Well, a good show is something I can certainly do. I gave one more glance to the meeting room. Anima’s mist started flowing together around the surprisingly calm hostages. Condensing into four beautiful angelic statues.
“The hell?” Nano’s surprise was clear even through his voice changer. I glanced over to the teller area, where two more statues had formed. More than that, there was a foggy white barrier protecting the entire wall. Nano couldn’t even touch the door. He glanced at me. “Are you responsible for this? I thought we had a deal. Shadow, take down the barricade.”
The big woman turned and punched toward the wall. Whatever barrier Anima was using held, rippling outward from the impact like waves in a pond. I didn’t know how much punishment Anima’s power could take, especially split multiple directions like this. What I did know is that no one’s powers were completely unbeatable. I rushed toward her, hoping to draw her fire away from the wall. She jabbed her elbow backward, catching me hard in the face.
I was dazed for a moment, not from the injury but sheer confusion over why I was willing to agree to this conspiracy with the fucking villains bullshit. I shook my head. “Hey, Nano, I just remembered something. I already have a nemesis. And she’d be pretty pissed if I picked up two bit thugs to replace her.” I attempted to summon the baseball bat from where I left it outside, but I couldn’t find it. My power had forgotten where it was, or something. I was reminded of when I lost my sword while fighting Kitten. I really need to do some experiments with my limits one of these days.
Nano and Shadow Boxer looked shocked. Nano recovered quickly, however. “My apologies, but that’s no reason to be rude. I’m sure I could talk your girlfriend into accepting our arrangement.”
I shook my head. “She is not my girlfriend.” Well, that doesn’t sound the least bit tsundere. And now that I think about… NO! I bit my tongue hard enough to sever it, forcing a new copy. My head cleared again, faster this time than the last. “That’s your power, isn’t it? Talking people into doing stuff.”
I didn’t bother trying to hide my expression, it’s not like it could be seen through the mask, but now I was pissed. This asshole was using mind control; far worse, for a second there he actually had me thinking about Kitten like… I shuddered in disgust and rage. “You’re fucking pathetic.”
“There’s no need to get upset and fight, we can talk this out.” This time I was ready for his power, and… it meant nothing. I felt myself calming almost immediately, despite knowing exactly what was going on. I couldn’t even force myself to get mad at the thought that he was taking away my ability to get mad. “I’m a Gadgeteer, not a-” he brought his hand to his head, and then collapsed.
“Nano!” Shadow Boxer bolted toward her partner, catching him as he fell. With her hands, not her telekinesis. “Wake up!” She shook him, then felt his neck.
“I… I’m fine. Just wore myself out is all. We have to get out of here.” His breathing was heavy. So using the mind control power takes a lot of energy, that’s really good to know. Probably why he relies on the Gadgets, instead.
Shadow Boxer stood, easily lifting her partner, bridal style. Oh, right, they’re going to try to escape now. Not gonna happen. I stepped closer to the woman. I could always use my power to keep her here. Sure, I’d prefer that to remain a secret for a bit longer, it was a trump card to hold on to for an emergency, and anyone that wanted to could probably get hold of the camera footage. Like, say, the cops. Or the news. I hesitated, making up a thousand excuses in my mind to do nothing.
Oh, yeah, the whole talking things out command. Shouldn’t that be wearing off now that he’s disabled? Well, looks like I have to talk. I ran to block the exit they were headed for. “Leaving so soon? That is disappointing. Clearly you aren’t cut out for this life.”
She shifted her hold on Nano so she had an arm free, ready to hit me.
“Don’t!” Nano managed to gasp moreso than speak. “Wh… he wants. How he beat my.” And then he was out again. Lovely. The jackass had to stay conscious just barely long enough to ruin my brilliant plan to get beaten up by a girl.
“Out of my way,” Shadow Boxer growled. Her voice was painfully unnatural, like one of those werecreature movies where the giant monster talks. As the social equality types constantly pointed out, it was never the good guys that got the horrific monster voice in the movies. In a way, it was reminiscent of Nano’s voice. But his was artificially altered by his tech. Hers was just part of her body. What was it Muwth said, we sacrifice what we love most for our powers?
“Umm, That’s sorta the opposite of how this works. Clearly you didn’t get brains with your powers. Let’s try this in a language you understand.” I went for my most condescending ‘Tarzan’ voice. “Ook, ook. You bad guy, me good guy, me stop you.” I even slouched a little to add to the effect.
“Asshole.” She turned and strode toward the other bank exit. Not running, just very long footsteps. Maybe she can’t run, or something. For that matter, why doesn’t she just bust out the window and go that way? Whatever, it was an advantage and I was going to take it.
I rushed to get ahead of her and block her path again. Along the way I dipped down to grab the staff that Nano dropped when he nearly passed out. Gadgets are really valuable to the right– my power scanned the weapon. A few wires ran inside, along with batteries, to power the lights. The whole thing was a decoration.
Oh, nevermind, it’s not a gadget at all. Just a cheap hollow metal rod like you see all the time. Still, I held it like a weapon, blocking them. “You shall not pass!” I smacked the pole down on the floor, and the lights went out as their batteries were knocked out of place. Correction: it’s a shitty decoration.
She glanced down at Nano, then looked back at me. “Don’t make me hurt you.”
“Buddy, didn’t we already establish that you can’t hurt me?” I smirked, despite being sure she couldn’t see it. “Sure, empty threats are empty, but you’ve gotta be more creative than that. Threatening hostages, for example.” Wait a second. “You… you can’t, can you? Nano’s power targets everyone,including you.”
Her eyes narrowed, and a dark yellow light eminated from them. She said nothing, however.
I really needed a way to get her to actually hit me. Then it dawned on me: she had a power that warped her body, which means she probably loved her looks a lot before she gained powers. “Don’t feel bad, I’m sure you’ll be the scariest guy in your prison block. Probably sit around with Big Bubba sharing stories about sodomizing all the other dudes.”
“I’m a woman!”
Ooh, that did strike a nerve. Keep rubbing salt in the wound. “And I want you to know I respect that. I also understand that it’s a very expensive operation, and I feel that it’s a travesty that most health care refuses to cover it. But that doesn’t make it alright to rob b-”
I didn’t bother dodging as she backhanded me right in the face, making physical contact with me for the first time since the fight began. I wondered if the sickening crunchy echo of her crushing my copy’s skull was all in my imagination. More importantly, I now knew I couldn’t use my power on her.
It wasn’t that there was armor in the way, I simply couldn’t sense her with my power scan. It sucked, but at least I was free from Nano’s mental compulsion. “Thank you sir, may I have another?”
I smacked her upside the head with the metal rod. She tumbled back a bit, unwilling to drop her partner. The rod was dented by the force of the blow. A thought annihilated it and put the undamaged copy in my hand.
She swung again, and I ducked under. Up close, she really wasn’t that hard to fight. I retaliated with the staff, clipping her in the jaw. She stumbled back, a spatter of blue trailed away. It took me a second to realize that was her blood. Jeez, just how alien is her body? I ignored a wave of pity and sympathy. It could just as easily have been me whose powers turned him into a monster. Physical mutations were a minority amongst Imbued, especially ones as extreme as hers, but they weren’t rare.
Shadow Boxer kept moving for the door that I’d so foolishly stopped guarding during our fight, only to be stopped cold by a shimmer of pale white light. I laughed, I’d almost forgotten about Anima during the exchange. She turned back on me. “Turn it off!”
I shrugged, holding my hands out to emphasize the point. “Hey, that’s not me. I have a kind of silent partner helping out, or didn’t you notice the whole angel statues with forcefields thing? How many IQ point did you lose when you got powers?” Maybe I’m laying the insults on a little thick. I’d feel worse about it if they weren’t using mind control to commit crimes.
She knelt down, gently putting Nano out the ground. “Fine, you wanted a fight, now you’ve got one.” I was about to make a comment when she rushed toward me, way faster than someone her size had any right to move. Faster than Kitten, even.
She reached out with her hand and I was launched backward hard, slamming into the door on the other side of the building. Anima’s forcefield rippled heavily as the light returned to my new body.
I charged forward, trying to close the gap before she could break the barrier. I was pretty sure she’d get through with a little more time. She lashed out at me a couple times, but I’d gotten very used to the experience of restoring on the run, as it were. I was in touch range in a matter of seconds, and tried again to hit her with the cheap metal pole. It didn’t bend this time, it splintered before it hit her skin. I kept moving in, and it was like sticking my face into a blender.
No wonder she refused to use her full power while holding Nano, she’d turn him into paste. I briefly considered how she’d fare against Kitten, then decided she’d be a frozen statue in a matter of seconds. Shadow Boxer probably had all kinds of other vulnerabilities for little-miss-combat-instincts to exploit, too. I kept pressing forward. Alex told me that the human body could take way more punishment than most people would ever guess. Mine could do that as many times as necessary.
I tried body slams, punches, kicks, and more slams, each time teleporting slightly to my right. She screamed in rage and kept trying to hit me, cracking the linoleum or stone or whatever the floor of this place was made from. And then, somewhere around the thirtieth try, I got through and hit her stomach with my shoulder. She brought her arms down, breaking my spine. But I’d gotten where I needed to be, through the field of destruction. My next copy hugged her arm, and I awkwardly swung the staff into her face.
I wished I still had my bat, it was a lot stronger. I connected with the staff, even if it wasn’t a perfect hit, and she stumbled back. I wasn’t about to let her get out of touch range again, and dived in to wrap my arms around her torso, attempting to take her to the ground. It was like trying to move a stone statue; she barely budged.
I found myself copied again when she hammered my back. Then I jumped onto her back. I wrapped my arms around her neck, attempting to choke her out using a move Dad showed me. That didn’t seem to work, either. Her telekinesis was beatable, but I just didn’t have the ability to do real damage to her after. She grabbed my arms and threw me off her. I reformed standing, several feet away.
Her kinetic field flickered back on, and she smashed her hand through the glass of the door. Most dangled from plastic, as safety glass is meant to do, but plenty fell to the ground. Anima’s shield was down.
I recalled the staff to my hand, but didn’t rush her. There were still bystanders in this building, and her attacks were quite literally bone crushing. If she missed me and hit someone else, they’d be lucky if all that happened was a stay in the hospital. Outside in the open street was even more risky.
I glanced at Nano. She couldn’t stop me from getting to him and using my power to functionally take him hostage. But she could do the same to anyone else, and then where would we be? I took a slow breath. Fuck. I lost this one, may as well give up with some dignity. “Looks like you get your wish. See you next time.”
She just flipped me off, never taking her eyes off me as she took slow steps toward Nano.
And then there was a flash of light and she fell over. I found myself standing there wondering just what the hell was going on. The sound of feet crunching the broken glass was the only sound, then Anima pushed open the door. “You said something about not letting them pass?”
Oh thank god. “I thought you said you wouldn’t get involved. How did you even?”
She gestured at her statues, and they vanished into white fog that rushed toward and enveloped her. “My sentries report back to me.”
And here I thought I was hiding a cool aspect of my power. If people knew Anima could see through her summons, the internet itself would need the brown pants.
Anima looked toward the tellers. “Okay, it’s safe now, you can come out.”
None of them seemed inclined to move. “I don’t think they can stop.” In fact, the tellers were still busily loading the money into a bag. Apparently one of them had a key to some kind of small safe, because they were working on that right then. I gestured at the other unconscious supervillain next to her, the one I managed to beat. “Nano over there has some kind of weird mind control power. Not sure exactly how it works, but he used it on all of us.”
She looked down at the man, and for a second I expected her to kick him. Instead she simply stepped away. “How’d you beat his power?”
“Every time I die, it cures me.” Put that on the top ten list of worst medical advice ever. “And eventually he just burned himself out trying.”
Anima nodded once, still not taking his eyes off the unconscious man. “You should probably tie him up or something. I’ll stand back and if it looks like he’s taking control of you, I’ll shoot you.”
I pulled my mask off and smiled. Not like my identity was a secret. “Yay for being an acceptable target.”
“I’m sorry, that was insensitive. I wasn’t thinking.” Anima’s voice sounded horrified with herself.
That wasn’t the reaction I was hoping for at all. “No, no, it’s fine. It’s just how my power works. To be effective, I have to make myself the target on the field, I knew that when I signed up. All heroes have to make some kind of sacrifice, this is mine.”
“Sacrifice…” Anima turned her head toward me, then went silent. She was looking past me. Black lightning danced through the remnants of her power-fog.
I turned around, spotting the reason for her reaction. The solid deep blue body suit couldn’t be mistaken for anyone else. Sapphire was here.