Chronicled by Dro'gan NiteFlier
Disclaimer: City of Heroes is owned by Cryptic and NCSoft. All references to Paragon City, et al, are theirs. Most of the rest of this is mine though.
She woke silently, her mind instantly coming to awareness. She glanced over at the clock, groaning quietly as she saw that her body had once again prepared itself for the day, long before she felt that she should have gotten up.
It had been years since the… accident, but she was still barely used to the side effects.
She lay her head back down on the pillow and sighed, rolling over onto her back to stare at the ceiling. It was another day. She had best get up.
Sitting up and looking around the room yielded the same view as it had yesterday: a small, somewhat dingy one-room apartment, with minimal furniture besides the small table, a refrigerator, the futon on which she sat, and an old, battered chest in the corner. Near the exit, there was another door leading to the bathroom that she — thankfully — had to herself.
She stood up and stretched, going slowly, as she had learned, before dragging her shirt over her head and throwing it on the table next to a notebook computer, her panties following it. A nice hot shower was just the thing to start the day.
However, as she turned on the water, she felt the chill coming off of it. Oh, damnation, she thought. The heater’s broken again!
Grimacing at the thought of taking a cold shower, her hand, still under the streaming water, twitched.
"Oh, no," she said aloud. "Not today. You are not doing this to me today!"
She concentrated on her hand, and slowly, steadily fought the urge down… and down…
And once again, went too far.
The water instantly froze, locking into a crystal waterfall, her hand trapped inside.
"Damn it!" She tugged at her hand to no avail, and snarled. Control. It all came back to control, and even after years of this, she still didn’t have enough to stop it from going one way or the other.
Fire or Ice. No middle ground allowed.
She gingerly placed her other hand against the ice, and thought about heat… but not too much heat.
The ice slowly began melting and she sighed when she pulled her hand free. This was not a good way to start the day.
Later she sat on her futon, watching stocks rise and fall on her notebook’s screen. It was here she made enough money to subsist on, using the leftover remnants of her father’s research grants. She pushed her glasses up on her nose, and switched to another set of stocks, these the slow growing kind that took years to amount to much. They weren’t hers, but she kept watch over them.
Their owner, in fact, was due any second now—
The door rang with a modest bang. "Brahela? Are you in there?" came the aged but vibrant voice.
She sighed. Right on time. "Yes, Mrs. Willow, I’m here." Where else would I be? she added silently.
"How are my stocks doing, dearie?" came the call.
She shook her head. "The same as yesterday, Mrs. Willow, or maybe a bit higher. Like I said, these are long term stocks, and while you already have quite a sum, it’s still growing larger penny by penny."
There was a pause. "Do you mind if I come in, Brahela?"
She drew in a breath. Looking down at the shorts and shirt that were acceptable for company… and the other features that made her own body not. "I’d rather you not, Mrs. Willow." It had been a long time since the old woman had asked.
"Brahela… How long have you been cooped up in there?"
She sighed. Every time it was the same dance, and every time the same words were bandied across the slight barrier of a door.
"I go out every week, Mrs. Willow." It was true. She needed to buy food somehow.
There was a harrumph from the other side of the door. "You don’t go out. A walking pile of clothes and makeup goes out. Dearie, you wear turtlenecks and gloves in the middle of summer! You don’t need to hide yourself!"
She stood, and paced over to the door. "I just don’t think that others would be comfortable around me…."
"You mean that you are not comfortable around others!"
She sighed, and rested her head against the door. Now Mrs. Willow would walk back to her own apartment, and now she would go back to her futon and stare at the ceiling for a while….
"Brahela, dear. Let me in."
She jerked her head up and tried to stare through the door. This wasn’t how it was supposed to go! Her hand had already been creeping to the lock at the authority in the old woman’s voice. "Mrs. Willow…."
She found her hand once again creeping to the lock. Well, what could it hurt? Mrs. Willow had already seen her before, hadn’t she?
But as soon as she had opened up the door enough to allow Mrs. Willow in, a hand had grabbed her arm, and with surprising strength, pulled her out into the hall.
"Ack!" Mrs. Willow didn’t give her any time to react, and began to drag her down the hall, and around the corner, ending up in front of another apartment, which she entered.
As she stopped, and caught her breath, she looked around Mrs. Willow’s apartment. While it had the exact same floorplan, it looked more… homey. The walls were painted a pale green, pictures hanging here and there, there was lush carpet on the floor, and a bed, a largish dresser, a table, chairs, a refrigerator… All of it looked well used, and the kitchenette was clean and sparkling, with a pot of tea whistling on the stove.
"Now then," Mrs. Willow said.
She looked at the woman, just as she remembered her: five and a half feet tall, brown hair tied up in a bun, a smile on her wrinkled face and her bright blue eyes shining.
As she looked up into those eyes, she found mischief dancing in them… and a plan.
Mrs. Willow turned to the pot, and poured the hot tea into two mugs which she brought to the table. "Now dearie, come and sit, and we’ll talk a bit."
She blinked. How had she just gone from commanding back to the sweet old woman she had always been?
She shook her head, and sat, taking the mug. Her mouth twitched as her legs swung freely under her, reminding her of her height and… other things.
"Now then," Mrs. Willow repeated. "I’m glad that I’ve finally gotten you to come to your senses and get out of that dirty place."
She gaped. "But you dragged me here! How did you get so strong anyway?"
The woman laughed. "Yes, but Brahela, dearie, you needed out of there. You’re doing yourself no good to be cooped up in there, and you shouldn’t be embarrassed about who you are. You are lost, Brahela. Lost and without Purpose."
She shivered at the word ‘Purpose’. She could hear the connotations in Mrs. Willow’s voice, along with the other memories that word brought up.
"I… have a purpose. I mean, I do something, right?"
Mrs. Willow snorted. "Keeping track of money? Never going outside your room as you are? Or fearing what others would think if they saw you as you are?"
She drew back. "I’m not… I’m not afraid!"
Mrs. Willow shook her head. "Brahela," The woman reached out and took one of her hands, cradling its childlike size within her cupped hand. "You don’t go out. You don’t let anyone see you. You are afraid of yourself… and what you can do."
She swallowed the lump that had appeared in her throat. "How…?"
Mrs. Willow smiled. "Well, I don’t know what exactly you can do, but you do look like you could take on the world… If you believed in yourself."
She shook her head. "I can’t really do anything… not that I can control. It’s dangerous around me. That’s why I keep to myself, really."
Mrs. Willow snorted again. "I raised three boys, and all of them thought that strength didn’t matter, that they didn’t need to control it. You’ve never really trained yourself to control, you’ve just been trying to keep things calm, right?"
She nodded. "But I can’t do anything big, so why should I do more than keep it in check?"
The old woman grew solemn now. "Brahela… Power needs to be used. You need to use it in some way, or you will end up closing yourself up and killing yourself… and possibly others." She turned, and looked at one of the pictures on the wall. "I told you my boys needed to learn control. They were like you, gifted with something beyond the norm. My youngest, John, died by his own power, because he didn’t think he needed to control it, to use it in some way." The woman stared into her eyes. "You are doing the same thing to yourself, Brahela. And you need to stop."
Her mouth worked soundlessly for a few seconds. "How?"
Mrs. Willow smiled.
Two men sat across from each other in the common room, a chessboard between them.
"Lotta interesting things happening lately," said one.
"Yep," said the other.
"Interestin’ thing about that one girl, too. Whassername? Can’t remember."
"Old Willow’s taken a’ interest in ‘er too. Wonder what’ll come o’ that?"
"Girl may be short, but she’s got one ‘ell of a figure."
"Interestin’ shade a’ hair too. Blue, wasn’it?"
"Don’t see too many people with blue hair. Or purple skin."
"Strange little girl." The man shifted in his seat.
The other sighed. "You gonna move, Sam?"
"Aw, hell, Harry, ya beat me anyways." He toppled his king. "You wanna go see what that girl’s doin’ up on the roof?"
She stood, centering herself physically and mentally. Complex things were still beyond her grasp, but she was learning control. Enough control, in fact, to freeze a person in their tracks, or send a flaming ball at them.
Magic was in her. Magic was her lifeblood now. Magic that she had received by chance… or was it destiny?
She looked up to the sky, remembering a day seven years ago… when she had found what her father had searched decades for.
She had been so young then, not understanding what her father had been looking for, nor his drive to find it. She had only understood that he had paid so little attention to her while mother had been alive, and had all but ignored her after her unfortunate death due to her own researches. She had believe that if she found it… then Daddy would finally love her again. After all, didn’t he take her with him every time he went searching?
The mountain vale where they had set up camp was unusually warm and forested, especially considering the frozen desert that lay about it. Father had searched many places like this the world over, and had come here at last, where he believed it to be. She, as well as many of Father's supporters, didn't know why she was always brought with him. At least, not until afterwards. This time, however, her nanny had fallen ill, and no one had thought to appoint her another keeper. Thus, she had wandered about with no one to watch her, staying away from the others, lest they put her under guard once more.
In retrospect, it was a wonder that she had not been injured or even killed during that time, for there were dangers in the natural world that she had been oblivious to. Or perhaps someone… or something, was guiding her steps, just as they were confusing those of her father.
It was the second week of six that they were scheduled to be there that she had stumbled upon the clearing. It was small, only a hundred feet across, nearly filled with a small pond. The pond's waters were crystal clear, and she could see that its floor was tiled with stones, making a confusing, fractured pattern.
She had been ecstatic, for she hadn’t gone swimming in ages, and here was the perfect place! No creatures lurked in its clear depths, and she was far enough away from the camp that no one would stumble upon her. She had stripped out of her clothes and dove in, furiously stroking to the other side.
It was almost an hour later that she had tired herself enough to become curious of the smooth, lined bottom. She had felt with her toes, poking at the tiles and lines, her young mind not seeing any pattern to them. Swimming nearer to the center, she had found that the pattern had fed into eight great spokes, with a small circular patch in the exact center of the pool.
Taking a breath and letting it out, she had dove down, kicking furiously to dive the three meters to touch the stone. She had found it harder and harder the further she went, as if something had been pushing back at her, but as soon as she had touched the center stone with her fingertips, all resistance had stopped, and her legs, still kicking, had propelled her down to the stone… and beyond.
She remembered things occasionally. Flashes and snippets of what happened there, underneath that pool.
When she had awoken, she had found herself at the edge of the pool, disoriented and confused. Forgetting her clothes, she had wandered back to camp, not realizing her very appearance had changed. When she had come upon the first of the perimeter guards, he had given a shout, and brought down what she still referred to as The Inquiry.
They had allowed her to put few clothes on before her father and the other professors had demanded that she disrobe again for their inspection. She had refused, and while she had discovered the changes her body had undergone, she did not understand how they had occurred, nor that the pool and the stones had anything to do with it.
They had resorted to questioning her, and not let her go until long after nightfall. During the examination of her answers, one of the guards had come in bearing her discarded clothes, saying that they had been found a the edge of an empty clearing almost a mile from the camp. Her exclamation at this had provoked more questions, until she had been more asleep than waking.
The next day, when they had brought her to the clearing again, there was no pool. No water, no stones. Just dirt and grass. Her legs had given out, and she had sat down heavily. What could have caused this?
No one had come home from that expedition pleased. Her father had grown even more estranged, and she had begun locking herself away from the world. With her father’s death three years after, she had been shuffled from one relative to another, none of them really understanding what had happened to her, nor willing to help her understand herself.
When she had turned eighteen, she had left, taking with her the remains of her father’s accounts, and a good riddance from her relations as a whole.
She had spent a year in the apartments when Mrs. Willow had finally forced her to come out from within herself, and made her begin to try… at all things.
In less than a month’s time, she had befriended most of the residents of the complex, begun earning money from various odd jobs around the neighborhood, and most importantly, finally had control over her power. She now stood atop her apartment building, looking out over the city. Occasionally one could see various Heroes running around, protecting the city.
Mrs. Willow had told her that this town had relatively few licensed vigilantes. Paragon, that was where the City of Heroes was. Paragon, where an answer to so many questions might lie.
She shook her head. Mrs. Willow had wanted her for something downstairs.
She turned around to the roof exit only to see the two chess playing fools watching her. She raised her eyebrows at them, and they looked at each other and shrugged. One of them walked over and opened up the door, and the other bowed her through. Smiling wryly, she gave them each a peck on the cheek, and walked in.
She didn’t see them look at each other again, and grin to one another.
When she knocked on Mrs. Willow’s door, there was a faint, "Just a moment, dearie."
Shortly Mrs. Willow opened the door, with a broad smile in place. "Brahela dearie, just who I was expecting." Mrs. Willow ushered her in, and she moved to sit at the table, as she was accustomed to. "Wait, dearie." She turned to the older woman in confusion, but Mrs. Willow just smiled enigmatically. "You’ve made up your mind, haven’t you?"
She sighed, and nodded. "Yes… I’m going to go to Paragon City. It’s… Well, you know my reasons better than anyone."
Mrs. Willow nodded. "Yes, dearie, I know. There’s just one more thing, and it’s something I think you’ve forgotten."
She blinked. Forgotten? "What’s that?" she asked worriedly. It couldn’t have been something that important… Could it?
The older woman looked her up and down. She shifted slightly, feeling like her clothes were undergoing inspection.
"How do you expect to fight," Mrs. Willow began, "without having clothes made for fighting in?"
She shook her head. "I’ll be fine as I am. It can’t really be that important, I mean, Soulcyte goes about goes about in a trench coat and jeans!"
Mrs. Willow nodded. "Yes… But you are not Soulcyte, and you are not going to fight in the clothes you wear off duty."
She glared at the woman. "But I don’t have enough money to even think about getting a real costume. And I wouldn’t know what to wear anyway. I just can’t really imagine myself in some skintight spandex or something like that…" She trailed off, startled by the quiet smile on the older woman’s face. Mrs. Willow nodded to her bath room, and ushered her into it.
Only five minutes later did she emerge, no longer dressed in slacks and blouse, but something that evoked images of the dancing flame, and the frozen ice.
She stopped as she saw herself in the wall mirror that Mrs. Willow owned. She didn’t look like the abandoned daughter of a pair of scientists. She didn’t look like a girl afraid to ever see daylight. She looked like….
Short, only four and a half feet tall, her soft blue hair was gathered in a high ponytail, revealing her sharply pointed ears. Her eyes were a startling mixture of blazing fire and cold ice, glinting in the light from coming in from the window. She was dressed in a skintight bodysuit that was just a shade lighter than her violet skin. From her icy tiara to her deep blue combat boots, she was one that looked dangerous, but still wary.
She looked like a Heroine.
Mrs. Willow came up behind her, and placed her hands on her shoulders. "There. Now you have something to fight in. And now you are ready to go."
She turned, and hugged the woman. Now it was truthfully time for her to find her purpose.
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