It was half past seven in the morning when I found myself lost in thought, in the back of a bus on the way to my personal hell, Winslow High. Another week of school had just started; another week of inevitable torture creeping ever closer. My mind was still locked onto the latest ‘prank’ the Trio had decided to grace me with.
Normally, I’d barely react to my tormentors’ actions. I’d endure as much as I could, trying not to give them the satisfaction of seeing me weak. But last Friday wasn’t normal.
Last Friday, someone stole my mother’s flute from me. From my locker, no less! Which was locked! This was just absurd.
Ugh, it was so monumentally stupid of me to bring it along. What was I thinking?
I impassively stared out the window, watching the lights as they passed by. Not even halfway there yet… I closed my eyes and sighed.
And it wasn’t like this was the first thing they’d stolen from me, either — random things in my locker kept going missing, and have been for quite some time. I really should’ve changed the lock…
I shuddered involuntarily, remembering the horror of early January: being shoved in my locker filled with trash, rusty razor blades and other pointy, sharp, dirty objects; the overwhelming pain from the countless wounds tearing at me as I thrashed within; the dying hope of ever getting out alive; the realization that nobody would even consider helping me… It was a miracle that someone pointed out to an adult that my locker was literally bleeding!
…And then there was my consolation prize. A joke of a power and a reminder of what I’d gone through.
Damn did it feel useless. As if it was goading me to just stab my problems — the bullies, that is — to death. But I wouldn’t… I wouldn’t go Carrie on them, I was better than that. I refused to become a monster that was even worse than the bitches I had to share a school with. Not to mention the consequences that doing so would bring… Regardless, one way or another, I’d make the damn thing useful. Somehow.
I opened my eyes, and noticed that I was nearly there.
Time to find out who the thief was.
I made it to Winslow and beelined towards my locker, keeping my head low and hoping that no one would bother me at least before classes started. Some people had, countless times in the past, but today seemed relatively calm so far.
I focused on the crux of my plan - the object sitting inside a decoy pencil pouch within my bag’s bowels: an immaculately polished, perfectly angular, low-polygonal piece of obsidian-like material — or, as I called it, a thorn. Unlike actual obsidian, its durability could rival steel, provided I paid enough attention to it anyway. Eight inches long and one and a half inches wide, the thing barely managed to fit in the pouch properly. Shape-wise, it looked like someone glued two different triangular pyramids together, with one of them being much taller than the other, and with their shared base being an equilateral triangle. Simple, yet fancy, and pretty sharp as well.
I reached the locker and, while nobody was looking, put the pencil pouch onto the top shelf. The idea was that if someone touched the pouch, I'd be able to feel it shifting via my thorn. I’d then dismiss said thorn, like I practiced at home, and try to get to the locker to see the culprit in action.
Sure, it wasn’t the best plan in the world, but it wasn’t overly convoluted; not much could go wrong that way. All I had to do was bide my time, and bide my time I did.
A minute or so after the ring of the school bells had heralded PE class, I felt something strange. I was on my way towards the changing room when I felt the thorn in my locker — on which I kept a bit of my attention all this time — being poked. The thing that startled me was the fact that once it was poked, it felt fuller somehow, and yet even more hollow than usual. This odd sensation made my control over the thorn flinch as well, leading me to feel it… flying away from the touch… through the pouch, the locker shelf and the wall behind said locker…
…What the fuck?
Hoping that I didn’t give myself away, I dismissed the thorn and started speed walking towards the hallway where my locker resided. At that point almost everyone was in their respective classes, with the halls nearly empty, so all I had to endure were a few stares from those who were late, quickly rushing by. Still, the closer I got to the locker’s location the softer I made my footsteps, just in case. I wouldn’t want to scare off the thief right away, after all.
Getting to the corner that connected to the hallway, I peeked out from it and stiffened in shock.
There was a person standing there made entirely of a see-through shadow, barely visible and with a hand withdrawing back through my locker’s door. They were slowly dragging out a prolonged, equally dark and transparent object with it. Once it was pulled out, everything shadowy became normal, revealing…
…A seemingly-puzzled Sophia looking at the empty pencil pouch in her hand.
WHAT. THE. FUCK?!
I sharply inhaled and hid behind the corner again, wobbling on my feet thanks to all the adrenaline screaming through my veins.
Sophia was… Sophia was Shadow Stalker. A Ward. A hero. How many more ‘heroes’ were like this when nobody was looking?..
I suddenly felt nauseous, gagging involuntarily, and sprinted to the nearest bathroom to void my stomach.
After cleaning up and washing my face, I steeled myself for the rest of the day — if I behaved too differently, Sophia or the others would most likely notice. Considering Shadow Stalker wasn’t known for being charitable either… I didn’t want to imagine what would happen if she found out that I knew who she was. I just needed to survive the rest of the day, and only then would it be safe to properly freak out.
I slowly exhaled, left the bathroom and suppressed the urge to think about what I had witnessed.
“Taylor, are you feeling okay?” I heard my dad say.
I was still dazed from earlier, drifting about, my mind thick with cloying, oppressing fog. After school, I returned home, my strings pulled by the puppetmaster that was routine. Dad returned from work in the middle of me making lunch, and… Ugh, I was spacing out again.
“Huh?” I asked absentmindedly, looking up from my plate of meatloaf.
“You look like you’re sick,” my dad pointed out.
“I, uh… don’t know? Maybe?” Wow, great answer, Taylor. That was almost coherent.
He stared at me for a moment, then asked: “...Do you need to go to the hospital?”
“What? No, no hospital, I-I’m just dizzy,” I lied as I continued eating my lunch in the hopes that this conversation would end soon.
My dad finished a bite of his own and said, “I still think that you should stay home for a couple of days. Just to be sure. Okay, kiddo?”
Should I, really? I sure as hell didn’t want to go back, especially since today’s discovery. Also, having a day or two to decompress did sound nice. Yeah, I should probably stay.
I swallowed and nodded: “Yeah, alright. Thanks, dad.” Not having to go to school tomorrow made me feel a tiny bit relieved, even if I was still due a breakdown or three.
He answered with a weak smile: “You’re welcome, kiddo.”
We finished our lunch in silence. I did the dishes, gave my dad a hug, retreated to my room and collapsed on my bed. Ugh.
In the safety of my room, away from all the evil of the world, the floodgates opened and my mind started racing.
How in the actual fuck was Sophia a fucking Ward?! Did the PRT really just… hire psychopaths? Why? Did they not do psych evaluations? Or were they just so desperate for all the capes they could get, no matter the cost? Were the other Wards just as bad? Or were they being bullied by her as well, somehow? How have they not helped me by now? Or did they simply not care? Were they covering for her, just because she was a Ward?
I felt a stinging in my eyes and curled up in the fetal position, sobbing ever-so-slightly.
Summoning a thorn in my hands, I just laid there. It was something to focus on, something to use as a distraction. I noted the usual feeling of emptiness it had, especially in comparison to that odd sensation of fullness when it had been touched by Sophia. Yet, back then, it was also even more empty. Or, more accurately, false.
I mulled over that thought while remembering the way the thorn simply passed through all those objects. Just like Sophia…
Wait. Did I..?
I stared at the thorn in my hands, replaying the scene in my head yet again. That would explain the feeling of falseness it suddenly had… A smile began crawling across my face as I realized the ramifications of what I’d just figured out. My thorns could copy powers…
And here I thought my power was useless.
With a goofy grin I got off my bed, walked over to my desk and took out a piece of paper. So far, my brainstorming attempts on a fitting cape name weren’t successful, but…
With renewed vigor and a goal in sight, I started thinking.
After a while, I let out a frustrated huff. Everything I thought of just didn’t feel good enough. This was harder than I thought.
I glared at the paper in front of me, as if willing it to come alive and start throwing ideas at my face.
Thorn? "Thorn and her thorns" sounds stupid, no.
Spike? Edgy, stupid and villainous.
Shard? Can work, backup choice.
Obelisk? Feels off.
Obsidian? Taken, British vigilante.
Combination? Too on the nose.
Amalgam? Taken, Australian cape.
Synthesis? Taken, villain Tinker from VA.
Fusion? Sounds too destructive.
Unity? Too cheesy.
Prism? Taken, NY Protectorate cape.
Conduit? Sounds awkward.
I sighed, leaning back and closing my eyes for a moment. I stretched and stifled a yawn. Today was certainly exhausting.
Taking the thorn I put on my desk into my hands, my eyes bored into it for answers it probably didn’t contain. What would mom think?..
I closed my eyes again and thought of flowers, my mind on autopilot. At first, the thought was simply abstract, but the first actual flower I thought of made me pause. A rose. One of mom’s favorites, and her middle name besides. And me calling my constructs ‘thorns’ would fit in flawlessly with said moniker...
I looked back to the object in my palm, then at my trainwreck of a name list, and added ‘Black Rose’ at the bottom. Perfect.
With my cape name finally chosen, I smiled, then folded and hid the paper. Couldn’t have anyone find it and spoil everything, after all.
I held my thorn close to my chest and felt a tear roll down my cheek.
“I’ll make you proud, mom.”