“Maybe trouble,” Kenzie said.
I was digging through my bag when she said it. I set some of my things aside and headed to the front of the room. Erin was standing beside Kenzie, while Kenzie regaled her with stuff.
Rain was thirty feet away, sitting in his computer chair in his nook. Some of the tables we’d arranged were situated so the long side was against the wall, but in the interest of giving Rain some desk space, we’d set up two so the shorter ends of the table were against the wall and the tables jutted out into the room, his whiteboards against the wall between the tables. He’d unfurled a roll of paper tablecloth, laid out his arms on it, and was using marker to draw on the tablecloth and make references.
His bag was open, and I could see the jaws of a bear trap and a bit of chain within.
He looked up, met my eyes, then looked at the screen. He remained where he was. He, Sveta and I were the ones who hung back a bit. Him because of his work, and Sveta and I because we were rummaging in our bags.
“Continuation of a bit of family drama,” Kenzie said. She hit a few keys. The camera’s image on the screen focused in on one section and rotated.
Nailbiter and a teenaged girl were standing outside of the nail place where Ashley had been comparing her nails to the outdated example images in the window. A middle-aged woman with bleached blonde hair was holding the teenager’s wrist. The angle didn’t allow for a very good view of Nailbiter or her expression. She didn’t seem to be doing anything to step in.
The teenager had a resemblance to her mother, but was slender. Her hair reminded me of how Byron wore his, it was the same medium-long length, slicked straight back from the face, but the teenager’s was bleached where Byron’s was black. In facial features and in expression, the teenager was a younger mirror of her mom. Neither was happy with the other.
“What’s this?” I asked. “What’s the drama?”
“The girl is Colt. She was working for her parents, but business was slow, they weren’t paying her, and now she’s working for Nailbiter.”
“Working how?” Tristan asked.
“Muscle, I guess?” Kenzie asked.
“She can’t weigh more than a hundred and thirty pounds,” Tristan said.
“Okay, well, she’s hanging out with Nailbiter and she’s getting paid, I think, because she’s had new clothes lately,” Kenzie said.
“You’ve been watching her?” I asked. “How do you know all of this?”
“I’m not watching her watching her. That makes it sound like I’m being creepy spying on people. Geez. It’s because they keep having shouting matches at night, and idle cameras go on alert mode at loud noises, so I end up hearing stuff.”
“So you’re being creepy eavesdropping on people,” Chris said.
Kenzie glanced around her desk. “I’d throw something at you if I could find something I’m okay breaking.”
“Family issue, okay, but what’s going on now?” Tristan asked.
“And do we need to step in?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” Kenzie said. “Colt left the place to go talk to Nailbiter on the street, and they started to leave when Colt’s mom, Tammy, went after her and stopped her. Her sister, who’s about my age, she went outside with Tammy the mom and ran back inside.”
“Audio?” Sveta asked.
Kenzie hit a key.
Chris asked, “Who names their kid Colt? Or is that a shitty nickname?” Chris’s second question had him inadvertently talk over the start of the audio feed. Kenzie shushed him.
“…cking let me go!”
“Get inside! You’re still in trouble for stealing!”
“Fuck you! I deserved something!”
“She’s been helping, you haven’t!”
“The one time she helps, you decide to pay her, and I get fuck all because it’s the one time I decided to go out instead!? Fuck that, fuck you!”
“Is this how we’re doing this!?” the mom screamed at Nailbiter, ignoring her daughter for the moment. “You want money from us while you’re scaring away the business, and now you’re taking my little girl, too!?”
“I’m not fucking little!”
“She decides,” Nailbiter’s voice had a slight whistle around the words. “I’m losing patience, Colt. If I walk away from here without you, I’m not bringing you along again.”
“I decide, not her!” the mother raised her voice. “I’m the mother!”
“Then the two of you need to decide,” Nailbiter said. “Now.”
Colt hauled back, her arm still in the firm grip of her mother’s two hands.
I looked at the door. If I flew over now-
A sound of an impact made me look back to the screen. Colt’s mother had turned away. Colt had her free hand raised. She’d slapped her mother.
Her mother moved to retaliate, and Colt pulled back out of the way. There wasn’t much heart behind the swing, either. Not for the mom. The teenager tugged to try to free her arm, and when she couldn’t, she swung again. Not a slap this time, but a punch.
Kenzie looked away before the second punch could land. She didn’t look back for the third or fourth.
“Shitty name girl’s got grit,” Chris said.
“No,” I said. “I don’t think that’s grit.”
“Colt!” the father hollered the word, on emerging from the nail salon. Colt backed away, arm free of her mother’s grip, while the father advanced.
Nailbiter stepped forward and to the side, to put herself between Colt and her father. The father stopped in his tracks. He looked at his wife, then leaned over for a closer look, touching her cheek where it already looked like it was going to be a heck of a bruise.
He and his wife stood together as they squared off against Nailbiter.
“She’s mine, now,” Nailbiter said.
“Are you, Colt?” the father asked. He got angrier as he talked, “Are you hers? You’d hit your mother, who sacrificed so much for you?”
Colt looked spooked, in that moment. Kenzie zoomed the camera in further, moving the mouse.
It was Erin who said something. “Say no.”
“Fine. I’m hers,” Colt said. “Fuck this. At least she pays me.”
“Brave sounding words, while you’re standing behind her. You’re not going to stand aside, let us handle this as a family?”
“No,” Nailbiter said. “She’s an employee.”
“I don’t want trouble,” the father said. “We can leave it at this.”
“If you want,” Nailbiter said.
“Good,” Colt said. “Leave it and fuck off.”
“Don’t come home,” the father said, and his voice was hard, now. “Don’t show your face in front of me, your mother, or Reese again. Be her errand girl. I’m done trying with you.”
Colt was silent.
“Patience lost,” Nailbiter said, the dry whistle catching on the ‘s’ of Lost. “I’m going.”
“Mom?” Colt asked. I heard her ask that, and I wondered if she wanted her mother to grab her, to drag her away.
“What are you asking me for?” Tammy asked, one hand at the side of her face. “If you’re going to go, then go.”
“Yeah?” Colt asked. She spat the words, “Fuck you.”
“I’ll be by next week to collect,” Nailbiter said. “See you then.”
Another whistle on the ‘s’ of ‘see.’ Nailbiter and Colt walked away. The father hugged his wife.
“Is this kidnapping?” Sveta asked.
“No,” Tristan said.
I shook my head. “We could call authorities, but I have a hard time believing we’ll be able to get cops out there, and have them take action with a nearly-18 person who doesn’t want to cooperate or go back home.”
“Having the police show up to take her away might make her dig her heels in more,” Sveta said.
“Stupid,” Erin said. “So fucking stupid. Colt and her parents both.”
Her eyes were a touch moist as she shook her head, arms crossed, and ducked past Sveta and I.
“Too close to home?” Sveta asked.
“I can’t talk about home. Sorry. Give me a second.”
“Okay,” Sveta said. She met my eyes.
I had worries, but they were ones I’d rather not voice aloud. Nailbiter had a history that had seen her arrested and sentenced harshly, without much delay. Post-Gold Morning, she’d settled back into her role as a violent cape, serving as what might have been Beast of Burden’s second in command.
She was calmer than she’d been reported to be in the one article I’d been able to dig out of my boxes of notes, part of an article from a magazine, listing the Birdcage’s residents at the time. The last page of the article, annoyingly, hadn’t been preserved. I’d pulled the page out for whatever article or image was on the other side.
Either way, violent, as might have been expected for an ex-con with rusty nails instead of teeth. Prison and nine years might have changed her a bit from the person described in the article, but I doubted Colt was in good hands.
“Okay,” I said. “We don’t want to ignore this. I’ll make some calls later. I’ll see what I can find on Nailbiter. She was from North Carolina, I think, and some of their capes are still around. I’d have to track down a veteran. We’ll see what we’re up against. If I get a chance, I’ll have a conversation with her.”
“And say what?” Chris asked. “Parents don’t want her, intense nails-for-teeth lady does.”
“She didn’t want to go, and I think her parents wanted her to stay,” Tristan said.
“‘I never want to see your face again’ sounds like a real term of endearment,” Chris said.
“If she’s with Nailbiter,” Tristan said.
“I’ll talk with her,” I said. I looked at Ashley. “Given the crowd you’re likely to run into while you’re over there, there’s a chance you may see her.”
“She hit her mom, several times,” Ashley said.
“Yeah,” I said.
“Her mom was willing to hit her back. Colt learned that behavior from someone.”
“You’re assuming she picked that up from her parents? That’s a bit of a leap. We can’t know for sure,” I said.
“We can guess,” Ashley said.
“But we can’t know,” I said. “It’s… far from great, that situation, Colt, her parents. Maybe think about what you might say or do if you run into her.”
Ashley shook her head slightly.
“I was thinking more about Nailbiter,” Ashley said.
“Okay, you should already know she’s dangerous,” I said.
“I’m more dangerous, I’m not worried. I want to go. Sooner than later.”
“Do you still want to do the eye thing?” Sveta asked.
“If possible. I’ll take my mask off when I’m with others.”
Sveta turned to me. “Did you find anything usable?”
“I have stuff, plus the white cover-up. Erin? Do you have anything?”
“I have stuff,” Erin said. “What are you doing?”
It was a series of last-minute tasks, Sveta, Erin and I helping do up Ashley so she could present a good face. Kenzie was high-energy, switching from watching to fiddling with the yet-to-be inserted eye camera to talking to Chris about what he was doing when he went out.
“Any word on Snag’s group?” Rain asked. Ashley was in a chair with her back to the table Rain was using for work on his hands.
“We’ve seen Snag and Love Lost around,” Kenzie said. “Love Lost more than Snag. She was in a bad mood yesterday. She went away for a while.”
“Snag is tinkering, and if Victoria’s description of how he operates was any clue, he can tap into his other powers through his tech,” Rain said. He slapped something metal down on the table, hard. “And I’m struggling with something that should be simple.”
“I want to talk to you about tinker stuff after,” Kenzie said.
“I had some small arms for you to mess with, but they got broken,” Rain said. “I have the contact pads.”
“Awesome,” Kenzie said. “I think we can figure something out.”
Ashley was patient as we applied some white and black eyeliner, then used Sveta’s cover-up to fix the color around the eyes.
“I wish I could do this,” Sveta said. She was handling the holding of the various brushes and objects, so we could hand one to her and take another. “But my hands can’t hold the brushes and pencils, and I wouldn’t feel safe with my tendrils out so close to Ashley’s face.”
“Tendrils,” Erin said.
“I don’t know what Rain told you, but I’d probably accidentally rip out Ashley’s eye.”
“If they do a bad job, we can wash it off and you can try,” Ashley said. “If you rip out my eye, then I’ll have the intimidation effect I want. Of a different sort.”
“Of course,” Sveta said, with an unusually sarcastic tone. “You’re fine with losing an eye, that’s badass. But you can’t wear a wig, because if it was knocked off, that would be embarrassing.”
Ashley sighed. I nearly stabbed her in the nose with the eyeliner pencil.
“Don’t move,” I told her.
I finished with the eyeliner, and stepped back to admire the work. A white line along the lower lid, to make the eyes appear larger, and black mascara, because her eyelashes were apparently white without. Erin had handled the careful application of fine veins of black eyeliner that fanned out from the eyes in parallel with the eyelashes. They had been drawn in waves with each wave washed out with pats of the white cover-up, so the lines appeared to fade out and have dimension. At each corner of each eye, I’d drawn a hooked triangle, with the hook pointing down at the inner corners and up at the outer ones.
Erin had a bit of the softer, artistic touch for the lines and fading-out, I had the steadier hand for the line work.
The only mirror was a compact mirror, too small to show everything, so I took a picture instead. I showed Ashley.
“Good,” she said. She smiled.
“Stay put,” Kenzie said. “Eye camera. Here we go, and I can’t touch your face because I don’t want to smudge the nice makeup.”
“Camera first next time, then,” Ashley said.
Erin clearly had the heebie jeebies, as Kenzie held the needle within a few inches of Ashley’s eye, swinging it within half of an inch of the eye as she rotated one part to get it tighter.
“Okay,” Kenzie said. “Here we go. Same as before, but don’t flinch and keep your eye fixed on one point. Making contact on three, ready?”
“Zero, one, two, thre- wait.”
Ashley stayed stock still, waiting.
“Haha,” Kenzie said. “I should turn it on first, or it won’t phase in. That would’ve been a mess.”
“Would’ve ruined my makeup.”
“On three, this time. Zero, one, two, three. Can you feel it this time?”
Erin shook her arms, as if she couldn’t shake off the goosebumps, and walked away, her back to the scene.
“I feel like it’s there, but it doesn’t feel five percent there.”
“And…” Kenzie held up another, shorter needle. “For the effect. On three. Zero, one, two, three.”
Kenzie stepped back. Ashley’s pupils were gone.
“Super low tech,” Kenzie said. “I put liquid eraser on the projection caps, which aren’t phased in. It’s not perfectly matched to the rest of her eyes, but it works if you aren’t looking super close.”
I took a photo and showed Ashley.
She stood from her seat, and bent over, hand on Kenzie’s shoulder, planting a kiss on the very top of Kenzie’s head.
“You like it?”
“It’s good.” Ashley looked at Sveta, Erin, Kenzie and I, and then said, “Thank you.”
With that, she put her mask on carefully, eyes still decorated behind the eyeholes, and walked briskly on her way.
“I feel pretty good about how we did there,” Erin said. “Can you send me the picture?”
I passed a copy of the picture to her phone.
She checked she had it, then smiled. “Thank you.”
“Not a problem.”
“It’s nice to have something. I haven’t had many wins lately.”
“Are you doing okay?” I asked.
She shook her head.
“Anything I can do?” I asked.
“This is cool, superheroes, distractions,” she said. “I was super into this cape stuff once. And this stuff helps Rain, in a roundabout way. Which might end up helping me.”
Rain was at his whiteboard, scribbling furiously in red marker. He’d written a list of ten items, and he was erasing all but the bottom three, the aggressive side-to-side motion of the eraser making the whiteboard rattle against the wall.
“Rain?” I asked.
He stopped, still facing his whiteboard. “I had ten ideas on things I wanted to try. I did some napkin level tinker-notes and found out tolerances are lower than I thought. Scratch eight ideas, now I have two, which is probably going to become zero when I do the next set of calculations.”
“Being a tinker is hard sometimes,” Kenzie said.
“Kenzie,” Rain said. He brought one hand up to his forehead, back still to the room. “If I could build one of the things I’ve seen you make, I’d be happy.”
“Sorry,” Kenzie said.
“I can’t do stuff. It’s not hard, it’s impossible.”
“Go easy, Rain,” Tristan said.
“I’m sorry I touched a sore spot,” Kenzie said.
Rain shook his head, turning around, hand still at his forehead. He dropped it, looked at Kenzie, then looked away. “I do appreciate the thought. Yes, being a tinker sucks sometimes.”
“Maybe you can take a look at my tech later,” Kenzie said. “You can see if it inspires stuff. And you can explain the contact pads. Being a tinker might have its bad points, but we can be two tinkers working together.”
“I’d like that,” Rain said, and it sounded a touch forced. “Yeah.”
Kenzie’s smile looked more forced than Rain’s.
“Why don’t you take five minutes, step outside for some sun and fresh air?” Tristan asked.
Rain looked like he might resist. He looked at the board.
“You’ve said it helps,” Sveta said. “It’s how you unwind. Nature and space to think.”
“I have,” Rain said. “Yeah.”
“If it’s okay, I’ll have the camera above the door turned on, so we can make sure you won’t get kidnapped,” Kenzie said. “Or someone could keep you company.”
Rain nodded. “Alone is good. The camera is fine.”
He paused at the door. “You’re great, Kenz.”
“I’m sorry I’m shitty, that wasn’t about you. I was ready to snap at anyone, I was so frustrated at this stuff.”
“Go outside. Take a bit,” Tristan said.
Rain stepped out onto the fire escape. The door slammed behind him, more because it was a heavy door than because he’d actively slammed it.
“He needs help,” Erin said, quiet.
“It’s a bad situation,” I said.
“That wasn’t about you, you know,” I could hear Tristan telling Kenzie. “He’s stressed.”
“I know. But it isn’t cool. There’s a big part of me that feels like it is about me.”
“It isn’t. Cool or about you.”
I looked around the room. Chris was at his station at the point in the apartment furthest from the screens that wasn’t inside the bathroom. He was bent over a video game.
The cameras were capturing video from high overhead. One came down at an angle, and the other was a bird’s eye view, depicting only the tops of heads. Ashley had yet to arrive. The cameras tracked automatically, based on the people they recognized and their apparent importance. One was following Nailbiter and Colt.
But there was another measure of tracking: it seemed to judge by number. The other camera was shifting to look northward. The labels popped up as people were recognized, so distant they were barely more than stick figures. The labels congealed together into a single large label above the small crowd. Twelve unrecognized individuals.
“We didn’t have a patrol coming through, did we?” I asked.
“Not for an hour,” Tristan said. He turned to look. “Oh what? Fuck me.”
Kenzie ran past Erin, Sveta and me to get to her desk, seizing control of the cameras. She focused in on the crowd.
“What’s going on?” Tristan asked.
The costumes were distinct enough for me to recognize them before any icon came into view. Bold contrasts of light and dark, angles, armor panels, and bright colors. Masks tended to be full-face. All of it looked like they had one very tired designer working on their costumes. Cohesion to the max.
The camera caught the icon, and it popped up in a window, blur-corrected. A figure running to the side, drawn out as a collection of triangles and irregular shapes. Their arm was out and holding an arrow-shaped shield. Others had slight variants on the same icon, to play into costume textures and other minor details.
“Advance Guard,” I said.
“We haven’t talked to Advance Guard,” Tristan said. “We actively avoided bringing Advance Guard into this.”
I looked at Erin and touched her shoulder. “Do you want to go get Rain?”
A second screen was projected onto the wall to our left. The camera began gathering blurry portraits together, lining them up in three rows and four columns, each showing one mask. As the camera got better resolution shots, they were overlaid over other shots of the same person, the images clarifying in stages as each image was uploaded. Some details remained blurry, while others became bold and precise.
Rain entered the room. He approached the desk with arms folded, looking weary.
Everything was still clarifying as Chris exited the washroom and belatedly joined us.
Spright was one. Shortcut another.
“They invited themselves?” I asked.
“Fuck them if they did,” Tristan said. “This is our jurisdiction.”
“We can worry about that kind of thing later,” Sveta said. “Do we intervene?”
“It could be a trap,” Rain said.
“He’s right,” Chris said. “Prancer’s supposed to try something.”
“We’re supposed to think he paid off Advance Guard?” Tristan asked.
“He could have,” I said. “They’re money hungry, with fancy costumes and nice facilities. I’ve had pretty mixed reactions dealing with them, too.”
Tristan frowned. “Okay. I’m bothered they’re just marching in here. Assuming it’s not a trap, what’s even their plan?”
“The locals might have called for help,” I said. “Advance Guard could have been that help.”
“It hasn’t been that long,” Sveta said.
“Twelve capes. Many I don’t know or recognize. I don’t want to rule anything out.”
“They’re good,” Tristan said. “And there’s a lot of them.”
“But they’re aggressive. Their usual M.O. is to blitz a target,” I pointed out.
“Not out of the question here,” Tristan said.
Even though they were walking in as a group. The place being a peninsula mattered. It meant there were less routes to get in. It made it easier to keep watch. There would be eyes on Advance Guard, clairvoyant or no.
“I should go,” Chris said. “I’ll have my phone. If we need to do something, I can jump in.”
“Be careful,” Tristan said.
“I’ll be fine. I’ll change when I’m close. Don’t record me, Kenzie.”
“Because I have to ditch the clothes, or I’ll tear them to shreds. I’ll be naked. I want privacy.”
“Okay, um, I’m very fond of you, Chris, but despite the fact that everyone seems to think ‘tinker camera’ and immediately think of that, the perverts, that’s not how I operate. I don’t want to see you naked, so you’re good.”
“I’m noting that you haven’t said you won’t record me.”
“I won’t record you, Chris! Relax! You’d think you already did the anxiety thing.”
“I did, yesterday, to get home faster.”
“Okay, um- lost my train of thought.”
“That’s a good thing,” Tristan said, taking some authority. “Chris, go. Kenzie, turn the cameras away.”
“I’ll go too,” I said.
“No. Hold back,” Tristan said.
Tristan said, “Ashley’s in there. We don’t want her arrival to coincide with yours, and you’ve shown up a lot. We already came pretty close with you and her being within a day of each other. Her being connected to Chris is less bad, and he won’t even be human. Let’s keep them from making the complete connection.”
I saw his hand move. Flat, at an angle, as if telling me to stop, but not quite stop.
He was trying to communicate something with me?
Caution? Something else?
“Okay,” I said.
He gave me a little nod, turning back toward the screen. “We send you in if it gets ugly.”
“Let’s hope it doesn’t,” Rain said.
“Is Ashley in their clairvoyant’s usual range?” Tristan asked.
“Yes,” Kenzie said. “Should we call her anyway?”
“No,” Tristan said.
I wanted to ask why he’d signaled me, but I could hardly do that. I likely wouldn’t get an answer until this was over with.
The villains were gathering. The initial group that appeared was roughly the same size as Advance Guard’s group.
I could see Kenzie’s labels with the attached names. Love Lost was in the crowd of villains. Snag was absent.
Colt was hanging back, not far from Nailbiter.
On the wall, the Advance Guard mugshots were filling in. I looked for the familiar first and found them already named. Spright, Shortcut.
Mayday, Siren, ReSound, Gong…
“Mayday,” Kenzie said. “He was Baltimore.”
Signal Fire, Flapper, Prong…
“I trained under Signal in San Diego, too,” Kenzie said, adding, “I’d really like to use that training someday soon.”
“Someday,” Tristan said.
“You dropped the ‘soon’,” Kenzie said. “We need to talk about that, after.”
This was difficult enough without you getting involved, Advance Guard, I mused.
“Every time I run into Advance Guard, it’s a headache,” I said. “I run into the one incorrigible asshole in the group, their timing sucks, their choice of where to show up sucks, or it’s more than one of the above.”
“Must be how Prancer feels,” Tristan said. “Heroes turning up out of nowhere.”
The two groups advanced until they were in sight of each other.
One of the capes on Advance Guard’s side held up a hand. She continued approaching until she stood halfway into no-man’s-land between the two factions.
Kenzie’s computer blipped as the label connected to the individual at the front. ReSound was the spokesman, apparently. Her outfit had a lot of circles reminiscent of records or speakers, with the depthed concentric shapes and circles of color in the center of black circles. The icon on her chest was made of crescent shapes, not triangles, with the shield being a half-circle.
Prancer didn’t step forward to meet her, not immediately. Instead, he waited for a moment, surrounded by his allies. Velvet was in the crowd. Moose was absent. So were Hookline and Kitchen Sink. Some stragglers were catching up.
Ashley entered the street, and Kenzie’s camera provided the label above her head: ‘Swansong’.
“Should be Damsel, until she takes the name officially,” I said.
Kenzie typed it out, replacing it.
Damsel was situated near the back of Prancer’s group. Some people reacted, but nobody attacked or lashed out.
She didn’t even flinch at the people around her or the unexpected situation. She walked through the left side of the crowd, until she was near Prancer’s left flank. She leaned against a wall, arms folded, and stared at him, rather than at Advance Guard.
Prancer did note her presence, and looked momentarily annoyed.
The annoyance seemed to spur him forward. He met ReSound at the middle of no man’s land. The camera zoomed in to focus on them.
“This is getting tiresome,” Prancer said.
“What ‘this’?” ReSound asked. I’d expected her voice to sound altered, as many capes with sonic themes did, but she sounded normal. Confident.
“The routine. You guys show up, you’re interested in the area, but you don’t commit.”
“We commit,” ReSound said.
“Hm? I don’t follow.”
“We’re committing. We’re staying for long enough to finish the job. We’re here to break up the villains in Hollow Point.”
“Job. You were hired?”
“We hired ourselves,” ReSound said. “We break up priority targets, and we got to talking. You guys seem priority enough.”
“Based on what?” Prancer asked. His composure had cracked, but he didn’t raise his voice so much as he allowed emotion to affect his words. “We sell grass, we live here. We don’t shit that much where we eat.”
“Who was it?” ReSound asked. “Kitchen Sink. Hookline?”
“They pointed you our way?”
“Someone thought they were funny names, and they were joking about it-”
Tristan groaned out loud.
“-and they wouldn’t say why they were here in the first place. They aren’t alone either. Others have been through. A lot of people find you very interesting.”
“We’re very boring villains, really,” Prancer said. “Insignificant.”
“Houndstooth, no,” Kenzie said. “Ugghh. I recommended you.”
“It was fucking Foxtrot,” Tristan said. “Foxtrot is the clown in Houndstooth’s group.”
ReSound was taking a moment to consider Prancer’s claim of being boring.
“I don’t believe you,” ReSound said. She offered a half chuckle and said, “It doesn’t matter. We do this, we get some points with the public, and with the current attitude about capes? Points matter.”
“We outnumber you.”
“We train. I’m sure you went to great efforts to get your people together. Did you watch us on your cameras, then make sure to bring in a few more, so you could say you outnumbered us?”
“Cameras?” Prancer asked.
On camera, ReSound pointed skyward, not that far off from pointing directly at the camera we were using to watch the scene.
Some heads turned, following the pointing finger.
In the headquarters, Kenzie shoved her keyboard out of the way and brought her forehead down to the desk.
“Not ours,” Prancer said.
“Again, I’m not sure I believe you,” ReSound said.
“If you’re going to doubt everything I say, why are we even talking?”
“Because we always declare war, Prancer.”
“No. You’re up to something.”
“What makes you think that?”
“The fact this conversation feels like someone trying to keep me on the line so they can get a wiretap, doling out just enough information to keep me interested. We’re done,” Prancer said. “Don’t pick this fight.”
Prancer was halfway back to his group when Advance Guard took action.
Spright. He dashed forward. Enhanced movement, straight for the Hollow Point group. If he was a speedster, he wasn’t much of one. Faster than a normal human could manage, but hardly a blur.
“Avant!” ReSound called out, and the sound was magnified, loud, echoing far faster than a normal echo could or should. The camera’s sound died, dissolving into crackles. Several of the Hollow Point villains covered their ears.
Prancer was one of them. Spright ran past him, and the leader of the Hollow Point group flared. He became blurry around the edges, with the blur reaching out five feet in every direction. It subsided, but he retained the effect around his silhouette. The gold on his costume, from his mask to the deer’s head in profile at his collarbone, with antler over one shoulder, all became larger, more intense, more like glass with amber colored lava within its confines. The green of his costume became smoky.
But as he adopted the form, Spright used his own breaker form. It wasn’t much different, and Spright managed to keep ahead of Prancer, running toward the thinnest ranks of the stunned villains. Toward Ashley.
She used her power, a blast to drive herself in Spright’s direction, as she aimed to intercept. She was in the midst of people, which limited her options, so she ran several paces before she was clear to use another blast.
Still in breaker form, Spright reached out. A scintillating cloud of energy exploded from his hand. He used the recoil to change course.
From there, it was a brawl. Spright disappeared into enemy ranks with his own powers exploding out around him. With the use of powers, he ducked and dodged between, went over, and slid under people. He made it out of the back of the crowd and dashed toward the deeper part of downtown. Ashley couldn’t keep up, but Prancer could.
Love Lost staggered forward as ReSound maintained her sonic assault. One we couldn’t hear or get a sense of, because the camera audio had died.
She ripped off her mask. Then she screamed back. Advance Guard was throwing up defenses before it seemed like the scream hit them.
I couldn’t hear what it sounded like, but I could see the effect. The people who weren’t fully protected, ReSound included, were laid low.
Had it not been for shimmering forcefield-like barriers and strange crystal growths, she might have been able to hit the entirety of Advance Guard, aside from the absent Spright. As it was, she got maybe three or four.
“The emotion attack,” Rain said.
Resound’s body language changed completely. A moment later, she lunged for Love Lost, swinging punches, grabbing.
The black haired woman didn’t let her make contact. She stepped back out of the way, raked with claws, avoided the grab, clawed again. With the second slash, blood was spilled.
The other affected people in Advance Guard were turning on teammates. Most shouted, silent with our lack of audio, rather than attack.
My first thought was, fuck Advance Guard.
My second thought was to register the blood. Blood. This is serious now.
“I’m going,” I said.
“We’re coming,” Tristan said.