The wait was less than half an hour, and when Xzarxl and Marxl appeared, the nervousness in the room was palpable. Xzarxl crossed both arms and sighed heavily.
“We have deliberated amongst our peers, Failha Al`keitra, and we have decided that we will allow your kind to practice fully as mages under our tutelage.”
Everyone visibly relaxed, including Xzarxl and Marxl. “The other humans within this enclosed space are also exceptional it seems and we have not had such a gifted selection in long centuries.”
“What kind of practice would this entail exactly?” Titus asked.
“We shall get into the specifics later, Titus Al`keitra. For now know this, you shall learn how to draw forth from the energies of creation and shape it to your will.” Marxl started with her accented English.
“Awesome. When do we begin?” Lorelei was sitting at the edge of her seat. Excitement and wonder sparkling in her eyes.
“We request that you both be present at the gymnasium in the sports complex tomorrow at noon.” The four-armed male said.
“So, do they have to bring anything with them?” Failha was the one to ask a question this time.
“No. Only that they be punctual.”
“Okay. Will this be dangerous?”
“Not unless the apprentices fail to follow our instructions.” Marxl interjected, earning a glance from Xzarxl.
“I see. Thank you, both of you for this wonderful news.” Failha approached, shaking Xzarxl then Marxl’s hands. “I would assume that you’ve plenty of things to prepare with your kin. We don’t want to keep you any longer than we have to.”
“You are correct. Thank you, Al`keitras. We shall meet you again soon.” Both Visuvians bowed then headed out of the house. For a minute after the front doors closed, there was complete silence. Failha stood up from her seat, then regarded her team.
“Family meeting, yeah?”
It didn’t take them long to reach then edge of the property and the wall that began the dome overhead. They all turned to Lorelei who scanned the area with her ring. She gave Failha a nod.
“Full disclosure, I’m not comfortable with any of this.” Failha said looking at both Titus and Lorelei. “That being said, this is great for both of your careers. Plus we might be able to use this to our advantage.”
“Okay. I’m not sure I want to go this deep undercover, but I’m sure I want to learn magic to help build up my arsenal.” Lorelei said quietly.
“Understandable. And you?,”Failha turned her attention to Titus.
“Honestly, without the suit, my power pretty much makes it a parlour trick. Maybe with magic I can be more versatile, even without the suit.” Titus admitted. Failha regarded the man. Titus always seemed level headed enough to realize plenty of things. She wondered whether that was because of the nature of his powers or if he was just that type of a person.
“Okay. I’m not going to force either of you to proceed if you’re not comfortable. That said, this might be our only chance to get information.”
“I’ll go. We came here for a reason, and I want to see it through. Besides, the magic might help me with some of my inventions.” Lorelei joked quietly, earning a smile from everyone.
“I’m in too. We make a great duo after all.” Titus bumped shoulders with Lorelei who smiled at the man.
“Good. And you two do make a great duo.” Failha turned to Ysabelle whoop squeaked at the sudden attention.
“You and I however aren’t getting off scott free. Lorelei, can you check where specifically each surveillance camer is in the house?” Lorelei nodded.
“Okay. Ysabelle, make note of the ones in your room and see if you can double or even triple up. We might need you to keep an eye out for them while they’re deep cover.”
“How am I supposed to do that? Only they get go?” She asked as she regained her lost composure. Failha thought of the woman as a great asset in the field, but was unsure of herself outside of the thick of things.
“We’ll have to rely on your fog. How far you move the fog far before you make it a corporeal clone?”
“I’m not sure. I haven’t tried to move the fog far before. I usually form a clone the minute I have enough of it.” She replied sheepishly, rubbing at her nape.
Failha furrowed her brow in thought. If she wasn’t going to be able to provide as eyes and ears for us, we might not be able to safely assess the situation.
“Okay. We won’t push it. But I suggest you practice and find out those limits for next time.” Failha said as she turned to the two apprentice mages. “So, with you two going in blind, I suggest we make out an escape plan.”
Failha was about continue but Lorelei raised her hand. “Uh. I can possibly make us makeshift earpieces.”
“Okay. What do you need?” Replied Failha.
“If I can get one of the mics that they have planted in the house, I could split it with my power and get us a makeshift comm. We’d only need one for Titus and one for Ysabelle. She can clone herself and leave it here at the house to talk with you.”
“That’s brilliant!” Titus said clapping Lorelei on the shoulder.
“That is a great idea. The problem is, where are we going to take the mic from without alerting whoever’s watching?” Failha hated shooting down ideas like this. It came with the job and this was far from the first time she’s done it but she still hated it.
Everyone turned to Lorelei, who was looking up and seemingly lost in thought. “I think I have the spot. The downstairs bath room if I recall correctly only has one camera and one mic.”
“The bathrooms have cameras!?” Ysabelle was shocked, her eyes wide as saucers and her face rapidly flushing.
“I had told you guys, and emphasized that it was everywhere. I didn’t think that I needed to point out that was literal.” A confused expression crossed Lorelei’s face as she responded to Ysabelle’s question. “But yes, to make it clear, they have at least three cameras and a mic in my bath. They cover every inch of the space, with no hiding spots except maybe inside the drawers.”
The shock on Ysabelle’s face went from shock, to horror, to anger in a span of a breath. The woman began shaking from anger. Failha quickly moved over to try and assuage the young woman’s fears. “Hey, look at me. We’ll get those videos scrubbed, okay?”
“It’s not even about the videos. It’s… I feel so violated.” The younger woman said quietly, tears welling up in her eyes as she hugged herself. Lorelei walked over and hugged Ysabelle from the side.
“Hey, Fa is right. We’ll scrub whatever they got and we’ll get things set straight. Okay?”
“It’s best if we pretend that we don’t know about all the surveillance. I know it night be hard but we’ll scrub their systems when we’re done.” Failha was confident that they can scrub whatever system it is they use.
“Okay. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t let this affect me to the detriment of our mission.” The young heroine said defeatedmy.
“You don’t have to apologize. There will come a time when decisions will affect you personally. All that I ask, is that you make the decision on what is right for you.” Failha took her hand and looked at her eye to eye. Ysabelle nodded. Failha turned to the rest of her team. “That goes the same for the two of you. I’m not going to force you to make decisions that make you uncomfortable, and I believe that all of you have the capacity to decide on what is right.”
Lorelei and Titus nodded.
“So. We agreed with the plan?” Everyone nodded. “Okay good. Now let’s get back inside and try and have a nice family dinner.”
Dinner went by without any interruptions and soon Failha found herself watching the artificial sun setting over the horizon from her balcony.
I wonder if I can do some scouting up above. She thought to herself idly as she flexed the muscles on her back. Since getting her powers five years ago, she had never gone more than two days without spreading her wings out and flying.
She felt the call of the skies, despite the sky above being artificial and confined. She watched the nearby houses to distract herself from the longing to fly. She pushed down the need to fly and emptied her mind. She counted down from ten, placing each number with a place that she can firmly recall. The technique was helpful to ward off against psychic probing, which was thankfully a very rare power, but also helped her reach a state of Zen.
I can’t risk it. If we know more about the surveillance set up here I could.
She took a deep breath and curls of thin wispy smoke released from her nose. She quickly inhaled deeply to get rid of them and banished the feeling of her dragon form pushing against her skin. She changed quickly, donning a stretchy pair of pants, a pair of sturdy trainers, and a tank top with the same stretchy fabric.
She recalled the gym was on 1st Street and headed downstairs. As she walked down the grand staircase, Titus appeared from the kitchen in a pair of training pants and a sleeveless tank top. “Oh, hey Fa. You going to train?”
“Yeah. Let’s go together.” She replied as she went down the rest of the stairs and kept her pace as Titus walked next to her. “Did you let Xavier know you were going?”
“Nah. I figured I could walk there. You don’t mind if we walked, do you?”
“Nope. I was going to walk there myself.” Failha smiled, and they both walked through the foyer and onto the paved road that led to the street. “So, have you been keeping up with your regimen?”
“Yeah. Their facility is good, and I mostly have it to myself in the two times I’ve been there.”
“That’s good.” She said approvingly. “How has your training been? It’s not too hard is it?”
He looked at her a bit apprehensively, then smiled a bit. “It is a little hard, but I understand why you push us. I’d rather be able to rely and know that I’m capable physically even without the suit and the powers, than be stuck if I lose them in a fight for some reason.”
Failha smiled at that. “Good. You’re definitely learning. Do the others think that too?”
He laughed loudly, slapping his knee for effect even. “To be honest, I was the last one that figured that out. Ysabelle figured that out immediately since she said that she’d done all her training so far around the fact that despite her powers, she’s as strong as a regular human.”
“I see. And what about Lorelei?”
“Oh, please don’t tell them I told you. I don’t want them to think I’m some sort of blabber mouth.” Titus hurriedly tried to recant, but the damage is done. That earned a smile from Failha.
“I won’t tell them don’t worry. Anyhow. Do keep up the training and tell them that is the exact reason I want to work you guys hard.” She paused as they approached a corner and one of their neighbors was going to cross the street. Once they crossed paths, and exchanged quick pleasantries, she continued. “You can’t always be reliant on your powers because there are going to be plenty of times that you can’t use your powers for one reason or another, but if you know what you can do without them, you can win.”
He considered this then nodded. She could see the sign for the gym ahead and could see that there were no parked cars or carts outside. The gym was pretty modest by non-superhero standards, equipped with everything that a gym rat would ever want and need. For their current training regimen, this was perfect.
The gym was empty save for the lone attendant who greeted them with a gusto that Failha didn’t expect from anyone at this time of day. Still, pleasantries were exchanged and they headed over to a locker area, depositing personal effects into a little private cube in a wall. Free of any cumbersome items, they began doing ssome stretches. “So, found anything interesting with your skills?”
“Not really. I still have the same limits. Still anything I touch and anything I am in contact with.” Titus shrugged, stretching out his arms to one side by pulling back his elbow toward him. Failha noted that he was certainly more leaner than when she first met him. The same could also be said for both Ysabelle and Lorelei.
“Ah. Well, if you keep at training and pushing yourself to your limits, you’ll be bound to break through them. I didn’t start out being able to merge my full form with this in a hybrid state.” She said quietly as she turned her head towards the front desk. She could see the front desk from here and kept an eye out. She headed to the barbell bench press and loaded up a hundred pounds. “Spot me?”
Failha positioned herself under the bar, grasping the cold metal with a grip that was secure. She always found it fascinating that she can do all the amazing things that her dragon form afforded her even at a reduced percentage. It was still nice to be able to rely on those abilities without having to turn into a half dragon, or even a full dragon all the time to use them. But she wanted to train her actual human form and so lifted the bar with a bit of strain. The lack of rush of heat across her body signaled that this was all her muscles working as nature intended.
She lowered the bar slowly, gauging her grip and balance before pushing it back up into the air. Titus moved close, watching the bar, closely. Failha noticed that he was watching her too, the way that men would pretend to be watching something but paying attention with their peripheral vision.
She appreciated the attention, and if she was being honest with herself also excited her. Growing up as a refugee, there wasn’t a lot of time for boys and all the typical trappings that came with growing up. Then her powers came about and then moved to the US followed by diving head long into super heroics did not lend well to a fully realized sex life.
She pressed down the bar a third time before giving the young man a little tease. She felt the bar press against her chest, and she purposely pushed them up together, holding them together so that he could have a clear birds eye view of her cleavage before resuming the pace. He blushed furiously, his hips tilting so subtly that if it weren’t for her heightened senses she would not have noticed.
She chuckled inwardly as she set the bar back after her set. She sat up and rolled her shoulders. “How much do you bench?”
“About one-hundred twenty.”
“Nice. Want me to spot you?” He didn’t waste time and grabbed two plates each weighing ten pounds each and added them to the bar.
“Thanks Fa. Do you work out a lot without your powers?” He sat on the bench and did a last minute stretch before laying down on the bench. He grasped the bar with a tight grip and lifted the weight. He wobbled for a split-second, causing her to rush forward in anticipation, but he recovered almost immediately.
“You got it?” She asked as she watched him closely. From her viewpoint, he was solid and steady now as he began pumping the bar. His fair skin and muscles tensed with each motion, drawing her attention. She chided herself before further thoughts conjured up images in her head.
You’re their boss. This is highly inappropriate behavior!
He finished his set, then replaced the bar. The rest of the training went by quickly with no more teasing from her part. The sky above changed to match a nondescript night sky, with the moon, either protected or a mock up of it, present in its full capacity. Stars twinkled in the replica blackness of space.
The pair turned the corner for their street when everything went dark. Failha’s senses heightened in an instant and she took in information from all but her sight. She could hear footsteps coming from behind them. She could smell burnt ozone, some tobacco smoke and faint traces of a chemical compound of some sort. She couldn’t see through the darkness that now enveloped them however.
“Shit. Fa, are you there?” The young man asked. His tone betrayed his nervousness, and his question answered a question in her mind.
If we’re both blinded, it’s likely someone is doing this on purpose, likely the footsteps behind us.
In an effort to assuage Titus, she took a calm and measured voice as she replied. “Yes, I’m here. Assume that people are doing this on purpose. That means they might know of our skills, which means they know what we can do.”
She could feel the tickle of fire burning in her belly, waiting to be released in a wave of destruction. She could hear the footsteps more clearly now. A whispered word from a male came from the group that was approaching. The whisper was followed by Titus’s body slumping on the ground.
She could hear him breathing and his breaths were slow and steady. Another whispered word carne from behind her and an explosion of pain blossomed on her lower back that crackled through her entire body. She had felt something similar before, when she was struck by Living Lightning’s supercharged fists.
She lost her footing and stumbled forward a few steps. Before she recovered, another searing explosion of pain coursed through her body. The attack had enough force to send her flying. The darkness fell away as she cut through the air. Years of flying gave get the advantage to pivot in midair.
Behind her a globe of darkness covered the area she and Titus were walking on. Taking this opportunity, she willed her wings out. Her skin gave way to scales, and her finger tips grew a little crooked and clawed. Her tank top exploded as dragon wings grew from her back. The beat of her wings took her high and above the tall mansions. Horns burst forth from the sides of her and her teeth grew sharper. She pushed down the pain, putting it in the back of her mind as her eyes fixed l focused on he area behind the darkness
Her eyes locked onto three tall figures as her wings took her to the sky. Three Visuvians were moving their arms, hands, and fingers in sync as a ball of energy twice the size of a basketball formed in front of them. The energy coalesced and surged forward with great speed. But Failha was faster. Her wings pushed her sideways and backwards, out of the path of the ball. She paid it no attention after it passed.
An impact on her side jerked her from the sky for a moment. A new kind of pain flared on her side where she was hit. She snarled at the wound in anger. Her scales and the flesh under felt numb and cold. She spared a glance at the ball. It trailed farther away, but she could now see that there were bolts of white-blue spinning out from it. She dove straight for the Visuvians with fingers stretched out like claws and hands out ahead and to the side. The three separated, but not fast enough as she caught the one in the middle.
Her claws caught the Visuvian in the middle, a male with long slender arms. Her claws tore through skin and flesh without trouble. The tangy taste of iron was in her mouth and her nostrils flared at the smell of his blood.
Good to know they’re just as frail as the average person is.
He howled in pain as her claws dug through his chest cavity before she let him fall down. A wave of cold air passed through both her and the Visuvian she took down. The air froze into crystals and Failha roared loudly as bits of her wing tips froze almost solid. She pushed through the pain and launched herself at her attacker. Her throat tickled at the fire that she now let through with savage ferocity.
Her flame breath caught the female Visuvian straight in the chest, her clothing catching on fire. Failha capitalized on the moment and pivoted in mid-flight and kicked the female centered on the chest. The four-armed female was sent tumbling back and landed on her side. The smell of burning flesh replaced the iron tang of blood as the female screamed and tried to roll around to put out the fire.
Behind her the sound of a footstep warned her of her attacker approaching. At the close proximity, she prepared for a straightforward attack, but instead a vice like grip caught her and raised her up for a fraction of a second before being smashed downward into the concrete with enough force to create a crater. Her head spun from the impact and the edges of her vision became darker. She scrambled to her feet and leapt as hard as she could. She found the ground shrink as she raised, but to her horror her flight was arrested. In a quick motion she was again smashed to the ground, her grip on her consciousness slipping away.