“Mirror, this is Flare.”
I eyed the guy Predator introduced.
He didn’t really look like a Flare, but then, I didn’t really think I looked like a Mirror, either. He wore a slick black leather vest that left his heavily-tattooed arms free, a pair of jeans that looked like a cat had gotten to them, and a belt with a Texas-shaped belt buckle. He was actually pretty short, only standing a few inches taller than me, but he was broad– broad-shouldered, broad-waisted, and muscular.
“Mirror,” Flare nodded, reaching out a hand. We shook, and I noticed that his hand was almost painfully hot. It wasn’t proof, per se, but it was enough that I’d hear them out with a little less trepidation than being constantly ready to dial emergency services and bail.
Predator had arranged the meet at what she called a para bar. She said it wasn’t exclusively paras and their hangers-on, but any ‘normal’ humans knew enough to keep their mouths shut. I didn’t know if I trusted that, but I wasn’t planning on outing myself, so it didn’t much matter.
“If you wanna come to one of the back rooms so Flare can strut his stuff-“
“No way,” I cut Predator off. “If it’s not happening here, it’s not happening. I know what happens to people in the back rooms of seedy bars.”
Predator looked like she was going to protest, but Flare chuckled before she could say anything.
“Girl’s got a point,” he drawled. He had a deep voice with a Texan accent, which I suspected had been tempered a bit by his stay in the Midwest. “I’d go into the back room with just about anyone, but if she’s like you say, she ain’t exactly got my knack for making people wish they ain’t put hands on me.”
“So, what, you’re just gonna whip it out in the middle of the bar?” Predator asked skeptically, taking a sip from her beer.
Flare shrugged. “Sure, why not? You asked me to show the girl what I can do, and everyone here knows what’s what.”
Predator flicked the fingers of her free hand at him, as if to say, ‘do what you want’.
He grinned, exposing perfectly white teeth, and held a hand up palm first. He kept it there for a few seconds – letting me check that there weren’t any wires or anything, I guessed – then his hand burst into flame.
I stared. I’d seen countless ‘firebreathers’ on parahuman sites, along with many more who had one fire trick or another that the poster below them had shown to be a hack, but this was definitely not that.
For one, all the ones I’d seen had used tricks that I knew took either quite a while to set up, or were very brief bursts of flame. This was a sustained flame that he’d had no time to prep for (that I knew, at least), and as I watched, he made the flame grow larger, then shrank it so small it was barely there. A few more seconds, and he danced the flame up and down his arm, then held one hand over the top of the other to transfer the flame to his other arm.
By the time he stopped, the rest of the bar was silently watching, even the bartender. From the kids in the corner who looked barely old enough to be in here, to the ancient guy down the bar, every one of them watched with me as he manipulated flame as easy as sleight of hand artists might run a quarter along their knuckles.
“Believe me now?” Predator broke the silence with a smirk, downing the rest of her beer and turning to fully face me.
I shook off the spell as best I could, taking my eyes off where Flare was smoothing down the hair on his arms and pretending he didn’t see people still staring.
“I believe him,” I corrected her, crossing my arms over my chest. “And I believe that either paras exist, or you guys are so good at running a con that I might as well believe.”
Predator huffed a huge, put-upon sigh, while the rest of the bar went back to their business. “So, what, you want me to find someone? I can track down just about anyone, if you tell me about them, or better yet, have something of theirs.”
“I don’t even know who I’d have you find,” I told her, turning to the bar and tracing my finger along the rim of my drink. “I mean, if you suggest them, how do I know you didn’t know who they were all along? And if I suggest them, how do I know you didn’t just, I don’t know, do a google search while I wasn’t looking?”
Predator snorted. “Google isn’t that good. If you leave out someone’s name and they’re not someone important, I can’t really find them on the internet.” She tilted her head, looking at me speculatively. “Tell you what. Next week, you bring me a piece of clothing from someone – one of your classmates, one of the professors, doesn’t matter – and I’ll find them. It won’t even take long, maybe a few hours.”
“You want me to bring you someone’s clothes so you can stalk them?” I asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Look, I don’t know what you want from me. You won’t believe that I’m Named, even though I bring you someone that you do believe, who vouches for me-“
Flare lifted up his beer, nodding.
“-and I tell you I’ve only got one way to prove what I can do, then you shit on it.” Flare huffed, flagging down the bartender for another beer.
I sighed, shaking my head. “I just don’t know how comfortable I am letting you creep on one of my classmates.”
“It’s not them I’m interested in,” Predator said pointedly.
I flushed and toyed with my drink some more, trying to think more about consequences and privacy invasions and less about the heat in her eyes when she looked at me. I… wasn’t entirely successful.
“Fine,” I conceded, downing my drink. “I’ll bring you something of someone else’s, and you find them. Does it have to be a piece of clothing? It’d be a lot easier to borrow a pen or a sheet of paper.”
She waved a hand. “It can be whatever, so long as it’s fresh. Try not to handle it too much yourself or it’ll throw me off.”
“Fine. I’ll meet you here next week.” Despite Predator’s protests, I downed my drink and left the bar.