The armored van cut its way through the thin sheet of ice that crusted the road. I could hear the sound because the windows were all open, even the panels on the side, thick glass popped out and away. Our driver was a mercenary in black, Korean, with sparse facial hair at the upper lip and chin, one gloved hand on the wheel, the other hand holding a cigarette up near his face. It was cold as shit, and the comedown of the immediate danger meant my resistances were down, and I felt that cold twice as much as I normally might.
The open windows were partially for the cigarette, but the windows were mostly open for the smell. Being smothered by Nursery’s power meant being smeared and soaked with juices, and those juices smelled like a fine blend of blood, urine, apple juice, and ham juices that had gone slightly off. It was heavy enough on the air that I could breathe in through my nose and taste it in my mouth, back of the tongue to the tip.
The people in the back were enduring. Foil had Parian’s head in her lap, Aroa at the end of the bench with her head turned so her nose was by the air that rushed through the window. A very red, cold nose, but cold seemed preferable to smell. On the other bench, Rain sat beside Chastity, who had Candy beside her.
I could imagine having a conversation with my twelve year old self, seeing her starry-eyed at the prospect of being a superheroine, and that conversation stopping before it even started because she’d gotten a whiff.
My phone rang. I turned it over to see the screen, then raised it to my ear.
“Hi big V.”
“Shit, are you sick? You sound sick, and that’d be miserable, on top of everything.”
“Not sick,” I said, clearing my throat. “A little froggy from pulling four pounds of unborn baby out of my throat.”
My mild amusement at imagining her reaction was dampened badly by the very vivid recollection of actually pulling the thread of Nursery’s powerstuff out of my throat. I kept my breaths very shallow.
“I once got hit by something that made hear hear voices,” Vista said, through the phone. “For me, the voices belonged to people who died and people I’d killed. Took three months before it was at the point that I could ignore it, and for two of those months I thought it would be permanent.”
Couldn’t avoid it any more than you can get out of the way of someone’s flashlight beam, and then you’re permanently changed? It was only three months, but I feel changed a year later.”
“No shit?” I asked. I had to clear my throat again.
“Yeah shit. How bad was your thing? Sounds painful.”
“Not my best day. Not my worst, but the night’s not over. As nice as it would be to chat, I should ask why you’re calling.”
“I’ve been trying every few minutes for a while. Did you have to turn off your phone for a bit for opsec?”
“Nursery’s power. Jams signals.”
“Did you hear about the Undersiders who got shot?”
“I got a voice message, but we only had one dot of network connectivity so I couldn’t call for details or talk to them. One Undersider and two heartbroken. Unless there’s more?”
“Not that I’ve heard. The villains want to get in touch to negotiate.”
“Hostage exchange, I’m guessing?”
“They haven’t given us a deadline and from the message I got, we don’t even know how the surgery or medical care is going.”
“Seems like the optimal time,” Rain said, from the back.
“What was that?” Vista asked.
“Question of timing. They could try to negotiate now before things get complicated-”
“Before one of my siblings or cousins bites it,” Aroa muttered.
I gestured for them to pipe down. “-I think the people who have the final say in negotiations are preoccupied. They aren’t pushing a deadline on us, so for right this second, our read on it is that’s a wait-and-see thing.”
“Okay. Wait and see. I wanted to let you know in case you weren’t aware they’d been shot. That was one reason I called. There’s another. Another two.”
“Do you need help? I didn’t plan on asking, but you have a throat baby now-”
“Throat abortion, technically.”
“Good excuse for me to ask now, then. Do yo want me to send you people?”
“How’s your end of things? Tell me that first.”
“Wardens and your other teams are tackling the time bubble issue. Things are ugly in New Brockton with the Undersiders no longer in charge.”
“If you really needed it, we could send some people.”
I could hear the tone in the ‘really’, and it clarified the uneasy tone in the rest of it. I’d imagined the city was on fire, before, when all of the villains had stepped up their game and gone on the hard, no-rules offense. Things were still bad and we didn’t have enough capes on rooftops.
But if I really needed it, she would try, she might even find a way, and other critical things would suffer for it.
“We don’t know how bad the situation with the others is,” I answered. “Can I get back to you on that?”
“You can. Fill me in on your thing, so I can tell people higher up the ladder and figure out when and if we can get away sending someone.”
“Our team red got shot up. Some of them were taken prisoner. Ransoms pending. ”
“That much I knew.”
“Team yellow is silent. No communication.”
“Who’s on yellow?”
I hesitated. The inquisitiveness wasn’t unusual for Vista, but being pressed when I was weary and my defenses were admittedly down had me on my guard. My first thought was master-stranger protocols. If she was compromised or if she wasn’t really Vista…
But she’d opened with ‘big V’. I believed the story she’d told and I believed that the Vista I knew, in her right mind, might bring it up like she’d done.
“Tattletale, Chicken Little, three heartbroken kids, Sveta and Capricorn.”
“I wanted to make sure Tattletale wasn’t with you, get a mental picture. The second reason I called- offering help wasn’t a reason-”
“A friend reached out. I wanted to check with you before giving her your number. ”
I could connect the dots. “Hellhound.”
“Bitch,” Foil said from the backseat. “I know it’s awkward, but it’s the name she chose.”
“Call her Rachel,” Vista advised me, over the phone.
“Rachel, Bitch. Okay.”
“Can I give her your number?” Vista asked.
“Go for it.”
“Call me after if you can. Let me know how it went. And if you need something for that throat, hit up a gas station or a pharmacy, look for this medicine they sell that’s from one of the alternate earths. Weird name, orange cap, blue bottle. I lived by it the last time I had a cold.”
“Good luck with your teammates. And with Rachel.”
I hung up.
“Vista’s giving Rachel my number,” I said. “She doesn’t have yours, Foil?”
“She has it, she loses it. Frequently,” Foil answered.
“She thinks if she can’t remember a number she shouldn’t have to bother with it,” Chastity said. I looked back at her, saw her leaning her head back, eyes closed. “People have tried to tell her about contact lists. She prefers a smaller circle.”
“We don’t cross paths much,” Foil said.
“No good ones.”
Parian roused a bit, nudged her. Foil bent down as much as she could without wrapping her stomach and chest around Parian’s head, in her lap.
“Don’t back down,” Foil said.
My phone buzzed in my hand. My thumb was already ready to hit the button.
“Henchman here,” a young voice said. “Acting as secretary- don’t nudge me. I am.”
There was a pause.
“Secretary doesn’t sound weird. What sounds weird is you interrupting me when I’m expediting. Passing you to Rachel, Antares. Good luck.”
I cleared my throat.
“What?” was the answer on the other end, like someone had been been called at three in the morning, letting the phone ring ten times before the caller gave up, only for them to start again.
A sweetheart, Vista had said.
“You called me,” I said.
“I was supposed to go help Imp. She got shot before I could get there, the rest of them caged. Tattletale said to come to her, so I tried, and that went to shit.”
“Something happened?” I asked.
“It went to shit. You’ve got my guys with you. We’ll meet. Drive-thru at Hot Pepper’s.”
“See you there, then. We have to drop off Parian first.”
“Yeah,” she said. She hung up.
She apparently didn’t want a timeframe.
In the backseat, Foil was twisting around. The two benches faced each other, in true PRT- or SWAT-van style, and Chastity had moved to the other bench. She and Foil were doing their best to extricate Foil from quivers and holsters without making Parian have to lift her head up, passing things across to Precipice.
After they were done with Foil, they took off the most ostentatious and ‘cape’ stuff of Parian’s.
When we pulled up to the clinic, a one-story affair with a plastic sign illuminated from behind above the door, people were waiting outside. Foil, in civilian clothes, helped Parian out. Parian was a petite middle-Eastern or Indian girl, which I hadn’t expected.
It looked like it would take a while to sort out, so I hopped out and flew across the street to the gas station. I stopped by the bathroom first, to wash my face. I pulled my phone out as I bought the little thing of medicine and some odor annihilators. Supplied by another world. I hoped there weren’t traces of cyanide or formaldehyde in it.
“Hey Little V,” I croaked. as she picked up.
“How’d it go?”
“Reasonably, I guess. The sweetheart thing is pretty hard to see. It’s not that I don’t believe you believe it, but you might have lingering brain damage after the hearing voices thing.”
I heard her laugh on the other end. Good to hear.
“It’s there, trust me.”
“Then we’ll see how it is face to face.”
“How’s your throat baby?” she asked. It took me a second to realize she was asking how the baby was, not calling me baby. It was like a slap in the face. She went on, “Are congratulations in order?”
I shivered. Still feeling the cold, still aware my defenses were down. The clerk took my money.
“No congratulations,” I said, my voice a bit of a croak. “I pulled out what I’m estimating was four pounds of baby from my throat. Our friend that we just dropped off at the clinic got a seven pounder, I’m guessing, not counting all the rest of the stuff that was attached.”
“Tell me about it. I’m about to gag just remembering it, and don’t get me started on the smell-”
The clerk averted his eyes as I looked at him. Yeah.
“We called ahead, they were ready to get her on her way to a hospital as soon as we showed. They’re answering questions and filling in the clinic staff so they know what’s up.”
“Right on. I hope she’s okay. Hometown pride, you know?”
“Gotta hold on to stuff.”
“I know,” I said.
The clerk handed me my receipt. I took my stuff, raised my eyebrows for him as he stared at me, then headed out the door. I flew to the parking lot by the clinic, and I saw they hadn’t left yet.
Cold as it was, I decided to stay in the air.
I noticed the silence, and I wasn’t sure if it was a painful, awkward one. “You were talking about it before. Holding on to stuff. The hallucinations.”
“I slapped my forehead after hanging up, cringing for bringing it up,” she said, almost groaning out the words. “I don’t know why I did.”
“Was Dean one of them?”
“Yeah,” she said. I could hear her voice over the phone, and the groan was gone. Almost a relief.
“Was he angry?”
“He wouldn’t be angry, or he wouldn’t be Dean if he was.”
“He got angry sometimes.”
“But he wouldn’t be angry. He wouldn’t stay that way. He was just… better than, you know?”
“Absolutely,” I said, quiet.
“My therapist got so cranky about it. We’ve got people who can see through walls. Capable people. I know someone who got stuck in a circumstance after an incident, she missed her time window to change back a few dozen times and now she just stays a giant magenta cat made of energy. And a certain someone was strong enough to deal with being hospitalized for years after-”
I cleared my throat. A second after doing it, I wasn’t sure if I’d done it intentionally to interrupt or if it was an accident.
“-After. Strong enough to deal then and after. So is it really hard to think maybe someone can be a really great guy, and I’m not puffing him up by calling him that? That maybe she doesn’t need to take the one negative thing I say about him and run with it?”
“We puff him up a little.”
I heard Vista make a disgusting snorting sound over the phone. I smiled.
“Are we trying to one-up each other here with war stories, because you just-”
“Nah,” she interrupted. “Nah. That’s for the boys. I know that really cute guy in armor on your team has the competitive streak. I’m… empathizing. And saying something I wanted to get off my chest, I guess. For a while after it wore off, I gave some real thought to going to where we’d stashed our bad guy and getting him to dose me again. That was part of the quote-unquote ‘clinging to the good’ conversation with my cranky old lady therapist. Most of the voices were friendly, and because I figured I’d gotten by, not telling my superiors.”
“Can’t do that. Not giving them the information.”
“I know. But this is all me trying to say that sometimes this all sucks. Really sucks.”
“Yeah,” I said.
“Sorry about your throat baby. Me spending three months with voices in my head is the best comparison I can come up with. Sucks.”
“At least you got something out of it. Got to talk to Dean.”
“You didn’t get anything out of your throat-baby? No cooing at the chubby little munchkin?”
I made a sound I hadn’t wholly intended to make. Humor and disgust and cringe all together.
“Good luck with your team, Victoria. This thing is a mess. If you need help, we’ll send some people we can’t afford to.”
“The time fuckery is too important. Too big, according to apparently everyone who knows anything. Don’t.”
“If we don’t hear from you?”
“Don’t,” I said, again. “Don’t send anyone, don’t come. Not unless you’re sure you can afford to.”
“Okay. Don’t become one of those voices in my head, Victoria. I’ll put you in a corner of my brain with Bastion, Barrow Rose, and Shatterbird.”
“I’ll do my best.”
“Call me when you’re done.”
“You too, yeah?”
I hung up.
They were still talking, and I didn’t want to join in. Too close to memories of being wheeled off. Packed up into an ambulance, hearing people talk about me like I wasn’t there. Being ignored.
Parian wasn’t being ignored. Foil stroked her hair while talking to the professionals.
Still too close.
I flew straight down to the van. I stepped into the vehicle, and I unloaded with the odor annihilators, spraying myself down, and being sure to get the seats and the rest of the vehicle’s interior.
It kind of worked. I couldn’t trust my own nose, but the worst of the smell was gone, and what lingered was akin to a bad aftertaste, which was equal measures floral scent and Nursery-power.
As the others returned to the vehicle, the driver gave me a nod, apparently approving.
Candy, on reaching the back end of the van, took a whiff and broke into a stream of French profanity.
“I can’t tell if you’re mad or happy,” I said.
“So happy,” she said.
“I’m going to smell like flowers,” Precipice said.
“It’s better than smelling like hot dog water and pee,” Candy said.
Foil was the next to appear at the door. I hadn’t been sure if she’d come or if she’d stay with Parian. She took up her spot on the bench, and Chastity sat beside her.
“She looks like she’s in good hands,” I said.
“She does. Let’s just get this done.”
Everyone climbed in.
Our professional driver continued to drive on icy roads with one hand on the wheel, but the armored van seemed equipped for the weather, he seemed confident, and I was pretty sure I could do something about any skids if I had to, as I’d done with Byron. I forced myself to relax, uncapping the medication and tossing it back. Half a bottle for now, half for later.
It didn’t have the bad taste I expected, but it was oily, and bad associations made me want to gag. The effect on my throat was immediate, though, and as soon as I felt the cool sensation, the desire for a gag disappeared.
The fast food place wasn’t far. Hot Pepper had a sign that showed ‘Pepper’ standing with only the portion of her body between nose and hips visible. Her arms were folded and the folding held a giant hot pepper within her cleavage, in an association driven home by her pose and the kissy lips visible up at the top.
Question marks about why Rachel had chosen this aside, I could see commotion. Cars blocked some of the view, but I could see people at the window, crowding to one side… and as we rounded the corner and pulled into the lot, I saw the giant dogs.
Rachel was attacking one of her own.
Before our armored van even pulled to a stop, I was out the door, flying.
“-be torn apart!” Rachel’s voice was raised. She stood on the back of a giant mutant dog that was stock still, head down, breath coming in and out in huffs. “Which is it!? Cut in half, chewed, or torn apart? Or are you going to say something I actually believe!?”
The man didn’t answer, fighting for a grip. By the look of it, he didn’t have the breath to form words. A dog had a paw on his chest, and was leaning forward, exerting what had to be hundreds of pounds.
“Hold on,” I said. “Wait a second.”
“This is my business, not yours.”
“It’s everyone’s business if you’ve got people at the window over there watching. Word gets around. What happened?”
“He looked at me funny.”
“Don’t make me repeat myself.”
The guy on the ground was groaning. I was reminded of the day I’d first glimpsed the Siberian. This woman, then a teenager, attacking people in her territory for the crime of being there. Maiming some.
She had henchmen, by the looks of it. I looked at the nearest one. “Am I missing something?”
“Nah. He looked at her funny,” the girl in the heavy jacket covered in patches and buttons said. Her eyes were heterochromatic.
Rachel whistled twice, two short sounds, more like a bird call than anything. The dog lifted its head, peering at her with one eye.
“Soft,” she said. She indicated the mercenary. As the dog lowered its head, mouth open, she said, “Good.”
“Not good,” I said, as I saw the dog take the mercenary’s head into its mouth.
“What the hell?” Rain asked, as he caught up. The Heartbroken were with him.
Rachel, though, turned our way. She wiped at her nose with her sleeve, leaving a wet line on it, then saw something- someone, and smiled. She hopped down from her dog onto snow, gave it a few heavy slaps on the side, and said, “Stay.”
“Stay is good,” I said, eyeing the mercenary.
She walked past me to where the Heartbroken were. Her hug of Chastity was forceful enough that Chastity had to take a step back, awkward with Rachel holding her.
“I’m still annoyed,” Chastity said.
“Get over it. We have work to do. Now hug me back.”
Dutifully, Chastity did. The hug broke, and Chastity seemed very at ease in the wake of it.
For Candy, Rachel bent down, then straightened up. A big hug, Candy’s feet dangling. Rachel’s hand went to the back of Candy’s head, fingers in her hair. Those fingers gripped the hair close to the scalp.
“Don’t muss my hair,” Candy said, into Rachel’s shoulder.
“Long hair is a weakness,” Rachel said. “It’s something your enemies can grab.”
“You have longer hair. You have dogs with longer fur.”
“I’m all out of enemies and my dogs don’t have hair when they’re grown,” Rachel said, “And I have long hair because I don’t care enough to bother one way or the other. But you make your hair this nice, braid parts, put pins in parts, make it all shiny-”
“Conditioner, Aunt Rachel.”
“And you leave yourself open. If a villain or a no-neck twit hero gets their hands on you like this, what do you even do?”
No neck twit hero?
“What are you going to do?”
“I’ll fuck ’em up.”
“You don’t hesitate then.”
“Of course not.”
Rachel let Candy drop. Candy spent a second smoothing her coat and skirt before fixing her hair with her fingers.
Aroa tried to back away. Rachel caught up with her-
I wanted to wince, because Aroa was the thirteen year old Heartbroken who apparently liked hurting people, and got a power that lashed out with pain and made people like the pain.
“No hugs,” Aroa said. “Never hugs.”
Rachel stopped short of a hug. A hand touched the side of Aroa’s face, two fingers above the ear, two below. She moved the hand, Aroa’s head rocking.
“Don’t get into trouble,” Rachel said.
Head still moving side to side, Aroa rolled her eyes. “Or you’ll make me pitchfork shit?”
“Next time, I’ll make you express anal glands,” Rachel said.
“I don’t even know what that means,” Aroa said.
“Popping out the pooper juice,” Candy said. “After I embarrassed Darlene in front of Chicken Little, I got sent to Rachel and apparently I qualified as breaking the ‘don’t hurt the Chicken’ rule, so I got the bad punishments. I had to do it four times.”
Aroa smirked. Candy smirked back, less natural, more mocking of Aroa’s expression.
“It’s your job next time,” Rachel said. Her hand stopped moving but it didn’t pull away.
Aroa glared up at Rachel. “I don’t think you realize how fine a line you walk with us, abusing us like you do.”
“I’ll make you a deal,” Rachel said. “Show up. Come anytime. Good clean food, playing with the other kids, swimming, riding the horses or dogs. If you aren’t bratty and you don’t scare or hurt anyone, you get a pass. No anal glands and no cleanup the next time you get in trouble after that.”
“I don’t plan on getting caught.”
Rachel put another hand on the other side of Aroa’s face, bending down, and putting her face the crown of her head. She murmured something I didn’t hear. Aroa nodded. As Rachel took her hand away, she gave Aroa’s head a push. Aroa rolled her eyes.
Last of that side of the group, Foil greeted Rachel. A hand clasp, not a hug.
I glanced down at the mercenary, who still had a paw pinning him to the ground, his head lifted off the ground by the teeth that had slid between head and pavement, mouth not fully closed. He barely moved.
“Precipice and Antares,” Foil said. “Bitch.”
“Yeah,” Rachel said.
I put out a hand. She hesitated, then took it.
Precipice did the same. She didn’t hesitate. Because she’d gotten over it with me, or because I was more of a reason to hesitate? Past history?
Off to the side, Chastity was greeting Rachel’s henchperson. A kiss on each cheek, deftly done, while the henchperson reacted in the awkward way just about anyone, myself included, did when a surprise dual-cheek-kiss was done to them, trying to reciprocate while a step behind.
“If you get your food and arrange meetups at a place like this, people are going to draw conclusions,” Chastity said.
“It’s good food. I got you some.”
“I’m really not hungry. But thank you. At a place like this you’re getting pretty waitresses, not good food.”
“If pretty waitresses was all they had, then they wouldn’t be full of customers. And they wouldn’t have a nice sign.”
“Can we address the guy with his head in a dog’s mouth?” Rain asked. “It’s alarming.”
“It’s a soft mouthed breed,” Rachel said, patting the side of the dog with heavy slaps that sounded like drum beats. The dog, for its part, wasn’t moving its head an inch- considerable given the size of that head.
“I don’t know what that means. I never had a dog growing up,” I said. “My parents said it wouldn’t be fair if we got hurt or if a supervillain got us, and we weren’t back for it.”
“Fair,” Rachel said.
“Not fair. They had you,” Candy said.
“We had a dog,” Chastity said. As the Heartbroken turned her way, she clarified for her sister and ‘cousin’, “Not the fat man. An actual dog.”
“What the fuck? I don’t remember that,” Candy said.
“It died when you were small,” Chastity said.
Rachel stared at Chastity, her expression unreadable, just kind of ambiguously hostile, eyebrows furrowed. Then she turned back to me. “Soft mouthed means it’s gentle. You could have it carry an egg and it wouldn’t break it.”
“Is it necessary?” Rain asked.
“We’ll see,” Rachel said. “Off, Honeybun.”
The dog backed away, releasing the mercenary’s head. Just from moisture of the dog’s breath, his head and face were damp.
“I didn’t have a look in my eye. I’m just doing the work,” he said.
Off to the side, Candy shook her head.
“Lie,” Candy said.
“I’m fucking innocent of whatever it is you think I did!”
“You’re lying to my face?” Rachel growled. She stepped forward, gesturing. The dog exerted more downward pressure.
To my right, Precipice shifted his footing, head angled down.
I could see the faint change in the man, the way his jaw set.
“I get the pay, I do the work, I keep it simple!”
The mercenary’s expression twisted. Breath fogged as he hissed through teeth, his hands reached up to grip the dog’s leg, as if he could alleviate the pressure by lifting it- but that was next to impossible.
“I don’t know what you want me to say! You’re utterly insane!”
“True, but iffy.”
“True, but also iffy phrasing. The intent is there.”
I folded my arms. I knew that Candy didn’t have any emotion sensing or lie detection power. This guy worked with the Undersiders and seemed to be under the impression she did, or that it was possible.
I glanced again in the direction of the restaurant.
“We should take this elsewhere.”
Rachel shook her head, glancing at me. “If we take it elsewhere it’s going to be so they don’t see any bodies.”
“True,” Candy said, mischievously.
Rachel shot her a look.
“Whatever. Let’s just move elsewhere, then discuss.”
Rachel whistled, and gestured for the dog to move its paw.
We lifted him up, Rachel, Rain and I draping him over the dog’s back. As we finished, I saw Rachel glance sidelong. First at Foil, then at mercenaries.
Foil was hanging back, apparently looking at Chastity and the henchman, but with a vantage point to see the entire group, the other mercenaries included.
“The only way this goes okay for you is if you cooperate,” I told the mercenary.”
“There’s nothing to cooperate about!”
All based on a look, and a little girl pretending to be a lie detector.
I felt uneasy.
“You want to give us answers before we get where we’re going,” Rachel said.
“I don’t have any to give!”
I saw the man’s expression twist. I gave Rain a look, discreetly pointing between him and the man. He nodded.
Guilt and regret aura in effect.
He twisted his head around, looking at the other mercenaries.
I spun around, relying on flight, not feet. Already, the two mercenaries were acting, their expressions set somewhere between annoyance and alarm.
Foil’s actions were smooth, as she stepped in close. As one drew his gun, she struck his arm. It fired in the moment of impact, and the gunshot hit the ground right behind Rachel’s right heel.
Rain and I hit the other mercenary at the same time. Rain’s hand caught the guy’s arm. His mechanical hand reached up to grab the gun as I grabbed the guy, keeping his other arm from doing something. Mechanical fingers worked at the gun, and pulled away the gun’s slide.
The mercenary knew some martial arts, and tried them on me. A grip at my arm, pulling me forward, a twist of his body-
I inverted, flipping up, so my hands were down and my feet were up. His leverage was nil, and with my hands gripping his hands, I could come down hard, the flat of my forearm against the flat of his, driving down. Bone broke as I forced arm to ground, and nose broke as face followed.
“Are there others?” Foil asked.
“The one that drove us,” Rain pointed out.
“And these three,” Chastity said, looking down.
Rachel turned to the one that had ‘looked at her funny’. “Speak.”
“I don’t-” he started. He grimaced. “Fuck.”
“We got a better offer. Money froze up when the Undersiders left New Brockton. The boss is being cagey. We talk, you know. About what happens next. This is a cushy gig, how does it end? And we collectively decided a year or two ago that if it ended it would look like this.”
“And you fuck us?” Rachel asked, gripping him by the collar.
I saw him set his jaw.
“May I?” I asked.
She didn’t let go or budge, staring him down.
“Rachel. We’re working on this together. Let me have a go.”
“Let’s cooperate,” Foil said.
Rachel dropped him. He slumped to the ground.
I glanced at Rain, gesturing slightly, indicating our prisoner. That got me a nod. For the actual interaction, though, I had to get close. I was glad for the armor at my knees as I knelt beside him.
I could feel Rain’s power. Subtle, but there.
I pulsed out with my aura. Calculated, as I’d been doing as of late, to just extend a few feet. The others would barely notice it, if they noticed at all. A glance confirmed I was right. No changes in expression, no reactions, no anger or frustration with me.
“Tell us who paid you and what this operation entails.”
No answer again.
Again, I used my aura.
Rain was exerting a constant pressure, magnifying regret, shame, and guilt. My power was a slap across the face, a burst of emotion, a feeling plummeting to the pits of the stomach.
In the wake of my power, they’d rebound, reel. Some emotion control powers could be used like that, to create a long-term effect that extended past the power’s duration.
That lesson was being driven home by Rain’s power.
“Cradle,” the man said, his head bent. “Love Lost. March. They’ve met, they’re working together.”
“Kind of assumed,” I murmured. “Try harder.”
A slap of my power got a reaction from him.
“Last I heard, which was before we left for the restaurant, they beat your buddies. Both groups. Sliced and diced a bunch of them. If anyone asks…”
A pulse of my aura encouraged him to keep speaking. He babbled instead. “If anyone asks we were going to say we were with Tattletale until she bit it. We’ll say- we were going to say, we only joined these guys when it was all over.”
“What are they up to? What are they doing?”
“They’re retreating to another world, taking hostages with them. That’s Cradle and Love Lost. March is gunning for the finale.”
Not Finale, but the finale.
“The time-stop and time loop effects?” I asked.
With circles under his eyes, his expression a little wild, our captive mercenary nodded his head. “Exactly. As far as they’re concerned, they’ve won. You just haven’t gotten around to realizing it yet.”