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“A few drops of blood’s all I ask.” The gargantuan stalker crooned maniacally, clutching his razor to the adolescent’s throat. Despite his menacing stature, his tone was eerily melodic, with a fluted sing-song quality. Ellie cringed, arching back further against the jagged brick wall of the alleyway. Tremors of pain shot through her tense, knotted muscles as the stranger slid his gleaming straight-razor down the milky contours of her neck, nearing inch by inch her jugular vein.



“Please,” She begged, barely above a whisper, “Don’t hurt me.”





His pock-marked ghoulish face split a jack-o-lantern’s psychopath grin, revealing sinister rows of conical, barbed teeth, filed to points like ivory spindles. With mock tenderness, he stroked the girl’s soft, curly hair. Talon-nailed fingers curled between strands. “Rest assured, little one, it won’t hurt for long.”



With a deft stroke of his wrist he forced her head back. His other hand grasped the razor’s hilt – glinting steel flashed beneath neon florescent streetlamps. The hand came down - intercepted by a sharp, jagged prong. An obsidian-hued blade whisked in the smog-filled night air as a carbon steel lightning bolt thower arced and ruptured through pitted layers of skin, imbedding thickly between the metacarpal bones of his right middle and index finger. Agonized shrieks erupted from the goliath’s throat as the straight razor clattered uselessly to the broken asphalt at his feet.



“No mercy for teenage girls half your size – is that how it is?” Growled a female voice from the shadows, thick with contempt. “Care to up the ante?”



He stole a glance into the shadows of Spoiler’s Alley. From behind a waste dumpster emerged a lean, sinewy-muscled female, sweat-matted dark hair knit back tightly in a fishbone braid. Swirling patterns of black, white and gray urban camouflage paint enshrouded every inch of exposed flesh. Her dark, form-fitting uniform resembled a guerilla soldier’s from a covert black ops. unit; her stance and bearing reminiscent of a warrior-maiden archetype canonized by tribal mythology. Dark eyes spat venom at the goliath in the manner of a fellow predator, spelling out names on gravestones.



“Hello.” She continued. “My name is Karma - I’m here to kick your ass.”



Gazes locked, hunter to hunter. The colossus’s pallid, pustuled visage bared its teeth in a ravenous, death’s head snarl as he wrenched the blade from his flesh.

In the span of a blink she advanced, reflexes borne of charged lightning, springing forth several meters to land in a fluid, predatory crouch. Palming the asphalt with both hands, her right leg shot out and hooked his left ankle in a high-velocity sweep kick. He lurched back violently, flung off balance.

Bearing a cheetah’s grace and the ruthless efficiency of an avenging, combat-trained fury, the Amazon dove down upon her prey, taking no quarter as the sharp crack of breaking bones reverberated in the air until the man’s still breathing form crumpled to the ground like a rag doll.



Ellie’s brown eyes glistened on the brink of tears as she stood cemented with rigid terror. Every fiber of her being urged her to run, flee, yet her legs seemed frozen in place as she witnessed the events before her. Her reeling mind fell victim to shock –as if trapped in some bizarre nightmare. Finally her tired adolescent frame slumped downward, unable to take any further strain.



“You can go home now,” Said the vindicatress in a calmer, gentler tone. “It’s probably past your bedtime.”



Feeling faint and strangely disembodied, Ellie reluctantly met the eyes of her rescuer. “Th-thanks for saving my life.” She stammered out shakily, relieved that the warrior-maiden’s gaze no longer smoldered murderously. To the contrary, her eyes held a semi-comforting look, mingled with an odd sorrow and pain.



“Run along. It’s a ways until morning.”



Ellie nodded, took a deep breath, and sprinted off into the night.



“As for you-“ The huntress gazed back toward her fallen, raggedly-breathing quarry. She regarded him a moment, then smiled viciously.




*****



“Goo-od Mornin’ to all our listeners out there beginnin’ their workday! It’s Reggie “The Fly” Baines here with K106.6 weather – gonna be mostly cloudy today in the Templar City area, with chances of acid showers and thunderstorms increasing to ninety-percent by mid-afternoon. Highs are in the upper eighties –all you vehicle owners out there might wanna make sure your cars are safely within a corporate parking structure or enclosed area – nothin’ like an acid t-storm to strip the paint job off your auto and put a crimp in your wallet with refinishing costs. Coming up, we’ve got forty minutes of non-stop rock blocks after this news brief – sponsored by Bank and Setsuo Tachyon Netsystems – advancing your computer needs at the speed of progress.



“In local news today, Doctor Amira Idriss, lead research representative at Nugenica Pharmacology, goes to bat with officials of the FDA over whether or not a new drug, ZRX-47, has gone through enough testing to hit the open market. Originally designed as a metabolic stimulant and multi-vitamin diet supplement, there is still some controversy surrounding ZRX-47 ever since a number of voluntary test subjects displayed what was reported as acute allergic reactions after taking the drug. If approved, corporate sales reps predict ZRX-47 should hit the shelves of major drug stores by December…just in time for Christmas, folks. How about that?



In other news, police officials are at a loss to explain how the body of escaped serial killer Ethan Ingram was discovered bound, gagged, and suspended from the fire escape of an alley in the lower warehouse district of the San Gabriel Housing Projects. Ingram was taken into custody and diagnosed with twenty-one shattered bones in varied regions of his body, including both feet, hands, and arms. Whew! Authorities refuse to comment on several reports and speculations of vigilante work from the residents of Templar City’s urban sprawl zones, those rating X and below…”




With an abrupt sigh, Lieutenant Tim ‘Timberwolf’ Morningstar clacked off the stereo and took a generous sip of coffee, grimacing as the thick, bitter blend of Moroccan Roast assaulted his taste buds. Setting the mug down on the varnished kitchen table, he craned his rangy, toned physique forward and directed his gaze toward the hallway. “It’s six-thirty, Cadet – time for school!”

“I’m up already, Dad!” A girl’s husky alto voice reverberated from the end of the corridor. “Be out in a sec!”

Salt-and-pepper brows wrinkled in the beginnings of a stress headache. This made the third night in a row she’d been out past curfew. Risha was stealthy enough not to wake him upon her return, much to his grudging respect as a military official. While he trusted his surrogate daughter’s judgment when it came to the party scene, a heavier concern plagued his mind this morning, present ever since he’d taken her into parental custody eleven years ago.



“See? All dressed and ready for school – Sir!” Risha Morningstar blazed into the room clad in jeans, combat boots and an urban camouflage t-shirt. She executed a brief halt, posturing her wiry: athletic frame in a mock ‘at attention’ stance. Wisps of dark sable curls that had managed to escape her ponytail framed her dusky, felinian countenance. Chromatic brown eyes regarded her father in mock seriousness as she gave a military salute, then raised an eyebrow. “Okay, what’s wrong? You’re all grim this morning.”



“Sit down and have some breakfast, Risha.” He placed his hands on either side of his face and massaged his temples. “We need to talk.”



“Uh-oh.” Busted. She made a clicking sound with her tongue as she scrambled toward the kitchen area and snatched a glass from the cupboard. Without missing a beat, she banked left toward the refrigeration unit. “Would it help if I told you I filled the Jeep up with gas before parking it oh so safely in the garage?”




“This isn’t about your driving skills, young lady. You were out after city curfew again last night, well after any ‘take back the night’ rallies.”




Risha shrugged defensively, extracting a carton of Nutri-C orange juice from the inside door of the refrigerator. “There are worse things to do on a school night than try to enforce safety in community districts.”



His patience-tether began to fray. “I’m not disputing your intentions, Risha. But I am concerned about the terrain of some ‘community districts’ you choose to defend - Especially when said districts rate class X or lower.”



Her gaze cemented on the bright orange liquid steadily filling her glass. “Come on Dad, you know as well as I do - when crimes are committed on the lower East Side, police take at least an hour to respond, if they bother to show up at all. Just because it’s an urban war zone doesn’t mean everyone living there is a junkie or criminal.”



A rush of crimson burst across his angular features. “That doesn’t justify you waltzing around in hostile surroundings playing superhero! You could have been discovered, not to mention hurt!”



She set the orange juice container on the counter. A frustrated exhale expelled past her lips. “You know I go through daily exercise regiments, Dad! You yourself said I could give any military cadet in training a run for their brass. Besides, we both know I’ve got a stellar healing rate, phenomenal constitution – I’m not the average eighteen year old girl…” Her words halted as the glass in her hand began to shake. “You knew what I was capable of when you first read that file on me, back in that…that awful place, eleven years ago.” Risha’s eyes clamped shut as her teeth sank into the flesh of her lower lip. Fragmented spokes of gray matter recollections she’d tried to rend from her conscious mind teetered on the verge of flooding forth like cracks in a reservoir dam…A stark white room permeated by the sterile reek of ammonia and chemicals…flashes of light blindsided into her eyes as tall figures in neon white lab coats and surgical masks surrounded her, strapped her down in restraints on cold metal tables, forcing syringe-needles into her veins, extracting blood and tissue samples. Then there were the other tests…it was too much to think about right now, bordering on sensory overload…



“Hey now, don’t go there.” She felt a gentle hand upon her shoulder. Risha drew in a deep breath and steeled her nerves, forced the memory into her subconscious. A steady dripping sound caught her juice attention as orange juice spilled freely across the Formica counter.



“Sorry.” She managed, straining to keep her voice steady. “I’ll clean this mess up.”



“Allow me.” ripped a few paper towels off their roll and nudged his daughter aside. “No use crying over spilled Nutri-C.” He told her, with a quick wink.



An involuntary smile gradually formed across her lips at his attempt at corny humor. Dad was there for her, no matter what. “Actually, if it’s all the same, I’ll catch breakfast before first period, on my way out. Mega Burger’s just down the block.”



He nodded, mopping spilled juice off the counter. “The last thing I wanted to do was bring up old memories, Rish. Ever since that day, you couldn’t be more like a daughter if you were my own flesh and blood. My ancestors would say you’ve been given many gifts by the Great Warrior Spirits - but if the wrong set of eyes were to observe those gifts, even discover what a third you’re capable of, consequences would be costly for everyone involved.” He shook his head. “I just don’t want to see you put yourself in a situation that would give them such an opportunity. If anything were to happen to you…”



Risha nodded slowly, eyes dark and thought-filled. “I know…” She admitted, sheepishness filtering into her resonant alto tone. “That’s why I’m extra careful – a warrior must exercise caution and stealth in every mission. Just like you taught me, remember?”

Before he could reply, she leapt forward and gave him a quick hug. “I promise to keep on my toes, ok? I know, you worry, but you’ve got to let me grow up sometime - Gotta go.” She stepped back and forced a smile. “Time for academia world, and I don’t even have my books together.”

“Just promise you’ll think about what I’ve said.” He reminded her while his errant daughter was still in hearing range.

“Promise. And I swear to be ultra-careful with the Jeep.” She replied before making a dash for the living room.

Tim Morningstar gave a heavy sigh as he resigned himself back to the kitchen table and his now lukewarm cup of coffee.





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The following comments are for "Vigilante Syndrome (Mourning Glory's Final Revision)"
by Tigerlily





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