“Bluuuuurggh,” Crystal said, as we left the station.
“Blurgh,” I responded. “Cold enough for you?”
“It was seventy-four degrees out where we were stationed! What is this? Why can’t it be warm all the time everywhere?”
I smiled- not just because Crystal was being silly, but because I could see the crowd filtering out of the station. I was pretty used to the looks a cape got in public, and Weld, Laserdream and I were all costumed or known capes. It was pretty obvious when I compared the attention we got from some compared to the lone individuals who didn’t give half as many shits.
The latter group had either worked closely with capes for a long time, or they were capes themselves.
“So,” Crystal said. “How you been, cuz? Because I can’t help but notice that you went and hurt your other arm. Hand. Whatever.”
“We ran into a parahuman who burns powers. Sets forcefields and auras on fire. That was a thing. And Lung was there. I don’t suppose you had any access to Gimel news? TV?”
She shook her head. Her expression was nearly blank, but her eyebrows were up toward the center, creating a line of wrinkle on her forehead.
“Don’t make that face.”
She reached up and adjusted her hair a bit, so the part that swooped down over one half of her forehead and one eye now covered the eyebrows and some of her other eye. Still making the face, just hiding it.
I elbowed her while she was still adjusting, and her hair came loose of the hairband.
“It was a thing. Goddess against Teacher. Gimel caught in the middle. Monokeros, you know her? She was a thing a while back.”
She took a second, bending over so her hair draped down, so she could then comb it with her fingers and arrange it, before fixing her hairband into place to lock its position. A single finger helped adjust the curve of hair to where it tucked behind her ear.
She straightened, and then gave me a serious look. “You know what you sound like right now, right? But it wasn’t a dream! It was a place! And this guy was there, and her, and him, they were all there! But they couldn’t have been, Auntie Em!”
Crystal put her hands to her cheeks as she finished it.
“I wish it was a dream,” I said. “It was a mess. I’ll fill you in on it later.”
“Or not. You could find out by browsing the web-”
“-finding a video of our tv appearance-”
She perked up. “Oh hey! That’s good! Neat!”
“Not good,” Sveta commented. “Necessary, but not pretty.”
“Oh no,” Crystal said. She’d gone from excited to crestfallen in a second. Even borderline horrified. “Because ‘necessary‘ always means good things. We just finished a stint of necessary.”
“They were pulling a media hit job on one of our team members,” I said.
“Who is they? What group, or what show?”
“No idea and Hardboil. On Lookout.”
Crystal made a face. “Even if it was them, why wasn’t it pretty? You’re supposed to be good at this stuff, cuz! And you have Capricorn! He’s done media appearances before, and he’s good at it!”
Someone looked him up, I thought.
“Sorry to butt in,” Sveta said. “Didn’t mean to get you in trouble, Victoria.”
“No,” Crystal said. “No, you’re fine. You can butt in all you like. You’re as good as family.”
Weld put one arm around her. “I heard about the TV show. The prison.”
“It’s nice to know they keep you in the loop,” Crystal said, sticking out her tongue at him.
“Leave that group of yours and join the Wardens. We’ll take care of you,” Weld said.
“Tempting,” she said. “Prison?”
“It was one thing among… a lot of things,” I said.
“I’m glad you’re not too badly hurt,” Weld said.
“Somewhat traumatized, but we’re mostly fine,” Sveta said, hugging him back. “We lost a teammate. Cryptid. Not- not dead. But he left.”
She’d stumbled over her words in her haste to clarify that ‘lost’ wasn’t dead.
It put me in mind of the Leviathan attack. ‘Losses’. The word had haunted me for a while, until other moments and things had taken over. Such a horribly ambiguous word.
“Half of you didn’t have names when I left,” Crystal reminded us.
“One of the younger two. Not the camera tinker. Our changer.”
“I vaguely recall. I might be sharper if it wasn’t nearly midnight.”
“It’s past midnight,” Sveta said.
“Fucking time zones. So you were on television and you fucked it up-”
I elbowed her again. “It wasn’t great from a PR standpoint, but we did what we needed to. Got heroes on our side, saved Lookout from being the focus.”
“Fine. Conceded. But you fought our hometown dragon boy and lost, judging by that burn-”
“Won. I did pretty fucking awesome, actually.”
“You won against Lung. Right. Really helping your case, here, Miss ‘this wasn’t a fever dream’.”
I moved to elbow her again, and hit a square of forcefield.
“Fought Teacher, fought Goddess. I have a hundred texts from Aunt Carol, who was no doubt trying to see if she could reach me and use me to steer you back on course-”
“No comment,” I said.
“And twenty texts from your dad, who was interpreting Auntie C’s actions or crisis managing.”
“Fair bit of crisis managing, I think. I saw Amy,” I murmured to Crystal.
“Oh,” she said, and the levity where she’d been making fun of how hectic we’d been and complaining in good fun was all gone. “How was that?”
A very careful, neutral question.
“Not well. She left.”
“Gimel. She and Marquis left to take a leadership role in another Earth. With Cryptid.”
Crystal nodded. “Your dad said Marquis was active on Earth N. It would make sense for him to take a firmer hand, go to Earth N-”
I was shaking my head. Sveta added a, “No,” for good measure.
“Another uninhabited Earth, using the skills he learned, then.”
“Inhabited,” Sveta said. “Shin.”
Crystal’s uncovered eye bugged out. “That’s Goddess’.”
“Was. Amy, Marquis, Cryptid now.”
“We don’t know how far they’re going with it,” Sveta added.
Crystal didn’t have a retort for once.
“It’s okay,” I said. “That’s a mess that’s going to have to be dealt with sometime, but not today. As shitty as it is to say, it’s a load off my mind that she’s not here.”
“I don’t think it’s shitty,” Sveta said. “You’ve been more at ease since all that.”
I shrugged and gave Sveta a smile. I turned more attention to Weld, who was apparently pretty content holding his girlfriend, his attention half on us and half on the crowd. He saw me looking.
I perked up, looking.
“She’s just talking to her dad now. She was with her mom earlier, and her parents can’t stand to be in the same place at the same time.”
“And even when she sees each of them separately, it’s about who she saw first, who she saw longest… I guess that’s not better?”
Vista was out of costume. She looked so different. Her hair wasn’t straight, she had eyeliner on, and she had a fair number of freckles – more than usual. No waterproof makeup covering it up and changing her complexion, nose, and brow shape either. There wasn’t a trace of the old green and blue of her costume in her outfit, either. She wore a black sweatshirt over maroon scrubs that might have been medical scrubs, and wore a jacket and scarf over that. Given her age, she would be pretending to be part of the medical block student group. Helping out with supplies and first-aid for special credit?
Whatever the excuse or story was, she looked just enough like someone with a job that it didn’t draw attention, and the job wasn’t one that got in the way of her personal identity.
It sucked to see that her dad was showing so very little joy at seeing her, though.
She looked our way and I gave her a little wave. I didn’t want to break her cover, but-
-But apparently that was excuse enough for her to break away from her dad. She hurried off, and not toward us. She nudged some other people, and they headed our way.
These people- not familiar to me. I was left trying to guess who they were. A guy and a girl.
Browbeat? Couldn’t and wouldn’t be Chariot. Too young to be Trainwreck. He looked military-esque, but he was also… sturdy. Not so fat, tall, or muscular in a way that I could point to any one of the things being responsible for my estimation of him, but a fair bit of all of those things. His choice of clothes didn’t work against that, either. Beanie, a leather jacket that was less fashion and more the kind of thing a blue collar worker bought if he expected to work outside, jeans that weren’t slim-fit or even regular fit, and heavy boots.
And he looked wholly comfortable in all of it.
His lady friend was a stark contrast. She wore a white wrap coat with gray fur trim and a silver chain extending along the front like a piece of jewelry that had been built into the coat. There were other decorative elements at the wrists. Black jeans, and gray suede boots that I could hear as they tapped on the ice and road. Her hair was in a ponytail, but I could see wisps of black hair escaping. It was rare to see hair that fine and that black.
“Hi big V, hi Crystal,” Missy said, after she had dragged them along enough. She was still fairly petite, though far less than she once had been, obviously, but it stood out with the company she kept, especially the guy. It didn’t help that the two were so straight-backed, and Missy was hunched over against the cold.
I hugged her. She smiled as she broke the hug. “Hi Missy.”
“You can call me whatever. This is, uh, Theo and Ava. I just realized I didn’t ask first about identities.”
I put out my hand to shake theirs. Theo accepted first.
“Glory Girl, hi,” Theo said. “I was a fan when I was a kid. Laserdream, wow.”
“I think I win,” Crystal whispered. She threw up a forcefield, expecting a jab that I didn’t bother to deliver.
“I’m Golem,” he said. “And I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t know the name.”
“I know the name,” I said.
“I know too,” Sveta said. “But if I said how, you’d think I was weird.”
“Weird why?” Theo asked.
“If I said J.Y., would that mean anything to you? Staff?”
“She was one of a very small number of people who looked after me. So when she said she went to a town, I looked up the teams there.”
“Ahh,” Theo said. He wrinkled his nose. “Not too weird.”
“I’ll settle for that,” Sveta said.
“Cuff,” Ava introduced herself to me and Sveta. At Sveta’s handshake, she extended a look down. “That’s quite a hand… shake.”
“You’re the Chicago Wards,” Sveta said, matching Ava’s tone of intrigued surprise.
“When a lot of people make that connection, they’ll add something to it,” Ava said. “Chicago Wards, Weaver’s team. Or Chicago Wards, the people from the New Delhi video.”
I shook my head. “Chicago Wards, did what few teams besides New York were doing and organized a roster with a strategy.”
“That was in the New Delhi video,” Ava said. “I’m pretty sure.”
“If it was, it was something you guys were doing before the video, before Weaver, and I was paying attention back then.”
“Well, on behalf of Tecton, I’m touched,” Ava said.
“It’s tough. Damned by association, like Brockton Bay and the Undersiders,” Missy said. “Theo’s from Brockton Bay originally.”
“When did you get out?” I asked.
“Around the time the Slaughterhouse Nine arrived.”
“Good move,” Crystal said.
“I like getting together with all of the old Brockton Bay people,” Vista said. She huffed breath into her hands, then adjusted her scarf. When it didn’t adjust the way she wanted it to, she warped its dimensions. “Feels like I’m putting a puzzle back together. Everyone always has questions they never got to get answers to, you know? Except Rachel Lindt’s one of the people I keep meeting up with, and she’s not a question and answer kind of person.”
“Tattletale’s the one I keep running into,” I muttered. “She is a question and answer kind of person, and it sucks.”
Vista smiled. “Doesn’t it? I tried to reach out, get her in on the reuniting thing. Offered my hand in friendship, and she went straight for the jugular. She seems happy being a villain. Same type as Shadow Stalker, I think.”
I shrugged. There were a hundred things I could say to that, and figuring Tattletale out was something I could see a whole lot of merit in, if Vista ever wanted to get together and compare notes, do what she was talking about and getting answers. But that felt like a whole-day thing to unpack and figure out. Not a well-past-midnight thing.
But on the surface? I’d known Shadow Stalker briefly, and she had been kind of nice to be around when she’d had reason to be nice. I could believe that Tattletale was the same. But I knew just how shitty they could be when upset- Shadow Stalker broke faces, and Tattletale destroyed psyches. Shadow Stalker stuck relentlessly to a path and as shitty as she was at her core, however easily or excellently she could be a villain, she valued being a vigilante-type, and from what I knew about her, that wouldn’t change, however she was tempted. Being a vigilante served her ends, it served her ego, and it validated her at her core.
Tattletale had helped the city and in some twisted world where the chips had fallen down differently, she could have been a hero. There was a distinction, even, that she cared about shit that wasn’t herself a lot more than Shadow Stalker ever had. But being a villain served her ends, it served her ego, and it validated her at her core.
The others were chatting. Talking about the travel. Vista looked happy, and Sveta seemed very content.
Amusing to see that Theo was just a little bigger than Weld in physical dimensions. Weld was usually the heavyweight in the room. He still was, by a wide margin, but someone squinting their eyes wouldn’t have known it.
“Do you guys want to go somewhere warmer?” Crystal asked. “I bet we could find a place willing to serve us drinks-”
“I’m still too young,” Vista said.
“Coffee then? Anyone?”
I saw Sveta and Weld exchange a look.
“I’m looking forward to getting home,” Weld said. “Getting warm.”
“The cold bothers you?” Ava asked. “I didn’t think much did.”
“Slows me down,” Weld said. “A little stiff in the joints.”
“Let’s get you home to a heated mattress. I got everything out that we set up last winter, tested it, made sure there were no shorts in the wiring,” Sveta said, breaking away from the hug, taking one of Weld’s hands in hers and swaying a bit. “Some heated blankets with metal plates, music.”
“Please. You’ve got to catch me up on what I missed.”
“I’ve been saving stuff, mister,” Sveta said. “As requested. Doing what little I can to look after you.”
Weld pulled his fist close to his chest, and with Sveta holding onto it with both hands, drew her close enough that he could put his other arm around her. He looked to Crystal. “Drinks another time.”
“Another time for sure. When’s your birthday, Missy?”
“Not soon. May fifteenth. But I’ll be eighteen then.”
“Let’s do a Brockton Bay reunion then.”
“We’ll take you for a first drink,” Crystal said.
“That sounds nice. I know this is a weird question, but what would you think if I invited Rachel Lindt?”
“Do you think she’d accept?” Theo asked.
“I don’t know. She might only swing by if I bribe her. But I think it would be important if we could show her that we don’t have it in for her.”
Missy looked at me as she said the last bit.
“You’re vouching for her?”
“Yeah. And Miss Militia would too.”
Sveta and Weld said their goodbyes.
“I am catching a ride with… someone,” Vista said. “Procrastinating on that decision. No coffee for me. I’m just glad I get to say hi.”
“I wanted to say,” Theo said. “Victoria, uh… thank you?”
“This is a weird thing to bring up. But back when I was just in my first year of High School, you went after the gangs pretty hard.”
“The Empire in particular?”
“I regret how I went about that,” I said.
“You shouldn’t,” he said. “You know how you can be raised one way, and you don’t second guess it until you have a reason to?”
I thought of Rain. I nodded.
“I was raised by those guys,” he said. “I don’t know how much I believed, but I went along with it for a while, because I was still in that kid state of mind, where you think if you don’t get something and the adults act like they do, they’re probably right?”
“Sure,” I said. “I think I can relate to that.”
“I remember when one guy, Thor, no powers, he just changed his name from something lame like Lester, he got carted back with a few broken bones.”
“You were that close to their operations?” I asked. I connected two thoughts. His power- “You’re second gen. Allfather? Or would you rather not say?”
“I don’t mind saying. Nah, not Allfather, that would have been weird. Kaiser and Heith.”
“Oh yeah. I guess I pictured the older guy having a kid instead of the… twenty year old, I guess? Thereabouts?”
“Sorry, I’m getting nerdy and… inaccurate.”
“Very inaccurate,” Crystal said.
“It’s late,” I said. “Sorry. You were saying?”
“The guy came back hurt and I was happy about it. Fucker deserved it. Realizing I was happy wasn’t when I realized I didn’t like the Empire. But it was step seven or eight in ten steps? I don’t know how I would have ended up if I hadn’t had that. If I’d missed a step or two or three.”
“Some of them ended up in the Shepherds, y’know?” he asked.
“Yeah. That came up at one point. I haven’t run into them yet, but I did have a run in with the Shepherds.”
“I remember you geeking out one time,” Crystal said. “Remember? You were telling me all about how Masters have interpersonal problems and Shakers have issues feeling secure-”
“Ahem,” Vista said.
“-and tinkers dwell…”
“You got shakers wrong,” I pointed out. My phone was buzzing in my pocket, so I pulled it out, without looking at it. “What are you getting at?”
“Maybe. I’m starting to think you’ve got a Brute thing going, Victoria. Because you have run-ins with everyone and crash through everything. Everything.”
I rolled my eyes. I checked my phone. Kenzie.
“Gotta take this,” I said.
“Yeah, you know I got your goat.”
I waited until I was mostly out of earshot to answer. “I’m here.”
Kenzie’s voice came across with both enthusiasm and a slight hush, like she didn’t want to wake up someone nearby. “Hi. Sorry to call so late, but I see you’re still at the station, and something came up.”
I looked around for the camera.
“Seven and a half o’clock, if the station entrance is twelve.”
I turned myself around, looked, and spotted it.
“Okay, so um, first of all, Tattletale was peeking in. I tried to say hi, open a dialogue, and she went dark. But I thought you should know.”
“Watching us? Okay.”
“Watching everyone, I think. The camera wasn’t too interested in us, and when it looked like it was, I thought I’d do the digital handshake. I might’ve stepped in sooner but I was changing for bed and brushing my teeth.”
“You need to go to sleep sooner.”
“I know! But I wanted to organize my stuff, take apart my broken camera and sort the components away, and I got carried away.”
“What’s the other thing?”
“Dead bodies. Heroes from your tracking program.”
I found myself holding my breath. “Who?”
I didn’t want to hear. I didn’t want to know.
“Slingstone, Nailfarer and Scaffold.”
“Navigators. That’s not far from Brockton Bay. Tell me where.”
“I can give you coordinates. I’ll send it to you and you can click the link to have it go up as a flag on your map exec.”
“I’m glad to help. Um, and Victoria?”
The tone suggested she was preparing to deliver more bad news.
“Hit me with it.”
“There’s chatter on the lines. Villains know it happened, and they seem split on what they’re going to do about it.”
“The game. I know it doesn’t count for much these days, but… there are rules we all follow.”
“That’s the chatter. Some like the decisive action. Some hate it. They’re calling a halt to all activity for now and they’re going to hold a meeting tomorrow to figure out how to handle this. Whether they allow it.”
Or encourage it. We need to figure out how -we- handle this.
“Thanks, Kenzie. But you should really be in bed.”
“This is important. I was going to ask if I should stay up. I can be comms.”
“How long would it take you to get a message out to all the teams?”
“Tell them to stand down. If the villains are going quiet, it should be fine.”
“Can I say it’s an emergency?”
“Yeah. Might be good. Have someone who’s awake double-check what you wrote before you mass-send. Not Sveta. Let her have her night with Weld.”
I rejoined the others.
“You look serious,” Crystal said.
“Some capes got killed. Heroes. We were trying to interconnect, share information, figure out a way to deal with the villains, now that the prison is gone.”
She cleared her throat. “Gone?”
“You just got back from-”
“From classified,” she said. “I’ll come.”
She wasn’t the only one who wanted to.
We were close to Brockton Bay, and a part of me had hoped we’d run into Senior Trooper Littlejohn again. I’d at least established some rapport with him.
Police cars had been stopped around the site, and though the sirens were off, the lights did flash. The scattered parts were lit up with the stark glare of headlights from one side and strobing red and blue from another.
It was only thanks to Vista that the truck could keep pace with Crystal and I. We’d arrived on the scene as a group. I was out of costume, because I hadn’t really planned to get into any trouble. I floated, so I was an obvious cape, but that was it. The others had changed.
To a horror scene. People butchered. Cops standing by and trying to stay warm while the wind whipped aggressively past us, some techs were pacing the field, planting little yellow flags by each piece of a body, and the lights being almost solely from the cars made the scene an isolated image on a page otherwise painted black.
What did it say, that of Vista, of Laserdream, of Golem, Cuff, and I, we’d seen bad enough things that an unrecognizable assortment of human parts wasn’t enough to shake us?
“Who’s in charge?” I asked.
I floated over, so my feet wouldn’t contaminate the scene. A new face, a new set of expectations and prejudices to wrangle.
“Can we look?”
She seemed to take her time considering, until Golem flashed his Wardens badge.
“Be my guest,” the woman said. “We’re taking our photos and our notes, but this looks like costume on costume crime. We’re not equipped for it.”
“They were heroes. These ones were good guys who saved lives,” I said. “They worked with the system, they worked with police.”
“I’m sympathetic, I really am,” she said. “But we’re not equipped.”
I was left kind of speechless. A shift in the light drew my attention- Vista was enlarging the car headlights, and it looked like she was bending the beams, illuminating the scene.
“I’ll put it back before we go,” she told the officer driving the car.
The Navigators had passed through Hollow Point briefly. They’d been just far enough away that we hadn’t had much more cause to interact with them. Too small, too narrow in their focus.
Nailfarer had a weird name, but it was based in legend, and she’d been candid in interviews about why. She had talked about her trigger event at a time when such things had been discouraged. Her parents and aunt had boarded a ship to America, convinced by shady individuals that it was by legitimate channels. Mock tests, mock papers, and fair amounts of money. They had boarded a ship and then been shuttled into a cargo container. One of several.
She and her family members had been let out to work the ship or provide services to the crew. They were slated to be slaves, and this was a beginning to their new lives. She saw her oldest family members die, heard from others that they’d been thrown overboard. She’d seen younger family members die too – alive but dead inside.
She’d gained powers, she’d fought, and she’d lost against sheer numbers. She’d been beaten into submission and made to serve for three months as an enforcer before fighting her way out.
For ten years, she’d been a hero. Her name more a reference to where she came from than her ability to turn dead tissues into doors.
“Fuck,” I said, as I looked over the scene. She’d been torn into fifty pieces. Some were in the branches of a tree above, now brightly illuminated after Vista had adjusted the light.
“Found a murder weapon,” Golem said. “Shovel, wooden handle. It’s buried.”
Police officers jogged over to investigate.
Didn’t narrow things down, I was pretty sure. Nothing jumped to mind.
Slingstone… he hadn’t been as cavalier about his background. He’d gone after the big guys. He was ex-Haven and hadn’t been open about why, and he’d dodged the Shepherds, presumably being close-mouthed about his decision there. He was ‘boring’ by how he looked on paper. A blaster, a single shot at a time, softball sized ‘stones’. They flew in straight lines at high velocities and were really, really good at breaking through and shattering the inorganic, including armor.
But he’d fought Endbringers, traveling overseas to do it. A year before Leviathan had hit Brockton Bay, Slingstone had been hurt in an Endbringer fight, and he’d taken a break. He’d resumed activities just in time for the world to end.
The individual pieces of his body were mixed in with Nailfarer’s and Scaffold’s. Streaks of blood suggested the directions by which they’d been thrown.
Multiple sizes of footprint suggested that members of the team had waded through the gore of the first one to die… or that there had been multiple attackers.
“Cuff, do you have any metal? I need a chunk you don’t care about,” Laserdream said.
Cuff tossed something to her.
The team hadn’t been much of a cape against cape group. They’d focused more on mundane gangs and criminal organizations, with Slingstone being the one to go up against Endbringers and challenge the powered enforcers.
In a lot of ways, they’d been closer to police than capes. They’d been offered positions in the Guild, an international organization rooted in Canada, very cause-driven and mission-focused. They’d turned it down, allegedly because it was still too much about image, and they just wanted to work.
Who or what came after you, and why?
The location was important. That I’d been pretty fucking close to here in the last twenty-four hours was important. I knew it was bad to decide who the culprit was before all the evidence came in, but Love Lost’s group had members who were willing and able to do something this savage, and she wasn’t situated that far away.
March’s group could blow people to smithereens and take people to pieces, and they’d been close, earlier in the day.
“Victoria,” Laserdream said.
I flew over in her direction. Below her, Scaffold was more intact than the rest. Head and torso were impaled on the mangled architecture that he’d created with his power. His parts were strewn about as the others were, red and glistening.
Created and altered building layouts. Slide a wall this way, raise up a wall where there was none. Trapdoors and cover as it was needed.
General use wall and forcefield powers, as I understood it, came about most often from trigger events that involved ambient, environmental threats to people or things the trigger victim wanted to protect.
Aunt Sarah had it as a power. So did Crystal. So had Eric.
Me and my mom? Not so much.
Well, I had something closer to my cousins than anything, now. It had changed. I couldn’t quite allow myself to think it counted.
Scaffold had been in a bad place and wanted to protect someone from the place or situation. Probably. He’d dedicated his life to going up against gangs and criminal organizations, though he’d been alone in the group in being as vocal as he’d been about corrupt governments, police departments, hero groups, and school administrations. He’d been the original reason the Guild had reached out; they liked causes.
Laserdream had Cuff’s piece of metal set in a bowl of forcefield, and was firing a laser at it. The metal glowed white hot, and she had her hands cupped around it with the one middle finger pointed more in than the others, to supply the laser.
“The cuts,” Laserdream said. “Those are claw marks.”
I flew closer to see, while she floated above, warming her hands with a grim look on her face.
“I know your eyes aren’t as good as my one eye, but I see footprints, Victoria.”
She provided a thin beam, laser pointer style, to indicate.
These footprints weren’t human. Long and two-toed, pressing deep into the frozen ground like the source was heavy.
“Minion?” I asked.
“Could be. Could be, um, do you remember mentioning that Prancer was bringing in some Case-fifty-threes to screw with Sveta?”
“It’s possible. A bit of a reach- they didn’t come to the Fallen raid and I think they left.”
The shovel. One had had a shovel. Sveta had mentioned her, but hadn’t mentioned if she’d lived.
I winced. Cross that bridge when we came to it.
Scaffold had been lifted up, and thrown down onto his namesake construction. Had he been clawed before or after? If it was before, then this had been for the drama of it, to create a show. If it was after, it suggested something personal, retaliating or expressing anger in a futile way.
One claw swipe had practically severed head from upper body.
Finished off? Given a merciful death?
I saw how red the blood of the wound was.
I looked at the cops, many hunkering inside their cars or by the doors, trying to stay warm. At Crystal, who was holding her hands above the heated metal.
“How long has the scene been like this?” I asked, raising my voice to be heard by the woman in charge.
“We arrived half an hour ago.”
The blood was too red. It hadn’t frozen. Snow had collected on it, but it hadn’t frozen.
“Shit,” I said, with enough vehemence that just about everyone stopped in their tracks.
I flew straight to Scaffold. I put my hand over his mouth.
No breath, but I could feel the warmth.
At the wound in the neck- there, I could feel the breath.
I touched his face, and I wiped the snow away from the eyes.
“Hey!” This from the woman in charge.
I ignored her. My eyes were fixed on him. Scaffold, half his stomach, one arm, and everything below the waist missing, his jaw unhinged, crushed his eyes closed, then opened them. His eyes met mine, wavering like he couldn’t really see me half the time.
“We need medical attention!” I shouted. “He’s alive!”
Oh no, I thought. He’s alive, and he has no power that’s anything like that.
He had no right or ability to be alive, which meant-
Horror surged through me as I flew over the field. People were rushing to Scaffold, and I was rushing to find a piece of meat that I could recognize.
A quarter of a human head, a fragment of mask clinging to it by stubbornness and the stickiness of gore more than by mechanics. A single eye.
I turned it, so the eye faced the headlight. The pupil narrowed.
“They’re all alive!” I shouted. “It might be every piece!”
They’d been hanging back, everything happening slowly, sticking together for numbers against a parahuman threat, and to provide light. Now they were acting, everyone in motion. Nobody with any idea what to do.
The woman in charge had to shout at people who were heading to the bushes to throw up, because pieces had been strewn so far and wide across the field that there might be some in the bushes.
When she was done shouting, and when most people had their orders or had decided they’d be useless, the woman was left leaning against the hood of her car, hands in her pockets, her eyes wide.
“They said something was off,” she muttered. “I figured powers, right?”
I pressed my lips closed, watching. At this stage I wasn’t sure what to do that wouldn’t put me in the way.
“What do I even do?” she asked.
“We see if we can put them back together, or if we can give them mercy,” I said.
“I meant… this is going to be a nightmare, with everything that’s already going on.”
I could picture Love Lost’s group. I remembered Sidepiece’s words about the state of the itinerant villain.
“Don’t tell anyone anything yet. Get your guys to keep quiet,” I said, my voice low and quiet. I met her eyes, incredulous eyes, and then I explained just why it was necessary.