“This is so cool!” Em said, laying on Donna’s bed and holding her phone over her head. “ ‘The new superheroine saved two local women last Friday night outside of Last Call,’ ” Emily read off the screen, smiling. “ ‘The woman, none other than Queens’ own Belladonna Saito, attends the prestigious Middlestorm Academy and is credited with the arrest of two corrupt police officers and the criminals they associated with, known human traffickers. Beware criminals… with her portals she could be behind you right this second!’ ” Emily laughed, tossing down her phone and rolling over on the bed to look over at the crimson-faced Donna. “A little dramatic there at the end, but still… You’re a superhero now, Belladonna,” she said, stressing the name and smirking. “I’m dating a superhero!”
Donna blushed, filling out the last problem on her homework. “It’s not the first time I’ve been out there,” she said weakly. “It’s just the first time I’ve been recognized.”
“Still, this is incredible!” Emily said. “I had no idea you had such a cool ability!”
“I told you, Em,” Donna said, putting her books back into her bag and turning in her chair to look at her girlfriend. “I told you I was an aberrant back in freshman year.”
“Yeah,” she agreed, “But I thought you were, like, an Ant. I didn’t think you were this… fucking… awesome!” She laughed, picking up her phone again to read the article. “Can you, like… take us to China or someplace cool?”
Donna rolled her eyes. “Do you speak Chinese? ‘Cuz I don’t.”
“You know what I mean!” Em protested.
Donna laughed and shook her head. “Can’t go that far,” she admitted. “Only about five hundred feet.” Donna snapped her fingers. “Which reminds me…”
Donna got up and began walking around the room to the series of shelfs on the on the back wall. Em watched as she touched the back of each shelf, one at a time. Each shelf was loaded with with things… a medical kit, a phone, a jar full of a strange smoke, and a half dozen other things she wasn’t certain of of. “What are you doing?” Em asked.
“Making waypoints,” Donna said. “When I said five hundred feet, that’s without preparation. If I plan ahead…” she smiled as she finished touching the last shelf and turned back to her girlfriend. “I can go a lot further.”
“Ahh,” Em said smiling. “So you coooould take me to China, you’re just being lazy. I understand.”
Donna looked up at Em, rolled her eyes… and opened a portal beneath her. Em shrieked as she fell through it, dropping through the other portal back down onto the bed, bouncing and beginning to laugh furiously. “So. Fucking. COOL!” Emily said, her smile so wide that it had to hurt her face. “I have my own superhero girlfriend. How awesome is that?” She rolled over on the bed, turning to bring up her phone again. “So, am I your damsel in distress?” she said, blinking her eyes innocently. “Are you going to need to rescue me from a bunch of criminals after they tie me to some railroad tracks?”
Donna shook her head. “There’s practically no crime here in New York anymore, Em… you know that. Who do you think is going to kidnap you, Midnight?”
“What about this other guy they mention,” she asked, looking at her phone. “This… ‘Hypnos’ creep. The new supervillain around.”
Donna shook his head, chuckling as she sat down on the edge of the bed and began to run her hands through Em’s soft hair. “I can’t believe there’s a criminal within a hundred miles still dumb enough to do it… let alone publicly declare themselves and give themselves a name. Do they live under a rock? Baldur lives in Manhattan – it’s not going to end well for them.”
“Ooooooh,” Em said, abruptly even more excited. “Do you know him? Are all of you, like, friends?”
Donna’s smile became forced for just a second. “I’m not a real hero, Em… not yet, anyway. Not like the Dawnbringers are. I’ve never gotten to meet Baldur… although I’d like to, of course.”
“Well when you do,” Em nudged her conspiratorially, “make sure you get me an autograph! He’s my idol!”
She rolled her eyes again at the eager girl. “He’s everyone’s idol, Em. He’s my idol. He’s… well, he’s Baldur. When you save the world from a monster like Midnight, it inspires people. I want to be just like him.”
Emily’s eyes twinkled. “You will be, Donna… I believe in you.”
Donna leaned down to kiss her. Her lips felt impossibly soft beneath her own. “Thanks,” she said smiling.
“Donna!” her mother called from downstairs. “What did I say about closed doors while Emily is over?”
Eyes wide, Donna opened a portal and half helped, half pushed Emily through it, letting her out on the lawn. “I’ll see you tomorrow at school,” she whispered with a smile as the portal started to close. “She already left mom!” Donna said as she walked to the door and opened it.
Her mother stood there, one eyebrow up. Akiko was a gorgeous woman… it was easy to tell where Donna got her best features from. She was tall, fit, and well built… she hadn’t let herself go since she had retired from being a hero herself. “Portals aren’t playthings, Donna…” she chastised, but the smile on her face made it obvious she wasn’t really upset with her daughter.
“No idea what you’re talking about mom,” Donna said with a grin as she walked past her. “I guess time got away from me. Has Dad been waiting long?”
Sam pressed in with a series of low thrusts with the wooden sword. Donna’s feet backpedaled on the padded floor as she tried to back away quickly and return to even footing, but the relentless assault followed her every step. Her Father had once been Legion, after all, and he followed her closely, making Donna keep her movements solely on the defensive. More often than not, Donna found the hilt of her sword closer to Sam than the blade.
Sam then dropped into a low crouch and came up under Donna’s defense. Donna slashed her own wooden sword down to deflect the attack, but she needed to straighten immediately to fend off the continuing assault as he continued the ferocious attack. Her father was an expert combatant… she knew she had been read into a trap, and she fully expected the next attack as Sam shifted his weight to his back leg and dived in, both sword tip aimed for Donna’s stomach. She spat a silent curse and spun her practice weapon down… too slow.
Even as she jumped back, her father’s weapon caught her, delivering a painful slap against her side even through the padded gi she wore. Annoyed, he threw he sword onto the floor. “You should not have missed that move,” he said bluntly. “You aren’t trying hard enough, Donna.”
“Maybe because this is stupid?” Donna replied, lowering her sword tip to the floor and leaned on the weapon. “Why are we practicing without powers? When am I ever going to be without mine? And you are ten times the fighter I am when you’re using yours.”
“I’m ten times the fighter you are right now without them,” her father said, “because you aren’t practicing.”
She sighed in annoyance. “I can do so much more,” Donna protested.
“And what if you don’t have your power?” he asked, narrowing his eyes. “There is plenty of animite floating around. If you get a sliver in you, no more portals… and then where will you be?”
“And where will I be if I go up against someone who’s practiced using their power while I don’t practice mine?” Donna said stubbornly.
“Pick up your blade,” Sam growled, narrowing his eyes and taking a threatening step forward. An arm, made of ephemeral energy, shot from his back down to the floor, grabbing his sword and flipping it up into his hand before vanished. Donna hesitated and Sam charged, sword leading.
Donna dropped to a crouch, deflecting and spinning away, and her father pressed furiously, snapping off cut after cut and backing Donna around in circles. Donna defended well enough – for all her complaining, her father had thoroughly drilled her in combat with a variety of weapons and barehanded since she was ten, well before her power had awakened – and began to notice an all-too-familiar pattern as Sam’s attacks came consistently lower. Donna understood that her father meant to prove his point with actions, not words.
Two could play that game.
Sam came up and under and Donna stiffened and straightened, preparing for the attack. His sword dived in, and Donna was ready for him. He executed the same attack that had caught her before, smiling smugly at the impact of his bokkun against hers. Donna had used the same imperfect parry again, leaving her open the same way. Her father followed up with the counter that had caught her thigh last time… but this time, Donna opened a portal in the way of it.
Sam pulled back immediately, his sword pulling back from the violet ring as Donna counter attacked… but her attack, quick as it was, was as flawed as the parry. Sam dropped his sword tip beneath her thrust and flicked upward. The move sent the thrust just too far upwards, and he dropped straight down to the floor, under the arc of Donna’s swinging bokkun and spun a single circuit, driving his booted heel into the back of Donna’s exposed knee. Before Donna had even realized the attack, she found herself lying flat on her back.
Sam abruptly broke his own momentum and threw his feet back under him, thrusting the wooden sword for her throat… but Donna wasn’t there anymore. He caught a glimpse of her, and himself, through the rapidly closing portal, spinning as she descending towards him blade outstretched… and six faintly glowing arms shot from his back to grab the sword, stopping it an inch before it came to rest at his throat.
Donna grinned. Sam did not.
“Wasn’t that more fun?” she said smiling. “That’s more like how it would go.”
Sam sighed, but he couldn’t help himself. He smiled at his daughter. “You really do need to learn this, you know. Your power can’t do everything for you, even if it is strong.”
“Strong enough,” she said, shrugging. “It’s nothing compared to those the Dawnbringers have.”
“You might be surprised,” he answered with a grin, walking to the edge of the padded floor and lifting his water bottle, tossing Donna’s to her. She caught it with a portal, letting it drop directly into her hand. “Show off,” Sam grumbled. He sat down on the floor, patting beside him to encourage Donna to do the same. She did, her thigh sore from where she’d been hit but shrugging it off. “I’ve seen the papers, you know,” he said. “You’re starting to get attention. I just worry you aren’t ready for the sort of people who could come out of the darkness at you.”
“God, you’re as bad as Em,” she protested. “There’s no one like that in New York. No aberrant with a brain would start using their powers for crime in the same city the Dawnbringers set up in.”
Sam put a hand on the side of her face, and smiled at her. She smiled back as he laughed. “I love you, Belle,” he whispered. “You’re going to change the world in a way we never could. I’d take you over a dozen Baldurs.”
Her eyes twinkled. She wouldn’t let anyone in the whole world call her that… but her dad. “Then you’re an idiot, Dad. But a sweet one.”
Most of the class wasn’t paying attention as the video played, but Donna did. Her mismatched eyes stared with rapt interest as Baldur spoke on the screen, speaking of heroic ideals and the importance of hard work. It wasn’t surprising that people weren’t listening – they had all seen this video again and again, since they were in elementary school. Donna had seen it a hundred times.
It didn’t matter. She loved it. She loved all of them.
Baldur was a living legend… the greatest hero that had ever been. In an age when heroes were being killed nearly every day, Baldur had appeared. When Midnight had reigned over the world and nearly cast it into another World War, it had been Baldur who had stopped him, bringing light back to the world. Donna wasn’t a fan of Baldur – she idolized him. He was the kind of hero who changed the world, who made it better, and she envied him for it. Donna had watched every interview he had ever given, watched every broadcast of him fighting – someday, she hoped to be half the hero he was.
The video continued with the man being asked questions, giving his perspective. He was unbelievably handsome, especially for a man in his 40s. He looked young, muscled, athletic. She wasn’t into men at all, but even so she felt like she could get lost in his blue eyes. In fact, she was so distracted watching her idol that it took her a few minutes to realize that Mrs Homes was waving to her.
Slowly getting up in the darkened room, she walked past a trio of boys laughing to one another, chuckling as one of them drew Midnight’s insignia onto the desk. She shook her head. Edgy assholes. Why couldn’t they just draw dicks like everyone else? Did they really not understand the plague that Baldur had saved the world from before they were born, just how bad things got when Midnight reigned? Did they not realize how many people died?
She approached her teacher, who pulled her out into the hall. “Yes?” Donna asked. “I’m missing the video…”
“You’ve seen it before,” Mrs Homes said, a smile on her face.
“I like it,” Donna admitted with her own smile. As a rule, her teachers liked her – she was one of the top students in the academy after all.
“Mrs Green asked to see you,” her teacher said, and Donna’s breath caught a little. That was stupid. It wasn’t like she hadn’t seen the guidance councilor before, but… Lucy Green was LUX. She had been a legend as a heroine before getting injured and retiring. The fact that she was here, helping get students on to their best lives, was just one more way of being a hero as far as Donna was concerned. The woman was amazing.
“Head on down there now,” Mrs Homes continued. “She said she had some news on your college applications. I’m sure you can afford to miss the rest of the video… Baldur will still be around when you get back,” she teased.
Donna blushed a little and turned to go, but her teacher put a hand on her shoulder. “And Donna…” she said softly. She looked back at her. “Chelsey is one of my students, too… thank you,” she said, trying to hold back tears. “You’ll always be my hero.”
Warmth filled Donna as she smiled back. “Thanks, Mrs H. Just happy to help.”
Lux was a gorgeous woman. In her early thirties and built like an amazon, she was everything that Donna thought of when she thought “superheroine.” A bit under six feet tall with long blond hair cascading down her back, even after her retirement Lucy Green kept the build of a professional athlete. She rose to her feet as Donna walked in, and Lux stood half a head taller than she did.
“So you are the girl from the papers,” Lux said, looking Donna up and down with an appraising eye before smiling. “I had to say, I knew you have a power – we have access to all registries on our students, of course – but I didn’t know you were so… impressive.” She smiled as she gestured for Donna to sit down. The girl did eagerly, and Lux moved back around her desk, limping as she went.
It made Donna’s heart ache to see that. Her leg had been broken pretty badly during the arrest of Savos 6 years ago… that was when she had retired from being a heroine. According to what Donna had heard, it had taken her more than a year to be walking again afterward. The strength to take a sacrifice like that and keep fighting, even in another way… Donna aspired to something like that.
Lux sank down into her chair a bit heavily, smiling warmly across the desk. “Really wanted to meet you for myself,” the councilor said with a grin.
Donna grinned sheepishly. “You’ve met me a half dozen times, Ms Green,” she corrected.
“True,” Lux admitted, “But I didn’t know who you were then.” She learned forward. “You’ve made quite an impression now. Your school pictures are across the internet now… everyone’s talking about the new heroine in town.”
“I didn’t do much,” Donna said, meaning it. “Jus-”
“True,” Lux admitted with a smile, “But it was enough to capture the imagination I suppose.” She reached over to a bunch of envelopes, dropping them onto the desk with a thump. “You applied to some very good schools Ms Saito,” she admitted as she looked through the envelopes. “A lot of… excellent… schools. Most of them haven’t gotten back to you yet, but they’ve gotten back to us. They’ll be taking you, of course. Your grades are excellent, and if any rejected you I’m sure they’ll be getting back to you in the next few days after the news circulates. Your heroics have paid off handsomely.”
Donna was trapped between joy and horrified shame. “That’s… not…” she whispered. “That’s not why I…”
“You must admit it worked, though… you’ve gotten some very interesting offers.” She moved envelopes… big ones, far too big to be rejections… off to the side one after the other, stopping briefly on one labeled Yale. Then she pushed it off the desk. “Some very, very interesting offers,” Lux continued as she leaned forward. “I got a call today from Oracle. You know him, right?”
Donna felt her heart start beating faster. “You… you know Oracle?”
“We’ve spoken a few times,” Lux admitted with a smile. “He called to ask about you.”
She felt like she couldn’t breathe. Baldur might be the greatest hero in the world and by far the most famous, but he wasn’t the one who lead the Dawnbringers, who guided them and recruited for them… who trained them. Oracle… he had trained Baldur, for gods sake. “Me?” she asked, and hated that her voice seemed like a squeak.
“He wants to meet you,” Lux said, looking her up and down again. “I thinks he can make something out of you. I guess I can see why. And you have been earning a reputation around the city.”
“But Ms Green… Lux…” Donna protested. “I’m just… me. I can’t do anything spectacular. What do the Dawnbringer’s want with me?”
The blonde heroine laughed. “Oh I think you’ll measure up just fine. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. You should go… this is the rest of your life.”
“What if I disappoint them?” Donna whispered.
“What if you never live up to your potential?” Lux countered with a smile. “You could have a valuable role there… just think about how useful you could be to the team after Oracle is done with you! This is your destiny, Donna.”
Donna felt short of breath… her heart was beating so fast. “I don’t know what to say… of course! Of course I’ll go!”