Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Fight Song Chapter 11

Last time on Fight Song, we left Callie in a rather tight spot, being attacked by a group of men who seemed more interested in her than her money. This week, we see the outcome of her fight— an outcome that will lead to a most unexpected meeting!

Many thanks to my roommate, who patiently answers my science questions that are too random for Google, and to the friend who let me borrow her character. And thanks to you all for reading; if you have any thoughts, suggestions, or questions, feel free to comment!

Chapter 11: A Helping Hand

A car pulled up beside us and rumbled to a stop, its front tires level with my face. A man stepped out. “Ready?”

“Yep. Just have to gag her so she can’t sing her way out.” A hand gripped the back of my jacket. “Get ready.”

I tensed. This was my last chance to escape. I couldn’t afford to waste it. Oh God let this work.
The attacker gripping my jacket jerked me off the ground. I opened my mouth, forced song past the pressure of my collar against my throat. I managed three notes before one of the other men pulled my scarf away from my face and stuffed a piece of cloth in my mouth. I choked, trying to push the cloth out with my tongue, but the leader of the group slapped a piece of duct tape across my lips before I could succeed.

“There— sing your way out of that, girl!” The leader nodded to the car. “Toss her in and we’ll get out of here.”

“I don’t think you will.” The tires of the car abruptly disappeared with a rippling shift in song that only I could hear, dark liquid flowing away from where they’d been. A slim figure clad in black and silver stepped lightly off the roof of a nearby building and strode down the air as if it were a flight of stairs until she hovered a few feet above the ground. A black domino mask hid the upper half of her face. Though she carried no visible weapon, the way she held herself and the fact that she was literally standing in midair told anyone watching that she didn’t need one— as if they wouldn’t know that anyway. Everyone in Foundry City knew of Starlight.

 “You have two options, gentlemen. Either you release her, or I do. Which will it be?”

The men holding me hesitated. I could guess their thoughts: Starlight was, of course, Starlight, but there were four of them and one of her, and they had me as a hostage. How bad could their chances be? They’d end up the same place if they fought and failed as if they surrendered.  And Starlight didn’t kill; everyone knew that; she wasn’t some vigilante toeing the line between good and evil . . .
The leader made his decision. In one swift move, he drew his pistol and shoved the muzzle against the back of my head. “Or you leave us be and we don’t kill her. How’s that option for you?”

“Strangely unappealing.” Starlight didn’t so much as twitch a finger, but the pressure of the gun against my head suddenly disappeared, and my attacker let out a string of curses. If I could’ve moved my mouth, I would’ve grinned.

The tape and gag disappeared next, dissolving into vapor. I didn’t waste any time, singing the leader’s jacket into flames again. He let go of me with a yell. I hit the ground and rolled, narrowly avoiding the hands of the other thugs.

With a shimmer and a sudden shift in melody, the air around the four thugs solidified into a box. For a moment, all I could do was stare. The wall was only inches from my face, and it was strange to see the men push against it, so close and yet contained. Then I came to my senses and hummed another string of notes. The plastic ties around my wrists and ankles softened until I could push them apart. I sat up, rubbing my wrists, and looked at Starlight. “Thank you.”

“Naturally.” Starlight nodded curtly. She stood on the concrete now, not in the air, and with her feet on the ground it became immediately evident that she was short— petite, even. But she had a presence far greater than her size, built on confidence and power.

I stood and turned to face my attackers again, tucking my scarf back across my face. “You were going for me. Not my money. Not my violin. Why?”

“You think we’re gonna answer that?” The leader scowled at me. “Use your brain.”

“I am. But I want facts, not guesses.” I crossed my arms. “You must have been trying to get me specifically, or someone like me. Otherwise you wouldn’t have kept going even after I put up a fight and showed you what I’m capable of— not unless you’re idiots.”

“What makes you think I’m gonna tell you anything, girl?” The leader snorted. “You already know I’m not stupid.”

“No. But you probably like breathing, don’t you?” I hummed, pulling air from his throat like I had with the robbers, and kept going until he looked suitably panicked. “Tell me why you wanted me and I won’t do more.”

The leader’s scowl deepened, and he rubbed his throat. “Fine. There’s word out that someone— I’m not gonna name names— is willing to pay well for you. Specifically. He asked for alive, but dead would get a guy something too. That’s all you’re getting.”

“That’s what I asked for.” Welsh. It has to be. I backed away from the prison of air that held the men. Had he secretly orchestrated the holdup at the café too to see what I could do? No. No way. I’m overthinking things. And that would mean he knows my real name . . . How could he know my real name? He’d never seen my full face; we’d only encountered each other in darkness, with one or both of us masked. No. The café was just a coincidence. It has to be. All the same, if Welsh had offered some kind of reward for my capture or death in the criminal underworld, however that worked, I’d have to be careful from here out.

The police arrived not long after that, apparently called by Starlight. I had just enough time to pull down my scarf before they arrived. They took statements and my attackers and left again without trouble. I expected Starlight to leave too, but she lingered. “You didn’t handle yourself too badly.”

Was she complimenting me? Despite my exhaustion, despite my bruises, I stood a little straighter. “Thanks. And thanks for coming to my rescue.”

“It’s what I do.” Again, I thought Starlight would leave, but still she stayed. “As someone who’s been at this a touch longer than you have, can I offer you some advice?”

“Sure. Definitely.” I definitely wasn’t going to pass up advice from Starlight. As far as I was concerned, she was one of the best, maybe the very best, superhero in the city. Whatever she wanted to say, I was going to listen.

“Make up your mind. And while you’re at it, be a little more careful.” Starlight crossed her arms. “Word’s getting around about you and your quest for justice . . . Ava. If you keep this up, someone’s going to put two and two together and guess who you actually are.” Starlight’s tone said she’d already figured that out, and my stomach twisted as I wondered who else had. Not Uhjin or Jonathan, please . . . Of course, Jonathan already knew my real name, and he'd been in the cafe. He might have guessed at my powers too. “And if someone is the man you’re hunting or another Big Bad, you aren’t the only one in danger. A person who knows your face, your name, can find your family and friends easier than you think. And those kind of people won’t think twice about using anyone you love against you.”

My stomach twisted again. Surely Momma and Dad and my siblings were far enough away to be safe, surely . . . but what about Uhjin? My friends from college- Kearsten and Stephen and Jess and the rest? Jonathan? The people at my church? “What are you saying I should do?”

“Make a choice, like I said. Either take up the mask and keep fighting or don’t take the mask and save these powers of yours for emergencies.” Starlight shook her head. “Neither option will solve everything, but either will help. And it’s not a choice to make lightly. But you have to decide sooner or later.”

Her words solidified what I’d known for weeks now. The knowledge sank like stones in my gut. “What do you think I should choose?”

“I don’t know you well enough to tell you that.” Naturally. We’ve never met before tonight. I’d be amazed that Starlight knows who I am at all, except that, as she pointed out, I had been talking to a lot of people and doing more of this amateur-heroing. Surely Starlight, who probably kept her ear to the ground and had dozens of contacts all through the city, would know about my mission. “I will say that you have power and talent to use it. Wasting that would be a shame. But it’s your choice. Think about it.”

With that, she finally left, climbing back up invisible stairs in the air until she reached the rooftop and disappearing into the night. I, too, set off for home, mulling wearily over Starlight’s advice.

When I reached the apartment, I found Uhjin on the couch watching Supergirl on her laptop. Her silky black curls were down; her makeup wiped away; and her fashionable outfit from earlier replaced by yoga pants and a pajama shirt that read “Bear-ly awake.” Seeing her make me stop short. Wow, I’m back late. Normally on a Saturday, she returned after I was comfortably asleep.

Uhjin paused her show and turned around. “You’re late.” She did a double-take. “You look terrible.”
“I’m fine,” I mumbled, though I probably wasn’t. The various cuts and scratches on my face and hands stung, my ribs were sore, and every part of me ached. Not that Uhjin needed to know that. “Hello to you too. And goodnight.”

“You aren’t fine.” I expected Uhjin to ask what happened. But instead, she got up and fetched me a bag of frozen peas for my bruises and antiseptic and Band-Aids for my cuts and scrapes. Only once I was thoroughly patched up did she return to her show and let me fall into bed. I was asleep before I hit the pillow.

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