Paris, France – Friday, the 22nd of June 2012. 05:44 PM.
Sarina had only just realized that the ear-piercing screaming had stopped when the first bird – a pigeon – tumbled to the ground at her feet. Its purplish-gray wings were still spread wide, its dead little bead eyes stared up at Sarina as if she was the one who’d murdered it.
Emily gave a startled cry and stepped back, away from the dead bird. Barely a second later, two more birds crashed down on the grass just a few meters ahead, and a dull thud from behind indicated a third victim.
What the… Sarina had time to think, then Patrick called “up!”, drawing her attention to the sky. She had a split second to see a tattered, human-sized shape plunge downward through the air towards her group. Without a conscious thought, she grasped her power, then her companions through it.
Back, she commanded, pulling the whole group a dozen or so meters back the way they’d come.
The physical reality of the park responded and warped according to her will. The sky itself seemed to drift away from her, shifting her perspective of the park. Sarina’s senses blacked out for the briefest moment. Then she was brought back into existence by the sound of a sharp gasp and the pressure of Emily’s fingers tightening about her wrist.
The grayish-black humanoid was no longer above, but ahead of her, having landed in a squat position that was pretty damn close to where she’d just stood.
The man straightened up from the ground in a fluid motion, unfurling the tattered fabric of his cape from his bony arms. It was an ugly, wet piece of black fabric, cut into a reverse v-shape to grace his gangly body with a parody of slack wings. Sarina only gave it a moment’s glance. Her eyes darted up to the man’s mask, a cheap strip of gray plastic with roughly cut holes for the eyes. It was adorned by a few black feathers and a simple beak. There was something familiar about it, and she quickly realized why.
The man looked like a bonier version of the mercenary leader she’d fought in Bratislava, like someone who had been reanimated and dug out of his grave to scare young children. Judging by the anxious look on Emily’s pale little face, he had succeeded.
But Raven is dead. I teleported him into a wall. Sarina pushed the memory of her former nemesis away. He was gone, and she wanted him to remain gone. At second glance, she noted that the man’s tattered appearance was very different from Raven’s. He was both taller and older, and his short, greasy hair was a dark brown instead of black.
Still, she was much more comfortable watching him from a distance. He was now a dozen or more meters away, narrowing his masked eyes at the vacant section of park where he’d landed. He can’t see us, she noted with some relief.
“He’s carrying a dead little dog!” Emily cried.
Sarina looked back at the man’s costume to see that she was right. The black fur accessory that hung over his shoulder wasn’t an accessory at all. It was a small terrier of some kind, small pink tongue lolling from its mouth. It was definitely dead.
He killed the dog and all those birds with his voice? Considering the red-hot agony said voice had caused her, Sarina liked that possibility even less than she’d liked Raven’s mist of darkness. She couldn’t help but wonder if his power could kill something larger than a dog.
The man hadn’t moved after he straightened to stand. But now that Emily had said something, his head snapped around as if he’d heard her. Which shouldn’t have been possible.
“Patrick,” Sarina asked, alarmed. “Is your power still active?”
“Yeah,” he said. “I don’t…”
Another ear-piercing sound cut Patrick off and knocked all coherent thought from Sarina’s mind. She pressed her hands to her ears in reflex, but the scream pounded into her eardrum with relentless force. It was an inhuman mix of scream and screech that cut through her skin and bone, giving her a painful taste of what it might feel like to have her brain sliced open.
Sarina felt herself fall, but she didn’t feel the ground or the wetness of the grass. Her perception was reduced to a red haze of agony and that awful, brain-melting sound that erased everything else. Even her own power.
Just when she thought she was going to go insane, it stopped. Someone was still screaming, but that voice was raw and female and very human. When Sarina realized that she was the one screaming, she stopped. Her voice cut off with a small gurgling sound. She gasped for breath and opened her eyes to see the dark-clad, bird-masked man stand right in front of her.
No, that wasn’t quite right. He was standing in front of Emily, reaching out with one of his hands to grasp her arm. He didn’t touch her, though. He just stood there momentarily frozen in mid-movement. His mouth was wide open, but no sound came out.
You’re not touching her, you fucking…
Sarina could once again feel the flow of her power and grasped it in reflex, but when she did, another painful pulse shot through her head. It sent a wave of dizziness through her and made bile rise in her throat.
Through the dizziness she heard a sound from far away – a shout, maybe – and before she knew what was happening, the bird-masked man blinked out of her field of vision with incredible speed. He wasn’t flying. He just flashed away in a blur of movement. It was as if the distant voice had drawn him, somehow.
Sarina briefly scanned the sky and the line of trees ahead. Those trees were close enough to the city to have survived the destruction, and now they partially obstructed her view of Passy. If she hadn’t felt too sick to call for her power, she might have torn them down herself. Or activated her life sense.
That fucker nearly grabbed her. The thought was a red-hot flare that illuminated the confused mess of her mind and helped her focus.
“Sarina?” an anxious little girl’s voice asked.
With some effort, Sarina turned her head to look up at Emily’s small, rain-streaked face. A thin rivulet of blood was trickling from the girl’s nose.
“Did he hurt you?” Sarina asked her.
Emily shook her head and wiped at the blood with the back of her hand. “No, but that was really scary.”
“Holy shit, yes it was. Let’s get away from here,” Patrick said. He had dropped to his knees at some point that Sarina couldn’t remember and was now scrambling to his feet, his clothing thoroughly soaked by the rain and the wetness of the grass below him.
“What the hell just… happened?” Sarina managed. A strange warmth trickled down her face and throat. She touched it with her fingers, perplexed to see them come away red with blood. Some random French villain had just very nearly overpowered her, and she hadn’t been able to do a thing about it. She hadn’t felt so helpless, so utterly humiliated since the day Raven had had her in his clutches. She hadn’t been in control of her powers then. But now she was, and her powers turned her into a force to be reckoned with.
She was the goddamn Antithesis after all.
“I stop sound,” Snow’s said. Her voice was very solemn, and her almond-shaped eyes were narrow with concern. “He come back with friend, maybe. We must leave.”
“Yes, let’s go, please,” Patrick said.
His voice killed those birds and blew my lights out. That conclusion was enough for the moment. Understanding what exactly had just happened could wait. Sarina accepted Patrick’s offered hand and let herself be pulled to her feet, then made another effort to get ahold of her power. She still felt a little woozy, but the dizziness was fading.
A wet plastic bag was at her feet, whipped by the rain. She wished it away. The effort it took to make it disappear didn’t make her feel like she had to throw up. This was a small, simple observation, but it came as a big relief.
“I’ll go look for him in a moment,” she rasped, forcing the words through the rawness of her throat. “We’re leaving.”
“Okay”, Patrick said.
Sarina turned her attention to the city beyond the park and extended her willpower, testing her reach. When she realized that she could go as far as she was used to, she got ahold of the physical reality of a road she could see branch off into the city further to the south and took herself and her companions there.
They appeared on the sidewalk next to a small French Café whose outdoor seating area featured a weatherproof green canopy tarp. As far as Sarina could see through the tall windows, the Café was as deserted as this whole section of road appeared to be, but the cozy little tables with their white tablecloths looked clean and dry.
Inside, she commanded. If the Screamer’s sense of hearing was anywhere near as good as Patrick’s was, then she didn’t want Emily and the others to be out on the road. Especially not in this kind of weather. Their short trek through the park had already left them sopping wet.
The Café’s interior was a small room with a long wooden sales counter, a couple of vending machines and a half dozen round tables. A faint scent of wood and coffee hung in the air. For the moment at least, it radiated a sense of relative safety.
“Thanks, Sarina,” Patrick said, using the sleeve of his jacket to wipe the rain from his face. Snow stood next to him, a silent white shadow, still impossibly clean and dry. Not even her hair had been touched by the rain; she looked as if she’d just stepped out of a sunny postcard.
When that madman charged us, Patrick was right next to her, Sarina mused. Now that she had a moment to piece together what had happened, she remembered that he and Snow were the only ones whose noses didn’t bleed. Sarina was the only one who’d blacked out, and the only member of their team who hadn’t been right next to the Revoker.
Sarina hadn’t been aware that Snow was a mobile power negation zone. If she was going to take the fight back to the asshole who’d just assaulted them – and she was very much toying with that idea – then she’d have to keep Snow nearby.
Emily plopped down on one of the chairs and peered out through the nearest window. “You think it’s safe here?” she asked.
“It’s quite far from where we were,” Sarina told her. “Stay here and be quiet for a moment, okay? I’ll be right back.”
Before anyone could protest, Sarina relocated herself back to the road, then up to the nearest walkable section of roof. She could overlook a large section of the park from there. The man in the tattered black and gray costume was a coal-colored speck near the line of trees she’d just left behind, and he wasn’t alone. He had joined a small group of three or four people, all of whom were standing at a street corner near the outer fringes of the city.
Sarina relocated to another roof that was closer to group but out of their immediate detection range. One of the men stood a little apart from the others and appeared to be watching the street corner, right where the still forested edge of the park transitioned into the urban sprawl of Passy’s ornate 19th century architecture.
She couldn’t tell how old he was; the bright red bandanna that he’d tied around his mouth and nose prevented her from seeing his face. But his equipment included a heavy machine gun and a tactical raid vest that was labeled ‘police’ in bright white letters.
Someone’s gearing these guys up, Sarina assumed. The new revolution had turned the city into a lawless hell pit, but common street thugs still wouldn’t have gotten ahold of police-issued equipment without help.
The group standing at the edge of the park also included two more armed men who’d been equipped with a loadout similar to the first. One of them clutched the hand of a girl who looked barely older than Emily was, the other was pointing his gun at a dark-haired young woman who was hugging herself, obviously scared out of her wits. The thin cotton fabric of her strappy top was not the least bit weatherproof and clung to her chest and abdomen.
That woman hadn’t left her apartment for an afternoon stroll in the rain, and the gangs who’d taken control of the city clearly had no interest in enforcing the law. Sarina had seen enough to know that she wasn’t just going to leave those two alone. The sight of the little girl stirred her anger, and her power responded by infusing her surroundings with potential.
Screamer and the armed men were talking in quick, agitated French that Sarina wasn’t able to pick up. But she understood the costumed man’s gesture easily enough: he was pointing in the direction of the park.
Go ahead and search there, she urged him. Don’t get hit by any falling trees.
As she glanced down at the woman and the little girl again, Sarina’s half-formed attack plan was beginning to solidify into something more concrete. She couldn’t just whisk the two of them to safety, though. Not without a plan and some precautions. Teleporters were so rare that the word would spread like a wildfire, and if anyone put two and two together, the whole city would be on high alert before long. One of the witnesses might even get the Covenant involved.
Sarina’s mission to find Jasper was wholly dependent on her ability to keep a low profile.
I’ll figure something out, she decided, then teleported herself back to the Café where she’d left the other Nameless.
They were waiting for her in the same exact positions she’d left them, dripping water all over the floor. “Are you going to start a fight with some powered gang?” Patrick asked in a disapproving tone.
“They started a fight by attacking us,” Sarina shot back. “They’re kidnapping people, and no one seems to care. And if I’m not totally wrong, and I don’t think I am, they tried to take Emily.”
They’re not messing with my powers next time, she added silently.
Patrick’s eyebrows shot up. “They’re kidnapping children? Damn.”
“I’m not starting anything just yet,” Sarina said. “This is the Sun King’s district. We need some information about it before we do anything, and we can’t let anyone catch us unaware like they just did out there.”
“We’re lucky we had Snow,” Patrick said. “Thanks, Snow. But still, that sucked, and I’m not looking forward to more of it. I never wanted to be a hero. They’re the guys who get their asses kicked.”
Sarina didn’t feel like commenting on that, and no one else did, either.
“Thanks, Snow,” Emily added absently. She was doing the finger dance against her pant leg again.
Sarina wanted to ask her about that, but the question she had for the Revoker was more pressing. “Snow, if we run into Screamer again… do you think you could shut him down right away?”
“Yes,” Snow replied, fully alert and present for once. “Take away sound. Is easy. He do nothing with no sound.”
“Good,” Sarina said. “I’ll deal with whoever else they have, and I want to know about any dealings they had with the Sun King or with Gentleman.”
“Um, they don’t really know the Sun King,” Emily said. She had her hand on her table now, and her fingers were resting. “But they know the guys who live in his house – Incubus’ gang. They trade sometimes, weapons and… stuff.” Her small mouth puckered up at the last word, as if she’d tasted something bitter.
“Do you know anything else about them?” Sarina asked.
“Only two of them have powers,” Emily said. “The one we saw in the park is called… Vautour.” She rolled the word out in a French manner, frowning deeply in concentration. “His power is… sound, he can make it into a weapon and move along with the sounds he creates. He collects dead animals and sells them to hungry people.”
“That’s gross,” Patrick said.
Thinking back to the dead terrier that had been draped over Vautour’s shoulder like some kind of accessory, Sarina couldn’t help but agree with the sentiment. If the locals were relying on animal carcasses for dinner, then the City of Love was officially dead. “Are all of the stores in the city closed down?” Sarina asked, pressing the thought.
“Yes,” Emily said unhappily. “The stores got raided after the President and the police left. The gangs are hoarding what’s left and sell it to the people who couldn’t leave. Vautour’s group is one of them, but they don’t go deep into the city. Incubus and his gang are controlling all of Passy.”
“Incubus?” Sarina asked. The name didn’t sound familiar to her, but with all the deaths and new transitions that had happened of late, keeping tabs on the world’s Evolved had become an impossibility. People died and transitioned faster than anyone could report them.
“He’s a Darkshaper,” Emily went on, dropping the words with wary caution. “And, um… his powers are kinda like Raven’s.”
Sarina’s face twisted in disdain. “If that’s the case, then I’ll just have to put him in his place again.” In her mind, another idea presented itself – that the powerset of her former nemesis turning up in Paris, and in the Sun King’s manor of all places seemed almost too much of a coincidence – but she kept that one to herself.
“Now isn’t that ironic,” Patrick muttered.
“Is ironic,” Snow echoed.
“We’ll deal with Vautour’s gang first,” Sarina said. “Emily. How many powered gang members do they have?”
“Just Vautour and the Collector, I think,” the girl reported. “The other guys are a gang that’s always been around, the Collector recruited them and gave them guns. There’s like eight of those guys.”
“Who’s the Collector?” Patrick asked.
“Some guy who collects stuff,” Emily stated matter-of-factly. Then her face fell, and she chewed on her bottom lip for a few seconds before she went on. “He collects people, too. They stand around like shop window mannequins and can’t talk or move.”
Little girls and pretty young women? Sarina assumed that the answer was ‘yes’ which was both sickening and infuriating. She glanced at Emily’s small, innocent face and the cat-eared cap that sat on top of her head, hoping that the girl hadn’t drawn the same conclusion.
If anyone ever lays a finger on her, we’ll see just how much of a monster I can be.
“Sarina, are you feeling okay?” Emily asked, looking back at her with concern.
Sarina shook her head to dispel the thought. “Yes. I just really want to do something about those guys, and I need your help. If the Collector can paralyze people, then what’s his range?”
Emily’s frown deepened. “Vautour has seen him touch people with his hands, but I dunno if he can do anything without touching them. He draws symbols on the ground, too, and they’re a bit like Rune’s symbols or something like that.”
“Those symbols. Are they visible?” Sarina asked.
“Probably,” Emily said, slumping back into her chair. “I don’t know. I don’t know everything all the time, and I get really woozy when I keep poking around in heads for too long.” Her gaze dropped to the floor, and she mouthed a subdued “sorry”.
“It’s fine. I can figure the rest out on my own,” Sarina gently assured her. Then she called upon her life sense and allowed the power to rush through her, to fill her perception with shades of light and darkness that painted a fairly accurate map of the nearby city in her mind.
The nearby homes weren’t as deserted as she had first suspected. She glimpsed a few life lights that were hidden away in apartments here and there, often joined together in clusters that she assumed to be families. She didn’t spot the distinctive glow of powers, though. Not in this section of the city.
Sarina spun in a half-circle and swept her arm northward to expand her range by another quarter of a block, then added a body roll to expand it even more. Vautour’s life light popped into her supersensory field of vision, glowing from beyond the city sprawl that was to the northwest like a distant beacon. Its purple-red glow made it stand out against the subdued, mundanely human lights that surrounded it. Two of these were flickering anxiously, but not in a way that indicated an immediate threat to their lives.
I’m coming for you, Sarina pledged. The woman and child’s apparent distress flared her anger up all over again.
She didn’t need to look far to spot another Evolved light, which she assumed belonged to the so-called Collector, Vautour’s partner in crime. It was nestled deep within a large building – a mall of sorts – with multiple stories, most of which consisted of vast, open spaces that were filled with a dense clutter of items.
Some of those ‘items’ were alive. They didn’t move and appeared nearly as gray as the surrounding objects did, but they definitely had a faint glow to them.
Just what on earth is he doing to them? Sarina almost didn’t want to know. She did remember what Emily had said about the Collector’s dealings with Incubus, though: that there was a trade agreement of sorts between the two groups. And if Incubus had inherited even a small part of Raven’s personality along with his powers, then Sarina supposed that killing him again would be all kinds of satisfying.
Turning her attention back to the exterior of the building, Sarina saw that the woman and child had nearly reached the mall. They were now quickly being ushered away from the destroyed park, fenced in by as many armed men as Sarina had spotted by the street corner.
Sarina invested a brief moment in studying the layout and structure of the villain base, as well as the buildings that were closest to it. She counted eight people without powers, whom she assumed to be armed scavengers and enforcers. One was up on the roof, two were guarding the main entrance, and three more accompanied Vautour and the two captives to the Collector’s base. Two loitered about inside the building.
Sarina couldn’t detect any traps or power markings, but it was easy to assume that if the Collector could create triggerable effects that were similar to Rune’s, he had secured any entrances into the building and perhaps his private quarters.
Once she’d seen enough, Sarina forced herself to abandon her second sight and turn her attention back to the Café interior. Letting go of all that intoxicating potential required some effort, but now that she’d grown more used to it, she could let it go with relative ease.
Patrick and Emily were watching her expectantly. Snow was staring through a window at the ominous dark sky.
But when she began to assemble a plan, everyone was listening.