"Well, well, what have we here..." - Fortunata Michaels on finding a survivor - Liz.
Liz was a decent student, getting out of high school in the top third of her class. Generally well liked, a little bit of a troublemaker, told she could do better if she just applied herself. She got herself involved in volleyball, drama and debate (as well as organizing the occasional summer party.) Generally, she was a typical high school student.
Surprisingly, though, she'd set her sights on going into climate science. ("No, not a weather girl.") Hearing how some of the places she loved to go might be changed or destroyed by changes in climate, she decided she had to do her part to learn and maybe save them. This, despite the math involved, really kept her interest during college - even more, usually, than some of the parties and guys.
Which is why, as a graduate student, she found herself buying a parka and packing to join a flight to Antarctica for two weeks - a far cry from the nice, warm beaches she loved.
Field work and changes
Liz, Professor Keeler and another student flew down to South America to join a supply run to a base in the Antarctic. They'd be there for two weeks, learning and assisting in field work, getting first hand experience in gathering data and exploring where it led. What the students weren't aware of was that this supply run was more than it appeared, transporting supplies to the military contingent as well.
Supplies that the Arachnos outpost would rather not have them get, it turned out. They were unaware of the outpost until the missile launch, however - the one that Liz saw rising to hit and bring down their aircraft.
Liz, somehow, was the only survivor - at least the only one when the Arachnos security team came to investigate the wreckage. She had been laying outside, covered in spilled chemicals and whatever else had been in the hold, longer than she should have been able. Her skin - even the unexposed areas - was turning an unusual shade of blue as the chemical cocktail altered her, leaving her open and her future uncertain, other than the affinity she was gaining for the cold.
She couldn't have answered the security team leader's question - Fortunata Michaels' "What do we have here?" - if she'd tried. Or had the energy.
She was taken back to the Arachnos station along with some of the wreckage as an unknown metahuman, potentially a military or Longbow asset to interrogate. Her cuts and wounds were treated, the odd substance (now degrading, if it wasn't absorbed) noted, her clothing and bags gone through - all while Liz's body remained in a state of flux.
Impatience sealed what Liz would become. Another Fortunata decided they needed to either get something useful or get rid of their prisoner and stop wasting supplies. She came into the room late at night and began a none to gentle psychic probing of the mystery girl's mind. That probe imprinted on Liz, her mind grabbing the Fortunata and molding abilities of her own - abilities that freed her from the bed and ended *badly* for her questioner and the two guards with her. In most situations, this would have ended shortly afterward for her as well - but Michaels had been watching her insurbordinate subordinate. She knew Liz hadn't had these abilities before, and saw opportunity.
They cornered and sedated Liz - then had a talk with her, finding her own mental state more than a little suggestible. Liz had noticed the change in her skin and considered herself a freak now. She was told rather bluntly she could be useful and work with Arachnos, or she could be killed. She would be brought back to the Isles to infiltrate and report back on the influx of metahumans being brought in. On the way, her powers would develop. She'd still have to fight and make her own way - but at least she'd get a little support.
Not seeing an alternative - or another way out of the snowy wasteland she was in, Liz agreed. She took on the name Hyperborean Wraith - or just Wraith, for short.
Liz was dropped in the Isles and given the usual introductory talk of what to do and what not to (the second being a short but typically fatal list.) She was also reminded by Michaels of her own mission. She drifted for a while, her reports back to Michaels giving brief profiles of some of the other villains - most of which concluded the person was an idiot, or insane.
She finally got together with a group when she and the members of the HBNS crossed paths, both hitting the same warehouse. Seeing any chance at a quiet job was blown, they made their way out - and Liz found herself a new home. Michaels would now get a look at the inner workings of this group, get an idea of its weaknesses and if it were any sort of threat to Arachnos.
Liz, for her part, found a group that actually accepted her. Some were still 'freaks' like her, others raging to get back at the world for real or imagined slights - or, like her, really having nowhere to go. And after a while, they became a sort of family. One you wouldn't necessarily turn your back on for long, but one she came to trust more and more. She finally had a place to relax and call home - something she hadn't had since her 'death' in the Antarctic. She even managed to make some friends - Sandra Thompson, the tomb raider, the not-exactly-succubus Dreamon, the broken assassin Robin (Sanguine Phantasm, later known as Redwraith) and others.
She still felt like a "freak," like she was no longer human, but she had somewhere to belong.
Her own boss
Liz's reports to Michaels came less frequently - and she was up front with the group about it. She hated the leash she was on. Michaels, for her part, was starting to make noises about Liz moving on to find another group - something Liz did not particularly want to do.
She went to her group, knowing some would probably hate her for what she'd been told to do. She hated it too, frankly, since several here were friends. But she was up front. And together, they came up with a plan. Michaels was ambitious. Michaels was greedy.
And Michaels could be set up for a fall.
After a while, Liz grew directionless. She had her friends. She had money from her jobs she'd pulled. She was free to do as she wanted, giving the group and Arachnos their cuts of whatever profits she made. But as far as Liz was concerned, there was nothing else to do. She was singularly unfulfilled, wondering if this was all that there was. Just the freak and her money. She could run her own group, but nothing in the idea appealed to her. She didn't have a path to 'go straight,' and had a reputation that would make that difficult at best, on top of what that would mean in the Isles.
The "freak" image of herself - reinforced by the now deceased Michaels - was one of the things holding her back. One of her group, one of her friends, suggested going to a photographer and modeling. She'd had fun doing it and, she said, he made her look good.
Liz didn't really think it would do much - at best, it'd be a distraction, at worst this guy would be one of those freaks with a fetish for weird skin colors and she'd have to leave him in a block of ice.
A new view
The photographer she was referred to was Sean Maclaighrty, a portrait and glamor photographer in St. Martial. Sean had made a reputation for himself for his photographic work, not just with portraits but landscapes, still life and more. He'd also had a reputation among his clients of simply making them feel good about themselves.
This wasn't any sort of manipulation or superpower. Sean just made his clients comfortable. He asked about themselves, he let them talk and - something many of the women rarely experienced - he actually listened. He had a reputation for making his clients feel like royalty. Several came back for multiple sessions, just to be able to talk with him. And most importantly, while he'd be their friend, he never got involved with his clients.
All this he'd say was done in memory of his sister. One of his first "real" (as he called it) portraits was of her. When she saw it, she commented that it almost made her feel pretty. He lost her a short while later to a depression and self-image-fueled suicide. Of everything, he remembered that bit of happiness she'd had at the end - and promised to try to bring that to others, keeping his sister's picture by his desk as a reminder.
Not that he ever told this to anyone. Though when Liz came in, he saw some of the same signs. Here was an attractive woman who only saw herself as "a freak." Who seemed to be on the start of a slide downward. So Sean talked to her. He took pictures as they talked, of course, and sent her home with a moment he'd caught of her smiling, laughing a little at something he'd mentioned.
On Liz's part, she had to admit she felt better. And the picture was... she liked it. She promised to come back to have a portrait done, soon.
Liz did come back for another portrait. And another. She found that not only did she enjoy Sean's company, but she kind of enjoyed the posing and modeling. Sean, for his part, found her easy to work with and - once past the "I'm a freak," or at least to the point where she didn't argue right away - found an intelligent, charming and fun young woman.
Sean suggested that with their sessions - which were becoming at least weekly events - she bring something she thought reflected part of her. On one session, she brought in some of the things she had - the rings and jewelry she'd obtained, one way or another. Despite the session itself going well, when they looked at the pictures they both agreed that the riches weren't really her. The next session, she brought nothing at all - which is what he photographed her in, learning she could blush and helping keep her from sliding back into feeling like a "blue freak."
He helped remind her she was a beautiful woman.
And then he found he had to try to forget that, trying to stay with his "don't get involved with your clients" rule. But Liz was on his mind. He welcomed her calling just to talk. And when he was called for some catalog modeling, the company wanting to show "meta inclusivity," she was the first person he called. They worked closely together, him taking pictures, her modeling jewelry, clothing, lingerie.
That led to more jobs, and the two spending more time together, eventually finding they just wanted to spend the time together. And after a talk, finding it was mutual.
Sean still took other clients, of course, but found more and more of his storage was filled with pictures of the woman he loved. He'd still loved her after she'd admitted what she'd done, the robberies and all - though she'd started wanting to go straight. He was proud of her for trying, and touched that she said he was the reason she finally could do it. Every "job" she'd had for months now was because of him - namely, her modeling jobs, all aboveboard and legal. And she felt good about herself. And about them.
And so did he. So good, in fact, he arranged for something special. He figured she could use one more piece of jewelry. He arranged for a picnic and photo session for them down in an isolated waterway.
Sting Agent Richardson
Elsewhere in the Isles, frustration was growing.
Wyvern Sting Agent Richardson was frustrated at not going anywhere. Frustrated at jobs not getting fulfilled. And frustrated at not seemingly being able to make a name for himself. He'd had a life full of "almosts." From high school, where he was almost valedictorian, to the military, where he was almost promoted to Gunnery Sargent, to his time on the force where he almost managed to put away a meta, only to have the prosecutor screw up the case and get it dismissed. Seeing people he busted go back on the street in no time frustrated him, so when he got word of an organization that would be a little more forceful - and permanent - in their justice, he wasted no time in resigning and seeking them out.
He wasn't surprised to find Justin Sinclair bankrolling them.
He pulled his share of bodyguarding duties, but really excelled at hunting - and planning on logistics, which is how he found himself pushing a desk after his promotion. As far as he was concerned, his career was stalled - again.
He needed something big.
Going over files, he thought he found it in Wraith. She'd been quiet for a while - not much activity - but she was still at large. Obviously she was planning something, and if she'd stayed under the radar this long, it had to be something big. So he started watching, and waiting. Finding known associates. Building a profile and a plan...
And with a phone intercept, a location for the takedown.
Loss and vengeance
Wraith looked forward to the day. Sean had said there was an outfit and some swimwear for a client on this shoot. Then they could get rid of it until their picnic lunch. Liz just grinned - she loved posing for her boyfriend, and he said this was going to be a special picnic, but wouldn't say more.
As she toweled off and went to set up what was in the picnic basket, he pulled out his card and the engagement ring. "Liz...There's something I need to ask you. Something important."
He didn't go down on his knee as he expected, though, as the Wyvern agents at Richardson's order sent multiple arrows into him to stop "the handoff." The one meant for Liz missed as she turned.
Liz just saw Sean, looking confused, falling to the ground, arrows stuck deeply in him. While she sent her ice golem to find the threat, she ran to him, seeing the engagement ring - and the light gone from his eyes.
The Wyvern agent she caught, she took her anger out on - even after he gave up Richardson's name and location.
She stayed with Sean's body even after she'd sent it to her group's medical - knowing there was nothing to be done, she still had to try. She saved the pictures. Put the ring on a necklace. Kissed cold lips one last time. Then planned.
Wraith tore through Wyvern for the next week, and she let it be known she was looking for Richardson. Richardson ran while he could. Wraith finally caught up with him, freezing him and tearing at him before Manticore showed up. Liz opened her shirt and told him to use the ring as his target, the one the innocent Richardson had murdered was going to use to propose to her with.
Manticore actually held his fire - probably at the urging of Psyche - as Liz finally broke down. Richardson was taken away. Liz... had no idea how she was alive, or still walking free.
But she'd blame Justin Sinclair personally for Sean's death from then on.
Liz drifted aimlessly for a bit. Eventually, she - like several others of her group - took advantage of "Project HERA," which aimed to monitor yet rehabilitate "villains" who were trying to go straight, give them a new chance and a new life.
She picked up modeling again - she had made a little name for herself there, after all. Though she never quite had the same rapport with other photographers.
Liz also created an organization for women like her - people turned out as "freaks" just for a mutation or the color of their skin, somewhere they can find support. And she tries to help those who want a second chance. She keeps pictures of both Sean and his sister at her desk there.
And she still does whatever she can to interfere with and try to take down and expose Wyvern and Justin Sinclair, often posting articles as "Blue Ice."