Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Fight Song Chapter 21

Hello, everyone! Last time on Fight Song, Callie's faceoff against Welsh finally began. It continues— and ends— this week. But who will come out the winner? Read on to find out! As always, comments, critiques, questions, and suggestions are more than welcome.

Chapter 21: Ending

            The man, shocked, lost his grip on Jonathan, who tumbled to the side. No one but me seemed to notice; they were all, even Welsh, fixated on Starlight as she leapt from the motel roof and slid down sheer air to the ground. I stood and glanced at her. “What took you so long?”

            “You seemed to have it under control.” Starlight surveyed the scene. “Are we finishing this?”

            “We are.” With that, I tucked my violin beneath my chin once more and started to play and hum at once— controlled fire and indiscriminate air together. The four men nearest me gasped for breath; the one who wanted Jonathan’s camera, who’s just pulled a knife, yelled as his blade and glove abruptly heat up and then burst into flames.

            Two of the four dropped to the ground unconscious; the other two were nearly there. Starlight turned the red-hot blade of the camera-lover into vapor. “Deal with Welsh. I’ll handle these.”

            “Thanks!” I walked forward, closing the distance between myself and Welsh, switching songs. Now my violin wove air and heat, and I hummed asphalt. I tugged at Welsh’s breath, softened the ground beneath him, heated his suit jacket until it smoked— not quite burning, not yet. I needed to provoke him, needed to put him on the offensive.  If this went wrong, I’d die— maybe not for nothing, but dead is dead. But if I didn’t take the risk, I had no chance to win.

            Welsh’s hands tightened into fists, and he spoke, his voice full of power even when he was half-gasping. “Stop.” And I did, freezing mid-note. Welsh took a moment to catch his breath and then beckoned. “Come.”

            Again, I obeyed. Out of instinct, I fought the command, but my legs walked forward all the same. Just as well that Welsh gave me no choice to back out or lose my resolve.

            I stopped directly in front of him. He pointed downwards. “Drop the violin.”

            I cringed at that more than I had at walking to my probable death, but my hands moved of their own accord, letting violin and bow fall to the ground. I winced again when Welsh stepped on the neck of the violin, snapping it in two. “You—!”

            “Quiet,” Welsh snapped. My mouth shut at once. “Kneel.”

            I dropped to my knees, unable to do otherwise. Welsh shoved my hood back and grabbed the back of my neck. “Your gift is strong, little songbird. You fought well. But now your fight is done. You lose.”

            And then the pain began.

            Ana spoke of excruciating, soul-sucking pain. But even that description fell short of the reality. I could not move. I could not think. I could not even breathe, let alone sing.

              And why would I want to? I was a fool to try to fight. A fool to think I could win. Welsh was right; my fight was over. The Death Song filled my ears, blocking out all other melodies. For the first time, I realized that there was a certain beauty in the midst of the corruption, even with the twisted anti-notes: the beauty of destruction, of endings, of the wild, reckless storm and the crunch of dry, brown leaves underfoot.

            I wanted to let go. To lose myself in those not-notes and understand how they could form beauty from horror, knowing that the pain would stop. That everything would stop. The long nights. The uncertainty. The weariness. The doubts. The loneliness that I know will only grow with the path I’ve chosen. It will all stop.

            But then, faintly, I heard something beyond the Death Song. I heard Jonathan, starting to yell my name and then correcting himself to “Songbird!” midway through. I heard Starlight, ordering me to pull myself together. And in my memory, I heard Uhjin telling me not to die; I heard Ana telling me to finish this, to end the killings.

            I couldn’t let go. Couldn’t give up. That had never been an option. I had fought too long and made too many promises for that. Even if I failed in the end, I had to try.

            “God help me,” I whispered, or thought I whispered. I couldn’t tell. I struggled to remember the anti–Death Song; to pull back from the song enough to hear the whole— a whole that was corrupted, no matter what beauty it might hide. “God, help.”

            I clenched my hands into fists, dug my nails into my palms so hard I felt them through my gloves. For a moment, the anti-notes of the Death Song merged enough that I could match it with what I had heard before. I seized that, recalled what I had practiced again and again, and forced the first notes past my lips. My voice cracked; I took a breath and tried again, singing one note, then another. I paused again; adjusted to match note to note and beat to beat. Started again.

            My performance would’ve earned me an F from any of my music professors, but I heard the Death Song waver ever so slightly with every note I sang. I felt its grip loosen enough that I could breathe, and I continued to sing. If nothing else, my song pushed me out of the center of the anti-song and allowed me to hear it as I had before: the jarring, mind-rending not-notes twisted together in a mockery of true music.

            Now I could fight. I adjusted again and heard the Death Song stutter and jar and skip. It became weaker, not fading altogether, but taking longer and longer to recover after each break. I’ve won this. Thank God, I’ve won this.

            Welsh’s grip on my neck tightened; his voice rose above the battling melodies. “What are you doing? Stop! Stop!

            His voice froze my throat and my tongue, and the Death Song surged, filling my ears and mind again. But I felt sudden wetness above me, and Welsh’s control of me wavered and vanished, and my song burst from my lips again, stronger than before. The Death Song wavered, skipped, cracked, starting to fade.

            Then I heard the sirens and felt Welsh pull his hand away as quick as if he’d been burned. With his power no longer feeding it, the Death Song splintered, broke, and was silent. I looked up, breathing deep now that I no longer had to sing, and saw Welsh turn to run.

            But two police cards, lights flashing like Fourth of July, pulled up at the end of the side street. Another two covered the far end of the alley. Blue-uniformed officers climbed out of the cars, guns held ready. One called through a megaphone: “Stay where you are, and put your hands up!”

            Welsh stopped and raised his hands to chest level. “Officers, I’m glad you’re here. This young woman has wrongly accused me of multiple crimes and attempted to murder me; I barely managed to defend myself.”

            “Actually, officers—” Jonathan stood up from where he’d taken cover behind a trash can and held up his iPhone. “My name is Jonathan Davis, reporter for the Herald. I believe you’ll find that Mr. Welsh is not in the least the victim. I recorded the whole fight, and—”

            “Stop.” Welsh hissed out the word.

            Jonathan froze midway to the officers, the phone still in his hand. Welsh turned to the officer who seemed to be in charge. “Officer, this reporter has been hounding my offices for weeks, searching for a scandal. He is not to be relied upon.”

            “I don’t plan to rely on him, only his footage, Mr. Welsh. And now I suggest you keep your mouth shut; the effects of your tongue are unfortunately incriminating.” The officer turned to Jonathan. “Jonathan Davis, you say? I read your article on the immigration protests a couple weeks back. Well done. I’ll take that phone now; you’ll get it back once we’re done with the footage.” He took Jonathan’s phone and then looked past Welsh to Starlight. “Starlight, ma’am, I received a call saying that you and another superhero were fighting this man and several others. Is that true?”

            Starlight stood in the center of a group of unconscious, injured, and otherwise restrained men, arms crossed and not even breathing hard. “That is accurate, officer. However, I suggest you speak to my associate.” She nodded in my direction. “This is her business; I’m just lending a hand.”

Her associate? Who . . . Oh. Me. I stood; swayed; nearly fell back down. “Oh—” I stumbled a few steps to the right until I could balance myself with a hand on a convenient lamppost. Great. So much for looking capable and in-control. “Right. Yes. Um.” Focus, Callie. “Right. Officers, for some time now, I have been tracking down a murderer— a serial killer, in fact—and all evidence points to this man.” I pointed to Welsh. “I confronted him, offering him a chance to turn himself in and hope for a lighter sentence. He refused and attacked me and my—” Can’t say partner; Jonathan’s not a super, so I borrow Starlight’s word— “my other associate, Mr. Davis, who had been assisting me in my investigation. He then attempted to kill me using the same power he did for his other victims, and he would have succeeded had I not found a way to fight that power using my own.”

I indicated Jonathan. “As he said, he has footage of the whole thing on his phone, and the first part of my interaction with Welsh, including the part where Welsh ordered his men to assault J— Mr. Davis, was also recorded on another camera. The memory card for that is in the pockets of one of Welsh’s men. Aaaaand there should be a third camera somewhere around here, but Mr. Davis could tell you better than I could where.”

The officer raised an eyebrow. “That’s quite a few cameras, Miss . . .?”

“Songbird. And, yes, that would be the point— so that if I died, there would be some record of how and why.” Despite my best efforts, I found myself leaning more and more on the lamppost to keep from falling over. “And I’ll be happy to give you a more complete statement once Welsh is in custody, but as I’m pretty sure I mentioned, I very nearly died a moment ago, and I think I need a place to sit down maybe.” I paused. “And coffee. Definitely coffee.”

Monday, July 9, 2018

Summer 2018 Reads

Hey'a, everyone! This post is going up a bit later than it normally would, due to the Song of Leira and Lightporter blog tours. But that's ok, since those served the same purpose this post would've: to let you know about all the awesome books I'm excited for in this season of reading!

Summer 2018 Reads!


1. Song of Leira by Gillian Bronte Adams (June 5). I've already talked about this one, obviously, and I've also already read it . . . but I'm still super excited that it's out! It's definitely the high point of the trilogy, and I'm impressed by Gillian's ability to convey powerful themes without being preachy. If you haven't read it yet, go do so.


2. Bring Me Their Hearts by Sara Wolf (June 5). Maybe a little darker than I normally read, but it sounds like it could be fun. We all know how it's going to end (you'd think that people would stop sending female assassins after handsome, single male princes; they always end up falling in love instead) but finding out how it ends up there will hopefully be enjoyable.


3. The Bird and the Blade by Megan Bannen (June 5). Mongolian historical fantasy— yes, please! And I think it might be a retelling of a myth as well, but I'm not 100% certain. I need to brush up on my Asian mythology. Either way, it sounds magnificent.


4. A Thousand Perfect Notes by C.G. Drews (June 7). I don't usually read contemporary, but I'll make an exception for this book! It's by Cait Grace of Paper Fury, and she's awesome, so I expect A Thousand Perfect Notes will be as well. Unfortunately, it sounds like it's only releasing in the UK and Australia, but I still intend to get my hands on it somehow.


5. Lightporter by C.B. Cook (June 16). Again, I've already talked about this one a fair bit, so I don't have a lot more to say. Basically, there's more Blaze and Anvil (my faves!), Albany has grown up a little (yay!), and the plot's exciting and fun. Out of everything on this list, I think this is the most summer-y, so that's another reason to read it sooner rather than later.

6. The Janus Elixir by Kyle Robert Shultz (July 1). Assuming you read my Mid-Year Book Freakout, you know how much I love the Beaumont and Beasley books. The Janus Elixir, unfortunately, doesn't sound like it'll involve Nick, Cordelia, and Crispin much . . . but I'm not complaining, because Malcolm Blackfire is storming awesome. Also, Kyle currently has this free for newsletter subscribers, so go sign up for that. His newsletters are funny and infrequent, so you're not going to be instantly spammed.


7. Fawkes by Nadine Brandes (July 10). This one sounds like so much fun! It's historical fantasy about the son of Guy Fawkes (aka the guy who tried to blow up Parliament and got a holiday named after him for it), and I imagine it'll be delightfully exciting. Also, just saying, the cover is pretty awesome.


8. Kill the Farm Boy by Delilah S. Dawson (July 24). This is either going to succeed spectactularly or fail miserably. No in-between. I hope that it will be the former, because it has the potential to be a hilarious adventure in the same vein as Discworld and the Hero's Guide series . . . as long as it doesn't make the fatal mistake of only making fun of fantasy instead of celebrating the good in it as well.

9. Fairest Son by H.S.J. Williams (August ??). I've been following Hannah for ages and waiting for her to be ready to publish something. Fairest Son isn't what I was waiting for exactly (that would be Moonscript), but I am definitely not going to complain about a gender-swapped Snow White retelling, especially not one involving a fae Snow White. (My life has been growing steadily more and more full of fae-related books— and, more to the point, good fae-related books— and I love it SO MUCH.)


10. These Rebel Waves by Sara Raasch (August 7). This is either going to be piratey, political, mysterious magnificence or it's going to make me sad about the fact that the author wasted such an excellent premise on a subpar book. Either way, it should be interesting.


11. Worth of a King by Kendra E. Ardnek (August 27). I alpha-read Worth and ahhhhhhhh!!!!!! I love it almost as much as I love Lady Dragon, Tela Du. It's got pre-scale Amberite (they're adorable) and lots of Laura (one of my favorite of Kendra's characters) and Deladia (which joins Amberite and Reutra as one of my top three favorite ships in Kendra's books) and dragons and secret plots and counterplots and assassins and just a lot of awesome. Y'all should go preorder it, if you like ebooks, or else keep an eye on the Amazon page if you're more of a paper-and-ink person.

What books are you excited for this summer? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!
-Sarah (Leilani Sunblade)

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Mid-Year Book Freakout 2018

Original picture via

Hey'a, everyone! Half of another year has come and gone, which means it's time for my my annual Mid-Year Book Freakout, in which I recap all the best (and occasionally worst) reads I've discovered so far this year. In case anyone was wondering, by the way, I've read 57 books this year. Most of those have been good (my average rating on Goodreads is 4.1 stars). A few haven't been so great, but you know. It is what it is.

1. Best book you've read so far in 2018:
An Enchantment of Ravens, hands down! This book is storming amazing. It critiques a lot of elements of modern fantasy, especially the common portrayals of Fae and romances involving Fae. But it doesn't sacrifice story or characters in order to do so; the plotline is amazing and twisty, and the characters are just delightful. So, yeah. I love it, and you all need to read it. 

A few runners-up:
The City Beyond the Glass is a dark and powerful allegorical retelling of my favorite fairy tale, "The Twelve Dancing Princesses." Plus, it's set in Renaissance Venice, which is super cool.

Illuminae is just plain amazing, and I don't know why I waited so long to read this book. I was a little concerned that it would be confusing, since it's not written in standard narrative format, but instead it ended up being super exciting and twisty and I seriously could not put it down. Also, the main characters are so salty, and they remind me of some of my friends. Except most of my really friends aren't awesome hackers . . . probably not, anyway. The sequel is almost as awesome— plot-wise, it was actually better; my only problem was that I didn't buy the romance quite as much.

2. Best sequel you've read so far in 2018:
We've got a tie in this one. First up is . . .
The Lost Plot! Which, honestly, should surprise exactly no one. The day an Invisible Library book comes out and doesn't make one of my best-of lists for the year in some fashion is the day I . . . I don't know. I probably won't die, but I might be in mourning over how one of my favorite series has failed me. Anyway, The Lost Plot is high on dragons, low on fae (which is fine; I can live with that), and takes place mostly in magical 1930s Chicago which is officially my new favorite location for historical fantasy.

And the second book in the tie . . .

Song of Leira! You know, because I haven't talked about it enough on this blog already. I reviewed it earlier this month, if you want to know my full thoughts, but basically it's lovely and heartbreaking and heart-healing and amazing, and it's kind of bite-sized Tolkien but also kind of not. So. Yeah. Read it.

Again, some runners-up:
An Earthly King is the second in the Modern Tales of Na Fianna, and I loved it far more than the first book. I'm not sure if that's because I knew what to expect going in (with Blood Ties I didn't, or, rather, my expectations were wrong), or because I liked the characters better (I did!) or because it was a mystery rather than a straight-up quest, or because it felt much more like the urban fantasy it is, or all of those combined. But there you have it.

I actually read the whole Spellsmith and Carver series this year, but book two, Magician's Trial is my favorite. It's like . . . we've got politics, we've got magic, we've got assassins, we've got an engineer-inventor who's basically my new favorite character, we've got all the things you want in one book. (And what you don't have is the emotional heart-rending-ness of book three or the frustrations that come from not knowing the characters well in book one.) So, yeah. Others disagree, but I think this is the best.

(On a side note, I've given myself a new rule: never give up on a self-published series— or a series in general, but especially a self-published one— until you've read at least two of the books in it, because I almost always like the second or third book far more than the first. Not that the first isn't generally good, but often it doesn't click with me like the others do. I think it's either because the first book is hyped so much that I have unrealistic expectations or else because by books two and three, both the author and I have figured out what s/he is doing here. Not sure which.)

3. New release you haven't read yet but want to: 
Isle of Blood and Stone came out in April; it's on my shelf, but I haven't quite gotten to it yet. That said, seafaring adventure in a quest to rescue a character's brothers? Sounds fun to me.

4. Most anticipated release for the second half of the year:
New Sanderson new Sanderson new Sanderson NEW SANDERSON! Sci-fi Sanderson! With a sentient ship! I want it yesterday. Actually, no, I don't, I have too many books and too little time. But also yes. It's going to be awesome.

5. Biggest disappointment:
The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness. It had some good points, but for the most part, it was just angsty and unsatisfying and populated by frustrating people. I suppose that's a fairly accurate representation of life sometimes, but still. Doesn't mean I want to read about that.
 
6. Biggest surprise:
Ok, so I picked up The Wrath and the Dawn on a whim, thinking "Oh, yeah, my blogger friends like this; I'll probably enjoy it," but I didn't expect to love it that much. And then the sequel, The Rose and the Dagger, is arguably even better. They've both got gorgeous ancient-Persian culture and characters who somehow manage to be reasonably non-infuriating and lovely bits of magic and a romance that worked out suprisingly well AND DOESN'T TURN INTO THAT ONE LOVE TRIANGLE. This is actually a significant accomplishment, as you can tell, and it just made me love the books more.

7. Favorite new-to-you author:
Margaret Rogerson is amazing, and she writes books that are intelligent and exciting and easily readaable in one sitting, and apparently she's working on a second book (unreleated to An Enchantment of Ravens), and YES. Well, not so much YES on the unrelated-to-Enchantment bit, but still. 
 
8. Newest fictional crush/ship:
Newest favorite ship is obviously Rook and Isobelle from Enchantment because they are perfection. Isobelle is generally sensible, sensible enough that she recognizes her foolishness in her initial crush on Rook, but then they end up falling in love properly through shared adventure (definitely one of the better ways to fall in love, since it has a way of bringing out the best and worst in a person). And Rook is thoroughly dramatic but also so protective and they're just fun together, ok?
A few other lovely ships that I discovered this year:
  • Auric and Lotte from Spellsmith and Carver.
  • Shazi and Khalid from The Wrath and the Dawn.
  • Nick and Cordelia from Beaumont and Beasley.
  • Kady and Ezra from Illuminae. (These two are seriously adorable, just FYI. And Ezra is a hopeless romantic, and Kady's just like "you're ridiculous but I love you anyway.")
  • Wilhelmina and Etzel from the Bright Empires series. (I don't know if these are an official ship, but if they aren't and they don't end up together by the end, I will be SO MAD.)
In terms of fictional crushes, Marcus Altair is still awesome, available, and alive. I'm pretty sure this is a small miracle. I intend to enjoy it while it lasts.

9. Newest favorite character:
Favorite-favorite character? Rook again. He's excellent (but I'm not about to say so to his face, because he's vain enough as it is). Isobelle, Nick, Kady, Lotte, Shazi, and Wilhelmina are all on that list as well, just not as high.
  
10. A book that made you cry:
Eh, I got nothing. I did get major feels over some bits of Illuminae, though, so we'll go with that.

11. A book that made you happy:

Not a book but a whole series: the Beaumont and Beasley books! Much like the first book, they're also delightfully hilarious twisted fairy tales, though there's a bit of some other not-quite-fairy tales mixed in there too. Book one is officially on my shortlist of reads for when I'm upset and need to be not-upset in a hurry, and the rest probably would also qualify. (Ok, book three is a little depressing at points, but it's fine.)
Runner up: The Penderwicks at Last, even though it's the last book in the series and I procrastinated on it so hard. It was a delightful ending, and it brought the series full-circle in a way that I thoroughly appreciated.

12. Favorite book to film adaptation you've seen this year:
Oooh! I've actually got something for once! My sister and I watched and rewatched The Lord of the Rings extended editions back in January— her first time, my third or fourth. We were going to rewatch the Hobbit extended editions too, but we didn't get around to it. Maybe if we have time this summer we can do that . . . haha. I'm hilarious.
 
13. Favorite post you've done so far this year:
A few of my favorites:
14. Most beautiful book you've bought so far this year:
It's a tie between these two:


An Enchantment of Ravens (yep, again).

The Burning Page.

I got both of these at a book fair for pretty cheap, and I hope that I'll get to go back sometime in the next few weeks. We'll see how that works out.
 
15. What books do you need to read by the end of the year?

Still haven't gotten to Lord of Chaos; oops.

I need to read Dread Nation by the end of the summer; I meant to finish it months ago but had to return the library book.

Of course I'm super excited for Skyward! (New Sanderson!!!!)

How's your reading been so far this year? What are your favorite books of this year? Any new ships or favorite characters? What's a book that really surprised you? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!
 -Sarah (Leilani Sunblade)

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Fight Song Chapter 20

Hello, everyone! Happy Independence Day to all my fellow American readers! Last time on Fight Song, Callie put the final pieces of her plan in place and gained an unxpected ally. This time, well, let's just say that the exciting part has officially begun! Enjoy! As always, any comments, critiques, questions, or suggestions are welcome.


Chapter 20: Confrontation

            With my confrontation with Welsh less than two days away, I found it increasingly difficult to focus on anything else. My fellow worship band members commented the next morning on how distracted I seemed, and at work on Monday, I ended up stocking a whole display with the wrong yarn because I was so busy planning for that night. Welsh hadn’t responded to the email, but surely he would show up, wouldn’t he? Surely he couldn’t risk ignoring it altogether, not when I’d shown him that I had evidence against him. And he couldn’t afford to go to the authorities himself either, not when that might mean they’d decide to look into the activities I claimed to know about. He had to come meet me, if only— in his mind— so he could silence me for good.

            But what if he didn’t?

            The thought nagged at me no matter how much I tried to convince myself that it would never happen. I could take what Jonathan and I had found to the police, yes. Maybe it, along with my and Uhjin and Ana’s testimonies, would be enough after all. But I still feared it wouldn’t be, not without something to arouse their suspicion in the first place.

            Monday afternoon arrived at last. Uhjin was the first to move into position, leaving just after dinner. She gave me an annoyed look as she slung her overnight bag over her shoulder. “Are you sure I have to leave this early? I’ll be waiting for hours; it’ll be so boring.”

            “The hotel has WiFi. And you’re the one who wanted to help. If you get in any later, Welsh might notice and get suspicious. And yes, it does have to be you in the motel room; you’re the only one with a car that has out-of-state plates.” I opened the door for her. “Remember, your job is to take video and call the police, and that’s it.”

            “I know. I’m not stupid.” Uhjin sighed. “Be careful, ok? Don’t die; I don’t have time to break in a new roommate.”

            “I’ll do my best.” I managed to grin. “See you later.”

            “See you.” She headed out and down the stairs to the parking lot. I breathed a sigh of relief. Masquerading as a student on a summer road trip, she should be safe from Welsh’s notice. And during the fight, she’d be in a motel room with a window overlooking our meeting place, at least if all went to plan. There’d be next to no chance that she’d be connected with us. She’d run next to no risk, and, from a more pragmatic view, if anything went wrong, she’d have it on film so perhaps my death would still result in Welsh’s conviction.

            With Uhjin gone, I was left alone to wait for the right time to leave the apartment. I practiced my songs and tried to catch an hour or two of sleep before the long night that was coming. At nine o’clock, Jonathan texted to let me know that he and his cameras were in position. I didn’t envy him; his was arguably the riskiest and least comfortable part of the plan. He’d be waiting for another two hours in whatever hiding spot he’d chosen, and if Welsh showed up early and discovered him before I arrived, well, he’d have no way to defend himself. I prayed he wouldn’t be discovered.

            I gave up on trying to sleep and turned solely to practice. I ran through all the songs I thought I’d need— concrete, air, light, fire, steel, my best approximation of the Anti–Death Song, then checked and double-checked that my violin was tuned and that all the strings were in good condition. They were and I returned to practicing, making sure I could either play or sing every song on my list for the night.

            At ten o’clock, I grabbed my stuff and headed out the door. I stopped on the way to change clothes in a bus station restroom and made it to the alley with twenty minutes to spare. I didn’t see Jonathan when I arrived, but I also didn’t see signs of some kind of struggle. And surely Uhjin would’ve let me know if anything had happened?

            I found a spot of my own in the shadows to sit and wait and drink the coffee I’d brought— instant, almost black with just a hint of cinnamon, as strong as I can make it. I’d told Welsh eleven, but who knew if he’d show up then? Maybe he’d come early or late, just to try to throw me off guard.

            Sure enough, at six past eleven, a grey Jaguar rolled into the motel lot and parked at the near edge. Welsh climbed out of the passenger seat, crossed the strip of grass separating the lot and the alley, and glanced around, his gaze lingering a moment longer on the spot where I sat.

            I stood, leaving my thermos behind, and stepped out into the light of a streetlamp. I had to resist the urge to adjust my mask, even though I’d just checked it. I needed to appear in control. “Thank you for meeting me, Mr. Welsh.” I’d aimed for cool, calm formality, something that would let him know he wasn’t in charge of this meeting, but make him think he could be.

            Welsh looked me up and down, his eyebrow raised slightly. “I wasn’t aware that supers blackmailed people.”

            “This isn’t a blackmail attempt. This is an offer of mercy.” I looked him dead in the eye. “I know what you’ve done. You know I know it. And so I’m making an offer: confess your crimes. Turn yourself in. Maybe you’ll get a lighter sentence. Otherwise, I’ll drag you to the police myself and make sure you get the punishment you deserve.”

            “Will you?” Welsh laughed. “I don’t think so. If you had enough evidence to take me to court, we wouldn’t be standing here now. And, in the case that you do and you’re simply an idiot . . .” He gestured. Three men climbed out of the Jaguar; another three appeared from the shadows at the far end of the alley. “I came prepared.”

            I unhooked my bow from my violin strap and raised my instrument to my chin. “So you intend to fight.”

            “No, I intend to make sure you and your friend don’t leave this place alive. And if I can use your power to strengthen myself, even better.” Welsh pointed to the side, around the back of the stores next to the motel. “There’s someone in there. Get him.”

            Two men started towards the spot. No! How does he . . . No time to wonder. I set my bow to the strings, and the air song spilled from my violin to draw the air from the men’s lungs. But before I’d finished three notes, the other four men drew pistols; took aim. I changed the intent of my song just in time, and the bullets smacked into a wall of brick-solid air.

            Shouts drew my attention back to the first two men— and Jonathan. I glanced back; the two men dragged him, struggling, from the shadows. He got in a lucky kick and one man doubled over, but the other took the opportunity to knock his head into the wall. I winced, but there wasn’t much I could do— not until I dealt with those pistols.

            As one man pulled Jonathan over to Welsh, I began humming the air song I was using for the barrier. At the same time, I slowly transitioned the melody on my violin to a different tune— sharper, more solid. I’d tried this once before, but then I hadn’t had the right instrument. Now, with my violin, I had a chance.

            Welsh glanced down scornfully at Jonathan. “Poor backup you’ve brought, super. He can’t even— wait.” He scowled. “I know you. You’re that reporter that kept nosing around my offices.”

            Jonathan smiled crookedly. “Guilty as charged. Er, I’d rather you not kill me, though. My family’s expecting me to call tomorrow. My mother’s birthday and all.”

            That’s right. Keep him busy. I continued to play and hum, focusing on the pistols Welsh’s men carried. Keep them all occupied a little longer. 

            “I’m afraid it’s a bit late for that. You made your choice already. But, I wonder . . .” He looked to the man whom Jonathan had hit. “There will be a camera somewhere near where you found him. Find it.”

            Done. I abruptly stopped both my playing and humming and lunged towards the man. “Stop! You can’t—”

            All four of the men with pistols shot at once. I dropped to the ground. And four pistol barrels, sealed shut by my song, blew apart.

            Shards of metal and pieces of pistol exploded into the air. One man fell back clutching his eye; another stumbled forward, a half-dozen pieces of metal in his leg. A third dropped his gun, at least one wrist clearly broken from the force of the explosion. Not one of them, apparently, had noticed what I’d done to their weapons.

            The man sent for the camera had escaped damage; he ducked out of Jonathan’s hiding spot with the fancy DSLR in his hands. “Found it.”

            “Get the card, leave the camera,” Welsh ordered, apparently unfazed by the fact that I’d just taken half his men out of commission. “Then get the girl.”

            “Yes, sir.” The man popped the memory card out expertly, then, with a regretful look, set the camera down. “Don’t suppose I could keep the camera? I could use a backup.”

            “Do what you want.” Welsh turned to the man holding Jonathan. “Kill him.”

            The man nodded. He pulled out a pistol and checked it, only to find that it, too, had been sealed shut by my song. With a frustrated growl, he shoved it back into its holster and drew a switchblade instead. Jonathan struggled in the man’s grasp. “C— Songbird?”

            Darn it darn it darn it please God no. I pushed myself up and started singing air, all too aware that it probably wouldn’t take effect in time. Then, three things happened at the same time. The man slashed his blade at Jonathan’s throat. Jonathan managed to jerk slightly to the right. And, at the last possible second, the knife turned to liquid and dripped to the street.

            Starlight had officially arrived.

Monday, July 2, 2018

June 2018 Doings! (For Real This Time!)

Allo, all! June's been a super busy month— a lot busier than I expected, honestly. It's a good busy, though, so I can't complain. Busy with what? I'm glad you asked.

Writing!

  • The good news: Dust of Silver is still going fairly well. I've been working on it between other projects and I managed to get several more scenes written. It's going to be much, much longer than the original, though— I'm over halfway through my first notebook and only three days have passed in-story. (Of course, a lot has happened in those three days . . .) Of course, a longer novel isn't a bad thing; it's long because I'm trying to balance all the different character arcs and make sure that all the characters and relationships get the proper amount of development and so forth. But the length is a little discouraging when I look at how much of the plot I've written and how much I still need to write.
  • The better news: as I mentioned earlier this month, edits on Fight Song are complete! Now it's time a break from the adventures of Callie, Jonathan, and company. I haven't yet decided if I'm going to write a sequel to Fight Song; I have a few vague ideas for character team-ups and minor scenes, but nothing solid.
  • The best news: I finished yet another round of edits on Blood in the Snow. This one was based on the comments I got back from my beta readers (first time doing beta readers, by the way! Very exciting!) and mostly involved giving characters and relationships more space to develop on the actual page. Probably the most common comment I got was that Baili wasn't reacting enough to various events, which, to be honest, really isn't surprising. I think I have it fixed now, though, and I've sent the novella on to its next destination. (Some of you already know what that is; for those of you who don't, I'll be making a full post about it later, so stay tuned for that.)
  • For my writing goal of the month, I decided not to aim for 30 minutes a day again. Since I've been pushing myself the last several months and Camp NaNoWriMo is next month, I decided that I should aim for a smaller goal. I was going to do the Go Teen Writers 100-4-100 challenge anyway, so I decided to just use that as my writing goal for the month. (That doesn't mean that I didn't sometimes write for 30 minutes a day, or longer, but I didn't have to.)

Reading!

  • As usual, June was a really good reading month. (The picture doesn't actually cover all of it— there's another book and a short story not included.) Not only did I read quite a lot of books, but most of them were actually really good. I can't cover all of them, but I'll hit some of the highlights:
  • The recommendations-from-Deborah front did especially well in terms of numbers. I reread The Beast of Talesend, then devoured the other two books in the series, plus The Last Days of Lady Cordelia, which is sort of a spinoff, I guess? Anyway. Those were all delightful. Then I read Halayda, which was fun steampunk-and-fae adventure. I will admit that I didn't enjoy it quite as much as I would've liked, but I think that's because I didn't click with the author's style. And I read the first two books in the Bright Empires series, which I also didn't like quite as much as I hoped I would, mostly because all my favorite bits and people are subplots and secondary characters. (Wilhemina is the best, for the record. That girl is goals. Kit, unfortunately, is just kind of boring and spends too much time muddling around.) I like the books enough to finish the series, though. So that's good.
  • I also read Song of Leira and Lightporter, both of which were excellent. I also participated in the blog tours for both books this month, so feel free to scroll back through and check those posts out.
  • I've been meaning to get to the Paper Magician books for a while, and I finally picked the first two of those up this month as well. And I have to say, I really enjoyed them. They do occasionally border on the romantic fluff side, but I'm actually ok with it in this case. The storyline is interesting, the magic system is fabulous, and Ceony is a delightful heroine even if she does get away with quite a lot. Also, I am in love with the covers. That's the kind of subtle style that I struggle with a lot in graphic design. (I'm working on it, but still . . . struggle.)
  • Finally, I have to take a minute to mention The Penderwicks at Last. This is the final book in a series I've basically grown up with. I procrastinated a lot on reading it because, y'know, it's the last book. Once I read it, it's over. Finally I ended up listening to it on audiobook on a weekend trip my family took— I wanted to read the actual book first, but the audiobook hold was going to expire if we waited. And in the end, I'm really satisfied with how the series ended. Was it perfect? No, of course not. Did everything turn out like I expected? Again, no. But I do think that this book does an excellent job of wrapping up the series and bringing it full circle while still letting you know that the adventures and the legacy of the Penderwick sisters will live on.

Watching & Listening

  • Movies worth mentioning this month were both classics. Just last night we watched The Wizard of Oz, which used to be one of my favorite movies but which I hadn't actually watched in years. It definitely is not my favorite movie anymore, but I still enjoyed it, and now I low-key want to reread all the Oz books. (I probably won't, because I most definitely don't have time for that, but you know.)
  • The night before that we watched the musical Singing in the Rain, which I hadn't seen before. For the most part, I liked it. Some things could've been better (I think that the main couple fell in love awfully fast), but the concept was interesting, and the storyline fairly good. And it's a classic, so I'm glad I've seen it once.
  • Other than that, the only thing I've watched all month was a comedy that I'm not going to name here because I'm not really interested in recommending it (but it's also not bad enough that I feel like I need to warn others off it). That said, it did end up being a bit thought-provoking— probably not the thoughts it wanted to provoke, but still.
  • I've noticed, on the rare occasions when I watch comedy, that the violence seems a lot more than in other genres of movie. This is, of course, nonsense, especially when you consider the kinds of movies and shows I do watch. There is, without a shadow of a doubt, more violence in The Lord of the Rings or Avengers or Fairy Tail or even Howl's Moving Castle than in the standard comedy. But the violence in the comedy will bother me five or ten times more than the darkest scenes in any LOTR or Marvel movie. I think it's because the violence in sci-fi and fantasy and superhero movies and shows has a point. Either it's committed by the bad guys to let you know that the stakes are high and Our Heroes will have to struggle to save the day, or it's committed by the heroes in defense of those who can't defend themselves. But in comedies, the violence has no purpose except to humiliate the character in hopes of getting a laugh from the viewers.
  • So, basically, the reason that violence-based comedy falls flat for me is the same reason why embarrassment-based comedy fails. I imagine how the character feels and I cringe and groan and wonder why the character is such an idiot as to get him- or herself into this situation. It's not a good time. And since a lot of comedy movies are based on those two types of humor, well, you understand why I avoid the genre.
  • On a happier note, I've started listening to podcasts. I finished John Green's The Anthropocene Reviewed, up to the present day, and quite enjoyed it. I didn't agree with all his conclusions, but it's very thought-provoking and rather soothing as well. Now I'm working on the Dear Hank and John podcast, which will probably take me a while to get through. I've got time, though.

Life!

  • As usual, we started off the month up in the mountains of Pennsylvania on our yearly cabin-camping trip. Normally, this is when I take a hiatus from the internet because I have no internet access, but this year's trip ended up being significantly less hiatus-y. I still made an effort to spend less time on the internet than usual, but it was nice to not come up and have three million and fifty-nine blog posts to catch up on. And we actually had quite a few good-weather days, even though the forecast called for rain most of the trip, so we were able to do plenty of hiking and such. The one downfall of the trip is that I ended up taking far fewer photos than usual, since I didn't want to carry my camera if I thought rain might start halfway through the hike.
  • By the by, making s'mores with Pop-tarts in place of graham crackers is delicious. Also extremely unhealthy. But delicious!
  • Normally, after our camping trip, we'd come straight back home, but instead we stayed at my grandpa's house a couple extra days and then headed up to Ohio so my sister could do an official college visit at my college. While they were doing that, I spent a pleasant day roving here and there on campus— and by "here and there," I mean that I alternated between the BTS and the library, but you know.
  • We started the trip back the next day, minus my sister, who was staying on campus for a summer dual-enrollment class. For the record: it's mildly weird to be sister-less in the summer, but not as much as I expected. Mostly I've been too busy with work and writing to think about it much.
  • The rest of the month, of course, has mostly been taken up by my internship. I'm still enjoying it; the assignments are sometimes challenging (or sometimes I make them more challenging than they otherwise would be by overestimating my ability to art), but it's not boring. Also, as I think I mentioned before, I got to research brand archetypes— basically an application of narrative and psychological archetypes to branding— and that was pretty interesting. I have had to increase the amount of time I spend working, though, which isn't a bad thing but does mean that I'm a lot busier than I was before.

July Plans!

  • Work. I still need a lot of hours in my internship. Way more than I wanted to need at this point. (Unfortunately, when I originally calculated how many hours I needed per day, I used the wrong variables and I'm paying for it now.) I'm probably going to end up working on quite a few Saturdays and weekends, as long as I can find things to do.
  • I am also doing Camp NaNoWriMo, because apparently I'm just flat-out crazy. My plan is to edit Mechanical Heart, the dark steampunk Rapunzel retelling I wrote two Aprils ago. For a while, I was thinking of writing something completely new (evil!Rapunzel? Lighthouse Rapunzel crossed with the Little Mermaid?), but I decided to stick with Mechanical Heart. If all goes well, it'll fit in well with long-term plans. If all doesn't go well, I'll stress for a couple hours (or a couple days) and then figure out a new plan. And, on the upside, it's shorter than most of my other projects that need edited, so I might actually be able to get the whole thing done in relatively short order.
  • Due to the above two things, I may end up going on semi-hiatus from the blog next month. I'll try to post when I can, and I'll definitely keep putting up Fight Song, but it's not my top priority. Most of my time will be taken up with my internship and my editing, and when I do have free time, I want to be able to spend it on things that refill my creative well instead of draining it more.
  • On that note, I really do hope to clear off my shelf full of library books next month. And I need to reorganize all my shelves, though that may have to wait until August. Who knows?
How was your June? Are you super busy? Or super chill? Any fun plans for July? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!
 -Sarah (Leilani Sunblade)

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Steel and Shocks: An IDIA-TSS Crossover Fanfic

Allo, all! June Doings! and my mid-year book roundup should be posted sometime in the next week, but before then, have a fanfic. This was written for C.B. Cook's fanfiction/fanart contest, based on my thought that obviously the two superhero universes she's worked on— IDIA and the Teenage Superhero Society— had to come together eventually. It's not the best piece I've ever worked on, but I had fun with it. Also, cookies for anyone who realizes what the villains are a reference to. (For the record: they're well aware of who they're referencing, and are doing it 100% on purpose, mostly because they get as much of a kick out of it as I do.)

Steel and Shocks: An IDIA-TSS Crossover Fanfic

I’m sitting on the back deck, savoring the last of a strawberry popsicle, when Lannis’s voice bursts into my head. Art park downtown! At the new statue! Emergency! Now! Masks on!

I pulled the popsicle stick from my mouth. What? What’s happened? No answer; Lannis has pulled out already. I jump up and dash back into the kitchen. “Mom, Lannis called! Gotta go!”

Mom looks up from her cookbook. “TSS business?”

“Yeah. I’ll be careful, don’t worry. Bye!” I give her a quick hug and then head upstairs. I need my costume, and then . . . Darn it, how far is the art park? I can’t take the car . . .

I throw on my costume— leggings, tunic, boots, cape, mask, taser in a belt pouch— finishing moments before Saxon— no, sorry, Watcher; she’s masked up— appears in my room. “Ready?”

“Yeah.” I grab her hand. “Do you know what’s going on?”

“No clue. All I know is that there’s a lot of people screaming.” She shrugs, and the world blurs and vanishes. Seconds later, it reforms, and we stand with our backs to a tall hedge in the Foundry City Art Park. The hedges encircle a pebbled open area with a statue at the center, the latest in a series that’s been installed around the city. This one is a series of stacked silvery bubbles, pretty cool-looking.

Significantly less cool-looking are the crowds running, screaming, away from the statue, not to mention the three people that they’re running from. One of them, the one standing on top of the statue, is literally on fire all over, and he— no, wait, she— is shooting fireballs at the running people. Another, a young teen boy with hair dyed dark blue, is floating in midair, creating an ever-widening cyclone of stiff winds around the statue. The third, a broad-shouldered woman whose skin looks like it’s made out of scale-textured metal, isn’t doing anything yet— but somehow, she’s still the most intimidating of the three. I gulp. Oh, great. Legit Big Bads.

With all the chaos, I don’t realize for a few moments that not everyone here is running for their lives. Nightfire’s circling the statue, redirecting the fire-girl’s attacks back at the wind-manipulator and the metal woman. One woman, I’d guess she’s about Starlight or Lannis’s age, actually has a pistol out and is shooting round after round at the supervillains. She’s not hitting anything, as far as I can tell, but I can tell where some of her bullets are going, and they’re so far off-target that one of the supervillains must be interfering. And there are another two girls, my age, helping to evacuate the civilians. Both of the girls are wearing masks along with their street clothes, one red and feathery, the other shimmery and blue. They don’t look like any supers I know, but I guess that doesn’t mean much.

I finally spy Lannis— Clarity, rather— further along the hedge and run towards her with Watcher close behind. “Clarity! What’s going on?”

“I don’t know.” Clarity’s face is screwed up in concentration. “Nightfire and I were here for the dedication ceremony, for the statue you know, and all of a sudden, these three just showed up and attacked. I’m still working on getting into their heads to find out why.”

“Oh.” I wonder if I should do something, but no one appears to be hurt, and I don’t have any offensive powers. “Is Starlight coming?”

“She’s on her way.” Clarity pauses. “Oh. More people are here.”

She points, and I look. Sure enough, two new guys just appeared near the statue. One looks almost as intimidating as the metal woman: as big as she is, wearing a leather jacket, a grey mask, and a look that says you’d better not mess with him. The other guy is about my age, with fudge-brown hair and a glossy black mask.

Leather jacket guy doesn’t hesitate. He starts towards the metal woman, who grins— and keeps grinning even when he puts out a hand and sends her flying back into the statue. She’s not injured; she just picks herself up and launches herself at him.

Clarity’s not talking, and I still can’t do anything to help with the fight— I really need to buy a good Glock, or learn martial arts, or something— so I join the other two girls my age in evacuating the remaining civilians. There aren’t many of them, but a few have been hit by fireballs that Nightfire couldn’t redirect. I heal those and then return my attention to the fight.

With no more civilians to target, the fire-girl is focusing all her attacks on us supers, and Nightfire’s deflecting them all back at her and her team. Starlight’s arrived— finally— and she and leather jacket guy have teamed up against the metal woman, now without her metal skin. I can’t see Watcher or the younger guy, but bursts of light keep exploding around the wind-manipulator. The woman in the leather jacket has abandoned the fight in favor of discussion with Clarity, so I head towards the two of them, hoping for new instructions. Across the way, I see the other two girls doing the same.

We’ve only gone a few steps when leather jacket guy manages to throw the metal woman at the statue again. This time, however, she flies up before she hits it and flips over the top. I hear her hit the ground on the other side, but she doesn’t reappear. Instead, the statue shakes and then a single piercing note stabs my eardrums. I shriek and cover my ears. The fire girl throws her head back and laughs, pumping her fist— only to be hit by a fireball from Nightfire, a burst of metal projectiles from leather jacket guy, and an explosion of light from who-knows-where all at once.

She topples off the statue, hits the ground, and lies still.

“Dragonsbane! No!” The wind-manipulator whirls in mid-air, ignoring the attacks now turned on him, and shoots a swirl of blue-glowing wind at the fire-girl. It hits and surrounds her with the same blue light. “Healing breath of the heavens, restore my friend!”

Ok, that’s super weird. But weird or not, it works. Dragonsbane gasps, opens her eyes, and then pushes herself back to her feet to continue her attacks. I dash the rest of the way to Clarity. “Did you find out anything?”

She shakes her head. “Not much. Their minds are partially shielded; I can’t figure out how. I know they’re part of a larger group, though.” Clarity gestures at the woman in the leather jacket. “This is Data; she knows more.”

Data nods. “They call themselves the Izado. Their group just started making trouble earlier this year; they got on our radar because the metal-skin one, the one Anvil and your Starlight are fighting, used to work for FOE. Their goal seems to be to eliminate all supers who won’t join them. Unfortunately, that includes everyone here in Foundry City.”

A yell pulls our attention back to the fight. Dragonsbane just hit leather jacket guy— Anvil, I guess?— with a wave of flame. He staggers back, obviously in pain. The metal woman lunges forward inhumanly fast, grey rippling over her skin. She punches him, one-two, a normal fist to the jaw and a metal one to the burned area. Then she turns and launches herself at Starlight.

Starlight starts to dodge, but fast as she is, the metal woman is just barely faster and tackles her with a steel shoulder to Starlight’s ribs. Starlight hits the ground hard with the woman on top of her. The wind-manipulator, still in the sky, whoops. “Get ‘em, Steelscales!”

Dragonsbane aims another ball of flame at Anvil, but Nightfire deflects it so it shoots towards Steelscales instead. She catches it with a metal fist, which starts to glow red-hot. Then, with a grin, she punches down at Starlight. Starlight just barely twists aside, and the woman’s fist grinds into the pebbly ground.

“We have to do something!” I can’t believe that Starlight seems to be losing. I mean, yeah, I’ve discovered since meeting her that she’s more human, more fallible than she seems. But she should be doing better than this. Shouldn’t she? Then again, if she’s already taken several hits . . . Please, God, let her be all right.

The flames around Dragonsbane die down, revealing a wild grin and spiky hair with pink-dyed tips. “Steelscales! Wingwinds! We’re done here; let’s go!”

Steelscales scowls. “Don’t tell me what to do.” But she vaults off Starlight anyway and runs for the exit. Dragonsbane dashes towards another. Wingwinds starts to fly in a third direction, but before he can get far, I hear a familiar yell from the sky. Wingwinds drops abruptly like something’s fallen on top of him.

Watcher appears on top of Wingwinds, clinging to his shoulders. “Hey!” she yells at Anvil. “He’s got metal on him. Pull on it; help me out here!”

He groans but reaches out a hand anyway. Wingwinds drops faster than before, though he struggles and tries to shake Watcher off. Finally, he hits the ground with a smack and a moan. “Owwwwww . . .”

Watcher sits up on top of him. “Hey, Clarity, I got one of their guys. You want to interrogate him?”

“I will, thank you.” Data steps forward. “I’m Data from the International Defense and Intelligence Agency. IDIA for short. We’ve been tracking the Izado for several months now, and when we heard they were planning to strike in Foundry City, we came to investigate. We didn’t expect an outright attack just yet or we would’ve brought more combat-oriented members.” She glances at me. “You’re Remedy, correct? Their healer?”

“Yes.” It takes me a minute to get the hint. “Oh. Yeah. I’ll go do that.” Starlight’s sitting up, one arm wrapped around her ribs, but she still looks like she’s in pain, and Anvil’s laying there like he doesn’t really want to move. I don’t exactly blame him.

I head to Starlight first and crouch beside her— by now, she’s less intimidating than Anvil. “What do I fix?”

“Broken rib. At least one.” She moves her arm as I place my hands on the injured area. “Advice for you. Avoid fighting metal people hand to hand. It’s unpleasant.”

“I don’t really plan on fighting anyone hand-to-hand, but I’ll remember that.” I finish and stand up. “Ok. You’re good. You’re sure nothing else needs healing?”

“No. Save your power.” Starlight stands, wincing despite her words. “Go help Anvil. I’m going to have a talk with these newcomers.”

“Right. Ok.” I glance after her as she goes. She’s obviously still sore; if she was any other member of the team, any other person in general, I’d find an excuse to hug her and sneakily heal the rest of her injuries. But Starlight doesn’t do hugs, especially not surprise hugs— I know from experience— so I’ll just have to trust her.

I move on to Anvil and wince when I see the bright red burns all over his face and chest. His steel grey mask has escaped damage, somehow, and his leather jacket is only scorched, but his t-shirt is a tattered, blackened mess. I kneel next to him. “Hi. I’m a healer. I’m going to have to touch you to heal this, ok?”

Anvil nods. “Go on. Medic back at headquarters does the same thing.”

They have a healer too? I wonder if I could meet her, or him, whichever, but now’s not the time to ask. I gently place my fingertips on the burns and pull the power through me into the injuries. The burns disappear from the middle outward, not even a scar left behind. “Ok, face next.” Those heal faster since they’re smaller. “Are you hurt anywhere else?”

He shakes his head and stands, offering a hand to help me up. Good grief, he’s tall. “I’m Anvil, by the way.”

I take his hand and use the opportunity to send a little extra generalized healing power into him, just in case. “Data told me. Nice to meet you. I’m Remedy— sorry; I should’ve said that earlier.”

“Remedy, huh?” This is a new voice. I turn to find the shorter guy— who’s still taller than I am— standing nearby. He flashes a grin. “Want to join IDIA? We could use another healer?”

“Ummm . . . I, uh . . .” How are you supposed to respond to that?

Thankfully, Nightfire jogs over and comes to my rescue. “Remedy already has a team, sorry. We’re the Teenage Superhero Society. Who are you anyway?”

“I’m Blaze.” He gestures to the two girls I saw earlier, who I now realize are identical save for their masks. “These are Jazz and Pop. Jazz has the blue mask; Pop has the red one. You’ve already met Anvil.”

Before the conversation can go any further, a yell bursts out from the direction of our leaders and captive. We all turn just in time to see Data and Watcher fly backward into the hedge. Wingwinds rockets into the sky. “Who can hold the wind? No one, that’s who! Winds of the western sky, lend me your speed!” With that, he flies away so fast he leaves a breeze in his wake.

I dash towards the group left behind. “Is everyone ok?”

Watcher picks herself up and dusts off her jacket. “I’m fine.”

“We both are, but not for long.” Data stands and heads towards the statue. “I was able to read him and learn the Izado’s plans. This statue and four others around the city hold superpower-neutralizing devices. In an hour and a half, all five will release a blast that will turn every super in the city into ordinary humans. This attack was simply a cover so they could activate this particular statue, the control for all the others.”

I gasp. So do several others. Nightfire doesn’t. “So what? We just destroy the statues. Problem solved.”

“Unfortunately, no.” Data reaches the statue and starts inspecting it. “We can and should eliminate the other four. However, destroying this one will cause the others to go off early. And even one is enough to severely weaken everyone’s powers.”

“So we evacuate everyone?” Pop suggests. “Or, all the supers, anyway?”

“How?” Clarity shakes her head. “We don’t have a way to contact all the known supers quickly unless Starlight has one that she’s not telling us about. And even if we did, there are supers who haven’t revealed themselves publically yet, and we have no way to warn them. Maybe I could broadcast a telepathic message to the whole city, but then everyone would panic.”
“Agreed. Evacuating everyone in time is impossible.” Data glances at Blaze. “Blaze, go get Volt. Wingwinds implied that there’s a computer element to the device; she’ll know how to help with that.”

“On it.” Blaze salutes and disappears. Apparently, he’s a teleporter like Watcher.

I raise my hand. “I don’t know about disabling anything, but I might be able to delay the blast. I can slow down time around this statue to half, maybe even quarter speed. Then we’d have twice or four times as long before the others go off.”

“Unless the others are on their own timers, in which case they could all go off while we’re still standing here.” Nightfire circles the statue a few times. “There’s got to be a transmitter in here, at least. I don’t know about a computer. Does this thing open up?”

Blaze reappears, along with a tall girl whose purple mask matches the dyed ends of her hair. “Here I am. What’s going on?”

Everyone tries to explain at once until Data yells for quiet and recaps the entire episode in a few short sentences. When she finishes, Volt nods determinedly. “Well then. This is doable. Data, did you get anything at all from Wingwinds about how this works?”

Data shakes her head. “Nothing. Apparently, Steelscales designed it.”

“Figures.” Volt sighs, and she and Nightfire go to work.

Data turns to the rest of us. “While they work, we need to destroy the other devices. Then we can mitigate the effects if we fail here. We’ll split into three groups: one here, two others each destroying two statues. Anvil, you’ll lead one team. Starlight, will you take the other?”

Starlight nods once, her face giving no clues as to how she feels about Data taking charge like this. Data goes on. “Jazz and Pop, one of you should join each team and stay in touch with one another. Clarity, I understand that you’re also a telepath. I’d appreciate if you stayed with me and kept tabs on both teams.”

“I can do that.” Clarity manages a smile— not that you can see it since her costume hides the bottom part of her face, but it shows around her eyes. “Anyway, someone has to keep an eye on Nightfire.”

Nightfire glances up from the statue to roll her eyes at Clarity. Both Clarity and Data ignore her. “Watcher, I believe you’re a teleporter, yes? You’ll join one team; Blaze will go with the other. That leaves Remedy.”

I know I’m not really useful in this situation. I don’t have offensive powers, I won’t be much help in destroying the statues, and I’m not a mindreader or a teleporter. Even so, I can’t help feeling like I’m a kid getting picked last for the dodgeball game again. “I guess I could just stay here and . . . um . . . stand guard or something?”
But Data shakes her head. “Go with one of the teams. The more people we have out there who know the city, the better. If another group needs your powers, someone can teleport you there.”

Anvil speaks before Starlight can. “I’ll take her, Jazz, and Blaze.” He looks at me. “I hope you have some idea where the other statues are.”

“They’re probably the other four in the series.” I glance at Starlight. “Right? I know where all of those are, more or less.”

“That seems logical, yes.” Starlight considers. “My team will take the one by the museum and the one on North Central.” She beckons to her team— Watcher and Pop. “Let’s go.”

“Right. See you all later.” Watcher grabs both other girls and they disappear.

Blaze grins. “Come on, can’t let them finish first. Remedy, where are we going?”

“Um.” I search my mental map. “There’s one near the corner of Franklin Avenue and Madison Street. Is that good enough?”

“Perfect. Grab on.” Blaze holds out his hands. I take one, Jazz grabs the other, and Anvil places a hand on Blaze’s shoulder. Lights and colors flash around us. The next moment, we're standing in an alleyway, looking out on Franklin Avenue.

I duck out and glance back and forth. “To the right, I think.”

Anvil steps out after me. “Lead the way.”

I do, hoping I remember correctly. Apparently, I do because a few minutes later, we find another silvery statue, this one shaped like a sphere with a lot of swirls growing out of it and twining together as they reach towards the sky. Anvil studies it a moment, then reaches out one hand. The statue trembles a moment, then implodes in on itself until it’s nothing but a lump of metal no larger than a bowling ball. The few people who had stopped to admire it look around in confusion, but they don’t seem to notice us.

Anvil tucks his hands back in his pockets. “Easy enough.”

“Great!” Jazz pauses. “Ok, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is that Volt and Nightfire got the first statue open and found the control panel for the device. The bad news is that the control panel is, for some reason, connected to the internet. And Data touched the control panel.”

Blaze groans. “Oh no. So she tried to download the internet again.”

“Basically. She’s out cold.” Another pause. Jazz scowls. “More bad news. Volt and Nightfire found a timer. We’ve only got fifteen minutes left.”

“What?” I exclaim, unable to hold it in. “But we were supposed to have an hour and a half.”

“Apparently Wingwinds lied.” Another pause. “On the upside, Pop’s team got their first statue too. Pop’s gushing over how Starlight apparently just turned the whole thing into gas. Now they’re heading to their next statue.”

“We’d better hurry too.” Blaze holds out his hands again. “Where to this time, Remedy?”

“Furnace Street. Near the bank.” I frown, taking Blaze’s hand. “I think. It might be Forge Street. I always get those two mixed up.”

“Guess we’ll find out.” Blaze does his thing, and we reappear in another alleyway, this one directly across from the bank.

I peer out at the street. “Oh, good, I was right. And the statue’s right there.” I point. This one is kind of a cross between a flower, a tree, and firework, still in silvery metal but with edges painted gold and purple. It’s a shame we have to destroy it. “Can you crush it from here?”

“Yes.” Anvil reaches out, but before he can do anything, something launches itself off the roof of the building beside us and lands on top of him. He goes down with an “Ooooffff.” Steelscales rolls off of him and comes up on her feet, a smirk of triumph on her face.

Anvil picks himself back up. “I didn’t think you’d be back.”

Steelscales lunges forward, fists flying. “Like I’d let you ruin all my hard work, idiot. I’m here to stop you.”

None of her blows connect. Instead, she skids back— Anvil must be pushing on her dozens of piercings and metal accessories. Then he pulls a handful of small metal pieces and shoots them at her like a hail of bullets. “Why bother? The device will go off in less than fifteen minutes. As soon as it does, you lose your powers just like the rest of us.”

Steelscales spreads her arms. As soon as the first pieces of metal hit her body, her skin ripples and turns to silvery metal. “Do I look like an idiot? When I devised the power neutralizer, I made sure I found a way to shield myself from its effects. How else was I going to test it without accidentally getting rid of my own powers? I’ll be fine, but—” She launches herself at Anvil again. “You? You’re going down, and so is every other super in Foundry City.”

Anvil doesn’t reply, just pushes his hand forward again. I guess he’s trying to throw her back like he did before, but instead, she rockets up, flips over his head, and tackles him from behind. “Just give up already. Tell you what, if you surrender, I’ll let your friend teleport you and the rest of your crew out of the city. You can run around playing Superman a little longer.”

“I am not— going— to lose— a fight— to a girl— made of— metal!” Anvil manages to roll himself and Steelscales over so he’s on top of her. He pulls her arm away from his throat, then pushes himself onto his knees.

Steelscales launches herself back up and grabs his neck again. “Yeah, keep telling yourself that. Meanwhile, I’m going to crush you.”

Anvil grunts and pushes himself to his feet. I bite my lip, watching. We need to do something, but what? It’s a miracle that Steelscales hasn’t taken out the three of us already.

I feel a touch on my arm and hear Jazz’s voice poking into my head. Blaze is keeping us invisible. He does light manipulation, not just teleportation.

Oh. That makes sense. Can we use that somehow? I know my powers still won’t do any good. My taser, though . . . if she’s made of metal or has metal skin or whatever, she’s probably vulnerable to electricity, right? And if I can sneak up on her while I’m invisible.

Oooh. Good idea. Jazz again. Hold on. She’s silent for a minute, then: Ok. Blaze, you hold onto Remedy and both of you sneak up behind Steelscales. Then, Remedy, you get her with the taser and grab her, and Blaze, you teleport all three of you back to Data and Volt.

Got it. I pull out my taser and make sure it’s ready for use. Blaze grabs my shoulder. We both break away from the wall and creep towards Anvil and Steelscales.

As we get closer, Steelscales glances back. “What was that?”

Oh no she heard us. I grab Blaze’s wrist with one hand and lunge forward, jamming the taser against Steelscales’ bare shoulder, and pull the trigger. Electricity arcs between the two prongs and all over Steelscales’ body. She jerks and spasms, unable to control her movements. Anvil pulls free and turns around.

I drop the taser and grab Steelscales’ shirt. “Blaze! Now!” Light swirls around us, almost blinding this time. Then we’re standing by the statue once more.

I let go of Steelscales. “Got her! How long do we have left?”

“Only a few minutes.” Clarity steps forward, peels off one glove, and carefully puts her fingers against Steelscales’ forehead. She winces, and her face twitches. Then she pulls back and announces, “Try 10-r-o-e for the password.”

“10-r-o-e. Ok.” Volt taps furiously on something half-hidden by this side of the statue. “I’m in! And now . . .” She presses a few more buttons. The statue lets out a high-pitched whine, followed by a few cracks and muffled explosions. Volt grins proudly. “I sent a deactivation signal to all the devices, then ran the self-destruct command on this one.”

“Well done.” Data, who’d been lying next to the statue, blinks and sits up. “Blaze, take Steelscales back to headquarters and put her in a cell, one with the power dampener turned on. Then find Trav and come pick up the rest of us.”

“Your wish is my command.” Blaze salutes at Data and grins at me. “Nice meeting you and your friends, Remedy. We should get together again sometime. Tell the others I said bye.”

“Nice to meet you too. You know where to find us.” I smile and wave as he disappears, taking Steelscales with him.

Data stands shakily and turns to Clarity. “Thank you to you and your team for your help. We couldn’t have pulled this off without you. And while I understand that you’re not interested in joining us, Blaze has the right idea. We should try to meet up again and discuss how we could potentially work together.” The corners of her mouth curve up like she’s holding in a laugh. “But next time, we’ll try to leave the supervillains at home.”