Kitten smiled happily and licked her fingers clean. “Don’t worry, you’ll do better next time.”
I clenched my fists, my jaw, and my eyes, willing myself to not cry. I don’t know why, but the idea of letting her see me cry bothered me more than everything before it. I just couldn’t let that last scrap of dignity go. My power kicked in, which gave me just enough to get my emotions under control.
“See, and now you can go again.” She leaned up against me with the most childishly happy smile. “Would you like to open your Christmas present now?” I almost threw up, and in a way I wish I had, right on her face.
I swallowed back the urge. Please tell me she doesn’t mean what I think she means. “Umm, I thought I already got my present.”
She giggled and grabbed my hand. “You’re cute. That was just the stocking stuffer.” She yanked me forward, and I silently prayed help would get here soon. I couldn’t beat her and I knew it.
In the back of my head I felt a familiar tug that I’d almost forgotten about; the promise of a solution, the answer I needed. I almost accepted the offer, the power that could end this here and now. Then I remembered everything I lost already, and I couldn’t yet make myself go through that a third time.
Kitten pushed open a door to what might become an office some day, and proved once again that I underestimated how twisted she was. The room had only three things in it: a lamp, a space heater, and a chair with Cassie tied to it. A part of me couldn’t help but notice she was naked. Her legs were open and tied against the chair legs, her arms tied to the back of the chair. There was nothing left to the imagination.
Her mouth opened to say something, then she looked at Kitten and closed it, and her eyes.
“She’s quite beautiful, isn’t she?” Kitten whispered.
I can’t lie to her. “Yes.” I tore my eyes away from Cassie, it felt wrong to look at her like this. “What did you do to her?” Sorry, Cassie, but I need to buy time, I need to keep her talking.
“Well, I was going to carve her up for being such a bitch to you,” Kitten said, reaching into a corner and pulling out the cavalry saber she took from me. That night felt like a lifetime ago. “But she’s so pretty, and so obedient, so I saved her for you. To do anything you want.” Her smile was predatory as she held the blade, and allowed her eyes to drift down to my crotch. “Anything.”
My power kicked in, respawning me and at least clearing out some of the horror and disgust, giving me a chance to think. “You’re saying you want to watch me rape her? Why? I’d much rather have you.” In the same way I’d rather cut off my balls with a sharp knife than a dull one, but still the truth.
“Don’t worry, there will be plenty of time for that later,” she talked like we were discussing movie plans. “Besides, that’s how she likes it, she told me so herself.” She smiled sheepishly at me. “I may have, umm, warmed her up a bit while waiting for you. But only to make sure it was better for you! So you can do what you want with her and I’ll show you all the fun stuff and we can run away together and-”
Cassie started sobbing while Kitten went off on her sick delusion. I heard enough, and reached for the offered power. If Kitten wants me to embrace this ‘destiny’ she rambles about, then so-. I saw the ropes shifting, undoing themselves. They’re here.
Kitten’s hand let go of mine, and I grabbed her wrist. She twisted and brought my saber down on my arm. I dived at her as I summoned my costume. It had taken me weeks to perfect the trick, but it’s not like I was hurting for free time. The gloves and mask didn’t come with, but the rest of the costume was all one piece and on my body like I never took it off in the first place.
She brought the sword up to slash me again, and I took the hit, welcoming the chance to get the weapon back. Instead, all I felt with my power was ice. She’d covered it with her power so I couldn’t touch the blade directly.
“You lied to me!” she screeched like a tantruming child. Then she tilted her head and smiled. “I knew you had it in you.” She stomped her foot, creating a spear of ice, which she pointed at Cassie.
Fuck! I didn’t have my knife, so I broke my own fingers to get the start I needed. Kitten kicked forward, and blades of ice hit me and Cassie. She screamed while I respawned, but I managed to make touch contact before a dozen more spears impaled us both. She didn’t survive, but I had her in memory.
The sword passed through my back, without the ice shield. “You can only hold one item at a time,” Kitten laughed. The sword caught me as I was respawning. “And only for a little while.” She leapt forward and brought the sword down. This time I was fast enough to block it with the gauntlets. Here, holding her back, I realized I was stronger than her now, not that it made a difference.
She didn’t even have the decency to look angry or tired, she was having fun. “Less when you’re forced to use your power.” Her foot slammed into my crotch and forced me to duplicate again. “You’ll run out of time, and I’ll kill her when you do.”
“It’s time,” a voice rumbled softly in my head.
“You’re probably right,” I admitted. “But I know something you don’t know.” I dived forward, allowing myself to take another hit before wrapping my arms around Kitten. Her combat sense didn’t work on things that weren’t attacks or threats, and she was expecting me to run away, not towards. Praying that it might distract her just a little longer I brought a hand down and squeezed her ass.
She giggled and breathed into my ear. “What?” A heartbeat later, she started struggling and I prayed silently I could keep my power from activating too soon. Pain lanced through my arms as ice traveled up them from inside my bones.
“I don’t care who kills you.”
My chest exploded in gore.
I took a breath, facing the small mansion of a building that Guardian called his home. He lived up to his name, with a power that let him protect presidents and a self appointed mission to be the moral compass of America. Throughout the Seventies and Eighties, he was pretty much the big name in the right wing camp. Even today he was a big deal, even if he was so far behind the times that he still believed women shouldn’t be allowed in the military.
In short, this man was everything I hated about my father, except without the alcoholism.
For some stupid reason, both of us rating a ‘Tank 8’ made me uncomfortable. Maybe it was all the ‘powers reflect personality’ crap and how rare total defences were that made me wonder what we had in common.
There were no guards to stop me at the gate, not that someone like Guardian really needed protection. I just stuck my hand through and got hit by an electric shock, which tripped off my power and put me on the other side. I was surprised, to say the least. It takes one hell of a zap to make me respawn, especially through an insulated costume. I was expecting to stab myself to get through.
The door opened before I was halfway up the lawn, and I was face to face with Guardian, in costume no less. He stepped forward, clearing the entire distance in one movement as space warped around him. A power that made him untouchable, and gave him the ability to make others similarly untouchable.
His outfit was very ‘American’, in white and blue, with red for the gauntlets and boots. On his chest were dozens of military medals, not that I knew what they meant. His mask covered the top of his face, with a gold eagle motiff, but his mouth and jaw were visible.
Either he had padding, muscle powers, steroids, or he lived at the gym, because he was the buffest senior citizen on the planet. Would this be me, in fifty some years? “Most people use the intercom.”
“I’m not most people, sir.” I saluted him, following all the rules Dad and The Bastard taught me. Yeah, I didn’t like this guy, but he was a veteran. I could show him this much respect, especially if it got me what I wanted.
He returned the salute, then waited for me to bring my hand down. “Army boy, huh?”
“Army brat, for now,” I answered. “Don’t quite know what branch I’ll be signing up for. Talking to recruiters, but I’ve got a year, so I guess I’m shopping around.”
“Hmph,” he grunted. “Well, good on you. Serve like a man, but make sure they treat you for what you’re worth. Seen you on the news, you do good work.”
“Just trying to help.” I tried to think about how to steer the conversation in the right direction. “So, you’re the first military Imbued I’ve talked to, what do you think?”
“My bet is they’ll have you on D&E work,” he answered after a moment of thought. “It’s what you’re best suited for, near as I can tell.”
“Divert and Engage,” Guardian explained. “Their job is to draw enemy Imbued into a prolonged battle while other teams handle the delicate work. It’s where they usually send the ones tough enough to take a beating, but who can’t really dish out a lot of damage. Ever since the army started with that pansy-ass ‘don’t kill the enemy’ shit, war’s become a joke.”
Yup, that sounds about what I’m good for. “So I take it you don’t buy the ‘Mark of Cain’ stuff, huh? Sympathy and Sapphire seem pretty convinced of it.”
“That degenerate pervert?” Wow, I think I hit a nerve. “Why doesn’t it surprise me that she buys such nonsense? Superstition used by cowards to justify their cowardice.” Guardian crossed his arms, and muscles bulged under the costume.
I wanted to ask for more information, I really did, but then there was Kitten to think of. “Can’t argue with that. In fact, it’s why I’m here.” I handed him a wrinkled stack of papers, the same ones Anima gave me so long ago.
He looked at the top sheet for a few seconds, then back at me. “How the hell did you get these, son?”
“Not doing anything legal, I assure you.” Somehow, I didn’t think he’d turn me in over this. “Long story short, she’s in town and I’m trying to stop her, and the fucking cops are too afraid to take action. She’s trying to start a damn war right now, and they’re hiding like cowards.” If he wanted to hate them, I wasn’t going to disagree.
“Sign of the times,” he muttered. “The government’s tripled down on predicting and avoiding. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good tactic more often than not, but it’s made people soft.”
I nodded along, letting him continue. “Politicians these days don’t have the strength to accept that some things require sacrifices and can’t be ignored. They’d rather pass the buck along to the next guy like it’s a game of hot potato.”
Sounds familiar enough. “Yeah, well, timer’s stopped and it’s in my hands now.” I took a breath and stood a bit taller. I needed his help, but I wasn’t going to beg. “Problem is, I’ve done my best and it wasn’t enough. Maybe I’ll be better in the rematch, I don’t know, but the stakes are too high to take risks. When I try again, if I fail, I need someone like you to make sure the job gets done. Real heroes know the mission comes first.”
“Hmph,” I couldn’t tell what he was thinking. “I bet you think you have a plan, already? Come inside, I’ve gotta hear this.”
I followed behind him. “Well, it starts with me doing some D&E work…”
Kitten launched backwards as I respawned. I knew I was almost out of time, so I restored Cassie next to me. She started crying and wrapped her arms around me, pity I couldn’t enjoy it. I nearly fell over from exhaustion.
Kitten had slammed into the back wall hard and dropped to her knees, but somehow she was still in one piece. Restoring the dead took a lot out of me, so I could only watch and try to catch my breath.
Another shot rang out, but Kitten jumped and rolled. Chunks of the concrete wall behind her exploded. Another shot rang out and broke another chunk of concrete. I wondered how many shots Guardian’s custom sniper rifle actually had.
Kitten snarled at the air, then smiled. My sword started growing ice spiked along its length.
Fuck, she has a plan. I grabbed Cassie’s arms and pulled her off of me. “Run!” I pushed her toward the door.
Kitten twisted faster than I’d ever seen her move, and the hand holding the sword exploded into gore. He hit her, he actually hit her. A man’s scream followed a moment later.
“She got Guardian,” Glen rumbled.
How? “I thought he was supposed to be invulnerable!”
Kitten giggled as ice started growing over the stump of her hand. “No such thing.”