Klosterneuburg, Austria – Tuesday, the 19th of June 2012. 11:05 AM.
The three Nameless left the department store. Despite the warning call Patrick had picked up from the store, the tree-lined square outside looked as peaceful and undisturbed as it had half an hour ago. No alarms had gone off. No one was walking in a hurry.
A brief look at Patrick’s withdrawn expression let Sarina know that he was still keeping an ear out for impending trouble. Knowing that he had trouble navigating his environment when he was zoned out like this, she shifted her grocery bags to one hand and took Patrick’s hand into hers, guiding him to the tree where they had left Snow.
The white-haired Revoker wasn’t sitting in the sun anymore. She was standing with her hands clutched over her stomach. Her eyes flicked down to the grocery bags, then up to Sarina’s face.
“Pretzel?” Snow asked with such a pleading voice that Sarina couldn’t help but feel la total letdown. But they had promised to bring back a tasty treat for Snow, after all.
“We gotta go,” Emily said quickly. “But we got enough stuff for everyone. Look, this is for you.” The little girl dug into the plastic bag containing the fruit and retrieved a family pack of gummy bears, holding it out to Snow.
Snow accepted the gift with one of her rare smiles. “Where go?” she asked, voicing the question Sarina had been brooding over since the moment they’d left the store.
For the moment at least, they were out of immediate danger. But it was only a matter of time until someone came up with the idea of searching the vicinity of the store – and perhaps the whole town – with the help of surveillance tech.
Patrick overheard someone saying that the Covenant is almost on their doorstep, she thought, glancing up at the sky. It was still and ordinary pale blue-grey. There was no trace of flying heroes.
Even if the Covenant was stationed in Bratislava, which would make sense given the ruckus Sarina had caused there, Samael would need at least a few minutes to fly over. Plenty of time to hide Snow and the kids someplace safe and get set up for a bit of scouting. If the Covenant wanted her badly enough to respond to a call from some Austrian warehouse, then she needed to learn anything she could to help her avoid them in the future.
Maybe she’d even get the opportunity to deal with the hero problem once and for all.
She wasn’t a scared little girl whose only choice was to run away. Not anymore.
“Hey, Sarina. Don’t space out. Where are we going?” Patrick asked.
“There,” Sarina said, pointing at the ancient monastery that towered over the eastern edge of the town. It was three stories high, with tall mullioned windows that lined every side of the pale yellow sandstone façade. Two high-peaked bell towers flanked the entrance to the cathedral, but Sarina had no intention of going there. She wasn’t about to entrust her companions to an uncaring God.
“Wouldn’t it be better to just leave town altogether?” Patrick asked with unmistakable skepticism.
“Not yet,” Sarina said. “We need longer than a minute to catch a ride that’s headed in the right direction. I’m going to figure something out, but not before I know you’re all going to be okay.”
I’m not taking chances with you guys. You’re my family now.
Sarina wasn’t concerned for herself, but the kids were vulnerable, and taking care of them had to come before dealing with her pursuers.
Before anyone could protest, Sarina grasped the fabric of reality through her power and twisted it, taking herself and her companions to the center of a street leading up to the monastery. After a quick check to ensure that everyone had safely made the trip with her, she teleported herself and the others the rest of the distance. Having line of sight helped her assess distance and altitude precisely enough that they made a soft landing on a paved parking lot.
The monastery was now directly in front of them, looking as depopulated as most of the town had. No cars were parked out front. The lattice gate leading to the monastery’s inner perimeter was closed tight. Next to the gate, a yellow sign informed visitors of the times and dates for guided tours. None were scheduled for a Tuesday morning.
“You want us to hide here?” Patrick asked, peering up at the three stories of arching windows that loomed above them.
“I don’t think there are any cameras in there,” Sarina replied. “And it’s not easy to get in without breaking any doors or windows. I’m pretty sure even the Covenant has to get permission before they can damage cultural assets.”
“I stay?” Snow asked, looking as lost and confused as her tone implied.
“Just for a little while,” Emily gently assured her. Then, her eyes flicked to Sarina, a tiny, scrutinizing frown on her lips. “It is just a little while, right? You’re not gonna do something stupid and leave us here?”
Sarina considered the possibility that her plan might be ‘something stupid’, then shook her head. She didn’t want to have that conversation right now, especially not out in the open, where anyone with a camera could easily spot them.
“I’m not going to leave you here,” she said, then teleported herself onto one of the second story windowsills without waiting for a response.
The room on the other side of the window was small, dusty and empty except for a few pieces of furniture that had been covered with white blankets. The only door was made from sturdy wood and equipped with a bar that hadn’t been lowered. It looked like a suitable hideout, and now that it was right before Sarina’s eyes, taking herself and her companions inside was child’s play.
Patrick landed right by the window, raising a small cloud of dust. Emily sneezed. Snow was watching Sarina expectantly, batting a flake of dust away with her long white lashes.
“Patrick, please bar the door,” Sarina said. She adjusted the heavy curtains that hung beside the window, shutting out the morning sun and any eyes that might spot them through the mullioned glass.
“Okay,” Patrick grumbled. “But you better explain what you’re planning. You can’t just yank us around without talking to us.”
The sound of solid wood shifting into place relieved Sarina of some of the built up pressure, and her thoughts calmed and slowed.
But the part of her that was eager to go out there and accept the Covenant’s challenge wasn’t pacified. Her pulse still raced with anticipation.
“I’m going to make sure we all get out of this okay,” she said, doing her best to keep her emotions out of her voice. “That’s the plan.”
“That’s not everything,” Emily sternly corrected her. “You wanna spy on the Covenant, and that’s stupid. We could all just hide in some forest until they stop looking.”
“We don’t need a forest to hide in,” Sarina argued. “We need to get to Paris as quickly as possible. I’m going to look around and find us another ride.”
“Oookay, so you’re not gonna let us talk you out of this,” Emily said, rolling her eyes. Now that the curtains had been drawn shut, her frown was only illuminated by a thin strip of sunlight. “So you gotta let me help at least. If you see any Covenant hero, bring me in for one look at them. Then we leave, and they can’t ever surprise us anymore because I’ll always know what they’re doing.”
“I’m not teleporting you within sight of them,” Sarina stated firmly. “That would be much more dangerous than me going alone.”
“I don’t like it either,” Patrick said. “What if they take Emily hostage or something? They’re the guys that killed Shanti.”
“You’re not gonna let them,” Emily said, gazing up at Sarina with a look that could have melted the glaciers in Switzerland. “You’re protecting me, right? You’re my guardian angel. And if I imprint Samael, we can get to Paris and find Jasper real quick. We don’t have to worry about the heroes if we know what they’re doing.”
Emily was so incredibly adorable as she made her point, so reasonable and so worthy of protection. Sarina’s mind blanked out for a moment, filled by a warm, comfortable haze that contained only a muddle of conjoined thoughts.
I’m her guardian angel go to Paris and find Jasper real quick.
“Don’t you worry, you sweet girl,” Sarina said, leaning forward to plant a little kiss on Emily’s dusty cheek. “We’ll do this together, and I won’t let anything happen to you.”
“Yay!” Emily called out cheerily, clapping her hands. “And don’t do anything stupid. You promised!”
Sarina didn’t remember making that particular promise, but it didn’t matter. She was going to keep it.
“What the hell?” Patrick protested. “How did I just get completely ignored? I thought after Ace and Tess, we agreed to stay out of…”
“Watch over each other while I’m gone,” Sarina said. Then, the fabric of reality shifted to relocate her, and she was out of the room and the monastery, back to the barred entry gate where she’d stood just before.
Come on, she thought with a glance up at the unchanged sky. Show yourselves already.
Another short leap through reality brought her to the top of a clock tower that was overlooking the eastern side of the small town. She could see the store and the adjoining square from there, though they were too far away to make out details.
Her life sense more than made up for it.
Sarina shifted her mental focus to the people that were moving below, reaching out for their aliveness with her superhuman senses. Her perception of reality suddenly changed. The town’s architectural structures were reduced to blurry, semitransparent layers, becoming gray, dull and insignificant. In between the deadness of all that material, the town’s living vegetation glowed with a green luminescence.
Sarina could easily spot people within her range; their life lights were as varied and colorful as the baubles on a Christmas tree. But the sheer amount of potential she gained from her power made it hard to focus on anyone or anything in particular. She wanted to look everywhere at once, wanted to see and understand the full extent of the alterations she could make.
Not important, she thought, clenching her teeth in an attempt to force her attention away from all that wasted potential. She had to find other Evolved presences before they found her. She rolled a shoulder, then bent her knees and dove downward to slap her palms onto the platform beneath her feet, extending the range of her life sense with her momentum.
And there it was. A foreign presence high above the town, as bright and powerful as a miniature sun. Sarina had never seen anything like it. The intruder’s life light was even brighter than Patrick’s, and Patrick had experienced a power surge.
Who the hell is this? Sarina thought, momentarily mesmerized by the aura that pulsed above her, sending waves of staggering power potential throughout the alternate reality of her life sense.
This was clearly more than just a power surge. This was something new, something unheard of. Whoever she was looking at definitely wasn’t Samael, or any other member of the Covenant she knew of. She wanted to, had to know who they were and what they were capable of. Especially if they were hunting for her.
They’re here for me.
Sarina snapped free of the mesmerizing beauty of her life sense. The luminescence and the layers of gray faded from her vision, replaced by an ordinary sky and the tiny speck of a person that dotted it.
He didn’t look so impressive without the pulsing shroud of power. Now that Sarina was gazing up at her nemesis’ real world appearance, he was just a distant presence, smaller than the size of her fingernail.
Then, he moved, faster than she’d ever seen anything move in her life. Her eyes couldn’t even track the movement. It was a downward flash that lasted for a fraction of a second, only marginally slower than teleportation.
Holy shit. Samael isn’t that fast.
It took Sarina more than that split second to realize that her nemesis hadn’t moved towards her, but down to the square she’d crossed after leaving the store. The store was about fifty meters away from her position, but considering that the clock tower wasn’t providing much in the way of cover, that didn’t seem so far.
Sarina didn’t attempt to observe the Covenant’s employ from her current position. She quickly estimated the distance, then grasped her power to relocate to the first cover in sight: a squat brick chimney on top of a five story building bordering the square.
From that position, she could hear the voices that drifted up from the plaza, she just couldn’t understand the words. Most of the voices seemed to belong to very surprised locals, but Sarina could easily pick out the one that was different. It was deep and vibrant, almost human, but slightly distorted. It echoed was if someone was speaking through a long tunnel.
Is that even a human? Sarina wondered. She wouldn’t know for sure without getting a better look, and she couldn’t head back to the others empty-handed.
Besides, Emily wanted to help. It was up to Sarina to make sure the little Empath wouldn’t be spotted – or worse – while imprinting the stranger’s mind.
Sarina had enough faith in her cover to lean around the chimney and take a peek. She spotted her nemesis immediately. The costumed figure stood at the center of the square, towering over the two dozen locals that clustered around him. He – she took a guess, there – was inhumanly tall, exceeding even the tallest of them by at least a meter. And the costume… Sarina would have been hard pressed to find the words to describe it.
It was a patchwork of different colors constantly shifted and blended into one another, as if they hadn’t quite decided on an appearance. Six cloth ribbons of varying color extended from his back, streaming in the air to form a semblance of wings similar to Samael’s, but shorter and fewer in number. Even the helmet that covered his head alternated shapes every few seconds.
The hands looked normal, at least. One of them was raised in a conciliatory gesture toward the gawking locals.
What is he telling them? Sarina wondered, wishing she could hear a damn thing. Or see better. But she couldn’t move down there for a better look. Not before she was reasonably certain there were no devices that could spot her. If anyone chanced to see her, things would escalate quickly. And while she was confident that she’d be able to hold her own, causing trouble in a populated town wasn’t on her list of priorities.
She had promised Emily not to do anything stupid, after all.
The solution seemed simple. I need a looking glass, she commanded.
Her power stirred in response and filled her mind with a flood of options. Even after all the time she’d made use of her power, the feel of it was still intoxicating, still as intense as the coke-induced highs she’d experienced in her past.
But when she looked down at her hand, she wasn’t holding a looking glass. She was looking at a pair of thick glasses with a gold rim, plain and heavy, like something designed for an older man to wear.
Damn it, she huffed in frustration. My power is as random as ever.
She wanted to throw the glasses against the nearest wall, but something gave her pause. Patrick believed that the range of his power extended far enough to cover her even here. Still, a pair of flying glasses could draw unwanted attention from pretty much anyone who was down in the square.
But I bet they won’t glance up if I don’t give them a reason to, she thought, inspired by an idea. As far as the rest of the world knew, flying had never been part of her powerset, and the heroes probably didn’t expect her to hover in midair.
I’m the Antithesis. I don’t have to follow rules. I can make my own.
Sarina grasped the potential under her command, determined to bend reality to her will. She fixated on her destination – a point in the air a short ways above the plaza and the absurdly tall hero – and hurled herself upward. Her vision blacked out for the briefest of moments, then she was in midair, keeping herself rooted there with nothing but her willpower.
She let out a little cry of triumph, struggling to contain the flood all those possibilities that opened up in her mind. No one heard her; no one looked up.
The hero below showed no reaction to her presence. Now that she was almost directly above him, she could see that he was built like a male human, but the body proportions seemed strangely off, as if someone had shaped a human effigy without a clear idea of real human anatomy. The sheer white mask that covered his face reinforced the dehumanizing appearance. It had eye holes, but no notches for nose and mouth.
The costume was stranger still. Now that Sarina was close enough to take in the details, she saw that her first impression had been accurate. Whatever material the costume was made of, it blurred and shifted, changing color in the blink of an eye. Watching the transformation made her head hurt. She had to avert her gaze after a few seconds.
Despite the mask that covered his mouth, the Covenant’s envoy had no trouble speaking. He addressed the gawking locals with a deep, vibrant voice that sounded almost human. It was just slightly distorted, echoing like someone speaking through a long tunnel.
“Please go inside,” he said in English-accented German. “You’ll be safe within your homes. Seek shelter inside a public venue if you need to.”
Who the hell are you? Sarina asked herself. She racked her brains for the answer but came up empty. None of the hero knowledge she’d accumulated over the past year provided any clues. I doubt you’re bulletproof, whoever you are.
She brought a hand to her hip to trace the shape of Ace’s holstered gun through the thin fabric of her shirt. The weight of it was reassuring, and she’d had enough practice to draw it within a couple of seconds if it came down to it. It would be less conspicuous than her powers, and as long as Patrick was covering her, using the gun would be perfectly silent as well.
And maybe a little stupid. Which meant she’d only get the gun out if she had to.
She couldn’t fathom how Mr. One Man Show intended to find her. Despite the impressive power she’d seen through her life sense, he hadn’t done anything yet. Just to be safe, she adjusted her position enough to stay off his radar if he looked directly up.
Just when she began to suspect nothing was going to happen, he split in three. Sarina blinked. The effect had looked like an illusion of some kind, some kind of visual stunt to trick the senses. But the three shapes were still there, and she recognized two of them.
At the center stood Samael, clad in his black and silver Covenant costume with its multitude of streaming wing ribbons that fanned out from his back. To his left was a small, bald man with Asian features whose ash-colored robe Sarina didn’t recognize.
However, she did know the slender female to Samael’s right. The skintight one-piece bodysuit complete with a streamlined, white-streaked racing helmet identified her as Velocity, a Portuguese rogue who had been featured in a number of television shows and news articles. Apparently, the woman wasn’t a rogue anymore.
Sarina wasn’t terribly concerned by Velocity’s appearance. The woman could infuse anyone and anything she touched with superhuman speed, but she couldn’t fly, and her throwing weapons lacked superhuman accuracy. Sarina didn’t remember their exact range, but she did know that it was rather unimpressive.
The Asian man concerned her more and not only because she didn’t recognize him. He carried himself with an air of confidence and didn’t betray even a flicker of emotion. It was unnerving. He didn’t seem to care who or what he was going up against; he just stood there, tugging at the wide sleeves of his robe while the townsfolk retreated from the plaza. His two companions, at least, scanned the area with watchful eyes.
You’re looking for me. The monster. How can you be so calm? Sarina thought, narrowing her eyes at the trio. As she developed the thought further, she could easily assume that the Asian man had been the cause of the abnormal signature she’d seen through trough her life sense. He also had to have been responsible for the gargantuan figure she’d seen before – the three combined heroes, perhaps?
Were their powers combined, too? Sarina shuddered at the possibility. It certainly explained the incredible flying speed and the team’s swift arrival on site. Her more cowardly half was anxious to call it quits and just get the kids out of here, but the rational part of her brain argued that she hadn’t learned very much about these heroes yet.
Right now, she had the advantage. They obviously weren’t aware of her presence a small distance above them. Bringing Emily in was still an option, though Sarina wanted to wait just a little longer to ensure it was safe.
As she watched, Samael gave Grey Robe a signal. The bald Asian man produced something from his robe and held it up before his face – a small cube that shone with a silvery metallic gleam. Velocity touched it, most likely to infuse it with her power.
Then the cube it dissolved into a myriad of tiny parts that swirled about Grey Robe. If it wasn’t for the metallic gleam and the fact that they had been a compact object a moment ago, Sarina might have mistaken them for a swarm of insects.
Her eyes went wide. A Technician? She wondered. That would have been the logical conclusion, but Technicians tinkered with Tech, not people. She was reasonably sure that the big guy from before had been a person, not a robot.
Then the swarm scattered to the four winds with lightning speed, revealing its purpose.
There had to be fifty of them. They moved faster than the Covenant team’s original drones had, disappearing within the blink of an eye. Sarina barely managed to count a handful before they disappeared into the department store. She couldn’t keep track of the others. By the time her attention flitted back to the trio on the plaza, the swarm was gone.
Sarina was quite sure that none of them had gone up. The ones she’d seen had kept close to ground level, and she could imagine them zipping through private homes, startling locals and finding nothing. Certainly not her companions. Emily and the others were safely hidden away behind solid walls, a window and opaque curtains.
I’m your guardian angel, Sarina thought, smiling to herself.
Then Samael spoke up and spoiled it all. “If this doesn’t work, we still have Dancer’s brother,” he said.