I dived backward and to the side, glad my power didn’t rely on physical wellbeing to work. As it stood, my entire chest burned from the effort of breathing alone. A thrown rather than fired crossbow bolt sailed past, missing by mere inches. I acted like I had reason to fear it, though we knew his power didn’t extend to objects he carried. CloserReady. All part of the plan.
The man limped forward, making no effort to hide his nakedness as he threw yet another bolt at me. Whatever his reasoning, he seemed to believe his tactic was working. As such, he wasn’t prepared when Cecelia stepped out from behind a pillar and pressed a hand against the back of his neck. The electricity rebounded, much as it had when she tried the direct approach earlier. PainAnnoyance.
He turned to face her. “Nice try, sweetheart, but it’s passive. You ca- urk.” Cecelia spit right in his mouth. He gagged, coughed, and then collapsed into a pile.
SuccessContempt. “Well, that took longer than I’d have liked.” With a simple push of her foot, Cecelia rolled the man onto his back, so he was no longer laying on the wood plank he’d used as a crutch. This may have been to protect him, or perhaps just to leave his sickly-pale body exposed to the world.
HorrorFailureHate. With our fight having ended, I could separate my own emotions from Domenic. I barely recognized him halfway across the building, coated in so much blood and dust that it it was almost impossible to see the metal beneath, save where he’d cleaned it off where his face should be.
My blood ran cold as I recognized the costume he was facing. Quash. My father. His costume was immaculate as always, a replica of a confederate general’s uniform in white rather than the usual grey colors. Next to Quash stood a distorted hulking steel monstrosity. Either Heritage had a new recruit, or Myriad had used her power to summon a duplicate of Domenic.
With a burst of power, I cleared the distance of the building. Concrete shattered where I landed. “What are you doing here?” I made certain to use my power to distort my voice, not to intimidate or disguise, but to hide how much it hurt to speak at all.
“As ah was tellin’ the dark knight before you arrived, it should be quite obvious why I am here. A general who’s not on the front lines is a coward.” It was bizarre how well his voice was disguised by the exaggerated southern gentleman accent, so much so that I wondered if it was my father behind the mask. As I learned my first day with powers, body doubles were not unusual.
Domenic stepped forward, and his doppleganger mirrored the action, weapons ready. Its movement was slow and laborious, unlike Domenic who was comfortable and fluid in use of his power. “If you’re looking for that rematch, I’m more than ready. Or you can deny me the satisfaction and surrender now.”
“Boy, while ah am aware that the education system is not what it used to be, ah would have thought you’d know better than fight a gravity controller inside a dilapidated structure such as this one. Or are you hoping I’m afraid to use my power here? Because I will bring this building down around our ears and be damned the consequences before I bow down to you.”
ConcernDangerHate. Domenic’s metal shifted around him, perhaps in preparation for a surprise attack to stop Quash before he had a chance to use his power. I knew Domenic had the power to do the deed, but the man I loved wasn’t a murderer. If he attacked but hesitated, a lot more people could die. Meanwhile, Cecelia had moved into a flanking position. Her, I expected to have no qualms about killing my father in any number of creative and horrible ways.
With a burst of power, I lit up the room before moving in closer to my father, though I couldn’t decide for myself who I was trying to protect. “So you’re not here to fight us, then?”
“Fight you?” Though he spoke to me, his body language never stopped focusing on Domenic. “Mah dear, ah should thank you. Your involvement turned what might have been a costly battle into a complete success. Have you had time to recover, Salamander?”
The reptilian I’d thought was a dead man struggled to push himself up with all four arms. “Yeah, I’m good.” His unsteady climb to his feat bought us a minute to look around. “The Elementalist packs one hell of a wallop. Wish I was the one to kill him.”
“Don’t be too hard on yourself,” Quash said. “We prevail as a team, or not at all, and today we prevailed.”
RealizationDisgust SurpriseAgreementHate. I looked around at the same time as my partners, to the death and destruction which surrounded us. I almost asked how he could call this a success, even if the other side lost more. Then I noticed there was no body where Parapet had fallen, only those of her men. Of course. “I guess it’s no surprise a racist considers the death of their mundane soldiers meaningless.”
“They died as heroes.” I wondered if he believed himself, then wondered if it would be better or worse if he didn’t. He took a step back, toward the ramp. “A noble sacrifice to decapitate an enemy who would treat our people as little more than chattel.”
“Funny, words like that coming from scum like you.” Blades formed from Domenic’s armor. “Just like you’re turning tail to run after talking all that shit about how our next meeting would go. I’m not afraid to take this outside and settle it like men.”
“Boy, ah think you’re quite mistaken.” Quash took a step back. “As a leader of men, my first and only priority is to the wellbeing of my people. Ah could kill you any time ah like, but today has proven that leavin’ you alive serves my interests better than any grudge. And so you’ll continue to serve my interests, because like your brethren, you are your own worst enemy.”
The steel monster charged Domenic, who wasn’t given much choice but to brace himself for collision. Steel slamming steel rang out, as Domenic proved he could hold his own against Myriad’s replicant. I rushed toward my father, only to be stopped in my tracks by a face full of purple light. Parapet’s barricade. I drew back and kicked the shield, but it held against everything I was willing to throw at it. I learned my lesson about going into a fight with too little power. Meanwhile, Quash and Salamander made their way down the ramp.
Another clang drew my attention to Domenic and his artificial opponent. It now wielded an oversized meat cleaver with all the grace and form of an intoxicated beached whale. Domenic avoid its attacks without any effort, and delivered blow after blow to its head with a steel pole. FrustrationRage.
Cecelia approached me now that there was nobody to flank. “I can hear the sirens, give them about five minutes. Think we should run or chase down Quash before he gets outside and drops the building on us?”
I considered it for a moment. A fight now would put the three of us against all Heritage’s heavy hitters. I was confident enough in our ability to fight any one or two of them except Biohazard, but after today I wasn’t ready to pit us against their whole roster at once.
“Quash won’t do anything unless we go after him. We’ll stay here for the police.” Another resounding echo of metal against metal cut me off. “Shouldn’t we be helping D-” I almost cut myself off, then worried it might clue listeners in. “Damascus. Uh, I mean, Ballast?”
CuriosityWorry. “Nah, can’t you tell how much fun he’s having?” The anger rolling through Domenic’s emotions didn’t seem like my idea of fun. “Let him vent some steam. Besides, I’m using this to get some idea how Myriad’s power works. So what’s the story between you and Quash? I wasn’t certain before, but now I know you know each other under the costume.”
I stopped thinking for a moment. Had we really been keeping Cecelia this long without telling her that Quash was my dad? “Long story, don’t have time right now.” I could have covered it in one sentence: ‘He’s my dad, and he killed Dom’s mother just like you killed mine’, but was hoping to delay until I found a more tactful method. “What insights have you got on Myriad’s power?”
WorryReluctance. Rather than argue like she wanted to, Cecelia turned back to watching Domenic. He had switched his weapon into an over sized sledge hammer, like when he hit the summon, it went down. He brought the hammer up, reshaped it into something like a pickaxe, and slammed it into the middle of the construct’s back. It made a more than passable scream of pain.
“They’re inferior imitations.” That much seemed obvious. “Their internal biology is all wrong, no way they can survive more than a few minutes, or maybe that’s because she created this one right after the other died, I dunno. And I think she has to control them herself, which is why she only has one puppet at a time. Plus she doesn’t get any of the skills of the Imbued she’s copying, just a version of the power. She has to figure out how to use it herself.”
“Oh, then copying Ballast was stupid.” Of the three of us, Domenic was perhaps the most reliant on skill and training to use his power. “Wait, if she’s in direct control, then does that mean…”
“She feels everything they do?” A cruel smile formed on Cecelia’s lips. “That it does. Don’t think you should tell him, though.” Cecelia turned and walked away.
I watched Dom kick the handle of the spiked weapon embedded in the back of the puppet. A crack resounded through the building and the doppleganger went still in what I hoped was death. Moments later, it began vanishing in a swirl of black and dark yellow particles.
FrustrationRelief. I suppressed a shudder. Talk about horrible powers.
Domenic looked toward me, still covered in more blood than I thought humans had inside them, all from Salamander. WorryRegret. Odd ripples ran over Domenic’s armor, which resulted in the gore covering his armor to slough off onto the ground around him. ShameFear.
Dwelling won’t do anyone any good. “Right.” Perhaps I was talking to Cecelia, or perhaps myself, but in either case her hearing was good enough that she could hear me whisper from the other side of the building.
Domenic had approached me. He extended a hand, then brought it back to his side. ConcernWatched. “Are you okay?”
I wanted to hug him, but he was right that there was too much risk of eavesdroppers of a thousand descriptions. I tried to focus on the good, the victory such as it was, but that failed. Then I decided if nothing else, I would at least wanted something other than Domenic to be what upset me. It wasn’t as if I was hurting for reasons to choose from. “I’ve never seen anyone die, before.”
UnderstandingLoveSupport. “Me, too.” He looked behind me, toward the worst of the slaughter. “If we hadn’t interfered, it would have been worse.” His emotions were shaken enough that he couldn’t convince himself, let alone me. ConfusionDisquiet. “Spark? What are you doing?”
I turned, to spot Cecelia licking the face of the woman in the blue outfit. She looked at us for a moment. “Getting answers.” She smacked the woman on the cheek she hadn’t salivated all over. “Hey! Blue Bimbo! Wake up!”
Glad to have something other than the nightmare around us to focus on, I flew toward the member of our Pairbond who considered this to be a normal day. The soft thud of fluid metal followed behind me.
“Guh?” The woman moved in a vain attempt to sit up. She wobbled, fell over on her right arm, then rolled back on her back. “Wuh hap’n?”
Cecelia sat indian style next to the woman’s head. “Well, let’s see. You stabbed me, I tazed you, I got better, your team lost, the guy they called The Elementalist is dead, and you’ve got more drugs in your system than Amsterdam.”
“Oh. I relapsed?”
ConcernGuilt FearAssurance. Cecelia looked at us while she talked. “Different kind of drugs. Not addictive. Just the kinds that makes some parts of your brain go to sleep, like the parts that can lie to me or remember this talk.” She looked back down at the drugged woman. “I bet you’re tired, so I’ll ask you some questions, then you can go back to sleep, okay?” Through it all, her hands gently massaged the woman’s arms.
“Kay. Wha’nt?” Whatever Cecelia hit her with, it seemed to keep her calm, at least.
“We want to know why you’re here, starting a war with the most powerful gang in the state.” The woman went to speak, but Cecelia put her hand over her mouth. “I know, you’re a gang and you want territory and power, but I need you to focus. I want to know why you picked this city.”
UnderstandingAgreement. I nodded despite myself. She’s right, coming after this city bordered on the suicidal.
“He’tage, showing weakness.” The woman showed a bit of alertness returning. “Losing members, money, guns. Cops weaker, too. Lotsa talk from groups thinkin’ they can take a chunk of the pie.”
“And you morons thought you’d be first?” Cecelia stopped her massage, and leaned over the woman. “Didn’t even bother to check the indies, huh? Well, you’ll forget most of this conversation, but when you wake up, I want you to remember we are why they’re losing ground. Spread the word to your prison buddies. It’s not the cops you need to fear, or Heritage. It’s us. Goodnight.”
“Wait! W-” A burst of electricity returned her to unconsciousness.
Cecelia looked up at us. “So, you guys want to explain to me why Heritage isn’t throwing everything they have at us in a pathetic, futile, and bloody attempt save their reputation?”