My Solo Mission Gets An Addition

After unceremoniously being told to basically eat smurf and die, I scrambled to find someone with a space-capable vehicle. Maria had given me her home number, just in case, so I rang her up first.

Strike one.

As I swerved through traffic on the way to Jules’ house, Maria told me neither Boost or the Keepers take space-based cases. There are so few of them, usually rescue, that investment in that type of ship proved fiscally unwise.

Especially considering the way teams end up going through vehicles like some people go through tissues.

I thanked her and hung up just as I arrived at Jules’. George eyed me curiously, but didn’t hesitate to let me in when I explained matters. I headed straight for the house. She created in her workshop; she planned in her drawing-room.

Maybe that says something about the type of life powereds lead. The room ostensibly for entertaining friends serves too often as a place where battles are planned. Of course, depending on your type of friends, your drawing-room may be used for the same purpose.

I popped in her house, striding right by Clara, Jules’ head of house-staff, with nary a grunt of acknowledgement. I dialed up Quickstep, the retired powered that, along with me, taught Jules hand-to-hand.

“What?” Quickstep’s voice sounded like it came from the bottom of a well.

I sighed and opened the door to Jules’ drawing room. Various maps and star-charts papered the walls. The couch and chairs sat along the walls, making way for a cube about 3-feet tall and wide. “Put the phone to your ear, Quickstep.”

“What?”

“I’m not in the mood for the doddering old man who doesn’t understand technology shtick today, Roger! Put the phone to your ear!”

“Ok, go.” His voice came through clear and business-like.

“Do you have any contacts that have access to a space-capable vehicle?” Quickstep was a bit of a legend back in his prime, and many heroes still admired him.

“Give me five.” Click.

I inched toward the cube. Rationally I knew Jules wouldn’t put something dangerous (read: explosive) in what was essentially her war-room, but machinists have a reputation for unexpected booms. As I neared, I saw a small black dome on top of the cube. I waved my hand over it.

It started whirring, and I’m not to proud to say I scurried back. The chandelier dimmed and a galaxy burst into life in front of me. It was magnificent, it was beautiful, it was…

My comm beeped and I realized my mouth gaped open. I could feel my face turn red. Luckily, no one saw me gaping like a teen looking at his first naked woman. “Go.”

Quickstep’s voice rang in my ears. “I got a lead on a vehicle. Problem is you’re going to have to make your case in person.”

“Can do. Who am I begging?” I looked at the stars circling my head. One shone a bright pink. I reached up and caressed it with my finger. A string of numbers and the name “Tol Star” sprang into view. I memorized the coordinates.

“You’ll have to go to The Legendary.”

Crud.

Of course, it would have to be the premiere powered-team in the world. One I had no ties to.

“I assume you need this because Jules is in some sort of trouble,” Quickstep said.

“Yup.” I waved my hand over the cube and shut down the hologram.

“I’m coming with you.” I recognized that voice, as would countless mooks, flunkies, and powered-villains. It was the voice that said, “You can try to stop me, but you’re going to fail. So why bother trying?”

I didn’t bother trying. “Welcome aboard. Meet me at Jules’ hous…”

“I’m here.” Show-off. The old man could still motor when he wanted to. It may be short bursts, but he could cover some ground.

I clicked off my comm. “You can take the phone away from your ear now, Roger.”

Maybe I, along with Quickstep, could convince The Legendary to lend us a spacecraft.

If not…well, I could always steal it, I guess.

Until next time,

Douzeper

Agent Chase-Government Hatchetwoman

It’s amazing how time seems to slow to a crawl when you are anticipating something. My fingers drummed the armrests of my chair and my foot tapped in rhythm. AIS personnel tend to be obsessively punctual.

Drives me nuts. I’m more of a get there early type of person. Probably a holdover from the old days where Crowley and I would arrive at a job early to make sure no variables had changed. My fingers curled into a ball at the thought of Crowley.

Five ’til. Ugh. I tried raising Jules again on the comm she gave me. Like the forty other times I tried, I got nothing. I stood up and started to pace. Two steps one way, two steps back. I do not have much room in my office.

A business-like knock sounded and the door opened before I could even muster the k-sound in come in. A muscular bald man in a government issued suit and shades entered my office, head turning as he scanned for threats.

I sneaked a quick glance at the clock. The second-hand had just swept past the twelve. 10:00 exactly.

Baldy turned and nodded to a figure behind him. An older African-American woman who can best be described as “stout” strode into the room. She wore a cream-colored pantsuit that barely showed the bulge of her pistol in its shoulder holster. Her hair lay short and square on her head, matching the rest of her body. A pair of diamond earrings served as her only extra-adornment.

I had a feeling if anybody stole those earrings, she would track him down and that person would die slow.

Douzeper.” She didn’t ask. She merely identified me, a nod to social pretext. She acknowledged me in a clipped tone, as if pointing to a dog and saying “dog.”

“You lost contact with Stargazer. What do you want with me?” Two can play that game.

Her eyes narrowed, almost lost in the fleshiness of her face. Lips hinted at curving down, but didn’t quite move. She lowered herself into one of my client chairs, Baldy standing guard behind her like a faithful hound. “I see you are familiar with who I represent.” A hint of warning colored her tone.

I waved it off. “I was at San Francisco. I keep up.” I perched on the edge of my desk, purposely putting myself in her space. My arms folded across my chest.

She didn’t seem to notice. “How did the Brannigan case go?” Her serve and it was doozy. My muscles tightened imperceptibly as I fought the urge to give her a Diamond-Cutter across my desk.

Maybe not so imperceptible, as Baldy shifted his stance, ready to intervene in case I lost all sense.

I hadn’t…yet. “Poorly, as you well know, or you wouldn’t have brought it up.” I back-flipped over my desk and landed in my chair. It’s specially reinforced to handle my more crazy maneuvers.

I’m just glad I hit my mark this time.

I waved a hand to dispel the tension. “Listen, I would love to sit here and snipe at each other all day, but my friend is in trouble. So, how about we just get down to brass tacks, huh?”

She nodded, as if my retreat secured her alpha-dog status. Have I ever mentioned that I dislike bureaucrats and the petty games they play? If not, I should have. If I have, then repetition should let you know I mean it.

“My name is Veronica Chase, and, as you have surmised, I am with the AIS. Approximately 48 hours ago, Stargazer and Celia left on a diplomatic mission to the planet Tol to seek a treaty with them. We know she arrived safely, but she has missed every check-in since.”

“You’re sure it’s not just equipment failure,” I blurted.

She gave me a look usually reserved for dog poo being scraped off shoes. “We have the finest machinists in the world, including Stargazer, working for us. Celia also has a homing beacon built-in, in case of such problems. The homing beacon has disappeared, as well.” She arched an eyebrow.

I read eyebrow rather fluently. This one said, “Any other stupid questions, idiot, or can I go on?”

I nodded, properly chastened. She cleared her throat and continued. “Normal protocol calls for a strike-team to mount a rescue mission. However, since these are potential allies in the war against the Hytians, that protocol has been set aside for the moment.”

Now I knew what she wanted with me. “You want me to go to Tol and find out what happened.”

She nodded, clearly unhappy with entrusting this type of mission to any outsider, much less me. “We need someone deniable and expendable to investigate what happened. We have…intelligence that there is a faction on Tol that actually seeks subjugation by the Hytians. They believe that being ruled is better than dying by defying them.”

“We need to know if this faction has sabotaged the talks.”

I grinned, but it didn’t reach my eyes. “Well, I’m nothing if not deniable and expendable. I’ll do it.”

She stood and Baldy opened the door for her. She turned back before she left. “You will be on your own. If you get caught, we will disavow any knowledge of your actions. Don’t tell anybody about our meeting.”

Anything I said in response to that would be a lie, so I kept my mouth shut. She walked through the door and something occurred to me. “Hey, how am I supposed to get there?”

She paused and glared at me. “That is entirely your problem.” She strode off before I could say another word.

Baldy hesitated long enough to sneer at me before he made his exit.

Both of them are so going on my “to-punch” list.

Until next time,

Douzeper

 

Where I Commit Treason…

I said my goodbyes to Maria, Boost, and the Keepers. I took Lady Aether back to her dorm, despite her protests. I’d already disrupted her life enough. She needed to get back to it.

She made me promise to call her if I needed her help. Promises cost nothing to give, in most circumstances, so I did. Not that I have any intention of calling her again, unless it is a dire emergency. Like “Oh my, Utu, the world is about to end” dire. So, technically, not a lie.

She’s good–too good to be hanging around me.

I put the Diavel in flight mode and set course for home. I let the auto-pilot do most of the flying. My mind was too busy racing with possibilities.

I had a good idea who the agent represented. I’ve dropped enough hints. I’m about to go full on WikiLeaks here and spill some state secrets.

Aliens are real. The attack that leveled San Francisco, the one blamed on rogue magicians conjuring extra-dimensional “things man wasn’t meant to know,” was actually perpetrated by an Hytian alien invasion force. All those who fought in San Francisco were sworn to secrecy. Everyone else who might know the truth died in the attack.

That never set well with me.

After the attack, a new agency was created. They recruited top exobiologists, astronomers, machinists, and linguists to create the Alien Intervention Service. I don’t have a problem with that. Understanding is the key to peaceful interaction.

They also tapped combat-oriented Innates, spec ops from every branch, and some power-suit machinists to create their own black ops force.

I have a little bit of a problem with that, but at the same time I can understand the desire for a security and reaction force.

I don’t understand keeping the rest of the world in the dark about the existence of alien species, and the threat the Hytians pose.

Jules, being one of the more open-minded and understanding of space-capable powereds, signed on as an ambassador for the AIS. I knew her current mission involved her visiting another species, the Tolans in order to help create an alliance between our two worlds. Kind of a Mutual Defense Treaty-type deal.

Hytians are apparently the wieners (oh, Jules) of the galaxy. We’ve “discovered” several new species in our travels since the Battle of San Francisco, and all have had problems with the Hytians. So, diplomacy is called for now.

A Hytian scout force destroyed a major city. They aren’t a problem we can just punch away.

If the AIS is looking for me, then something must have gone wrong with Jules’ mission. She loves her family, but I know she put me down as the contact for emergencies.

She doesn’t expect me to rescue her, they have strike teams for that. She expects me to decide if her parents should know what’s going on.

However, if she is in trouble, I will go find her. If the AIS doesn’t throw me in jail first.

But why would they? It’s not like anybody is really reading this.

I make it home early in the morning, exhausted. I fall on my bed, out when I hit the pillow.

Despite my worries, I don’t toss and turn.  I need to be at my best.

For Jules.

I’ll give you the gist of the meeting later.

Until next time,

Douzeper

 

 

Afterwards

After the cleanup and reports to the FBSA, everyone came to Boost’s place for a post-battle party. They’re inside now, relieving the stress and combating the adrenaline crash that comes along with any powered fight.

I don’t feel like celebrating.

Not that I don’t appreciate the save or the fact that Boost ran to St. Louis to gather the K.O.G (Keepers of the Gateway for those naughty people not reading my previous posts). I just don’t count this a win. Two teens and an innocent mother are dead. A billionaire government contractor hates my guts. I (well, Utu) aged a woman 40 years in a moment.

Call me crazy, but I fail to see the victory.

Maybe I just have the post-battle blues…

voice identified as Maria Acevedo

Maria: “I’d say you probably do. Mind if I sit? It’s getting a little loud in there and Reyna needs some air.”

“Feel free.”

Maria: “Thanks. So, you blogging right now?”

“Yes.”

Maria: “It’s a good way to get your feelings out there. It can help you sort things out.”

“Maybe.”

Maria: “Ha! From what Tara says, I expected a bit more conversation. By the way, I think she’s hot as well.”

“Uh-uh…you see, what had happened was…”

Maria: “Relax! I’m just yanking your chain and trying to get you to open up a bit. You aren’t the first fan of my wife. I think FastTrack actually cried a little when he found out she wasn’t into guys.”

“Heh. The great thing about fantasy is anything’s possible.”

Maria: “There you go! Here hold Reyna for a bit.”

“I don’t know nothing about holding no babies.”

Maria: “Here hold your arm like this so you support her head. Good. Now just cradle her…good. She’s smiling. She likes you.”

“Or it’s just gas.”

Maria: “Probably. Listen, I want to thank you.”

“For what?”

Maria: “I know she was a victim, and a young girl, but she had been turned into a vampire. If you hadn’t…done what you did, Tara would more than likely have ended up facing her. She would have hurt people, maybe my family. So…thank you.

“You know, if you’re not careful, you might take your wife’s place in my dreams.”

Maria: “Now I know you’ve been out here by yourself too long. Come on back in with everyone.”

sound identified as incoming call

sound identified as sighing

“It’s my agent, Sandy. I should take this. Here’s Reyna.”

Maria: “I’ll wait.”

“Hey, Sandy.”

transcript of call added to record

Sandy: Dee, you about done up there?”

Douzeper: I am done. What’s up?

Sandy: There’s some government guy who won’t tell me who he works with asking about you.

Douzeper: Any idea what he wants?

Sandy: He said it has something to do with Julie, but won’t tell me any details.

third voice identified as Maria Acevedo, added to transcript

Maria: You all right, Douzeper?

Sandy: Who was that?

Douzeper: Maria Acevedo.

Sandy: Boost’s wife? Hey, ask her if she would like new represen…

Douzeper: Focus, Sandy. The agent. Julie. Did it seem urgent?

Sandy: Sorry. Yeah, he seemed really upset when you weren’t here.

Douzeper: I’ll be back later tonight. Did he leave a number?

Sandy: Yeah.

Douzeper: Do me a favor and tell him I’ll meet him at my office tomorrow morning at 10:00.

Sandy: Will do. Later.

Douzeper: Thanks. Bye.

end added transcript

Maria: “Is everything okay?”

“Knowing my life, I doubt it.”

Until next time,

Douzeper

 

 

SUPER-FIGHT!

Where was I?

Oh, yes.

So plaster is cracking and flaking down upon us, turning the air in the dungeon into a dust-filled haze. The bulb flickered and dimmed, but didn’t go out. Pre-beatdown jitters gripped my captors, and they took their eyes off me to look to Mrs. Brannigan.

I took the opportunity. I pulled myself up by the chain until I hung upside down. Umbra tried to shout a warning, but too late. I jerked my body back down with a grunt and pulled. The chains tore from the ceiling with a crack.

I hit the floor in a crouch and flicked one of the chains into the face of Aeromancer. Red blossomed from his face as his nose broke. His eyes crossed and he went to his knees.

I didn’t wait for him to fall before flicking the other chain at Ice Diamond. She froze the chain, turning it brittle. I shattered the chain and sent the shards flying into my enemies.

Chaos.

The door burst in, catching Ice Diamond as she aimed her freeze rifle at me. She flew into the far wall with a thud. A large figure, built of gray stone, stood silhouetted in the doorway.

“Rockslide,” Tek-Knight moaned.

“Y’all are under arrest,” Rockslide said in his soft southern drawl. “Come quiet or come painful, it’s up to you.”

I dove to the corner holding my gear and picked up my sword handle, activating it with a thought. The room brightened as my blade glowed bright. I cut my remaining chain off.

The improved lighting revealed Mrs. Brannigan muttering under her breath. I did something that, in retrospect might seem cruel, but my sympathy for people trying to kill me is limited.

Do you remember when I had her and Mr. Brannigan sign a blood-oath contract giving me one favor of my choosing twenty some-odd posts ago? Her magic might be enough to fool my abilities, but even the Magus has to abide by blood-oaths.

I had to speak quickly, before she finished the spell. “Mrs. Brannigan, I have found your daughter and claim my reward. My favor from you is that you never use your magic again.”

Her spell completed the moment after I spoke my terms. She screamed as a pillar of liquid sunlight rose from the ground to consume her. Everyone in the room, except me, covered their eyes.

When they could see again, the short matronly woman had changed into a withered parody of herself. Skin shriveled against her bones, and her thick grey hair turned white, stringy, and thinned.

Oops.

Helpful hint: Don’t break a blood-oath witnessed by an ancient god. They no likey.

Lisa screamed and rushed faster than I could react. Her shoulder drove into my stomach and propelled us through the wall into a darkened storage area. I heard more voices, including Lady Aether and Boost enter the dungeon, yelling.

Ice Diamond screamed, “DIE!” Her ice rifle fired and pandemonium broke out.

I couldn’t help out, I had a vampiric fourteen-year-old to destroy.

My job sucks sometimes.

I regained my bearings quickly, but Lisa had already taken off through the storage room exit. I took off after her.

I turned off my blade to draw her out. No way was a vamp coming near a sword made of pure sunlight. The darkness didn’t bother me, I could see just fine. Well enough to see that the hallway branched off in several directions.

I came to the first intersection and extended my senses. Not that I expected it to do anything more than offer me as a tempting target.

It paid off. She leaped on my back and I felt slender, impossibly strong hands grab my clavicle and head. I felt her head descend to my exposed neck. My hand flailed and I managed to find her forehead to push her back.

But I was losing the battle inch by inch.

So I tried something different. I let her head go and threw mine back, spinning as I did so. The unexpected move broke her grip. I grabbed her by the hair and flipped her up and over me, slamming her on her back into the ground. My foot slammed down into her chest.

“I’m sorry this is the only way I can save you,” I said as my blade activated and descended into her heart.

She screamed as it pierced her. Rays of sunlight shot from her torso as her body began to disintegrate. She turned to ash and I heard another scream rising over the sounds of battle in the dungeon.

Her mother’s.

The link between them broke with Lisa’s destruction. This wasn’t the cry of a defeated supervillain vowing vengeance. This was the cry of woman who had just lost her only daughter.

The sounds of fighting died along with her scream.

I strode back to the dungeon. Tek-Knight was on his knees, blubbering about how he was only following orders. Professor Quark, leader of the Keepers, covered him with his hard-light arm cannon.

Aeromancer looked like he had woken up, only to find that air is limited against rock. His face bore the evidence of his stubbornness.

Boost and Lady Aether, along with the twins Flora and Fauna, covered Ice Diamond. To be more accurate, vines, spiders, and roaches literally covered her while the others stood guard.

Rockslide held a weeping Mrs. Brannigan in his arms. The frail old woman would pose no more threat to anyone.

Mr. Brannigan stood in the middle of the room, looking alternately frightened, angry, and sad. I felt sorry for him.

Until he strode up to me and slugged me in the jaw.

He pointed a finger in my face that shook with fury, along with the rest of his body. “You murdered my daughter!” He punched me again.

I held up my hand to keep Lady Aether from coming over. His punches didn’t hurt.

I let him tire himself out. When he bent over to hold his knees, I leaned down and whispered, “My favor from you is that you pay my full fee. You better hope the check clears.”

I gathered my stuff and walked out of the dungeon.

Until next time,

Douzeper

Reveal

To my surprise, I woke up. And believe me, when you get suffocated into unconsciousness, waking up is a BIG surprise.

I knew I should have killed that bulldog-looking jackhole when I had the chance.

Chains dangling from a ceiling wrapped my wrists, holding me off the ground. I only had my pants on as I hung there. A single bulb cast shadows along the windowless walls of some type of dungeon. My gear lay in a corner. How cliche. Whatever happened to originality in villains. I half-expected a car battery and some jumper cables to be sitting on a stool.

I cleared my throat. “I’m awake,” I yelled. “You can reveal your nefarious plans anytime now.” I’m not a very good kidnappee.

The door behind me creaked open. I didn’t hear anyone come in. Not only that, I didn’t see or smell anything either. Not even a shadow.

Nothing until a face popped right in front of mine. It was young and looked more seductive than her picture. The braces were gone and the hair straight and lustrous.

But there was no doubt it was Lisa Brannigan. And she hung from the ceiling upside down.

She smiled and her incisors, elongated into fangs, flashed. “Ooooh,” she cooed. “You’re my hero.” She cackled in my face.

“I’m sorry this happened to you,” I told her. “I can try to help you, if you…”

She laughed again and dropped from the ceiling to the floor. She ran her hand along my face, then down my torso. I didn’t bother to hide the shudder. She leaned in and whispered, “Like you helped Torrie?”

I could feel my face burning. She kept going. “And why would I want help? Look at me.” She stepped away, stood on her tiptoes, and did a little pirouette.

“I’m so sorry,” I said again.

“You keep saying that!” she screamed. “Stop it!”

The door creaked open again and this time I heard footsteps and smelled perfume. I realized I had been played from the word go.

Mrs. Brannigan stepped in front of me, whatever spell she had used to hide her necromantic energies from me expired. I could see death hanging around her. The same death that fueled the spell on Torrie.

“How nice to see you again, Mr. Douzeper,” she said. She practically oozed false cheer. “You’re probably wondering why you right about now, hmmm?”

My jaw clenched so hard it hurt. I wasn’t going to give her the satisfaction.

She grinned at my intransigence. Only once have I ever wanted to punch someone so badly. “You see, my baby had a serious genetic condition, inherited from her father’s side, of course. I had to change her to save her life.”

“So you changed her into a monster?” I spat out.

She slapped me. “She is NOT a monster. She is better. She is everything humanity should aspire to.” She stroked her daughter’s hair in a mockery of motherly affection.

I wanted to puke. Instead, I ground out, “And what did Torrie ever do to you?”

The false cheer fell from her face and twisted into a mask of hate. “Don’t mention that little whore’s name to me,” she hissed. “Her and her mother got exactly what they deserved.”

She waved her hand and several different footsteps came through the door. Ice Diamond and Aeromancer shoved a hooded Mr. Brannigan into the room, while Aeromancer’s goons, RapidFire, Umber, and Tek-Knight followed. Mrs. Brannigan went over to where her husband knelt and ripped off the hood.

Mr. Brannigan blinked at the sudden light. “T-T-Tara, what’s going on?” he asked.

She cupped his chin and squeezed. “What’s happening, Bill, is that your sins are coming back to haunt you.”

She shoved him away and went back to her daughter. “Tell Lisa who Torrie was. Go ahead. I want her to hear it from your lips.”

“I don’t know what you’re talk…” Ice Diamond’s fist crashed into Mr. Brannigan’s mouth. I didn’t react when blood flew from his mouth. I had figured where she was going with this, and found my pity in short supply.

“Don’t lie!” Mrs. Brannigan screamed. “You slept with that whore and Torrie was your daughter! Then you had the nerve to rub it in my face by allowing that harlot’s child to be Lisa’s friend!” Flecks of spittle flew from her mouth and whitened the corners of her lips.

Figures. I decided to interrupt. “Excuse me.” Every eye turned toward me. “Why am I here?”

Mrs. Brannigan inhaled and blew out a deep breath to collect herself. “Isn’t it obvious?”

“Well, yes, but I want to hear it anyway,” I said.

That Cheshire smile came back. “Very well. I need a fall guy. It will be horrible. You will have found out that Bill molested his darling daughter, and, in a rage, you murdered him. Aeromancer,” she gestured to her bulldog, who grinned, “and his team will defeat you. Unfortunately, you won’t survive your apprehension.”

She actually seemed to do a little dance. “After a suitable period, I will take control of my husband’s business. With the help of my new associates, I will soon rule the city from behind the scenes.”

I shook my head. “There’s just one problem.”

She cocked an eyebrow at me. “If you are talking about your little friend or Boost, rest assured they will be taken care of.”

It was my turn to Cheshire grin. “Nah. Not worried about them. The problem is you left my gear in here. It’s activated by the sound of my voice. The comm links directly to my blog, so every word you just said has been posted online.”

Mrs. Brannigan paled. I kept going. “Further, while the lone hero that relies on no one but himself makes good copy, reality is a little different.” I nodded toward my pile of gear. “My Diavel has been homing in on my bracer’s signal since I woke up. Lady Aether, Boost, and the Keepers of the Gateway should be following right behind.”

I love great timing. A boom resounded above us. The building shook and dust fell from the dungeon ceiling.

In the interest of keeping the length down, I’ll let you know what happened next time.

Douzeper

Death from Above and Below and All Sides

Stephanie and I are back at Chez Venereal after what can only be described as a massive cluster-flit (man, Jules is thorough on this swearing thing).

Both of us need to recover a bit before I even think about going to see Torrie’s mother.

Stephanie: “This place is horrible! I feel like I need a VD test just from sitting down.”

Excuse me.

“Sorry, Miss Public University dorm-living scholarship woman, that the accommodations are not to your liking. Feel free to take the some of the massive bankroll you undoubtedly have and stay at the Waldorf or something more suitable to your refined tastes.”

Stephanie: “Please. I heard you call it Chez Venereal. You’re just trying to be a jackhole.”

Stephanie: “Wow! You weren’t kidding about the swearing thing, huh? Can’t even say jackhole.”

“Will you knock it off. I’m trying to give my two readers a thrilling tale of derring-do or whatever nonsense people call it.”

Stephanie: “Whatever. Listen, I’m going to take a shower. No peeking.”

“Don’t flatter yourself. By the way, do you have shower shoes or something. I only ask because, you know, things can get kind of sticky.”

Stephanie: “GROSS! HOW DO YOU STAND STAYING HERE?”

“I’m a firm believer in the adage “Ignorance is Bliss” when it comes to staying here, or any hotel, really. Plus, I have shower shoes. And no, I don’t want your gnarly feet in them.”

Stephanie: “I don’t have gnarly feet!”

“You won’t have any teeth either if you keep grinding them like that.”

noise identified as door slamming

Ah, blessed silence. Except for, you know, me talking.

Where was I?

Oh, right.

So, I’m following I-57 back to Chicago and we’re right at the point where it changes to I-94 near West Chesterfield when I spot Aeromancer and his goon-squad, the Preservers.

I made for the ground because I am definitely at a disadvantage in air-to-air combat with someone who can control air. Road pizza, I’ve found, is not a good look for most people, me especially.

We land in Abbott Park…and it’s full of people because of course it is. Serendipity and I had a nasty break-up long ago.

A crowd starts to gather around us. Which is understandable. I would be curious about someone landing a flying motorcycle as well. Unfortunately, it is the exact wrong move for these people.

“EVERYONE EVACUATE!” I scream. “THERE’S ABOUT TO BE A POWER-BATTLE!”

Necks crane into the sky to see if they can spot some well-known power.

I blame media glorification of super-fights for the lack of survival instinct. They mention civilian casualties, but it is glossed over in favor of “in-depth” analysis of the individual powers involved and political ramifications of said battles (which is a whole ‘nother post).

I even saw some intrepid reporter wannabe’s bringing out their camera phones to try to get video.

“It’s the Preservers,” an anonymous voice rang out. Clapping and cheering started from the crowd.

Ah, the benefits of having a massive PR firm behind you.

Having determined I was already going to be the “bad guy” of this particular piece, I decided to play the role to the hilt. I pulled my blaster, set it on Destructo-ray, and blasted a jungle gym into slag.

“GET THE H E DOUBLE-HOCKEY STICKS OUT OF HERE!” I roared.

The crowd scattered and I breathed a sigh of relief. I’d deal with the consequences later.

“Get some spells ready,” I told Stephanie. I pointed her over to a copse of trees that would serve as decent cover. She looked pale and scared, but nodded and ran off to her position.

She’ll make a heck of a hero.

The wind picked up a couple of minutes later. I looked up to see Aeromancer hovering in the air, his power giving his team the ability to fly to the battle.

I suppose I should introduce his team.

Quick rundown:

Rapidfire- An Enhanced. Cybernetic systems give him super strength, speed and agility. Fully cybernetic arms allow him to change them into a variety of weapons including lasers, swords, axes, or whatever suits him.

Umbra- An Empowered of the Egyptian God Kuk. This particular Empowered is female, so she takes on the female aspect of Kuk, that of a snake-headed woman. She controls darkness and carries a gold-plated ax as her power-focus.

Tek-Knight- A Machinist of the Gadgeteer subset. He always has several drones flying about him filled with various offensive and defensive packages.

There’s our contestants, Johnny. Tell them what they’ve won.

One ticked off Douzeper. And one newbie Magician.

I put my shield on standby and opened my arms up, inviting them to make their move.

Aeromancer dropped his hold on his team and Rapidfire dropped, arms in cannon-mode, blasting away. I snapped my shield on and charged toward the falling man, blocking each blast. I pulled my sword handle and activated the blade.

While it kills monsters, it won’t kill people. What it will do, however, is make whoever I hit with it face the truth about themselves. It may not sound like much, but it can shatter a person’s mind. Take away all the rationalizations, all the little and big lies we tell ourselves about our motives and actions.

Most people don’t want to know the truth about themselves. Those that say they do are usually engaging in lying to themselves.

Rapidfire was one of those people.

I run fast enough that I met Rapidfire as he touched down. He changed his left arm into a shield to try to block the blade.

Fool.

My blade rammed into his chest and he screamed. I have no idea what he saw, but it was enough to drop him gibbering to the ground.

One.

Tek-Knight hovered near a tree using jet-boots. The tree swayed and branches lashed out at him, damaging one of the boots and sending him into an uncontrolled spin toward the ground.

Unfortunately for him, a tree trunk met his face before the ground did.

Two.

“MAGE!” Umbra shouted.

A miniature tornado sprang up and raced along the ground to the copse of trees sheltering Stephanie. Umbra raced toward me.

I pulled my blaster and fired off a shot at Aeromancer before Umbra reached me. It forced him to collapse the whirlwind and increase the density of the air around him into a shield.

The blast couldn’t penetrate, but Stephanie, in a wonderful display of tactics, threw a massive fireball at him immediately after. The magical fire engulfed Aeromancer and pulled all the oxygen away from him, leaving a singed and breathless target.

Umbra reached me just as I fired my second shot, her ax biting into my side. Blood spurted out and I screamed. Yet, my shot flew true and hit Aeromancer, knocking him out for the second time in a day.

He fell from the sky and pancaked into a children’s playset. Taking him out bought me a moment as Umbra watched him fall. I placed my hand over the wound and Utu’s power flowed through me, closing the wound. It left an angry red scar across my side, but I can live with scars.

My blade flashed and she blocked with her ax. Our movements became a blur of strike and counter-strike. She would create a globe of darkness around us, and I would burn it away. Day and night battled it out, with no clear decision.

Luckily for me, my teammate is better than hers.

Stephanie stepped from behind the trees. She gestured and stone hands grew from the ground to hold our fallen opponents. After they were secure, she strode over to the two of us. I could see her coming. Umbra couldn’t.

She didn’t even have to hit her from behind. All she did was clear her throat.

The noise distracted Umbra for a fraction of a second. At the speed we were moving, that was all I needed.

I knocked the ax from her grasp and my fist met her jaw. I heard a crack and her eyes fluttered up into her skull.

Teamwork works, folks. The Preservers fought as individuals and lost.

Intent is also key in a fight. They intended to teach me a lesson and didn’t press their advantages. We intended to win and win quick.

We won. And without killing any of them, which I am strangely ambivalent about.

The battle did take its toll on us and so we went back to the room to rest up a bit. Magic takes it out of a person, and the adrenaline crash after a fight doesn’t help.

Stephanie, in her first real battle, shook like a leaf. I was a bloody mess from all the nicks and cuts received from Umbra. So we took some time.

Which brings us to now. I’m sure we’ll be seeing the Preservers again.

I just hope it isn’t soon.

Until next time,

Douzeper