Linette 1.03

Haunted, my ass!” I said after nearly an hour. The hospital was creepy, sure. There was no natural light aside from the occasional beam coming through a boarded-up window, leaving only Angela’s golden glow to cast eerie shadows through corridors and common rooms.

But there hadn’t been a single sign of Shadows from the moment we walked in, more than two hours ago. “Thought this place was ‘inundated’ with negative emotion!”

Hiro glared at me, his green eyes flashing. “Normally, you can’t piss in this place without hitting a Wraith. I’m not sure what’s going on. There aren’t even any black gems on the floor.” He scowled, spinning his glaive again. “Even the air is different. Normally it’s a miasma.”

“Yeah, yeah.” I scowled. “So, where would my brother be, if he were here?” This asshole was testing my patience. So long in this shitty place and no sign of Goose.

Hiro sighed. “We’ll check one last place, but I wouldn’t hold my breath if I were you.” He shook his head. “With it being so clear here, I’d feel him.” He turned and started towards the nearby stairwell.

Angela and I followed as we descended deeper into the bowels of the hospital. Hiro paused on the landing of the ground floor. He looked at Angela, then both of them looked down the stairs. “What is it?” I asked.

“You can’t feel it?” Hiro looked at me, frowning. “I don’t know how we didn’t feel it until just now.”

“We’re literally right on top of it,” Angela supplied. “But an aura like this . . .”

“We should have sensed them the moment we walked in the door.” Hiro slammed the butt of his glaive on the ground, and green light shot down its blade. Great, as if Angela’s light wasn’t bad enough. Hiro’s seemed to twist the shadows into monsters around us.

“Sensed who?” I demanded.

“Shut up,” Hiro said, not actually seeming to pay attention to me. “Angela, do you want point on this one?”

Angela frowned. “I think so. There is something . . . nostalgic, I suppose, about this aura.” She brushed a lock of hair from her face before forming her helmet around her. “Linette, stay behind us, please.” She started descending.

I frowned as Hiro followed. Whatever was downstairs had these two experienced Senshi spooked. I shuddered and brought up the rear. Three steps down and a chill passed down my spine. If this sensation was even a fraction of what they felt . . .

Angela paused outside of a metal door at the bottom. A sign above declared this an entryway into the morgue. I saw Angela square her shoulders. She brought her shield up and bashed, slamming the door open. Dark purple light flared out, shining brighter than Hiro’s and Angela’s combined. The magical shield around the older girl wavered, the purple engulfing it.

Angela cried out and rushed forward, her shield held high before her. Hiro followed her, ducking through the doorway and to the left. I saw his weapon slash out a tendril of violet, and his green light blazed for a moment.

“Hiro!” I shouted. He turned, just in time to block the slash of a Shadow. He staggered backwards, hacking at the monster. Angela was blocking bursts of purple energy and slashing at tendrils of purple light and shadow. Spinning, she brought her light back and, with a shout, launched it towards the center of the room.

A girl deflected the light, knocking it into a corner where it continued to shine.

Time seemed to pause as Angela and the other girl locked eyes. The purple light receded to surround the Soul Gem on the girl’s wrist. Hiro had killed the Shadow attacking him, and he now leveled the point of his weapon towards her. Angela brought her sword up in the guard position.

The mystery girl stepped back, flicking a shadowy katana into being in her hand. She moved her right foot back, and I saw her tensing to leap. Roaring, I charged into the room.

She was caught off-guard. Purple eyes widened as she realized there was another person here. She started to bring her katana up and I slid, kicking out at her ankles and knees as I went past her on the slick tile. She stumbled, the weapon seeming to slip from her grip.

Angela rushed her in the next instant, and the dark-haired girl landed hard on her back with a golden sword pressed to her throat.

“I knew I recognized your aura!” Angela shouted. “How did you get here?!” She sounded upset — distraught. What the hell?

The girl smirked. “Wouldn’t you like to know?” Her voice was flat, calm despite everything. It chilled me to the bone. “You’ve grown stronger since that time.” She chuckled. “But so have I.”

Purple light flashed, blinding us all momentarily. I blinked spots from my eyes. “Fuck! She’s gone.” I stood, dusting my legs off. “What the hell? Who the hell?” I turned to Angela.

The Golden Senshi shook her head. “Now is neither the time nor the place.” She gestured to the far end of the room. “Let’s finish our search for Goose. His safety is priority here.”

I scowled. “Fine, but you owe us an explanation.”

Hiro nodded. “Big time.” He scowled, heading towards the door at the other end of the room. “This is the storage room for tools. Through here is the autopsy room, and on the other end is the room where they keep the bodies frozen.”

“You knowing that is probably creepier than this entire place,” I quipped. He chuckled.

“I’ve explored this place a hundred times over. Nothing left in any of these rooms. The Shadows cleaned up the scraps.”

I made a face. “Didn’t need to know they ate dead bodies.” I shook my head as we passed through the autopsy room.

The morgue was empty, at least of Goose. After the dark-haired girl had vanished, Shadows began appearing again, but they were pretty weak. Angela and Hiro fought their way out easily. The blonde girl was oddly quiet as we emerged into the daylight again.

Hiro sighed, his robe and glaive vanishing for the first time since I’d met him. Without the hood, his green hair fell in his eyes. He wore a hunter green hoodie and jeans. He was definitely younger than me, probably younger than twelve. He looked at Angela, frowning.

“Well?” he prodded.

Angela shook her head. “I won’t tell you until we’ve found Goose. I want to ensure he’s safe and that she had nothing to do with it.”

Hiro sighed. “Fine. Then the only other place where I wouldn’t feel his presence is the cemetery that marks the border between my territory and Crow’s. If he’s not there, we can make a short trip over and see if that bastard knows.”

As we started walking again, I sighed. I did a fair amount of walking daily, going to and from school, to the store for snacks, to the movies, but I had been on my feet from the moment I woke up this morning with only that short break at the cafe. I looked up at the sky and paused.

“Wait, it’s only midday?” I asked, stunned. No way we’d been on the move for so long and the sun was only now at its highest point in the sky.

Hiro chuckled. “She really doesn’t know anything, does she? I have complete control over my territory, red. That includes things like the weather, the temperature, and what the sky looks like. Outside of my bubble, the sun is probably starting to go down. Here, it still has another eight hours before it gets dark.”

I frowned. “The fuck would you do that for?”

“Most crime is committed after dark. With more daylight, there’s less time for thugs and thieves to work, and less time for them to prey on the weak and innocent.”

“That seems a bit kind of you,” I commented as I watched him walk. “What’s in it for you?”

“Well, if there’s no crime, that takes away one of the biggest sources of negativity around. No crime, my people are happier, and there are fewer Shadows for me to contend with.” He shrugged, pulling the hood of his sweatshirt up. “Not much else to it.”

I nodded. “Makes sense, I guess. So, Angela, why don’t you do that?”

The blonde girl chuckled. “Simply put, I use my control much more directly against the Shadows. My magic infuses people with positive emotion, giving the Shadows nothing off of which to feed.” She hummed, tapping her lip. “Though, that’s not to say I banish sadness and anger completely. That would be cruel, wouldn’t it? Emotions like joy are sweeter for being able to feel emotions like sorrow.”

“Yeah, I guess so.” I shrugged. We had drifted off-topic, though. “I didn’t know you guys had that much power.”

Hiro chuckled. “That’s barely scratching the surface. Our power comes from beings who make universes by snapping. Even a fraction of their ability lets us tap into amazing things. You just have to learn your way around it.”

I sighed, tapping my Soul Gem. “Yeah. Would be nice to learn the basics at this point. If I’d had a weapon and magic, we would have taken that chick in the morgue.”

Angela put a hand on my shoulder. “You’ve had your magic less than a day. You’ll figure it out, and I’m sure that you’ll get it exactly when you need to access it, not a moment sooner.”

I shrugged out of her grip. “Whatever . . .” I muttered. “Let’s just find Goose, alright? I’ll worry about the rest later.”

We walked in silence for another thirty minutes or so before coming to an iron fence at the base of a tall hill. Hiro stepped forward to push open the gate, and goosebumps prickled over my skin despite the warmth of the day. This place was what I had expected the hospital to be.

Hiro stepped through the gate, with Angela and I close behind. I glanced around, aware of the creatures lurking in the shade of trees and behind gravestones. The Shadows here were subtle things, feeding off the sorrow that people gave off when mourning. They were nothing like the creatures in the city who helped create misery to further consume it.

Hiro ignored them, heading a ways up the hill. As I started to follow, Angela grabbed my arm. “Give him a few minutes,” she told me. I glared at her until she explained. “We all have our rituals. He won’t be long.”

I sighed and crossed my arms as I watched Hiro kneel before a tombstone. He spoke, though I couldn’t make out what he was saying, and he bowed his head when he finished. After what seemed like forever, he stood and dusted off his pants before coming back over to Angela and me.

There was a burst of green light, and he was wearing his senshi clothing. His glaive materialized in his hand, and he gestured towards the top of the hill. “This graveyard is bigger than it looks from down here,” he explained. “To the east it borders Crow’s land, but he doesn’t cross the fence. To the north it hits the wall, but I’ve altered the dimensions in space to give more room to bury.”

I raised an eyebrow. “So . . . how big is it?” If this was going to be another useless long-ass search, I would be pissed.

“It’s about five miles.” When I opened my mouth to start shouting, he held up his hand. “Most of it is just plots like this one. Aside from a few smaller ones, the only crypts and mausoleums are in a mile-wide area on the eastern border; Crow’s people tend to be wealthier, and this is their resting place, too.”

“That’s still a square mile to search, you ass! How many tombs and crypts is that, huh?” I was angry enough to spit, but Hiro just stared at me, face calm.

“There’s no more than three-hundred there. If your brother is in one, I’ll be able to sense him once we–”

“Sense him like you sensed that bitch at the hospital?! Fuck you. We’re gonna have to search it by hand if we wanna be sure, and who knows what we’ll run into in the meantime!” I was shouting, I knew, but I didn’t care. “If my brother dies while we’re fucking about–”

A heavy hand landed on my shoulder. Angela squeezed hard enough to bruise, and said, “He won’t. I promise you, anyone who would keep him for a week wouldn’t kill him now. It wouldn’t make sense.”

“She’s right, you know.”

I opened my mouth to respond, before realizing that hadn’t been Hiro’s voice. Angela released me as I turned to see who had just spoken. Hiro’s face was twisted in rage, his eyes glowing and his fangs flashing. Standing across from him was our guest.

The man had grey hair and eyes, and his skin was paler than any I’d ever seen before. He stood a few inches taller than me, though not as tall as Angela or even Goose. A grey suit over a black vest and white shirt tailored to his body told me he had money. Despite the color of his eyes and the niceness of his suit, I guessed he was in his mid-twenties, though his autobiography said he was past forty. A silver gemstone sat on a ring on his right hand.

I’d heard of Edwin Crow, seen pictures, but had never seen him in person or heard him speak. He leaned on a silver cane, a wide grin on his clean-shaven face. “Hiro,” he said, making a motion like he was tipping a hat — hell, the bastard probably wore a bowler or some shit normally. “Angela,” he said, repeating the motion. “So lovely to see you both.”

“Crow,” the younger boy growled. “What have I told you about coming here uninvited?” Light pulsed in the blade of his glaive.

Crow chuckled. “Why, I was just coming to see what the disturbance was, good sir. I felt two magical presences, which is twice the usual number, and then I felt such anger.” He flashed a grin at me. “I knew I had to investigate, lest my fellow senshi wind up consumed by creatures of darkness.”

HIro started to retort, but Angela raised her hand. Annoying bitch. “We are fine, Crow. You were actually going to be our next stop if this didn’t turn up anything. This way, you found us.” She smiled. “Have you seen Goose?”

“Goose, Goose, Goose . . .’ The man tapped his chin, seeming to give it much thought. “Oh, of course, Goose! Blue hair, blue eyes, exceptionally polite even when fighting?”

Angela crossed her arms and glared. “You know very well who Goose is.”

“Haven’t seen him.” Crow smirked. “Though, maybe a few hundred creds would freshen my memory.”

Angela shook her head. “This is important, Edwin. Goose has been missing–”

“Four days, yes? With no word to his lovely little sister or his beautiful girlfriend, such a shame.” He traced a finger down his cheek like a tear. “Spare me, Angela. You know nothing goes on in this city I don’t know about. I will say that Goose interfered in a matter that he’d no business interfering with.”

“And what business would that be?” I asked, stepping forward. “You know where my brother is. Tell me. Now.” I could feel heat on my chest, and I reached up to feel my soul gem. Red light poured from it.

Crow’s grin vanished, replaced for the first time with a small frown. “My dear, I have been well-compensated to keep such information quiet. However, my highest-bidder policy dictates that I will betray that silence for no less than two-and-a-half times the original payment.”

“Yeah, and how highly do you value your life?” The red light was spreading, working its way up my neck and down my body. “You’re outnumbered two to one, at the very least, and it looks like HIro won’t mind spilling your blood.”

Crow’s frown deepened, and I saw now that his face, when he wasn’t smiling, was well-lined. “My dear, don’t think to threaten me. For one thing, Angela wouldn’t fight me without a more solid reason than her missing bedmate. For another thing, I have decades of experience on you.”

I heard something move behind me and sidestepped just in time to dodge a knife slicing past me. I stepped back and stared. Another Crow stood there, dressed in a darker grey than the original. Two long daggers sat casually in his hands.

“And, finally, it takes a lot to outnumber me, my dear.” Crow tapped his cane, and grey light poured around us.

Angela sighed. “I told you to let me do the talking,” she murmured as golden lights engulfed her.

Linette 1.02

“What the hell are you doing?” I asked as golden light surrounded Angela. When it cleared, she was no longer wearing a blouse and jeans. Instead, she was decked out in golden plate armor that glowed in the sunlight.

The headband she wore had turned into a visored golden helmet with a silver plume. Her right hand gripped a kite shield with silver wings painted on it. Her left hand held the hilt of the three-foot arming sword I had referenced earlier. She gave me a grin before flipping down her visor.

“I think we’re going to use this as a learning opportunity for you!” Her voice was muffled by the helmet, seeming to echo as she spoke. More light poured off of her, surrounding me, the Shadow, and herself. The world outside the light seemed to slow and distort, taking on a golden tinge.

“What the hell?!” Shit, this was creepy. “What did you just do?”

“Before you go picking fights, you should set up a stasis field. This keeps bystanders from getting injured by the Shadow or by your own missed attacks.” She raised her sword into a guarding position. The Shadow — it looked more menacing against the background of her magical light — swiped at her with a large claw.

Angela blocked the strike on her shield and lunged in to stab up under its arm. Light erupted from her sword, and the Shadow lurched backwards, hissing in pain. Angela followed up with a sweeping slash that bisected the shadow horizontally.

“Not bad,” I said. Angela turned to me, raising her sword in some sort of salute. I tried not to grin.

“Most of your fights won’t be this easy,” she said. “I can only assume that this Shadow was a new one, or he would have given me more trouble.” She turned back towards where the monster had fallen. “Afterwards, be sure that you collect the black soul gem it drops, or you’ll find yourself low on magic and no way to restore it.”

She paused. “That’s odd. It didn’t leave one behind.” I saw something move beneath her.

“Angela!” I shouted as claws shot up from her own shadow and dug into the backs of her knees where the armor didn’t cover. The knight cried out and collapsed to her knees. The Shadow formed over her, growling.

Without thinking about it, I threw my mug. The styrofoam exploded on impact, dousing the monster in hot chocolate. It turned its head to view me and I took a step back. Distraction complete, I turned to run. No way could I fight as I was, and I wasn’t sure how to transform. The only thing I could do was try to escape it and get back to Angela.

I burst from the stasis bubble and was sideswept by a pedestrian. Staggering a bit from the impact, I started booking it towards the closest alley. I could hear claws scraping on concrete as the Shadow chased me. I glanced back and cursed. The thing was goddamn fast, and it didn’t slow down for the mundane humans between us. I could see the color draining from them as it passed through them.

I made it into the alley and looked for something to use as a weapon. A short length of steel pipe that ended in a T was the first thing I latched onto. Turning towards the oncoming Shadow, I hefted the pipe in both hands. It paused in the mouth of the alley, seeming to consider me for a moment. It took a step forward; I took a step backwards.

It lunged at me with its claws extended. On instinct, I swung my makeshift weapon. Sparks flew as the monster’s claws glanced off of the length of pipe. I sidestepped and swung as hard as I could at its head. The pipe connected solidly, knocking the Shadow back towards one of the walls of the alley. I roared, jumping forward and swinging the pipe again. It lashed out to defend itself. I felt pain blossom on my left side, and I was sent sprawling from the alleyway, back into daylight and traffic.

I staggered to my feet, hissing at the pain in my knees and shins. I’d skinned them good on the pavement. The Shadow lumbered from the mouth of the alley, roaring. I weakly brought my weapon up to defend as it struck again. I staggered backwards, just parrying any attacks I saw coming. I missed more than I blocked, and ended up with a ripped hoodie and clawed-up shoulders.

I shuddered. Fuck, why wasn’t I transforming?! This had to be the most desperate moment of my life. The creature struck again, claws finally shearing through my pipe. As it clattered to the ground, I turned to try and run again. I staggered, fell . . .

There was a blaze of golden light, and Angela stabbed the creature through the head with her sword. Golden fire blazed down the length of steel into the monster. The Shadow finally dissolved, and Angela casually reached out to catch the black stone that dropped from it.

Her armor vanished, leaving her back in her jeans. “I apologize, Linette.” She turned to me, sighing. “I shouldn’t have grown so overconfident.”

“Damn fucking right you shouldn’t have!” I shouted, ignoring the stares the passers-by were giving us. “I almost fucking died because of you!”

She offered me a hand, and I was lifted to my feet. “I made a mistake. Honestly, I’m lucky you were there, or that might have been the end of me.” She smiled. “So, thank you. Here, I’ll use this stone to heal you.”

“What–” I started to ask as she pressed the stone to my soul gem. For a moment, my body seemed to glow red, and I felt extremely light. When the light cleared, I felt . . . amazing. Not just uninjured, like before the fight, but better than I could ever remember feeling.

“Woah,” I remarked intelligently.

“Yes, ‘woah.’” She grinned. “You use the black soul gems to restore your magic, mostly, but you can also use them to touch yourself up. We don’t get tired from physical exertion, and injuries we have are rarely permanent — our magic heals us naturally — but the Shadows’ stones can help. You can also use them to boost your weapons or increase your energy reserves, but that’s a lesson for another time.”

She inspected the stone. “It probably has another use or two before it needs to be shattered.” She pocketed it, giving me a small smile. “Now then, where were we?”

The tram’s green line took us as far as we needed into Hiro’s territory. Of all the districts in the City, his was second only to Angela’s, which took up a full third of the City on its own. The tram put us right in the heart of the green district, and Angela and I sat in a park near the station.

Hiro arrived about half an hour after we did. A green hooded robe billowed behind him, and he used a glaive like a walking stick. My jaw dropped as he approached. He couldn’t have been any older than my age; in fact, he was probably younger than me. He scowled, his vibrant green eyes locking with mine for a moment.

Seeming to read my thoughts, he curled his upper lip back, showing sharp fangs instead of normal teeth. He turned his intense stare on Angela, then. “What do you want, Angela? Who’s this brat?”

“Brat?!” I shot to my feet. “Excuse the fuck outta you, you–”

Angela grabbed my upper arm, pulling me back down beside her. “Hush, Linette. Hiro, this is Goose’s younger sister. You remember Goose?”

“Yeah, I remember Goose.” He snorted, spinning the glaive in his hand. “Why’d you drag her here? If you’re trying to take over my part of the city . . .”

“No, no, nothing like that,” she assured him. “I brought her here because her brother’s gone missing. I don’t suppose you’ve seen him?”

“Not since you two herded that other girl here. What’s it been, a month? Two?”

“It’s only been about a week. You’re getting worse, aren’t you?”

He glared. “Shut up! I try to give my people as much daylight as possible, makes it really hard to keep track of time.”

Angela sighed, shaking her head. “I’m sorry. I won’t bring it up again. But you haven’t seen Goose at all, since then?”

“No. If I had, I wouldn’t lie about it. I’d have driven him back out or killed him, you know that.” He tapped the butt of his weapon against the ground, bouncing it into the air and catching it. “Maybe he got done in by a Shadow. It happens to newbies, y’know.”

“Goose isn’t a newbie, anymore, and he’s an excellent fighter.” Angela’s eyes were cold and hard as she stared Hiro down. “Would you be so kind as to help us find him, then?”

“Why should I? He’s a pain in my ass. If he’s gone, his sister can take over his district until she bites it, right?”

“It would mean a lot to both of us if you helped.” She sighed and crossed her arms. “I’ll give you some of my territory to expand into, if you want.”

“Three miles,” he said immediately. Wait, what?

“You guys trade territory?” I asked.

“One mile,” Angela counter-offered. “We do, yes. Sometimes we don’t have enough range to hunt the necessary Shadows for our magic. On occasion, we have too much. Territory is one of our currencies, along with the black soul gems dropped by the creatures of darkness.”

“Two miles,” Hiro said, twirling his glaive again.

Angela chewed her lip. “A mile and a half, and I’ll give you five unused black gems.”

He grinned for the first time and I shuddered. Too many teeth in his mouth, and all of them sharp as knives. “You must not want to find your boyfriend too badly. Two miles.”

“A mile and a half, and ten unused black gems. If you won’t help us, I can make that same offer to Crow and he’ll accept it.”

That wiped the grin off of the fucker’s face. His eyes glowed an acidic green. “Fine. One-and-a-half and ten.”

Angela stood, offering her hand. Hiro shook, and yellow magic mingled with green. “The contract is sealed,” Angela intoned. “You have everything south of the library.”

Hiro nodded and turned to look at me again. “So you’re blue’s baby sister.” He snorted and turned away, his cloak billowing. “Follow me. If he’s here, there’s only a couple spots I wouldn’t sense his magic.” He started walking, a lot quicker than someone with such short legs had any right to.


Angela and I followed at a distance, and I glanced at her. “Hey, so . . . What’s with this guy?” I asked in a whisper.

“What do you mean? He’s a Senshi, just like us.” She turned her head to face me, one eyebrow arched delicately.

“Yeah fucking right. Dude’s got fangs. And his eyes are . . . fucked up. Like some sort of animal or something.” Fuck, was I the only one who’d noticed? Or was I just overreacting?

“Oh, yes, that.” Angela sighed, shrugging. “Senshi walk a delicate balance. There are Shadows, there are Angels, and in-between there are Humans. Senshi are Humans given power by Angels, but they also draw on the same source of power — that is, human emotion — as Shadows do. In this way, we embody all three in a Trinity you won’t find anywhere else.”

I was silent for a second as I tried to process that. “Okay, but that doesn’t fucking explain anything. Why’re his eyes and teeth fucked up?”

She sighed again and shook her head. “Some Senshi take in more of the Shadows in order to become more powerful. They let go of some of their humanity, and allow the pure light and pure darkness of the others take its place. Doing this on occasion gives you extra benefits such as night vision, a keen sense of smell–”

“Good hearing,” Hiro called over his shoulder. I swallowed nervously. Bastard had been eavesdropping!

“Among other things,” Angela continued. “However, it does leave its mark on you, and there’s little you can do about it. Giving up humanity is easy. Regaining it is hard. If you give up too much . . .” She fell silent.

I was about to prod her into continuing when Hiro raised a hand. “First stop,” he said as we caught up. I looked up at the building whose shadow we were standing in.

“A hospital?” I asked. “What’s so special about this.”

“Shadows feed off of the negative emotions of humans,” he explained. “This hospital is abandoned; two decades ago, something major happened here, leaving the place inundated in anger and misery that breeds strong creatures of darkness.”

“Wait, so it’s like a haunted hospital?” I raised an eyebrow. That was actually pretty cool.

“Yes, it’s ‘like a haunted hospital,’” he replied, his voice oozing with contempt. “What do you think makes haunted places haunted? The negative areas are a breeding ground for Shadows and other nasties, and they affect the area around them.”

He sighed. “You should probably transform now. If your brother’s in there, we’ll have to fight our way to him.”

Angela and I looked at each other in silence for a moment. Hiro looked between us scowling. “Well, why aren’t you–” Realization dawned on his face. He groaned and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Oh, you have got to be kidding me . . .”

“Hey, it’s not my fault! I’m new to this, haven’t really gotten a chance to learn the ropes, alright?!” I crossed my arms. “It’s not like I asked to be magically uneducated! Mikael gave me the very basics of how it works, and said it would just happen!”

Hiro glared. “Well, in that case you can wait outside. Angela and I can’t get distracted keeping you from getting eaten.”

Fuck that!” I shouted. “I’ve already been in a fight without transforming, and it’s my brother that we’re looking for!”

Too fucking bad!” he yelled back. “I’m already doing you a huge favor by agreeing to help look for him! I shouldn’t have to guard some weak–”

“Enough, both of you.” Angela’s voice was steady, quiet. It was also dangerous-sounding enough to shut down both Hiro and myself. We looked at her blankly.

Golden light surrounded her and she wore her golden armor, minus helmet. “We all go in. Linette will stick behind me, and I’ll set up a shield spell. Hiro, you can take the point, since you no doubt no the layout.”

Hiro scowled. “Fine!” he snapped, turning and pushing through the entry doors. Angela followed, a golden hemisphere appearing in front of her. I followed close behind her on her left-hand side.

The doors closed behind us, and Angela’s magic became our main light source as we waded into the haunted building.

Linette 1.01

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.