Black 3-V

Hit the Sack.

Everything was on fire, and it was all my fault.

I stumbled through the burning clouds of smoke and ash, coughing and choking on the acrid fumes. The heat pressed down on me from every side, flames licking at the bottoms of all the doors and appearing in glimpses and flashes through the miasma.

I lent over and hacked a deep cough out of my lungs, but the burning sensation felt strangely distant, as did the pain from where I'd placed my hand on a wall to support myself. I knew, logically, that I was excruciating pain, but it didn't seem to have registered in my brain in any significant way. What did register, though, was the hand that grasped my forearm out of nowhere.

I jerked away, but the hand held tight, and I nearly fell from the opposing forces. Its skin was blackened and burned, sloughing off in some places, almost bubbling in others. What was most disturbing, though, was the way it seemed to almost melt, appropriately enough, into the wall, scarred skin blending into charred wallpaper.

I managed to free my arm, but the effort sent me stumbling into the opposite wall. More hands grasped me, strangely cold despite their appearance, covering me in a web of appendages. I struggled fruitlessly and tried to scream, but instead of my voice, a deep, rumbling growl burst out.

"YOUR FAULT," it said as the hands closed around my face, and then they were pulling me back into the wall, and I was falling.

The corridor was gone, as were the hands. I tumbled through an empty void, the heat of the flames replaced by the chill of nothingness.  Fragments of what looked to be brick and mortar fell around me, spinning as they fell. I tried to reach out and touch them, but as soon as my fingers brushed them, they burst into flame. The flames spread through the cloud, and I was surrounded by a nimbus of flame, catching my clothes alight and burning into my flesh. This time, there was no separation from the pain, and I tried to scream again, but again the voice boomed out instead.


I thumped into my bed, disoriented by the sudden lack of noise and pain. The sheets were soft and cool against my skin; my unburnt skin, which I didn’t find as odd as I probably should have.
I sat up to find myself surrounded by people. A crowd of shadowy figures facing away from me filled my bedroom, which, for some reason, had no walls. Everything was where it normally was, but the flooring faded out into nothingness, and the crowd extended out beyond my ability to see. I stood, and as soon as my feet touched the ground, every single person turned to face me, perfectly in sync. They were me, every one of them, except that they had no eyes, and their mouths were distorted into impossibly wide grins.
I reached out to touch the nearest… me, but my hand passed through it, and it dissipated into smoke. Others followed suit in a straight line behind it, filling the air and clouding my vision. When it faded, there was a clear path in front of me to my mirror. And staring back at me from the mirror was an olive-skinned face, thin and sallow, with a thick, smooth mustache.

“Hey, sport,” the face said. “Been a while.”

I woke in a cold sweat. For a second, I just stared at the ceiling, trying to hold onto the memories of the dream that I could already feel slipping away. It proved to be futile, though, and I sighed, rolling over and sitting up to face out the window.

My room was fairly small, considering the rest of the apartment. Basically just my bed, a cupboard and a dresser with the mirror on it, it made up for its size with a pretty great view. Outside, the lights of the city twinkled and shined below, casting a warm glow out over the lake and reflecting off of the skyscrapers around us.
I could see my reflection faintly in the floor-to-ceiling glass; my reflection, which seemed important for some reason. I wasn’t joking, back with Jess: I really do get mistaken for a girl a lot. I’ve got a pretty thin face and thick lips, but personally, I’ve always thought it was the eyebrows that sold it. Thin and neat, they looked like they’d been painted on. It was either that or the shoulder-length glossy-black dreadlocks, but that was a whole ‘nother can of worms.

I sighed, resting one hand against my forehead. As tired as I was, I knew there was no way I would be getting back to sleep tonight – no, this morning, I corrected myself as I caught a glimpse of the clock on the wall. I could never remember my nightmares; I just tended to wake up with lingering feelings of guilt and fire. Which, unfortunately, was more than enough to keep me awake.

Well, no point in letting the time go to waste.

I threw on a shirt over my sweatpants, and padded out the door, my sock-clad feet making slight scuffing noises on the hardwood floor. I probably didn’t need to bother being quiet, my mom sleeps like a log (she spends most of her days dealing with the worst kind of rich person), but I did it anyway, just in case. In case it wasn’t clear by this point, my family was stinking fucking rich. Our ‘house’ was three floors of an expensive apartment building in the middle of the city centre, and I do mean in the middle: with a little judicious use of my power, I could easily reach the Watchtower from my bedroom. Not that I’d want to, not unless I wanted to get carted away by one of the various hero teams that operated out of the gargantuan building. The Tower had some of the world’s only power-detecting sensors, installed all the way up the tower, which could detect power use in the surrounding ten blocks or so. It was impressive tech, theoretically, but in practice it only seemed to work properly on some powers, and very inconsistently on others.

I strolled down the stairs to the second floor of the housepartment. Bedrooms, bathrooms, offices and miscellaneous etcetera were on the top floor, kitchen, entrance and various living spaces on the middle one, and storage and the gym were on the bottom. It was to the last of these that I was headed: I still had a bunch of nervous energy, and exercise was the best way to burn some of that off.

I spun around the banister to head down and looked out the full-length window at the city stretched out below. We were fairly high up, and the urban sprawl extended into the distance, buildings decreasing in size as they got further out. As exaggeration-prone pundits are so fond of repeating, New Chicago is the superhuman crime capital of the world, and has levels of hero activity to match. As a (technical) contributor to said capital-ism, I felt like that was something of a misrepresentation. I mean, sure, NC has the highest rate of superhuman crime, but it also has one of the highest populations of a single city, and a population of paranormals to match: there’s more superpowered crime because there’re more people with superpowers. Basic common sense, which is not so common, doy hoy hoy.

I descended into the gym and waved a hand over the panel on the wall to activate the lights. Fluorescent panels built into the roof (Floor? Floof?) snapped on, bathing the wide and varied selection of exercise equipment in bright, clean white light. I hissed and held a hand in front of my eyes, and scrabbled at the panel until I managed to shift the lights to something a bit more palatable to my sleepy eyes.

I started off slow, doing some basic exercises and routines, and as I got into the more complicated stuff, I found my mind wandering. I’d been doing some form of martial arts for as long as I could remember, and while I’d never gotten officially certified, I could practically run through forms and general exercises in my sleep. 

My dad had always insisted I do martial arts, saying it’d keep me active, and my mom had grudgingly approved, because of the second part and despite the fact that I’d be actively learning how to hurt people. As might be obvious by this point, she didn’t know about my vigilante escapades. Though, despite the fact that she objected to my learning how to hurt people, she never really seemed to mind that my dad knew all the same things; hell, he’d taught me most of them. Still would be teaching me, in fact, if he was still around. But since he wasn’t-

I redoubled my energy, pounding the bag I was currently working on with a flurry of blows, trying to distance myself from that train of thought. Dammit, I’d gotten up to leave that behind, not to dunk my head back into the same mire of despair. Instead, I tried thinking about the group, but that just got me stressing about the giant pile of cash that was going to get us all killed-

I thought sunrise might help.

It really, really didn’t.