With the greatest of care, I leaned over the side of the wyvern to look down on the streets below; we were far enough into the boonies that there weren’t any good places to hide on the ground, so I hid in the air. In the middle of the night, above the glare of the city lights, the dark green wyvern I rode upon was about as invisible as it was likely to get. I’d go unseen unless someone was watching the skies for trouble. Granted, with Sapphire as the highest profile hero, smart criminals should watch the skies, but smart people didn’t usually commit street crimes to begin with.
The wyvern hissed at me, but it didn’t try to eat my face like it sometimes did. Given how Anima’s power worked, I believed that was a good sign, but if asked why I wouldn’t have been able to answer. Ugh, I can’t get my head around all this crap. Why can’t humans be simple? Is that so much to ask? Except Cassie, it’d be easier if she was less obvious. Maybe I should just become a hermit or monk or something, I have the perfect power for it.
A few minutes of manly contemplation and brooding later, I found the targets. Even from this far above, I could see the profiles of three men kicking a large, moving lump on the ground. I assumed it was a person, or maybe a sack of puppies, it was hard to tell from so far above and didn’t matter anyway.
“Finally, a a chance to bust some fucking heads. Bring us down, my lizard-breath.” The wyvern didn’t listen, not that I expected it to. A quick hop sent me straight for the action.
Biting frozen wind rushed over my clenched jaw as I fought to keep from screaming that special kind of scream that only the planet rushing up to meet you inspired, but under the terror was exhilaration. I’d been going stir-crazy ever since my multiple eternity grounding, and then there was the relationship drama that I couldn’t do shit about. This I could do something about. Then get grounded for an extra eternity tomorrow morning.
Fuck, it’d be easier just to give up and move in with Dad. I grabbed my left ring finger and broke it. Half of it was to send the signal to Muwth, and the other half was to correct my course. My perspective jumped a couple feet over, far enough that I landed next to the dirt bags instead of on them. Something told me the cops would not be happy to find out I killed someone else, no matter how much they deserved it.
After my terminal landing, I duped standing and punched the nearest jackass hard in the face. The current gauntlets Mike cooked up for me didn’t have explosives like the anti-Kitten model, but they were still solid steel. He went down before the other two knew what happened.
Dad would let me go out in the middle of the night to start fights with armed thugs who may or may not have superpowers. Hmm. That’s probably why the judge gave Mom custody.
I elbowed the other close one, but he’d gotten his arms up to block. He even grabbed my arm enough to hold me while his standing buddy body slammed into me. We both went down, but I copied out behind the guy who blocked me.
I punched him in the back of the head, but he was fast enough to roll with the punch so I didn’t hurt him near as much as I wanted to. Both of the jerks scrambled away from me, but that left me standing above the loser I took out first, and between all of them and their victim. I looked at them, tried to identify their gang, but with all the clothes they wore to protect from the cold I couldn’t even identify their races. Not that it mattered, I just wanted to know which asshole gang leader to insult.
“Okay, I admit, you guys got some moves. But you stand somewhere between shit creek and snowball chances to win this. May as well surrender now.” They wouldn’t, they never did, but some ran and others fought. My hope was that they fought, so I ran my mouth. “Sooner this is over, the sooner you’ll be reunited with your twue wuv. Y’know, Big Bubba. Or are you guys the Papa Pedro types?”
One of the assholes chuckled. “Keep runnin’ that purty mouth, funny boy. It ain’t us you gotta worry ’bout.”
“Oh shi-” A hand gripped my mask and a chunk of my hair, then pulled my head back. One of my other arms was twisted behind my back in the same motion, locking me into place.
I found myself staring into a pair of sideways slitted eyes surrounded by the sort of face that would have been rejected from a potato farm for being too deformed. Like some sort of hairless, lumpy mix of a goat and Quasimodo.
“Hey, kid.” His breath smelled an awful lot like potatoes, too, after they’d gone bad.
Dammit. “Admiral Akbar moment, huh?”
“Pretty much.” He didn’t seem in too much of a hurry, just holding me bent back so I could look up at him. His voice was deep, with what sounded like a Bostonian accent, but if so it was a faint one. “This old hat to you, huh?”
“Yeah, it’s happened once or twice.” It felt weird having what could almost be called a friendly chat with someone who just ambushed me by pretending to be the victim of a gang attack.
“No hard feelings?” As deformed as his face was, he still managed to smirk. “I’d hate fer you to think I cheated, but you’re the one using precogs, eh?”
“Does everyone know…” That’s a stupid question, of course everyone knows. “Nevermind. Better question: you’re not going to go all Fatal Attraction on me, right? ‘Cause, I’ve been there, done that. Not a fan.”
“Honestly, kid? Ain’t never seen the movie. I know, classic an’ tiddies, but.” He shrugged, or I think he did at any rate. “Ain’t bothered.”
“Same,” I kept talking. If nothing else, buying a little time for the others to catch up wouldn’t hurt my odds in the long run. “So, I’m guessing you’ll do something the moment I struggle. And it’s going to hurt like a bitch, right?”
“Yep, gonna hurt like your mother.”
Is it wrong that I kinda like this guy? I kicked both my feet off the ground, relying on the weight of his body behind me for leverage as I did my best to do a backflip kick. I didn’t expect it didn’t work, but I did expect to break free by activating my power. Instead, he spit light in my face.
I screamed; even after respawning I could feel the burning and pain.
“Lightning!?” I moved backward, telling myself it was gone, but it still felt like my skin was melting off from electricity peeling away my flesh. Like with fire, it seemed the effects carried from one body to the next, although it didn’t tire me like fire did.
He punched me in the head before I could get my bearings, which gave me a new body to worry about. This time I was the victim of an attempted elbowing, and unlike the thug, I didn’t block in time. Another cry of pain and surprise escaped my mouth.
His hits hurt far more than they should have. I guessed it was his power making his attacks more real, more painful, than they should have been.
I took another brutal, skull-shattering punch before my last copy even had a chance to figure out it was dead. Dammit, okay, so he’s fast, but not Kitten fast, and he’s got skill, but not The Bastard’s skill. I can take this fucker.
I stepped back, waited for him to charge at me, then called upon the signature his contact left in my memory. It was enough to strip his coat off, which I tossed over him like some discount bull fighter, followed by throwing everything I had into punching his mutant face. Maybe it’ll insulate me from more lightning.
He flew off his feet and landed hard on the back. He took the hit harder than I expected for someone who dished out the damage like he did to me. Although perhaps I shouldn’t talk since I broke my hand on his jaw, even with the metal plate to protect my fist. I took a moment to look for his buddies, but they’d run off to leave their boss to fight alone.
“You got a real glass jaw, you know that? Oh, and don’t hold your breath for backup. Your pals pussed out ages ago.”
The guy started chuckling. “I ait du yet, kit.” His coat slid down when he climbed to his feet, and I got my first real look at the man.
He wore some cheap black muscle shirt, and seeing how it stretched to bursting to fit his lumpy, misshapen bulk, I could see why he wouldn’t spend money on good clothes.
The thing that caught me was when his muscles started to move like boa constrictors beneath his skin. Some of it slid up into his face, gripped his jaw from the inside and pulled it back together. “You ain’t got what it takes to put me down fer long.”
“Another Regenerator.” I took a fighter’s stance; I couldn’t afford to half-ass it like I’d been doing. “I’m getting deja vu all over again.”
He climbed to his feet. “Whole lot more than regen, kid.” With that, he charged me again, a lot fast than the first time.
Nowhere near superhuman speed, but enough to catch me by surprise for a moment. I teleported his shirt back into my hand, feinting the same trick I did before. But instead of going up with a punch, I went low and dived right into his knees. Bone snapped in the collision, not all of them mine.
I was on my feet and in prime condition before he hit the ground. “Sorry about this, but.” A thought later, his pants were in my hand. I dropped them. “I hear cold screws with regeneration. Doesn’t do anything to me, though. Also, I heal a whole lot faster than you.”
“Tha’s fine.” The creepy flesh-moving pulled his legs back together, while I could hear the crackle-pop of the bones reassembling themselves from where I stood. His skin, before a sickly but not inhuman white, had grown into darker, concrete-like colors around his knees and jaw. “Ain’t nothin’ you can do that’ll beat me.”
He’s probably right; I don’t have many tricks left if the cold won’t help me. “Well, ain’t you just special, then.” I didn’t give him a chance to recover, instead going for a running kick at his face. Which ended with me pausing in place as white lightning hit me straight in the crotch.
My own screams, coming from two sets of lungs told me my mistake in stereo. My armor is insulated, electricity shouldn’t work.
I almost tripped on top of the guy, but I corrected myself enough to land knees first on his chest. More bones broke, one of which was my jaw when he blindsided me with a tail. I was certain he didn’t have a tail a minute ago. Or as certain as I could be of anything when there was a chance the whole fight was some Infiltrator trick to begin with.
“Gotta hand it to you.” He did a jump up from his back to his feet while I was still getting my bearings. “You hit pretty hard for a guy without super strength.”
Son of a bitch, what is this guy? I reached behind my back and pulled the mithril blade from its pouch. “Guess that means you won’t complain if I use this.”
He eyed the knife for a moment. It was hard to read his expression, but it seemed clear he was unimpressed. “I was kinda hoping you’d use something better. I heard you ripped a girl in half, you should try that. I might actually feel it.”
Correction: what is wrong with this guy? “Sorry to disappoint.” With a thought, my gloves teleported off my hands. The skeleton of the steel gauntlets remained, but the frigid cold now bit at my sweaty fingers. “I can’t use it anymore. Court order.”
“Can’t, or won’t?” Behind the gnarled, leathery lips, I caught sight of sharpened teeth. “‘Cuz it ain’t gonna be pretty if y-” I activated my power, putting him right in front of me. “O-oof!” A right hook sent him sprawling, jaw broken again.
I didn’t let up. Before he could hit the ground, he was again in front of me, lined up for me to sink the knife blade into his throat.
“Fugh!” Once again, I made the contact I needed to copy his new damage. On the next copy, I grabbed his shoulder and stomped into his knee, breaking that backward. It opened his back up so I could stab him there as well. This time, the knife caught on bony plates that came from his skin. “Da-” Now I snapped him into place facing away from me, and punched him in the back of the neck. “ick!” He fell to his busted knees.
It wasn’t a question of hitting him hard enough to drop him, seemed clear I didn’t have what it took to end it quick. Now I was trying to overwhelm him with enough hits that he never got a chance to get up and fight back. I kicked him square in the ribs, watched him roll, teleported him back into close range, and stabbed him in the eye.
He didn’t didn’t fall, and I could no longer identify him with my power to teleport him into range.
Before I knew what happened, his tails yanked my feet out from under me. At some point, he grew another one. In my next respawn, he stabbed me with my own knife before I could orient myself. Pain exploded in jaw, the back of my head, my ribs, my leg, my groin, all so fast that I never saw the attacks, or even had a chance to figure out in what order they came.
A minute of agony later, I found myself held by the throat, with him standing in front of me a foot taller than before, and his skin now looked like asphalt “Looks like I’ve grown beyond your attacks, kid. Sooner or later, my power will find the magic bullet that beats your power. You’ll die when I do.”
I still had his ‘old’ pattern from the last time I hit him before he got too strong for me. I used it.
I interrupted him with a kick to the jaw, which dropped us both to the ground. I reformed, but I was exhausted. Not as bad as what fire and Ferne could do, not yet, but this nut was right: with time, he’d overwhelm my power.
No, he already beat me. I doubled over, heaving for breath with my power nonfunctional, as if it didn’t consider a borderline asthma attack important anymore. “How?” Fuck. Fuck! I can’t lose to this-
His hand wrapped around the top of my head, bigger than it had been the last time he’d grabbed me. Somehow, I’d regained the power to sense his body, which gave me some sense of his freakish roided out gym rat muscles, with three bulky rat-like tails growing out of his spine. He even had bone spines sticking out from them, now.
“That it, huh? Your power come with a battery and it’s just a matter of wearing it down, or did I hit the right adaptation somewhere in there without realizing it? Be honest, it’s important.”
Adaptation? “Y… you. Your powers. Get stronger?”
“Bingo. I keep changin’ an’ changin’ ’till I win.” He kept hold of me, and at this point it was easier to let him hold me up than to keep myself standing. “But don’t worry, I ain’t gonna kill ya. Even if there’s a fat bounty on yer head.”
“Oh yeah, hundred grand straight up for anyone who can take ya out. They don’t need ya dead, they just want ya gone fer a while.” He loosened his grip, which made things a little less uncomfortable. I kept on my feet, somehow, still fighting for air. “Ain’t a lotta people think they can cash in, though. Your crew’s scary enough that you’re safe for now. Maybe if they bring the payout up to half a mil or so. But that ain’t my thing, I’m not about the money. I just gotta know.”
Oh shit. “Know what?” Please be wrong, please be wrong.
“What it feels like to get hit by Anima.”
Shit. If he got this strong fighting me, he’d be unstoppable after her. “Leave her alone!” I called my knife, shoved it up into his arm. Through some small but meaningless miracle, the knife went deep into his forearm. Meaningless because it didn’t cause him to so much as flinch.
“Damn, kid. That was almost touching. You sweet on her, or this a family thing?” He stopped for an answer.
“She… she’s a pacifist. She won’t fight you.” I stopped, forcing myself to breathe frigid air that seemed to hurt more than help. Why hasn’t my power kicked in yet? If we took much longer, there was a chance I’d have a real attack, and then only a hospital could save my life. “She doesn’t kill.”
“So I heard,” he said. “But by your reaction, I think if I tell her I can kill you, she might change her mind. Sorry, kid. I like ya, but this is bigger than you an’ me. This is my destiny.”
What is it with psychopaths and destiny? “F-fuck you.”
“Well, I can respect your honesty, but you need to work on the brains.” He tensed his grip on my skull just a little more, a threat. Then he relaxed again. “Tell ya what, though. I’m a comedy guy, I don’t like tragedies any better than thrillers. Give me a good laugh any day. So as a favor, I won’t kill her or you. That fair?”
“Let him go you fucking freak!” a girl shouted. Between the hand holding my head, and the sound of my own breathing, I couldn’t tell whose voice it was. It didn’t matter, it all meant the same thing: the cavalry had arrived, and now we were totally fucked.
“Make me, sugar tits.”