“…would be the terms of war. Boilerplate.”
“That’s only if we go to war,” the Clockwork Dog with the potbelly said. “We have a proposal.”
“We’ve heard your proposals before, Detente,” Digger said.
“Hear us out one more time. We calculated how much of the city we need. We want an area of the city with a total population of thirty thousand. We have a few areas noted down that we would take. We would not interfere with your business, we would not upset the heroes, and all we would want in return was for you to respect our territory borders.”
“No,” Digger said.
“We’re being very reasonable,” Accord said. The second leader of the Clockwork Dogs.
“I don’t care. No,” Digger said. The biker dug fingers into his beard, scratching.
“Why not?” Accord asked.
“Because fuck you. You two think you’re so smart, and you probably are. It’s a trap.”
“We could do this in a civilized way,” Detente said. “We choose the areas we want. We know what kind of business we each want to do. Let’s divide up the city. If you want to run drugs, take some of the harbor, take the roads. Blastgerm wants to sell drugs and they want some space. You could enter into a business relationship with them, they would take their slice of the city and set up shop. The Brothers can have a headquarters, and our alliance would pay them to be enforcers for the area. They get a big area to run around in, they can go after the PRT, they get money… hm?”
The last sound was an inquiry.
“Could do,” one of the Mullen Brothers said.
“As for Four…” Detente said, trailing off.
“Do you know what we want, Detente?” the question came from the woman with the cysts all down one side of her face.
“We know,” Detente said. Accord nodded.
“We need more than a slice of the city.”
“Whatever path you choose, whatever location, you’ll end up fighting. You need more than a slice of a city or part of a neighborhood to raise an army. What we offer is help. We form an alliance across four districts, seven teams. You give up on these areas here, we give you another area.”
The woman frowned. Damsel could see the shadows deepen as creases formed around the mouth, the eyebrows drawing together.
“Not saying yes, but what area are you thinking?”
“Hyde Park is the biggest problem and warzone right now. We don’t like the groups fighting for it. Most of you don’t either.”
“We were vying for Hyde Park,” Rotten Apple said.
“You’re here and not there,” Accord said. “You’re willing to walk away and consider other options. You’re… messy, but you’re a mess we can live with.”
“We’re messy?” Blasto asked.
“You lost control of one of your creations. It caused a stir.”
“My dog ran away,” Blasto said.
“It was only part dog, and it caused a stir. You deal drugs, and people who are under the influence create messes.”
“He’s only willing to tolerate us until everything else is out of the way,” Rotten Apple said. The cape that was sitting on the rock in front of her nodded.
“If one were to assume that was true, isn’t that better than us deciding we want you out of the way in the next twelve hours?” Accord asked.
“Is that a threat?” Rotten Apple asked.
“Put your feelings aside and look at this logically,” Accord said. “Do you cooperate or not? If you cooperate, we either leave you alone or we eliminate you from consideration. If you don’t-”
“Eliminate. So it’s a threat.”
“Please don’t interrupt me. All of this could devolve into petty squabbling so very easily. Let’s keep this civilized. Cooperate and you have a way forward. Be stubborn and refuse me, and you will have nothing. It’s common sense.”
“Common sense?” Rotten Apple asked. “I have a tattoo on my asshole.”
“She does,” Blasto said.
“You’re using the wrong argument,” Rotten Apple said.
Accord stepped closer to the fire. Detente put a hand on his arm, and Accord stopped.
“We’ll pay,” Detente said. “Clean money, not forged. Give us six hours to talk to some people. You can walk away from this moot and go to sleep, and we can hand you cold money within fifteen minutes of you waking up. We’ll buy your alliance.”
“And the rest of us?” Damsel’s voice carried.
Detente had to pause to consider before answering. He looked at Accord for input, then decided, “Same idea we proposed for the Four. We’ll give you money, resources and assistance to match the impact you could make, if you respect our claim to territory and the alliance.”
They hadn’t even considered the ones who were in the background.
They didn’t think she was a threat?
She smiled, and Detente seemed to take the smile in the wrong way, because his mechanical mask shifted to create a smile to match.
He addressed others in the back, “If you’re unknown, then make yourself known, or band together. If you want to come straight to us, we will give you a job for pay and a chance to prove yourselves.”
“What are your credentials? Have you proven yourselves?” Rotten Apple asked.
“We have money, and we have powered soldiers,” Detente said.
“I bet we have more capes than you do,” Rotten said.
“They posted online,” the leader of the Four said. “Reaching out to anyone with a fondness for ‘green’. They didn’t clarify.”
“Vague,” Detente said.
“Themes work. We’ve got capes who like gardening and we’ve got stoners. We’ve got hero…ish types who want to save the planet, and we’ve got mercenaries.”
“It’s thin,” Detente said. “Your group will implode.”
“It’ll be messy, I’m sure,” Rotten said. “What do you think, Blasto?”
“I think we say no.”
“No,” Rotten said, to the Clockwork Dogs.
“No from me too. Fuck your alliance,” Digger said.
Detente nodded. “Four?”
“What do you think about Orchard?”
“We have a tenuous business relationship with them. Nothing that can’t be broken.”
“Break it. Give us Hyde Park.”
“Yes. We’ll talk,” Detente said. “Brothers?”
“We’ll get back to you.”
He turned to the people at the fringes. To Damsel. He even looked at her. “The rest of you know where to find us.”
He thought that it was a good thing that he’d been reminded they existed. With two of the major groups that were vying for the area saying no, another giving a ‘maybe’, and only one sounding interested, he must have been disappointed.
Damsel was now the salvation of the Clockwork Dogs- she’d helped them and she had given them a path that kept this from being a complete loss.
She would give them a helping hand, lifting them up from the cliff they were holding on to, and then she would cast them out and away, for the dramatic fall and her own triumph.
The meeting was wrapping up. It wasn’t the first of its kind, it wouldn’t be the last. The same things had to be covered now and again, as new players showed up. Terms of war, the formation of alliances, and agreements on who and what couldn’t be tolerated. If someone was designated as a problem that threatened everyone, then that someone was… how had he put it?
Eliminated from consideration.
A villain reached into the bonfire, grabbing the remnants of a drawer that had been near the top of the pile. He held the burning wood with one hand and walked off to one side, where he unceremoniously dropped it in a ring of stones that had been dragged from the base of the hill.
The major players were leaving. They were major because they’d done something, and that meant they had things to do.
Damsel, too, had things to do. Others were staying.
The second meeting.
“The big dogs have finished barking,” she said, as she approached the fire.
“You’re new,” Someone said. He was older, and he had prison tattoos, a wispy goatee, and greasy hair.
“To Boston, yes,” she said.
“You’ve been active elsewhere?”
“My last big job was a bank robbery. Singlehanded, more or less. I’ve been active for three years.”
“I’m Marrow. I’m here with some boys.”
“You don’t have a mask. No powers?”
“No powers. We come to keep an eye on things, sometimes people are hiring.”
There was a quirk of the eyebrow as he said it. An invitation.
“Who did you work for last?” she asked.
“Soldat. They’re still around, north end.”
“They left you behind?”
“They’re hiring outsiders. Professional soldiers or some shit. They’re trying for quality, but you miss out something when you hire from a catalogue. Hire me and my boys, you get a close-knit group where we know how the rest of us operate.”
“Uh huh,” she said, considering. She studied Marrow. “Close knit. Which means if I try hiring someone else, you’re going to complain.”
“If you want to try hiring someone else, I can make recommendations,” he said.
She paced around the fire. She glanced at the people who’d hung back. Mostly white, they ranged from teenagers to thirty. Older ones had left. Others were setting up around the other, larger bonfire.
“I’ve run into that before,” she said. “I hire four people, and they twist it around. Trying to make it so it’s their group and I’m tacked on. Then they come to realize that I’m a lot more dangerous than four people put together.”
“You do you, I guess,” Marrow said.
“How much did they pay you?” she asked.
“Depended on the job. What are you thinking?”
“Break into a place, rough some people up, loot.”
“A raid? Two thousand each or five percent each, whichever’s more.”
“Bullshit,” Damsel said. “Don’t try to pull one on me.”
“That kind of thing, we’re risking our lives. People pull guns.”
“Don’t look down on me,” she said. “Two thousand? No.”
“Your loss,” he said.
Did he sound sullen? He’d tried to fake her out and now he couldn’t lower his price without sounding like an idiot. Stupid. Not the kind of person she wanted.
She was in a good place. Things were going well. She just needed the right people, the right information, and opportunity.
There were younger people following her with more interest. She was one of… four, maybe, who wore costumes and who’d stuck behind. The guy who was now tending the fire was one. The other two were at the larger bonfire.
“What are you here for?” she asked one of the teenagers.
“I’m an innocent bystander,” he said, sarcastic. “I went for a run and I ended up here.”
“What do you do?” she asked.
“I run,” he said, with emphasis. “If you’re looking to buy anything, I know some people who had stock they wanted to sell that they couldn’t, what with how key people got arrested or scared off in the first raids. But we want fair market value.”
“Market’s oversaturated, dumbass,” another teenager said.
“Fair market value. We can sit on it forever. There’s other stuff to do in the meantime.”
Drug runner. Usually that meant running drugs into the country, but she supposed it could mean getting drugs across the city, or making deliveries.
Drugs didn’t interest her. That was a slow play, and she needed wins now.
“If I offered the kind of money Marrow was asking for, who would jump?” she asked.
“You have something in mind?” another boy from the group asked. He had freckles across his face, and his brown hair was styled.
She didn’t. Instead of answering, she asked, “Yes or no?”
“I might,” he said.
A taller boy asked, “Are you looking to get into that alliance thing?”
She shook her head. She started to reply, and her hand sparked. People jumped, some stumbling or reaching for weapons.
Her power crackled again, as she stood bent over with one hand on her knee.
No, no, no.
This was how it went wrong. This was how it all started spiraling down. One little failure, entirely out of her control, and she lost everything she was working toward.
She needed this.
She couldn’t bring herself to talk at first, as she found her balance and straightened. As she raised her head so they could see her face again, she put a smile on, teeth bared. “Not the alliance.”
She moved her fingers slowly, and her power crackled audibly around her hand.
Her heart was pounding. Her jaw hurt because she’d been clenching it so much, and her stomach was a knot. She hadn’t eaten since… yesterday, was it? Now she felt it catching up with her.
A feeling like falling.
“Join me now,” she said. “You’ll be in a good position when I rise to the top.”
“Stiff competition,” the boy with the freckles said. The taller boy off to the side that had been more interested in joining was staring her down now. She couldn’t read him.
“I’ll show you,” she said.
“How are you managing that?”
“I can never follow your trains of thought,” Ashley said. “Try harder to make sense.”
“You get snippy when you’re insecure. I’m asking about the apartment. You’re making some money? From talking about what you remember?”
Ah. Now Ashley understood the train of thought. She opened her eyes and saw only darkness.
“Yes,” Ashley said. “They think it’s relevant.”
“You mentioned those talks last week. It’s good if they’re paying attention.”
“Mm,” Ashley made a sound. She sat up, and plastic crinkled. “Mask off.”
“We’ve still got more work to do. These hands aren’t going to be as intricate for using the power, but they’ll be consistent.”
“Consistent is good. Take my mask off,” Ashley said. “And something to drink. My mouth is dry.”
The sleep mask was lifted up to her forehead. Long strands of hair still fell down around the front of her face.
A thin plastic sheet was draped across her lap now, with blood settling into the creases. Her arms were short, ending in stumps with raw flesh at the ends. Instead of bones of the forearm, there were metal tubes extending a few inches past the flesh.
She studied it all before blinking a few times. It really bothered her how the sleep mask had folded back her eyelashes, making them feel sticky and weird.
Riley practically hummed as she moved across the room, moving things as she searched. A heart in a jar here, a jar marked ‘bile’ there. “I don’t think I have any cups I’m not using for something already.”
“Figure something out.”
“Your disorganization shouldn’t be my problem. You pledged to give me working hands.”
“Don’t move those arms so much. You’ll bleed more, and they get weird if I ask for too much blood. Oh. I have an idea.”
Ashley waited as patiently as she could as Riley reached into a glass jar, pulling out a sphere the size of a softball, pale and crusty. She pressed her thumbs into one side until it caved in, then worked it with her hands to mold it. It ended up as a shallow bowl. She practically skipped in her momentary jog to the sink, where she filled it with water. She reached into the cupboard, and came out with a neon pink bendy straw.
Ashley drank as the straw was placed into her mouth.
“No. This is fine for now.”
The bowl was dropped unceremoniously in the solution it had been in just two minutes prior.
“I’m jealous of the apartment. I don’t have much, and they don’t let me out to shop unchaperoned. I have to list all the places I want to go, they vet it before I can go in, making sure people are clear, and having chaperones means there’s a schedule. I can’t be spontaneous.”
“You didn’t have your fill of spontaneousness before Gold Morning?” Ashley asked.
“Apparently not,” Riley said. She picked up Ashley’s dismembered arm, bringing it over to Ashley and holding it against her upper arm. Comparing skin.
“Oh, that’s the feeling that keeps waking me up from my naps,” Ashley said.
“Stick your lip out? Pouty like?”
Ashley stared at Riley, lips pressed in a firm line.
“I’m not trying to poke fun. I want to color match some other tissue to the inside of your mouth.”
“You don’t need other tissue. It’s skin wrapped around machine hands.”
“There’s living matter worked in there, and the flesh immediately under the skin will affect the color of the skin over it.”
Ashley stared Riley down.
“Indulge me,” Riley said. “So few do, nowadays. Let me get the data I need to make your arms the best I can give you.”
Ashley reached up with her stump, stuck the metal tube into the side of her mouth, and pulled her cheek back.
“Don’t cut yourself. The ends of the tubes are sharp,” Riley said, leaning in. “Okay.”
“Why are they sharp?”
Riley stopped in her tracks.
The sink dripped. Not completely turned off, after the water had been placed in the bowl. The silence that followed was uncomfortable, so Ashley moved, the plastic rustling. Blood escaped folds to drip to the floor below, not nearly as loud as the sink.
“Why sharp? I want to know what you’re doing with my hands.”
“I’m not keeping secrets from you,” Riley said. She turned around. “I didn’t think about it. Old habits die hard, you know.”
“You weaponized me?” Ashley asked.
“Only a little. Don’t get upset. I left it so that if something went wrong, you could tear off your arm and stab someone with the tube. Small, tiny weapon.”
Ashley raised her arm, studying the blood-slick metal tube.
She used the cleaner part of her arm to wipe at the corner of her mouth.
“It’s the equivalent of putting a rifle bayonet on a tank barrel,” Riley said.
Ashley didn’t respond. Her mouth wasn’t dry, but her throat was locked up.
Riley continued her work, using a variety of tools to stretch the skin away from the metal arms. Strands of muscle and tubes of fluid ran through the machinery.
Ashley felt a panicky feeling settling into her chest, threatening to paralyze her. Before it could, she slid her legs around, the plastic sheet rustling, and dropped down to the floor. A rubber mat with ridges made it easier to walk without slipping.
“Don’t move too much or you’ll lose blood,” Riley said, sounding as happy as she ever did. Her back was to Ashley.
Ashley reached out. The sharp edge of the tube grazed Riley’ s neck. Riley reacted, twisting, hand slapping out onto the top of the cart with wheels. Ashley kicked it, but not before the girl could grab a scalpel.
Riley backed away from the contact with the tube and its sharp edge. She stuck the scalpel out toward Ashley’s stomach, and the two of them stopped there.
The amused look dropped away from Riley’s face.
A drop of water smacked against the metal bottom of the sink once again.
“I was going to ask you if you wanted tea after,” Riley said.
“I don’t like you enough to have tea with you,” Ashley responded.
“Do you remember having tea before? Is that one of your memories?”
“I wasn’t thinking we’d have a tea party. I was thinking just… tea. I have cake from a shop.”
Ashley shook her head slowly. The water in the sink dripped again. “I remember after the tea party we had.”
“We’re not friends. Give me working hands and powers and maybe we can get there. That won’t be soon.”
“Something about this standoff tells me we’re not moving in that direction.”
“Mmm,” Riley said. Slowly, she pulled her hand back, still holding the scalpel. She held her hand off to the side, and let the scalpel fall. “I won’t know what I did wrong until you tell me. Some people can put those pieces together, but I can’t.”
“Pay more attention to what you’re doing to my body and why.”
“I’m not your weapon,” Ashley said. She pulled the tube away.
“You’re a weapon. We all are.”
“I’m a weapon, but I belong to me. My triumphs are my own.”
“Wonderful,” Riley said. She paused. “More water?”
The door opened.
Amy Dallon. The woman had her hair tied back, and she wore a sleeveless tee that showed the tattoos that ran down her arms. She studied the room, reached out for the wheeled cart and moved it back into position.
“You’re up, Ashley,” she said. “That’s not usual.”
“I wanted water,” Ashley said.
“Sit. Minimize activity or have Riley do more to control the bleeding if you’re going to be up.”
Ashley hopped back up onto the table.
Riley fished out the bowl. Amy watched her go to the sink, followed her, and took the bowl from her. She found a glass and set to washing it, her finger swishing in the water to help with the cleaning.
“Work on the hands and I’ll get the water. I’ll check your work in a second.”
If this works, it’s a point for me. A win in the game of capes.
If I don’t do this, I won’t be able to take Boston. If I can’t take Boston, there’s no point.
It was only a question of timing. She had to use her power right.
Her power was unpredictable whenever she used it. Using the blasts was easy when she could push out, the power would rip out, and it would kink and twist through the air, a mix of overlapping effects that worked very well together when it came to destroying whatever they touched. They didn’t, however, work well with her.
There were ways to shape the effect, but that was less easy. Every movement of her fingers threatened to make her power erupt, and over time, she’d learned that many common movements would lead to an eruption of power, unless she was very careful. Using her hands was slow, with any number of movements or variations of pressure threatening to make her power spill out.
There had been a time, sitting in her apartment for days on end, that she had worked to try and figure out the patterns. Before she’d fabricated a costumed identity for herself, she had fancied the idea of being a dark sorceress. Through training, she would have control.
The image had stayed, but the idea… no. She could do the same thing twice, and the power wouldn’t express in the same way.
Still. There were nuances. Open hand, moving while she blasted, the power would splash out. More area, less range. She could press her hands together and blast with both to increase concentration and consistency.
She walked out into traffic. Headlights illuminated her. A car passing in the lane beside her made her dress and hair fly around her. Her eyes were wide, to take in as much of the scene as possible.
It was a four-lane road, and as she stopped in her tracks, an eighteen wheeler barreled toward her. It tried to move into another lane, steering away, and brakes squealed in futility.
She put her hand behind her, and she blasted. Open hand, wide area, short blast. The recoil pushed her up and forward at an angle. A slightly different angle and her shoulder would have clipped the truck’s right headlight. She passed within a few inches of it, her other hand whipping around.
Fingers and thumb all together, pointing at the same thing. Concentrated blast. Little breadth, and a foot or two of extra range.
The blast tore into the wheels at the side of the truck, while propelling her away. She caught herself, one foot touching ground, and stumbled back.
The truck tipped, and there was still enough length at the rear of the truck that she faced the risk of it toppling on top of her.
She could have thrown herself back, it was safer to throw herself back, but that meant stumbling.
Raising her hands overhead, thumbs locked together, Damsel blasted skyward. Her legs buckled, straining to keep her upright as the overhead blast tried to push her down.
She let her thumbs come apart, and brought her arms down to either side, painting a rainbow of annihilation and ruin above her. It caught the top rear corner of the truck’s cargo container and it shredded metal exterior and framing. Pieces pelted her, and the truck collapsed onto its side.
Horns blared and people were already stopping. Others stared at her.
Her leg ached like something had sprained in it as she walked away. She did her best to keep her back straight, her attention forward. She would topple the truck and then walk casually away. People would see and they would get it.
A car stopped at the side of the road. The door opened, and a cape climbed out. What little of his face that was visible behind the mask was painted with mottled black smears. His outfit was layers of urban camouflage, and the armor at his chest had something resembling a fist marked out in the camouflage. Visible only with a squint.
There were others getting out of the same car, and out of the truck.
He had a hollow metal tube in one hand. He turned it around, pointing it at her-
She used her power, hurling herself forward, and stumbled as her feet touched ground again, now running instead of walking.
There was a time for grace, but this wasn’t that time.
He slapped his hand against the hollow end of the tube. His power ripped through it and hit the ground just behind her. It detonated, and the shockwave made her feet leave the ground.
Surprise aside, this wasn’t unfamiliar territory. She stumbled as she landed and saw another of Soldat’s capes appear to intercept her.
She blasted, ducking low, and crashed into his knees, bowling him over. She raised up from the crouch on one leg, hands out to either side to blast and right her if she tipped over, and she already had one foot raised by the time she was upright. She drove her heel toward the teleporter’s face, and he disappeared before her foot could make contact.
Another blast to push, except this one kicked right. It threw her off her stride, forcing her to make one leg cross over the other mid-run. She found her balance and changed direction, running for an alley.
The cape with the metal tube fired. The detonation was off to her side, this one catching her in a way that threw her further off, when she had so recently stumbled and changed direction. She dropped, landing with her hands touching the sidewalk, her power flickering at the unexpected contact of the surface, then popping, cracking the solid surface under her hand.
It threw her off, cost her a fraction of a second. She put both hands behind her and blasted again. Moving fast was essential. She’d just upset a paramilitary villain group that was a contender to take over the East Boston area.
If it was down to individual group strength alone, then that area would already be theirs. They were that good.
Marrow was an ex-employee of Soldat. He’d been eager to part with information and a share of what she claimed, if she got anything at all. She would lean heavily on the last part of that statement. It had been Marrow that had said it as he implied she would fail. Bitter implications from someone bitter that she hadn’t hired him.
She didn’t want the goods in the truck. Marrow would get fifteen percent of nothing.
The alley was cover from gunfire. It didn’t stop the teleporter from appearing again. As he materialized, she could see the four eyes that peered through the round lenses that were part of his military-aesthetic costume. He had a combat knife in each hand.
This would be the one who switched randomly between mutation sets every time he teleported. Most of those mutations would be weak, but there were some to watch out for.
He was one of two.
She used her power, leaping, blasting, and soaring well over the teleporter’s head. She landed in a crouch, felt her legs protest as she stood, and broke into another run.
He appeared in front of her again. This time he had four arms. The two other arms drew combat knives.
Same maneuver. She blasted, sailing over-
The other teleporter made his appearance. A woman in a stylized modern camouflage uniform, mask strapped on with a bandage wrapped around her head to help keep the mask in place. Long black hair escaped from the bandage and straps of the mask to billow in the wind.
First thing to notice- the woman had a handgun. She pulled the top back with one hand while holding the gun with the other.
Second thing to notice was that the woman had materialized in such a way that she stood on the wall, her body horizontal. She didn’t seem bothered by it.
Damsel used her power to change her course in the air, then used it again to propel herself forward. She heard a gunshot above her, roughly coinciding with the second blast. A miss.
She would feel this in her shoulders tomorrow, but she was winning.
The mutant cape appeared further down the alley. This would be one of the more bizarre end results. The rough shape was similar to one of the childhood toys Damsel had had. A giant head, where she could plug body parts into holes. No neck, no body. A massive head, stunted hands and feet. The mouth extended around the side and nearly to the back, and yawned open as she drew nearer.
The woman with the gun appeared again.
This was their tactic. To use the teleportation and positioning, one hemming in, stalling, and forcing reactions, the other cool, calm, collected, ready to snipe the target.
This casual use of guns was why Soldat didn’t already have East Boston locked down and firmly in their grasp. Capes using guns became a target. People were paying more attention to Soldat than to Orchard, and most seemed to despise Orchard.
Part of it was that they wanted to keep this fight over Boston from getting too lethal.
Damsel was cornered, with one teleporter ahead of her, large enough to block the exit, one above her, and the cape with the tube looming at the mouth of the alley, ready to shoot the moment the coast was clear.
She spotted what she was looking for. She’d carved out an escape route in anticipation. The trick had been placing it somewhere she could use, which meant placing it this far down.
This distance hadn’t seemed quite so long before she’d had to run it with parahuman soldiers nipping at her heels.
She used her power. Two blasts in quick succession. One to throw herself that way, and then one to fling herself at it at an angle. The hole was wide enough she could have passed through with her arms stretched out to either side, but the angle was steep enough her right shoulder grazed one side of the hole, and her left shoulder hit the left. She tumbled, and she felt the sting in her left shoulder that told her she would be bleeding.
The space on the other side was dark and cool. An industrial refrigerator hummed at the far end.
She used her power one last time, launching herself upward. She caught a shelf and felt it sway with her weight.
It steadied, and she waited.
“Trap?” one of the soldiers asked.
The woman soldier answered in a language Damsel didn’t recognize. Dutch or German.
Flashlights flicked on, and swept through the space. One beam passed beneath Damsel as she hugged the metal shelf. The metal was cold.
If that beam centered on her, somehow, then she would need to act. She would knock over all the shelves and scatter them, and then she would run.
The beam didn’t center on her. One found the hole she’d made in the far wall, leading into a dark hallway. Her escape route, if she knocked over the shelves. A red herring if she didn’t.
One of the parahumans moved further into the dark space. It was the mutating teleporter. He had four arms again. The one with the tube spoke up, his voice low, “No. We have other priorities.”
Then they were gone.
They would be focused on the truck.
Damsel smiled and dropped from the shelf. Her legs and shoulders hurt, but she felt good. Another win. This- this was far more of a thrill and far more productive than going to talk to a police officer that was looking for her, while in disguise.
All that was left was to wait. Soldat had to drive through another part of the city to drop off their things. She had interrupted that casual drive. Soldat’s convoy had stopped in the middle of hostile territory. One of two or three of the groups or players located in the area would hear or notice the truck being where it was.
She had no need to fight if she could manipulate her enemies into fighting each other.
She heard the confrontation begin. A boom from the one with the tube.
Damsel fully intended to leverage this. One side would limp away. She could go after them. If they sought shelter, she would threaten to collapse it around them.
She would break them.
“Damage in the alley,” someone said, far away.
A figure appeared in the hole in the wall. Damsel remained still as the person leaned in, looking around. A woman, with a mostly white costume with bands of blue running vertically from armpit to waist. An emblem of a feather diagonally crossed her chest.
It didn’t look like one of the local villains. Too polished and too soft a look.
Tempted, she stepped out of the hole in the wall, glancing around to make sure the coast was clear before looking down the length of the alley to where the truck had crashed.
Whatever was happening, most of it was happening out of sight.
Not all of it. She had glimpses, enough to put a smile on her face.
This was Boston right now? One little car accident and villain was fighting villain. Before that could even wrap up, heroes were appearing on the scene. A three-way fight.
Would there be others? If she had an opportunity, yeah. She would be the fourth, picking off anyone who seemed any combination of weak, hurt, and exposed.
She would reposition first, and tend to her shoulder. Gouged enough it would need a bandage, but she could do without stitches. That was good, considering her difficulty in self-administering stitches.
She had a bounce in her step as she exited the alley, walking away from the end where the truck had crashed.
She had to talk to her new underlings.
She could feel her entire body react to the word ‘stop’. In another way, her entire body reacted to the recognition of the voice.
Her good mood boiled away into irritation in a moment.
She turned her head, and she looked at Edict. There was another, younger cape in tow. Not Licit.
No. Fuck her, no.
Not when things were going well. Not when she was on such a good course, fully in the zone, where things were working.
“You,” Damsel said.
“This isn’t going to turn out well, Damsel.”
“You keep getting in my way,” Damsel said.
“We’re trying to keep the peace. It’s pretty clear you’re not.”
“Peace?” Damsel asked. She turned around, careful not to move from her position. “Peace? You haven’t heard these people talk. Peace? No. We’ll go after each other and we’ll go after you if you get in our way. You think throwing yourselves at this situation is going to calm things down?”
“I think you very deliberately set off that fight over the contents of that truck,” Edict said. “That isn’t calming things down.”
“I’m going to take my piece of this city, Edict. I’m going to be in charge. I’ll do business here, make it my home. I will fight you if you… I don’t even know what you do, you stalker lunatic. Will you move to Boston if I do? Just to nettle me with your power and preach at me?”
Edict had a pitying look on her face. It only irritated Damsel more.
“I wouldn’t move to Boston if you moved,” Edict said. “I was assigned to keep an eye out for you and that’s what I do. We’re not your enemy.”
“You’re not my ally, either,” Ashley said. She stood a little straighter. “They’re my allies.”
Edict turned around. The cape she was with raised his hands.
Ashley had asked names, but she didn’t remember most. The unpowered were hard to keep distinct. The boy with the freckles was J. The tall one was Bar. There was a girl called Angel, but she wasn’t a teenager. Just a girl who knew how to throw a punch.
Bar had two friends. Angel had a younger brother.
And Ashley had proven herself to the point that they had her back.
“Does your friend there have a power that can deal with all of us?” Ashley asked. “I know your power affects one person at a time.”
“Don’t go. We can talk. There is a place for you in Boston if you want it.”
“Same old story. Lies, to get me into custody. No. And no more talking. No more using your voice. If she talks again, knock her teeth out. If she gives someone an order, that person should obey. The rest? Knock her teeth out.”
Ashley took a step, disobeying the ‘stop’ order she’d been given. Pain exploded through her head, and as it dissipated, some of the peripheral vision in her left eye was gone.
Sometimes it was as minor as a tingle in the fingertips, blindness to the color blue, or a verbal tic. Sometimes it was more severe. Partial or total loss of a sense, or loss of the use of a limb. Hallucinations. Emotional changes. Sometimes an effect lasted a few minutes, sometimes it lasted days or weeks.
“I’ll see you soon, I’m sure,” Ashley said, as she walked past Edict.
Over the years, Ashley had learned it made sense to just obey, to avoid the annoying or the crippling. She’d learned to avoid giving Edict the chance to say something.
But this order had been to stop, and she had no intention of slowing down or stopping anytime soon.