I woke in a strange bed, staring up at wooden beams. It wasn’t until moments later that I remembered where I was, or who I was with, or why my chest ached. What I couldn’t explain was where the top half of my costume had gone, or why I was wearing a nightshirt. Realisation filled me with horror.
The little purple bat flew over the curtain as Tanya and Lindsay entered. They smiled and bent down at my bedside. Spike perched on top of Tanya, making a tiny nest in her coif of short hair.
“How long…” The words ached and my throat was dry. Lindsay pulled a jug from the bedside table, and filled a glass.
“Don’t try to speak,” she said. “You were nearly a goner.”
I accepted the drink – gods, it was the best water I’d ever tasted – and wiped the dry flakes from my lips. In place of words I gestured to the shirt.
“Your costume was shredded,” Tanya explained.
The little bat flapped. “It was only us girls in here if that’s what you’re worried about.”
There was more to it than that, like the whole ‘transgender’ thing. It caused enough trouble without being a part of my hero life. That Lindsay and the others were probably cool with it was beside the point.
“It’s okay,” Lindsay said.
It didn’t feel okay. Oh gods, here was the speech about transgender acceptance…
“Lots of girls stuff their bra,” she said. “You’re not the only one to struggle with confidence. I promise, we won’t tell anyone.”
Tanya burst into giggles. My head hit the pillow. At least one of my secrets was safe.
Scavenging through the dark, The Red Wraith picked piece by idle piece of what was once a facsimile of Dr. Vortex’s greatest invention. Though the villain had since departed this world – in both figurative and literal senses – his design was one that would yet change the course of history; and, fate permitting, the standing of another with great ambition. Alas, it was not to be this day.
He lifted one of a set of coils from the ground and considered its shape. The Red Wraith scoffed. “Cheap knock off,” he said, for Dr. Vortex’s original device was still secreted away under Milestone City, where a private team continued to examine it. Using the original on such a venture would have been foolish, to say the least.
It was as he sorted through the rubble that The Red Wraith sighted movement in the corner. He inched closer, and as he did became aware of a vacuum pulling the air from the room. What unseen thing lingered pulsed from the remains of their experiment, where a portal to the Abyssal Realm was once open.
“Wiseman? Is that you?”
No response was forthcoming. If the phenomenon had a mouth it was not one intended for speech. Whatever force was at play was one that the villain knew better than to reckon with. He dropped the parts from and turned to flee.
“To hell with this,” he cursed; it was a ‘somebody else’s problem’ if ever he saw one.
Doom rolled over the skies of Crescent Valley, weighing in the collective chests of the population. Men, women and assorted others fled for shelter without knowing the cause. Thunder roared, but no rain fell. When it did it would not be to cleanse the earth, but to wash it away.
From the clock tower, Vincent inspected the horizon. The sun continued to shine in the distance, and the storm centred around their position. He pulled inside, and joined the other vampires hanging outside the curtain.
“Something’s coming,” he said. “Something new.”
Then the tower bell roared into full swing, splitting their ears, sending the vampires scrambling. Gods, what a noise!
BONG! BONG! BONG! BONG!
“Yes, we know!” Drake growled.
With the flick of a switch the ringing stopped, and the vampires uncovered their ears.
I emerged from behind the curtain and generated a new costume. Sure, I was struggling, but when did Glimmer Girl bow out from a fight? My strength was already coming back.
Tanya had other ideas. “Kaira Leigh Cade! You march your behind back into bed this instant!” You know, like she was my Mom or something.
“Fine. Just scream my secret identity at the top of your lungs,” I said.
Vincent shrugged. “We already had the gist,” he said. The others nodded, like it was no big thing; and they still hadn’t worked out the ‘trans’ part.
I redoubled my stance. “Whether you like it or not, I’m a part of this,” I said.
Throwing the curtain aside like it was nothing, Lindsay emerged from the makeshift quarters. “You’ve already escaped certain death once today,” she said. “Do you really want to try your luck again?”
Okay. I was being stubborn. That’s a thing I did. And yet…
“There’ll be others who need my help,” I said. “Even if it’s just pulling people to safety.”
Tanya opened her mouth to speak, but stopped when Lindsay placed a hand on her shoulder. She was one of the most headstrong people I’d ever known, and this unassuming tour guide gently brought her to heel.
“It’s okay to be weak sometimes, and to let others protect you,” she said.
Words caught in my throat. I looked to Tanya, my protector since grade school. It was a sentiment she shared, no matter how hard it was to swallow. How could I ever pay her back for all the times she stood up on my behalf? Now that I was strong, I had to act.
The conversation was cut short by the howling of wind. We clustered at the window to steal a glance of the thing over Crescent Valley. What we saw defied words.
It emerged from the hills, invisible at first, until the shadows became so thick that none could ignore its stature. The thing drew an endless breath, ready to inhale the world. May would spend a lifetime struggling to articulate what they’d seen, while others called the creature by its name; the Abyssal Titan, living doorway to the Abyssal Realm.
Limbs like branches lifted from the ground, and stretched to the far ends of the city. It’s slender body emerged to tower far above any tree until it came eye to eye with the skyscrapers. Most haunting of all was its eyes; blazing, even in the absence of light. From head to toe it appeared as substantial nothing, moving in defiance of nature itself. In long strides it approached the city, each step lifting the street surface into itself, into a world of darkness, filled with the horrors imagined by children.
The Abyssal Titan stopped, and in a slow, deliberate display of power arched back and shrieked to the sky. Wind rushed inward in a pitch that shattered countless windows. That was but the beginning of the destruction.
Lindsay seized, and stumbled into the arms of Luther and Drake. It was like falling into darkness all over again. She collected herself and shook her head.
“I’m fine,” she said.
Cassius, Luther, Vincent and Drake doted on her with more worry than they did about the monster. It would have been sweet if it weren’t the end of the world.
The wind slapped at the building, rattling the foundations. Tanya propped me on her shoulder, and wouldn’t allow me to shrug her off. Fang Force huddled together; they were in for the fight of their lives.
“We need Fang Empress,” Cassius said.
Fang Empress; the grand machine that appeared in the heart of Milestone City. Standing in place it was magnificent; seeing it move was spectacular. Fighting by her side would be a childhood fantasy come true.
“You’re injured,” she told me for the millionth time.
“Don’t give me orders,” I said. “I’m not one of your team.”
She grabbed my arm, and fed it back over Tanya’s shoulder. “I don’t care. It’s too dangerous.”
“You’re right,” I said.
Every jaw fell to the ground. Of all the things to come out of my mouth, that was the least expected; but Lindsay was right. I could barely stand, let alone fly. Facing a horde of freaklings was one thing, but an abyssal titan who swallowed everything, including hope…
Lindsay frowned. “What is it you need to tell me?”
“I know I can’t join the fight,” I said, “but you can take a piece of me with you.”
She didn’t understand at first. That changed when I presented my neck.
“You… you want me to drink your blood?”
“So I can give you a piece of my power,” I said. “You’re going to need it.”
Lindsay laughed. Then others laughed too; everyone except Tanya and I. Why were they laughing?
Lindsay shook her head. “It doesn’t work like that,” she said. “But if you’re serious…”
I nodded. Of course I was serious. This was life or death.
She pressed closer, more than I’d ever been with anyone. Her fingers brushed through my hair, traced my jaw, and rounded to the tip of my chin. My cheeks burned. What was she doing?
“Relax,” she whispered. “This won’t hurt a bit.”
Lindsay drew close, and planted her lips against mine. She was soft, and she was warm, and with ever so little prompting she pried my mouth open to inhale. It wasn’t a kiss, or at least how I imagined a kiss to be. That didn’t make it any less intimate.
She breathed my essence, straight from the bottom of my lungs. My head spun with warm fog, and my knees gave out under my weight. When I could no longer stand she pulled away, and propped me back in Tanya’s arms.
Lindsay blushed. “First time?”
I nodded. Words escaped me.
“Mine too,” she said, and laughed. Just a thing we did to save the world, right?
Just then, Lindsay’s skin cracked with golden light. Photon energy poured over her body until radiating with supernatural warmth. She blinked in wonder, and laughed when her costume took shape. This time it was different; black her tights shone gold, and in place of her sigil was my own stylized ‘G’.
“This is amazing,” she squealed. “Glimmer Girl and Red Fang in one body!”
Spike flapped her wings. “More like ‘Gold Fang’!”
“Gold Fang,” she echoed. “I like that! I like it a lot!” Lindsay bounced on steps as light as air. “Thanks, Kaira. Together we’re unstoppable!”
“You’re not supposed to know that name,” I said. “Call me Glimmer Girl.”
“Alright,” she said. “Glimmer Girl!”
Drained and beyond exhausted, Tanya led me to a lounging chair where I could sprawl. The second I closed my eyes Fang Force were gone, leaving me alone with my best friend and the little bat.
“I didn’t miss this,” I said.
Tanya knelt by my side. “Miss what?”
“Waiting for someone to save me,” I said.
She smirked and punched my arm. “Now you know how I feel.”
Helpless, it seemed, was the order of the day, and none of us were hungry.
It was a rare and auspicious occasion that prompted Lord Nihilex from the side of his queen. The shadow conqueror waddled to the top of a hill and shielded his eyes from the waning daylight. Past the forest, and level with the highrises, the monstrous Abyssal Titan breathed in glass and debris. There was no striking it, nor bringing it to its knees without breaking an entire dimension; a task which nobody, mortal or otherwise, was equal.
“Can you feel it?” he said. “The palpable fear! That glorious despair! Thick enough to choke! All the more for our queen to thrive!”
Lord Nihilex’s children, the bird-like Vultera, and the reptilian Feareus, huddled close. Though born from the void, they too were dwarfed by the scale of the Abyssal Titan; they too would be its food should the thing cross their path.
The shadow conqueror threw his arms high and cackled. Earth was at its end, just as he always dreamed.
To be continued…