Rory jumped up and down to the beat. The music filled the entire gymnasium, loud enough to drown out the cheering. On the stage, Black Bee's lead singer, Jacqueline, belted out their newest song into the mic, 'In the Shadows'.
One more time! Another night!
I will never give up the fight!
I don't need your praise.
I'll be fine without the limelight.
In the shadows alone,
I continue to fight!
Rory had to push herself through the crowd just to see the band clearly. They were halfway through the song when she managed to get to the front of the stage. Jacqueline drew out the last note as the song finished and was immediate met with excited screams for more from the students, including Rory, and even a few of the teachers. Jacqueline panted to catch her breath and cleared her throat before leaning into the microphone once again to address the crowd.
"Thank you, everyone! I'm glad you liked it! I hope you enjoy our next song just as much!"
At that, the crowd cheered and the Black Bees winked and blew kisses at the crowd. Then, they waved one last time and got down from the stage as another school band took their place.
About twenty-or-so minutes and four songs later, Black Bee took their place on the stage once again. But instead of Jacqueline with her guitar, the keytarist, Stella, was standing centre stage and leaning into the microphone. All three of the girls had somewhat annoyed looks on their faces.
The people in the crowd looked at each other confused. However, once Stella got the rhythm going and started singing in her loud, clear voice, they must have decided that it didn't matter; after all, the Black Bees were all talented singers and musicians. They instantly went back to cheering the group on. Including Rory.
Rory yawned as she trudged down the road. She had stayed up late at the school festival but it was her routine to go to the gym on Saturdays and the last time she had broken a routine, the entire system had fallen apart.
Finally, she saw the bus stop. About time.
She hurried over to the bench nearby and sat, waiting for the bus to arrive. She leaned her back against the rest and hugged the gym bag on her lap. She almost dozed off right there and then, so she hummed one of the Black Bee's louder and more energetic songs that they had played last night. It was the best she could do to not—
A thud and immediate chatter knocked her out of her daze.
Rory turned back to look behind the bench and saw a crowd racing towards the bench. At first she thought that they were running towards her but then she noticed that they all had their eyes trained on the ground. Rory stood and reached over the bench and saw a man, collapsed on the ground, just behind the bench. Rory raced around the bench to lean down over man.
The chatter grew louder and was followed by more and more thuds. Rory looked up at the crowd and saw that more and more people were beginning to collapse around her, causing the crowd to panic. Eventually, the chatter started to fade as everyone collapsed to the ground. Rory got up and, frightened, stated to back away from the crowd. She immediately stopped as vehicles skidded across the road. She turned around and saw that the cars on the road had been driven to a halt; a few of the moving cars stopped abruptly to avoid crashing into the cars in front of them. Fresh skid marks were littered across the road.
Rory, who was forcing her knees not to knock, looked into the windows of each car and found that each and every one of the drivers had fallen asleep at the wheels.
"There you are!"
Rory looked up to see a man approaching, hands in his pockets. He had brown hair, short but with a long ponytail running down his back, dark brown eyes and a tall, bulky frame. And he was walking straight towards her, as if nothing had happened, and smiling as if she were an old friend.
Rory was still in shock over what had happened and took no notice of this, "Thank goodness! Quick we need to call someone!"
The man closed the distance between them, seizing Rory's chin with a hand. Leaning closer, he tilted her face up. Rory's eyes widened as the man pulled out a rope from behind his back. Immediately, she pulled back, kicking the man hard in the shin and pushing him away. She snatched up her gym bag, turned and turned to run off, heart racing.
The man seized her around the elbow and pulled her roughly around to face him. His eyes shone with a light, and a terrible grin lit up his face, "You don't understand," he said. "I'm taking what I want from you, and I'm taking it right now."
"I don't think so!" Rory shouted, cuffing him in the face. She followed with a kick to the knee, then wrenched her arm free and ran. Being the legend of her school's track team, she was two and a half blocks away before the thug recovered from her kick.
As she raced off, panic gripped her heart when the man's eyes filled her vision. She was wide awake by now. Somehow, he was in front of her.
The man grinned, "Surprise!"
Rory rocketed up the road and turned right, sprinting across the street. Fortunately (or unfortunately depending on whose point of view you're looking at things from), the drivers were asleep here as well; she turned at the next bend at a 90° angle and dashed across the street there, dashing up the road lightning fast. She ran faster than she'd ever thought she'd run in her entire life. Five minutes later, her exhausted body begged her to stop and she happily complied. She leaned against the front of a boutique, where the people surrounding it were still asleep, her lungs begging for air.
Rough fingers seized her face. "You can't get away from me that easily," the man said. His voice held loathing that sent chills down Rory's entire body.
"Please...leave me alone..." Rory said, "Why are you doing this? How are you doing this?"
The man tilted her chin up; she stared into eyes that were literally glowing, "I'm going to take what should have been mine from the beginning…"
Rory let out a quiet gasp, "What..."
She didn't even finish. The man suddenly screamed and released Rory. His hands flew to his ears, screaming in pain. He used his fingers to tear at his hair and collapsed to his knees, his head lying on the concrete ground. He was shaking madly and continued to scream.
Just as sudden as when he started screaming, he stopped and got off the ground, growling at a something down the street, looking tired and out of breath.
"Get away from her," a hard female voice said. Rory looked down the street as well and stared, shocked.
A girl, about her age, maybe just slightly older, stood on the other side of the street. She had bright amber eyes and long golden-blond that gracefully fell down her back, with bangs covering her right eye and long strands across her shoulders. She wore a golden bandanna across her forehead hidden mostly by her hair, elbow length yellow gloves and gold bands on her forearms. She had a yellow skirt reaching halfway down her thighs, black leggings and mustard coloured boots. Around her neck was a golden ribbon with black lace and, for a top, she wore a sleeveless, high-neck yellow top that revealed her waist. Her waist itself had black stripes wrapping around her hips, similar to a bee's stripes. For some reason, Rory could not make out her face.
"After I finish with this meal, I think I'll have seconds!" the man snarled, before letting out an inhuman roar as golden light enveloped him.
When the light faded, he was no more. Rory stared in disbelief and horror at the beast that had taken his place.
A creature that looked similar to a bull had taken its place. However, its tail was at least four feet long and its horns were way too large for its head, which somehow managed to support their weight, though that probably had to do with the fact that the thing was seven, eight feet tall. Its fur was a stir of white and brown like someone had mixed the two colours together and had given up before the colours could properly blend. Its most noticeable feature, however, was the black mask covering its head, painted with swirls of blue and red and green.
"What is THAT?!" Rory cried, pressing herself against the wall.
"Your last memory. Cherish it," the creature hissed. It rounded on her, giving a screeching cry as its maw opened from under the mask, revealing a sharp set of teeth, more suited for a shark or lion than a herbivore and...
Ribbons materialised and wrapped themselves around the creature's jaws. It viciously tore at them, no easy task due to its hooves, but succeeded in freeing his mouth but leaving a heavy bruises on its muzzle, and spun around angrily, screeching at the girl, "WHO ARE YOU?!"
"You won't live long enough to find out," the girl said. She gently tapped the ground with her feet. At first, nothing happened, causing both her and Rory to look at the ground confused, until Rory felt a strong blast of wind press her against the wall, almost pushing her through.
The monster shrieked in agony, covering its ears...or at least, that's what Rory thought was the reason it was covering its ears. Rory herself saw no reason for it. The creature shot itself at the girl, who seemed to have been knocked over by the wind herself. She tried to get up and run off but the creature was already on her.
The girl plastered herself against the ground, whimpering. All her previous courage was gone. The monster raised his hoof and brought it down hard on her stomach. Sputtering and gasping, the girl was enveloped in a yellow light which quickly died down. She lay still. Rory stared in shock, believing the worst, until she realised the girl was still gasping. The creature raised its hoof again, ready to bring it down.
Rory frantically looked at her surroundings, and landed on a stray brick lying near the boutique. Without thinking, Rory grabbed the brick and charged the monster. The creature turned to look behind him and was met with a block to the face. The creature fell to his side and onto the ground. For extra measure and just to be sure, Rory slammed the brick down onto the creature's head once again, cracking open its mask and splintering one of its horns.
When it was over, the creature was gone, leaving only a small pile of black soot, before Rory had a chance to see what it looked like without the mask.
It took an exhausted Rory a while to realise that the little noise around her was growing stronger. After catching her breath, she looked around and noticed that the people in the cars had begun to wake up and, confused, began to drive off. Rory scanned her surroundings and realised that the girl was still lying on the ground. Or, at least, Rory thought it was the same girl…
The park was nearly empty. No one would see them. Rory practically had to drag Jacqueline the entire way. Luckily, everyone for another two blocks were also waking up and still blinking the sleep out of their eyes. This was no doubt going to be on the news tomorrow.
Rory sat down on the bench, watching as Jacqueline next to her chugged down the bottle of water Rory had bought for her, taking a break every now and then to gasp. Rory had long finished her own, her lungs and muscles thanking her. After a while, Jacqueline sighed and tightened the cover over the bottle.
"Feel any better?" Rory asked.
"Uh-huh." Jacqueline answered, giving a small smile at her saviour.
"Good." Rory smiled back, "Now…what just happened back there!? Who was that guy!? Who are you!?"
Jacqueline flinched back and stared at her feet as if they were the most interesting things on Earth. When she spoke, he voice was so quiet, Rory had to strain her ears to listen.
"I-I… I'm not really sure…"
"I-it's not really your business…"
"Listen, you," Rory shot back, gripping Jacqueline by the elbow, causing the girl to jump, "until I understand what's going on here, I'm not letting you outta my sight! You're not going anywhere until you tell me what I want to hear!"
The girl stared blankly at her, shaking and with tears building up in her eyes, causing Rory to backtrack and try to calm herself before she spoke again.
"Look, I'm sorry." Rory loosened her grip and pulled her arm back, speaking in a softer tone, "But, I was nearly killed by that…thing…and so were you. I think I have the right to know what's going on."
Jacqueline turned to face in front of her, let out a huge exhale and turned her head back to face Rory again.
"Alright." She started, "I think it started when I met this little guy, not more than a few weeks ago."
Jacqueline cupped her hands and held them together and when she pulled them apart…
"Gah! It's another one of those monsters!"
Jacqueline had to shove Rory off of the bench to stop her from grabbing her sneaker and slamming it down on the tiny bee-like creature in Jacqueline's hand. Said creature flew around Jacqueline to hide behind the girl's back, buzzing warily.
It looked more like a drawing than an actual bee, with a fat round body and large pale blue wings. It was big enough to fill Jacqueline's entire palm with two slightly different shades of yellow in its stripes. It had two antennae with black dots over them. It had no legs to speak of. Around its neck was a ring of yellow fluff and over its head was a circular mask of white and maybe six different shades of yellow.
"Ugh…" Rory groaned, getting off the grass and rubbing her side, "What was that for?"
Jacqueline glared, "Rory Lane, is it? This is Muffin! He's my familiar."
Rory stared at Jacqueline expectantly, waiting for her to chuckle at her joke. She didn't.
"…this monster's name…is Muffin…?"
Jacqueline flushed and looked down at her lap, "Well…that's what I decided to call him… A-and he's not a monster! He's the one who gave me my powers!"
"Powers?" Rory dusted herself off and got back on the bench, next to Jacqueline, who was trying to use her fingers to coax Muffin out from behind her while she explained.
"Ever since I met Muffin, I've been able to transform into that form you saw earlier and have control over sound: music, sonic waves, super hearing, stuff like that. I was attacked by a monster in the form of an owl when we met. He just showed up out of nowhere and next thing I knew, my screams of fright caused the owl to start trashing on the ground and I accidently knocked over a pole that crushed its mask and that was that. I just knew what to do and how to do it, though my powers can be a little unpredictable at times. Ever since, I've been fighting off those monsters in my new form with my new powers."
Rory started at Jacqueline, trying to find the proper words to say, "So, you're like a…superhero now or…something…?" was what she settled on.
Jacqueline shrugged, "I guess you could say that."
"So, what's the difference between those mon—monsters and your familiar? What are they? And where do they come from?"
Jacqueline pointed to Muffin's head, "The mask. The monster's masks never have white on them and the familiar's masks—I've seen a few without masters around the city before—never have black on them. As for what they are and where they come from…"
Jacqueline trailed off, twiddling her thumbs shyly.
"I don't really understand them myself," she admitted, "Transforming didn't give me any of the information that I wanted: where the familiars and monsters come from, why the monsters attack people, how to control my powers and why I have them in the first place."
"That explains why the monster disappeared when I broke its mask. One thing still bothers me," Rory said, "Why did that bull monster's powers not affect me?"
Jacqueline shrugged, "Beats me. I'm still trying to figure out why that owl monster's powers didn't affect me. Everyone else around it started seeing things or their sight started going dim. But not me."
Jacqueline cupped her hands around Muffin before turning to face Rory again, "I'm sorry. I know a lot of this doesn't make any sense."
"No, it's okay. From what I've heard, you're just as confused as I am."
Jacqueline sighed, "Tell me, ab—OW!"
Jacqueline jumped up from the bench, released Muffin and grasped her right hand, rubbing a reddening spot and glaring at an urgently buzzing Muffin, who hovered in front of her.
"Muffin! What was that fo—?"
She didn't even finish her sentence. Muffin was already flying off.
"Hey! Where do you think you're going!?"
Jacqueline raced off after Muffin, shouting demands for the bee to get back here with Rory running after them both and catching up quickly to Jacqueline. Muffin flew up a hill with Jacqueline sprinting after him and coming to a complete stop at the top and stared off into the distance. Rory stopped running so sudden she had to stop herself from down the hill.
"What? What is it?"
Rory's voice knocked Jacqueline out of her trance. She quickly pointed down the hill to the street next to the park before racing down to that exact spot. On the street lay two teenage boys sprawled out on the sidewalk and unconscious.
Both girls and Muffin leaped over the park fence and dashed over to check on them. The street was mainly empty but they still were careful for cars. Jacqueline and Rory knelt down to check on them. Jacqueline checked for fevers, held her hand near their mouths for breathing and put her hand on their chests for heartbeat.
Rory turned to Jacqueline, "What's wrong with them?"
Jacqueline shook her head, "I won't know unless I wake them up first."
Jacqueline grabbed one of the boy's shoulders and shook him, somehow neither too hard nor too gentle, "Hey? Hey! Are you okay? Wake up!"
Rory proceeded to do the same with the other boy, though a bit more roughly. Not long after both began to stir.
Jacqueline gasped, "Thank goodness! Are you okay?"
One of the boys growled and pushed Jacqueline's hands off of him, "Of course we're fine. Or at least we were until two strangers started shaking us in our sleep! Who does that!?"
The second boy looked about as grateful as the other did.
Each boy shoved the girls off of them and walked off into the streets, completely ignoring the truck barrelling down on them.
Rory grabbed their arms and pulled them back, while the both truck driver and Rory yelled angrily at them both.
"WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU TWO!? WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT!?"
Neither boy seemed to realise what they had done wrong.
"What's wrong with us!?"
"What kind of girls haul two people minding their own business off their feet out of nowhere!?"
Both boys shoved the girls away from them and again walked off into the road. Fortunately, this time, there were no other vehicles in sight.
Rory turned to Jacqueline, "Why did we try to save them again?"
Jacqueline shook her head, "It's not their fault. I've seen this happen before. They've been attacked by a monster. They always make others behave oddly. They don't see anything wrong with doing something dangerous. It's also why they don't care that they woke up from passing out on the sidewalk. I once came across a bunch of monsters that made people act like this before. All I have to do is take out the monster like last time and they'll return to normal."
A loud scream cut off any reply Rory might have had. Muffin flew past Rory's ears and down the street. Jacqueline pointed in his direction, "Follow that bee!"
Rory and Jacqueline stared in horror from behind the brick wall. The street was in pretty bad condition with run-down buildings and garbage everywhere. But that wasn't the horrifying part. What was horrifying was the half a dozen large bears running around the road, chasing people. Anyone who got to close would slowly stop running and begin laughing at the bears and panicking people, who would look at them confused, leaving both groups of people an open target for the bears. Some infected people would grab metal pipes from the roads and try to chase after the bears. The only thing that stopped them was the still sane people holding them back.
Like Muffin and the bull monster, these monsters were larger than the animal they were based on. They had such large ugly teeth that it poked out of their mouths even when their jaws were closed. They had long, shiny black claws and their masks were spiked with a purple and black colour scheme.
"You actually fought these things before!?"
"Th-there were only three of them and they took the form of d-dogs, not bears!" Jacqueline spun around, eyes flashing, "You shouldn't be here!" she said, "It's dangerous! Call the cops, quick!"
Rory had to hold back from smacking the girl, "People are in trouble! And I can't leave you to deal with this alone!"
Jacqueline sighed and rubbed her temples, "Fine," she spat, "But try not to get hurt."
She opened her hands and clapped her palms together into a praying motion, with Muffin exploding in a small yellow burst as Jacqueline gently kissed her fingertips.
As Jacqueline opened her eyes, the dark chocolate brown melted away into a radiant gold, brighter than sunshine, and her messy black hair dyed with hot pink and royal blue grew soft and silky and stretched down to her hips in glittering blond locks. Her freckles disappeared into her skin and were traded for a pair of rosy cheeks. In a single golden spark, Jacqueline's outfit had been replaced by the glittering amber costume she had worn before when she had tried to save Rory.
This time, Rory tried to focus on the change before her. She attempted to focus on Jacqueline's facial features and her body. She tried to see if there was enough of a resemblance between this Jacqueline and the one she had seen up 'til this day. However, every time she tried, her sight shift and would settle on the golden colour of her eyes instead of their shape; the style and length of her hair rather than her face. Her clothes, despite revealing her midriff and showed off her figure, somehow managed to cover her specific shape to the point where it was unrecognisable. Eventually, Rory gave up and relaxed; no one who knew Jacqueline would recognise her in this form.
With as much confidence she could muster, Jacqueline marched out from behind the wall and turned to face the chaos in front of her. She closed her eyes, trying to use her ears to focus on the commotion.
Focus, now. Focus…
With that, Jacqueline raised her foot and stomped on the ground, almost being thrown off her feet from the mini-earthquake that followed, which almost made her bite off her own tongue. She quickly opened her eyes. The bears had stopped their ruckus in response to the large crack in the earth underneath them. One had their paw stuck pretty badly in the gap. The sane people were helping the infected, who were still laughing and trying to gleefully chase the bears away, get into hiding.
The stuck bear has torn its paw out of the hole, breaking off a claw in the process, to which it seemed to have no consciousness of. The bears had now begun to slowly stalk towards her. She tried to stare them down defiantly, and not bring any attention to the fact that she was on the verge of tears and about to race off.
"So, you're that Abnormal we've heard so much about." one of the bears growled.
'Abnormal'? Is that what I am now?
The bear rushed at Jacqueline. Shaking her thoughts out of her head, Jacqueline used her ears to trace the footsteps of the bear. After landing on a spot, she stomped her foot on the ground again, this time dragged it across the ground. A wave of noise echoed throughout the road and sidewalk and earth shot up to create a wall separating Jacqueline and the bear. The bear was charging at full speed and smashed right into the wall. Jacqueline raced to the end of the wall to survey the damage. The mask was splintered but not broken. The bear was slowly getting up shaking its head, not very happy at the moment.
The bear charged once again, roaring madly. Jacqueline readied herself to create a larger wall.
Maybe I could create a walled cage around the bears. Then I could use chasms to take them out.
Jacqueline readied herself, her foot hovering two feet above the ground. Before she could bring it down, she was thrown off her feet and out of the bear's way. Thinking it was another bear, Jacqueline opened her mouth to scream her throat raw before a human hand was slapped over it. Jacqueline furiously looked up to see Rory on top of her.
"Rory!? What was that for!?"
Rory's concerned look turned to a glare of her own and she turned her head to gesture to the bear. It had charged straight into another and both were now lying on the road, masks destroyed and their bodies turning to ash and blowing away in the wind.
Jacqueline stared at the scene, "That bear was behind me the entire time and I didn't even notice!" she turned to Rory with a shocked, regretful look on her face. "Rory, I'm sorry."
Rory shrugged, leaped off her and dusted herself off, before helping Jacqueline up, "Don't sweat it. Besides, I think we have other problems."
Jacqueline looked around and found the remaining four bears surrounding them, obviously not happy that two teenage girls had just killed their friends.
Without even thinking, Jacqueline stamped and dragged her foot on the ground, which had begun to go numb, to create more walls. This time the bears were prepared and dodged the walls or broke them down.
One growled, "Idiot! Haven't you learned anything!?" Jacqueline and Rory raced off as the bears rushed at them, roaring threats.
Rory faced Jacqueline, "You know what? They're right! Don't you have any other tricks!?"
Rory had no idea whether or not she had gotten to her or didn't hear her at all; Jacqueline just stopped in her tracks, pushed Rory into a bush and turned to begin screaming at the bears. The scream was effective for about thirty seconds, leaving Jacqueline's throat ache; the bears spent those thirty seconds on the floor roaring in pain, clawing at their ears and leaving bleeding scars on their heads. For some reason, Rory was not affected. She just heard Jacqueline screaming but not anything that was worth crying on the floor for. Still, as Jacqueline shrieked, grass blew, the bushes in Jacqueline's direction were torn out from the ground, windows shattered and dust flew into the air like a grey sandstorm. The people peeked out from their hiding spots and looked at each other confused; Rory ducked deeper into the bush and tried to stay still so no one would she her.
Then Jacqueline stopped, gasping.
One of the bears recovered from the attack almost instantly and shot towards Jacqueline like a rocket. The onlookers ducked back into their hiding spots, too afraid to even glance, unable to see when Rory leaped in between them.
Rory shrieked as she went down and the bear raised its massive paw over her head, her scream growing louder when she felt the ground crack and shift underneath her. The bear froze and looked at the splintering earth under them. The bear tried to leap off of her but the road pretty much exploded and both Rory and the bear fell down into the chasm.
Or at least that's what Rory thought. Before she could sink even an inch, she was grabbed by the shoulders and heaved out of the hole, gasping.
Looming over Rory, Jacqueline asked, "Are you o—?"
"WOULD IT'VE KILLED YA TO WARN ME ABOUT THAT!?"
Jacqueline looked up to see another bear rushing them and roughly pushed Rory back into the bush, "Next time!"
Jacqueline stood and brought her foot down, cracking the road even more. The bear slowed down before stopping completely, gazing warily at the ground under its paws. Rory noticed that it was not just this one. All three of the remaining bears had gone silent and still. They were quiet enough for both girls to realise that the people in hiding, whether by choice or forced to be, had gone quieter as well, though not all the way. Throughout the fight, the infected had cheered Jacqueline on but they had begun to silence themselves as well.
It's working! Jacqueline realised.
Jacqueline rose up to her full height and bounded over the chasm, grinning as the bears took a step back as she drew in a breath.
Her throat was still sore but she managed to get out a scream that left the bears on the ground crying out in pain long enough for her to stomp the ground hard enough for the bear that had last attacked to have its paw caught in a small chasm.
Jacqueline grabbed an iron pole from the littered road and brought it hard down on the bear's mask, cracking it and causing the bear to roar in pain. Two more times and the bear had disintegrated into dust and fell into the crack it was trapped in. Four down, two to go.
Jacqueline charged the other two bears. They both leapt out of the way in different directions before Jacqueline dragged her feet on the ground as hard as she could. The earth shot up in walls to block their path.
Jacqueline noticed that the road was almost entirely destroyed. It would be easy for the ground to give away underneath her own feet or for her to trip on a crevice. She needed to be careful.
She slapped her palms hard on the wall to her left and the wall came crumbling down on the bear trapped behind. Jacqueline turned to face and take out the other bear…who had already broken out of its makeshift cage, roaring and screaming angrily. Jacqueline noticed in the split second she had before he attacked that this bear was much larger and tougher than the last.
She readied herself for one final shout but the creature was much stronger than the lithe girl and whacked her effortlessly to the floor with a strong blow before she could part her lips. The heavy monster climbed on top of her, paw on her chest, taking out all the air in her lungs, black spots dancing in her vision. It was like having a truck parked on top of her.
It brought back a paw, claws glinting in the sun and prepared to strike, putting all of its weight on the other paw, keeping her pinned. Jacqueline flinched, pressing her head against the broken pavement, when a voice called out, "Jacqueline!"
Jacqueline forced her head towards the direction of the voice, vision clearing as were her eyes widened with shock.
As Rory was shoved back into the bush, she had nearly fallen on top of something. As she fell back, she felt something soft and fuzzy brush her arm.
She turned her head and was met with the vision of fancy red, orange and copper spots, strokes and swirls. Making the same mistake twice that day she shouted and raised her fist, aiming for the mask. Completely calm, the creature simply darted to the side, dodging the blow. It then just stood still, patiently waiting for her to realise that the base of the mask was white.
The creature was a fox with richly-coloured red and sparkling white fur. It tail was twice and the ears half as long as its slender, lanky body. It didn't seem the least bit startled that Rory had attacked it and just…stared back.
Is this…a familiar…?
A loud crash reached her ears. Rory turned to see Jacqueline pinned down by the largest bear yet. It brought its paw so hard down on her chest that Rory was sure she must have broken some ribs and raised its paw, aiming for her neck.
Rory wasted no time. She did exactly what she had seen Jacqueline do before the fight: clapped her hands, which resulted in the fox bursting in a small burst of red light, and kissed her fingertips.
She felt her gym clothes shrink and tighten around her body. The roots of her hair tingled and she felt something snake down her back. Something wrapped around her arms and legs and covered her neck, mouth and nose.
Next thing she knew, she was in the fray.
Jacqueline forced her head towards the direction of her shout, her eyes widening with shock. There was only one person that figure could be.
Rory's brown skin had gone four or five shades darker. Her gym clothes had been replaced with a red sleeveless crop-top stopping just under her chest, as well as matching shorts and sandals. Travelling up her arms and shins were white bandages, with similar bandages wrapped around her face, covering her mouth and nose, as well as a single one circling her head like a headband. Her eyes had turned a bright burning lava red, setting off her fiery glare. Her short brown hair had turned scarlet and reached down to her knees in a single braid. On her right arm, just above the bandages, was the mark of a red handprint.
"Stop staring at me. You look as stupid as I feel in this getup."
The last remaining bear hesitated. "Two...? There are two of you?" it growled.
"I'm sorry. Is two too much for you? What is it? Afraid now that all your friends are dead?"
Apparently he didn't like the reminder of what had happened to his friends much and turned his attention away from Rory and back to the weakened, desperately struggling Jacqueline, putting even more weight on her chest. Before he could bring his paw down…
He was knocked across the street and thrown into a wall, sending it crumbling down. The people hiding behind it raced off screaming. The bear unsteadily climbed out of the rubble and stood, shaking madly, carefully swiping at thin air, trying to clear his mind.
Rory stood straight and helped Jacqueline up, staring at her fist, "Huh, this is actually kinda cool..."
Jacqueline turned to her, still gasping and trying to stand up straight, "Well then, fini— *cough* hi' o— *coughing*"
Rory nodded and shot towards the bear. Still dizzy, it swiped in front of it, not realising that she was aiming for his side. Rory grabbed his right legs and heaved the bear, light as a feather, over her herself, smashing it on the ground. Taken by surprise, the bear fell into a stunned mound of fur and claws. Rory grabbed the bear by its scruff and slammed the bear into the pile of bricks. The mask shattered and the bear exploded into a pile dust, scattered by the wind and mixing into the red brick dust.
Rory smiled triumphantly at her handiwork before she heard another coughing fit. Rory turned to look back at Jacqueline who was slowly getting off the ground. Rory raced over to her, suddenly concerned for her friend and forgetting about the fight altogether.
Rory skidded to a stop and rested Jacqueline on her shoulder. Jacqueline eventually caught her breath and stood straight. She looked a mix of thankful and bitter that Rory didn't seem to be the least bit tired or shaken but tried to hide it.
"Y-you saved us…"
Both girls turned to face behind them, surprised. The people who had been in hiding and watching the battle, and who the girls had completely forgotten about, had come out of hiding and now stared at the girls in wonder and shock and were pointing at them, staring, and taking pictures with their phones and cameras. A buzz of eager chatter filled the air.
Jacqueline and Rory realised how this looked. Two super girls in colour-coordinated cosplay just defeated half-a-dozen mutant bears in masks and destroyed a street in less than twenty minutes. Neither girl had time to breath before they started firing questions all at once.
"Who are you?"
"How did you do that?"
"Where did you come from?"
"What were those things?"
Rory raced off, dragging Jacqueline behind her, both knowing very well that this was going to end up in the news tomorrow.
Rory, back in her gym clothes, danced around the park, whooping excitedly.
"That was AWESOME! I've never felt so strong in my life! Did you see me flip that bear like it was nothing!? Oh! I bet I could lift a building in that form! You're so lucky! We're like, superheroes now or something! Isn't that cool!?"
She turned to Jacqueline, who was sitting on the bench, and her smile faded.
Jacqueline had ducked her head, holding one palm to her mouth, the other to her chest and hid her eyes behind her coloured-blue bangs. Her fingers were gently stroking her lips and chest.
Jacqueline stiffened and raised her head. Rory was taken aback by the dull, teary look in her reddened eyes. Rory immediately felt guilty for her excitement.
Jacqueline had almost died. For the second time that day. Both times, trying to save someone. Jacqueline's appearance on the stage and her songs gave her the impression of a confident, bold musician. After spending one day with her, it was clear that this shaking, fearful girl was anything but. If Rory hadn't stepped in when she did…
Rory walked over to the bench and sat down. She gently rested a hand on the other girl's shoulder and patted it rhythmically.
"I-I'm sorry. I guess I didn't think this through. I don't know what you've had to put up with. How many times what happened to you today has happened before. But, now you don't have to fight alone. I got your back, just like I did today."
Jacqueline stayed silent for a couple seconds before her eyes cleared. She took a deep sigh and spoke, "Do you have any idea what you've gotten yourself into? It's going to be dangerous. One day, you might be the one pinned down."
"If it means saving people…"
"You won't have much time to hang out with your friends. Stella, Harper and Dominique hate me for being away so much and blowing off practice without giving a proper explanation."
"I spend most of my time in sports anyways. I'm sure if I quit a couple clubs I can work in time to practice fighting."
"You'll have to work extra hard in school to make up for study time lost."
"Err… I'm sure I can manage both…" Rory sighed, "Look, I'm sorry that you have to put up with this. I don't know what you've gone through since you found Muffin. But you're not alone. You don't have to fight solo anymore. Because now you have a partner. One who's going to help you do this. Okay, Jacqueline?"
Rory looked at Jacqueline in surprise. The girl had the smallest ghost of a smile on her face.
"Jackie. My friends call me Jackie."