Death of a Hero, Chapter 36- Anima part 2

“Sorry, I wasn’t in there, I can’t tell you what actually happened.” I spoke into the phone. I never could figure out why so many people hated phones; I was more comfortable using them than talking in person.

“I understand,” Muwth said. I still wasn’t entirely used to how bizarre it was to hear such a young voice sound so old. “I got the basic idea through my power and the news. Genius Loci can fill in the gaps later. You’re certain Respawn will fully recover?”

“Sympathy says it’s just depletion,” I answered. I didn’t know if Muwth had that problem, but it was a surprise that Zach did. “According to her, he’ll recover in about an hour and a half.”

“You trust her?”

“About as far as I can throw her.” Through a brick wall, for example. “But, she knows what she’s talking about.” That was all I was willing to say; Sympathy’s power was classified at the ‘Homeland Security’ level, and I wasn’t interested in getting charged with espionage. Besides, if Muwth was really that curious, she undoubtedly had ways to find out.

“Understood. Tell him it will be some time before I make contact. You may want to avoid contact as well,” she continued. “He has drawn a lot of attention to himself today. For the time being, Genius Loci will be responsible for delivering messages.” She hung up, not waiting for my reply.

Muwth’s ever famous paranoia at work. She came from an uglier time, and lived in the world of spies and international politics where secrecy was coveted above all else. In most ways, the polar opposite of the superhero culture and its weird sort of celebrity and respect for privacy.

“So, did you catch any of that?” I asked the air around me.

“Every word,” the air rumbled back. “I’ve got very good hearing.”

Speaking of paranoia. If Genius Loci said nothing, it would be impossible to know he was even there. “So, how do the two of you know each other?”

The air sighed around me. “I owe her a favor or two. She strikes me as the type who loves collecting them for the fun of it. Respawn’s sister is almost back.”

He was right, moments later the door opened to Laura’s room and she walked out where we waited in the living room. “He seems to be resting fine,” she told us. “But my bedroom’s going to smell like charcoal forever. You’re absolutely certain we don’t need to go to the hospital?”

“The hospital wouldn’t be able to do anything you’re not already doing, Laura.” I used her name in part to be friendly, and in part to drop the name to GL. “They might even accidentally make it worse by trying to test his blood or something.”

Not really true; there were plenty of specialists trained to work with abnormal physiology or power depletion. It felt rude to think, but Zach and his family didn’t strike me as being able to afford that kind of care.

“Don’t worry, he’ll be fine. Your brother’s one hell of a fighter,” GL’s deep bass voice echoed in our ears. “A lot of men who fancy themselves badasses would have caved in there. He’ll be up and mouthing off to authority figures in no time.”

Laura’s smile seemed genuine. “So he told you about his favorite hobby. I just don’t get why…” she trailed off and looked back at the room she had him in. “He says he does max reps for an hour in gym and doesn’t get tired. Why’s it different now?”

“I don’t know how his power works,” GL continued, sonorous despite trying to speak softly. “I’m guessing he doesn’t normally bring back the dead.”

“What.” Laura’s voice was barely a whisper.

I was trying to wrap my head around that statement myself. To date, all claims of resurrecting others had been debunked. Most were frauds using combinations of illusions, mind-reading or shapeshifting. Some were simple ignorance of medicine; few healers were licensed doctors.

And there were some powers that turned bodies into walking automatons, like that ‘cursed’ place in Maine that caused so much trouble in the mid-eighties; but those were only ‘alive’ in the same sense as my summons. Nothing more than puppets with some controlling will.

“I know, impossible,” GL acknowledged. “But it’s true, the last guy he saved was already dead, and then he was alive again. I think Com realized it as well, that’s why he was so surprised.”

Gifter four at the very least, perhaps as high as six. If this information gets out, it will make Zach one of the most sought after Imbued on the continent. They’ll have him guarding presidents.

I spoke up, changing the subject. “Maybe we should check the news.” Then I dropped my voice to a barely audible whisper. “You have to tell Muwth, immediately.” If anything could be done, she’d be the one to do it. If nothing else, she’d at least have a plan.

There was a slow rumble, reminiscent of a sigh. “I wish I could stay, but I’ve got to go let my friends know what happened. Tell your brother I’ll catch up with him this weekend, if possible.”

“Okay,” Laura stepped toward the exit and opened the door, holding it open. She looked back to where I was standing, but not quite at me. “Sorry about the mess, I wasn’t expecting visitors.”

“Au contraire,” GL’s voice came from everywhere at once. “You have been an excellent hostess under the circumstances.”

The door closed without Laura’s involvement. She looked at the door, then walked back over to me. “So, that probably looked stupid. I mean, he’s not just invisible, right? He can walk through walls and stuff?”

If he couldn’t, he would never have caught Zach falling from the building. In leiu of saying that, I just shrugged a shoulder. “I don’t really know how his powers work, but there is nothing stupid about being polite.”

“Thanks.” She smiled and laughed a little. “So, if being polite is smart, what does that make Zach?”

Chuckling, we settled down to watch the news.

Through the magic of editing technology, watching the fire on television was both more dramatic and less chaotic than actually being there in person. My hope that they’d somehow not noticed us was dashed quickly as they showed Zach falling and followed all of us to the ambulance and then to Laura’s car. At least they were kind enough to blur her face and plates.

“Don’t worry too much; the paparazzi don’t usually bother Imbued or their families,” I tried to offer comfort while being honest. “But you should expect calls for interviews and stuff. Is there anything in your background to be worried about?

Laura didn’t look away from the screen. “Well, I spent four years working as a stripper to pay for classes. Grandma and Grandpa are going to flip their shit when they hear about that.”

“Oh.” I suddenly felt awkward, and then mad at myself for feeling awkward. Laura was a perfectly nice girl, and it wasn’t right to judge her like that. “I meant things like drugs, gangs, or certain politics.”

“Well, then Dad’s probably f- screwed.” Laura chuckled a bit. “Maybe Mom, too. I won’t be losing any sleep for them. As long as it doesn’t hurt Zach.”

“I can’t imagine that would be a problem.” It wasn’t my place to offer opinions on her parents, so I just kept my mouth shut. The sad fact was that almost two thirds of us Imbued either had broken families, or no family at all. It was close to the same stats as convicts, and the media long ago made it the default assumption for both demographics.

We settled for watching the news, as a means of covering the uncomfortable silence. It turns out, Sympathy was wrong about how long Zach would take to recover. It took him a bit over half an hour.

We jumped up at a thud sound, and Laura rushed for the door to her bedroom. By the time I could see, she was hugging her brother, and I squashed the jealousy one more time. He stood there, looking more confused than anything, surrounded by the shimmer of his power at work.

“Laura? What happened? When did we get back to your place? I remember the fire and… did that guy make it?”

“The news says he’s in critical but stable condition,” I answered for Laura.

“They’re calling you a hero,” Laura added. “Like, for real, not just the whole ‘costume and powers’ thing.”

Zach blushed a bit. I imagine he felt pretty awkward, with his sister hugging him and calling him a hero in front of what amounted to a stranger. I pretended not to notice.

“After you rescued him you lost consciousness, and we brought you here to recover. It’s called Depletion Sickness, and happens to a lot of us. Oh, and Genius Loci said he’d visit later, but he has to talk to a friend.” Hopefully he’d pick up on the subtext.

“Yeah, my head still hurts.” He brought his hand up and put it on Laura’s shoulder. “Hey, sis, mind giving me a minute alone to talk with White Lady?”

She looked up at him, then turned to look at me before looking back. “Just don’t do anything too strenuous, okay?”

I stepped aside to let her out the door before closing it behind me. “Spirit Raven. Walk Unseen,” I whispered softly. The bird manifested and flitted to the door, landing on the handle and sticking its head through. It would make sure we had privacy. “Muwth wants to go dark for a while, she’s kinda freaked about-”

“What the fuck happened out there!” he hissed at me.

That wasn’t what I expected. “Are you having blackout issues?” It wasn’t a common problem, but some-

“Not that, I meant you bailing on me during the fire!”

Oh. That. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Well, too bad! I’m sick of tiptoeing around you like you’re some kind of spoiled princess.” I flinched inwardly. He couldn’t know how deep that cut. “Yes, I know you’re like a hundred times more powerful than I am and I begged you to be a part of this team, but after the bank and today, I’m beginning to wonder if it’s worth it. I can’t work with someone someone who…” He dropped onto the bed and cupped his head in his hands.

I said nothing, simply standing there.

“I’m sorry. Today’s been a rough day and I’m just…” He looked up, and I could see the tear tracks through the soot on his face. “People died in there. Actual human beings that were alive this morning and now are gone forever. Tonight my mother’s gonna disown me. And… and… I tell myself it’s worth it because thirteen people are alive because of me. And I… there were so many more I couldn’t save.”

Oh. I stepped forward, trying to find the right words to comfort him.

“And…” he continued. “How many more would be alive right now if you helped?”

I stopped and closed my eyes. Through the raven, I could see Laura had sat down in the living room, letting us have our privacy. “Zero.” The word burned in my throat. “The answer to your question is zero more people would be alive.”

“Does your power have some special weakness to fire?” The remaining anger dropped from his voice, the sadness stayed.

I shook my head. Fire was one of those things that most Imbued had trouble dealing with. I was an exception, and it took everything I had not to lie to him. “If anything, the opposite.”

“Then how do you know?” accusation returned to his voice. “How can you be okay with not even trying to find out?”

He’s going to force me to either say it or quit the team. I didn’t really care about the team itself, but I was starting to think of Zach and Laura as friends, and I didn’t have many of those. “Because,” I took a breath. “Because I’m a monster.”

You could hear us aging in the silence that followed. Eventually I forced myself to speak. “The powers we get are reflections of who we are, what we desire on the deepest, most primal level.” I could tell he didn’t make the connection, so I continued. “Mine only exists to kill.”

Zach went to speak, but I interrupted. If I didn’t get all of it out right now, I’d lose my nerve. “Each of my summons has a name, and part of my power is knowing those names and every ability they come with. The one you saw me call against Kitten is known as the Wild Hunt. Those creatures, the Huntsmen and the Hellhounds… nothing deserves to die the way they kill, but I don’t have anything else strong enough to fight her that won’t kill bystanders.”

“But… what about the bank?” Zach asked. “I mean, aside the ‘force lightning’. And your faeries seem safe enough.”

If there was ever a summon I didn’t want to talk about, it was that one. “That’s me using my power wrong. It… it’s like using a broadsword as a screwdriver. I have so many summons…” I went through the mental list. I wouldn’t name the true horrors like Basilisk, or what Wild Hunt actually did.

“Ymir could have put out the fire, at the cost of freezing everyone inside to death,” I chose some that seemed relevant to today. “Siren has water spells, if you don’t mind her ripping the blood out of everyone’s bodies. Wendigo’s another ice summon that could have done something, after it was done eating people. Using the Salamanders or Phoenix…” I laughed at my own expense. “That’s like burning down the forest in order to find the trees.”

I took another breath, embracing the pain in my throat. “The elves and knights are easiest to control, relatively safe to use around people, and smart enough to do simple tasks.” They also spoke like characters in a Victorian era story written by a thirteen year old. “But those aren’t fireproof. And even they…”

I swallowed, I wanted so badly for this to be over. “Their purpose is still to be an army, soldiers to live and die and kill at my command. The faeries are no different.” Please don’t make me describe how swarms of pixies kill with attacks barely powerful enough to break skin.

Zach was silent for a minute. “I still don’t get how the statues are a weapon.”

“They’re called Centerpieces.” I closed my eyes to keep from crying. “I can see through their eyes, hear through their ears, and their only power is to create a barrier that rebounds attacks against it, and can take more punishment than a steel vault.”

“I didn’t think Shadow Boxer was that strong.” Zach’s voice had changed position, and I opened my eyes to see he was standing.

“She’s not. That’s not how their spell works…” I paused, hoping he’d ask about the ‘spell’ thing so I didn’t have to go on. “They’re the cruelest weapon I have” except the Hunt. “The summon’s name is Wake. The spell it casts isn’t meant to be a wall… that’s just what happens if it’s cast on an inappropriate target.”

I watched his face, the slowly dawning horror as he figured out what I was leading to.

“It’s meant to be a cage. It’s called Sarcophagus, and once cast it can’t be ended except in death. Either the target, or my own.” I looked down, I couldn’t keep eye contact. “All while I watch through the Centerpiece. What kind of freak has that as their deepest inner desires? I’ll understand if you hate m-”

His arms were around me before I realized he’d even moved. Part of me wanted to recoil; I wasn’t a fan of being touched, and the stench of burnt garbage on his costume didn’t make it more appealing. Part of me, the part that won the battle, was just happy that he didn’t run screaming from the room.

NEXT

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31 thoughts on “Death of a Hero, Chapter 36- Anima part 2

  1. This conclude’s the special showing of The Anima Show… Monday we’ll return to the actual story!

    Though I am kinda curious how people would describe her personality now that they’ve gotten a real look at it- not how much they (dis)like her, but just listing what they see as her defining character traits. List typos as well, while you’re at it. :p

    Also: yes, Pet Semetary (or something sorta like it that I can’t be sued over) is canon in this universe.

    For that matter, so is Frankenstein.

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  2. I find the tragic nature of Anima dealing with some obviously screwed up mental issues tangled with her power to be, well, humanizing. We all have a dark side somewhere in us. Some of us bury it and bash it every time we feel it stir. Some let it vent occasionally. Some let it run wild and free.

    It seems like Anima’s power latched on to it. It doesn’t make her bad, it makes her human dealing with something that magnified a part of her she does not like. I think someone like Yamada from Worm would almost as much a god-send here as in her own world, were she free to truly do what she could.

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  3. A great look into another character. The revelation explains a lot about het distant nature. I like the character, and figure it was something about the price she paid that made her less willing to get involved.

    Zack’s codename being Respawn fits even better now. I am interested to see what happens now that a larger extent of his power is known.

    Great job!

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  4. Admittedly I don’t know a huge amount about this setting, but it seems that powers are given do sort of match, but only through a warped lens. Like a genii that gives you what you want with little relationship with what you need. Anima could have been just a very fearful person who got methods to fight here fears.

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  5. Nice series. Found it last week when it crept up enough on Top Web Fiction to be middle of the first page. Easy to read; believable dialog; non-cardboard characters; solid plot; good amount of exposition. Nothing stands out as exceptional, but solid ‘goods’ across the board is seriously difficult, so congratulations.

    The twist that I like is the possible transfer plus alteration/upgrade of powers on death. That is exactly what it would take to prevent government agencies and nasty Imbued from perma-killing troublesome Imbued.

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  6. Good chapter Tana. Anima is another character from Amelia that I wish had more screen time. And she seems even more broken in this setting, which is impressive.

    She also comes across as a very believable character. Biggest traits I’ve noticed are the obvious self-loathing and trust issues. Although that second one is possibly just a result of the first. She thinks she is a terrible person, so can’t imagine other people thinking differently.

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        1. Optimized to kill the person who killed her- which, in the case of an organization, can mean a LOT of people.

          Which would you rather have? A scary powerful Imbued whose ambition in life is to create effects for cheap off-broadway plays?

          Or a slightly less scary powerful Imbued whose ambition in life is to murder large numbers of government officials like it’s a GTA mission?

          Sure, it doesn’t usually work out to quite that extreme, but it’s always a risk. And when you have all these nice, government employed Espers that say Anima isn’t going to go on a slaughtering rampage any time soon… the decision to not make things worse kinda makes itself… especially when there’s already superpowered gang wars and nutjobs like Kitten running around. People you might, legitimately, need to have executed.

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          1. Is it really a destiny thing then? If you kill someone from a mile away with a bullet the brain and their power jumps to someone they love newly optimized to defeat you, how does the new imbued know who to punish?

            The Espers seem like a much better reason not to off her.

            Have you decided what portion of new powers are Cainites and what portion are original (which I suppose is a branch of my earlier question about the conservation of power)

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            1. Well, Zach stumbled across his “destined” enemy accidentally, if you recall. Long story short- these chains are often such a combination of coincidental and circuitous that you can’t even prove that the Mark of Cain thing is a real phenomena and not a simple product of superstition and self fulfilling prophecies.

              But in a world where there are legitimate future seers and luck manipulators… it pays to have a little healthy superstition…

              Oh, and keep in mind that a person can inherit the exact same powers blend and get almost completely different powers outputs.

              Zach’s current pool, if granted to a psychopath, might work by touching someone and subsuming them, gaining their strength and knowledge and memories. And every time you kill him, it “deletes” one of his victims until he runs out, and then he can die.

              His former pool let him regenerate and improve himself and everything he was holding. A different kind of person could have become one of the most important healers on the planet with that combo, or something not too different from Ferne’s power.

              Or, in the hands of an insecure and lonely girl who’s never known what love feels like… well, you get the idea.

              Anima’s power, in a more confident and straightforward person, may have manifested itself as a tactile telekinesis aura giving her the whole “Superman” powerset, complete with energy blasts. Or even a mind control power, where she reprograms human brains to be her loyal servants.

              So, you see… there’s a lot of potential variety in the same power pool.

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  7. “She strikes me as the type who loves collects them for the fun of it.”
    Hmmm…this should be changed in either:
    – She strikes me as the type who loves to collect them for the fun of it
    Or
    – She strikes me as the type who collects them for the fun of it.

    “And there were some powers that turned bodies into walking automotons, ”
    Walking automatons.

    By the By with Sympathy’s power being classified at homeland security level how come they her run around like that as a regular Imbued cop ? Oh and are there many whose powers are classified that way ?

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  8. “Regular” cop? How many regular cops do you know that are placed in charge (if not in Rank, then in decision making and implementation process) of the shit she deals with in this story?

    She dealt with a bank robbery- which is a Federal crime- that’s FBI jurisdiction. And the robber had *mind control powers* (which is all kinds of extra legal nightmare) within a few miles of the White House (yay). Also, one of the most powerful imbued on the continent might have been involved (re: Anima).

    There wasn’t even a turf argument. They just assigned her to the case. Even though she’s only about twenty five years old. They did this because Homeland Security told them to.

    Then she got involved in an unknown precog-predicted event which again involved said scary-powerful Imbued, and possibly the most powerful precog ability since they started keeping records on the subject. But they don’t know because they can’t get any useful information on the subject.

    Does that sound like she’s being treated like a regular officer, Imbued or otherwise?

    As for other classified Imbued? Most Mind Controllers that are government employed (look at Nano). Certain Gadgeteers. Really, anything that the US Government doesn’t want their enemies to know they have the ability to do can get classified status. There’s no absolute rules- but some things scare people, and things that scare people get hidden.

    And exploited.

    Because governments, much like supervillains, love secret weapons. It’s a scientific fact.

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  9. Well to be honest I must say that I don’t really know how things work for regular Imbued officers so I assumed that what we saw Sympathy and the others do was it IE dealing with cases involving Imbued in their area and this regardless of regular juridiction.

    I mean Imbuement has had some effect on your world’s laws be it national or international for instance Kitten’s File mentions that she has been convicted in absentia of multiple crimes which if I am not mistaken is normally Impossible in the USA .

    And then there are all the special laws about infiltrators and their various brands of influence and the acts committed by people under it, not to mention those who might try to use”big scary infiltrators”as a way to get out of something they did.(eh at least Nano is a pretty straightforward one…The Subtle ones must be a true nightmare to deal with) and then I am sure there are even more specialised laws about possessors(well if there are enough of those around for it of course).

    Only their enemies ? methinks there might also be some of them that they might not want their own people to know about, well Nano comes to mind of course pretty sure their are others given the same kind of deal and who might have done worse than what he did.

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  10. Imbued are used for the “combat response” to other Imbued. The whole “super powered violence” thing. But in the end, when they’re subdued, the legal system works more or less like ours works, in general. In fact, there’s some bias against putting Imbued in charge of regulating their own legal system. Not so much because there are laws against it… but because they tend to go into careers that are “use your damn power” rather than “hey, I wanna be a lawyer and/or judge!”. It *is* against the law to use powers directly in a court of law. As an investigation tool? Sure, with a warrant. But not to influence the course of in-court proceedings.

    Except there’s more “we’re going to lock you away for life, or give you a job, which would you prefer?” offers. But still… Nano used blatant mind control on civilians while committing federal crimes… it literally does not get more high profile without the word “terrorism” being used.

    They give it to the person they most trust to not fuck it up. And given that they’re right there where some of the most powerful Imbued on the planet are employed. The FBI, the CIA, the Pentagon, the Secret Service… the people making sure foreign dignitaries who brought Imbued assistants or guards aren’t up to something…

    There are a lot of very powerful Imbued with very important government jobs in the DC area. And the ones in charge of coordination pick Sympathy to deal with Nano. And for good reason.

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    1. Ah, thank you for the info also the court part was already stated in story in Alex’s chapter where even someone “merely”gifted by an Imbued is barred to represent himself in court.

      As for why I didn’t think the FBI,CIA and other such organizations Imbued were not sent well because they had more important jobs which they can’t leave to deal with a”mere” Bank robbery even performed by a mindcontroller.

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      1. Fair. And in some cases perhaps even true. But these aren’t exactly small organizations, and have quite a pick of Imbued to call upon, especially next door to the capital itself.

        I think it’s no secret that Sympathy has high end Breaker powers. The story just hasn’t revealed HOW high end yet.

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        1. Well her tapping into Nano’s power to cancel his influence on his victims and what she pulled in her second PoV chapter which temporarily gave Nano access to Sapphire’s power is a good indication of how boken her breaker power is and that’s not even mentioning the whole perception angle.

          I shudder to think what might happen if a possesor got ahold of her…

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