If you have found your way to this page from GoodReads, Twitter, or the vast depths of the internet, welcome to a series of free short stories from the Illuminator Universe. Feel free to leave comments or tweet me @girlofgotham to let me know what you think. Coming soon: the Glitter and Trauma comic book!
Everything on this page copyright Emma Kathryn 2012.
Steampunk Gala Event - Glitter by Gaslight Part I: Time for Tea
- uploaded 7th September 2012
Steampunk Gala Event - Glitter by Gaslight Part II: Fight Like a Girl
- uploaded 8th September 2012
Steampunk Gala Event - Glitter by Gaslight Part III: One Foot in Front of the Other/If I Burn
- uploaded 9th September 2012
A Pretty Penny - uploaded 30th July 2012
Exam Pressures - uploaded 26th May 2012
The Panther - uploaded 3rd June 2012
Glitter by Gaslight
Art by @UnknownMaleDOA
Part I: Time for Tea
Miss Eleanor smiled as the waiter poured yet another cup of tea for her. Thanking the gentleman softly, she dropped two lumps of sugar into the brown liquid and lifted her silver spoon, before sending the tea into a tiny whirlpool. Taking her teacup in her right hand, little finger extended, she took a dainty sip as her companions passed a tray of scones around the table. The Sunshine Rooms were among Miss Eleanor’s favourite tea rooms and she and the ladies liked to frequent it, especially when there were particular topics to be discussed. And today there was a very important topic to bring to the table.
Miss Eleanor waited patiently for Miss Daisy to finish her story about the young banker her parents had invited to their most recent soiree. It was difficult not to yawn. Miss Daisy’s parents were on the twelfth suitor this season and still no ring for that podgy finger of Miss Daisy’s. But with that hideous wig she so often wore, it was no wonder that the gentlemen avoided the fat singleton. She had bought it while the ladies had visited Paris, thinking it made her look distinguished. The only person it had ever seemed distinguished on was the wigmaker’s dummy it had perched on in the store.
Around the table were three more of Miss Eleanor’s luncheon ladies. Missy, whose real first name was Deirdre but whose mother insisted that all call her Missy. Rumour is that her father was drunk when he filled in her birth certificate and her mother was so appalled, that she made everyone call the girl by this bawdy nickname instead. It made her sound like a lady of the night, or so Miss Eleanor thought. However, the worst diner at the table, without a shadow of a doubt, was the Miss Jemima. Miss Eleanor despised this girl with a passion, ever since she had appeared uninvited to one of these luncheons around September time and had continued to attend without invitation since then. She wore the most garish frocks ever seen and her make-up was always smudged and messy. The ladies had even suggested that she did not have a maid to help dress her. But surely, if that were the case, she would not dare attend a luncheon like this?!
The most refined, and most importantly, the most fun of all the diners at the table was Miss Lydia. Her fiery red hair was never hidden under a wig, but always adorned with a small fascinator, each one more elaborate than the last. Today’s was a tiny top hat with fresh flowers. Miss Lydia was hysterically amusing and was Miss Eleanor’s closest confidant. They had been friends since they were but girls and nothing would keep them apart.
Not even the soon-to-be-husband who had just entered the Sunshine Rooms and was at the other end of the dining room.
Master Dale Lightfoot.
Miss Eleanor’s face erupted into a smile and Miss Lydia interrupted Miss Daisy’s useless tale. “Ellie, dear,” she smiled, noting Miss Eleanor’s expression but not yet able to see what was causing such delight. “If I am not mistaken, a certain dashing young chap is about to join us.”
The three lesser diners instantly turned their heads, ignoring any kind of tact or decency. What fools they were. No wonder none of them had found a husband yet. Not like Miss Eleanor. Well, he was near enough.
“Today’s the day, ladies,” Miss Eleanor whispered, face still beaming. She did her best not to let her would-be-fiancé know that he was the subject of discussion.
“Nooooooo!” Missy squealed, nearly giving the game away with her blatant stupidity. “Has he spoken to your father yet? How do you know it will be today?”
Rolling her eyes, Miss Eleanor dropped her smile for a brief moment. “How many polo players do you know that come into the Sunshine Rooms, Deirdre? And he was out riding with my father last weekend. It was clearly a ruse so that he could ask for my hand.” Missy’s face fell and she nodded humbly.
“That was clearly what it was,” Miss Lydia hissed quietly in agreement, eyes darting around as the bright young man came into view.
A fine, European suit adorned the well-formed body of a seasoned polo player. Light brown hair was short and neat, styled in the latest fashion. Miss Eleanor smiled as he neared, her heart filling with the kind of joy that came with finally knowing that you were not some unweddable hag like your friends. Or the kind of joy that came with permanent financial security and a guarantee into the social elite. Or the kind…
A smash at the other end of the room distracted Miss Eleanor’s train of thought. Tea cups rattled on saucers and scones fell to the floor. The ladies gasped in surprise and that troll, Miss Jemima, shrieked aloud. Miss Eleanor scanned the room, searching for the source of the commotion.
Another smash rang out and the tea room’s main doorway burst open in a fiery explosion. Now everyone was screaming. Miss Eleanor rose to her feet, her layered pink and grey skirts gathering around her legs. Master Dale arrived at her side. Something smashed its way inside the tea rooms with the unbearable sound of grinding metal. Diners scrambled from their seats and made to flee. Jemima, Missy and Daisy were scuttling away from the table, parasols in hand and shawls thrown clumsily over their shoulders. Miss Eleanor watched the chaos that now consumed her favourite tea room like wildfire.
Eyes turned away from her escaping friends and to the point of ignition in the room. Standing at the far end of the room and searching the crowd for its target was a great mechanical man. Its hulking form twitched and heaved, preparing to cause more destruction. A metal mask rested over were its face should have been, instead it bore a head of darkness with shadowy essence weeping from its eye sockets. A jagged maw opened to reveal more blackness and an almighty wail flew from its body, sounding like an oncoming train. More diners scattered but Miss Eleanor could not leave. Her heart sunk as she knew what she had to do. This creature was made for her to kill. This creature was a monster born for shadow. And it had come here for her.
Glancing round, Miss Eleanor noticed Master Dale – the man who was supposed to have come here today to promise to marry her – was beginning to retreat, taking her hopes of being a bride with him. This shadowy abomination was winning.
Not here. Not today.
Kicking her chair round, Miss Eleanor placed the sole of her boot onto the padded floral upholstery. She hated herself for doing so, but it had to be done. Anyway, what she had to do next was even more shocking; she lifted up her skirts, to reveal her stockinged calves and pale thighs. Finding her garter, she pulled free a tiny pistol: her weapon of choice. More screams exploded when they saw the lady with the gun.
Eleanor stepped out into the middle of the room, ignoring the wailing thing that came towards her. Metal crunched against metal, gears and cogs whirling and twisting. The shadowy essence that powered the hideous machine oozed from ever crack and space in its cold hide, spilling out onto the floor before dissipating into foul steam. She had never seen a Shadow hiding in a machine, but she was ready for it. Her teacher had told her to be prepared for any trick the Dark Ones would try to throw and her, and, by God, this thing was going to die today.
Raising her pistol, Eleanor took her time in lining up the perfect shot. As she did so, the large golden cuff she wore around her wrist like a bracelet began to tick. It split into three sections and began to turn in opposite directions. It settled in a new position and locked, before releasing what looked like a tiny telescope. It formed a sight for Eleanor’s gun and she lined up the crosshairs with the creature’s iron skull. The metal monster bellowed again and made as if to rush Eleanor. She had one last thing to do…
Light began to blossom from Eleanor’s chest. It shone through her fine dress and spread to her neck and shoulders. It surged across her face and charged through every strand of blonde hair on her head, pushing it free of its elaborate updo. The light scuttled down her arms next before crawling across the tip of her trigger finger. The shot was ready. Cocking back the hammer on her pistol, Eleanor stayed calm as the machine was less than a few steps away from her. A seemingly-insubstantial bullet of pure light entered the chamber. The shot was ready. Eleanor was ready.
She fired, loosing a bullet of energy between the monster’s eyes. The power threw the beast backwards and it seemed to float through the air for a moment before hitting the floor with an almighty clatter. Dead. Just like every other Shadow Eleanor had ever come across.
The world suddenly flooded back to Miss Eleanor and she once again heard the screams and cries of a room full of terrified socialites. Oh God, what a mess she must look. Her hair was loose and wild, she had shown her legs, and she had fired a weapon. Never again would she be allowed into the Sunshine Rooms.
Lowering her pistol, Miss Eleanor turned around. The ladies were gone and Master Dale was nowhere to be seen. Sorrow and disappointment fluttered in Miss Eleanor’s chest. It had to happen here and it just had to be today.
Sighing deeply, she spotted a waiter and beckoned him over. He hesitated, shaking and scared, and then crept in her direction. He stopped once he was within arms’ reach, staying far enough away to stay safe. Miss Eleanor groaned and tucked her pistol away.
“Sir, do you have some paper on your person?” she asked, while tucking her hair away from her face as best as she could. The young man simply nodded and fished around in the pocket of his waistcoat. When he handed the notebook and a pencil over, his hands were trembling wildly. Miss Eleanor shook her head as she took down notes on two separate pieces of paper.
The first she handed over with a stern order. “I need you to take that to the nearest telegraph and contact the man on there: Peter Solomon,” she said firmly. Then the second paper was pressed into the young man’s hand. “This is an address. It is the address which you will tell your manager to send that thing to.” Her elegant finger, that hand been glowing white only moments before, pointed to the hunk of scrap metal on the floor. All shadowy power was gone from it and it was nothing but a lifeless shell now. The lad stared at it a moment, before Miss Eleanor added a firm, “Now,” to punctuate her orders and he ran off, clutching the two pieces of paper.
Exhaling deeply, Miss Eleanor stood over the cold corpse of the beast that had been sent to kill her. She gave it a light kick, being careful not to damage her shoe or her toes beneath. “It just had to be today, didn’t it?” she asked the lifeless object. “You could not wait until I was engaged to be married, could you? And what have you done now? You’ve sent me back into the arms of a mad woman. Thank you very much, you useless piece of rubbish. This is why I hate you all so much. This is why!”
The remaining diners looked on in wonder as a crazed woman spoke to the machine that had dared to interrupt their afternoon tea.
Part III: One Foot in Front of the Other/If I Burn
Part II: Fight Like a Girl
Master Peter “Patch” Solomon hated this place. He looked up at the tacky bar sign that hung above his head and sighed. “The Guttered Candle,” it read and featured a badly painted candle that had just been blown out. Clumsily drawn smoke drifted up from its charred wick and globs of melted wax dragged down the sides of the what-had-once-been-white candle. For a moment, Patch considered waiting until tomorrow to take this news to his friend, but he could only imagine her reaction if she found out he had withheld news like this. He glanced down at the telegram in his hand, then shook his head and entered the bar.
Inside it was as disgusting as it was outside. Patch grimaced and adjusted his heavy eye-glasses. They looked more like goggles than eye-glasses, especially with their heavy metal rims. Sitting close against his face, they made life much easier for Patch and he ignored the strange glances he received on the way through the crowded room. He despised the very fact that he knew the route to his friend’s hiding place off by heart. This really had to stop. Surely she was done with places like this by now. These visits had started not long after she left the asylum and around the time she met that damn fellow who shared her gift. Patch could never decide which of these events were more to blame.
At the far end of the public house was a door. A surly-looking chap stood in the way of the door, watching those nearby very closely. He saw Patch coming and immediately grinned, knocking the toothpick he was chewing to the side of his mouth.
“I ‘ear she’s winnin’ big th’night, Sir,” the brutish guard said when Patch neared. As he pulled the door open, admitting entry to the bar’s cellar, Patch rolled his eyes.
“Which means she won’t be stopping anytime soon then, shall she?” he complained as he walked into a dirty stairwell.
“Don’t expect her man’ll let her. Not with th’streak she’s on!” he called out as Patch descended the steps and was instantly met with the sounds of a cheering crowd. Above him, the door closed, but Patch continued unperturbed.
At the foot of the stairs, a crowd of no less than fifty men had gathered. Forming an unruly circle, their gathering was made up with regular working folks, come in straight from the factories. Arms punched the air, waving bank notes around as they cheered on whatever was occurring in the middle of their huddle. A lower of smoke sat in the air above them, coming from various cigarettes and pipes. Patch knew exactly what was happening and edged his way round the circle, doing his best not to touch anything and not to bump anyone. The telegram remained tight in his grip.
A huge cheer erupted in the crowd and Patch stepped back long enough for the group to part and for an unconscious man to be dragged out by the armpits. The student watched in disgust as the man was pulled into the corner, bloody and beaten, to be looked over by some fellow claiming to be a doctor. Patch really hated this place. The gap in the circle filled as quickly as it formed and the men began waving more money round and bellowing names and odds across the room at one another. Patch continued on his path, picking his way around the edges of the now-nearing-riotous horde. As he neared the point in the mob where most of the excitement was directed, he finally found what he was looking for.
Standing just inside the circle were a man and woman. To be quite frank, they looked more like 2 men. The man was dressed in a long, black overcoat with a black shirt and trousers to match. He kept a cap pulled low over his eyes and a few strands of long blonde hair fell loose from the confines of the hat. He stood close to the young woman, sharing tips and advice with her in a low voice. Occasionally, he tugged at a gold wedding band that hung from a string around his neck – a gesture he made whenever he was deep in thought. To an outsider, it would appear as if the couple were married but Patch knew the truth. The man was a widower and the girl: she was Patch’s childhood friend.
And seeing them together made Patch feel sick to his stomach.
Standing next to the widower, the girl was not much to look at. In fact, if she were to be seen in public like this, people would be horrified by the sight of a girl so determined to make herself look like a boy. She dressed in men’s black trousers, with the suspenders hanging loose around her waist and legs. Feet were bare, although a pair of work boots lay at the edge of the ring, along with an old shirt. And finally – as if she didn’t look enough like a member of the opposite sex – she fought bare-chested, like the rest of them men, but bound her breasts with strips of white gauze, muting her feminine figure as best she could.
The widower clapped her on the shoulder and she bounced into the centre of the clearing. Another fight was about to begin. Sweat ran down her back, dirtying the cloth that wound round her bosom, and her chest heaved with every breath she took. Feet were filthy from the dirt floor. Blood caked her knuckles and was spattered across her face and chin. A deep gash on her bottom lip marked where she had lost a punch but still refused to lose the fight. A cheer went up from her spectators as a young lad – barely more than sixteen – dared to enter the ring with her. She grinned with a mouthful of bloodied teeth and shouted some obscenity at the boy.
A man who had volunteered to be tonight’s “referee” – as if such games could really claim to have rules that needed to be defended – announced the start of the fight and quickly backed away. Men went wild over the fiery blonde as her ponytail bobbed around her head in time with her punches. Patch, on the other hand, was not impressed.
The young man approached the widower and folded his arms across his chest, mimicking the girl’s fighting coach. “Evening, Leech,” Patch growled, not taking his eyes off of the fight.
“Inventor,” Leech greeted with a nod. The widower refused to use Patch’s nickname and certainly never addressed him by his Sunday name. It was yet another of the many reasons that Patch detested this man.
“Any chance of this drawing to a close sometime soon?” Patch asked, watching the girl send a hard blow to the boy’s abdomen. She was crushing this lad and doing a damn quick job of it, too.
“Not the way she’s winning,” the man in black responded, wincing as the lad got in his first hit: a smash to the girl’s chin. “We’ve earned enough tonight to buy shit for all your little gadgets 5 times over.”
Now a flurry of quick punches befell the boy and with an almighty roar, the girl issued a hard smack to the face, rendering the challenger unconscious. Sixth victory of the night. Another round of cheers exploded from the audience. The victor punched the air and shouted some crude taunts at any other would-be opponents.
“Do not let her start another fight,” Patch ordered the girl’s mentor. Now Leech met his gaze, testing the other man with a simple look. Patch readjusted his goggles, determined to stand his ground.
“Well I think that’s up to Sarah, don’t you?” Leech answered, placing emphasis on her name, letting his tone tell Patch exactly what the answer would be.
“What’s up to me?” Sarah asked, appearing at the side of her two male companions. More blood poured from her lip and she was forming a nasty bruise on her chin. There was also a rather offensive-looking graze on her ribs, where some bastard had “forgotten” to remove his wedding ring.
“Your inventor mate,” Leech began, still staring Patch down, “has decided that we’re all done here.”
“Patch,” Sarah interrupted, after hocking up a mouthful of spit and emptying it on the ground at their feet. Patch did his best to disguise his disgust. “You have no idea how much I’ve won tonight. No way I’m quitting now…”
The student said nothing. Instead, he handed over the telegram, putting it directly into Sarah’s hands and bypassing Leech altogether. The fighter gave Patch a confused look then gave her head a brief shake, refocusing her vision so should could make out the words on the card. Her dirty fingers left black and red smudges on the white card.
It took a few seconds for her to take in what she was reading. Once the card’s words finally sunk in, Sarah’s expression changed entirely. She lost her confident air that came along with her previous victories and was now filled with the steely expression that Patch had seen so many times before.
“Leech, settle my accounts,” she announced, handing the card back to its owner. “We’re leaving. Patch, I think I’ll be needing my belt. Better get transport sorted, too. Lads, we’re back in business.”
Sarah gathered up her belongings and left the ring. A collection of groans, complaints and heckles rang out through the crowd at her departure. She’d been damn fine entertainment and now the men would have to go back to watching amateurs break each other’s noses.
The only person in the room who was not disappointed was Patch. In fact, he was feeling pretty damn smug right about now.
Part III: One Foot in Front of the Other/If I Burn
Miss Eleanor waited under the street lamp, bathed in its pale yellow glow. Her gold cuff clung to her wrist and she toyed with it absent-mindedly as she looked out for the rest of the team. The evening was getting on and darkness had fallen, but the Light One was not afraid. She had already proven today that she could defend herself. Two gentlemen out on an evening stroll looked her up and down as she passed. Keeping her chin up high, she refused to lower her eyes and simply stood her ground. They could think whatever they pleased. She had already been socially ruined today; what did it matter what two passing fopps thought.
However, just as the men vanished down another street, a noise reached her ears. Horse’s hooves. She turned in the direction and the moment the saw the silhouette of her transportation, her face fell. “No…” she whispered to herself, knowing that the oncoming carriage was here to pick her up. “This day just gets worse and worse.”
As Master Peter “Patch” Solomon reigned in the stead that pulled the carriage, he looked down at Miss Eleanor with an apologetic look on his face. He flipped his goggles away from his eyes and rested them on his head. “Let me apologise in advance…”
“Master Peter,” Eleanor began, “could you please tell me why you are in command of a funeral carriage?” The socialite took a sharp intake of breath as she studied the vehicle, taking in the elaborate black carriage, pulled by a black horse. Master Peter sat in the driver’s seat, holding a whip and the reigns.
“Miss Eleanor. Do you even have to ask?” he asked, climbing down and greeting Miss Eleanor with a kiss on the hand. “And I’ve asked you to call me ‘Patch’.”
A small smile blossomed on Eleanor’s face. “And I’ve asked you to call me ‘Ellie’.” A blush was exchanged before Eleanor remembered that she was expected to get into a funeral carriage. “She won this by playing cards, didn’t she?”
“Bare-knuckle boxing, actually,” Patch replied, walking towards the carriage doors. Eleanor looked as disgusted as he felt. He pulled the doors open to reveal Leech and Sarah sitting close together, lost in conversation and, shock upon shocks, Leech had his hand resting on Sarah’s thigh.
Eleanor cleared her throat loudly and the pair looked up. They made no effort to change their compromising position. Sarah was wearing a leather jacket over a pair of trousers. Eleanor wondered why she insisted on looking so much like a man. I mean, binding her breasts?! Why?
“Ellie, dearest,” the girl’s former teacher said with sarcasm dripping from her tongue. “Welcome to the Death Wagon.”
“I cannot believe you,” Eleanor squealed, her skirts quivering with rage. “I am not getting into a funeral car.” At this, Sarah got up and crossed the small space inside the van, leaning in the doorway.
“Then you can sit up front with Patch,” she growled, before closing the carriage door, shutting her and Leech inside the cab while Eleanor and Patch were left standing in the street. Upper class living had not left Miss Eleanor prepared for rejection. Mouth formed an angry “O” and body heaved with rage.
“Let’s just get moving,” Patch said, placing a hand gently on Eleanor’s elbow, he calmed guided her to the driver’s seat.
“I detest that woman, Patch,” Eleanor said, eyebrows still arched in shock. Like the gentleman he was, Patch offered Eleanor a hand and helped her up onto the driver’s seat. It was extremely for her to sit on such a tiny perch and maintain a lady-like posture.
“She’s not that bad,” he shrugged, taking up the reigns again. “She’s just had a tough run.”
Exhaling deeply, Eleanor rolled her eyes. “She’s had a tough run?! What about the day I’ve had?”
Setting the horse into a trot, Patch began to lead the way. Goggles were pulled back down over his eyes. “Lightfoot didn’t propose, did he?”
Eleanor fumbled with her gold cuff. “Our little robotic friend turned up before he had the chance to,” she grumbled. “And, as I exposed my thighs and produced a firearm from my undergarments.”
For a few moments, the only sound was the clattering of hooves against the cobbles. Patch searched for something to say but came up with nothing. Instead, he juggled with the reigns as he retrieved something his jacket pocket.
“Maybe this will make you feel better,” he said, breaking the silence as he handed a small item over to his passenger.
A small, metal disc was placed in Eleanor’s hand. Confusion coloured her face as she turned it over between his fingers. “What is it?” she asked.
Keeping his eyes on the road, Patch tried to explain: “I adapted a little cog from your metal friend. It’s a bit like a Catherine wheel. Once you light up, it acts as a spinning inferno and it will cut your enemies to pieces.”
“Charming,” Eleanor smiled, giving Patch a playful nudge on the arm.
“It gets better,” he replied, returning the nudge. “Slide that little switch open.”
Sliding a dainty finger over a tiny piece of loose metal, Eleanor watched as the cog folded in on itself, retracting until it formed a delicate copper ring. The girl’s face lit up. “It’s beautiful, Patch,” she giggled.
“I know it’s not an engagement ring from a polo player, but…” he said, fumbling for the right words.
“No…” Eleanor interrupted. “No…it’s lovely, honest.” Copper slide smoothly onto Eleanor’s ring finger, filling the space Dale left. “And it will protect me better than my so-called fiancé ever did.”
Moment over, the pair rode in silence. The thoughtful, pleasant experience they had shared lingered in the air and each one of them was unsure of what to do. Not wanting to ruin it, neither said another word for the next half an hour. Instead, Eleanor watched the stars moving above them and wished she had not ever met Master Dale Lightfoot. Rather, she wished she had met Master Peter “Patch” Solomon back before she was forced into the tangled web that was upper class social politics.
As the team approached a dilapidated, decrepit old factory, Patch reigned in the horses. He had barely brought the carriage to a stand-still when Sarah and Patch began to clamber out of the back.
“Is this the place?” Sarah asked, hands on her hips as she inspected their destination. In the light of the moon, the old factory seemed rather ghastly, almost haunted even. Shattered windows hung in their frames like broken teeth, waiting to be pulled out entirely. Doors had been torn open years ago by looters, hoping to salvage what they could from the abandoned building. The grounds had grown wild with grass and weeds tangling and obscuring any path that had once led to the place. It was difficult to think that there must have been a time when this building would have been a bustling hub of activity; workers going about their business and machines whirring. Now all that remains were the ghosts of what had once been an industrial landmark.
“Without a doubt,” Patch informed Sarah as she and Eleanor approached the rusted old gates to inspect the location. “There were parts in the monster that were originally built in this factory and I managed to trace them to this spot. It appears that the company went out of business some eight years ago and the land cannot be sold off due to a complication with the previous owner’s will. Until now, it has lain dormant. Until our new friend came along, apparently.”
Sarah looked over her shoulder, smiling at Patch. “You’ve been reading more of those damn Holmes novels, haven’t you?”
“Just the odd one…”
While the two old friends exchanged some playful banter, Eleanor scoured the grounds, her mind spinning. “We’ve fought this one before,” she announced, interrupting the fun. The fourth member of their little group, Leech, refused to join in and leaned against the carriage, keeping out of the way.
“The Clockmaker,” Sarah nodded in agreement. “He’s escalating though. Building these machines… Attacking you in a public place…”
“Cancelling my would-be engagement party,” Eleanor chipped in. “We need to finish him this time.”
“I agree,” the older and more experienced of the two heroines replied.
Sarah returned to the carriage she had been riding in earlier and began to collect supplies. Eleanor touched her unique jewellery as if to remind herself that they were still there. When Sarah returned, her arms were full of pieces of equipment. Her protégé appeared at her side, taking things for her so that she could deal with the most important item first: her belt. However, what Sarah held was not a belt, but rather a belt buckle.
Holding it just below her navel, she flicked a switch and the belt began to fold out on itself. Iron sections doubled and redoubled until it was long enough to connect and fit comfortably around Sarah’s waist. A section flipped open and she checked the essence level of the vials she carried in tiny, secret compartments. Retrieving one of these vials, she offered her free hand out to Eleanor. Obediently, Eleanor handed over an item that looked like a compact gun that had a space for something to screw in along the side of the barrel. Sarah uncorked the vial and screwed it into the space. Then, controlled and calm, she pressed the barrel of the gun to her neck and fired.
The vial released its contents and Dark essence spread through her veins, powering her body. As a Taker, she relied on the life force of the Dark Ones to keep her strong, and had done since the age of fourteen. Eleanor did not need to partake in such a procedure as she was a Giver, meaning that she could maintain her own power. However, it also meant that her soul was coveted by the creatures that they hunted.
Patch took the syringe-gun from Sarah and Eleanor handed over the leader’s favourite weapon. Her crossbow. Patch had modified it on many occasions, and what she held now was truly monstrous to behold. It was a combination of metal cogs and leather straps, although it currently held no arrows and it never did. Rather, Sarah’s Light essence was what turned it into a lethal device. Strapping it to her wrist, she nodded to Eleanor. They were ready. Eleanor retrieved her pistol from her garter and pushed the gate open.
Both women turned for a moment and gave the menfolk a nod. Neither man was to follow them and they never did. This was a job for the female members of this small troop to take on alone. It bothered Patch, but he felt he did his duty by providing them with the tools they needed for their task. As he watched the girls vanish down what was once a path but was now a haven for crawling vines, he couldn’t help but think that the man beside him should be contributing somehow.
“You should be in there with them,” Patch said aloud, eyes still on the girls as they got closer to the old factory. They appeared to be exchanging civil words. Once they were nearly out of sight, he turned and glared at Leech. The widower had slipped his gold wedding band on and was now fingering the chain that it hung from.
“I don’t hunt anymore,” was the blunt answer.
“Sometimes responsibility outweighs desire, I’m afraid.”
Leech met his gaze now, contempt in his eyes. “Come back and say that to me when you’ve lost someone you love.”
Refusing to back down, Patch did not look away. “That might be sooner than you think, thanks to your cowardice.”
Letting his ring fall back round his neck, Leech thrust his hands into the pockets of his long coat. “Drop me a line when they’re finished,” he ordered before storming off into the shadows. Patch watched him go, rage coursing through his chest, sending his heart into a frenzy. He would never understand what Sarah saw in that man. All he did was encourage vice and try to lead Sarah into the world of darkness which he inhabited.
Angry and alone, Patch clapped his horse and climbed back up onto the driver’s perch and prepared himself for a long evening of worry and anxiety.
Sarah led the way into the factory. Cobwebs and moss hung like clawing fingers from the broken doorway. Eleanor let out an audible groan.
“Why must these creatures find such gruesome holes to nest in?” she muttered, picking her way over shards of rotten and louse-ridden wood. “Seriously, can we not find one glamorous one to invite us in for tea before we brutally slaughter them?”
“Can we not please shut our dainty mouths?” Sarah said, mocking Eleanor’s affected way of speaking. “Or we shall be besieged by ten thousand grotty little buggers.”
Eleanor stopped just inside the doorway, letting Sarah continue alone for a few steps. “Must you be so awful to me?” Eleanor complained. Dirt was already beginning to cling to her skirts and the mess hanging from the door frame had loosened some of her hair from yet another elaborate updo. “I do everything you ask me and I have taken on all of…” Eleanor struggled for words to describe their situation. Instead, she lit up her fingers. “…This! And it has totally changed my life and ruined everything!”
“It’s ruined your life?” Sarah snarled, storming back in Eleanor’s direction. They stood barely a hair’s breadth apart. Knuckles whitened as Sarah tightened her grip on her crossbow, the leather strap biting into her scarred wrist. “How the hell do you think I feel?” she shouted. “I been doing this since I was fourteen-years-old. I spent time on a fucking asylum because of…this!” Sarah’s fist sparked with a burst of light, her body still pumping with the same kind of adrenaline she felt during a fight. In response, Eleanor flared the rest of her fingers, lip twitching into a sneer that seldom visited her face and was rather unbecoming for a young lady like her.
A noise on the other side of the factory snapped the women out of their cat fight, dimming their light momentarily. “They’re here,” Eleanor whispered, cocking the hammer on her gun. Sarah snapped into action and grabbed Eleanor’s free hand.
“North side?” she asked, readying her crossbow. Eleanor nodded, setting her firing sight on her gold cuff whirring. The tiny crosshairs slid into place. “Ready?” Another nod.
Breaking into a run, the girls picked their way across the factory. Dodging dead machines, they followed the sound. Noises echoed through the industrial graveyard and there was no mistaking the sound of crunching metal footsteps. After weaving past something rotten and rusted, Sarah skidded to a halt, yanking Eleanor with her.
“Holy fuck!” Sarah yelled, coming face to face with a hulking metal man. It bellowed right back, the force of its scream whipping her ponytail out behind her. She shot a quick blast of light, just enough the force the thing backwards so that she could gather her wits about her. “Is that what attacked you earlier?!” she asked Eleanor, lining up her crossbow for a shot.
“I told you!” Eleanor screamed, charging up her arm with light and fixing a bullet in her pistol.
Finding its feet, the hulking metal monster let loose another wail. Dark essence spilled forth from its open mouth, pouring from its hanging jaw. Its copper hide glinted in the light of the hundreds of gas lamps that were scattered around the factory, illuminating the place with eerie shadows that seemed to dance around the girls, mocking them as they fought the beast.
“Get it between the eyes,” Eleanor cried out, firing a bullet that ricocheted off of the creature’s chin. It wailed even louder, but was interrupted by an arrow of light to the skull. Instantly, the machine collapsed and the shadow leaked from the iron body, seeping into the cracks in the floor.
Sarah, let her crossbow fall to her side and let her light dim. “Well, that was easy…”
Machines began to creak and at least three gas lamps popped and burst. The floor trembled and the girls grabbed one another. “Now do you see why things like this are ruining my life?!” Eleanor hissed at Sarah, as she pulled her new gold ring off her finger and hit the button, creating a flat disc again.
Sarah ignored Eleanor’s comment and instead stared curiously at her new device. “New toys?” she asked as another 3 machines came stumbling into view. They smashed the remains of a piece of machinery as they formed a triangle surrounding the Light Ones.
“Yes,” the socialite said. “You want to see what it does?” A short smile formed on her lips. Sarah gave a sideways grin and a curt nod. “I heard you were on a winning streak tonight,” Eleanor continued.
“You wanna see what I can do?” Sarah echoed, lighting up from her core. White light spread through her skin, illuminating her veins and bones. Eleanor’s smile grew and she returned the nod.
In the dim gas light of the abandoned factory, two bright young things were attacked by three mechanical monsters.
Sarah fired two consecutive arrows, knocking an arm off one of the monsters. As her weapon failed, she resorted to her weapon that would never fail; her fists. She brought down a rain of blows upon the first Shadow, sending it to the ground. Once it was down, she leapt on it, yanking the metal mask off it shadowy face. A dark mass stared out at her with nothing but slits for eyes. It screamed at her but Sarah was not one for mercy. Rather, she let a wild ball of energy form and grow in the palm of her hand, before sending it into the creature’s face. It burned with the fire of a thousand gas lamps, melting the creature from within and killing it quickly.
Meanwhile, Eleanor fought off the other two opponents. She caught one in the eye with a blazing bullet, killing it quickly. The second, she saved for her new contraption. Lighting her body up like the firework Patch compared it to; she felt her energy lift the disc from her hand. It floated for a brief moment before she commanded her Light energy into it. The disc began to spin. Little shards of light sparked and splinted off it until she wielded a spinning disc of fire. The metal creature’s face seemed to fall and more essence seemed to sweat from its joints. It began to retreat.
“This is for ruining my engagement,” Eleanor muttered, and then loosed the disc in the creatures direction. It decapitated the beast in a quick arc of blinding light.
With all monsters dead, the girls stood alone in the factory, panting heavily. Wounds on Sarah’s knuckles had reopened and were bleeding sluggishly. Eleanor looked around as her light slowly dissipated. Sarah, too, reverted to her normal state. Somewhere in the shadows of the factory, someone was running away.
“The Clockmaker,” Eleanor said quietly, watching a shadow slip deeper into the darkness before disappearing. “He only made five beasts and now he has nothing to fight us with.”
“We’ll get him next time,” Sarah replied, detaching her crossbow from her arm. Eleanor glanced her way, wondering why her teacher was not demanding that they chased the man who had tried to kill them. “You should go back to your fiancé.”
In a tiny zip of light, Eleanor’s disc flew back to her. She caught it calmly and hit the tiny button, sending it back to its ring form. The tiny gold band fit perfectly on her wedding ring finger.
“He didn’t propose,” Eleanor sighed, playing with her new accessory.
Sarah smeared sweat from her face and thought for a moment. Silence filled the huge room, bouncing off the corpses of industrialisation. “I’m sorry,” she added simply and honestly.
“Thank you,” Eleanor replied, gathering up her skirts and picking her way back through the rubble. She left Sarah where she was and crossed the factory floor. Finding the doorway, she pushed the cobwebs aside and stepped out into the moonlight. Coming down what was once the path, was Patch. He offered an arm and Eleanor took it, letting Patch escort her back to the carriage.
A Pretty Penny
Leaning back in his chair, Leech took quiet notes in a leather-bound notebook. The market had been dead this afternoon and he was savouring the lull. He was almost hoping that no-one else would arrive and he could pack his shit up for the day. Three years he had been doing this crap and it got more boring with every day. Each market morning he threw the same piece of black velvet over the same crappy old table, selling however many vials of that vile stuff he could pilfer from the hunters that still worked this city. Load of shit.
He reached for the coffee cup that was on the ground beside his chair. It was soulless chain coffee because he couldn’t be arsed going 2 streets over for the independent place that served the good stuff. There was a day when he’d have gone out of his way to go to the little indie place. Today was not that day. Long blonde hair swung away from his face as he drained the last of his coffee. It tasted of shit.
Abandoning his notes, he started to doodle. Exhaling deeply, he tapped his pencil against the table. What a boring day. He should just pack up and go home. Idle doodling formed ugly shadows, until he grew sick of looking at them. Scoring a black mark through the creatures, he flipped a few pages forward, ridding himself of the memory of the monsters he had once killed. Starting again, idle doodling became skilled sketching. On a blank page, Leech marked out the shape of a woman’s face. Features developed. A mouth grew with a sweet-yet-mischievous grin, then a tiny button nose. A few freckles blossomed and a crop of spiky, fair hair sprang from her head, poking out around her elfin ears. Smiling, he let his pencil drift around the page, bringing her back to life. He patiently filled her eyes in and leaned forward to study the woman he had recreated.
There was something wrong.
Looking harder, he studied her eyes again. They weren’t right. It just wasn’t her. He couldn’t be starting to forget what her eyes looked like, could he?
An older woman appeared before him, looking haggard and weary. Lifting his eyes in a lazy fashion, Leech watched her perusing his stall. Jars and old ginger bottles adorned the table, each containing a meagre portion of neon fluid. She fingered the cardboard price tag of what had once been a bottle of soy sauce. Discovering the price, she immediately pulled her hand away.
“So…expensive,” she muttered to herself, not really addressing Leech but still giving him a quick glance.
“So difficult to come by,” he breathed, watching her grip her purse.
“I only need a little,” the woman said. She had to be in her early 60s. What the hell was she needing this for? Her hunting days must have been way over. “I’m getting sick, you see…”
Stretching across the table, Leech slid the bottle out of the old girl’s reach. “I don’t do sob stories,” he interrupted with. “You either got the cash or you don’t. There ain’t no reductions and if you don’t like it, you can go hunting for yourself.”
Veins pushed out of the woman’s skin and Leech wondered if she could even light them up any more. Painted lips pursed, revealing plenty of tiny wrinkles around her mouth. “Is that what you did?” she asked with an attitude the stall holder didn’t care for.
“Excuse me?” Leech quizzed, rising slowly from his seat and bringing himself to full height. He was a damn sight taller than the lady and he should have felt guilty for intimidating her like this. Yet he didn’t.
In spite of looking distinctly nervous, the woman with her pale, permed hair stood her ground and spoke with only a slight tremor in her voice. “It’s just that I hear you don’t get this stuff yourself.” Leech pressed his hands on the table, bringing himself to eye level with her. “In fact, I’m curious as to how fresh some of this…produce…really is.” She picked up a marmalade jar and let the fluid roll around the bottom of the glass. “Some of this might have been essence I collected.”
Snatching the jar from the woman, Leech growled. “Move along, you’re done here.”
“If you want to bring in better business, my boy,” she said, finding her confidence again and readjusting her bag strap, “I suggest you get back into the field and find yourself some better product.” Turning on her heel, she took a few steps away before thinking twice and returning to the table. “And, quite frankly, you can go fuck yourself,” she added before beating it through the other market stalls and out of Leech’s reach.
“Lovely,” Leech called after her. “That’s a charming mouth you’ve got on you. Ma’am. Didn’t hear me talking like that to you, did you?!”
“For the Light’s sake, Leech, can it!” said a voice, dragging Leech’s attention away from his target to the short, podgy man standing in front of his stall.
Sparks. The most annoying guy on the market. He didn’t actually have a stall, he just “acquired” things for other stall owners. He liked to call himself “Acquisitions Manager”. Load of bullshit.
“Sparks,” Leech sighed, tidying up the items the last customer had moved around. He busied himself in order to avoid looking at Sparks’ ugly face. He was positively repugnant; covered in pock marks and with so much oil on his head that it made his blonde hair look like it was stolen from a retired scarecrow. Or “acquired” from a retired scarecrow. “What brings you to my busy little table?”
The disgusting creature eyed Leech’s table, clearly counting the items on display. Eight. “Running a tad short, aren’t we,” he asked, hissing past a bad tooth.
“Maybe it’s been a busy day,” the taller – and far more attractive – of the two lied.
Sparks picked up the marmalade jar. “Or maybe you’ve been hocking the same shit since last October.”
“It would be much easier if somebody was doing his job and getting hold of some new shit for me.”
“What do you think I’m here for?!” Leech folded his arms across his chest and finally looked in Sparks’ direction, seeing that he was wearing his Del-Boy hat and coat. A smile spread across his round face and bushy eyebrows did that awful dancing thing they did whenever Sparks had a plan. “Leech, I want you to meet, the Illuminator.”
For the second before Leech noticed the girl, he had no idea what Sparks was on about. But when he finally clocked her, he couldn’t believe his eyes had missed her. She looked nothing like the rest of the crooks and losers that hung about this hell hole. Her hair was one of the brightest shades of gold he had ever seen; nothing like the platinum of his. Yellow brick road in Technicolor. Goth make-up shielded her face from giving away too much. She was a difficult one to read. Coming to her clothes, Leech thought she was trying way too hard to make herself appear like one of the Shadows; all black to match her eye liner. Illuminated, she certainly was not, but when it came to comparing her to the dull crowd around him, Leech thought she was bursting with the light of a thousand fireflies.
“Hey,” he said quietly, still trying to take her in. The Illuminator. She was something straight out of a newsstand comic book.
“Hi,” she said, clearly judging him and everyone around her.
“How old are you?” Leech asked, giving a tiny snort and trying not to notice the way she sneered at her surroundings.
“Does it matter?” she nipped back.
“Not at all,” he said, keeping his smile on display. Nervousness radiated from the Newbie. “You got some stuff for me then?” Leech leaned against the wall of the back street the market hid in. Sparks seemed to vanish into the crowd, leaving the pair as alone as they could be in a market full of people.
Awkwardly, the girl fumbled with something around her waist, something Leech hadn’t noticed until now. A utility belt. This girl had to be kidding. This could not be the real deal.
“How very Batman of you,” he purred, high cheekbones highlighting his smirk.
“Dude uses this thing for a reason,” the girl announced as she dropped it onto the middle of the table with a twinkling clatter. “It carries a hell of a lot of crap.”
Eyes widened as Leech stared at the belt. Hanging from at least thirty tiny fixtures, were vials, bottles and stoppered tubes. Every single one was filled with Dark Essence. He picked up the belt and ran his hands over the bottles. There were 3 uniform styles of container, each brandishing enough fluid to keep a Taker going for at least two days.
“I use 3 types of bottle,” she explained, as if trying to fill the silence between the pair. “The test tubes are kind of like instant shots that give you a quick buzz. The vials are good for a whole day, you know, just when you’re needing to get through something kind of big. But the little round ones…” At this point, the girl unhooked a spherical container from the belt and held it in her hand. “These work with me to just dissolve and hit my system straight away. You know, for a big fight. My friend devised it. He’s real smart…”
“You filled all of these yourself?” Leech said, royal blue eyes wide and his gaze penetrating.
“Yeah,” she said, as if the answer was as obvious as being asked if she liked the Rolling Stones. “Can’t you do that, too?”
Guilt finally hit Leech with a sucker punch and he looked this girl up and down again. She must have been like 19 or something around that. Hope and sadness clouded her aura and waged an all-out war for her soul. He couldn’t work out if she was new to all this or not. No, she must have been doing this for years if she had amassed this kind of haul.
“You haven’t come across many of our kind, have you?” he asked, lowering himself onto his chair and studying the new stock he had been given.
“Not really,” she answered quickly before returning to her previous point. “Now, if you do this…” The Illuminator girl took Leech’s hand, alarming him with her forwardness, and placed the round bottle on his palm.
“What now?” he asked, staring at the bottle.
“Flame on,” she said with a tiny giggle, leaning over the table. Smells of vanilla and coconut teased his nose. He was 26, he should not be thinking this way about a girl who probably hadn’t hit 20 yet.
Leech did something he hadn’t done for 3 years. He laughed. “What the hell does that mean?!”
“You know!” the girl prompted, waving her arms at him. “Go all glowy. Flame on!”
“This is a public place, miss…”
“Yes, Illuminator. And I wouldn’t want to expose myself.” Eyes locked and the pair exchanged genuine smiles.
“Right, I’ll make you a deal,” the 19-year-old goth superhero said to him. Eyebrows raised as he tried to take in the fact that a rookie was treating him like any of those other down-and-outs that frequented this market. “You take this one home and try it out and I’ll come back tomorrow. You like it, you buy my stuff; you don’t like it, you don’t buy. Easy.”
“I think that’s fair,” Leech answered. He liked this girl and he was pretty damn pleased that Sparks had let them deal with this themselves.
The Illuminator gathered up her utility belt, ensuring that Leech had that one round bottle. She surveyed the sad affair that was the eight containers of wasted fluid on Leech’s table. Shame took its turn of visiting Leech today. The girl clutched the belt to her chest and slipped back to looking uncomfortable in the city’s only supernatural black market.
“You know how to get out of here again, Illuminator?” Leech asked, rising to say goodbye to his new business partner.
“I guess so,” she said, reattaching her belt. Blonde hair bobbed about in a high ponytail. Light Ones, he could stare at that hair all day. “So, I guess I’ll see you tomorrow then?”
“I do hope so,” Leech answered, turning on the charm. He held his hand out and offered it to the girl. Gingerly, she took it and they shook. As they did, he could instantly tell that she was a Taker, just like him. He wondered if she knew that there was a Giver somewhere out there, looking for her. His was gone and now he was here, selling crap to people too scared to get out and find their own.
A mobile phone rang out with some song by a Scottish band. All Leech caught were the words “…glitter and trauma…”. The Illuminator fumbled with a pocket on her belt. “Damn, sorry,” she said, looking at the lit up screen. “I’ve got to go, Leech. It was really cool to meet you.”
“No problem,” Leech mumbled, trying not to feel rejected by a mobile phone.
“It’s my eye in the sky,” she joked, ringtone still blaring. “He’s a neurotic girly bitch sometimes.”
Leech laughed and tightened his hand around the free sample she had given him. “Don’t worry, just go. See you here tomorrow.”
“Awesome,” she said with a smile and a wave before she answered her phone. Suddenly, Leech realised that she certainly was 19 and he felt very old for 26.
The girl vanished into the crowd, phone pressed to her ear. The blonde ponytail bounced through the crowd and Leech happily watched it go. Suddenly the market wasn’t quite so boring.
Seventeen years old and pissing her pants, Sarah is sitting her Higher History paper. The gym hall is full of nervous kids doing exactly the same. She looks around, blonde hair hanging in her eyes. She wishes she’d gone to history more often. History is one of her better subjects, but the creatures took a shine to appearing during Wednesday last two periods and most other times when she had that class.
Damn shadows, ruining her life even more than they already had. Guess it was time to accept that she wasn’t going to university any day soon. She catches sight of Patch sitting 3 rows to her left. He clocks her and gives a little wave, evading the eyes of the invigilators. Nods are exchanged and they mouth “Good Luck” to one another. It’s good to have someone looking out for you, Sarah thinks to herself. She wouldn’t have lasted these last 3 years without Patch. He gives her a tiny thumbs-up then returns to rearranging his ludicrous number of pens.
The invigilator announces that it’s time to open the papers and begin. Heart pounding, Sarah throws the pink cover open to reveal her first few questions. It is truly horrific to behold. Shit. She really should have gone to class. Looking across the room, Patch is already scrawling frantically. How the hell does he do this? He’s been on shadow duty just as much as her. In fact, he’s been doing a damn sight more homework than her since he started creating some computer programme that will help them find the creatures before they find Sarah. Clever bastard.
Putting pen to paper, Sarah struggles her way through the first two pages of her answer booklet. Stopping for only a moment, she looks to the clock. Holy crap, the exam is already halfway through. How can that even be possible?! Palms sweating, she tried to keep a steady grip on her pen but failed. The Bic ballpoint spun to the floor with an almighty clatter. At least twenty pairs of eyes turned to see who made the sudden noise. The invigilator lifted her bespectacled face to see what was going on. Shit. Not good.
Trying to remain inconspicuous, Sarah reached down slowly to lift the deviant pen from the floor. Somebody dares to shush her. Furrowing her brow, she retrieves the pen and sits upright. Stupid idiots. Eyes scan the room, staring at the clock. Only twenty minutes left. Where the hell did the time go?
Distracted, Sarah lets her gaze drift to the main doors. Windows let her see into the school beyond. All the younger kids and those not in the exam are gone. Just Sarah, the other seventy kids sitting Higher History and the invigilator are left in the building. The window lets in the sunlight she is missing while being stuck in this damn hall. What a crap day.
As Sarah stared out the window, a dark shape flits by. The girl freezes. Not today. Not during a freaking exam. The shape reappears at the window. Without a doubt, it is one of the shadows. Damn it. The creature spots her and slams into the hall doors, rattling them loudly. Every head in the hall lifts. Shit, this is not going to end well. While almost nobody knows exactly what has just happens, Patch does. He looks to Sarah and she nods.
Guess Higher History is going to be a definite fail then.
Sarah throws her hand in the air and says, in a not too quiet voice, “Finished.” The invigilator hurries over and gives her a “shhhhhh” gesture.
“Are you sure you’re finished?” the old crone, who probably can’t even remember being a teacher, never mind being a kid in an exam.
“Yeah, yeah,” Sarah hurries, grabbing her pen and her bag. “Just take it.”
The young gifted girl is the first to leave the exam hall. The clever kids give her a look of pity and the struggling ones give a pleading look of desperation. Patch just seems worried, and not for her exam result.
Throwing the exam hall door open, Sarah heads into the well-lit school lobby. Sunlight streams in through windows, illuminating the cavernous room. In the centre of the lobby, a shadowy mass awaits the girl-hero.
“You just fucked up my history exam,” she tells the Thing in a hushed voice, not wanting to attract the invigilator’s attention. “I’m going to have to resit that next year. You’re going to pay.”
Aware or not of the girl’s words, the creature heeds no warning and opens its mouth in a silent scream. It wants this fight now. Eyes tearing wide slits in its face, the shadows begins to charge. Three years on from her first encounters, Sarah holds no fear for these things now, and is ready for whatever it can throw at her. Hands clench into fists and a fire burns inside. Light blossoms from her veins, making her hands burn white and a glow shooting up her arms. The creature is getting nearer and nearer as Sarah arches back her fist. After the tension of her exams, she almost wants the feeling she gets from a fight. A smile cocks upwards from the corners of her lips. She’s ready for this.
Fist connects with the shadow as it charges into Sarah, knocking the monster right back to where it started. But Sarah gives it no time to recover and is on it as fast as it hits the ground. Fingers grasp at the scruff of what she thinks might be the shadow’s neck and she fires a burst of energy into it, illuminating it from the inside out. A silent wail bursts from the creature’s mouth as a surge of air. It stinks and almost sends Sarah reeling back but she must resist.
Veins and bones flare white from beneath the monster’s dark flesh. Neon light pulses between the Light One and the Dark and they know who has the upper hand here.
“Now listen, you,” Sarah starts, yanking the thing’s face round to look her in the eye. “It’s been months since one of you found me in school and, let me tell you, this was a bad day to try again.” Shadowy claws scrape at the floor, trying to escape. “You’re not going anywhere, so quit trying!” Voice is raised now and she’s well aware of the seventy teenagers in the hall behind her. Screw their exam, she’s saving their lives here. Going limp, the creature resorts to panting nervously.
“You probably thought, “Teenage Light One? She’ll be piss easy to drain.” But I’m not,” Sarah snarls through clenched teeth. “Three years I’ve been fighting you bitches and, know this, I’ve learned a trick or two.” Dead, empty eyes dart around the room, searching for a way to escape the angry, glowing teenager. “I am not the sad, little girl you lot ambushed three years ago. I am strong and angry.
“I am the fucking Illuminator.”
With a final pulse of energy, Sarah plunges her fingertips beneath the creature’s skin just below where its navel should be. It squirms and dances beneath her grip but she refuses to release it. Finally adept at this new trick she’s been working on, Sarah draws the energy out of the Shadow, letting it flow into her and fill her with power. Mouth slips open and she gasps with disbelief. She never knew it would feel like this.
The monster goes limp then bursts into a pale mist, leaving a faint residue of glitter behind. Sarah sits on the lobby floor, iridescent and unable to believe what just happened. Stretching her fingers out and flexing her wrists, she feels strong as she pulls back her Light and returns to a normal shade of human. Power still courses through her veins and she feels like she could take on a hundred more creatures. At last, she has found a way to beat them at their own game.
Getting to her feet, Sarah looks back into the exam hall. It’s about to finish and she guesses she will just wait for Patch to emerge. Nobody in there is any the wiser that a supernatural being was just killed out here. It’s probably better that way.
Still breathing heavily, Sarah leans back against one of the lobby walls. The Illuminator? What crap she talks in the heat of battle. Still it feels kind of catchy. Maybe she could be a bit of a hero after all. She smiles a little and looks at her fingertips again. This is the most alive she’s felt in months. There’s still a little shine to her skin and it looks like she’s wearing some sort of body shimmer like all the Queen Bees and It Kids wear. God forbid she should start looking like one of them. Not that they’d ever try to start talking to her. Not that she wants them to.
The hall doors open, awakening Sarah from her stupor. Pupils spill out, chattering and wearing mixed expressions: nervous, happy, anxious, relieved. A figure shoves its way through the crowd and Sarah instantly knows who. She grabs Patch by the elbow and pulls him aside. He throws arms around her neck before swiftly letting go again and adjusting his glasses.
“I was so scared,” he gushes, looking around and keeping his voice low.
“It’s fine,” Sarah smiles, pushing her shiny hands into the pockets of her black school trousers. “It’s more than fine. I feel alive.”
Patch eyes her suspiciously and looks her up and down.
“I think I can do this, Patch,” Sarah says, losing a little of her self-conscious air. “I think I might be able to do this hero thing after all.”
A few people shove by them, heading towards lockers and the main doors. This is a sign to switch the conversation. School is not the place for this. And they both know they’ll have time to chat at Patch’s place later when he shows off his new computer system. The two friends give one another a small smile.
“You totally failed that, though, didn’t you?” Patch asks, changing the subject entirely. With a sigh, Sarah pushes away from the wall and leads Patch towards the exit.
“One hundred per cent,” she groans, slipping her arm through Patch’s and quickly hiding her hand in her pocket again.
“I’ll tutor you when you resit next year,” he says, walking his best friend outside and into the May sunlight.
“Wow, not even a “Maybe you’ve done okay”? We’re just jumping straight to tutoring my resit?!” Sarah protests, ignoring the stares of a couple of shiny It Kids who pass them on the playground.
“Let’s not kid ourselves.”
Sarah nudges Patch in the ribs and he flinches away. “I think I’ve got a name,” she says once they’ve cleared earshot of the teenyboppers.
“What do you mean?”
“A superhero name.”
“Are you serious?”
A pause ripples between the pair as they cross the school gates. Patch looks up to the bright May sun, holding a hand at his brow to shield his eyes.
“I like it.”
“Me, too,” Sarah says with a grin, a lungful of summer air and the life force of another creature powering her body.
There was something rather ominous about the black van parked in front of the office building. Patch looked it up and down, filled with a sense of dread. He had a feeling that this was the surprise Sarah was talking about when she text him “Meet me outside the office. Got a surprise 4 u. U R gonna luv this! Xx” “Luv” was certainly not the emotion that Patch was experiencing right now.
“Don’t you just love it?!” Sarah squealed as she came running from the building they often used as a base.
“Something like that,” Patch grumbled, inspecting the beastly machine.
“Shut up, you totally do,” she grinned, giving her friend an overly enthusiastic nudge in the ribs. Wincing, Patch took a subtle step out of reach.
“Sarah,” he started, rubbing what would be a bright, new bruise, “don’t take this the wrong way, but what possessed you?”
The Illuminator shrugged. Patch noticed that she was suited up. Black leggings, black tee, black boots. Typical goth with no imagination. “Won it in a poker game.”
“You can play poker?!”
“What the hell do you think I do all day while you’re out in the big world of learning?”
Patch stared at Sarah with a mix of disbelief and pity. Things had been a little strained between them since he had started university. Sarah had struggled through school. She certainly wasn’t any kind of simpleton but fighting the Dark Ones while everyone was studying for exams left her at a bit of a disadvantage. Patch, on the other hand, had excelled. Accepted into several top universities, he chose the closest one to home and the closest one to Sarah. He couldn’t leave her, after all. So Patch had started studying various computer-related courses and Sarah…well, Sarah got a part-time job in a DVD rental store. It was shit and didn’t pay much but it allowed for shadow-stomping time.
Sometimes things like this cause tension, though. Especially between friends.
“Wanna take her for a spin?” Sarah asked, ignoring Patch’s pity and swinging a set of rusted old keys round her fingers. Bottle openers and band key chains rattled furiously.
“Not even a little bit.”
“Nope. I shall leave all the driving fun to you,” Patch replied, strolling around towards the back of the van. “So when did you get – sorry, I mean win – this piece of crap?”
“Last night.” Sarah leaned against the van’s filthy side and Patch grimaced, not wanting to even touch this metal death trap. “When you said you had to stay in and study, I went out for a drink and ended up playing cards with this group of roadies. If you ask me, I was doing a public safety service taking that van off them; they were pissed as donkeys.”
“Are donkeys famous for getting pissed?”
“Dunno and shut up. I’m saying that they were really wasted and I took their wheels away.”
“Wow, you really are a hero.”
“I do what I can. Now, wait ‘til you see this. Been working on it all day.”
Throwing open the doors, Sarah revealed the back of the van with an over-the-top flourish. “Ta-da!” Patch looked at the tiny space where Sarah had hung almost every weapon she usually utilises in her battle against the shadows. Knife handles, sword handles, to name but a few. And, of course, the crossbow. Her baby. Tiny vials hung around the walls, too. Some empty, some full of a strange fluid that Patch had only recently become familiar with.
Over the last few months, Sarah had developed a trick for extracting the essence from the Dark Ones that she needed to stay strong. Without it, she was just Glow-in-the-Dark-Girl.
Patch lifted a full vial down and inspected it closely. Behind him, Sarah twitched nervously. “Are you sure that guy is going to pay for this stuff?” he asked, turning the tiny bottle over in his hands, watching the oily substance roll lazily under the glass.
“Leech, Patch, his name is Leech,” Sarah informed him, taking the bottle from his hands and returning it to its rightful place on the wall. “And yes, he’s got some black market thing going on.”
“I really don’t like the sound of that,” the student grumbled, stepping away from the menacing vehicle.
“Well not all of my “kind” can fight the Dark Ones.” Sarah threw the doors shut, trying to disguise a small huff coming on. “So I gotta supply those that don’t.”
“And why can’t this “Leech” do it?” Arms folded across his chest, Patch was getting uncomfortable. He was starting to sound like some possessive boyfriend.
“I told you already. His girl got killed by a shadow and he’s off fighting them.”
“Sounds like an excuse to me.”
Sarah’s kohl-lined eyes met Patch’s. He adjusted his glasses awkwardly. “You’re shitting me, right?” she asked, hands on hips and battle stance ready.
“I’m just…a little weary of this guy. That’s all,” he said before clearing the cowardice from his throat. “Be careful around him.”
Sarah laughed and walked around the driver’s door of the van. “I think I’ve been around scary shit long enough to know what a real threat looks like.” The Illuminator climbed in the front seat and jammed the keys in the ignition. Putrid black smoke spewed from the exhaust pipe like tar from a smoker’s lungs. Patch covered his face with his sleeve and staggered back. “I’m going to drop those vials off then I’ll be right back,” Sarah informed her partner. “You wanna tag along? Take her for a spin?” A gloved hand tapped dirty metal.
“Not really,” Patch said, leaning in the open window to inspect the inside. It reeked of old aftershave and stale marijuana smoke. “Listen.” He watched Sarah as she played with buttons and switches. Headlights flared at full beam. The radio crackled. CDs were flicked through. “I’ve been working on this new computer programme that I think will really help you out,” Patch told his best friend. “If you want I could show you how to use it. It’s kind of complicated but I’ve spent months working all the kinks out…”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Sarah nodded with a wave of her hand, before pulling a CD out of the bundle and firing it in the sound system. My Chemical Romance blasted out of the windows, pushing Patch away. “I’ll check it out when I get back, sure. Computer thingy, sounds wicked.”
Releasing the hand brake, Sarah met Patch’s eyes. In that moment, he knew she hadn’t heard a thing he’d said. A grin erupted on her face. “I’m calling this bitch “The Panther”,” she beamed, revving up the tired-sounding engine.
“That’s nice, dear,” came a sarcastic reply.
“You’re just jealous, student-boy,” Sarah laughed, pulling away from the parking lot. “Now I’m going to go run over some shadows and see a man about some Dark Essence.”
“Be safe,” Patch called out as she started to drive off.
“Honey, I don’t do safe!” Sarah called over the music as she tore off down the street. As the fading notes of the MCR song reached Patch’s ears, he found her choice of track a rather ironic one on her first mission out in “The Panther”. Famous Last Words. Patch could only hope Fate had a better sense of humour than Sarah and took her raised finger as the joke she hadn’t intended to make.
Patch thought about heading into the office to put the finishing touches on the hunting software he had put together and decided against it. Let her do her job her way. She didn’t need him tonight.
In fact, Patch sometimes worried how much she would need him in the long run now that she had transportation and a new friend on the black market. Angry and hurt, Patch hitched his backpack further up onto his shoulder and began the long trek home, without the help of Sarah’s Panther.
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