Chapter 1 Half Angel, Half Demon
When a car squealed to a stop outside her high-rise studio, Trista heaved a sigh and braced herself. Tentacles yanked her off the sidewalk into the car.
They accelerated away from the curb.
She muttered a curse word. “I dropped my sandwich. You’re going to have to buy me lunch.”
“Call him! Call Hard Edge to me, that we might battle!”
Her head flopped back onto the headrest. “You’re behind the times.”
“What?” Her kidnapper hunched over the steering wheel, eyes flicking to the rear-view mirror to check for pursuit. His tentacle arms writhed like yellow anacondas.
“Pull over and I’ll show you. Pull over!” Trista batted aside a tentacle and jerked the steering wheel. The car slammed into the curb and skidded to a halt. Trista thrust her door open. He leaped from the car to catch her, cape waving, but she stepped to the newspaper stand and moved no further. Blinking in surprise, he hesitated, watching.
She paid and returned to the car, tossing a tabloid over top of the vehicle. It skidded to the unnamed supervillain. He grabbed it up, scanned the front page, and his face fell. “You broke up?”
“I’m just any girl, again.” With a rueful shrug, Trista entered the flow of pedestrians and headed back toward her studio.
The villain’s car roared away from the curb. She flinched, relieved that he’d accepted her proof, and didn’t look back. After two blocks, she staggered. Suppressed shivers burst out in a scream. She pressed fingers to her cheeks, smothering the sound into her palms. The crowd passing by stepped aside to form two streams around her island of fury. She swiped her cheeks and straightened.
“I’m safe. Just a girl.”
Spotting another newspaper stand, she raced over and pointed, throwing her credit card to the clerk to pay for a stack of papers she wadded into her purse.
“That you?” he asked, running her card.
She stared down at the top of the stack, her distorted face smiling up below black typeface. “It was.”
Her giggles burned a throat still sore from screams. “Lucky?”
He didn’t listen, his next question ready. “What was it like dating a superhero?”
“Not worth it.”
Accepting her card back, Trista hefted her purse onto her shoulder and staggered away. So little time had passed that slices of tomato and shredded lettuce from the sandwich she’d dropped still lay against the curb. Pigeons pecked at the 7-grain bread she’d chosen at the deli. Dating Hardy had been the best diet a girl could go on, with every meal interrupted by villains or daring-dos. She’d dashed off to pick him up from the edge of crime scenes at all times of day. Really, he would ruin the life of a nine-to-five girl much faster than he’d ruined hers, but it all amounted to the same thing.
Yanking keys from beneath the stacks of papers in her purse, she plodded up the long flight of stairs to her studio loft and entered with a suspicious glance around. All lay as she had left it. Her statues lined the walls, and her current piece of work stood in the middle of the room—a raw rectangular block of white marble on a sturdy platform. Her work lights and tools lay nearby. She’d been uncertain where to begin, but the form hidden within the slab of stone shone through, obvious now that she knew what was needed.
Trista set the tabloids to the side, rolling one up and returning it to her purse in case she needed proof for the next fellow with superpowers. The next one who would treat her like nothing, a pawn, a powerless kitten. Something to be used, without agency of her own. Their schemes were bigger. Their powers granted them the ability to ignore her wishes, to scare, to threaten, and not even care. Worse, it gave Hardy an excuse to rescue her and expect gratitude, but she’d run all out. The fun had ended for everyone.
Ignoring lingering hunger, Trista settled earplugs into place and flipped a switch, ready to bring art to life. Here, at least, she was master.
The statue took form faster than she could have anticipated. She closed out the world in order to focus. Her obsession paid off. The perfect lines of the cool marble took shape beneath her fingers. Close to finishing him, she pushed past physical tiredness. She stopped going home and worked feverishly, taking breaks only to receive food deliveries and to nap.
The ringing telephone intruded on Trista’s laboriously constructed peace. Yanking off gloves and setting her polisher down on the worktable, Trista turned to silence the phone and hesitated. The caller id showed her ex-boyfriend’s name. There went the last of her zen.
Any time a superhero dated a normal girl it made the papers. Their breakup had made headlines. As a result, she’d turned off the world and huddled in her studio. Once she finished her masterpiece, she’d leave civilization on an extended hike.
First, she had to survive this conversation.
Trista yanked off her canister mask. She lifted a dusty chisel, resisted the temptation to stab the phone into silence, and answered.
“Hey, it’s Hardy.”
“Yes?” Trista repeated into the phone as she balanced the phone between shoulder and ear to pace around her masterpiece, a ten-foot half-angel half-demon sculpture. Only his hair needed refinement.
“So, do you have a favorite, you know, league?”
“A favorite league?” She stared into her sculpture’s stony eyes, willing herself to be as calm. A slight blemish, somehow missed in polishing, rose in a sandy point beside the unfinished mound of hair at his temple.
“…of superheroes. Yah, remember how we went out, not too long ago?” Hard Edge asked.
Since this was startlingly stupid—it wasn’t as if she could forget Hard Edge, though he’d disappeared to fight crime so often she could have made the reverse case—Trista uh-hmmed and raised her chisel, muscles so tight in her jaw the tendons in her neck creaked.
“I warned you that there were risks, right?”
“Great risks, great rewards. I remember the theme.” She set her chisel into place, wishing she’d chosen a smaller tip. Dating Hardy hadn’t been all that rewarding, really, and she hadn’t been kidnapped since word of their breakup had circulated. She twisted her lips into the approximation of a humorous smile.
Hard Edge sighed through the phone. “If you believe Psigirl, being with me could have—well, almost certainly did—change you.”
“Changed me?” Her chisel skidded, leaving a white gash in the temple of her masterpiece. She covered her mouth.
Anger blew up inside her. Cursing, she grabbed the phone in both hands. She knew that tone of voice. He was afraid to tell her what he’d done.
“What now?” she demanded.
“Want to talk to Psigirl?” he asked.
“Don’t you dare, coward. Did you infect me?”
“Psigirl says get out of there.”
“Hardy! What did you do?” Any semblance of a normal life, a safe one like other girls had, slipped away like a gossamer curtain cut from its rails. The ugly world of superheroes battling each other, with her in the middle, returned with the familiar sensation of being hunted. She snarled.
Marble crunched under her boots as she rushed toward the window, wondering what she would see in the night. Was she under attack? On the street, five floors below, people and cars trickled through streetlight halos, perfectly ordinary.
She left the blinds yanked open, hesitating. Could she beg Hardy for safety? The idea died the instant she thought it. She couldn’t rely on him to save her anymore. Vulnerability swamped her, gluing her feet to the floor.
Hardy reluctantly continued. “Sometimes people who spend time with us get rubbed off on…She says you really gotta go.”
Apron and chisel clattered onto the counter, as if he’d given a command her body recognized, even if her mind still wasn’t decided. Trista slapped her free hand against her pocket to check for keys, leaving a white powder handprint. “You rubbed on me plenty. What rubbed off?”
“Uh…Powers? And if you aren’t affiliated, everyone’ll come after you now that you’re manifesting.”
“I’m what?” She shoved her purse and keys into her emergency backpack. She’d learned to move fast while they were dating. She took a deep breath, deciding to trust him for now, even though it stung. “Where do I go?”
“A league headquarters, I guess.”
She hissed between her teeth. “What about your league? Aren’t you picking me up?”
“Geez, it’d be so awkward to work with my ex.”
“Oh my god, Hardy.” She hung up, then cursed herself for forgetting to ask if Psigirl knew more about these supposed powers she was manifesting.
She had stopped longing to join the ranks of superheroes when Hardy sucked the romance out of it. How unfair it should happen now, like this. Her lips tightened over a bitter taste.
She sprinted past her sculptures toward the door. Do I have a favorite league? Her mind swam with confusion. Steps slowed as she approached her latest work in progress. He stood on his rolling panel in the beams of powerful work lights.
If Hardy were right, this would be her last piece. Could she leave him like this? Her emergency backpack slipped from her shoulder. She reached for her tools.
Life-sized, perfect male features emerged from undefined hair. She had started with his eyes. The rest of his body had been easy, a combination of animal and angel that had surprised her.
She stroked the gash marring his temple above his ear. The rough stone, so different from the polished smoothness everywhere else, recorded her clumsiness forever. Regret filled her, for all the beautiful things that broke in her hands.
“The only power I care about is right here,” she said aloud
A jolt of static electricity surged through her fingertips into the cold marble. She jerked her hand away, gasping.
“Then that’s the power you get.” The statue’s flawless lips quirked as he spoke.
She stumbled over her backpack, staggering until she hit the wall. “No!”
The wings on his back unfurled. Hooved feet stepped off the platform to crunch into the concrete floor. Tips of carved feathers brushed the beams of her ceiling. He slapped muscular arms around himself as if to get the blood pumping.
“D-did I make you?”
“I was inside the stone. Wasn’t I, Trista?” His unfinished hair waved, lifelike. The line of muscles on his chest led to his belly button where a thick mat of hair became a pelt that covered him from hips to hooves.
“And now I’m here. What would you like me to do?”
“I don’t know,” she whispered.
“Yes, you do. You thought about it while you carved me. You slept in this room, and I was never far from your thoughts. What do you want me to do?”
Elements of sulfur and hot metal stung her nose. She turned her face from him, eyes shut.
“If you won’t speak what you want, ask me what I want. Do you know?”
Her eyelashes flickered. She knew. A second block of heavy lay on a bed of crushed cardboard. When she had seen it in the stone yard, even though he was still unfinished, she had known immediately what it contained and brought it home for him.
“I need it.”
“I don’t think I should.” Panic made her pant. She had toiled over him with thoughts on her mind that were never meant to be set free.
His shoulders blotted out the work lights. Inside his shadow, she shivered as he leaned downward. The points and creases in his unfinished hair looked like horns. He hefted the stone onto her workspace.
She picked up a chisel and club hammer, heart thudding.
“You don’t need those.”
She set down her tools, wondering what he meant. Her finger traced over the stone. She pictured the sword within. Marble seemed to soften. She caressed the stone. Claylike chunks dropped to the floor. She pared marble away from the sword’s ornate handle, drawing details with a brush of her nail. The blade flowed long and straight, sharp and clear. As she finished cleaning the blade, it sliced her skin. Surprised, she cried out and put her finger to her mouth.
The winged satyr held a hand toward his sword, but stopped an inch from the hilt.
“What would you like me to do?” he asked.
She squeezed her bleeding finger, pain welling up. She bit her lip, as if to hold back a sob, but she couldn’t cry. She’d done so much crying she had no tears left. Blinking, she looked at her creation, calmed until she saw the gash marring his temple like a scar hinting at past abuse. Sadness turned to rage. All her wasted tears had left a dry wasteland behind, and it caught spark. She wiped her cheek free of imaginary tears, leaving a smear of blood behind to drip down her cheek.
“Do it. Kill Hard Edge.”
Before her lips closed, his hand settled into the grip made for it. His hooves thudded across the floor. He shoved open the window to leap outward, wings stretching from muscled shoulders.
Trista collapsed onto her workbench, pillowing her head on her arms. Her breath gathered marble dust in small whirls that formed white bugs. They scampered across her hands.
Power and regret roiled inside.
She imagined running to the window, shouting for him to stop, and knew she wouldn’t. After all, wasn’t this why she’d made him? The anger had been there, creating him. Now that she had the power to give him life, what was different? She’d been the sort of person who could hate so much she turned art into a weapon. The universe had granted the power to make her wish real. She couldn’t un-wish a gift like that, even if part of her wanted to.
Power didn’t make you good. It was how you used it.
She lifted her head off the bench, wiping her cheek. She could barely think about what she’d done. She buried regret. Too late for such things. She needed to survive. Time was short.
Behind her, the door crashed open.
She bolted upright and hundreds of shards rose with her. They glommed onto her shoulders and chest, each sliver a point on a dangerous Grecian gown. Her power terrified her, but she would not be a victim. Hadn’t she proven that? The points grew sharper as she glared toward her shattered door.
No one was coming to save her, but it didn’t matter. She had sworn never to be the innocent victim again. With her powers, she could make that true.
In the doorway, Vice Poison spread his fingers as if he would launch his needles.
She raised an arm. A miniature scorpion, formed from the rock fabric of her gown, scrambled along her arm.
She opened her palm in welcome. “I guess I do know which league I prefer.”
Read more Evil for Good! #ChooseEvil
The first three chapters are free through the online Kindle Vella service. New episodes come out weekly on Tuesdays.