There was nothing remarkable about that first day. I went to school, keeping an eye out for Shadows and renegade Senshi. I sat through seven hours of boredom, and then I went home. Goose was gone, which wasn’t surprising, since he patrolled every evening. He’d left some sort of casserole in the fridge with the instructions on cooking it.
That was the sort of person he was. He had given up on his own dreams in order to become a Mahou Senshi and raise me. I started the oven and went to check for any messages on the phone. Goose sometimes left a message with his plans for the night or chores he wanted me to do. Nothing that night, but Angela, one of the other Senshi, had called to talk to discuss patrols.
My finger slipped, and I deleted the message instead of saving it. Whoops.
The next day, Goose still hadn’t come home, which wasn’t all that unusual. I went to school again, and came back to find he still wasn’t home. That was definitely weird; Goose usually took a day off after a night out patrolling. Still, it wasn’t unheard of for him to be gone two days. We had a rule, even, that I shouldn’t call the police until three days without seeing him.
So, I went to school again. Somehow I knew that I wouldn’t see my brother that day, either. I came home to find that I was right. No Goose, no prepared food in the fridge, no messages from my brother. I was on my own, and I knew that the police would be useless. When it came to magic, most of them couldn’t even see the creatures that Mahou Senshi battled. If Goose was in trouble, I couldn’t count on the cops.
I had to do something drastic; Goose didn’t ever want me to become a Senshi – at least not until I was older – but I felt that was the only way I could get anything done. Still, I would have to give it some serious thought before committing. Being a Senshi was a dangerous life, and most died tragically young.
My decision was made when the food started running low in the cabinets. I’d stopped going to school, and Goose still hadn’t even called. After the seventh night, I knew it was my only hope.
In my dreams, I was falling, slipping further and further down into the darkness. As I finally closed my eyes and accepted my fate, there was a flash of light that scoured the shadows. I landed and found myself face-to-face with that bastard of an Angel, Mikael.
The same dream, every night, and every night the same offer. He want to give me power, the ability to stand against the shadows in the world. He knows that I want to accept. He also knows that my brother would be furious.
It’s just been Goose and me for a year, now. Goose accepted Mikael’s offer from the start, knowing that the City would provide us a place to stay and the necessities to survive if he worked for them. What else was he supposed to do? He was fifteen, with no job training and a younger sister to look after.
The dream. That night, Mikael floated before me, holding that shining sword of his. I crossed my arms, waiting for him to speak first. When he did, it was in a booming voice that threatened to burst my eardrums.
“You’ve changed since the last time we met,” he said. I winced as the words rattled my bones, causing my teeth to buzz.
“Have I? It’s only been a night, hasn’t it?” I replied, trying to keep my voice from shaking. Even on nights that I told him where he could shove that sword, it was hard to stay calm when standing before the closest thing to a god I’d ever see.
“One night is more than enough for you to harden your resolve. It takes but a moment of desperation or despair.” If the bastard had a mouth, he would’ve been grinning.
“Yeah, fine. You got me, alright?” I scowled, putting my hands on my hips. “What do I gotta do to become a warrior, then?”
Mikael brought that flaming sword up. Before I could react, he’d impaled me. I screamed as fire coursed through my body. I could feel my muscles tensing as I tried to fight off the pain, tried to focus.
I dropped to my knees, unable to stand against the assault. My vision grew hazy as I felt my life slipping from me. I was sure I was going to die. “Please . . .” I gasped, struggling to form words.
As abruptly as it began, it came to an end. The sword was pulled from my body and I was left gasping for breath. I put my hand to the center of my chest and found no wound. Instead of a gaping hole, I found a smooth, oval stone sitting just below my collarbone. “What the hell?”
“Your soul, manifest,” Mikael explained, his voice uncharacteristically quiet. “The sword concentrates everything you are into one point and solidifies it into a gemstone.”
“I think Goose mentioned something like that, way back when . . .” I stood shakily, grasping the warm stone in my right hand. “How do I work it?”
“You must will your power forth. If you cannot manage it naturally, do not fear. Most transformations first occur in a dire situation. After that, it is for you to unlock the secrets of your soul.” His wings shifted in what I could only assume was a shrug.
“Great. Mind leaving me alone, now? I need to start looking for my brother.”
When he raised the sword again, I was sure he would kill me. The flames grew higher, hotter, brighter . . .
There was a flash of light, and I woke up in my futon. With a sigh, I stood to get ready for the day. I took a minute to inspect myself in the mirror. Nothing obvious had changed since yesterday. Same thin face, same red eyes and wild red hair, same thin, short frame. Some people might call me petite, but I never really liked that label.
One thing that was different, though, was the red gem hanging from a golden chain around my neck. I grinned, knowing that Goose would hate it. He thought that a fourteen-year-old had no need for flashy jewelry.
Well, I’d show him how mature I was by saving his ass. I finished dressing and went to the fridge, where Goose had a list of contact info for the other Senshi in the City. They didn’t all always get along, but occasionally a tough baddie or an outsider would show up, and they had to be able to inform each other of such threats.
Of the five names on the list, the only one I knew in person was Angela. She was the mayor’s lapdog, and had been our welcome wagon into the City. She’d helped us move into the apartment, and had shown Goose the ropes when it came to fighting the Shadows.
The only problem was, while she and Goose were similar in mindset, she and I could hardly stand one another. She said I was too “gloomy and cynical” for someone my age, and that I should “look on the bright side.” Meanwhile, I thought she was a “huge pain in the ass optimist who needed to mind her own fucking business.”
Still, I felt we could make common cause with my brother missing. I dialed her number.
“Goose?” her obnoxiously high voice asked.
“Guess again, princess.”
“Oh.” I could actually hear the disappointment in her voice. “What do you want, Linette?”
“I was wondering if you’d seen my brother lately. Guess not?” If she hadn’t seen him, then there was a definite problem. Despite him trying to cover it up, I knew the two had gone on patrol together often. The forty-eight hour rule was so he could safely spend the night at her place and not have me worry.
“I haven’t seen him in four days or so, no. He hasn’t been home?” Add worry to another emotion I didn’t know the blonde could convey vocally.
“Not in a week. Look, can I come meet up with you somewhere? Talking on the phone is a pain in the ass.” In reality, I was on the verge of breaking down, and wanted someone to keep me calm.
“Well,” she hummed, “there is a coffee shop on the edge of our districts, where Goose and I occasionally meet up for patrols. I can send you the address, but it’s pretty far from your place. Think you can make it across the city by yourself?”
“My school is in Crow’s district; I think I can make it to your cafe just fine, thanks.” What a bitch. I was fourteen, not ten! “I’ll meet you there.”
After we hung up, I double-checked my backpack and wallet, then headed out. The day was slightly crisp, a sure sign of fall on its way out the door. The City’s climate was moderate, never growing too hot or cold for too long at a time. The Mahou Senshi had effects on the area without even doing anything.
I caught the tram to the station closest to the coffee shop and walked the next twenty minutes. The place was pretty busy at this time of morning, but most people were enjoying their hot drinks in the warm interior of the shop. Only a handful of people were on the patio. One of them was Angela.
She was, I’ll admit, beautiful with her golden hair and eyes contrasting her dark skin. She was tall, something around six feet, and well-muscled. Her yellow soul gem rested in a band of silver against her forehead.
She was sipping from a mug and reading a book, both of which which she set aside when I approached. “Hello, Linette. Have a seat.” she gestured to the chair across from her.
I leaned on the patio’s railing just to spite her. “You said you saw Goose four days ago. Were you on patrol?”
She scrunched her brow in thought before shaking her head. “No, our last patrol was a couple days before that. We met with another Senshi, an outsider. I shouldn’t go into the details with you. Just know that we chased her off towards Hiro’s place.”
I snorted. “You don’t have to keep shit secret from me.” I flicked the the red jewel around my neck, causing it to spin and flash in the sunlight. Angela’s face scrunched into an unladylike scowl.
“When did you . . .?”
“Last night. Mickey came to me in my dream and I decided I needed to find Goose, no matter what. Tell me I was wrong.” I straightened, balling my fists. If she did tell me that, I would punch her lights out.
“Not wrong, per se, but . . . Goose was very adamant that he wanted you to live a normal life.” She sighed, pinching the bridge of her nose. “Oh well, I suppose it can’t be helped now. Anyways, the details aren’t important. We ran the girl off, and we retired back to my place for the night.
“After that, we didn’t talk much. He would stop in at my place for a nap and a meal, then head back out. I thought he was just checking the borders and using my area as a way point. He hasn’t been home in a week?”
“That’s what I said, isn’t it?” I scuffed my toe against the ground, scowling. “He never even called, the bastard.” I finally took a seat and ordered a mug of hot chocolate off the menu. “I thought at first that he was just on a long hunt, but after the three-day mark I knew something was wrong. Did he tell you anything while he was crashing with you?”
“He mentioned something about finding a Wraith nearby, but I doubt it gave him trouble. Your brother is a gifted fighter and smart enough that one creature wouldn’t be a problem for him. The only thing I could think of that would slow him down is a higher Shadow or another Senshi.” She twisted her mouth and stood. “I suppose we need to talk with the others.”
“Great. He’s always talking about those assholes, it’s about time I meet them.” I got to my feet, taking the mug that had been delivered to the table. “What should I know? Goose is always dodgy on the details.”
Angela frowned at me. “I shouldn’t be bringing you along. Hiro and Crow aren’t the friendliest people.”
“Fuck you!” The group to my left fell silent and gave me nervous looks. “If you think you can–”
“I said I shouldn’t. I didn’t say I won’t.” She sighed. “You would just end up in trouble on your own, I feel. Hiro is grumpy and territorial. He’s spent a few years cultivating a district with very little interference from Shadows and other Senshi. He doesn’t like people coming into his territory without asking first, and can be a bit unpredictable when intruded upon.”
“And you sent that other Senshi to him? Jeez, I wouldn’t have thought you had it in you.”
“Yes, well. In the world of Mahou Senshi, it’s everyone for themselves. We have limited resources to go around, and she threatened to destabilize the balance we’ve established.” She crossed her arms. “We did what had to be done. Whatever Hiro did to her afterwards is on him, not us.”
Denial’s not just a river in Egypt. “Whatever you say, princess. Tell me about Crow.”
“Crow is a con man, make no mistake. He tricks and coerces people into doing his bidding, extorts innocents for money in exchange for ‘protection,’ and uses that money to build on his business.” She shook her head. “I’m not sure why he was chosen by the Angels, but it’s not for me to judge. In any case, we can expect to spend a hefty sum for very little information.”
I snorted. “Or you can bring out your big badass sword and put it to his slimy throat. Bet he values his life a bit more than some creds.”
“I would never do that!” she protested. Her eyes flashed in anger. “Crow is a useful ally, even if his practices aren’t completely moral.”
“Right, so in the end your talk about goodness and morality is just bullshit. Pragmatism is the only way to survive.” I grinned. “Could’ve just said that.”
Angela glared and stepped past me onto the sidewalk. “We’ll go visit Hiro first. Let me do the talking, lest you offend him and get us both killed.”
“Yeah, sure, whatever.” We started walking towards the tram station. The yellow line would take us most of the way there, but then we’d need to switch to the green line to avoid any serious hiking.
We were only a couple blocks from the station when the Shadow appeared. In this part of the city, it wasn’t anything unusual. They were creatures of darkness, preying on the negative emotions of mankind. Even our City, advanced as it was, couldn’t stave off everyone’s misery and fury and loneliness.
Shadows were an everyday sight to those who’d been touched by the Angels, but this one was different. It seemed to glow as it moved from person to person. I would have been content to ignore it, though.
It was Angela who decided to fight it.