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Joined: Mon Dec 19, 2011 6:46 pm
Location: Charlotte, NC
((Bianca's stories are probably not for everyone to read - they aqre extremely dark in content and are littered with examples of violence against a child, Ephebophilia, (which is sexual attraction directed toward a late adolescent and is often mislabeled as pedophilia in our society), multiple murders, etc. I have not edited these stories in the same way I did Sullivan's, because there was not a large amount of retconning necessary. If you've seen Bianca's VV page, then you've actually seen the first two of these. Each of them is individually shorter than Sullivan's, but taken together, they are likely to be a fairly long read - Mike))
Look, if you had one shot, one opportunity
To seize everything you ever wanted - one moment -
Would you capture it or just let it slip?
Paragon City, Rhode Island
The skies were alive with fire over Paragon City.
People were screaming and fleeing amid the chaos, though there was nowhere to truly run. Alicia Tallin had a destination though. As the Rikti appeared out of nowhere, appearing suddenly without warning and slaughtering every human being they encountered, she managed to elude their sight not just once but on too many occasions in the last hour to count. As soon as it had started, she ran from the coin operated laundry where she worked without saying anything to anyone. There was no one she could have told anyway, because her boss was not there. He generally left about midday to make his rounds and collect the change from the other facility he owned across town. Alicia did not know whether he was caught up in this horrible day or not, but she prayed that he was still alive.
The earth was being invaded. She did not know what they were, but during her manic flight through the city caused by the disruption of the public transportation system, she had heard the word Rikti many times. She did not care what they were called though. She only cared about three things at that moment.
Bianca… her oldest. Twelve this year and doing well in school, better than she ever had in years past. Well enough to give hope to Alicia that her daughter might escape the slum that was King’s Row.
David… her only son. Seven years old. Mischief and laughter and love all tied up in one sweet package.
Rachel… her baby, born just last year.
Bianca reluctantly agreed to babysit earlier because the elderly woman who normally took fifty dollars a week to watch the younger kids had a doctor’s appointment that day. So there was no adult there. Alicia knew the kids had to be terrified. And there was no one there for them. No father. No man at all. Only Bianca.
So Alicia ran for home. How many miles? She could not know. And then she was only a few blocks away when the telltale sounds of the Rikti appearing in the Row started again. All around her. She crashed full tilt into one of them. The alien's emotionless expression did not change as it stumbled, then balanced itself. It turned its rifled in her direction.
Unlike it, Alicia Tallin could not balance herself. She plunged straight down into the hard pavement of the sidewalk. She rolled once, then twice and came to a halt. She turned. The creature’s intent was clear. They were not here to show mercy. They were here to kill. The alien’s finger tightened on the trigger of its rifle.
And then in a blinding blur, it was not there.
Alicia gasped. She heard the pounding of fists on the alien’s flesh. Then the scene seemed to clear and she realized what she was seeing. Back Alley Brawler. He was here. Among the people of the Row. He was here to protect them, as was his promise to the people. He did not see her. He was too busy with what he was doing. But he had saved her.
Alicia made it back to her feet. The apartment building was only blocks away from her now. She began to run again. One block. Then two. She could see it in the distance. A thunderous roar sounded somewhere behind her, but she was so intent on her children that she did not turn back to see what it was. She made it up the steps just as the Rikti dropship downed by the Statesman crashed into the side of her building. The world shuddered and Alicia was flung forward into the lobby. She made it to a knee, but that was when there was a terrible wrenching sound, as if all the rage of Heaven was coming down around her and mankind had been judged and found wanting.
The highest ceilings collapsed first, each one adding weight and creating an inevitable chain reaction. Within seconds, the weight of fifteen stories bore down on the lobby. The floor beneath her collapsed. Alicia fell for a timeless moment. She opened her mouth in soundless denial. The scream simply would not come. The thought of her children was all consuming. The pain was enormous. She could not think. And then she landed in a crumbled heap on top of the exposed rebar, which plunged through her torso. Everything was pain. Everything.
Time passed and she slipped closer to death. It was dark. And she was alone. The only sounds were her gasps and moans and the breathing in the darkness that grew ever more rapid.
Then there was light. Alicia blinked. She had very little time left. Her eyelids fluttered. The light itself was painful after the time in the darkness. A pair of kind and sorrowful eyes gazed down at her. Statesman had seen war. He knew what coming death looked like. He knew there was nothing he could do for this woman except to be there at the moment she passed.
Her lips moved. He leaned closer. Alicia whispered, somewhere between a moan and a plea, “My… babies… please find them…”
Marcus Cole hugged the dying woman, “You have my promise.”
Alicia Tallin passed then, forgotten and barely known, merely another victim of the Rikti invasion of 2002. She would never know of the sacrifice of the thousand or what Hero-1 did to preserve his race. Her last thought was of her children and perhaps that was as it should be.
There is often little room in the greater war for the smallest losses and the smallest sacrifices, but Statesman knew enough to understand the importance of these things.
“Can you feel anyone else?” he asked the other behind him. Numina concentrated, nearly shook her head in denial, then opened her eyes.
“One. Very weak, buried very deep. I don’t know if you can reach…”
“I can, “ Statesman insisted. “I will.”
And he dug. Carefully, so carefully. Numina chewed her lip, obviously distressed that he was taking the time to do this while the conflict raged around them, but he was Statesman. Who was she to deny him what he believed to be important? Moments passed. Moments in which others died to the Rikti and the heroes of the city fought an impossible holding action against them. Finally, nearly thirty feet down, he found the unconscious form of the twelve-year-old girl. Both arms and one leg broken. A lung punctured. Crushed beneath a slab of concrete. But alive.
Statesman lifted her up.
Snap back to reality
Paragon City, Rhode Island
Bianca Tallin tried to hold the anger inside.
She really did. She tried to ignore the words of other children when they mocked her scars or said other terrible things to her. None of them knew what that day was like. She knew that they could not know. But none of that mattered sometimes. The hate seemed to feed itself, but in reality, the hate was fed by her just as much as by them.
And sometimes the rage exploded out of her like a bomb exploding.
When she had healed enough to be released from the hospital, she was much like many other children in Paragon City in those days… a war orphan. She was put into the care of the Rhode Island Department of Social Services and placed into a temporary care facility with the hopes that she might be fostered, perhaps even eventually adopted. But in the aftermath of the Rikti invasion, the market for scarred, shellshocked, twelve-year-old African American girls was relatively small. And the foster care system was overloaded. To many children had been orphaned in that one night. The temporary care facility gave way to a permanent orphanage. Low management at first, because prior to that night, Bianca Tallin had never even been in a sniff of trouble.
She had distant family out in Utah. Her cousin Sullivan Washington even offered to let her come live with him at one point, but Sully was only seventeen at the time of the Rikti invasion. Rhode Island DSS refused his request. Sully’s father, Bianca's late aunt's husband, made no such offer. He had no interest in caring for the daughter of a woman he had not seen in over eight years and who he really did not like all that much anyway. So Bianca went into the orphanage.
The others in the orphanage were not the problem. Like her, all of them had recently seen loss firsthand in one way or another. None of them were particularly interested in exacerbating the pain of another, when his or her own pain was just beneath the surface ready to bleed again at a moment’s notice. But the hastily cobbled together orphanage in Skyway City was placed near the only school capable of suddenly absorbing an influx of so many new students. At her old school, Bianca had friends and a sense of place. In this new school, she was a, (in her mind at least), hideously scarred stranger.
Her sullen demeanor fed most of the student’s immediate dislike of her. The arguments started… then the fights. Her caseworker, mindful of her recent loss, tried to be patient about this at first. Nothing in her record indicated this sort of behavior in the past. But the fights did not end. If nothing else, the night of the Rikti invasion left Bianca Tallin ready to fight. And if she could not fight those who killed her family, she would fight anyone and everyone in her path who would try to disparage or demean her. She would answer cruelty with violence and, in the nature of the world... it was never the cruelty that was noticed, only the violence.
Finally, one day, a girl named Emily Jackson, trying to get a rise out of her, made a crack about Bianca’s mother… and succeeded on a level she never wanted or believed possible. By the time they pulled Bianca Tallin off of her, Emily was bleeding from bite marks on her arms and hands. Three of her fingers were broken. Her abdomen was bruised so badly from so many kicks that the doctor who initially examined Emily believed that she must have internal bleeding.
At Bianca’s hearing, the judge was unsympathetic to her court appointed attorney’s plea for leniency due to Bianca’s loss. Paragon City had many war orphans during those years. None of them had put other girls into the hospital. Bianca was sentenced to the care of the Rhode Island Department of Juvenile Justice, who placed her into a high management youth detention facility until the facility management believed her ready for discharge or until she reached the age of eighteen.
This is my life and these times are so hard and it's getting even harder…
Paragon City, Rhode Island
Bianca Tallin was raped for the first time when she was fourteen years old.
It happened in the game room of Crossroads, the detention facility where she was placed. It happened in the middle of the night. The perpetrator was a forty-five year old man who served as the night shift supervisor of the facility. No other staff members were present. The one assigned to her floor was asleep in the control room at the time. Though she never knew why, Bianca never told anyone about what happened.
After that, it happened a lot. She never invited it or complained about it. She just silently endured it. It was probably that, by this point, Bianca defined herself by the amount that she suffered. As long as she suffered, she continued to live. Fighting back only resulted in the worsening of her situation, as it had when she fought back against Emily Jackson.
But that did not mean that she accepted what was happening. And it did not mean that she did not hate.
Bianca simply waited.
The only person she ever talked to outside the facility was her cousin Sullivan, who spent much of the year fighting a losing battle with the state of Rhode Island trying to obtain her release from Crossroads. The judge, however, had made his intentions perfectly clear. Bianca would not be released until Crossroads deemed her ready for release. And at least one member among those who had the power to make recommendations regarding her continued stay among them now had a very vested interest in keeping her there.
So she stayed.
And she waited.
And the hatred grew inside. And then it exploded again.
Sullivan and his wife had come to Paragon City by this point. They were living in the Row and worked for Longbow. He kept telling her to be patient, that he would get her out of there and that she would be able to come and live with him and Sabrina. But then it happened one too many times. And then the waiting was over.
On December fourteenth, 2004, she escaped. The body of the night shift supervisor was discovered the following morning approximately thirty minutes after his subordinate’s alarm clock awakened him from his nightly sleep. The sight that greeted him in the game room was both terrible and majestic. The supervisor had been stabbed thirty-seven times. His end had not been quick. His entrails were spread throughout the room. His face was frozen in endless scream of agony. He had been alive through most of it. At the end, Bianca had taken both his badge, which allowed her free exit from the facility, raising no alarms, and the keys to his car, which allowed her to transportation to wherever she wanted to go.
By the time anyone knew anything, she had disappeared into the underworld.
It only grows harder, only grows hotter…
The Etoile Isles
The Circle of Thorns rarely had any interest in Mercy.
There were rumors, however, of a displaced spirit of the Banished Pantheon trapped beneath the waves near the island. There had been a brutal conflict between Longbow forces and the Pantheon. It ended aboard one Longbow’s small nuclear submarines. All of the Longbow forces aboard were slain and most of the Pantheon undead destroyed when the sub’s nuclear core melted down, but rumors still persisted that one of the Death Spirits lingered down there and had been… altered… by its exposure to the radiation.
The mage Weskelan believed these rumors. He believed that capturing this rogue Death Spirit represented the first step on his journey to power. If he could trap and contain and channel this transformed spirit, it would be a powerful weapon against both those who would oppose him and his rivals within the Circle. So he had set about discovering the sunken submarine’s location and researching a manner in which to trap the spirit. He discovered a ritual that he believed would suffice for this purpose. The necessary components were relatively common. Among them was, unsurprisingly, the blood of a virgin.
The blood of the pure represented the untold potential of life. It was often necessary to channel this potential in order to correctly align power and attract the attention of something interested in corrupting such purity, as this spirit undoubtedly would. Weskelan had no virgin’s blood, but he did have a variety of underlings available to procure it for him.
His instructions were quite clear. Locate one who would not be missed. This particular ritual must be performed in the greatest secrecy. He did not want his rivals to power to discover his intent until the wild spirit was already under his control.
And so, the night the ritual was to be performed, one of the archers dumped a body-sized sack on the ground in front of him. Weskelan gazed at it impersonally, then asked, “The sacrifice?”
The archer nodded in silence. Weskelan pressed, “She is not damaged?”
“Only superficially, “ the archer answered. “We found her in a back alley in Haven, emaciated and probably starving, but she fought much harder than we expected. She actually injured Delaughter.”
Weskelan arched an eyebrow, turning his attention to the other subordinate, who appeared both disgruntled and abashed. Weskelan attempted to hide his amusement as he asked dryly, “You are well enough to proceed?”
“Of course, “ the Thorn Wielder snapped.
“Excellent, “ Weskelan replied, “then place her on the alter and we will begin.”
Perhaps more roughly than usual, Delaughter grabbed the girl in the sack and moved toward the alter. He walked with a noticeable limp. Weskelan smiled to himself. He would have to glean the details of the encounter from the archer later. He was certain that it would be an entertaining story. However, entertainment would have to wait. He felt a tingle of anticipation and a burgeoning sense of triumph. Nothing could stop him now. Nothing.
Bianca’s unconscious form was dumped unceremoniously on the altar. She moaned slightly as he head hit the stone, but she did not reach full wakefulness. Both eyes were blackened during the earlier struggle. Had she not been so weak and delirious from lack of food, she might have been able to escape the Circle’s abductors as she had escaped from other human predators since coming to Mercy Island, but her struggle had not been enough.
Weskelan removed the ceremonial dagger and placed it next to the girl. He was privately a bit disgusted by her appearance. In his mind’s eye, he had envisioned an unspoiled, beautiful child, not this rather… ragged, dirty, and unkempt black girl for his sacrifice, but when time was limited and secrecy necessary…
He raised his hands. Around them the four braziers burst into flame. He faced the lapping waves, his voice rising into a chant. He could sense the presence of the powerful spirit lurking out there. The first stage was to call it to him. The chant began low, then rose. Behind him, as each stage of the painstaking ritual proceeded, his subordinates performed their duties flawlessly.
Below him, though he barely registered, he was so deep into his spellcasting, the girl stirred again and opened her eyes.
Bianca had no idea where she was. She was confused. It smelled. Someone was saying something over and over. She tried to roll over, but the archer saw her and pinned her. Then she saw the knife. Most of the time, at this point, the victim screamed. Sometimes they begged. Some few… like Bianca… thrashed and fought.
Weskelan glanced down. He saw the smoldering hatred in her eyes. The sheer rage. And he was a bit surprised that her eyes could actually unnerve him, but he had practiced the ritual so many times in recent weeks that it was second nature to him. Almost of its own volition, his left hand reached for the ceremonial dagger. He could feel the Spirit, now freed temporarily by his spell, rising from beneath the waves to confront him. Its gift of blood had to be ready at that moment.
When Bianca saw the stranger in the robes reach for the knife next to her, she took no more time to wonder where she was or what she was doing here. His intention was clear. Still pinned to the altar by the force of the archer’s grip, she went berserk. She thrashed and bucked and used all the force her small body possessed to free herself, but the man was too strong.
“Still her, “ Weskelan snapped, the perspiration from the effort of the ritual glistening on his forehead. “Still her now.”
The archer saw no alternative. He struck Bianca with all the force he could muster to get her to lie still. Blood spilled from her nose and dripped onto the stone. Weskelan’s eyes bulged at the sight. Her blood was free… not in the appropriate reliquary… it was…
It was on them in a blinding rush. Weskelan was hurled back from the altar. The archer and the thorn wielder were both consumed by the Death Spirit in an instant. They never had a chance to scream or to even realize their death was upon them. Weskelan stared in horror as the girl was lifted, suspended in mid-air, the blood still flowing unabated. He could sense the naked greed of this… whatever it was that had emerged… a combination of the radiation of the nuclear core and the Spirit of Death it had once been.
Rage. All rage that he would attempt to cheat it so. The mage felt himself begin to wither as the spirit’s power coursed through him. Unlike the others, he felt it. The being wanted, he understood, for him to feel it. For him to fear it.
“No…,” a ragged voice, a small voice, feminine, but at the same time grating and full of hate, “please… wait…”
The spirit paused. Weskelan collapsed back onto the sand. He could sense its interest in the girl whose essence it had already tasted. Its sending was much gentler than when it had addressed Weskelan.
“Let me, “ she asked, staggering to her feet, “let me. He is mine.”
Weskelan felt a strange explosion of joy from the Spirit. The girl tottered toward him, leaning over unsteadily to pick up the dagger. Weskelan began the words to a spell that would annihilate her instantly, but the Spirit’s rage washed over him, blasting all thought from his mind.
The last thing that Weskelan, mage of the Circle of Thorns, felt was the blade of the dagger entering the side of his neck. When it was done, she backed away, letting the blade slip from her hands. Behind her, the presence in the air regarded her curiously. It had given her what she wanted. She could sense that it wanted something in return, but she did not know what. She turned around. It spread out in their air before her, both majestic and terrifying. It placed into her mind an image of the place of its lonely imprisonment.
Freedom only comes if there is a host.
“I won’t be alone?”
You will never be alone.
“And you will give me what I want?”
We will give each other what we want. Show me.
So she did. And the pride that it felt was nearly more than it could bear. Bianca spread her arms wide allowing it into the deepest part of her. It rushed forward, free from its underwater prison. The power infused her. The spirit knew joy as it had never known. They were one in the same.
They were the green fire of death.
This opportunity comes once in a lifetime.
Paragon City, Rhode Island
Sometimes the Statesman believed it was too much.
He had received so many honors during his career that he often wearied of them. It would be somehow ungrateful, though, to refuse to attend them. It was just as incumbent on him to acknowledge their gratitude toward him as it was for him to perform the actions that they were honoring.
Which is why on June, 19th, he was sitting on a stage in Atlas Park receiving a civic award from the Firefighter’s Association of Paragon City. Numina was seated beside him, the only member of the Freedom Phalanx free to attend. He was not surprised to learn that his granddaughter had opted to send no one from the Vindicators.
He sometimes thought that his granddaughter somehow disapproved of him in certain ways.
He was barely listening to the accolades in the speech, so absorbed was he by this rather troubling line of thought that he also nearly missed the beginning of the disturbance in the crowd. Numina was already on her feet by the time he rose and saw her, a small dark-skinned girl with another woman in her grasp. A glowing, green hand poised threateningly next to the hostage’s face.
The obvious hatred in the girl’s face.
All of these things registered in the mind of Marcus Cole. So did the horrified gasps of the crowd when the young girl burned away part of the hostage’s hair. Statesman moved forward slightly, his hands raised in a placating way.
“Okay, “ he told the girl, “nobody wants anyone to get hurt, so why don’t you…?”
“Speak for yourself, “ the girl snarled at him, then cocked her head slightly as if distracted by something. Without warning, she fired a blast of pure radiation. The podium in front of the fire marshal was instantly incinerated by the pure heat of the blast. She nodded slightly as if in agreement.
“A demonstration, “ she snapped. “The next shot goes into someone alive.”
“Why don’t you just tell me what you want and we can all get out of this without…?” he started again.
“Shut up, “ the girl spat at him. “You don’t make the rules here!”
Numina’s voice was soothing, “You know where you are, child. This is Atlas Park. If you hurt this woman, there will be no shortage of those here to bring you down.”
“Yeah, “ the girl cocked her head again, “but she’ll still die, right?”
“You do not want that, “ Numina told her.
“Get out of my mind, “ the girl, for the first time, seemed to direct her obvious rage in another direction than Statesman. Her fist glowed. The heat increased. In her grip, the hostage gasped and tried to squirm. Bianca seemed to barely notice her. The threat, however, was so imminent that Statesman knew that he had to act at once.
“What is it that you want?” he asked suddenly.
“You, “ she said, for the first time not distracted in the least. Her answer was clear and came at once, “Dead.”
He was taken aback, “Do we know each other?”
Her eyes blazed, “No more questions! If you ask another, she dies now!”
Numina projected to him, “She is absolutely serious. She intends to kill if you ask her anything else.”
Without acknowledging Numina’s information, Statesman addressed Bianca, “Many have tried to kill me in the past. I assume you have a plan to do so.”
The look the child gave him was truly ugly. He knew that he had to try a different tack, “All right. What do you want me to do?”
“Come to Terra Volta, “ she told him. “One hour. Come alone. If you don’t come or don’t come alone, I won’t be there. Then I start frying random people in the street. Yeah, she’s right, one of the heroes will stop me, but you don’t want a bunch of dead people if you can stop it just by showing up, right?”
“I don’t want to fight you, “ he told her. “Maybe we can work out…”
“COME, “ she screamed, then after a small hitch, calmed down with visible effort, “to Terra Volta in an hour… you know the rules…”
With that, she dropped the woman and moved in a blur away from the park. Statesman knew that he could catch her, but he also knew that he could not chance her spotting his approach and turning her power against some random passerby. So he watched her go for the moment. As expected, she moved in the direction of Liberty Harbor where the Terra Volta nuclear power facility was.
“What do you intend to do?” Numina asked.
“Have them evacuate Power Island, “ he told her. “With no innocent bystanders there for her to threaten, I should be able to subdue her without anyone being hurt. I want to know who she is though. This has a strange personal sort of feel to it, but I have never seen this girl before.”
“Yes, you have, “ Numina told him.
“You recognize her, “ he asked with surprise.
“No, “ she admitted. “But there is an absolute certainty that screams from her mind that she knows you. Just it screams from her that she is a divided being.”
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“It is difficult to explain, “ she told him, “There is something else inside of her… and I think that the other is the one that is actually planning this. She seems… to desire it… but I don’t think she would be able to plan what to actually do. Whatever it is, it seems to be pulling some of her strings.”
“Hrm, “ he answered and considered for a moment, “All right. Do you have time today?”
“To work with you?” she asked. “Certainly.”
“Stay out of sight, “ he told her. “If she was serious about killing the woman in the crowd, she’s probably also pretty serious about her other threats if I don’t go by her game plan.”
“Don’t worry, “ Numina told him, “she will never know I am there.”
You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow.
The feeling of speed was transcendent as she raced across the water toward the island.
The other exulted with her, simultaneously feeding her emotion and feeding off it. It knew that it would have other experience to feed it on this day, for it was old… old enough to have experienced much of this world’s history. It remembered the only thing that had nearly slain the strongest one. It could use the special one, this child who had given herself to it, to duplicate that event, refine it, and succeed where those others had failed.
And this death above all others would be the sweetest.
She reached the outer gates. Despite Statesman’s warning, an hour had not been enough to evacuate the island, but they knew she was coming.
Wait. There and there.
She saw the locations of the security forces in her mind. The anger simmered that the man who had cost her everything would not listen to her? Did he not believe her? Did he think she would not follow through on her warnings? She would show him. She would…
The world seemed to explode in her mind. The rage blossomed.
The radioactive heat that surrounded her burned through the outside retaining wall in the blink of an eye. The security patrol positioned behind it had no chance at all. Most had barely turned in her direction before the nuclear fire broiled them alive. Bianca could feel the other’s delight and satisfaction in their deaths. Its delight was palpable and she felt warm contentment travel through her.
“That’s what you want?” she whispered.
More. it agreed.
Somehow she knew where to go. She traveled the halls in a heartbeat. Statesman was too late for the next security patrol. Too late for the scientist in the hallway. Too late for the two engineers in the upper control room. Across catwalks and through tunnels she traveled, moving ever closer to her goal… the radioactive core of the plant.
“What do I do?” she asked when she neared the place, for she truly did not know.
The Death Spirit knew. And it told her how.
She had just reached the cooling rods when the entire building seemed to shudder. He was here. He was finally here and she had the chance to put paid to a life of pain and four years of suffering. The green fire pulsed inside her in synergy with the massive energy that rested so very close to her. Just burn through that place there and it would all be hers…
Not yet. Wait for him.
Statesman entered the room and she felt the thrill of fear because she realized he had seen what she had done outside. She knew that, unlike at the park, he was now angry… definitely angry at her, but also perhaps angry that his inaction there had cost lives here. But Statesman knew that he could not save everyone, no matter what he might want.
The words were stone from him. She was taken aback that he had found out so easily who she was, but she supposed that it was only a matter of time after all. And he had the entire world to work with. Under those circumstances, an hour was like a lifetime.
She was more surprised by how small her voice was when she answered, how weak she sounded, “You took everything from me…”
He looked stricken briefly, because he now knew where he had seen her before. Once he found her name and referenced her picture in the DJJ files, it was no small matter to connect her to the name of Alicia Tallin, whose name he had honored as a brave woman who only wanted to reach her children on the night of the Rikti invasion. He did not want to hurt this woman’s daughter. But people were dead. And he was the Statesman.
Numina’s voice reached his mind, It is certain. There is something else inside of her. It is far more pronounced than it was in the park, now that she has killed again. It is growing stronger. If she continues to kill, soon I doubt there will be anything left of her but a shell.
“Lives were at stake that night, “ he told the girl. “Your mother…”
“YOU don’t talk about my mother, “ Bianca screamed at him and the radiation pulsed, shearing cleanly through one of the cooling rods in front of her, melting it like so much ice cream in the summer sun. The Death Spirit sent waves of contentment through her, willing her to act, the sheer the others, to free the nuclear power of the reactor, channel it, send it as one great wave at this man, and watch him die.
Statesman took a step forward and the second cooling rod went in the blink of an eye. If the reactor melted down, all of Independence Port would die, all of Paragon City would be exposed. Generations of radiation sickness. It would be worse than Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Chernobyl combined. Paragon City would be a dead spot on the earth. He had to stop her.
Bianca screamed soundless rage, letting it blossom and explode. The third cooling rod withered beneath the fire inside her. Statesman was almost there. She saw him, the same eyes her mother saw just before she died, but there was no kindness there as there had been then, only determination and accusation. The green fire hit him and he staggered.
The other was overjoyed. Bianca Tallin was all hate. The fourth rod was right there in front of her. Her hand was poised. Statesman recovered, but understood that though he might stop her in the aftermath… the meltdown was coming. Numina would gather others, keep it contained somehow, but… it was coming.
Then Numina struck.
Bianca was abruptly confused by the sudden internal shriek of the other. It was all wordless denial and desperation. She knew somehow that the killer of her family had not kept his word again. He had brought someone else here, but she could see no one else. The Death Spirit was trying tell her though, trying to convey to her what she must do. She need only hold onto it to keep it with her. Though the psychic presence was very powerful, she could not separate them as she intended to as long as Bianca held strong and continued to anchor it.
Intuitively, she started to block Numina and the heroine felt her control over the spirit inside the girl begin to slip. It happened in a heartbeat, but she felt Statesman’s hand close around her. Snarling, she let the green fire erupt from her, poisoning the room, but he kept her hand away from the cooling rod.
HOLD ONTO ME! KILL HIM! NOW!
Bianca… child… listen to me…
“Don’t wanna…, “ Bianca whispered.
See what it intends for you.
PAY NO ATTENTION!
But Bianca did. And she saw. And she knew in that moment that the spirit had betrayed her as all eventually betrayed her or hurt her or used her. And she let it go… let Numina take it away… heard its last soundless scream as she collapsed in Statesman’s grasp, hung limply by the one arm that he still held.
Statesman gazed down at the girl for a moment. She was a killer, but at that moment, she seemed very, very lost and helpless. He remembered that moment on the street and her mother and his promise. Numina appeared beside him, her eyes as sympathetic as his own.
“You stopped what was inside of her?” he asked, though he suspected he already knew the answer.
She nodded, then knelt down next to the girl, “It is over, Bianca. You are safe now.”
The girl violently shook her head in mute denial through the tears.
Knowing the telepathic link was still active, Statesman asked, “Was it that thing all along? Will she heal now that it is gone?”
I am not sure, Numina answered, we both saw her file. I think she probably murdered that man in the group home long before whatever happened that let that Spirit possess her.
Statesman was dissatisfied with that and his friend could tell that he obviously did not want to believe it. And though she could sympathize with his wish for the memory of that night to remain as it was… the he had kept his promise to the dying woman in King’s and found her daughter buried beneath thirty feet of concrete… that he had preserved the girl’s life and that the moment had been a sort of self-benediction for him… Numina believed that the story of Bianca Tallin was not done.
As if in immediate confirmation of this suspicion, the girl suddenly hitched away from Statesman’s grasp in revulsion and he saw that the rage and hate in her eyes was not gone. Though the power was gone, the promise of death in her face remained.
“One day, “ she told him. “Somehow. I’m gonna find everyone you love and I’m gonna kill them one by one. You don’t believe me? I’ll find a way. I don’t know how… but I will.”
She buried her face and finally whispered, “You took everything from me.”
(End for now)
Last edited by Onyx Monolith on Mon Feb 20, 2012 6:15 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Joined: Mon Dec 19, 2011 6:46 pm
Location: Charlotte, NC
Paragon City, Rhode Island
September 18th, 2006 was a pivotal moment in Bianca Tallin’s life. She was not present for this event, which might sound strange at first, but the moment occurred during the judgment of a pre-trial motion for her pending court case. As with most defendants in such matters, Bianca’s presence for the judgment was not necessary. During the proceeding, she was represented by her court-appointed public defender.
Following the events at the Terra Volta Nuclear Power Facility, Bianca was charged with nine counts of first degree murder, one count of conspiracy to commit murder, and two counts of domestic terrorism. The grand jury found sufficient evidence to hand down an indictment for prosecution on August 17, 2006. The district attorney entered a motion to have her tried as an adult on September 12th. Bianca’s attorney attempted to have Numina’s testimony that Bianca was under the influence of a malevolent entity at the time she committed the acts in question into consideration.
Judge Daniel Hawthorne rendered the following judgment in the matter:
“Due to the particularly brutal nature of the crimes in question and the callous nature with which the accused was alleged to have performed them, I find the arguments of the state persuasive in this matter. And though I find the expert testimony of Numina regarding the state of the accused at the time of the acts to also be persuasive, I believe that testimony should be a matter for the jury to consider and that said testimony must be open to cross-examination by the prosecution. Therefore in the matter of whether the accused may be charged as an adult, I find in favor of the state of Rhode Island.”
At that moment, Bianca Tallin ceased to be a youthful offender in the eyes of the world and became a criminal.
Paragon City, Rhode Island
She was sentenced to a total of 437 years in the Ziggurat, mainly because the state of Rhode Island did not have a death penalty. And though there was no sign that she still possessed the abilities that fueled her rampage through the nuclear plant, as a matter of security, the judge placed her in the only facility that was certified to incarcerate paranormals. Her defense attorney assured her that there was plenty to attempt to appeal, but Bianca resigned herself to reality.
She was going to spend the rest of her life in the Zig.
During her processing, she met Sergeant Enrico Escobar.
Standing in the midst of the other twenty inmates, she felt the eyes of the stocky, sort of piggish man light upon her several times. In a flat monotone, he listed off the rules that would govern their lives in this place. Most of the other guards in the female wing were women, but there were a few men in the room with them. As the others were being led out, the sergeant blocked her path with his baton. He waited until they were alone to speak.
“I’ve been waiting for you, “ he informed her.
Bianca said nothing, just kept her eyes to the floor.
“See, “ he continued, “when I knew they were gonna send you here, I worked a transfer to the women’s wing.”
Bianca still said nothing. She had heard enough during her time in the holding cell to know that the guards had nearly unlimited latitude in dealing with prisoners. She did not want to provoke one who already seemed hostile to her.
Escobar offered a grim smile, “My cousin Jose… he worked security at Terra Volta, you scar-faced freak.”
Bianca looked up for the first time. She saw in his eyes the promise of something.
“Can I go?” she mumbled.
“Sure, “ he said after a moment, “go ahead. We got all the time in the world.”
The first month was uneventful. She learned her place in the food chain. Whatever was once inside her was obviously gone, but they slapped one of the power governor belts on her just the same and demonstrated to her the painful electric shock she would experience if she tried to remove it.
The other inmates were somewhat leery of her at first. Her reputation preceded her. She had been convicted of nine brutal murders. Finally, though, she was tested… and because she was small and seemed physically weak, she looked in many ways like easy prey. She found no ready protectors and the few who offered wanted things from her that she did not want to give.
So she fought again. Most of the time out of the sight of the guards. She often lost, but the savagery with which she always defended herself made most of them lose interest in her quickly enough. She knew that eventually she would face a choice though. No one could exist in this world forever without a gang at her back.
Eventually, she would draw the wrong kind of attention and then she would be dead. The equation was simple.
Finally, after that month passed, the day of reckoning came.
Gail McVries had also been convicted of murder. She also had a life in prison awaiting her. Unlike Bianca, Gail had already spent twenty-two years of that life in the Zig. Hence, Gail had nothing to lose. Though the older woman never verified it, Bianca would later suspect that Escobar hired Gail to attack her.
She came at Bianca in the cafeteria with a homemade blade. Bianca saw it coming out of the corner of her eye at the last possible second and spun just enough that the blade glanced off of her ribcage instead of penetrating her liver. Immediately, the rage blossomed inside of her as it always did. She got the knife away from the older woman. She started to go to work with it.
But a powerful, male grip closed around her wrist before she could.
She looked up and saw Escobar smiling his grim little smile down at her.
“Thirty days, “ he announced, “in the hole.”
Solitary confinement was actually better in certain ways. She was not under the constant threat of attack. And isolation was isolation. Since the other had been pulled out of her, she always felt alone anyway. There was nothing to do in the darkness except to listen to the weeping of the other women who had been placed in these tiny, claustrophobic cells.
But Bianca did not weep. She only waited.
Escobar wanted her down her for a reason. She knew that whatever he had planned was coming soon enough. And on the fourth day, she presumed because these sorts of things took at least that long to execute, it did.
Co-ed prison facilities, it went without saying, were a rarity in the United States. However, the Ziggurat was one of the few because it also possessed the quality of being one that catered to super-powered criminals. Though there were many more men and the male cellblocks were more prevalent, there was no shortage of female prisoners at the Zig.
As might be expected in such an environment, a sort of shadow economy had grown with the tacit (and occasional active) participation of some of the guards. Officially, contact between the male prisoners and the female prisoners was completely forbidden. Unofficially, contact could be established through a route established years before if the price was right.
Escobar needed the four days of lead-time in order to grease the wheels of what he had planned. Even the more mercenary and cruel of his fellows might have balked at nothing more than the risk of what he had planned. However, with the correct infusion of cash and the assurance that nothing would ever be discovered, the two guards in the solitary confinement wing after midnight on November 29th were nowhere to be found when Escobar and four prisoners from Cellblock D of the male wing made their way into the female solitary confinement wing.
They stopped outside cell 14. Bianca, lying on her mat, rose when she heard them coming. It was hot in the cells. And wet. For the first time, she noticed how wet.
“Gonna pay for what you did, you little freak, “ she heard Escobar muttering as he used his keycard, “been waiting a long time for this.”
“I’m here, “ she promised him softly.
There was a pause. Outside Escobar licked his lips. Of course, she had shown no signs of the power she possessed that day at Terra Volta, but suppose she had been concealing it all this time? If she had, things could…
“Can we get on with this, homes?” a bored voice asked behind him. Julio Morales. Escobar had chosen him because he was a convicted rapist. He would have no qualms about hurting a woman. He would probably, in fact, enjoy it a lot.
Though the others behind Julio added nothing to his statement, the sergeant could see that they easily echoed the rapist’s sentiment. The sergeant was suddenly cognizant of the fact that even though he was the only one armed in the room, he was alone with the four of them. It was best to accede to their demands.
He opened Bianca’s cell door. It was so dark that none of them could see inside of it. Her voice drifted out of the blackness. It was a grating snarl, “If they come in here, at least one of them isn’t coming out.”
That drew a laugh from the convicts. The largest of them, known universally around Cellblock D as Big Lou, told her, “Get real.”
She stepped into the light of the doorway. She willed the green fire of death to come, but it, of course, did not. She was tiny compared to even the smallest of them. Lou dwarfed her, “I am.”
The utter certainty of her statement took the big man aback for a moment, as did something else. He turned to the sergeant, “Jesus Christ, Escobar. This is a kid!”
“You got a problem with that?” the sergeant demanded.
“I don’t, “ Julio told him with a grin.
Escobar had selected Louis Cisson for no other reason than the sheer size of the man was so intimidating that the sergeant believed the big man could control such a small girl without any trouble. What he did not know about Big Lou is that the man had two teenage daughters of his own at home and would probably associate doing whatever they intended to do to Bianca with doing the same to either of them.
Julio took a step toward Bianca, lowering his hand to his belt to unbuckle it. That was all the girl needed to see. Without thought, the rage exploded inside of her. She launched herself at the rapist, her teeth closing around his cheek and her ragged nails tearing four deep scratches in the side of his neck. The movement was so abrupt and violent that the others took involuntary steps backward.
Julio howled and tried to fling the girl away from him, tearing a jagged flap loose from his cheek in the process. Escobar stared in shock, then grabbed at the taser at his side. Lou noticed.
“Think they might notice burns on her, boss?” he asked. “Ask where she got ‘em and such?”
“Then do something, “ the sergeant snapped at him.
“All right, “ Lou told him. He turned back to the unfolding scene. Julio had adjusted to the fact that part of his right cheek was missing and was poised to rush the girl, who had landed in a heap a few yards away. She rolled over and kicked outward as Julio rushed, connecting squarely with the fork between his legs.
Big Lou almost laughed.
The other two convicts appeared to be having doubts about this entire idea.
Escobar noticed and snapped, “I’ll double what I offered.”
That settled their doubts. They moved forward with the big man in the lead. Bianca backed into her cell, “I’ll kill all you all.”
“No you won’t, “ Lou told her.
She kicked at him, but having already seen her choice of target, he turned slightly. Her foot rebounded ineffectually off of his outer thigh. Bianca bared her teeth and swung at him, but he easily caught her fist.
“Kill you, “ she half-screamed, realizing that her brief moment of defiance had been futile after all.
“Cut it out, kid, “ he told her somewhat regretfully.
He pushed her back. She fell back onto the mat, was back on her feet in a second, but took a hard blow to the head from one of the others. For moments after that, it was the same, the rage was all consuming, but it was wasted. She fought as hard as she could, but they were too big… too many of them…
She flailed. She clawed. She bit. None of it did any good. She fought them so hard that she nearly forced them to break the arm that Louis Cisson heard snap. He winced. He leaned down and whispered into her ear. She did not stop at first, but finally she quieted as he kept whispering. Behind them, they heard the scrape of metal as Julio picked up the metal pipe he had brought for this occasion.
Big Lou did not participate in what happened next as the others did. He looked away so that he would not see her accusing eyes. But he held her down.
“Oh, my God, “ the intern said when he saw the state of the girl laying before him. He glared at Escobar, whose ripped shirt and disheveled condition somewhat verified the sergeant’s lame tale of the girl going wild and attacking him during her nightly exercise session. The sergeant’s condition in no way explained the human wreckage lying on the bed in front of him though.
The sergeant said nothing. He stared back at the doctor levelly. He offered no justifications. He figured that that would be best… not to attempt to justify what should need no such excuses. He was the guard. She was the prisoner. She had attacked him. He had been forced to subdue her.
The intern continued his examination. Multiple broken bones. Half of the teeth along the right side of her jaw line shattered. So many bruises he could not even start to catalog them.
“There is no way…,” he began.
“I’ll remind you, Doctor, “ Escobar told him flatly, “that this girl is a mass murderer. I did what was necessary. That is all.”
Then the intern saw. The inexcusable. His jaw dropped open. Furiously, he turned toward the sergeant again, “Sergeant, this girl has been r…!”
“Look again, “ the sergeant told him with a curious lack of intonation.
“What?” the doctor demanded. “Sergeant, I am more than capable of determining…”
“No, Doctor, “ Escobar said, holding the doctor’s clipboard out toward him, “I don’t think that’s true at all. I think you are mistaken.”
“What do you…?” then the doctor looked. Twenty faces of Benjamin Franklin stared back at him. The doctor licked his lips nervously.
“Just ask her, “ Escobar offered with a strange little smile. “Here. I’ll do it for you. Bianca, did anything like that happen to you?”
A gurgling hiss issued from the shattered girl’s mouth. She slowly shook her head. What the big man had whispered to her echoed through her mind. She shook her head again.
“See?” Escobar asked the doctor cheerfully, “Nothing like that at all. She’s crazy, Doc. She did what crazy people do. And I explained to her that that sort of thing wouldn’t go around here. Forcefully, yeah. But I did what needed to be done. Right?”
He patted the briefcase, his hand coming to rest on the stack of bills there, “Now… why don’t you patch her up and write up the report just like things were?”
The intern stared down at the battered girl, then back at the sergeant. That much money could make his life easier. Yes, it could. And maybe it could help him get out of this place. He pulled it briefcase and everything on it away from the sergeant, “Fine. You might want to leave, sergeant. I have work to do.”
Enrico Escobar relaxed… releasing the tension he had not even realized he had been feeling. It was over. It had cost him just about all of his 401k and he would remember everything that had happened down in those black cells for the rest of his life, but he had done it. He had avenged the death of Jose.
He had gotten away with it.
She was a long time healing.
During her second week in the prison infirmary, she had a visitor. Normally, there were rules and regulations associated with all visitations, but Paragon City prized its heroes. When as august a visitor as Numina chose to visit a convict at the Ziggurat, doors were opened. Rules were politely set aside for the day.
Bianca did not notice Numina at first. Her world was a haze of darkness and pain. And deep inside where only she could feel it, the simmering promise of what was eventually going to come. It was not until she felt the cooling balm of the other’s mind touch hers that she realized that the other was there.
She did not feel comforted though. She felt panic. If Numina could read her mind, the heroine would know what had been done to her. Bianca managed to crack open the one eye that would actually open at this point. She saw no alarm in the heroine, only concern.
“I heard, “ Numina told her, “that there was an incident…”
“Inssssdnt, “ Bianca repeated.
“You attacked one of the guards?” Numina asked her reproachfully.
Bianca hissed silent laughter at that. The heroine’s eyes narrowed slightly. Though she had hope that with the banishing of the warped death spirit, this girl might somehow be saved, the girl’s actions were troubling to say the least. She did not, however, regret speaking for the girl at her trial. She had told nothing but the truth.
“Why, Bianca?” she pressed.
The girl said nothing, merely shook her head. Telling others never helped. It only made things worse, “Sssty ot ‘f my minnn…”
“I will not read your mind without permission, “ Numina assured her. “I only came to see if there is anything I can do for you.”
Numina leaned close, “Tell me.”
“Yuu, “ Bianca grated with hatred, “t’lll him… I havn’t frg’tn… my prmisss. He btter not fr’get ei’ser.”
She rolled over after that and pointedly ignored Numina. The heroine gazed down at the girl with tremendous sadness for a long moment, then turned to leave.
After a month, she was released back into the general population. Escobar was no longer assigned to the women’s wing, having been transferred to Cellblock D. Even though Bianca was deemed well enough to be released, it certainly did not mean that she was healed by any means. Her injuries had been catastrophic. It would be long months before she began to feel anything close to well.
It was, however, only a week after her release that the Arachnos forces arrived to engineer the breakout.
The entire structure shuddered at the force of the explosion that rocked the outer walls. Bianca was in her cell at the time. She shuffled to the bars and looked out. She saw one of the female guards shot dead in front of her. She glanced at the body without much reaction, then turned to the wolf spider who had shot the woman.
“Bianca Tallin, “ he asked.
“What do you think?” she asked.
“Considering I am here to get you out, “ he told her, “you might try another tone.”
“You’re here to get me out, ” she repeated.
“That is what I said, “ he answered.
“Good, “ she said, “could you open the door then?”
He seemed briefly amused, “Sure.”
As if on cue, all of the cell doors on the block opened simultaneously. Bianca blinked, “Nice trick.”
“Thanks, “ he said, “this way.”
“No, “ she correct, “that way. You stay here.”
“I’ll be back in a bit.”
“We’re on sort of a time frame here, “ he complained.
She didn’t answer. She exited her cell and shuffled toward one belonging to an inmate named Cindy Pearce. She knew that Cindy happened to have a boyfriend over in the male cellblocks and availed herself, (for a hefty price), of the hidden pathway the guards used for that sort of thing.
Cindy never saw her coming. She was just exiting her cell and looking around with some curiosity when an implacable force slammed her into the bars.
“Oow, “ she started to yell, but stopped when she saw Tallin’s dark, dark eyes staring up into hers.
“Tell me, “ Bianca snarled, “where the tunnel to the men’s cellblock is.”
“Wha…?” Cindy started, but paused when she felt the point of the shiv the girl was holding press into the side of her neck.
“I don’t care about hurting you, Cindy, “ Tallin told her. “I don’t really care about you at all. You know something I need to know. Tell me and you won’t die.”
“It’s beneath the laundry, “ Cindy told her, feeling very cooperative all of a sudden. “Behind the big dryer under the floor panels. You can’t miss it.”
“Thanks, “ Bianca told her, releasing her and limping toward the laundry. She felt a strange heat inside of her, but didn’t consider it so intent was she on what was to come. Amid the chaos caused by the Arachnos soldiers, she made it to the laundry, even in her slowed, weakened condition in a few short minutes. The tunnel was where Cindy said it would be. It was about fifty yards and opened up into what appeared to be the men’s laundry.
Two convicts were in the midst of stuffing the body of a guard into one of the dryers. When she emerged from the tunnel, they regarded her curiously for a moment. Bianca stared back at them.
“Where is Escobar?” she demanded.
One glanced at the other as if wondering whether it was a good idea to answer her, then shrugged and told her, “Down at the south end of the block. Might wanna hurry, girl. He ain’t exactly popular.”
Bianca nodded and limped out of the laundry room while the two returned to their previous activity. All around her, elated with their sudden freedom, convicts were engaged in the start of what would be a massive riot. After a moment, she saw her target. He was backed into a corner. In front of him in what appeared to be a defensive posture were Big Lou, Julio and another of those who attacked her down in the cells. Several others were poised to either attack or flee or were in the midst of attempting to persuade Lou to abandon Escobar’s defense.
“Sorry, “ Big Lou was in the midst of saying, “I know he’s a scumbag, but he offered me ten g’s.”
“C’mon, Lou, “ one of the crowd shouted, “you can’t spend it if you’re dead, man.”
“Sorry, “ Lou repeated, “I gave my word.”
“Gave, “ Bianca started, paused when they all turned her direction, then continued, “gave it to me too.”
The crowd did a collective double-take, most unable to process the presence of a sixteen year old girl suddenly in their midst. Lou sighed, “Kid… you really don’t need to be here…”
The burning sensation came again. Bianca staggered. Suddenly it appeared to dawn on several of the crowded inmates that she was, in fact, female. And that… that perhaps might be a fortunate turn of events for them. She glared.
“Don’t, “ she warned, but that did not good.
Approximately half of the crowd shifted targets from Escobar to her. The heat increased. Bianca felt the rage grow. The green. The green was back. She did not know how, but it was…
The nuclear fire rolled from her. Two of the approaching would-be rapists were obliterated instantly. She screamed.
This opportunity comes once in a lifetime…
She did not know how this could be, how it could come to her without the other inside of her, but it did not matter. She knew what to do. It was change. All change. And she was the fire-that-kills. Her eyes found Julio. She remembered the pipe and she remembered what he did.
And then Julio screamed.
It was a ghastly sound, lingering and full of all the agony of the world. She made it last as long as she could and by the time she was done, only Escobar and Big Lou were still anywhere within 100 yards of her.
“Get out of my way, “ she ordered the big man. There was strength in her voice for the first time in a long, long time.
“Kid, “ he said to her.
“You were the one who told me, “ she raged at him, “down in the darkness, you told me, ‘kid, I understand why you’re fighting, but you’ve got to be smart. If you die, you’ll never fight again. You’ve got to pick your shot. Heck, I’ll even help you when the time comes.’ You said that, right?”
Lou nodded quietly, “Yeah, I did. I told you that, but I was trying to…”
“Are you an honest man, Big Lou?”
“I’m a criminal, kid.”
“That’s not what I asked, “ she snapped. “Are you an honest, man?”
Louis Cisson sighed, then nodded, “Yeah. Yeah, I am.”
“Then keep your word, “ she told him, “You know what he did to me. Get out of my way.”
And Big Lou did.
Bianca Tallin went to work.
When she arrived back at her cell, the wolf spider was on the verge of simply pulling out. When he saw her and the big man, he snapped, “It’s been thirty minutes! I told you…”
“YOU, “ Bianca snarled, the green fire flaring around her, causing him to take an inadvertent step back, “don’t tell me. I had something to do. Something important. Now let’s go.”
“Who is this?” the wolf spider demanded, indicating Lou.
“Big Lou, “ she told him. “He comes along.”
“Fortunata Kalinda mentioned nothing about tag-alongs, “ he shook his head.
“He comes, “ Bianca repeated.
“You don’t understand, “ the wolf spider insisted, “if my mistress is disobeyed, she will be disappointed.”
“Life is full of disappointments, “ Bianca answered. “She’ll deal with it.”
On the helicopter as they ascended away from Brickstown toward the distant Mercy Island, Big Lou asked her, “Not that I ain’t grateful to you for getting me outta there, kid, but… ummm… why?”
Without looking at him, she answered, “Because every time I look at you, I’ll remember.”
“You’ll remember what?” he asked.
“I’ll remember that when I was weak and helpless and about to die, “ she said, “you gave me the best advice of my life.”
“To stop fighting?”
“No, “ she answered.
(Not an Ending.)
Joined: Mon Dec 19, 2011 6:46 pm
Location: Charlotte, NC
The Etoile Isles
The flophouse was not great, but it was better than where they were living during their time on Mercy Island.
Bianca was glad to be out from under the thumb of Kalinda the Fortunata even though the woman had never really asked Bianca to do anything she probably would not have ended up doing anyway. Bianca prized her freedom though and she chafed during those months when she felt torn between gratitude at being out of the oppressive gloom of the Zig with its constant threat of violence and its soul-killing monotony and the belief that Arachnos now believed her to be a servant because they were the ones to have freed her. This period of servitude to the spider had been largely unmemorable though. Nothing lost but nothing really gained.
Bianca was the same as she had ever been, even if the sounds of Escobar’s screams during those dying moments of her imprisonment still echoed in her dreams at night. The Fortunata told her that it would probably always be so. There were other echoes during those times anyway. That supervisor at the group home… the one when she was younger. The others who had raped her and beaten her in the isolation cell.
Strangely though, she never heard the screams of those who had died at Terra Volta. Those were muted and somehow distant from her… perhaps because at the time she was under the influence of the Death Spirit. Bianca honestly did not know. She only knew that during her days, she killed snakes for spiders and at night, she dreamed of those from the past who she had murdered. She had no idea what she was or how she could again bring the green fire even though the spirit was gone. And at the end of six months, the Fortunata told her it was time for her to go make her own way, but that she and Arachnos would be watching her.
During the same period of time, Big Lou had been networking the Rogue Isles, making contacts and performing freelance work for a man named Burke. He made most of the day-to-day arrangements that governed their lives on Mercy. The small motel room where they stayed he found. The food they ate he bought. The clothes she wore she found one day on the bed when she woke up. Strangely though, even though he was the driver of their lives, she hardly saw Louis Cisson during those months. They were both busy during the day and were rarely there on the same night, but when they were, the big man slept on the floor and left her the small bed. There was also a small, attached kitchen to use to cook the food he bought, so she learned the art of cooking noodles and soup.
She had to admit it was better than Mercy the first time around… that time after the first murder when she found her way here but had no idea how to make her way… the time just before she was found by Weskelan’s Circle thugs and nearly sacrificed to bind the Death Spirit in service to the mage. She had nearly starved then and had run afoul of any number of human and less-than-human predators. This time around… though she could not say for certain… she believed that most of the human dregs on Mercy regarded her as the predator. She felt that Mercy itself exacerbated the nightmares… somehow made the nocturnal screams louder. She hated the place even though she was free and even though she was able to make her way… even if it was in service to the spiders.
Lou sensed the girl’s discontent and held no great love for the small, impoverished island himself, so shortly after Kalinda released Bianca from service, the two departed Mercy for Port Oakes. And though the change of scenery did little to quiet the voices from the past, for the first time in years, it really did feel like something of a new beginning for Bianca Tallin.
There, outside the constant guidance of the fortunate, Bianca realized that she had a distinct problem. So because Lou was the closest thing she had to a friend during this time of her life, she went to him with the question. He was rather taken aback by the nature of it.
“How do you be a criminal?” he asked in honest bafflement. “What do you mean?”
“I mean, “ she repeated, “how do I be a criminal, Lou? I really don’t know.”
“Kid, “ he pointed out, “you were sent to the Zig for umpteen billion years… I think you got a…”
“Yeah, “ she said. “But how do I make a living at it? There’s a difference between trying and failing to kill Statesman and having food to eat the day after tomorrow.”
He had to admit that she had a point. But being a criminal was not something he could just teach her. It was not like there were trade schools for the profession.
“So what were you sent to the Zig for?” she asked him. He was a bit surprised by the question. They had been living together for several months by this point and she had always been remarkably reticent about asking any personal questions about him. He had largely returned the favor believing that she probably just was not very interested in him. Circumstances… and her action during those last moments at the Zig… had thrown them together, but he always suspected that she did not really like him. He could not blame her. After all, he had been there… and an active participant… at what was undoubtedly the worst moment of her young life.
“I was doing a dime for running a stolen car ring, “ he told her at length.
“So you have guys you normally work with?” she asked.
“I did, “ he answered. “But they’re back in Paragon and I really can’t go back there right now. I’m a wanted man, you know.”
Besides, kid, he did not say, you’re here. And I kinda feel responsible for you, so I’m staying here.
“Yeah, “ she replied. “I guess. Me too. But you could bring them here, couldn’t you?”
And that question, in a roundabout way, brought Charlie Steel into her life. Lou agreed to show her the ropes. Pragmatist that he was, he doubted that Bianca Tallin could ever aspire to anything resembling a normal life. Society was never really big on allowing someone a shot at redemption, no matter what the old CJS might lead the average citizen to believe. Besides, even if she had the desire, if she were ever caught within the confines of the U.S. of A again, the first thing they would do is return her to the Zig so she could start doing some of the umpteen billion years again.
So if she was going to have to become a criminal, he could at least make sure that she had the makings of a reasonably successful one. To Lou, that meant that there had to be others to work with them. Lou was not big on working alone. Working was a team sport to him. About the most they could do alone was knock over a convenience store or two.
He knew people with a variety of skills. Charlie Steel was one of them. Charlie had been in the same army unit as Lou in Vietnam. Charlie was a demolitions expert, Lou a marksman. Charlie was the first of Lou’s old gang to agree to relocate to Oakes. Though both men were old, (at least to Bianca’s young eyes), there was a sort of playfulness to Charlie that made him, at first blush, seem much younger than his friend. He teased and flirted in a way that Lou never did. Of course, Lou had kids while Charlie had none. Lou, therefore, had responsibilities that Charlie lacked. And this, in no small way, led to Charlie’s sort of Peter Pan outlook on life.
He would do anything for his old pal though, even if he refused to take any of it seriously. Within days, the young girl had developed something of a crush on Charlie Steel. It was slow torture for Bianca because the crush set off a major war of impulses within her… the constant desire to be touched set against the absolute horror of being touched and, as always, she suffered in silence. Nothing was to be gained by telling anyone.
No one would really care. That was what she believed.
Lou brought her along as slowly as he could. Small stuff at first, then gradually larger, at Charlie’s urging. Hell, his old friend told him, /I]we’ve got the biggest gun at our disposal that we’ve ever had. We might as well use her before she outgrows us.[/I] A couple of bank heists to start with to test her out, which also gave them the working capital to start a business in earnest and the new enterprise was soon in business.
Smuggling… small but valuable items to keep themselves under the spiders’ radar. Charlie’s arrival was soon followed by Nicky Park, a South Vietnamese expatriate on the run from the Chinese triads and the Seoulpa Rings, who was aces behind the wheel of any vehicle and no slouch with a gun in his hand, and Akeem Jenkins, a hardcore, leftover Black Panther straight out of the ’60’s, who believed that all government was inherently racist and usually evil. Big Lou kept this disparate tribe together and though he was leery of exposing this young, impressionable girl to these types of men, he justified it with the belief that these were the very types of men who would become her associates as she walked through her life.
The business grew… almost on its own. Smuggling graduated to drug running. Nicky Park was as much a natural on the water as he was on the open road. They worked for the mafia hard boys on Oakes. Worked for Midas on Cap. Even brought some shipments of guns in for the ever-protesting mine workers on Sharkhead, then turned around and did some strikebusting work against the very men who were their customers the week before. It was a mercenary life and Bianca took to it. She knew her role well within weeks of starting it.
For Lou’s boys, she was the enforcer. She was the one they brought in if things needed swift resolution and if Lou believed that violence was in the offing. At times, her very reputation and the fact that she’d once taken on the Statesman… no matter the end result of that conflict… was enough to quell any thought of violence or betrayal from their prospective customers. The threat of Bianca Tallin was often enough and on those times it was not, her growing control over what the spirit had left behind inside of her was more than enough.
Lou encouraged her to work on her own as well. There would come a time, the big man believed, when Bianca would outgrow Lou’s boys. Whether she remembered them fondly or not after that would largely depend on how stifled she felt while she was working with them. He knew that her curiosity demanded that she learn what it was that she had become, so he encouraged that too.
He cast around for those in the know about matters arcane. Obviously, given her brief history with them and the fact that they were unreliable allies at best, sending her toward the Circle of Thorns to learn what they knew was out. The Legacy Chain would likely attempt to bring her into their custody. The Mu would try to turn her into a servant if she approached them. And the Tsoo… well, although the Tsoo might help for a price… a sort of leftover resentment toward Asians from those days on the Mekong Delta prevented Lou from even considering sending her the Tsoo’s way.
And so… it turned out that the biggest free agent in these matters in the Isles was on the very island they now called home.
As usual during this period in her life, it was Lou who made the introduction.
The emaciated, dark face that peered out from beneath Bocor’s hat did not seem interested in the big man though. Big Lou might be a provider of ready cash or might be able to provide the vodoun priest with other hard-to-find items from time to time, but the Big Lous of the world were a dime a dozen to Bocor. In Bianca Tallin, there was something altogether different and more extraordinary.
He peered down at the tiny girl in front of him with something akin to the interest of a predator.
“My, my, “ he grinned, the Caribbean accent deep and somewhat sinister, “what a marvelously ugly child.”
Bianca’s jaw dropped, then her face froze in rage. She felt the green fire building inside of her, felt it ready to pulse outward to devour this bastard. Though many had called her ugly… though many had brought attention to her scars… none had done it so quickly or so baldly. She felt herself begin to glow. Bocor’s gaze did not waver, nor did he evince any hint of fear.
Bianca forced the rage down, considered what had brought her to this place… to this man. The need… the need for knowledge… to understand herself and her place in the world. She forced herself to swallow it… forced herself to still the angry voice inside.
“I, “ she told the vodoun, “am Bianca.”
“And y’have enough control t’not lash out at me, “ he noted, “but not enough t’not allow the Loa t’ride you t’begin wit’.”
“What do you mean?” she asked.
“Well, dat is de question we need t’answer, isn’t it?” he grinned. He turned to Lou briefly, dismissively, “You kin go, man. She and I have a lot t’talk aboot.”
Lou looked as though he briefly considered arguing with the man, that if Bianca was going to remain in the company of a man whose reputation was so sinister, Lou Cisson was damned well going to stay with her. But the girl’s imploring look quieted the protest and it also caused him to offer only a brief nod. Lou’s look was steady steel as he tried to stare down Bocor, to offer the warning that the girl herself caused him not to utter, but Bocor was not intimidated.
After all, men like Lou Cisson were a dime a dozen to Bocor.
After the big man was gone, Bianca asked, “So what did you mean?”
“This… Loa… you mentioned, “ she repeated. “You said I’d allowed a Loa to ride me.”
“Among odder t’ings, “ he grinned. “But dose odder t’ings, dey were not allowed, were dey? You protested dem… but not de Loa. I wonder why. You have secrets inside of you, girl. Secrets dat would make f’r powerful mojo if y’let dem.”
“You’re talking about… what happened to me?” she asked.
“I can hardly help but talk aboot it, “ he said. “One look at you an’ anyone who can see de spirits would see y’r suffering… you wear it like a cloak… or like a suit of armor, “ he answered. “But will you use it when you need it? Dat’s de true question.”
“I came to you to learn what I am, “ she told him.
“Oh?” he asked. “Why? Most in your shoes would not. Dey’d either use it or not use it. An’ if dey did use it, dey’d either use it for demselves or dey’d use it to protect odders. Dey’d never ask why. Dey’d never question de’re good fortune. Dey’d just be, but not you.”
“No, “ she agreed. “Not me.”
“An’ why is dat?”
“Because it is not enough.”
He paused, then smiled slowly, “An’ why is dat?”
“Because until I understand, “ she told him, “I will never be free.”
“Paugh, “ he scoffed. “Freedom. What is freedom? You can make your own way now. Are you not free?”
“I can dance to the tunes of other men, “ she answered. “But I cannot write my own songs.”
“All men do dat, “ he shook his head, “all women too. From now until the day you die, you will dance to those tunes. No, Bianca Tallin, you do not want to understand so that you can be free, you want to understand so that you can be powerful.”
“And you can help me do that?” she asked.
“I can, “ he told her. “An’ so much more. So much more.”
“And what do you want in return?”
And so he set her against the Legacy Chain. And in return, he taught her what he know of the Loa, the traditions behind the common myths associated with voodoo and the truths that those myths disguised. Though he was impatient with her for results on the tasks he assigned, their roles were reversed during these sessions.
This was her constant refrain.
She wanted to know how the religion emerged. She wanted to know whether the houngoun could truly create a zombie, whether juju and gris gris were real forces that could be manipulated, as well as debated. She wanted to know what he meant during that first initial meeting when he told her that she had allowed a loa to mount her.
So she studied them relentlessly… all the ones that had names… the three families from which they all emerged. She searched most intently among the Ghede, for she had always called the other a death spirit and the Ghede were considered the Loa of the dead. But in none of the Ghede did she find a loa that literally hungered to cause death as the [/I]other[/I] had.
And so a month passed. And then another.
Finally, her frustration mounted and after presenting him with another artifact stolen from the libraries of the Chain, she made a demand, “If it was a Loa, then tell me its name!”
“Tell you, “ he arched an eyebrow. “You permitted its presence inside of you and di’ not know its name? So’re y’a streetwalker now?”
“What?” she demanded, flushing at the insinuation.
“You were not a drunk schoolgirl at a party, “ he grinned. “Dropping your pants at de first invitation from a boy. Y’let it mount you an’ you made a trade. You knew what you were doing, didn’t you? You got paid. It got paid.”
She glared, “I knew I was desperate to live.”
“And what is so great about living that ye clung t’life so?”
“I don’t know, “ she told him, her frustration not alleviated in the slightest.
“Well, den, “ he said, “until ye figure dat out, I have more work f’r ye to do.”
She shook her head, “I don’t want…”
“You, “ he stopped her with a word, “came to me. And I am doing as I agreed t’do. I teach. You learn. An’ in doin’ so, y’can feel free t’shut up until you know what it is you really want t’ask.”
Bianca grated her teeth. And then she went to go steal more from the Legacy Chain for him. Because, damn it, if he was going to dispense information like a leaky faucet slowly dripping, she would humor him.
And take her rage out on those who tried to put into a vault what they had no right to hide.
The warehouse was becoming more like a home to them. During those months, Big Lou and the boys had taken enough time away from work to partition the place off into rooms for each of them. What had once been just a temporary flop had taken on a sense of permanence during those months she relentlessly worked at both her lessons from the priest and the actual tasks she performed for him.
Winter died and gave way to the spring. While Port Oakes was not truly reborn… it was certainly better than Mercy, no matter what its name. Lou had his own work during those months. The Boys had run afoul of the mafia hard boys and Lou thought they had grown strong enough to not give way when the mob tried to muscle them out of a particular operation.
Bianca was busy though during that time and there came a night when the boys came limping back to the warehouse losing blood and full of bullets.
The voudoun have many traditions and one of them is healing. For the first time, Bianca knew what it was to use the power inside of her for something other than burning something. While Charlie Steel lay dying on the stone floor of the warehouse in front of her and the guns of the capo hitmen blazed into its steel walls, she found out that using it for something else was nothing more than an alteration of desire.
That is all magic was really… inspiration that made desire into reality.
She made Charlie whole and he got up and between the two of them, they were enough to send the Vendattis fleeing into the night or ready for a new home six feet under. And when the work was done, she felt Charlie’s eyes boring into her in silence.
She flushed, “Wh… what?”
“You saved my ass, kid, “ he told her. It was not exactly a declaration of undying affection, but it did make her flush deepen. Suddenly, the fact that he was about three times her age did not seem to matter at all. Unlike Lou and the others, Charlie never seemed old. He just seemed sexy and wise and funny.
Bianca did not reply. She just stared at him. Finally, Charlie sort of snorted and offered his lopsided grin, then went over to where Nicky Park was lying unconscious in a pool of his own blood, “So… I really hope you can do the same thing you did for me for the rest of the guys.”
Bianca finally found herself again, “Oh… um… yeah, I think I can.”
“Good, “ he laughed, “Then get cracking then, kid. We’ve got us some Mafioso types that need to learn some hard life lessons tonight.”
So Bianca Tallin went back to work.
When Bocor learned of what she had done, he displayed neither approval or disapproval, merely arched an eyebrow in curiosity and asked, “So… you were able to use the juju inside of you to do dis?”
She nodded, “Yes… at least, I think that’s what it was.”
“And ye’d never done dis kind of t’ing before?”
“No, never, “ she answered. “Just… to burn things.”
“Well, “ he replied, “Den we get back t’the heart of t’ings. What d’you want, girl? Why are you doing dis?”
“Answer me a question, “ she flared. “Why do you always ask that? What does it matter?”
“Dat is two questions and we will trade, “ he grinned widely. “I will answer de first and den you will answer mine. De answer t’your first question is dat I ask because I want to know. Now it is your turn. What do you want, girl?”
Her jaw dropped, “That is not fair.”
He laughed loudly, “Of course it is not fair. But a trade is a trade. I have given. Now you give in return. Dat is how t’ings are. If you want a fair trade, den make sure what you are getting is worth what you offer in return.”
She sighed, “Okay… fine. You want to know. I guess there’s no harm in telling you. I want to kill the Statesman.”
His eyes narrowed a fraction of an inch, “Dat is an extraordinarily hard t’ing t’do. You don’t want much, do you?”
“Aren’t you going to ask me why?” she asked.
“No, “ he told. “Your desire is more important dan de reason behind it. It is important dat dis is what you want because it is a big desire.”
“A big desire?”
“Yes, “ he said, drawing the word out a bit, “there are two kinds of desires in de worl’, girl. And two different kinds of people that have them. People wit’ small desires are easy because if you give dem what dey want, den dey b’long to you. De ones wit’ small desires live out de’re little lives and dey are de ones dat can actually be happy. Dey will do what you want because dey will always remember day you were de one dat gave them what dey most wanted.”
“And the ones with big desires?”
He chuckled, “Well, dat’s a little harder… de ones wit’ big desires never live happy lives. Dey go from one t’ing to de next. And dey always have t’weigh de now wit’ de future. Dey always have t’choose whether t’sacrifice what dere lives are f’r what dey t’ink it is dat dey want.”
“So you can’t use someone with a big desire like you can someone with a small desire?”
“Is dat what you t’ink I just said?” he sneered. “If you do, den you are much more stupid dan I t’ought you were.”
She considered, “No… you can. You just… have to offer them a small piece of what they will need in the long run.”
“So, “ he smiled. “Not stupid after all. Just impatient. So how is it dat you t’ink dat you’ll do what no one has ever done?”
“I… don’t know yet, “ she answered. “But I’ll find a way.”
“Make trades, “ he observed, “for every little piece… trade away a piece of Bianca in return until de’re is not’ing left except the big desire. Dat is not de way t’happiness. But it may be your path.”
“So what are you saying?” she demanded. “I should just forget?”
“I am not saying dat at all, “ he answered. “I would be happy t’see you trade away yourself… especially t’me. I just don’t t’ink you’ll be happy in the end. Even if you do reach this big desire of yours.”
She stood there for a long time, “Well… I don’t think you know what you’re talking about.”
“Feel free to t’ink what you will, girl, “ Bocor told her. “Feel free. So… will we trade anymore today?”
Bianca smiled slowly, “You don’t have anything to trade to me right now.”
“No, “ she told him. “You already answered my question… and for free. You’ve already told me why it mattered to you. And I didn’t have to give you anything in return. I’ll be back tomorrow for my lesson.”
She took flight and departed his home. Behind her, Bocor smiled briefly in the darkness, then turned back to his work.
Using the fire for another purpose than burning unlocked something inside of her. Parts of the voudoun tradition that had seemed confusing and meaningless to her suddenly made sense. It was not just the nuclear fire. It was everything. The trees she looked at… the people that passed her on the streets… the waves that crashed onto the shore of the island. Each of them had two parts. Each of them was equal parts destruction and creation and so was the secret that was inside of her.
The spirit that had inhabited her was among the ghede after all.
Samedi with all of his bawdy innuendo and laughter… all those parts stripped away until all that had been left was the death. That is what the imprisonment in the reactor core of the submarine had done to him. The duality had been denied him and in the denial, duality had become something more singular until the Loa itself was driven insane.
Of course, Samedi was only a convenient label. There was something to it… she had felt the other perhaps more intimately than any Mambo ever had, but at the same time, there had not been enough of the Loa left to truly mount her in the way that the stories held that they could.
And it was not the baron in true sense of the word… Samedi like all the Loa was everywhere and eternal. It could not be destroyed as Numina had done to the death spirit. So Samedi… and yet not Samedi. Something else. Something lesser in that it lacked the Loa’s totality of reality and yet greater in that its very singularity lent it a focus that the loa of the ghede family lacked.
Death was not the desire to kill. Death was only death. Death only was.
With these thought swirling through her head in the weeks that followed, Bianca found herself adrift. Her discussion of desire with Bocor drifted away from her as her desire for Charlie Steel in a way that she did not really understand and could never vocalize grew inside of her. Big Lou seemed oblivious to it. The big man seemed to regard her as a sort of surrogate for the daughters that he had left behind in Paragon City… though he would be the first to admit that he would never teach either of those girls the ropes of the business as he was doing with Bianca.
But Big Lou could never understand what it was to yearn.
Touching was simply a part of his everyday life. If he saw a woman he wanted, he told the woman. If it went somewhere, it went somewhere. If it did not, he moved on to the next woman. The others in the gang, though friendly enough to her, were not close to her. She could tell none of them anything of what she was feeling.
And telling Bocor that she… yearned… for a man almost forty years older than she was a laughable idea.
So she yearned in silence and she kept working.
In the weeks that followed, Bocor had her move on to the Hellions, having exhausted all of his potential items of interest held by the Chain. Lou and the Boys moved against the Venattis several times using Bianca as the hammer to bring down on them. Their small worlds swirled around them. Bianca moved within it and at the same time that she yearned, the locks of the African magic the priest was trying to teach her unlocked one by one.
Bocor never said a word, but he was silently amazed. In weeks she learned what took men entire lifetimes to grasp. In only months, she was ready to be invited to learn greater secrets. But before she could, she would have choices to make.
The kitten was drowning as Bianca walked on the beach. She heard its small cries and smelled the scent of death around it. The burlap bag it was trapped in was cinched tight and there was no escape… only the hope for salvation because it knew that she had heard even though there was no way she could have.
She ran out into the water, drawn not by vision but by some other sense that there was no real name for except in the older ways of life. Drawn unerringly as the kittens cries weakened and its lungs filled with the sea, she yanked the burlap sack out of the water and flew to the shore. There she ripped the bag open.
One tiny form still clung to life. The other six were beyond her.
But she used the fire… warmed the tiny thing. She drew the water from its lungs and held it to her. In moments, though the water was not forgotten, it was not afraid anymore. It was warm. The world was warm.
The kitten looked up at her with the wide-eyed wisdom of the newborn and told her solemnly, “Thank you.”
Charlie saw her playing with the kitten back at the warehouse. Like most children, it was a chatterbox, making little observations about the world surrounding it that would simultaneously entrance and amuse her at the same time. She had not named it yet because she did not think she had the right.
“Whatcha got there, kid?” Charlie asked.
“Cat, “ she told him briefly. “Saved it from drowning.”
The kitten wrinkled its nose, Smells bad…
It took her a minute to understand, but she realized all at once that it was referring to Charlie and the realization was hilarious to her. She giggled without warning. Charlie frowned. He could not remember ever having heard Bianca Tallin laugh even briefly, let alone giggle like a girl.
And for the first time, she was not staring at him with the sort of mute adoration that he had come to expect.
Charlie Steel, in a short time, had come to believe that that sort of adoration was well-deserved and he did not appreciate having the look disappear without warning… let alone for something as relatively useless as a bedraggled cat.
“Ah, “ he answered at length, “well… might not wanna let Louie see that thing around here. Hates cats, kid, always has.”
Bianca shot him a stricken sort of look, “What?”
“Yeah, “ Charlie answered. “Dunno why. But he kills cats, kid. Shoots ‘em everyday if they come snooping around.”
“But if I tell him this one’s mine…”
“Won’t matter. Just trust me, kid, “ he grinned his winning grin, “get rid of the cat.”
She was out of sorts when she arrived at her lesson with Bocor. The priest glared at her as she sort of flounced down on the mat across from her. She was… pouting. Bocor realized this with a sort of amazement. Then he offered a silent chuckle to himself… for the first time, this girl was acting… her age.
He had come to accept the fact that she often acted as if she were forty-three years old.
“What is wrong?” he asked at length, though he honestly did not particularly care.
“Nothing, “ she mumbled.
Bocor nodded silent, willing to leave it at that. He did not feel the need to press the issue and they had other matters to attend to. He rose from his mat and took a step or two toward the back room, then turned back toward her.
“Tonight, “ he told her, “it is time for your introduction to the greater mysteries of the tradition. Do you recall our recent discussion?”
“Yeah, “ she answered, without paying much attention.
“Do you recall that I told you that you would be required to make choices?”
“Yeah, “ she repeated in an obvious ‘is-there-a-point-to-this’ tone of voice.
“Tonight, “ he said, “the first of those choices will be made.”
He turned and walked into the back room, emerging a moment later with a small, wrapped bundle that was crying in his indifferent grasp. Bianca sat bolt upright, her attention on the priest fully for the first time. All thoughts of Charlie Steel and the kitten fled from her mind. She stared at the baby, then back at Bocor.
He placed it on the small altar in front of her.
Then he placed the knife next to it.
“The great Loa will only come when the sacrifice is great, “ he explained. “Secrets will only be revealed if the offering is both pure and full of untapped potential.”
She stood, “You can’t be serious.”
“I am most serious, “ he answered patiently. “This is your desire, girl. This is your path.”
“I am not going to murder an innocent baby!” she snapped.
“The you will be content to live a small life?” he sneered. “You will let your desire to kill Marcus Cole wither and die because this life that has not yet begun is more important to you than your big desire?”
“There are other ways!”
“But this is the way available to you! Take it and learn, girl, “ he sneered. “Take it or be gone from my sight because obviously you do not know what it is to truly take what you want?”
“You’re kicking me out?”
“I am telling you, “ he stated ominously, “that you will either do this thing… take the Loa inside of you… and learn what it will teach you… or you will learn no more from me!”
Bianca stared down at the squalling infant, then looked up into the eyes of this man… the first in her life who had willingly taught her anything. Bocor’s eyes were stone. He was deadly serious. Her choice was simple. Murder. Or banishment from him. Banishment from this world she had barely begun to enter. Banishment from growing power.
Perhaps banishment from the very thing she told herself she wanted most in the world.
Bianca picked up the knife.
Bocor offered no further encouragement or commands. He merely waited. The blade pressed ever so slightly against the defenseless flesh of the infant. It could not know. It could not understand how close it came. Its cries stilled as it stared up at her.
In those eyes, she saw the kitten and wondered how it was that, on the same day she would plunge into the ocean to save one life just begun, she could even contemplate ending another only just begun. With a flood of self-loathing, she flung the blade away from her.
Bocor’s voice was quiet in the dimming light, “Get out, girl.”
Bianca fled the shack.
The silence that followed was filled by another voice, “You knew she would refuse?”
Bocor lifted up the baby and cooed at it until its cries quieted again. His emaciated face cracked into a grin, “I suspected.”
Numina floated into view, “That was a horrible risk.”
“To one such as you, perhaps, “ he cackled, “All life is sacred to you, Tammy. An’ so you give yourself the luxury to pick and choose who you save and who you don’t. All life is the same to me. Bianca Tallin’s desire is just as important as this baby’s life. T’ings just would have worked out in a different way. And yet, I don’t t’ink you’d have allowed it, do you?”
Numina’s nose wrinkled, “Probably not.”
“So you see, “ his grin widened, “ever’t’ing turned out for the best. You got your ‘proof’ about de girl. She got de start she needed on de road of her life.”
“Me?” he asked innocently.
“What did you get, old man?” Numina asked. “You don’t do anything for free.”
“Free?” he scoffed. “Do you know how much dat girl has stolen for me in de past six months? I got more t’ings to use dan I’d have gotten in years odderwise.”
Numina frowned slightly, then she was forced to laugh.
Bocor offered the baby to her, “Here… take dis and do somet’ing wid it. De mother died of the plague an’ I can’t take care of no babies.”
Numina nodded and took the child.
At the warehouse, Bianca wept. She could not believe that Bocor would so suddenly just cast her out… after everything. Was she so worthless to him? Were there not still things she could do for him in exchange for what he taught her. Or was it that there was a wall… a wall she could not pass unless she allowed herself to do the kinds of things that he had demanded that she do.
She felt an urgent nuzzling at her hand. She looked down. The kitten.
Play, it insisted.
She sighed. Then obliged. The tears faded. She felt the kitten’s enthusiasm inside of her. She felt its unconditional love. It neither knew nor cared that she’d, even so briefly, considered murdering an innocent child so that she could learn the secret to murdering another man. She only was. She was the one who had taken it from the water. She was the one who played. She was the one who fed.
She was the hand who was at once sneaky and captivating and ever so exciting.
“I told you, kid, “ Charlie’s voice interrupted them. “That cat’s gonna cause trouble.”
She looked up. He was offering his usual disarming smile, but it was not as disarming as it once was. She shook her head slowly, “No.”
Charlie looked briefly confused, “No?”
“No, “ she answered. “He’s staying. He belongs here with us.”
Charlie shrugged, “Hey, no skin off my nose. Lou just don’t like cats.”
She nodded. Well, if that were true, then it was something she would have to take up with Lou when she next saw him. She returned her attention to the cat, but before she could start to play again, Charlie’s voice intruded once more.
“You been crying, ki… Bianca?”
She looked up. He seemed honestly interested and concerned. She was briefly torn between telling him and not telling him. Telling had never helped before. Telling usually only made things worse. Finally, she took a chance and offered a mute nod.
“Anything I can help with?” he sat down next to her. Close to her.
“Um, “ she said.
“Hey, “ he said, putting his hand on her knee, “it’s cool… you can tell me.”
She registered it, but gave it no immediate thought. It was okay. She could tell. He would listen. It would help this time, “Bocor… he wanted me to… I mean… he kicked me out.”
“Kicked you out?” Charlie out. “How could he kick you out? You live here.”
His hand started to travel up her thigh. Now she gave it more attention, but the desire to actually tell someone and for that someone, for once in her life, to believe her, to tell her that it was not her fault… that she had not done anything wrong… won out.
“He won’t teach me anymore, “ she told him. “He tried to have me kill a…”
Charlie’s lips covering hers smothered any further words. Bianca was astonished and for a split second, the shock caused her to do nothing, then she flinched away. He pressed forward again, but this time did not make contact because she was already in the midst of trying to stand up. He grabbed her arm.
“No, Charlie, “ she tried to be calm, “What are you…?”
“C’mon, kid, “ he answered, “you know you been wanting this for a long time.”
He tried to yank her back down to the chair. Bianca yanked back and they engaged in a silent tug of war for a moment. He was stronger. Memories flooded into her mind. The supervisor at Crossroads. The night in the hole at the Zig. Revulsion flooded through her. Absolute denial. Never again. Not that.
The green fire bloomed. Charlie screamed and stumbled away, clawing at his injured hand.
“KID!” he yelled. “What the FUCK?!”
“No, “ she said, her voice unsteady, “no…”
“No, what?” he demanded. “No, Charlie, don’t give me what I want or else I’ll burn the shit out of you?! No, Charlie, don’t try to fuck me like I’ve been sort of begging you to do for almost a year now or I’ll act like a psychotic bitch? No what?!”
“No, “ the tears were starting to well. “I didn’t mean to…”
“Well, “ he continued, “you kinda fuckin’ did, kid. You kinda fuckin’ did!”
“I’m sorry, “ she tried to say.
“Well, “ he told her, backing out of the room, “I’ll tell ya one thing, kid. Someone with a fucked up, ugly face like you ain’t gonna have too many opportunities for this sorta thing, so if I were you, I’d take advantage.”
He ran out of the room, still clutching his hand. Bianca stood there… stunned… the absolute horror of that last sentence still running through her mind. And all of her life from twelve to then echoed inside of her. Her fault. Always her fault. She could tell no one.
Bocor abandoned her. Her fault.
Lou would abandon her. Charlie had been his buddy since Vietnam. Her fault.
Her family dead. Her fault.
The people at Terra Volta. Her fault.
She did not hear the small, plaintive voice of the kitten as she stumbled out of the room. She did not hear anything. She only knew that she had to go. She was alone.
Charlie Steel was soaking his hand in a bucket of ice when he felt a slight nuzzling at his left heel. He looked down and saw the stray cat the bitch had brought into the warehouse. He gazed at it reflectively, then spoke to it in a friendly voice.
“Yeah, boy, “ he smile, reaching down to pet it. “I miss her too.”
The kitten rubbed against his hand. Charlie smiled and stood up.
His expression never changing, he brought his boot down as hard as it would come. There was a crunch that was simultaneously nearly soundless and deafening. The kitten made no sound as it died.
Nothing at all.
(not the end)
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