“I… I don’t want to fight you.” The lack of confidence ruled out Laura. Otherwise, I still couldn’t tell who it was with this guy’s over-sized hand holding my face. “But I can kill you, if I have to.”
“Nice bluff, chicky.” His grip tightened some. “But I think if you had that kinda power, I’d have heard of ya. You got nothin’ I’m interested in. Well… I can think of a few things you got, but from the looks of ya, I’d say come back in a few years. Or at least tell me where girls like you were when I was in high school.”
So, that means it’s Cassie. Oh fuck! That means Cassie! Drawing on what strength I had left, I gripped his arm, drew myself up, and kicked at his side as hard as I could. Which made all the difference of kicking a brick wall. Shit shit shit! She’s got the same weakness Anima does, since doesn’t know how to fight and her power’s only good at lethal attacks. But Anima at least has a way to run from a fight, Cassie doesn’t.
“If I must hazard a guess, I suspect they were dating men with who had looks, charisma, maybe money.”
And she’s an amateur shit talker. Fuck my life.
“Oh, right, now I remember the girls who looked like you.” Again, his grip got tighter, enough that I felt the buildup and pressure behind my eyes. My power should have went off long ago, but it seemed like that wouldn’t happen for me. “They were shallow frigid cunts. Ice Queens, you might say.”
Yup. We’re all doomed. Everyone abandon the Eastern Seaboard, then nuke it from orbit.
“What’s the point in opening the tackle box for a guy who’s fishing without a pole?” Not only did Cassie continue trading insults, she was damn good at it. I don’t know why I was surprised; she helped me a lot with my superhero persona back before she turned out to be a backstabbing bitch, and that included finding good quips. “I’ve heard stories about guys who compensate for their lack of endowment by buying themselves a Lamborghini. But Lockheed Martin couldn’t build a machine powerful enough to overcome your little birth defect.”
As much as it galled me to do so, I had to give Cassie credit for the verbal beatdown. Then immediately deduct them for the sheer stupidity of the stunt she was pulling right now. First night out, and she breaks every rule we agreed to when accepting her.
“Heh. What a mouth on you,” the man said. “I think that was the closest thing to pain I’ve felt all night.” He lifted me off the ground by my head. “But this ain’t a comic book, and I’m not interested in fighting the cute sidekick before the main event. Which is Anima showing up to save her boyfriend. Now why don’t you be a good little girl, run back to daddy, and let the adults have their fun?”
“And with that singular statement, I’m glad you’re not going to surrender.” The arctic night discovered it was indeed possible to get even colder.
The big guy sighed. “So here I go again, beatin’ up kids in the middle of the night.” I fell to the ground, no longer supported by his strength. “Savta was right, I shoulda become an orthodontist like my father.” He stopped, facing Cassandra, tensed his muscles and took on a boxer’s stance. “On the other hand, I was never much for books and study. I was born a fighter, and I’m gonna live and die as a fighter. You think you got what it takes to fight me, little girl?”
Cassie took a stance of her own, with proper footing and arms high in an offensive position. My practice with The Bastard was enough to know this was a workable stance, if an aggressive one. It looked like some of the Krav Maga that he showed me, but was different enough that I was sure it was a different art. Ice wasn’t just forming on her skin, it had taken to appearing in the air around her, then falling to the ground. “Who said I’m going to fight you?”
I sat up, struggling to breathe through the pain in my chest, and to keep my focus despite what I was pretty sure was a loss of oxygen to the brain. How cold can her power get, to create ice in air as cold and dry as it is tonight?
“Your options are surrender, or face your destruction.”
I would have facepalmed, if I had the strength to lift my arm. She’d been doing so well in the shit talk department, only to ruin it with a line that only the cheesiest of action movies would be caught dead using.
“Muay Thai? Good pick for Altereds with durability boosts.” Our opponent didn’t seem too concerned with Cassandra’s word choice. He walked toward her while taking the occasional step to the right, his arms still up in guard position. “Call me old fashioned, but I started with bare knuckle boxing and ain’t bothered to pick up somethin’ more fancy. Then, with my power, I’ve never needed to.”
Cassie took a step back, which didn’t favor her offensive combat stance. If she wanted to take a holding action, she should have gone with a defensive combat style. Though, for all I knew, she didn’t know any other styles.
“Wrong move!” He saw the same opening I did, which let him get inside her guard to deliver a… light open handed slap upside her head. He bounced back, avoiding her counter swing. “I know, I’m the baddie and all, but I have a sense of pride. Beating up a little girl who can’t even fi-”
He stepped to the side and hopped back, putting him out of the way of Cassie’s retaliating swing. I had to admit, she had a move or two, and knew her basics well enough that with her powers she’d hold her own against most fighters, perhaps at a level beyond what any natural human could win against.
“Better!” I heard the crack of his left hook nailing her in the face. A normal person would have been laid out, perhaps even killed, by a blow like that one. Cassandra’s inhuman body kept her standing and unscathed. “But I’m still not impressed. If you can’t fight like a man, don’t fight men. Maybe that’s a bit chauvinist, but the damsel in distress back there did better.” He gestured over his shoulder with his thumb, toward me.
She turned toward him, and in the process gave me a good look at her face. Her nose had caved in, which ruined my theory about her being unscathed. “Mere cosmetic damage, minimal trauma, no damage to functionality. I don’t even feel it.”
“Good to know.” He bounced on the balls of his feet around Cassie, who’d switched to a somewhat more defensive stance. “But it’s obvious you’ve ever been in a real fight in your life. You don’t know how to think, how to feel, how to throw yourself into the thrill of bloodsport. You stand no chance in hell against someone who respects the art.”
His words weren’t all that different from what The Bastard hammered into my head; fighting was ninety percent mental and ten percent physical. Less than ten percent, once weapons got to the point where you no longer needed muscle power to kill. Even though I had a huge physical advantage over the old man, he thought like a killer while I was just a kid, so I never stood a chance against him until I, too, became a killer. It was the same here, except that this guy had Cassie beat for strength, as well as skill, attitude, and experience. She never stood a chance.
He wasn’t like this when he fought me. He’s not just getting stronger, he’s getting smarter.
Cassie evaded a swing, and even landed one of her own. He took the blow like a boxer, then used her opened guard to punch her in the gut a couple times. In theory, he took the worse of the exchange, having his face cut and bloodied by her literally ice hard fist. The truth was that he could afford to take all that punishment and worse, and with each new hit, he’d get stronger until he had the power to beat hers just like he did to me.
Shit, I’ve gotta warn her. Standing, forcing my body to move at all, was agony incarnate. My muscles trembled, my heart hammered, and my neck felt like I broke it. If I had the breath to scream, I would have. Instead, I bit down hard enough to hurt my teeth while crying behind my mask. The fuck did he do to me?
Meanwhile, Cassie seemed to be keeping up by fighting on the defensive, dodging or deflecting blows rather than trying to get in hits of her own. Which meant he was hurting her, whatever she claimed about ‘cosmetic’ damage. Once again, she probably would have been able to win against most enemies that way, but she was fighting someone a whole lot stronger than most enemies.
Why couldn’t this asshole have been around to fight Kitten? He could have been her favorite punching bag instead of me.
In the end, my effort was meaningless. I wasn’t the one who warned Cassie about what he was capable of.
“Fall back! You’re fighting Revenant!” The vocal distortions of Flux’s armor carried across our little battlefield. A burst of flame so bright that it left me blinded erupted under Cassie and Revenant. “Stage four! Repeat. Stage four. Tank, Brawler, Breaker. Adaptive regeneration!”
Stage four? So, not only does he talk the talk, he punches in the same weight class as Anima and Kitten. No wonder he’s so confident.
The flames cleared, leaving the pair of them still standing. Revenant’s skin now had a metallic orange coloration to it, and instead of the freakish lump I’d started fighting, he looked for all intents like the bronze statue of a greek god, after being oiled up for a display. “Well, I had hoped to keep my visit secret for a little while longer. Nothing more annoying about celebrity than being spotted when you’re trying to slum it.”
Cassie also stood in the aftermath of the flames, covered in a layer of ice rather than the clothes which must have burned in the fire, whatever created it.
Flux stepped next to me. “What happened to you? Can you move?”
I didn’t have the strength to look at him, or speak. The best I could do was point to Revenant and shake my head.
“Shit. So he’s already adapted around your power. I was afraid of that.” He knelt next to me, slipping down to put his shoulder under my armpit. “Here, hold on, I’ll get you out.”
“Where do you think you’re going?” Revenant turned on us. “I am not done using you as bait, kid.” He stepped a couple feet toward us, only to be grabbed and pulled back by Cassie.
She didn’t give him an opportunity to react. His backward momentum stopped with a thunderous ring of stone against bronze, her knee rammed into his spine. Then she twisted his arm backward hard enough that it snapped the shoulder bones. I knew because I heard the sound like wood splintering rather than the wet pop of a dislocation.
He cried out, surprised and I hoped in pain enough to make up for what he’d done to me and Cassie. She threw him to the ground, then stomped into his gut so hard that blood and other unidentifiable fluids sprayed from his mouth.
“Old fashioned, my frozen ass. You don’t even know better than to leave a lady in the middle of a dance.” She stepped off of him, walking backward toward the two of us. “Can you get him out of here?”
What? “N-ugh!” I tried to protest, but when Flux stood the pain took any hope of a coherent thought from my mind.
“Yeah, I got him. My armor’s not designed for two. Fighting retreat, buy time for the cops.” He carried me while talking, an act which left me a gibbering mess of pain and even more pain. Now we were moving at something around jogging speed.
“The cops? What about Anima?” Cassie followed behind us. “You guys have Anima’s summons and you never practiced an evac strategy?” She paused for a moment. “And you have the nerve to say I’m the amateur?!”
Well, when she puts it that way, it does sound bad.
“We never needed one! Why would we?”
“Because when you don’t have a plan, this is the r- ah!.”
Cassie went sailing over our heads, then for a moment I thought my shoulder had exploded.
“That’s far enough, kid. I am not letting you take away my chance to go up against the legendary Anima.”
I dangled in the air, held by my arm, listening to screaming for several seconds until I realized it was me. I liked to think my pain tolerance was solid, but this was beyond anything I knew how to describe. I’m supposed to be stronger than this. I meet one guy who beats my power and I turn into a pathetic mess. “Fuck. Off.”
“I’m trying to do this nice.” He lowered me so that I could try to stand, but he didn’t let me go. I turned me enough to face him. “I coulda kicked in her front door and started slapping around civilians until she had no choice. But that ain’t fair or sportin’. I did it the right way. Out on the street, away from the innocents, like these things deserve to be done. But one way or another, your girlfriend will be giving me the biggest bang of my life tonight. Cooperate, and innocent bystanders won’t have to get caught in the crossfire. It’s the heroic thing to do, after all.”
“DIE!” Cassie jumped into my field of view, moving faster than I thought she could. He lost grip on my arm, then fell back with Cassie punching him in the head like a madwoman. She looked back at me. “Get out of h-mph!”
Revenant grabbed her face. “I like you kids, I do.” Muscles bulged along his arm. Cassie struggled her best to break his grip, but it looked like she was fighting against a statue rather than a man. While Flux and I watched from a somewhat safer distance. “You’re a buncha disrespectful smart-mouthed little brats who make your parents regret not getting abortions. Just like all good kids are supposed to be. But I would appreciate it if you stop making me regret the amount of effort I am going through to avoid killing the lot of you.” Splinters appeared in Cassie’s face. “Is that too much to-”
Revenant was silenced, his entire body now coated in a thin sheet of frost made from carbon dioxide.