I stared down Sapphire. She had to know I was bluffing. Her tracker powers were, appropriately, almost as good as a dog’s. She could probably hear my heart pounding in my chest and smell the fear on my skin. She knew me well enough to guess what it’d take to push me over that edge.
“Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered.” A booming, unnatural voice cut in. I didn’t recognize it, but years of singing and acting lessons confirmed it wasn’t made by human vocal cords. The telekinetic that Muwth said she knew?
A spray of mud and slush hid Respawn from my vision, though Muwth’s TK was nice enough to not splash me with the gunk. I turned back to Sapphire, she was still watching me. I wondered if she even looked to see Respawn bolt. The mud that hit her was sliding down her costume, leaving no trace of dirt or wetness behind.
Despite all the sirens, police shouting commands, and the chaotic noises of the civilians in the background, we watched each other in what could only be called an awkward silence. It felt like hours, but was probably less than five minutes, before she spoke. “He’s rough around the edges, but he seems like a good kid.”
I clenched my fists, Flamewreath burning painlessly between my fingers. Fuck you, M- Sapphire. You don’t have the right to judge who I associate with. I refused to say that, I would not lose control of myself, not in front of her. “Planning to add this one to your collection as well?”
She finched back. Or maybe that was wishful thinking on my part. Hoping that maybe, finally, I said something that hit home. I ran through all the other things I could say, if I did hurt her, then I wanted to do it again. In the back of my mind I felt my power welling up. Ankou. It would be so easy.
I turned and walked away. Fuck her. I didn’t want her, I didn’t need her, I was better off without her and I would not degrade myself by talking to her any more than I already had. She wasn’t worth getting this worked up over, she wasn’t worth killing. Leah could have her. No one deserved each other as much as those two.
I spotted Respawn’s sister watching the fire. A glance in the direction of the building revealed it had spread a couple floors up and seemed to be working its way down. At least the fire department was finally here. As I approached her, I observed the fear on her face; I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of envy. Hopefully, Zach understood how much he was loved.
“You’re not going to help?” she accused.
No, I forced myself to drop that line of thought. It’s not an accusation, just concern for her brother. “My power doesn’t mix well with fire.” Please just take that answer for what it is.
She stood there for a moment. “Z… Respawn said something about not knowing what was going to happen, just that it was big? I guess there’s no way to know who’d be useful.”
I didn’t correct her; I wasn’t sure she was wrong. Not even Muwth really understood how her power interacted with Zach’s. She was too paranoid, if it can be called ‘paranoia’ when you’re right, to hire the kind of people necessary to legitimately test it.
“He’ll be okay in there, right?” Zach’s sister interrupted my thoughts. “Your precog, or whatever, he would have warned you if Zach was in danger for real.”
I looked at her, and crushed the instinct to hug her. It would only make things worse, even worse than an honest answer, so I chose to deflect the question. “His power’s pretty awesome. He once rolled off the side of a building for the fun of it.”
She forced a smile. “Sounds like he was trying to impress a girl.”
“I don’t know, I guess so?”
“It was you, wasn’t it?”
Yes. “He’s trying to start a team, with some of the weirdest recruitment tactics I’ve ever heard of.” I wasn’t exaggerating, either. He had a flair for the dramatic that could make for a great career in theater. I could see him doing Commedia dell’arte.
Laura managed to laugh a bit. “He’s a guy. You know how guys act around girls.”
Girls who look like you, maybe. She had one of those youthful, round faces, and even wrapped up in her coat I could tell she was a tall skinny type, but not too tall or too skinny. That comment only confirmed what I already knew: girls like her did not have the same experiences with men as girls like me. “Not really the same thing in costume.”
“I don’t think my little brother knows that,” she said before turning her head back toward the fire.
At some point, Sapphire had disappeared from sight, not that I cared what she was doing. We were content to watch silently. My eyes widened as a flash of color wrapped around a falling body that appeared out of nowhere.
“Zach!?” His sister bolted forward, toward the police cordon.
Watching him fall like that, I was starting to get worried as well. He dangled limp like a rag doll, not falling nearly as fast as he should be. Muwth’s TK was pulling him up. I didn’t know why, but it couldn’t be good. A breath, and a whisper. “Valkyrie. Walk unseen.”
The shimmer of my power manifested. A magnificent white mare of a pegasus in gold and silver armor, ridden by an amazonian blonde bombshell in similar attire. Thanks to the ‘spell’ she manifested with, she was invisible to everyone else.
“What is your bidding, my goddess.” Her voice was commanding, yet still beautiful. Every bit the warrior-woman ideal.
I cringed, thankful the power hid her words from bystanders. I gestured, subtly, at Respawn’s falling form. “See him safely to the ground. Hoofs of the Zephyr.” I felt light headed as the second ‘spell’ enhanced my summon, granting it superhuman speed.
I turned off Flamewreath and allowed it to vanish back to the ether; I couldn’t power all these effects at once. I bolted forward toward the police line, where Zach’s sister had been stopped. I grabbed her wrist, and simply stated “She’s with me” to the officers. They didn’t try to stop us from crossing the line.
“I thought you were new!” Laura shouted, running alongside me. “Why are they taking orders from you?”
Ah, the naiveté of civilians. “Standard protocol: let Imbued deal with other Imbued.” It wasn’t nearly that simple, but I didn’t have time to sit her down for that lecture right now.
Valkyrie had caught Respawn in his fall, allowing the horse to drift gently to the ground. I dismissed horse and rider with but a thought, and it felt like a hundred pounds was lifted off my shoulders. Respawn dropped to the ground and struggled to remain standing. We were close enough to see how he was being held up by his coat, now. It was shredded and burned around the edges, reminiscent of his fight with Kitten.
“Zach! Zach, are you okay?” Laura’s arms were around him.
“Get. Ambulance.” Respawn gasped slowly. He was short on breath and the goggles he wore were scorched.
I moved to the other side and helped prop him up. Without Flamewreath active, they weren’t in any danger. The acrid smell of the smoke on his clothes made my eyes water.
“Ambulance,” Respawn repeated, his breathing slow and labored.
We half carried, half dragged him toward where the wounded were being processed. “Injured hero,” I stated to the paramedics. They, too, were trained to just let us do what we wanted. They even pulled out the Gurney, ignoring all the triage rules they were supposed to follow.
It was a heady sort of power. We might have to answer for it later, but in the short run we could get away with almost anything.
Respawn resisted when we tried to help him on. “No. God, please…”
“Zach? What are you saying?” Laura begged. Once again, that twinge of envy. I couldn’t remember the last time anyone cared about me like that.
The pity party didn’t last, as a shimmer of greens and yellows formed on the stretcher. A man, naked and bleeding from a horrific stomach wound, appeared in the glow of Respawn’s power. Nasty looking burns covered his legs. Hopefully, he was only unconscious.
“Mother of God!” I wasn’t sure who said that, but a lot of people were probably thinking it. The paramedics were right there doing their jobs. Those injuries
Com appeared next to us. “You can do that for other people!?” His illusion ran its fingers through its hair. “God, we didn’t even…”
“Go f-fu- yrmuer,” Zach slumped down, leaving me and his sister and the TK to carry all his weight.
“Zach? ZACH!” Laura shouted, but thankfully she didn’t drop her brother.
“He’ll be fine,” Sympathy stated. I grit my teeth and said nothing. Now was not the time to do what I wanted to do to her. “He overtaxed his powers. They’ll replete at their own rate, probably an hour or so. Just let him sleep until then.”
“But, but… he doesn’t need to sleep anymore?” Somehow, Laura phrased it as a question.
“Interesting. Better make it an hour and a half, then.” I glared at her in her ridiculous sundress costume, trying not to resent how she seemed perfectly comfortable, while I was wearing both the robes and my armor and still trying not to shiver. I kept glaring: I wanted her to know that if she was lying about this, I would end her.
She turned and walked away, moving through the chaos and back toward Sapphire.
I looked toward Laura. “So, I have a place we can bring him, at least for a little while.” Zach never talked about his home situation. All I knew was he feared a gang or Kitten going after them, and that he had to stop being a hero for some reason to do with his mother. I really didn’t want to get involved in any domestic drama.
She smiled at me. “My place is only a couple miles away.” I held back a sigh of relief. “Can you drive while I look after Zach?” Dammit!
I nodded, not trusting my voice. So much for drama avoidance. I didn’t even have the excuse of not wanting to leave my car behind, since I bummed a ride from one of Muwth’s people. Last thing I needed was being seen in costume in my car.
“Mind if I come, too?” I recognized the unnatural, deep rumble from before. “I’m kinda worried about the kid. I saw what he did in there, and… not a lot of people would do that.”
Laura hesitated. “Umm, I guess you can ride shotgun. My car’s kinda small, though.”
“Don’t worry about that, I don’t actually have a physical body.”
“Oh!” Laura exclaimed. “I’m so sorry!”
“Don’t be. I got over that years ago.”
I didn’t believe him, I really couldn’t believe him. How does anyone ‘get over’ something like that? But I said nothing, as Laura guided us back to her vehicle and I did my best to ignore the frigid cold.
The drive to her place was better. That cramped little car of hers had an amazing heater in it. I didn’t even need to kick Flamewreath up while waiting for the car to heat itself.
Other than Genius Loci introducing himself and Laura giving us instructions to her place, we didn’t really talk during the ride. I was wishing I could go home and be alone, Laura was too busy worrying over Zach, and GL… well, whatever reason he had for staying quiet, he did.
Once we were there, Laura took a breath. “So, I, umm, live on the third floor. In all the other craziness, I sorta forgot about that.”
Guess her brother’s not the only one that spaces out. I already knew I was going to be sore from carrying his heavy ass to the car in the first place. “I can make it easier to carry him. GL, do you mind doing the rest?”
“Not a problem, I think.”
I turned around in the seat and got a look at the scene. Laura had worked his trenchcoat and mask off. Remarkably, the body suit was still in one piece, except for one missing glove. If not for the soot marks all over, he could have been mistaken for just resting his head on Laura’s lap.
I put my hand on his arm. Doing this would probably tip GL off that I was Anima, but I doubted Laura would make the connection. I was pretty famous, but not really well known. “Talaria.” Cartoonish sandals wrapped over his boots, conforming themselves as if he simply had really big feet. “Featherstep.” That spell cut gravity by a factor of ten, based on my testing, but only for the wearer.
He quickly levitated. “So, featherstep, huh?” GL sounded amused. “Appropriate name.”
He definitely knows, but at least he’s practicing discretion.
“Let’s get him out of the cold.” Laura led us to her apartment. I couldn’t help but wonder if she was worried about what her neighbors thought about this scene.