Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Fight Song Chapter 19

Last time on Fight Song, Callie hit the streets again— this time masked, costumed, and with a new name: Songbird. This week, she finds what she's been looking for— and, unsurprisingly, trouble along with it. Once again, our guest character appears by permission of her creator. Also, many thanks to that creator for helping me sort out certain aspects of this scene. 

As always, comments, critiques, questions, and suggestions are welcome. I apologize for the fact that I haven't been responding to comments as much as I normally would. Blogger's stopped notifying me of new comments, and I'm still trying to figure out how to fix the issue. Thanks for your patience in the meantime.

Chapter 19: Song and Star

            That night found me on the streets again, mask in place and violin in hand. I plucked a quiet song as I walked, forcing just enough light to go around me to hopefully render me almost invisible. In the shifting shadows of the street, it seemed to mostly work. A few people peered uncertainly in my direction, but the majority didn’t notice me at all. The pair of violent drunks who I chased away from a scared-looking young woman certainly didn’t, nor did the would-be car thieves whose tools became suddenly hot in response to my song— they remained unaware until I changed my tune and suddenly appeared, too close for comfort and already attacking.

            Yet midnight came and went, and my chances of finding Starlight seemed slimmer and slimmer. Finally, weariness overpowered my hopes, and I turned towards home, still picking out my illusion melody. After playing it for hours on end, I was starting to wonder if its advantages were really worth the tedium.

            Then, just as I was approaching the overpass near the park, a scream ripped through the night from under the bridge. I immediately dashed down the slope towards the sound. What’s going on? My sneakers skidded on the slope of grass and rocks, but I caught my balance just in time and made the rest of the descent more carefully.

            At the bottom, I found the source of the scream: a girl surrounded by a group of four men. One had her pinned against an overpass pillar, one hand on her chest and the other at her waist, while the others cheered him on. I scowled. Beasts. Then I raised my violin, let my illusion disappear, and played a staccato burst of notes.

            Light blazed in front of the eyes of the four men, blinding them. The man pinning the girl stumbled back, and the girl slumped to the ground and tried to make herself small. I took two steps towards them and switched to another melody, softening the concrete beneath their feet.

            But they recovered faster than I expected and rushed at me before their feet could sink. I backed away, changing tunes mid note. Flames leapt to life on two men’s jackets, singing their hair and ears. Both yelled and dropped to the ground to try to put out the flames. The third man was nearly on me before I could stop him— but my bow in his eye sent him stumbling back, and a few hummed notes of air brought him to the ground.

            I turned to face the fourth man and had to duck under a punch. I backed away two steps and set my violin bow to the strings again, softening the concrete beneath his feet and beneath the two who’d just managed to extinguish their flaming jackets. The two on the ground sank and were trapped again before they could react. But the fourth man nimbly leapt onto the asphalt and pulled a shining knife. “I heard about your trick, birdie. You won’t get me that way.”

            I didn’t bother to respond, instead humming heat into his weapon. He grinned and held up his gloved hand. “Heard about that one too. Nice try.” Then he lunged for me, swiping up with the red-glowing blade.

            Darn it darn it darn it— I dodged away again and nearly tripped over the two men stuck in the concrete. Darn it! Three notes produced another burst of light before the man’s eyes, not as strong as the last but enough that I could put more distance between him and me. Then I switched my song again, returning to the melody of fire.

            Flames licked along his jacket, but he didn’t drop, just shrugged it off. It fell to the ground and lay there, slowly burning. “You got lucky so far, birdie. But how about you stop poking your nose where you aren’t wanted before you get hurt?”

            “How about no?” I switched songs again, this time to air. “How about you surrender?”

            The man’s eyes widened as he fought to draw breath. He didn’t answer, just lunged at me, slashing wildly with his knife. My song screeched into discord as I jumped back, narrowly avoiding the blade. Nopenopenope— I recovered, but he’d gotten a good breath and came at me again.

            Gotta deal with the knife first. A few notes of light created another brilliant flash to blind him and give me a chance to put distance between us again. I shifted to the sharply ordered song of steel, combined with the rhythm of time, to blunt and wear down the knife blade until it was too dull to cut anything but the softest butter.

            By the time I finished, my opponent had recovered. He circled to the side, more wary now than before. “What makes you think you’re so special, birdie? So much better than the rest of us, that you get to meddle in our business? Do your fancy powers give you the right to tell us what to do?”

            “No. But you’re hurting someone, and I’m not about to stand around and let you.” I played another rapid string of notes— air again, pulled faster than before. At the same time, I hummed the song for asphalt, softening it just enough to put him off-balance.

            He took two steps towards me, gasping, then stumbled and fell headlong, out cold. I sighed in relief and lowered my violin. Then a click from behind me threw all my senses back into high alert. I whirled around to see the man whose eye I’d gotten with my bow. He was back on his feet now, a gun in his hands and aimed towards me. Oh no—

            He pulled the trigger before I could move, but in almost the same moment, I heard the melody of his gun and bullets shift sharply. Both vanished, their only trace an expanding cloud of slightly darker than normal vapor. The man’s eyes widened, and he tried to run, only to hit a wall of solid air.

            I looked over my shoulder, and there she was. Starlight, cape and all, stood on the hillside above me. She nodded cordially to me. “Songbird.”

            I’d wonder how she knows my name, but, well, this is Starlight. I nodded back. “Starlight. Thanks. He caught me off guard.”

            “You’re welcome.” Starlight flicked her fingers. One pair of handcuffs appeared around the man’s wrists; another, slightly larger, connected his ankle to the arm of one of the men trapped in concrete. “You seemed to be handling the situation well.”

            “Definitely better than the last time you ran into me trying to fight off four men, yes.” Did she know that Songbird and Ava are the same person? She must. But I didn’t want to run the risk that she’d missed that. “Did you call the police yet?”

            “I did.” Starlight’s gaze flicked over my beaten opponents. “What were these ones doing?”

            “Tormenting some girl. She’s . . .” I glanced around. No sign of the girl. “Run off, I guess. Smart of her.” I looked back up at Starlight. “Can I talk to you quick?”

            Starlight’s eyebrows rose slightly behind her mask, but she beckoned for me to join her. I started up the hillside, but once I reached her, she turned and headed for the top. Once we were up by the bridge, she faced me once again. “Yes?”

            “I . . .” I hesitated, suddenly awkward. “I just, well . . .” I reached into my pocket and pulled out the USB drive. “I need your help again. With something else. It shouldn’t be much trouble for you this time, though. You already know about Welsh— the man I’m trying to stop. I’m going to confront him— soon. And, well, this is all the information about what he’s done and what I’ve found out and what I’m planning to do, and I was hoping you’d take it and keep it safe?” I offered her the USB in an open palm. “Just in case I fail? Please?”

            Starlight took the USB drive and tucked it into a belt pouch. “I’ll take it back to my base. Thank you for trusting me with it.” She paused, gave me an inscrutable look. “Do you need help in this confrontation of yours?”

            “I—” I blinked. “Are you . . . offering?”

            “I am. Assuming you haven’t told this person that you’re coming alone?” Starlight’s tone suggested that doing so would be a completely idiotic idea. I tend to agree. “I’m certain that he won’t.”

            I shook my head hastily. “No, I didn’t.” And I didn’t tell him to either— that actually was stupid. But Starlight seems to think that it wouldn’t really matter, and she’s probably right. And she has a point. Jonathan and Uhjin both have more or less vital roles to play, but they won’t be much use in a fight— not unless one of them is secretly a black belt or an expert marksman or something like that. “If you’re really willing, I’d love backup. Thank you. But Welsh is mine.”

            Naturally.” Starlight rested her hand on the pouch where she put my USB drive. “Are the time and place noted somewhere on here?”

            “Yes. But I can just tell you too, save you the trouble of searching— there’s a lot on there. I told him to meet me near the Carren Road Motel 6 at eleven o’clock Monday night.” I fiddled with my bow, turning it over and over in my hands. “You’re sure you’re willing to help?”

            “I wouldn’t have offered if I wasn’t.” Starlight’s gaze drifted towards the street below. “The police seem to be arriving to pick up your criminals.”

            I glanced down. A black car was just turning onto the street beneath the overpass. “Oh. Yeah. I guess I should go talk to them. Thanks again— really, thanks.”

            “You’re welcome.” Starlight nodded once more. “I’ll see you on Monday. Good luck.”

            “Thanks.” I was starting to feel like a broken record, but what else could I say? With a nod that I hoped looked mature and professional, I turned and headed back down the slope. That’s it. Everything’s ready. Better than ready; I had Starlight on my team! Now all I had to do was confront Welsh . . . and survive.

Bonus fun thing: anyone want to know for sure what Songbird looks like? Wonder no more!

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