Thanks for reading!!
Isabel looked a little embarrassed, like she'd spoken out of turn. "Um, like... the stuff that spirits do. Special powers." Her next thought was plain to see; she nearly jumped as it entered her mind. "Don't tell Grandpa," Isabel shot back at Spender, now wearing a distrustful leer.
"I won't!" Spender sputtered out. "I'm cool!" The latter was debatable, but the fact that he was holding a lightsaber in one hand and had instinctively snapped the other into a scout's honor salute made that debate unspoken and expedient. Still, he was starting to see his angle here... he couldn't back down now.
"...Spirit powers are really something though, huh?" Spender regarded the weapon he'd conjured, stealing inquisitive glances down at Isabel from behind the cover of his sunglasses.
Isabel furrowed her tiny eyebrows at him. "Anyone can make a sword like that," she said with a level of curt cruelty only six-year-olds were capable of. A forceful snort from Jean replaced the wind in Spender's sails. It proved poor propulsion; Spender staggered to a shipwrecked halt.
"...But yours is real. More real."
Spender looked up. What did she mean by that?
"It can hit things, right? Like trees and rocks or dogs?"
The responsibility minefield of what exactly he was about to encourage had Spender sweating in an instant. "...Um. Well, yes, theoretically—"
"Spectral energy can't do that. And spirit powers, they just work. I don't think that's very fair." The faintest pop! pop! pop! sparked from her fingertips, curled tight into her palms.
It was becoming less clear to Spender whether Isabel wanted to use spirit powers or if she simply wished her Spectral Fist could do these things that she considered cheating. Either way, she was talking like such powers were impossible for her to ever use, which was far from the case.
Sure, her grandpa taught his pupils to fight without a spirit's help—he valued self-reliance, and by his telling had seen the worst of spirits and possession in his youth—but many of his students were Consortium agents bound to haunted tools. Some were even mediums. Heck, Spender was both, and Master Guerra was not only one of the few people Spender trusted with that secret, but a supportive if gruff voice when he had struggled to control his shadowy passenger's power.
Spender was certain his master could be convinced to let Isabel bond with a docile spirit. Once she did, she'd have a way to train and fight all on her own, free from her grandpa's strict standards for the martial arts style he'd perfected. Not only that, no two powers were the same... she wouldn't have to measure her progress against her peers. Plus she'd have a friend, a friend like Spender's first tool's spirit, or a guide like Lucifer...! Yes, this was it... this was how he'd help her!
The trees around the group had begun to thin, allowing starlight to peek through in twinkling patches. Before they'd realized it, their hike had nearly reached its end. Spender thought he spied the scaffold silhouette of the hawk watch against the black ahead and the huge sleeping shadow of East Hill across the lake beyond it. He smiled.
"Y'know, Isabel," Spender said softly, pushing up his gleaming glasses, "there are many paths to power. If you wanted a tool, to try and wield a spirit's strength... well, nothing could stop me from getting you one. You're strong, and smart, and fearless... I bet you'd be great at it. Someday even the very, very best!" He looked down to his charge.
Spender didn't have long to process the expression of profound disappointment on Isabel's face, staring up at him wide-eyed and worried.
A deep, baleful howl boomed through the woods.