Damsel’s power broke through the silence, the scream and the crackle of it so abrupt in how it came on and dissipated that she could imagine it was a continuous sound that was only audible when her power opened the door.
In the break between the use of her blasts, her toes scrabbled for footing on the brick.
Another blast, driving her up and at an angle. The darkness rippled behind and below her like her dress flapped and whipped around in the disturbed air. She had to work against the push, so she wouldn’t simply be pressed against the wall. Instead, her leg extended out, some isolated muscles she wasn’t used to exercising straining, her foot dragged down, and she made her way up.
She was three stories above the ground, only a drop with nothing to grab below her.
The blasts alternated, to provide that recoil push that could drive her skyward, while her feet worked to give her traction and keep her positioned.
This blast sputtered after she tried to extinguish it; a movement of her hand she hadn’t intended, or just the power being its moody self, it continued to output power, pushing her off course. She was flung sideways, toward the corner of the building, and beyond that- only the fifty foot drop to pavement and sidewalk.
She compensated, a use of her power to send her in the opposite direction. So wild and reflexive a move saved her from the immediate threat, bought her a second, and threatened another crisis, her entire body out of position, her frame of reference spinning around her.
She could see the fat, rust-stained concrete lip at the bottom of a window, and she stomped on it more than step on it, in her rush to find footing.
It was another half second of time, and it gave her the ability to establish her frame of reference, reminding herself what was up, what was down, and where she wanted to be.
Up. She blasted, both hands, and her knee almost struck her chest as she rushed to get her footing in advance of her body getting that high.
Up, another burst, another noise, another shudder through her arms and shoulders to her chest, the feeling around her heart and chest reminding her that she hadn’t breathed in twenty or thirty seconds.
Then- no footing. She was moving upward, her shoulders tense, her chest locked with no breath passing through her throat or mouth, dress and hair moving with the air, and her arms out and behind her. The building was below her.
A short blast moved her horizontally. She landed on a broad tarred shingle that wasn’t fully attached to the roof. The shingle moved under her as she came to a stop.
She stepped up to and then stood on the corner of the rooftop. Her group was in the lot below her, with twenty-five of her people rushing to fill up the trucks they’d haphazardly parked around the building. People were shouting orders, trying to harangue a disorganized mob of teenagers and twenty-somethings into order.
The building below her was a warehouse. Televisions, computers, laptops and printers. She had been informed that most were the kind that flooded stores before all the students arrived for university, cheaper, with brand names nobody had heard of.
The teenagers were nervous, and a heavy rumble had almost made them shit themselves. It had been followed by another, and then another. She had had J call the mercenaries she had stationed at either end of the warehouse lot to see if they’d seen the cause. They hadn’t.
Now she had her vantage point, and her eyes scanned the area.
A helicopter made its way through the night sky above them. She could see her people stop in their tracks at the noise, heads turning to see the helicopter-mounted spotlight roving over buildings a block away.
Not for them.
The spotlight of the helicopter illuminated the source of the rumbling, a ways off to the north, past the water.
It was taller than some four-story buildings, hunchbacked, without much of a head. It walked on two legs, using one of its arms when its balance failed it and it tipped too far forward. Its other arm wasn’t the kind that supported weight, consisting of a morass of tentacles.
As the helicopter drew nearer, the tentacles began to unfurl, expanding out to fill the area around the giant. It turned, standing straighter, clearly hostile.
The helicopter pulled back, the spotlight covering more of the giant with a lower intensity.
It made its way out into the water, and the tentacles from its arm spread out, plunging into the water around it. It stood with its back to the area.
Damsel crossed the roof, found the ladder for the fire escape, and slid down, one hand on the side, another ready to grab the rungs if something went wrong, her feet stopping her periodically.
She hopped down the last five feet, and dusted off her hands. Grime, paint chips and rust, with some abrasions. A use of her power cleared away the rust.
“Did you see what it was?” J asked her.
“Giant monster,” she said. “How are we doing?”
“Giant monster?” J asked. People nearby looked curious too.
“I asked you a question,” she said, her voice sharp.
“Uh, we’re fine. We should plan more before we do this again, teach our people to load things efficiently. Giant monster? How giant?”
“Seventy-five feet? I don’t know. Big doesn’t matter.”
“We’re not concerned?”
“I am concerned that we have a convenient distraction and we might waste it. Will we be done in five minutes?”
“Last load, people!” J shouted. “We’re out in four!”
“Alright,” Damsel said.
People who’d been inside made their way out, carrying large boxes. A few had flat boxes stacked three or four high, each stack carried by two people.
“Careful about tipping them over!” a man called out. It was Marrow, at one of the trucks. “You can mess with the internal hardware or some shit like that.”
Damsel walked over to him. “Any complaints?”
“Nah, this is good,” Marrow said. “What was the rumble?”
“Giant monster. But it’s not here and it’s not threatening the city. We can ignore it.”
“You’re sure?” he asked. At her nod, he asked, “We part ways after this, then? Your convoy goes one way, me and my brothers go another?”
“We’ll touch base soon. If you can’t offload your take, we might have an offer,” Damsel said.
“You’re pretty confident you’ll be able to sell all this,” he observed.
It was four trucks that were partially filled- three smaller moving vans and one eighteen wheeler. Marrow’s ex-cons had one large moving van.
“We’ll see,” she said.
“Get in and buckle up!” Bar called out. “Don’t let any of those boxes fall on you!”
People filed into the eighteen wheeler. The shutter at the back was closed.
The other trucks were loaded up, her people inside, and the doors shut.
“Bring my trucks back whenever,” Marrow said.
“Yeah,” she said. She walked away.
It was one of her underling’s cousin’s tips that had given them the location of the stocked warehouse. That cousin was in their security uniform, at the far end of the lot with a broken leg, a shiner, and two of the four mercenaries she’d hired standing guard over them.
By choice, as strange as it seemed. Cape insurance was paying out the nose while Boston was being turned upside-down, and they weren’t vetting a lot of the reports, or so this cousin thought. For enduring a broken leg and a bruise, they had a disability payout, an excuse to claim mental distress, and the ability to coast for six months to a year before they had to go back to work. That was their estimation, reportedly. She didn’t really care if it worked out or not.
She got what she’d wanted. Trucks loaded with stolen goods. J’s suggestion had been to basically sell some of the computers and TVs to her people for ten percent of their label prices. From the buzz she’d heard, some seemed excited about the idea. Less profit, but it made for happier underlings and less stock to offload.
Some of her people were prepared to drive to major cities and towns nearby to offload to groups and connections there. Bar had family who wanted to buy some of the stock to sell on the down-low.
J and Bar seemed pretty confident that they’d already made arrangements to get rid of two truckloads. Part of one truck would go to her people -that was fine- and the rest? It couldn’t be too difficult. The trick was that her people would be selling it themselves, rather than distributing to people who would sell it. That involved risks.
“Ready to go?” J asked.
J signaled with a wave of his hand.
His car was parked between two buildings. Damsel took the passenger seat, and J shut the door for her.
“Want me to drive ahead or behind?” J asked.
J leaned out of the window and waved his arm in a forward motion.
The trucks rolled out.
They pulled out of the broad concrete lot that bounded the warehouse and other buildings in the same broader complex, and Damsel raised a hand to signal the mercenaries.
“Is Marrow happy?” J asked.
“Happy enough,” she responded. They’d allowed Marrow to bring a single truck in exchange for loaning them the vehicles to move the stock. It built relations, which was handy. Marrow had ignored her or claimed to be unavailable the last four times she had reached out. She’d stung his pride.
Forming working relationships would be good.
“My heart is pounding like crazy,” J said. “It has been since we first got into the trucks to drive here.”
“Wuss,” she said.
“Isn’t yours?” he asked. “How are you calm at a time like this?”
“I’m not, I suppose,” she said. She wasn’t calm, but it made her uncomfortable to try to explore that simple question of how she felt or where her ‘normal’ was. There were times her heart raced, and her heart was racing now, but that wasn’t unusual. It was almost normal. Whenever it wasn’t like this… she couldn’t say she was calm. If she wasn’t actively doing something then she generally had other concerns.
It was a rare, rare time that she was still, things were mundane, and she found a moment to consider to how she felt or how her body was doing.
She moved her hand with care, because an incautious movement could destroy the car door, wheel, or engine. She didn’t recognize her own hand.
For the last little while, she had been eating more. Thanks to J. Her fingers were still thin, but the bones and the tendons at the back weren’t quite as defined as they had been.
The window was open, and she put her hand outside. Dangerous, to let the wind push and pull at her hand, but she was careful to keep it rigid.
She felt good and she didn’t trust the feeling. She’d felt good when she’d robbed the bank with Kidney Stan’s group. She’d felt good when she’d looted the clothing store in Stafford at four in the morning and made off with bags of clothes. The bank robbery had gone wrong and the ‘good’ had become something else, and the good feeling from the looting of the clothing store had soured with a quickness that suggested the feeling hadn’t been real.
No good days. There were the bad days and there were the days she dreaded the bad days. Right now, she was caught between a low-key excitement that wouldn’t quit and the dread.
Almost, almost, she was tempted to do something stupid just to get it out of the way and alleviate that dread.
Hm. Maybe not so almost. She couldn’t quite recall the train of thought that had led to her scaling the side of the building with her power. There hadn’t even been thought, when she tried to remember the sequence of events. The noise had demanded her attention, and somewhere between the point where she had rationalized that she needed to get up higher to see what was going on, needed to do it fast, and couldn’t climb up the ladder without her power getting in the way… had she felt a kernel of that desire to alleviate the dread? Had she pushed it out of mind and acted on it, in her hurry?
That spooked her more than the electronics robbery or the rumble had.
“Holy shit, there it is,” J said.
Damsel tilted her head to see through the side window, and she saw the giant. It hadn’t moved. More helicopters with lights were circling it. Nobody was fighting the thing, and the thing wasn’t fighting anyone.
“Blasto’s, probably,” she said. “He was making something big.”
“You’re not bothered?”
“Not as long as he keeps it out of Deathchester.”
“Half the city must be shitting itself right now,” J said.
“Because they’re weak,” she said.
She’d wanted to say something clever, to elaborate on the thought, but she heard the way she said ‘weak’, the harshness of it, and it surprised her enough that the rest of the statement caught her off guard.
I would fight past ten of Soldat’s soldiers, a hundred of Blasto’s plant heroes, or disobey a thousand of Edict’s orders, if it meant not feeling like this.
A collision ahead of them snapped her to reality. Tires squealed as J hit the brakes, then steered to avoid the trucks that were simultaneously braking and swerving to avoid what was ahead of them.
Her power destroyed the door handle as she opened the car door. The eighteen-wheeler’s long body provided some cover as she jogged ahead, trying to get to a point where she could see what was going on.
Latent emotion boiled up. The dread became something manifest and tangible that ran in her veins. There was a desperate edge to her feelings
She saw a ghostly prism floating in the air, rotating slowly.
“Licit!” she screamed the word.
Her people were climbing out of the back of a truck.
“Boss,” one said.
“Licit!” she screamed, again. Her power flared.
She saw the heroes further down the street. Licit wasn’t alone. He walked toward her, filling the air around him with more ghostly shapes, ranging from a few feet across to the size of a car. Spheres, cubes, diamond prisms, cones. His backup didn’t advance with him.
“What do we do?” someone asked.
She stared at Licit, breathing hard.
“We need two trucks, minimum,” she said. She had to catch a breath to get the final two words out. “Get out.”
“Bar!” the person shouted. “We gotta leave with two trucks!”
Other names were called. O’Neil- he’d been driving one truck. She glanced back and saw him being extricated from the cab of a truck. The airbag had trapped him and someone was now hacking at it with a knife to try to get the air out sooner.
Licit raised a hand, extending it their way. She saw more shapes appear in the air. Between her and Licit, behind her, and-
One truck reversed. It ran into the sphere that had been created behind it.
She reversed direction, walking away from Licit. A wall appeared in front of her- the face of a cube- she destroyed it with her power.
More. One after another, obstacle, frustration, stalling.
He created them almost as fast as she destroyed them. Her progress was measured in single paces.
She reached the back of the truck and destroyed the cube there.
“Back!” she called out, hopping up and grabbing a dent for a handhold. Her power crackled, tearing a hole in sheet metal, and her fingers caught on the sheet metal, gripping the edge.
She expected the shape to appear, and she blasted it before it could have an effect.
The truck got turned around, and she hopped off as it sped off.
Another shape -a tall spike- appeared in the truck’s way. The driver avoided it, but it hit the side view mirror and cracked the passenger side window.
The other truck hung back. J was hanging onto the driver’s side door, watching things while communicating with the driver. The people from the other truck were hurrying to get inside so they could get a ride away from the scene.
Rather than go to the truck, she went after Licit. She knew how he operated. He had a hard-on for her, like Edict did. He’d been a big city cape once, and he’d transferred to her town because he got his jollies making her miserable.
He rode around with police and did talks at schools, according to the stoners she talked to.
Oh, and he got in her fucking way.
“Licit!” she screamed.
“I don’t want to fight, Ashley!”
“Have the decency to call me Damsel of Distress, you genital wart!”
“Damsel of Distress,” he said. He was shaking his head.
A cone appeared at knee height, point touching the ground. She almost walked into it, avoided it only because she’d had this encounter far too many times already.
“Digging your grave every time you try that, petty man,” she said.
“Why don’t you stop right where you are, and we talk. I’m not looking to arrest you.”
He indicated the giant in the background, his head turning.
She used the opportunity to run toward him.
He created a barrier. She blasted it, stumbling off to the left, then resumed running. He created another barrier.
“Just stop, let’s chat. We have bigger concerns tonight, believe it or not.”
“No you don’t,” she said, her eyes going wide. “You got in my way, so you’d better believe I’m your biggest concern.”
“We’ll let you go with the trucks that can still move,” he said. “If you’re willing to talk.”
“Do you like having legs, Licit? I’ll let you keep them if you start begging for mercy now.”
“You’ve never hurt anyone that badly, Damsel. You’re not about to start now. Stop.”
More barriers. She blasted through each, changed the direction she moved as she tried to guess where each would appear and evade pre-emptively, and she drew nearer to him.
He began walking backward, keeping the same general distance from her.
As her second truck pulled away, he raised an arm for his buddies. Two took flight, flying toward the truck, leaving only two on the ground.
“Less witnesses?” she asked. She shook her head. “Your bosses are going-”
She blasted at another barrier.
“-To need at least three if they’re going to make sense of exactly what it is I did to you and your remains.”
“Did you or do you know about that giant?” he asked.
She blasted another cube to pieces, stalking toward him. He was walking through his shapes while they were solid for her. He was relying on the shapes he’d made in advance to help keep the distance.
“…Your robbery was suspiciously timed,” he said.
“I have some idea. How about I whisper it in your ear?”
“We flew over, our thinker gave us the take on you being in the car, stolen goods being in the truck. We- if you stop and talk to me, I’ll call back the Boston fliers that just left. You can walk away.”
She glared, blasting again. Then, to break up the rhythm, she shot with the hand that hung limp at her side, her arm going rigid to provide some strength for the blast. She sent herself upward, over the field, and then blasted again to rocket toward him.
Shapes went up. He leaped to one side and skidded on one hip and leg, moving along a smooth, shallow slope he’d made with his power. She gave chase, rocketing toward him with her power, and more shapes went up between them.
This time- cones and diamond-shaped spires that might as well have been spears. Points aimed her way.
She reached out, touching one of the points. She smiled. “Got scared?”
“Director of the Boston PRT wants to talk to you,” he said.
“We bring you in or have you make a phone call. We’re supposed to take the stolen goods back, according to the police, but we’re getting conflicting orders, because we’re supposed to be ready in case that giant ends up being a threat. Given our past relationship-”
Damsel snorted. “You stalk me and get in my way.”
“-I’ll let the stolen goods slide. We won’t arrest your guys. If you talk.”
“Does describing your unfortunate and imminent demise count? Fuck you, Licit. You’ll promise that and betray me the moment you have what you want.”
“I’ve never once done anything like that.”
“Everyone does things like that. You’re not special.”
“I’ll tell you what,” he said. “I’m going to reach slowly for my belt. I’m going to pull my phone out, and I’m going to call my guys off. Just… stay where you are.”
She stared at him.
His hand moved. She watched as he reached down, drawing the phone out. There was a pause as he typed, his eyes moving back and forth between the phone and her.
“Dovetail, Aerobat. Can you let the trucks go?”
There was a pause.
“Please,” he said. Pause. “Yeah. Thanks.”
“You’re lying. Secret code. Cops and capes can lie, and I’m not going to be fooled.”
“Just… wait?” he asked.
“If you are lying, how about I put you down? I might not have maimed anyone, you’re right about that, but I’ve killed people, you know.”
“I know, Ashley,” he said. “I’m sorry that happened.”
Her expression twitched. Irritation, anger. Her voice was hard. “What did I say about my name?”
“I wasn’t saying it to you,” he said it in a quiet voice. “I was saying it to her. Is that okay?”
“No,” she said. “That’s the kind of thing that makes me throw myself past these spikes of yours and take your head from your shoulders.”
“Then I won’t do it again, Damsel of Distress,” he said. “Sorry.”
A moment passed. She wanted to pace, but she worried that would be the trap, a bit of forcefield created at a level to trip her up, create a weakness that he could use.
The idea nettled her. She remained where she was, imagining what she might do if an opportunity came up.
“You’ve never beat me,” she said. “You never found me. And I’m your full-time job?”
“Well, I help the police and things. Ah, there they are. See?”
Dovetail and Aerobat. The pair dropped down from the sky, rejoining the two in the background. They were looking more at the giant in the water than at Damsel.
“They could have already caught my friends. Doesn’t Dovetail make forcefields? This is clearly a trap. You wouldn’t call them back for nothing.”
“I called them back because I promised that I would if you stopped and talked. Which you effectively did.”
Her eyes narrowed.
“How about this? You can use my phone or you can take a burner phone. Call your group, confirm they’re fine. But also call Director Armstrong. If you take the burner phone, you call him at your leisure,” he said, tapping his belt. “I brought it for that express purpose.”
“With a tracer in it? No. Stop acting like I’m stupid, Licit.”
“We don’t think you’re stupid, Damsel of Distress. We do worry about you.”
“As you should. I’m dangerous.”
His phone illuminated, buzzing silently in his hand.
She stared him down.
“Can I answer, Damsel? It’s… the team back there.”
She didn’t answer. She would give her team a bit longer to get away, then she would act. She would have to deal with two fliers. That would be a pain.
There was a building nearby. She could blast a hole in the wall and force them to maneuver in an area they couldn’t fly up.
If need be, she would bring parts of the building down behind her.
He pressed the button on his phone without raising it from where he held it to his side. He glanced down and hit another button.
“Licit,” a female voice came over the phone’s speaker.
“Dovetail,” Licit said, looking at Damsel. “That’s Dovetail. What do you need?”
“Do you need us to stick around? We’re wondering if we should go after the giant. Just in case.”
“Go,” he said. “I think I’m fine. De-escalating might be good.”
In the background, the two fliers took off. The other one ran toward the water, in the general direction of the giant. It had to be a mile and a half away.
“No witnesses,” Damsel said.
Licit hung up the phone.
“Your raid happened when the giant appeared. Did you know it would appear?”
She remained silent.
He looked over his shoulder at the giant, and then without looking back to her, he said, “Director Armstrong has information about the Clockwork Dogs. It’s why he wanted to talk to you. Give us any info you have, agree to play reasonably nice, and…”
He drew in a breath and sighed.
“…We’re not especially invested in stopping you. This situation in Boston is going to wind down in the next month, we’re hoping, as the major players lock down their territories or get their business underway. If you’re one of them, then it’s not our first choice for outcomes, but at least you seem reasonably healthy and you’re not as bad as some.”
“I’m pretty darn bad, Licit. You got scared enough to put spikes in my way.”
She touched a spike. It fizzled out of existence- because of him, not her.
“You’re not shipping in prisoners from overseas and turning them into half-cow people to sell to fans of some asinine children’s show. You cause property damage and you legitimately scare me because I can’t ever know for sure how far you’re willing to go, but I’ve been keeping an eye on your activities in Stafford-”
“Keeping an eye on you, Damsel of Distress,” he said. “I’ve been doing it long enough to get some sense of who you could be. I’d rather have you around than nine out of ten of these assholes. Edict would too, for the record. Given a chance she’d cook you a warm meal, probably. At least once a week, every week for the two years we’ve been keeping an eye on you, she’s said she would drop a box of eclairs off on your doorstep if she- if she knew where you were. Or things like that.”
Damsel didn’t respond.
“I’ve joked it’s a Stockholm syndrome thing,” he said. “We’d take you in and have you be a hero. We’d pay you well, give you clothes, see what we could do to get your power under control, give you foster guardians…”
“You’ve told me this before. Deceptions. You’ll get me into custody and then drag me off to jail.”
“I don’t think we could keep you in jail,” he said. “We do this song and dance instead. I’m glad I got to spell it all out like this, instead of frantically shouting bits and pieces of it while you’re up to something. I’ll rest easier knowing I got to make the full pitch once.”
“This shark isn’t going to bite that baited hook,” she said. “It’s still not ruling out taking your head off.”
“Yeah,” Licit said. “You’re doing this instead. I really hope it works out, weird as it sounds.”
“It’s going to work out,” she said.
“Okay,” he said. “Okay. If that’s the case, then we’re going to be around another month or so. That’s when we’re expecting it to come to a close. Obviously, if you’re robbing a bank and we’re patrolling, we’ll be on the scene, but that’s it, we won’t come after you in any dedicated way. After that, we’ll be gone, assigned to another small town somewhere. You’ll be rid of us.”
“I’ll believe it when I see it.”
“We’ll be gone sooner if you tell us anything you know about the giant.”
“You could even tell me you don’t know anything.”
“I’m pretty sure it’s Blasto’s,” she said. “He was brewing something big. There was talk he had a big weapon, like the death ray building scale of thing. This fits for time, it fits for what people were saying and thinking.”
“Good to know,” he said.
“His team of capes isn’t real. They’re vat grown.”
“Are they?” he asked.
She almost elaborated. She didn’t. “You should have heroes that know this. Like the one who knew our trucks had stolen goods in them.”
Licit nodded, but he didn’t reply.
“Don’t treat me like I’m stupid,” she said. “I’m corroborating what you already knew. Or you didn’t need corroboration, but me saying this lets you check off some box for some reason.”
“Something like that,” he said. “Alright. I’ve done my duty, I’m probably not going to get a wink of sleep tonight while we figure out what to do about the giant, so… I’ll leave you to it, like my name says.”
She stared him down, glaring.
“Call the Director. If nothing else… you’ll have to negotiate with the good guys sometimes if you’re going to do business in Boston. Open that line of communication. You need to know what you’re up against.”
He reached into his belt, drew out the black flip-phone, and threw it her way.
She caught it.
After a moment’s consideration, she destroyed the phone with her power.
“Good luck, I guess,” he said.
“I had a question,” Ashley said.
“Sure,” Riley answered. She held one of Ashley’s hands in her hands, and held it up, poking at the raw end to make the fingers move. It was idle, and not for any particular purpose.
It annoyed Ashley enough that she almost lost her train of thought.
“Nail polish. What would it take?”
“I’ve replaced your nails with different colored ones before,” Riley said. “Well… ‘color’.”
“If I wanted to apply actual nail polish.”
“That wouldn’t be destroyed by your power? That’s hard. Is it important?”
“I was out, a few days ago. New area. There was a shop with a sign in the window. Superhero styled nail polish. A friend of mine thought she might be able to do it.”
“That’s neat,” Amy said. She had one hand on one of Ashley’s other arms. She looked back at Ashley. “The idea of something fancy like that, and that you have a friend willing to do it.”
“I don’t know if she would be able to. But… it might be nice to have that freedom.”
“Here,” Riley said, “Amy, give me the arm. I’ll see what I can do.”
“Thank you,” Ashley said.
“Have tea and cake with me again or something, in exchange for me going to the trouble,” Riley said. “Sometimes I think I’m going to lose my mind again, cooped up in here like this.”
“We can’t have that,” Ashley said.
“I’m going to my room. I have nail polish there I can use for tests,” Riley said.
Then she was gone.
Amy leaned against the counter by the sink. She pursed her lips, her eyebrows going up momentarily. Nothing to say.
Ashley looked down at the stumps. The hollow metal rods had been replaced by ones with blunt ends, rather than the sharp ones of a year ago.
“I heard, um, you talked to my sister at one point?” Amy asked.
Ashley looked up, staring.
“I don’t want to pry or anything, but I worry about her. I-”
“Then don’t pry,” Ashley said, her voice cold.
There was a pause.
Ashley exhaled slowly, her eyes closed.
When her eyes opened, her head was still tilted back, staring up at the ceiling.
She was tired. She would have to sleep, and she was worried about where that would take her. Her nerves were frayed.
There were things to do. She would need to make sure she looked her part. She’d had more successes than failures overall, though the loss of the trucks would be something she would have to bring up with Marrow.
She walked on her knees to get to the point where she could climb off the bed, then fixed her dress. She smoothed it down, because it was better to do that now when there was time to replace it. The wrinkles in the dress persisted. She frowned.
That could be fixed. She tended to her hair, which was less of a risk than the dress. It had been styled, and she hadn’t had cause to use her power on it.
She would have to soon, though. She could see the start of the faint blonde roots.
“Get ready,” she said.
J sat up, rubbing his jaw. “Any plans?”
“You’re my assistant. You should know full well what we’re doing tonight.”
“Tonight’s moot. I meant the specifics.”
He went into the bathroom.
She elected to change clothes herself, because his way of doing it would take too long. Her second nicest dress hung in the closet, and she was careful as she put it on. She left the zipper alone.
He emerged from the bathroom, face freshly washed, hair fixed, and did the zipper up for her.
“I’m going to get the paperwork in case we end up doing any business.”
She was ready before he was. When she stepped into the hallway of the hotel, the others were there. Angel leaned against the wall, smiling.
“Stop being so happy,” Ashley told her. “There’s only so much to go around.”
“There’s more going around than there was a week ago,” Angel said. Bar elbowed her.
“Yeah. Maybe there is,” Ashley said.
The door of the hotel room was open, and she could see J at the other end, gathering papers and putting them into a messenger bag. He approached.
“Sorry for the wait.”
“Then be faster next time,” Ashley said.
They walked as a group to the parking lot, and loaded up into cars. There was bickering about who sat where, but she ignored it.
“We should take another car,” J said.
The handle on the passenger side door was broken. She stared at it for a moment, then nodded.
The drive was quiet, but quiet was good.
The giant was still in the water. Over the day since its arrival, the giant had moved some, letting people know it was still a potential threat, but it hadn’t attacked anyone or done anything, and nobody had picked a fight with it. She imagined it would be a topic tonight.
Numbers had swelled and changed over the past several moots. As they reached the crest of the hill that looked over the beach, there were multiple fires visible. The bonfire remained as its own construction, bigger than any of the others.
They stopped on the road overlooking the beach, and then they began their walk.
Ashley had been content to stick to the shadows over the past several moots, but the shadows had shrunk over the past few visits, with the individual fires.
Her heart raced, and she felt the kernel of- of a tentative feeling that she pushed out of mind before it could trip her up. Composure mattered. Image was everything, as she had her people behind her and her enemies in front of her.
There was no room for error.
She approached, and she took her spot at the inner ring by the fire for the first time.