Chapter One: Bonded by Blood
Ashley Mainard dropped the tough act as soon as she thought no one was watching her. She’d taken some fun classes from the community college near where her mom lived the fall semester after she had graduated a year early from high school. Among them was all of the two theater classes that they offered, developing a character and crap like that. She hadn’t thought she’d ever use it at that point. Hadn’t even thought about those classes much after she managed to get a good scholarship to Paragon City University, where they were going to let her start up spring semester. She’d remembered being overjoyed at this, once she left the nest, her dad wouldn’t have to send her mom child support any more, definitely a good thing considering Ash was pretty sure her mom had turned back to her triple threat addiction… drinking, gambling, and sex. Home had been really shitty since her brother Willhelm had gone off to college. Then it had gotten even shittier when he’d had an accident in chem. lab when some jerks had stuffed some activated charcoal in his mouth and the stuff helped activate some latent dragon genes that had come courtesy of dad.
Ashley only knew about it ‘cause Wiley had been sending her letters and money to help her get through school. He knew mom wouldn’t be any help at all. Ash pretty much lived through those last years at home only with the aid of those letters. The money was good, knowing mom didn’t care a rat’s ass about her, she’d saved part of it, and used the rest for necessities, and fencing and kickboxing lessons. The fencing was for fun, or at least it had been at the time… the kickboxing was totally for the self defense aspects. But what really got her through were Wile’s letters. He understood her better then most people. Graduating early had been a great relief for her honestly, high school… sucked. Ash was smart, which was fine, the teacher’s appreciated a smart, polite girl… the other students didn’t though. She kept herself in good enough shape that no one really wanted to mess with her, but it was a lonely life comprised of school, homework, her lessons and work. One of her teachers had helped her graduate after he found out about her home life. It’d been too late to get applied to the universities and still get a scholarship, so she’d settled for the classes at the community college and used any remaining free time she had to get school and scholarship apps in. Then… bingo, Paragon U was gonna take her in… Go Bucks. It’d been really nice at first, she was living in one of the older dorms on campus, it was old and not that well kept up, but it was near paradise compared to the shape mom had kept the apartment in. Her roommate was nice enough, she didn’t have to work because of the scholarships, Wiles’s money, and her savings, and the classes were stuff she actually wanted to take. She was actually having fun for one of the first times since Wiley had left.
In retrospect, she thought it had been all too perfect. At the end of Febuary, there’d been a fire in the dorms, they’d traced the starting point to her part of the building. Officially they’d said it was caused by the candles and incense that her roommate burned, but Ash couldn’t remember those being lit at all, and Longbow had been on campus for a few weeks after the incident. Ashley wasn’t stupid, she knew something was going on; the camping trip she went on during spring a few weeks later confirmed the theory she had been dreading. The other people she had gone with were out running around imitating the Blair Which project or something inane like that and had left it to Ash to get the fire going. She’d messed up and her shirt caught on fire… she flipped out until she realized her arm was on fire but the fire wasn’t burning her, and then she starting flipping out because that shouldn’t really be happening. Her brother had needed something to cause the change. She’d been being really careful just because of that, Wiles had told her that dad hadn’t taken the news to well. The family was in pieces as was, this could tear um apart even more.
She tried to remain calm about it, but Spring break was pretty bust, she was afraid if she partook of the spring break booze supply she’d loose control, and this degenerated into a nasty cycle that made Ashley finally dismiss herself as sick. A week later the wings started coming in. At first she could hide them under a sweater, but it was spring, things were getting warm and the wings were only getting bigger. She made it through the semester by wearing a trench coat any time she was around any one else; this almost nearly equated to twenty-four seven. Thank god her roommate was the type to stay over at her boyfriend’s place most nights.
By the time school ended at the beginning of June the wings had stopped growing, but it was getting to hot to wear the coat all the time, and they just barely fit under it. Ash had to do something… and it’d been a while since Wiles had sent mail. Willhelm never really said what he was doing, but the postmarks on the letters he sent were from the Rogue Islands, even if the address he’d had her send mail to him from was a Florida Address. Between that and the money, it was fairly obvious to Ashley that her brother was taking full advantage of his power… he was down there doing what he had to, and having fun doing it apparently. Ashley couldn’t think of anywhere else she could go. Her mom for sure had at least a few million in gambling debt now, going home with wings could only equate to being sold to Crey Labs for research or something equally as bad. Ash had never really knew her dad, he and mom had been divorced a year when they had met again at some party, gotten drunk and had one last fling. She’d never admit it, but she was an alcohol induced mistake. Mom used that to get sole custody of Willhelm for the additional child support, though dad probably would have been better at taking care of the pair of them. Wiley had pretty much ended up taking care of Ashley most of the time when they were kids. When Ash thought about it, it seemed like second nature to go running to him, and at least he’d kind of been through the same thing.
So Ashley found herself falling back on those theater classes she took at Community College and created the identity that would be known as Laberadas out of whatever fire forged steel was inside her. It seemed like a necessity, Ash had read about the stuff that went on in the Rogue Islands, if she wasn’t tough, she was a door mat. So whenever she thought she was in trouble she’d just remind herself that she was Laberadas, and Laberadas was not afraid of herself. She was bold, she was strong, she was tough… she knew how to fight using conjured fire sword and fists. Laberadas got her recruited into the villain organization known as S.A.G.A. Ash hadn’t been sure about that decision, but she had met a cat like creature that went by the name Malcata the first day she was in Mercy. They had fought together, and apparently Laberadas made an impression, because when Malcata was recruited to the organization, so was Laberadas. Of course, at the time, Ashley had no idea she had been closer to finding her brother then she thought, after all… he was a fairly useful member of the organization himself.
She sat down on a bench outside the university at Cap au Diable with one of those trashy celebrity paparazzi magazines and stared at the cover for a few minutes. The photo on the cover was of her brother and some blonde woman coming out of a movie premier together. The headline read; “Lady Swan Watch: Who is Pyrite Von Magnus?” “Good question…” Ash thought, “Looks like my Willhelm Mainard to me.” She flipped open to the article and tried to see if she could get anything useful or factual out of it. She didn’t notice the short, red dragon creature floating just off the ground in front of her look her over as she was reading the crappy article in disbelief. She finally looked up when it cleared its throat and said something about her looking familiar. The voice sounded familiar to her… but she hadn’t heard it in at least six years. He apparently noticed the cover of the magazine “I hate that picture.” She put the magazine down and stared at him, and he raised his hands and thrust them down, which caused a burst of green flame to envelope him, which in turn made Ash jump a few feet backwards and slam into the sculpture that was behind her.
She glared at the man that emerged from the flame. “Damnit Wiley!”
Pyr blinked at her a few times his eyes looking over her and the white and red wings that were coming out of her back.
“WHAT THE F’CK?” he exclaimed near simultaneously.
“Well. This is already going better then it would have if I had went to mom.” She commented dryly.
“Ash, is that you?” He asked, still a bit bewildered.
He was quick to ask her if she knew how to use her wings, which she kinda did; and had her follow him up above the city. She updated him on what had happened since he last wrote. After a long conversation which she pretty much expected, along with the obligatory safety warnings and demonstrations, complete with a bunch of Luddites shooting her out of the sky and then getting torn apart by a very pissed off Pyr, he took her to the mansion in Sharkhead, introduced her to Aysel, and let her get some rest in the vacant, but seriously in new furniture guest house.