The Porcelain Mask


The Porcelain Mask
By
Morpheus

This story is a fan fiction that takes place in the Whateley Universe and was specifically written to expand upon one of the characters I introduced in my story Absinthe 2: The Absinthe of Malice.

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It was the latest hour of the night or the earliest of the morning, in the indistinct time when two days met and blurred into one another. Most of the Whateley campus was covered in darkness, though small pools of light existed near many of the buildings and paths. The moon was a thin crescent in the sky and what meager light it provided was obscured by the clouds.

A dark figure that was entirely black as tar moved across the school campus, slipping through the shadow with ease and avoiding the pools of light. When the figure reached the walls of Melville Cottage, it didn’t hesitate before it began climbing up the old brick wall as easily as if it had been a spider. It was only when the figure reached a specific window on the junior’s floor that it paused.

Long black tendrils began to grow from the figure’s body with the thinnest of them slipping through a small crack in the window frame and then unlocking the window from the inside. Once the window was open, the figure made no move to enter directly, reaching in with the black tendrils instead.

Two boys were sleeping in the room, though the figure was only interested in one of them. With its tendrils, it gently pulled the covers back from one boy, then it went to work. In a quick move, one tendril wrapped around the boy’s mouth, keeping him from making a sound while others grabbed at his arms and legs. The boy snapped awake and tried to scream, though no sound was allowed to escape. He tried struggling, though that had no more effect than the scream.

The helpless and terrified boy was pulled from his bed and drawn towards the open window…and the dark figure that crouched there. He stared at his attacker in horror, desperately trying to break free from the black tendrils that held him, desperately trying to get away, or at the very least, wake his roommate up to help. But even as he was grabbed and taken out through the window, his roommate continued to snore undisturbed.

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The alarm clock went off, emitting the loud beeping that awoke both residents of the Whitman Cottage dorm room. One girl sat up and immediately muttered profanities as she reached over to turn the alarm off. The other girl remained motionless on top of her bed, looking as though she was nothing more than a white ceramic statue.

Porcelain didn’t move for nearly half a minute after waking, then she slowly sat up as well. The ceramic shell that covered her body cracked and splintered wherever she moved, making her appear as though she was a shattered porcelain doll. She didn’t pay this any mind though as she climbed out of bed, taking care since she had to break her shell every time she moved her body.

“God,” her roommate exclaimed, giving Porcelain a look of disgust. “I HATE when you do that…”

Porcelain looked to her roommate, a mousy looking brunette named Bethany who clearly didn’t like her and never hesitated to let her know. Porcelain absently thought that if Bethany had been in one of those obnoxious movies about high school life, she’d have the right appearance to play the shy best friend but the personality of one of the bitchy cheerleaders.

“And why don’t you use a blanket?” Bethany continued her complaining. “I don’t want to look at THAT…”

“I have no need for a blanket,” Porcelain responded with faint amusement, having had this conversation with Bethany many times before. “My shell provides all the insulation I require.” And though it was completely true that she didn’t need a blanket to stay warm, the main reason that she slept on top of her covers instead of under them had more to do with how much it annoyed her roommate.

Bethany glared at Porcelain and spat out, “You are such a freak.” With that, Bethany threw on her bathrobe and grabbed her shower supplies, then hurried out of the room.

Porcelain smiled faintly behind her permanent mask, knowing exactly why Bethany really hated her. A large part of that dislike came from the simple fact that Porcelain was immune to her powers, which was the entire reason the house mother had placed them together as roommates.

Bethany was a projective empath with the power to control other people’s emotions, and in her old school, she’d used her power to manipulate the students and teachers, making herself into the most popular girl in the entire school. Unfortunately for her, someone realized what she was doing and she’d been forced to leave just ahead of a lynch mob. And once she’d arrived at Whateley, she’d tried the same thing on a smaller scale, turning her former roommate into an almost fawning ‘best friend’.

Though few people were aware of the fact, Porcelain’s outer shell acted as armor against psychic intrusion. As long as she was surrounded by her shell, no one could read her mind…or influence it. This frustrated Bethany a great deal as the empath had become accustomed to manipulating other people and getting what she wanted.

After a moment, Porcelain realized that she’d been standing still for too long and all the cracks in her joins had sealed up again, meaning that she would have to once again break her shell just to move. She took a little extra effort to force herself to move, cracking the shell again as she did so. She felt a faint stirring of relief that she was still able to do this.

She held her hand up in front of her face and then clenched it into a fist, cracking her shell along all the joins. Then she opened her hand and held it still, watching as the shattered shell melted back together until it once again looked like smooth and flawless porcelain.

One of her greatest fears was that her shell would become stronger, and that one day she would be unable to break it at all. If that ever happened, she might become trapped and helpless within her own shell…until she inevitably starved to death. She’d suffered more than a few nightmares about this scenario.

Porcelain looked to the bedroom door, feeling a momentary pang of jealousy for Bethany. It had been a long time since she’d been able to take a proper shower and she missed the feel of hot water flowing over her skin like that. Her shell was self-cleaning and took care of things like her sweat and dead skin, but not needing a shower to stay clean was not the same as not wanting one.

Instead of going to the showers as all the other girls were doing, Porcelain began to get dressed. Her body was completely covered in her shell, so technically she was already dressed, but clothes let her blend in among the other students a little better.

After getting dressed in one of her school uniforms, Porcelain looked at herself in the mirror. She looked like a porcelain doll, just as she always did. The clothes helped to hide the fact that her entire body was like this, though not by much.

Her face was feminine and somewhat pretty, but it was just a blank porcelain mask that showed no expression. Even her eyes were covered with this shell, so she was fortunate that she could actually see through her shell as though it wasn’t there.

Porcelain looked her reflection over for a moment, then concentrated on the shell that held her hair. It had been deformed and reshaped while she slept, giving her a now fixed form of ‘bed head’. Though her shell cracked and healed on its own, she could also reshape it with some concentrated effort. The shell around her hair reformed back to its normal groomed appearance without her having to use a real brush.

“Acceptable,” Porcelain stated.

She glanced over her side of the room, which was neat and devoid of almost all frivolous decorations. There were no brushes, makeup, or posters on the wall. Even her clothes were sparse, consisting of school uniforms and little else. The only truly personal items she possessed were on the top of her dresser.

There was an intricately carved wooden jewelry box, though only a few pieces of jewelry rested inside of it. Porcelain had little need for jewelry, but the box and trinkets it contained had once belonged to her mother.

A deep sadness filled her heart as she thought of her mother, who had always been so kind and gentle. She had been the only one who truly understood Porcelain and had accepted her for who she really was. But unfortunately, her mother had been killed years ago, murdered by one of her father’s enemies.

However, it wasn’t her father’s enemies that concerned her, it was her own. The one who pursued her was dangerous and determined, and she had no doubt that sooner or later he would come for her. He would come to end her life, showing no hesitation or mercy.

She had first come to Whateley Academy, not to hide from her enemy since it was impossible to do that for long, but to buy herself more time. The security at this school was impressive and would make him think twice about attacking her here. And if the security alone wasn’t enough of a threat, there were the severe consequences of attacking a place that had been declared neutral ground by heroes, villains, and governments alike.

But in spite of all of the protections offered by the school, Porcelain held no illusions that it would be enough deter him indefinitely. Because of that, she’d been keeping a low profile, making sure that what he saw of her would reinforce his opinions of her being weak and easy prey. Let him underestimate her. Let him think she was helpless. Let him lose any sense of urgency in coming after her, because it would only buy her more time…time to build her strength and prepare.

Porcelain had also been looking for allies, and there were two groups on campus which seemed a perfect match for her. However, instead of rushing to them, she’d remained back...watching and observing. She wanted to know what she could expect from these potential allies, and what they might offer.

“Father always said that patience is a virtue,” Porcelain mused to herself, knowing that it was a lesson she’d taken to heart. “But my time of waiting is over…”

With that, Porcelain opened the jewelry box and carefully removed the false bottom, revealing the envelope that had been hidden within. The envelope was closed with a wax seal that contained her father’s crest, and though the contents had been intended for her use as soon as she arrived at Whateley, she’d held off on doing so until now.

Porcelain placed the envelope inside the cover of a book, then put it into her book bag. She would keep the envelope close at hand until its purpose could be served.

Bethany chose that moment to return to the room, where she immediately began to complain again. “You NEVER shower,” the obnoxious girl exclaimed. “It’s no wonder you stink so bad…”

Though Porcelain was annoyed by the insult, she didn’t bother to react at all, at least not visibly. After all, Bethany was making it up for the sole purpose of messing with her. Though she didn’t bathe, her shell ensured that her hygiene was quite acceptable.

After a few seconds, Porcelain held out her hand and the white shell that covered it began to melt and flow, taking the form of a figurine in her palm. The white ceramic figurine was four inches tall and looked like a little pixie. She smiled faintly as it reminded her a little of Absinthe and all the pixies which always surrounded the other girl.

Porcelain carefully set the figurine on top of her dresser, beside several other pieces of art that she’d made. She was careful not to touch any of them because they were all extremely fragile.

Normally, any parts of her shell that she shed or lost would crumble to dust and dissolve away within minutes. However, with some concentration and effort, she could make pieces that would last for several days, though they quickly became extremely fragile. If she bumped one of the older ones, it would be destroyed and would then quickly vanish.

Bethany had taken advantage of their fragile state to destroy her figurines before. In fact, Bethany tended to do that every several days, so Porcelain suspected that none of these pieces would survive until night. But even though Bethany was an annoyance, she was not a threat, so Porcelain never bothered to retaliate.

With that, Porcelain picked up her book bag and left her room, heading straight to Crystal Hall so she could have breakfast. After picking up a bagel and some fruit, Porcelain went to where she usually ate breakfast, the table that was reserved for the Underdogs.

The Underdogs were one of the established groups at Whateley, though not one of the ones she’d been watching for an alliance. After all, the Underdogs were comprised of students with powers that were usually considered weak and laughable. They were the students who frequently drew the attention of bullies, and as such, this had seemed the perfect social gathering to reinforce the image of helplessness that she intentionally tried to project.

When Porcelain reached the table, she saw that Fixx was in the middle of talking to some of the others. “At first, I was planning on calling myself Makeshift,” he told them with his usual cheerful grin. “But then I found out someone else was already using that name. Then I figured, I’d call myself Fixx since I’m good at fixing things. It wasn’t until afterwards that I found out it was a legacy name and the last guy who used it graduated last year…”

“We know,” Aquerna responded with a smile, then reminded him, “He was an Underdog too...”

Fixx nodded at that, then noticed Porcelain and exclaimed, “Good morning. I saved a seat for you…”

“That is most kind,” Porcelain responded as she sat down.

She looked at Fixx for a moment, then gently shook her head. He was lean and had an unruly mop of auburn hair, as well as an ever present grin. He was also hopelessly naïve and overly optimistic about everything. And though she should have found that annoying, he somehow made those traits seem endearing instead.

Fixx, like most Underdogs, had powers that most of the other students refused to take seriously. He was a very low level gadgeteer and devisor, with a low level magic trick as well. But in spite of having powers that seemed almost worthless on paper, he somehow found a way to make them extremely effective.

Then again, Fixx wasn’t the only Underdog who was more effective than anyone gave him credit for. Most of the Underdogs made a habit of being underestimated, often even by themselves.

With that, Porcelain looked around the table, taking mental note of who was present this morning and who was absent. Oftentimes, some of the usual members would be absent for one reason or another, and not always the same ones.

Aquerna was there as usual, being a squirrel avatar who was considered something of a joke on campus. However, among the Underdogs she was respected and looked up to, though she didn’t appear to realize it. Her showing during a combat examination last year had become something of a legend among the group.

Sylver Stryker, or Sylver as everyone just called her now, was a very pretty sophomore with silver metallic hair and eyes. When she’d come to Whateley, she’d been a class five telekinetic, one of the most powerful in the entire school. But then she’d gone through a bad burnout, and as sometimes happened in such cases, her powers were left burned out from the experience. She’d gone from being able to lift a car with her powers to barely being able to lift anything heavier than a can of soda.

The previous year, Sylver had been well on her way to becoming a member of the Cape Squad, or as they were officially known, the Future Superheroes of America, but that was before she’d gone through her burnout. Afterwards, there was no way they’d accept her with her diminished power, so they and many of her other friends had drifted away from her out of pity. Now she was with the Underdogs, a group that she herself used to make fun of.

“Did you hear about Gravmax?” Sylver asked, looking around the table. She was a frequent source of the gossip that often comprised the conversations they had while eating.

Doorstop, who had a large bruise on his face courtesy of Gravmax, shook his head. He snorted in disdain and said, “Let me guess. That asshole finally put someone in the hospital…”

“No,” Bluescreen said with a laugh. “This time, someone got him…”

“Really?” Doorstop asked in surprise.

“Yeah,” Fixx told him with a chuckle. “They found him hogtied and buck naked in the courtyard…”

“Apparently,” Sylver continued, giving Fixx a dirty look for stealing her thunder, “he said that some kind of shadow monster attacked him in his room and drug him out of bed.”

“That sounds…curious,” Porcelain commented.

“This is Whateley,” Fixx pointed out. “Weird is normal.”

There were a lot of jokes at Gravmax’s expense, which was nothing surprising since most of the underdogs were quite familiar with the boy. He’d bullied more than a few of the Underdogs at one point or another, so they were more than happy to see him get a bit of it himself.

“I just wonder who got him,” Doorstop commented, then paused before adding, “And I wonder if they took video…”

When breakfast was done, Porcelain got up to leave, making sure to be slow and careful as she began walking away from the table. Her shell did interfere with her movements, at least when she first started moving and had to break it, but she always exaggerated the awkwardness for effect.

“Hey Porcelain,” Fixx said as he joined her. “Do you mind if I walk you to class?”

“If you like,” she responded, smiling faintly, though he wouldn’t be able to see it. It took a little more than that to crack the shell covering her face, and she’d already done more than enough of that just while eating breakfast.

Fixx just smiled, looking quite happy to be walking beside her. She had a hard time understanding the boy sometimes since he often came across as naïve and innocent. That kind of outlook on life seemed almost alien to her, yet she found herself almost wishing that she could see things the way he did.

Porcelain hadn’t wanted to admit it to herself at first, but she was rather fond of Fixx. It was probably due to the fact that when he looked at her, there was never any sign of pity in his eyes as there were with most people. He treated her as though she was a pretty girl, not the freak that everyone else saw.

“Can you believe it?” Fixx abruptly asked. “Dana is trying to talk us all into practicing together as a training team…”

“You all did quite well in your arena match,” Porcelain pointed out, thinking about the competition from two weeks earlier. “As I’ve told you before, I believe you have the makings of an effective team.”

“Yeah,” Fixx nodded agreement. “We were pretty good. But, it’s pretty weird for anyone to ask an Underdog to join a training team. I mean, if I joined, no one would take us seriously…”

Porcelain stopped at that and then turned to Fixx, finding it rather silly how he would be so optimistic about everyone else, but would then doubt his own capabilities. “You should not concern yourself with that,” she told him in a serious tone. “You have already proven your abilities, and if anyone doubts them, then they were obviously not paying attention.”

“Thanks,” Fixx told her with a grin. Then as they reached Porcelain’s first period class, he sighed. “I guess I’ll see you later.”

“Indeed,” Porcelain agreed. “I shall see you in Power Theory.”

Porcelain went into class and was almost immediately confronted with one of the pretties, a beautiful exemplar girl named Starbright. Starbright reminded Porcelain a great deal of Bethany, not in looks, but in personality.

“I don’t know why they even allow your kind in school,” Starbright commented with a smirk. “I mean, we shouldn’t have to deal with you freaks and your GSD.”

GSD was often used as a general term to refer to any mutant who’s power had altered their appearance so that they no longer appeared normal. And though there were many such cases in Whateley, Porcelain herself was not one of them. Her body was perfectly normal…beneath her shell.

“It must be pleasant,” Porcelain commented as she went to her seat. “Being so certain in your ignorance.”

Starbright snarled at that and shoved Porcelain, who lost her balance and fell to the ground. There was a cracking sound as her shell shattered along her legs and arm. Several nearby students gasped in horror as the seemingly fragile mutant had been severely injured in front of them. Even Starbright had a look of horror on her face as she realized what she’d done.

Without a word, Porcelain got back to her feet, completely unharmed from the fall. Her shell had been cracked, but that was absolutely nothing to her. Still, she moved slowly and walked with a limp as she returned to her seat, knowing that she had an image to maintain.

Starbright hurried to her own seat, actually looking guilty, or at least embarrassed, though that might have been influenced by the fact that several other students were giving her dirty looks. Porcelain had a feeling that if no one else had been watching, then Starbright probably would have just laughed instead.

When lunch finally came, Porcelain went back to Crystal Hall and began to make her way towards a specific table, though it wasn’t one she’d ever approached before. As she’d finally decided that morning, it was time for her to finally make her move. It was time to approach the potential allies that she’d been watching since her arrival at Whateley.

Porcelain had the envelope in hand and had just about reached her destination when a large hand suddenly grabbed her arm and yanked her. “Come here little dolly,” the familiar voice demanded.

“Stoppable,” Porcelain said, staring up at the large brick.

Porcelain didn’t know why this boy seemed to be obsessed with her, only that he was. At first, he’d joked a few times about wanting to get a life sized doll for his little sister, but now it had gone beyond that.

“The name is Unstoppable,” he responded with an angry snarl.

“But that name isn’t accurate,” she pointed out with a smirk that he wouldn’t even be able to see. “As I remember, you’ve been stopped by an Underdog on multiple occasions. I believe Stoppable is a much more accurate name.”

A moment later, Stoppable suddenly started to look around him with an expression of confusion. “Where did all these fireworks come from?”

“Come on,” Absinthe said, appearing by Porcelain’s side. “Let’s get out of her while he’s distracted.”

“Good idea,” Fixx agreed, standing between Porcelain and Stoppable in order to protect her escape.

He reached into the satchel he always wore and pulled something out, though she couldn’t see what it was. However, she had no doubts that it would be effective against the bully. After all, Fixx had dealt with Stoppable before, delivering humiliating defeats for the much more powerful boy.

A minute later, Porcelain had been led back to her normal lunch table, where she was met with the rest of her friends. Dana and Jinx were talking in whispers and giggling while Collin was watching Absinthe with a look of obvious interest.

Porcelain appreciated the fact that her friends had helped her against Stoppable, though she deeply regretted the timing of the incident. She’d just been about to make contact with her potential allies, and now those plans had been ruined, at least for the moment. She could still approach them later though.

Just then, Porcelain realized that the envelope was missing. When Stoppable had grabbed her, she’d dropped it and had been too distracted to recover it afterwards. She silently cursed, knowing that if she got up to go look for it now, there would be questions she couldn’t answer.

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A small group of Bad Seeds sat at their usual table in Crystal Hall, eating lunch while waiting for the rest of their members to arrive. The table was quiet for the moment, though they knew that wouldn’t last long, especially not once some of their more vocal friends joined them.

Nephandus leaned back and absently played with his walking stick, a thoughtful look on his face as he silently watched a girl at a nearby table. At the same time, Nacht, who strongly resembled Wednesday Adams, sat there with an expression of complete disinterest.

Jadis Diabolik, known to most of the students as She-Beast, was reading through a book while she ate. She flipped a page, then she raised her head and carefully looked around their surroundings, taking in every detail before returning to the book.

The last member who was currently sitting at the table was Jobe Wilkins, who looked nothing like his name would suggest. Due to a lab mishap the year before, Jobe had become a Drow…a female Drow with black skin and silvery white hair. But in spite of his female body, Jobe still considered himself to be the same virile male he’d always been, or at least, as he’d always thought of himself as.

“I shall have to file a complaint with Mrs. Carson,” Jobe complained in obvious annoyance. “There was no call for security to confiscate my experiment…”

Jadis looked up at that and wryly pointed out, “Besides the fact that you could have unleashed a fungal infection that might have destroyed the entire campus, and potentially, even the entire world.”

“Nonsense,” Jobe responded in his usual arrogant tone. “My containment protocols are perfect and there was absolutely no chance for a breach…”

Just then, a girl approached their table, calling out a cheerful, “Hello.” Dragonrider smiled as she came over to join the group, absently scratching the chin of the small dragon that rode on her shoulder.

“Hello Lindsay,” Jadis greeted the girl.

Dragonrider abruptly stopped and bent over, picking up an envelope that was on the floor beside their table. “What’s this?”

“Let me see,” Jadis said, taking the envelope and looking it over. It was sealed with a wax seal, which made her curious. A moment later, she broke the seal and opened the envelope, then pulled out the letter inside.

“What is it?” Dragonrider asked.

“It appears to be a letter,” Nephandus responded with a clear note of sarcasm.

Jadis quickly read through the letter, then announced, “It’s a letter of introduction.”

“Who is it for?” Nacht asked, looking rather bored as she did so.

“It’s for us,” Jadis answered, looking to the part of the letter that particularly caught her interest, and then she read it aloud. “I strongly recommend my daughter Isabelle be considered for membership in the Bad Seeds. She has been trained since childhood to follow in my footsteps, so her skills should be of value to your group.” Then she paused before adding, “It’s signed The Widowmaker.”

“The Widowmaker?” Nephandus asked, suddenly looking interested. “I’ve heard of him…”

“I haven’t,” Dragonrider admitted.

“He’s assassin for the Syndicate,” Nephandus explained with a wave of his walking stick. “He’s known for having a rule of never killing women or children.”

“A rather arbitrary and unprofessional rule,” Jobe added dismissively. “Who wants to hire a picky assassin?”

“Did anyone see who brought this?” Jadis asked, looking to the others who’d been at the table with her.

“Perhaps she’d been scared away during that brief scuffle earlier,” Nephandus responded with a shrug.

Dragonrider gasped at that. “You mean, there’s a new Bad Seed and we don’t even know who she is yet?”

“Hardly,” Jobe responded with a frown. “The letter is clearly a fake.”

Jadis gave Jobe a curious look before asking, “And why would you say that?”

“I’ve met the Widowmaker,” Jobe explained in a smug tone. “About three years ago, he came to Karedonia to discuss a business arrangement with my father, and he brought his kids with him.”

“So you’ve already met the Widowmaker’s daughter,” Dragorider exclaimed excitedly.

“The Widowmaker doesn’t have a daughter,” Jobe stated flatly. “He has two sons.”

Jadis nodded at that, folding the letter back up and returning it to the envelope. “Then until we meet this prospective member or find a reason to believe otherwise, I think we can assume this is someone’s idea of a practical joke.”

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Porcelain was in her final class of the day, Powers Lab. Where Power Theory was all about the theory behind various abilities and how they worked, Powers Lab was the practical extension of that, giving students a chance to test out their own abilities and attempt to discover new uses for them. It was a class that Porcelain had no interest in at first, but the only other option her schedule would have allowed was Costuming, and of course, the nature of her powers would have made that class even more pointless.

With her hand held out, Porcelain willed her shell to flow and reform into a new shape, creating a new figurine in the palm of her hand that looked like a smaller version of herself. She knew that if some little girl saw this, she would probably delight at the little porcelain doll.

“Very good,” the teacher, Mrs. Bohn stated as she looked over Porcelain’s latest creation. “It looks exactly like you.”

“Thank you,” Porcelain responded as she carefully set the figurine on the desk in front of her.

When Porcelain had first come to this class, she hadn’t expected to get much out of it. After all, no one expected much from an Underdog and she certainly hadn’t intended to prove them wrong. However, this class was where she’d first begun making her figurines, originally as an exercise in fine control. Ever since then, she’d continued making the figurines as a form of expression, her very own artistic outlet which had also given her a great deal of practice in manipulating details in her manifested material.

Porcelain formed several more figurines, none of them larger than six inches tall. She was careful not to create too much extra shell at any one time, doing so in very controlled amounts. As it was, she feared that she might be taking too much of a risk even doing this much, though she had to admit, she actually enjoyed being able to create art in this fashion. Her figurines might not last long, but she’d created them herself, fashioned them out of nothing with just her power and her will. She took a certain pride in that fact.

While Porcelain worked, she looked around the large room they were using to see what her classmates were doing. One benefit of this class was that it gave her a much better idea of what the others could do, and she liked to know this in case it ever became an issue. As she’d learned from her father, it was always a good idea to know what those around you were capable of in case you ever had to deal with them as either an enemy or ally.

The only one in this class who Porcelain would consider as either of those was Collin, who had become something of a friend ever since they’d been partnering up together in Powers Theory. He was currently on the ceiling, crawling on it like that comic book character Spider Man, though much more slowly. Collin had lately been working on new applications of his powers, most notably, being able to stick himself to things. At first, that might sound rather pointless, but being able to stick himself to walls, and then instantly release himself one limb at a time, allowed him a great degree of vertical mobility.

“It feels like I’m hanging upside down from the monkey bars,” Collin called out with a laugh. “It’s actually kind of freaky…”

“It is unusual to see you from such a perspective,” Porcelain responded before turning attention back to what she was doing.

At least Porcelain tried turning her attention back to her figurines, but her thoughts kept going back to her missing envelope instead. Her father had given her a letter of introduction to the Bad Seeds, hoping that she would find both friends and allies among their ranks. But instead of approaching them as soon as she arrived at Whateley, she’d held back, watching them instead. After all, everyone on campus knew that the Bad Seeds were the offspring of super villains, and being known as such herself would have been detrimental to her goals of avoiding attention.

While observing the Bad Seeds from a distance, Porcelain had seen that they weren’t a unified group. They had no training team nor any form of shared goal. Instead, they were more of a social club for those of similar parentage. Still, they did seem to have a certain loyalty to one another, and as Porcelain had noted, they often helped each other out.

She-Beast was one of the campus fixers, a mover and shaker who knew how to get things done or acquire whatever you needed…for a price. Her brother Techno-devil was a devisor, who could probably supply some useful weapons if necessary. Nephandus was an obnoxious boor, but he was also adept at demon summoning and he was reputed to be an expert in contracts and fine print.

And then there was Jobe, who in spite of having an attractive new form, was still the same pompous weasel that he’d always been. However, he was also one of the top biodevisors on the planet, which made him a very useful contact to have.

Porcelain had little interest in revealing the fact that her father was the infamous Widowmaker, especially since that would make things more difficult for her. However, her enemy was a looming threat and she’d finally decided that she could wait no longer. She needed to start building allies, even if it meant revealing some of her secrets.

Though she’d lost the letter, she was quite aware of the fact that she could still approach the Bad Seeds, though it would mean proving her identity and revealing more of her secrets than she’d like. She also felt a momentary pang of concern at the lost letter, and more importantly, who might find it. None of the students knew of her identity as Isabelle DeLuca, so whoever found it probably wouldn’t connect the letter with her. However, if someone had seen her drop the letter, than it could be problematic.

Of course, the Bad Seeds hadn’t been the only group on Whateley that she’d been watching with the intention of possibly joining. She’d also been observing the Masterminds, who officially didn’t exist. If the Cape Squad were the future super heroes, the Masterminds were the future villains. As far as she could tell, they were actively involved in various criminal operations, but seemed to have no real loyalty to each other beyond that. Still, they had a useful intelligence network and being a member could help her make contacts for her future career, assuming she was able to survive long enough.

When class as over, Porcelain began to gather up the new figurines she’d made, destroying several of them and picking out the ones that she wanted to keep. One boy came over and asked, “Can I help you with that?”

Porcelain looked up and into his eyes, and though he was offering a pleasant smile, it was obviously forced. He was trying to be friendly, but she could clearly see the pity in his eyes. However, this was nothing new since most people who looked at her seemed to feel either pity or contempt. And even though these were the kinds of reactions she’d intentionally cultivated, they still left her feeling frustrated and hurt.

“No thank you,” she told him politely, knowing that her mask probably muffled any annoyance that she let slip through. “I can manage.”

As Porcelain left the classroom, she overheard a girl say, “That poor thing…”

Porcelain grimaced behind her mask, clenching her hand as she did so. It took her a moment to realize that she was automatically using her shell to form an object, though not one of the delicate figurines that she enjoyed practicing with. She glanced down at the porcelain knife she was clutching, then willed it to melt out of shape and dissolve before anyone could see her with it.

“Weak and helpless,” she reminded herself, intentionally slowing her step. Though she hated having to do this, she knew that the best way to survive would be to make HIM underestimate her. And in order to do that, she had to make everyone else underestimate her as well.

When it finally came time for dinner, Porcelain hurried to Crystal Hall as quickly as she could allow herself to move. She wasn’t hungry, at least not for food. What she really wanted was the companionship of her odd group of friends. It was strange, she’d realized some time ago, that she actually considered them friends even though none of them had anything in common with her. None of them could possibly understand her, even if she had told them the truth about her. But in spite of that, she felt oddly comfortable among them.

The table where Porcelain often sat for lunch and dinner was occupied not by any of the popular groups, or even by a group that actually had their own name. Instead, it had largely been claimed by some freshmen from Poe Cottage. The only people who ever seemed to sit there who weren’t from Poe were Collin, Fixx, and herself. She was pretty certain that Collin sat there most of the time because he had a thing for Gwen, but she wasn’t sure why she and Fixx sat there so often…at least not until she arrived.

“Hey, Porcelain,” Dana greeted her cheerfully. There was neither pity nor contempt in her gaze, something that Porcelain found highly comforting.

“Glad you could make it,” Jinx added with her own grin. “We were just having a discussion about what kind of team name these guys should use for their training team…”

“We don’t have a training team,” Gwen reminded everyone with an exasperated look. “We only had a one time thing…”

Dana gave a look of mock horror and exclaimed, “You mean you just thought that was a one night stand? No wonder you didn’t call me afterwards…” Jinx and Collin burst out laughing while Porcelain chuckled faintly.

“I believe that I’ve already told you,” Porcelain reminded Gwen, “that you should consider forming an official training team.”

“Oh, she’s considering it,” Dana pointed out, sticking her tongue out at her green haired roommate. “Whether she wants to or not.”

Porcelain smiled faintly, then looked around the table, taking note of those she frequently sat with. Dana was a beautiful and athletic redhead, with a golden blonde streak in the front of her hair and somewhat odd golden eyes. She was always quick with a bad joke and Porcelain found herself waiting to see what Dana would say next. Jinx, who always sat beside her, was a very pretty blonde, though she obviously wasn’t an exemplar. Porcelain had noted that when on her own, she was fairly calm and reserved, but whenever Dana was present, she really came out of her shell and became more outgoing. Then again, Porcelain suspected that she’d have to just to keep up with Dana.

Though Dana and Jinx seemed to think that they were being subtle, Porcelain hadn’t missed the signs that indicated they had some kind of romantic relationship. They were obviously trying to keep it quiet, so Porcelain hadn’t said anything about it. After all, she had more than a few secrets of her own so wasn’t about to begrudge them such a harmless one.

Gwen was a beautiful girl with green hair and fine elven features, which seemed to go well with the fact that she was also a magic user with a specialization in illusions. As always, Gwen had a small cloud of green faeries flying around her, often far enough above that they were out of the way, but definitely still present. Porcelain was pretty sure that she’d never seen Gwen without at least one of the green faeries which had earned her the name of Absinthe.

Porcelain rather liked Gwen, in spite of the fact that the girl actually worked for the MCO. Gwen took a certain pride in being clever and sneaky, which Porcelain could definitely appreciate. However, Gwen wasn’t quite as devious as she seemed to think she was, due in large part to her fondness for being overly theatrical and showing off.
If she’d be a little more subtle with her illusions, she could probably be even more effective than she already was.

Then Porcelain turned her attention to Collin, who was a rather good looking and athletic guy, which was not surprising since he was actually a low level exemplar. Still, he wasn’t cocky about his looks like a lot of exemplars were, and he tended to friendly and outging. The first couple times they’d met, he’d given her the same looks of pity that most people did, though fortunately, he’d moved beyond that and now treated her like a person. In fact, everyone at this table did, which was the main reason she enjoyed sitting there so often.

Of course, there were other people around campus who didn’t immediately react with pity or contempt, but most of those were GSD cases who had enough problems of their own. She was welcomed in those circles as one of their own, but too many of them had embraced self-pity or resented those who were more fortunate than they. Those mutants who resented the ‘pretties’ didn’t understand why she didn’t share their feelings and often tried to convince her that she should.

As Porcelain finished looking around the table, she definitely noticed the conspicuous absence of Fixx. However, she didn’t have to wait long before he arrived with his own plate of food and promptly sat down beside her.

“Hey,” Fixx greeted everyone with a grin. Then he held up a box and said, “My Mom send me some cookies. Help yourselves.”

Dana suddenly winced, but gave an obviously forced smile and said, “Thanks,” anyway.

“Tell your Mom she makes good cookies,” Collin told him.

Then Fixx looked straight at Porcelain and grinned even more broadly. “I know snickerdoodles are your favorite, so I had my Mom send me some of those too…” With that he pulled out a second box and handed the whole thing to her.

Porcelain stared at the cookies in surprise, then at Fixx. “You remembered that?” She gulped, feeling more than a little touched that he’d do something like that for her. He just smiled back, as he always did. If it hadn’t been for her ever present mask, she suspected that she would have had to wipe away a tear.

Porcelain was usually hesitant to eat in front of other people, even her friends, so she had yet to start on her own dinner. However, the cookies tempted her to immediately eat one.

She opened her mouth, cracking her shell along her mouth and jaw and breaking it completely open so that she could eat. She’d been told that the sight was somewhat disturbing, and after watching herself eat in front of a mirror, she’d been forced to agree. Fortunately, none of her friends had ever said a word about it.

“Delicious,” Porcelain told Fixx happily. “Thank you.”

Fixx just smiled at that, looking quite pleased. “Glad you liked them.”

While Porcelain ate her cookies, almost ignoring her dinner in the process, she paused several times and then had to break her mask open again. Then a thought suddenly occurred to her. In the morning, she was able to control her shell enough to fix her hair, so why couldn’t she do that to the shell covering her face? With just a little effort, she should be able to eat without even having to break her shell open. But unfortunately, that would also give away the fact that she had more control over her power than she wanted anyone to realize.

After they’d all finished eating, they remained at the table to continue talking for nearly an hour more. Porcelain was happy to continue talking with her friends, especially when Gwen told them some of the things she’d had in mind for dealing with Centurion, the bully who’d previously targeted her. She absently wondered if the Bad Seeds were this entertaining, but considering who some of their members were, she rather doubted it.

“It’s almost a shame we have a truce,” Gwen said with a forced chuckle. “I mean, I had so many great ideas…”

“Yeah, but this way you won’t end up in the hospital again,” Dana pointed out, giving her roommate a serious look.

Gwen nodded at that. “Yeah, good point. As long as he keeps his distance, I’ll be happy. And I sure as hell don’t want to start that up again. Besides, I’ve already got my plate full dealing with a couple practical jokers… They haven’t done anything yet, but it’s only a matter of time…”

When they finally decided that it was time to leave, Fixx got into step beside Porcelain and asked, “Mind if I walk you home?”

“If you like,” she responded with a faint smile.

Fixx frequently liked to walk along with her, so this wasn’t at all unexpected. It was obvious that he actually liked her, though she didn’t understand why. She’d never considered herself to be a particularly likeable person, and of course, he didn’t really know that much about her. In fact, he didn’t even know what she looked like beneath her shell. Still, she appreciated the attention and the fact that he actually cared enough to spend time with her like this.

“Are you okay?” Fixx abruptly asked her, giving her a concerned look. “You seem like you’ve been a bit worried lately…”

Porcelain stopped walking and just stared at Fixx for a moment, feeling more than a little surprised that he’d noticed. After all, she hadn’t said a thing to him or anyone else about her growing fear that her enemy might strike soon. And of course, there was no way he could have figured this out from her facial expressions.

“I didn’t know you were an empath,” she commented carefully, knowing that even if he actually had been an empath, his power wouldn’t have worked on her anyway.

“I’m not,” Fixx told her, his expression still serious, which was a little out of character for him. “But with the way you’ve been talking and acting… I figured that something must be bugging you.”

“It is nothing you need to be concerned about,” she told him with a frown, knowing that someone like Fixx couldn’t possibly understand.

“But I am concerned,” Fixx responded, staring at her intently. When he saw that she wasn’t going to say anything more, he gave her a reassuring grin and said, “Whatever it is, I’m sure it will work out. You just have to keep positive.”

“The real world doesn’t work that way,” Porcelain snapped in frustration. “Things don’t work out fine just because you hope they do. Maybe you’d know that if…”

Porcelain broke off and just stood there, shaking in anger and frustration. Fixx stared at her with a hurt expression which made her wince in guilt. She’d already regretted saying those words before they’d even left her lips, but seeing that look on Fixx’s face…and after he was just trying to be helpful.

“I’m sorry,” Porcelain said quietly, knowing that beneath her mask, she was crying.

Porcelain had always thought of herself as calm and in control, though she knew she certainly wasn’t acting like it at the moment. Although she hadn’t wanted to admit it to herself, she was tired, frustrated, and even scared. She’d been living with the constant threat of death, and not just since her enemy had targeted her. She’d been living with that threat her entire life, in one form or another, though it had only recently become personal. And then she also had to add the frustration of constantly being treated with pity or contempt. The fact that she’d been intentionally encouraging such feelings towards her didn’t make them much easier to accept.

“I’m frustrated,” Porcelain admitted, feeling ashamed for acting like that to one of the few people she really cared about. “I’m sorry I took it out on you…”

Fixx continued to stare at her for a moment before nodding. “You know,” he told her with an uncharacteristic seriousness, “I’m not optimistic because I’ve never had anything bad happen to me. I look on the bright side of things because I choose to…because its better than the alternative.”

Porcelain didn’t know what to say to that, or what to think of the way Fixx was acting. Ever since she’d met him, he’d always been cheerful and good natured…as well as optimistic and hopelessly naïve. And for the first time, she actually saw pain in his eyes. She didn’t like that look…not from him.

“Did I ever tell you about my sister Carolynn?” Fixx abruptly asked, still with the same grim expression as before.

Though she tried to shake her head, the shell around her neck was solid and uncracked, resisting such a simple movement. Unfortunately, her shell often made it awkward to use the casual body language that other people took for granted.

“Carolynn was a couple years younger than me,” Fixx said, his voice filled with sadness. “She was kind and sweet…and we argued constantly. About everything. I think the only real way we knew how to communicate with each other was by arguing…” He paused at that, smiling faintly, though it was a sad smile. Not the kind of smile that Porcelain was used to seeing from him. “But in spite of that…I loved her.”

“Relationships with siblings can be…complicated,” she quietly responded.

“One day,” Fixx continued quietly, only giving a faint nod to Porcelain’s comment, “Carolynn got sick. Cancer. I knew that it was bad…that it would kill her, but she insisted she was going to beat it and get better. But she didn’t get better. She got worse. She wasted away right in front of my eyes, but the entire time, she kept smiling. She kept insisting that everything was going to work out all right. And after she died…I’d never imagined that being right could feel so horrible.”

“I…didn’t know,” Porcelain said awkwardly, not having imagined that Fixx carried something like this.

“I didn’t take it well,” Fixx told her with a weak smile. “I got angry and took it out on everyone around me. I even ended up doing a stint in juvie…”

“So, you are a hardened criminal,” Porcelain commented, finding it ironic that she was the one who was trying to lighten the mood for once.

Fixx actually chuckled at that. “Yeah, and then they put me to work in my apartment building…helping fix all the stuff I vandalized. That’s how I first got into fixing things…and where I found out I had a talent for it.” Then he looked her in the eyes, or at least he tried to since Porcelain knew that he couldn’t see her real eyes. “But around that time, I realized that Carolynn would be disgusted at what I was doing. She spent months in that bed…sick and wasting away…but every day she laughed and smiled. She was dying…but she still looked on the bright side and found hope. I finally realized that I’d rather look on the bright side and be happy…even if I was wrong…than be miserable but right.”

Porcelain was silent for several long seconds as she absorbed everything that Fixx had told her. It was quite sad, and she could see that he was still hurting from the death of his sister, which made his ability to be happy and optimistic even more amazing.

“Thank you for telling me,” she told him, taking his hand in hers. He made no move to pull his hands away from her cracked porcelain skin as so many others would have. She smiled beneath her mask and said, “I appreciate that you trust me with this.”

“I know that it can’t be easy,” Fixx told her with a sincere smile. “I mean, having a manifested shell that you can’t turn off… But I’m sure you’ll get control over it sooner or later.”

Porcelain burst out laughing, and when Fixx gave her a look of confusion, she only laughed harder. “Thank you,” she told him with a smile, even if he couldn’t see it beneath her mask. “But I fear you misunderstand my concerns. My shell is not the source of my problems. Ironically, it is the solution. It is awkward…and often frustrating, but it is a price I happily pay for what it has given.”

“I don’t understand,” Fixx responded, giving her a curious look.

“There are things that I have not told you,” Porcelain admitted with a sigh. “Things that I have not told anyone. I wish that I could tell you that I keep these secrets to protect you, but the truth is, I keep them to protect myself.”

“Now you really have me curious,” Fixx said, looking even more curious, but not hurt.

With another sigh, Porcelain told him, “I have come to care for you and fear that if I told you everything, you would want nothing to do with me.”

Fixx just chuckled at that, then pointed out, “You do know that being all mysterious like this is just making me more curious. I mean, now I might imagine the worst…”

“And you might not be far off,” she responded.

Porcelain looked around and saw that it was starting to get dark and that a lot of the students were going into their dorms. Instead of continuing to her dorm as she and Fixx had been doing, she started walking towards the open ground…and the privacy it gave them. Fixx had told her about something of great importance to him, so she felt that she owed it to him to share at least something.

“You’ve heard of MATD?” she asked, knowing full well that he had.

Dr. Quintaine had talked about Manifestation Augmented Tissue Deformity during the Powers Theory class that they shared. It was a condition that manifestors like herself sometimes had. When a manifestor created a shell around their body, sometimes that shell could actually cause their body to start changing…usually in unpleasant ways. Manifestors who had MATD were often considered to have GSD, even though they were technically quite different in nature.

Porcelain’s voice caught in her throat and she had to gulp before she could force herself to continue. “I was born…deformed.”

“Deformed?” Fixx asked in surprise while Porcelain nodded, cracking her shell again in order to do so.

“I was born deformed,” she repeated, a little more easily, not knowing what else to call the fact that she’d been born with that THING between her legs. She shuddered at the memory, having spent a lot of time trying very hard NOT to think about those days. “My situation is like a reverse form of GSD. I was born deformed, but my MATD fixed my body.”

She looked at Fixx, who had a thoughtful expression on his face as he absorbed that. She smiled under her mask, more than happy that she didn’t have to worry about that particular deformity again. Since she actually wanted him to see how she felt, she concentrated on her shell and the blank mask that covered her face began to alter slightly.

“You’re smiling,” Fixx blurted out in surprise and awe.

Porcelain relaxed her power and the shell covering her face returned to its default mask state. “As you say, there is a bright side to my shell.”

“Wow,” Fixx said, staring at her for a moment more before he broke into a broad grin. “I’m glad that’s working for you.”

“Indeed it is,” she agreed, using her powers to give him another faint smile. “But please, do not speak to anyone else of this.”

“You have my word,” Fixx promised.

Just then, Porcelain froze as she notice a purple glow from the corner of her eyes. A cold hard knot formed in her chest as she slowly looked up, staring at the sky above her. It was now black as tar, though large streaks of purple energy shot all along the dark surface. She didn’t need to look around to know what she’d see, but she did so anyways. This effect wasn’t just above her, it was all around. A large section of the Whateley ground was now covered by a strange dome, while she and Fixx were trapped within.

“What in the world is that?” Fixx asked, sounding more awed and curious than afraid.

“He’s here,” she stated, her voice shaking with the fear she felt. “It’s too soon… I’m not ready…”

Fixx put a hand on her shoulder and asked, “Who’s here?”

“My enemy,” she answered grimly, knowing that no amount of positive thinking could make him spare her life. “My brother.”

--------------------

Porcelain grimly looked around her, pushing aside her emotions as she’d been taught and taking in every detail. The dome which had appeared in the middle of the Whateley campus was covering a large section of the empty grounds, as well as the corner of one building. The attack began at a time when most students and faculty had gone inside for the night, so there would be very few people besides Fixx and herself who’d been caught inside.

“He is coming for me,” Porcelain told Fixx, keeping her voice calm and steady. “You must go and hide if you wish to survive.”

“I’m not leaving you,” Fixx stated firmly.

Porcelain looked to her friend and saw the look of determination on his face that she’d only seen a couple times before. She had little doubt that he meant exactly what he said, though unfortunately, he had no idea what that meant. Staying with her would mean his death, and she didn’t want that.

“Please go,” she said, letting the note of pleading enter her voice. “I don’t want you to die.”

Before Fixx could respond, Porcelain noticed a man in lightweight red armor running towards them. He was armed with some sort of energy rifle, and he was obviously not wearing a Whateley security uniform.

“Freeze,” the man exclaimed, pointing the weapon at them and adding, “If either of you two moves, I’ll shoot.”

Fixx was obviously terrified, but he stared at the man with a grim look and made no efforts to beg or plead for his life. Porcelain couldn’t help but feeling proud of him, feeling an even greater measure of respect for the boy than she’d had before.

“You’re Porcelain,” the man stated, looking straight at her. “Killzone wants to have a word with you.”

“I’m assuming this isn’t your brother,” Fixx commented, his voice shaking a little, but remaining surprisingly steady considering the situation.

“Certainly not,” Porcelain responded.

As the man came closer to take a closer look at her, she could see the look of disgust and contempt on his face. He made absolutely no attempt to hide it. And as she expected, he carefully watched Fixx since Fixx was a mutant with unknown abilities, while she was well known to be harmless and a virtual cripple. The fool.

With that, Porcelain suddenly lashed out, using her left arm to knock the weapon aside, so when he fired, it was aimed well away from her. Then the man screamed in pain, releasing the weapon as she casually tore it from his hand and tossed it aside. He clutched his stomach with a look of confusion while she held up her hand, revealing the porcelain fingers which now extended in the shape of long sharp claws, all of which were covered with his blood.

“My brother would not be so careless,” Porcelain said as she kicked the man’s legs, causing him to drop to the ground.

She bent over, grabbing the man’s hands and spreading some of her shell over them, locking his hands together in solid porcelain manacles. A moment later, she placed her blood coated hand over his mouth, releasing more of her shell which she shaped and hardened, gagging him completely. She knew that she could easily kill him, but that wasn’t her goal. She needed someone to answer questions about the kind of force and weapons her brother had brought with him.

“This is merely a hired mercenary,” she commented almost absently.

Fixx stared at her with a look of surprise, then joked, “So, is there something you wanted to tell me?”

“Time is short,” Porcelain responded with a sigh, “but I will attempt to explain the basics. My father is a Syndicate assassin known as the Widowmaker...”

“A Syndicate assassin?” Fixx repeated in obvious surprise. “Your Dad’s a super villain? Then why aren’t you with the Bad Seeds?”

“I attempted to introduce myself to them during lunch today,” she admitted. “But Stoppable interfered. Now please, let me continue.”

“Sorry,” Fixx said, collecting the weapon that the mercenary had dropped.

“My older brother and I were trained since childhood to follow in our father’s footsteps,” Porcelain explained, earning yet another look of surprise from Fixx. “For reasons I will not go into, my brother believes me to be a shame upon our family’s honor and he does not want me to sully our father’s legacy. Because of this, he has sworn to end my life.”

“No way,” Fixx exclaimed with a shocked expression. “And your Dad is okay with this?”

Porcelain grabbed her prisoner and began to drag him after her with a surprising ease as she walked towards the nearest building, or at least to the section of it that had been caught inside the dome. If there was any shelter to be found where she could interrogate her prisoner and decide her course of action, it would be there.

“My father has declared himself neutral in our disagreement,” Porcelain explained casually. “He says we must resolve our disagreement ourselves, either as siblings…or assassins.”

“Now that is really messed up,” Fixx said. Then he shook his head and pointed out, “Security should be here any minute, and your brother is really going to get his ass kicked when Mrs. Carson gets involved…”

“There will be no rescue,” Porcelain corrected him calmly, knowing quite well that they were on their own.

Her only resources were Fixx, her own abilities, and possibly any other students that happened to have gotten caught in the dome, and she wasn’t about to count on that. This meant that it was just Fixx and her.

She looked at Fixx, then explained, “My brother has taken the name Killzone and is a high level warper and moderate level energizer. He is a strong teleporter, which is how he came to Whateley, and he can create a powerful warp field.” She gestured to the dome above them.

“I don’t understand,” Fixx responded.

“The warp field is impenetrable from either direction,” Porcelain told him grimly. “It blocks all communications in or out, including mystic and psionic. And it even blocks teleportation. This is his usual tactic, teleporting near a target, isolating them with his warp field so they can neither escape nor get reinforcements, then he attacks with overwhelming force. The fact that he is holding back so far is a large show of constraint on his part. Ever since manifesting his powers, he has largely forgotten how to be subtle.”

Fixx’s eyes went wide as he began to realize just how dire their situation was. However, he nodded faintly, gave Porcelain a curious look, and then surprisingly enough…grinned. “If your brother bought any more of those guys with the red armor, this should be a breeze…” He gestured to the prisoner, who Porcelain was still dragging behind her. “I mean, they’re wearing red shirts…”

“What do red shirts have to do with it?” she asked him blankly.

Fixx shook his head at that and gave an exaggerated sigh of exasperation. “We really need to work on your pop culture references.”

“Perhaps,” Porcelain agreed. “But now hardly seems the appropriate time.”

Fixx nodded at that, then gestured towards the building they had nearly reached. “If I can get in and to a janitor’s closet, I might be able to get what I need to make a nice boom…”

However, Porcelain saw that they wouldn’t be able to reach the building or cover in time. Another mercenary had noticed them and was quickly coming in their direction. To her surprise, Fixx reacted first, pulling a firecracker out of his satchel and lighting it, then throwing it in the mercenary’s direction. The firecracker went off, but instead of giving the usual loud pop, it exploded more like a grenade, courtesy of Fixx’s ability to augment the properties of items.

“Impressive,” Porcelain stated in annoyance. “But you’ve given away our position.” And what was just as bad was the fact that Fixx had wasted that attack since the mercenary had yet to get even close to within range.

The mercenary took the firecracker grenade as a sign that it was time to get serious because he dropped to the ground and opened fire with his weapon, firing blasts of energy. Porcelain grabbed Fixx and pulled him to the ground with her, ducking down behind her prisoner to use him as a shield.

“He shoots about as well as a storm trooper,” Fixx said with a grin as he fired back with an identical weapon.

“He’s not trying to hit us,” Porcelain pointed out, vaguely knowing what a storm trooper was, but not why Fixx would relate one to poor shooting. “He’s trying to keep us pinned down. I suspect that my brother gave orders to take me to him alive so he can kill me personally.” She hesitated a moment, then added, “If you keep close to me, you will be more likely to avoid being shot…at least by them.”

Fixx nodded at that, then said, “No offense, but I kind of wish Gwen was here… I mean, she could make these guys start tripping out and then shoot each other… Or maybe Dana. She can pop one of those force field bubbles around us…”

“But they aren’t here,” Porcelain responded, feeling just a little hurt, even if she agreed with him. Both of those two did have gifts that would have been quite useful at the moment. “I am.”

Porcelain quickly looked around but saw that it was too late. More of the mercenaries were approaching from other directions. She and Fixx were surrounded. Fortunately, they wanted to take her alive…at least for the moment. She didn’t know how long that would last, but she wanted to take advantage of it while she could.

Then a familiar voice called out, “You’re surrounded. Drop your weapon.”

For a moment, Porcelain remained where she was and considered her options. However, she didn’t have many of those available, especially not ones that would allow Fixx to walk out of here alive. With a grimace, she did as her brother commanded and stood up. Fixx hesitated a second, then followed her example, dropping the weapon as he did so.

Porcelain silently stared at her brother, who looked exactly as he had the last time she’d seen him. He was tall and muscular, with short cropped black hair, dark eyes, and skin that was naturally the color of a nice tan. And as she’d expected, he was wearing his professional uniform, a suit of lightweight armor that was similar to what his mercenaries wore, though his was a mixture of black and red. He wasn’t yet twenty, though he had already begun to build a reputation an effective operator.

“Killzone,” she finally said, using his professional name since he was here as an assassin.

Killzone responded by coming closer, staring at her with a look of contempt. This wasn’t the same kind of contempt that she so often saw around school, but a much deeper and more personal one. This was from the brother she’d grown up with, from the very same person who once taught her how to swim. That made the look of contempt and anger in those eyes hurt all the more.

As Killzone approached, so did the rest of his mercenaries. In mere seconds, they surrounded Porcelain and Fixx in a circle, making it quite clear that there was no way to get past them. There were five mercenaries total, or six if she counted the one who was still bleeding at her feet.

“Porcelain,” he finally said, spitting out the name as though it had a bad taste. Then he looked to the man that Porcelain had already taken down and scowled. “I expected better from you Murphy. You let this boy take you down, so you’ll do without a bonus.”

The man on the ground, Murphy, shook his head, trying to let Killzone know that it wasn’t Fixx who’d captured him. However, Killzone and the rest of the mercenaries only watched Fixx with caution, not Porcelain. After all, her brother must have told them of how weak and helpless she was.

“Allow my companion to leave,” Porcelain told her brother, carefully keeping her voice calm and even. “This is a family matter and does not concern him.”

“Do you think I am stupid?” Killzone asked her, keeping his own voice just as calm as hers. “I am quite aware of the fact that there will be a retaliation for my actions tonight, assuming they know who to target, so I am not so foolish as to leave a witness to direct them to me.”

“What the hell is your problem?” Fixx demanded of Killzone, glaring at the man defiantly. “I mean, isn’t she your sister?”

“I have no sister,” Killzone responded, saying the word ‘sister’ bitterly. He glared at Porcelain and continued, “You’re a disgusting freak and you shame our whole family…”

This wasn’t the first time that he’d said those words to Porcelain, so she wasn’t surprised by them or the vehemence behind them. The last time they’d seen each other had been a mere week after her manifestation, and her brother had been horrified over her changes…and even more so by her reaction to them. He thought that she should be humiliated and ashamed by what her power had done to her body, not delighted as she had been. They’d shared angry words, with her revealing that her mutation hadn’t broken her body…but had fixed it. He hadn’t understood, nor had he even attempted to do so. Instead, he’d called her a shame…a disgrace…a dishonor…and had then sworn to kill her and remove her corruption from their family bloodline. It had only been their father’s presence which prevented him from doing so right then and there.

“Mother didn’t think me shameful,” Porcelain responded quietly, thinking about her mother who had been the only one who understood that she’d been deformed. Her mother had been the only one to see how much she hated that twisted body she’d been born with. And after her mother had been killed, she hadn’t dared tell another soul, not until she’d finally been cured. “Father doesn’t think me a disgrace. He doesn’t understand…but he tries…”

“It disgusts me how weak and pathetic you’ve become,” Killzone said, giving her a look of intense pity. “But now, I realize that you’ve always been this way and I was just too blind to see it. Unfortunately, father is still too blinded by love to see what you’re doing to his legacy…to our bloodline. Ending you will be an act of mercy…so I’ll make it quick. I owe you that much.”

“You aren’t touching her,” Fixx insisted, stepping between Porcelain and Killzone.

“No,” Porcelain said, putting a hand on his shoulder and smiling beneath her mask. “You’ve done more than enough to protect me. Now it’s my turn.”

With that, Porcelain reached up to her face, and with a cracking sound, pulled off the entire thing in a single piece. She stood there with the porcelain mask held in her hand while everyone suddenly stared at her in confusion and surprise.

“Porcelain?” Fixx asked with a worried look.

However, Porcelain didn’t say a word as she focused on her shell, willing it to form sharp ridges all along her torso and limbs, tearing at her clothes so that when she reached down, they came away in shreds. Without her clothes, her porcelain body was visible to everyone present, with the whole thing covered with the ridges she’d just made and deep spiderweb cracks. After several seconds, her shell shattered the rest of the way and then began to fall off in chunks, both large and small, until not a single piece remained. Only then did Porcelain drop her mask, which shattered upon the ground.

“Porcelain?” Fixx asked again.

Porcelain stood there for a moment, revealing what she looked like without either her clothes or her outer shell. Instead of looking like a bone white porcelain doll, she presented a lithe and feminine figure that was entirely black as tar. She felt a strange sense of relief and even euphoria as she shed her outer shell, knowing that it was time to cease hiding and finally fight back.

Then thick black tendrils began to grow from her back and shoulders, forming the tools she would use to defend Fixx and herself. And while everyone was still distracted by her transformation, she launched into action, lashing out with her tendrils to grab the guns from the hands of the mercenaries closest to her. One mercenary was beyond her reach and immediately began to open fire, so she responded by grabbing Murphy from the ground in front of her and flinging her between them, letting him take the shot that had been intended for her. A moment later, she flung his charred body at her attacker.

“Run,” Porcelain ordered Fixx, who was staring at her in stunned disbelief. “Keep down.” She shoved him to the ground just as one of the mercenaries tried to shoot again, then she launched herself at the mercenary, snatching the weapon from his hands with one of her tendrils and throwing it to the side.

Porcelain turned and ran from the group, leading most of the mercenaries after her. Without her outer shell to obstruct her, she was fast and graceful, delighting in the ease of movement she currently enjoyed. Killzone just stood back and made no move to attack her, merely watching with a look of intense interest. She kept watch on him from the corner of her eyes, knowing that he wanted to see what she was capable of before he committed himself further. It was just as their father had taught them.

She ran to the nearby building and scrambled up the brick wall with ease, pausing a dozen feet up and then reaching out with the tendrils, grabbing hold of the mercenary who was now right beneath her and trying to figure out how to follow. With a quick yank of her tendrils, she lifted him up and slammed him into the wall, then let his body drop, his neck broken. A moment later, she leapt off the wall, hitting the ground a short distance away before rolling and coming back to her feet, once again facing her brother.

“I am not as easy to kill as you assumed,” Porcelain told Killzone.

Her only advantage against her brother had been the element of surprise, the fact that he had no idea of what she was truly capable of. She’d wanted to get stronger before facing him, to gather allies who would assist her against the soldiers he was sure to bring. But it was too late for that. Now, she’d lost the element of surprise and could no longer afford to hold anything back.

With that, porcelain shell began to form in the palms of her hands, flowing and forming into a new shape as it did when she created her figurines. In moments, she held a bone white sword in each hand, both of them resembling scimitars and being much harder than her normally fragile shell. White shell one again began to appear over her solid black face, covering just the top half and forming into a mask that was more intricate than the default one she normally possessed. At the same time, more shell formed over her shoulders, forearms and knees, becoming hard pieces of armor. Then she stretched out her tendrils, revealing that each one of them now had a porcelain blade on the tip.

Porcelain didn’t say a word as she launched herself at the nearest mercenary, using a tendril to knock his weapon aside so he couldn’t hit her, then she struck him with her swords, one after the other. At the same time, her other tendrils reached out, slicing at the leg of one mercenary to drop him to the ground while simultaneously impaling another. In mere seconds, all the mercenaries lay dead, though she gave them little thought.

She glanced at Fixx, who was on the ground and staring at her in shock…though he appeared safe and unharmed. The sight filled her with a mixture of guilt and relief. He was only at risk because of her, because she’d come to Whateley to hide from her brother, because she’d gotten close to him. However, if she had to do it again, she didn’t know if she could have stayed away from him.

Finally, Porcelain turned her full attention to her brother, who’d made no move to assist as his men were being killed. Instead, he watched her with an intense interest, obviously taking careful note of each and every ability that she demonstrated.

“You aren’t as helpless as I’d been led to believe,” Killzone stated, giving her a wary look. There was no longer any contempt in his eyes, at least not at the moment. Instead, he was looking at her as a potential threat. “You always were the sneaky one.”

Porcelain didn’t respond verbally, and instead, she charged straight at him. Suddenly, she caught a flash of purple from the corner of her eye and she dove to the side an instant before a bolt of purple lighting struck the ground where she’d been standing. Another bolt of lightning shot out from the dome above, nearly hitting her again. She ran and dodged as bolt after bolt came after her, barely seeing them in time to avoid them. Her brother could have struck her at any time during the fight with his men, but he’d held off to observer her. Even now, she suspected he was holding back in order to see what she’d do.

In spite of having to dodge the lightning, Porcelain slowly made her way closer to Killzone, until she was close enough to attack. He was still beyond the reach of her arms or swords, but that meant little. She lashed out with one of her tendrils, which now had small porcelain shards sticking out all along the length, and wrapped it around Killzone’s body. He let out a loud gasp of pain as some of the shards found weak points and pierced his skin, then she pulled the tendril back, letting the shards tear through him like the teeth of a saw blade.

A bolt of lightning suddenly struck the tendril halfway between them, severing it completely. Porcelain felt no pain from the lost tendril and pulled the rest of it back to her. The part that was still wrapped around her brother dissolved and faded away, leaving tiny pieces of porcelain shards to fall and scatter about him. Unlike her outer shell, when pieces of her inner shell were separated from her, they would vanish immediately.

Killzone’s armor was badly scratched and now had several deep gouges, while blood ran from the places where she’d torn into flesh, yet her stood tall and merely stared at her with an intense gaze. This was the gaze she remembered from their childhood, the one that indicated he now considered her to be real opponent.

Porcelain lunged at him again, this time intending to strike with her swords, though she lashed out with her bladed tendrils as well. However, there was a flash of purple energy a moment before impact, and Killzone was gone. She looked around and immediately saw where he’d teleported to, a short distance away. She snarled in frustration, knowing how slim her chances were of beating him. After all, as long as they were within this dome, his powers of teleportation were amplified, allowing him to teleport much more quickly and easily. He could simply keep teleporting away from her, staying out of her reach while sending bolt after bolt of lightning down upon her head.

“I underestimated you,” Killzone admitted, touching his torn and bloody arm. “It won’t happen again.” Porcelain braced himself for a barrage of lightning, but instead, he just stared at her and said, “We will finish this another time…and at another place.”

A moment later, Killzone suddenly vanished in a flash of purple light, along with the bodies of his men. Porcelain looked around, but saw no signs of her brother having reappeared elsewhere. What she did see was that the dome above them was fading away, a clear indication that her brother truly had departed.

Porcelain stood there for several long seconds, absorbing the fact that her brother truly had gone without killing her. But what was even more stunning was the fact that before he’d departed, there had been no sign of pity or contempt in his eyes. Instead, it was something that she never would have expected from him, especially not since her manifestation. It was pride.

“Porcelain?” Fixx cautiously asked as he came over to her.

“He’s gone,” she assured him, looking down, unable to meet his eyes to see the look of horror that must surely be there.

She let out a sigh and dropped her sword as she released her power, letting the tendrils of her inner shell dissolve and fade away. She cold already feel her outer shell reforming, spreading over her entire body until she was once again encased, looking like nothing more than a porcelain doll. There was a momentary sense of claustrophobia and fear, until she moved and confirmed that she could still crack her shell.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Fixx asked. She looked up and was surprised to see him grinning. “Why didn’t you tell me you were such a bad ass?”

Porcelain stared at Fixx in surprise, wondering why he wasn’t afraid of her. After all, she’d just killed half a dozen men right in front of him. However, she didn’t want to go into that right then and there. She quickly looked around, frowning beneath her mask.

“We need to go,” Porcelain told Fixx grimly. “Security should be here any moment and I have no desire to answer their questions.”

“Gotcha,” Fixx agreed, gesturing to the nearby building and adding, “We can slip away in there before anyone gets too close…”

Porcelain nodded at that, then looked out over the recent battlefield and willed all the pieces of her shell that she’d shed to dissolve and fade away. Only then did she turn and hurry towards the nearby building with Fixx in order to make their escape.

--------------------

Porcelain sat in an empty classroom with Fixx, having just made sure the door was locked. The room was scheduled to be used in a couple hours for one of the nighttime classes that were held for nocturnal students, but for the moment, they had it to themselves.

Though Porcelain would have preferred the privacy offered by their dorm rooms, she knew that wasn’t very feasible. She lived in Whitman Cottage, which was an all female dorm, while Fixx lived in Emerson, an all male dorm. That made arranging to meet privately in either of those places a little awkward.

“I am sorry that you got caught up in my problems,” Porcelain finally said, letting out a sigh. “And I regret having to keep so many things from you.”

Fixx stared at her for a moment before saying, “If I had someone like that trying to kill me, I’d probably play things close to the vest too.”

“You are more understanding than I could expect,” Porcelain told him with a faint smile, using her power so that it actually appeared on her mask.

“You know,” Fixx told her thoughtfully, “your brother will be in SERIOUS trouble for this. I mean, attacking Whateley and breaking the whole neutrality thing. He’ll have heroes chasing after him…and maybe even the Syndicate…”

“Unlikely,” Porcelain responded, earning a look of surprise and confusion. Then she explained, “There are no bodies. No missing or dead students. As it is, if we don’t come forward, security will likely assume the dome was caused by some devisor. If we do come forward, there would be no evidence to support our claims of this being a hostile action, so the outcome would be little different, save that I would be forced to answer questions that I would prefer not to.”

“You know,” Fixx commented wryly. “You’re making it difficult to look on the bright side here.”

“We are both still alive,” Porcelain pointed out with a faint smile, though she silently added ‘for now’.

“And at least you chased him off,” Fixx assured her with a faint smile of his own, though it seemed just a little forced this time.

Porcelain cracked the shell on her neck so she could shake her head. “No, I didn’t. He came with minimal forces, enough to deal with Whateley security and any other students that might have been caught in his dome, but they were obviously instructed not to kill me so that he could do so himself. I surprised my brother so he held back out of curiosity, and I believe he spared me for the same reason. He did not attack me with his full strength because I sparked his interest. When he is ready, he will come for me again to finish the job.”

“So he let you go of his own choice,” Fixx said in understanding. “Then maybe he’s changed his mind and will leave you alone.”

Porcelain shook her head sadly at that, cracking her shell again as she did so. “Even if my brother was to reconsider his position, it would mean nothing. His course has been set and it is too late to change it.”

Fixx blinked at that, giving her a curious look. “I don’t understand.”

“In my family, we do not make promises lightly,” Porcelain carefully explained, having learned since coming to Whateley that most people did not take their promises as seriously as her family did. They made casual promises and then broke them with the same casual ease, something she had a hard time believing. “Once we give our word, it is a matter of pride and honor to keep it. Twenty years ago, my father promised my mother that he would never kill a woman or child…and he has kept that word ever since, even when it meant failing a contract or being captured. My brother has sworn to kill me, and even if he should come to regret having made that promise, he WILL keep it.”

“Wow,” Fixx responded, shaking his head. “No offense, but your family sounds messed up.”

“I will not disagree,” Porcelain responded wryly.

For several seconds, Fixx just sat there with a thoughtful look on his face, then he joked, “Good night Wesley. Sleep well. I’ll most likely kill you in the morning.”

Porcelain gave Fixx a curious look, knowing that he wouldn’t be able to see it, wondering what he was talking about and who this Wesley person was. Fixx and her other friends often made references she didn’t understand, things that somehow related to popular culture. However, growing up the way she had, she had little exposure to the movies, TV shows, and video games that so many of her peers had.

After being silent for half a minute, Porcelain said, “I assume you have questions.”

“One or two,” Fixx agreed, giving her a curious look.

Porcelain frowned, feeling a little nervous since she’d kept almost everything about herself a closely guarded secret for so long. It was hard to adjust to the idea that she could finally open up and be honest with someone.

“My father is the professional operator known as the Widowmaker,” Porcelain started, knowing that she’d already told Fixx this much, but deciding that it made more sense to start from the beginning. “My brother and I were trained to follow in his footsteps and one day become operators ourselves…”

“So you’re a trained assassin,” Fixx said, staring at her in a way that made her uncomfortable. “That certainly explains what you did out there…”

“I am not yet fully trained,” Porcelain corrected him self-consciously.

Fixx let out a sigh and said, “So you never really needed my help with Stoppable…”

Porcelain reached out for his hand, taking it in hers and quietly telling him, “I needed you more than I know how to tell you.”

Fixx smiled at her, looking reassured. Then his eyes went wide in realization and he blurted out, “You were the one who jumped Gravmax…”

She bowed her head faintly, cracking her shell so she could make the movement. “I grew tired of seeing him harm my friends.”

For a moment, Fixx continued to stare at her, then he burst out laughing. “I guess Stoppable is lucky I saved him from you.”

“Perhaps,” she agreed with a smile that he couldn’t see. Then she sighed and continued, “As children, we moved often, changing our names each time…especially once my mother was killed. I’ve used so many different names that I barely remember which was my original. But the name I chose for myself, and which I have always known in my heart to be my own…is Isabelle.”

“Isabelle,” Fixx repeated slowly, as if testing out the name. Then he smiled and said, “It’s nice… I like it.” Then he gave her a wry grin before adding, “My real name is Gunther. There’s a reason I go by Fixx.”

Porcelain chuckled at that, then lied, “That is not so bad.”

Fixx just gave her his usual easygoing grin, then asked, “So…do you mind if I call you Isabelle?”

“Not at all,” she answered with an almost eager smile. Ever since taking that name as her own, no one had really called her by it. Her brother had been disgusted when she’d asked him to, and that had led to the argument which resulted in his oath to kill her.

“Okay…Isabelle,” Fixx said. “About what you did out there…”

“As you have seen,” she answered carefully, feeling a little self-conscious as she revealed more about how she’d lied to him and everyone else, “I have a little more control over my powers than I have previously revealed.”

“I never would have guessed,” Fixx responded with a sarcastic note in his voice, though he grinned to show he was teasing her.

“I have not one manifested shell,” she admitted to him with a faint smile, “but two.” She was silent for several seconds as she held out her hand and clenched it into a fist, watching as the shell cracked and splintered. And as usual, it quickly sealed up and hardened. “My outer shell is the one you have always seen, and it can be shaped and hardened with some effort. I can even shed my shell…but only briefly before it reforms.”

With that, Porcelain clenched her fist again, this time concentrating on her shell. The white shell crumbled and fell away, leaving a pure black hand where the white porcelain one had been a moment before. She opened and closed her hand several more times, showing that her inner shell didn’t crack the way her outer one did.

“My inner shell is more flexible,” she continued, forming a thin black tendril from her palm, which she used to reach out and grab a pen from the teacher’s desk. “And it has its own uses.”

“Cool,” Fixx exclaimed, definitely looking impressed. “Sort of like Venom.”

“Venom?” Porcelain asked blankly.

“You know,” Fixx responded with a cheerful grin. “The Spiderman villain?”

Though Porcelain knew who Spiderman was, she had never read the comic book and had never heard of this Venom character. She merely shrugged and said, “If you say so.”

Fixx watched her with a thoughtful expression, then gave her a wry smile and asked, “So, do you have any more big secrets?”

“Not that I will share with you at the moment,” Porcelain responded with a smile, using her powers to let it show on her mask. “I don’t want to overwhelm you with too much at one time.”

Fixx chuckled at that and gave her a grin. “I appreciate you looking out for me.” Then his expression turned more serious and he asked, “What now?”

Porcelain was silent for a moment, having wondered the same thing herself. “There is no longer any reason to keep my full powers hidden,” she thought aloud, “though there are advantages to being underestimated… However, I would still prefer to avoid the social stigma that would come once my father’s identity is known.”

“I won’t tell anyone,” Fixx assured her. “I can keep quiet about all of this.”

“I would appreciate that,” she told him, feeling relieved, though she would have expected no different from Fixx.

Fixx nodded at that, then asked, “But I mean, what are you going to do about your brother?”

“The same thing I have been,” she answered Fixx honestly. “I will attempt to get stronger and find allies who can support me. Unfortunately, my greatest advantage is gone. I’ve lost the element of surprise and he knows what I am capable of, so next time he will be prepared.”

“The Underdogs can help,” Fixx volunteered, only to pause and smack his palm onto his forehead. “Or not.”

“Do not underestimate the other Underdogs,” she pointed out calmly. “Though they would certainly not thank me for involving them. No, the Underdogs are not the allies I require…”

“Look,” Fixx told her thoughtfully, “we all helped Gwen when she was in trouble, so I’m sure they’d all help you too.” Then he paused to give her a determined look, adding, “And even if they don’t, I will.”

Porcelain knew that Fixx had been protective of her before, but she hadn’t expected him to still act that way after what he’d seen a short time ago. She felt touched by his offer and her eyes began to tear up behind her mask.

Then she thought about her other friends and was startled to realize that the allies she’d been looking for might have been right beneath her nose. When she’d made friends with Gwen, Dana, Collin, and Jinx, she’d never considered them to be potential allies against her brother. She’d done it simply because they were fun to hang out with. They made her laugh. And of course, they all treated her as a person, without either pity or contempt. When Porcelain had joined the Underdogs, she’d done so with the specific intention of reinforcing her image of being weak and helpless, but there had been no such motive for these friends.

Porcelain already knew that each of these friends had a great deal to offer individually, and they’d already proven themselves quite capable at working together as an effective team. However, she felt guilty for even considering the idea of drawing them into her problems. That wasn’t the reason she’d befriended them, and if they thought she’d done so in order to use them, then they probably wouldn’t even want to be friends anymore.

“No,” Porcelain finally said, cracking her shell so she could shake her head. “I would prefer they not get involved.”

“Are you sure?” Fixx asked, looking a little surprised.

The truth was, Porcelain wasn’t completely sure. She wanted their help but she dared not do anything that would risk her friendships. Still, they weren’t the only potential allies, so perhaps she could just keep them as friends and continue to seek allies elsewhere. She would have to consider that further.

“So what are you going to do then?” Fixx asked her yet again.

“The same thing I have done since coming to Whateley,” she told him with a faint smile. “Watch and observe while I grow in strength.” Then she grinned, willing it to show on her mask. “But for now, there is one more secret that I wish to share with you…”

“Another one?” Fixx asked with a chuckle.

Porcelain held out her hand, which was still covered with only her inner shell. She concentrated on that shell, and after several seconds, the skin tight blackness began to pull back, revealing bare skin. She felt excited yet nervous as she reached out to touch Fixx’s hand, and then to hold it. This was the first time that she’d actually touched another person directly since she’d manifested.

Then Porcelain took a deep breath before using her other hand to reach up to her face and to break the mask free as a single piece. She dropped it to the side, willing the rest of the outer shell to crack and crumble from her head, leaving on the smooth black inner shell. And with another surge of concentration, that began to pull back as well.

“Porcelain,” Fixx started, staring at her in surprise. “Isabelle…”

Porcelain nervously bit her lip as Fixx saw her real face for the very first time. She had shoulder length black hair, dark eyes, and smooth skin that hadn’t seen sunlight since her powers manifested, yet still had the natural color of a rich tan.

“You’re beautiful,” Fixx blurted out, almost sounding surprised. “Are you an exemplar too?”

“No,” Porcelain responded with a broad grin, delighted by his reaction. This was the first time she’d been able to reveal her true face to anyone, and she hadn’t known what to expect.

“Wow,” Fixx said, staring at her with a look of obvious interest, which made her blush. She squeezed his hand, her heart racing as she thought about how she was actually touching him with her bare skin.

“I can remove my outer shell for a short time,” she explained self-consciously. “But my inner shell is more difficult… I can only hold this for a couple minutes…”

Fixx continued to stare at her, licking his own lips nervously and saying, “I’m glad you showed me…”

“I don’t have much time,” Porcelain reminded Fixx, staring intently at him and adding, “And I don’t want to waste it.”

With that, Porcelain leaned forward and kissed Fixx on his lips. He seemed a little startled at first, then he eagerly began to kiss back. When they pulled apart, she smiled in giddy delight, savoring how utterly feminine she felt at that moment. And then, she went in for another kiss, not wanting to waste even a second of this opportunity.

--------------------

It was late afternoon, well after most classes had ended for the day. Most students were either eating dinner or had just finished and were heading to their chosen evening activities. One small group of students had just departed Crystal Hall and went straight to Schuster Hall and the hidden passage that would lead them to their secret clubhouse below.

Jadis walked slightly ahead of the other Bad Seeds, though her brother Mal, known as Techno-Devil, walked immediately behind her. Nacht, Thrasher, and Jobe all followed at the back.

“This is becoming intolerable,” Jobe complained to no one specifically. “Fairy Girl continues making these insipid requests, after I’ve repeatedly refused in no uncertain terms.”

“Consider it a compliment,” Mal told him with a faint smirk. “Your Drow conversion formula was so successful, of course other people are interested…”

“But I have absolutely NO interest in making a Sidhe conversion formula,” Jobe responded in distain. “Sidhe are so pale skinned and boring…not like a Drow. There are already too many Sidhe on campus as it is…”

“Not to mention that Fey would kill you,” Nacht commented, almost without expression or tone.

Then as they entered their lair, they suddenly realized that someone else was already present, and it wasn’t a member of the Bad Seeds. A girl was sitting at their meeting table, acting as though she actually belonged there. She was wearing a school uniform, though her body appeared as though it was entirely made out of white ceramic.

“Who are you?” Mal demanded suspiciously.

Jadis gave the girl a thoughtful look, then told her friends, “I recognize her. She’s Porcelain…one of the Underdogs.” She paused a moment, then calmly demanded, “How did you get past our security?”

“I have my ways,” Porcelain answered with a faint smile from beneath her mask. “I’m here to introduce myself.

“We know who you are,” Jobe responded in an arrogant tone. “So you can feel free to depart…or we can make you.”

Porcelain didn’t respond to the threat and merely said, “I had a letter of introduction that I’d intended to deliver personally, but it seems to have fallen into your hands anyway.” She tapped the familiar envelope that she’d last seen a few days earlier but had found again shortly after entering the lair. “I am Porcelain…and my father is the Widowmaker.”

Jobe sneered and that and stared, “Widowmaker doesn’t have a daughter…”

“Neither does Gizmatic,” she responded with a faint smile. “Yet here we are.”

“So, you want to join the Seeds?” Thrasher asked, having heard about the letter from the others, though he’d thought it was just a prank…like many previous attempts.

Porcelain was silent for a moment before explaining, “I didn’t introduce myself when I first arrived at Whateley because I didn’t want my father’s identity to be known. I’ve seen how many of the other students treat you, so I would still prefer to avoid this. After all, it is well known that I am not strong enough to defend myself from aggression.”

“Yeah,” Thrasher agreed, relaxing a bit and then grinning. “I figured that with the whole Underdog thing.”

However, Jadis continued to watch Porcelain suspiciously, then reminded the others, “She somehow got past our security. I don’t think she’s quite as helpless as she seems.”

Porcelain shrugged and held her hands out at that, cracking her shell as she did so. Several of the Bad Seeds winced at the sound, which they assumed must have been painful.

“I do not think I wish official membership,” Porcelain told them honestly. “At least not at this time. I merely seek the opportunity to speak with others of similar background, and who face similar challenges.”

“I think we can agree to talk,” Jadis said after several seconds, giving a faint smile though she remained suspicious. “For now.”

Jadis watched the porcelain skinned girl who seemed so fragile and helpless, knowing that she was hiding something. Though Jadis didn’t know much about Porcelain yet, she was going to find out everything she could. After all, she needed to know if Porcelain was some kind of threat to the Bad Seeds...or even a potential ally.

Thus endeth the story…for now. Porcelain will return in Absinthe 3, when it is eventually written.



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