Liverpool, England – Tuesday, the 12th of June, 2012. 04:58 PM.
The instant the hero charged, Dancer blinked out of the studio to relocate to the flat-topped roof. She appeared in midair beneath the overcast sky, hanging there for a brief instant before dropping two feet. She landed, hard, on the asphalt near the huge white satellite dish crowning the top of the building.
A loud bang came from below, followed by a flash of white light that shone like lightning through the hole Raven’s crew had left behind. The shockwave of Crashbang’s high velocity impact with the studio sent a tremor throughout the building. If Dancer hadn’t made it out in time, she would have been blinded, stunned, and possibly unconscious.
Just like the poor stage manager and the cameramen. She didn’t remember anyone evacuating the television staff.
You’re not going to like that, Crybaby, Dancer thought scornfully. We’re the terrorists now.
Ignoring the irritating ache that pulsed through her ankle, Dancer recoiled from the edge of the roof to take cover behind the satellite dish. She didn’t know whether Sunny’s power was still covering her, but she was well aware a sniper could take her out in an instant.
Another powered flashbang, louder than the first, shook the building. Dancer reflexively turned her face away from the blinding light. She counted the seconds, waiting for a third shockwave. None came. After a half minute of silence, she emerged from her cover to look through the hole into the studio below, keeping her head low to not provide the police snipers with a target.
“I’m on the roof,” she called down.
No response came. Sunny’s power is still working on me, she concluded.
Dancer peered through the opening, laying flat on her stomach. She couldn’t see the hero, but she heard him talk and move around the studio. He kept his voice so low she could only make out a few words.
“… not in here … maybe … getting away … perimeter …”
Shit. The heroes are going after Jasper and the others.
She had to distract Crashbang—and by extension his team—long enough for the Nameless to get to the safety of the station wagon.
Message on the floor, she commanded. The studio’s cement floor responded to her power, rippling and warping just like the wall she’d mended a minute before. Crooked but readable letters appeared on the floor in bold blue strokes.
ON THE ROOF.
Another flash came through the hole, followed by a thundering bang. She pulled back, her hands flying up to shield her eyes from the inferno of brightness.
Can’t you read, dumbass?
Once the light had receded enough for her to see the top of the roof again, Dancer shifted focus to check on the life lights of her friends as well as the uninvited visitors. The intoxicating feel of her power sucked her in, absorbed her, filled her up with the dazzling beauty of the life lights that shone all around her.
She sensed Crashbang the studio below. He stood near the dim presences of two individuals who lay sprawled on the ground. Cameramen who’d been caught within the shockwave of his power, she assumed. Others were now flooding into the room, but none of them had the distinctive glow of powers about them. She assumed they were security guards.
The Nameless had already made it through a few rooms and were stopped short at the top of the stairway they’d used earlier. Dancer wondered why they hadn’t used the fire ladder, before realizing the boy was in no shape to climb.
But why are they stopping? she thought, suspecting that it wouldn’t be long before the EU’s mystery Teleporter moved Crashbang there.
She scanned the area for answers and found Rune near the bottom of the stairwell along with two other superpowered individuals: that damned Teleporter and someone else she hadn’t identified yet, most likely Skyfire or Aura. A tail of life light trailing behind Rune gave away the fact that he was encircling the area with another one of his effects.
It’s like he doesn’t learn or something, she mused as she commanded the floor in Rune’s wake to reform itself and return to a clean state.
Move the heroes out of the stairwell, Dancer commanded.
Moving them without hurting them was the hard part. How could she be sure to avoid any potential structural hazards when all the inanimate objects in her perception field were nothing more than blurry grey blobs?
Just do it already, she thought. Two birds with one stone.
Sliding the plastic mask up to perch on top of her head, Dancer reached for Rune’s presence first, plopping him down on the edge of the roof about ten meters away from her. She grabbed for the other unidentified EU hero next, hoping it was Aura and not Skyfire, who could obliterate her target in milliseconds. But just when Dancer was about to reach for the Teleporter, he vanished from her range.
Dancer clenched her fists and her jaw, forcing her mind to abandon the alternate reality of her life sense. When her attention was back on the roof, she found herself face to face with Rune and Skyfire.
The Swedish hero was easily identifiable by his distinctive, television-primed costume consisting of a horned helmet, a short fur cape and belted Viking tunic. His long brown hair hung over one armored shoulder in a tightly wound braid. His hands gripped the long wooden shaft of an axe whose humungous steel glowed red in the reflected afternoon light, marked by one of the powered runes that were his trademark. Dancer didn’t recognize the effect, but she knew she didn’t want to be struck or even touched by it. The Swede’s power included several runes that would incapacitate her in an instant.
Skyfire’s tight red outfit was asymmetrical and jaggedly cut to symbolize flame tongues. Long triangular shreds of fabric in varying shades of red completed the look, dangling to the knees of her bright orange leggings. A red carnival mask with rhinestones covered the upper half of her face, framed by the wisps of dark blonde hair that had escaped her bun.
To Dancer’s surprise, Rune was looking straight at her. So they can see me now, she concluded, glad that Sunny invested his remaining strength to help the other Nameless escape instead of wasting it on her.
Skyfire broke the tense, standoffish silence before Rune did. “On the roof,” she reported through her headset microphone. “We have a visual of the female target. We’ll bring her down as soon as the situation is secured. Standby.”
So they don’t want to kill me, Dancer mused. One point in my favor.
Rune crossed his arms over his tunic. “Are you ready to cooperate or will we have to take you by force?”
“Why am I getting special treatment?” she retorted in a cool, dispassionate tone Sarina had never been able to pull off. A tone that said she was on top of the world, prepared to tip the scales in her favor if necessary.
It wasn’t a bluff. At least, she didn’t think it was. Not if she got the chance to act first.
Rune shifted his axe from hand to hand threateningly, eyes locked onto her. “All we know is the Covenant asked us not to kill you.”
Dancer was incredulous. First they wanted to kill her, and now they didn’t?
Her eyes shifted to Skyfire, whose right hand glowed with dozens of bright golden sparks. According to rumors, the heroine discharged a superheated homing missile that traveled faster than anyone could run without velocity-boosting powers. Dancer wasn’t sure she’d be able to relocate in time before one of those shots incinerated her, but she willed herself to appear calm. Fearless. All-powerful.
“Where’s DJ?” Skyfire demanded, her tone sharper than Rune’s had been.
Why would they care about him? Dancer mused. Unless they’re trying to stall me just like I’m stalling them….
Nice try, but no dice. Instead of taking their bait, Dancer decided to bring Crashbang into the mix and prevent him from obstructing the Nameless’s getaway. She reached out blindly, not triggering her life sense. This current situation was too tense to abandon her focus on the here-and-now. Hoping for the best, she willed Crashbang him to materialize in front of her.
Another figure blinked into existence, but it wasn’t the hero she’d reached for. Dancer recognized the new arrival’s black and white costume from the flash she’d briefly spotted in the studio.
She wasn’t sure why this guy had appeared instead of Crashbang. She considered reaching for the superpowered human grenade again, but something told her she’d be in trouble if she didn’t first deal with the heroes who were already staring down. Especially now that it was three against one. Her team would have to make their way out on their own.
Having made her decision, she turned her full attention to the newcomer. The way he jerked his head around to find his bearings let her know she’d caught him off guard at his own game.
Besides, he had the look of a puppy among wolves. The brown-skinned young man’s costume consisted of baggy pants that were black on the left side and white on the right, a simple white paper mask barely covering the area around his eyes, and a long-sleeved black shirt with a white rook sewn onto the front.
So the newest addition to the EU heroes team likes chess, she thought, looking at the obvious newbie with condescension. Well, get ready to play.
“So what’s your new guy’s name?” Dancer asked Rune. She couldn’t take her eyes off his glowing axe clade.
Skyfire would incinerate me if I disarmed him, she judged. That girl looks trigger happy.
“This is Checkmate,” Rune replied.
Then, before she could reply, Rune signaled to Checkmate with his index finger and the Teleporter disappeared from the roof.
“Now it’s my turn to ask you a question,” Rune continued. “Why aren’t you trying to escape with the other villains?”
So we’re officially all villains now. Dancer was amused but not surprised. She didn’t have any illusions about the Covenant letting the other Nameless live if they got caught. The villain label was equivalent to an execution order.
Dancer stalled a moment before replying, listening to the still air around her. Every second that passed without Crashbang’s power going off meant the Nameless were making more and more progress on their getaway. The instant Crashbang had an inkling of where the Nameless were, he would detonate the entire radius around them, decimating them whether they were visible or not.
Dancer resisted Rune’s question, countering it with one of her own. “Why don’t you forget about us and go after Raven instead? He’s the one who kidnapped Kovac. Isn’t it obvious we’re not in on his scheme? The Crows left us behind to be obliterated by Crashbang. Who has caused more property damage than all the rest of us combined, by the way.”
“You’re just lucky no one was killed,” Rune said. “And I’m sure the Covenant has the Raven situation under control.”
Dancer smirked beneath her mask. “And now you’re trying to get me under control,” she stated.
It wasn’t an unreasonable goal for the heroes to pursue. She didn’t doubt she had the potential to kill every single person within a mile radius—if she got the half minute of dancing time she’d need to extend her radius that far. Causing wide-scale destruction wouldn’t even be particularly difficult. She could collapse buildings. Cause floods. Command the ground to rise up and swallow any living creature.
The heroes couldn’t know she had no reason or motivation to tap into that destructive potential. She was no murderer, and she had absolutely no desire to show the whole world what she could do. Too much attention was rarely a good thing.
“Will you call Crashbang up here if I agree to come with you without a fight?” she asked Rune. Her eyes darted back to the sparks whirling around Skyfire’s hand like a swarm of killer bees.
The Viking didn’t look impressed. “Or we could just capture you now.”
“You’ll never get a better opportunity to take me, and you know it. I’m sure the Covenant has informed you of my powers.”
What they gathered from my transition, anyway.
The hero hesitated before tapping the side of his horned helmet. “Team. Hold,” he said into his helmet headset.
Skyfire’s head snapped around and the sparks in her palm flared. “You actually believe her?”
“Sarina Baumann is known to be an honest girl,” Rune said, lifting his axe and pointing it at Dancer. “I don’t know why she ran away, but I’m told she was very cooperative before she did.“
Dancer almost laughed. You’re confusing me with someone else.
“Besides, bringing her in peacefully is our priority,” the Swede reminded his cohort. “Athena’s protocol.”
Athena’s protocol? What the fuck? The Covenant heroine’s name made Dancer more suspicious than any of the previous talk had. Last she remembered, she’d been on the Covenant’s hit list. And now she was to be brought in peacefully? No, she wasn’t going to come along quietly, and she couldn’t ignore the fact that Crashbang was still somewhere out there, going after her team.
“I want to see your whole team up here so I know you’re not lying,” she told Rune.
He sounded offended. “We’re heroes. We don’t lie.”
But you don’t care much about the truth either, do you? You just believe what other people tell you about me.
After all, when this was over, she’d get labeled a villain. Dancer had no doubt about it. She didn’t expect Crybaby would take it well, but one could always hope.
“Fine, I’ll call them up,” Rune finally agreed when she didn’t reply. “But first I need to mark you with a rune.”
“Get your team up here first,” Dancer insisted, backing away. The pain she’d been trying to ignore shot through her ankle as she moved.
Rune tapped his headset with an irritated flick of his fingers. “Checkmate, come back up to the roof. And bring Crashbang.”
Checkmate and Crashbang appeared on the roof a brief moment later. The Teleporter shot an inquisitive glance to Rune, but Crashbang’s eyes were warily fixed on Dancer.
“See? We’re all here now,” Rune stated the obvious. “As I said, I have to mark you. It won’t hurt if you don’t move.”
He shifted his grip on the axe and brought his other hand up to his chest. His fingertips glowed faintly as they moved back and forth against his tunic, coding some sort of message. Whichever rune he was creating, Dancer knew she couldn’t wait for him to finish and attach it to her. She had to get away. Now.
The easiest thing to do would be to throw them off the building before Skyfire had a chance to vaporize her. She didn’t think the Teleporter would keep on hopping around if his legs were broken. But Crybaby’s voice was nagging at her from somewhere deep inside, pleading with her not to hurt the heroes.
Fine, Crybaby. You win.
There was only one way she could think of to disarm the heroes without killing them.
An instant after she willed the command in her mind, a section of the overcast sky ripped open and from the gaping hole spewed a high-pressurized jet of thick, brown, foul-smelling fluid aimed right at the roof.
Checkmate got the worst of the downpour that came out of nowhere and smelled suspiciously like sewage. The pungent smell was so powerful that Dancer reflexively took a step backwards.
That’s liquid shit, not water, she thought sourly as her cloak got soaked with backsplash. Not exactly what I had in mind….
The other heroes evaded the worst of the downpour. The cluster of red embers was doused in Skyfire’s palm, and Rune shouted something incomprehensible, causing the rune on his axe blade to steam as the sludgy water made contact.
Get me down into the studio, Dancer willed herself, reaching up to pull her mask down over her face again.
Her power flared on cue, whisking her away to the wardrobe room beside the studio the Nameless had stepped through just minutes ago. The blind leap through spatial reality sent her crashing into some kind of countertop with a coffee machine on it. A sharp pain shot through her hip, and her ankle screamed in protest. She reeled. A yelp of surprise from behind prompted her to whirl around. A guard in full body armor stood just inside the wardrobe room door, one hand dropping to the gun on his belt.
The guard got ahold of the gun and was drawing it, shouting into his radio as he did.
Remembering the window she’d glimpsed above the coffee maker, Dancer spun back around and pushed her physical presence into the sky beyond the glass. A millisecond later she found herself a hundred feet beyond the building’s brick exterior, momentarily suspended ten stories in mid-air. Then she started to fall, the cloak flapping wildly above her head.
Dancer looked down without conscious thought, not giving herself the time to be afraid. A red parked Ford was just below her. She willed herself to exist there. Her power flared, sending her through spatial reality to appear on the sidewalk right next to the car. She landed on her knees so hard that the impact sent a wave of agony through her legs.
Dancer cried out in pain even as she tucked and rolled to take cover against the car. She blinked away the annoying tears, forcing herself to focus. Someone was shouting in the distance and the shrill whine of sirens closed in on her from all directions.
Dancer gritted her teeth and pushed herself up from the rough pavement, gasping in pain. Now that she was back on her feet, she found herself beside the main road that ran in front of the NBE Britain building, about twenty meters from the main entrance. An alarming number of police cars was closing in on her, on their way to join the dozens of other cruisers already parked in the vicinity.
The ache in her legs told her she was going to have difficulty walking. She wanted to reach out with her senses to locate the others, but she’d be a sitting duck while her attention drifted between realities. An easy target for the buzzing police swarm.
Dancer glanced down the road, scanning it for cover. Her eyes landed on a large shop window filled with mannequins dressed up in women’s fashion. In there, she commanded.
She flickered away from the sidewalk and appeared in the shop’s front display, landing on her feet. A small glass bottle toppled to the floor and shattered, releasing a scent of spilled perfume into the air. A startled woman’s shriek came from somewhere behind.
Piss off. I’m not here to steal your stuff.
Dancer wasted no time looking around the shop. She hopped down from the shopwindow to take cover behind a rack of colorful summer skirts. When she was reasonably sure she wouldn’t be seen by any passersby, she allowed her senses to expand, taking in the layout of the world in a hundred meter radius around her. A lone life light shimmered behind her, backing away toward the storage rooms at the back of the shop.
It took her a few more seconds to locate the EU heroes, who remained on top of the NBE Britain building. The distinctive white glow of the life light she’d identified as the Teleporter was lying prone on the roof, flickering feebly. The other Evolved life lights clustered around their fallen teammate, as if shielding him from further peril.
He won’t die over some liquid shit, Dancer assured Crybaby.
She bowed her head and refocused to search for her own teammates instead. They were about thirty meters behind the NBE Britain building, moving down the back alley toward the empty lot where they’d parked their car, staggering along with excruciating slowness. Dancer detected no guards or police following them. Sunny’s power surged life light flared with the power of a miniature sun, outshining the others so much that it was hard for Dancer to do a headcount.
Be with them, Dancer instructed herself, focusing on a part of the alley with fewer greyish inanimate material blurs than the rest of the laneway. She flickered out of existence once again, hoping she wouldn’t crush a teammate by landing on them.
She reappeared on the pavement just a few meters ahead of the group, and though she landed on her feet, her useless legs collapsed beneath her. She dropped to one knee, pressing a fist against her lips to keep from crying out.
“Sarina!” Jasper’s surprised voice called out.
She looked up and saw Sunny’s half-collapsed cloaked figure being propped up by a much larger one. Ace, presumably. The boy’s drooped head was bobbing almost lifelessly with each step Ace took. Tess, whose scraggly red hair had escaped her hood, was murmuring reassuring words in Sunny’s direction. Jasper’s gangly figure trailed behind Snow’s shorter one. A small part of Dancer was glad to see him safe, though her opinion of him hadn’t changed. The guy was a helpless puppy.
“That you, Wondergirl?” Ace called out.
Dancer rolled her eyes and pushed her mask up to reveal her snarling face. “Who the fuck else would it be?”
“Oh, it’s you,” Ace replied drily.
She brushed off his weirdness; she was in no mood to argue. She tried to stand, but her effort made her cry out in agony. Her eyes reflexively sought out Jasper. Strangely, he didn’t approach her to help. He averted his eyes as if it pained him to look at her.
So now you’re backing off? She would have smirked at the irony if she hadn’t been in so much pain.
It was Tess who came forward to help get her to the car. “We all know you’re tough, girl, but it looks like you could use a little help,” she declared.
Dancer didn’t protest for once.
No one talked as they walked the rest of the way to the station wagon. When they reached the vehicle, Ace and Tess helped a barely conscious Sunny into a back seat before getting into the front of the vehicle and pulling off their masks.
Ace turned around in his seat, putting a hand on the boy’s shoulder. “Can you still hide us, Sunny Boy?”
Sunny’s response was a low murmur, lost in the depths of his hood. “Yeah.”
“Just hide the car, okay, Sun?” Tess lulled. “Don’t worry about anything else.”
The boy nodded weakly.
Dancer glanced at Jasper as she squeezed her aching limbs into the seat beside him, behind Snow’s seat. He still wasn’t looking at her. He just slumped against the brown leather seat, brooding silently, not bothering to take the mask off. He kept his face hidden from view, not bothering to take the mask off.
I’m sure Crybaby will be sorry you got your feelings hurt.
Dancer clenched her teeth as she tried to find a halfway comfortable position. Both of her knees throbbed with every heartbeat, and her hip screamed in protest whenever it bumped against the seat cushion. Her body was in so much pain that she didn’t even feel the throb in her ankle anymore.
Tess started the car, then pulled out of the parking lot and onto the road. The movement seemed to ease the pain somewhat. Or maybe it was just the prospect of getting away.
“I can’t believe Queenie’s dead,” Ace said flatly from the front passenger seat.
“Allegedly dead,” Tess amended.
If Raven’s crew ends up recruiting whoever gets Queenie’s powers, I might actually kill someone, Dancer thought angrily. Those assholes don’t deserve powers. She hadn’t forgotten the way Raven had eyeballed her after her dance at the Sun King’s court. They don’t deserve dicks, either.
Jasper shifted uncomfortably in his seat, leaning against the window beside him, further away from her.
What’s your problem with me?
“You gonna come back to us, Wondergirl?” Ace asked into the silence.
It took her a moment to understand what he was asking her. “Not yet,” she said. “When we get someplace safe. I’m sure you can figure why.”
He met her eyes in the rearview mirror. “Need a doctor?”
“Just rest, I think. A few days for sure.”
No one said anything else as they made their way out of Liverpool, successfully evading two police road blocks. No one as much as batted an eye at them as they drove around the obstacle. While Dancer appreciated the collective idiocy of the police and the heroes, she couldn’t hold back from commenting.
“Someday, they’ll figure the camera thing out and we’ll be in deep shit.”
“Probably,” Ace replied with dry austerity.
When they were beyond the city limits, Ace turned the car radio on to a news channel. The announcer’s words rendered them all speechless. Even Dancer.
New York’s gone to hell, and I wasn’t even there to see it.