A Change of Pace – Season 2 – Chapter 39

<Who knew muscles could be a bad thing.> Morina huffed as she dragged Seth across the ground.

Wraith’s final teleport had dropped them in the middle of nowhere, which was a good thing considering what they’d fled from. The location was a dirt crossroads with some signs pointing toward the nearest civilization. She had to wipe the grime off them to read, and it told her the closest help was ten miles away. That was good and bad.

It was good that people wouldn’t ambush them, and bad because Seth looked like he was going to die. The blood dripping from him was calling to her, but she fought against the temptation. Wraith would teleport her into a volcano if she exsanguinated her man. So, she did the only thing she could think of. She pulled them off the crossroads.

She did Wraith first because that’s what friends were for. After everything that had happened in the last few months, Wraith might be the only person she could call a friend. Morina had liked Nightingale, but she knew a predator when she saw one, and what that type of person was capable of. After all, she was one.

After she dragged Wraith over to the side of the road she went back for Seth. Wraith was fit and athletic, but she didn’t weigh more than a buck thirty. With her armor, maybe one-fifty. Seth was easily over two hundred pounds. He would be good at punching things and dragging other people, but dragging him was a pain in the ass.

<Come on tons of fun.> She heaved, slipped, and landed right on her ass; making the pain he was causing her literal.

She coughed from the cloud of dust thrown into the air by her impromptu sit, and waved her hand rapidly to clear it. It might be nearing the holiday season, and the rest of the country was starting to see chilly temperatures, but wherever they were in Alabama it was still hot and dry.

She gathered herself after the dust cleared, grabbed Seth under the arm pits, and continued her slow trek to the drainage ditch where she’d placed Wraith.

She didn’t hear the person approach over her own grunting and the scrape of Seth’s body against the ground, but she did catch the clink of the weapon being taken off safe and pointed at her.

<Shit.> Her power swelled inside her, but she held it in.

She might be able to stop the blood from leaking out of her from a gunshot, but that wouldn’t fix the hole and whatever internal destruction the bullet wrought. Instead, she dropped Seth and raised her hands.

“We’re looking for a healer.” She figured saying they needed help was better than attacking him.

The fact that she didn’t get shot was a good sign she was headed in the right direction.

“These two.” The voice didn’t have that southern I-screw-my-sister drawl that the movies always portrayed people from this area having. In fact, she thought she heard some New York swagger in the person’s tone.

“Yep. One got shot and the other is purely exhausted.”

“I can fix the girl up for five hundred, but the guy is going to depend on the damage. I only take cash.”

<Shit…shit…shit…> She didn’t have anything on her, but knowing Wraith, she did.

“My friend has the money. It’s in her pockets somewhere,” she explained. “I can get it for you?”

“No sudden movements or I put a hole in you too, and then if you’re telling the truth I’ll charge you double to patch you up.” The person replied. “Keep your back to me.”

They circled each other so that the guy had a clear shot and Morina would have to turn to engage him. She couldn’t attack what she couldn’t see. She had an errant thought that this healer might know who she was, or at least who Wraith was, but the fact that he hadn’t shot them or called the cops was a good sign.

Being a Super and having a medical practice out in bumfuck nowhere told her that this guy might have his own secrets. It was common knowledge that people in this part of the country weren’t as accepting of Supers. There tended to be more Super-related crime, less tolerance from the authorities, and more animosity between Supers, humans, and then both weren’t fond of Powereds.

<Yeah, this guy is definitely sketch.> She knelt slowly and started to rummage through Wraith’s pockets.

Her eyes were rolled into the back of her head and she didn’t budge as Morina practically felt her up to find the cash. There were a lot of pockets with everything from duct tape to spare magazines for her pistols in them. She stayed well clear of the holsters on her thighs, and eventually found what she was looking for.

A wad of cash was rolled up tight and held in place by a rubber band. The outside bill was a hundred, and judging by that there was either a few grand in here or the bills got smaller. She pulled off five bills and slowly extended them behind her. The healer’s boots crunched against the dry ground as he snatched the cash away without touching her hand.

“Take ten steps forward,” he ordered.

She complied and waited for him to do what he said he would do, or shoot her. At the moment, she wasn’t sure which way it would go.

“What the shit!” Wraith’s gasp broke the tense silent. “Awwwwww that hurts like a bitch!”

“Sorry, it’s a side-effect of my healing.” The healer apologized.

“Feeling like I’m about to have diarrhea made of fire is a side-effect. No wonder you don’t get much business.” Wraith snapped back, but the apparent discomfort quickly faded.

“Hello, can I look now?”

“Sure.”

Morina heard the click of the weapon being put back on safe, and she turned to face the man.

<Damn.> He wasn’t wearing blue-jean suspenders with a beer gut and straw hat.

The healer was in a professional looking three-piece suit minus the jacket. The sleeves of his white dress shirt were rolled up to his elbows, and he had some nice muscles too. The glasses on his face highlighted his hawkish nose, but Morina didn’t mind, and his hair was an unnatural white color. He had a sleek hunting rifle tucked under his armpit, and he was extending a hand out to help Wraith up.

A spike a jealousy ran through Morina’s mind before she stomped it out. She didn’t know this guy from Adam, she shouldn’t be jealous that he was being nice to Wraith and not her. Plus, Wraith had Seth.

Wraith smacked the guy’s hand aside and climbed to her feet. She stumbled a bit, put her hands on her knees to steady herself, and took some deep breaths. “Is the nausea common too?” she asked.

“Yeah, it’ll pass just as fast as your intestinal pain.” The healer took a step back and watched the two women casually. The weapon was pointed harmlessly at the ground, but the way he handled it said he knew how to use it.

“I’m good.” Wraith straightened up and took one final deep breath. “Now help him.”

“He needs more than just an influx of energy.” The healer didn’t move from where he was standing. “I need to evaluate the wound, and probably clean it before patching him up.”

“What type of healer can’t disinfect wounds with his healing power?” Wraith turned to glare at the man.

“The only healer that you’ve got, and one who’s willing to turn a blind eye to your suspicious circumstances.” The guy had a point, and Seth didn’t look like he was going to survive another teleport.

“Fine, where do you need him?” Wraith kneeled next to Seth and with a surprising amount of tenderness started to check his vitals.

“My office is a short walk this way.”

Morina looked where he pointed and saw a dirt road that she’d missed up until now. If she looked at it from the right angle she could make out a small building nestled in the trees.

“Ok, Morina, help me.” Wraith grabbed Seth under the arm pits and she grabbed the legs. Together, they carried Seth down the dust driveway and into a surprisingly modern and clean room.

The outside of the building was clearly disguised to look like a mix between a shack and small house. Inside, it had a small ground floor set up as an office, and a large basement that the healer seemed to live in.

The healer bypassed the small office and took them downstairs and to a big room in the back. He opened the door and they were standing on the edge of an operating room.

“Get him on the table and get those clothes off,” he instructed.

“Whatever you say, Doc.” Wraith led the way on striping down her boyfriend.

“Mazel tov,” was the only thing Morina could think to say when she saw his junk.

“Now out, I need to work.” The healer ushered them both out of the room and shut the door behind him.

“Now what,” Morina crossed her arms across her chest and looked around the living room.

“Now we wait.” Wraith plopped down and turned on the TV.

It didn’t take Morina long to figure out her friend wasn’t even watching the daytime soap opera on the high-definition plasma. Her eyes kept darting to the door, her foot kept tapping against the tile, and she kept having to stop herself from chewing on her cuticles.

Wraith was worried, and Morina really couldn’t do anything to help.

 

***

 

“SNIPER!” Someone yelled as Iron Giant hit the ground as John.

<No shit!> Daisy didn’t waste any time in reacting.

They knew who the sniper was, where she was, what she was armed with, and exactly how many hostages she was holding. Unfortunately, some people were a little trigger happy after everything that had happened today. Law enforcement started taking shots at the building Nightingale was holding up in.

“Cease fire! Cease fire!” The police captain and DVA Agent Phillips were screaming over the Dispatch link.

Daisy took the moment of cover the return fire provided and dashed into action. Her legs pumped kinetic energy into the street as she pushed herself toward John’s prone body. She stopped on a dime next to him, ignoring the whiplash it exerted on her body, and picked him up in a bridal carry. She’d never be able to do this with Iron Giant, but little old John Ditmar was a different story.

“D…D…” blood leaked out of John’s mouth, and Daisy’s uniform was already slick with his blood.

“Hold on!” She turned around, and nearly took a bullet to the head. The turn was the only thing that saved her, but she felt the air parting against the bullet right next to her face.

“Cover me!” She yelled.

A force field appeared between her and the building Nightingale was using as a sniper’s nest. Daisy pushed off at the same time the second round hit the energy barrier. The barrier shattered as the bullet dipped in Nightingale’s nullifying goo and cracked into the pavement just to Daisy’s right.

<Fuck!> this wasn’t the first time Daisy had been under fire, but it might be the first time the bullets could actually kill her.

She was tempted to jump to safety, but that was an amateur mistake. You didn’t have any maneuverability in the air, especially while you were carrying someone as fragile as the currently very vulnerable Dean of West Private’s HCP. The jump up might be quick, but once she reached the apex, and started to come back down, Nightingale would be able to pick her off easy.

She needed to make herself a hard target to hit, and to do that she need some help. “Jetwash, you pompous ass, create a distraction. Blind her with wind, kick up enough shit so she can’t see, or draw her attention!” Daisy screamed the order.

Unlike her, the wind manipulator could easily maneuver in the air.

“Force Field, keep throwing up barriers. I don’t know if they’re deflecting shots a little, but even an inch helps.” Daisy knew Nightingale was a top-notch shot, so the last miss probably had something to do with the barrier’s temporary interference. “Get a healer ready.”

Daisy was running in a serpentine as she said all of this. She tried to keep out of the buildings line of sight as much as possible, but with the way the street was designed there just wasn’t anywhere to hide.

The wind started whipping and dust was kicked up enough that it made it hard to see.

<Not me you idiot!> It looked like something out of those old dust bowl films rolling onto the street, but instead of focusing on Nightingale it affected everyone.

Daisy ran right into it, and her visibility was cut to nothing immediately. Even worse, the dust stung at her eyes and made it difficult to see at all.

“Someone talk me through this. I can’t see shit!” Daisy had slowed to a straightforward walk as the dust swirled all around her.

<God, I hope she doesn’t have some type of heat vision.>

That got answered soon enough. A round tore through Force Fields barrier at a different angle. Nightingale had compensated, but her aim still wasn’t perfect. Instead of punching into Daisy’s center of mass, or John, it went into and through her calf.

Daisy dropped John who went rolling away into the dust storm while she cursed up her own storm. <Don’t stop!> She knew a lack of movement meant death, so she started to crawl.

Opposite leg and arm went up and she pulled herself forward, and then the other two. Every other crawl pain lanced through her as her open wound scraped against the ground. She searched out in front of her with her hands until they finally made contact. It wasn’t John. It was someone’s boot.

“Reaper, Ma’am.” A man in a SWAT tactical uniform stepped in-between her and Nightingale’s position with a large riot shield. “This should give us some cover.”

More police officers rushed forward and made a shield wall to protect the two injured Heroes.

“Iron Giant first.” Daisy grimaced as two more officers helped her to her feet. “He’s hit a lot worse than I am.”

“We’re on it, Ma’am.” The first officer to arrive nodded to another team of barely discernable black blobs moving in the dust cloud only a few feet away. “On my command we move!” He yelled to the rest of his team.

On three, the team started to shift. More fire rained down on them from Nightingale’s position, but their riot shields did what Daisy’s power couldn’t. Rounds pinged off the shield but didn’t penetrate. The team moved slowly and cautiously. They were respectful of Nightingale’s skill as a marksman. The fact the villain was hitting anything in this storm was amazing. Force Field threw up barriers more as a way to light the way to safety than protect them. Finally, after a few tense minutes, the team rounded a corner, the dust died down, and they were out of the villain’s line of sight.

“Healer!” The SWAT commander yelled as a pair of costumed Heroes approached Daisy and John. Dr. Sanderson was one of them.

“I’ve got him.” Golden mist stared to pour off the good Doctor as he crouched protectively over John.

Daisy didn’t recognize the other Hero, but his method of healing made her itch like a motherfucker. While she was waiting for the sensation to claw her own leg off to pass, Agent Phillips found her.

“Reaper.” The woman’s tone and voice made it clear she was pissed. “How about we don’t run out into the middle of an open street during an active shooter incident, where your powers are useless, and then we have to put more lives at risk coming out to save you.” She took a step closer. “Plus, do you know how much shit I would catch from my brother if you didn’t get out of this alive.”

“I’m sure a ton.” Daisy just shrugged. “I couldn’t leave Iron Giant.”

The DVA agent didn’t try to lecture her there because she knew it wouldn’t do any good.

“So what now?”

“Now we wait for the hostage negotiator to arrive, we set up a perimeter, cut the power to the building, and try to get the hostages to safety. Anything you can give us there?” Agent Phillips looked in the direction of the building.

“Thirty-two people not including Nightingale.” Daisy relayed what she was seeing with her sixth sight. “Do you think she’ll come quietly?”

“With her record…not a chance in hell. If she gets caught she’s going back to Avalon, and I don’t want to think what the government there has in store for the old regime’s chief torturer.”

“Good point.” Daisy suppressed a shiver.

<Things are about to get interesting.> She looked over at where John was transforming back into Iron Giant. <Or at least more interesting than a few minutes ago. It’s been a while since I’ve been in on a hostage negotiation.>

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A Change of Pace – Season 2 – Chapter 37

There was truth to the statement when someone “rung your bell”. Daisy could attest to that fact. She was lying on her back, stars were dancing in front of her eyes, the world was spinning, her chest was on fire, and it sounded like someone had stuck her head inside the Liberty Bell before repeatedly banging it with a very large hammer. She also had some cold sandwich meat sticking to her face.

<There’s a joke there,> she groaned. She should be dead.

Only her training and instinct had kept her alive. When normal people got shot, even in a vest, they tended to go down and stay down for a bit. Their life might flash in front of their eyes, and they’ll have a big “oh shit” moment. Some might even go into shock. If you actually took a bullet, shock was a given at some point.

This was not the first time she’d been shot, with or without a vest. She had her guts strewn all over the place before and still crawled away from that fight. What hadn’t happened before was getting shot while she was kinetically absorbing everything, her absorption not working, and then getting hit by the human equivalent of a freight train.

Instinct and training were the only reason she wasn’t a streak of red on the pavement. For over fifty years she’d trained her body to absorb…absorb…absorb in case of an emergency, so when she got hit by Stal, everything automatically activated. That didn’t stop some force from leaking through as she filled up her internal battery.

The whole scenario had caught her by surprise, but now that she knew what was coming, she could be prepared for it.

<Come on, Daisy. Get off your ass.> She growled at herself as she rolled onto her stomach and pulled her knees toward her chest. Things still hurt, but she had ten fingers, ten toes, and everything seemed to move the way it should.

She staggered to her feet just as she heard running footsteps approaching. <Move!> She funneled power into her feet and blasted down the street away from the destroyed sandwich shop and what she assumed was Stal coming to finish the job. The blast of energy allowed her to land without injury.

She found herself in a unique position, and one she’d had to deal with a few times when fighting strongmen types. She’d last dealt with it when battling Sief al-Din. Taking and exchanging hits became a science. She couldn’t take more than she could hold or she’d get turned to mush. That was the downside. The upside was that she could give as good as she got, and depending on the Super she was fighting, she might end up the harder-hitting of the two fighters.

<Let’s find out.> She was still a little wobbly on her feet, but she turned to face Stal…and immediately was forced to dive out of the way when Nightingale opened up on her.

Blobs of nullifying goo and bullets dipped in it flew her way. Her dive took her through the wall of another shop. People screamed and cowered as she came crashing into their midst.

“Everyone stay down and find cover!” It was hard to look like the good guy when you came crashing into a place, but yelling non-threatening, common sense information tended to help. “If there is a back room, get there now.”

As the civilians moved, Daisy applied force to some metal table legs. They bent, warped, and then snapped off of the faux wood plastic. It wasn’t much, but another layer of defense between her and Nightingale was going to make all the difference.

She crouched to the side of the entrance she’d made and waited. She was going to let the villains come to her. Heroes should be mobilizing and in route. With her injuries it was better to wait for backup.

A fist plunged through the brick wall. Stal knew what was happening and she wasn’t waiting around. The strongwoman was several feet to Daisy’s right, so she sprung, grabbed the woman by the arm, and did a judo throw. Stal demolished the wall on the way through, went up and over Daisy’s shoulder, and cratered the ground with a thundering boom that knocked over half the stuff in the place.

Daisy followed up her throw with a heel stomp to the face. She put a decent chunk of power into it, she didn’t care if she burst Stal’s head like a balloon, but the veteran strongwoman was fast. She got her arms up and crossed in front of her. The force of Daisy’s stomp still did a number on Stal, and blood flowed freely from where her arms had smacked back into her nose.

Daisy wound back up for a second stomp, but Stal grabbed her opposite foot and yanked. Daisy was swept off the ground and tossed away. The stuff that Stal hadn’t knocked over from Daisy’s throw was demolished as Daisy plowed through it and another wall. She ended up flying back out into the street as the front of the building collapsed behind her.

Stal had inadvertently buried herself, which bought Daisy a second to breathe…until she saw Nightingale pop back out with her gun trained on her.

Lightening rocketed out of Daisy toward the nullifier. The woman laughed as the energy died pitifully against her armor, but it didn’t last long. Daisy didn’t intend to hurt her, she intended to blind her momentarily. While light blocked Nightingale’s vision, Daisy pushed off and tumbled into an adjacent alley.

“Dispath, where the fuck is everyone?” She had five maybe ten seconds before Nightingale reacquired her, Stal dug out of the rubble, and Daisy was going to use that to bitch at the people that should be here helping.

She put her back to the wall and pushed herself back to her feet. She could see parts of the crumbled building shifting as Stal pulled herself out, and Nightingale was probably working her way in a wide arc to put as much distance between her and Daisy while still having a clear shot.

She had multiple options, none of them good. She could go through more walls, but the DVA and the citizens of Orlando usually frowned upon Supers busting up the place. She could go up, but you couldn’t maneuver well in the air, and if Nightingale was a decent shot, Daisy could get a whole lot of dead.

“Back up is on the way, Reaper.” Dispatch replied calmly.

“About time.” Daisy growled back, but she wasn’t sure if the other Hero was listening.

Her brain continued to cycle through options when Stal stepped back into view. She looked pissed. Her compression armor was covered in dust, and blood dripped off her top lip from the busted nose.

If Daisy had her pick, she’d rather face the strongwoman.

“Well come on then.” It was hard to be cocky with a busted rip, but she gave Stal the old ‘come here’ gesture with her fingers.

Stal was predictable. She charged toward the alley…and got hit by a flying car right at the mouth of it. It sandwiched her against the wall, she started pushing it away, but then a large metal man hammered into her.

“Cover Iron Giant!” Daisy rushed toward the two struggling Supers. One round from Nightingale was all it would take to kill the legendary strongman.

Nightingale had the same idea. Iron Giant and Stal hadn’t been struggling more than a few seconds before multiple shots rang out. Daisy’s heart skipped a beat mid-run, until she saw Iron Giant shift position to allow the car’s frame to cover him.

“Nightingale is falling back.” Iron Giant’s voice was strained. Stal was strong.

“Damn right she is.” Daisy’s grimace turned into a grin. Things were starting to look up. She moved to help him.

There was a loud crunch as something in the car gave between the two strongmans’ jockeying, Iron Giant jerked to the side, and Stal leveraged that to throw him away. Daisy jumped to restrain her, but Stal used the car as a bat and clubbed her in the side. She smacked hard into the wall, but thankfully didn’t go through.

Stal took the opportunity to retreat. She jumped away and landed close to Nightingale, who was unloading on an advancing SWAT team with riot shields. The team scattered for cover when they saw who they were up against. The team went for cover, but Stal didn’t advance. She used her body to cover Nightingale as they retreated.

“Get a perimeter up! Don’t let them get away!” Daisy grimaced. Yelling wasn’t doing her ribs any favors. “Where the hell is Hunter!” She did it anyway.

“He’s in pursuit.”

It was the best news she’d heard all day. If Hunter was already on Wraith’s trail then it was going to be difficult for the teleporter to get the other two villains to safety. All the Heroes needed to do was tighten the noose.

 

***

 

Lilly came out of the teleport at a run. She felt pressure build in her head like a sinus headache as she held in the blast of black. Having a sudden eruption of darkness on a rooftop, in the middle of the day, would be like sending up a flair signaling “come get the villain”. Since she wasn’t a tactical moron, and was trying to keep a low profile while she could, she dealt with the discomfort.

She pushed down all other concerns as she rushed across the rooftop. She practically slid into a kneeling firing position. She stuck the barrel on the concrete block for stability and scanned the street in front of her. After multiple explosions and Super fights, the residents of Orlando were sheltering in place. Anyone out on the street was law enforcement, criminals taking advantage of the chaos, or someone dumb enough that their death might be for the benefit of society. Lilly didn’t see anyone, and she panicked for a moment that she was in the wrong spot.

<Shit…shit…shit…> she took her eye off the scope and rechecked the message. <No this is where…> The screeching sound was all the proof she needed.

She reacquired the end of the street with the rifle’s scope and watched as a SUV made a lumbering turn around the corner. At first, she thought it was a junker that Morina had stolen, but a closer inspection showed it was a top of the line model…it had just been beaten to shit.

The sides were riddled with dents, scratches, and a few discernable bullet holes, all of the windows were shattered, and the tiers had been shot out. A trail of sparks followed the SUV down the street as it drove at its top speed: no more than thirty.

That was a bad sign when two police patrol cars and another black SUV whipped around the corner behind them. Their tires squealed, their exteriors were perfect, and it was pretty obvious that the SUV was armored.

<Fuck!> She didn’t like the odds, and she only had so much time before Hunter caught her scent again. <Cops first.>

The rifle’s scope had an automatic range finder, and it said they were eight hundred meters away. At her best, she couldn’t hit much over six hundred, so she had to bite the inside of her lip and wait the precious seconds as Morina’s busted ride crawled forward. By the time the cars came into range the two cop cars were pulling alongside Morina to get in front of her and cut her off.

BOOM

A decent-sized hole appeared in the hood of the cop car on the right and smoke began to pour out of the engine. The driver immediately hit the brakes and threw it in reverse to get out of the line of fire. The momentary confusion helped Lilly sight and take a second shot at the other patrol car. Her second shot still hit the engine, but it was much closer to the driver than on the other car. No smoke came out this time, but the cop still slammed on the breaks and threw it in reverse to get the hell out of there.

<Time to change position.> A trained spotter would be able to find her after those two shots, and the DVA SUV still had a clear line of sight to what was in front of them. <It doesn’t matter if I go left or right, just make a decision Lilly,> she urged herself on, scanned the area, and vanished.

She reappeared only about a hundred meters from Morina’s car and in a decent overwatch position. The busted SUV was still limping down the street, and the DVA’s SUV was hanging back cautiously after what happened to the cops.

This time Lilly stood up to get a better shooting foundation. She laid the rifle across a wooden beam, sighted, breathed deep, and squeezed the trigger. The first shot sparked off the asphalt, and she swore up a mental storm before calming down and taking her second shot.

<Bingo.> The bullet smashed through the rubber of the DVA SUV’s front right tire.

The vehicle lurched from the sudden loss of pressure, and then hit the brakes. There were undoubtedly calling for backup, and with Hunter on scene it could be seconds away. <It’s now or never.> Morina’s SUV had finally stopped moving, so Lilly made her move.

<Oh…that’s the good stuff.> She teleported in front of Morina’s SUV and unleashed the pent-up blast of darkness, and then she held it.

It felt easier than it had earlier, and she filed that little tidbit of information away for later use. She sensed all of the car’s damage, Morina in the passenger seat leaned over to Seth. A spike of jealously went through her before she really looked at Seth. Morina’s call said he’d been injured, but her awareness in the darkness finally showed Lilly how much.

<No…no…no…> She practically threw open the door. Seth’s eye lids were droopy and his eyes looked like they were on the verge of rolling into the back of his head. There was blood, a lot of it, and she’d killed enough people to know this much blood loss was bad.

Fear swept over her as she grabbed Seth around the neck and tried to ease him out of the car. Rage replaced the fear when she felt his slick blood on her hands, and she instinctually pushed. The darkness obeyed. The interior of her darkness cleared rapidly so it resembled the eye of a hurricane, while the darkness continued to hide them from view on the perimeter.

“Wraith!” Morina finally saw her. “So much blood.” The other woman was licking her lips impulsively.

“Get your shit together, Morina.” Lilly snapped, which seemed to shock the blood manipulator back into the moment. “We need to get out of here.”

Seth wasn’t able to stand, so she braced him against the car. “It’s going to be ok, baby. I’ve got you. Everything is going to be fine.” She whipped out her cell phone.

Mika picked up on the first ring. “Wraith, what the fuck is going on out there?”

“No time. I need you to get me the location for the nearest healer NOW!” If it wasn’t for the darkness around her, Lilly’s voice would have echoed throughout the town.

“Yeah…um…on it. The nearest freelance one isn’t even in Florida…”

“I DON’T CARE! Just give me the address and a picture.” She screamed back.

Despite the emotional fuel the situation was giving her, the darkness was starting to fail. Gunshots began to cut through the space around them, so she pulled her pistols and fired back. She wasn’t hampered by the blinding darkness, but the cops and agents were still taking cover behind their vehicles. One cop went down when he gripped the metal door at the same time one of her next-gen taser rounds smacked into it. The guy went rigid and toppled like a tree. The other guys were quick on the draw and made sure to not be touching metal as Lilly returned fire. The doors were more than enough cover to stop her shots.

“Morina!” she tossed the other women her rifle, and holstered her weapons. The darkness was more of a weak fog now, and any second they were going to have clear shots. “Cover us!” Lilly wrapped one of Seth’s arms around her shoulder and half carried, half dragged his ass to the front.

They were still totally fucked if someone came at them from the other direction, but this was the best they could do.

Morina had no idea how to shoot the rifle. All of her shots went wide, and barely kept the cops’ heads down.  Lilly snatched it back when she had Seth behind the bulk of the SUV, aimed, waited for a target to present itself, and fired.

She caught the cop in the shoulder. He’d live, but his arm was going to be pretty fucked up for a while. Seeing another one of their number go down made the law enforcement guys pause, and it gave Lilly a second to think.

Thinking was hard though. They were closer to the rest of the fighting than she realized. Lightening seemed to crackle every few seconds and it sounded like two tanks were smacking into each other like rams fighting over a mate. That was on top of all the gun fire.

“Ok, we need to…”

BOOM

The SUV lurched as something powerful hit it.

<What the fuck?!>

A second BOOM and the front windshield shattered. Lilly dared to look up. What she saw was a hole clear through the armored SUV, and at the end of that round’s path was Hunter holding his big-ass rifle.

“We need to get you of here now!” She hadn’t checked for Mika’s message yet. She didn’t have time.

She pulled two grenades from her vest. The first was plain old smoke, and she lobbed it in Hunter’s direction. The throw sent him scrambling for cover, but the hiss and rapidly spreading gray cloud wasn’t exactly intimidating. That was what the second grenade was for. Lilly grabbed Seth under the arm and pulled the pin. She slid it under the SUV, grabbed Morina, and was gone in a blast of darkness.

She didn’t even get to see the frag grenade rip into the underbelly of the SUV, or the resulting cascade of explosions that sent the vehicle flying a few feet into the air and rolling on its side right over their teleportation point. All she knew was that they had a few minutes.

They reappeared on another rooftop, but she held in the darkness. She didn’t want them to know where she was just yet. Even so, she held her hand up above her head and gave any watching satellite the finger.

Despite everything that had happened, the objective was still the same. She needed to beat Hunter at their mutual game, and she needed to get Seth to the healer. She spent valuable seconds checking the phone and getting the picture of their next destination, but that still left throwing Hunter off their scent.

Another few seconds and she knew what to do. It was going to suck monkey dick, but it was the only short-term solution to getting out of there with the chance Hunter wouldn’t find them. Hunter’s tracking gift was pretty incredible. His ability to follow the tears in space created by teleporters like bread crumbs was unmatched, but there was a weakness. Lilly could overload his ability. She could confuse him so he couldn’t decipher anything without a lot of time and effort.

The plan had its drawbacks. It was going to whoop her ass good, so the only thing standing between them and prison was Morina.

<I can do it.> Lack of confidence had never been an issue with Lilly, and today wasn’t any exception.

“Morina, take Seth over to the edge.” The blood manipulator did as instructed while Lilly advanced to the center of the rooftop.

She cracked her knuckles and neck, rolled her shoulders, and took several deep breaths. It was going to get hard to breath in a second. Then she started teleporting, over and over again with minute differences. She disappeared and reappeared…disappeared and reappeared… over and over again in nearly the same place. It was like machine guns blasts of darkness. She did it until she felt light-headed, then she walked over to another section of the rooftop and did it again, and then went to another spot and did it again, and again, and again.

She covered the rooftop in teleportation rifts. When Hunter got here it would be like looking into the most jacked up kaleidoscope ever and trying to find the needle in the haystack of needles.

The trick was taking its toll. Lily felt her consciousness slipping from her grasp as everything seemed to whirl. Darkness crept in at the corners of her vision. Exhaustion seeped deep into her bones. Teleporting took energy, and her body was literally eating itself now to get power.

She’d lost count, but she’d done at least a hundred teleportations in a few minutes when she finally called it quits. She stumbled toward Seth and Morina like a drunken sorority girl.

“Ok,” she grabbed for Seth’s shoulder, completely missed, and ended up toppling into them. Since Morina was already supporting Seth’s two-hundred-plus pounds it didn’t end well.

The small blood manipulator was quickly overpowered and pushed back. With nothing behind her but a half wall and a ledge, she was easily pushed over by Seth and Lilly’s superior weight. She screamed like the she-devil she was, but her fingers dug into Seth.

Lilly was still practically lying on Seth as they plummeted toward the ground, and it was the minor surge of her body’s last drop of adrenaline that saved their lives. She remembered Mika’s picture with the sudden burst of clarity, locked on, and teleported away.

Her last conscious thought was how hot and muggy rural Alabama was before she passed out.

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A Change of Pace – Season 2 – Chapter 34

Chaos…pandemonium…a clusterfuck of epic proportions.

All of those were pretty good descriptions of what was going on around Daisy. She stood above a sea of surging people; people that were doing anything and everything to get out of there. She saw a woman struggling with the rest of the crowd, fall, and get swept underneath hundreds of feet. In this panic, it was doubtful she’d live.

<Where the fuck are you?!> She was scanning for the threat in a half-mile bubble around her, but hadn’t found anything.

“We need to evacuate these people…”

“Clear a corridor leading to…”

“Execute emergency contingency Alpha…”

It was chaos over the airwaves too. The mayor was yelling one thing, the SWAT commander another, and KaBoom was trying to rescue the woman Daisy just saw get pulled under by the crowd.

<Not your job.> It was a callous thought, but he was the leader, and he needed to think big picture.

That big picture was…

The madness was interrupted by another tearing sound. It sounded like God was shredding paper nearby, and it was immediately followed by smoke rising into the sky and the screams of injured people.

“That’s another one in the alley off Central!” The reports started flooding in, and any semblance of calm that had been restored was upended.

<That makes four.> Four improvised explosive devices had been planted along likely avenues that the crowds would use to run from the grenades falling from the sky.

Daisy expected the grenades, although she’s thought Wraith would go with fragmentary instead of flash bangs. Pulling her punches wasn’t Wraith’s style, but surprise attacks were. Agent Simmons’ death, and the missing plans of the ceremony were proof enough for the DVA to bring more Heroes in to secure the area. They’d thought it had been enough, but they were wrong.

<It’s not just Wraith.> That was where the miscalculation was. The big wigs were so focused on the one villain that they missed the others.

Wraith moved in the shadows and did sneak attacks, but she didn’t plant bombs to kill people. She only used explosives to cover her tracks, and the locations being relayed didn’t fit that description. This was Stal or Nightingale’s influence on the attack. Neither of those women gave a shit about anyone but themselves.

In the end it didn’t matter either way. It was on Daisy and the Heroes to keep people safe, and they’d shit the bed so far.

“Dispatch, get me Force Field.”

Robin Kirk, aka the Hero Force Field, was one of the Heroes brought in last minute for security. She’d been instrumental in stopping the grenades from falling from the sky, but less than effective with these IEDs.

“Force Field,” Robin answered. Her voice was strained and Daisy could feel the other woman’s exertion of the line.

The crowd was scattering like a dust in the wind, and she was trying to give them cover. Throwing up individual barriers over such a wide area would have kicked Daisy’s ass too.

“It’s Reaper. We’re doing this all wrong.” Daisy had seen the error in their prep after the first bomb went off, and her superior’s logical response was playing right into the villains’ plan.

The logical response when bombs were going off was for people to run for their lives and the authorities to evacuate. Anything other than that was madness. The problem with that plan was that it was clear now that the people were running toward the IEDs. They’d been placed outside the initial secure perimeter and each explosion was successively farther away from the stage where the grenades had gone off. The grenades were like cattle prods that had propelled the people into action, and they’d run right into the slaughterhouse.

“We need to contain the civilians. Dogs and Heroes have gone all over the area immediately surrounding the stage and church. We’re clear here. The bombs are out there. We need to stop the people from literally running to their deaths.”

“Reaper, I don’t know what I can do to help.” Force Field panted. “I’m barely holding it together as is.”

Daisy knew what needed to be done, and she knew Robin wouldn’t like it.

“Drop the overhead barrier and throw up vertical barriers to stop people from fleeing. Give me a half-mile perimeter. If any hostile comes in we’ll be able to handle it from there. This will also give EMS a chance to get to the injured people and the police to sweep the area.”

Robin was silent for several seconds. “You know that sounds insane. People are really going to start panicking when they think their only escape has been cut off. You think they’re panicking now? Just wait and see.”

“I’m willing to take that chance.” Daisy was, and there was a reason she’d wanted it at half a mile. If things got to out of hand, she was the ultimate crowd control.

There was a short pause before Daisy knew Robin had gone ahead with her plan. There were screaming and fleeing people everywhere, but a great roar of terror sprang up from people when they suddenly collided with a solid energy barrier that wouldn’t let them escape.

“What the hell is happening?”

“Is this a secondary attack?”

“Can anyone isolate what the hell is happening?!”

“Everyone, this is Reaper, I’ve ordered Force Field to contain the citizens to reduce further detonations of IEDs. Get EMS in there now, and have SWAT, Heroes, and dogs start to work to clear the area.

“Who gave you this authority?”

“On what authority?”

“You’re on temporary status.”

Everyone whipped out and began measuring their metaphoric dicks almost immediately.

“It’s already done, now get to work.” Daisy shot back.

There was going to be hell to pay, but she was sure she’d done the right thing. When no other IEDs went off she knew for certain she was right.

 

***

 

“Over here!” Becca called frantically as her hands blurred. She dug as fast as she could to get through the rubble-strewn alley.

The small group of sophomores had been running into an alley when something had exploded up ahead of them. Everyone else had just seen a flash and death, but Becca had trained herself to automatically engage her power to see the explosion. It was something she’d been working on during the end of freshman year, over the summer, and into sophomore year.

It was just a logical step in her development. When someone fired a gun, a bomb went off, or any other action that could be deemed criminal or violent, she engaged her super-perception and slowed everything down. What she saw when she effectively slowed down time around her could be invaluable to investigations and catching criminals.

Unfortunately, she’d never experienced the downside of it. When that bomb went off in that alley, and she slowed everything down to assess the situation, she saw horrible things she couldn’t do anything to stop.

It was a large blue dumpster that probably smelled like rotting Chinese food from the small restaurant it was on the side of. She saw as the metal bulged outward and buckled under the pressure. She saw the harmless metal turn into projectiles of death while fire fountained up and out as the whole object broke apart under the strain.

Then there were the people. A dozen were directly next to the dumpster when it went off. She saw their bodies crumble as the shockwave tore into them before the metal and fire. They were probably already dead before metal fragments large and small tore into their flesh. The way the metal flew, it was like their bodies weren’t even there. The shrapnel went in one side and out the other with hardly any resistance.

To add insult to injury, they were then engulfed in fire. Becca was sure they were dead by then, but it just seemed wrong to be pulverized, butchered, and then lit up like a bonfire during Homecoming Weekend.

She instinctually reached out and tried to get to the closest victim, but they were packed too close together and the shockwave was knocking people down left and right. She could lean into it and power through it to get to people who needed help faster, or she could get knocked down like everyone else, get back up, and help. If there was any chance those people were still alive, Becca would have pushed through the pressure wave and fought to get to them, but they weren’t, so she toppled over just like everyone else.

Then she jumped to her feet and tried to help.

“Mason, over here!” she called over the strongest person she knew.

She didn’t know what help he could be to the woman in shock with her leg blown off below the knee, but having the big strongman present offered a little reassurance in all this madness. Mason lumbered over and tried not to step on anyone who was a lot slower getting up than him.

Mason took one look at the situation and went to work. He pulled off his belt and fashioned a tourniquet a few inches above the woman’s knee. He tightened it and she cried out in pain, but the blood spurting out slowed to a trickle.

“It’s going to be ok.” Mason looked the woman right in the eye as he effortlessly picked her up and started to walk back the direction they’d come.

“MOVE! COMING THROUGH!” His bulk shouldered people aside at first, but once they noticed what he was doing they started to comply.

Becca watched them go and just sat there. There was blood on her hands, dust on her face and in her hair, and she was fighting back the urge to cry. She sniffled once, shook her head, and stood back up.

<Time to put your big girls pants on. It’s time to help people.> She was so busy talking to herself she hadn’t heard the ominous groaning of the building next to them.

The explosion had torn right through its intended victims and into the opposite building. It hit something important, because the wall was already teetering dangerously in Becca’s direction. She’d been so focused on helping the woman with the blown off leg that she’d missed what was happening right next to her.

“BECCA!” Anika screamed and leapt into action.

Becca just had time to look up and see an avalanche of brick and stone headed toward her, before Anika jumped in front of her and both were smashed under the cascading building material.

 

***

 

Lilly appeared at the designated rally point. A wave of darkness washed over the immediate area, and she felt everything around her. Stal and Nightingale were there, both ready to fight. There were some other people too, in the wrong place at the wrong time. Lilly held the darkness in place for a moment. She felt the tug in her core that happened whenever she did it, but she fought to keep her concealment up as she drew her weapons. Holding on in each hand, she fired the tasers at the unexpected civilians.

Unlike normal law enforcement tasers, Lilly’s specialized weapons didn’t shoot out metal prongs that dug into people while the power of the shock came from the weapon itself. Her pistols were equipped with electrified darts. The darts fired like regular bullets, imbedded in the target’s flesh, and sent out a fifty-thousand-volt shock that overrode a person’s central nervous system and knocked them out.

Six rounds later and the six civilians in their little assembly area were face down on the concrete. Only then did she let the darkness dissipate. Stal sneered when she saw the people on the ground, and looked like she was about to stomp on them, but Nightingale brought her back on task and directed them forward.

<You just want me as transportation then that’s what you’ll get. If anything gets too hairy then I’m getting the fuck out of dodge with or without you.> The thought helped ease the anger she felt toward the other two women.

The location they’d teleported to was in the opposite direction that all the civilians were fleeing. If there was one thing you could count on in a crisis that was for people to take the path of least resistance. And in this case, that path led directly away from where the first grenades had been dropped.

Lilly kneeled down and took a radio from one of the men she’d tased. He didn’t look like a cop, there was no badge or gun, but the radio was tuned to the tactical channel SWAT and the Heroes were using.

“…ordered Force Field to contain the citizens to reduce further detonations of IEDs. Get EMS in their now, and have SWAT, Heroes, and dogs start to work to clear the area.”

Lilly froze when she heard Reaper’s orders. There was no way she would ever forget that bitch’s voice.

“We need to move.” Stal had plastered herself to the wall and was looking around a corner. “Things will not be clear for long.”

Lilly didn’t argue after that last radio message. She followed Nightingale out of the alley, but kept to the shadows as much as she could. In their tight, black, nullifying armor they kind of stood out.

Reaper and the other Heroes coordinating would be near the stage area, and as much as Lilly wanted to knock that woman out, sling her over her shoulder, and drop her in Seif al-Din’s lap, she knew that was a long shot. Now that the Heroes were consolidating, their odds of success were dropping by the second.

That didn’t stop them from moving toward their objective anyway. They were nearly there when they ran into a squad of cops surrounding a large man with a single Hero as backup.

Everyone froze when they saw each other. It was like a scene from West Side Story where the two gangs paused dramatically before a big fight.

“Hunter,” she nodded to the large Hero whose fingers twitched in the direction of his rifle.

“Wraith,” he nodded back.

“How’re the old bones? Thanks to me a few of them are new?” she continued when no one moved.

“You been stabbed in the back recently? I heard you need to watch out when you drop the soap in prison.”

She grimaced behind her mask. She hadn’t been laid in months.

“Enough talk.” Stal took a step forward and hands went to guns. “Now, you die.” A few powerful steps and she smashed into the cops and started flinging them aside like unwanted wrapping paper around a Christmas present.

“We’ll take the Mayor.” Nightingale relayed their new objective before diving sideways behind a dumpster as Hunter brought his rifle to bear.

Wraith didn’t have to dive anywhere, she vanished in a blast of darkness, and reappeared behind Hunter, but the darkness showed he was already gone.

<So, the game begins.> she smiled to herself. She’d played the teleporter’s version of cat and mouse with her father for years. It was excellent training, and she was finally willing to put her skills to the test. <Good luck bitches.>

This type of game only involved two players with the world as their chessboard. Stal and Nightingale would have to figure their way out of this on their own.

That didn’t bother Wraith one bit.

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A Change of Pace – Season 2 – Chapter 33

“These are the charges?”

Seth sat next to his lawyer and couldn’t help but fidget. He was in a room he’d been in before. The cells to imprison Supers were just behind him, and until recently he’d been sitting in one of them. He hadn’t been allowed to leave the room when a Detective, the Assistant District Attorney, and his lawyer showed up. He’d been put in hand and leg cuffs, removed from the cell, and then cuffed to a table in the center of the room.

While he sat there uncomfortably in front of the stern-faced Detective and the ADA, his own lawyer looked completely calm and collected. He did this for a living, and even if this was the worst thing he’d seen, he made it took like any other day. He flipped through the document, calmly and carefully studying each page. Seth tried to peek at the thick stack of papers, but as he leaned over the chains tightened with an audible clink.

Everyone looked at him, so he eased back onto his seat.

A good ten minutes passed before his lawyer put down the papers and folded his hands on top of them. “Is this it?”

Seth couldn’t stop the grin from forming. The Detective looked like he was about to blow his lid, and the ADA just stared back at him professionally.

“What do you mean ‘is this it’? We’ve got that punk kid red handed, on the phone, with a terrorist. That’s conspiracy to commit terrorism right there, not to mention aiding and abetting a fugitive; hell, if we pushed hard enough we could probably get a treason charge with the stuff your client has access to.” The Detective spat out ‘your client’ like something putrid and rotting.

“Have you actually read the transcripts that the DVA recorded?” Seth’s lawyer flipped to several pages in the center of the document. “Feel free to peruse the smoking gun you so erroneously think you have.” He shoved the document toward the Detective, who suddenly didn’t look so confident. “My client actually gets her to admit to the murder of Mr. Morningstar, and then delves into the type of conversation a love sick young man has when struggled with the terrible reality of his relationship. At which point the DVA agents assaulted him.”

“Apprehended him during a criminal act through less-than-lethal means,” the ADA corrected. The woman had a shrewd look on her face. “This is not a trivial matter, Counselor” she continued. “This is not the first time the supervillain known as Wraith has contacted your client, and that establishes a pattern. You might be able to select a sympathetic jury, but you are forgetting about the person on the other side of that phone call. Wraith assisted terrorists in destroying a large chunk of this city. Anything to do with her being brought into a courtroom is going to be a piece of cake for me.”

“I’ll ask the case to be transferred to another jurisdiction. My client would not get a fair trial in Orlando.”

“Good luck with that.” The ADA scoffed.

The two lawyers sat glaring at each other for a moment. Seth’s in anger, and the ADA like a shark that smelled blood in the water.

“I need a moment to converse with my client.”

The ADA nodded and led the law enforcement contingent out of the room.

“Ok, so what’s the plan?” Seth turned to the well-paid man who’d been getting him out of trouble for years.

“The plan is to make a deal,” the lawyer stated. “Let me tell you why.” He forestalled the argumentative expression of Seth’s face. “The ADA and I have laid our cards on the table. First, they don’t have a lot on you. You instigated the phone call, so that’s a problem, and she’s right that you have a pattern of establishing contact with her. I can see them moving forward with aiding and abetting and conspiracy charges. All the other stuff, especially the treason threat, is them blowing smoke to scare you.”

“So, what does that mean?” Seth’s foot was tapping repeatedly on the floor which made the chains jingle.

“Like she said, if you get tried in Orlando I find it very unlikely you will get off scott free. At a minimum you’ll get charged as an accomplice, and if anything happens involving Wraith between now and the date of your trial they might try to hang that around your neck too.”

“We never talked about anything like that for fuck’s sake. I told her to stop killing people.” Seth fumed.

“I know, Seth.” The lawyer looked genuinely compassionate. “I’ll do what I can for you, but your best bet is to make a deal.”

<I don’t want to make a deal when I didn’t do anything wrong.> That’s what Seth was thinking, but deep down he knew he didn’t want to do anything to hurt Lilly. Despite everything she’d done, to him and others, turning on her felt like a betrayal.

“What type of deal would this be?” Seth considered it.

<There’s no harm in hearing them out.>

The lawyer got up and went to go get the ADA, they had a few words at the door, and when they got back to the table the ADA’s entire expression had changed. She didn’t look like a woman who had him by the balls. She looked more like a caring mother whose kid had just gotten in trouble for fighting at school.

“Mr. Abney,” her entire tone was different. “Thank you for hearing us out. I am authorized by the district attorney to enter into a mutually beneficial arrangement with you to capture the supervillain known as Wraith. Would you be interested in helping Orlando, Florida, and the United States of America in capturing a known terrorist?” The way she phrased the question backed Seth into a corner.

<Clever.> He hesitated before responding. <If I say no then they can put the Detective on the stand at my trial and he can tell everyone that I said no to help capture a known terrorist. If that doesn’t make me look guilty then nothing will.>

“What do you have in mind?” Seth evaded the question.

Seth’s lawyer stepped back in when the ADA handed over another stack of papers. He read them and explained them to Seth.

“They want to conduct a sting operation. They want you to wear a wire and get Wraith to appear at a specific time and place. This way they’ll be able to get multiple teleporters on sight to lock down the area, thereby eliminating her ability to escape. They will also have the Protectorate, DVA, and local police on scene to take her in peacefully.”

“If possible,” the ADA added quickly. “Our behavioral profile of Wraith suggests that she will not be taken lightly, but we always prefer the method that involves no loss of life or destruction of property.”

Seth took it all in and thought about it. The lawyers went back and forth about the details while he just sat there in thought. For both of them, it was already a foregone conclusion that he was going to agree.

<Who wouldn’t?> he thought. <Who wouldn’t save their own ass in a situation like this?>

It was about this time that Seth finally realized his quest to become a Hero was over. Even if he helped out the ADA to catch Lilly, he doubted any HCP would want someone with his record. It just wasn’t in the cards for him anymore, and if he was being honest with himself, he was happy. A weight lifted off his shoulders in that moment of realization. He was still a Super, he had some top-tier training, and a fantastic ability. He could do a lot of things in this world, but being a Hero wasn’t going to be one of them. It just wasn’t going to happen.

There was a lingering sense of failure in all of it, but he knew that would pass with time. They’d wipe his memories, he’d forget all of the people here, and he’d be able to move on. <Maybe they’ll be able to erase Lilly too.>

The thought popped into his head, and he immediately, violently rejected it. The viciousness of his own thoughts surprised him. He wanted to punch anyone who tried to do that to him right in their fat, stupid faces.

<Mason, Kyoshi, Becca, Angela, Anika,> he didn’t mind too much about the last two, but the first three had been good to him. <Izzy.> It surprised him when a weight slammed down on his chest.

He’d only known the freshman a few months, and he’d been a world-class jackass to her, but she’d had his back even when most of his friends had abandoned him.

“Seth.” His lawyer’s call brought him out of his thoughts.

He’d have to figure out things with all of his old friends later.

“I think we’ve come to an agreement.” He turned to the ADA. “Let me go over it with my client. If he has any questions I’ll ask you, and if we’re in agreement then I’ll call you back in to witness the signature.”

That was good enough for the ADA. For the second time, she led the law enforcement group out of the room.

“This is a good deal, Seth.” His lawyer immediately went into convincing mode. “All you have to do is get her to a certain place at a certain time, wear a wire to collect any additional information she’ll divulge, and that’s it. They’ll bump all of your charges down to misdemeanors. You’ll have some substantial fines, but it’s nothing your family can’t handle, and then some community service.” The lawyer pushed the document toward him. “In my professional, and considerable, opinion I’d sign this thing as soon as possible. Then I’ll get you out of here.”

“I…” Seth was interrupted by a loud popping noise. “What was…” there was another one.

It sounded like someone was shooting of fireworks in the distance. <Is that part of the funeral?>

The Detective answered the question by rushing into the room with his gun drawn.

<Apparently not.>

“Step away from him.” He leveled his gun at Seth, and motioned for the lawyer to step away.

“What’s going on?” Fear crossed the lawyer’s face.

“There’s been an attack. He waved his hand to get the lawyer to step away from Seth. “You,” he directed Seth with the barrel of his gun. “Back in the cell now!”

“Jesus, ok.” Seth held up his hands. “Small problem, Genius.” He tried to stand and the restraints locked to the table barely allowed his ass to leave the chair.

“Shit!” The Detective cursed and called for backup.

That’s when they all heard the first person scream.

***

Morina didn’t creep. Creeping up the stairs like a common cat burglar only made a person look like they didn’t belong. Since there were cameras in the stairwell, and she didn’t want anyone to know she was coming, she needed to blend for as long as possible.

She’d made sure to clip the badge to the front of her pants when she took it off the detective she murdered and exsanguinated. She walked with one hand in her pocket, which pulled back the front of the ill-fitted blazer, so the golden glow of the badge was clearly visible to anyone looking.

She didn’t pass anyone until she was one floor below her target. An officer in dress uniform with a black ribbon across his badge was making his way down the stairs. Morina moved off to the side, but kept looking straight ahead. Her natural inclination was to look down and away to hide her face, but that would look suspicious. Instead, she looked confident, like she belonged, had a badge on her belt, and a gun on her hip so the policeman passed by her with nothing more than a nod. She returned it and kept on going barely able to contain her grin.

The door to the top floor didn’t look like the other ones she’d seen on her walk up. It looked thicker and more intimidating, but it didn’t matter. The keycard scanner was the same.

Morina swiped the card, the light turned green, and she stepped into the Protectorate HQ. She was less than impressed. She always imagined the nexus of Hero and DVA activity in the city to have more activity. Underneath the underwhelming emotion she knew this was a good thing. Less people meant fewer bodies she had to go through before she reached her target. Morina wasn’t some kick-ass secret agent like Wraith. She didn’t do large-scale battles.

A few DVA personnel turned their heads when she entered. She gave them a nod, they returned it, and went back to their work.

<Too easy.> What wasn’t as easy was remembering the layout she’d tried to commit to memory.

She could remember the slight variances in the blood of her victims spanning multiple years, but a building schematic was a challenge. If it wasn’t something she was obsessed with, she lacked the motivation to commit it to memory. She’d only tried because this was a favor to Wraith, and Wraith had saved her from that horrible prison.

<She rescued me and now I’m rescuing him.> They’d be even after this, and Morina would only stay on because she wanted to. If at all.

She thought she remembered where to go, and made a beeline for it. Halfway there, a group of people emerged; an older, balding man with a golden badge around his neck and a woman in a business suit. She could smell their scent and had to look away. The balding man’s blood was thick and pressurized. It wouldn’t be as tasty. The woman’s was cleaner, but still had that tight sensation to it. Both these people were stressed out and overworked.

<I can help with that.> She stopped at a desk and pretended to look for something while keeping an eye on the people.

“Can I help you?” One of the men was approaching her with a confused look on his face.

“No thanks,” she replied as she fiddled with files and picked up one. “I found it.”

“Can I see your ID please?” The man’s body was starting to tense, and she could feel his heart starting to pump faster in preparation.

She needed to do something to alleviate his suspicions and put him at ease. So, she turned and gave him a big smile. “Sure thing.”

She reached for her pocket, he tensed, but then she pulled out the swipe card she’d used to get in. “I’m just grabbing a file for a case I’m working on.” She held up the brown folder and smiled again.

It worked. The man relaxed and reached for the ID card. “Sorry about this, but it’s protocol.” He had to flip it over since she’d handed it to him upside down.

“No problem,” she kept the smile up until he looked down at the card.

That’s when she moved. The man’s eyes were still widening in surprise when she drove the pocketknife she’d sliced the dead detective’s wrists with into his gut. The blade wasn’t long, so it didn’t do a lot of damage, but what it did do was open the door for her power.

The man tried to scream in pain and warning, but his whole body seized up.

“You don’t look so good,” she brought over a chair and forced his body into it. “You should relax a little. All work and no play makes you suits dull boys.” She twisted the knife in his gut and pulled at his blood.

She savored it as she added it to her reserve just beneath her disguise. She didn’t pull it all, just enough so he passed out. There were so few people working that no one even noticed.

She was still good to go, but now she needed to move. An unconscious DVA agent wouldn’t go unnoticed for long, and she still needed to get the hell out of here. She took the folder with her and headed toward the door.

That’s when the first boom echoed throughout Orlando. Heads snapped up and eyes were drawn in the direction of the explosion, which just happened to be the opposite of where she was headed. The woman and Detective were waiting outside again, and the Detective rushed into the room leaving the woman alone and vulnerable.

Her eyes were drawn to the distance booms like the rest of the cops, but they slid onto Morina as she approached. “Officer, what…?”

She didn’t see the glint of steel flying forward because it was already covered in blood.

The knife cut into her one…two…three times and Morina felt her spirit sore with each stab. She was so overcome with the ecstasy of the kill that she forgot to cover the woman’s mouth. She screamed bloody murder, ironically before Morina forced her own blood into the woman’s throat to shut her up.

<Shit!> She continued past the choking woman and into the room.

“Hey! Help me get him in the cell.” The Detective had his gun trained on her target: Seth Abney.

Morina immediately saw what Wraith did in the man. He was tall and strong. His jawline was impressive, and his blood was rich, healthy, and had that special tang to it that Supers and Powereds always did.  If he wasn’t Wraith’s special friend, she’d slit his wrists and bathe in his blood all day long.

“Roger!” Morina said the first thing that came to her mind, but the Detective believed it enough to turn his back on her.

She took the opportunity to drive the knife into his skull. His knees grew weak as the sharp steel punctured the bone and drove into the meatiness beneath. That gave her direct path to his brain. Blood slipped from her forearms into the open wound. The Detective was frozen with shock as she used the stolen blood to put pressure on his brain. The man seized violently and collapsed on the table top.

Seth Abney looked up at her in horror while the man in a suit sitting next to him jumped up and put as much distance between him and her as possible.

“Wraith says hello.” Morina smiled and began digging around in the comatose Detective’s pockets for the keys.

“Wraith?” Seth and the man huddling in the back corner said at the same time.

“Don’t go with her, Seth.” The man in the suit said as Morina found the keys. “If you leave here there is nothing I can do for you. If you stay, I can get you out of this.”

Indecision crossed Seth face, so Morina reached over the table and slapped him hard.

“I’ll tell you how this is going to go, pretty boy. I promised Wraith I’d free you, because what they have waiting for you is literal hell. You’re never going to get free of this. You’re on their list. They’re going to use you up, then fuck you over, then watch you get fucked by the system day after day after day, and then they’re going to point to you and tell the world how they caught the bad guy. Then they’re going to go behind their closed doors and laugh at your stupidity. They’re going to screw you, and you know it, all because you loved someone.” She nearly gagged when she said ‘loved’, but she knew that was what he needed to hear.

Morina didn’t admit that her small rant had more to do with herself than him. They’d fucked her and sent her off to rot all because they didn’t understand the pull of blood. The substance rippled underneath her clothing and she restrained from gasping with delight. She ended up putting a hand down on the table to steady herself, and it landed right on a stack of papers.

Seth reached for it, but his chains didn’t allow him to stretch that far.

“What’s this?”

“That’s what is going to get him out of this situation.” The suit in the corner, obviously a lawyer, stated. “I’m making sure he is being taken care of. He doesn’t need Wraith.”

“You were going to make a deal?” Morina’s tone dropped dangerously low as she picked up the stack of papers. “What were you going to agree to, Seth?”

“Nothing, I agreed to nothing,” Seth replied. “My lawyer was working on a deal, but I never saw it. They chained me up and put me in here like an animal. Please, let me out.” He raised his hands which clanged against the restraints when he couldn’t bring them above chest height.

“Seth, no.” The lawyer made his final plea.

It was his final one because red mist shot from Morina’s outstretched hand. It splattered all over his face and started to crawl into his nose and mouth. Now, all the lawyer could do was scream and claw at his face as the blood gradually asphyxiated him.

“Please,” Seth pleaded again, but he was unable to hide his revulsion from her.

Morina looked at the paper and then at Seth. <What would Wraith want?> It didn’t take her long to figure out. <Wraith would want to deal with this herself.>

Morina shoved the papers into her blazer pocket and found the correct key. She undid his feet first and then his hands. Seth shrugged out of the chains and rubbed his wrists. “My name is Morina, but you can call me the Blood Bitch.”

“Ok,” he didn’t look at the dead, twitching lawyer or the Detective with the knife sticking out of his head. “What’s the plan to get out of here, Blood Bitch?”

“You’re a manipulator aren’t you?” Morina asked.

“Yeah.” Seth raised an eyebrow.

“Then manipulate shit.” She deadpanned and headed for the door.

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A Change of Pace – Season 2 – Chapter 31

There were two very different conversations going on during the morning of Mr. Morningstar’s funeral; three if you call the political chit-chat a conversation.

“No…no…no…We need more light!” A man cried dramatically on the stage as he looked up at the dark morning sky. “Today just had to be the day the universe decided to not cooperate with me.” He brandished his hands frantically at the clouds blocking out the sun.

The man stomped around the quickly erected stage just in front of the church where the fallen Hero’s private ceremony would be held. The stage was the brainchild of the Mayor. Preapproved people would be allowed to take the stage and use the microphone to tell the gathered crowd what Mr. Morningstar had meant to them, or how he had personally impacted their life. Having a stage meant having a stage manager, and the only one available had been a rather eccentric one from UCF. By the way he was running around and yelling at people you would have thought this was the Olympic opening ceremony.

That was what was happening on the ground. Very different words were being uttered all around the stage.

“Eagle-Two, comms check, over.” The SWAT captain wasn’t standing too far from the stage manager, but he was completely ignoring the other man. Where the stage manager looked like a whirlwind was about to pick him up and carry him off somewhere, the SWAT captain was a mountain of immovable granite with cold eyes scanning the horizon.

“Coms check, TOC, I read you five-by-five.” The sniper three hundred yards away on an overlooking rooftop replied.

“Show me you don’t have your head up your ass, Eagle-Two.” The Captain’s words were threatening, but they implied some sort of punishment the sniper would not enjoy if he wasn’t on the ball.

A second later a red dot appeared on the Captain’s chest. “Stay awake up there, Eagle-Two, the sun decided not to cooperate and I can feel a fall chill in my nuts.”

“That sounds like a personal problem, Cap. You might want to get that checked out.”

“Keep talking, Eagle-Two. I’ll get to you in a second, Eagle-Three.”

“Roger that, Sir.”

Daisy smiled as she took in the world around her with her sixth sense. For half a mile she could feel the life-threads of everyone. This early there weren’t a lot of people, but the number was steadily growing.

<The Mayor’s brilliant idea isn’t going to help.> The last thing the city needed was some grieving single mom talking about how Mr. Morningstar saved her baby to get her head blow off by Wraith mid-sentence.

It also meant overtime for Grace. As the primary telepath on scene, it was her job to vet everyone going up to take the mic.

<We need more bodies.> Daisy came to the same conclusion she had several times today. There were just going to be too many people.

The Mayor’s office was projecting over fifty-thousand people to turn out. To monitor them and keep them safe there were three hundred officers, two SWAT teams, the Protectorate, and half a dozen independent Heroes that were coming in for the occasion. There would be more off-duty Heroes in the church for the private service, but they weren’t there to protect the public. They were there to grieve, but they would help if shit started to slide downhill.

Daisy felt the pressure building in the back of her skull as she tried to keep everything in sight. The pressure would only get stronger when fifty-thousand life-threads needed to be monitored, and the very last thing the DVA, OPD, or the Mayor wanted her to do was drop everyone like she had at the prison. That was a one way ticket to losing her newly-granted certification.

“Minority community turnout is going to be hit or miss.” One of the Mayor’s aides stated from not too far away. “Polls show that they like the Protectorate overall, but of their members, Mr. Morningstar was their least favorite.”

“He was from an older generation and he didn’t really care about connecting with the community as much. I have reassurances from KaBoom that the team is willing to work in a new direction under his leadership.” Orlando’s mayor, Thaddeus Miller, was a former defensive tackle for the Miami Dolphins. He’d gone to UCF before sending twelve seasons in the NFL, and then going into politics. He’d started off with city council, was now the mayor, and insiders thought he had his eye on Congress or even the Governor’s Mansion in the next four years. He was a big man, with a shaved bald head that was shined daily. Even in the low light of the morning there was a slight gleam coming off the man’s brown dome. There was just as much of a gleam coming off of his perfectly-white teeth, and those were always on display in a smile. His life as a four-time pro-bowler had prepared him perfectly for politics.

“What about…” the aide didn’t say it, but that was enough confirmation for Daisy.

She was an unknown in this political situation. With something that was so going to be so public, politicians tended to not like unknowns; especially wildcards, and every report the Mayor was reading on her said she was unpredictable.

<I’m right here, dumbasses,> she bit her tongue. Her job right now was to literally step in front of a bullet if someone took a shot at the political leader of the city, and all they were worried about was what she would say when confronted by cameras. <There were some things about this job that I did not miss.>

<Easy there,> Grace’s voice popped in the back of her head. <Thad is actually a pretty good guy when you get to know him.>

<Thad?> Daisy’s eyes never stopped scanning the windows surrounding the stage. <And just how well have you gotten to know him?>

Daisy didn’t get a response, but a mental impression of a giant middle finger was answer enough. She suppressed her smile and continued to do her job.   

“Ms. Reaper,” the Mayor abandoned his little chat and walked over to her.

“Please just Reaper, Mr. Mayor. Ms. Reaper makes me sound like I should be on the Halloween version of a syrup container.” She accepted the Mayor’s handshake and didn’t know if he was doing the macho squeeze thing or not. She was on absorb-mode for all kinetic energy.

He barked a short laugh, gave an up and down shake and then let go. “Reaper it is then. I just wanted to welcome you to our fair city and thank you for everything you are doing today and going to do in the future.”

“Wrangling for my vote already, Mr. Mayor. Reelection isn’t for another eighteen months.” Daisy had a habit of sticking her foot in her mouth, especially when her attention was elsewhere, but in this particular instance she could really care less.

The Mayor followed the comment with a much longer laugh. “You can never start too early, Reaper.” The big guy’s smile was a bit startling. “Good luck today.”

“Thank you, Mr. Mayor.” That was all the time he had to talk to her, but she shadowed him until he was in the armored SUV and headed back toward his office. That was where her assignment ended. “Dispatch, he’s on his way out.”

“Thank you, Reaper.” The computer-synthesized voice of Dispatch hadn’t changed at all since the first time to support Hero came on the scene more than a decade ago. “You are relieved of your duties. Next assignments begin at twelve-hundred hours. You are free until then.”

“Thanks for the break.” Daisy didn’t take the earbud out, but she did pull out her phone and make another call. “Hey, baby, you want to grab a quick breakfast before we get sucked into this black hole of a protection detail for the rest of the day?”

 

***

 

“Damn, it’s freezing.”

Becca looked at the Floridian out of the corner of her eye and couldn’t help but smirk. It was low sixties – maybe high fifties – and the woman was acting like it was an ice age. Coming from the Midwest, where wind chill could drop the temperature fifteen or twenty degrees during the winter, this was nothing. All of her friends seemed to be thinking the same way.

Mason was used to New York, Kyoshi hailed from San Francisco – which wasn’t as warm as people thought – and Anika’s family had spent a lot of time in Montana only to recently move to the Midwest. This weather was nothing.

The residual body heat of everyone present would set in eventually. There were hundreds, maybe even thousands of people crammed on the sideways of the major roadway. In front of them was a line of police officers spaced every twenty feet. They were all in their dress uniforms: crisply ironed pants, a jacket with medals and badges pinned to it, and white gloves. They looked every inch the competent police force, and that was only highlighted by the weapons on their hips. Every third officer also had an assault rifle slung over their shoulder. Their eyes were scanning the crowd religiously. Just like the HCP students in the crowd, the officers were aware of the high threat level of this ceremony.

The civilians were blissfully unaware aside from a few questions about the cops’ guns. Not everyone liked the sight of such a heavily armed force. Becca kept her eyes forward and was grateful for them. If things turned bad, then they were going to need all the firepower they could get.

“Stop looking around,” Kyoshi whispered as Mason’s head seemed to be in a nonstop three-hundred-and-sixty-degree scan.

“Can’t help it,” the strongman grunted. “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”

All of them had the feeling. There were just too many chances for something to go wrong. There were too many windows, too many rooftops, and too many shadowy corners where threats could suddenly appear. It was the eternal pain of dealing with teleporters. They were all thankful Professor Meyers was here.

A drum could be heard in the distance. The beat was a solemn march. Becca knew from the safety briefing that the drummer was at the lead of a small contingent of officers and Heroes accompanying the casket of Mr. Morningstar. The casket was being pulled by a horse through the crowd-lined streets to the church where the private ceremony would be, and the politicians would be saying a few words.

“Shhh.” Becca shushed the both of them. This wasn’t a time to be talking. This was a time to be remembering and thanking the fallen Hero for his service.

 

***

 

“I can’t see.” Isla was cranky, and the six-plus-foot guy standing in front of her wasn’t helping.

A group of the freshmen HCP students were standing together at a safe distance from their HCP classmates. Professor McMillian had told them to spread out, but still travel in at least pairs. They needed to be vigilant about safety without drawing attention to themselves. The SI infraction rules were still in effect. If anything happened, the professors wanted them to run for safety.

“Let the Heroes handle it.” McMillian had said that at least a dozen times in their safety briefing.

“Sorry.” Aiden stepped aside so Isla could get a better view, but there was still a random woman in front of him that was taller than Isla’s unimpressive five feet two inches.

The drumming was growing closer, so they wouldn’t be staying for much longer. It was physically impossible for them to get any closer to the church and speaking area. They were nearly a mile away and packed into the sidewalks like sardines. They expected things to break up quickly once Mr. Morningstar’s funeral procession passed. The town had the afternoon off, and once people paid their respects they were planning to take advantage of the slightly longer weekend.

“Most of these people don’t care.” Scarlett Vaan stood with her arms crossed and a sour look on her face. “Most people are more interested in the time off then what happened. They want to forget about it, push it into the past, and move on.” She just shrugged when the younger freshman shot her shocked expressions.

“Most people like to avoid conflict,” she looked Isla straight in the eyes. “They feel they need to be here, but unless Mr. Morningstar directly touched their lives in some way their feelings for him and his death are only skin deep.”

“That’s a sad way to look at people. Psychology is giving you a jaded look on life.” Aiden shot her a warning look over his shoulder. The silver-haired woman was drawing some attention with her statements.

“Yeah…it’s the psychology.” Scarlett raised an eyebrow, but the drumming was almost on top of them now.

Everyone shut up and turned to face the procession. Whatever people thought about the situation, or the people involved, they all felt a certain way about death. It was only human to pay some sort of respect to the fallen, and whatever their feelings about humanity, they could do at least that.

It took a few minutes for the procession to pass at a slow march. Once it was a respectful distance away people started to get out of there. Scarlett led the charge. Isla stuck around a little longer as people streamed around her. There was something in the air that had the hair on the back of her neck standing up. She didn’t know if it was the circumstances, the HCP, or what was going on in her not-so-personal life, but the sensation was there.

If felt like something was watching and judging her and the city or Orlando. Her shiver had nothing to do with the cool breeze blowing through the city as she turned to leave.

 

***

 

“Do you still have eyes on Reaper?” Lilly was in her Wraith heavy-combat load.

Her costume, armor, pistols, knives, grenades, assault rifle, and sniper rifle were either on her person or strewn on the rooftop around her. They were over a mile away from the stage that had been constructed. It was way beyond her range to take out someone important – like the mayor – but it would serve as a staging area. She wasn’t going to pull armaments from her little bunker out west when Hunter would undoubtedly be on scene, so she’d hauled all of the stuff here, and set up booby traps for anyone who tried to take the roof by force.

“We have eyes on her near the stage.” Nano informed over the encrypted earbud the assault team was wearing.

Stal and Nightingale were on the rooftop next to Wraith getting set.

“Why does that matter? We have armor.” Stal announced patting the black, nullifying armor they were all wearing.

“It matters because the armor isn’t perfect. Belial still got taken down.” Wraith snapped back. Her nerves were on edge. The list of Heroes at this powder keg was a who’s who of people that wanted to kill her. “And some can easily target something next to us and kill me or Nightingale. We don’t have your durability.” Wraith was specifically thinking about Seraphim.

The bitch had it out for her despite the ass whooping she’d delivered during their last meeting.

“Fine.” Stal harrumphed. She didn’t pick up any weapons. Her hands and feet were WMDs, especially in a crowded place like this.

“We go in five minutes.” The procession had just begun. “Is she going to be ready?”

“She’ll be ready.” Wraith referred to the missing member of their little team. Morina had a different mission, and she was almost in position.

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A Change of Pace – Season 2 – Chapter 29

“Three…two…one…breech!” The shape-charges on the warehouse doors warped the metal beyond recognition while blasting big ass holes in them. Flash bang grenades capable of crippling a mid-range strongman followed the explosions, and a few seconds later two SWAT teams stormed the building through the front and rear entrances.

KaBoom had led his team through the wall while Jetwash came in through the upper skylight. He controlled the fall of the glass with his aerokinesis. A field of flying glass daggers hung suspended in the air around the Hero as he took an overwatch position, and it was his aerial position that saved a bunch of lives.

“Everyone out!” He yelled over through the earpiece that was linked through Dispatch to everyone on the assault team.

The team hadn’t advanced far enough to see the laser trip wires the bag guys had planted near the collection of stuff at the center of the room. They could have placed the explosives at the doors, but they likely would have been triggered by the breeching charge and resulted in fewer casualties. Luring the cops and Heroes in before blowing the place to hell ensured a lot more carnage. Unfortunately for the bad guys, they’d been in a rush and forgot the skylight.

Jetwash had an eagle-eye view of the room setup and was able to direct the bomb squad in dismantling the explosives, but it took time. Everyone from the DVA to Hunter was chomping at the bit to get into the room. Any clue, even a small one, which could lead them to Wraith would be worth it.

“Clear!” The bomb squad called out and Hunter teleported to the middle of the room.

“She was here,” he informed immediately. “I need a circle of caution tape here.” He walked the perimeter of an area and the crime scene investigators quickly marked the area.”

As they did, Hunter put his hand out and felt the tear in space-time that Wraith’s teleportation created. It would be the easiest thing in the world to follow, but he’d learned his lesson last time. As much as he disliked the thought, he needed to rely on good old-fashioned police work to find her this time.

“I know you’re thinking about it.” KaBoom stepped up to the edge of the tape. Stepping across it wouldn’t do anything to the kinetic absorber, but it would alter the readings and taint their admissibility in court.

The DVA was already carting in big boxes of tech to document the rupture and confirm that it was Wraith who did it. It was the equivalent of a teleporter’s finger print; each one’s was different.

“What else can you tell me?” Hunter had only been briefed on the operation five minutes before it kicked off.

“We grabbed Seth Abney talking to her downtown, traced the phone call, and here we are. We threw it together in twenty minutes, and it shows just how good the local coordination between agencies has gotten in the last few months.”

A year ago, if the Fist was acting up it would have taken an hour for the cops and Heroes just to get on the same page, and there was no way in hell the DVA would even stick their nose into it.

“Do you think we’ll get anything?” KaBoom looked around at the massive amount of resources being expended.

“Maybe.” Hunter shrugged. Half his attention was still on the space-time rupture. “They’re smart, but we caught them with their pants down. They might have expected anything incriminating to go up in flames, but now that we’ve got it we might find an advantage.”

“Jesus Christ!” A cop stumbled backward out from behind a curtain and proceeded to empty his stomach all over the floor.

“Get him out of here!” The DVA agent in charge stalked over and did everything short of kicking the guy in the ass to get him moving.

“Agent Phillips,” Hunter nodded to the woman and then toward the curtain.

“Looks like a serial killer’s Disney Land in there.” The DVA agent’s face was a little green.

“Nightingale,” KaBoom and Hunter said in unison.

“Stripped the person’s skin off, extracted organs, and cut off some pretty important bits.” The DVA agent stopped there, but having read Nightingale’s file they both knew the torture expert did much more to that poor bastard.

“If you ask me, our best bet is going to be Abney. I knew there was something up with that kid.” Agent Phillips continued.

Having met both Wraith and Abney when they were together, Hunter didn’t buy the agent’s story one hundred percent, but he had to conclude that Abney had gone and monumentally screwed up his life with a single phone call.

“I say we dangle him as bait and wait for Wraith to bite.”

“He and his lawyer will never go for it.” KaBoom played devil’s advocate.

“It’s that or he rots.” Phillips’ shrugged. “I got the word from the brass in D.C. and the shit he pulled is covered under the Patriot Act. We can charge him as supporting terrorism. That’s hard time in a get fucked in the ass federal prison. Once we drop that bomb I think he’ll take the deal.” The agent was smiling.

“If she comes for him.” Hunter stated.

“Then we take her down.” The smile that crossed the agent’s face showed just how much she wanted to do that.

“Easier said than done.” Hunter added his two cents.

“Details boys. With big strapping Heroes like you two how can we fail?”

Both heroes knew from plenty of personal experience against Wraith that there were several ways to fail. For that matter, Agent Phillips did too, but it was hard not to feel some hope with this break in the case. Finally having something Wraith wanted couldn’t be overlooked.

“Let’s bet on it. Fifty bucks Abney takes the deal and helps us bring Wraith in.” She held out her hand for someone to make the bet.

“I’ll take that.” KaBoom shook on it.

“Even if we get Abney to cooperate we’re going to need more firepower to take her down. She won’t be alone.”

“We’ll bring in the big guns,” the agent smiled. “I heard Reaper is back on the job.”

“She is, but we’ll need more.” KaBoom’s statement surprised the agent. “We aren’t going to go into a close fight when we can bring overwhelming force to bear. Is Seraphim free?”

“I’ll have to check. She’s been operating along the southern border doing drug interdiction lately,” Hunter replied. He’d have someone else make the call, because if he did they’d probably get a big fat no from his estranged wife.

“Good.” Agent Phillips clapped her hands loudly. “Let’s get the scene tagged and bagged. We’ve got a busy weekend ahead of us. Mr. Morningstar’s funeral is already a logistical nightmare with most of the city wanting to attend, and now with word that Wraith is in town HQ is going to want us to throw everything including the kitchen sink at this thing. This funeral is as much about honoring a fallen Hero as it is about showing the world that Orlando is back on its feet.

Both Heroes bristled at the comment, but they’d been in the game long enough to know the reality of the situation. The funeral was going to be a big deal, and they needed to be ready, which meant they were in for some sleepless nights.

 

***

 

Agent Simmons was having a great day, and she felt guilty about it. The biggest bust in her career had occurred right in the middle of one of the shittiest weeks of the year, maybe even the decade: a prison break which was a mass casualty event for the prison’s staff, criminals unaccounted for, and the death of a legend. She knew she could feel proud of her accomplishments and still feel the pain of the last week like everyone else, but they were tough emotions for her to rectify. She wanted to celebrate her role in catching the Abney kid red handed, and play it up to her boss so he’d remember when it came time to write her evaluation. She’d been at the lowest field agent grade for the last year and she wanted to get promoted. Her bust was the key to that.

She pulled her small, gray Nissan into her assigned parking place at the apartment complex. Part of her being so low on the totem pole meant she couldn’t afford anywhere better to live. The neighborhood was ok, but after Seif al-Din’s attack it had kind of gone downhill. Her car had been broken into twice and she always carried her gun when walking around. Most of the people in the complex knew she was law enforcement, so she’d ended up the head of their new neighborhood watch. She hadn’t actually participated in a nightly patrol, but from what she’d heard it mostly involved twenty-something-year-olds sitting around and drinking while looking through a set of binoculars she’d loaned the group.

It was late when she arrived and the two watch members on duty gave her a wave. Judging by the cans in their hands, her impressions of the group weren’t that far off.

<Community activism is important in public safety.> She reminded herself as she waved back. As long as they didn’t rope her into standing guard all night with someone else she was ok with it.

Like most of the people in the complex, she was a late twenty-something-year-old, fresh out of an enlistment in the marines, and looking to work her was up the ladder in her new career. Judging by the amount of times guys came up to randomly talk to her she was fairly attractive, but she had a hell of a right hook, which intimidated some guys and kept them at bay. She was single and would be ready to mingle when she found the time, but right now her life was her job, so she wasn’t going to get shit faced with some junior banker in the middle of the night when she had to be at the office at six am.

One of the watchmen started making his way toward her, but she held up her arms full of files and shrugged. The guy took the meaning and made a “call me” sign with his finger and thumb. She smiled politely back with no intention of calling him. Then she was out of sight and heading up the stairs to her second floor apartment.

On the neighbor front, she’d gotten pretty lucky. The guy upstairs was never home because he was a night manager somewhere, and the couple downstairs didn’t bother her at all except for the occasional sounds of them humping or their Chihuahua barking. Often the two occurred at the same time.

Tonight the upstairs guy was gone and there was no humping or barking downstairs as she unlocked her door to the dark apartment. She did a quick customary scan of the space. The marines and DVA stressed situational awareness, and it was something someone in her line of work needed to succeed.

Everything was clear, so she closed and locked the door behind her, placed her keys on the table and headed to the bedroom. She stripped off her blazer, removed her holstered weapon from her belt, and placed it on the nightstand.

<I’ll close my eyes for five minutes and then I’ll get to work.> She had dozens of files to go over, but she needed a moment to unwind before diving into them.

She flopped down on the bed and…

“AH! What the fuck?!” she screamed as tiny daggers dug into her back, arms, legs, and neck.

She jumped back to her feet to see her white comforter stained red. She flipped on the light and the comforter started to glisten.

<Glass?> The sheet was covered in glass.

Her instincts screamed that something was wrong and she listened to them. She lunged for her nightstand and removed her pistol from its holster and pivoted to do a three hundred and sixty degree sweep of the room. She hadn’t even done one hundred and eighty degrees before she realized she wasn’t alone.

Two people were in the room with her. Her finger moved instinctually from where she’d rested it parallel to the trigger guard to the trigger. She line up a shot on the taller of the two people who was dressed in black with a mask she’d seen hundreds of times in files like the ones in her living room. She squeezed the trigger with the soft part of her finger between the tip and first knuckle…or at least that’s what her brain told her body to do. Her body did not comply.

She tried again…nothing.

“Look, Morina, it looks like someone has performance anxiety.” Wraith chuckled as she walked forward and easily disarmed Agent Simmons. “But where are my manners?” Wraith placed the weapon in her coat’s pocket. “My name is Wraith and this is my close personal friend, Morina. You have a lovely home, so lovely that we let ourselves in while you were running around ruining other people’s lives.”

Simmons tried to speak but her throat wasn’t working.

“You are Agent Claire Simmons. You were top twenty percent of your class at the DVA Academy with a distinguished record and honorable discharge from the Marine Corps. Plus, you were all state in high school field hockey if I’m not mistaken.” Wraith smiled as she walked in a circle around the frozen agent.

<What do you want?> Simmons could only think her response.

“What was that?” Wraith held her hand up to her ear and leaned in real close to mock her. “What’s the matter, blood manipulator got your tongue?”

Simmons wanted nothing more than to spit right in Wraith’s face, but like the rest of her she couldn’t work her mouth to gather the saliva. In fact, she was beginning to drool down the side of her cheek.

“My friend will give you the use of your mouth back so you can answer a few questions. Answer them truthfully and we’ll let you go with a minor ass whooping. Answer untruthfully and I’ll leave you to my friend.”

Simmons didn’t know who Morina was off the top of her head, but there had only been a few confirmed blood manipulators since Supers made themselves known. They went on of two ways: medical professionals that helped a lot of people, or deranged psychopaths. Since Morina was with Wraith, Simmons was betting on the latter.

Wraith turned and nodded to Morina. The iron grip that had seized Simmons vanished from the neck up.

“AAAAA!” She got half a scream out before the grip clamped back down on her.

“Stupid bitch,” Wraith’s haymaker hit Simmons across the side of the face. Her body reacted by toppling to the floor like a frozen statue. Luckily, she didn’t shatter on impact. Unluckily, she was pretty sure her jaw was fucked up.

“Keep an eye on her.” Wraith left the room, and Simmons heard her going through the files in the living room.

<Shit.> Most of the stuff was mundane, administrative crap, but a few were more sensitive documents.

“Look at what we have here.” Wraith’s feet came back into view and she bent down to shove the paperwork in her face. “Are those the security plans for Mr. Morningstar’s funeral?”

It was a rhetorical question, and Simmons tried her best to spit in the villain’s face again.

“Geeze, they’re going all out for that old fucktard. If I would have known killing him was going to get him a big-ass funeral, then I might have just shot his dick off as my revenge. The guy wasn’t that great. He didn’t do that much. Morina, can healer heal a dick that’s been shot off?” She turned to her partner in crime.

The blood manipulator shrugged. Her eyes were fixed on Simmons, and there was something in them that made the DVA agent’s blood run cold.

“Oh well,” Wraith pocketed the documents and squatted down so she was fully in Simmons’ eye line. “Let’s get back on topic. I need you to tell me all the latest upgrades to the Protectorate’s HQ. I’ve got the layout up here,” she pointed at her head, “but I need to know what new tricks they have up their sleeves.” She nodded and Simmons felt control of her mouth returning to her.

“FUCK YOU!”

A relatively light slap sent her reeling in pain, but Morina had already reasserted control. On top of the broken jaw, the slap nearly made her black out.

“I’m going to ask you again. What are the defensive countermeasures the DVA has in…”

Three repetitive knocks on the door brought the villain up short. Both Wraith and Morina looked in the direction. If she hadn’t been effectively paralyzed, Simmons would have made a move to escape, but all she could do was drool and bleed onto the faux wooden floor.

A second round of knocks and two people called her name. She hadn’t spoken with them much, but it sounded like the couple from downstairs. Wraith rose to her feet and pulled two sleek looking pistols from shoulder holsters.

“Coming, just give me a second!” She yelled into her arm to muffle the response, but still loud enough for the couple to hear.

Simmons wanted to scream a warning to her unsuspecting neighbors but she couldn’t do anything but watch as Wraith left the room. Simmons heard the sound of the door unlocking and being opened. “Hey…” was the only word spoken before two sizzles were quickly followed by two thumps. She heard more footsteps and something scraping across the floor before the door closed and locked again. Wraith reappeared dragging the young couple toward the bathroom.

“I’ll leave these two for you,” she said to Morina. “I’ve got a promise to keep.”

Once the couple was dragged into the bathroom, Wraith squatted back in front of Simmons. “Tell me the plans.”

They went back and forth for several hours. Simmons refused to talk and Wraith beat her some more. She cut off three of Simmons fingers’ on each hand, both of her big toes, and was getting ready to pull finger nails off of what remained when Simmons finally broke.

She knew she was going to die at this point and she just wanted to get it over with. Pain was a powerful motivator, so she gave Wraith everything and then some. Some things were true, others were lies, and a few were even elaborate fantasies. She was laughing and crying by the end of her recitation. The pain had frayed her grip on reality, and she’d given Wraith the biggest middle finger she knew in her explanation. The villain wasn’t getting any more out of her. She’d just have to verify for herself what was true and what wasn’t.

“She’s gone,” Wraith stood up and stretched her back. “She’s all yours.”

Morina had been steady for most of the interrogation, but she’d started to tap her foot and scratch her forearms the longer she sat there watching Wraith work. Now, the biggest smile split her face as she grabbed the DVA agent by the feet and dragged her toward the bathroom.

Wraith knew what would happen next. The blood manipulator would drain the three people of their blood, bathe in it, and do whatever her ritual was. Serial killers always had rituals, and although Wraith got along with Morina, that didn’t stop her from thinking the ritual was creepy as fuck.

While the blood manipulator worked, Wraith wiped down the apartment of forensic clues and studied the files. She had two missions coming up: the funeral and Seth. If she was lucky, she might be able to execute both in the same day.

<Use one as a distraction for the other.> It was pretty straightforward, so the Heroes would be prepared for that. <And I need to parcel through the bullshit she gave me.> Wraith knew a new energy cannon that sped up the passage of time within its confines was unlikely to be real, but it was going to be hard to verify what was the truth.

She’d be as well prepared as she could be, but there would be some risk involved. There was always risk in being a villain.

Morina emerged from the bathroom forty-five minutes later with perfect skin, a smile on her face, and a skip in her step. Wraith didn’t even ask. She just grabbed the blood manipulator’s hand and teleported them and the necessary files to several locations before finally returning to their base of operations.

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A Change of Pace – Season 2 – Chapter 26

The world spun and twisted. When the blackness finally faded Morina was standing in an unfamiliar place being viciously assaulted by a mix of vertigo and UV rays. She’d been blinded for so long that she couldn’t take more than a few seconds before it overwhelmed her.

“Come on.” She groaned as she stumbled forward with her eyes closed and hands outstretched.

Her hands found the hard, cold metal of the cage she’d arrived in, but unlike that cage she’d been in for the last several years, this one was open.

<If anyone but me comes to get you, you turn them inside out. Understood?> she remembered the last words Wraith said to her after an offer to work together.

By nature Morina was a loner. She’d been a loner all her life. Her parents had died early from meth overdoses. She’d grown up in the foster care system. She’d been abused, beaten, and broken until she got her power. The ultimate power as far as she was concerned. She could control the essence of life itself. It didn’t matter if she wasn’t the strongest, fastest, or toughest. All it took was one little scratch and her target was done for, and she had all sorts of tricks up her sleeves.

It hit her sooner than she suspected it would, but it probably had something to do with being locked in a box for so long, and she wasn’t prepared for it. The bloodlust was insatiable. It overwhelmed her, drove her mad, and focused her entire chaotic mind on one simple task.

Kill. Once she accepted that, she could focus again.

Step one was to get out of the prison rags and into something that wasn’t made out of cheap quasi-fabric. A quick search of the apartment revealed a closet full of clothes: Wraith’s clothes. The offer flickered in the back of her mind, but she pushed off making any decisions until she was whole again. Only then would she be able to think clearly.

She was shorter and thinner than Wraith, so none of the clothing really fit, but she’d be able to figure it out. Next was a shower. The smell of prison lingered on a person, especially the type of prison she was in. She kept the lights off and she stood for a solid ten minutes under the steaming hot water, but had the door open a crack. It allowed her vision to adjust.

Her eyes still burned and watered easily, but that would just take time to heal. <Maybe Wraith has a healer. That would speed up the process.> The thought filtered into her mind, but she pushed it back again. Morina had learned long ago that you couldn’t really trust anyone.

She didn’t trust Wraith, but she believed the other woman didn’t want to control her. She was willing to accept that for the time being, but she had other more important things to do.

She tried on a few tops and eventually ended up with a still-too-big shirt that she was forced pull tight around her thin stomach and tie into a knot. It gave her a vaguely Daisy Duke’s look minus the chest. On top of being taller and more athletic, Wraith was also bigger in the boob department, but it didn’t matter. The short skirt made up for that.

As she got dressed and put on some makeup, she gradually raised the brightness of the room. Thankfully, it had dimmers so she could gradually increase her exposure. By the time she was finished the sun was setting and she was ready. She was ready to stalk her prey.

Even though twilight was over by the time she exited the lobby of the apartment building, she still sported a pair of sunglasses. They were fashionable – at least before she went into prison – and it looked like that hadn’t changed. It also helped her. The sun might be down, but neon signs were blinking everywhere. If anything they were even worse on her eyes than sunlight.

She didn’t wander far because she didn’t know the area, but she didn’t have to. The flat seemed to be located in a popular part of town. There were plenty of pubs and clubs within a few blocks, and after hearing what people on the street were saying, she was pretty sure she was in England. It might or might not be London – she’d never been before – but the accented English was a pretty big giveaway. Even better, no one was talking about some prison break in the US.

“Hey, Love, you lost?” A guy no older than thirty walked up to her.

“Oh gosh, I’m sorry.” Morina fell right back into the act like she’d never left it. A guy could never resist a ‘doe in headlights’ look. “I’m on vacation and I’m not really sure where anything is.” A little bit of blood manipulation flushed her cheeks to an embarrassing shade of red.

“You’re an American.” The guy’s smile grew even wider. “I could be your guide if you like. I was going to meet a few blokes at a pub near here, but I’d much rather spend my night in better company.”

“Golly, thanks Mr…?”

“Joseph, please just call me Joseph.”

“Ok, Joseph, lead the way.” She smiled shyly and kept the blush going until the Englishman held out his arm, she took it, and they headed for a bar.

Like a gentleman, he paid for dinner and a pint of beer. Morina savored the pint. She hadn’t had a drink in forever. She was able to enhance or dull the effects of the alcohol on her blood. That had been one of her key mistakes before she got caught. Alcohol and drugs were so much more potent with her than normal people as long as she wanted them to be. After her shit existence, she wanted it. You could only be touched by so many foster fathers until you wanted to just float away on a river of bliss.

“That’s sooooo good.” She savored the sip and let it rush through her. It was so good that she almost let it sweep her away, but there were other things on her mind.

“I don’t know how you Americans drink that liquid piss you call beer.” Joseph was an experienced drinker and was already on his second pint.

She saw the glint in his eye – the primal glint that every man got when he wanted a woman. She smiled back every chance she got, and that glint got bigger and bigger. When she finished the pint, and purposefully stumbled a little, she allowed him to catch her.

“Wow, a bit of a lightweight aren’t you?” He was smiling, and she smiled back. “Let’s get you home.”

Her place wasn’t far, and she made sure to press close to him as he helped her back and upstairs. In her hurry to satiate her lust she forgot about one key factor.

She opened the door, they stumbled in, and… “What the hell is a giant cage doing in your flat?”

“I’m kinky.”

Joseph turned toward her, but she already had a knife out and slashed it across his chest. He screamed in pain, she screamed in delight, and he shoved her hard into the wall.

<Yes!> she was overwhelmed by the sight and smell of the red liquid leaking from his chest. She breathed in deep and savored the tangy, copper scent in the air. She longed for so much more.

Joseph was already bolting. He’d rightly deduced that she was a knife-wielding batshit crazy chick, and like any person with survival instincts he was getting the hell out of there.

He did even make it to the front door.

She activated her power. She felt the blood pumping through his veins like it was her own. She mapped its progress through the body’s spider web of arteries and veins. Before he even reached the door, she had a road map of his body firmly etched into her mind.

She stopped the blood flow to his legs.

He cried and toppled face-first to the floor. Without blood, his legs didn’t work.

“What the fuck…” he didn’t get to finish before she’d jumped onto his back.

The blade slid cleanly under his shirt and parted the fabric to reveal a tan, muscular back. she ran a hand across her new canvas and shuddered. The pleasure was more than a little sexual.

Joseph tried to fight her, but her hold on him was already complete. She didn’t even allow him to roll over as she dug the knife into his flesh. He was like a jack-o-lantern on Halloween. She carved him up good.

She forced blood into his throat to keep him from screaming, and only let him breath right before he passed out. She didn’t linger too long in the room with the cage. This was just foreplay. She crawled off his back, her hands slick with blood, and maneuvered him to his feet. Complete, fluid control of someone while manipulating their blood wasn’t perfect. He looked like a zombie from one of the walking dead shows instead of someone who’d been possessed, but it did the trick. He did a herky-jerky march to the bathroom and fell to his knees in front of the tub.

This was the final part of her ritual, and she felt the anticipation reach a crescendo she just couldn’t refuse. She roughly yanked back his head and slid the knife across his throat. Then she pulled. Blood fountained unnaturally out of his jugular and quickly filled the tub. The human body had an average of over five liters of blood. He’d already lost a little in the fun and games in the living room, but she bled the rest of it out of him in less than thirty seconds.

<The Bloody Bitch is back.> she giggled out loud as Joseph’s lifeless body slid onto the ground.

She ripped off her clothes faster than a prom queen on prom night and slipped into the tub. One victim wasn’t enough to even remotely fill it, but she wasn’t willing to risk drawing too much attention. She scooped up the thick, precious liquid and let it flow over her face and down her chest. She felt it revitalize her and make her whole again. She opened her mouth on the second handful and let some trickle down her throat as she moved it back through her hair. Her taste buds exploded and her eyes rolled back into the back of her head from the sheer ecstasy of the moment.

<People don’t understand.> She rubbed her chest, arms, and legs until a thin layer of red covered everything.

Once that was done she laid back in the tub, closer her eyes, and waited. Last time she’d done this Heroes backed up by a SWAT team busted into her motel room. She waited for it to happen again. She waited for the dream to end…but it didn’t. She didn’t know how long she laid there, but no one came busting through the door.

At some point – an undeterminable amount of time later – there was a knock on the door.

“Morina…?” The door cracked open and Wraith poked her head through. “I’m…holy shit.”

“Hey, Wraith.” She opened her eyes and smiled. “Thanks for letting me crash here. I really needed this.” She smiled, showing red-stained teeth.

“Yeah, sure. No problem.” Wraith bent down, touched Joseph’s cold, pale shoulder, and he disappeared in a flash of darkness. “Just let me know when you want to go.”

“Just a few more minutes.” Morina lay back in the tub and closed her eyes again. “Then I’ll be ready to go.”

Morina wasn’t able to look too far into the future because the lust was already starting to build again. She’d need to do this again soon, very soon. This had been a dribble into a lake that had run dry years ago. She needed to fill it again, and the floodgates were wide open. That was her mindset: feed the lust. She’d help Wraith. She owed the woman that much for getting her out of jail, but if Morina had learned anything during her eventful life, it was to look out for number one.

“Ok,” she stood up to reveal glistening snow-white flesh. There was no trace of the blood she’d rubbed all over herself. “Let’s go.”

 

***

 

Daisy had been dreading this moment for more than one reason. The first reason was that she’d been on this detail more than once, and every time it sucked donkey dick.

Hunter placed his hand on Daisy and KaBoom’s shoulder while making contact with the pine box sitting in front of them. They ceased to exist in the normal universe for a second and then reappeared back in the Protectorate HQ in Orlando.

The room was packed – standing room only – so it was a good thing that Hunter put them down in the roped off space. The Heroes were nearest to the designated area. The remaining members of the Protectorate were the first to walk through the small opening and stop next to the casket. Each had a piece of black fabric tied around their arm just below the shoulder. It was an outward sign of their mourning.

Daisy and KaBoom stood silently on either side of the casket as ceremonial guards. KaBoom was there because he was now the leader of The Protectorate. He’d been training under Mr. Morningstar for years, and was looking forward to taking over.

<Not this way.> Daisy knew the kinetic absorber’s thoughts just from the look on his face.

Daisy was there because she was the first to reach him after he’d been killed, and was the strongest Hero. Unlike when she’d been forced to jump away to the prison break, this time Daisy was dressed in her full Reaper regalia: black fatigues, mask, armor and everything. She was a pillar of strength next to the fallen leader, and that was what everyone needed at the moment, which was why Dispatch hadn’t canceled her temporary Hero authorization.

After the Protectorate said goodbye to their leader – there were more than a few tears involved – the independent Heroes operating in the city were next. Jetwash was there, and she tried not to hate the arrogant little prick. He’d done well at the prison break, and even succeeded in catching more than one prisoner who tried to flee.

<He’s not a total asshat,> she told herself when he passed. She even gave him a respectful head nod.

After the independent Heroes came the entirety of the Orlando PD. That lasted awhile. They weren’t the biggest force in the country, but they were sizable even after the deaths in the Seif al-Din incident. They rotated officers off of their shifts to ensure the public was still protected, and the Heroes covered down on them as well. It was all well-organized – if lengthy – but Daisy stood there respectfully the whole time.

The hardest time was probably when Topher arrived to pay his respects. After the shitstorm of the last day, all she wanted was a hug and a kiss from her man. They couldn’t do that in front of everyone. Topher nodded politely to KaBoom and her like all the other cops, bowed his head over Mr. Morningstar’s body, said a short prayer, and then left.

She’d get that hug and kiss when she got home, but that wasn’t going to be for a while. She had to wrap up stuff here at the station, deal with problem number two, and only after that would she be able to head home. Luckily, she didn’t have to leave the building to complete her tasks.

“Jesus,” KaBoom sighed a few hours later as he plopped into a chair in the conference room.

The blinds were drawn, the windows frosted over to obscure the Heroes’ identities, and electronic countermeasures were activated. KaBoom removed his mask and became Marcus. The rest of the Protectorate and Daisy followed his lead. A lot of sad faces stared back at Daisy.

“The public funeral will be held on Friday.” After a deep breath, Marcus got to work. “We’ll need an honor guard as well as security. Orlando PD is going to be out in force, and they want to make it big.”

“Big?” Galavant, aka Ronnie asked.

“We got shat on by Seif al-din, and before him the Fist was wreaking havoc. All of that is still fresh in people’s minds, and now the leader of the local Hero group is dead. Not just dead…assassinated on national TV by a criminal that we put away less than six months ago. A little bitch that we had in those very cells over there.” Daisy’s hands balled into fists and the bleeded off of kinetic energy made the air shake around them.

“We need to reassure the public that even though our leader is gone, we are still capable of defending them,” KaBoom said confidently. Heads nodded around the table. “Reaper,” those same heads all turned toward the seasoned Hero. “We didn’t get to go through the entire questionnaire, but under the circumstances, and taking Dr. Johnson’s recommendation into consideration, I’m going to request that the DVA reactivate your Hero credentials.”

The first smile in over a day split Daisy’s face.

“I’m also going to request a part-time appointment to the Protectorate. You can’t come on full –time with your HCP duties, but I’m sure we can work something out like Grace is doing. This way we’ll be able to cut through all the red tape.”

“Sounds like a plan to me.” Daisy controlled her emotions and nodded. It didn’t seem right to be smiling when a dead Hero was lying in the other room.

They spent another half an hour dealing with some of the details for the coming funeral, and promised to reconvene in two days to put the final touches on their parts of the ceremony. Once Marcus declared the meeting adjourned, Daisy moved in to discuss her other bit of information.

“An HCP student assaulted the front desk attendant of his apartment building. Come on, Daisy.” Marcus pinched the bridge of his nose when he heard the story. “You know there isn’t much I can do here.”

“I know.” She completely agreed. “I’m just asking that you talk to the Chief and he talks to the lawyers. If it’s an option, we’d like to handle it in-house. The kid’s had a rough go of it in the last few months, we don’t want to just give him the boot just yet, and he’s more than able to cover any or all of the victim’s medical bills plus some.”

After a moment, and a dramatic sigh, Marcus nodded. “I’ll pass the word along, but I don’t know what good it will do.”

“Don’t underestimate your ability to extend your influence, Marcus.” Daisy gave the new leader a hard look. “You’re the top dog now. Your team can do more good than most of the Chief’s whole department. You hold a lot of power in this town. Morningstar understood that, even if he let it go to his head sometimes. Despite the shitty situation, you probably will hold more goodwill in the next week than the rest of your career. Make your mark, build relationships, and don’t be coy. You could do that as KaBoom number two, but you can’t do that as the boss. Got it?”

“Yes.” Marcus’ back straightened a bit from the steel Daisy had injected into his spine.

“Good.” Daisy nodded in satisfaction. “Now I’m out of here. I’ve got a man waiting for me. Let me know if you need anything else from me concerning all that paperwork.”

“Thanks for everything, Daisy.” The thanks was heartfelt.

“Just doing my job, Boss.” Daisy smiled and left. She made sure to say her own goodbye to Mr. Morningstar on the way out.

 

***

 

The last thing Lilly wanted to walk into was seeing a girl letting it all hang out in her bathroom, covered in blood, and with a bloodless corpse stinking up the small flat.

“Morina?”

“Hey, Wraith.” The blood manipulator replied with a radiant smile that was only slightly disturbing.

Lilly hadn’t heard the woman sound this happy in all the time she’d known her.

“Thanks for letting me crash here. I really needed this.”

“Yeah, sure. No problem. Just let me know when you want to go.”

“Just a few more minutes.” Morina lay back in the tub and closed her eyes again. “Then I’ll be ready to go.”

Lilly nodded and retreated back out of the room. She made sure to banish the dead dude’s body to an active volcano in the Pacific before she left. <Air freshener. I need air freshener.> She went to the small kitchen nook and got the aerosol spray.

In her business, it was always good to have air freshener and bleach handy. Bodies could be messy even for a teleporter. <Not anymore.> She shook her head as she sprayed the room liberally. <No more killing.>

She was determined to keep her promise to Seth. Mr. Morningstar wasn’t even an afterthought. He didn’t count. He’d been the one that revealed her true life, coupled with a few lies, and then broke them up. She was sure her man would understand the Hero’s need to die.

“Ok, let’s go.” Morina emerged for the bathroom clothed and with a new glow around her.

The blood was gone, but her skin was flush with life. Even though she was Snow White pale, there was something different about her now.

“I’ve got some people for you to meet. They want your help. They can pay you well and it’ll give us a chance to work together and put some real assholes…” Lilly stopped abruptly. She was going to say ‘in the ground’, but with her promise she really wasn’t sure. She had to talk with Seth about killing the blonde bimbo. “…out of commission,” she settled on. “It’ll be fun.”

“I’m going to need more fun.” Morina looked back at the empty bathroom.

“Then you’ve come to the right place.” Lilly grabbed her shoulder and the disappeared in a blast of darkness.

They appeared a few seconds later in Orlando where Stal, Nightingale, and Damascus were waiting for them. Stal looked bored, Nightingale was still covered from head to foot in her armor, and Damascus looked unimpressed.

“This is who you were able to rescue?”

As usual, the terrorist just had to speak to get Lilly’s blood boiling. “Fuck off, butt-muncher. She’s a crazy bitch.”

Morina smiled at the clear term of endearment and turned her gaze on Damascus. Sometimes you could just tell when a person was off their rocker, and Damascus saw that in Morina’s eyes. Her next words didn’t help.

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