Tuesday, 31 May 2022 00:00

Fire Over Phoenix (Part 2)

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We don't normally provide warning with our stories but thought that one might be warranted for this one since it deals with something we've not really covered in our stories before and that is Institutional Cannibalism. I know it's an odd phrase but if it sounds like this would disturb you we wanted you to be aware of it.

A Second Generation Whateley Academy Story

Fire Over Phoenix


Astrodragon & Domoviye


Part 2


Friday, Early Afternoon, the FrankenCorps secret base

Iron Rain looked up from his tablet as his co-worker came in looking pissed. “Hey Scorpio, I heard your target got away from you. That sucks, man.”

The power armour jockey growled a curse, practically throwing himself into one of the comfortable chairs that lined the break room wall.

“So the info on the werewolf was wrong. What happened?”

“He was a fucking were-gerbil,” El Scorpio said. “We had the little shit cornered, when he turned into a rodent and jumped through a sewer grate. Whole operation was FUBAR'd because someone didn't do their damn job.”

Resisting the urge to laugh, more to avoid a fight then out of respect for his fellow hunter, Iron leaned back in his chair. “That's really sucks. But I think I have a job you could help me on, haven't told the desk jockeys about it yet, so we could split the finders fee.”

Scorpio leaned forward, clearly interested.

“A female were-fox. Scary good with her hearing and sense of smell, not really powerful, but agile and a jumper. From what I've seen, I'm pretty sure my usual drugs won't knock her out before she can get away.”

“What about interference?” Scorpio asked.

“Not much. She likes to go out at night to play vigilante. I think she saw me tracking her, so I figure grab her in a week or two. I play the eyes in the sky, hit her with something to slow her down, you grab her,” he said.

“Seems like I'll be doing most of the work.”

“I did the footwork, I also know where to find her. And since I'll be out there too, if my info is bad it's my ass on the line, not just yours.”

Thinking it over, Scorpio finally nodded. “All right. I think I'll be free in two weeks.”

He clapped his hands together. “Fantastic! Christmas is going to be fucking awesome this year.”

“How did your hunt go this morning?” Scorpio asked, his anger slowly draining away.

“Piece of cake. Mages always trust their spells too much,” Iron said, with a huge grin.

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Friday Morning, November 25th, Phoenix

Iron Rain sat on a roof scowling at his phone. It was showing a crystal clear drone image, of his current target who had the potential to be a real pain in his ass.

The teenager walked down the street, completely oblivious that she was being watched. Considering she was being ignored by the crowd, it was reasonable for her to think no one was following her. Normally someone with ink stains slowly moving across skin that appeared to be aged parchment, creating images that almost seemed to form words and symbols, and having hair that looked like liquid ink falling down her back would draw some attention. But the kid was a mage who clearly had some way of being overlooked by the naked eye.

“Target is twenty feet ahead of you, just behind the fat ass in a blue hoodie and yoga pants, do you see her?” Iron Rain asked, not worried about eavesdroppers thanks to his devised phone.

He watched his two partners discretely look around. “No,” one of them quietly said into his phone.

“All right, keep going straight at this speed, I'll keep you updated on her movements. As soon as she's not in a crowd, we'll take her,” he said.

Keeping the drone following the target was easy. It looked like a large butterfly, and was flying high enough above the street no one paid attention to it. The target briefly went into a bakery, coming out a minute later with a bag of pastries. With her ragged clothes and a stained backpack that looked like it had been taken out of a dumpster, he doubted she'd paid for the food. “Naughty, naughty, you're being a bad little girl. Papa spank,” he whispered.

The target turned down an alley, and sat down on a relatively clean part of the pavement out of sight of the sidewalk. Iron Rain passed on the directions to his partners and the nearby van. Switching the drone video to his electronic rifle scope, he peered through the scope and got a crystal clear look at his target.

He made a curving motion with his fingers, creating a trail from the barrel of the gun to the targets stomach. Aiming for her neck would allow the tranquilizer to work faster, but there was too much of a risk of hitting the jugular.

“We're in position,” his partner said.

“Firing now,” he replied, pulling the trigger.

The target yelped and jumped to her feet in pain and surprise. The dart was sticking in her, letting him know it was a clean hit. She gingerly reached down to pull it out, the hesitation allowing more of the devised concoction to enter her system.

His partners began walking down the alley, and the white van blocked off the other end. The target saw them, and started to run. She made it about five feet before falling flat on her face.

The spell seemed to end, his partners broke into a jog, roughly grabbing the target and jumped into the van, which pulled away the moment the door was shut.

Over his phone he heard, “Got the target bagged and gagged.”

“Good. I'll call base, and meet you later.”

Hanging up his phone, he pulled out a burner and dialled up a special number for his current employer. When it was picked up, he said, “It's Mike, I'm going to send you an email in about twenty minutes, make sure to read it ASAP.”

With the code and time given, his part of the job was done. Breaking down his dart gun, he wondered what he should get for lunch.

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Friday, afternoon, Chandler, Phoenix

The bastilla was delicious.

Normally Faiza would have gobbled down the slice of sweet and savoury chicken pastry, and asked for more. Instead she sat quietly, head down, nibbling at the food while her family talked about the big gathering they were going to after lunch.

They'd be going to it, Faiza would be staying home as part of her punishment for lying to the police and her Babba earlier that week. She wouldn't mind being grounded, only able to go to school and dance class for the foreseeable future, she could even handle the shame and sadness she saw in her parents eyes when they looked at her, what burned was the fact that she wasn't lying.

She had seen a girl being kidnapped by a supervillain. But because she couldn't prove it, and she'd been in her were-fox form, so she couldn't even prove she'd been in the area when it happened, they assumed she was lying. Combined with almost getting kidnapped on Saturday night while out on patrol, watching two superheroes almost get killed as she stood too scared to move, just a few meters away, and her week had totally sucked.

“Fai, after you're finished eating, put the dishes into the dishwasher and start it up,” her Mama said.

Looking up for the first time, Faiza realized everyone was done and had started clearing off the table. When had that happened? She nodded. “Yes, Mama.”

“There's leftovers in the fridge for supper. Don't make a mess while we're gone, don't leave the house except in an emergency, and you can watch some movies or play any game you want tonight. We should be back before midnight.”

“Yes, Mama,” She said, in a monotone.

It looked like her Mama wanted to say something, then with a sigh and a frown she left the dining room to get prepared.

Alone in the dining room, she forced herself to finish her food. She didn't want to, her stomach roiled from her depression and knowledge of what she was going to do, but she'd need the energy soon. Taking her dishes to the kitchen she tidied up a little, staying out of sight as the house bustled with activity.

“Fai,” her Babba said.

“Yes, Babba?” she said, not able to look him in the eyes.

He put something on the counter. “Here is your phone in case you need to call us. You can also talk with your friends today.”

“Thank you, Babba.”

She heard him walk over to her, grabbing a cloth she began wiping off the counter.

Placing his hands on her shoulders, he said, “No one is perfect, Fai. Learn from your mistakes, make amends and try do better next time. Don't wallow in the guilt.”

She touched his hand. “Thanks, Babba.”

Heading to her room, she waited another hour before they finally left.

Spending the day alone was not how the Thanksgiving holiday usually went. In the three years since moving to the US, her family had gotten to enjoy the holiday with a series of parties and get-togethers, spending it with friends, mostly from the university who were also far from their family. Friday and Saturday were the big days, they'd have a potluck, with food from all over, the adults would talk and drink, while the teens would watch movies and hang out, and the children would play until they got too tired. She'd been looking forward to it before everything happened. However, it turned out her being grounded was a blessing in disguise.

Going to her room, Faiza got onto her computer and opened a file. The screen showed several news articles about a girl, Azar Lopez who had been kidnapped on Tuesday, the same day she'd seen a girl kidnapped. The parents didn't know exactly where their daughter had been taken, but it was in the same general area as she'd been. Unless the kidnappers were running around kidnapping several young girls off the street, the girl she'd seen was Azar.

Why hadn't the police called her back when the parents called for help?

After the initial request for help, the news story seemed just dry up. One article reported that a source said the police thought she was a runaway, but they were still looking, and that was that, no more info, no more interest.

Well that wasn't good enough for her.

Now that she had her phone again, she transferred the important info, like the parents address found after several hours of sifting through social media, onto it. Another bit of info she needed were rumours and reports from Para-Watch about the possible location of El Scorpio. It wasn't an address of course, but it was an area where he'd been sighted several times in the last month. She didn't know if he still had Azar, but if she could find his hideout it would bring her one step closer to the girl.

Taking off her clothes, she shifted into Fanak, shrinking down into her were-Fennic fox form. Taking a moment to adjust to the nearly overwhelming sensory load, she grabbed her child size clothes that were hidden deep in her dresser. Putting on her altered bathing suit, which was the closest thing she had to a superhero outfit, she hid it and her animalistic appearance in baggy pants and an oversized hoodie.

Starting a program on her computer, Fanak hoped it would work as promised. If someone knocked on the door or asked her something, it would respond in her voice, telling them to go away. With the locked door, she hoped it would keep her parents from finding out she'd left the house. Putting her muted phone and some money into a small backpack she hopped out her second floor window.

Hopping the fence, she jogged towards a distant bus stop, not wanting to risk getting on the bus too close to her home. It would take a long time to get to the Lopez family, but she couldn't have anyone find out where she lived.

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Friday 25th November, Phoenix, Marriot Hotel, early evening.

This was the first time Thulia had been in an American Hotel room, and as she wandered around, exploring it, she was disappointed - it wasn't nearly as large or luxurious as the ones she'd seen on TV shows. She sat down on the bed and bounced gently a few times. Meh, she supposed it was tolerable, at least the bed was large enough. While she understood the Whateley beds were standard, she still hadn't got used to feeling cramped while she slept. Still wandering around, she eyed the rooms mini-bar with interest, then frowned at it when her keycard wouldn't access it. Instead, the display said 'unable to access due to age restrictions'. She was starting to wonder about humans, why were so many things tied to how old you were rather than how competent? Still, the shower did look promising, and she needed to get the desert dust off, so first things first.

Half an hour later, she was feeling a lot cleaner and warmer. The room even had a bathrobe she could use, though she'd looked at the fuzzy slippers included with it and shook her head. No, just no. Having to wrap a towel around her hair was more annoying, but the ceiling had what she knew to be heat sensors, and a quick drying of her hair would have set them off. She'd spend a few minutes and dry it slowly before she left, but for the moment a towel at least stopped her hair dripping cold water down her butt.

Golden sunlight was streaming in through the window, and a quick glance outside showed the sun close to setting, so time to get down to business. She'd been told that the agent assigned would be here till tomorrow, so visiting after dark would be safer - just in case anyone was showing an interest in the family - and wouldn't slow anything down. That way she could note down everything she'd found ready to brief the agent in the morning. Her plan was to walk over to the parents house - it wasn't far, and she needed something to eat first. According to her phone there were eating places along her route, so that was covered. That was straightforward enough, but then she had to think about what she was going to do when she got there.

Thulia tapped her chin in thought as she tried to decide what sort of impression she wanted to give the missing girl's parents. She wanted to present herself as someone competent, it sounded like they were upset - well, with their daughter missing, who wouldn't be? - so while jeans and a t-shirt would be fine for walking through the city without drawing attention, the look didn't really give that authentic 'experienced mage' feeling. She had her protective leotard and basic equipment stored, of course, but that might not give the right impression either - it was, after all, a combat outfit, and not exactly the thing to reassure a worried family. However, after some dithering, she decided she had something that should work. Digging into her bag, she pulled out a robe. Nothing special, it wasn't anything fancy, just a thigh-length robe in green and gold. Still, if she wore that over her leotard, she'd look more like a proper wizard, especially wearing the rest of her combat gear. She wasn't going to need it, of course, this visit was only to find out what had happened, but she hoped it would reassure the parents they were being taken seriously.

A few minutes later, she'd folded it up neatly and put it in her bag, and got herself ready. Time to go and do what she'd been sent here to do. Well, after she'd eaten, but then she didn't want to arrive too early, after all.

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A little later, near the Lopez home

Thulia turned into a side alley and took a moment to check to see if anyone seemed interested in her. There had been a scattering of people on the street while she walked over from her hotel - not as many as she'd expected, given the pleasant evening, but most people here seemed to use their cars. Even so, she slipped into the shadows to make sure no-one had noticed her before changing out of her street clothes. Settling her robe over her leotard, she tugged it straight before fastening her belt over it. No mirror to help, but it felt OK. Nodding to herself in satisfaction, she made another quick check for people on the street before slipping out of the alley. The parents' home was only a minute away, and even if someone noticed her she was sure she looked normal enough.

She paused in front of the door. The lights seemed to be on, so the parents should be home. She'd worried before leaving they might not be in, but with their child missing it had seemed unlikely, at least in the evening. Tapping on the door, she waited, trying to make herself look calm and professionally reassuring for them. She heard the rattle of chains before the door opened to reveal a slender dark-skinned man, a worried expression on his narrow face.

"Yes?" he looked at her and frowned. "Who are you?"

She shimmered for a moment as her body changed, her horns now curling around her head and her staff appearing in her hand as she made a formal gesture of greeting. The man's eyes opened wide in shock before he recovered and almost pulled her in, moving quickly to shut the door behind her. "I'm sorry, but it's for the best if nobody sees you."

She gave him her best reassuring smile - the one without the teeth. "Of course, we don't need that sort of attention." She examined his face - he certainly had signs of the Djinn on him, although since she'd already been told that's what he was, it was only confirming it. And making sure this was the man she'd been sent to talk to. A movement inside the living room turned out to be a woman, presumably his wife. She looked at her with wide eyes, seeming fascinated by her horns. Ah yes, the wife was human, from her expression she wasn't very familiar with Thulia's people.

"I wonder if we could talk? I've been sent by the Order to find out the full details of what's happened to your daughter, so we can do something to help."

The man was still looking a bit stunned. "Ah...you are?"

She nodded, and this time the complex gesture her fingers made was followed by a trail of glittering fire. He paled, then bowed a lot more deeply as he recognised it. "Lady Dragon, you honour us."

She shook her head. "Please, call me Thulia. I'm here to see what I can do to help."

The look of relief on their faces was a bit worrying to her. She was only here to question them, but the looks she was getting gave her the impression they were expecting her to do a lot more than just that.

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Earlier that evening, a cell in the FrankenCorps secret base

Book woke up and wished she hadn't. Her head was aching, her hands felt like there were nails rammed through her palms, and her mouth was full of sand. Groaning, she opened her eyes.

Looking around she was in a room with two cheap plastic cots, a steel door with a tiny barred window, and a sink with two paper cups. There was also a girl dressed only in her underwear sitting in the corner furthest from the door, clutching her knees to her chest. The situation didn't look promising.

Looking down, she realized she was just in her dirty bra and panties as well. “Damn, that was my best shirt,” she muttered.

Trying to stand up, she hissed as her hand touched the floor. Whoever had kidnapped her, had put an iron bolt through the middle of her hand and welded on a nut so she couldn't pull it out. glancing at her other hand, she saw that it was in the same condition.

“Fuck. There goes my magic.”

She noticed the kid was watching her. “Little help?” she asked quietly, raising her hand.

The kid came over, looking scared and exhausted. With her help, Book got to her feet, staggered to the sink and using just the tips of her fingers turned on the water. Awkwardly she got herself a drink, finding a bit of relief even as her hands started throbbing in pain.

“What's your name?” she asked, her voice low, just a little over a whisper.


“I'm Book. Anyone looking for you, Azar?”

The kid nodded.

“Good, there's at least a chance of getting rescued.” Looking around the room, which was lit by a single light behind thick plastic, Book went to the unused cot, cursing in pain as she lifted up the thin, dirty pillow. As expected an old leather book was under it. Picking it up, she felt better almost immediately, despite the iron in her hands messing with her essence, and sending occasional bolts of liquid agony up her arms.

“Where did that come from?” Azar asked.

“It came with me,” she said, not sure how to explain that the book was attached to her. “Do you know why we're here?”

“No. They told me if I was good and my parents did what they were told, I'd go home soon.”

“Right. Do they at least feed us?” she asked, realizing that she was pretty hungry after having her breakfast interrupted.

“Yeah. They've given me a lot of food and insist I eat it all even when I get too full.”

That didn't sound right. Kidnappers didn't seem like the type to waste a lot of time or money on food. Rubbing her head, she cursed as the metal bolts sent yet more flashes of pain from her fingertips to her shoulders, and scratched her skin. Taking a seat on the floor, Book opened her leather tome at random, it conveniently opened on a page for a healing spell.

“Are you a mutant?” Azar asked.

“I don't think so. You?”

“No, I'm not either.” The girl walked over and sat down beside her.

Book glanced nervously at her, not sure what to do, she hadn't had any real human contact since waking up in the desert outside of Phoenix. Trying to ignore the girl she went back to studying the spell, it looked like a good one, just really, really disgusting. She'd definitely need a bottle of mouthwash afterwards. Well, beggars couldn't be choosers.

“I want to go home.”

Putting an arm over Azar's shoulder, Book pulled her in tight. Thinking very carefully about her words, she said “Tell you what. You help me out and I promise to do whatever it takes to get both of us out of here alive.”

As the words left her mouth, she felt chains wrap themselves around her soul. She still didn't understand why her promises had so much weight, but at this moment, rather than being a nuisance it was going to help her.

“What do you need?”

“Find something that can rip out these bolts, while I find something that will make these guys really unhappy,” she replied, smiling like a Cheshire cat.

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Friday 25th November, Phoenix, The Lopez house, mid-evening.

Thulia sighed to herself as the explanations finally ground to a halt, trying to keep a neutral and professional expression on her face to hide her frustration. She hadn't realised when she offered to help that the first thing she'd need to do would be to sit and listen to two deeply upset and emotional parents. It wasn't something she was familiar with, and having them bare their emotions to her as they had done made her feel uncomfortable. Especially when they were older than her and, well, parents! She was far more used to being on the other side of this sort of conversation. Having to guide their rather rambling answers hadn't helped, it had just made their emotions even more obvious, and their accounts hadn't done much to help find their daughter. She kept feeling that she should be doing something more to help them, not just sitting here and listening.

"Is there anything else you can tell me?"

The parents looked at each other, then shook their heads, almost in unison. Thulia bought herself some time to try and settle her own emotions by looking down at the notes on her pad. They were depressingly light on any useful facts. "You haven't tried to use magic to find her yourself?"

The man - Hassan, she remembered - looked defeated. "I'm a poor mage, that's one of the reasons I ended up on Earth. After all this time, I can't cast anything useful."

She looked slightly puzzled. "But you crafted a message to the Order?"

He shook his head. "That was a pre-prepared spell. I was given it when I left, in case of emergency or if I wanted to get home. I couldn't do one that complicated on my own."

She was a bit surprised he considered such a straightforward spell so far beyond him, but that explained a lot. Hmm, maybe there was something she could do to help, without bending her instructions that much. She looked at their faces again and decided. She couldn't just leave them like this, it was too cruel. And what she had in mind was just some more information gathering, as she'd been asked to do.

"I think I may be able to help with that. If you are willing to help, I can cast a location spell, it may help tell us where she is now."

Sofia jumped to her feet. "You can do that!? You can do that for us? Please, please, we'll do anything..."

Thulia raised her hand to try and calm the woman down. "Yes, I can do that. I'll need a few things, though. Ideally, I'd like some of her blood, but some hair will do, she's probably left some on a brush or something?"

Sofia rushed out of the room. "I'll get it for you!"

She blinked, before turning to Hassan. "As her parents, I'll need a small amount of blood for both of you, and a bit of space to work in. She gestured with her hands, showing a space around six feet across. "Somewhere I can write on the floor."

He thought for a moment. "I did the spell on the kitchen floor, it's made of wood. Will that be OK?"

She nodded, standing up. "That should be fine, I just need a surface that will let me chalk my spell diagrams on it."

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Evening, Close to the Lopez home, Phoenix

Thanks to the holiday bus schedule, it had taken even longer than usual to get into Phoenix, finding her way to the Lopez home had taken more time. But she'd finally arrived and had had a chance to look around.

Finishing off her supper of a poorly cooked pizza slice, with most of the pepperoni picked off, Fanak decided it was time to get to work. She couldn't see anyone watching from the house, so as casually as possible she walked up to the house and hopped the fence into the backyard.

Getting low, she went to the small backyard of the house and listened at a window. It was closed, but with her ears she could make out the muffled voices easily enough. It sounded like they were talking about their daughter and how she'd gone missing. A woman was asking them questions, trying to keep them on track. Maybe they'd hired a detective, or the police were taking this more seriously than she thought.

Staying close to the ground, she moved away from the window and looked the house over. There were

several windows and a back door, she didn't want to risk the door. Even if it was unlocked, she didn't know what the layout of the house was, she could open it and be seen immediately. A window on the second floor had pink curtains, that looked promising. The other window had dark blue curtains, which was probably the parents room.

Taking off her shoes, Fanak carefully gauged the height and the window ledge. She couldn't make any mistakes.

Jumping up, she grabbed the upper edge of the window sill, driving her claws into it, and got her toes onto the bottom. It wasn't exactly easy or comfortable, but she managed to hold her crouched position. Listening carefully she didn't hear any footsteps coming up the stairs. Breathing a sigh of relief, she gently worked a claw under the screen, popping it out. With nowhere else to put it, she threw it well away from the house. Still using her claw, she managed to open the window from the outside and eased her way into Azar's room.

Flexing her cramped and sore toes and fingers, she listened again for any hint that she had been heard.

From the living room the maybe detective said, "I think I may be able to help with that. If you are willing to help, I can cast a location spell, it may help tell us where she is now."

Her eyes widened, they'd hired a mage? They had to have a lot more money than it looked like. Maybe that was why their daughter had been kidnapped.

“-some hair will do, she's probably left some on a brush or something?" the mage said.

This time Fanak's eyes widened in horror, she could hear light footsteps heading for the stairs. Spinning around she shut the window, making sure not to slam it, then dove under the bed. If she'd been her human size, she never would have fit, but in her petite, and breast-less Were form she could just make it as long as she didn't breathe too deeply.

The door opened, socked feet made their way to the bed.

Her nose itched. Her tail began to cramp up in the too tight confines of the pants. She wanted to sneeze.

Barely breathing, Fanak could still make out the womans scent, she was completely human and very worried, but a smoky smell clung to her. The smell was deeper and sharper than Azar's scent. Was that what the father smelled like? There was a third scent, extremely faint, it was almost like cinnamon.

Her thoughts made the itchiness a little more bearable.

The mother grabbed something from the night stand, and turned to leave.

'Go on. Get out of here,' Fanak thought, willing her to leave, fighting to hold in the sneeze as her entire body began to itch.

With agonizing slowness, the feet left the room and made their way downstairs. Crawling out from under the bed, she scrubbed at her nose, relishing being able to move again. Curiosity made her creep to the open door. Everyone was downstairs again, so she stuck her nose out into the hallway and took a deep breath. The smell of the mother and father were almost overwhelming. The fathers scent was definitely similar to Azar's, did that mean they had the same mutation? The third scent, the one coming from the mage was much different. Even though it wasn't very strong, it felt... hot. There was no other way to describe it. It was also very smokey, not harsh smoke like from a car, but like cinnamon incense. Was the mage related to Azar, an aunt or something? Or did all mages smell like that.

Shaking her head, she forced herself to concentrate on the task at hand. Azar was in danger and only one person could help her. There was no more time to waste.

“OK, I need something that smells like Azar,” she whispered to herself.

She could smell the girl very clearly in the room, it was the same odd sweet smokey smell mixed with a more normal female scent. But if she was going to track down an old scent in the city, she needed more than just a memory. Going to the clothes basket at the end of the bed, she dug through the dirty clothes. Underwear would be perfect, but the thought of putting her nose against dirty panties was a bit too much for her. A bra on the other hand would work nicely.

Putting the white bra into her pocket, Fanak opened the window again, looked around for any watchers, and jumped out. She'd had to leave the window open, but there wasn't much she could do about that. If it all went well, they'd have their little girl back in a few hours and an open window wouldn't matter.

Grabbing her shoes, Fanak quickly left the yard. With the first part of her mission done, she had to catch a bus.

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A short while later, Thulia was all ready to begin her ritual. They'd moved the furniture to give her a workspace, and the first thing she'd done was the small ritual to recall her spell chest from its storage. She was glad now she'd prepared it yesterday, she'd nearly left it until after this mission, not expecting to need it. While she could have kludged up what was needed for a location spell, things were always easier with the proper tools.

Sofia had produced a brush with quite a few long red hairs tangled in it, her hand trembling as she handed it over. Thulia gave it a critical inspection and nodded in satisfaction. "This will do fine. Now I need to take a few drops of blood from you, hers would be ideal, but a parent's blood will have a close enough correspondence with hers." She took out her athame, wiping the blade clean before asking them to extend their hands. She was about to take a few drops for the ritual before she had a thought. "Actually, thinking on it, it might be better to take a vial full, in case I need some more."

She'd never met anyone so eager to give her their blood, and shortly she had two small vials full of dark crimson liquid. She examined them carefully, before nodding in approval. "Ok, you may as well sit down, it's going to take me a short time to draw the spell circle out." She took a pack of chalks from her chest and started to draw the complex patterns onto the wood. Concentrating on her work, she didn't see the expressions on their faces until she'd finished.

"You did all that from memory?"

She smiled at Hassan. "It's a straightforward spell, most of the circle is just to isolate the immediate area from where I will do the working, there's too much of her in this house."

She packed the rest of her kit back in the box, then wiped her hands and stepped into the inner circle. Kneeling, she looked at the small photograph of Azar - a pretty girl, and from her features obviously part Djinn - then placed it in the centre, the small bundle of hair going on top of it. Finally she got out a small rose quartz pendulum and readied the vials of blood. She didn't have a map of the city, but then using a map for this was so old-school. Instead of a map she set down her pad, which was currently using Google maps to display Phoenix.

She took a moment to calm and centre herself, then gestured at the outer circle with her athame. Only a small amount of essence was needed to make it active, but it isolated her, especially from the parents' uncontrolled emotions. With the faint glow from the circle showing her working area was now secure, she spoke a few words and poured three drops of blood from each of the vials onto the hair. The spell itself was simple and only took a minute to cast. The hair and blood glowed slightly to her mage sight, as she gently swung the pendulum in a circle over them watching carefully as she made a delicate link between the crystal and the items in the circle. A few moments later, the motion changed, the bob now swinging in a straight line over the hair. She nodded to herself in satisfaction as she noted the timing of the swings, then her left hand gestured, small fire-flickers following her fingers as a thick fuzzy line displayed itself on her pad. Cupping the pendulum in her hand, she examined the line. That was interesting. Not what she'd hoped for, but interesting nonetheless.

"Did it work? Did you find her?"

She looked up at Sophia, trying to remain calm in the face of the desperately eager hopefulness on the woman's face. "Well, I have some good news and some not so good. First, Azar is alive, the spell determined that much, and she's somewhere in the city." She paused for a moment as the two hugged each other, tears running down Sophia's cheeks. "However I can't locate her precisely. I suspect she's held somewhere with magical protection of some sort, and while I have a reading, it's not enough to show exactly where she is." She looked thoughtfully down at her spell circle and then again at the map. "However... whatever they used to isolate her, it's not perfect. If I do this a few more times, from different locations, I think I can triangulate her position. At the worst I can tie her down to a much smaller area to be searched.

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Thulia carefully checked that her pouch contained all the items she'd need to recast the location spell before closing it and attaching it to her belt next to her athame. She'd already returned her spell chest to its storage, it would be a nuisance to have to re-summon it in a less secure location.

Hassan frowned at her. "I understand you'll need to cast the spell again to triangulate Azar's position, but how will you get around? I could drive you?"

She shook her head with a smile, then eased more power into her form as her dragonwings grew and unfolded from her back, the crimson patterns slightly luminous against the black. Both parents gasped, and Sophia said something she couldn't translate, her hand covering her mouth.

"Flying will be a lot easier for what I have planned." She didn't bother to tell them that she expected to be re-casting the spell from convenient rooftops out of the way of any nosy humans who happened to be around.

"But Lady, what if anyone sees you?"

She held out her hand, fingers moving in a complex spell pattern, ember-faint trails of fire moving through the air. Then she pushed some essence into it, and her skin tingled as the spell took form and settled over her.

"A distraction spell, no-one will notice me as long as I don't bump into them."

Hassan nodded; even though he'd seen her cast the spell, and so wasn't fully affected by it, his eyes kept trying to slide to one side away from her.

"Now, if you can show me the back door, I'll be on my way."

He nodded, leading her out into the small back garden, obviously nervous that she kept fading from his sight. She gave a quick look around, then spread her wings and leapt into the air, a few powerful wingbeats sending her high above the house.

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Later that evening, Phoenix

Fanak sent a quick reply to her Mama's text, letting her know that she was fine and had eaten supper. She didn't want to lie, but saying she was in Glendale, practically halfway across the city, just as it was getting dark, would be a horrible idea.

Putting her phone away, she took out the bra she'd stolen and held it close to her nose. Taking a big sniff, the scent of the girl was intense. There were so many subtle odours in it, it was amazing. Fanak could track the girl through a busy mall with that scent.

The street was practically deserted which made her stick out, but helped with finding the right scent. So far she hadn't had any luck, still she wasn't discouraged, she'd only gone down two streets so far. Putting the bra back in her pocket, she started jogging again, breathing in deep, focusing on her nose.

Several minutes later her heart began to race.

She slid to a halt, throwing back her hood, her ears swiveling around for any hint of danger, her eyes wide staring into the growing shadows.

Sniffing the air she tried to pinpoint the danger. She didn't know what it was or where it was, but every instinct was screaming danger.

A faint scent came to her.

It smelled of metal and happiness.

A growl rose in her throat. The man who had tried to kidnap her almost a week ago had been nearby recently.

Putting her hood back up, Fanak followed the scent. Now things were starting to make sense. Her attacker had wanted to take her alive, probably because she was a mutant. From her scent, Azar wasn't a baseline either. So it was likely some group of supervillains were kidnapping mutant teens, for who knew what reasons.

Maybe they wanted to brainwash them? Or just force them to use their powers for criminals? Or they were going to be experimented on?

But why hadn't they used a team to capture her? If her attacker had had even a single partner in a car, they would have had her. They'd had at least seven guys to capture Azar. Maybe the girl was really powerful and they hadn't wanted to risk her fighting. Or was it that they'd done the kidnapping during the day when they had to worry about a crowd?

The scent grew stronger, until she was right on top of it. Looking around, the scent seemed to follow the road, one way going towards a few restaurants and stores, the other towards a distant office building. Kneeling down, she pretended to tie her shoelace, while actually sniffing the sidewalk. She couldn't tell which way he had gone last, but the trail was only an hour or two old, and he'd been carrying food.

So if he'd gone out to pick up some food, the obvious direction to go was the office building. Her lips curled up in a mockery of a grin. She was going to not only rescue Azar, but get some revenge as well.

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Later that evening, near the FrankenCorps building, Phoenix

Fanak looked down from her perch at the nearby office building with an attached warehouse. She wasn't stupid enough to just march up to the building without scouting it out first, and after circling it from a distance, she'd climbed up to her current spot to get a nice view of the whole thing.

There weren't any guards on the outside, at least she hadn't smelled or heard any. She had seen some security cameras around the doors, just as expected, and she suspected there were some in the lamp posts around the parking lot and going towards the doors. It certainly didn't look like the headquarters of an evil organization.

Admittedly, she had no idea what the headquarters of an evil organization should look like, but it shouldn't look like a dime a dozen office building.

The only reason she had to suspect them of anything was that the man who had attacked her had been there. It wasn't nearly enough of a reason to call the police. She needed something they couldn't ignore.

Stripping down to her suit, she put her clothes into her backpack. Using her phone, she took a picture of the office and started an email.

'If I disappear, I am the so-called Chandler Monster, but I call myself Fanak. I was looking for Azar Lopez in this building. I believe she is there because I tracked a person who tried to kidnap me last Saturday, to this location.

Mama, I was sick on Sunday because I'd been gassed, drugged and had a flashbang go off in my face. Sorry for lying to you.

I know Azar is a mutant as well, so this could be a group that kidnaps young mutants.

I hope I can delete this in a few hours. If I can't, I'm sorry Mama and Babba, I really did see the girl kidnapped, and I can't let them get away with it.

Love you.'

She added the buildings address and attached the picture to the email. Reading it over she didn't like how it sounded, it rambled, and if this really was the last thing her parents would see, she wanted it to be more memorable.

“Stop wasting time,” she said, her heart was racing from nerves, and her hands were shaking. Wasting her time making the perfect email was just her fear taking control of her. Sending the message to herself. If she wasn’t home in the morning, her parents or the police would look at her email and find it, if she came out of this OK, she could delete it.Putting her phone in her bag, she put them in a corner where they wouldn't be seen from the door. If everything went well she'd be back to pick them up in an hour or two.

“OK, how should I do this?” she asked herself, looking at the building again.

Her ears twitched. Spinning around, she saw a winged woman touching down on the roof. The dragon-like wings, golden horns, and the sharp, toothy smile, would have been enough to make Fanak pause, but what really got her attention was the sparking staff that was currently pointed straight at her.

"Don't move or call out and I won't hurt you," the woman said.

Fighting back a growl, Fanak froze in place.

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Thulia circled in the night air, orienting herself above the streets laid out beneath her. She'd placed four points on her map which she thought would be suitable, and checking her phone she angled east and started to fly to the first one. The night seemed quiet, above the muted growl of traffic moving along the streets, only a few bright lights in the distance showing the presence of human air traffic. The misdirection spell probably wasn't even needed, but explaining what she was doing to the Order tomorrow would be a lot easier if she'd taken the proper precautions to prevent any locals panicking at the sight of a dragon flying overhead.

The feeling of the air moving across her wings and lifting her was a pleasant feeling that made her wish they'd let her fly more at Whateley. She'd missed the freedom flying gave her, although she could wish the air above this city smelt a bit less of burnt hydrocarbons and more the familiar sulphur she was used to.

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A rooftop overlooking an innocuous building, some time later.

Thulia circled lazily in the cool night air as she examined the building. It looked like some sort of large office building, standing on its own, but there was what looked like some sort of loading area at the back. She wished she was more familiar with the human use of buildings, as it was it could have been used for anything. Now certain Azar was somewhere inside, she wanted to do a final location spell, This close to the girl, she should be able to get a much better result, as well as see just what sort of shields they had up covering the building. There was a nearby building that looked suitable, with a nice flat roof. She'd use that.

As she turned to swoop down, her eyes narrowed as she caught the slight movement of someone on the roof. That was odd, surely they wouldn't have watchers on the adjacent buildings? Instead of landing, she circled again as she manoeuvred to get a better look at whoever it was. Well, that wasn't what she'd expected! It looked like there was some sort of small female wolf prowling on the rooftop, although the huge ears didn't belong to any species of humanoid wolf she was familiar with. Still, she couldn't cast her final spell with the wolf there, so she'd have to deal with it. Fortunately the wolfgirl wasn't looking up - the lack of airborne predators really seemed to lull humans into a false sense of security regarding the skies - as she slid out of the air to land with a very soft thump behind the girl, her staff appearing in her hand.

The girl's hearing was excellent - well, with ears that size she hadn't been that surprised - and she instantly whirled around to stare at her. Thulia smiled - this time, the one with the teeth - as she pointed her staff at the girl, faint crimson flickers running along its length.

"Don't move or call out and I won't hurt you."

She blinked as the girl froze, her eyes fixed on the staff. She hadn't realised just how small the wolfgirl was.

Fanak didn't dare move as the scary woman pointed that glowing staff straight at her. The robe the woman was wearing, and the staff, all screamed 'Mage!' to her, and she really really didn't want to end up as a newt. How could she explain that to her parents?

Thulia took a few careful steps closer, watching the girl intently. She was standing so still she looked like she was barely managing to breathe, only the faint ripple of the night air across her fur showing she wasn't a statue as she growled a question. "I want to know what you're doing here."

Fanak took a moment to process the question and get around the mind freeze the woman had caused her before she finally managed to squeak an answer.

"I was just watching that building! I'm not doing anything wrong." She winced as she looked at the woman's golden eyes, which seemed to be devoid of any mercy right now. That and the stance - that of an obvious predator - was making it hard for her to make coherent answers.

"So you hang out on top of buildings a lot? And why this particular building?"

Fanak tried to steady herself, and in doing so took in a deep breath, Which brought the smell of warm smoke and cinnamon to her. She blinked, finally giving the horns curling around her head a proper look. The shock overriding the fear holding her still. "I smelt you at the Lopez house!"

This time it was Thulia's turn to show surprise. How had she known she'd visited Azar's parents, and why had she come here to where Azar had been abducted. Something here really didn't add up, and if it had been some sort of trap, an undersized big-eared wolf didn't seem quite the sort of thing to trap her with. Unless she was bait? She paused for a moment to look around, the faint glow of the city lights from below enough to make things as clear as day for her, and felt out for any signs of magic. Nothing.

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“OK,” the mage said, “why were you at the Lopez house and why are you here?”

Feeling a tiny bit more at ease, now that she wasn't worried about being burned alive by the mage, Fanak took a moment to collect herself. “I'm looking for their daughter, I think she's in that building,” she said, pointing at the office building.

“Who are you?”

Feeling like she was being interrogated by the police again, she answered, “Fanak, I'm a superhero.”

The mage raised an eyebrow, with a look of disbelief on her face.

"Really? I was expecting someone taller..."

Fanak glared at the mage, and wished that the woman didn't smell so odd. It would be a lot easier to tell what she was thinking if there were the normal scents. But even though the weird smoke and cinnamon smell was shifting with many undertones, it was impossible to place them.

“I'm pretty new,” she said.

The mage lowered her staff, still keeping it pointed in her general direction. “How did you track Azar here?”

“I did my homework,” she said, a little proudly. “I know El Scorpio kidnapped her, so I found out the general area where he'd been sighted the most in the last few weeks in and out of costume. That's why I needed to visit the Lopez house, to get a clear scent of Azar. Then as I was searching the area, I found the scent of someone who attacked me last week, obviously looking to kidnap me, and followed it here. Two mutants being attacked and kidnapped in three days, it's pretty obvious something bad is happening.”

A strange scent, almost like sulphur, came off the mage. “Why do you think Azar is a mutant?”

“Her scent. It's sweet and smoky, a little like you. Baselines don't smell like that,” she explained. “Look, we both obviously want to find her, can you at least tell me your name? I want to stop thinking of you as 'scary mage'.”

Realizing what she'd just said, Fanak suddenly wished invisibility was one of her powers. Or better yet the power to rewind time.

“I'm Thulia,” the mage said, her scary smile turning into one of amusement. “Who is El Scorpio?”

Taking the smile as a good sign, Fanak sat on the ledge of the roof, letting her tensed muscles relax a little. “He's a psycho, and a hero killer. A power armour user, who has a scorpion like tail with a bunch of nasty surprises in it. He likes to update it every few months, so you never know what he might use next.”

“And you were going to go inside looking for Azar with him in there?”

“I'm not looking for a fight, I'm tough, but not that tough. I just need to get proof that they have a supervillain inside, or are holding Azar,” she said, pointing at the tiny micro camera clipped to her suit. “Once I have that I can contact The Phoenix Warriors or The Elementals, and we can take it all down. What's your plan?”

Thulia slowly looked her up and down, clearly thinking things over. Finally she said, “First I'm going to cast a spell to confirm Azar is in there.”

Her eyes lit up. “A spell! Can I watch?”

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Thulia finished brushing an area of the roof clean with her hand. Fanak was crouched down watching with a fascination she found odd - she was only preparing a spell, after all. Eyeing the rather uneven surface of the roof critically, she decided it would do, and fished some chalks out of her pouch.

"So this is going to find the girl?"

Thulia nodded to the curious wolfgirl. "It should do. It's a simple spell, and now we're this close and know roughly where she is, I should get a much better location on her, even though they do have some sort of magic shield on the building."

"Wow, that is so cool."

Thulia got on with scribing the spell patterns - she had a feeling that if she stopped to answer the girls questions and comments she'd be here all night. It didn't take her long, as she'd said it was a simple location spell, even with the embellishments she'd added to reduce the efficiency of that magic shield they had going. Not enough to eliminate its effect entirely, but now she was close enough to have a better idea of its nature it didn't seem too complex, and she was certain that it wouldn't stop her getting the needed information.

Fanak still had her attention fixed on the spell, and it gave Thulia a mental itch between the shoulder blades. She wasn't used to someone so close and paying such attention to her spellcasting, especially a small girl who was so full of curiosity that she was almost vibrating with excitement.

"Can you go and keep an eye on the building? This shouldn't trigger anything, but just in case."

Fanak nodded and trotted over to the edge of the roof, and Thulia sighed in relief as she got her pendulum out. Now to see how precise a fix she could get on Azar. The location spell went as well as she hoped; she'd already acquired a wireframe drawing of the building on her pad, and once she'd fed in the details her spell had given, she had a rough idea of where the girl was. Underground, it seemed; she had no data on anything under the building, but the directions made it obvious she wasn't in the part they could see. Her best guess was a sublevel of some sort, she estimated about 100 feet under the surface, surprisingly deep. She sighed and put her pendulum away, then used a foot to rub out the spell diagram, just in case anyone visited this rooftop in the near future.

"So, did you find her?"

She gestured to Fanak to come close and look at her pad, explaining where she thought the girl was.

"100 feet down? That doesn't sound like a basement, more like an underground base of some sort."

Thulia nodded. That did make sense, but it made her worry about just what they had found. From her limited and film-derived knowledge of kidnappings, the victim was usually either tied up in a room somewhere or held in a death trap of some sort, usually in an abandoned building. This didn't seem to match either setting, although she was leaning towards the death trap idea.

"So how are we going to rescue her? Do you have a team or something you can call in?"

Thulia shook her head. "No, I'm on my own here. I was just supposed to find where the girl was and pass that information on."

Fanak looked mildly appalled. "We can't just leave her here! Who knows what they might be doing to her?"

Thulia fought hard to keep her face expressionless as she thought about that. True, the girl might be quite safe for the moment, and waiting for an Order strike force to free her might be fine. Or she might not be safe. She winced as she remembered what had happened to Morgana while she'd been held prisoner, and how she'd felt when she'd found out. Despite her lemans assurances, she still hadn't forgiven herself for taking so long in rescuing her, and still had the occasional nightmare about what had been done to her and what might have happened if she hadn't led Manx to her. What had been done to her was bad enough, and she still hadn't found the nerve to tell Morgana she'd seen what her back had looked like afterwards.

"How about the police?"

Fanaks' face made it clear how she felt about the abilities of the local police as she shook her head. "Without hard evidence we'll have a tough time convincing them. It'll take time, and they'll need a warrant and other things, which could tip the bad guys off. And with what happened on Monday, every hero is busy looking for another supervillain, no one seems to be ready to help Azar."

The girl left unsaid 'but we are', it was obvious from the way she was looking at Thulia. Oh well, she was sure she could come up with some sort of excuse for the Order, and rescuing the girl would forgive a lot of sins. When it came down to it, she couldn't just leave a 12-year-old child to an unknown fate at the hands of her kidnappers while she ran away back to her hotel.

"Then it's up to me to get her out."

Fanak looked affronted. "Us! It's up to us, I'm going to help!"

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Fanak peeked over the edge and gave the building a good look before turning around, a worried expression on her face.

"How are we going to get in? We can't just stroll inside"

Thulia smiled as she finished putting away everything she wouldn't need for this, only keeping the activated pendulum from the scrying. She adjusted her bracelets one last time, the faint thrum of their power reassuring her. While not really expecting to need them, she remembered the fight in Canada, although this time her power gems were around her upper arms.

"We're going to fly down, of course. How else would we get down from the roof?"

Fanak's eyes widened as she looked at Thulia's wings. She'd assumed she'd just jump down. Thulia smiled at the worried look on her face. "Never flown before?"

Fanak shook her head rapidly, as Thulia continued. "Don't worry, carrying you will be easy, just don't wriggle, OK?" Fanak gulped and nodded, trying to put on a confident expression as if she did this sort of thing all the time.

Thulia was about to dismiss her chest when she had a thought. "Just a minute. Sure, we'll go in together, but there's always a chance we might get separated. In which case we'll need some way of communicating."

Fanak's face fell. "I have my cell phone... but if I get into a fight..."

Thulia nodded as she opened her chest again and rummaged. "Too easy to lose, too easy to damage, and the last thing we want to do is lose something they might be able to trace." She gave a small exclamation as she showed Fanak the small ruby-red crystal on a chain she'd dug out. "We'll use magic. I'm going to spell this for communications. It'll be a quick and dirty spell, it won't have a lot of range or duration, but we don't need those."

Fanak's eyes grew wide at the idea she'd be using an actual magic item. "Do you need anything from me?"

Thulia nodded absently as she put down her staff, then laid the crystal on top of it. "I'm afraid I'll need a few drops of your blood, is that OK?"

Fanak just nodded fast. "Of course it is." Thulia gave her a slightly odd look, before sitting up straight. "OK, first I'll set up the spell, then we both add three drops of blood, and we're all set."

Fanak knelt to watch, as the mage drew some complex diagrams in the air with her fingers. She had the weird feeling that she could almost, but not quite, see something trailing in the air behind those fingers for a moment. Finally, Thulia pushed the crystal over the staff, stabbing herself with a claw as she muttered some words and slowly dripped three drops of blood onto the stone and staff. She motioned to Fanak, who obediently moved closer and put her hand out. Thulia took her wrist gently, then suddenly stabbed her finger with a sharp claw, her grip making sure Fanak didn't pull away so the droplets fell onto the original three.

"There, now I just need to power it..." good to her word, she gestured again and Fanak could have sworn the crystal flickered. Thulia picked it up - oddly, despite having blood dripped on it only moments ago, it was quite dry - and handed it to Fanak. "Just put it around your neck, tuck it into your costume to be safe."

Fanak did as instructed as the mage picked her staff up again. "Uh... just how does this work?"

Thulia grinned. "It's simple." She stood up and moved across the roof, then held her staff and said something quietly. Fanak could hear, faint but clear, the words "This is a test" seeming to come from the crystal sitting warm against her skin. "Wow, I could hear you!"

The mage laughed. "Yes. When you want to talk to me, just touch the stone with a finger and speak, I'll hear you through my staff."

"But first, before we break in, we have to stop them seeing us." Thulia pointed to a number of glassy-looking hemispheres around the edge of the building. "Those look like security cameras to me." She was quite proud of recognising them, she'd had to deal with something like them when she set up Morgana's rescue, and while she hadn't needed to deal with them at the time, she'd read up on them and possible ways on how to fool them.

Fanak cocked her head as she took a look. The light was poor, but she could see the devices. "Yes, I see them. They do look like cameras, but how do we get past them? Are you going to disable them?"

"No, if I do that they may notice the camera isn't working and come and take a look. What I'm going to do is use a spell to degrade them for a short period, enough for us to fly down." She pointed to an area of the wall. "About there, I think. It seems to be in a blind spot, so we can wait there while I make an opening in their shield."

Fanak looked confused. "Shield?"

"Yeah, they have a magic shield covering the building. It's nothing major, probably just a warning and to stop scrying, but it will take me a minute or two to make an opening they won't spot. If I just took it down they'd notice" She pointed at a door about 20 feet from the proposed magic spot. "It would have been nice if they'd left another blind spot there, but they are smart enough to cover the door, so I'll deceive the camera again and we'll slip in the door and then we're in."

Fanak took a moment to think it all through. It all seemed very professional, obviously her new acquaintance had a lot of experience doing this sort of thing. She'd either have given up or set an alarm off, she winced as she remembered the fiasco with her last attempt to sneak through a door.

Thulia waited for a moment to see if Fanak had any suggestions; she really wasn't that confident about technological security measures, and had hoped Fanak might have more knowledge. Still, she seemed happy enough, so she hoped her reading on the subject had been accurate. At least the magic shield wouldn't be an issue.

Looking over the roof parapet, she started to cast a spell, black misty tendrils following her fingers until a complex pattern was hanging in mid-air, while Fanak watched wide eyed.

"Now." She stood, pulling the small wolfgirl close as she fed essence into the spell, and balls of twisted darkness shimmered through the air to hang around the camera globes. She launched herself off the roof, keeping a good hold on her passenger, who seemed to be trembling a bit, as she beat her wings a few times to direct her powerglide, landing close to the building. A quick glance showed she was right about this being a blind spot, and a gesture dissipated her spell. Hopefully, even if someone was monitoring the cameras they'd just think the image had gone poor for a minute.

She let go of Fanak, gesturing to her to stay still and quiet, then turned to face the wall. She could feel and see the magic shell around the building only a foot in front of her, and her eyes narrowed. That was odd, it wasn't a very sophisticated shield at all - given that this seemed to be a lair of some sort, she'd been expecting something rather better done. Still, she wasn't going to complain. Tiny flickers of fire crept across the spell diagrams on her bracelets as she moved her hands in wide circles, checking the spell. Finally satisfied, she bled some essence into the metal, the fireflicker brightening a little, as she slowly opened a hole in the shield. Carefully she expanded it into something large enough for them to pass through.

"OK, ready to enter through the hole?"

Fanak looked at her, face furrowed at the whispered instruction. "What hole?"

Oh, right, the wolfgirl couldn't see magic. She pressed a hand on her shoulder, turning her to face the opening. "I made a hole in their shield. It's a foot in front of you, just step forward carefully and stop when you hit the wall."

Fanak nodded, licking her lips as she did as instructed.

"Good girl." Thulia stepped a bit more carefully, she was rather larger than Fanak and she had to remember her furled wings, then she too was pressed to the concrete wall. She didn't bother to close the opening she'd made - it would heal itself, and she didn't care if it registered them when they left, there was no real power behind it.

Now they were safely past the shield, it was a simple matter to cast a 'don't see us' spell on them, as the two girls slipped along the wall to the door. She hadn't been sure if the shield was good enough to have noticed that earlier, although having analysed it now she knew it wasn't that good. The door itself was metal, with some sort of keypad which she eyed a bit nervously. Obviously it wanted some sort of pass code, and she had no good ideas about how to find that. Fanak was still looking up at her with the sort of confidence she wasn't feeling herself. She thought about casting a spell to open the lock, but if the people inside were checking, the door would register as open. That might not be the best way. So instead, she eased up to the lock, one claw glowing with heat as she slid it around where the lock would probably be. There was some resistance as she exerted herself, then the door opened slightly. She grinned wide, ignoring the small of hot and burnt metal that had made her companion put a hand over her nose.

"OK, now let's slip in quickly and see what's inside."

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Inside the FrankenCorp base

Opening the door a little, Fanak motioned for Thulia to wait. She didn't know a thing about magic, but this breaking in was right up her alley. Listening carefully, she heard some muffled noises of people moving around or talking, but none of them were close. Sniffing the air, she couldn't pick up any scent that seemed to be from the last few minutes.

Stepping inside, her heart was racing. She was inside a real criminal organization, possibly about to fight a big time supervillain and who knew how many guards, to save a kid. This was being a real superhero, or possibly a real thief, if they were somehow really wrong about their suspicions. And she was even working with a real superhero, or maybe a super agent. Thulia had said she was getting information to pass it on, was she a government agent, like a super-spy, or did she work with a secret organization? Maybe she was a freelancer?

Whatever Thulia was, she was treating her like a real superhero, not some annoying kid. There was no way she was going to let the woman down.

Footsteps came from a room ahead of them.

Fanak quickly went to the nearest door and opened it, letting out a sigh of relief that it wasn't locked. Waving to Thulia to get in, she stepped into the dark office and almost closed the door on her tail. “Quiet, someones coming,” she whispered. Placing her ear against the door, she listened to the worker enter the hallway and start walking in their direction. He was muttering something nasty about having to work on Thanksgiving weekend, but nothing involving kidnapping.

“Clear,” she whispered, once the person had left not only the hallway but the building. “What exactly are you doing?” Thulia asked. “Trying to sniff out Azar or the man who attacked me,” she said.

Heading out again, she looked for any possible way down, or a familiar scent. They had to hide twice more, as employees wandered the hallways, fortunately her ears gave them plenty of warning. The slow pace and the lack of success was starting to bother her. Were they on a wild goose chase? What did she know about Thulia anyways? Maybe her magic spell was wrong.

“Wait,” she hissed as they came to an intersection.

Kneeling, she put her nose almost right on the floor. There was a very weird scent, it smelled bitter, mixed with ink, spoiled milk and a woman. “I think a mutant went through here. Not Azar.”

“Another kidnap victim? Or a mage?” Thulia asked.

“I can't tell, but they'll probably know where Azar is.” She sniffed the ground again, grimacing. “I don't know which way they were going. Do you have some magic that could help?”

Thulia pursed her lips, then nodded. "Keep an eye out, this will take a minute." The mage pulled a reddish crystal pendulum from her pouch, concentrating on it as she chanted a few words that for some reason Fanak couldn't make out. The pendulum swung in circles, then in a straight line. Thulia frowned at it, then sighed and put it away.

"Well, she's that way" - she pointed - "and below us, but this place is a warren, we're just going to have to try and find a way in that direction." She shook her head. “We're taking too much time, let's split up, we'll cover more ground.”

“But what if you're spotted?”

The mage smiled, showing her sharp teeth. “Too bad for them.”

“OK. Good luck,” Fanak said.

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FrankenCorps Base, Security Office

"Sir, I think we may have a problem."

"What is it?"

The security guard pointed at some of the monitors. "A little while ago a couple of the outside cameras went fuzzy for a few seconds. We thought it was just a glitch, and they were back to normal. But now" - he pointed at some sensor readings - "we're getting something from one of the doors, not sure what, but it doesn't look right. And that door is right between the two cameras that got fuzzy."

His boss stroked his chin. "Well spotted." He checked where the suspicious door was, then walked over to his console. "I want external door F-22 checked immediately, look for any signs of forced entry. Yes, right now!"

It took a few minutes before he got a reply. "Sir, you were right. The door has been forced, looks like someone used some sort of laser cutter; both the latch and lock have been melted. I reckon we have intruders."

"Noted." He eyed a red button but decided against a general alarm right now. That would only tell his intruders they'd been spotted, first let's try and find them. "All security guards, we have a breach. It started at door F-22, but they could be anywhere now. All standby guards, general search, pattern Delta-3. Assume the intruders are armed. If you can't be sure of capturing them, gun them down."

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Thulia padded along yet another corridor, as she tried to head towards the general area she thought Azar was. Detection spells were never that helpful in these sorts of spaces, and she wondered how good the little wolfgirls nose actually was. Then she heard sounds from in front of her and behind her. A squad of what looked terribly like well-armed security men stepped out in front of her, as she heard more step into the other end of the corridor behind her. Wonderful, just wonderful.

"Blue team, cover her! Intruder, put that weapon down and surrender, and you won't be hurt."

Oh please, she'd see enough Earth movies to know that was a load of rubbish. So, three men in front, three behind. They were carrying guns, which didn't worry her much, nothing that looked like it could crack her shield. Since the men in front were closer, she spun, staff in hand as she gestured, lines of magic and fire curling along her bracer as she cast a firebolt down the corridor. There was a burst of gunfire that came nowhere near her, as the fire engulfed the men. Judging by the screams, and the way they were rolling on the ground, clothes burning, they weren't dead but were adequately distracted.

The group in front of her had been stunned by her attack for a moment, but even as she turned towards them, they opened fire with automatic weapons. She took a calculating glance at the way they impacted her shield, and sneered. This time she raised her staff, filaments of fire glowing along its length as she cast a spell from it. A ball of greenish gas shimmered into being, before shooting straight at the men. They tried to dodge, but it expanded to fill the end of the coridoor when it hit them, and seconds later they were curled on the floor gasping and trying to breathe.

She growled in annoyance as she heard a siren. Great, so no doubt she'd have to clear a way through a horde of minions just to get to the girl. It looked like her best bet was to cause as much chaos as possible while she did that, if she was lucky that would let Fanak get a better run at wherever Azar was being held. The wolfgirl was pretty stealthy, but she wasn't sure if she'd be able to break Azar out. Still, that was why she'd given her a communication crystal, wasn't it?

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Alone, Fanak moved quickly down the hall, not having to worry about how noisy Thulia was, definitely helped. Her padded feet were virtually silent and her ears ensured she could hear anyone long before they saw her.

Following the scent trail, she came to yet turn in the hallway. How did this building have so many odd hallways?

Alarms began blaring throughout the building. For a moment indecision filled her, should she go help Thulia or keep looking for Azar? She decided to keep going. Thulia could look after herself, and if she joined in the fight, no one would be looking for the girl. A few moments later, she heard gears quietly move and something that sounded like an elevator door slid open. She couldn't tell where it was coming from, none of the doors she could see were opening up. Jumping to the nearest door she tried to open it, only to find it locked.

Someone began speaking. “The intruder is in section C, corridor 9. Blue and Red team are already heading th-”

Fanak looked at four heavily armed men in uniforms, who had just appeared from what had been a wall. They saw her and looked rather surprised.

Instinct kicked in.

Leaping forward, she twisted in the air, landing sideways on the wall. Her claws dug into the plaster and she launched herself at the group. Surprise and speed kept them from getting a clear shot and then she was in the middle of them.

Punching the nearest one in the face, she felt his nose shatter and he slumped to the ground. A rifle butt slammed into her side, causing her to grunt in pain. A gun swung towards her stomach, she yanked it towards her, making sure the barrel went past her side, pointing safely behind her. A baton went around her neck, yanking her back and off her feet, cutting off her air.

Getting her free hand under the baton, she tried to relieve some of the pressure on her neck.

Raising her feet, she slammed them into the man who was still struggling to get his gun away from her. He flew back into wall, holding his ribs and shaking his head but not out of the fight. The third man used his rifle butt again, pounding it into her cheek, as the baton was pulled even tighter.

Whimpering in pain, struggling to breath and unable to slip free, she dropped the gun. Her now free hand went to the baton, feeling around for the mans hand. The gun butt cracked against her head again, making her see stars.

Her questing fingers found a hand clenched tight on the baton. Desperately she drove her claws deep into the flesh. The ear piercing scream made her whimper in pain, as she was dropped to the ground.

The man she'd kicked into the wall ran forward, raising his leg to kick her in the face. She ducked low, the steel toed boot flicked her ears. Grabbing his leg, she yanked it out from under him, sending him to the floor.

She heard the last man standing flip his rifle around. Not taking the time to look at where it was pointed, she leapt at him. A shot ripped through the air, she felt the bullet clip the fur of her tail. Grabbing him in a bear hug she lifted him up and threw him down the stairs head first.

Breathing hard, in pain, and amazed that she was still alive, Fanak turned to the man she'd knocked down. He was getting up, again. Kicking him in the side, he went sliding down the hallway. “Stay down, chelb,” she growled.

Drooling blood, she looked at the last conscious guard. He was clutching his wounded hand, shaking in pain and getting pale. Lifting him up, she pushed him against the wall. “Where is the girl?” she snarled, her razor sharp teeth just inches away from his face.

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The alarms beeped in the Frankencorp guest room. Iron Rain got up from his bed, quickly throwing on his clothes and grabbing his pistols and combat knife. He left his rifle on the gun stand, if someone had broken into the company, his rifle wouldn't be very helpful in the tight hallways.

“I wish I'd stayed home tonight,” he muttered. He was only in the guestroom so he could go out before dawn with the team to collect a jogger. He hadn't expected to have to deal with a break in.

Checking his company tablet, there was an intruder in the day operations of the building. He thought about the situation. Guards were heading up from the underground barracks to deal with them, and he knew that Scorpio was up there jerking off over his armour. They didn't need him.


If he went back to bed, his current employers would ask some questions about his loyalty. There was also the possibility that there was more than one intruder. They had those two girls in lock-up, if something happened to them, it would make things rather uncomfortable for a while.

“Time to earn my pay,” he said, stepping out of his room.

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Fanak's cheek was throbbing and every breath burned her throat. She had no idea how she was going to explain the bruises to her parents, but she didn't care, as long as she got the girl out alive, she could handle whatever came her way.

She came to a stop at a corner, putting her back to the wall. Multiple footsteps were coming towards her, moving fast. She started counting down. “Five, four, three, two, one.”

Snarling like a wild animal, she grabbed the throat of the first person to come around the corner. Caught completely by surprise he flailed uselessly as she swung him like a club into the three people close behind him. They went down in a heap. She jumped on top of them, kicking and punching, using her superior strength to break bones and knock them unconscious.

It wasn't pretty or quiet, but it worked.

Unfortunately others had heard the screaming. Several doors opened and men and women in pajamas, housecoats and comfortable evening clothes looked out at her. At least half of them slammed their doors shut and locked them. The rest pulled out pistols and opened fire.

Fanak scampered back around the corner. Her body began shaking and her heart felt like it was about to explode. Looking down she saw blood dripping from her tail where a bullet had clipped it. Whimpering from fear and pain, she listened for any sound of people coming towards her.

“Where's security?” someone yelled.

“Did you read the alert, there are intruders upstairs.”

“What was that thing?”

“Must have been a mutant. How much of a bonus will we get for bagging it?”

“Should we go after it?”

“I'm not trained for that type of fighting.”

“Just keep it out of the hallway. I called security, help will come soon.”

Forcing her heart to slow down, she tried to think. They wanted her to stay where she was out of the hallway, that probably meant Azar was somewhere past her. So she had to get past the psychopaths.


Lying on the ground, she snaked her arm around the corner, grabbing the nearest unconscious guard and dragged him back to her. As he got close to her, she smelled blood.

Now that she noticed it, the whole area smelled of blood.

“Ya Allah!” she cried.

The man was dead, blood seeped from holes in his head and body. Staring at her bloody hands, she wiped them on her legs, forgetting that they were bare.

“NO! NO! NO! NO!”

Her vision faded, focusing solely on the slack face of the man. He looked like he was asleep. The overpowering scent of urine and blood filled her nose. She began to hyperventilate.

This wasn't supposed to happen. She hadn't killed anyone. This wasn't her fault. She was a good guy. No one was supposed to die. She was just supposed to get Azar and get out. That was it. Why was there so much blood?

Where was Azar?

Something growled.

The fear, panic and shock was pushed aside. It didn't vanish, it just became smaller, detached from her. She watched as her bloody, clawed hands took the rifle from the dead man. She didn't know how to use a gun properly, but she knew that you had to press the trigger, and there was a safety somewhere on it. A few attempts at pushing likely looking parts and she was rewarded when something clicked.

Pulling the trigger, the gun bucked in her hands.

The growling grew louder.

Fanak realized she was the one growling.

Pointing the gun around the corner, she pulled the trigger. It fired three times, then stopped. There were screams, doors were slammed and some of the people started shooting. Pulling the trigger again and another burst of three came out.

“So that's how it works,” she said, her voice flat.

Standing up, she pulled the trigger, and bounded down the hall, letting out three round bursts as quickly as she could. The shooters were ducking from the random spray of bullets, giving them no chance to shoot her. A few tried, taking shots as she went past, they were too slow and she was far too fast for them.

Reaching the far corner, she kept running. She realized she was still pulling the trigger but nothing was coming out any more. Dropping the empty gun, she took a deep breath, the bitter scent she'd been following was extremely strong now.

While Faiza watched, Fanak continued on her way, snarling like a wild animal.

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FrankenCorps building, Holding Cells

Book looked up at the sound of gun shots. Putting her book away, she went to Azar's cot and shook her awake. “Time to go kid.”


“Someone's shooting. I didn't hear any sirens or alarms, so it's probably not the police. Meaning it's either heroes or a rival gang, either way it's our best chance of getting out of here.” Taking a deep breath trying to calm herself, she went to the barred window on the door. “Tie me up.”

From her bra, Azar pulled out a thick string they'd made by picking at the cot fabric. It had loops at both end which fit over the bolts. Putting the pillow in her mouth and biting down hard, Book held out her hand, wincing as the rough string was shoved under the bolt, hurting her brutalized hand.

The free end of the string was wrapped through the window bars and looped over the second bolt. Closing her eyes, Book tried to psyche herself up, while the sounds of shouts, gunshots and animal like snarling were coming closer. She didn't remember much of her past, not even her own name, but she was fairly certain the old her couldn't have done this. Wouldn't have even thought of it.

But Book as she was now, could look at her body and situation in a detached way. Most of her was terrified of the pain, yet that detached part overruled the rest, it was the promise she'd made to get her and Azar out of the room. There was no way she could break it, and this was the most likely way to success. So even as her mind screamed at the insanity of this, her body moved almost on autopilot.

Nodding to the girl, she put her foot against the wall, Azar wrapped her arms around her waist just like they'd planned. Then they both started pulling.

Flesh and ligaments tore. Book felt her bones being pushed aside as the bolts slowly worked their way through the fleshy part of her hands. She screeched through the pillow, biting so hard her teeth would have shattered without the padding. Placing her other foot against the wall, she put all of her weight on the bolts.

She wanted to pass out, her vision was fading, she couldn't feel her hands anymore, pain was the entirety of her existence. The iron grip of her promise kept her conscious.

The string snapped.

She and Azar fell in a heap on the floor. Holding her shaking hands up, Book threw up at the sight of her mangled flesh. The bolts weren't out, but they were hanging loosely from the long gaping holes that mutilated her hands.

“P-pull the bolts out,” she said, barely able to talk.

“Oh god!” Azar cried, covering her mouth.

“Pull them out. To escape, I need the bolts out.”

Gingerly the girl pulled on the bloodstained bolts. They slipped out easily enough. Lying on the floor for a moment, Book tried to will the pain away. It didn't work.

The promise she'd made forced her to her feet, her ruined hands held gingerly in front of her. If she broke the promise, the pain she was feeling now would seem like bliss soon enough. Staggering to the door, she heard the guards talking to each other, another shot rang out and an animal yelped in pain.

Using her blood and her stiff, useless fingers, Book sloppily drew symbols on the door, hoping they were good enough. “Get to the corner,” she told Azar.

Whispering a few words filled with essence, she tapped the door three times with her bloody hand. It exploded outwards.

A guard was down, his neck bent at a sharp angle. The remaining two spun to look at her, guns raised. Before they could fire, a tiny werewolf with ridiculously large ears, came charging down the hallway, screeching a challenge.

Using the distraction, Book threw herself at the nearest guard, screaming in a language she didn't understand. Her teeth sank into his flesh. It felt like sticking a fork into an outlet. His energy enter her, easing the excruciating pain in her hands, making her feel alive, capable of doing anything. As the guard shrieked in pain and fear, struggling to knock her off, she clung to him, using the stolen energy to increase her strength even as she healed herself. Draining his blood, absorbing his life.

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Fanak held her bleeding arm, where a bullet had grazed her skin. It didn't hurt as much as her face, but the sharp pain wasn't pleasant. A long, continuous snarl hurt her bruised throat, she didn't know how to stop it. She didn't know if she wanted to.

There were three guards between her and her goal. She was so close now, she could smell Azar. The air was full of fear, from the guards, Azar, and the bitter smelling girl. There was also blood and pain, it was faint but she could smell it clearly.

It was overloading her badly frayed emotions. The detached feeling grew. She felt her battered body tense up. The part of her mind that was focused solely on the mission thought about how to survive long enough to get close to the guards.

As she worked out a plan, there was an explosion and shouts of surprise. Peering around the corner, she saw the door was down. Only two guards were standing, turning around to see what had happened.

Screeching, she ran at them, claws extended.

They turned, raising their guns.

A teen girl jumped out from the room, shouting words that hurt her ears. Blood poured from the girls hands, it smelled bitter and sickly. The girl landed on a guard knocking him down, her teeth bit into his flesh.

Fanak ignored the gruesome sight. Reaching the guard, she slapped the gun aside, got a hold of his arm and snapped it. He started to scream, it was cut off when his head connected with the wall.

She heard more people coming up from behind. Crouching down, she waited. It didn't take long for them to get close enough to attack. Jumping, she bounced off the wall, crashing into the leader just as he reached the corner. They went down together, she rolled to her feet grabbing the next in line. The leader stayed down clutching his broken ribs.

The guards tried to fight.

Fanak kept moving, relying on instinct and superhuman reflexes to avoid their blows. She tossed them into walls and the floor, hurting them, breaking bones, but a small part of her made sure they wouldn't die.

Slamming the last remaining guard face first into a wall, she realized the teenager was only in her underwear and nervously watching her. Blood dripped from the girls mouth and her hands were badly scabbed, the guard she'd been... eating, was very dead. Trying to get her racing heart and emotions under control, she didn't say anything, just let the unconscious man drop from her hands and stood their dumbly. Then a new scent rose up.

Sniffing the air, she growled, adrenaline surging through her once more. Her attacker had arrived.

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Wiping at the blood dripping from her mouth, Book dropped the dead body and looked around. She hadn't planned on losing control of her herself like that, the energy had just been overwhelming. Her inky black eyes widened at the sight of the werewolf slamming a guard into the wall. Three more were unconscious on the floor around her.

How long had she been out of it.

The creature dropped the guard and began growling menacingly while sniffing the air. Book held her hands up, noticing with some relief that they were scabbed over and she could move her fingers. “Good doggy. I don't want a fight. You keep playing with the bad guys, and ignore us please,” she said quietly, while backing away.

The creature exploded into action. She screamed as it lunged at her, it grabbing her in an oversized hand and threw her back into the room. A shot rang out, echoing in the narrow hallway.

Book hit the ground hard, yelling in pain. Azar ran over to her, “Are you OK?”

Another shot cracked through the air. A high pitched yowl pierced her ears. More shots were fired, claws scratched against floor and wall. Book heard a bellow of pain, followed by more shots.

“We gotta go!” she said, getting to her feet.

Dragging Azar into the hallway, they both yelled as the tiny werewolf landed flat on its back practically beside them. A muscular man, blood dripping from his shoulder, stood at the end of the hallway. Drawing a knife he made a motion with his free hand and stabbed the air, the blade seemed to stretch and fade.

Book watched in amazement as the werewolf rolled to the side and the knife blade drew a line of blood along the creatures back, before spearing the floor. It howled in pain, but kept moving, its mouth open, jumping at the mans throat. The man nimbly stepped aside, grabbed its suit and drove it face first into the wall.

Spinning on her heels, Book took off in the opposite direction, taking Azar with her.

“Shouldn't we be helping it?” Azar asked, fortunately while still running.

“An angry werewolf is getting its ass kicked by someone with superpowers. We don't know who they are, why they're here, or what they'll do to us,” she said, wishing she had shoes on, as her feet slid on the linoleum floor. “I am not sticking around to see what happens next.”

As if to punctuate her words, a gunshot echoed in the hallway.

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Iron Rain stood well back and out of sight. Using his warping power he'd seen the little Fox go through the guards like they were nothing, and was frankly shocked at the change in the girl. This wasn't a wannabe do-gooder, or a scared little pup any more, she was a wild beast.

And she knew he was nearby.

Taking the safety off his pistol, he very silently cursed his luck. He was a sniper and a hunter, he hated fighting up close. It almost completely eliminated his best abilities. Unfortunately it didn't look like he was being given much choice in the matter.

He created a tunnel from the barrel to her chest. Pulling the trigger, he hoped he could end the fight quickly.

Somehow the Fox dodged it, while throwing the mage out of the way.

He moved back, trying to get further down the hall as the Fox came bounding towards him in an erratic pattern. He fired off several shots, missing by an inch or two each time, then she was on top of him, her claws ripped into his shoulder. Yelling in pain, he somehow kept a hold of his gun.

Curling his left hand into a fist he drove it into her solar plexus, knocking her backwards. He fired again, clipping her arm, his last shots missed as she ducked around the corner. Out of ammo, he dropped the pistol, and rushed forward.

The Fox tried to get the jump on him as he came around the corner, instead she got punched in the muzzle and kicked in the stomach, knocking her to the ground.

He noticed the two captives were out of their room and staring at him in fear. Ignoring them he drew his knife, his other pistol was at his waist ready to be used if the blade failed. After he killed the Fox he could collect the girls.

Keeping his distance, he made a tunnel in front of him, and jammed the knife blade into it, aiming for the Fox's heart. Somehow it rolled out of the way, the blade leaving a deep slash into her back, making her howl, but not killing or disabling her.

The Fox rolled to its feet and charged him, clearly wanting to rip out his throat. He dodged the clumsy attack, grabbed the bathing suit and used her own momentum against her, ramming her head into the wall.

Raising his knife, he brought it down on her spine.

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Through the pain Fanak felt her attackers hand let go of her suit. She didn't know what was about to happen, but she knew it would be bad for her.

Almost out of energy, she let herself drop to the ground. The blade grazed her back, pricking her skin. The unexpected move let her suit slip from his other hand. Using the momentary freedom, Fanak slashed his hand, making him drop the knife, and rolled away from him, hoping to get a few seconds to regroup. She got to her knees and saw a gun barrel appear seemingly out of nowhere pointing at her face.

Ducking to the side, the bullet burned her cheek as it passed.

Deafened, she threw herself at him, praying that her speed would keep her alive. The pistol hit her on the ear, making her head ring. She caught his arm, digging her claws in, causing him to drop the pistol. He kneed her in the inner thigh and her leg went numb. She punched him in the side, feeling something crack.

He landed a crushing blow on her stomach. Gagging, she fell to her knees, almost throwing up. The beatings she'd taken that night finally caught up to her. With barely any energy left, she tried to punch him, only to have her fist knocked away.

A hand encircled her throat, lifting her into the air.

“You've put up one hell of a fight, you little bitch,” the man said, punching her in the gut once more. “After I get those two girls back,” a fist slammed into her cheek, “I'm going to skin your corpse and make myself a nice fur rug.”

As he went to punch her again, she blocked it with her arm. It didn't stop the blow, but it deflected it just enough. Instead of shattering her nose and jaw, she was able to twist her head and open her mouth, catching his fist with her teeth.

She bit down.

He screeched in pain as strong, razor-sharp teeth shredded his flesh, ripping through muscle and bone.

Flinging her away, he tore apart his hand even more. She landed hard. From the floor, she watched him stagger away clutching what was left of his hand.

Laying there, Fanak wanted nothing more than to go to sleep. But she couldn't, there was still a job to do. She gave herself a minute to catch her breath, letting the room stop spinning. Forcing herself to her feet, she staggered after the girls.

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Deeper in the FrankenCorps base, Medical Section

El Scorpio looked carefully at the scene his tail camera was showing him. He'd positioned himself so that just the tip of his tail showed around the corner; he wanted a better idea of what he was going to fight, and seeing how the girl coped with a couple of the security guards would give him that. He was a careful man; he knew very well he was a psychopath, but he was also intelligent enough to know that a careful, planned attack was safer and that allowed him time to play with his food once it was helpless.

Thulia was beginning to get fed up with these guards in this place. This was the third set she'd run into already, and again they were crouched down at the end of a corridor firing weapons at her. There was a flickering of scarlet hexagons in the air in front of her as her shield absorbed the energy of their bullets. As before, while they seemed to be firing something more powerful than those Canadians she'd run into, they weren't going to penetrate, although they did draw off a noticeable amount of energy. Rather than let them sit there and take shots at her, she raised her left hand, fire glinting across the spellwork inlaid on her bracer as she moved her fingers in a set of complex gestures, outlining a spell pattern in blue. Finished, she pushed essence into her construct, and smiled in satisfaction as a bolt of lightning crackled down the corridor. The two men screamed and jerked spastically as it hit them, dropping their weapons as they slumped to the floor, shuddering as the final electrical charge sparkled over their unconscious forms. She nodded in satisfaction before walking up to them. Maybe there was something interesting behind this door they'd been guarding?

El Scorpio pursed his lips as he analysed what he'd just seen. It was pretty obvious the girl was a mage, after that shield and spell casting, and judging by her appearance a mutant one. She wasn't wearing any obvious sort of super-suit, so as long as he didn't give her the chance to throw spells at him, taking her by surprise with his usual anti-mage attack should work fine. He judged the distance she'd thrown that lightning bolt, and decided he wanted a close-in attack - while his suit was insulated and protected, an electrical attack could always be an issue against power armour, and not giving her any range to use would make that far more difficult for her, she wouldn't have the time to cast lightning while he was pounding on her.

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Pushing the bodies to one side with her foot, she looked at the locked door, which was labelled 'Preparation', which didn't make a lot of sense. These people did seem paranoid, external locks she could understand, but all these locked doors inside? She shrugged, and hammered her foot against the digital lock, causing the door to slam open with a satisfying crunch. Eyes looking around carefully, she stepped in, looking for anyone hiding out here, but it seemed she was the only one present.

Thoughtfully closing the door behind her - there was always the chance that no-one would realise she'd gone this way, after all - she started to examine the room. It was odd, quite different from the rooms she'd passed getting here. Instead of looking like offices, sometimes with extra computers, but still offices, this one contained some low steel tables and a set of huge lockers against one wall. Really huge, they looked big enough to contain a body, and she could feel the chill in the air. Why would they have such big refrigerated storage? Food? But surely then they would be near a kitchen or something?

Her first idea was to examine a table, but it didn't seem anything special. A long stainless steel table, with some odd guttering along the sides, and what looked like straps. Straps to hold someone down... She suddenly shivered, and it wasn't due to the cold. She'd used something similar - although without the gutters - to hold Rob when she changed him, and these tables were easily big enough to hold a body. She was getting a bad feeling about this. Still looking around, the other side of the room had wall cabinets. Cabinets which were full of surgical tools. That feeling in the pit of her stomach was getting worse by the second.

She had to look in those big cabinets. She didn't want to, but having seen the other items she had to know. They weren't locked, and the first two she pulled open were empty. She'd started to relax slightly from her tight-wound state when she opened the third. There was a body in it, a teenage boy. That might not have been so terrible, except it was only part of a body.

While her personal experimentations had been magical in nature, not surgical, she'd had to get to know how bodies worked. She looked over the body again, noting the way parts of it seemed to have been carved away, then had to ram her hand against her mouth to stop herself vomiting. She'd seen this sort of surgery before, but not on a human. On a carcass. She stepped back, still fighting to keep her stomach under control. Surely they couldn't have...?

She had to be certain. Steeling herself, she opened the next cabinet. This one was even worse. Again a teenager, but the top of her skull was missing, as was the brain, just an empty cavity remaining. Worse were the marks where parts of her had been removed, along with written comments left on the skin by the surgeons. Her skin was odd, looking pebbled, so she had probably been a mutant with mild GSD, but why had she been cut up like this?

She slammed the locker closed again with more force than necessary. There was a door in the far wall she hadn't checked out yet, marked 'Records'. All her instincts told her to get far, far away from this place, but she forced her fear down and opened the door. She needed to know, she couldn't run and know she could have found out what was going on but hadn't.

The records room was more cramped, and seemed to be desks with computers and filing cabinets. She took a quick look at a computer and realised she wouldn't get in without a password. No time to get experimental, so instead she yanked one of the cabinets open, the lock snapping with a pathetic little crunching noise. It was full of neatly-organised files, so she dug a pile out and put them on the table to look through. That might have been a mistake as she read them and looked at the pictures. It was only the anger she felt towards whoever had been responsible for this that stopped her violently depositing her dinner over the floor. Instead, her hands trembled as she looked at the story of people, usually young people, kidnapped and their bodies used for such obscene purposes. Her face hardened into a mask as she decided on two things. First, to rescue Azar before they could do this to her. Second to do her best to destroy these scum. She'd not felt so angry since Morgana's rescue, and that had been personal. In some ways this was worse because it wasn't.

She piled the records up on the table - she had no means of carrying them, and they would be in the way in a fight, so she had to do something. She bit her lip, then her hands moved in familiar gestures, as she opened the way to the storage pocket containing her kit. Of course, dumping it in like that would mean a pile of loose folders next time she accessed the space, but it would do for now. She wanted to show this to the Order. No, she needed to show this to them.

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El Scorpio had watched the corridor carefully after the girl had entered the room. It was quite long, and he didn't want to be spotted at the far end. That would give her time to cast spells at him. So instead of moving straight in, he waited a minute, then turned the sensitivity of his external mike up before carefully sneaking down the hallway. Not the easiest or fastest thing to do in 300kg of power armour, but he'd been using his suit a long time. Finally getting to the doorway, he couldn't hear anything, so carefully slid his tail camera around the edge - if they were waiting, better to attack his tail than the body of his suit. All clear, but moving the camera around he could see a partly open doorway. Ah, so she was in the records room.

That was the break he'd been waiting on. He knew the room, it was small, and quite confined, the ideal place to fight a mage who wouldn't want close-quarter combat with his suit, and he knew the layout. He could hear something from inside, as he moved across the linoleum floor as quietly as he could. Reaching the door, he stood to one side, doing a final check of his weapons, then slammed the door wide as he jumped in.

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Thulia whirled around in surprise as the door smashed open, a large figure in odd-looking armour silhouetted against the opening for a moment before he charged in and slammed the door closed behind him. Her eyes widened as she took in the sight; the armour was heavy and powerful looking, a mix of red and black, the most bizarre thing being the long tail with a spike at the end that curled behind him. Almost as if someone had tried to make a suit of armour that resembled a scorpion.

Even as she raised her staff to respond, the tail struck out, the spike impaling the junction box high on the wall, a flash of electricity causing it to explode and plunge the room into darkness, the only light being some small flames from the now-expired electrical box. She blinked as her eyes adjusted; he'd obviously assumed she was human and wouldn't be able to see with so little light; She guessed that his suit provided him with some sort of vision. Even so, he wasn't much more than a dark blur, but that should suffice for her to target him.

Unfortunately for her, her enemy had already planned what to do next. Even as he steadied himself from the forced entry, two flash/bang grenades fired off from his arm launchers, impacting on either side of her, the blast and light illuminating the room for a moment like a pair of strobe lights. Thulia screamed in pain as the light blinded her. The noise wasn't so bad, her shield stopped most of that, but it did little to stop the flash blinding her temporarily even if it had weakened it a little. Instinctively she stepped back, holding her shield up in front of her, realising that in this small room she had little room to manoeuvre, she was just going to have to absorb his next attacks until she could see again.

El Scorpio smiled as he watched the girl reel back, almost into the wall behind her. His armours displays gave him a clear view, and the filters had ensuredthat his own grenades hadn't affected him. Next step of his plan was to put down her force-field, so he raised his arm, the mounted gun firing heavy calibre rounds at it. He could see the shield flickering each time a round was stopped by it, but it wasn't going down as fast as he'd expected. Frowning he moved slightly, allowing his scorpion tail to sweep over his head, to impact against the shield. There was a flare of light as it discharged the capacitor bank through the spike, and the shield flared for a moment before flicking and fading. Good, now to finish her off before she recovered from the grenades.

Thulia ground her teeth as she felt her shield pop. That had been an unexpectedly large amount of energy poured into it, and her shield had already absorbed quite a bit before this new attack. Her vision was coming back, albeit with funny coloured patterns all over it that she was trying to ignore.. Wiping a hand across her eyes to wipe away the tears, she could see the armour again, at least enough to target it. The trouble was now how to get time to recast her shield? It was a fast spell, but it still took time and her usual solution - get some space and cast it while her opponent had to close again - wasn't going to work in this room. Even so, she started to concentrate before her eyes widened as the figure fired two more canisters at the floor. She closed her eyes for a second, expecting another flash attack, but instead there was a pop and hissing noise, as she belatedly realised the canisters were spinning around jerkily and emitting some sort of smoke.

She cursed again at the lack of space limiting her options. She had no idea what that gas was, but even holding her breath, she gasped as some of it reached her eyes, leaving them tearing up and in pain. Whatever this stuff was, she needed to get rid of it. The pain in her eyes made her reaction instinctive; drawing in fire, her aura filled with flame and a burst of fire bloomed across the room, the heat burning the gas, destroying the delicate organic compounds it was spraying into the room.

El Scorpio took a step back. It wasn't as if the fire had hurt him, it wasn't that hot, but having it burst out just in front of him had been an unexpected surprise, he hadn't expected the mage to be able to do that so easily and after his CS gas attack. Still, he had the final part of his attack all ready; once he'd made that, she'd be helpless and he could start to enjoy himself. A touch on his controls, and the grenade launchers reloaded themselves with two burster rounds. This time they impacted right in front of the girl, who was still trying to move away while rubbing at her eyes, and they flung a thick cloud of iron filings all over her and into the air around her.

Thulia had to bite back another cry of pain as the explosions sent some of the iron filings into her eyes, and the taste of them was nearly as bad. But she understood the attacker's mistake now - he was geared out to fight a mage, but he was assuming she was a human mage, who would be more seriously affected by the cold iron. He didn't know she was a dragon. Still, she couldn't just stand here and let him keep firing at her until he found an attack that worked, she had to regain the initiative somehow. She made a rapid decision; unless he slowed down, she wouldn't have a clear slot to recast her shield, and unless she escaped the room she'd still be close to him. But she had an option for that, and even if it didn't work, she might well get clear of him for the time her spellcasting would need.

El Scorpio's eyes widened as the girl in front of him changed. Her appearance had shown that she had been a mutant before, but the new shape she assumed was enough to make him pause for a second. Her body shimmered as scarlet scales covered it, heavier ones on parts of her, and a long, spined tail slid out behind her. Something about her new appearance made his hindbrain want to run away and cower, but he repressed that instinctively. So, a shifter as well as a mage, that was unusual. Maybe after his play he should make sure she survived, FrankenCorps would pay well for a mutant like that.

Allowing her fire to caress her, Thulia saw the flicker in the air as the tiny filings burnt up in tiny sparkles. The filings in her eyes were much more of a nuisance, but allowing her eyes to flame bright fixed that, as tears of molten iron ran down her cheeks, clearing it from her eyes. She snarled at the suit, as she crouched, tail swishing as her muscles tensed. A flicker of embarrassment went through her as her now-flaming hair illuminated the room, at least enough for her to see clearly. She'd kept the effect muted earlier so as to not give herself away outside, but she'd forgotten about that, she could have seen so much more easily in here. Now a close fight would help her, shooting stuff around wouldn't work nearly as well when they were grappling. She roared and leapt, claws flickering with fire.

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El Scorpio slammed his fist into her as she closed, and she grunted in pain even as she slashed her claws across his armour. The fiery talons left smoking gouges across the metal, but sadly nothing that looked serious. For some moments they exchanged blows almost face to face; hammer blows from the metal gauntlets that slammed into Thulia's side and belly, and slashes with burning claws that left smoking wounds across the polished metal. Then both of them pulled back to glower at each other. Thulia was a bit disappointed about not doing more damage - it looked like his armour was tougher than it looked, it was going to take more serious attention to really damage it. She was feeling the force of his blows, while she wasn't going to succumb to them, she knew she'd have a few bruises in the morning.

The armoured man moved, as a metal spike slid out of one gauntlet, and while he tried to keep her attention on that, his tail came up behind his back and shot forward over his shoulder, the spiked tip crackling with electricity. She dodged to one side, the tail missing, the spike skittering across one of her thick shoulder-plates, a deep enough gouge she worried about a direct hit. But he wasn't the only one with a tail. Slightly off-balance after his lunge, she half spun and twisted, her armoured tail slamming around right into his side with a loud boom on contact. The force slammed him to one side, making him topple through the door into the Processing room, a dent visible in the plate. She grinned, following him - she wasn't going to let him get enough space to use his gas or grenades again - while he finally spoke, curses spewing from him. "You stupid bitch, do you realise how much it's going to cost me to fix that?"

She just gave him a remarkably toothy grin. Like she cared? But she wondered if she'd annoyed him enough for him to get a little careless? Not quite, it seemed, but from the way his tail was moving she thought he'd try that attack again, she wasn't sure how much damage that taser would do to her, but she preferred not to find out. She opened her hand, calling her spear to her, the razor-sharp tip glinting in the light from her hair, as she used it to make a derisory 'come here and get it gesture'. After all that swearing, she had hopes it would at least annoy him into action.

It did, as his tail shot forward again, and she slid down, letting it pass over her head as her own tail swept his feet from under him. She guessed that he didn't have her experience at fighting people with tails, which was all to the good. Missing her, the tailtip slammed into the floor, and she made her move. Slithering around, she slammed the glowing tip of her spear down onto the end of the tail like a striking snake, a scream of tortured metals showing that a dwarf-forged and magically strengthened spear was more than a match for whatever alloy his suit was made of. There was a crackle of electricity as he yanked the tail back, the spear causing more damage as it was pulled through the tail, and the pathetically drooping end suggested no more fancy electrical attacks until he had some repair work done.

His cursing redoubled, and a small irreverent part of her wished for a moment she was recording this, Bruce would have been impressed. However it didn't stop him, as he raised an arm to give Thulia an unpleasantly close-up view of the muzzle of a grenade launcher. She decided to forestall that by closing again, only to find both hands had one of those spikes. For some seconds they traded blows, spiked metal gauntlets against spear, before she saw an opening and slammed her spear into his thigh. With a screech of tortured metal the blade parted the man's leg armour, a spurt of blood squirting out around the blade. Not without cost, as he managed to finally ram a spike between two of her shoulder plates, the tip sharp and strong enough to pierce the lighter scales making up her skin. She snarled in rage, looking into the suits glowing eyes as she flared again, forcing him to move back, the spike dripping blood.

He was far too skilled to let him carry on like this. Yes, the wound she'd given him was worse, but there were a lot of areas those spikes could impale her, and she wasn't terribly keen on finding out which of them would land a fatal or incapacitating blow first. So time to get serious. Judging by what the Whateley testers had found out about the level of her fire, this should work. Dismissing her spear, she slid around him like an eel and clamped onto him, causing him to fall over.

Thulia wrapped herself around the suit like a limpet as the suit thrashed around on the floor. She pressed her face up close to the helmet and hissed a whisper. "Nice set of armour you have here... what's its melting point? Judging by the increasingly frantic attempts to remove her, the occupant had got her message. Her eyes burned with golden fire as she drew in her fire, her aura shimmering, first red, then yellow, then a brilliant blue-white heat as she poured her rage at what these people had done into her fires. The suit under her drew hot, glowing lines appearing where she was pressed against it, the acrid smell of burning metal surrounding her as she welcomed it.

There was a scream from inside the armour, for a few seconds - then silence, as the heat burned out the comms and speaker. She didn't care, she kept pouring heat in, feeling the wet slither of molten metal as parts of the armour started to melt. Finally, she had to pause and let go, looking down at the suit, glowing with heat even where it wasn't half-melted. She kicked it hard, just to make sure, but it just lay there, waves of heat shimmering off it. Good enough.

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A few minutes earlier

Book was utterly lost. Whoever had made the building, seemed to have taken lessons from Daedalus' labyrinth.

At least they'd managed to find some stairs going up, that should mean they'd find a window or a door soon. Azar was trying some of the doors as they jogged along, but everything seemed to be locked down, and Book didn't have enough essence to spare for another explosive spell. Healing herself had almost drained her dry. Coming to what looked like a potential exit, she carefully opened the surprisingly heavy door and peeked out, seeing a short staircase and a sliding door, with no handle but a button beside it.

With the door open she could hear the sound of fighting, alarms and shouting. It sounded like a war zone.

“Stick close to me,” she told Azar.

Creeping up the stairs, she pressed the button, stepping back as the door chimed and slid open.

The door opened into a long corridor, empty apart from a couple of unconscious guards. There was a half-open door at the end, so Book decided to take a quick look. Maybe those guards had been guarding the way out. Gesturing to Azar to wait, she trotted halfway to the doors and realised this was probably a terrible idea. There were two figures rolling around in there, obviously locked in combat. One she recognized as El Scorpio, the other looked like some bizarre cross between a girl and a reptile of some sort.

Whoever could fight El Scorpio was someone she wanted to avoid. And then the room bloomed with fire, sending a wave of heat rolling down the corridor towards her. Gasping she ran back to the door as fast as she could, heart pounding and her sweat evaporating.

A wave of heat scorched her skin before the door slid shut. Grabbing Azar's arm, Book hurried down the stairs, breaking into a run as soon as they were back in the hallway. “We are not getting out that way alive,” she said.

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Fanak tried to stand up straight when she finally found the girls, but the slash on her back wouldn't let her. They saw her coming as well, and the bitter smelling teen started running in the opposite direction.

“Azar Lopez!” Fanak shouted. “I'm here to get you home!”

That made the girls come to a stop. Which was a good thing, there was no way she could run after them. Cautiously the pair came over to her.

“My parents sent you?” Azar asked. “I was at your house this evening. My partner and I figured out where you were. Here, put these on,” she said, handing over two, relatively clean guard coats she'd grabbed for them.

The teenager, who looked really weird with ink like hair and eyes, and ink blots moving randomly over her body, offered her a shoulder, which Fanak eagerly accepted.

“You look like shit,” the teen said.

“I just fought a bunch of armed guards and a super powered murderer. Fuck you.”

Tapping the crystal under her suit, hoping it still worked after the beatings, Fanak said, “Thulia, got Azar and another teen. Heading out, but I'm in no shape for another fight.”

“I've cleared out the upper half of the building. You shouldn't have any problem getting out,” her partner said. “Tell me when you get outside, I'm going to make sure no one can use this place ever again.”

“OK,” she said, not having the energy to say much more.

The teen looked worriedly down the hall. “You're partner, is she a half reptile woman who loves fire?”

“Yeah,” Fanak said, not sure about the fire part, but it seemed appropriate for Thulia. “You saw her?”

“We did. She was kind of scary.”

“She can be. Since you saw her, you know a way out of here? My way isn't the safest.”

Azar got beside her, helping hold her up. “Book found a way out, but your partner and El Scorpio were fighting, and there was a lot of fire. It's close by.”

Fanak nodded. “Let's hope the fires out by now. Let's go.”

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Iron Rain stumbled out of the emergency exit, holding what remained of his hand firmly to his chest, hoping his impromptu shirt bandage would stop the bleeding. He was ready to use his belt as a tourniquet if necessary, but if it came to that, he was probably screwed.

His uninjured hand twisted the air, he had a birds eye view of the building and the immediate surroundings. He didn't want to run into the damn were-girl, and he really didn't want to meet the pyromaniac. . The surviving guards and support staff were heading for the parking lot, wanting to get clear of the disaster before emergency services showed up. The two former prisoners were helping the Fox hobble along as they fled the area. If his hand wasn't in such bad shape, he would have considered taking them, but he was in no shape for a fight.

Smoke began to rise from the building, as flames appeared in the windows. It looked like someone was pissed off and had decided to play pyro.

He nearly cut off the vision, when something caught his eye. A few yards from the building was a body. Moving his hand, he got a closer look at the figure of a man in a smoking jumpsuit.

“Damn! How did you survive that?” he muttered, recognizing El Scorpio. The supervillain was smoking, his body, not just his clothing, hair burnt away and some pretty terrible burns across his body. He was slowly crawling away from the building, his body seemed to shake and quiver with each breath.

“Better go pick the guy up, if he survives he'll owe me a big one,” he said. Cutting off the vision, he trotted towards his co-worker. He could grab a spare car from the parking lot and get both of them out in no time. He'd just need to keep the window down, so the smell of burnt flesh didn't get too bad. “Now what the hell is the address for Doc Morris?” he muttered.

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Centre of the FrankenCorps building

Thulia looked around, examining the room as she considered her options. The room was deserted apart from, herself, the computer terminals still flickering with data, showing how rapidly the staff had run. This seemed to be close to the centre of the building, good enough for what she intended to do. There were no signs of anyone trying to get in, so she had a minute or two at least. That would be all she needed.

She stood calmly in the middle of the room, assessing her available essence. While the fighting had reduced it considerably, she still had enough available for what she intended to do. Not to use it to destroy the building, of course, she didn't have enough for that, and in any case it would have taken too long. But she wasn't intending to do that directly; instead she was going to use it to control her fire. That still took essence, of course, but far less to control and direct the flames than doing it all directly.

She closed her eyes for a moment, staff vertical and held out in front of her in both hands, as she centred herself in preparation. Then she opened her connection to the Heart of Fire wide, feeling the raging fire pulse as it fed into her, deeper and stronger with each second. She had to be careful, no-one could contain the full force of the Heart, but she could handle enough for what she intended to do. The fire held in her staff brightened, as if sensing what she was about to do.

As the fire filled her, she first let it run out into her aura, and then surround her, small flames running along her skin in a familiar caress. Flickers of flame moved in a slow circle around her, as she steadily increased the energy flow. Her staff glowed, the bright warmth of fire starting to pulse inside it in time with the flames that were already orbiting her motionless body. The flickers grew stronger, brighter, tattered banners of flame that started to move faster, the air starting to move with them as the heat affected it, and soon she was surrounded by a small tornado of flame and wind, flames starting to flare off and lick against the walls. She snarled as she concentrated harder, helping it grow, still keeping it under control as it started to swell to the limits of her power to contain, the room itself starting to smoulder and burn, paint and furniture smoking and charring, the moving air now starting to howl as she forced her will onto the fire.

She felt the fire burning deep inside her, a familiar cleansing flame as she finally reached her limits. She cast her arms wide as she released it with a scream; rage at the people using this abomination of a place, triumph at what she was about to do to it. What followed wasn't quite an explosion, although the difference between that and burning really fast was only of interest to the more pedantic of forensic scientists. The fire blossomed and expanded; the pressure of wind and flame bursting the walls of the room asunder, a column of destruction that burnt, melted aluminium, and heated even the structural steel so it weakened and failed. She stood in the heart of the chaos, grinning madly as she fed more fire in, and the destruction blew the roof off the building, sending a howling tornado of flame spiralling into the sky as it spun off burning fragments to scatter across the land surrounding the building. The Fire had come to Phoenix.

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Thulia opened her wings wide even as the building started to come apart around her, a few powerful beats sending her soaring up the column of flame she'd created - she had no wish to be pounded by sharp debris caused by the near-explosion. The flame also helped mask her as she shot skyward until her height made it possible for her to curve out of the hot plume of rising air and loop back towards the building she and Fanak has started from. As she beat her wings slowly she cast another 'don't-notice-me' spell on herself. There was quite a bit of light coming from the burning building, and she didn't want herself to be seen. Not while she still had to check up on Fanak and the girl she'd rescued.

Spiralling slowly down, she could see three small female figures crouched on the roof and peering at the base they'd been rescued from. She assumed the third was the other victim Fanak had rescued as she settled to a landing and furled her wings. "I'm glad you got back safe."

There were squeaks of surprise from the girls, and she blushed, banishing her concealment spell, the sight of her causing Fanak at least to look relieved. She recognised Azar from her photo, but who was the girl with the parchment skin and the odd black patterns crawling across it? Given that both she and Azar were wearing over-large and ill-fitting security guard jackets, she assumed she was another captive Fanak had rescued. The two girls were looking at her with worried expressions, and she opened her arms to look less threatening and smiled at them. "It's OK, Azar, your parents sent me to rescue you." OK, not technically correct, but it should help reassure the twelve-year-old.

It did, as Azar gave a gasp of surprise, then ran over to her and hugged her. Thulia was a bit surprised - being hugged by small crying girls wasn't something she was familiar with, but it was obvious that Azar needed it right now. So she let her press close, while she looked at the other two, frowning when she saw the blood matting some of Fanaks fur. "You got hurt."

Fanak looked a bit guilty, then shrugged. "Yeah, I ran into some of the guards, and one of them was a mutant. It was tough, but I handled it." Thulia nodded, deciding it was best not to ask what 'dealt with' meant. While she didn't know anything much about the other girl, it was obvious Azar had had more than enough, and the best thing for her would be to get her home to her parents and not any more nightmare fuel to what had already been dumped on her. She didn't need to know the details of what she'd found out.

Thulia took a longer look at the small wolfgirl. "That looks more than just a little damage. I think I'd better heal you before you fall over on us!". The wolfgirls eyes got very big again, and she just nodded. Thulia examined the last girl again. "And you are...?"

The girl straightened up a bit. "I'm Book. They took me this morning. I still don't know what for."

Fanak looked puzzled. "I wish we knew what they wanted. They didn't say anything to you that might help give us a clue?"

Both girls shook their heads, as Thulia tried to cut off this particular line of questioning. She might, might explain a bit to Fanak later, but the two young girls did NOT need to know what their fate would have been.

"Azar, Book, are either of you hurt?" Book had more than a little blood on her, but it did seem mainly dried and she didn't seem to have any injuries bothering her.

Azar shook her head, and Book just shrugged. "Was, but I healed myself."

Thulia nodded. "Then I'll take a look at Fanak first." She gestured to the pint-sized werewolf. "Just sit down, and I'll see about fixing you up." Drawing her athame, she cast a quick circle around the two of them, then knelt as she took stock of Fanak's injuries, her fingers not quite touching the girl. Not as bad as she'd feared on seeing all the blood, but a lot of contusions and a general battering to be looked at. She gave a quick check of her essence - not a lot, but enough to handle this. Unless they ran into another fight, it should be ample."

She gestured with her fingers, circles of green fire inlaid with spell runes glowing in the air between them until she was satisfied. Then she drew her fingers through the diagram, tracing them over the girls injuries in curls of greenish fire as she used it to control the girls healing. She could feel her body responding, as she forced it to heal the damage far faster than normal, her spell providing the control and some of the energy needed. Fanak gasped softly as her wounds slowly closed, the tight expression on her face softening as Thulia's spell both healed the damage and dulled the pain.

A few minutes later, she nodded in satisfaction. "There. That should be everything. You'll still have some bruises, but they'll go away soon." Fanak smiled and started to get up, only to stagger as Thulia grabbed and herd her. "Careful, girl. Your body just healed itself, you'll be weak for a bit. Just sit and rest for a few minutes."

She turned to the other two girls, who had been fascinated watchers. "Azar, would you keep an eye on her for a few minutes? She'll be fine, but I don't want her falling over!"

Azar gulped, then nodded, as Thulia turned to Book. "Well, now what are we going to do with you?"

Book shrugged. "I can look after myself. Thanks for the rescue, but I'll be on my way."

Thulia gave her a look which made Book squirm slightly before she nodded. "OK, it's your life and I'm not your keeper. I'll show you the fire exit, will that work for you?"

Book nodded, still looking a bit worried as the dragon-girl gestured to her to follow. Once they were clear of the other two girls, she gave her another careful look. "You have an artefact, don't you? I can see the connection on you."

Book gulped. She wasn't going to try and take it away, was she? She moved away, biting her lip, before Thulia raised one hand. "No, I don't want it. I have more sense than to want it." Book stopped, relaxing slightly but still eyeing the tall girl nervously. Thulia sighed deeply. "Look, like I said, I'm not your keeper. But I have a feeling you don't know too much about what an artefact is, am I right?"

Book bit her lip, then nodded. "It's all pretty new to me."

Thulia shook her head. "Wonderful. Well, maybe a few words of warning might be of help. Never trust an artefact, they have their own agenda, and it doesn't necessarily work to your benefit. Always try and see what the price it asks of you really is. Personally I'd suggest dropping it down a deep hole and leaving it, but... well, its up to you. Just be careful."

Book look worried, then straightened up. "Thanks for the advice, but I have things to do."

Thulia held her gaze for a long moment, then just nodded. "The fire escape is just there. Take care, and try and look after yourself."

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"OK, Azar, time to get you home to your parents." The young girl nodded and stood up, helping Fanak who still looked slightly unsteady."

"Um. How are we going to get there?" Azar's tone was more than a little worried.

Thulia took a careful look over the edge of the roof. The burning base was now surrounded by a mob of blue and red flashing lights - police, fire, medics, and what looked like a couple of news teams. Wonderful, and she'd had such hopes of keeping a low profile when she left her hotel earlier. The confusion on the ground was anything but a low profile.

"Well, we aren't going through that mob!" She gave them a grin. "How do you feel about flying?"

Azar's eyes went very wide before giving a rather worried nod, but Fanak just gave out a small yip of excitement.

"Don't worry, neither of you weigh much and I won't drop you! Now... Fanak, can you bring up Azar's home on your phone? I'll need both arms to carry you safely, and it will be a huge help if you can direct me."

Fanak nodded enthusiastically, getting out her phone and getting up the address. Azar didn't look quite as comfortable.

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While the girls had given small squeaks when she leapt off the building, she'd gained height quickly, and was now flying across the city. The strength of her grip seemed to have calmed Azar's fear of flying, and she was looking down at the city in fascination, while Fanak alternated between giving directions and pointing out some of the city features she'd never expected to see from this position. All too soon (from Fanaks perspective) she was swooping to a landing in the backyard. Setting the girls down, she moved to the house and knocked. The door opened quickly, and Azars father gaped at her before a small girl rushed past Thulia and hurled herself into his arms. Thulia and Fanak just grinned at the expression on his face as he hugged his daughter, who was finally crying in relief. It only got more emotional when her mother appeared, holding onto Azar and her father as the three of them realised that Azar was now home and safe.

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Finally Azar had been taken by her mother to get washed and changed, while Hassan tried to work out what to say to her rescuers.

"Lady Dragon, might I ask who your companion is?"

Thulia smiled and patted Fanak on the shoulder. "This is Fanak, she helped me save your daughter."

Hassan's eyes widened, then he bowed deeply to Fanak. "We are forever indebted to you. If there is anything me or mine can ever do for you, you have only to ask."

Fanak gulped, looking embarrassed. She wasn't used to this level of appreciation!

"Uh... thanks, but I was only doing my duty!"

Hassan nodded, his eyes looking suspiciously damp. "My wife and I can never repay what you have done for us. Bringing our daughter back safe is a service without price."

Thulia was starting to feel and understand Fanak's embarrassment. "Please, we were happy to help. But there are a few other things to tie up." The man looked at her and just nodded. "I'm meeting an agent of the Order tomorrow morning. I'm sure he will want to speak to you afterwards, so please expect him. In the meantime, it might be best if you keep quiet about Azars rescue until you've spoken with him." She had a feeling that what they'd done would be all over the new already, and it would be better if Azar didn't suddenly turn up at the same time, people might make the connection.

She glanced down at Fanak. "Now I think we need to get home. Would you like a lift?"

Fanak nodded enthusiastically, and Thulia had to hold back a chuckle at the girls new-found enthusiasm for flying. "Come along, then, and we'll stop bothering Azar's family."

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Fanak sighed in pleasure at the feeling of soaring through the night above Phoenix. Logically she should have been scared, but the strength of the arm holding her was reassuring, it felt there was no way she would fall. Then she bit her lip in thought. "Thulia?"


"When we were at Azar's house... her father called you Lady Dragon!"

Thulia smiled. "Oh, he was just being formal and so on. I'm not a Lady."

Fanak processed that, then her eyes went wide. "But you are.."

"Yes, kid, I'm a dragon. Didn't the wings and tail give me away?"

"Oh WOW!"

"It's really strange seeing the city from up here. I mean, I can recognise some places, but it all looks so different!"

"And it's so much easier than getting through the traffic."

Fanak giggled at Thulia's comment. "I wish I could fly, getting to school would be so much easier."

"Not just easier. Now hold on tight!"

Fanak gripped the mage a bit tighter, as Thulia allowed herself to drop into a power-dive pulling up and into a loop. Not as tight as her usual ones, but she had to be careful with how many g's she pulled with a passenger. Judging by the happy squeals coming from Fanak, she was enjoying it. So after she pulled out of the loop, she carried on with a series of rolls before finally straightening up again."

Fanak was quiet for a minute, then. "Oh WOW! That was amazing!"

Thulia laughed. "Well, after all the help you've been I thought you might like that. But I think we're nearly at your home, where should I put us down?"

Fanak peered downwards again, then pointed. "Can you put us down by that alley? It isn't overlooked."

"Sure I can." The dragon-mage pulled in her wings, allowing her to fall until pulling up with a few wingbeats, letting them down gently.

Fanak sighed. That flight had been so amazing, she wished it could have gone on longer.

"Thanks for the ride."

Thulia smiled. "you're welcome. Oh, one thing though. That healing I did, I didn't have too much essence, so most of it was getting your body to repair itself quickly." She held up a hand as Fanak looked worried. "No, you're fully healed, but you'll be hungry - you need to replace what your body used up. Oh, and drink too, you lost blood and that's mainly water. Get some sleep, you'll feel tired as well. But don't worry, you'll be back to normal in a day or so."

Fanak nodded obediently. She was feeling completely wiped out, she'd thought it was just all she'd been through, but needing to recover made sense. "Thulia... will I see you again?"

The mage smiled. "I'm sure you will, although I have to get back to my school on Sunday." She saw Fanaks disappointed look, and dug out her phone. "Let me have your number, just in case."

linebreak shadow

Thulia leapt up into the air, giving the small wolfgirl a final wave, before turning in the direction of her hotel. It had been a much more frenetic evening than she'd intended, and the weight of what she'd done was pressing on her. She was going to get into trouble again, she knew it, but given the circumstances she didn't see how she could have done different. She hoped Fanak wouldn't get into trouble, but with luck, no-one would connect her with this evening’s events. For herself, things were going to get more complicated.

She was going to have to explain to the Order tomorrow what she'd been up to, and given how far she'd pushed her instructions, she wasn't sure how it would go. The worst outcome might be that they'd force her to leave Whateley and come home. Her hope was that once she'd shown them what had been going on, they'd understand waiting wasn't acceptable. But even if they could be persuaded, she'd be in trouble with Whateley, although she'd done her best not to be recognised. Their punishment she could accept, as long as it didn't mean leaving Morgana. She sighed, wondering if all good intentions came with so many problems?

linebreak shadow

Fanak's Home, Phoenix

The rush of flying started fading away as soon as Thulia flew off. Still Fanak managed to find the energy to make it home and jumped up to her window. Her family was still out, it seemed impossible that she'd done so much so quickly, but she had.

Stumbling inside, she immediately stripped of her torn and blood stained swimsuit and shifted to her human form. Sitting naked on the floor, Faiza started laughing.

She'd survived.

She'd fought a supervillain and won.

She'd taken out heavily armed minions and lived to tell about it.

She'd saved two girls from who knew what fate.

She'd worked with a powerful mage and been treated like an adult.

Falling over, she couldn't stop laughing until she was gasping for air, her lungs and throat burning from the strain.

Finally she got herself under control. Getting to her feet, she saw the dried blood, hers and others, that coated much of her skin. It hadn't shown up very well on her fur, but against her bare skin it was impossible to miss. Rushing to the bathroom, she avoided looking in the mirror, refusing to think of the gore that covered her lips and cheeks.

Turning the shower on as hot as she could bear, she jumped in and began scrubbing herself raw. The blood had to come off, every bit of it. She was Faiza now, not Fanak.

As Fanak she was the one who snarled and fought the bad guys. She was the one who had to hurt the villains so the innocent wouldn't get hurt. As Faiza, she was a normal girl, who loved dancing, did well in school, helped out around the house and cared about her family. Trying to mix the two had ended in disaster. They had to remain separate, it was the only way things would work out properly.

As the dried blood was scrubbed from her skin and went down the drain, she pushed the vivid memories of painful blows, cracking bones, gunshots, and dead faces away. They had no part in Faiza's life.

linebreak shadow

Late Evening, Marriot Hotel

Thulia pushed the door shut behind her, and managed to find enough energy to stagger to the bathroom. She just wanted to collapse on the bed, but given the blood and mess on her leotard - and herself - she needed to shower first. And the hot water might help her feel a bit better.

Half an hour later, she'd not just cleaned all the remains of her activities off, but had spent enough time under the boiling-hot water to feel, to herself, like it really was cleaned off. Wrapping a robe around herself, she walked out and sat down, grabbing the TV remote. She wanted to see if their actions had been reported, she knew there had been TV crews there at the end.

The local news was indeed covering it, in detail. One might even say gruesome detail, as in between shots of the building, fire crews only now managing to bring the blaze she'd caused under control, they showed shots of a line of trollies, the covers obviously concealing bodies. Dead bodies. She wanted to hurl. Even though she knew that anyone involved richly deserved death, she hadn't wanted it to be at her hands. In the middle of her anger and all the violence, she'd forgotten what fire would do to anyone still inside the building.

It took a while for her hands to stop shaking, and turning the television off didn't help, the images just kept running through her mind. Finally she stood up, slowly, and walked over to the mini-bar. It was still locked against her keycard, but right now she didn't care. A minutes work to cast a simple spell, and the door clicked as it obligingly unlocked itself. Not really caring what she took, she grabbed the first bottle and a glass. She had no idea what tequila was, but it would be a start at covering her current pain.

linebreak shadow

Saturday, Afternoon, Doc Morris Surgery

Iron Rain walked along the corridor of the underground hospital, his hand heavily bandaged and tingling as whatever the Doc had covered it in, did its job. Thanks to the Doc, he'd be keeping his hand, and it would even be as good as new in a few weeks. He'd even be sleeping in his own bed that night as soon as the Doc gave him the all clear in a few hours.

The wait suited him perfectly. The downtime would let the heat die down, and he could take the time to plan. He couldn't let the were-girl get away with maiming him, she would suffer before he killed her. He'd find her family and friends, destroy them one by one, not letting her know why it was happening or who was doing it. Then when she was emotionally broken, he'd come for her. He'd make her beg him for death.

He'd grant her wish.


But first he needed to recover. Frankencorp knew he was still alive, the higher ups were upset about the losses, but they weren't blaming him or El Scorpio about the disaster. They'd both taken their lumps trying to salvage the situation and had the doctors bills to prove it. So the company was discretely covering the costs, after going through several dozen shell companies and middle men. If Doc Morris found out what the two of them had been up to, they wouldn't leave the clinic alive.

A teenage girl with short, messy hair, opened a door and rolled into the hallway on an electric wheelchair. Her lack of legs, covered by a blanket, and her right arm caught his attention. The arm was made of metal with faintly glowing golden lines running along it, it was dented and several of the lines were dark or flickered fitfully.

“Hello. You're Forte, right?” he asked.

She scowled up at him, then shook herself and gave him a small smile. “Yeah. You?”

“Iron Rain. I saw your fight on Monday. Taking on two heroes and putting them both in the hospital, pretty impressive,” he said.

“Yeah, well I didn't come out much better. Next armour I make gets a jet pack.”

Raising his bandaged hand, he smirked. “Wear your scars with pride. You'll get a lot of them in this business. I was looking for the canteen, want to join me?”

“I'm not really hungry, I just needed to get out of that room.”

“I'll buy you a coffee, and I was hoping to talk business with you. Some of your devises would be helpful for a few jobs I'm planning,” he said.

“OK,” she said. “It will be nice talking to someone new.”


The End

Read 1072 times Last modified on Monday, 30 May 2022 17:51

Incredibly cute coffee-loving dragon. What else needs to be said? 

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