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Posted by: SubRosa Apr 19 2019, 11:34 PM

About a month ago I got inspired to write a superhero character. Actually two. My original idea was what if Aela and Loria were superheroes. I worked on the idea, and with a little help from folks here, January and Avery have become fully-fleshed people in their own right. Ones whom I am really loving to write.

I learned a long time ago that when it comes writing, I need to strike when the iron is hot. So I am putting Seven Reimagined on hold for the moment, and concentrating on Stormcrow and Gadget. I will finish Seven, have no worries on that. There is only one third of the story left to go.

Like with the Seven thread, I am going to use this post for general info and a collection of resources. I'll start posting the actual stories with the next post.

Since these stories are set in the contemporary world, I am taking advantage of reality for once, by setting the stories here in Metro Detroit. Almost all the locations in the upcoming stories are real. You can actually use Google Earth to follow along. A few places are fictional, in that they are from other cities, and transplanted here to The D.

March 24 = The Conjurer summons an Abyssal during the Nain Rouge Parade. it is not anchored, and easily banished
May 4 and 5 (Saturday and Sunday) = Stormcrow Rising
May 5 = The Conjurer summons an Abyssal during Cinco De Mayo, using elemental symbols to anchor it, making it immune from banishment
May 14 and 15 (Tuesday and Wednesday) = Stormcrow Recycled
May 25 = The Conjurer summons an Abyssal during Technofest, anchoring it with an animal sacrifice
May 25 and 26 (Saturday and Sunday) = Stormcrow Burning
May 27th = Memorial Day.
May 27 - June 1 (Monday -Saturday) = Stormcrow Pride [Ferndale Pride on Saturday]
June 1 = The Conjurer summons an Abyssal during Ferndale Pride, anchoring it with a human sacrifice
June 1 - 9 = Crystal Death [Motor City Pride]
June 1 = Chad overdoes on Crystal Death at Leland City Club.
June 3 = first Crow Tales, featuring Frankenstein
June 8 = second Crow Tales, featuring This Spell For Hire. January stops the Death Dealer. Blood Raven humiliates Nazis at Motor City Pride
June 9 = Nazis on Crystal Death attack Motor City Pride



Literature and Art



Real Events


Real Tech

Real Science

Meta Tech

Myth and Religion

Martial Arts & Gymnastics

Posted by: SubRosa Apr 20 2019, 12:04 AM

Chapter 1 - Stormcrow Rising

Early May, 2019

Chapter 1.1 - Stormcrow Rising

January breathed in deep, allowing the cool spring air to fill her lungs. As she did so, she visualized more than just air permeating her body. She imagined power flowing up from the earth beneath her. She pictured it moving through the concrete bench upon which she sat cross-legged, and into her flesh and bones. She exhaled, and envisioned that energy flowing out of her.

She imagined that she was a tree. Her roots drank up the power from below. She drew it up through her body, and then sent it out through her branches. Finally it fell back down to the ground her once more, like leaves dropping from a tree.

She concentrated upon her breathing, in and out. She thought of the energy, flowing through her like a crystal clear stream. It would wash her clean: of tension, of stress, of frustration, of anger, of doubt. It would leave her pure of body, heart, and spirit.

At least that was what the book by Branwen Renner said it would do. Well, sort of at least. January could not resist peeking down at the tablet that lay beside her on the bench. An Introduction to Wicca was the title page of the book she had open in her e-reader.

She shut off the tablet with one finger, and slid it into her purse. She knew she probably should not be doing energy exercises in public. It seemed like a great way to get her purse snatched. Not that the Macomb Community College south campus was a hotbed of crime. The nice, neat suburban teens and adults that occasionally walked past were far from hard core. Nor were even the fuzzy, scruffy ones. They might be killers in Sword Science Online or World of Guncraft, but hardly in the real world.

She closed her eyes and went back to the exercise. As the writer had suggested, she added her own spin on the centering ritual.

Earth give me strength, keep me grounded, protect me from harm.

Air give me quickness in body and wit. Let the weights of the world fall from me.

Water make me flexible in thought and form. Let me flow, let me crash.

Fire give me passion and energy. Let me burn bright in the night sky.

Spirit weave all together in balance. Bring me peace.

She felt small, bony feet settle on one of her shoulders. Talons dug in hard, but she did not flinch. She looked to Earth for strength, and willed her skin to toughen. She imagined it was stone, and she felt no pain from the tiny claws digging into her. A raucous caw rang out in her ear. She did not need to open her eyes to see who its author was. She knew the crows, and they knew her. She had for as long as she could remember.

She continued to slowly breathe, follow the cleansing energy exercise, and silently repeat the elemental chant in her head. Another caw came to her ears, and soon a third. She had no idea why the crows always came to visit her when she meditated. They just did, and she had to admit, it felt right. It was always a good sign when she saw or heard a crow after all. It was like they were watching out for her.

That gave her an idea. She opened her eyes and carefully drew the tablet from her purse and powered it on. She was careful to move slowly, so the crows would not be startled. She ignored the ad for World of Guncraft at the lock screen and punched in her pin. Then she went to her story notes page and began jotting things down.

For not the first time, she wished for a better tablet, with a larger screen. Or even for an actual laptop. But the Fire 7 was all she could afford. Once it had been on sale for nearly half off that is. As with everything else in her life, she just had to make do with what she could scrounge up.

All the while the crow perched upon her shoulder looked down, as if reading the screen. Then the two flanking her on the bench stepped this way and that, as if agitated by her motion.

One began a strident cawing, which the others took up a moment later. January glanced up to see a pair of hipsters walking by: plaid, man-buns, and big bushy beards. The only thing they lacked were top hats and unicycles. January wondered if those were not ironic enough anymore?

January smiled at the thought. They stared silently at her and her crow guardians. One arched an eyebrow. The crows continued their verbal assault upon the hapless hipsters until they passed through the trees that ringed the edge of the parking lot, and vanished into the campus beyond.

"Slow your roll, they're just trying to be cool and still be rebels at the same time." January said to the birds. Then she breathed more quietly: "Says the girl who will never be cool, and couldn't stop being a rebel even if she wanted to."

A car horn bleated so weakly that it sounded like it was upon the verge of reeling over and dying. She looked up to see a rusty old Geo Storm pulled up to the edge of the parking lot. Its yellow paint had clearly seen better days, and a crack ran across the bottom of the windshield. But it was quiet as a whisper, even though January knew it was not shut off.

She could not restrain a smile as she rose to her feet and slung her purse - heavy with the tablet sticking out of it - over one shoulder. The crow perched upon her other shoulder leapt into the sky, soon followed by his two comrades.

"Hasta mañana!" She waved at the departing birds and walked to the car. Opening the door, she let herself in, buckled her seatbelt, and settled her purse onto her lap.

"You know that is seriously creepy right?" January looked to the boy - no he was definitely a man these days - who sat in the driver's seat. His brown skin was smooth as silk, but broken by a patchy stubble on his chin and upper lip. Dark sunglasses covered his eyes. He wore a tee with a giant clenched fist taking up most of its surface, and the letters "R=V/I" written across the bottom.

"Hi Avery," she smiled. "What's creepy?"

"The crows you fool!" Avery exclaimed in his best Mr. T voice. "What did you think I meant, pink sweaters? The way they follow you around. That's just creepy."

"They don't follow me," January looked down at her designer imposter Clululemon fitted jacket. It was pink. But not that pink. Just enough to be pink, but not overpoweringly so. "Crows are everywhere. They are just, my friends. They come to visit me is all."

"Visit? If one of those birds sat down on my shoulder, I'd be worried. That's like, a bad omen or something."

"It's a good omen," January insisted. "Crows are always good luck for me. You know the valkyries were called krakeit, or crows, because of the coats of crow feathers they wore. And The Morrigan took the form of a crow."

"Valkyries, and what did they do again?" Avery shifted the car into gear and smoothly drove off. It never ceased to amaze January how well he could do that. Who drove a manual after all? Yet he shifted up and down through the gears without a hitch, as if he had been born with a clutch under one foot, and shifter in one hand.

"They choose who lives and dies on the battlefield," January said, "and take their souls to Freyja's hall. Well, the half that she doesn't give to Odin of course."


"Everyone dies sometime," January rolled her eyes. "Don't you want someone to be there to lead you through the darkness? A guide and guardian to see you through the worst in death, and take you to the golden halls of your ancestors?"

"My ancestors didn't live in golden halls."

"Neither did mine," January shrugged. "But Freyja does. Speaking of Freyja, you were on Grindr again weren't you?"

"What makes you say that?" January did not fail to notice the way his tone changed, or how his shoulders stiffened up.

"Besides you being an hour late to pick me up?" January raised an eyebrow with as much irony as a monocled hipster. "You're wearing one of your 'I'm a clever boy' shirts. You wanted to see if he was smart enough to know what Ohm's Law is. And do I smell cologne?"

"Yeah, sorry about that." Avery winced and rubbed the back of his head sheepishly, like he always did when he was self-conscious. "We just met up for coffee is all. I sort of lost track of time."

"You don't even like coffee." January made a face.

"I know." Avery winked. His grin lit up the interior of the ancient sport compact.

"Anyway, sorry I am late."

"It's ok," January shrugged. "It gave me time to work out some ideas for a new story. I think I really have something good here."

"Aela and Loria again?" Avery asked. "Or someone new this time."

"Remember that western you dragged me off to see?" January asked.

"Fistful of Boners?" Avery suggested. "High Plains Donger?"

"The Magnificent Seven." January rolled her eyes, but had trouble suppressing a smile nonetheless. "The remake of the remake, with Denzel. Well I was thinking of that."

"I think about Denzel sometimes too," Avery said, "Yul Brenner too."

"Not that way you perv!" January laughed. "Don't you guys think of anything other than sex?"

"Stop taking your spiro and find out," Avery shot back.

"Ugh," January frowned. The very thought of not taking her anti-androgens filled her with loathing. "Anyway, I watched the original last night. Well the original of the original, the Seven Samurai."

"A classic," Avery acknowledged, "It clocks in at what, three point five hours? Tough to watch in one sitting. But pretend it's a TV show and do it an hour at a time, and its awesomeness is of the purest distillation. Kurosawa was a true master."

"Well I was thinking of using it as jumping off point..." January said. She went on to detail how the film had inspired her to write a new story with her existing characters - Aela and Loria. Desperate to pay back their student loans, they join an effort to fight off raiders. The raiders themselves were cannibals worshipping a dark goddess inspired by wendigo lore. She was even determined to find an opportunity to use the term 'tenebrous'."

Avery laughed when she was finished. "You know, I thought being a nerd made me weird, but you take it all to a whole new level girl!"

"Why thank you!" January smiled. "That is the nicest thing anyone has said to me all week."

"So you never said how your date went," January pointed out.

"It was..." Avery shrugged, and stared back at the road.

"Hot? Steamy?" January offered. "Boring? Snoozefest? He stood you up?"

"No he was there." January definitely noticed the warmth creeping into Avery's chocolate brown cheeks. Given the smoky quartz shade of his skin, he did not turn red, but she could see all the signs in how his facial muscles tensed.


"And a gentleman does not kiss and tell woman!" Avery exclaimed.

"So spill already!" January laughed. "Tell me everything! Maybe I can write it into the story. Was he an elf or a dwarf?"

"Human," Avery said, "with these abs that just don't... What am I saying? Never you mind my love life."

"Well it's not like I'll ever have one," January frowned. "I have to live it vicariously through others."

"Oh you never know," Avery said. "Some hot Viking chica might come down on her winged horse and sweep you off to adventure in a distant fantasy realm, with some epic girl-on-girl action on the side."

"That sounds great to me!" January admitted. "At this point I'd take a smelly Pict."

"Be careful what you wish for blondie..." Avery said.

"I just might get it, I know," January groused. "But the most I get now is ghosted. The exorcist gives me a discount for customer loyalty."

January pulled down the visor and flipped open the mirror built into it. Blue eyes, blond hair, she had what every girl seemed to want. Except of course for that pesky old penis tucked between her legs. No girl wanted that. At least not one attached to her. They were supposed to come attached to the boyfriend - a factory standard option with most female models.

She caught herself biting her lip, again, and stopped. She checked her teeth, to make sure there was no lipstick stuck on them. Then she did a quick scan of her makeup: eyeliner, shadow, lipstick. Nothing smeared or running.

Feeling self-conscious, she shut the mirror and pushed the visor back up against the ceiling. She knew that Avery would never make fun of her for primping. But she could not count the number of times others had ridiculed her for doing so since she transitioned back in junior high school.

"Look at the little sissy boy! Isn't he pretty!"

The words came back across the years like vengeful knives. Every one was a jab in the guts. The actual kicks and punches had healed so much quicker. The words never seemed to fade.

"You're doing it again."

January snapped back to reality. She saw that Avery pointed one finger up from the steering wheel. She followed it, and saw that the sky outside had turned slate gray.

"Don't you make it rain girl," he insisted. "Not today."

"Sorry," January stared down at her lap. For years the local meteorologists had been talking about the Weather Witch of Warren. Thankfully no one knew it was her. Except Avery of course. He knew everything. Or at least he acted like it.

If only she could control it, she could make a fortune. Drought bothering you, say no more, here comes the rain. Flooding got you down? Sunny skies and warm air on the way. Not to mention Global Warming be gone.

But the world didn't work that way. She could put her fist through a brick. She could do cartwheels off a moving car. But she couldn't do anything really useful. Not like Avery could.

"When are you going to get a car of your own?" the black man asked. "I don't mind driving you, but this is the D. You can't live without wheels here."

"Soon," January murmured. "Since I learned Muay Thai I picked up another class at the dojo teaching it."

"So how many martial arts is that?" Avery asked.

"With the Kick-Boxing and Krav Maga, that just makes three," January murmured. It hardly seemed anything at all. Here she was, about to turn twenty years old in August. She was practically an old maid, and that was all she knew about fighting. But with gymnastics, and yoga, and school, and writing, when was there ever enough time? Yet Bruce Lee had been slaying dragons at her age, and Chuck Norris had most likely wiped out entire alien civilizations.

"Oh, is that all," Avery said. He was using his sarcastic voice. The one that was supposed to cheer her up by pointing out how full of it she was whenever she was moping.

"Adin did get me a self-defense class next week at Sterling Heights High." January noted. "Maybe after that I'll have enough to start looking for a car that actually runs."

"About that, I might have something," Avery said. "I know a guy online who knows someone who's got a motorcycle they want to get rid of. Something about a DUI and not being able to drive anymore."

"A motorcycle?" January stared at her friend in disbelief. "Me? What am I, a Daughter of Anarchy?"

"A lot of female superheroes in comics ride them you know," Avery insisted. "Look at Nightgirl, and all the Preybirds. Besides, they hardly use any gas at all. So they're environmentally friendly."

"When is the last time you bought gas?" January arched an eyebrow.

"2015," Avery said. "I know what you're thinking, but I might not be able to get another cold fusion reactor going. The one in this thing was a nightmare. If I hadn't found just the right coffee filters and spring water it never would have worked."

"I still can't believe you put a fusion reactor in a Geo Storm." January raised one eyebrow. "I mean, maybe step up your game a little. I know you have the money, with all the gadgets you make for people."

"My game is up honey!" Gadget exclaimed. "My game us so up. But I need to keep a low profile. You of all people know that don't no one notice you, don't no one give you static. The last thing I need is the IRS getting up in my business. That's what got Al Capone. And what do you think the Warren Police are gonna do when they see a brother driving an Aston Martin? They'd be pulling my black ass over every fifty feet!"

"But don't you change the subject on me now," he went on. "You need to step up your own game girl. You get this bike, and you are gonna be lit. Put a pic of you on the back of that on Scissr, and you are gonna get so many swipes, there's gonna be a finger-furrow down your hips."

"Yeah, and they'll be swiping out even faster once I say the 'T-Word'." January rolled her eyes. "I swear the last one left a burn mark, she blasted off so fast."

"But I wouldn't be able to ride a bike in the winter anyway," January switched gears. "So a motorcycle is no good."

"I might be able to do something about that," Avery said. "I got this idea about molecular bonding. Sort of a glue I was thinking of, only without the actual glue. Instead it's a waveform, like sound or electromagnetism are. Turn it on, and things stick. Turn it off, they release. If I could get the timing working with the spinning of the wheels, in theory they should stick to anything, water, snow, ice, you name it."

"The side of a building?" January wondered.

"Well, yeah," Avery nodded. "That would probably work, as long as I could get enough torque out of the engine. It might be slow though, pulling against gravity like that."

"I am sure you can figure it out," January said. "Maybe you could put in a matter-antimatter engine while you are at it."

"Who do I look like, Heisenberg?" Avery stared at her like she was the insane one. "Anti-matter's expensive to create, and I'm not the Technocrat of Central Europe you know. I was thinking maybe a hydrogen fuel cell. Suzuki has the Burgman hybrid fuel cell scooter already out, using just vanilla tech. Honda filed a patent for one of their own too. I am sure I can meta one up to increase the electrical output. And everyone has battery-powered electric bikes already."

"A motorcycle…" January thought aloud. It just might work. "I would need a helmet, and what about my hair." She pulled out her phone, and tapped away at the Galaxy J1's screen.

"I could wear a braid, or a braided ponytail!" She exclaimed after seeing several examples of hairstyles ideal for helmet-wearers. "When can we look at this bike?"

"I'll set it up," Avery smiled. "Oh, and if that doesn't turn your frown upside down, take a look in the back seat."

January twisted around to look back. There on the torn upholstery was a large cardboard box, looking just as old and battered as the rest of the car. January wrestled it up between the seats, and set it on her lap. She gave Avery an expectant look.

"Well open it!" he laughed. "Unless you would rather go to ConFabulation in just jeans and a Cthulhu t-shirt?"

January opened the box, and literally squealed in fangirl delight. On top of the pile of clothes was a cowl that would cover most of her head, leaving only the mouth and chin exposed. Beneath was a long-sleeved tunic emblazoned with the image of a crow in profile, surrounded by a black ring. Along with it were gauntlets, leggings, boots, and even a cape.

She instantly pulled the cowl over her features, and found that it left a hole in the back for her hair to spill out across her neck. It fit perfectly. In fact, it seemed to mold itself to her head. January was certain that was not just her imagination. Not given Avery's expertise with meta-tech. She tapped on it, and it felt as hard as steel.

"This is the awesomesauce on top of awesomesauce!" January cried. "It's like a jam sandwich, except without the bread. It's all jam! If you weren't gay I'd kiss you!"

"Well, you don't have to let that stop you. Just, you know, don't let any guys see it. I don't want to send out the wrong signals…" Avery kept his voice cool. No, he was not Avery now. He was Gadget - the inventor of amazing things, which by all the laws of nature should not work. But they did work. It wasn't a name he bandied about. After all, he preferred to live on the down low. So he only used that name online, with other inventors like himself. January was the only person in the real world who knew it. To their rest of their friends, he was the OG - the Original Gamer.

Then January did lean over and give him a kiss on the cheek.

She pulled on the gloves next, and was amazed at how sensitive her fingers still were with them on. It wasn't quite the same as bare skin, but it was close. For example, she could still feel the textures of the things she touched, even through the gauntlets, be it the cloth car seats, the plastic dashboard, or her faux leather handbag. She sensed more meta-engineering at work, and added that to the million other things she had to thank her inventor friend for.

"What is this material," January ran her hands along the fabric of the suit. "It isn't leather, or cloth."

"It's slime," Gadget smiled.

"It's… what?" January raised one eyebrow, and then the other. What did she have on her face?

"Ever hear of the hagfish?" Gadget asked. He went on when January shook her head. "I read that the military was experimenting with it, so I checked it out. It's a three hundred million year old fish. It's older than the dinosaurs. It excretes a slime for self-defense that suffocates predators. Well that slime can be dried out into fibers that are insanely durable. I made a few improvements on Mother Nature. It moves like cloth, but it should stop a bullet. I think. I haven't tested it though. Since, you know, my mom doesn't like guns."

"Wow, that is some slime," January bit her lip, but only for a moment. Then she decided that in spite of what it was, it was still pretty damn cool. She made a mental note to look up hagfishes when she got home. Then again, maybe she did not really want to know...

She pulled out the cape next, and ran her armored fingers along the gray interior lining. Then she turned the material over to the black outer surface.

"Check it," Gadget said with a definite note of satisfaction. "The cape is not only bullet-proof, but also fireproof, and thermal-insulating. But the pièce de résistance is that it's shape material. The gloves have built in triggers - don't use them now - that will stiffen the fabric into wings. It basically turns the entire outfit into a wingsuit."

"You mean I can fly in this!" January's eyes nearly popped out of her skull.

"No, it's a wingsuit," Gadget said carefully. "You can fall and not go splat right away. You can only glide in it. I haven't tested that either, so be careful with it. Don't go jumping off any buildings. Not just yet anyway. 'Cause there's no parachute like a regular wingsuit has."

"Wow," January breathed. "Just wow. I mean, I only wanted something for cosplay at the Con. Like a Nightgirl or Ms. Miracle costume. With something like this, I could be like, a real superhero. You didn't have to go to all this trouble."

"You are a real superhero," Avery murmured. "Even if you don't run around smiting bad guys like Blood Raven does. You deserve something as good as you are."

Now it was January's turn to blush. The sun was shining brightly outside, and it was turning out to be a wonderful day after all.

Posted by: Renee Apr 20 2019, 02:21 PM

Hee hee, this is awesome! She's doing meditation in public! biggrin.gif

I couldn't resist a quick search for Macomb Community College. Says it's in Michigan. Interesting.

Whoa. Geo Storm. smile.gif Whatever happened to Geo? Friend of mine had a Metro back in the '90s, that thing was so easy to park in the cramped streets of Baltimore...

What constitutes a hipster in Michigan? Last time I heard that word I lived on the west coast, where hipster meant cat eye glasses and plaid skits for women, and basically retro clothes from the '60s and '70s. cool.gif The Weezer song "Buddy Holly" explains it all, basically. Guys who look like Buddy Holly, gals who look like Mary Tyler Moore, pretty much. But i know this term changes from era to era, region to region.

"Avery... or 'Gadget' as everyone called him online..." laugh.gif


Posted by: SubRosa Apr 20 2019, 03:27 PM

QUOTE(Renee @ Apr 20 2019, 09:21 AM) *

Hee hee, this is awesome! She's doing meditation in public! biggrin.gif

I couldn't resist a quick search for Macomb Community College. Says it's in Michigan. Interesting.

Whoa. Geo Storm. smile.gif Whatever happened to Geo? Friend of mine had a Metro back in the '90s, that thing was so easy to park in the cramped streets of Baltimore...

What constitutes a hipster in Michigan? Last time I heard that word I lived on the west coast, where hipster meant cat eye glasses and plaid skits for women, and basically retro clothes from the '60s and '70s. cool.gif The Weezer song "Buddy Holly" explains it all, basically. Guys who look like Buddy Holly, gals who look like Mary Tyler Moore, pretty much. But i know this term changes from era to era, region to region.

"Avery... or 'Gadget' as everyone called him online..." laugh.gif


Hon, Hipsters are basically the same thing these days as they were when you were on the West Coast. They have just updated it. They are kind of the modern equivalent of Mall Goths in the 90s. They want to rebel from 'normal' society, so they dress and do things 'ironically'. Like big bushy beards, wearing plaid, riding unicycles, wearing monocles, drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon. Basically they make a pastiche of outdated trends in an effort to be un-cool, and thusly be cool. Someone once called them "the assassins of cool".

This is a good quote from the wikipedia article I linked to above:
"In a Huffington Post article entitled "Who's a Hipster?", Julia Plevin argues that the "definition of 'hipster' remains opaque to anyone outside this self-proclaiming, highly-selective circle". She claims that the "whole point of hipsters is that they avoid labels and being labeled. However, they all dress the same and act the same and conform in their non-conformity" to an "iconic carefully created sloppy vintage look".

The whole revitalization of Detroit has brought tons of hipsters. Because once things finally started to turn around land was cheap. So hipster businesses could move in easily. (The same is true of Foodies. Tons of snobby restaurants have opened here in the last ten years). The same thing is going on in Brooklyn, NY.

A lot of people hate hipsters, which I don't really get. Probably because they look and act different. Some of them can be snobby though. I am different, so I appreciate someone making an effort to not be one of the mindless herd. But at the same time I find it amusing, because they are just trading one style of conformity for another in the end.

Posted by: Acadian Apr 20 2019, 06:32 PM

Oh this was a hoot! January, her crow fan club and her very own gadget-making pal. Lots of info presented in this long intro but all of it was engaging and fun to read.

Nit: ’She concentrated upon of her breathing,’ - - extraneous ‘of’?

Posted by: Grits Apr 22 2019, 06:17 PM

I’m very excited to see Stormcrow so soon! (And thank you for the reassurance that Aela and Loria are not forgotten!)

Right away I love that I can infer that some things are different about January’s world without getting a history lesson. I also love that she is spending time practicing her power flow and her martial arts. In the same way we get to see her financial situation through what she wears and uses rather than just having her mention it.

Wow, it really is Stormcrow and Gadget. Avery is awesome!

Yay, I already love this story!

Posted by: SubRosa Apr 26 2019, 04:32 PM

Renee: I went to MCC for a while, so it was my go-to community college for this story. When I look at pics of it online now, it has changed a lot. But the basic layout is still the same. I used to always park in that same lot that Avery picked January up at. The library is up a hill behind where she is sitting, and then the main classroom buildings, which are set in sort of a figure 8, with open air atriums in the center. I really liked that place. I did put in a link to it.

I still remember the Geos. That is why I went to it for a nice, cheap car that no one would think twice about.

I like the name Gadget too. It is partly inspired by Inspector Gadget of course. But mostly it is because Avery makes gadgets. It is also a simple name without the common hyperbole that so many screen names/super names have. That fits Avery to a tee, as he prefers to stay on the down low.

Acadian: At 4k words it is twice where I usually put my cutoff point for posts. But I did not see a good place to cut it up without breaking the flow of conversation. It was mostly just that conversation between characters, so I let it ride. The future posts won't be so big however.

That was an extra of, thanks for wrangling it up for me.

Grits: This first Stormcrow chapter is actually longer than the remainder of Seven Reimagined, and I knocked this out in just a few weeks. And the next Stormcrow chapter as well. So it won't be too hard to wrap up Seven. There are only a few new scenes it will need that require all new writing. Most of it will only be tinkering to fit it into the new setting.

I really loved April Daniels' I think its only downside is that she includes a big infodump near the beginning about super history. That info was nice to have. But it was also a straight up dump of Telling. I am hoping to weave things in more subtly, over time. Heisenberg was an example here. Yes, he's that Heisenberg. I envision him as being essentially a brain in a robot body, ruling a technocracy in Central Asia (all the ...stans. RL Kazakhstan is the worlds #1 exporter of uranium I decided to change that to Central Europe, specifically Austria instead).

You cited all the things I was really hoping to illustrate with the opening. January's martial arts, her psychological/magical centering, her lack of finances, the central place Avery has in her life, plus a few little hints about the nature of the super world that she lives in. Avery himself is a lot of fun to write. He is in many ways the rational counterpoint to January's own psychologial/social issues. Which is another way to say he calls her out on her self-destructive b.s.

The whole reason I gave exact brand names for things like her tablet was that I wanted to show that she was poor. I was going to just be generic and say tablet, phone, and so on. But a Fire 7 says a lot, when it is only $50 full price. Likewise with the phone, and the fake designer jacket, etc...

Chapter 1.2 - Stormcrow Rising

January left the Con Suite and its all-too tempting plates of cookies, doughnuts, pancake dippers, and PBJ sandwiches. Not to mention the positively toxic - but equally delicious - hot dogs. What convention would be complete without those? Instead the apple and honeydew slices she had already munched on would have to suffice for dinner. Well, that and one of those wicked dogs of course.

Her new crow outfit had brought many stares. Whether good ones or bad ones, January could not be sure. There definitely were more people just coming up and talking to her than normal however. She guessed that was a good thing. But it still made her nervous. Being noticed always did. Usually her life became much worse when people paid attention to her.

Still, she did not regret it. All of her life she had been seeing other people cosplaying at conventions and festivals. Now she was finally getting in on the fun. It was fun too, even if it was outside of her normal comfort zone. It was like she was a different person. Not weighed down by the past. Anything seemed possible.

With a bottle of Pepsi Ultimate in one hand, and a program sheet in the other, she ambled down the circular hallway toward the elevators. Looking down through the list of times and rooms, she found the block of events that would be starting next.

Star Trek discussion, no thanks, even though Wil Wheaton was attending. Now if it had been about The Guild… Phew, Felicia Day could certainly keep her up all night! Finger-Painting for Kids, eech! Ten year-olds with hands covered in paint were getting nowhere near her brand new corvid costume. Dungeons and Dragons, no thanks, she was not fourteen anymore. Too bad there was not a Shadowrun game though… Adventure in Short Stories, now that sounded like a discussion group right up her alley.

A loud bang made her stop short. It was very, very loud. Like thunder ringing through the corridor. A second and third roar followed, along with a muffled crash.

Those were gunshots. January had been in Detroit on New Year's Eve enough times to know the sound. If the gun had been outdoors it would have sounded like a pop. But given the noise, it was definitely inside the hotel.

A fellow Con-goer dressed in white stormtrooper armor ran past her, back toward the Con Suite. "It's a meta!" he shouted over his shoulder as he sped past. "And they've got guns!"

The Pepsi and schedule fell forgotten from January's hands. What should she do? Should she play it safe, and run, or hide, like all the active shooter drills in school said? Or should she do what they always say not to, and advance?

Naturally she did what they said to never do.

Air, give me speed.

She sprang forward as if shot from a cannon, covering at least ten feet with a single, horizontal bound. That nearly put her into the outer wall, since the hallway curved in a large circle. She put one hand on the wall to steady herself, reoriented, and leaped once more.

More people ran past, looking entirely non-science fictiony in their button down shirts and khakis. January briefly mused that these must be traveling business types.

Then an open door caught her eye. For a moment a bright light burst from within, only to vanish a moment later, leaving afterimages dancing before January's eyes. A loud thump came to her ears, followed by a male voice.

"Hand over the stones you bastard," it growled like a hungry tiger, "or you'll be next."

"I don't know what you're talking about," came a second man's voice, in an Indian accent so heavy you could spread curry on it. "I am just a salesman. I don't know what you are-."

January heard a meaty smack. She had been on the receiving end of enough punches to know that sound well. It was all the convincing she needed to spring through the open doorway.

She found herself in the entrance of a large suite. A kitchenette and mini-bar ran along the wall to her left. An overturned dining table, its chairs scattered away, lay nearby. A pair of couches faced one another across a coffee table deeper into the room. One had a wide hole torn through it, rupturing its stuffing like an open wound.

Two men lay on the floor. Both were alike in that they wore khakis, sport coats, and sunglasses. Guns lay on the floor nearby, and the two were as bloody as they were still. They could not have looked more like bodyguards if they had tried. A third man in a suit knelt on the floor. He was pudgy, dusky-skinned, and had long ago lost the battle to keep his hair. He wrung his hands in a panic. A bright red spot was quickly forming across one of his cheeks, and blood flowed from the side of his temple.

"Sissy-boy!" Just like that, January had traveled back in time. She was twelve years old, and two bullies pinioned her arms, while a third took his time working over her stomach and face. "Take it like a man pervert!"

The memory came and went in a fleeting instant. But it left an aftertaste of frustration, rage, and adrenaline. Outside, thunder pealed in the otherwise clear evening sky.

It was not a mere schoolyard bully who stood before her however. Instead it was a tall man wearing gleaming silver, white, and blue armor. It did not completely cover his skin, which January could see was a much deeper brown than the kneeling man. A cuirass did cover his torso, along with separate plates on his upper arms, wrists, and thighs. Gauntlets protected his hands, and boots sheathed his feet. A helmet covered his upper face and wrapped down around his jaw, leaving an open space between which left his mouth and lower cheeks bare.

He held one hand out toward the kneeling man, palm open. He turned as January entered, and brought that hand to bear upon her instead. Built into the palm of his gauntlet was a ring of metal, that encircled some form of clear crystal. A warm, white glow ignited from deep within it, and January did not need anyone to tell her it was some sort of energy weapon.

"Stay out of this, cosplay," the armored man commanded. "This is none of your business."

"It's everyone's business when a thug beats up an old man." January bared her teeth. Her fingers curled into fists of their own accord. Her eyes narrowed, and she judged the distance between them. She wondered how quickly he could fire that weapon, and how quickly she could get into range of her own, inborn armaments.

It did not take a genius like Avery to see that she was going to take a hit.

Earth give me strength, keep me grounded, protect me from harm.

She was about to pounce when she saw the old man reach into a pocket, and pull out a pistol. It was small, barely larger than his palm. He raised it to point at the armored man's back.

But the malefactor noticed her gaze shift. He twisted back to the old man, swinging blindly with his fist. The gun went off, filling the room with artificial thunder. January was not sure if it hit the armored man or not. It seemed impossible to miss at such close quarters. He did not flinch however, or slow in any way. A moment later his fist cracked across the old man's arm and shoulder, and sent him flying.

A small, black bag fell from the Indian man's pocket. Clear gemstones spilled from it like water from an overturned cup. They glittered under the ceiling lights, like a bed of stars spread out across the carpet.


Now everything became clear to January. She leaped forward, even as the thief scooped up the bag in his left hand. That was all the time she needed, and she slammed into him before he could turn back to face her. She hit him like a hurricane, and a bolt of lightning outside the windows dazzled her eyes. It was followed by a peal of thunder, as the force of her charge sent them both into the glass.

It shattered like fine china under a bull's hooves. January and the armored man tumbled through, arms and legs tangled together. The pavement rushed past January's eyes as they spun in mid-air. She heard a thrum of energy, and was aware of the thief somehow pulling away from her. Light flared from his boots, and she realized that he could fly as he rose into the sky above. But she was still falling...

"It's a wingsuit," Gadget's voice rang out in her memory. "You can fall and not go splat."

She spread her arms out to either side and hit the triggers built into both of her gloves. With a leathery crack the cape that had trailed out behind her snapped out into pair of wings. But that seemed to just make things worse. Instead of falling in a smooth arc, the wings were now catching the air unequally. That sent her into an even more chaotic tumble.

Gravity pulled at her. Every time she spun and saw the ground flash by, it was frighteningly nearer. Rain pelted her. Thunder rumbled. Lightning cracked loudly. January frantically tried to hold her body stiff and level, so that the wind could catch evenly upon the surface of the wings.

Be like Air. Be light, and quick, and fly.

The wind caught her up, and her fall smoothed out into a shallow dive. Somehow she had gotten into a stable, rigid position. Now each of her wings caught the air in equal measure. She pulled her head back and arched her body. She hoped that by changing the angle of the wings, it would bring even more of their surface to bear on the wind. She told herself that it was just like gymnastics. She could be strong, and graceful, and fly through the air.

Somehow she traded speed for altitude, and soared back up. She banked hard, and saw the circular tower of the hotel rising up to her left. She almost recoiled when she saw that the armored thug was just a few feet away, flying free thanks to the bright white energy being expelled by his boots. With one hand he tucked the bag of diamonds into a pouch on his belt. His other hand reached out to her, and grabbed hold of the leading edge of one of her wings.

January tried to reach up to slap away his wrist. But her wings got in the way. Worse, the movement completely destroyed her flight profile. Air spilled from her wings. She began to skid to the left, and immediately felt herself tumbling once more. The armored robber hung on. He slowed their descent, but could not stop it.

She saw the hotel's annex loom beneath her. It was a wide, two story structure that stretched away from the central tower that she had fallen from. She realized that she was going to hit it in a matter of seconds. She did not know what that would do to the wings, or to her body if one of them caught the roof unevenly. Visions of skiers snapping their legs after catching their skis on obstacles flashed through her mind.

She was a gymnast. She knew how to land. With that in mind she hit the triggers in her gloves, and her wings collapsed back to a simple cape. It flapped up in the wind above her, with the armored man still holding a fist-full of the material.

That made them fall much faster, but January found she could control her form. An instant later they plummeted into the roof of annex. They smashed through a skylight, and crashed into a wide hallway below that ran the length of the structure. Falling glass clattered around them in shards of glittering light as they slammed into the carpeted floor. January tucked into a roll and sprang to her feet just as nimbly as if she had performed an ordinary tumbling pass, rather than fallen from fourteen stories.

Posted by: Acadian Apr 26 2019, 06:33 PM

’Naturally she did what they said to never do.’ - - January has plenty of courage - doubtless to help compensate for her questionable judgement. tongue.gif

And so she’s into a heart-pounding encounter! Loved her struggle to try and control those new-fangled Gadget wings as she tumbled toward the ground. Well, as they say, any landing you can walk roll away from is a good one. Seriously, it seems her martial arts training has quite benefited her.

What a fun story so far!

Edit to add a couple more thoughts -

Though I was absorbed in January's first flight lesson, I was very much aware of the other part of her name and her ability to 'not quite control' the weather as the storm was clearly reacting to Stormcrow's emotions.

With so much action in this episode, I am thankful you provided so much background into what makes January tick in the preceding episode. Her actions and thoughts flowed clearly from we already know of her. Nice job!

Posted by: Grits Apr 28 2019, 11:29 PM

Awesome, a fight and flying sequence! I thought the pace was perfect with enough description so I could picture it easily but not too much to slow things down.

The close POV and details like the Pepsi and the program sheet in January’s hands brought me right into that corridor with her. Which was very cool when she started leaping, falling, and flying!!

A comma suggestion: Instead of
"Stay out of this cosplay," the armored man commanded.

"Stay out of this, cosplay," the armored man commanded.

I read it the second way, with the armored man vastly underestimating January (and her suit).

What a fun episode!

Posted by: SubRosa May 3 2019, 09:35 PM

Acadian: Courage + questionable judgement sounds like a requirement for all superheros... laugh.gif

We will be seeing her martial arts training front and center in this episode. The same with her gymnastics training. I have had a lot of fun writing the latter into the current and upcoming stories. She would not be January without her back flips, handstands, and stuck landings.

I am glad the sudden thunderstorm resonated. We will be seeing more bad weather in today's episode. Like her gymnastics, the weather has become part and parcel of who she is in my mind now.

Grits: I had fun working on the events in the program sheet, as well as inventing Pepsi Ultimate. I imagine the ads for the latter go something like: "Twice the calories, Twice the sodium! Twice the Taste!" biggrin.gif

I can see what you mean about the comma. The original way sounded like Lighthammer was part of a cosplay that he didn't want January joining in. The extra comma makes is clear that he is referring to her as 'cosplay' instead.

Chapter 1.3 - Stormcrow Rising

Each side of the sprawling hall was lined with huge conference rooms. Paper signs marked events, classes, panels, or other activities taking place within each. Large tables were set up along various areas of the hall itself. January instantly recognized the registration table, with its trio of middle-aged women handing out badges and information packets to conventioneers. A white-bearded man wearing a black fisherman's cap sat at another table signing books for a line of people. Other tables were piled with all manner of items for sale: novels, hats, t-shirts, cosplay outfits, you name it, someone was selling it.

There were people everywhere. Many were dressed in costumes just as elaborate as January's, if not more so. Some were of real metas such as Blood Raven, the Veil, or Heisenberg. Others were fictional characters such as Nightman or the robot from Found in Space. Still more people were in street clothes. Nerds with tees emblazoned with the chemical symbols for coffee or various sayings in binary rubbed shoulders with goths in black leather and lace. New Agers and Pagans with ankhs and pentacles stepped past button-downed mundanes. Every race and age, every kind of person, were all thrown together in the science fiction convention.

The crash had separated January from her armored opponent. He was slower to clamber to his feet, and she took advantage of that to rush back to his side. Her hand flew to his belt, and tugged out the black bag of diamonds. He had the presence of mind to catch her wrist. With her free hand, she grabbed hold of the offensive digit and willed it loose.

His other hand rose up to her face. The metal-ringed crystal set into his palm filled her vision, and she realized that it was inset with diamonds. She had started to duck when the light blasted forth and took her in the face. It felt like she had been kicked by a horse. Her head snapped back hard. Without thinking, she let the rest of her body flow with the motion, and turned it into a back flip. She felt her feet catch the armored man as she spun in midair, and heard the whoosh of air being forcefully expelled from his lungs.

"Now water can flow, or it can crash," Bruce Lee's words rose unbidden in her mind. "Be water my friend."

She landed in a crouch, and felt along her forehead with one gloved hand. She was afraid that her fingers would come back sticky with blood and brains. But apparently the hagfish slime that armored her cowl was stronger than whatever the marauder had hit her with. Unless the strength and resilience of Earth really did fill her flesh and bones. But the real world didn't actually work that way, did it? It was not like she was a real magician after all, like Blood Raven was said to be.

She blinked spots of light from her eyes, just in time to see the thief level his opened hand for another shot. Again, she was too slow, and the bright laser-like energy that sprang forth hit her hard. This time it struck her hand, sending the bag of diamonds flying away to one side.

Thunder pealed from above, and rain began to pour through the broken skylight. January and her opponent both edged toward the diamonds, eyeing one another all the while. In the meantime the conventioneers spread out to give them room. Some fled entirely, but most remained to watch, albeit from a distance. Many produced phones and began recording them. A few even had old-fashioned camcorders.

January noticed Gadget in the crowd, dressed in his own Cyborg cosplay outfit. He moved to intervene, but she shook her head ever so slightly. He was a whiz with machines, but no fighter. She could never bear it if something happened to him.

The armored man tried to follow her eye movement again, glancing quickly in the direction of her gaze. But Avery - bless him - gave no sign that he was the object of her gesture.

"It's Lighthammer!" she heard someone in the crowd exclaim.

January glanced back to Gadget. "Gray hat," he silently mouthed now that her opponent was no longer looking in his direction. He gestured with his fingers, as if they were erupting from his other palm. "Light-Based," he seemed to mime.

The armored man - Lighthammer - trained both hands upon January this time. She prayed to Air for speed. She was upon him faster than he could fire, knocking both of his hands up and away. She followed with a front kick directly into his armored gut. It was like hitting a brick wall. But she could break bricks...

He doubled over, and she instantly followed with a knee lift into his jaw. Again, his armor seemed to absorb most of the blow. He staggered back, covering up defensively with his arms in front of him. So she followed with a side kick at his ribs. This time however, an oval of light sprang up around one of his forearms, and he moved it down to block the attack. She followed with a lower kick, and he leapt up into the air to avoid it.

But he could not dodge the lightning fast jab that followed. Instead he parried with his other forearm, this one now protected by a small force field of light as well. She moved in closer, and sent a flurry of elbows and jabs at his torso and head. He blocked some, and took the rest with his armor.

Relentless, she jabbed at his face with her left and stepped closer in. That brought her close enough to slash the same elbow across his face. She twisted her entire body with the move, using all of her mass to pull the elbow through him. He blocked with a force field once more, but she could feel it shiver as he backed away.

He covered up when she made to follow with the left again, this time with a cross into his face. But that had never been her intention. Once she saw him fall for the feint, she leapt forward. She rested one hand on his shoulder for leverage, and lifted herself up into the air above him. Then she crashed down with her opposite elbow, driving it into his forehead and down across his face. Armor shattered, and half of his mask disintegrated under the blow. Blood and bits of composite armor sprayed about as she dropped to her feet.

Then a bright light filled her eyes, and she was propelled back through the air once more. Again, she moved with the blow, and landed on both feet and one hand. She slid across the carpet in that three-point stance for several feet before stopping. It felt like a tyrannosaur had hit her. But she didn't notice any real pain. She imagined that was because of the adrenaline, and the armor Gadget had so presciently built.

She focused on the elements, as ever, and looked to them for inspiration and focus. Earth would ground her with strength and resilience. Water would allow her to adapt and flow with changing events. Air would give her speed and force, like a tornado. Fire would inspire passion and vigor. Spirit would bring it all together with balance and clarity.

Now January saw a pair of hotel security guards coming through the crowd. She waved them back. There was nothing they could do against someone like Lighthammer. They weren't even real cops. They didn't have guns, or meta-tech suits like the one that Avery had made for her. They didn't have years of martial arts training. They didn't know that their will could reshape reality. But she did have those things, and she was not going to let anyone else get hurt by a laser-powered thug.

"This isn't what you think white hat," Lighthammer now spoke. "I'm not the one who covered these diamonds in blood, and I'm not looking to add more to them already."

"You sure fooled me," January snarled. Out of the corner of her eye she saw the Indian diamond trader in the crowd. He held a bloody washcloth against the side of his head with one hand. He still clutched his pistol in his other hand. But he held it down along his side, unobtrusively against one leg. No one would notice it unless they took their eyes off the meta fight.

Thunder roared, and January was the lightning that followed. Lighthammer blasted again with both of his lasers. But she broke through the eruption of solid light to plant a fist in his jaw. She followed with kicks, elbows, and punches. Again he defended with his laser shields. She tried to trip him, but he rose into the air with his light-assisted flight.

He tried to fly up out of reach, but she leapt into him. That propelled them both into the ceiling, which they skidded across before smashing into a wall. January planted her feet against it and pushed off while he fell. She performed a back flip in mid air and landed on both feet, facing him.

She tried to hit him before he could get to his feet. But he was too fast with his lasers. Again, he hit her with both palm-blasters. Her eyes filled with bright light as she went back. This time she was ready however. Rather than tumbling through the air, the solid light merely pushed her back several paces.

She smiled. She had taken his measure. She would wear him down, and defeat him.

Then he turned his glowing hands upon the crowd, and January's exultation vanished faster than a lawyer's morality. Lasers flashed bright. Thunder crashed overhead. Rain pelted the hall. January leapt fast as a tornado, and stood between the innocent conventioneers and Lighthammer's attack.

She was expecting another semi-truck to the chest. But instead she barely felt the strike. Again, she wondered if it was just the adrenaline that allowed her to shrug it off so easily.

"Just like I thought," Lighthammer jeered, "typical white hat."

She followed the motion of his hands as they rose slightly. Lasers spat once more. This time they struck the ceiling overhead, and now they hit with titanic force.

The ceiling exploded in a shower of fiberglass, plaster, wood, and steel. All of it came directly down upon January, as if Lighthammer had somehow shot it out with surgical precision. January felt herself driven to first one, then both knees as a mountain of rubble crushed down atop her. All she could do was turtle up with her hands over her head, hoping to ward off the worst of the deluge.

Somehow, she did just that. She could feel the full force of the material, especially the steel beam that drove down into her shoulder. But again, it did not really hurt, at least not that much. It was almost as if she was as solid as iron and stone herself. Of course, she wasn't after all. It was not like she was a meta herself. It was the suit that protected her.

She coughed. Her will, and Gadget's suit, could not do anything about the dust that choked her lungs. She shoved the steel beam off her, and heard it thump loudly upon the carpeted floor. Brushing off the rest of the debris, she rose back to her feet. She looked around, and saw that she had indeed been the only one struck by the wreckage. Again, she wondered if that had been Lighthammer's design. Gadget had said that he was a gray hat after all, not a Black one.

Of the villain himself, there was no sign. She imagined that he had made his escape while she was buried. He had set her up perfectly, and she had fallen for the trap, like an idiot.

"Are you ok miss?" someone asked.

"Wow, she's a real meta!" another cried.

"That was amazing!" another voice came to her ears.

People began to crowd closer now. She scanned the crowd for Avery, but there were just too many people moving in now. She could not see the Indian diamond trader either, or his valuable cargo. She hoped he and his bodyguards would be all right.

"What's your name?" A phone seemed to jam itself almost in her face. There were phones all around now, cameras lit up and pointing directly at her.

She glanced down at the crow emblazoned across the chest of her suit.

"Umm, a crow?" she wondered aloud. Thunder hammered loud in her ears. There were too many people, with too many questions. As a child she had always daydreamed about being a hero and saving the day. This was nothing like that. She didn't know if she was a hero, or if she had truly saved anything.

She was thirsty, and now her body did begin to ache. She looked up to the hole in the skylight, where the dark sky stormed overhead. She crouched down to fill her legs with power, and sprang up, through the open hole in the roof. Lightning crashed, and she was gone.

Posted by: Acadian May 8 2019, 07:31 PM

I’ll take your wonderful Two Steps from Hell music vid and raise you the

A fun ‘tour’ of the convention floor – even if only what January could convey to us during the brief seconds it took to get her bearings after her crash landing.

I’m looking for – and seeing – how the weather is indeed responding to January’s mood or feelings.

Lighthammer – we have a name for her adversary now and it makes sense.

What a fight! January’s years of martial arts training certainly paid off – as did the suit Gadget made for her.

Neat how you ‘showed’ us the use and meaning here of the terms White Hat, Gray Hat and Black Hat. That does indeed inform as to why Lighthammer extricated himself from this fight without collateral damage to bystanders once he found himself lacking for continuing to go ‘toe-to-toe’ with his angry tornado opponent.

You tease us near the end by dancing around it but not quite naming her. Better hurry though - we don't want to risk having her labeled EarthAirWaterFireGirl. tongue.gif

Finally, she who will be Stormcrow leaves the scene in a fully appropriate superheroinesque manner!

Posted by: Renee May 9 2019, 03:55 PM

Whoa, she's wearing her superhero outfit in public! Well hey, why not? viking.gif Oh wait. Okay she's at a convention.

She summons the words of Bruce Lee. IS that true about the hagfish slime being able to be crafted into hardened superhero gear? laugh.gif I'll feel silly if I google that and it's not true!

Hey, what happened to Lighthammer? Did he vanish? Maybe he caused that explosion so he could slip away. Well, she shouldn't beat herself up. Not like anybody else tried to take care of that thief.

Posted by: SubRosa May 10 2019, 10:05 PM

All: I created a It has both current, and future sites of January's adventures. In the case of real places, I included links about them.

Acadian: I love music battles, everyone wins!

I went to a sci-fi convention at that very same hotel many years ago. That is what gave me the idea for not only a convention, but to use that particular hotel. It has changed a lot since then however.

I had a lot of fun creating Lighthammer, his name, and his powers. I think he would be a fun character to play. He has a lot of potential for advancing his powers.

I mulled over several ideas for how to denote good guys from bad guys. In the end I went with Black Hats and White Hats because of how they are used in hacker culture. Gray Hats were just an obvious addition. As you noted the way Lighthammer distracted January with a threat to innocents - but one ultimately empty - really showed the color of his hat.

Earth, Wind, and Fire would be a cool name... But there would be copyright issues. Have no fears though, Stormcrow gets her moniker in today's episode.

Renee: I was working over different ways to get January out in her super outfit without her deliberately deciding to be a super. I took a lot of inspiration from Batgirl: The Year One, which had Barbara Gordon going to a policeman's costume ball dressed in a Batman-esque costume. A supervillain had the same idea, and a super smackdown ensued that set Barbara on her course to becoming Batgirl. Instead of a costume party, I went with a convention, since those are such magnets for cosplay.

That is true about the hagfish slime. It is being developed as both ballistic armor and fireproofing. I put a link to it in my first post. I put links to tons of relevant stuff at the bottom of every post. The first post in the thread also has a collection of all the links so people can easily look things up.

Lighthammer dropped the ceiling on January specifically so he could make his getaway.

Chapter 1.4 - Stormcrow Rising

"That was incredible!" Avery exulted. No, he was not plain old Avery, but in full Gadget mode now. "I always knew you had it in you to be a hero."

The young black man sat in his chair, which was a cross between something off the bridge of the Enterprise and an old garage from American Pickers. It had more lights and buttons and speakers than most computers. Speaking of which, he had parked his nerdcore throne in front of his computer. If such a simple term could be used to describe the water-cooled monstrosity of circuit boards, drives, chips, and cables that served as his home away from home.

The rest of the basement - The Gadget Cave as January thought of it - was similar. It was a mix of old junk that Avery had somehow rehabilitated into technological masterpieces, and modern bric-a-brac which he had pushed far beyond the thresholds of science and nature with his meta-genius. She could not even name half of the things scattered around the room, and while she was not a rocket scientist by any stretch of the imagination, she was no stranger to Carl Sagan either.

Hanging incongruously in this helter-skelter of gizmos and just plain junk was a heavy leather punching bag. If it ever had a brand name, it had long since been worn away. Or perhaps it was buried under the rolls of duct tape that crisscrossed the worn brown leather like an ancient mummy. The Blob, January mused, it could always take a hit.

"I was an idiot." January flopped down on the dilapidated couch that took up the center of the room. It was one of those hand me downs passed from one generation to another since the dawn of time. Its upholstery was so stained and faded that there was no guessing what the original color might have been. They still took bets on it however. The wooden frame was chipped and scratched. Stuffing rose like angry volcanoes from rips and tears. Naturally it was the most comfortable thing January had ever sat upon.

"Did you start smoking the devil's lettuce when I wasn't looking?" Gadget cried. His fingers danced across his keyboards (yes, there were more than one). Images filled the plethora of monitors that not only hovered over his desk, but were also scattered about the basement. All of them showed raw footage of her battle with Lighthammer, each from a different source. "Social media is lighting up over you. You are trending, even bigger than that singing cat!"

"The cat made more sense," January pulled the cowl back from her head, and rubbed her temples. "I screwed up everything from the start. I hit him so hard I took the two of us out of a fourteen story window. A plate glass window! Then it just went downhill from there."

Gadget slid his chair across the room with a kick of his feet. It did not roll, so much as hover across the floor.

"Ok, trash talk mode off." Gadget said in his serious voice. "You really were fantastic. You know that don't you? You fought a real, live, meta to a standstill. You beat him. You know that right?"

"What if he hadn't been a meta?" January bit her lip. "What if he had just been a derp in a cosplay outfit, like me? I would have killed him with that first tackle. I should have killed us both."

"Tell me about it, step by step," Gadget leaned forward. He put his elbows on his knees, and cradled his chin in his hands. It was his paying attention pose. "A good scientist experiments, records results, analyzes, and draws conclusions from the data. Give me the data."

"Well, I heard the gunshots, I guess from the two bodyguards." January took a sip of Dr Pepper. Gadget never seemed to have Pepsi in his cave.

"Right, those guys." Gadget put his phone on his forearm, and it stuck there as if it was glued in place. With a tap of one finger it folded out into a full-sized computer screen, while a keyboard snapped out in front of both his hands. "I did a quick check on them on the way back from the hotel. Both are Whitewater Security."

"Those mercenaries who are always in the news about murdering people in Iraq and Afghanistan for shits and giggles?" January asked.

"The very same ones," Gadget responded. "Funny how a company doesn't get investigated when it has billion dollar contracts with the government. Anyway, one of these guys is a former Army Ranger, the other used to be a beat cop in the D for ten years. I'm not sure which is more badass."

"Well, they were out cold on the floor, and Lighthammer was smacking around that Indian guy." January frowned. Just thinking about it made her angry all over again.

"Bhavin Subramanian." Gadget's fingers tapped again, and a picture of the diamond trader popped up across the screens in the basement. "Works for the Mahta Diamond Syndicate in Amsterdam."

"Yeah, Subram- damn that is a name. I am such a racist because I can't remember how you said it. He pulled out a gun and I think he shot Lighthammer. I couldn't really tell if he hit or not. Then Hammer just smacked the guy across the room like it was nothing."

"Right, so you found two of the scariest dudes in Detroit laying out cold on the floor, while a bulletproof super sent a third guy flying," Gadget said plainly. "And you're second-guessing yourself about uncorking on said armored monstrosity?"

"I shouldn't have," January scowled. "I know how it sounds. But I have to be careful when I fight, so I don't hurt people. I mean, I could kill you right now in less time it would take for me to say it. I always have to be in control of myself. I have to stay calm, measured, and only use as much force as is really necessary. That's one reason I do yoga. It's not just about stretching. I have to purge my negativity and stay centered. It's why I'm reading up on Paganism. I can never, ever, let my temper rule me."

"You know, sometimes I forget just how cool a chick you really are," Avery smiled, and laid a warm hand on her arm. Then he straightened up, and his voice took on a more formal tone. "So what have you learned from this?"

"Learned?" January scoffed. "That I almost got a lot of people killed, including myself."

"So what are you going to do differently next time?" Gadget asked. "Like someone said in one of your stories. Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment. You got a lot of experience tonight. How are you going to grow from it?"

"Grow?" January still did not understand what he meant. "I am never going to do anything like that again, that is how I'm going to grow!"

"Are you crazy?" Gadget scoffed. "You were made for this. You always were. I knew it since we were kids. Why do you think I made that suit for you? That is no cosplay outfit. I wouldn't have armored it with that hagfish snot, or made the wings for just a Nightchick costume. That's why I put a crow on it. It's not a copy, it's an original. It's a hero's armor. It's your armor. Not that I think you really need it."

"Not that I need it?" January stared at the images of her now playing across the screen again. "I would have been killed without it."

"I don't think so," Gadget shook his head. He brought up a vid of her smashing Lighthammer into the ceiling, and then literally leaping off of the wall, doing a back flip, and landing on her feet. "No suit did that. That is Olympics gold medal shit. Beyond gold medal shit. Only metas can do things like that. "

Next he brought up a vid of Lighthammer hitting her with twin blasts of light, and merely shoving her back across the hall.

"The suit wasn't made to stop that," Gadget said. "Like I said, I hope it's bullet-proof. But I don't know if it'll even do that."

Finally he brought up a clip of her rising from the wreckage of the collapsed ceiling. As casually as if she were flicking off lint, January saw herself toss a steel beam off of her shoulder.

Gadget did not say a word. He just gestured at the screen. Now a live feed came up from Worldwide Network News. The camera moved to a middle-aged woman with dark hair and glasses, and a chin that nearly came to a literal point. She stood behind a long, curved desk that was covered in pictures and artwork of various superheros and villains.

"Hello world, this is Gilda Gadfly, and do I have the dish for you!" she began in a gossipy tone. A picture of January leaping out of the skylight in the hotel came up behind her, captured just as a bolt of lightning cracked across the sky overhead.

"This is a first folks. A brand new white hat has created a literal storm in Detroit. Hundreds witnessed her debut in a knock-down, drag-out battle against the vigilante Lighthammer. All of this took place in the middle of a science fiction convention of all places. Dressed in black and gray armor, the crow silhouette on her chest declares a definite corvid inspiration, if not origin. This... Stormcrow... displayed some impressive martial arts skills as she rocked Lighthammer's world."

"But how?" January pulled her feet up onto the couch as the gossipy superhero reporter continued on in the background. She wrapped her arms around her legs, while resting her head upon her knees. "I mean, I wasn't a nefarious experiment by a mad scientist. I'm not an alien baby sent from a dying world. I'm not a princess. No girl can have any agency without being a princess… I'm just... me."

"I don't know exactly how," Gadget said. "I don't know how I do all of this!" He swept his arms out across the cacophony of insane technology that littered the basement.

"We both just do it," he continued. "It's what we do with it that matters, not how. I build stuff. I always have, and I try to do it for a good cause, or at least not for a bad one. You, you have always been a hero, ever since we were little. When you came out and transitioned, I knew it then. You were a superhero, even with no powers. When you fought those bullies, well, I think we all knew you had something extra."

"Something extra," January frowned. "Why can't I just be normal, like everyone else? Why do I have to be even more of a freak?"

"Don't you ever call yourself that woman," Avery insisted. He had not raised his voice, but it had turned to iron nonetheless. "Never!"

January recoiled, and frowned even deeper.

"I'm sorry," Avery continued in a soft, measured tone. "I didn't mean to go all 'Angry Black Man' on you. But sometimes you are so thick, you just don't see how amazing you are. Not because you can do back flips off the ceiling and punch out supervillains. Because you are the bravest, stubbornest, kindest, most thoughtful person I have ever known. Myself included, which is saying quite a lot. You have always been my hero, my litmus test. Whenever I don't know what to do, whenever I feel like losing my shit, I think: 'what would Jan do?' That is all I need."

January tried not to cry. She really did. Of course she failed. The next thing she knew, Avery had his arms around her. She clung to him like a drowning woman to a life preserver. He was right. He was always right. She always had these abilities. She had just never wanted to acknowledge them. Was it because she was afraid of being even more different than she already was? Was it because she was afraid of what she might do with them, or of what she should do with them? What was right and wrong, where metahuman abilities were concerned?

Posted by: Acadian May 11 2019, 09:10 PM

Neat Gadget Cave! Replete with ingenious technocuriosities.

"Social media is lighting up over you. You are trending, even bigger than that singing cat!" - - Yup, Catwoman can’t hold a candle to Stormcrow!

Whitewater Security. wink.gif laugh.gif

I really like January’s concern about remaining in control of her temper/negativity and in control of her application of force. Auspicious for a superheroine to feel a deep sense of responsibility to temper her power.

Aww, what a steadfast friend Gadget is to our self-doubting SuperCrow.

Nit:’Next he brought up an vid of Lighthammer hitting her with twin blasts of light,’ - - Looks like some editing gone awry – I know you want ‘a vid’, not ‘an vid’.

Posted by: SubRosa May 17 2019, 04:41 PM

Acadian: The Gadget Cave is a fun setting. I have a closet like that with old computer parts. I imagine that closet on steroids to get the Gadget Cave.

I couldn't resist a nod to Blackwater when it came to creating an amoral mercenary corporation.

When it comes to January's attitude toward the use of force, I am reminded of Superman. Imagine if he ever lost his temper? That would be a bad day for the planet. I think controlling your temper would be one of the hardest parts of being a super. I imagine the ones who go Black Hat tend to be the type who can't control their anger and frustrations, and end up killing people by accident. Then they are wanted for murder, and trapped in the life.

Gadget is a solid friend. In many ways he is the epitome of cool. Though we will eventually see that his life is not all that it is cracked up to be either.

Chapter 1.5 - Stormcrow Rising

"Now enough with the existentialism," Gadget said as she finally pulled away. "The first battle is over, and the game is afoot. It's time we plot our next move."

"Our next move?" January wondered aloud. "Shouldn't we..."

She let the words die on her lips. Let the authorities handle it? She had learned what good they were when she was expelled for fighting back against the bullies in school. When she wasn't even allowed to use the bathroom, like all the other kids. Gadget was right. They had these abilities. They had to use them.

"First things first," January reached down into one of the pouches on her utility belt, and pulled out her convention badge. "Is this going to be all over the internet? I kept it tucked away most of the time, but not all the time."

"It only says 'Jan' on the badge, so even if someone remembers it, that's not a big giveaway." Gadget set off in flurry of typing. "But I can whittle down those odds a bit. There, neither you nor I were ever registered with the convention. So at least there's no paper trail leading to either of us."

She rose to her feet, and walked over to his computer station. "I hope that is good enough," she frowned. "I don't want to end up like Hailstorm."

"No one wants to end up like Hailstorm," Gadget breathed. "Here, I just set up a bot to continually search for any instances of your name being used in conjunction with Stormcrow. That will give me a heads up if anything does leak."

January nodded. This superhero business was new to her. But it was certainly not new to the world. Ever since Grognard and the Red Baron had fought in World War I, metas had been front page news. Their identities had always been carefully hidden secrets, for good reason. After what had happened to Hailstorm…

"What do we know about this Lighthammer?" She pulled her mind from ancient history to current events. "He had lasers, but they didn't burn like I thought a laser is supposed to. It was like he was hitting me with a truck. Like... well... a hammer."

"It's solid light." Gadget slid back across the room to his computers. "It was just theoretical. But with metas, theory becomes reality every day. He can project it from his hands. He can use it to fly. He can even form small force fields with it."

"Now it's all making more sense," January nodded. "His gauntlets had these little emitters in them. Or maybe that's not the right word. Maybe they're focusers. They're filled with diamonds. I think he sends his light through them, and it amps his powers."

"So that is why he would want to steal more," Gadget breathed. "It's not for the money. It's more power. He could put them in his boots to fly better, or in his arms to make stronger shields."

"So what do we know about him?" January asked. "You knew his name right off. I've never heard of him."

"He's a Gray Hat," Gadget said. He brought up a series of pictures and articles about Lighthammer on his screens. "He hasn't been around for long. He fights bad guys: smugglers, drug-dealers, even a few Black Hats. He's not picky about whether they die or not, and takes their money to finance himself. Not shy about fighting cops either, though he hasn't killed any of them. He seems to try to avoid hurting civvies though. That makes it kind of strange that he would try to shoot those people at the end of your fight."

"He was never going to hurt them," January shook her head. "The shots he fired at them were so underpowered they wouldn't have ruffled their hair. I guess that was just in case I didn't jump in front of the shot. He played me. He wanted me standing in exactly that spot, because he knew he could drop the ceiling on me there, and only on me."

January could feel the color rising in her cheeks. Fighting was not just throwing punches. It was moves and countermoves. It was playing to your strengths, concealing your weaknesses, exposing your enemy's, and exploiting them. It was like chess, just with sweat and bruises. That had been check and mate. He had completely outplayed her.

"Don't beat yourself up about it," Gadget never took his eyes from his screen. "He's been doing this longer than you have."

Gadget was right, Lighthammer had already done the beating up. Now that the fight was long over, whatever it was that gave January strength and some measure of invulnerability was gone. She ached where those bolts of hard light had struck her. But it did not really bother her much either. She had felt worse after her first serious gymnastics workout.

"He said something about blood on the diamonds," January reflected. "I was too caught up in the fighting at the time. But now I wonder if he meant something else?"

"As in blood diamonds?" Gadget murmured. He pulled the diamond trader back up again, and began opening window after window about the old man. It all flew by so fast that January could not keep up with all the information spilling across the screens. But somehow Gadget seemed to absorb it all like a digital sponge.

"According to the airlines, he's been taking regular flights between the Central African Republic, Antwerp, Surat, and a whole bunch of US cities - Detroit, Philly, Pittsburgh, Chicago, St. Louis, and others."

"Surat?" January asked.

"It's in India." Gadget brought it up on Googol, and both images and articles on the city filled one screen after the other. "Large city on the Tapi River. Commercial center for textiles. Ooh, they have a fancy new cable-stayed bridge too, very chic. Oh wait, here we go. Ninety percent of the world's diamonds are polished in the city."

"I thought the diamond trade was all Jewish?" January scratched her head.

"Well, according to this article not anymore," Gadget's fingers flew and more text scrolled past his screens. "The Indians took it over a few years back. They have big extended families that do all the work cheaper. So they send the rough diamonds to them in Surat for processing. Then they sell them on the international market. The main offices are still in Antwerp. This one Mahta bigshot is a Baron in Belgium!"

"Sounds like a bad rap song," January murmured. "Bigshot Baron of Belgium..."

"Metro Boomin could put the beats behind that to make it a masterpiece..." Gadget laughed.

"So let me guess, the Central African Republic has a problem with conflict diamonds?" January became serious again.

"Oh snap does it..." Gadget sighed as he looked from one screen to another. Between the text were pictures of warlords, child-soldiers, and all-too thin people toiling under the watchful gaze of armed men. "One of the poorest countries in the world, civil war, ethnic cleansing, and diamonds. As you can guess, the diamonds don't make things better. They just make all the horror profitable."

"So he buys blood diamonds in Africa, takes them back to his family in India for polishing, then brings them here to sell." January frowned. She had fought for this man. She had risked her life for him. "Lighthammer had been in the right all along. I was the bad guy."

"No," Avery said firmly. "Busting into a hotel room, beating the crap out of people, and robbing them is not in the right. You did what any decent person would do."

"So what are we going to do about this guy?" January fumed. "We can't let him get away with it. I helped him. I've got to stop him."

"Well just beating him up isn't going to solve anything." Gadget mused. "We need some kind of proof that those are conflict diamonds."

"Can't you tell just by looking at them?" January said. "Don't they have a serial number or something engraved on the diamond?"

"According to what I am reading, not all diamonds do." Gadget filled more screens with information. "Only those graded by the Gemological Institute of America are like that."

"But his diamonds are coming from Africa." Jan observed. "Even the legit ones from there won't have that."

"Hmmm, this says the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme was created by the UN to validate diamonds from all over the world. If it's been through the process, it's shipped out in a sealed container and has a certificate to say it's legal."

"Well there was no sealed container," Jan recalled, "just a bag. Anyway, he'll probably just say that Lighthammer destroyed the certificate."

"Yeah, but he's a businessman. So he has to have some kind of spreadsheet," Gadget reasoned. "He needs a way of tracking what he buys and what he sells. Otherwise he has no idea if he's making money or losing it."

"Or if any of his own people are ripping him off." January said. "So his phone then?"

"I've got that covered." Gadget got up and went rummaging through a drawer full of junk. With a bark of triumph he pulled out a palm-sized gizmo of buttons, knobs, and lights. "I did some experimenting on this last year. It's a Kingfish. It's based on the Stingray tracking devices that the military and cops use. It will completely clone every phone in ten feet. All data in just a minute."

"So I put this in my pocket, get within ten feet, and boom, we have him!" January smiled. "So where is he?"

"The police probably have him for questioning," Gadget thought aloud. "They love questioning. It gives them an excuse to sit around doing nothing."

"I can walk into the police station no problem." January could not believe she had just said that. A transgendered person just walking into a police station. She might as well have said that she would walk into the lion enclosure at the zoo. But neither thought filled her with trepidation. Not anymore. "But how do I get close enough to him? They're going to have him back in an interrogation room, or some high muckety-muck's office."

"Hmmm," Gadget rubbed his chin thoughtfully. He went back to his computer and set to typing again.

January stared at Subramanian's picture, willing it to tell her his secrets. As if a picture on a computer screen could suddenly talk.

"You know, he doesn't look like someone who's exactly on the bleeding edge of technology," she thought aloud. "He's an old timer. He doesn't strike me as someone that would trust computers, or the internet, or smartphones."

"Probably like my Nana," Gadget said. "Can't even use a VCR..."

"What's a VCR?" January asked innocently. Gadget mimed slapping her, and she smiled.

"You think he's got something physical, like an old time ledger?" Gadget said seriously. "Practically prehistoric. But you might be right."

"He'd have to keep it close to him," January deduced. "But the police would have taken it after they searched the room."

"Unless he hid it somewhere," Gadget said. "He had plenty of time before the cops showed up."

"All right, head back over there and look, and I'll see what I can dig up on this end." He stood once more, and went to a battered old dresser that was half-buried under a tidal wave of junk. Fighting one drawer open, he produced a gold mine of decidedly advanced equipment, starting with an ultra-thin rappelling line.

"No need for a claw, it uses my molecular bonding technique, well, it will once I get it working," he explained.

An encrypted phone miniaturized down to an earbud came with it, an electric lock pick made from a toothbrush, a few smoke grenades, and of course the phone cloner. January was glad for the utility belt he had added to her armor. Otherwise she would have needed a pack to carry it all!

"Umm, unless I am going to take the bus, you are going to have to drive me," January pointed out.

"You can just take the Geo," Gadget said. He began to rummage around in his pockets until January brought him up short.

"And who is going to drive it?" she asked. "It's a stick shift."

"Oh, right," Gadget winced. "I guess I am coming with you, in the mobile command center."

Posted by: Acadian May 17 2019, 09:54 PM

What a fun episode, as the plot thickens with more info on the dirty diamonds.

The Gadget cave still has me smiling, but now it’s off in the Gadgetmobile to drop off January – fully ladened with gadgets - for some ledger snooping and perhaps cell phone cloning. Hopefully.

Posted by: Renee May 24 2019, 07:07 PM

There's a Beverly Hills in Michigan!

I used to watch the original Batman when I was a kid, Batgirl and Catwoman were couple of my faves.

Lol moments: "nerdcore throne" ... "Its upholstery was so stained and faded that there was no guessing what the original color might have been. They still took bets on it however." ... "His fingers danced across his keyboards (yes, there were more than one)" .... ". "It was his paying attention pose. "

.. I give up! Half the chapter 1.4 has me cracking up.

"You know, sometimes I forget just how cool a chick you really are," Avery smiled, and laid a warm hand on her arm. Then he straightened up, and his voice took on a more formal tone.

Ah. MmmHmmm. *whistles*

Aww, I love 1.4's end. In general I love the dynamics between Gadget and January.

I put links to tons of relevant stuff at the bottom of every post. The first post in the thread also has a collection of all the links so people can easily look things up

Oh okay. Sorry, I don't always check links (only have so much time, so I spend most it reading the story itself). I had a feeling the hagfish thing might be based on something real though. I'll try to check links in the future before I ask questions.

Posted by: SubRosa May 24 2019, 10:18 PM

Acadian: Now we know that things were not quite as simple as they seemed in the hotel battle.

Gadget is a fun character to write. He's just as super as January, but in a very different way.

Renee: We do have a Beverly Hills. In spite of the name, it is nothing like the one in California however. It is just an ordinary little 'burb. The rich place to live in Metro-Detroit is Bloomfield Hills and Birmingham (the latter always pronounced with an over the top snobbish English accent).

It is always fun to write when Avery and January get together. They both really come out of their respective shells and shine like polished gold. They are even more fun to write than Aela and Loria.

Chapter 1.6 - Stormcrow Rising

The trip back to the hotel passed in relative silence. January did not know what to say. This morning she had been a - relatively - normal girl. Now it felt like she was living in a different world. Was she really a meta? Or was she just lucky? Was she really going to continue this… investigation? The smart thing would be to call the police, and let them handle it.

As if the police had ever handled anything that didn't involve sprinkles and jelly filling…

No, she had mucked everything up with Subramanian and Lighthammer. She had to make things right.

She almost jumped through the roof when her phone rang. Her normal phone that is, not the slick, meta-tech communicator that Gadget had wizarded up. She glanced down at the name that glowed on the Galaxy J1's screen. She bit her lip, knowing that she had to answer, but wishing she did not have to at just this moment.

"Mom?" she finally said after swiping to connect.

She braced herself to weather the barrage of questions that came storming from the speaker of her phone. "Of course I'm fine. No, I didn't see any of it. Avery and I were in this really intense session of Call of Cthulhu. We didn't even find out until afterward. Yes I've seen it's all over social media. No I don't know when I'll be home. Yes I'll be careful."

"I bet Blood Raven doesn't have to make excuses to her mom when she goes out fighting evil," January grumbled after she hung up.

"You never know," Avery said, "she must have been nineteen once too."

"That was probably so long ago they had rotary phones," January mused.

"You know about them?" Avery smiled.

"It saw it in a documentary about the Stone Age." January kept a straight face. "The Neanderthals used to throw them in front of mammoths. The mammoths would be so confused trying to turn that dial thing with their trunks that the cavemen could sneak up on them and attack them with their spears. Scientifically proven fact."

"Um, I think they were an early interface for telecommunication…" Avery said.

"I believe my version is much more plausible," January insisted.

By then they had exited I-696 and gotten onto Northwestern Highway, only to take the first exit from that onto Telegraph. Southfield's roads were a Gordian Knot that not even Alexander could have undone, and sadly cutting them in half was just not an option.

In moments they rolled up to the hotel. Its cylindrical glass tower rose high into the night sky. Jutting off to one side was the two story adjunct of the building, where most of the convention was taking place. Gadget barely found a place to park in the surrounding lots, and January noticed several news vans and police cars parked at the curbs.

Gadget began unfolding his suite of monitors and keyboards as January got out of the car. Clad in the sci-fi disguise of a pair of cargo pants and Cthulhu For President shirt, January slipped into the hotel without drawing a second glance. She was relieved when she walked past police, reporters, and convention-goers, and none paid her a second glance. It struck her as ironic that whether on a secret mission, or just in normal life, her thoughts on being noticed were exactly the same. Then again, normal life was like a secret mission for her. One where anonymity was safety.

The elevator to the fourteenth floor was slower than a Hutt on molasses. After what seemed like a thousand years it finally got there. She impatiently stepped into the hallway that ringed the tower. But she found the door to Subramanian's suite barred by yellow tape, and guarded by a police officer. She walked by nonchalantly, and headed in the direction of the Con Suite. Once out of sight she ducked into a restroom instead. Checking to make sure the stalls were empty first, she contacted Gadget.

"The police are at the door," she said, "but I have an idea that might get me in. I'll need your help though."

"I'm in the hotel's system," his voice came through her earpiece. "Lay it on me."

"Where are the housekeeping offices?" she asked. "If I can get a uniform…"

"You can pretend to be the maid and walk right in," Gadget said. "I have it, basement level. The door will be open when you get there."

January was half tempted to jump out the window rather than face another interminable elevator ride. But she did not know if her powers - if she really even possessed such things - would allow her to survive the fall. She did not have her suit on, so that would be of no help. She wondered if Gadget could find a way to miniaturize it, maybe fit it into a fake lipstick tube? She did not see how she could wear it under her regular clothes, like they did in the comic books. Where would she put the boots? Let alone the cape?

In time she was back down, and with a few directions from Gadget she found the door to the basement. As he promised, the badge reader turned green as she stepped up, and she heard an audible click as the door unlocked. Taking a ramp down, she smelled soap in the suddenly humid air, and guessed that the laundry was somewhere nearby. She stepped through an intersection of two hallways, but was brought up short by Gadget.

"Hold up," he said in a tense voice. "Step aside and turn around."

January did so without a second thought, stepping into one of the side hallways. Loud voices came from the corridor that she had been about to continue down, followed by the clatter of hard-soled shoes on the floor. She pulled out her phone and pretended to be listening to it. A moment later the two employees walked by behind her, talking about the super battle that had taken place earlier.

"I saw it all," a male voice exclaimed. "That Stormcrow chick was tight, you know what I'm saying?"

"Girl superheroes?" a different male voice responded. "No way. She's probably just some real super's piece."

"You see Jack, that's why girls don't want to talk to you," the first voice faded away into the distance. "This may shock you, but that kind of…"

The sound of a door shutting muted the rest of the conversation. January put away her phone and rolled her eyes. It was so nice to be reminded that misogyny was alive and well.

"Okay, you're in the clear," Gadget's voice said in her ear. "You've got the whole floor to yourself now. Lockers are down and to the left."

She followed her partner's directions. Was Gadget her partner now? Were they really superheroes? That was an idea that would take some getting used to. In any case, he was right, as he always was. After several storerooms and an office, she came to a large locker room and shower. She searched through the rows of lockers to make sure she really was alone. Then she turned to the door, and remembered the security cameras mounted in the ceiling out in the hallway beyond.

"Are they going to look at their video tomorrow and see me come in here?" she asked.

"Nope," Gadget said smugly. "Not a single camera has recorded you since we parked."

"Good, because this isn't going to be exactly legal." January picked a locker and sized up the combination lock that sealed it. The electronic lockpick that Gadget had given her would not work on this type of lock. It had to be a padlock for that.

But if she really was a meta. If she really had powers. A simple lock would be no problem.

Earth give me strength.

She took the shackle in her fingers, and snapped the steel in half as easily as if it was a toothpick.

January stared at the broken metal loop of the combination lock in her fingers. That had really happened. It had really come apart. Solid steel. At least, that is what she imagined that such locks were made of. Maybe she really was a meta after all? Beyond just making the weather awful.

Inside were several pairs of white shirts, dark pants, and vests. She held one up to herself, and saw that it was about four inches too short. She put the hotel uniform back with a sigh, and moved to the next locker.

This time Gadget stopped her before she could snap the lock. Instead he coached her through a process of pulling on the shackle until it was taut and twisting the dial in one direction or another until it stopped each time. He did some sort of arcane math, and spat out the combination. January was not surprised when it worked. He was always good at that sort of thing.

Unfortunately, the next uniform was too long. Feeling a little like Goldilocks, she tried a third locker, and finally hit struck gold. This time she found a maid's dress within, and had no difficulty slipping into it. That is when she realized that there were no shoes, or hose to go with it.

She reached into her purse and pulled out the extra nylons she always kept there, just in case of runs. She at least had that covered. She would just have to make due with her sneakers, and hope no one thought they looked strange. Feeling very domestic, January found a cart loaded with cleaning supplies and headed out.

Gadget stopped her as she passed the office. At his direction, she went inside and borrowed a housekeeping keycard. Then she headed back up to the fourteenth floor.

Her legs drew a few stares from the hotel guests on the way up, but no one said a word to her. She pushed her cart into the hallway and stopped for a moment to compose herself. Her heart was racing, her palms were sweating, and her mouth was suddenly as dry as Tatooine.

"Be cool," Gadget said softly in her ear. "You can handle this. You are just here to clean the room."

She imagined that the sky had gone cloudy again outside. She thought back to her book on Wicca, and the energy exercise she had been practicing that very same morning. Was it really only this morning? It seemed like a thousand years ago.

She blocked out that thought, and instead visualized herself as a tree. She felt herself planted firmly on the carpet, sending roots deep down into the ground below. She breathed in slowly, and pulled energy up through her imaginary roots. She felt that power flow through her body, washing her clean like a cool mountain stream. She breathed out, and felt that power flow out of her virtual branches, only to drip back down into the ground once more.

Earth give me strength, keep me grounded, protect me from harm.

Air give me quickness in body and wit. Let the weights of the world fall from me.

Water make me flexible in thought and form. Let me flow, let me crash.

Fire give me passion and energy. Let me burn bright in the night sky.

Spirit weave all together in balance. Give me peace.

She opened her eyes once more, and strode down the hall like she owned it. She did not pause when she came to the door with the policeman. Instead she reached out with her pilfered key card to open it, and only stopped when the patrolman stepped in her way.

"Sorry miss," the older man shook his head. "No one allowed."

"But my supervisor told me I had to get this cleaned tonight!" January pretended that she was one of those entitled mean girls she knew from school. The ones who felt like the entire world existed only to wait upon them. She twirled one finger around a lock of her hair for added effect. "I have to do my job too, or I'll get in trouble."

"What was your name?" the cop asked.

January's heart stopped. All of her cool, calm, and collectedness vanished faster than ethics in the White House. She stared back at the gray-haired man like he had fallen from Mars.

"Gabriella Wilson," Gadget whispered in her ear.

"Gabrielle," January parroted him, "Wilson. I've only been working here for two weeks, and I can't look like I'm a slacker. Now I don't know what you're doing up here, and I don't care. I just need to clean this room."

"Not tonight honey," the policeman declared. "If your boss complains, tell him to take it up with the Southfield PD."

"She won't like that." January bit her lip.

"Yeah well, you're breaking my heart missy." The patrolman was as obstinate as a usb stick that refused to fit into its port, no matter how many times you flipped it over. "But I got my orders, and my orders are no one goes in."

January made a loud huff, turned her cart around, and stomped down the hallway. "Great, Paul Blart just foiled me," she whispered.

"We need to get a look in that room," Gadget said. "Maybe I can fake a call from his captain to pull him off."

"Don't," January insisted. "I have another idea. I'll be back out in a minute."

With that January returned her purloined cleaning supplies and uniform. Before leaving, she stopped at the first locker she had broken into and left a few dollars for a new lock. Heroes were not supposed to go around destroying things after all, not even locks, certainly not those belonging to innocent people.

Posted by: Acadian May 25 2019, 06:41 PM

This was a wonderful episode that sleuthed the story along nicely. What really stood out to me, however, was the clever/fun dialogue and observations January included. Such as:

"The Neanderthals used to throw them in front of mammoths. The mammoths would be so confused trying to turn that dial thing with their trunks that the cavemen could sneak up on them and attack them with their spears. Scientifically proven fact."

’She did not have her suit on, so that would be of no help. She wondered if Gadget could find a way to miniaturize it, maybe fit it into a fake lipstick tube?’

’The patrolman was as obstinate as a usb stick that refused to fit into its port, no matter how many times you flipped it over.’

This episode also really showed us that, just as January mentioned, AveryGadget and JanuaryStormcrow really are partners in this superhero business.

And finally, a beautifully telling tidbit that says much about January’s character:
’Before leaving, she stopped at the first locker she had broken into and left a few dollars for a new lock.’

Posted by: SubRosa Jun 1 2019, 05:09 PM

Acadian: Working in the pop culture references is one of the fun things about writing this particular fic, as opposed to the Aela or Teresa stories, which lack such coolness as rotary phones and usb cables. smile.gif

Likewise, while it may appear to some that Stormcrow is a lone wolf crow, in reality this is very much a team effort. She would not get very far without her partner.

Whenever I am watching a super movie or tv show, it always annoys me when the heroes - who are supposed to be good guys - go around wrecking cars, houses and other things. That is people's stuff. In some cases their livelihoods. Heroes should be preventing destruction, not causing it. While a broken lock is pretty minor in the scheme of things, January is keenly aware that she wants to improve people's lives, not make them worse.

Chapter 1.7 - Stormcrow Rising

She made her way back to the car, and dove into the back seat. There she began to wriggle out of her clothes and into her costume. Should she call it a costume? That sounded silly, like something you wore to a Halloween party. Was it a uniform? armor? colors? She had to decide what it deserved to be called.

"This is always so much easier in movies and comics," she murmured as she fought with her cargo pants.

"You know, some metas have a power that lets them change faster," Gadget said. His eyes remained carefully glued to his computer screens as January undressed. "Maybe you could look into that?"

"I think I forgot to pick that at character creation," January said as she picked up one boot. With no heels and a thick tread, Gadget had clearly made them to be functional, rather than for show. It was something which her feet were eminently grateful for.

She wondered what would even make changing quickly possible. What did she know that she could use that way? Air lent her quickness and agility, among other things. At least that is what Branwen Renner said in her book about Wicca. Would that help her change faster? No, Fire was the key. Fire was the symbol for transformation. That was a phenomena near and dear to her heart after all. Could she use Fire to change?

Fire give me passion and energy. Transform me in the night sky.

Just like that, she had both boots on, along with her gloves, leggings, the torso armor, cowl, and cape. January blinked. It had happened just like magic...

"Note to self, Fire is cool," she murmured.

"What's that? Don't go setting my car on fire now." Gadget glanced back, and did a double-take. "That was fast. You just started."

"I just finished," she said. "Looks like I had few experience points to spend."

"Like I said, you have always been super," Gadget smiled.

"Wish me luck," January smiled back at him. Stepping from the car, she hunched over and skulked through the parking lot, staying behind the cars to remain out of sight. When no one was looking, she took a deep breath and invoked Air. Then she leapt up into the sky with all the strength she could muster. She extended her arms to either side as she rose into the sky, and hit the twin triggers in her gauntlets. Her cape snapped out into wings, instantly catching the wind beneath her.

She soared over the two story annex, feeling her heart in her throat. But she was not scared, not exactly. It was more like… exhilaration. It was a rollercoaster ride. She rode it the best she could, calling for Air to coax more lift into her wings.

But even magic, if that was what it was, had its limits. She reached halfway up the tower before running out of steam. Then gravity's claws began to drag her back down. January bit her lip. She couldn't go back down and ride the elevator up in her armor. This was going to have to work.

She saw an insurance building across the street. It rose perhaps six or seven stories, just a little lower than her current height. January twisted her body and canted her head in that direction. Air spilled from one of her wings, and she felt herself start to tumble. It reminded her of her first time gliding, after she had gone out the window with Lighthammer. She had completely lost control then because she had not kept her wings level.

She fought the panic that rose up within her, and concentrated on her form. She kept her body rigid, and dipped one arm down slightly, while raising the other. She could feel the lift decrease on one side of her body, and increase on the other. She found herself banking in the same direction as her lowered wing. Once she was oriented toward the insurance building, she straightened out her arms. Her flight leveled once more, and she soared across the road.

If anyone in the passing cars below saw her in the night sky, they made no sign. January had heard that no one ever thought to look up. She hoped that was true in this case.

She came down toward the roof of the glass and steel office building, and realized that she had no idea how to land. It was not like she had ever done it before after all. Crashing through skylights did not really count. She thought of her elemental chant, and let it calm her racing brain. She would do what she must.

The gravel on the roof came rushing up fast. But January breathed easy, and just before her feet touched, she triggered her wings. They instantly lost their shape, and flapped out behind her as an ordinary cape. She hit feet first, tucked into a forward roll, and sprang back up. It was no different from a thousand tumbling passes she had performed.

Except of course that she had just flown across the street!

January allowed herself a brief smile. Was it ok for this to be fun? Just a little bit? She hoped so, because it was.

Taking a few moments to breathe, she centered herself again before turning to face the hotel. Then once more she leapt up into the night sky. This time she waited longer to trigger the wings, until it felt like she was at the top of her jump. Then she was gliding back across the busy street, toward the tall cylinder of the hotel.

Be like Air. Be light, and quick, and fly.

She felt a strong gust of air rising up along the side of the hotel. It gave her just enough lift to put her over the top floor. Before she could sail across the other side, she disengaged her wings and dropped to her feet.

She was just about to congratulate herself for how much better she was getting at this, when she crashed into an air-conditioning unit growing from the rooftop. Her legs stopped instantly as they slammed into the steel. But her upper body kept going. She pinwheeled forward through the air, and sailed across the machinery. Thanks to years of gymnastics, she was able to pull her arms and legs in, and turn the disastrous landing into a forward roll, or sorts. Finally she dropped to the rooftop in a crouch, and came to a halt.

She really hoped that no one had seen that.

She rose to her feet, gingerly testing her arms and legs. That could have been a really good way to break something. But thankfully her training, or the hagfish armor, had saved her from serious harm. She was not even sure if she had any bumps or bruises. She would have to wait and see when the night was over, and she changed out of the armor.

The rooftop around her was a nest of machinery. January imagined most to be air conditioning units of some kind, while other metal structures must have been vents. Some of the equipment was completely beyond her however. She walked to the edge of the roof, and traced its curve to the broken window of Subramanian's room.

She spent a moment just taking in the view. The expressways rose up to the north, noisy concrete serpents lifted up on gigantic pylons. Telegraph road was another bright snake gliding by underfoot, while smaller serpents led this way and that in the darkness all around. She could see people walking into and out of the parking lot below, and even picked out Gadget's yellow Geo Storm. She also noted that the skylight that she had fallen through in her battle with Lighthammer had already been covered up in plastic sheeting.

She was fourteen stories up, without a window or a rail between her and oblivion. She breathed in the night air, and felt more alive than she ever had in her life.

She pushed that aside. She had work to do, a mess to clean up, made of her own mistakes.

Rummaging through her utility belt, she found the rappelling line that Gadget had mentioned. The one whose molecular bonding did not quite work yet. She wrapped it around a length of sturdy pipe and tied what she hoped was a strong knot. Tossing the other end out over the roof edge, she took hold of it with both hands, and made her way down.

Since Subramanian's room was on the top floor, she did not have to go far. It was dark inside, with the only light coming from the crack under the door to the hallway. January hung beside the broken window, and wondered how she was going to get inside. She tried reaching out with one hand, but there was nothing but broken glass to grab hold of. Putting one toe forward, she again found nothing to lever the rest of her body against.

Then she smiled, and put both feet against the solid pane of glass beside the hole. She squatted down against the window, then pushed out. She swung out away from the tower and leaned to one side. In a moment her momentum peaked, then reversed, and pulled her back toward the building. Only now she found herself in front of the broken window as she pitched forward. She swung inside as easily as from a theme park zip line. Once within she pulled up her rappelling line, and coiled it up on a chair near the broken window.

Avoiding the few pieces of broken glass inside the room, she began her search. Keenly aware of the cop outside, she was careful not to make noise. At least she tried to be careful not to make noise. She must have succeeded, because he never came inside.

Gadget whispered in her ear to try the night sight mode in her cowl. She grinned. He thought of everything. She fiddled with the armor plate around her eyes, and suddenly the room bloomed into brilliant illumination. With the room lit as bright as day, she commenced her search. She looked in every drawer, and even pulled them out to look for things taped to their undersides. She had seen that in a dozen detective shows. She checked under the cushions, lifted the furniture to check their undersides, scanned the closets, the mattress and bedding, everything she could find. Even the inside of the toilet tank met her scrutiny. But there was no sign of anything.

"If it was here, the cops found it," January breathed softly. "Have they arrested him?"

"Let me see," Gadget hummed. Plastic keys clattered in January's ear as he typed away.

While he was busy January took hold of the rappelling line and swung back out into empty space. She was fourteen stories up, with just a thin line between her and the concrete below. It was literally no sweat at all for her to climb back up to the roof. In fact, it was easier than anything she had ever done in gym class.

"Subramanian's still at the cop shop," Gadget finally said. "But he's not under arrest. So my guess is that they didn't find anything incriminating."

"So where is his account book?" January wondered aloud. She coiled up the line, and stuffed it back into one of the pouches on her belt. "Wait a minute, he came down from his room during the fight. Can you look at the hotel security cameras? Go back and see if he stopped anywhere after leaving his room."

"Right," Gadget murmured. "That's it! He stopped in the public bathroom on the fourteenth floor. There's no cameras in there, so I can't see what he did."

"Did he have a ledger with him?"

"No way to tell," Gadget said. "He could have it tucked under his shirt."

"The bathrooms were on the inside of the floor, so no access from the windows," January recalled. "I can come back down, change again, and come back up."

"Frak it." She walked across the roof to stare at an access door. "Just open this door for me."

It clicked open a moment later, and she made her way down a short staircase to small landing. Another door from that put her back into the main hallway that circled the tower. She went in the opposite direction from where the cop stood guard, and avoided eye contact with the one person she passed. Moving quickly, she entered the men's room, and began her search.

"Hey, you don't belong here!" a male voice cried.

"Tell my junior high school," January shook her head at the Klingon using one of the urinals. Thankfully the narrow partitions to either side of the fixtures shielded his bat'leth from view. "They told me I had to use the men's room. I wasn't allowed to use the women's until high school."

Ignoring the convention-goer, she went into the stalls and checked behind the toilets, then in the tanks. Floating in the third one she found a small black book, tightly wrapped in plastic.

"Got it," January said. She carefully unwrapped it, and opened the zip lock seal. Skimming through the book, she saw words and numbers in even columns, but none of it made any sense to her. "This has to be it, but I think it's in code."

"Turn on the camera in your cowl," Gadget said, "right next to the night vision."

"Is there anything this suit doesn't have?" January wondered as she followed his instructions. Holding the open book up to her face, she hoped he could see well enough to make out the characters.

"Yeah, that's a code," Gadget breathed, "maybe a substitution. I'll have to study it."

"All right, I'll be right back."

"No wait," Gadget said. "If he comes back and it's gone, he'll get suspicious."

"You want me to leave it?" January said incredulously. "After all I went through to find this?"

"Yeah, but let's make a copy of it first."

After taking the time to carefully scan over every page of the document, January wrapped it back up and slipped it back into its hiding spot. She found the Klingon waiting for her when she left the stall. For a moment she was afraid he was going to cause an uproar. But it turned out he recognized her from her earlier battle with Lighthammer. Instead she posed with him for a selfie in the mirror.

The world was such a strange place, January marveled, sometimes even stranger than she was.

With no further science fiction entanglements, January made her way back to the roof, and leapt off into space. She practiced banking with her wings, and turned several wide circles around the hotel's tower. She slowly lost altitude as she went, until she gently dropped to the earth beside Gadget's car.

She dove into the back seat and went over her Fire invocation in her head. Then taking a deep breath, she began to change back into her normal clothes. A second later her Stormcrow armor was neatly folded up in her lap, and she was back in her cargo pants and Cthulhu tee.

With no further science fiction entanglements, January made her way back to the roof, and leapt off into space. Gravity tugged at her, but her wings deflected its invasive embrace. It felt like she was floating through space when January banked to one side, and began to turn around the hotel's high tower. The ground steadily rose up to meet her, yet all the while she felt that liberating sensation of being unchained from the earth, of being truly free.

She aimed herself toward Gadget's yellow Geo hatchback. Now the pavement was coming up fast. She triggered off her wings, and they transformed back into an ordinary cape. Too late, she discovered that she was still too high off the ground. She plummeted, the final dozen feet, and hit the parking lot hard.

She let her knees crumple up out of reflex, and turned all of that momentum into a forward roll. She darted forward, and pushed against the concrete with her hands. That sent her bouncing back up to her feet in a handspring, with the energy of her fall finally dissipated.

January turned to Avery's yellow Geo, and crossed the twenty or so feet to it with a single leap. She dove into the back seat and went over her Fire invocation in her head. Then taking a deep breath, she began to change back into her normal clothes. A second later her Stormcrow armor was neatly folded up in her lap, and she was back in her cargo pants and Cthulhu tee.

"So why didn't we take the ledger?" she asked.

Gadget blinked, and for a moment just stared mutely at her suddenly changed attire.

"That is going to take a little getting used to," he finally said. "But I was thinking, if we take the ledger and turn it over to the cops, Subramanian can say it's a fake that we made. We need to set things up so they find it on him, and can decode it."

"Can you decode it?"

"I can try," Gadget said. "It's not the Voynich Manuscript after all, how hard can it be? This might take a while though, so I'll drop you at your place."

* * *

Posted by: Acadian Jun 1 2019, 07:17 PM

"I think I forgot to pick that at character creation," - - laugh.gif

"Hey, you don't belong here!" a male voice cried.’ - - As soon as it looked like she was going to need to search the men’s room, I figured it would bring up unpleasant experiences from her past – a tribute to how well you have developed January as a character. I’m glad this one ended with a happy selfie instead of harsh words and/or awkward unpleasantries.

A neat episode that moves the sleuthing along nicely as well as continues to show us the growing pains and progress that this dynamic duo of superhero crimefighters are making as the Stormcrow improves her flying skills and speeds up her uniform changes. She also learns more of the capabilities Gadget has built into her wonderful Crowsuit.

Nit: ‘While was busy January took hold of the rappelling line…’ - - Looks like you're missing a 'he' or 'Gadget' after 'While'.

Posted by: SubRosa Jun 8 2019, 04:52 PM

Acadian: One fun thing about writing January and Avery is that I get to use all sorts of gaming terminology.

I was also thinking the bathroom scene could be something ugly. But I also thought of how many selfies and even videos are taken in the bathroom mirror. In the end modern internet culture won out with my decision for the Klingon to be a fan.

I spent a lot of time in this first chapter going through the nuts and bolts of January and Avery's detective work because it is the first time for them. In the future when it becomes a more common activity, I will gloss over a lot of the details and just summarize it. Unless of course, it gives me an opportunity to show January learning something new.

I did have a missing 'he' up there. Thanks for catching that.

Chapter 1.8 - Stormcrow Rising

January's home, well technically her parent's home, was a modest two story affair in Warren. It was an older suburb, so the streets were narrower, and the lots much smaller, than those in newer cities such as Sterling Heights or Clinton Township. This particular house did not even have a garage, though it did possess a two lane driveway. But even that only ran the length of a single car to the front of the house, then turned into nothing but a dirt path to the back yard.

The house itself was paneled with gray aluminum siding, which matched the gray shingles on the roof. A pair of dormers jutted from the roof on either side of the second floor, with wide windows facing out of each. A third dormer lurked farther back between them, with an even larger window set within it. The porch below was made of light green concrete. Three bright teal support beams ran from it to the long eave that overhang the front of the house and shaded the porch. A low fence of wood blocked off the front and right side of the porch. Only the left side, which adjoined the driveway, was open.

It was late when she got home, and her mother's Mini Cooper and father's Chevy Equinox were both in the driveway. January could see from the lights inside that they were still up. Just her luck, Saturday night was their euchre night. The blue Aztek in the street out front told her that the Xiang's were over. Really, who drove an Aztek?

She was about to walk in the front door when she realized that she had her armor piled up in her arms. She could not very well waltz in with that, not when Stormcrow was all over the news.

She glanced up. She could see the dormer window to her room right there beside the driveway. If only there was some way to get there without going past her parents and their friends. Of course there was. The eave was only about eight feet up. How hard could that be to jump?

It turned out to be no trouble at all for her to leap up to. Without wearing the suit, but holding it in her arms instead. That meant the jump was all her. No meta-tech involved.

She moved slowly across the roof, hoping to avoid making any creaks that might be heard from within the house. Thankfully the dormer to her room was only a few feet away. Naturally the window was closed. She could pry the screen off and open it from the outside. But she did not see the point in bending it all up. Her parents still had to see her walk in the front door, like a normal person. Instead she just set her armor down in front of the window. Then she hopped back down to the sidewalk. She barely even had to flex her knees to absorb the impact of the landing.

That made January wonder if she had possessed these meta abilities all along, or if they had only just awakened recently. Gymnastics had never been what she would call easy. It had always taken hard work and concentration. Even so, none of her classmates had ever come close to being her equal in it. In the past she had always put that down to her being more focused. She didn't waste time going to parties, or binge-watching TV, or surfing MeTube, or spending hours talking and texting friends, or shopping for clothes, and all the other things that seemed to preoccupy teenagers so much.

Now she wondered if she really had these abilities all along, just not at the degree she currently possessed. Perhaps recent events had not awakened them, so much as honed them to their current level? If so, did that mean the more she practiced, the more she focused, the more she used these powers, the greater they would become? She hoped so.

She fished out her keys and let herself in the iron barred security door, and then the actual front door behind it. She stepped inside, and the sound of voices came to her ears from the dining room. By the time she had locked the door behind her and turned back around her mother was standing before her.

"Oh I was so worried when I heard the news!" she wrapped her arms around January in a big hug. Then she stepped back, and looked her over. "You really are all right then? You weren't shot, or stabbed, or beaten?"

January's mother was short, shorter than she was, with red hair that spilled across her shoulders like a wildfire. A barely visible sprinkle of freckles dusted across her cheeks, just beneath her sea-green eyes. She wore a pair of old jeans, and a yellow tee that said "Librarians Are Sexy". January had to admit, she did not look her fifty years of age. Or was it fifty thousand? It was so hard to tell the difference with parents.

"Oh he's fine Barb," her father's voice came from the hallway behind her mother. January tried not to show it, but a knife twisted in her stomach at the sound of him misnaming her gender. It had been nearly eight years since January had transitioned, but still her father called her "he" all the time. As if acknowledging her gender would bring the stars into alignment and loose some Lovecraftian horror upon the world.

A blond man of roughly the same age as her mother, January's father Romulus was tall, and wore a pair of thin, steel-rimmed glasses. If one had to guess, one would think he was the librarian in the family. Not that a history teacher was far from that mark. Add in her brother Julian, the lawyer-to-be, and everyone in the family was some sort of academic. Except for her. She had always been the oddball. The one who never fit in anywhere.

The Xiangs popped their heads around the corner a few moments later. Mr. Xiang said that the super battle at the hotel was definitely trending. Apparently everyone was using #stormcrow to post their pictures and videos. Naturally everyone pressed her for what she saw. But all she could do was stick to the story she had told her mother earlier on the phone. She had not seen or heard a thing. Thankfully no one recognized her in the Stormcrow armor. Otherwise her parents would have definitely exploded.

She was taking selfies with fans and had a hashtag. Her fifteen minutes of fame had definitely started. Still, she had no doubt that a singing goat or grumpy dog would displace her in popularity by tomorrow morning. The attention span of the internet was shorter than that of a five-year old off his Ritalin.

January made excuses of being tired, and headed upstairs to her room. The walls were painted a soft ivory, and the floor was carpeted in a slightly darker shade of cream. A pair of ruby curtains braced the window, bringing a bright splash of color to the room. So too did the soft watermelon quilt that covered her small bed. The end table beside it bore a battered alarm clock, phone charger, and a lamp that was now draped with a multicolored scarf.

A print of John William Waterhouse's The Crystal Ball hung from one wall. A collage of female fighters such as Gina Carano and Cecilia Braekhus graced another. The third wall held a still picture of the Veil floating over Lake Shore Drive, her lean frame sheathed in elemental darkness. Next to it was an image of Blood Raven striding through Campus Martius, with the grandiose Michigan Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument towering behind her.

A simple white desk was squeezed into one corner, with a flat screen monitor and keyboard on top of it, and her refurbished Dell computer tucked away underneath. The nearby dresser, vanity, and half-size bookcase were of the same manufacture. Aside from the posters and colorful drapes, the room was plain and simple.

January shut the door behind her, and glanced briefly at the Nine Noble Virtues of Ásatrú she had tacked there on a plain piece of paper:

Self Reliance

Each heading had a sentence or two of text beneath it, explaining its meaning in more depth. As always, her eyes fell to the last:

Never ever give up, no matter what.

January smiled faintly. She had been a Viking today.

Then she leaped to the window, flung it open, and gathered up her armor. As if a larcenous squirrel might have made off with it. She immediately shoved the black and gray panoply under her bed, and carefully arranged some old shoes in front of it to shield it from easy notice.

She turned on her computer and started her Counting Crows playlist for some background music. Then she began scanning her hashtag. Her jaw dropped at all the pics and short videos. Most were shaky and out of focus. But a few were startling. There she was, framed against the broken skylight in a still picture. Her cape flowed out after her as she leaped into the sky, and a bolt of lightning arced across the firmament behind her. That seemed to be the most popular picture. There was even a meme with it already. "Stormcrow does not simply walk into Mordor. She leaps!"

Others showed her going hand-to-hand with Lighthammer. There were many comments on the fighting styles she was employing. Some said it was clearly Wing-Chun, others Jeet-Kune-Do, which made her shake her head. She had never studied either. But other posts - made by more knowledgeable people - spelled out her Karate, Krav Maga, and Muay Thai moves. Like the downward jumping elbow she had used to break open Lighthammer's helmet.

She stared at Lighthammer. He was bigger than she was. Not just taller, but more muscular. But did that mean much in this super-powered age? He had never really tried punching or kicking her. Instead he had only blocked, especially with those force fields projected from his forearms. He had attacked solely with his light blasts.

She was going to have to face him again. She had no doubt about it. How was she going to defeat him? Perhaps going for the legs might circumvent his force fields? She could try low kicks to the knees to disable him. But could he still fly in spite of that? Or might she take it to the ground? Grappling was not her strongest suit. She only knew a few holds and throws, and those were from a standing position.

She would have to put Greco-Roman wrestling on her to-do list, along with Brazilian jiu-jitsu. It would have been nice to have taken the former in school. But gymnastics had been a nightmare as it was, with people claiming that she was really just a boy trying find an easy way to excel by competing against girls. She could never do anything even remotely masculine, given the backlash that always followed. Simply practicing on the rings had always brought her sneers. Trying a traditionally male sport like wrestling had been simply out of the question.

January shook her head. This was no time to go down unhappy memory lane. She had to plan her moves. Obviously she would need to lead with her strengths against Lighthammer. That meant striking. She would have to try to keep his hands off-line, so he couldn't shoot her. But how could she do that at close range? She would have to pinion his hands somehow.

She crawled into bed with her tablet, still looking at pictures and videos of the fight, and trying to work on strategy. She woke the next morning with the Fire 7 still in her lap. Her hair was plastered against the side of her face, along with a line of drool. She had to wait to use the shower, and passed the time by experimenting with various ponytail and ponytail braids she found on MeTube. She would need to know some for when she got her motorcycle. She no longer considered that a possibility. It would be a fact. She would have it, and that was that.

She dove into the shower once her brother was finished, and by the time she had dried off and dressed, she found that she was last to the breakfast table, as usual. It was Sunday morning, so the entire family was there for a change. She dug into her Eggos without a word, allowing everyone else to ignore her while they talked about the super battle that had taken place the other night.

"I for one think it is a good thing that we have another hero in Metro Detroit," her mother declared. "All we have had for years is Blood Raven, and she cannot be everywhere."

"And she is not exactly a hero," her father said. "How many people has she killed in just the last decade? A dozen?"

"Like that maniac who walked into the Ren Cen and just started shooting people?" her mother countered. "Or the ones who were kidnapping young girls and selling them overseas? The world's a better place without them in it."

"But what happens when she's got the wrong guy?" her brother Julian interjected. He took after their father with his tall frame, blond hair, and rectangular features. January imagined that he was handsome, given how girls seemed to flock to him. "It's only a matter of time before she kills an innocent person, just because they looked guilty. That's why we need the law, and cops, policing us. Not caped vigilantes."

"Like when those bullies were beating me up," January could not help but interject, "and the school did nothing. Oh, except expel me for fighting back. Or the school shooting where the gunman went inside, so the cop there went outside? And just how many hundreds of people in prison have been exonerated by DNA evidence? The police don't care who they arrest, so long as they don't risk their necks in the process."

"You are such a crybaby," Julian sneered. "Bullies beat me up! It's so unfair! Join the rest of the world already."

"Yeah, and like the rest of the world I had to beat the crap out of them all on my own," January said. "Ordinary people have to step up, because the people in positions of authority are too lazy, too bigoted, or too cowardly to do their jobs."

"Step up perhaps," January's father mused. "But we should stop to think about how our actions might negatively impact others first. Just because we might think what we are doing is for the better, it might still be for the worse."

"So is Stormcrow making things better or worse?" January's mother queried. "I think she is making it better, at least so far."

"So far I agree," her father said. "But it's only been one night. We don't know what she is really made of. She might just be some thrill-seeker out on a lark, or a mercenary, and end up getting a lot of innocent people killed. We'll just have to watch and see what kind of person she turns out to be really be. Assuming we see more of her."

"What do you mean?" January asked.

"She might change her mind, and decide that once was enough," her father explained. "She might not even be from here. She could have been any one of those people staying in that hotel. For all we know she might be in San Francisco right now, or New York."

"Or maybe she will get full, legal empowerment, and work with the government?" January's mother added. "Like the Sentinels in Chicago, or the Knight Defenders in the UK."

January was thinking about that, when her brother had to interject his usual brand of poison into the conversation.

"I think Stormcrow is a stupid name," Julian scoffed. "It's a total rip off of Lord of the Rings."

"What because Grima calls Gandalf that once? And Theodon twice?" January countered. She had looked it up last night. "It's just a nickname. A common one."

"Also a mighty fine medium BattleMech," her father murmured. "Or so I hear from my students of course."

"Of course, it's not like you would waste any of your time playing computer games," January's mother smiled conspiratorially at her father. Then her gaze moved to January's brother. "I hope you aren't spending your time at U of M playing online games Julian."

"Yes, you're almost ready to graduate son," January's father said. "Do you have any job prospects lined up yet?"

"I was thinking about that." January instantly recognized that Julian was squirming. The slight way he tensed his jaw muscles always gave him away. "I decided to go into criminal law instead of corporate."

"Really?" both of her parents said at once, then her father continued on his own. "Are you sure that is a good idea?"

"I've been talking it over with some of my friends at Michigan," Julian said. "We decided we are going to start our own law firm. There's a lot of money to be made in criminal cases, so we are sure we can turn a profit in no time."

"Criminal cases," January's mother mulled over. "You would be spending your time with thieves, murderers, the worst kinds of people."

"Like other lawyers…" January breathed. "I think Julian should work for the ACLU, and defend people whose civil rights are under threat."

"I may as well work at Burger Baron, for all the money I would make doing that. I am sure that's where you will end up, but not me." Julian looked down his nose at January. Then he turned back to their parents, and his voice softened. "My friends and I, we think this can work, and we'll be our own bosses."

"I hope you know what you're doing son," January's father cautioned. "It is your future after all."

* * *

Posted by: Acadian Jun 8 2019, 10:38 PM

Clever how she got her Crowsuit into the house.
’As if a larcenous squirrel might have made off with it.’ - - Whew, good thing mALX doesn’t live in Detroit. tongue.gif

So we get to meet the parents. And brother. Your descriptions were extremely real/believable and quickly brought them to life. Like most families, there is the good, not so good and a pinch of drama.

I enjoyed the conversation about the role of superheroes and implications (good and bad) of not having to answer to any sort of hierarchy.

So a Stormcycle is in the cards it seems. I expect Gadget will apply a fair number of mods.

Posted by: Uleni Athram Jun 11 2019, 03:27 PM

A superheroine who actually knows her Marty Arties? Muay "OOOOWWWEEEEEEEEE" Thai at that?

In the words of Chancy Papa; "We will watch your career with great interest."

Ylenno in particular will. He has a soft spot for chicks with MT kicks, you see. Makes him melt. Can he have her number? kHYUCK-HYUCK-HYUCK-HYUCK. Goofy laughing impersonation and DM sliding aside, I'm in love with the way you wrote in that combat scene with Lightbulb Lighthammer. Jabbing close for an elbow? That teep-knee combo? And that thunder strike elbow that smashed his helmet to bits? HOOOOOOOOOWWEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE. You're making me all hot and bothered with her Thai Boxing, stop it you nono.gif wub.gif. Ylenno and I want to see what she can do in the clinch tho. We subscribe to the sanguine philosophy that the magic of Muay Thai happens in the clinch, you see.

Another thing SubRosa. Do you know Sylvie Von Douglas Ittu? She's one of the most legit Muay Thai vloggers in YT. If you haven't yet, you should definitely check out her channel. There's tons of technique vids she has available and we in the MT community just all love her to bits tbh.


Posted by: Renee Jun 11 2019, 04:30 PM

Ah, typical Renee has fallen behind. blink.gif Life's been busy though. End of school year, etc.

"But my supervisor told me I had to get this cleaned tonight!" January pretended that she was one of those entitled mean girls she knew from school.

Hee hee awesome. I also like when Gadget whispers the name of a maid, just when she falters in front of that cop. And the part about flipping over the USB stick around and around. mad.gif How astute. Mini USB connectors are even worse....

When she leaps into the sky that reminds me of my Sarah Phimm character who rode around on that broom. First time she did it, she had all these fears. But once she was up there she was simply astounded! Every night she'd look for a new excuse to fly again. smile.gif

Is Gadget totally clueless about her Wicca? It seems like she keeps this to herself. Which is fine.

"Turn on the camera in your cowl," Gadget said, "right next to the night vision."

"Is there anything this suit doesn't have?"


Cool, she managed to find that ledger. What a trilling chapter hon!

Posted by: SubRosa Jun 15 2019, 04:58 PM

Acadian: I used the old window trick to sneak things past my parents into and out of the house when I was young. So I jumped to that immediately. Her room being on the second floor gave me a great opportunity to also demonstrate that her powers are from her, not the suit.

In the near future January's family is going to be the source of much more drama than her superhero life. Pretty much like reality there too...

The whole pro and cons of superheros vs. police is kind of an old trope, but I think one needed to justify the existence of superheros in the first place. So it had to go in there. Detroit having a police force as notably corrupt and under-staffed as it is only makes it work so much better. This city needs superheros, because if you call the police they will not come unless you say there is someone shooting a gun at you. So people lie about that just to get them to show up. Of course even then it takes them at least 4 hours to get there. This is literally true, my old roomate has been there, done that. One of our old police chiefs publicly encouraged people to own guns. He did not come right out and say it was because his police department could not protect them. But every Detroiter knows that is true.

I am going to have to remember to call it the Stormcycle. It will be showing up in Chapter 2.

Uleni Athram: Thank you for the vote of approval. I spent a lot of time working on that fight. I kept most of the descriptions generic so it did not get bogged down. But I saw that downward jumping elbow in an mma fight and just fell in love with it. I wish I could find that vid again. One guy just creamed another with it.

I did not know Sylvie Von Douglas. I will have to look her up. Hopefully I can get some more ideas from her vids.

Renee: That is life, we all fall behind sooner or later. The name of the maid is actually an R&B singer - Gabriella Wilson a.k.a. HER. Look her up, she was a child prodigy.

You have touched on something that only came out when I was actually doing the writing: January loves flight. She never feels more alive then when she is in the sky.

Gadget is not clueless about January's study of Wicca. He does remark about the crows after all. As a techie, mysticism is not something he has a lot to offer about.

Unfortunately the suit does not have everything. Not yet at least. Like January, Gadget is still figuring out this whole super thing himself. So things will be slowly added over time as their need becomes apparent, like shielded circuitry and a rebreather.

Chapter 1.9 - Stormcrow Rising

January worked over the heavy bag. Her brother's words still draped over her thoughts like a dark shroud. Was she destined to end up working at Burger Baron? As the entire world was quick to point out, an English degree did not really qualify you for much else. Except being a teacher of course.

But she was just taking the classes to be a better writer. Her writing was going to be her future, wasn't it? Unless of course no one wanted to read her books. Who would, with them filled with gay and lesbian and transgendered protagonists? She knew from bitter experience that the last thing normal people wanted to was to be reminded that someone like her existed. But even given that, January knew that she would never compromise her ideals. She would rather be homeless.

"Take it easy," her mother said from the other side of the heavy bag. "It's supposed to be a workout, not an annihilation."

The older, flame-haired woman was trying to keep the leather bag still as January pummeled away at it with fists, feet, and elbows. Trying and failing, January noticed, for she was hammering both her and the bag back hard with every blow. January realized that she was forgetting herself, and hitting too hard. She had to be better than that.

She stopped, and took a sip of water from the bottle on the table nearby. Their basement spread out around them. A washer and dryer stood in one corner, the furnace and water heater in another. Boxes were piled up, an old bike hung from the ceiling, and an ancient ironing board was unfolded and covered with junk.

The area she and her mother worked out in had been converted into a gym. The floor was covered in thick mats. A heavy punching bag hung from the ceiling, and nearby was a smaller speed bag. A full length mirror was mounted upon one wall. Free weights were stacked up in an iron cradle against another wall, beside a bench press and an elliptical machine. Finally, an inversion bar was bolted to the ceiling, with a pair of gravity boots clipped to it.

"I'm sorry, I guess I wasn't thinking," January mumbled.

"Or maybe you were thinking too much, knowing you," her mother observed. She motioned for January to change places with her, and began a series of punches and kicks into the heavy bag. "Is something bothering you?"

"You mean more than usual?" January asked. "I don't know. I just have been wondering, what is my life going to be? What am I going to do? How am I going to afford surgery?"

"Oh honey, I wish I could tell you," her mother paused a moment to look around the bag at her. "But I know you are going to be fine. You are smart, you are conscientious, you work hard. Even if you're writing doesn't take off, I am sure you will be ok."

"You can still be an instructor at your friend Adin's dojo," her mother went on. "You are already so far beyond me, it's hard to believe I was the one who first taught you kick-boxing. Now there is so much you could teach me."

"You could even try for the Olympics again," she added. "The Olympic Committee changed the rules on pre-op transgender athletes. If you test under a certain amount of testosterone, you can compete now."

"And do cisgender athletes have to test under that as well?" January spat bitterly. "No, of course not. They make special rules just for us. They won't treat me the same as other people, because I'm not good enough to be a person in the first place."

"You know that testosterone changes-" her mother tried to explain.

"What testosterone?" January cut her off. "I've never had it. I was taking anti-androgens before that could start. I've never had any unfair advantage over other women. They have more testosterone than I do. And they at least have the advantage of being allowed to use the bathroom. They have the advantage of being able to watch a movie and see someone like themselves acknowledged to exist. That is at least as something other than a freak to be laughed at or a monster to be murdered. What about the unfair advantage they have in every part of life?"

"The Olympics can suck my ovaries!" January fumed.

Her mother ceased all pretense at boxing, and walked over to her side of the bag. She put one gloved hand on January's shoulder.

"What's really bothering you Aug... January," she said.

January tried not to cringe at the sound of her original, male name: August. Just like when someone called her "he", it was an icy dagger piercing her heart. Lighthammer's hard light was easier to bear.

"That's what's bothering me." She pushed off her mother's outstretched arm with one hand. "Even after all this time, you don't see me. And why should you? I take a shower and look down at myself, and I don't see me. I look in the mirror, and I wonder who stole my real body, and left me trapped in this… this… thing. This horror. How can I go on a date with someone, when the idea of them seeing me naked makes me sick? When do I get to be me?"

All these powers that she supposedly had, January mused, and she was still not who she was supposed to be. She could jump. She could do back flips off the wall. She could throw steel girders. But she could still not look at a normal girl without feeling jealous. They were so lucky, to simply have been born how they were.

January fought back the tears forming behind her eyes, and the knot growing in her throat. She thought of her elemental mantra. She thought of her breathing, and of moving energy back and forth, cleansing her body of all negative emotion. None of it seemed to help.

"We talked about this before," her mother's face took on that serious cast that meant she had gone from empathy-mode to authority-mode. "We simply cannot afford to pay for surgery on our salaries."

"But you can pay for Julian's political science and law degrees," January spat bitterly.

"We aren't-"

"I know what U of M costs," January retorted. "I've seen the checks with dad's name on them. Julian leaves it all sitting out. I'm sure he wants me to see, so he can rub it in my face. He can never resist that."

"Hon, I don't know what you think you saw, but your brother is paying for it with student loans-"

The ringing of January's phone saved her from hearing the excuse. January dove for it like a drowning woman for a life preserver. It was not the normal bubbling ringtone of her phone, but rather a fuzzy guitar riff from Gary Clark Jr's "If Trouble Was Money." Her heart leapt. Had Avery broken the cipher on Subramanian's ledger?

January fumbled with her gloves, tearing off the velcro strip on the back of one to free her hand to use the screen. That left the scars on her wrist plainly visible. But she did not care. She rarely felt self-conscious about them anymore. She had much bigger things to worry about these days.

She got to the phone just in time to catch it before it went to voicemail.

"Avery!" she cried as she picked it up with her now bare hand.

"We gotta roll," he said, "you know who's on the move. Get your stuff, and meet me out front."

January pulled off her other glove and tossed it on the bench press. "I have to go," she murmured. Clutching her phone in one hand, she raced up the stairs. This was something she did not have wonder about, or angst over. This was something she could act on.

Posted by: Acadian Jun 15 2019, 07:13 PM

January shows us plenty of raw emotion in this powerful episode.

Good thing she has that punching bag to help drain some of her frustrations. I was pleased to see her working out with her mother and have someone to at least share some of those frustrations with. Poor thing seems like she just wants to be the ‘girl next door’ and, instead, is a superheroine trapped in the wrong flavor body!

Buffy was recently traveling Murkmire in the Black Marsh and encountered an Argonian who explained that he had been born a she and it was neither unusual nor unnatural for some Argonians to commune with the Hist, relay their desires and emerge with a full gender change - no physical trauma or social drama. Made me think of January and the ever so much more challenging path she faces.

Nice touch revealing how January used to be August!

Batman had the bat light that Commissioner Gordon would put up into the sky when it was time for the caped crusader to spring into action. Gadget has his own special ringtone as a call to action for the Stromcrow!

Posted by: SubRosa Jun 22 2019, 04:28 PM

Acadian: That was a very intense episode, that gives us a glimpse into the turmoil inside January. Everything about her eventually ties back to her gender dysphoria - being a nerd to escape from the 'normal' world, being a fighter, her need to stand against bullies, her ability to feel empathy for others (especially those not born 'perfect').

I also wanted to avoid infodumps on her history. So I am carefully laying little breadcrumbs about it like her mother's near name-slip. A lot more will be coming out in the next chapter.

Wow, that is very woke of ESO to include a trans person. Lucky Argonians! At least the Hist knows when it makes a coding error, and fixes it.

Actually, it is just a custom ringtone that January set her phone to use when Avery calls her. You can do that with most smartphones. But now you have given me the idea that maybe when he is in Gadget mode, he overrides that, and sends his own custom ringtone down the line.

Back in the day when I ran a tabletop Shadowrun game, the team's decker (basically hacker) was an NPC who was usually away from the rest of the team in his lair. He had a whole Man With No Name motif going, with his internet persona looking like Clint Eastwood, his attack programs being a winchester and a revolver, and so on. Whenever he would call the team I would use my laptop to play the theme from The Good The Bad And The Ugly. It was one of his shticks. Gadget could be doing something similar.

Chapter 1.10 - Stormcrow Rising

January bounded up the stairs to her room. With the door securely shut behind her, she emptied out her old gaming backpack of dice and manuals and stuffed her Stormcrow armor within it instead. Then she was off as fast as the wind, racing out the front door and down the block.

Avery lived just two houses down the street. He was just getting into his yellow Geo Storm when she arrived, and hopped in beside him. Once within she focused on the element of Fire, and took a deep breath. Then she thought better of doing her quick change so soon. It would be better to wait until they had reached their destination.

Avery drove down the suburban street, with its small houses and equally small lawns. Someone was out mowing their grass, kids rode past on bikes, and ordinary life went on as if a supervillain emergency was not about to unfold. It felt somewhat surreal to January, knowing that something was going to happen, and that she was going to be part of it. Yet the rest of the world was utterly oblivious.

Someone's sprinkler was throwing water half way across the street, and January was obliged to roll up her window to avoid getting soaked. The Geo was so old that she literally had to roll it with a hand crank. January wondered if they were still riding horses at the time it was built?

Avery drove through a cross street, continued on for another block, then turned onto Dequindre road and headed north. He nodded to the center of the dashboard, where a giant screen had rolled out to display a list of cities and times. It took January a moment to realize that it was the flight schedule for an airport.

"Our man Subramanian is booked on a flight for Atlanta," he said. "From there he's got a connection to Antwerp."

"He's flying out of Flint?" January stared at the screen in disbelief. "I didn't even know they had an airport. Why not just take Metro?"

"Maybe Flint's cheaper," Avery shrugged, "or maybe he figures no one will be watching there."

"So how is the decoding going?" January shifted conversational gears as Avery literally did the same with the Geo. He took a left onto Nine Mile, and effortlessly went from gear to gear as the little car leapt forward past the other traffic. January mused that his driving was a microcosm for his life. Avery was all about gears, moving parts, things fitting together. He somehow saw all the tiny cogs and spinning wheels under the hood of the universe. He understood how that machinery worked, and could run it, or rearrange it, however he liked.

"I broke the code last night," Avery beamed. "Pharos," he said in a loud, clear voice, "display Subramanian Ledger." The dashboard screen cleared, then a moment later filled with a spreadsheet of names, dates, and numbers.

"It took a little while," Avery explained, "but then I realized that like you said, he's not a 21st century man. So I went old school. It turns out he was using a Vigenère Cipher. After that it was easy."

"A vagina cipher?" January scrunched her nose in bafflement. "Sounds like every girl I match with on Scissr."

Avery laughed. "It's a variation of a Caesar cipher. In a Caesar you shift every letter a certain number of spaces up or down the alphabet. The Vigenère takes it to eleven by incorporating multiple Caesar shifts in the same code. Once I figured out the length of the key, I just had to use frequency analysis to crack each individual Caesar cipher."

"Then I had it, a list of all the blood diamonds he bought from a warlord named Ibrohim Alawar. I looked him up. His soldiers hack kids to pieces and gang rape little girls." Avery paused to curl a lip in disgust. "Anyway, Subramanian buys the raw diamonds from him. Then he takes them back to Surat in India for polishing. From there he brings them to the U.S. to sell. He goes all up and down the East Coast, Boston to Chicago, New Orleans to Orlando, and every big place in between. He's got every sale listed here, to shops and individuals. He's making millions, even after all the bribes he's got listed to customs officials."

"Do his bosses know about it?" January asked, staring at the list of buyers, and all of the zeros besides their names. Her head swam.

"There's no way to tell," Avery shook his head as he turned at Burger Baron and got onto the service drive for I-75. "He's making real business trips for the cartel at the same time he's slinging the blood diamonds. They aren't listed in the ledger, but I was able to get it from going back over airline records for the last six months."

"So we have to stop him from getting on that plane," January mused, "and get the police to search him and find that ledger, and whatever diamonds he has left."

"That's the plan," Avery said. He finally got onto the freeway, and immediately had to brake to avoid running into a massive Oldsmobile that suddenly cut into their lane. He down-shifted with ease. Again January was amazed at how expertly he made the machinery sing for him.

"Great driving Grandpa!" he shouted out the window. Then he turned back to January as if nothing had happened. "Just to sweeten the pot I'll dump the entire thing onto social media. Imgrr, Twitt, Instantgram, Eyebook, MeTube, even Pr0n Hub. I've got bots set up to completely saturate the internet."

January mulled that over. Avery could expose it all. But unless they stopped him from escaping the country, Subramanian could go to ground anywhere in the world. With his diamond money, he could vanish into a black hole and never be seen again.

She had protected him. She had helped him. Now she was going to stop him.

January knew she had to prepare herself. No more mistakes. No losing her temper. No allowing her frustrations to control her. So she pulled her feet up onto the car seat and folded them across one another in a lotus position. She closed her eyes and breathed deeply in and out. She focused on her Wiccan energy exercises, and cleared her mind. In time the rest of the world fell away, and there was only her heart, her breath, and the energy of the world flowing through her.

"We're here," Avery's voice snapped January back to reality. She looked around to find that they had already left the freeway, and were headed down a surface street toward the airport. A massive parking lot stretched out to her right. The terminal rose up to the left, behind a smaller lot and a partial screen of trees.

They passed under a large green sign that said "Bishop International Airport" in large white letters, with arrows that pointed out the parking lots. But what January really noticed were the crows. They crowded almost wing to wing along the length of the metal sign. They all took flight when they drove underneath, in a vast murder that winged its way toward the airport.

"That is really creepy you know," Avery murmured, staring at the black shapes as they soared away.

"I think that is my cue," January said. She focused on Fire. A second later she was clad from head toe in her Stormcrow gear.

The sound of an explosion rang out from the left, and a thin stream of smoke began wafting from the terminal.

"Don't slow down." January cranked down her window, and flowed through the open space with the ease of water spilling out of a tap. Balancing herself against the wind, she leapt onto the roof of the car. For a moment she stood there, practically surfing atop the Geo. She crouched down, then leapt skyward with all the strength she had in her legs. Rising into the sky, she put her arms out and hit the twin triggers in her gauntlets. Her cape snapped out into a pair of wings a moment later, catching the wind underneath them.

She was getting better at this. Banking to the left, the long terminal building stretched out before her. It had a very modern look, with multiple scalloped overhangs curving up one over the other along the side facing the street. A driveway broke off from the nearer parking lot to run along the side of the terminal. It was directly beneath the lowest scallop, which shielded it from sun and rain.

The walls of the terminal facing the drive were entirely of glass, as were those at the either end of the massive building. A pair of flags fluttered in the breeze outside. One was the Stars and Stripes. The other was the blue Michigan state flag, with its elk and moose facing one another.

The far side of the terminal was more prosaic concrete and steel. A narrow tube-like structure - too big to be just a skywalk - jutted out across the tarmac from it, and joined the terminal to another huge rectangular building. The latter was free of decoration, unless you counted the multiple jet bridges that jutted from it, like pins from a cushion. Farther out stretched numerous concrete taxiways and the two actual landing strips, which were set at a right angle to one another.

January banked to the left, and followed the swarm of crows down toward the overhanging scallops that lined the terminal. A row of trees seemed to leap up in front of her. For a moment she panicked, and visions of impaling herself upon their branches flashed before her eyes. Then she was back in control of herself. She raised her head, and arms with it, tilting the angle of her wings upward. She lost speed, but gained lift. The top leaves of one tree scraped against her belly. Then she was past the vegetation, and one of the massive metal overhangs loomed in her face.

January ducked, and angled her wings downward. She dove for the concrete driveway below, and the scalloped overhang slipped by harmlessly overhead. Losing altitude had given her speed. She briefly noted that everything with flying seemed to be a trade-off between one thing and another. She really needed to practice flying more, maybe even read up about it.

The blare of a car horn rang out in her ears, and she spared a glance to one side in time to see a giant pickup truck barreling toward her from the right. She pulled back once more, tilting her wings so far up that they were at a right angle to the ground. That stalled her forward momentum. The truck kept on coming, and sped past her with a rushing of air. The red, white, and blue cloth of a massive American flag mounted behind the cab snapped against her nose. Then her feet touched down upon the truck's long bed. Without really thinking, she took a running jump, and used the steel bed to launch herself back into the air.

People were running everywhere. Some paused to shout and point at her, and the murder of crows that preceded her. Most just ignored her however, and got as far away from the terminal as quickly as their feet would take them.

Now before January was a long glass wall facing the driveway, punctuated by occasional glass doors. She followed the cloud of black birds through a shattered plate glass window and finally entered the building itself.

The main floor lobby stretched out to either side, and ran the length of the building. Essentially a wide open hallway, it was carpeted in red and blue. Shining metal baggage carousels jutted out from the far wall. The one before her was even decorated with a bronze statue of a man wearing an old fashioned suit and hat. She saw the name Chrysler set into the plaque at its feet, and imagined that he must be the guy the car company was named after.

To her right there was an actual car, cordoned off by a low glass barrier. January could see that it was a Buick, because it said so on the rear quarter panel in big letters. Past that on the ground floor were the ticket counters and rows of seats. But before the ticketing area was an escalator that rose to the second floor. January could see a gallery from that floor running the length of the lobby, partitioned off by a chest-high glass screen.

January banked sharply to glide down the length of the lobby, and followed the crows. There were more people here. Some ran. Some tried to hide behind the columns that held up the second floor gallery, the car, and the Chrysler statue.

In spite of her pick-up truck assist, January found herself quickly running out of altitude. That gave her an idea as the car came near. She aimed for its roof, and triggered off her wings just before it slid underneath. She hit the roof running, and leapt straight ahead. The escalator ran at a right angle to her path, rising to her left. Her leap took her high over it, directly into a sign with arrows pointing out directions to ticketing and parking on the first floor.

She rolled into ball, and hit the sign with her feet. The crows wheeled around her, winging up and to the left. She sprang out and to the same side, and not only rolled but twisted in mid air as she bounced sideways off the sign. That put her at the top of the escalator, right between a pair of men. The older one was dressed in flannel and had a full beard and cowboy hat. The other was much younger - perhaps the first man's son given their similar faces. He wore a t-shirt with an American flag brightly emblazoned across the front, and tribal tattoos crowded the length of his exposed arms.

"Excuse me," January murmured as the two startled men almost leapt out of their boots. January imagined that few people were prepared for a girl in a crow costume to come flying out of the sky and land inches away. Let alone the murder of crows that croaked past and scattered in all directions, only to vanish completely just a few moments later.

Posted by: Acadian Jun 22 2019, 07:18 PM

Nice job here, setting the scene and stakes for what seems likely to be an exciting encounter as Avery races the duo to the airport in the Gadgetmobile.

And what an entrance as Stormcrow flows out the open car window and springs into the air! Her abilities in flight are getting impressive but have been hard-gained in a very believable manner over her several flights to date. goodjob.gif

’Some paused to shout and point at her, and the murder of crows that proceeded {preceded?} her.’
'He wore a t-shirt with an American flag brightly emblazoned across the front, ad {and?} tribal tattoos crowded the length of his exposed arms.’

Posted by: treydog Jun 24 2019, 05:46 PM

The way you weave “existing” tech in with possible future-tech, as well as just enough supernatural/maybe-it-exists-mundanes-just-don't-know-about-it elements is great. It reminds me of the way Stephen King's best work managed to draw me in- he would build a “regular” world, and get the reader nodding along, “yes, I can 'see' that.” And then- “here, let's add just a little something extra- and you were already completely involved.

Usually her life became much worse when people paid attention to her.

As I constantly remind Mrs. Treydog when she asks if “Anything exciting happened” at work- exciting is bad. It generally means something went wrong.

Second post- one escaped extra word note:

The Pepsi and schedule fell forgotten from January's hands. What should she do? Should she play it safe, and run, or hide, like the all the active shooter drills in school said? Or should she do what they always say not to, and advance?

Extra “the” after “like”.

Most excellent fight scene, again working a perfect blending of what is “current” with what is “possible”.

he had parked his nerdcore throne

Just perfect!

“You are trending, even bigger than that singing cat!"

"The cat made more sense,"

Love it!

"So what have you learned from this?"

Sensei Avery?

No girl can have any agency without being a princess

No Kool-Aid there, nope, none at ALL.

And I love that our kick-booty newest superhero can't drive a stick. I have to admit, that the protagonist having “instant familiarity” with any form of transport is one of the “immersion-breaking” things for me in a lot of movies- like how ANY car can be hot-wired by just twisting a couple of wires together under the dash, or the keys are always in it, or the fact that semiauto or fully auto weapons never run out of ammunition- except when it is “convenient” for the action. Brief sidenote- that was one of the things I loved in the finale of Season One of “Wiseguy”- Sonny Steelgrave (Ray Sharkey) steals a car, which immediately starts intoning “Check Your Fuel Level”- which of course, just piles more stress on what he is already feeling. But back to the point, from which I have wandered beyond even being able to see from here- January's inability to drive a manual transmission car is one of those perfect touches that make writing soar.

the mobile command center.

Another perfect turn of phrase

"I bet Blood Raven doesn't have to make excuses to her mom when she goes out fighting evil," January grumbled after she hung up.

And Athlain wishes that was true....

Oh my aching sides- the rotary phone = Neanderthal mammoth traps. Bless you for that image, which is now stuck in my head forever. Additional points because I grew up with rotary phones....

The elevator to the fourteenth floor was slower than a Hutt on molasses.


And another vote for the cleverest plot being foiled by the dullest of guards. A genius' greatest enemy is not another genius, but a stubborn moron....

I try hard to not be too judgmental- but … her brother will be a perfect lawyer. He is already able to justify his point of view, even if he has to tie himself in knots to do so.

And a deeply intense view of the existential difficulty of being “othered”. Because it is important (I think) to grasp that January is NOT “other”; she is herself. It is the external perceptions and forces that make that somehow “wrong.” And it is not helped by her parents unthinking differential treathment of their two children. Powerful writing.

It turns out he was using a the Vigenère Cipher. After that it was easy."

Extra article crept in there during rewrite- I hate it when that happens.

And now- I am caught up. Darn it. What a ride it has been!

Posted by: Renee Jun 24 2019, 06:52 PM

Mr. Xiang said that the super battle at the hotel was definitely trending. Apparently everyone was using #stormcrow to post their pictures and videos.


Also, the whole time her family's having that conversation about her, and she keeps almost slipping about her identity, getting defensive any way. That must be tough. She can't rightly just tell them though, no way. I have a feeling somebody's gonna find out though. wink.gif

"I for one think it is a good thing that we have another hero in Metro Detroit," her mother declared.

Ha! Such a "mom" thing to say. smile.gif Is there such thing as a Michigan accent? I keep hearing the parents sounding like Archie and Edith, which I know is way wrong. My mind keeps drifting back to the Bunkers though. Would it be similar to a typical Midwest accent?

Whoa, so that's where she lives (I looked at the house pic). Yikes! She needs somewhere more secluded, like a secret cave! laugh.gif Kidding. She's probably vulnerable there though.

Gabriella Wilson a.k.a. HER. Look her up, she was a child prodigy.

Sure, I will.

Two more chapters to catch up.....

January worked over the heavy bag. Her brother's words still draped over her thoughts like a dark shroud. Was she destined to end up working at Burger Baron?

Awww. sad.gif

She really needed to practice flying more, maybe even read up about it.

That is awesome. All of this is so new to her. She's kick-boxing, she's learning martial arts, oh, and hey, she's also learning how to fly.

What will happen next?

Posted by: SubRosa Jun 29 2019, 04:15 PM

Acadian: This will be the crescendo of the chapter. Just 3 episodes left, including today's.

Flight is one of those abilities I really want to show January slowly developing over time, as she slowly but surely practices and studies.

treydog: Thee-Dog's in the house!

I am partly taking my cues from Lovecraft with the way I use real world tech with my own supertech. Whenever he would list off a series of magic books and occultists in his stories, he would include real ones in the mix, such as The Golden Bough, Hermes Trismigestus, or Borellus and Agrippa. It lent the entire thing a sense of verisimilitude, because it puts the Necromonicon and Al-Hazred on the same playing field as them.

The other reason is that a lot of real world tech is what we would have called science fiction just forty years ago. Like the phone cloner that Gadget gave to January. The police and government really use those things right now, mining the data of ordinary people without their knowledge.

One thing nice about writing this story is that I can finally use pop-culture as a tool in my writing, which of course I could never do in Tamriel. So I glory in my nerdcores and rotary phones (which I do remember using too).

The princess remark is a dig at the trope, something that makes me roll my eyes every time I watch a movie or show and the only female in it is also the daughter of the admiral, or president, or an actual king, and it is inferred that her abilities and position are ultimately due to his influence. Because it is not like any woman could ever possess her own wants or desires. She can only be what her male forebear molded her into.

January is a Millennial, so of course she cannot drive a stick shift! I cannot imagine any who can, since when would they ever be faced with one? Gadget gets a pass because of who and what he is. Machinery, gears, moving parts, are at the very heart of his nature. I did see that episode of Wiseguy! Sonny even bribes the gas station attendant with a bag of golf clubs to let him fill up his tank. Not that he has a chance to when Vinnie shows up. I loved that, because the protagonist is not the only character who should have to overcome obstacles. The antagonist should have just as much trials and tribulations to face as well.

We can be judgmental about January's brother. We will see more of him in in the future... Likewise, January's whole family situation is about to blow up.

Unfortunately, the most difficult part of being trans is not the bigotry of others, but the very sense of Otherness within one's self. Even in a perfect world, trans-people would still have to grapple with that undeniable feeling that they are not who they are supposed to be, and see a stranger every time they look in the mirror. As January said to her mother "I don't see me." One of the reasons I went with January being trans, and at this stage of her life, is I wanted her to have this very real disadvantage to struggle with. In the Champions or Gurps systems that ought to be at least a 20 point Disadvantage... wink.gif

Renee: Many people in Michigan will insist that there is no Michigan accent. "We talk normal here!" But there is definitely a Michigan accent. It is nothing like the Bunkers though. We love to put a hard 'a' in everything, even words that don't have an 'a' in them at all. Like 'to' we will say 'ta'. really goes into detail. How we say Pop instead of Soda. Yoopers. How we use our hand to show where a place is in the state, and so on.

Chapter 1.11 - Stormcrow Rising

A quick glance showed the airport offices to her right, along with a pair of restrooms and a shoe shine stand. Past that was a gift shop and a book store. To her immediate left was a conference room, and farther down the hall was a small food court. It was partitioned off from the main hallway by a chest-high counter covered in ceramic tiles. Within the corral it created was a single restaurant and a small dining area.

The rest of the second floor continued on straight ahead down a long, wide hallway. January imagined this was that long structure that branched off from the terminal. She had seen it when she had flown in. It connected to the second, rectangular building set farther back on the tarmac that had all the jet bridges prickling out of it.

Far down the hallway January saw a sign saying "Meeter/Greeter Area", next to another proclaiming "All Gates" and pointing to the right. Beside the latter sign the corridor branched out to the right and vanished from sight. While straight ahead were "Do Not Enter" signs. As best January could tell, the security screening must have been somewhere down there, perhaps in the area to the right that she could not see.

She only had an instant to take all this in. The entire area was in complete chaos. People of all shapes, sizes, and colors ran and dove for cover everywhere. The chest high counter that blocked off the food court seemed to be a popular spot for refuge. So too were the desks in the open office areas to the right. The only people standing seemed to be those who were fighting, right out in the middle of it all.

There was Lighthammer, in his glowing silver, white, and blue armor. January noticed that he had replaced or repaired the helmet she had damaged in the previous fight. The small force fields projecting from his forearms glowed with blue-white light. He was putting them to good use against four opponents comprised of what appeared be living darkness.

It took January a moment to realize that what she was seeing were actually people. Each was covered from head to toe by an oval shield of blackness. One turned in profile to get a better shot at Lighthammer, and she saw that the dark shield only protected him from the front. From the side she could see it was a man wearing a sport coat and khakis. There was some sort of metal box or device on his chest, from which the darkness streamed out to form the shield in front of him. She also noted that two metal bars came out from under the cuffs of his sport coat, one at either side of his arm. They joined to form a gauntlet for each hand. Whether the metal exoskeleton extended down under his loose pants - or was only limited to his torso and arms - she could not tell.

January recognized him. He was one of Subramanian's bodyguards from the previous night. She could not remember if he was the former Army Ranger, or the former Detroit beat cop. Not that either was really preferable to fight.

The mercenary pointed one gauntleted hand at Lighthammer, and a bolt of darkness spat forth. It was identical to the energy that formed his shield. Lighthammer must have seen it out of the corner of his eye, because he twisted to the side and raised one forearm to block. The dark missile struck his force field of light, and had no effect. The light seemed to simply swallow it whole, without any impact to Lighthammer whatsoever.

The Gray Hat countered with a bolt of his own solid light. However, it too was harmlessly absorbed by the bodyguard's force field of darkness. Then the vigilante was bounding up in the air to avoid another bolt of darkness. He did a flip, and came down feet first into one of the ebony force fields. It should have flattened the man behind it, but Lighthammer's armored frame simply bounced off ineffectually.

"Elemental darkness, like the Veil from the Sentinels uses," Gadget's voice came through her earpiece. "Looks like they not only got reinforcements, but geared up with something that will nullify Lighthammer's powers. But they forgot his cancels theirs out too."

"Use your guns damn it!" A heavily-accented Indian voice rang out. January saw Subramanian step out from the gift shop, subcompact pistol raised. He punctuated his words with a string of shots directed at Lighthammer.

That was also January's direction, and that of the men standing to either side of her. As she saw the pistol come up, she turned as quick as Air would allow. Grabbing the leading edges of her cape, she flung out her arms to either side and covered the two men beside her with it. A moment later she felt the impacts, like blows from a hammer.

Please be bullet-proof, she found herself thinking, please be bullet-proof.

When the shooting stopped, she looked down and was relieved when there was not any blood. Both of the men she had shielded had dropped to a knee however, and winced in pain. So clearly they had felt some of the force of the blows, even though the bullets had not penetrated her cape.

"Better get down the escalator!" January gently nudged the two men forward, down the moving stairs. Only when they were both on the top step, and being slowly carried down and out of the line of fire, did she turn back.

Now she saw that the bodyguards had pulled out sawed off shotguns. One blasted away from a medium distance, and a bronze bust encased in glass against at the opposite wall exploded. Another struck one of Lighthammer's arm shields. An instant later a woman across from him collapsed to the floor, blood erupting from her upper arm. January noted that she had a handgun clenched in her good hand.

Ricochet, January imagined. She had to do something about these guns, before everyone in the terminal got killed.

She called upon Air for speed. With a single bound, she crossed the thirty or so feet between her and the injured woman. She gathered the olive-skinned woman up her arms, being careful not to jostle the hand that still clutched her pistol. The last thing she wanted was to accidentally get shot herself, or be responsible for that happening to someone else.

"It's ok, I'm here to help," January breathed. She lifted the injured woman with ease. She may as well have been as light as a feather. She vaulted over the chest-high barrier that cordoned off the dining area, being sure to keep her back to the action at all times. That way she would shield the injured woman with her body.

She set the woman down as gently as possible, beside a pair of other people. January scanned the injury, wishing for more experience with first aid than a brief class in high school. It was a big wound, and January could see that the cloth of the woman's top was torn to shreds around it. She did not see a splatter of small injuries, like she would have guessed a shotgun would cause. Instead it was just one big hole.

"Me Cago En Ná!" the injured woman cursed. That was something they had not taught in high school Spanish class. But she could guess the intent well enough.

"It burns!" the woman now cried in English. She dropped her gun, and reached for her injured arm with her good hand. "Get it out!"

January gritted her teeth, and stuck her fingers into the wound. It reminded her of reaching into the Thanksgiving turkey before it went into the oven. But this wasn't dinner. It was a person, all hot, wet, and torn apart.

She found the projectile and pulled it out, fingers slick with blood. It was not a pellet. Instead it was cylindrical in shape, with a wide bottom. From there it suddenly narrowed to a long center section, then tapered to a point. Obviously it was some kind of slug, but not of any kind she had ever heard of. She had thought they all looked like bullets, only larger.

"Armor-piercing round," Gadget's said. "I've seen vids of those things going through steel plate. They came loaded for bear."

January dimly registered that it was still hot from being fired. But it did not really bother her. Whether that was thanks to her armor, or her own natural abilities, she did not know. She dropped the slug on the floor and turned back to the wound. She found that the injured woman had ripped out a long strip of cloth from her top, and was stuffing it into the injury.

"She's a cop," Gadget said in her ear.

Then January noticed the Michigan State Police badge that had spilled out of her pocket. Now her having a gun in the airport made sense.

"I'll take care of this," the state cop said though gritted teeth. "You get out there and do what you did last night."

That was all the prompting January needed. Resting one hand on the tile barrier, she vaulted over it and back into the wide hall. She saw one of the bodyguards with his back to her. Without another thought she leapt forward, and crashed into him full force.

His body bent over backwards as the momentum of the charge sent them both across the hallway, and into the opposite wall. The bodyguard struck it shield first, and the pair smashed through right through the barrier. Bits of drywall and wall studs sprayed the hallway and gift shop. They finally came to a stop in the bookstore, January atop the bodyguard's back.

Since she still had hold of him, she lifted them both from the ground, spun around, and sent them crashing back into the floor with a suplex. The mercenary took the blow belly-first. But again, his dark energy shield seemed to absorb the impact, and shattered the hard tiles of the bookstore floor beneath him.

He sent an elbow back as a thank you present. January blocked with a forearm. He followed with the other elbow, then leapt to his feet, pushing backward. They slammed into a bookshelf, sending hardcovers of the latest 80s rock band tell-all everywhere. This time it was January who slammed into the wall. She was ready for it however, and merely grunted as she felt wood and plaster give way beneath her armored back.

She let go of him. Grappling was clearly not doing her much good. It certainly was not her strong suit. Instead she struck both sides of his neck with her open hands. She hit the carotid sinus just behind the jaw. Her Krav Maga instructor had taught her that the arteries which supplied blood to the brain separated into two at that spot. A blow to either would confuse the baroreceptors there into thinking that the blood pressure within was too high. They automatically lowered the pressure to adjust. The end result was that the mercenary collapsed to the floor like a puppet whose strings had been cut.

Before January could congratulate herself, another of Subramanian's bodyguards was upon her. He came in like a bull, with a left hook that would have taken January's head off had it connected. She had only seconds to react, but still managed to duck out of the way. Drywall and wood rained down upon her head as he gouged out a chunk of the wall above her. With his black force field in front of her, she could not see his body at all, just his armored fists when they came out to strike.

She just did the best she could, and followed her Krav Maga training. Since she was starting low, she sprang up and forward, using her body like a battering ram. Her head crashed into the inky force field about where she imagined his chin might be. She instantly followed with a knee to the midsection.

He did not go down. Instead he replied with a body shot. She twisted and tensed up, taking the blow on her ribs. She leaned in closer and swept her elbow across his head, putting all of her chest and back muscles into the blow. Then while she hoped he was thinking high, she took a step away and went low with a kick to the shin.

He followed with a kick toward her knee. She raised her leg to take it on the shin. She countered with a palm strike to the head. He came back with a jab to the face that she barely saw coming. There was no time to block or dodge. She just took the hit. It did not seem to hurt though, whether from adrenaline, armor, or her powers, January did not know.

This was going on much too long. She had to put this guy down. She reached up with both hands as if to grab his head. Instead she got hold of the edges of his force field. It felt solid under her fingers, but seemed to tingle, as if it was flowing or vibrating ever so slightly. Pulling herself up with her arms, she drove a knee into where she imagined his solar plexus might be.

He was still standing however, and punched hard into her exposed midsection with both fists. January gritted her teeth, but did not falter. Still holding on to the force field, she used it to vault straight up into a handstand in the air above the mercenary. She was forced to flex her knees into a crouch as her feet pressed into the low ceiling. Then she pushed off it, and rocketed straight down.

She hit the mercenary like a battering ram, striking just behind the protection of his force field. Her body hammered against the bodyguard's forehead, and continued down across his chest. She crashed into the metal device that powered the field, and it shattered into a dozen sparking chunks of metal. The black energy vanished, and she continued on into his legs and feet.

She hit the ground hands first, and executed an effortless front handspring back to her feet. She glanced back to see the bodyguard slumped down motionless on a pile of books, head bloody and force field emitter fallen dark and silent.

January realized this would be the perfect time for a witty one-liner. Something like catching up on a good book, or not judging one by its cover. Or course nothing came to mind that did not sound trite.

"A truly great library contains something in it to offend everyone."

January chuckled as Gadget's voice floated in her ear.

Posted by: Acadian Jun 29 2019, 06:21 PM

Despite the superhero tech, you rendered everything clearly and easy to follow during this heart-pounding fight. Stormcrow’s carotid slap was pretty cool and very effective!

I’m curious now to see what happens next – if Black Hat slips away and if we learn more about Gray Hat. Given Stormcrow’s focus on protecting innocents, she is most definitely a White Hat.

Nit? ’Instead he replied with body shot.’ - - Do you want an ‘a’ before body shot?

Posted by: treydog Jun 30 2019, 12:34 AM

Most excellent fight scene! And again, very happy with the mingling of tech and "powers". And the quote made me smile.

Posted by: SubRosa Jun 30 2019, 06:48 PM

Ooops, I forgot to add some links. I went back and put in some pictures of the second floor of the airport, where the fighting takes place.

Also, is it better this way, with the links to interesting things placed within the text? Or is it better with them all at the bottom?

Posted by: Acadian Jun 30 2019, 07:36 PM

Thanks for the additional links and update.

I wrestled with the same question for my fic regarding screenshots and ultimately concluded that putting them all at the end of the episode worked better for me. Though having links inserted right where they match the content is more 'responsive', I find it slightly more 'disruptive' to the reading flow. smile.gif

Posted by: treydog Jun 30 2019, 08:33 PM

I tend to agree. While on the one hand, it is fun to "see" in real time- it also happens to be bad for my "ohhhh shiny!" impulse- and thus breaks the immersion.

With links or notes at the bottom- I can either click an re-read- OR click first to familiarize and THEN read. My 1/2 Septim anyway... (would that make it a "Martin"?")

Posted by: SubRosa Jul 6 2019, 03:49 PM

Acadian: That Carotid Slap was something I filed away for future use when I was doing my Krav Maga research a few months ago. I was not originally going to use it in this fight. But it made its way back in the mix after I made some tweaks a few weeks ago. What I have really enjoyed writing in this fight is January's gymnastic skills, which have been a key component to defeating the mercenaries.

As you noted, these last few episodes have been again given me the opportunity to Show what White, Gray, and Black Hats are, without having to Tell anything. I am pleased with how that turned out.

Nits picked. Now I am laughing. We Michiganders always want to insert a hard 'a' into everything, even words that don't have an 'a'. How did I miss that! laugh.gif

treydog: I had fun writing this fight scene. A week before posting the first part I was looking at it, and thought it did not seem challenging enough. So I added in two more mercenaries. That did not actually make it much longer. But it did ramp up the action, and make Lighthammer and January come off feeling more super. Unlike the common lackeys in the comics, I wanted these guys to pose a real threat. They would have defeated Lighthammer if he had been on his own. So I gave them real skills and some tech-based powers of their own so they could go toe-to-toe with the supes.

Given the feedback from both you and Captain A, I decided to go back to putting my links at the bottom of the posts instead of mid-stream.

Chapter 1.12 - Stormcrow Rising

January stepped out to rejoin the battle in the hallway. She saw that even though he now only faced two opponents, Lighthammer was still taking the worst of the exchange. Like her own battles with the mercenaries, they had gone into hand to hand. These mercs seemed as skilled with fists and feet as her two opponents had been. Lighthammer less so. He was taking hit after hit. Most he deflected on his forearm force fields. Some he was able to slip or dodge away from.

But it was two against one, and his opponents seemed to know how to work as a team. One would distract Lighthammer, while the other would strike from the opposite side. He was constantly in motion, leaping, diving, and sidestepping to stay out of their way. But inevitably some of their attacks got past his shields, and steadily dented and chipped away at his armor.

Pits gouged into the ceiling and floor showed where one or the other had tried to shoot with their weapons. January did not know if those were the results of more ricochets, or if they had been intentional shots, like the one Lighthammer had used to trap her the previous night when he had made his escape.

January saw Subramanian raise the discarded shotgun of the first mercenary she had defeated. He had a clear shot at Lighthammer's back. She had seen that his force fields could deflect the slugs. But she had no idea if his armor could alone. Given that not every inch of the vigilante's body was armored, it would not help at all if Subramanian got a lucky hit.

"Lighthammer, duck!" January shouted.

The vigilante instantly dropped, and Subramanian fired. One of the other two bodyguards had been standing directly opposite him, and staggered when the armor-piercer hit his own force field of elemental darkness. But the field held, as it had against January's own blows against his partners.

Still crouched down low, Lighthammer spun and flung out one palm to Subramanian. Solid light blossomed forth, and took him full in the chest. His shotgun went spinning away through the air, shattered into numerous pieces. Subramanian likewise went flying, to land on his back several feet away.

At the same time Lighthammer raised his other forearm to block a punch from one of the mercenaries. However, the final bodyguard took advantage of Lighthammer's divided focus. He side-stepped around to get directly behind the vigilante. Then he raised his shotgun and aimed at Lighthammer's head.

But January was upon him with a single leap. She grabbed hold of the twin barrels of the sawed-off shotgun and flung them skyward. Both boomed an instant later, and gouged holes in the ceiling. The mercenary tried to wrestle the gun away from her, and January could feel real strength in the man's exoskeleton-enhanced limbs. Lightning cracked loudly, and January felt the steel of the barrels warp and twist under her fingers.

He let go of the ruined weapon, and sent an uppercut into January's stomach. She winced under the blow, and flung the useless shotgun aside. The mercenary came back with a cross, pivoting with his torso and hips to put all of his mass behind the blow. January swept it aside with her left forearm, and countered with an immediate jab to the head with her right. It had no effect, and her new opponent sent a front kick directly at her face. She barely slipped aside in time to avoid having her teeth knocked out.

As before, January could see that that striking directly at the dark force field would be useless. She had to get behind it, and disable its projector. Remembering her previous knock out, she reached out and grabbed the edges of the mercenary's force field. He stamped down hard on her instep, then kneed her in the groin. Against most people, that would have been check and mate. January just shrugged both off. Tilting backward, she pulled the bodyguard into the air above her. Squatting down for a moment, she leapt straight up with all of her might.

Out there in the main hallway the ceiling was twice as high overhead as it was in the bookstore. Still, they crashed into it as if they had been shot from a cannon. The mercenary's unprotected back hit first, and bounced off metal and drywall. She felt his body crumple behind his force field.

Then they were falling. January held on, knowing that if she let go and he fell without coordination, he might easily break his neck or crack his skull on landing. Half way down she felt hands grab under her armpits. She looked up to see Lighthammer's armored chest and head. He tried to hold her aloft. But her weight - and that of the mercenary - were plainly too much. They continued their fall, but now much slower. They struck the floor with only a light thump.

That left only one bodyguard. He leveled his shotgun at the trio and cut loose with both barrels. January barely saw it coming, and had no time to dodge. Thankfully Lighthammer was quicker, and raised a forearm. His force field caught the shot at an angle, and deflected the armor-piercing rounds into the ceiling.

January scrambled to her feet and faced the mercenary. At the same time Lighthammer fired at his face, which the bodyguard did not even bother to dodge. He just took the blast of light on his dark energy shield. But that kept the mercenary distracted long enough for the vigilante to duck and roll forward. Lighthammer came up behind the bodyguard's force field. Solid light flashed, and the mercenary fell an instant later.

January hoped Lighthammer would not shoot her in the back, and knelt down beside the unconscious bodyguard that she had driven into the ceiling. Twisting his body aside, she got behind his force field and grabbed for the emitter strapped to his chest. After several fumbling attempts, she found a pair of switches that she had to press simultaneously, and the black energy vanished.

She rose to her feet in time to see Lighthammer doing the same with the opponent he had just dispatched. A quick leap took January back to the bookstore, where she likewise disabled the energy projector of the first mercenary, whom she had knocked unconscious with the carotid slap.

She looked up to see Lighthammer standing over Subramanian. The Indian was still laying on the ground moaning. His suit jacket had been thrown open, and his pockets turned inside out.

The armored vigilante turned to face January. She saw that he held Subramanian's diamond bag in one hand. As she walked over to him, he raised a diamond in his fingers and held it up to the light to inspect it. He stuffed it back inside the bag as January came nearer, and pulled its neck tightly closed.

"So are we gonna fight now?" he asked, "or should I just say thank you?"

"I am not your enemy," January explained. "I didn't know what he was before. Now I do."

People started to emerge from hiding now. January hoped no more of them had been hurt while she was occupied by the battle. She noticed that one was the state trooper. Her injured arm was wrapped in an ersatz bandage of her torn shirt and someone else's windbreaker. Her badge was now slung from a cord around her neck. She held her gun with her good hand, pointed to the floor at a low angle.

"I'll take that as an apology then," Lighthammer smiled.

Thunder howled loudly outside, followed by a brilliant crack of lightning.

"I'm not sorry for anything," January contended. "I saw you attack a man, and I defended him. If you had gone about this differently, he'd have been in jail already."

"His kind doesn't go to prison," Lighthammer glanced back at Subramanian and spat. "He's got the law bought and paid for."

"We'll see about that," January said. "I've got his financial records all over the web already. I'll bet he's got the original still on him. All the evidence left is in your hand."

She nodded to the bag of diamonds, and extended her open hand toward him.

"What, so the cops can pocket half of them," he scoffed, "and he can use the rest to buy his way out of prison?"

"Look around Lightguy," January waved hand for effect. "We are on a dozen security cameras, and who knows how many phones. We are probably being streamed live all over the country right now. This is ratings. Every cop who touches these diamonds is going to have a microscope up their unmentionables. No one is going to skim any."

"You really expect me to just give these up, after all I've done for them?" Lighthammer stared at her. The only part of his face that was visible was his lower jaw, and that was set in a tight, hard line. But January held firm. She was not about to be intimidated by a helmet.

"Yes I do," January said. "I did my research on you. You're a gray hat. You only take from thieves, drug-dealers, and other criminals. You've never hurt an innocent. I've seen you hold back to avoid that. If you take those diamonds, you are no better than Subramanian. You'll just be one more link in the chain of horror and murder that they created."

"I don't think you really even need them," she continued. "You aren't going to sell them are you? You want them for your armor right? But that armor doesn't look powered. It's just protection, like mine isn't it? Your power comes from you. What do the diamonds do, help you focus it? intensify it?"

"You don't need that. It's really a crutch. In the end it'll hold you back, because you won't be making the most of your own gifts. True power only comes from within. If you want more, practice, work harder, create it within yourself."

"That's high and mighty talk for someone who wears a wingsuit." he shot back.

"I wear the wingsuit because I cannot fly," January admitted. "But who knows, with hard work and practice, maybe someday I will. I learned a long time ago that our will creates our reality. I'll practice with you any day."

"I did my research on you too, Weather Witch of Warren," Lighthammer said. Lightning flashed again, as if to underscore the title. "Okay Qui-Gon, we'll play it your way this time."

He handed her the bag of diamonds. She felt its weight in her hand. Felt the stones grind against one another. For a fleeting moment she thought of all the things she could buy with them. Sex reassignment surgery, a degree from a real university instead of just community college, a house, a car, everything she had always wanted, and more. It could all be hers.

All she had to do was betray everything she believed in.

She looked up from the diamonds, and saw Lighthammer staring intently back at her. She knew that he was measuring her, seeing what she would do now that she actually had the diamonds in her hand. This was a test, of who she really was deep down.

She walked to the state trooper, and felt a distinct wave of relief wash over her as she put the diamonds in the other woman's hand.

"These are conflict diamonds," January said firmly, "smuggled out of the Central African Republic."

"I guess you really are a white hat," Lighthammer said behind her. "See you around Crowgirl."

He waved one hand at her in a half salute. His boots flared bright with light, and he shot off into the air. He rocketed down the corridor back the way January had come from, and vanished from sight.

"See you around Lightguy," January said after him.

"You're awful chummy with the vigilante chica," the state trooper said. January noticed that she spoke with teeth clenched. But otherwise she showed no signs of distress. January found herself admiring her. She had what Adin - her Krav Maga instructor - called grit.

With one hand January surreptitiously reached into one of the pockets of her utility belt. She found the phone-cloner that Gadget had made, and turned it on. This might be a cop worth knowing.

"He's not one of the bad guys," January insisted. "At least not today."

"Besides, I guess I'm a vigilante too," she continued. "Are you going to arrest me?"

"Not today." The older woman smiled and holstered her gun.

January could not restrain a chuckle. Then she saw Subramanian rising to his feet. She stepped over to him and clamped a vise around his arm.

"I am innocent!" he protested as she pulled him to the state trooper. "I am the victim in all this!"

"Yeah, tell that to the people you shot," January glanced down at her cape, which had blocked the bullets he would have put into her and the two rednecks.

"Search him, and I bet you'll find his ledger." January said to the state trooper. "If you can't crack the encryption, check social media. You should have all you need to burn him for what he's done."

The trooper took him with her good hand. January saw more cops coming from down the far hallway now, and decided that she had overstayed her welcome. She stepped away, so the trooper and Subramanian would be clear of her wings. The raucous cries of crows filled her ears, and January saw the birds take flight all around her. It was like they appeared out of thin air, almost like magic. She leaped into the air and popped out her wings. Following the crows, she soared out just as the thunderstorm stopped, and the sun peeked from the rapidly vanishing clouds.

Posted by: Acadian Jul 6 2019, 06:38 PM

Another intense fight! It was very neat how Stormcrow grabbed that guy’s shield and drove them both hard up into the ceiling so her foe’s unprotected back took the blow. The unspoken cooperation between White and Gray hats during the fight was very effective in showing us a lot about both of them.

I loved the conversation after the fight between Lightguy and Crowgirl. Stormcrow certainly found the right words.

Her momentary hesitation once she had the diamond fortune in her hand reinforced that she is human, but we never doubted her choice to pass the bag to the state trooper. Despite the interwebz precautions mentioned by Stormcrow to preclude any dishonest shenanigans by the police, her decision to turn over the diamonds displayed some necessary growth. Stormcrow is realizing she has to work with, support and trust the police if she’s going to continue as a White Hat superheroine. That is a notable step given her history of unhelpful encounters with authorities.

Posted by: treydog Jul 8 2019, 04:36 PM

A most enthralling fight! Then there is the deeper struggle- the contest between Lighthammer's "do what is right for me" versus January's belief that there is a larger "right and wrong." And yet, LH is admirable even in his cynicism- he acts because others refuse to do so- or are purely acting from self-interest.

Most excellent, Sensei SubRosa.

Posted by: Grits Jul 12 2019, 12:28 PM

Catching up with January and Avery has been quite exciting! Thank you for sharing the google map. I’ve enjoyed checking out the locations. Everything I know about Detroit I’ve learned reading Stormcrow! tongue.gif

Ah, there’s the other side of the Lighthammer fight. I liked seeing January’s concern over collateral damage and reminders to herself to stay under emotional control.

Ha, I know someone who wears a Cthulhu 2020 shirt and cargo pants! You picked an excellent nerd uniform. biggrin.gif I love how January’s education and interests come through in her thoughts, like “dry as Tatooine” and bat’leth.

I love how the bathroom scene turned into a selfie-with-meta. The bathroom has been such a battleground for January.

If she gets her plain white furniture from IKEA, January’s bedroom looks a lot like my (same age) daughter’s. The scene with her family did exactly what it was supposed to do for providing background information, perfectly smooth. Also it made real that January is indeed her age and subject to family life. A lot of fictional teenagers moan about their parents but never seem to have any restrictions in the story. Having to smuggle her meta-suit into her room while the internet blew up with videos of her was awesome!

I love the flying parts. January’s skills seem to be reasonable for her abilities, and she’s noticeably growing into them. The same for her Wicca stuff. We see her meditating and thinking about what she should do, so when something like the quick-change or the murder of crows happens it makes sense.

Links: I prefer them at the top or bottom. If they’re in the text I go ahead and click them all first anyway so that I don’t interrupt the flow when I’m reading. I love the links! The only one that hasn’t worked for me is the Cthulhu for President shirt, and I sat across from one on Wednesday so I can guess what that looks like. biggrin.gif

My favorite part of the airport sequence is the exchange between Crowgirl and Lightguy at the end. What an exit with the crows as the sun emerges! Whoop!!

Posted by: SubRosa Jul 13 2019, 05:08 PM

Acadian: This two part fight forced me to think creatively when it came to how the bad guys were going to be defeated. January was not going to be able to win on sheer force of hands and feet and elbows. She was going to have to find ways to work around their invulnerable defenses (from the front). I was very satisfied with how it turned out, because again, it meant she won because she outsmarted them, not outfought them.

I was inspired by when it came to scripting out Crowgirl and Lightguy's teamwork at the end of the fight. I wanted that back and forth guarding one another's backs.

We live in a capitalist society, so in the end everything revolves around money. Naturally the lure of all those diamonds was going to be strong on anyone who picked them up. It was what turned Subramanian into a Black Hat after all. So January had to be tempted, because so many of her struggles in life come down to money, and not having it.

Keep your eyes peeled, because in this epilogue to the chapter January will begin working toward cultivating a relationship with the police. She can see the difference between how the police and 'authorities' treat White Hats vs Gray Hats. She realizes how much having a good relationship with them can help her, and how having a bad one can hinder her. So creating an alliance with the police is definitely high on her list of things to do.

treydog: You just hit upon what I think is the most murky and yet most realistic facet of superheroing. What are the ethics of profiting from being a super? The easy way around it is to make your protagonist filthy rich like Batman or Iron Man. But the people like Spiderman who have to actually earn a living tend to be the ones people most identify with. Because they have pay the rent just like us.

That gets us down to money in the world of capes. Is it wrong for a super to take the loot from criminals and use it to finance their operations, to buy dinner with? If they do, aren't they ultimately profiting from their evildoing? Selling drugs, kidnapping, murders, etc... But on the flip side, is it really right to expect superheros to need a day job just so they can get through life? Shouldn't they be spending all their time out fighting crime, or training to be better supers? We don't expect firefighters or police or emts to do their jobs for free. So why should we expect supers to?

There is no real easy answer to this. April Daniel's duology and (I had to plug them, they were not only outstanding, but a major inspiration for me to write this) introduces the idea that supers who have official recognition also receive a stipend. This comes from the level of civil government that sanctions them - citys, states, and federal. So Des Moines might have their own official cape on the city payroll, whose job it is to protect just the city. But they have no authority in say St. Louis. While the Sentinels in Chicago are authorized all across the Midwestern states, but not on the federal level.

I really like this idea, as it makes sense in a world that supers have been a part of for some time. I am also keeping the need for secret identities, partly because it is just the shtick of being a superhero. But also because of reality. When the Columbian government went after Pablo Escobar, he murdered the families of every detective who investigated him. So pretty soon no one wanted to pursue him. When it comes to people who can bend steel bars and shoot fireballs, attacking them in their weakest area - their loved ones - is just pure pragmatism.

I have hinted at this with a former super named Hailstorm whom I have name-dropped a few times. His identity was publicized by a newspaper. All of his loved ones were promptly murdered. He spent his final days in an insane asylum, never even finding out who did it. The reporter who wrote the story committed suicide. That created an unspoken pact between the press and supers, in that they would not publicize personal info on capes, even when they discovered it by accident. State and Federal laws were also enacted afterward protecting the identities of supers who had official recognition.

I will be getting more into this as January's ultimate goal is to gain official sanction herself. Because of that she knows that she needs to be a White Hat, and keep her public perception positive.

Grits: Grits is back!

I picked Detroit because I know this place better than anywhere else. I know all the neighborhoods, in a way that just looking at a map won't tell you. (That is an issue I am now grappling with in using Colonial Boston as a setting sad.gif ). I realize that no one else reading this will have that knowledge. But hopefully some of it will shine through in my writing. I definitely want to make use of the city as a character, which is why I am putting in specific street names and city names. I will also be using local festivals and events to add more to that city personality. I have a whole list of things I can work in (if I can manage it).

Jan is definitely a White Hat, though sometimes her anger and frustrations tempt her not to be. She knows deep down that she has no right to do this super thing, if she is only doing it for her own ego.

I have a So January's nerd outfit was very easy to put together.

I think January got her plain white furniture from Meijier, which is the same as the IKEA stuff, only cheaper. I spent a lot of time working on what her living space would look like. I even googled teenage girl bedrooms to get ideas. All of which I ignored because of the pink overload. In the end I based it off her - pale white overall, but with a few splashes of red color.

Her living arrangements and family life will play a central role in future chapters. Down to her biggest arch enemy being one of her ancestors, and her super mentor and teacher being another ancestor. I was strongly motivated by the new Ms. Marvel (Kamala Khan), who is so superbly done. Her family is a huge part of her life and stories. I want to tap into that grounding element as well, both for good and ill.

January will continue to grow into her abilities as the story goes on. I have a whole set of things mapped out that she will be developing, including wings. Meeting her mentor will be a big part of that of course, as it will really open up her mind to the possibilities of what she can do.

I never thought of putting links at that top! That sounds perfect, I will start doing that. Sadly, I don't think I have any for this episode.

I do have a link!

Chapter 1.13 - Stormcrow Rising

"Hello world, Gilda Gadfly coming to you with all the latest super news. We are back in Detroit for a second day in a row, thanks the exploits of our hottest new heroine - Stormcrow. The Motor City Crow took down alleged conflict diamond smuggler Bhavin Subramanian at the airport in Flint, Michigan. She teamed up with Michigan State Police trooper Emilia Mercado, who made the actual arrest. Officer Mercado was injured by a gunshot fired by one of Subramanian's bodyguards during the altercation. But don't worry, she is reported to be stable condition in the McLaren Flint hospital."

"Of course our friends on social media all saw it happen live, as dozens of bystanders streamed the event as it unfolded. Here we can see Stormcrow as she shields two men from gunfire. Watch it here in slow-mo, and you can clearly see the bullets hitting her in the back at least twice. Yet after that she still jumped into the fray that had erupted between the notorious vigilante Lighthammer and Subramanian's bodyguards."

"And jumped is the word all right, in this video shared with us by one of our viewers, Stormcrow defeats one of the bodyguard's energy shield by literally leaping into the ceiling with him, driving his unprotected back into the quite immovable object. I hope the Sentinels are watching in Chicago, because it looks like they now have some competition for the title of the Midwest's premier superheroes. Blood Raven too, better take note. She's going to be sharing the Detroit skies with this new sensation."

"Subramanian's bodyguards were briefly held as well, but were later released. Both claim to have no knowledge of their patron's smuggling operation. Whitewater Security - which employs the men, made a public statement to the same effect. Really, like, they were going to say anything else?"

January's smile turned to a frown as she listened to the coda to the story coming over Worldwide Network News. She was not surprised that the mercenaries would find a way to weasel out of their guilt. Whitewater Security was worth billions. They could afford the best attorneys money could buy. January was sure they had grown quite richer from Subramanian's conflict diamonds. Now they were going to get away with it.

The bespectacled reporter went on to relate a similar repudiation of Subramanian from the diamond syndicate that had employed him up until a few hours ago. January wondered if they truly had no knowledge of the smuggling as well. Or had they been in on it too? How many documents were being shredded right now? How many tracks were being erased?

Still, it at least looked like Subramanian himself would go down for the crime. That was something. That would fix what she had messed up. She hoped.

There was still one more loose end. One not so easily repaired. January held her breath and walked into the hospital room where Emilia Mercado lay.

The arm that she had been shot in was now bound up in a cast. Already it was covered with writing in numerous colors and handwriting styles. Her wavy black hair spilled down across her shoulders, and her previously olive-toned skin now looked pale. January hoped that was just from the lights.

She looked tired. But her eyes were open, and watched the news on the television hanging from the ceiling. They moved to January as she entered the room, and widened slightly.

"Visiting hours are over chica," she said coolly. Again, January admired her grit.

"I know," January responded, "I was waiting for your family and friends to leave."

"I suppose I should thank you," Emilia said. "You pulled me out of the line of fire. You pulled that slug out of my arm too. You saved people's lives today."

"You don't have to thank me." January bit her lip as she walked nearer. "To be honest, I was just trying to fix the mistakes I made last night. I'm sorry you had to get hurt in the process."

January stared at the arm in the cast.

"I came to see how you are doing. I'm sorry I couldn't stop that shotgun from hitting you."

"How could you have?" Emilia scrunched her brows in confusion. "It was a ricochet. The gun wasn't even pointed at me to begin with."

"I know, but I need to do better than that," January said.

"Don't we all," the state trooper sighed.

"I was afraid…" January faltered, staring at the cast on her arm. "I was afraid you might… lose your arm."

"I almost did," she replied. "If it had been full force I would have. But they say the slug lost most of its velocity on Lighthammer's force field. So it only broke my arm. I was lucky, getting shot can be a lot worse."

"Does it hurt?" January wondered.

"Not with the drugs they are giving me," the state trooper laughed.

"Have you been shot before?" January asked. She already knew the answer of course. Gadget had gone through her background with a fine-toothed search bot. But she was trying to build a relationship. That did not start by telling someone you were snooping into their history. Granted, it probably did not start by doing the snooping in the first place either…

"No, never," Emilia answered. "It's funny, I never got a scratch in Iraq. But I go to the airport, the safest place you think you could be, and I get shot. By another vet of all people."

"The world's a mysterious place," January said. "Well, at least they will give you a few days off work."

"I was already on vacation!" Emilia exclaimed. "I was picking up my folks. They flew out from New York to see me. And this happens. What about you though? I saw you get shot on the TV."

"Just a few bumps and bruises," January said dismissively. "I've gotten worse in Krav Maga class."

"That's some class."

"My instructor is a bear," January smiled.

"So are you going to keep doing this?" Emilia became serious once more. "This super thing?"

"I honestly don't know," January said. "I made mistakes, I know that. I almost killed myself just flying into the terminal. But I think I did something good. Something good for people. If I can learn, if I can keep doing better, shouldn't I? Don't I have an obligation to?"

"You really are young aren't you?" Emilia narrowed her eyes as she studied January more closely. "I didn't realize it earlier. Are you still in your teens?"

"Are you going to get all ageist on me now?" January prickled. If there was anything that got on her nerves, besides the whole transphobia thing, it was being automatically discounted and ignored because she was only a teen.

"I'm not reading you," the olive-skinned woman explained. "That is the hip thing to say these days right? Or is it throwing shade? I was only twenty when I joined the Army. But there was a lot I didn't know then. About the world, and about myself. Sometimes it takes time just living to learn who you really are, and what you need to do with your life."

"I've lived a lot since I came out and transitioned." January took a chance, and threw that out there. She had to find out sooner or later, and better sooner in this case. "Being trans made me take a long, hard look at who I was. It made me stop lying to myself just to fit in and be how I was 'supposed' to be."

"You're transgender?" the state trooper looked honestly surprised. "I never imagined. I mean your voice is a little lower, but other than that…"

The state trooper's voice trailed off. Her eyes went up and down over January's armored frame, as if she was seeing her for the first time.

January resisted the urge to bite her lip again. She braced herself for the TERF tirade that she was sure would come. Because after all, why wouldn't it? That was just how the world worked.

"Well good on you chica," Emilia finally said. "I'll bet coming out was harder than taking those bullets. It was for me, when I told my family I was a lesbian."

January was not surprised by the revelation. Emilia's discharge papers said "homosexual activity" right at the top. But she knew from personal experience that hearing someone say it directly to you meant something.

"How did that go?" January stared at the crucifix that laid upon the tray table beside her bed. That was never a good sign. Gadget's digging had found that she was a Puerto Rican born in the Bronx. That sounded incredibly Catholic to her. Did that also mean incredibly phobic as well?

"Coming out was not nearly as a bad as I thought it would be," Emilia smiled again. "Sometimes we don't give the people we love enough credit. Of course with as many brothers and sisters and cousins as I have, we have everything in my family. There's an atheist, a vegetarian, a vegan, a communist, and a witch. One of my younger sisters, well siblings, is now non-binary in fact. Another one's even a Republican, if you can imagine that. Thanksgiving dinner is always exciting."

January feigned shock, and could not help but to laugh. Maybe she was creating a relationship after all?

Posted by: Renee Jul 13 2019, 06:34 PM

Lighthammer has force fields! That's cheating!

Please be bullet-proof, she found herself thinking, please be bullet-proof.

Hee hee awesome.

Oh yikes. She had to do some spontaneous surgery. Yikes.

January realized this would be the perfect time for a witty one-liner. Something like catching up on a good book, or not judging one by its cover. Or course nothing came to mind that did not sound trite.

Hmm... ."I'll be back?" Naah.

............ "Make my day, punk?" Lol no way.

........... "Cats come when they feel like it, not when they're told." Hee hee that's close I guess.

I love the conversation between Lighthammer and January. "I did research on you...." "I did research on you too!" spoken through gritted teeth in my imagination.

Hey I didn't see that coming, that resolution between superheroes. Twists and turns, m'lady, twists and turns.

Okay, what about this: "Am I a bird? Am I a plane? Oh hell no, I'm the Stormcrow!" Hmm... wink.gif

Posted by: Acadian Jul 13 2019, 07:46 PM

It just struck when you referred to January as Jan in your comments what a perfect nickname for her. I see now another advantage of her name change. After all, Auggie would be a terrible nickname for Metro Detroit's new sensation. wink.gif

I love the plays on naming WNN and Whitewater Security. Oh, and ‘fine toothed bot’ was pretty clever as well.

Though her experiences have on balance not been positive with others about being trans, I chuckled over the irony of January silently prejudging cops and Catholics by assessing the odds of a Catholic cop prejudging her. That said, she has been kicked around and prejudged plenty of times so her angst and self-preservation instincts are very understandable. Life is so complicated, isn’t it? tongue.gif

January is indeed reaching out and it is brave of her to do so. I do hope the two women can become friends. Our superheroine is rapidly growing in many ways and it is a joy to follow her journey.

Posted by: SubRosa Jul 13 2019, 11:56 PM

As an editorial note, given that I have decided to move away from the Case of Charles Dexter Ward background for January's family history, I have changed the name of the author of the Wicca book January was reading in the first episode.

Posted by: treydog Jul 15 2019, 12:19 AM

A nice bit of calm after the Stormcrow (sorry). But seeing Jan building bridges and making amends is an excellent insight into who she wants to be. Speaking of- had to quote this-

But she was trying to build a relationship. That did not start by telling someone you were snooping into their history. Granted, it probably did not start by doing the snooping in the first place either…

That gave me a smile.

Side note- still looking at early Boston. Did find a history of Beacon Hill that pointed out it actually did have a "beacon fire" on one of the original three peaks (which were later flattened to build upscale houses).

Posted by: SubRosa Jul 15 2019, 02:50 AM

QUOTE(treydog @ Jul 14 2019, 07:19 PM) *

Side note- still looking at early Boston. Did find a history of Beacon Hill that pointed out it actually did have a "beacon fire" on one of the original three peaks (which were later flattened to build upscale houses).

Thanks for the link. I did dig up that there was a beacon up there on the eponymous hill. But not that there were three hills. Nor that they were cut down later! I had noted that it was right beside the common. I have been wondering how long the Common was used for horse and cattle grazing. The Revolutionary War era maps I see still show a big empty spot where the Common is. So I guess it was still grazing land then?

I also noted in an old map from 1732 or so that a lot of the area north and west of Beacon hill was used for rope-making, with lots of these long streets that were specifically for stretching out long ropes along. So they were not for people living there. But when I look at maps from the 1770s there are new streets there, which makes me think the rope layers no longer used those spots. Or maybe they did?

I think if I really want more info I am going to have to just buckle down and make a trip to the library and go hunt through the stacks. The internet has so spoiled me that I just don't think of doing that anymore.

Posted by: SubRosa Jul 17 2019, 02:03 AM

I bought today. Thankfully it has much of what I was looking for in its first few pages. I still have to actually read it. Hopefully there will be more good info.

Posted by: Grits Jul 17 2019, 03:28 AM

Excellent shirt! I’m a fan, even if Freya does not look impressed. biggrin.gif

“fine-toothed search bot” laugh.gif

Detroit does come alive in Jan’s story, it’s definitely more than a backdrop. I wonder if there is a historically accurate TV show or movie set during colonial times that could give you some inspiration for Boston. Maybe something about John Adams. You could build a framework of facts from research and then flavor it with what you know about the times. Oh! I bet there is criticism online that points out the flaws in TV shows and movies, which could be a backwards source of accurate information. Just an idea.

I loved the careful getting-to-know-you between Emilia and Jan. It felt very natural. The hospital setting and Emilia’s injuries underscored that January really is different and the risk of hurting people during super-antics is high. To me that makes the big fights more real. I’m not very familiar with superhero stories, so it’s good for me to see how things work in the story world.

Posted by: Renee Jul 17 2019, 03:40 PM

QUOTE(Grits @ Jul 16 2019, 10:28 PM) *

“fine-toothed search bot” laugh.gif

Ha ha I liked that one too.

"No, never," Emilia answered. "It's funny, I never got a scratch in Iraq. But I go to the airport, the safest place you think you could be, and I get shot. By another vet of all people."

Yes, very true. So many soldiers barely get a scratch during active duty, then they come back here and have to deal with some real battles, right on their home streets.

Is there a lot of homophobia in Michigan? I suppose in central Maryland we're at a minimum these days. I simply never hear of anything negative in this regard. I had a friend who came out a couple years ago, and although most of his family was shocked, a lot of his friends who were not in-the-know simply shrugged it off. "Yeah, I could tell," one girlfriend of mine said. "Can you pass the sugar?" .. like the matter was immediately dropped as a curiosity, not much more.

And thanks for explaining about Michigan accents. smile.gif Yes, we say soda down here too, but my old boss was from Michigan and he'd say "pop."

Posted by: SubRosa Jul 20 2019, 05:06 PM

Renee: Lighthammer's not a cheater! laugh.gif He's an energy projector. An energy sheath/shield for defense is pretty standard fare for those types. Since he uses Solid Light in particular, a force field was perfect for him. Right now his force fields are small, as he is new to this. But they will improve over time. (This is what happens when you play Marvel Superheroes and Champions, you look at all supers in terms of how their powers fit together).

I liked writing the talk between Lightguy and Stormgirl very much too. There is some definite conflict there, which January is not shy about backing down from. But the fact they are both willing to talk also shows us something about their characters. If you recall, Lighthammer didn't fire on January first during their initial confrontation. He told her to get lost, and then she took them both out the window. Even then, he tried to grab her in mid air to keep her from falling to her death. Really, January was the aggressor (with good reason to be of course). This willingness to cooperate with others leaves a door open between him and January, which I intend to use in the future.

I think I get more bigotry on the internet than I get here in flesh and blood Michigan. That is not to say that it is not rife in Michigan. Until the Supreme Court overturned it, Michigan had an amendment to the state constitution not only banning same-sex marriage, but also any form of civil union or shared benefits between same-sex partners. That was of course voted for and passed by the people of Michigan by an overwhelming majority. It is also the reason I don't do tabletop RPGs anymore. There is always one person in every group who forces everyone to choose between them and me.

Really though, it is more of a generational thing. Younger people don't bat an eye. Then the older you go, the more likelihood there is for hostility. My mother cried when I came out (and not cried in a good way). My brother didn't care less ("Yeah, I know") is all he said. My father said he though I was brave. It's a whole gamut.

Of course it is called Pop! Soda is what you bake with silly! laugh.gif

Acadian: When I was looking over the name she would pick for herself, the fact that January shortens to Jan was definitely something I considered (along with January being the first month of the year, being similar to the Two-Headed god Janus, and the same name as January Jones). Jan works as a good nickname. I don't use it except in dialogue, as I want to keep a certain level of formality to my writing. And I think she thinks of herself more as January than as Jan. But she knows people are going to call her Jan, and it's a nickname she does not mind.

Worldwide Network News was inspired by the In their Dark Adventure radio theater shows, they have a fictional radio news station called Worldwide Wireless News. I just took it forward in time from the 20s and updated the name. But I still imagine it is the same company.

Sadly, January's reaction to the crucifix was taken straight from my life. I have had to learn to always be on my guard whenever I see one, because I don't know how the wearer is going to treat me. Sometimes it is the same as anyone else, other times, not. I always have to be ready for the latter. That is just the unfortunate reality that people like January and I live in.

treydog: Now that she has committed to this super life, January has a clear idea of who she needs to be. She has not worked out all the kinks yet, or put the Buffy Doctrine down on paper. But she has a clear goal in her head of the person she wants to be. Reaching out to Emilia is part of that. She knows she needs the police on her side if she is going to be successful as a cape. That means forging relationships. Emilia was the obvious first.

Grits: Freya is way to busy being impressed by "Outside!" to pay attention to a nerd like her mother. laugh.gif

I will be working in more Detroit personality in today's episode in fact. Later in this chapter we will have a couple cases where we can fly along with January and see more of the city as well.

I did try watching John Adams again, since I get it free on Prime. I tried once before, but could not get into it. Sadly, I could not keep interested for too long this time either. It's the inaccuracies! Unfortunately for me, all the nits I see about the show are about actual events (like who was where at what time), or about things like officers having the wrong buttons on their uniforms, or enlisted men holding their rifles the wrong way on their shoulder. No one really had anything to say about the portrayal of life in general. But the good thing is I am almost finished reading the book I bought a few days ago, and it has been very helpful.

If you want to get more familiar with superheros I highly recommend the new run of Ms. Marvel with Kamala Khan as the protagonist. It is a great entry point, as it has a very well written main character. It is not just about her punching things, but navigating her life. Likewise with the (now) older Batgirl of Burnside era comics (Batgirl New 52 #35 and up) and her Rebirth era issues. The artwork is not that great. I guess they don't spend money making the girl comics. But the writing is excellent.

Of course I also recommend the two books by April Daniels that I keep flogging. They are what made me think I could actually write a superhero story in prose (as opposed to how we normally see them in comic or movie form).

This Episode's Links:

Chapter 2.1 - Stormcrow Recycled

Mid May 2019

"Hey girl, that's a really cute jacket you got on."

January looked up from the book she was reading on her phone. Standing in the aisle of the bus was an African Goddess. Perhaps she was Oshun? However, Erzulie was a strong possibility as well. She was tall and slender, with a curly mane that spilled from her shoulders like an indigo waterfall. She was dressed in a tight leather jacket, and even tighter skinny jeans that glittered with rhinestones. Her silky skin was mellow brown, and her eyes gleamed in the morning sun.

"Umm, thanks," January glanced down at the soft pink fitted jacket that she wore over a "Made In Detroit" tee.

"That's like, a Lululemon right?" Oshun asked.

"I wish," January smiled wryly. "I can't afford one of those. It's a Clululemon, same as my leggings. Not even half the price."

"Now that's what I was thinking," the Goddess said as she sat down beside January, who was obliged to scoot over to make more room for the other girl. "I was thinking 'there is a girl who doesn't waste good money'."

"Um, I guess," January murmured. She did not understand why the Goddess was even talking to her. She must have been incredibly bored. Or maybe it felt like a safer bet than sitting anywhere near the four gang-banger wannabes in the back, or the old lady knitting socks the next seat over, or the woman with two sneezing kids in front.

"Oh you got some nice legs on you too, don't you girl?" To emphasize her words, the African Goddess put one hand on January's leg, and gently slid it along the soft fabric of her black leggings. January had to admit, it felt good. Better than good. Her touch was practically electric. "I bet you work out, don't you?"

"Yeah," January fumbled for words. "I do gymnastics."

January stared down at her boots. What on earth was this African Goddess doing talking to her? Was this some kind of butter-up before she tried selling her something? Was all this some kind of punked video? Was the other woman trying to pick her pocket? If so, she was going to be very disappointed. There had to be some reason for the attention, but January could not imagine what it could be.

The Goddess continued talking, and fawning over her. It made January more and more nervous, waiting for the other shoe to drop. She was relieved when the bus finally reached the Poletown stop. She lifted her backpack, and squeezed past the Goddess to get into the aisle and off the bus. Afterward, she immediately felt for her phone and her wallet. But nothing was missing from her purse, pack, or her pockets.

January could still remember how warm her hand had been, when it had gently slid across her leg. She could still feel it there, softly caressing her. That was not something she would soon forget…

January fought the urge to blush. She pulled her pack across her shoulders, and walked down the street. To her right a row of trees partially screened the looming colossus of the Hamtramck Assembly plant. Across Mount Elliott Street to her left were smaller steel plants, and a towering white building with no signs at all, or even windows.

January imagined that if she could get up on that roof, she could get a lot of air under her wings. She would have to change first. But that would be easy enough, given that her armor was in the pack across her shoulders. But a public street was not the place for changing clothes, not even as fast she could do it.

She made her way down the sidewalk, with only a few cars occasionally whipping past. One honked its horn at her, but she had no idea why. It was not like she was walking in the street or anything. She crossed a dilapidated bridge over I-94, and found herself standing in front of a gas station. The tall smokestack of the city incinerator rose up in the distance to her right. But she turned left instead, putting her back to it. She followed the service drive along the side of the freeway, past a big warehouse with semi-trucks parked outside.

She came upon a dilapidated railroad track, and turned right to follow it south. To her left was a parking lot fenced off with razor wire, with some sort of industrial building beyond. The sharp edges of the wire glinted in the sunlight, and the links of the fence were still shiny. That, and the handful of trucks and cars in the lot, told her that this was a place still in business. Though she could not guess what that business might be.

She ignored it, and headed down the railroad line. A thin bank of trees began on the far side of the tracks. She crossed over and ventured into the greenery. It was a nice, quiet spot, screened from any prying eyes that might be following her.

She closed her eyes and concentrated on her Fire meditation.

Fire give me passion and energy. Transform me in the night sky.

An instant later she was clad from head to toe in her Stormcrow armor, and her regular clothes were tucked safely away in her backpack. She leapt up onto the bough of a stout oak, and looped one of the pack's shoulder straps through its branches. That would keep anyone from finding it, let alone stealing it.

She knew that she could have just taken the pack with her. But she did not want anyone seeing her wearing it with the armor. They might take pictures, then they might see her in her ordinary life wearing the same backpack, and put two and two together. It was paranoia, to be sure. But that did not mean there were not people truly out to get her. Everyone knew what had happened to Hailstorm after all. She was not going to end up like him.

She dropped to the earth below, and stepped out of the greenery and into a street that paralleled the trees and train tracks. Beyond rose the sprawling ruins of the old Packard Automotive Plant. One massive building after another rose like a line of rotted teeth in a blighted jaw. They reminded January of a row of megalithic dominos. Push on one, and all them would probably collapse one after the other.

Not one building retained a single door or window. Broken cinderblocks, cracked bricks, and other detritus were piled up everywhere. Yet nowhere was there anything of value. No iron or steel. No wiring. Certainly no copper pipes. The only remaining life was in the graffiti that splashed the decrepit walls, and the trees and brush that rose from some of the rooftops.

It made January think of pictures she had seen of cities bombed to ruins in World War II. Except no bombs had ever fallen here. No wars had marred this spot. It had been neglect, abandonment, and decay that had writ the doom of the Packard plant, just as it had done to most of Detroit's once-mighty industries.

She found the man she was looking for soon enough, standing on the roof of one of the taller buildings and gazing out over the edge. His blue, white, and silver armor glowed softly. He stood arms akimbo, in one of those classic superhero poses. Then he rose slowly into the air, a plume of white light erupting from each of his boots. January wondered if he practiced that in front of a mirror.

She leapt up to the roof of the nearest building. From there she jumped again to the top of a taller ruin across the alley. By the time she made it there he had jetted over, and hovered in mid-air beyond the edge of the roof.

"You're late," Lighthammer groused.

"Blame the bus," January shrugged her shoulders. "I got here as soon as I could."

"The bus…" Lighthammer shook his head. "Really Crowgirl? You're taking the bus?"

"This ain't Chicago or New York Lightguy," January countered. "It's not like we have a subway, or an elevated, or any real mass transit here."

"You know, I'm working a mission. Probably sometime next week," he said. "An extra hand wouldn't hurt. Your end would probably be 50k, if things go well."

"And how many people would I have to kill?" Now it was January's turn to rest her hands on her hips.

"Don't think of them as people," Lighthammer shook his head and waved one hand from side to side for emphasis. "It makes things easier."

"I can't do that," January shook her head. "I can't live my life the way you do."

"You too good for me White Hat?" There was no mistaking the challenge in his voice.

"I didn't say that," January insisted. "Everything I do is always being watched, measured, studied, by people yearning to vilify me. Not only me, but everyone else like me. I don't have the luxury of ever doing anything wrong. I have to be perfect, all the time, now more than ever."

"Sounds like an impossible way to live," the armored man said softly.

"That's what my therapist said, back when I used to see her," January shrugged. "But I'm not here to stretch out on your couch Doctor Hammer."

"A'ight," Lighthammer nodded. "I used the extra time to get ready. Step into my classroom."

He waved for her to follow, and flew back to the building he had originally been standing upon. But he did not return to the roof. Instead he nimbly zipped down through a wide aperture in the floor beneath it.

January leapt after him. She hit the triggers built into her gauntlets, and her cape snapped out into a pair of wings. She followed his path, just barely gliding through the gaping maw that had once been a window. Once inside she hit her triggers again, and her wings collapsed back into a cape. She hit the ground with speed, tucked into a forward roll, and bounced back to her feet.

She found that Lighthammer had indeed been busy. On one otherwise bare wall he had spray painted several diagrams. One was of an airplane with arrows pointed out from it in all directions. Another was the side view of a wing, with dotted lines to denote what looked like the flow of air across it. He also had several bullet points spelled out, which he began going over.

"Okay, flight is governed by a set of four principles," he said. "Lift, Weight (or gravity), Thrust, and Drag."

He pointed to the graphic of the airplane, and January noted that each of those principles was spelled out beside an arrow showing which direction it moved the plane. Lift for the up arrow, Thrust for the forward arrow, and so on. She listened with rapt attention as he went over each, and explained how they affected flying. For example Lift was created by lower pressure created on the upper surface of a wing, compared to the higher pressure on the underside of the same wing. As the name said, that caused it to be lifted upward.

After spending some time on such book learning, Lighthammer led her out the window and back into the sky. Here they put his lessons to practical use as January glided along, with him beside her to coach her on angling her wings, and her body, to make the most of each.

January could not stop herself from smiling. It was not that she did not take it seriously. She certainly did. It was just such undeniable fun that there was no containing it. There were no morals or ethics to consider. No uncertain future to angst over. No one to insult her. There was nothing to worry about at all, except falling to her death on the broken concrete a hundred feet below.

"We got company Crowgirl," Lighthammer's voice erased the smile from her lips. "Four o'clock."

January had to spend a moment working out what direction that was. Finally she craned her head back and to the right to see a skinny old man with white-hair and a beard standing on one of the abandoned rooftops. He wore a blue sweater that said: "God in the 313". He raised one hand to shade his eyes as he stared at them. A pair of dogs circled him, wagging their tails joyfully.

"Don't worry about him," January replied. "He just lives here. He won't bother us."

"He lives here?" the armored vigilante said. "Is he mental or something?"

"This is Detroit," January explained. "We are all mental here. All the sane people left decades ago."

"If he calls the police, it'll be more than a bother," Lighthammer warned.

"He won't," January replied confidently. "Like I said, this is Detroit. No one here calls the police. They know there's no point."

"Such cynicism in one so young," Lighthammer clucked. "I respect that."

January laughed. It would be funnier if it had not been so true.

"So what's the 313 he's got on his shirt?" Lighthammer wondered. "Is that some kind of gang you got around here?"

"It's the area code for Detroit," January explained. "Go past 8 Mile and into the 'burbs and it turns to 586 and 248."

"Uh huh," Lighthammer nodded.

"So if you're in the 313, you're in the D." January went on.

"The D?" Lighthammer asked. "Oh, you mean Detroit."

"The D is something we say here," January explained. "It's from the Old English D the Tigers have on their hats."

"The Tigers I know," Lighthammer nodded. "I saw them play the Indians down at Progressive Field with…"

The vigilante's words trailed off, and January guessed that he was about to say someone's name. She did not press him for more. Now she remembered that they were not just two ordinary people hanging out and talking. They were capes, and they had secret identities to protect, even from one another. Especially from one another.

It was a sobering thought. Did this barrier exist between all metas? She knew that they might be allies at the moment, when they each had something the other needed. But that could change in the future. Would she always have to think so strategically with everyone she met from now on?

They returned to their original rooftop. Now it was January's turn to become the teacher. She began with the most basic moves of Krav Maga. First she demonstrated them. Then she worked Lighthammer through each, repositioning his hands, arms, and body, until he could perform the attacks and counters flawlessly.

Still, her thoughts kept drifting back to the African Goddess' hand on her leg…

Posted by: treydog Jul 20 2019, 07:15 PM

The thing (okay ONE thing) I like about this story is the excellent incorporation of "mundane" into "meta". The pictures most definitely help with that! But this is the part that so many shows (or even movies) and books miss out on- the characters are "human" first, with "super" as an aspect of their humanity. So they have lives and emotions and problems and everything else that goes with the "Homo" part- all of which can be complicated (rather than "fixed") by the "Superiorous". Being able to "leap tall buildings" does not relieve one of the need for sleep or to do laundry, for that matter.

And the location-specific parts add so much to the story, especially the industrial and urban decay. Since the first car I remember riding in was a Studebaker, I admit to having a particular nostalgia for Packards....

Flight lessons in exchange for fight lessons- and January continuing to define and refine her code... excellent.

And the ever-present adolescent (and post-adolescent) struggle over- does this person like ME- for ME? Or is it some kind of joke or game? All of which is even worse for our protagonist because of her dysmorphia.

Wonderfully written and a true treat to read.

Posted by: Acadian Jul 20 2019, 09:35 PM

The bus ride and encounter did a couple of things very smoothly. It reinforced the existence of mundane aspects in the lives of superheroes – especially new, young ones. In the face of attention from another woman, January somewhat awkwardly clung to her streetwise suspicions rather than seriously considering that another woman could be attracted to her. A rather endearing vulnerability actually. Hopefully, this African Goddess gave January a self-confidence boost in that area.

Happily for our superheroine, this vulnerability does not seem to extend to other areas, for she is certainly quick of word, wit and confidence when it comes to dealing with Lightguy. I love the idea of exchanging flight lessons for fight lessons. She is wise to build such an alliance, as Lighthammer does seem to have some redeeming qualities and clearly respects her as well.

Lastly, the entire episode was nicely furnished with bits of history and local flavor of Detroit.

Posted by: Renee Jul 21 2019, 02:12 AM

I think I want an African Goddess next to me, if I ever ride the bus again.

I like that they don't know each others' identities. And it's so obvious Lighthammer comes from some where else. In fact he seems quite out of touch with everyday humans.

Then he rose slowly into the air, a plume of white light erupting from each of his boots. January wondered if he practiced that in front of a mirror.

(bolded text) laugh.gif

Posted by: Grits Jul 23 2019, 01:10 AM

Not Cthululemon? tongue.gif Good idea to stash the backpack. I like that January’s natural suspicion over the gorgeous bus girl gets another layer of concern over protecting her identity. She has a lot to consider when someone gets friendly, unfortunately.

The Packard plant description was awesome, I love the comparison to bombed-out buildings. There’s a lot to infer about growing up in an area with that kind of industrial decay that doesn’t have to be spelled out.

"Don't think of them as people," Lighthammer shook his head and waved one hand from side to side for emphasis. "It makes things easier."

"I can't do that," January shook her head. "I can't live my life the way you do."

And here is a great divide between the two capes. (Not sure if they’re both supposed to be shaking their heads?)

Lighthammer’s flight moves are impressive. Flight school sounds as fun as January reports it was!

Posted by: SubRosa Jul 27 2019, 04:35 PM

treydog: Inserting the human element into these stories is my primary goal. Writing about capes is boring. Writing about people is interesting. I was inspired by April Daniel's novels, and the more recent comics of Batgirl, Ms. Marvel (Kamala Khan), and the new series Unstoppable Wasp. All of them put the people first, the supering second. It made me realize that this was a genre that could be about more than just problem-solving and fist fights. Just as Fantasy can be about more than just barbarians with mighty thews weaving a glittering web of steel about their half-naked, pantherish frames.

Tbh, the urban decay is not so bad anymore in Detroit. The Packard Plant is right about to be re-developed. The same is happening to long abandoned places all around the city, like Eloise, the Northville Psychiatric Hospital, the Pontiac Silverdome, the Book-Cadillac Hotel, and so on. Detroit really has been turning around in the 2010's. But I kind of like to hold onto that old urban decay, as it injects a certain harsh character into the story. It reminds us that just as things rise, they all eventually fall as well. Sort of like the slave standing behind the successful Roman general during his triumph (the parade that is), whispering in his ear "Remember you are mortal."

One reason I like putting January together with Lighthammer is that it forces both of them to take a hard look at their actions, and what they want to be. They are so alike in many ways, it is easy to forget their differences sometimes. Then their very different philosophies butt heads, and each has to look at the other's and acknowledge that it exists, and either reject it, defend it, or perhaps even think about it.

Acadian: I understand that when Spider-Man first came out back in the 60s, the reason he became so insanely popular was that people could identify with him. He was picked on in school. He barely eked out a living. His everyday, mundane struggles in life were exactly the same as those of all the readers. The Sam Raimi films certainly underscored all this, which is why I like them. I definitely want to show that with January. She's taking the bus the same as thousands of other people.

The African-Goddess was a great way for me to show that combined dumbfoundedness, uncertainty, and awkwardness that I think we all go through, when we do not realize that another person likes us. In my own life, I tend to figure those things out about 12 hours later... Though once it took over a year.

Renee: I want an African Goddess next to me too! laugh.gif We can all dream.

Struggling with secret identities is standard comic book fare. But it also makes sense in the world they live in. I like how it creates this artificial barrier between people who might be risking their lives on one another's behalf. Yet at the same time they cannot just go to a baseball game together or sit in a bar and have a couple of pints.

I would not say that Lighthammer is out of touch with people. Just with Detroit. He was an excellent foil for me to use to reveal some Detroit-centric info, without it coming across as an infodump.

Grits: Cthululemon: The Stars are Right for you to look good in our new summer fashions!

Sadly January has a lot of extra baggage when it comes to romance. Being a lesbian already adds one difficulty, then trans, and now she is a super with an identity to protect. When it rains it pours!

One thing about the urban decay and economic hard times Detroit has struggled through over the past 40 years is that it has driven out a lot of people. Those who remain, are either foolish to have done so, or too stubborn and stuck in their ways to move, too loyal to their roots, or just plain crazy. Probably a mix of all. It does create a unique character to this city though.

January does love to fly. Something I am sure Acadian can relate to. She is coming to discover that she never feels so free as when her feet are off the ground. There will be more of that later this chapter, when she gets some serous flight on.

Chapter 2.2 - Stormcrow Recycled

"What a piece of junk!" January stared at the heap of twisted machinery that had once been a motorcycle. "I can't buy this!"

Her heart plummeted like a balloon with no air. That was how she felt, as if all the air had been sucked out of her. She had been so certain that this was going to be her new car, well bike, or motor vehicle at least. It was going to be her freedom from constantly begging rides from Avery, or borrowing her mom's Mini Cooper, or taking the bus. This was going to be a whole new chapter in life. A chapter where she could go wherever she wanted, whenever she wanted. It was all going to start now.

Or not.

She and Avery stood in a garage larger than her family's house. All around her were cars and trucks that she could not even name. But the bright colors, spoilers, and racing stripes said a lot about them, and the man who owned them. It all reminded January of her brother, whose narcissism was only equaled by his obnoxiousness. She instantly disliked the man.

"It just needs a little work." The bike's owner clucked as he hobbled a few steps toward the motorcycle's remains. One of his legs was bound up in a synthetic cast, and he had to use a crutch to walk.

"A little work!" Avery exclaimed. "The engine is wrecked, and where's the battery?"

"Hazmat had to haul it away," the owner murmured. "It was leaking all over the place after the accident."

"It looks like an elephant stepped on it," January frowned. One side of the engine was crumpled into a shapeless mass. Whatever had hit it, or ran it over, had been substantial. The rest of the motorcycle seemed to be in one piece however. The tires still had air, the handlebars were still straight, and so forth.

"Just a little fender bender," the owner contended. "Nothing you can't fix. If you're as good as the Laughing Man said you were."

"Oh I'm better than that Ricky," Avery insisted. "But look at this. The whole engine is shot. I'll have to rip it out and start from scratch, plus buy a brand new battery. What did you do to this thing anyway?"

"I may allegedly have over-celebrated slightly on Four Twenty," Ricky said. "I had to put it down. It may have hit a fire hydrant…"

"May have?" January fumed. "This is a giant paperweight. Come on let's go."

"Now just wait a minute, you said you wanted a bike," Ricky insisted. "I have a bike."

"The work I would have to do…" Avery rubbed the back of his head in thought. "We'll give you five hundred for it."

"Five hundred!" Ricky exclaimed. "This is a Victory Empulse TT! Sure it's a few years old, but I paid 20k for this thing!"

"It might have been worth that three years ago," Avery said coolly, "but not today. It's a pair of wheels and front forks. Five hundred, and I'll take it off your hands. Otherwise call the junkyard. That's all its good for."

"That's not even one hour of my lawyer's time!" Ricky fumed. He ran a thin and shaking hand through his straggly mane. "Fine, take it, it's yours. Let me get the title."

The thin man hobbled over a full size tool cabinet that was far too clean and gleaming to have ever been used. He fumbled with the lock, giving January time to turn to Avery.

"Are you crazy?" she was careful to keep her voice down, so Ricky could not overhear. "Do you know how long it took me to save that money?"

"Don't worry," Avery smiled. "All the stuff that's broken, I was going to replace anyway. I've been working on it for the last week. Now you'll have money left over for a helmet."

"I'm bidding on two on Ebuy right now." January bit her lip. "Are you sure about this?"

"Have I ever let you down?" Avery said confidently. "This bike is perfect. And this Gucci biker wannabe is right, it is worth twenty grand."

"If you say so," January was torn. On one hand, she really wanted something to drive. She needed something. She had no doubt that Avery could work miracles with tech. But every time she looked at the mangled wreck of a motorcycle her enthusiasm vanished into a lightless void of Lovecraftian doom. Still, she did trust Avery. So she reached into her purse, pulled out her envelope of money, and counted out five $100 bills. She imagined that this would be the last time she would see Ben Franklin's face for a long while.

Ricky fished out the title and brought it over. January looked over his signature to make sure it matched the name. She did not expect someone living in Bloomfield Hills to con her. But you never knew. There was no lien. This guy had probably paid the entire twenty thousand in cash when he bought it. She wondered if she should really check the odometer and compare the VIN. But she decided that was overdoing it. It was not like the Secretary of State was going to do that when they went there next.

She handed over the money with a feeling of finality. It reminded her of how it had felt when she handed Emilia Mercado that bag filled with diamonds. This was far less valuable. But she had worked long and hard for this money. She had earned it. She hated the idea that she might be wasting it.

"Good thing you brought a van." Ricky nodded to the beat up Ford that Avery had borrowed from his uncle Jerome. "I think I have some ramps over here somewhere..."

He shambled off, and while his back was turned January handed her purse to Avery. Then she picked up the motorcycle with one hand and tucked it under her armpit. She stepped lightly to the Ford, opened the back doors with her free hand, and hopped inside. She gently laid the bike down to avoid scratching the bare metal floor. She climbed back out just in time to see Ricky shamble back into view with a metal ramp clutched in his free hand.

"All set," Avery smiled, "pleasure doing business with ya."

Ricky was still gaping, dumbfounded, as they drove off.

A visit to the insurance company followed, and then the Secretary of State. The latter went quickly, as Avery had reserved an appointment. Whether that had been legit, or if he had just hacked their system, January neither knew nor asked. By the time they returned to his house January felt exhausted. She had never spent so much money in her life. It was very... deflating.

Posted by: Renee Jul 27 2019, 04:51 PM

And this Gucci biker wannabe is right,


Yes, how apt a description, the handing over money part. There's this feeling like "damn... there goes the past X months!" And in her case, she can't really see the final result yet, like I'm sure Avery can.

Posted by: Acadian Jul 27 2019, 11:00 PM

A superbike for a superhero - hopefully. Unfortunately, a wrecked one is the only way she could ever afford such a potentially amazing motorcycle. You really delivered on showing us how hard this was for January to turn over all her hard-earned cash for what seemed a very poor prospect. What it shows me is the depth of her trust in Avery’s judgment and abilities. Something tells me that her trust is well placed, and we’ll hope Gadget is able to transform the remains of this machine not just into a runnning crowbike but into a magnificent Stormcycle!

Your portrayal of Ricky was every bit as unsavory as I'm sure you intended. goodjob.gif

"This bike is perfect. And this Gucci biker wannabe is right, it is worth twenty grand."
-What Renee said. laugh.gif

Posted by: treydog Jul 28 2019, 03:06 PM

Quotes first and then observations.

It all reminded January of her brother, whose narcissism was only equaled by his obnoxiousness.

Have known a few (thankfully only a few) of those.

She did not expect someone living in Bloomfield Hills to con her.

Naivete, thy name is “January”.

Wheels! Crowgirl is gonna have wheels! I still remember my 1966 Mustang fondly. She was not in great condition (some holes in the floor pan), nor was she a monster (in-line 6 with a 3-speed instead of the 289 V-8), and she had her quirks (the transmission would kick itself out of third if you slowed below what she considered "reasonable"). But she was my first vehicle, paid for with my own money and she did have that pony car handling... So I am right there with you, Jan. Or where you will be when Avery works his magic.

A good contrast between the "Gucci biker's" casual abuse of his fortune (and his toys) and Jan's awareness of the ACTUAL cost of things, because she has had to WORK for them.

Posted by: SubRosa Aug 3 2019, 04:35 PM

Renee: I had no idea the 'Gucci Biker' line would play so well! I was casting about for a way to describe him, and that just popped into my head. The poorer you are, the harder it is to part with that cold, hard cash. I have been there many times buying cars, with my envelope filled with all the money I have in the world.

Acadian: As you noted, the only way January can afford a bike this cool (and it is a really awesome motorcycle IRL, I would love one) is to buy one that is wrecked. I was there when I was her age. Thankfully not anymore. But I can still remember having to do math everytime I looked at a menu in a restaurant, or a cd on a shelf, and figure out if I can really buy this.

treydog: I still remember my first cars too. The very first one never left the driveway, except on its way to the junkyard. So I don't count that one. The second was a 1972 Impala. I big old four door boat. The roof would leak, and sometimes the power steering went out when I was turning, which always made things exciting. I loved that car. It was my first taste of freedom. I paid $100 for it, which was a lot of money for someone making $3.30 an hour. It died after 3 months. I paid $200 for my second car, a 74 Plymouth Fury. It lasted 6 months. You can see where this is going... I did eventually get my pony car too. It was a 74 Javelin, with a 360 4bbl. It was so fast! My mother took it to the 7-11 on the corner and peeled out going around the corner in front of our house! That car was fast!

Crowgirl is going to finally get her wheels, and I am tapping into those feelings of both that first Impala, and that monster Javelin.

Chapter 2.3 - Stormcrow Recycled

After Avery gave her the all-clear, January picked up the motorcycle again and carried it through the back door and down into his Gadget Cave. There he went into full Gadget mode, and began to strip out the engine with a socket wrench.

"So how's your mutual training going with Lighthammer?" he asked. He strained at a particularly recalcitrant bolt. Then he slid back out of the way and pointed it out to January. She broke it loose with her fingers with no difficulty. Then she stood back to let him continue his work.

"It's going really well." January allowed a certain amount of satisfaction to creep into her voice. "He's taught me so much about the principles of flight already. He must be a pilot when he's not Lighthammering. He's picking up Krav Maga pretty well too."

"Just be careful around that guy," Avery warned. "You never know with Gray Hats."

"Is someone getting jealous?" January teased. "Don't you worry mi amigo, I'll always need you to fix my stuff."

"And here I thought you loved me for my body!" Avery grinned.

"Well your body is not that bad," January mused. "Except for all the... man parts that is."

"My man parts are my best parts!" With a grunt of effort Avery pulled the wrecked engine from the motorcycle's frame, and dragged it onto the cracked tile of the basement floor. January lifted it up with one hand and set it aside.

"I have some parts here that you'll like." Avery rose and went over to his worktable, where January saw a large lump concealed under a tarp. Avery yanked the covering off with the flourish of a magician performing his show closer.

Revealed beneath was a gleaming beast of an engine. It was all shining metal and bottled speed. While January stared at the wonder of machinery in amazement, Avery walked over to the downstairs fridge and pulled out a large metal sphere dotted with glowing led panels. It practically screamed "mad science". Gadget - the mad scientist himself - was completely unfazed by all this of course. He calmly opened up a compartment in one side of the engine, snapped the miniature Death Star inside, and then sealed it all up tight again.

"What in Freyja's name is that?" January looked at her friend in disbelief.

"You've heard of heavy water right?" Avery asked. "Well I made some back when I was working on the cold fusion reactor for my Geo. I never used it though, since Evian worked much better."

"You put a nuclear reactor in my motorcycle!" January stared at the engine in horror. "I thought you were going to make a fuel cell?"

"I was intending to go that route originally," Avery nodded. "But then I read that Zero Point and Stinger from the Sentinels are building a LIFE reactor for Chicago. It's laser inertial fusion energy. I reached out to them, and they gave me some tips. I use lasers to induce fusion in heavy water. There's no special cooling needed, and it can be turned on and off at any time."

"Isn't that dangerous?" January stared at the engine with the same caution she reserved for white supremacists and anti-vaxxers.

"Not at all," Avery insisted. "The only byproducts are hydrogen and helium. No gamma rays, no nuclear waste."

"You're sure?" January looked from the engine to its inventor. Mundane scientists had been promising nuclear fusion for all of her life, as well as cold fusion, and a host of other inventions. Yet they were all still promises. It was not that Avery was one to lie. Neither were those scientists. Anyone could be over-optimistic.

Granted, Avery had built a cold-fusion reactor for his Geo years ago. She had been there countless nights to listen to him swearing and pounding on it with a wrench while he tried to get it to work. But this was quite a leap beyond the innocuous spring water and coffee filter-driven power plant of his car.

"Oh yes, I've been testing this for the last few days. No issues," Avery crowed. "I have been reading about people doing this with ultra dense deuterium. So I might try that next. The energy output would be spectacular. I would just have to mitigate the extra weight."

"Extra weight?" January wondered.

"That stuff is more dense than the core of the Sun," Avery explained. "A four inch cube would weigh 140 tons."

"That's denser than most voters," January nodded. "You are actually thinking about that?"

"I just have to find a way to compensate for the weight," Avery reasoned. "Stinger gave me an idea about that too. She shunts her excess mass off to higher spatial dimensions when she goes down to the atomic level or lower. If I could do something like that, I could store most of the mass outside of the normal three-dimensional universe. Well, above it. Or in a different direction to it at least."

"You mean build a tesseract?" January tried to keep her voice neutral. When Avery got to brainstorming, his ideas could get pretty wild. But he did have a habit of making his dreams come true, even if it sometimes took a lot of swearing and wrench-wielding to get there.

"Ever since Panzer created the first suit of powered armor back in the 30's, people have been trying to generate more energy in a smaller package." Avery said. "Of course Zero Point uses zero point energy, Annihilator uses anti-matter, and who knows what Heisenberg is up to these days? No one has heard much from him since he came back from Jupiter. If I know the Technocrat, he's working on something big, maybe harnessing dark energy, or something even wilder."

January looked from Avery to the gleaming beast of an engine, and its fusion reactor. Was Avery planning on building a suit of powered armor? In that case her motorcycle engine was just the prototype for something much grander. She fought the smile that wanted to play across her lips. He wasn't talking about it yet, but clearly, that was in the back of the meta-inventor's mind.

She said nothing. She would play it cool, and pretend to be surprised and amazed when he finally did unveil it. But her inner fangirl squeed as loud as ever at the thought of him suiting up beside her one day.

"Anyway, even without the ultra-dense deuterium you could probably ride this bike to Pluto and back and not run out gas. Well... fuel."

"So this isn't going to go up like the Hindenburg is it?" January silenced her inner fangirl and paid attention. She stared at the engine, and her friend, with even more respect.

"Well, you don't want to crack the reaction chamber," Avery rubbed the back of his neck. "That might be bad."

"How bad?" January pressed him. He was rubbing his neck. That meant he was really uncomfortable.

"It's fine with it turned off, when no reaction is taking place," he insisted.

"What about when it's turned on?"

"Well that would be bad," Avery rubbed the back of his neck once more. "If the magnetic containment is disrupted… Well that's fully ionized plasma everywhere."

"Note to self, being splashed by the Sun is bad," January breathed. "But as long as it doesn't break, it's safe, right?" January hoped.

"Of course!" Avery insisted. "Like I said, no radiation, no toxic chemicals. It's completely eco-friendly in fact."

Following Avery's direction, January lifted the engine and carried it over to the motorcycle. She held it in place while he bolted it to the frame. Then she stood back while he hooked up the drive chain and made the final connections. In a few minutes it was ready, and he led the way while January carried it back up the stairs.

He stopped abruptly at the landing, and waved January back with one hand.

"Hey Nana, I thought you'd be sleeping." Avery spoke in his nice voice, the one he reserved for dogs and his grandmother.

"I was thirsty," a feminine voice as creaky as an attic floor floated out from around the corner.

"Here, let me get you some Ensure," Avery said diffidently. "I bought some strawberry this morning."

"You are such a sweet young man," his grandmother said. Then her voice lowered to a whisper that January could barely hear. "Do you have that white girl downstairs? I thought I saw her come in."

"Uhh, yeah, Jan's downstairs doing her homework," Avery said. January could imagine him rubbing the back of his neck.

"She's such a nice girl," his grandmother replied. "You should tap that thing. I bet she's a wild one in the sack. The quiet ones always are."

"Nana!" Avery cried in horror. January could not suppress a grin.

"She's such a nice girl," his grandmother said again. "You should marry her. She'd be good for you."

"Well, I'll take that under advisement Nana," Avery said. "Why don't you go lay down on the couch, and I'll bring out your drink."

"Avery!" his grandmother's voice rang out loudly a moment later, sounding surprised. "When did you get home?

"Um, I just walked in," Avery said. "I thought you might be thirsty, so I got you a drink."

January's smile faded to dust. Her heart went out to her friend. His grandmother Vanessa had her good days, and her bad ones. This was somewhere in between. She could not imagine how he coped with it.

Avery poked his head around the corner a moment later. "Go ahead and try it out," he nodded to the back door of the house, off the basement landing. "I'll try to catch up later. Oh, there's an old helmet in the basement."

January went back down to look for it, trying not to think about how her friend must feel. Most of the time he was so cool and self-assured. He seemed to know everything. His future seemed so certain. Then she was reminded that his life was not so perfect after all.

She found the motorcycle helmet half-buried under a pile of ancient issues of Popular Mechanics. Avery had not been kidding when he said it was old. It looked like a relic from the 50s. It had an open face, with a snap on visor to shade the eyes, and the word "Bell" written over the forehead. January blew the dust off of it, and immediately regretted the gray cloud of detritus that engulfed her. She fought down a cough and tried to wave it away, which of course just spread the dust around even more.

Since it seemed like things could not get much worse, she pulled the old Bell down around her ears. Her hair was not going to get any dirtier after all. She picked up the motorcycle with one hand and carried it back up the stairs. She paused at the landing to peek around the corner into the kitchen. When she saw that the coast was clear, she tip-toed out the back door and set the motorcycle down on the concrete walkway behind the house.

Why did this feel like a Scooby Doo episode?

She stared down at the bike with a rapidly drying mouth. Would it actually work? Or had she just wasted all of her money and half the afternoon? Would Gadget's new power source turn into a hydrogen bomb when she turned it on? She was afraid to find out on all counts.

Simply backing out was not an option. She needed wheels. Other cities had mass transit systems. But Detroit was the Motor City, so that had never been an option. The people here built cars, so the people here drove cars. No one could live here without one. It was time for her to live.

She swung one leg over the Victory Empulse's frame, and settled down on the seat. It was a little small for a motorcycle. But that suited January just fine. At five foot, seven inches, she was not the largest person after all. She ran her hands over the grips, and saw that just above the center of the bars was a dial covered in words and symbols. "Ignition" caught her eye. She turned the knob over and held her breath.

After a long moment the large round speed gauge lit up. So did the smaller led display to its right, with the Victory logo displayed on it. It worked! January stared at it for long moments, expecting something more to happen. But the bike just sat there. Then she noticed that the LED display said "Hold Start For 1S".

Feeling stupid, she looked over the instrument panel for a Start button. The center dial was already set to Ignition, and the other symbols on it did not look like a Start option. A bright red switch on the right handlebar caught her eye. She flipped it up, but nothing happened. Then she noticed another, gray switch underneath it. She held it down for a long moment, and a feeling of relief passed over her when she heard a loud click from deep within the bike. The speed gauge turned green, the word "On" flashed yellow, and the speed dial flipped up and back down again. A faint hum rose from under her legs, but otherwise the bike made no sound.

January had to continue studying and fiddling with the controls to figure out how to get the bike into gear. An unintentional goose of the throttle sent it careening across the back yard toward the driveway, and Avery's parked Geo. Only quick thinking got her fingers around the brake lever. Clamping down on it locked the front brakes, but not the back ones. She felt the entire back end of the bike lift up off the ground as the front tire came to an abrupt halt. She shifted her weight back and up out of reflex, and for a moment she stood in mid-air. The hood of Avery's car was just inches away. A moment later the back of the motorcycle fell down to earth. Only then did she find the rear brake under one foot.

January wondered if she should try downloading the user manual? She quashed that momentary ascent of reason. Who used manuals anyway? Hoping that she was not going to turn herself, or someone else, into a pancake, she took the bike into the street and learned what it could do.

It was glorious.

Posted by: Acadian Aug 3 2019, 07:47 PM

A nuclear powered Stormcycle emerges from the Gadget Cave – Holy crow feathers, Batman!

You did a wonderful job bringing some science fiction grounded in real stuff to life. It all came across as both fascinating and completely believable. I expect that is a result of some impressive research and, of course, your always impressive writing.

Nice job with Vanessa as well. Not only did the white girl get the Nana endorsement but the woman’s age-related challenges remind us that even though Avery is part of this superhero dynamic duo, his life is also shadowed by the mundane and sometimes heartbreaking challenges and uncertainty of real life as well. Growing old ain’t for sissies.

Posted by: Renee Aug 4 2019, 12:30 AM

"You put a nuclear reactor in my motorcycle!"

He put a nuclear reactor in her motorcycle? ohmy.gif

"Isn't that dangerous?"

Fission is dangerous, I think. Fusion is supposed to be safer. Still though..... goodness! Avery should be the next Nobel Prize winner! laugh.gif Or whatever prize is given out for scientific stuff. Because my gosh!

Nice touch with grandma there. wink.gif I'm thinking: she'd be too old to know "you should tap that" phrase, but then.... I could technically be a grandmother myself if I'd started way earlier. indifferent.gif

Wow, is that really true about Detroit having poor mass transit?

Lol moment: I love how Avery puts it all together, then he has to be somewhere else. laugh.gif He just created a literal marvel in terms of technology, yet leaves Jan to figure out hot to start it! rollinglaugh.gif "Oh, I think I got an old helmet in the basement. " rollinglaugh.gif laugh.gif

Posted by: treydog Aug 4 2019, 01:05 AM

"I have some parts here that you'll like."

Loved all the dialogue- this is the way true friends can tease each other.

He calmly opened up a compartment in one side of the engine, snapped the miniature Death Star inside, and then sealed it all up tight again.

It is only like a miniature Sun- nothing to worry about. You will be sitting on top of it- but... good luck! goodjob.gif

Evian water for cold fusion... sure, why not?

And you always have to just be happy when a mad scientist repeats, “That would be bad.”

And his Nana just had me laughing so hard it brought tears to my eyes. And then her dementia caused tears for another reason. And that was some world-class writing too.

Who used manuals anyway?

Of course- instructions are for wimps!

Most excellent again, Sage Rosa.

Posted by: Darkness Eternal Aug 6 2019, 02:30 AM

Chapter 1 - Stormcrow Rising

What a great way to begin the story! January meditiating was a great way to tell us more about her character, we know she's spiritual in a sense, and very attuned to nature. A confirmation of this was the Introduction to Wicca book.

"The nice, neat suburban teens and adults that occasionally walked past were far from hard core. Nor were even the fuzzy, scruffy ones. They might be killers in Sword Science Online or World of Guncraft, but hardly in the real world."

tongue.gif The Legendary keyboard warriors! This had me chuckling quite a bit!

Jan had quite an audience as she meditated! Seeing the crows gather around her was pretty neat, and definitely shows that there's something special about our heroine.

"For not the first time, she wished for a better tablet, with a larger screen. Or even for an actual laptop. But the Fire 7 was all she could afford. Once it had been on sale for nearly half off that is. As with everything else in her life, she just had to make do with what she could scrounge up."
This stood out to me. I'm assuming Jan is young and living in modest means. I can tell she's adaptable and improvises as she goes along.

I'm already starting to like Avery! Reminds me of a good friend of mine.

"Visit? If one of those birds sat down on my shoulder, I'd be worried. That's like, a bad omen or something."
Indeed, bad omens and uh, bird presents wink.gif

"I know they were bandits," January said, "but raiders sounds better. It's more... menacing. Besides these raiders are cannibals."

"Now we're talkin'!"

"And their leader is the champion of a dark, alien goddess. I even have a name for her already - Manaha. She's based on the Native American Wendigo lore. Somewhere in here I've got to use the word 'tenebrous'.

This was a refreshing passage, and did bring me back to your previous works/version on the Magnificent Seven. Ah, Tenebrous. I love using that word, don't you? tongue.gif laugh.gif

Despite being able to influence the weather, she has no control over the outcome. This was a great way to show her abilities, as well as her past history with bullies. "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me" doesn't really ring true, not entirely, especially not in her case. I think we may see some more of this further along? Perhaps the bullies had an effect on her that influenced who she is now? I'm curious to see where this will go!

Can't wait to see more of Jan/Stormcrow and Avery/Gadget! I'll return to catch up on the rest!

Posted by: SubRosa Aug 10 2019, 04:13 PM

Acadian: I did a lot of work on developing power sources that would be in use in the Stormcrow-Verse. The first thing I did was I looked at comics and films to see what sort of energy sources they used. I was very disappointed to find that almost none actually come out and say so. For example, we know from the Marvel Cinematic Universe that Iron Man has an Arc Reactor that powers his suit. So what is an Arc Reactor? They never say. It is literal vaporware. It is the same everywhere else. No one will actually say "This is what powers our technology".

So I turned to predictions on future science, and almost every source there talks about power sources for entire cities and nations. Things like Geothermal, Wind, Solar, etc... Of course these things are not really going to be a whole lot of use in a vehicle or suit of powered armor. They are either stationary, or require too much size to be of any use. Imagine trying to put a solar farm on the back of a motorcycle. The bike would have to be the size of Delaware.

That left very little to look at. But I did come up with a few things. A handful of games point to Dark Energy as a power source (the Mass Effect games for one). This is kind of vague, since we don't really know what Dark Energy even is. But something exists that seems to be pushing the Universe apart, and we call it Dark Energy, so ok. I decided to just use it vaguely as well. Zero Point energy is another example of a science fiction energy. It might work someday, but would probably take more energy to run that it would yield up. I can wave my hand at that and say meta-inventors can turn that around. Of course matter-antimatter reactions have been around since at least Star Trek. And IRL we can make anti-matter in the lab. So that was instantly in.

I spent a lot of time poring over hydrogen fuel cells. They have the same problem as zero point, in that they are currently very inefficient. But again, I can say a super inventor like Gadget can overcome that to make it very potent. So that went in. It was originally going to be in the Stormcycle in fact. But then I came across ultra-dense deuterium in a fusion reactor. That seemed ideal. So I went with a 'standard' fusion reactor using only normal deuterium for the motorcycle. With Avery thinking about how to implement an ultra-dense version in the future.

I spent a huge amount of time on that.

Renee: Fusion is generally considered more safer than Fission. Of course in fusion you do have plasma that you are working with, and if that stuff got out of the reaction chamber... It is like January said: being splashed by the Sun is bad. OTOH, fusion does not require highly toxic materials like uranium or plutonium to work. Plain old hydrogen or deuterium works fine (Deuterium is not radioactive). Deuterium and Tritium is another common fuel source, and Tritium is radioactive. It is used in glow sights on guns to make them glow. That stuff is simply encased in glass, and supposedly that is all that is required to make you safe from radiation from it. That is bupkus compared to the horrifically toxic waste that comes out of a Fission Reactor. So Fusion is definitely what everyone hopes for. It is vastly cleaner, and can actually be turned off a simple as by throwing a light switch. You cannot do that with Fission either. You can just stick more control rods into the reactor to slow down the reaction.

Detroit has no mass transit. Unless you count buses, and cabs. There is no subway, no elevated. There is a People Mover downtown, but that just goes in a small ring around the city core. They just put in a Q line that runs 3 miles down Woodward (3 whole miles, wow!). The only way to get anywhere, like to work, is with a car. To have a job here, you have to own a car. To afford a car, you need a job. It is a vicious circle.

Avery's Nana might have learned about tapping asses from TV, or friends. It's where I heard about it first! laugh.gif

treydog: The Evian was my way of throwing a lampshade on something as proven false as cold fusion. It was also a way to show that meta-inventors like Gadget are not really scientists. The things they do cannot be replicated by someone else in a different lab, or copied on an assembly line. It is their superpowers that make their inventions work, not the laws of nature. So every one has to be built by them by hand. I will have more on that later this chapter, when January meets another meta inventor.

The Nana part was also wonderful to write. For one it showed us another side to Avery's life. It also showed us that life is not all great. It is something that everyone faces sooner or later. As Acadian said, growing old is not for wimps.

I never read the instructions! At least not until I tried everything I could think of and failed first.

Darkness Eternal: I like to start out in media res, to have some action to immediately grab the reader. I could not find a way to do that well in this story. So I was hoping the crows could do it for me, and create some mysterious implications that would make things interesting.

I deliberately used brand names with January's possessions, so that people could look at them and realize that this stuff is the cheapest of the cheap. Like you said, it is a subtle way of Showing that she is poor, rather than just coming out and blatantly Telling it.

Bird presents! ohmy.gif laugh.gif

I love the word 'tenebrous' It is so dark, brooding, and mysterious. I love those rare occasions when I can put it to use. It's got legs!

I still remember the words and the teasing from high school bullies. But I don't remember the bruises from the few fights. I always found that 'stick and stones' things to be completely backward.

Chapter 2.4 - Stormcrow Recycled

Home was empty when she returned. Her parents were still at work, and her brother thankfully in Ann Arbor, as he always was on weekdays. That allowed her to move her Stormcrow armor down from its hiding place under her bed and store it in the fake gas tank bump on the Victory. That still left her the two panniers under the seat for more storage.

She made herself a quick dinner and was off again with her school backpack. Then she headed out to Macomb Community College. She was breathless the entire trip. She had her own car! Well bike, and what a bike! She still could not believe how quiet it was. The engine hum grew a little louder as she accelerated, and the sound of the chain was an aria. But it was nothing compared the earsplitting racket that gasoline-powered motorcycles made. It was mechanical perfection, a crow made wheels.

She had trouble concentrating in class. She could not wait to get back out onto the bike. Besides, the book they were going over was depressing. Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus brought on far too many parallels to her own life for comfort.

"I ought to be thy Adam, but I am rather the fallen angel." The professor read from the book. He was young, with a thick mane of raven hair swept back from a bespectacled face. Many of the young female students had a habit of waiting to chat him up after class. January could not see why. He reminded her too much of her father, only twenty years younger. "What do you think Mary Shelley meant when she wrote that?"

"Miss Ward," Mr. Easton said after a long silence in which no one volunteered to speak. His voice had a soft, upper-class English lilt to it. "Perhaps you might enlighten us with your thoughts?"

January blinked, and sat up straight. Had she been daydreaming about her motorcycle?

"Well..." she began, feeling the eyes of everyone in the class boring into her. Lighthammer's lasers had felt less threatening. "When she wrote the book, I think she intended the monster to be some sort of spiritual menace, or at least an allegory for the price of hubris. Victor had tried to take God's place as creator of life. In the very least he strove to a greatness beyond that which nature would allow. As a result he was punished by the horror of - and for - his own creation."

"But that is not what I felt when I read the story," January went on, and tried not to squirm. "I didn't relate to Frankenstein, and feel that he was tempting fate, or attempting to replace God. I identified with the creature: hated and feared by everyone in the world simply because I was born, constantly told I was a monster, rejected by my own maker, trapped in a world which I did not make, and could never change."

"I can imagine that anyone who was not born perfect might feel the same," January continued. "Anyone not born the right color, or the right gender, or the right sexual orientation, or the right anything. Anyone who is different, who isn't 'cool' enough, or pretty enough, or skinny enough, or even happy enough might feel that way."

The class was utterly silent afterward. January could swear that she could have heard the proverbial pin drop. Then her teacher began to applaud.

"Outstanding Miss Ward," he exclaimed. "I'm tempted to give you an 'A' just for that. As you said, it is not a warning against Man defying God, or even playing God. By all accounts Mary Shelley was a very irreligious person in fact."

"She was nineteen when she began to write this. She was your age. In it she captures the essence of alienation, isolation, and loneliness. Not just in the monster, but also within Victor Frankenstein himself as well. Remember that both of them are cut off from the world around them. Victor willingly isolates himself with his obsessive work. The monster is alienated because of his appearance. Like you said, he isn't pretty enough. Even his own creator rejects him. People scream when they see him. They attack him. He never knows anything but hatred and fear, in spite of his very real need for love and companionship."

"Everyone has felt rejection and isolation at some time in their lives. This is why we still study this book, two centuries later," her professor went on. "It isn't just to bore students who thought it would be a lot cooler after seeing one of the films! This novel strikes deeply into our emotional cores. She was tapping into the feelings of loneliness and alienation that we can all relate to. That is the real monster in the story, and it is something that we all must face sooner or later. It is just as relevant today as it was in the summer of 1816."

January forgot all about her motorcycle. Could she really do this? Could she write stories about characters that people could relate to on an emotional level? If Mary Shelley could write a story about a man stitched together from the parts of corpses, and she could relate to him, could she do the same?

She was still thinking about that on the ride from the college campus to Adin's House of Pain, a.k.a. the Madison Heights Academy of Martial Arts. She got there early, and used the time to change out of her school clothes and into the black karategi she wore for teaching class. Still with plenty of time, she found a relatively quiet spot and went through a yoga routine to loosen up, and clear her mind. Time slipped away, and she lost herself in simply breathing and moving.

"You know this isn't a yoga studio," a male voice eventually floated into her ears from somewhere behind her. January smiled, but did not reply. Instead she moved into a crow pose, placing all of her weight on her arms, while her legs floated in the air behind her. She continued through the pose into a handstand. Still upside down, she turned to face the speaker.

"Now you are just showing off Bear," the man said. "Your class is ready to start in a few minutes."

January turned the handstand into an elbow stand, then craned her legs back over her head into a scorpion. Finally she pulled forward, and rolled onto her feet.

"You aren't going to have your dad Sam sue me, are you Mr. Bernstein?" she laughed.

"I wish I was one of those Bernsteins," he smiled. He stood only a few inches taller than her, with curly black hair what was cut short, a hawkish nose, and olive skin. "I wouldn't be here being shown up by a teenager, that's for sure."

"I would never show you up Adin," January said seriously. "You taught me Krav Maga and Muay Thai. Whatever I do, only makes you look better."

"That's what I keep telling myself," he said. "Go on, your future victims await."

January greeted her first class of the evening, which was entirely of children. Looking out over their fresh, young faces, she was reminded of the first time she met Adin. She had just started tenth grade at Fitzgerald High School.

"Now ladies, I'd like you all to say hello to Mr. Bernstein. He's going to be here for a week teaching our self-defense unit."

"One of the Berenstain Bears?" January murmured as the curly haired man stepped out in front of her gym class, to stand beside the coach.

"Yes I am," he smiled, and looked directly at January. She closed her eyes. She would be hearing that for the rest of the year. As if things were not bad enough.

Worse, he remembered her when it came time for individual practice. With the entire class gathered around, he invited his "Bear" to step up and show how she would attack him. He was wearing pads, so January let him have it. She started with a tapper jab with her left hand, rapping his right glove with a light blow to give him a false sense of security. Then she followed with an uppercut loaded with everything her sixteen-year old body could muster.

She could sense his surprise as her fist drove deeply into the pads across his stomach. He held his fists out front to block another attack from that direction. So she continued with a roundhouse kick to his undefended side, then followed with another jab and a cross at his face. The entire time he steadily fell back. Finally she sent a particularly zesty power punch at his head. He effortlessly slipped to the side, caught her in an arm lock, and had her on the mat before she knew what was happening.

"That was outstanding," Bernstein said as he stepped back and helped her up. "Who taught you karate?"

"My mother," January murmured. She was still wondering which end was up as she clambered back to her feet.

"Remind me to stay on her good side," Bernstein said. "Have her bring you to my dojo after school. You have real talent. We can make you better."

After that, no one in high school looked at her quite the same again.

Posted by: Renee Aug 10 2019, 05:43 PM

Detroit has no mass transit. Unless you count buses, and cabs

Yes, I was thinking of buses. smile.gif Fusion-powered buses would be even better!

And uh .. yeah, I definitely think she'd be having troubles focusing on school, after all that she's done the past few days and hours! This is really awesome that she goes back to school at all.

It almost seems like January blurts out her own personal views because she's so distracted by all the excitement in her life, she momentarily has her guard down, does that make sense? Like maybe normally, she wouldn't say as much as she said in front of her classmates.

Aw, she's teaching kids. smile.gif What a day she's had today.

Posted by: Acadian Aug 10 2019, 07:53 PM

This episode drew me in immediately and was a joy to read from start to finish.

Despite your amazing sci-tech research, what I get from the Stormcycle is that you stuff in a dilithium crystal and – voila - instant freedom! The exhilaration January feels astride her mount reminds me of when Buffy also plopped down her life savings to buy Superian. And the magical feeling of freedom, speed and power her precious mare provided – and still does. But forgive me for wanderdigressing and just know that January on her Stormcycle makes me grin. Handy too, that her uniform fits in the bike’s magic pouch and she still has saddlebags for even more stuff that a girl’s gotta have.

Miss Ward’s analysis of Frankenstein was indeed applause-worthy. More so since we know how in some ways January can identify with the monster’s lack of acceptance for being created inside a body that does not match the spirit of its owner. Her insight was plenty, but I was further delighted when you parlayed the story and its authoress’ young age into inspiration for January to seriously consider writing herself.

Then off to her martial artistry class. Here was a case where your pictures (crow and scorpion poses) were priceless as they instantly provided crystal clarity.

Posted by: Darkness Eternal Aug 10 2019, 09:41 PM

Chapter 1.2:

I get what you mean. The crows did it for sure!! There's also the fact that they're among the most intelligent birds out there.

Ah, Confusion reminds me of Comic-Con! Well, I mean aren't all Cons? I had no idea it was real! That's very cool. Seriously, this made lots of sense. What way for a Superhero to blend in? A place where people dress as heroes!

The fighting and flying you showed here was awesome! January has some courage to go headfirst into conflicts, but that's how a hero operates. She took the initiative for sure! And the idea of a person being harmed? That most certainly is her business as she's pointed.

[. . .]In an Indian accent so heavy you could spread curry on it.

This was a great and culturally accurate description of his voice! laugh.gif

Jan's a kickass fighter, too. What an absolute thrill! The flight to the air, along with that armored bastard, was intense. She did her best to try and control her flight, even as they crashed through the building!

And I'm sure that landing was a superhero landing! One only a talented gymnast as January could do!

Posted by: treydog Aug 10 2019, 10:43 PM

Adin's House of Pain, a.k.a. the Madison Heights Academy of Martial Arts.

Jan is certainly in a position to understand that alienation is the key to reading Frankenstein – sharing, for different, but no less painful reasons, Mary's obvious direct, personal understanding of that feeling....

Jan's being distracted by the fact she has wheels also rang quite true. Although I now rather dread the long commute to work in Gruening, I can still recall when the idea of getting behind the wheel (or handlebars) was magical.

Thank the powers for understanding and outstanding teachers, whatever their discipline, whether it be literature or martial arts.

A fine, thoughtful interval, filled with character-building goodness.

Posted by: SubRosa Aug 17 2019, 05:07 PM

Renee: This chapter is set about a week after the first chapter, so January has had a little time to get adjusted to the idea of being a cape. There is a date at the start of each chapter.

January might not say as much as she did under normal circumstances. But then again, what she said is exactly what I think every English teacher is hoping to hear, a deep and thoughtful analysis of an author's work.

Acadian: Frankenstein (as in Mary Shelley's novel) recently came up in a literary podcast I listen to, so it was very top of mind. I read it about 20 years ago, and loved it. Maybe loved is not the right word. It really touched me deeply, just as it did January. It was just a happy coincidence that Mary Shelley was 19 that Haunted Summer when she first started writing the novel, the same age as January. In some ways it really throws down the gauntlet at January's feet, and dares her to do the same.

Darkness Eternal: Putting the superhero into their costume is one of those evolutionary steps in all super stories. Sometimes it can be hard to make that happen, especially in the more realistic depictions. Cosplay just leaped out at me as a option that never existed back in the day, so it was a great way for me to not only get January into her super suit, but also make the story modern.

Likewise, January's history of being bullied and on the receiving end of bigotry is what gives her the springboard into acting, rather than running and hiding. Her motivations are very personal, and baked into everything she is.

The gymnastics is something I have worked hard on not only incorporating, but keeping important to what she does, in addition to her martial arts. I remember in the old Marvel Superheros rpg that it was simply a skill that gave you a small bonus to your Agility tests. I wanted it to be much more than that. Here it will be a very big part of what she does, and how she succeeds.

treydog: Gaining those wheels is such a big step in everyone's life I think. It is one of the first steps to real independence. Here in Detroit it is even bigger than that. It is a simple necessity for living, as there is no real public transportation. So that was a nice way of emphasizing her growth as a teen into adulthood, completely separate from being a cape.

Jan's English teacher is based on Duncan from the old show VR-5. Adin just sort of took shape because from Krav Maga itself, and from the Bernsteins, who are very prominent lawyers here in Detroit. I enjoyed making a play on their name. I have another teacher coming up next chapter who is straight up my High School English teacher. He was a very influential early mentor for my writing. So I was delighted to find an opportunity to put him into a story, even if just in a tiny role.

Chapter 2.5 - Stormcrow Recycled

After her final class of the evening, January went to Adin's office to change. She could not fail to note the similarities to high school, where she had to change in the coach's office for gym class. Only these days she was the coach, or at least the assistant coach, and there were not nearly as many mean girls making snide remarks about her gender or giving her dirty looks.

Her phone blared to life with the soulful guitar riff from Gary Clark Jr's "If Trouble Was Money." She almost jumped out of the cargo pants she was halfway into. She fought to pull them up around her waist, and dove for the cheap Samsung before it could go to voicemail.

"Hola! The bike is great Avery! It runs like a dream," she gushed. Then her voice took on a more somber tone. "How is your grandma?"

"Oh she's fine," he said. "She's been watching reruns of Jag and NCIS for the last few hours. I think she slept through the last one. But we did some crosswords earlier, and she played Luminosity for a while too."

"So you didn't crash the bike?"

"Of course not!" January exclaimed as she pulled on her top. Almost hitting his car a second after she started it up did not count after all. "I am a great driver, erm, rider, or biker, whatever. The shifting seemed kind of funny though."

"Yeah, I didn't have time to tell you that," Avery said. "I took the transmission out along with the old engine. There's really no need for one with an electric. It's a direct drive now. Zero does it with their bikes, I don't know why Victory bothered with a six speed in the first place. So the clutch and gear shift don't do anything."

"Great! I was kind of afraid I might have broke them," January murmured.

"So how fast is it?" Avery asked.

"I don't know," January replied honestly. "All the other cars kept getting in my way! I did get it up to about a ninety at one point. Then that bus came along..."

"I'm afraid to ask!" Avery laughed.

"I missed it!" January smiled, "even if I had to split lanes for a bit."

"You know that's dangerous right?"

"Yes mommy," January sighed, "and I won't talk to strangers, or drink the water, or have unprotected sex."

"Your mother told you that?" January could just imagine his eyes goggling as he spoke.

"No," January replied. "It's not like she would ever need to."

"Well, speaking of protection, I was wondering if you still had that cosplay outfit?"

"Yes, yes I do." January was instantly alert. Super-stuff was something they couldn't talk about on a regular phone. You never knew who might be listening. But her armor had its own scrambled earpiece. "Well, I gotta get out of here before Adin locks up. I'll call you back later."

She got her shoes on and was out the door as fast as she could make her goodbyes. She rode to a spot free of onlookers and cameras, and concentrated upon the element of Fire. A moment later she was clad from head to toe in her Stormcrow armor.

"You there Gadget?" she asked over her earpiece. Should she call it that? Should she call it the communicator? That made it sound like Star Trek. Why did so much of this tacticool jargon seem so pretentious?

"Got you Stormcrow," he replied. January started at the name. She had heard it said aloud plenty of times since she "came out" at the convention. But never spoken directly to her. It felt strange, but good. She really was that person people were talking about.

"I've been seeing a pattern of rare metal thefts lately." January wondered why Avery sounded like Charlie, from Charlie's Angels? "First it was zirconium, then iridium. I don't think it's random. I think someone is building something, and I think I know what might be next."


"Titanium," Avery explained. "Iridium is highly resistant to corrosion and heat. It's used for the containment of plutonium in spacecraft, among other things. But it's brittle in its pure form. So guess what it's usually alloyed with?"

"Zirconium and titanium," Stormcrow murmured. "So what's our next move, stake out the local titanium shop?"

"You are catching on to this detective thing fast. I guess hanging with that state cop rubbed off on you. Trouble is there's a whole bunch of metal places that sell it. I've got drones or camera feeds out to watch them. But one looks likely, given that the other two were nearby."

"Which one?"

"Source One Metals," he said, "on Nineteen Mile and Mound. Stake it out tonight, and we might get lucky. I'll be watching the other ones."

"Got it," January replied. Her first stakeout! This was what being a real super was all about.

"Oh, I forgot the license plate switcher." Gadget said. "Come by tomorrow and I'll put it on. Until then keep off the bike while you're suited up. We don't want anyone putting two and two together."

"Of course not." January looked around for cameras once more. "I'm not stupid you know."

"You're on the bike right now, in the armor aren't you." Avery sighed.

"Umm, not anymore," January said honestly. She was so thankful for that fast changing ability. She did not need a superpower to see the facepalm Avery was undoubtedly making.

January took John R up to Nineteen Mile, then made a right and took it across to Mound Road. The latter was a divided highway, so she had to first go south and then through a turnaround to get on the northbound side. She found the metal shop just before the gas station at the corner of Nineteen Mile.

It was in a small industrial subdivision off of Mound. Really it was just two plain cinderblock buildings with a big parking lot between them. Each building went back from the road for hundreds of feet, and had been partitioned up into numerous individual businesses. The first one in the northern building was Source One Metals, according to the blue signs in the front windows.

Given the dark lights and lack of cars in the lot, all of the businesses were evidently closed. That made her stakeout easier. Still, she had to decide where to set up. Obviously she could not just sit in the lot on her motorcycle.

There were a few trees on the lawn between the road and the parking lot. But they looked rather sparse. There was an actual section of woods across Mound that looked promising. But she would like to be closer. Thinking of closer, she looked up and smiled. Yes, that would do nicely.

She rode off and found a dark spot without cameras to remove her license plate and change into her armor. Then she returned and drove into the lot. She took a driveway around to the alley behind the building with the metal shop. The entire building was lined with big metal rollup doors back there, along with some dumpsters and a bunch of empty parking spots.

Shutting off the bike, she cradled it in both arms. Then she leapt. She landed easily on the roof, which was surprisingly bare of equipment. She found what looked like an air vent in the corner by the back doors, and set her bike down behind it. Sitting down herself, she waited.

January learned very quickly that stakeouts were incredibly boring. She stared at the line of light industrial buildings to the north. Then at the gas station beside them on the corner of Mound and Nineteen Mile road, and the sandwich shop across Nineteen Mile from it. She stared at the 7-11 on the opposite corner across Mound, along with a veterinarian and a martial arts studio. She wondered what styles the latter taught. She stared at the woods directly across Mound from her. Then her eyes continued their counter-clockwise circuit to the doctor's office south of that, with its high, slanting roof. Mostly she just stared, and waited, and stared, and waited some more.

It did not take long for her to pull out her tablet and start on her schoolwork. The Yellow Wallpaper, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, was their next assignment. She started reading, and created a text file to write down some of her basic impressions as she went. Time dragged by, and she found herself licking her dry lips.

The lights of the gas station at the intersection called out to her. There was no point sitting here thirsty after all. She tucked the tablet away into the panniers of her motorcycle and leapt down to the pavement below. She walked across the back lot of one of the industrial shops to the north, and the small patch of grass beyond to the gas station at the intersection.

There was only one car at the pumps, and its driver stared at her with amazement as he filled his tank. She gave him a polite smile, and went inside. The store was empty except for her and the clerk. He was a pudgy, bearded man just a few years older than she was. He looked at her with amusement as she stalked across the aisles of snacks to the back of the shop, where the refrigerated case was. She found a bottle of Pepsi Ultimate, and brought it up to the counter.

"That is a really cool costume," the clerk said as he rang her up. "That's Stormcrow right, the new hero? You make that yourself?"

"No," January said as she fished her wallet out of her utility belt and paid him. "A friend of mine did it for me."

"It's a really good job," the clerk said. "It looks just like the real thing. Say, I'm off at midnight if you want to..."

"Sorry, not into guys," January smiled. She could be dense. But even she could tell that he was trying to pick her up! It must have been the armor. It did outline her body in an agreeable way.

"Damn, hot lesbian cosplay..." she heard him murmur as she walked out.

Posted by: Acadian Aug 17 2019, 09:03 PM

The beginning of another Crowventure assigned to her by Charlie Gadget.

"It's used for the containment of plutonium in spacecraft, among other things." - - Yikes! Sounds serious. ohmy.gif

“You're on the bike right now, in the armor aren't you." Avery sighed.
"Umm, not anymore," January said honestly.
- - embarrased.gif tongue.gif

Hmm, I’d imagine that superbike is pretty unique – even unmistakable. I hope Gadget’s license plate switcher is able to more fully transform Jan’s wheels into the Stormcycle than just a simple license plate changeroo. Hmm, if only her magicks could craft a ‘summon Stormcycle’ spell. . . .

Heh, I have visions of every time she self-distracts (reading, getting a soda, etc) she’s gonna miss the action! You do a great job, however, of capturing how boring I’d imagine a stakeout is while emphasizing that Stormcrow is a newbie at stakeouts. smile.gif

Posted by: Renee Aug 18 2019, 03:05 PM

"I've been seeing a pattern of rare metal thefts lately." January wondered why Avery sounded like Charlie, from Charlie's Angels?

Yeah, totally. He's like that voice over the intercom at this moment.

Awesome. She's going to do a stakeout! ph34r.gif

Oops, yeah, I have heard they are mostly boring. 10 hours of boredom, 10 minutes of excitement, according to all the crime shows I've watched.

Hee hee she's doing schoolwork! WHOA she just walks into the convenience store in her gear. Lol what a dense cashier. laugh.gif Then again, I guess the way she moseys in is very nonchalant. Everyone expects a superhero to be doing superhero stuff. Nobody expects them to be buying a soda. So she flies under the radar just for that moment.

Posted by: treydog Aug 18 2019, 03:47 PM

"You know that's dangerous right?"

"Yes mommy," January sighed, "and I won't talk to strangers, or drink the water, or have unprotected sex."

"Your mother told you that?" January could just imagine his eyes goggling as he spoke.

Oh, I forgot the license plate switcher." Gadget said. "Come by tomorrow and I'll put it on. Until then keep off the bike while you're suited up. We don't want anyone putting two and two together."

"Of course not." January looked around for cameras once more. "I'm not stupid you know."

"You're on the bike right now, in the armor aren't you." Avery sighed.

"Umm, not anymore," January said honestly. She was so thankful for that fast changing ability. She did not need a super power to see the facepalm Avery was undoubtedly making.

The interactions between Gadget and Crow-Jan are brilliant as always. And for me- this humor (and reflection of true friendship) is what makes for great writing instead of "good" writing.

As always, loved the mundane as mingled with the meta. (Contented sigh).

Posted by: Darkness Eternal Aug 19 2019, 02:17 AM

Chapter 1.3:

I like how you mentioned how deep-rooted her passion is for justice, and having been a victim herself, she understands the importance of helping others. This indeed is what being a hero is about.

That hagfish-slime covered armor did the trick in preserving our brave heroine. It was fun to see the real metas mentioned, who I'm sure will be shown later on.

"Now water can flow, or it can crash. Be water my friend."
Wow! This had me cheering! Jan did good to take inspiration from one of the greatest Martial Artist in history.

'Some fled entirely, but most remained to watch, albeit from a distance. Many produced phones and began recording them. A few even had old-fashioned camcorders.'

The battle continued amidst the Con members! And this was so spot-on that if something like this were to happen in today's society, plenty would stay behind.

Lighthammer was a tough one but Jan kicked his rear pretty good. I have to say the battle here was a great read, and I felt thrilled just reading it. His lasers were no match for her fistfuls of justice and kicks! I'm sure we'll see more of him; his little ceiling trick won't happen again. Hopefully.

I love that super exit! cool.gif

Posted by: SubRosa Aug 24 2019, 04:32 PM

Acadian: I had not really thought of doing more beyond a license plate changer for January's motorcycle. I think because I am looking ahead at things you cannot see yet. Her motorcycle will not fit into the Crow life in a meaningful way. It will be part of her Jan life. She will be working on a travel power for getting around.

That is one of the side effects of having played some superhero RPGs. You start to lump powers into categories based on their purpose. Heroes often have a travel power, who purpose is to get them to where the story is taking place. Flight, teleportation, a quinjet, a skycycle, web-slinging, a Batwing, and so forth. The transporters in Star Trek is another example. I am sure it was originally thought up simply to move the characters to where the story is. The same with the Enterprise itself as well.

January is quickly realizing that even being just a city level hero means that she needs a way to get around town quickly and reliably. She has had a taste of that with her gliding, but it is not enough for long distances. But she has something to work on there.

Renee: I enjoyed writing January's boredom on the stakeout, and her quickness to jump at finding anything to do. I would never be able to do a stakeout. I get bored too quickly, and have too many options to find a way to take up my time, like reading books on my phone.

treydog: Its even more fun writing Jan and Avery than Aela and Loria. With J&A I can draw upon real world culture to make it all feel so much more accessible to the reader.

Darkness Eternal: Eventually we will be meeting some of those superheros who have been name dropped. Blood Raven will play a major role in future events, and January's life.

I have always loved that Bruce Lee quote about water. As odd as it sounds, I found it to be the key to understanding how to use horse archers in the Total War games. You cannot use them like other units, who either want to rush into melee, or always keep away from it. Horse Archers want to get close, but not too close. When the enemy retreats, they advance. When the enemy advances, they retreat. They flow, and they crash, just like water.

Social media is filled with all sorts of fights and disasters on film. Because pics or it didn't happen after all. I am not the only one to note that whoever that is recording it on their phone is also just standing there not doing anything to help. Which is pretty parasitic really. These days everyone is so obsessed with getting their 15 minutes of internet fame, they don't think about the danger other people are in, or themselves.

Chapter 2.6 - Stormcrow Recycled

She returned to her stakeout post and went back to her English assignment. Only now she had a cool drink to wet her dry throat. She did not know how much time passed while she waited. She had become engrossed in the story of isolation and creeping madness when the sound of an engine below pulled her back to reality.

She put down her pop and tucked the tablet away into her motorcycle's panniers. Then she looked over the edge of the roof, and saw a garbage truck pulling into the front lot. The cab was green and yellow, and seemed proportionally larger than the trailer section of the vehicle. It was not a normal green and yellow paint scheme either. Rather it seemed that part of a green cab and part of a yellow cab were simply thrown together. The rest of the truck was the same. January even noticed thick weld marks running down one side of the rear bay, as if the pieces of two vehicles had been melded together into one.

Floating in the air above was a large drone of some kind. It reminded her of an eyebot from the Fallout games. It had a smooth front end, that almost looked like a face, especially given the two large glowing circles that looked like eyes mounted within it. The bottom was separated from the rest of the face in what looked like a mouth. What seemed almost like a cap or visor of metal was attached over the top, further adding to the human look it bore.

Its body stretched out behind it, and angled up from the bottom, to give it a triangular shape, with the point trailing away behind it. What almost appeared to be two stubby arms or legs also stretched out directly behind it from two round shoulder sockets. Or maybe they were exhaust pipes, or rocket nozzles? The upper side of the body was a relatively smooth combination of plates scalloped over top of one another. But the bottom - the hypotenuse of the triangular frame - was all spiky knobs, antenna, and protruding cylinders.

January could not see how it flew. There were no rotors like a mundane drone required. Nor were there any obvious metatech options like jets. It just floated through the air like a jellyfish in water.

January was struck by the incongruity of the two machines. The truck was a Frankensteinish collection of old vehicles welded together into a single whole. But otherwise it still looked like an ordinary garbage truck. The drone was a Rembrandt of mechanical artistry, though obviously constructed from diverse parts as well.

That is when she noticed that no one was driving the garbage truck. The cab was entirely empty.

"I think our friend has arrived," January said into her suit's comm system. "Or at least his robo-minions have." Well that was it, she was officially calling it the comm now. She guessed that made her Captain Pretentious Tacticool.

She turned on the video system built into her cowl so Gadget could get a better look. She heard him whistle a moment later.

"That flying drone is a real work of art," his disembodied voice floated in her ears. "I can see its kitbashed, like most of my own stuff, but someone put a lot of TLC into that. The truck, less so. It looks like someone just took spare parts from four or five junks and made one good truck out them. There's no style to it at all. Maybe it was just a rush job."

"So how do we know they're really the bad guys, and not just some mecha-hipsters out for a drive late one Tuesday night?"

The garbage truck rolled around to the back of the building. It turned and backed up to the rollup doors. Then its whole tail end garbage smashing assembly swung up, revealing the empty box of the truck's body behind it. Well, it was almost empty. A trio of metal men leaped out. January could see they were made from car axles, leaf springs, shock absorbers, shopping carts, office chairs, plumbing, and a multitude of other junk parts.

One of these anthropomorphic robots pointed a hand toward the building. A cherry red laser sprang out from its wrist, and sliced through one of the rollup doors like it was warm butter. It took only a moment for a huge piece of the door to be sliced out, and clang loudly as it crashed to the cement.

"They're bad guys," Gadget said dryly.

January sized up the ground bots and prepared to leap down upon them. That is when she realized that the Face-Bot was missing. She heard a slight hum in the air behind her, and wheeled around to see it staring at her from just a few feet away. Now that she was closer to it, she noted an odd distortion in the air beneath it. It reminded her of a heat haze on a road, or how water warped light.

"Well hello there." January did not really know what to say. She practiced things like flying, gymnastics, and fighting. But she never had looked into raising her Speech skill. Just what did you say to a supervillain when you first met?

The Face-Bot took over the burden of conversation. Its eyes filled with an ominous blue glow. An instant later a bolt of lightning exploded out of each. The twin arcs of electricity slammed into January like a truck. Her eyes danced with bright spots, and she was vaguely aware of tumbling through the air.

She tried to right herself, but really had no idea how to orient herself. All she could do was pull her arms and legs in and hope for the best. She hit something hard a moment later. She shook her head in an effort to clear the lights that danced before her eyes, and realized that she was on the ground now, in the alley behind the metal shop. She sat on the blacktop, with her back against one of the dumpsters. No, not simply against it, but into it. For her body had dimpled a Stormcrow-shaped silhouette into the steel.

Thunder rolled overhead, and the stars vanished behind a sheet of gray cloud.

"Yow." January shook her head. It took a few moments for the world to stop spinning. Then she peeled herself out of the depression her body had bent into the dumpster. The harsh smell of ozone stung her nose. When she turned her head, she noticed tiny wisps of smoke curling up from her helmet. She glanced down at herself, but did not see anything on fire. She reached back to grab her hair with one hand, and it seemed fine too.

"Looks like I got a little cooked, but I'm okay," she said into her comm. "Gadget, did you see that?"

There was nothing but silence in reply.

"Gadget, Gadget, you there?" She tapped at the earpiece in her helmet. But there was nothing from the comm. January imagined that either being launched into the dumpster had broken it, or the twin lightning bolts had shorted it out.

The Face-Bot loomed over the edge of the roof and looked down at January. In the meantime, the three humanoid robots on the ground had clanked into the building, and were just now emerging with sheets and bars of silvery metal. January had never seen titanium before. At least not that she was aware of. But it did not take a genius to figure out what that pilfered metal was.

She leapt at the nearest man-bot, covering the thirty or so feet between them in a single bound. At the same time the eyes of the Face-Bot glowed blue once more. Twin bolts of electricity sprang from them. They lanced through the spot where January had been standing an instant before, and blasted a short trench through the asphalt underfoot.

But by now January was upon the ground-bots. They were clearly not living people, not even ones in armor. So she saw no need to hold back.

She gave the first a power-punch. Standing at an oblique angle to the robot, she started with her left hand forward and her right back at her chest. She brought her right fist forward with blinding speed. She used her body as a fulcrum by twisting her hips and shoulders, putting all of her mass behind the blow.

Her fingers sank into steel flesh. The face exploded under her fist, and the rest of the head snapped clean off the body. It went sailing into the depths of the metal shop. The robot's headless body continued on however. That obliged January to follow up with a side kick to its midsection, folding it over in two as its metallic spine cracked in half. With that it finally collapsed to the cement in a resounding clatter.

The Face-Bot circled around, and took another shot at January. This time its eyes glowed crimson, and bright fingers of laser light stabbed out for her. She ducked, and the ruby red energy sliced effortlessly through the second ground-bot. That cut it neatly in half. The legs still walked toward the garbage truck. But the torso fell to the pavement, spilling stolen titanium from its arms onto the concrete.

The metal men did not seem to be very impressive at fighting. In fact, January noted that they had not tried to dodge once. Their only show of offensive inclination had been to burn down the shop's door. That led January to conclude that they were basically just worker bees, while the Face-Bot was the warrior. Normally she would have simply ignored the workers. But this was a robbery, and they were clearly the means for said robbing. Unless the Face-Bot had some sort hidden arms or force fields that could lift the titanium and load it onto the garbage truck.

So she sprang at the final man-bot, and did something she knew that she never should. She executed a flying kick. Sure, it looked great in the movies. But in reality your opponent could see it coming from a mile away, and only had to step aside to avoid it. Worse, once you were in the air you were committed. There was nothing you could do until you landed, leaving you wide open to a devastating counter.

But she gambled that the ground-bots were not savvy enough to either dodge or counter-attack. She was right. She crashed foot-first into the final robot. Steel exploded beneath her, and the entire torso of the mechanical man disintegrated as she flew through it. She landed inside the metal shop, tucked into a roll, and bounced back to her feet.

January heard the air brakes of the garbage truck hiss, and its engine rumble to life. She reacted without thought, and leaped after it. A single jump put her on the tail section, which was still raised up over the back of the truck. She grabbed hold of its edge, and effortlessly swung herself back up and over, so that she was standing on her hands above the truck.

For a moment she was back in gym class, and doing what she loved best, flying through the uneven bars. January could not help but show off, and performed a back flip through the air. She landed with both feet on the roof of the truck's body, and raced to the cab.

The Face-Bot swung around after her however. January saw it out of the corner of her eye. It glowed red with energy in preparation for another shot. She knew that she would not be able to reach the cab without taking a hit. So instead she leapt up and out of the way. Brilliant twin lances of crimson flashed through the air behind her. They sliced through the cab of the garbage truck, turning half of it into slag.

January performed a back flip with a twist in mid-air, and came down on the pavement facing the Face-Bot. She even stuck the landing. It was just like being back in gym class. Except for the lasers of course.

January wished for some way to strike back. She really needed some kind of ranged weapon. Now she wished she had taken one at character creation. She would have to talk to Avery about making some kind of crowarangs, or maybe just buy a few baseballs. As it was the drone could shoot at her all night, and all she could use against it in return was harsh language.

She saw the eyes on the Face-Bot light up red again, and knew another laser attack was coming. The twin red beams reached out for her, but she was ready, and easily slipped to one side. The lasers gouged up a line of turf in the small field between the industrial subdivision and the gas station.

With that the Face-Bot spun about and whizzed out of sight around the corner of the building. January leaped up after it. She caught sight of it when she was on the high arc of her leap. But she could do nothing until she came down upon the rooftop. Once she landed, she sped after the robot along the edge of the roof. She quickly ran out of real estate, and leaped out once more when the roof ended. Her fingers stretched out for the drone, but it jinked to one side, and she could not correct her flight to follow it.

Thinking of flight gave her another idea. She flung out her arms to either side, and straightened out her torso and legs, as if she were performing a Maltese Cross on the rings. She pushed both buttons in her gauntlets, and her cape instantly cracked out into a pair of wings. Thankfully they had not been shorted out with her comms.

She remembered Lighthammer's instructions about gravity, lift, drag, thrust, negative pressure, and so on. She also remembered her Elemental Mantra.

Be like Air. Be light, and quick, and fly.

She felt the wind lifting her wings, and soared through the night sky. Cars sped by underneath her as she winged out over Mound road. Given the blaring horns, they must have seen her. But January was more interested in the Face-Bot. She banked, and circled back to where she had last seen it. Something moved in the trees below, between the parking lot and the road. She went into a dive, and her eyes searched the darkened foliage.

The Face-Bot darted from the trees, headed away from January. It spun around, all the while continuing its forward motion. January saw those large eyes turn red, and knew what was coming. She hit the triggers for her wings, and instantly dropped like a rock. Twin lasers lit up the sky above her, but clawed ineffectually at the clouds overhead.

She tucked into a forward roll in mid-air, so that she could come down feet-first. She barely even flexed her knees on the landing, in spite of the twenty foot drop. She must be getting better at this super business. But she was still not good enough. For she could do nothing but watch the Face-Bot vanish into the darkness.

Posted by: Acadian Aug 24 2019, 06:44 PM

Thanks for your peek/insight into the future of the JanBike - that makes sense.

Stormcrow’s boring stakeout turns into a robo-robbery with more than enough excitement! I loved your concepts and descriptions of the motley robo-crew.

Once that face-bot picked up on having an unwanted observer, Stormcrow was on the defensive as she painfully learned the little fellow’s impressive offensive capabilities. By the time she took out the three metalmen (cleverly using the face-bot to help), she had turned the tables somewhat and put the deadly little face-bot on the defensive. As Stormcrow shifted from prey to predator, the little thing still managed do elude her. Nevertheless, she did stop the robbery and acquitted herself as the superheroine she has become.

’January wished for some way to strike back. She really needed some kind of ranged weapon. Now she wished she had taken one at character creation. She would have to talk to Avery about making some kind of crowarangs, or maybe just buy a few baseballs. As it was the drone could shoot at her all night, and all she could do was shake a fist at it.’
- - Love this whole paragraph! tongue.gif I’ve also no doubt that Gadget is up to the challenge.

Posted by: treydog Aug 25 2019, 10:11 PM

More excellent Crow-Girl action! The fight was believable and showed the limitations of her (current) abilities AND her experience. But the only way to get experience is to... go through things.

So she sprang at the final man-bot, and did something she knew that she never should. She executed a flying kick. Sure, it looked great in the movies. But in reality your opponent could see it coming from a mile away, and only had to step aside to avoid it. Worse, once you were in the air you were committed. There was nothing you could do until you landed, leaving you wide open to a devastating counter.

Reminds me of a friend who was taking a self-defense class and tried a snap-kick on the instructor. Unfortunately, it was not "snappy" enough and he caught her foot and led her, hopping, around the mat, explaining why a kick that fails to land is a really BAD idea.

Posted by: Renee Aug 27 2019, 08:16 PM

Nice. She plays Fallout (or at least knows of this game). smile.gif

Oh crap. It is flying, that face bot thingie is flying. [censored]. She's been hit. Good thing her suit probably protects her.

Okay, Face Bot is gone. So now I wonder if that face bot can has cameras in it, and somebody watching her.

Posted by: SubRosa Aug 31 2019, 04:23 PM

Acadian: I enjoyed writing the fight between January and the Robo-Villains. It shows how much she has grown as a super, and how far she still has to go. It was a great sophomore effort.

Gadget is up for the challenge. January's lack of a ranged component, and what she might do to fix that deficit, is something I have spent hours turning over in my head. Guns are right out. They are just not in Jan's character. I thought about various thrown weapons, like shuriken. But I keep shooting them all down. A piercing weapon is not like her. I guess she is just a blunt instrument... I thought about bean bag rounds from shotgun, only used as a thrown weapon. But even those are sometimes fatal, and she can throw hard enough to put one through someone's chest. Baseballs have the same problem. A boomerang (or Crowarang) is too exotic. When is she going to have time to learn how to use that effectively?

You will see my solutions in Chapter 4, which I am in the middle of writing right now. Both Gadget and January step up. One with gizmos, and one with magic.

treydog: January is definitely earned some experience points in that fight, and in the aftermath we will see today.

I recall Dee Foxy's Of Blades, Assassins (and something else?) thread on the old Beth forums. One of the things he pointed out is that kicks are always a gamble, because they make your foundation unstable. The higher the kick, the greater the danger is to your balance, and the more vulnerable you are to a counter. The safest ones are down low, at the other person's ankles or knees.

That is always on my mind when I am writing kicking in my fiction. Back in Seven Reimagined Perspehone faced an opponent who tried a front kick at her face, and she broke his leg. January is an expert in Karate (among other things), so kicks are part of her arsenal. She usually goes for the high ones only as part of a combination, where she tries to distract the opponent with punch to one part of the body, then follows with a kick somewhere else.

Renee: Jan has definitely been exposed to Fallout. Though it is probably Avery who was always playing it. He is the computer nerd after all... wink.gif We will see him playing one of the Portal games in Chapter 3 in fact.

Of course the bot is flying! biggrin.gif In many was the Face-Bot is the antithesis of January. It has no arms, and so cannot fight in melee at all. It flies effortlessly, which January still struggles with. Finally it is all about ranged combat, which Jan is completely lacking in. He is an opponent who forces Jan out of her comfort zone, and forces her to adapt.

Chapter 2.7 - Stormcrow Recycled

"Gadget, can you hear me yet?"

He still did not reply. She did not like that. It was not the broken equipment that bothered her. It was not hearing his voice in her ear. She had only been in real action three times now, not counting the recon at the hotel. He had only been there to talk to her once. But it had given her so much more confidence, knowing he was out there watching, thinking, turning things over in his head. She had not been alone, like she was now.

A small fire was burning in the garbage truck now, adding a flickering orange glow to the pale white fluorescents hanging over the street and parking lot. Several cars had pulled over, and people had run out of the gas station on the corner of Nineteen and Mound to watch. January knew the police would be coming soon. She debated whether to leave, or stick around to explain.

She did not have legal empowerment. Not like the Sentinels in Chicago did. That meant that technically she was a vigilante. But everyone knew that the reality of super beings had long since taught the law to play things fast and loose where metas were concerned. White Hats were generally given a lot of leeway by the police. So long as they did not kill people, or destroy too much property. Like Emilia Mercado at the airport the week before, most of them knew who their friends were. Or they at least knew when not to poke the wrong bear. But still, you never knew who you were going to meet.

The orange-red light grew brighter, as the paint on the garbage truck's body caught flame. January bit her lip. If the wind picked up, the fire from the truck would spread. That could set the nearby building on fire. She could not allow that.

The cab was now blazing merrily. January wondered where the gas tank was. If it was even gas that powered the truck, and not something more exotic. Then again, it was probably diesel. What had Avery said about diesel vs. gasoline? Gas explodes, diesel burns? No, that was gasoline burns, fumes explode. But she did recall something about diesel being less likely to explode than gas. If only she could reach him on the comm…

She looked around for something to put it out. Her eyes lit on the gaping maw cut into the rollup door. She dashed inside the metal shop. Her hands went to turn on the night vision in her helmet. But nothing happened. Apparently that had been knocked out too, along with her comms.

She squinted in the dark until she found a light switch and flipped it on. Racks and bins lined the walls, and were stacked row after row deeper into the building. They were filled with metals in many shapes: sheets, ingots, big pellets, rods, and so forth. Some shone with lustrous silver, like the titanium that littered the ground. Some were burnished bright reddish-orange, and others were dark, almost black.

But metal was not what she was interested in. The fire extinguisher hanging from one wall was. She leaped over to it and lifted it from its cradle. It was light as a feather in her hands. She jumped out through the doorway, and back into the alley. She fumbled with the handle of the extinguisher while she puzzled over how it worked. She had it sorted out after a few moments, and began spraying the burning truck with foam.

This would be a great time for some rain, she mused. But the slate gray sky had not a single drop of water to shed. January guessed she was just not sad enough for it to rain, or stressed enough, or whatever it was that made her affect the elements.

She had just finished putting the fire out when the bright red and blue lights of a police car illuminated the alley. January looked up in time to see a patrolman step out of the car, one hand on the pistol at his hip. Now she noted that at least half a dozen onlookers were clustered around the edge of the alley as well, watching and recording with their phones.

"Holy shit!" a familiar voice exclaimed. "It's the real Stormcrow. I sold Stormcrow a pop!"

January recognized the clerk from the nearby gas station, looking positively ecstatic. She started to wave at him, but stopped when she noticed the policeman draw his gun and point it at her. That made her realize that the motion of her hand might have been misconstrued. In a world where some people could shoot bolts of energy from their fingers, a simple wave could be a lethal attack after all.

She stopped, and gave her full attention to the cop. The bright red and blue lights flashing from atop his car made it hard for her to see him clearly. She imagined that was the idea behind them. He looked young. But who was she kidding? He was still older than she was. He had that square set to his face, and that tight, hard way of standing that always made her think of the Army

"It's ok officer," she said. "I'm Stormcrow. I was just putting out the fire."

"Did you do this?" he asked. He did lower his gun to a forty five degree angle. But he did not put it away either.

"I busted the robots," January nodded to the wreckage of the three ground bots. "But not the truck. The last robot did that before it got away."

"Where's the driver?" the cop stepped nearer, looking from her to the burned out cab of the garbage truck.

"There wasn't one," January shook her head. "It's fully robotic. They were all robots. They were trying to steal titanium. I think it's related to two other thefts of rare metals."

"She stopped them!" one of the onlookers shouted. "It was awesome! I've got the end on video!"

"Yeah, Stormcrow kicked ass!" another person cried.

"And I sold her a Pepsi..." the clerk added.

More police cars rolled up, along with a fire truck. January found herself explaining what had happened again, and again. The original cop holstered his gun. January wondered if the reinforcements made him feel safer around her, or if he just finally trusted her. In any case, the police gave her a cool reception, but they were not hostile either. She imagined that they did not know what to do with her, just as she did not know what to do with them.

On the other hand, the firefighters barely gave her a second glance. Instead they immediately started going over the truck. They made sure the fire was truly out, and spent a few moments searching the surrounding area for any injured people. One of the firemen pointed out the dumpster, and wondered what had caused the deep, Stormcrow-shaped impression within its steel frame.

"That dent is me," January admitted sheepishly. "Their warrior-bot sort of got the drop on me. It packs a real punch."

Now the bystanders began to crowd closer. Some were asking for selfies with her. One asked if she was single. The clerk told the questioner that she was a lesbian. Obviously they did not know she was trans. Given the experience she had in avoiding bulges in the wrong places, that was no surprise however.

The police moved to block them, which January imagined was probably the prudent thing to do. She must still be a big unknown to most people. For all they knew she might snap at any moment and start punching people. Not to mention it was still a crime scene after all.

One of the cops gave her an imploring look. "You had better fly Stormcrow," he said. "Things are all under control here."

He did not say "they might not stay that way if you stick around," but January could imagine the words easily enough. She had never thought that fame, whatever tiny amount of it she now possessed, could make things more difficult for her as a superhero. She had just hoped that it might make people more willing to cooperate with her. But it seemed the whole super world was more complicated than she had thought.

"Stormcrow likes Pepsi," she heard the clerk declare to someone else in the crowd. "Come back for more!" he cried to her.

January shook her head. That did remind her of the pop. She must have dropped it when the fight had started. She leaped back onto the roof, and found it rolling along, now empty of its contents. She picked it up and put it away in the panniers of her motorcycle, beside her license plate. There was no sense leaving any DNA evidence laying around. She was not going to end up like Hailstorm…

Besides, there was a ten cent deposit on that bottle.

Posted by: Renee Aug 31 2019, 07:01 PM

Yes there is some reason why our armed forces often uses diesel in the field. I read that in a Jack Reacher book a couple years ago. Can't remember what that reason is now! Oh well.

Michigan is still ten cents? There was a Seinfeld episode which featured Michigan I think, because their bottle law pays more.

Hopefully that warehouse won't catch fire, her bike is still on its roof!

I like how she keeps getting recorded by onlookers with their phones. It makes her more accountable when she explains to the cop what just happened.

Neat, so she's worried about her DNA possibly because then people might try to figure out who she is. Not that she's in the system now, but some day she could be.

That clerk is all proud. He sold her a Pepsi Ultimate!

Posted by: Acadian Sep 1 2019, 07:29 PM

Another wonderful episode!

I liked how her broken comm made her uncomfortable – really shows that Stormcrow is a duo and that she relies on Gadget.

Speaking of Gadget, he is wise indeed and it was perfect how January struggled to recall that diesel is less flammable than gasoline and therefore much safer to work around and with. I also liked that she didn’t automatically know how to use a fire extinguisher – a great touch to highlight her youth and level of experience in some areas.

Similarly, you tantalize us with more hints that her unusual relationship with stormclouds may at some point transition to some level of control. It would certainly be handy if she could indeed make it rain sometimes. . . or cause a lightning bolt to hit a foe.

The cop’s tactful invitation for Stormcrow to leave was perfect – and wise. Fortunately, she is astute enough to know and understand that he was simply trying to regain control of his crime scene from the Stormcrow groupies.

Her closing dual but incongruous concerns about the pop bottle were absolutely perfect – not to leave any DNA and recover her darn ten cent deposit! tongue.gif

Posted by: Darkness Eternal Sep 2 2019, 03:06 AM

Chapter 1.4: There was plenty in this chapter that I enjoyed! What an exciting adventure so far! Gadget's/Avery's gizmo cavern seems like a futuristic bat-cave! He makes a great companion to Jan! Her recollection of battle and his data-gathering ways was both fun and informative.

'"Funny how a company doesn't get investigated when it has billion dollar contracts with the government.'
Gadget made a fine point here. Seems very convenient, doesn't it?

January, though young, is wise enough to understand that old popular saying: with great power comes great responsibility. Having powers is great, but the true test of a person is what they use those powers for, and how they use them. I can imagine one may be tempted in using their power in scenarios where, perhaps, it would have been better to exercise restraint. Its good that she's focused on the positive aspects of meditation and purging all the negativity, which no doubt can cause turmoil to spill out. Especially with a weather-wielding hero like her. Yoga was very beneficial.

Avery is, too, and he's the friend she really needs right now, especially after the battle she just had. Not only was he there to help analyze the situation but he also gave her some inspiration words of support.

Jan does seem to struggle with some thoughts many heroes do, too. I really am liking this story! Can't wait to find more about Lighthammer, as well. Great chapter!

Chapter 1.5: Wow. So Lighthammer's reason to steal the diamonds was not for something as simple as money. Its used to empower him! Somehow that makes him even more deadlier!

'January could feel the color rising in her cheeks. Fighting was not just throwing punches. It was moves and countermoves. It was playing to your strengths, concealing your weaknesses, exposing your enemy's, and exploiting them. It was like chess, just with sweat and bruises. That had been check and mate. He had completely outplayed her.' Very good observation here! I suspect the next time they meet again(assuming they do) she'll remember this well, and might turn the tables on him. Using strength and speed can only take one so far, sometimes you have to use your noggin, too.

We learn that the diamonds, despite being beautiful, are often the cause of so much misfortune and evil! Seems even the baser baddies have need of them. Seems that our Indian friend wasn't entirely a victim; he had his hands involved one way or another.

Things are picking up for sure! The story unfolds!

Chapter 1.6:

I just had to laugh. This entire chapter was very fun throughout.

"I bet Blood Raven doesn't have to make excuses to her mom when she goes out fighting evil."
laugh.gif laugh.gif Or when she's playing Call of Cthulhu

I have to echo Acadian. If the last few chapters wasn't enough, this one truly showed us that these two are nigh inseparable and fit nicely like peas in a pod. He's really helping her out, and she's making progress and getting things done!

The two employees talking about the fight was absolutely hilarious. I would have reacted just the same as she did if I heard something like that. Men will be men, right?

'Her heart was racing, her palms were sweating, and her mouth was suddenly as dry as Tatooine.'
LOVED this bit here!

Though the portly cop may have given her a brief delay, it hasn't stopped her from going forth with her plan to gain access to that room.

Posted by: SubRosa Sep 7 2019, 04:15 PM

Renee: Gasoline is much quicker to burn and explode than diesel, or jet fuel for that matter. In WWII our Sherman tanks had gasoline engines, not diesel. One hit from a shell and the entire tank would go up in a ball of fire. They called them Zippos. In contrast every other tank made by every other country had a diesel engine.

Michigan is still ten cents. I amazes me that so few states have returnable laws. What do you people do with your empty bottles? Just throw them out? ohmy.gif
People even try to smuggle their empty bottles into Michigan to get the returns. The State govt. made some pretty stiff laws against that, because it costs businesses the return money.

Everybody records everything on their phones these days. It is like life did not exist before video to prove it happened.

The acknowledgement of her DNA being on her saliva on that bottle is a nod to the utter stupidity of so many TV and movie writers, whose characters do things like walk into homes and rob them. Not wearing gloves, or a mask. Their fingerprints would be on everything, and their faces on the homeowner's Nest cameras. You could not make it easier for police. The fact is there are cameras everywhere today, and the police can get your DNA off just a single hair that fell from your lion-like mane. If the police actually make an effort to find you, they will, unless you take extreme measures to protect your identity. That is a reality supers like January have to deal with (and we will see some ways they circumvent detection in the future).

Acadian: January is definitely not a lone wolf hero. We will often see her reaching out to others, and creating alliances, if not friendships. Lighthammer was just the beginning there. I even have some vague, really long term ideas of her creating a team from the diverse supers she unites.

We have fire extinguishers at work. They are so heavy I can barely lift one. I use them for door stops. The fire marshals love that, btw. wink.gif

January definitely has a powerful influence on the elements. Keep watching the skies!

January is still learning this super business. Her interactions with the Sterling Heights pd there was one example of that. She is getting better though, and making an effort to create those alliances.

10 cents is 10 cents! That is such a Michigan thing...

Darkness Eternal: Crow and Gadget are most definitely a partnership. They each complement the other. The Gadget Cave was fun to write about. It is a tech geek's paradise!

That will not be the last time that Jan will be outplayed by an opponent. It happens again in Chapter 4. She is still learning after all, and has a long way to go. I know you were concerned that Raven might seem really overpowered and Mary Sueish. By definition, superheros are overpowered! So this is one way I am trying to mitigate that, and show that Jan is still fallible. The same as everyone.

I loved the idea of a superhero having to deal with their mother! It is another one of those things that brings them right back down to earth, and gives us a way to relate with them.

One thing I really love about writing Jan is that with her stories set in the modern (albeit super) world, I can finally draw on all those nerdy pop culture references my real life is filled with.

Chapter 2.8 - Stormcrow Recycled

It was late when January turned onto her street. So late she could not stop from yawning. But she had things to do before she could go to bed. She rode past her house, and saw that the lights were still on. That meant her parents were up, which was not a good sign. Were they waiting up for her? It was not like she was fifteen any more. Not that she had ever sneaked out and went to parties or anything else teenager-like. Being trans had a wonderful way of insuring that no one ever invited you to those kinds of things. Unless you counted gaming night with Avery and the Dungeons and Dragons guys.

She glanced up at her darkened bedroom window. Somewhere in there was a soft bed with an even softer pillow. But that would have to wait. She had promises to keep, and while not miles, still a few more feet to go before she could sleep. With all deference to Robert Frost of course.

So she rode down two more houses to Avery's home. All the lights were off except those from the basement. She saw his mother's car in the driveway. So she was finally home from the hospital. She worked so many double-shifts as a nurse that January was not used to seeing it there.

"You're ok!" Avery exclaimed when January walked down into the Gadget Cave, carrying her motorcycle under one arm.

"Of course I am," January said. She opened up the storage space under the fake gas tank, and pulled out her armor. "But I think I lost the comm in the suit. The night vision too. I got hit by some serious electricity."

"That flying drone? It was the last thing I saw before the link went dead." Gadget took the cowl and began studying it. He walked back to one of his workbenches, and put it under an illuminated magnifying glass. "It took a few minutes for me to get into some security cameras to see the rest of it."

January explained what he had missed, and Gadget used a set of tweezers to pull out the burned circuitry in her cowl. She tried to stifle a yawn, but failed. Gadget told her to go home, and she took his advice. She left the motorcycle and armor with him. She walked home, and leaped up onto the roof. She did not feel like dealing with her parents right now.

She was about to pry out the screen of her window when a light washed across the street behind her. She glanced to the side, and saw that a car was coming. The last thing she needed was someone calling the police on her for breaking and entering. So she was obliged to scramble over the roof and duck behind its peak until the car passed. Having a front-facing window was definitely not ideal for superheroing.

Once it was safe, she returned to her window and jimmied it open. She tossed her pack in her closet, and laid back on her bed without even taking off her clothes. A glance at the glowing numbers on her clock revealed that it was barely past one o'clock. That was not so terribly late. But it had been a big day, and she was exhausted.

She closed her eyes and just relaxed. But strident voices immediately set her heart racing. She could not place them at first, so she rose and walked to her door. Then she realized that it was her parents arguing, though she could still not make out the words. She opened the door, and cautiously stepped into the hallway. Now their voices became clear as crystal, rising up from the ground floor.

"I can't believe you hid this from me!" her mother's voice rang out. "Really, how do you go from history professor to slinging porn online?"

"Do you know how many people bought my book about Greco-Roman Architecture? Or the Crisis of the Third Century? Or the Greek Tyrants?" Her father cried. "I made more money on my last erotica e-book than I did on all my history books combined."

"And that's how you've paid for Julian's way through Michigan? There were no student loans." Her mother's voice dripped with incredulity. "At the same time you and I have been telling Jan that we can't afford to send her to anything other than community college. She could be going to MSU right now, or U of M herself!"

"You know what student loans are like," her father contended. "Julian would be paying off the interest alone for years. It would take him at least a decade to get out from under it. So I wrote some smut to pay his way. It's not my real name on it. And it's not like you've never read anything like that before."

"That's not the point!'" her mother cried. "You have been lying to our daughter for years. You have been holding her back this entire time. And worse of all, you made me a party to it by lying to me!"

"Because I knew you'd react like this!" her father argued. "Julian deserves it. He's going to make something of his life. It isn't fair to him how August is holding him back."

"What on earth are you talking about?" her mother's voice rose with incredulity. "Jan isn't going to make something of her life? She is holding Julian back? How can you even talk like that about your children?"

"Because it's true." January barely heard her father's voice over the pounding of blood in her ears. "You know it is. August has always been a troubled boy. This pretending to be a girl is just a sad cry for attention. Just like that suicide attempt. He has to make everything about him. He's been an albatross around our necks since he was born. It's pathetic really. It's why I never made full professor. It's why I have to write all these insipid books in first place."

"An albatross? Oh, you are not going there!" her mother's voice was so loud the windows practically rattled. "Do not put your own career failings on her. On her damn it! You know full well that almost no one teaching college ever goes beyond being an adjunct. Your job is your own damn responsibility. And Julian? Most kids wish they had it so good as him. I never had the opportunities he does, neither did you, nor either of our parents!"

"Julian's last three girlfriends left him because of August." There it was again, that male name that cut so deeply to January's core. Her father just could not bear calling her by her real name, as if that would give her some sort of power over him. Simply acknowledging her gender seemed to frighten him more than facing a supervillain with an antimatter cannon. "His grade point average slipped the last two years because of him too."

"Are you crazy, is that your problem?" her mother's voice became lower, but with a sharper, harder edge. "What next, she is responsible for global warming? The fall of Rome? How about we blame Jesus dying on the cross on her too? Hell, let's just go back further and rename it January's Box instead of Pandora's, since apparently our daughter loosed every misfortune that exists in the world."

"Man up and grow a pair of damn balls," her mother growled. "Stop trying to blame someone else for your failures, or for Julian's. It's cowardly, and beneath you."

"No, everything in the world is all my fault, isn't it!" her father's voice became more strident. "I am sick and damned tired of having to bear every burden in this family. My life was pretty good until I met you. I didn't have to marry you. It's not my fault you wouldn't get the damn abortion. I could have been someone! But instead I-"

The piercing crack of skin against skin rang out.

January did not hear anything more. The pounding of her heart blotted everything else out. She ran back into her room, and slammed the door behind her. She could not think. She only knew that she had to escape. She went straight for the window, and leapt into the deluge that now poured from the sky by the bucketful.

* * *

"Where were you?" Avery's eyes nearly popped out of his head. The next thing January knew, the taller black man had her wrapped up in his arms. "We were so worried about you?"

"We?" January blinked. She stared around the empty Gadget Cave. The early morning sun slanted in through the windows placed along the driveway above. The rest of the house was silent and still. Even his mother's car was gone, as usual. It was just the two of them, like always.

"Your mother was calling and texting me all night, looking for you." Avery finally let go of her. "Did you really jump out your bedroom window?"

January nodded sheepishly, and stared down at her shoes. Like the rest of her clothing, they were completely soaked. She absentmindedly noted that it would make most people miserable. But being the Weather Witch of Warren, she was used to being rained on. It was just a normal part of life.

She allowed Avery to guide her to the couch, where she plopped down in a very unladylike pose.

"What happened?" he asked as he sat down beside her. "Have you been out all night in the rain?"

"I don't want to talk about it," January murmured. "Not now."

"Okay," Avery's voice had the caution of a person navigating through a minefield. "That bad eh?"

"I have to get out of that house," January blurted out. "I'm going to get an apartment, or rent a house. Will you come with me? Split the bills?"

"Whoa, that's sudden," Avery stared with shock. "What happened to saving money for surgery?"

"I just can't live there anymore," January reiterated.

"I... I wish I could," Avery frowned. "I'd love to have my own place. Our own place. But I can't leave my Nana. My mom's gone almost all the time at work. I have to be around to take care of her."

January nodded, but could not restrain a frown of her own. "I knew you would say that."

"Hey, why don't you dry off and change, and I'll make some breakfast," Avery offered. "Things might look a little different once you're dry and have something in your stomach. Oh, excuse me, you girls have 'tummies' don't you?"

Avery's smile was as forced as it was beautiful. January put her arms around him once more. Then she remembered that she was soaked, and was now getting him wet as well. She pulled away, and a growl squirmed from her stomach.

She went to the basement bathroom to dry off and change into some of the spare clothes she kept in the Gadget Cave for emergencies. Then she went upstairs to binge on waffles and sausage links with Avery. The news droned out of the small TV he kept on the kitchen counter. The weather came on, and the meteorologist informed everyone that while the rest of the Lower Peninsula would be enjoying a sunny spring day, the people of Warren would have to endure steady rain. At least until the Weather Witch decided to give them a break.

January had started to feel better. Now she was the reason why no cat could lay in the sun today.

"You texted my mother when I was changing didn't you," she finally said.

"Of course I did." Avery rubbed the back of his neck. "She needs to know you're ok."

January sighed. She did not want to deal with that right now. She did not want to think about last night. She needed to focus on the future. The words of her old therapist rose up in her mind.

"What are you going to do about it?"

She nearly ran into her mother when she walked out the back door. She had her motorcycle tucked under one arm, as easily as one might carry a pillow. The sight of that seemed to take all the words from her mother's mouth.

"Mom, I'm sorry," January choked out. She dropped the bike to the driveway with a weighty thump. It splashed rainwater over her feet, while her new clothes began to slowly soak through under the steady drizzle from overhead. "But I can't do this right now."

"How much did you hear?" her voice was low with equal measures of dread and sorrow.

"Enough." January pulled the ancient Bell motorcycle helmet over her head and fastened it tight. The next thing she knew her mother was holding her tight.

"Mom, I'm trying to storm off all cool and melodramatic like," January heard herself say. "It doesn't work with you hugging me."

"Ok honey," she stepped back, forcing a smile. "When you're done storming, just remember that I'll always love you, no matter what."

"I know," January said.

Edit: Added a link to January's theme music

Posted by: Acadian Sep 7 2019, 07:17 PM

Gosh, I'm learning a lot about Michigan and Detroit from this story! tongue.gif

Predictable that Jan would, after her mission, head straight for the Gadget Cave to update Avery.
"It took a few minutes for me to get into some security cameras to see the rest of it."
- - Here you ‘show’ us how brilliantly creative Gadget is. Quick thinking on his part, upon losing comm, to tap into the building security cameras.

Well, that was an argument at home she didn’t need to hear. . . . sad.gif Some powerfully effective writing there, my friend. Her father’s a real butthead. If there is a silver lining though, her mother quite shined here in Jan’s defense.

Magnificent how Jan literally ‘stormed’ off into that downpour of her own creating.

Posted by: Renee Sep 9 2019, 12:16 AM

We recycle. At least I do. Where I live it seems like every one does, it seems like all the houses in my neighborhood have their blue bins out on recycle day. Ha, so that is real, when people try to bring bottles into Michigan!

Thanks for explaining about diesel and gasoline. I used to work at a gas station and it's funny how little I knew about it... I was merely a cashier / office lady. I remember we did not sell diesel. mad.gif At least once a week I'd have explain this to some grouchy customer, and tell him or her to drive halfway across town to one of our competitors at the time. rolleyes.gif


Uh oh. They're fighting!

"Jan isn't going to make something of her life?" Oh yes she is. biggrin.gif

I got really uncomfortable reading their argument, but that's what happens to me in real-life too, when I hear people argue. So in other words, good job portraying their fight.

Phew. Poor January.

Posted by: treydog Sep 9 2019, 01:13 AM

But it had given her so much more confidence, knowing he was out there watching, thinking, turning things over in his head. She had not been alone, like she was now.

A lesson my A and A team are learning (slowly). Counting on someone else is not dependency or weakness; it is a way for both to be stronger.

She had never thought that fame, whatever tiny amount of it she now possessed, could make things more difficult for her as a superhero. She had just hoped that it might make people more willing to cooperate with her. But it seemed the whole super world was more complicated than she had thought.

The downside to fame that many famous people have learned to their cost- a small, but dangerous segment of their “fandom” thinks they “own” the celebrity they venerate, and worse yet, that the famous person reciprocates their feelings.

There was no sense leaving any DNA evidence laying around. She was not going to end up like Hailstorm…

Besides, there was a ten cent deposit on that bottle.

A perfect wry ending to a great after-action moment.

The fight was... terrible- and as Renee said, perfectly written. Begin to see where Julian gets his attitudes and irresponsibility....

January had started to feel better. Now she was the reason why no cat could lay in the sun today.

You manage once more to relieve the tension from before with a perfectly placed dry observation.

"Mom, I'm trying to storm off all cool and melodramatic like," January heard herself say. "It doesn't work with you hugging me."

Moms- they always know how to ruin a perfect dramatic exit...

Most excellent once again. Mrs. Treydog the Painter and I often say that good art makes you "feel." It may not always make you feel "good," but it doesn't just leave you without any particular impression, either. Your writing is most definitely good art.

Posted by: Darkness Eternal Sep 14 2019, 01:55 AM

Chapter 1.7: Heh. Good question honestly. What is it? Uniform? Outfit?

"Note to self, Fire is cool," she murmured.

Fire is definetely cool! And so are her powers.

Again I have to say just how great it is to have Gadget on her side. He's a handy man for sure! It was neat having him check the database to find out if Sub was arrested. Gave her more than enough time to find that elusive little black book.

"No wait. If he comes back and it's gone, he'll get suspicious."

This was perfect. Though its common sense, this was a good way to avoid her getting into trouble and both of them potentially being discovered later on.

Hehe, a selfie with a Trekkie is far better than an unpleasant outcome! I was happy this happened. Sure brought a smile to my face.

Great chapter!

Chapter 1.8: How great it was to see January at her house. I always find it interesting to see a character's lifestyle back home when they aren't on dangerous missions and adventures. You gave us such a great description of her house(well, her parent's house), that it was as if we were actually there with her.

That was a total Peter Parker-esque moment, sneaking in through the window to get into her room!

'In the past she had always put that down to her being more focused. She didn't waste time going to parties, or binge-watching TV, or surfing YouTube, or spending hours talking and texting friends, or shopping for clothes, and all the other things that seemed to preoccupy teenagers so much.'

Which makes her stand out. This worked well in her favor.

'January had to admit, she did not look her fifty years of age. Or was it fifty thousand? It was so hard to tell the difference with parents.'

tongue.gif laugh.gif
How tough it must be for January to be called something she isn't. That, and coupled with the fact of her being the 'oddball' of the family certainly can create tense situations. We get a true in-depth view on the day-to-day habits of Jan as she settles in her room and searches herself online.

"Stormcrow does not simply walk into Mordor. She leaps!"

This. Is. Pure. Gold! biggrin.gif biggrin.gif

Seems to me that Julian does gravitate toward his father Romulus a bit, doesn't he? You captured this quite well with him echoing the other. January had some very good points regarding the difference between heroes and law enforcement and their efficiency.

"She might not even be from here. She could have been any one of those people staying in that hotel. For all we know she might be in San Francisco right now, or New York."

Or, you know, right in front of you. I love moments like these!

"I may as well work at Burger Baron, for all the money I would make doing that. I am sure that's where you will end up, but not me."

What a douche!

Chapter 1.9:
Her brother's less-than-inspirational words hung like a storm in our hero's mind. How terrible it must be to have a brother who doesn't have your back, and worst, discourages her with words.

'She knew from bitter experience that the last thing normal people wanted to was to be reminded that someone like her existed. But even given that, January knew that she would never compromise her ideals. She would rather be homeless.'

This was some great insight! Despite the weight of the world's views upon one's shoulders, they should never shed away their resolve, and remain strong despite the negative and judgmental views of others.

Jan has some major problems! Dealing with parents who have yet to see you for who you are, financial challenges, as well as personal doubts creeping in to potential sibling favoritism, all seems to be against her. The best thing she could do, though it may be hard, is remember:

'Never ever give up, no matter what.'

Oh! Something is about to go down! When Gadget calls, its urgent!

I will be back for the rest! Great story!

Posted by: SubRosa Sep 14 2019, 05:30 PM

Acadian: I know you were joking, but the reason I set this in Detroit is that I know this city and state so well. Right down to the Bernsteins and bottle deposits. I can bring that out in the stories in a way I could never do with a fictional setting.

Tapping into nearby security cameras is going to become a staple of Gagetology. I get a lot of that from Shadowrun, where cameras are an even larger part of life than today. The Decker (hacker) character would commonly hijack the local security cameras to wipe their shadowrunner team from them, and use them to tell the runners where the bad guys were.

The last episode was one of those really blatant displays of how January's emotions shape the local elements. As difficult it was to write the argument, being able to show Jan's feelings through the pouring rain was wonderful.

I decided to go this route with Jan's family because so many Queer people face these very same (and often much worse) issues with their own families. It is just one of those Truth in Television moments that I felt I could not ignore and still be true to reality. From a purely nuts and bolts storytelling point of view it also introduces an extra sort of conflict. Conflict is what drives all stories. Without it, things are just boring.

Renee: Wow, except in a few neighborhoods we don't have recycle bins for every house in Michigan. Just garbage cans. You have to put your paper and other recyclables aside yourself and take them to the city recycle center.

I was uncomfortable writing the argument as well. I had to break it down into individual story beats, and cover them one at a time in an analytical fashion in order to get through it.

treydog: So you would say Blood on the Moon is a story about the A-Team then? wink.gif

The darkside of modern media culture is one of the things I specifically wanted to put on display in that scene with the crowd wanting to get every closer and closer to the new media sensation.

Like I said in the past, it's ok to dislike Julian. His attitudes definitely run from his father, and are in fact amplified by the preferential treatment he has received from Romulus.

I just cannot resist those little wry observations like the ten cent deposit or cats laying in the sun. That is one of those examples of the author being reflected in what they write.

A few months ago I read the Screwfly Solution, and I commented about it on the HP Lovecraft Literary Podcast's Patreon comments section. I said pretty much what you and Mrs. Dog did. Good fiction makes you feel, even if you don't particularly want to. That story was very much in mind when I wrote that fight between Jan's parents. I am sure it was not easy for Alice Sheldon to write it, because it is so emotionally brutal. She slogged through it to create an outstanding story. So I did too.

Darkness Eternal: I think selfies are now the new autograph. I don't think any fan wants anything signed anymore, do they? We all have cameras on us all the time, so we all want pics. Otherwise it did not happen after all.

Peter Parker/Spider-Man is an inspiration for these stories. Back in the 60s when the character first came out he was a big hit, precisely because he was not rich, or famous, or desired, or even cool. He was an ordinary schlub, facing ordinary problems. Someone everyone can relate to. January is a bit exotic in that she is trans and lesbian. But what I am hoping to really emphasize is just how ordinary she really is, but showcasing these ordinary issues and situations she faces in her everyday life.

Given today's Meme-centric internet culture, a Stormcrow Meme had to be in the offing. Who can resist the Sean Bean classic of walking into Mordor? I cannot watch the scene in Fellowship of the Ring without thinking of the memes.

I am digging way back to my own youth with Jan's feelings about older people. 30? Wow, what an ancient! 50! They must have rode dinosaurs to school!

Julian does indeed take a lot of his personality from his father, and from the preferential treatment he receives. Something we will see a lot more of in the future. He is indeed, a douche. Well, he's a lawyer after all. Or will be.

I used to keep a printed out copy of the Viking Code on my door when I was younger. I would always look at that whenever I left my home, especially the final part. "Never give up, no matter what."

Chapter 2.9 - Stormcrow Recycled

January sat in class, trying to remember who Wilhelm Wundt was, and why he was important to the history of psychology. Try as she might, all she could think about was Willy Wonka. But she had a sneaking suspicion that Oompa Loompas and chocolate were not going to be on the final exam.

Her phone vibrated in her pocket. She prayed to Freyja, the Morrigan, and any other deity who would listen that it wasn't her mother, again. She sneaked a peek at it when the professor was not looking. It turned out to be a text from Avery.

Another Robbery.

Global Titanium Inc. North of Seven Mile, between Van Dyke and Mound.

Right Now!

January bit her lip. What was she supposed to do? Blow off her Intro To Psychology class? But how could she sit there when another robot-army was on the loose? How did Blood Raven handle this kind of thing?

There never really was any question after all. She slid her phone into her pocket, and her book and notes into her backpack. She stood and walked briskly for the door. The professor turned his balding head toward her and gave her a quizzical look.

"Sorry, family emergency," she said. Then she was out the door, and looking for a secluded place to change into her armor. It turned out to be no farther away than the croaking of a crow. The black bird was perched in a cluster of trees beside the nearby library, and stared at her intently as it called out.

Thankfully the rain had stopped, but the grass was still wet when January raced across it to get under the cover of the trees. It turned out to be an ideal spot. January's elemental mantra was second nature to her now. She simply thought about it, and willed the change to happen. An instant later she was in her armor, and the tee, jeans, and fitted jacket she had been wearing were tucked safely away in her backpack.

The trees also gave her convenient cover for a leap to the roof with no one noticing. She tucked her pack away behind a row of upraised bricks in one corner. Given that it was the tallest building on the campus, no one would ever notice it. Or at least she hoped so.

She did not bother with the motorcycle. It had been too much trouble the last time. Besides, there would be traffic at this time of day. Instead she leapt high into the sky, and snapped out her wings. She remembered everything that Lighthammer had told her about the principles of flight.

"I keep forgetting that so much of this is not like flying a jet," the armored vigilante had told her. "Even a glider doesn't compare. You fly like a bird. Well, like a crow. But they flap their wings to generate thrust. I don't know how you do it. It's not even gliding. Not really. Your glide ratio is way better than any glider or wingsuit. You've got some mojo for this. You need to keep working on developing that."

She flew south across the campus, willing herself to remain in the air. She concentrated on reshaping reality, on creating a world where she could soar like any bird. Her focus, her energy, went into that. Muscle memory gained under Lighthammer's tutelage also taught her to angle her wings. She would create the most negative pressure on the upper surface, and the most positive on the lower. That would generate lift the old-fashioned way. The same as a bird did.

Be like Air. Be light, and quick, and fly.

She soared all the way across the campus before she began to lose appreciable altitude. Finally she was obliged to come down on the roof of the high school nearby. She disengaged her wings and hit it running. At the edge of the roof she leapt back up into the sky, and redeployed her wings. Then she was sailing through the sky again.

"Broadsword calling Danny Boy," she said into the brand new comm Avery had installed in her helmet the previous night.

"Got you Broadsword," Gadget's voice came back loud and clear in her ear, sounding decidedly amused. "Are Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood driving you? I see traffic backed up on Groesbeck."

"Take a look," January carefully reached up to her head, and clicked on the video unit. A moment later she crossed over I-696 and came down on the roof of a massive factory. It was so large that she could do more than run across it. She was able to take numerous horizontal leaps, covering over thirty feet in each bound. She built up speed all the while, so that when she finally launched skyward she gained more altitude than she ever had before. She cracked out her wings, and rejoiced in the view.

"Hot damn girl," Gadget's voice was soft amazement. "That is incredible."

"Okay, that's Groesbeck down to your left," he declared confidently. "Keep following it to Outer Drive, then go right. It's just before Seven Mile."

January continued her routine of leaping and gliding, and ate the miles up in the bright blue sky. She noticed a single crow ahead of her, seeming to fly in the same direction that she was. She followed it out of reflex. Soon there was another crow, and another, and she found herself part of a large murder of the birds.

January laughed out loud. The clouds were gone, both in the sky overhead, and within her heart. In spite of all the disturbing revelations of the previous night, in spite of whatever was waiting for her at the next titanium shop, this was a perfect moment. She knew that, and did her best to live in it forever. Or at least whatever passed for forever these days.

She even imagined that she heard "Four Days" by the Counting Crows playing in her ear. Then she realized it was not in her mind. She really was hearing it.

"A little something by Counting Crows to go with your crow pals," Gadget's voice came in over the opera score.

The crows led her right to Global Titanium Incorporated. It was a compound of large buildings on the far side of a set of railroad tracks that ran from north to south. The complex was laid out in a rectangle, the perimeter being marked out by large, windowless buildings. A pair of structures bisected the layout about one third of the way from the south. That made it more of a figure eight, with a larger open square on the north side, and a smaller one to the south. Most of the buildings seemed to be two story sheds or warehouses, massive in size. Large doorways - big enough for multiple trucks to drive through at the same time - yawned open in them.

The center of the big open square to the north was taken up by a collection of large, open-aired storage bays. They were constructed from massive concrete blocks that looked for all the world like giant Legos. Each bay was blocked off on three sides by high walls of the white blocks, leaving one end open. Four of these bays were lined up with their open ends facing south. Another four butted up opposite them, sharing a single, center wall. Their openings faced north. That created eight enclosures in all. All were filled with metals in numerous forms. There were loose chips piled up in mounds, heaps of what looked like powder, and neatly stacked crates of packaged materials. Even more of these storage bays were spread around the edges of the courtyard, and against the sides of the massive sheds and warehouses. Everywhere January looked, there was metal. It was a Mountain Dwarf's paradise.

It was here that January saw another Frankensteinian garbage truck. Like the one from the previous night, it was made up of parts thrown together from several other trucks. The varying colors made that plain. Half the cab was green, the other half yellow, and the storage bay behind was brown and blue.

January could see several more of the humanoid robots walking from one of the large metal storage bays to the truck. They carried ingots of shining metal in their iron hands, which they loaded into the open back of the garbage truck. Smoke rose from the wreck of a semi-truck nearby, but there were no signs of any people. Whoever had been working down there must have either ran off, or be hiding.

"Whoa, what happened?" Gadget's concerned voice came over the comm. "Are you ok?"

"I'm fine," January puzzled out. "No one's even shot at me yet."

"I just lost the video," Gadget explained. "I've got nothing but haze coming through."

"Everything looks fine," January assured him. "Maybe it's just still on the fritz from the other night. I'm going on according to plan."

"That can't be," Gadget insisted. "I completely replaced all the wiring with shielded circuitry. It's immune to electrical damage, or even an EMP."

January looked for the Face-Bot, but did not see it as she approached. She took advantage of its apparent absence, and plunged down toward the garbage truck. It grew larger and larger by the second, and she had to give it her fullest concentration. Moments from hitting it, she triggered off her wings. She went into a forward roll as she fell, and hit the blacktop still moving.

She rolled under the truck. As the chassis passed by overhead, she clipped one of Gadget's contraptions to its underside. Without slowing an instant, she rolled out the other side of the truck, and sprang to her feet.

"GPS attached," she said quietly.

"Got it pinging," he said. "Just make it look good now."

One of the metal men stepped out from around the back of the garbage truck. Its hands were empty, so January imagined that it had just dropped off its load of titanium. It raised one hand toward her. Remembering how one had cut open a metal door during the previous attack, January ducked. Crimson laser light splashed through the air above her, and lanced through a storage bay across the court.

Apparently they were no longer just worker drones. Now they could fight. Someone had been doing upgrades overnight.

January dove into a forward roll, and bounced to her feet in front of the android. Her Krav Maga training came to her naturally, and she sprang up directly into the metal man's face. Her armored helmet smashed into its head, sending photoreceptors and other bits and bobs of electronics out in a shower of metal. She followed with a knee to its groin. While it lacked the usual soft spots there, the blow did send it off balance. She grabbed its shoulders with both hands and pulled them down toward her, even while she lifted her knee up into its head. That cleanly decapitated it.

January lifted the still moving body of the robot in her arms and whipped it around. She flung it at a second android that had lumbered around the back of the truck. The headless bot took it clean in the chest, and both were sent tumbling to the blacktop.

January was about to leap onto a third when the raucous cry of a crow snapped her head around. Rising over the outer wall of the compound was the Face-Bot, its twin eyes glowing with malevolence. January leaped after all, but not to attack a robot. Instead she bounded over the large collection of storage bays, and put her back to the concrete blocks that made up their walls. Twin lasers scored the air behind her. Then a moment later they gouged into the blocks that she hid behind.

"I found the Boss," January said into her comm. "He's got me pinned down."

"Good, just keep your head down," Gadget replied. "I'm trying to find a security camera to see with, but I'm having the same problem as with your suit cam. I think something's jamming all the cameras in the area."

"How can that be?" January wondered aloud.

The Face-Bot came sliding around the side of her hiding place. Thinking quickly, January leaned over into the storage bay and picked up an ingot of steel. She flung it at the Face-Bot, and hit it dead between the eyes with a loud clank! She could swear that she heard it squeal in pain, and it danced away. Before it shot out of sight, January noted with satisfaction that her missile had left a large dent in its casing.

She peeked around the corner, and ducked back as a bright red laser scored a line across the concrete wall. That had come from one of the man-bots. Their creator had definitely improved their AI. They had not been nearly so combative the other night.

"I don't know how they are doing the jamming, but they are," Gadget said. "It apparently only effects the visible light spectrum. Though it might go up into infrared and ultraviolet as well. We are talking, so it doesn't affect radio waves. This is something I'm going to have to work on. We could use this in your suit."

"Well, I don't think the man-bots are doing it," January noted. "Maybe it's in the truck, or that Face-Bot."

She picked up another steel bar, and darted around the other side of the storage bay. The coast was clear over here, so she leaped down to the end of the row of enclosures, and came around the truck from the other side. The Face-Bot was waiting for her however. She flung her steel, and it fired its lasers at the same time. The metal erupted in mid-air with a shower of molten steel. But not all of it was liquefied. Some of the solid bits continued on, and pelted the flying robot.

Once again, it squealed, and dodged back and to one side. It fired at January again, forcing her back behind the cover of the storage bays. She heard the garbage truck's engine roar to life. A moment later she heard its tires grinding over the blacktop. She peeked around the corner, and saw that the truck was rolling out the main entrance of the compound, and onto the street outside. The Face-Bot sent one last blast at her, then darted off after the vehicle.

January ran out from cover, searching for more of the metal men. Aside from the one she had decapitated, and the other one she had struck with its body, there were no sign of them. Those two were still twitching, but a vigorous application of her boot soles fixed that. She imagined that the rest had loaded themselves on board the truck along with the metal they had stolen and escaped.

"Is anyone hurt?" January called out. She turned in a circle, searching for people. "I chased them off. It's safe to come out now."

Heads began to poke out from behind open doorways and around corners. January made a quick circuit, looking into storage bays and into the warehouses. But of all the people she saw, no one had suffered more than a few scrapes and bruises. She imagined those were more from flight than actual attack. She had seen what the robots could do. Their weapons could melt steel. Humans would have been vaporized under their lasers. Thankfully, she did not see any piles of goo on the ground to suggest that had occurred.

Posted by: Acadian Sep 14 2019, 08:31 PM

With a name like Wilhelm Wundt, it is indeed hard to not conjure images of Willy Wonka and the shrink factory. tongue.gif

Wonderful how you brought up the dilemma of stay in class or cut class for a superhero mission. On the other hand, she’s getting more and more of this superheroine stuff down as she wills her armor onto herself and continues to improve her thrust generation mojo. ‘Willing’ the air to decrease pressure on the upper surface of her wings is a perfect way for Stormcrow to use her elemental superpowers to influence aerodynamics. Nicely done!

Cool! Stormcrow and Gadget now have official callsigns! And flipping her camera on earns access to her very own talking gps/nav system - with crow redundancy from her winged pals. And music even!

‘The clouds were gone, both in the sky overhead, and within her heart.’
’…this was a perfect moment. She knew that, and did her best to live in it forever.’
- - There are indeed – when things are going well - moments of pure joy when flying high performance aircraft. Helps make up for the hours of boredom interspersed with moments of sheer terror.

Quite a landing as she hits the ground, rolls under the Frankentruck and slaps a gps tracker to its chassis. Then into quite the fight as both sides have upgraded since the last encounter. The Metaldudes with lasers and Stormcrow with her high tech steel ingots for throwing. laugh.gif

Turns out that getting a tracking device onto Frankentruck is likely to prove very helpful. And no collateral piles of goo on the ground is always a good thing.

Posted by: treydog Sep 15 2019, 09:15 PM

Way back when we were reading Gawain and the Green Knight (in Middle English- which was still almost in use when I went to school), the word “wlonk” was used. Which one of my fellow grad students immediately decided was a version of “Willie Wlonka.”

Excellent insight by Light-Guy about Jan's flight dynamics.

in spite of whatever was waiting for her at the next titanium shop, this was a perfect moment. She knew that, and did her best to live in it forever. Or at least whatever passed for forever these days.

Words to keep close by- and hard to remember sometimes.

I like the fact that the "intelligence" behind the thefts demonstrates actual "intelligence"- evolving its minions and their tactics based on the previous encounter.

Posted by: SubRosa Sep 21 2019, 03:33 PM

Acadian: I still remember my Into to Psychology class, and Wilhelm Wundt was one of the people we covered. My instructor himself raised the similarity to Willy Wonka! El Gordo was a cool teacher.

Thankfully it was only her attending class. If it was her teaching a class at the dojo it would be even more difficult to just duck out of it. That is the problem of having a day job and trying to be a superhero. Eventually they will be at odds with one another.

Those aren't really official callsigns. I just read a short story named "Broadsword Calling Danny Boy" that was loosely inspired by Where Eagles Dare, so that, and the movie, were forefront in my mind. Plus it is a pop culture reference that I cannot use in most of my writing.

January is slowly but surely improving her flight. I am sure it will come as no surprise when she no longer simply glides, but flies outright. That is one of many improvements I want to show her working toward.

I did say that January and Avery were going to upgrade her long range arsenal!

treydog: Where would our culture be without Willie Wonka and his amazing rhyming name?

I have often told myself to hold on to those rare, wonderful moments for as long as I can. January is now learning that life is just a string of moments all lined up in row. Many forgettable. Some to be cherished.

The intelligence behind this all is indeed, pretty intelligent. We will be meeting him in a few episodes.

Chapter 2.10 - Stormcrow Recycled

"I've got them on the tracker heading south on Mount Elliott," Gadget said over the comm. "Just for shits and giggles I'm trying traffic cams. But they all go dark before the truck comes along. This is some really good electronic camouflage."

"But at least the GPS is still working," January said.

She leapt up to the roof of the tallest building in Global Titanium's complex. Then from there a second leap took her into the sky. She snapped out her wings, and began to glide along a pair of train tracks. They went in the same direction that Gadget had indicated, parallel to the street the garbage truck had turned on after it left the metal shop. This time she did not try to go too fast. She did not want to catch them after all, just follow their trail, hopefully out of sight.

"GPS uses microwaves," Gadget explained. "Some would say they are a subset of radio waves. Others put them in their own category. In any case, a different wavelength in the electromagnetic spectrum."

"You just love to nerd out like that," January laughed. She was flying again. No one had been hurt, and their plan was going, well, according to plan. Things were good.

"You know it babe!" Gadget exclaimed.

"Careful, I might start quoting Carl Sagan on you," January said.

"Don't make promises you can't keep baby," Gadget deepened his voice into his sexy-man tone.

"We are star-stuff, which has taken its destiny into its own hands," January declared in her sultriest tone.

"You are such a tease," Gadget laughed. "If any aliens are listening to this, they are mighty confused."

After that January went silent, putting her full attention back to her routine of leaping and flying. Thankfully the railroad tracks were lined by factories and warehouses. They provided her with plenty of rooftop space to land on, build up some steam by running, and then leap back into the sky again.

Her eyes scanned for signs of the truck and flying robot. But she was too far away from the road, and there were too many buildings blocking it from her view. That was just as well, because if she could see them, they could see her. Instead she relied on Gadget to give her updates on the GPS signal's progress.

"Ok, its veering south-west now," Gadget said.

Soon January soared over what looked like a junkyard for broken semi-trucks. Beside it the railroad tracks fanned out into half a dozen different lines, many filled with rusted train cars. The tracks veered south-west, and forced the parallel street to do the same. January followed, eyes open for danger.

"I've got the video back," Gadget said. "You must be out of range of the jamming. Turning mostly west now. It looks like they're cutting through a neighborhood."

January kept on her south-west course, and followed the wide swath of train tracks. She hoped the robo-thieves were still planning on going back south eventually. She could cut across their path, and gain ground. Well, gain sky at least. Soon the landscape became very familiar. She was back in Hamtramck again. The massive complex of the Cadillac plant rose up to her left, and beyond it the towering smokestack of the Detroit City Incinerator.

"Turning south again, on Conant," Gadget said. "I just lost video again, so you must be close."

January dropped down onto the roof of an abandoned factory to her left, just beyond the railroad tracks. She stepped behind a large water tower, and stared out toward the west. Not too far away the street crossed under a railway bridge, and continued south toward Downtown Detroit.

"I see it!" January exclaimed as the garbage truck briefly came into view, only to vanish beneath the bridge again. The rest of her view was blocked by a warehouse, so she could not see it emerge. She gambled that it would not stop and turn back around to shake any pursuit, and launched herself into the air southward once more.

She found herself out of industrial parks, and over a residential area. The meant smaller rooftops and power lines. It slowed her progress, as she had to always watch for trouble. It also brought fingers pointed toward the sky, and cars that stopped to watch her pass. That made her wish for the run down factories and warehouse again. The last thing she needed was to be blamed for someone rear-ending someone else.

She found a three-story school with a wide roof to land on. She got a good long run out of it, and was back into the sky once more. The giant Hamtramck Plant lay just past a few more blocks to the west, and she was obliged to bank more to the left, to leave room between her and Conant: the main street headed south.

"It's passing over 94, still heading south," Gadget kept the steady updates coming.

She recognized her bus stop from her training sessions with Lighthammer right up ahead. Beyond it was I-94, and the sprawling decay of the Packard Plant. She headed toward the latter, knowing that it was filled with both rooftops and convenient places to stay out of sight. She had just passed over the highway when Gadget came back on the comm.

"It just turned west again on Medbury," he said.

January had to turn once more, and followed Gadget's report back over another large residential area south of the freeway. The homes here were not all crowded together like in a normal subdivision however. Most of the lots were empty. Some entire blocks only had four or five homes in all. January imagined that all the other houses had either burned down, or been abandoned and torn down. She had to admit that the added greenery from the grass-covered lots and extra trees did look nice. Even though the maples and oaks made gliding more tricky.

"Back in Poletown again," January noted. "It looks like we're headed for the incinerator."

"Those trucks were thrown together from scrap," Gadget thought out loud. "Maybe the Robo-Boss has his lair in the city dump? Oh, turning south again on St. Aubin."

January alit on top of a tall church, with ornate minarets that capped two of its corners, and a third spire in the center of its roof. All were made of bronze turned green with verdigris. She landed atop one, and eased down into a crouch. For a moment it struck her that it looked just like a classic comic book pose, of the Dark Avenger protagonist perched upon an appropriately Gothic steeple. All she needed were some crows to swirl around her for dramatic effect.

She almost jumped out of her skin and fell off the building when one of said crows croaked loudly in her ear. She was thankful that she was already hanging on to one of the minarets for support. Turning her head, she saw the bird leap into the sky, and followed its black figure across the cityscape.

That brought her eyes directly upon the garbage truck again. She swung back around behind the minaret to stay out of sight. The truck was headed down the street just a block ahead of her. Beyond was a sprawling lot belonging to another metal company. But where the previous businesses had been nice, relatively neat places to stockpile new metals, this was where the scrap went to die. It was a junkyard of rusted iron and twisted steel piled high into heaps. Farther still lay the city dump, whose single, tall smokestack rose high into the sky.

She kept her eyes glued to the truck and waited. She was too near to go back into the sky now. It drove down to the next intersection and turned toward the incinerator. But before it could reach the city dump, it turned into the driveway of a building set adjacent to the scrapyard instead.

Posted by: Renee Sep 21 2019, 04:34 PM

Yeah, I don't think she'd be able to concentrate in Psych 101 after that sort of text!

Crap. Thar Face Bot thingie is back. I was gonna say. indifferent.gif

I love reading about her smashing up those worker bots. laugh.gif

Have you ever had dreams in which you can fly? I am lucky enough that I've had at least two in which I was also lucid. Therefore I could will myself to fly. And the sensation was scary to me since I am afraid of heights irl. But I remember thinking I had to do this! Because it was only a dream (and I knew this) so it couldn't possibly hurt the physical me.

I really get this 'edgy' feeling as Avery communicates over the comm. Every time they speak back and forth I tense up. indifferent.gif Crap. I wonder if they're allowing her to follow the truck. Some sort of trap.

Okay, phew. Cliffhanger.

Posted by: Acadian Sep 22 2019, 12:09 AM

Another fun episode as you ever so smoothly show us the gradual but continuing evolution of Stormcrow’s flying ability.

I can imagine the reassurance and comfort she gets from having Gadget in her ear as a potent force multiplier.

Thinking about a crow and one shows up. . . coincidence? I think not and now believe she is somehow connected to the birds, just as she is somehow connected to the weather in some fascinatingly mysterious way.

This piece of the mission – to track RoboTruck to its lair – seems a success.

Posted by: Darkness Eternal Sep 24 2019, 02:51 AM

Chapter 1.10: Great thing you provided us with the Google Maps!

'Someone was out mowing their grass, kids rode past on bikes, and ordinary life went on as if a supervillain emergency was not about to unfold. It felt somewhat surreal to January, knowing that something was going to happen, and that she was going to be part of it. Yet the rest of the world was utterly oblivious.'

I often wonder how things go on behind the scenes. Jan is very well a part of this other side of things that ordinary people usually aren't a part of. Its both fascinating and frightening the prospect of being "blissfully" ignorant in a world where superheroes exist.

So our Indian buddy is trying to catch a flight out, eh?

"A vagina cipher?"
laugh.gif laugh.gif

'Rising into the sky, she put her arms out and hit the twin triggers in her gauntlets. Her cape snapped out into a pair of wings a moment later, catching the wind underneath them.'
This was a superb part! Badass visual!

Chapter 1.11: Wow. Pure chaos! Unsurprisingly Lighthammer was the cause of all the ruckus. I was wondering when he'd return. Those mercs put up quite a fight, but in the end they were matched by LH's weaponry. There was plenty of things happening, and one of the things I noticed was the very real dangers of bullets ricocheting back. In a crowded area, these are extremely lethal to anyone within range. Jan was wise enough to get them out of there.

'But this wasn't dinner. It was a person, all hot, wet, and torn apart.'
I'm sure every time she's participating in a Thanksgiving event she'll see a bullet for every Turkey leg wacko.gif

The revelation that the victim was an officer was great! I, too, was wondering what was she doing packing heat in the airport.

Krav Maga is one of my favorite martial arts out there, and how great that she put it to good use against Sub's Thugs. She's resilient, that's a given! Took her some time but she finally got to him, and gave him a lasting impression tongue.gif

Great chapter!

Chapter 1.12: There is power in teamwork; strength in numbers. Seeing Lighthammer struggle against the Mercs in their tactical combat was telling, and Jan able to save him just in time was very refreshing to see, as well as watching Sub getting his due.

That was an intense fight! Wow.

The dialogue between Jan and Lighthammer was great! Light is more or less an antihero, I suppose, seeing as he only harms criminals and the scum of the world and is out for himself.

"Okay Qui-Gon, we'll play it your way this time."
And she did a great 'mind-trick' on him by having him hand the diamonds. 'Credits will do fine!' laugh.gif

Crowgirl and Lightguy! Yes, these are a team now!(I hope)

Chapter 1.13: Jan must have been proud of her accomplishments as they retell the details of the battle. Until of course Blackwater/Merryweather Whitewater Security bought their way out of any involvement or incrimination. Bastards. Great exchange between her and Emilia.

"It's funny, I never got a scratch in Iraq. But I go to the airport, the safest place you think you could be, and I get shot. By another vet of all people."
The world is full of these funny little ironies.

Emilia and Jan had some good chemistry before, and I'm sure that they'll have even more now with Emilia revealing about her sexuality and upbringing. Glad to see that she's making friends, even when she has such a weight on her shoulders that she must burden, including members of her own family.

Posted by: SubRosa Sep 28 2019, 04:58 PM

Renee: You are right, even if she tried to ignore Avery's call to arms, how could you go back to Wilhelm Wundt?

We will be seeing much more of the Face-Bot in the future, and even learning its name.

Many, many moons ago I used to sometimes have dreams of riding my bicycle. Then I realized I was not riding in my dreams, but flying along the ground. I am afraid of heights too. Scratch that. I am fine with heights. I am afraid of falling to my death from heights... But I still loved those dreams. I have not had one in a very long time though.

Acadian: One of these days, January might even be able to fly outright...

An interesting thing is that if you look at old superhero tv shows, films, and even comics, the lone hero was always truly on their own, with no lifeline out there to know where they were, what they were doing, and able to call in backup or even just offer advice. But these days that is completely different. Now what appears to be the lone hero commonly has a least one person like a hacker or scientist backing them up across the internet, through a suit camera, etc... The Arrow-verse tv shows are big on this. Sometimes for every single person out in a suit, there are half-a-dozen people at the other end of their suit camera working things out in their heads, making strategy, offering advice, providing information, and so on. I think that is partly because of the proliferation of technology. We truly do live in an information age now. But as a writer, it also gives you an opportunity to bring in more characters for your lone hero to interact with. So they are not truly alone after all.

I do keep going back to those crows, don't I? I do not have anything specific in mind for them, at least so far. But just like with Teresa of the Faint Smile, they are January's spirit guide. So they will always turn up when something important is happening.

Darkness Eternal: I am hoping the Google Map can make things more clear when I go off on my landscape porn binges. I am hoping that in the end the city itself will come alive as a real place to people reading. Rather than being as vague as Metropolis or Central City.

I have faced many vagina ciphers. Sadly, I am no crytographer. sad.gif

The big airport fight was a lot of fun to write. I originally only had two mercs for Crowgirl and Ligthguy to deal with. Then a week before I posted the first episode of the fight I realized that did not give as much of a challenge as I would have liked. So I doubled it to four mercs.

I picked Krav Maga because unlike January's other martial arts - Karate and Muay Thai - it is does not have a specific focus on one or two different styles of striking. Instead Krav Maga is a collection of so-called 'dirty tricks' that work in all kinds of situations. It gives her a lot of diversity in her fighting ability, rather than just punches, kicks, and elbows.

I had a lot of fun writing Crowgirl and Lightguy. Look for more interactions between them in the future. They have very different philosophies when it comes to supering. That creates an opportunity to each to challenge the others ideals, and examine their own. Fertile ground for developing character in both. They also do have things in common, which makes it possible for them to disagree and still retain an alliance. Or at least a relationship of some form.

Emilia is another character to watch for. We will be seeing her appear more in the future, as January begins reaching out to forge alliances with the 'authorities'. She knows she does not want to be a rogue outlaw type like Lightguy. That means building trust with people like Emilia.

Chapter 2.11 - Stormcrow Recycled

It was a massive, white building. January guessed it was at least nine stories tall. A square block of concrete, its lower two stories were pierced by the wide bays of a loading dock that ran the entire length of one wall. The yawning black abysses of smashed out windows loomed for three stories above. The remainder of the building over that was an uninterrupted wall of solid white, like the face of a snow-bound cliff. She noted a rusted out water tower on the roof, along with four structures the size of small buildings themselves. January imagined there might be air conditioners, or heaters, of other machinery within them.

A lower, two story annex branched off from the nine-story cube of the building. This abutment also had smaller structures rising from its roof, along with actual trees that had somehow taken root there. One of these structures was particularly large, and rose up a good six stories. This portion of the building was entirely windowless. The only way in or out seemed to be a metal roll up door in its back wall. January saw this clank open to allow the robo-truck to drive within.

"I have them," January said. "It's a big abandoned building beside the Incinerator. I can see some old writing that says 'Division of Beatrice…', the rest is too faded to read."

"Ok, I've got it on Googol Earth," Gadget replied. "But I just lost the GPS."

"You think they found it?" January bit her lip. Her sneak attack might have just turned into a trap.

"Or maybe they just have better jamming around the building," Gadget speculated. "How do you want to play this?"

"You mean should we just sit back and call the cops?" January asked. "You know my answer to that."

"Yeah, well, the lasers those bots have are pretty dangerous," Gadget warned, "and they're probably not going to hit you with electricity again. As far as they know, that didn't hurt you the last time."

"All the more reason for me to be the one who goes in," January insisted. "These things will turn a SWAT team into a puddle of goo."

"Ok, so maybe you can try to sneak in?" Gadget offered.

"You mean rather than just bust down the door and shout 'Stormcrow Smash!'" January chuckled. "I'll consider it…"

Most of the ground around the building was wide open. But January's eyes gravitated to the scrapyard directly north of the building. The graveyard of iron was lined with trees, which led directly to the white building. That would make for her best approach.

January leapt back into the sky and skimmed over the treetops. She sailed across St. Aubin road, and after it the fence that rimmed the eastern border of the junkyard. There she disengaged her wings, and dropped to the earth amid the piles of metal. The sounds of heavy machinery filled her ears, along with the pungent stench of diesel fumes. The giant orange claws of excavators rose up over the piles of scrap, digging through them like children scooping up sand at a beach.

January trotted through the mountains of tortured iron and hoped that no one would notice her. There were a few trees, and she leaped to them for cover. They thickened as she continued south, where she eventually came across another fence. The tall, white, Beatrice building loomed beyond. The fence was lined with trees, so January followed the cover they provided around to the side of the building.

That brought her within just a few feet of her target. A single leap took her up through a gaping window in one of the lower floors. She found that the interior was just an empty, open space. She wondered if it might have once been an office in the past, or a warehouse? It was now so bare that there was no way to tell. She took her time and tried her best to remain silent as she moved through the building, one barren floor after another. She looked for cameras and alarms that might betray her presence, but found nothing.

"The main building is empty," she said softly. "I'm going to check out that smaller area off the back."

"Copy that Stormcrow, no sign of activity from the outside either." Gadget's voice came in her ear. "I did some digging, and found that this was the Grand Trunk Warehouse and Cold Storage of Beatrice Foods. They were a huge company once, but went under back in the 80s and their pieces got bought up by other companies. The building's been abandoned since then."

"A perfect place for a lair," January murmured.

Eventually she came upon a steel door that looked very new, and very solid. This did have a camera perched over it, and a keypad beside it. Obviously the bad guys were on the other side. Given its position, it had to lead into the smaller annex that branched off from the main building. Rather than try to break it down, or make a futile attempt at guessing the code, January turned around and went back up.

She leaped over to the roof of the annex. Using the trees that sprouted there for cover, she snooped around the small structures up there. All were empty. But she did find a promising air shaft leading down. It was no trouble at all to pull out the wire mesh that covered it. Then she slid down the narrow metal passage, and soon found herself dropping into a gigantic open room.

It was a mad inventor's lair. The edges of the space were lined with a mesh of copper wire. Walls, ceiling, everything. She even saw that the copper vanished into the cement floor, and imagined that it must stretch beneath it as well. She wondered how many abandoned buildings must have had their copper stripped out to outfit the room with so much of the metal?

A great iron scaffolding rose up five stories tall. It was made of a mish-mash of metal parts all welded and bolted together. Hanging from chains within it was the skeleton of a giant robot, or perhaps a mecha. It was humanoid in shape, and built from gleaming steel. Metal conduit was welded to the bones, and sprouted bared wires at the joints where the limbs separated. Rubber hoses ran up and down the metal frame as well, disappearing into what may have been pumps or generators of some kind. A lattice of steel rose up from around the bared bones, outlining what might have been the eventual skin of the colossus. January wondered if that stolen titanium might be destined to clamp onto this framework, and create an armored hide?

The other side of the room contained a design lab. The walls were covered in diagrams, and even more blueprints and schematics hung from portable chalk boards. There was a giant drafting table, and several bins filled with PVC tubes, which January imagined might contain more rolled up diagrams.

A box-like office rose up from the floor along one wall, with a wooden stair leading up to it. A single window was cut into its side to look down over the floor. Beneath it was a small kitchenette and dining space, with a refrigerator, stove, sink, and microwave behind a long table and plastic lawn chairs.

However, most of the space was piled high with what January could only describe as junk. Partly disassembled car engines, household appliances, an old lawnmower, a rusty bicycle, pipes, conduit, wires, hoses, levers, knobs, chairs, windshields. It was a phantasmagoria of cast-off machinery. Some of it was bursting from metal and plastic bins. Some was loaded into buckets and barrels. But most of it was just piled about like a dragon's treasure hoard. Some of those piles were even taller than January was herself.

Avery would have swooned from envy.

The garbage truck was parked near the scaffolding and the unfinished mecha, and several of the man-bots were clanking around unloading the stolen titanium. The Face-Bot floated around from behind the truck, its twin eyes glowing red. Alongside it was an old man.

His brown skin was lined and cracked, like a dried up river-bottom baked in the sun. His short hair had gone dull gray, and a pair of small bifocals hovered above the tip of his nose. He was dressed in plain blue coveralls, and he carried a wrench in one hand. His eyes looked as worn and tired as his skin. It was like they had seen far too many miles, and now just wanted to sit down and rest beneath the shade of a sheltering willow tree.

The Face-Bot immediately opened fire. January tried to dodge, but this time its cherry-red lasers caught her in the side. It was hot. Really hot. Touching a frying pan hot. Enough for her to cry out in spite of herself. She concentrated on Earth, and its strength and resilience. Just as it persevered, so too would she.

She bounded forward, and was on top of the Face-Bot in an instant. This time it was not quick enough to escape. She grabbed hold of both of its backward-flaring shoulders and sent a devastating head butt directly into its faceplate. One of its eyes cracked and went dark. The other set off a shower of sparks.

The Face-Bot tried to fly out of her grasp, but she held on. Its final eye glowed red once more, and January pulled her head down out of its line of fire. She continued the motion and swung her entire body around the robot, until she was literally doing a handstand atop it. Then she doubled over and brought her legs down. Her feet crashed into the top of the flying machine. More sparks erupted, and its cowling was clearly dented inward.

"Enough!" The old man cried out. "Stop it! Leave Archie alone."

"Archie?" January leaped off the robot, and could not resist adding in a forward flip and sticking the landing on the concrete floor. "You named your killer robot Archie?"

"He is not a killer robot!" the old man snapped, "and Archie is short for Archimedes."

Then he turned to the Face-Bot, and ran a soothing hand along its dented cowling. "It's ok Archie, the mean girl won't hurt you anymore."

"Mean girl?" January bristled. "I'm not the one who started shooting!"

She glanced down at her side, where the robot's lasers had struck her. Smoke curled up from her armor, but otherwise it still appeared to be intact. Gadget had said that the hagfish fibers were fireproof. She hoped that her flesh had fared as well underneath. She probed with uncertain fingers. It was hot, but everything still felt solid underneath.

"You scared him," the old man insisted.

"I scared him?" January stared incredulously. Then she realized that he was not holding a drone controller, or even a phone. "Wait a minute, you're not flying it. That's an actual AI, isn't it?"

"Well of course Archimedes is an AI. He's a person." The old man gestured at the man-bots who were still unloading the stolen titanium, oblivious to all that was unfolding. "He's not a brainless drone like those other things."

Posted by: Acadian Sep 28 2019, 07:45 PM

Looks like the stealth approach was a good call as January quietly made her way all the way into the heart of this crazy junk lab.

Once Archie opened fire though, it was time for some Stormcrow Smash and I’m sure January was happy to finally get her hands on the elusive little face bot.

Wow, this really raises plenty of questions. Who is Old Man? He sure doesn’t seem like the arch villain I imagined might be behind this. The concept of a giant mech warrior roaming Detroit does seem disturbing though.

Posted by: Renee Sep 29 2019, 03:27 AM

See, where is Lighthammer during all of this? It makes me wonder if he's .... somehow not as forthcoming as he seemed when he and the crow met amicably.

Whaaat??? Wow, what an odd conversation she just had with that man. blink.gif I wonder where that is all going. Like, maybe he's just really smooth with his offhand conversation (at such an intense moment), and he's about to try shooting her, or something.

And where is the African Goddess too? wub.gif Maybe she was just in that one scene. I keep thinking she's eventually going to come back to rock Stormcrow's world.

(ignore me I'm just rambling...) But yeah, that is really offhand at the end.

Posted by: treydog Sep 30 2019, 11:30 AM

Caught up again- yay! And also phooey, because now I have to wait again. Most excellent writing once more.

...if she could see them, they could see her.

Indeed. “If the enemy is in range, so are you!”


I also remember those rather creepy “We're Beatrice” television spots. There was always something alarmingly Borg-like about that declaration....

She found that the interior was just an empty, open space. She wondered if it might have once been an office in the past, or a warehouse?

Or perhaps the alien parasites all found human hosts?

And somehow, the partially constructed bot or mech is even more frightening than seeing it in its completed state. Numidium in Detroit?

She grabbed hold of both of its backward-flaring shoulders and sent a devastating head butt directly into its faceplate

To paraphrase the Nac Mac Feegle- “Have a face full a' dandruff, ye wee robut beastie!”

Archie is... a person? And will we be seeing Reggie and Jughead? Or Betty and Veronica?

A quite excellent start to the reveal of the brains behind the activities the Crow and Gadget team have been investigating.

Posted by: SubRosa Oct 2 2019, 10:02 PM

A minor note. Thanks to tredyog correctly identifying Beatrice as a food company, I was able to find exactly what the building was used for. I even found describing his exploration of the ruin, with lots of pictures. I went back and added in a paragraph about the building, and added the above link.

Posted by: Darkness Eternal Oct 4 2019, 03:33 AM

Chapter 2.1:Ah, Jan has been meeting some ladies as of late, eh? First the officer, and now the Exotic Goddess that's quite blatantly flirting with her. It was a random encounter, at least for her, so I can relate to her doubt whether she was being pranked or pick-pocketed. I have a feeling this woman is going to show up later, perhaps I'm wrong.

You beautifully painted the not-so-pretty picture of modern-day Detroit. I know little of the place, but what I do know I have through the story(with those awesome references), and of pictures I have seen. The comparison to WWII battlefield was very appropriate.

Great seeing Lighthammer again! She makes a fine point. Unlike him, she's tethered to her morals and responsibility as a super. Engaging in conflict in a certain way, well, could very much tarnish her image. 50K is good money, though!

"This is Detroit. We are all mental here. All the sane people left decades ago."
laugh.gif laugh.gif

I like the training in the end, and though she's busting out some Krav Maga moves, her mind was on that Ebony Goddess. I know mine would've been!

Chapter 2.2: Heh the Wannabee Gucci Biker tried to pull a fast one. Made sense why she would be reminded him of her brother, heh, what a turd. He oozes narcissism.

Jan trusts Avery very much, and so far he's been very sound in his decisions. He's great!

I like how the chapter literately ended with her feeling like a deflated balloon.

Chapter 2.3: Avery is that one friend we all need when our stuff breaks down, or we need something working far better than it does.

"My man parts are my best parts!", "I have some parts here that you'll like."

His humor and wit are always amusing! I love this guy smile.gif

Avery is a good friend, and like all good friend he shows the proper concern to her regarding her new partnership with Lighthammer. As a Grey Hat, I'm sure he can be quite unpredictable.

Though they are usually prepared and ready for anything, they weren't ready for good ol' grandma making a surprise.

"Do you have that white girl downstairs? I thought I saw her come in."

"You should tap that thing. I bet she's a wild one in the sack. The quiet ones always are."
LMAO. Well, damn, Vanessa!

This was a very humorous part that went very sad with her condition. Its never easy to have a loved one of that age suffer through something like that. On a positive note, Jan is always there for him as I am sure he will always be there for her. The two are always there to support each other, even in the worst of times.

Wow! The bike is indeed good as new!

Posted by: SubRosa Oct 5 2019, 04:27 PM

Acadian: The old man certainly does not seem like an arch nemesis does he? We will learn more about him this episode, and January will unconsciously begin defining her Stormcrow Doctrine.

Renee: January and Lighthammer are not part of an official team or anything. They are just training with each other, each for their own agenda. In fact, LH did try to recruit January for a mission, and she turned him down.

We will see a lot more of the old man this episode, and find out if he is smooth, or just does not give a damn anymore.

I really do not have any plans for using the African Goddess again. But hey, you never know.

treydog: Wow, thank you for that info on Beatrice. When I was writing the chapter I did a search and could not find anything about the building. There are just too many Beatrices in the world. But once I realized it was a food company, then it came right up on Google. I even found an urban explorer's blog post about the building.

I see you caught all the things I had floating in my mind when I was writing. Numidium, Archie and Jughead, etc... laugh.gif

Darkness Eternal: Like I said to Renee, I did not really have any plans on using the African Goddess again after that one scene. But given that she is so popular, who knows?

I am glad the battered but enduring spirit of Detroit is showing through in the story. This city has character, a lot of it not good, but character nonetheless.

Avery has all the cool that January lacks. He is a lot of fun to write. He is that friend you wish you had IRL. But as the scene with his Nana shows, his life is not all that great either.

Chapter 2.12 - Stormcrow Recycled

"Are you getting all of this Gadget?" January said under her breath. Her friend had been strangely silent ever since she had entered the lair. Her eyes travelled back to the copper lattice that surrounded the room, and suddenly she understood why.

"Yes, it's a Faraday Cage," the old man crowed. "No signals go in or out, except those I want to."

"That's pretty clever old timer," January said. She kept one eye on the Face-Bot - Archimedes. He floated in the air behind the old man now, still throwing out sparks from his face and the top of his head. The deadly robot looked like nothing so much as a scared puppy now. January was not sure if that should make her feel proud, or ashamed?

"What are you, the Fred Sanford of supervillains?" January looked at the mountain of junk around the old man.

"I am no joke!" The old man exploded. He hurled the wrench he was holding down to the concrete for emphasis. Then he kicked at a pile of junk, and his face screwed up in pain. He reached down to massage his toes, and plopped down on a long bench car seat that was draped with wiring.

That brought a pang of sympathy to January's heart. Even when he tried to make an impassioned declaration, it just turned out to make him look the fool. She could relate.

"Oh who am I kidding," he sighed. "My whole life is nothing but a joke. The wife left me and moved to Connecticut. My kids grew up and they left too, for California. Everyone just can't wait to get as far away from me as possible. Everything I've ever done, all I have ever been, it's all garbage. All I've ever done is take old junk and turn it into new junk."

"For once in my life I just wanted to make something that wasn't junk," he lamented. "Something that people would respect. Something that was real."

"I'm sorry to hear that old timer."

He hardly looked like a master criminal at all. Now that she was up close and personal, he was just a man. Just a frail, old, ordinary man whom life had apparently taken a giant dump all over. January realized that she might be allowing her own past to cloud her judgment. But she could not sense any menace or subterfuge in the old man. He just looked sad and alone, something she could relate with all too well.

January sat down beside him on the long car seat. Maybe she could resolve this without any more punching? She hoped so. Once again, she wished she had invested more experience points in her Speech skill.

"I know what it's like to feel that you are nothing but garbage," she related. All she could do was be honest, and hope for the best. "That your entire life is just a bad joke."

"You don't look like no one to complain, cute little white girl like you." The old man's eyebrows drew together like twin beetles perched above his tired eyes.

"I wish." January reached into one of the pouches on her utility belt and pulled out her Galaxy J1. "I can't even afford a real phone. See this? $50, and that was years ago. My tablet was half that, and I had to wait for it to go on sale. My book reader is freeware. I couldn't even afford to buy the books I have to do reports on. I have to download them from open-source sites."

January turned on her phone and swiped it open. She opened her book reader app, and showed him her copy of Frankenstein; Or, The Modern Prometheus.

"Mary Shelley died two hundred years ago, so it's completely legal," January explained.

Now it was time for some real honesty. January pretended she was twelve, and back in the psychiatrist's office.

"Sometimes I feel like she was writing this book about me. She just didn't know it."

"Is that how you feel?" he said softly. "Like Frankenstein?"

"Like his monster." January said. "Frankenstein was the doctor who created him. Everyone mixes that up. But yeah, that's who I relate to. Not the protagonist, but the villain. That's what everyone says I am."

"Are you kidding?" the old man scoffed. "Even in here I've heard of the Stormcrow. You stopped that blood diamond guy. I heard he went up for twenty years. Plus all those other guys he was bribing."

"That's not what I mean." January shook her head. "This armor, it's not the real me. Underneath, I don't know what I am. I just know I wasn't born right. This body of mine, it feels like garbage. Someone else's cast off. It feels like some thief sneaked in one night and stole my real body, and left me this crap instead. It's not who I'm supposed to be. I don't know if I'll ever be the real me."

"Sounds like you got some serious issues missy, for someone so young," the old man said.

"You have no idea old man... A life does not have to be long to be filled with horror and loathing," January mourned. "But look at you. Why are you so down? I can't believe the things you can do with this stuff."

"With this junk!" he slapped a hand down on the car seat, and pile of screws and pipes clattered to the floor. "My whole life has been garbage."

"I think it looks great," January admitted. "Sure, people threw this stuff out. But what you've done with it, this is magic. You know that you're a meta, don't you? These things you've done, they're beyond everyday science and engineering. You built what, two new trucks out of scrap. You remote controlled them across town. Or did they drive themselves? You built that flying Archimedes thing. No, you birthed it, because it's alive. It thinks, it feels. He thinks, and feels."

"I think you're great," January said, still being honest. "And I think taking old junk, and turning it into something new again, something useful, that works, is nothing to sneeze at. Not to get preachy and all, but have you heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch? It's bigger than Texas now. We - as in we as a people - need to do something about all this garbage we create. You are already there!"

"Shit, I ain't doing nothing," the old man said. "I've seen your type. You're just another naive little idealist. Wait 'till you get a breath of the real world."

January pulled down the sleeve of her armor, and revealed the upraised scars that crossed her wrist. Then she switched hands, and did the same with the other arm.

"This real enough for you," January frowned. "My dad had a Roman dagger. This big, thick beast called pugio. He used to be a reenactor. I did that on my twelfth birthday, because I could not live with the world I was trapped in. Idealism isn't something I suffer from. It's realism. I am trapped by the horror of reality. I see it every day when I look in the mirror."

"What's so bad it made you do that?" the old man stared at the scars.

"Life," January replied. "I see a lot of doctors claim that women who attempt suicide are just crying out for help. I want to smash their teeth in. People attempt suicide because the pain of living has become too much to bear."

"So how did you go from that, to this?" the old man gestured to the cape and cowl that she wore.

"You mean besides all the head doctors?" January said. "I had to do physical therapy afterward, because I had cut some of the tendons in my left wrist. That was the side I started cutting into first, so those were the deepest wounds. I could barely hold the knife after I switched hands, so I didn't cut as deep into my right wrist. But for the left, I spent months learning to move some of my fingers again. It taught me that no matter how painful it was, I could change my life after all. I could face the pain, and the ugliness. That's what I've been doing ever since."

"That's why I think you can do something with this gift you have. You could go into business. You can take this junk and build things. I mean real, working things. Cars, trucks, tractors, you name it. You could sell it. It's meta-tech, so you can't churn it on an assembly line, and no one else can replicate it. You have to do it all by hand, yourself, like an artist. Because you are an artist really. It works because you make it work. But you can do it. You don't need to steal stuff. You can change your life."

"Is this the part where you are trying to convince me to use my powers for good?" the old man sneered.

"Well, yeah. In spite of the obvious age, and gender, and racial differences between us, I thought we were having a moment here," January said. "If that's not enough, look at it this way. If I tracked you here, it is only a matter of time before the police do too. It takes a while, but they do eventually get off their fundamental support structures and do their jobs. You stole a ton of titanium back there. That must cost... I dunno, a lot. That company's insurance is going to be looking for it, which means the police are going to be looking for it. That much money, they will find you. What is your master plan, build a giant mecha and stomp on the cops when they finally do show up?"

"The thought had crossed my mind," the old man crossed his arms.

"Then what?" January said. "I mean, pretend I am not here at all to stop you. What's your endgame? Take on Blood Raven next? The Sentinels? In no world does this turn out a win for Fred Sanford in the end."

"I just want some respect!" he leaped to his feet and paced across the room. "For once in my life, I want to be somebody, even if just for a few minutes."

"Going out in a blaze of glory is not going to earn anyone's respect," January contended. She showed him her scars again. "Learn from my mistakes. A suicide run is not the answer. It is never the answer."

"What you are doing here already, this is the answer," January waved to Archimedes and the man-bots for emphasis. "Not Mechagodzilla, but what you did to create it. You have been so focused on your endgame, that you don't see what it took to get you there. That's the real accomplishment, and that is worthy of anyone's respect."

"I've a got a friend who I know is just dying to meet you. He's got a basement that's not even half, not even a tenth, of what you've got here. Look at this, you've turned junk into awesome. You know what, you give me hope. If you can do this with a few old pipes and wires, maybe I can turn the junk of my life into something good too."

"My name is Isaac," he grumbled.

"Well ok then Isaac," January said. "A different friend of mine tells me that I remind him of a Tarot card: the Five of Cups. It's a picture of a man looking at three knocked over cups. But standing behind him are two more cups, still upright, and filled to the brim. It's someone that can only see the bad things in life, what he has lost. But he does not see the good things, because he's turned his back on them."

"I think you're the same way Isaac," January rose to her feet. She gestured to Archimedes once more, who still bobbed nervously in the air near the old inventor. "I think you have done plenty of good in your life. You have created amazing things. It's time you turned and looked at it all. Not as a means to an end, but as the end itself. You don't need to go on a giant robot rampage to make your mark on the world, or have a life worth living. You've made it already."

"Hmmm," the old man seemed to chew on his lip, like a cow chewing its cud. "Maybe I did."

"Our lives are all subjective," January said. "We see them though a glass that distorts everything, according to our own unconscious hopes and fears and desires and agonies. That's why some people see only the empty cups, and some see the full ones instead."

"We all learn different lessons from the same events," January went on. "Where rehabbing my hand taught me that I could persevere though anything, someone else might just have easily saw that as proof that they could never change anything in life. That they were helpless under the inexorable tide of fate. I was stupid for letting myself wallow in my misery for so long that it took something like that to finally wake me up and get my rear into gear. I should have been taking action and turning my life around a lot sooner. My friend Gadget says that sometimes I can be as stubborn as a Mountain Dwarf."

"Now I'm trying to imagine you with a beard and an axe, like Gimli." Isaac smiled wanly. "What? Don't look at me that way. The Lord of the Rings is the same age I am. I read it when I was little."

January tried to imagine the old man as a child. She suspected that it must have been difficult growing up, with all the dinosaurs roaming the earth in that antediluvian epoch.

"Anyway," she said. "What I am trying to say is that we control our own emotions. They come from us. No one can make us happy or sad, or angry or afraid. We conjure these things up in ourselves."

"Try reading any comments section on the internet," Isaac breathed. "That'll make you angry and sad real quick."

"Only if you let it," January contended. "There will always be trolls. We don't have to fall to their level. Remember Frankenstein. Well, the creature. See, now I'm doing it too. He started out pure, compassionate, loving. But he allowed the evils of the world to bring him down to their level. By the end of the book, he really was the monster people treated him as. He even says to Victor: 'I ought to be thy Adam, I am rather the fallen angel'. Don't let that happen to you. Rise above everyone else."

"Besides, the best revenge is living well," January added with a smile. "If you want to get back at your ex, go out and bang someone who is hotter, and put it all over social media."

"Ha!" Isaac chuckled. It was a real, honest sound that rose up from deep in the belly, and shook loose from his throat like a cat leaping free of the hapless owner who tried to pick it up. "My banging days are long over missy."

"You never know until you try," January said. "If nothing else, you can whip up some self-driving cars, or start a robot lawn-care service, or sell some of those video jammers. My friend Gadget can point you in the right direction. There's a whole community of people online who build meta-tech and sell it. I bet in a year or two's time, you'll be living in a palace. Snap out some pics of you sitting on your golden toilet and see who's jealous then."

"Golden toilet?" Isaac rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "You might be on to something girlie. Tell me about this friend of yours."

"Open up your Faraday firewall and you can talk to him yourself." January nodded to the garbage truck. "But first how about we take that titanium - and the other metals - back before the cops get off their doughnut break?"

Posted by: Acadian Oct 5 2019, 08:17 PM

’…she wished she had invested more experience points in her Speech skill.’
- - Based on Janurary’s performance in talking Fred Sanford of Supervillains – I mean Isaac – down from his garbotech-fueled plans of mayhem, I’d say her speechcraft is just fine! All without a single additional punch. tongue.gif

Nice job of bringing out the fears, feelings and concerns of both Isaac and January here.

I can certainly imagine some long conversations between Isaac and Gadget. Holy recycled tin can, Batman Stormcrow!

Oh, and I am only, with this episode, cluing in on the significance of the chapter's title.

Posted by: Renee Oct 7 2019, 07:06 PM

Oh, I don't want to influence your story, hon. African Goddess has her own life.

smile.gif Hey, Jan's Galaxy 11 blows away my Nokia flip-phone. laugh.gif I won't give it up though. 8 years old, damn thing still works.

Jan explaining how she feels to Fred Sanford brought a tear to my eye, for real. Because if people just sat down and talked more often... you know?

I wonder if he's related to Avery at all?

Yes, Five of Cups. Been awhile since I've read cards, but I know that one well. The typical version, at least. Somebody who's given up, basically, and doesn't want to continue because of disappointment, even if there could be good things still to seek.

Posted by: Darkness Eternal Oct 8 2019, 12:06 AM

Chapter 2.4:Honestly if I had a super-silent Gadget-modified bike, I'd be stoked to get out of class just to ride it, too. And probably get pop-quizzed by the teacher along the way like Jan was. And boy, she delivers. I'd give her an A++ just for that. Shelley's work was enough to give us an understanding of both monster and creator, with Jan relating more to Frakenstein's creation. In a nasty world where people are judged by their many differences, Jan fits among among those disliked and otherwise judged by society. I was glad she shared this with her class.

I LOVE flashbacks. Jan's memories were of her martial arts class were great. This was one of my favorite chapters so far! goodjob.gif

Chapter 2.5: I got a kick out of Jan trying to get her phone while changing. laugh.gif

"So you didn't crash the bike?"
Ha, the way he assumed she somehow wrecked it tongue.gif

The exchange between Avery/Gadget and Jan/Stormcrow is superb, as always. Ah, some detective work. Missing rare metals are always a cause for concern, and it looks like titanium might be next on that list.

Stakeouts aren't as fun as the movies make it seem. I'm sure there's time skips all the time, heh, otherwise we'd be bored out of our minds like Jan.

"That is a really cool costume," the clerk said as he rang her up. "That's Stormcrow right, the new hero? You make that yourself?"
This part had me laughing. I totally thought about Spiderman 2 when Peter/Spidey is in the elevator, and tells the man next to him that it rides up on the crotch a little bit laugh.gif laugh.gif

2.6: Ah, so after a lengthy wait we finally see who's behind this mess: some new mechanical menace? These robo-minions do not play, do they? They made it plainly obvious they're the baddies here.

"Well hello there."
Ewan McGregor would approve!

A tense fight between Jan and the Robandits. By their fighting style alone, Jan was able to discern what caste these guys were. No doubt Face-Bot was the prize.

He's a capable and dangerous fighter, and his laser beams can do some damage. Her gymnastics and of course Lighthammer's instructions served her well here as she took to flight in hot pursuit.

While he may have made a run for it, she still saved the day and foiled the robbery. Jan's kicking some real ass lately cool.gif

This was intense!

Posted by: SubRosa Oct 12 2019, 05:03 PM

Acadian: I really liked that last episode for a lot of reasons. As you pointed out, it was an opportunity to get deep into what drives both Fred Sanford Isaac and January, in a way that is showing, not telling.

Isaac and Gadget will be collaborating in the very near future. I also see Isaac and Archie turning up in true garbotech style when January faces down the Big Bad in the overall story arc I have envisioned. Along with other supers whom January co-opts to her cause. She is not just talking down villains. She is making valuable allies.

We are finally really seeing the Recycling are we not? Though Jan's Crowbike is another example of the theme of turning junk into awesome as well.

Renee: A flip phone! ohmy.gif Now you having me thinking of those Nokia phones that Mulder and Scully use in the X-Files. But I think those were before flip-phones even existed.

I liked this chapter because it ends with January solving the problem of a supervillain on the loose without a big fight. Instead she talks him down and helps him see that he has things to live for, rather than going on a suicidal mecha rampage. We don't see enough of that in any form of fiction.

Isaac is no relation to Avery. I have not gotten into Avery's father yet. But I eventually will when I find the right place for it. But then again, I suppose Isaac is old enough to be his grandfather. But I don't think so on that score either.

Darkness Eternal: I wish I had a Gadget-infused superbike! The silence is actually a RL effect of an electric engine. I watched some vids of electric bikes like the Victory and was blown away at how quiet they are. The only sound is that of the chain turning and the road under the tires. Much nicer than the gasoline versions!

I watched all the Toby McGuire Spider movies recently, so I remember that elevator scene. It is always funny when a writer takes a superhero out of their natural element (punching things), and puts them in ordinary life. I was just reading a Batgirl yesterday where she had to take the Subway, and while she was sitting there waiting for the train people thought she was homeless and gave her money.

I am glad someone caught the Star Wars reference! I seeded a few easter eggs like that in the story.

I liked writing that first battle between the Crow and the Face-Bot. I live a mile away from the metal shop and gas station it takes place at. I pass it all the time coming and going to work.,_plus_c%27est_la_m%C3%AAme_chose

Chapter 2.13 - Stormcrow Recycled

"This is Trooper Mercado."

"Um, hi trooper," January found herself fumbling for words. She had rehearsed this call in her head for nearly an hour. So naturally her mind went completely blank as soon as she heard the Puerto Rican woman's voice on the phone. "Um, Mercado, Emilia. It's Stormcrow."

"I guess that explains why my caller ID is suddenly not working," the State Trooper said. January could not tell if her voice sounded amused, or angry, or just resigned. "If you're asking me out, I'm afraid I'm a little old for you."

"Oh no, I wouldn't do that!" January exclaimed. A thirty year old? Yeeech! That would be like dating a mummy! Then she realized what she had said. "I mean, because it would be very unprofessional, and I am a very professional person."

"Yes, a very professional lesbian superhero." Now the other woman's voice did sound amused. "I read it all over Twitt and Instantgram. Did you really tell that gas station attendant you were gay?"

"Well it might have slipped out," January closed her eyes. Why was her sexual orientation bigger news than Middle Eastern countries at war? Reddot had practically melted over it. "He was hitting on me, and it got him to leave me alone. Never mind the fact that it's true."

"Well, a lot of people admire you for that," the state trooper said.

"And a lot of people hate me for that too," January replied. "Plus ça change…"

"…The more they stay the same," Emilia finished the saying, "don't I know it. So if you are not calling me for a hook-up, and not for PR advice..."

"Oh, I have a present for you," January said. "Well, not exactly a present. I recovered some stolen goods that I thought an officer of the law might be interested in taking charge of."

"Stolen goods?"

"Oh, some iridium, some zirconium, and about a ton of titanium," January said. "It's in an abandoned lot by the Packard Plant. Bring a truck."

* * *

January knocked twice on Avery's back door, then opened it and let herself in. His mother was gone, as usual. That left only him and his grandmother at home. Still, January was surprised to find her in the kitchen drinking a strawberry Ensure and doing a crossword puzzle. Usually she was in the living room watching TV, or sleeping in her bedroom.

"Nana Green!" she cried, "it's good to see you." January held her motorcycle helmet in one hand, and smoothed her hair down with the other.

"Gatsby's neighbor," the old woman's voice creaked out, "eight letters."

"Carraway," January answered easily, "Nick Carraway, he's the point of view character in the book."

The old woman harumphed, and wrote that down in her puzzle. January smiled, and made her way down the basement stairs. She found Avery rising from his computer palace. The taller black man grinned as she approached, and gave her an actual high-five in celebration.

"You did good today Jan," he breathed, "real good. I think you saved Isaac's life. And who knows how many other people's, if he had really gone through with his rampage plan."

"So is everything taken care of?" January allowed herself a moment to smile. Then her brain was all cape again. "The cops won't be a problem?"

"It seems what little evidence they had gathered vanished from their network," Avery crowed. "Looks like corrupted data from a few bad disk sectors, terrible shame. But that happens."

"They just don't make hard drives like they used to." January made a show of shaking her head. "Tell me we are doing the right thing, covering for Isaac? This won't come back to bite us in the future?"

"Well, no one can see the future," Avery shrugged. "Well, except Tick Tock. But even he can only see a few seconds ahead. But after talking to Isaac, I believe him. I don't think he was ever a bad guy. I think he was just in a bad patch, and there was no one there to help him when he needed it."

January looked down at the scars that crisscrossed her wrists. She knew all about bad patches, and bad decisions. She looked back up, to the practically angelic face of Avery. Thank Freyja he had been there when she needed it.

"But just in case, I did set up a couple of drones to keep an eye on his place," Avery said. "I have some bots set up to scan for tech robberies committed by robots as well. I'm not Stupid Good after all."

"Hopefully we won't need either," January said.

"Hopefully," Avery said. "In the meantime I'm going over there tomorrow. Isaac had an idea about building some cars, and I'm going to show him how I did that cold fusion reactor for the Geo."

Posted by: Renee Oct 12 2019, 09:51 PM

Yes, People look at me funny sometimes irl. I'm not into smartphones. All I need are talk & text. I can actually type messages to people without looking at the keys!

I liked this chapter because it ends with January solving the problem of a supervillain on the loose without a big fight.

She used her Speechcraft skill. wink.gif It also helped that Isaac told his FaceBot to stand down too.

Nice. I hope Stormcrow can pull this off without (1) getting Isaac in trouble, and (2) keeping herself out of trouble. Because I assume, well.... I assume Isaac won't be around pretty soon, nor will all his bots? Guess we'll find out, next week, on The Stormcrow!!!

Posted by: Darkness Eternal Oct 15 2019, 01:19 AM

2.7: Great episode!

Oh, wow. I had no idea about the bottle bills. Interesting.

Jan discomfort continues as she struggled to get into contact with Gadget. I liked her thoughts and concerns about law enforcement showing up. Typically they turn a blind eye to Supers beating up the baddies, but as far as property and, well, homicide, that's a no-no. Makes sense why the officer was a bit on edge talking to her.

"hard way of standing that always made her think of the Army(.)
There's a period missing in this part smile.gif

"And I sold her a Pepsi..." the clerk added.

Heh. No doubt she was exhausted after repeating herself a million times to those officers.

January wondered if the reinforcements made him feel safer around her, or if he just finally trusted her.
I LOVED this small detail here. Great observation by her.

One asked if she was single. The clerk told the questioner that she was a lesbian. Obviously they did not know she was trans.
laugh.gif laugh.gif laugh.gif laugh.gif

This was a great and fun chapter as she and the cops and fire-fighters clean up the mess from the battle.

2.8: There's plenty to be said about this chapter, from Avery being glad Jan is alright, to her good sneak skills. But the family issues here hit home. We discover her father's terrible secret and way of making such an income. I truly felt sorry for Jan as she had to hear her father's toxic words about her, and blatant favoritism toward her brother. Using her former name must set her over the edge. I would be livid in her shoes.

That last part of the argument was so terrible.

I'm happy Avery was there for her, and I sympathize in her desire to move out of her house. The atmosphere being so uncomfortable that she was willing to set back her plans for her surgery.

I'd be getting the names confused too. They're eerily similar. Far easier to remember Willy Wonka, too.

I'm eager to meet BloodRaven. Can't wait to officially see her. Here stands the test of every student hero that goes beyond pen and paper: fighting off crime, or staying in class? Jan aced this one pretty quick.

Broadsword and Danny Boy! These new call-signs are great, just as seeing her fly with the crows.

The assault on Global Titanium was action-packed. Looks like the Robo-Robbers have went through some updates. Unsurprisingly. At least this time when Avery was jammed, his communication was still okay. That's essential. We wouldn't want Jan to be uncomfortable.

Glad those folks she saved were okay. Once again, she proves to be the hero everyone needs!

Great work! cool.gif smile.gif

Posted by: Acadian Oct 17 2019, 08:23 PM

What a hoot of a phone call! You pretty much had me laughing from beginning to end here. Of course Gadget would have bypassed any caller id ability for her. Dating a thirty year old?!? Yeeech! rollinglaugh.gif Twitt, Intantgram and Reddot indeed!

At any rate, looks like Stormcrow talked Isaac into divesting his stolen metals.

Edit: Thanks for the additional goodness you added!

Posted by: SubRosa Oct 17 2019, 11:11 PM

All: I can see that my original chapter ending left too much up in the air about Isaac. So I went back and added a little addendum to the previous episode. That should make it more clear where things stand with him and Archie. So on Saturday we can start a new chapter without any nagging uncertainties.

Posted by: Renee Oct 18 2019, 03:54 PM

Sometimes when I was younger I could be Chaotic Stupid at times. indifferent.gif

That'll be fun for the guys, talking shop over nuclear-powered econoboxes. smile.gif Sadly, I feel they'll never earn that Nobel prize.

Posted by: treydog Oct 18 2019, 07:00 PM

“What are you, the Fred Sanford of supervillains?"

That provoked a snortle.

Once again, she wished she had invested more experience points in her Speech skill.

And that one was a more rueful laugh, as it is a thought I have had more than twice.

If I tried to quote the “good parts” of Jan's conversation with Isaac, I would just copy and paste the whole thing. Wow.

And yeah- I held onto my LG Wine flip phone until earlier this year. The battery finally stopped holding a charge... And now I have a J3 with which I am trying to reach an amicable truce. sad.gif

Had to love her sudden nervousness when talking to Emilia.

More excellent story-telling and character-creation here. Just wonderful.

Posted by: SubRosa Oct 19 2019, 05:03 PM

Renee: I am glad for your comment, because it showed me that I left too many loose ends with my original ending. I remember writing it, and feeling that it ended on a high point, and that anything else I wrote would just drag it out and lose that feeling. But now I can see that it also conveys some feelings of uncertainties, which I don't want. So I was able to go back and fill things out to put those things to bed. We will have some mentions of Isaac and Archie in future chapters, including his new car company, but they won't appear proper for some time.

I originally used Lawful Stupid. But that seems to usually be used for people who ignore the good in favor of the law part of the title. So they kill starving people who steal bread. I needed something opposite, so I went with Stupid Good, which apparently is a thing too, just not used as often (sadly it is often regular slang for something that is really good, like a stupid good burger).

Darkness Eternal: It shocks me that all states do not have bottle refunds. It is just so ingrained in Michigan life. It is like divided roads and the Big Tire on I-94

Thanks for catching my Army period. I go over these episodes more than a dozen times before I post them. But I still manage to miss things here and there.

The whole bag of snakes with January's father (and brother) was not something I originally intended. I decided to go that way because I wanted there to be more conflict in her life outside of being a superhero. Also because it is, making it something that some readers will be able to personally identify with.

We are starting Chapter 3 today, and Blood Raven will feature highly in its second half. I am guessing she will start showing up in December's posts. After that, she will be a very regular character. Once I started writing her, she actually turned out a lot more awesome than originally intended.

Broadsword and Danny Boy are not really official call signs. They have their super names after all. That is what happens when the writer reads a Cthulhu Mythos story that is loosely based upon Where Eagles Dare, then watches the movie afterward. laugh.gif

Acadian: That phone call was meant to be a hoot! January may be a big, tough, superhero, but she is still as socially awkward as any teenager. The 30 year old bit was something that just screamed out at me about how youngins think. If you are 20, a 30 year old is ancient. If you are 30 the goal posts move, and now a 50 year old is ancient, and so on. I am glad I can still remember that, given my own antediluvian age.

treydog: I loved me some Sanford and Son with I was a little 'un. Isaac was actually inspired by a villain from the Kamala Khan Ms. Marvel comics. He/it had a lair in a junkyard and was building killer robots off the spare parts. I went a much different way with Isaac's motivations and plans however.

I had to go back and rewrite some large parts of the Jan/Isaac conversation, as the original version just was not powerful enough. The parts about the tarot card were all later additions, and how Isaac had already made his mark in pursuit of his goal, and the repeated Frankenstein reference, all came in afterward when I realized the original just did not carry enough weight.

In the end I really loved it, because it really is a moment where January defines who and what she is. It is kind of the start of her formulating her own January Doctrine.

Chapter 3.1 - Stormcrow Burning

May 25th - May 26th, 2019

January placed her final exam on her instructor's desk. A substantial pile had already accumulated there. But she did not feel bad for taking her time, and being one of the last students to finish. Creative Writing had been her favorite class of the semester. She wanted to end it on a high note. So she had put as much time and imagination as she could muster into the story for her Final Exam. It had been about the school itself gaining self-awareness, and the trials and tribulations it encountered while trying to live in a human world.

Her teacher smiled and gave her a nod as she walked past. Mr. Wirth had been one of her favorite instructors as well. A man as kindly as he was corpulent, he had a tendency to drone on about the old days, when there had been a sharp division between farm kids and city kids going to the local schools. Other students obviously found it boring, given how their eyes rolled once he got going. January supposed it was not nearly as interesting as what dress or lipstick the latest trendy Instantgram influencer was wearing. Instead she looked at it as a view through a time machine, a rare glimpse of a lost world, seen through his eyes when he was a child. She had no doubt that he would make his way into one of her stories someday.

A cluster of people waited just outside the door. January could not miss the stares and the curled lips. A few months ago someone had figured out that she was trans. The gossip had spread like lies during election season, as gossip was wont to do. She had noticed the very clear shift in behavior. The stares, first of bug-eyed astonishment, that soon turned to flinty contempt. The hushed conversations that turned dead silent whenever she came near. The muffled laughter when she walked away.

Some things, it seemed, would never change.

January stared back at them with even greater intensity. Her mind raced with all the possible moves and counters she might use against them in hand to hand. What she would do if one produced a gun. The full-faced motorcycle helmet the she carried loosely in one hand gave her even more options on that front, both in terms of attack and defense. It was not just childish fantasies. She was really plotting tactics in her head. It was something she had learned from Krav Maga. To always be aware of her surroundings, and be ready for danger.

The threat turned out to be non-existent, as it usually was in broad daylight and surrounded by other people. But she never knew when that might change. Especially these days, since she had become Stormcrow. More than ever before in her life, she had to be ready, for anything.

Still, she allowed herself to relax after moving through the pack. In a moment she was out of the building and in the cloister outside. It was tucked away within the quadrangle that formed the core of the college's classrooms. She lost herself in the stream of other students and teachers that flowed back and forth through the area. She made her way out of the quad and came out into the open. The library rose up ahead of her, with the parking lot down the slight hill beyond. In no time at all she walked down to a long line of motorcycles in the center of the lot. Hers was easy to find. It was the one with a crow sitting on the handlebars.

"And Gadget calls it a Stormcycle," January smiled. "I always knew it was the Crowbike."

January straddled the Victory Empulse. When it did not lean to the side to take her weight she remembered that it was still bonded to the asphalt below. Taking hold of the fob that dangled from the key, she clicked the button in it once. That disengaged the molecular adhesion emitter that Gadget had installed in the motorcycle. Now the bike leaned sideways as she toed up the kickstand and balanced it beneath her. January slid the key into the ignition and turned it on with a click. The crow on the bars looked back and cawed loudly at her. But he did not leave his perch.

January spared a glance up to the bright blue sky above. Sadly, there was no opportunity for flying now. Not with so many people around. Still, her armor was snugly tucked away under the fake gas tank bump. Just in case…

She took a few moments to tie her long, blonde hair into a simple braid. Then she pulled her Sedici Strada Carino helmet down over her head, and snugged up the chin strap. Its soft pink and black floral paint was scratched from hard use. The owner had insisted it had not been in a crash. But it certainly looked like it had scraped some pavement. That had worked in January's favor on Ebuy, as it had scared other bidders away and kept the price down. She of course could care less if it fell to pieces if she crashed. If it came down to a contest between her skull and concrete, the concrete would lose.

The crow remained ensconced upon her handlebars when she pulled away from the curb. The bike was nearly silent. Only a slight hum of power rose from its engine, while its slowly moving drive chain murmured a soft, metallic hymn. Other students stared as she drifted by them on the corvid-guided bike. It was not until she reached the street and really opened up the bike's fusion-powered engine that her crow friend finally took to the skies. He warbled a throaty goodbye, and January waved as the black bird departed.

The bike felt like an impatient beast between her legs, slavering for the opportunity to chew up the blacktop. She had to admit, she could not wait to turn it loose. She never would have guessed that she would become a lead foot. But one day on the back of the Victory had awakened a love of wind and speed within her. One only matched by the glory of flying.

She darted down Twelve Mile road, and had to restrain herself from weaving through the afternoon traffic. She had only just started driving, well riding anyway. The last thing she needed was a speeding ticket. She could only imagine what her insurance would look like then. As if being a nineteen year old was not bad enough on that account…

Still, traffic moved pretty well on Twelve Mile, as it usually did on a Saturday. It did not even slow down as she passed the General Motors Technical Center. Usually that place was like Gadget's adhesive emitter. Everything ground to a snail's pace around it. But it was the weekend, so GM's engineers had the day off, and the roads were open.

By the time January turned left onto Dequindre she was smiling, and humming along to a Two Steps From Hell song. She was going to have to figure out how to listen to music while riding. Maybe she could use wireless earbuds and her phone? Given how quickly its battery died, that might not work so well however.

In no time at all she had turned onto her road, and slowed to make her way down the residential street. She frowned as she pulled up into the driveway of her house. She used to look forward to going home. But that was before she heard what her father really thought of her. She noted that his Equinox was parked in the driveway, as was her mother's Mini Cooper. Worse of all was the fifteen-year-old Mazda MX-5 parked out front, red as the blood of a fresh victim. That meant her brother was home from U of M. Wonderful.

The sky had darkened from soft blue to slate gray by the time she threaded her bike through the cars and rolled up to the back patio. They didn't have a garage, and with only the front half of the driveway paved with concrete, the patio was the only place she could glue down her bike to something solid. She shut off the Victory and locked it down there with Gadget's adhesive wave emitter.

Hefting her school backpack over her shoulder, she walked in the back door. She found her mother in the kitchen. A pot of water was simmering on the stove, and a box of spaghetti stood on the counter beside it, along with mushrooms, hamburger, and a can of sauce. January did not have to be a detective to guess what was for dinner.

"Honey, I'm glad your back," her mother said in the sad, resigned voice that had become her normal for this past week. "We need to talk."

January fought down the frown that wanted to drag down the corners of her mouth. She followed her mother's gesture and sat down beside her at the kitchen table.

"There's no easy way to put this," she began. "I filed for a divorce from your father. I am going to be moving back in with your grandma Sarah in Livonia. It's just temporary, until I find a house or apartment in Warren. I have to live here for my job at the library. I'd like you to come with me."

"I'm looking for a place of my own right now." January's stomach flopped like a dying fish trapped on shore. She did not know why it affected her so. She had certainly seen it coming ever since she had overheard the argument. She had even been planning to move out since then, and had looked at some apartments already.

But this was final. It felt like the stone lid of a sarcophagus grinding shut over her past life. What would her future be? Who would be in it?

"If I don't find something by the time you move, I'll go with you," January continued. She could not stay in this house anymore. Here, it felt like she was sealed away in that sarcophagus already.

"Good," her mother smiled weakly, and laid a warm hand over one of January's.

"I hope you understand that I did not want any of this. To be honest, I don't think your father did either." A sour look crossed the red-haired woman's features at the mention of him. Then it cleared as she continued. "But this cannot go on. This environment is toxic, to all of us, and there is no fixing it. And I realize I am as much at fault as anyone else."

"I think we all need a fresh start," the older woman went on. "All of us. You need to think about your future. I know this only makes things more difficult. But I promise you, I will do everything I can for you. For school, and for surgery. But I also need to think about myself, what I am doing with my life, and where I should go next. I've lost sight of that over the years. I need to get it back."

January gaped, again, feeling like a fish flopping around on dry land, just inches away from water, and safety. She rose and put her arms around her mother, and held her tight.

"I love you mom," she finally croaked. "I always will."

"So are you staying for dinner?" her mother asked after finally pulling away.

"No, we're going to eat at Hart Plaza," January shook her head. "Everyone is probably waiting for me. I just need to put my books away and change before I head back out again."

"Oh, how was your last day of the semester?" her mother asked. "Did your Finals go well?"

"I hope so," January crossed her fingers. "I'm not sure about my Psych class, but I know Creative Writing and English were a snap."

"One day I'll be putting your books up on the stacks," her mother smiled, and turned back to the spaghetti in the making.

January smiled back at that. She certainly hoped so.

She rounded through the empty living room, and noticed that the door to her father's office was shut, but light gleamed through from underneath the threshold. She frowned, and continued on to the stairs up to the second floor. She took them two at time. There was no time to waste.

Once above, she spared only a glance down the hall toward her brother's open door, across the upper floor from her own. She saw his back, hunched over his desk, one hand cupped against the side of his head. Then she turned away. He was the last person she wanted to deal with today. Well, the second to last.

Bustling through her room, she nudged the door shut with her toe. She tossed her school backpack into one corner. Then she quickly pulled off her school clothes and threw them on the bed.

Last year people had been wearing bikinis and daisy dukes at the festival. She was not going to be left out looking frumpy in cargo pants and a tee again. She changed into a white tank top with spaghetti straps, and a peach mini skirt. She passed over her shoes with heels, and settled on a pair of strappy flats. She was going to be on her feet all night after all. Looking good did not mean forgoing comfort.

She was about to turn back around when she remembered that it sometimes got cold by the river. So she went back to her closet and fished out a long-sleeved top and tied the arms around her waist. One of the perks to being a girl was that one could always rely upon a knight in shining armor to lend you his jacket. But she didn't want to be that girl, who was always dependent upon someone else.

She glanced over at the bangles and bracelets stacked up on her dresser. She usually wore long sleeves. But the tank top would leave her arms bare. She glanced down at her wrists, and the raised white scars that marred each. She turned her back on the bracelets and other cheap jewelry. She was tired of camouflaging her past mistakes. Let everyone see her for who she really was, scars and all.

She slung her purse over one shoulder and headed back out, only to find her brother waiting for her in the hall. He towered over her, standing over six feet, blond hair a golden wreath around his head.

"Are you happy?" Julian sneered. His voice dripped with poison. It reminded January of the serpent hovering over Loki's bound form during his punishment by the gods. "Mom and dad are getting divorced because of you."

"No, they're getting divorced because your father is a liar who would rather hide behind transphobia than take responsibility for his own life." January seethed in reply. "In your case, it's obvious that the road apple didn't fall far from the horse's ass."

"Ad hominem attacks," her brother scoffed. "It shows you lost the argument at the very start."

"Stating the facts is not a personal attack," January insisted. "It's just acknowledging reality. Something creatures like you are too afraid to ever do. You hide behind your bigotries like a security blanket. Anything to keep from manning up and taking ownership of your lives."

"Me? I haven't done anything." Julian snickered.

"This is all about you, and your vanity," January contended. "Everything has to always be all about you, doesn't it? But you got sloppy. You left those checks for your tuition and books out for me to see on purpose, didn't you? You just couldn't resist rubbing my face in it, could you? To show how you were daddy's favorite? How you were so special? How you were so worthy of all that money, and I wasn't?"

"Our parents are getting divorced because my mother finally found out what frakwits you and your father really are."

"My father has morals is all," Julian sneered. "Something a perverted sissy like you would never understand. You're just as bad as that fairy friend of yours, the porch mon-"

The moment the invective turned to Avery, something inside January snapped. Julian must have seen it in her eyes, because he immediately backed away. No, he fled. He slammed his bedroom door in her face just before her fist could take his head off. She heard the lock clack shut, and turned her gaze down to look at it. Taking the door knob in one hand, she twisted it, and pushed it in. She heard metal grind, as the pins and cylinders of the locking mechanism inside the knob twisted, deformed, and crushed into and through one another.

January smiled in spite of herself. If he wanted to hide in his room, he could stay there forever. That handle would never open again. He would have to take the door off the hinges, a feat January doubted he possessed the mechanical skill to accomplish. Or he would have to climb out the window and go out on the roof. She smiled even more broadly, and locked the window in the hall. Then she went back into her own room and immediately locked the window there as well. He would not be getting back inside either way.

Posted by: Renee Oct 20 2019, 02:51 AM

Nice, she's back in school! smile.gif I love that despite everything she's doing, she's also staying in school.

Yes I agree. I'd want to hear the teacher's tales about the way things were, too.

Oh crap. Dang, I knew this was coming eventually, that they'd have a problem with who she is. Let me come back to this story later. I just couldn't resist a peek, for now.

Her mind raced with all the possible moves and counters she might use against them in hand to hand.

Sucks that she has to think this way. I get it though. A lot of ppl have issues with sexual identity, yet when someone actually goes ahead and does something about their own body, all the sudden these people look to him or her and start to judge. Like it's any of their business. mad.gif Hopefully in the future there won't be all these judgements & worries. I feel like if Jan lived down near where I do, she wouldn't be getting judged by general society. Overall.

I mean, for instance, among my daughter's school for instance, I feel like a lot of students (all her friends definitely) will grow up with more open-minds than my generation did. Sure, there'll be that group of jocks or whatever who will deride that lone trans person who'll be in their college or whatever, but it'll get to the point that they won't be able to make these derisive comments openly, anymore. Things are changing. Maybe not fast enough for January's everyday life, but they are changing overall.

That disengaged the molecular adhesion emitter that Gadget had installed in the motorcycle.


Oh good, her mom is divorcing. I mean, that's not really "good", it's sad. But it's necessary.

Posted by: Acadian Oct 20 2019, 06:22 PM

Some epic music to begin this new and third chapter. Hard to beat Two Steps from Hell.

Nice to see Jan actively pursuing her writing still.

Bless Gadget for his neat security addition to the Crowcycle.

Jan’s feeling of freedom and longing for speed that the motorcycle provides appeals to me and my flying days, as well as my elf with the fast mare. smile.gif

’The sky had darkened from soft blue to slate gray by the time she threaded her bike through the cars and rolled up to the back patio.‘
- - I’m getting much more sensitized to the fact that this is a direct result of January’s mood. And we soon learn how appropriate the somber sky is. The divorce is a shame but, as January knows, not unexpected. . . and probably a wise choice by her mother.

The confrontation with Julian was exactly what January did not need at this point. What a self-absorbed fetcher! At least there was the satisfaction that big brother only barely escaped getting his butt kicked by one pissed off superhero. Sissy indeed!

Posted by: SubRosa Oct 26 2019, 04:42 PM

Renee: Yes, she is still in school, but only just barely. That was her last Final exam for the Spring Term, so she is now officially out for the summer. Her brother, OTOH, is taking classes over the summer so he can graduate in August.

That teacher - Mr. Wirth - was my English teacher in high school. He was the first person to really encourage my writing, and even got me into an independent study period in lieu of a regular class, just so I could work on my writing.

Things have changed a lot since I was in school. If I had tried to transition then I would have been murdered, if not by the other students, then by the teachers. Now trans kids actually do transition in schools. That is not to say they don't face a lot of bigotry however, like having the right to use the bathroom. January's experiences are based upon what I have read about modern day trans-kids in school (I am so old now I have to read about it), and the issues they face. Nicole Maines - who now plays Dreamer on the Supergirl tv show - was in the center of a big example.

I got the idea for Gadget's molecular adhesion wave back in the first chapter, when I wanted a rappelling line that did not need a claw to hook on to things. It could just stick to whatever it was placed against. It was only natural for it to transition into being a lock for her motorcycle.

Acadian: I had to slip in a reference to January's theme music.

Jan's writing is going to be front and center in the facets of these story that deal with her personal life. Especially her working life. She has to pay the bills after all.

Keep watching those skies. We will see some very dramatic examples of how her mood affects the elements in this chapter and the next.

Her brother is another example of the toxic family life January is going through, and sadly something a great many people face IRL. Even without bigotry.

Chapter 3.2 - Stormcrow Burning

"Hey Morning Star, good to see you."

January smiled in spite of herself. Only one of the Knights of Nerddom would refer to her as the first month in the Elder Scrolls video game universe.

"Jacktimus Prime!" she exclaimed with a wave back to the rotund young man with prematurely thinning black hair, and a scraggly beard. Jacob had been Jack until their circle of friends has seen their first Transformers TV show. Since then he had been Blackjack, that cunning Decepticon micromaster. But he clearly enjoyed the honor of being promoted to Prime status. He lay sprawled across the couch that rose up amidst the electronic and mechanical treasure horde of the Gadget Cave. "How's the band going?"

"We got a gig at the Shelter next Friday!" his eyes lit up. "We're opening up for Mist Stalker and For The Win. You should come out, you'd love it!"

"I have classes Friday nights," January shook her head. Thank goodness she did. Blackjack's band - Epic Fail - was funny, with their satirical take on 80s and 90s rock. But they were not especially good. She always thought he'd be better as a stand up comic - or an actor - than as a musician. But how could you tell someone that? How would she feel if someone told her that about her writing?

"I thought school was out?" Rus piped up. The slender blond man sidled around the side of the Blob - the worn and taped up punching bag that hung from the ceiling by a rusty iron chain. His wavy blond hair was a waterfall that bathed his heart-shaped features with gold. She always expected him to shout out "I am a Golden God!" in a moment of Robert Plantian inspiration. But that had yet occur.

"College is out Rus," January nodded. Ever since they had seen the King Arthur movie that portrayed the Knights of the Round Table as Sarmatians, he had been Rus, rather than plain old Rusty. "But I still teach at the House of Pain."

"Got to make that filthy lucre!" Kell turned from where he had been leaning over Gadget's Computer Palace - the water-cooled monstrosity of his personal computer. His blond hair was several shades darker than Rus', much shorter, and complemented by a short, but full beard. Like Rus, no one called him Kelly. He was Kell, after his favorite Battletech company: the Kell Hounds.

"Can we go now?" Ryo was direct and to the point as ever, like the katana he trained with practically day and night. He rose from where he squatted in the farthest corner of the room, a shadow that detached itself from the darkness that pooled there. January was still not sure how Ryo did that. He had a way of just disappearing when he wanted to. She envied him that. Given that he was even more socially awkward than she was, she could see how it was a survival trait for him.

His dark hair was cropped short, and his high-cheekboned features bore a perpetual stubble around his upper lip and chin. Ryo did not have a special nerd story behind his name. He was one of the few members of their real life adventuring party to use the name given to him at birth. It was quite simply cooler than any nickname they could give him.

"Just let me finish this level." Avery's voice rose from beyond his floating chair. She could not see the OG - Original Geek - himself. But from what she could make out of the computer screens behind the trio, he was playing Portal 5. As she watched, she saw him create a glowing portal in one gray, concrete wall. Then he leapt through, fell past a plethora of jutting walkways and floating cubes. He fired off another portal beneath him, fell through, and found himself in a small room. He went through its only door, and the screen went black as a new level loaded.

A chorus of cheers rose up from the guys near the computer, and January saw Avery's chocolate brown hands rise up into the air above his chair in triumph.

"Hey Jan, you should come back to gaming tomorrow," Rus said. "I'm running Trail of Cthulhu, I think you'd like it. We can work in a new character for you, no problem."

"Isn't that Ken Hite's new game?" January's eyes lit up. She loved his podcast, and his appearances on others. He was fun to listen to, and he definitely knew his Cthulhu, given his book, Tour de Lovecraft.

"It is. It's more about narrative and less about rolling dice for every little thing." Rus said.

"It'd be great to have you back," Blackjack piped in. "It's been a while since you gamed."

"I wish I could," January bit her lip. Dungeons and Dragons - and other role-playing games - had been one of the things that had gotten her through her transition. Avery and the other Knights of Nerddom had all been supportive of her being trans. They had been weirded out at first, but still supportive. Well, all but Martin. Like most people at school, he had been anything but. He had forced everyone else to choose between him and her. Even today, January was still shocked that they had chosen her. No one had talked to Martin in years.

But there was just no time for gaming anymore. Not with writing, schoolwork, martial arts, yoga, and gymnastics. Being Stormcrow had only made it so much worse. Something had to give.

"There's just too much crap going on in my life right now," she lamented. "My parents are getting divorced, and I've got to move out."

"So it's a done deal then?" Avery rose from his chair. The room became noticeably quieter as his computer shut down behind him. "I'm sorry to hear that. I was hoping things would work out between you and your dad."

"There's no working this out," January stared down at her shoes. "I don't think I even want to try."

"So aside from that, how was your night at the theater Mrs. Lincoln?" Blackjack said completely deadpan.

January did crack a smile at the joke. Blackjack was always good at finding the funny side of how life sucked.

"Come my fellow Knights of Nerddom," Rus declared with a flourish of his upraised hand. "The Festival awaits!"

"It is Yuletide, and we have come at last to the ancient sea town where our people dwelt and kept Festival in the elder time, when Festival was forbidden!" Kell boomed melodramatically.

"Now where did I leave my copy of the Necronomicon…" Blackjack pantomimed checking his pockets for that dread tome of Lovecraftian lore.

Rus led the way up the basement stairs. Avery stalled joining the others, and motioned for January to wait behind as well. He went to an old dresser that was filled with junk, and pulled out a silver necklace. Its links shined in the late afternoon light that slanted down through the narrow, high-set windows set along the driveway above. From the chain hung a silver and black pendant, rimmed with a simple knotwork design. Set within was the symbol of the Raven Banner. The titular bird was formed from gracefully curved lines of silver. With wings outstretched, it seemed to be taking flight.

"This is for you," Avery said. January stared in amazement as he lifted the chain and draped it around her neck. "Think of it as an early birthday present."

"It's beautiful," January gasped. She let her fingers slide over the upraised lines of the raven. Then she noticed something odd about the back of the pendant. There was a catch there. She pressed it without thinking. The rear face popped open, and revealed a small button surrounded by circuitry.

"Only our fingerprints will open it," Avery crowed. "Go ahead and turn it on."

She pressed the button, and a single LED lit up within the circuitry. But nothing else seemed to happen.

Avery continued to grin however. He reached back into the dresser and pulled out a twenty-year old camcorder. He turned it on, and spun around the side-mounted viewer so that both it, and the camera lens, faced January. The basement filled up the rectangular viewing screen. There was the Blob, still swaying gently from where Rus had leaned against it. There was the ancient couch, stuffing rising like miniature mountains from its ragged cloth. Junk and gizmos were piled everywhere.

But even though she was standing directly in front of the camera lens, January was not there in the picture. Other than a slight shimmering in the air, like the heat haze on a highway, there was no sign of her at all!

"I had a little help from our new friend Isaac in adapting his anti-video technology." Avery explained. "But I went a different way, in that it only scrubs you from the image."

"I'm invisible!" January breathed. Ever since she had transitioned, she had wished for the ability to disappear. It would have made life so much easier, not to mention safer.

"Only to video surveillance," Avery cautioned. "I can still see you just fine. But this will let you change into your armor without you having to worry about being recorded. You can do stealth missions now too, and not leave any traces on security cameras. In case there's ever a time you don't want to end up all over social media."

"Aww Avery, this is great!" She leaned in to hug him, only to hear the others shouting for them to hurry up. January grinned, her family issues momentarily forgotten, and rushed up the stairs after them. Avery followed at her heels. It was time to hold Festival!

Posted by: Acadian Oct 26 2019, 09:54 PM

A wonderful interlude with just the right amount of lightheartedness. We learn more about Jan and Avery’s nerdgamer pals. Always the same – so many games, so little time. tongue.gif

A very handy anti-surveillance device. As seems to be the case, Avery’s style and timing is very good when it comes to knowing what his Raven pal needs. In this case, the sentiment behind the beautiful amulet is perhaps more valuable than even its enchantment. happy.gif

Posted by: Darkness Eternal Oct 27 2019, 07:06 PM

Can't believe I caught up! Been trying to juggle some things out before I came back to crack my knuckles and put on my reading glasses biggrin.gif laugh.gif

Stormcrow is becoming a pro at the flying thing. Its great seeing her get better and better as time goes on, and she continues to show that in everything that she does, she always has the concern of other's in her best interest. Like transitioning into a residential area automatically has her being extra cautious about those nearby.

A few things stood out to me that I thought they were worth mentioning:

'For a moment it struck her that it looked just like a classic comic book pose, of the Dark Avenger protagonist perched upon an appropriately Gothic steeple. All she needed were some crows to swirl around her for dramatic effect.'

Hehe, this was perfect. She is the hero Detroit needs, but not the hero it deserves. What made it hilarious was the crow singing in her ear soon after. This sort of comedic aspect more or less tied to her youth made this part golden. laugh.gif

Jan/Stormcrow's fascinating(and relation) with Frankenstein's monster is not lost on me. There's a certain sympathy there she shares with the unloved and the shunned and, if I may, mistreated. There are plenty of things we can take away from Shelley's story, and subsequently Jan's tale.

'This armor, it's not the real me. Underneath, I don't know what I am. I just know I wasn't born right. This body of mine, it feels like garbage. Someone else's cast off. It feels like some thief sneaked in one night and stole my real body, and left me this crap instead. It's not who I'm supposed to be. I don't know if I'll ever be the real me.'
An all too prevailing occurrence. We can all to some degree relate with Jan, and I hope that she can overcome this. Thankfully she has Avery/Gadget, and though its saddening that her parents are getting divorced, this may just give her the time she needs to think clearly without the weight of negativity and judgment hanging over her shoulders.

Posted by: Renee Oct 28 2019, 12:32 AM

QUOTE(SubRosa @ Oct 26 2019, 11:42 AM) *

That teacher - Mr. Wirth - was my English teacher in high school. He was the first person to really encourage my writing, and even got me into an independent study period in lieu of a regular class, just so I could work on my writing.

Oh neat. Yes, some teachers make a heck of a difference, that's for sure.

For me this was Sister Mary Louise. I went to a Catholic middle school because public schools weren't working for me, and my parents switched me over in 4th grade. Anyway, SML had a weekly Creative Writing class. Once a week, we could write about anything we wanted, our Halloween costumes, our trips to grandma's house, whatever. Later on at some point in 2013 I realized this is the reason for my weekly writing habit.


Things have changed a lot since I was in school. If I had tried to transition then I would have been murdered, if not by the other students, then by the teachers. Now trans kids actually do transition in schools. That is not to say they don't face a lot of bigotry however,

Yikes. You had to keep a lot to yourself, I bet. How old were you when you transitioned?

Yes, that's what I was trying to get at earlier (about nowadays things are changing). Nobody's changing over in my daughter's school (she's in high school) but I think if somebody were, they'd mostly be supported. Oh, surely there'd be some naysayers here and there, but they'd be in a vast minority, I think.


LOl @ Jack's band Epic Fail. laugh.gif I want to see Epic Fail! rollinglaugh.gif

Yes, "I am a Golden God!" is what Plant said. I read that somewhere.

Cripes, this chapter's bringing back all kinds of memories from my 20s. I was a lot more social back then. We'd all go to shows. Some of us were gamers, just like these kids in the story.

WhOA nice, she's going to be like the Stealth Bomber! Invisible to cameras, just like that plane is supposed to be invisible to radar! What a nice gift. And also nice to see Avery and Isaac Sanford met up.

Posted by: SubRosa Nov 2 2019, 06:05 PM

Acadian: It was fun writing that scene, though there is a lot of Telling rather than Showing because I had to introduce a lot of characters at once, and I wanted for each to have something that made an impression. Otherwise they would have all just blurred together. It is a nice counter-balance to the grimness in the previous scene.

I still read comics (well I got back into them again last year after a few decades hiatus), and I see so many things that would blow a hero's secret identity. Like literally flying into and out of the window of their house, or riding around on motorcycles. As if no one is going to notice someone flying into their neighbor's window, or take down the license plate number on Batgirl's motorcycle. Anti-video surveillance is one way to counter the pervasiveness of cameras today, and how easily they would destroy anyone's secret ID.

I spent a lot of time working out just what form it would take. It had to be something that Jan could wear in everyday life, and not look out of place (for her at least). I went over a lot of rings and necklaces. In the end I went with the Raven Banner. It is a classic, so it never goes out of style.

Darkness Eternal: You caught up!

January's slowly acquired flight ability is one thing I had noted right off the bat as something she could work on throughout the early chapters. We will see it sprout into extraordinary fruition around chapter 5 or so. But even that won't be the end of the things she learns to do with it.

You are right. Detroit does not deserve Jan. Detroit deserves Blood Raven, the harsher, deadlier version.

I always want to keep that fun aspect to January, and not take her too seriously. She is inspired by a run of Batgirl where Barbara Gordon was certainly taken seriously, but also injected with joy and good friendships. She is definitely not Batman, with his dour, humorless nature. I do not want it to be a surprise when January smiles, or sometimes looks and feels a bit foolish. In spite of her wings, she is a very down to earth person.

I only read Frankenstein for the first time about 16 years ago. I was blown away by how different it was from James Whale's film. The themes of alienation and loneliness really leapt out off the pages at me. In some respect or another, everyone can relate to that at some point in their lives. That is one reason that book is still around after 200 years. It can give us the feels on a real level.

Renee: I was in my early thirties when I came out, about 16 years ago. When I was old enough and established enough in life to survive without needing anyone else's help. Jan really is a lot braver than I am. Because she did it at 12, when she was completely dependent upon her parents. Granted, she was lucky to live in a different time. But even her parents did not take her seriously at first. She had to try to kill herself for them to believe her.

I had fun working on the gaming pals aka the Knights of Nerddom. I picture them as having known one another since early childhood, and all living in the same neighborhood. For example, Avery is just two houses down from Jan. I was glad to finally work them into the story, as they were the last piece of January's life that I had not shown. I hope to do things with some of them in the future as well.

As you said, I drew some of the Knights off of people I really knew and gamed with back in the day, namely Rus and Kell. Though I added some things. Jack is a straight up copy of Jack Black, hence the comical band. Ryo is drawn from an online pal I had back in the day, with some extra layers added on that I took from film and TV shows. We will be seeing more of Ryo and Rus especially in the future.

Chapter 3.3 - Stormcrow Burning

Festival was of course the Movement Electronic Music Festival. Every Memorial Day weekend it took place in Hart Plaza, along the Detroit river. They drove down in two cars, and parked on the Cobo Hall rooftop lot. As usual, Avery had reserved spots in advance. From there it was only a short walk to the plaza, which was packed with people.

Trees encircled the stone-flagged square. At its center rose the Dodge Memorial Fountain, the most iconic structure in the plaza. It was a giant stainless steel ring, held up horizontally in the air by two thick diagonal posts. The huge fountain underneath jetted water up into the open space within the ring, and currently glowed blue from the lights set within.

The main stage scalloped down into the earth nearby. Smaller stages rose up in other corners of the plaza, hidden behind copses of trees. A miniature stepped pyramid stood beside one. A statue of Antoine Cadillac - the founder of Detroit - lay between it and the great central fountain. While right next to the lapping waves of the Detroit River rose the monument to the Underground Railroad.

Looking toward Jefferson Avenue, January noted the Pylon, a tall, twisty obelisk near one corner of the plaza. Transcending rose up in the opposite corner. It was a statue made from a pair of tall, slender sickles that faced one another to create a circle, with only a small gap between the two curved arms at the top. It looked like a stargate to January. She kept expecting to see a line of invading Goa'uld to come marching through it, jackal-headed helmets in all.

Beyond Jefferson Avenue rose the tall skyscrapers of Downtown. There was the post-modern Comerica Building, with its sharp neo-gothic rooftop facades. Though apparently now it was Ally Detroit Center according to the sign that had been added to the roof. The slick modern glass and chrome One Woodward Avenue building stood to one side of it. While hunkered down in front was City Hall, a.k.a. the Coleman Young Municipal Center, in all of its 70s blandness. Deeper still within the urban forest towered stately art deco masterpieces like the Buhl and Penobscot buildings.

Looming up before those worthies, right at the edge of Jefferson Avenue, was the rounded concrete and glass face of 150 West Jefferson. Beside it rose the angular, plate glass Crowne Plaza building. Finally off to the left squatted Cobo Hall. Jefferson Avenue vanished beneath its glass-fronted bulk. A small building rose between it and the plaza, and far beyond January saw the Ambassador bridge, spanning the blue-green waters of the Detroit River about two miles south.

Jefferson itself was a split avenue, like so many Michigan streets. Right in the center of its two throughways hung the great bronze arm and clenched fist of Joe Louis. January had always appreciated that. It said a lot about a city when it honored a fist. Just a few blocks away, in front of City Hall, stood the Spirit of Detroit statue as well. It had long since turned green with age. But the gilded globe bursting with rays that it held with one hand still shined bright gold, as did the winged figure in his other palm.

A glance opposite Cobo revealed the mighty Renaissance Center. A single giant spire rose up in its center, over 70 stories high. It was flanked by four lesser towers, just shy of 40 stories each. All were stylish black glass and chrome cylinders, with a simple GM sign in blue and white atop the central tower. On the far side rose the tiny twins, two much smaller skyscrapers, just over 20 stories each. These mighty spires dominated the entire Detroit skyline, practically threatening the heavens themselves. January could not look at the central spire without dreaming of leaping off the rooftop. She imagined that from there she could glide all the way across the river to the shores of Canada.

Then there were the people. People everywhere, standing nearly shoulder to shoulder. Most were young, but January noted some who had to be at least her parent's age. Some of the women were dressed in string bikinis, others in skin-tight shorts, a few even sported animal costumes. Most of the men were just in shorts, jeans, or cargo pants, and tees. Hoodies were represented in large numbers, along with some cases of flannel. A few daring males flaunted their bare chests, but only it seemed, when there was a six pack of abs to show off.

It was a little cool for the end of May, and January felt her skin prickle when the chill air blew in off the river that bordered the southern side of the plaza. She wondered if the miniskirt and halter top she had chosen to wear had been such a good idea after all. But the temperature did rise noticeably when they moved into the crowd, and threaded their way toward one of the food kiosks. January's stomach growled as dozens of competing smells teased her nostrils with the promise of yummy delights.

She settled on a falafel sandwich, while Avery gorged on chicken on a stick. At least they thought it was chicken. The other guys of course joked that it was probably iguana on the stick. He retorted that it meant it was free from radiation (if the Fallout games could be trusted for culinary as well as scientific accuracy). Kell munched on vinegar fries. Blackjack devoured a bowl of Skyline Chili. Ryo scarfed down some Slows Barbecue, and Rus dove into a bowl of something which January was afraid to even try to identify.

After eating, they drifted around the stages. January was disappointed to find that the Yoga Lab was not until Sunday and Monday, meaning that she would miss it completely. But she did not really mind either. She could do yoga any time at home after all. It just would have been nice to do it with other people for a change. It was not like she could afford to go to a yoga studio these days.

The afternoon rolled into evening, and January lost herself dancing to the music of one artist after another. She was brought back to earth when Blackjack started asking about Ryo, and January noticed that their friend had vanished.

"He's just gone ninja again," Kell ruminated.

"Yeah, he lasted longer than I expected," Avery rubbed the back of his head. "Last year he only made it three hours."

Blackjack pulled out his phone and furiously tapped away at its screen with his thumbs. It chimed back at him a minute later. He studied its face for a moment, then looked relieved.

"He's over at the Joe," Blackjack relayed, "says he'll be back in a while."

The estrogen in January wanted to walk down the river to check up on him, and make sure he did not feel alone and left out. But her forebrain knew better. Ryo had left because he wanted to be alone. No, needed to. Ryo had a lot of issues, being around people and especially crowds was one of them. The abandoned Joe Louis Arena was an ideal place for him to disappear to decompress. Her going down there would only make matters worse for him, not better.

It was hardly anything new. Ryo had always been that way after all. Actually, he had been much worse. January still did not know how he had survived school. Probably by disappearing at lunchtime. She still remembered the first time she had noticed him. They had been in the 3rd grade, and another student had touched him. That started him screaming. The school nurse had to come to take him away.

That was of course the kiss of death socially. Which only made him a perfect Knight of Nerddom. Blackjack started hanging out with him the next day, and brought him into the rest of their merry band of nerds and outsiders. It turned out Ryo was as brilliant at writing code and swinging a sword as he was handicapped at dealing with people. The rest was nerd history.

So January pushed him out of her mind, and let herself slip back into the music. After a few hours she noticed that their ninja was back. He did not say a word, and neither did anyone else. They all just hung out together and enjoyed the night.

The lowering sun splashed bloody fire across the sky as Amelie Lens was kicking out her beats. That is when January was pulled from her musical rapture by a sudden feeling of heat. It felt like something warm, wet, and thick had poured across her body. She smelled copper, and tasted salt in her mouth. She stopped dancing, and dabbed one finger to her lips. She took care not to smear her lipstick, and feared that she had cut herself. But there was no sign of blood. Yet she could definitely taste it now, and smell it, and feel it, all around her.

Thousands of hands pointed skyward. January's gaze followed them across the street, high up to the roof of 150 West Jefferson. There loomed a figure in black and red, cape spilled out alongside her in the wind. They mysterious woman scanned the crowd for long moments. Then she lifted her head to the sky, and turned it this way and that, like a bloodhound sniffing the air.

"Let's give it up for Blood Raven!" Amelie Len's voice rose up over her music, and the crowd roared behind her. Even Avery pointed and grinned, and slapped January on the back.

But January could not feel the excitement of the crowd. Something was wrong. Something was terribly, terribly wrong. The hairs rose up on the back of her neck, and her stomach began to flip and flop around. The smell of blood was overpowering. She turned her head this way and that, trying to discern where it was coming from. Finally she turned her gaze to the east, toward the massive glass spires of the Renaissance Center.

The crowd roared again, and January looked back to see that Blood Raven had taken to the air. She soared effortlessly across the twilight sky, her cape stretched out behind her. To January's eyes, she seemed less like a person, and more like a bloody gash cut across the firmament. She slashed her way over the plaza, and continued on to the east. Finally she threaded her way through the black towers of the Renaissance Center, and vanished behind them.

"What's wrong?" Avery's voice was low in her ear. January turned to him, and saw him standing just inches away. He had his serious face on. His work face. "Do you need to…"

He didn't have to finish that sentence. She was already thinking about her Stormcrow Armor, stashed away in the trunk of Avery's Geo. Was it time to suit up? What was going on?

"I don't know," January said honestly. "I just… feel something. I don't know what, I don't even know where."

"But she does." Avery stared in the direction that Blood Raven had vanished.

"She does," January nodded. "She can smell it somehow, feel it. Let's face it, she's a lot better at this than I am."

Avery took out his phone, and began to flip through page after page of info. But in the end he just shook his head.

"I've got bots set up to let me know what's going on," he explained. "On the police scanners, firefighters, news, social media. But there's nothing. No robberies, no shootouts, no disasters. It's all quiet."

"We'll just have to leave it to her," January practically moped. She wanted to leap into action, even more than her motorcycle wanted to scream down the highway at a hundred miles an hour. But she had no idea where to even go, or what to look for. It would be an exercise in futility.

"Whatever it is, the old lady can take care of it," Avery reassured her. "She's been looking out for this city since before we were born."

Posted by: Acadian Nov 2 2019, 08:14 PM

’Festival was of course the Movement Electronic Music Festival.’
- - You are right; ‘Festival’ works ever so much better as a nickname than ‘MEMF’. tongue.gif

A detailed tour of downtown followed by a day of fun, friends and feasting at the Festival. happy.gif

Blood Raven’s entrance was very cool, and fed ominously into what sounds like danger for the Stormcrow ahead. ohmy.gif

Posted by: Renee Nov 3 2019, 04:57 PM

Okay, so Jack = Jack Black, pretty much. And Ryo .... he reminds me of someone I knew long ago (was not friends with though). Ryo's got some issues.

She had to try to kill herself for them to believe her.

Merde. sad.gif

Cobo Hall, I know that name from somewhere. Probably Grateful Dead played there. Some of my friends traded Dead tapes (and other bands) back in the '80s / '90s.

Hart Plaza really comes alive at night, goodness. smile.gif Those links to various pictures help me see the place. I like that she's dancing amongst all these people who don't know who she is.

It said a lot about a city when it honored a fist.


I am wondering if she can sense and smell whatever it is because of her witch powers. Love the mysterious drama at the end of this one. emot-ninja1.gif

Posted by: SubRosa Nov 9 2019, 06:23 PM

Acadian: It is usually called the Electronic Music Festival, or just the Techno Fest. The Knights of Nerddom call it Festival, because, nerds... laugh.gif Detroit is often cited as the birthplace of Techno music. The festival is a big thing here. It draws people in from around the country.

It was nice to show off some of the finer things in my hometown. That is something that does not often happen. So I went into some detail with the descriptions of Hart Plaza and Downtown, rather than just saying "there were lots of tall buildings'. smile.gif

I have been itching to get Blood Raven into the story, especially since I wrote this chapter and chapter 4, which was about a month ago. As I have said before, BR will play a major role in January's life in the future. She is also quite awesome, to a level even I never expected. She is on par with Wonder Woman and Superman.

Renee: Like I said, Ryo is based on someone I knew online. He does have a lot of issues. None of those are random. They are all common traits for someone like him. Can anyone guess what underlies those issues?

Cobo Hall was a major concert venue back in the 70s, until the Palace of Auburn Hills was built and took all the concerts (the Palace was designed for it, the sound is good no matter where you sit). Bob Seger's Live Bullet album was recorded at Cobo. I even saw Kiss there once, long ago.

Hart Plaza is a big part of Detroit life as well. Pretty much every weekend during the summer there is some sort of festival taking place there. The Downtown Hoedown used to always be there (it moved a few years ago), and lots of ethnic festivals. The Jazz Fest is there. I think it would be cool to live in one of the buildings off of Woodward like 150 West Jefferson or the Crowne Plaza Building, and have all that going on across the street.

January is indeed tapping into her magical senses, for the first time, thanks to both the presence of Blood Raven and whatever it is she is hunting. Blood Raven is a magician, as is her nemesis. As is January. There will be a lot more on that in Chapter 4.

Chapter 3.4 - Stormcrow Burning

Twilight turned to full darkness, and Orbital replaced Amelie Lens on the stage. January wanted to get back into the swing of the festival. But no matter how much she tried to let the music wash over her, or lose her body into the dancing, she could not get her mind off Blood Raven. What had that strange feeling been? At first January thought it was the famous vigilante herself who had created that sensation. But Blood Raven had reacted to it as well. Not just reacted, she had been tracking it, hunting it. But what was it?

January knew that she had only begun to discover the depth of her abilities. But she was sure they did not lend themselves toward Daredevilian super senses. She could not track someone by their scent. She could not hear heartbeats, let alone conversations, from miles away. She could not feel electrons by touch. She could not taste the sweat off a person from across the room.

Whatever she had sensed, it was not natural. Not even natural in a metahuman sense. Her mind began to twist down Lovecraftian corridors, and conjure mystic presages of doom. Her imagination painted livid images of shoggoths or xenomorphs ravaging through the city streets.

She clamped down on such wild ravings. It was silly after all. She needed to relax. This was supposed to be a day to celebrate the end of the school term. The last thing she needed was to invent more angst in her life. She had plenty of that waiting at home already.

She remembered the books she had read on Wicca and Witchcraft, especially that first one by Ann Renner. She concentrated on her breathing, and began doing energy exercises to help her unwind. But it was hard. The music hammered into her ears, and pulsed through her bones, so loud that it was a tangible, physical thing. People bumped into her. Their sweat and cheap perfume cloyed at her nostrils. They shouted to one another over the beats. Every time she thought she was finally going to slip into a higher state of consciousness, something would jerk her back to mundane reality.

"Hey, look at that bird!"

The voice was right in her ear, and someone pointed a finger practically into January's nose. She turned to look in either direction. That is when she felt sharp talons dig into her shoulder. A weight settled there, and a deep croaking filled her ear. A moment later she saw the crow that had just landed on her. His black, beady eyes stared into her own, as if he was trying to tell her something.

January tried to control her breathing again, and feel the magical energy that flowed through her. But she just could not get hold of it. There were too many things pulling her in too many directions. The magic slipped through her fingers like water.

The crow, perhaps disgusted at her failure to comprehend its message, took to the air once more. Her eyes followed him west across the black sky, in the same direction as Cobo Center. The same place where they had parked. The same place where her armor was stored in Avery's trunk.

January's feet instantly set into motion. She reached for her phone with one hand, and swiped the screen for Avery. He answered a few moments later, his voice distracted.

"It's a fire," Avery said. "North of here, looks like just past the new hockey arena. The first firetruck is rolling right now."

"I'll get back in touch when I've suited up." January stuffed her phone back in her purse. She reached for her necklace next, and opened the hidden panel behind the raven. One tap on the button inside hid her from electronic eyes. After that she laid on the speed. Where crowds blocked her, she leaped over them, shielding her face with one hand. People pointed up at her, some shouted. But no one would get a picture of her.

January briefly wondered if this fire was connected to whatever Blood Raven had been closing in on. But the older heroine had flown northeast, along the river. The new hockey arena was in an entirely different direction. Besides, it had been over an hour since they had seen Blood Raven. Surely she had sorted out whatever it had been by now. No, this must be something entirely separate. It was not like fires needed supervillains for their creation after all.

She bounded to the roof of Cobo Center. Racing between cars, she found Avery's yellow Geo. A crow sat upon the roof. He gave her a reproachful look, as if he had been waiting hours for her to arrive. It had only been minutes. January knew, because it was the same bird that had landed on her shoulder.

She was in the trunk a moment later. This time when she concentrated on her Fire meditation, nothing distracted her.

Fire give me passion and energy. Transform me in the night sky.

She was in her armor, and her street clothes were tucked away in Avery's trunk. An instant later she followed the crow into the sky.

Be like Air. Be light, and quick, and fly.

The wide, flat parking lot that sprawled across the roof of Cobo Center vanished under January's feet as she leaped into the air. Her cape, now transformed into wings thanks to Gadget's techno-wizardry, caught the wind and lifted her up high.

To her right, the dense cluster of skyscrapers of the Downtown core rose up like cliffs of concrete, steel, and glass. Before her stood their lesser cousins. These buildings were a humble ten to twelve stories tall in most cases. But a few rose to double those heights. Some of them were grand dames of the art deco era. Others were squat brick simpletons from the 70s, and finally a few were black glass slicksters of the modern age.

January landed atop the roof of a dark, almost black-glassed building of moderate height. She triggered off her wings and tucked into a forward roll. She kept her momentum going and sprang into a run. She followed the crow as it winged its way overhead, and raced across the roof as if shot from a cannon. When the edge loomed up before her toes, she leapt skyward with all of the strength in her meta-enhanced legs. She triggered on her wings once more, and again felt them catch the sky.

To her right towered a gargantuan spire of white concrete with tall, narrow windows. If only she could get to the roof of that, she could get incredible air under her wings. But it was too high for even her to leap up to, and gaining altitude with her wings was still a tricky, and often fruitless, business for her.

Still her momentum combined with the leap to push her even higher into the air than before. Once past the tall, white building she banked somewhat around it, following the route of Washington street below. A much lower, square building slid by underneath her. January noted that its center was a hollowed out atrium. It reminded her of those old Roman and Greek buildings that her dad wrote books about.

She sailed past it, then over a lesser structure, and found the grand edifice of the Westin Book Cadillac hotel rising before her in all its stately grandeur. She had read that it had been newly restored and gone back into business, after decades of abandonment. Its tan stone and decorative columns gave it the air of an elder statesman. She followed the crow to the darker tiles of its sloping roof, and gave the lofty building a momentary pat of thanks as she landed there.

While standing on the roof of the hotel, she remembered that her video camo was still on. She reached inside her tunic to shut it off. She did not want to waste the battery after all. Then she sprang up into the air once more, clawing for even higher altitude. The crow cawed loudly in her ears, and darted ahead of her once more.

Thanks to having used the buildings like stepping stones, January realized that she was higher than she had ever been before. Far more so than she ever could get in the old Packard Plant. The wind caressed her face, while the streets crawled along far below. The world seemed wide and open, beckoning for her to come and explore. She loved every moment of it.

The black and gold art deco masterpiece of the Detroit Furnace Building flew past her right shoulder. To her left came the equally magnificent Book Tower, a needle-like spire of an elder age, capped by a great bronze roof turned green with verdigris. The crow flew to the latter, and January followed without thought.

She dropped down atop its great peak of old green bronze, and reveled at the view for just an instant. Then she was back into the sky once more. Now the smaller buildings of Foxtown slid by under her belly - among them the Fox Theater and the Filmore of course. Off to her right she could see down within the great bowl of Comerica Park, the home of the Tigers. Beyond rose the white rectangular roof of Ford Field. The name of the car company - and family - that owned it and the Detroit Lions was emblazoned in blue across its otherwise plain surface.

Straight ahead was I-75, as always a river of twinkling lights as vehicles sped along it in either direction. In a moment she and the crow soared over the highway and then above Little Caesar's Arena. The brand new hockey stadium was faced with red brick, and crowned with a white roof. Painted atop it was the cartoonish Roman mascot of the pizza company. He held a pizza impaled on a stick, and was about to scarf down a slice.

January felt a little deflated as the arena vanished behind her. That was the end of Downtown's grand skyscrapers. Now spread out beneath her were the lesser denizens of Midtown. Far smaller buildings, and nearly all mundane in style and use. She had left the mystic realm of giants, and was once again relegated to the common world of ordinary Earth.

But that common world was lit up. Not just by rivers of streetlights and cars, but by a great orange glow. It would have been warm and comforting if that glow had originated high up in the sky at noon. But this miniature Sun bloomed down at street level, nearly turning the night into day with its ravenous stare.

Posted by: Acadian Nov 9 2019, 08:34 PM

Great job displaying January’s frustration with the head thumping cacophony of distractions that kept her from reaching that meditative and mysterious place of inner insight she sought.

When in doubt though, ‘Follow that crow!’ works pretty well. tongue.gif

A wonderful air tour of downtown Detroit.

And there she be - Fire. Can’t wait to see what this is all about.

Edit: Cool new pix below!

Posted by: SubRosa Nov 9 2019, 11:16 PM

I updated a few of the pictures of Downtown to add in the names of the buildings, as Google Earth does not do the best job of that.

Posted by: Renee Nov 10 2019, 11:05 PM

That's so awesome when she flies. She's still new at it, too. Hope she can summon the power of water, to prepare getting near to that blaze. indifferent.gif

Can anyone guess what underlies those issues?

Hmm. I cannot. I don't know his character well enough yet.

I know what you mean about wondering what it'd be to live like where there's always stuff going on. For me this would be downtown Ellicott City, which is historic If I didn't have a job and was okay with getting interrupted from sleep more often, that is my choice.

Hee, her friends Jack and Ryo must be wondering where she went.

Posted by: Darkness Eternal Nov 12 2019, 12:28 AM

I had to admit. I have a nice soft spot for Blood-Raven! She's growing on me already. I enjoyed the description of the downtown area. Jefferson Ave and beyond is very impressive and austere in own imposing way.

'January could not look at the central spire without dreaming of leaping off the rooftop. She imagined that from there she could glide all the way across the river to the shores of Canada.'
laugh.gif I'm certain most heroes that can fly have this same feeling when looking up to a tall skyscraper or tower.

'A few daring males flaunted their bare chests, but only it seemed, when there was a six pack of abs to show off.'
This is so accurate and true! In all the parties I've been to, its usually the six-packed dudes that were shirtless. laugh.gif

Jan having those instincts and Blood-Raven soaring through the air to what could be a major conflict was very powerful. She seemed so attuned, and Blood-Raven herself still this mysterious woman. This was great.

There was plenty of mystery to be had here. Jan wonders about the depths of her abilities and just how attuned she is, and I wondered this just the same. Her imaginings of grim occurrence seemed to deeply bother her, I'm glad she maintained a positive vibe as she buried these notions in favor of enjoying the party.

You never fail to impress with Jan's flying. Makes me want to be up there, soaring through the night sky. Must truly be liberating.

I'm very curious to see what this fire is about.

Great pictures by the way! ohmy.gif

Posted by: SubRosa Nov 16 2019, 04:30 PM

Acadian: Jan definitely has a long way to go when it comes to mastering her magical nature. At least consciously so. Thankfully there are crows...

Once again I gave a detailed travelogue of Detroit. I hope this helps make the city come alive. I also hope it shows some steady development with her flying ability.

Renee: When I was first conceptualizing January the whole flight aspect was just a side thing. It was a travel power mainly to get her to where the action was. I always pictured her martial arts and physical abilities front and center. But as I write her, I find that flight is where she truly comes alive. So I have decided to put a lot more development into her wings in the future.

Elicott City looks pretty cool.

We will be seeing excuses made for Jan's disappearance this episode.

Darkness Eternal: That Downtown core is the most impressive part of Detroit. Well, except for a few other small spots like the Fisher Building and Wayne State University in Midtown. So I like using it as a setting. It really shows off the grandeur of the city.

We will be seeing a lot more of January's magical instincts later, especially concerning Blood Raven.

The fire in this chapter is based on the Real Life It is not really connected to what Blood Raven was hunting earlier. That will come up next chapter. But it all does tie together.

Chapter 3.5 - Stormcrow Burning

"Hola Stormcrow, I got away from the others and I'm online." Gadget's voice suddenly blossomed in her ear. "The fire's on Cass, just three blocks north of the new hockey arena."

"I'm coming up on it right now," January breathed into the comm. With one hand, she effortlessly flipped on the video unit, so that Gadget could see everything that she did. "By the way, what are we going to tell the guys?"

"Already covered," Gadget explained. "You got sick, had to hurl. Must have been that falafel you had earlier. I'm driving you home right now."

"Guess I should have had that iguana on a stick like you did," January mused as she drew nearer. "Oh, it looks like the firefighters just got here."

January saw a single firetruck pull up in the street. Figures clad in helmets and heavy coats spilled out of it like armored ants. They immediately set to work rolling out hoses, and connecting them to hydrants.

Before them raged an inferno of elemental horror. January imagined that the building might have once been a warehouse. It was a rectangular structure that rose two stories, whose cinderblock walls were unadorned by windows. However, gangland graffiti competed with elaborate and fantastic artwork scrawled across the edifice. From simple names to rearing dragons and monstrous faces, the outer shell of the otherwise ordinary building had been transformed into a lush jungle of magnificent expression.

That artwork was being devoured by a sheet of brilliant flame that wreathed the front of the building. It seemed less an act of nature, and more like a living, sentient being, all terror and fire. It roiled and leapt, swallowing all it touched, and spread out its monstrous arms for more. January could feel its heat, sucking all the moisture out of the air around her. It also seemed to push the air up from beneath her, giving her more lift. That was the last thing she needed now.

The long side of the building that stretched back from the street was clear of flames for now. She could see that this wall was bordered by a large lot. The first half of the field was empty. But farther back from the street it was packed with a shantytown of campers, makeshift tents, and truly indescribable piles - or perhaps actual structures - of junk.

She saw a pair of firemen standing away from the rest, who were all racing to and fro with their equipment. One pointed at the blaze, and seemed to be giving instructions to the other. January imagined that they must be the people in charge, and dove toward them. The ground rushed up faster and faster, now that she was nose down toward it. She allowed it to rise up until it was practically in her face. Then she flattened out her wings parallel to the earth, and caught the air upon their lower surface with a great crack! At the same time she rolled her body back, putting her feet out first and craning her head skyward. A second later she disengaged the wings, and dropped to the concrete with only a slight flex of her knees to take the impact.

She landed just a few steps away from the two firefighters. Her crow companion winged past them, and vanished into the night. The two men gaped openly. She could see that one was middle-aged, with a great sweep of a now graying mustache. His lined face was bathed in the red-orange glow of the fire, and looked as craggy and weathered as any peak of the Rockies. His partner beside him was much younger, with smooth skin and bright blue eyes that fixed upon January.

"You're her," the younger man blurted out, "the Stormcrow!"

"What can I do to help?" January asked earnestly, looking from one man to the other. She did not want to just go rampaging through there on her own. She knew that if she was going to be successful at this super thing, she was going to have to learn to work with people like this.

"I don't know, what can you do to help?" the older man parroted in a gravelly, somewhat sarcastic tone.

A drop of rain splatted on January's forehead, followed by a second, and a third. She vaguely noted that the sky had gone black, the stars now hidden behind an ebony blanket of cloud.

"Well, I don't know much about putting out fires," January admitted. "But I can go in there and find people, and bring them out."

"Can you really make it rain?" the younger man asked earnestly?

"Not as well as you would like," January shook her head ruefully. As if to contradict her statement, a crack of lighting illuminated the sky in a dazzling burst of light. January felt her heart jump with it. A long peal of thunder rolled out behind it like an afterthought. The rain picked up after that, and began to come down steadily.

The flames seemed to mock the water pouring from the sky however. Undaunted by the storm, they in fact grew visibly stronger, and leaped farther back into the building. January saw people run from a door in the still untouched side of the building. The front was nothing but a solid sheet of fire and ash.

"That fire is spreading too fast to be natural," the older man observed as he watched the flames grow. Then he focused solely upon January. "Okay, go do your hero thing. But watch for accelerants. I'd bet my pension that someone doused that place with gas or kerosene. And remember that fire can travel through the spaces inside the walls, before popping out again. It'll get you where you least expect it."

January nodded, then she was off. A single bound ate up the distance between the curb and the long, side wall of the building that stretched back from the street. She ignored the shantytown farther back in the empty lot. The fire was nowhere near that yet. Instead she plunged directly for the only door in the side of the building.

She almost careened into a pair of people trying to make their way out. She pointed to the street with one hand, and gently shepherded them that way with the other. Once they were safely out in the rain, she strode inside.

She coughed as smoke instantly assailed her lungs and stung at her eyes. The interior was like no warehouse or shop she had ever seen. Instead it was a phantasmagoria of furniture and decorations. There were couches, beds, and dressers. She could see at least a dozen pianos scattered around, along with drum kits and stacks of guitars. Paintings hung from walls and columns, along with tribal masks, and brightly-colored lamps. A wall of speakers rose up to her right, along with crates, desks, dressers, and boxes.

All of it was wood. A wooden floor, from which rose wooden columns, holding up a wood ceiling. The entire space was packed to the gills with wooden musical instruments, and wooden furniture. Then there was the cloth: carpets, beds couches, and chairs. Everything January knew about firefighting came from movies and TV. But she did not need an expert to tell her that the entire place was an inferno waiting to happen.

"I guess this would be a bad time to mention that I haven't finished working on a breathing apparatus for the suit." January could almost hear Gadget nervously rubbing his neck with one hand.

"It'll be fine," January murmured. "I can manage a little smoke."

She found more people stumbling around, and ushered them outside. After returning she worked her way toward the front of the building. It was a maze of twists and turns, most of the interior walls were made of furniture, musical instruments, and paintings. The latter were not printed out pictures, but actual canvas painted with oils and mounted on wooden frames.

"This place is crazy," January coughed, holding one hand over her mouth. A little smoke was starting to seem less manageable after all.

"It's called the Flying Dutchman." Gadget replied over her headset. "It's an art collective: musicians, artists, poets, a whole beat colony."

"Oh snap," she heard him groan with dread. "They were holding a concert tonight. This place is going to be packed. I'm looking around with the street cameras, and there are cars parked all over out here."

January got as close as she could to the front of the building. A wooden stair rose up to her left, curling around in a spiral as it rose to the second floor overhead. For the moment it was still clear. But beyond that rose a nightmare of flame and smoke. It was like the inside of a dragon's belly. She could only vaguely make out walls and even more pianos. She thought she saw a refrigerator somewhere back in the inferno, and perhaps a stove. So she imagined that was the kitchen. If the front door was out there, she could not see it.

Just then a snake of snarling electricity leaped along the wall beside her. Flame erupted behind it, and engulfed her in red and yellow heat. She threw up one arm in front of her face out of reflex. She felt herself picked up and thrown back by a pressure wave. Her head hit something hard. It cracked. January was not sure if that was her skull, or whatever she had struck.

"Steady on girl," Gadget's voice was cool and collected in her ear. "That hagfish armor is made for fire. Nothing will burn it short of the Sun."

She fought her way to her feet. Her lungs were burning, and her eyes stung as if they were swimming in bee venom. She was afraid that if she tried to reply she would start coughing and never stop. Instead January silently staggered back. There was no one this far forward, not who was still alive at least. The building ahead was now a solid wall of flame, including the stairs leading up to the top floor.

Posted by: Acadian Nov 16 2019, 08:31 PM

’The ground rushed up faster and faster, now that she was nose down toward it. She allowed it to rise up until it was practically in her face. Then she flattened out her wings parallel to the earth, and caught the air upon their lower surface with a great crack! At the same time she rolled her body back, putting her feet out first and craning her head skyward. A second later she disengaged the wings, and dropped to the concrete with only a slight flex of her knees to take the impact.’
- - Stormcrow is really getting good at this as she continues to gradually improve at this flying stuff.

While ‘Let there be rain’ is not quite in her spell book, it is clear the Stormcrow wields influence in high, cloudy places. Nice display of her burgeoning abilities and how she does not fully understand them. Yet.

Yep, pretty dangerous inside - and most comforting, I’m sure, to have Gadget’s soothing and supportive voice in her ear. You do indeed make the fire seem to have a menacing life of its own.

Oh snap is right, a passel of music enthusiasts are still inside this towering inferno! The stakes just shot up. I hope her selfless nature does not overrule our young superheroine's sense of self-preservation. . . or at least she does not ignore Gadget if/when he points it out to her. ohmy.gif

Nit? "You got sick, had hurl.”
Not necessarily a nit since it is dialogue. I simply ask if Gadget meant to say 'had to hurl' instead of 'had hurl'?

Posted by: Renee Nov 17 2019, 03:33 PM

QUOTE(Acadian @ Nov 16 2019, 02:31 PM) *

Nit? "You got sick, had hurl.”
Not necessarily a nit since it is dialogue.

Yah, that's what I was thinking. Sometimes people say stuff wrongly.

But as I write her, I find that flight is where she truly comes alive.

Oh, and we're glad you're including these flight chapters. They are fun to read.

That's awesome when the two firemen are surprised The Stormcrow shows up. It's like, she's now an unofficial part of city services, yet she doesn't have to abide by the same rules. See, but I wonder if she's now getting herself into trouble because of this. indifferent.gif

Posted by: SubRosa Nov 23 2019, 04:28 PM

Acadian: She is getting quite good at the flying thing. In Chapter 5 we will see a major evolution of her flight.

Likewise, I can see her doing a lot more with elemental forces in the future. But that is a long way off.

Of course January's selfless nature is going to overrule her sense of self-preservation!

That was indeed supposed to be "had to hurl". I am glad you caught that.

Renee: I am glad the flying is coming across. Now I am trying to find more ways I can use her wings and flight, beyond just getting from here to there.

January won't be having any issues working with the fire department. Their goals match after all: saving lives. And there is a long history of volunteer firefighters, who still exist in many places in the US. It is with the police that January will have the most trouble with, because their goals definitely do not always match. The police want to arrest people like Isaac and put them in prison. January wants to help people, which sometimes means letting a supervillain go because she believes they are not really a danger to anyone. That is part of Jan's slowly coalescing Stormcrow Doctrine. BTW. an interesting factiod I came across recently was that the modern US puts more people in prison per capita than both Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia did.

Chapter 3.6 - Stormcrow Burning

She made her way back the way she had come from, pausing to search behind the piles of junk. She was rewarded by discovering tiny nooks and niches where people had carved out private little bedrooms within the sea of furnishings, camouflaged by the raucous jungle of decorations.

These were empty however, which January was grateful for. She hoped she was not passing an unconscious person, perhaps laid out behind a couch or under a bed, without her ever seeing them. It would take hours to properly search the building. She clearly did not have that much time. Not given how thick these rooms farther back were choked with smoke and fumes.

"Two more fire engines just pulled up," Gadget reported. "But this thing is wicked. It's spreading faster and faster. I don't know if they can stop it."

January staggered back, past the open side doorway. She pushed farther into the back of the Flying Dutchman now. She blinked hard at the sight of two campers set up in the deluge of accoutrements. She was not seeing things, they really had a pair of recreational vehicles parked back there. She raced to the first and pulled the door open. Dashing through it, she found it empty. She ran out and into the second camper. There she found a dog hidden under a bed.

"Come here boy, everything is fine," January said in as soothing a voice as she could muster, given the smoke. The shepherd growled at her. Clearly he was no fan of crows. January did not have time to play nice. She lunged forward and pulled the big dog up into her arms. He turned his head and bit down hard on her forearm. Her armor held, and January simply ignored it. She raced out of the camper, and was at the doorway with a single leap.

Once out in the rain she released the dog. As if by mutual agreement, he whimpered and let go of her with his jaws. He scampered across the empty lot and toward the flashing lights of the fire engines in the street. January saw the older, mustached fireman still out there, directing the new trucks into action.

January turned back into the building. A glance to her right showed that the flames were closer than before. They would be up to the side door in minutes. She did not have much time.

She pushed back deeper into the building, beyond the RVs. It was even more of a twisting and turning maze back here however. It would have been hard enough keeping her directions on a normal night. But with the smoke clouding the air, it was nearly impossible.

January mentally recited her elemental mantra, to help keep her head on straight.

Earth give me strength, keep me grounded, protect me from harm.

Air give me quickness in body and wit. Let the weights of the world fall from me.

Water make me flexible in thought and form. Let me flow, let me crash.

Fire give me passion and energy. Transform me in the night sky.

Spirit weave all together in balance. Bring me peace.

As if summoned by magic, she found a trio of either artists or concert-goers. It was too hard to make out details in the murk. She waved them to her, and guided them out of the maze to the side door. The fire was so much closer now, nearly at the exit. She was running out of time…

She saw two paramedics out in the lot. They grabbed up the three escapees and took them to the street. Coming past them was a crew of firefighters with a hose. They came right up to the doorway, and January backed inside to let them through. They nodded to her, and immediately began spraying down the ceiling of the room she was in.

January left them, and sped her way back into the depths of the building. She was faster this time, having made the trip through the winding passages once already. She found half a dozen more people coming her way this time, coughing and nearly retching from the fumes. She led them back to the firefighters.

They were losing the battle with the flames. Even given the water they were now dousing the interior with, the fire was gaining ground, and fast. It devoured everything it came across, transforming it all into heat and smoke. It was as if Surtr and his fire giants walked the Earth, annihilating everything before them in a Ragnarokian frenzy.

"Hurry up Crow, you still have the entire second floor." Gadget's voice was not reassuring. "From the pics I am seeing online, it looks like that is where the concert floor is. Most people are probably going to be up there."

"Do you have anything current?" January coughed into her headset.

"Nada," she could imagine him shaking his head at the other end of the comm. "This is all old stuff they posted on social media. There's no camera's inside."

January made her way to the back wall this time, without finding anyone. She was about to turn back, when she discovered a small stairway clinging to the far wall, tucked away behind a row of speakers. She leaped to the top with a single bound, and found herself in a narrow hallway on the second floor.

A pair of small bathrooms hung off the corridor, each nothing more than a cubicle with a toilet and sink. Both were empty. Beyond she found what looked like a mixing room, with a long table filled with levels and gauges, and all that Dr. Dre electronic goodness. She could not tell what even a tenth of it was for, aside from producing music of course.

This room too, was empty. Whoever had been within must have gone down the back stairs. She had probably met them and guided them out already. She took a deep breath. At least the air in here was not too badly inundated. Yet her lungs still blazed in protest, and she had to fight to keep from coughing.

"I'm upstairs," she gasped into her headset. "Clear so far."

A door in the far end of the mixing room led her out onto a stage. Really it was just a platform raised up about a foot above the rest of the floor. A scaffolding held up some lights and speakers above and beside it. The floor beyond was mostly open space, mostly. But even here there were tables and chairs. It was a woodworker's dream come true. It was also a fire's dream come true. Even now January could see those flames licking up at the far end of the building, that faced the street.

There was a crowd of people milling about here in the clouds of smoke. Most were hunched down toward the floor, trying to find breathable air. As before, January could make out few details in the smoke, other than that most were probably her age, or not much older. Other than that one face tended to blend into the next in the soot-filled air.

January glanced back, and thought of the route she would have to lead them through. Into the mixing room, down the back stairway, and then through the maze on the ground floor to reach the only exit. Would she be able to get them all out that way, without any becoming lost in the tangled warren of makeshift corridors on the ground floor? Would they get there before the flames overtook the side door?

No, they would never make it.

"Gadget, can you get on the firefighter's radio for me?" She took her bearings, and deduced that the wall to her right was the one facing the empty lot. "Tell them to clear their people out from the south wall. The one next to the lot."

"Copy that Stormcrow," Gadget's voice came cool and calm. "What are you planning?"

"I'm going to make an emergency exit."

Air give me quickness in body and wit. Fill my lungs with life.

"People!" January called upon the crowd at the top of her lungs. Somehow she did not cough, or falter. It was as if her lungs had briefly forgotten the smoke and ash that threatened to smother them. "People! Everyone gather around. Bring everyone you see here. I'm going to make a way out."

She eyed the wall. It looked to be cinderblocks, reinforced with steel, and paneled over with wood on the inside. She breathed deeply in and out, and felt the world's magic moving through her, just like her Wiccan exercises told her it would. She focused her thoughts on the wall, and visualized it shattering.

"Til Valhall!" she cried with all the force she could muster. She rocketed forward, and crashed into the wall like a slug fired from a railgun. The barrier exploded around her in a shower of concrete and steel. She felt rain on her face, and fresh air in her lungs. The world spun under her. She tucked into the roll, and out of habit stuck the landing as her feet hit the dirt of the lot.

She looked back to see a great hole now gaping in the side of the building, billowing smoke into the black sky above. She had been right. The firefighters had withdrawn from the side door. They had lost it to the insatiable flames. The entire ground floor was wreathed in fire now.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw firemen and paramedics running toward her. But there was no time. Without a second thought, she leapt back up to the gap she had created, and stepped back inside.

"Come on, I'll take everyone out one at a time!" She waved the people over.

One man tried to push his way through the crowd, and knocked two people to their knees.

"Me first!" he demanded.

"Man up and grow a pair," January heard herself snarl. She reached out to the people he had shoved down and helped them to their feet, then led them back to the opening. Not wasting any more time, she wrapped her arms around one and leapt out into the rain. Her knees took the shock of impact with only a tiny bend, and she handed the man to the awaiting firemen.

Then she was back up into the building, leaping over the rising flames to get inside. Next was the other person who had been knocked down. January noted that she was a rotund woman, with a shock of brilliant orange and purple hair. January put her arms around the colorful woman, and was more than mildly surprised when her charge leaned in to kiss her on the cheek.

"For luck," the other woman said.

Feeling more than a little like Luke Skywalker, January leaped to the ground outside, and released her into the care of the emergency crews. Then she was back into the thick of it.

She continued ferrying people out of the building. The smoke thickened, and became great billowing clouds that obscured more than half the room. People were choking, and holding hoodies, shirts, and torn cloth over their faces to try to filter out the soot. They endured. They had to.

Finally January reached the last one in sight, the man who had bowled over the others in his eagerness to escape. He looked sheepish, clearly regretting his panic. January did not say a word. She did not blame him for being afraid. If she had not been, the sky outside would have been clear and shining with stars. But she did blame him for allowing his fear to rule him. Freyja and her valkyrjur would not carry his soul into the afterlife.

But that would not be today. She took him in her arms, and jumped to the ground with him. In spite of her earlier success with breathing, the smoke was once more assaulting her lungs. Now every breath was an agony of fire, a paroxysm of coughing. But she continued on. Endurance was part of the Viking Code after all. Never give up, no matter what.

With that in mind, she leapt back skyward. The entire outer shell of the Flying Dutchman was a sheet of flame now. It was as if the structure had transformed into a giant fire elemental, conjured forth by some truly astounding wizard. January felt as if she was venturing into the belly of the beast as she pushed into the smoke, looking for anyone left behind.

She made the mistake of breathing too deeply, and doubled over in a fit of coughing. It felt like she was going to spit her liver out. Her insides burned. Her eyes hurt, and ran with tears. She tried to wipe them away, and see through the haze of smoke and moisture. The world tilted. All around her fire hissed, and snapped, and groaned, like a living thing slavering for her life.

January pushed on, moving toward the worst of it. She found someone there, hunched down over the floor. As she came near, January realized that it was a woman dragging an unconscious man across the floor. The woman slipped and fell, and slammed her head down hard on the wooden boards underfoot. January saw blood splattering her forehead when she lifted her head, only to collapse once more.

January was there a second later. She realized that she could no longer do this one at a time. It had to be both at once. She lifted the bleeding woman and tucked her under one arm. She was reaching down from the man with her free hand when the floor vanished in a geyser of flame.

There was no time to think. January's free hand snapped out and grabbed hold of a water pipe that climbed the wall. The floor evaporated beneath her feet. Time dragged by on painfully slow feet. Moment by moment, she saw the unconscious man fall into the sea of fire below. She saw him vanish into the inferno.

She did the only thing she could. She threw the woman she still had hold of up out of the fiery pit and over onto the still solid floorboards farther back in the Dutchman. Then she turned back to the gaping maw of fire, and leapt within.

"Jan!" she barely heard Gadget's voice in her ear. He was saying something, but she ignored it. She could not split her attention, not for an instant. The heat scorched through her lungs, as if someone had thrust a red-hot poker down her throat. The world dissolved into bright red and orange flame, and thick black smoke. She burned. Burned like the heart of the Sun. She thought she heard screaming. She was not sure if it was her own voice, or someone else's.

But Vikings did not quit. They endured. She would too. She was stone. She was the mountain. She was adamant.

Her questing hands found something hard, metal. She saw it was the handle of a gasoline can. It was not one of the little containers one might use to buy gas for the lawnmower. No, this was one of the big jerry cans like she saw strapped to trucks and tanks in pictures from World War II. The kind that held a zillion gallons of fuel. She crawled across another, and another, and shoved them out of her way.

Then her fingers touched something soft, malleable, and thrashing around wildly. That was him! She leapt upon the fallen man, and snapped loose the cape from around her shoulders. She threw it around the man, who was clearly no longer unconscious. He flailed and spasmed, but was no match for her strength.

She wrapped him like a mummy in the fireproof material of the cape. Not wasting a moment, she pulled him in close to her chest. Then she leapt forward with all of her might. She was vaguely aware of striking a wall. It could not withstand the force of her charge. Nothing could slow her. Nothing could stop her. The wall disintegrated in a shower of cinderblock and steel.

Then she was out in the open. Cool water showered down upon her, and sweet air teased her nostrils. She rolled off the injured man, who still screamed and thrashed under her. The world spun for a moment, and she felt strong hands holding her up, pulling her aside. Her eyes were on her charge however, and she saw a firefighter and a paramedic gently open the cape to reveal his body within.

He was a blackened and twisted mess. His hair was gone. His clothing was melted into his flesh, what little there was of it. His eyes were grey-white milky soup. He continued to thrash, and there was still screaming in her ears. She saw the paramedic pull out a hypodermic, and jab him with the needle. Then something blocked her view.

January squirmed. It felt like people were jumping on top of her, smothering her, covering her in darkness. A voice was shouting in her ear, and after a moment she realized it was Avery's.

"Jan stop, you're on fire!" his voice was hard as steel. "Stop, they are trying to put you out!"

January stopped struggling, and realized that the choking, smothering feeling was blankets, wrapping every inch of her body. She let the firemen clustered around her pat her out, and finally pull her to her feet. Now she realized that she was in the street in front of the Flying Dutchman. She had gone through the worst of the inferno, and punched a hole clear through the front wall of the building.

She tried to breathe deeply. To pull up the magic from the heart of the Earth, and wash its healing wave through her body. But her lungs betrayed her. Her entire body convulsed and rocked uncontrollably. The next thing she knew, she was doubled over and throwing up onto the sidewalk. Luckily she had not eaten since late afternoon, so it was only dry heaves. But it still wracked her frame.

She was stiff and sore, and bone-tired. Even though she could feel the rain pelting her face, her skin felt dry, dry and hot. She leaned her head back, to let the clean water wash down across her face, and carry away the tears and grime that she imagined must have smeared her features. At least what little of them that was not obscured by her cowl.

Even with her eyes closed, the image of the burned man still filled her mind.

She looked down at herself for the first time. Her armor was blackened and covered in ash, dust, and bits of charred wood. But it was still there, still solid. A pile of the soot ringed the ground around her, the remnants of the burning detritus that the firefighters had brushed off of her.

"That was the bravest thing I have ever seen." She heard one of the firemen breathe in her ear. She realized it was the older man with the mustache, the captain, or whatever they called the head firefighter. Then someone pushed an oxygen mask in her face, and she greedily drank in the crystal pure air.

Posted by: Acadian Nov 23 2019, 10:13 PM


What a powerfully epic episode.

If there was any doubt that within the breast of this young woman beats the heart of a superhero, that doubt is tenfold dispelled. This episode really displayed that, when it comes to the perilous, dirty, terrifying business of being a superhero, Stormcrow is the gritty real deal.

I loved how she made her own fire exit for that crowd by calling upon the power of her mind, body and spirit to act as one and propel her through that reinforced wall.

It was clear that she grimly made the conscious choice to save everyone she could – or perish in the attempt. Bravest thing that fireman ever saw? I believe him.

Posted by: Renee Nov 25 2019, 02:25 PM

Yikes, she's making an emergency exit. ohmy.gif

"Til Valhall!" ... I can just see her saying this in a comic book with a jagged bubble around her words.

It is with the police that January will have the most trouble with,

... or some kind of bent lawyers, trying to get money any way they can.

I think I know what's coming in the next chapter. wink.gif Hee, how clever, Miss Rosa.

Posted by: Renee Nov 25 2019, 05:12 PM

Renee: Like I said, Ryo is based on someone I knew online. He does have a lot of issues. None of those are random. They are all common traits for someone like him. Can anyone guess what underlies those issues?

Did we ever get an answer to this? I still don't know what issues Ryo could have.

Posted by: SubRosa Nov 30 2019, 04:55 PM

Acadian: I enjoyed writing the fire a great deal, because January's heart really shines through in it. It is very much the January Doctrine put into action, even though she has yet to put words to such a thing.

When I was doing my initial high level plotting, I was looking at various ways I could gradually ease her into conflicts and steadily raise the stakes each time. You see that a lot with not only super hero fiction, but all sorts of action stories and video games. The protagonist starts with the mooks, works their way up to bosses, and ends with the big bad. So for the early stuff I went with things like the diamond smuggler and his bodyguards, the misguided inventor Isaac, and now a massive fire. So far no real, honest-to-goodness supervillains. That comes next chapter. Of the first 3 chapters, I enjoy this one the most, because the stakes are now so much higher. Also because there is not a single supervillain in this chapter. It is all ordinary, everyday danger and villainy. In many ways, January is graduating from Superhero Bootcamp this chapter, and becoming a real-deal hero.

Renee: The real fire this event was based on killed 36 people, because they were trapped inside the burning building. I put Stormcrow in there so she could make an exit the real people never had, and get everyone out. It is a great example of the good that supers could do if they were real. More of that this episode.

I dug around to find an example of a viking battlecry. The Til Valhall was pretty much all I could find, aside from people shouting "Odin!" or "Thor!", which did not feel right for January. She's not really that big into either of them.

I have not dished about Ryo yet. Sadly, he will not appear again for several chapters. So we won't be getting to the bottom of his issues any time soon. I can PM you if you like.

Chapter 3.7 - Stormcrow Burning

Then January waved off the mask. She was not finished. She looked back to the blazing monster that rose up in front of her. There was still that one last woman inside, the one she had thrown clear of the disintegrating floor. She had to go back. She could not allow the fiery beast to claim another victim.

"There are still people inside." January wheezed. "I have to go back."

"You can't go back in there," someone said. She pushed them aside as gently as she could. She needed to get a clear leap, focus her energy, to break through the wall of the upper floor.

"Stormcrow, take one of their masks," Gadget said clearly in her ear.

January blinked. He was right. He was always right. One of the firefighters quickly pulled off his mask and oxygen tank, and with the help of his comrades, strapped it around her frame. January steeled herself, and looked down for her cape. It was still laid out underneath the horribly burned man. She was not going to make them move him to get it back. She would just have to do without.

She focused. She thought of the elements. She was air, she was earth, she was water, she was spirit, and yes, she was fire too.

She was a comet blazing through the sky. She smashed through the concrete wall and landed on her feet on the second floor. She felt it buckle and rock beneath her, and feared that it too, would collapse. She prayed to Freyja to give her more time. Just a little more. To find whoever was left.

The smoke assaulted her once more. But this time, with the mask and oxygen, it did not burn down deep inside her. Instead it was merely a thick soup that she had to stagger though. It felt almost as if she was a deep sea diver, plodding through the benthic depths. She found the woman she had thrown, sprawled out motionless on the dance floor. January gathered her up in her arms as gently as she could. Then she made her way to the back of the building, to where she had broken open an escape hole earlier.

"Yes!" Gadget exulted in her ear. "Backup is here!"

January did not know what that meant. More fire trucks? As if that mattered now. They would never stop the fire, and it would be suicide for a mundane firefighter to try to enter this inferno.

A nightmare snarled and roared from above. January looked up, and saw that the entire ceiling was a sheet of flame. She saw the support beams high overhead buckle, snap, and give way. Out of reflex she hunched over the woman she was carrying, and threw her back and arms across her to shield her from as much of the deluge that was coming.

But it never came. After a few moments January dared to look back up again. Her mouth gaped at what she saw.

A glowing barrier of golden light stretched across the ceiling, from one end of the building to the other. The ruined ceiling burned above it, held away impotently by the barrier of force. January could see waves and eddies of light flowing through the force field, like currents in a river, or blood within a body. These currents all flowed downward, and met at the form of a woman.

She floated above the floor, arms stretched out high over her head, as if beseeching the gods for aid. She was dressed from head to toe in black armor. Most of it was something similar to January's, in that it was flexible and made of woven material. Other sections - such as along her forearms and shoulders - were hardened plates. A blood red raven was emblazoned across her chest. Likewise, her cape, utility belt, boots, and gauntlets were the same crimson shade. The bone white skin of her lower face was left bare by her mask, and her hair and lips were brilliant scarlet.

She was a like a bloody gash, cut into the air where she floated. January smelled it - blood - coppery and thick. She even tasted it in her throat.

Blood Raven.

Now January noted that the heroine's armor was sliced open in several places. Not in single cuts, but in groups of three, as if she had been clawed by some sort of animal. There was no sign of blood in or around the wounds however. There was not even any sign of scars. Just pristine skin, white as bone china.

"It gives me great delight to make your acquaintance Stormcrow," the newcomer said in archaic formality. "Yet I strongly urge alacrity of motion, for but little time remains for this domicile."

January nodded. What did you say when you met your idol, and they gave you such a gentle suggestion? She had no idea. But she knew what she had to do, and she did it. January hoisted the unconscious woman in her arms and raced for the opening she had previously battered through the wall. She cleared it in a moment, and landed in the field outside, now churned into a quagmire of mud by rain and pounding feet. Once she deposited the woman into the arms of a paramedic, she leaped skyward again, and alighted within the burning building.

"Turn your gaze in that direction if you please," Blood Raven pointed to the back of the building, toward the stage and mixing room. "I smell the blood of mortals within."

That is when January realized that the other hero was not wearing a breath mask, or any sort of rebreather at all. In fact, she was not breathing at all! Her eyes glowed with blood-red light, two smaller fires amidst the inferno. In that moment, nothing about her seemed human.

There was no time to wonder. January pushed her feet forward, one in front of the other, and scampered across the stage. She darted into the mixing room, and sure enough, she found two more people within, coughing and throwing up all over the sound board.

Without a word she took them both under her arms, and lifted them from the ground. They felt light as a feather. She sped back out across the stage, and leaped through the gaping hole in the wall. She splashed down hard in the mud outside, almost toppling over. But she made sure that she took all of the force of the landing with her feet and knees. Her charge's toes never touched the ground until she handed them over to the firemen outside.

January turned back to the inferno. It seemed like she had been doing this forever. She called up the strength in her legs for another leap. But the makeshift entryway was blocked by the red and black form of Blood Raven. The superheroine floated through the egress, and finally drew her hands down. With that the golden force field holding up the roof vanished. The fiery wreckage immediately collapsed in upon itself, and January was sure that she felt the ground shake as an eruption of smoke and ash shot skyward from the ruin.

Blood Raven was blotted from sight by the cloud of smoke and dust. A few moments later the red glow of her eyes burned from the roiling darkness. Then rest of her frame slowly emerged from the smoke. With a coolness that January wished she possessed, the other heroine descended gently to the earth, cape draped about her shoulders.

Posted by: Acadian Nov 30 2019, 07:31 PM

Stormcrow pairs well with the music of Two Steps from Hell. goodjob.gif

I noted to myself at the end of the last episode that the woman Stormcrow had tossed to safety before diving down into the inferno was unaccounted for. I confess I suspected an oversight on your part and toyed even with PM’ing you to mention it. Forgive my doubts, as this episode quickly clarified ‘twas no oversight at all.

"Stormcrow, take one of their masks," Gadget said clearly in her ear.
January blinked. He was right. He was always right.’

- - Buffy can attest that having a voice in your ear can be incredibly helpful – especially one who is always right. wink.gif

’She focused. She thought of the elements. She was air, she was earth, she was water, she was spirit, and yes, she was fire too.
She was a comet blazing through the sky. She smashed through the concrete wall and landed on her feet on the second floor.’

- - Wow, that is a serious superhero trick!

By Julianos’ little tea pot but if Blood Raven’s entrance didn’t top even Stormcrow’s feat! Stormcrow is impressive but clearly not in Blood Raven's league - yet. Somehow though, I suspect that Blood Raven has a few centuries of experience on young Stormcrow.

Posted by: Renee Dec 2 2019, 10:48 PM

My gosh, sorry to hear folks died in there, in real-life. sad.gif I can just imagine the fire must have spread so fast.

Yes, you can PM me about Ryo, I am too curious now.

Ah-ha, so that's what the coppery smell was at the concert. I did turn on Blood Raven's music just as she showed up, what an enigma this one is! viking.gif

And again, one of my favorite things about The Stormcrow is the fact that she lives amongst a large population of people who have no idea who she really is. I keep wanting to make guesses about who might suspect her true identity and so on, but then I don't want to influence this work-in-progress, right? smile.gif

As you write this, how many chapters "ahead" are you? Just curious. With Goblin Lady, most of those tales were written whatever week they were posted, which is why I think I began getting stressed-out. Sometimes I'd get lucky though, and I'd write too much for one week. Then I could let the extra text get posted for the next week.

Posted by: SubRosa Dec 7 2019, 05:20 PM

Acadian: I was recently thinking the same about the Stormcrow fic and Two Steps From Hell. I keep trying to look for other sources for music just for the sake of diversity. But I always seem to come back to Two Steps. I think they are the official soundtrack for the series. Although the Big Bad's theme music will still be Gustav Holst's Mars.

January would never forget someone. That is the downside to writing this all out first, and then breaking up into forum-sized pieces for posting. The last few weeks, and the weeks following this, are all meant to be read as one big scene.

I really like Jan having that invisible partner to offer insight and advice. This way she does not have to think of everything, like so many solo characters like Batman or Superman do. She does not have to be perfect.

I really liked putting that not so subtle nod that January's powers ultimately derive from focusing on the elements into her leap back into the warehouse.

Blood Raven is a lot of fun to write. Difficult, but fun. She really is January's litmus test for what a hero must be, but also a warning of what she does not want to become. Sort of like Luke in the cave on Dagobah.

Renee: That smell of blood is January magically sensing Blood Raven's presence. It is not something other people feel. Even January does not know how to interpret it, yet. But she is learning.

Well so far only Gadget knows that January is Stormcrow. But keep watching...

I did not start posting until I had the entire first chapter completed. I was working on Chapter 2 while I posted that. By the time I started posting that, I was already writing Chapters 3 and 4. Now I am starting on Chapter 5.

By chapter, I do not meant a single post here. I mean a full chapter, most of which are 20k words and change. Chapter 3 (the current one) should take us into January. I imagine Chapter 4 will go from then to March or April. Then Chapter 5, which I am starting now, will start getting posted. So I am about 5 months ahead now.

But a week before each post I still go back and go over it. Usually one time a day for four or five days. Mostly I am just looking for typos and making minor tweaks. Stuff that I missed in my original drafts. But lately I have been doing some major retooling in several of the posts, today's included. The healing in today's was completely redone, as I did not like the kind of power it was giving to Blood Raven. I wanted something more limited. In the past I did a lot of rework on the festival posts, to add more detail about Downtown Detroit. Hopefully I won't be doing so much rework very often. I would prefer to be working more ahead.

Chapter 3.8 - Stormcrow Burning

"I hope there was no one else in there." The fire captain groaned.

"None whose hearts still beat," Blood Raven fixed him with her shining crimson eyes. "But there are those still counted among the living yet desirous of aid, are there not?"

"There-" January tried to speak, but her lungs betrayed her again. She found herself doubled over, as her chest was wracked with violent convulsions. Blood and spittle sprayed the interior of the firefighter's oxygen mask that she wore. She peeled it off and let it dangle loosely, until the coughing fit passed.

"It seems relief is required by one much nearer." Blood Raven's voice floated from above her head. January straightened up, and took a moment to just revel in the feeling of the cool rain that splashed her face. Then she shook her head, and tried to point to the terribly burned man she had pulled from the flames.

"I sense that his life shall not flee just yet." Blood Raven turned her gaze to follow the motion, then looked back to January. "However, it appears that your lungs are not as resilient as the rest of your armament. Clearly, attention is required."

A warm, red light filled the air around them, and she heard Blood Raven speaking in an odd language. Perhaps it was Gaelic? It sounded ancient, primal, and wild. It was the kind of thing that she imagined might have been shouted on Beltane or Samhain from stone circles that crowned shadowed hills.

It might have been the words that awakened something within her. Or maybe it was the intent beneath the words. In any case January felt power there: a deep, all-pervasive energy that sprang from the vigilante just as plainly as the rain that fell from the thunderclouds overhead.

Brilliant symbols sprang into crimson life at their feet, adding even more illumination to the scene. January recognized them as Celtic: triquetras, triskelions, awen, Brighid's crosses, and elaborate knotwork. They formed a circle around them. A magic circle - January quickly realized - which spun and slowly rose up into the air as Blood Raven chanted, as if summoned by her will.

She took January's wrist in one hand, and pulled back the sleeve of her armor. That bared the old suicide scars that crisscrossed her wrist to all. Blood Raven stared at that for a moment, as people always did. One of her fingers transformed into a long claw, which effortlessly slashed a deep runnel through January's arm. January felt her flesh tear under the other woman's talon. It reminded her of the feeling of cloth ripping apart. She gasped in spite of herself, and watched her blood run down her bared arm.

Blood Raven gazed at the wound, as if mesmerized by the red flow. She sniffed at it, drinking in the scent, as if she were interrogating the very blood streaming from January's arm.

Blood Raven used the still-human fingers of her hand to pull back a panel set into the palm of her gauntlet. Bone white flesh was exposed underneath. She curled her fingers inward, and that single razor claw pierced her flesh as easily as if it was butter. A torrent of wound-dew issued forth, filling January's nose with the coppery scent of blood.

Wound-dew? Since when did she think in Anglo-Saxon kennings? Something about all of this… this blood and magic, conjured up such ancient and primal thoughts within her. Race memories? If one gave stock in that. Or perhaps it was just too much reading history and heroic fiction.

Moving quickly, Blood Raven clasped her injured palm to January's slashed forearm. The young superheroine abstractly noted that all of the blood that had flowed from their wounds now rose back up to them. It literally levitated through the air, crawled up their arms, and sank back into their flesh.

"Crom!" she heard Gadget breathe in her earpiece. "That's cool!"

January had to agree. But she also found herself hoping that Blood Raven did not have HIV, or HPV, or any of a host of other blood-borne diseases.

January felt something being pulled from inside her, as if drawn out with her blood. Even with her writer's imagination, she could not put words to the feeling. It was as if some dark spirit was being exorcised from her being. Some malignity being cut away from her body. Whatever it was, she felt it being siphoned away by a strange form of energy. By that power she had earlier felt beneath Blood Raven's chant. That energy seemed to drag the darkness from her, out through the wound in her arm, and draw it up into Blood Raven.

Now she did gasp for breath. Her lungs worked again! She took in a deep gulp of air. She did not cough, or gag, again. The fire that had scorched deep within her chest was gone. Instead she breathed deeply, and everything felt normal once more. Just as it had before she had entered the burning building. She stared down at her arm, and saw no sign of blood on her skin. The cut that Blood Raven had made was no longer there. Not even a scar was left behind. There was no trace of it ever having existed.

Blood Raven had gone silent. January now realized that she had abandoned her chant for some time. Ever since she had felt that darkness being drawn out. The red light was gone too, and the glowing magic circle with it.

But now the scarlet-haired woman coughed. It was a deep, hacking convulsion, that doubled her over, and nearly drove her to her knees. Phlegm, soot, and even a little blood sprayed the mud beneath them.

Out of reflex January reached out a hand to steady the other woman. She felt her shudder beneath her fingers, as one paroxysm after another of coughing gripped her. Finally she went still, and straightened her back once more. She wiped her mouth and chin with the back of her hand. January wondered how she managed to do that without smudging her lipstick. Maybe that was a superpower? If so, she would love to possess it.

January stood there in the rain, and realized that the vigilante had just healed her with magic. No, not healed her. Blood Raven had taken her injuries into herself. Absorbed them through her blood. She had endured the seared lungs in January's place, and somehow regenerated the wound herself.

"Jesus!" one firefighter murmured.

"Sweet Mother of God!" gasped another.

"They are fine inspirations." Blood Raven looked around to all of them, and briefly locked her eyes with every firefighter and paramedic in turn. "But I look in the here and now for my encouragement. To those such as yourselves, who sacrifice and endure every day. How can one do less, among such company?"

January noted that the firefighters all looked at Blood Raven with awe. But not with joy, or admiration. She was like a goddess who walked among mortals. Powerful, stunning, dangerous, inexplicable, and ever remote. She did not live in the same world they did, and made no attempt to hide that fact. Even at her most beneficent, like now, she still remained isolated, apart from the rest of the world.

January's heart fell. She had been an outsider all of her life. It did not make her feel any better to see another who was even more cut off from humanity than she was. Even if Blood Raven's isolation was self-imposed. She was reminded of how her Literature professor had so aptly pointed out that not only was Frankenstein's monster alienated, but so too was Victor himself.

But this was hardly the time for literary introspection. She had to focus on the here and now, as Blood Raven herself had just remarked upon.

"Thank you," January breathed. She breathed easy in fact, now that her lungs were healthy and normal again. "Thank you so much."

"It was my distinct pleasure." Blood Raven inclined her head slightly. "It delights me greatly to finally make the acquaintance of Detroit's newest champion." As people sometimes did, she pronounced "Detroit" in the old French manner, so that it sounded like "Day-Twa."

January could not restrain a blush. She was thankful for her helmet, which must have hidden most of it from view. She had no idea what to say in return. In the end all she could manage was a strangled, embarrassing grunt and a hurried nod.

Posted by: Renee Dec 10 2019, 08:26 PM

When Blood Raven speaks I hear the haughty voice of that lady who runs Radiant Raiment in Solitude, for some reason. Not that BR is haughty, but I mean I hear her words in a low tone of WHOA....

Holy [censored] she cut into Jan's arm!!! blink.gif Okay. Alright. Phew I thought Blood Raven's really evil or something.

Yah I was wondering if anybody else witnessed Jan's transformation. OR whatever you'd call that. smile.gif Yes, Blood Raven does seem as though she's from some other time. Just the way she speaks (and I'm not even talking about the way she says Detroit) had me wondering if she's from the Enlightenment age or something.

Posted by: Acadian Dec 12 2019, 09:33 PM

Inspired by your example long ago, I won’t even announce a new story until it is in a solid completed draft. I love the long list advantages this provides but, you are right that carving the story into episodes approaching posting time can present its own challenges.

I’m very interested (for obvious reasons) in the insight you provided on how/why Jan has a voice traveling with her inside her head who can advise her. That it allows the primary character to manifest more imperfections and still survive is a wonderful way to think of it. Buffy and Acadian do that but I had not thought in those terms before – thank you.

I imagine Blood Raven is indeed fun (and challenging) to write. It is liberating sometimes to take the gloves off and present a mysterious character whose abilities hit the ‘Oh wow!’ mark on the power scale.


’Wound-dew? Since when did she think in Anglo-Saxon kennings? Something about all of this… this blood and magic, conjured up such ancient and primal thoughts within her. Race memories?’
- - I love this. Not just the evocative synonym for blood but also correctly (in my opinion) referring to ancient instincts as race memories. Some anthropologists believe that Neanderthals were the last humans to have highly developed race memories/instincts. This allowed quickly learning skills the race was well familiar at the price of a limited ability to grasp/learn new concepts. The concept that some form of race memories could still persist as recently as a few thousand years ago makes for intriguing possibilities regarding current mystics. Regardless, I heartily endorse the concept you introduce here along with its historical underpinnings.

Retractable talons! Woot!

Oh. My. Goodness. Laying on of hands and empathically absorbing a patient’s wounds and pain. Given your knowledge of my elf, it should come as no surprise that I am in awe of Blood Raven’s healing.

A poignant insight by January that life is lonely at the top of many professions – particularly that of being a super hero.

’January could not restrain a blush. She was thankful for her helmet, which must have hidden most of it from view. She had no idea what to say in return. In the end all she could manage was a strangled, embarrassing grunt and a hurried nod.’
- - What a perfect ending, as you gently remind us that this is Stormcrow’s story, not Blood Raven’s. Whereas Blood Raven personifies awesomesauce, it is the imperfections that render January so endearing. And when it comes to a heroine, I’ll take endearing over awesome any day.

Posted by: SubRosa Dec 14 2019, 04:39 PM

Renee: I never really thought about what Blood Raven sounds like. Maybe, she has the kind of polish that BR does. Or maybe Probably Laura Bailey.

Good call on the Enlightenment. Stay tuned, eventually we will learn more of BR's history.

Avadian: Blood Raven was not originally meant to be so Cosmically Awesome. She just turned out that way when I started writing her. Like the constant sniping between Loria and Do'Sakhar. It just felt right, so I went with it.

My original portrayal of Blood Raven's healing was much different. Version 1.0 had her taking the blood (and thusly life force) from other people, and then using that to heal the injured person. But even with the obvious need for donors, it seemed too effective. I could not see how she would not spend her entire life in a hospital, or traveling the world, healing critically injured people. Because if she had that power, and did not use it, how selfish would that be. As it is, suffering the wounds herself puts some serious limitations on the healing ability. Even she is not a bottomless well of self-regeneration.

Blood Raven is definitely very isolated, mostly from her own doing. Partly from her long years, and the need to emotionally protect herself from creating relationships that will inevitably end in watching the people she loves dying. Partly because she can be extremely opinionated, as we will see in the future. She is not at all shy about alienating others and making enemies through her outspokenness. Call it stubbornness, or certainty, or arrogance, it is something that definitely runs in her bloodline.

Endearing is definitely what I am going for with January. In spite of all the lesbian-trans-superhero ness, my hope is that she can still come across as relatable and ordinary with her awkwardness and un-coolness. At her core, Jan is a nice person. Blood Raven makes for a really stark contrast with all those aspects of January. In many ways they are total opposites. Which is why I like writing them together.

Blood Raven's Gaelic spell translates to:

Bones of Earth
Blood of Fire
Breath of Air
Cauldron of Water
Heal this Spirit, with your power

Chapter 3.9 - Stormcrow Burning

"If you can do something like that again, there is a man who needs your help, badly." January finally summoned the words to deflect the momentary attention from herself to the burned man. She could see that the paramedics were gingerly lifting him off of her cape and onto a gurney. She took a moment to shuck off her borrowed air tank, then led the way to his side.

"He fell into the worst of the fire. But it might be too much…"

"How did you effect a rescue?" Blood Raven asked.

"I went in after him of course." January replied without really thinking about it. Just as she had leapt into the flames.

"Of course." For some reason that seemed to please Blood Raven. She even did smile, if ever so fleetingly.

January and the firemen stepped up to the injured man, who was blessedly unconscious now. January wanted to tear her eyes away from the tortured ruin of life he had been reduced to. But she would not allow herself that luxury. Was this all because of her? Could she have been faster? Could she have saved both him and the woman? What gave her the right to choose who had lived, and who would suffer this terrible fate?

"This is why I serve," Blood Raven said quietly as she stared down at the burned man. The paramedics looked up in shock at the sight of the armored vigilante. She waved them aside, and they moved out of her way without a word. January suspected that was less from respect and admiration, and more from awe however.

Blood Raven knelt down beside him. She began to sing in Gaelic, and again that glowing red circle of Celtic symbols sprang up around them. Those monstrous claws sprang from her hands once more. With a slash across the burned man's torso, she joined his blood to hers.

Blood Raven increased the intensity of her chant, which January now realized was simply a repetition of a few sentences.

"Cnámha na Cruinne
Fuil Dóiteáin
Anáil Aeir
An Coire Uisce
Cneasaigh an Spiorad seo, le do chumhacht"

Again, January felt the power rise from Blood Raven. She was an ocean of energy, overflowing with power. She had heard that Blood Raven was some sort of magician. January had always taken that with a grain of salt. After all, what was the old saying: any advanced form of technology seemed like magic to a less-advanced culture? But this, this was the real deal. Blood Raven was an actual, old school Witch.

January felt that pull again. Now that she was not at the center of it, and could instead merely clinically observe, she could feel it much more clearly. There was a darkness within the burned man. A dis-ease. His terrible burns. His ruined flesh. That horror was being siphoned from him and poured into Blood Raven.

January shut her eyes, and she felt that power even more clearly. It seemed her meat eyes were distracting her from what was really happening. She let go of her physical senses, and simply felt - for lack of a better word - the magic growing and ripening within the man.

She could not truly understand, or trace, or track, even half of it. But she could read the changes well enough. Flesh that had literally been destroyed sprang back into being. Cauterized blood vessels rejoined. Organs leaped back to full, beating vigor and life again. All those terrible injuries were being systematically undone. It was like watching a time-lapse video in reverse.

When it finally ended, January opened her eyes and saw the stars twinkling down from above. The rain had stopped, and there was not a cloud in the sky. She looked down at the man she had rescued from the fire. The man Blood Raven had healed. He still lay on the gurney. But there was not a single mark on him. Not even a spot of soot. His hair was long and black, framing an equally long face, that was decorated by a short goatee. He was slender in frame, and wore a blue suit, with a narrow, striped purple tie. A gold class ring adorned one of his fingers, and a crucifix hung from his neck. January could not believe it was the same man she had pulled from the fire.

But Blood Raven, she was a much different story. The mane of hair that had sprouted from her helmet was a ragged, blackened stubble. January absentmindedly realized that it was not her real hair. It was a wig, attached to the outside of her helmet. She wondered if it was just for looks. Or perhaps it was so an enemy who thought they might gain an advantage by yanking at her hair, would come away surprised instead?

The rest of her armor was burned into tatters as well, even its metal pieces were singed and melted. The body underneath it seemed shrunken to half its former size, making the ruined gear seem like a half-collapsed tent. The bare skin January could see of the vigilante's lower face was a charred nightmare, shriveled and blackened meat stretched tight over bone.

As before, Blood Raven had stopped her chant at some point during the process. Now she ground her teeth tightly together, and clenched her hands into fists. Thankfully her claws had likewise vanished somewhere in the healing process. A low howl rose up from her throat, a sound not even vaguely human. Her eyes were now literal pools of red light. January felt power rising in her tortured frame once more, burning to a peak, and finally boiling over.

January could swear that she heard a hiss like that of water bubbling over from a pot, and vaporizing on the hot stove beneath it. Blood Raven's body transformed with the sound. Flesh grew back from nothingness, skin brightened from withered black to its previously shade of china white. Even the false hair crowning her helmet reappeared, and her armor knitted itself back together and shed its soot and burns.

Blood Raven rose to her feet, looking as healthy as ever. January felt that power wane within her, and fall to a low, steady hum. Even her gaze dimmed from that fiery scarlet glow to a normal, albeit still red, pair of human eyes. She only glanced briefly at January, before turning her full attention to the man whose injuries she had absorbed.

"Whoa!" His eyes flew open and he leaped to a sitting position.

January stepped away as the paramedics rushed back in, and calmed the man. All the while he stared at January and Blood Raven. That did not surprise January. Their armor did tend to the dramatic side of things. Mostly he stared at the black and red heroine, who remained at his side.

"How is it you are called my friend?"

"Ken," the man locked eyes with her, "Ken Reeve."

"It is a rare boon to gain a second chance at life Mister Reeve." Blood Raven laid a reassuring hand upon his shoulder. "I pray you live yours well."

"There was a girl I met, she was with me, she…"

"We shall see to her next should she require it," Blood Raven said gently. She stepped away, and pulled January and the firefighters along with her like a magnet. Even as she followed, January marveled at that. Her presence just commanded attention. It was hard to take her eyes off her. How did she do that? Was it magic? Or did she just have a Charisma of 18?

It turned out that the woman Ken Reeve spoke of was named Alexandra Grant. She was the same one that January had found pulling Reeve across the floor of the Dutchman. Alexandra was little the worse for wear. She had a bump on her head the size of a goose egg. But she was already conscious once more, and required only a few stitches to close up the wound in her scalp. A wound whose blood miraculously flowed back into her body with just a wave of Blood Raven's hand.

Most of the others who had escaped the building had already been taken away by ambulances. Of those that remained, none bore injuries serious enough to require the extraordinary powers of Blood Raven.

January wondered what price those powers came at? It was clear that Blood Raven could not actually heal people. Rather she literally transferred their injuries to herself. Somehow she could regenerate, or heal herself afterward. But the agony she must have felt each time had looked quite real. How much of that could any person endure? How much of that literal torture could even a metahuman body withstand?

January found that she did not envy the other superheroine for this particular ability at all.

Posted by: Acadian Dec 14 2019, 08:31 PM

Very ‘January’ to second guess whether she could have done more to prevent such grievous injury to the burned man.

"Of course." For some reason that seemed to please Blood Raven. She even did smile, if ever so fleetingly.’ - - Blood Raven of the Fleeting Smile. wink.gif

I loved what you did with Blood Raven’s healing. Observing and feeling the actions of a real Witch seemed to really open Jan’s mind and instincts. Jan’s reaction leads me to believe that, even though she doesn’t fully recognize it yet, she carries her own brand of Witchcraft within herself. Blood Raven’s healing is empathic to the extreme and I agree with Jan that it surely exacts a toll and is not exactly something to be envious of. Finally, thanks for sharing the words of Blood Raven's spell. Well done!

Charisma of 18. Hee! I see Jan’s been playing Dungeons and Dragons games. tongue.gif

"This is why I serve," Blood Raven said quietly as {she?} stared down at the burned man.’
’Her presence just command{ed?} attention.’

Posted by: Darkness Eternal Dec 15 2019, 12:35 AM

Chapter 3.5:

Wow. That was intense! The fire did some damage for sure, and there wasn't much left. The Stormcrow came right on time to lend aid to those firefighters. The flames growing in size just as the rain began to pour came off as suspicious, and the man's comment cemented it. Something was causing the fire to grow.

A breathing device would come in handy but Avery sort of forgot about that it seems ohmy.gif

Her abilities continue to grow and she's shown great skill, but I fear she may be in a bit of a pickle with the growing fumes!

Chapter 3.6:
Tense! Jan continues to show her heroic nature by leading those people out of the fire, and saving more lives. A great thing Gadget was there to give her the information she needed on the state of the building, and how many more people could've been potentially harmed by the flames had she not got there on time.

She was very clever in creating a new exit for those people; crashing through the wall worked rather well! This was awesome! Emotionally powerful as well! Stormcrow feeling the slight bit of panic and tense as the firefighters did their duty and helped put the flames out of her. Despite her powers and growing skill, she is vulnerable. Great thing there are the right people helping her at the right time, such as Avery/Gadget.

3.7: I'm in agreement here with Acadian. Two Steps From Hell and Stormcrow come together great. Blackheart is one of my favorites from TSFM.

I knew it! Introducing her a few chapters prior had me excited. I knew she was close to showing up and you build the intrigue quite well with Jan's/Storm's thoughts and passing mentions on Blood Raven, and since this is the figure she looks up to and is inspired by, you had me waiting with curiosity. Gave me goosebumps.

She was a like a bloody gash, cut into the air where she floated. January smelled it - blood - coppery and thick. She even tasted it in her throat.

You painted a great picture. Her presence is unmistakable, mysterious, and the way she speaks does give us the impression of her wisdom, which of course, surely came with age. I'll be back to read the next chapters!

Great stuff Subrosa! coolgrin.gif

Posted by: Renee Dec 16 2019, 07:42 PM

Whoa, no way. Gaelic. See, whenever game starts (and my corresponding story with her) she's going to speak Gaelic too, when she does one of her incantations.

Yes, Kate Beckinsale's voice sounds like what I'm hearing in my head with Blood Raven, especially if Kate were to put more affect into her voice, making it sound sort of emotionless and cold.

"How is it you are called my friend?"

Nice. I love this way she speaks. Her Charisma is 18, her Speechcraft is up there, and perhaps her ability to Charm is off the charts.

Yes I was also gonna say: it doesn't seem like she's healing them so much as transferring their injuries / pain briefly to herself. All of this fits in with some beliefs I have about the reality of our existence, by the way. Just the fact that realities seem to be merging. And Blood Raven can access these other realities. Similar to the way our world of our dreams is an actual real place, sort of. Blood Raven can actively access this world, where injuries and pain can magically go away.


Posted by: Darkness Eternal Dec 21 2019, 06:42 AM

3.8: As I've mentioned before . . . Blood Raven has such an eloquent way of speaking. This is captured well with Jan's thoughts:

'Perhaps it was Gaelic? It sounded ancient, primal, and wild. It was the kind of thing that she imagined might have been shouted on Beltane or Samhain from stone circles that crowned shadowed hills.'
Her knowledge in Celtic magic is fascinating. Does this count as, well, Blood Magic? It was refreshing to see Blood Raven use her abilities to siphon and take away Stormcrow's pain. Its a more positive and selfless way of using one's powers that are sometimes(and mistakenly) associated with a shade.

'She also found herself hoping that Blood Raven did not have HIV, or HPV, or any of a host of other blood-borne diseases.'
Ha, that would, as the saying goes, totally suck.

'She was like a goddess who walked among mortals. Powerful, stunning, dangerous, inexplicable, and ever remote. She did not live in the same world they did, and made no attempt to hide that fact. Even at her most beneficent, like now, she still remained isolated, apart from the rest of the world.'

Perhaps this is for the best. Blood Raven's presence is noted and definitely revered by Stormcrow. You do a tremendous job maintaining this sort of mystery behind her while still showing her power. As a sort of amateur writer, I personally struggle with this embarrased.gif

Again, wow. Stormcrow's lungs are working in tip-top-shape and she's ready for action.

'In the end all she could manage was a strangled, embarrassing grunt and a hurried nod.'
Was she fangirling? I think she was fangirling laugh.gif

P.S . . . love the nod to Conan the Barbarian cool.gif

3.9: I wonder if Stormcrow will learn a thing or two of the Gaelic tongue. Another great chapter!

While Stormcrow has much to learn, I'm sure with Blood Raven's restorative abilities and her recent heroism, she's well on her way to learning something new perhaps, about herself? More on the hero she looks up to? There's more to Stormcrow, isn't there? I'm getting way to ahead of myself here, lol.

Ah so Blood Raven sounds like Laura Bailey eh? I could listen to her all day . . . as a matter of fact I have. Serana is my number 1 companion in Skyrim laugh.gif Funny enough I tend to always imagine what my characters sound like. Raven(Decumus) has what we know as an English/British accent, also known as a Nibenese accent in lore laugh.gif

Stormcrow asks some good questions about BR's abilities. I wouldn't envy her either to be quite honest.

Posted by: SubRosa Dec 21 2019, 05:15 PM

Acadian: January is a nice person at the core. She cares about other people, because she can feel empathy for their pain. But she also takes her supering very seriously. She sees protecting people as her #1 priority. That is what her slowly coalescing Stormcrow Doctrine will be founded upon. So when someone is injured as badly as Ken Reeve was, she not only feels bad for their pain, she takes it as a personal failure. She has to do better than that.

Jan most definitely plays D&D, though it is not her favorite game. We will learn more about her D&D character later this chapter in fact.

Thanks for spotting those nits. Fixed and fixed.

Darkness Eternal: I intentionally decided for January not to have any kind of breathing device. Her hagfish armor already makes her immune to fire (short of the sun at least). She needed to have a vulnerability in order for there to be some real danger in her going into the fire. Smoke inhalation was perfect, as it tends to kill more people in fires than the actual fire itself. That allowed me to show her really struggling and hurting, while still going on.

Blood Raven is Irish, so her magic tends to run toward the Gaelic end of the spectrum. She is a second generation immigrant, so she does not have the Irish accent. Her posh and polished way of speaking does come from her upbringing. We will learn more about that in the future.

She definitely has a real talent for blood magic, as well as 'regular' magic. Its in her name after all! Later we will see just why she has such an ability for sensing and manipulating blood.

Laura Bailey has a wonderful, husky voice. It is like she is always sighing. I wish I could find something of her playing a 18th or 19th century lady, as that would be perfect. Serana is also my favorite npc in Skyrim, because of her voice. I loved her in Fallout New Vegas as well. Kate Beckinsale has that wonderful sense of polish to her voice, which makes her work for Blood Raven as well. She could read those lines and it would be spot on as well.

I like putting Stormcrow and Blood Raven together. As a superhero, January is all kinds of awesome. But when compared to Blood Raven, she clearly has a long way to go. That helps keep January down to earth and not feeling too uber. Blood Raven OTOH, is packed full of amazing. But she too, has a lot to learn from January, as we will see in the future. The two of them really complement one another.


January might pick up some Gaelic words, but probably not much. She already knows English and Old Norse, and a little bit of Spanish.

Renee: I heard that Laprimma Donnagh's a real prima donna. But that might just be catty talk from jealous rivals... wink.gif January will probably be migrating to Skyrim once her current adventures in Oblivion-land are finished. So she might bump into Laprimma there. Unless she goes to Fallout instead.

Blood Raven's healing was inspired by the game Earthdawn. Its Cavalryman discipline (basically class) has a talent called Blood Share. It allows the character to transfer damage between themselves and their mount. Given Blood Raven's ability for using blood magic, it was a natural fit.

I really liked your idea of alternate realities, and bridging the gaps between universes. Magic is after all the ability to change reality.

Chapter 3.10 - Stormcrow Burning

By now the fire had nearly burned itself out. While they had not been able to stop it, the firefighters had prevented the blaze from spreading to other buildings. Now with nothing left to burn, the conflagration was sputtering out beneath their hoses. There was little left behind. Just the shell of the cinderblock walls, and the gutted piles of ash and soot within.

"Well, look who finally showed up."

A fireman's words brought January's head back around. She noted more vehicles pulling up, including the first police cars. The Detroit cops spread out, and began pushing back the crowd that had gathered to watch. January also noticed several news vans already on the scene, and numerous cameras and reporters buzzing around the outskirts of the event, like electrons orbiting a nucleus.

The first of the new arrivals to walk up was not a police officer or a reporter however. Rather he was a fire marshal. At least that is what it said on the side of the car he had gotten out of. The marshal was a short, dark-haired man who wore a frown like an old time detective did a fedora and trenchcoat. He was clad in a fireman's coat and boots, and carried one of their helmets in one hand.

"Give us another minute and the scene is yours Harold," the captain of the firefighters said to him.

"Take your time Mike," the new man - Harold - replied. He glanced at Blood Raven, then turned his eyes to January. "Did they change the uniforms for probies?"

"You could say that," the fire captain's younger sidekick - a lieutenant? - grinned. "What do you say boys, should the Blackbirds be honorary members of Engine 66?"

A cheer rose from the assembled firemen, many of whom were still drifting back from the gutted ruin of the building.

"You should'a seen this one Harry!" a fireman proclaimed as he pointed to January. "Jumpin' straight into the flames, and jumpin' back out again with people under her arms, snatched 'em from the jaws of death itself!"

"Hey is it true you'se a lesbo?" another yelled loudly.

"Fredo, what did I say about talk like that!" the fire captain snapped. He rolled his eyes at January. "Don't listen to him. He's not housebroken yet."

"Hey, I'm not a homophone or nothin'!" Fredo insisted.

"I got a sister, she's one of them lesbianese girls too. I can hook you up. You'se can go to the Pride Fest thing that's coming up. We always go. She's a got a pair of you know what's that's out of this world! Know what I'm sayin'?" The gesture Fredo made with his hands over his chest made it very clear what he was saying. "And her lasagna, mama mia it's the best you ever had! Even better than my grandma's, God rest her soul."

January actually heard Gadget laughing through her earpiece.

"I'm sure she's nice," January found herself saying. "But I don't really have time for dating."

She turned to the fire marshal - Harold. "When I was in there, I saw a bunch of gas cans. Big ones. I can show you where."

"With all due respect miss, we'll take it from here." It was not Harold that replied, but a policeman with captain's bars on his shoulders. Like the fire captain, his hair and mustache were going gray. Unlike the fireman, his eyes lacked kindness. Those eyes roved over January like a vulture on the hunt for rotting meat. They turned to Blood Raven, and bored into her like a pair of laser drills.

Blood Raven stared back at the new arrival and crossed her arms. Even though her face was covered by her cowl, there was no mistaking the air of contempt that she conveyed. It was clear to January that the two knew one another, and that there was no love lost between them.

"I'm sure you were most helpful." The police captain broke the stare down first, and turned back to face January. "But the proper authorities will take over from now on. The fire marshal will determine if there is a case for arson, and investigate further if he does."

"Captain Braddock, we were-" the fire captain began to say before being cut off by the newcomer.

"I believe your men are finished here Captain Henderson," the police captain interjected. "My men will take over the scene. We will see to it that protocol in enforced."

The fire captain gritted his teeth, as if chewing over what he was he might say in reply. He concealed it better than Blood Raven, but January could still see that he was no fan of this police captain either. Braddock, she made a note to remember that name. She had the feeling she might run afoul of him again someday.

"Seriously, come by the Engine and break bread," Fire Captain Henderson turned from the police man to January. He clapped a friendly hand to her back. "Fredo might lack social graces, but he makes the best fettuccini you've ever eaten. We'll take some selfies, post 'em on Instantbook, or whatever it's called, and I can show my grand-daughters that I met the real Stormcrow."

"You're on Cap," January could not help but smile. The simple goodwill of the firefighters, while rough, stood in stark contrast to the cold hostility of their police counterparts. She told herself that the behavior or these particular individuals did not speak for all within their respective organizations. But at the moment, it did not feel that way.

The firemen began to roll up their hoses and put their gear away. In the meantime January noted that Blood Raven, with a total disregard for the police, was already floating through the ruin of the Flying Dutchman. The fire marshal followed at her heels, silently observing everything around him.

January took a moment to look back to the police captain, who was visibly scowling at the older superheroine's back. She told herself that she should be building bridges, forging alliances. She had evidently done so with the firemen, without even trying. But a voice deep in her head reminded her that some people refused to be reached, no matter how many olive leafs were sent their way. In the end she knew that she did have an alliance to forge, and it was more important than one captain in the Detroit PD.

She followed Blood Raven into the ruin.

"Watch where you step," the fire marshal reminded her. His tone was not antagonistic, just a reminder. "All of this is evidence. Some of it might be used in court someday. Watch where I step, and follow along. You'll get the hang of it."

January nodded. This Harold character seemed like a decent sort, as the fire captain was. He was someone she could learn from. There was so much to all of this she still did not know.

"So are you police or fire department?" January asked him.

"Detroit Fire Department ma'am," Harold answered. "But I am a sworn law enforcement officer as well. I carry a firearm, and if I find 'em, I arrest 'em."

January chewed that over while she carefully moved through the wreckage.

"There's those gas cans." She pointed out the jerry cans she had found before. The paint had been scorched from their steel frames, and all of their caps were open.

A glance to the side revealed the hole she had smashed through the wall to escape with the burning man. Had that been just minutes ago? It seemed like forever. In fact, the burned out and water-logged wreckage of the Flying Dutchman felt like a different world from the one she had first stepped into, perhaps a half hour before.

Blood Raven picked one of the cans up, and closed her eyes. January could see her lips moving in a silent chant or song. Once again, a magic circle comprised of Celtic symbols leapt into brilliant life around her feet. This time they were of shining gold, like the warm rays of the sun slanting through an afternoon window.

They had been red before, when she had done her healing. Perhaps it was the blood in the magic then that had turned the color scarlet?

In any case, January once again felt the power, resonating through her bones. The magic - if that is what it was - seemed to call out to her. To awaken something slumbering deep inside her. Until tonight she had thought of the Wiccan/Neo-Paganism books she had been reading as just self-help. A new way in addition to yoga to help her visualize her goals and center herself. She had not really put much stock in the magical and religious aspects of it. Not outside the pure coolness factor of goddesses like Freyja and Hecate of course. Was there more to it than she had ever guessed? Was that what focused her metahuman abilities?

The flame-haired heroine took off one glove, and ran her bare hand across one of the cans. She sniffed at it, like a bloodhound getting a scent. Then she leaned her head back, as if to drink it all in.

"This was the working of a man," she said in a low, distant tone. "A young man. An angry man. A rejected man. 'he'll get her back', 'he'll take her back', 'he'll teach her a lesson'."

With that the glowing symbols faded away. Blood Raven put the jerry can back exactly where she had taken it from, and stared out the gutted entrance of the building.

"The fire shall have destroyed any physical evidence the killer left behind," she said. "But there are yet options possessed of us."

"Killer?" The fire marshal said. "We haven't found any bodies yet."

"Right behind you Harold, against the north wall," Blood Raven said calmly.

January followed the marshal's gaze to that spot, just a few feet away. She saw nothing there but a pile of detritus: burned out building materials and pieces of furniture. Then she realized that some of the shapes she saw there were bones, wrapped tight with charred and shrunken flesh. She traced out one outline, then another. There were at least two bodies there, burned beyond all recognition.

January steeled herself. She felt her stomach jump, but held it down. She would not be sick. She was not going to throw up in front of the old time superhero. Or in front of the fire marshal. She was better than that. Stronger than that. Tougher than that. She was a Viking after all.

She mastered the roiling of her guts. But she could not deaden her heart. Who had they been? What were their final thoughts? What lives would they have had? Who was left behind, to mourn their loss, and wonder why?

The analytical, logical part of January's brain realized that they were at the very front of the building, in a little corner that might have been a bathroom. It was between the front door and the stairs leading up to the second floor. Next to it was what she had taken for a kitchen during her initial foray into the building. That area had already been consumed in flame when she had arrived. It was the spot where flames and electricity had exploded out, and sent her flying back deeper into the building.

Clearly the fire had started there, or very close by. January wondered if they had been dead before it had begun. Perhaps they had caught the arsonist in the act, and been killed by him? Or had they simply been in the wrong place, and been overcome by the smoke and fumes before anyone realized what was happening?

"Stormcrow, I've got something." Gadget's serious voice spoke into her ear. "I'm in the camera system of the business across the street. I've got a partial picture of a truck leaving just before the fire started. A black and red Chevy Avalanche. Looks like early 2000s."

"Got it," January said crisply. She pushed the human cost of the crime down within her. Deep down, where she could bury those feelings behind locked doors named Duty and Justice. Because of course, that was so healthy. But it worked, at least for now.

She walked out toward the street, taking care of where she stepped. Blood Raven floated through the air behind her, and landed gently on the sidewalk beside her.

"Will you see this through with me?" the scarlet and black-clad heroine asked. "Or are you content to let the 'proper authorities' investigate?"

"I am in it to the end," January balled her hands into fists. Anger flared inside her. White hot anger. It gushed over those locked up feelings of guilt and sorrow and smothered them as certainly as a firehose would a bonfire.

"I have a clue," Blood Raven nodded. "A Chevrolet Avalanche. But no license plate number. We will need to interview the survivors. It may be that someone will recognize that conveyance."

January's ears pricked up at the identification of the truck. Did Blood Raven have her own computer specialist snooping around the local cameras, like Gadget? Well of course she did. How could anyone be a super these days without a hacker - silently and invisibly - watching their back online?

"They said they had been taken to the hospitals," January thought aloud. "We could ask the police to get in touch with them. But I don't think Captain Feldercarb here will be too cooperative."

"He will not," Blood Raven agreed, "And it is too soon to simply hack their reports. They have not been written and filed yet."

"I have an idea," January said. "Gadget, can you get me in touch with Emilia?"

"Got it," he said. "I'm putting her through now."

"Trooper Mercado," her voice came over January's earpiece a moment later.

"Hi trooper!" January said in her usual perky, phone voice. She was going to have to work on that, to sound more professional. "This is Stormcrow. I was wondering if you might be able to do me a teensy, weensy, little favor?"

"More stolen metal?" the Puerto Rican woman asked. "You know we had to get a semi-truck to carry off that stuff the last time."

"No, not metal, people," January insisted. "We need to talk to some people. I was hoping you could open some doors, get some communication going. You know, in a police to police sort of way."

"Oh no, what now?" January heard the sound of muffled voices rise up in the background, and realized that it was a news report. "Oh, the fire. I can see you on Channel 4."

January turned to look around, and saw the news team across the street. Their camera was pointed right at her. She could not resist the urge to wave.

"Can we meet up?" January asked. "We think the people we need to see are at the local hospitals, but I'm not sure which ones, or exactly who they are."

"Am I the only cop you know?" she sighed.

"Well, now that you mention it…"

"How can I say no to my friendly neighborhood Super Crow?" Trooper Mercado replied. "It's not like I'm doing anything anyway. I'll text you when I get close."

Posted by: Acadian Dec 21 2019, 08:18 PM

The banter about homophones and lesbianese girls was hilarious!

I was glad to see January steel herself herself to the necessity of building bridges and alliances – despite Police Captain Stick-in-the-mud. Sure enough, later in the episode when she called Trooper Mercado, we see the wisdom of her thinking.

Very cool how Blood Raven coaxed that gas can into telling her its story. It seems clear to me that Blood Raven also sees the magic and potential within her young ally.

’She mastered the roiling of her guts. But she could not deaden her heart. Who had they been? What were their final thoughts? What lives would they have had? Who was left behind, to mourn their loss, and wonder why?’
- - This is exactly the kind of internal dialogue you have shown us to expect from January and her nurturing heart.

Nit? ’She had evidently had done so with the firemen, without even trying.’ - - Looks like a redundant ‘had’ remained from an edit.

Posted by: Renee Dec 23 2019, 04:42 PM

Chevy Avalanche. Not a Geo Metro or Pontiac Aztec this time. biggrin.gif

Uh oh, here come the cops. indifferent.gif I am pro-cop IRL mostly, Maryland cops have helped me a couple times, but I can't help but think that with January...

Because you see, it's not that they're going to arrest her, but I imagine there's some professional turfing about to go on. Like, when the FBI takes over from county cops.

Blood Raven is floating. Interesting. I know how this feels. I had a dream last week in which I was floating amongst a bunch of college students, trying maybe to impress them. I was semi-lucid in this dream. It's an awesome feeling if you've ever encountered it, Florens. At the end of the dream I wound up high above some sort of gigantic underground "quad" area where all the students were gathered far below. I fell from a precipice I had been standing on, but managed to grab a golden chain. That was the only thing which prevented me from falling fifty feet of so. indifferent.gif Apparently I had lost my ability float. Anyway, I began thinking "I could just let go of this chain and fall to the ground.... I'll simply wake up then. No pain." But i chose not to do this. Instead, I mustered all my Strength, and climbed up the golden chain.

She was not going to throw up in front of the old time superhero


Jan has a smile in her voice as she calls Mercado. smile.gif She can't help waving for the camera. smile.gif

Cool, so Raven and Crow are basically short-circuiting what would have been a longer, drawn-out investigation. Because normally for everyone to conclude this as a mass-homicide, what'd happen (as you know I'm sure) is it would take some time before everyone's on the same page, crime-wise.

We need these two superheros in Baltimore, as our murder rate has gone past 300 for the fifth year in a row.

Posted by: Darkness Eternal Dec 26 2019, 02:57 AM

People saved and firefighters cheering! I'd say a job well done(aside from the unidentified victims). Thanks to Stormcrow and Blood Raven! I'm sure they'll catch the killer.

'Hey, I'm not a homophone or nothin'!'
laugh.gif laugh.gif

This was a very fun exchange between them! I loved it!

'Those eyes roved over January like a vulture on the hunt for rotting meat. They turned to Blood Raven, and bored into her like a pair of laser drills.'
Good description here. I can already tell Captain Braddock is not good news. Its amazing how well we can detect the assholes that come about. Braddock sure fits the bill here, so far.

Blood Raven's abilities continue to surprise as her runes turn a different shade upon inspection. She can detect the aura/nature of a person's residue it seems. That's a fascinating ability to have.

I was wondering our trooper friend from the mall attack would appear again! She's great! The investigation is on!

Posted by: SubRosa Dec 28 2019, 05:14 PM

Acadian: Fredo was a ton of fun to write. We will hear more about his sister and her... ahem, and chapter 5.

People often refer to "The Government" or "The Police" and so on, as if they were monolithic organizations in which every member was a essentially a zombie or robot, mindlessly following its programming, and most of all, them all acting in complete concert. The reality is that governments are formed of individuals, and every one has their own agendas, and they often do not work together, but actively against one another. That is what I am going for with the police and later state government in the Stormcrow fic. They are made up of individuals acting on their own imperatives. Some of them will naturally become January's allies, because their agendas mesh. Some will be opposed to her for the opposite reason.

Blood Raven sees a lot in January, not just potential. That will all come out at the end of this chapter, and run all through Chapter 4.

January always emphasizes with people, especially when tragedy strikes.

Thanks for finding my extra 'had', I have had enough of it!

Renee: One of these days I will have a modern car, I promise!

January does not personally have any history with the police at all. Of course she does have one with other authority figures, especially in school. Queer people in general however, have a long and really bad history of being victimized by the police. Stonewall is something we celebrate because it was the first time we stood up against police brutality. I remember once telling my therapist how I walked into a police station during a festival on city hall grounds, asked the desk sergeant where the bathroom was, and went and used it. Big deal right? For a transperson, that is like walking into a lion's den.

In chapter 5 I will have the opportunity to contrast how January, Lighthammer, and Blood Raven fly. Each is very different. Blood Raven is more like Magneto or Captain Marvel. She just ignores gravity completely, with no obvious means of propulsion. She floated into the ruins of the Flying Dutchman in particular so she would not accidentally step into evidence. It's just an example of how she is an old hat at this.

Sooner or later Jan's good nature always shines through. Like being on TV. smile.gif

You called it. Jan and Blood Raven are basically taking the fast track to solving this case, where it would normally take weeks of mundanely sorting through mountains of evidence by the fire marshal. That does get pointed out later in the chapter, a few posts after today's.

You folks in Baltimore are we Detroiter's perennial rivals for murder capital and most violent city in America. Along with St. Louis. All three of our cities need superheros. That is one of the reasons I set the Stormcrow fic here in the D.

Darkness Eternal: No homophones here!

I envision Captain Braddock and Blood Raven as having a long and dubious history of acrimony. Something Stormcrow herself is going to have to get used to in the future. Not everyone appreciates supers, especially particular ones.

Blood Raven has been doing this for a long time, most of it without any help from the police. So it stood to reason that she would have developed some purely investigatory abilities. I went to the old ESP standard of psychometry to give her a way to get clues - however vague - from a crime scene. We will see a similar ability for gathering information in today's episode.

I created Trooper Mercado with the idea of her being the Jim Gordon to January's Batman. She's the ally in the police whom Jan can turn to for help. So she will be a regular feature in the Crow Tales.

You can find Detroit Receiving Hospital on the

Chapter 3.11 - Stormcrow Burning

"You arrived most expeditiously to the scene of the fire," Blood Raven observed. "You must have been nearby."

They stood in the underground parking lot of Detroit Receiving Hospital. A mountain of concrete hovered above their heads, lay beneath their feet, and closed in from all sides. The air that moved gently through the subterranean space was cool, and smelled vaguely of gasoline fumes and old oil. All around them were cars and trucks, angled into row after row of parking spaces.

"I was at Hart Plaza," January said. "In fact, I saw you there. The whole city did."

"Yes, the electronic… music festival." Blood Raven replied. She did not seem to easily equate electronic with music. That seemed to be the case with a lot of people her age. That made January wonder just what her age might be. Blood Raven had literally been superheroing since before she had been born. She had imagined her to be older than her mother. But the skin that was not covered by her armor looked untouched by the tracks of time.

"So you were there? For the entire night?" Blood Raven continued to press.

"Yes," January said. She began to feel like she was being interrogated. "We got there in the afternoon, around five. I didn't leave until I heard about the fire. Long after you left. Why?"

"I am simply curious."

"Uh huh," January nodded along. "Does this have something to do with what you were chasing?"

"What should make you think I was chasing something?" Blood Raven asked.

"I saw you. I felt you, and it," January said honestly. "I don't know what that was. But you felt it too. You went after it. I would have too, but I had no idea what it even was, or how to find it."

"I suspected it might have been you," Blood Raven admitted. "But I left the scent of your blood behind me at the festival, and there was no trace of you when I brought the monster to bay."

"I felt it," January frowned. The Monster? That accounted for the claw marks in Blood Raven's armor. "It made my stomach want to turn inside out. What was it?"

"A story for another day," Blood Raven deflected.

January noted that she seemed to do that quite a bit.

A yellow Jeep pulled into the lot. January slid away from the concrete post that she had been leaning against, and stood attentively. She recognized it as Emilia's. January motioned for Blood Raven to follow, and walked over to meet the state trooper. She noted that the other woman's arm was still in a cast, but at least no longer held by a sling.

The state trooper stepped out of the Jeep. She took one look at Blood Raven and her face turned hard as the concrete that surrounded them.

"You didn't say she was part of this," Emilia said.

"She wasn't on the TV as well?" January furrowed her brows. Not just at the other woman's surprise, but also at her reaction. It was not as decidedly frozen as Captain Braddock's had been. But it was far from warm either.

"The local stations avoid showing me on the air," Blood Raven explained. "The Detroit Police Chief revokes the press credentials of any reporter who does."

"What, that's crazy?" January sputtered. "They can't… Why?"

"It might have something to do with all the people your new friend has killed," Emilia said. "It kind of sits bad with some folks."

"She-" January let her words die off. She remembered that conversation about Blood Raven around the breakfast table just a few weeks ago, the morning after her first outing as Stormcrow.

"How many people has she killed in just the last decade? A dozen?"

"Like that maniac who walked into the Ren Cen and just started shooting people? Or the ones who were kidnapping young girls and selling them overseas? The world's a better place without them in it."

"Is this going to be a problem?" January found her hands falling to her hips, arms akimbo. She did not mean to get antagonistic. But the fact was Blood Raven had been there when she needed her most, had even healed her seared lungs. Also, the truth was, deep down, she did not really feel bad that she had killed people like mass shooters or sex slavers either. Maybe she was supposed to care. But she didn't.

Emilia looked from Blood Raven to January, and back again. She seemed to be weighing her thoughts.

"I am asking you for help to catch a murderer," January said. "I am not asking you to like her, or agree with her. This isn't about you, or her, or me, it's about the two people who died tonight."

"We may effect a solution on our own," Blood Raven interjected. "I have been protecting this city for half a century, with little to no aid from the police."

"But that's not me." January whirled around to face the older woman. She respected her. But she did not have to agree with her. "We should all be lifting each other up, not tearing each other down."

"I once heard a man say that a house divided against itself cannot stand," Blood Raven nodded. "That is why I am still standing here with you."

"Okay," Emilia relented. "I'll help. But if I'm in, I am in all the way. We do this by the numbers. We gather evidence, we make a proper arrest, the perp goes to trial, no legal loopholes."

"Of course, that's one reason I called you," January agreed. "You can actually arrest him."

"Lead the way." Blood Raven smiled faintly, and held out a hand to the elevators.

They followed Emilia into the hospital. While she was not in uniform, the state trooper had her badge slug around her neck, to clearly identify her. With just a few quiet words with the nursing staff she learned where the survivors of the fire had been taken. Once there, a few more quiet words with the police in the hall gained them passage into the wards where they were being treated.

Everyone stared of course. Even if they had just been cosplayers, they would have immediately grabbed the attention of onlookers. But Blood Raven had been a feature of the city for decades. Had she just said half a century? January made a mental note to look into that. She was not just a superhero, she was a legend. Everyone knew her on sight, and while someone might imitate her armor, there was no mistaking her presence. When you stood in the same room with her, and breathed the same air, you felt her, like a ghost walking over your grave.

January had only been at this super thing for a little less than a month. But people clearly recognized her as well. The name Stormcrow leapt from their lips. They smiled. They took pictures and videos. A few children even waved. She could not stop herself from waving back.

She also noticed the stark difference between how people looked at her, and how they looked at Blood Raven. They had cheered when the flame-haired superheroine was far away. Like the crowd at the music festival. But when they were up close, near enough feel the weight of her stare, and the aura of power that cloaked her, then things changed. No one waved to Blood Raven.

The survivors of the fire were mostly young, in their twenties, though some were perhaps twice that age. Their clothing and skin was blacked with soot and grime. Some were breathing through oxygen masks. Scrapes and bumps and bruises, and minor burns were common. None of their injuries appeared to be truly critical however.

Emilia led the way. She clearly knew what she was doing. She asked the survivors if there had been any fights before the fire had started in the Flying Dutchman. She asked if they or anyone else there had enemies. She left out the Chevy Avalanche. At least to start with. The few times someone did claim to have a beef with someone, she followed up by asking what kind of car they drove.

For the most part January simply stood back and let Emilia do all the talking. So too did Blood Raven. Occasionally she would show a greater interest, and probe with a deeper question. But for the most part both superheroines stood in the background while the state trooper took the lead.

Finally they spoke to a young black man who was clearly flustered. He kept checking his phone, and asking the nurses if a woman named Amanda had been admitted. Emilia learned that his name was Guy Charles, and that the woman he was so concerned about was his girlfriend, Amanda Paines. He had not seen her since before the fire started, and he was agitated because her ex-boyfriend had shown up just a half hour before, and started a screaming argument.

"What is this ex-boyfriend's name?" Emilia asked nonchalantly, as if she was simply asking the temperature outside.

"John something," Guy shook his head, eyes wandering out of focus as his thoughts turned inward. "John Gray I think."

"What kind of car does he drive?"

"A black and red Avalanche," Guy replied. "He's clearly over-compensating, you know?"

That conjured looks between the three women. Emilia made a phone call, and asked for info on Gray. While the state trooper was busy with the dispatcher, Blood Raven stepped forward and caught Guy's stare.

"Tell me about John Gray."

January not only heard the words, she felt them. They reverberated deep down in her chest, and vibrated through her bones. It was like standing in front of an amp when the music was turned up too high. You could feel the physical sound waves running through you. Yet Blood Raven's voice was low. It was not the sound she felt, it was something else, something much more powerful, and clearly not part of the mundane world.

She felt a steady, thumping beat. Bump-bump, bump-bump, bump-bump. It had a rhythm, that slowed down into a steady cadence. It was a heartbeat, and somehow she knew that it was Guy's.

"He's some d-bag from the East Side," Guy said in a quiet, almost robotic voice. His eyes were vacant, and his posture stiff, as if he was just a puppet on a motionless string. "Amanda broke up with him yesterday. He was freaking out when he saw me with her tonight. He said he would get her back. That he would take her back. He said if she didn't come with him, he'd teach her a lesson."

January recognized the same words that Blood Raven had spoken, when she had done her psychometry trick with the jerry can in the ruins of the Flying Dutchman.

"How long have you been courting Amanda?" Blood Raven asked.

January tried to suppress an eyebrow that wanted to curl up with Spockian incredulity. Who used words like "courting"? That reminded January that Blood Raven often mixed archaic words and phrases into her speech, as if she did not know what century it was.

"About a month," Guy responded. "She swiped right on me on Tinder. We hooked up. We kept seeing each other. She's amazing. I've never met another girl like her."

"When did you last see Amanda?"

"It was about twenty minutes, or maybe a half hour after the argument," Guy said. "She went to the bathroom. The fire started a few minutes after that. I couldn't find her. Then Stormcrow led me outside."

"Where was the bathroom?" Blood Raven probed deeper. "On the ground floor? Or upstairs?"

"On the ground floor," Guy replied. "Right by the front door."

January looked sharply at Blood Raven. That was where the two skeletons had been found.

Blood Raven followed with a few more questions, and had Guy produce his phone and give her Amanda's picture and details. January burned her face into her memory. Amanda was young, her own age. She had blond hair as well, but hers was more deeply orange in hue. It was also curly, a big mass of curls in fact, that hung down below her shoulders. She looked happy, carefree.

Was she dead now?

"Rest now, and relax," Blood Raven said to him. "When you think of Amanda, you shall remember the happiness you shared. Even should you never see her again, you will simply be glad for the time you had together. It was a blessing whose memory will warm you all of your days."

She passed a hand before his eyes, and he leaned back, and fell asleep.

"What was that?" Emilia stared in a mixture of horror and amazement.

"I have my own way of learning the truth of things," Blood Raven replied. "It can have a strong influence on those that lack discipline and resolve."

"Thank you Obi-Wan," January breathed. Blood Raven just stared at her, as if she did not know what that meant. Who in the world had not seen Star Wars? Or even just an Obi-Wan is Jesus meme?

"I have an address on John Gray," Emilia said, back to business. "I'm calling for a warrant right now. Hopefully we'll have it by the time we get there."

Posted by: Acadian Dec 28 2019, 08:07 PM

I think it is great that you are showing big organizations as a composite of their individuals, not so Borg-like as oft depicted. Stormcrow realizes she just has to seek those individuals that she can work with (like Trooper Mercado).

Some interesting girl talk in the opening as the two supers continue to evaluate each other.

"Is this going to be a problem?" January found her hands falling to her hips, arms akimbo. She did not mean to get antagonistic. But the fact was Blood Raven had been there when she needed her most, had even healed her seared lungs. Also, the truth was, deep down, she did not really feel bad that she had killed people like mass shooters or sex slavers either. Maybe she was supposed to care. But she didn't.’
- - First I love the pose that, for some reason, seems so familiar. . . . tongue.gif Ahh, Blood Raven is of an era when righteous justice was delivered without layers of bureaucracy – she would do well in Tamriel. I love how you set this scene up with Emilia and Blood Raven at odds with each other, forcing Stormcrow into the role of peacekeeper. To her credit, Stormcrow stood up to both women and convinced all that her proposed course of cooperation was the wisest path ahead. She definitely displayed high speechcraft (or that elusive 18 in charisma) here.

And Blood Raven demonstrates another of her spells. Like her healing, this one is both effective and somehow troubling. It makes me wonder if Blood Raven is a master of the illusion school of magic.

I wanted to say how much I’m enjoying this story. The passion you feel for January comes through strongly – making her a very endearing character. And you are building a wonderful cast of characters (Gadget, Blood Raven, Emilia. . . ) for her to interact with.

Posted by: Renee Jan 3 2020, 05:06 PM

Oh no, that's upsetting to hear. I know that's a huge controversy, which public bathrooms to use. sad.gif In Baltimore (for a long time) the most obvious trans people were hookers and occasional pole dancers. I imagine they had all sorts of struggles even if they weren't transgendered.

"Electronic music festival"... see, I heard her say this in a haughty tone. smile.gif Like she can't process this, so she sounds as though she's looking down upon the concept. Maybe even inadvertently.

(If you can't tell so far, I am rather fascinated with Blood Raven)

Uh oh. What's up with Mercado?

she did not really feel bad that she had killed people like mass shooters or sex slavers either

I don't feel bad either. Like, some of our real-life press is making a huge fuss about that guy.... um... Jeffery Epstein, and how he died under police custody. Like THAT is supposed to make me get riled up, not the fact that this guy was guilty of multiple child r4pes.

I like that there's tension between Jan and BR.

A few children even waved. She could not stop herself from waving back.

Aw, she's a sweetie!

Who in the world had not seen Star Wars?

Blood Raven might ask "Who in the world had not seen a Lord Chamberlain's Men production?" laugh.gif

Love this.

Posted by: SubRosa Jan 4 2020, 06:08 PM

Acadian: There will be more to that particular girl talk in chapter 4. A lot more.

That whole hands on hips is the default pose for ESO isn't it? laugh.gif

Blood Raven is definitely from an era of righteous justice, hand-delivered. She grew up in Boston of the 1770s. Mob violence and eventually armed rebellion were right in front of her eyes every day of her childhood. Trying to play nice for the cameras and spin opinion in the modern world are things she grapples with, sometimes quite badly. OTOH, she really knows how to chew the scenery, and create a spectacle to entrance others.

BR has some serious chops in illusion-style magic. It is kind of a necessity for her. But she does take it to a whole other level.

January has really become a way to channel my old love of comic books and superhero films, and turn them into something more modern and current. She and all her pals are a lot of fun to write about.

Renee: As we will later find out, Blood Raven is a musician herself. She learned to play the piano as a girl in Mrs. Gibson's Finishing School for Proper Young Girls. She picked up the violin later in life. A scandal, as it was something women just did not do at that time (the 1780s). In any case, she cannot wrap her brain around electronic and music.

I enjoyed the conflict between the three women in the last episode. They all definitely do not see eye to eye with one another. But they all still came together in common cause. Which I think says a lot about all three of them.

I don't think anyone is upset that Epstein died. What they are upset about is that he magically died before he could implicate the other rich and powerful men who were part of his cabal.

Lord Chamerlain's Men indeed! Now that was good entertainment!

Chapter 3.12 - Stormcrow Burning

Before they could return to the parking garage, several people blocked their way. They wanted to thank Stormcrow for saving them, or their loved ones. January was dumfounded, and spent a moment smiling, shaking hands, and taking selfies with them. Then she quickly extricated herself and caught up with the other two women.

"If you are doing this for the adulation of the crowds, stop," Blood Raven declared. "It will only end badly, for you and for them."

"What was I supposed to do, bite their heads off? You know if you were a little nicer to people, they might trust you more, and maybe even help you sometime," January snapped back. Never meet your heroes, she thought. They will only disappoint you.

Blood Raven said nothing. She simply stared back at January.

"I am not doing this for fame," January sighed. "I am doing this because I know what it's like to feel helpless. I am doing this for all the people who cannot stand up for themselves."

"I sincerely hope that is so," Blood raven replied.

They crowded into Emilia's Jeep, and sped off into the night. Soon they pulled up to the apartment complex where he lived. His Avalanche was there in the lot. They spilled from their vehicle and made their way into his building with a crisp trot. There was still no reply to Emilia's request for a warrant. In moments they were at his door.

"Leave this to me," Blood Raven said. "I shall get the truth of matters from him."

"No!" both January and Emilia declared in unison. The state trooper continued on her own. "Arson cases are extremely difficult to prosecute. If you go barging in there you are just giving his defense attorney an opportunity to get him off."

"You speak truly. Arson cases are difficult to gain convictions for. If he is guilty, he is not likely to ever face justice for his crime." Blood Raven turned to January. "That is why I do what I do. Because no one else will stand for the people of this city."

"Not this time," January insisted. "I am not going to become a bloodthirsty vigilante right out of the gate. Do you see how people look at you? They might hate me because I am a lesbian, they might hate me because I am trans. But I won't have them fear me because of something I have actually done. I won't give them the satisfaction."

"They will hate you and fear you regardless," Blood Raven sighed. "But you will have to learn that for yourself, will you not? Very well. We shall wait."

They waited. January wanted to pace. But she was not going to be one of those minds that lacked discipline and resolve. She closed her eyes, and ran through her elemental exercises in her head. That slowed her heart, eased her breathing, and washed some of the tension from her body. When she finally opened her eyes, she found Blood Raven staring back at her.

Emilia's phone chimed. She swiped its screen, and her lips blossomed into a smile.

"We have the warrant," she declared. "Let me make the arrest."

She knocked on the door, and stepped to one side, so that she was not standing directly in front of it. January had seen enough movies to know that was so if Gray shot through the door, it would not hit her. January glanced back, to the apartment door across the hall from Gray's. A gunshot might miss Emilia, but it would go straight into that home.

January stepped directly in front of the door.

She felt a hum of energy. Somehow she knew it was nothing physical. It was in her head. She glanced down, and saw golden light dancing around the tips of Blood Raven's fingers. It was the same shade of light as the force field she had used to hold up the ceiling of the Flying Dutchman. Clearly, she was thinking of defense as well.

There was no answer. Emilia knocked again. This time she identified herself as the police, and announced that she had a warrant to search the premises. There was still no reply.

"There are none living within," Blood Raven declared.

Emilia prepared to force the door. January stopped her with a wave of her hand. Instead she pulled out the electric lockpick that Gadget had built for her. It worked like a charm, and she heard the clack of the bolt shooting open a moment later.

January went in first. She was not sure what to expect. She believed what Blood Raven had said about there being no one in the apartment. No one alive at least. But her recent encounters with Isaac and Archie reminded her that not everyone had a beating heart, or blood flowing through their veins.

The apartment was a mess. Socks lay discarded on the floor, along with an empty glass stained white with a coating of dried milk. Bottles of beer were stacked on the coffee table in front of the television, which showed coverage of the fire, and a graphic saying that two dead were confirmed on the scene.

An odd shadow stretched across the floor. January followed it, to find the form of a man hanging from the ceiling fan in the kitchen. The table had been pushed out of the way, and a chair lay on its side beneath him. His eyes and tongue bulged, and his face was a mass of red blotches. The smell gasoline rolled off of him, stinging January's nostrils. He was completely still, like a rag doll suspended by its neck.

January closed her eyes. After everything that had happened, she had expected some sort of dramatic closure. A chase, a fight, a defiant declaration, followed by a single punch to the jaw and a wrap up to the case. But it turned out real life was not like a detective movie. Her mind went back to what her English Lit professor had said about Frankenstein. The real enemy was alienation, loneliness, and despair.

January sighed. Blood Raven picked up his phone, and waved a hand over the screen. Once again, January felt hum of power from the other heroine's fingertips. The phone immediately unlocked, and in moments she brought up a spate of texts to Amanda Paines that were alternately threatening and pleading. She handed the phone to January to see, but said nothing.

January heard Emilia call the Detroit Police, and request detectives and the coroner. While the state trooper's tone was nothing but professional, she could see the deflated look in her eyes as well. She glanced at Blood Raven. But the other woman was impassive, made of stone. She stared at the dead man, and finally spoke softly.

"Remember us - if at all - not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men"

January instantly recognized the T.S. Eliot poem. She had studied it in class of course. It certainly put words to how she felt: hollow, shapeless, colorless, a paralyzed force, a gesture without motion.

Blood Raven looked at January, but said nothing. After all, what was there to really say? She slid open the patio door and stepped outside. Then her body literally exploded into a conspiracy of ravens. Their wings were loud as thunder, and their rough voices a noisome racket on the wind. The cloud of jet-black corvids rose up into the sky like a black storm. Within moments they faded into the night, leaving no trace of Blood Raven in their wake.

"Damn," Emilia breathed. "How does she do that?"

"I don't know," January said. For a moment she forgot about all of the deaths, and just focused on the amazing transformation that she had witnessed. Now that was a mic drop! "But one day, I will."

Posted by: Acadian Jan 4 2020, 09:50 PM

"I am not doing this for fame," January sighed. "I am doing this because I know what it's like to feel helpless. I am doing this for all the people who cannot stand up for themselves."
- - Defend the defenseless. I wanted to cheer for January here – both for her principles and her optimism in how she responded to the more cynical Blood Raven. Yes, Blood Raven has encountered much disapproval during her long life. . . but so has January during her short life.

I liked how Blood Raven turned Emilia’s concern regarding following proper procedures lest they lose a conviction into the fact that Blood Raven’s objective was not a conviction – but justice.

You really shined here by showing each woman acting per their nature - yet toward a common goal.

What they discovered in the apartment of ‘Red Avalanche’ was anticlimactic but accomplished the objectives of all three women.

’Then her body literally exploded into a conspiracy of ravens. Their wings were loud as thunder,…’
- - What a spectacular exit! I found it very appropriate that January referred to it a mic drop – a phrase that would flow naturally from her, yet be unfamiliar to those several times her age. Like Blood Raven. Like me. wink.gif

Nit: ’January followed it, to find the form of {a?} man hanging from the ceiling fan in the kitchen.’

Posted by: Darkness Eternal Jan 6 2020, 02:26 AM

Somehow I can't imagine Blood Raven listening to electronic music. I agree with Storm on this one.

Great exchange between Blood Raven and Stormcrow.

"A story for another day," In Subrosa, I trust. I'm Blood Raven will tell this story, and not pull a J.J Abrams.

'She remembered that conversation about Blood Raven around the breakfast table just a few weeks ago, the morning after her first outing as Stormcrow.'

I remember this conversation too. The one she had with her father over vigilantes taking laws into their own hands? Being from an era with less politics and more action, I'm sure Stormcrow understands Blood Raven's stance on crime, and the harsh hammer that must fall.

There is a nice contrast between the two heroes and you continue to show us as they spend more time together. Blood Raven's note of Storm's treatment of the fans was noted, just as we, once again, realize that Jan's doing this because she knows its the right thing to do. To support those that need it, and not for fame.

"They will hate you and fear you regardless. But you will have to learn that for yourself, will you not? Very well. We shall wait."
She has a point here. In a world full of hate, fear, distrust and intolerance, Jan will have to learn how to navigate through these crazy times. Being a superhero is not without a price, but one Stormcrow is indeed willing to pay for the betterment of others.

Posted by: Renee Jan 8 2020, 06:58 PM

After I posted last week, I remembered Jan is an English Major. So chances are if Blood Raven retorted with "You haven't heard of Lord Chamberlain's Men" Jan would be able to 1-up the Raven. biggrin.gif "Their company exited toward the early 1600s...." Oh, snap.

Yes, ladies were meant to play the harpsichord. The spinet. The lute (I think, maybe I'm wrong. Pretty sure I've seen some Renaissance pictures showing females playing lutes though).

Uh oh. Somebody's going to recognize January from all these selfies! Hmm maybe not. I forget if her headgear covers her face, or how much of her face it covers.

Blood Raven has Detect Life. bluewizardsmile.gif And there she goes, as a flock of fowl.

See, they've found a body, but IS IT the arsonist? *dun dun dunnnn*

Posted by: SubRosa Jan 11 2020, 06:04 PM

Acadian: Those last two episodes that put Jan, Emilia, and BR together were a joy to write. I was able to clearly define each character simply through their interactions, with each acting true to their natures. I was also pleased to show that you can disagree with someone, and still respect them, and work with them for a greater purpose. It just takes ethics and a commitment to something above your own ego.

I never thought of Red Avalanche as being a super name. It is a good one! Maybe I can use it for a Soviet hero from WWII. Red Storm is another good one. Red goes pretty well with anything. Except maybe urine. Red Pee would be a disturbing find.

Blood Raven's spectacular exit was of course lifted from the Prophecy movies, where Gabriel does the same thing. I guess it has always been lodged somewhere back in my brain.

Thank you for finding the nit. Even with all the extra drafts I am doing on the Crow, some still slip by.

Darkness Eternal: Blood Raven is a Classical and Jazz music fan, or the old fashion lounge singers from the 30s and 40s.

That story of what Blood Raven was chasing will take center place in chapter 4. It is just the tip of a very big iceberg that will be revealed then.

January's difficulties with navigating the modern world will be shown often, and her wrestling with the ethical conundrums that come with the age we all live in.

Renee: January would know about Lord Chamberlin's men, and of course Shakespheare. Though I don't think she likes his stuff much. The language alone is difficult to get through.

Blood Raven would have learned on the harpischord. I read that the first piano fortes were coming to America right around the time of her childhood, but she would not have had the opportunity to play one then. She prefers an actual piano these days, for the fuller, richer sound, and the way the notes reverberate for a longer time. We will later learn that in her past life (when she was actually alive), she and her husband owned a tavern. That is when she learned to play the violin, as it would have been much more to the tastes of her patrons, and a lot cheaper.

January's mask covers all of her face except her mouth and lower jaw. So she can eat or drink. So no worries about being recognized.

A lot of Blood Raven's powers are your standard vampire fare. I actually looked through my old Vampire the Masquerade books to get some ideas for things she could do with blood. We will see a spectacular one in chapter 4.

I was not really thinking that 'Red Avalanche' might be a fall guy. I wrote it a straightforward crazy ex-boyfriend turned violent piece. I could still go the way of some other mastermind behind it all. But I think I am going to stick with the original plan, because I have someone else in mind for a master villain orchestrating events from behind the scenes. He is back there already, we just do not know it yet. He won't be revealed until chapter 4. But given your idea, I did go back and try to add some more cursory evidence that Red Avalanche was the real killer.

This is one of the things I like about posting here. Feedback like this helps me immensely, because I cannot look at the story from every angle, so I miss opportunities sometimes. Having other people to point them out is a great help!

Chapter 3.13 - Stormcrow Burning

"So how do you deal with it?" January asked. "He kills them, then himself. It all just seems so pointless. Like Shakespeare said: it's a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

"Alcohol, lots of alcohol," Emilia replied. "Look, this is the hardest part of the job. The truth is when someone is dead there is no real point or reason that makes it better. Whether it's accidental, or random, or filled with passion, or cold and calculated, in the end, dead is dead. All those tomorrows lost forever."

They walked away from Gray's apartment complex. The Detroit Police had taken over the scene, leaving nothing left for them to do. The parking lot glowed with spinning red and blue lights. There were police cars, an ambulance, and the medical examiner's van. The news crews were just arriving as well.

January did not feel like being on television right now. At first it had been a thrill. But now every time a camera was pointed at her, she felt like an actor on a stage, playing a role. She was keenly aware of how people might interpret her part, or worse misinterpret it. A lifetime on the internet had taught her how quickly people were to read whatever they wanted into even the most innocuous of statements or actions. Not to mention how easily quotes and edited videos could deliberately be portrayed out of context in order to make someone look bad.

Maybe the Detroit Police were doing Blood Raven a favor, by scaring the local media away from her? Didn't that just give her carte blanche to quietly do her work in the shadows?

"Want to grab a beer?" Emilia asked.

It was late, and January was exhausted. Now that the adrenaline from the fire and the investigation had long since worn off, her body felt like lead. A weariness that soaked her bones pulled at her eyelids. She was worn out. Worse from any workout or fight she had ever took part in.

Was this a debilitating side effect of the healing Blood Raven had worked upon her? Or was it just the night finally catching up with her?

She knew that she should just go home, and pass out in her bed. But the last thing she felt like doing was sleeping. The last thing she wanted was to be alone.

"I would love to." January glanced over at the nearest news van. "But wouldn't they love to put that on TV."

"Come back to my place then," the state trooper said.

"You're on."

January followed the Puerto Rican woman to her Jeep. She was thankful for the darkness, for none of the news crews noticed them in all the hullabaloo. They sped off into the night with Jennifer Lopez playing over the speakers. January wanted to laugh. What could be more stereotypical? At least it wasn't country.

"So are they all like this?" January turned her eyes from the streets sliding by, and looked at the other woman.

"No," Emilia said. "They usually aren't so... grim, nor so quick."

"To be honest, the two of you really shouldn't have been involved. You should leave this kind of thing to the regular police." Emilia continued after a long pause. "Oh, I don't mean the fire. Disasters like that are exactly what capes like you are best at. That and fighting other metas of course. But regular police work, following up on leads and making arrests, it's better if you leave that to people like me."

"I thought we could help," January wanted to pout, but hoped that she was not doing so. "We got the type of car he had, and Blood Raven did her... whammy... to find out who the killer was."

"We would have gotten all that eventually, and it all would have held up in court," Emilia contended. "The product of metahuman power use is not admissible as evidence. Defense attorneys love seeing capes. You guys are great at punching things, not so good at legally gathering evidence, or upholding their client's civil rights."

"Well, that is why I called you," January said. "I wanted a real cop involved. One I could trust."

"Thank you," Emilia said. "That means, well, we don't always hear people say that. Please don't take this the wrong way. We need people like you out there. But there are some things that people like me still do better. Even supers with full legal empowerment - like the Sentinels over in Chicago - generally leave the actual police work to the police."

"Done," January said. "I like working with you."

"Well that made one of you," Emilia sighed.

"I think Blood Raven did too," January argued. "She may not have always agreed with you. But she did listen to you, the entire time."

"You like her don't you?"

"I grew up hearing stories about her," January shrugged. "She's as much a part of Detroit as the Tigers, or Better Made, or the Big Tire on I-94. I didn't know what to think of meeting her. She's even more larger than life than I ever could have imagined. But she's also more human than an urban legend ever could be. She's very standoffish, but also kind. She was very compassionate back at the fire, and to that man she did the mind trick on. She didn't have to be. She strikes me as being very alone. Like she does not dare to show people her heart."

"But you don' t like her much, do you?" Now it was January's turn to ask.

"I didn't say that," Emilia replied.

"You didn't have to," January contended.

"Look it's hard for a police officer to like someone who's killed so many people as her," Emilia sighed. "Yes, I was in the Army. I know that sometimes you do what you have to, and it doesn't make you evil. But when a vigilante is the person of interest in so many murders, well, it's hard."

"I'm a vigilante too," January pointed out.

"But you haven't killed anyone," Emilia said.

"That might change," January said. "I hope not. But this is real life, not a comic book. No one knows what is going to happen, or what choices we might have to make. I don't think anyone has the right to so easily judge her. There but for the grace of the goddess we all go."

Emilia's place was a small, red brick house in Hazel Park. It was barely a mile from January's own house in Warren. The furniture was simple, but tasteful. There was an image of the Virgin Mary on one wall, along with prints of a sunset beach, and a brilliantly colored traditional Spanish city street. Small throw pillows on the couch were decorated with the Puerto Rican flag. There were numerous pictures of people that must have been her family all about. If so, she had been right about what she said in the hospital. She had a big family.

The entire space had a very warm, inviting, and definitely Latin feeling. January found it immensely comfortable.

January noted several cd racks near the stereo. She drifted over to look at them, while Emilia took off her badge and gun and vanished into the kitchen. January could not believe that anyone had cds anymore. Or even a stereo. There was a tuner, a cd player, even a tape deck in the stack of electronics. She wondered if Emilia had a horse and buggy back in the garage?

Emilia returned with a two bottles of beer, and offered one to January.

"You know, technically I'm not old enough to drink this," the 19-year-old noted as she accepted one of the cold bottles.

"Take a walk on the wild side chica," Emilia laughed.

January took a sip, and immediately made a face.

"You people drink this stuff?" she gagged. "It's terrible."

Emilia laughed. "It grows on you."

January set the bottle down on a coaster. She noticed a framed picture of Emilia and a black woman with straightened hair and almond eyes. They looked very cozy together.

'Who is that?"

"That's Jennifer, my girlfriend." Emilia said proudly. "She's a teacher in Oak Park. I met her through work."

"I hope you weren't arresting her students!"

"Oh no," Emilia laughed. "For the last year I've been doing community service. I do a lot of outreach with kids, plus social media monitoring, and working with neighborhood watch programs, and other things."

"That actually sounds nice," January said.

"Yeah, before that I spent seven years on highway patrol, and two more as a detective," Emilia made a face. "It's not that bad most days. Except the times you have to peel someone off the highway, or pull the needle out of a dead addict's arm."

"That sounds gruesome," January winced. She immediately thought of the two corpses buried under ash and soot in the Flying Dutchman, and the oxygen-starved body of John Gray hanging from the ceiling.

"You learn to build a callus to it," Emilia shrugged. "Just keep calm and carry on like the Brits say."

Was she going to have to build that callus? Right now, it sounded good. But she wondered, how thick was Blood Raven's callus? Is that why she was so distant from people? Was she building up barriers on purpose to protect herself from emotional pain?

This was the problem with being a writer. It taught her to try to see every character's point of view and motivations, whether she really wanted to or not.

"You aren't going to drink that are you?" Emilia nodded to the beer, which had gone untouched since January had set it down.

"I'm sorry," January shook her head. "I guess I am just not a beer person."

"Well your waist will thank you for that," Emilia said. "I could look to see if I have any milk and cookies."

"Actually milk would be great," January said seriously. "It does a body good after all."

"Could you be any more Lawful Good?" Emilia laughed as she took the beer bottle back into the kitchen. "I suppose you ride a unicorn in your spare time?"

"That would be so cool!" January again said in all seriousness. "You know D&D though? You don't look like a gamer."

"My brother roped me into playing it a couple of times. That was back before I joined the Army." Emilia's voice floated out from the kitchen. "I thought it was kind of silly, playing make-believe with dice. I suppose you loved it right? Hey, do you like Dr Pepper?"

"Do I ever!" January said loudly, so her voice would be heard in the other room. She pulled down the front of her armored tunic. She fished out her new raven banner pendant and turned on the video camouflage unit built into it. Then she tucked it back under her armor before Emilia could return.

"You like D&D, or Dr P?" Emilia returned from around the corner with a can of the latter.

"Both," January said. "Dr P better though. I never liked the magic system in D&D. You cast a spell and then forget it? Magic doesn't work like that. To be honest, D&D's more like a gateway drug. You start with it because that's all anyone has ever heard of. Then you move on to much better games, like Shadowrun or Call of Cthulhu."

"I had you pegged for a nerd," Emilia smiled. "You have that whole smart, thoughtful, social awkwardness thing going, just like my brother Eduardo. Let me guess, you played a Paladin."

"Why thank you," January said as she accepted the can of pop. "I was always more partial to Monks however. I have a Kenku Monk named Harmony, or just Harm for short."

"A what-ku?" Emilia did not try to hide her consternation.

"It's like a humanoid crow, but without wings," January explained.

"Of course," Emilia made a show of face-palming. "I guess I should have seen that from a mile away."

"Let me guess, you were a Fighter?" January ventured.

"Close," Emilia said, "a Ranger. Eduardo showed me pictures of this Dark Elf guy with twin scimitars, and I thought that was pretty cool."

"Drizzt!" January exclaimed. "Yeah, he made everyone want to play a Drow, myself included."

"So do you see anything you like?" Emilia nodded to the music collection that January had parked herself in front of.

January looked back over the cds. She was tempted to remark how old they all were. But even a nerd like her knew that would not be very tactful. Then her eyes glowed when they settled upon a gem.

"You have Counting Crows?" she exclaimed. "I love them!"

"I should have known!" Emilia laughed, and gestured to the crow logo emblazoned across January's armor. "I suppose you like the Black Crows too"

"No," January shook her head. "They're just a bunch of stoners making noise."

She fished out the cd and put it in the player. Then cued it up to the fourth song. In a moment a guitar came strumming through the speakers, and she nodded along to the music.

"Let me guess, your favorite Counting Crows song is Mr. Jones!" Emilia laughed.

January stuck her tongue out at the older woman. "That's like the one they always played on the radio back in the day right? No, my favorite used to always be Long December."

"Isn't that kind of depressing?" Emilia asked, and took a swig from her beer.

"My friend Gadget says all their songs are depressing." January admitted. "But it always sounded hopeful to me."

"And it's been a long December and there's reason to believe,
Maybe this year will be better than the last.
I can't remember all the times I tried to tell my myself,
To hold on to these moments as they pass."

"You said used to," Emilia noted, "so what's your favorite now?"

"This is it," January nodded to the speakers. "Four Days. It always makes me think of flying."

"Take a breath,
Take your time,
Spread your wings and rise,
Rise into the black Ohio skies."

"So what's it like, flying?" Emilia asked more seriously.

"Awesome," January said plainly. "It is pure, unadulterated awesome. When I am in the sky, everything else just falls away. All puns intended. Sometimes I feel that I could soar to Valhalla."

"If you aren't careful, you just might," Emilia pointed out."

"That's fine with me. But I'd rather to go Sessrúmnir." January said honestly. She went on when it was plain that Emilia did not know what she was talking about. "It's Freyja's hall. She and her valkyrjur gather up the slain. She gives half to Odin, and those ones go to Valhalla. She keeps the other half in her own hall. Since she's a nice person, she even brings their loved ones back when they die too, so they all can spend the rest of eternity together."

"That is very thoughtful," Emilia nodded.

"She's a cool chick with a hot ass," January said completely deadpan. Emilia nearly sprayed a mouthful of beer all over her.

"Well, that's what I heard anyway," January winked.

"The Wedding Singer for the win," Emilia smiled. "You know, you're pretty cool too Crow. What do I even call you? Storm? Crow? Crowgirl?"

"Well I think calling me Storm might get me sued by a certain comic book company…" January whistled. "But I do kind of like Crowgirl. It has a nice feel to it."

"Crowgirl it is then," Emilia held up her beer bottle, and January clinked her Dr Pepper against it.

"So doesn't wearing that get up feel silly sometimes?" Emilia said exactly what January had been thinking ever since the hospital.

"When I am in a fight, or flying, or doing hero stuff, it feels completely right," January said. "It's like a Jedi wearing robes, or a knight in armor. It is armor in fact. But I do have to admit that times like this, it feels ridiculous."

With that she pulled back the cowl from her head, and bared her face to Emilia. The air on her skin felt good after being covered up for so many hours. She took a moment to shake her long blonde hair out of the cowl, and let if fall free as well. She swept it all to one side, leaving her eyes and face free.

Emilia goggled, "You didn't have to do that," she said. "I didn't mean to-"

"I'm sitting here in your house, drinking your pop, listening to your music, and I'm wearing a mask," January observed. "If we are going to have any kind of real relationship, it can't be through a mask."

"What if I take pictures, and post them on the internet?" Emilia teased.

"Go ahead," January said with utter confidence.

"I was only kidding," Emilia's tone became serious once more. "I would never endanger you, or your family like that."

"Here, I insist," January scooped up Emilia's phone, and turned it back on the both of them. She snapped a picture, and handed it back to the state trooper. The other woman stared in bemusement when she looked at the picture of just herself, and no one else.

"Video camouflage," January said. "My alignment isn't Stupid Good you know."

While January was sitting there feeling smug, she remembered something important.

"Oh snap! I need to text my mom to tell her I'll be out late!"

Posted by: Acadian Jan 11 2020, 08:06 PM

This was simply a wonderful episode, chock full of good one-on-one girl talk! I bet you had as much fun writing it as I did reading it.

The ladies covered a lot of ground over plenty of subjects, but the big news is that Crowgirl unveiled herself to a new and trusted friend.

That Emilia has a girlfriend both simplifies and complicates things – if that makes sense. As a blossoming superheroine, January has enough new things going on in her life right now. Emilia’s friendship, trust and connection to police stuff is plenty for now.

"Video camouflage," January said. "My alignment isn't Stupid Good you know." tongue.gif

Posted by: Darkness Eternal Jan 13 2020, 12:39 AM

This was a great chapter! The exchange between the two was very insightful, and I enjoyed reading it. Jan's thoughts here showed much of what's been happening.

"January did not feel like being on television right now. At first it had been a thrill. But now every time a camera was pointed at her, she felt like an actor on a stage, playing a role. She was keenly aware of how people might interpret her part, or worse misinterpret it. A lifetime on the internet had taught her how quickly people were to read whatever they wanted into even the most innocuous of statements or actions. Not to mention how easily quotes and edited videos could deliberately be portrayed out of context in order to make someone look bad.
The power of the press, huh. Even in our own world media can be altered in a dishonest fashion to further one's agenda. The media itself can be just as powerful as any super-villain out there. She's wise to worry about this, too!

There was much insight on the the legal aspects of the follow-up of a crime, and how metas are their own thing. I'd like to believe both are very much needed and the one can't live without the other, of course.

I can see why Emilia would be distrustful of Blood Raven. When someone has that much power and was responsible for deaths, even, let's say, somewhat justifiable deaths, its still a slippery slope when it comes to morals, especially in this modern age.

The entire space had a very warm, inviting, and definitely Latin feeling. January found it immensely comfortable.
This was on point! Since half of my family is Latin in a way, I can totally agree with this!

"You people drink this stuff?" she gagged. "It's terrible."
laugh.gif laugh.gif Jan is totally a milk drinker!

I honestly thought Emilia would be a love interest. Actually, I still think she might be a love interest.

Note: I'm curious about the Sentinels in Chicago now!

Posted by: Renee Jan 13 2020, 03:52 PM

Okay yes, that's good her mask covers all her face. Still, I can't help thinking maybe her eyes are distinctive enough for somebody to say "WAIT!.. I know those eyes..."

The product of metahuman power use is not admissible as evidence. Defense attorneys love seeing capes. You guys are great at punching things, not so good at legally gathering evidence, or upholding their client's civil rights."

Interesting. I can see Emilia's side of the argument too, since that is exactly what defense lawyers do, look for any kind of way to cause a mistrial.

So there are capes over Chicago too! Dang, we really need a couple in Baltimore? More than a couple.

his is one of the things I like about posting here. Feedback like this helps me immensely, because I cannot look at the story from every angle, so I miss opportunities sometimes. Having other people to point them out is a great help!

Glad we could help.

MY gosh you scared me at the end. I forgot about Gadget's pixelation software, or whatever his anti-camera doo-dad does.

Posted by: SubRosa Jan 18 2020, 05:44 PM

Acadian: I had a ton of fun nerding out when I wrote that episode. I have not had the chance to show January's nerd half since the beginning of the chapter, when the Knights of Nerddom were around.

I know exactly what you mean about Emilia's having a girlfriend makes things simpler and more complex. On one hand it means she is off limits romantically. OTOH, someone being off limits romantically tends to make them much more romantically alluring. But Emilia is also... thirty! ohmy.gif January would never think of dating someone so ancient. She's practically a mummy!

January is trying really hard to avoid being Stupid Good. But she won't always succeed.

Darkness Eternal: One of the things about making this a contemporary story is the way everyone has a camera in their phone, and everyone can't wait to put their video and pictures on the internet. Even just back in the 90s, the world was incredibly different. January only knows what that world was like from watching old movies and TV shows. Her entire life as been on the internet. Now she is starting to see the downsides of the "pics or it didn't happen" culture we now live in.

I googled Latin Home and Puerto Rico Home to get some ideas for how Emilia's house would look inside. I have to admit, that everything I saw looked very warm and comfortable and inviting.

Jan is absolutely a milk drinker!

It sounds like everyone is curious about the Sentinels since I have name-dropped them so many times. I don't really have any definite plans for them to appear just yet. They are just an example of the world that Jan lives in, where superheros are a reality. Being the biggest city in the Midwest, I figured Chicago would have one of the most high-profile super teams in the country, along with New York and LA. I imagine most major cities only have one or maybe two local heroes at most. Like Detroit now has Blood Raven and Stormcrow.

Renee: Jan is definitely not doing the Clark Kent move of "glasses will protect my secret identity" shtick. She basically has everything covered up except what she needs to see, breathe, and eat.

I do want to create a world where the police are not made obsolete by capes. I hope to eventually show an ideal situation of being one where the capes complement the police by adding some extra firepower and ability to act 'outside the box' of mundane reality. I created Emilia to serve as that touchpoint with the police, whom January can work with.

Don't forget Gadget's Video Camouflage!

Chapter 3.14 - Stormcrow Burning

January stifled a yawn as she rode out of Adin's dojo the next afternoon. She had not been up that late with Emilia the previous night. In fact she had left shortly after texting her mother. But sleep had not come easily when she had finally gotten home. Every time she closed her eyes, she saw those burned forms in the wreckage of the Dutchman, or Gray's hanging body.

Thankfully she did not have school any more, and would not for months. But she still had to work. Many martial arts studios were closed on the weekends. Adin kept his open because most people worked during the week, so they often took advantage of Sundays to practice at his studio.

At least Sundays were not too hectic. It was open mat day, with no organized classes. That allowed her to spend most of the day simply hanging back and vegetating. The few times she sparred with members of other schools she had quickly found herself staring at the ceiling with her back on the mat. Adin had quickly noted that she was not herself, and told her to go home. She was too tired to argue.

She stopped at two different apartment complexes on the way back to look them over. She was not thrilled with what she saw. So far everything was either too expensive, or too sketchy. Nothing felt right. But her mother was moving out in a few days. She had to either find her own place, or go live with her at her grandmother's in Livonia. She did not mind her grandma Sarah. But Livonia! It was practically the Moon.

"This is Gilda Gadfly of Worldwide Network News, and do I have some dish for you folks today!"

Avery had given her a pair of wireless ear pods and connected them to a new radio he had installed on the Stormcycle. Now she could listen to something while she rode.

"Are you people in the Motor City tuned in? Because Detroit's latest sensation Stormcrow just teamed up with none other than Blood Raven! That's right, the black and red scourge of Detroit's criminal element - well, I could have just said scourge of Detroit right? - is actually playing nice with another cape. I can't think of the last time the scary red Raven has been willing to rub shoulders with any other super. Is it the Crowgirl's winning personality? Or do birds of a feather really flock together? I smell a super team in the making, so keep your eyes on the Detroit skies for these two blackbirds."

The gossipy reporter went on to talk about the Flying Dutchman fire from the night before. January frowned when she heard the names of the victims - Amanda Paines and Christine Stein. The police reports had shown that Amanda had been murdered before the fire. Christine had simply been trapped in the bathroom and overcome by the smoke. Two deaths that never should have happened.

January had to do better than that.

Finally she pulled up to the house, and was pleased to see that her brother's car was gone. At least there was that one small thing to be thankful for. Her father's car was still there however. Even though she had barely said two words to him in the last week, she had no desire to increase that number. The less she had to do with him, the better.

She threaded her way between the cars in the driveway and walked her bike onto the patio behind the house. She locked the Victory down to the concrete there, and pulled off her helmet. She took a moment to let her hair down from the simple braid she normally wore while riding before going inside.

Something felt strange. She could not put her finger on exactly what. It was not a wrongness, just something different. She smelled something coppery. Or did she taste it? She wondered if she was just allowing her imagination to get the best of her, or if it was just the stress of the last few days. Well, the last week really.

The last thing she expected to see was Blood Raven sitting at the kitchen table calmly drinking coffee with her mother and father.

The other heroine wasn't wearing her red and black armor of course. She was dressed normal, in a pair of jeans, a fitted top, and sweater with only the top button done up. The snarky part of January's brain wanted to remind her that 1990 was calling for its fashion back. It was not hard to ignore that part.

January also noted that her hair was different. It was styled in a short, choppy bob around her head, and was an ordinary shade of auburn. Last night it had been a literal crimson waterfall spilling down past her shoulders. Likewise, her rosy skin was now lit with warm undertones, and her eyes were the green of an Irish forest. If January did not know better, she would have sworn that this was an entirely different person. But she did know better. She did not know how she knew. She just did.

January nearly dropped both her helmet and her copy of Apartment Buyer's Guide. Apparently she covered her surprise well enough. Or at least well enough to be explained, because neither of her parents were perturbed by her reaction. Blood Raven herself simply stared back at her, face a mask.

"Look who's here honey," her mother put on a smile that even January knew was forced. "It's your aunt Branwen."

"She has not come to visit in a long time," her father said. January's heart doubled a beat at the sound of his voice. It instantly brought back memories of that same voice the week before, extolling the litany of her failures as a human being. "Not since, what, fifteen or sixteen years."

"Not since you were three," 'Branwen' stared at January from over the rim of her coffee cup. "Certainly, your countenance has changed much since then."

"That's funny, I don't remember you at all." Now that the shock was wearing off, January felt her hackles begin to rise. How dare she come here! She might be new to the cape life, but she knew this was completely out of bounds. Her fingers curled into a fist, and she did not try very hard to uncurl them.

"You were too young then," her mother said. She nodded for January to come to the table. One of the family photo albums was laid out there with its pages open. She looked down to see a picture of herself - barely a toddler - sitting on 'Branwen's' knee. Next to it was another of her and her brother practically buried under Christmas wrappings on the living room floor, with 'Branwen' laughing in the background with her parents.

January stared dumbfounded. Now her fingers did relax of their own accord. Jedi mind tricks were one thing. But these photos were real. They were her, and her entire family, right there with Blood Raven herself. Only clearly no one else knew who she really was. Just as they did not know that she was Stormcrow.

"I swear, you haven't aged a day since then Branwen," January heard her mother say. Her voice seemed far away, as if it was coming from the Moon instead of right beside her.

"The advantages of eating healthy and living a clean life," 'Branwen' responded. "But look at you too Barbara, you are as young as ever as well."

Her mother blushed, and January stared back down at the pictures. Her mother had been right. 'Branwen' had not aged a day since those pictures had been taken, what sixteen years ago? The advantages of superpowers? Or something else?

"So where have you been all this time, aunt Branwen?" January set her pink motorcycle helmet down upon the kitchen counter. She tried to keep her voice cool, and suppress the sarcasm that wanted to rise from her throat.

"Traveling, writing, working," Blood Raven said. "I allowed myself to fall out of touch. But I am glad I reached out again. Aren't you?"

"What made you decide to come by again, today of all days?" her father asked. He was clearly trying to put on a polite face. But January was certain he would rather be anywhere than entertaining a guest with his estranged wife and child.

"The fire last night," Blood Raven said smoothly. "It reminded me how fleeting life is. How quickly it slips by us, and before we know, it is gone. It looks like I was just in time."

"Since we're moving out?" January lobbed that out like an artillery shell. She was rewarded with a squirm from her father. But her heart sank when an equally uncomfortable look darkened her mother's face.

"Yes," Blood Raven said, holding January's gaze. "I would hate to have missed you. The world can move so fast sometimes. It seems only yesterday that I watched you learning to walk. Now look at you. So much has changed. I wish I had been here for it."

"Yes, a great deal has, changed," her father noted sourly, and shot a dark look at January.

"Her transition?" Blood Raven said. "How very extraordinary. I applaud you, January. Did you know that at one time almost every culture in the world believed gay and transgendered people had special powers? They were always held among the greatest of magicians and holy people."

"They were the Enarees of the Scythians, the Semnotatoi who served Hecate, the Galli of Cybele. The list goes on and on, from Europe, across Siberia, to here in the Americas. One of my colleagues likes to say that you could not swing a goddess by the tail in the old days without hitting one of her transgendered priestesses. You follow a long and noble tradition."

Her father rolled his eyes, but her mother looked pleased to hear that.

"Did you know that your aunt is a writer?" she said. "You know, Jan is going to be a writer as well."

"You're Branwen Renner!" The realization blossomed within her like an exploding star. This time January could not contain her stare of amazement. "I have one of your books, An Introduction to Wicca."

"What did you think of it?" Blood Raven continued to lock her gaze upon January.

"It helped me learn to find my power," January gave back her stare.

"Good," Blood Raven smiled. "Very good. I can send you more of my books. Perhaps you can show me some of your own writing as well? Are you interested in non-fiction, like your father? Or fiction?"

"Fiction," January felt her ears start to burn, as they always did whenever someone started asking about her writing. "Fantasy, swords and sorcery, that kind of thing."

"Like Tolkien," Blood Raven smiled and leaned forward. "I very much enjoyed his writing. It would have been nice to have seen a few more female characters in it however, in more active roles."

"Eowyn did kill the Witch King," January's mother pointed out.

"Yes, something 'no man' could do," Blood Raven noted. "I thought that was rather clever on his part, and revolutionary, given the times."

"But now I am afraid I have a plane to catch," 'Branwen' pulled out her phone. "I had best call for my Cyber-Cab, they can get backed up sometimes."

January had to fight down a secret smile. Cyber-Cab had started the day after she had talked Isaac down from going on a robot rampage through the city. Now he was making his mark on the world in a much more positive way

"That new company with the fully robotic cars?" January's father scoffed, "you're braver than I thought."

"They may have started just a few days ago, but they drive just fine," 'Branwen' insisted. "They don't try to chit-chat with you, and there are no uncomfortable silences when they don't."

"And I suppose you do not have to wonder if you are supposed to tip them or not," January's mother added. Then she turned to January. "But Jan can take you. It will give you two more time to catch up."

"That would be wonderful." 'Branwen' put her phone away and smiled. "I understand you posses a motorcycle."

January opened her mouth to protest, then shut it again. No, this would be ideal. She wanted answers, to questions she could not voice with her parents around.

"Let me get you a helmet." January darted up the stairs to her bedroom, and dug through her closet for her spare helmet. It was not the old Bell helmet she had originally used. She had given that back to Avery. This was a half-helmet, with a faded metallic red surface. Unlike her full-faced helmet, it was not all scratched up. It had cost just as much on Ebuy however.

She came back down to find her new 'aunt' waiting by the door. After a few hugs, plainly forced on her father's part, she led January out the back door. She did not say a word as she pulled the half helmet over her head, and January did likewise with her own, full-faced helmet. She slipped onto the back of the bike a moment after January.

Her arms slid around January's waist. She instantly tasted blood in her mouth, and smelled it in her nostrils. By now January was not surprised. After what she had seen of Blood Raven's ability to control blood last night, it was clear that her name was not accidental.

She sped off without a word, and took them around the block. Then she stopped and looked back over her shoulder.

"So where are we really going, Auntie Branwen," this time January did not try to conceal the sarcasm from her voice.

"You are right, I am not really your aunt," Blood Raven said. "But my blood does flow through your veins. I smelled it when you were in Hart Plaza. Later at the Flying Dutchman there was no mistaking it. You are one of my descendants."

"How can that be?" January could not hide the skepticism from her voice. "Are you trying to say that you're my mother?"

"Many more generations removed than that," Blood Raven said. "Let us be off, to a place we might speak in private. All will be made clear then."

Posted by: Acadian Jan 18 2020, 09:27 PM

By Azura! I think I would have nearly dropped my helmet as well. What an intriguing and unexpected surprise. So Blood Raven is blood kin and has had her eye on Jan for her whole life.

It also helps explain the abilities that Jan is just beginning to discover.

Despite the surprise, I’m sure Jan quite appreciated Aunt Ann’s support and encouragement of her transition.

Good to hear about Isaac's success with Cyber-Cab - a welcome little follow up.

Wow, so Jan shares blood, bewitching abilities and a love of writing with Blood Raven. This raises loads of possibilities and I look forward to learning more about this.

Posted by: Darkness Eternal Jan 23 2020, 12:25 AM

The Sentinels being mentioned plenty of times does make for great world-building.

Stormcrow and Blood Raven are the quite the popular news lately!

Is it the Crowgirl's winning personality? Or do birds of a feather really flock together? I smell a super team in the making, so keep your eyes on the Detroit skies for these two corvids."
laugh.gif laugh.gif

It was great seeing Blood Raven out of her super outfit and into jeans and sweater with a new makeover. Its fascinating to see how easy she can transform herself and look like a completely different person with her other identity. Aunt Ann . . . wow!

The advantages of eating healthy and living a clean life,"
This was too funny.

Blood Raven's comment praising Jan's changes and the some of the cultural beliefs surrounding it was a nice verbal slap-in-the-face to Jan's father. And how fitting that Blood Raven/Ann somehow helped contribute to Jan's progression with one of her books! She's more involved in Jan's life than every before now.

They are related then by blood, even if its distant. This is great on so many levels and offer several implications that I'm eager to find out.

Posted by: Renee Jan 23 2020, 02:47 PM

January only knows what that world was like from watching old movies and TV shows. Her entire life as been on the internet.

This is what makes me glad to have grown up in the era we did. We got to see all that technology evolve to where it is now. Personally I am somewhat of a Luddite. Typing on this laptop and having two desktop computers at home are as far as I want to go with tech. But for my daughter for instance, smartphones and constant referrals to the Internet and are what she knows. indifferent.gif And for any sibling(s) she'll possibly have, brain implants (or whatever tech is next) which make human into virtual robots will be all her kids know. Then she'll be the Luddite, looking back fondly on those days when "we all held that technology in our hands. It wasn't implanted into our heads. We had to actually TYPE messages back and forth!"

biggrin.gif Sorry.

That is something to note: a superhero having trouble finding a place to live because she's broke, and her family's in tatters.

The radio DJ sounds like Three Dog (in my head).

Whoa. Blood Raven is over for coffee. And she's dressed like a prep. blink.gif ... they're related? [censored]. I have to read that part over again. I am stunned.

"I swear, you haven't aged a day since then Ann,"

I was already wondering this... if Blood Raven / Ann ages at all, especially if you're hinting she's from some other century.

Hee hee "Ebuy".... that's clever.

Well good. Saturday is coming fast, what in the heck is coming? I'll be waiting for you to drop that next chapter, hon.

Posted by: SubRosa Jan 25 2020, 06:26 PM

Acadian: Jan has a lot in common with Blood Raven, which was intended by me. They are magicians. They are imaginative. They are artistic (if you consider writing art, which I do), they are not content to just sit back and let the world turn: they both feel the need to step in and steer it to a better course. Naturally Jan is her own person, and has a lot of differences from her ancestor. Being trans, being lesbian, being born in a different age, with a different set of values. These are differences we will see Blood Raven encourage Jan to embrace. Because she definitely does not want Jan to be just like her.

Cyber-Cab was something I threw in during the editing process. I wanted to touch back on Isaac for a moment, and subtly show that he was indeed making both physical and emotional progress. We will eventually see him back in the story, but it will be a while.

Darkness Eternal: I really should try to include some mentions of supers in other places. I have gotten some mentions of Heisenberg in, but none lately. Plus a few name-drops from old time metas like Panzer and Hailstorm. But that is it.

Blood Raven does live a really healthy lifestyle: She does not drink... wine, does not smoke, does not use drugs, does not sunbathe, has no gluten in her diet, or meat, or vegetables, or water. Just that nourishing blood...

Blood Raven has been around for a very long time, and seen all sorts of people. Enough to challenge her rather (literal) puritanical upbringing. Plus, like Jan, she is willful. She won't be told what to think or feel.

Jan's blood relation to Blood Raven will be a central part of both their stories. Their blood is a gift, and a curse they cannot escape.

Renee: I am somewhat of a Luddite too. Though it is not just from old person stubborness. I think having grown up in the time I did, and been without a lot of instant gratification tech, has taught me I don't need most of this stuff. Like digital assistants on my phone, or an alexa in my house. I can go to a website and order things. I am not so lazy that I have to use a voice command for a robot that is always listening to everything I say.

But more importantly, I can see how the increasing mechanization of life has simply not made us happier, but the opposite. The internet is a great source of information, and a great way for vile individuals to sow blatant lies in order to further their hateful agendas. Social networks are great for bringing people together, and an even greater way for terrorists to recruit more murderers, for hostile foreign powers to push their propaganda, and for dictators to sow genocide. The modern fascist movement in America could not exist without the internet. That is where they recruit all their mass shooters.

Jan's struggles with everyday life are in part inspired by the Batgirl comics of the last decade or so. In them the Black Canary's house burns down, and she ends up couch-surfing at Batgirl's. Then later Batgirl gets kicked out of her apartment, and ends up couch-surfing herself. I like these little touches that show that just because you have a cape, it does not mean you are exempt from real life.

The DJ Gilda Gadfly was inspired by a similar character in the new Batwoman TV show - Vesper Fairchild. They use little blurbs of Vesper talking to show how people in the city are thinking about what is going on. I am going to try to use Gilda the same way. She can be a way I can show how Stormcrow memes are trending or not, and what the masses are thinking about Crow and Company. I can also use it to simply fill in little blanks of information that I had no other way to convey.

I based Blood Raven's civilian look on what I remembered people in the 90s wearing in offices. So not grundge, but the upper-middle classish types. She might be getting a fashion makeover from Jan and her mom in the future though.

Chapter 3.15 - Stormcrow Burning

Blood Raven directed January to Van Dyke, which they took north. In time they passed the border of Warren, and into Sterling Heights. Big box stores and a movie theater passed by on their right. One giant automotive factory after the next took up the entire landscape to their left. Eventually they ran out of factories, and stayed to the left on Van Dyke when a freeway split off from it and headed north parallel to the surface street, with roughly a quarter mile of small businesses and residences between the two. They were nearly out of Sterling Heights when Blood Raven finally prompted January to turn.

They made a right onto Utica Road, which ran at an angle back to the south-east. Several old suburban streets passed by on her right, and then an apartment complex. To her left was a line of newer, and larger, houses set far back from the road. January saw the freeway crossing over the street ahead of her on a bridge. But before they could reach it they turned left, and rode one of the long driveways back to a house set within a small island of trees.

The home was built in the Queen Anne style, like a classic haunted house from the 1800s. It was a jumble of smooth corners, sharp peaks, and jutting bay windows The wood looked strong and solid, showing no sign of wear or aging. It was painted a soft shade of blue-gray, and sported two red brick chimneys that rose up from the steeply-pitched roof.

A covered porch ran the length of the front wall, and wrapped around it to the left side of the building. The first two floors seemed to follow the same plan, with rounded bay windows facing forward, and a turret bulging out beside the driveway. A rounded tower jutted up from that same corner, and rose up a full three stories to the top of the home. Steep gabled windows braced the roof to either side of the tower. Finally, a single dormer peeked out from the center of the roof, facing the street.

Blood Raven led her up the stairs to the set of double doors at the front of the house. She fished a set of keys out of one pocket, and clicked one of the doors open. She led the way within, and turned to look back at January.

The interior of the house was bare, completely bare. There was no furniture at all, except for a brand new wood burning stove fitted into the fireplace. There were no rugs on the hardwood floor, no pictures on the oak walls, nothing. She did notice a light switch, and a fixture in the ceiling. So at least that was something.

"What is this place?" January wondered. She flipped the light switch, but nothing happened. Apparently Blood Raven had not been paying the bills. Given the dust on the floor, it was really no surprise.

"My friend Keziah built it," Blood Raven said. For a moment her eyes seemed to stare beyond January, as if looking back through the years. "She left it to me after she moved on."

"Oh, I'm sorry," January said by reflex. "I didn't know that she..."

"Oh, Keziah Talmadge is not dead!" Blood Raven laughed. "She has moved on, to new realms."

"Keziah is a rather odd name," January observed.

"It was not so when she was born," Blood Raven insisted, "nor when I was for that matter."

"When was that, the American Revolution?" January said under her breath, taking in the antique building that surrounded her.

"Yes," Blood Raven's voice brought her back. "I was twelve when General Gage's men marched on Lexington and Concord. Keziah was a least a century old by then, perhaps more."

"And I wasn't born yesterday," January insisted. She put her hands on her hips in defiance.

"Of course not," Blood Raven said. "You were born on Friday, August 13th, 1999. I was there."

The red-haired woman raised her hands into the air, and those golden Celtic symbols sprang up in a circle around her. Again, she murmured in Gaelic, and closed her eyes as the triquetras and triskelions wove their way around her.

She reached out with both hands together, and January felt power dance through her fingers. She drew her hands to either side, like she was unrolling a scroll. January felt that power linger in the space behind her hands. It caused the wall of the house to disappear from view, and replaced it with another image. It was like Blood Raven had created a television screen in mid air.

Within this magical screen, January saw a darkened chamber of marble. With another flick of Blood Raven's finger, several lights glowed to life within the room that they were remotely viewing. They illuminated a towering stretch of dark marble wall. Written up and down it in elegant golden calligraphy were several trees of names, like waterfalls that spilled down the marble. January quickly realized that they were family trees. She saw her old name - August - and that of her brother Julian at the bottom of the longest tree.

"I will have to change the name," Blood Raven remarked.

January followed the tree up from her and her brother. There were her parents, and then grandparents. Beyond them the names became unrecognizable. She could not remember any of her great-grandparents. They had all died long before she was born.

The river of names went back and back. They forked off into different directions. Some ended abruptly. Other lines petered out only after multiple generations. Her line went back to Anne Hopkins, née Reynolds, and Experience Hopkins. Above them she made out the name Saiorse Reynolds, but she could not see who she was married to. The portal ended just before his name.

"That is I, Anne," Blood Raven declared. "I was born in 1763."

"How could you be alive after all these years?" January narrowed her eyebrows in distrust.

"I never said I was alive," Blood Raven murmured. She pointed to her name, to the date of her death, in 1793. It was the same year her husband Experience was listed as dying in.

"Metas did not exist back then," January insisted. "It wasn't until the early 20th Century that they first came along."

"Not until Tunguska," Blood Raven said. "I know."

"Before there were metahumans, there was magic," Blood Raven explained. "There has always been magic. There always will be. An ancient magic came out of the centuries and engulfed my family. It took my husband. It took me as well, after a fashion. It was only with the aid of Keziah that we defeated it."

With that the warmth melted away from Blood Raven's skin, which turned bone white. Her hair lengthened, and cascaded down into a great mane of blood red crimson. Her eyes glowed scarlet. They literally glowed. With one bony finger she swept her hair back from her neck, and revealed a set of horrific scars there. They were not neat and straight, like the cuts on January's wrists. Rather the wounds were rough and jagged, as if the claws of a terrible beast had torn her throat out.

"You're a vampire!" January gasped.

Blood Raven smiled, revealing fangs between her red lips.

"That is a word best left unspoken," she cautioned. "Refer to us as Selene's Heirs if you must. We have done much to convince the world that we do not exist. The rise of metahumans has given us an opportunity to blend into their ranks, and insipid sparkly fiction has made the very idea of us the subject of ridicule. But there are still those among us who remember the Burning Times. They can be very zealous in maintaining our secrecy."

January nodded. Her head swam with questions. Could she go out in sunlight? Well duh, it was the middle of the day after all. Did crosses and holy water repel her? Did garlic? How often did she have to suck blood? Did she even do that, or was it something more subtle, or exotic? What about wooden stakes? If she threw rice down, would Blood Raven be compelled to count every single grain?

Suddenly January realized that she was reacting exactly like everyone else did when they found out that she was trans. With a bunch of questions about how she was an Other, rather than a person. Like she was some sideshow attraction to be gaped at though the safety of the iron bars. She was not going to behave that way. Never. Blood Raven was a person. She was going to treat her like that, above all else.

"Selene's Heirs?" now that was something that January felt was appropriate to ask about.

"Selene was one of the moon goddesses of the Greeks," Blood Raven replied. "Legend says that she is the mother of all of us."

"Of course I am a magician as well." Blood Raven's hair shrank back to its slightly messy bob and faded into a mundane shade of auburn, while her skin took on a warm, lively hue. The scar disappeared, as did the glow from her now ordinary green eyes. "It is said that a different moon goddess - Hekate - gave the world the gift of magic. It goes hand in hand with Selene's legacy. Of course since Tunguska, all magic has grown so much more potent, as if the goddesses have awoken from a long slumber."

"Hekate's Gift has always been strong in our family." Blood Raven turned back to the family tree displayed through the magical window. She pointed to her mother Saoirse, and followed her ancestors back generation after generation, until she stopped upon William Butler. January noted that his birth year was listed as 1534, and his death in 1617. "William was an alchemist and necromancer, from Clare County, Ireland. You will find many other alchemists and mystics within our tree as well."

"It was what brought the vampire Kelpius to our family in the first place," Blood Raven explained. "He wanted to learn my father's magic, to master it, and with it all the Legions of the Abyss."

"Who was your father?" January wondered, "and what are the Legions of the Abyss?"

"They are the Legions of the Abyss, things best left to the darkness, lest they rise up and engulf you," Blood Raven said cryptically. "I have learned the hard way to watch over my descendants, lest another shadow rise up from out of the ages to take them. I have been lax of late. I have allowed myself to lose track of time. It is a hazard for those like me."

"But my eye is fixed upon my bloodline once more. None of my progeny since your great-grandfather Jack has taken up magic." She now pointed to a much nearer part of the family tree, to her father's grandfather, whose name was listed there as Marvel Whiteside Parsons. "Jack was strong in magic, but he lacked discipline. He was not willing to put in the hard work and mental exercise needed to fully control it. He opened doors best left shut, and paid for it dearly."

"I can see that you are already far more powerful than Jack ever was." Blood Raven now set her eyes upon January.

"You mean it's magic that my powers come from?" January stared down at her hands, and curled her fingers into fists, then opened them again. It was like she was seeing them for the first time, seeing herself for the first time. Of course! That explained so much.

"Naturally," Blood Raven insisted. "Everyone has magical potential. But few people actually unlock it within themselves. Clearly you have."

"How do people unlock it?" January wondered.

"When they stop being sheep led by a shepherd," Blood Raven declared. "When they believe in themselves, in spite of how hard the world tries to tell them they are insignificant. When they believe they possess real agency. When they know they can change the world."

"That is when I transitioned," January mused. "But I don't go around casting spells like Gandalf."

"Gandalf did not actually cast many spells either," Blood Raven murmured. "Think back to that time. Were you thinking about spellcraft? Or were you thinking about physical action? I would say the latter, as your gifts are clearly in that realm. That is where you unconsciously channeled your magical power as you developed it. That is the most powerful form of training. Your forebrain never got in the way with doubts or distractions. You dedicated yourself to an ideal, and your will made it reality."

"After I rehabbed for my hand, I transitioned," January mused. "I went back to school. The bullies were... Well it made me yearn for the joy of rehabilitating my severed tendons. After I came home with a black eye and split lip my mother taught me kick boxing - Karate. I fought back. I beat them, three of them, at once."

"That is when you embraced your power," Blood Raven said. "Continue working with your talents. The more you exercise them, the stronger they will grow. I can teach you spellcraft as well of course. There is no reason you cannot learn it, even if your primary focus is physical."

"I've learned so much already from your book," January thought aloud, "about raising energy, about visualizing a clear goal, about focusing my will."

"All magic comes down to these things," Blood Raven nodded. "I am glad it has been helpful. I am always glad when one of my books improves someone's life. That is why I write them after all."

"It seems so strange that you're a superhero, and you are writing books on Wicca," January shook her head.

"Why should that be unusual?" Blood Raven countered. "I have to make a living, the same as any other cape. The same as any other magician. Writing books not only aids me financially, but it also helps me complete a legal identity through which to navigate the world. I have a clear income, I pay taxes, and so on. For someone like me, the difficulty of managing an earthly identity increases every century."

"Is that why you lost track of us?" January wondered what it was like to be over two hundred years old. How many times had Blood Raven been forced to move, and change her name, her life?

"It was one reason," Blood Raven nodded. "The years can fall by the wayside so quickly at times. For someone like me, it is easy for them to slip through our fingers, like trying to hold on to a flowing stream. I often have to remind myself to stop and pay attention to what is happening right now, rather than lose myself in the years."

"That brings me back to the Witch House." Blood Raven raised her hands to indicate the home around them. "Technically I own it. But I have rarely dwelled here. I prefer to remain in the heart of the city."

"Perhaps you and your mother should like to make your abodes here instead?"

Posted by: Acadian Jan 25 2020, 09:42 PM

Fascinating! Most everything Blood Raven revealed quite fit the clues to date. I must admit the vampirism was a surprise. In looking back though, the clues were indeed there (Duh! BLOOD Raven practicing BLOOD magic). tongue.gif

’Suddenly January realized that she was reacting exactly like everyone else did when they found out that she was trans. With a bunch of questions about how she was an Other, rather than a person. Like she was some sideshow attraction to be gaped at though the safety of the iron bars. She was not going to behave that way. Never. Blood Raven was a person. She was going to treat her like that, above all else.’
- - It was wonderful to see Jan battle her prejudices and use her own life experience as she vowed to keep her mind open. I'm sure her natural curiousity about the challenges of living as a vampire will be revealed to her as she spends time with Blood Raven.

My goodness, the tales I bet Branwen/Ann/Blood Raven can tell!

And, of course, this all explains Blood Raven’s interest in not only Jan but her entire family.

Finally, where Jan and her mother should live may have just been solved.

Wonderful stuff, SubRosa!

’The{n} she pulled them apart, as one might slide open a pair of windows, …’
"Selene was one of the moon goddesses of the Greeks," Blood r{R}aven replied.’

Posted by: Renee Jan 26 2020, 03:13 PM

Hmm, I wonder why she's being brought to this gigantic, empty house? Maybe since Jan needs a place to live...

Blood Raven can open up other realities with her bare hands. blink.gif Hah.

"How could you be alive after all these years?" January narrowed her eyebrows in distrust.

"I never said I was alive,"

Yikes. blink.gif

I love that she's maintaining a modern presence by paying taxes and writing books. I wonder if Jan and her mother will actually move there.

Edit: and I love that name Marvel. And also Experience. I didn't know Experience could be a name.

Posted by: SubRosa Feb 1 2020, 05:16 PM

Acadian: I deliberately left a lot of breadcrumbs to follow back to Blood Raven being a vampire. I am glad they were not too blatant, but still stood out once you looked back. I was going for that "oh, of course!" moment. We will slowly learn more about what being a vampire means for Blood Raven. She has two scenes told from her point of view in chapter 5, which should shed a lot of illumination.

Naturally I started out with Blood Raven's past being mostly a blank slate, with only a few key events filled in. I have been able to fill in a lot of those blanks as I have written her. Now I know everything from 1940 to the present, and everything from her birth to about 1820 or so. Plus where she was from 1862 - 1865. The rest of the 19th Century is still wide open, as is the early 20th Century.

Thanks for those nits. Both were late additions, so did not get my usual fine tooth treatment.

Renee: It is not that Blood Raven can create gateways. It is just a simple clairvoyance/remote viewing. I went back and rewrote that part, to try to make that more clear. Keziah is the one who could teleport and create gateways to alternate realities. We will see more about that this chapter, as the Witch House is where the learned.

I imagine that blending into the modern world becomes more and more difficult the older an immortal becomes. Many of the older ones probably withdraw and become recluses, like Howard Hughes, or completely shut themselves off from society. Blood Raven is not that old yet. She still tries to be part of the world, in spite of how difficult it can be. That means having a legal identity, paying taxes, and so on. I went with writing because it is a job with flexible hours. That leaves plenty of opportunities to go out superheroing at all hours of the day or night. She writes about Witchcraft simply because as a real magician, that is what she knows. It is also a way for her to have a positive impact on the world.

Marvel is of course Jack Parson's real name. He was a fascinating person - rocket scientist, founder of the JPL, and magician. He was a perfect ancestor for January, and descendant of Blood Raven.

If you go back to the 16th and 17th century you will find a lot of wild names, especially among the Puritans in New England. They love Biblical names, like Judah, or Ezekiel. They also liked to name people after virtues, like Prudence, Faith, the aforementioned Experience, and so on. I looked up a bunch of sites like to find Experience and Keziah. Although Keziah is also the villain in HP Lovecraft's story Dreams in the Witch House. I ultimately went with her name as a deliberate subversion of the evil, devil-worshiping Witch she is portrayed as by Lovecraft.

Chapter 4.1 - Pride

May 27th - June 1st, 2019

"Well, at least we didn't have to borrow your uncle Jerome's van again." January picked up the pieces of her bed and walked to the back of the U-Haul with them. Once she was in danger of being seen, she let them drop down into both of her hands, and pretended to be struggling with the weight, while Avery lifted the other end. In actuality, she was still taking all of the load herself. But they had to put on a good show for her mother.

January wished there could have been some way for her to talk her mother into doing something else while they moved. Then she could have done all the heavy lifting herself, in just a few minutes. Now she had to make it look hard, and pretend to be winded by the effort.

"Yeah, it would have taken three or four more trips with the van," Avery noted. "At least we got it all with one trip."

January glanced over at her mother's Mini, which was likewise packed to the brim, along with Avery's Geo. When she added in her Victory, the trio of vehicles did not even come close to the cargo space of the truck her mother had rented for the day. They were lucky to find a rental place open on Memorial Day. But at least neither of them had school or work to worry about.

Her eyes lingered over the brightly-painted mural on the side of the truck. Jane Jet, an old hero from the 70s and 80s, was emblazoned there. She wore her trademark goggles and jetpack, and flew over the L.A. skyline with a grin. January wondered how many people realized that Jane was a gay icon? She had never been Out. But it had never really been a secret either. Every gay person knew it, and every straight person pretended it wasn't true.

"Wow, are you like, moving in here?"

January and Avery both turned to the author of the voice. He was a man aged somewhere between thirty and fifty. His straight brown hair fell down to his shoulders, and his eyes were liquid blue. He was short, but made up for his lack of height with extra width. He was not fat, so much as thick. January instantly pegged him as a Mountain Dwarf, and felt a surge of kinship for him. After all her Shadowrun character Dora the Kneecapper was a Dwarven physical adept.

He wore a plain blue shirt and ragged jeans. A pencil was clutched, almost defensively, in one of his hands. His eyes were wide with amazement. Like a child seeing Star Wars for the first time.

"Yes," January's mother said from the porch. The Dwarf nearly leaped out of his skin, and barely held onto his pencil. "My sister-in-law is letting us stay."

"Hi, I'm Barbara, that's my daughter January, and her bestie Avery. They're sort of a dynamic duo." January had to fight to keep a straight face at the latter description. If she only knew the truth about Stormcrow and Gadget!

Her mother walked down to the man while January and Avery pretended to groan under the weight of the bed frame. She offered the neighbor her hand, but he backed away nervously.

"Oh I can't do that," he said. "I don't do that. It's too messy, with all the souls, and not souls, and things. It gets too messy. Oh, I'm Chase. I always forget that."

"You forget that your Chase?" Avery laughed.

"I forget my shoes sometimes," Chase said. "I forget to take my vitamins. Sometimes I forget my name. But I never forget to love life, even when I hate it. Especially when I hate it."

"Yeah, there's a lot of that going around these days," January frowned. She was starting to wonder if Chase was supposed to be taking medication, and had forgotten that as well?

"That's why it's important to remember what you don't want to forget," Chase said. "What was I saying again? Oh, you're actually moving in here?"

"Yes, we actually are," January's mother smiled as she headed for the back of the U-Haul. "Why do you seem so surprised?"

"Well, you know about the house don't you?"

January and Avery missed most of what came next, as they carried the bed frame inside the house. Once out of sight January took all the pieces and easily vaulted up the stairs with them to the second floor. She laid them out on the floor, and was back out on the lawn as Chase was wrapping up his tale.

"They say the last time the house disappeared was over a hundred years ago," Chase explained. "Back in 1908. Some people said it was because of the Tunguska comet. But I checked when I was fourteen. It disappeared the night before."

"Well there is a time difference between here and Siberia," Avery noted. He pulled out his phone and typed for a moment. "Let's see, the Tunguska Event took place the morning of June 30th, at 7:17 their time. That means it would have been, oh, 7:17 pm on June the 29th here in Michigan."

Chase's face fell. January had the distinct impression that was exactly the wrong thing to say. He glanced up at the house, then turned and fled back through the trees to the house next door.

"Well that went admirably," January's mother smiled.

"What did I say?" Avery rubbed the back of his head in consternation.

"He was telling me that this is 'The Witch House', that's all capitalized by the way," January's mother explained. "He said it was here before 'The White Man' came - all caps as well - and that sometimes it disappears, then reappears days, or even months later. He said no one has lived here in over fifty years."

"Houses don't normally disappear," Avery noted. "Not normally."

"Well, Aunt Ann did tell me it was built by a Witch," January noted. She took one side of a dresser, while her mother hefted the other. She had to pretend that she was straining under the weight. "But you know how superstition is. If a house sits empty for a while, it's automatically haunted."

"I don't suppose anyone has any pictures of the empty lot," Avery mused as he took the other end of the dresser from January's mother. That allowed January to stop pretending and take all of the weight. "At least any that aren't all out of focus and shaking around."

"Like every Bigfoot and Nessie video," January's mother chimed in.

The sound of a car pulling up the long driveway from the street brought January's head around. It was a rusty Ford Explorer, older than she was. January immediately recognized it as the Kell-Mech. She was still surprised to see Blackjack, Rus, Ryo, and of course its owner Kell come spilling out of its spacious interior.

"Oh, did I forget to mention that the guys were coming out to help," Avery grinned. "How could that have slipped my mind?"

"It must have been when you were too busy being the best best-friend ever," January restrained herself from hugging the taller black man. She raised a hand to wave at the newcomers, and felt the dresser tip precariously in her other hand. She adjusted, and waved anyway. It was just a dresser after all, not an I-beam. Not that an I-beam would have been difficult to lift either.

"Did we miss all the heavy lifting?" Blackjack cried. "I really hope we missed all the heavy parts."

It turned out that they had not after all, missed all the heavy parts. Where just a few minutes before January had been wishing she had been alone to do all the work, now she found that she was glad for the company. The moving may have taken longer, but it was much more enjoyable.

In time the U-haul was empty. "We can drop it off tomorrow," her mother sighed when the work was done. "It's paid up until then anyhow. Now who's thirsty?"

Thirst was quenched with warm Pepsi and Dr Pepper, followed by truly magnificent pizza from a local pizzeria on Van Dyke, on the far side the apartment complex that rose up across the street. Since the night was still young, the guys immediately broke out their gaming books, and Rus walked January through creating a new character for Trail of Cthulhu. She had not gamed in so long. It seemed so trivial compared to all of life's other pressing needs. But she had no trouble slipping into the fun of hanging out and role-playing with friends. It was good to let the rest of the world just fade away sometimes.

Posted by: Acadian Feb 1 2020, 06:09 PM

A new chapter, with an intriguing title.

Moving day – assisted by the dynamic duo! You did a nice job of showing us how Jan had to carefully manage her strength. Happily, she had a knowing accomplice in Avery. You absolutely nailed the official meal for moving day: warm soda with take out pizza. tongue.gif

Chase is a very interesting fellow, and raised many more questions than he answered.

I chuckled when Avery scared off Chase with his display of web-based factual nerdism. What struck me here was that Jan and her mother knew exactly what had happened to the clueless Avery. Another case of men are from Mars and women are from Venus – aggravated here by Avery’s reliance on tech.

Posted by: Renee Feb 3 2020, 07:54 PM

I imagine that blending into the modern world becomes more and more difficult the older an immortal becomes.

Absolutely. This is true for mortal ones too (like me).

It's also clever and realistic that Blood Raven's a writer. This way, she can drop in with her agent every 6 months or so, it's not going to be an everyday job. From what I have heard about big-selling writers (Grisham, Stephen King, Anne Rice, etc.) they are allowed a lot of freedom because it adds to their creativity. That agent or publisher can't be hounding Blood Raven every single day, and also expect spectacular results. nono.gif

Then again, what do I know about the modern world? Maybe nowadays it is possible to simply shoot emails and text messages back and forth from writer to agent to publisher to editor, etc. I am talking about pre-internet and old phones in the paragraph above.

HEY that names website is chock-full of unusual names! ... Now I have even more names to draw from when making my next toons! biggrin.gif Sheesus.... Godsgift was an actual name. Cleophus. Dionyse. Pretoria. My spellchecker is all confused. Some names it spells without putting red lines under, others it's screaming NO that's not a word!

Nice. Looks like she'll have a small castle of a home to live in.

That's awesome. She has to pretend to be a weakling, lest her mom notices her superhuman strength.

I've never heard of Jane Jet before. Time for a few moments with google, once again. That is a bit of foreshadowing, the fact that her moving van has a heroine buried under some paint. Well, not foreshadowing. Can't think of the word I mean.

Chase seems like some character I've seen in a movie. Can't really place which one, though. Wow. He's afraid to shake hands. I get it, but wow.

Aw, wow, I love the end. She forgets all her troubles and who she actually is, for awhile. smile.gif

Posted by: SubRosa Feb 3 2020, 09:40 PM

Oh, I forgot to post a picture of, he is Steve Zahn, from his role in the movie Speak. He was originally going to be a large part of January's non-superhero life, someone she partnered up with on a business venture (he is an artist). But later I decided to use another character for that. So I no longer have any plans for him. I left him in because he still adds some local color, and he fills in some exposition on the Witch House.

Posted by: Darkness Eternal Feb 4 2020, 02:57 AM

The thing about Blood Raven and her vampirism is that there were certainly some clues there, as Acadian pointed out. Her unnatural longevity being key among them. Blood Raven did remind me of your other character Phereinon from your Seven Reimagined story(yes, I read some of that hehe). I enjoy reading about her and Jan/Stormcrow because as the chapters go along, you give is more information that fill in the blanks so to speak, and paint a larger picture of the character. Blood Raven has a very rich history, full of experiences that Stormcrow can learn from and apply to herself.

"Apparently Blood Raven had not been paying the bills. Given the dust on the floor, it was really no surprise".
Can imagine why. This part made me laughter harder than I should have.

Blood Raven again shows her impressive abilities as she shows Jan her extensive family tree!

" . . . and insipid sparkly fiction has made the very idea of us the subject of ridicule."
Isn't this the truth? I think, as a major fan of vampires and monstrous folklore, the image of vampires have been sort of exhausted in the recent years as young adult and teenage romance, but thankfully is just now starting to come back again in its original form. I agree with Blood Raven.

Fascinating new information on Blood Raven's history. I was especially intrigued with Selene's Heirs and Hecate's Gift, and now Stormcrow's inspiring potential for greater things!

It was great to see Avery and Jan back together again! The duo must go on!

And Chase was a welcome addition to this chapter. Funny guy! I imagined to be exactly like that! Long hair and everything! Avery putting him on the run cracked me up. That was priceless!

Posted by: SubRosa Feb 8 2020, 07:22 PM

Acadian: The title will become very clear in another 3 or 4 episodes. It is part of how I am using local events in the story.

I hate moving. The only good thing about it is the pizza afterward.

Chase is a very idiosyncratic fellow (wow, I cannot believe I spelled that right the first time). I was going to use him more with January's career as a writer. But upon further rumination I decided to replace him with another character who was previously introduced, and is already closer to Jan. So I probably won't use Chase much more, except perhaps minor things concerning Jan at home.

Avery definitely did the absolute wrong thing by reminding Chase that the house did supposedly disappear at the same time the comet hit Tunguska. Oops!

Renee: I also decided that Jan would be a writer for the same reason as Blood Raven: the flexible hours. Though I also wanted her to be a creative person in general, like an artist, or decorator, or fashion designer, or even architect. The writing wound up perfect because it meshes so well with Blood Raven. It becomes one more thing they have in common.

I know most professional writers (at least the old school ones), sign a contract with a publisher to write a book. Then they write it. Some people write first and submit their manuscripts. But most book publishers won't even look at cold introductions like that anymore. Magazines will however.

However, thanks to the internet there is a crop of new authors who self-publish online, and never have a paper copy of their books printed. Or only later as an afterthought. Kickstarters are another route people take to self-publish, including hard-copies. is a great example. It was financed by a kickstarter, and the backers had the option to receive a hardcopy or just ebook version depending on how much they donated. Then it went to the usual online outlets like Amazon and Barnes and Noble (which is where I bought it). I first heard about it on Monstertalk, a podcast about monsters. The writer and illustrator were guests in an episode about Appalachian myths, as Ghost Days is set there and all about Appalachian monsters.

Jan is going to go this latter route, with self-publishing and crowd-sourcing. Though she might eventually do a deal with one of the more progressive publishing houses like

A lot of those Puritan names sound like something you already came up with!

Jane Jet is based on Joan Jett. I just decided to invent an older generation hero and use her as inspiration. I got the jetpack and goggles idea from her last name. Like the real Joan Jett, my fictional hero was a lesbian who was never Out and public about it, but never really worked hard to keep it a secret either. When I wrote that I looked out the window and saw a So I thought, in a world with supers, wouldn't they put murals of Superheros on the sides of their vans, instead of things like local landmarks or pop culture icons, like they do in the real world?

Darkness Eternal: Blood Raven and Phereinon have some similarities, as they are both immortals. But Blood Raven is a whole lot more kind and compassionate. We have not had a chance to really see that yet, but we will, starting with this chapter.

In the Crow-verse, vampires deliberately created the pop-culture image of themselves in order to hide. As a lot of vampire settings do, I am going with the idea that the Inquisition was really started to hunt down vampires. It not only killed a lot of them, but also drastically changed their society, as afterward vampires had to take pains to blend into the mortal world. Not showing their powers. Not killing people when they feed. Changing identities every few decades, etc... Those that could not fit in, were killed by the Inquisitors. One of those inquisitors will be named later in this chapter - Heinrich Kramer: the writer of the Malleus Maleficarium. Jan will face off against him one day.

I am thinking that Bram Stoker was a vampire, and he was probably the one who began the campaign to de-mythologize vampires, and turn them into pop-culture. The idea being that eventually no one would believe that vampires were real. Carl Laemmle at Universal may have been a vampire himself. Or he was at least being manipulated by them to make monster movies. The same with the Hammer horror films. Anne Rice was not a vampire herself (she is too highly visible), but was definitely inspired by vampires, probably with a hypnotic or subliminal implantation of the idea. I figure Stephanie Meyer was a total free agent. By the time she rolled out Twilight, the train did not need a vampire conducting it anymore. No one believes vampires are real. If they do see one fly or feed, they will think it is just something else, like a superhero or a fetishist.

I came up with Selene's Heirs when I was working on a scene in Chapter 5 that is from Blood Raven's pov. I needed some terms and ideas that a vampire would use to form their worldview. I looked up "mother of vampires". I discarded Lillith because that has been done to death. I found Selene from Greek myth, and she struck me as perfect. That gave me a nice myth for Western vampires to ground themselves within. Whether or not any of it is actually true. Hecate's Gift naturally followed as a way to describe 'normal' magic, that keeps the Greek theme. They both add some color.

(Author's Note - Nightgirl, Nightman, Superious, Ms. Miracle, and Donar are all thinly veiled versions of Batgirl, Batman, Super Man, Ms. Marvel, and Thor. Wolfstone and Jet Gladiator are completely invented by me.)

(Second Author's Note - I decided to go back and change Blood Raven's civilian ID names, to make things less complicated. Now she was named Anne when she was born. Her current identity is as Branwen Renner. That is who wrote the books that Jan has read on Wicca).

Chapter 4.2 - Pride

It was past 11:00 pm when the last of the guys left. January cleaned up the dining room table, a.k.a. the gaming command center. Then she wandered around her new home - her new home! - and found her mother sitting on the living room floor. She had the long boxes of their shared comic book collection scattered around her. All were opened up, and individual books littered the room. She had a yellow legal pad in one hand, and was taking notes in it while she looked from comic to comic.

"Let me guess," January's mouth leapt into gear before her brain could clamp on the brakes. "You're Stormcrow, and you're brushing up on tactics."

"I wish," January's mother said. "Besides, she has blond hair, like you do."

Now January wished she had kept her big mouth shut. She was pretty sure that the first rule of maintaining your secret identity was not giving the people around you reason to think about superheroes, or consider how much you had in common with one in particular.

"She probably dyes it," January said instantly. "Or maybe she has a power that changes its color, so it looks that way when she's in her armor, and its actually black in real life."

"Or maybe she wears a wig…" her mother continued in that vein, which relieved January to no end. But only for the barest instant. "You are clever when it comes to this superhero business."

"Well I was reading all this since, well, I could read." January sat down beside her mother and picked up a worn copy of Nightgirl. She found herself smiling in spite of herself. When she had been little, Brigit Gallagher had always been someone she could look up to.

"Oh hey, remember that time you went out on Halloween dressed up as Nightgirl?" her mother gushed. "What were you, eight, or nine? I think I still have the pictures."

"Yeah," January smiled again when her mother produced her phone and brought up the photos. Compared to the Stormcrow Armor that Gadget had so masterfully crafted for her, the Nightgirl costume she had worn was cheap and trite. But she had worked on it for weeks, and had been so excited to finally put it on. She had even convinced her mom to let her wear makeup. Which had been a big deal, since it was still years before she came out and transitioned. Halloween was every transperson's favorite time of year.

"I remember Dad was so pissed," January mused, "I guess now we know why. Well, I guess I did then too."

"To be honest, even then I still had no clue," her mother said. "Even when you put that lipstick on like you had a hundred times before. I was just so overjoyed, because Nightgirl had always been my favorite. It felt so good to know that one of my kids actually thought something I liked was cool."

"That's one reason I wanted to be Nightgirl." January laid an arm around her mother and hugged her. "She was a librarian, just like my mom."

January realized that this was one of those golden moments in life. Like flying. She leaned into it for all that it was worth, determined to soak up all of the joy she could from this instant, and burn it into her brain for the rest of her life.

"So why do you have all this stuff out?" January said. "It's getting late you know."

"I'm working on an event for the library," her mother explained. "It's kicking off the Summer Literacy Program. I want to do a presentation on comic books, talk about themes they explore, have some for the kids to read, and hopefully get them excited about reading. But it's been so long since I have read them, I am out of touch with what is current."

"Well I hate to say this, but the superhero genre is not really that popular anymore," January noted. "With the internet and social media, people can watch videos of real supers in action. So comics about fictional ones are kind of superfluous, unless you like an actual plot or character development. What's big these days is Fantasy and Sci-Fi comics, like Wolfstone the Half-Orc or Jet Gladiator. Alternate Histories are getting more popular too, especially with Steampunk."

"The old comic icons like Nightman and Superious hang on because they're cultural institutions, like Colonel Sanders, or the Scooby Gang. The newer super comics that have staying power do it by keeping up with the times. The Nightgirl of Hancock run had stories about villains using social media to mine data, gentrification of neighborhoods, and even clean energy. Of course they could not resist throwing in a psychopathic transgendered villain either. I guess the classics never do go out of style. Then again the new Ms. Miracle actually dared to introduce a new protagonist who is not only female, but a Muslim, and in Baltimore no less!"

"Really?" her mother's eyes widened in surprise. "I stopped reading these around the time I had you. I had no idea."

January moved around the boxes, and found a few that were hers. She dug out some comics and handed them to her mother. "Read these, you'll love them."

"Donar is a girl now?" the red-haired librarian's eyes goggled.

"For a while," January said. "The incels were in an uproar. Donar being a toad or a horse-headed alien was perfectly fine. But having boobs was the end of the world."

"You shouldn't use that word," her mother insisted. "Remember, when they go low, we go high."

"That's not what you said when you taught me kick-boxing…" January noted.

"There is a time and place for putting your fist in someone's face," her mother said. "But until then, you should always be nice. You won't change their mind. But the other people who are watching will be swayed one way or the other by your behavior. They are the ones you want to win over. Besides that, a fight is what the trolls want. Don't feed them."

"When did you get so wise about the internet?" January marveled.

"I had AOL in my day," her mother murmured. "So why else do you like Nightgirl? I see you have a bunch of her issues here that I never read."

"I have more on my tablet I can send you. I do all my reading digital now," January remarked. "I like Nightgirl because she always had an uphill battle. Not just against the villains, but the people who should have been her mentors. She literally became a superhero because her father used his power as the police chief to prevent her from becoming a cop. Then the other capes she first reached out to all tried to dissuade her, and talk her out of being a superhero. She wasn't tall enough, she wasn't experienced enough, she wasn't male enough. Every door was slammed in her face. But she persevered and succeeded, in spite of everyone in her way."

"That was just what was on the pages," January mused. "The real misogyny was in the writers and editors behind it all. They literally victimized and objectified her to create 'character development' for the male characters. Not just once, and not just all a long time ago. In spite of all this abuse, she as a character persisted, and rose above the people who tried to hold her down. That is what I really admire about her. She is a Viking. She does not give up, no matter what."

"You should be giving this presentation, not me," January's mother declared. January simply stared back in amazement. Which prompted the older woman to continue. "I am serious. I am out of touch. But you not only know what you are talking about, you look at this from the perspective of both a writer and a reader. You can talk about more than just what's on the page, but what is behind the page."

"I wouldn't know the first thing about doing something like that!" January was flabbergasted. Slugging it out with Whitewater Security again seemed a less daunting prospect. "I wouldn't even know where to start."

"I will help you organize it," her mother reassured her. "I have done a million of these things, it's no big deal. We can work on it together."

January instantly felt it, the hook being set. Her whole family had just fallen apart. There was absolutely no way that she was going to turn down the chance to spend more time with her mother. After all, that was one of the reasons she had asked her to move into the house with her. She needed to rebuild that bond.

"Okay, I am in," January heard herself say. "When do you have to give this thing?"

"You will be presenting it this Friday," the librarian smiled.

"But that's in four days!"

"Then we had better get to work, shouldn't we partner?"

Posted by: Acadian Feb 8 2020, 08:14 PM

A wonderful episode with some much needed bonding between Jan and her mother. I’m so pleased they seem to be connecting so well. The change in venue is probably good for both of them.

Wonderfully done conversation between the older librarian and the budding young writer.

’January realized that this was one of those golden moments in life. Like flying. She leaned into it for all that it was worth, determined to soak up all of the joy she could from this instant, and burn it into her brain for the rest of her life.’
- - It truly is a magic moment that you want to cherish forever when you realize it as it is happening.

"There is a time and place for putting your fist in someone's face," her mother said. "But until then, you should always be nice. You won't change their mind. But the other people who are watching will be swayed one way or the other by your behavior. They are the ones you want to win over. Besides that, a fight is what the trolls want. Don't feed them."
- - Wow, Jan’s mother really shows her creds with this ‘quoted for truth’ observation.

Posted by: Renee Feb 12 2020, 07:51 PM

I am super-depressed today. sad.gif Maybe reading some Stormcrow will cheer me a little. Ghost Days looks like something I'd also like to read. Thanks for linking to that.

As much as her mom knows her, I don't think she'll be able to discern that January = Stormcrow. She's too close to really see the tree from the forest. I have a feeling somebody will figure this out though, somebody somewhat close to Jan.

Halloween was every transperson's favorite time of year.

Interesting. Yes, who can make judgments when everybody is dressed so silly?

Ha, who is this Ms. Miracle? biggrin.gif I wonder if she's battling our, along with actual gangs, and whatnot. Oh, there's our list of corrupt mayors too, almost forgot about that!

That sounds nice, mother working with daughter to give this presentation. I'm sure Jan will be able to handle it, although I agree that the thought of doing so will be pretty intense. Because now Jan is going to need to be more personable in front of strangers, right? That's something she hasn't really mastered like her mom has.

Posted by: Darkness Eternal Feb 14 2020, 01:18 AM

Oh the incels. Heard about that quite often.

Very funny of her to make that Stormcrow comment, and even funnier was her mother's response. I'm in agreement with her. Sometimes it is wiser to keep quiet on certain matters. Jan giving her mother some facts about the popularity of superheroes and comics made sense.

Nightgirl's history was also very interesting too, and Jan made very strong points. With her transgender background, it made sense why she would be so knowledgable regarding these matters. Her mother made a very wise decision in choosing her to make this presentation. I suppose she has a new mission.

Very emotional chapter smile.gif

Posted by: SubRosa Feb 15 2020, 06:59 PM

Acadian: I really enjoyed writing that scene with Jan and her mother. I want her relationship with her mother to be a major force in her life, one of the ways she is grounded in real-life as opposed to cape-life. Although it might be difficult in the future, as her mother does have a life of her own. Or at least, she is going to realize that she needs to have a life of her own, and that is going to precipitate some changes.

Renee: I hope our friendly neighborhood Crowgirl put a smile back on your face. I don't see her mom ever figuring out that Jan is Stormcrow either. But you are right, someone close to her will very soon. Although he won't say anything about it for some time. It is one of the only times you can be yourself in a way that is reasonably safe.

Ms. Miracle is my version of I changed the names because I did the same with the other comic book characters I cited as existing in the Crow-Verse. I decided she lives in Baltimore rather than Jersey City because of you. So at least your city will get a comic book character in the Crow-verse. Though I am sure there is at least one *real* superhero there as well.

Jan giving that presentation is indeed a case of personal growth. As you said, it is going to be nerve-wracking. But as a cape, she is going to have to get used to speaking in public. This is her first step in that direction. In the future she will eventually do an interview with a reporter, and do several podcast appearances in her civilian ID to promote her writing.

Darkness Eternal: You cannot avoid the Incels if you are female and like science fiction or comics. I hemmed and hawed over whether or not to even use the term. It can certainly be used pejoratively. But it is also what they call themselves. Which is why I kept it in the end.

That scene gave me a nice way to do some world-building concerning the existence of comic books in the Crow-verse. It can get confusing, because now I am citing characters who are fictional within the fictional universe. Nightman, Superious, Joan Jet, are all in the comics in the Crow-verse. Not actual superheros like Jan. But it can be confusing at times even to me.

Nightgirl is a thinly disguised version of Batgirl,

Chapter 4.3 - Pride

"This feels kind of weird, like I'm sneaking around behind my mother's back," January groused.

She followed Blood Raven up the stairs to the third floor of the tower that jutted up from the front corner of the Witch House. The auburn-haired woman paused at the top of the stair. Like January, she was dressed in ordinary attire, a pair of leggings and a fitted jacket. She turned back to her descendant.

"Do you wish to tell her, everything?"

"Yes," January said honestly. "No. It wouldn't make her life better to know. Only worse. I just don't like keeping it a secret from her. I'm trying to make our relationship work."

"This is something everyone who wears a cape must grapple with," Blood Raven sat down on the top step, and motioned for January to join her. When the younger woman did, she continued. "First off, there are many ugly truths you have to face. Such as if you tell her today, will you have the same relationship in ten years? Or will she hate you so much then, that she will betray you with it?"

"She would…" January stumbled over the words before they could leave her mouth. Would her father betray her? Yes. Would her brother? Yes. Her mother, for all that she loved her, had been resistant when she came out and told her she needed to live as a girl. Only after January had attempted suicide had her mother accepted the reality that she was trans. That had always lain there like a dead rat, sitting in the darkest corner of January's mind. How much could she really trust her mother?

"This life engenders suspicion and paranoia," Blood Raven sighed. "It forces one to view the people nearest to you coldly, dispassionately, strategically. It is one of the reasons most metahumans give up the cape, or never take it up in the first place. The battles with black hats are trifles. Living with the cape is the true challenge. There is no shame in walking away from it. You can still lead a virtuous life, and remain a decent person without being this."

"Can I?" January shook her head. "How can I live with myself if I do nothing? I never would have made it through school without other people standing up for me. People like Avery, and my mother, or even my high school PE coach Mrs. Staley. I have to do the same."

"Good," Blood Raven said. "Knowing yourself is the most important first step. I suspect you know more about who and what you are than most people three times your age. You are going to have to decide for yourself just how much you can tell others about being Stormcrow, and how much to keep in."

"How many people know you are Blood Raven?"

"Half of them are sitting right here," the flame-haired woman answered. "But do not let my answer inform yours. You must follow your own stars. You cannot follow mine."

"You know, you can be a really warm and caring person, when you want to be," January laid a hand down on the other woman's leg. She was surprised when Blood Raven laid a hand - warm and seemingly full of life - atop her own.

"We all can be," she said. "We just pick and choose when and to whom we show that side of ourselves to."

"So what do I call you?" January asked. "I can't say Blood Raven for times like now. It said Anne on your genealogy chart. But you said Branwen yesterday."

"Either is fine," she responded. "I was born Anne, but obviously that is a name I do not hear often any more. Branwen is the name of my current identity, so that would be wisest. If someone else overhears, it would be easier than explaining why you would refer to me as Anne."

"Better safe than sorry," January nodded. "Branwen it is then, great-great-to-infinity-grandmother."

"Now my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-granddaughter, I have something to show you." Branwen smiled in return.

"That is a lot of greats," January murmured. "It's a good thing you are immortal, otherwise you might die of old age just saying it."

"Some also simply use the number of greats," Blood Raven said dryly, "my seven times great-granddaughter."

January thought of that. She was nine generations removed from Branwen. Had Branwen known every member of all nine generations? Had she been there for their births, watched them grow, watched them die? How many identities had she been forced to juggle across that time? How many times had she gone through the contortions of inventing another distant cousin or aunt to pretend to be?

Suddenly it no longer seemed so strange that Branwen had disappeared from her life for fifteen years. What was that, compared to nine generations of children?

January was pulled out of her reverie by the sight of a soft golden light emanating from Branwen's fingertips. The auburn-haired woman reached out to the doorknob, and that light spilled off her hand and sank into the metal. January heard the click of a lock turning, and the door swung open on its own.

"I have kept this room sealed," Branwen explained, "so that none might abuse its… possibilities."

January followed her into the room. The ceiling rose high overhead, and the walls spread out far around her. The room was clearly larger than the entire house. January blinked, it was several times larger. From the outside, the tower could only have been a dozen feet across, at most. But from the inside, it was a far greater space. In fact, she was not even sure if the walls were circular, as they appeared from the outside. The more she stared, the more difficult it was to tell just what the actual shape of the room was, or its dimensions.

"It's like a Tardis," January breathed, "bigger on the inside,"

"Curious that you should say that," Branwen said softly, and closed the door behind them.

The ambiguous size of the room was not its most notable feature however. It was the designs inscribed into its walls, floor, and ceiling. The floor was inlaid with a pebble mosaic, like the kind January was used to seeing in pictures of ancient Roman or Byzantine buildings in her father's study. The pebbles traced out numerous curved lines that crossed and overlapped one another. Each line was laid out in a different color. Where two lines met, the color seemed to shift from one to the other, depending on how January focused on them.

The walls were inset with strips of metal, that likewise drew out more curved lines. Again, these came in all colors, depending on the metal they were made from. There was bright copper, gleaming gold, cold silver, dull gray iron, and more. Some of these lines intersected with those on the floor, joining together to form even larger contours. Others floated alone in the sea of angles and curves.

The ceiling was hung with beads. Every inch of the surface was covered with these strings, which varied in length, and the number, color and shape of beads fitted upon them. Some were made of metals such as the aforementioned copper, bronze, brass, or steel. Others were minerals such as quartz, malachite, carnelian, or bloodstone, and so many more stones that January could not put a name too.

These not only formed into still more lineaments of varying colors and textures, these changed depending on where January viewed them from. The entire room swam before her eyes. It seemed to form - and reform - as she walked around it. The more January concentrated on a specific set of features, the more sharply they leaped into focus, and the more the room seemed to alter itself to conform to that reality. It felt like the room was made of playdoh, while her eyes and mind continually reshaped it.

"It's not a Tardis," January declared. "It is R'lyeh. Euclid would have a heart attack in this place. There are angles that are there, but aren't. The room is a sphere, and a cube, and a pyramid, and whole bunch of other shapes I cannot even begin to describe. It's like being inside all my gaming dice. All at the same time, and none at the same time."

"Awesome!" she marveled. "This really is a Witch House!"

"This was my friend Keziah's sanctum sanctorum," Branwen explained. "She built all of this herself, to help her focus her energies. But also to help her cast herself across the realms. All things are possible here. All places, and all times. This is a wondrous place, and a terrible one. I am placing a great deal of trust in you, allowing you to be here."

She did not have say "Don't let me down." January conjured up the words all on her own.

Posted by: Acadian Feb 15 2020, 09:44 PM

As enjoyable as the previous episode of mother-daughter bonding was, this one of great grandmother(7) – great granddaughter(x7) was fully its equal. I love how you are showing us that Blood Raven does indeed have a side to her that is warm, even caring.

Blood Raven well demonstrates the loneliness being a cape can entail. I suspect it is good for both her and Stormcrow to have a fellow cape to open up with.

I’m quoting two passages of conversation below because the styles of speech in each so perfectly match who is saying them:
- - "Half of them are sitting right here," the flame-haired woman answered. "But do not let my answer inform yours. You must follow your own stars. You cannot follow mine."
- - "Awesome!" she marveled. "This really is a Witch House!"

What a fascinating room!

Nit: ’She did not have {to} say "Don't let me down."

Posted by: Renee Feb 18 2020, 06:23 PM

Yes, Stormcrow did cheer me up a little last week. smile.gif Thank you.

There is no shame in walking away from it. You can still lead a virtuous life, and remain a decent person without being this."

January won't walk away though. Just flying around alone, and coming to the rescue of others.... she's already addicted to this lifestyle. (I hate to use the word "addicted" but I can't think of a better one). It's the same rush I am sure police and EMTs feel all the time when the flame goes under the pan.

January thought of that. She was nine generations removed from Branwen. Had Branwen known every member of all nine generations? Had she been there for their births, watched them grow, watched them die? How many identities had she been forced to juggle across that time? How many times had she gone through the contortions of inventing another distant cousin or aunt to pretend to be?

I just thought of something else. I am wondering what Bloo-- err -- Branwen did in all those decades and centuries in which there were no superhero "costumes?" You know what i Mean? Did she fly around in the late 1800s too, except wearing conservative Victorian garb instead of an outlandish outfit which makes her immediately recognizable in this modern age?

That would be a neat chapter ... go back in time and write about one of Branwen's adventures from back then. Hee hee! Well I guess they'd all consider her a witchy woman. Rumors abound around her, and so on.

I just got shivers reading about the Tardis room. indifferent.gif I wonder what this room could be for.

Posted by: Renee Feb 18 2020, 09:56 PM

QUOTE(Acadian @ Feb 15 2020, 03:44 PM) *

Nit: ’She did not have {to} say "Don't let me down."

I actually like very little flaws like this. smile.gif With Goblin Lady I'd intentionally leave small mistakes in, just to remind myself I'm nowhere near perfect.

Posted by: SubRosa Feb 22 2020, 06:07 PM

Acadian: I do want to show that Blood Raven/Branwen is a well-rounded character, not a one-dimensional dark avenger constantly lurking around every gothic church steeple. She is a person, she has a life, and a past, emotions and opinions (boy does she have a lot of the last!).

I too really enjoyed the chance to finally start developing the relationship between BR/B and Jan. Like you said, it is something very positive and healthy for both of them.

The hardest thing about writing BR/B is her dialogue. I actually have copied and pasted snippets of dialogue from 19th century novels like Frankensetein and Moby Dick, and put them all in a text file. I refer to that to get an idea of the style of speech, and use of particular words like "shall" and "should" instead of "will" or "would". Like "I should like to go to the fair on the morrow, dear Mr. Darcy." A lot of my work on later drafts is in tweaking her dialogue like this.

Renee: You are right. Being a cape makes January feel like she is an impact on the world in general, and people's lives in particular. Being that directly influential is very attractive. Though I do foresee a time when she will hang up the cape, at least temporarily.

I do have a lot of BR/B's history worked out. She was just an ordinary person until she became a vampire in the 1793. She spent years just learning to control her vampiric nature after that. But she would have been out in the world by the end of the 1790s. I know the money she has (she is rich) comes from pirate treasure that dates back to the early 1800s. Maybe Jean Laffitte's, but more likely one of the Ohio River pirates, or even one of those from the Great Lakes (there were pirates in Lake Michigan!). Most of the 1800s are a blank for her, though I do know she fought in the Civil War. Her history really gets filled in from WWII onwards. She was with the SOE in France for the war, and a Red Cross nurse afterward. She returned to America in the early 50s, and became a teacher in one of the first special ed private schools. Then after the death of Tanya Blanding in the Detroit Uprising in 1967 she became a superhero. Her contempt for the police goes straight back to that (Tanya was a four year old girl who was literally gunned down with a .50 caliber machine gun by the national guard, who were all exonerated afterward).

BR/B did not really indulge in a lot of blatant power use before she 'officially' became a cape. Like other vampires, she kept it on the down low. And her abilities have evolved over time. She wasn't always the awesome juggernaut she now is. The Tunguska event plays a role too, since magic became extremely more powerful after it. Before it, it took hours, or even days, to cast a spell, and even then it would not have been something as blatant as casting a fireball.

The Tardis Room is where BR/B's own mentor Keziah learned to travel between space, time, and alternate realities. It is heavily inspired by Lovecraft's story Dreams in the Witch House. Though also from A Wrinkle In Time. Keziah eventually learned to "tesser" all on her own, and no longer needed the reality warping effects of the room. But it still remains a place where all times, places, and worlds almost meet.

Chapter 4.4 - Pride

"This is where Keziah taught me to use magic," Branwen explained. "The mists between realms are very thin here. All things are possible. Because of that this place can help you feel your power, raise it up, and direct it, among other things. Yet I must caution you. If you are not focused, if you allow your thoughts and intentions to run wild, the room will react to them. The things beyond this room might react to you. That can be very dangerous."

January nodded. She felt like she was in martial arts class for the first time. She took her eyes from the walls and their ever shifting phantasmagoria of shapes and boundaries, and focused on Branwen. She let the rest of the room slip away, and concentrated on her face, and her voice.

"Everyone can use magic," Branwen said. "It truly is as I wrote in my books. It is not something reserved for people who are somehow special, or chosen by fate. It is no different from using your muscles, or using your brain."

"Now it is true that some have a natural gift for magic, and for tapping into their power. While others have no talent for it at all. In this way it is no different from those gifted as artists, or musicians, or coders, or running backs. But even the most ungifted are still capable of using magic, even if only in relatively minor ways. Just as everyone is capable of throwing a punch, even if not in the manner of Joe Louis."

"So why isn't everyone running around zapping things with wands?" January wondered.

"First off, no one needs a stick to use magic." Branwen shook her head. "They are nothing but theater props. Sadly however, some people who call themselves magicians still do wave them about. But that is because they think they need to, not because of any true necessity. In a few cases their wand or staff is actually enchanted to focus their power. But that is another bag of cats entirely."

"Sticks aside, magic is quite simply the ability to reshape reality: to change the world. It only works when you truly believe, deep in your heart, that you possess power." Branwen continued. "You must know you can create change, just like you know the sun will rise tomorrow, or that something you drop will fall to the floor." To emphasize her words, her ring of keys made a loud clatter as she let them plummet to the floor.

"And the sad truth is that very few people honestly believe they can change anything." January found herself nodding. "From our births we are taught that we are powerless. First our parents hold absolute power over us. Then our gods. Then our teachers. Then our bosses. Then our government. Anyone who rebels is an outcast, a weirdo, a criminal. They are Lucifer, the Fallen."

"You speak with a poet's tongue," Branwen observed. "When did you awaken to this wisdom?"

January showed her the scars on her wrists. "I know you saw this the night of the fire. I did it because I couldn't take living in the world anymore, and I knew in my heart that I could never change it, or myself. But I was wrong. I survived it. I overcame it. I learned that I could change myself, and my world, even if just one tiny step at a time."

"That is when you learned magic," Branwen declared.

January reflected on that. After she had finished her rehabilitation she had gone back to school. Only this time it was as January, not August. That had not been easy, in the way that climbing Mount Everest was not easy. Life had not gotten better, but worse. That is when the harassment started. When she learned what it was like to have two bigger people hold you down while a third pounded his fist into your face.

That was also when she learned to fight back, when she focused her will upon standing against her oppressors. Now it was clear to her that it was not simply her mother's Karate lessons that had enabled her to defeat all the bullies. It was her magic, focused upon her need to fight. All this time she had been using magic, without even realizing it!

What if she consciously focused that will on something? What could she do then?

"I need some way to strike out at opponents from a distance," January said. "I recently fought a flying robot, and half the time all I could use against it was harsh language, because I could not reach it."

"Of course, an arcane bolt." Branwen nodded. "That is a staple of magicians worldwide."

"First, feel your magic," the auburn-haired woman said. "Call it up from within, gather it together into a ball, and hold it."

January followed the exercises she had learned in her books on Wicca, and did just that. This time she felt her power not as a simple tingling on her skin, or warmth in her flesh. Now it was a cool flow of energy that she tapped into, like a mountain stream that washed through her spirit. She pulled that energy up as Blood Raven had directed, and slowly gathered more and more of it.

"So what is this energy called," January asked. "Is it mana? or magicka?"

"There are as many different names for it as there are people who use it," Blood Raven said. "The Romans called it numen or numina. The Chinese call it qi, or ch'i. Elphias Levi described it as 'astral light'. The people of the Pacific say that mana is a spiritual power. Hinduism and Yoga speak of kundalini. That is only scratching the surface. The more you look, the more answers you will find. The exact names and even meanings vary between every society in every age."

"So what do you call it?" January asked.

"I find myself drawn to the term aion, from the Greek," Branwen explained. "Much of the lore of my… particular kind… stems from Ancient Greece, and their moon goddesses. So that is what feels most natural to me. What term feels most natural to you?"

"Well, mana I guess," January thought aloud. "That is what most RPGs call it."

"Mana it is then," Branwen insisted. "Do not guess. Know your magic. Your will must be absolute. Now concentrate on your mana."

January said nothing. She turned all of her concentration inward, upon her power. She gathered more and more, until it felt wobbly in her metaphysical hands, like an overstuffed closet in a cartoon, whose door was about to burst from its hinges.

Branwen waved one hand, and a glowing wall of force sprang into existence between them. "Now visualize a bolt of pure energy erupting from your hand, and aim it at this barrier. Pour all of that power - all of that mana - you just raised into that. Hold nothing back. You must totally commit yourself."

January let go of her mana, and pictured it blasting forth from her body in a torrent of energy. She felt the mana spill out into the universe around her. It swirled like water circling a drain, then evaporated like steam. In moments it had fizzled away to nothingness, without even the barest sparkle rising from her fingertips.

"You are defeating yourself," Branwen said. "I saw you build your power. Clearly you have practice at this already. That is good. It appeared that you visualized the change you wished, and directed the power toward that. But there it failed. You must believe in this absolutely. Not that you can do it, but that you will. Magic is one tenth energy, and nine tenths in here."

She laid a hand over January's heart in emphasis.

"I do believe it!" January cried. "I'm trying. It just isn't working right."

"Then do so," Branwen declared. "There is no trying, no maybes, no mights. They all leave room for doubt. A conjure woman who doubts, is a conjure woman who fails. Banish these words from your vocabulary. A magician is absolute in her certainty. Do it, or do not. There are no other options."

"Did you just quote Yoda?" January asked.

"Who?" Branwen wondered.

The older woman sighed, and ran one hand through the auburn mane of her hair. "Keziah had this same conversation with me over two hundred years ago. This is the hardest part of teaching someone magic. The fact is, no one can teach you magic. I can tell you all about raising energy, or focusing on a result you wish to create, or that you must apply your will. But in the end you must find your own magic. It is an utterly personal thing, unique to every practitioner. That is one reason there are so many names for it. I know you can do it, because you have been for years."

"I can do it," January said. "No, I will do that. I will practice, I will work, and I will make it happen."

"That is the attitude," Branwen said. "Magic is no easier to master than martial arts. It takes commitment, effort, and time. After all, Rome was not sacked in a day."

"No, it took the Visigoths three days," January remarked dryly. That actually brought the ghost of a smile to her mentor's lips.

"I suggest you try a centering technique to help you focus your power," Branwen said. "It shall assist you in exercising your magical muscles as you find your way."

"Oooh, in Shadowrun centering can be used to reduce Drain, or penalties, or to improve a skill test."

"Shadow-?" Branwen stared at January in consternation.

"It's a role-playing game," January said. "I'll show you. It has a really cool magic system. Anyway, in it you can use centering skills, like zen mediation, or chanting, or singing, or dancing, anything really. It puts you in harmony with your being, your magical energy, and the world around you."

"Hmm," Branwen nodded. "It sounds like whoever wrote that knows a thing or two about actual magic. In the old days, before Tunguska, attaining an altered state of consciousness was a requirement for all magical undertakings. Today chaos magicians call it gnosis. The Neo-Platonists called it illumination, or ecstasy. But not in the physical, carnal sense of course."

"Plotinus defined ecstasy as the liberation of the mind from its finite consciousness, and so becoming at one with the infinite. Plato said it was the ardent turning of the soul toward the divine."

"It is a state where you focus your mind on one intent, and banish all other thought. Before Tunguska it could take hours, or even days, for a magician to change their level of consciousness and tap into their power. If they ever could at all. That is why ceremonial magic like that in the Western esoteric traditions are filled with such elaborate rituals."

"As I said before, to be a magician, one must first embrace one's power, in spite of the world insisting one is powerless. Next one must find this state of consciousness to call one's energy. Today it is not that trying for the most skilled of us. The power is always there, just waiting for us to draw it forth and direct it. But many modern practitioners still mistakenly read the old books and take them for the gospel. They rely upon the outdated methods, even when they do not truly need to."

"The old techniques can still be useful however," Blood Raven admitted, "For those less naturally talented, or less practiced, it is still the only way they can use magic. For those of us with greater ability it can aid in focusing our will. It is also an effective means by which to calm your mind and simply relax, even when not actually working magic. It is a way to remain silent in the presence of the divine, until it removes the clouds from our eyes and enables us to see by the light that issues from ourselves. Not to see what we think is good, but what is intrinsically good."

Thanks to her high school philosophy class, January recognized the quote from Plato, albeit heavily paraphrased. Then her jaw dropped.

Branwen raised her hands and closed her eyes. Golden light sprang from nothingness and formed complex Celtic knotwork designs in the air. The symbols turned around her, and January recognized the magic circle she had seen her conjure after the fire at the Flying Dutchman. The auburn-haired magician's voice sang in Gaelic, and symbols and knots revolved around her in a breathtaking display.

"This is how I focus myself," Blood Raven said. "At one time I would have had to have drawn these out with ash, or salt, or scratched it into the dirt. But in this era, the magic comes to us much more willingly."

"Wow," January heard herself say. "That's sick!"

"It is not ill," Branwen narrowed her eyes in consternation.

"No, that means it's good," January explained. "It's how people talk."

"That is asinine," Blood Raven insisted, "never say that again."

"Ok Boomer," January breathed, "how about it's awesomesauce?"

Branwen let the circle fade away, and looked at January.

"That is much more palatable," she agreed. "As your game declared, there are many ways to achieve gnosis. Chanting, dancing, meditating, some make passes with their fingers, like Japanese Kuji. It must be something that calms you, relaxes you, distracts you from your distractions. Think about that, and practice."

"But first show me this role-playing game," she said. "I should like to study its teachings. You may work on your skills while I do."

Posted by: Acadian Feb 22 2020, 09:21 PM

A fascinating discussion of magic!

I like how Branwen explained how ‘sticks’ (wands and, I presume, staves), while not necessary in the hands of a well-skilled mage can help project or focus one’s magic. The reason that strikes close to home is that, in time, Buffy will learn to use a staff to help overcome her inability to project her healing magic beyond the reach of her hands.

You continue to superbly contrast the speaking styles of Jan and Bran to wonderful effect. Awesomesauce! Er, I mean. . . most palatable. tongue.gif

The latter part of this episode was a hoot as the two ladies freely moved between real world magic and RPG magic during their discussion. Given Jan’s gaming background – which we can all relate to here at Chorrol – referring to her magic as mana makes perfect sense.

Posted by: Renee Feb 26 2020, 03:34 PM

Ah, thanks for explaining about Branwen. So she did not have all those super powers for most of her existence. I like the way she had some more ordinary jobs here and there.

[censored], I didn't know the Great Lakes had pirates! Of course it'd be possible though,

I'll have to read more Lovecraft as it gets to be summer. I have a habit of reading in my backyard as weather gets summery instead of playing videogames. Haven't read Dreams in the Witch House yet, so it'll be interesting to compare any similarities.

Have you heard of Dark Matter by Blake Crouch? There's a scientist who builds a box which I'm now realizing could be similar to the Tardis. This box can link up to any of the zillions of alternate realities which supposedly surround us.


"So why isn't everyone running around zapping things with wands?" January wondered.

I know the answer! Oooh ooh, Mister Kotter! It is .... Because we don't believe, or suspend out disbelief, at the very least. Branwen basically agrees a few sentences later.

Aw, Jan causes the Raven to faintly smile with her Rome comeback. smile.gif

laugh.gif == "Did you just quote Yoda?" ... "Who?" biggrin.gif

"Wow," January heard herself say. "That's sick!"

"It is not ill," Branwen narrowed her eyes in consternation.


Uh oh, Blood Raven's going to spend an evening rolling dice! I have a feeling Jan is going to educate her mentor just as much.

Posted by: SubRosa Feb 29 2020, 05:27 PM

Acadian: The stick discussion is something I learned in the Wicca 101 books I read back in the 90s. All that eye of newt and tongue of bat stuff is just theater. It can help you focus, but that is because you believe it helps you focus. In the end, they are just props. The real power is always within you.

In Shadowrun things like wands and staffs can be two different magical objects: fetishes and foci. When you learn a spell you have the option of making it require a fetish to cast it. This gives you a bonus in the spell's power, or makes it cause less drain. The tradeoff is you cannot cast it without the fetish. A focus is your basic magic item. A spell focus gives you extra power for a specific class of spells, like combat or healing. A power focus gives you extra power across the board. They are really expensive.

It sounds like Buffy is learning some 2nd Era ESO magic! It is nice to have some drawbacks or counter-balances to your characters. Otherwise they can start to seem too uber and just become annoying. So needing a wand or staff or other ingredient to do something can be a good thing. It puts some real limits on them. It is something I always grapple with in this tale, because, superheros. I can keep January seeming down to earth because I can always compare her to Blood Raven. Also, her magic only works when she couches it in terms of the elements. Because that is just how she thinks. It is all in her head. Keeping Blood Raven down to earth is much more difficult. I am coming to find that her being a vampire is her biggest disadvantage, rather than greatest power.

I am basically rolling with both ideas in the Crow-verse. Most people who use wands or staffs do so because they believe they need to. Some people know they don't need them, but instead use them because they are enchanted to give them extra power. It does not even need to be a staff or wand. It could be anything, a ring, a tie-tack, a cufflink, an earring, a lucky coin, a phone, you name it.

The dialogue with Blood Raven and Jan is something, as always, I pay extra attention to. Sometimes it is just as hard keeping Jan and Avery's dialogue appropriate with modern slang as it is making Blood Raven's old fashioned.

The gaming stuff is naturally a treat to finally be able to write about.

Renee: I did not know the Lakes had pirates either! I only started researching it recently when I was working on Blood Raven's history. None of them are as impressive as Blackbeard of course. One of them was even some kind of religious cult leader whose flock lived on an island. Another one was active even into the 1900s. I may adapt the cult one to be more nefarious than in real life, and use that. They could have been a bunch of Deep Ones living in the Great Lakes.

Dreams in the Witch House is one of Lovecraft's better ones. I don't like all the Witch-bashing in it. But I do like all the mathematics that it uses to reach alternate realities instead of magic. It is an example of how his later work moved away from using magical and religious ideas, to science instead. The gods like Cthulhu were not gods at all, but alien beings from somewhere else. Medieval magic was not the way to call upon higher powers, but rather cutting edge physics was. In many ways he went from being a gothic horror writer to a science fiction writer. The I highly recommend it.

Jan will be teaching Blood Raven as much as she is learning. Not so much about RPGs, as I don't see Blood Raven as a gamer, but just about the modern world in general, and embracing life. While Blood Raven makes for an excellent mentor in magicing and superheroing, Jan herself in an excellent mentor for being a part of the world.

Chapter 4.5 - Pride

"So what are comic books?" January stared out at the room filled with bright young faces. And bright bored faces. And bright runny-nosed faces. And bright, interested faces. Lots of bright, and lots of young, and lots of faces.

And she was standing in front of them all trying not to act like an idiot.

She reminded herself that this was no different from teaching martial arts classes at the dojo. Only today she was wearing leggings and a Ms. Miracle tee rather than a karategi. But Karate, Muay-Thai, and Krav Maga were all old hat to her. She never got nervous teaching them. They were as much a part of her life as breathing after all.

So were comics. She was just not used to talking about them in front of a room full of people. She yearned for the halcyon days of slugging it out with Whitewater Security.

"Well that's a dumb question right?" January went on, to a chorus of low chuckles. "We all know what comic books are. Or do we?"

She nodded to her mother across the Warren Civic Center Library's spacious conference room. The red-haired librarian tapped a key on her laptop, and the projector it was cabled up to spilled an image across the wall behind January. It showed a series of stone carvings that climbed up a wide column. Depicted on it were images of Roman legionaries battling barbarians, gathering up livestock, or just standing around talking.

"This is Trajan's column," January explained. "It was built almost 2,000 years ago by a Roman Emperor. He wanted to show off how cool he was after conquering the barbarians. Like they used to say, statues or it didn't happen."

That brought some giggles from the room, and January nodded to her mother for the next slide. This one showed a series of panels of a futuristic warrior in a space ship, accompanied by a sidekick that looked like a cross between a dinosaur and a dog. The space warrior piloted his ship through a ferocious battle, blasting alien spacecraft through panel after panel.

"This is a page from last week's issue of Jet Gladiator," she continued. "Does anyone see the similarities between the two?"

Dead silence greeted her. January's heart did not stop however. Her mother had warned her that people were often slow to speak out in groups. Sometimes they just needed a little prodding.

"Let's go back and look at the Romans," January said, and her mother backed up the presentation slide to the image showing Trajan's Column.

"Let me see, it must be the clothes right?" January said. That brought more laughter. "No, that's not it."

"They both have pictures!" a young boy cried from the back.

"Yes, they both have pictures!" January agreed. "Thank you for playing! You win a comic book. What do you like, Wolfstone the Barbarian, or our friend here Jet Gladiator?"

"Wolfstone!" came the cry.

"By the Gods of Steel!" January growled in as low a barbaric voice as she could muster. She picked up the latest issue of the half-orc barbarian's adventures and walked out to hand it to the boy, who could not have been older than nine. "Good choice my young Padawan. Maybe when you get a little older you will try reading the novels by the writer - Howard E. Roberts. They are full of action and excitement, and fearless heroes who always do what they think is right, in spite of the consequences."

Kind of like capes, except she was not nearly as fearless as the half-orc warrior. Nor was she anywhere near as heedless of the repercussions of her actions.

"So why am I bringing up this boring stuff?" January nodded to her mother, who advanced the presentation to a slide of the Bayeux Tapestry. "Because when we read comics - and I read them too - we are taking part in a very ancient tradition: using a series of pictures to tell a story."

"Some people might say that comics are just for kids." January hunched her back over, and thinned out her voice into a creaking parody of an old woman. "They think we should grow out of them when we get old and decrepit like I am."

"But the truth is we never outgrow stories, and we never should." January straightened up and let her voice go back to normal. "We think in stories. When we don't have them, we even make them up. Because we want a narrative to explain why things happen in life. Those narratives can teach us, inspire us, show us who we could be, and who we shouldn't be. They also help pass the time when the Wi-Fi is down."

That brought some more laughs. January continued on with her short presentation, telling the kids an extremely short version of how modern comic books got started in America. She wrapped up with how they were evolving into the new age. From all comics being released digitally as well as on paper, to things like web comics that never had a single hardcopy ever printed.

"Almost anyone can make a comic book these days," January ended. "If you have a story to tell, and you can draw a picture, you can make your own comic. You don't have to work for a big company. You don't need a ton of money. Maybe one day, one of you will make the next Jet Gladiator. Now how about we read some comics?"

The children cheered. January suspected it was more because it was time to start passing out the comics than from her speech. But that was fine. As long as they had fun reading, that was all that really mattered. Plus she had survived it. January knew that being challenged and growing as a person was supposed to be important. But it did not come without anxiety. She was glad that being challenged was over for the day, and she could go back to being her ordinary self.

Her mother turned off the projector and came up to help pass out comics for the children to read. When they were all loaded up with books and found spots to start reading quietly, she turned to January.

"So why don't you write a comic?"

Posted by: Acadian Feb 29 2020, 09:20 PM

Thank you for your insights on fetishes and foci. My enhanced interest is fueled by a couple things. Staves are (for the first time in Elder Scrolls history!) good weapons in ESO. Secondly, ESO NPCs often require you to help them find a focus object to help them cast a spell that is necessary to open a portal, lift a magical ward, request key information from a spirit or other such arcanery needed to progress things along.


Oh yes – that old Roman saying, ‘Statues or it didn’t happen.’ tongue.gif

A fun episode!

January’s nervousness is this unfamiliar arena of rugrats who are known for being blissfully unfamiliar with tact was understandable. Preparation, perseverance and some courage served her well though. In fact, the fledgling teacher managed her class magnificently. A+ I say.

Nit? - - ’This one showed a series of panels of a futuristic warrior in {a?} space ship,’

Posted by: Renee Mar 2 2020, 05:57 PM

That radio drama looks intriguing. Thanks. Another 20 bucks though. I'd better finish up the Lovecraft book I already have first. Thanks, though.

Aw, well Jan is doing a good job in front of the class so far. She has them giggling at least. Yes, because the thing is when she's in front of one of her martial arts classes, she is in front of people who are there mostly specifically to learn about martial arts. But she's doing well as a comic book speaker. I am getting flashbacks to guest speakers in my own schooling.

Off-topic, but I recently learned in Japan, street cops don't have a need to carry guns, but they must know martial arts. ph34r.gif That's so deep.

While Blood Raven makes for an excellent mentor in magicing and superheroing, Jan herself in an excellent mentor for being a part of the world.

Absolutely. Blood Raven is awesome but being more in-touch with modern civilization could help her for sure.

Nice. She's giving comic books away as rewards. That's awesome. It's also ironic. Because surely there have been zillions of classrooms ever since the 1950s in which reading a comic book in class could merit a pink slip!

Delightful chapter, hon.

Posted by: Darkness Eternal Mar 4 2020, 02:35 AM


laugh.gif Jan is such a mamma's girl. Blood Raven continues to pass on her wise words to Jan, and if there's one thing that rings true, is that people can be fickle, and circumstances can change just as fast as the weather. A lesson Jan needs to understand from the beginning. It is for sure a challenge cape-wearers must deal with.

Had she been there for their births, watched them grow, watched them die? How many identities had she been forced to juggle across that time?
This was an interesting part. As an immortal, one has to adopt an assumed identity throughout to countless years to cover their own tracks. I'd imagine as a person staying in one area for too long, people would begin to notice, and unless there is a credible explanation as to why he/she won't age, one must move on and "become someone else" per se.

The room was very appropriate! I like it.


Forgot to point out that I like the chapter name. Very appropriate.

We continue to learn more about magic, and it is very fascinating to read. I'm learning just as much as Jan is. Magic having different names in different cultures is so true, and those names are all familiar.

"That is what most RPGs call it."
To be honest I grew up with 'mana' too. And now 'magicka'. laugh.gif

What I really like about Jan is despite it all, her hurts and unfortunate circumstances, and nearly giving up, she was able to withstand and stand tall. Very inspiring. And her sense of humor had me laughing my rear off.

"Ok Boomer,"
I'm dead.

Posted by: SubRosa Mar 7 2020, 04:48 PM

Acadian: In the Mythica movies, magicians often had to use alchemical ingredients to cast spells. So you would need something like fire salts to case a fire spell. The ingredient was essentially the ammunition. That gave magic a real check, to keep it from being too uber. It is an idea I have filed away for future thought. It might be something I could used in an idea I have for a character called Artemis Argent (whom we will hear more about in the Crowverse, as she is a character January invents).

This was a nice episode in that it showed January stepping out of her comfort zone and doing something somewhat new. The confidence gained and experience will certainly help her in her future encounters with the public, both as Jan the writer and Stormcrow the cape. The final sentence by her mom will also have a significant effect on her future.

Thanks for the nit. In spite of having gone over that particular section at least a dozen times, little things like that still slip through.

Renee: The $20 is only for the cd. The mp3 version is cheaper, I think $12.50 or so. All of HPLHS's radio dramas come in multiple formats, with the mp3s being cheapest. I always buy the mp3s. I have not listened to a cd in a decade at least.

One of the ways I keep Blood Raven from seeing too uber, and hopefully just more accessible as a person, is that she is somewhat out of touch with modern times. You will see a lot of that in her interactions with January. They really do make a great pair, because they are so different in so many ways.

Oops, Jan's presentation was not in a school, but at the city library. I went back and tried to fix that up a bit to make it more clear.

Darkness Eternal: It would be difficult to be an immortal and still try to remain in the lives of your family and descendants. Because of necessity you cannot remain one place and one identity for too long. Then on top of that you have to keep finding ways to put yourself back in your descendants lives without anyone recognizing you. Talk about a serious juggling act!

The chapter title will become much more clear in today's episode.

The thing I like best about writing January is that in spite of all the trials and tribulations in her life, she still stands tall. She is an inspiration, but still has enough foibles to remain down to earth and ordinary, in her own caped way.

I am glad someone got the OK Boomer line!

Chapter 4.6 - Pride

Her mother's question was still reverberating around January's head when she left work from the dojo the next afternoon. Of course the presentation of a comic would be totally different from writing prose. She would have to think about writing in panels and pages. But she already framed the events of her stories in her head by thinking of how they would play out in a movie. She could translate that into a graphical format with little effort, hopefully.

She would have to find a penciller, an inker, and a colorist, of course. Or one gifted artist with the time and skill to do all three. She had no idea how to find such a person. Maybe she could take an art class during the summer? She knew she was never going to be a Jamie McKelvie or Russell Dauterman. But maybe she could learn enough to draw breakdowns to pass along to the real artists. She had read that Neil Gaiman did that.

"Hello America, this is Gilda Gadlfy, bringing you all the dish on our caped and cowled friends."

January knew she should not waste her time on a trite rumor-monger like Gilda. But now that she wore a cape herself, she just could not resist hearing what was going in the superhero world. Or at least what the non-supers thought was going on. Of course it had nothing to do with wanting to hear her own name on the radio. Nope, not one bit.

"Today our friends in the Motor City are celebrating Pride Day in the suburb of Ferndale. A little birdy told this reporter that our favorite feathered heroine Stormcrow might be in attendance. Word has it that the festival committee has reached out to the Crowgirl and asked her to come up on stage. Ever since the bombshell was dropped that she is a lesbian, or isn't she, everyone has been wondering what side of the bun our favorite Detroit cape spreads her butter on. Come on girl, you can tell us. Give us all the dish!"

January shook her head. She had no idea that this would happen when she told that gas station attendant that she was gay. She had just been trying to let him down easy when he was hitting on her. Never mind that it was true.

"In other news, the trial of former Senator Wade Harding of Michigan continues into its fourth week. Michigan Attorney General Dana Essen introduced evidence that Harding allegedly laundered money from Russia into numerous real estate deals. This is in addition to the charges that the senator used his non profit organization - named Non Profit 1488 - to funnel money illegally into his political campaign. He is also charged with using the non profit's finances to buy himself a million dollar boat, which he calls the Warfighter. It appears that of the millions of dollars raised by his ComeFundMe campaign for Non Profit 1488, none of it went toward that organization's murky goals of furthering promoting economic nationalism and American sovereignty.

January shut off the radio as a new announcer droned on about the latest political scandal, which was notable in that for once it did not involve the president.

Her phone chimed, and she looked down at the new text that had popped up.

You here yet?

She typed furiously with her thumbs, and sent Avery a reply.

Coming up to Star of India.

January lowered her phone, but did not put it back in her purse just yet. She wore a rainbow halter top that left her abs on display, along with a miniskirt that showed off her legs. A Make America Gay Again hat graced her head, with her long blond hair pulled through the back in a ponytail.

She would normally never wear anything so incredibly eye-catching. But today she looked quite tame and ordinary compared to the people who flooded the street around her. It was Pride day, and downtown Ferndale was packed to the brim with brightly colored people. There was a belly dancer, and a woman beside her who wore an exotic outfit of numerous veils all layered one over the other. Someone was dressed in a full cheetah costume, wearing a tank top over it emblazoned with a rainbow-colored housecat. Many people wore rainbow capes, or had their faces painted with bright colors. Some even wore entirely ordinary clothing, and on a day like today, they were the ones who stood out the most.

The great thing about Pridefest was that it was the only day of the year that was not about being ordinary. Well that and Halloween.

She saw a black man's head rising above the crowd, and put her phone away with a smile. She suppressed a fangirl squee as she slipped past a stormtrooper, a Princess Leia with purple hair, and a Sabine Wren with blue hair. She was just about to tap Avery on the shoulder when he turned around to face her.

For a moment she thought he had worn just ordinary clothes. Then she noted that his orange shirt said "Homo Depot", rather than the familiar logo of a certain home improvement store. She smiled, and he gathered her up in a warm hug.

"Careful, someone might think we are a straight couple," January breathed.

"This is like the only place that will never happen," Avery laughed.

"So how has your first week in the Witch House been?" Avery asked. "Seen any ghouls or goblins yet?"

He led them out into the street. Nine Mile had been blocked off at either end and now each side of the road was lined with kiosks devoted to every sort of outreach organization there was. Even an animal shelter had set up with rows of dogs and cats in little cages. All through the street between people wandered, danced, and schmoozed.

Through it all January never once felt self-conscious, or worried about someone reading her.

"Not even a kobold," January said. "The house hasn't disappeared either. We did get the electric turned up on Wednesday, and water on Thursday. So no more taking sponge baths with Aquafina. We got pellets for the wood burning stove too, it's very energy efficient."

"But you don't like, cook on it right?" Avery wondered.

"It's not that kind of stove," January said. "It's the furnace kind. It's very energy efficient, and the pellets are made from sawdust and other scrap wood that just gets thrown away otherwise."

"Sweet," Avery nodded. "You know I could probably put a nuclear reactor in. I've been working on another one this week, trying to miniaturize it."

January wondered if he meant to shrink it down small enough to be put in say, a suit of powered armor? But she did not say that out loud.

"I'm not sure what my mother would say about that," January murmured. "Besides, I thought you might want to keep that stuff on the down low, know what I mean?"

"Well she already knows I have the cold fusion in my car," Avery insisted. "Besides, we don't have to tell her it's a fusion reactor. Oh, hey, and I've got something for you."

He opened up a little paper bag that he held in one hand, and held it out so that she could see inside. January saw a baseball-sized gizmo within, with a ring and pin on one end, like on a hand grenade.

"It's my first adhesive wave emitter," Avery said proudly. "Pull that pin, and in five seconds everything nearby sticks together. The battery is limited though, so use it sparingly."

January nodded, and unobtrusively tucked the immobilizing weapon into her purse. It would have come in handy during her fights with Archie a few weeks before. Of course something like an arcane bolt spell would be nice too, if she could ever learn to cast it correctly.

"So are you meeting that fireman's sister here?" Avery teased. "You know, the one with the…"

"No I am not," January declared. "That's the last thing I need in life right now. But what about you? Are you going to hook up with someone?"

"I already did," Avery said.

"You dog you!" January laughed. "Spill already!"

"He was ok. Had these abs that were just fire." Avery gazed across the street wistfully. "But the more we talked, the more I realized that he was lame. He had never even heard of Babylon 5, and you can just forget Farscape."

"You know, if you keep your standards so high, you are going to end up like me," January observed.

"There are worse fates," Avery mused. "Besides, I'm not a monk yet!"

January stopped at the sight in the street before her. There were always plenty of sights at Pridefest. But this one hit home. It was a child around nine or ten, January guessed a boy from the bone structure of their face, but she could have been wrong. Not that it really mattered. They wore a Stormcrow costume: cape, cowl, crow insignia on the chest, everything. It was pretty good too. Much better than the Nightgirl costume she had worn for Halloween when she was nine.

The junior Stormcrow was walking along holding the hand of an older man, who January imagined must be their father. Beside them was a second man, also holding hands with the first adult. Husbands? Even just ten years ago, she never would have seen that. At least not without a triple murder taking place…

"You inspire people," Avery breathed quietly in her ear. She felt him lay an arm across her shoulders, and she leaned her head against his shoulder. She could not help but to smile. Maybe there was something good in the human race after all?

"Hey, have you thought any more about what the organizers said?"

"About me getting up on stage?" January broke off their contact, and shook her head. "No. I'm not going to do it. What would I say? Rah for the home team? I'm not a cheerleader. I wouldn't know what to even say, or do."

"Come on, you could do Karate demonstrations, like Elvis!" Avery laughed.

That did provoke a smile from January, along with an eye roll. "I left all my rhinestones at home."

"Seriously, you said you survived the comic thing at the library yesterday," Avery replied. "So what's a few rainbow-huggers compared to that?"

"That was different," January explained. "It was for the kids, hopefully to get them reading. This just seems… self-indulgent. Like all these Instantgram influencers and Cardassians, famous for being famous. It can't be about me. It has to be about them."

January pointed to the mini-Stormcrow tagging along with their two dads in the street ahead of them.

"I get that, and I'm the first one to be all about staying on the down low," Avery said. "But when it came out that you were a lesbian, it changed the conversation. America's first openly gay superhero. Sort of, because you have never really came out and said it directly."

"Well there was never really a good opportunity during my fights with Archie or Whitewater," January said wryly.

"I know," Avery held his hands up in self-defense. "But this, this is the opportunity. You could tell people what you are, and what you stand for."

"And give all the incels and homophobes even more to troll about on social media," January rolled her eyes.

"I know you aren't afraid of that," Avery said.

"Of course not," January said. Being insulted and threatened by bigots was just an everyday part of life after all. It was the same as having to brush her teeth and shower. "But why does it have to matter?"

"It does matter," Avery insisted. "Remember when you came out, and your parents didn't want to believe you? That's because they didn't know the first thing about trans people, or what being trans even was. This is an opportunity to get people talking, so that doesn't happen to some other kid."

January wanted to lash out and say that she shouldn't have to do outreach for people too ignorant to accept reality. Or that the onus of being the poster girl for the entire Queer community should not lie upon her shoulders. But she didn't. Instead she remembered the therapy sessions she had been forced to take after she had attempted suicide. She thought of what she had learned about communicating with people. She breathed deeply, and felt her mana wash through her like cool water.

"I know what you are saying, and I understand why you feel that way," January said. "But wearing the cape is not as easy as punching bad guys. There are moral and ethical implications to everything I do. If I stand up there, is it really about doing the right thing? Or is it about flattering my ego? When does one end and the other begin? Worse, if I do, isn't that just going to put a giant target on this festival? Not just now, but for years to come? Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. So isn't it also encouraging white supremacist capes to do the same in response, and incite even more hate and fear everywhere? Now I see why Blood Raven stays in the shadows, and why the Sentinels have a PR person."

"You're right," Avery said, "you're right. It's so much simpler just sitting in my basement making gadgets. But you gotta come out of the basement sometime."

"That's why I had to learn Karate," January breathed.

Avery laughed, and just that easily the tension that had built up between them deflated like a split tire.

Posted by: Acadian Mar 7 2020, 08:34 PM

Yay, Gilda Gadfly again!
’Of course it had nothing to do with wanting to hear her own name on the radio. Nope, not one bit.’ - - tongue.gif

Fun descriptions of those colorful folk at the festival.

And Avery gives her a glue grenade! That should prove useful.

"Not even a kobold," January said.’
Oh, I remember those from Baldur’s Gate.

Jan faces a dilemma. Though she does not rely on the support of ‘fans’ like an entertainer, she does rely on the support of law enforcement so how others perceive her certainly impacts her effectiveness. Another consideration is the potential risk to her secret identity; shrouding herself in mystery helps preserve not only her identity but, I should think, the safety of her family. ‘What would Blood Raven advise, and why?’ might be a relevant question for Jan to consider as the older cape certainly has much more experience on the potential ramifications of the choice Jan faces than dear Avery. Regardless, it is a thorny question and I look forward to learning how Jan resolves it.

Nit: ’January nodded, and unobtrusively tucked the immobilizing weapon in into her purse.’ - - An errant ‘in’ slipped in.

Posted by: Renee Mar 9 2020, 09:10 PM

She would have to find a penciller, an inker, and a colorist, of course. Or one gifted artist with the time and skill to do all three. She had no idea how to find such a person.

Maybe one of her friends mentioned previously has some artistic talent? The friends who went to that concert?

Aw, it's Pridefest. We have our own version down here too, in B'more. Been over a decade since I've gone, though.

Ha! They want her to show her pride. wub.gif All because she wanted the cashier she bought that soda from to stop his pursuit.

Some even wore entirely ordinary clothing, and on a day like today, they were the ones who stood out the most.

Ain't that the truth?

Avery is working on another nuclear reactor. laugh.gif He's so casual about it.

Aw, a mini-Stormcrow. :blush: That's sweet. That really must hit home. And I agree with her thoughts about going on stage. It's just not the right time, I'd imagine. Too early. Too much has happened. Maybe she (as Stormcrow) even needs to lie low as she's been doing, for awhile. So much has happened.

Posted by: Darkness Eternal Mar 14 2020, 05:10 AM


"It would be difficult to be an immortal and still try to remain in the lives of your family and descendants. Because of necessity you cannot remain one place and one identity for too long

So true. It is a constant life of moving, disguises, new identities, etc. A bit lonely I imagine.

Oh this was a short chapter but nonetheless a good one. It sure isn't easy to stand in front of a many-faced audience, but Jan did it so well in spite of her worries of making a fool of herself. I've learned something just as new as the students.

"It was built almost 2,000 years ago by a Roman Emperor. He wanted to show off how cool he was after conquering the barbarians. Like they used to say, statues or it didn't happen."
laugh.gif laugh.gif This was funny. And just randomly throwing this out there, as I'm reading this there is a series called Roman Empire playing on my television. How appropriate.

It was pretty cool to know about the origins of comic books from the past and the modern-day. I'm sure she felt great sharing this with the students, as her own life is comic-book worthy. No doubt she felt a strong connection with comics. Why doesn't she write one, indeed?


The idea of a comic book begins to form! A comic writing super-heroine? That's pretty kickass.

Ferndale Pride certainly looks fun and vivid, just as the diverse people that make it come to life. Jan herself had quite the outfit, and the descriptions provided were great!

Sabine Wren! I spotted the Rebels fan!

"Through it all January never once felt self-conscious, or worried about someone reading her."
A liberating experience! She feels quite welcome here. No judgement at all. Just freedom of expression!

Neat little gizmo Avery's got there!

Hmm, I understood both sides of the argument here between Jan and Avery. On one side, Stormcrow can come out as the first gay transgender superhero, but as she said it, there are consequences to her every choice, and not all of them are easy. In such a delicate yet harsh world, she has to be very wise in everything she does. Equal and opposite reactions for sure!

Great chapter!

Posted by: SubRosa Mar 14 2020, 05:10 PM

Acadian: I am having fun with using Gilda to convey general information about the goings on in the Crowverse. She will probably appear at least once in every chapter from now on.

We will see what that glue grenade can do very soon!

I remember kobolds from the old days of playing D&D. Only half a hit die, so easy to kill in a straight up fight. But they loved traps, which made them annoying.

Blood Raven would of course advise to remain in the shadows. Of course she would also remind Jan to follow her own stars, because she cannot live Jan's life. They will have more than one talk about it in the future.

Thanks for spotting that extra 'in' that slipped in there.

Renee: One of those Knights of Nerddom might indeed be an artist! Be on the lookout for that a few chapters from now.

I have not been to Ferndale Pride in a long time too. I got my cat Freya from an animal shelter my first time there. The shelter had a kiosk at the festival, with lots of cats and dogs. I saw Freya in one and fell in love with her.

I love how casual Avery is about things like fusion reactors too! To him it is like talking about a toaster he fixed.

The mini-crow was inspired by an episode of Supergirl, where group of kids in a school talent show all did a song in supergirl outfits. Of course the real Supergirl was there in the audience, as one of her friend's daughters was in the show. It was a nice way of showing the positive impact she was having on people's lives. She gave people inspiration.

Darkness Eternal: Jan's experience talking in front of all the kids is actually going to be a major event in her life, as it has given her the confidence to be ready to speak out in public. Something we will see her doing in the future.

I loved seeing that Sabine Wren in Pridefest pics. She was my favorite character in Rebels, because she was the most interesting. Those pictures are all from the 2019 festival.

The issue of Stormcrow coming out is still not resolved in January's mind. As much as she is trying to think logically and strategically, in the end her final decision will simply be based on what she can live with, or not live with, doing.

Chapter 4.7 - Pride

"So if you were a superhero, what would you call yourself?" January changed the subject. It took an effort to say "if" rather than "when".

"Me? No way am I wearing a cape." Avery shook his head. "Way too much attention, and you can keep all of these philosophical quandaries for yourself."

"But if you did," January pressed. "I know, The Big Tire, or The Fist."

"Oh Drek No!" Avery laughed. "Maybe something like Giant Sausage Man, or Mr. Beef."

"I can just see you on in the freezer aisle selling breakfast food," January teased.

"Well I was hoping Grindr, but hey, you take what you can get right?" Avery laughed.

They worked their way through the crowd, pausing at kiosks here and there, an admiring other people's cosplay outfits, or just plain wild clothes. They stopped to eat at M.C. Wiches for subs. Like all the restaurants on Nine Mile, it was so packed that they had to eat sitting on the curb outside. But January did not mind. Her Jack White sandwich was amazing, and Avery gave the thumbs up to his Big Sean Steak 'N Onion. Life was good.

They people-watched, drifted around, and listened to music at the stage. More than once young, attractive men stopped to chat up Avery. More than once deets were passed between them before moving on. January was not sure how he did it. Though she suspected that Avery was more than a little handsome, and that the libido was not an insignificant force in young males.

"If you want to, you know, spend more time with someone, that's cool," January breathed at one point.

"No way," Avery waved a hand dismissively. "We've been going to this thing for what eight years now? I remember when we used to ride our bikes to get here. This is our day. No Knights of Nerddom, no parents, just you and me sister. You know, I haven't seen you since Monday. When is the last time a week's gone by without you in the Gadget Cave?"

"That time my family went on vacation to Florida," January mused.

"Yeah," Avery sighed. "Let's face it, we're not kids anymore. We're growing up, and our lives are going to change. We aren't going to be able to spend every night hanging out in the basement and shooting the skittles together."

"So we have to hold on to whatever moments we can," January finished his thought. She held out her pinky finger. Avery wrapped his own little finger around hers.

"Friends until we die," Avery sagely intoned.

"Then our ghosts go on to scare the frak out of the living!" January laughed.

January tried not to think about what he had said. Moving out had not exactly been what she had wanted. But it was what she and her mother needed. Ever since ConFabulation, and her first night as Stormcrow, her life had been racing faster than her mind could keep up with sometimes. So much had changed. So much was still changing. She had to remind herself to stop, and appreciate what she had right now, before time marched away with it all.

She was still doing her best to just live in the moment when they came upon the animal shelter's kiosk. Her heart melted to see all those adorable cats and dogs in cages. She wished that she could take them all home. But she did not see how she could make time for a pet. And how would she take one to the vet on a motorcycle?

The afternoon was sliding into evening when January felt it, just like she had at Hart Plaza. It was a wrongness, like in a villain's lair in the old Nightman TV show from the 60s, where the picture was all slanted to one side. A less than subtle cue that you were no longer standing on stable ground. The hairs stood up on the back of her neck, and her jackfruit sandwich threatened to leap up out of her stomach.

She smelled blood again too, thick and coppery. But this was most definitely not like she felt around Blood Raven. She had been in the superheroine's presence enough now to know her magical scent. She was a vampire, and blood was an integral part of how she related to the Universe after all.

But this was different. It was not so clean and wholesome, if such words could be used to describe a vampire. Blood Raven used blood - well life really - to live, just as January breathed air and ate jackfruit sandwiches. Or just like a tree fed on sunlight and water.

But what she felt now was not about life at all. It stank of cruelty. It stank of horror, and corruption. It felt like the universe was being thrown upside down, torn up, and perverted in some very basic, and very terrifying way.

To his credit, Avery automatically noticed the shift in her demeanor. "Oh snap!" he breathed. His phone was in his hand, and he took a moment to scan its screen. "Time to go to work. I've got nothing so far. I'll get to the Geo and set up on a real computer."

"I'll get back in touch once I suit up," January nodded.

They split up. Avery headed north through one of the alleys between the buildings on Nine Mile. January imagined that he must have parked in the big lot north of all the businesses. She headed east along Nine Mile, weaving through festival-goers like a running back. With one hand she absentmindedly grabbed her raven banner pendant, and thumbed on the video camouflage unit concealed inside. That would hide her from cameras.

She reached Woodward, but the light was not with her, and a wall of cars whizzed past. She could feel that wrongness growing in the air, sickening her stomach. There was no time to waste.

She leapt out into traffic, racing between cars. Horns blared at her. She laid one hand on the hood of an approaching Ford, and used it to spring board herself over the car. Her feet hit pavement beyond, and she leapt again. In an instant she sprang past an oncoming truck, coming just inches from its massive grille.

She could have simply leaped over the entire south-bound side of the avenue. But that would have been too blatant, even with her video camouflage. She tried to make sure everything she did was plausible for a mundane person. Lucky perhaps, but realistic.

Then she was in the grassy, open space between the north and south bound sides of the split roadway. She darted across to the north bound side, and once again dove through traffic. She jinked between a Chevy and a Dodge - she found the latter to be aptly named, given the circumstances. Then she was on the sidewalk, and tore her way along Nine Mile Road to the stares of people all around. She ignored them, and raced past the businesses on the corner of the two streets. She ducked into the first alley on her right, and followed it around a corner to the parking lot where she had left her motorcycle.

She unlocked the fake gas tank bump, and pulled out the pack she kept stowed there, in case of emergencies. She slapped the container shut again, and raced back into the alley that she had come from. After a pair of glances to either side to confirm that no one could see her, she leapt straight up and onto the roof of one of the buildings facing Woodward. She could see that the sky had now turned slate gray with clouds.

Fire give me passion and energy. Transform me in the night sky.

She was in her armor, and her clothes were tucked away in the backpack. She hid it behind an air conditioning unit. She paused to turn off her video camo to spare the battery. Then she raced for Woodward. She did not pause when she ran out of rooftop. Instead she leaped into the sky and soared out above the busy boulevard. She triggered her wings at the top of her arc, and glided gently across the twin roadways.

She stared down at the gaggle of people packed into the main festival grounds, in the closed off area of Nine Mile directly west of Woodward. She did not see anything out of the ordinary there. Nor did she see anything on top of the buildings to either side of the road, or in the parking lots beyond them. She banked to the left, and glided south.

There was a much larger parking lot there cut in half by a pair of buildings in the middle of them. The eastern lot was taken up by more of the festival, including a kid's area with a rock climbing wall just behind the Post Office. The western lot was packed to the brim with parked cars. But she did not see anything untoward in either area.

"I'm online now Stormcrow," Gadget's voice came into her ear. "Not seeing anything yet. No alarms, no 911 calls."

January banked back to the right once more. Part of her brain noted that at one time, the motion would have sent her spilling earthward. Now it came as natural as walking. Thank goodness, because she could not afford to give all of her attention to the mechanics of flight right now. Not with that sense of wrongness gnawing at her guts, and threatening to send the world topsy-turvy.

She sailed back over Nine Mile, the main artery of the festival. She still saw nothing. Numerous flashes of light blossomed in the street below, and January realized that people were taking pictures of her with their phones, or held them aloft to record videos. She ignored them, and soared across the row of buildings north of the road, then above the parking lot beyond. She recognized Gadget's yellow Geo Storm down there. He must have arrived early to find such a good spot.

That sense of wrongness was fading now. January frowned. Whatever it was, she was going to miss it again, as she had the night of the fire. Something terrible was happening. She knew it. She just could not tell exactly what, or where, it was.

She turned back to the festival grounds. She was rapidly running out of altitude now. She saw the band shell ahead, with its high metal awning that shaded the stage, and the array of lights that hung from the scaffolding. She aimed for that, and picked up speed as she nosed down toward it. Before she could hit it face first, she rolled back, and feathered out her wings flat to her angle of descent. They caught the air like a parachute, and put the brakes on her dive. Then she trigged off the wings, and transformed them back into an ordinary cape.

She dropped lightly to the top of the steel superstructure. Now people were cheering and calling out her name. The band had even stopped and were calling on her to join them on the stage below. January briefly considered trying to get on the PA and asking people to evacuate. But she had no idea if that was even necessary yet. She did know that every moment she wasted, something was dying.

That certainty drove home deep into her gut. Someone or something was dying, right now. It was not an ordinary death either. Not a farmer chopping off a chicken's head, or a person going quietly in their sleep, or slipping and cracking their skull in the bathtub. This was something extraordinarily bad. Something magically bad. Otherwise how could it affect her so?

She felt the first drop of rain strike her cowl, and then another drop onto her hand. A crow called out somewhere nearby.

She raced along the top of the scaffolding, turning her head this way and that to search for any sign of the danger. But still, nothing looked out of the ordinary. Certainly nothing appeared dangerous. She did see the crow that was calling to her, on the far side of the street.

She followed it, and leaped off the band stand and onto the line of buildings that lined the south side of Nine Mile. The crow took flight, winging its way westward. She sprang after it, leaping from one close-packed roof to the next. Most did not have an alley or even crack between buildings. Finally she came to the end of the line at Rosie O'Grady's. The Irish pub stood at the corner of Nine Mile and a side street that headed south. This second street also marked off the western edge of the parking lot behind the businesses on the south side of Nine Mile. Beyond stretched a sea of suburban homes nestled beneath the green tops of trees.

"Oh frak!" January groaned as she turned on her video.

"What the frell is that?" Gadget responded.

It scuttled out from the subdivision and onto the southbound side street. It had to stand over six feet tall at the head, and its giant, distended abdomen rose several feet higher than that, capped with a wicked-looking stinger. Its eight legs propelled it along the concrete with frightening speed. Its head, which was packed into its thorax without the need for a neck, bore eight glowing green eyes. A pair of giant, thick fangs big enough to be called mandibles hung down from its horrid face. Blood and gore splashed its black hide, underscoring its malevolent appearance.

By now the feeling of mystical wrongness had subsided. Whatever it was that January had felt was over now. This new monster however, set her mundane senses on edge nearly as much as whatever had disturbed her magical intuition. Spiders were not supposed to be bigger than an SUV!

Thankfully the side street was closed off for the festival, so there were no cars to run afoul of the monstrosity. But there were people in the parking lot adjacent to the road. January saw them scurry for cover behind cars, or just race away as fast as their feet could carry them. The movement instantly drew the attention of the spider, and its eight eyes alit upon the juicy morsels in rainbow-colored attire.

January could not let that thing reach any of them. She instantly leapt into the sky, and triggered her wings. She only needed seconds. But they had already slipped away.

A man who looked suspiciously like Freddie Mercury stepped out of a pick-up truck and drew the largest revolver January had ever seen. Thunder roared, and for once January was not the cause. The revolver bucked in the dark-haired man's hand as he leveled it at the giant spider. Again and again it roared, until the hammer was clicking on empty chambers.

"He missed," January hissed.

"No, he hit," Gadget said in her ear. "Look behind the spider. All those bullets went home in that fence, and into the house past it."

January saw that her partner was right, as usual. The wooden fence behind the spider had been turned into Swiss cheese by the massive handgun, and several holes were plain in the windows of the house beyond.

"They passed right through it like it wasn't even there," January said. "Maybe it's an illusion?"

She was going to find out quickly. Freddie Mercury backed away from the monster, which now charged him with terrifying speed. The gunman tripped in a pothole - there were Michigan's roads for you - and fell flat on his back. The spider loomed over him a moment later, gigantic fangs poised to rip him in half.

January got there first. She clicked off her wings and landed with her feet straddling Freddie Mercury's torso. She caught up both of spider's massive fangs as they drove down at his chest. Now at her chest, since she had interposed herself between them. It was like grabbing a pair of fence posts, being driven by a truck.

Earth give me the strength of the mountain.

January focused all of her power on that image, of a mountain standing tall. She became that mountain: immovable, impervious, inviolate. Her feet became part of the concrete below her, and part of the soil and rock beneath that. A freight train of slavering horror barreled into her, threatening to crush her beneath its noxious bulk. But she was adamant.

"Not one step farther!" she growled through gritted teeth.

Posted by: Acadian Mar 14 2020, 09:51 PM

Jan and Avery are wise to savor their times and memories together at this annual event. happy.gif

Uh-oh, the scent of bad blood is in the air – neat how attuned Jan is becoming to Blood Raven that she knows this is not the scent of her fellow superhero.

You really injected a sense of speed and urgency into Jan’s sprint for the Stormcycle and her armor.

Stormcrow’s flying ability has gradually become second nature to her! You 'showed' this incrementally over many episodes and it is a big milestone for her.

Ugh-Yikes! A spider the size of an SUV!

Strength of the Earth, don’t fail her now!

How suddenly Jan and Avery’s day turned into a job for a superhero!

’Before she could hit it face first, she rolled back, and feathered out her wings flat to her angle of descent.’ - - I’m sure you’re describing a flare here but it seems like something Is missing in your wording during the last part of this sentence. Feathered out her wings flat to stop her rate of descent (or rate of closure) perhaps?
’Then she trigged off the wings, …’ - - triggered?

Posted by: Darkness Eternal Mar 16 2020, 03:24 PM

Seeing the friendship between Avery and Jan grow stronger is great! He's a true ride-or-die friend, always with her, even in the smallest moments when he focuses on their time together instead of the number of men wanting to chat up Mr.Beef. He's just the kind of person Jan needs in her life. A true friend who understands things she does, despite sometimes having different views on certain things. While Blood Raven serves as the mentor, Avery is that life-long ally/partner/best friend. She is very fortunate, one might even say blessed.

It stank of cruelty. It stank of horror, and corruption. It felt like the universe was being thrown upside down, torn up, and perverted in some very basic, and very terrifying way. This was such a chilling description!

Stormcrow is back at it again, and while she's not facing robotic menaces . . . she's up against a fiendish spider. If I had a severe case of arachnophobia, I would shut down my laptop right now. I instantly pictured those frostbite spiders from Skyrim, or LOTR's Shelob(more appropriate because of the stinger).

Both an exciting and terrifying stand-off between hero and creature! I'm excited to see how Storm and Gadget are going to kick this spider's abdomen!

Posted by: Renee Mar 18 2020, 02:56 PM

I really need to check out Supergirl. My daughter has watched a couple episodes, and now that she's forced to stay home for the next week and a half (maybe seven more weeks) she's probably catching up on other episodes. But i myself need to check it out too. I was wondering if you'd approve of this show, you would know if it's done "right" or too cheesy or whatever.

I think that's so neat that everything up there is Eight Mile, Nine Mile, and so on. I have no idea what this means, but I am guessing eight or nine miles outside of downtown? All I know is that movie with Eminem.

What are deets? Digits? As in phone numbers?

I have a feeling she can adopt as many pets as she wants now, especially cats. wub.gif Doesn't Raven's house have tons of room? There ya go, hon!

I'll get to the Geo and set up on a real computer."


She did know that every moment she wasted, something was dying.

Uh oh. What? What could it be? Oh no, a giant spider! indifferent.gif Frak. How is she going to get out of this one?

Posted by: SubRosa Mar 21 2020, 04:30 PM

Acadian: That was a nice Stand By Me moment with the pinky swear. At least I think I stole the idea from there... wink.gif Seriously though, Jan and Avery's relationship is changing due to the reality of growing up, jobs, significant others, capes, they all push and pull in different directions.

Jan has not finished improving her flying abilities. Chapter 5 will see a dramatic evolution in that regard.

Darkness Eternal: Jan and Avery are definitely ride or die friends. They literally knew each other since they infants, as the lived just two houses apart.

The spider that was summoned is not a 'normal' being from Earth, which is I went so much into the sense of wrongness and of reality being turned upside down. It is a monster from Outside, in the full Lovecraftian sense of the word. We will be getting into more of that later.

I have more than a small case of aracnaphobia, which goes back to an incident in my childhood where a spider featured only tangentially. Basically I was about 3 or 4 years old (it was before I went to kindergarten), and my brother and I were scared by a spider. My father proceeded to beat the crap out of us, because we were scared by a spider. I really should not blame the spider for that. He was just chilling, doing spider things. But they still creep me out to this day. However, I have been making an effort to dial my phobia back. So now when I see a spider I don't kill it. It is also why I made this particular monster a spider, instead of a list of other creatures of folklore that I have.

Renee: The Mile Road system is one of Detroit's unique features. They run east to west, at one mile intervals. Technically it starts in the heart of Downtown at Campus Martius. But the mile numbers don't start showing up on road signs until about 5 Mile. Each Mile road has a regular name too, sometimes more than one. 16 Mile is also Metro Parkway (it goes straight into the Metro Beach State Park at its eastern end), and it is Big Beaver. 15 Mile is also Maple, and so on. 20 Mile is also Hall Road, or M-53 (state highway). No ever calls it 20 Mile. Most people usually say M-53, and only occasionally Hall Road. 8 Mile is the northern border of the city of Detroit proper, and the suburbs to the North. So it is a major dividing line in the Metro Area.

"Deets" are details. Your daughter would know. It is phone numbers, email addresses, social media IDs, anything specific really.

She does have room in the Witch House for critters. But she is not really in a good position to take care of them. Especially since she cannot take them to the vet on a motorcycle.

Chapter 4.8 - Pride

The giant spider's eight eyes locked on January's. They were not the comforting emerald of trees and grass. These were the sickly green of toxic waste and radiation. There was a coldness there, an utter alienness that chilled January to the bone, and set the hairs on her neck standing on end. Worse of all, there was an intelligence within those fiery depths, calculating like a homicidal computer. It gazed into her, just as she gazed into it.

"They are the Legions of the Abyss, things best left to the darkness, lest they rise up and engulf you."

Blood Raven's words from the previous weekend rose unbidden in her mind. Somehow January knew that this was one of those creatures from the Abyss. It was a thing that had no place within the sunlit realm of Earth.

The monster reared up on all eight of its massive legs. It tried to pull back from January. But her feet did not move from the street. She held it there, pinned in place. Then it rocked forward, trying to throw her back. Again, she did not move. She was adamantine.

It reared again, but this time it was not to escape. Instead it drew up high enough that it could whip its abdomen forward, underneath its thorax. January saw the great spike of