A Life of Thorns
Foster care: a system by which adults care for minor children who are not able to live with their parents.
Natalie de la Rocha lost her job when she got pregnant. It wasn’t exactly the kind of job that had maternity leave. She could’ve continued working but was worried about the safety of the chemicals she worked with in an unlicenced dye house. But she wasn’t worried, after all her husband, Jacob just got a promotion at the construction company that specialized in repairing post meta-human damage. In Freedom City, where super-powered combatants fought often, that usually meant a lot of work.
Life, however came tumbling down quite fast after she gave birth to her daughter, Lori. Jacob died a week later to the day, in a construction accident. A mistake in the insurance papers meant that Natalie owed a lot of money to the hospital for her pregnancy. And Jacob wasn’t on the job long enough for his full benefits to kick in.
Natalie was at a loss as to what to do. She had no family to turn to, being a runaway. Even Jacob’s family declined to help her, cause they never really approved of her in the first place. She burned her bridges at the dye house, not that the back alley job would’ve paid enough. She had no formal education not even graduating high school. With bills piling up and options running low, she had to return to doing something she promised Jacob she would never do again. She starting stripping again. However even that was not enough. Even though she tried to keep fit, she still looked fatigued from her pregnancy and had still to work off all the weight she gained while pregnant. Desperation set in and she started doing something she promised herself she would never do again. She started turning tricks.
The next several months were not easy on Natalie, but she was self-sacrificing, doing all she could to keep Lori happy and safe and indeed while Natalie went without, Lori did not. While things were not very good, Natalie was staring to cope and get a handle on things. That is until the night she was caught in a police sting on prostitution. Lori was only six months old when Child Protective Services took her away from Natalie and was placed in foster care.
* * *
Con-artists: a person adept at swindling by means of confidence games.
For five years Lori was bounced around from foster house to foster house until she ended up in the care of Norman and Bridget Miller. For a long while Lori was overly shy and quiet and it was several months before she really opened up to her foster parents. Norman and Bridget loved to show off their new daughter and Lori was often paraded out to be shown off to many people. Norman and Bridget always told Lori what to say in these cases, rehearsing over and over what do say and what to do. They made it a game and would reward her when she did good and punish her when she made mistakes. Being a frightened six year old, she tried hard to do what they wanted.
Lori was ten years old when she started piecing together what was going on. The game Norman and Bridget played was tricking people, usually out of money. Norman and Bridget took in Lori cause it opened up a lot of new possibilities in their scams. They really had no intention on keeping Lori as long as they did, but she proved to be rather good and so they kept her and trained her. As the years went on, the games got more and more involved and elaborate and like a highly trained dog (and knowing no other life) Lori continued to play.
* * *
Confidence trick or confidence game: also known as a con, scam or grift is an attempt to intentionally mislead a person or persons (known as a “mark”) with the goal of financial or other gain.
While Norman and Bridget (and by now Lori) were rather good at what they did, they never hit that one big score that would set them up for life. But providence seemed to shine down on them and by an incredible stroke of luck, they happened upon a small cache of weapons. Norman’s mind began to run with all the possibilities. Bridget was unsure, the weapons making her nervous, and Lori, being only sixteen had no say in the matter. Norman and Bridget argued about the matter for quite sometime. Norman was thinking that this could lead to the big score, while Bridget just wanted to sell them and be done with it. Norman eventually gave in and relented.
It didn’t take them long for them to find a buyer. Brad Danvers was an up and coming punk looking to make a name for himself. Norman arranged a meeting with Danvers and showed him the weapons he had. Norman could see the wanton desire in Danver’s eyes and got greedy. Danvers didn’t seem overly smart and Norman was soon spinning a wild tale on how he could get more weapons but he would need the money up front to acquire them. Danver’s desire for power and Norman’s sly tongue proved to seal the deal on everyone’s fate.
If Norman knew more about Danvers, he most likely would not have tried to grift him. However, since he was just originally going to sell the weapons, he and Bridget did not do the research on Danvers that they would normally do on an actual mark. All they knew of Danvers was that he led a small band of thugs calling themselves Death’s Hand.
Danvers was an angry, homicidal man to begin with and in his bid for power, he took some risks. One of the risks involved a renegade geneticist, by the name of Dr. Leon Karver. Karver was noted for his lack of morals and ethics in his research on human subjects. A month before Norman and Danvers met, Karver performed a series of treatments on Danvers. The highly experimental procedure induced gene resequencing on Danvers via a gas like drug while he was locked in a pressure chamber. The vaporous drugs permeated his body, giving him enhanced physical capabilities as well as intensifying his already unstable mental condition.
* * *
Retribution: something given or demanded in repayment, especially punishment.
Norman never told Bridget what he did. Since he was the only one who dealt with Danvers, he felt a quick identity swap would be enough to throw him off the trail for good. However, it wasn’t enough and Norman had seriously underestimated Danvers.
To say Danvers was upset would be an understatement. When Norman did not show up at the drop site, he knew he was taken and in a fit of rage, slaughtered the four men he took with him with his bare hands. It took him four days and several hoarded favors to track down Norman and his family. Danvers and his Death’s Hand thugs busted in on the cabin where Norman took Bridget and Lori for a weekend trip into the country and quickly captured them.
“Where are my weapons, Norman?” Danvers asked using Norman’s real named. Bridget blanched, huddled close to Lori on the floor of their living room. Danvers (with his increased strength) lifted Norman up with one hand around the man’s throat. Norman babbled incoherently as Danvers slammed him against the mantle of the brick fireplace. He took the fireplace poker and impaled one of Norman’s hands against bricks, pinning him place. Norman was begging, promising the deranged psychopath anything as Danvers took a knife and impaled Norman’s other hand, crucifying him to the mantle.
“Oh, Norman,” Danvers begain. “This is retribution. I am gonna get back everything you took from me, with interest.” He looked over at Bridget and Lori, with an evil look in his eyes.
Danvers proceeded to torture Norman, physically and mentally. With a knife he slowly cut up Norman, enough to bleed profusely but not enough to kill him quickly. He then turned his attention to the girls and even after Norman gave up the bank codes so he could retrieve his money, he raped Lori while his men violated Bridget. Lori fought back as best she could but was ineffectual against the super-powered thug. In fact her struggles only seemed to excite him more. Of course it didn’t help Lori much that the beating she took triggered her regeneration mutation. She healed quickly, much to Danvers sick and twisted delight. All the while the psychopath was having the evil deeds digitally recorded: Norman’s torture as well as Bridget and Lori’s violations. No one would ever cross him again.
Danvers took his time and by the end of the third day Norman and Bridget were dead, their bodies left in the burning cabin and Lori was in the hands of a vile sociopath.
* * *
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: a psychological disorder affecting individuals who have experienced or witnessed profoundly traumatic events such as torture, murder, rape or wartime combat, characterized by recurrent flashbacks of the traumatic event, nightmares, irritability, anxiety, fatigue, forgetfulness and social withdrawal.
For the next several months, Lori was the plaything of Danvers. Because she fought back and could take most of what he inflicted on her because of her regeneration, he enjoyed violating and beating the young girl. She tried everything she could to escape but when that seemed unlikely, she tried to kill herself or at least anger him enough for him to lose all control so he would kill her and release her from her living hell. She hated how quickly she healed. Hated how she survived every encounter with him. Hated how she would sit and watch her bruises and wounds disappear after every time he left after coming to her in anger or in lust. Lori hated how he made her watch the recordings of her previous rapes and the murder of her foster parents. Hated how the hunched Dr. Karver would come and take blood and tissue samples in an effort to unlock the secret of her regenerative powers. Her hate boiled in her with no other outlet then herself. It usually filled her with such self-loathing that it left her in a state of borderline catatonia, only responding when Danvers would come for her.
Then one night she woke one night hearing the sounds of gunfire and shouting in the warehouse that served as the Death’s Hand hideout. She was both afraid and hopeful as the fight raged outside the small room she was confined in. When all went silent outside, she wanted to cry out for help but found she could do nothing but huddle naked in the corner, fearful of who would come through the door next. Would it be Danvers or someone worse?
She heard the heavy footsteps outside her door. Then the door handle was jiggled, testing the lock. She shielded her face as something heavy slammed into the door and it splintered open in a shower of debris. A large bulky form stood in the door and stepped in. The sight of the armed and armored battlesuit, with a savage feline faceplate made Lori scream in utter terror.
Jason Harren, the second man to take on the mantle of the Lyger, stood there in utter shock at what he found in the small locked room. He tried to comfort the poor girl, but every time he made an attempt to touch her she would fight back with all her might. It was obvious what had happened to her and when paramedics came, they had to wrestle her to the ground and heavily sedate her. Jason vowed he would hunt down the animal who did this to the poor girl or die trying. Little did he know that is what exactly would happen.
Lori would spend the next seven months in a sanatarium, usually heavily sedated because she would strike anyone who touched her. During that seven months, Kage (as Danvers was now calling himself) had stuck out at several other women. Lyger was hunting him down but was severely wounded saving the life of Brandy Matherson. When Lyger told Brandy that there were others Kage attacked, she immediately sought them out. Brandy found Lori in the sanatarium and took responsibility for the girl’s care.
With the best care money can provide, Lori began the long road to recovery. It was several months before she could respond to anyone without violence and another year before her doctors would consider letting her leave the sanatarium. Brandy moved Lori in with her to the estate. Soon after this time Jason passed away, leaving the legacy of the Lyger in her hands. She took up the mantle and made her own vow to hunt down Kage and put an end to him.
Another year passed as Lori slowly began to ease herself back into a semblance of normalcy. With Brandy’s help she passed her GED. She was still nervous around people so she started her college learning, taking courses online.
Even though she was slowly beginning to heal, she was still often moody and irritable. Often she found herself quelling her initial reaction to strike out at whatever bothered her. She started to take up kick-boxing as a way to burn off her excess rage but was finding it harder and harder to control herself as her anger seethed and bubbled within her. Brandy saw this and sought out some help and found in the martial arts teacher, Master Lee.
* * *
Chi: the circulating life energy that in Chinese philosophy is thought to be inherent in all things; in traditional Chinese medicine that balance of negative and positive forms in the body is believed to be essential for good health.
Master Lee at once could see the roiling abundance of energy in Lori. It was dark and negative and was slowly consuming the young woman. He struck Brandy, a blow to a nerve cluster meant to temporarily paralyze her and then immediately attacked Lori.
Lori instantly fought back, giving into her rage, letting it take her over. The fight raged all over the dojo and while she was quite good at kick-boxing, she was still no match for the old master. She punched and kicked and blocked, while he evaded or grappled or threw her to the floor where she would pick herself back up. Master Lee was surprised how long it took for her to expend herself, but even exhausted she tried to continue on until she collapsed weakly to the floor, not landing one single blow.
Master Lee let out a long breath and knelt before her. “How do you feel?” he asked. Lori was in tears but in reality she felt good. Drained and exhausted but somehow at peace. Master Lee smiled and nodded. “You have much energy, powerful chi, more then I have seen in a very long time, but the pain in your heart and in your mind, makes it all negative. We had to expel that energy so I could talk to the real you. If you do not learn balance, your negative chi will consume you and anger will forever claim your heart and your mind.”
Lori understood and began to train with Master Lee. She learned how to balance her chi and focus it into devastating strikes. She found that seeking balance however was far harder then anything she ever had to do.
* * *
Shrike: a passerine bird of the family Laniidae which is know for its habit of catching insects, small birds or mammals and impaling their bodies on thorns. This helps them to tear the flesh into smaller, more conveniently sized fragments and serves a larder so that the shrike can return to uneaten portions at a later time.
A year later, a much happier and better adjusted Lori came home to the estate. Brandy had called her earlier from out of town and told her to expect a visitor. What she found surprised her. What she found was the Lyger awaiting for her to return home. She bit down and tears welled unbidden to her eyes as she closed the distance between them and hugged the armored figure. “Thank you,” she whispered choking on her tears.
“I have been watching over you and Brandy,” he explained. “I have been searching for Brad Danvers ever since I found you. I have vowed to bring him to justice and I am sorry I haven’t been able to catch him yet. Even with Miss Matherson’s help he has eluded me all these years.” He went on to explain that out of gratitude, Brandy insisted on helping him anyway she could and that included a safe haven here at the estate.
“There is only so much that I and Miss Matherson can do. I understand from Master Lee that your resilience is remarkable as is your power. I want to form a team to help me hunt down this sociopathic monster and others like him. If you wish, I would like for you to join me.”
Lori clenched a fist before her and it seemed to glow for an instant. “I wish it.”
Lori continued her training with Master Lee, learning how to fight and to control her rampant chi. Lyger and Brandy (unknown still to her, the same person) taught her the various methods of investigation and the criminal element. Lyger bestowed upon her the codename “Shrike” and she took to the name with gusto, developing her own “Shrike-style” form of martial combat, learning how to focus her chi to pierce a foe’s defenses ((penetrating strike)) or leave them “impaled on thorns” ((drain toughness)).
She still had problems though controlling her rage. On her first mission with Lyger, she accidentally killed the mercenary leader Rory Cuthbert in a fit of rage ((as detailed in “Bedlam Rising”)). That action still haunts her, though in a strange way, her remorse comforts her. As long as she feels remorse, she won’t become the monster that made her.