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The Darkness Before the Dawn

Sneak Peek at Book 3 of the Two Sides of the Same Coin trilogy

By Natasja RosePublished 2 years ago Updated 2 years ago 13 min read

Some of the characters may look familiar from my stories Black Summer and Deep Sea. Those short stories were earlier works that eventually became this series.

The winter cold was of little concern to an ice elemental, but it did provide an excellent excuse to snuggle with her partners.

Propping herself up on one elbow, Melissa gazed fondly at the two dark heads sharing her bed. Riona was wrapped around Jason as if he were a hot water bottle, the red and orange streaks in their mutual boyfriend’s hair, a mark of his fire powers, contrasting sharply against Riona’s more subtle dark grey streaks. Jason was sprawled across the bed as he normally was, but Melissa didn’t mind; it just made it easier for both women to snuggle him.

The weather was transitioning between late autumn and early winter, and therefore decidedly chilly, which meant that Jason was sleeping in the middle, his elevated body temperature better than any electric blanket. In summer, Melissa slept in the middle spot, for much the same reason, and jokingly complained about being used as cheap replacement for a fan.

The only disadvantage was that such sleeping arrangements made all three of them far more reluctant to get out of bed in the morning. Winter had that effect on everyone, but it was made worse when your heating method of choice was also one of the people you were dating. The exhaustion caused by a recent surge in Supervillain crimes didn’t help, either. Evanna and Morgan hadn’t moved from their shared bedroom, either, if the lack of noise was any indication, meaning that they were just as worn out as the triad.

The five of them, collectively known as The Guardians, had been warned that something like this would happen, of course. The transition between Superhero teams was always a tricky time, as Supervillains, and even ordinary criminals, looked to take advantage of the incoming Heroes’ inexperience. It was why the first year of Mandatory Service was spent with the newly-graduated Heroes being mentored by the team they would replace. Now that their mentors had retired properly, the costumed criminals were peering out of the woodwork, hoping for success against a new team with less experience.

It wasn’t just The Guardians, either. All of the new teams had the same problem, and it had been a month of jumping from one crisis to another, along with helping The Champions (Theo, Lily, Jack and Violet) cover for a third team, whose local criminals had banded together, making them a bigger priority than the low-level costumed crime. Melissa had lost count of how many times she had cursed the Super-Squad for their aversion to requesting a second-tier team for back-up, and insistence on calling upon the nearest local teams showing up to help, instead.

Evanna had been tellingly silent on the matter, while Jason’s clenched jaw whenever the topic came up said far more than words. The twins were working on an official complaint, in which the phrase ‘unreasonable expectations’ had popped up with impressive frequency.

Still, the new Superheroes had reached the point where, according to statistics, the Supervillains backed off to come up with actual plans and break their fellows out of prison before trying their luck again.

Better yet, Arachne, famed fashion designer and Melissa’s mentor for her non-superpowered job, had texted to tell her than an apprentice too exhausted to concentrate was of no use to her, and to spend today resting. Reading between the lines of the older woman’s brusque mannerisms to the genuine concern underneath, Melissa was just glad that she didn’t actually have to get out of bed just yet.

As if on cue, because the universe seemed to exist to spoil Melissa’s plans for uninterrupted cuddle time, Jason stirred, which woke Riona. The brunette gave a sleepy grumble, leaning over him to kiss Melissa good morning, and rolled out of bed, stretching and reaching for a dressing gown. “Are the others awake yet?”

Melissa shook her head, reluctantly swinging her legs to the floor. “Not that I’m aware of, no. There was the opening notes of Evanna’s alarm, but it switched off almost immediately.”

Riona nodded, slipping her feet into cosy slippers. “Then I’ll go start breakfast before one of them makes it downstairs and we have to suffer through tasteless mush.”

Jason yawned and threw back the covers, seeming not to notice the dual appreciative glances at the fact that his sleepwear didn’t include a shirt. From the slow and very deliberate stretch he did, Melissa didn’t buy his supposed ignorance for a second. “I still think they’re doing it as revenge for having to cook for a fortnight running.”

Melissa sniggered quietly, in complete agreement. The house rule was that the first person downstairs was in charge of breakfast. Since Morgan and Evanna were both early-birds, that chore usually fell to them. After two weeks of making breakfast for five, Morgan had abruptly gone on an extreme health kick, involving the blandest or most foul-tasting food ingredients she could find.

The rest of the team had promptly become a lot better at making sure no-one cooked more than two days in a row.

Riona didn’t try to defend her twin. “Does rice porridge with toppings sound all right? I think we’ve still got some plum syrup left.”

Melissa reached for her own robe. “Lily left some pomegranates last time the Champions came for games night, that should do until we actually manage to go shopping.”

Jason headed for the bathroom, “I’ll join you down there in a minute.”

Jason had taken over stirring the porridge by the time Morgan and Evanna made it downstairs, while Riona sat at the kitchen table, focussed intently on a laptop. Morgan grinned wickedly. “What happened to our rule of no electronics at the table?”

Riona didn’t glance up. “Your last Mad Science project is still spread over the living room table, and I’m hacking the retiree network to see if any of them have a grocery service.”

Morgan opened her mouth to reply, then glanced from the coffee table in the living room, groaning under a load of electronic equipment, to the pile of take out containers in the dish rack and the pantry full of canned or dry food. “You may have a point.”

Evanna fell into the nearest chair. “When we have some downtime, what do you think about putting in a vegetable garden and some fruit trees? It’s the sixth time in a row that we missed the farmers market thanks to a Supervillain emergency.”

Melissa paused to consider the idea. It was a very good one, when she thought about it. Especially when taking into consideration that they had a plant-elemental on speed-dial.

The Guardians collectively owned the house, or would once the mortgage was paid off in a few years, and there was enough room in the backyard for a vegetable garden and a few fruit trees without disrupting the spiderworms breeding in their shed. They had been wanting to get rid of the high-maintenance orchids that had been wilting in the box garden outside the kitchen window anyway, and vegetables and herbs didn’t need that much room to grow. “It’s a good idea. We don’t get extreme weather unless a Supervillain is involved, and Lily can kick-start the growing period a bit.”

Riona looked up from the laptop, smiling. “We have today as a rest day, so we can plan and visit the gardening shops after breakfast. It still leaves the issue of meat and dairy, but those are easier. There is a retired hero who runs a meat and dairy farm, and has access to a teleportation device.”

Jason dished the porridge into five bowls while Melissa set out an array of terracotta tapas pots filled with sugar, cream, and various types of fruit. Jason sat down next to Riona, steadying her chair when it nearly tipped over as she leaned back to put the laptop on a side table. “Sounds like a plan.”

His Communicator made a ‘ping’ sound, and he glanced down at it. “Theo and the Champions want to know if we’re free to meet up tonight.”

Melissa glanced around the table. “Barring any emergencies, we should be, and it gives us a chance to get started on the garden.”

Everyone else nodded or murmured in agreement, and Melissa couldn’t help smiling. It was good to have the chance to catch up with friends and start new projects.

A few hours later, hauling timber and gardening supplies to the trailer, Melissa heartily regretted her earlier optimism. “Can this count as our weight-lifting for today?”

Riona had won the debate about which herbs to plant first, but lost the battle with her twin over who got to haul the fertilizer. Currently, she was muttering curses at the family who thought letting their children race each other on the last two available trollies was more important than letting said trollies be used by people who had a lot of things to carry. “Yes. We should have come here in costume, then we’d have an excuse to bring Nocturne.”

Nocturne was what happened when one of Riona’s shadow constructs collided with a Mad Science experiment gone wrong. The result was a dragon the size of a draft-horse, that breathed fire or ice on command, and only listened to Riona. On the bright side, being mostly a construct meant that Nocturne didn’t eat much, and, for some reason that nobody could fathom, hoarded and ate used lightbulbs.

Even better, Melissa counted at least three Supervillains, terrified of flying things, who turned white and surrendered on the spot when they saw Nocturne. Since one of those three was a Major Supervillain, The Guardians had taken shameless advantage, and Melissa lost a lot of respect for their mentoring team when they tried to ban the dragon from combat situations, on the grounds that it was ‘untraditional’.

They only relented when Riona had persuaded the Guardians to be as showy and ‘traditional’ as possible in battle, especially when their mentors had somewhere else to be. The rest of the team had mostly agreed so that they could drag Riona out of her research binge of what ‘traditional’ practices would cause the most inconvenience without endangering Civilian lives, but it worked.

Melissa glanced over her shoulder and grinned, pointing back to the doors of the building, “Should we go rescue Jason from the sales staff?”

They were both secure enough in their relationship that they didn’t get jealous every time someone attempted to flirt with their boyfriend; Jason wasn’t the type to cheat, and it was stupid and a waste of time to be suspicious every time he interacted with someone who wasn’t them. Besides, Jason’s lean but defined arm muscles weren’t something easily hid, no matter what clothing he wore, and his girlfriends weren’t the only ones to notice. At the entrance to the shop, two teenage girls and a young man about their age were hovering around Jason, asking if he was sure that he didn’t need help. Riona sniggered and pulled a coin out of her pocket. “Toss you for it.”

Melissa grinned as her girlfriend flipped the coin into the air, “Heads.” She caught the coin as it came down. “Tails, damn. Have fun.”

Riona smirked, sauntering over to link her arm with Jason’s and kiss him on the cheek. “Do we have everything, love?”

All three store workers looked disappointed, but backed off without a fuss. Jason hefted the small pallet of soil and seedlings with little effort, balancing it on one shoulder, wrapping the other arm around Riona’s waist. One of the workers sighed wistfully, and Melissa tried not to giggle as her significant others made their way back to the car.

They had barely shut the trunk when there was a loud explosion, a firework display that didn’t come from store-bought materials, and a lot of screaming.

Why did so many villains have to have all the subtlety of a raging bull in an antique shop? Sure, the subtle ones were hard to catch, but the lack of colleteral damage was appreciated.

Riona and Melissa exchanged resigned glances. Every bloody time! Winter Queen - Melissa prefered to sleep into her Hero mentality in professional situations - looked at the others. “It’ll be suspicious if we appear right after a matching group of five were just in here shopping. Get the car to a safe distance, then come back. Riona, go with them, you can call Nocturne and be here fastest.”

The car tires screeched as it peeled out of the parking lot, narrowly avoiding two other cars with the same idea. Ducking behind a tree, Melissa changed in a matter of seconds, and ran toward the explosion.

She didn’t recognise this new villain, and while it wasn’t impossible that they had migrated from another city, it didn’t seem likely. Nearly all of the surrounding cities were protected by Heroes who were inclined to share information, and a database had recently been created, sharing knowledge of new villains as they popped out of the woodwork. The benefit of this was that it was easy to keep up to date, but the drawback was that it was now Melissa’s responsibility to get as much information on the new villain as she could.

Discreetly tapping the jewel on her mask under the guise of running a hand over her hair, Melissa pasted a confident smirk on her face and shifted into a combat stance. “Let me guess; you’re new on the scene.”

The Villain looked much like a small forest animal in headlights as they spun around from threatening the cashier, eyes widening in a panic. “Don’t try to stop me! I can blow this place up before you can take me down!”

That was debatable, especially given that they looked ready to pass out after generating the initial explosion, but better safe than sorry. Melissa relaxed her stance, trying to present a more conciliatory pose. “All right, and then what? Go home and call it good?”

The Villain sneered at her. “I doubt that I’m your biggest priority right now, and word on high has it that you’ve got bigger problems coming your way. Why not get some riches while I can?”

A shadow flickered at the corner of Melissa’s vision. She smirked, “Yeah, you know the thing about great riches?”

The villain suddenly looked a little less sure of themselves. “No, wha - oof!”

Nocturne dropped out of the sky, landing close enough that the villain was knocked off their feet, temporarily stunned. Shadow Queen dismounted, picking up the sack of cash and handing it to one of the employees who had been mooning over Jason earlier. “It tends to attract dragons.”

Naiad slid down after her, as Tsunami and Phoenix came running up. “Need any help, Winter Queen?”

She shrugged, pulling out a set of power-blocking restraints. “Mostly under control, but thanks.”

Shadow Queen smiled graciously at the employees, stepping out of the way of a Civilian who tried to swoon into her arms and allowing a few smaller constructs to catch them, much to the Civilian’s obvious disappointment. Phoenix made a valiant effort not to laugh as he hauled the now-cuffed Villain to their feet. “We’ll let you get back to your jobs, though we might need to come back and get statements later. I hope the experience hasn’t ruined your day.”

The young male employee from earlier tried to lean casually against a cashier, but missed and flailed for a few moments before he caught his balance. “I think we’re all good. Come in outside of business sometime, and we’ll give you a discount.”

The Guardians stuck around long enough to pose for photos and a selfie or two, then hauled the newest Supervillain off to be processed before the paparazzi could show up and get in the way.


About the Creator

Natasja Rose

I've been writing since I learned how, but those have been lost and will never see daylight (I hope).

I'm an Indie Author, with 30+ books published.

I live in Sydney, Australia

Follow me on Facebook or Medium if you like my work!

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