B2 — 10. Challenge

Maria stretched out against the glass as she soaked in the weak rays of light shining through the window.  The experience was magical; it wasn’t that she could feel the heat as much as the energy it gave her. Her sore muscles eased, her mind cleared, and her fatigue dissipated like the blazing sun cutting through dense fog.

Opening her silver eyes, she looked down at her hand; in the last ten minutes, her mind had cleared, and the dull glow that emanated from her skin had slowly grown stronger.

She thought back on her recent near-death experience; the moment she left the Burger King, her body had become colder and colder.  She did her best to mask her failing body, but at some point, her mind hazed when they left the item lock-up area.

Taking in a deep breath, she let it out slowly, pumping her left hand into a fist a few times.  The feeling in her body had gradually increased as the sun rose, and the light touching her grew stronger.

I almost died … what would have happened if I left Felix all alone?  Like dad and … crap. I need to be careful about using my abilities. I literally kill myself…

She looked left at Bree; she seemed to be dozing in the chair beside her.

What happened to the others?  I don’t remember anything … we were walking toward the shower—no, it was … there was something about a shampoo bottle.

Her head tilted left and right as she examined the space.  She seemed to be in the FBI headquarters still; there were men and women in business attire walking between offices and through the hall.  Most of them were talking or looking down at their phones, but every one of them glanced her way at least once.

Maria shifted on the small daybed, looking down at the front of the building through the glass.  There were groups of people walking in and out; it seemed like the facility was a beehive of activity.  There was a lot of ground between the front entrance and the road; she watched police directing traffic as rows of cars moved along the street, but there was a route set up for agents to get out and in.

Her focus moved up to the light breaking past the treeline; there seemed to be a facility beyond the trees with large cylinder-shaped structures, and the sky was tinted yellow.

If the sun’s rising, then Scarlet and Rachel would be off in some closed-off room; I’m with that one agent … what was her name?  Serah … no, that was the other chick; it was Bree, yeah, that’s right.

She glanced left with a slight frown as she studied her face; she did seem drained, but she didn’t feel like turning on her Diagnosis ability since with how annoying it was.  She closed her eyes, breathing out another long sigh as she slumped against the window.

I want to figure out what happened to the others, but I’m no use to them like I am.  Nah, I should keep resting until I at least feel rested … dang, this feels better than any drug…

Without realizing it, she fell asleep again.

Her eyes squeezed shut, and she groaned as a loud voice picked up volume beside her.

“… you’re too careless!”

“Yeah—I fell asleep,” Bailey’s tone was timid.  “I’m sorry, but I’ve been up for…”

“We’ve all been up a long time!”

Opening her eyes, Maria squinted as the light struck her dark silver retina; her vision adjusted quickly and she saw a large scruffy man in a blue suit.  The man had blonde hair and brown eyes; he filled out his suit well, and by his posture, it was evident that he was confident in himself. Maria judged him to be in his late thirties.

Bree and the man were facing each other, but it was obvious that Bree was on the defensive.

“The hell’s goin’ on?”  Maria mumbled, straightening as she stretched her left shoulder.

The man shot a furious glare at her.  “It’s none of your concern.” Turning back to Bree, his nose twisted.  “If you can’t perform your duty, then you should have called in a replacement.”  

Starting to feel annoyed by the tense atmosphere, Maria cut in before Bree could respond.  “A la chingada,” she growled, stretching out her lower back as she rose to her feet. “I’m trying to rest here, and you’re barking like a perro loco!  Quiet down, dang.” She took a challenging step forward, glaring up at him.

He clicked his tongue, anger cracking for a moment as he turned sideways defensively; he looked back at several office workers that were watching the scene with bated breath.  Choosing to ignore her, he returned his anger to Bree. “You’re tired? I’ll get someone to replace you.”

“Hey,” Maria barked, snapping her fingers in front of his face.

The man’s jaw locked as he turned his glare to her, but she could tell he was cautious about confronting her.  “What?” He growled.

“Calm down.  La neta me estás emputando.”  She turned to Bree, turning on Diagnosis; she frowned as everyone within a ten-foot radius’ medical issues lit her mind like a flame.  “Y’all have issues,” she mumbled.

“Excuse me?”  The man’s nose twitched as he sucked on his tongue.

She turned back to him; lips curved into a deep frown.  “Ischemic heart disease, right, and give it a few years; you’ll probably die of a stroke.  You should really get your blood pressure under control, hombre, because you’re filled with adrenaline and cortisol.”

“What?”  He asked, brow furrowing.  “You’re … that’s right; you can understand health issues with people.”  His eyes narrowed.

She folded her arms, keeping eye contact.  “Yeah, and Bree, I can sense how hard you’ve been pushing your body too.  Want me to fix that?”

Bree tensed.  “Wait—what?”

“I can make your body feel better than it’s ever felt,” Maria said, eyes still challenging the man in front of her.

The man’s teeth ground together, eyes narrowing further.  “That won’t be necessary; she can just get…”

“Oh?”  Maria hummed.  “I thought you’d want as much manpower as you can get, or is this your ego talking?  Huh, which is it?”

“I’d rather not have your abilities compromise one of the agents under me.”

“Huh?”  Maria grunted.  “The Military’s trusting me with a ton of kids and supposedly dead people; what’s your excuse?  To me, it just looks like you’ve got an over-inflated ego.”

He breathed a heated puff of air through his teeth.  “By all means, show us what a Unicorn Mythickin can do.”

She didn’t break eye contact as her horn appeared; she fed the desire to heal Bree’s physical fatigue.  The man tensed as her horn came inches from touching his eyes, quickly stepping back a few paces.

“The hell?”  He shouted.

Maria huffed.  “Shouldn’t have been standing so close to me.  Eres tan patético, que resultas cariñoso.” She glanced left.  A soft white glow illuminated Bree, and all her fatigue faded, but it came at the cost of a substantial chunk of her own energy.

Dang; how long does it take for Rachel’s energy to come back?  It looked like her energy took no more than a few minutes, but mine’s gonna take forever at this rate.  At least I shut up this punk, but Bree has a lot more issues than I thought … it’s kind of sad.

“How do you feel, Bree?”  Maria asked, returning her smug glare to the man.

“I—umm, I feel—amazing,” she muttered, stretching out.  “I somehow feel even stronger than normal?”

Maria shrugged.  “I don’t know about that, but you should feel completely rested.  Ready to work another few hours? Because I’d rather have you around than some pendejo estúpido that doesn’t even know my name.”

Bree’s face twitched, trying to hide a smile as the man tucked his lower lip under, vision shooting to Bree.  “You actually feel rested?”

Bree cleared her throat and stood straighter.  “Yeah, I do, sir.”

He sucked on his tongue a few times before glancing around at the shocked faces of the office workers and agents.  “Fine, but next time I catch you dozing on the job; I’ll fire your sorry…”

Maria glanced at Bree’s back before smirking and cutting him off.  “At least she has a nice butt.”

“You should work on your attitude,” the man growled.

“Oh,” Maria grinned.  “Why don’t I heal your issues, eh?  God knows you need a little stress reliever.”

“Keep your magical drugs to yourself,” he snapped, turning to walk away.  “One more time, Bree…”

Maria watched him leave, muttering, “Hay días tontos y tontos todos los días,” before he turned the corner.

Bree’s lips pursed as she glanced around at the people still watching; Maria glared at each one as her horn faded.  “The hell y’all lookin’ at? Keep starin’, and I’ll start chargin’ ya!”

Most of their eyebrows shot up before quickly moved toward their original destinations.  Maria sniffed as she followed a few women hurry around the corner. When most of the original gawkers left, she held her hair to keep it from falling back and sunk into the couch, releasing a tired groan.  Her head and shoulders pressed against the glass, and she relaxed her muscles, deactivating Diagnosis.

Scratching the back of her neck, Bree slowly sat beside her.  “Thanks, but … that could come back to bite you … and me. Darik’s basically already appointed as a Supervisory Special Agent in the new division that’s forming.”

“Tch, like I care,” Maria mumbled, swapping to Spanish.  “He was an punk, and I wouldn’t worry about him for too much longer.  Like I said, he’ll likely be dead in the next few years, maybe even months with how high his blood pressure is.”

“You were serious?”  Bree asked with concern, switching to Spanish, as well.

“Heh, that’s probably why he backed off; he knew that I couldn’t lie.  I bet he’ll be looking for a doctor soon.”

“But,” Bree trailed off, biting her lower lip for a moment.  “You could have healed him of it … couldn’t you?”

She smirked, holding up her hand, she snapped her fingers.  “Just like that … of course, he was too proud to let me do that,” she chuckled before her mood fell.  “I’d be pretty close to passing out again, too—probably.”

“You’re not wrong,” she muttered.  “Darik has quite the ego—wait, passing out again?  You’ve been soaking up sunlight for the past thirty minutes, though?  I,” Maria frowned as Bree’s composure dropped. “I remember Rachel told us—do you really kill yourself when you heal people?”

“Hmm,” Maria glanced behind her at the sun as it illuminated the sky.  “Yeah, it does basically kill me, but I mean, it’s not that bad. I guess I’m like a rechargeable battery—just, if I run out of juice, then I’m dead forever.  Also, I don’t know if it makes a difference, but it hasn’t been direct sunlight; once the sun breaks past those trees, then I might get more energy back.”

Bree looked down at the front of the building, rubbing her scalp.  “You were literally killing yourself to ease my muscles and tension…”

“Dang, don’t make a big deal out of it,” Maria growled.  “I’m fine.”

“Hmm,” Bree took a deep breath before adding a light smile.  “We might be able to go wait outside.”

“Oh?”  Maria smiled.  “That’d be chill; although, don’t you need to get permission from David or something?  Can’t imagine them letting a super dangerous Unicorn that can only heal out of their fancy building.”  She said, rolling her eyes. “Even under supervision; dang, government.”

She took out her phone and sent a quick text.  “I just messaged him; this way it doesn’t bother him, and he can respond when he has the…”  She cut off, frown deepening.

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Maria glanced over and saw a thumbs-up emoji on her text.  “Huh, even the FBI uses emoji, eh?”

“This is the first time I’ve seen him do that,” Bree muttered.

“Learn something new every day,” Maria grunted, stretching as she rose.  “Well, why don’t we both go catch some rays?” Her mind flashed back to Rachel.  “Wait a second…” She whispered.

“What’s up?”  Bree asked, putting her hands on her hips as she rose, twisting to pop her joints, coat spreading to reveal her weapons vest.

Should I go heal Rachel before going on a walk?  Do I even have enough energy to do it? I mean, I should, she’s been in a lot of pain, but I’d be pretty drained.  Although, her body’s fairly resilient, and it should only be bruising and stressed muscles; unless she’s done something crazy since I’ve been out … it’s Rachel, so…

She moaned, running her hands through her hair to pull it behind her back.  “Wait, I remember there was some talk about a shower, and what about the others, where did they go?”

Bree’s lips pursed as she looked down at her phone.  “Serah text me earlier that they finished showering and went to sleep.  She’s heading to bed soon too.”

“A shower sounds nice,” Maria whispered.  “Alright, my clothes should still be over there, right?”

“I’d imagine; I don’t think the cleaning crew has been very active since they’re probably understaffed.”

“Great, then I’ll go take a shower, get changed, we can go see Rachel and the others real fast, and then we can take a walk.  Sound good?”

Bree shrugged.  “I guess—I mean, I don’t know what else we’d be doing.  I haven’t gotten any orders to do anything in particular with you.”

“Sweet,” Maria started walking down the hall before slowing to a halt.  “Eh—I just realized I don’t have a clue where we are. So, umm…”

“Okay, follow me,” Bree chuckled.

They walked back to the shower area; there was a box of pads by the door that she snatched as she entered the tiled restroom room.  She quickly freshened up; her clothes were still lying in a corner, and she noticed the torn apparel from Tempest that Rachel was wearing in the garbage.  She grunted as she pulled her new shorts and shirt on; they were pretty tight. She kept her previous bra since the new one’s measurements didn’t happen to match the tag, but changed her underwear and used one of the pads.

She folded her old clothes and brought them out with her, leaving the bag of pads in the room.  No point in wasting good clothes; it’s not like mine are ripped anyways.

Bree was playing with her phone when Maria exited; she looked up with a wry smile.  “You know, to be honest, you look just as good as when you went in, but that shirt looks a little tight.”

“Dang, you’re not lying,” Maria said with a hum as she looked down at her body.  “I guess I’m just that hot, though; still, wish I could have kept my original skin-color.  Seeing white arms is just—disconcerting … not because they’re white—just because it’s not me.”

“Well, I guess if you really are stunning, then it doesn’t hurt to own it.”  She chuckled. “I found out where Rachel and the others are staying.”

Maria shifted her damp hair a little around her ears, smiling at Bree.  “It’s nice just talking Spanish again; where did you learn to speak so well?”

Her smile became a little forced.  “Well—honestly, I learned it when I was training to join Vice.  I don’t know what your relationship with cops is.”

Humming for a moment, Maria folded her arms and shrugged.  “I mean, there are some bad drugs on the street and trafficking is pretty bad.  I can respect what you do, but it’s not like we won’t curse when we’re busted for something.  It’s complicated—I don’t like dogs that play both sides, but if you’re up-front about the crap you’re chill with and not, then I don’t got a problem.”

Bree nodded, gesturing for her to follow; Maria followed her down the hall, turning right at the next junction.  “I understand. You’re pretty big on the truth for a gangster.” She giggled.

“Hey, I ain’t a snitch; I don’t like that crap, but if hustlers are selling crack to the lil’ homies on my block or some prick is picking up our girls, then I got issue, and we’ll handle it.  I’m not against the cops doing their thing either; works for me.”

“Huh,” Bree pulled some of her hair back behind her ear as she glanced back at her.  “I didn’t think you’d be so neutral about it; a lot of real gangsters, not the fake ones, really hate us.”

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“It’s not like I want total anarchy,” Maria grunted.  “You got a purpose, and just because something’s illegal doesn’t make it bad, but yeah, there are some messed up people that I wouldn’t mind taken off the streets—whatever the means, even cops.”

Bree fell silent as they continued down the halls.

Looking left, down at the center walkway between the buildings, she followed a few people running into the opposite building.

What’s Felix doing right now?  Scarlet sent him to that military forward base; so, will they bring him with the brainwashed people?  Maybe he ditched and is trying to find me … that’d be like him; crap, I should have asked Rachel to see if he’s within her earshot.

What about the boys?  I did kind of ditch them … yeah, they’ll be pissed.  They should have gone back to regroup with the rest, but who knows with those blockheads.  Dang … I didn’t expect to get wrapped up in all this crap; how soon until we can head back?

There’s that shrink that’s coming; dang it, Rachel’s all worried I’ll say something that could get us in deep, but who the hell knows.  I don’t know what she wants to stay hidden, but it’s not like we’ve had the time to talk about it. If they’re giving us time to sleep, then maybe we can talk a bit after.

Her attention shifted back to Bree as she cleared her throat, looking down at her phone.  “So, Serah text me … one of the other agents woke her up asking about Rachel seeing a four-star general?”

“Eh?”  Maria’s eyebrow lifted as she tugged on her shirt front, trying to ease some of the pressure against her chest.  “I haven’t heard anything about it.”

“Yeah,” Bree muttered, her pace slowing a little.  “Serah hadn’t heard anything about it either. Apparently, after she carried you to the front of the building and left you with me, she went back to take a shower.  She was supposed to meet up with the others in the office we’re heading too, but it seems like, after the shower, she must have gone with the general.”

“Is she even in the room we’re heading to then?”  Maria scratched under her chin, feeling a bit annoyed.

If Rachel isn’t there, then heading there is useless.  Why the hell would she be meeting with a four-star … wait…

“Didn’t Rachel say that there was some general asking about a task force or some crap?”

Bree nodded.  “Yeah, she did say that and told Serah to tell David you guys weren’t interested in it.  Oh, and it looks like Special Agent Laymen confirmed that Rachel came back about five minutes ago.”

“Yeah…”  Maria trailed off.

Why would a high-ranked general come here to meet with Rachel?  If Bree and Serah haven’t heard anything about it, then it’s gotta be for something different than what the FBI has planned for us.  Dang … Rachel’s got such a sharp brain, though, she’s probably scheming something.

They rounded a corner, and Maria caught sight of a man standing in front of a door.  He straightened when he caught sight of them. “Ah, Special Agent Bailey, the Lunar Hare is still inside.”

“We have names,” Maria muttered as she brushed past him, opening the door.  She slowed to a stop after taking a few steps into the room, Bree behind her with the disgruntled man behind her in the doorway.

Her eyes adjusted to the dimly lit room quickly; she caught Scarlet’s exposed skin and turned quickly, shutting the door in the man’s face.  She heard him let out a soft huff before shifting to lean against the wall beside the door.

Bree was squinting into the abyss.  “Eh—I can’t see anything.”

“Yeah, just give me a second,” Maria whispered.  “They’re all asleep.”

Scarlet’s so much cuter when she’s relaxed … dang, my brother would be bright red.  Her mind flashed back to her corrupted state.  Then again, she has that scary side; I don’t know why Fiona’s so fixated on my curves, though, Scarlet’s aren’t terrible … I guess I am kind of … crap, focus!

She glanced at Rachel with a frown.  “Rachel didn’t even throw a blanket over herself,” she muttered, activating Diagnosis.

Dang, no wonder; she’s a freaking mess.  She’s tough as Amaia’s bread; how can she function like this?

Bree hummed softly, still speaking in Spanish, she whispered, “I can actually see a little; both Rachel and your glow helps a bit.  Is that Scarlet … she’s not—naked, right?”

“No, she’s got underwear on; just give me a second.  I’m going to heal Rachel, and then we can head out for some sun.”

Before Bree could respond, her horn appeared, cutting away the darkness; she cursed softly, holding her old clothes in front of her head as she healed Rachel, blocking a bit of the light from shining on them.  She finished as quickly as she could, feeling her energy reserve dip down to four percent; her muscles were beginning to feel sluggish and tight again.

Bree moved a little closer to study the soft glow that surrounded Rachel before turning back to her as her horn began to fade.  “Honestly—I can see myself being a little jealous of your looks; you each have gorgeous long hair, and I highly doubt any of you are wearing make-up, but you look like supermodels.”

Maria moved back to crack the door open, allowing Bree to find her way toward her; she opened it enough for her to exit, and she followed her out.  Shutting the door, she said, “Hey, they’re sleeping, so don’t open the door until they choose to come out. Got it?”

The man’s face tightened at her stern expression.  “I don’t plan on it unless ordered to get them up.”

Nodding with satisfaction at his honest answer, she tilted her head.  “Alright, let’s get to some sunlight, because … I’m feeling terrible.”

“Oh,” the man called after them.

They both turned, brows creased with question.

“I heard that the military’s bringing all those kids here within the next few hours.”

Crap … that sun better start giving me some real energy!

“Thanks,” Bree said, turning back to her.

Maria didn’t respond as she picked up her pace, walking back toward the side of the building where she could start gaining a bit of light, Bree in-tow.

“Dang,” she muttered.  “Let’s hope direct sunlight gives me more energy.  Where’s the closest way out?”


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