Sam never freaked out. It was one of his policies, generally.
Which was why he was only mildly scared right now. A very distinct difference, you see.
He had good reason to be, too. Not just a god dangmn firework display again.
He was tied firmly to a chair with some cable that was probably capable of surviving the eventual apocalypse, in some dingy warehouse somewhere (his kidnappers never bothered to be creative. Never) with perhaps the most powerful supervillain in the entire country standing over him, trying to get him to talk.
“Sam, I just one itty bitty little predication, and I’ll let you go, no harm no foul.” Dark Fire himself stood the same way someone lounging is sitting, but it was less annoying from a foot or so back. He was a respectful bastard, at the very least.
“I think there’s a fair bit of foul involved here.” His side kick was leaning up against the wall, watching his boss closely, which seemed bad for his long term health. That cement probably had fifty deadly diseases in it. However, he seemed to have very little interest at all in him at all, and he couldn’t see any obvious torture-the-prisoner weapons nearby, though Dark Fire’s hands alone would probably do in a pinch, and there was no way these idiots weren’t armed to the teeth.
He still had his weapons and uniform on (he refused to call it a costume) but they wouldn’t do much good with this stupid rope.
He had tried sawing through it at a molecular level with some uber-fast water atoms, but they had magically pinged right off.
“Mayhaps, but no harm, yes?”
Mayhaps. There was a word he hadn’t heard in a hot minute. And one that should lie down in its grave.
Dark Fire was an interesting person in general. Shockingly, with his resume anyway, he wasn’t an altogether terrible one, though.
Sure, he robin-hooded billions of dollars from the rich, had caused some property damage, killed some people. But those people had been mob bosses, the property damage had been covered with perhaps too much money mysteriously by the next day, and the top percent tended to be made up of a special breed of assholes.
He ran several projects. He handed out insulin like candy to anyone who even hinted at a need for it, supported struggling hospitals and schools, ran what was equal to the Underground Railroad for the homeless and abused, among a list of other things, including some epic city wide pranks.
Sam didn’t hate him, but kidnapping him might just turn the scales here. A shame, he usually hated most villains off the bat. This one had nearly panned out to be a grey area.
But no, he had to go and target him, just because.
“Not happening. I’m not telling you anything past my grocery list.”
The sidekick snorted. Dark Fire didn’t even blink.
I think I was expecting him to pull a gun on me, maybe slug me on across the back of the head. He did neither, just rocking back on his heels slowly, like he was scared to move too quickly in front of me, how I would react. Like I was a wild, cornered animal. Ugh.
“I don’t wanna a prediction on where some hero or billionaire is going to be in twenty hour fours, I don’t wanna know the future of the stock market or something, what I wanna know, is which country’s about to go hell.”
Thank god. It would have been hideously boring to scroll through stock numbers at gunpoint.
I composed my face to a careful neutral mask, but apparently not fast enough. Damn my rustiness in hostage situations. I knew I should have gone spy in the Great War.
Probably would have been a lot less scarring, anyway. And more entertaining to boot.
“We’re going international.” Piped up sidekick extraordinaire. “People would much rather sign up with us than some gang, or risk getting killed or arrested in going solo. We’ve got the chance to go global, we’re just choosing where to start.”
Personally, Sam didn’t think a man that went around dropping into police brutality scenes in a top hot, trench coat, and bright purple spandex suit wasn’t the worst villain to decide the earth was looking a little bruised up. He could count on two hands off the top of his head people that would be disastrously worse. Still, this wasn’t exciting news.
He stared at both of them for a solid second as his brain loaded all that before his reflex sarcastic side kicked in again.
“That’s great. Still not talking.”
The glorified get away driver looked him up and down. Determined expression, unwavering confidence, not a hint of an overly unhealthy ego, no concerningly aggressive behavior, a smart mouth. This man was possibly the best hero in the country, damn the statistics to hell.
I like him, he decided.
Dark Fire seems to have also come to this conclusion. “Fair. However, I’d rather not go digging around that head of yours if I don’t have to, you know?”
Sam had another rule.
He hated mind readers.
(Unless they happened to be cinnamon rolls, of course.)
“Wouldn’t be the first time someone went rooting around in there.” I replied evenly, shifting slightly in the chair to see how tight my knots are. Not too tight, he’s not trying to hurt me, but tight enough that I can’t easily bust out with some wiggle worming.
Dark Fire’s head tilted to one side suddenly. “Really. Who, exactly?”
That was when Sam started to sweat.
Chaotic good people be scary.
(Is he internetting right? He doesn’t know at this point.)
“Sam isn’t here right now. Please come back at a different time or leave a message after the beep.” He made no beep sound. Playing verbal chess was fun.
Dark Fire sighed tiredly at that one. The sweet taste of victory.
Sam scanned the warehouse while the villain brainstormed a response. Mostly just full of dusty cliche boxes, the big garage style door would have been a good escape way if it hadn’t been blocked off very thoroughly by a truck laying on its side, (how did they get that in here?) an assortment of crates, some rope tying all that together, stacks of plywood laying on top of the truck to cover the entire door, and the entire thing was cloaked in a layer of shadow probably made personally by the villain himself. Those skylights in the roof could work though…
Then again, he wasn’t an expert in Mario Jumping straight up, and climbing the walls while fighting would be hard.
Damn the smart ones.
“What, so you can have a price of the action just in the knick of time?”
“Nah, so I can drown all the demons in holy water and save super salty cats from the flood. Who do you think I am, Satan?”
Sam did not answer, deciding staring at him levely would do.
Dark Fire huffed dramatically in a pout worthy of a toddler tantrum. “Anyway, I need to be there first to pull that all off, so pretty pretty please?”
Sam glared at him. “You kidnapped me.” He reminded him.
“Temporarily!” Chirped the villain.
God, Sam was too tired for this.
Someone from behind him, at the very back of the warehouse, yelled out. “Come on man, just hit ‘im! He gets roughed up more on your regular Tuesday!”
Dark Fire waved him off calmly, though he did give him a bit of a disapproving glance. He walked forward, just a step, towards Sam. He bristled instantly, glaring up at him with hell fire in his eyes.
A hand, not the gloves on of the villain he was facing, but a bare one with all five fingers carefully pressed into his skin, closed onto the back of his neck.
“It doesn’t hurt.” The serene villain had time to say before the hero fell limp in his bonds.
It felt a bit like being dropped into a dream. It was another world, slightly murky at the edges, and entirely made up of flashing lights, like clips of a video, hurtling past his hovering body.
He recognized this slightly sparkly realm. Ah, forcible quirk activation. How incredibly useful.
Sam was lucky: he has three particularly powerful quirks. His father had given him control over water from the waves of a lake to, with practice, the individual atoms in the air. That one was useful in active combat. But there was one more most people didn’t know about, even some of his superiors.
Divination, given to him by his mother, along with another closely guarded secret.
It seemed that at the moment, his greatest power in a fire fight (being able to tell ahead of time if a villain had an accomplice or a hidden super powerful quirk was incredibly useful) was being used against him.
He focused in on the information being forced onto him, trying to discern what info these villains were stealing from him.
Flashes of chaotic scenes whipped by him. He caught sight of a girl with attention-grabbing pink skin battling a non-descript villain thug. A sneering boy with an explosion of blonde hair fighting with a kid with half red, half white hair against someone with a monstrosity of a tooth quirk in a wooded area. A girl with the tongue of a frog flying of the deck of an ocean cruiser into a small lake swimming with villains.
Most powerfully, a young boy no older than fourteen or fifteen just like all the other children, with a curly mess of green hair, a face of pure determination that truly is only born of hardship, green sparks of electricity edging his entire body as he moved his arm back for a punch. Besides him, a black-haired, concerning pale boy, eyes flicking all over, some ghostly-looking girl which some strange bruising on her throat floating over his head somehow.
My quirk immediately refinished both of them as incredibly important people and attempted to dive farther into their future.
I pulled on it with all the strength I had in this coma dimension, edging it back to less personal information. The villain controlling my quirk, for once not battling against me, helped the view over to the info they needed: where is all of this happening?
My brain spat out the answer before I could stop it: Japan, UA Highschool.
Coming out of using my quirk was as rough as going in, worse than usual. It was like my soul was suddenly anchored to a line of rope on the top of my head, and it was, with a hugely disorienting blur of color, light and screaming sound, pulled straight up against my will and slammed into the shelter of my own body. In another second, I had melded back into my regular self.
My senses were swimming. Every alarm bell in my head was going off like mad. Flashes of scenes over in Japan tumbled past, blurry and faint, flittered around in the back of mind. My quirk apparently couldn’t be shut off fully against my will. Lovely.
I felt like throwing up. I had rag-dolled right into the rope across my chest keeping me to the chair, digging in painfully to my ribs. Sight, which I knew for a fact to be filled with nothing more than dusty concrete floor, wobbled horribly. Smell was totally out the window, but hearing was more or less up and running. “UA High, Japan.”
Hands clapped together. I assumed those of Dark Fire. Trench coat wearing menace.
“Spectacular. How is he?” I assumed there was a shrug from the quirk activator villain.
Dark Fire’s black combat boots (yes, he wore heels) edged into my vision, slowly turning less and less mobile even though I knew from the sound of his footsteps he wasn’t moving.
A gloved hand met my chin, gently moving my head up. I refused to try to look at that detailed mask. I knew what it looked like, and all this was going to give me a migraine.
I slammed my eyes shut.
There was a small huff, and a hand on my left shoulder pushed me back against the chair so the rope wasn’t hurting me. “Check him over. Don’t go too high in the sleeping meds, and drop him back at his HQ.”
“Sis, we don’t know where that is.” His assistant again.
“His partner’s, then. Look alive, people, we’ve got a location!”
There was a pinch at the back of neck as a needle entered my skin. Ugh. I hate those things.
I knew I had been given a sleeping drug. This wasn’t the most alarming thing, since I knew he planned to leave me back at a safe spot. However, having my feet mentally ripped out from underneath me twice over the course of an hour was a bit too much for me. I fought against the sleepiness in my eyes, the numbing in my limbs.
After about ten minutes of that, there was a muffled voice from where the assistant maybe still was, and another punch.
After that, there was no fighting it.
Lunch was a hard block to get through. It was one of the more reliable things in every day.
Didn’t make it any better.
Grim, actual name something he never shared anyone on pain of death and destruction, prodded at his rice and not meat mixture (Grim was vegetarian, since plants couldn’t do shit against him, but a thousand angry cows definitely could if they ever tracked him down) as regally as possible. Germanius. Who does that to a kid?
Well, his folks weren’t exactly around to argue, so he went by Grim, short for Grim Reaper. Who ever would have thought he would twist the childhood bullying nickname into a weapon for himself?
Behind him was the trio of idiots. He could feel it. Also, the silvery ghost girl who sat beside him every day for the entire lunch hour had done a pretty good job of warning him. (He didn’t mind the bruises gathered around her neck. Better than the boy wandering the sidewalk he had helped on the first day of school, stuck with a broken foot and mangled skull, poor kid.)
“Ay, it’s the nobody!”
They truly were stupid on many different levels.
He took a bite of not pork and grain thoughtfully. The sauce wasn’t too sticky, wouldn’t stain well. However, the balls of rice would do nicely.
He needed to get more creative.
Later today he’d ask Kala, the ghost girl, for help in tomorrow’s great defense scheme.
He didn’t turn as they got closer to him at the bench on the roof. He was in a corner, behind the doorway up here. This meant he was better hidden, sheltered and defensively, since anyone looking to go over here would have to turn the corner to do so. However, this also meant he was a bit trapped.
Kala sighed tiredly from beside him. He focused on her instead of the schoolyard level insults. He hadn’t found her noose yet, though he was sure she had hanged herself. Unless there had been a murder… but strangulation seems like something one would hear about, via the rumor mill or officially. She had been sneaky. Had they found her body? There wasn’t anywhere on campus with that particular weird smell, and it wasn’t old enough of a building for her to be a skeleton.
Well, her body was her business. He was only interested in having a proper funeral is all. He still remembered that time when he was ten and accidentally solved a murder case at the train station. That had taken some explaining for how the ‘quirkless’ kid beat trained grown up police officers to the conclusion.
Well, the story he had fed the officer was horseshit. He had simply asked the man with a stab wound in the gut if he needed some help, and lo and behold he suddenly knew where a murderer was.
Well, if he could face off against a guy with a knife and a seriously deadly quirk in a cramped public bathroom, he could totally take down some school bullies.
The only thing was, violence was much less acceptable when you weren’t under immediate threat of death. Meaning he couldn’t, say, ambush all three of the morons and send them tumbling off the roof. (Its only like, two stories, they’d be fine. A couple broken bones, a couple pegs down on the old ego.)
It really was a shame.
All three of them rounded the corner at once, and Kala tensed despite the fact that there wasn’t a damn thing they could do to her.
They didn’t even know she existed.
Would she follow him after graduation? They hadn’t talked about it. His foster parents’ apartment wasn’t far, maybe she’d drop in from time to time.
He didn’t want her to be lonely. He didn’t want her to be as she was when he first met her.
Anyway, back to being harassed.
Their leader was a big bloke. Grim forgot what his name was (that’s how little brain power he put into this lot’s existence) but he knew his quirk pretty damn well by now. Your average strength boost, a person with a good hit behind a punch. His cronies were about as (not) impressive. One with illusion work, which really did nothing Grim was even remotely scared by, (he saw worse shit than this kid could or would ever dream up on his way to the grocery store) the other with a teleportation ability. He had a few jump scares under his belt, but nothing major.
He didn’t know why these monkeys were still after him. Sure, they thought he was quirkless, big whoop. But they all knew he wasn’t easy prey. However, he was more than happy to cover the freshman chameleon kid’s mental health.
“Still think you can be a hero, Nobody?”
Ah. The hero thing had been a pipe dream from sixth grade, when he had been a bit less focused on what he actually wanted to do with his life. Now, he knew it wasn’t going to happen of course, and not because of a lack of ability. He could probably make the top ten if he really wanted to, but then he’d get dragged into the big disasters, where he wouldn’t be as useful. He was planning on sitting through whatever well paying job he landed himself, shortly before hiking around the country looking for tragedy.
He’d take care of the failed missions, the times heroes got there too late. Covertly, obviously.
Vigilante was probably too strong a word for it. Helping hand?
Nah, he’s no goody two shoes.
Strength Guy rested his meaty hand in the back of the bench, leaning down to the side. He was inches from Kala, who was by now either going to try to hit him, which would be bad, hit all of them, which would be worse, or bolt, worst of all.
Grim watched him closely not out of fear for himself, as the thug thought, but as a way of looking out for her.
He scraped up a spoonful of non sticky rice, dumping it over one of the rice balls. Repeat process three to sixteen times, and you had yourself some projectiles.
The cronies were hanging pretty far back, probably in case he tried to run, which would never happen.
They’d make good targets, and distractions.
He did a bit of hand movement to draw their attention, if it was even on his hands in the first place, away from where he was worming his spork thing into position.
Just as Leader Kid opened his mouth, he released, then scooped up another and launched for the second crony.
He had pretty good aim, something given to him from years of practice with a host of bully victims.
One ball landed perfectly into the gloomy mess the illusion kid called his hair, half splattering onto his scalp and locks, half sprinkling a generous amount of loose grain all over. The second shot had been more rushed. Instead of hitting the top of his carefully gelled hair, it slammed right into his face, his the left eye, and dropped rice all down his front.
Close enough. That wasn’t the main event, anyway.
Kala, having pulled this off before, sighed, before jumping upward into a kind of full body head butt.
See, ghosts can’t usually touch much of anything, but once they got within twenty feet or so of Grim, they very suddenly could, like Kala and the bench.
Meaning the body slam worked just fine, even if the bully couldn’t see how the hell it had happened. He went flying (ghosts loosely observe gravity at best) about two feet before landing hard on his side, gasping when his upper half ended up hanging off the edge.
Grim peered over his nose at all three of them, two frantically scrubbing at extra extra sticky rice, (his own recipe! Hard to eat, easy to shoot) one scrambling across the concrete floor.
So they did, cursing him out all the way.
He has accepted his fate as ‘quirkless.’ Mostly, anyway.
Kala collapses gracelessly in the bench, giggling slightly even as she frowned.
He wasn’t a goody two shoes, but she was. He did pity her for it.
But even she could recognize a victory.
“It worked,” she laughed, not bothering to form a full sentence. Talking hurt her, what with the bruises and strangled business, but she managed even if she didn’t chat much. And she sure braved it for a good sigh.
He nodded in response as he munched on his remaining sauce covered arsenal. Even if he didn’t think there was anyone nearby, it wouldn’t do if someone heard him talking to nothing they could see like a lunatic.
Most of their conversations were largely non verbal. It fascinated him, really, how one could communicate without words, something you don’t usually think about a lot in how to do.
At this point, he preferred the quiet. Noise never translated to good.
The rest of lunch was fine. Kala had to swat some birds away from the fallen rice before heading up into the sky to play with a slow moving pack of butterflies, which was pretty chill. No one was even on the roof by the last twenty minutes of the block, so they got to make up ridiculous species names to their hearts’ content.
The actual science names were probably doubly as weird, so they had a ball day.
They both sulked a bit when the bell rang, it’s sharp tone dulled by distance. For him especially. He was sure sitting through middle school on loop year after year would be pretty bad, but it’s not like Kala had to pay attention. However, if he just waggled his eyebrows at her all day and didn’t listen to a word anyone said, he’s not only fail half his classes, but also probably get creamed by a stray binder.
Though his test scores were easy with her hovering over his shoulder. Most of the material was unchanged or similar, so classwork and tests were a breeze.
Maybe he should start hanging out after hours so they could do homework together. Then he’d really be able to not give a damn.
For now though, it was enough to fully soak up the info, shock a teacher when he quickly got their prodding question right (only sometimes with input from his favorite spectral buddy) and seeing their reactions.
He was pretty sure half the school population hated him, including the staff.
Again, he didn’t give a damn. If they wouldn’t file a bully report, he saw himself as clear to do as he pleased.
But today he did a bit more than stare at the wall as a human sponge. He had an idea.
Halfway through math, he snuck away to the bathroom to talk to Kala. “You know how I wanted to go to UA?” He asked her from the privacy of the staff only bathroom. She nodded, slightly confused.
“And you know how Fist Man is banking on me not getting in?”
Her facial expression shifted. “You try get in out of spite?” She managed finally, after a moment of struggle.
He grinned in response. Cue an epic Mom Friend Sigh, with a small look of approval attached.
She waved me off, defeated and proud, and we trooped off back to class.
Two hours later, I had to change gloves. It wasn’t a big deal, I tried not to keep them on long enough to be noticeable or whatever. It was literally just me reaching into my bag, taking out a pair identical to the black pair I already had on, switching them out as quietly and quickly as possible, slip the poisoned pair into a special slot in my bag, and we were done.
Now, you probably have a few questions.
Okay, so my quirk isn’t just the ability to see or help out the dead. I can also sweat out death. It’s kind of like death juice. I also don’t think scientists know whatever it is exists, which is fun.
Five fingers on bare skin, and that’s a lethal dose. So I wear gloves. All the time. I don’t know what those people in books are bitching about. It’s fine. A lot better than spreading death like the common cold wherever I go.
I had tried biker’s gloves once, you know, leather, but they were more expensive and harder to replace even if they did last a whole lot longer than a few hours. Also, ever tried writing with a pencil with leather gloves on?
Kala had figured out the weirdness with the gloves because of course she had. (She’s selectively mute, not freaking blind.) I think she thought I either had a second quirk or had correctly assumed it was something to do with the first one.
I’m also pretty sure the rest of the people in my classes that have noticed it assume I’m trying not to catch cooties or something stupid like that.
Well, a couple hours after that and we were free. Kala and I walked down to the front gate together, and I smiled her goodbye until tomorrow. She waved cheerily in response, probably planning to hack the library computers before dawn.
I caught the train to my foster home, paying everyone in my car exactly 0% of my attention, instead scrolling through my phone to check and make sure there weren’t any murders or anything going down nearby. (Don’t ask how exactly I check.) Anyway, there wasn’t, so I was in the clear for another totally normal day to draw to a close.
The family that had taken me in knew about my quirk, of course. I dunno why they chose to get me. Maybe because they figured no one else would, like I’m that one disfigured dog at the pound.
Well, they were still plenty scared of me anyway. The first thing Shona, my ‘mother’ did when I walked in and pulled my shoes off was ask, “You changed out your gloves recently?”
I gruffly replied, “Yeah,” As per the routine. She relaxed a bit, and I was free to scurry past and to my room.
I’m basically treated like I am a member of the family with the plague: quarantined for their safety, but they kept me anyway.
I didn’t mind it. This was a better arrangement that having someone lock me in a closet to keep me away from them. Or that one lady who ordered me to dig my own grave because I was an abomination, and God’s mistake and all.
I did all my homework first, which took up until dinner but was easy with Kala’s ghostly notes from when she was a student. (She had pilfered them from her school bag for me, and somehow when she had touched them when I gave her the ability they soaked up her ghost juice or something, so they’re all blueish white and sometimes translucent so the writing looks like it’s just floating black letters on my bed)
Dinner was a silent affair of dumpling soup before I headed back to my shelter so they could actually socialize. ‘Dad’ looked a bit quietly every time this happens (I think he mentioned being a therapist when I met him, probably explains a few things. Thinks I’m a rebellious teen with family issues. Hah) but we go along anyway.
I then pulled up the UA High website. Tons of people applied every year for the entry test, this wasn’t weird at all, even for a ‘quirkless’ kid. It took nothing more than registering my name, ability, age, current school, current home location, and bada bing bada boom I had a shot at going to the best high school for heroes in Japan.
Spite is a truly glorious emotion.
Especially when it’s against nearly everyone you know.
The next few months passed about the same. I fended off bullies, chatted with the nearby spirit population, goofed off with Kala, sat through class, waited for sleep to hit me over the head with a baseball bat when I got home.
When the weather started to warm as summer approached at the end of the school year, Kala and I got antsy. We hadn’t talked about would would happen after graduation, and I felt far too awkward to bring it up.
So she did, one day after I had scared the heebie jeebies out of the bully gang by having Kala boost me so I was sitting directly on top of where the roof door opened as I ate, with no clear way of getting up there. (That had been fun.)
“You know I can go off school?”
Spirits had a thing they usually clung to in afterdeath. A person, the weapon that had caused their death, a bit of gore on the sidewalk, their body, the building they died in, the particular moon cycle (hello, werewolves) you name it. Once they’ve chosen what they’re attached to, it can’t be switched, and they’re stuck within a certain distance of that thing. I guess I had assumed Kala had latched onto the school building.
She snorted, and I coughed to cover for myself.
She pulled a length of rope out of her back pocket, half translucent like her homework.
“You got someone to cut it for you?” The ends were jagged, like they had been randomly hacked at until they finally snapped.
She nodded happily. “I go away after hours. Cat cafe lots spirits. Cats see us. Play with ‘em.” Animals have better senses than humans, they could usually at least sense a ghost when in the area. Or hear. Or smell. Or sometimes, even see.
I got it now. She’s attached to rope because it was the thing that actually killed her, she got all sneaky and had someone remove it for her, then stole it so she’d be able to move around freely. She could hop on an airplane if she tried hard enough. Just skip the country, tour the world.
So why was she still here?
“Why stick around here then?”
She frowned at me. “You.”
Ow. My heart. I’ve been hit right in the feels.
I swallowed. “Right. So you wanna shadow me after I graduate?”
She nodded again.
“Even if I go to UA?” She made a face, but gave me a thumbs up.
I grinned. “Cool. You don’t have to help me with the work.”
She gave me a skeptical look, either as a you seriously think you can do it on your own? or you think I’m not going to anyway, numbskull?
I took it as both in one and pulled out my phone so we could both get updated on cat videos, which Kala really liked and I was just fine with watching. Those cat food commercials were some of her favorite.
So we did. Last day of school, the bullies came around one last time, I may or may not have kicked ‘em in the shins, sat through the last ‘math’ class (you really do nothing during those last days of school) and walked together to the gate for the last time. But now when we approached the solid ironwork, we didn’t break off, or signal goodbye. We kept walking, and she smiled hugely at me when we stepped outside school grounds side by side.
I smiled, just a little as to not seem bonkers to anyone looking, in quiet response.
This was going to be a great vacation.
Turns out a person who can be seen and a person who can’t can get up to a lot of fun when given several months with nothing in particular to do. For instance, when I went into a store and was refused my glorious ability to buy a bag of chips by the cashier when he pieced together I was ‘quirkless’, Kala just so happened to swipe everything she could out of the register, and we gladly took our business elsewhere.
We went to a planetarium, since Kala was interested in the stars and history, (combo!) then toured a couple museums, (damn, the native people worldwide are way under sold for how awesome they were) saw roughly too many movies, (we have this trick where Kala will mess with the ticket machine to get it for free, and then just slips in after me, it’s stupid easy) saw the Japenese Hero Hall of Fame, convinced a couple people that I really did have a quirk, being able to lift small objects (having Kala lift random things around) and then convincing different people that I had the quirk of being able to hover (having Kala wrap he arms around me and hold me off the floor for a fw seconds) and then making everyone involved think they were crazy when they asked about my quirk, and I replied that I don’t have one. (That was a good one. I think we pulled it like, three times before poor Kala started complaining about having to lift me up randomly.)
We also did a little hooligan-ing in the form of hanging out with a gang of street urchins I knew, calling themselves the Horsemen. (As in, of the Apocalypse.) They had been my main companions in elementary school, since I had briefly met them in the system before they decided death before injustice and they would rather be on the streets running their own lives then powerlessly bounced from place to place, separated then not, together then not.
There was five of them, and not one of them had proper names. War, because he was willing to get in a fight at any time for the right cause, Famine, because he almost never ate, Disease, because he was absolutely fascinated by chemicals and guess what, diseases. Death, because they had collectively decided death wasn’t a screaming, raging, hurtful force, but a somber and silent one (also he was hella scary when you don’t know him well) and then the leader by mostly chance and clueless charismatics, Headless. (Like the Headless Horseman. Yes, I know.) Their quirks also tied in pretty well. Headless could remove his own head if he wanted, even though it was a bit of a process, Disease could control, make worse or better, or even create diseases. (Great for colds!) Death could control or summon shadows if he really, really wanted to. (He never, ever did it on command. He was like a cat. You had to convince him he wanted to do it, too.) Famine could basically suck all the nutrients out of your body and somehow transfer it into his, and War expand his strength, (and muscles, which was more than a little creepy) skin thickness, hair and nail length, even eye color if it meant a better chance in a fight. Basically, he was a shapeshifter, but only sometimes. (I once saw him grow horns to convince some competing thief he was a demon, it was fantastic.)
They were totally amazing and I loved them to the ends of the earth.
Kala was introduced to them on the second week of break, when we caught them in the middle of an operation. This one was a food run, where they first volunteered labor in exchange for goods, and, if refused, they robbed ‘em blind in return for as little money they had on them. They sometimes pulled the same thing off for blankets, clothes, hygiene products, water, (rarely) medicine, feminine stuff for homeless ladies around the block, and these tiny mattresses a store nearby sold.
The owner, silly him, had refused their offer, (most shop-owners within a ten-block radius of their base knew to take what they offered, no bartering or refusals. Several had lost their entire stock within the space of ten minutes. Though, med shops usually got off easy, and they only touched the well-off shops) and now he was tied up to the back wall by several sticky-looking bands of shadow on his hands, feet, neck, chest, legs, knees, ankles, wrists, forehead, and even fingers. He was very, very securely fastened. Meanwhile, all five members were carefully taking non-perishable items off shelves and into their collection of backpacks. I saw cans, a can opener, a couple dried fruit and vegetable bags, very few bags of oranges, pears, bananas, potatoes, carrots, spinach and tomatoes, some sliced meat, a few ice packs, bunches of water, loaves of bread, and some candy for flavor.
They were really going all out.
“Hey, guys,” I said cheerfully as the owner glared determinedly at me. Feisty sucker.
Disease’s head whipped around. “Grim!” He tackled me, which was painful, throwing us straight into an freshly-emptied shelf, which was really painful.
I choked a bit when my head banged against a shelf, hard. “Diseeeaase,” I groaned, pawing at his shoulder as he hugged me enthusiastically. I saw Famine salute me over Disease’s shoulder before returning to pocketing different kinds of candy, which was basically this lot’s currency. From the look of his bag, he was making bank right now.
“We haven’t seen you in forever. What have you been doing? I learned a dozen card tricks, I’ve been entertaining tourists, and I’ve made like, a hundred dollars that way. I legally bought us like, ten different things! It was great! How are you doing? What high school are you going to? How are your foster peeps? What-”
“Okay, okay, okay, I get it, I’ve been a bad friend and haven’t updated you. Cool on the card tricks, good for you. High school’s a surprise I’m telling you in a few minutes-” Disease’s face lit up. Unlike War, he loved surprises. War said surprises got you killed. “I’ve been slogging through life, mainly. Oh, I made friends with a ghost girl on campus, her name is Kala.” I waved my hand in her general direction, and focused hard on her for a few seconds.
For just a brief moment, she glowed a brighter blue, and I knew that my two buddies would be able to see her just for a second. She waved slowly while taking in the chaos of the ransacked store.
Famine nodded absently at her while shoving bunches of chocolate bars into a side pocket. Disease, who was apparently high on life at the moment, beamed brightly and chirped a hello, just before my entire abdomen yelled at me, and I shoved him off me in order to get a good breath of air into my lungs.
War, hearing the commotion, wandered on over to our little scene, swiping a hard caramel from Famine, who swatted him, and popped it into his mouth. Death poked his head over from behind the edge of the shelf before blinking twice in greeting and disappearing again. “Oh, hey Grim! Did Disease try to kill you?” He asked, completely unfazed by two of us being sprawled on the floor.
I nodded solemnly, and Disease gave a shriek of protest.
I heard Death snort from the row over.
Disease scrambled to his feet. “Grim has a surprise! And I told him about the cards!”
War’s gaze flicked between him and me now. “Cool. You seen Headless?”
I gestured to the small produce section, whispering comically. “He’s being healthy.” War made a face before pulling me in for a bear-bro hug to finish off the greeting that never properly started.
“Poor him.” He said after releasing me from the slightly painful embrace.
Famine stuck out his tongue at the shelf when he glanced at Headless, shoveling onions and tomatoes into a cloth bag.
“Yo, Headless!” War called out. It was more of a bellow. War had magnificent lungs on him, after all. He should be a game announcer.
His head whipped upwards, zeroing in on me seriously before breaking into a wide smile. He carefully put the produce bag on the ground before running over at me, full speed. My instincts, anticipated another full-tackle, ordered me to take a step back. He snorted before stopping his hug, instead giving me a warm handshake.
He was never good about touching.
“Nice gloves.” I smiled. They were Kala’s, really, since she had spent three days getting a tailor to embroider them whenever she zoned out, basically an innocent version of mind control. (Mind control’s special, in most cases. If it doesn’t have some sort of physical limitation, it has that you can only make someone do something they would already be open to do. So you can’t force someone to commit a crime if they didn’t already have a desire to pull off said crime.) They had patterns of planets and stars spiraling all over the front and back, and they were truly beautiful. I felt bad that I would only wear them for a few hours, but after that I would probably put them on display under a clear case in my room or something.
“Thanks. Food run?”
“Duh. Wanna help?” He gestured around the store widely.
“Nah, I’d get arrested.” I put my hands in my pockets as I laughed.
“Not if you’re careful,” he said cheerfully as he helped the still-sulking Disease to his feet.
Kala was bored of poking at the store owner, and popped up next to me to investigate my second set of friends.
I repeated the are-you-able-to-see-her thing, (they could, whoop) before I popped the news on them. “So, I’m thinking of going to UA-”
Disease groaned suddenly as War let out a whoop. Disease tossed him a candy bar, sulking mood now doubled, as War grinned like a maniac. I deduced that they had made some sort of bet and left it at that. Famine, ignoring his wacky buddies, zeroed in on me. “Why?”
“Because everyone said I couldn’t.” He nodded, accepting that answer immediately.
“Come on, man, I bet an entire candy bar on you going all vigilante on meeee,” he moaned, deflated.
War laughed. “Well, you weren’t too far off.”
“He really wasn’t,” Kala muttered, even though they couldn’t hear her. I huffed anyway.
“Alright, okay, I get it, you all have a truly inspiring amount of faith in me. So I actually wanted to ask something. I can’t just squint at people to get them to stop robbing people, so could one of you teach me to fight?”
War was immediately vibrating with excitement and anticipation. Death, hearing this entire charade and expecting this reaction, sprinted around the corner and slid to a stop in front of me, offering me his hand in bargain. I shook it after a shocked second, and War gave an undignified squawk in protest.
Headless, sensing a brawl, quickly defused the situation. “Okay, so War, you wanna be Teacher Mcgee?”
War nodded confidently.
Death stared levelly at him without a hint of an expression on his face. He generally didn’t feel much of a need to express himself, but he got across just fine.
“Okay, and Death’s already slid a deal… so what if you both do?”
Death suddenly looked horrified. War was elated. I was fine with whatever was mandated under Judge Leader Guy.
Disease was laughing his head off freely, and Famine elbowed him as he delicately sipped from a water bottle, watching with a brand of amusement particular to him. We all pretended to not notice and secretly give a massive sigh of relief that something was entering his system.
Headless turned on me, ignoring all four of his sons. “Sound good?”
“Fantastic man.” He smiled, just a twitch in one corner of his mouth, and winked before turning back to his precious vegetables, still chatting.
“Those bullies stop getting on you?” Headless had a way of figuring things out. When he had figured out what was going on, he had called together his little gang and confronted them.
One walked away with a broken nose, another a sprained arm and ankle, and the third one nearly got his skull beaten in by War but got away severely shaken with a bunch of bruises and a beaten down ego.
The month following that event had been glorious, and incredibly confusing. Then Famine told me after I bribed him with green tea, and all was well again after I yelled at Death for a solid twenty minutes about breaking not one but three other people’s bones in one day. (and that was just what I knew about!)
He hadn’t cared, except maybe he did, and I think even if he didn’t, it was the thought that counted. And Headless had definitely appreciate it, so.
“Yeah, um, kinda not really, but I had fun with some pranks on ‘em so it’s okay.” I could tell Disease was planning three different schemes with varying levels of poison/violence, (I’m pretty sure Death had figured out exactly where each one of them lived) and I had to swat him to get him to calm down.
“Hm,” was Headless’ only response, which left me feeling mildly threatened in my bullies’ place.
“Dude. The school year’s already over. Chances are, I’ll never see the suckers again anyway.”
“Oh, it is?” War asked, genuinely confused. They didn’t pay much attention to a calendar. They knew the seasons and time of day, and that was about it.
“Mhm. Summer, remember?”
“Yea- hey!” War started to respond, then yelped as Death made a swipe for his soda collection.
Apparently they were in an especially steal-y mood today.
Kala was now at peak bewildered, looking at all the empty shelves. “They’re robbing this place.”
I turned so the others would know I was talking to her. “Yeah, they take what they need, but they offer labor in return first. It’s only if they turn them down that this entire thing plays out.”
She nodded hesitantly, her rule-following personality on full display.
“Why not go to a shelter?”
“They don’t take minors.”
“Is a totally wrecked system. I would know.”
She sighed in defeat, and nodded her approval to their activities.
I turned back to our favorite street rats. “You have the Kala Seal of Approval.” War chuckled, knowing full well they didn’t need it but was still mildly honored.
Disease grinned like this was a huge triumph before he wandered over to the hygiene section, suspiciously peeking at the toothbrushes and such.
Thus disbanded, Death took me gently by the hand and led me to the shopkeeper, Kala trailing behind like the mother hen she was inside. He took out of his hoodie pocket at least twenty dollars. He offered the money up carefully to the man.
He spit at him. The glob landed on his left cheek.
Death didn’t mind. He wiped it off on his sleeve and put the coins and bills on the counter beside him, by the cash register.
“Why not buy it?”
He signed to me in sign language. “Wouldn’t have all we needed. Wanted to give him something.”
Death was nonverbal, if you hadn’t figured it out.
“So you were planning on a robbery?” Kala’s feet went off the ground, and she floated up like a jump in slow motion, except there was no gravity in effect halfway through. At first she hovered midair, then slowly started creeping up higher.
“Prepared for it.”
“What type of fighting you do?” Kala reached the ceiling, and pawed at the crumbling ceiling tiles curiously, to no effect. She phazed right through, and pouted.
“Long r-a-n-g-e, quirk. W-a-r do w-r-e-s-t-l-e.” When Death doesn’t know the sign for a word, he just spells it out. He often addresses his friends through nicknames to avoid the hassle. Famine, for instance, was the sign for quiet. So, he essentially called him Silent Mcgee. He substituted the sign for magic for quirk, and it worked out fine.
“Cool. Why were so desperate to teach me?”
“War would be excited, fast. Rough. You don’t get hurt with me.”
“Well… thanks then.” In the corner of my vision I caught sight of Kala’s long shimmering hair. She was either doing flight practice via laps on the ceiling or was cartwheeling her way from wall to wall.
He nodded solemnly. “I will watch out for you. When meet up?”
“As often as you can. Three days a week work?”
He gave me a quick thumbs up. “2, 4, 6.” He signed, meaning Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. I agreed quickly, knowing he would be giving me nearly all his free time to do this.
“Thanks, man. I really apreciate. You want me to make it up to you?” Kala soared down like a dolphin in water, making a dive for the candy isle. Two seconds later, there was a yelp, then a yell of encouragement, as she successfully nabbed a toffee and flew right back up the ceiling. She was getting better at touching things.
Death did not respond. He just kept walking forward, calmly picking up his backpack again and staring down the remainder of the candy section.
This could mean several things. No, or yes, most obviously. But also: only if you don’t wanna be indebted, absolutely not we’re just friends, only if you want to…
I decided I’d get him a coffee and a cupcake whenever I next saw him. He liked citrus. Lemon? Orange? Maybe ginger?
All of them?
I gestured to Kala, who was by now trying to figure out how to unwrap the candy without dropping it or losing her grip, probably to see whether or not she could eat it. Five dollars said no, (then again, I don’t know if she’s breathing or not or anything…) (could she?) but the more power to her for trying. She pocketed the candy into… somewhere? when I finally caught her attention.
She did a backflip and stopped hovering, neatly landing down in a pirouette with the grace of a cat. “Show off,” I murmured to nobody in particular. She laughed like a maniac. “Race outside!”
She shot off, and went right through the door gleefully. I, in a sudden full sprint after her, was only a few seconds behind. “No fair, cheater!” I whispered to her.
She stuck out her tongue before touching down again. A passing spirit, maybe twenty in life terms, smiled as he moved to avoid us on the sidewalk, then did a double check. I could see the question in his eyes. Can he see us?
I winked at him, frozen on the pavement, before turning in sync with a gloriously happy Kala, starting to whistle a particularly punk song as we walked (well, Kala skipped. But still) where our feet took us.
When we started such a journey, it was either for a purpose: I’m hungry, you see anywhere we could stop? Or, on a more serious note: you see any hurt ghosts?
I had figured out exorcisms when I was twelve, with much trial and error. Turns out most people in ancient texts and whatever got close enough, being unable to directly know if their process was working or not and whatever, but their spells tended to hurt more than help. It would send them somewhere else, but it might just shift their haunting space from one building to another. Or it could violently rip through their very being, basically killing them twice. Or it could painfully tear them from this dimension and pull them off somewhere, who knows where. (Afterlife? Second death? Reincarnation? DisneyLand?)
Well, I had perfected most of those rituals so they did it painlessly. If a spirit wanted to take their chances with the maybe-afterlife, I teleported them there with a couple herbs and weird fancy-sounding-words. Want to switch haunting ground? Badda bing, badda boom, you’re in business! And so on.
Most ghosts that took the bet with the afterlife were the seriously hurt ones, like the kid with the bashed skull back at school. He had been in terrible pain randomly, (no pain receptors, no body to house them, but his soul definitely knew it was supposed to be hurting, so it manufactured the pain itself) and had been desperate for any sort of solution.
He had been sent away by the end of the first ten minutes of me laying eyes on him, and the brief look of relief in his eyes as a kind of yellowish light replaced the usual blue a spirit was made of was entirely worth it.
I knew something else had to be going on to send away ghosts, or else there'd be ancient warrior and emperors and everything from a thousand years ago just wandering around Tokyo. Obviously, there aren’t (and thank every god I don’t believe in for that). I had seen a brief glimpse of a pure black dog in a graveyard a couple of times, the only sign he was a ghost at all was the glowing harness on his back: GHOST SERVICE DOG printed out in giant white-blue letters. They seemed to only crop up on graves, and led away ghosts right into that golden light, this time in the form of a rounded door.
There had been a black swish of a cloak once, paired with the quick flash of silver curved metal, from what I could only assume to either be a demon or the Grim Reaper himself. Another time I saw a live girl on a pegasus with a ghost on back disappear into the sky, so you know.
I had come to the conclusion that whatever underworld or afterlife existed did indeed have ghost messengers, they were just a slight bit held up. And I was happy to help out in the process. (By the way: there really is a how to be a ghost hand book. They’re glowing booklets that pop up everywhere the universe can fit them, and teleport in more frequently in haunted areas than not. There’s also random instances where a cloud will be branded with the basic rules of hauntings in great big, puffy letters. It’s a mixture of cool and freaky to see.)
This all becomes relevant about three times a week, whenever we stumbled onto a ghost that had been seriously injured in their last moments. Wounds from shootings, murder, sucide, natural disasters, freak accidents, house fires, poisonings, radiation, regular burns, bad falls, eletrocution, crushed glass, fist fights, car accidents, fallen bits of nature, bad exorcisms, on and on and on.
This one had been the victim of a particularly bad spell. Spell injuries look different from regular ones, mostly because they glow right along with the ghost rather than presenting themselves as dull color overlays. Some glitter like there are bits of crushed glass where there are none, some act as beacons buried within the skin (most of the ghosts with that go blind from trying to figure out how bad the wound is) (blindness is the only natural thing that can touch you after death, by the way) some look like inserted glow sticks, yet others shine only at certain angles, like metal.
This one had the glitter variety, the main reason we saw her. She was a shorter woman in a rosy pink hijab, (colors show up at the same time as the blue ghostliness does, which makes for some wacky combos) loose black pants, and a white blouse. I guessed she was from the seventies, maybe?
She was sobbing her eyes out.
A massive cut in her side soaked the pink and white an uncomfortable hue of purple-red. It glittered like massive gems had been buried in her organs, and a bad deep blue burn surrounded the entire thing in a gruesome oval shape.
“Ma’am?” Kala asked politely as we approached carefully. I pretended to be interested in going into some nearby shops while they talked.
Her eyes flicked to Kala, even though she didn’t pause.
“This is Grim, and I’m Kala. He can see you, it’s his quirk. He can help you too. We just need to go somewhere more private.”
She sobbed harder.
“It’s not like the first exorcism, we swear. They were people who didn’t know what they were doing. He does. He’d sooner join us than hurt someone on purpose.”
She wasn’t lying, not a bit of it.
Kala reached out her small hand for the woman’s larger limp one. She hesitantly closed around it, smiling when the hand squeezed hers, and not minding at all when it squeezed probably to the point of pain.
The woman leaned forward just a bit from where she had been leaning on the nearest building's wall, and nearly collapsed into poor Kala.
She took her weight though, flying a bit to do so, and we made our way into a nearby alley.
Anybody that saw this next bit would probably think I was out of my mind, but I couldn’t care less. Not when I was the unofficial doctor to Heaven’s waiting room. I had several spirits come to me a week, more than the usual handful, asking for my help. And god, it was so worth some sharp stares, a few doses of harsh judgement.
I took out some bundles of herbs from my school bag, some lined paper with the weird words scrawled on them, a couple tiny candles.
I had figured out a spell for these situations, too. Earlier on I was forced to Underwold-ify any spirits I found in this state, but then we did a bit in school on Egyptian mummification (by that I mean I twisted an assignment to give me an excuse to research it) and I learned they had a habit of similar injuries to their newly dead. (Cough cough taking out their organs cough cough.) If anything, this was a watered down version of anything this spell was made to handle. It was a bit like the horse tranquilizer of some medication compared to what I pulled off. (The Egyptians were really the ones who had their facts straight in this field, and I guess for good reason.)
The only problem was, you can’t really translate ancient pictionary into perfect modern Japenese without a few hiccups.
This wasn’t ideal, like having a tear in bandaid, but better than nothing. You can always add a second one, yeah?
This particular enchantment didn’t need half the materials I had on hand, but I found it was better to be ready for war in a fistfight than show up empty-handed.
I lit three candles for some Greek help, (they really did love their trios) some special herbs around for sections of the Americas, incantations stitched together from all over Asia, (leaning more heavily on Japanese, thank you) and we were ready.
Doing necromancy (is that what it’s called?) is a bit like throwing yourself off the deep end when you have a vague idea of how to swim. In theory, you know what to do, and if you try really hard you can get things done, but it doesn’t make the experience any better.
The first time I did it, I thought I had just committed quirk-related sucide. I think you actually flash your way through a couple of afterlives over the course of the paragraph before somehow ending up in some universe entirely made up of the swirly stuff spirits were made of for the last sentence, which was overall beyond freaky. And you’ve got to be careful not to stutter or bad things happen. (Never, ever again.)
It also kind of feels like your body is temporarily possessed. My arms reach out and shape the universe ghost goop like I have any idea what the hell to do with it, and when I surface, yeah it does actually feel like coming up from underwater, it seems that world is somehow connected to this one because the spirit gunk has shifted and healed.
This instance involved my possesed hands removing some purple and deep blue gunk like in the woman’s actual wound, essentially throwing it into a conveniently and terrifyingly close by black hole, and doing the regular molding mess.
With the last smoothing motion of my cupped hands, I was shot upwards like out of a cannon, and sunlight, weak as it was in the alley, blinded me as I flew back into my body with a faint sticky feeling.
I blinked rapidly before nearly falling over, catching myself on a nearby dumpster and taking a few deep breaths. I glance over through my watering eyes to see the woman gasping and sputtering, feeling at her whole, undamaged side.
I struggle for air and close my eyes. I did. It’s fine, it’s cool. She’s healed, you’re alright, you did fine.
When I open my eyes again, the woman is full on bowing to me at my feet, like she was praying.
I blink again. Oh hell no.
I sink down to sit on my heels, activated my tired quirk to touch her back gently. “No need. Your happiness is gift enough.”
There’s a sniffle, and she looks up at me. The tear-stained face looks terrible, but her eyes shine.
I start to grin right then and there, and help her up.
She doesn’t seem to know what to do. Kala smiles brightly, takes her by the hand, and leads her out of the alley again, probably for further comforting.
I sit down heavily, nearly lighting myself on fire from one of the candles.
It never does get easier, just more rewarding, and maybe less creepy. I was ready for some food and a nap right about now.
Instead I gulped down some more oxygen and started gathering up the materials with shaky hands. The papers had fallen from my grip during my trance, but they hadn’t gotten wet when they landed, so it was okay. The candles were easy enough to load back up, and the herbs had there on special pocket.
“What are you on?” I look behind me. There’s a shady-looking guy in a hoodie, weirdly covered for the warmer weather, and I can make out the lines of scars on his face.
“Death.” I reply simply, shrugging on my pack. We look at each for a few minutes.
He’s ringed with spirit traces. That happens with some people. If they were present for a death, have information on it, or were just important to that dead person, a little piece of them can stick to them and hang on for dear life.
But this many would require… quite a bit of death.
The last person that had this many tags on him had been a serial killer on a spree.
Yeah, murder victims can definetely tag people too. It tends to be either a hands off, I care about this person, or hands off, he’s mine. The only problem is, I can’t tell the difference. Kala says there’s a shift in the coloring, kind of like the spirit version on tone. I’ve got the words and body language down, but the subtle bits of tone, which can really be important, escape my eyes. (our theory is I’m more attuned to whatever wavelength of light ghosts give of as well as the normal vision one, but my genes had to split the difference so I could still see in color, meaning I technically can’t see all of what’s happening with the dead, but close enough)
I look him over. I’d assume he’s homeless, with the well-worn clothes and prominent injuries, but the sheer amount of tags on him tempt me to think otherwise.
But that level of tags would also point to the fact that if I were to try to bring him in to the police or alert a hero, if any one of those ghosts found out, lets just say I would not have a very long time to live.
Damned if I do, damned if I don’t, thanks too-good consciousness.
I swallow. It isn’t good to be in an abandoned alley with a maybe-murderer, said my smart-brain.
“Right. Fine kid. Get out of here if you know what’s good for you.”
I was tempted to reply that I didn’t, but right then Kala came back into the alley, eyes widening as she took in the man.
She immediately saw why I was hanging around and formed a small tag in her hands, just a little blip of light, and threw at him. It landed on his left arm, and I made a note of the shape.
Mission complete, I got the hell out of there.
We ran for three straight blocks before we stopped so I could catch me breath. “Can you track him or something?” I asked her between gulps.
“No work that way. Can tell if he commit crime, I know if he hurt people now.” Okay, that could work.
It makes sense, too. The point of tagging someone is to make sure they aren’t either doing something bad to themselves or to others. You have to know the number of crimes for vengeance, which was kind of the point of the last category.
“Ooohhhh, my god.” I finally say, and she giggles out an agreement. She waits for me to stop wheezing with my hands on my knees like an old man before gesturing towards a nearby deli with an expression that left no room for questioning.
Yeah, I guess I could do with a sandwich right about now. And a bit of tea would be nice…