke in, “We need to end this Schism. We can discuss names afterwards, right?”

“Man, Schism. What an awesome word. Like, that’s way better than bubble. What does it even mean?”

“A tear, or a divide.” Iris spoke up, “But, how would I have known what they’re called?”

“No, stop, you’re not listening.” Kia was starting to look annoyed, “We need to work as quick as we can. We don’t know how long we have in here, and chances are the Heart of this Schism is going to be in the cells.” She jumped up out of the hole in a single leap, leaving the other pair to clamber out, “So we can chat afterwards, right? Trust me, you don’t want to be in here when the ceiling starts collapsing.”

Silver watched them climb out, unsure what to say. She’d thought that meeting other magical girls would be great, but Euphoria or whatever was a little too into it all, like she’d never seen the kind of horrors that was in the other Schism, while the other girl, Iris, was so quiet and intense she seemed almost unapproachable. Both girls were such opposites that trying to figure either out seemed impossible in the presence of the other.

“Are we just going to leave him there?” Iris was looking back into the hole at the subdued policeman.

“Yeah. Not much more we can do for him now.” Kia began to walk, taking leadership by force of seniority, “Gotta concentrate on stopping this place collapsing.”

Euphie followed her, but Iris hung back, looking uncertain. Her eyes met Silver, piercing her with a glare, and she couldn’t help but feel judged in some way. “It’s true. We can’t even leave until we sort it out, so there’s no way we can get him out either.”

“So we’re trapped.”

“Kinda, yeah. But, not like them. Kia says they’re here for good.”

Iris stared down at the unconscious policeman, then looked back at Silver,

“…They’ve all gone mad.”

“Yeah.”

“Euphie doesn’t… she doesn’t seem to notice.” She looked ahead to her friend, who was talking with Kia as they looked ahead into the next section, “Neither does your friend. Do you think it’s because of whatever these powers are? They’re both the same type, right?”

“I… doubt it.” Silver shook her head, “I think Kia does notice. I just think she’s learned to ignore it.”

“Hm.” There was a moment of silence, “If only it were that easy. We should probably keep up.”

Without another word, the girl in blue walked off towards the others. Without realising, Silver found she’d gone from sidekick to trailing after people she’d only just met. How did that happen? She thought she’d left pecking orders behind with college…

The walls had begun to collapse. Chunks of plaster thudded to the ground, doors began to bulge out as they and their frames rotted, light fixtures sparked and flickered, and the periodic clocks on the walls ticked in and out of place, each one telling a different time. Police stations, Silver found, were mostly hallways and offices, and what offices they went in were cluttered and busy. ‘A tidy mess’ was how her mother would put it; everything out for a reason, but to someone else looked like chaos.

“The Heart should be in one of these,” Kia approached the bare, rusted metal of the temporary cell doors, “It shouldn’t be difficult to shut down. Much less now you’re here.” She glanced at Iris, “How well can you use your powers?”

“I’ve only had them a few days. I don’t really get them yet.” She replied, “I can make stuff go completely solid.” She nodded to the cracks in the walls, “Which means I’m a little out of place, I think.”

“Nah, the opposite. You’re perfect. Everything’s collapsing too fast, so who better to have than someone to make it whole again? Come on. Let’s find the Heart, you’ll get the hang of it.”

Kia began accelerating the rusting doors, the first one hitting the floor with a clang and disintegrating into several parts. She peered into the blank cell of a bed, rotten mattress, and lifeless light bulb, shook her head, and moved on to the next door.

“You’ve only transformed within the last few days?” Silver spoke to Iris as they watched Kia work, “I didn’t realise you were so new.”

“Man, we’re both new!” Euphoria butted in, “I transformed like, a week ago, and then I rescued Iris about three days ago!”

“Rescued is one way to put it.” Iris’ face was unreadable.

“We did it in the end! It could’ve gone way worse!”

“I transformed just yesterday,” Silver said, “This is my second. I didn’t realise they were so frequent.”

“This is our second too.” Said Iris, “But we felt yours, and we would’ve come to—”

“Stop, be quiet.” Kia’s tone was hard, “This is wrong.”

“What’s wrong?”

“This. All of this.” They looked into the cell Kia had burst open, where a wall had come crashing down, exposing the cell next to them, “If the heart is here, there shouldn’t be so much that’s collapsed here, right? Hearts collapse everything around them, but they’re the last to go. Like a storm or something. Why is everything down here so destroyed?” The ceiling puffed plaster as another piece fell out, followed by another as Kia blew another cell door in. The inside was just as ruined. “This isn’t right! Where the hell is it if not here? It can’t have progressed this much this fast!”

The trio behind her looked at each other, only to find uncertain faces looking back. Another wall in one of the cells collapsed, and a crack shuddered through the floor. Silver took a step back. Was the floor going to open up? Anything was possible in a Schism…

“Kia… the floor’s breaking up, it seems pretty dangerous…”

“I know, I know! This is crazy, it’s like this is the…” her eyes widened, “This isn’t the Heart. This is the edge.” She turned her back to the cell, “The Heart must be above us! That’s why the floor…” The floor cracked again, more fissures sprouting off it like plant stalks, reaching out for the walls. “Get away from the floor!”

“What?” They all looked incredulous, “How can you get away from the—”

“Get back! This way!”

Kia started to backpedal away from the cracks as they began to quicken, and the others began to back off too. Piece by piece the floor began to crumble, falling away, shards of it toppling down into… nothingness. As the tiny pieces of concrete and carpet gave way, Silver watched them fall into endless black. The falling pieces were the only indicator there was anything but darkness down there, and as more of the floor crumbled, parts of the walls to the cells began to drop off into nowhere too. They watched their way back collapse, their only route off deeper into the police station, and even that was beginning to crack.

“We need to go higher. The Heart must be somewhere on the top floor.” Kia’s nonchalant coolness was gone, replaced with her usual urgency, “I was wrong about the ceiling collapsing. This is a whole lot worse. It’s going to tear the building out from under us.”

Only Euphie maintained her composure, saying with a grimace,

“Well hey man, look on the bright side!” The looks of panic on the others did nothing to deter her, “The only way is up!”

END OF CHAPTER FOUR

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Read Chapter 5 – Falling

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3 ~ Two Forward, One Back

Posted: July 12, 2015 in Entropis

It’s always easier to leave than it is to go back. It’s easy to take something for granted when you’re not used to losing things. Kia had offered her a place to stay, somewhere she could sleep while she found a new flat. Somewhere she could practice. But right now, those weren’t what she needed.

She’d kept the key just in case, jingling unused on her key ring, a silent reminder that no matter what happened, she’d always be able to come back. It slid back inside the lock, the quiet click of metal teeth so much louder in the night. She had to be careful, it was almost 3:30am. If anyone inside heard her coming in they’d freak out, thinking they were being robbed or something. The last thing she wanted to do was make a fuss. She’d had enough fuss for one night.

 

“You have to understand, you’re kinda of two worlds now. You’ve never seen the other before because nobody can unless they’re a part of it. But now you are, you’re gonna have to get used to ignoring stuff. Seeing past stuff. To you and me, we’re wearing these fancy colourful dresses permanently. To everyone else, we’re wearing the clothes underneath. So make sure you wear stuff anyway, right? Don’t go ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’ on people, yeah?”

“How am I supposed see through my own clothes?”

“Sounds weird but you can. You have to learn to look only at one side of things. Considering you’ve only been able to see one side all your life, it’s easier to pick up than you might expect. You have to start thinking like that though, two worlds in one. It won’t just be clothes, soon enough you’ll see plenty of stuff you’ve never seen before.”

 

Kia’s words still echoed in her mind, sorting the new information she’d been taught. Trying to process it. She hadn’t signed up for this. She didn’t ask for crazy magical outfits or vision or whatever. She’d always looked for the special and interesting in life, and Jacob and his love of fire certainly hadn’t been the first, but the things she’d seen tonight weren’t special, they were horrific. Normally, if she’d had a bad day she’d go to Jake, talk to him about it. Let it all out. Who could she talk to about this? She barely knew Kia, and she was so… dismissive. Like the teachers she’d hated back at school, who made it clear they thought she’d never amount to anything. Like the bosses at the places she’d worked for a month before getting fired the day before her trial period ended. Kia had that same tired look in her eyes, like it almost wasn’t worth her time.

The hallway was almost blindingly dark, but she knew her way by feel. Her fingers closed around the handle to the living room, turning it slowly, inching the door open. Did it still creak, like it used to? Would those old hinges give her away? Yes. The tiny creak sounded more like a shriek in the pitch blackness, and she froze, door half open, listening for any movement.

“That you Ben? Did I wake you?”

She bit her lip to contain her surprise. The voice hadn’t come from upstairs, it’d come from inside the living room. She peered hesitantly around the door.

“Mum?”

Through the darkness of the living room was the glow of a side table lamp, a smile-creased face lit up by a tablet propped on knees. Small, round reading glasses were reflected white by the tablet, framed by shoulder length brown hair, black in the darkness. They stared at each other through the gloom, and she watched her mother’s expression for how she’d react. Angry at her being away for so long? Barely calling or visiting or anything. Would she be cold, indifferent? Would she shout? She’d wondered about it the entire way over.

 

“Little Lion! You’re back!”

Somehow, being angry would’ve been better. Her mother set down the tablet, getting up to hug her. Why was she still using that damn nickname? When she’d been younger, four or something like that, she’d decided what she wanted to be when she grew up wasn’t a nurse, teacher, princess or any other imaginary future the little girls of her age had wanted to be. She wanted to be a lion. Any objections to the tune of ‘you can’t be a lion, lions are animals’ hadn’t deterred her. She had dressed up as a lion, she had acted like a lion, even roared like one. Her parents had decided it was the most adorable thing, and even though she’d grown out of it a year after, her place as her mother’s ‘Little Lion’ had stuck. The fact that her younger self had chosen to be a male lion was all the more embarrassing. In the much hated family photo album, she always thought she’d looked more like an over-zealous sunflower than a lion.

In her defence, she did feel she had chosen the animal well. It’s not like she’d chosen a tortoise or something. Lions were majestic and fierce. They were territorial and seen as the kings of beasts.  But after having lived with her boyfriend for a year, been a responsible (well, somewhat) adult with a job (briefly) the last thing she’d wanted was to come home straight back to ‘Little Lion’.

“Do you have to have to keep calling me that? I’m a little old now, don’t you think?”

Her mother’s arms encircled her, and despite her bristling response to her nickname, she felt her need for comfort and familiarity over-ride her, and she gently returned the hug.

“Oh you’ll always be my little lion!” She felt her squeeze, “I’m so glad you came back, we’ve all missed you.”

Just here, in this moment, the horrors of the day seemed to dissolve. It all started to feel like a dream again, some terrible nightmare that had felt all too real. She clung to her mother, feeling her warmth. This was safety. This was comfort. Who cared about the stupid nickname? She needed this. After everything that had happened, after everything she’d lost, it felt so good to be reunited. To know she really was alive.

“Hey, hey are you alright baby? You’re— oh, no, come on don’t cry, what’s all this huh? What’s happened? I should’ve known something had happened, now come on, sit down…”

 

“Don’t tell anybody. It’ll be tempting, hell it’ll be hard not to, but trust me, you don’t want to. It’s a really quick way of alienating yourself. People don’t like what they don’t understand. And we barely understand ourselves, so nobody else is gonna get it.”

“But there’s physical proof, I can change stuff, you can crush stuff… they’ll believe us if we—”

“If you start turning lead into gold all it’s gonna bring you is trouble. How long is that secret gonna stay secret? How long are they gonna keep looking at you as a daughter or friend and not as someone who might turn them to gold, if they crossed you? Or, worse still, as neo-Jesus or something.”        

“But how can you explain what you’re doing? You said those Schism things, there’d be more of them, what if one happens when, like, you’re at work?”

“You lie.”

 

“We… we had a fight. I can’t go back, too much has…” She swallowed a sob, “Too much has changed.”

They were sat on the sofa together, her mother’s hand resting on her back. The blank screen of the television reflected them in the lamp’s glow. She looked beaten, even in her fancy invisible dress. It didn’t hide the haunted look in her eyes.

“Well weren’t you renting somewhere? Can’t you just go back there?”

She shook her head,

“It was his place. I lived there with him.”

“Oh, I didn’t realise… you, you lived with a boyfriend all this time?”

Certain tones had their way of insinuating. They got under the skin.

“What do you mean by that? You knew Jake, you met him the year before last. I brought him to the barbeque.”

“I don’t think so, I don’t remember that…” her mother shook her head, “I thought you’d been living alone all this time!”

“No, how could I—” She turned to face her mother, “No, I told you I was moving in with him! You were so mad about it!”

“Well yes, I would’ve been. It’s one thing moving out but moving in with some boyfriend, that’s…”

“That’s what?”

They eyed each other, familiar tension in the air. That gunpowder moment when the wrong word in the wrong place would ignite yet another row. Spit and barbed words would fly, meanings twisted, feelings burnt. Mother knows best. Minutes into being back and she was already reminded why she left.

“Oh, come on,” Her mother patted her back, looking away, “Let’s not fight already, eh?” she smiled, “I’m glad you’re back, you don’t need to worry about finding another place for now, stay and catch your breath.”

Just like that, it was diffused. That was new. Did leaving really make her mother finally realise that she wasn’t a kid anymore? She’d believe it when she saw it.

“You don’t mind? I don’t have—”

“Of course not! There’s some stuff in your room so we’ll have to move it out, but it shouldn’t take long. We’ll have to wait until morning, though, don’t want to wake the boys up.” She paused, and reached out to take her hand, “I’m just glad you’re back… sometimes I’d think of you out there and wonder what I’d do if anything happened to you… I got so worried. Your dad would tell me, ‘She’ll be alright, she’s our little lion’, but it’s, it’s not that simple… anything can happen out there, and I know he worried too, it’s just…”

“Aw, come on mum, don’t cry, I’m alright! I was always alright!”

Her mother blinked away the tears, forcing a smile through them, avoiding her eyes and squinting in the gloom, “I just kept wondering, you’re only eighteen, and I know that seems old to you but, I kept thinking one day I’d get some call from the police… only for, for them to tell me about some accident, a house fire or, oh I don’t know…”

 

“Why you? You think you were picked or something? Like you’re some hero picked by magical entities to save the world or something?”

“Well, well no, I mean—”

“I wish! I got no idea why we’re picked, not really. Maddy, she had this theory that it was emotion. I mean, Schisms too. That emotion is powerful stuff, you know, the Power Of Love and all that crap in kids cartoons? She figured it was real, because Schisms all pop up in places where there’s loads of really strong emotions. Prisons, night clubs, hospitals, places that people feel really intense stuff, right? And, there’s always a Schism when there’s a new one of us, and it makes sense, you know? I mean, when you died, I bet it was really damn horrible, right? I bet you were terrified, yeah?”

“I… I haven’t really thought about it, I…”

“Yeah, I bet you don’t want to. Point is, when survival comes into play, you’re gonna feel a hell of a lot more than normal, maybe than ever before, because your body kicks into overdrive to try to survive, right?”

“Yeah, yeah that… that makes sense…”

“If you feel so damn much that you cause a Schism all on your own… well, I dunno, Maddy was pretty nuts, so she can’t have been right about everything. Personally, I don’t want to believe we’re born from Schisms.”

“But, we can’t be, I mean, we destroy them! How can we be part of something we destroy?”

“Hey I don’t have all the answers. I don’t even know that we’re supposed to destroy them. But I do know that I don’t want bits of London disappearing out of reality, so I don’t really feel like I’ve got a choice. If I were you, I’d get used to that.”

 

 

“Mum why are you up at this time of night? It’s like, four a.m. now. You’re hiding down here in the dark like you’re worried someone might find you.”

Her mother ran a hand through her hair, tilting her head back to follow it, a long sigh trailing after her. “I don’t sleep so well these days, I don’t know why. But tossing and turning all night wakes Malcom up so I come down here and read. Or,” she gestured at the tablet, “Mess about on the internet. I’ve normally fallen asleep on the sofa by now, but I guess it was lucky I didn’t, hm!”

“Yeah, I, I guess so.”

“Ben’ll be glad you’re back.”

“Ben? Pft, I doubt it.” The comment earned her a light slap on the arm.

“Don’t be mean! He’s missed you! You should’ve seen him the first few weeks after you left!”

“What, he stopped leaving his room even for meals? I’d be surprised if he even noticed I was gone.”

Her mother rolled her eyes and flopped back onto the sofa. She looked tired. Ground down.

“You don’t mean that.”

No, she supposed she didn’t. Ben was three years younger, shy and nerdy. She’d never tried to get along with him, and he’d kept mostly to himself, but they’d had a good time together when they’d been small. He’d always been quiet, but it was only after he’d entered secondary school that he’d retreated to his room and computer. She used to take jabs at him when she saw him, little jibes about how much of a loner he’d become, how he may as well marry his damn computer for all the time he spends with it, and so on. She’d thought he’d come back at her, get angry, something, anything, but he just became more reclusive. For some reason, that only made her want to tease him more.

It was funny how you could grow apart from someone without realising. She hadn’t cared much about him when she left, but she hadn’t cared much about her parents either. Yet here she was, still feeling guilty that her mother had been as worried as she had been. At the time, she hadn’t even considered them, or their feelings. She’d just wanted to get out. Maybe Ben had missed her? Maybe she just hadn’t cared enough at the time to notice.

 

“It’s simpler than you think, it all boils down to three things. Change, Consolidation, and Decay. If you think about it, everything works off these principles, in that order. Something has to come to be, right? That’s change, a seed grows, or a baby or anything living changes from one state to another. Then it reaches its peak, grows into a tree or an adult or whatever, it’s consolidated. Solid, see that in the middle? It’s the purest form. The strongest, best it can be. Then comes decay, where it breaks down from that form again. But, like, a tree makes seeds, then when it’s dead it becomes food for animals and stuff. Then they poop, it fertilises the ground, and the next tree grows from it.”

“The circle of life, you’re seriously telling me our powers are based on the Lion King?”

“No, no it’s not just natural stuff. It’s everything! Once you notice you see it everywhere. Like uh, like say the tree is made into a table! No, better, let’s say you’re making a metal table. The metal is in the ground, gets dug up by us and in order to make it into something new we need to put it through the cycle! We melt it down, right, that’s decay from the previous solid state it was in. Then, once melted, it’s in a state of change, and we mould it into the parts for the table. Each part becomes consolidated, fully formed, but even then it’s not a table! On top of that cycle, there’s the cycle of each part going from multiple bits into one solid form, the table itself. As the metal parts rust or weaken over time, both the parts and the form of the table itself have decayed.”

“So, you’re saying these three elements create a cycle of everything?”

“Right. You’re change. I’m decay. Maddy was solid. Heh, I mean that as like, the element, but she was a pretty solid girl, too.”

“What uh… what happened to—”

“Each of the elements has a special name. Like, I can’t explain it, it just feels correct. Sticks in your head, gels well with it.”

“You mentioned your one… it was uh… En… Encrop—”

“Entropis. En-Trop-Piss. Like that.”

“And the others?”

“The solid one is Immallea. Yours is Metasis.”

“I thought you said it was simple?”

 

The more she thought about it, the more it made sense. Turning it over while her mother talked let her put it in perspective. Hadn’t her relationship with her family gone the exact same way? Grown together, then she’d hit her teens, become more of the person she was supposed to become, and then they’d fallen out as time went on. It eventually decayed to the point where she’d left. Now, she’d come back, and things had changed, a little at least. Her mother was treating her a little more like an adult, maybe she could mend things with Ben, maybe she’d get along with her family again. For something stronger to grow, it had to collapse. Metasis, Immallea, Entropis. A triangular cycle.

And she was change. She was transformation. She’d felt it in that Schism Heart, the boundless anything, infinite potential. Wasn’t that what she’d always wanted? Hadn’t she always felt that potential inside herself? She’d always dreamt of doing art, never quite knowing exactly how she might do the art, but it had been that act of creation, of changing one thing into another that had excited her. Jake had understood, and she’d been envious that he’d found his way of expressing it, regardless of how dangerous a way it was. Each way she’d tried – drawing or painting or, hell she even tried pottery – all failed to quite inspire her as a medium of art. She couldn’t ever settle on what she wanted to make, or how to make it, and soon found herself sitting amongst other directionless peers while those who knew their calling streamed ahead. Made something of themselves. She did to them what she’d done to her parents, who’d kept asking exactly what she wanted to do. She left them all to their neat little planned out lives.

“Mm, well, I think we should both get some sleep, don’t you?” Her mother stretched, arching her back and twisting her neck, “At the very least, we should lie down. You’re probably shattered, after all this today, huh?”

“I am a bit, yeah…”

“Well, I’ll let you get some sleep.” Her mother stood, and smiled down at her. She paused for a moment, losing the smile, but it quickly returned. “I’m so glad you’ve come back, I promise, we’ll sort your room out tomorrow.”

“It’s fine, really.” She smiled back, “I’ll be fine. Just get some sleep, mum, yeah? I’ll see you in a few hours.

Her mother nodded, moving to the door, but didn’t quite leave. She hesitated, biting her lip for a moment before saying,

“Listen I, I don’t want this to end up in a row, baby but… If you’ve come home, does that mean you might think about going to university, too?”

“I don’t know yet. I, I haven’t had time to think about it, you know? Mum I only just got back tonight.”

“Oh you’re right…” She shook her head, “I just thought I’d ask, that’s all.”

She lay back on the sofa as she listened to her mother pad quietly up the creaking stairs. Why would she go to university just to get told what to do and how to create, when now she had the power to create anything? The world was her canvas, she could change anything to be just how she wanted it. She’d have to think of a cover story soon, but like hell she would go to university. She needed time to practice with these powers, like Kia said, and then she’d be able to take on anything.

 

“You’ll wanna practice pretty soon, you never know when another one might pop up.”

“Can’t you teach me?”

“No. I’ve already taught you what I can, actually using your powers is way outta my ability to teach. Your element is completely different to mine, for a start. It’s not a question of teaching, you gotta find your own way of working it. Practice makes perfect, right?”

“But I don’t even know where to begin.”

“Yeah you do. You do what you already did. Change one thing into another. When that gets easy start thinking of more ways you might be able to change things. Generally, it seems like it’s down to focus.”

“How can I focus? Like, with meditation and stuff? My mum does that, sometimes.”

“I dunno! If you want, I guess. I’ve not done it. But, you’re not going to wanna meditate every time you want to use your powers though. Better practice without it so you can use it when things get dangerous. Think of it like a martial art, right? The more you do it, the more likely you can use it when you really need to.”

 

~☆~

The salt shaker refused to change properly. Transmuting one thing into another took a lot more concentration than she’d realised, and picturing it as something entirely different was hard. Focus, Kia had said, was the key, but focus was the hardest part of all. Her mind jumped from one thing to another, refusing to clearly picture this china salt shaker as anything other than what it was.

Her mind told her she was tired, and she had to agree, but when she had laid down on the sofa images of the Schism came flooding in. Pictures of the man in the fridge, gradually absorbed while still alive. The TV, composed of… she didn’t even know. She didn’t want to know. Jake, encased in burning ice. It was so easy for all this to feel fantastic when it was surrounded by reality, but the Schism stuck in her mind as a reminder of how close to chaos it really was. She’d been imbued with the power to break the rules, and for the first time in her life, it’d given her an appreciation of how important the rules really were. Such a sobering thought had driven her back up, and into practice.

“If powerful emotion causes Schisms, then wouldn’t most people who’ve died in accidents have become magical too?”

The shaker became patchy, her attempts to mould it into steel only taking root in parts, the white china washing seamlessly into metal and back to china again. She tried to force her mind back on track, to envisage a fully metal shaker, sleek and shiny and cold to the touch.

“There just aren’t that many people who feel emotion quite as powerfully as they’d need to. Not to mention, we all keep it under wraps…”

The damn thing turned half into copper as her mind wandered, and she forced it back to steel, but the copper was weak, and bent slightly as she held it. Even as her powers turned it back to steel, an easier feat than china, the kink where it had bent remained. Damn it, why couldn’t it just work!

“…We force our feelings down so we don’t show them to the wrong people, so we can keep calm under pressure…”

She tried turning it back to copper. Maybe she could bend it back into shape. Why would the thickness change? She’d been focussing on keeping it the same shape as it had been when it was china, why would the copper be thinner than the other parts? Surely it’d just transform into thicker copper?

“…Ain’t nothin’ more pressuring than dying. Not everybody runs off emotional fuel in an emergency.”

If she could only keep her mind on track… the copper bent back, but the crease was still visible. She’d fixed her leg, damn it! She’d fixed flesh and bone like it was nothing and now she couldn’t turn a damn salt shaker from one material to another! What the hell was wrong with her?

“But even if they did, you’re not going to be overcome with feelings of love and happiness while you’re dying, are you? I wasn’t! God I was… I was, oh God I was fucking terrified I…”

Why was this so difficult!? It had been so much easier in the Schism!

“Everything always goes on about the power of love, but nobody ever considers the power of fear…”

The shaker crumpled under her attempts to force it back to its original shape, a tiny hole tearing in the side.

“…Of hate…”

She tried to patch it back together, to flow two materials into one, but they became garbled, her focus on the hole rather than the material making them fluctuate into random substances.

“…Of desperation…”

She lashed out at it in frustration, her desire for it to be something, or anything, gone in an instant. Why would the damn thing not do what it was supposed to!? She crushed it under her fist, feeling the metal, porcelain, and copper fragments dissolve, crumbling down as she forced it.

“…Who’s to say those aren’t as powerful as love?”

She breathed slowly for a moment, closing her eyes. She was tired. She was so damn tired. She couldn’t do this now. She’d been stupid to try. Under her hand was just dust, a small pile like she’d swept it up, tiny fragments of shining metal and white chips all that remained of what had once been there. Urgh, how was she going to explain this?

 

She leant back in her chair and stared out of the windows looking out into the street. Wasn’t this the time, in the stories, where she looks up at the moon and gains hope? Wasn’t it meant to shine down, bathe her in ghostly light while she ponders her new life? Reflecting the sun while she reflects on herself? The sky was overcast, the moon vanished along with the sun. There was no light to see the way ahead. She had to rely on herself now. Even when she’d left home, left the guiding hand of her parents and the Accepted Way of university and a steady job, she’d still relied on the older, more experienced Jake to pave the way for her. Now there was Kia, but Kia didn’t seem all that interested in the job. She’d have to work much of this out for herself. Of all the reality warping madness, of all the new worlds and super powers and murderous televisions, it was independence which scared her most. And now, for the first time, it didn’t look like she could just leave it behind.

She wished she could see the moon. Not just for its light, but because, when you really looked at it, it was truly beautiful. The way it shifted through its cycle, a little more each day blackened by the Earth’s shadow. But it always came out again. It changed, it adapted, and it emerged once more. A new moon.

That was what she needed to become. A new person. Someone who could deal with all of this, who could change and adapt no matter how dark it got, and come out the other side again. Maybe, eventually, just like the moon, she would be beautiful too. She’d be someone who really was worthy of these incredible abilities. But how did you create a new self? How do you become a new person? What’s the first step?

She needed a name. That was what all those super heroes in the movies did, right? They put on a mask and gave themselves a new name and suddenly mild mannered Norma Normalson was a fearless crusader for justice. She’d never liked those movies much, but maybe a name might help her start feeling a little more like someone who could do the things she was supposed to do? Maybe she’d be able to become something better than herself, if she stopped thinking of her as herself. Fake it ‘til you make it, right?

‘Well moon, you’re some fine inspiration’ She thought, ‘But I can hardly go around as Moon Girl.’

Or could she? What did it matter, nobody was going to know it. It could be an awful name, so long as it did the job. She didn’t need to tell anyone, and Kia sure wasn’t going to ask. What name could she have that might really capture the essence of the moon? And, maybe add something powerful, like a soldier or, or maybe navy would suit it better, given how fluid reality seemed to be. Yeah, that’d be cool. So, maybe… Sailor… Sailor… Luna? Sailor Luna? No that didn’t sound quite right…

‘Forget it, I need something more descriptive than that anyway…’

It was at 5:44a.m. that she finally thought of it. A name that, in her tired, near delirious state, she decided fit perfectly.

‘The Silver Beam of Luna Light!’

‘I am ever changing, of myself and of all I touch!’    

‘I am unstoppable! I reflect the light of the most powerful elements known to the universe!’

She smiled as she drifted off to sleep. God it was cheesy. Good thing nobody was ever going to know it. She’d be chaos moon crusader to her, and her alone.

END OF CHAPTER THREE

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Read Chapter 4 – Heroic Expectations