ASH: Shadow Girls #2 - He Sees You When You're Sleeping

Dave Van Domelen dvandom at
Sat Dec 11 19:13:11 PST 2021

     [the cover shows a small matte black box tied in a dark red
      ribbon.  "The Gift of POWER...or is it a CURSE?"]

 .|, COHERENT COMICS PRESENTS             An ASH Universe Story
 '|`   SHADOW GIRLS      #2 - "He Sees You When You're Sleeping"
			 copyright 2021 by Dave Van Domelen

[April 30, 2027 - Chinatown]

     Maddie watched as a slim girl dressed in skin-tight dark red shadows
threw a punch at a Snow Leopard hybrid whose coloration matched his gang name
pretty well, more boggled by the fact the girl seemed to be embracing TwenCen
"magical girl" tropes than by, well, the fact Maddie'd been attacked moments
ago by two Snow Leopards in search of a Black Opal.  And that was saying
     The panther-furred Snow Leopard that the girl had blindsided looked to
be getting back up, so Maddie hit him with the taser charge in her extended
baton.  Ahhh, she'd missed the sight of all that fur going up on end.
     "Tetra-strike!" the girl shouted, and the Snow Leopard blocked the punch
fairly easily.
     "Maybe don't telegraph your attacks," he snarled.  "What you supposed to
be?  The new Hellhound?  Hellpuppy?"
     "No, I'm the exemplar of justice, Tetra-Red!" she snapped back, dropping
and executing a leg sweep that made the Snow Leopard stumble slightly.  "Your
dark mistress won't get away with this!"
     "There IS no THIS!" Maddie shouted in frustration.  "I don't know who
told you I had a black opal, but the only black opal I've ever heard of was a
TwenCen super...and HE went away with the rest of the supers!  Besides,
aren't you guys a little far from your territory?  You never know when a
Hangman is out for a stroll...!" she hoped the threat would convince them to
break it off.  Tetra-Red was holding her own at this point, but her opponent
was clearly more experienced and was coming awfully close to getting in a
lethal cheap shot.
     Apparently deciding that the night's easy assignment was rapidly going
into the sewers, the white Snow Leopard snarled incoherently, shoved
Tetra-Red to one side and dashed over to grab his partner before vanishing
into the night.
     "Awww, we could've taken 'em," Tetra-Red complained.  "I bet I can still
catch 'em...."
     "No, you do not want to get mixed up in that.  I wasn't kidding about
the Hangmen...the Onyx Eye might be quiet right now, but they have eyes and
they have blackcels," Maddie warned.  "Do I know you?  You certainly sounded
like you know me."
     Tetra-Red looked around, squinting as if she could see into the darker
parts of the alley.  "Not a good place for a talk.  Hold on tight!" she
grabbed Maddie around the waist with one arm, and before Maddie could protest
the two were hurled into the air, landing a bit awkwardly on the roof.
     "A little more warning would have been nice," Maddie wobbled a bit.  She
may have been wearing sensible shoes, but that was not a great landing.
     "Sorry about that...still pretty new at this."
     "I could te...wait," the voice finally clicked, "Julie?  Julie Li?" 
     Tetra-Red's eyes widened.  "Um, I...damn."
     "Unless you hit a growth spurt really late, you're a bit tall to be
Julie," Maddie sized up the girl.  "The shadows do make it a little hard to
tell, though."
     "Yeah, I was hoping that looking different would be enough to protect my
identity, but I guess it wasn't enough?" Julie sighed and literally started
to shrink, shedding a few centimeters in height as the shadows dissipated
like morning fog.  Julie now stood in gymnastics tights and shoes that looked
too big for her feet.
     "Okay, there's definitely a story here, if you're willing to tell it?"
Maddie arched an eyebrow.

	       *	      *		     *		    *

[March 19, 2027 - Chinatown]

     So, it was just another Friday morning, a school day, nothing special.
Spring break coming up, but like, we don't actually get to go anywhere
because all the good places need a passport because we live in a fu...
freaking Khadamite outpost these days.
     Now, my brother Jiaqi "Call me Jack" and he hates it when I call him
Chachi...he'd been missing for about a week at that point.  Like, he doesn't
live with us anymore, but he usually stops by for dinner most nights because
he's a typical guy and can't cook.  Or do his own laundry.  Anyway.  He
hadn't been around, and I could tell mom and dad were getting worried.  I
thought maybe he'd just found some Joanie to mooch off, ya know?  Who's
Joanie?  And here I thought you were old enough to know the classics.  
     Right, getting to the point.  There was this box on my dresser, black
with a dark red ribbon around it, and my name on a card in fancy calligraphy.
My Chinese name, which I don't even use because I'm tired of people saying it
wrong.  The box hadn't been there when I went to bed, and my parents don't do
the random presents thing, so my brain nearly exploded right there!  Stalker,
right?  Last thing I needed was for one of those Onyx Eye ninjagoffs deciding
I'd make a great bride, you know?  They might be quiet, but they're still
     Still, after I got my sh...self together, I realized that it was
probably safe to open.  I mean, if whoever it was wanted to drug me or
something, they'd've done it while I was sleeping.  Yeah yeah yeah,
afterwards I realized there were still a lot of reasons to not open it, but
it was morning and I wasn't thinking too straight anyway and I was still
kinda in shock so anyway I opened it.
     No boom, no poof.  Just this gem I've got here on my...oh, wait, lemme
make it visible so you can see it.  I kinda reflexively make it invisible
when I turn off the powers, since it's kinda glaringly obvious on the back of
my hand, right?  Tammy's is even worse that way...I'll get to Tammy, gimme a
     There was also a USB dongle with "READ ME" written on it in English.
Whoever sent it knew I recognized my own name in Chinese but I'm not exactly
literate, grandma's nagging about it not making me read any better.  At this
point I'm awake enough to know that sticking that in my computer is a
seriously stupid plan, so I hid the box in my sock drawer, stuck the dongle
in my backpack, and got ready for school like any other day.

	       *	      *		     *		    *

[March 19, 2027 - Manhattan Unified Secondary School #1, West Village]

     You're pretty old, right?  I mean, you must've gone to school before
they did the whole Unified School System, so you probably didn't go to
MUSS-1.  Homeschooled or bussed to Jersey, right?  Yeah, I agree, the old
P.S. system was much better, the new school names are stupid.  Good ol'
Manhattan Unified Secondary School #1.  Of two.  Shiny and new, next door to
an equally new elementary school.  We're the "magnet" school, I guess they
think we won't just KNOW they don't want to put as much effort into the
Harlem school, since all the people coming in from outside live down in the
Village.  Tammy takes the bus down from Harlem since she's a total nerd and
the teachers up north can't handle her.  Back home she's Tamica, but everyone
calls her Tammy here on the southside.
     So, Tammy and I are pretty close.  The whole social scene is still f...
messed up because MUSS has only been running for about a year and with the
student body including a few paragangers who ditched their colors no one
wants to get too close or piss off the wrong person, so we're all just kinda
rattling around in a school way too big for how many students there are.  But
since Tammy and I are both born and raised Manhattanites, we kinda ended up
sticking together.  Sure, we're from different ends of the island, but we've
got more in common with each other than the newbies who came for the gang
scene or whose parents got hired by Rexie to immigrate.
     Also, she's a total nerd, did I say that?  Yeah.  I figured she might
know how to read that dongle without it unleashing a cyber-demon or
something.  And get this, she got a box too!  Same thing, but a dark blue
ribbon.  So, we already were gonna work on a class project at her place
Saturday, we decided to work on the mystery of the boxes instead.  Oh, don't
give me that look, we did the project too.  That was easy, I just wanted an
excuse to get out of the house on a Saturday.

	       *	      *		     *		    *

[March 20, 2027 - Harlem]

     Tammy'd picked up an ancient laptop, like from maybe ten years ago, at a
pawn shop.  It worked, pretty much, and it was cheap enough that if we had to
toss it in a trash compactor to stop it from turning into a killer robot...
hey, there's still some Jollies biggie.  Out a few bucks.
     The dongle had two things on it.  A folder marked "Uncle Jess" and a
file marked "READ ME" like on the dongle itself.  Who decided to call these
things "dongles" anyway?  Sounds almost dirty.
     So, Uncle Jess was Tammy's uncle, he got caught in the crossfire back in
January when some Snow Leopards were trying to muscle in on the Boys of Pain.
One of the Boys shot him, but everyone says the Leopards were why.  The
folder had camera files the Boys said didn't exist, showing which Leopard did
it and how, plus their name, where they were usually found...whoever put this
together was a creeper on more than just high school girls, right?
     Right, the READ ME.  I might be misremembering some of it, but I've gone
over it plenty.
     "Greetings, Tamica," and her last name, but I'll let her decide if she
wants you to know that and maybe I shouldn't have dropped her first name
either I am SO BAD AT THIS SECRET IDENTITY THING.  Hhh.  Ahem.  "Consider me
a fellow believer in justice, who has sadly needed to retire from an active
role due to age and infirmity.  Enclosed find a mystical gem, the Blue
Hexahedron, which once granted me power and I believe will grant you even
more.  It will allow you to become a perfected version of yourself and while
I cannot say exactly what other powers it will give you, I believe you will
make me proud.  There are others to whom I have gifted my gems of power, seek
them out or do not, it is your choice...but your common pursuit of justice
will likely bring your paths together.  Seek a mentor among those who know
the city and its evils, whether you do it together or alone."
     So, we copied the files, then plugged in my dongle.  Same letter, just
addressed to me and calling the gem the Red Tetrahedron.  So, like, I'm
Tetra-Red, and Tammy is Hexa-Blue, right?  Might as well run with it when
we're handed a motif.  My dongle also had a folder labeled Chachi, which
ratchets up the creepy factor just that extra little bit more.  
     Miss Chin, it's bad.  My brother's joined the Snow Leopards.  He's one
of Bathory's boy toys now...she is SO not Joanie.  I was kinda worried I'd be
beating him up down there, you know?  But he ended up a tabby, which would be
adorable if it weren't terrifying.  Neither of those were tabbies.  Bathory's
pets don't come back, do they?  My letter also had an extra line at the end,
"If you can't save your brother, at least you can avenge him."

	       *	      *		     *		    *

[April 30, 2027 - Chinatown]

     Once Julie ran down, Maddie noticed she was starting to shiver.  A
rooftop at night in the spring in a leotard was not a great combo, and
apparently her powers were of the "not always on" variety, which was pretty
unusual for paranormals, but maybe not for someone using a magic gem?  Who
the heck knew what the rules were for magical girls in the real world?
     "Come on, let's go inside, it's getting a bit chilly and some of us
can't cloak ourselves in magic shadows," Maddie walked over to the rooftop
door.  Fortunately, she'd upgraded the building to biometrics, so she didn't
need to have a key that might have been left behind because she wasn't
     Unfortunately, if anyone looked at the records, it'd show she left the
building at ground level and entered it on the goddamned roof.  She'd have
to...adjust...that data before she went to bed.  It helped that she owned the
building outright through cut-outs, but technically there was a super who
managed things like the security records.  But she'd picked up a few tricks
during her Hellhound days that would let her finesse the data without leaving
tracks.  Guh, out of the hero biz and she still had the headaches of a secret
     They made it into Maddie's apartment without incident.  "So, why the big
shoes?" Maddie asked.  "I get the spandex, even if it's not the most
practical thing for this time of year."
     Julie shrugged, a bit self-conscious.  "Tammy and I discovered the hard
way that when we draw on the power, we get...bigger.  Not just stronger, but
bigger in most ways.  I guess Tammy gets trimmer in a few places, but her
skeleton is still larger.  Makes shoes that fit pretty uncomfortable, so we
picked up some spare shoes from a thrift store that were in our new sizes.
It can also be rough on regular gets snug.  Like, wedgie snug.
Fortunately, our gym clothes worked okay.  Anything close to the skin gets
protected by the shadows, anything outside doesn't.  So if we have to power
up in our street clothes, it's uncomfortable and things might rip, plus
jumping around on rooftops and stuff can be hard on 'em.  So if we don't
wanna explain why our school clothes have ripped out knees...that's not even
a little in style right now, if you didn't know...we strip down to the tights
and put on the clown shoes before going into action."
     Maddie was wincing at the thought of giving herself a wedgie right
before going into a fight.  She had put a LOT of work into the Hellhound
costumes to make sure that sort of thing never happened.  If Julie and her
friend were serious about this, Maddie might be able to get them some better
outfits, maybe something with the voice-concealing tech Hellhound's helmet
     "Oh SHIT," Julie finally failed to self-censor.  "You got a BOX.  And
it's bigger than mine."
     Sitting on the living room table was a black box tied with a dark gray
ribbon, with a neatly-lettered card addressed to "M. Chin."
     Maddie picked up the card and turned it over.  There was a very faint
drawing of a three-headed dog there, which she quickly palmed before Julie
could see anything.
     "Maybe the Snow Leopard attack was a distraction so someone could plant
this?  Wait, would that mean I'm working for Bathory by accident?" Julie's
voice had a tinge of panic.
     Maddie shook her head.  "This is a deeper game than Bathory plays.  I
think the attack was a distraction for this, yes.  But I think they were
being played by someone else.  The kitties wanted a Black Opal, and they
clearly thought it was a literal opal.  If I'm very lucky, whoever's been
sending jewelry to girls in this town will let Bathory know that the Black
Opal tip was a fake one, or something, so I don't need to keep fighting stray
     " it?"  Julie swirled into shadow again, growing into her shoes
in the process.  
     "I guess so.  Like you said, if they wanted to kill me, a bomb could
have been set that would've gone off as soon as I opened the door.  Clearly I
need to bug my landlord to upgrade the security systems."  By which she meant
she had a long weekend ahead of her upgrading the security systems.
     Sliding the ribbon off, she opened the box.  Inside was a sort of big
pendant or something on a chain, and underneath it an envelope, but no
obvious USB dongle.
     "Hey, it has sockets.  A triangle, a square, another triangle..." Julie
pointed out.
     "And I bet your Red Tetrahedron and the Blue Hexahedron would fit
perfectly in the first two slots," Maddie replied.  "Five sockets total, so I
guess that means you and Tammy still have to find three more girls."
     "Just one more.  Oh, I forgot, we met up with Octa-Green and Icosi-Pink
about a week after we got our boxes."
     Maddie sighed.  "Maybe I should meet with the others and get their
stories before I even open that letter."  Well, almost a year of normal life
was probably more than she could expect....


Author's Notes:

     Julie's birth name is Xueli, named after a fellow grad student from when
I was at Ohio State (she eventually adopted Sue as her "tired of people
getting it wrong" name).  Her father is the Mister Li briefly seen in the
flashback last issue.  Chinatown is basically a small town nestled in the
remains of a big city, and while Maddie doesn't run the only grocery store,
she's probably done business with everyone living there at some point.
     MUSS #2 is in Harlem, as noted, which is the other main "town" in
Manhattan.  MUPS (Manhattan Unified Primary School) #1 is next to MUSS #1 in
the West Village (rapidly gentrifying), and MUPS #2 is next to MUSS #2.
There's only one middle school (MUMS) and it's in the East Village, with MUPS
#3 next to it.  If this doesn't seem like a lot of schools for Manhattan,
keep in mind that not only is the current population in the 100K-200K range,
it's also very old, and heavily concentrated at the north and south ends of
the island, with the middle having been gang territory for several years.  If
anything, the city is overserved with schools at the moment, but Umbrae's
education secretary is planning for the future.  (I am only vaguely aware of
how NYC's real life school system works, most of what I know coming from
comics, but fortunately I've mangled Manhattan so badly in this timeline that
I don't really need to care.  It's been a generation since anything remotely
like the real P.S. system was functioning.)
     USB was in use before 1998, but "jumpdrive" and "USB Stick" were coined
in the real world after 1998, so in the spirit of contingency things get
named differently.  Just as mobile phones are still called cellphones rather
than smartphones (despite having as much or more functionality as real world
smartphones), jumpdrives use the older term "dongle" or sometimes keychain or
keyfob.  There are also other data formats, such as chips (evolutions of SD
cards), but USB remains a consumer standard, and dongles the lowest common
denominator.  They don't show up as much (or at all) in ASH, because they use
more secure and high-capacity storage systems.  Under the hood, the memory
on a USB dongle in 2027 is probably very little like a jumpdrive in 2021 real
life, using a 3-D holographic crystal matrix of some sort, but the form
factor hasn't changed a whole lot since the 90s.
     IHNJIJLS "Dongle".

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