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~:: What's in a Name? - Chapter I ::~

The dusk grew steadily darker as she headed back across town. She'd lost her bearings returning from her trip to Steel Canyon, and as a result she'd wound up in a very bad neighborhood. In a panic and fleeing for her life, she gave no thought to where she might be headed and had run farther and farther away from the guarded safety of the plaza. Now she struggled to reorient herself.

She pulled out a map she'd been given upon arriving and wished she'd had the sense to check it first. She now realized that she had indeed run in the opposite direction. She sighed as she had to face the fact that she was now wandering around the bad end of town with nightfall fast approaching.

Comparing the map to the terrain surrounding her, she plotted her course. Staying to the middle of the fairly well lit street, began to sprint back towards City Hall.

Halfway there, a car came careening at a breakneck speed around the corner. It swerved across the lanes, forcing her to jump to the curb to avoid being run down. She stumbled as the car blew past, missing her by inches. As she struggled to regain her footing, she heard a gravelly voice behind her.

"Oh, isn't this cute. She must be one of the new wannabe heroes. What's with those horns, little lady? Halloween is over."

Looking up, she saw a tall man standing over her. "Grab her boys," he yelled to the two goons who stood behind him as if they were waiting for him to give them permission to act. As they moved closer, she caught sight of the signature logo on the bright orange vest one of them was wearing. It identified them as members of one of the cities more notorious street gangs – the Hellions.

She took a defensive stance, probably a foolish move, considering how outnumbered she was. Making a quick decision, she opted to fight off the obvious leader she guessed that perhaps his followers might not know what to do if she could incapacitate him to the point of being unable to order them.

Flailing at him as he stepped menacingly closer, her first swing was reactionary, and was a complete miss. He laughed, and stepped back, long enough to pull out a large firearm. It was hard to say exactly what happened in the next moment as her conscious thought became blurred and time seemed to stand still. A feeling of fear and rage pulsed through her body with an intensity she'd never felt before. In the midst of the panic, her demonic half took over, the currents of energy within her body building up to levels she'd never felt before. Lifting her hand before her, a powerful blast of electrical energy surged from her being to strike out at him, stunning him momentarily and weakening him.

It was difficult to say who was more surprised: the small half-demoness, or her foe. While she stood in awe of what she'd just done, one of his cohorts had come around behind her, wielding a sledgehammer she failed to notice. With one swing he struck a powerful blow, sending her sprawling to land on her backside. Jumping to her feet, she turned to him, and focused her energy in his direction.

This was probably a mistake, as her original assailant had recovered from the zap she'd inflicted on him. He leveled the gun and unloaded in her direction, knocking her off her feet with the powerful blast.

Damn, that hurt. She staggered to her feet, concentrating her inner power as she exuded a greenish glow of healing strength to repair the damaged flesh and sooth her pain.

Turning on him once again, she closed her eyes, and focused her anger in a blast towards him. He twitched, and fired again, this time missing her by mere inches. A third bolt of electric energy, and he was gasping and staggering, and as she hit him the last time, he dropped to his knees, and unceremoniously face-planted onto the sidewalk.

The third goon decided he wanted no part of her now, and turned around to run. However the one wielding the sledgehammer stood his ground. As he struck her again, she once again landed on the cool concrete. Shaking off the pain, she stood and faced him, blasting him with electrical current. He twitched slightly as she drew a deep breath and send a second jolt in his direction. Just as he lifted his weapon for a final blow, she sidestepped, avoiding the impact, as a wave of bright lightning shot from her fingers, and dropped him where he stood.

Looking around, she saw no sign of the one who'd taken flight. As she started to run down the center of the street, tears filled her eyes. She couldn't tell whether they were tears of relief, fear, pain, or frustration. Perhaps they were caused by a combination of everything overwhelming her. She failed to notice the softly glowing form hovering just out of the upper range of her peripheral vision as her Guardian watched anxiously yet unwilling to interfere.

She stopped to wipe her eyes. A car crept up behind her, and slowed to a crawl, pulling alongside.

 "Hey, lady, you alright?" a voice said through the crack of a slightly opened window.

She nodded, then shook her head, then nodded again. "I... I think I am," she said, finding her voice.

"Do you want a lift?" the stranger asked.

She hesitated, out of fear, but noticed he appeared to be alone. She quickly reasoned that her chances were better in his car than on the street. Her empathic senses assured her that he bore no ill will towards her. Reaching over, he opened the passenger door, and motioned for her to climb in. Still trembling, she shot him a grateful smile as she slid nervously into the seat. He gently reached across and fastened the seatbelt with a gentle smile.

 "I was just on my way home from a movie," he explained. "I don't normally drive this route, but there was a fender bender on the street I usually take, so I decided to cut around the traffic jam." He smiled warmly at her, "Lucky for you, huh?" As he put the car in gear, and pulled away, the glare from a streetlight flooding the car, illuminating her for a moment. As he glanced over, he saw a huge bruise and the glistening of freshly congealed dark red blood on her shoulder, an indication that she'd been in some kind of altercation quite recently.

"Do you need to go to the hospital?" he asked.

 "No, I think I will be fine," she answered quietly. "Thank you for the offer."

"Where do you need to go?" he asked.

 She thought about that for a minute. Where DID she want to go? She had no place to go, really. Master Sato had told her to seek a woman named Azuria, in the MAGI office at City Hall. That was many hours ago. She hadn't planned on getting lost and ending up on the other side of the city. Surely by this time no one would be there.

"I...I am not sure. I am supposed to meet with someone named Azuria, but I am sure that best wait until morning. I doubt she's in at this hour."

He chuckled softly. "You'd be surprised. Azuria keeps some crazy hours. Everyone down there does. By the way, I work at City Hall. I'm a clerk in the Hero records department, where we process your ID cards. I happen to know Azuria personally. She's a great lady. You'll like her. Would you like to see her now? I'm sure she can find some work for you."

She was exhausted, but saw little other choice. She let her eyes close and after what seemed to be only a few minutes later, he was pulling into the parking lot behind City Hall, and jumping out to open her door. She stumbled as she stepped from the car, and he put out his arms to catch her.

"Whoa. I really think you should see a doctor. You look like you took a pretty good beating tonight. I hope they look worse than you do," he said with a look of concern.

She smiled as she realized at least she'd fared better than her assailants. "I think I will be okay," she answered. "I am just a bit tired."

 Even in the dim lights of the parking lot he could tell she was completely exhausted. He guessed from the fact that she was wandering aimlessly in the wrong part of town that she'd only just arrived in Paragon City. "I tell you what," he said in a voice thick with concern, "I live just on the other side of Atlas Park from here. I have a spare room and there's even a lock on the door. You're more than welcome to sleep there, and I'll bring you back here when I go to work in the morning."

She hesitated for a moment, but realized her only other option was finding a secluded corner of an alley to sleep in, which given her most recent experience, didn't seem too wise. Nodding her assent, she answered quietly, "If it is not too much trouble."

"Not at all," he answered. "Trust me. I will enjoy the company. I work long hours and don't have much of a social life, so my opportunity for conversation is limited to asking people what their Origin, Powers, and Hero name are. I like my job, don't get me wrong, but it is nice to have a normal conversation once in a while."

 "Hero name?" she queried.

 "Yeah, for privacy reasons, many heroes don't give their real names. You don't have an ID yet?" he asked, gently. "I can help you take care of that in the morning. All heroes are required to register at City Hall. Some of them prefer to keep their identity hidden. They often pick a nickname to fight crime under, so when they take off the cape and the spandex, they can live just like normal folks."

Her fingers subconsciously went up to stroke one of her thick horns. He blushed realizing his comment had made her self conscious.

 "I didn't mean that the way it sounded. There are many heroes who have different, or... let us say... non-human origins."

She nodded, and lowered her gaze. He helped her back into the passenger's seat, and gently closed the door. Climbing back in the driver's seat, he clicked his seatbelt and put the car in drive, easing out of the parking lot and onto the nearly deserted street.

He reached down to turn on the radio. A woman's breathy voice radiated from the speakers.

"...You live in a church, where you sleep with voodoo dolls... and you won't give up the search... for the ghosts in the halls..."

"Pretty song," she murmured.

 He smiled over at her. "Oh, I am Jody, by the way. Jody Meyers. I am sorry. I should have introduced myself before."

 "I am DeLara," she said, softly.

 "Is that your hero name?" he asked.

 "No," she answered softly. "I do not think I have one."

He smiled. "You must be very new. You will think of one, I am sure, something that will set you apart from all others."

She nodded.

Back at his apartment, she felt slightly awkward, but he was warm and friendly without showing any signs of ulterior motives. As she nervously assessed her surroundings, he disappeared into his bedroom and procured her an overly large t-shirt. "You can sleep in this," he said gently. "It may prove more comfortable than sleeping in your costume." Nodding towards the guest room, he added, "I sometimes rent the room out to college students, so there is a sliding bolt on the door. It might make you feel more comfortable if you'd like to use it, and I won't be offended. I understand that you don't know me from Adam."

She nodded, and gave him a grateful smile.

He looked at her in the soft incandescent light, pointing to the bruise on her shoulder. "Would you like some ice for that?"

She shook her head, closed her eyes, and summoned her inner strength. A greenish glow bathed the surrounding area as she released an aura of warm, soothing energy.

"Ahh," he said, softly, "you are an empath."

With a soft smile, she nodded, "My mother is a sibyl, or as you might call it, a seer. She is empathic. My father," she added, in a tone of obvious discomfort, "is a demon. I have only recently come of age. I am not exactly sure what my abilities are, or what limitations that I have." She mused over her surprising outburst during her encounter with the gang members earlier and added, "And it looks like some of my abilities may just come in handy here."

She had expected a repulsed reaction to her revelation of her parentage, but he appeared completely nonplussed. Reaching a hand out to take one of hers, he said, quietly, "I see all kinds of beings, every day. Some are from other worlds or other dimensions. Some are or were humans but were changed or mutated in some way. Some were altered accidentally. Some intentionally altered themselves in the name of science. Each one of them is special or unique in some way. All of them come here to give of themselves for the greater good of our city, and even our world."

Her eyes misted with tears as she felt the warmth radiating from his hand. She met his eyes and managed a weak smile.

 "It isn't my place to judge you for who you are, or who your parents are," he told her. "I'm just here to help if you need a friend. I can't shoot flames from my fists or leap tall buildings. I just do what I can to help others." He gave her a knowing smile and motioned her towards the very comfortable looking sofa. "You look absolutely exhausted. Would you like something to eat? I'm not a world class chef, but I can cook."

 "I hate to impose when you've already been so kind," she answered, her voice almost a whisper. As if to answer for her, her stomach grumbled loud enough for him to hear, and he laughed heartily.

"I will take that as a 'yes'," he said. Turning on his heels he darted into the kitchen, and called out to her. "Do you like steak?"

"Whatever is the least trouble for you to prepare," she answered him, quietly. She was hungry, she realized. She hadn't eaten since she'd arrived in this place.

The sounds of clanging pans and clinking dishes echoed from the kitchen as she folded her hands in her lap and sat quietly. "Is there anything I can do to help?" she called to him.

"Nope," he answered. "Stay put. This will only take a few minutes."

To Chapter II