The driver shifted the car into gear. “What about” Zach “everyone still out there?! Kitten’s going to kill them!” Cassie squeezed tighter around me, she hadn’t let me go since she got in the vehicle except to put on Zach’s backup coat. As often as his costume got destroyed, he now made sure he had a spare. I was afraid to ask where he got the cash.
“And if we stay here, we all die.” I didn’t know the woman’s name, just that she wore a mask but otherwise no costume. I wasn’t even sure if she was one of Lightbringer’s people, or part of whatever mysterious group Zach was working with. For all I knew, Zach was working with Lightbringer. I didn’t want to think that about my brother, but I knew how far he’d go to stop Kitten.
I grabbed the handle of the door. “Then I’m staying behind.” I looked at the blonde clinging to me. “You’ll be safe here, okay?” I hope. “I’m seeing this to the end.” I’m tired of running while others do the fighting.
I gripped my dezzie as I stepped out of the vehicle, trying to allow the cool confidence of carrying a fifty-cal overcome the sheer terror of stepping out into a superhuman fight. The driver didn’t even wait for me to close the door before stomping the gas. I resolved to make that bitch pay for the dry cleaning on my clothes. Zach may have had time to change, but I didn’t.
Crucible’s fire ring was close enough to be painful, making it hard to even see what was going on. All I knew was Zach was on the other side of that inferno, and Kitten was on this side with us.
She disemboweled one of Crucible’s guards and decapitated the second. Then she threw her -my- sword at me. I jumped out of the way, only to hear a crunch and thud behind me. I looked back to see one of the female Los Fieles villains drop dead.
The other, Lanza, was on his feet again despite earlier injuries, firing more of those orange spears. There were huge holes in his costume, showing some damn fine abs and pecs. I considered inviting him to my New Year’s party, if we survived this.
I trained my gun on Kitten, bracing myself and pulling the trigger. The recoil on this monster meant I wasn’t about to shoot twice in quick succession; she was still near the Lightbringers. I wouldn’t be too heartbroken over shooting one of them, but I didn’t want to do it accidentally. The bullet hit her and cracked the ice shell, but there was no penetration.
Before I lined up my second shot, the yellow-green-blue light of Zach’s power rushed out of the ice shell. It shattered on the ground, only feet from Crucible.
Crucible reached out to the fire with both hands, and the flames kicked up to a whole other level of heat, boiling away the water nearby. I was forced to back away. Crucible clasped his hands together in front of him.
I watched in horror as the fire collapsed inward and exploded; Zach was inside that inferno.
“Do you think he made it? What about her?” I had to know. For the love of God, don’t let him die like this.
“I don’t know,” Glen’s familiar rumble formed around me. “The fire’s creating too much noise, I’m functionally blind.”
The fire died seconds later, leaving behind a large puddle of molten asphalt and scorched earth. Nothing alive remained inside. It took me a second to spot Zach, laying naked a few yards from the fire. I didn’t think twice before rushing to my brother’s side. “Is he alive?”
“His heartbeat’s stable, like after the last fire.”
It says a lot about the world that this is the third time my supposedly unkillable brother has nearly died. I dropped by Zach’s side, carefully averting my eyes when I pulled off my coat to wrap around him. If I was smart, I would have given Cassie my coat and taken his. “Dammit, Zach, why’d you pick now to suddenly have more muscle than me?”
With Glen’s help, I managed to get Zach as dressed as he was likely to get. At least it wasn’t too cold out, especially with the still molten pit nearby.
I stood and looked around, spotting Anima and Guardian riding on unicorns. Guardian’s arm looked like it got the business end of a lion, but he was still alive and conscious. Behind them was a third unicorn, which carried the body of that guy who saved Cassie’s life. I had no idea who he was.
“La-” Anima hesitated for a moment. “I mean, is he alright? Umm, whoever you are?”
In spite of myself, I smiled. Anima used a voice changer, but she used the exact same voice changer as ‘White Lady’, so it wasn’t exactly rocket science to put it together. I also tactfully ignored how she let her eyes linger on Zach just a little longer than necessary. “I think it’s just like the apartment fire.” Right, she’s trying to pretend not to be White Lady. “This has happened a couple times before, he just needs time to rest until his power starts working again.”
“Okay,” Anima took a slow breath. “Royal knight.”
What does that have to do with anything? A white fog formed and condensed into yet another unicorn, this time with a rider in gilded armor. The knight looked at Anima. “What would you have me do, my queen?” His voice was unnaturally perfect, too deep and clear for someone speaking through a suit. It was like listening to someone talking on television.
Anima gestured at Zach. “He needs help. Put him on your… steed… so we can move him.”
“As you command.” The knight got off the horse too easily for someone in armor, but as far as powers went, this wasn’t close to the weirdest thing I’d seen today. I helped lift Zach, to keep him from being jostled around too much by the knight.
The summons not only looked and sounded wrong, they felt wrong as well. The knight’s armor felt more like glass than metal, and was neither hot nor cold to the touch. The unicorn’s body felt more like foam padding than flesh, a horse-shaped punching bag. Still, we got Zach on the not-animal with his modesty intact. The trucks were on their way back by the time we made it to the others.
I looked at the scene around us. It was eleven Imbued against Kitten, and she killed or disabled six of them. That was the sort of thing you only expect to see in movies.
The other female Los Fieles member was covered in a sort of blue-green field that extended to the dead woman she was kneeling by. The wounds were slowly being patched up. Lanza was between them and Crucible, both looked ready to come to blows.
“That’s not our problem, we aren’t healing your people.”
“If not for us, you’d be dead right now!” Crucible’s fire started flickering to life around us. Small patches, nothing like what he used on Zach and Kitten.
This isn’t a good sign. “What about us? Respawn did the heaviest fighting, way before the rest of us got here, and we’re not part of any gang.”
“Not a good idea,” Glen rumbled. “Zach’s power reacts strangely to Gifters; I’d rather not find out how it responds while he’s unconscious.” I realized he’d said it too faintly for anyone else to hear.
Fuck. Master backpeddling time. “But he can wait, I suppose. Everyone took risks and losses today., Even forming this alliance put us all at risk. Anima risks her neutral status, Guardian could get in trouble and he lost an arm.”
“Don’t worry about me,” Guardian said. “I don’t need help from a villain.”
Well, then he can go around with only one arm for all I care. Then again, he probably knows other healers that he trusts. I just kept trying to make my case. “And I fought even though I don’t have powers. We all came together and won, now let’s do it with as few losses as possible. Call it a Christmas miracle if you like.”
The healer looked up from where she was working. “Mi potentia.” She stopped for a moment, then spoke again in broken English. “No heal… lost… parts.”
Lanza glanced at us, then back at the healer. “I didn’t know that. Excuse me while I take care of some unfinished business.” He stepped back and with a single sweep of his spear, the dead woman’s head came off at the shoulders. Blood sprayed all over the healer while she scrambled back in fear and shock.
Behind me, Anima shrieked and Guardian may have said some profanity. I stepped back and pointed my gun right at him. I didn’t know how durable his costume was, but there were plenty of holes left from Kitten’s attack. My aim was good enough to finish what she started.
Lanza smoothly turned back to us in the same motion, like it was a dance instead of a murder. Blood spattered across the ground. “Does that bother any of you?”The light of the healing glow vanished.
Crucible was the first to speak. “One animal turning on another? Nothing I haven’t seen on the Discovery Channel. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have dead to mourn.” He turned away from Lanza and faced toward me and the others. He regarded us for a moment, then glanced behind me. Then he looked at Zach.
“You’ll have to go through all of us to get to him,” Guardian growled behind me. “Kitten had that kind of power. You don’t.”
I trained my gun on Crucible’s chest, then I angled down. “So much as think about my brother being vulnerable, and I will shoot you in the dick.”
A crackle of energy saw a pair of elves with bows appear just in front of me. It was amazing how much better I felt, knowing power like that was backing me up.
“Don’t worry, I’m not an animal, I don’t betray my allies.” Why couldn’t Kitten have killed these bastards before she died? “Just let Respawn know we’re even. If he comes after me and mine, I will treat him like any other pest.”
“Yeah, okay.” As if Zach’s going to back down from a threat. Crucible kept walking over to his dead and I turned back to Lanza. “I saw the wounds you took. Your healer can fix the dead, right? I want you to heal him.” I gestured to the guy that saved Cassie.
Lanza crossed his arms, like he wasn’t afraid of being shot. “Why should we?”
“I think my gun’s faster than your power,” I threatened. “I figure one to the chest, two more in your healer, and the rest in your skull. Think that’ll get the job done?”
The area around us rumbled as Glen spoke. “A trade. The police will be here soon to take statements. Heal Flux, and we’ll leave out the order in which Vertigo died. I’m sure that’s of some value, right?”
“GL, I’m not going to lie to the cops.” Anima argued. “Especially not to protect a murderer.” I found myself agreeing with her; this asshole didn’t deserve to walk away.
“You won’t be here to leave a statement,” Glen’s voice was soft in my ears, a sign that he was staying too quiet for Lanza to hear. “Besides, even if they did know, it wouldn’t change anything with the cops. He’s already a murderer, and Vertigo might even have been worse. Please, if Flux dies now, I’ll never forgive myself.”
Why? What happened? I resolved to ask that question later. “I think it’s a fair enough deal. The cops don’t need to hear about the fine details. All of you go, and I’ll stay here with GL to say we stumbled across a three way fight between Kitten and the gangs, and you ran away after. Sound fair?”
“Laura, are you sure?”
Slipping up on the ‘don’t know you’ thing, Beth. “Best way to save lives. Now let’s get this done before Santa catches us being naughty.”
“Seems fair enough to me,” Guardian agreed. “We can have a ceasefire, as long as you let your medic care for the wounded.”
Lanza didn’t take long to make his decision. “Go ahead, Cura.” He stood there while the healer approached. The poor woman was shaking under her costume, covered in the blood of her former leader. I felt sorry for her, but watched in fascination as her power washed out around her. The fatigue of holding my gun vanished, and even some other minor aches I’d picked up went away.
“Glen,” I whispered so softly I couldn’t even hear it. “Let Cura know we can protect her, if she wants to get away from Lanza.” A part of me wanted to shoot him, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I never tried to kill anyone before. Sure, I shot at Kitten, but I knew her powers meant I wouldn’t be able to kill her. I didn’t know if I could straight up murder someone, even a bastard like Lanza.
“I’ll try,” Glen whispered back. “After she’s done.”
Flux coughed and sat up. “H-how?”
Lanza said something in Spanish, and Cura rushed back to him. They didn’t waste any time heading for their vehicle. Cura glanced down at Vertigo’s headless body. I couldn’t begin to guess what was going through her mind.
“Long story, we’ll fill you in later,” I said. “You should get out of here, too. Anima, take Flux and Guardian back to my vehicle, then to the rendezvous point. If you want to, you can wait at my apartment afterward, but I don’t know how long this is going to take.”
“It may be a while, if the cops are feeling vindictive,” Glen offered.
“Oh, and before I forget.” I unloaded my gun and handed both the firearm and the clip over to Guardian. I almost chose Beth, but she seemed the type to be squeamish about weapons. “Keep an eye on her for me, okay?”
“Like she was my own,” Guardian agreed.
Anima’s summons started trotting south, right onto the river. “Sorry, Cura didn’t seem interested,” Glen rumbled. “Or maybe she couldn’t understand me. I only know a small amount of Spanish.”
“We did the best we could, I guess.” I watched the sky. Kitten might be gone, but with her she took the fragile balance of power between the gangs. “I wish I could say it was over, but we both know Zach’s going to need us now more than ever.”