Guardians, Episode 1: Fire Fire

[[Scene 1]] [[The Pier]]

[Narrator:]    Rain fell on the streets of New Ark City. These were spring rains, which normally bring with them the promise of life and growth. But that night, as the pluvian nectar mixed with with the metal-and-stone aroma of the city, the rains were promising something other than life. [chuckles] Something entirely different.

{Thunder crack}

[Narrator:]    Near the Harbor, just outside a particularly unappealing dive bar named The Pier, a young woman, no older than 25, stumbled outside. She was Latina, Chicana to be exact. She has had too much for someone who was drinking on their own. She is wearing a purple plaid pleated schoolgirl mini-skirt, a light pink dress shirt tied in the front, exposing her stomach, with the sleeves rolled up, and black red-bottom mary jane pumps. She brushed a strand from her tactfully-messy dark brown hair out of her face. She was holding her purse, which she had managed to hold onto during the slight scuffle that had taken place mere moments before. She reached into her purse, and pulled out her flask. She took a deep swig from it. She then dropped her flask and it clanged loudly on the sidewalk. She winced.

[Liza:]    Shit.

[Narrator:]    She stumbled to pick it up, and began walking towards an alleyway, her urge to go home growing stronger by the second.
After a minute or so, she stopped, realizing she was being followed. She turned around, and what she saw made her roll her eyes. 3 guys, dressed almost identically in torn sleeveless jean jackets over dark colored hoodies and sweatpants. They were big guys, much bigger than her. They were all grinning. Great. Here she was again, getting ambushed in the alley by creepy men. Lovely. They began to circle her, jeering as they did so.

[Thug 1:]    Where you going sweetness?

[Thug 2:]    Heh, yeah girl, where you goin’ lil mama?

[Liza:]    Didn’t your mama ever teach you not to talk to strangers?

[Thug 3:]    Then let’s not be strangers, lil mama. Si tu quieres, te daré esto chorizo. (If you want it, I’ll give you the sausage).

[Narrator:]    The woman scoffed, and rolled her eyes, putting a hand on her hip.

[Liza:]    ¿De Verdad? You kiss your fat whore mother with that mouth?

[Thug 3:]    The fuck you just say, bitch?

[Thug 1:]    Why you so unfriendly? We just tryna have a conversation.

[Liza:]    Really? Circling me like sharks is “just tryna have a conversation”? That’s what they're calling it now? Do yourselves a favor and go the fuck home, with ya tired ass lines.

[Thug 2:]    I don’t think you understand how this works. There’s 3 of us. Whatever we want from you...

[Narrator:]    He walked up to her and put the metal of a gun barrel to her head.

[Thug 2:]    We just gonna take it. So why don’t you shut the hell up and give my friend here a little kiss? {beat}

[Liza:]    Yeah... you’re gonna wish you hadn’t said that.

[Narrator:]    Lightning flashed overhead, and thunder clapped, and using that moment of distraction, the young woman grabbed the second thug’s arm at the wrist and shoulder, curving out of the way and aiming his gun at his buddy. He reacted by pulling the trigger, hitting the third thug in the leg. The third thug screamed and dropped to his knees. With nothing but raw strength, the young woman snapped the third thug’s arm in about 3 places, forcing the gun to drop to the ground. She grabbed his arm and twirled so he was facing behind her, with his arm extended across her shoulders. She threw herself backward towards the ground, causing the thug’s face to connect with the ground with a crack. She cartwheeled back to her feet, grabbing the gun in the process and shooting the first thug’s hand and kneecap. He dropped his gun and also when to his knees. She walked to the first thug and kicked him in the cheek. He was out. She shot a look behind her, and did a backflip, delivering a perfect kick to the top of third thug’s head, sending him to the ground, where he promptly fell unconscious. She leaned down and kissed the third thug on the cheek, leaving a small amount of dark red lipstick as if to mark him. She stood up and surveilled her handy work, before tossing the gun into a puddle.

[Liza:]    And that’s kicking your ass.

[Narrator:]    Her phone buzzed. She looked down at it and saw that she had received a text message.

[Amari:]    {text} We found him. He is with the guardians. We must be ready to engage him, Slayer… The king commands us.

[Liza:]    {text} On my way.

[Narrator:]    By now a slight pool of blood had appeared on the ground, mixing with the rain water. The young woman noticed it touching her shoe. She shook it off.

[Liza:]    Ugh... eww. Gross. These were expensive.

[Narrator:]    She shook her head, and walked toward the back of the alley, leaving behind the sound of her heels clicking on the cobblestone, and the raspy breathing of the 3 thugs in the dirt.

[[Scene 2]] [[The Aviary training studio]]

[Dean:]    J, All I’m trying to - {clang} - Say is that - {grunt, clang, cling, grunt} we should... oh goddamnit. {staff clangs on the ground}

[Jordan:]    YEAH, and what I’m - {swish} - saying is that we should - {swish, spank} WOAH, hey, that’s cheating.

[Narrator:]    I swung my bo staff at my fiance Dean’s knees, who jumped up to avoid it. Dean landed back on his pillar, conscious of the rather large drop to the floor it would be if he failed. He had just seconds before dodging my attempted sweep, had delivered one spank to my ass, while in the middle of dodging. That wasn’t actually against the rules, though, it just felt like I should’ve been. Complicating this entire situation was that we were bound together at the waist by a 12-foot rope. If I knocked him off, he’d pull me down with him.

[Dean:]    Not cheating. But you agree. If I knock you off first, we’re having a Band instead of a DJ?

[Jordan:]    Ugh, fine, if you win, we get a band. But if I win, we’re having a DJ for the reception, and a band at the ceremony.

[Dean:]    And if I win, we’re going with the green buttercream frosting.

[Jordan:]    And if I win, it’s red frosting.

[Dean:]    But the cake is red velvet! You can’t have Red icing with red velvet cake.

[Jordan:]    Says who?

[Dean:]    Martha Stewart? Rachel Ray? The Pioneer Woman? Literally everyone who has ever baked anything in their goddamn life?

[Jordan:]    And are any of them going to be at my wedding? {swish}

[Narrator:]    He caught my staff and pulled. I let go before he could unstable me too much, and he let the staff fall. He jumped to fight with me on my small platform. He landed a punch at my ribs, and I returned one to his cheek. He grabbed my shoulders and spun me, so he had me in a romantic dip, He kissed me, and it was like my brain flooded with song for a few seconds. I realized only when I was falling off the edge that he had dropped me. I fell off, hitting my body against the side of the pillar. Damnit, he won.

[Jordan:]    Now you KNOW that wasn’t fair.

[Dean:]    But I still won. Which means a band and green frosting.

[Narrator:]    I rolled my eyes and shook my head but smiled. I gave in too easily.

[Jordan:]    Okay fine. Birdkeeper, end training sequence.

[Narrator:]    The CORVUS system changed the room to look like the dome shaped hanger underneath the Redfield-Wade Estate. The screen across the back wall came to life. The family crest rotated in place for a few seconds, and the bronze face of it’s AI avatar, Birdkeeper, appeared.

[Birdkeeper:]    Ending practice battle sequence 75. Well done, Dean Morrighan.

[Dean:]    See, even the computer agrees with me.

[BirdKeeper:]    I agree that you won. However, I do not agree on the cake decision.

[Jordan:]    Ya don’t say? What do you know about weddings, Birdkeeper?

[BirdKeeper:]    Unless you plan to marry on Christmas eve, a red velvet cake with green frosting is not appropriate for a wedding cake.

[Jordan:]    (laughing) well, well, the world’s smartest AI says no to the green cake frosting. Thank you, Birdkeeper.

[Dean:]    Well, you already agreed, didn’t you? Marriage is about partnership and compromise. And if we’re going with your first dance song, I think it is only fair I should choose who sings it. Live music beats recordi- ARGH.

[Narrator:]    Dean suddenly cried out, falling to his knees, grabbing the side of his own head and squeezing his eyes shut.

[Jordan:]    DEAN?! Dean, what’s wrong?

[Narrator:]    I knelt beside him, gripping his hand, placing a hand on the middle of his back. He squeezed my hand and I thought my hand might break. I bit my lip. Dean looked up and his eyes were glowing green, as normally happened when any of us uses our powers. However, this was a little different. I watched as the veins around Dean’s eyes went from emerald green to a deep forest green bordering on black. He let go of my hand, and I caught sight of a symbol on his palm. It was 3 swords crossing each other with a crown encircling the 3 blades, all overlayed atop the outline of a bird with its wings outstretched. Dean’s hand shot to his chest, just above his heart. I Was convinced he was having a magical heart attack. Dean’s mouth was open, but no sound was coming out. When sound did escape, it didn’t sound like him.

[Dean:]    (Layered) They... are coming... Father... The King Trials are upon us... the Crow of War will heed the call... he will... be ready. First comes the Sunrise.

[Narrator:]    He closed his eyes, and seemed to pass out as whatever happened to him almost visibly left his mouth in the form of a sigh. He fell onto his side. He was unconscious, but he was breathing.

[Jordan:]    Birdkeeper, did you log video of that?

[Birdkeeper:]    Yes, Jordan.

[Jordan:]    Please send the video log of what just happened to Johanna and Scarlett, and send a still image of the symbol. Also, please do a health scan on Dean.

[Birdkeeper:]    All his vitals are normal. He merely needs to rest. I will inform him when he wakes of where you’ve gone.

[Jordan:]    Where I’ve gone? I’m right here. I’m not going anywhere. I’m not leaving him.

[Narrator:]    I stared skeptically at the monitor.

[Birdkeeper:]    Your presence has been immediately requested with the council, along with Captain Lovelace.

[Narrator:]    I groaned. Why? Why now? Why did I have to meet with the interim mayor, Fayth? Why did she have such poor timing for calling these meetings? To my knowledge, we aren’t and never have been a tribunal. What could possibly be so urgent?

[Jordan:]    Contact me if anything changes with Dean.

[Birdkeeper:]    Your wish is my command, Jordan.

[Jordan:]    Thank you.

[Narrator:]    I gathered my things before leaving. I didn’t know what any of that meant. I was confident Dean wouldn’t know much about it either. He had maintained a wonderful amount of control over his abilities, and hadn’t flown into a blind rage while we patrolled. In truth, there hasn’t been much cause for his specific abilities, though he did take the lead on giving certain members of the team basic field training with hand-to-hand combat and weaponry. Honestly, watching Jo try to throw a spear was one of the best things I’ve ever seen in my life. But now? Now he’s having fits and passing out. I hoped this was a one time occurrence, but on the off chance this happened again, we would need to have our guards up. You know... I wonder what it would be like to be a couple who could just worry about cake and DJ’s vs bands, and not have to worry about whatever the King Trials were and whatever a Crow of War was supposed to be.

[[Scene 3]] [[City Hall conference room]]

[Fayth:]    Thank you.... gentlemen... for coming on such short notice.

[Narrator:]    Jared and I sat opposite Fayth Flaherty, the interim Mayor for New Ark City. I heard the disdain at the fact that she had to call me, and that disdain was mutual. She was wearing a dusty rose pantsuit, with her bleach blonde hair teased, curled and hair-sprayed into a mid-length classic Hollywood glam, framing her face in an aggravatingly perfect way. She looked like Veronica Lake with severe and permanent resting bitch face. Jared sat next to me in his police uniform, looking like a 55-year-old father of 2 who hadn’t slept for the last 24 hours. It was 1 in the afternoon, none of us wanted to be there... This couldn’t possibly go well. Fortunately, there were donuts, so the afternoon wasn’t a total bust. Say what you will about her personality; Fayth had great home etiquette training.

[Jordan:]    What seems to be the issue? Did you hear another rumor about my love life you wanted to discuss?

[Fayth:]    Jordan, now is not the time. This is no laughing matter. The lives of our citizens are in danger.

[Narrator:]    Her tone was serious. I paused and raised an eyebrow. I had expected her to have more of a reaction to my snark. I perked up a little bit. I looked over to Jared, and mouthed the words, “What is it?” to him. He coughed, shook his head and began.

[Jared:]    Yesterday, we found a body. It was the 3rd body we’d discovered in the last 5 days. It had been burned beyond recognition, but upon inspection of dental records, we believe it to be the body of Drake Manning, assistant to FFC council member, William O’Hea the Fourth. We spoke to the O’Hea clan today, and the family have informed us that their middle child, Ember, is missing. Ember O’Hea was last seen yesterday just after leaving the high school. We think this is all the work of a single killer. We are investigating this as a possible kidnapping as well.

[Jordan:]    Are there any leads?

[Jared:]    Currently, we do not have any promising leads on the murderer or the potential kidnapper.

[Fayth:]    That is precisely why, Jordan, we’ve called you here.

[Narrator:]    I was taken aback. I cocked my head to the side, seeking further explanation.

[Fayth:]    Listen, ideally, I wouldn’t need you for this. Fact of the matter is: You’re unquestionably the best P.I. in the city, and you and Detective Morrighan are the only professionals in this city who have actually caught a serial killer. The two of you caught the Storybook Killer, and now, the city needs you. So, I ask you on behalf of New Ark City... Do you accept the case?

[Jordan:]    Yes. Of course. Anything to locate Ember O’Hea.

[Narrator:]    Fayth stood, extended a hand for me to shake. I gave her hand a little shake, and a curt head nod. As Jared and I walked outside, I considered the case. I was getting a feeling about this case. Something was familiar about Ember O’Hea’s name. I had met her of course. I remember when she was about 8 years old, she sold me Girl Scout Cookies. The idea that some cretin could have taken her made me clench my fists in anger. I was fuming. I turned to Jared.

[Jordan:]    Jared, what is the status of the first 2 corpses? I’m assuming they are at the morgue?

[Jared:]    They are. Keiran is running as many scans as he could think of to piece them together.

[Narrator:]    Keiran had gotten the job as coroner a few weeks before. He had decided, after a recent trip to Bayou City, that a job like this can bring people closure. And as a human who understands closure around tragedy knows what that can mean for a person. Plus, he figured that with the gift his family line passed down to him, the gift to see and speak to the spirits of the dead,  he’s be able to clear up some cases faster. I was hoping that would come in handy in this moment.

[Jordan:]    That’s where I’m going to start. I want to see if there is some kind of connection between the vics. Can you send me over anything you might have on file for Ember? I’m gonna have Johanna run through her social media and see if anything comes up as a worrying connection.

[Jared:]    Fair enough. There just might be. I’ll send anything I find your way, but I wouldn’t expect anything. So, how is Dean?

[Narrator:]    I paused, not wishing to lie, but not wanting to alarm him unnecessarily. I opted for a slight lie.

[Jordan:]    He’s alright. He’s meeting with a cake specialist for the wedding. He wants green frosting on the exterior, overtop of the red velvet cake we already agreed on.

[Narrator:]    Jared grabbed my shoulder, and looked at me, disgust filling his face.

[Jared:]    Oh god, you’re kidding. I hope you said absolutely not on that. Unless your last name is Claus, you have no business with a christmas colored cake.

[Jordan:]    Right? I’d wanted black and white for the cake exterior. I mean, we literally fought over it in CORVUS room, and he caught me off guard and won. But... Well, he did make a good point, though. Marriage is all about compromise. If we can’t solve this tiny problem, how are we supposed to brave all the married life stressors?

[Narrator:]    Jared considers that for a second, slightly nodding.

[Jared:]     You know what... That makes a lot of sense.

]Jordan:]    Yeah I’ve got a tendency to do that.

[Jared:]    Oh, yeah, Jordan?

[Jordan:]    Yeah dad. Whats up?

[Jared:]    Just.... just stay safe out there, alright?

[Jordan:]    As always.

[Narrator:]    Jared got into his car and drove away. I texted Johanna.

[Jordan:]    [text] Got a missing girl on our hands. Ember O’Hea. Search her social media for worrying connections. Top Priority. Girlfriends, boyfriends, slightly older boyfriends she has no business having actually.

[Johanna:]    [text] Roger that. By the way, I’ll be late getting back tonight. Scarlett said she’ll run point to start off. I’m really close with this cure, J... I can feel it.

[Jordan:]    [text] You will get there, Jo, I know it. If anyone can cure this, it’s you. Don’t worry yourself too much. By the way, don’t forget, we have that board meeting next, to pitch the new product prototypes.

[Johanna:]    [text] I’ve got almost everything ready for all that, so don’t worry. I’ll start your search now. By the way, I have no idea what happened to Dean, but Scarlett has been really quiet since you sent us the stuff. Check in with her... But also, you should ask Dean’s Moms. When he said, ‘Father’... I don’t know, it just gave me that feeling, you know.

[Jordan:]    That’s... actually a great lead. My lord, what would I do without you?

[Johanna:]    Probably sleep a lot less.

[Jordan:]    That’s... That’s real. Granted, None of us actually sleep that much.

[Johanna:]    True... True. Okay, Love you J. Get home safe.

[Jordan:]    Always do, love. Always do.

[Narrator:]    I called a Lyft to take me to the coroner’s office. It gave me time to think about Dean’s message. The whole time we were dating, Dean never brought up his father... or maybe more accurately, the sperm donor who helped his moms start their family. As an aside, Dean’s moms are wonderful women. Anna-Macrae Morrighan and Emma Nguyen-Morrighan have been supportive since the beginning. Anna-Macrae was for a time my parkour and acrobatics instructor. And Miss Emma was my favorite history teacher in grade school who, in her spare time, worked on historic art restorations. We had gone on a gay couples’ cruise when Dean and I made it to the rank of detective. And yet in all of that time, I'd never thought to ask what the deal with Dean’s dad was. I mean, we aren't ignorant to how babies are made, but I guess I'd thought it improper/rude to ask a lesbian couple about their sperm donor. We certainly don’t do that for straight couples, now do we? In any case, it seemed now I don't have much of a choice. I’ve got to ask.

[[Scene 4]] [[Coroner's Office]]

[Narrator:]    When I walked into Keiran’s office, I was surprised. It didn’t look…all morbid and death-like. Listen, I’ve been in the morgue before. The last guy who was in the Coroner’s office didn’t exactly have an eye for interior design. The office was cold and sterile before, and the lighting could be described as “cold mood lighting” at best. I think if they’d let him get away with it, he would have gone with candles and a blacklight. Now as I stepped in, I heard the pure moods soundtrack playing, upbeat framed motivational posters on the wall, next to framed photographs of various tribal funeral practices around the globe. There was a Dracaena plant next to the door to the room that was Keiran’s actual office, 2 Peacock plants next to the front door, a very happy ficus plant on one side of the refrigeration unit door, and an umbrella palm next to the examination room. Everything was pristine, either white or silver, clean but not sterile. There was the lingering smell of sage and some blend of spices I couldn’t identify. The entry way smelled of cinnamon. Was all of that to mask the smell and presence of death? How had Keiran managed to do all of this in the 3 days of being on the job? Keiran came out of the examination room, in a blue lab coat and protective goggles, peeling off his gloves.

[Keiran:]    Hey, Jay. I figured I’d be seeing you soon.

[Jordan:]    I bet. Wow Key… I love what you’ve done with the place.

[Keiran:]    You like it? I had Marilyn’s help. She brought the plants up from Bayou city a couple days ago.

[Jordan:]    Ah, well, that makes sense. Tell me, how’s my cousin doing?

[Narrator:]    My cousin Marilyn, the daughter of my mother’s sister, is an international supermodel, and as of the last 6 months, she has made her acting debut and was subsequently nominated for an Academy Award, which she lost to Lupita Nyong'o. If you’re going to lose to anyone, best to lose to a legend. Keiran had been her date to that award ceremony, and I could tell that was intentional. I could tell he felt lucky to be the lover of a supermodel. I had not been shocked by how well she had done in the movie, because in addition to being a supermodel and actress, she is a government agent, working for a secret branch of the CIA responsible for crimes involving magic and scientific warfare. My twin brother Jeremy is also an agent with the same unit, based out of Bayou City, Louisiana. Keiran had spent a month with them, learning more about the specific kind of magic he and his family can do. Keiran is a powerful medium, like his father before him, and due to the mark of Legba on the back of his neck, he is compelled to help the spirits of the dead find rest. This is ultimately why he took the job in the morgue.

[Keiran:]    She’s good. We’re good. Really good. But you know who isn’t doing good? The 3 bodies in the exam room. Come, follow me. [beat] Okay. So, this guy here, he was the most recent one to come in.

[Jordan:]    Drake Manning.

[Keiran:]    Yeah. This is what’s left of him. As you can see, he has been burned down to the bone. Unlike the other two victims, we have a mostly intact skeleton. The temperature required to burn someone down like this is approximately, 2012 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s crematorium level temperatures which involves accelerants and pressure, and prolonged containment. And yet, our guy here, was cremated in open air.

[Jordan:]    Holy fuck... And what about the other 2?

[Keiran:]    Well, that’s why I need you here. This is super cool. Watch this.

[Narrator:]    Keiran closed his eyes and touched the pile of ashes on the left. He opened his eyes and they glowed a neon green color. He took a deep breath, and the mark on his neck glowed.

[Keiran:]    Koute’m! Koute kòmandman an nan yon sèvitè nan Legba. Mwen swete pou konnen idantite sann sa yo. Pote m 'non.

[Narrator:]    The ashes responded by swirling around until they settled in the form a human man’s face and beneath it also formed of ashes was a name.

[Jordan:]    Charles Brigham...?

[Narrator:]    Keiran touched the other ash pile, and it formed a face and a name as well.

[Jordan:]    Herbie Hauser? Why do those names sound familiar?

[Narrator:]    Keiran’s eyes went back to normal, and he stumbled slightly as the energy retreated back to the mark on his neck.

[Jordan:]    That’s a neat trick. I guess that’ll come in handy.
[Keiran:]    I think you can expect a bunch of cold files to be solved in the next few months. But it may take me a bit. That drained me a little bit.

[Jordan:]    I can tell. Don’t overdo it, man.

[Keiran:]    I’ll be alright. Now, do you recognize those men at all?

[Narrator:]    At that moment, my cell phone buzzed with a phone call. It was Johanna.

[Johanna:]    Well I’ve got news. Can’t tell if it’s good or bad, but I’ve got news.

[Jordan:]    Lay it on me, sis.

[Johanna:]    So, little miss O’Hea wasn’t as much of a girl scout as we thought. I mean, unless the girl scouts are giving out merit badges in petty larceny and attempted arson. Ember was sent to juvie for a little under a month about a year ago, before being transferred to a private school for troubled teens. Pictures of that place look like it was a prison.

[Jordan:]    What can you tell me about a Charles Brigham and Herbie Hauser?

[Johanna:]    Hauser’s Odds and Ends was the shop that accused her of theft. And Charles Brigham is a lawyer. He is the son of the judge who convicted Ember and sent her to juvie. And based on messages from her facebook account to one miss Elizabeth Brennan, her father might have paid both Brigham men to just have her sent her away. Like she knew something she shouldn’t. Why?

[Jordan:]    Oh... fuck. So, Keiran ID’ed the 2 ash piles, and they are Charles and Herbie.

[Johanna:]    You think it’s her? But how would she be burning the bodies that quickly? She’s only 17.

[Jordan:]    I’m going on a hunch here, but what was the date of her sentencing? Was she within the city limits in September?

[Johanna:]    I’m checking... I’m looking... Oh... Ohhhh. Oh. Oh damn. She was in the city limits at the time. And I think I see what you’re getting at.

[Keiran:]    What are you both talking about?

[Jordan:]    Well, 6 months ago, that shockwave that went out from Blackburn labs activated the powers of Johanna, Scarlett and Dean. It stands to reason it wasn’t just them that were affected. I think Miss Ember O’Hea might just be our first real case of someone affected by the shockwave that turned violent.

[Keiran:]    Oh, that’s... oh that’s really bad. This might be a problem. But why did it take 6 months for them to manifest? Why only now?

[Jordan:]    That part I don’t know. Maybe that’s how long it took her to get back into city limits, and that’s when it hit.

[Keiran:]    Hmmm... Okay, maybe. By the way, what are we calling these people? Ones with powers? Mutants? the gifted? supers? Metahumans?

[Jordan:]    I think metahuman, but we’ll figure that part out later... after we find her.

[Johanna:]    Right, and you might want to do that soon. [beat] Charles and Herbie aren’t the only ones in this file. The attempted arson claim came from a store owner in Revenant Heights by the name of Michelle Akamatsu. I just checked one of the cameras nearby, and I think I might have spotted our girl. The Akamatsu store closes in like 20 minutes, and that’d be the ideal time for Ember to strike.

[Jordan:]    Shit! Copy that, I’m on my way. Key, can you back me up?

[Narrator:]    I turned back to see Keiran had already pulled on his leather jacket and Motorcycle helmet.

[Keiran:]    Ain’t gotta ask me twice. Let’s ride.

[[Scene 5]] [[Outside the restaurant]]

[Narrator:]    Michelle Akamatsu closed the door to her antique shop and slid down the metal grate. She pushed her brown hair from in front of her almond shaped eyes, and she caught her reflection in the window glass. The 42-year-old smiled at the wrinkles near her eyes, for she knew those wrinkles were marks of wisdom and joy. She moved to the back of the shop and brewed herself a cup of the Oolong tea, as she did at the end of every day before going home. She found it relaxing and meditative. It was moments like that one where she really thought about the simple pleasures of life truly being the secret to happiness. [beat] About 3 minutes into these musings of hers, the front door exploded. Michelle instinctively ducked down to the floor behind her desk as shattered glass went everywhere. She put her hand over her mouth to stop herself from screaming. Her whole body began to sweat, as though the thermostat had been turned all the way up in the store, during the height of summer. Michelle looked at the little monitor behind her desk which showed multiple security camera angles. She watched the one that was trained on the front window. Standing in the doorway what a young woman, about 17, with long chestnut hair dyed red at the tips. She wore brass goggles, the kind that a steampunk enthusiast would wear. She wore a red leather jacket, skinny jeans and combat boots. Michelle recognized the goggles, as they had been stolen from her shop a year ago by a girl who looked exactly like this.

[Ember:]    (singsong-y) Oh, Michelle... Come on out, you old bag. We’ve got some... business... to sort out. I’m sure we can just BURN right through it.

[Narrator:]    Michelle saw the girls right hand catch fire and burn as bright as a bonfire. She stifled a gasp.

[Ember:]    Come out, come out wherever you are. I’m sure you remember me. You know, the CHILD you lied about and sent to PRISON. [beat] Do you remember what you called me in court, Michelle? EH? Well, do ya? [slow sarcastic laugh while saying] You called me Little Miss Arson. And well, I guess now that fits, doesn’t it?”

[Narrator:]    The girl Arson threw the ball of flame in her hand at the security camera just above Michelle’s desk. It fizzled, sparked and burst, shooting even more shrapnel around the room. The girl on fire blasted the desk and it fell apart, revealing Michelle. Arson laughed, and it sounded like both a hyena and a demon. Michelle was so terrified. Arson readied another flame to incinerate Michelle. She through the fireball, but it never connected.

[RedWing:]    Really, you’re gonna go with Arson for a name? Isn’t that a little… on the nose?

[Narrator:]    I had cast a forcefield around Michelle, holding back the flames. I was feeling the heat drain my energy from me, but I smirked.

[RedWing:]    I would think Ember was already a good enough name for a girl on fire.

[Ember:]    Who are you? And my god, what are you wearing?

[RedWing:]    I am RedWing, and you are rude. I’m only going to tell you this once: Leave Ms. Akamatsu alone. This ends here.

[Ember:]    Mind your own fucking business, you bird-brained bitch boy.

[RedWing:]    Watch your mouth, petulant child. Just because you’re a rage monster doesn’t mean you’re not still a kid, and just because you’re a kid doesn’t mean I won’t kick your ass.

[Ember:]    I’ll stop this when she’s dead, just like the other traitors.

[RedWing:]    One thing I don’t get: Why did you kill Manning?

[Ember:]    Oh, Manning? You mean, my father’s gun for hire? My father is a sleazebag, a predator, a rapist, and as far as I’m concerned, a murderer. Because he couldn’t just man up, my best friend has been missing for 6 months. Manning deserved everything he got.

[RedWing:]    Whatever he did, you don’t get to make the call of whether he lives or dies. That’s literally what the entire justice system is for.

[Ember:]    What, like they were going to listen to me? Right, the justice system is really going to value the voice of someone they labelled as a liar, thief, and a troublemaker.

[RedWing:]    First of all, look around you. You ARE making trouble. You’re literally destroying this woman’s livelihood. Second of all, I understand more than you know. I know what a label can do to you, but do you know what makes it worse? When you become the very thing they are calling you. What good does it do to prove them right?

[Narrator:]    There was a pause. I saw something flash across Arson’s face. For a second there, I could see the girl I knew as a child, scared and lonely. It only lasted a moment, before Arson’s eyes erupted into flame. Her hands caught fire and she began to levitate. When she spoke, her voice was deeper, and sounded almost demonic.

[Ember:]    You cannot stop me, RedWing. If you fight me, I will turn you to ashes. I will kill you.

[Narrator:]    Arson directed a stream of heat towards me. My costume is heat resistant, but it isn’t fireproof. I threw up half a forcefield, deflecting the fire. I took my rope dart, the one whose chain was made of woven Darque Steel, and I swung it towards her on the right. It caught her on the leg. I pulled, but it was ineffective.

[Ember:]    Oh, is this not hot enough for you? Try THIS.

[Narrator:]    Arson doubled the amount of heat she was using. If she kept this up, she would burn down the entire block. I could feel my energy draining from keeping the shield intact. I got an idea. I ducked to the side and dropped that first forcefield. I put a forcefield around her, designed to keep her in. I imagined the shell of the forcefield sealing itself to be airtight. She going as she was, she would burn up all the oxygen in seconds, starving the heat and herself.

[RedWing:]    Sparrow, get in here. What’s wrong with her voice?

[Sparrow:]    I can sense it. There is something inside of her, it’s making her go into a rage. She’s gonna keep going until everyone is dead.

[Collector:]    You are exactly right.

[Narrator:]    I heard someone speaking. I whipped around and saw a figure in a black robe walking up to my forcefield. The figures voice was being changed and I couldn’t see his face. When he reached Arson, he stuck his hand through my forcefield and grabbed her forehead. How could he get through the field?

[RedWing:]    Who the hell are you? How did you do that?

[Collector:]    Why, hello there. I’m just a collector. Thank you for keeping her entertained, gentlemen. I’ll take it from here.

[Narrator:]    His hand glowed on her face, and in his other hand, he held a glass vial I had definitely seen before. He spoke a few words, and the red energy came out of Arson’s eyes and into the glass bottle. Suddenly all the fire ceased burning, as if it all had been snuffed out with a candle snuffer. Arson crumpled to the ground, and the hooded man held up the glass vial now filled with swirly red energy. He had stolen her powers.

[RedWing:]    Oh my god, what have you done?

[Collector:]    I freed her from her rage. And this here? This is my compensation. Fare thee well, RedWing. Thank you for your help.

[Narrator:]    The man’s eyes glowed white, and the man winked out of sight. Quite literally just vanished. Keiran ran up to check on Ember. He checked her pulse.

[RedWing:]    Is she…

[Sparrow:]    She is alive, She’s coming to, slightly but...

[Narrator:]    She started to stir slightly, and I rushed over to her. Her eyes cracked open, her breathing was labored. She grabbed my hand.

[Ember:]    [weakly] I’m… I’m sorry… I’m so sorry… I didn’t mean to kill them. I didn’t… it wasn’t… But I need your help… don’t bring me back to my father... please… help me.
[RedWing:]    We will do everything we can to help you. We won’t bring you to your father, but we will bring you to the hospital. The ambulance is on the way.

[Ember:]    [weakly] But… please… I need you to do something…

[RedWing:]    What is it, Ember?

[Ember:]    [About to pass out] Find… please.. Find my friend. El… Ella...lizabeth Brennan… please help her…

[Narrator:]    And with that, Ember’s eyes closed. When the ambulance arrived, her pulse was barely there. When she arrived at the hospital, it was announced that she was in a coma. We elected not to tell the media who was responsible for the killings, but we did say that RedWing had solved the case and that the killer would eventually be brought to justice. We didn’t know what that would look like, but we’d cross that bridge when we got there. For now, we had 3 new problems to focus on. 1) There were dangerous metahumans out on the street that we would have to handle. 2) Who the hell is this Collector fellow, what is he collecting and why? And, my top priority, 3) Where is Elizabeth Brennan? And how has she been missing for 6 months without is knowing?

[[Scene 6]] [[In the Lair, underneath Il Cacciagioco]]

[Narrator:]    The Collector appeared in the lair. The rhythmic thumping of techno and industrial music emanated from the ceiling. He pulled the vial out of his cloak, put his newest acquisition in a red box marked Fire. He was still cloaked in robes that seemed to be made of pure shadow. He took down the hood, revealing blond perfectly coiffed hair, and piercing blue eyes. He smiled, revealing pearly white teeth with sharp fang-like canines. He could sense the people he had to meet were behind him. His accent was English.

[Rhys:]    You know, you shouldn’t sneak up on people like that… Alejandro.

[Narrator:]    Sitting haphazardly on vintage looking throne, playing with a nasty-looking serrated obsidian knife, smiling like the cheshire cat, sat Alejandro Parcelli. His signature small crown was on his head, but in place of his old outfit, he was wearing a black biker jacket, gold pleather shirt, and black biker jeans with gold zippers. Around his neck was a collar, and from the collar dangled a flat golden crown charm. He flexed and smirked.

[Alejandro:]    I’ve been here. You came into my house without knocking. The question is… where have you been?

[Rhys:]    Where are your men, Alejandro?

[Alejandro:]    I sent them upstairs for the evening, to watch the gameroom. Now... Where have you been?

[Rhys:]    I was… I was just out. I was looking for someone.

[Alejandro:]    And did you find them?

[Rhys:]    Not yet, but I’ll find her soon.

[Alejandro:]    Were you seen?

[Rhys:]    By whom?

[Alejandro:]    By RedWing.

[Rhys:]    [laughing] He didn’t see me.

[Alejandro:]    And just who were you looking for?

[Rhys:]    Why are you so anxious?

[Alejandro:]    I just worry about you, golden boy. What if you got hurt?

[Narrator:]    The Collector chuckled and approached Alejandro’s chair.

[Rhys:]    No one could hurt me, because this city is yours, my Prince... and so am I.

[Narrator:] He crooked a finger under Alejandro’s chin and pulled him into a fierce, hungry kiss.