I cast off the Wretch as I reached the fire escape. Water didn’t stick to my forcefield, and a lot of it wicked off naturally, but there were enough crevices and folds that did hold water that the rainwater came down all at once. It splattered against my hood and back, and against the slats of the fire escape.
The others retreated as I landed, some folding up umbrellas. I knew it was to give me room to land, and to get back to where it was dry- no reason to stay in the wet outdoors. I was aware, I knew the rationale, and I couldn’t shake the idea that they were getting out of the way of the Wretch.
I was no stranger to distorted thinking. Even before… before everything, I’d been swept up in it. As a child, wanting to belong to my family, being the odd one out, until I got my power. I’d later realized how lonely powers were.
The flip side of the coin applied too. Being the odd one in.
Amy had been the odd one in more than I had. Purely average in appearance, quiet, she hadn’t been passionate about hobbies or about anything in particular. She’d liked movies from Aleph and when she was twelve she’d break her usual reserved, quiet composure to get way too excited if she checked the change slot of a vending machine or pay phone and found a quarter. And yet when we got to high school, she was automatically included in the group of popular students. The group with Dean, who was supposed to take over his dad’s company, and with the star athletes and the star athletes’ boyfriends and girlfriends.
I’d eventually looked beyond my bubble of thinking my sister was great because she was my sister and I fucking loved her, wondering why she was included in the group of popular students when she wasn’t popular. Then I’d had to draw the eventual, inevitable conclusion, and wonder if I belonged to that group. Was I there just because my parents wore costumes and had flashy powers?
I’d settled in despite that. Amy had settled out- hanging out to keep me company, but not going out of her way to stick with the group. It had been easy for her to move in that direction, after I’d gotten powers. I’d been grateful for my earlier realization about the nature of the group, because it kept me real and provided a starting point for realizing where Dean was coming from, having come from money. I’d loathed it at the same time, because it cast doubt on every normal interaction.
My perspective had been distorted by anger, by the fact that I’d been young and I was being confronted with some of the uglier sides of my town. A classmate had confided in me that she had trouble seeing her path to a happy future because every adult she knew seemed miserable, and I’d sat back, thinking that I couldn’t see a way for our whole city to have a happy future because my parents, aunt, and uncles had sacrificed nearly everything and there were still racists, addicts, murders, theft, corruption, and pain.
It had been around the point of that realization that I’d started hitting harder, as if I could hit the worst offenders hard enough that they would stay down. Living up to the ‘brute’ part of the brute classification. So stupid, deluded, short sighted. Even now, I shuddered to think what I might have become if the combination of Dean and my sister hadn’t reined me in. In that world of heroes and criminals, that very stark reality, I hadn’t had enough points of reference to think straight.
The truth didn’t always correct distorted perspectives- it could just as easily create them. Comforting lies and illusions were important.
The group maintained its retreat, my instincts told me it was because of what I’d shown them, while my brain continued to protest in vain, telling me Kenzie was waging a war with a ‘hornet’s nest’ and the others were putting umbrellas away and getting situated.
I didn’t miss the fact that Byron switched to Tristan, even though it wasn’t Tristan’s turn.
It was Sveta who approached. She still had the towel she’d tried to give me.
“Let’s try this again. Get yourself dry,” she told me. “Whatever you need, let me know. I’ve got you.”
I put my hand over hers, and gave it a waggle. Then I took the towel and dried my face of the moisture that had beaded it in the midst of stormy weather. Lengths of my hair had been blown free and been soaked, and I wrapped the towel around each in turn, squeezing the fabric to leech out the moisture. I didn’t look at anyone in particular, and in a way I was spared from having to, since Sveta was close. She was wet, damp, but she loved the water.
I was on the third length of hair, which had wrapped around my shoulder, when I heard someone break the silence.
“That shape- that’s what you looked like in the hospital? Your sister changed your power?”
Kenzie. Wide eyed, innocent.
“How about I tell you after, Kenzie?” Sveta asked. “I know most of it. If that’s okay, Victoria?”
“Thanks,” I said. I was worried about the silence, and I decided to confront it head-on. “I needed to get that out of the way. It’s hard to bring up or even explain. My forcefield is wild. It’s important that if we get into a fight, you have some sense of its reach. I pay close attention, but stuff happens. If I end up compromised… something which isn’t out of the question with people like Goddess in play, it’s important you know.”
I saw some nods. Kenzie looked very serious. Tristan too. Chris looked disinterested.
“The forcefield is your strength? It’s the car-crushing strong part of your power?” Rain asked. “It’s hard to ask questions, because I don’t want to push, but I just want to make sure, get this out of the way.”
“Yeah. It’s where my strength comes from.”
“It’s good to know,” Tristan said. “Fuck those guys on television for getting into that. They knew?”
“Seems like,” I said.
“That might be important,” Tristan said. “It felt like they were angling to come after me, too. They had sources.”
“Including whoever tipped them off about Kenzie’s parents,” Ashley said. “I can’t imagine them watching that show or reaching out to those people first.”
“Gary Nieves first, probably,” Tristan said. “He was supposed to be on point. We threw him by getting onto the show and changing the topic of conversation to Gold Morning.”
“That’s not really a clue,” Rain said.
“It might be important.” Tristan’s voice was firm, his response almost an interruption.
“It might be, but… okay? If the trail leads to Gary, are we going to confront him or expect him to have a casual talk with us?”
“No,” Sveta said. “He’s a bigot.”
“Right,” Rain said. “So let’s not get too stuck in that specific mud. We can’t use that info, so let’s just keep in mind that people are getting info and using it to sling that mud at us, and move on.”
“At Mayday too,” Kenzie said. “He was the focus of episode one. It was why he was distracted when we were trying to coordinate everyone.”
Tristan sighed audibly.
“There are a lot of things to focus on,” Rain addressed Tristan. “Let’s focus on what we can fix.”
“I like that,” Sveta said.
Tristan met my eyes. I nodded.
Distorted perspectives aside, I did have the impression that Tristan had jumped in to change the subject, and that it had worked. Based on my understanding of him, it seemed like his particular form of goodwill. Ashley was a staunch defender of her favored few, with thorny words for anyone who stood against those few. Sveta supported. Tristan… he hurled himself into the fray.
“On the topic of immediate threats, any updates on Hookline and Kitchen Sink?” I asked.
“Herded to where we have surveillance teams waiting, surrounded and arrested. Auzure got the actual arrests, actually. They’re sitting in on the interrogation, and they’ll send us info when they have it.”
I winced. Not my favorite team, but… it was good we got them.
“There was chatter,” Kenzie said, her back to us as she typed. “Love Lost wasn’t happy they did that, apparently. She might be covering her rear.”
“It fits her, to not want people going after kids,” Rain said.
“Okay,” Kenzie said. “Also, I don’t know if this matters, but they noticed what we did when we went after Trial and Error, and people mentioned it in phone calls and whatever when Auzure got Hook and Sink.”
“Online too,” Chris added. “People mentioned it in some villain sub-forums. They aren’t doing anything about it yet. Emails are still coming in about your stunt on the show, mostly negative.”
“Our stunt on the show,” Ashley said.
“Sure,” Chris said. “Still, randoms came after us once, and they might do it again, if the emails we’re getting are right.”
Tristan shook his head. “Another one of those things we can’t do anything about. The question is, was it worth it?”
“The other hero teams are getting a chance to shape the discourse?” I asked.
“Mayday put on a good show, a bit stilted,” Tristan said. “Some ex-Wardens were also out there. Chevalier’s back, Legend and Valkyrie are away doing something important. Narwhal doesn’t do TV, and some of the ex-Guild like Stonewall and more stern, dark Protectorate types like Cinereal aren’t exactly TV types either.”
“Weld’s pretty good at it, but he’s still away,” Sveta said.
It was sobering, that we had so much going on, and key figures and faces were gone. People close to us.
“But they’re doing okay?” I asked. “I was busy all morning, I’m behind on things.”
“In my expert opinion, they’re doing okay,” Tristan said.
“It’s looking like it might have been worth it,” Sveta added, her voice soft. “Time will tell, but for now it looks like we’re mostly on course.”
I really hoped that was true.
“About your morning-” Tristan started.
I caught the uncharacteristic hesitation, and I heard the change in tone. More serious. Was I wrong that he was changing the topic? Were we going back to it?
“You decided you needed to share stuff you’ve been keeping in your back pocket,” he said.
“It’s good for us to know in case it comes up in conversation. It’s good if we know how we each operate on the battlefield. I’ll match you, I’ve been stuck on something the past week…”
“…My and Byron’s power are in flux.”
“What does that mean?” I asked. “Changing to a different creation?”
“Nothing that extreme. Hopefully we don’t go that way. It’s just that right now, I’m stronger, Byron is weaker. Which might be to our advantage.”
“You’re stronger?” I asked.
“Right now? Yeah.”
He created a swirl of orange motes. They manifested into a rough cleaver shape, the edge narrow if not quite razor sharp. Dark stone with veins of orange-red running through it.
“May I?” I asked.
I crossed the room, and I took the oversized cleaver. Dense.
“Can I destroy it?”
“Sure,” he said.
I flew up a bit, so the floor wasn’t in the way of the Wretch. My forcefield out, I let the Wretch grip it, my focus fixed on the cleaver, looking for a sudden jerky movement that might indicate the Wretch was flinging it at someone.
The narrowest edge cracked, then cracked more, but it took three or four seconds before it outright broke, a corner coming off. Once that happened, the entire thing broke into chunks, raining down to the floor. I let the Wretch go, and the stone dust that had built up in crevices fell down in narrow streams.
“During the Trial and Error fight, your creations weren’t this strong. They were practically chalk. Weak, no substance.”
“Yeah,” he said. “In flux. Sometimes it’s more stable. Lately? It’s very back and forth.”
“Powers do that,” I said. “Some more than others. Breakers especially, some Trumps, and powers with a lot of random chance. They depend more on the alien intelligence to manage the power, or they’re closer to that intelligence, so those parahumans feel it more. Powers are more generous or leave you hanging.”
“You think the random chance side of things isn’t random?” Rain asked.
“I find myself wondering,” I said. “But I think if we’re dwelling on the sources of powers, it might be worth keeping in mind that it serves their purposes. They have wants, and it makes more sense that when they’re choosing something random or giving us more or less raw power, they’ll favor us if we’re meeting those wants.”
“After I killed Snag, I got an edge, power-wise.” Rain’s expression shifted at the admission, brows drawing together.
“I had good and bad days when it came to my misfires, before I had working hands,” Ashley added.
“Not technically you,” Chris pointed out.
Chris shrugged. “Meh. I don’t think this conversation is fair to some of us, for the record.”
“Making sure everyone knows what’s up with each other’s powers?” Tristan asked.
“Pressuring side members of the group to divulge by being all share-happy.”
“If you think there’s happy in this sharing, you’ve got it wrong,” Rain said.
“I think there are agendas,” Chris answered, his tone harsher, his eyes moving between people but fixing on me more than anyone. “Maybe not the first thing in anyone’s mind, but I think it’s a thing in people’s minds.”
“Chris,” Sveta said. “There’s no agenda. If you wanted to share, then we’d be happy to get more information, but for right now-”
“You don’t have to tell us anything, but if you wanted to tell us stuff we’d like it?” Chris’s tone was sarcastic, almost mocking.
Distorted perspectives. The day had barely started and I felt wrung-out. Now he was attacking my friend? It was enough to piss me off in a shockingly short span of time. No rising temperature leading to a boil – it was one sentence in one voice that had me instantly off.
“You’re being ridiculous,” Tristan said.
“All I’m saying is that it seems kind of manipulative, the power-players in the group dish out their personal dirt, team mom Sveta plays nice and tries to rug-sweep-”
“Don’t call me the team mom,” Sveta said.
And it was at times like this that I couldn’t afford to act on feeling. Fingers and fingernails digging into the fabric of the towel, I kept the idea of the warrior monk in my mind.
“Why don’t we pause this conversation and come back to it with cooler heads?” I asked. “I know I’d be happier if we could.”
“Why don’t we just drop it entirely? You said what you needed to say, fine, whatever. But it doesn’t need to be a conversation. If it’s a conversation then that means it’s going somewhere. And that somewhere is just more pressure and expectations that we talk about shit.”
“You were the one who told me this team idea worked because we trust each other,” Ashley said.
“I think it’s painfully ironic that you take something I shared with you in a private conversation and bring it up to make a point about trusting one another. Or do you want to get into that full conversation and why I brought that up?”
“Ease up, Chris,” Kenzie said.
“Stop.” I used more emphasis and volume.
“That-” Chris started.
Tristan banged his hand on the table, hard. There was silence in the seconds after, broken not by words, but by the mechanical shuffling of Sveta’s body as she walked over to Kenzie’s workstation.
“You’re way out of line, Chris. This isn’t what we’re about,” Tristan said. “Did you dose on double-strength paranoia recently?”
“Why don’t you ask one of the girls if they’re acting aggressive because they’re premenstrual? It’s about as sensitive.”
“Stop,” I ordered. I had to resist using my aura to punctuate the statement and get their attention. “Enough. Whatever you’ve got going on, deal with it, or ask for help if you can’t deal on your own. But don’t do this.”
“May I go for a hike, ma’am?” All sarcasm.
“It sounds like a good idea. Let’s clear our heads before we return to this topic.” I didn’t miss the change in his expression, like he was about to say something. Before he could, I said, “If we return to it.”
Clearly pissed, inexplicable in mindset, he gathered his things. His messenger bag had a flap over the top, protecting it from the rain. Grabbing an umbrella, he headed for the door. Out into the late-morning darkness and the torrential wet. The wind that stirred in the room saw others standing back or catching papers before they could blow away and scatter. The cool wind made me very aware of my soaked clothes.
“If you’re heading somewhere, call me.”
I patted at the damper spots with the towel.
“What the hell, Chris?” Rain asked.
With no apparent powers in the mix, Chris’ paranoia had somehow disconcerted the team more than me revealing the Wretch. No warped perspective at play there- I understood it. A destructive, invisible force with an alien or dark subconscious driving it wasn’t a threat to the team or the dynamic in the same way that a problematic thirteen year old was.
Kenzie offered her interpretation. “Chris gets to a bad place now and again, and he doesn’t have anyone because he doesn’t want anyone.”
“That’s not an excuse,” Tristan said.
“No,” Kenzie said. “But I think he’s great, he’s so fun when he’s cool, and I think he deserves a chance to work through whatever’s bothering him.”
Tristan sighed. “This wasn’t okay, here. Right? I’m not out of my mind?”
“It wasn’t okay,” Sveta said. “But we’re all going to have one bad day, sooner or later. Days our powers screw us up, the past catches up to us, or life kicks us while we’re down and we can’t explain it to the group.”
“Do we need to go after him?” I asked. “Is that an invasion?”
“Leave him be,” Sveta said.
“We need to figure out how we’re going to handle the meeting with the Lady in Blue,” Tristan said. He drew in a deep breath and heaved out a sigh. “You’re up for this, Vic?”
“I have to be.”
Eight out of ten of our computers and phones were refurbished salvage. Old tech polished off with new software and new logos. The new software included an emergency alert system, each phone and computer now with a warning front and center, or a warning in the top corner, the image depicting water droplets with snowflakes embedded in them, rows of icicles in the background to fill in the white space.
Because our phones and systems throughout the region were being leveraged to get the warning out there, all services were slow. The alert was obnoxiously persistent, popping up with every one degree change in predicted temperature. Not a good thing when we needed battle updates.
The Major Malfunctions, Fume Hood and one other cape in their area were responding to reports of suspicious activity near a power facility as a group. A thinker on my mom and dad’s team was aware of potential riots stirring- or, more specifically, being stirred up, and the active members of that team were responding to that, ready to stave off any problems before they occurred. The Patrol was out and patrolling, no training for serious events, because today was the serious event, just a bunch of painted school buses and young people in scavenged body armor trying to control the damage done.
And those were just the groups and organizations I was personally managing. Tristan had his set, Sveta had hers, and Ashley had a couple of people she was emailing.
It was the first truly cold weather since spring; freezing rain that coated every surface in a thin sheet of ice. Ice left people outright spooked. Spooked people, in turn, did desperate things. They banded together to attack even larger groups and institutions, and they robbed places to try and scrounge up resources that could help them get through the winter. Even with the average Janes and Joes who were leaving work at four in the afternoon, there would be countless accidents, people needing saving.
I would have liked to be out there, helping.
I would have really, really liked it if they had focused on staying warm and stayed indoors. Instead, this weather was a cover for the covert, the break in the city’s rhythm a chance for the criminal, and it was a whole lot of activity needing attention.
The cameras showed Goddess walking up stone stairs. The stairs were built into a hill, not far from the apartments where laborers had been situated. All around the peak of the hill, construction projects stood dark, still unfinished following the strike a month ago, the same event where a broken trigger had leveled a crowd and broken the backs of a laborer’s union.
She had an entourage of two. Three if I counted the creature huddled in Amy’s jacket. Goddess’ jacket was blue, with a white fur ruff, and she had black pants on, with boots worn over. The coverage didn’t seem exceedingly necessary, as she wasn’t touched by the rain. That rain came at an intensity that made it closer to darts being flung sideways than any water coming from above.
She was her own eye of the storm, and the storm wasn’t hers. Sundancer had briefly stayed in my hometown, and her burning orb hadn’t touched anything within a few feet of her, but it had been hers, under her express will. This storm was just nature, and where the rain bent away from her and ran along an invisible slope, I could see the distortions in the air.
A young man with brown skin and an umbrella that didn’t seem to budge in the wind walked beside her, the umbrella open despite the lack of necessity.
On the other side was a young woman with brown hair, freckles dense on her face, neck and arms, and tattoos visible on the backs of her hands, poking out of voluminous coat sleeves. A white duffel coat, with red toggles.
The others kept glancing at me, double checking me, making sure I was okay.
“The Attendant had a member who got hurt,” Capricorn reported, in Tristan’s natural confidence. “Mission fail.”
“Damn,” I said. “Can we follow it up?”
“Everyone is tied up or resting. Nothing available, no. It wasn’t a big mission either.”
“They still failed,” Swansong said.
The laborers had built these stairs to make getting from one side of the hills to the other easier. The path was a touch convoluted, but it was better than hiking up steeper slopes. At the halfway mark, a gazebo-style enclosure or lookout had been set up, with benches inside and out, plexiglass windows, and a fire pit in the center.
Buckets of sand and shovels were sitting at the ready beneath tables and in cabinets that had been built into benches. At that fire pit, a fire burned, keeping its flames down as the wind seeped between plexiglass and stone column.
My heart was pounding.
We were all, Cryptid included, assembled. We’d established a ‘v’ formation. Capricorn was at the front, me at his right shoulder, Swansong at his left. Beyond Swansong was Rain, while Sveta was by me. Past Rain was Chris, while Sveta kept Kenzie close by.
She walked with audible, powerful footsteps that shouldn’t have echoed like they did, given the environment. I could hear her. And I could her the scuff of shoe on stone. I knew those footsteps – she’d never picked her feet up enough when she walked places.
It became hard to breathe as they stepped into he enclosure. This was it. We’d taken precautions and we were making use of safety measures, but the wait was over.
“I would say thank you for coming, but what’s the use?” the Lady in Blue asked. She reached out in the direction of the fire, and it swelled in size.
It was an oddly disconnected fragment. The formality so brief I had to replay the question twice in my head, the question not directed at anyone in particular.
“We’re here and we’re open to talk,” Capricorn said. “We’re a novice group but have information and we have connections. Are introductions in order?”
“Bianca,” the Lady in Blue said. “This is Luis, and I hope you know who she is. I already know your names.”
“Hi,” was the addendum from- I couldn’t call her my sister because that familiarity combined with relative proximity upset me on a deeper level. I couldn’t call her Amy for much the same reason. From Amelia. I felt my skin crawl. “And this is Dot.”
I had to look to see, getting my first really good look at the little squirrel-like companion. Big ears with longer hair drawing to a point at the tips, a long prehensile tail with a tuft at the end, and big eyes.
“Should we call you Amy, Amelia, or Panacea?” I asked.
“Amy, please. Same as always.”
“And are you actually creating life from- from nothing?”
“No. She’s her own being. It’s really good to see you. It’s nice to meet you, Breakthrough. Tress, I’ve heard a lot about you, secondhand. Swansong, we meet again. Same, Cryptid, kind of.”
I’d known she and Swansong had crossed paths. She had checked Bonesaw’s work on Amy’s hands. Cryptid, though?
I swallowed and the swallowing made my throat hurt, it was so tight.
“Bianca,” Capricorn said. “What can we do for you? I’m guessing you saw us on television, and you decided to open discussions.”
Bianca didn’t reply right away.
“A power was taken from me,” Bianca said. “Without it, I can’t return to my throne. I’m being hunted and fucking hounded, and I get no peace.”
“We’ve been keeping an eye on you,” Capricorn said. “We didn’t see any assassination attempts.”
“Not lately. They’re active elsewhere, which freed me up enough to meet with Amy and her father.”
As she’d said ‘elsewhere’, she had turned her head. Indicating the portals?
“Flashbang or Marquis?” I asked.
“Marquis,” Amy replied.
Her voice got to me more than anything. Hesitant, quiet, perpetually apologetic. I didn’t want apologies. I just wanted to feel normal.
“An ally,” Bianca said. “I like people with their rules. Discipline. It’s a good mindset to have.”
“Including Monokeros?” Swansong asked.
Bianca pressed two fingers to her lips, kissing the knuckles halfway down.
“That doesn’t tell me anything,” Swansong said.
“Silence is golden,” Amy translated.
Gold is a loaded word. Idioms or gestures from strange earths might work better than running away with this.
Gold. The tattoos on Amy’s hands had traces of gold. More black, more red.
“If you’ll help me get what you need, I’ll help you with our mutual enemies and I will reward you. Help me take power, and I have a world’s worth of wealth and resources. I can make you head of a state. I can give you power and influence here. I can tell you that people in my world were very interested in deciphering powers. They helped make me what I am, unwittingly, but they were happy in the end. The, ah, monsters who made you, painted Tress, that icon on your cheek-”
Sveta reached up, touching her cheek. I was caught between observing her and paying attention to the gestures that punctuated certain words. Monsters, index finger curled into a hook. By the faint change in her expression, perhaps something obscene.
“-they would deposit the monsters and the unsolvable riddles in my world. We solved most. My understanding of powers helps, our labs help more.”
“I could help too,” Amy said.
My heart sank into my ankles, plunging through and leaving cold toxicity in its wake, curling through my midsection.
“All our heart’s desires, and we just have to bow and scrape for the rest of our lives?” Swansong asked.
“I’ll give you a heart’s desire each, if you’ll find this person with my power. You have the means, the knowledge, and the talent. No servitude required. I would go home and conquer it fairly, again.”
“I’d go with her,” Amy said. I winced a little at the sound of her voice. “I would be gone forever, if you wanted. Like I tried to do, way back then, except I’ve been thinking about this a lot, the last few weeks.”
I knew just what arguments had struck home for which people. I worried some had been tailored to specific individuals.
But there was no way we could conscience handing her power or agreeing to this, when it meant potentially putting an entire Earth into servitude. We’d say no, and-
“We’ll think about it,” Capricorn said. “We need a bit of time to discuss.”
“A day?” Capricorn asked. He glanced at us. “At a minimum?”
“Time is of the essence. In a day, things might be too far gone. Your Mama Mathers, Rain, is gone. They’ll find out soon. Your Valefor is healed and gone. Warlords from your old Earth have been snatched up, and people don’t yet know.”
“Half a day,” Capricorn said. “Maybe. It’s-”
“Amy,” Bianca said, and her voice was low.
“I say yes. Play fair with them, give them their time, agree to some of my dad’s stipulations for your next term of rule, I’ll come with you, be your lieutenant.”
I heard a whisper.
“And Dot too.”
“It’s easier and cleaner to gather my army. Let the hounds come en fucking masse. One fell stroke.”
I had a sense of her way of speaking now, as it belatedly clicked. Like a girl from an overly formal private school or college, bucking at the confines. Spoiled and dangerous.
“That’s not clean at all,” I said, as diplomatically as I could.
“If we run out of time, if we let them get too much of an upper hand, it will be the opposite of clean. Ask your Amy.”
“It’s bad, Victoria.”
“Don’t-” I said. “Don’t say my name, don’t address me, thanks.”
“It’s bad. Alright,” I said. “But there are options. Better ones.”
“If you attack the prison, you’ll be playing right into their hands,” Capricorn said. “They’re ready for you. It’s how we ended up here in the first place.”
“I’ll recruit my assistance, and I won’t be attacking alone,” Bianca said. Then there was a moment, and it was like she’d said a word with monumental emphasis.
My heart skipped a beat.
Sixty-four miles away, we were still in the headquarters. Cameras and projectors put images of us in the gazebo-like structure. But she’d known that, she’d realized it right away, and been put off by it.
Sixty-four miles away, and she had me, without an action or a word spoken.
I looked at Sveta, ready to communicate something, and I saw it in her eyes.
She had us. All of us.
“I took over a world with my power,” Goddess said.
“Bianca-” Amy said.
Goddess half-turned, hand raised. Amy went silent.
Goddess finished, turning toward the projected images. “That is not a takeover that happens if I need to be where I assert my power. Let the hounds come baying.”