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   Chapter 19 NO.19

Damsel[ed] Rescue Required (3 of the Damsel[ed] Series) By m i c h e l l e p a k Characters: 13444

Updated: 2018-04-19 09:08


Under Wraps has gotta be my favorite song, or at least, one of the top five. Really cute, slightly macabre, made me sad while writing the second part of the chapter, and I'm your average emotionless slug. So, uh, yeah.

***

Days ago.

The view from the top of the cell tower would've been beautiful. White foam and whirling gray waters lashed the brick. The movement gave a calm to that eternal ebb and flow of the ocean, even when storm clouds crashed and salt whipped through the window's iron bars.

The woman behind those bars knew it was supposed to be beautiful. Had internalized this and stewed over images of the ocean even when her eyes were closed. But still, she hated the sea, the sky, the clouds.

Bent forward, yanking braided chains, she watched the rain pour and listened to the thunder boom. She watched with her eyes glazed over, her thoughts in knots behind her eyelids, making her room lovely and dark. The rain pounded, and all she heard were the voices of a past she would reclaim. These years were only the darkness between acts, when the curtain was drawn and the actors scurried backstage to breathe. Act three would begin, as soon as Owl came for her. Then they would rise a magnificent reign.

Years. She had been chained in this cell-tower for a little over a decade now, forgotten by history and left for insanity. She kept track of the days by the moon and the tide. She did arithmetic. She cracked open her flesh with her fingernails and watched the muscle weave back together under her skin. But mostly, she'd spoken histories, of herself and of her people. Unraveling each linear thread of a super's life, plotting each event which would shift the person they became.

So much reflection had changed her, too, made her more quiet, more thoughtful than the supervillain leader she was before. She'd sit for hours, staring blankly at a ceiling, trying to understand what they saw, what they felt. But she was practical, still. And hopeful. Hopeful that Owl would find her, despite guards telling her the little tower was cloaked in illusion so thickly a dozen supers had died for their auras to be melted into the disguise. Practical enough to know that if she stopped hoping, she would go insane. So, she believed in her second command, believed in a daughter she would never raise. On cold nights when her hands went blue and the sky was stitched with stars, she thought of the girl. Hoped the girl was as powerful as she was. The prisoner needed to believe in her legacy almost as much as she needed to believe in Owl.

That night, the sky was starless and the wind howled. She paced, dragging forty-pound chains that groaned and creaked with her every sigh. What irony, to be trapped by the technology created by her own pet scientist. She paced and looped her fingers through the links, thinking of the daughter in the city, Owl's boy with his wings, the failed little experiment Juniper loved fiercely, that cat one. She wondered what they were like, now that they were almost adults.

The door, a wall of rusted iron, screamed open from rusted hinges. Cleo whipped around and pressed herself against the window, squaring her shoulders and lowering her head to make herself look even smaller. "What brings you?" she whispered, keeping a powerful voice low and silky. Made her eyes big and forced her body to tremble. "I've done nothing wrong."

The man strolled forward, his polished shoes making sharp clicks on the uneven cobblestone. He was flat-nosed, one pupil bigger than the other, not quite brown but not quite black. His fingers curled and uncurled around a baton in his left hand, stripped and dented. She sized him up quickly. Muscle mass in the chest and shoulders, tendons corded and bulging in his neck. She'd aim for the knees and ankles, snarl him in a tangle of iron. Her knuckles were cracked and calloused, made thick with layers of scab. Her muscles, despite thousands of hours of constant motion, and push-ups, sit-ups, shadow-boxing, had decayed. But he

t easily. Around the ruins, the silence was heavy and the air was cool. Perhaps people thought if they pretended the ruins didn't exist, it would disappear. Perhaps the mayor was too afraid to face the aftermath just yet.

"My God, " she breathed. And because her hands shook and she was tired of being weak and scared, the once invincible villain stormed up the stairs, kicking up a wind of ashy grit behind her. She had loved that woman. That was supposed to keep her safe.

The floor creaked and swayed as she arrived on the second floor, which was mostly hidden in rubble. She choked on it, the atmosphere so thick with the echoes of Fallout's chemical fire she could taste his aura in the soot left floating through the air.

Owl could not be dead. She was a killer of supers, a powerhouse. Cleo repeated this to herself as she trekked deeper into the ruins, through a sagging door. Cinders filled her eyes, clumping to her lashes. Clouds drifted over an absent roof, giving way to a back sky.

"Owl?" She feared a reply because she stood in the home of ghosts. Everything the superheroes had fought for, everything they had fought against, turned to rubble at her feet.

Her eyes took in the piles, the drapes burnt white. The flash of red against the darkness.

For the first time in thirteen years, Cleo's heart stopped.

Owl's body was intact, left for the scavengers. Resistant to fire, the skin as hard as plaster, they eyes as dark and glassy as a stuffed bear's. The last gift superpowers gave its user, a body that didn't decay. Cleo shut the woman's eyes. She held this stiff likeness to Owl against her, breathing in the smoke of the ruins and the salt of her own tears. No. This wasn't supposed to happen. Owl was the one person she could depend on. The person who was supposed to save her. The workhorse, the brute, the methodical, obsessed Owl, who worked nights and days to achieve her aims. Cleo ran her hand over Owl's opened chest, so the starlight passing through her back. No.

The woman rescued from the chains.

The woman who promised to fight at Cleo's side until death claimed them both.

The woman awake late at night, humming happily as she whittled away with her carving knife. Birdhouses. Keeps my mind sharp, gives me something to do while I'm planning.

Cleo held her mouth against the dead woman's skin and screamed.

I'll save you, she'd said as Cleo was being hauled away, Wherever they take you, I'll find you.

No crying, Cleo decided. Owl couldn't be really dead. No. She'd bring her back to life. She'd flood the city with dark to put the light back in Owl's eye, and she knew just who could do it.

Juniper Fibbs.

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