Hellgate’s lifeline was hard to pin down. It didn’t have the duality of a shifter or the constant vibration of a speedster. It was unique. It was like trying to play whack-a-mole with a fundamental aspect of the universe.
The old supervillains thread was also hot. It wasn’t “stick your hand into a raging inferno” hot, but Daisy imagined it was what it felt like to hold your hand over a flame for just a half-second too long. She’d never done that before, or at least not that she could remember. She was too busy dodging actual explosions to be stupid enough to stick her hand over an open flame.
But that’s what it felt like as she grabbed the man by the metaphysical nuts. And damn it felt good.
She felt the energy of life pulsing through the thread. Calling it a thread really didn’t do the construct justice. It as a living embodiment of that person on some different plain of existence. There was love, sadness, joy, and hate coursing through the thread now and she could feel it all. Just like she’d feel it all when she cut his thread and absorbed the life force into herself.
<It couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.> She smiled to herself as the villain vomited all over the ground and fell back to his knees.
She was already bottling things up. The villain’s energy couldn’t flow properly through his thread which led to metaphysical full-body constipation that she wouldn’t wish on her sixth worst enemy. She would totally wish it on the top five people on her shit list. Those assholes fucking deserved it.
She was Reaper again in these moments. Not necessarily the old one, but not quite the new one either. She didn’t want to take lives the way she used to, but she had to be real with herself in this case. If she let Hellgate go the guy would disappear for anther twenty years. No one would ever catch him, and the families of everyone he’d killed today wouldn’t get any closure.
For the thousandth time she struggled with her power, and that was a good thing. She was playing God at times like these. She had the power over life and death. She could conceivably live forever as long as she continued to kill.
She wondered if those ancient Greek myths about the three Fates was a prophecy about her. She didn’t spin the threads, or determine their length, but she was Atropis. She was the one who severed them.
<Shit or get off the pot, Daisy.> Only seconds had passed, but seconds mattered in her profession.
She took a firmer grip on the thread and Hellgate gave a gargled scream. She readied herself mentally and physically for the death of the man and the rush of his life force into her.
<Now or never.> It was the moment of truth, and she believed she made the right choice.
She started to saw away at the life thread. Hellgate gave a bone-chilling scream as his life started to slip from his body. Daisy shuddered as the tsunami of emotions started to flood her along with the trickle of his life force. She reached out for a shattered tree to steady herself and…
An explosion of blackness appeared around Hellgate.
<It’s too late.> Daisy instinctually thought, until she felt her connection with the supervillain vanish.
It was like someone turned off the light in her mind’s eye where Hellgate as standing. It wasn’t like Armsman where there was just a void of emptiness. This was like trying to stare through thick black fog with her sixth sense. If she was able to go in and get a hold of the man she knew she could finish the job, but without contact she was just staring at swirling black.
But that black was fading quickly. Until another explosion of darkness reinforced it. When it finally dissipated, Hellgate was gone.
<You have got to be shitting me!> Daisy took a few seconds to just stare at the empty space. She expanded her senses, but felt neither of those lifelines within her half-mile radius.
The rolling explosions of darkness could only mean on thing. Wraith had just rescued Hellgate from certain death.
<Rescue might be a bit premature.> Daisy thought, she had already been draining him after all. She had no idea what would happen to him now. No one had ever interrupted her mid-reaping before.
But even worse than the two villains escaping was the way her and Wraith’s powers interacted. Wraith was another villain she could add to the very short list of Supers whose power trumped hers. <This is just a hell of a shitty day.>
Daisy stumbled as the earth shook beneath her. The two titans were going at it over by the school and Iron Giant could use all the help he could get. She’d have to worry about Hellgate and Wraith later. Unless they just attacked her, which would be monumentally stupid, she had bigger fish to worry about.
She gathered the kinetic energy in the soles of her feet and launched herself into the air. She covered a few hundred yards before landing in the parking lot of the high school and seeing the utter chaos of the battle. Iron Giant, ForceOps, and the remaining Protectorate were throwing everything but the kitchen sink at Seif al-Din.
And then, just as she thought that, a ForceOps soldier emerged from a hole in the school with an industrial-sized stainless steel sink, which he proceeded to toss into Seif al-Din’s gut.
She barely stopped a giggle from escaping her lips. It was time for her to get in on this action.
“DAD!” Lilly blasted back into existence.
The darkness washed over everything around her, and told her she’d appeared only a few feet from Armsman.
“Dad, please wake up.” She was shaking him as the darkness receded.
A comforting hand came to rest on her shoulder, and the same tan, leathery skin got placed against Hellgate’s throat.
Lilly was at war with herself. All of a sudden, she was a little girl getting bounced on her father’s knee and squealing with delight. That foundation of happiness her father had given her was in conflict with her training. All she wanted to do was cry and shake her father until he woke up, but her training was screaming at her to do first aid, to get him to a healer, or for her to do anything but sit there and be a useless teenage girl.
“His pulse is faint.”
She couldn’t see her Uncle’s face, but she could hear the concern in his voice.
“We need to get out of here.” Lilly started to sort through her mental locations for a safe getaway.
<They’ll definitely bring in a tracker after this shit show, so I need to cover our tracks.> She settled on her loft across the Atlantic. The electrified cage and myriad of international regulations on Supers would bog down anyone who followed her.
“No.” Armsman’s single word wounded her like he’d slashed her with his katana.
“What the fuck do you mean, no?” she snarled back.
“I mean I’ll get him to safety while you finish the job.”
“Finish the job!” Lilly shrieked. “Fuck the job, fuck Seif al-Din. All I want is to make sure my dad’s ok.”
“If you really want to make sure your father is ok you won’t ruin his reputation. What happens when he gets better? What happens when that big ass terrorist escapes here and learns that you turned tail and ran like a little bitch? What is your father going to do then? You two are already on the run from the good guys. Don’t be forced to run from the bad guys too.”
Armsman making a good point wasn’t helping the internal struggle Lilly was feeling.
“Shit! I hate it when you’re right.” Lilly decompressed slightly.
“Get used to it, Wraith. With age comes wisdom.”
“And erectile dysfunction, so don’t get ahead of yourself old man.” She shot back.
Armsman laughed and gave her shoulder a squeeze. “I’ll take good care of your Dad. I’ve got a tight little Tai thing with a gift for making people feel better.”
“Ugh, gross. Please tell me she’s a healer.”
“Among other things.” He gave her shoulder one last pat. “Remember, I’m not going to be able to cover you. So get in and get out. Don’t fuck around. Reaper’s range is a half-mile so we’re probably not even safe here.”
There was a sound like someone was ripping the universe a new asshole, and they turned just in time to see Seif al-Din get smashed through the school. A blonde-haired woman could be seen jumping into the air away from the beast before it got back to its feet.
“Or maybe she’s a little busy and you’ll have a few extra seconds to do your job.” Armsman shrugged.
“This isn’t my first time, Armsman.” It felt like the tenth time she was telling the old villain that.
“It’s the first time you’re jumping back into a fight after having one of the most legendary Heroes of all time nearly put down your father.” He deadpanned back. “Don’t underestimate her or anyone else. You get in and you get out. Understood?”
“Yes.” For once, she didn’t have something witty to add.
“Good. Now get me and your dad to my place. I’ll take care of the rest.”
She knew the place in question pretty well. It was basically a deserted island in the Pacific. Technically, it was part of the Philippians, but he bribed the local officials to leave him alone. He lived there with a harem of Thai whores and generally did whatever the fuck he wanted.
Lilly and her dad ventured out there for a vacation every few years. Her dad didn’t like her hanging around with the whores, but with no one else on the island but the two old supervillains there wasn’t much else to do.
The location solidified in her mind: clear blue sky, white sandy beaches with colorful seashells, a small hut that just served as the surface entrance to the vast subterranean network of structures that was Armsman’s real home. As she saw it, she wished she was going to.
<I’ve got to finish the job. For dad.>
She sighed, and opened her eyes to give the two other villains a grin. “See you soon.”
In a flash of black the two old men disappeared and left her all alone to exfiltrate the worlds more dangerous terrorist from a battle with some of the most famous Heroes to ever live.
<No problem, piece of cake.> She teleported from her position in the open by the suburban house, to the middle of the wrecked woods.
She needed a good vantage point to find the right moment to jump in there. She didn’t want to teleport and get her head taken off by Reaper’s roundhouse kick. That would just be a horrible end to a semi-shitty day.
<Dad’s safe, Uncle Curtis will take care of him…ewww. But it’s all going to be fine.> Lilly didn’t want to think too much about the recovery process. She had talked with those whores before. They weren’t exactly a good influence. Seth could attest to that.
She snuck through a forest that looked like Bastogne during the Nazi siege of the 101st Airborne. Everything around her had been shattered by the explosion of the buried mines. It was a miracle that Reaper had survived it in the first place.
<That’s why we don’t underestimate Heroes.> She took a knee next to what wasn’t much more than a stump and reached out to her ready table back in her bunker.
High-priced binoculars appeared in her hand and she took a good look at the battle.
<Reaper, Iron Giant, flame girl, guys in camouflage everywhere. One dude is teleporting in and out dropping grenades all over Seif al-Din.> She watched that guy’s tactics for a minute and committed them to memory. <Now I just need them to break off for a second so I can get in there and finish this.>
“Re…p…r, come in,…Re…p…r.” She nearly missed the staticy voice as she shifted position, but the shift moved some of the dirt and uncovered the little white earpiece.
She picked it up, wiped off the dirt and grime and tuned in.
“Reaper, come in. Reaper, come in. I say again. The use of deadly force is authorized. Take down Seif al-Din. Take him down. We have rescued Anika Kemps. I say again, we have rescued Ms. Kemps. End this fight, Reaper, end it. Reaper, come in.” And the message repeated.
“What the fuck!?” Thankfully there was no one around to hear Lilly’s scream.
“Hello, hello, identify yourself.” The voice over the earpiece asked.
“No, identify yourself.”
“No, identify yourself.”
“This is a secure Hero communications device. Unauthorized use is prohibited by federal law.”
“This is a secure Hero communications device. Unauthorized use is prohibited by federal law.”
“Stop repeating me.”
“Stop repeating me.” This time Lilly couldn’t help but laugh.
<Heroes and their rules.> She would have pocketed the device to sell to Mika, but there had to be a GPS in it somewhere, so instead she stomped on it. <That should slow Reaper down for a few minutes.>
But more importantly, it gave Lilly a chance to figure out just what the hell was going on with Anika. <I call bullshit.> She threw one last glance at the raging battle and figured the big bad terrorist could hold his own for a second until she got back.
She left Orlando in an explosion of darkness to see what the fuck was going on.
Have you ever traded punches with God? Daisy could now honestly say she had.
She bided her time and waited for the right moment before throwing herself at the giant creature. Seif al-Din had Iron Giant pinned under one of his massive, ape-like feet, and was getting ready to rain down another hammer-fisted blow on the strongman. She put her shoulder right into the terrorist’s gut and let leash with just about all of the kinetic energy she had stored up.
The sound of the impact left her ears ringing, and she’d have a serious case of tinnitus if she didn’t get healed.
The creature bellowed, more in frustration than pain, as it folded in on itself, lost its balance and fell into the already smoking high school. The main building collapsed under his weight and he was momentarily buried underneath the rubble. Daisy jumped back to give herself some breathing room.
The painfully full sensation she’d been feeling was gone, now there was a void within her that she hadn’t felt in a long time. She’d put everything she had into that hit, and the beast was already getting back up.
<We need more heavy hitters.>
A chunk of concrete came rocketing out of the pile of rubble and was on a direct course for Daisy. <Time for a refill.> She crossed her arms in front of herself and ground in her heels.
The concrete smacked into her hard enough to turn a regular human’s bones to jelly, but she absorbed the energy and the slab cracked around her. She emerged on the other side of the small dust cloud feeling a little better and looking for more sources of energy. She couldn’t give Seif al-Din a hickey at her current power level.
The swipe from the beast’s taloned hand changed all of that. She didn’t see it coming with the dust around her, it caught her off-guard, and it sent her flying. She went from near empty to full in a heartbeat. The only other time she’d felt a hit like that was when she’d sparred with Iron Giant.
She soared through the air like a football thrown by a quarterback hyped up on steroids. She went up and over the school, over two blocks of suburban houses, and landed in the parking lot of a second school she didn’t even know was there. The asphalt cratered around her, and her head spun from the overdose of energy.
She tried to get up and get back to the fight. <Fucking fuck!> She hissed as the shoulder she’d landed on refused to obey her.
“That’s just great.” She rolled to her other side, had better luck, and did a one-armed pullup out of the six-foot crater. “No communication, I’m busted up, and John’s probably getting his ass whooped.”
She’d only had this type of injury once. On top of her shoulder being dislocated, she could feel the breaks in her bones. Tiny microcracks had broken along her collarbone and shoulder blade from her body trying to store more than it could handle.
Now she definitely needed healing.
“Lady, are you ok?” Out of nowhere ran a little girl, maybe six years old, wearing a sundress with a flower pattern.
She did that typical kid thing where she got too much up in Daisy’s business, and then her jaw dropped when she saw the large hole next to Daisy.
“Did you fall?”
Daisy couldn’t stop the snort from escaping her lips. “Yeah, I fell. Where is your mommy? It’s too dangerous to be out here now.” Daisy looked around for the girl’s mother.
“She’s at the coffee shop watching the TV.” The girl replied with a sense of childish wonder, as she continued to study the hole.
“Ok, let’s take you back over to her, kiddo.”
“Ok.” The girl hopped up and held out her hand for Daisy to take.
The moment she grabbed the little girl’s tiny hand a sense of peace washed over her. Even her shoulder didn’t feel that bad.
“You’re special?” She asked the girl as they walked hand-in-hand across the street toward a packed coffee shop.
“Mommy says I’m very special, but I can’t tell anyone. But I can tell you, you’re a Hero!” The girl squeaked out the last bit, and it brought a smile to Daisy’s still-masked face.
“Always listen to your mommy.” Daisy stopped the girl from running out into the street and reminded her to look both ways before crossing. “But as you get old don’t be afraid of what other people think, always remember that you’re special and you can do anything you put your mind to.”
“Even become a Hero?”
“Sure,” Daisy laughed as she pulled open the door to the coffee shop. “Even become a Hero.”
“Oh dear God, Annabeth!” Presumably the girl’s mother detached herself from the crowd huddled around the TV and ran toward them.
“Ma’am, your daughter was wandering around the school parking lot across the street. It’s probably not a good idea with a fight happening two blocks away.” As if on cue the ground rumbled and coffee cups fell off tables to splash their liquid glory all over the floor.
“Yes, I’m so sorry.” The mother profusely apologized. “Annabeth, you need to stay with me, do you understand?”
“Yes, mommy.” The little girl looked crestfallen as she closely examined her shoes.
“It’s ok, Annabeth, remember our little chat.” Daisy smiled at the little girl.
She released her to her mother and the peaceful sensation immediately faded. She was still battered and broken. The young girl’s immature healing hadn’t really fixed anything, but felt a little better. Good enough to get back into the fight.
A glass shattering, heart stopping screech filled the air, and Daisy’s hands immediately went to cover her now bleeding ears. It sounded like nails being dragged across a chalkboard, and the most annoying sound in the world all rolled into one superpowered sonic assault. The glass of the coffee shop shattered and people screamed, but Daisy was too deaf to hear them.
Her eyes were fixed on what was happening in front of her. Two blocks away, Seif al-Din rose up into the sky. One hundred foot wings splayed out to either side of him, and with each beat debris and mini-tornadoes sprang up and wreaked havoc on the surroundings. Slowly, the beast gained altitude and made a lazy turn to the East.
<When did this fucker get wings!> Daisy’s own jaw had dropped, as another few flaps had the terrorist soaring in her direction. <And where the fuck does he think he’s going?>
Iron Giant, the Protectorate, and ForceOps were nowhere to be seen. As far as she could tell, it was up to her to bring the big bad guy down.
<Ok. I’ve got this. I can do it.> She shook out her kinks and winced as her shoulder protested the very idea of what she was about to do.
She waited until the moment was right. <Three…two…one…>
She launched herself into the wild blue yonder.
A blast of darkness heralded Lilly’s arrival into the underground prison. It was dark and dank, just how she’d left it, but with one noticeable difference. She rushed over to the thick, tech genius plastic barrier, and rested her hands on it. The darkness made it hard to see, but even then, it was clear there was nobody in the cell.
“What the fuck?” Lilly debated teleporting into the chamber just to make sure this wasn’t some grand optical illusion. She knew Anika’s power set was always growing, and that might now include illusionary abilities.
<But it still doesn’t explain the radio call.>
She did a second search, just to make sure Anika wasn’t hiding in some dark corner, but it came back the same.
“Ugh. Fuck it. No way am I going to pick up that asshole after this.” She sighed as she rested her head against one of her upstretched arms.
Not only was her father on death’s door because of that Reaper bitch, apparently, Lilly had failed in her own mission as well. All of that meant her and her father’s reputation was in the shitter now. The best outcome she could hope for was that Seif al-Din got his ass handed to him by the Heroes and word of her fuck-up never get out.
<Fat chance of that.> A man with al-Din’s reputation didn’t go down easy.
“What do I do now?” Lilly just wanted to close her eyes and go to sleep for a year, preferably next to Seth.
She felt and smelled like someone had taking a steaming dump on her chest. Emotionally, she was all over the place, and all she wanted to do was go on vacation. <But that ain’t gonna happen now.>
With Anika gone that meant she’d tell everyone who Liz really was. Lilly’s cover would be blown, everyone she’d considered a friend would hate her, and just the look Seth would give her would break her heart.
<I can’t go back.> The thought settled into her gut like a lump of burning iron.
Tears started to leak out of her eyes, and she had to pull up her mask to wipe them free.
<Stupid…stupid…stupid…how the FUCK did she get out!> She smashed her fist against the barrier. This side wasn’t electrified so it didn’t do anything.
The only way in or out of the place was teleportation, so that meant…<Wait.> She froze. <Anika adapts to powers. She’s been around me for months. But I’ve only done one or two small teleports of small objects around them. Just enough to prove I was a Super and get them to trust me.> Conflicting thoughts rampaged through her mind.
<But that’s still the only explanation. Anika had to teleport free of here, and the only way she could have done that was if she got my power. Is this all my fault?>
“Huh.” The revelation set in. “Well fuck me sideways.” The tears turned into a sad chuckle.
She never even saw the knife coming.
With her arms up and her head buried in them it was easy for the knife to find the opening in her tech genius armor just below the arm pit. It wasn’t a big knife, only a couple inches long, but knifes don’t work on the same scale as dicks.
Size does not matter when you get stabbed.
Lilly had been stabbed before, but she’d always been prepared. She’d always been in fight-mode and seen the attack coming. This one came out of thin air, from behind, and was delivered with surgical precision.
Her body involuntarily jerked as pain lanced through her chest and back. Her immediate reaction was to teleport, but as she reached for her power the whole room started to spin, a wave of uncontrollable nausea hit her, and her power slipped from her grasp.
She fell into the barrier and slid down into a sitting position. A trail of red followed her down the see-through wall.
“What…” She couldn’t finish as she turned her head and vomited what felt like everything she’d eaten in the last week.
“It took you long enough.”
All she saw were boots as her body refused to respond to her brain’s commands.
“Wha…” She tried again, but her tongue was going numb.
“Don’t worry, Wraith, it’s over.” A big strong hand grabbed her by the chin, pulled off her mask, and stared her in the eyes. “Or should I call you, Liz Aretino, or maybe Lilly. I don’t know your surname yet, but your mother’s last name was Noel, Amelie Noel. I figured you out, Wraith, like I always do. It was only a matter of time.”
Lilly’s vision was getting cloudy. It was starting to blur around the edges as the paralytic continued to devour her body. She couldn’t feel the blood leaking from her side anymore, and she couldn’t move her lips or feel her tongue. But for the moment her eyes worked just fine.
The man standing before her was wearing khaki gear, like you’d see in the Sahara, with an African mask. He was missing his giant rifle, but that really didn’t matter at the moment. His presence was the nail in the coffin of what was undoubtedly the worst day of her life.
<Hunter?> She got the one thought out before the blade’s poison consumed her and she faded away into unconscious darkness.