“What did you do?” Vorpal demanded from atop the ancient tower she suddenly found herself on.
“Why do you think this was me?” Warrick shot back. He was standing on the wall adjoining said tower—no armor, no armbands he used to summon Isp and Osp, no chain-link belt—No metal at all. He was wearing only the black togs and Zorro-style bandanna over the top half of his face.
Vorpal leapt nimbly down from the tower to the wall. She was wearing her combat outfit, complete with her cowl. “Because this sort of thing is what happens to heroes, not people like me. Do you ever hear of anyone not of your… persuasion running into dragons or giant centipedes,”
“Or metal-bending ninjas who moonlight as—”
She cut him off. “Shut it. From that ‘intro’, we’re being broadcast and I’d rather everyone from Taiwan to Texas knowing my business. Now explain how we ended up here and what this guy expects us to do.” She ran one hand over the orihalcite chainmail that made up part of her suit. “And why is my suit made of… glass?”
Warrick raised an eyebrow as a sudden thought struck him. “You couldn’t have felt that through your gloves—ah jeez, are you…”
“What? Do you think I have a parka and an old fashioned onesie on under my form-fitting, built for agility suit? Grow up!”
Shaking his head, Warrick went over to the edge of the wall and looked down. “Never mind. I am having the worst week. This was my first mission leading the team and it went so far sideways that it’s in another, highly disappointing timeline that makes no sense.”
“Remember when I was talking about the dragons and centipedes?” said Vorpal, “You’re already living in that timeline. But speaking of not making any sense… What exactly is this all about? What are we even fighting for? That asshole that was shouting earlier said it was a fight between good and evil. I’m pretty sure where I stand on that metric, but what’s the actual prize? What happens to the losers?”
“What do you mean ‘what happens to the losers?’”
Vorpal huffed and put her hands on her hips. “Do you think every situation like this is like an anime tournament arc where the losers go into the stands to root for their friends? I’ve been around and there’s more super-fights than end up on basic internet channels—some of them are to the death. Some of those? Even if you survive the fight, they still put a couple of slugs in your dome for losing.”
This made Warrick grimace and look out over the overgrown countryside. Wherever they were, we wasn’t going to be able to get to his friends to help them. Hell, there was very little metal around to help him fend off his cousin if she decided she didn’t want to see what happened to the losers.
He was up against a reality-warper for certain. And if Hermes was anything to go by, it wouldn’t be a fight he could win with all the Damascus steel in the world.
“You’re right.” He trotted over to his cousin. “Look: this whole thing is probably to do with the artifact we were tracking down.” Looking her in the eye as best he could given her goggles, he rested his hands on her shoulders. “If that’s the case…”
Lunging forward, she slammed his forehead into the bridge of her nose.
It wasn’t the best headbutt, and the nose-piece of her goggles hurt like hell, but it did the job of making her stumble. In that moment of surprise, he hooked his leg behind hers and shoved, bearing her to the ground with enough force to shake the poorly-fitted cobbles atop the wall.
Before her form had even settled on the ground, he dropped on her with a knee to the gut, hunching over her form.
“Sorry,” He grunted, planting a fist in the side of her head with enough power to hopefully knock her out. It was a certainty that he wouldn’t be able to catch the ninja by surprise again. “But I’ve seen other ways this can go too: And even if you might not use the artifact for something heinous, the prize might go to just the general ‘evil’ side, like that elf guy.”
Scrambling to his feet, he truck off toward the tower Vorpal had been standing on. “Please just stay down. IF you don’t, just know I’ll have found some metal by the time you get up.”
With that, he ducked into the tower and started making his way down.
Swamps were few people’s favorite places.
The water was muddy and full of algae and peat and other things most would consider some variety of ‘icky’. There were mosquitoes and leeches and all manner of biting insect. All around, the plants grew in thick knots that made movement difficult.
Most people weren’t Cynthia Brant.
To her, the water was full of organic matter for her to absorb. The biting insect similarly met ironic ends, as did any plant that got in her way. The place was pretty much a walk-in buffet and a godsend to Cyn, who hadn’t had a proper gorge-fest in days at that point.
A long vine was slowly drawn into her forearm where it had tangled moments before, reminding her of slurping spaghetti. It wasn’t just because she was hungry though; after the crazy announcement of doing battle with the forces of evil. She was going to build up all the mass she could.
“You really are disgusting,” An familiar voice carried over the almost still water, drawing her attention to a spit of land that was eighty percent made up of the twisted roots of the trees they sat upon.
Cyn probably could have helped it, but just for the pure spite of it, she burst out laughing. “You? In the ‘great battle between good and evil’, you’re the best opponent they could come up with for my badass self?” She cracked her knuckles. “Not that I’m complaining…”
Raising an eyebrow, Simon Talbot merely stared her down from his little island.
That only made Cyn laugh harder. “Oh! Or is that even really you? Maybe you somehow roped another poor shapeshifter into taking your lumps for you, ya coward?”
“You talk as if you have even the slightest idea what’s going on here,” replied Talbot, folding his arms. “Tell me, Cynthia: do you? Are is my favorite C-student just using bravado as a coping mechanism. If there’s one thing I know about you from Academy records and surveillance is that you’re very good at coping mechanisms.”
The white-haired woman’s mirth ended at that. She’d never thought about what now seemed like the obvious fact that Project Tome had gathered information on their victims—or how that information would end up in Talbot’s hands.
His own smarmy expression growing, Talbot fiddled with his cuff links before pressing further. “Do you even know what we are right now, or do you just not question things and just go wherever someone points you? I can’t imagine why a genius like Laurel Brant would want to adopt a simpleton like you for a daughter anyway—or did she just want a pet that’s easy (if not cheap) to feed?”
“Welp.” Cyn uttered, then immediately snapped into action. Her great strength made the resistance of the water she was wading in almost a non-issue as she charged. Wordless, she reared back one arm, shifting mass into it before following through with a crashing blow toward Talbot’s gut.
Then there was pain.
Every bone in her hand and wrist broke as Talbot casually reached out and caught the mighty punch in his palm, stopping it cold.
It was less her pain than the lack thereof on what she’d expected to be a thoroughly squishy normal human that made Cyn’s eyes widen in shock. She had just enough time to be confused before Talbot’s hand closed on her fist and he flung her hard into the nearest tree. It became kindling before Cyn’s tripled mass and she continued on until crashing down into the water.
She bobbed to the surface, sputtering and coughing. “Wha—how?!”
Talbot shrugged off his suit coat and folded it neatly atop a branch. “I head a hundred year-old conspiracy dedicated to cataloging, studying and distributing powers and abilities. Did you really not think I would make sure I benefited from that?”
Removing and pocketing his cuff links, he rolled up his sleeves. “One of the first human-safe products of Project Tome: SSJ-3 Metaserum. Originally developed for the DoD, it dramatically boosts reflexes and physical durability, increases strength tenfold, plus I’m told it retards the aging process. Of course, there were some qualms about side effects: sterility, sociopathic tendencies… But then not all of use want little hellspawn underfoot, and sociopathy is the path to corporate success, so what do I care?”
He took a boxer’s stance at the edge of the little island, facing Cyn. “And now that we know my secret origin, little hero… how about I tell you yours?”
Another obsidian blade shattered against the blue-gray metal braid, making Tink glad her goggles were there to stop the shrapnel.
Her eyes followed the loop around La Dama Obsidiana’s wrist, across a short two-foot length to an identical one around her own. It was an eye-watering arrangement to look at; the metallic cord seeming to be a single long piece with no beginning and no end even though it wrapped their wrists and only had one line of connecting between them. Like a moebius strip from hell.
Or somewhere else.
Looking back at La Dama—considering the situation she couldn’t think of her as the President at the moment—she grew worried. The older woman was desperate to get free, hacking and smashing at it with whatever tool she could extrude from her pores with her powers.
“Hold on. Let me try.” Tink interrupted, opening a compartment on the back of one of her gauntlets. From it, she plucked a golden-hued metal flechette. “This is orihalcite. As far as I can tell it’s one of the strongest metallic alloys in existence and this blade was cast to be incredibly sharp.”
With that explanation, she moved to slice that the cord. The action didn’t even leave a scratch.
“Hmm. I don’t think this is normal metal.”
La Dama frowned, her brow creasing. “You don’t suppose we’re dealing with the actual Loki here and this is something like the chain that bound Fenrir, do you?”
“As foreboding as that thought it, I can’t rule it out. My goggles have metals that only exist in the labs at our headquarters on record and this stuff is even farther removed from conventional metal than those.” She looked around them.
They had appeared, chained together, in the back yard of a dilapidated house. A rusted car lay partway through a thoroughly rotted fence and none of their other surroundings looked any better and the ground was spongy and muddy.
“The other big problem? We’re not in Columbia anymore. GPS says we’re back in America—Scallop Key, Florida in fact.”
La Dama also looked around. The only light they had to see by was the full moon. Not a single window on a single house was lit. “Where are all the people?”
“Gone for a long time,” Tink explained. “A lot of people celebrate that we managed to reverse the effects of global warming before it was too late, but they forget that entire communities were destroyed by floods and super-storms before that happened. Big cities like New Orleans managed to come back, but places like this?” She stomped the spongy, unstable ground to demonstrate, “It never became safe to return.”
“Any idea why we’re here?” asked La Dama. She was half-distracted, still pulling on the cord between them. “And where the opponents we’re meant to be fighting are?”
Tink shrugged. “It’s probably best we avoid them for now. At least until were have a better lay of the land and maybe get an understanding of the rules of this tournament.”
Once more, La Dama observed the chain. “Do you think they’ll be in a chained heat situation too?”
Then made Tink give her an odd look. “That… phrase doesn’t have the same meaning in Colombia as it does in America does it?”
La Dama quirked an eyebrow. “Two people who with opposing viewpoints forced to work together, usually by handcuffing or chaining them together?”
“Well that too, but there’s a more… fanfiction-y version. One that comes from women in prison movies.”
“Ironically, your powers mean you’ve be safe around me,” La Dama shrugged. “But I’m not attracted to women and I’m pretty sure you aren’t either, so let’s focus on the task at hand.”
Tink squinted at her through her goggles. “Interesting you say that, seeing as you’re most focused on the chain. Is that from the Mara Sangua?”
The older woman gave a slight tug on the chain to indicate she intended to move and Tink obliged, following her toward where the car had gone through the fence. “Back before… before things got even worse, we were put on chain gangs to do the work around the plantation.”
Giving one more look to the cord, she peered through the broken fence. The street was nearly gone; small islands of crumbling asphalt floating in seas of gravel and mud. Decades of abandonment coupled with nature itself would erase the town entirely before long.
She started to step out, but something caught her eye and she tugged gently on the cord to stop Tink. Making a shushing motion, she directed the younger woman’s attention to a light further up the street. Whatever it was burned blue and steady, but was moving, apparently heading away from the main street.
“Looks like I actually have a reason to use this for once,” Tink said, reaching into one of the many pockets of her kilt to extract an oval-shaped case the size of her palm. Manipulating a switch on its underside, she made it extend a male connector with which she plugged the whole thing into the back of her right gauntlet.
Trying to keep her eye on the new device and the light from their prospective enemies, La Dama asked, “use what?”
The seams of the case lit dimly before opening to reveal what appeared to be a matte navy blue egg supported in a similarly covered ring flanked by a pair of dull gray nacelles. “The City Falcon. Urban stealth recon drone. Not normally useful with people like Cyn and Kareem on the team, and it’s free-lev, so it needs to be in a place with metallic infrastructure to work, but when they’re not around and we’re in a place like this.”
With a few taps on Tink’s palmtop brought the device to life, causing it to rise into the air. It was completely silent.
Reaching up to the side of her goggles, she switched its them over to play a feed from the drone’s camera in a box to the side of the normal view. Then, using hand motions, she guided the drone to fly toward the retreating light they’d been watching.
“If the people of my country could see with you’re capable of without even using your powers… thing really could change,” La Dama noted as the drone disappeared into the darkness.
Tink didn’t react to the complement outwardly—she was too focused on controlling the drone—but she did feel herself flush a little. After all, that woman had once been her hero. “Coming up on them now,” she said, trying to sound nonchalant.
Then she forgot all about that. “Oh my…”
“What? Do you recognize them?”
“Yeah. They’ve fought the Descendants a number of times before, but never while I was involved. They’re a pretty big deal and bad news to boot: The Knights Amore Detestabalies.”
To Be Continued…