We hurried to get ourselves put together. Tristan was often the one to take point on the organization side of things, but for the moment, he was ducking under a table, dragging out a plastic bin with his armor in it. No breath or focus to spare.
“What are we doing?” Sveta asked.
“I guess we all go,” I said. “Control the situation, then help the heroes, in that order? Tristan?”
“Yep,” Tristan said, as he straightened up. He pulled off the v-neck long sleeved shirt he was wearing, undid the necklace with steel beads and a metal ram’s horn, and dropped them into a corner of the plastic bucket. He had his non-armor costume on under his clothes, form-fitting and covered in patterns that gave some character to what was visible in the gaps between the individual pieces of armor.
“What can I do?” Rain asked.
“You come if you’re up for it. Kenzie too.”
“Yes,” Kenzie said, without hesitation.
“I want you on the periphery,” Tristan said, stressing the periphery part. “Kenzie, you’re staying close to me, you’re backup and problem solving, we’ll figure out where to park you and keep you as a reserve.”
“You’re bringing me along?” Kenzie asked, wide-eyed.
I listened and watched, pulling off my sweater with one hand, the other hand holding my camisole top in place.
Tristan answered her, “I promised you I would. You can keep an eye on things with the cameras?”
“I can,” she said, enthused. “Oh shoot! I need to get last minute costume stuff done, and I have it loaded with stuff for Chris.”
She began rummaging, hurrying to get ready.
“You want me along?” Rain asked.
“It might be best to have everyone along in some capacity. You stay far enough back the clairvoyants can’t see you and so you won’t run into Love Lost or the others.”
“Okay,” Rain said.
“Sveta and Victoria together. Erin? Good to have you here, but-”
“It would be weird if I stayed while you’re all gone. I get it,” Erin said.
I put on the sweatshirt. I’d peeled off the previous design, and put on a new one. It was better than the mess before, a similar aesthetic, with the circle and stylized rays, but the lines curled more, reaching out to the seams of the sweatshirt, where they blended into thin black bars. The hood was framed with the same design.
More of my self-care, to get my outfit somewhat in order. I’d done a little something to the mask, giving it some black accents, but it was still predominantly white.
Not that it mattered much. I didn’t place a serious priority on my secret identity. Anyone who could put two and two together would know my face, including the villains in Cedar Point.
Sveta applied her mask. She’d taken one of the temporary masks, but in the time since we’d gone out together, she’d taken some art supplies to it. The same color scheme that covered her prosthetic exterior, with deep, dark blues and greens, neon oranges and yellows, now covered her mask.
“That’s great,” I said, briefly, before applying my own, making sure it was symmetrical.
“Thank you. The color rubs off, so it’s only a temporary thing.”
“The masks aren’t meant to be long-term,” I said. “We’re making do until we’re more settled.”
I plucked at my sweatshirt as I said it.
“That’s temporary then?”
“Yeah,” I said, giving her a hard look. I glanced back at the screen. “Going to do something better, but I have to figure some stuff out first.”
“Okay, haha, I was worried I’d have to dance around my friend having low standards for her costume,” Sveta said.
I snapped my head to look around, and saw Sveta stick her tongue out at me. I gave her a light push. “Fuck off, and not the time.”
“This is better than what you had before.”
Baby steps. Better costumes as I figured out what I was doing.
What was I doing? I could see the mob on the screen. I knew from my experience with the broken trigger that mobs were hard to wrangle. Adding my emotion power to the mix, when Love Lost’s had already taken hold?
More than anything, I wanted to think things through. I wanted to be intelligent in how I went about the cape thing, but there were times that couldn’t happen. This time, where blood was being shed, was one.
If law, right and wrong, and the input of others didn’t serve to clarify matters, then I wanted to do what would weigh on me the least. I was glad that those least-weighty things were often the lawful and right ones.
It was selfish. If a time came in the future where I was disabled, with nothing to do but sit in a hospital room, thinking about the past and dreading my non-future, I didn’t want my memories to be something I had to endure, or things that soured on reflection.
I didn’t miss the fact that as that idea rolled through my head, the ‘if’ of the idea had the faintest catch to it.
An idea to hold onto for when I saw my new therapist. When, not if.
“I’ll organize these guys,” Tristan said. He was strapping on his armor. “I’ll run to catch up. You two figure out what you’re doing. Remember Chris and Ashley are out there.”
I looked at the screen, looking at the labels of the capes involved in the fight. Prancer and Spright were maneuvering around each other in the middle of downtown, not far from the pub or Prancer’s headquarters. Nailbiter had left the larger brawl and were giving chase.
Snag’s name had appeared and was in the shifting jumble of labels over heads.
“It’s too chaotic,” I said. “If we throw ourselves into that mess, I’m going to hurt someone, Sveta is, or we’re going to get hurt.”
“Go after Prancer and-” Tristan turned his head to check the screen on the side. “Spright. Keep an eye out for Love Lost and Nail. Do what you can. I’ll signal you once I’m closer. We’ll deal with the mob when we’ve more of our own people around. Us stragglers will call Chris and the hero oversight.”
“Good,” I said.
I didn’t want to waste more time. I pushed the door open, holding it for Sveta, and then took her hand.
I picked her up and flew. When I was higher than any of the buildings in the area, I paused to turn around in mid-air, looking down at the headquarters.
“Something bothering you?” Sveta asked.
A lot of things were.
I flew toward Cedar Point. If I waited too long, Prancer and Spright would have moved on from the area we’d seen them.
“Tristan. He’s getting everyone out of there,” I said, while we flew. I had to raise my voice to ensure I’d be heard.
“And- it’s like that riddle,” I said. “The wolf, the chicken, the corn, a boat with room for the man and one thing in the boat at a time. He’s-”
My voice dropped away as we drew close enough that I could hear the faint scream and the reverberation. I partially lost my train of thought.
“I’m not following you,” Sveta said.
“He’s either pulling something or he’s worried someone else will,” I said. “He’s taking possibly unnecessary steps.”
I felt Sveta’s arm move, where it was wrapped around my back. Tightening.
“I don’t like this,” she said. I could barely hear her.
“Me interpreting things like this? Tristan? Rain? The awful puzzle analogy?”
“Any of it,” Sveta said. Her voice grew louder, so I could hear her properly again. “I don’t want to make this mistake again.”
I wanted to ask, but I heard another scream. I could see a distortion in the air, as colors pulled away from trees and buildings as if they were watercolor or the color was multiplying, casting the surroundings into shades of red and purple. The effect was brief, and the distortion faded. No damage had been done to the surroundings.
I could feel the effect of it, even from a distance. My heart rate picked up, and for a moment my thoughts and feelings spooled out. There were a hundred things I was holding in my heart and head that had to sit there. There were worries, irritations, traumas, and causes for outright fucking fury that I couldn’t do a damn thing about. Just being on the periphery of the effect made them swell up and jostle together.
Sveta’s arm tightened around me. I could hear the thump, thump, thumpthump of her tendrils against the inside of her body.
I met her eyes. I could instantly tell that she’d been affected more than I had.
I was resistant to emotion effects, because I generated them. Snag had hit me hard because he’d hit me where it hurt the most.
My rage? It was there, beneath the surface, but it wasn’t a weak point. It was a regular point.
Changing course, I flew straight for the nearest rooftop. Sveta let go of me and dropped down the moment we were close enough. She was unsteady on landing, and after her legs didn’t keep her upright, she landed on her hands and knees on the roof’s surface, which was covered in black shingle-like tiles, four feet across. Puddles of water settled in the parts that were lower than others, waiting to be evaporated by the sun.
I kept my mouth shut as the emotion effect subsided, and walked over to the roof’s edge.
Love Lost had joined the chase, running alongside Nailbiter, who had extended her limbs. They made a racket as they ran. Love Lost’s claws scraped the road and kicked up sparks, and she was faster than an ordinary person.
Nailbiter, though, had extended her limbs, but they got narrower as they grew longer, and had become black and gnarled in the process. Her jaw hung low, the joints on either side extended, her jawbone made longer and narrower, and the teeth extended further.
She looked like something half-crocodile, half-scarecrow.
She had no problem with mobility or strength, apparently, as she took strides that were fifteen feet long.
Prancer was only a short distance behind Spright. Spright ducked in between two parked trucks. As a maneuver, it put a truck between himself and Prancer, and forced Prancer to anticipate which way he’d go, or if he’d carry on straight and go down the alley.
Prancer hopped up onto the vehicle in the same moment that Spright slid under it. The two seconds it took Prancer to look around and try to find out which way he’d gone were seconds he could run, using enhanced speed.
He half-jumped, half-climbed up a building, with Prancer in delayed pursuit. Setting foot on the edge of the roof, he leaped backward, in a backward bound that saw him arcing over sidewalk, street, sidewalk, and put him on course to make contact with a building’s face.
I started forward as Nailbiter reached out. Her arm extended, long, thin, and rigid, fingers doing the same as they became points so fine and far away I couldn’t even make them out. Spright kicked out and brought an arm up to deflect the piercing fingers with the armor there. He landed on the roof, and an intervening building meant I couldn’t see where he went from there.
I was flying in that direction when I saw Love Lost reach for her mask. She pulled it off, and I changed direction, reversing course and throwing myself against the roof I’d just left.
The scream pierced through the air, raw and magnified in volume. I could see the distortion flare up around the edge of the roof, where the effect was cut off, but it didn’t extend through the building or the roof. I didn’t feel the change in heart rate or breathing.
The color change and distorted blur in the environment was limited to an area in front of Love Lost’s mouth. Solid objects blocked it.
I chanced a peek. She was down on the street, running past us, Nailbiter a distance ahead of her. She didn’t seem to have noticed me, even with her emotion power.
Damsel was chasing as well, only as fast as she could run, nothing augmented but the blasts, which she wasn’t using.
Sveta, Ashley and I. I’d come this way because we were the worst people to deal with Love Lost. I’d been ready to leap to Spright’s defense against Nailbiter if I had to, but Love Lost being here complicated that.
At least Spright seemed to be managing, whatever he was doing.
“Sveta,” I said. “Are you okay?”
“I’m ok-” she started, and the interrupted ‘okay’ sounded like ‘oak’. “I’m trying to tell my body not to murder my suit.”
“Can I do something?”
She shook her head.
On the street, Spright had escaped Prancer. He returned to the main street, saw Nailbiter and Love Lost close by, and broke into a run. The breaker effect was steadily fading.
Prancer’s power, I knew, was a breaker effect, to go by the PRT classifications. It was the most misunderstood classification in playground arguments and online debates, to the point where every power had probably been called a breaker power by someone. Where changers were powers that changed one’s form and were physical and mostly bound to the natural world, breaker powers were on-off, tied into enabling powers or powersets, and were ethereal or rule-breaking.
Prancer’s ‘on’ switch was a power-derived form that made him fast and nimble. Running and jumping around made the effect steadily ramp up. It made him fast and evasive.
It was good to think about the mechanical side of powers, to dwell in fact and things that made me think of reading cape magazines in bed and talking to Dean.
Sveta’s voice stirred me from my thoughts. “Positive side is I just found out I’m all instinct when I’m forced into attack mode. My body isn’t smart enough to figure out how to get out of the suit.”
“Good thing,” I said. I meant it as I said it, saw the fleeting smile on her face, but I was also kind of distracted.
“What’s going on over there? It helps if I focus on external things I can’t accidentally murder.”
“Spright’s running, I lost track of him. I’d go to him and ask what the fuck is going on, but he’s trying to be slippery and he’s good at it. I’d talk to Prancer, but it’s exactly the same thing. I don’t want to go after Love Lost and fuck up. I’m wondering if we should run, go back to the mob.”
“I hate to leave Spright,” I said. “He might not know about the violence, or who’s after him, and this is a- in big fights, outright wars, it’s good to identify solutions. If I can get to Spright, I can stop this.”
“Love Lost is the biggest problem?”
“I think I can get her,” Sveta said. She shifted position and sat back. “I don’t want to hurt her, but I think I can get her.”
“Rule of thumb I’ve been thinking about? Seventy-five percent. No more than three-quarters of the hurt they’ve done to others. She made ReSound bleed a lot. You can make her bleed a little.”
“Or not at all,” I said. “But remember that she’s willing to hurt Rain. If she had a twisted ankle or something, it’d make a lot of things easier.”
“You good?” I asked.
“I wanted to do this. Go get Spright.”
The best way to get control over this situation. Spright had been sent forward as the vanguard of Advance Guard. Was it to lead others on a wild goose chase, or was he after something?
I flew a course that put me directly over the rooftops, so the buildings were between me and the pairing of Nailbiter and Love Lost. There had been some time since the last scream. Her mask might have been put back on, which would have meant a delay before she could hit me with something.
That delay had been a factor when Sveta and I had both visited Cedar Point together, to deal with Sink and Hookline. It might be a factor here.
Prancer’s power wasn’t a threat, but it was a serious consideration. It made him fast and hard to track down. Once upon a time, it had meant he could run drugs and make drop-offs as a petty criminal.
The drawback was a concern too. He was forced out of the breaker state and made mundane if he got hurt.
I spotted the colorful set of blurs that was the pair, and changed course to follow. They were leaping between building faces, positioning feet to avoid putting one through a window, and covering as much ground up and down vertically as they were crossing horizontally. They were fast enough now that if they had been moving in a straight line, I wouldn’t have been able to keep up.
Flying over the rooftops, moving in a straight line to close the distance, I caught a glimpse of Nailbiter climbing up a two-story building with the ease someone else might climb up onto a desk. She moved like she was on stilts, or like she was all stilts.
Pointed ones, as I understood it.
Her arm moved, swinging. I heard the sound of fingers as fine as needles slicing through the air, and put my shield up.
I couldn’t even see her fingers, as they crashed into me. Shield down, I changed course before she could close those fingers around me and set me up for something else.
Her mouth yawned open. My shield wasn’t yet up when her teeth extended, but I was able to get down enough she wouldn’t hit me. Each tooth pointed in a slightly different direction, and she had a lot of nail-teeth. I heard the faint whisking sound of the thinner-than-needles teeth hitting things almost purely at random. Each hit with the force of a knife swung overhead and into a table.
There was a pause, and I heard an unearthly screeching sound.
The teeth had stopped just short of penetrating windows. With each small movement on her part, points scraped against glass.
I saw something thicker than a tooth withdrawing. Changing course, I maneuvered between buildings, barely a few feet above the ground, my forcefield up.
Several feet in front of me, a vague column that looked like it was more shadow than substance lunged out into my path.
My first thought was that it was one of Sveta’s arms. It wasn’t. I tried to fly under it, since I was already so close to the ground, and the individual components fanned out to bar my way.
I crashed bodily into them, my shield absorbing the hit, and the impact made them slap against the side of a dumpster in the alleyway. The thing was crude in a made-just-after-the-world-ended kind of way, four pieces of thick metal, welding, and handles for the dump truck. The hit made one of the sides buckle, the weld at the side closest to me splitting violently.
I turned to look the other way, and saw Love Lost with one clawed hand resting on a crouching Nailbiter’s fingers, guiding them. Nailbiter had both hands together, fingers pointed at me, and the fingers were extended out.
Enhanced strength, and the ability to extend any part of her body, making that part rigid and thinner.
She moved her hand, and two fingers pressed me against a wall, needle thin bars against my throat and thighs.
I couldn’t trust that my forcefield would come back in time. My feet were only barely touching the ground, but I could fly. I flew away from her, sliding between the extended digits and the wall.
She increased the pressure, and I had to stop, lest I give myself road rash while scraping against the concrete wall. Another nail-finger shifted position, slapping me across the cheekbone and ear, and pressed my head back.
Her mouth opened. I didn’t see her do anything, but I threw up my shield all the same, the moment I felt it was ready. I pushed out, hard, and the wretch did the same, gripping and pushing the finger bars that had trapped me. A foot from my face, her tongue struck hard against an invisible surface. It would have gone right through me if it had connected.
I moved while I could, between fingers and wall. I could feel here and there where there was a bulge where there had been a knuckle. I could only imagine how it worked when it wasn’t extended fingers, but the rusty nail-teeth. Doing this would have been like running a saw against my throat, face, and thighs.
These two were dangerous. I flew straight up, the moment I was free of the fingers, rounding a corner.
Instincts told me to press forward. I wanted to go after Spright, or remove the threat.
I stopped instead. There was a limit to how fast and how far they could travel. I had a second.
Love Lost could have hit me with a scream while I was pinned. She hadn’t. She could have seen Sveta and I with her power earlier. The second might have been explained by her thinking we were bystanders, but the first?
Was it that she would have been hitting Nailbiter’s fingers? Not a good idea, to provoke an enemy who was standing right next to you, not when that enemy was very good at hurting people.
An easy conclusion to jump to, but not the only one. I’d been thinking about breakers, the on-off. It wasn’t out of the question that Love Lost could only sense emotion when she wasn’t projecting it. It could be a thing that alternated, with a period of time where she could see, a period she could project, with the mask serving to restrict it. It could be that her scream disabled her sight for a time after using it, while the power gobbled up energy for another activation, the sight only available when the power was primed and ready.
That attack into the alley had been timed to try and hit me, or at least to anticipate me. My flight pattern hadn’t been predictable. I didn’t want to have more nail-fingers in my face the second I was up above the buildings. I wished I was better able to figure this out.
The scream, too. She made people pissed. Irrationally, recklessly angry. When she’d done it to ReSound, she’d been prepared for Resound lashing out. Maybe she hadn’t done it to me because she couldn’t handle me in a fight?
Sometimes the simplest answer was the right one.
I could call Kenzie and see if they have anything to report, but that might show our hands. We were already showing so much.
I heard a distant scream, terrified, and it wasn’t Love Lost’s. At the same moment, my phone vibrated in my pocket.
Pulling it out, I checked the screen. A text from Kenzie, now listed on my phone as ‘Ls’ for Looksee.
I flew straight up, until I had a view of the situation. I didn’t have a thinker power, but a view of the battlefield from above counted for something. If my forcefield broke, I would take evasive action.
What I saw had to be Chris. I was far away, so I couldn’t see him well, but it had to be him. It was a face, six feet tall, three feet wide, with no cheeks or anything but a spine connecting the top half from the lower half, as if the chin and bottom row of teeth were the ‘head’ of an insect, the rest of the head the thorax. The setup was surrounded by a ring of spider-like legs in varying shapes and sizes. They looked like flesh and not chitin, though, muscular meat with a pronounced ‘elbow’, coming to a pointed tip where it touched the ground or face. He jerked and twitched, large eyes wide, and some of the legs seemed to be more focused on clawing at his own face than on keeping him mobile. I would have said it was like someone dragging his fingernails across his cheeks, but he didn’t have any cheeks.
He screamed at them, and it was the sound of mortal terror. He’d succeeded in getting Love Lost and Nailbiter’s attention, and now huddled at the foot of a building, pulling against it as if he could pull himself through the seam between sidewalk and store. They didn’t seem to know what to make of him. I didn’t blame them.
Love Lost touched Nailbiter, and pointed in my direction.
Yeah, she could see me. I braced for evasive action.
Anxiety Chris screamed again, louder. Nailbiter moved a hand, and he darted to one side, taking a wild path that saw him running up the wall and off the side of the building, radically changing direction as he touched ground.
He was quick. I was put in mind of a bug darting to the darkness as the lights came on.
They were caught between keeping an eye on me and keeping an eye on Chris.
When Love Lost touched her mask, Chris sped another fifteen feet in a heartbeat.
She pulled off the mask, and she screamed at him. I could see the distortion, aimed more at the ground now. Roughly conical, it covered a lot of area.
Chris twitched, jerked, moved this way, then that. He raised his fleshy spider legs and pointed two tips at them, and Love Lost moved slightly behind Nailbiter, as if she’d find cover behind the exceedingly thin limbs.
Chris screamed back, raw and scared.
There was a moment’s pause, and she screamed at him again. Compounding the effect?
He screamed at her again, quivering in the wake of it, and crept closer.
Nailbiter’s fingers stabbed the ground between herself and him.
He screamed, brief, and ran away. It seemed he couldn’t move in a straight line, or the evasive action was built in, because he traced an ‘s’ shape as he ran.
I flew to put buildings between me and her. Where were Spright and Prancer now? We’d diverted the dangerous elements, but I wanted to fix things. I wanted to take concrete, measured steps to make things better, now that Advance Guard had shit the bed as badly as they had.
I wanted the world to make sense again. And Cedar Point didn’t make sense.
Two more screams, both in short succession. Anxiety Chris’ scream. I turned to look, and I saw the faint shadow of Nailbiter’s nail-fingers stabbing skyward.
Love Lost was running up the fingers. They were thin, but she didn’t seem to be struggling.
Her mask was off, and she was looking down. Looking for me.
Scratch my earlier theory about her not wanting to provoke me.
I couldn’t get to cover fast enough, so I did the opposite. I headed straight for her. If she thought she could deal with me, I wanted to see what she’d do. I pushed out with my aura for the first time, to make it harder.
She would be resistant, like Snag was. Still, I refused to believe that she could deal with my aura, scream, at me, and take evasive action against my charge while thirty feet above the rooftops.
Nailbiter lashed out. Teeth. My forcefield took the hit, and I carried forward. Love Lost lost her footing, teetering, then leaped hard off of the fingers.
I flew straight down, to put myself out of Nailbiter’s reach, while Love Lost leaped sideways.
She touched the side of Prancer’s headquarters, the claws of her hands and feet finding traction on the surface, and she moved like she was running, claws catching and helping to propel her.
There was the wall-running power. She moved fluidly along a vertical surface, claws helping. Her hand went to her mask, and a hand reached up from below, grabbing her ankle.
Love Lost was pulled away from the building. No longer able to make contact with the surface, she fell at a diagonal, in the direction of the rooftop she’d originally been falling down to. I could see her reorient herself in the air, twisting to put feet beneath her, but she couldn’t stop falling.
Not a terminal fall, most likely, but it’d be a hard one.
In the distance, I could hear Chris screaming as he ran. He covered a lot of ground, apparently, because the scream faded with each passing second.
Good job, Sveta, I thought. Not showing her hand, catching Love Lost by surprise, and staying clear of that scream were perfect. It had taken her a while, but I didn’t blame her for moving carefully and having trouble finding the right position and moment to act.
No, that was exactly what I was wanting to do. It was energizing, in a way, exciting. For all my doubts, I liked that at least one person was on my wavelength.
Chris had done his thing too. Not bad, but he’d shown himself to Nailbiter, and it worried me that he could have been stabbed if Nailbiter had been a little more willing to pull the trigger and impale him.
I flew in Sveta’s direction, and found her waiting, her back to the wall, phone out.
She jumped when I floated over to her.
“Good,” I said. “I’ll tell you how good after.”
She smiled. She showed me the phone.
prance lost sprite. sprite on roof to W of u
we here at edge of town. mob splitting up. some headed ur way
As I read the messages, a new alert popped up.
nail dam comin
I grabbed Sveta’s hand, and prepared to fly away when Damsel appeared in the alleyway. I could have called her Ashley, but she didn’t give me the impression of ‘Ashley’. Shadows fell across her face, accented by the mask and makeup, her eyes were eerily white, her hair was white, and it made for an attention-grabbing profile. If I hadn’t known better, I might have been intimidated.
Nailbiter appeared, looming over Damsel in a crouch, three times as tall as Damsel was, so thin in places as to be almost invisible. Her face was still prolonged, jaw hanging, teeth pronounced.
Love Lost was in Nailbiter’s cupped hand, crouching, holding one finger for balance. I couldn’t tell how hurt she was.
“I’ll deign to let you two help me against the wannabe Alexandria and the girl with the paint,” Damsel said, dismissive.
Nailbiter pulled her face back together, the features drawing shorter. “You aren’t Cedar Point.”
There was a whistling ‘s’ sound on Cedar.
“I am now,” Damsel said. “Mess this bad? Ripe for takeover.”
“We can discuss that,” Nailbiter said.
“Interested?” Damsel asked.
“You’re being hasty,” Nailbiter said. “I’d be interested if I wasn’t loyal to Bob.”
Love Lost swiped out with a claw, dashing claw-tips against the wall to her left. It made a sound, and both Damsel and Nailbiter focused their attention on her.
She pointed at us.
“Yes,” Nailbiter said.
She started forward, with sufficient clearance to go over Damsel, and I flew with Sveta’s hand firmly in my grip. I could hear Damsel used her power in the same instant, lunging forward.
It bought us time, that she hurled herself forward while Nailbiter was trying to place an extended limb.
Time to get around a corner, to take pre-emptive evasive action.
They turned the same corner, and Sveta had turned herself around. She cast her hand out, and gripped Love Lost at the neck and hair. Love Lost had her hand at her mask, and stopped, not screaming.
“Sorry!” Sveta called out, as she hauled Love Lost free of Nailbiter’s grip, pulling her halfway toward us before letting go.
Love Lost was like a cat, apparently, acrobatic enough to keep her claws under her. Still, she was moving fast, momentum was a thing, and the resulting landing was a bit of a roll and tumble, before she managed to stop herself.
Scraped up and glaring, Love Lost watched as I put some vertical distance between us. Nailbiter slowed to avoid trampling Love Lost, falling behind slightly, and then raised a hand, aiming.
Reflexively, I brought up my forcefield and heaved Sveta up, back and away. Instinct. I couldn’t have my forcefield up while holding her.
I couldn’t even watch to see what Sveta did. My focus was on Nailbiter.
She chose to try to get Sveta while Sveta was in the air. I saw the mass of teeth extending, spearing out, and they were aimed too low to be aimed at me.
I flew down to intercept. Forcefield up, I grabbed them after they had extended past me, pushing down, redirecting. The wretch had to have grabbed them too, because she moved like superstrength applied. All of the teeth were attached to her and when I moved some of them, I moved them all.
That done, I looked back for Sveta. The inverse of Love Lost, to tumble so bonelessly through the air, with no ability to reorient herself.
My forcefield scraped against the nails as I flew past them, pushing them more before a last-second course correction to intercept Sveta. I caught her.
I nodded. It was very possible I felt more alarmed in the wake of the moment than Sveta did, and she looked really alarmed.
I looked back. Love Lost and Nailbiter were on the ground, and Nailbiter wasn’t pressing the attack.
“You going to explain that?” Sveta asked.
“I can,” I said. “Sorry.”
“It’s okay, but- what was that analogy? Wolf, corn, chicken?”
“Wolf,” I said. I had an ugly, heavy feeling that thoroughly crushed the moment of triumph. I flew down, setting foot on the rooftop. Each passing second, it bothered me more. “Wolf.”
“I don’t follow. I didn’t follow the analogy in the first place, but- secrets? Maneuvers?”
“Just… wolf,” I said. I didn’t want to explain it in detail. “Control issue. Similar to yours.”
I saw her forehead crease above her mask.
“You didn’t have one before.”
“No I didn’t,” I said.
“Okay,” she said. “You should have told me.”
I tried to formulate a response. She wouldn’t look directly at me.
As I opened my mouth, she looked down at her phone, as if she was looking for an excuse to look away. The tiny change in her expression gave me pause.
“What is it?”
“Come, Spright’s moving.”
She grabbed my arm, tugging.
“You can carry me?” she asked.
I nodded, seizing her with a firmer grip than necessary, carrying her off the roof.
Spright still had a vestige of Prancer’s power, even though Prancer was nowhere nearby. I could see him running along a rooftop. He leaped from the rooftop’s edge, to the building face next door.
The building was Prancer’s headquarters. A stone building with a clocktower on the top.
Touching fingertips to toes, as his feet pointed straight forward, Spright passed through an open window and landed at a run. For Sveta and I, we had to get there first, and then we had to maneuver ourselves through the window. I supported Sveta so she could climb through and then looked around to make sure we weren’t being observed.
Well, if the clairvoyants were awake, and they had to be with the day still young, Chris still screaming in the distant background, and various other noises and chaos, then we were being observed.
But I couldn’t see anyone who could follow us into the building.
The things inside were… not especially nice, even though attempts had been made. It made me think more of a parent teacher conference room and my mom’s office when she was really deep in work. Budget desk, budget chairs, budget stuff in general, with the doors being wood that hadn’t even been polished down that nicely before being painted, and some signs of domesticity, with a jacket on the back of a chair, signs of eating at desks, and personal touches littering the space.
Spright was already across the floor. A binder was open in front of him.
“Spright,” I said.
“The heroine who was Glory Girl, and a friend,” he said, sounding pleasant, even casual. He picked up the binder and turned our way. “I heard you were around.”
I stalked toward him, reaching for the top of the chest-plate that served as the closest thing I’d get to a collar. He scrambled back, staying just out of reach, turning to flight when his feet failed him. He dropped the binder.
Failing to get a grip on him so I could shake sense into the man, I settled for pointing a finger accusatorily at him.
I could hear Chris screaming in the background, a distant sound I couldn’t place, that might have been a giant tinker device going off.
This entire thing had been about taking a topsy-turvy world and making it topsy-turvy for the bad guys, unseating them and breaking their hold. It had been about sanity, and they’d pulled the most insane fucking stunt, and they’d upended it.
But I couldn’t burn bridges. They were… how would Ashley have put it? Blithering idiots? And I had to get along with them. Heroes needed to cooperate, the team needed it, and I wanted to be diplomatic.
“Fucking why?” I asked.