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Succubus Diaries

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Stupid, stupid, stupid! Why did I bring it to school? I should have known Emma and her friends would find it. My locker wasn’t safe, I knew that, but I just couldn’t put the stupid thing down.

I paced up and down the girls bathroom while I tried to control the panic. I’d brought the book to school with me today—I’d hoped to find some time to read it during lunch, but now Emma had it.

Having a book to read was nothing unusual for me. Ever since Emma had turned on me, along with most of the school, I didn't have much else to do but read. The problem was the subject of the book.

When I’d picked it up, I just thought it was a generic science-fiction story and the synopsis on the back had been interesting enough for me to buy it. What the cover didn’t mention was aside from the interesting characters and battles to save the galaxy, there were steamy, toe curling sex scenes between the lead and her lesbian lover. Dad nearly walked in on me twice!

It’s not like I could just go home. They would only be waiting for me when I finally returned!

I need to calm down. I moved to the sink and tried washing my face. Panicking wouldn’t help any. Putting my glasses back on, I looked at myself in the mirror.

Tall, stick thin, with a too-wide mouth. The most feminine thing about me was my hair, and even then, stress was starting to take its toll. I’d been forced to shorten it a bit after someone accidently singed it during home ec.

In a fit of anger, I punched the mirror in front of me. The mirror cracked and pain shot up my arm. Blood was already starting to run between my fingers. I quickly turned the tap on and stuck my hand under the water.

I let out a small hiss and started trying to clean the wound, still cursing Emma and my life. Oddly, I felt better. Actually, I felt good. Really, really good.

As Lita deftly sutured the wound with practiced movements, London bit her lip, holding back the moans of ecstasy.

A passage from the book came to mind and I giggled slightly. Either I was suddenly a masochist or adrenalin was making me giddy.

The feeling of warmth was starting to spread through my body, pooling between my legs. More passages came to mind, mixing with the pain, anger and frustration. I should be panicking, something was clearly wrong with me, but it just felt so good.

As the heat built between my legs, I grabbed the sink for support. That’s when I saw the markings on the back of my hands. They looked like scales and as I watched, I could see them growing more visible. The skin around them paling to a grey colour. What is this?

I screwed my eyes shut and tried to block out the warmth. I had to stop, What if someone came through the door? I bit my lip to stop myself from moaning.

The warmth shifted and I could feel my chest pressing against my clothes. the shifting cloth sending sparks of electricity through my body. My clothes were starting to pinch and pull in places, but the feeling only pushed me further.

My back twitched and I heard the sound of tearing cloth. I was nearing my limit, everything felt wrong but so good, and the fire in my body was drowning out everything but the delicious feelings in my core that was edging ever closer.

The world went white.

Sweet release hit with the force of a bomb and I struggled to stay standing, the sink the only thing keeping me upright.

By the time I could think straight, I was still breathing heavily and everything felt different. My clothes were pinching me and I could feel a draft across my torso. Slowly, I opened my eyes and gasped at what I saw.

I’m huge!

The girl looking back at me was part Barbie doll and part fitness instructor, with a little bit of lizard thrown in. I slowly moved my eyes downwards as I studied my reflection.

My skin was pale, bordering on grey but with a healthy shine. The colour made my now-red eyes stand out, and there was a glowing ring in each eye.

I also had horns on the sides of my head. They curled forward and down so the point was level with my mouth. There were dark scales on my forehead, the same colour as my horns, that ran down the the bridge of my nose where they came to a point. I had more following the line of my jaw and running down my neck.

When I brought my hand up to touch them, they felt smooth and soft, yielding like skin. There were more scales on my hands, starting just before my knuckles and running up my arms.

That brought my attention to the other changes. My figure had filled out drastically, and I could see faint traces of muscle when I moved. My shirt and bra were nothing but rags, but it wasn’t my chest that had destroyed them. It was my wings.

Bat-like and coloured the same unnatural black my hair had gone, they didn’t look big enough to hold my weight, but I suspected I could still fly with them anyway. Turning to look at them revealed another change.

I had a tail!

It started at the base of my spine and reached to just past my calves.

“Fuck!” I muttered. Even my voice was different; I sounded more like Mom.

I lost track of time staring at myself in the mirror and the sound of shouting outside broke me out of my thoughts and kicked my brain into gear.

I was standing topless in the middle of the school looking like something from a fantasy game! My blush nearly covered my entire torso.

I needed to get home, My pants were tight but they would survive. My hoodie was on the floor near my bag, but—yeah, not happening—there was no way I was getting that on over my new wings and boobs.

Maybe if I covered my face I could just run for it? Get to the roof and see if I could fly? No one one would recognise me like this… I gave myself another glance in the mirror before giving up on that idea.

My face had changed, yes, but not that much. I was still recognisable—even if no one would be looking at my face. Maybe I could…

I tried moving my wings. Maybe they would be flexible enough for me to wrap them round my body. It would help if I could look like—woah!
My wings stretched round my body, taking on a shadowy appearance as they did so. As they moved, my body shifted and I found myself look like I did this morning. I’m a shapeshifter?

This had potential. the only thing missing were my glasses. I frowned when I realised I hadn’t even noticed their loss. I found them sitting in the sink and quickly put them back on. Thankfully, everything was just as clear with them as it now was without.

Could I make myself look like other people? I focused and my body shifted. Emma stared back at me from the mirror. A small part of me noted that I was now bigger than her. Emma smiled; now this had potential. I could even use this to get my book back.

I was just deciding on a plan when the door opened.

“Emma?” the girl asked. “I thought you were with Sophia?” She was one of the interchangeable people that followed Emma everywhere these days.
“Oh… um...” I struggled to cover my surprise or even remember her name. In the end, I shrugged. “Canteen food, what can you do?”

“Ugh, tell me about it,” she said as locked herself in one of the stalls.

Not wanting to hang around, I grabbed my bag and gave the stall a quick glance. I shifted back to normal and walked outside. I soon abandoned my plans to recover my book; there was a strong draft in the corridor and I realised that my shirt was only an illusion.

Blushing, I quickly made my way outside. I needed to get home. School shut for winter break after today—that gave me two weeks to find some new clothes and possibly tell Dad about this.

Not wanting to risk someone bumping into me on the bus I decided to jog home. Despite being mid-winter, I barely noticed the temperature.
I was almost halfway home when I realised something. I could shapeshift, I hardly felt the cold, and I wasn’t even winded from the run. I had powers, I was a cape! I couldn’t help but laugh.

Dad’s truck was in the driveway when I got home—his shift must have ended early today. I tried to not make too much noise when I opened the back door but it didn’t matter anyway; Dad was already sitting at the kitchen table, hunched over some paperwork.

He looked up as I came in. “Taylor? What are you doing home?” he said in surprise.

I wracked my brain for an excuse, but before I could come up with anything, Dad frowned.

“And why are you wearing a glamor?”

Chapter Text

“A-a glamour? I-I don’t know what you mean, I’m fine!” I frantically tried to think of something to say. Dad could tell it was an illusion? Did that mean he can see me topless?? Oh god! Wait, why did he call it a glamor? Wasn’t that a type of magic?

Did that mean my shapeshifting was magic and not a parahuman ability? Everyone knew magic was real. There were at least three magic users in the Protectorate but nobody knew how you went about learning it or why only some people could use it.

Dad stood up and walked towards me, I tried to back away but that would mean being back outside. He put a hand on my shoulder and I couldn’t stop myself from flinching.

Realisation dawned and his expression shifted from concerned to surprised and finally a sad smile. “Oh, Taylor, I’m so sorry. I never thought… Wings?” I nodded and he sighed. He didn’t hug me, thankfully. Instead, he placed both hands on my shoulders and looked me in the eyes.
“Go get dressed. I’ll explain everything, I promise.”

##

Getting dressed was easier said than done.

By the time I made it back to my room, I was starting to feel a growing pressure in my body, like a tensed muscle. It wasn’t unbearable but I’m not sure how long that would last. Relaxing, my body immediately shifted back to my other state.

It looked like this was my ‘real’ or default appearance and I couldn’t just stay transformed forever. I peeled the remains of my clothes off and tried to find something that would fit the ‘new’ me. I quickly realised I would need new tops, new jeans, new... everything, really.

My hips were too full for any of my jeans and my underwear was uncomfortably tight, not to mention my tail made it impossible for me pull them all the way up, so I went without. A pair of baggy tracksuit bottoms at least fit me, though being without underwear just felt weird, and I’d need to be carefully about bending over.

But what could I do for a top?

I pulled out a couple of tops from my closet to try on. The first was a simple t-shirt. I had some trouble getting it past my horns but with some careful positioning I managed it. I then ran into another problem—or was that 4 problems?—at the back; the shirt was caught up where my wings joined my back. And at the front, I had no real hope of stretching the shirt over my chest.

I tried anyway, twisting and flattening my wings in different, and mostly uncomfortable, ways. Trying to force myself into the shirt taught me two things. One, my body was much more sensitive than it used to be, and two, I was possibly stronger. A mistimed tug tore the shirt at the front.
With a sigh, I removed its remains. There was a blouse on my bed but just looking at it gave me visions of popping buttons, so I picked up the tracksuit jacket. If I moved my wings just right I could get it on and it was baggy enough that I could get it closed up front.

A look in the mirror however showed that I was clearly not wearing a top or bra of any kind. I wasn’t sure I could sit like that infront of my Dad, never mind actually go shopping. What's worse, trapping my wings was really uncomfortable.

I was debating taking a pair of scissors to the back of my largest shirt when there was a knock on my door.

“Hey kiddo, I’ve got some of your Mom's things out here if you need them,” Dad called out. “I’ll be in the living room when you're ready.”

I waited until I heard him reach the bottom of the stairs before I opened my door and pulled the box inside. I know Dad meant well but I couldn’t see any of Mom’s clothes fitting me.

She wasn’t too different from how I used to look. In fact, I was a good bit taller than Mom.

Still, with nothing to lose I opened the box. My jaw very nearly hit the floor.

The clothes inside were not what I expected. Mom had always dressed fairly conservatively, she’d been a college professor, after all. I’d expected a box of her old shirts or sweaters, but sitting on the very top of the box was a corset—a quarter of a corset anyway—with lace across the top and several parts that were nearly see-through.

I didn’t know much about corsets but I got the impression this was meant for the bedroom. Blushing to my toes, I moved the corset to the side and tried to find something a little more suitable.

As I dug through the clothes, it dawned on me that most of it tended towards the Victorian look. Most of it was black or purple, Mom's favorite colour, with lace and ruffles. There was even a purple half-cape with a ragged bottom. A white corset with black stripes was carefully wrapped up with a long blue dress.

Thinking back, I couldn’t remember seeing Mom in any of these. Maybe they were from her time at university, or her time with Lustrum? Another thing I realised was the sizes were all wrong, being much larger in the bust and hips than I remembered Mom as and almost everything was low-cut on the back or completely backless.

Eventually, I found a shirt that fit me. Getting it on, however, was not easy. My horns kept getting caught on the shirt and then I struggled to get them through the collar. My wings were actually the easiest part. Moving them was no harder than lifting an arm and felt completely natural.
Looking at myself in the mirror, I realised I was standing differently. I couldn’t really feel the weight of my horns, but they were there and I was aware of them. The wings especially were throwing my balance. Turning my back to the mirror I lifted the back of my shirt and made my wings twitch. I could see the muscles on my back shift and move with them.

It was only as I shifted back to my old appearance I realised I could have done so first and then gotten dressed. Remembering that for next time, I made my way down stairs.

Dad had carried a number of boxes up stairs while I was getting dressed. He was just struggling with a large one when I arrived. I moved to help him and ended up lifting the box out of his hands almost effortlessly.

Dad chuckled at my expression and showed me where to put the box. There was a strong smell coming from the boxes but I couldn’t for the life of me describe what it was. It was like trying to explain the taste of yellow. I also noticed a strong whiff of whiskey; there was a small glass of it on the table.

Opening one of the boxes, Dad pulled out a framed picture and stared at it, lost in thought. “Can… Can you show me?” he asked hesitantly.
I couldn’t look him in the face. Keeping my head down, I relaxed, letting my body shift back. As it did so, I was forced to move forward a bit on the sofa—my wings and tail were going to make sitting an issue.

Dad let out a gasp; I couldn’t stop myself from looking up at him. I’d expected to see fear but instead, Dad had that same sad smile. He held out the picture to me. “You look just like her,” he said quietly.

My jaw dropped when I saw the photo. It was clearly an old picture, taken on a rooftop or something near sunset, but what shocked me was the woman. She looked a lot like me, our skin and hair looked similar in colour and I could see the dark scales on her face and hands. Her horns were slightly different; mine pointed down near my mouth, but hers curled up.

What really shocked me was her face. “...Mom?” I asked, looking to Dad. He nodded.

“Yeah, that’s Annette, your mother as she really looked.”

I could feel my body shaking. This was Mom? What—how? Why did I never know? I struggled to get my thoughts in order, to form something coherent.

A hand landed on my shoulder and I realised it was Dad. He was muttering something as he ran a hand through my hair. Eventually, I calmed down enough to ask.

“Why?” Why what? I wasn’t really sure where to start, let alone what I wanted to know.

Dad gave me another sad smile and sat down in the armchair in front of me.

“Let me start from the beginning. You, Taylor, are my daughter and nothing will ever change that.”

He waited for me to nod before he continued, “Your mother was what most people would call a succubus,” I tried to protest but Dad held up a hand to stop me. “No, not the evil soul sucking demons you’ve probably read about.”

“Their actual history is complicated but I think there is a book in this lot somewhere that can explain it better. For now, I’ll try to keep things simple…”

Dad wasn’t great at explaining things but from what I could understand, reality was like a bubble with lots of smaller bubbles inside of it. These smaller bubbles were pocket dimensions that often overlapped or leaked into each other, and Earth sat in the middle like an anchor.

One of these ‘pocket dimensions’ are where succubi came from. Going by what Dad knew, it was actually quite a nice, if hot, place.
“So, how did Mom get here?”

“She was summoned. It’s not hard if you know what you’re doing, and have enough power backing you up. I’ve done it myself a few times, but never anything on that level.”

Wait, what? “You can use magic?”

Dad sighed and opened up another of the boxes. “Yeah, I fancied myself as quite the wizard once. That’s actually how I met your mother.” Reaching into the box, he pulled out a staff that was nearly as tall as him.

I stared open mouthed at him. There was no way that should have fit. Dad chuckled and laid the staff on the coffee table.

“Your mother was summoned to this world by Lustrum. She couldn’t use magic but she knew about succubi and she was fascinated by their society. Succubi are all women,” he explained. “Naturally, this makes their society a matriarchy.”

Lustrum had been a feminist cape years ago. At first she had only wanted equality and quickly built a large following of mostly college-aged girls. I didn’t know the full story, and Mom had never liked talking about it, but apparently things had escalated. Peaceful protests became violent, and equality became subjugation.

Eventually her followers started mutilating any man they could, and while nobody knew if Lustrum supported it or not, but she was willing to accept the responsibility. In the end, she was sent to the Birdcage and her followers disbanded.

I could see how an all female society would appeal to her, but Mom always told me she left before things turned violent. Was that a lie?
“I’m not sure who did the actual summoning,” Dad continued, “but your mother is the one they pulled through. Unlike normal summonings, they made no attempt to bind or control her. Lustrum just wanted to talk, and Annette was a teacher at heart, even then. She stayed with Lustrum and answered her questions. When things started going bad, Annette argued against it. Eventually, she left to go her own way.”

Dad paused to take a drink. I let everything he said sink in. it wasn’t too different from what I already knew but it didn’t answer the biggest question I had.

“Why did nobody tell me?”

Dad sighed. “It’s complicated, kiddo. Part of it was simply because children can’t keep secrets.” He shot me a knowing look and I flushed with shame; I’d been six, damn it!

“The other reason was that we didn’t want to upset you.”

“Why would I be upset?”

“Because what you’ve done—” he waved at my wings “—should be impossible. Succubi have a very low birth rate. They use ritual magic to conceive and even then there is no guarantee of success. Humans and succubi can have children but it’s rare, your mother beat the odds just to get pregnant. We both knew, right from the start, you would either be human or succubus.

“Children with a human parent are either one or the other, there is no ‘half’ and it shouldn’t have been possible for you to change that. Annette explained all this to me before you were born. It never changed how we felt about you but Annette was worried how you would feel about her. It’s not unheard of for human children to hate their succubus parent.

“We both suspected you would have magic. We even planned to teach you when you were old enough. But then… after...” He struggled to get the words out. Even now it was hard to think about, and we still never talked about Mom’s death.

Giving up, Dad shook his head. “After that, I wanted nothing to do with magic. I boxed everything up and just tried to forget about it.”
The air grew heavy and Dad took another drink.

“H-how did you really meet Mom?” I asked. They had always told me it was through some friends at college but now I doubted it.

Dad smiled and some of the life came back to his eyes, “After she left Lustrum, your mother focused on getting her teaching degree. That’s where I met her. I knew, as soon as I saw her that she could use magic. It was like finding a diamond in the street and I’ll admit, I got a little obsessed with her. I’ll skip the details, but I was horrified when I realised just what your mother was.”

He laughed at my surprised expression, “There is no formal education for magic users, we are all self-taught or taken as an apprentice. The only book I had that mentioned succubi was more fantasy than fact and I was convinced she was evil. So one night, I confronted her. I’d spent ages preparing and had dozens of spells and my new staff ready… Your mother thought I was ‘the most adorable little demon hunter she’d ever seen’,” he admitted with a blush.

Dad stood up and started digging through another box. “After she kicked my ass, she sat me down and explained everything to me. We started spending time together and well, you know what happened after that. Here, these were hers.” He handed me a couple of books.

The first looked professionally made and had a picture of stylised wings and horns on the cover. “That’s the most accurate book you can find on succubi. Your mother made me read it. The other is her personal journal. She started writing it when she was pregnant, it was supposed to be everything she wanted to teach you.”

Mom’s journal was a leatherbound book with floral prints on the cover. It was filled with Mom’s neat handwriting, and I skimmed through the first few pages. It read more like a notebook; ideas were scribbled in the margins and sections had been crossed out.

What really drew my eye was a line of symbols near the bottom of the page. I didn’t know what they meant but as I looked I could feel them trying to draw on… something. I reached towards it but Dad stopped me.

“Is that...?”

“Yeah, it’s a spell.” He turned his head to get a better look. “It’s… a light spell. Safe enough, go ahead.”

Wondering what he meant, I turned my attention the ‘spell’, it looked more like a complex maths formula than anything else. I could feel that pulling sensation and I reached out. My fingers brushed the page but nothing happend. I gave Dad a questioning looking but he simply nodded.

This time, I focused on the pulling. Did the spell need something? I tried to push against the sensation and gasped as I felt something inside of me shift. The words on the page started to glow. But I lost concentration, and the words went dark again.

I tried again, but this time, I didn’t stop until all the symbols were glowing. I watched as they detached themselves from the page, an ethereal copy floating just about the original writing.

Taking a calming breath I reached for the symbols and they merged into a glowing sphere. It felt delicate in my hands, like it would break if squeezed too hard. Dad mimed a gentle throwing action and I realised what he meant.

I threw the sphere. It hit the far wall and the room was filled with a bright white flash that left after-images on my eyes. I turned in shock to Dad who was grinning broadly. I broke into a smile of my own. I could use magic!

“So… I know it’s a bit late, but how do you feel about learning magic?” Dad offered, hugging me tightly. “We can make a weekend of it.”

I could use magic. This was something Emma and her friends could never take away from me.

I wouldn’t let them.

Chapter Text

After dinner, Dad sat down with me at the table and started teaching me the basics of magic. He’d dug a collection of books out one of the boxes. We’d ordered takeout as neither of us were really up to cooking after everything else that had happened today.

“This is your basic primer. It contains the full runic alphabet and a brief description of what they mean.” He passed a slim leather book to me. “By writing these in the correct order you can create a spell.”

He pulled a piece of paper towards himself and quickly wrote down a spell. “In theory, writing a spell is simple. You state the target—” he circled the first half of the spell he’d written “—then the effect. Go ahead and look up the runes, see if you can tell me what this does?”

I flipped through the book, making notes on a sheet of paper. Each rune could form one syllable or it could be a word on its own or a part of a polysyllabic word. The first rune I found was… ‘Open’? it took me a bit of reading to realise that the rune before it stood for ‘Define’ or ‘Target.’
Oh, I get it! I quickly scribbled ‘Target Open’ on the sheet. The next rune was ‘Light’

[Target {Open}; Light {Blue};]

“It’s a light spell, like the one I tried earlier but coloured blue?” I wasn’t too sure about the last part but Dad smiled and nodded.
“That’s right. Interesting idea on the notes, where did you learn that?”

I looked at my notes and I realised I’d what I'd been writing. "It’s the pseudocode my computer science teacher was showing us."

“Makes sense, most magic users have there own way of making notes. Now, can you think of a reason for using ‘Open’ as the target?”

“... Because there isn’t one. This just creates a flash of light wherever the spell lands?”

“Exactly, if we replace ‘Open’ with ‘Hand’ you would get a spell that works a bit like a flashlight. Now this is just spell crafting at its most basic, it gets much more complicated once you start adding conditions."

It took me much longer to translate his next spell.

[Target {Hand}; Light {Blue}; Direction {Forward {Hand}}; Power {User {Constant}};]

“That’s more or less it,” Dad said. “The ‘Constant’ means the spell will last as long as you continue to feed it power. You can add all sorts of conditions such as timers or triggers as you see fit. It all depends on your imagination. Why don’t you try creating a couple of your own?”

Dad busied himself making us both some tea while I worked. In the end, I created a spell that should act like a stun grenade, a loud bang and bright flash that shouldn’t effect me if I got the runes right. I also made one to conjure water.

Looking the formula over, Dad seemed impressed. “Protecting yourself against your own spell is a clever idea. For the most part, you are immune to effects of your own spells. For example—” he created a ball of flame in his hand “—this fire will not burn me while I’m channeling power into it. If I was to set the table alight, however, I would no longer be protected.”

“This brings us to some basic safety rules: don’t try cast a spell unless you know exactly what it will do. And I don’t want you using ‘Constant’ until you’ve gotten accustomed to feeling your magic. If you cast a spell that requires more power than you can supply it will start to drain your body. In some cases, this can be lethal.”

He closed his hand, snuffing out the flames.

“How did you do that?” I said. “I didn’t see you write anything down.”

“Hmm? That’s why you should be very careful about casting spells you didn’t write yourself. With practice you’ll get more familiar with a spell and will be able to get the same effect using less runes. Eventually, you’ll be able to cast your most common spells without writing anything. This means a spell someone else has written may be missing important runes. A lot of magic users find that out the hard way.”

As Dad explained it, anybody could write spells, but only people who had magic could use them. But there were exceptions, of course; it was possible to store magic in objects or devices that could then be used by others.

Apparently, this was actually a bit of a problem, as it meant there was a large number of enchanted artifacts around that anybody could use. What’s more, if a magician used the same spell book for a long period it would slowly develop a charge. The ‘scrolls of Merlin’ were said to have so much magic stored in them that they couldn’t even be handled safely.

Dad didn’t go into too much detail as most of that was high magic theory and not something I needed to worry about for a while yet.

Returning to the lesson, Dad quickly scribbled another spell. Rather than have me translate it, he asked me to close my eyes and focus power into it.
Doing as he asked, I felt the same pull from earlier. Dad explained it as the spell trying to draw on my magic.
“Now, this spell has no power runes, this means any magic you put in will immediately evaporate. For now, I want you to feed energy into it and see if you can feel the flow of your magic. When you are confident enough, try increasing or decreasing the flow. This is so you can learn how to cut off a spell if you need to.”

Putting my hand over the spell, I felt the same pulling sensation as before. Pushing against it I could see the runes starting to light up but they never got beyond a dull glow. Closing my eyes, I tried to ‘feel’ my magic.

After a while, Dad made me stop and take a break. It took me four attempts before I was able to feel it. It was impossible to describe, it felt like liquid fire was moving through my body and into the spell. By focusing on where I could feel the ‘drain’ I found I could ‘push’ against it to increase the flow, or ‘pull’ to slow it. Stopping the flow altogether was much harder and the effort left me breathless.

As I opened my eyes, Dad put a hand on my shoulder and smiled proudly

##


By the time we called it a night, my head was swimming in information and I decided to take a shower to help me relax.

Stripping down, I ignored my reflection in the small bathroom mirror. It wasn’t big enough for me to see more than my face in it and I would never get anything done if I kept stopping to stare at myself.

I gave the shower a minute to warm up before I stepped in, but even then, the water was barely warm. Frowning at the dial, I realised it was at my usual temperature. Dad had said I was tougher now and that succubi came from a hot world so I shouldn’t be surprised.

Carefully turning the dial, I got the shower how I liked it. Washing my hair had always been a chore, and the addition of horns only made the task more arduous as my wet hair kept tangling on them. But my hair was my best feature and I went to pains to keep it looking nice.

Standing under the shower head, I was very much aware of the spray as it hit my body. Closing my eyes, I let the feelings wash over me as my hands explored my new appearance. My fingers brushed over the scales on my body and I wondered if they would need any special treatment. As my hands worked their way up, I could feel heat starting to pool between my legs and gently bit my lip to stifle a moan.

One hand ghosted across my breasts, catching a nipple and giving it a tweak, causing me to gasp. It seemed so bizarre for my scales to be so hard and my flesh so soft, and yet for the sensation to be almost the same, even as — I gasped again. My hand had brushed across my nipple, and almost without my thought it returned, fingers rubbing and pulling at that little nub of flesh as my other hand slid back down again, across my stomach, down further—Fuck! I held my breath, my mouth ajar as my fingers pried my folds apart, so soft and slick and—

##


By the time I got out of the shower, I was having trouble keeping myself upright. I pulled some of Mom's clothes on and did my best to dash up to my room, despite the occasional muscle spasm and my face being flushed with embarrassment.

I didn’t see Dad as I passed but I thought I heard him moving around in the basement. Hopefully he hadn’t heard me. I don't think I’d made much noise.

My face was still burning when I reached my room. I wasn’t completely innocent, I’d… explored myself in the past, but it had never been that intense. Just thinking about that was enough to get a reaction, and I quickly searched for something to distract me.

Grabbing the book Dad had given me, I forced myself to focus on that. The book was a bit dry, despite its subject matter, and there were little comments scribbled on some of the pages that I recognised as Mom’s handwriting. Mostly it was just minor corrections, but on one page almost everything had been scribbled out, and a piece of paper was tucked between the pages with what I assumed was the corrected information.

Shifting on my bed, I couldn't get comfortable. Between my tail and wings laying on my back to read was uncomfortable, and my chest made laying on my stomach just as difficult.

Giving up, I sat up and stared at myself in my full length mirror. Despite my time in the shower I was still a little wired, so I decided to satisfy my curiosity.

I spent some time poking and prodding my new additions. My horns were a lot like my nails, I could feel it when they were touched but that might just be the weight pulling on my temples. My wings were quite sensitive and running my hand across the thin membrane made me shiver. My tail got more sensitive the closer to the joint you got.

Pulling my top off, I examined the scales on my body but I was quickly distracted by my breasts. They were large, firm and nicely shaped. Putting my hand underneath I lifted one to get a feel for the weight.

I wouldn’t be surprised if my enchanced strength was simply so I could carry them. A passage from the… erotic book Emma had stolen popped into my head, making me blush. Wondering how it would look, I held my hands above my head and shook gently. Watching my reflection, the movement was… hypnotic.

Giggling quietly to myself, I decided to try something else. I brought a nipple up to my mouth. It feel… odd. Not bad, actually kinda pleasant, but I couldn’t really see the appeal. Maybe it was the angle, or I needed to do more… I mouthed at it, kissing it. Oh… That was better. My tongue flicked across it and my hand tightened in response. Oh...

I looked up at the mirror and saw myself almost devouring my flesh. The view was kinda... kinda hot. Closing my eyes, I let my mind wander. ‘Lita slowly crawled her way up her lover's body, her fingers leaving trails of fire—”

It was really late by the time I finished, and I was glad I didn’t have to worry about school. Pulling my clothes on, I quickly nipped into the bathroom to clean myself up. I noticed my bottom lip was quite red where I had bitten it in an effort to keep quiet, and there was even a little blood.

Hoping it wouldn’t be too visible tomorrow, I went back to my room, finally feeling satisfied.

Now that I had calmed down, I was a little worried about how I’d been behaving. Being more sensitive was one thing but I didn’t want to end up spending every day stuck in my room, only able to—well, explore myself. Especially if it made moving around so hard. Those orgasms were—had been—fantastic, but if it came at the cost of any attempts at coordination failing due to their sheer trembling wonder…

I wasn’t sure who I could really talk to about it. God, just thinking about asking Dad made me feel ill.

Spotting the book I’d been reading, I decided to give it another try and see if there was anything in there.

Chapter Text

Sighing in contentment, I took another bite out of my burger.

After nearly two weeks of reading, lessons in magic, and relaxing, I was finally starting to feel ‘normal’. My reflection no longer made me jump and I could look at myself in the mirror without blushing. I’d also finished… changing.

I’d thought that after the first, rather drastic change, I was done, but it turned out I was wrong. Over the last two weeks I’d developed extra abilities. Like a form of empathy that manifested as taste, I could literally taste how the people around me were feeling. Good or happy moods tasted sweet and pleasant while darker moods tended to be bitter.

I hadn’t realised until then that Dad was just as depressed as me. It hung like a cloud around him, tasting like ash. Thankfully, it had lifted slightly over christmas, but it still worried me. The faint, but constant, smell of whiskey doesn’t help either.

Another thing I’d also realised, was that I could ‘smell’ magic. I couldn’t tell you what that ‘smell’ was, it was like trying to explain how burning purple tasted, but it was so unique I could always recognise it.

The final change was the reason I was sitting in the food court at a mall a safe distance from my house.

Closing my eyes, I felt the energy around me being given off by hundreds of people, and allowed myself to drink it in. I could eat normal food without a problem but my new body needed something more.

Succubi needed energy to live and they had two ways of getting it. Active ‘feeding’ which involved pinning a victim down and forcibly drawing energy from them. Or passive ‘feeding’. That’s what I was doing now.

Apparently, it wasn’t really viable in the past but as cities grew bigger and more crowded it became easier.

All living things gave off energy, some of Mom’s books referred to it as the light of the soul, or proof of existence. All I knew was that people gave off energy, and things like emotions tended to affect that. Passively feeding from one or two people was nearly impossible but with enough people in one place none of them would even notice the small amounts of energy I took from them.

It had been a relief to know I didn’t need to kill or seduce people to feed. According to everything I had read and what Dad told me, most people who were fed on by a succubus recovered within a day or so and that it didn’t require sex.

Feeding during sex simply made it easier to hide what happened. People understood why they were utterly exhausted after a passionate night in bed, after all.

I didn’t have to ‘feed’ of course, I could survive on normal food, but I would quickly lose my extra abilities such as my enhanced senses and the power to shapeshift.

Shaking the thoughts out of my head, I closed off my connection to the world around me. Thankfully my borrowed clothes were baggy and thick enough to hide my lack of a bra. Right now, I could probably cut glass.

It happened a lot when I ‘fed’. Apparently, while I didn’t need sex to ‘feed’, the two were still connected so ‘feeding’ tended to be… arousing.

I was finally getting used to my new level of sensitivity, even if I did still get wound up and off easily. The book Dad gave me explained that all succubi had high libidos but it was Mom’s journal that had explained why.

Mom had put lines through everything the book said about where succubi came from and wrote the real story in her journal.

With a shudder, I pushed that thought away and stood up. Knowing someone had designed my body, from the way it reacted to my orientation, made my skin crawl if I dwelled on it too long.

The mall I was in was spread across three floors and the upper most was the food court. If I worked my way downwards, I could get everything I needed and leave.

Not wanting to look out of place, I had used my shapeshifting to hide my scales, wings, tail and horns but for the sake of getting clothes that fitted, my figure was untouched. While I could shift to fit into my old clothes, I still couldn’t hold that shape for more than a few hours, and when my body changed back, it tended to ruin my clothes.

If however, I was wearing clothes that fit me before shifting, I could change them with my body and not worry about stretching them out when I changed back. Even if bursting out of my clothes was kinda hot.

Glancing around as I walked, I spotted another guy watching me and blushed. I couldn’t help it, my hips swayed when I walked; I think it was because of my tail.

That aside, I had to stop blushing every time I caught someone looking at me. The clothes I were wearing were the most loose-fitting I could find but I was still attracting looks. Though that guy walking into a wall when I stretched was funny.

That’s why I was at this specific mall. It was as far as I could get from Winslow and Emma’s house. Nobody who would recognise me shopped here.

Taking a breath, I decided to start with underwear. I couldn’t keep going braless and I was curious about my size. There was a large store in the middle of the mall that had a women's underwear department, I figured I’d be able to find something there that fits me.

 

##


Five minutes later, I came to the sinking realisation that this was going to be harder than I thought.

I had no clue what my sizes were and there was no fitting service here. The best I could do, was use Mom’s sizes as a starting point but I was both taller and bigger than her so they weren’t much to go on.

Then there was the choices. Anything that looked even remotely close to fitting me was either some fragile, semi-transparent lace affair with no support or looked like it belonged on an old woman. And forget about finding a sports bra.

For one brief moment, I actually found some that looked like they would fit and looked nice. But when I picked one up, I realised it had the major flaw. Why are they padded?!

Seriously, I’m already size ‘holy shit look at her’. “I don’t need or want padding,” I growled in frustration and hung it back up.

“It’s because they’re typically designed by a man,” a girl next to me said, making me jump. “Not having much luck?” She was shorter than me and a bit mousy, her brown hair was frizzy and there were freckles on her face.

“U-um, no… Fashion really isn’t my thing,” I explained.

Could the ground just swallow me now please?

“Hmm, well I hate to say it, but I don’t think you’re going to have much luck in here,” she said, gesturing to the clothes around us.

With a sigh, I put it back; I’d picked up without thinking.

Giving me a pitying look, she held out her hand. “Here, how about I help. My name’s Amelia but my friends call me Amy.”

For a second, I considered making my excuses and just leaving. I could do this another day, I’d just wear some of Mom's clothes or something for now. I’d never been great at making friends and after Emma I wasn’t sure I wanted to try again.

Before I could however, it dawned on me that I didn’t need to worry it. I could ‘taste’ the honest concern she was giving off. It was tinted with something… musky… I couldn’t quite place but it was still pleasant.

Steeling myself, I took her hand. “T-Taylor, and thanks.”

She seemed to lose focus when we shook hands but recovered quickly. “No problem, What do you actually need to get and do you know what sizes you are?”

“Umm, not really? I kinda had a growth spurt over the holidays and now nothing fits. I was hoping to get some jeans, some tops and some… underwear,” I explained, hoping she wouldn’t press for too many details.

This time, she gave me an open mouthed stare as she looked me up and down. “Oh that’s just not fair,” she muttered. “Okay,” she said in a much more normal voice, “I don’t think you’re gonna find anything here. let’s work our way outwards, there’s a lingerie store further down that does proper fittings, we should head there and get your sizes first.”

The shop she was talking about was huge with two massive windows out front. Each window was large enough to house three mannequins side by side, each in different lingerie. For privacy’s sake, the displays were boxed in so passers-by couldn't see more than what was close to the door.

Inside, the store was decorated in pinks and blacks with a little silver thrown in, and that same musky smell hung in the air. It wasn’t purely a lingerie store if the displays were anything to go by and I had to fight down a blush at some of the merchandise.

Amy walked down the aisle to a screened off area where a young woman was waiting. I missed what she said when I noticed one of the posters on the wall. Is that Emma? It certainly looked like her and I knew she did the occasional modeling job, but this?

Between the risque pose and lack of clothes I mistook her for someone older.

“Taylor? you okay?” Amy called, making me blush.

“Y-Yeah, it’s just… I think I know her.” I waved at the poster.

“Oh yes,” the shop assistant said, smiling, “we recruited local models for our new displays.”

“But isn’t she a bit… young?” I asked.

The assistant looked confused. “What do you mean?”

It might have been wrong, but I couldn’t stop the feeling of satisfaction. “That’s Emma Barnes, right? She’s fifteen. We’re in the same classes.”

The assistant paled and I could taste the worry pouring off her. “E-excuse me!” With that, she hurried off, probably to talk to her manager.

“You’re fifteen? Huh, I thought you were closer to seventeen,” Amy said giving me another look. “I guess that explains why you didn’t know your size.”

I was just thinking of a good lie when another young woman came over and politely ushered me into changing room. With a bit of urging, I pulled my top off. The assistant stared and I could taste her surprise. After that, it didn’t take long to get my sizes.

“I’m how big?!”

Outside, I heard Amy choke back a laugh and that musky smell got stronger.

I was still blushing when the sales assistant helped me find several bras in my size, including two sport bras and some matching bottoms. While she was giving me some tips, Amy was looking between me and a nearby display. “Y’know Taylor,” she said, “I think you would look great in a corset.”

The one she was looking at was was labeled as an ‘underbust’ corset. It was a corset that stopped under the breasts, and next to it was an ‘overbust’ corset that covered the breast. They did look cool and from what I had seen of Mom’s clothes, she was very fond of them.

Maybe I could try one?

“Do they even do them in my size?” I asked, paling when I saw the price tag. The underwear was already taking most of my money, there was no chance I could afford one of these as well.

“I’m sorry but we don’t really stock them in your size. We could order some in for you if you are interested? Or you can try here,” the assistant said, smiling and handing me a card for a shop off the boardwalk called ‘Parian’ “She does a lot of custom clothing so she might be able to help you out.”

“Ooh I know her,” Amy said. “She’s not cheap though.”

With a shrug, I pocketed the card—it wouldn’t hurt to hold onto it—and went to pay for my purchases. After I paid for everything, I checked with the assistant and quickly ducked back into the changing rooms, slipping into one one of the sport bras. I'd barely needed a bra before, even if I did make sure to always wear one. Wearing one after nearly two weeks without felt odd but I knew I'd get used to it eventually.

As we left, I could see the shop assistants pulling down the pictures of Emma, and one of them was talking frantically on the phone.

Back in the earlier store, it took a few tries but I soon found some jeans in my sizes. The entire time, Amy and I were talking. We never really spoke about anything important, just general small talk. Being with Amy was nice, it was like having a friend again.

I did learn that Amy liked to read and, through an accidental comment from me, was reading the same sci-fi series as me, which had set us both to giggling.

One odd thing was that I kept catching her staring at me. Occasionally, I would turn and her eyes would snap upwards to my face or I’d see her giving me this odd look out the corner of her eye. Everytime she did, I could taste her embarrassment at being caught and that same musky smell/taste. It was only when I caught a guy giving me the same look and getting a slap from his girlfriend in return that I realised what it was.

On the upside, I think I knew what I was smelling/tasting.

Amy was attracted to me!

I wasn’t sure how to feel about that. I’d spent the better part of a year being insulted by Emma, being told how plain and unattractive I was, having my complete lack of any feminine features thrown in my face every day.

It wouldn’t have been so bad if somebody, anybody aside from Greg Veder—my own personal stalker—had shown any interest in me, physically or mentally.

I’d never had anyone attracted to me and wasn’t sure what to do about it.

Eventually, I decided that it was harmless to just enjoy it for now.

Feeling playful, I picked up a pair of jeans that were just a little bit too small and took them into the changing room. Slimming my legs down a bit, I slipped into the jeans and carefully changed back.

The jeans creaked slightly, and it was too uncomfortable to do this for long, but it worked. They clung to my legs and backside so tightly they looked painted on.

Opening the curtain I called out to Amy, “What do you think?”

When I turned to look at the mirror behind me, I could see the reflection as she stared, open mouthed, at my backside.

“How do you get into those!?” she asked.

“Well you can start with flowers.” The words were out of my mouth before I could stop them and we both went scarlet.

Ducking back into the changing room, I peeled the jeans off and tried to calm down.

Okay, maybe that was taking it a little too far.

When I left the changing room, Amy was still blushing but we both decided, without saying a word, to act like it never happened.

We ended up spending so long in the mall that we decided to get dinner in the food court. We were still making small talk when Amy’s phone went off.

“Damn, sorry, one second.” Checking the screen, she frowned and shoved her phone back into her pocket.

“I’m really sorry but I have to go, something's come up. I had fun today, we should… maybe... do it again?” she asked the last part with a blush and I realised that yes, I would like to meet up with her again.

“Sure,” I said with a smile and blush of my own.

I didn’t have a cellphone so we had to settle for swapping email addresses.

Picking up my bags, I made my way outside. There were some payphones just inside the doors and I used one to call Dad so he could pick me up. There was no way I was going to take this lot on the bus.

It was dark out by the time Dad arrived in his truck. Throwing my bags onto the back seat, I climbed in.

“Hey kiddo, I thought you would be done hours ago. Did anything happen?” he asked.

“Nothing really, I just ran into someone and we got talking. We ended up having dinner together.”

Dad smiled at me. “Good, in that case, I take it you had a good time?”

“Yeah, it was… nice.”

Things were finally looking up.

Chapter Text

Looking at my reflection in the mirror, I considered adding another inch or two to my figure.

Today was the first day of school since the holiday and I was trying to decide how I should look.

My tail, horns and wings of course, had to be hidden and my face was mostly unchanged but I wasn’t sure what to do about my new figure. I couldn’t just walk into school looking like this, the change was far too drastic to be passed off as a simple ‘growth spurt’.

Even if I was ignored by most of the school, Emma would certainly notice.

I could already hear the rumors of surgery and padding.

At the same time, I didn’t want to go back to school looking like my old self.

I’d spent most of last night thinking about it and in the end, I came up with with a solution I thought would work.

Dressed in my new clothes, I shifted back to my original appearance. Then, I added just a little bit of growth to my chest and hips. I worked slowly, adding a little bit then pausing to examine the changes.

I stopped when the changes were just starting to be noticeable but still small enough that people wouldn’t ask questions. Two weeks was enough time that most would just label it as natural growth.

Then, over the next couple of weeks, I would slowly increase my sizes. I wasn’t sure where I would stop but eventually, I would reach a point I was happy with and over enough time that it wouldn’t raise too many eyebrows.

Admittedly, the idea of walking into school with only my demonic features hidden was a tempting one. No hiding, no pretending, just me. Not that I had the guts for that, just thinking about the amount of attention that would bring made me feel sick.

Still, I felt comfortable enough to hold this form for a few hours at least, especially if I ducked into the toilets during the lunch break and shifted back to normal. It would be a bit of a risk but five minutes rest would be enough to let me keep the disguise up for the rest of the day.

Checking myself over one last time, I decided I was good to go and made my way downstairs. Dad was eating his breakfast when I reached the kitchen.

Aside from a curious look at my appearance, he didn't say anything.

Waving goodbye, I decided to jog to school.

##

Enhanced endurance was great. By the time I reached Winslow I was barely breathing hard and I beat the bus. I planned to be seen jogging more to help sell my changes as natural.

Arriving at Winslow, everything looked normal. It was only when I got within fifty yards or so of the grounds that I realised something was wrong. Walking forwards, I felt resistance, like something was pushing back against me. It was like trying to walk through treacle, it wasn’t actively stopping me but it felt almost like it was examining me.

Pushing past it, I turned and looked back. I couldn't see anything but I could faintly smell magic in the air around me. One of Dad’s books mentioned wards, protective spells that could be bound to an area. Had I just walked through one?

I suppose it made sense for a school to be protected. But who set it up?

Turning back towards school, I gasped as I saw Winslow from inside the ward.

I’d expected Winslow to be like the mall. A mass of people in one place, there emotions boiling over as they rushed about their lives. Given it was a school full of teenagers, I’d half expected lust and confusion to be the most prominent emotions.

Instead, a dark cloud hung over the school. It felt like anger, rage and depression, all caught in a roiling sea of hate. Around me, the smog wrapped around the other students, feeding on them and growing darker even as I watched.

Its hold seemed to vary from one student to the other. Some were barely touched, but others were so consumed by it that they were lost in clouds of their own darkness.  

And beneath it all was a building tension. An anticipation of something big.

Gritting my teeth, I pushed forwards. Had Winslow always looked like this, or was it a recent thing? I needed to ask Dad about this later.

Somehow, things were even worse inside.

The smog had seeped into the very walls, saturating them and radiating out into the students.

If I forced myself not to pay attention to it, it faded from my sight. But I could still feel it brushing up against my skin, trying to find purchase. More than that, I could taste and smell it.  

I considered stopping by my locker but I didn’t want to risk any more of my stuff going missing. Besides, even with all my books in it, my bag felt almost weightless to me now.

The prickling on my skin kept me distracted while I walked to my first class. So much so, that I almost walked right passed Sophia without even noticing her.

A foot shot out to trip me up and I barely managed to stay standing. Sophia laughed but didn’t say anything, and when I turned to look at her I almost threw up.

The dark cloud poured out of her eyes and mouth, and her emotions were a tangled mess that I could barely make sense of. Even as she opened her mouth to say something, I saw the cloud reaching out and thickening on the people nearest to her.

Not wanting to see anymore, I turned and walked away.

There was a burst of anger behind me and stepped aside just in time to avoid Sophia grabbing my arm.

“Don’t get cocky, bitch,” she hissed at me. “You think a little bit of tissue will change anything?”

Out the corner of my eye, I could see a teacher approaching. I didn’t expect him to help, but Sophia wouldn’t pull something in front of him.

Throwing me a dirty look, she walked away. “This isn’t over, Hebert.”

##

It got easier to ignore the darkness as the day went on, but I was determined to ask Dad about it when I got home.

Still, things soon slipped back into routine. The teachers rarely making an effort, students walking around with gang tags or colours on display. At one point, I spotted one boy showing off his new knife.

Like most schools, Winslow had been fitted with metal detectors at the entrances. But barely a week later, somebody broke into the school at night and smashed them up. After the third such occurrence, the school simply stopped bothering with ordering replacements.

The only positive difference was the occasional glance I got from some of my classmates when they noticed my ‘growth’. I even overheard one of the football players mentioning me, which would have been nice, if he wasn’t well known as an Empire recruiter.

Unfortunately, Sophia must have spoken to Emma. There was a short break between my first and second classes, intended to give students time to get to their lockers, and Emma chose then to make a move.

She and a group of her friends surrounded me. I nearly choked on the thick cloud hanging over them.

“Did you see her?” Emma asked, starting things off.

Her friends picked up the conversation and ran with it, their voices blending together as they ‘whispered’ about me, snickering all the while.

“Yeah, who does she think she’s kidding?”

“What do you think, chicken fillets or tissue?”

“Does it matter?”

“She’s just desperate. Mandy saw her hanging out on 23rd street, and you know what goes on down there.”

Rolling my eyes, I tuned them out and kept walking. I had to concentrate on blocking out the spite they were radiating. There was one downside to empathy.

Realising she wasn’t getting to me, Emma changed tactics. “Aww, what’s the matter, Taylor? Can’t find your book? Maybe you should spend less time crying about your mom.”

My temper flared, despite myself. How dare she use that against me! Losing Mom had torn me apart, and the only thing that had held me together had been Emma. This wasn’t the first time she’d used Mom's death to hurt me, but it still hurt.

Focusing on her, I ignored the grief and desperation she was radiating. I considered just grabbing her by the throat and pounding her face in, I was strong enough now that none of her friends would be able to stop me.

I could feel my body wanting to respond, to shift back and drive my claws into her chest.

I forced the impulse down but something must have shown on my face as Emma took a step back. Using the distraction, I pushed my way free, ‘accidentally’ bumping Emma with my shoulder as I passed.

##

 By lunchtime, I was finally calming down. I knew I had a bit of a temper but even for me, I was unusually angry.

Not wanting to risk the lunch hall, I made my way to a girls toilets on the far side of the school. I  locked myself in a stall and relaxed. Immediately, my body shifted back to its real form. There was a dull ache, like a tense muscle finally loosened, but it faded quickly.  I knew I was taking a risk but I needed to be myself for a few minutes.

Putting the lid down, I sat on the toilet and cracked open my lunch. It was just sandwiches, cheap, simple and filling. The problem was, after spending all morning shapeshifted, my body wanted more than that.

Originally, I’d thought I could passively feed while at school, but that ‘smog’ had unnerved me. I couldn’t describe it, not really. It just felt wrong . I could still feel it, moving across my skin, looking for a way in, and I didn’t dare risk opening myself to it by feeding.   

I wasn’t at any risk of losing my powers just yet. From what Dad had said, that would take days. So, for now, my sandwiches would have to do. Maybe I could try feeding on the bus, or I could stop by the boardwalk on the way home.  

I was just finishing my lunch when I heard footsteps outside my stall, followed by Sophia's voice.

“I think she’s in here.”

Panicking slightly, I tried to shift back into my disguise. I didn’t like the idea of being trapped but I couldn’t risk them seeing me like this.  

Without even thinking about it, I wrapped my wings around me and shifted just as someone banged on the stall door.

“O-Occupied!” That... wasn’t my voice. Looking down, I saw my clothes had shifted into a lightly coloured top that exposed far too much cleavage. My skin was a rich mocha brown, and as I stood up, I realised I was shorter, too. Even my bag had changed, looking a lot more expensive than anything I actually owned.

I can use this, I thought. Smiling, and trying to act more confident than I felt, I flushed the toilet, picked up my bag and opened the door. Sophia, Emma and Madison stared at me.

“What?” I said, grateful that my power brought with it some instinctual acting skills.

“Sorry, we were looking for someone,” Emma said. “Have you seen Taylor Hebert?”

“Who?” I asked, trying to looked puzzled.

“Tall skinny bitch, dark hair, wears glasses?” Sophia said.

“Oh, her. I think she went to the roof,” I said with my borrowed voice.

Sophia snorted. “Maybe she’ll do us a favour and jump? Come on, let’s go find her.”  

“You two go ahead, I’ll catch up,” Madison said.

While they were talking, I walked over to the sink and washed my hands. A glance in the mirror showed a pretty young girl dressed in rather trashy clothes with a dyed blonde streak in her hair.

She looked vaguely familiar. Maybe someone I saw at the mall?

In the mirror, I could see Madison giving me an odd look. I could taste her confusion, laced with more than a little arousal. I also noticed that we were now about the same height.

“Y’know,” Madison said, almost making me jump. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you around before.”

I shrugged. “Don’t come that often,” I said, a touch sullen.

“That’s a pity,” Madison said with a salacious grin. “If you ever want to change that, give me a call?”

She pulled a pen and some paper out of her bag and wrote a number down, tucking it into my bag with a wink. It was only then that I realised just what she had said.

I could feel myself blushing. Madison of all people was hitting on me? I knew she liked to play up on her ‘cuteness’ to get away with stuff at school but there were rumours about her.

That even I knew them showed just how widespread they were.

“Erm… Thanks?” Wanting to get away as quickly as possible, I grabbed my bag and almost ran from the bathroom.

Walking down the hall, my current appearance was attracting way too much attention. Several boys in Empire colours gave me dangerous looks, anger, hate, and even some lust radiating off them. I needed to change back quickly.

Ducking into a different toilet, I used one of the stalls to shift back to my disguised form.  

As I changed back, I thought about Madison.

She followed Emma and Sophia around like a puppy, always happy to join in whenever they started bullying someone. I wasn’t the only target after all, just their favorite. Thing was, if the other two weren't around, Madison wouldn’t do anything.

The biggest rumor about her was that she was some kind of nymphomaniac. That she would sleep with anyone who asked. As far as I knew, no one had ever actually tried to test that. Or if they did, they kept quiet about it.

I actually considered taking her up on her offer. Maybe I could arrange a date or something and stand her up? Or tell everyone she was dating a kid? I wasn’t sure how old the girl I’d copied had been, but her face looked younger than mine.

That brought all kinds of amusing images to mind. I could copy Emma’s appearance and go streaking through the halls or get a cheap camera and post nude pictures of her or Sophia online.  

Shame I couldn’t clone myself. Emma and Sophia were close enough that pictures of them ‘together’ would circulate like wildfire.  

Even as I came up with more elaborate forms of revenge, I knew I wouldn’t do it. Sure, it would be easy, but it meant dropping to their level, being just as cruel and twisted as they were, and I refused to go there.

The tingling of the darkness on my skin eased. I had gotten so used to it, I hadn’t noticed it getting stronger, and it was only its sudden absence that caught my attention. Shuddering, I made my way to my next class.

Maybe I should ask Dad about getting a cellphone? I’d be able to ask him about things like this quicker.

##

The final lesson of the day was world issues, with Mr. Gladly. I couldn’t stand him.

He acted like the popular kids at school. Or at least, that’s what he probably thought. In truth, he acted more like someone who wanted to be popular but never quite managed it. He was short, with a young face, and often insisted the students call him ‘Mr. G’.

If he knew what they actually called him when he wasn’t around, he’d be much less ingratiating.

He liked to assign group work or class discussion and turned a blind eye to what most of the students, especially the popular ones, got up to.

This meant Madison and some of Emma’s friends, who were also in my class, were free to take shots at me.

It was also here that I discovered a downside to my altered appearance.

As per usual, Mr. Gladly had given us a group project and split us into pairs. Also as usual, he allowed us to pick our own partners, and everyone paired up, leaving me with Greg.

Greg was one of the few people who spoke to me without malice after Emma’s betrayal, but I wouldn’t call him a friend. Maybe I was being too harsh, but he always struck me as creepy. He had no sense of personal space, and never stopped to think before he said something stupid.

Emma and her friends liked to call him a stalker, something even I’d joked about to myself.

Unfortunately, he was one of the few people who paid me enough attention to really notice my changes. I knew he’d noticed because he was currently, and rather blatantly, staring at my chest.

I cleared my throat to get his attention and gave him a warning look. With a blush, he turned back to his work. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Emma and one of her friends laughing at me.

It would have been easier to ignore him if I couldn’t literally taste his emotions.

Taking a deep breath, Greg tried to talk to me.

“So… Taylor… anything happen during the holidays?” he asked, his eyes dropping down then back up. It was almost comical. There was barely anything there, especially compared to my real size. But he wouldn’t stop staring.

You’re as subtle as a brick, Greg. I wonder what he’d do if he ever saw the real me. On second thought, I could imagine it all too easily. Ugh.

“No, not really,” I said neutrally. It was like watching a car crash in slow motion. I could see where this was going, and yet, I couldn’t think of anything to do that would stop it.

“Oh… Well… you look good? Did you get a new jumper?” Even he flinched at that one.

Clearing his throat, he tried again. “I-I mean, do you wanna hang out after school sometime?”

And there it is. Outwardly, I sighed. “I’m sorry, Greg, but… no.” I was trying to be gentle, I really was.

"C-come on! It'll be fun. Oh! I saw on the net, a new arcade opened up on the docks, a few weeks back. We could go. Uh, you know, together."

A new arcade? There hadn’t been any new stores built down there in years. In fact, the only arcade down there at all was that dingy place with all those naked pictures of girls on the… oh. Oh god. Was he talking about the brothel ?

I’d overhead Dad and his friends complaining about it one night. It was made up to look like an arcade from the outside but hidden behind the doors was an ABB whore house.

I groaned quietly. “Greg, please tell me you've never actually been in there! That is not an arcade.”

Someone at a nearby table giggled. Had someone heard that, somehow? Over all the other noise? I hoped not.

“What’s the matter, Hebert?” a girl’s voice said from behind me, accompanied by more giggles. “Lover’s quarrel?”

“What’s it to you?” Greg demanded, sliding closer to me and trying to put his arm around my shoulders.

“Greg, shut up,” I snapped, shrugging his arm off and fixing him with a glare.

In an uncharacteristic moment of wisdom, Greg took the hint and moved away from me, though he didn’t stop casting glances at my breasts. Eventually, I brought my foot down on his and he learned to focus on his work.

There were a few more giggles and some whispered comments as the class continued, but I made a show of ignoring them.

When the bell finally rang, I threw my books into my bag and stormed out of the classroom.

Greg was nearly running to keep up with me. “Taylor! Taylor wait!”

Stopping, I turned to glare at him, “What?

He flinched like a kicked puppy.

“Look, I’m sorry. I just… I just thought it would be nice to spend some time together.”

Stepping closer, he tried to put his arm around my waist. Instead, I felt his hand brush across my ass.   

At that point, I was officially done. I didn't want to be a bitch, but it had been a weird day and I’d finally had enough.  

Growling, I pushed Greg away from me and into the wall.

“Don’t fucking touch me,” I warned. I could feel the same impulse to shift and gut the idiot but this time it was even stronger. The itching on my skin was starting to feel like needles. I had to get out of here before I did something I’d probably regret.

Turning, I pushed my way through the throng of students, my focus split between keeping my form intact and getting home.

I was so pissed, I didn’t even consider the bus. Instead, once I was out of the building I angled in the direction of my neighbourhood and kept walking.

I was going to get home, have a nice long bath, look into a way out of Winslow and possibly start dinner. And then, when Dad got home, I’d ask about that weird smog, because whatever it was, it couldn't be—

Stepping over the wardline, I felt something snap and a shudder ran through my body. Looking back at the school, I shrugged it off. I’d have to ask Dad about wards. Maybe they were reacting to me because I was a succubus?

Either way, get home, have a bath and look for a way out of Winslow.  

Today had not been a good day.

Chapter Text

Greg huffed as he watched Taylor storm off, not sure what he’d said wrong.

It always worked on TV. Say something nice, ask her out and make sure there’s plenty of physical contact. If the girl says no, she’s just playing hard to get. If all goes well, you move on to the kissing.

He’d thought Taylor liked him. She always worked with him in class, and they had plenty in common; they’d both been bullied, for one thing.

Why do girls get so bitchy the moment they grow boobs? Huffing again, he walked down the corridor, his eyes occasionally flicking across the different students. It’s not like they’re that big anyway.

At this point, he was almost considering giving up on girls altogether… well, human girls, at least.

Pulling open his locker, he grabbed the book he’d left there. “The Grimoire of Terryn” was a family heirloom and, if he was being honest, it was a little hard to understand.

He’d found it in the attic months ago and had been trying to work his way through it. Luckily, the previous owners had added notes and annotations throughout the book that made it easier to understand. He’d even tried a few spells but they only seemed to work when he was holding the book.

Currently, he was thinking about the section towards the back. Summoning rituals.

He wasn’t entirely sure of the details, but apparently he could summon a demon and make it obey him. The description in the book spoke of a winged woman with words like ‘bountiful’ and ‘wanton’.

Someone else must have tried it as there was even a photograph. It was old, brittle and yellowed with age. The details had faded in places but he could still make out some details. There were dark shapes behind her which he assumed were wings, and the details of her face were blurry so he couldn’t make them out, but she clearly wore very little clothing.

He wasn’t stupid, he knew what a succubus was. A sex demon that fed on human souls… If the picture’s he’d seen online were anything to go by, they were hot as hell. Maybe he should try it?

The same online search also warned that a summoned succubus would demand payment. What exactly was demanded was a point of disagreement. Some sources said they wanted the caster’s life, others simply said ‘life force’ or ‘vital essence’.

According to the book, it was “the vital essence of the conjurer, leaving them in a ‘fugue like state’ for a time.” So long as the caster did not attempt the spell multiple times in quick succession they would be fine.

If he was reading it right, then it would just leave him tired for a few days. But wasn’t sex supposed to be tiring anyway?

That didn’t sound too bad.

Running his fingers across one of the simpler spells, he smiled as it glowed faintly.

“Hey! Is that magic?” an excited voice said, nearly scaring him out of his skin.

He shoved the book into his locker and slammed it shut as he spun around to see Madison standing there.

She smirked at his panicked look. “Oh, don’t look so worried, I’m not going to tell anyone. So, was that magic?” She smiled sweetly and several important parts of his brain started shorting out.

Leaning back against his locker, Greg’s shoulders slumped in defeat. “Y-yeah, it was...” he mumbled.

Madison’s smile brightened “I knew it! Can you show me? I’ve always wanted to see real magic but I just don’t have the talent for it.”

She stepped closer, the smell of her shampoo filled Greg's nose. Madison was a bit shorter than him and her top was loose enough that he could almost look straight down it.

“I-I suppose, but I can’t really do anything in school.” He jerked his eyes back up to her face but she shot him a knowing smirk.

“What about later? I heard what happened between you and Taylor. Maybe I can give you some advice and you can show me some magic?” She almost sounded genuine.

Thinking about Taylor reminded him of his earlier plans. While he was eager for any help he could get, he wasn’t stupid enough to trust anything Madison told him.

But maybe she could help help him, his book said he could offset the cost of a summoning by using the ‘vital essence’ of another. It even said the donor would be unharmed.

“S-sure,” he said. “Do you know the old glass factory? If you meet me there in an hour I can show you something really special.” He tried to give her a suggestive look, but she just giggled.

“Yeah, I know it. I’ll see you there.” Still smiling she walked away, adding more than a little sway to her hips as she walked.

Realising he was staring, Greg shook himself and quickly grabbed his stuff.

The glass factory wasn’t far from school and he’d been using it for his experiments so he already had his robe and some chalk there.

But he’d need to hurry if he wanted to get everything set up.

##

Just over an hour later, Madison ducked through a hole in the fence outside the factory.

Her curiosity had always been a problem, one of her biggest if she was honest. She’d seen Greg hanging around here a few times in the past and she’d really wanted to know what he was doing.

That he was trying to do magic just made things more interesting.

She’d tried it herself in the past. Some online searches had turned up and few simple spells but despite her own talent, she’d been unable to cast them.

Her ‘talent’ was what she’d taken to calling her ability to tell if the people near her could use magic, even if she herself couldn’t. The really odd thing was that Greg didn’t have magic. She could feel it lingering around him, but it was more like he’d been exposed to it and it had stuck.

Spotting him messing with that book had answered that question. Greg had an artefact, an old magical item that was powerful enough to make up for his lack of inherent power.

Those were supposed to be really rare. So of course, she wanted to know where he got it and what it could do.

See, she told herself. There’s that curiosity again.

Greg wasn’t the only magic user in school. Taylor had practically reeked of it when she came back from the holidays. Madison had recognised her in the bathroom, of course. And hanging out with shapeshifter could be all kinds of fun.

Shame Emma had scared her off.

Finding a door that wasn’t boarded up, Madison gave it a gentle push. The door moved stiffly inwards and she quickly checked her pepper spray.

She wasn’t stupid. Meeting a boy in an abandoned factory after dark had all the halmarks of a bad idea. Throwing magic into the mix only made it sound more like a horror story.

She wasn’t too worried about Greg trying anything. He obviously wanted to screw her, but he was far too timid to actually try anything. If she walked in there without a stitch of clothing on he’d probably faint.

That might be fun to try sometime… She shook her head to clear the thought and reminded herself that ‘fun’ wasn’t always sensible. That was her other biggest flaw, the constant haze of lust that hung around her.

She couldn’t help it, her brain was genuinely wired wrong. Her sense of empathy was dodgy at best and she spent most of her time just trying not to slip into a rampant nymphomaniacal frenzy.

She took a moment to get herself under control before she went up stairs. She could hear someone moving about; she assumed it was Greg.

The second floor had been the head office. But most of the furniture had been reclaimed or stolen long ago, and now it was just a large empty space.

Greg was in the middle of the room, shuffling around in what looked like a big brown hooded bathrobe and muttering, while the floor beneath him was covered by a complex design of swirls and writing that glowed faintly.

She’d never really studied runes but some of the symbols looked familiar.

In the middle of it all was a large triangle with a circle in the middle and one at each point. Runes lined everything, and there was another line in the central circle that spiraled inwards.

She decided not to tell him how silly he looked. His ‘robe’ was far too big for him and made him look more like a failed monk or a bad Dungeons and Dragons roleplayer.

Greg was just putting the finishing touches on one of the outer rings when he noticed her.

“Oh! You’re here!” He shifted nervously and waved at the designs. “Just—just give me a minute to finish up.” He was clutching the book tightly to his chest with his free hand.

Moving closer she could see the odd smudge here and there where Greg’s ‘robe’ was dragging on the floor.

“Okay, I give. What’s this meant to be?” she asked.

“I-it’s a summoning ritual,” Greg said breathlessly. “We stand in the outer circles and the spirit should appear in the middle.”

That sounded impressive. If Greg could pull it off she’d have to do something nice for him.

His explanations about the hows and whys of everything lost her a bit but she was able to grasp the basics. When he directed to her to a circle she stepped inside and watched him take up position in the one opposite.

Gripping his book tightly, Greg placed a hand on floor and the runes slowly lit up. Starting at his feet and spreading outwards, the Rune started to glow. The soft pulse of magic she’d been experiencing since arriving rapidly grew.

A pleasant warmth moved through her body and her core clenched as it pooled between her legs. Whatever else Greg was trying to do, this felt great.

She was so lost in the feeling she almost missed what Greg was saying. He’d been muttering nonsense since the spell had started but the word ‘virgin’ caught her attention.

Before she could ask what he meant, the circle around her feet burst into life and she felt invisible walls pushing against her.

“Greg? Greg, what are you doing?!” she shouted. Energy was arcing across the floor and the air crackled.

The warmth between her legs changed, and a sharp, red-hot stabbing pain tore through her body.

Screaming, she fell forwards, only to be held up by those same invisible walls. looking down, she could see blood pooling on the floor.

The pain was incredible, spreading through her body like a fire. Like thousands of tiny knives, slowly cutting her open from the inside.

The walls shifted outwards and she fell forward to her knees. Even through the pain, she could feel something shifting under her skin. It crawled up her arms and onto her back.

Her skin bulged as something tried to force its way out. She screamed again as her skin gave way and a smokey black wing tore itself free. In the back of her mind, she could hear another voice screaming alongside her own.

Looking up, she saw Greg flicking through his spell book. His face was a picture of panic as he frantically turned page after page.

Around her, the runes were failing, burning themselves into the floor and leaving black smokey trails in the air.

Desperate, screaming for help, Madison crawled forward. Every movement was agony and she’d barely gone a few inches before she was forced to stop. Blood poured out of her mouth.

There was so much blood. On the floor, on her. Despite her panicked state, she knew she was dying.

Watching on in horror, Greg threw his book down and ran even as she screamed after him.

She screamed until her throat was raw, until the pain was replaced with a cold sense of numbness and darkness took her.

Greg never came back.

##

It was sunlight that woke her up.

Her body ached to the bone and every movement sent ripples of agony up her nerves and set her body to twitching. The floor under her was cold and clammy, and the air smelled of copper.

Not copper, a distant part of her mind supplied. Blood. Why can I smell blood?

Forcing her eyes open, she saw the scarlet pool she was laying on. The floor around her was covered in slick, semi-dried blood.

Her clothes were ruined/ Her mom was going to kill her. Mother? I have not seen her in centuries.

Turning her head, she could see the sunlight through the windows and she could hear the noises of the city wafting through the broken panes.

I do not recognise this place. What has transpired? Did I challenge she-who-skitters to a drinking contest once more? That was one mistake she had sworn she would never repeat.

The pain was swiftly fading, leaving only memories. Taking a deep breath, she tried to stand up. Dark wispy hair fell in front of her face. She moved to brush it away, but paused when a black hand came into view.

Gasping, she clambered into a sitting position so she could look at herself. Her body was jet black, looking almost like smoke that had been pressed together in the shape of a body.

What has happened to me?!

She shook her arm. It left a faint trail of smoke that dispersed quickly.

Trying not to panic, she forced herself to her feet.

Staggering slightly, she used the walls to support her as she moved. Everything felt wrong. Nothing was moving right. She should be taller/shorter? Should there be more/less weight on her chest?

Shaking her head, she focused on moving. This was an office. They’d have bathrooms, with mirrors.

Stumbling down the corridors, she eventually found what she was looking for.

Pushing against the door, it swung inward so hard it crashed into the wall, the handle leaving cracks in the tiles.

In the broken remains of the mirrors, she finally got a good look at herself.

She almost looked like a shadow come to life. Details on her clothes and body were visible as lighter/darker shades depending own the light hit her. The only exception were her eyes.

Glowing bright yellow, there were no pupils or other details Just the same glow from one side to the other.

Screaming, she stumbled backwards from the mirror until she hit the wall. Even her voice was different. It sounded like two people speaking at once, one a grown woman, the other a teenager.

Staring at her cracked reflection, the memories came rushing back.

Living with her mom and dad.

Living with her sisters.

Learning to control her condition as she grew.

Learning to control her powers and her hunger as she grew.


Answering questions in class.

Answering the call when she was summoned.


Following Greg into the building.

Following the pull once more.

The summoning.

The summoning.

Greg.

Greg.

Greg!

“GREG!!” her dual voices screamed.

Chapter Text

Getting home that night, I closed the back door behind me and rested against it, exhausted from the day. My anger at Greg and the school had burnt itself out on the way home, leaving me drained.

The feeling of relief that flowed through me as I switched forms was almost heavenly. Holding a different form wasn’t exactly painful, it was more like… keeping a muscle tensed for hours at a time. After a while, it started to ache, and the greater the difference in appearance, the harder it got.

I really hoped it got easier over time. Changing back briefly at lunch had helped—run-in with Emma notwithstanding—but right now my entire body was filled with a dull ache.

It hadn’t helped that I was so hungry. Barely halfway home, I’d been forced to get a bus, just so I could feed on the passenger's emotions. It was enough to tie me over, but why hadn’t I fed at school?

Eventually, I moved to the bathroom where I turned on the taps before dragging myself upstairs. I dumped my bag, grabbed a change of clothes and made my way back down stairs. By that time, the bath was filling steadily and steam was starting to fill the air.

Just as the bath was nearly full I shut the taps off, pulled my clothes off and slipped into the water. Thankfully, my new resistance to heat meant I could have the bath almost boiling hot.

Closing my eyes, I let the heat work its way inwards, slowing easing my muscles.

Looking back on it, today could have gone much worse. I didn’t know why Emma and the others had been looking for me, but I doubt it was to apologise.

Speaking of apologies... I sighed. I probably owed Greg one. I had been a bit of a bitch to him and he was only trying to be nice. Even if he had gone about it the wrong way. Or would that just encourage him?

I really wished I had someone to talk to about this stuff. I couldn't really talk to Dad about it, he’d probably freak if I so much as mentioned a boy liking me. Maybe I could talk to Lacey? She and her husband worked at the docks with Dad and had been close friends with Mom.

I wonder if she knew what Mom really was?

Splashing water in my face, I put the thought aside and relaxed, leaving my mind to wander.

The image of Madison came to mind and I frowned. I’d never heard any mention of her liking girls, rumors like that tended to spread quickly. Mostly, people just said that she’d sleep with anyone who offered. At least one ex-boyfriend had accused her of cheating on him.

But then, she wasn’t attracted to me, per say, but the body I had been wearing at the time. I looked down at myself, or at least, what I could see. Huh, they float. Never noticed that. Concentrating, I tried to copy the disguise I’d taken. My body protested a bit but my skin started to darken. I lost nearly a foot in height and my breasts shrunk from ‘huge’ to simply ‘impressive’.

Sitting up in the bath, I looked at myself in the nearby mirror. Whoever this girl was, she was very pretty. I was fairly sure she was younger than me, with high cheekbones, a long neck, impressive assets and a blonde streak in her hair.

Thinking back on what my clothes had become, my face scrunched up with distaste. It was almost upsetting to see someone so beautiful dressing in such a trashy way.

I slipped back into the water. I wonder what the chances of seeing her again were?

Examining her body, I started to feel a familiar warmth and bit my lip in indecision. It’s not like anyone would know and it was still my body, no matter how it looked. One of my hands started to slowly trail down my stomach, gently caressing my skin and leaving trails of warmth.

Besides, it was perfectly natural. Anyone would be curious and it was practically expected of people my age.

My other hand brushed the underside of my breast—

“Hello?” Dad called out as he came through the back door. “Taylor, you home?”

With a started yelp, I slipped under the water, inhaling some of it and choking.

“Taylor, you okay?” Dad said as he knocked on the bathroom door.

“Yeah Dad, I’m fine,” I called back between coughs. “I’m just having a bath.” Woah, that’s weird. I was still wearing the other girls face, but my voice sounded like my own. I could have some fun with that later.

“Alright, I’ll get started on dinner.”

As I heard dad pottering around in the kitchen, I reverted back to my normal body. God that was embarrassing. At least he hadn’t walked in on me. He’d only ever made that mistake once, but it had been a harrowing experience.

Sighing, I decided to just finish my bath.

 

##


By the time I’d got out of the bath and dried off, dinner was almost ready.

Feeling mostly relaxed, I sat down at the table. There were still things I needed to ask Dad about.

“Dad, do you know anything about magical wards?”

“Not much,” Dad said as he poured himself a glass of water. “Why?”

“I think there’s one around the school. I felt it pushing against me this morning.”

Putting a glass on the table for me, he sat down with a thoughtful look on his face. “That… makes sense I suppose. Winslow is pretty old, so it’s possible they put wards up to protect the kids.”

“Would all schools have them? Do you know why it was hard for me to walk through it?”

“Hmm, I’m not sure, the older schools would almost certainly have them. Wards were never really my thing. I could try asking around if you’d like? I still have some friends that might be able to find a book or something about wards.”

Well, if it’s not trying to hurt me, I guess it doesn’t matter too much. “Do you know how they are created?”

“They’re not too different to spells. You carve the runes onto a stone, usually at the centre of the ward, and charge it with magic. Depending on where the stone is placed and what the ward is supposed to do, you might be able to power it just with ambient magic energy.”

Dad continued his lecture as we ate but he wasn’t able to tell me more than the basics. The ward at school was probably set up to keep monsters—the very real, nightmare inducing kind—out, and as a succubus I was inhuman enough that the ward didn’t know how to deal with me.

One thing he did mention was that wards were basically just written spells. You could make them do almost anything a normal spell could do.

For example, the stun grenade idea I’d had could be linked to a ward rune. In effect, it would create a ‘stun mine’ of sorts. There was lots of potential there.

 

##


A few hours later, I was sitting in the garden thinking. Dad was in his room, going over what I’d told him. After dinner, I’d decided to try the subject I’d been dreading.

I’d told Dad about the bullying.

I'd started slowly, pausing occasionally to gather my thoughts. I’d told him everything. I hadn’t meant to, I’d wanted to soften things a bit, hide some of the details so he wouldn’t blame himself. But once I started, I just couldn’t stop. Soon the words were tumbling from my mouth.

The name calling, the attacks—on me, my homework—the isolation, Emma finding the book. I told him everything. At some point, Dad moved to my side and wrapped his arms around me as I talked, telling me it was okay. He even glossed over the subject of the book. I think he suspected that I was... that I liked girls. But he didn't pry.

I may have cried at one point.

When I’d finally calmed down, he was still holding on to me. He was trying to keep himself calm but I could feel him trembling, I could taste the rage and the guilt rolling off of him.

After that, Dad poured himself a glass of whiskey and the discussion went about as well as I thought it would.

Dad wanted to go straight to Emma's and talk to her father. Some threats may have been mentioned.

In the end, I convinced him not to. Causing a fuss wouldn't help. It was just my word against hers and she had more people on her side.

No, that wouldn't work. It was simply better if Dad just put in the paper work for an Arcadia transfer. I'd suggested homeschooling but it turns out that was more expensive than people realised.

For now, I'd just have to put up with Winslow. It would take time but I would get out of there, one way or the other.

Pushing the thoughts of school away, I decided to try out something else I'd been thinking about.

Flying!

I had wings after all, so shouldn’t I be able to fly?

My wings were a little odd. They seemed to change size depending on what I was doing. Walking around the house, they shrank down to maybe half a meter from my back to tip. But if I tried to wrap them around my body like a cloak, they would grow large enough to just reach the floor.

At that thought, they stretched out to what I thought of as their full length. Each one was nearly as long as I was tall. Leaning forward slightly, I pushed them downwards.

I let out a small squeak as the force pushed my feet just of ground enough to know me off balance.

Catching myself, I tried again. This time, I tried to flap my wings but the air pressing against them on the upstroke simply pushed me back down and the movement caused me to stagger.

Dad chuckled from his position by the back door. Sticking my tongue out, I turned my back to him and tried again.

I know I could have simply asked him for help, but I wanted to do this on my own.

 

##


After another twenty minutes, all I had managed to do was make my shoulders ache.

Shrinking my wings down, I sat on the grass to catch my breath. Maybe I needed a running start? If so, I’d never manage that here. Maybe I could jump off the roof? I knew I was physically tougher than a normal human, so the fall probably wouldn’t hurt me if it didn’t work.

Walking over to me, Dad held out his glass. It was filled with whiskey. I could smell it.

He chuckled quietly at my puzzled look. “Don’t worry you’re different enough to normal humans that alcohol won’t affect you.”

After our discussion earlier, the anger and guilt had been rolling off him. That’s why I’d gone outside. The taste of his emotions had been overwhelming. I knew he wasn’t angry at me, but it was still like sharing a room with a dozen heavy smokers.

That being outside made it easier to ignore the guilt he was feeling was also a bonus. I’d never told him about the bullying because I didn’t want to worry him. But now that he knew, he was obviously blaming himself.

I suppose this was us trying to move past it.

Taking the glass, I hesitated at the smell, then threw the drink back like I’d seen other people do.

The taste was horrible and it burned the whole way down. Dad chuckled as I coughed and spluttered.

“Drink slowly, and breathe through your nose,” he advised as he sat down next to me. This time he held out a bottle of soda.

Taking it, I down half of it just to clear the taste. “If alcohol doesn’t affect me, what does?”

“Tea,” this time, he laughed at my expression of horror. It was a little forced, but at least he was trying. “Well, it does, but not like alcohol. Tea is a very mild relaxant to you.”

“Doesn’t it do that to everyone?”

“Yeah, but the effect is stronger for succubi. The only thing that can really get you ‘drunk’ is crystalised magic.”

“I’ve never heard of that,” I said, frowning.

“You probably have, but it was probably called something different. It’s hard to make and to normal people it’s a highly addictive, not to mention illegal drug. It’s addictive to you too so make sure I never catch you using it, clear?”

Not really having anything to say, I nodded. I’d never really seen the point of drugs anyway. There were enough Merchants —a gang that focused on dealing drugs— at school that I’d seen what it did to people.

“As for flying, you're overthinking it. Wing size and movement plays very little part in it. Here, you should probably wear this.” He handed me a silver bracelet. The chain looked delicate and there were a few charms hanging from it. One of them looked like a set of wings.

I could also smell the faint current of magic it gave off.

“It was your mother's. It’s got some spells on it that will keep the casual observer from noticing you while you’re flying. But it won’t protect you against people who know you’re there, or from any reasonably proficient magic user.” Leaving me to stare at the bracelet in my hands, Dad walked back over to the house and took up position by the back door.

I don’t remember ever seeing it before. But Mom had never worn much jewelry, and this looked expensive enough that she probably didn’t wear it everyday. Slipping it on, I felt a slight tug on my magic. I fed it power and felt it grow comfortably warm.

I took a moment to simply enjoy the feeling before I realised what Dad had said.

How was I overthinking it? Birds all flew by flapping their wings after all… But I’m not a bird. The human body wasn’t very aerodynamic, not even when you gave it wings and a tail. So did that mean it was more about magic?

Closing my eyes, I let my wings relax to a ‘resting’ size and jumped as hard as I could.

Immediately, my wings snapped open and I hung there in the air. I could feel my magic thrumming through me as I hovered nearly six feet in the air.

Letting out a gasp, I dropped back to the ground. I was barely able to get my feet back under me before I hit the ground, much to Dad’s amusement.

I made a show of turning my nose up, which only made him laugh more.

Turning my back to him, I took a deep breath and tried again.

This time, I focused on moving forward as I jumped and shot towards the fence.

I jerked upwards just before I hit the fence, and soared out of the garden and up into the sky.

As I rose, I couldn’t help but grin. The feeling was incredible, I was flying!

Trying not to lose sight of the house, I twisted in the air. The movements came more naturally now, my wings and tail moving automatically.

It almost felt like swimming.

Circling, I rose up higher. From here, the city almost looked peaceful. You could almost forget the invisible lines that split Brockton Bay. The south side and a good slice of the eastern edge belonged to the Empire, while the north and parts of the docks belonged to the ABB. And in between them all, the Merchants scurried around, peddling drugs to everyone, willing customers or not.

I wanted to do something to help but I wasn’t sure what. I had magic, I could try joining the PRT. They didn’t care if you were magic or parahuman, just so long as you were willing to help.

But I wouldn’t be allowed to join the Protectorate. I was too young, I’d be moved to the Wards. Junior heros that spent more time posing for cameras than fighting. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, but being a pinup was certainly not it. Even if I did have the body for it now.

Shaking the thought away, I considered what else I could do. Being a solo hero was risky, especially in Brockton Bay. Not that I even knew how to fight.

Maybe I should focus on that first. Learn how to fight, maybe look through some of Dad’s books and then see what my options were?

Closing my wings, I let myself fall.

I should have been scared, terrified that I was plummeting towards the ground. Instead, I felt only the same thrill I’d been experiencing since I’d taken off. Flying like this was like being on the world's greatest roller coaster, only there were no queues, and I could change the track on a whim.

Focusing on the ground below me, I wondered how low I could get.

I shook my head and snapped my wings open, pulling out of the dive and heading for home.

I’d just have to see how things were tomorrow.

Chapter Text

Jogging to school the next day, I felt much better in myself. Flying had done wonders for my mood.

I’d spent a good portion of last night just flying around and while I hadn’t thought of any solutions to my problems, I at least had a starting point.

First, school.

Once I got to school, I had to get some paperwork from the office so I could apply for a transfer. While I had been out, Dad had spent some time fighting with our aging computer and slow connection to look up a few details.

While it was mostly my word against Emma’s when it came to the bullying, I had at least tried to keep a diary of everything she’d said and done, with printouts of the emails they had sent to me.

I didn’t think it was enough to get them in serious trouble, but Dad thought we could use it to get a transfer.

The next issue was if whether or not I should be a hero.

I hadn’t mentioned that idea to Dad. I knew he wouldn’t like it, but I couldn’t just do nothing. I’d have to think of a way to get him to teach me how to fight with magic. Maybe if I convin-

I passed through the school’s ward, and the sudden resistance made me stumble. I’d been so lost in my thoughts I’d forgotten about the ward completely, but now I’d been kicked back into reality.

The smog!

I could see it in the distance, hanging over the school. It looked darker than it had before.

How could I have forgotten about that?! I watched the dark tendrils reach down and surround the passing students, and I shivered at the memory of that darkness brushing my skin. I had to get out of here. I had to find Dad and tell him about this.

If I could get out of sight, I could transform and fly to his office on the docks.

Turning towards the docks, I sprinted across the ward line, then stopped.

I looked around. Why was I heading towards the docks? Wow, I must have been really out of it… why was I trembling?

I clenched my fists and tried to stop my hands from shaking. Why was I so spooked? Was this something to do with being a succubus? Would I suddenly start having panic attacks for no reason?

Sighing, I turned back towards the school. There was no point worrying about-

What. The. Fuck!

The moment I crossed the ward, the memories came flooding back.

This time, I stopped where I was. I wasn’t going anywhere until I knew what was happening.

The ward was messing with my head, that much was clear. Every time I crossed it, I forgot about the smog and its effects. Was this intentional? I couldn’t imagine something like this happening by accident. Wards were tricky and required careful wording from what Dad said. So why would someone set up a ward to suppress memories of the smog?

Talk about a stupid question. Clearly, they wanted the smog to remain hidden.

It was clear I couldn’t just go home and tell dad. Maybe I could call him from inside the ward? I didn’t have a cell, but there were payphones inside the school. I just had to block the smog out until I could reach them.

Mentally bracing myself, I marched to the school.

I could feel the smog pressing up against me, looking for a hold, but I refused to let it in.

The school had a main entrance at the front and a few smaller side doors. The front entrance had a reception desk and three payphones bolted to the wall. My heart sank at the sight of them.

One of the phones was missing its receiver and other had a note stuck to it saying ‘out of order’. The note was filthy and yellowing around the edges, and I doubted the school ever intended to fix it. The last phone looked okay, but I could see the smog wrapping itself around it. I cringed as I picked up the receiver.

Nothing. No dial tone or payment prompt on the little screen. The line was totally dead.

I can’t say I was surprised. Winslow was practically falling apart. It had been a good school once, but now the building was crumbling, and the teachers couldn’t care less about what was happening around them.

I wonder how much of that was plain apathy and how much was the smog? I could almost see the walls wither and age in front of me as the smoke burrowed into them.

Sighing in defeat, I fetched the papers I needed from the office and walked towards my first class.

As I pulled out my books, I realised that Greg was absent—though I only noticed because his seat was next to mine. Normally I’d be happy he wasn’t here, but I still felt kinda guilty about what I’d said to him.

I wasn’t interested in him, but I refused to be like Emma. I wouldn’t be a bitch just for the sake of it.

It didn’t take long for class to start and I soon found myself slipping back into old routines as the teacher droned on. Looking at my notepad, I had an idea. Could I write a warning to myself?

Taking a pen, I put it to paper and scribbled the words: ‘Remember the smog, it’s messing with your head.’

At least, that’s what I tried to do. What actually happened was my hand locked up the moment the pen touched the paper. Frowning, I quickly copied down what the teacher had written on the board and tried again.

Once again, the moment I tried to write about the smog, my hand stopped working. Watching, I could almost see the smog wrap itself around my hand.

I didn’t think it would be that easy, but it’d been worth a try. I wasn’t sure how much longer I could stop this stuff from messing with my head.

We were halfway through the class when Greg arrived, looking terrible. His hair and clothes were a mess, there were bags under his bloodshot eyes and fear rolling off him in thick, heavy waves. The taste of it turned my stomach.

Stammering out apologies, he stumbled across the room, bumping into desks as he went. Falling into his seat besides me, I could see he was trembling and I could almost swear I smelt blood.

“Greg… are you… okay?” I asked quietly.

He jumped. “Fine!” he said, visibly trying to calm himself down. “N-never been better!” I didn’t need empathy to know he was lying. I hoped he hadn’t done something stupid, like taking drugs or something. I didn’t like Greg, but that didn’t mean I wanted to see him end up as just another Merchant.

All the same, I had more important things to worry about. I put his odd behaviour out of my mind and tried to focus on the lesson—and ignoring the smog that brushed against my skin.

##


The rest of the day continued in much the same way. I couldn’t find a way to leave a message for myself, no matter how hard I tried. Writing in code, drawing pictures; nothing worked.

The only thing ‘different’ was Greg practically jumping out of his skin at every loud noise.

I briefly considered asking someone else to remind me about the smog after school, but I quickly dismissed that idea. There wasn’t anyone here I trusted enough for that, assuming they didn’t also forget about everything the moment they crossed the ward line.

Speaking of the ward, I even considered finding and destroying it. But if I did that, what would happen to the smog? Would it vanish harmlessly or would it spill out into the city, messing with even more people?

I was still pondering that when I walked into my computer lesson. I didn’t really pay any attention to Mrs. Knott as I quickly worked my way through the exercises.

With those done and sent to the teacher, I opened up my non-school email and attempted—again—to send myself a warning.

I wasn’t surprised when my hands refused to move.

It really was starting to look like destroying the ward would be my only option, but I didn’t want to risk that without at least knowing what was causing the smog, and I couldn’t risk searching for it until I had at least some idea how to fight with magic.

Maybe I could stop by the library on the way home from school to use their internet? We had a connection at home but it was slow and the computer was almost as old as me. Okay, it wasn’t that bad, but it was still a pain.

I didn’t want try looking too much up in class as I knew the connection was monitored and there were too many people who could look over my shoulder.

Settling for just looking through my inbox, I was surprised to see an email from Amy. I was more than a little surprised at that. The saturday we’d spent shopping had been fun but I hadn’t actually expected her to contact me again. I felt a mix of nerves and excitement at her email.

Amy was... different to the girls I was usually attracted to . They tended to be curvy and outgoing, while Amy was mousy and quiet. But somehow she made me feel the way Emma used to.

Looking down at myself, I had to wonder: would Amy still be interested in me if she could see me now?

Pushing those thoughts down, I skimmed through her email. Mostly it was an apology for having to rush off—apparently she worked part-time at a hospital, and there had been an emergency. But she also asked if I’d like to meet up with her tomorrow night.

There was an odd fluttering in my stomach but I ignored it while I sent my reply. It would be nice to see her again. I missed having friends.

The darkness around me shifted, trying to using the moment of melancholy to force its way in. I forced the smog back and put a lid on my emotions.

Speaking of Emma, it dawned on me that she had been suspiciously quiet today. Glancing around the room, I realised that Madison wasn’t here either. In fact, I hadn’t seen her all day.

Mentally chalking that up as a win, I spent the rest of class aimlessly browsing PHO. The lunch bell was a relief. The strain of holding my form was bordering on painful, and I needed some time to relax.

##


As I had yesterday, I stepped into an empty stall in the girls toilet and shifted back to my real appearance and cracked open my lunch.

I stopped as I remembered: Emma and Sophia used this bathroom. They’d walked in on me yesterday. This wasn’t as safe a place as I’d hoped.

But... I didn’t want to spend all lunch in someone else’s body just in case they walked in, and only shifting when someone walked in was risky. So I decided to find a different bathroom. I put away my lunch box, manufactured a new body—one that no-one would recognise—and left.

Walking down the corridor was a little unnerving. I had to continuously remind myself I was in a different body, and I didn’t have to act like a normally did. But after I’d passed a few people, I began to find it surprisingly liberating. None of the usual whispers followed me as I walked, and the only stares I got were admiring. It made me feel good. Even though it wasn’t really my body they were appreciating.

Then I found myself in the same hallway as Emma and Sophia. My legs froze of their own accord, but I forced myself to walk past her anyway, making sure my breathing was calm, telling myself they wouldn’t recognise me. And they didn’t. Neither of them did anything more than cast cursory glances in my direction.

I suppressed the urge to fist-pump as I rounded the corner.

“Did you hear what happened to Madison?” Emma asked quietly once I was out of her sight. I barely heard it.

Intrigued despite myself, I moved closer to the wall so they wouldn’t notice me listening in.

“No,” Sophia said with a disinterested sigh, “what did the little nympho do now?”

“She was attacked on the way home,” Emma said. “I think she got jumped or something. She crawled home this morning covered in blood. Her mom wanted to know if we’d seen anything.”

I saw Sophia’s shadow move, looking towards the corner where I was hiding, and I got the impression she knew I was there. Deciding not to push my luck, I hurried down the hall.

So Madison had been hurt? I couldn’t really bring myself to care about her wellbeing, but even thinking that made me feel guilty. It sounded pretty bad, after all.

I shook my head. Gossip is always exaggerated. She was probably fine.

I ducked into a different bathroom, sat in one of the stalls, and switched back to my real appearance. Then I cracked open my lunch again and relaxed until the end of lunch.

##


After school, I stopped by the library, hoping to find something there that would help me learn how to fight.

The first thing I did was use one of their payphones to call Dad and let him know where I was. After that, I made my way into the stacks. I could also use this as a chance to feed. There were plenty of people in the building and I’d apparently forgotten to do so while at school.

As I walked through between the bookshelves, I let the energy of everyone flow into me. It wasn’t as filling or pleasant as that day at the mall, but it was enough.

They did have a ‘magic’ section but it was mixed with the health books and ‘new age’ junk. A quick glance at titles like ‘Magical Me’ and ‘The Ethereal Sex’ was all it took to convince me it was worthless.

Finding a free computer, I sat down and opened a search engine. I tried searching for ‘magical combat.’ Most of the results were just videos of Protectorate heros like Dauntless and Myrddin. Refining the search terms helped a little, but there wasn’t a great deal of solid information.

I found a few threads about something called ‘the conclave’, but all the posts seemed to contradict one another. Half the forum-goers said it was a neutral meeting place for all magic users, while the other half said it was an organisation that enforced ‘the rules of magic’—and it seemed like everybody had their own ideas of what those rules actually were.

I shook my head and looked up groups of magic users, hoping to find something useful. But the only sizeable group that used magic—aside from the PRT—was Haven, a Christian hero team down south. Its members were a mix of capes and magic users, often called paladins.

Reading through the available information made my skin crawl.

While they supported magic users, it seemed that was only true if you practiced the ‘right kind’ of magic. One forum poster claimed Haven had attacked him and his friends for supposedly using dark magic, when all they had been doing was messing about in a graveyard on halloween.

Apparently, Haven had even come to blows with members of the Protectorate more than once.

I was a little worried about how they’d react to me. Succubi might’ve been demons, but we weren’t evil. I wasn’t sure they’d see things the same way.

Dad had told me that the number of magic users was small and that there wasn’t any real centralisation. I could see now what he meant.

It was no wonder most magic users were self-taught when there was no central organisation to help people find legitimate information.

I’d found three different bookstores in the city that claimed to sell magic books, and countless ‘new age’ shops touting the healing effects of crystals when placed in a copper triangle. It was nearly impossible to separate the real magic users from the charlatans.

Giving up, I glanced out the window. It was getting pretty dark now, enough that I could fly home without worrying about being spotted.

I returned the few books I’d picked up and left the library. I circled back around the building, using my empathy to make sure no-one was following me, then ducked into an alleyway.. Certain I was alone, I shifted back to normal—for me, at least—and took off.

##


Unlike last night, I stayed closer to the roof tops. I still had Mom's bracelet on and was constantly feeding it magic so no-one would pay me any attention.

Flying in a straight line, I’d be home in no time. Which was why I wasn’t flying straight, despite keeping low. I changed direction whenever I felt like it, slowly zig-zagging in the direction of home. I loved this feeling.

At one point, I looped back around in a lazy circle just for the hell of it.

I was in the middle of a loop-de-loop when I heard the scream.

Brockton Bay was not the safest city in America, people getting attacked was sadly common. Before, I’d always had to walk the other way and pretend I hadn’t heard anything, even though I hated it. But... I had powers now. I had no excuse.

Cursing myself, I flew in the direction of the scream. I couldn’t use magic yet, but I was stronger than a normal person, enough to considered a low-level brute by the PRT’s standards. That had to count for something.

Landing heavily on a roof, I heard a scuffle from a nearby alley. I’d be okay if I was careful. I told myself I’d just take a quick look, and if it was more than I could handle, I’d go get help.

Quietly putting my bag down, I looked into the alley below. A dark figure had pinned a young girl down and was tearing at her clothes. She struggled to fight back, but he had a hand over her mouth. I could smell her blood.

A regular, old rapist. I clenched my fists. I could deal with that.

My heart pounded in my ears as I jumped from the rooftop, flaring my wings to control the fall.

Hitting the ground, I crouched low to the ground, spreading my wings and snarling at the attacker even as my nails lengthened into claws.

Letting go of the girl, he turned and growled back at me.

He was not what I’d expected. From his bald head and pale skin, I’d assumed an empire thug, but the creature in front of me barely looked human.

Pale waxy skin stretched tightly over his skull, and large black eyes glared at me. His jaw was misshapen, looking more like a shark’s than a man’s, his mouth filled with razor-sharp teeth. Blood ran down his face and onto his bare chest.

Before I had a chance to move, he charged at me. I barely managed to throw myself sideways, narrowly dodging his own claws.

It wasn’t just his face that was wrong. His body was too thin, his limbs too long to be natural. And he stank of death. No, he definitely wasn’t human.

Lashing out, I drove my fist into the creature’s jaw, only to feel like I’d just punched a wall. Pain shot up my arm, distracting me long enough for his claws to rake across my face, missing my eyes by a hairs breath.

I bit back a scream even as I felt blood spill onto my face.

I jumped away, frantic. Thankfully, the creature had been distracted by my blood and was too busy licking it off its fingers to pay me any attention.

It was hard to focus through the pain, but I knew this was too much for me. I had to get out of here before this thing killed me. Trying to stand up, my eyes landed on the girl he’d already attacked.

She was younger than me. Blood poured from her wounds, and she barely moved. I could taste her fear. But beneath it, I could also taste hope. She thought I could save her.

And if I ran away now, she would die.

Behind me, I heard the creature stir. Evidently, it had finished its meal, and was coming back for more. I turned and watched as it crept toward me slowly, waiting for me to move.

Dad said it was possible to cast spells without runes. I’d never tried it, but I wasn’t sure what other options I had. Trying to keep things simple, I concentrated everything I could on a single rune, one that would create a light. I didn’t know any offensive spells, so my only hope was to distract him so I could grab the girl and flee I felt magic pool in my hand, but it was wild and unstable.

But I didn’t have the time to worry about it as the creature in front of me snarled and charged at me. In desperation, I thrust my hand out, opening my fist.

The spell went off like bomb in the monster's face, lighting up the alley like a small sun.

Clutching at its eyes, the creature stumbled backwards, howling in pain. I didn’t give it a chance to recover as I leapt forwards, driving my fist into its side with everything I could. Something gave way with a crunch.

The creature swiped at me blindly. Its claws carved shallow lines across my chest and I had to bite down another scream, but I pressed through it, pinning it under me and punching it again and again, focusing on the same spot.

I tried to grab its arms with my free hand, but it pulled me forwards and sunk its teeth deep into my arm, tearing out a chunk of flesh, then drove its claws deep into my side. The force of the blow sent me rolling away, but I didn’t manage to cut off my scream.

The pounding in my head compounded until I could hardly hear anything else. My vision started to turn gray. My mouth tasted like ash.

Warm blood cascaded down my side, but my body felt cold.

Am I going to die?

I hit the wall just as he charged again. My side flared in pain, but I brought my hands up to protect myself with a cry. On my back, my wings twitched, shifting and reshaping as they moved. They twisted and transformed into black, shadowy tendrils that drove themselves deep into the monster’s chest and arms.

The monster continued to struggle against me, but my wing-spears stabbed deeper and deeper into its body until, finally, the creature went slack with a deep, shuddering gasp.

My wings released him, shifting back to normal as suddenly as they’d transformed before. I heard sirens and shouting in the distance, and saw the girl I’d saved try to sit up.

She looked at me and tried to speak, but all that came out was a croak. The sirens came closer.

I staggered to my feet and spread my wings for balance.

“I’ve gotta… I need…. go,” I panted, not making much sense, even to myself.

I jumped and flapped, trying to get airborne. I needed to get home. I couldn't let people see me.

My wing clipped the side of the building and I fell to my ground, landing on my knees. I was just so tired... but I needed to get home. Forcing back my exhaustion, I focused everything I had on that one goal. I needed to get home.. Without meaning to, I felt my magic shift, and the world around me exploded.

When I opened my eyes, I was standing in my backyard. The ground around me looked strange, but I couldn’t summon the strength to think about it. I stumbled up the back steps and shoved the door open. Dad stopped putting clothes in the washing machine and turned to look at me.

The last thing I saw was his horrified expression, and then the world went black.

Chapter Text

Danny rushed forward and managed to catch Taylor before she hit the ground. Her body lay limp in his arms as blood ran from the open wounds on her face and body.

“Taylor!” he shouted as he held onto her. “Taylor! C’mon kiddo, open your eyes!”

Moaning faintly, Taylor shifted slightly in his arms, just about forcing her eyes open for a moment before shutting them again.

Not Taylor! Please! Not Taylor! The thought circled endlessly in his mind even as he picked her up and carried her into the living room. Putting her down on the sofa, he ran down the stairs to the basement so fast he nearly fell.

Throwing boxes aside, he tore through his old possessions. He knew it was there. It had to be! Tearing the final box open, he pulled out a small, white-painted, wooden box. The small first aid kit in the kitchen wouldn’t be enough. Taylor needed something more powerful.

Succubi had a healing factor. Left alone, any one of the wounds on Taylor's body would heal without a mark. But there were too many and the healing wasn’t fast; there was every chance Taylor would bleed out first.

Running back upstairs, he pulled it open and dug through the contents, his panic and fear rising as he did so. Most of the contents were useless; glass vials had congealed or their contents had evaporated. The magically treated bandages disintegrated in his fingers, their charge long dissipated and the fabric rotten.

Tipping the last of the contents out onto the floor, a small scrap of yellowing paper floated to the floor. Snatching it up, he stared at the runes.

It took him longer than it should have to realise it was a healing spell, written by Annette.

Taking a breath, he quickly ran back to the kitchen and grabbed the first aid kit. He did his best to wrap Taylor's arm and side, working quickly as the blood flow was slowing down and her breathing faint.

Grabbed the paper, he mentally braced himself.

Channelling magic into the spell hurt. Pain lanced up his arm and into his head, a stabbing sensation filled his chest and he struggled to breathe as the spell started to work.

Slowly, too slowly, the wound on Taylor's face started to close, and her breathing became stronger.

All too soon, the pain became too much. His vision was starting to fade, and the colour was draining from the world. His heart felt like it was going to explode in his chest, and he was forced to cut the spell off before it could do more.

You stupid, stupid old man, he cursed, even as he struggled to stay awake. He’d bought Taylor time, but if he passed out now, she’d be dead before he woke up, if he ever woke up.

Still cursing himself, he staggered to his feet and stumbled into the kitchen so he could grab his keys. Moving as fast as he could, he made it to his truck and pulled the doors open.

That done, he half ran, half stumbled back into the house and and picked his daughter up, fear and desperation lending him strength.

Bundling her into the passenger seat of his truck, he stopped only briefly to be sick before climbing in and skidding the old vehicle off the drive and down the road. Hospitals were no good; they wouldn’t be able to help her, and even if they could, the wrong people would find out about her.

You should have warned her, a traitorous voice whispered in the back of his mind, even as he jumped a set of lights.

Tires screeched as he cornered hard. He’d never been more thankful that the constant cutbacks in the police department meant there was less chance of him being seen.

The only magical healer he knew about was on the far side of the city and had retired years ago. That left only one other choice.

Skidding to a stop, he jumped out of the truck, ran to the passenger side and grabbed Taylor. There was a worrying moment when Taylor groaned from the rough treatment, but the instant his heart started beating again, he ran for the building.

He crashed shoulder first through the door, ignoring the flash of pain it caused and refusing to slow down. “I need help!” he called as he burst into reception, struggling to stay upright.

The young woman behind the desk didn’t hesitate; even as she ran around the desk her hand was tapping the radio on her ear.

“I need you in reception, emergency, possible Case 53,” she barked.

Stepping forwards, the tall woman picked Taylor out of Danny’s hands with very little effort.

Numb to everything, Danny all but collapsed as his daughter was placed on a bed and wheeled out of sight.

A strong pair of arms wrapped around him and pulled him upright. “It’ll be alright, just follow me, we need to ask you some questions,” a woman said. She was dressed like a nurse.

Exhausted, running on fear, pain and adrenaline, Danny couldn’t do more than nod and let her lead him in the direction they had taken Taylor.

##

(Taylor)

When I woke up, I felt better than I should have. I could still remember the feeling of that creature driving its claws into my side, but right now, all I felt was hungry and a little bit groggy.

I spent a few minutes just lying there with my eyes closed. I could hear talking and movement off in the distance, but I couldn’t make out what people were saying. I didn’t want to get up just yet so I settle for opening my eyes.

The ceiling above me was white, as were the walls. The smell of antiseptic and bleach lingered over everything. It was a downside to enhanced senses that most people either forgot or ignored. All those little background smells and sounds that everyone else took for granted were much harder for me to block out.

I could also hear someone breathing nearby.

There was also a lingering emotion hanging over everything, but I couldn’t place it. Hope, maybe, with suffering and pain mixed in? Given everything that had happened, I guessed I was in a hospital, which would explain the smell.

Snuggling deeper in the blankets, I felt my tail brushing against the sheets. After my transformation, I’d found I could stay shape shifted while I slept, but I always woke up feeling tense, like I’d slept in an odd position. FYI, sleeping with horns? Not easy, especially if you don't want to keep waking up with pillows impaled on them.

Shit! With a start, I realised I was in my real appearance and possibly in a hospital!

Opening my eyes, I quickly sat up, stopping only when the room spun around me because I’d moved too fast.

Looking round, I found myself in a small room with light green walls, and the nearby window had been covered with a film that let light in, but made it impossible to see through. Aside from the bed, the only other furniture was a wheeled office chair and a padded armchair with Dad sleeping in it.

He looked like hell. His skin was pale, and even while sleeping, he had dark rings around his eyes. His clothes weren't much better. They were creased, like he’d been sleeping in them, and there were even blood stains in places.

Seeing him there reminded me of the look on his face before I’d passed out. I didn’t even want to think about how much I must have scared him, coming home like that. How did I get home, anyway?

Still, if Dad was here, there wasn’t much point in worrying about possibly outing myself as a cape or something.

Rearranging the pillows, I sat back and let my mind wander. There wasn’t much else to do; there was a TV, but I couldn’t see the remote anywhere, and I didn’t want to wake Dad.

Closing my eyes, I reached out with my empathy. If this was a hospital, it was a really small one. I could only feel a handful of people nearby at best. There wasn’t a lot of energy, but I tried to subtly draw on what I could.

Next to me, I could feel Dad’s emotions darken, and something about it told me he was having a nightmare.

“D-” I coughed briefly, suddenly aware how dry my throat was. Clearing my throat, I tried again. “Dad? Hey, Dad?”

I tried not to be too loud, just in case anyone was sleeping in a different room, but it turned out I didn’t need to worry. Almost as soon as I started talking, Dad woke with a start.

“Taylor?” he asked blearily before focusing on me. “Taylor! Oh thank god!”

I never got a chance to say anything; he rose out of the chair and wrapped me in a hug. I tried not to let myself get too choked up, but I let myself enjoy the contact for a bit before assuring him I was fine.

“Taylor, what happened?” he asked eventually.

“I…” I paused briefly, considering what to tell him. He had enough to deal with, and I didn’t want to add to it, but if I lied now, wouldn’t it just make matters worse?

Sighing, I told him everything. Going to the library, heading home, hearing a scream, the… thing that was attacking that woman, everything.


##

 

“Oh Taylor,” Dad said softly, pinching his nose under his glasses, as I finished.

“I wasn’t looking for trouble, I swear! But I had to do something, I couldn’t just let it kill her!” I said quickly.
Dad gave a quiet, dark, little chuckle. “No, I suppose not… you’re our daughter after all…“

While he lapsed into a thoughtful silence, I decided to try asking the questions that had niggled at me since I’d woken up.

“Dad, what was that thing? And where are we?”

Shrugging, Dad told hold of my hand and sat, looking thoughtful. “If I had to guess, I’d say that creature was a vampire. A young one too, by the sounds of it.”

“A vampire?”

He laughed at my disbelieving look, “You’re a succubus. Is it so hard to believe vampires are real? I promise you they are, but they’re nothing like the things you see on TV. As for where we are… I couldn’t take you to a hospital.” He held up a hand to forestall my question. “I promise, I’ll explain it later, but for now, know it would be a really bad idea for you to go to a hospital.

“There's no real magical healers in the city anymore, so that just left this place… We’re at Panacea’s clinic.”

I felt the blood rush from my face. “Dad, you can’t! Do you know how expensive she is?”

Panacea was a rogue, that is, a parahuman who used their powers to make a legal living. She’d started healing people a year or two ago, and eventually moved on to having her own practice.

Her services were fairly cheap for simple things, but the prices rose quickly. And the prices she charged for cosmetic alterations was incredible. I’d looked at her website once, when Emma’s taunting about my looks had really gotten to me. Even just fixing my eyes — when I still needed glasses, anyway — would have cost a fortune.

Strictly speaking, she was actually cheaper than a hospital, but only a few health insurance companies would agree to cover parahuman healing, and almost none of them would pay out for cosmetic surgery performed by a cape.

“You let me worry about that,” Dad said firmly, with a hint of finality in his voice.

Before any more could be said, there was a knock on the door, and a nurse came in. She was pushing a small trolley with a bowl of food and what looked like a large milkshake.

“Good morning Miss Hebert, I’m glad to see you’re doing better,” she said cheerfully, positioning the tray next to my bed. “I’ve got your breakfast here and Panacea should be by in a few minutes to give you a final checkup.”

The smell of the food made my stomach growl, reminding me again just how hungry I was, and Dad moved out of the way so I could eat. The bowl was filled with porridge and had a large bowl of sugar for me to add, while the drink was just like a really thick milkshake and smelled strongly of vanilla. Thankfully, it smelled stronger than it tasted.

“What is this?” I asked in between sips.

“It’s a nutrient drink we offer to anyone who needs a lot of healing,” the nurse said. “Panacea can’t create mass, so she uses body fat and often leaves people feeling extremely hungry. The food is just to help bring your weight back up quickly. I’d suggest eating slightly larger meals for a few days, but don’t overdo it.”

Nodding, I finished my drink. I’d been sitting here the entire time with my horns and wings visible, yet the nurse hadn’t so much as blinked at my appearance. It felt odd. So far, Dad was the only one who’d really seen the real me. To anyone else, I was the tall, skinny, quiet girl at Winslow — who had finally started to fill out — or the tall, curvy girl at the mall that one weekend.

Once I was finished with my meal, the nurse handed me a large pair of sweatpants and a hoodie for me to wear and left, taking the tray with her.

Despite the meal and full stomach, I still felt hungry, but there was nothing I could do about that unless I could convince dad to stop by a mall or something. There just weren’t enough people in the building.

While I got changed, Dad waited outside. At some point, I’d been dressed in a hospital gown, the slit at the back giving plenty of space for my tail. Between the tears and the blood, I supposed the clothes I’d been wearing were ruined. I’d been wearing one of my sports bras last night; it was probably beyond saving now, and the thought of buying another made me wince. Those things were expensive at my size.

The clothes the nurse had given me were simple, cheap gray affairs with stretchy waist bands and ankles on the pants. Unfortunately, they were a little short in the leg and arm and a bit snug in the chest, but were thick enough that I could make do for now.

Thankfully, my trainers had been spared and had been included with the clothes.

I was just debating whether I should shapeshift when there was a knock on the door.

“Excuse me? Miss Hebert, it’s Panacea, are you dressed?”

I was about to say no and quickly change my form when I realised it was pointless. Panacea had healed me last night; that meant she already knew what I looked like, and transforming now would probably raise more questions that I didn’t want to answer.

“Y-Yeah! I'm decent,” I called back.

Opening the door, Panacea looked just like the images I’d seen online.

She was shorter than me with a costume that practically covered her entire body. It was a white hooded robe with a red trim and a healer’s cross on the front. A red scarf wrapped around the lower half of her face, leaving her eyes visible and just enough of her cheeks that I could see freckles.

Stopping just inside the door, she glanced at me with a small wince. “Sorry, those are the largest clothes we had in stock. Unless you’d prefer a man’s size?”

Tugging at the hem of the hoodie, I shook my head. “N-no, it’s fine, I’ll change when I get home anyway,” I said nervously.

Nodding, Panacea walked over to the office chair and sat down. She waved at the empty armchair. “Take a seat, this won’t take long.”

Nodding and hoping not to make a fool of myself, I quickly sat down and held out my hand when prompted.

Holding my hand, Panacea hummed to herself. “Looks like you’re fine. Did you know you’ve got a minor healing factor?”

“Y-yeah. It’s not very fast though.”

Unlike the nurse, Panacea kept glancing at my horns, wings and scales. She was giving off a mix of surprise, interest and even… attraction? At one point, I was willing to swear I caught her glancing at my bust.

Leaning back in her chair, Panacea stared through me. There was something familiar about her eyes, but I couldn’t place it. The taste of her indecision danced on my tongue before she took a breath and stood up.

“One moment please.” Walking back outside, I heard her asking dad if we could have a bit of privacy and sending him down the hall to get himself some coffee. That done, she came back into the room and closed the door.

“I just want to ask you some questions, if that’s all right?”

“Umm, sure?” I said nervously, wondering where this was going.

“Would it be okay for me to ask… what you are?... my receptionist thought you were a Case 53, but your body is too uniform, too well constructed, for that. I’d almost think you were a changer, but you don’t have a gemma, which means no powers.”

Ah. I should have expected this. I’m not sure what she meant by uniform, but Case 53 did sound familiar, something about capes who got turned into monsters by their powers. When I’d considered being a hero, I’d thought about passing myself off as a parahuman, but if she already knew I didn’t have powers, that wasn’t going to work.

Picking up on my indecision, Panacea held up a hand. “I promise, whatever you say won’t go any farther than this room. It won’t be written down and I won’t discuss it with anyone.”

She was radiating nothing but honesty, friendly curiosity and a bit of embarrassment tinged with attraction. So at least I knew she meant what she was saying. Empathy for the win!

Eventually, I decided on honesty.

“Magic,” I explained. “My Mom came from a parallel world with lots of magic. Apparently, they all look like this there.” It wasn’t the full truth, but close enough. I wasn’t sure how she would react if I said I was a succubus.

“Really?” Panacea said, sitting forward. “I had a guy in here a few months ago who said he could use magic, but he was just high.”

I rolled my eyes. “Do you have a pen and some paper?”

Taking them from her, I quickly scribbled out a simple light spell, charged it and set it off in the corner of the room.

Surprise flowed off Panacea. “Huh.”

Looking at me again, I felt her resolve harden. “Look, don’t take this the wrong way… but I know you don’t have much money.”

I flushed in embarrassment and anger, and Panacea flinched.

“Sorry! I don’t mean anything by it!” she said quickly. “But it's just, how would you like to work for me?”

“W-what?”

Panacea sighed. “While I’ve never seen someone use magic, I have on occasion had to deal with people who have been affected by it and finding a magic user who’s not in the Protectorate is hard. You don’t have to make a decision now, but if you’re willing to help me out, I can offer you decent pay for it.”

I could taste her concern and embarrassment, but there was honesty there. The offer was genuine.

“I… I need to think about it,” I said quietly.

“That’s fine, like I said, you don’t have to decide now. Talk it over with your dad.”

With that, she stood up and led me out to reception, where Dad was filling out some paperwork.

I’d never considered being a healer before. The idea had merit; it was the heroic thing to do, it would let me help people and I was less likely to get attacked by a fucking vampire.

I was so caught up in my thoughts I didn’t even notice what I was doing until Dad spoke up.

“You okay kiddo?” he said quietly, making me jump.

I’d somehow managed to walk outside, climb into his truck and put my belt on without even noticing.

“Y-yeah,” I said, shaking the thoughts away. “Dad, is it possible to heal with magic?”

Instead of saying anything, Dad reached into his pocket and pulled out a crumpled up piece of paper with a spell on it.

“That’s a minor healing spell your mother wrote,” he said quietly. “It wasn’t much use for me, but I don’t see why you couldn’t use it.”

Taking it from him, my hands were trembling slightly. I still wanted to learn how to fight, but maybe I could do this as well?

The image of Emma wearing a ‘naughty nurse’ outfit popped into my head, making me blush.

Stupid hormones, I thought to myself as I tried to force the image away.


Chapter Text

The ride home was mostly silent, each of us lost in our own thoughts. Panacea's offer was tempting, but I was too distracted to really think about it. I could see Dad giving me the occasional glance out the corner of his eye. At one point, while stopped at a light, he lifted his arm like he was planning to touch me, but pulled away at the last second.

He just looked so worn and the taste of guilt was so heavy on him that it was making me feel sick. The tension between us was almost palpable. It felt like we'd gone back to how things had been before my transformation. Back when we barely spoke.

I stared out of the windows in an effort to distract myself, one hand idly tracing where the vampire had bitten me. Now that we were away from the hospital, I was starting to feel drained, weak.

"Taylor, is something wrong?" Dad's voice sounded strange, like I was hearing it through a wall. I turned to face him and the world spun around me.

Grabbing my head, I took a deep breath and waited for the feeling to pass.

"Taylor!?"

"I'm—" I took another breath. "I'm alright. Just felt a bit dizzy."

Pulling over, Dad stared at my face, putting one hand to my forehead. "When did you last eat?"

"I had that drink thing at Panacea's."

"No, when did you last eat," he repeated with more emphasis.

Oh, oh! "At the library last night, but I guess it wasn't enough."

Huffing, Dad put the truck into gear. "I know you probably just want to get home, but I think it's best we go to the mall and get you some breakfast first."

I wanted to argue, as I really wasn't dressed for a trip to the mall, but now that I was aware of it, I was having a harder time ignoring my hunger.

"You need to eat more," Dad warned. "Magic, flying, shapeshifting. The more you do, the more energy you'll need. It's not like you need to worry about getting fat." He smiled weakly at his joke, and I smiled despite playfully groaning.

"Have you been eating at school?"

"I… No, not really. I keep meaning to but…" But what? The school was a perfect place to eat, yet I was coming home nearly starving every day, having to take quick nibbles on the bus just to get by.

"I'm not sure," I said eventually. "I do try, but something keeps stopping me and I end up trying to feed quickly on the bus… I don't, I don't know why…"

"You said there's wards around your school? It's possible they're stopping you." Dad sighed. "I wish you'd told me… I know you planned to stick it out, but maybe you should consider staying home until you can change scho—"

"Yes!" Realising just how quickly I'd spoken, I flushed in embarrassment.

Pulling to a stop outside the mall, Dad gave me a long look.

"I'm sorry, Taylor." He put a hand on my shoulder. "I wish I'd known. I should have noticed."

"It doesn't matter." The argument sounded weak, even to me. I had been the one to hide everything from him. He didn't need to keep apologising.

"Yes, it does. When we get home, I'll contact Winslow. I'm pulling you out of that school. you can study from home for now. Okay?"

Not trusting myself to speak, I just nodded. Leaving Winslow felt like giving in, like I'd let Emma win. But, at the same time, I could feel a tension leaving my body. I didn't need to worry about it anymore.

Despite all the emotions I could taste in the air, Dad's voice was level and his face relaxed. It was kind of scary how well he could hide his expressions, but I supposed he'd had a lot of practice.

"Good, now let's get you fed and then back home."

I shook my head. "Just, give me a minute."

Even from the parking lot, I could feel the collected energy of everyone in the mall. I was too far away to really feed on it, but I was close enough that I could pull some of it in. Once I was confident I wasn't going to pass out or something, I forced myself to transform into my 'normal, school' appearance, complete with more suitable clothes.

Having a seat belt suddenly pull tight against my now flat chest was a novel, and somewhat painful, experience. Note to self, sensitivity is the same, no matter what size they are.

Rubbing my chest, I ignored Dad's laugh and followed him into the mall. I was nearly at the doors when something occurred to me.

"Dad… that thing last night bit me. Do I need to be worried about that?"

Dad blinked in surprise, then laughed. "Dad?" Ignoring me, he walked off ahead, with me following close behind.

##

Mornings, Dauntless decided, should be banned.

He'd been up most of the night on patrol, then spent another two hours recharging his equipment before finally falling asleep sometime around dawn with a plan to sleep until noon.

He'd managed to get a few brief hours of sleep before he'd gotten the call from Miss Militia about the upcoming meeting and that he had to attend.

Blinking in an effort to get his eyes to focus, it took him far too long to recognise the coffee cup that had been placed in front of him. Reaching out for it, he looked up into the amused face of Assault.

"Marry me?" he asked as he grabbed his cup.

Assault laughed and looked towards his wife. "What do you think, should we keep him?"

Battery flushed, but managed to smirk. "Well… you are both very pretty."

Around them, the other Protectorate capes laughed as Assault openly gaped. It was rare she managed to get one over on him.

Sipping his coffee, Dauntless shrugged. "Eh, I'm game."

Assault looked between them both, then dropped heavily into his chair, arms crossed in a mock pout. "You're both evil!"

"Alright, that's enough," Armsmaster said, bringing the laughter to a stop. Dauntless couldn't be certain, but he was fairly sure Armsmaster was glaring at him behind his visor.

"I know some of you are off duty, but this is important."

The wall behind Armsmaster lit up and Dauntless forced himself not to groan. If Armsmaster was using the wall screens, then this meeting was likely to go on for the rest of the day.

"First off, it's come to my attention that we have not been having our team meetings as regularly as we should—"

"Aren't you the one who's supposed to schedule them?" Assault said. Dauntless hid his smile behind his cup.

The visible parts of Armsmasters face flushed. "Yes… well I've been busy…" Clearing his throat, he attempted to get the meeting back under control.

"That's why I have asked Miss Militia to assist me. While she has always been my unofficial second in command, I've spoken to the director and made it official."

"So… you're officially making her do the work for you?" Dauntless couldn't have stopped himself if he'd tried. He really wasn't awake if he was saying things like that aloud.

Armsmaster glared, but any retort he might have made was cut off by the laughter around them.

Thankfully, Miss Militia — Hannah, as she wasn't wearing her mask — didn't seem to be too upset.

"That aside," she said before Armsmaster could reprimand them all, "there are a few things we need to go over."

The rest of the meeting was the usual busy work — new patrol routes, gang sightings and so on — so Dauntless felt no shame for tuning most of it out. Eventually, though, the image of a man nailed to the wall came onto the screen, catching his attention.

"There has been a development in the Shadow Stalker case. This —" Armsmaster gestured at the picture "— was taken last night. Coroner puts the time of death at two days ago. The arrows used are of a common brand, low cost and easy to find, but they match those used most often by Shadow Stalker."

"That's not much to go on." Hannah frowned at the picture. "We'd need more than that to arrest her. Besides, if the bolts are easy to get, then this might just be someone trying to frame her."

Dauntless nodded. Framing a troublesome hero or rival villain wasn't an uncommon tactic, after all. He tapped the desk to bring up more information on the case. Attitude aside, Armsmaster was nothing if not thorough. Sure enough, dozens of reports appeared: forensic analysis, arrow trajectories, possible angles of attack.

Armsmaster continued, "I agree, but Shadow Stalker's behaviour has been getting steadily more erratic lately. The level of violence has increased faster than is normal for an independent hero. As such, we have been asked to bring her in for questioning."

And depending on how that goes, Dauntless thought to himself, she'll likely end up in the wards or in prison. It was galling, really, that things were so bad that violent criminals could be allowed onto the team.

Looking at the notes before him, Armsmaster's jaw tightened. "One last thing. Dauntless, I suspect this is your area of expertise. This man attacked a young woman last night. The victim is in the hospital, but is expected to make a full recovery."

A picture appeared on screen of a corpse. Its skin was sunken and waxy, giving it a gaunt look. Dauntless didn't need to see the fangs to know what it was.

"Yeah, that's a vampire." He'd only dealt with a vampire once, back when he was still a student, studying under Dr. River. That the victim had survived was surprising. Vampires were typically messy eaters, and most people died long before the vampire was full. They also weren't as common as they used to be.

"Huh, less sparkly than I was expecting." Assault grinned, but it quickly faded when no one laughed.

"Vampires really aren't like that." Dauntless sighed. Rubbing his face, he tried to recall his old lessons under Dr. River.

"They're parasites, one step above zombies, really. They happen when a person dies alone. I mean, completely alone. No friends, no family, no name. Just completely forgotten about by society. A minor spirit, possibly of anger or regret, will enter the corpse, turning it into a vampire. The result is more like a rabid animal than a person. It has some instincts, just enough brains to stick to dark places and ambush people. But once they attack something, they'll keep going until one of them is dead."

"I see… between the internet and social media, that kind of death is rare," Armsmaster said. "Is their bite contagious, or is that just a story?"

"Yeah, the tradition of cremating unclaimed corpses helped, even if most don't know why it's done. As for creating more… no. Most modern vampire legends are really the mixing of lots of different stories. If you happen to meet one, destroy the head or the heart and that'll be the end of it. Fire works too, but then, fire kills most things."

Still, something about the vampire's corpse bothered him. Bringing up the report, Dauntless started skimming through. "What killed it? Even a young vampire should be more than a match for a normal human, but it looks like it was stabbed to death."

"According to the victim report, she was saved by a parahuman. The description doesn't match anything on file, so I'm assuming it's a new trigger."

Dauntless whistled. A new trigger taking a vampire? That was impressive. Or stupidly lucky.

"So there's a new hero in the bay? Guess things are looking up," Assault said.

"Yes, though I'm already scanning hospital reports for anyone who matches the description. So far, nothing has come up," Armsmaster said.

"Why?"

"It's in the report in front of you," Armsmaster said with a sigh. "Apparently, the cape was severely injured in the fight. A large amount of blood was found at the scene, and a preliminary investigation confirmed it was female. Unfortunately, the blood sample evaporated before I could finish testing — which tells me it was likely magical."

Okay, that wasn't right. Human blood — even that of a magic user — didn't do that, so it had to have come from a creature. There were only a few magical creatures that could pass for human, and none of them were really the heroic types.

"Did you say there's a description?"

"Yes. Female, pale skin, long hair, nearly six foot tall with wings, horns, and a tail. The report also mentioned scales and that the girl vanished in a swirl of black."

"Fuck!" No, no no no! It can't be! Taking a deep breath, Dauntless ran a hand down his face and tried to calm down. That description had done more to wake him up than any coffee.

"You okay?" Assault asked, leaning forward in his seat.

"Yeah… yeah I'm fine, it's just… Okay, it sounds like we're dealing with a succubus and yes, that's a bad thing," Dauntless said before Assault could make a joke. "It's a magical creature that feeds on humans. It was probably targeting the victim when the vampire turned up. I guess it was too badly injured to finish the victim off and chose to run away."

"Okay, what do we need to know? How smart is this creature?"

He tried to think back to his lessons with Dr. River. His teacher had never dealt with a succubus personally, but it wasn't hard to find the stories about them.

"Human level. They're shapeshifters by nature and typically look like beautiful young women. Normally, they try to avoid fighting and prefer manipulation and trickery. If you meet one, assume master/stranger powers. Honestly, I suggest shooting first."

"Seriously? That's harsh man. She did save that girl, after all."

"Don't assume human motives. Besides, succubi aren't native to this world, they're demons and can only come to this world if summoned. If you kill one, they just get sent back to their home dimension."

"Oh, like that cat?... I mean… I think it was a cat… I can't…" Triumph shook his head, and Dauntless squeezed his shoulder.

"Don't think about it, let the memory fade, it'll be better for you if you do."

Triumph nodded, taking a breath as she slowly calmed down and her body returned to normal. Dauntless really needed to find a cure for that curse.

"I can see two options. One, the succubus is being compelled to follow someone else's commands, or two, it's already killed its summoner and is running free. Either way, it's unpredictable. For now, if you see one, pull back and call for help. I'll see if I can make something that can break illusions."

"Master, stranger, changer... that's quite a collection of abilities. How would someone go about summoning one? Can you tell us anything about the summoner?"

"It'll be a villain, someone who can use magic and is powerful. When you summon a creature, you have to add spells to force them to obey you. If you don't, there's nothing stopping them from attacking you. Most summoned creatures are just clever animals, but a succubus is different. They can plan and will often try to get free through trickery or demand payment for their services. Odds are good the succubus or the summoner have already killed in the past and will do so again."

Armsmaster tapped the tablet in front of him for a while, lost in thought. Eventually, though, he nodded.

"Alright, I'm putting you in charge of this investigation but I want regular reports. Miss Militia, can you back him up?"

"Of course."

As the meeting broke up around them, Dauntless continued to stare at the dead vampire. If there really was a succubus here, he'd need to take precautions. His armour was already spelled against mind control and anything else he could think of. Maybe one of Dr. Rivers' old contacts would have more information he could use?

If nothing else, a succubus should be just as vulnerable to his lance as anything else.

Sighing, he stood up and headed for his workshop. If he was going to fight a succubus, he needed to make sure his gear was up to it.

##

Tuesday

Scurrying down the street on his way home from school, Greg Veder tried not to make eye contact with anyone lest he give himself away.

He'd killed her! Oh god, he'd killed her.

The thought ran in circles through his mind, burning the words in letters six feet high on the inside of his skull. Her screams as her skin tore apart had echoed in his ears as he ran and continued long into the night.

He, he needed to tell someone, anyone. Maybe he should go to the police, tell them it was an accident. They'd bel—

Shadows moved in the corner of his eye, but when he turned to look, there was no one there.

Calm down, you're just seeing things.

"Yeah, no. I mean seriously, the guy was pathetic! I mean—"

Greg turned his head so fast that something in his neck went 'ping'. For just a moment, he saw her standing there on the other side of the street. Her brown hair was waving in the wind as she spoke on her phone. His heart stopped when she glanced in his direction, her eyes empty pools of darkness, pulling him in even as every nerve in his body screamed at him to run.

A passing bus hid her from view, and when it was gone, she had vanished.

Stumbling backwards, Greg barely paid attention to the man he walked into.

"I'm sorry!" he screamed as he ran.

##

Wednesday

Shutting his bedroom door, Greg leaned back against the wood, letting himself slowly slide down until he was sitting on the floor with his knees against his chest.

He'd heard people talking at school. 'Madison's at home, she was mugged and needs to rest'. But that was impossible. He'd seen her die; the image of her flesh sloughing off haunted what little sleep he'd managed to get in the last few days.

"Greg? You okay sweetie?" His mom's voice drifted up stairs, distracting him from the memories.

"Y-yeah!" He tried to push the terror down, tried to sound normal. "I'm fine, I'll be down in a minute!"

Standing up, he threw his jacket and bag onto his bed. Grabbing a clean t-shirt, he quickly got changed. Pulling a water bottle from his bag, he poured it over his dirty shirt.

Glancing out his window, he saw a pair of yellow eyes staring up at him from the darkness. They seemed to float there, twin spots of light in the middle of a dark shape, before moving forward.

A faint purple haze appeared in front of the creature, stopping it in its tracks. Greg almost laughed. It couldn't get in! The ward he'd built worked! The house was safe!

The eyes continued to glare up at him as a dark shape, almost like a hand, reached up and pressed against the ward. More of the ward became visible, the glow highlighting the creature's body. It looked like a walking shadow in a roughly female shape. Madison? Greg's stomach fell as she pushed harder and the purple haze started to bulge inwards under the pressure.

"Greg! Dinner!" His mom's voice echoed through the house, making him jump.

Greg glanced quickly at his door, then back into the garden. Madison had vanished. The ward hadn't failed, he could still see it faintly, but the message was clear: it wouldn't stop her for long.

"Greg?!"

"C-coming!"

Grabbing the sodden shirt, he quickly went down stairs. "Sorry Mom, I spilled a drink on my shirt and wanted to get changed."

##

Thursday

Three days. It had been three days since he'd killed Madison. Three days since he'd had more than an hour's sleep, and three days since he'd been able to eat without feeling sick. Yet no one cared.

Greg had been watching the news, the papers, and even PHO. Madison's body hadn't been found yet; no one even seemed to know she was gone. If she was even gone.

For days now, he'd been seeing her. In the streets, outside his home, in his dreams.

Madison was dead, he knew that. So what was the thing he kept seeing?

There had been vague warnings in the Grimoire about summonings. They'd mentioned letting things into the world, evil things, old things. Was that what was happen?

His hands were shaking again. Taking a deep breath, Greg looked out the window in an effort to calm down. If, if he'd really let something through, then he needed to tell someone. The police? Maybe the PRT, they could use magic, right?

But then they'll know what you did.

Maybe, maybe that was for the best. He couldn't go on like this, no sleep, no food, and the constant gnawing of guilt—

Madison walked through the school gates, her hair bouncing as she walked. There was a cast on one of her arms and she had a bit of a limp, but she was smiling. She looked up, and just for a moment, Greg realised she was looking at him. Her smile changed, becoming something else.

"Mr. Veder, is there a problem?" Mrs. Fuller snapped as he all but leapt out of his chair.

"Ah! N-no, sorry! I — I need to use the bathroom!" Grabbing his bag, Greg ran from the room, not waiting for permission and ignoring the giggles.

Running to the nearest bathroom, Greg pulled his phone from his pocket. The PRT, they could handle this, he had to call them!

In his panic, his fingers fumbled with the keys and it took him three tries to get the right number.

"Emergency ser—"

"I need help! She's here!"

"Sir?

"She's here! I killed her!" He took a breath that was somewhere between a gasp and a sob. "It was an accident I swear, but she's alive and different and now she's here and she's stalking me!"

"Sir, sir I need you to listen to me." The woman's voice was calm and well practiced. "Now, tell me, are you safe?"

"I — I don't know. I'm hiding in the bathroom. I'm at school."

"Okay, that's good. We're having trouble tracking your location. Can you tell me where you are?"

"I'm at Winslow High, just please hurry."

"Don't worry, I've got officers on the way, I just need you to stay on the line."

"Yeah, yeah I can —" With a beep, the battery in his phone died. "What! No! No, no, no!"

Shaking his phone, Greg tried to will his phone back to life. There had to be something wrong! It had been fully charged when he'd reached school!

Giving up, Greg slumped down onto the toilet seat and tried to calm himself down. They knew where he was. They were coming.

Maybe it was exhaustion taking its toll, but one thought above all others kept bubbling to the surface.

Mom is going to kill me.

##

The operator sighed as the line went dead and put another mark on the tally.

"Prank call?" the man next to her said.

"Yeah, some kids down in the docks. Idiot could barely stop giggling."

"You call it in?"

She rolled her eyes. Prank calls were annoying, but that didn't mean she wouldn't do her job. "Of course! I'm not that stupid. A nearby patrol is gonna check it out. With any luck, they'll catch the kids."

##

Where are they? It had been more than an hour now, and Greg hadn't heard anything beyond the bell.

Had something happened? Did they think it was a hoax? If the police weren't coming, he'd go to them!

Giving up, he slowly left the bathroom. Lunch was in full swing, the hallways packed with students.

He was almost out of the building when he saw her. She was standing nearby, talking to Emma and Sophia. If not for the bruises and cast, he'd never know something was wrong.

Looking past her friends, she smiled at him. The sound of the corridor faded and her smile widened. Emma and Sophia continued to talk, unaware or uncaring about what she was doing.

Madison's smile widened as Greg backed up, his back pressing against the rows of lockers, the smell of blood filling his nose.

"..." I'm sorry!

Pushing past her friends, Madison walked forward, her smile growing. He tried to turn away, to run or call for help, but he couldn't move.

"I..." I'm so sorry!

A soft, delicate hand pressed against his chest and Madison looked up at him, her smile running literally from ear to ear, her mouth filled with razor sharp teeth. Her nails felt like claws pressing against his skin.

"I'm sorry!" he choked out, tears running freely down his face. The strength left his body, and Madison pressing against him was all that was holding him up.

Her eyes flashed yellow, and when she spoke, it was with two voices.

"No, no you're not. Not yet anyway."

"P—pleas—"

"Do not waste my time begging. I only want one thing from you. Where. Is. The. Book?!" her free hand came up, wrapping her claws around his throat as wisps of black smoke began to rise from her body. Her smile was gone, but the razor sharp teeth remained.

"I don't know! Plea—" Her claws tightened in warning. "It's the truth! I left it in the factory!"

"You never went back for it?"

"NO! I couldn't, not after, not after what happened." He could feel warmth spreading down his legs. Around them, other students had stopped to watch, their blank eyes unblinking.

Madison rose up, her body lengthening until she was looking down at him. "You are a coward, Greg." Her voice was little more than a hiss, her breath hot against his face and her eyes glowing yellow slits against her darkening skin.

"A coward and a fool. I'd tear your fucking heart out, but I may yet need you alive to fix this fucking mess. So for now, you get to live."

Greg opened his eyes with a start. Madison was laughing at something Emma had said, her body totally normal. Around him, other students were going about like normal. The pain from her claws was gone, as was the wet patch on his jeans.

Did I imagine everything?

Shaking, he looked back up at Madison. Her eyes flashed yellow as she glared at him.

Greg turned and ran.

Chapter Text

Sighing in boredom, I sat back on the sofa. I’d never have thought it once, but apparently you could get bored with sitting around reading for a week straight.

True to his word, as soon as we’d gotten home, Dad had phoned up Winslow and told them he was pulling me out of school. They didn’t even try to argue; instead, they just offered to forward my records to my new school and left it at that.

Of course, that meant Dad and I had spent the rest of the week trying to work out what to do now.

There were only a couple of schools close enough for me to attend. Arcadia was the closest and, apparently, the best, but there was a massive waiting list for places. In theory, I could appeal for special consideration because of the bullying, but that could still take months.

Dad did mention other ways to get me in, but they typically required money we didn’t have.

Clarendon was another choice, but I was outside their catchment zone. The only other option was Immaculata, a private school, typically full of rich kids, and even if we could afford the fees... well… it was a Christian school, and I was a demon.

Home schooling wasn’t really an option, as it was more expensive than most people realised.

It keeps coming back to money...

I frowned up at the ceiling. What if money weren’t an issue?

It wasn’t like I had to do anything illegal; I had that offer from Panacea, after all. Using our ancient computer, I’d looked up the prices on her webpage. Even if she only kept a small percentage of the money she charged, she had to be making a small fortune.

I was still thinking about it when Dad walked through the front door, bags of Chinese takeaway in his hands. I knew we couldn't really afford it, since my recent hospital stay had all but destroyed his savings, but he’d insisted.

“Hey kiddo, I thought I’d take care of dinner tonight!” he said happily. He must have had a better than usual day at work.

While he sorted out the food, I quickly got up and made sure the table was clear.

“So,” he said, halfway through his own dinner, “get up to much today?”

“Not really, just some reading. I did go for a jog earlier to stretch my legs and get something to eat though.”

“That’s good. I know it can be a bit boring sitting around at home, but I’ll get a school sorted out for you as quickly as I can.”

“Yay,” I said with as much mock sarcasm as I could manage. “Dad… can we even afford for me to go somewhere else? Everything just seems to revolve around money.”

“It’s fine. We’re still getting by,” Dad said a little too quickly and without looking at me.

Frowning, I realised I this was probably the best opening I would get. “Actually, I was thinking of getting a part time job… maybe taking up Panacea’s offer? Even if it’s just a couple of hours a week.”

Dad frowned. “I’m not sure it’s such a good idea.”

“Why not? I could even help out with some of the bills—”

“Taylor, you let me worry about that. You should just focus on your studies and having fun.”

“With what friends?” I snapped. Dad’s face fell, and I instantly regretted it.

We ate in silence for a few more minutes before I tried again.

“If I had a part time job, it would give me some extra pocket money, so I could maybe take up some hobbies or meet people. Besides, working with Panacea would let me learn healing magic after all.”

Dad flinched. He covered it quickly, but he couldn’t hide the sudden taste of fear on my tongue.

“What are you so afraid of?!” I said before I could stop myself.

“Taylor… it’s…” He sighed. “Look, there are people out there, organisations that would kill you just for existing. The more you use magic, the more things tend to ‘happen’ around you. It’s not something you can help, it just happens.”

“It’s not like I’d be going out beating up drug dealers or something! I’d be a healer, that's all, helping Panacea from the safety of her building and it’s not like anyone would know who I am!” As I spoke, my form shifted until I looked like a thirty year old blonde woman I’d seen at the Mall earlier. I glared at Dad with my borrowed face for a beat, then let my body return to normal.

“You’re not going to let this go, are you?”

I tried to look over my glasses at him, forgetting for a moment that I no longer wore them.

He sighed, “Alright… talk to Panacea, but I want to see any contracts before you sign them and you will keep any money you earn. You can put some aside for college if you want, but you let me worry about the bills, okay?”

Smiling, I squeezed Dad’s hand. “When it gets dark, I’m going to go fly for a bit. I’ll try and stop by Panacea’s and ask her for more detai—”

I was cut off by someone knocking at the door like their life depended on it.

Opening the door, I stepped back in surprise at the person standing outside. It was Madison, or at least, part of her. Parts of her body looked like they were made of smoke, and one of her eyes was a solid glowing yellow.

“Please.” Her voice was wrong. It sounded like Madison, but with another voice on top of it. The worst part, however, was her emotions. Fear and pain rolled off of her, the taste foul on my tongue.

“Help me!”

“Dad!”

Dad came running into the hallway, his face going pale at the sight of ‘Madison’.

“Please, I don’t know who else to turn to! I can’t, I don’t—” she slumped to her knees, her body shaking. “You’re the only mage I know!”

Dad found his voice first. “Is she telling the truth?”

“What?!”

“Is she trying to trick us?”

Closing my eyes, I focused on the emotions Madison was giving off. Fear to the point of outright terror, pain, grief, confusion. No deception or ill intent that I could taste.

“No, I don’t think so.”

“Okay, bring her in and put her on the couch. I’ll teach you how to check for curses.”



Madison's story was… unbelievable, to say the least. Was she even Madison at this point? But we couldn’t argue with what we were seeing.

All the curse checking spells Dad showed me came up blank, but when I tried a simple ‘health’ spell I actually got two results.

It was confusing. According to the spell, Madison was five foot three and six foot at the same time, aged between 15 and ‘undetermined’ and so on.

“Oh Greg, what were you thinking?” I asked myself as I dispelled the glowing lines my spell had created.

“That I’d fuck him,” Madison said with a snort.

Dad rubbed his face and let out a growl of irritation. Half way into Madison's story, he had walked off to grab a bottle of whiskey. Refilling his glass, he briefly offered Madison the bottle.

She downed half of it without hesitating.

“And you’re sure he had no magic of his own?” Dad asked.

“No, it all came from the book he was using.”

“And where is it now?”

“I don’t know! He doesn’t have it and I haven’t been back… there since it happened.” She wrapped her arms around her body. “I’m not sure I can face it… what if, what if I’m still there?”

“I don’t get it, what did he hope to accomplish?”

“I just said—”

“No, I get that. But what would have happened if the spell had worked?”

Madison sighed, “If it had worked? I, the girl, Madison — ugh…”

“It’s alright,” I said gently. “Take your time.”

“Think of it like an exchange spell,” Dad said, leaning forward. “This sort of spell is supposed to have three participants. A summoner, a ‘sacrifice’ and a succubus. If it had worked, the succubus would have slept with the summoner, I assume?” Madison nodded and Dad continued. “Meanwhile, the sacrifice would likely have been put to sleep for the succubus to feed on. Then, once everything was done, the succubus would return to her dimension and the sacrifice would wake up unharmed.

“We need to know more. Maybe if I can look at the runes he used, I might be able to work out what went wrong. I’ll get my keys and you can show me where to go.”

Dad stood up, wobbling slightly as he did.

“What if I went instead? I can fly, after all; it won’t take me long to get there.”

“Taylor…”

“I’m not going to fight anyone or anything. Just get in, look around, then leave. Besides,” I pointed at the bottle on the table, “you can’t drive now anyway.”



Madison led the way to the factory, flying just ahead of me as we soared over the city, her shadowlike body blending with the night sky.

Landing on the factory rooftop, she shot me another curious glance. She’d been doing that almost non-stop since I’d transformed in front of her, and it was getting on my nerves.

“What!?” I finally snapped. “What is it?”

“I’m sorry, it’s just… I’ve not seen a child in a long time.”

That made me stop. I knew succubi didn’t have children often — Mom’s book mentioned it — but was it really that bad?

“How, how long has it been?”

Madisons voice was different, the second voice stronger now. “Centuries, I think. I remember the Uru clan leaving. They said they were going to find a way to fix things, to let us have all the children we wanted, but no one’s heard from them since…”

Sighing, she shook herself. “We need to hurry.”

Nodding, I followed her to a nearby door. Almost as soon as she opened it I could smell blood, lots of it, and a dirty, greasy feel to the air that made my skin crawl.

Madison either couldn't feel it or didn't care, as she walked on regardless.

Madison lead us through the twisting maze of corridors and empty rooms. Most of the windows had been boarded up long ago, so there was very little light to see by as we walked, and our footsteps echoed loudly. If anyone else was in the building, they would probably hear us coming.

Eventually she stopped, her eyes fixed on a door at the end of the hall.

“W-we’re here,” she said quietly, the fear she was giving off drowning out everything else.

As much as I disliked Madison, I couldn't stop myself from feeling sorry for her.

“Do you want to wait here? I can go check everything out and—”

“No!” She took a breath. “No, I need to do this.”

Clenching her fists, she marched forwards, grabbing the handle and swinging the door open. I hurried to keep up, looking over her shoulder as she entered the room.

The smell of blood was stronger now, and I could see the large brown stain on the floor. There was a void in the middle of it and marks on the floor, like someone — Madison — had crawled through it.

Thankfully, there was no body. I’m not sure what either of us would have done if there were.

Madison stared at the mess on the floor, her glowing eyes unmoving. I wasn’t really sure what, if anything, to say.

“I…” Madison said, her voice rough, “he stood in that circle with the book. I, we were in the others.”

Under the blood and spread out across the floor was a number of rings and symbols. It must have taken Greg ages to transcribe it all. I walked carefully around the room and took it all in. I knew maybe one rune in every six, but one thing I did notice was the smudges.

It looked like something had brushed over the runes in several places, smudging the chalk and causing a number of runes to touch.

When I pointed it out, Madison glared at the marks. “The idiot was wearing a floor length robe and I didn’t know any better.”

“Well either way, this is going to take forever to copy down,” I muttered, pulling a pencil and paper from my pocket. Madison stared at me.

“You’re kidding, right?” She pulled a phone from somewhere. “Do you really not have a phone or camera?”

Rather than wait for a reply, she pointed her phone at the ground and started taking pictures. “I’ll do this, you start looking for the book!”

Letting her have her way, I started walking back and forwards across the room, taking care to avoid smudging the runes.

The room was fairly large, but empty, with most of the furniture likely removed long ago. All that remained was a couple of chairs and a single desk, so it didn’t take me long to search everywhere. If Greg had dropped the book, it wasn’t here.

Maybe somewhere on his way out? The dust on the floor had been pretty thick on our way in, footprints would be easy enough to follow. Actually, now that I thought about it, I realised something else was missing. Checking outside the doors, I found a discarded broom that almost looked brand new.

“Silly question,” I said, “but did Greg sweep the floor?”

Madison stopped what she was doing and looked around.

“Huh, now that you mention it… It was pretty clean in here, I guess he must’ve. He probably thought we wouldn't want to fuck him on a dirty floor.” She flashed me a toothy grin. “Which just shows how little he knew about me.”

Okay, I thought as I blushed, that voice had been all Madison.

“Did you find the book?”

Before I could say anything, there was a noise from outside the room. We both went silent, listening carefully as someone made there way up the stairs towards the room.

“Hide!” Madison hissed.

Where!?

Grabbing me, Madison pulled us both behind the abandoned desk moments before the door opened.

I did my best to remain still as someone entered the room, the familiar tang of magic wafting off them, and I could hear them moving from one side of the room to the other. Eventually, they spoke.

“Console, Dauntless, get PD to cordon off the area, I’ve found signs of dark magic.” He sighed. “It looks like there’s been at least one human sacrifice already… no, too much blood. Besides, it’s too old. Whoever this was, they’re likely dead by now…”

A wave of anger and grief washed over me as he inspected the blood stain. I shifted slightly, trying to see what he was doing.

I knew who he was, of course. He was a member of the Protectorate, a hero, and while I knew some of them used magic, I didn’t realise he was one of them. The floor under me groaned as one of the old boards shifted.

“Who’s there!” he barked, his footsteps stopping.

Madison glared at me, her appearance changing to that of a random, tall, blonde haired girl. She gave me a pointed look.

“Console, possible suspect on scene! Send backup.”

Madison sent me one last look, then put her hands up over the desk.

“No, wait please! We had nothing to do with this!”

“Who are you? What are you doing here?” Dauntless asked.

“Emma! My name’s Emma, some friends dared us to come in here and we found all this blood!”

Realising what she was planning, I took on a more normal appearance of brown hair, brown eyes and face that wouldn’t stand out in a crowd and followed Madison. Rather than talk, I made no attempt to hide my nerves and stood behind her. I’d even made myself shorter than her to help sell the illusion.

My first look at Dauntless in person was impressive. He had a spear in one hand that looked like it was made of white lightning, and a shield was strapped to his left forearm. It was a metal disc, about the size of a dinner plate and surrounded by rings of the same kind of energy that made up the spear. The rest of his armour was white and gold, and his golden helmet was in the Greek or Spartan style, with slits for the eyes, a band of metal covering his nose, and a slit running down the lower half of his face. A band of metal crested the top, like a mohawk.

More impressive than its appearance were the enchantments. I could feel the magic radiating from his equipment, and he was still on the far side of the room to us.

I realised too late that his emotions were darkening. The suspicion he’d been gently radiating suddenly spiked, anger and even a little bit of fear mixing with it.

He raised his spear, pointing it at Madison.

“I’d believe you if you weren’t hiding your face, demon.”

“W-what? I don’t know what you—” Madison said quickly.

“My helmet is enchanted,” he said carefully. “I can’t see what you really are, but I know you’re not human. Now, what are you and why are you here and what. Happened. Here!?”

“Fucking demon hunters,” Madison hissed just quietly enough for me to hear.

Still keeping my hand raised, I pulled on my magic. I only had one spell I could create without any runes, and I had to hope it would be enough. I flexed my fingers, drawing Dauntless’ attention just as I screwed my eyes shut and released the spell.

A blinding flash filled the room. I heard Dauntless shout but ignored it. Grabbing Madison’s arm, I ran for the other door. Behind us, something hit the wall.

“What was—”

“Shut up and run!”

Dauntless shouted something as we turned a corner, and I thought I heard another impact. Running, if possible, even faster, I led Madison through the building, following our footprints back up to the roof.

Reaching from the door, I turned sharply and threw myself off the roof, Madison close behind me, as we spread our wings. It was hard, opening my wings without dropping my disguise, but I couldn't risk anyone seeing me.

“He’s still coming!” Madison shouted as Dauntless emerged from the building. With a leap, he took to the air. He was fast, certainly faster than Madison or me.

In moments, he was right behind us.

Looking over my shoulder, I could see the glowing lance in his hands. Feeling a sudden sense of dread, I rolled sideways and the lance punched harmlessly through empty air, missing me by inches.

Diving, I managed to dodge his next attack.

“You’re only making this harder on yourself!” he shouted over the wind and taking another swing at me. The lance clipped my shoulder and pain racked my body. My muscles locked up, my body twitching from the shock.

Unable to control my body, I fell from the sky, the ground was rushing up to meet me. In a panic, I tried to force my body to move, to open my wings, but everything but the wing he’d hit felt dead.

Madison dove after me, but Dauntless reached me first; wrapping an arm around my waist, he pulled us out of the dive and landed on the roof of a highrise. Dropping me to the ground, he quickly scanned the sky, likely looking for Madison.

The feeling was finally starting to return to my wing — and it fucking hurt! — and I could move my body again. Before I could do more than roll onto my back, Dauntless drove his spear into the roof next to me.

“Who summoned you and what did he do with the body?!”

“W-what!?”

“I can tell,” he growled at me, “that blood came from a teenage girl. No one loses that much blood and survives. Now tell me, which one of you killed her and what did you do with her body? Tell me and I promise to make this painless.”

“We didn’t kill anybody!” I shouted back. “I had nothing to do with that blood!”

“...I almost believe you,” he said softly, lifting his lance.

Madison dropped from the sky, her smoke like body solidifying into that of a grown woman, strong and proud as she tackled Dauntless from behind.

“You will not hurt the child!” she screamed, her wings transforming into tendrils that wrapped around his body. Her clawed hands dug into his helm, forcing his head to turn so he could see her glowing eyes.

They both froze for an instant, then Dauntless slumped bonelessly to the ground. Breathing hard, Madison climbed to her feet, her skin already breaking apart.

“Are you okay?” Her voice was changing again. For a moment, there had been just one voice, but now I could hear the echo of Madison again.

“Y-yeah.” I’d only need a minute or two more before I could fly again. “What did you do?”

“An illusion, he’ll wake up soon. We’ve gotta get out here!”

Standing up carefully, I stretched out my wings. Confident they could take my weight, I jumped up into the air.

We couldn't go back home; I couldn't risk the PRT following us. Instead, I turned north and led us both to the one place I knew we’d be safe.




AN: If you enjoy my content, please consider leaving a donation: https://ko-fi.com/metallix

Chapter Text

We touched down on the pavement outside Panacea’s clinic, and I wrapped my wings around my shoulders with a sigh. 

The clinic was neutral ground; everyone knew that. Early on, when she’d first started openly operating here, some of the gangs had tried to claim the building and her as theirs. No one really knew what had happened, but there were some pretty dark rumours about it.

Eventually, an agreement had been made. Panacea would treat anyone who came through the door and could pay, no questions asked. In return, the gangs and PRT policed the area, enforcing a no-fighting rule that had more or less held since. 

As long as Panacea didn’t throw us out, we could hide out until tomorrow, when Dad could pick us up. 

Before heading inside, I shifted back to my real form, shedding the brown hair and plain face I’d kept in place when Dauntless had, when we had… oh god, we’d attacked a hero! We’d left him out cold on a roof somewhere! 

All at once it hit me. I gasped for air, wrapping my arms around myself to fight off the cold that was filling my body. What were we going to do? What would Dad say?!  

“Hey!” Madison grabbed my shoulder, pulling me around to face her. “You okay?”  

“I— I...” I tried to speak, to push back the panic, but the words wouldn’t come.  

“We’ll be okay,” she insisted, once again sounding older. “The demon-hunter never saw our faces and is unhurt. He will wake soon.”  

As I looked into her glowing yellow eyes, most of my panic drained away, leaving calm in its place. She was right. He didn't know who we were; I’d just need to be careful and do my best to go unnoticed.  

I took a shaky breath. “Thanks.”  

“No problem!” Madison chirped, her voice returning to normal. 

Shaking my head, I led us both up the path and into the building. Inside, everything was quiet, and the bored-looking receptionist quickly looked up as we entered.  

I gave a little wave and tried to smile. “Hi, um… Is Panacea here?”  

The receptionist barely blinked at our appearance and pulled a stack of paper from beneath the counter.  

“Do you have an appointment? If not, I need you to fill these out. Please understand that there may be a long wait as—” 

“Oh! No, sorry, we don’t need healing!” I said quickly. “My name’s Taylor, I was here a few days ago, my dad brought me in? I wanted to talk to Panacea about an offer she made.”  

It wasn’t a total lie; I did want to talk to Panacea about her offer, it was just that I also wanted a safe place to stay for the night.

The receptionist gave us both a long, calculating look, then picked up her phone and dialed a number. 

“There’s a ‘ Taylor’ here to see you, she says you made her an offer? Yes… tall, long hair, big— Okay, yes. No, I don’t think so… Do you want me to send them away?” She gave me a dark look that would have been intimidating had a member of the Protectorate not just tried to kill me. Compared to Dauntless, she was nothing to worry about. 

“Very well.” Putting down the phone, she stood up, and I quickly found myself reevaluating my previous thought. She was huge

I hadn’t noticed before because she was sitting down, but the receptionist was nearly seven feet tall, with broad shoulders and muscular arms that were visible even through the cotton blouse she wore. As she stepped out from behind the desk, I realised her legs were just as muscled, yet she still had an hourglass figure that should have been impossible. 

Those clothes have to be custom made. 

“Fuck me…” Madison muttered quietly. “Please?”  

If her smirk was any indicator, the receptionist had clearly heard her. “If you would follow me? Your friend can wait here.” 

I looked at Madison, who shrugged before walking over to sprawl out over a chair. 

Confident she was okay, I followed the receptionist through the building, and I was sure she was intentionally adding some extra swing to her hips. We quickly arrived at a room on the second floor, and she knocked on the door. There was a muffled shout from inside, and she opened the door to lead me inside. 

The inside of the room looked like every doctor’s office I had ever seen. There was a bed against one wall, with a cabinet and a sink against the other. Charts and various notices covered the walls. There was even a plastic skeleton standing in a corner. Personally, I was sure doctors only kept those around to mess with people. 

Next to the bed, Panacea sat on a small stool, a laptop resting on a wheeled stand beside her. 

“Hello Taylor, it’s good to see you again.” I could see the honest happiness drifting off her body, but there was a hint of wariness that hadn't been there before. 

“Thanks, Karen. This might take a little while, but call if you need me,” Panacea said, waving the receptionist away. 

‘Karen’ gave us both a long look before leaving with a nod. 

“Thanks for—” I said as the door clicked shut, but Panacea held up a hand to silence me. 

“Are you actually here to talk about healing, or does this have anything to do with the emergency warning I just got from the PRT?” 

Fuck … of course the PRT would warn her. 

“Warning?” I asked, trying to sound surprised. 

The look I got in return told me she hadn’t bought it. 

“Don't give me that.” Pulling her phone from a pocket of her costume, Panacea tapped at it before reading out loud. “Warning to all affiliates: possible human master/strangers in the area. Two young women attacked Dauntless. They have near-human appearance but are reported to be magical in nature. All affiliates are warned not to confront them due to possible master effects.” 

She glared at me, the taste of her hurt and betrayal filling my mouth. “Additionally, both women are confirmed to feed on humans. ” 

“That’s not true!” I jumped to my feet, anger and indignation filling me. 

“So this is about you?” Dropping her phone into her pocket, Panacea glared up at me. 

“I…” Sighing, I sat back down. “It’s not what you think. I know how that sounds, but… Dauntless attacked us and I don’t eat people, I swear.”  

Amy stared at me, her emotions a mix of curiosity, concern, and even a bit of fear. Eventually, she held out a hand. 

“Give me your hand and tell me a lie.” 

“What?” 

“I want to trust you,” she said, “but I can’t afford to take risks. Fortunately, my power makes it easy to tell when people are lying, but first I need a baseline. So, give me your hand and tell me a lie.” 

It hurt that she doubted me, but could I really blame her? In her situation, wouldn't I want to make sure? 

Putting my feelings aside, I took her hand and after a moment said, “I'm wearing an A-cup,” with as much sarcasm as I could manage. 

Panacea snorted, choking back a laugh, but her expression quickly turned serious. 

“Are you or have you ever used a master power on me?” 

“No.” 

She visibly relaxed, her shoulders lowering, and gave me an apologetic look.

“Do you eat people?” 

“I… No, at least, not like the PRT made it seem. I’m… well a vampire of sorts.” I screwed my face up in distaste at the comparison. “I need the energy that people give off, but I can get that by walking through a crowded mall without hurting a single person.” 

“Okay, so what happened tonight?” 

“The girl who’s with me? She was… ‘cursed’, I guess you could say. I was trying to help her…” Slowly, I told Panacea everything that had happened from Madison appearing at my door to Dauntless attacking us. 

“So he’s not hurt?” Panacea asked again. At some point in my story, she had moved her stool so she was sitting next to me, her grip on my fingers shifting so she was holding my hand. 

I sighed and really hoped Madison hadn’t lied to me. “He’s fine. At worst, he’ll have a headache.”

Letting go of me, Panacea pinched the bridge of her nose, a lock of brown hair coming loose and hanging in front of her eyes, and I caught a muffled curse from inside her robes. 

“Right,” she said eventually, “so I take it you came here for help?” 

“I really did want to talk to you about the job offer.” The protest felt weak, even to me. “I was just hoping you’d let me stay the night. I’ll leave tomorrow and you’ll never see me again if that makes you feel better.” 

“Not really,” she muttered before shaking her head. “Okay, look. You can stay for one night. I've got a couple of spare beds you can use. Tomorrow… we’ll talk about the job tomorrow if you're serious about it.” 

“Thank you. I know I’m probably making things hard for you with the PRT, but —”

“Oh please,” Panacea scoffed. “You’re hardly the first person they’ve screwed over like this. Did you ever hear about Dustup? The PRT doesn't like to admit it when they’re wrong.” 

I had heard about that. Dustup was an indie hero who had vanished a few months ago. Apparently, she’d accused a couple of PRT troopers of sexual harassment and ended up in the hospital. The PRT claimed they weren’t involved, but the rumour on PHO was that the PRT backup she’d called for had intentionally arrived late.

“Come on, let's get your friend,” she said, standing up and offering me a hand. 

Waving her off, I stood up on my own. She was so small I'd likely have pulled her over. I tried my best to seem light-hearted as we walked through the building.  

“I suppose this means you can’t talk to the PRT for me? Help explain that this is all one big misunderstanding?” 

She snorted. “No. I’d have more luck trying to kiss Glory Girl. At the very best I’d be ignored. At worst, the PRT would accuse you of mastering me.”

“That…” 

“Doesn’t seem fair? It’s not.” Panacea shrugged. “Plenty of people have had their lives ruined by accusations of master/stranger powers.” 

She was right, of course. Not a week went by without a new story coming from somewhere in the country about someone or other who had been mastered into doing something or arrested for mastering someone else. There was even a guy working for Dad who’d been on the wrong end of it. He’d been a teacher until one of his students had claimed he’d mastered her into sleeping with him. It didn’t matter that it had later been proven that he didn’t have powers and had never so much as touched the girl; he’d been unable to get another teaching job after that. 

I guess I’d never expected to end up in the same situation myself. 

When we reached the reception area, Panacea and I paused. Madison was gone; instead, a twenty-something woman in clothes so tight they looked painted on was leaning on the counter, smiling down at Karen the receptionist. 

It only took me a moment to work out that the woman was Madison.  

“What about when you finish your shift?” Madison purred. Leaning forward, she rested her bust on the counter, giving Karen a perfect view of her sizable cleavage. 

Whatever Madison’s intention, I doubt it was to make Karen laugh.  

Resting her chin on her hand, Karen smiled at Madison. “Sorry, sweety, why don't you come back in six or seven years? I don't date kids.” 

Madison flushed, abandoning her pose and standing up straight. “Kid?” she squeaked, “I’m probably the oldest person in this city!” 

Her body shifted, collapsing in on itself and turning back into Madison's shadow-like form. 

“I’m sure you are, honey,” Karen said with a smile. 

“I’m sorry about her,” I ground out as I walked forwards. “She’s not wrong, though; technically she is older than you.” 

“Technically?” Karen sat up to look at us both. “Don’t tell me, tinker experiment, you got sent back through time?” 

I gave Madison a questioning look, waiting for her go-ahead before saying anything more.  

“She’s actually two people fused together. One of them was well over a century old.” 

“And the other?”

“Ten.” I couldn't stop myself from taking a dig at Madison, and Karen turned an interesting shade of green. 

“Taylor!” Madison shrieked. She quickly spun around to face Karen. “Fifteen! I was fifteen!” 

Next to me, Panacea laughed as she walked forward. “You’re two people fused together? Can I take a look?”  

Throwing one more glare at me, Madison held her hand out for Panacea. 

“Huh…” Panacea muttered, her eyes going out of focus.  

“Let me guess, you’re getting two results, like looking at two people at once?” 

“Something like that…” she said slowly. “How did this happen?”

“Taylor didn’t tell you?” Madison looked between us, glowing yellow eyes narrowing.  

“She just said you were cursed.” 

“I… let a boy try and impress me,” Madison said, more smoke drifting off her body as her temper spiked. “He fucked up a summoning spell and this is the result. Is there anything you can do?”

“I…” Panacea paused, her head tilting this way and that before she shook it. “I’m sorry, but no. If you had two brains in one body, I might have been able to help. I’ve fixed that before. It’s just a case of creating a new body for each brain, but you…”

“Only have one brain,” Madison finished with a sigh. “It’s alright. Thanks for looking.”

Her eyes dulled, and her body seemed to shrink in on itself. I walked over to her, but before I could say anything, she snapped back to normal, her eyes glowing brightly as she turned to Karen. 

“You sure you don't want to take a ride? Your loss.” Not waiting for Karen's response, Madison shifted suddenly, turning herself into an exact copy of me. 

Grabbing Panacea, she pulled the three of us into a hug, with the smaller girl trapped between us. Her much shorter height meant Panacea’s face was pinned between our breasts. 

“What about you, little miss healer?” Madison said, holding me tightly. “Up for a little twin-some threesome?” 

My face flushed as I tried to pull away, but I wasn’t so distracted that I didn't notice Panacea’s embarrassment, mixed with the heady taste of arousal on my tongue.

Over Madison’s shoulder, I could see Karen fighting not to laugh, tears streaming down her face as she pressed a hand against her mouth. 

After a moment of stunned silence, Panacea seemed to gather herself and pushed Madison away. 

“You really think you’re the first to make that offer?” she said, her voice calm. Despite that, what I could see of her face was red. 

Laughing, Madison returned to her ‘normal’ form. “Oh really? Been making house calls, have we?” 

Panacea flushed, but before she could say anything, Karen piped up. 

“You know,” she said sweetly, having finally calmed down enough to talk, “that's the longest you’ve ever taken to say no.” 

Glaring at everyone, Panacea huffed. 

“Just… just follow me,” she ground out. “I’ll show you to a bedroom.” Her hand shot out, a warning finger pointed towards Madison. “Not. A. Word.” 

“Yes, mistress.” The words were out of my mouth before I could stop them. 

Madison lost it. She doubled over laughing so hard I honestly thought she was going to be sick. Panacea stared at me, her eyes wide, and I pictured her mouth moving silently behind her scarf. 

“Don't you need to call someone?” she said icily. 

Call? Oh shit! Dad! He had to be worried sick by now!

“I…” I looked between the still laughing Madison and the far too amused Karen before turning back to Panacea. “Do you have a payphone I can use?”  

I was so fucked. 


 

 

An: wow, been a while huh? Chapter commissioned by: Koalakiller on ff.net. 

If you enjoy my content, please consider supporting me on Patreon 

 

Chapter Text

The morning after our ‘fight’ with Dauntless, I stared at myself — my real self — in the mirror and sighed. The PRT had put out warnings, they had attacked us, and we’d left a hero unconscious on a roof! Just thinking about it made my stomach tighten painfully.

I had to find a way to fix things, but until then, I would have to be careful about where I went.

Unwrapping the disposable toothbrush I’d been given by one of Panacea’s nurses, I forced myself to focus on my morning routine, barely noticing Madison next to me.

We were using a small communal bathroom a nurse had shown us. As it turned out, the top floor of the building had been converted into a sort of ‘living area’ for Panacea and her staff.

“You need to take better care of your horns,” Madison said suddenly, distracting me from my thoughts.

“Mph?” I looked at her, then glanced at my horns in the mirror. They looked okay to me?

Rinsing my mouth out, I put down my brush. “What do you mean? They’re horns, what can you do with them?”

Madison stared at me for a long moment, then shook her head. The black shadows of her body twisted, trying to take shape before collapsing back into her ‘normal’ form. Growling in frustration, she tried again, this time copying my appearance.

“Very well,” she said, studying herself in the mirror and speaking in what I’d come to think of as her ‘adult’ voice. “We take great pride in our horns. We took them when we gained our freedom from the Creator, and they serve to remind us of what we can achieve. As such, you should always strive to keep them in good condition.”

“Okay, how?”

Reaching out, she gently ran a thumb across one of my horns and I tried not to shiver. They weren’t sensitive, but they were still attached to my skull, and the contact felt intimate, for lack of a better word.

“Like most horns, they are a layer of keratin over bone and need to be cared for, like your nails or hair. Rub them with a stiff brush to remove any dirt,” Madison said. “If there are any cracks or chips, then you should seal them up to avoid infections. Clear nail polish should be fine, and if you feel like it, a dry polish will really make them shine. Shoe polish or maybe beeswax would be best.”

Letting go of me, Madison collapsed back into her normal form, and I stared at myself in the mirror. I’d never really considered treating my horns like that. I suppose it was something Mom would have taught me if she’d been here.

“Y’know, they’d look great with some rings on them,” Madison chirped. “I mean, some people had all sorts of accessories attached to theirs. Chains, extra spikes, ornamental caps and stuff. I think you’d look great with a couple of silver rings. And maybe some eyeshadow? Seriously, even if you walked around school without that rack, you could still have guys eating you out if you just put a bit more effort in—”

Rolling my eyes, I tuned Madison out. I wasn’t going back to Winslow and, no matter what school I went to, I wasn’t interested in jumping from one bed to the next.

##

The same nurse that had shown us to the bathroom led us to a consulting room on the ground floor. Panacea and Karen were already there, talking with Dad. They all fell silent as we entered.

“Iiiiiiiiii’m… gonna wait outside,” Madison said quickly, ducking back into the hallway.

Dad looked tired, with dark rings around his eyes, but he still gave me a wry smile. “Well, look who finally woke up.”

“Dad, I’m sorry, he didn’t even—”

He waved a hand with a sigh. “It’s okay, I understand. We can talk about it later.”

‘Oh that’s going to be fun.’

“Actually, we were just talking about your potential employment,” Karen said, looking over the rims of her fashionable glasses. She was also wearing a short pencil skirt and jacket that had to be custom-made in her sizes.

“Yes.” Turning to face me, Panacea nodded. She was still in costume, but it smelled cleaner than last night, so it was probably a spare. “Your dad was just explaining that you were hoping to take a part-time job while you decided what to do about school?”

“Oh.” I flushed and quickly took a seat next to Dad, trying to at least seem unconcerned. “Something like that.”

“Can you tell us why you are no longer at school?” Karen gave me a piercing look that made me shiver, and it had nothing to do with intimidation.

“School… wasn’t really working out for me. I had difficulties with some of the other students…” Biting my lip, I tried to think of a diplomatic way to talk about the bullying without sounding silly.

“I’ve seen Winslow,” Karen said dryly, tapping a pen on her lips. “I can only imagine how someone with your… figure would have issues.”

“Yeah, I’ve heard it’s ‘not great’.” Panacea leaned forward, her brown eyes looking up at me, and I felt the strangest sense of familiarity. 

“It’s not as bad as you’ve probably heard… I mean, I don’t look like this at school, and the gangs don’t actually fight in the halls… often.”

Panacea stared, her eyes wide, and Karen cleared her throat. “I was just explaining to your father that it would be difficult to employ you at the moment,” she said, and I felt my heart sink. “It’s a matter of age, I’m afraid. You are still a minor, and there are legal protections in place that limit the hours you can work.”

“I see…”

“Also, while I understand your position, you would need a GED, at least, to work here.”

“That doesn’t mean you can’t work here,” Panacea said quickly, glaring at Karen. “I have access to a distance learning program at Arcadia, and I could get you into the system.”

I sat up quickly. “That sounds… great, but aren't those things expensive?” 

“Very,” Karen warned. “Which is what we were discussing with your father, and we think we have come to an agreement, but it would mean a lot of work for you. We will provide a scholarship, and you will work a set number of hours in the clinic a month.”

Panacea waved a hand. “I wouldn't worry too much about working here. I've got a couple of nurses doing similar courses, so I understand the need to be flexible when you got deadlines.”

“Yes, but scholarship is conditional on you achieving consistently high grades. If they fall too low, we will be required to withdraw the offer.”

The back and forth between Panacea and Karen was making me dizzy, but I was too excited to care. This ‘offer’ sounded incredible.

Before Dad or I could say anything, there was a knock on the door and a nurse stuck her head inside. “Panacea? There’s an emergency patient outside. An ambulance couldn't get to Brockton General because of a cape fight so they diverted here!”

“Who the hell authorised that!?” Karen snapped, even as Panacea jumped to her feet and ran out of the door.

“I think it was a Doctor Laurie at Brockton General,” the nurse squeaked, shrinking in fear — literally; her height went down by a good foot — and Karen sighed.

“Right, sorry. I’ll deal with him later.” She handed Dad a stack of papers before rushing out of the door. “This has all the details. Please, take some time and think about it.”

Left alone, Dad and I shared a stunned look as Madison stuck her head through the open door curiously.

Not sure what else to do, Dad and I stood up and left.

##

Sitting in Dad’s truck, I flipped through the papers. Part of me was honestly curious, while the rest just wanted an excuse to avoid the upcoming discussion with Dad.

Panacea’s offer was more than generous, but she wasn’t kidding when she said it was a lot of work. It was pretty much homeschooling, with the clinic offering to pay for any supplies I needed. Anything that needed practical experience or experimentation would require me to attend specially scheduled classes at Arcadia. What’s more, I had free access to the school’s library and could go there anytime to borrow books. Panacea would even pay for things like a new computer and internet connection so I could attend online classes.

I couldn’t say I wasn’t excited, but at the same time, I was worried about just how much this was costing Panacea. Thinking about her price listings, she likely could afford it, but it still made me a bit uncomfortable.

Dad was silent, his hands tight on the wheel, and giving me the occasional look that I tried to ignore. Eventually, while we were sitting at a set of lights, Dad sighed.

“I’m not angry with you, Taylor. I’m just… frustrated, mostly with myself for letting you two go alone.”

“We didn’t know Dauntless would turn up.”

“No, but I should have considered it. Magic is… strange. The more you use it, the more odd coincidences happen around you. It’s very hard to live a normal life while using magic.”

Madison snorted, her voice deepening into a more ‘adult’ tone. “The act of magic is to impose your will on reality, and reality will always push back.”

Gathering the papers up, I put them back into the envelope we’d been given. “How did Dauntless even know to be there?”

Dad tapped a finger on the wheel while he thought. “Summoning isn't ‘dark’ magic; it doesn't taint the world in a way that a mage can feel. But given what happened and the shoddy execution…  well, it’s possible it left enough magic in the air that someone felt it.”

“Can normal people ‘feel’ magic?”

“Sort of. They aren't really aware of it, but lots of magic in one place creates a sense of ‘other’ or ‘wrongness’ that makes them uneasy. Though occasionally people are born with the ability to sense magic. It usually means they have some sort of potential.”

Madison snorted. “Not much good it did me. Though if that asshole left the door open and something crawled through, that would taint the air in a way Dauntless could have felt.”

“I think,” Dad said carefully, “people would have noticed that very quickly… at least with Dauntless sniffing about, we can assume he’d know how to close the path, if it’s still open.”

“For all the good that does us.” Madison crossed her arms and glared out of the window. “The book wasn’t there.”

The mood in the truck darkened.

“Who’s hungry?” Dad asked suddenly.

“I could eat.”

“I'm starving!”

##

Dad brought the truck to a stop outside a small ‘English-themed’ café with a sign outside offering a breakfast menu. The café wasn’t very busy, and the decor was faded slightly from age, but everything looked clean, and a faint tang of citrus cleaner hung in the air.

Inside was a handsome, if somewhat scruffy-looking, man. As we walked in, he stared at Dad in open surprise before he broke into a lopsided grin.

“Danny-boy! I was starting to think you’d forgotten about this place. Up to anything interesting?” He had a strong English accent that I couldn't place.

“Just breakfast, John,” Dad grunted, waving Madison and me to a small booth in the corner with some menus on it. 

“Alright, take a seat and I’ll bring them over.”

Breakfast, as it turned out, was three ‘full English breakfasts’ heaped on a plate. Madison’s eyes widened comically as John placed them down with a nod and went back to the counter.

As I ate, questions about last night resurfaced in my mind.

“How does Dauntless fight? I never saw him pulling spells from anything, he just kept shooting at us.”

“Enchantment,” Dad said. “By engraving a spell onto an object and channelling magic through it, you can recreate the same spell effect again and again. The only limits are power drain, aiming and materials.”

Huh…

Pulling a pen from his pocket, dad drew a circle on a napkin, then wrote a simple light spell around it and linked the two together. That done, he placed the pen in the circle and nodded at it.

“Put some magic into that.”

Touching the napkin, I did as he asked. There was a brief flash as the spell on the napkin vanished, leaving a ring of lines on the pen.

“Oi!” John shouted. “No magic at the bloody tables!”

“Sorry John,” Dad chuckled. “Just giving my daughter a quick lesson in enchanting.”

John gave us a searching look, then a long-suffering sigh. “Yeah well, just keep it down. You put any marks on those tables and you’ll be paying for it.”

Dad picked up the pen. The lines on it started to glow faintly and the tip of the pen lit up like a torch.

“Ta-da! Instant penlight,” he said with a smile, and I groaned theatrically.

“A tenner will get you a flashlight and some batteries down the road,” John said, coming out from behind his counter with a tray. He had a noticeable limp, his right leg making a dull thump on the wooden floors as he walked.

He placed the tray on the table and started passing out some drinks and a slice of cake.

“On the house, for Annette's daughter.”

“You knew Mom?”

“Oh aye,  she kicked my arse once or twice when I still thought I was a demon hunter. Speaking of arse-kicking, you still got that staff of yours, Danny-boy?”

“Yeah, not much good to me now though.” Dad snorted. “Pretty sure it would explode if you tried to cast with it.”

“Yeah, and serves you right. You should have known better than to fuck with that sorta magic you divvy.”  John’s smile turned wicked and he looked at me. “Say, did your old man ever tell you what Annette's weapon of choice was?”

Dad glared at John, the tips of his ears going red.

“Oh, now this I gotta hear.” Madison leaned forward, resting an elbow on the table and her head on her palm.

John spared Dad a look. “Well? You gonna tell the girl, or should I?”

Dad glared at John unblinkingly, but after a moment's silence, he sighed and looked back at me.

“Your mother used a riding crop. She had about a hundred bloody spells on the thing.”

Unbidden, the pile of Mom’s clothes in my room came to mind. They all skewed towards the ‘stern schoolteacher’ look, and combined with the image of a riding crop… oh god!

My face went scarlet, while Madison broke down laughing next to me. 

Dad was opening his mouth to say something when there was a beeping from his jacket. Frowning, he pulled a beaten-up old pager from his pocket.

“Christ Danny, you’re still using that old thing? Mobiles exist, y’know.”

“I am aware,” Dad shot back. “Can I borrow your phone?”

“You know where it is. I’ll keep an eye on the kids.”

We all ignored Madison’s quiet grumble about not being a kid, and John leaned his hip against the table as she turned to me.

“Seriously, a pager? What is with you two?” She almost looked scandalised. “I’m not sure I could live without my phone.”

“We’re not fans of cellphones, okay?” I snapped, ending the conversation. Before Madison could say any more, I turned to John.

“You can use magic?”

He laughed. “Me? Nah, never had much luck with it. Hung out with a few people who did. We went around killing monsters for fun” — he grimaced — “until we ended up on the wrong end of a dark bastard that was tougher than we thought.”

He tapped his leg with a sound of hollow wood. “Kinda lost interest, and a couple of friends, after that. Now I just keep myself out of the way.”

Pushing himself upright, he ambled back to the counter to serve a young couple that had just entered the cafe. “That said, if you ever need a book or a place to hide, give me a shout. I still have some contacts floating around.”

With a melodramatic sigh, Madison pushed her empty plate away. “I think I’m going to head off myself. I need to go cheer myself up.”

“You sure you don’t want a ride?”

“No, I’ll be fine. I just need to blow off some steam. Maybe do something ‘life-affirming’. She gave me a salacious grin as she turned to leave, adding some extra sway to her hips.  

Trying not to think about that too hard, I turned my attention to the cake John had placed on the table. It was still a little early for sweet things, but I needed the distraction.

As I ate, half-formed ideas filled my mind. Twice now I’d been in a fight, and both times I’d been outmatched, and I didn’t like it. What I needed was a weapon and some spells. Something I could carry with me at all times and not draw attention.

I had just finished the cake and was mulling the idea over when Dad returned, red-faced from anger.

“I’m sorry Taylor, but I’ve got to go into work. There’s been an incident and they need everyone to come in.” He looked around. “Where did Madison go?”

“She wanted to head off alone.” I shrugged. “What happened at work? Can you tell me?”

“No,” he admitted with a sigh. “They won't even tell me. Just that the police and the PRT are involved. I’ll need to drop you off at home, then head straight out again.”

“You don’t have to do that, I can make my own way home.” My earlier ideas for a weapon came to mind. I could use this as a chance to look around a bit.

“You sure?”

“It’s okay, really. I understand. It’s not like this happens often.”

It really didn’t. While Dad was the de facto union head, he was officially middle management at best, and while his job had long hours, it was rare that a problem needed him to show up outside his normal routine.

“Alright.” He pulled some bills from his wallet. Throwing some onto the table, he gave the rest to me.

“Get a cab or something and we’ll talk about Panacea’s offer when I get home, okay?”

“Alright, and stop worrying, I’ll be fine.”

Giving me a quick kiss on the cheek, he hurried out of the door.

Pocketing the bills, I considered the best route home that would also pass by as many shops as possible.

“Oi!” John called out, and when I turned to look, he was holding up a plastic bag. “I swear, your old man would forget his head if it wasn’t screwed on. Danny-boy asked me to find them for you. I was gonna post them, but as he decided to drop in, you might as well take ‘em.”

Nodding, I took the bag. It was heavier than it looked, and inside was a number of books. Some looked old, covers scuffed and pages dogeared, while one or two looked brand new. One of the newer ones had ‘A Guide to Enchanting’ stamped on the front.

“Go on now,” John said, holding out a travel cup, “you best get moving.”

Stammering out my thanks, I headed for the door. As I approached it, a woman walked in, and my heart nearly stopped.

She looked so much like Emma that, for a moment, I almost thought it was her, or at least an older version of her. She appeared to be in her twenties and dressed a bit lightly for this time of year. Her skinny jeans sat low, clinging to her hips, and an open jacket and tight shirt made it clear she was not wearing a bra.

Tucking her long red hair behind an ear, she winked at me, then approached the counter with an obvious sway to her hips that had John openly staring.

No… it couldn’t be…

Watching her lean forward to talk to John, giving him a clear view down her top, I decided I was better off not knowing and walked outside.

##

I’d initially considered going to the Boardwalk and looking through the shops there, but I quickly discarded that idea when I realised how close that would put me to the ‘The Rig’. It was a converted oil rig that the Protectorate used as a base. It floated in the bay where tourists on the Boardwalk could easily see it.

Probably best I stay away from there for now.

The other option was finding a mall, but even the closest one was too far out of the way. So instead, I just walked aimlessly in the direction of home, careful to stay on main roads and out of gang territory, my eyes drifting over any shops I saw on my way.

Stopping briefly to sip at my tea, I dug through the bag John had given me. The books inside covered things like enchanting, runes and even some basic spells. Finding a bench, I skimmed through the book on enchanting.

As dad had said, materials were important, as pushing magic through an object could damage it.  Wood and certain metals gave the best results, while things like paper would only last a short time, often burning up after use.

Closing the book, I idly tapped the cover while I thought about that. Dauntless had been wearing metal armour that was practically drenched in magic. It made sense, given he got into fights with supervillains, but it wasn’t exactly subtle.

I was still thinking about it when a wave of emotions washed over me. It was a heady mix of happiness, joy, excitement and curiosity. The mixture was so appealing that I found myself moving to find the source.

It turned out to be coming from a crowd of people watching a puppet show outside a store. The puppeteer was Parian, a local cape known for using her power to put on performances.

Parian was sitting in a folding chair, her attention focused on the book in her hands. Next to her, a large purple gorilla, made out of some plush material and wearing a vest, performed a weight-lifting routine. Weights of various sizes were laid out next to him.

Occasionally, he would stop and look towards a seemingly disinterested Parian. Each time, the gorilla got more and more frustrated, stamping his feet or jumping up and down in temper before moving onto the next, larger, set of weights.

The show was impressive, but I found myself more and more distracted by the crowd. They were giving off so much energy that it was like standing next to a bonfire. I could feel it deep inside me. It was incredible; feeding passively in the mall had never felt this good.

Soon, the gorilla reached the second largest set. The weights were about the size of truck tyres and had ‘1 ton’ written on the side, the pole bending comically as he struggled to lift them. The crowd cheered as the weight finally left the ground, the wave of emotions from the crowd taking my breath away. Oh no.

A very familiar heat was building between my legs, and my nipples were rock hard. I needed to get away before I did something I’d regret.

The gorilla had the weights above his head, his legs visibly trembling under the weight. Finally, Parian ‘looked’ up, her doll-faced mask turning to look at him. Putting her book down, she mimed out a yawn, one hand covering her mouth while she stretched. Getting up, she walked past the gorilla and lifted the largest set of weights with one hand.

Disheartened, the gorilla’s arms went slack, and his weights fell on top of him, pinning his body to the floor.

Sighing dramatically, Parian put her own set down and ‘shielded’ her eyes so she could look out over the crowd, and I felt the hairs on my neck stand on end.

Before I could make a discreet escape, Parian pointed at me. “You there!”

The crowd parted around me, the traitors. “Y-yes?”

“Would you be willing to help me out? Bruce seems to have gotten himself stuck.”

Behind her, ‘Bruce’ kicked his legs in an attempt to dislodge the weight holding him down.

The crowd's attention was on me now, and it was equal parts terrifying and thrilling. I hoped to God no one could tell through the thick material of my jeans and hoodie.

“Sure,” I managed to squeak out. “What would you like me to do?”

Stepping back, she waved at the weights. “Think you can give me a hand?”

Walking stiffly, I let her lead me to Bruce and the weights. This close, it was easier to see that the weights were actually fabric, joined by a plastic pole that had been painted to look like metal.

Reaching down with one hand, I grabbed the weights and pulled. They didn’t budge an inch, the unexpected weight jerking my shoulder and nearly pulling me over to the audience's laughter.

Rubbing my shoulder, I glared at Parian, who hid her painted mouth behind her hands. This time, I grabbed the weights with both hands. Being more careful, I gradually put more and more effort into the lift until the weights rose into the air.

Once they were above my head, the crowd cheered and Bruce climbed to his feet, his stuffed head turning between me and Parian as I put the weights down.

Nodding, he snatched up the flowers that were by the empty chair, dropped to one knee and offered them to me, drawing a heartfelt ‘aww’ from the crowd.

My face flushed as I glanced at the flowers, Parian, the gorilla and the audience. You know what… fuck it!

Something inside me snapped, and I took the flowers with a grateful smile, leaning forward to ‘kiss’ Bruce on the head. The crowd cheered and clapped, their happiness flooding my mouth as a smaller stuffed monkey went around with a hat to collect change from the audience.

“Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, that concludes today's entertainment,” Parian shouted, bowing for the crowd. “Please follow me online to find out the times and locations of upcoming shows!”

As people started to drift away, I was painfully aware of the heat in my body and a desperate need to replace my underwear.

“Thank you for your help.” Parian handed me a small box of chocolates. “Keep the flowers. I know it can be a bit awkward to be called out like that, but you handled it well.”

“Um, thank you.” I glanced at the people who were walking away. “Actually,  can I ask you something?”

“Of course.” Her head bobbed, while Bruce started to gather up her props.

“Do you really make a living like this?”

“Hmm, it helps, though it’s a lot of work. I spend most of my free time planning things out, working on props and even scripting.”

“Huh, do you need any kind of license?”

She chuckled, taking a step closer to me and tilting her head. “Thinking of setting up your own display?” There was something in her voice, and I realised with a start that I could taste a faint hint of arousal coming from Parian.

Flushing, I looked away. “Hmm, maybe.”

“Well, you’re fine for the most part, though a bit of liability insurance is a good thing if you’re doing anything that could hurt people. Also, you need a permit to perform on the Boardwalk, and the Enforcers can be a problem.”

Ugh, I didn't doubt that. The Enforcers were a private security firm that the shop owners on the Boardwalk had hired to act as extra security. There were lots of rumours about corruption and beatings surrounding them, but the Boardwalk was one of the safest parts of the city.

As Bruce finished packing the weights away, she handed me a business card. “If you have any questions or…” she hesitated “...my email and number are on there. Feel free to give me a call?”

I felt my face heating up again. “O-oh! Um, yeah, I will. Thanks!”

Doing my best to smile, I walked away in a futile attempt to preserve my dignity.

##

After leaving Parian, I gave up on shopping and made my way home as quickly as possible.

I was practically giddy with excess energy and nerves. Standing in front of an audience, feeling them watch my every move, I’d never felt a rush like it — and then Parian had tried to hit on me!

First Amy, now Parian. The whole thing felt surreal. 

Putting the thought aside, I quickly changed out of my damp underwear and switched back to my ‘real’ appearance. I tried to read more of those books, but I just couldn't sit still long enough to focus. Giving up, I decided to try something else.

Our basement was full of old boxes, tools and other things that had been discarded over the years. Heading down there, I started digging through the boxes, looking for something I could enchant.

I stayed away from the boxes with Mom’s stuff in them — I wasn’t ready to face that just yet — but as I tried to reach into one of the bigger boxes, my tail hit something, knocking it to the floor, the resulting crash making me jump.

Once my heart calmed down, I knelt down to clear up the mess.

The box was mine and contained a collection of odds and ends from when I was little. A picture of me and Emma  — bitch — an old fairy costume… God, was I ever that short?

I held the costume against my chest, laughing at the thought of trying to squeeze into it now, before putting it away.

As I continued to pack things away, my hand closed on something that made me pause. It was a cheap plastic wand, little more than a black tube with white caps stuck on each end. I couldn't even remember why I had it now.

Well… it’s certainly fitting...

Putting the box away, I kept the wand in my hand and went back to my room. Using the book on enchanting as a guide, I wrote my ‘flashbang’ spell onto a piece of paper and joined it to to a circle with the wand in it.

Activating the spell caused it to vanish, just like the one dad had shown me, leaving a ring of marks on the plastic wand.

As I picked up the wand, I caught sight of myself in the mirror, and an odd thought struck me. If I was going to use a magician's wand, why not look the part?

I thought about the things I’d seen on TV and shifted my appearance. I hid my horns, wings, scales and tail, and my clothes shifted into a shirt and jacket. My pants turned into hot pants with fishnet tights, and my shoes were replaced with (stupidly high) black strappy heels.

Looking in the mirror, I screwed my face up in distaste. Yeah, I was never going outside like this. Sure, I had the figure for it, but it showed off far too much skin and made me look more like a stripper.

Shaking my head, I banished the thought. I could still have some fun in the privacy of my own home.

Focusing on my wand, I bit my lip as I pointed it away from me and pushed my magic into the spell. The ring of marks started to glow, growing brighter as I fed magic into it, but nothing else happened, and I started to worry that I'd made a mistake.

Just as the wand was starting to grow warm in my hand, my nerve failed, and I cut off my magic. Almost immediately, the glow faded as the built-up magic bled away. The cheap plastic couldn't store a charge for very long, it seemed.

Huffing, I double-checked the book, but the instructions for activating an enchantment were vague at best.

After three more attempts, each one ending with the wand growing warm, I huffed in frustration. In a fit of temper, I pushed magic into the wand, pointed it at my bed and willed it to fire.

The tip of the wand lit up like a fucking bomb, exploding with enough force to rattle my windows.

Blinded and screaming in surprise, I dropped the wand and fell to the floor with my hands on my ears.

I wasn’t sure how long I lay there, eyes screwed shut, listening as the ringing in my ears gradually faded, but eventually, I risked opening my eyes.

My room was, thankfully, undamaged, with only the faint smell of melted plastic in the air. Getting up, I found my wand nearby, the tip split and melted

Okay, I thought to myself, I may need to work on that…


AN: chapter written under commission for Koalakiller on ff.net.

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Chapter Text

“Alright,” Danny muttered to himself as his truck came to a stop. “Who screwed up this time?”

He wasn’t happy leaving Taylor like that and he wished she’d let him take her home but he didn’t want to be that sort of parent. He’d swore, long ago, that he wouldn’t hover, he would respect her independence.

‘Besides,’ a dark part of him whispered, ‘it wasn’t like she hadn’t been looking after herself for years now.’

He pushed the thought away, almost wishing he had something to drown it out.

Climbing out of the truck, he paused as he finally noticed the police cars in the parking lot. More worryingly was the armoured PRT van sitting next to the building and the two troopers who were apparently talking to Kurt.

The sound of Danny shutting his door made them turn and Kurt quickly walked forward. “Danny! You are not going to believe this!” he called out, the troopers following close behind.

Danny held up a hand. “Please tell me she’s not walking around naked, again.”

“Nah,” Kurt laughed. “We wouldn't be that lucky twice.”

Danny chuckled at the memory, though he had to admire her luck. A thirty foot tall woman sitting amongst the old containers naked and none of it caught on film. Well, except for one blurry photo, but he’d personally burned it and the negatives.

“Wilkins insisted you be called in,” Kurt said quickly, putting a hand on his shoulder and pushing him past the PRT officers with a wave. “He’s refusing to let the PRT near it until you get here.”

“That doesn’t surprise me,” Danny groaned. Wilkins was a petty bureaucrat through and through and he wielded what little authority he had with a tin fist. The only reason he hadn’t been thrown into the bay, again, was because he was the nephew or something of someone important people on the city council.

As they passed the administration building, Danny’s mouth fell open at the sight before him.

There, tied up at the dock was a small container ship, the name ‘Queen Anne’ stencilled in faded paint on the bow.

“What on earth?!”

“Told ya.” Kurt’s grin was face splitting.

“Harbour master called it in, said it was sitting there for an hour or more before he called it in. No one knows how the ship got here and there’s no answer on the radio.”

“Why didn't he call sooner?”

Kurt winced. “He… Franks was on duty… he was worried he was imagining it.”

Danny felt a headache coming on. Franks was a good man, with a family that was just this side of destitute. But between falling on and off the wagon and a nasty beating from the Empire a few years back, the man sometimes had issues.

“How did it even get here?” Danny stared at the ship. The bay was blocked years ago when rioters sank a number of ships near the entrance. Nothing larger than a dingy could risk going through the waters now, yet the Queen Anne had apparently done it.

What’s more, it was securely moored and looked ready to start unloading its payload at any time. There was a decidedly smug air about the ship.

“No one saw anything,” Kurt said, “and Lewis swears it wasn’t there when he did his midnight rounds.”

“So, what? Did a tinker just teleport it into the bay?” it would explain why the PRT was here.

“Not a clue. The PRT sent some kid and he’s been arguing with Wilkins since he got here.”

Frowning, Danny squinted at ship. He wasn’t as sensitive towards magic as Taylor was, but he had learned to recognise that itchy feeling at the back of his skull that magic usually caused and there was magic in the air, but at this distance it was hard to judge how much.

Moving closer, he spotted two men standing on the dock next to the ship. One of them was clearly a cape, dressed in tan and gold armour with a lion theme. The other was dressed in a suit that was a little too big for him and holding a glowing green crystal on a stick.

As they got closer, Danny could hear them arguing.

“Look, you can’t tell us to go away, this is PRT jurisdiction!” the man in gold ground out, clenching his fists. “The ship was clearly brought here through supernatural means, that makes it our responsibility!”

“I don't care what authority you think you have!” the smaller, suited man shouted back, waving his ‘scepter’ around. “Our equipment confirmed the presence of magic before your men arrived and this is my dock. City by-law 28.C AND federal law 56.9 say that I can decide what happens here and you are not going in until my expert gets here!”

“I already told you, that's unnecessary! I have training in magic, I don't need your expert to-”

“They have been going at it for nearly twenty minutes now,” Kurt groaned, “Wilkins put the entire dock on lockdown before I called you. I had to talk him down from sounding the old invasion alarms.”

Danny chuckled and continued forward before the argument could grow any more heated. The cape was the first to notice their approach, turning and offering them a nod.

“Good morning,” the cape called out. He sounded young and Danny was willing to bet the kid was barely out of his teens. “I assume you are the expert Mr.. Wilkins was talking about?”

“I’m…” Danny gave a grinning Kurt a puzzled look, “Well, I have some experience with magic. But I wouldn’t call myself an expert.”

“Hebert!” Wilkins snapped, his nasely voice making all of them wince. “Good, you’re here. I was just explaining to this… gentleman, that no one would be allowed to enter the ship until it had cleared a full inspection and quarantine!”

“Quarantine?!” the cape gasped, his head turning so fast Danny could almost hear the crack.

“Yes,” Wilkins puffed up with pride. “Quarantine! The Queen Anne was last seen at a dock in Spain seven years ago. Without a detailed breakdown of the ship's course, and known locations since then, the law dictates full quarantine.”

“And what if there are people on board?” Danny said with a sigh and Wilkins hesitated to answer.

“That’s what I’ve been trying to explain,” the cape groaned. “No one is answering coms, I know it’s unlikely anyone is onboard, but I still need to check and then secure the ship until others can arrive..”

He tapped the side of his helmet, “I’ve been doing what I can with the sensors Armsmaster installed for me, but I need to get on bo-ard.” The cape coughed, trying to cover the changing pitch of his voice, his shoulders lowering in embarrassment.

Danny rubbed the stubble on his chin to hide his smile. He really needed a shave, but he’d been so worried about Taylor this morning that he’d simply forgotten.

Deciding to throw the kid a bone, Danny ran his finger along the bridge of his glasses, feeding a small trickle of power into the runes hidden on the backs of the frames. The air around the ship took on the tell tale glow of Magic.

Wilkin was a pain in the ass, but he wasn’t entirely wrong to want to quarantine the ship. She was saturated in magic that was gently evaporating. Left alone, it would take weeks before someone could board unprotected.

“I think…” Danny said carefully, “I have a solution.”

##


It took nearly thirty minutes for the PRT to provide a hazmat suit. In that time, Danny found out the capes name - Triumph - and that he was being trained in magic by Dauntless. Danny was proud to say he didn't immediately punch the kid for bringing up the man who had attacked his daughter.

“It’s funny,” Triumph tilted his head in confusion. “Dauntless never told me the dock workers had a magic expert.”

“Not that surprising, we’ve never had any reason to meet.” Danny said cooly. If he ever had the chance, he would like words with Dauntless. Strong ones.

“I guess so. It’s just surprising as he likes to keep tabs on other users. Says it avoids trouble.”

“I bet he does.” Something must have slipped through Danny's tone, as Triumph jerked like he’d been stung. With a cough, the kid quickly reached for a change of subject and settled on the runes Danny had been carving.

The growing circle of lines contained every low level protection spell Danny could remember, and still cast without giving himself a heart attack.

“So, I can see how that would protect you, but I didn't realise you could connect those runes like that. Wouldn’t they just burn each other out?” Triumph asked, walking around the ring.

“They will,” Danny said with a nod, letting the previous subject drop without comment. “But it won’t happen immediately. I’m swapping duration for strength, but unless we find crystal magic it’ll last long enough for our purposes.”

“Huh, I see. But isn't that risky?”

Danny stood up with a groan, his back aching from kneeling over for so long. He twisted in an attempt to ease his spine. “It depends on the spell. For this, it doesn’t really matter, as long as the circle is closed and flow of magic regulated; the worst you’ll see is some sparks. For more demanding spells, you have to be careful or you’ll up looking like a roman candle.”

Picking up the hazmat suit, he dumped it into the middle of the circle, then knelt down again to slowly feed power into the spell. As he did so, Danny found himself longing for his old coat and its layer after layer of protective spells. He made a note to dig it out later and while he was at it, teach these spells to Taylor. A twinge in his chest distracted him from his thoughts and he quickly forced the spell to slow down.

“Can I ask what happened this morning? Your manager was surprised you weren’t at work.“

“Wilkins isn't my manager. Not directly anyway. And I was late because of a family emergency,” Danny said shortly, keeping his eyes closed. “My daughter was attacked by a cape last night.”

Triumph stood up straighter. “Is she okay?

“She’s fine. More shaken than anything else.”

“If you report the matter to the PRT, I’ll make sure its investigated.”

Danny hummed, half tempted to tell Triumph just who had attacked his daughter, but decided better of it. There was no reason to borrow trouble after all.

It took longer than he would have liked, but eventually, all the runes were glowing with power and he gave the spell one final push. With a flash, the circle disappeared, leaving black lines across the hazmat suit.

Sighing in relief, Danny stood up, his eyes examining the suit Triumph wore. “Do you need me to enchant one for you?”

Triumph shook his head. “I’m fine. Dauntless placed similar protections on all my gear.”

“The joys of a competent teacher.” Danny muttered, trying to keep the bitterness out of his voice as he climbed into the hazmat suit. Still, he couldn’t deny that he was enjoying this. A chance to really use magic for the first time in years. You could have been using magic for years if you’d bothered to teach Taylor.

He ignored the guilt the thought caused and moved towards the Queen Anne. Wilkins had refused to let them wheel a gantry up to the ship, citing some regulation or another. So instead the docks rickety old cherry picker had been brought over.

Triumph gave it a long look, but said nothing as they climbed on board.

There was a section of the railing around the ship that could be slid aside to allow entry, but it was stuck fast and it seemed like they had no choice but to climb over it.

Triumph hopped lightly over the gap while Danny carefully swung one leg over the rail. He’d barely thought about lifting his other leg where there was a sudden rush of wind, pushing him away from the ship. The cherry picker swayed violently, the people below shouting in alarm as Danny lost his footing.

There was a moment of weightlessness and a clang of metal on metal as his shoulder jerked and the world returned to normal. Opening his eyes, Danny saw Triumph holding onto his arm. It seemed to take almost no effort the cape to lift him up and pull him on board.

Dropping to his knees Danny tried to catch his breath. His hazmat suit ruffled as something brushed against it and he heard a faint whisper of concern.

“Do you know what that was?” Triumph crouched slightly, his voice low as he slowly looked around.

“A sea spirit.” God he wanted a drink. “Some mages like to bind them to ships and compel them to protect the crew… They can be a bit playful.”

Triumph looked over the rail. The gap between the ship and hard concrete of the dock was narrow at best. Not that it mattered. They were high enough that Danny was probably dead no matter what he hit.

“They consider killing us ‘playing’?”

Confident his legs had stopped shaking, Danny stood up with a shake of his head. “They don’t see the world like we do. They don’t need things like air, food or water. Heights are meaningless to them. It’s honestly rare that a spirit intentionally kills someone.”

“That sounds… messy.”

“We should be okay. It’s probably not going to do something like that again,” Danny glared at a faint shimmer in the air, using the same tone he’d used on Taylor when she misbehaved as a child. “Are you?”

The shimmer moved, a sullen mood filling the air as it faded from view.

“We can look into setting it free later. Until then, be careful. The ships been exposed to a lot of magic, who knows what might still be on board.”

“You’re worried about a dimensional breach? Dauntless said those were really rare.”

“Not really. Maybe a minor spirit or two, but better safe than possessed and running around naked in the streets jabbering nonsense.”

“Wait, what?” Triumph squeaked.

“Not sure you’re old enough to hear that story,” Danny chuckled. “It wasn’t me, if that's what you’re worried about and that’s all I’m allowed to say.”

They had been forced to board near the bow of the ship. Danny had wanted to board closer to tower, but Wilkins had overruled him. Something about positioning and safety regs.

Leading the way, Danny walked down the narrow corridor created by the containers The hazmat suit was stifling and he wanted nothing more than to throw the damn thing off, but the enchanted lines he had created were glowing faintly as they worked to protect him from the excess magic in the air. He had no desire to experience that without some sort of protection.

They reached a crossroad between the containers. Up ahead was the ships tower while to either side were paths between the containers. In the distance, there was a high pitched squeak of metal on metal.

“Whoever loaded this ship,” Danny muttered, eyeing the containers that loomed over them, “was an idiot.”

The Queen Anne had eight holds laid out in a two by four grid with containers stacked inside and on top of them. The main tower, which housed everything from the bridge, to the crew quarters sat towards the back of the ship, with two rear holds behind it.

Putting his back to the tower, there was a stack of containers in front of him to his left, but to his right, there was nothing. Large metal covers had been placed over the hold and chained down.

“Any halfway competent crew would make sure to balance the load.” He pointed at the presumably empty hold. “Unless that hold is filled with fucking lead, this ship is anything but balanced.”

It made no sense to him. If the ship wasn’t running at full capacity, then the containers would be spread out evenly across all the holds. You wouldn't leave one empty like that unless you wanted the ship to sink..

“Do you know how many containers there are, or what the ship was carrying?” Triumph craned his neck back to look at the stack of containers nearest to him,

“No. She’s a feeder ship, so she can carry anywhere between three hundred to a thousand containers. We’ll contact the port in Spain and ask for a shipping manifest, they should still have it on file. If not, all these containers would have been insured. Odds are an insurance company has records somewhere. I’ll get the guys on it.”

Hearing that creak again, Danny turned to face the noise. He took a step towards it, only for the spirit to return. Circling around him and tugging urgently at his hazmat suit, trying to push him back.

Stumbling slightly, Danny cursed as Triumph caught him and helped him straighten up.

“What was that about?”

“I’m not sure…” Danny grunted as the spirit finally relented. “Our ‘friend’ really doesn’t want us to see what that noise is.

“You want to check it out?”

“Of course,” Danny chuckled and continued forward, channeling more magic into his glasses. The containers around him glowed faintly in the ambient magic, but two of them stood out. On ship saturated with magic, those two containers were completely inert.

“Looks like the crew were smuggling something.” There was no other reason to wrap a container in that much magical shielding and not cover it in warning labels.

One of the containers was already open, its door swinging back and forth in the faint breeze with a creak.

“I’ve seen enough horror movies to know where this is going,” Triumph muttered, putting a hand on Dannys shoulder. “Let me go ahead.”

He wanted to argue, but the kid was right. He was a cape after all.

Despite his armour, Triumph moved quickly and quietly, keeping his back to the containers. Once he was close to the door, he gripped it tightly in one hand and looked back to Danny. With a nod, he threw the heavy door open with enough force that it slammed into the container next to it with a clang that echoed through out the ship and made Danny wince.

Unbothered by the noise, Triumph spun around and stepped into the container, only to stop short. After a moment, he waved Danny forward.

“Hey… uh, do you know what these are?”

Carefully moving closer, Danny squinted into the dark metal box. Inside were a dozen eggs, each of them was a foot or so tall and covered in mucus. Whatever they had contained had clearly hatched some time ago as the shells were already broken.

Bile rose in his throat as he stepped forward, gripping the ragged hole in one of the eggs gently. The shell crumbled in his hands.

“Oh fuck me…” Danny muttered.

“Those aren't spider eggs, right? Please tell me those aren’t spider eggs.” Triumph’s voice had risen again and Danny turned to look at the boy. He was definitely shorter than before and, were his hips wider?

Before Danny could say anything, there was a movement behind Triumph. His shouted warning was almost too late as a dark shape threw itself at them.

Triumph was already moving, diving sideways as the little monster slammed into his shoulder with mad a cackle. He thrashed wildly, trying to reach the creature as it clawed and bit at him, holding tightly to the metal pauldrons on his costume.

“Shut your eyes!” Danny shouted just before releasing a bright flash from his hand. It was a hurried copy of Taylor’s ‘flash bang’, but it was enough to make the creature scream in pain and loosen its grip.

Jumping up, Danny grabbed the monster and pulled it free, spinning to throw it deeper into the container. It crashed into the far wall with a clang and slid down behind the eggs.

“Kill it!” he shouted as he dived out of the container and Triumph roared, a shockwave pulping the eggs and crushing the monsters small body.

“What was that?!” Triumph squeaked as Danny tried to catch his breath.

He opened his mouth to reply, only to be cut off by the long two tone whistle of a bosun's pipe and both turned to see another one of the creatures standing in the shadowy gap between containers.

It was small, barely a meter tall, with scaly reptilian skin. Large bat like ears poked out from underneath a sailors cap and its mouth was filled with sharp teeth.

“Aye-aye!” it cheered, its voice grating and harsh as it gave them a jaunty salute before running off with a cackle.

“Don't let it get away!” Danny shoved Triumph and the young man gamely rushed forward, but the gap was too small for him and the creature vanished from sight.

It hadn’t gone far though, its cackling could still be heard, with more and more voices joining in, some of them even started wailing in parody of sirens as pointed faces leered out of the shadows.

“Run!” Danny shouted as a large metal chain fell from above, hitting the deck with a crash.

Bits of metal, rope and even stuffed toys rained down on them as the run, each near miss accompanied by cheers and laughter.

Spinning on his heel, Triumph retaliated, letting out shout after shout, concussive blasts denting containers and sending small shapes flying, but doing little to slow the onslaught.

Grunting as a small chain hit his shoulder, Danny pushed forwards for the main tower. The door at the base swung open at their approach, letting them sprint inside without slowing down.

Slamming into the opposite wall, Danny spun around, intent on closing the door, only for it to slam itself closed with a glang, the metal wheel spinning to seal the hatch.

A faint shimmer appears in the air, grabbing Danny’s shoulder and spinning him around again as the spirit pushes them both forward. Behind them, the creatures could be heard pounding at the door.

Not bothering to question, Danny lets the spirit guide them into a room and slams the door behind himself and Triumph.

“What was that?!” the kid gasped, leaning against a wall.

“Gremlins,” Danny groaned, putting his hands on his knees and gasping for air. He wanted nothing more than to pull the damn hazmat hood off, but the glowing of the protective spells was only getting brighter. “The stupid bastards must have been smuggling them.”

“Why!? I mean, are they valuable?”

“Not really. They’re demons, of a sort, and with the right spells you can enslave them. But they’re destructive little bastards that thrive on violence and chaos! Though, I suppose they can be used as a cheap, disposable labor force.”

“Or maybe some budding ‘dark lord’ thought they would make good minions. That happened from time to time, but usually ended up with the ‘dark lord’ getting eaten or torn apart the moment the spell faded.”

Pressing a hand against his forehead, he tried to remember everything he knew about them.

They were evil creatures. Smart enough to be a threat, with a love for sabotaging machines, and yet they were driven almost entirely by instinct and unable, or unwilling to even consider going against their own nature.

There was something else though, something important that he was forgetting and- oh fuck.

“We can’t let them get off this ship!” Danny hissed, making Triumph jump.

“What, why?”

“They multiply, quickly. They’re asexual and with enough food and time, one of those things can produce a dozen more. All they need is somewhere dark, with enough food.”

Triumph stared at door. “If they get into the city…”

“We’ll never find them all in time,” Danny agreed.

Immediately, Triumph brought a hand up to the side of his helmet. “Control… Control?...” lowering his hand, he turned to face Danny. “My radio is dead,”

“Yeah, that happens around Gremlins. We need to reach the bridge and call for help.” He pointed at the sky through a porthole. It was a bright clear, if somewhat cold, day but clouds were already forming.

“The only thing keeping them on the ship is the sunlight. As soon as it gets dark enough, they’ll swarm the city. We need to destroy them all, now!”

Quietly, Danny cursed. If Triumph wasn’t here, if he had a way to call Taylor, this would all be over in minutes. Gremlins were lesser demons and they had a unique relationship with Succubi. They would follow Taylor without a thought. Though right now, he’d settle for a big gun, or at least his staff. Sure, the magic was gone, but five feet of solid oak to the skull was just as effective as a fireball to the face.

‘If wishes were horses,’ he told himself, then pushed himself upright.

“Okay, what do I need to know?”

“They’re not too smart, but mean and just as likely to kill each other for fun. They form packs, with the smartest one as the leader. They hate bright lights and sunlight actually kills them, but if it gets cloudy enough, they might risk it. So we-”

Danny fell silent as something dropped to the floor with a clink, followed by a squeaking noise. Danny put a finger to his lips, but Triumph was ahead of him, pointing at a small vent cover high on the wall.

Moving silently, Triumph positioned himself just to the side of the vent as the last screw came loose and the cover fell away with a crash.

“Found you!” A Gremlin shouted as it jumped out of the vent, only to be snatched out of the air by Triumph.

“Found you, found you, found you!” it cackled, its small claws raking across his costumed as its thrashed. Triumph slammed it into a wall, then again but the Gremlin only continued to laugh.

Grunting, Triumph managed to grip its throat in his hand and with a jerk, snapped its neck with a wet snap.

Stepping back, Triumph fell to the floor, dropping the Gremlins corpse. “It spoke, it was speaking!” the kid muttered.

Moving quickly, Danny kicked the corpse away from the Kid and knelt down to put a hand on his shoulder as he started to make heaving sounds.

“It’s alright,” he said softly. “They’re vermin, just chaos spirits with bodies. They repeat words like parrots.”

He knew he wasn’t being entirely truthful. Gremlins were smart enough to understand English, though they couldn't really speak it, but they genuinely weren't able to feel remorse or compassion.

Triumph heaved again and Danny winced as he visibly forced himself not to throw up. “C’mon kid, take the helmet off, I’ll look away.”

“No, no it’s… no, I’ll be okay, I just…”

Danny sighed. “How long you had that curse?”

“Wha, what do you mean?” Triumph squeaked, her grief momentarily forgotten.

Danny smiled. He’d been married to a succubus, shapeshifting was an integral part of what they were. Annette often changed her appearance and enjoyed teasing him while looking like someone else and while he tried not to think about it, he suspected Taylor also enjoyed her power when alone. Regardless, it had been easy enough to notice when a tall, well toned young man had changed into a tall, well toned young woman.

“Your costume hides it well, but this close it’s easy to tell the shape of your hips and chest have changed. You’re a bit shorter and your voice is higher. I almost thought your voice was breaking.”

“Six months,” Triumph sighed, “Dauntless was teaching me magic in the hopes of removing it… fuck, he should have been here, but he got into a fight with a succubus and now he’s being checked for master effects-”

Triumph jerked as she realised what she was saying and looked up at him in horror.

“You can’t-”

“Not a soul,” he promised, planning to tell Taylor the first chance he got. “Now come on, let’s see if we can reach the bridge.”

Opening the door, the two of them stepped out of the room. The hall corridor was quiet and Danny was painfully aware of every noise. The creak and rustle of his hazmat suit was deafening in the silence.

Reaching the hatch that led to the ships stair well, both men flinched at the squeak the lock made as they unsealed the door. When nothing jumped out at them, they opened the door with a sigh.

Stepping inside, both men stopped at the clang of metal on metal and looked up to see a net falling towards them. Danny and Triumph shoved each other, send themselves into opposing walls as the net, and several cackling Gremlins hit the ground.

Danny pushed himself upright, just as Triumph let out a blast of sound. The metal of the stairwell bouncing it back at them.

For Danny, it was like getting punched in the head. His vision went grey and his legs fell away underneath him. He tried to stand up, to continue fighting but more Gremlins were appearing, small claws grabbing him and pulling him roughly across the floor.

Triumph was still fighting, but his voice sounded distant, muffled and the shouts of the Gremlins were drowning him out.

Something heavy smacked into his head, jaring his neck and making the world spin again and by the time he came to, Danny found himself tied up in one of the ships holds.

##


Danny bit back a curse, he felt like he’d been kicked in the head by a horse. Pushing down the pain and nausea, he did his best to take in his surroundings.

He was sitting next to a container in, he assumed, the empty hold. Around him was a sea of Gremlins.

They had likely been raiding the containers for supplies, as they were entertaining themselves with sports equipment, bottles of beer, cigarettes and anything else they had found. One enterprising Gremlin was using a bow and arrow set to shoot things off the heads of others.

He wasn’t a very good shot, but his audience didn't seem to mind, cheering as he put an arrow through his ‘volunteers’ head. In one corner of the hold, a small group were playing cards, using a small wooden crate as a table.

Trying not to move the hood of his hazmat suit, Danny turned his head. Triumph was nearby, hanging by his ankles and swinging gently with the motions of the ship.

The tap of claws on metal drew Danny’s attention and he looked forward in time to see another Gremlin walk towards him. It was taller than the others, with a scar running down its face. As it peered into the mirrored hazmat visor, Danny held his breath.

This one wasn’t like the others. Its eyes shone with intelligence. “Old… man,” it ground out.

Reaching out, it scrapped a claw across the visor, protective magic shimmering in the air, making the creature hiss. It glared at him for a minute, then walked off into the crowd.

Danny let out a sigh of relief as it walked away and Triumph groaned.

“Kid, don’t move,” Danny hissed. “Stay as still as possible. As long as we’re boring, they won't pay us any attention.”

“Why haven't they killed us?” Triumphs voice was barely above a whisper.

“I think... they might be saving us for later…” he tried to keep his voice quiet and level, the kid wouldn't react well if he started freaking out now. Gremlins liked to ‘play’. There was every chance him and Triumph had been put aside for some elaborate death as soon as the monsters got bored.

‘Or maybe,’ Danny thought to himself, ‘they were waiting to see what would happen when the magic protecting him and Triumph from all the magic around them failed’.

If nothing else, it would be… colourful.

Glancing at the now smouldering lines on his hazmat suit, Danny guessed he had maybe ten minutes before they failed, though he had no doubt that Triumph’s would last longer.

“How long until someone comes looking for you?” He asked quietly.

“They should already be coming, but last I heard, Uber and Leet were doing something downtown…”

Which could keep them busy for hours. Those two clowns could bring entire sections of the city to a standstill with running battles that kept the Protectorate too busy to respond to anything but the biggest of emergencies.

With a cheer, a Gremlin jumped from the rafters, grabbing onto Triumph. It cackled in glee as the cape swung back and forth like a pendulum, before its grip failed and it was flung off.

“I feel sick...” Triumph muttered as the creature crashed into its fellows, a small fight breaking out as a result.

Looking up at him, Danny frowned. Following the rope up to the ceiling, he realised it was tied to a metal walkway that ringed the hold, just under the main loading hatch for the hold.

“We need to open that hatch,” Danny muttered, “How long do you think you can keep them distracted?”

“A few minutes, why?”

“If we can open that hatch, the sunlight will fry them all.”

“Great,” Triumph’s voice rose with excitement, only to suddenly go flat. “… but how do we get free?”

“I’m still working on that,” Danny muttered and a faint giggling filled his ears as a vaguely human shadow appeared in the air before him.

“Can you help us? Surely you don't want them here?”

For a moment, the shadow didn’t react, then it floated forward, easily brushing past his protective spells and taking his head in its hands. Gently, the spirit turned his head to face a dark corner of the hold. There, almost lost in the darkness was a faint glow.

Before Danny could question, the spirit pressed its lips, against his.

Images filled his mind of a small shrine, wrapped in chains and spells glowing on it and the ocean. All of it undercut with one word, one desire.

Freedom

“Deal,” Danny shivered, and his magic shift as the promise was sealed. A giggle filled the air as the shimmer faded from view.

“Get ready,” he hissed to Triumph.

There was a commotion as the card game suddenly turned violent, one Gremlin screaming at another and throwing itself forward. As they rolled about, they collided with others who joined the growing melee. Others gathered around to watch, cheering and whooping as the fight continued to spread.

The scar faced leader emerged from the shadows, screeching and growling at the others as it tried and failed to bring order.

Danny watched it all unfold with the sick fascination of a car wreck. He was so distracted, he almost didn notice his ropes going slack.

Looking quickly at the ropes, he glanced up at Triumph, “Get ready kid, keep them busy!”

The rope holding Triumph snapped and he fell, twisting in the air so he hit the ground on his feet with a clang that drew the attention of the nearest Gremlins. He flattened them with a shout.

The infighting stopped instantly, the gathered Gremlins turning as one to face him. With a roar, they charged Triumph.

Danny counted to ten, then jumped up and sprinted forward. Unfortunately for him, the Gremlins were more numerous than he expected. He’d barely gone a few steps before he was surrounded, clawed hands scraping at his hazmat suit, slowing him down and making him stumble.

His knee hit the deck with a painful crash, Gremlins piling on his back.

The spirit whipped past, the wind howling in its wake and knocking them off his back. Before they could recover, the spirit slammed down on them, holding them in place.

Growling in pain and anger, Danny brought his hands up, magic swirled around him as he called up the one spell he could cast. A flash of light and crack of thunder filled the hold as Danny unintentionally drew on the ambient magic of the ship.

The Gremlins screamed in pain and surprise, retreating away from him and straight into Triumph’s line of fire.

Doubling over, Danny coughed, gasping for air. He felt like he’d been stabbed in the chest.

Shakely lifting his hand, he pointed it at a Gremlin that edged towards him and it quickly skittered away.

Danny could have laughed. He couldn’t cast a spell now if he wanted too, but the threat was enough to keep the monsters at bay. Empowered by the thought, he snatched up a knife one of the Gremlins had dropped, climbed to his feet and forced himself forward.

His legs were shaking and his lungs on fire as Danny crashed into the far wall, Triumph was holding the monsters at bay, but whatever protection his armour had was clearly starting to fail under the assault.

“Hurry up!” She screamed at him, grabbing a Gremlin in one hand and smacking another one over the head with it.

“I’m working on it,” he shouted back, half staggering, half running for the shrine.

It was a small, sad thing, just a wooden crate with some spells carved into it and some candles on top. There was a bowl containing a rotten fish between the candles. Another spell was burned into the metal wall above it.

Barely slowing down, Danny put his foot through the crate and dragged the metal shard he was carrying through the spell.

The spell binding the spirit to the ship broke with the sound of shattering glass that was unnaturally loud. For a heart beat, everything stopped, the world held its breath, then the sea spirit rose.

Water poured into the hold, bursting from pipes, or squeezing through holes in the metal. It knocked Gremlins flying, closing doors and dragging them into the center of the room, pinning them down rising tide.

In the middle of the room the water rose up, taking shape as it went.

A woman made of water, stood over them, her skin shining like the moon on the ocean, her hair bound with kelp and her dress the colour of the waves. She glared down at them, man and Gremlin alike, pulling the very magic from the air.

Danny pushed himself against the hull, hoping like hell to live through this. He’d heard the stories from old sailors like his father. He knew what the ocean could do to a man if she had a mind to.

They would be lucky if she only killed them.

He froze as their eyes met, then she smiled. Her body collapsing back into the water below, then in one mighty guiser, burst out through the hatch, punching the metal aside like paper and vanishing as sunlight poured into the hold.

The Gremlins, those that were still alive screamed as their bodies burned, dissolving under its warmth, leaving nothing more than a green sludge.

Looking away from the sight, Danny blinked in the dazzling light, only to realise there were figures on deck, their silhouette gathering to look down at them

“Mr. Hebert?” one of them called, “Triumph? Can you hear me?”

“I’ll be up in a minute,” Triumph answered, her voice shaky. “I just got out of the shower!”

Laughing, Danny leaned against the wall, one hand pressed against his chest in an effort to ease the pain.

It was over, he’d survived. Groaning,he realised he needed to apologize to Taylor when he got home. It really wasn’t her fault things like this happened around them.

##


It was dark when the young woman reached the docks. The PRT had cordoned off the ship, bright spot lights shon on its hull, illuminating the guards and they moved back and forth across its deck.

She’d felt its appearance in the bay, of course, but had been too busy to investigate it until now.

Brockton Bay was such a busy place. So much magic, so much suffering and blood. It was perfect. Or, at least it would be once she removed one or two pests.

Tucking a stray hair behind her ear with a sigh, she only just noticed a dark shape slip from the boat. Smirking, she walked further into the docks, letting the faint feeling of malevolence guide her.

She found the Gremlin quickly, scant yards from the PRT cordon as it ate a cat raw, its sharp teeth ripping apart the animal's skin.

It froze at her approach, sniffing at the air before turning to face her. Its scarred face was filled with hatred, but it dared not attack her.

“Well, that’s interesting,” she muttered, walking forwards. One of the little vermin had survived after all. “So tell me, what is it you want?”

The Gremlin glared up at her, dropping the half-eaten cat.

“Old… man,” it ground out, its body trembling with rage.

She laughed, how very petty. Still, it could make for an interesting distraction. “Alright, I’ll see what I can do. But for now, I think it’s best if you sleep for a bit. Reaching out, she tapped the Gremlin on the nose. “Boop!”

As it slumped bonelessly to the floor, shadows wrapped around its body, pulling it out site. Turning on her heel, she walked away. There was nothing more she could do here after all.

‘If nothing else’, she smiled to herself, ‘it would be interesting’.


 

AN: chapter written under commission for Koalakiller on ff.net.

If you enjoy my content, please consider supporting me on Patreon

Chapter Text

Tapping the notepad with my pen, I glared at the book in front of me. It was one of the many Dad had bought from John. Leatherbound and handwritten in a neat script that was fairly easy to read, it was an introduction on healing magic.

Healing, it seemed, wasn't going to be a matter of just throwing a spell at a problem and calling it a day. Closing cuts and scrapes was easy; you were just speeding up the body's natural process, same with minor illnesses. Removing curses was more like undoing a puzzle. However, major injuries or more complex illnesses required actual knowledge of the human body, as I would need to visualise what I was doing.

What's more, all spells required energy, with healing needing more than average. Normally, that came from the caster, but there were ways to pull from other sources. Some were harmless, nothing more than pulling magic from the air around me if it was available. Others, however, were more destructive, like pulling the life from a person and using that instead. Thankfully, the author refused to detail how to do that.

There were 'cheats' of course, ways to subvert the knowledge and power requirements, but they weren't really applicable to me. Sure, I could ask a 'light' god to grant me the power to heal a person, or I could throw myself into a running jet engine. Since I was a demon, the result would be about the same.

The less said about 'dark gods' the better.

Double-checking my notes, I copied a set of runes onto a sheet of paper and placed my 'wand' in the middle of it.

Dad had found my attempt at enchanting a toy wand funny and, once he'd stopped laughing, dug a wooden dowel out of the basement and cut it to length.

So now I had three 'wands', each one roughly a foot in length and about as thick as my finger. Dad had also sprayed two of them black and dipped the tips in white paint. I knew he was trying to tease me, but I honestly liked the way they looked. That's why I'd painted the third one white and carefully drawn red crosses on the tips.

Besides, it wasn't like I couldn't change the design later. These were just for practice, after all.

Pushing magic into the spell, there was a flash, and a line of dark marks appeared on the white paint. When Dad had first shown me enchantment, I had assumed the black lines were just a miniaturised copy of the spell, that if you magnified them you would still see the runes. As it turned out, I was wrong.

While the lines were, in fact, the spell, they were kinda encrypted and almost impossible to read. With the right spells, you could decode parts of it, but completely reading the spell was impossible. The appearance was also different for everyone. Dad's looked like circuits, Mom's were a series of jagged lines and mine looked like a vine with thorns.

Very carefully, I picked up the knife that was next to me and, taking a deep breath, traced my finger along the blade. The cut wasn't deep, just enough to draw some blood.

Picking up the wand, I pointed the tip at the cut and pushed my magic into the wand. This was the tricky part; if the targeting runes didn't work, then the magic would just build up inside the wand until the spell, or the wand, failed.

The lines lit up as my magic filled them, flowing up the wand until the tip itself started to glow with a golden light. My finger tingled for a moment as the glow spread from my wand to the cut, then the injury closed up, vanishing without so much as a mark.

Grinning, I cut off the flow of magic, bouncing in my seat with excitement. It had worked!

Dad coughed suddenly and brought his coffee cup up to hide his face.

"What?!"

"Nothing," he said, failing to look innocent. "I'm just glad to see you enjoying yourself."

Putting my wand down, I stuck my tongue out at him, but any further comments were cut off when the phone rang. With a sigh, he went to answer it.

He'd been in a funny mood for a couple of days now, ever since he came back from work smelling like seawater. He'd told me, of course, about the ship appearing, about the Gremlins and even Triumph — poor guy.

He'd been light on some of the details, but it seemed 'adventure' had agreed with him. The cloud of depression that followed Dad around had lessened somewhat, and he'd spent the last few days pulling his old stuff out of the basement and showing me every spell he could remember.

He'd even found some of Mom's enchanted stuff for me to try on, like one of her coats that was currently hanging up in my room.

Picking up my wand, I twirled it between my fingers as I turned back to my book. At least, I tried to. What actually happened was, as I spun the wand, I brought it too close to my face, clipping one of my horns and knocking the wand out of my hand and sending it rolling under the table.

Huffing at myself, I crawled under the table to get it back. As I was climbing to my feet, Dad walked back into the room, a scowl on his face.

"That," he said, "was the clinic. Apparently, Winslow is holding on to some documents we need to get you enrolled in the scholarship program. "

"Can they do that?"

"They're claiming some bureaucratic rule or another is stopping them. They want someone to go 'in person' to collect them." He scoffed. "They're just being difficult out of spite. I don't have time this morning, I've got to get to work, but I'll make time at lunch to stop by and grab it."

"I could do it," I said with a shrug. I wasn't doing much else, after all.

"Are you sure? I don't mind going."

"No, it's fine. I could do with getting out of the house anyway. Besides, I can take them straight to the clinic and save everyone some time." And the sooner the paperwork was done, the better.

Smiling, Dad ruffled my hair. "Alright, but take your wand and coat."

"Dad!" I whined, pushing his hand away and jogging upstairs.

"I've gotta go," he called out after me. "And don't forget your phone!"

"Kay!" I called back, hesitating slightly at my door. My 'cell phone' sat on my bedside table. That was the other thing that changed after his adventure on the Queen Anne. Dad had come home that night with a pair of cheap phones and insisted I keep it with me if I was serious about learning magic and getting into trouble.

Neither of us had really liked cell phones, not after Mom died.

Putting that aside, I grabbed the coat that was hanging on the back of my door. It had been Mom's, though I'd never seen her wear it. The long black coat was almost Victorian in style, matching the 'school teacher' look she apparently favoured. I wasn't sure the look suited me personally, but the coat was warm and fit well enough that I didn't mind wearing it.

Plus it was reinforced with a ton of magical protections that I wasn't able to copy yet.

It wasn't bulletproof, but it would probably stop a knife or maybe a fireball or two.

Pulling the coat on, I stuffed my cellphone in one pocket and one of my wands in the other. Dad and I had enchanted this one together, and it had half a dozen spells on it, including my flashbang.

As I left the house, I grabbed my keys and the small can of pepper spray dad had given me a while ago. Sure, I had my wand — and yes, that still made me smile — but a bit of non-magical protection never hurt.

##

I got halfway down the drive before remembering to hide my horns and tail. I'd actually reached the street when I remembered to shrink myself back into my 'old' appearance.

Irritation at covering myself up aside, the walk to school was slow. The bus would have been quicker, but I wanted to burn off some energy, and it gave me time to think about things.

Leaving Winslow felt like a dream, but at the same time, it still felt like I'd given up. Like Emma had won and driven me off. Yet... did it matter? Was it worth putting up with Emma and the others, forcing myself to face them day after day just for the sake of pride?

Then again, was I really giving up? The deal with Panacea was simply too good to pass up.

I'd taken the time to look things up online and found that the deal was beyond generous. They would be supplying me with a new laptop and any other supplies I needed for my schoolwork, with a small stipend from the clinic as 'personal money'. I wouldn't be earning a fortune, but I'd at least be able to afford new clothes or trips to the cinema.

Still, that gnawing in my gut persisted, and not even stopping to grab a tea from a cafe helped. In the end, I had no choice but to ignore it.

As the school came into sight, my resolve faltered. Dread filled my gut, and I wanted nothing more than to turn around, to walk away and let dad handle this. He'd understand.

Except that really would be giving up.

I was being silly. It would take five minutes, at most, to go in and get the paperwork. I could do that, then I could walk away with my head held high.

Pulling Mom's coat around me, I stepped forwa—

A weight hit me so hard that I fell to my knees. The very air pressed down on my shoulders and pulled the strength from my body. Pain, anger, hatred, frustration, depression and more filled the air like a toxic soup, the foul taste making me want to vomit.

The smog! It was thicker than ever, wrapping around me so thickly that I was almost blinded. It pressed against my skin, like needles stabbing me relentlessly.

As panic filled my chest, I realised I couldn't move. I couldn't even breathe as my vision started to fade.

As I fell to the floor, I noticed a faint glow coming from my coat. Fine lines traced themselves across the fabric in a pattern of jagged shapes. Panicking and half-delirious from lack of oxygen, I struggled to think. Those lines were important, but why? What was— The enchantments!

I seized the thought like a lifeline and poured my magic into the coat. The lines flared, and the smog closest to me evaporated, any tendrils that got close evaporating like mist.

Gulping for air, I tried to calm herself down. I had to get out of here!

Climbing to my feet I turned, only to run into a wall, knocking my glasses off. I didn't bother to pick them up. I didn't need them anymore anyway; I just wore them to keep people from noticing any changes.

Shaking my head, I reached out to the empty air in front of me, and my hand pressed against whatever it was I'd run into. If I pressed harder, a faint red glow could be seen around my hand.

This was the ward around the school, wasn't it? My heart was pounding in my chest. I was trapped inside the school!

Pulling my phone free of my pocket, I glanced at the screen. The words 'no signal' blinked back at me, because of course they did.

Turning around, I glared at the school. I'm pretty sure it was glaring back.

It looked like my only option was to go into the school and, hopefully, find whatever was doing this.

With a sigh, I walked forward.

The smog hung in the air above like storm clouds, blocking out the sun. Tendrils reached down, wrapping around people's limbs, making them look like ghastly puppets. Glassy eyes stared at me as I walked past, and conversations continued, yet they lacked life or warmth.

"Taylor!" someone called, the lively voice making me jump. Before I could do anything, a tall blonde girl was beside me. Wrapping her arm around mine, she pulled me forwards.

"Thank god you're here," she said in Madison's voice, her eyes glowing faintly and faint wisps of smoke rising from her body. "We need to get out of here, now!"

"What's going on?!" I hissed.

"You can see this, right?"

"Of course I can!"

"Then trust me, I'll explain later, we need to get out of here!"

"I've tried," I hissed. "The ward won't let me through!"

Madison paused. "You can't get out either?"

"No!" Twisting, I pushed Madison up against the wall. She shrank slightly, making herself smaller than me. "Now tell me, what's going on?"

"Tl;dr? Someone's doing really bad magic and we need to leave before—"

"What the fuck did you say!?" The shout came from behind me. I turned as two boys started to square off, smog rolling off their bodies. One of them was short, with cropped hair and a tattoo just visible on his collar, while the other was dark skinned with his hair in cornrows.

"You heard me! Or are you deaf as well as stupid, nigger?!"

The two boys started to shove each other back and forth, then one of them swung hard. His fist hit the other with a crack, and the fight was on.

I'd seen fights at school before, but this was different. Before, they'd all been brief scuffles that stopped as quickly as they'd started. This time, they were clearly out for blood as they crashed back and forth, slamming each other into walls, kicking and punching anything they could reach. Blood splattered on the walls as one of them got a lucky hit, splitting his opponent's lip and knocking a tooth free.

Around them, the other students pulled back, shouting encouragement and whooping with every blow.

Madison and I pushed ourselves against the wall, trying to go unnoticed as the mob screamed for blood.

One of the boys stumbled, a lucky blow sending him to the floor, much to the crowd's delight. That should have been it; he was down, so the fight should've been over.

Rather than stop, the victor followed him down, jumping on the larger boy, punching and bellowing like a wild animal. He slammed the boy's head into the ground again and again.

One or two seemed to come to their senses, stepping forward they tried to pull the boys apart. Slipping free, the skinhead sank his teeth deep into the other boy's neck, ripping chunks of flesh off him and eating them as blood ran down his face.

One student, a big guy in a leather jacket, forced his way through the crowd, a fire extinguisher in his hands. Swinging hard, he brought it down on the skinhead's skull with the crunch of breaking bone.

Silence filled the hallway as blood pooled under the fighters. Above them, the smog roiled, flashes of light visible in the murky clouds.

The world held its breath, then a bolt of lightning burst from the smog, striking the boy. A high pitched wail filled the air, and the lights from the windows turned red.

The boy convulsed, his limbs twisting as his flesh started to swell, tearing through his clothes as he grew.

"Oh fuck, oh fuck, oh fuck! We are so fucked!" Grabbing me, Madison pulled us away from the wall and further down the corridor. Lightning appeared around us, and everyone it hit started to transform.

"What, what's going on?"

A girl crashed into the wall in front of us, forcing us to stop as she changed. Her limbs stretched out, and spines burst from her skin. Another had her clothes torn apart as lumps of flesh started to form, each one growing bigger and bigger, dark nipples forming on each one until she was nothing more than a pile of breasts.

The boy in the leather jacket was behind us, his head scraping the ceiling as he lumbered forward. His body was a misshapen mass of muscle, nearly as wide as the corridor. Others were growing armour plating or distorted limbs. One boy's pants tore apart as his balls swelled to the size of soccer balls, his spiked dick dragging along the floor like a fucking club.

He grabbed a nearby girl, her body a twisted parody of a spider, and she eagerly leapt at him, trying to pull him inside her.

"Run!" Madison screamed, as a tongue speared the wall by her head.

Ducking under it, she ran forward, throwing herself at a nearby door without hesitation and smashing her way through. I followed her without a thought as around us, the students continued to transform.

We emerged on the roof, thankfully free of students. Throwing myself flat to the ground, I crawled forward so I was lying next to Madison. Above us, the ward around the school was visible now, an angry red dome that glared down at us and tinted everything the same colour.

I could see students in the courtyard below. Many of them were fighting amongst themselves, while others were tangled together in an orgy with little regard to gender or biology.

"What's going on?!" I demanded, forcing myself to look away from the chaos.

"It's a dimensional breach. Someone pulled too much… crap into one place. This smog, it's manifested anger, hate, frustration and blood. The ward has kept it all trapped here like a pressure cooker."

'Or a bomb,' I thought to myself.

"It's all gotten too much, the walls between realities are coming apart and magic is pouring in!"

The building shook, and a creature burst through the walls. It was three torsos twisted together, dragging itself forward on dozens of tentacles. Some of them grabbed onto students who got too close, and I realised with a shudder that those weren't tentacles.

"W-why aren't we affected?"

"You can't fall twice," she said flatly, the 'adult' voice growing stronger as she looked down at the orgy below. "We are immune to such magic… we must do something. If the breach is not closed soon, I fear these changes will become permanent."

I looked up at the sky. The ward had us all trapped here, and I had no idea if the people outside knew there was a problem. "You said it's a pressure cooker... what would happen if we took the ward down?"

Madison shook her head. "The magic would spread outwards. It would ease the pressure on the rift, but this chaos would spread."

In my mind, I saw the students descending on the nearby houses. It would be a slaughter.

"Okay, so how do we—"

The door the school opened, the squeak of old hinges warning us. I rolled over to see a woman in a hooded robe standing at the door. Enchantments glowed across her clothes, protecting her from the magic, and she was clutching a staff tightly in her hands.

"You need to come with me!" she barked, her tone making it clear that it wasn't a request. Her hood was casting an unnatural shadow that hid her face, but there was something familiar about her voice.

"Why should we?" Madison snapped, both of us scrambling to our feet.

The woman stepped forward, and a creature emerged from the shadows behind her. It looked like a big cat, maybe a panther, with six legs and a pair of tentacles growing from its shoulders. Its head turned to look at me with a growl, its yellow eyes shining with hate and smog wrapped around its throat like a collar.

I couldn't help but notice the torn remains of a shirt clinging to its body.

With a sigh, the woman pointed her staff at us, and a glowing bolt shot forward.

Madison and I dived apart to avoid it, hitting the ground hard.

Before we could recover, the cat-creature leapt forward, its claws scraping the roof as I scrambled backwards, trying to put some distance between myself and it. Without thinking, I lashed out, punching the creature in the head.

It's head snapped to the side, then slowly turned back to me with a deep growl. Oh god, now I'd really pissed it off.

"Don't kill them! I need th—" The woman's order was cut off as Madison tackled her to the ground with a scream, shedding her disguise as they rolled across the roof.

Her scream broke my stupor, and I shoved my into my coat pocket and pulled my wand free. The lines on it glowed as I fed magic into the spell.

A fireball exploded from my wand and streaked through the air. I gasped as it passed harmlessly through the creature, its body turning to smoke as it dived at me.

It turned solid as it slammed into my chest, pinning me down, one of its legs trapping my wand arm.

"Get! Off!" The panic and anger finally became too much, and my body shifted, my wings appearing and forming black spikes that drove themselves into the creature's body. The first one punctured its skin, making it yowl in pain, but it turned to smoke and jumped away before I could do any more. It circled me warily as I climbed to my feet, the rest of my disguise fading away.

"A little help?!" Madison screamed. She was sitting on the robed woman, the pair of them fighting over her staff.

"Eyes!" Trying not to look away from the creature, I pointed my wand at Madison and fired off a flashbang, the sudden noise and light making the woman and the monster scream.

The cat thrashed its head, either in pain or confusion, its tentacles whipping wildly to keep me away.

Blood was pounding in my ears. I wanted nothing more than to blast the monster with another fireball while it was distracted, but my eyes kept falling on the tattered remains of the shirt. The cat had been human once, just like the students below.

The hesitation almost cost me as the creature finally recovered and threw itself at me with a roar.

Jumping sideways, I barely managed to avoid it, only for one of its tentacles to slap me across the face. The blow was stronger than I would have expected, snapping my head to the side and making the world spin briefly.

I let the momentum of the blow spin me around, returning the hit with my tail. Too close, or too angry, to risk jumping again, the cat reared up on its hind legs, dropping its weight on me in an effort to push me down.

Against a normal human, it might have worked, but I was stronger than I looked and managed to support its weight, Mom's coat protecting me against its claws. Glaring into those angry yellow eyes, I pressed my wand into the cat's side and channeled a new spell.

Lightning danced across the creature's skin, and the cat screamed. Shocked, I cut the spell off and jumped back. The cat fell bonelessly to the floor, smoke rising from its body.

For a moment, I was worried I'd killed it, then I noticed the rise and fall of it's chest as it breathed.

"Wow, what the hell was that?"

Looking over at Madison, she was standing over the robed woman, the staff resting against her shoulder.

"It… it was just a weak lightning spell. No worse than a taser." Dad had shaken off the effects after a couple of hours.

"Huh… I guess—" Madison was cut off as the woman moved suddenly, rolling sideways and knocking Madison's legs out under her.

I ran forward to help, but I wasn't fast enough. The woman grabbed the staff and with a scream, directed the fog at us.

It wrapped around me like a blanket, small bolts of electricity sparking off my coat as the wild magic tried to ground itself. I pushed magic into the coat, driving it back.

My vision cleared just in time to see the staff coming at me and the world went dark.


AN: chapter written under commission for Koalakiller.

If you enjoy my content, please consider supporting me on Patreon

Chapter Text

I woke to a pounding headache that was accompanied by a sharp stabbing pain on the side of my head. Hissing, I opened my eyes and saw that one of my horns was damaged. The very tip had broken off, and cracks had spread up its length. I tried to ignore the pain as I climbed to my feet, but every movement triggered a fresh wave of agony that made my stomach twist.

Standing was harder than it should have been; my head felt lopsided, and it was throwing my balance off. In the end, I settled for just kneeling on the floor while I tried to keep my breakfast down as the floor trembled under me.

Feet padded across the floor, and I looked up to see the cat creature from before looking at me, its yellow eyes shining with something I couldn’t identify.

“What’re you looking at?” Pain and confusion had to be the only reason I snapped at the creature when I should have rightfully been trying to go unnoticed.

The panther stepped closer, but the collar of smog tightened around its neck before it could do any more than growl.

“Good, you're awake.”

Looking past the panther, I could see the woman from the rooftop standing at the far side of the room. She had her back to me as she traced a rune onto the wall, her staff propped up nearby.

“I doubt I need you awake for this, but the book was sparse on details.” As she moved, tendrils of smog followed her like an eager puppy, pressing against the lines and worming its way into the runes, filling them with a sickly glow.

“Book?” Ugh, my head was still foggy, and I had to fight back the impulse to shake it in an effort to clear my thoughts.

My question went unanswered as I glared at her back. My vision was a bit blurry, stopping me from really making out the runes she was drawing, with one exception. On the wall next to her was a large ‘light’ rune — almost as tall as the woman — that was pulsing softly. The pattern flowed outwards from it, down the wall and across the floor.

Whatever spell she was writing, it was huge and complex. Runes had been scribbled on the floor, walls and even ceiling in a spiralling pattern. In the very middle of it all was a large brass tub, the smog circling above it.

Madison was on the far side of the room, her hands pressing against the air around her. A glowing set of runes circled her, trapping her in place.

“What’s going on?”

“Be quiet,” the woman snapped. “I need to get this finished. That stupid girl didn’t tell me there were two of you.”

Leaving the wall, she marched in my direction, stopping maybe a meter away, and started scribbling more runes on a bare patch of floor, muttering quietly to herself the whole time. “Because of course she didn’t, that would be too easy, I should have known better than to trust her.”

“Where are we? Are you the one who created the smog?” There were no windows and only one door, but we had to still be in the school. I could hear the wailing noise coming from somewhere above me, like a constant itch in the back of my skull.

“Who told you about us?!” Ignoring the way the room spun, I got my feet under me, finally standing up.

Huffing, the woman spun around, pointing a piece of chalk at me like a finger. “Will you shut up!”

“Always asking questions, always demanding, always walking around like you know everything—!” Stopping, she rose back to her full height with a deep breath, her hands raising as if to push back her hair, only to stop when they reached her hood.

It was almost comical to realise I was a good few inches taller than her. Without stopping to think, I lashed out, my fist hitting her jaw with a satisfying crack.

As she stumbled, I grabbed for her hood in an effort to keep myself standing and stop her getting away, my wings stretching out to form spears. The panther slammed into my side before I could impale the woman.

It roared as we fell, its claws raking across my chest and knocking the wind from my lungs. There was a ripping sound, but it was drowned out by the pain in my head as we hit the floor. I wrapped my arms around my head as the panther swatted at me and rolled to my side.

When nothing else happened beyond some growling, I opened my eyes to see Principal Blackwell cradling her jaw in one hand while the other held the panther back with a leash made of smog.

“Run!” Madison screamed, still trapped in her circle.

Jumping to my feet, I sprinted for the door, adrenaline and fear driving me on. The pounding of paws reached me before I was even halfway there, and I threw myself to the side.

The panther flew past, claws outstretched. Hitting the ground, it skidded to a stop, twisting around to face me, but I was already raising my arm. A bright flash and loud bang echoed through the room as I unleashed my flash-bang spell, making it screech in pain.

A fireball exploded against my shoulder, the heat of it washing over me. The lines on Mom’s jacket glowed as they absorbed some of the impact, but I honestly doubted the fire was hot enough to hurt me.

“Really?” I snapped, my temper flaring as I spun around to face Blackwell. “You do know what I am —”

“I know exactly what you are!” she shouted, clutching her staff with shaking hands. “You’re another weirdo, another little geek sitting in the corner who can’t take a joke about his glasses!”

Anger and grief poured off her, and the smog surged, all of it twisting together and wrapping itself around her staff. A shard of ice longer and thicker than my arm formed in the air and shot forward like a missile, barely missing me and slamming into the door in an explosion of cold.

Staring at the now-frozen-shut door, I wasn’t able to dodge as the panther slammed into my back and drove me to the floor. Standing on top of me, it growled down my ear, and I could feel its hot breath on my neck.

Walking forward, Blackwell pointed the still-glowing end of her staff at my head.

“All of you are no better than him. You spend your days glaring at everyone, then your evenings at target ranges, boxing practice, or hiding away in your basements until you walk in here and kill good people who deserve better! People who actually had a chance to be something more than a statistic!”

She was looking at me, but her eyes were unfocused. I didn’t know what she was talking about, or who she was really seeing.

“Good children die and wastrels like you get set free after a couple of years. Well I'm sick of it! Why should you get to live?” Tears were running down her face. “My son didn’t!”

Lying there, unable to move, I wasn’t sure what to say as she took a shuddering breath.

“So that's it!?” Madison shouted, breaking the tense silence. “You’re tearing reality apart because your fucking son died!?”

“Be quiet!” Blackwell snapped. Reaching down, she grabbed my broken horn, and I screamed in pain as she pulled me upwards with surprising strength. Without thinking, I scrambled to my feet and let her lead me forward in an effort to lessen the pain.

“Creatures like you could never understand!” Releasing my horn, she shoved me forward, and I felt the magic of the circle snap closed behind me.

“I understand more than you do!” Madison screamed, yellow eyes glowing as she pounded at the invisible shield keeping her trapped. “The walls between reality will collapse and things will pour through! The ward outside won't last five minutes—!”

“I know that!” Blackwell snapped. “I know what I’m doing and what will happen if I don't get this finished soon, now be quiet!”

Giving the panther a shove, Blackwell sent it to the corner of the room and started redrawing the runes that had been damaged by the panther’s claws when it attacked me.

Ignoring them both, I focused on the runes. I knew maybe one in every five, but there was a clear pattern throughout. Life, direction, life, light, stability, unity, store, restoration, contain, direct, life; these were the ones I recognised, all of them heading towards the tub in the middle, which was starting to steam.

“This is a healing spell? Madison, this looks like a healing spell! She’s trying to gather… life and direct it to the center?”

My eyes kept being drawn back to the far wall. The large rune Blackwell had carved there was glowing brightly now, but something about it was off. It looked like ‘light’, but there were some extra lines that changed the meaning. I tried to focus on it, but the pounding in my head was making it hard to think.

It almost looked like ‘order’, but —

Something in my mind clicked and understanding flooded in.

“Heaven!” I gasped. “That large rune means heaven!” There were dozens of runes for heaven, and all of them were inert. There was no one true heaven, just like there was no one true hell.

“You're trying to invoke heaven?”

“No!” Madison sounded almost frantic now. “She’s trying to open a door to the divine realms! You can’t do that! Do you even know what will happen if you do?!”

“Of course I know!” Blackwell roared, standing up and striding across the room. “I’ve spent years working on this, researching every scrap of information I could find, testing again and again until I finally got it right!”

Taking a shuddering breath, Blackwell visibly forced herself to calm down. “Despite what you may think, I'm not crazy. I’m not going to open the way to a divine realm. I just need to make a crack, just a small one. Just big enough to bring him back.”

“You’re trying to bring someone back to life?”

“That's impossible!” Madison scoffed. “You can’t resurrect the dead!”

“Yes, I can!” Blackwell snapped. “It’s happened before, people have been brought back, good people, special people, like my son...”

“Your son,” Madison growled, “is not some chosen hero! He’s the same useless sack of-”

Her words cut off suddenly, a shimmer appearing in the air around her as Blackwell activated a spell to silence her.

“My son was a gift,” she hissed, her eyes wild and hands twitching. “He was everything to me and I will get him back, even if I have to slaughter this whole fucking school!”

Walking away from us both, she took up position in another circle, forming a triangle with Madison and me and the brass tub in front of her. Kneeling, she started to channel power into the spell.

Above us, the smog started to move, wrapping around Blackwell’s body and following her arms to enter the runes.

The circle around her lit up, the runes glowing a sickly green that spread outward, filling the spiralling patterns like water. The glow reached Madison and me at the same time, the runes around us bursting into life, magic arcing like lightning into our bodies.

I screamed in pain as fire and ice danced across my skin. Needles drove themselves into my skin, hooks peeling the flesh from my bones as the magic of the spell grabbed hold of me and pulled the energy from my body in wave after wave of agony and keeping me upright.

On the far wall, the heaven rune was glowing like a sun, the light from it bleaching the paint around it. The runes encircling it came alive, smog bursting from them like grasping fingers and driving into the rune.

With a deep rumble I could feel in my melting bones, the rune split apart, a crack splitting it in half, and gold fire burst free. The runes on the ceiling captured the fire, directing it down their length and into the circle above the tub.

I couldn’t hear anything over the sound of the fire as it poured into the tub like molten metal, filling the air with steam and making the brass glow cherry-red with heat.

Then, with a crash of thunder, the magic stopped, and I dropped bonelessly to the ground.

I wasn’t sure how long I lay there, feeling the cool ground on my skin. A bone-deep ache filled my body, my arms and legs nothing more than dead weight as I tried to force unresponsive lungs to move.

Every breath felt like an age, the sound of it echoing in my ears and drowning out the world around me.

“H-Harrison?” Blackwell’s voice was weak, and she seemed to be having trouble standing. I could just see her out of the corner of my eye as she tried to rise.

Feeling was slowly returning to my body, a constant tingle in my fingers and toes that became a stabbing pain with every movement. Ignoring it, I tried to lift myself up but only succeeded in twisting myself enough that I could see the tub and the pale boy that was pulling himself upright.

He was handsome, with a mane of blonde hair that hung to his shoulders and shining blue eyes. Smooth, blemish-free skin was wrapped over a well-muscled physique that was struggling to keep itself upright.

“...M-mom?” he asked, his voice a perfect tenor.

“Oh, my boy, look at you!” Rushing forward, Blackwell wrapped him up in a hug, hands pushing his hair back as she tried to take him all in at once.

Watching them, I wanted to scream at the wrongness of it all, but my voice wouldn't work.

He didn't look real. He looked like a picture of a male model, photoshopped beyond perfection then brought it to life. His eyes were too blue, his hair was literally glowing and his skin immaculate.

Fear coiled through me, a deep instinctive terror that even the monsters outside couldn't match.

“Are you okay? Does anything hurt?” Blackwell said, oblivious to everything but her ‘son’.

“It burns…” he said, his words slightly slurred.

“What does? I know it's hard, but you need to tell me sweetie.”

“The air, the light… it’s all wrong.” Its voice was growing stronger, words coming smoother and more practised. “This world is wrong…”

“I-I don't understand,” Blackwell said quietly, cupping his face with one hand while the other helped guide him out of the tub.

“Get away!” Madison managed to shout, her voice hoarse. “That's not your son.”

“You be quiet! He’s just confused,” Blackwell snapped, turning to face us while shielding him from our sight.

“No…” I was barely able to speak as the ‘boy’ wrapped an arm around his mother. His lips moved, saying something I didn't hear, then his hand burst through Blackwell’s chest, gold fire spreading outwards from the wound.

He watched, his face expressionless, as she fell lifelessly to the floor.

Looking at us, he stepped forward, opening his mouth to say something, only for Blackwell’s panther to charge across the room with a roar. With an almost idle gesture, he sent a stream of fire at it.

The attack passed through the panther harmlessly as it turned to smoke. Reforming, it pounced, driving them both to the floor, claws and teeth raking across his body.

With a wordless shout, light burst from the boy, and a wave of force threw us into the walls with so much force that I felt something in my chest crack.

As the boy climbed to his feet, his skin was peeling away, golden fire consuming him. Rising into the air he became a mess of limbs and faces, his body formed of shining glass and fire, and a voice as clear as a bell rang out, its mouths shouting a language I’d never heard before.

The sound of it seared into my mind, filling me with pain and demanding my surrender. My skin was blackening and charring under the heat, and my vision was going grey.

In a panic, I reached out, and what little smog that remained poured into me, flooding my veins with ice, the foul taste of anger, hatred, bitterness, and every other negative emotion that formed it rolling across my tongue.

Then, in a moment of clarity, I let it all go and the world went black.

##


“Taylor! Taylor you need to wake up!”

Madison's heart was in her mouth as she shook Taylor’s shoulder. She was barely breathing, her skin unnaturally pale with dark black lines running across it, and her left arm was nothing more than a blackened lump.

Her other self, the succubus she was fused with, was all but screaming in rage. Blackwell, the stupid bitch, had pulled a fucking lord of order into the world.

Barely sparing Blackwell’s corpse a glance, she tapped Taylor’s face. To her relief, and horror, Taylor opened her eyes with a groan. They were a foggy-milky colour and she seemed to be having trouble focusing.

“Madison?”

“Yeah, it's me. Come on, we need to get out of here. Can you stand?”

Taylor shook her head in an effort to clear it. “Not sure…”

“I know, but we need to leave…” Whatever Taylor had done, it had made that thing scream in pain before flying up through the ceiling like it was passing through water.

Putting one of Taylor’s arms over her shoulder, she half-carried, half-dragged her upright and towards the door. Blackwell’s panther was still slumped in a heap by the other wall, the steady rise and fall of its chest the only signs of life.

“Feels weird,” Taylor muttered, struggling to get her feet to move.

“Don’t worry, you're going to be fine.” She hoped.

As it turned out, Blackwell had been holding them in some sort of bunker under school. The door opened easily enough, even with them having to shuffle sideways through the narrow corridor and up the stairs.

Emerging on the school's ground floor, Madison shivered as the quiet part of her imagined the twisted horrors waiting for them around the corner. Giving Taylor a worried glance, she moved forward. Her apprehension only grew as they walked through the empty halls. Even the absence of the smog was more worrying than reassuring at this point.

It wasn’t until she turned a corner that she saw them: a dozen students lying on the ground. As they approached, it became clear that they were dead.

Her heart broke at the sight of them, the succubus side of her mourning the deaths of more children.

Putting her confused grief aside, Madison pushed forward. More bodies appeared, but the further she got from the basement, the more she found that were still breathing. Some were awake, quietly crying or clinging to each other in confusion now that the effect of the smog was gone from their minds.

Their bodies were still twisted, but they were alive.

Eventually emerging from the school, Madison looked up at the clear sky overhead. The ward likely hadn’t even slowed the lord of order down. In the distance, she could see flashing lights as emergency services and PRT fought to contain the few students who were still able to move.

Turning away from them, Madison did her best to guide Taylor down a side street. As soon as she could, she would call Danny to pick them up.

This had not been a good day.



AN: chapter written under commission for Koalakiller on ff.net.

If you enjoy my content, please consider supporting me on Patreon

Chapter Text

Gently putting his finger on a blood smear, Dauntless channeled his magic into the enchantment on his glove.

‘Female, not human,’ the spell told him.

Sighing, he stood up, using an alcohol wipe to clean his hands. Around him lay the remains of the most complex ritual he had ever seen. He’d have liked the chance to speak to one of its creators, but he doubted that would happen.

There was room in the spell for three people. One was dead on the floor, and the other two were missing.

It had been more than an hour since the call went out and a glowing red dome had appeared over Winslow High, trapping the students inside. He’d barely reached the school when the ward had shattered and something had shot into the sky. It had vanished too quickly for him to follow, though at the time he’d been more preoccupied with the students.

Taking a deep breath, he tried to force the anger down, or at the very least stop the trembling in his hands. The students, twisted and deformed, driven mad by the magic they had been exposed to, had descended on anyone nearby.

Thankfully, they were quickly contained by the police and Protectorate, but he wasn’t sure they would ever be the same again. Even if the Protectorate could undo the changes to their bodies, the things they had seen or done would live with them for the rest of their lives.

Dauntless was so caught up in his thoughts that he never even noticed Armsmaster entering the room.

“Can I trust you to keep your composure?”

“I’ll be fine,” Dauntless snapped before he could catch himself. “Sorry, that was… it’s just this whole situation makes me sick. Whoever did this, they were planning on sacrificing an entire school! All those kids…”

“You’re right, it’s disgusting” — stepping forward, Armsmaster placed a firm hand on Dauntless’ shoulder — “but we can’t help anyone if we let our anger cloud our judgement.”

The moment of comradery lasted only a second, with Armsmaster quickly withdrawing his hand and stepping away.

“Is that why Miss Militia isn’t here?” Dauntless couldn’t resist asking. She was the only one more protective of kids than he was.

“No.” Sighing, Armsmaster pressed a hand against his forehead. “She knows how to control herself, but I needed her and Battery to talk to the parents. People respond well to them, especially when stressed.”

“Ain’t that the truth,” Dauntless muttered. Armsmaster was a good hero and Dauntless could respect the effort he put into being a hero, but the man had a bad case of ‘foot in mouth’. Armsmaster likely hadn’t even noticed the implied insult he’d just thrown at Dauntless.

Choosing to ignore it, Dauntless nodded towards the corpse that was still face down on the ground. She had a fist-sized hole in her chest, golden fire still burning gently on the edges of the wound.

“Do we have an ID on her?”

“Yes, Principal Elizabeth Blackwell. No living family, but there is an ex-husband in New York.”

Humming to himself, Dauntless walked in a slow circle around the brass tub in the middle of the room. “I’m guessing she had a kid that died?”

“He died in a school shooting with ten other students. How did you know?”

Dauntless waved an arm at the runes around them. “Because this is a resurrection spell, or at least an attempt at one, and you don’t go to this length on a whim. This was clearly personal.”

“Are you able to identify her goal?” Armsmaster sounded genuinely impressed — which Dauntless found insulting, but he chose not to comment.

“Yeah, it’s not too hard to figure out. We're standing in what is, effectively, a super-powered healing spell. The runes on the walls were supposed to contain the power, the ones on the ceiling and floor channelled it and the far wall was supposed to be the doorway that would allow the soul to return.”

That was always the sticking point with resurrections. Animating a corpse? That was easy, especially if you didn’t mind it continuing to rot. Making a physical copy of someone was only slightly harder, though it took a lot of effort to make it more than superficial.

The real problem was the soul. Without it, the best you had was a meat puppet, a walking corpse with no memories or emotions that could only act like a living thing.

“Given the tub is empty, it's a good bet they brought something to life. If we’re lucky, it was only a minor spirit.”

Leaning against the tub, Armsmaster stared at the fluid that still remained inside. It was a mix of blood, bone and muscle.

“These don’t match human remains,” he said as he carefully lifted one of the bones out of the tub. “Pig, maybe?”

“Yeah, they were probably using them as raw materials for a new body, rather than building it entirely from magic. Takes less effort that way.”

“What’s our worst-case scenario?”

Dauntless snorted. “An angel appears in the middle of Brockton Bay, brainwashes the city and starts a new holy crusade. We can probably rule that one out, as it would have already started in that case.”

Powerful entities didn’t have to bother with subtlety. No, it was more likely something minor got loose; they had seen something escaping, after all. It was still dangerous, of course, but he was confident they could handle it. He’d contact some of the city's magic users later, put the word out and see if anything came up.

That said...’ “We should try and keep the details quiet. If Haven, or some other group of overly religious nut-jobs, think there’s a ‘holy spirit’ running around, nothing will keep them away.”

Licking his lips, Armsmaster shivered. “Yes… that would be… bad. I’ll advise the Director.”

In theory, Haven were good guys and had been affiliated with the Protectorate for years. In practice, there was a reason the PRT tried to keep them in the south and pointed at demon-worshipping groups like the Fallen.

Further discussion was cut off as Triumph returned, an electronic tablet in his hands. It didn’t say good things about the state of Brockton Bay that he barely even glanced at the corpse on the floor.

“I’ve finished checking the nearby businesses. A couple of them had external cameras that they let us check, and I thought you’d want to see this.” Holding out the tablet, Triumph bounced slightly on his heels.

“Thank you, that was good thinking.” Sure, they would have eventually sent PRT investigators to do that same thing, but it never hurt to show a little initiative.

Glancing at Armsmaster, Dauntless realised his attention had wandered, and he was now carefully examining the runes on the floor and ceiling. Rolling his eyes, Dauntless discreetly kicked the man's foot.

“Hmm? Oh! Yes, of course, well done,” Armsmaster grunted.

Sharing a long-suffering smile with Triumph, Dauntless tapped the screen and was greeted with an image of two girls moving down the street.

One looked like a shadow brought to life and was clearly helping the other to walk. It was hard to make out any details, since the camera quality was poor and at a bad angle, but the black wings and tail were unmistakable.

“Are those the two who attacked you?”

“Yeah…” At least, he assumed so. Succubi were shapeshifters, after all.

“It seems you were right to be concerned. If they are involved, we need to take precautions against them. If you can supply me with the...”

Tuning Armsmaster out, Dauntless stared at the picture. Something about it was wrong. Why was one of them being carried? Were they injured?

Putting two fingers to the tablet, he tried to zoom in, only to hesitate. His fingers, the blood… his eyes widened as he made the connection.

“She tried to sacrifice them!”

“What?” Triumph and Armsmaster said, almost in unison.

“Blackwell tried to sacrifice the succubi as part of her spell!” Spinning around, he walked quickly across the room. There were three circles in the spell that formed a triangle with the tub at its tip.

He’d assumed that there had been three people working together on the spell, but why would succubi want anything to do with a spell that tapped into the divine realms?

Ignoring the first circle, as it was closest to the tub, he moved instead to the one nearest to the bloodstain. Kneeling, he ran a finger around the circle, tracing each rune by one by one until he found what he was looking for.

“I don’t know why those succubi were here, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t by choice,” he said as the others caught up.

Titling his head, a small light blinked on the side of Armsmaster’s helmet, like a sensor or something that was recording what he was seeing. “What makes you say that?”

“Those two circles,” getting up, Dauntless moved to the other circle, quickly finding the same runes. “They have containment runes on them to keep whatever was inside from getting out… What’s more, the spell was set up to forcibly pull energy from them and feed it into the ritual. Those wouldn’t have been needed if they were willing participants!”

“So… what does that mean?” Triumphs said, looking quickly between the older men.

“It means, Blackwell likely wasn’t the one who summoned them and she probably wasn’t working with whoever did. If she was, she wouldn’t have needed to cage them.”

“That makes these succubi key witnesses,” Armsmaster said thoughtfully.

“I — what?” Dauntless hesitated. He’d been so caught up with his findings that he hadn’t stopped to think what it would mean. “Armsmaster, you can’t be serious? I mean, they’re demons, they can’t testify, we can’t even prove they are telling the truth!”

“So you say, but we have yet to find solid evidence of them committing a single crime.”

“Solid… they were here! I first found them at the scene of a murder and they attacked me!”

After you threatened them,” Armsmaster said firmly. “I reviewed your bodycam footage, in case you forgot, and for all your insistence about the danger, I notice they didn’t actually hurt you?”

“I — They’re demons!” Dauntless hissed.

“Regardless, the Director and I both agree that until solid proof is found, they are to be treated like any other rogue parahuman of interest and we wish to speak to them. If you have a problem with that, please tell me now and I’ll make whatever arrangements are necessary.”

Snorting, Dauntless scowled at Armsmaster, the effect only slightly ruined by both of them wearing expression-masking helmets.

“No, sir,” he said with as much scorn as he could. “I know how to follow orders.”

Nodding in satisfaction, Armsmaster turned and walked away, metal boots clanking on the stone floor as he passed through the door and out of sight.

Dauntless glared after him long after he was gone.

“Umm…” Triumph said quietly, the tension apparently being enough to cause her to transform. “Can I ask what happened that day? I mean, I know you said they were demons, but you did attack them first and...” She trailed off into silence.

“I fucked up,” Dauntless groaned, rolling his head back so he was looking at the ceiling. “I found them, a pair of demons standing in a room where the floor was covered in blood and they were just, standing there, completely unbothered by it.”

It didn’t help that they were the first two demons he’d ever actually seen. Sure, there had been curses and the occasional possession, maybe even an imp or two. But real demons were rare and dangerous, his teacher had told him that time and time again.

“They don’t think as we do, they don’t feel the same. You can’t ever trust them to tell the truth, not unless you can compel them. At the end of the day, you're better off just dispelling them!”

The words echoed in his mind. Dr River had been his mentor for more than a decade, and it wasn’t like he could simply brush his teachings aside. Then again, did he really have a choice?

“Come on,” he said to Triumph with a sigh, “let me show you how to check for a dimensional breach. If nothing else, we can make sure nothing else comes through.”

He had his orders; all he could do was follow them and prepare for the worst.

 

##


In her dark room, Emma sat on her bed, glaring at the screen of her phone. It was past midnight, three minutes past to be exact, and she still hadn’t heard from Sophia.

They never went this long without talking, not since... well, not since they met, but Emma refused to think about that.

Tapping her phone, she shot off another message, then immediately dialed Sophia's number. She’d been trying to contact her for hours, ever since she saw the news about Winslow.

Some crazy witch had done... something... to the students, turning them into monsters, and more than twenty were outright dead. No names had been confirmed, and Emma’s stomach churned painfully if she let herself think for even a moment that Sophia was one of them.

She hadn’t been at school herself; she’d spend the morning at home puking her guts up. The takeaway her dad had brought home last night had turned out to be bad, especially the peppered chicken, and she’d eaten more of it than her parents.

Ending the call, she slammed her phone against the soft duvet as it went to voicemail again. She would have left a message, but she knew Sophia didn’t ever check voicemail. Huffing, she considered asking Madison, again, if she’d heard anything, but the last time she’d done that, Madison had shouted at Emma for waking her up.

Apparently, Madison had been at the doctor’s, getting her injuries from last week checked over, and anyway, unless Emma was there, Madison refused to deal with Sophia. ‘Big pussy,’ Emma thought to herself. ‘Sophia was harmless. All you had to do was impress her a bit.’

Picking her phone up again, Emma glared at the digital clock. Twelve fifteen.

She was considering giving up and trying — again — to get some sleep when something moved outside her window, and a dark shape passed soundlessly through the glass.

For a moment, Emma smiled at the sight of Sophia’s shadow form, but it faded as she realised the shape was all wrong. Too big, too long and too low to the ground, she gasped as the mist reformed into a large six-legged black panther with two whip-like appendages on its back. Its glowing yellow eyes fixed on Emma, and she felt her throat close with terror before she could scream.

The panther lunged forward, landing on the bed and knocking the air from Emma’s Lungs. Without thinking, she slapped at the creature, desperately gasping for air. Her efforts were futile, the panther barely noticing her attacks as it put more weight on her chest, turning her attempts at a scream into nothing more than a pitiful whimper.

She closed her eyes as the panther leaned forward, expecting to feel its jaws around her throat at any moment. Instead, it rubbed its muzzle against her cheek, a deep rumble coming from its chest.

Opening her eyes, Emma could only watch with bewilderment as the panther began to change.

Its body shrank rapidly. The front set of paws became hands that moved to pin Emma’s arms above her head, while the second sat on her hips. Its skin rippled as the skeleton beneath it took on a human form.

The last to change was the muzzle. Pulling back, the skull reshaped, even as the glowing yellow eyes remained, and Emma found herself staring at a familiar face.

“S-sophia?” Emma gasped, her mouth hanging open in shock, and she tried to focus on anything but her naked friend. She’d had dreams like this in the past, but now really wasn’t the time for them to come true.

“Hey,” Sophia purred, rolling her hips as she leaned forward, pressing her lips against Emma’s neck, lightly peppering it with kisses.

“Y-you’re okay?” Emma squeaked, her face flushing as Sophia's new set of arms started playing with the buttons on her pajama top.

“Oh, I’m better than okay,” Sophia muttered, rolling her hips and pressing her damp sex against Emma’s stomach. “I haven’t felt this good in ages.”

“But, the school, w-what happened?” She gasped as a button popped free of her top and one of Sophia's hands found its way inside.

“I don’t wanna talk about it,” she growled, the tentacles on her back twitching in irritation and her nails digging into Emma’s breast just hard enough to make her hiss.

Leaning back, she smiled down at Emma. “What do you think of the new me?”

Emma stared up at Sophia. It was still clearly her, but different. Her muscles were more prominent, and her skin was covered in a layer of short fur. A pair of cat-like ears emerged from the hair on her head, and Emma could see a tail waving behind her.

With her yellow eyes and sharp teeth, it made her look dangerous, feral even, and it only served to turn Emma on more.

“I — I love it,” Emma said, gasping as Sophia gripped the front of her top and pulled.

Buttons went flying as her pajama top was torn apart. She squirmed, pushing her hips forwards as Sophia slid down her body, trapping her legs with her muscular thighs.

Whining pitifully, Emma desperately wanted to run her hands across Sophia’s body, but Sophia mercilessly kept her hands pinned above her head as she ran her tongue across the tops of Emma's breasts.

Emma gasped. Sophia's tongue was coarse like a cat’s, and the mix of pleasure and pain was almost too much. Almost, but not quite.

Sophia paused, her eyes shining with delight, before she continued. She moved down the breast, stopping occasionally to nip and suck roughly at Emma’s pale flesh, red marks trailing in her wake.

Pulling a nipple into her mouth, Sophia worried it between her teeth before biting down with just enough force to make Emma moan.

“Sophia, please! My parents!” Emma kicked her legs uselessly, rolling her hips in an effort to press their bodies together and lessen the need that was filling her sex.

“So what?” Sophia muttered, lifting her hips. “Let them hear.”

Emma gasped as Sophia slid down her body, trailing nips and kisses as she did so and finally releasing Emma’s hands.

Emma wasted no time, running her hands over Sophia’s head and tugging on her hair as Sophia’s upper arms grabbed Emma’s hips hard enough to bruise and her lower arms grabbed the hem of her pajama bottoms.

“No!” Emma hissed, realising too late what was coming. Headless, Sophia pulled, ripping her pants open and exposing her soaked underwear that she seized with her teeth.

Grabbing Sophia’s hair, Emma tried to pull her away, ignoring how Sophia growled and what that sound was doing to her.

“Please, no, it’s too much!” she gasped and, to her relief, Sophia hesitated.

She pulled the confused Sophia into her chest with trembling arms, “Your tongue, it's too rough. It’ll hurt...”

“Okay,” Sophia said, a soft smile on her face, “what about this?”

Before Emma could question, Sophia rolled her hips, and Emma felt something against her lower lips. Gasping, she looked between their bodies to see Sophia’s tail pressing against her sex.

“Do it!” Emma pulled Sophia into a searing kiss to muffle her moans as it slowly pressed its way inside, filling her up.

“That’s it, no more!” she hissed. Sophia ignored her, pushing just a little bit further and taking her just to the edge of pain before stopping.

Holding on to Emma’s hips with one set of hands, she worked her own sex with a a free hand and used her tentacles to support her weight as she started to move her tail. Rolling her hips, she pulled back then thrust forward, each one harder than the last until Emma was gripping the sheets in an effort to hold herself still.

She could feel the orgasm coming and tried desperately to hold it back, to keep going longer, but it was futile. Letting go of the sheets, she wrapped her legs around Sophia's hips and pulled their bodies tight together, her nails raking across Sophia's back as the world went white.

She heard Sophia growl as she rode out her own orgasm, biting down on Emma's shoulder hard enough to draw blood.

As her trembling limbs went slack, Emma sank into the sheets, heedless of the mess or the aches and pains that were already making themselves known.

Sophia lowered herself across Emma’s body, her warm breath brushing across her breasts. Forcing her arm to move, Emma started to gently run her fingers through Sophia's hair.

The dark-skinned girl tensed for a moment, then gradually relaxed, a deep rumbling in her chest.

“Wait until Madison finds out you purr,” Emma said with a sleepy giggle.

“You tell her,” Sophia snorted, “and we are never doing this again.”

“Spoilsport.” With a theatrical sigh, she shook her head. “Fine, I won't tell.”

Emma knew there would be problems in the morning. Sophia's new appearance wasn’t exactly something they could hide, but they would deal with that later. Right now, she just wanted to bask in this new and welcome change to their relationship, and yet, when she closed her eyes, she couldn't help but feel like something was missing.

Maybe a tall slim girl with dark hair and bright eyes, dressed in leather as she looked down at them?

Smiling at the image, Emma drifted off to sleep.

 


AN: chapter written under commission for Koalakiller on ff.net.

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Chapter Text

 

 

Succubus Diaries
5.1




The dry cloth slid over my horn, removing the last of the excess polish and leaving behind a glossy shine. Putting the cloth down, I traced a finger where the horn had been split.

Panacea had done an incredible job repairing it, and if it weren’t for the memories of pain and fire that woke me most nights, I could almost completely forget it had been broken. In fact, thanks to Panacea and my own (minor) healing factor, I didn't have a single visible mark left from the battle.

It had been nearly two weeks since Blackwell had attempted to sacrifice me, and I was trying my best to get back to some semblance of normalcy.

“Taylor, breakfast!” Speaking of normalcy, Dad’s shout brought my thoughts back to the present.

“Coming!” I called back. Capping the small tin of polish, I wiped my hands and took a quick moment to straighten the sweater I was wearing, as it was comfy, looked nice and did a good job of hiding my figure somewhat.

With my hair pulled back into a low ponytail, a new pair of jeans and my ankle boots, I looked almost like a college student, or maybe an intern. Well, that's the look I was going for, anyway.

Heading downstairs, I grabbed my school bag, dropping it at the foot of the stairs as I walked into the kitchen.

“Morning!” I chirped, spotting Dad standing at the counter and doing my best to hide the nervous fluttering in my stomach. Sitting down at the table, I quickly dug into the poached eggs he had made.

I very nearly gagged as it turned to mush on my tongue, the foul taste making my stomach turn.

Sighing, Dad sat opposite me, a steaming cup of coffee in his hands as I forced myself to continue eating.

“Is it still bad?”

“It's okay,” I lied, glancing at the cup of tea he had placed down for me. Getting up, I took it to the counter and tried to ignore his frown as I added extra sugar to the cup, far more than I would have ever had before.

“Taylor...”

“It’s getting better,” I insisted, and it was, sorta.

While it was true I didn't have any physical scars left from my ‘fight’ with that ‘lord of order’, that didn't mean there weren't some aftereffects.

Whatever it had been trying to do to me, it had felt like it was trying to burn me alive from the inside out. I couldn't smell anything, food was bland and tasteless and every touch felt like I was wrapped in a thick blanket. Thankfully, my empathy seemed unaffected.

Panacea had checked, multiple times, but there was nothing she could do to fix it. Physically, there was nothing wrong; all the nerves and signals were there and working just fine, and yet the lack of sensation continued.

Part of me feared that the monster had carved out a piece of my soul.

Mercifully, the damage didn't seem to be permanent. My senses were returning, but very slowly. I could taste things if the flavour was strong enough, and occasionally I caught a whiff of my shampoo or Dad’s aftershave.

Hopefully I would make a full recovery in time, if I could just keep myself from going insane before then.

“Taylor,” Dad said, putting his coffee down, “don’t force yourself. I’m sure Panacea will understand if you need more time to —”

“Dad, it’s fine. Really,” I huffed, cutting him off, “I want to do this, I’m going stir-crazy sitting around the house all day!”

Guilt and concern rolled off him in waves, and I sighed quietly to myself. It was so much easier to ignore his depression when I couldn't taste his emotions.

Putting my own cup down, I walked behind Dad and wrapped him in a hug.

“It wasn’t your fault,” I murmured as he tensed. “You had no way of knowing what Blackwell was doing, and I can't spend my whole life hiding indoors.”

That wasn’t hyperbole. I hadn't taken so much as a step outside since the fight.

“I know,” he said quietly, reaching up to put his hand on my arm. “When did you get so understanding?” He chuckled. “You’re too much like your mother.”

“You're just predictable.” I tapped him lightly on the back of the head. “Now come on, we need to finish eating if you really want to drop me off.”

“Yes ma’am,” he said with a chuckle.

Today was supposed to be my first day working with Panacea.

Originally, I expected it would take at least another month to get all the paperwork processed, but the closure of Winslow had apparently sped things up a bit.

The PRT had been all over the school within minutes of the ward dropping, containing the mutated students before things got too much worse. Most of them had been taken to nearby hospitals where the PRT was providing ‘treatment’ to them.

After the first week, Winslow had been declared ‘unfit for use’. Excuses ranged from damaged foundations to lingering magic, and the students, those who had either returned to normal or hadn’t been at school that day, were being divided up amongst nearby schools.

Meanwhile, the paperwork for people like me, who were applying for homeschooling or other alternative educations, had apparently been expedited.

Panacea had called almost immediately, offering me a bonus if I was willing to start work as soon as possible, and I couldn't bring myself to say no.

‘I wonder if it was a bad idea giving her my cell?’ I caught myself wondering. She had been texting me almost daily with either questions or just random silliness, and it was a little much at times.

Though I couldn't deny it felt nice to have someone to talk to who wasn’t Dad or Madison, who I was still conflicted about.

“Are you sure you don’t need a costume?” Dad asked, getting up and putting his cup in the sink.

“No, Panacea said she's got something I can use, at least for now.” Finishing the last of my breakfast, I put my plate in the sink, shifting my body into my ‘school’ look as I grabbed my bag. My re-created wands were inside, along with a notebook and some pens.

“Alright.” Nodding, he opened the front door. “Just let me know if you need anything.”

“Don’t worry, I will.”



The drive to Panacea’s clinic was quiet, with both of us lost in our own thoughts. I almost didn't notice we had arrived until I heard Dad put the parking brake on.

Shaking myself, I hopped out of the truck.

“Good luck, and remember, I'm proud of you,” Dad said, and I gave him a wave.

“Thanks, I will!” Smiling, I turned on my heel and started to make my way up the path to the entrance. To anyone watching, I was just one more person visiting the clinic, which is exactly what I wanted people to think.

Inside, I approached the reception desk, where a girl with dark hair was sitting.

“Good morning,” she chirped, almost physically radiating energy as she nearly bounced in her seat. “Can I help you?”

“Uh, hi?” She was far too chipper for this time of the day. “My name’s Taylor, I’m here for the volunteer course?”

“Oh, of course.” Picking up a phone, she tapped a key and muttered my name to whoever was on the other end. Hanging up with a nod, she pointed to a nearby elevator. “Just go to floor four, someone will meet you there, okay?”

“Right, thanks.”

Stepping into the elevator, I hit the button for the fourth floor, glancing at my reflection on the smooth metal wall. Nervously, I checked my ponytail and smoothed down my sweater. Looking at it now, maybe it was too ‘frumpy’?

‘I suppose I could take it off and tie it around my waist… but then the shirt under it is kinda revealing.’

I was so caught up in my thoughts that I nearly jumped out of my skin when the elevator stopped with a little ding.

I’d barely managed to turn around before the doors opened and I found myself staring at Panacea.

Happiness, amusement and far too much relief danced on my tongue, along with hints of exhaustion.

“H-hey!” she said with a start and a little wave.

The whole thing felt so stiff, I found myself worrying that something had happened.

“Panacea, is something wrong?”

Huffing, she pinched the bridge of her nose with a muttered ‘empaths’. Straightening up, she shook her head.

“No, everything’s fine, just me needing more sleep and sucking at being ‘professional’,” she said with a little laugh. “Normally Karen handles the new hires, but she insisted I be the one to show you around today.”

“Does she always tell you what to do?”

Laughing, Panacea turned on her heel and started walking down the hall, gesturing for me to follow.

“Oh, don’t be fooled. I own the building, sorta, but she pretty much runs the place.

“So, your first week or so will just be an orientation of sorts, get you up to speed, find out how much you know, introduce you to the others, et cetera. You probably won't start actually meeting patients until next week, and it will be a while before you're left alone with one.

“This isn’t because we don't trust you,” she said quickly, a spike of panic filling the air. “It’s an insurance issue. We’re an,” she made air quotes with her fingers, “‘officially licensed and registered health organisation’, that means we have to deal with a lot of red tape.”

“Makes sense,” I muttered with a nod. I mean, normal hospitals wouldn’t just take a random person off the street, give them a week's training, then leave them to look after patients.

“I’m glad you understand, we’ve had… hurt feelings about it in the past. Remind me to tell you more sometime. Anyway, for today the plan is to just show you the building, give you a rough overview of what you’ll be doing and introduce you to the others, okay?”

Stopping, she pushed a door open and walked inside, with me following close behind. Inside was what I assumed was a changing room. Lockers lined the left-hand wall, with cubicles on the right. A row of benches sat in the middle, and on the far wall was an open doorway.

“This is the women's changing room, men are next door,” Panacea said before waving at the doorway, “and through there are the showers. Feel free to use them whenever you want. You can also use this room to put on your costume or, if you’re feeling brave, come to work already wearing it.”

Shaking her head, she gave me an amused look. “Personally, I would suggest changing here until you’re well known enough that you’re not going to get jumped in the streets or followed home.”

“Yeah, no thanks. I’ll change here,” I said, unable to stop myself shivering. I really needed to speak to Dad about setting up wards around our house.

“So… do you want to see your costume, or would you rather have the tour first?”

“Costume first.” That way, if anything was wrong, we could change it now.

“Alright.” Panacea waved at one of the cubicles. “It’s hanging up in there.”

Her amusement and excitement was infectious, and I couldn't help but smile as I stepped into the cubicle and shut the door. Sure, it was possibly only a temporary costume, but that wasn’t the point. I finally had a chance to use my power for something, to help people.

There was a hook on the thin wooden wall with a drycleaning bag hanging from it. On the floor stood a pair of brown boots. Unzipping the bag, I found a white and red costume that was similar to Panacea’s.

Stripping down, I took the robe out of the bag, only to realise I had been mistaken. It was actually a dress and coat combination.

The main portion of the costume was the white, sleeveless pleated dress. The insides of the pleats were red, as were edges of the sleeves. There was also a pair of elbow length gloves with red trim.

Pulling on the dress, I zipped it up only to realise it didn't fit. The waist and chest were the wrong sizes. I was about to call out to Panacea when I realised it had been designed for my real appearance and not the more modest look I currently had.

Blushing to myself, I shifted my body, taking care to keep my wings and tail hidden and readjusting the dress. It was a bit tighter than I would have liked, but whatever it was made from had enough stretch that I wasn't at risk of tearing it. For now, I would see how it felt as the day went on.

The white coat was odd. It had long, loose sleeves and a large hood, all with red trim, but the hem stopped at my chest. It wasn’t a bad look, just odd.

As I was putting the coat on, Panacea slid a small box under the cubicle door.

“How's it going in there? I wasn’t sure what sort of mask you would prefer, so pick whatever you like.”

“Okay, thanks!” I called back, opening the box. Inside was a collection of masks in white and red. Everything from full-face to domino and even scarves. In the end, I picked a white mask that covered the top half of my face but left my mouth exposed.

Finally, with my hair pulled into a messy bun, I flipped the hood up and looked at myself in the mirror.

The end result did look a lot like Panacea, though I was a good bit taller than her, with a much more noticeable figure, but it was close enough to her appearance that even a quick glance would tell anyone who saw it that I was a healer.

I could work with that.

Taking my white wand from my school bag, I placed it into one of the pouches that came with my costume’s belt. I’d been forced to remake both my wands, as they had been either lost or destroyed in Winslow.

Quickly stuffing my normal clothes into my bag, I took a breath and opened the cubicle door.

“W-well, what do you think?”

Panacea started, her eyes wide. The taste of attraction was heavy on my tongue as the visible parts of her face flushed.

“Y-you look great!” she squeaked, and I blushed. I would never get used to being seen as attractive by people, but I would do my best to enjoy it.

“So,” clearing her throat, Panacea pointed to the lockers, “if you want to stash your stuff, we can start the tour?”



“As I said earlier, we're an officially licensed medical facility,” Panacea said as she led me towards the elevator. “For legal reasons, Karen is listed as both the owner and manager. She also handles the day-to-day running of things. She will be the one who sets your schedule and picks your patients. Make sense?”

“Sure, but can I ask why?”

“Minors can’t own businesses,” she said with a shrug as the doors closed. “There’s also a bunch of laws that make it hard for capes to own or run businesses, so it was just easier and quicker to have her name on the paperwork.”

“Anyway, currently we are the only ‘parahuman’ employees, though Karen is looking for more. She’ll never admit it, but she's a bit of a cape geek and has always wanted to manage a cape team.”

“Did she design our costumes?”

“Yeah,” Panacea said with a laugh. “If you don't like it, we can get a new one made?”

“No! No, it’s fine.” I said quickly. Matching costumes or themes were good for teams, after all. Stepping out of the elevator, I hesitated when everyone turned to stare at us. I’d expected it, but it was still a little daunting.

And yet, I couldn't deny that it felt good. The mix of interest and the odd spot of desire coming from the patients in the waiting room was a pleasant mix that, thankfully, wasn't as overpowering as my ‘display’ with Parian had been.

Panacea barely seemed to notice (or care about) the attention. Instead she continued forward, nodding to the girl at reception as she moved further into the building.

“We have four floors,” she said. “The ground floor has the consultation rooms, second is for recovery and long term treatment. Third is restricted to capes, and fourth is for staff. We have eight doctors and sixteen nurses on call, with a handful of volunteers that all work on shifts.”

I followed as she continued to walk, nodding in greeting to the nurses. After the third one passed us, I couldn't help but notice some similarities.

“Do you guys all have gym memberships or something?” I asked, my eyes lingering on the nurse.

“Working for me has benefits?” She chuckled at my disbelieving stare. “Okay, fine. When we first opened, we had… trouble with the gangs and I had to take steps to ensure everyone's safety…”

I knew she could do cosmetic work — it was a major part of her business, after all — but how far did that extend? Actually, now that I thought about it, if she could change a person's gender, surely improving muscle tone would be nothing by comparison.

Glancing around, I leaned forward and kept my voice low. “If the PRT investigated, how many of the nurses would be called brutes?”

Embarrassment and amusement wafted from Panacea. “Yes.”

“...what about Karen?” She was nearly seven feet tall and built, after all.

“Ah,” Panacea didn't meet my eyes, “She’s… well, she’s a unique case, I can’t really say more.”

Shaking my head, I let the subject drop. I wasn’t going to criticise her for taking the necessary steps to protect herself and her workers, after all.

“Anyway,” she said in a more normal tone, “supplies are kept on the fourth floor, I’ll show them to you later...”

The rest of the day was fairly slow. Panacea took me around the building, pointing out the different rooms and giving me a rough outline of what I would be doing.

For this week, I was just supposed to follow Panacea or a nurse around and observe. I could help, when instructed, but I wasn’t to use any magic unless specifically told to or it was an emergency.

The third floor, Panacea explained, was restricted to capes and neatly divided into two. Heroes on one side, villains on the other. Trial, error and a few fights had eventually resulted in a system that (mostly) worked.

There was a strict no-fighting rule in the building. Anyone who broke it would be handed over to the PRT unless they managed to escape; either way, they would be blacklisted and not allowed to return again.

That made sense to me, but it still seemed strange that the PRT not only went along with it, but also allowed villains to come and go.

“I mean,” Panacea had said, “it doesn’t happen often. The Empire has their own healer, and there are only two ABB capes. Mostly we just end up treating vigilantes and heroes.”

Right now, there wasn’t anyone on the third floor, so we soon found ourselves back on the fourth, with Panacea leading me into a small kitchen.

“Unfortunately,” she said, pulling a small fridge open, “there's not really enough of us here to justify a real canteen, not that we have the space for it. So, instead we made a deal with some businesses nearby. We get a selection of sandwiches and other food sent in, or if you go to them, you get a discount.”

Panacea pulled a tray from the fridge that was piled high with sealed sandwiches, wraps, plastic bowls filled with salad and other things. She placed it on the table and waved at it. “Pick what you want, I’ve got a private room where you can unmask to eat.”

I’d been passively feeding off the people around me since I arrived, but that didn't stop my stomach from audibly growling as I looked at the pile.

In the end, I picked a pulled pork sandwich and followed her to a room at the far end of the hall.

“Most of the time, if a member of staff, or an ‘unexpected visitor’,” she gave me a pointed look that made me flush with shame, “needs a place to crash, they grab a spare bed on the third floor, but this one is mine.”

Pushing the door open, she led me into a large room that had a desk with a computer against one wall and a sofa sat opposite it. There was also a door into a small ensuite.

“Take a seat.” Panacea gestured at the sofa while she dropped onto the well-padded desk chair.

Sitting down, I pushed back my hood and opened my lunch, only realising then that Panacea was staring out of the window, one of her legs bouncing nervously.

“Is something wrong? Do you need me to leave so you can eat?” I said quickly.

“Hmm? Oh! No, no it's fine. It's just… can I ask you something… personal?”

“I guess?”

Sighing, she stared at me for a minute before finally talking.

“So… After you came here that night, I tried to look up more information on succubuses? Is that the word?”

“Succubi is the plural.” I sighed. “Let me guess, you found lots of porn and maybe some horror stories?”

The visible parts of her face went red while embarrassment filled the air.

“I’m sorry, it's just… your body doesn't make any sense. When I touch people, I can see everything about them physically, and you’re supposed to be a different species to me, yet your body reads as more or less human, with the same ass backward designs that only random evolution could create and —”

“It’s okay!” Holding a hand up, I tried to stop the babble. “I can understand being curious.”

Looking at my food, I took a quick bite of my sandwich to buy myself some time. I tried not to shudder at the lack of taste while I wondered how much to tell Panacea, given how the PRT seemed to hate me on sight, and yet… did it matter what I told her?

“You’re right and wrong,” I said eventually. “Succubi are called demons, but it's closer to say we’re more like ‘enhanced humans.’”

Mom had written the story in her book, and I’d been meaning to double check it with Madison, but there never seemed to be time.

Succubi had been human once, then a minor god had come along. It liked to appear human, mostly in the form of a large man, but it took other forms.

It had started out as a pleasure demon of some sort, gradually gaining more and more power over time until it had eventually become a god. It had also become addicted to very human pleasures.

Panacea leaned forward in her chair. “So, wait, are you saying?”

“It liked to have sex, a lot. Too much, in fact. When you are an immortal and apparently indestructible being with no real physical form, your definition of sex and pleasure can get a little… loose.”

That’s apparently how it started: the god kept taking human ‘lovers’, but quickly drove them to death, insanity or both. Eventually, it decided that normal humans weren't enough. So, after carving out a piece of hell, it gathered up its favorite types of humans and pulled them into its ‘realm’.

Finishing half of my sandwich, I looked out of the window. The glass was frosted, obviously to keep people from looking in.

“When a god makes a realm, it's basically a small pocket reality where it can do… anything it wants...”

And what it wanted was to create the perfect servants. Built to give and receive pleasure, to feed on others and funnel that back to the god.

“God…” Panacea said quietly, “that's… really? I mean, didn't anyone notice?”

“It’s not like this was a week ago!” I laughed. “All this happened thousands of years ago, when entire towns could vanish overnight and everyone just accepted it.”

Knowing mom and I were effectively a slave race, created from the ground up to serve someone else, bothered me, and I’d had more than a few nightmares about it.

“So, what happened?” Panacea said eventually, “I mean, you're not a slave, right?”

Snorting, I sat back in my chair. “No, I’m fine… I don’t know when it happened, but the god’s power over his slaves weakened and he apparently didn't notice. The succubi eventually rebelled, killing the god.

“That’s where these come from.” My horns shimmered into view, and I gestured at them.

“What about all those stories I found of succubi killing or eating people?” Panacea seemed calmer now, most of the nervousness gone from her emotions.

Shrugging, I opened my bottle of water and took a sip. “Well, some of it is just hyperbole, and some is just outright lies.” I did my best to sound like a pompous old man. “I'm sorry my dear, I had to sleep with those other women, don't you understand? They were succubi, they bewitched me!”

Panacea put a hand over her mouth in an effort to stifle her giggles, and I gave her a smile.

“Some of it was probably true. Magic users would often summon succubi as spies and assassins, and succubi would happily go along with it, or try to trick their summoner into freeing them so they could… well, go off to feed as much as they liked. Most of them stopped once the god was dead and no longer controlling them, but by that point, the reputation had been made. They’ve mostly stayed in their pocket dimension ever since.”

“That’s… damn…”

“Yeah, it's pretty fucked up. Though Madison could likely tell you more details.”

“I’ll pass, thanks. She’s a little... full-on?”

“That's one way to put it.”

We slipped into a more relaxed silence. I continued to eat my lunch while Panacea tapped her knee, clearly lost in thought. Eventually, however, she seemed to come to a decision.

Taking a deep breath, she pushed back her hood and pulled her scarf down to reveal a freckled face with frizzy brown hair.

“Amelia?” I gasped and she gave me a nervous smile.

“Hi?”



AN: If you enjoyed this, please consider supporting me on Patreon: MetallixMiscellaneous

for those curious, this is taylors costume 

 

Chapter Text

Succubus Diaries
5-2



[Taylor]
I stared dumbly at Amelia, unsure what to say. I’d always known, in an abstract kinda way, that Panacea was a real person under her mask. All capes were, but I’d never really stopped to think about who she might be.

That she was Amelia, the mousy girl I’d randomly met in at the mall was almost comical.

Leaning forward, I rubbed the tip of my horn between my fingers, I opened my mouth to speak, but Amelia held a hand up to stop me.

“Before you get mad,” she said quickly, “please remember; I live in a world were masters and strangers are a thing. I’ve been nearly kidnapped four times in life, the was first when I was only six and I lost my dad. I have to be careful about who I tell, as unmasking puts not only me at risk, but my foster parents, everyone who works at this clinic, my fri-”

Fear and panic were rolling off her in waves, the taste of it sour in my mouth. Crossing the room I put my hands on her shoulders to stop her babbling.

“I’m not mad,” I said firmly in an effort to calm her down. “I’m just… surprised… It's kind of hard to imagine that the mousy girl who had spent the day flirting with me was actually Panacea.”

Amelia stared at me, her cheeks reddening. “Those jeans did look good on you,” she said, her blush deepening as her eyes widened in surprise.

My own face felt red hot, but I tried to act unaffected. “Well, at least you know how I got them on?”

We stared wordlessly at each other for a moment, Amelia’s shoulders trembling under my hands. The silence was broken when she snorted as she fought to keep a straight face and we both started giggling.

“Are, are we okay?” Amelia said between gasps once we started to calm down. “I understand if you need time.”

With a sigh and a shake of my head, I pulled Amelia into a one armed hug. Of course, given our position, I mostly ended up pressing her face into the side of my breast but I didn’t mind.

“We’re fine. I was just surprised. How did you even end up here?”

She shrugged and I eased my grip so she could pull away, her face glowing red.

“Got powers, needed to pay the bills. After that, everything just sorta happened.”

The relief pouring off her body was literally palpable to me. Letting go, I returned to my seat and picked up my lunch. “Were you really that worried about telling me?”

“I’ve… had things go badly in the past.” Grabbing her own lunch, she took a rough bite. “Friends that were… put off, or worse, started asking for nothing but favours.

“Lotta boob jobs?”

She snorted and took another bite of her lunch. “Among other things. One actually turned out to be a member of the ABB and it ended badly for both of us.”

Her mood dropped and tension filled the air. Not sure what I should do or say, we both quietly ate our lunches. I racked my brain for something, anything, to fill the silence, but ‘sorry’ didn’t feel right.

Still lost in thought, I shifted in my seat, the small belt pouch that was attached to my costume was digging into my side. As I tried to reposition it, an idea came to me.

“Hey, wanna see something cool?”

“... sure?”

Reaching into the pouch, I pulled out one of the cards I had stuffed inside.

These were an experiment of sorts, something I’d considered using before creating my wands. Each card was going to have a spell written on it, making them an easy ‘one use’ magic item. The downside was that most spells destroyed the cards after use, meaning I’d constantly be remaking them and unless every card was the same spell, I’d have to flip through the entire deck to find the one I wanted.

That made them useless in a fight, but they were a good way to test spells before putting them on my wand.

“So,” I said, turning the card between my fingers. “One of the books I read said it was possible to create moving images.” It also included an example of the spell that I’d copied and modified. “They can’t touch anything, but with the right wording, they can do this.”

Putting the card on the sofa cushion next to me, I pushed magic into the card.

The lines of the spell glowed faintly before motes of multicoloured lights started to rise from it. They grew bigger as they rose into the air, reshaping into clouds of butterflies that fluttered around the room.

Amelia stared in open wonder as they flew around, landing on the furniture or flying in circles overhead, tiny motes of light falling like dust from their wings and vanishing as it hit the ground.

“Can you control them, how long will this last?”

“A bit,” I said, making them circle Amelia’s head like a flower crown. I kinda wanted to land one on her nose, but the spell didn’t give me enough fine control for that. “The spell should end when I let go of the card.”

“Should?”

“The illusion ends when there’s no more magic, I’m just not sure if it’s-”

There was a knock on the door, making us both jump though I managed to keep my finger on the card.

“It’s me!” Karen called out. “Can I come in?”

Amelia pointed to my mask and I shrugged. Karen already knew what I looked like after all.

“Go ahead!”

The door opened and Karen stepped in, stopping as the butterflies swarmed around her, landing on her broad shoulders and making Amelia giggle.

“Well…” Karen said with a raised eyebrow and dry smile, “I’m glad you two are getting along, but unfortunately the Wards are in reception.

“What, why, is something wrong?” Amelia stood up quickly, knocking her lunch to the floor.

“No, everything seems to be fine. They have asked if you could look at a couple of old injuries but…” Karen paused, looking between Amelia and me before sighing and pressing her hand against her forehead. “I suspect the real reason is to investigate Miss Hebert.”

“Me? What did I do?”

Really?” Amelia gave me a flat, unimpressed look, but she radiated amusement and I blushed.

“That's not fair! I didn’t cause any of that!” Okay, so maybe I’d been caught up in one or two ‘disturbances’ but I only actively caused one of them and he was threatening me. “Besides, they can’t have linked it to here, I don’t even look like a demon right now.”

“She’s right,” Karen nodded with a sigh. “If anything, I suspect they are simply here to investigate the new healer. We should have expected it, to be honest. Capes that can heal are rare and highly valuable after all.”

Both of them gave me apologetic looks and I felt my face heat up as I hadn’t considered that either.

It made sense they would be curious. Panacea was one of only two well-known healers in the city, with only a handful more across the country and most of them either worked for gangs or other groups.

“We try to stop it when we can,” Karen continued, “but patients often try to take pictures of Panacea. Someone caught one of you two together earlier and posted it to social media, which is probably how the PRT found out.”

“The PRT pays that much attention to Facebook?” I looked to Amelia in surprise. I mean, you always heard about capes or other criminals getting caught because of something they posted online, but I’d only been in reception for a few minutes. “There can’t be that many posts about me already, could there?”

Amelia snorted, “They have an entire department devoted to it and you are very… noticeable,” she said with a pointed look that made me blush.

Photogenic,” Karen corrected, making no attempt to hide her grin that only widened when I tried to fold my arms across my chest.

“It’s not my fault,” I muttered, “You designed this costume.”

“Say,” Amelia said suddenly, radiating mischief as she reached out to poke one of the butterflies. “How long can you keep this illusion up?”

##

[Gallant]

“I’m sorry,” the girl at reception said, flashing him a smile, “Panacea should be with you in a moment.”

“It’s fine,” Gallant replied, leaning forward in a slight bow. His costume, a tinker-tech suit of armour, completely hid his face so he often had to use more exaggerated body language with people.

The girl giggled, her cheeks tinged pink.

“Better take it easy there,” Clockblocker said, tapping an elbow against his ribs. “Wouldn't want Glory Girl getting jealous. Seriously, they can’t even see you, why do you get all the attention?”

“At least I’m not drooling at the nurses,” Gallant shot back, his voice quiet so as not to be heard by anyone but Clock.

He very pointedly did not roll his eyes at his teammate. Sure, Victoria could be a bit excitable, but she wasn’t going to kill him just for talking to a girl. She’d gotten past that long ago.

“Oh come on,” Clockblocker whined just as quietly, “can you blame me?”

“Pig,” Vista, the smallest of the three muttered before looking at Gallant, radiating feelings of admiration and attraction that he tried to ignore. “It’s because he actually treats them with respect.”

“More like fear-”

“Like you would know-”

Sighing to himself, Gallant blocked out their bickering with well-practiced ease. For all his faults, Clock wasn’t entirely wrong. The nurses here were oddly similar in appearance. It wasn’t obvious until you actually paid attention.

They were all young, PRT intel put most of them between twenty and thirty years old, female, physically attractive and stronger than they looked. Intel suspected Panacea had been enhancing them but nothing had yet been proven. Not that it was a crime if she was.

He was still thinking about the various reports as Triumph walked into the building, nodding in greeting to people as he passed.

Gallant squinted, looking carefully for the slight changes in build that signified which gender he currently was.

It was, he considered, an impressive bit of tailoring. Designing a costume that contained hidden support and compression to make the wearer look the same regardless of actual body shape.

“Any luck?” Triumph asked as he drew level to Gallant.

“Not yet, they were on lun-”

He was cut off by the ding of the elevator, the doors opening to unleash a swarm of glowing butterflies that swept through the room.

##

[Taylor]

Sending the butterflies out ahead, Panacea and I stepped out of the elevator. I kept the butterflies high near the ceiling, occasionally letting them dip down to fly around Panacea or me as we walked.

Panaceas emotions were a mix of joy, amusement and giddiness, the taste rich and sweet on my tongue and making me smile.

In the middle of the waiting room, the Wards had pulled close together, watching the illusion with a mix of confusion and a little bit of fear. The only exception was Triumph, who stepped forward unconcerned and held out his hand.

“Ah, Panacea, it’s good to see you again.” He was tall and muscular under his costume and his voice a pleasant tenner and yet there was something off about him. It wasn’t bad per-se, just odd.

I tried to keep my expression friendly, Dad had told me Triumph was cursed, was that was I was feeling?

“I assume these are your doing?” He said, glancing over his shoulder as Vista gently reached out for the butterflies.

I smiled, “Just a little illusion to break the ice.” And to keep you from looking too closely at me.

Triumph could use magic, I had no way of knowing if his costume had the same damn enchantments as Dauntless or if he would recognise me. If I’d known he was down here, I’d have stayed upstairs no matter the consequences.

“It’s impressive, I can’t even tell how you're controlling them. Have you been practicing long?”

The card was held tightly in my hand, hidden by my long sleeves which also kept anyone knowing how sweaty my palms were. “A while.”

Behind him, the rest of the Wards were starting to relax. Vista was clearly distracted by the butterflies, though she gave me the occasional glance. Gallant, standing proud in his suit of armour, was staring directly at me, and radiating nothing but slight confusion.

The last Ward, however… Ugh.

“Sorry,” Triumph said, waving to the Wards. “Allow me to introduce Gallant, Vista and -”

Clockblocker stepped forward, cutting Triumph off and holding his hand out.

“I’m Clockblocker, love the butterflies by the way.” He made an effort to wave at them and I took his hand gamely.

Squeezing his hand tightly, I leaned forward with the friendliest smile I could. “Why thank you, but the butterflies are above me.”

Behind him, Vista sniggered as a mix of shame and embarrassment poured off Clockblocker, making me feel kind of bad. On one hand, he had obviously been staring at me, on the other, part of me did enjoy the attention.

“No harm done.” I said, giving his hand a more gentle squeeze and a genuine smile. Letting him go, I stepped back behind Panacea, who gave me a dry look.

“How can we help the Wards today?” she said.

“Well…” Triumph hesitated, suddenly nervous as he shared a quick look with the Wards.

I bit my lip to stop myself from smiling. Seriously? This was supposed to be a subtle attempt to investigate me? Didn’t they even stop to think up an excuse before arriving?

Just as the silence was starting to stretch on, Vista stepped forward with a sigh.

“I’ve been thinking about that thing we spoke about?” she said, each word almost sounding like it was pulling teeth. “I’d like to take you up on the offer, if I can?”

Panacea stared at her before shaking her head. “Of course,” she said quietly. “Do you want to do it now?”

Moving slightly to the side, she gestured for Vista to go ahead of her while she focused on me.

“Are you going to be okay on your own?”

I waved her off, with a smile, hoping I sounded more confident than I felt. “I’ll be fine.”

If nothing else, nobody seemed inclined to attack me and Vista was at least telling the truth about whatever was bothering her. This place was neutral ground, and that seemed to count for something. Not many wanted to get on Panacea’s blacklist.

As Panacea and Vista left, Karen took a seat behind the reception desk. She didn’t say anything, but having her there did make me feel better.

“So,” Triumph said, standing next to me and trying to sound nonchalant. “Have you been in the city long?”

The stupidity of the question caught me off guard and I snorted in my attempt not to laugh.

“Seriously?” I looked at him over the rims of the glasses I was no longer wearing. “You're not very good at this, are you?”

He held his hands up with a smile. “I’m sorry, but my boss will skin me alive if I don't at least ask.”

“He’s not exaggerating,” Clockblocker said. “Not by much anyway.”

“Alright, fine. I guess I can answer a few questions.”

“Have you been in the city long?”

“All my life,” I could do this, it was just an act, just like that day with Parian.

“How long have you been practising magic?”

“Long enough.”

“Okay, you don’t have to answer this, but can I ask who your teacher was?”

“You can.” Okay, I was pushing my luck, but I was enjoying this too much to stop.

“Did you ever consider joining the wards? The PRT accepts magic users as parahumans after all.”

The ‘no’ died on my tongue. I had considered it once. When I was a kid, running around with my bath towel cape, pretending to be Alexandria. But then Emma turned on me and my dreams of doing anything but surviving another day at school kinda died. Then a member of the Protectorate tried to kill me.

“I did once, but it’s not for me, sorry. I just don’t like how the Protectorate conducts business.”

Triumph opened his mouth to reply, but Panacea and Vista came through the door. Vista was smiling broadly and I didn’t need my empathy to see she was happy about something.

“All good?” I asked as they came close.

“All good,” Panacea said with a nod. “If that's everything, I’m afraid we need to be getting on with our day.”

“Yeah, you still need to show me around the storerooms.”

Triumph looked between us, his shoulders slumping in defeat.

“Alright, but before we go, can I ask one more question, alone?” he gave me a pointed look, desperation rolling off him in waves so strong that it made me feel sick.

“I’m sorry, but… my apprentice isn’t yet clear to treat patien-” Panacea started, but I put my hand on her shoulder.

“It’s okay, I think I know what he’s going to ask.” I nodded to the far corner, “We’ll just be over there, no healing, I promise.”

She gave me a suspicious look, nodded her acceptance.

Leading Triumph away from the others, I forced myself not to play with the sleeve of my costume.

“You know about the curse?” He said quietly.

“I suspected… something about you felt… odd.”

“I don’t suppose you could...?” his voice trailed off as his body shifted. I doubted anyone would even notice unless they were close enough to really look, but there was a bit more ‘padding’ to his chest and he’d lost a slight bit of height.

“Damn it!” she hissed and I put a hand on her shoulder in an effort to offer some sort of comfort.

“I’m sorry,” I said, “but I’m new at healing and a curse like yours… honestly, I don't think its something I want to mess around with, not yet. Maybe… if you can give me time I might be able to find something, but it won't be fast…”

The book I had on curses was pretty basic, mostly detecting and removing simple stuff. Maybe Dad’s friend, John, would be able to find me a more advanced one?

“It’s alright,” she said with a weak smile, “I had to ask.”

“I’ll look into it,” I promised, “if I find anything, I’ll get in touch.”

“Thanks… Oh! Before I forget.” Glancing over her shoulder to double-check on the others, Triumph leaned closer, “Are you aware of the incident at Winslow high?”

“Only what I’ve seen on the news,” I quickly racked my brains, trying to remember what the news had said about it. “A teacher tried to sacrifice the students?”

“Yes but…” her voice dropped even lower and I had to strain to hear. “What's not in the news is that there were Succubi in the school. We think they were hurt in the fighting…”

I stayed silent, I couldn't talk even if I wanted, my heart was in my mouth and I was trying not to throw up.

“We don’t know where they are, but we're warning every magic-user we can. If you see them and it’s safe to do so, can you pass on a message?”

“I… can try?”

“Let them know that the PRT wants to talk. That's all, we need to know what happened in that school and they are the only witnesses.”

I stared at her, looking closely for any sign of deception, that this was a trick. Instead, all I saw was honest concern. Triumph genuinely didn’t know who she was talking with and her warning was sincere.

“I’ll… do what I can.”

Her smile as she returned to the others looked a bit more hopeful and with a final round of good-byes, they started to leave, only for Clockblocker to stop them all at the door.

“Oh! We almost forgot! Do you have a name yet?”

Triumph looked to Gallant who nodded and stepped back towards us. I had to wonder if that was how Triumph kept his curse secret, letting the others talk for her when she couldn’t.

“He’s right,” Gallant said, “it doesn't have to be permanent, just something we can put on the reports?”

“Respite,” I said, throwing out the first thing that came to mind. “Just, call me Respite for now.”



AN:
Beta: Fedorable, WhoAmEye, Angel. (Me, Myself, and Eye). SHOUTOUT TO TAYTAY’S PHENOMENAL ABS!

Chapter Text

Succubus Diaries
5-3




“Then, once they submit the form, it takes up to thirty days for payment to process. Make sense?” the nurse, Nadia, said with a bob of her head.

“Yeah, I think so…” I muttered, flipping through the forms on my clipboard. She’d been explaining how the clinic charged treatments to health insurance companies, or at least the ones that would pay for parahuman healing.

It all seemed a bit of a mess to me. Thankfully, working here meant I had full healthcare for me and up to five members of my family. I wondered if godparents counted.

“Don’t worry.” She laughed. “Most of it is handled by accounts. We just have to fill out the patient name and whatever medications and treatments they were given.”

It had been two weeks since I’d started working at the clinic, and while I still wasn’t allowed to work with patients, I was slowly building a routine.

I spent most mornings at home doing whatever class or homework was required. My afternoons were spent working on my magic, reading the various books Dad had found me on healing magic, and trying to build as many spells as I could.

I spent two days of the week at the clinic. So far, I’d just been following the nurses or Panacea around as they taught me where everything was, what forms I needed to fill out, and other day-to-day tasks.

Nadia was the one I was assigned to shadow most of the time. She was one of the younger nurses, and between her small stature, dark hair cut into a cute bob style, and abundance of energy, you would never have known she was in her twenties and not a teen.

“Oh!” Nadia spun around to face me, walking backwards down the corridor. “That reminds me, don’t you have a training course coming up soon?”

“Yeah, next weekend.” It was a course on basic first aid that Karen had insisted I take as soon as possible. She said it only took a few hours and was a useful certification to have.

“Well, she’s not wrong,” Nadia said, turning back around in time to avoid crashing into a door, as if reading my thoughts. “Even the cleaners have it. Y’know, just in case. Honestly, our job would be so much easier if more people knew just a little first aid. I wonder if we could get it taught in schools?”

“Some of them do, I think.” Winslow certainly hadn’t, and I had to wonder if that was Blackwell intentionally trying to sabotage things, or the school genuinely not being able to.

Stopping, Nadia frowned at me.

“Are you okay? You seem a bit distracted.”

“Hmm?” Looking up from the clipboard I was carrying, I felt my cheeks flush. “No, sorry, it’s fine! I was just trying to work this out.”

I held the clipboard out for her to see. Panacea had asked me to ready some stuff for a cosmetic procedure she was doing later today, which meant mixing up more of that nutrient drink I’d been given after my run-in with the vampire.

It was much more than a milkshake, with extra protein, calcium, and other things the body needed.

When it came to cosmetic work, if the patient lacked enough mass, she would have them drink enough of it ahead of time to make up the difference, but she’d asked for nearly four litres of it for a single patient.

“The procedure number means it's a breast enlargement, right?” For patient privacy and speed, the most common procedures were assigned ID numbers. It made the paperwork much easier, but it also meant I was still trying to memorise most of them.

“But wouldn't that much mass make them… huge?”

As my blush deepened, Nadia laughed.

“It’s our most requested procedure, and not all of us are as… blessed as you,” she said with a pointed look. “So it depends on the starting point, but no, it’s not as much as you think. I don’t get it fully, but it’s not a one to one conversion, some mass is lost and Panacea may not even use it all. It’s just better to have too much than not enough. Besides,” she said with a swing of her hips, “sometimes some people like to balance the mass out across their whole body.”

“Oh…”

Stepping next to me, Nadia grew taller and put an arm around my shoulders. “Don’t worry, I made the same mistake when I first started. Though, between you and me, we used to get an actress in here every other month, she would pay a fortune to have her looks changed to match whatever role she was chasing. In the end, we had to blacklist her when her requests started to get… weird.”

“Define ‘weird’.” I gave her a disbelieving look. “’Cause I’m pretty sure your definition —”

Both of us stopped at the sound of glass breaking coming from the storeroom ahead of us, its door propped open, which was against the clinic rules.

Making a shushing gesture, Nadia snuck forward, her body shrinking until she was barely a few inches tall, her power letting her fly silently through the air, and I did my best to follow along without making a sound.

This close, we could hear someone shuffling about inside the storeroom, almost constantly muttering to themselves.

“Merchant,” Nadia whispered from near my ear. “You up for this?”

Not wanting to risk making a noise, I nodded. Compared to vampires, mutated students, and godlike creatures, a junkie didn't really scare me.

“Okay, count to twenty, then open the door,” she hissed before flying through the small gap between the door and the frame.

Taking a breath, the moment I hit twenty I pushed the door hard, slamming it against the wall and making the man inside jump.

He wasn’t much to look at in his dirty and unkempt clothes. His skin was shiny with sweat and his dark eyes sunken. In all honesty, he looked like one strong breeze would knock him over.

His emotions were a mess, swirling and spiking in a way I’d never experienced before, and he stared at me in open shock.

“Don’t move,” I warned, almost growling.

Hands twitching, he looked over his shoulder at the solid wall behind him, as if he honestly thought he could escape through it, when Nadia suddenly appeared between him and the wall, growing to her full height so quickly it almost looked like she’d teleported.

She reached for the Merchant, but he was already moving, spooked by her sudden appearance and sprinting for me.

“Respite!”

I barely heard her shouted warning as I stepped back into the hallway. Reaching out, I grabbed the man by his shirt and lifted him off his feet, slamming him into the wall to knock the wind out of him.

He went limp immediately, and I let him fall to the floor.

“Well… that was easy,” I muttered. The Merchant stayed down, groaning slightly as he caught his breath. His emotions were still spiking, and there was a faint smell of magic in the air.

“I’m so sorry!” Nadia said, rushing out into the hallway. She had a small plastic fob in her hand, her thumb pressing the panic button to summon the others. “I didn't think he’d be that fast, are you okay?”

I wanted to laugh but decided not to. Her concern was genuine, and I didn’t want her to think I was ungrateful.

“I’m fine, really. It’ll take more than —” I knew, right then, that I’d fucked up. I’d only looked away from the Merchant for a moment, but that had been enough for him, and I turned back to see he’d rolled over and was downing a blue liquid from a small glass tube.

The faint smell of magic that had clung to him surged violently, and he shot to his feet like he’d been fired from a cannon.

Without thinking, I shoved Nadia back into the store room, bringing my free arm up to shield my face as the Merchant opened his mouth and a jet of fire burst forth.

The flames hit like a punch to the gut, even as the fire licked at my clothes. Pulling my black wand from my pouch, I poured magic into it and fired off a spell of my own.

The Merchant took the spell to his chest, the force of it sending him flying down the corridor as security came running, but he was already out cold before he hit the floor.

Coughing, I patted my costume, thankful that whatever it was made from was apparently fire resistant.

“Nadia, are you okay?”

“Me!?” she shrieked, emerging from the store room and rushing to check on me. “What about you!?”

“I’m fine, I’m pretty resistant to fire.” Even if dad and I hadn't added some protective enchantments to my cape costume, I was still a demon. It would take hotter fire than that to hurt me.

Checking again that I wasn’t still on fire, I looked up in time to see the other nurses emptying the Merchant’s pockets. One of them was holding a small glass vial filled with blue liquid. She turned it over in her hands a few times before giving the top an experimental pull.

“Wait!” She nearly jumped out of her skin at my shout, and I quickly took the vial from her.

“Trust me, you don’t want to open that.”

“You know what it is?” Nadia asked, looking over my shoulder.

“I’ve got a couple of ideas,” I murmured, holding it up to the light. The liquid sparkled like glitter, the smell of magic unmistakable. Dad had said crystallised magic was a thing; was that what this was?

“I’ve got a better question,” Karen growled from behind me, making me jump. For such a big woman, she was scarly quiet.

“How did he even get in here to begin with, and why was that door even open?”

The nurses were a sea of guilty faces, and I quickly spun around to face Karen, pocketing the vial at the same time.

She loomed over all of us, her eyes flashing angrily.

“Respite,” she said with a calm so forced it was almost painful, “go see Panacea so she can make sure you're okay. Then I want you to take the rest of the day off. The rest of you, check the building for anything out of place. Understood?”

Not wanting to push my luck, I nodded silently and scurried off.

##


After a quick checkup, Panacea sent me home, but I wanted to make a quick detour first, which was why I was getting off the bus near John’s cafe.

She had been annoyed about what happened, though not with me specifically.

The Merchants were a minor gang in the city. They didn't really hold territory like Empire Eighty-Eight or the ABB, and they had no real unified beliefs. Instead they tended to hang out in the areas no one else wanted, slinking away when the police or other gangs got fed up with them. They mostly focused on buying and selling drugs and likely would have been pushed out of the city years ago if not for the few capes they possessed.

Sneaking into hospitals or pharmacies to steal medicines or drugs was a common tactic of theirs, especially when they got desperate.

That's why the storerooms in the clinic were supposed to be kept closed and locked at all times and all the nurses had key fobs that gave them access. I didn’t have one yet, as I was technically on probation.

Still, I would let Karen and Panacea focus on the how. I was much more concerned with the glass vial.

Dad had mentioned crystal magic once. He’d told me it was dangerous and addictive, but I needed more information, and I suspected I’d be more likely to get it from John.

The bell above the door rang as I pushed the door open, and John looked up with a smile.

“Ah, look who it is. What can I get you?”

Looking around, I suddenly felt nervous, like I was doing something wrong.

Pushing the feeling aside, I forced myself to keep walking.

“Just a tea please… also, can I ask you some questions? About magic?”

“I don’t see why not,” he said with a shrug. He pointed to a booth. “Take a seat, I’ll bring your tea over in a minute.”

I’d barely sat down when John walked over, a steaming cup of tea in his hands. Placing it on the table, he sat down opposite me. “So, what’s all this about? I’m not sure how much I can help. I wasn’t much good with magic myself.”

“I know, but I was hoping you could tell me about this?” Carefully, I placed the vial on the counter.

Paling, John jerked back in his seat, eyeing the vial like he expected it to jump up and bite.

“Jesus, please tell me that's not yours. Your old man will do his nut if he sees you with that!”

“It’s not mine!” I held my hands up in an effort to calm him down, and I explained about the clinic and the Merchant.

As I spoke, John picked up the vial, slowly turning it over in his hands.

“Well,” he said eventually. “You’re not wrong, it is crystal magic, pretty pure as well I think. Whoever had this… well, he’s lucky it didn't kill him. Okay, here’s what I can tell you —”

The explanation was pretty straightforward. Crystallised magic took a lot of time and effort to make, and while the high from it was incredible, it wasn’t enough to justify its cost.

“If you want to melt your brain and have conversations with the furniture, there are cheaper ways to do it,” John had said.

The real value, apparently, was that people with no magical ability could use it to boost their power for short periods, letting them cast a couple of weak spells or one really strong one. The effect tended to work better on those who already had magical abilities

“So what would happen if I drank it?” I had no intention of actually drinking it — I’d never seen the interest in drugs — I was just curious.

John gave me a long look, then tapped the vial, his voice perfectly calm. “Ever seen a roman candle? Though I’m sure in the brief moment before you died, you’d feel invincible. Then you’d go off like a bomb, only with more screaming, and if you survived, well… the way I hear it, you were at that school when that teacher tore a hole in reality. You’d likely end up like some of those students.”

Gripping my tea with trembling hands, I tried not to think about how everyone's bodies had been torn and twisted and I really didn't want to think about that happening to me.

“Just from that little vial?”

“Aye, but that's the thing with drugs, purity and quantity makes all the difference. You're more sensitive than a human to this stuff and would only need a small amount to get high, while someone like me would need a stronger dose.”

Sighing, he pocketed the vial. “I’ll get rid of this for you, but why don’t you tell me what you're planning?”

“I… don’t know… I guess I just wanted to know more about it… now that I do… I don’t… where would a Merchant even get it?”

“Don’t go borrowing trouble.”

“I won’t, it's just…” That Merchant had broken into the clinic. He’d tried to set me on fire. What if that had been one of the other nurses, or a patient? The thought made me feel sick.

“You’re too much like your Da, y’know,” John said with a chuckle. “Speaking of, did your old man finally get you a mobile? Tell you what, leave your number with me and I’ll ask around. I’ve still got some friends in places best left alone. If they find anything I’ll pass it along. In return, I want you to promise you won't go running into trouble without a plan?”

“Shouldn’t you be telling me to stay out of trouble?”

“I’m not your father.” He scoffed. “We both know you’re not gonna leave this alone. So just promise me you’ll be smart about this. You don't wanna end up an old cripple like me. Oh, and never tell Danny-boy I helped you. He’d skin me alive for this.”

“Okay.” I held out a hand. “Deal.”



AN: chapter written under commission for Koalakiller on ff.net.

If you enjoy my content, please consider supporting me on Patreon

Beta by: Phoenix0995 and WhoAmEye/Fedorable

Chapter Text

 

Succubus Diaries
5-4



“You’re kidding,” one of the nurses gasped as Panacea and I removed our costumes. We were in the clinic changing room after another day of work, and Panacea was sharing some of her highlights. Nurses, as it turned out, were terrible gossips who loved a good dirty story.

“No,” Amelia laughed, “he really wanted a dick that was roughly the length and width of a two litre bottle.”

I kept my back turned as they laughed, hoping no one would notice my rosy cheeks.

“Could a woman? I mean...” Just the thought of trying to fit something that big inside me sent twinges of pain up and down my legs, and I was a shapeshifter.

The nurse, Julie, I think, snorted. “No, and even if she could, could he even get it up?”

I looked over my shoulder to see Amelia shake her head. “No, not enough blood in his body, and even if he did, he’d likely pass out in the attempt.”

“Why would he even want it to be that big?”

“He probably thought it would make him smarter,” Julie shot back with a laugh.

Shaking my head, I shrugged my robe off and quickly pulled a shirt on over my sports bra. I’d learned quickly that none of the nurses really cared too much about nudity, as they saw enough of it during the day.

“So, did he go ahead with it in the end?” Julie asked as I slipped my sneakers on.

“Well, sort of. I managed to talk him down to something more… biologically feasible.”

“Pity, I would have been tempted to give it a go. Oh well, I’ll see you tomorrow!”

I called back a goodbye as Julie left, but I was distracted by my phone buzzing.

[John: Sorry Love. I’ve asked around but nothing surfaced yet.]

Looking again at the message, I resisted the urge to sigh. When John had offered to help me find the source of the crystallized magic, I thought he’d be able to find out in a couple of hours, but it had been nearly two days with nothing to show for it.

Unless, of course, he was only humouring me, but I doubted that, as he’d been nothing but honest when he made the offer. The joy of being an empath.

But seriously, how hard was it to find a Merchant selling an extremely rare drug? Maybe I should find out? Humming to myself, I tucked the last part of my costume into my locker.

“You okay?” Amelia asked, slipping off her own robe.

“Yeah.” Closing my locker, I turned around and leaned against the door. “Just thinking about that Merchant who broke into the storeroom.”

Amelia gave me a long look. “If you want to go running off to play hero in your spare time, I’m not going to stop you. But you can’t do it in your healing uniform. As healers, we need to be impartial, our business depends on it.”

“Is that why Nadia doesn't go out?” The nurse was the only cape that the clinic employed, with the power to change her size freely, but there were no mentions of a cape like that on PHO.

“No,” she laughed, “she doesn’t go out because she doesn't like the whole ‘cape’ thing. She wants to be a nurse, and while we’re not really a hospital, working here protects her against forced recruitment by a gang or the PRT.”

“The PRT really does that?”

“Kinda.” Amelia waved her hand in a see-saw fashion. “Minor villains or vigilantes that have gone too far are sometimes given the chance to join as an alternative to prison. A lot of the time, though, they just make vague threats about ‘life expectancy of solo capes’ and warnings about retaliation. They prefer to focus on the money and other bonuses for signing up.”

“So, pick the carrot, or get the stick?”

“Pretty much.” Pulling her hair back into a loose ponytail, she worried her bottom lip for a moment, her emotions sliding from amusement to a mix of caution and embarrassment as she took a deep breath.

“So,” she said with forced calm, “I was wondering if you wanted to hang out on Saturday? Maybe get some lunch or a movie?”

Her face was glowing by the time she finished, the taste of her attraction and embarrassment thick on my tongue.

“I — like, a date?” My face was burning as I struggled to find the words. I knew she found me attractive, it was hard not to when I could taste her emotions, but I’d never expected her to actually ask me out. At Winslow, I had more or less resigned myself to the fact that I wasn’t much to look at and that no one would seriously want to date me outside of Greg.

“It doesn’t have to be!” Amelia said quickly, holding her hands up. “I mean, not if you don’t want, we could just —”

Stepping forward, I took her hand in mine to calm her down. Outside of her costume, Amelia was short, with frizzy hair and freckles that I found cute, and that day we had spent together at the mall had been fun.

“No I, I’d like that.” The words tumbled from my mouth, and for a moment I worried that I’d made no sense, but then she broke into a goofy smile.

“Really?! That’s great, I mean, don’t feel like you have to, I understand if you’re not —”

“No, I really do, I just didn’t —”

Both of us stopped and stared at each other. I went to say something, but so did Amelia, and we ended up stopping again. Just as the sudden tension in the air was bordering on unbearable, Amelia laughed.

“Oh god, we’re both useless, aren’t we?” Burying her face in her hands, Amelia couldn't hold back her laughter, and I quickly joined her, the tension between us quickly dissipating.

“I word good,” I grunted between laughs, making Amelia laugh harder.

“So,” she said once she had calmed down enough. “Saturday?”

“Saturday,” I agreed, and on impulse, I let my body return to its natural state, horns and all. Amelia stared in surprise, but I could taste her arousal. Leaning forward, I gave her a quick kiss on the cheek, then turned and fled out of the room, taking the form of a nondescript woman as I left.

Unfortunately, I couldn't hide my blush as easily and had to ignore the pointed looks from the nurses as I walked out of the building.

##


I was practically bouncing as I walked down the streets, I had a date! Even better, it was with someone who knew what I really looked like. Sure, it wasn’t like I planned to walk down the streets with my horns, wings and tail visible, but the idea of constantly having to hide my appearance was starting to grate on my nerves.

Stopping at a small cafe, I grabbed a cup of tea to calm myself down, but I didn’t think anything would stop me from smiling.

I’d have to text Amelia later, see what time she wanted to meet up. I wasn’t even sure what movies were showing at the moment, so I’d have to check and then — my thoughts came to stop with a nearly audible screech.

What was I supposed to wear? I didn’t have anything but jeans and hoodies, I was still in the process of replacing all the clothes I’d ‘outgrown’. Maybe something of Mom’s, or would that be too old-fashioned?

Fuck, I needed to go shopping, but I wasn’t sure what would look good on me. Maybe I could pop back to the clinic and ask Nadia? She was older than me, maybe she would have a good idea?

Stopping in the street, tea in one hand, phone in the other, I realised there was one other person I could ask. The thought made me cringe, but she was not only my age, but much better at fashion than me.

Slowly, I typed out a message, hating myself for even considering this.

Taylor: Hey, I need a favour.
Madison: Sr, wts up?

I groaned at the mangled English, the sight of it making my hands twitch.

Taylor: I have a date this weekend, but i’m not sure what to wear.
Madison: oOOOoo, yre little Dr?
Taylor: Yes.
Madison: Well that mks it esy. A string bikini :p

Growling in frustration, I shoved my phone into my pocket and kept walking. What did I expect that over-sexed idiot to suggest? I’d only gone a few meters when my phone buzzed several times in quick succession.

Madison: R u blushing? Bt u R :D
Madison: ?
Madison: Hello?
Madison: I ws jking
Madison: Seriously though im happy for you. Do you need to go shopping?

Stopping, I glared at her messages; that she had switched to full words was not lost on me.

Taylor: Yeah. I’ve outgrown all my nice clothes.
Madison: Grt, tomorrow nite k? Mt at 5?
Taylor: Okay. I’ll see you then.

Sighing, I put my phone away. I hadn’t forgiven Madison for the things she had done, but after everything that had happened to her, was she even still Madison? I shivered as I tried to picture it. Having two completely different sets of memories and a body that didn’t match either. It must be maddening for her.

Finishing my drink, I pushed my feelings aside — I had a date! — and quickly checked the time. I had maybe an hour or so before Dad started to wonder where I was, and I had a vague idea where the Merchants hung out.

Walking into an alley, I made sure no one was around before ducking behind a dumpster to change into my real appearance. Stepping out from behind it, I took a moment to stretch my wings. It felt like months since I’d last been able to use them.

Not that I really had much choice, what with my fight with Dauntless and then Blackwell. I’d tried to avoid going ‘full demon’ in an effort to go unnoticed.

Unfortunately, I’d already tried once to fly with my horns and tail hidden. I’d ended up crashing into a neighbor’s tree. While I didn’t need to flap my wings to fly, I did apparently need my other features for balance and control.

Guess I’d have to rely on my necklace and the fading light to avoid trouble.

Spreading my wings, I jumped into the air, Mom’s long coat flapping in the wind as I rose. Clearing the nearest rooftop, I turned towards the old trainyard. It was close to the docks and pretty much abandoned by the city. I’d often heard dad complaining about the druggies in the area, so I figured I could start my search there.

The trainyard was one of those places that no one wanted. While the docks were technically still operational, the trainyard had shut down when I was really young. The buildings and rails were still there, but beyond that the area was abandoned.

With no business and very few people nearby, the gangs never bothered to claim it. This made it the perfect place for the Merchants to hide out.

Every now and then, the Mayor would talk about reclaiming and reinvesting in the area, and the police or the other gangs would move in and force the Merchants out, but eventually they would worm their way back in.

Landing on a rooftop, I closed my eyes and tried to reach out with my empathy in an effort to ‘sense’ what was around me. I wasn’t sure why it manifested as a sense of taste, but I assumed it was related to my nature as a demon.

Unfortunately, this limited its usefulness as a tracking tool, and I quickly gave up on the idea.

‘Guess I’m doing it the hard way…’ Huffing to myself, I moved to the other side of the building, jogging to get some speed up, and jumped to the next building. I had excellent hearing and night vision; I’d just have to look out for anyone who looked suspicious.

##


After nearly twenty minutes of searching, I was starting to feel lied to.

Everyone always said how dangerous Brockton Bay was, that there was always a crime happening somewhere and that the areas around the docks were the worst, but so far I’d found nothing beyond a car backfiring.

Huffing, I sat on an air conditioning unit that was mounted on the roof of a building.

What had I expected? Drug dealers hanging out on street corners, big neon signs with things like ‘Drugs, drugs, drugs!’ and ‘all night high!’ written on them? God, I’m an idiot.

I needed information, or at the very least a starting point, and I didn’t have much time to find it. What was more, I realised as I glanced down at myself, I couldn’t do it looking like this.

A succubus going around demanding to know where the Merchants were hiding? No way that wouldn’t get back to the PRT.

Standing up and hiding my wings, tail and horns, I turned my clothes into a copy of my Respite uniform — no, wait, Amelia had said not to use this costume for ‘heroics’.

With a thought, I changed the colours, turning the white parts of my costume black and the red into gold. It wasn’t perfect, but it would do until I could come up with something better.

Pacing across the rooftop, not really watching where I was going, I considered my next move. If I didn’t find something soon, I would have to give up and hope John came through.

My thoughts were interrupted by a shadow flying overhead.

My heart stopped in terror as I looked up, expecting at any moment to be blasted by Dauntless. Instead, it was a girl in a white dress. She was hovering over the city, her back to me as her head moved, obviously looking for something.

I knew who she was, of course. Glory Girl of the Brockton Bay Brigade, a family of capes that patrolled the southern part of the city. They weren’t major celebrities or anything, but they were well-known enough that I’d seen them on the news occasionally.

My dark clothes had to be the only reason she hadn’t seen me when she flew overhead.

This could be useful! I’d barely had time to consider calling out to her for help before she went into a dive, vanishing beneath the rooftops. I could hear a car engine revving and the sound of metal breaking in the distance.

Without thinking, I ran forward, hopping across the rooftops until I saw her again. She was in an alley, holding a man in the air with one hand while her foot was pressed against the ruined front end of a car.

“Don’t give me that shit!” she shouted, lifting the guy higher. “Where did this come from?”

I couldn't see what she was talking about, but this was probably the best chance I would get to find a lead.

Moving quickly, I jumped off the roof so I landed around the corner from Glory Girl when I heard the first gunshot.

As I sprinted around the corner, I saw a man hiding behind the ruined car taking potshots at Glory Girl. He must have been in the passenger seat or something and she hadn’t noticed until he started shooting.

He didn’t seem to care that his friend was still in Glory Girl’s hand, and she was too busy shielding her captive to fight back.

Grabbing my wand, I fired a simple sleep spell at the gunman, and he slumped bonelessly to the ground.

“I had that handled!” Glory Girl shouted, giving her ‘hostage’ a quick shake as he tried to kick her. A wave of something passed over me, almost like an echo of emotion, but it vanished so quickly I barely felt it.

Her blue eyes narrowed at me from behind her white domino mask. She was radiating caution and barely-restrained anger, so I approached them slowly, sliding my wand into my pocket. “You better be a hero, cause I’m in no mood to deal with a villain right now.”

“I’m a hero,” I said quickly, holding my empty hands up. “My name is Respite. I saw the fight and wanted to help…”

Almost casually, Glory Girl dropped the man she was holding, then pinned him to the floor with her foot. Now that I was closer, I could see the vial of glittery blue liquid in her left hand.

“Well… thanks… Aren’t you the one who works with Panacea?”

“You’ve heard of me?” I didn’t squeak, and I dare anyone to say otherwise.

“Of course. Word gets around. The Wards said you were a healer; why are you out here?”

“I’m looking for that, actually.” I pointed to the vial she was holding. “A Merchant downed some, then he tried to set me on fire, so I was trying to see where it came from. Where did you find it?”

“Guy at school had it.” Her anger spiked again, but there was something else mixed in with it... guilt or shame, maybe; it was hard to tell. “He beat the shit outta someone and then went into a coma.”

I hadn’t heard about that, but that didn’t mean much. I was too busy at work to really keep up with the news, and there would be no reason for him to be brought to the clinic, as Panacea couldn’t fix brain damage.

“Of course,” Glory Girl ground out, “this asshole won’t tell me where he got it!”

“Go to hell!” The Asshole groaned. “You can’t do shit to me!”

Her anger spiked, and she pushed her foot down a little harder. “You sold drugs to kids. You really think anyone is going to give a shit about you?”

Despite her anger and her words, I was pretty sure she was bluffing, but it was probably best I put a stop to it.

“Here, let me talk to him.” Walking forward, I grabbed Asshole by his jacket and pulled. Glory Girl lifted her foot off him, letting me pick him up and pin him to the nearby wall.

“Damn, you work out or something?” I heard her mutter as I held his feet off the ground.

“Look, let's be honest, we don’t care about you or your friend, but this stuff is pure poison, and that can’t be good for business.”

Asshole glared at me. “Yeah, so what?”

“So, tell us where you got it, and I’ll let you go. Or,” I leaned forward, my hood hiding my face from Glory Girl so she didn’t see what happened when I altered my face slightly. My mouth widened, almost reaching from ear to ear as my eyes turned black and my horns emerged from my hair. “Or I can tear your fucking heart from your chest and leave you in the streets to rot! I’m a healer, you piece of shit, no one would even think I touched you.

“Jesus!” Asshole paled, grabbing my arm and attempting to push himself further into the wall. “Alright, alright! I got it from Mike! He hangs out at the empty cafe two blocks east!”

My face snapped back to normal, and with a polite ‘thank you’, I took my wand from my pocket and hit him with a sleep spell.

“What the fuck was that!” Glory Girl hissed as I lowered him to the ground.

“Just a simple sleep spe—”

“Not that!” She waved a hand in irritation. “I meant that whole ‘voice of the legion’ shit!”

“Oh! Um, it was an illusion spell I made,” I said, lying through my teeth and hoping to hell she wouldn’t notice. “Why, was it too much?”

“I dunno, were you trying for horror movie monster?” Rubbing her forehead, she chuckled, and I heard her mutter to herself. “And people give me shit for scaring people.”

“Sorry?”

“Nah, it's fine. So, what should we do with these two idiots? You did say you would let them go.” She gave me an expectant look that made me feel like I was being judged.

“I only said ‘I’ would let them go. And if someone should happen to see them here and call the cops, that’s nothing to do with me.”

“Hah!” amusement filled the air as Glory Girl laughed, one hand pulling a cellphone from a hidden pocket on her costume. “And I thought Panacea was a bitch.”

“What?!”

“I’ll tell you another time.” She quickly typed something on her cell, then shoved it back into a pocket. “Now, shall we check out that cafe?”

Hesitating, I considered it, but the beeping of my phone distracted me.

[Dad: are you okay?]
[Taylor: Yeah, I’m fine. I bumped into a friend and we were having coffee. I’ll be home soon.]

I cursed as I typed out my reply and Glory Girl gave me an amused look.

“Parents?”

“Yeah, how did you guess?”

“You’re not the first newbie I’ve met.” She laughed and rose into the air. “Go on, you head home and I’ll take a look. Send me a DM on PHO and I’ll let you know what I find.”

“Oh!” Stopping, she dropped back towards the ground, “Do you need a ride, or are you okay getting home?”

“I’m fine,” I assured her. “I can move pretty fast when I want to.” And there's no one around to see me.

With a wave, she rose up again, apparently unknowing or uncaring about the show she was giving and shot off across the city. I waited until she was out of sight before I moved further into the alley and shifted back to my real form.

Taking to the air, I flew at a more sedate pace as I considered my encounter with Glory Girl. She seemed nice, if a bit intense, and she really filled out that costume of hers.

Thinking about Glory Girl and how she looked, a naughty idea came to mind. Maybe I’ll have a bath when I get home… not like anyone else would mind.

I hummed to myself at the thought, a slight shiver running down my spine. I wonder what Amelia would think about that? If things with her ever got that far, would she be up for a bit of roleplay?

Thinking about Amelia brought with it thoughts about our upcoming date, almost making me giggle. I was still smiling about it when I got home.

“So,” Dad said, giving me an amused look as we sat down to eat dinner. “Good day?”




[bonus scene]
I bit my lip as I looked at the steaming hot bath filled with bubbles. Did I really want to do this? Remembering how Glory Girl looked as she rose into the air, a shiver ran down my spine. Yes. I wanted to do this.

With barely a thought, I twisted my body to match hers and looked at myself in the mirror. As I didn’t know what her face looked like, I’d still have mine under her mask, which I kept on, and something about that sent a thrill through me.

Glory Girl was a bit taller than me, with smaller breasts and hips, but more defined muscles and waves of golden blonde hair that I was almost jealous of. How she kept it looking so good despite all the fighting and high-speed flights, I didn’t know.

“Well,” I said quietly, amused to hear Glory Girl’s voice. “Here goes nothing.”

Climbing into the bath, I sunk into the water, sighing as the hot water eased my muscles. Enhanced endurance or not, a day spent running around the clinic was still tiring.

Slipping down, I let my head fall under the water, golden hair floating all around as my head gently rose out of the water.

Looking down at ‘myself’, I wondered if Amelia would like this? Kissing me, touching me while I looked like someone else? The thought sent a thrill through me, and a warmth started to build between my legs.

Biting my lip, I lifted one of ‘my’ legs out of the water, admiring Glory Girl’s muscle tone. Our bath wasn’t very big; I couldn’t even lay flat in it and had to bend my legs to get my head underwater.

Hooking my leg over the edge of the bath so I could spread myself a little wider, I gasped as the cold porcelain touched my bare skin. The position lifted my hip and [] broke the surface of the water.

I stared at the tuft of blonde hair. Did Glory Girl shave herself? I’d probably never know. For now, just seeing something other than my usual dark hair framing my lips was enough to make me shiver.

I slid a hand down my body, over my breasts, past my hips and stopping at my core. Gently, I traced circles around it, lightly touching my lips and gently pulling them apart.

My leg trembled slightly, the warmth spreading outwards through my body. As it reached my chest, my nipples hardened, the cool air of the bathroom tantalising on the wet nubs. I brought my free hand up, raking my nails across the surface of my breasts and leaving trails of fire in their wake.

Glory Girl’s breasts were smaller than mine, but they had a great shape that was deliciously firm in my hand. Lifting a breast up, I brought a nipple to my mouth, worrying it gently with my teeth to help stifle another moan.

My breath was coming in shaky gasps as I spread myself wider, one of my fingers dipping just inside my lips to stroke across my clitoris. My fingers froze at the sensation as lightning danced across my body. I held still, waiting for the feeling to pass.

Slowly, my hands started to move again; I wasn’t satisfied yet.

Releasing my breasts, I slid my now-free hand down. Lifting my hips, I tried to spread myself wider as I slowly inserted my fingers, working them in and out as my other hand moved around my clit, never quite touching it.

I pushed my fingers deeper, and another moan crawled its way up my throat, forcing me to bite my lip in an effort to stifle it. My legs were trembling nonstop as I rolled my hips, pushing them even higher.

Water was spilling over the edge of the bath, bubbles landing on the floor, as I continued to move my hands in a steady rhythm. I could feel the orgasm building and quickly brought a hand up to cover my mouth, turning a deep moan into a muffled squeak, and my body locked up.

I rode out the orgasm, even as my leg twitched and I lost my footing, sinking below the water and sending more of it over the edge. Grabbing the edges with my hands, I pulled myself up, coughing and choking even as I continued to shake from the aftershocks.

“Taylor!?” Dad called. “Are you okay?”

“Y-yeah!” I called back in my own voice, face glowing red and trying not to giggle. “I’m fine! I just… slipped.”

Hooking both arms over the same side of the bath, I let myself stay there, just basking in the afterglow and my body slowly returning to my real appearance.

I was so doing that again.



AN: chapter written under commission for Koalakiller on ff.net.

If you enjoy my content, please consider supporting me on Patreon

Chapter Text

Succubus Diaries
5-5

 



Leaning against the wall, I stared up at the sky and let myself bask in the emotions of the people around me.

Brockton Bay certainly wasn’t the largest city on the west coast, but it had a nice beach and a sizable tourist sector that kept the economy, well, not healthy, but functional if nothing else. But like any city of comparable size, there were multiple shopping districts, each one similar, but subtly different.

The boardwalk was mostly filled with trendy shops, little cafés and those gift-shops that sold overpriced souvenirs to tourists. Beyond that, there were a couple of malls, the largest of them was of course in the city's richer southside. Otherwise, there were various street lines with stores that catered more towards day-to-day needs.

Right now, I was waiting for Madison outside the southern mall. The prices tended to be a bit higher than I would have liked, but she had insisted we meet here for our shopping trip.

“Taylor!” I jumped at the angry shout, looking around until I spotted Madison stomping her way towards me.

She wasn’t a particularly intimidating girl. Barely over five foot tall and slender, getting shouted at by an angry Madison was like being snarled at by an angry chihuahua. The softly glowing eyes and faint whisps of smoke emerging from her body countered this somewhat.

“What’s wrong?”

“What’s wrong? What’s wrong? This!” she waved a hand at me, “Why do you look like that?!”

Puzzled, I glanced at myself. I was wearing a comfy pair of jeans, my old sneakers and a sweater. Not exactly high fashion, but given I was likely to be constantly trying on new clothes, I wanted something quick and easy to slip in and out of.

“No!” she hissed, dropping her voice and poking me in the chest. “Where are they?”

Flushing, I stepped to the side, pushing her hand away. Before leaving the house, I’d shifted in my ‘school’ look, which meant reducing my figure to something far less noticeable. “I didn't want to be stared at.”

“Taylor,” Madison groaned, running a hand down her face. “Okay, look. You wanna look your best for your date, right? Well how do you plan to do that if you're hiding yourself behind that appearance? Besides, she knows what you really look like, so what’s the point in hiding?”

I wanted to argue, if only to spite her, but I couldn't think of anything that didn't sound like whining. Sighing, I muttered a ‘fine’ and followed her into the building. Once inside, we went into the bathrooms and I ducked into a stall so I could shift back.

I kept my demon features hidden, of course, but I let the rest of my body return to normal. Besides, I told myself, the less changes I made to my body, the easier it was to maintain.

“It’s clear,” Madison’s voice just loud enough for me to hear and I stepped out to find the bathroom empty. “That’s better,” she said with a nod, then quickly turning on a heel to lead the way. “So, what sort of date is this?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, is this a ‘movie and fuck’ date, a ‘dinner and fuck’ date, ‘hang out and get drunk before fucking date’,” she ticked each one off with her fingers as she spoke. “‘Let’s find a couple of guys then go home for an orgy date’...”

“W-wha, no!” I finally got my shock and embarrassment under control enough to hiss. “We’re not, I’ve never- Not every date has to end with, with...”

“Sex, Taylor,” she said with a laugh, leading us into a store with a flowery name and lots of low cut dresses on the racks. “Say it with me now. S-e-x. Anyway, of course they do… well, unless you're boring.”

“There is something deeply wrong with you and this was a mistake.” Turning, I tried to leave but Madison grabbed my arm.

“Oh, would you relax? I’m just teasing.” Letting go of me, she picked up a dress and compared it against another before putting it back with a frown. “But seriously now, is this just ‘friends hanging out’, ‘I want to get to know you’ or ‘I’m attracted to you and want to see if this will go further’?”

“I… I’m not sure…” Madison gave me a flat look and quickly held my hands up to forestall whatever she was going to say. “Yes, I know she’s attracted to me and yes, I like her. I just don't know if… y’know, things would work out… I mean, I'm kinda boring and no one ever really showed an interest in me before...” I finished quietly, my voice trailing off.

“I… oh Taylor,” stepping around the racks, Madison pulled me into a hug, her voice sounding older. “Emma… We really did a number on you, didn’t we?”

“It’s fine,” I muttered, “Well, it’s not fine, but I try not to think about it too much, otherwise I’d probably punch you…”

“I would kick your ass so hard,” Madison laughed, giving me one last squeeze before pulling away. “Honestly, even before your um, growth spurt, plenty of people were attracted to you. Fuck, I know for a fact that if you had ordered Emma to shut up, kneel down and eat you out, she would probably have done it!”

I knocked several dresses off the racks, the noise attracting the stares of the staff as Madison laughed and I tried to force away that particular image, as pleasant as it otherwise was.

“C’mon,” she said, grabbing my hand and pulling me out of the store. “This sounds more like an ‘I’m interested in you’ date and there’s a shop further down that has some low cut tops that’ll make her eyes pop out.”

Still glowing red, I allowed myself to be dragged from one store to another, trying on clothes of various colours and tightness as we went. Madison, for her part, flicked between teasing me and rather blatantly ogling some of the passersby until we reached a store that was decorated in purple and blacks, the models in the windows dressed only in lingerie.

“For your date of course,” Madison said when I questioned her.

“But I’m, we’re-”

“I know that,” she said, rolling her eyes and walking through the doors. “That’s not the point. This isn’t for her, not yet, this is for you, something to make you feel good about yourself.”

Picking up a lacey purple set that was little more than some string, she held it towards me and I glared at it, folding my arms under my chest for emphasis.

“One sneeze and I’d snap that thing in half. Anyway, how is this supposed to help?”

Madison looked at it, then me with a laugh. “Yeah, you’re probably right… that would be kinda hot though.”

Yeah... it probably would be, I thought to myself. Maybe something to consider another time.

“It helps because… you’re not doing it for your partner, or whoever, you’re doing it to feel sexy for yourself. Leaning forward, Madison gave me a smile, her voice dropping to a sensual purr. “Sometimes, just knowing I can just pop a button and make her melt whenever I want is enough to make me feel better.”

“Alright, fine,” I groaned, I couldn't really say she was wrong after all. “Just… can we stick to the sale stuff? Bras in my size aren’t exactly cheap, you know.”

Laughing, Madison put down what she was holding and walked towards a rail with a big ‘sale’ sign under it.

“Sure, that’s fair. Now, pink, black or red?”

##


“There is, by the way,” Madison said between bites of her sandwich and I raised an eyebrow in confusion, “something wrong with me. I mean, besides the whole ‘two people thing’.”

After what had felt like hours of walking and trying on clothes, we were sitting in the food court, our purchases in bags by our feet and a light lunch on the table.

“Most would call it nymphomania, but it doesn’t really have a name. Hypersexuality, maybe, I think?” She shrugged. “Doesn’t really matter.”

“Oh?” I wasn’t sure what else to say, it felt like I’d been kicked in the stomach for getting so cross with her. I played with the straw in my drink while I tried to think of a suitable reply, but in the end, all I could think of was, “I’m… sorry?”

“Eh, not your fault. Actually, it's my parents if anybody’s. Do you remember a health scandal a while back? A Tinker working with a pharma company to make fertility treatment?”

I tried to think back, but there had been more than one such scandal in the past. Tinkers were a specific type of cape that build advanced technology. Most of the time, this meant power armour and weapons, but it also included genetic manipulation, creating creatures or even various drugs.

As a general rule, ‘Tinker-tech’, as it was commonly known, couldn't be mass produced. It never worked the same or required more upkeep than was reasonable. Of course, that didn't stop companies trying. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t.

“Maybe?” I guessed, still unable to to remember the exact case she was talking about.

“Well,” she waved a hand idly. “My parents were part of it. Them and a hundred others tried it over a year or so. Turns out, the shit was way too effective. By the time my mom was treated, ninety percent of the women were pregnant and almost all of them with twins or triplets. Fuck, one woman apparently had sixteen kids inside her. I think they had to abort them for her safety.”

Sitting back, Madison held her hands out to represent a massively swollen stomach. I stared in a mix of fascination and horror. The idea of having that many children growing inside me was horrifying and yet, the image of Madison bloated and pregnant was kind of appealing.

“Does that mean you have a sister?” I tried to keep the horror from my voice. I’m not sure why, but the thought of there being another Madison out there was kinda worrying.

Madison tucked a strand of hair behind her ear and laughed. “Nah, I’m basically the lucky runt of the litter. See, they canceled the trial and scrapped the medication once it became clear that something was wrong and everyone pretty much assumed that was that. Until, of course, then all the kids started hitting puberty and it turned out the,” she made finger quotes in the air, “‘treatments’ had fucked us over as well. Stupid high sex drives, growth issues caused by excessive hormones and so on.”

I didn’t ask about the growth issues as I could already picture it. There were some photos in Panaceas files of a girl like that, her body distorted and misshaped to the point she couldn't walk and could barely move.

Frowning, I looked down at Madison. “So, why are you so… short?”

She stuck her tongue out at me. “Like I said, I’m the runt. I was born last, so the doctors had just enough warning to stick me on a mix of hormone suppressants and mood stabilizers since I was a kid. Kinda stunted my growth, but hey, unlike the others, I get to live a normal life… more or less. I mean, I was still pretty much a cat in heat and I would have fucked just about anything, even Greg...”

She scowled at the mention of his name and fell silent. I picked my sandwich, forcing myself to eat despite my lack of appetite. I couldn't stop myself from thinking about what she said while we ate. I couldn't imagine being a slave to my body like that.

Sure, I was a ‘soul sucking demon’ of myth, but I wasn’t a mindless animal, no matter how turned on I was, I was still me, I wasn’t going to jump some random person and fuck sensless or follow someone into a sketchy situation just for the chance at sex.

Something Madison said clicked and I looked up from my lunch. “You kept saying ‘was’. What about now? Y’know, since the… accident?”

“It’s better, actually.” sitting back in her chair, she waved a hand at herself. “Its kinda fucked up, but that drive, the craving and the constant fog it brought with it are gone. Sure, I still want sex, anytime I can get it, but I dont have worry about spending my life endlessly rutting like an animal in heat, its manageable now.”

Giving her a flat look, I tried to smile. “So, this is your ‘manageable’?”

Laughing, Madison flicked a bit of crust at me, but her eyes were locked on something over my shoulder.

“Don’t look, but I think you have an admirer and they’re not staring at your tits or ass.”

Without thinking, I turned my head, catching a brief glimpse of a blonde haired girl across the food court who smiled at me, then vanished into the crowds.

“You know her?”

“No… I don't think so...” the only blonde I knew was Glory Girl, but that hadn’t been her. Wrong shade of blonde and different body shape. “Maybe someone from Winslow? One of Emma’s friends maybe?” Shrugging, I turned back to my lunch.

“Maybe…” Madison looked at me, her eyes shining. “She was cute though, mind if I borrow your face for a bit? I’ll tell her I'm your sister or something.”

“No!”

“Oh come on, please? Okay fine, what about your nurse friend?he offer for a threesome still stands!”

Even as I groaned, I couldn't stop myself from smiling. Sure, she was sex obssessed and a bit of a bitch, but I found myself enjoying her company regardless. It was nice just having friends again.

##


NightNurse: Hi, this is Respite, we met last night?
GloryGirl: Hey! Interesting name :p
GloryGirl: joke, btw.
GloryGirl: So, I checked out that building. No one was there, but someone is defo using it for something. Fancy a stakeout?
NightNurse: Sure.
GloryGirl: great! Meet you where we split up?

I frowned as I checked my messages again. Talking to Glory Girl, even on PHO, was a lot like being run over by a speeding truck, or maybe a very attractive hurricane.

I’d waited until Dad had fallen asleep before sneaking out of the house and flying back to where I had first met Glory Girl.

I obviously hadn’t had time to make a costume, so I’d settled for simply transforming my clothes into the black and yellow version of my healing outfit. Thankfully, as I was still wearing Mom’s coat, the enchantments she had placed on it would offer me some protection, but I really needed to make a dedicated costume.

Problems for another time, I thought to myself, spotting Glory Girl in the distance.

“Hey, you’re early!” she called once she was close enough, a warm smile on her face. I shrugged at the comment. I’d made sure to get here first as I didn’t want her to see me flying.

“You said you checked the building?”

“Yeah,” crossing her arms and legs, Glory Girl took a seating position while floating in the air. “Not much inside, but I found some couches, some lights and a space heater hooked up to a generator that had been hidden out of sight. So it’s either some very organised teens, or some Merchants wanted a warm place to ride out a high.”

Turning slightly, she started to move in the direction of the building and followed along, choking back a laugh.

“Organized teens? Is there a story there?”

“Trust me,” she laughed, “you’d be surprised what some of my classmates will do to find a hidden spot to party or just makeout.”

“And then they end up in the clinic, puking their guts out while Panacea and I call their parents?” It had happened once already, a group of teens carrying their friend into the clinic and asking for help, thinking we wouldn't immediately call their parents.

Panacea hadn’t even blinked at the situation as it was apparently a common thing.

“Something like that,” Glory Girl admitted with a sigh before straightening up. “Need a ride?”

We had reached the address we had been given, the building was on the other side of the road, its windows dark and door shut. We were standing next to a slightly taller building and Glory Girl pointed to the roof with a jerk of her thumb.

It would have been easier if I could just fly myself up there, but I’d need my wings for that and I wasn’t what, if any, warning the PRT had given Glory Girl. Was she still on the lookout for the human eating master, like they had told Panacea about?

I know the Wards had said the PRT just wanted to talk, to ask about Winslow, but I wasn’t sure how much I trusted that. For I knew, it was just an attempt to trap or arrest me and I wasn’t willing to take that risk.

With no other choice, I let her carry me to the rooftop. It was flat, with a raised wall around it perimeter that meant we could watch the Merchant building without being seen ourselves.

“So, do you have a plan?” She was the more experienced cape afterall, so I decided it was best to let her take the lead.

“Stakeout,” Glory Girl said with a shrug. “We’ll give it an hour or so, see if anyone comes to the building, take pictures of them if we can, go in if we see anything suspicious and then hand it all over to the police.”

“And if no one shows up?”

“... we get to spend an hour on a roof like a pair of hot idiots?” she struck a pose like a catwalk model and fluttered her eyes at me and I was unable to stop myself from laughing.

There was something relaxing about Glory Girl. Her emotions were a bright mix of happiness and honesty that made me think she really enjoyed what she was doing. Despite the mask on her face, she wasn’t trying to hide herself.

Spinning around, her feet finally touched the ground, roof, and she leaned on the wall, facing towards the Merchant building.

“So… how did you end up working at Panacea’s.” her open honesty meant she didn’t even try to hide the sarcasm in her voice.

“Got hurt, Panacea healed me and we got talking about magic and it moved on from there,” I said carefully. It was, mostly, the truth after all. It was just missing some of the details. “You don’t like her?”

“What, no, she’s fine! She does so much good for the city, healing all those villains. Who knows what would happen if the heroes were able to arrest them instead.”

“That’s not fair!” I hissed, surprised by the vitriol in her voice. “If Panacea didn’t heal the villains, they would simply attack the clinic! Do you know how many people would get hurt? Or worse, what do you think one of the gangs would do with Panacea on their team?”

What I didn’t tell Glory Girl, what I wasn’t allowed to tell her, is that while Panacea charged known villains a bit more than everyone else, that money was immediately donated to various charities that helped look after victims of supervillain attacks.

“Besides,” I muttered, refusing to look at Glory Girl. “Panacea doesn’t heal the villains. Not really. The Empire has their own healer, Lung regenerates and the smaller gangs tend to use their own doctors.”

It was true. I’d looked through what records I was allowed to see and the villains rarely came to the clinic. Really, Panacea spent more time healing the heros at a steep discount that was mandated by the PRT or risk losing their support.

I glared at the Merchant building across the street, trying my best to ignore the feelings of frustration, surprise and anger drifting off Glory Girl, the air between us tense.

Time slowed to a crawl and I wasn’t sure if it had been five minutes, or twenty. I could have checked my phone, but my temper was making me stubborn and I refused to give in. I was being silly, I know, I was just irritating myself, but it was hard to stop.

Eventually, Glory Girl sighed.

“Fuck, look, I’m sorry okay? I didn’t mean what I said, it's just… Panacea is a bit of a bitch, alright?”

Turning, I gave her a level look. If I had still been wearing glasses, I’d have been looking over the frames at her.

“She blacklisted me, okay?”

“Why?”

“I don’t know!” she threw her arms into the air. “She blacklisted the whole Brigade when she first opened and won’t tell us why. I think Mom knows, but she won’t say anything and I can’t go near Panacea or I’ll risk pissing her off even more.”

That didn't make any sense. Blacklisting was more or less what it sounded like. No healing, no cosmetic procedures, nothing. The only exceptions were in the case of immediate life or death, or an Endbringer battle. As far as I knew, only a few people had been Blacklisted by Panacea and most of them villains.

“I… didn’t know. Panacea never mentioned it.”

Glory Girl made a huffy little laugh and turned back to the building. “Laserdream was pretty pissed when she found out Panacea wouldn't remove her Tattoo...”

“Oh?” I perked up a bit as Glory Girl told me about her cousins ‘accident’ while at a college party, the tension between us slowly easing.

I’d have to ask Panacea about it later. Sure, she could be a bit catty, but there had to be a reason behind blacklisting an entire hero team.

##


“You’re kidding?” Glory Girl gasped and I shook my head. I probably shouldn’t be telling her this, but we had been on this roof for nearly an hour now and swapping stories was all we could do.

“No, really a two liter bottle,” I held my hands out in demonstration, Glory Girl watching in a mix of horror and fascination.

“And she agreed to it?”

“No, she-”

I cut off as a white panel van came to a stop outside the building we had been watching. I’d expected whoever was driving to get out, but instead the side door slid open and five people emerged from the dark building to climb inside.

Cursing, Glory Girl pulled me into a bridal carry and took off, following the van as it drove down the road.

“I can’t believe I forgot to check the building was empty!” She hissed, staying high enough that the drive would be unlikely to see us, but low enough that we wouldn't risk losing them.

“I didn’t think of it eithe-”

“I’m the experienced one! Mom is going to flip if she ever finds out!”

“Just tell her this was the plan,” I squeaked As Glory Girl banked suddenly, putting a building between us at the Van as it turned a corner. “We’re following them back to their base or something!”

“Good idea!” she laughed, slowing as the van turned off the main road and was now weaving through the narrower sidestreets. We were deep in the docks now, but far away from the abandoned trainyard that was supposed to be the center of Merchant territory.

The van pulled into the forecourt of an old warehouse and Glory Girl landed us on a nearby roof as a man in dark clothes pushed the gates closed with the screech of rusted hinges.

“Okay,” she muttered, “this isn't right. Since when did Merchants offer pickup?”

As Vicky pulled out her phone and started taking pictures, I stared at the faint shimmer in the air around the warehouse. If I squinted at it, I could almost see words floating around the building, twisting and blurring before vanishing from sight.

“Glory Girl, why does this place have wards?” They weren’t like the ones around Winslow, which had been hidden from view until you were inside of them, these seemed rushed and half-assed. Maybe they were done by someone who didn't really know better?

‘Or’, I thought, ‘Maybe they were just too stoned to care. Druggies aren’t known for their workmanship after all.’

“This really doesn’t feel right,” Glory Girl muttered, biting her lip and frowning at the warehouse. “Will those wards do anything if we enter?”

Squinting, I tried to make out the words, but they were too indistinct. I did, however, notice a very large, very obvious gap in the Wards and I smiled at the stupidity of it.

“I know how to get us in… wanna see some magic?”

##


Walking forward, I made a show of shivering as I approached the gate.

I’d change my appearance to a twenty-ish woman with an attractive figure and very revealing clothing, my long blonde hair swaying in the wind. I’d told Glory Girl it was an illusion as a cover and now she was hanging back, waiting in the shadows of the nearby buildings as I attempted to distract the guard.

He noticed me pretty quickly, his eyebrows shooting up to his hairline at the sight of me.

“H-hey!” I called out, my voice of a gravelly rasp of a long time smoker. “Y’know where I can get a hit? Maybe a chance to get warm? Jessy said she scored here, that you guys were always good for it.”

The guard, a guy who was probably in his late teens didn’t even try to look me in the eyes, the front of his pants tenting as she stared.

“I-I don’t have-” he started to say but I cut him off with a whine.

“Please?” stepping forward, though careful not to touch the gate I very obviously tugged on my top, pulling the plunging neckline lower. “I can pay!”

The guard took a shuddering breath, then glanced, putting his head through the bars of the gate and even checking behind himself. Once he was apparently satisfied, he pulled the gate open enough to squeeze through and came out to meet me.

I held out a hand and he frowned, “You first.”

Giving him a flat look, I crossed my arms and glared at him. “No way, pay first, I’m not stupid, I’ve done this before.”

Huffing, he reached into a pocket and pulled out a small bag of something that I didn’t recognise. I’d never been interested in drugs and had stayed away from the Merchants at school. Whatever was in that bag could have been soap powder for all I knew.

Snatching the bag from him, I ignored his huff of surprise and made a show of looking at the pills inside.

“Alright, come on.” Grabbing his arm, I led him away from the gate. He resisted at first, probably unwilling to fully leave his post, but he gave in quickly when I nodded at the wall next to the gate. It was still kinda public, but it at least meant no one inside could see us.

The second he moved away from the gate, I let go of his arm and clamped my hand over his mouth, lifting him off ground by his jaw and slamming him into the wall. I felt the breath leave his lungs, his eyes wide with terror as I let the ‘illusion’ drop.

I felt a thrill go through me as he tried to fight, grabbing my wrist with both hands and pulling, but I’d already pulled my wand from my pocket. With a dull flash, the sleep spell hit him in the stomach and he went limp in my hand.

I let him slump bonelessly to the floor as Glory Girl shot forward.

“What the fuck was that!?” she hissed, clearly trying not to smile. “I thought you were gonna, I don’t know, ask for help or something!”

“Looking like that? Anyway, it worked, didn’t it?”

Dragging him further away from the gate, I pushed it further open and slipped inside, followed by Glory Girl.

On the inside, I could see the Wards more clearly. “I was right… the wards only sound the alarm if someone tries to sneak over the wall or force the gate. They don’t notice if someone opens it from the inside.”

“Hundred bucks for a cheap CCTV system would have worked better,” Glory Girl snorted, frowning at the wards she couldn't see.

“In this neighborhood?”

“Fair point…”

Smiling, I led the way across the forecourt, trying to make as little noise as possible, something that was easier for Glory Girl who was floating only inches from the floor.

Rather than risking the front door, we moved around the outside of the building, listening for any sign of another guard or a patrol. On the buildings western side, there were a series of windows high enough up that they were probably a second floor office or something. One of the panes was missing and Glory Girl quickly flew up to look inside.

When she dropped back down, I sighed but let her lift me into the air and then guide me through the window. The office inside was filthy and dirty, clearly having not been used in a long time. A desk sat at one end of the room, with a half rotten corkboard on one wall.

I stepped aside, giving Glory Girl room to follow me in and she cursed about the darkness.

I hadn’t even noticed it. I’d gotten so used to my better senses that I was starting to forget that others couldn’t see as clearly as me at night.

“Just be careful,” I whispered, tugging gently on her sleeve and pulling her in the direction of the door. The old hinges groaned as I opened the door. I winced at the noise, pausing and listening for the sounds of alarm, my heart pounding in my chest.

The seconds ticked away into minutes and I let out a breath when it became clear no one was coming. Before I could step out into the corridor, Glory Girl put her arms around my waist and lifted me up, flying forwards slowly so she didn’t crash into the walls.

We moved silently through the building, I could faintly feel people in the distance and was using that to point us in the right direction. As we got closer however, I became aware of the smell of magic. It was weak, but steadily growing stronger and it had a smokey edge I had never felt before.

What the fuck were they doing here?

Eventually, we left the offices and emerged on a catwalk overlooking what had once been a production area of some kind. The floor below still had metal plates that had once been used to hold down machinery fixed to it and deep scratch marks where they had, presumably, been removed long in the past.

Now, however, someone had constructed a small raised platform out of wood with runes carved deep into it and the stench of magic was almost overpowering even from where I was.

In front of the platform, a dozen people in dirty clothes had gathered, while around them stood half a dozen people in the same dark clothes as the guard outside. Unlike him, they had deep red bandanas tied around their arms.

For a moment, I thought they might have been Empire Eighty Eight men, but I quickly abandoned that notion. The clothes might have matched, but the Empire were neo nazis and the people down below were a mix of skin tones and genders.

Maybe I was naive, but this didn't feel like a drug den to me.

There was movement to my side and I looked over to see Glory Girl carefully angling her phone to film whatever was going on as a man entered the room.

He was tall and slim, with short slicked back, red hair and close cut beard. Like the others, he wore black, but unlike them, instead of the shapeless black pants and top, he wore a fitted suit with a matching black tie on a white button down shirt.

There was a patch on his arm, sown professionally onto his sleeve, but I couldn't make out the symbol on it and that same smokey smell followed him as he moved.

Behind him was a smaller man in his underwear. He was painfully thin, enough that I could see his ribs and his pale skin was covered in dark marks. As the people turned to watch him, he flinched away, moving closer to the suited man as they moved up onto the platform.

The suited man stood on the platform, close to his audience while the other was guided into the magic circle by a woman in black clothes.

He held up his hands, calling for silence despite no one talking and smiled broadly.

“Welcome all of you.” His voice was rich, warm with a gentleness that bordered on fatherly. It was the sort of voice you could listen to for hours without getting tired. It was also lousy with magic and I glanced to my side to see a faint blush on Glory Girls cheeks, her eyes hazy.

Without thinking, I grabbed her arm, magic tingling across my skin. She jerked, looked at me then shook her head, her eyes focusing once more. I tightened my grip to keep her from moving and she nodded in apparent understanding.

Below us, the speech had continued. “Great are the days in which we are touched by our Lady, magic. She guides us all, ever unseen, but always present. Before we get started, I would like to express my gratitude to all of you who so generously helped us make this event come together smoothly. Through your tireless efforts, we grow ever closer to having a place we can truly call our own. The Halafong is nearly complete, and with it, our Lady’s blessing.”

There was some excited murmuring from the crowd and he waited for it to stop before continuing.

“But, that is not why we are here tonight. Instead, I have called you here to witness an ascension.” There was more noise from the crowd and he calmly raised his hands, palms out in a gesture of calm and the crowd quickly feel silent. “That’s right, two weeks ago, Naysun chose to be a part of our calling and now, he has passed his tests. Only this morning, our Lady appeared before him and granted him a name and a blessing. Now, we are here to witness his,” his voice raised to a not quite shout, “Rebirth!”


Turning, the man placed his foot on a rune, the smell of magic surging. The thin man, Naysun, trembled as, one by one, the runes lit up.

“We are the lost and the forgotten! The dregs that were cast out by society!” the suited man shouted. “And as I lay dying in the gutter, our Lady came to me and raised me up, she gifted me as I gift you! She told me that life is passion and through our mutual passion we have found each other, our passions help us all to come together as one and the energy we create as one allows us to call our Lady!”

He sounded almost like one of those evangelical preachers on TV and I tuned most of the speech out. Even I could tell it was pretty much new age garbage and yet, his audience was clearly enthralled.

Still, this was clearly a performance to distract people from what was really happening. The magic entering the runes was moving slowly, too slowly. Either this ‘priest’ didn't have much power or he didn't know what he was really doing.

I could have charged that spell in a second.

“We need her as much as she needs us and this is why we are so happy to serve! Domina est enim nostra nobiscum!”

The latin was nonsense, of course, but as his shouting reached fever pitch, water rose up out of the runes and the magic in the room heaved. Twisting together, the water wrapped around Naysun like a snake, forcing him upright. For just a moment, the water took the form of a woman that leaned down to kiss him, then it snapped tight around his body and his mouth was forced open as the ‘woman’ entered his throat.

Naysun struggled, trashing fruitlessly against the water even as his skin started to writhe. Stick thin limbs thickened, each one packed with muscle, his chest and shoulders broadening as he grew taller. He fell to the floor as the force that was supporting him vanished, water pouring off his body in an endless wave, evaporating as it reached the edge of the platform.

After a moment's silence, the flow of water stopped and he stood up, his eyes shining with magic. The ‘priest’ stepped forward, clapping Naysun on the shoulder with a quiet, “Welcome home, my brother.”

Turning to the crowd, he spread his arms. “Everyone, may I be the first to introduce you to Naysun of the sea...”

The crowd cheered and Naysun lifted a fist into the air, a ball of water appearing above him.

“We need to leave!” Glory Girl hissed and I nodded. These weren’t Merchants, they were something worse.

As we stood up, I glanced back down and my heart froze. One of the guards in black was looking up at us, his eyes literally burning with fire. Before I could shout a warning, a gout of flame slammed into the catwalk, demolishing it.

Glory Girl tried to grab me as we fell but she wasn’t quick enough. Twisting my body, I managed to land in a crouch, Glory girl hitting the ground moments later with enough force to crack the concrete floor.

“Kill them!” the suited man shouted as the crowd scattered, running for the exit.

Spikes burst from the ground, splitting me and Glory Girl up as a man with flaming hands charged forwards.

Ducking and weaving around his blows I stared at his glowing eyes with mounting dread. Something was wrong with his emotions, the only thing driving him was a burning, barely controlled rage that tasted like hot ash on my tongue.

Knocking his fist away, I reached for my wand, only for a blast of water to slam into my shoulder. It felt like I’d been hit with a steel beam, the force knocking me back, ice covering my arm.

Glancing behind me, I saw Glory Girl trading blows with a man made of stone. He wasn’t hurting her, but any damage she did to him instantly healed.

Seeing movement, I threw myself to the side, narrowly avoiding a blast from the burning man only to slip on ice that hadn’t been there a moment ago. Hitting the ground knocked the wind out of me and I stared up in shock as my attackers closed in on me, the same blank expressions on their faces.

At that point, common sense and survival won out and I dropped all pretence. My body flowed back to its natural form, one of my wings turning into a spike that lunged at the man while the other drove itself into the ice so I could climb to my feet.

My sudden change in appearance gave my attackers pause and for just a moment, I could taste their fear.

Wand in one hand, I charged forwards, shooting fireballs at the woman while the claws of my other hand lashed out at the man. He flinched back, but it wasn’t enough and I carved deep grooves into his chest.

He stumbled to the ground, clutching at the wound and the water woman glared at me, her skin vanishing as ice covered her body. I readied my wand, planning to melt the bitch if I had too, when Glory Girl suddenly shouted in warning.

I ducked as the stone-man she had been fighting crashed through the spikes and slammed into the woman, the impact causing them both to shatter.

Straightening, I looked at Glory Girl who was openly staring at me in shock but I discarded it for the moment. Instead, I faced the other two, who were in the process of pulling themselves back together. Even the man I had gutted was slowly healing, fire coving his wounds.

Without hesitating, I fired sleep spells at all of them and they dropped to the floor, even as their bodies continued to repair themselves. Earth and water were moving along the floor, rejoining the main body and changing back to flesh.

A quick look at the platform showed that the leader, whoever he had been, was gone. Either hiding in the building or running through the streets outside. Either way, I wasn’t in the mood to look for him.

“You!” Glory Girl said suddenly, “You’re the one the PRT was looking for!”

“And what if I am?!” I snapped back, one hundred percent done with tonight. Spinning on my heel, I stalked towards the doors. Glory Girl could clean up the mess.

“Wait,” she called out, hurrying after me. “You’ve been at Panacea’s this whole time? Fuck, the PRT is going to-”

Spinning around, I lifted my wand, my magic pulsing under my skin. “The PRT will do nothing, do you understand?! They tried to fucking kill me! Did you know that?” I hissed, stepping forward, “No talking, no surrender, just ‘do as I say and I’ll give you a quick death!’ So fuck the PRT!”

Glory Girl stared, slightly cross-eyed, at the tip of my wand. I wondered briefly if she was immune to magic. Rumor had it, Alexandria was and Glory Girl was sometimes called Alexandria-lite.

Lowering my wand, I turned and left, Glory Girl following close behind.

“Wait, they said what? Look, hold on and talk to me-”

Reaching out, she grabbed my arm to pull me to a stop and I growled at her.

Slowly, Glory Girl raised her hands, a slight blush on her cheeks. “Okay, first off, don’t do that. But look… I get it… I wont tell the PRT about you, yet. But, does Panacea at least know? I mean, she’s a bitch, but you should at least tell her about this.”

“Of course she knows.” Ssighing, I pushed my hair out of my face. “I got hurt saving a woman from a monster and she healed me… she knows everything about me.”

That was probably more than I should have told her, but Glory Girl relaxed, her emotions leaning more towards curiosity now.

“Look,” screwing her face up, she scratched her head with both hands before continuing. “We both need time to calm down… I wont tell the PRT, but you owe me an explanation, at least. So, message me on PHO and well… I dunno, go on a patrol together or something, deal?”

She held and hand out and I didn’t need my empathy to know she was being honest. Glory Girl wore her heart on her sleeves.

Reaching out, I took her hand.

“Fine, but I’m not sticking around for the PRT. If they send Dauntless, he’ll probably attack me again.”

“Right,” she nodded with a faint smile. “I’ll just tell them you had to get ready for an early shift or something.”

“Sounds good,” I said before walking off. At least now I didn’t have to worry about her seeing me fly. So, at least tonight hadn’t been a complete mess after all and now I had something else to ask John about.

I didn’t know until the next day that I had received a PHO message from Glory Girl that she had sent minutes after I left.

Glory Girl: hang on, I just realised you could fly this entire time! :mad:



AN: chapter written under commission

Beta by Fedorable/WhoAmEye, useless lesbian extraordinare

Chapter Text

Succubus Diaries
5-6

 


“I feel like I should say something about borrowing trouble,” John said, giving me a level look that I did my best to return calmly.

“You said, ‘don’t go rushing in without a plan,’ and we had a plan.” The protest was weak, even to my ears.

“Yeah?” He leaned forward, narrowing his eyes. “And how well did that work out for you?”

I looked down, glaring at my glass of water to hide my blush, and John laughed humorlessly.

After leaving Glory Girl last night, I’d gone straight home and spent hours lying in bed, the events of the night racing through my mind until I fell into an exhausted sleep, only to be cruelly woken by my alarm.

You would think that after so little sleep, I would be struggling to stay awake, but if anything, I felt great. I wasn’t sure if I just needed less sleep now I was a succubus or if passively feeding on the people around me as I made my way to John’s cafe was making up for it.

I’d have to ask Dad about it later, but right now I was more concerned with what I had seen last night.

“What happened to those people?” I asked John, forcing the conversation to move on from his disapproving look, and he sighed.

“Well, you’re right about his speech. That little performance was absolute bollocks, a show to cover the magic he was using, which is fairly normal among cults.”

Tapping the table, he stared off into the distance, a fond smile on his face as he lost himself in a memory. I could taste a bitter-sweet combination of happiness and pain. “God, I haven't seen an honest-to-god cult in years…”

“You’ve dealt with a cult before?”

His surprised laugh was so loud that the few other patrons in the cafe turned to look at him, and John quickly waved in apology.

“You could say that,” he said in a quieter voice. “They’re sorta like weeds. There’s always a new one cropping up somewhere, and they tend to follow the same pattern. Someone stumbles into a few spell books, or finds an enchanted idol, or is just plain nuts. They start gathering people around them, showing off some ‘miracles’ as proof of power until they convince themselves they really are a god.”

I stared at him, my surprise there for all to see. “Why don't we hear about this more?”

“Most of the time, they don’t last long,” he said with a shrug. “Either a random cape, the PRT or even cops find them and put a stop to things, or the members get bored and move on. Really, they only make the news when people start dying… or running naked through the streets and screaming gibberish. Besides, not all cults are evil. You’d be surprised how many community groups started out as cults, like the Lunar Rabbits.”

“Wait, that's a cult?” The Lunar Rabbits were an organisation that went around helping the homeless, raising money for charities and other such things. Their spokesperson was Usagi, a dark-skinned cape who ran around dressed up like a bunny girl. Rumor online was that she was actually a very lucky Case-53 and that the rabbit ears were real.

“Of course…” He gave me a considering look. “Actually, they have a small chapter in the city. You should check it out sometime; you might find you have a lot in common with them.”

Before I could ask what he meant, the woman who was currently manning the counter came over and handed a note to John, distracting us both as she turned and walked away, her hips swinging.

“So,” I said, shaking myself and trying to move the conversation along. “What about the people I fought? Cause something about them just felt… wrong. Like they were empty or missing part of themselves.”

Exhaling through his nose with a huff, John stroked his stubble, his eyes staring off into the distance. “It sounds like the people you fought were possessed,” he said slowly.

“The ritual you saw certainly sounded like a binding spell…” He quickly held up a hand to keep me from interrupting. “Don’t ask me how it’s done, cause I don’t know. But the idea is, you summon a spirit and place it into a host. The spirit gets to experience… well, life, and the host gets power or abilities, depending on the spirit used.”

That made a lot of sense when compared to what I already knew about spirits. They tended to be weak, often embodying a single thought, idea or element. That made them incomplete when compared to a human. So, a person possessed by a fire spirit might have fire powers, a water spirit gave water power, and so on.

That was simple enough to understand, but if that's really all it was, why didn’t things like this happen more? Why wasn’t the PRT fielding entire squads of magically enhanced troops, or the gangs?

John sat quietly, watching as I thought everything over, and when I asked, “What’s the downside?” he smiled broadly, waving at me to continue.

“There has to be one, or else everyone would be running around with spirits and the city would probably be a smouldering crater.”

“You’ve certainly got Annette’s brains and your Da’s cynicism.” He laughed, but it faded quickly as he gave me a sober look, his fingers playing with an unlit cigarette.

“But you’re right, there's a cost. For one, if a mage is strong enough to control the spirit, then they can control the host, even if they weren’t the summoner. Or, if the host isn’t strong enough, mentally and physically, the spirit could overwhelm them, taking over completely. When that happens, you tend to get the twisted monsters that go on a killing spree.”

“The people who get taken over… is there anything that can be done for them?”

“It depends,” he said softly, sorrow radiating from his body like cold from ice. “Minor possession can be recovered from, but the really bad cases, when the spirit has completely taken over? No. There's no coming back from that. The lucky ones just die and the spirit takes over. The unlucky ones… I think you've seen something similar.”

I shivered at the reminder, and in my mind’s eye, I saw cold eyes staring down at me as golden light burned my skin and mind.

“Yeah.” I swallowed thickly, picking up my water and taking a sip in an effort to distract myself. “So… it’s a balancing act, between a spirit strong enough to be useful, but weak enough that it's not a risk? I suppose a gun would just be simpler?”

“Exactly.” John nodded with a dry smile, some life returning to his eyes. “People are lazy bastards; a dozen men with guns is cheaper and easier to deal with than a rogue spirit. But if you really want to know more, I might be able to lay my hands on a book or two about it?”

I opened my mouth to refuse outright — I had no intention of summoning spirits or shoving them into people’s bodies — but John's face was so carefully, painfully, blank that I hesitated. I wasn’t sure if he was testing me, but it certainly felt like it.

The thought was repulsive. That was no better than being a human-level master, and it made me sick to my stomach just to consider it. Fuck, my mom and I were from a literal slave race, why on earth did he think I would want to do that to anybody?

And yet, there was someone in the city who was doing exactly that.

“...I think,” I said slowly as the idea came to me, “that I would like books on how to break possession, if any exist…”

Smiling, John sat back in his chair. “I’ll see what I can do.”

##


Leaving the cafe with a promise to at least try avoiding a fight until I’d had a chance to study more about possession, I turned on my heel and started walking towards the boardwalk. The nervous energy that I had been forcing myself not to think about was once again making itself known.

It was like ants under my skin, making me want to move about, to run or maybe even fly. The urge to unfurl my wings and roar was incredible. Failing that, I just wanted to laugh.

I was on my way to my first ever date. Me. I had a date! It was taking all I had not to skip.

I mean, despite Emma’s constant attacks and my isolation at Winslow, I hadn’t completely given up on having a love life. I’d just assumed it wasn’t going to happen while I was at school. That maybe, when I was in college, I’d meet a girl and things would progress from there.

I had tried not to think about it too much. I was too focused on just getting through the day and didn’t want to build my hopes up for some uncertain future.

Except it had actually happened and I had a date!

Giddiness aside, I glanced around for a suitable location to change, as I had been unwilling to walk into John’s while dressed up for a date.

Spotting an alley with a dumpster just inside the opening, I checked to make sure no one was watching and stepped inside. Using the dumpster to hide me from view, I relaxed my grip on my power and let my body change.

I kept my horns, wings and scales hidden, of course, but everything else went back to my ‘natural’ state. The jeans and hoodie I appeared to be wearing morphed back into my ‘date clothes.’

At Madison’s suggestion, I was wearing a loose-fitting, buttonless blouse that exposed my collarbones, with a black corset over the top. The corset was just for support, so breathing wasn’t an issue. She had also suggested a pair of tight jeans and black ankle boots with a, thankfully, low heel.

The result looked good, if I was honest, showing off my figure without actually exposing much skin. Though I still felt oddly exposed.

Stepping out of the alley, I double-checked my clothes, glad that transforming them hadn’t left any creases, and continued on my way.

The walk was mostly uneventful, beyond a few stares and only one dirty comment from a guy who turned and ran the moment I glared at him.

##


The sun was shining down on the streets as I reached the boardwalk, the weather unseasonably warm for this time of year. There was a slight breeze from the ocean that carried with it the smell of the sea and chilled anywhere the sun didn’t reach.

I closed my eyes briefly, letting the sun warm my face in an effort to drown out my nerves as I approached the meeting point, which was opposite a small PRT-themed cafe that offered a clear view out over the bay where the Protectorate base sat.

It had been an oil rig once, but the Protectorate had added some form of levitation and floated it into the bay. It now sat in the middle of the bay, the protective forcefield shimmering in the midday light.

When I was younger, I had imagined joining the Protectorate and spending my time at the base. Now, all I saw were the people who had attacked me, and I couldn’t help but shiver. The Protectorate often patrolled the boardwalk, which was why I had been avoiding the place, or at least tried not to stick around too long. I did not want to run into Dauntless.

My concerns, however, vanished when I moved past a display and spotted Amy waiting on the other side of the road. She was leaning against the railing, the wind ruffling her hair as she stared out at the bay.

She was wearing a mid-thigh length cashmere sweater over black leggings and knee-high boots in the same colour as her top.

My heart was in my mouth, and for just a moment, I seriously considered running away. Before I could squash that impulse, Amy turned. Spotting me, she broke into a face-splitting smile, a blush dusting her freckled cheeks as she waved at me.

Swallowing my nerves, I smiled back, my own cheeks hot as I moved to stand beside her, not sure if I should hug her or not.

“H-hey!”

“Hey.” Amy looked up at me, biting her lip and her face a brilliant red.

“You look great.”

“Yeah… I mean, you do too!”

We stared at each other, unsure what to say or do until Amy suddenly giggled. “We’re both kinda useless, huh?”

Laughing, I reached out and took her hand, pulling her closer to me. “In my defence, I’ve never really dated anyone before.”

“Me either,” Amy said, tugging me gently in the direction she wanted to walk. “Between school and the clinic, I don't really get much free time.”

Letting Amy lead the way, we ambled down the boardwalk, glancing at the various displays as we talked about various interests.

“Really, you actually like horror movies?” I stared in open shock. “I mean, don’t you see enough blood at work?”

“Why not?” Amy said with a shrug and a laugh. “That's half the fun. The effects are always so over the top, and some of the monsters are really creative!” Looking around to make sure no one was listening, she leaned closer and whispered, “I made a xenomorph once!”

I tried to remember what that was. The name was familiar, but I didn’t watch a lot of horror movies. “I’m not sure I saw that one. Wasn’t it from that sci-fi movie… with the face…”

Amy broke into peals of laughter as I stared down at her in horror, wrapping her arms around my waist in an effort to stay standing, her face pressed into my side. Despite myself, I put my arms around her shoulders.

“You’re kidding!” I hissed, picturing those things loose in the city.

“Nope!” she said between laughs. When she calmed down enough, she looked up at me and rolled her eyes. “Oh relax, I made sure it couldn't reproduce. Anyway, it worked. I haven’t seen a skinhead near the clinic since.”

I wanted to argue, to point out that not even the fucking Nazis deserved that, but it would be a lie. Besides, Amy looked so happy that I couldn't bring myself to argue, so I settled for just smiling with her.

“So you’ve never seen it?”

“Not all the way through…”

“We should watch it sometime, you’ll love it!”

Our discussion was only briefly interrupted when, out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of red and turned to see a girl vanish around a corner.

Amy nudged me with her hip. “You okay?”

I shook myself. “Yeah, just thought I saw someone I knew…” I was probably just imagining it. It’s not like Emma was the only girl with red hair in the city.

Putting the thought aside, I gave Amy a one-armed hug, delighting in watching her blush. “So, where are we going?”

“Umm.” Amy blinked, and a flash of panic filled my mouth as I realised that we had never actually planned anything.

“I-I was thinking lunch,” Amy said quickly, clearly making it up on the spot. “Then maybe lunch, I mean, a movie?”

“Sounds good.”

“Great, there's a place just down the road that you might like,” Amy said, radiating relief as she led us further down the boardwalk and down a side road that was lined with shops. “They do all sorts of… oh…”

Amy's face fell as, up ahead, a section of the street had been taped off. As we got closer, I could see the front of a building had been demolished. Something large had apparently slammed into the glass front of the building, shattering the glass and a good portion of the wall around it, leaving a hole big enough for me to walk through. From the remains of the sign above the hole, this had likely been the place Amy had been talking about.

A small crowd had gathered to watch, with a police officer standing guard outside.

“What happened?” Amy said to no one in particular, but one of the nearby watchers heard her and turned around.

“Didn’t you hear?” he said breathlessly, his tone so much like Greg’s that it made me shiver. “One of Uber and Leet’s stunts went wrong last night! Leet punched through the front and the back of the building, live on stream! It was brilliant!”

I winced at the image, but it didn't sound like anyone was hurt. Well, maybe with the exception of Leet, but I didn’t feel too bad about that.

Amy was still looking at the ruined restaurant when I reached down and gave her hand a squeeze, making her twitch. “I guess we should find somewhere else to eat?”

“I’m sorry.” She sighed, giving me a nervous smile. “I didn’t think this would happen…”

“It’s fine,” I said gently. Though if I ever got the chance, I was gonna punch Leet. “Come on, let's go…” I paused, realising that the boy who had spoken was still watching us, his eyes rather blatantly locked onto my chest.

“Are you finished?” I asked him, putting as much scorn as I could into my voice. Turning, I walked away, doing my best not to stamp my feet. It was only after I’d gone a few meters that I realised I was rather roughly pulling Amy along.

“Fuck, I’m sorry!” I tried to let go, but Amy only tightened her grip.

“Why? That was hot!” Her eyes widened in horror and her blush returned. “I mean, that is… he was being a creep and...” Her rambling trailed off as I laughed, and we continued to walk.

Thankfully, the boardwalk wasn’t exactly short of places to eat, and we soon found ourselves at a small Italian restaurant that was only five minutes or so away, and the waitress led us to a private booth away from the door with a friendly smile.

The restaurant was dimly lit from small lights in the ceiling and tealight candles in jars that were on the dark wooden tables, giving the room a close, intimate feel that filled me with nerves, a feeling that was only made worse when Amy smiled at me over her menu.

The prices were a little high, but I had enough savings that I could probably cover both our meals. Especially if I skipped dessert.

“So…” Amy said slowly, “my foster parents kinda have a rule. Apparently it was something my Dad had insisted on when he was still around, and they agree with him.”

“Oh?”

“Well… he had a lot of rules. It was apparently a ‘thing’, but they won’t tell me rule one.” She shrugged but continued. “Anyway, one of his rules was no talking ‘shop’ while at dinner.”

I chuckled at the amount of seriousness she said that with. “Well… with our job, that's probably for the best.”

“Exactly. Now, that being said, let me tell you why Arcadia banned kale from Home-Ec…”

##


“So,” I said with relish while Amy clutched her sides in laughter. “There he was, half way up the flagpole, wearing nothing but his helmet and screaming ‘no, please don’t kill me lord cheese!’”

“Oh god, no more,” she gasped, fighting for breath, and I sat back with a smile.

Sure, I’d never been popular at school, and Winslow had been a shithole long before it became a literal hell on earth, but there had been plenty going on that, in retrospect, made for some funny stories. Like finding the captain of the football team having a bad trip.

While Amy tried to calm down, I took a sip from my drink, and the waitress used the lull in conversation to approach. I’d been impressed with the service here so far; the food had arrived quickly, and the empty plates were removed not long after we had finished.

“Can I get you two anything else?” she said politely, but there was a faint hint of frustration to her emotions.

I glanced at Amy, who shook her head, digging her phone from her pocket.

“No, I think we’re —” I started to say, but Amy's startled gasp cut me off.

“Fuck! It's nearly four! We missed the movie!”

Holy crap, had we really been chatting for that long? Well, that explained the waitress's frustration.

Flushing in embarrassment, I quietly asked for the bill while trying to guess how much it would cost while Amy fretted over her phone. The meal hadn’t been too expensive, but I’d lost track of how many drinks we had ordered, and I thought I might have had a second dessert.

Noticing that Amy was worrying her bottom lip, I reached out and put my hand on hers. “Hey, you okay?”

“Oh, yeah I’m fine, but I can’t find another viewing that’s not either on the far side of the city or doesn’t start until nine! I should have set a reminder on my phone or something, I mean, I asked you out and then forgot to even ask what we should do and —”

Without thinking, I quickly got up and moved around the table, sitting myself beside Amy and pulling her into a one armed hug.

“Hey, it’s fine,” I said gently. “I don’t mind. Really. It’s been a great day.”

She took a shaky breath. “Really?”

“Really.”

Sighing, she relaxed against me. “Sorry, I get stressed out when things don’t go to plan.”

We were still cuddling when the waitress returned, giving us both a warm smile, this one genuine, and putting a small plate with the bill on it on the table. I reached for it, but Amy was quicker, snatching the bill before I could.

“I’ll pay,” she said with a determined look.

“No, let me!”

We glared at each other for a minute before we both started giggling.

“Half?” Amy offered, and I accepted with a nod. The bill was quite high, but not ruinously so, and we were soon back outside.

We continued to walk aimlessly along the boardwalk, neither of us in any hurry to leave. Eventually, we found ourselves back where we first met, leaning against the railings and looking out over the bay. The tide was coming in, bringing with it a cold wind that didn’t affect me too much, but made Amy shiver.

Putting my arms around Amy, I pulled her close to warm her up, thrilling at the quiet little squeak she made. The feel of another person in my arms, pressing up against me, was intoxicating. I hadn’t realised just how much I’d missed actual human contact with someone who wasn’t my fucking dad.

Turning in my grip, Amy’s arms snaked around my waist and looked up at me in concern. “You okay?”

“Yeah,” I said thickly, forcing myself to smile. “Just… working through some issues.”

Relaxing, I rested my forehead on hers, and we stood there for a time, just enjoying each other's warmth and listening to the waves until Amy's phone beeped.

“It’s getting late,” she sighed without looking at her phone, and I muttered in agreement. Despite that, neither of us made any attempt to move. At least, not until I felt a spike of anger in the distance.

I glanced up, looking for the source, and spotted a group of boys not too far away. They looked harmless enough, if you didn’t know what to look for.

Despite what people thought, most gang members didn’t walk around with big neon signs with things like ‘Nazi’ written on them. In fact, the ones that did publicly show off their allegiances were very much in the minority and tended to be the more fanatical or fringe members.

Other members were more subtle. They wore certain colour combinations or specific patterns that you had to look out for. Someone wearing red probably wasn’t a neo-nazi, but someone wearing red and words starting with ‘E’ repeated three times on them likely was. A group of white teens, all dressed in various shades of red, with empire patterns and glaring at a pair of ‘lesbians’? Yeah, they were almost certainly Empire, and while the boardwalk was supposed to be ‘safe’, it was getting late, and this was not a city you wanted to wander around in after dark.

The group of boys near us weren’t saying anything outright, but I caught the occasional glare in our direction, their emotions a toxic mix of anger and resentment that tasted like ash in my mouth.

“Taylor?” Amy asked quietly, turning her head to look over her shoulder.

“It’s nothing.” I gave her a bright smile and reluctantly separated from her. “Come on, I’ll walk you to the bus stop.”

The walk was peaceful, with the group not bothering to follow us (I discreetly checked behind us via various windows to be sure). If Amy noticed my caution, she didn’t mention it. Instead, she was content to walk quietly at my side, holding onto my arm.

“So...” I said as we reached the bus stop, unsure of what else to say, and Amy laughed.

“Yeah…”

“I really enjoyed today.”

“Me too… we should do this again… if you’d like?”

“Of course!” I was blushing so hard my cheeks were hurting, and in the distance I could see the bus coming.

“Will you be okay getting home?”

I’ll be fine. It's only a short ride.”

“Okay, that's good…” She took a breath, the bus coming to a stop next to us. “Text me when you're home?

“Don’t worry, I will —” Before I could finish, Amy rose up on her toes and kissed me on the cheek. Smiling broadly, she jumped onto the bus, barely slowing to scan her pass. The driver gave us both an amused chuckle and closed the doors, slowly pulling away.

My surprise quickly turned to giddiness. I’d had my first ever date, and it looked like another wouldn't be too far off.

Resisting the urge to squee, I turned and walked down the road. I didn’t care what else happened, today had been incredible.



If you enjoyed this, please consider supporting me on Patreon: MetallixMiscellaneous
chapter written under commission

Beta by: Phoenix0995

Chapter Text

Succubus Diaries
5-7

 



Cain stumbled into his apartment, slamming the door closed behind him while numb fingers scrabbled at the locks and runes he’d installed into the cheap wooden frame.

Only when the last of the wards hummed into life did he relax, sliding to his knees on the floor and gasping for air. He hadn’t stopped running since the meeting.

“H-How did they find us?!” he muttered, his voice trembling.

“Ca~in,” a high voice whined. “Why did we have to leave? ‘‘#!%f’ had only just arrived! I haven’t seen them in so long and now we finally get on the same plane only to leave right away just because a pair of humans show up and what about the others?”

He flinched, hissing as the unpronounceable name sent a jolt of hot pain through his skull, but the spirit continued to talk, unaware or uncaring for his condition.

Finally calm enough to think clearly, he tuned her rambling out with long-practised ease and made his way into the living room so he could curl up on the edge of his sofa, face buried in his hands.

How had those heroes found him? How had they gotten past the fucking wards? He’d been so careful to do as his Lady commanded, to not rouse suspicion or draw too much attention, yet they had found him anyway.

“Are you okay?” The spirit appeared in the air above him, a woman of pink and green smoke that Lady Magic had called ‘Joy’. Her miscoloured eyes looked down at him now with a mix of concern and confusion. “Here.” He took a deep breath as she reached out to touch him, and a wave of warmth flowed through his body, filling his mind with joy and washing his fears away.

Groaning, he fell backwards onto the sofa, unseen hands gently massaging his thighs and soft lips working their way down his neck and chest. The world dissolved into light as she wrapped a long tongue around his stiffening cock and pulled it into her mouth.

He lost all sense of time as she comforted him, kissing, touching and playing with his body, her magic touching his soul in ways only a spirit could, and he came with a shuddering gasp.

“There.” Joy’s voice was little more than a distant echo as the world slowly came back into focus. “Doesn’t that feel better?”

Cain stared unseeing at the dark ceiling of his apartment, his thoughts still awash in the high of Joy’s touch. “Thank you,” he slurred, then, with as much effort as he could muster, he slapped himself across the face.

The pain brought the world back into sharp focus. The fear wasn’t gone, he could still feel it there, waiting for him to come down so it could drown him all over again, but that was a problem for later, and right now, he had a mess to clean up. ‘Well,’ he thought as his wet underwear brushed against his thigh, ‘two messes’.

He’d have to get his suit laundered again.

Ignoring the sensation for now, he climbed to his feet and walked through the dark room, not bothering with the lights. The small apartment had been gifted to him by one of his brothers. It wasn’t much, just two bedrooms and a bathroom attached to a combined living room and kitchen, but it was more than he needed.

He currently slept on a camp bed in the smaller of the two rooms while the larger one contained his shrine to his Lady. The shrine was a small table pushed against the far wall. A roll of rich purple cloth with a stylised eye painted on it was pinned to the wall and hung down over the table. A magic circle had been painted on the carpet in front of the table, and he noted that it was starting to look a bit faded and worn. He’d have to repaint it soon.

A thick leather-bound book sat on the table, with bowls of crystals around it and a small incense burner. He dropped a set of gold rings into an empty bowl and used a match to light the incense, a mix of various dried plants that smelled pleasant when burned and gave him the light high needed to distance himself from the physical world as he knelt in the circle, pushing his magic into the runes.

He kept his eyes shut as the glow of magic slowly lit up the room, muttering plea after plea for Lady Magic to appear and guide him now.

“Honestly, you could have showered first,” his lady said from the doorway. “You stink of sweat.”

“M-my lady!” jumping, Cain stumbled in his haste to stand, slick his hair back and straighten his suit all at once. The Lady rarely chose to manifest her physical avatar before him, typically sending visions or lesser spirits to aid him instead.

Joy appeared in the air, sweeping around to hide behind him, a blush on her cheeks as she looked over his shoulder.

“You honor me with —”

“Yes, yes,” she cut him off with a huff. Leaning against the door frame, her avatar looked up at him from within her purple robes, her arms crossed and an annoyed frown on her face.

“Something went wrong? Heroes found you?”

“Y-you know?” He swallowed the bile that was climbing its way up his throat.

“Of course I know,” she snapped, solid grey eyes flashing as she walked past him and picked the gold rings from the shrine. “Your failure with the wards has cost me three servants!”

“My lady, I’m sorry! I don’t know how they found —”

She cut him off with a wave of her hand and took a deep breath. She drew herself up, and when she looked at him again, her grey eyes were lightening back to green. “It was bound to happen eventually.” When she spoke now, her voice held an echo that lifted his spirits and drove back his doubts.

“Your faith in me is flattering. It strengthens me, and through that, I am able to guide you. But there are other forces in this world. Some of them are stronger than even me, and I fear they are moving against us.

“I know Glory Girl was one of the heroes, but tell me of the other.”

Screwing his face up, he tried to think back to the moment when they had dropped from the sky. “She was… bright,” he said eventually. His vision was always weird when channeling a spell; details tended to blur into the background while light and sound filled his vision. His lady had told him once that it was because he was touching the spirit world when casting, that it diminished his connection to the world and that he had to limit how much magic he used.

“Is there nothing else you can tell me?”

“The fight,” Joy hissed over his shoulder, her memory of the girl’s transformation flashing into his mind. He’d been too busy running away to see it at the time.

“My brothers… they managed to hurt her, but when they did she changed, she transformed into some kind of creature with horns.”

The avatar looked up at him suddenly, pushing her hood back and exposing her long hair. “Horns… did they grow from the side of her head, with scales on her skin and wings on her back?”

“Yes?”

“I see…” She gave him a calculating look, then pulled a leatherbound book from inside her robes. “The creature you saw was not a girl but a demon, a construct of magic, sex and desire that needs to be destroyed.”

She pressed the book into his hands and he glanced at the cover. The words ‘The Grimoire of Terryn’ were stamped into the leather.

“I cannot face her directly, as she serves a being older and more powerful than you can know. The others will not allow it. But you, my chosen, are free to act as you will. She has your scent, and she will be coming for you, so you need to move quickly. This book contains methods to contain or destroy her, but you lack the power to use them, and I cannot grant you more without destroying your soul.”

Holding the book to his chest, Cain took a deep breath and stood tall, pride outweighing the fear in his chest. “What about the crystals? Can I use them to power the spell?”

Humming to herself, his Lady tapped her lip with a finger as she considered it. Eventually, she nodded.

“Yes… the Halafong,” her corners of her mouth quirked briefly, “can wait. Increase production and reduce the amount you sell. There's a five-man banishing spell in that book, replace two of the men with six pounds of crystal and have anyone participating consume a double dose. So long as the creature is in the center ring, she’ll be sent back to the hell she came from.”

Reaching out, she touched his forehead, and understanding filled his mind, a vision of the spell she spoke about appearing. Three men, including himself, standing in a circle, and the girl in the center, snarling like a beast, her skin peeling apart to reveal the monster underneath as they opened a hole in reality and sent her through it.

He shuddered in pleasure as the vision faded, leaving the absolute knowledge that the girl was evil, and he opened his eyes to find himself alone in the room, the missing rings and the book in his hands the only evidence that his goddess had been there.

Kneeling once more in the circle, he offered his thanks to her. For her guidance and her gifts. More importantly, he thanked her for the day she had found him, face down in the gutter, his brain frying in his skull as drugs he’d bought from Skidmark had ravaged his body.

There was no doubt in his mind that he should have died that night, only for a goddess to appear in the form of a young girl, a smile on her freckled cheeks and a promise to save him.

He had woken in a hotel room days later, Joy watching over him and the goddess sitting in a chair like a queen on her throne. She had asked for shrines, for followers, for crystals of pure magic harvested from the blood of others, and in return, she gave him her love, the power to bring others into the fold.

Returning to the living room, Cain snatched up his phone and started making calls. If the goddess wanted this demon's head, then that's what she would get.

“Remember,” her voice whispered in his mind, “she is a creature of lies. She cannot be trusted.”

##

[now]

‘Oh god!’ I tried not to heave as the bandages were slowly unwrapped; the arm underneath was a mess of sores and, oh god, was that mold?

“Is she going to be okay?” the patient said, sweat glistening on his pale forehead and his breathing strained.

Panacea smiled at me, her eyes shining with amusement. “She’s fine. She’s just getting used to all this. Now, can you tell me how this happened and why you didn’t see a doctor sooner?”

“Cut myself while stripping a house and I ain’t paying for insurance,” the man said with a shrug.

With a decidedly unimpressed hum, Panacea waved me over. Having something to focus on helped distance me from the nausea, and I cast a simple diagnostic on the patient. A ghostly copy of his arm appeared in the air, the injury glowing red with runes around it.

“There are three cuts on your arm,” I said, trying to copy Panacea's professional tone. “The deepest is filled with… Superglue… there's also a mess of bacteria and spores, and the skin around the area is showing signs of necrosis, which is starting to release toxins into your blood.”

This wasn’t mentioning the obvious fever and breathing difficulties he was having. I wasn’t even sure how he had managed to walk into the clinic on his own power.

The patient grunted, “This is still free, right?”

He was too busy looking at my magic to see Panacea rolling her eyes as she said, “Of course.”

That hadn’t been the original plan, of course. Sure, the clinic did a set number of free treatments every month that were picked by Karen so people couldn't bribe Panacea or accuse her of bias. As he’d walked in off the street, my current patient wouldn't normally meet the criteria for a free treatment, but Karen felt this would be a good training experience for me and had convinced him to sign the waiver for experimental treatment.

In short, he got free treatment and I got to experiment with healing magic while Panacea oversaw everything.

“Okay,” I said, making a quick note on one of the clinic’s many, many forms. “I’m ready to start, do I have your permission to begin?”

“Go ahead,” he grunted, and Panacea placed a hand on his other arm so she could observe.

I cast a spell on his arm to numb it and another to stop any bleeding, then I tucked my wand into my belt and I opened the small spellbook I’d been working on. I had some basic, general-use spells on my wand, but the spellbook contained more specialised spells based on things Panacea had treated in the past. Things like safely removing rotting flesh.

Finding the spell I wanted, I charged it with magic, a green light wrapping around my hand like a glove. Careful not to touch the injury, I held my charged hand above the wound, feeding a steady flow of magic into the spell.

“You might want to look away,” I suggested to him, and he turned his head to stare at a poster on the far wall.

The blisters and whatever was seeping from them vanished first, drying out and crumbling to dust that rose like smoke that vanished into the air with only a faint smell of burning flesh. My patient had turned back to look, fascination on his face as the traces of mold disappeared.

With the outward symptoms gone, I moved on to the necrotic flesh, which went deep enough in some spots that I was forced to expose the bone before I could switch spells and start regenerating his flesh.

This spell was red, casting the open wound in a hellish light as the muscle grew, thin threads stretching out from the surrounding flesh, binding and twisting together to fill the void. Veins spread across the gap like spiderwebs, followed by subdermal and external layers of skin, leaving barely a sign on the injury.

With a sigh I let the spell fade, exposing the pale unmarked skin of his forearm.

“The paleness will fade over time,” I said, shooting Panacea a quick glance. It was technically possible to prevent the discolouration, but I’d have to spend more magic to fix something that would fade on its own after a couple of weeks.

I had the patient make a fist and rotate his arm, followed by taking my hand and gently pulling against me to ensure there was no pain or stiffness. It was also kinda funny to watch his expression when he failed to move my arm.

Sitting back, I had to resist the urge to roll my shoulders. That was probably the most magically taxing thing I’d done so far, and while I wasn’t exhausted, it had still left me feeling a bit tired. Nothing that a few minutes rest and a cup of tea wouldn’t fix.

“Well,” Panacea said cheerfully, letting go of his other arm and standing up as the door opened and Nadia stepped inside. “I’d say we’re done here. The nurse will help you finish up the paperwork and see you out?”

At Nadia’s nod, Panacea gestured for me to follow her and led me out of the room and into the elevator at the end of the corridor without looking at me. Her emotions were a confusing whirl that made it impossible to guess what she was thinking, so as we walked, I went through everything I’d done — what spells I’d used, what needed improving or what else I should have said to the patient — but I was fairly certain I hadn’t made any mistakes.

The instant the doors shut, Panacea spun around and threw herself at me, the movement so sudden I was pushed into the wall as she wrapped her arms around me.

“That was perfect! I’ve never seen anything like it!” she gasped. She pulled her scarf back, the movement knocking her hood down as she looked up at me, her eyes shining with excitement. “The cells were dividing without spending any energy, simply pulling mass from nowhere, which should be impossible! Then you reconnected all the nerves without an issue and even purged the toxins from his blood!”

Putting my arms around the excited healer, I could feel my cheeks heating up, and I wasn’t sure if she was always like this, or if she had maybe been standing a little too close when I had cast my numbing spell and was having a weird reaction.

“It wasn’t —” Before I could finish, Panacea rose up on her toes and pressed her lips against mine.

“It was perfect!” she said as she pulled away. “A few more treatments and we can have you certified!”

I wasn’t really listening to what she said; my mind was still fixated on the feeling of her lips. It had only been three days since our date, after all, and I was still trying to get used to the idea of dating in general.

“Respite, you okay?” She looked up at me in concern and without thinking, I reached down, placed my hands under her ass and picked Panacea up. She squeaked as I turned us around, pinning her to the wall and pressing our lips together.

Arousal filled the air, mingling with the taste of Amelia on my tongue as she pushed my hood down, her fingers fisting in my hair, keeping us pinned together. Part of me was worried that I’d never really kissed anyone before, but as I copied Amelia’s motions, I could hear her moaning into my mouth, so I had to be doing something right.

The world fell away from us, and I would have happily stayed in that moment with Amelia had someone not cleared their throat.

My heart was in my mouth as we broke apart, looking to see that the elevator doors were open and we were on the ground floor!

The amused nurse who had coughed was, thankfully, providing some cover, but I had no doubt people knew what was going on.

Frozen in place, I used one hand to keep Amelia pressed against my chest. I could feel the heat coming from her cheeks, but I was more concerned with shielding her exposed face.

“Um…” I squeaked, “Would you?” I nodded at the button panel by the door, and the nurse reached in to press the button for the top floor with a stifled laugh. Amelia was trembling against me as the door shut, the movement sending interesting sensations through my body, but neither of us moved until the elevator started to rise.

Letting go of her head, I tried to step away and put Amelia down, but she held on tightly to my robe and looked up at me, her eyes bright.

“Karen’s going to kill me for that,” she groaned, and I gently lowered her enough that she could put her feet on the floor.

“This will be all over PHO by dinner, won’t it?” There had already been a few threads about us, but the mods had shut them down, as it was nothing but speculation. Sighing, I leaned against the wall.

“It’ll be online before we make it to my office,” Amelia said with a bitter laugh.

“I’m —” Before I could finish, the door opened, and Amelia pulled me out of the elevator and towards her office. Once we were inside, she pushed me onto her couch and glared down at me.

“I really hope you're not about to apologise.”

“But, well, you just said Karen is going to be mad at you and —”

“She’ll be mad we were making out in the elevator while in costume,” she ground out, giving me a flat look. “It can be seen as unsanitary and leads to gossip articles that she then has to deal with. I can tell you now that she has no problem with me dating anybody! Okay?”

A little taken back by the sudden firmness in her voice, I nodded in agreement.

“Good.” Huffing, she dropped down next to me and leaned back on the couch, a faint blush returning. “Can I ask, how did you do that thing with your tongue?”

“What thing?”

“You don't know?” She gave me a disbelieving look.

Frowning, I poked my tongue out, going slightly cross-eyed in an effort to look at it. Without even meaning too, I shifted my body slightly, lengthening my tongue until I could have probably licked my own eyebrow if I wanted.

Fuck,” Amelia muttered, staring at my tongue, her cheeks flaming red and the faint taste of her arousal returning.

Returning it to normal, I laughed to hide the butterflies in my stomach. “I guess I did it without knowing. My body tends to react to.. um.. . stimulation… I mean, I don’t really have much experience and —”

Smirking, Amelia twisted around until she was sitting on my lap, her thighs straddling mine. As much as our costumes would allow anyway.

“So,” she said, the position letting her look me in the eyes. “I kinda wanted to wait until we’d had a couple more dates before asking, but would you be my girlfriend?”

“I — yes?”

She cocked her head, one eyebrow raising playfully. “You don’t sound very sure…”

“I mean, yes!” Then, before I could stop myself, I muttered, “Mistress.”

The taste of arousal filled the room, overwhelming everything as Amelia's pupils expanded and she squeezed my thighs tighter. She leaned forward to kiss me again, and I relaxed into her, my body shifting, returning to my real appearance and letting her hands stroke my horns.

We stayed that way for a time, quietly moaning as our lips roamed across each other’s jaws and necks.

One of Amelia’s hands drifted lower, ghosting across my chest and playing with the outline of my nipple to make me gasp. It was only as she started to pull at the zipper that I pulled away.

“Ah — Amy, don’t! I’m not —”

Immediately, she stopped, leaning back to give us both some air.

As I looked at her, I expected to see disappointment or irritation, but instead Amelia gave me a soft smile.

“Don’t worry, we don’t have to go any further if you’re not ready.”

Swallowing, I nodded in agreement, not trusting my voice just yet, and Amelia leaned forward, resting her head against my chest. I didn’t mind, she felt practically weightless to me.

“Thank you,” I said, once I’d calmed down enough to talk. “You can touch, just… let’s keep our clothes on, for now?”

Smiling, Amelia started kissing my neck, raising herself up so I could slide my hands up her sides and around her back as I nipped at her neck...

##


Shooting through the sky, I cursed myself for the fifth time tonight and pushed myself to move faster in an effort to make it to the meeting.

Making out with Amelia, I’d lost track of time, and I’d barely had time to make it home, clean myself up and eat something.

Of course, Glory Girl was already there, waiting on a roof near where we had first met, her white costume and blonde hair standing out on the dark roof.

Tucking my wings in close, I went into a dive, the world below a blur as the rooftops rushed up to meet me. At the last moment, I flared my wings, grunting at the strain, but I was still moving too fast as I brought my feet down and ended up sliding to slide to a stop along side her.

“Wow,” Glory Girl said dryly, taking a sip from a styrofoam cup as I did my best to catch my breath and straighten my clothes. “And here I thought…”

Her eyes widened as she spotted something, her attention fixed on my jaw and a smirk on her lips. “Oh, I see someone had a good day…”

Flushing, I resisted the urge to pull my hood up and quickly shifted my body, hiding the hickey Amelia had left on my neck to avoid any more questions and thankful that no one else was around to see me blush.

Laughing, she waved at a cup that was sitting on the low wall that enclosed the rooftop. “I guess those rumors about you and Panacea I saw on PHO are true? I honestly didn’t think she had it in her.”

Saying nothing, I picked up the cup and popped the lid, the sweet smell of chocolate rising from inside.

“I didn’t know if you wanted tea or coffee,” she said with a shrug, “but what woman doesn’t like hot chocolate?”

Taking a seat in midair, she gave me a pointed look that felt more like she was looking right through me. “So, it’s been nearly a week. I haven’t said a word to the PRT about you, but you still owe me an explanation? Why is the PRT looking for you, what happened with Dauntless? Gallant says he found you at a murder scene.”

Huffing, I sat on the wall, my tail hanging over the edge. There wasn’t any point hiding my appearance now anyway. “First, I don’t ‘owe’ you anything… as for Dauntless…”

Drink in hand, I told Glory Girl almost everything, mostly leaving out names. I told her that a friend had gotten cursed and that while looking into it, I’d stumbled into that room — which wasn’t a murder — and that Dauntless had found us there.

“And he just attacked you? I mean,” she said quickly, “I believe you. It’s just, I’ve met Dauntless and he’s always been so nice.”

“Yeah, well, you’re human. His exact words to me were, ‘tell me what I want and I’ll make it painless’.”

“Fuck…” Drifting towards me, Glory Girl put an arm around my shoulders in a hug. “...I can’t give names, but I know a lawyer you could talk to?”

“Yeah, ’cause that’ll work out well,” I said, unable to keep the bitterness from my voice. “Hi, I’m a demon and I wanna sue the PRT, no I don’t think the horns and scales will count against me in court, why do you ask?”

Snorting, Glory Girl moved away and let her feet touch the floor. “Well… for what it’s worth, I think they look cool?”

“Thanks...”

Silence hung in the air between us, and I focused on my drink while Glory Girl played with a lock of her hair. The chocolate was a little sweet for my tastes, but I did appreciate the gesture.

Eventually, Glory Girl huffed. “Okay, look. There's something I need to ask you. You don't have to answer if you don’t want to but, well… when the PRT first told the Brigade about you, they said that you were summoned here and that we need to find out who —”

“No one summoned me, I was born here,” I snapped. I wasn’t stupid; I expected anything I said would eventually find its way back to the PRT. That's why I had avoided giving Glory Girl any names and why I decided not to mention Mom or her connection to Lustrum, just in case the PRT could use it to track me down.

“Huh…” Sitting in the air again, she was silent for a moment before suddenly giggling.

“What’s so funny?”

“I’m sorry, it’s just… I realised you have a Brockton accent, and then I pictured you with an English accent or something, and well…”

She continued to giggle, and in a fit of whimsy, I decided to copy her voice, only raising the pitch so it would sound more ‘valley girl’.

“Well, like, it could be worse. There are, like, so worse accents.”

“Holy shit!” Her giggles gave way to full on laughter. “Can you do anyone else?”

“Well,” I said, sounding almost exactly like Gallant, “it’s not that easy, as I have to meet someone first.”

“Okay, that’s creepy…” There was an evil glint in her eye as she brought out her phone. “Say ‘I'm a pretty princess!’”

Rolling my eyes, I played along for a bit, mimicking different voices but always taking care to never match perfectly, but eventually Glory Girl calmed down.

“So… what happened after I left?”

Glory Girl shrugged. “Not much. The PRT showed up, then when they saw all the spooky shit, they called in Dauntless. He said they were some sorta cult and that I should stay away from them as they were possessing people, then he tried to send me home.”

“Tried?”

“I barely listen to Mom,” she said, puffing her chest out in mock pride. “Like hell I'm gonna let him tell me what to do.” She leaned forward conspiratorially. “I spoke to Gallant yesterday. He told me that Dauntless and Triumph had been checking buildings near the old train yard. Apparently, it's connected to some ‘magic-based drug’... Wanna check it out?”

I should have said no. I should have just gone back home and focused on my healing spells. These people were dangerous. They were intentionally summoning spirits and allowing themselves to be possessed.

John said the issue would resolve itself when they got themselves killed or the PRT tracked them down. But what happened until then? How many more people would get hurt or worse?

The memories of Winslow still woke me up at night. Would this cult repeat that nightmare? I couldn't let it happen a second time.

“Yeah,” I said. “I’m in.”



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