Debora placed her elbows on the wooden conference table and shifted most of her weight onto them. She tried not to sigh, but it was difficult. She was looking over the plans to the parking garage where the meeting with Wraith was going to take place in a few hours. She did not like the tactical picture.
<This is a nightmare.> The blue and white blueprints stared back at her mockingly.
<Ingress and egress are shit. One way in and out. We’re going to have to stage SWAT way back and rush in…again. There are too many unknowns once we get inside, too many corners to cover, too much open space, and we still don’t have much actionable intel on the target.>
It was all shaping up to be another clusterfuck.
The soft squeak of the door’s hinges rubbing together brought the DVA agent out of her sour mood. Into the room walked the last person she wanted to see. The man was smartly dressed in a fitted, expensive suit, his teeth were too white, his hair was coiffed, and he seemed to have a permanent smile. She recognized the DVA PR director for the area, and he was the bane of her existence right now.
“Are those the blueprints?” he asked, pointing to the paper she was trying to set fire to with her eyes.
“Yes.” She deliberately didn’t look up at him to avoid showing her contempt.
The man could be absolutely no help in the planning of this operation. He probably hadn’t fired a weapon since the academy, and had probably never served in a field position. He was just another one of those spineless bureaucrats who were making her already difficult mission impossible.
“I just wanted to check something.” He pulled out his smart phone, hit some buttons, looked at the blueprint, and hit some more. “Ah…just what I thought. This just won’t do.”
“Excuse me?” Debora kept the growl out of her throat. “What do you mean this won’t do?”
“The location for the meeting.” The DVA pencil-pusher scoffed. “The parking garage is right in the center of Orlando. We can’t have another fiasco like last time. A heavy police presence two nights in a row is going to get the media talking. Plus, we’re still getting a lot of flak for the failed operation.
“Failed operation?” Debora breathed heavily and tried to keep her fist from shaking.
“What else would you call that circus that left a dozen clubbers dead and twice as many wounded?”
Debora tried very hard not to smack the self-righteous prick right in the face. What he had called a failed op had singlehandedly dismantled a large portion of the Fist’s leadership. They were keeping a lid on it until the current op was completed, but soon the damage would reverberate through the city. The gang would panic without its leaders, which would lead to mistakes, or they’d try and skip town. Either way the local PD and DVA would be able to clean up the streets.
Debora didn’t like the fact that a dozen people had died in the raid, but it could have been a hell of a lot more. She considered the drugs they found on site, along with the weapons, and women that were being trafficked as lives saved. It was an ugly mathematical equation, but it was one Debora had to believe in. Something good had to come from all the bad. If it didn’t then that was a failure.
All of this was beyond the desk-weenie who was trying to tell her how to do her job.
“Let’s move the operation here.” He pointed at the map. “Much more remote with less chances of collateral damage and hopefully no cameras.”
“We can’t.” Debora tried to keep her voice as pleasant as possible.
“Why not?” The man’s feathers were ruffled now, and she took a little bit of pleasure in that.
“The meet is already set for this location. The meetings between the target and the Fist have always been at this location. If the location were to change we would likely lose the target, and then the target would learn the scope of last night’s operation. The likelihood that we’d find the target again are almost zero. So we have to do it here and now.”
Debora ignored the strange noises coming from the man and concentrated on the blueprints.
He starting and stopping what he was going to say a few times before he finally spit it out. “I will not be responsible for this public relations nightmare.” He stated dramatically.
“Fine by me.”
<Don’t let the door hit you on the ass on the way out.> She kept that part to herself.
The man left muttering to himself and Debora got back to work. Ten minutes later, she still didn’t have a good plan to make this operation work.
The problem was that the meeting place was on the bottom level, underground. The Fist members would just walk right in, and she was confident Wraith would be getting their early. Everything she’d read about the young supervillain said that Wraith was competent.
Wraith could either walk in like the Fist, which was unlikely, or she could just teleport into the structure. Either way they needed eyes in that parking garage.
“Commander Jenkins,” she called, beckoning the big SWAT commander. “We need eyes and ears in there ASAP.”
“We’ve already got a team in route,” the commander grinned. If Debora didn’t know any better she’d think the man was flirting with her.
“ETA two minutes.”
“Good,” she nodded with a small smile.
<He is my type of guy.> She shook her head and pushed her love life to the back of her mind. There were more important things to deal with.
To get SWAT and DVA agents in there they’d either have to plant them in the garage beforehand, or run them down through the maze of concrete once positive identification was made. Either plan was risky. If they preplaced and then got ID’d, then that was game set match. Wraith would disappear and they wouldn’t see her again for years. Running in after ID wasn’t much better. The targets would hear them coming and be gone before the army of cops arrived. They’d might be able to snag the Fist members, but Wraith was too slippery to get caught that way.
<We really need a nullifier.> Problem was that there were no ranged nullifiers available on such short notice.
Absence was in town, but she had to touch her target to null their powers. Absence and Wraith had already faced off before, and the Hero hadn’t come away unscathed. Deborah didn’t like sending the Hero in without backup. It was too risky
Daisy was the best option, and Debora lobbied for the famed Hero’s inclusion in this op, but that had been shot down immediately. ForceOps was already pissed that she’d been heavily involved in the club raid. Now, they weren’t asking for cooperation anymore. They were telling the DVA what to do with Reaper.
Those conversations were way above her paygrade though, so she focused on the mission. Unfortunately, that left only one option.
She made a call.
Twenty minutes later, she was watching the camera’s being set up in the parking garage and Seraphim walked in.
Despite being a well-known and accomplished Hero, the woman was slightly terrifying. Her wings and poison barbed tail twitched with agitation as she walked into the Protectorate’s HQ with a lethal grace. Her eyes scanned the room through the slits in her tech genius designed armored helmet, and she smiled at the gathered people. Despite the wings and name, Seraphim was more demon than angel.
“Agent Phillips,” Seraphim’s voice was seductively feminine, which did not match her appearance. “You have information for me?”
“Yes. Thank you for coming. Please sit.”
“I prefer to stand.” Seraphim crossed her arms in front of her expectantly.
“Ok then.” Debora pointed at the blueprints. “We’ve got reliable intelligence that Wraith will be meeting with members of the Fist in a few hours. The meeting will be on the bottom level of an underground parking garage.”
Debora looked back and had to force herself not to recoil. Seraphim’s face had split into a sneer that fully barred her longer-than-they-looked fangs. Her talon-like fingernails were digging into the wood as she leaned over and intently inspected the plans.
“We’ve ruled out preplacing SWAT and rushing in once positive identification is made.” Debora continued to explain. “We’re out of ideas, and wanted some advice from a veteran Hero.”
<Stroking their ego is always a good tactic.> Debora kept her face neutral as she watched Seraphim look over the plans.
The shifter’s twitching wings and tail had gone utterly still.
“I’ll go in here.” It was an order not a statement from the Hero.
Debora looked where the shifter was pointing. It was the roof.
“Um. . .”
“Have a structural engineer take a look. Once we get positive confirmation that Wraith is there I’ll hit this spot like a Hellfire missile. I’ll be able to break through the concrete layers with minimal damage to myself or the structure. I’ll engage Wraith, take her down, and hopefully bring her in.” Debora knew Seraphim’s reputation, so she hoped “bringing her in” didn’t involve a body bag.”
“Have Absence standing by to take custody, I hear she’s in town.” The plan didn’t do much to alleviate the DVA agent’s suspicions.
“What if she runs?” Debora played devil’s advocate. “She is a teleporter.”
“She won’t,” Seraphim sounded supremely confident. “Our intel states she is a young woman, late teens, early twenties, and a woman like that is going to have something to prove. I’ve been going around the city for a while now, kicking down doors and disrupting the order of things. If Wraith is half the person I think she is, she’ll stand and fight. She won’t be able to resist the idea of taking down two Heroes.”
“Can you take her?” Debora wouldn’t be doing her job if she didn’t ask the question.
“I can if I can get in close, am quick enough, and have luck on my side. Fighting teleporters is like trying the catch air in your bare hands, and Wraith has some additional abilities on top of that. I’ve trained to fight a teleporter, but not one like her.”
If Debora didn’t know better she could have sworn she heard a hint of doubt in the Hero’s voice.
“Reports also say she travels heavily armed, so the potential for collateral damage will be high. I’d advise that you keep your people back until I give the all clear.”
Somehow in the last half-hour there had been a role swap. Debora was now the DVA weenie in the way and Seraphim was the field operative that was going to get the job done. The difference was that Debora realized this and knew what to do.
“We’ll give you all the support we can.” Debora gave the Hero a nod. “I’ll let you prep. We’ll get our people into position to secure the perimeter, and radio you when we have a positive ID on Wraith.”
“Very well, Agent Phillips.” For a moment Seraphim looked grateful and relieved, but then it was gone, and the shifter was stalking out of the room.
Debora headed straight for the surveillance equipment.
Things moved quickly after Seraphim left. Commander Jenkins had to get his team together to be ready to go when Seraphim gave the all clear. He wasn’t happy about playing second string to the Hero, but Debora was able to calm him down. She might have even agreed to a date when things settled down.
Next, she put in the request to get Absence on scene to handle Wraith once she’d been neutralized. After that, she established communications. She got in touch with Dispatch and relayed all the information so the communication’s Hero could relay it through the proper channels. When that was all completed she was still nervous, but she’d done everything she could.
Despite the DVA PR moron’s idiotic suggestions, the man had one valid point. Press had been bad for the DVA in Orlando. The nightclub raid made national news, and the DVA brass were playing defense with the media. Thankfully, a few of the guys at the top had spent more than enough time in the field. They knew that even the best laid plans ended with casualties. So they had Debora’s back.
“Anything yet?” Debora was pacing in the back of a large utility truck filled with equipment and analysts.
It was time to get the party started. The area had been discretely blocked off, Seraphim was circling far overhead, and the Fist members were approaching the garage.
<She has to be there.> Debora knew enough about the supervillain to feel uneasy about things so far.
They’d been watching the garage for hours and nobody had come or gone since then. Either Wraith had been in there all day and had watched them install the small cameras, she wasn’t showing, or she was there and they couldn’t see her.
“Run through the different views again.” Debora was agitated, and she knew it was rubbing the tech the wrong way, but the guy knew his job and followed orders.
“Nothing on regular,” several cameras started panning left and right. “Nothing on IR.” That was the most concerning. “Night vision isn’t showing anything either.”
“Here come the Fist guys.” Debora pointed as a small contingent of gang members walked into sight.
They milled about in the center of the space looking just as confused as Debora. The man’s mouth started to move on the screen, but the audio was barely audible.
“Clean that up. I want to hear what he’s saying.”
The tech went to work hitting switches, fiddling knobs, and doing things beyond Debora’s comprehension to get the audio. While he did that she continued to watch the video closely. There was still no sign of Wraith.
“Wait what was that?” Something seemed to come loose from the ceiling and fall on the Fist member’s head. “Rewind and zoom.”
The tech was probably irritated, but he was a professional. He could multitask. “And I’ve got sound.” He completed it all and hit play.
“…for our money.” The gang member was saying while posturing.
There was a short pause and then what was clearly a stack of money dropped from the ceiling onto his head.
“That’s her,” Debora pointed uselessly at the screen. “She’s there we just aren’t seeing her for some reason.” She pressed her ear to activate the Hero communications device. “Seraphim we’ve got a tentative ID. Proceed at your discretion.”
Debora hadn’t see Wraith with her own two eyes, so this could only be classified as “tentative”. But both Debora and Seraphim knew that Debora wouldn’t waste the Hero’s time by calling in false alarms.
Debora could hear the anger in the Hero’s voice. And then she watched the exterior cameras as Seraphim did one last circle, climbed high into the air, and shot down toward the garage like a rogue tomahawk. The impact echoed through the concrete and killed the audio, but Debora had a front row seat to a chunk of the roof crushing the Fist member like a piece of rotten fruit.
“WRAITH! COME OUT AND FACE ME!”
A few rapid teleports around the room and Wraith had a full rundown of what was happening. The detail offered from her darkness feedback was much more precise than the normal mark-one eyeball.
The infamous Hero was still standing where she had landed, on top of the jagged concrete block that had turned the Fist leader into puree. She had two daggers clutched in each hand, and was spinning them agitatedly. Those Wraith needed to stay away from.
The battle plan was a simple one in theory but difficult to execute. The bottom line was that Wraith couldn’t win this fight. Seraphim was too tough to be killed by a teleporter, even a teleporter with exploding ammunition and grenades. Wraith knew it and so did Seraphim, so that wasn’t what this was all about. This was all about ego and perception. Seraphim was there to say that Wraith couldn’t hang with the big girls, that she wasn’t supervillain enough to stand up to a first-class Hero when they were ready for her.
<If you knew what was good for you, you’d get the hell out of here.> The more rational side of Wraith, the Liz side that had friends, a boyfriend, and a dinner to get back to argued.
But that rational side didn’t hold much weight at the moment. Liz was gone for the time being. This was Wraith’s show.
“Yeah, I’m here.” Wraith replied nonchalantly, but while still keeping a thick concrete pillar between her and Seraphim.
Good thing she did because one of the daggers came zipping through the air and buried itself handle deep in the concrete.
“Wooo! That’s some hot shit right there.” Wraith couldn’t help but laugh.
Seraphim didn’t throw the second dagger, but she kept spinning it in her hand agitatedly.
“Why don’t we talk and get to know each other a little bit. After all we have a lot in common.”
Wraith stuck her head out from behind the pillar for just a moment before teleporting away. The second dagger didn’t miss her by much.
“Use your words, big gal. I wouldn’t want to think you were being impolite. I’d hate to start doing some serious damage to this place.” Wraith laughed as the darkness cleared.
“We don’t have anything in common, little girl,” Seraphim used the inverse of the insult Wraith had just lobbed her way.
And if Wraith was being honest with herself it pissed her off a little. After all she had killed this demon-looking motherfucker’s husband. A piece of ammunition she would keep for later use to really throw the Hero off balance.
“Maybe…maybe not, but I’ve got to respect your body count. I am big enough to admit that I’m small time compared to you.”
Seraphim might have used her throwing daggers already, but she could still move like a bat out of hell when she wanted to.
Black exploded outward when the Hero was only a few feet from where Wraith had been. Wraith saw through the dissipating darkness the Hero turn and reorient herself back toward where Wraith might be, so she didn’t see the little present Wraith had left behind.
The grenade went off with a loud BOOM and a brilliant flash. Seraphim was flung forward by the concussive blast and landed on her face. The Hero wasn’t down for long. She rolled to the side and sprang to her feet like a gymnast without even flapping her wings.
As far as scoring any damage went, it was a failure. But it was embarrassing for the Hero to be caught off guard like that. That was what made Wraith laugh.
“You’ve got to learn to take a compliment.” She teleported after the statement, but before Seraphim crashed through the pillar she was hiding behind. “Or does that make you angry? A person like me wanting to be just like you. That must irk you?”
A wing slashed up into the rafters she was hiding in. The metal beam didn’t offer much resistance as the wing sliced through it easily.
“That must be an awesome party trick.” Wraith came out of her teleport all the way across the room.
The Hero was moving at amazing speeds, and despite the bravado Wraith was barely keeping ahead of her. That was what this entire fight was about, reaction time.
“You should try that on a bottle of champagne.” Wraith teleported again, but changed it up this time. Instead of just teleporting around she used her perception in the darkness to aim and fire an explosive round directly into Seraphim’s head.
Since all senses were drowned out by the overwhelming darkness, the Hero didn’t even see it coming. One second she was turning to reacquire Wraith’s location, and the next she was staggering sideways as a small fireball bloomed around her ear.
“Tsk…tsk…tsk… you need to play better with others.”
Seraphim responded with a predatory growl that made the reptilian portions of Wraith’s brain quiver in fear.
“I’m going to rip you in half little girl.”
Wraith gulped, and teleported again for good measure. “That’s not very nice. And we were having such a good talk.”
Wraith pulled the pin on two of her grenades and teleported them into the shadow of the rafters. The plan was to have them blow up right around Seraphim’s head, causing the Hero more pain and embarrassment. Several parts of the Hero’s costume were already singed, so there was no question that there had been a good fight. That was all Wraith could hope for.
Instead of the tactic going as planned, it backfired. Instead of falling and exploding next to the Hero’s head, Seraphim spun in anticipation. Her tail whipped out and struck the grenades dead on. A hollow whack, like a baseball player hitting a home run, echoed through the parking garage as the grenades went flying back in the direction of Wraith.
<Oh fucknuggets.> Wraith was able to teleport away, but not before she felt the heat of the explosion on her face. <That was too close.>
But it was just the beginning of the tides turning.
Wraith was off balance from the near miss and Seraphim took full advantage of it. She came charging after the blooms of darkness that signaled Wraith’s teleportations. Wraith dropped more grenades, but she either batted them aside or shrugged them off. Seraphim was pressing her advantage, and sooner or later she was going to catch Wraith.
<Stupid bitch! Why won’t you at least stumble when I shoot you in the fucking head.> The Glock bucked in Wraith’s hand before she teleported, but the darkness feedback showed it hadn’t done much more than smack Seraphim’s head to the side. <I can’t keep this up for much longer.>
“Come out come out wherever you are.” The verbal banter had also taken a serious turn for the worse.
Seraphim was now the one mocking as she ran through the parking garage stalking the defenseless teleporter.
“Fuck you lady.” Wraith growled as Seraphim’s claws missed by inches.
“No thank you.” Came the dignified response. “This is much more fun.”
“I bet so,” Wraith teleported twice, once to either side of her for long enough to put a round into each of her temples.
“You’re more of a challenge than your husband. He died way too quick to have any fun with.”
Instead of going into a rage like Wraith expected, Seraphim stopped and just stood there. She was pissed as hell, one look into the Hero’s eyes showed the supervillain that, but this was a cold fury. Wraith realized that goading her about her dead husband wasn’t the way to throw the Hero off balance.
“I’m going to make you eat those words. Preferably through a straw because I’ve knocked all of your teeth out.” Seraphim was still standing oddly still.
Wraith was thirty feet away with half a destroyed concrete pillar between her and the Hero. “Could we not hit the face?” Wraith knew the statement was defensive, but she felt a sudden need to protect the beauty beneath the mask.
<Would Seth still love me if I had all my teeth knocked out and was eating through a straw?> It was a horrible time to have that thought as Seraphim charged again.
Wraith got out of the way in time, but left behind a little surprise. A surprise that wasn’t meant for Seraphim. Wraith had a new plan. <Time for the final act.>
Wraith started to teleport all over the room; none of them close to the vengeful Hero, and sometimes not even facing her. But there was a pattern to them. Each time Wraith teleported she appeared next to one of the support pillars. She’d done this before which was why it took a few teleports for Seraphim to catch onto the plan.
Because each time Wraith appeared and disappeared she left behind a grenade.
<If you can’t beat them then blow some shit up.>
As Wraith reached the last few pillars on the floor the first grenades started to go off. The whole structure started to groan like a drunken hobo as all of the weight started to shift to other supports; which quickly disappeared in explosions of fire and concrete shrapnel.
After those first explosions Seraphim figured out the plan. Wraith was vulnerable now. The Hero’s speed carried her across the floor in a blur just as Wraith appeared and dropped the last grenade.
As fast as the Hero was she still wasn’t able to get to Wraith in time to stop her, but the seasoned veteran still had a trick up her sleeve.
Wraith dropped her last grenade, turned to see the destruction, and instead saw Seraphim whipping her barbed tail in her direction. It happened so fast Wraith didn’t even see it.
Three of the barbs snapped off of Seraphim’s tail and tore through the air toward the supervillain. They were barely a blur they were traveling so fast. One of those barbs would have gone through Wraith like a cruise missile through a cardboard box. Even her fancy armor wouldn’t have been able to save her against something with that velocity.
Wraith thought of this all after the fact, but at the moment she about shit her pants in fear. Luckily, whatever mystical forces ruled the universe decided to give her a pass. Two of the barbs completely missed. They hit the concrete wall behind Wraith like machine gun rounds, showering her with bits of concrete. But she wasn’t so lucky with the third barb.
The last barb didn’t really hit her. It just grazed her leg enough to cut through the armor, tactical pants, and the top layer of skin.
But that was enough.
Wraith felt the cold tingling sensation immediately start to work its way up her leg. She’d done enough research on Seraphim to guess what was happening. Even though nothing she read ever said she could do this.
It was a good thing that in situations like this Wraith was a doer more than a thinker. Because the near instantaneous teleportation saved her life. A second later the grenade blew, the last pillar fell, and the whole parking garage collapsed under its own weight.
Even Seraphim hadn’t stuck around to see if she’d scored a deathblow. The Hero completed her attack, unfurled her wings, and rocketed through the collapsing ceiling and into the night air; which was starting to fill with a slowly expanding cloud of dust and debris.
Liz appeared in Seth’s room as the cold continued to spread through her body faster than any poison she’d ever heard of. She was Liz now. The fire that was her Wraith persona had been extinguished by the toxin Seraphim had pumped into her body. Of course, she was still wearing the costume, which at the moment was a big problem.
<I’ve gotta get out of here.> Wraith focused on her room in the underground mansion but when she tried to teleport nothing happened. <What the shit?> She tried again, but nothing happened, and the poison finished working its way down her legs.
Liz collapsed into a heap on the floor.
“Motherfucker,” Liz grumbled. Starting to feel her tongue go numb. Soon she wouldn’t be able to speak, and she was in a very compromising position if anyone walked into the room.
Her legs didn’t respond as she tried to move them, so she used her arms to crawl to the nearest cover she could find. Her and Seth’s large bed was only a few feet away. That was her best chance.
<I feel like a fucking four-year-old.> Liz complained as she started to pull herself under the cover of the bed.
It was a tight squeeze, especially when she got to her ass. She’d always thought having a bodacious ass was a good thing; that was until she had to cram it under the bed when she was partially paralyzed and starting to lose feeling in her arms.
<Suck it in.> She commanded herself, and with a final push of effort forces her ass under the bed.
She had a few more seconds of feeling in her limbs which she used to get the rest of herself under cover. She wasn’t sure if she was totally concealed when her arms finally gave out. She’d tried to angle herself so her feet weren’t poking out, but that was hard to do when you couldn’t feel where your feet were.
<Well this is just fan-fucking-tastic.> Liz thought as she lay face down underneath the bed. <But look on the brightside; I’m still breathing and not buried in the fucking parking garage.>
Those were the only positives she could think of because right now she was still dressed in her full Wraith costume, completely paralyzed, and hiding underneath the bed in a room she shared with possibly the only person she really loved in this world. The dressing on top of that shit sandwich was that she didn’t know if the poison was going to kill her much less how long she’d be paralyzed if it didn’t.
<All I can do is wait and hope Seth forgives me if he finds me like this.>
Those were Liz’s last thoughts before the toxins reached her brain and knocked her out.