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Celestial Worm [Worm AU crossover]

Discussion in 'Creative Writing' started by Ack, Aug 17, 2018.

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  1. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Yes.
     
  2. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Armsmaster scene redone.
     
  3. aabbcc

    aabbcc Versed in the lewd.

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    Much better. It retains his characterization while still introducing conflict, as well as the potential plot hook of someone finding his attitude to this particular new cape unusual, with all the M/S protocols and fallout it could entail.
     
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  4. Necrovore

    Necrovore Know what you're doing yet?

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    I know you mentioned a final edit, but this jumped out at me. I never got a chance to read the original version of the chapter, but in the current form, he did make the wards pitch.
     
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  5. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Huh. For some reason I thought he hadn't. Will check.
     
  6. CrimsonFate

    CrimsonFate I trust you know where the happy button is?

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    To be fair most capes in Worm are assholes including Panacea being among them. That even extends to those who haven't got their powers through triggering.
     
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  7. Threadmarks: Part Four: Settling In
    Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Celestial Worm

    Part Four: Settling In



    [A/N: This chapter beta-read by Karen Buckeridge, the author of Ties That Bind.]



    Taylor

    The TV was just a murmur in the background as Taylor huddled on the sofa. It was a reminder to her that she wasn't in the locker, and wasn't in the hospital room. The blanket was a comforting warmth around her neck and shoulders, but she didn't pull it too tight. Being compressed into a small space was something she honestly couldn't deal with right now. Even the bathroom gave her the creeps.

    And then there was … the other thing. The thing with the bugs. She still didn't know what to think about it, or how to think about it. Was it a good thing that she had powers, or was the world just shitting on her yet again? At least she'd worked out how to block out the incessant sensory inputs before they drove her mad all over again. She knew she really should learn how to interpret them properly, but one thing at a time.

    Gravel crunched in the driveway, and she straightened slightly. Dad's home. Good. As much as they'd been drifting apart before this point, her distress had pulled them back together. Not that he was able to do much, but he'd been pushing hard to do what he could. And if he hadn't gone to the school, they wouldn't have given up as much as they did.

    Paradoxically, he had more life in him now than he'd had in the last six months. Adversity had worn him down, but this was a target he could aim at, and she felt comforted with him nearby, fighting on her behalf.

    She heard the car door close … then she heard it close again. He must've forgotten something. Because there was no possible reason she could think of for him to have someone else in the car, when all he'd been going to do was take some photos of the Boat Graveyard. Still, she sat up on the sofa. I told Dad I'd do the washing up. She couldn't see the pile of dirty dishes in the sink from where she was, but she could feel their guilty presence.

    The back door lock clicked open, and she heard her father's voice. “… n't look like much, but it's home.”

    “Trust me,” said a girl's voice, sounding somewhat amused. “I've seen much worse.” Whoever it was sounded around Taylor's age, but it wasn't someone she knew. She stood up, holding the blanket around herself, then changed her mind and discarded it on the sofa. Meeting a visitor wrapped up like a mummy probably wasn’t the best way to make a good first impression.

    “Dad?” she called out. “Who's that you've you got with you?”

    “Oh, hey, Taylor.” He sounded in good spirits, which was something. Leaning through the doorway into the kitchen, he gave her a smile and waved her towards him. “You're up. Good. I've got someone for you to meet.” He stepped back into the kitchen, out of sight.

    “Okay?” She frowned as she moved towards the kitchen, not at all thrilled at having unexpected visitors thrust on her. And she still couldn't understand why her father would've just brought a teenage girl home like this. It was totally out of character for him.

    A moment later, before she could cross the threshold into the kitchen, a girl stepped into the doorway. Just for an instant, it seemed to her that the newcomer was much more real than everything around her. That was stupid, of course. She blinked, and everything looked normal again. The girl's dusky skin momentarily reminded Taylor of Sophia Hess but that was equally stupid, the same as when she felt a twinge of fear every time she glimpsed a redhead out of the corner of her eye. Don't be an idiot, Taylor. It was clear this girl was nothing like Sophia. For one thing, she lacked the aggressive attitude that Sophia brought to every interaction. In addition, her features were different; more South Sea islander than African-American. As for her clothing … holy crap. She's a cape?

    “Hi, Taylor!” the newcomer greeted her. “I'm Janesha. It's nice to meet you. Your dad's told me all about you.” She stepped into the living room and held out her hand.

    More than a little bemused, Taylor shook Janesha's hand. There was strength there, she knew immediately, though whether that was merely athletic-girl strength or chuck-a-car strength, she wasn't at all sure. To her, it was one and the same.

    “Um … okay?” Taylor rubbed her face, wondering if she'd fallen asleep and was now in the middle of a weird dream. “Why … did he bring you home with him? What's going on?”

    “Plenty,” said Janesha brightly. “But first, let’s get rid of that misconception on your part. I’m no cape. I’m a celestial.”

    Right, like Myrddin thinks he’s a wizard.

    Janesha’s easy-going manner soured and she crossed her eyes over her nose, letting out an unimpressed raspberry. “No, not like that demented wannabe. Damn.” She then shot a dirty look over her shoulder. “Like father, like daughter, huh?”

    “Be nice,” Taylor heard her father reply, warningly.

    Fiiiine,” she drawled, rocking her head from side to side like a bobble-head doll. By the time she turned back to Taylor, her mischievous grin was back in place. “To cut a long story short, your dad did a stupidly brave thing and saved my life in the process. And since he doesn’t like me using my birthright to get my own way …” For whatever reason, she said that last part at a pitch higher and rolled her eyes to where Taylor knew her father was.

    “Damn right!” she heard him bark as he unlatched the basement door and shoved it open so angrily, it banged against the living room wall from the other side and made all the framed photos wobble. Taylor blinked in mild surprise. Yes, the basement door would hit the wall if it was pushed hard enough, but she'd never seen anyone do it with that level of force before.

    “… he’s invited me to stay here for the foreseeable future,” the girl ploughed on, as if he hadn’t spoken. “And that brings you all up to date.” Her smile brightened and she clapped her gloved hands together. “See? Everything's totally under control.”

    Taylor blinked. While she'd understood each and every word of Janesha's rapid-fire delivery, her comprehension fell down when she tried to consider it as a whole. One word in particular jumped out of the mix at her. “You called yourself a celestial. Are you saying you're some kind of angel?”

    “Oh, hell no!” Janesha's immediate look of disgust surprised Taylor. “I was born! Do I look like a fucking construct to you?” She shook her head adamantly. “In fact, if you ever happen to meet another Mystallian, don't even think of comparing us to angels. Uncle Avis calls them parasitic little pricks, and that's the nicest thing he's ever said about them.” Her lips twisted to one side thoughtfully. “You know what? I think it'd be easier to show you what I mean about being a real celestial.” Lifting her chin over her right shoulder, she raised her voice again. “Danny? Where’s that basement you were talking about?”

    'Danny'? You’re on a first name basis with Dad?

    “Down here.” Her father's voice echoed up from below. “I'm just clearing some stuff out of the way.” There was a grunt of effort, then a pause. “What the hell?” The sound of something else being scraped tentatively across the ground wafted up to them, followed by another pregnant pause. “JANESHA!”

    Merriment danced in Janesha’s eyes and she immediately pinched her lips together, but couldn’t hold back the snicker of laughter that caused her whole body to tremble. She sent Taylor an utterly devilish look, then cleared her throat and called, “Yeah?” as innocently as she could.

    “Why the hell am I so strong?” Which was not a phrase Taylor had ever expected to hear from her father.

    Janesha's grin only deepened. “What makes you think I had anything to do with it?”

    Rapid footsteps pounded up the stairs, and Danny entered the living room a moment later. The expression he wore was somewhere between exasperation and astonishment. “Don’t you even try to play your word games on me, young lady!” He waggled his pointer finger at Janesha in a way that Taylor knew would have ended in her being grounded for a month if she’d been the on the receiving end of it. “I watched you rebuild my car from scratch, and you healed yourself of serious injuries after you woke up. Not to mention what you did to the talot.”

    “Isn’t it just as likely you triggered after your traumatic ordeal?” Janesha asked sweetly.

    The question would’ve had merit, if she could keep a straight face … which she couldn’t. And then Taylor realised what she’d said. “Wait,” she snapped, turning her full attention to her father. “Triggered? What traumatic ordeal?”

    Her father continued to scowl at Janesha for a moment, then shifted his focus to Taylor. He must have seen the panic on her face, for his expression softened and he raised both hands placatingly. “I’m fine, honey. Honest. Janesha had a … creature chasing her, and I distracted it long enough for her to get her second wind and beat it. That’s all.” His gaze narrowed and he swung back to their guest. “And while it's technically possible I might've triggered with powers, given your propensity to act without permission, I’m putting my money on you having a hand in it.” He fixed her with a gimlet eye. “The truth, young lady. Right now. I’m not asking.”

    Janesha stared at him, then huffed and shook her head ever so slightly. “You are so lucky I like you, Danny Hebert, and if you want to know so badly, fine. After that stupid risk you took distracting the talot, I didn’t want you dying unexpectedly because your frailty doesn’t match up to your courage, so I made you as tough and strong as the people here can be.” She gestured to Taylor. “I can do the same for her, if you want.”

    Danny gave her a suspicious look. “'Can do' or 'have already done'?”

    Janesha screwed up her nose. “Will you stop anticipating my moves. It’s really annoying!”

    “Says the girl who periodically pokes around in people’s heads and makes them do whatever she wants.”

    “I’m a celestial mind-bender! It’s what I do!”

    “And I’m a parent! It’s what I do!” Danny shot back. “How many times do I have to tell you, you just can't keep modifying people without getting permission. Or at least warning them first!”

    “Hey!” shouted Taylor. “Stop! Everyone stop talking for just one second!” She clutched her hands to her head, trying to keep her spinning thoughts in check. It didn't help that her agitated state was transmitting to the bugs in the area, causing them to act up and fly around.

    “Sorry, Taylor,” Danny said almost immediately, but not without a 'look what you did' glare at Janesha, who gave him one right back, along with a poked-out tongue.

    Taylor frowned. “So, you can make people do anything you want? Like the Simurgh?” It was her father’s turn to snort, even as Janesha closed her eyes for a minute to breathe through flared nostrils. “What?”

    Danny shook his head. “Don’t get her started on the Simurgh, honey. They have a history … sort of. But yeah, where she comes from, her mental power’s so common it’s called mind-bending.”

    Taylor eyed Janesha suspiciously. “Are you reading my mind, now?”

    “Surface thoughts only, at this stage.” As she spoke, her eyes worked the room, pausing quite often on what appeared to be nothing. “Any chance you can calm down enough to get them under control? There’s too many of them for me to deal with nicely.”

    “What are you talking about?” Danny asked, his own eyes skirting the room and failing to see the growing number of insects alighting on various pieces of furniture and swarming outside the window.

    “Nothing,” Taylor said hastily, at precisely the same time as Janesha did.

    Danny’s eyes flicked suspiciously between the two of them. “Uh-huh.”

    Which made the girls meet each other’s eyes and smirk. Janesha then glanced pointedly at Danny and back to her and raised an eyebrow. As discreetly as she could, Taylor shook her head. She hardly knew what to make of her bug powers herself, without explaining them to her father. Using the eye furthest from Danny, Janesha winked again in silent solidarity and Taylor finally felt she had an ally in what had been her waking nightmare up till now. Just that knowledge allowed her to force her roiling emotions down, sending the bugs back where they'd come from.

    Once that was accomplished, she took a deep breath and squared her shoulders. “Okay. Let’s go right back to the beginning. Dad, you said you met Janesha while she was fighting a talot. What the hell is a talot, and what did you do to distract it, and what did Janesha do to it afterwards?”

    Danny opened his mouth for a moment, then closed it again. He held up his finger in a 'wait' gesture and disappeared into the kitchen. While he was gone, Janesha leaned towards Taylor and murmured, “For my part, I killed it, so it’s not a problem anymore.” Then straightened up as Danny returned, as if she hadn’t said a word.

    In her father’s hands was a metal figurine about four inches high. Wordlessly, he handed it to her. “Okay, this thing is ugly,” she observed, looking at the creature from all angles. It had fangs, claws, horns and even spikes along its body. There were blades formed from the end of its tail. “This is a … 'talot'?” She looked between the two.

    Her father nodded, but Janesha screwed up her face and shrugged one shoulder. “Was, at least partially,” she said, which made no sense at all.

    Taylor frowned at her father. “Where’d you even get this from? It looks really expensive.”

    He chucked humourlessly. “Janesha made it. Out of a part of the real talot that attacked her, and then tried to eat me after I got its attention. Imagine something like that, only the size of a tank. With a breath that could peel aluminum siding clear off the wall.”

    Taylor tried to imagine it. It wasn't a pretty picture. Then she turned to Janesha. “So, if you can kill monsters and make stuff and modify people, what’s the difference between you and a cape? Because right now I'm not seeing much of one.” If this was a dream, she decided, she may as well play along.

    Janesha looked thoughtful for a second. “Because I’m a celest, and while you can mistake a celestial for a cape, but you'll never mistake a cape for a celestial. And no, you’re not dreaming. This’s as real as it gets.”

    “Janesha.” Danny glared at the girl, who gazed innocently back. “What did I just say about reading other peoples' minds?”

    “It's just the surface thoughts, Danny. Looking at surface thoughts is no more invasive then looking at someone wearing a tie and knowing half the ribbon is under the collar.”

    “Bullshit.”

    “Stop!” Taylor ordered again, raising her hands as if that alone could stop them from arguing. “Janesha, can you really read my mind any time you want?”

    Janesha gave Danny one last annoyed look, then turned back to Taylor and nodded. “That and more, if I choose to. It’s how we stay in control of mortals and lower level celests. It’s called mind-bending, and almost the whole pantheon back home can do it. But just so you know, comparing a cape to me is like comparing a double-A battery to a nuclear power plant. Your capes are just mortals with some sort of celestial construct link-thing going on.” She must have seen the confused look on Taylor’s face, or seen it in her surface thoughts, because she shook her head and added, “I haven’t been here long enough to figure out the specifics yet, but I recognise the handiwork of one of my kind when I see it.”

    Danny sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose just below his glasses. “Janesha, Taylor, how about you both take a seat?” He waved the girls towards the fold-out sofa against the far wall. Stepping into the kitchen for a moment, he carried a chair back into the living room. Putting the chair down across from the sofa with its back toward the girls, he sat down and crossed his arms across the back. “Taylor’s still not well, and I’m guessing this conversation is about to get a whole lot more complicated.”

    Janesha and Taylor both slid down the back of the sofa into the seat as only malleable teenagers can. “The easiest explanation is also going to probably have you flipping out the hardest,” Janesha said obscurely. “You wanted advanced warning, Danny, so here it is. If you can’t handle what I’m about to say, I won’t let you remember it.” She looked at Taylor and added, “Same goes for you.” Back to Danny. “You okay with that?”

    Danny’s lips pinched together as if he’d tasted something sour and he sat back up straighter in his chair. Taylor didn’t know what to think.

    Janesha shrugged and clapped her hands together. “Welcome to the bigger picture, my friends, where free will is entirely relative and only the most ignorant believe in it absolutely.”

    “So, what's the easiest explanation?” Taylor asked, not liking Janesha’s gloating tone at all.

    “I’m a goddess, petal. Or, at least, I will be in time to come, just as soon as my mom lets me.”

    Taylor looked at her father and knew the same gobsmacked expression was on her face. “Goddess,” he repeated, slowly. “Like the Greek gods and goddesses?”

    Janesha closed her eyes and chuckled to herself. “I forgot that’d be your go-to where female celestials are concerned.” She opened them again at Danny, then swept them to include Taylor. “Yes, just like them, only they're not the only pantheon out there. Not by a long shot. They’re not even one of the biggest realms. We are.”

    “And who is ‘we’?” Taylor heard herself asking.

    “Mystallians,” her father murmured, almost to himself.

    Janesha tipped her head in his direction. “Top of the class, Danny. The best way to explain the Known Realms is to compare it with your world. Every pantheon controls a realm, the way your ruling houses controls their respective countries. Insides those realms, the ruling pantheon is all-powerful. Like your American president, inside the USA. But if he was to, say, go to Mexico, his control diminishes to stuff-all except for what the Mexicans are willing to let him do.”

    “But we have embassies ….” Danny argued.

    “I know, and they’re all well and good, but imagine what it’d be like if you didn’t.”

    “Whoa, is that what it’s really like out there?”

    “Uh-huh, only worse, because while the pantheon in charge remains all-powerful, the visitors don't even have their powerbases to protect them.”

    “But if the Mexicans took the President prisoner, our military would go and get him back,” Taylor said, wondering why in the world she was going along with this.

    “As would ours,” agreed Janesha. “And with my great grandmother leading the charge, we would absolutely get back our supreme rulers.”

    Danny frowned. “That’s why you told Armsmaster if anyone ever figured out how to get to your family, they’d be so screwed.”

    Janesha nodded, with a laugh. “Yeah. My Uncle Tal has been known to punt worlds across galaxies when he loses his temper.”

    “You’re serious?” The words fell out of Taylor’s mouth before she could stop them.

    “Very,” Janesha answered. “Like I said, I haven’t figured out the specifics of who’s doing what here or how, but it’s definitely the work of one of my lot. He, she or they have built a series of constructs up in your celestial realm, and I think they’ve somehow linked them to your parahumans here. It would certainly explain all of the divine enhancements your supers seem to have.” She waved her hand at the walls around them. “If I’m right, everything powered that’s happened to your world … your parahumans, the Endbringers, all of it … is because a celestial or a group of celestials like me got bored and decided to make your tiny little planet into their own private superhero story.”

    Taylor held up a finger. “Okay, that’s me done,” she said. “I draw the line at being accused of being a character in a book.”

    Janesha smirked. “I didn’t say you were a character in a book. That's ridiculous, because then I'd be a character in that book as well. You're real, and so is this world. You would’ve been here, or someone similar to you, with or without the celestial influence. We shape things and push them in certain directions, but we can’t create life from nothing until we’re established in that field.”

    “It’s … certainly a colourful picture you’re painting,” Danny said, probably because he’d had more time to digest this craziness. “But why do you think these … people like you, have been messing with our world?”

    “Because I’ve seen this world before.” Janesha gestured broadly again. “My cousin runs one almost exactly like it, and the odds of having two worlds so nearly identical in nature and history with all those crystal constructs in the celestial realm overhead are highly unlikely. Someone, or a group of ‘someones’, has taken my cousin’s world, replicated it, added comic book superpowers for shits and giggles, then let it run to see what would happen next.”

    “Who the hell would do that?” Danny beat Taylor to the question, but only just.

    Janesha shrugged. “Could be anyone. There are billions upon billions of celests in the Known Realms if you take all the commoners into account, and most if not all of them are capable of breeding.” She rolled a pointed finger in Danny’s direction. “But when I figure out who’s behind it, you can bet your ass I’ll be finding out what their game is.”

    “Does that mean there's a world out there like Earth Aleph, but with no parahumans? No Endbringers? No Slaughterhouse Nine?” Taylor thought such a place sounded like the perfect place to live. “How soon can we move there?” And get rid of my stupid bug powers while we’re at it.

    Janesha gave her a side-long look and shook her head. “Everywhere has its problems, petal, no matter where you go.” She sniffed and thumbed towards the east. “Case in point. The only reason I came out here in the first place was to cool off after I got into an argument with Thor for stealing my great grandmother’s glory, and he threw me out of Asgard when I called him out on it.”

    Danny choked. Or maybe Taylor was projecting, because she definitely felt like choking. “Are you seriously trying to say that the red-headed braggart you compared Armsmaster to was Thor, the Norse god of storms?” That was another question she'd never thought she would hear her father ask.

    Janesha curled her lip in a sneer. “Trust me, those two assholes are a match made in the stars.”

    “From what I saw, Armsmaster would take that comparison as a huge compliment.” Danny raised an eyebrow, daring her to refute it.

    “I’m sure he would,” Janesha agreed, rolling her eyes.

    “So what could possibly be so bad in this other world? The one your cousin runs?” Taylor asked, not quite willing to give up on the fantasy of a power-free life so easily.

    Janesha shrugged. “Stupidity and violence isn't a parahuman condition, it's a human condition. People flying planes into buildings, shooting up churches and nightclubs with automatic rifles, putting underaged kids in cages and selling them for sex … are you sure you want to trade one set of problems for another?”

    “If your cousin is in charge of that world … and that’s something I’m still getting my head around that by the way … why would she allow stuff like that to happen?” Danny asked, genuinely curious.

    An icy look swept over Janesha's face and she turned to look at him as if he’d grown a second head, then pressed her elbow into the arm of the seat and leaned on it heavily. “Wow. Just wow. You’ve got a helluva set on you, Danny Hebert, I’ll give you that.”

    Taylor’s father seemed affronted. “Why?”

    “Since the second I met you, you’ve been riding my ass about free will and not interfering with people, and the second … the fucking second you hear things aren’t the way you want them to be somewhere, it’s suddenly our fault for not interfering.” She sat up and placed her hands together, then pushed them apart. “Make up your realm-damned mind, Danny. Which is it?”

    Taylor saw her father's face flush, but he closed his eyes and breathed through it. “That’s…actually a fair call,” he grumpily admitted.

    “My cousin agrees with you, incidentally, which is why her mortals do whatever the fuck they want. To me, it’s dumb, but that’s why it’s her realm and not mine.”

    “World, you mean,” Taylor said, hoping against hope that that was what she'd meant.

    It didn’t sound promising when Janesha sighed. “Her Earth—not Aleph, not Bet, just plain old Earth—is the crown jewel of her realm. Most of us live in the celestial realm and visit the mortal one on occasion, but my cousin and her people have chosen to live amongst the mortals permanently, on her Earth.”

    Danny lifted his chin. “So they do have capes?”

    “The celestials on her Earth all fly under the radar.” Janesha shrugged. “My cousin doesn’t want anyone to know divinity is a real thing, because that’ll give one pantheon a higher boost over all the others. The mortals of her realm work off faith alone, so anyone who visits has to either stay in the Prydelands, or pretend to blend in with the mortals as one of them.”

    “So how big is her realm?” That was Danny.

    “It’s more of a hobby farm than a working realm, actually. But it suits her needs.” Janesha's voice was casual.

    “How big?” Taylor didn’t like the way the self-described celestial was dodging an actual number.

    Janesha shrugged. “Three fifty …three sixty thousand … something like that, I think she mentioned once.”

    “Three hundred and fifty, to three hundred and sixty thousand worlds?” Danny exploded, just ahead of Taylor.

    Janesha looked at them incredulously, then threw her shoulders back into the couch as a huge wave of laughter overcame her.

    Oh, good, Taylor thought to herself. For a minute there, I thought she was being serious.

    “Of course not. Damn – not even Earlafaol’s that tiny!” She continued her raucous laughter, holding her sides with one hand as she wiped tears from her eyes with the other.

    WHAT?!” Taylor wasn’t sure who shouted it the louder, her or her father.

    Suddenly, Janesha stopped laughing, her face dropping into a deadpan expression. “Oh. You two were serious.” She looked from Taylor to Danny and back again. “Dang.”

    “What did you mean?”

    Janesha waved the subject away. “Never mind…”

    “No, what did you mean when you said three hundred and fifty, to three hundred and sixty thousand … what?” Taylor insisted.

    Janesha met her eyes and sighed. “Galaxies, petal. We measure mortal populations in galaxies.” She turned her attention to Danny. “Remember how you asked me how fast Cloudstrike could fly?”

    “Yes … ?” Danny ventured cautiously.

    “On average, she can clear twelve galaxies a second when she’s flying at full speed.” Janesha leaned forward and rested her elbows on her knees. “And it takes a mystallion nearly twenty four hours to get from one side of Mystal to the other.” The smile she gave Taylor’s dad wasn’t pretty. “How good’s your math, Danny Hebert of Earth Bet?”

    “Fuck … me …” Danny rubbed a hand over his eyes, then raked his fingers through his receding hair.

    For once, Taylor didn’t feel like digging in the kitchen cupboard for the swear jar for her dad to put a dollar in, since her thoughts were right up there with his. The only thing that kept her from panicking and calling Janesha a liar was one burning question. “What’s a Cloudstrike?”

    “Who,” her father answered, before Janesha could. “Not what. You know the Pegasus from Greek mythology?”

    “Who doesn’t?” For some reason, Taylor was still waiting for him to jump up and say, Gotcha! Janesha’s a paid actress and this whole thing was to give you something else to think about besides what happened at school. Did it work?

    Instead, he sighed again. “Apparently, Pegasus was his name, not his breed. They’re winged horses …Let me finish!” he barked, as Janesha appeared on the verge of butting in. The girl who had surged forward with a look of outrage then slumped back into the chair with a hmph and folded her arms. “Because they’re winged horses and their homeland’s called Mystal, the species is called mystallion and the people are Mystallians.” He looked at Janesha. “That’s right, isn’t it?”

    “Yeah, but do yourself a favour and don’t ever call Cloudstrike a ‘horse’ within her hearing, or she’ll get really mad. We have horses back home that the military use, and one of the herd’s pet peeves is to be compared to those wingless wimps.”

    Danny turned to Taylor. “And don’t call her a thing either. When I did that, she threatened to bite my arm off.”

    “They can talk?” And here Taylor had thought her eyes couldn’t go any wider.

    Her father burst that bubble with a slight shake of his head. “Not in so many words. But she picked up a piece of concrete in her teeth and crushed it into powder while looking daggers at me, so I kinda got the gist.”

    “Hypothetically speaking, what’s stopping us from going to this other place your cousin runs and having a look around. We can always come back here if we don’t like what we see …” Taylor’s words drifted off as she saw Janesha pick uncomfortably at her bottom lip. “What’s wrong?”

    “Her family doesn’t know she’s here,” Danny answered for her, shifting back into parent-mode now that they’d returned to familiar ground of teenage antics.

    “More than that,” Janesha admitted ruefully, leaning forward on her elbows again, this time to rub her temples. “I know you guys are both super-sceptical, and you both know I could change that if I wanted to, but you’re not seeing the big picture here. My family tree is literally made up of gods. The rulers of Mystal are my Uncle the god of Life, and his twin brother the god of Death. I have an Aunt of Prophecy and an Uncle of Knowledge. My own great-grandmother's our goddess of War.”

    She pulled her hands away from her head and rubbed them together. “And, most importantly right now, I have an Uncle of Luck. At the moment, while I’m here in the middle of nowhere, no amount of good fortune is going to get him to me any faster than his mystallion can run. Which means if he wants me, he’s going to have to ride all the way out here to get me.”

    Taylor wasn't sure if she knew where this was going. “But if you go to your cousin’s?”

    Janesha poked her tongue into her cheek and twisted her lips. “All celestials have the means to reach any blood relative instantly—no travel involved—provided the recipient is willing to accept them. If I was going to take you over there, it’d be a matter of me reaching out to one of my cousins and all of us going over there in a single step. But once there, there’s no family here to bring us back. Not only that, but I can guarantee you ten minutes before we even decided to make that trip, Uncle Chance will have coincidentally found a pressing reason to be at my cousin’s side, waiting for me to make that connection. No matter who I blood-linked to, he’ll be standing next to them at exactly the right time to nail me. And the moment he lays eyes on me, I’m done.”

    Holy shit. The absolute certainty in Janesha's tone had all of Taylor's attention. “Are you going to be in trouble for being here?”

    Janesha stretched and arched against the back of the sofa, as if there wasn’t enough room on it anymore. “Don’t worry about it. I’m in trouble either way, for making a dick of Thor in his personal longhouse and not going home when I’m supposed to have.” She stood up and grinned down at Taylor. “Might as well see how much fun we can have before they turn up and lower the boom on me, eh?”

    “Fun?” Taylor wasn't even sure if she knew what that word meant anymore. Though from the glint in Janesha's eye, the celestial girl certainly did. “What do you mean by 'fun'?”

    Janesha's grin widened and she extended her hand to give Taylor a hand-up. “Well, first I have to go and fix up the basement. Then I'm going to introduce you to Cloudstrike. Despite what your dad said, you'll like her.” She tilted her head toward the doorway into the kitchen. “Basement's down there, yeah?”

    “Yeah.” Now on her feet, Taylor led the way to the top of the basement stairs. “Why do you need to fix up the basement?” She looked down at the contents of the cellar as illuminated by the tired yellow bulb; a dusty workbench, old cardboard boxes, a washer and dryer, and about a million cobwebs. Two of the larger boxes had been freshly moved.

    “Well, Cloudstrike needs a place to stay,” Janesha said reasonably, and vaulted over the rail. She landed on the rough concrete ten feet below with the lightest of thumps. Her cape, bearing the image in gold of a winged horse—a mystallion, her father had said—billowed outward before settling over her shoulders again. Belatedly, Taylor gasped in surprise, then looked up as a creak alerted her to her father's presence.

    “You get used to it,” he said quietly. “Earlier, just after the talot thing, the Merchants attacked us. I think they wanted to force her into their gang. Squealer had her latest monstrosity, like a tank with a bulldozer blade on the front. Janesha hit the blade so hard it bent in half and flipped the whole thing into the air. Then she caught it and held it over her head like … like a plastic bucket. Between her and Cloudstrike, they cleaned up the gang like a babysitter putting the kids to bed early for being too noisy.”

    “Danny?” asked Janesha, drawing Taylor's attention. “Do you really need this workbench?” She gestured at the solid bench with the four-inch-thick wooden work surface, stained with grease and oil and the crud of ten years of neglect. A vise was bolted to it, though Taylor suspected the working parts were rusted solid. Other tools, similarly unused, lay here and there on it.

    “Not really,” Danny said. “I thought of moving it, but unbolting it … oh.” The wooden rail creaked under his grip as Janesha took hold of the bench and lifted it away from the wall. Taylor hadn't heard any sound that might suggest something breaking, but she saw the bright clean circles of sheared-off bolts showing from the concrete wall. Moving as though the bench was a bulky load rather than a heavy one—held the tank over her head like a plastic bucket, right—Janesha carried the bench and all its contents over to where Danny had originally stacked the boxes.

    “Here should do it,” Janesha said briskly, and put her hands up against the wall. With only the faintest of creaking (and Taylor privately suspected Janesha was doing that to show off) Janesha pushed a rectangular hole back into the wall, about five feet high and twelve feet wide. As she did so, the floor beneath her feet slid downward into steps until she was three feet below floor level and still creating the impossible excavation back into the wall.

    Slowly, Taylor came downstairs to watch as Janesha extended the basement outward. The extra area had a two foot wide stretch that was paved in granite flagstones, while the other ten by twenty area was soft soil. The walls were the same granite as the flagstones, and the ceiling appeared to be made of oak beams.

    “Ugh, damn it.”

    Taylor frowned at Janesha's unhappy tone. “What’s the matter?” Whatever was annoying the teenage celestial, it wasn’t obvious to Taylor.

    Janesha pointed at an area of the back wall of the new construction. The texture was different, more like concrete than granite. “Your neighbours have a basement, too. And it’s in my way. I want this to be a good solid six metres, and I can only manage five without taking a chunk out of his.”

    Danny came down the steps. “Well, you can’t just push into their basement. In fact, you really shouldn’t be building under their property at all.”

    “Why not? It's not like they're using the space.” Janesha drummed her fingers against the concrete surface. “What if I went over there and told them that their basement isn’t as big as they think it is?”

    “No.” Danny’s voice was flat. “No mind-bending.”

    “Alrighty then. Janesha shrugged. “But just remember, this is how you wanted it.” Putting both hands on the concrete wall, she shoved. There was a crunching, grinding noise and abruptly sunlight was pouring down in through a broad, three-foot-wide gap in the ceiling above.

    “What the hell?” demanded Danny. “What did you just do?”

    “Since you wouldn’t let me take any of his basement area, I shoved his whole house aside,” Janesha explained patiently. The ground beneath her feet grew a stone footstool that lifted her toward the ceiling. When she placed her hands on it, the sunlit gap began to narrow dramatically. Within ten seconds or less, it had closed entirely.

    “You moved their house?” Danny looked as though he couldn’t believe his own words. “What were you thinking?”

    Janesha frowned darkly at him. “I was thinking that I needed an extra metre of space, but since someone wouldn’t just let me use mind-bending to get it, I had to go the more direct route that may or may not leave him a little confused. This is exactly why we use bending, Danny. To smooth things over so people don’t freak out because they’re suddenly faced with things they don’t understand. His house is now a metre over, and the grass from that side is back over here on this side. Big fat hairy deal. If you’re lucky, he won’t notice, but if he does, what do I care? It’s not as if he’s gonna be able to move it back.”

    As she spoke, the stone footstool retracted and posts grew out of the ground, connecting floor to ceiling along the line of separation between the flagstones and the soil. Rails extended from post to post, leaving an open-topped gate where the ten by twenty enclosure abutted on to the basement. As a final touch, Janesha installed a trough full of water and a large net filled with sweet-smelling hay.

    Danny closed his eyes as if in pain, and massaged his forehead with finger and thumb. “Do you think you could talk to me about that sort of thing first?” he asked.

    “Why?” asked Janesha blankly. “Talking to you is what got that home owner into the predicament he’s in. If I hadn’t said a word and just done what I do, everyone would be happy.” She waved him down with a soft swat of her left hand. “Don’t sweat it, Danny. Mistakes happen and it should all shake out in the end. You mortals are very good at deluding yourselves into thinking that everything's exactly the way it should be.” As a finishing touch, she caused a large and exquisitely-carved sign to manifest on the front of the stable. It read 'CLOUDSTRIKE'.

    Something occurred to Taylor. “Uh, when you moved his house, you would've messed up his plumbing and stuff. That's gonna cause him problems.”

    Janesha shook her head. “Already took care of that. I rearranged his water pipes to make way for the move and for this stable. That's where I'm getting the water for the trough from. Don't worry. Cloudstrike doesn't drink that much.” Her smirk said otherwise. She caught Taylor's eye. “Anyways, I'm gonna go get Cloudstrike now. Wanna come with?”

    Taylor was just wondering if Mr Henderson was really going to be okay with having his house moved three feet sideways when she registered Janesha's question. “Oh, wow, can I?” She turned to her father. “Dad, can I? Please?”

    Danny’s eyes were still wide and his face flushed with outrage, which meant the previous conversation of blame allocation wasn’t as concluded as Janesha probably hoped. But then he shifted his focus to Taylor and his fury morphed into concern. “Baby, I’m not sure if you’re well enough to go all the way to Scotland. It’s really cold over there and …”

    “Wait, what again now?” Taylor turned to Janesha. “Scotland? Why Scotland?” It seemed that every minute she knew Janesha, another mystery raised its head.

    “Well, that's where I told Cloudstrike to wait for me,” Janesha explained blithely, opening the small gate she'd built into the front wall of the stable and stepping through. “But we're not going there. In fact, we're not even leaving Brockton Bay.” She turned to Danny. “She'll be safe. She's literally tougher and stronger than any cape in the city. Just like you. Remember?”

    “Oh.” Danny deflated slightly, then came back strong. “Well, don't go picking any more fights with villains. We may be tough, but we don't want official attention right now. Got it?”

    “You don't want official attention. Got it.” Janesha reached for Taylor's hand. “Ready?”

    “Uh, okay.” Taylor had just enough time to realise that Janesha hadn't actually said she wouldn't pick fights with any villains when the black-clad girl pulled her forward in a step that took her elsewhere.

    Still clinging to Janesha's hand, Taylor swayed on her feet as she stared around at the thoroughly alien landscape. A multitude of crystal outcrops, gleaming under a glowing sky, surrounded them on all sides. “Holy crap,” she blurted. “Where are we?”

    “Proof that we're not in Earlafaol,” Janesha said bluntly. “This is the celestial realm of your version of Earth. Where your gods, if you had any worthy of the name, would be residing.” She looked around, frowning. “But the more I see this place, the more … yeah, that's what I thought.” Now she was looking directly at Taylor. Specifically, at her head.

    “What? What are you looking at?” Taylor felt a flush mounting her cheeks.

    “You can't see that, can you?” With her free hand, Janesha pointed at an empty spot in the air. “No, you can't. Of course you can't. It's a celest thing. And it's something I've never seen before today, which makes it interesting as fuck.”

    “You're not making sense. What are you talking about?” Taylor stared at the spot until her eyes tried to cross, but she saw nothing except the alien crystals and the not-really-sunlight.

    “Easy, petal.” Janesha tightened her grip on Taylor's hand. “I'm gonna try something.”

    “Something as in something different? Different how? I don't see any … whoa.” Taylor blinked. Between one breath and the next, there was a weird, twisty rope extending from her forehead off into the distance. It coruscated from a weird green to a deep purple and back again, but when she waved her hand through it, it wasn't there. “What is that? And why can't I touch it?”

    “You can't touch it for the same reason that you can't bend minds or shift shapes or weave emotions,” Janesha explained. “It's a celestial thing, not a mortal thing. Normally you wouldn't be able to see it, but I'm boosting your perceptions with divine intervention. Which, just incidentally, requires physical contact. Watch what happens when I do this.” She let go Taylor's hand and the rope disappeared. “As for what it is, I have a pretty good idea, but I need to check a few things out before I do something about it. Anyway, we still need to go fetch Cloudstrike.” She took hold of Taylor's hand again. “And … step.”

    This time, Taylor stepped forward with Janesha, and the scene changed again. She half-expected another alien landscape, but this was actually quite familiar to her. “The boat graveyard?” she asked. “What are we doing here?” Then she looked around to see vehicles with flashing lights and people clustered around a shattered heap of machinery, as well as a couple of wrecked vehicles. “And what's going on over there?”

    “Remember that fight with the Merchants your dad told you about when he didn't think I was listening?” Janesha grinned at Taylor. “That's the aftermath. But we're not here for that.” Turning, she faced to the east, out to sea, and put two fingers to her mouth. Taking a deep breath, she let out a whistle unlike any Taylor had ever heard before.

    It shrilled in Taylor's ears and echoed off of nearby buildings, but she got the impression that she hadn't heard one-tenth of the actual whistle, especially when she saw the ripple-pattern on the ocean, spreading out like a fan. “There,” said Janesha happily. “She'll be here in a moment.”

    “But—” Tayor wanted to protest, but she didn't know what to protest about first. There was no way a whistle, however loud, would reach across the ocean. And Scotland wasn't even directly east of Brockton Bay. And even if it was, Cloudstrike wouldn't hear it for hours because of the speed of sound, so—

    <><>​

    The 'whistle heard around the world' was a phenomenon that crossed the Atlantic Ocean in a matter of seconds, propagating by some means unknown to science. Which, in practical terms, meant 'a cape did it'.

    Trawler crews off the Grand Banks heard it. The pilots of airliners at fifty thousand feet over the British Isles heard it, despite the very latest in noise-cancellation headphones. Farmers in eastern Africa heard it (though they didn't tell anyone).

    In the Pyrenees, a reclusive millionaire who was about to sign the papers to buy the most isolated chalet in the mountains so that he would be guaranteed peace and quiet, heard it and promptly cancelled the transaction.

    Research divers investigating a sunken Roman-era ship heard it, three hundred feet below the surface of the Mediterranean.

    In fact, there was not one creature or person within three and a half thousand miles of Brockton Bay, in the direction Janesha was facing, who didn't hear it.

    It deafened nobody. No avalanches were caused. No windows were broken. This was because it wasn't loud. It was just audible.

    Very, very audible.

    <><>​

    Scottish Highlands, a Few Moments Before

    “Maeve! Where’s the camera?”

    Maeve McKinnock looked up from where she was loading the dishwasher. “Jock!” she called back. “Ye wee idjit! You’re supposed to be up here playing ghillie to relax and unwind, not go running around like the English are invading!” Straightening up, she closed the appliance and set it running. Living in a gamekeeper's cottage was romantic and all, but there was no way in hell she would’ve agreed to this holiday if it didn’t have running water, electricity and most importantly, (in her view) the internet. Admittedly, it was a low-bandwidth connection, but it was better than nothing.

    Jock stumbled into the cottage, panting heavily. “Camera,” he wheezed. “Where is it?” He wasn’t exactly fit, which was why the doctor had recommended they go on holiday.

    “You’ve taken pictures of everything that would stand still for you, and a few things that wouldn't,” she scolded him. “That’s why the camera's still recharging. What’s so important that you need to take a photo of it right now?”

    “Horse,” he managed. “There’s a horse. Out there. Eating grass.”

    “That's what horses do, you great pillock,” Maeve explained, shaking her head. “And besides, it's probably O'Donnell's old nag from over the valley. They did say he likes to wander over this way from time to time.”

    He shook his head, still red in the face but not panting as hard now. “It's not O'Donnell's nag,” he stated with absolute certainty.

    Maeve raised her eyes to the hand-shaped wooden beams that comprised the ceiling of the gamekeeper's cottage. “And how would ye ken that, ye daft wee git? We've neither of us laid eyes on the blessed thing before today.” She'd been a farmer's daughter before she moved to the city and married Jock, and when she was excited or angry, the country girl came back into her speech.

    “Wings,” he said. “It's got wings.”

    Sharply, she rounded on him. “And what has the doctor told you about indulging in whisky at this time of day?” she snapped. “It's the fresh air and good food you're supposed to be having, not the drink!”

    “I haven't had as much as a dram all week, and you know it,” he protested.

    “If you're seeing horses with wings, then it's more than spring water that you've been drinking,” she stated flatly.

    He opened his mouth, then closed it. “Come see. You'll know I'm right.” Grabbing her by the arm, he marched from the cottage, towing her with him.

    Maeve was taller than Jock and stronger, but whatever he was talking about had now taken hold of her curiosity. She was certainly wondering how he knew without a doubt that the mystery horse did not belong to Fergus O'Donnell, or how he came to think it had wings.

    And then, as he guided her to the top of the low hill near the cottage, she saw. Cropping the grass fifty metres away was indeed a horse, but it definitely didn't belong to Fergus O'Donnell. For a start, this was a young, strong animal at the peak of its strength; nobody with working eyes would call it a 'nag'. Secondly, it had a coat that gleamed gold in the weak winter sunlight. While she'd seen colour like that on a horse before, there was none like it within fifty kilometres, she was sure. And finally, of course, there were the wings. No animal on Earth had wings like that, especially not horses. I'm stone cold sober and I see them too.

    “Camera,” she managed. “Have to get camera.”

    “That's what I was saying, woman!” he retorted. His tone said much more, along the lines of if you'd just listened to me, we'd have the camera now, but she wasn't listening.

    Turning, she hurried back toward the cottage. “Don't let it go away!” she called back over her shoulder.

    “And how am I supposed to do that?” he demanded. “Jump up and down really high?”

    Ignored his sarcasm, she hastened into the cottage. As she'd told Jock, the camera was still recharging from his latest attempt at taking pictures of every last thing he saw up in the Highlands. Unplugging it, she noted that the battery had forty-three percent charge. That will certainly do.

    Being a practical woman, she set the picture to the highest possible resolution before she got back to the top of the hill. The last thing she wanted to do was still be fiddling with the camera when the winged horse decided to fly away.

    It was still there when she came to the top of the hill again. Hands shaking, she raised the camera and framed the impossible creature in the viewscreen. Taking a deep breath, she began to press the button to take the picture.

    Just at that moment, a distant whistle shrilled across the hills. As it echoed endlessly, the horse tossed its head and snorted explosively. She completed the tiny motion, her finger pushing the button home with a click. As the sound reached her ears, she realised that between one instant and the next, the horse was no longer there. It hadn't run off or even flown into the sky on those magnificent wings. It had simply vanished, as though it had never existed.

    “What?” Jock stared blankly at the empty hillside. “Where did it go?”

    Maeve carefully pressed the button that would bring up the last image captured by the camera. Silently, she showed it to Jock. The picture of the hillside itself was clear and sharp, but there was a blurry image in the middle of it. At the near end, it could almost have been a horse if she squinted. But that image smeared into a gold streak that vanished over the horizon to the west, all frozen by the camera in the instant she'd activated the electronic image capture.

    “America?” she guessed. But even as she said it, she knew how ridiculous it sounded. Why would something like that go to America?

    She guessed she would never know. In that, at least, she was correct.

    <><>​

    Taylor

    Clop-clop-clop-clop.

    The sound, accompanied by a rush of wind, brought Taylor’s head around. Her jaw dropped as she stared at the apparition before them. Her father had described Cloudstrike as a 'winged horse’, but that in no way came close to doing justice to the beauty of the animal before her. The burnished-gold coat gleaming in the winter sunlight, the proud arch of her neck ... and the wings. Widespread and magnificent in blue and grey, they were only now folding in toward the mystallion's sides.

    “—oh,” she managed. “Oh, my.” She had never been horse-mad. In fact, she’d never been this close to a horse before—or a mystallion, she added hastily in her mind—but now she had some small inkling of how people could get that way. Though every horse she was ever going to see from now on was going to suffer considerably by comparison. “She’s gorgeous.”

    Her father had warned her that Cloudstrike could understand her, and this appeared to be true; at her admiring words, the mystallion actually preened. Arching her neck proudly, Cloudstrike turned side-on and ostentatiously shook out her wings before furling them again.

    “Well, yes,” Janesha said, in the same kind of tone that others would use for saying water is wet, sky is blue. “She’s a mystallion. They’re all gorgeous. Of course, Cloudstrike is the most beautiful of them all, aren’t you, my pretty?” Stepping up next to the mystallion, she snuggled her face into Cloudstrike's cheek while reaching up to scratch behind her ears.

    Cloudstrike nickered, apparently in agreement, and rapped the concrete sharply with her hoof.

    “Wow, I mean seriously,” Taylor said. “I'm not surprised you guys get worshipped. Turn up on Cloudstrike, and there's probably people in Brockton Bay who'd line up to declare you their personal lord and saviour. Especially if you just happened to turn Hookwolf into a gerbil or something.”

    “We actually need that not to happen,” Janesha said seriously. “Not the Hookwolf thing—the worship thing. I mean it. I'll talk it over with you and your dad later, but no talking to other people about gods or celestial worship. Okay?”

    “Um, okay,” Taylor replied dubiously. “So, uh, how are we going to get Cloudstrike back to the stable?” The obvious answer seemed too good to be true; she could see the saddle on Cloudstrike's back, but actually being allowed to ride such a magnificent creature? It was beyond her wildest dreams.

    Janesha grinned, and Taylor felt her heart leap in her chest. “Exactly the way you think we are,” replied the celestial girl. “First, we climb on Cloudstrike's back. Then we go flying.”

    “You mean it?” whispered Taylor, an uncontrollable smile crossing her face. Is this a dream? Good things don't happen to me. Especially things like this.

    “If there's anything you should know about me, petal, it's that I'm a Mystallian.” Janesha gathered up the reins and vaulted effortlessly into the saddle. Leaning down, she offered her hand to Taylor. “I've been taught to own my space since I was old enough to know what it meant. I say what I mean, and I mean what I say, and I don't say sorry to anyone, for anything.”

    Wonderingly, Taylor reached up, and felt her wrist grasped in an iron-hard grip. A single jerk upward, and she found herself seated on Cloudstrike's rump behind Janesha. Fortunately, she was just tall enough to look over the celestial's shoulder.

    “Hold on tight,” Janesha said cheerfully. “You won't get hurt if you fall off, but it'll be embarrassing as fuck for you and me both. You ready?”

    Taking a deep breath, Taylor leaned forward slightly and wrapped her arms around Janesha's waist. “No, but let's go anyway.”

    She heard the grin in Janesha's voice. “I knew there was a reason I liked you. Cloudstrike—hup!”

    Whether it was the vocal command or some other signal, Taylor had no idea. All she knew was that the mystallion's wings suddenly snapped up and outward, spreading wide before sweeping down again. And then … she knew what it was like to fly.

    Holding tightly to Janesha, Taylor whooped with exhilaration as the ground fell away beneath them at a dizzying pace. She could feel the stretch and snap of Cloudstrike's muscles, and somehow she knew that this was the closest thing to a casual stroll that the mystallion could manage. Twelve galaxies a second …

    They flew south over Brockton Bay, swooping lower and lower over the Boardwalk until the people below pointing up at them were almost recognisable. Taylor grinned so hard that her face hurt, barely able to believe that she was riding a creature from myth and legend, behind the daughter of a god. Even in a world with superheroes in it, this was a little over the top.

    “So, you ready to—” began Janesha, then broke off. “Oh, hey. Heads up. Incoming local.” She twitched the reins, and Cloudstrike banked slowly into a turn. “I think it's the one you call Glory Girl. Want to meet her, or are you good for now?”

    One day ago, Taylor would've been thrilled to meet Glory Girl. She wasn't Alexandria, and she was pretty and bright and popular (not actually selling points for Taylor), but she was still a superhero. However, after meeting Janesha, the glamour of superheroes wasn't quite so shiny anymore.

    While she was still trying to make up her mind, the gold and white figure slid in beside them, short cape flapping in her slipstream. “Hi there!” Glory Girl called chirpily. “Can I see your flying horse license, please?”

    Even from where she was, Taylor heard Cloudstrike's displeased snort. “She's not a 'flying horse', she's a mystallion!” she called back. “She can fly twice around the city before you can get out your front door. Show some respect!” She knew she was understating Cloudstrike's capabilities by a huge amount, but there was no way Glory Girl would believe the facts. From the look on the heroine's face, she didn't even believe these ones.

    “Oh, puh-leeze,” Glory Girl retorted. “Your friend's got a nice line in costumes, but as far as I can tell, you're just along for the ride.” She indicated Cloudstrike with a careless gesture. “And there's no way that anything with wings can fly like I can.”

    “Oh. Really.” Taylor tightened her grip on Janesha's waist in anticipation, then raised her voice. “Cloudstrike, care to prove her wrong?”

    Cloudstrike snorted again. Taylor felt she was getting to know the mystallion's moods; this time, she sounded happy. Her wingbeats increased in tempo and she slowly pulled ahead of Glory Girl.

    “Oh, come on. Really?” The teen hero drew level with them again. “That the best you can do?”

    “Not even close.” That was Janesha; Taylor caught the flashing grin that she gave Glory Girl. “Cloudstrike … tag.”

    With a ringing whinny, Cloudstrike pulled a complete three-sixty degree barrel-roll around Glory Girl, ending up in the same relative position. Taylor had a brief instant to savour the blonde's shocked expression as a single wing-feather slapped her across the face, before everything disappeared in a blur of motion.

    When it subsided, Glory Girl was nowhere to be seen. So, for that matter, was Brockton Bay. The city below them was one Taylor had never seen. She leaned forward and raised her voice slightly. “Where are we?”

    Janesha shrugged. “Search me. I'm not good at your geography.” Shading her eyes with one hand, she pointed with the other (which was also holding the reins) at a very recognisable looking mountainous outcrop with a spread-armed statue atop it. “Well, well, well. Now there's a familiar face I wasn't expecting to see.”

    “Wait … I know this place too.” Taylor stared at the outcrop as Cloudstrike banked lazily in that direction. “That's Mount Sugar Loaf. This is Rio. Holy fuck, we just went to Rio in about half a second.” Then Janesha's words finally registered on her. “Hang on … you know him?”

    “Well, yeah.” Janesha's voice was totally matter of fact. “He keeps inviting me over to his place to “catch up”, but Heaven’s one realm I’m not interested in messing with. If he wants to catch up with me, he can come to Mystal, where we have all the power.”

    “You mean he ‘likes’ you?” Despite sitting behind Janesha, Taylor couldn’t help but waggle her eyebrows suggestively.

    “Ewwww! Hell, no! Yuck! We are absolutely not into that crap!” Janesha did an all-over body shudder as she spoke. Then another one. “No, definitely not.”

    “So, it’s just friends?”

    “That’s all he’s angling for, though a few of my cousins in Earlafaol … that’s my cousin’s realm with the original ‘Earth’ ... would rather wring his neck then socialise with him.”

    “Why?”

    “Because they followed their dad into the NYPD homicide division and every time the date you guys picked out for his birthday comes around, everyone goes absolutely bonkers and their workload quadruples. It’s ironic when you look at it, I suppose.”

    “Why?”

    Janesha sighed. “Because those NYPD cousins are also the great grandsons of the true ruler of Hell. Each of them has the power to be the anti-Christ, yet they spend a month of every year cleaning up the fallout made by that idiot’s fake birthday. Meanwhile Yeshua hasn’t been back there to lift one realm-damned finger to help since the mortals crucified him a couple of thousand years ago, and those nit-wits still think he's all-wonderful.” She raised a hand and flicked it dismissively, shaking her head in annoyance. “Go figure.”

    “Wait.” Taylor thought she'd spotted a flaw in what Janesha was saying. “If he's a celestial like you, how did they even …”

    “Let's not get into that right now, petal.” Janesha's voice was firm. “This is something I need to fill you and your dad in about at the same time. So let's put a pin in it for now, mmkay?”

    “Um, sure, okay.” Taylor was willing to go along with what Janesha said. Every time she thought she had Janesha figured out, she ended up with a curve ball like this. The biggest problem was, it made sense.

    Janesha turned in the saddle to look back at Taylor. “Anyway, should we do more sightseeing, or did you want to head home?”

    More sightseeing was tempting, but Taylor knew her father would be getting worried. “Home, I guess. Hey, did you see Glory Girl's face? That was hilarious. I didn't even know Cloudstrike could do that.”

    Abruptly, they were in that other world again, this time hovering over the crystalline landscape. A single wingbeat forward, and they were in the underground stable. Cloudstrike's hooves sank into the soft earth and she looked around with a nicker of interest.

    “Oh, hell, yes. It's how we play tag with mystallions.” Janesha swung her leg across in front of her, and slid off Cloudstrike's back. Reaching up, she helped Taylor down as well. She smirked as she let them both out through the gate into the basement. “I think I'm gonna like it here.”



    End of Part Four

    Part Five
     
    Last edited: Nov 8, 2018
  8. Threadmarks: Part Five: Going Native
    Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Celestial Worm

    Part Five: Going Native



    [A/N: This chapter commissioned by Fizzfaldt and beta-read by the author of Ties that Bind.]



    Janesha

    “Wow.” Taylor put her cutlery down on her plate and pushed it away from her. “That was amazing, Janesha. Can you make any meal like that?” She stifled an incipient belch.

    Janesha grinned. Braised pork with truffles was just one of a thousand meals she could recreate, now that her shifting ability had manifested. “My dad’s a touch shifter from Rangi-Tuarea, so once I hit twelve my shifting ability came into its own.”

    Taylor tilted her head to one side. “Rangi-where-a?”

    A chuckle crept up Janesha’s throat. “Realm of Oceanics. My father is the god of the Air in Rangi-Tuarea.”

    “This is going to sound really dumb,” Danny said, leaning forward to put his elbows on the table. “But what makes one power more dominant than the other?” When Janesha looked at him, he cleared his throat and added, “That is…assuming you’ve had your mind-bending powers your whole life.”

    “Quick, as always,” Janesha murmured. “Yeah, as powerful as my dad is, my mom’s family are from the next tier up. One on one, outside their realms, mom trumps dad all day long. Range will always piss all over touch.”

    “Janesha,” Danny scolded.

    “What?” Looking at her host, one word leapt out of his surface thoughts. Language! She couldn’t help but grimace. “Oh, no,” she groaned. “Don’t tell me you’re one of them...”

    “One of what?”

    Janesha raised both hands and made air quotes. “I do not approve of profanity in my presence, young lady.” Biting back the not so idle threat that accompanied that phrase, she crossed her eyes and poked out her tongue, not appreciating the way Danny chuckled lightly.

    “Heard that line before, have you?”

    Janesha screwed up her nose and shrugged. “One of my aunts is like psychotically against bad language, and anyone who upsets her has to answer to my Uncle Avis. Not only that, but one of my cousins has the power to make damn sure you never want to use bad language in her presence ever again. They both suck for it.”

    Danny’s grin lengthened parentally. “So, one of the queens of Mystal is against bad language?”

    “She knows we all do it and doesn’t try to stop us as a whole. We’re just not allowed to do it around her.”

    “Any chance you can add me to that list?”

    Janesha looked across the table at her host. He had no idea what he was asking. The only person to ever get a Mystallian to curb their language was the wife of Mystal’s Life Court ruler. Celestials rarely made promises to mortals, and he had already drawn on his lifetime quota by getting her to stay out of his head. Well … his, and by proxy … Taylor’s. Still, this didn’t seem like too big an ask, provided he didn’t want anything else. “I will attempt to curb it around you, Danny, but if I say it, you must let it go. Swearing is second nature to Mystallians, and it took one of our queens to make us curb it for just one person. Her.”

    “I can appreciate that, so I’ll meet you in the middle. You try not to swear around me, and I’ll try not to give you a hard time when it slips out.”

    “And I get to moderate both of you!” Taylor interceded, with a gleeful clap of her hands.

    Janesha slid her eyes to Taylor, who looked from her to her left, where Danny sat, and back again. “Wow, that wasn’t half creepy at all. You two looked like something out of a haunted house, the way you both turned that death stare on me.”

    “Going back to what you were saying about power,” Danny lowered his hands and folded them loosely over the table.

    “Yeah, well, there’s three types of power for a celest. Mind-bending, shape-shifting and emotion weaving. There’s not a lot of weavers about the place, so for now, we can leave them out of it. Each side has a three tiered system. Personal, touch and ranged. If a celest can trace their bloodline to a power tier, whichever side has the higher tier is the one that the child will be born with. The other, if it exists, will come in after puberty. That’s why I got dad’s touch shifting a couple of years ago. Since then, I’ve been able to recreate anything I want, as I want it.” She waved across the empty plates. “Hence the meals. We have chefs back home that spend their whole lives applying their culinary trade to meet the approval of the pantheon, and once that’s achieved, they are permitted to serve us. Every meal, I get to see what it looks like, taste what it tastes like. As a shifter, I’d have to rely on memory and probably get the replication wrong at some point, but since I’m primarily a bender, I can internalise, find the memory of any meal I’ve ever had, then re-enter the physical realm to reproduce it at will with shifting.”

    “So the higher the tier, the more powerful the power.” Danny again.

    “Exactly, and for every ranged celest, there are ten thousand touch celests, and a hundred million personal ones.” She looked at Danny and smirked. “The personal ones make up the commoners, in case you were wondering.”

    “Common … celestial,” Danny drew the words out slowly, then closed his eyes and shook his head. “Yet another thing I never thought I’d ever be saying in my lifetime.” He breathed in deeply and opened his eyes again. “Keep that talk up, and you’ll have your own crew of followers believing you’re the Second Coming.”

    Janesha shuddered at the possibility, then realised exactly what he’d said. “Fuck that, no!” she said, throwing her hands away from the table as if the surface was coated in poison. “That is the one thing none of us can let happen, or everything will really go pear-shaped, worse than they already are.”

    Her adamant reaction got both her new friends’ attention. “What do you mean?” Taylor asked.

    “Celestials feed off belief. It’s what powers us. So long as we have mortals believing in us, we take on all the powers and abilities of those beliefs.” She tapped herself in the chest. “Right now, if I wasn’t already a shifter, a celest could come along and drown me in the nearest bucket of water. But if I had believers that genuinely believed I could breathe underwater, I’d suddenly be sucking in that water like air. Now, blow that stupid little example into the bigger picture of extreme capabilities. Celestials shape the mortal realm, but mortal belief is what shapes celestials into gods. Get it?”

    “O…kay.” Danny scratched his head. “So, assuming from your violent reaction that this is a two-way street, what's the downside?”

    Smart, Danny Hebert. Very smart. “The downside is that unless the celestial is very careful in how she presents herself to the mortals, ideas might creep in that she never asked for and never wanted. Those unwanted limitations, vulnerabilities or behavioural issues will be forced upon us by the belief of our mortals. In essence, it becomes us, and we don’t get a say in it. In fact, we don't even care. As far as we're concerned, our thrall is perfectly natural and we don't want it to change.”

    “That … sounds very dangerous,” Danny noted. “Is it possible for people to manipulate what goes into your thrall, just to screw with you?”

    Janesha blinked, genuinely impressed. Most celestials didn't even think to ask that question. Of course, some had, and a few of those had gotten the answer 'yes'. Instinctively, Janesha went to her own debilitated Uncle Blagden for an example of how badly thrall could grab a god by the balls, but changed her mind. Let's go with one you’ve probably heard of, if your constant referencing of the Almighty is anything to go by. “Have you ever heard of Uriel, the Archangel of Vengeance in Heaven?”

    Danny looked thoughtful. “I’ve heard of him as an archangel, but I didn’t know that last part.”

    “What other designation would you give the crown prince of Hell?”

    “Whaaaaat?”

    “Nevermind.” Too much information, fuckwit, she chastised herself. “The point is, he has a strong powerbase of vengeance, and he is very good at what he does—nailing tongues to rafters, skinning people alive…et cetera, et cetera.”

    “Ewww,” Taylor made a repulsed face. “Gross.”

    Janesha shrugged. “It is what it is, and we’re getting off point again. Uriel is no relation to me, but he is related to those NYPD homicide cops I told you about before. Two of them are the realm’s greatest wise-asses, but they’re smart enough to not attack anyone from the celestial realm frontally. They’ll come at us from the side. Uriel is their great uncle, but somehow, somewhere along the lines, he pissed them off.” Envisioning the rest of the story that was yet to come, Janesha’s body shuddered as she tried to hold in the laugh. “One in particular decided to print a book about guardian angels and what they would do for you, if you prayed to them for help.”

    By now, tears were building in the corners of her eyes and her lips were pinched so tightly she could barely speak. It really was that damned funny.

    “Oh dear,” Danny said, apparently seeing where this was going.

    “So yeah, people started praying to Uriel, the Heavenly Archangel of Vengeance, to help them pick out their white goods.” Her chest started to cramp from holding in the laughter. “And he did!” Unable to hold it in anymore, Janesha threw her head back and roared with laughter. If Uriel ever found out she was spreading that story, he’d be paying her a visit, but damn, it was worth it.

    “People prayed to him to help him pick out a washing machine, and he just did it?” Taylor’s brow creased in disbelief.

    “If he was within five meters of the dipshits, yeah. It wasn’t until after he got out of range that he snapped out of it, and at first he was really confused by what had happened. And then it kept happening. After a while he figured it out, and at that point my cousin was lucky to get out of that alive. Belial sent in a demonic horde to purge the world of that belief. Or at least, I heard he threatened to, but my cousin – the one who’s actually in charge over there, straightened it all out by removing their desire to worship Uriel in that capacity.”

    “I thought you said she didn’t interfere with the mortals.”

    “They were already interfered with by her sons. If she didn’t fix the mess, Belial would’ve executed a purge of the believers, and in her mind they didn’t deserve that.”

    “By purge, you mean … kill?”

    Janesha stopped laughing long enough to shrug at Taylor’s naivety. “Welcome to the big leagues petal. I wasn’t kidding when I said my Uncle Tal kicks worlds across galaxies, and not all of them are uninhabited.” Looking at their horrified expressions, she suddenly felt the need to explain. “When you chop a tree out of your front yard, do you suddenly stop and cancel the landscaping contract because there’s an ants’ nest in one of the branches? Or do you feel sorry for those ants when they swarm you in defence of their home? Or do you swear, shake them off, curse them for even being there in the first place and keep going? It’s not my intention to upset you, but I told you how big Mystal is, and you want us to care about a few thousand people on one solitary world? A world that has billions of people to take the place of that handful, and will before the decade is out?”

    “I don’t like being compared to an ant,” Danny grizzled, gaining a nod of agreement from Taylor.

    “But you still see what I’m getting at?” Again, both nodded. “Then I’ll get back to how celestials have to be very careful about how mortals worship them. Now, keep in mind, this all happened long before I was born, but the Asgardians have built in what I think has to be the most ridiculous flaw a pantheon could ever instil in their worshippers. They have their mortals believing that without the golden apples of immortality, their pantheon will wither and die. How dumb is that?”

    Taylor frowned, and Janesha could see in her surface thoughts that she was struggling to keep up. “But … they're still around, right? After thousands of years?”

    Janesha chuckled. “Billions of eons, actually, petal. They've been known on Earth for a few thousand years, and then only because of my cousin’s generosity. Anyway, the Asgardians maintain their long lives with Idun's golden apples. She supplies them, they eat them once a year, and that’s what gets them to live through the next year. That, right there, is a monumental screwup, but try telling them that and all you'll get is a blank stare. It’s simply impossible for them to break away from their thrall long enough to see how stupid it is.” She shrugged. “And that’s the downside to power. Thrall.” Her expression sharpened. “Which is why we keep a close eye on any prophets, so that we know for certain that they're saying what we want them to say. If we don’t nip that made-up crap in the bud and people take it onboard, we suddenly find ourselves perfectly okay with it.”

    “Hmm … okay.” Danny took his glasses off and cleaned them. “So, I’m assuming you don’t want anyone to know you’re a celest while you’re here then, correct?”

    Janesha nodded. “Yeah, you know the saying. Great place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live here.”

    “So, say someone was in thrall. How do you fix it?” Taylor asked.

    This was the part Janesha didn’t really want to go into detail about, as it went hand in hand with destroying a powerbase as well. “You can’t do it yourself. That’s rule number one. But I heard my Uncle Avis was a very different god back before he met Aunt Clarise, and the whole realm had to come together while he and his young family hid out in Olympus. Even with everyone and their powerbases involved, it still took nearly a year for every mortal to have their thoughts realigned to the newer version of Uncle Avis: The one where he was a devoted family man.”

    “What was he before?” Taylor asked, genuinely curious.

    Janesha shrugged again. “I don’t have any personal experience. But … from what I was told … he was a bastard through and through, though he’d hand me my ass if he ever heard me calling him that.” She hoped they would take the good out of that conversation, and not realise the same could be said about a powerbase.

    “With your propensity to kill mortals that annoy you, why go to the trouble of changing them all?”

    She should’ve known Danny wouldn’t miss it. “Because the whole pantheon relies on those mortals. Not just one person. That’s why we’re all so defensive of our borders.”

    “I can see a problem there,” Danny said slowly. “If someone planned it out carefully, they could be half a world away when they start the worship and jerk you around by remote control.” He turned a worried glance on Janesha. “And your little jaunt to Rio got as much attention as that whistle you let out over the Atlantic. Sightings in Princeton, Bermuda and half of Brazil. What if even one person decided to worship you? We've got idiots worshipping the Endbringers, for crying out loud.”

    “Remember what I said about five meters. A worshipper needs to be kept within five meters for the powerbase and thrall to remain in effect. Attunement is what changes individual belief into a collective thing. Putting it into simple terms, when the presence of a celestial filters through all aspects of the mortal realm, instead of a drop of ink on paper, it becomes a drop of ink in water. But for that process to be done right, it takes a really long time. Centuries of centuries at least.”

    “Okay, so bottom line: no telling anyone you're a celestial,” Danny noted. “We probably shouldn’t tell anyone you’re living here with us either. No matter how you cut it, your power is going to get a lot of attention.”

    “There's a good chance that Halbeard knows I’m here, and he's already told his boss,” Janesha reminded him, and was rewarded with a wince. “Oh, come on. 'Halbeard' is a perfect nickname for him. No, I got a better one. 'Two-sticks'.” She chuckled at her own wit.

    “I know I'm going to regret this,” Taylor ventured. “'Two-sticks'?”

    Danny gave Janesha a forbidding scowl. “One covers the halberd in one hand, and the other right where you might imagine.” He shook his head. “Maybe I should add implied profanity to that wish list, and please don't call him that to his face.”

    “Where I might imagine?” Taylor frowned in puzzlement. “What does that … oh. Oh.” She screwed up her face in disgust. “Ew.”

    “Puerile teenage nicknames for well-known superheroes aside,” Danny said grimly. “The good thing about our world having parahumans, is you fit right in.” He shot her a pointed look. “Provided you tone it right the hell down.”

    “Which reminds me,” Janesha said. “When would be a good time for me to get rid of those stupid ships and fix up your port?”

    “Keeping in mind that you want to stay within the capabilities of regular superheroes?” Danny shrugged and shook his head. “I don’t know. Parahumans are very capable physically, so I guess it would be alright to clean it up over a day or two …”

    Janesha screwed up her nose. “Really? That’s … what you consider fast?”

    Danny nodded, his expression becoming stern. “It’s plenty fast enough, Janesha. And whatever you do, don’t even hint that you can bend the minds of people to your will. I mean to anyone. In fact, don't mind-bend anyone at all if you can help it. If people know you’ve done it, they’ll … misunderstand.”

    Janesha felt as if she was talking in circles. “What part of bending makes you think anyone remembers anything I don’t want them to remember?”

    “That’s not the point.”

    “It kinda is,” Janesha mumbled, folding her arms.

    “I mean, we know we can trust you,” Taylor said, her tone earnest with a heavy dose of placation. “But what if other people see what you’re doing, and you don’t notice it?”

    Danny thumped himself firmly in the chest. “Like I did, when I knew … I flat out knew you’d messed with Armsmaster before you admitted it.”

    Taylor looked at Janesha in shock. “You messed with Armsmaster?”

    “He was being a pushy dick and wanted to steal the credit for our work. I just made him behave himself, that’s all.”

    “It doesn’t matter what you did. What matters is I figured it out, and if I figured it out, others will too. You’re the one that wants to fly below the radar as far as being a celest is concerned.”

    “But I’m a bender – first and foremost. It’s how I get most of my shit done.”

    “You’re also a shape-shifter,” Taylor pointed out. “And nobody's scared of shifters like they are of mind-reading and mental control.”

    “They should be,” Janesha said, snarkily. “After all, I can turn anything to dust with a touch.”

    “That’s still more acceptable here than mind-bending. You may not like it, but thanks to the Simurgh, that’s the way it is.” She could see in Danny’s surface thoughts that he hoped that would be the last time he’d have to say it. Ironically, she knew she could arrange it just by ordering him to never bring it up again. Unfortunately, he’d earned her respect and gratitude. More to the point, he'd freely invited her into his home as a guest without expecting anything in return, so in her mind, he’d earned the right to choose.

    "So when do you want me to start?”

    “Tomorrow morning, maybe?” Danny offered. “Unless you have more pressing matters to attend to?”

    “Could we shoot for the afternoon?” she asked, after a moment’s thought. “Once I get back from school.”

    That got a reaction.

    “What?” asked Taylor.

    School?” blurted Danny.

    Really?” That was Taylor again.

    The two Heberts looked at each other, then at Janesha, then back at each other. It reminded her of Uncle Avis and Uncle Amaro, when they'd both turn to talk to the same person at the same time. She'd wondered at the time if they even knew just how terrifyingly intimidating that was. Of course they know. That's why they do it.

    “I'm guessing she didn't discuss it with you, Taylor,” Danny said. “I know she didn't talk to me about it.” He eyed Janesha firmly across the table. “So why the sudden urge to visit our schools? I'm almost certain we're not teaching anything you'd find useful.”

    “Never said they were,” she agreed, perhaps a little more darkly than she intended. “But I definitely want get to know certain people there. Someone deserves to have their asses kicked for what happened to Taylor, and shifting-wise just for you, Danny, I’m happy to supply the oversized boot to their backsides.”

    Taylor froze up. “You … want to go to Winslow … on your own?” She looked like a deer caught in the headlights. “I think that's a very, very bad idea.”

    Danny seemed to catch her drift a moment later. “Oh, of course. There’s the Empire, and you’re not of their favourite skin tone. Very bad idea. Stupendously, horrifically bad idea for a person of colour to go there ...”

    The bluff might have worked, had she not already been in full possession of what the ‘Empire’ consisted of. “What the hell makes you think I can't handle a bunch of mortal bigots by myself?”

    “Oh, I'm sure you'd be fine,” Danny said brusquely. “It’s the school that’ll probably be a smoking crater by the time you were finished with it, if I'm any judge.”

    “Probably be an improvement.” Realising exactly what she’d said, Taylor suddenly brightened. “Actually, that's a really good point. Dad, we should let her go.” When he turned to her in incredulity, she tried to look innocent and failed badly.

    “No.” Danny's voice was flat. “Not. Happening.” He gave Janesha a look very much like one of her uncles disapproving of her part in some prank or other. “Not without someone along to keep an eye on you, anyway. I'd give it five minutes before you started using your powers, and ten before someone started worshipping you. Subtle, you’re not.”

    “I can be subtle!” Janesha protested. “I'm a mind-bender! Subtle is what we do!”

    Danny had a devastating line in raised eyebrows. The only one better she'd ever seen was Uncle Tal. “Really? Just today, you picked up a tank and juggled it in front of Armsmaster, let out a whistle that people heard in London, flew from Brockton Bay to Rio in the blink of an eye, and shoved our neighbour's house three feet sideways. Was that you being subtle? Because if that's the case, I'd hate to see you being overt.

    “That house thing was only because you wouldn't let me mind-bend your neighbour into accepting a smaller space,” she insisted. “That’s on you.”

    “You know, I've never met this cousin of yours that runs the other Earth, but already I understand where she's coming from,” Danny rolled his eyes to the ceiling as he spoke. “If it's a choice between having celestials nudging our minds every which way to suit their idea of morality or going our own way and to hell with it, I'll pick free will, thanks. What faith in a higher power I ever had, I lost when my wife passed away. Nothing I've seen since has given me any reason to change my mind.”

    “That's because there's never been any gods, or even celestials, on this Earth except the one who set it all up,” Janesha explained, trying to hold on to the last strands of her patience. It wasn't easy. “Well, there is at least one, but until I meet them, I won’t know what their game is.”

    “And you seriously think I’m going to let you go anywhere near Winslow? A place renowned for chewing up and spitting out ordinary kids, not to mention that there's neo-Nazis who'd do their best to shank you just for your skin colour, and you think I’m going to believe that you won't be using your powers on all and sundry?” asked Danny sarcastically. “No dice.”

    Janesha sucked in the right side of her lips between her teeth as she applied her Uncle Avis’ habit of mentally counting to ten to stay in control. The urge to shred him for the audacity of assuming she needed his permission to go anywhere, or that his belief in what she would and wouldn’t do once there should have had any kind of bearing on her decision was overwhelming. This is Danny. Danny is a friend. Danny is human. Danny means well. Danny saved your life. You can’t kill Danny for being an arrogant fuckwit. That last once she repeated three more times, to get her rising temper under control. Once it was there, she breathed out slowly and said, “What if Taylor came with me?”

    “No.” Danny's voice was flat. “She's still recovering from the last time someone pulled shit on her.”

    This time, Janesha let her sigh be audible. “Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a weaver in any capacity, but if Taylor was willing, I can alter the bad memories slightly so they don't hurt to think about anymore.”

    Taylor blinked. “What?”

    Janesha poked herself in the chest. “Mind. Bender. I can go into your head, find the memories of what happened to you and make it seem like it happened ten years ago instead of last week. Still there, you still know what happened, but it lets you get over it a lot faster.”

    Danny opened his mouth as if to object, then closed it again. He frowned at her. “Just like that?”

    Janesha was really not used to being questioned, and she went back to her earlier mantra to avoid an unpleasant outcome. “Yeah,” she said patiently. “Just like that. I could just as easily remove the memory altogether, but then everyone else would remember what happened that day except Taylor, and that makes for even more complications without a weaver on hand to smooth everything over.”

    “Dad, can I? Please?”

    “Are there any side effects?” asked Danny. “Will she lose other memories or something?”

    Congratulations, Danny. Three times in as many minutes. And this is why we don’t give mortals our word. “Seriously. Not your version of Simurgh. The only thing that's gonna happen is what I say is gonna happen.” She gave them both an encouraging smile. “Just think of it as six months of therapy. Only without a huge bill at the end of it.”

    “Taylor?” Danny looked hard at his daughter. “Do you really want to go through with this?”

    Taylor nodded. “If it makes me feel even a little bit better, hell yes.”

    “Okay, then.” Danny sighed. “I'm not feeling great about this, but if it'll help Taylor …”

    “I can absolutely guarantee it,” Janesha assured him. She didn't bother asking if Taylor was ready: if she wasn't, it didn't matter. Permission achieved, she dived straight into Taylor's head.

    <><>​

    Finding the requisite memory was remarkably easy. The conversation had brought up the incident in Taylor's mind, which gave Janesha a direct link back to the actual event. She walked through it, almost frame by frame, taking careful note of who showed up in Taylor's field of view. Certain people seemed to spring out at her, which meant Taylor had been paying more attention to them than the others. A girl as redheaded as Cousin Cora and her son, another girl as petite as Aunt Clarise (though without the golden irises and jet-black hair) and a third girl with skin as dark as Janesha herself.

    “Okay, then,” she mused to herself. “Let's see who these people are.” Latching on to the redhead, she followed the memory link back to happier days. From there, she skip-jumped through the related memories, following a path of betrayal and spite that made her want to strangle a certain Emma Barnes. Or turn her into a constipated gerbil, whichever gave her more satisfaction at the time.

    Next, was the girl labelled 'Madison Clements'. Madison had only showed up once Taylor entered Winslow, and she seemed to be more of a toady than an instigator. One of those “yeeeah,” girls she’d seen around the place. Still, Janesha made a note of the name and face and added it to the list she was creating.

    Third was Sophia Hess … wait a minute. Janesha had heard that name before, but not with enough clarity to identify it. The girl was an outright bully, but Danny had never heard of her. That much she was certain of, because of his overprotectiveness toward Taylor now. If he knew Taylor’s nemesis by name, it would’ve been the most prominent thing in his surface thoughts, along with ways to get even. Which meant, the source of that name was Armsmaster.

    Janesha needed to internalise again, for the fourth time that day regarding that hypocritical asshat, and to do that, she needed to be inside her own mind.

    Withdrawing from Taylor, Janesha immediately turned her thoughts inward, allowing maybe a tenth of a second to pass in the physical realm. She skimmed over Armsmaster’s knowledge, until an hour later, she had what she was looking for. And it made her even madder. “Motherfucker!” she swore, freezing an image of Sophia Hess as Shadow Stalker. “You wanna pick on someone smaller and weaker than you, bitch? Someone I happen to now give a shit about? Oh, two can play that game, you little fucking peon!” Janesha stayed just long enough to absorb every facet of Shadow Stalker’s powers before retreating to her imagination. There, she created several imaginary versions of the girl known as Sophia Hess and ended each and every one of them. Twenty minutes of literally tearing the Hess girl to pieces had her calm enough to return to the outer edge of her consciousness and leap back across to Taylor. Another tenth of a second passed in the meantime.

    She went back to the original memory, dulling down not the fear itself, but the memory of the fear, until she knew Taylor was almost indifferent to the entrapment. Yes, the locker incident was a bitch act. Yes, happened. Yes, she was hospitalised afterwards. Yes, she now had powers of her own as a result. Moving on.

    As she played it through one last time to make sure everything was just as she wanted it, Janesha noticed something strange. There was not one, but two blocks around several seconds of Taylor's memory, acquired in relatively quick succession. Okay, this is fucking weird. The celest in charge erased her memories while she was inside the locker? Why the fuck would he do that?

    Going over the blocked memories, it was almost too easy to peel them back, which meant whoever instigated them was at the very least a lower-generation bender than she was. It didn't take her more than half a second to peek under the first block.

    The memory wasn’t Taylor’s. It was a modified memory, more like a hallucination of outer space, with weird slug-like creatures twisting and turning around each other. Are they mating? Ew. Just as abruptly, the hallucination had ended with no real explanation of why it had been there and what the bender had wanted with her mind. The second block covered more of the same, only it seemed the dance of the slugs seemed more intense, this time. Was that what the celestials in charge of this place looked like? Giant space slugs? With shifting blood, anything was possible shape wise. But why implant the memory, only to hide it again? That was the part that made no sense to her.

    On a hunch, she replayed the memory between the two blocks, and found her mortal friend had started showing the first indications that she could communicate with bugs. Or rather, she'd started getting signals from them at this point. Of course, she didn't know what they were, and combined with the trauma from being locked in the locker, she'd worked herself into a frenzy over it. Huh. I wonder if the first block's related to her getting a link to whatever celestial construct gives her those powers? She wasn't sure what the second block was about; maybe a patch of some type?

    In any case, Janesha had found out quite enough for the moment. She resealed the implanted memories behind their blocks, ran the altered memories through one last time, then withdrew to the physical realm with the sense of a task well done. Of course, now I have to convince Taylor that I've actually done something …

    <><>​

    “So when do you want to start?” asked Taylor, a little apprehensively. “Do you need me to lie down on the sofa or something?”

    Janesha didn’t have the heart to tell her it was already done. And then she thought of a way to kill two birds with one stone. “No, though you need to sit still with your eyes shut,” —Janesha leaned forward and placed her hand on Taylor's forehead— “And count backwards from ten for me.”

    Obediently, Taylor shut her eyes and began counting.

    Janesha waited until 'one', then used her shifting to put a full stimulation wave through Taylor's body. Many mortals called it ‘the Touch of the Divine’ and they weren’t wrong. A single pass brought every cell in the body to its optimum capacity. Shifters did it to themselves all the time, but only those who were either touch or ranged were able to offer it to another.

    Taylor's eyes flew wide open as Janesha took her hand away. “Oh, wow!” she gasped. “I feel amazing. Like … I just had the long hot shower to end all hot showers.”

    Janesha smiled, knowingly. “How do you feel, in your head?”

    Taylor blinked; in her surface thoughts, Janesha watched her prod cautiously at the subdued memory of the locker. “ … huh,” she said. “It's like you said. I know it happened, but it's not all over my thoughts like it was before. I can ignore it. I can even forget it if I want to.”

    “That's the general idea,” Janesha told her. “But it’s up to you to keep it that way.”

    “Huh?”

    “My changes only involved your past. If you convince yourself to go back to remembering it with the fear you had before, I won’t be able to stop you. Well, I could, but I won’t.”

    Taylor pulled a face. “As if I’d want to go back to remembering that stuff.”

    Janesha sat back in her chair with her arms stretched in front of her. “So, how do you feel about being my native guide in the wilds of Winslow?” Now that I know exactly who I'm aiming for.

    Taylor looked thoughtful, then her eyes narrowed. “Am I still as tough and strong as you said I was?”

    It didn't take mind-bending to figure out that Taylor seriously wanted to punch out Sophia Hess. To answer her, Janesha picked up the salt shaker and performed a trivial modification on its material and crystalline structure. “Squeeze this as hard as you can,” she ordered Taylor, with a smile to take the edge off the command.

    With a dubious look on her face, Taylor took the altered shaker and squeezed it with one hand. Predictably, it shattered, then the larger pieces crunched to dust as her hand closed farther. “Okay,” she said as she opened her hand to view the remains. “What did I just break?”

    “Diamond,” Janesha informed her with just a hint of smugness. “And not any of that artificial crap with flaws in it, either. I do good work.”

    The look on Taylor's face was priceless. Danny's wasn't far behind. He picked up one of the fragments left behind and crushed it between finger and thumb. “Diamond,” he repeated with a hitch of his eyebrow, dusting his fingertips together. “Should I be impressed or worried that we can crush diamonds with our bare hands?”

    Janesha shrugged. “That's up to you. But to answer your question, yes, you are as strong as I said you’d be. But before you consider throwing a punch at a certain trio’s faces, just remember I’m not established in the field of Life. That means, they stay very dead if you punch their heads off their shoulders.”

    “Oh.” Taylor slumped a little. “Could you make me a bit less strong, then? So I can punch people without killing them?”

    “How about we get through the day without punching anyone?” Danny suggested. “Just as an idea. The last thing I want is Winslow suing me for the money they gave us, on the grounds that you're bullying people.”

    Taylor looked outraged. “But Dad, they're bullying me!”

    “I know, honey. I know.” He raised his hands defensively. “But getting any sort of concession out of those people is like pulling teeth. I swear, if they'd had half a chance, they would've accused you of shutting yourself in that locker.”

    “It's all right, Danny.” Janesha gave him a reassuring nod. “If anyone tries anything stupid, they'll break their hand on her jaw. In the meantime, I’m just going to have a quiet word with the people who think it's a fun idea to screw with her.” For a given definition of 'quiet word', of course.

    Danny regarded her thoughtfully. “I find myself strangely all right with that idea. Have you fiddled with my mind when I wasn't looking?”

    Janesha snarled violently and shot him a lethal look while holding up one finger. “Accuse me of that one more fucking time, after I gave you my word I wouldn’t,” she warned, her eyes flashing dangerously.

    “Okay … okay…” Danny raised his hands and patted at the air placatingly. “Calm down, Janesha. I didn’t mean anything by it …”

    Much of Janesha’s rage subsided with his acquiescence, though her eyes were still slitted in his direction. “Don’t ever do that again, Danny Hebert of Earth Bet, or friend of the Mystallians or not, it won’t end well for you.”

    Danny cleared his throat. “Right. Okay. Good to know. Taylor and I are off-limits without permission, and everyone else only gets bent if nothing else works.”

    “I will try other avenues first,” Janesha quantified. Her exact agreement was ‘other things’ including stuff she knew wouldn’t work. She had no intention of trying everything else first. Fuck that. With the resources she had access to, trying 'everything' would probably take a few centuries, and she didn't intend to be here for that long.

    For all that he obviously respected and believed her, it took Danny's natural cynicism a few moments to accept her words at face value. “Okay,” he said. “Keep Taylor safe, please?”

    “Of course,” she assured him. “Anyone stupid enough to try anything on her will think they've been jumped by the brute squad themselves.”

    Whatever reaction she'd been expecting—puzzlement, mainly—the chuckle from Danny wasn't it. “I would never have picked you for a Princess Bride fan,” he observed.

    “A what now?” she asked.

    “The brute squad – from the Princess Bride movie.” An image of the lumbering mortal from the movie flashed across Danny’s surface thoughts, causing Janesha to cover her eyes and emit a deep groan. “Seriously? You’re comparing the most dangerous, Highborn Hellion fighting force, with a movie about human princesses?”

    “Not just any movie about princesses,” Danny said, the grin on his face widening. He looked at Taylor. “Honey, it looks like she's never seen The Princess Bride.”

    Taylor nodded. Her expression was serious, but there was a twinkle in her eye. “It does look like that. Should we put it on?”

    “Oh, definitely.”

    Janesha looked from one to the other. What have I got myself into?

    <><>​

    Two Hours Later

    “So,” asked Taylor as the credits began to roll. “Did you enjoy the movie?”

    Janesha stifled a fit of giggles. “Inconceivable!”

    “I do not think that word means what you think it means,” Taylor intoned solemnly, which of course set Janesha off again.

    “That was an insane movie,” she said when she could speak again. “I am not left handed either.” Remembering the cordial fighting scene, Janesha laughed and slapped the side of the chair. “I could so see my great-grandmother doing that to someone who didn’t know who she was, right before she handed him his ass.” She laughed again, envisioning the scene with the Mystallian goddess of War. “And by the realms, there's no way Uncle Chance could’ve seen that movie. He’d be driving us all nuts with the sheer number of one liners he could pull from it.”

    As Danny turned off the TV, Taylor rose from the lounge and waved Janesha to follow her. They went up the stairs and along the corridor. “You talk about your Uncle Chance a lot. He's really your god of Luck?” Taylor pushed her bedroom door open and sat on her bed.

    Janesha followed her in. “Of course. He was lucky even before he became the god of Luck, and he is by far the coolest uncle ever.” Grabbing the computer chair, Janesha spun it around so she could sit on it with her arms crossed over the back. “I mean, if you took every cool uncle there ever was and rolled the best bits of them into one person, that's my Uncle Chance. If you're down, he always knows exactly what to say to make you feel better. If you're up to some prank or another, he'll probably show up at just the right time to offer helpful advice on how to make it even more awesome.”

    “That does sound cool,” Taylor agreed. She sat back on her hands, looking pensive. “Um, I've got a question.”

    Janesha glanced into her head and nodded to herself. I wondered when this was going to come up. “Go ahead.”

    “You said pantheons don't share realms,” Taylor began slowly. “And you also said that Mystal's one of the bigger realms out there. How come we've heard of all these other gods, these other pantheons, but never Mystal until today?”

    Janesha chuckled. The answer was incredibly easy. She spun around on the chair, making sure her cape flared outward instead of tangling with the chair wheels as it wanted to. “Remember how I said my cousin runs Earlafaol? She's totally unique, and unlike the rest of us, she doesn’t have to worry about having her borders being breached. So, as a gesture of goodwill, she reached out to all the other pantheons and invited them to set up pockets of worshippers on the world where she and her family lived on.”

    “And they believed her?”

    “My cousin is the Weaver. They’ll believe whatever she wants them to.”

    “So, she can control the gods?”

    “It’s not a well-known thing outside of Mystal, but yeah, if she wants to, she can. It’s one of the reasons why she lives far from them in the Unknown Realms.”

    Taylor frowned. “Hang on. This is the same cousin who allows mortals do whatever they want without interference, isn’t she?”

    Janesha nodded. “Yeah.”

    “And she doesn’t do it to gods either, for the same reason?”

    Janesha nodded again. “Now you’re getting it. She’s a real sweetheart and everyone loves her. Those who don’t, instinctively stay away.”

    “Then why haven’t I heard of Mystal?”

    “Because … I think you have a term for it. Hovercraft parent?”

    “Helicopter mom,” Taylor corrected.

    Janesha bobbed her head. “Right, well, imagine the most heavily-laden nuclear-armed helicopter gunship dad, capable of destroying whole galaxies if one single stupid little mortal so much as gives his little princess a dirty look.”

    A muscle under Taylor’s eye twitched and she visibly winced. “That bad?”

    “And worse. Uncle Avis is utterly psycho when it comes to her, and trust me, if she let either him or the rest of the pantheon in, Mystal would never leave your world and he’d have a wall of celestial bodyguards over fifty deep in every direction around her at all times. The world’s religions would never recover from the overwhelming presence of Mystal.”

    “Why would he let her go, if he’s that psycho about her safety?”

    Janesha smirked. “If you ask her, they sat down for a long heart to heart and she talked him into agreeing with her point of view. The rest of us have another theory we’re not stupid enough to voice.”

    “She weaved him?”

    Janesha winked and grinned, but said no more.

    Taylor blinked. “Ah.” She glanced around the bedroom. “Well, uh, I need to get ready for bed soon. What are you going to be doing while I'm asleep?”

    “Sleeping, duh. Celestials need their sleep as well.” Janesha chuckled at the stunned look on Taylor's face. “Hey, some things are universal.”

    “If you say so.” Taylor's tone indicated that she was fully aware some things were less universal than Janesha was trying to make out. “So where are you going to sleep? My bed's not exactly big enough for two people. Or are you going to set up down in the basement, next to Cloudstrike?”

    Janesha considered that. “Actually, that's not a bad idea, but I've got a better one. Back in a moment.” She hurried downstairs, resisting the urge to realm-step into the basement to save time.

    “Forgot something?” Danny asked as she hustled through the kitchen.

    “Nah, just remembered I need to make my bed,” she replied.

    “But …” He trailed off, apparently having decided that waiting to see what she was up to was better than asking questions. Which was all to the good, because she wasn't about to hang around at the top of the stairs, answering them.

    Cloudstrike nickered happily to see her, and Janesha spent a few moments with her arms around the neck of the mystallion, enjoying the closeness. “We'll go flying again soon, girl,” she assured her closest friend. While she was there, she replenished the hay—Cloudstrike had been busy there—and the water in the trough.

    Then she grabbed the workbench and crunched its mass into that of pure tungsten, shrinking its size into a ball roughly the size of a soccer ball. She then tucked it under her arm and headed back up the stairs.

    “Do I want to know what that's for?” asked Danny as she came through the kitchen again.

    “I told you,” she said patiently. “I need to make my bed.”

    “But …” he said again, and then something clicked in his head. “Oh. You need to make your bed.”

    She rolled her eyes. Normally he was a lot sharper than that. “That's what I've been telling you.” Trotting upstairs, she strolled down the corridor and entered Taylor's room again. In her absence, Taylor had changed into her pyjamas.

    Taylor eyed the dull-grey ball she was carrying. “What's that?”

    Answering her in full would've taken far too much time, so Janesha decided to show her instead. Heading over to the bed, she pushed the tungsten ball into the baseboard and merged the two together. Then, with her hand firmly on the thicker baseboard, she grew the bed from a single, narrow bed into a double bunk setup with mattress proportions half the size again of the original.

    “Ta-dah,” Janesha announced with a flourish. “Bunk beds. Problem solved. Which would you prefer, top or bottom?”

    “Uh … top?” ventured Taylor. “I've never slept in a bunk bed before.” At Janesha's nod, she climbed the short ladder at the end of the bed, and settled down on to the mattress. “Oh … wow,” she breathed, stretching out on the bed. “This has got to be the most comfortable mattress I've ever slept on.”

    Janesha buffed her nails complacently, then inspected them. They were, of course, perfect. “Shape. Shifter,” she reminded Taylor. “It doesn’t matter where I am, I always make sure I sleep in celestial comfort.” With barely a thought, she shifted her Mystallian garb into appropriate sleepwear, then stretched her arm across the room to close the door and turn out the light. Climbing into the lower bunk, she pulled the covers over herself. “Night, Taylor,” she said into the darkness.

    “Night, Janesha.” Taylor's reply was already drowsy. Those mattresses were very comfortable.

    Janesha grinned to herself and rolled over. Tomorrow was another day, and it promised to be a lot of fun.



    End of Part Five

    Part Six
     
    Last edited: Dec 17, 2018
  9. Prince Charon

    Prince Charon Just zis guy, you know?

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    You'd think Janesha would get by now how (justifiably) paranoid people on Earth Bet are about having their minds messed with.
     
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  10. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Refer back to the 'ants' reference. What mortals do or do not want simply doesn't impinge on the celestial decision making process :p
     
  11. Prince Charon

    Prince Charon Just zis guy, you know?

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    This does not make the character more likeable to the audience, of course, but I suspect you knew that.
     
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  12. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Well, she's making the effort. Grudgingly, yes, and not entirely getting the point of it all, but she's doing it.
     
  13. magic9mushroom

    magic9mushroom BEST END.

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    I'm kinda nonplussed by Danny's actions in this fic. Advice or even urging is one thing, but exactly where did he get the idea that he has the authority to tell Janesha what she can and can't do? She's not his kid, she's not his subordinate in the union, and he's not a policeman* or a government official. Even leaving aside the whole "gods are not answerable to men" thing, acting this way to a (human) stranger would be rude in the extreme.

    Related to this, I'm a bit confused by Janesha's messing around with loopholes and bargaining when she could simply refuse point-blank... but that might be my own stubborn streak and extreme honesty telling; I get confused by this sort of behaviour a lot IRL.

    *Armsmaster being bossy, for instance, while perhaps not pragmatic, is at least reasonable as he's a policeman (of a sort) and is therefore empowered to give people orders within certain limits.
     
  14. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    She's not his kid, but she's a kid, and she's scarily pants-wettingly terrifyingly mind-bogglingly powerful, and (this is the most important aspect) she's grateful to him for saving her life. Also, she's (sorta-kinda) deferring to him, being an adult and a father. And, of course, if someone didn't tell her not to, she'd be trampling rough-shod over the northeastern United States for shits and giggles.

    In short, he doesn't have actual authority over her (no mortal does) but he does have moral authority, and thankfully enough, she recognises this enough to do what he says. Or pretend to.

    Even shorter: If he doesn't keep her in line, who else is going to? There is literally nobody on Earth Bet that she's going to take direction from, except maybe Taylor.

    As for why she's doing as he tells her (kind of): he saved her life. That's huge among celestials. Even unestablished celests can live for billions of years. Being cut off at the age of sixteen would be a tragedy. And he's taken her into his home as a guest, willingly, without any sort of celestial nudging from her. So, in her mind, she owes him the respect due to a fellow celest.

    Which is all explained in the story.
     
  15. CrimsonFate

    CrimsonFate I trust you know where the happy button is?

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    I feel like something is going to happen with Shadow Stalker sooner or later and it going to be interesting to say at least.
     
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  16. Cailin

    Cailin Our Lady of Escalation

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    This is starting to get to me. The story and setting are pretty cool but Janesha is really starting to grate on me. She is an arrogant little brat who has no respect for anyone.

    Case in point.

    Lighten up Francis.
     
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  17. aabbcc

    aabbcc Versed in the lewd.

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    This is all fine from a meta perspective, and from Janesha's, but not from Danny's.

    His behavior is just weird. Coming to some random kid you just met and ordering them around and acting as their parent, no matter how many meta reasons you have to want it to happen, is not just rude, it's a behavior that might get him hauled by the police for being a potential pedophile if that's how he usually behaves around random teenagers.
    There's also the issue that he being all parentey to a stranger when he could barely be assed to try do the same with his own daughter.
    Additionally, his behavior is not something most teens would have responded well to, in fact, most teenagers would respond quite negatively to it. Now, Janesha responded positively to it, that's fine, but you need a reason for him to try it in the first place instead of something else more likely to work, even if the reason is just him being entirely disconnected with teenagehood (which you can then use in future characterization scenes or to display the disconnect between him and his daughter).

    I'm not saying you can't have him behave this way, I'm saying you need a reasoning, from Danny's perspective, that answers why is he behaving like this, and one that Janesha in her initial mind reading would not have objected to.
     
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  18. CrimsonFate

    CrimsonFate I trust you know where the happy button is?

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    To be fair Danny does have a point about telling Janesha about not Mind-Bending every so often because if anyone finds out about it specifically the PRT then who knows what kinds of chaos would happen to her. Plus, it be kinda hard for hard to not do so since she came from a place that it was not only acceptable but an everyday things too and that works as a reason why Danny needs to remind her not show off her Mind-Bending most of the time.
     
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  19. aabbcc

    aabbcc Versed in the lewd.

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    Yeah, but Danny could have chosen to do that in several ways, not just 'acting like her parent'.

    He needs a reason for having picked that approach, that reason could be that he panicked about the mind control thing and just picked the first approach that came to mind, it could be that something she did or said nudged his memory in an odd way, it could be that when she made him super tough/strong, she hit the reset button on all those chemicals in the brain present due to his depression, giving him the extra energy we see when dealing with Taylor in the last chapter, and perhaps making him go overboard when dealing with this weird teen.

    What reason is picked matters not just for justifying his actions, but also because it can further affect his characterization and interactions. The Danny who brainfarted and went with the first thing that came to mind might do similar things in the future, the Danny that was oddly reminded of younger Taylor might be more melancholic and introspective, while the one that had his depression cured will have a new energy to tackle things and be more proactive.
     
  20. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    How many times am I going to have to explain this?

    1) Janesha is a celestial. She is in no way human. She's not even humanoid. Humans are 'celestial-oid', since celestials were there first.

    However, without the way they met, this attitude you see would be ten thousand times worse. The fact that she's not mind-whammying him into obedience, or just walking off and ignoring him, shows amazing restraint (and growth) on her part, even now.

    Celestials understand from birth that mortals are there for one reason: to give them power. And individual mortals (or even planets) aren't worthy of consideration.

    Compared to that, her attitude is sweetness and light.

    2) You obviously have not read through the first few chapters in any great depth. Danny doesn't start off by ordering her around. He actually starts by querying the way she dodged the call from her mother. She respects him because he faced off the talot and saved her life (which is a huge deal). Seriously, Mystallians understand debts and respect.

    He acts like that because she's acting like a teenager, and he's the father of a teenager. And she's listening to him, and it's obvious to him that someone needs to keep an eye on the horrifically powerful godling.

    Exactly.
    He's been galvanised by what happened to Taylor. (in canon, he went to the school and screamed at them until he got some concession out of them when they were obviously working hard to sweep the whole thing under the rug).

    He understands how dangerous she is, but she's already shown herself unwilling to break the word she gave him that she wouldn't mind-whammy him. He doubts that anyone else would have any sort of success in dealing with her (one, they need to save her life. Two, they need to not be associated with Armsmaster. Three, they need to be parents).

    I've already explained the motivations for everyone in this fic so far, several times. I am not going back to 'fix' anything.
     
  21. Cailin

    Cailin Our Lady of Escalation

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    I understand this and I'm not asking for anything to be "fixed". Her point of view is understandable. It also makes her very unlikable.

    She's the rich kid who doesn't understand why people complain when she does whatever the hell she wants.

    Actually she really reminds me of Sophia, which makes her anger at Sophia a wee bit hypocritical.
     
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  22. aabbcc

    aabbcc Versed in the lewd.

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    Again, whatever the fuck is the culture for Mystallians is, whatever they think about owing someone your life, that is not the point.

    The point is Danny's actions, why he choose to act the way he did. You've told us, both in and out of story, his overall motivation, but not the why of his attitude. I'm not sure if I'm getting across here, but what I'm trying to say is that while "wanting to help her" or "gratitude", or "wanting to keep her from wrecking the bay" are solid reasons to decide to help her and invite her to his home, but they don't translate into "act like her parent".
    "Being a parent of another teen" also doesn't translate into that, parents doing that towards random teenagers is just strange, that, or creepy.

    Regarding earlier chapters, Danny was flipflopping all over the place, he went from 'almost died to monster' to scolding her for lying on that call, then back to bewildered, then halfway through explanations, he was back to nagging the stupidly powerful cape for not having adult supervision.
    He went from amazed at her abilities during the Merchants fight, to pleading her not to hurt Armsmaster, then immediately to ordering her around and scolding her, seemingly unable to go two sentences without nagging her about something.
    By and large, he was not only pretty damn presumptuous, but also reckless and just plain weird.

    Now, to be fair, he was just in a near death situation, and what seems to have triggered him was the mind-bending, so there's room for plenty of reasons for why he acted the way he did, and despite having chunks from his POV, we get very little about why he is acting like that, which is fine since it keeps the action going without slowing the scenes with navel gazing, but now that the 'Docks' part is done and they are at the slight downtime before the next chunk of conflict, it's about time for us to get some idea of what the heck is going on in his head.

    It's not about fixing the earlier chapters, it's about "the characterization has blanks, it's about time to start filling them".
     
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  23. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    The differences between her and Sophia are simple.

    Sophia thinks she's above everyone else, and that she's justified in doing anything she has to, to win.

    Janesha is above everyone else. Also, Janesha won't pick a single mortal and smash them into the bedrock, over and over, to prove how 'worthy' she is.

    Also also, Janesha won't pick a mortal and try to instil her with the celestial point of view. Mortals are mortals and celestials are celestials.

    Finally? Janesha can learn.

    That's coming up.
     
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  24. magic9mushroom

    magic9mushroom BEST END.

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    I feel like I have to point this out to you, since I've seen you go down this path in another fic thread.

    Authorial statements declaring the truth or otherwise of abstract philosophical positions nearly always go over like a lead balloon. This is because, by nature of being abstract, those positions have applicability to many fictional universes and indeed often to RL, and are therefore beyond your authority over the material universe in your work.

    In this particular case, the position at issue is a particular instance of divine command theory and the divine right of kings - the position that, as a divinity, a god is not answerable to men. This is a very old argument - it's literally in the Bible, in Romans 9:10-21 (probably in other places too, I haven't read the whole thing and don't recall it all off-hand):

    It is entirely reasonable for Janesha, a celestial, to believe in divine right. It's your inalienable right to believe in it, yourself. But you can't make other people agree with your philosophy. It is the prerogative of your readers to view your story through the lens of their own ethics, and trying to authorially declare which ethics are applicable to your story simply makes you look foolish. For a rather recent example, stroll over to the Monster Girls thread and observe the reaction to Kenkou Cross's attempts to do so.
     
    Xris Robin, Cailin and Prince Charon like this.
  25. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    It's not a philosophy.

    When applied by mortal kings to mortal subjects, 'divine right' is definitely a philosophy.

    But when applied by a celestial who can not only unmake you on the spot, but also remake you into whatever they want you to be, and make you think whatever they want you to think, then it's far more than a philosophy.

    Arguing from a purely moral point of view, you can say 'they should not be allowed to push their point of view on mortals'. Good luck with that. The only morals celestials are bound by are the ones they choose to be bound by (and of course the ones inflicted on them by their thralls).

    There's a saying: "Any order not backed by force is merely a suggestion."

    The converse might be "Anyone who can give orders backed by absolute force is in charge."

    Now, I personally have no belief in this, one way or the other. But I would strongly suggest that, in the context of this story, 'divine right' is just that. If you're divine, you have the 'right' (ie, the means to do so, and the ability to prevent others from stopping you) to rule over mortals. Because on a purely pragmatic level, celestials are able to dominate mortals in every way that counts.

    The original novel that this crossover is based on has no mortals in any significant role. It's all about the celestials. It's not even about celestials ruling over mortals to any great degree; this is assumed to be happening. The whole novel is about celestials, and the interaction between them.
     
  26. Cailin

    Cailin Our Lady of Escalation

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    This is essentially might makes right. I can do what I want because I can, fuck what anyone else thinks because I can literally change that too. And I can understand why Janesha thinks and acts that way, it makes sense in the story. However to me as a reader she comes across as an entitled little brat that I wouldn't want to have anything to do with.

    This is what I'm hoping for. I read a lot of coming of age and YA stories and a lot of those protagonists start out as entitled little shits. But by the end of the story or series they have grown up and are a lot more relatable and likable.
     
  27. WaNoMatsuri

    WaNoMatsuri Getting sticky.

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    Hmmm, how long after first book is this? Since Columbine is estabilished and she has pockets of worshippers of other gods on her (our) Earth it's at least few thousand years.
    And who of Avis' siblings is Janesha's ancestor?
     
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  28. Angel466

    Angel466 Getting out there.

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    Heya :)

    Celestial Worm is set a long time after the first book. (I have the evolution of things laid out, but for the purposes of a crossover, this was the best time to actually cross things over). It is roughly 65 million years after my first book. Originally, Ack and I were going to keep things vague, but other people wanted answers on how the science works and why things are the way they were and how could Janesha have possibly been to Earth before...etc... so, unfortunately, we had to do a few spoilers to lessen the impact of such a heavy couple of chapters involving the method to our madness. (Ironically, others then complained about the 'info-dump', but this is also why Ack agreed to do a couple of Celestial Wars chapters back to back to get the 'science' out of the way, so we can then go back into the fun of the story. (Could you imagine waiting a month for each chapter, only to get these last two? I didn't want to do that to Ack's fan-base.) No absolute guarantees, but this will hopefully be the last time we mention things that happened in the years between Ties That Bind and this fanfic.

    It had been my hope that although some small spoilers were in there, it would be enough to have those that have read my book go, "Oh, yeah, I can soooo see Avis devolving into a "Did you just look at my baby?" style of parent and the irony that at least two of the NYPD homicide detectives have the power and the bloodline to be the anti-christ.

    But trust me, I have sat on some of the really fun things that have yet to arise. A real doozy is heavily alluded to in the second book, which will then be explained in the third in detail. Columbine is actually never established. There are three celestials in existence who don't need to be, and she becomes one of them.

    And Janesha's ancestor is Armina - Goddess of War. It was why Janesha got so offended when Thor stole Armina's story and turned it into his own. It was a case of, "That's a Mystallian story of glory! Get your own!"

    Anyway, if you have any other questions, Ack and I will be more than happy to fill you in. (Spoilers excluded, of course ;) )
     
  29. Threadmarks: Part Six: Reaping the Whirlwind
    Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Celestial Worm

    Part Six: Reaping the Whirlwind



    [A/N: This chapter commissioned by Fizzfaldt and beta-read by Karen Buckeridge, author of Ties that Bind.]



    Janesha

    Waking up in the lower bunk of a double bunk bed momentarily puzzled Janesha, until she took a split second to internalise and run through the last quarter-hour of her memory from the previous day. The process reminded her that she'd decided to attend whatever passed for 'school' on Earth Bet, so she could kick some righteous butt. Specifically, the collective wastes of oxygen, space and reality otherwise known as Emma Barnes, Sophia Hess and Madison Clements.

    Two days ago, she wouldn't have cared in the slightest what one mortal did to another. Few celestials did. Mortals, after all, were as plentiful as grains of sand on a world-spanning desert, so concerning about any one of them was pretty pointless. But then she met Danny Hebert and his daughter Taylor. They had personalities. They were people. Real people.

    They didn't treat her like mortals usually treated celestials in their midst. Instead, they treated her … The internalised version of Janesha twisted her lips to one side. Exactly how did they treat her? What was it about this pair that made her care so much? The thought of mortals influencing celestials was just stupid. Mortals didn’t live long enough to influence anything. But what else would she call it? Cousin Columbine always insisted every mortal mattered … but why?

    She could always say it was the life debt. No one would refute her connection to Danny Hebert at least, but that was a cop-out and she knew it. If the debt was all that mattered to her, she’d make him the sovereign of a large portion of the world (if not the world itself), give him the required wealth to make it stick and go home. Again, she had a ready-made excuse for why she hadn’t already done this. The realm was owned. Somewhere in here, there was at least one celestial present that could screw with her gift, and a gift that could be negated with a thought was no gift at all.

    The internalisation of herself sighed. That was just as much bullshit as blaming the life debt itself. The truth of the matter was … Danny wouldn’t want it. Not if it came from a celestial. She could sort of understand why he was so jaded against celestials. He loved his wife, and she died for no apparent reason. He wouldn’t be the first mortal to suffer such a loss. Hell, celestials suffered those sorts of losses all the time too. While those with an establishment field were generally immortal and unkillable and their unestablished blood relatives weren't about to die of natural causes, other celestials lived and died in under sixty thousand years, in fact. Contrary to popular belief, mortals didn’t have the monopoly on dying. They just did it a lot quicker. As a kind of consolation prize, only mortals could go on to an afterlife, whereas the light of a celestial just … went out.

    Back to Danny though. He was pissed enough at her for enhancing his and Taylor’s physical capabilities. Using the stupid rules of the realm, Janesha had given him a humanised control of his new physique. That is, he wouldn’t break, crush or destroy things without effort. Too often, people thought super strength was a good thing, but not when you couldn’t turn it on and off as required. A grip that could crush diamond would spend an eternity trying to grip a door handle and apply just the right amount of pressure to open it without squeezing it to powder. And don’t get me started on the complexities of typing at a regulated pace. Between his speed and his strength, a certain red and blue dressed superhero from the comics would never have made it as a reporter in the real world.

    But she had thought of that. For them. Because she … liked them?

    Now that the thought was out there, she mulled it over. She did like them. She liked them a lot. Danny could be a bit of an overbearing dick at times, but she hadn’t exactly smacked him down for it, so who was truly to blame for that attitude? For a split second, she thought about stealing them from the realm. Just them. The two of them. The celestial in charge would hardly miss a pair of mere mortals … and she could …

    She pulled that thought up with another sigh. She could do what? Turn them into her prized pets? Give them an extended lifetime in Mystal so they could live even longer in a place where their lives would be utterly meaningless to everyone but her? She liked them, because they had spirit. That spirit would quickly be crushed into nothing if she took them home. Even the celestial insects would turn their noses up at them.

    Her third sigh was gutting. She’d have to leave them here. They belonged here.

    Janesha speared her hair with her gloved fingers and knotted them behind her head. This was getting her nowhere. She needed space to think.

    Unwinding her fingers, she turned away from the memories and made her way over to the imagination section of her mind. There, she recreated her sitting room back in Mystal, complete with her half-circle stretch lounge in front of a roaring fire. Then she brought into being a dozen different versions of herself.

    For the next half an hour they argued back and forth about where she was at and what she should do about it. Frankly, the only thing they all agreed on was the fact that she owed Danny a life debt, which would be inhibited by the established pantheon here.

    Growling in frustration, she cleared them all away. Then she leaned forward, pressing her forearms into her knees with her head bowed.

    “Not a good pose for you, Sweet Pea,” a familiar voice said cheerily from over the back of the couch. “Anyone’d think you were beaten.”

    Without lifting her head, Janesha closed her eyes and shook her head. “Who invited you, Uncle Chance?”

    The back of the couch dipped as the youngest of the Mystallian Elder Court stepped over the couch and slid down the back until he sat beside her. “You know I don’t need an invitation to stick my nose in where it’s not wanted.” His elbow collided with her ribs, with enough force to make her wince. “Come on, Sweet Pea. Give me a smile, or Operation Harass-The-Shit-Out-Of-My-Sulky-Niece will commence in earnest.” He nudged her again. “Don’t say you weren’t warned. Three…Two…”

    No matter how hard she wanted to stay pissed, the corners of her lips curled against her wishes and she opened one eye to glare sideways at him. His boyish looks and cheeky expression belied his age, making him appear only a few years older than her. He had the same black hair as the rest of his siblings, though his eyes were molten gold, like Aunt Clarise’s. “I hate you,” she said, in a tone that showed it to be an outright lie.

    Chance threw his hands up and barked out a laugh. “Hey, it must be my day to channel my inner Clarise, because I can tell you’re absolutely full of shit, young lady.”

    Janesha chuckled. She couldn’t help herself. “Fine, you asshole. You win.”

    Chance sobered. “Not yet, darlin’,” he drawled, the molten gold in his eyes hardening just a little. “Something’s eating you enough to subconsciously bring me into your dreamscape. Logically, that means you’re at a moral impasse. One that you already know the answer to from a celestial standpoint, which is why you haven’t brought out your mother or one of the other elders to ask their advice. You want someone who thinks outside the box. So maybe you need to tell me what that box is, and I’ll see what I can do to help.”

    Janesha could have reset the situation and given Chance all the information he needed, but it felt good to talk it out. So, she started right at the beginning where Thor had thrown her out of Asgard in a hissy he-fit and went all the way through to when she went to bed the night before. Chance never once interrupted her.

    “Wow,” he said, sitting back on the couch once she was done. The fingers of his left hand played with his bottom lip—a tic he shared with his siblings when something bothered him. “You've certainly gotten yourself into a hell of a pickle, haven't you, Sweet Pea?”

    “I'm doing okay for myself,” she argued defensively. “I found a realm that nobody else even knew about.”

    “You have,” Chance conceded. “And for a mortal world, it’s pretty interesting that it coincides so closely with your cousin’s. But that’s both the point and the problem, isn’t it? It's a mortal world. One that’s already been claimed by another. Why do you care so much about what happens to them?”

    Despite knowing this was only a simulation of her favourite uncle, everything about the situation was so close to the real thing that she suddenly felt a twinge of homesickness. To distract herself, she ran her fingers through her hair again. She hated being put on the spot, and nobody did it better than Chance. “Well … they're my friends …” Her voice trailed off, knowing her excuse was weak but not knowing what to do about it.

    Chance rolled his eyes and sighed, then leaned back on the sofa, spreading his arms out to the sides. Under his direction (because it sure as shit wasn’t hers) the sofa shifted, splitting in half and reforming into two armchairs which came to rest facing each other. This made it harder for Janesha to look away from him, which was exactly what he wanted. Could she circumvent him and put it all back? Sure. She was after all, the only one in here. But subconsciously, she knew she needed this.

    When he spoke, his voice was full of warmth and understanding. “This is why we don't let you kids go out without us, Sweet Pea. They're called mortals for a reason.” He gestured eloquently with his hands. “They won't live forever. Most of them barely make it to a century or three, and when they wither and die, it'll break your heart. You know this. It’s why you should never have let yourself get too attached to them, baby.”

    “I didn't mean to!” Immediately, she regretted her outburst. “I didn't mean to,” she repeated more quietly, focusing more on his chin then his eyes.

    She saw him lean forward and knew what was coming even before his finger slid under her chin to lift her face. “Up here,” he said, using two fingers to signify his eyes. When she complied, he removed the finger from under chin and sat back again. “So, what do you plan to do now, Sweet Pea?”

    “I can’t just walk away! There was a wild talot in the celestial realm here, and Danny saved my life when we came across into the mortal realm!” She stared into the recreation of her uncle's face, reiterating that point. “Even if I didn't like Taylor, I still owe him that debt.”

    Chance sighed and lifted his left foot, balancing it on his right knee. His fingers tapped out an odd rhythm on his shin. What he didn’t do was try to directly refute her words, which was as good as admitting he didn't have a good comeback. This wasn't to say that the real Chance wouldn't, but nothing she knew about him allowed for a viable response. When he spoke next, it was to change the subject. “You’re going to have to wrap this up fast, Sweet Pea. No matter which way you look at it. If the real version of me isn’t already hunting your ass down, I soon will be. Your great-grandmother isn’t going to be fucking around on that score, either. As soon as she realises you’ve cut out into the Unknown Realms, she’ll bring me in on it. And you won’t escape my luck for long.”

    Now, it was Janesha’s turn to sigh. “I know. But I’m not leaving until I figure this all out.”

    “Hold on to that delusion, darlin’,” he drawled again, this time buffing his fingernails against his uniform doublet and inspecting their shine. Then he looked over the hand at her and added, “You’ve got till we find you. After that, we’re all going home, and your ass is going to be grounded for an eon at least.” A wry grin crossed his face as he finished with, “And don’t expect to be sitting down during that time either. You’ve got one hell of an ass-kicking coming your way when we find you.”

    Janesha rubbed her thumbs and forefingers together. None of those threats thrilled her, especially when she knew they were all true. “Well,” she said, with a tired wave. “If I’m gonna get killed by the family, I might as well make a real show of it.”

    That got Chance’s attention. He dropped his foot to the carpeted floor and straightened, the gold in his eyes sharpening into jagged peaks: a clear warning to anyone who knew him that they were now on treacherous ground. “And how exactly do you propose to do that?” he asked, icily.

    “Because I know Aunt Yasadan won’t go asking her dad for answers of where I went, not with the bad blood that’s currently between me and Thor. So, it’s going to take a long time for Mom to rule out the Known Realms, even if she brings in Dad’s family to help with the search. As of now, I’m going to ignore all the blood-links I receive, so none of you will be able to tag me that way. It’ll be months before Mom reaches out to the elders for help, and months more before you all realise I came into the Unknown Realms. I’m going to have at least a year before you manually track me down.”

    Chance surged to his feet with outrage written all over his face, but Janesha froze him and the whole scene in place before he could act. Even if this was just a dreamscape, it was never fun to be around an angry elder. In all fairness, that was kind of the reaction she was expecting from him. And if that was his reaction, the others were going to be fifty times worse … at least. Uncle Avis and Uncle Tal would blow the top off the scale, if they got involved. She was playing a very dangerous game now.

    But Janesha wasn’t done with talking to her uncle, just yet. So, she reset the scene to where he was buffing his nails. “Maybe,” she agreed, answering his swipe about a severe ass-kicking. “But this other celestial, or group of celestials is seriously screwing things up here. He, she or they have got to be here somewhere. And either they're so screwed in the head that they like it this way or they’ve been suckered into their own thrall and can’t get out. Either way, I'm the only one who can fix this shit, right now.”

    Chance gave her a long, parental look and shook his head. “Janesha, you're intruding on someone else's realm, and you know better than to assume you have the right to change the way they've set things up. Even if you weren't in the wrong here, you're opening yourself up for severe retribution once they realise you're in the realm.”

    “It's still fucked up, Uncle Chance,” Janesha maintained stubbornly. “They're using celestial constructs to give some of these mortals lots of power, and they're setting the mortals against each other. They're even using other constructs to attack the mortals directly, making it play out like a kids' book, but with lots of casualties.” She was pretty sure Chance had never read a comic book before, and this was the closest approximation she could come to.

    Her uncle pressed his lips together and shook his head. “It doesn’t matter, Sweet Pea. It really doesn’t. You’re still pissing in someone else’s pool.” He dropped his leg and braced his elbows into the arms of the chair, bouncing his fingers off each other in front of his face. “And there's one very important detail that I think you're overlooking here, baby.”

    Janesha, sure she’d covered everything, raised an eyebrow suspiciously. “Like what?”

    “You claim these mortals are growing on you. I can see at least some of them are. But if you go after the established pantheon and you challenge them for the right to rule, you will get yourself killed. And what do you think will happen to this precious mortal world you’ve discovered when your great-grandmother and the rest of us find out about your death? Do you think whatever this peon of a pantheon has is any match whatsoever for the full might of Mystal and Rangi-Tuarea combined? I can’t speak for your father’s pantheon, but we wouldn’t stop until this whole galaxy was one big smoking hole that not even hard vacuum would survive in. You understand me?”

    She understood him, alright. It was just that she hadn't actually thought of it in those terms before. So, if I die, so does Danny, Taylor and everyone else on Earth Bet. Okay then. I guess I just have to make sure I don't die. “I know,” she said out loud. “I'll be careful. Love you!” Dispelling the simulation of her uncle, she leaned back in the armchair for a moment and stared up at her vaulted ceiling. As if I didn't have enough to worry about. Joy.

    The introspection thus far had lasted the better part of three hours. Once she figured she could face the world, Janesha pulled back out of her own head and sat up in bed. Above her, she heard the noise of Taylor stirring. Elsewhere in the house, she detected the sound of a shower running. Mortals of this world did showers slightly differently to the way Mystallians achieved it, but that was because they cared about things like water wastage. Still, Janesha quite enjoyed a hot shower once in a while. Stimulation waves were obviously quicker, but the purpose of a hot shower wasn't to actually be quick. It was to be luxuriated in (at least, in Janesha's opinion). Unfortunately, today wasn’t a day for relaxation. She had a tight schedule to stick to.

    “Morning, Taylor,” she sang out, then gave herself a stimulation wave. As she got out of bed, she shifted her sleep-wear (pyjamas like Taylor's) back into her Mystallian leathers. “How are you feeling today?”

    “Unngh,” grunted Taylor, sitting up in bed and rubbing her eyes. Her hair was all over the place, just begging for a good brushing or a stimulation wave of its own. “Wha … huh … oh. Hi, Janesha. Morning.” She looked down at the bed, her brain still apparently catching up with events. “Bunk beds. Cool.”

    Instead of repeating her question, Janesha ran her mental fingers across Taylor's surface thoughts. Her friend seemed to be well-rested, without any ongoing agitation from bad dreams, which was good. No doubt those would happen again at some point, but she'd blunted the edge of the blade for that at least. She wondered idly if Aunt Clarise's dad had a specific torture lined up for people who betrayed their friends and shoved them into lockers full of filth, then snorted silently to herself. Of course he does. He's Belial. Personalising torture is what he does. Or maybe that’ll be Uriel's job from Heaven's side, being the archangel of Vengeance and all. That was an interesting conundrum. Who’d have dibs on them? Maybe, when she finally got home again, she'd ask Aunt Clarise which way that would swing. Being both American and white, it was more likely than not that at least two of the three girls had their religious views geared towards Heaven. And since that was the case, maybe she should reach out to Yeshua after all. See if he had any pull with his old man, and if he did, put in a little request to have that pair sent directly to Hell as a personal favour to her … instead of being shown any mercy.

    “Janesha?” Taylor looked doubtfully down at her. “You've got a nasty smile on your face. What are you thinking about?”

    “Oh, uh, nothing important.” Janesha schooled her features to a gentler expression. “Consequences of actions, mostly. Celestial stuff.” She didn't quite know how Taylor felt about the idea of Emma and her friends being tortured for all eternity for the multitude of their sins against her, and she didn't want to turn Taylor against visiting Winslow. She might not be descended from highborn bloodlines like some of her cousins but her shapeshifting heritage still acknowledged her as a denizen of Hell, and there were three girls (at least) who richly deserved a lot of punishment: demon style.

    “Okay.” Taylor swung her legs over the side of the bunk and dropped to the floor. “So, are we still going to Winslow today?” She looked and sounded a little dubious at the notion.

    “Sure we are,” Janesha stated heartily. “Just remember, there's literally nothing they can do to you physically that you can't tank, and nothing they can do to you at all that I can't reverse. And they won't be focusing on you, anyway. They'll be looking at me.” By way of explanation, she flourished the cape she was wearing.

    Taylor put on her glasses and blinked. “Wait, you're going to be wearing that to Winslow? Won't that make you kind of … noticeable?”

    “Well, yes.” Janesha tried not to sound too sarcastic. “That's the whole point. Everyone's going to be noticing me and leaving you alone.” She caught the glint from Taylor’s glasses lens and frowned. “You know, I could fix that for you. There's no reason for you to not be able to see perfectly. It'd take me two seconds.”

    “I, uh …” Taylor looked taken aback. “Won't people notice that I'm not wearing glasses anymore?”

    Although Janesha held Taylor in high regard, offering a piss-weak excuse like that was just downright insulting. “That? That's it? You're worried about people noticing?” Reaching out, she tapped the nose bridge of her friend’s glasses. “If you need the deception, I can remake these into plain glass. Or bulletproof. Or whatever else you want.” With a deeper frown, she added, “Don’t you guys have some kind of laser surgery to do away with glasses? I’m sure I remember something like that being on Earlafaol…”

    “Sure, if you have the money. We don’t technically have enough money for my medical bills, officially.”

    Janesha wrinkled her nose. “I hate pretending to be poor.”

    “I hate being poor,” Taylor quipped back.

    “Touché. I can still make you fake glasses to keep your cover.” She canted her head to one side and cocked an eyebrow. “Any other excuses we need to get past?”

    “Well, when you put it that way …” Taylor shrugged. She held out her hand to Janesha. “Do your thing.”

    “Well, my thing is usually mind-bending, but sure. I'll need you to take your glasses off first so I can see what I'm doing. Or rather, so you can see what I'm doing.” Janesha waited for her to comply, then took hold of her outstretched hand. “Here we go.” With no other warning, Janesha went into her friend’s memories to see just how bad her vision was. The answer came in a fuzzy image that barely made out colours, let alone shapes. “Dang, girl…” she couldn’t help but mutter. “Blind Hoðr had better sight than this.” Well, no, he didn’t, but it went awfully close. Most celestials didn’t have to put up with crap eyesight. Even if they were born with bad eyesight, it was easily rectified. Unless, of course, they had an asshole step-uncle who made it his mission to screw with the whole pantheon for shits and giggles and hardly ever had to wear the consequences of those actions. Janesha ground her teeth in vexation. Fuck, she hated Loki. Like A lot. Hoðr had done nothing to him … and that mother-fucking gutless asshole went and ….

    She shook her head to clear those thoughts. It didn’t matter. It was done now. Hoðr had paid with his life for a crime he’d been tricked into committing, and much to the annoyance of anyone in possession of a hint of decency, that masterminding bastard went on his merry way.

    Having got what she came for, Janesha returned to the physical realm and took a moment to compare her own eye shape to Taylor's, then did the preliminary reshaping. Her shifter power matched one to the other with ease; the only speed-bump lay in ensuring that Taylor's eye colour remained the same.

    Going back into Taylor’s mind, she went to see what her vision looked like now. Shapes weren’t quite so blurred, and colours definitely had better clarity, so she was on the right path. For a moment, she compared what she was doing to a scientist correcting a microscope and chuckled. Taylor would throw something at her if she shared this particular thought. If she hated being compared to an ant, being compared to an inanimate microscope would probably put her over the edge.

    Back and forward she bounced, zeroing in on any imperfections and then checking to see if there were any others. If I was trained as a healer like some people I could mention, I could've done this in one pass. Just because that training took thousands of mortal lifetimes wasn’t the point. Back and forth. Maybe it was because she was a perfectionist … or maybe because this was her friend and she wanted to make it especially perfect, but she refused to accept anything less. Back and forth. Back and forth.

    In real time it had only taken a few seconds to do the dozens of corrections instead of the two she’d promised, but she didn’t think Taylor would mind. Not now her vision was human perfect.

    “Done,” she announced. Grinning, she watched Taylor blink a couple of times.

    Tentatively, Taylor put on her glasses, then took them off again. She held her hand in front of her face and examined her fingernails in awe. “Wow,” she murmured. “Just like that.”

    “Well, not 'just' like that,” Janesha said, her grin souring just a little. “You wouldn’t believe how many times I had to keep checking to get it perfect. The tedium was actually beginning to annoy me by the end. If we were back home, or I was attuned to this realm, it would’ve happened just because I wanted it to.”

    Taylor rolled her eyes. “So, what you're saying is because you can't do it the effortless celestial way, you did it the not-quite-so-easy celestial way that's still light-years ahead of anything us mere mortals can come up with?”

    At the sarcastic tone, Janesha twisted her lips to one side, but couldn’t prevent the smirk that crept into the edges. She knew there was a reason she liked Taylor so much. “Now you’re getting it.” She reached out and touched the glasses, flattening the lenses out. “That was a whole lot easier.”

    Taylor was about to say something, when she paused and tilted her head towards the door. “Dad's finished in the shower. He'll be going down to make breakfast. You want to shower next?”

    Janesha rolled her fingers back towards her pristine self. “Stimulation waves for the win, petal. Remember?” With the same hand, she gestured towards the door. “You go ahead. I think I might wander downstairs and give Danny a hand with breakfast.” Whatever Danny and Taylor considered a worthwhile breakfast was more than likely not going to be what she had in mind. Just because I'm living in a mortal household that deems itself ‘poor’ doesn't mean I have to eat like it.

    “Sounds like a plan.” Taylor's grin gave Janesha the distinct impression that Taylor was even more in tune with her thoughts than she'd figured. She opened the bedroom door and headed down the corridor, while Janesha followed more sedately. The bathroom door opened just as they arrived, and Danny stepped out, wearing a bathrobe.

    “Morning, girls,” he said blandly. “Taylor, you're up early.” His eyes skimmed over Janesha's leathers without judgement.

    “I slept real good,” Taylor reported. “Better than I have for a long time.” She tilted her head toward Janesha. “Between that fix job she did on my mind and the mattress she made for me, I had the best night's sleep, in like, ever. No nightmares, nothing.”

    Danny raised an eyebrow in Janesha's direction. “So, when you said you were going to make your bed, you didn't just make yours. You made one for Taylor as well.”

    “I’m not that selfish.” Janesha lifted one shoulder in a half-shrug. “Besides, technically, I remade her bed to suit both of us, so fixing them up at the same time was a no-brainer.”

    “Just to put it out there, there was nothing wrong with the old bed I provided for her.”

    For a split second, Janesha felt sorry for Danny. He had been Taylor’s provider her whole life, and now everything he’d given her wasn’t good enough. “I can put it back if you want …”

    “Don’t you dare!” Taylor shouted. “Dad, you gotta let her change your mattress too. I swear, you’ll never sleep on another mattress again, once you have. It’s like sleeping on a cloud.”

    Danny smiled at Taylor, though it was more of a grimace than a smile. Janesha’s eyebrow hitched at the by-play. Since when had she started taking notice of this shit? “Up to you, Danny. The offer’s an open one, for as long as I’m here.”

    At least he seemed to appreciate the fact she was offering instead of just doing it. “Thanks, Janesha. I’ll keep it in mind. But how did you fit two beds in Taylor’s tiny room? Did you extend the house sideways or something? I didn't hear the house settling any more than usual last night.”

    Janesha snorted in amusement. “Now who’s using a mountain when a molehill will do?”

    To her surprise, both Danny and Taylor looked at each other, then burst out laughing. “Oh, man,” Taylor continued to laugh, holding her father’s shoulder for support. Danny had to take his glasses off to wipe his eyes. Janesha didn’t think she’d said anything that funny. “You are sooo lucky Mom’s not around to smack you upside the head on your total butchery of that saying.”

    Just as Janesha was about to look into their surface thoughts for the source of their humour, Danny decided to elaborate. “An example of ‘Making a mountain out of a molehill’ is when you trip over a rock, but then go on to tell everyone that rock was the size of the moon,” he said, sliding his glasses back into place with a push of the nose bridge to secure them. “Only a celest would ‘use’ a mountain as a tool. I think the idiom you’re looking for is 'Swatting flies with a sledgehammer'.”

    Janesha curled her lip into a sneer and flipped them both off, which had Taylor laughing helplessly and Danny shaking his head.

    “She made us bunk beds, Dad,” Taylor explained, once her laughter died down and she could breathe again. “Extra wide.” She rolled her eyes in remembered bliss. “I mean it, Dad. You have to let her change up your mattress. You have never slept on anything like it.” She touched the side of her head, right about where the arm of her glasses would've gone back to her ear. “Oh, and she fixed my eyes, too. I can see everything clear as day.”

    Danny blinked behind his own glasses, then shook his head again. “I keep wanting to say 'wonders will never cease' but then I remember you’re a celestial and it’s kind of in the job description. Around you, wonders will definitely never cease.” He nodded past the girls toward his room. “I've got to get dressed before I make breakfast, so if you'll excuse me?”

    “Oh, sorry, Dad.” Taylor ducked around to the side to let him get through. “I'm just gonna have a shower then I'll come down and have breakfast.”

    “And I'll go see to Cloudstrike,” Janesha said. She didn't comment on Danny's assertion that he'd be the one to make breakfast. She and Taylor both knew what was really going to happen, so Danny had two choices: either eat the breakfast he prepared in protest or give in and eat the one she made. Now that he was someone who mattered, ‘owning the space’ demanded he be given the choice. She knew which one she'd pick. “Ciao.” With a single finger salute/wave, she realm-stepped into the celestial realm and rematerialized in front of Cloudstrike’s stall.

    Cloudstrike nickered happily to see her and butted her head up against Janesha's hand in her eagerness to get ear scratches. Janesha complied with a grin, murmuring to the mystallion as she ran her other hand over Cloudstrike's neck and through her mane. Picking up a random piece of trash from the basement floor, she transformed it into an apple for Cloudstrike as a reward for being a good girl and not wrecking the stall (or the house, for that matter). While the mystallion noisily crunched the treat, Janesha renewed the hay in the net, made sure the trough was still full of water (and wasn't overflowing), and sent a stimulation wave through Cloudstrike to clean her friend up.

    The smell of frying eggs wafting down the stairs alerted her that Danny was starting on breakfast. Giving Cloudstrike one last ear-scratch and nose-to-nose nuzzle, she stepped away from the stall. “I've got to go and have breakfast now,” she said, half-apologetically. At Cloudstrike's fretful nicker, she relented. “Don’t worry. We'll take the long way to school, I promise.”

    She’d already figured out their flight-plan. Remembering the geographical layout of Brockton Bay from both Danny’s memories and the Butt-Baster’s, if traffic was bad, it would take anywhere up to forty minutes to catch the bus to Winslow High school. There was also the time it took to walk to the nearest bus stop, meaning she had at least three quarters of an hour. Janesha planned on using that time to give Cloudstrike a chance to really stretch her wings before dropping them of at the High School.

    Cloudstrike jerked her head up and down emphatically and stamped her hoof in the soft earth. The stimulation wave had a dual effect, and now her friend was full of energy. Giving Janesha a sidelong look as if to say, Remember, you promised, she turned aside to pull a mouthful of hay from the net.

    Wondering if anyone else ever had to put up with this emotional blackmail crap, Janesha made her way upstairs. She could have realm-shifted into the kitchen and saved steps, but she’d learned that while people didn’t mind you disappearing to leave, they got real toey when you appeared right behind them. That, and she didn’t know exactly where in the kitchen Danny was, and appearing in the space he was already occupying would be … embarrassing.

    As it was, Danny was standing beside the small stove in the corner, frying eggs in a pan. “How's Cloudstrike this morning?” he asked, once he noticed her approach.

    “She's well, thanks,” Janesha said, pleased that he'd asked. “She's getting a little antsy, though. I'm going to take her out for a proper ride soon, or she might start breaking things.” She headed over to where he stood; an unopened packet of bacon on the bench beside him. “Bacon and eggs, huh?”

    “Given that you seemed to think a quick jaunt down to Rio was only a light stroll for her, I'm guessing you'll be going much farther afield,” Danny noted dryly. “And yeah. Bacon and eggs. Easy to make, hard to screw up.”

    A quick glance at his surface thoughts informed her that he was entirely sincere with his comment about Cloudstrike and in fact seemed much less concerned about it than he had been the day before. She wasn't quite sure if this attitude was just another side-effect of living in a world where 'capes' performed ludicrous (on a mortal scale) acts on a daily basis. Equally likely was the possibility that her own celestial essence was starting to creep through, making him accept her actions all the more readily. It might even have been a combination of the two; she had no real way of knowing.

    “Would you like me to take over the breakfast?” she asked, giving him the option of either accepting her help, or being stuck with boring old bacon and eggs for breakfast. “I don’t need to worry about fast and easy, since it’s all the same to me.” Raising her hand to shoulder height, she snapped her fingers, adding a sparkler effect to the air around her fingertips.

    He suddenly looked thoughtful. “That meal you made for us last night was about the best thing I've ever tasted. Do you have a breakfast recipe that's as good?”

    “I might be able to whip up something,” she grinned.

    <><>​

    Taylor

    Showered and dressed, Taylor came downstairs. An irresistibly appetising smell met her nostrils halfway down the steps, and she quickened her pace. In the kitchen, her father and Janesha were chatting while different plates were being carried to the table. Several more plates were already there.

    “What's all that?”

    “Oh, hey,” Janesha called, sliding the last of her plates onto the already over-crowded table. She then straightened and shrugged. “Since I’m not allowed to go into your minds, I didn’t know what your breakfast preferences were, so I threw together a variety of things for you to try.”

    “Emphasis on ‘threw together’,” her father added glibly.

    Janesha rolled her eyes at him and crossed them over her nose. “Yeah, as I was saying, don’t fret about the mass. Just pick out what you like, and when you’re full, I’ll clear away the rest.” Janesha waved her forward.

    Taylor slid into her seat, staring at the mountain of food. “Where do I start?”

    “Wherever you like. There’s smoked salmon and scrambled eggs on toast. Omelette with truffles, mushrooms, avocado, sausage, spinach and bacon. Croissants with chocolate, whipped almond cream and strawberries. The other croissants have caramelised onion, cheese, brie, bacon and honey. There’s also yoghurt with bananas, blueberries, walnuts and cinnamon and porridge with cashew milk and agave syrup, and coconut yoghurt with goji berries and popped quinoa. I made up some sugared toast with apricot compote, crème fraiche and mixed berries. For drinks, there’s too many to choose from, so there’s jugs of water, and after taking a glass or a mug, let me know what you want and I’ll touch-shift it in.”

    “Like wine, maybe?” Danny asked, raising his eyebrow cockily. Taylor stifled a laugh, not sure if Janesha would get the Christian reference.

    “Wine? Not my first choice,” the celestial noted, apparently missing the entire point. “But sure, if that’s what you’re into. Personally, I find breakfast a little early to hit the heavier stuff, but a lot of the elders drink ambrosia at every meal.”

    “Ambrosia … isn’t that that Greek god’s wine?” Taylor couldn’t say who asked it first, her or her father.

    Janesha chuckled. “Funny you should mention Dionysus,” she mused. “Since it’s his son that’s our god of the drink.”

    “I didn’t know Dionysus had a son.” Taylor decided to start with what was right in front of her, which just happened to be the savoury croissants. The combination of so many flavours had her tastebuds moaning in delight.

    “Well, the Olympians know about Yitzak, but the Greeks don't,” confided Janesha, with an air of I-won't-tell-if-you-don't. “But yeah, Dionysus and my cousin Emmalyn of Festivities got busy during a social get-together, and a century or so later, we got ourselves a god of the Drink.”

    “Is he always falling-down drunk like his father?” Taylor’s questions were said in and around her food. Yes, it was rude to talk with her mouth full, but she couldn’t help it. She wanted answers almost as much as she wanted the next bite. Not even her father’s frown of disapproval could dissuade her. Janesha took her seat and reached for the French toast and …whatever she’d said was with it.

    “Exact opposite. The bastard never gets drunk, no matter how hard we try.” Janesha waved her hand in a flourish. “Oh, he pretends to, to fit in. But the second he wants or needs to, he’s a sober as they come. Worse, he can do the same to anyone else too. Rip an alcoholic blur right out of you.” With an almost evil smile, she added, ‘Or dump you in one if you piss him off. Imagine dealing with a celestial-scale hangover when you haven’t touched a drop.”

    “I think I’ll pass on that one, thanks,” her father said with a shudder. “Normal hangovers are bad enough.”

    Being underaged, Taylor could only guess how unpleasant that would be. A thought then occurred to her. What would happen to my bugs if I became drunk? Would they all act drunk too? And if they did, would that stop me from ever drinking again, knowing my actions impacted on others, much smaller and less significant to me? She could see through the eyes of a bug and make them do what she want. Swarm them if she chose to. Had she ever once stopped to think about what they wanted? She had been experimenting with her control of them ever since she’d left the hospital and her only thought at the time had been, yes—I can. Not only did she have control of all the insects in her vicinity, she also knew where they all were, how many there were and (possibly most important) what types there were and what they could do.

    To be honest, the answer to the last bit was usually some combination 'fly slowly', 'scuttle slowly' and 'bite weakly'. There were a lot of bugs with abilities that frankly weren't very impressive. On the other hand, spiders spun webs and she'd seen on some science show that spider silk was one of the strongest things in the world. She had considered using their silk to braid unbreakable ropes. Cool, right? But had she even once thought about how the spiders felt about that?

    Taylor looked over the food pile to Janesha, suddenly having a whole new level of respect for what her family must go through. It didn’t sound like they were very nice about it, but she was certainly starting to see the similarities.

    Still thinking about that, she finished up the croissant, absent-mindedly shooing away three flies that were making a bee-line (so to speak) toward the inviting smell and helped herself to a slice of omelette. Janesha gave her an approving nod and went back to eating her own breakfast. Close up, it smelled even more heavenly. Taking up her knife and fork, she carved off a slice and popped it in her mouth.

    “Oh, my God,” she mumbled as the taste exploded over her tongue. “Thiff iv amazing.” Chewing the mouthful, she swallowed and immediately snagged another piece. Across the table, her father was making similar inroads on his smoked salmon and scrambled eggs on toast. The whole meal had been prepared in the length of time it took her to have a shower. Ten minutes … maybe fifteen, tops. Taylor had heard people say that cape powers were such bullshit, but she suspected they had nothing on celestial capabilities.

    “You might say it’s been in the works for eons,” Janesha said with a laugh, pouring herself a glass of water, which she quickly changed into a fruit juice of some type. “The cooks back home live for thousands of years, perfecting their offerings. They get it right down to how many grains of salt are used with each serving. I got to taste the end result, and it was worth it.” Her voice was casual, rather than boastful. Taylor got the impression that this really wasn't a big deal to her.

    Breakfast was over all too soon. Danny went into the living room and turned on the TV, while Taylor stacked the used plates in the sink and turned on the tap to rinse them. By the time she turned back to the table, Janesha had made all the excess food disappear. “I don’t think I’ll ever get used to that,” she said, with a headshake.

    “Get used to what?” Janesha asked, crossing the kitchen to lean against the sink beside her.

    “Having a celestial in our household. Since you’re not doing anything, you want to grab a tea towel and wipe the dishes as I hand them to you?”

    Janesha canted her head again. “What for?”

    “Because they need drying.”

    The strangest blend of confusion and disbelief drifted across Janesha’s face. “You want me … to dry dishes … with a towel?”

    “Uh huh.” Taylor turned the tap off then picked up the brush. When Janesha made no move towards the tea towel, Taylor reached over and chucked it at her new friend, slapping her in the face with it. “Stop being a baby and help.”

    Reaching up, Janesha removed the towel and held it out at arm's length like a dead rat, then dropped it on the counter. “If anyone back home finds out I’m doing this …” she growled, but nevertheless took the first plate Taylor offered her. In the length of time it took Janesha to put the plate on the counter, the water evaporated away from it in a visible burst of steam, leaving it completely dry.

    “Well, that works, too,” Taylor said with a smirk. She scrubbed at the second plate then handed it to Janesha to be instantly dried and stacked. “So, you mean to tell me you’ve never ever washed up before? Even once?” She briefly recalled happier days, when she and Emma had shared the chore, inevitably splashing each other so that they needed more drying than the dishes did.

    Janesha snorted in derision. “You do know what the word ‘god’ means, don’t you? At mealtimes, we sit down, we eat, we socialise, and we leave. The rest is left to servants.”

    “It sounds nice,” Taylor observed, scrubbing industriously at the third plate. “So, you didn't have any responsibilities?” Celestials, she was beginning to suspect, had it better than any medieval king.

    “Oh, I have responsibilities,” Janesha said defensively. “I had lessons to attend, Cloudstrike to take … well, I had to learn how to take care of Cloudstrike, for the times when we weren’t at the pantheon’s stables. Otherwise, there were stablehands for that. Defend the name of Mystal in the eyes of other pantheons …”

    “ … get kicked out of Asgard for talking back to Thor …” Taylor chimed in, grinning.

    Janesha poked her tongue out at Taylor as she took the last plate. “He was in the wrong. You don't steal another warrior's glory. Especially not a Mystallian’s, and double especially in front of another Mystallian.”

    Taylor happened to agree wholeheartedly, though in a slightly different context than warriors and glory, so she shifted to another topic as she started cleaning the cutlery. “So … lessons? About what?”

    “Oh, everything.” Janesha rolled her eyes. “All about the realms, and who's in power in each one. The creatures in each realm that we need to be careful around. The languages of the different realms—well, I'm still working on those. How to comport myself as a goddess once I finally get my establishment. How not to get myself accidentally established.” She waved her free hand as she took the handful of forks and dried them. “How what you guys call 'physics' and 'biology' works in each of the realms. Stuff like that.”

    “But you said as far as you're concerned, physics is what you make it.” That sounded fundamentally wrong to Taylor. Everything she knew told her that physics was physics.

    Janesha shrugged but didn’t deny it. “Only the mortal realm is that malleable. The celestial realm is a lot more … resilient.”

    "That's screwed up." Taylor grimaced.

    “It is what it is.” With a shrug, Janesha dropped the last of the cutlery on the drying rack and dusted her hands. “So, is that it? Do you need to bring anything like books or stuff?”

    The memory of what had become of her school books caused her to pinch her lips together tightly. “No,” she grumbled. “They were all in the locker with me. Even my backpack.”

    “Mother-fuckers,” Janesha swore, scowling so thunderously Taylor thought she might have seen flickers of lightning in her irises. But then her friend closed her eyes, drew a deep breath in and held it. When she finally released it a few seconds later, she opened her eyes and smiled the way Taylor was certain a striking cobra would smile, if it were able. “Well,” she purred, her tone laced with venom. “Let's see about fixing that, shall we?”

    “Um … how exactly are we going to do that?” If anyone else had said those words, Taylor would've automatically prepared herself for disappointment. It was the way her world worked. But Janesha had a talent for making the impossible a reality, so she didn't instantly write the possibility off.

    “We go there, and make them give us replacements,” Janesha said flatly. “Not only did you get hurt, but your stuff got destroyed on their watch, so it's up to them to fix that shit.” The further into the explanation she went, the angrier she became. “Either they learn to own their space, or I'll make them fucking own it. No bunch of fucked-up fucking mortal bureaucrats is gonna screw my friend over like that. Fuck that shit!”

    The sound of Danny clearing his throat drew Taylor's attention to the door into the living room. Leaning on the door-frame, Danny eyed them both, while the TV played behind them. “Did I hear the sound of a Mystallian about to go and do something extremely Mystallian to someone who hurt my daughter?”

    Taylor was impressed by the fact that her father had used the word 'Mystallian' as both a noun and an adjective in the same sentence. From the look on her face, Janesha had never heard it done like that before either. Stiffening her back, the young celestial looked Taylor's father in the eye. “And what if you did?”

    Despite the certain knowledge that Janesha could destroy his mind at a whim, or disassemble him at a touch, Danny seemed unfazed. “Something tells me I should urge you not to go overboard. But even if I did, you'd probably ignore me, and I don't feel like being particularly merciful to those people anyway. So have at it, young lady. Just try not to do anything that would get me called in to a parent-teacher conference. I'm reasonably certain they'd be offended if I laughed in their faces.”

    Janesha’s anger melted away and she smirked at Danny. “I knew there was a reason I liked you.”

    Taylor’s father chuckled and returned to the lounge. Seconds later, she heard him heading up the stairs, probably to get ready for work.

    Janesha waved at Taylor. “Come on, let's get going.”

    “Sure, okay.” Taylor headed for the back door, then realised that Janesha was going toward the basement door. “Uh, are we saying goodbye to Cloudstrike first?” She knew she'd agreed to accompany Janesha to school, but any excuse to delay was a good one, and visiting Cloudstrike was a better one than most. The mystallion's golden coat was so soft and warm, and she truly seemed to like Taylor. This was possibly because Taylor thought she was absolutely gorgeous—which was true—but there were worse reasons.

    “Oh, no.” Janesha shot Taylor a grin over her shoulder. “We're riding Cloudstrike to school.”

    “Wait, what?” Taylor's mind locked up and skidded to a halt. Her feet quickly followed suit. “We can't … can we?” Mental images arose of her dismounting from Cloudstrike in front of Winslow. Of everyone watching her do so. She didn't even have the faintest idea what the fallout from that would be. At the very least, the PHO boards would go nuclear. She hadn't gone online yesterday, so she had no idea how bad it was already. On the one hand, they didn't have news crews setting up camp on their front yard, but she strongly suspected the tinfoil-hat brigade would be out in force. Going to Winslow on Cloudstrike with Janesha would simply throw gasoline on that fire.

    “Sure we can.” Janesha shrugged carelessly. “But since we’re going to take a little detour first, I’m going to modify her saddle to make the ride more comfortable for you. Stirrups, too, so you don't accidentally kick Cloudstrike and confuse her.”

    “Detour to where?”

    “Cloudstrike needs to properly stretch her wings, so the length of time it normally takes you to go to school, I’m going to let Cloudstrike have her head.” Janesha must’ve seen the horrified look on Taylor’s face, because she immediately said, “Oh, don’t worry. Cloudstrike has an excellent sense of direction. She’ll get us back here right on time.”

    “But you said her full speed is twelve galaxies a second!”

    “So?”

    “So there’s no air out there! It’s just vacuum! I’ll die!” Taylor thought that was kind of obvious. It was the first thing humans thought about when going into space, after all.

    Janesha paused and looked her over as if that thought had never occurred to her. “Hmmm, point. But I really do need to let Cloudstrike stretch her wings, before she does something else to get my attention.” The longer she looked at Taylor, the more she rubbed her bottom lip. “What if … very temporarily, mind you … I give you the ability to sustain yourself in hard vacuum for the duration of the ride? And then change you back once we get back to Earth Bet. I give you my absolute word I won’t leave you like that … unless you like it, in which case,” she grinned mischievously, “… what Danny doesn’t know won’t get you yelled at, and me yelled at a whole lot more.”

    Taylor grinned as well. Being able to survive hard vacuum sounded pretty cool, but she still had a concern. “Am I allowed to bargain?”

    Janesha threw an arm over Taylor’s shoulders and led her to the basement stairs. “Try me.”

    “If we’re moving that fast, I’m not going to see a thing. If I’m going to ride for that long, I want to see where we’re going.”

    Janesha barely hesitated. “Oh, that’s easy. There’s a few ways we can do this. One, I give you permanent eidetic memory. Anything you see, you can go back to and replay at whatever speed you want. Two, I give you stop-motion visual capture, so if anything really fast happens in your vicinity, your eyes automatically record it for later review. And three, I give you the ability to overclock your visual cortex so you can watch anything in slow motion at any time. But it’ll have weird effects on the way you experience other sensory inputs, so I wouldn’t recommend using it for too long at one time.” Janesha shrugged. “I’m good, but mortal brains have their limitations.”

    “Huh, wow.” Taylor considered her options. Being able to remember everything she saw and heard would be so useful, from passing tests to memorising the back streets of Brockton Bay if she ever decided to go out as a hero. The instant slow-motion vision also sounded pretty cool. In fact, each of the three had their appeal. But she didn’t take long to make her choice. “The visual capture, please.”

    “One hard-vacuum adaptation and visual-capture brain mod, coming up.” Janesha never slowed down in the slightest. Instead, she opened the door with her free hand and guided Taylor down the stairs.

    “How long's this going to take?” Taylor asked. She hoped it wouldn’t be too long; they still had to get to school, after all.

    “Already done.” Janesha squeezed her shoulder, reminding her of the contact they already shared. “When you’re in an airless environment, your external orifices will pinch shut and your body will start breaking carbon dioxide back down into oxygen and carbon.” Her hand blurred in front of Taylor’s face. “Did you see that?”

    “Yeah, I did.” Taylor somehow knew there was a memory waiting for her to access it. She did, and the image of Janesha's hand forming several obscene gestures in a row floated across her vision. “Okay, that’s rude and you should feel bad. What about my eyes? Won’t the eyeballs burst or something?” She remembered seeing some science fiction movie where that had happened.

    Janesha rolled her own eyes. “Oh, petal. Have you already forgotten? Your eyeballs are bulletproof. A little hard vacuum isn’t even gonna make them twitch, let alone go pop.” She rubbed her hands together. “So, you ready to go to school and kick ass?”

    It suddenly occurred to Taylor that while privacy was probably going to be an issue at some point during Janesha's stay—almost certainly sooner rather than later—the risk factor was far lower than it normally would've been. This was because she and her father had little to worry about physical harm anymore and in fact, thanks to the efforts of Emma and her coterie, she had literally no friends in the world who could be used to put pressure on her. Apart from Janesha, of course, and Taylor could only imagine how badly it would end for the person stupid enough to threaten the celestial. Regardless of whoever did the threatening.

    They descended the basement stairs, to be greeted by excited nickering from Cloudstrike. The mystallion barely waited until Janesha had let herself into the stall before bumping her head firmly against the teenager's shoulder. Her wings flexed open, brushing the side-walls, before furling once more.

    “Yes, I know you heard us,” Janesha said fondly, running her hand through the mystallion's mane. “And yes, we're going for a ride, but first I've got to work on the saddle. Come on through, Taylor. Cloudstrike won't step on your feet. Will you, girl?”

    Cloudstrike tossed her head at that, managing to look offended. Turning her head toward Taylor, the mystallion nuzzled at her for attention. Taylor took her cue and ran her hand over Cloudstrike's cheek and along the mystallion's neck. “How long have you had her?” she asked. “And how did you even get her? I mean, wow. She's amazing.”

    Janesha reached out to the side of the stall and pulled one of the granite blocks away, smoothing out the hole she'd made with casual ease. The block became a leather saddle which she placed over Cloudstrike's rump and attached to the back of the main saddle. “When someone in our pantheon hits puberty, one of the mystallions in the herd falls pregnant. Once the foal is born, they're matched with their rider. By the time that person’s old enough to learn how to ride by themselves, the mystallion is old enough to be ridden. I've had Cloudstrike since I was twelve, and we've been flying together since I was thirteen.”

    “Lots of stuff happens when you hit puberty, doesn’t it?” Taylor asked. She supposed that getting a mystallion would go a long way to make up for acne and teenage awkwardness. Then she wondered if celestials even got acne. Somehow, she suspected, they didn’t.

    Janesha shrugged. “It’s a marker, I suppose. The Known Realms’ way of accepting I’m not a kid anymore …” Nudging Cloudstrike's wing aside, she swung astride with the ease of long practice. “Okay, do you think you can get up, or do you need help?”

    Taylor looked at the saddle, then at the stirrups. She was tall for her age, but they looked way too high for her to use them to get on the mystallion's back. “Uh, some help, please?”

    “Not a problem.” Reaching down, Janesha took hold of Taylor's wrist and lifted her up to the point where she could slide her leg over the saddle.

    It took Taylor a moment or two to get settled. Looking at how Janesha had her feet in the stirrups, she emulated that with hers. It felt weird, but the posture was far more stable than when she'd just been sitting on Cloudstrike's rump, the day before. “Wow,” she said. “I don't know how you get used to this. I hope Cloudstrike's not uncomfortable with me on her back as well.”

    This got her an explosive snort from Cloudstrike and a laugh from Janesha. “Trust me, if she didn't want you there, you'd be sitting on your ass on the ground. At the very least. Comfortable?”

    Taylor's hands, resting on the front of her saddle, found a couple of handholds which she immediately latched on to. “Uh, I am now.”

    “Good. Then there’s one other thing I need to do.” Before Taylor had a chance to ask what Janesha meant, she felt the leather of the saddle slide over her thighs, locking her in place. “It’s a long walk home if you get thrown off,” Janesha said.

    Oh, right. Remembering Cloudstrike’s speed, Taylor’s hands gripped the handholds until her knuckles went white from exertion.

    “Okay then, let's go.” Janesha glanced over her shoulder and gave Taylor a grin. Taylor didn't see what signal she gave to Cloudstrike, but the mystallion made a jump forward—

    —and they were airborne, over the weird crystalline landscape. Cloudstrike's wings snapped outward, the downbeat catching them before they could begin to fall. One more beat, and they were flying through space. Yes, her brain confirmed as she clenched her eyes shut and redoubled her grip on the handholds. She was actually in outer space.

    For the first few minutes, Taylor stayed like that. But as time went on and she didn’t feel any need to breathe or any other ill effect of being in vacuum, it actually got a little boring. Which, she would be the first to admit, was not something she would’ve expected from space travel.

    When Janesha actually started laughing, Taylor relaxed enough to peek over the celestial’s shoulder to see what was going on. It all seemed a blur of horizontal lines of light to her, but several stored memories popped up almost immediately, so she sat back to review them. As insane as it sounded inside her own head, she was getting images of actual planets—and sometimes whole stars—literally leaping aside as Cloudstrike swooped at them, urged on by Janesha. Looking over her shoulder, Taylor collected more imagery of the heavenly bodies—so to speak—jumping back into place as the mystallion streaked onward. And Janesha was laughing about it.

    At that moment, Taylor decided that the old movie title was indeed correct. The gods were indeed crazy. After all, who played chicken with a sun? On purpose?

    Eventually, Cloudstrike’s pace slowed enough that Taylor began to recognise the planets of her own solar system, without needing the visual capture, as they cruised past them. She shook her head in wonder and tried to murmur to herself but her throat was sealed tight, so she had to be content with thinking it. No one is ever going to believe this.

    She didn’t think Janesha would hear her thoughts, but the girl grinned over her shoulder and winked at her. “Tolja it was awesome.” She looked downwards at the saddle and said, “Since we’re back in your solar system, I’m going to take the trainer bands off your legs. Remember, if you fall, it’s still a bloody long way to walk, and I’ll laugh my ass off at you every step of the way.”

    Taylor both felt and saw the leather straps melt away from her thighs. Is that what they were? Carefully, she mouthed the words so Janesha knew to look into her thoughts.

    “Well, yeah. Even celests have to start with the basics when they’re learning. I spent the first five years tied into the saddle before mom let me sit there by myself.”

    Taylor tried not to smirk. She’d caught up with the celestial in just half an hour. Janesha never looked back, but suddenly Taylor’s stirrup poked her in the foot. Ow, hey!

    “I lost the training straps when I was five, you wise-ass,” Janesha grizzled as she shot Taylor a dirty look over her shoulder.

    I didn’t say anything!

    “You didn’t have to. Smug is an ugly colour on anyone.”

    Sheesh – you must really hate your own reflect…OW! That one had a point. Cut it out!

    Taylor wasn’t sure who laughed louder – Janesha or Cloudstrike. Or how she was hearing them, with vacuum surrounding them all. It was a celestial thing, she figured. You both suck.

    Still looking at her, Janesha and waggled her eyebrows. “You could always get off and walk.”

    Taylor crossed her eyes and poked out her tongue. What happened to me being ultimately invulnerable and all of that?

    “You’re as tough as the toughest mortal in this realm. Key word here? ‘Mortal’. Don’t take on anything celestial and expect to win.” With her usual mercurial change of mood, Janesha pointed downward. “Check it out. This is the place you guys keep sending all that space junk to.”

    And it was indeed Mars. With Cloudstrike slowing right down, Taylor got a good look at it on the way through. After picking out many of the ravines and contours, she was almost disappointed that little green men didn’t pop up to see them. Never … never ever ever did she think in a million years this would ever happen to someone like her. Or any other human actually. Although she wasn’t hugely up on cape activities, she was pretty sure she was the first human to get that close to the planets of the solar system.

    The moon indicated another slowdown, and before Taylor realised it, Cloudstrike was already descending toward the upper levels of the atmosphere, where fluffy white clouds hugged the surface far below. A moment later, they whipped past something grey-white in colour, and Taylor found another stored memory waiting for her.

    “What in the realms—” began Janesha, but Taylor was already reviewing the imagery. A slender humanoid figure, adorned with wings stretching in all directions, thrown into shocked confusion as they blasted straight past it into the upper atmosphere. She didn’t need to see it twice. Tapping Janesha’s shoulder, she couldn’t wait for her friend to see these surface thoughts. We just buzzed the Simurgh.

    “What?” Having picked up what Taylor wanted her to hear, Janesha looked past her to stare back along their path. In this she was probably too late, given that Cloudstrike was already flaring her wings, the tips of which were glowing faintly, as they re-entered the atmosphere. As it was, they were already around the curve of the Earth; in another moment, they broke through the cloud layer and were streaking west (Taylor thought) over the Atlantic (Taylor hoped). “That was the pretender bitch who's been giving my friend a bad name? I should go back there and pluck her like a fucking chicken! Then I’ll—!”

    “Hey, she’s not due to attack for a month or so,” Taylor said hastily. “Weren’t we going to deal with Winslow first?” She’d been mentally preparing herself for this conflict since Janesha broached the idea, but she wasn’t ready to take on an Endbringer. Like, ever.

    She realised a moment later that she was talking again. We must have enough air for me to breathe.

    “Yeah, okay, you’re right.” Janesha made a rude signal back over her shoulder. “You’ll keep, bitch.” Then she faced forward. “Cloudstrike, hup!” she said, and once again the landscape shifted from what Taylor was used to, to that weird crystal terrain. A heartbeat later, they were right over Winslow High.

    “I am never going to get used to that stepping thing,” Taylor declared, raising her voice slightly to be heard over the rushing wind. “Or that celestial realm place. What are all those big crystals? Do they have anything to do with that rope-thing you showed me?”

    “I think they have everything to do with them,” Janesha said, banking them to the right so they could land.

    “How so?” Taylor really, really wanted to know. A moment later, she made the conceptual leap. “Do you think that rope was connecting me to a crystal?”

    “I'm certain it was,” Janesha called back. She hesitated for a moment, then added, “I think the crystals are what give your 'capes' their powers. When I brought Squealer through, she had the same thing. But we’re better off tabling this for later. Remind me when we get home.”

    As she spoke, Cloudstrike landed at the bottom of the front stairs of the school itself. Nerves ate at Taylor’s confidence, until she felt the familiar buzz of a stimulation wave sweeping through her body. Then she knew she looked as good as she felt, and she squared her shoulders confidently.

    Getting off Cloudstrike was a lot easier than getting on had been. Taylor simply kicked both feet out of the stirrups and swung her leg back over Cloudstrike’s rump while holding on to the handholds. Then she slid straight to the ground, letting her knees flex slightly with the landing.

    She took a couple of steps away from Cloudstrike to let Janesha dismount, and to get over the weird sensation of suddenly feeling a lot shorter than normal. As she stamped one foot and then the other on the concrete to reassure herself that yes, she was standing on the ground and not thigh-deep in it, she looked up and realised for the first time that there was the usual crowd of students heading into Winslow. Or rather, they had been, right up until Cloudstrike’s dramatic entrance. Now they were all staring at her. Well, some were staring at her, but most were staring past her, at Janesha and Cloudstrike.

    <><>​

    Janesha

    Running her hand over Cloudstrike's neck, Janesha made the reins attach themselves to the saddle so they wouldn't dangle and get in the way. “Good girl,” she murmured. “Did you enjoy your ride?”

    Cloudstrike jerked her head up and down and stamped her hoof once. The concrete cracked, but only a little. Besides, there were plenty of other cracks there already, so Janesha didn't care. With great precision, now that they had an audience, Cloudstrike shook her wings out and folded them alongside her body.

    “Excellent.” Janesha scratched behind Cloudstrike's ears. “Go on, back to the stall. I'll see you when I get home." She hugged her mystallion around the neck, then stepped back to let her take off.

    Which Cloudstrike did, in her usual show-off way. Rearing up, the magnificent creature let out a ringing whinny that would've drawn every eye even if she wasn't already the centre of attention. Unfurling her wings and bringing them down with a thunderous clap, she took to the air, then vanished as she stepped across to the celestial realm.

    Janesha turned to look at the assembled crowd. She was pretty sure she could hear the sounds of jaws hitting the concrete in all directions. “What?” asked Janesha as she stepped up alongside Taylor. “You're acting like you've never seen anyone show up for school before.”

    With Taylor at her side, making sure the taller girl didn't fall behind, Janesha strode forward into the crowd. Not altogether surprisingly, they made way for her, though there were a couple of guys off to the side with close-cropped heads who glared at her in what they probably thought was a covert manner. She'd made no promises not to read anyone else's minds, so in she went.

    As she'd surmised, these were members of the Empire Eighty-Eight, a grandiloquent name for a ragtag bunch of idiotic mortals who were even more delusional about their place in the grand scheme of things than the norm. They were led and reinforced by a significant bunch of capes, which Janesha might've been more concerned about if she considered capes to be a danger to her. The two she was looking at weren't capes, and they didn't know about any Empire capes in Winslow, which reduced them to the status of pond scum in her eyes. Both in terms of their importance to her, and what she'd turn them into if they tried any of their skin-colour hatred shit on her, or tried anything on Taylor.

    Tucking away the information regarding the names and faces of every Empire idiot in Winslow, Janesha went on without breaking stride. She knew full-well that many phones were out by now, capturing pictures of her and Taylor. A few lucky ones would even have gotten pictures of Cloudstrike. That didn't matter to her; it wasn't as if there were any celestials on Earth Bet who knew her, or (more importantly) were related to her. And as exactly two mortals had the full story on her divine background, nobody was likely to decide she was a celestial and start worshipping her.

    They climbed the steps to the front doors of Winslow, people still making way for them. Beside her, Taylor kept pace, though her breathing was a little rapid. Janesha brushed hands with her and dived into her surface thoughts. As she'd expected, Taylor was scared. Without the mental tweaking Janesha had done on Taylor the previous night, her friend’s fear would be rapidly escalating to a full-blown panic attack. Now, she was managing her fear. It was still stressing her out a little, so Janesha decided to give her some assistance. Another brush-touch gave Janesha full access to Taylor's body via her shifting. Janesha wasn't a Weaver, so she couldn't command emotions directly, but she could dial back the symptoms of fear to give Taylor a chance to collect herself. She did this, and saw from sidelong glances at Taylor that the mortal girl's posture wasn't as rigid as it had been before.

    Down the halls of Winslow they strode, Janesha subtly matching her steps to Taylor's so that they walked in lockstep. It was the Mystallian way to back each other up to the hilt, and marching in step was one of the minor ways they showed it. The people in the building hadn't seen the arrival, so they weren't looking at Janesha and Taylor with quite the same level of surprise and awe as the ones outside had. Still, her uniform was fortuitously close enough to a cape's costume that the students in the hallways made way for the pair.

    Taylor became more nervous the closer they got to Blackwell's office, but Janesha also noted a growing undercurrent of dark glee. On the one level, Janesha's mortal friend was apprehensive about the upcoming confrontation, but on the other, she desperately wanted to see Janesha make mincemeat out of the woman who'd stood by for so long and let all this shit happen to her. Which Janesha was quite happy to do, literally if necessary. Nobody fucks with my friends.

    Either word had gone ahead or Blackwell normally kept her door locked, because when they got there, the handle wouldn't turn. Janesha turned it anyway, the door opened, and they entered. Pushing the door shut behind them, she sealed it to the door-frame. There would be no escape that way.

    The front office was deserted, which led credence to the idea that Blackwell had gotten wind of their coming. There was, however, the sound of a voice from the main office. Taylor tested that door handle, then tensed and twisted the handle a lot harder. With a loud crack, the lock broke and Taylor pushed the door open. Inside, a woman whom Janesha recognised as Principal Blackwell looked up, fear flashing across her face. She held a phone to her ear, and in the silence that followed the entry, Janesha clearly heard someone asking if something was wrong.

    “Hi,” Janesha said. As she passed by the door, she rested her hand on it and repaired the damage Taylor had done. “The door was open, so we let ourselves in.” Moving forward, she rested the knuckles of both hands on the desk and leaned over it. “We need a moment of your time. And by 'moment', I mean 'the next half-hour'. So I would advise you to hang the phone up right now and give me your full attention.”

    Obedient to the mental command thus given, Blackwell hit the 'end call' button and placed the phone on the desk. “Who are you, and what do you want?” she asked Janesha, her tone freezing.

    Although inclined to put the impertinent mortal through the wall behind her for the attitude thus shown, Janesha controlled herself. If Taylor could handle the situation without punching a hole through this self-important bitch, so could she.

    “I am Janesha of Mystal.” Every word she uttered rang with the confidence it deserved. “I'm here to make sure that Taylor Hebert has all the property that was destroyed in her locker replaced. Better get a pen out.” Glancing sideways at Taylor, she added, “Taylor, start listing.”

    “Oh, uh—” Taylor began, but was cut off by Blackwell.

    “Miss Hebert has been already compensated,” the principal said flatly, with barely a glance at Taylor. “Her father was given a check to cover—”

    “That check barely covered her hospital bills and you know it,” Janesha cut her off in turn. She took a moment to dive into Blackwell's head. Ignoring most of the minutiae of how to run a school—by the Twin Notes, how they liked to over-complicate things—she zeroed in on Taylor Hebert and why nobody was interested in doing anything about the situation.

    Well, that's interesting. It seemed that the combination of Emma Barnes' father being a lawyer and Sophia Hess (aka Shadow Stalker) being a junior hero set up Emma and Sophia as being basically untouchable, at least for the 'minor' crime of picking on an unpopular girl. It didn't help that Shadow Stalker's PRT minder was advising Blackwell to soft-pedal the Ward's punishments, so that she was always available for her crime-fighting duties (and to remain in the school, for which Winslow was being compensated). Perhaps the worst bit was that Blackwell didn't even dislike Taylor. She was just supremely unconcerned with her well-being, and was perfectly okay with throwing the girl to the wolves just to keep things running smoothly.

    “That's as may be,” Blackwell responded tartly. “Legally speaking—”

    “Legally speaking,” Janesha interrupted again, “the school board might be interested in knowing how you've over-reported damages for gang fighting for seven years in a row, claimed compensation to fix it, and pocketed the difference. Or the PRT might be interested in knowing how your pet Ward is engaged in a full-blown bullying campaign against Taylor here, while you just stand by and let it happen.”

    As she spoke, the colour drained from Blackwell's face until it was a paler shade than her dyed blonde hair. “How—” she began, then started again. “That's not true. You have no proof of any of that.” But the expression on her face and the hunted look in her eyes proved the lie.

    “Try me.” Janesha showed her teeth in what was definitely not a smile. “Or, you can simply give Taylor back the property you rightfully owe to her. Your choice.”

    “Textbooks,” Taylor said firmly. “Backpack. Pens. Pencils. Pencil case. Exercise books. Notepads. Calculator. Stapler.” She eyed Blackwell challengingly.

    “It'll take time to get all that together,” Blackwell tried, a desperate look in her eye. “Next week—”

    Today. Before first period.” Realising her temper was loosening its leash, Janesha held up a finger to calm herself down, then went on with: “By my estimation, you've got twenty-five minutes. Get to it.”

    Blackwell stood up almost involuntarily. “Uh, the textbooks need to be paid for—”

    Son of a bitch, the greed ran deep in this woman's soul. Janesha was out of patience. “No, they don't. Fetch what Taylor listed, from your personal supplies. Now.” She took it up to a celestial command, leaving Blackwell no choice in the matter at all.

    “All right, all right.” Blackwell darted away from the desk toward a large cupboard that stood against the far wall. As she struggled to find the right key to open it, the phone on her desk rang. Janesha leaned over and eyed the display, but all it showed was that the number was blocked.

    She'd seen smart-phones before, so she reached down and swiped it to answer, putting it on speaker. A shift in her throat allowed her to emulate Principal Blackwell's voice. “Hello?”

    Taylor's stare at her was only mildly incredulous. Janesha winked at her, then turned her attention back to the phone call.

    Hello, Principal Blackwell.” The voice was familiar. “This is Armsmaster. I'm responding to your call regarding an unknown cape entering your school, and how you cut the call off. I'm inbound now. Can you talk freely?”

    Janesha smirked and changed her larynx back to normal. “Hey, Armsmaster, it’s me,” she said in a casual way. But then, realising he wouldn’t necessarily recognise her voice, she added, “Janesha of Mystal. Everything’s fine here. I’m just talking some things over with Principal Blackwell. Nothing to be worried about.”

    Ah, of course.” Armsmaster's tone was much more relaxed now. “It's good to hear from you again, Miss Janesha. Is everything all right at the school?”

    “Everything's fine as far as I can see,” Janesha said with a shrug. “We're just talking about a matter to do with a student's lost property. Nothing detrimental.” Yet, she added silently to herself.

    Oh.” Armsmaster paused. “Thank you for the information. If that’s all it’s about, I'll call it in.”

    “That works for me.” Janesha grinned. “Though I might try to catch up with you later. I have a friend who would love your autograph.” She waggled her eyebrows at Taylor, who flushed, then nodded vigorously. “But we can sort that out later. Bye for now.”

    Goodbye,” Armsmaster responded. A moment later, the call ended.

    Blackwell brought a stack of books back to the desk. “Who was that on the phone?” she asked suspiciously.

    “Armsmaster,” Janesha replied, having no reason to lie. “He knows there's nothing to worry about.” She glanced at Taylor. “Is that all the textbooks you need?”

    Taylor eyed the stack. “I guess. But I'm also going to need the rest of the stuff, too.” The two of them turned to look at Blackwell expectantly.

    The next twenty minutes were highly entertaining for Janesha and Taylor. Less so for Principal Blackwell, as she ransacked her own office for school supplies to replace the ones Taylor had lost. Janesha could've created it all at a moment's notice, but she chose not to. She wanted this lesson to stick. Blackwell had to learn that not only did you not fuck with any Mystallian on Earth Bet, but you also didn't fuck with the friends of Mystal either. Ever.

    Just as Blackwell was gathering the last few items, Janesha took a parting look at the woman’s mind in case there was any hidden agenda she’d missed, and that’s when the commands she’d instilled in the principal still hung like tapestries in the woman’s mind. Shit! She hadn’t realised she’d made the ‘Today. Before first period.’ a command. That was a loss of temper that would’ve had the woman trying to complete EVERYTHING before first period today, even things she had no chance of doing. As much as she didn’t like the woman, she didn’t want her breaking due to an unfulfilled celestial command. So she removed that one.

    Finally, leaving with Blackwell's own desk stapler joining the rest of the supplies in the replacement backpack—located in what had once been a lost-and-found drawer, and refurbished by Janesha—Taylor and Janesha left the office. Reaching ahead, Janesha unsealed the outer office door from its frame, then opened it.

    Outside stood a group of adults. Janesha figured them to be teachers, but she didn't really care. “Hi,” she said. “Taylor needs to get to class. Coming through.” She stepped forward, with the full intent of walking right over the top of anyone who stayed in her way. Fortunately for those in the hallway, they stepped aside.

    “Wait—” began one, a youngish-looking man. “Who are you? What's going on here?”

    Taylor stepped right up to him and looked him in the eye. She was, Janesha noted with amusement, an inch or so taller than him. “That's a question you should've started asking a long time ago, Mr Gladly,” she said bluntly. “I'll see you in class.”

    “Me, too,” Janesha added with a fingertip wave. “Come on, Taylor.”

    “Holy crap,” Taylor muttered as they walked away. “I can't believe I just said that. Hell, I can't believe we're not both in fucking detention.”

    “We're not in detention because I wasn't going to allow that shit,” Janesha said firmly. “Now, you've got your stuff. Did you want just go home now? Because we can totally do that if this has been enough excitement for one day.”

    Taylor considered that. “It might be nice,” she allowed. “But what would a Mystallian choose? What would you do?”

    Janesha grinned. “I'd stay, and I'd stick it to 'em every chance I got. Mystallians don't back down, and we don't retreat. Anyone who wants to fuck with us learns the hard way what a mistake that is.”

    “Then that's what I'll do,” Taylor decided as they turned a corner. “I'll—”

    “You'll do what, Hebert?” The new voice was harsh and uncompromising. Janesha and Taylor stopped face to face with three girls. The speaker was a black girl wearing athletic gear; and she was flanked by a pretty redhead and a petite brunette. There was no need for introductions. Janesha knew all three faces like the back of her hand.

    “She'll go to class,” Janesha said. She tilted her head as the bell rang. “Just like the rest of you should be doing, I'd say.”

    Sophia Hess sneered at her. Janesha restrained the impulse to punch the expression to the other side of her head. “So, who are you? Some nobody she bribed to wear a costume and put on a show, so she looks like somebody?”

    Janesha let one corner of her mouth creep up in a half-smile. “Well, I'm definitely not a cape, if that's what you're worried about. I'm just a concerned friend.” She waved her hand toward her face. “See, no mask.”

    “You don't want to be friends with her,” Emma Barnes stated with conviction. “She's a nobody. She's less than nobody. If you're not careful, she'll drag you down with her.”

    “Yeah,” Madison Clements chimed in. “You probably didn't hear about this from her, but the word going around is that she shut herself in her own locker last week, just for the—waugh!” As tempting as it had been to be the one to break every bone in her body, Janesha shifted the space under the yes-girl’s feet to the slickest, most transparent slime she could think of, and consequently the mouthy bitch landed heavily on her butt, looking up with surprise and indignation at Janesha. “You pushed me!”

    Janesha removed the slime, returning the floor to concrete tile. “Maybe you'd better shut up now,” she said softly, fighting back her temper with insane difficulty. Just in case she did lose it, she didn’t want Taylor to see the sort of mess that she could make. “Taylor, get to class. I'll be along shortly.”

    Taylor obviously wanted to stay, but Janesha added a firm nod to make sure she went. She didn't want Taylor anywhere around the shitstorm that was going to result from what she did next. With one last reluctant look, Taylor headed off down the corridor.

    “Okay, smart bitch,” Sophia said with a sneer, cracking her knuckles. “You just sent your last witness away. Any last words, not-a-cape?”

    “Plenty, actually. But first …” Janesha held up one finger and nodded toward a nearby door, which led into a girls' restroom. “I'm going to go to the bathroom. I hate punching bitches on a full bladder.” Without giving them a chance to respond, she shoved past them and headed for the restroom.

    Sophia followed her, of course. The beating that the Ward intended to inflict on her would be easier to pull off without any inconvenient witnesses. Janesha couldn't have set things up better if she'd arranged matters herself.

    She stepped into the restroom, noting the stalls along one side and the basins on the other. The door, on the way to swinging shut, opened again to admit the dark-skinned Sophia. She turned to face the girl, noting that the other two—as expected—hadn't followed her in. This just made things easier for her, of course.

    “Okay, you little queef,” Sophia snapped. “If you grovel and kiss the toe of my boot, I might not kick your ass. Otherwise, I am gonna—”

    Janesha had had it! Without a word of warning, she stepped forward and grabbed Sophia by the arm, then pulled them both through into the celestial realm. Overhead, the glowing sky made it clear this wasn't any version of Earth Bet. Around them, the crystalline formations merely underlined that fact.

    “The fuck?” Sophia stared around at the alien surroundings. “Where the fuck is this? Where did you bring me?”

    “I told you, I’m no cape. This, is the celestial realm. My home … and the source of all your powers.” As expected, there was indeed a twisted rope of coruscating colours, fading from red to grey and back again, stretching into the distance from the girl's head. She hadn't let go Sophia's arm, and now she froze her again. “You see, Taylor doesn’t want her powers. She hates them. But I’ve never actually tried to remove someone’s powers before, and I really don’t want to hurt her. And I really, really don’t want to kill her, so thank you for volunteering to be my guinea-pig in this matter.”

    Sophia tried to jerk away from Janesha's grip, but her body and mind were both under the celestial's control. What the fuck? her mind demanded. Fucking let me go right now, you cow! She tried to exert her power, to become ghostly, but Janesha suppressed that impulse as fast as she made it.

    “Oh, I really wish I could have brought Taylor here to watch your demise. But she’s too nice. She would’ve tried to stop me.”

    Fuck you!

    “No,” Janesha purred, allowing her eyes to shift into demonic hellfire for no other reason than to put the wind up Sophia. She also allowed her voice to drop into a hellion growl as she leaned forward, putting their foreheads together. “Fuck you, Shadow Stalker.” With a raised hand, she took hold of the energy rope that was attached to Sophia’s head and gave it a testing tug. A quick search of Sophia’s memories showed the intense flare of pain she'd felt. “Hmmm,” she said, as soon as she returned to the physical realm. “Not like that, then. That'll kill Taylor for sure.”

    Wait, what the fuck? Hebert's a cape? And you know who I am?!

    “Wow, you’re really fast on the uptake, aren’t you?” Janesha jeered, curling her lip in disgust. “Yes, she’s a cape. For now, anyway.” She put her hand closer to Sophia's head, and twisted the rope slightly. “I wonder …” The pain response from Sophia was somewhat less. “Hmm, okay. Time to give it the old college try. I’d say brace yourself, but I don’t mind if you scream. Actually, I’d kinda like it if you did.” Taking a better grip, she twisted and tugged.

    Wai— Sophia's thought didn't get all the way through before the rope came free of her head. Without even a mental whimper from Sophia, too. Well, that was … both fortunate and anticlimactic all at the same time. She hadn’t wanted to hurt Taylor, but a little more agony from Sophia would’ve been poetic. Returning her features to normal, Janesha held up the cord, examining the end of it, figuring out how it would plug into someone's brain. For a celestial construct, it was quite ingenious. And Sophia hadn't died, so that was good news for Taylor.

    When she let go of the 'rope', it whipped back into the distance, vanishing from sight in an instant. Janesha took a tighter hold of Sophia and allowed her to move again, just enough to haul her back into the mortal realm …. specifically, the Winslow girls’ toilets. She then dove into the bully’s mind. As tempting as it would have been to leave the bitch with all her justifiable celestial knowledge, she needed to pull it all back to prevent anyone from learning she was a celest. Instead, she replaced the memory with one of Sophia grabbing her by the arm, and Janesha breaking that contact and grabbing Sophia’s arm instead. That fit with the physical realm image of her holding Sophia’s arm. From there, she returned to the physical realm, tossed her arm aside and went into the nearest cubicle, banging the door closed just hard enough to irk the other teen.

    “What the fuck?” she heard from outside the cubicle. “Did you just shut that in my face? You do not shut that in my face, bitch!” She heard footsteps as Sophia backed up, then ran toward the stall door. Next, there was a resounding thud and the door shook. Janesha heard a cry of pain from Sophia.

    Janesha touched the door, transforming it to a one-way window, transparent from her side and opaque from the other. It showed Sophia sprawled on the floor in the middle of the restroom, groggily shaking her head. The main door of the bathroom burst open, and in ran Madison and Emma.

    This was as good an opportunity as any.

    Returning the door to its original state, she flushed the toilet then unlocked the door and stepped out. Emma stared at Sophia, then looked accusingly at Janesha. “What the hell did you do to her?”

    Janesha made her expression unreadable and shrugged. “Wasn't me. I was in the toilet and she tried to bash the door down. You might want to speak to her about her anger issues.” Moving to the sink, she ran water over her gloves, then headed for the door. Her gloves were dry by the time she got there.

    The last thing she saw of the three as the door closed behind her was Sophia sitting up and rubbing an obviously bruised forehead.

    One down, two to go.



    End of Part Six

    Part Seven
     
    Last edited: Jan 29, 2019
  30. Necrovore

    Necrovore Know what you're doing yet?

    Joined:
    Feb 24, 2015
    Messages:
    105
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    433
    Minor head injury causing a complete loss of powers. That rumour going around could have some fun consequences.
     
    Audhumbla, WaNoMatsuri, Ack and 2 others like this.
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