I walked behind as Laura and Beth talked about nothing much. I could have interrupted, maybe saved Beth from Laura’s insidious plot to get involved in gossip, but my sister would steamroll any attempts on my part. In addition, doing so would give Laura a reason to be suspicious, which was the last thing I wanted. Instead, I prayed a convenient distraction would come up so she forgot all about her gossiping ways. I’ll take any distraction, anything at all, I don’t care what.
“Sorry to interrupt,” Glen said. I froze, surprised that for once in my life I got what I wanted. “But we’ve got incoming. Approaching the front of the building. It might be Kitten.”
No. Anima turned and ran past me, toward the opening of the building. “Know the thrill of battle!” White mist seemed to pour through the walls. “Bring me the heart of my enemy! Wild Hunt!”
This is how I know there’s a god. Random chance isn’t this much of a dick. While Anima ran back, I ran the other direction. As much as I hated to accept it, she didn’t need my help, and her power wasn’t meant for helping people the way mine was. I tagged Laura’s hand on my way past her, because if nothing else I would keep her alive. From there, I wanted to make it to Daryl as fast as possible.
My asthma kicked in, and with it the stinging sensation of my body duplicating and the damaged original disintegrating itself just as I crested the stairs. “What do we know?!”
Daryl was in the upstairs hall. “My tracking scanners picked up an anomalous thermal signature. Glen confirmed the humanoid form of a woman covered in a layer of ice.” His voice, like his hands shook while he spoke. “I got almost none of my gear, and… and…”
Shit eating weasel fuckers! “It might not be her.” I said it in order to calm Daryl, but I almost bought it myself. “This isn’t her style, and our precog didn’t give us a warning.”
Daryl slumped against the wall, then allowed gravity to slide him to a position here his legs were against his chest. “Kitten’s always been precog resistant. Her power’s almost as insane as she is.” He leaned forward so his face was resting on his knees. “If you see her coming, it’s because she wanted you to.”
Dammit, he’s gonna be useless. I tried not to hate him too much for locking up; as much hell as she put me through, he lived with her for months. Still, I would have preferred to have his help rather than as a liability.
“You guys get the fuck out of here. Genius Loci, search and rescue.” I was fairly certain even Kitten couldn’t touch Glen, after all. My stomach curdled at the words I was about to say, and the last time I applied this strategy to Kitten. “I’ll buy time.” I hoped this time things would go a little more in my favor. Even though I was out of costume, had none of my weapons, and there were dozens of potential hostages instead of just one. Fuck.
Over Laura’s objections, I ran for the balcony and jumped over the side. I’d been practicing the fine art of falling with style, so I pointed my feet straight down and landed full force on my toes rather than trying to soften the blow. For a normal person, it was the surest way to break every bone below the knees. For me, it was the surest way to break every bone below my knees, and I suspect my left hip, but it also tripped off my regeneration faster than a cautious landing would have. By the time the that body had broken down, I was in a dead sprint for the door.
Anima’s freakish little goblin-elf-things got into position, and I allowed them to take point because I was more than willing to let the disposable monsters to go first. Also: the idea of those things standing behind me was almost as terrifying as Kitten.
“She’s still coming for the front door,” Glen said to me, and I assume Anima, before using his power to speak to everyone who hadn’t been lucky enough to get out of the building yet. “May I have your attention. There may be a dangerous Imbued approaching from the front of the building. Please stay calm and head to the back of the theater in an orderly fashion, where you will find the emergency exits. The authorities are on their way.”
The crowd stayed remarkably calm all considered, perhaps too calm. A few people didn’t head for the exits, and instead stayed in the aisles to watch us like the suicidally stupid gawkers that they were. There was little to nothing I could do about them, however, so I focused on the door and wished I could summon my weapons from their hiding place. A familiar but alien force touched the back of my mind, the promise of even greater power, the power that might let me win this battle.
Not this time. I made that mistake once, never again. Knowing my luck, the new power would fill the theater with flesh eating acid fog or something horrible like that. The offer retreated into the god-forsaken hole in the universe it crawled out of where it lurked in anticipation of the moment I’d change my mind, because I knew I might. If Anima and I weren’t enough to stop Kitten, I would Surge before I let her get her hands on Laura.
We stood there just long enough for me to wonder if Kitten left; if she detected Anima’s summons, she might have decided she’d wait for a better moment. Perhaps the whole point of walking up to us like this was to test to see if we had an advanced warning system against her. I’d almost convinced myself she wasn’t going to attack, which would explain why there wasn’t any warning sent through time to Muwth, when the door opened.
The woman who walked in was taller and had a much fuller figure than Kitten, but that didn’t mean much when dealing with a shapeshifter. The layer of ice coating her skin made it impossible to identify her anyway. Still, she didn’t seem like Kitten to me. If nothing else, Kitten had a psychotic energy to her and never held still or stayed silent as long as this girl who stared at me through solid, pupiless blue eyes which glowed a faint blue.
“Hey, Zach,” she said. Oh shit, I recognize that voice. Chips of ice and snow fell away from her mouth as she smiled at me. “It’s been a while.”
Son of a bitch! “Cassie?” As much as I would have preferred not to deal with her again, she was a welcome sight compared to Kitten.
“I’m going by Cassandra, now.” She brought her hand up and slid some stray hair back behind her ear. More frost broke away, revealing blonde hair that became darker as it trailed down, until it turned frosted blue near the tips, just above her shoulder. Somehow, that flirty habit of Cassie’s was the ultimate proof to me that this wasn’t Kitten pulling shapeshifter bullshit. “I wasn’t sure you’d still recognize me. I still surprise myself in the mirror, sometimes.”
How the fuck did she get powers? They’re supposed to be rare, dammit. Not three people from the same classes. What is going on here?
“Surprise is one word for it.” I looked back to where Anima was waiting. “You can relax.” I hope. I turned back to Cassie. “You’re not going to go on a murderous rampage or anything, right?”
“Don’t worry, it’s not that time of the month.” Her joke was almost as forced as the laugh which she made after. “Would you mind if I come in? I mean, we can keep making a scene if you want, but…”
Yes, I would mind. “I don’t own the place,” I said as I looked over at Anima, hoping she’d kick Cassie out for me.
“Sorry, folks,” Glen’s rumble echoed through the building. “It turns out there was no danger. I deeply apologize for any inconvenience or alarm we may have caused.”
One by one, the goblin monsters started to dissolve into mist. Any one of those little creatures were probably able to outclass me without my weapons, and Anima created seven of the things. By that standard alone, she was seven times as strong as I was. Stack that with her incredible versatility, and it became clear just how large the gap between us was.
“We can talk upstairs, if you want,” Beth dashed all my hopes of getting out of here without dealing with this drama. “Mind turning off your power?”
Cassie stood there until the final summon vanished. “I… can’t turn my power off.” As she walked up to me, the remaining flakes of ice broke off, revealing she had nothing more than a black tank top on beneath, and the light blue coloration applied to her entire body. Now that she was close I could feel the chill coming off her skin. “This is me, now.”
It’s not just part of her powers, she’s Altered. “Oh.” I’m sure someone else could have come up with something to better to say. In fact, I’m sure anyone else could have come up with better, but I wasn’t in the best mindset at the moment. “Let’s get you upstairs.” I turned and began the long, uncomfortable walk of awkward silence.
Anima followed behind us. I noted she kept her distance, or perhaps it was just a matter of Cassie staying a little too close for comfort, both in terms of personal space and the part where her presence was sucking the heat out of the air.
Laura was waiting at the base of the stairs, decidedly not where she would have been if she listened to my evacuation command. Why can’t you just listen to me for once you stupid bitch? I kept my eyes trained on my sister, trying to yell at her via telepathy rather so Cassie wouldn’t see the infighting.
I’m sure Laura got the message, because she wore the you’re not the boss of me glare. She did me one favor, stepping into place behind me, which put a buffer between me and Cassie that I appreciated.
“By the way, Com the Morbidly Obese Ghost showed up,” she said. “I explained the sitch, and he’s calling off the cavalry. So Sapphire won’t be kicking down the doors any time soon. No sense in having her show up when she’s not needed, right?”
“Implying she’s ever shown up when she was needed,” Cassie muttered. For a moment, I wanted to ask where Cassie picked up a dislike of Sapphire, but it wasn’t the time. After the number of times I complained to Cassie and Alex about the Blue Bimbo’s general uselessness, I figured she was parroting my opinions.
Upstairs, Daryl waited near the seats, looking like he had a million things he wanted to say, but would rather imitate my flying leap off the balcony instead.
We all filed in, and formed a sort of circle with me flanked by Daryl and Laura, with Beth in place near the stairs and Cassie in a spot near the balcony which kept her away from the rest of us. I got the impression she’d have preferred being next to me, but I was lucky enough to have buffers.
I still wasn’t happy to see her, not after the panic attack she inflicted on the entire building by coming up to us like this, but I couldn’t bring myself to be as much of an ass as I was the last time we met. Nor was I willing to apologize for being an ass, or act nice to her, so I picked the last remaining option of silence.
Laura sighed far louder than necessary, then demonstrated the pinnacle of Parker subtlety. “In the interest of those of us in this room who can’t stand around ’till forever, let’s get this started. Why are you here?” As I said, subtle.
“I want to help.” Cassie stepped forward. It may have been Laura who asked the question, but her focus remained on me. “I know what you’re doing, how you’re fighting the gangs, and I can help. My powers are good, I can make a difference.”
I crossed my arms. “If that’s what you want, go join the police heroes or something. I’m sure they’d be happy to have you.”
“If they wanted me, they should have done something about Kitten.” A cloud of mist started to form around Cassie. “The cops are fucking worthless, all they’re good for is waving at the cameras and wasting taxpayer money. Well, guess what, I don’t feel like doing nothing while perverts on the internet decide where I rank on the world’s hottest ice chicks chart.” She crossed her arms in a mirror of mine, which had the effect of pushing her breasts up. “I’ve been eye candy, I’m bored with it, I want more. I want to do something that matters.”
Oh, so she blames the cops for letting Kitten run free to… be Kitten. One of many mysteries solved. “You’ve seen how fucked up Imbued can get. Go home and live a normal life.”
“Normal?” She opened her arms, then gestured across her body, which shook another sprinkle of ice flakes off her skin. “I thought your power made you immune to drugs.”
Okay, stupid choice of words. “Let’s hear what you can do that makes you think you can do anything out there,” I said. “You’ve met one monster. What do you do if it happens again?” Or the same one a second time.
Her featureless blue eyes remained locked on me. “I’m immune to poison, don’t need to breathe, I’m bulletproof, use stored heat to over-clock my body.” She walked toward me while she recited what she believed gave her a chance in a fight. “Superstrength, thinking speed, alertness, agility, any attribute I like can be augmented. Any amount of heat, up to and including molten metal, not only doesn’t hurt me, it makes me stronger.”
She stopped within inches of me. “And if I kick my power into high gear.” Her hand snapped out, grabbing me by the arm with a blinding speed. Her grip was like a metal vice that had been left out in the winter overnight. I was so outclassed in strength that I couldn’t so much as budge her. “I’m not the stupid, weak girl I used to be.”
There was nothing I could to resist, save using my power to teleport me out. “I never thought you were stupid or weak.”
“That’s sweet.” She tilted her head so that her cheek rested in my hand. Now that we had skin contact, I noted how wrong her insides seemed. The complex sacks of fluid that made up all human bodies was gone, she had no heart, no internal organs at all save her lungs. She didn’t even have bones, just a single uniform material. She smiled up at me. “By the way, you’re a terrible liar.”
Before I even felt pain from the attack, I was standing next to the statue of ice she held. It collapsed inward moments later, creating a beautiful pattern as my own power did its thing. Mist rolled off the pile of ice fragments.
She still had those inhuman eyes staring at mine. “Tell me. Do you believe Kitten would have survived temperatures which turned the carbon dioxide in her body to ice?”