RecognitionShock. Domenic peered down through the steel floor of our ‘stealth vehicle’, in as much as a dark steel hamster ball counted as stealth or a vehicle.
“Looks like someone’s getting ready to start a war down there.” He looked up at me, then over to Cecelia. “I’m counting twelve guns, and it looks like they’re all carried by different people. One’s an assault rifle.” FrustrationUseless. “I need to take some time to study gun profiles.”
ContemptBored. Cecelia shifted from Indian style to a crouching position. The steel shell cooled as she pulled power out of it to dip into her Fate-sense. We’d have to set down and recharge the metal sooner rather than later.
“Our biggest find, but-” RealizationSurpriseExcitement. “Ooh, war is right. Two different groups, and they both have Imbued with them. Don’t know how many. Enough to make reading fate difficult.” Cecelia clasped her hands behind her back and stretched outward, whilst Domenic and I did our level best to ignore the way her lithe movements displayed her figure.
RejectionCaution. “Then we fall back and call the police,” Domenic said. “We’re trying to avoid conflicts with other Imbued.”
DisdainConfidence. “We’re stronger than anyone who needs guns as backup.” Lightning danced across the metal as Cecelia began to charge my battery. “This is our chance to make up for the last time.”
DangerUnnecessary. “I know you think you were winning against Biohazard, but you don’t understand how dangerous they are. We-”
FrustrationAnger. “And you don’t understand how dangerous we are,” Cecelia growled. Another burst of lighting shot into the metal. “We’re bulletproof, they’re not, that’s all you need to know about our odds.” I found myself agreeing with her; not many Imbued were strong enough to render firearms obsolete. “Besides, by the time the cops get here, it’ll be too late.”
HesitationSuspicion. “Your power say that, or are you just looking for a fight?”
SmugAmusement. Cecelia’s mask folded over her face. “Yes.”
IrritationAcceptance. Sensing Domenic’s decision, I began to lower us to the roof.
“Still calling the cops, even if they’ll be late.” Domenic pulled his phone, though he’d have to wait to use it; nothing short of Gadgets could get a signal through a steel ball. “Bit more to the left. Okay, back a bit, there we go. Slow down. Five, four, three, two, one…” A soft echo announced that I’d hit the roof.
The metal folded away into a platform, save for the parts with the most energy, which joined our costumes. Meanwhile, I got a look with my own eyes at where we were. “This is where we met!” I glanced around, wondering if this was some trap for us; after one ambush by Heritage, I was feeling paranoid.
Cecelia walked toward the edge of the building. SuspicionUncertain. “The Fate-threads don’t show anything odd, it’s not an ambush or a power, but it is weird.”
ConsiderationAcceptance. Domenic made his way after Cecelia. “Not as strange as you’d think. I’m no expert, but this building is from back when this city had an economy, and then we set off a bomb inside it. I don’t think a month is enough time for them the city to finish an inspection, let alone repairs.”
“If they ever bother,” I said. Domenic had a point about the economy; we’d picked this place because it was in the part of town nobody cared about, with as few innocent bystanders as possible. It hadn’t always been that way, and my father talked on end about dreams of reviving the city to its glory days. The most notorious villain in the city is trying rebuilding it, while all I do is destroy things.
SupportLove. Domenic wanted to touch me, hug me to offer comfort, but we couldn’t while in costume. “So, two armed groups in an abandoned building. Do you sense drugs?”
“No drugs, just the weapons,” Cecelia said. “Fate sing of blood and death. Their only reason for being here is to kill each other. If we want, we could” RepulsivePathetic “hide here until they’re done and mop up the winners.”
There was little doubt of Cecelia’s opinion on the ‘wait and see’ approach. For my part, I sent back my gratitude for Domenic keeping the subject on work rather than allow me to fall back into my pity party.
AccedeReady. “No, we’re in this to save lives. Even if they’re scum.” Domenic’s armor shifted into the more blocky plate armor style, rather than its amorphous default. Though we all had different reasons, it felt good when we were on the same page. “Huh, that’s odd. I’m seeing… crossbow bolts?”
I followed them to the edge of the roof, as I shared my knowledge with the pair. “Common weapon in Imbued combat. Crossbows are better than guns against certain powers. More mass means more impact force, better chance of getting through shields or armor, whether powered or mundane. I’m told they go right through Kevlar.”
UnderstandingAgreement. “They’re quieter and don’t explode around fire,” Cecelia added. “And trust me, it’s a lot easier to regen around a bullet than an arrow. Or you could coat them in poison and-” Cecelia stopped her disturbing praise of the weapons. “We’ve got about twelve seconds before they start shooting each other.”
PanicUncertaintyFocus. Domenic took a breath, then started giving order. “C- Plasma! Third floor! We’ll catch up!”
I dived off the roof and pushed my glow to the brightest I could without costing power. The element of surprise, great as it was, would involve them shooting each other while we were relying on stealth. With a quick twist, I more rolled than flew in through the window. For a moment, the vertigo forced me to keep my eyes shut until I could orient myself. “You’re all under arrest!”
I still hadn’t oriented myself, let alone identify the voice, when someone landed on me from above. Pain shot through the left side of my face, which caused me to lose control and tumbled into one of the support pillars. I righted myself and had the concrete wall to my back. UrgencyProtectDestroy. To my surprise, I could taste blood in my mouth. They can hurt me?
“Fuck!” The voice echoed through the almost empty building. I located the source, a man in a cheap black body stocking lay on the ground, holding his right leg in obvious pain. The portion of his costume around his leg had been destroyed, save for a few parts that were still burning with enough light to reveal his pallid skin. “It’s broke!”
I would have made a quip, but for the pain in my jaw. Also, battery had been drained, along with much of the backup charge held in my armor. If not for that extra energy, he might have killed me. Any further thoughts I had were interrupted with the deafening noise of gunfire going off, amplified by the building’s acoustics.
With my battery about to die, I ran for one of the pillars in the far corner. I wasn’t concerned about the bullets; so long as I had juice left, I recharged faster than they cost me. My fear was that I might take a hit from something stronger which might break my shield, and then get hit by a bullet.
A streak of orange light came in through another window and slammed one of the gunmen to the ground. Cecelia stood amidst a shimmering sphere of orange lightning almost as intimidating as Dom’s blade-wings.
It took me a moment to realize it was a shower of electrified metal dust. When did she work out a trick like that? A tiny part of me was jealous that I didn’t have a cool move of my own.
I was reminded that we were in combat by a burst of force which pushed me back against a pillar. The attack didn’t seem to eat much of my power, but if I took too many hit’s I’d be in bad shape. A large man swung his hand, almost like trying to hit a fly in front of him, and again a burst of force slammed me into the pillar.
AlertThreat! Cecelia seemed busy with her own problem, which left me alone against my opponent. I counted myself fortunate that the gunmen had decided to let the Imbued to deal with their own.
The man took a stepped forward, and my first impression was that he was a stone version of Domenic’s steel armor. Either his power included controlling stone, or he was an Altered.
He took a loose combat stance with arms extended away from his body that looked to me like Tai Chi, though I was no expert on the art. “This does not concern you.” Again like Domenic in his armor, the man’s voice was deep to the point of inhuman. “Leave while you can.”
Buying time is good for me. “A small army shows up in my city with guns? I’ll make it my concern.” I need to get training in a style designed to take advantage of my abilities. I defaulted to Aikido, with both hands forward at the ready as if to attack. I kept my center of balance set for defense while I waited to recharge.
He moved forward first, swinging his arm which resulted in me being knocked left by some unseen force.
He cleared the distanced between us before I could reorient myself, and I took a hit to the stomach. My flailing attempt to counter missed him entirely, and I activated my flight to get distance.
Huh, that didn’t hurt. I’d lost almost twice the power on flying away than I had from his punch. At least now I had some idea what I was up against. “Air control, huh?”
“You can still withdraw,” the statue-man said. “I do not want to kill you.”
“And I won’t let you to kill anyone else.” I wished I could believe my own bravado. “It would be easier if you surrendered. Nobody’s died yet, so I’m sure the judge will be lenient. If someone gets killed, it will be a lot worse.”
He gestured again, this time punching toward me with an open palm. I kicked up my power and held my ground with less energy cost than I had recovered during our conversation. When I’m braced for it, his power’s not that dangerous.
He followed the burst of wind he’d created in a crude semblance of flight. I lifted off the ground and kicked out with both feet, ready for an impact which would hurt him a lot more than it did me.
Somehow, he hit my feet with his own, then kicked off them to a somersault and upright landing.
His agility was surprising, and also wrong. I’d done enough gymnastics to get a feel for how a body in motion, and his momentum was all wrong. He’s using his power to control his own movements. It was worrying realization; I was fast for a normal person, but power boosted agility was something I couldn’t hope to compete against.
He was also more durable than most, which was a good thing from where I stood, but his strength was about what you’d expect for a normal, if athletic, man. If I can get hold of him, I win by virtue of strength. I jumped forward, with only a minor burst of speed from my power to help.
Instead of dodging to the side, which I was prepared for, he flipped backward and kicked up. I slammed into the ceiling hard enough to crack the concrete, which ate all the energy I’d managed to recover. Another gust sent me off toward a pillar, but I’d corrected myself with a burst of flight before the collision.
Instead of pressing the attack, he stepped back into a guard stance. “You are strong, but untempered, undisciplined. With time, you might be able to defeat me, but not as you are.”
I braced myself for another attack, knowing full well he couldn’t hurt me when I was ready for it. My problem was that I had to make myself vulnerable in order to approach, and he was fast enough to take advantage of that moment of weakness. I resolved myself to being little more than a distraction until Dom and Cecelia cleaned up the others.
AnticipationNow! Cecelia shot past me, and a moment later a blue costume appeared right in front of me. She didn’t stay there long, as the statue-man’s wind powercaught both of us. I remained standing, but the girl in blue went flying past me. ThrillSuccess.
“I will kick you in the twat for that, bitch!” The woman who’d just caught the brunt of her teammate’s power shouted in a distinct British accent.
Cecelia doubled back and ran past me. “His power has a cooldown.” Her message delivered, she continued toward her opponent. “Not the first time I’ve gotten off on the wrong foot!”
It took me a moment to get the joke, at which point I would have cringed if not for the fact I was facing down an opponent on next to no power. Meanwhile, I could only guess what was going on in the minds of the normals around us.
“Well, that’s good to know.” I took a step toward the statue-man. “Care to surrender? Maybe before Spark figures out how to catch your friend?”
“Aether can take care of herself,” he said. “Though I admit, your partner shows some talent. Why haven’t you been trained under her?”
Because I’m a moron. “Sorry, I don’t talk about tactical secrets.”
“I see. Then I shall endeavor not to underestimate you further.” He brought both hands up, as if pressing his palms into an invisible ceiling above his head, with his fingertips touching. Then, he brought his hands out and down in a violent motion which kicked up a storm of dust and debris.
I was blinded by the cloud of dirt, and the glow of my power reflecting off that dirt. A pair of feet slammed into my chest, hard enough that it even managed to hurt a little, if only because he planted his heels right into my breasts. Before I could react, he was gone again.
Another impact, this time to the back of my head, informed me that he wasn’t giving up. With some satisfaction, I noted his attacks didn’t cost me any more power than I was regenerating. I wasn’t sure how long he’d be able to keep up this barrage, but I could withstand it for hours if I had to.
Now the dust was beginning to clear, and I got a glimpse of him coming in for another attack; a knee that was aimed right for my face. Rather than dodge or block, I brought my head forward to meet him as hard as I could.
The resulting collision echoed through the building, and blinded me with rock chips. I brushed my face clean, and remembered an old joke one of my martial arts instructors made about how you shouldn’t block a punch with your face. “You satisfied, yet?”
Whatever the man might have said was interrupted by gunfire which took down several the gunmen who were paying more attention to us than their surroundings.
A group wearing armor that resembled full SWAT gear rushed in, firing various semi-auto weapons and the occasional crossbow. The gunmen fired back against their attackers, but the screams and death were stopped by little purple flickers. I recognized Parapet, amidst the gunmen, using her power to create monodirectional forcefields to turn a small war into a one-sided slaughter.
No! I wanted to do something, or at least scream, but all I could do was watch the bloodshed.
With a roar as reptilian as he was, Salamander jumped out from one of the car ramps to a lower floor. He grabbed one of the few remaining mundanes with two of his hands, sinking the claws into the man’s shoulders. A third hand grabbed the man by the skull and forced his head back, while the final ripped open his throat. Salamander kept his mouth open, still roaring as the man’s arterial spray coated his otherwise naked body.
“My apologies,” the stone man I’d been fighting said. “I can no longer afford to spare you.” He reached out to me, his palm open and his fingers hooked toward me. I braced for a hit when he squeezed his hand shut and yanked toward himself.
Agony shot through my chest. FearLossPain! Everything went black.