I pushed a gust of wind through my torso to get the air moving and shivered. Soon it would be too cold to do that. From what I could feel out with the air currents, the ceiling drooped in in places, and had already collapsed in others; nearer to collapse than I was comfortable with. It was far less damaged than the rest of the building, though, which had been reduced to rubble in the combat between Charity and the leaders of Blackwell. There were a few places in the hall we’d entered into where the ceiling had caved in, jutting down like stalactites. Savage and I carefully skirted around a spike of concrete and rebar that had penetrated the ceiling as we made our way deeper into the building.
A sense of uneasiness started growing in the pit of my stomach as I tried to make out my surroundings in the darkness, which was only broken by the light which now shone from the collapsed stairwell. I was no stranger to darkness, but the building was eerily still. I focused on getting the air moving again. Without the constant eddies and currents that were present outside, my wind-sense seemed dampened. As the air started moving, the edges of the hall sharpened, and I could feel the rubble on the floor like it was brushing across my skin.
“This place is strange,” said Savage, his voice low, but still seeming loud in the silent basement. He seemed entirely unhindered by the relative darkness. Less so than I was, at least. “Hard to smell, through the dust, but there are Chems here.”
“This may have been a Blackwell base,” I conceded. Things weren’t looking good for Wren. It didn’t seem right, that he of all people would be a member of one of the most brutal gangs in the city, but all signs seemed to point that direction.
By Chems, Savage meant chemicals- specifically the performance-enhancing drugs used by boosters. Chems, along with casual drugs like Pils, were Blackwell’s biggest source of revenue. They had gotten their hands on a tinker who specialized in that kind of thing a few years back called Opiate. Rumor was, Opiate and Chlora, the tinker who made Denudine and Neuraplast, were related, or even the same person. Then again, rumor also said I was a black man (typical, really), so I didn’t put much stock in that.
Thinking about it now, the building did smell odd, even to me. It smelled somehow sterile, like a hospital, and there were traces of something I didn’t recognize in the air.
“This way,” directed Savage as we came to an intersection, jerking his head to the right. I followed and we continued through the dark, crumbling halls.
We came to a door which appeared completely intact, unlike many of the others, with no gaps I could push air through to scope out the other side. Savage walked past the door, then stopped, turned, and walked back. Nodding silently, he pointed to the door.
“Careful,” I said in a very low voice. “I can’t see the other side of this one.”
Savage shrugged and kicked the door open.
There was a flash of bright light and a sound like a camera flash. I reflexively pulled my darkness over my eyes, but I was too late. My muscles clenched painfully, locking my joints stiff and unresponsive. From Savage’s frustrated snarl, I guessed he’d suffered the same fate.
“Do you like it?” Came a muffled woman’s voice. “It’s based on a fellow named Basilisk who came by a while back. Only just got it to work. I call it the Cocatrice.”
I pulled the darkness off of my eyes, to find I still couldn’t see. Instead, I started agitating the air to get an idea of what was going on. The outline of our assailant appeared In my mind, lurking in the darkness to my right. I realized why I hadn’t felt her breathing. A respirator. There were two of them, both with heavy, segmented masks with protrusions over the eyes and mouth. Night-vision goggles and rebreathers, I assumed.
I tried to move, and instead started to tip forward, unable to move my legs. I quickly transposed a leg out to catch myself. Were I reliant on my lungs for respiration I would have cried out as my muscles screamed, obstinately resisting the change in position. My leg jerked painfully back to its original position, throwing me further off balance.
Gloved hands caught me before I hit the ground, and this time I did let out an involuntary gust of wind, instinctually pushing away.
“That’s new,” commented a distorted voice by my ear.
“Yes, it is,” said the female voice that had spoken a moment ago. “I’ll have to do some more testing.”
I was lifted bodily and carried underarm into the room. My legs and back burned as my cramping muscles held me rigidly upright. It hurt, but it wasn’t as bad as the healing sessions. My darkness couldn’t get a purchase on the thick insulating suits, sliding down the material from where he held me and fading away.
“You know, these two would fit right in,” commented the person carrying me.
“The big one’s Savage, dumbass,” retorted the woman. “He kills drug dealers for fun. Other one’s probably a sidekick or something. They are literally the last people we want around, short of Interdiction stopping by.”
“Yeah, but you know, they got the color scheme already,” protested my captor.
“Turns out black is the new black,” snarked the woman. “Who knew?”
I was tossed into what felt like an empty cell and hit the floor hard, unable to brace myself except by transposing out my arms, which jerked back into position with a stab of pain. I heard a door slam close to my head, and felt the blast of air from its passage illuminate the room a moment later.
“Like rats into a trap,” I heard through the door. “Wait here a moment, kay?”
Footsteps receded into the distance as I struggled to regain control of my clenched muscles. I could teleport to standing, I knew, but I didn’t trust myself to remain standing, so I flipped myself onto my back instead. I think if only took a few minutes to be able to move my fingers again, creaking and stiff as I worked them open and closed, but it felt like longer. After another few minutes, my arms and legs started to loosen and I pushed myself shakily to my knees. My teeth ached as my jaw unclenched, so I put my tongue between my teeth to stop them from clenching up again.
I shuffled into a corner opposite the door and slumped to the floor, working blood back into my upper legs with my arms. A low growl emanated from the darkness on the other side if the room, making me start. Suppressing panic, I started cycling air around the room. My heart raced as I felt a large, warm body nearby, but after a moment of panic I realized that it was Savage.
From what I could make out, Savage was curled on the floor much like I was, the short hair that covered his body on end. I hadn’t noticed when he had been moved in, but I now that I was aware of his presence I could feel him breathing shallowly. His breath traced the pits and scratches in the concrete floor, joining with the gentle draft I was creating.
“Savage, you okay?” I asked quietly, and received only an animal growl in reply. “It looks like you got hit harder than I did.” I continued. “It fades after a bit.” The growling stopped and he let out a hiss of breath, which I took as acknowledgement.
I pushed myself up to my feet, leaning on the wall heavily. I seemed to be able to stand, though stiffly. I stretched to make sure I had recovered, and found that I’d regained most of my range of motion. My muscles were still knotted and sore, but I could move again. I moved to the door. I found it unlocked after feeling out the mechanism, but it opened inward with no handle on the inside, making it very difficult to open from this side. I felt out the edge of the door with a burst of air and wedged my fingernails into the crack, and used them to open the door an imperceptible amount. I tried to open it further, but it was too heavy and I had no leverage, so it slipped closed once more. After some time trying and failing to open the door, I felt Savage moving behind me. I moved out of the way to let him through and he dug his claws into the door and tore it inwards, gouging deep rents in the surface. Through the door, the hallway seemed brightly lit, but only my contrast to the darkness in the cell. Savage turned and glared back into the room.
“Goddam Blackwell!” he roared. “Shadow, where are you?”
“You can’t see me?” I asked, and his eye snapped to about where I was. His one eye’s pupil was dilated huge in the darkness and shone dimly, reflecting the weak light from the hall.
“No,” he replied flatly. “It’s never been too dark before.”
I looked through the door. He was right. The hallway appeared to just stop at the doorway, opening into blackness. I inspected one of the walls and discovered that it was covered with a thin layer of my darkness. I hadn’t even noticed, in the pitch black room, that it had spread beyond my skin and clothes.
“You might have a problem, kid,” Savage said carefully. “I think I figured out who the missing link is. You’re related to Denizen, aren’t you?”
I didn’t respond. I remembered how I was able to teleport to my mark on Chastity and tried teleporting around the room. The doorway moved suddenly in my vision and I was startled by how easy and quiet it was. I laughed out loud, and Savage narrowed his eyes.
“I don’t think you get it,” he said. “Denizen of the Dark’s identity is publicly known, and the similarities in your powers are obvious. It wouldn’t be hard got someone to find your identity if you’re not careful.”
An “oh,” escaped my lips, ending my revelry. I hadn’t thought of that, but he was right. The first thing everyone said when they heard my name was ‘What, like Denizen of the Dark?’ Anyone who knew me would make the connection immediately. Damn. I’m going to have to be careful. I need to stay anonymous for as long as I can.
“You’re right,” I confessed and stepped out of the darkness into the hall. “I guess I’m going to have to be careful.” After a moment, I added, “it helps that I don’t even know how I did that.”
Savage grunted skeptically and then scanned the hall.
“They’re gone,” he said. He sniffed the air again. “But there’s someone else nearby.” He padded back and forth in the hall.
I crouched and inspected the edge of where my darkness had reached. It stopped abruptly at the door, and one side of the door was covered. As I watched the patch of darkness on the door faded, gradually coming back into view. When I turned back to the cell, it was behaving similarly and fading away. I reached out and touched the floor inside the cell and the patch of floor immediately around my hand darkened suddenly. I tried to push the darkness out, to spread, to no avail. The area had stopped fading, but didn’t darken any more.
“Shadow,” Savage said, attempting to get my attention.
I moved my hand around, leaving behind a smear of black, noticeably darker than the surrounding floor. When I pulled my hand away, it started fading with the rest of the cell. I reached back down, and it stopped fading. I stared at it thoughtfully as it faded away over a few seconds and my awareness of it vanished. Curious, I lifted one of my feet and looked at the black footprint left behind.
I stood and walked a few steps towards Savage. Now that I was cognisant of it, I could feel the footprints behind me. I’d become so used to it, I realized, that I’d never noticed it before. Experimentally, I tried to teleport back to a footprint a few steps back, and was rewarded as Savage was suddenly several meters farther away.
“Shadow!” he snapped. “There’s someone else here.” That got my attention.
“I don’t know,” he said irritably. “I can’t tell. It’s covered in something that’s masking the scent.”
“I-” I started.
“It’s Denudine,” Savage interrupted me, eye wide and nostrils flared. “They have Denudine.” Savage backed against the wall and crouched down, eye flickering back and forth down the hall.
“That’s bad,” I said, not entirely sure why it was bad.
“Idiot. Do you know what Denudine does to non-metahumans?”
“Nothing, right?” I was confused again.
“Yes, but it also means that some powers that affect other people can’t affect them,” Savage explained quietly but severely. “It means I can’t track them. The dose must be wearing off on the one I can smell, but there might be others.” He sounded paranoid, even to me.
“Hey, is there someone there?” came a muffled voice. “What- what’s going on?”
The voice sounded like it was coming from the door behind Savage. Savage ducked to the floor and prowled away from the door cautiously.
“Who are you?” I asked.
“My name’s Wren. Wren Castor. I’m… I’m a student at CU.”
I immediately moved to open the door, but Savage stopped me with a hand on my arm.
“If it was a trap, we’d still be in the cell,” I reasoned, and opened the door.
The feeble light from the hall shone into the cell, revealing Wren sitting on the floor at the far end.
“Shadow, right?” He said feebly. “This has been an exciting day.”