Saturday, 05 March 2005 01:03

The Boston Brawl

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A Whateley Academy Tale

The Boston Brawl

By Branwen
with Bek D. Corbin

Saturday, 14th October, 2006, 08:32

Sara lent her head against the throbbing pane of glass, watching the rain darkened hills roll by the window as their train wound through the Miskatonic valley, listening to her favourite music through a newly purchased diskman which rode clipped to a belt at her hip.

The train, pompously named ‘The Grand Miskatonic Shuttle’, was an old, yet well maintained, rattler, fitted out with mahogany and polished gold. The seats were upholstered in rich red satin, the texture of which grated on Sara’s nerve endings even through the heavy layers of black clothing she was forced to wear, even under a sky of unending grey.

The others crowded into a tight knit group across the aisle, chatting, joking and smiling as the blue storm roiled in the distance through their window to the north. For one fleeting moment, Sara could have sworn that the boiling clouds looked like a screaming face towering in the sky, but then it was gone.

Hank sat, red-faced and half desperate, in between the two rapacious girls vying for his attention. Fey monopolized his right arm, hooking her own slender limb through his enabled her to pull the poor boy’s attention to her abundant charms while leaving an easy shot at an elbow to his ribs open, just in case his mind strayed to the barely leashed assets of Tennyo, who had a tendency towards draping herself over him like a spare set of clothing. Hank himself didn’t know whether he was coming or going, eyes darting about as if searching for a means of escape.

The show had become so familiar that the rest of the group were ignoring them as a matter of course. Chaka was busy joking with Ayla while Jade slept off the effects of her last shift in the sewers, wrapped in a blanket that added points of its own into the conversation when nobody was looking. Somehow, Sara had ended up with Riptide, Bunny and Chou as her travel partners. Unfortunately, Rip was busy showing an interest in the beautiful Asian while Bunny organized the request money from the rest of the girls at Poe, the spare seat between her and Sara.

The events which had made this trip necessary for the Team were ponderous and involved on their own (suffice to say that the complete destruction of Fey and Chaka’s entire wardrobes was only one of the lasting effects, the clothes on their backs were borrowed from a bunch of Poe girls), but the aftermath had been even stranger. One case in point was the near blow-out of the original plan for a ‘hit-and-run’ mission on the fashion industry of Boston to a full scale invasion on the city by several hundred mutants with spare change burning holes in their pockets.

Naturally, Administration put their collective feet down on the windpipe of that idea and choked the life out of it. The remnants of that escapade, who were deemed to have legitimate business in Boston, were given orders, phrased in no uncertain terms by the casualties, to bring back various items of dubious worth. Like Go-go’s box of Honeydew lollipops or Belle’s lemon scented witchcraft candles. Bunny, however, was the only member of the group they would entrust with their hard earned wealth and, consequently, held all the responsibility.

Sara didn’t know what to make of Chou. Even now, sitting bare inches away, the Taoist avoided making eye contact, sitting as far back in her seat as possible to keep their knees from touching and fidgeting with the hem of her skirt. In a fit of pique, Sara had politely rested one heeled boot on the footbar underneath Chou’s seat, causing her to shift both knees to the other side of the seat. It was petty, but at least it made her feel better.

On consideration, it was only natural for people to be afraid of her. The way she looked, the way she dressed, the eerie gracefulness of her movement, her burning red eyes. The sickening attraction that they all felt in the pit of their stomachs as she passed. Feeding seemed to disturb some more than others, and Chou was definitely part of the some.

It just wouldn’t be as annoying if she wasn’t so cute.

The problem wasn’t so much that she was alone or bored, it was keeping her mind occupied so that other thoughts could not intrude on her consciousness. Thoughts like excavating Joe Mullin’s throat with her teeth or Gary fading away before her eyes. If only they had tasted bad, that would have been something. Alternatively, if only being Sara wasn’t so comfortable. Try as she might, she couldn’t deny the rush of pure ecstasy when she fed. Just the thought of the metallic tang of warm fluid rolling around her tongue made her skin tingle all over. Her body craved it like a twenty-pack-a-day smoker, and the more she got used to it, the better it felt to drain the life out of cute little puppies every morning, though lately hamsters had been added to the menu in the cafeteria.

So, for the last two weeks she had kept herself busy with schoolwork, burying her head in book after book after book, avoiding looking at herself in mirrors to the point of turning over the one hanging in her dorm room so that it faced the wall. Anything to give her enough time to come to terms with herself, enough time to gain perspective on who and what she was. It may also have been easier if her body wasn’t still changing…

“Tickets, please.” A two security guards stepped onto the cabin, the inevitable overweight gentleman with iron grey hair led a fit, younger, man down the aisle. Being the only passengers in the car, the guards headed straight for their group. After a fair amount of scrambling, they all fished their tickets out of various places. Hank was the quickest, mostly because he had proper pockets.

“Boston, huh girls?” The older man gave them a fatherly smile.

Hank coughed, trying to attract attention, but the younger guard had his eye on something else.

“Uh, yeah.” Fey fidgeted uncomfortably, “Shopping trip.”

“Ah, well, have a nice time and be sure to enjoy yourselves.” The guards tipped their hats and moseyed on to the next car as if they were Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

Ayla glared after the two, “Sleaze.”

“So,” Chaka grinned, changing the subject, “What do we want to hit first? Clothes or CDs?”

“I vote for CDs.” Hank put his hand up ruefully.

“Oh, come on, sweety-pie,” Tennyo hugged his arm, twirling her finger on his chest, “I’ll model for you.”

Fey pinched her hand and snatched him away, “I think we should leave that for the professionals, right, Hanky-poo?”

Sara caught the slow wink the elf gave to her tag team partner on the other arm.

“If this gets any sweeter, I think I’ll die of toxic shock,” Ayla grouched, pointedly wrenching her earphones out of her backpack and yanking them down over her ears, “wake me up when we get there.”

Chaka smirked, “Don’t worry about her, she’s not getting any.”

“I heard that.”

“Books,” Sara mumbled.

“What was that?” Chaka craned her neck around.

“I’d like to hit the bookstores,” Sara raised her voice, “I’m dying for something new.”

“I thought you hang out in the library?”

“Yeah, but all the interesting books are restricted.”

“Just don’t ask her what she calls an interesting book,” Jade smirked knowingly.

Chaka’s eyes lit up, “Ohhhh… I see. Our little girl is growing up so fast…”

Sara glared at the dark skinned girl over her opaque sunglasses, “Get your mind out of the gutter. I really don’t think that Whateley has a porno section.”

“Sure they do,” Hank piped up, grinning, “It’s called the men’s room.”

Fey arched one pretty red eyebrow, “Really?”

“Oh, yeah. You wouldn’t believe some of the stuff some guys leave in the cubicles. Poe being Poe, it’s no good to me, of course. Full of naked guys.” He sighed ruefully.

Chaka leant forward, eyes wide with genuine interest, “Think you could snag a girl one or two?”

Hank blushed while the rest of the group rolled their eyes.

“What?” Chaka asked, voice brimming with mock innocence, “It’s just for research…”

Several small items were thrown in her general direction.

Sara crossed her legs and purposefully tuned out the rest of the conversation. It wasn’t so much that the idea of looking at pornography disgusted her, in fact her body liked the idea a little too much. She liked the idea a little too much. Lately, sitting in her dark little basement late at night, Sara found that her mind wandered from her schoolwork to the thought of the girls sleeping, perhaps naked under the covers, mere meters above. Her dustbin tended to fill with scrunched up, half-baked plans for sneaking into their beds and having a little fun on the sly rather than frustrating homework.

The vampire girl shook herself as she felt the heat start to rise within her, squashing the feeling before it could take root. Clenching her thighs together, she stared out the window and concentrated on the rolling green hills for the rest of the trip.

They changed trains from the purple ‘commuter line’ to the LRT (Light Rail Transit, a sign proudly informed all visitors), buying a fairly costly day pass for each of them on the interurban rail system.

“Better than busses,” Chaka scowled, though Sara didn’t quite understand her vehemence. On the way through, they picked up a whole bunch of brochures and a street map from the newsagent. Their first stop seemed almost too obvious, Faneuil Hall Marketplace took up an entire block on its own.

After some indecision, they found a directory and looked over the listings. “Ooh! Ooh! Victoria’s Secret!” Fey pointed, “Come on, Hank, I need unmentionables.”

‘Erk’ was Hank’s only reply as the elfin girl yanked him along as she stalked down the street with a scary smile of bliss on her face.

Tennyo grumbled as she stormed after them, “Maybe if my daddy could send me a shopping allowance with three zeroes on the business end of a single digit…”

Chaka grinned as she followed, commiserating with the spiky-haired girl.

Sara stopped at the window and looked up at the silk swathed manikins. Though the garments looked fairly exciting, it wasn’t like they were much use to the slender girl. Her bust was barely large enough for her A-cup.

Jade tapped her on the shoulder, “Coming in?”

“Nah,” Sara shook her head, “you go, I’m not that interested.”

Jade blushed as she followed Ayla inside, staring at the lace with reverent awe.

A half hour later, Hank stumbled out with two bundles hanging from each fist, looking slightly wild.

“Nice view?” Sara inquired.

Hank stared at her as if the horrors within were completely unknown to her, “They asked me my opinion.”

Then Sara noticed him trying to hide the bulge in his pants. She laughed and pulled him over to the window, “OK, dude, the key is chairs.”

“Chairs?” He looked puzzled.

“Think about anything non-sexual. Furniture is good for most guys. Or someone totally heinous, like Hitler or George W. Bush. Anything to get your mind off the problem.”

Understanding slowly dawned on his face, “Ah… ok… chairs. Right, chairs. Hey, chairs are made out of wood, right?”

“No,” Sara shook her head, “don’t go there. Woody Allen’s not a good one either. How about cups? Not too erotic?”

“Depends what you put in them.”

“Touché. Ok, I’ve got a sure fire winner. Ms. Hartford.”

Hank winced, “Thanks, I’ll never get any wood ever again...”

Just then, Fey and Tennyo grabbed him from their accustomed places at each side. “Come on, Hank,” Fey cooed, “I need some short skirts for next summer…”

Hank shot Sara a look over his shoulder as he was dragged away again, mouthing the words ‘I was wrong’ with a confused and frightened look on his face. It was all she could do to stop herself from keeling over with laughter.

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A blank white panel van slowly pulled up behind an ancient structure composed of heavy grey brick, roofed with dark shingles. The asphalt was dark and damp from the rain, speckled with white dots of light snow. Dash shifted the stick into park and eased the handbreak up into position, letting the engine peter out smoothly before knocking on the window that partitioned the cabin from the cargo area in the back.

Hazard slid the cover open, peering at the deceptively thin seventeen year old boy with her dark, almond-shaped, eyes. For the first stage of the operation, Dash wore a light blue workman’s overall with a balaclava rolled up to hide the silver streak in his forelock. As the oldest member of the team, he had the best chance of making the insertion undetected, the skillful application of make-up made him look older than his actual years.

“Ah, those violet pools,” Dash waxed lyrical, “have I ever told you that I could lose myself in those lavender depths for an eternity of bliss?”

“All the time.” Hazard snapped him back into reality. “Focus. What are we dealing with?”

“Insertion complete and on schedule,” Dash reported, “no bacon to be had for miles. No guards on the outside, two means of ingress: a small service door and a large roll up for deliveries. Three stories like on the plans, left side abuts the building, small alleyway on the right allows access to the front of the building. Aside from us, the rest of the street is deserted. One drainage pipe up to the roof, one window on the uppermost floor.”

“That’ll be the curator’s office. OK, you have a green light, but watch that window. I’ll give you the signal.”

Dash nodded briskly and got out of the van, a boyish grin of delight almost bisecting his face. Before the peep hole slid shut, he thought he heard someone say ‘Boys’ in a disgusted British accent.

He took a stick of gum out of his pocket and started to chew before knocking on the service door. It took a moment before a pudgy, dark haired, security guard swung the door wide. Dash put on his best Texan accent, careful to keep his head down for the security camera in the door frame, “Hey, partner. Got a delivery here for y’all.”

“Hang on a sec,” the guard mumbled, dark bags under his eyes testifying for his lack of sleep as he fumbled with the clipboard by the door, “Doesn’t seem to be anything on the schedule…”

A single chop to the side of the neck and the guard fell unconscious to the floor. Dash pulled his balaclava down, checking the storeroom inside. The area was filled with crates, Styrofoam balls scattered over every surface choking the room with plasticizer fumes. Various works of dubious worth lay scattered, half packed in their pine boxes. The walls were old brick patched with plaster, unpainted for more than a hundred years. No guards, no movement of any kind. He pressed a button on his watch, raising it to his mouth to speak into the secret microphone inside, “All clear, ‘Watch, send them in.”

“Roger,” Stopwatch answered, “Get going you three, on the double.”

Hazard, Haywire and Jello stepped out of the van in full blacks while Dash dragged the hapless guard into a corner to sleep it off. Hazard pulled the power on the camera on her way through, almost as an afterthought. “’Watch, we’re inside.”

Their earpieces crackled, “Great. There should be a door directly across from the one you just entered. If you think you can use it, just follow the hallway down to the double doors on your left. That leads to the Celtic Artefacts exhibit. It should be easy, all you have to do is turn the doorknob and apply pressure.”

“Did we have to bring that puffed up little shithead?” Haywire snarled through clenched teeth.

Hazard shushed him silently with a finger to where her lips were behind the mask. Another hand signal motioned for them to flank the door into the museum proper. She listened first, making sure all was still before opening the service entrance and gliding softly inside.

By comparison, the interior of the museum was well kept and clean. Fresh, sparkling, heritage yellow paint decorated the tiny galleries and alcoves. Busts and pictures of prominent benefactors dotted the walls here and there as the threesome made their way one by one towards the target area, Gallery One.

Dash took the lead, followed by Jello. The hallways were dark and empty, the polished floorboards reflecting their images in dark mahogany as they crept, one by one, along the walls. The museum was small and hardly used, the latest exhibit being shunted off from one of the larger houses of antiquities at the last moment. The Celtic Artifacts exhibit wasn’t set to open until Monday, giving the Masterminds an open window of opportunity. They stopped at the double doors, Jello keeping a lookout while Dash and Haywire examined the door.

“Intelligence reports no other guards scheduled for duty today,” Stopwatch informed from his safe seat in the van outside, “all you should have to do is hotwire the alarms in the case.”

Hazard nodded to Haywire. The shabby fifteen year old ran his hand over the doorframe, the loose fibres on his balaclava standing on end. Dash examined the lock, “Pin-and-tumbler security grade. Have it open in one minute.”

Hazard grabbed his shoulder, “Wait for Haywire.”

He nodded.

“No alarms,” Haywire finally handed down his verdict, “no tripwires, nothing magnetic. This door is dead.”

Hazard took her hand off Dash’s shoulder, letting him get to work. “Sure this place doesn’t have IR or motion sensors?” Jello queried, glancing over her shoulder.

Stopwatch snorted rudely through the radio, “No. Too expensive, this place is small time. Go back to sleep and let the pros handle the thinking.”

“Can it, ‘Watch. Keep your eyes and ears open.” Hazard ordered through her mic.

Haywire eased the doors open as soon as he was satisfied. No alarms sounded. Inside was an octagonal room, two stories tall. Two more doors lead off the ground floor while a spiral staircase wound up to the balcony above. Beyond the balcony, a glass dome allowed the sunlight to filter through a radiant crystal chandelier. The walls were adorned with posters and tapestries depicting the places and stories the objects in various displays told to those initiated in their secrets. The Masterminds, however, were not interested in culture.

Directly below the chandelier was a glass case holding thousands of objects, large and small, from intricate stonework balls to engraved coffers and stone burial markers, displayed on red velvet tiers around a central pedestal.

“That’s the prize,” Hazard identified a large golden key etched with Celtic knots and strange flowing runes, “The Key of Nimue.”

Haywire stepped forward carefully, holding his hands out as if groping for something in the dark. “Ohhhh, yes, we’ve got a live one. Lasers… hold on,” He warned, closing his eyes in order to focus. The fibres in the carpet rose and fell in waves around him as his static field pulsed through the air above.

Finally, he let go of his breath. “It’s OK, they’re only in the case,” Haywire announced.

The group edged forward into the room, surrounding the main exhibit.

“There, there,” Haywire pointed to at the base of the display, “there, there, there, there and there. Glass must have a metallic coating, the beams aren’t escaping.”

“Plan of action?” Hazard pressed.

“Burn it out or kill the power to the circuit.”

“How long?”

“Give me another 5?”

“Go ahead, no time pressure.”

“FREEZE, ASSHOLES, NOBODY MOVE!”

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Team Kimba staged an efficient hit and run operation on the city’s bastions of high and low fashion, they got a remarkable amount done by the time lunch rolled around. While those members who suffered from underfed bankbooks and malnourished wallets were unable to load themselves down with loot, Fey and Chaka made up for their reluctance by loading Hank down with ill gotten booty.

Likening the trip to a pirate raid didn’t seem so ludicrous when one examined the items of bright, gaudy, clothing and copious fake jewellery stuffed into Chaka’s bags. To emphasize the joke, Jade had purchased (after ten minutes of agonized indecision as her mischievous nature gallantly battled her dower thriftiness for possession of her good sense. Naturally, mischievous won 4 to 1 against) a plastic eyepatch, while effecting a gruff Scottish accent and beginning each sentence with ‘Argh’ far too much.

“Arrrrrgh, me hearties! It be a bro, blach, moonlikt nacht to nit!” Was a phrase in point as they settled down to have lunch in a small bistro across from a weathered old museum, one of many they had passed on the first half of the trip. Bunny, Chou and Rip eased the burdens of close to a hundred nic-nacks that were Bunny’s enforced errands. The small blonde bemoaned the fact that she couldn’t use her robots outside of school, “But I think I’ve got just about everything on the list, except for Go-go’s Honeydews.”

Hank had an easier time of it with his strength, yet looked more than slightly odd loaded down with so many parcels that he had to rely on his attendant ladies to guide him along like a blind man. “We need someone to hold these before we go on,” he complained, lowering his burden carefully under the table, “this is impossible.”

Fey was now wearing her current favourite, a long dress of browns and greens surmounted by her flaming red hair made her look like the physical embodiment of autumn. Underneath the dress, she wore low-heeled light brown boots that reached to mid shin, bound to her slender legs by straps made of the same material. For warmth, a short brown leather jacket with a cream lining graced her shoulders, leaving the curve of her waist and hips exposed for view. She pulled herself up his muscular arm onto the tips of her toes to kiss him on the cheek, “You’ve been so good to us, Hank! Thank-you!”

Hank babbled something unintelligible while pulling the elf’s chair out for her. Tennyo stroked her hair, a slight red tinge to her own cheeks, “Ya didn’t have to buy me that dress you know…”

“But it looked so good on you,” Fey gushed, “I couldn’t let you just walk away.”

Tennyo blushed, and Sara had to admit that even she would have blushed in Tennyo’s position. The dress in question was bright red, fit like a second skin, had an open V neck down to the crotch and exposed more skin than should be humanly possible without resorting to bodypaint. It had also, along with another bag of miscellaneous swag, put quite a dent in Fey’s clothing allowance. Naturally, Tennyo had NOT changed into the ‘Devil Dress’. The salesperson had assured them that the dress was only legal in five states, and this wasn’t one of them.

Chaka had changed, however, but was now bundled up in an electric blue ski jacket, a bright white scarf tied around her neck and matching track pants. Her feet were covered in thick rainbow-layered socks and stuffed into her sneakers. It had taken her an agonizing half hour or so to choose between the practicality of the track pants or the sexiness of her brand-spanking-new glove leather pants. Sara was rather glad that Chaka had gone with the practical, despite Rip’s influence, her eyes were already straining from whiplash caused by surreptitious glances between Fey, Chou and Tennyo. The black girl’s only remaining original accessory was the mithril bracelet she always wore on her right wrist.

“This city’s too darn cold,” Rip shivered, rubbing her arms as she lowered herself into the seat next to the black martial artist, “I mean, it’s snowing already, mid October…”

“Welcome to Boston, ladies and gent,” a handsome black waiter greeted them, pulling Chaka’s seat out for her, “first time in the city?”

“Ah…” Chaka seemed at a loss for words as she plonked herself into the seat. For a moment, Sara thought she heard the words ‘glove leather pants’ echoing though her mind.

“Some of us.” Sara smiled, covering for Chaka’s lapse while accepting her menu with innocent aplomb.

He took drink orders before strolling back into the kitchen. Chaka jumped as Rip pinched her on the thigh, distracting her from the waiter’s tight ass, “Honestly, what do you people see in those things?”

“They have their uses.” Fey batted her eyelashes at Hank, who scratched the back of his head to cover his embarrassment.

Rip snorted in disgust while Bunny glared at Fey out of the corner of her eye. Sara rested her hand on her mouth to conceal her smirk, it seemed that the Sidhe sorceress hadn’t learnt off of her roommate’s mistake. Bunny glowed a sickly green to the demon’s aura sight.

Chou leant back, raising her slender arms over her head and spreading them out over the back of the bench, behind Jade on one side and Bunny on the other, staring off into space as if her gesture were completely natural and innocent. The movement of the Asian girl’s breasts beneath her shirt was almost hypnotic…

Behind Chou, deeper in the shadows of the restaurant, a knockout blonde crossed her legs, keeping her unmentionables out of clear sight of the newcomers while innocuously reading a newspaper in a booth by herself near the kitchen door. She was wearing sunglasses too.

“Sara?”

Sara blinked, bringing her attention back to the conversation, “Sorry, spaced out for a sec there.”

Chaka was pointing at the menu in her hand, “You gonna eat something?”

Sara looked down at the menu, slightly dazed, “Oh, ah… no. No, I really can’t.”

“So, you’ve been to Boston before?” Jade asked pointedly, repeating the question that had been unheard.

“Oh, yes, back on the signing tour for Incongruity. Then before that when I visited MiskatonicU. with my professor of ancient languages, though it was a bit of a whirlwind tour each time. Hardly got to see the sights or do any shopping. The signing in Dymocks here was murder.”

“Lot of people?”

Sara grinned, “I signed over ten thousand copies.”

“Yikes,” Tennyo winced in sympathy.

“What’s it about?” Fey lent forward, resting her dainty elbows on the table, unconsciously framing her breasts with her arms.

“I wouldn’t want to spoil it for you,” Sara admonished, “get it out from the library some time, they’ve got six copies.”

“No they don’t, matey,” Jade pouted piratically, “I checked.”

Sara looked down in embarrassment, “Uh, well, for some reason, they’re in the non-fiction section by special request from the Magic Department. Miss Henderson couldn’t exactly explain why to me. Every time I mentioned it, she sort of turned pale and asked me to mind my own business. Really weird.”

“Ready to order, ladies?” The waiter had returned, and so it seemed had Chaka’s tongue. The black girl ordered a full three course meal in rapid succession. Tennyo was the same, rattling off various dishes like her mouth was powered by a lawnmower. At the other end of the scale, Jade and Fey simply ordered a main meal and a drink. Most of the rest fitted somewhere in between.

“Anything for you, mademoiselle?”

Sara glanced up at the waiter, “Ah, no thank-you, I’m not really hungry.”

“Such a thin wisp as yourself would do well to get some meat on her bones.”

Chaka and Tennyo pursed their lips together to stop the burst of laughter that threatened to bubble fourth. Fey and Jade had the presence of mind to cover their mouths. Chou looked up at the ceiling to hide her mirth.

Sara glared at the waiter from behind her sunglasses, “True, I could suck it out from between your ears.”

The group collectively gave a slight shudder, fighting down an attack of the giggles.

“Maybe you should be looking a little lower.” The waiter retorted, winking.

Hank almost stood up, but Fey’s hand on his elbow kept him steady.

“Sorry,” Sara glanced down at his crotch, “with all due respect, I’ve seen more meat on a vegetarian’s toothpick.”

The waiter fled as the table rocked with laughter.

Nobody was surprised when a waitress served their drinks a few minutes later. Chaka, however, wasn’t happy, “Hey, you drove the cute guy away!”

Rip and Bunny smiled up at the leggy, redheaded, waitress, answering in unison, “We don’t mind.”

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It happened fast.

Five gunmen jumped out of the four wheel drive as it screeched to a halt outside the bank. The leader wasted no words, pumping a single round from a modified combat shotgun into the security guard by the door inside, the man behind spraying the second with a hail of bullets.

Neither would stand again.

One of the clerks had the presence of mind to press the panic button underneath her desk, sending a wall of reinforced titanium alloy crashing down from the ceiling, cutting the other side of the desks off from the lobby. The third man didn’t lose a beat, pulling a circular block of plastique and a length of det-chord from his vest. Against the shaped charge, even the security wall didn’t stand a chance.

The professional criminals stepped through the smoking hole one by one, over the charred body of one of the attendants, the second to enter covering the door and lobby with his H&K MP9. The last man to enter held the strangest looking gun any of the survivors had ever seen.

“Sure you can handle that thing?” One of them asked.

“Simple,” came the reply, “point and click.”

He hefted the weapon, a long rod with a handle at one end, a flexible metallic tube extended from the side attached to a wide tank that sloshed faintly with each step. At the nozzle, a shield flared out as if to protect the wielder from possible backblast. He pointed the end towards the vault door and, slowly and hesitantly, squeezed the trigger.

The effect was spectacular and devastating. Ice spread like flame from the ground at his feet, racing across the floor and up the wall, covering the vault in moments. First, wooden tables shattered seemingly of their own accord. A coffee mug exploded, the steaming liquid inside freezing in mid air before the first droplets managed to hit the ground. The vault door itself gave a pitiable groan before shattering, the wall splitting in two as the building rocked on its foundations.

“See?”

Hazard turned slowly, her hands in the air. A tall security guard held his Glock pistol ready in a practiced combat stance, edging forward from the doorway cautiously, “All of you, on your knees, hands behind your heads.”

“Well, the good news is that he likes us.” Dash whispered flippantly.

“You think I’m fuckin’ kidding you little shit?” The guard glared down the sights at the self-styled ‘gentleman rogue’.

“I think you should have more manners in the presence of ladies.”

“Shut the fuck up Dash,” Hazard ordered.

The guard whipped his gun back across at the girl, “You the leader of this little sleepover?”

Hazard remained silent.

The guard took a step forward, his gun no more than a foot away from the teenager’s face, “Then tell your friends to do as I say before I start busting caps.”

Hazard let go of her breath as if she were giving up, defeated. Then whipped her left hand down, pushing the barrel off to one side before the guard managed to pull the trigger, the bullet burying itself into the floor. Stepping forward, she twisted the gun out of his grasp and thrust the butt straight at the guard’s face.

Somehow, he ducked the lightning fast blow, catching her wrist and slamming it into his knee, sending the gun skidding across the floorboards. A blinding series of punches later, Hazard found herself skidding across the floor without a clue how she’d fallen.

Panic reigned. Haywire dived to the floor where the gun had come to rest, reaching under an exhibit to retrieve it. Jello stood stunned, unsure what to do. Dash charged, screaming blue murder as he led with a flying kick to the guard’s head.

The guard simply sidestepped the kick, his fists raised in a classic boxing stance, light on his feet. His forearms were in a perfect position to block Dash’s spinning back kick, countering with a right hook to the jaw that sent the boy sprawling, unconscious, to the ground.

A moment later, Haywire felt someone lift him up by his filthy brown jacket and launch him directly at the brick wall nearby, smashing him chest first into the wall. His nose made a disturbing popping noise, leaving a splatter of blood on the wall as he collapsed, clutching his face. “MAH NOZE! MAH NOZE!”

Hazard forced herself onto her feet, spreading her legs and facing her opponent side on, her fingers extended rather than balled up into fists.

“Give it up, girly,” the guard grinned, “you’ve got spunk, but I ate real men three times your weight for breakfast back when I was a Marine Corp. Boxing Champion. So why don’t you…”

It took a moment for the guard’s brain to realize that something very much like an anvil had crowned him. Blinking furiously, he turned to look Jello in her droopy, half-melting, eyes, as he sank to his knees then folded back to the floor, eyes blank.

Jello clasped her hands behind her back, embarrassed, “Sorry I took so long, he sorta caught me by surprise.”

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Sara blinked a moment before a low rumble shook the glasses hanging above the bar, a vibration tingling up her spine through the chair. The bartender stepped outside to look up and down the street while his patrons blinked in surprise.

He stepped back inside and shrugged, “Must be thunder.”

Just then, the waitress returned with their entrees and all worries were erased as the group began to chow down. Out of the corner of her eye, Sara watched stunning blonde. Her figure was perfect, rivalling Fey’s for sheer attractiveness, though her movements were less enchanting but, somewhere in the back of her mind, Sara could have sworn that she’d seen her shapely butt before…

“Are you ok?”

Sara felt a hand on her shoulder. The touch was electric, the fingers slender and soft, estrogen laden sweat steaming from the pores of the flesh. Looking down slightly, Sara noticed the immaculately manicured red nails leading to pale, freckled, skin. Her gaze moved up the arm to the face of the waitress, who looked delectable in her tight, matte black, uniform. The waitress blinked as their gazes locked for a moment and gasped reflexively as the Goth girl’s gaze pierced through her very soul.

The girl backed away and scuttled out the door towards the kitchens, clasping the empty tray in her hands to her breast. Sara looked at the rest of the group but they were still busy, talking and laughing at each other’s jokes as they grazed on garlic bread and salad. She patted Ayla’s arm and made her excuses, which were hardly acknowledged between mouthfuls of food and peals of laughter.

“Got a bathroom?” Sara asked as she passed the bar. Jerry Springer was playing on the TV overhead, something about Neo-Nazi Eskimo Pimps and the Teenage White Trash Prostitutes that Love Them.

The bartender didn’t bother to look at her, “Down the hall, on the right.”

Sara walked carefully out back, frying noises from the kitchen covering her footsteps. Even before she entered the ladies’ restroom, she knew the redheaded waitress was inside. She could smell her.

The bathroom was small and dank, tiled in dark green, lit by a fading fluorescent tube that burned yellow rather than pure white. The floor was damp, the grit between the tiles sodden and black. The redhead didn’t notice Sara enter, busy splashing her face with water, hyperventilating like she’d just run the one minute mile. Locking the bolt got her attention, secluding the them from the outside world.

“Oh… ah, ha-ha, you startled me…”

Sara ignored her, striding slowly and languidly forward, stretching as she felt her body grow, filling out ever so slightly, the skin of her slender, pale, waist now visible under the hem of her shirt and above the waistband of her pants. The redhead’s aura swirled with purple as she backed away into the wall, hands raised in front of her chest. Sara reached out to caress her cheek, arching her back to give the girl a good look at the pleasures on offer to her. Her eyes scanned downward, locked in fascination on Sara’s body, the gentle stroking of claws on her flesh causing shudders of pleasure to arc down the girl’s spine. Leaning forward and pulling down, Sara parted her black lips for the kiss.

“No…” The redhead pushed feebly against Sara’s breast, trying to ward her off with a half-hearted gesture of defiance. But it was too late, her will was already lost. The Demon Princess wrapped herself around the soft, pink, bud of her lover’s lips, sucking her warm, wet, tongue out from between the cage of her teeth, granting it the freedom to play.

All resistance melted from the waitress’ limbs, her body falling limp as Sara’s hands slipped underneath her shirt. The waitress moaned into her mouth, Sara’s touch impregnating sensations of pure pleasure deep into her flesh. Abstractly, Sara could feel her aura invading the girl, power arcing though her fingertips as they stroked and caressed the inner curve of her waist, the swell of her hips, sensing the warm emptiness within.

The redhead’s screech of ecstasy was squashed by the mashing of their lips as Sara slipped one hand under her panties, grabbing a handful of soft flesh and lifting the larger girl off the ground, talons slightly piercing the skin. The vamp carried her pray into a cubical, reluctantly letting go of her lips as she deposited her onto the toilet seat. Thighs lolled open, the waitress flopped, boneless, over the cistern, favoring Sara with the perfect view of her firm, round, breasts.

Stepping in between the waitress’ legs, Sara could smell her lover’s sex, the heat of her own lust melting her insides. The girl looked up at her, dark blue eyes dull and empty, overstimulated and overpowered by sheer force of will.

Sara paused. A small voice was yelling at her from somewhere, somewhere far away. This was wrong. This was rape. Her hands started to shake, eager tentacles writhed in protest under her skin.

“No.” Sara snarled at them, balling her right hand up into a fist, talons piercing deep into her palm.

“Please,” the redhead wrapped her legs around Sara’s waist, ankles crossed, staring into space, “finish me, complete me…”

“No.” Dark ichor dripped onto the floor.

“I want you, I need you…” She contracted her legs, forcing their hips together.

“No, you don’t.”

“Make me yours, give me your seed…”

“You don’t… you can’t know what you’re saying!” Sara tried to pull away, but the legs held firm.

“Please...” She lent forward, pressing her face between Sara’s breasts, kissing, feeling. “I want your children.”

A tentacle slipped out from under Sara’s collarbone, wrapping itself lightly around the waitress’ neck, pulling her closer…

“NO.” Sara growled from between clenched teeth, grabbing the girl’s head and yanking it up, bringing their eyes into contact.

“You make me feel so good.”

Sara bit her tongue, trying to retain her focus. The girl looked like she was drugged, her pupils dilated, her expression drowsy. “You’re tired, my love. Sleep now, and dream.” The Demon Princess put all the force she could muster into those words, slipping the suggestion into her mind and easing her back onto the toilet. In a moment the girl’s legs went limp and she was breathing deep and peaceful breaths.

Sara stumbled over to the sink, looking at herself in the mirror. Her scarf lay loose, entwined about her body. One slim, white, shoulder protruded from the neck of her shirt, the collar bone clearly defined under her slender neck. Black tears welled up from under her eyelids, a single purple drop falling down her cheek.

Her body still tingled and she was wet between her legs, whatever the heat had melted inside was now leaking out of her. She chuckled at her own feeble joke, daubing herself off with a pad of soft toilet tissue, trying desperately not to set herself off again. Even now, her body wanted the waitress, wanted to taste her insides…

Sara bit her tongue harder, her own blood bursting into her mouth and dribbling down her throat. That seemed to help slightly, though she had to extract a fang from the fleshy tentacle with her fingers. Despite the reassurances from Dr. Otto and Donna, Sara doubted herself, the urges were getting worse, not better. With every denial, the need for the flesh, to eat or use, became stronger.

She pulled her panties back into place, clipping the belt of her black cargo pants across her hips, making sure that none of her skin was exposed as she shrank back to her original height. Allergy to sunlight was a real bummer.

Back in the restaurant, the team’s eyes were glued to the TV. The Bartender had turned up the volume so that everyone could hear. The screen showed an aerial view of a building outside a square, the scene utter chaos. Civilians hid behind trees as masked gunmen loaded a four wheel drive with something, but the screen flickered too much to see what it was. Absently, she noticed that the blonde in the back was gone, her paper flapping in the breeze from the air conditioning.

Nikki grabbed Sara’s elbow as she sat down, her gaze intense, “Find something to eat?”

Sara tried not to let her emotions show. “I threw it back.”

“…the gunmen have taken control of the square, it is not known yet what is in the vault, though as you can see, Tracy… wait! If I am correct, I do believe that is a SWAT contingent en-route. As of yet, no sign of Skyhawk…”

The camera turned around, the cockpit of the helicopter visible for a moment before the view focused again on the street below. Three black vans barreled down the street, SWAT emblazoned on the sides and roof. Suddenly, they sped past the bistro, sirens blasting.

Jade gasped, “Hey, that’s…”

“Near us!” Chaka leapt to her feet and was out the door in a split second, Chou vaulted her chair and was sprinting right behind.

“GAH!” Tennyo didn’t bother to stand, flying straight upwards, grabbing Hank as an afterthought and whipping out the door at 50 miles per hour.

“Bunny, watch our stuff…” Fey ran after them, Jade, Ayla and Rip on her heels.

“Idiots,” Sara sighed, turning to Bunny, “Tell them to keep the food hot, they’ll be hungry when they get back.”

She didn’t wait for Bunny’s reply, time contracting as she broke into a run, the tentacles inside her legs coiling like springs. The world darkened as time slowed, air moving sluggishly around her as she overtook Fey, dazzled for a split second by the faerie queen’s flame-coloured hair.

Then the elf was far behind, the warzone dead in Sara’s sights.

“Stopwatch, what the fuck are you playing at?” Dash asked through his watch, absently rubbing his jaw while propped up against the wall. The side of his face was already discoloured and swelling mildly.

The low buzz of static was the only reply.

“Answer goddamn it!”

“Dash,” Hazard snapped, “hush. ‘Wire, are you all right?”

Haywire groaned, his nose bent at an unnatural angle, pressing his shirt underneath to staunch the flow of blood, “Ee not mah noze.”

“Right. Jello, could you please retrieve the Key of Nimue so we can get ourselves back to the Academy and a nice warm hospital bed?” Hazard asked, pressing her hand against the weeping bruise on her stomach.

“Ah, ok,” the Hawthorne girl looked over the glass case, “um, how, Hazard?”

“Just break the glass and grab it.”

“OH! Right! But won’t that set off the alarms?”

Hazard took a deep breath, trying to keep her cool. It wasn’t that Jello was stupid, she just wasn’t too quick on the uptake, “Yes, dear, it will. But at this point, I think that subtlety has gone right out the window, don’t you?”

“Ah-ha,” Jello nodded, getting with the program, “gotcha, be one second.”

Hazard helped Dash and Haywire to their feet while Jello smashed the glass, swiping the key in a flash. Though no alarms sounded, Hazard was sure that all hell was breaking loose in the local pig farm. Or maybe even a rent-a-cop shop. Either way, it was time to go fast. Jello handed Hazard the prize as she half dragged her along the hallway. The Hawthorne girl may have her personal problems, but lack of strength and constitution was not among them. Dash and Haywire fought to keep up, the concussed leading the half-blind.

The sorry troupe staggered out into the docking bay, the three walking wounded propping themselves up against the side of the van while Jello knocked on the door, “’Watch, it’s us. Come on, get this thing open. ‘Watch?”

Dash slammed his fist against the tinted glass, “You better not be asleep in there, you prick!”

“DASH!” Hazard slapped him in the stomach, hard.

He winced, lowering his voice to an exaggerated whisper, “Sorry, Haz, it’s just my bells are ringing.”

“You ok to drive?”

“Yeah, I’ll be fine.”

“Still got the keys?” Jello glanced at Dash, her calls still unanswered.

“Yep, right here.” He fished the keys out of his pocket and handed them to the unfortunate shapeshifter.

She fumbled slightly before opening the lock and sliding the cargo door wide, “Shit!”

The group edged around the door, peering into the darkness inside the van. The mystery of Stopwatch’s silence was solved, the vain and arrogant boy lay unmoving on the floor of the van. His shirt was ripped in several places, revealing thousands of tiny scratches and bruises.

Haywire gasped, “Maht ne fock?”

“GUYS!”

They all jumped as a long-legged blonde in a red dress skidded around the corner of the alleyway, running so fast that she slid across the icy ground for a few feet before her boots found traction once more.

“Heart – break – er!” Hazard growled each syllable from between her teeth, “Keep it down, we’re…”

A sharp blow to the head from a long, dark, blunt object silenced her. The escrima stick was held by a pitch black arm that seemed to merge with the shadows inside the van. Jello screamed as her friend collapsed into her arms, dragging her away from the being inside. Dash and Haywire also crept backwards as the pitch black, faceless, figure inside stepped out, his caped form hardly distinguishable from the darkness around him.

Dash span as a second opponent landed heavily behind him, this one a towering Neanderthal wearing a filthy robe made of wolf pelts, his thickly muscular arms bare to the shoulder with spiked leather cuffs circling his wrists. The man was at least six foot tall, a feral, murderous, gleam in his eyes. Dash noticed that his teeth were slightly pointed as his lips pulled back in a ravenous snarl.

“Easy, Lycanthros, I need them alive for now.”

The four remaining thieves turned their heads upward. A tall figure in heavy purple robes stood on top of the building on the other side of the museum. His cloak only partially hid his chitinous armour, layers of pulsing muscle and thick, rubbery, webs forming a sickening carapace. A metal plate adorned with wires and blinking red lights betrayed the artefact’s technological origin. The breastplate was adorned with sculpted bones painted white, his dead white skull mask continued the motif, glaring from under his hood.

Next to him stood a curvaceous woman wearing a black bodysuit, swathed in a gauzy purple cloak that covered her form without obscuring her figure. A high, sharp, purple collar with an alternating black and white domino mask concealed her face from view. On the other side, in complete contrast to his other companion, crouched a young girl with a bone white complexion and matching hair, wearing a tight, blood red, leather outfit that left her shoulders and waist bare while hugging her legs like a second skin. The dark red of the leather matched her burning red eyes.

Last, and definitely least, a pudgy, balding, almost middle-aged man cowered behind the group, trying to be as inconspicuous as possible. He simply wore a loose white shirt, unbuttoned, and a pair of rumpled black trousers.

“I’m disappointed in you so-called ‘Masterminds’, I credited you with more intelligence.” The leader’s voice echoed weirdly from behind his skull mask: a deep, booming, yet gravelly voice vaguely reminiscent of fingernails scraping a blackboard. He held his hand out, the gauntlet tipped with insect-like claws, “Give me the Key and I may let you live.”

“GAT ‘EM!” Haywire shouted, grappling the faceless figure in the van.

Dash felt his hair stand on end as Haywire’s corona surged, lightning arcing from the van’s chassis, eliciting a screech of pain from his opponent. Grinning, the surge of adrenaline chasing the pain in his jaw away, Dash span, sending all the energy he could muster surging through his limbs, delivering a blinding kick to the Neanderthal’s cheek. Lycanthros’ head snapped back with the force of the blow while the rest of his body remained rigid. Dash gasped as the wild man slowly eased his head down to face him once more, the grin wider and more menacing, the only evidence of his blow a feint red mark that quickly faded from view.

“ERK!” Haywire was thrown from the van as the thing managed to wedge it’s leg onto his chest, thrusting the boy over onto his back. A second later, the faceless one was on top of him, silencing the boy with a single blow to the forehead.

Jello just finished easing Hazard’s body to the ground when a dark globe of force coalesced around her, cutting them off from the rest of the group, leaving her beating her fists futilely against the globe while Lycanthros rammed Dash’s head into the side of the van. Helpless, standing over Hazard’s prone form, beating her fists against the dark wall of force that surrounded her, Jello reached out to the last member of their team still standing, “’Breaker! Help us!”

Heartbreaker stared at the evil figures glaring down at them from above, then caught Lycanthros’ sadistic smile as he lifted Dash from the asphalt by his neck. The faceless one rose from Haywire’s prone form, revealing dark horns that surmounted his head, drawing a long silver blade from under his cloak. She did the only thing she could think of.

She ran.

Before she could round the corner, something slammed into her leg, piercing the skin just below her left knee. Staggering, Heartbreaker limped as fast as she could down the alley away from the museum, the weird, cone-shaped, projectile sticking out of her calf, the wound burning under her cold skin.

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Vamp watched the tall blonde disappear down the alley with no little interest, “I’ll get her…”

The Necromancer grasped her shoulder in his sinuous gauntlet, lowering the ‘Boltcaster’ attached to his forearm, “Leave her. Retrieve the Key of Nimue.”

Vamp nodded, skipping lightly down onto the roof of the van.

“Isn’t that dangerous?” Lady Darke questioned, “She knows too much.”

“By the time she finds anyone to talk to, the poison will have done its job, never fear.” The Necromancer leapt down into the alley, the road cracking beneath his feet. Darke floated down after him, standing on a black disk much like the field surrounding the weeping Jello.

“Lycanthros, old friend,” he continued, “take Nightgaunt and Lady Darke inside. I want everything that isn’t nailed down of monetary worth. Load it into the van.”

Lycanthros nodded, stalking into the building with the faceless one.

Lady Darke glanced at the two girls trapped inside her bubble, “What about them?”

“Leave her to Vamp and I.”

Jello quivered as Lady Darke released her mental hold on the bubble of force, “You can forget about me running, if that’s what you’re up to. Hazard’s my friend…”

The Necromancer stepped forward as Jello raised her fists, “Ah, loyalty. How quaint.”

“YEAH, EAT THIS!” Jello launched her fist forward. The Necromancer caught it in his own, squeezing slowly on her gelatinous fingers, “You think that one like you can even touch me?”

His backhanded slap sent the girl flying into the wall, her flesh making a disconcerting ‘splat’, clinging to the brickwork, the imprint of his gauntlet remained in her cheek. The last villain still on the roof snorted, trying to hold back a fit of laughter.

“Wilber,” The Necromancer didn’t bother to turn to face his lackey, “go and watch the road.”

Wilber turned a pale shade of green, scuttling back out of sight. With that, the Necromancer gestured for Vamp to search Hazard’s body while he watched Jello try to pry herself from the wall. The willowy albino straddled the girl, running her fingers up underneath her victim’s shirt, feeling for more than the Key.

“Enough fun and games, Vamp,” The Necromancer snarled in disgust, “just find the Key.”

“You’re no fun.” Vamp rolled her eyes.

“What was that?”

“Nothing.” Vamp sighed, pulling the Key out of a hidden pocket in Hazard’s jacket.

Vamp felt a clawed gauntlet pick her up by the scruff of her neck, forcing her head back. The Necromancer’s voice remained calm and level, “Do you defy me?”

“No.” Vamp wheezed, the back of her neck burning under his grip.

He held her for a second more, feeling the girl squirm, “If you ever speak back to me again, I shall feed you to the Arc of Souls. Understand?”

Finally, he let her go, his gauntlet steaming in the freezing air, a black scorch mark in the shape of his glove clearly visible across her back. Vamp held the Key out to the evil mage as she dry wretched, clutching her throat. The Necromancer snatched it from her fingers, examining the intricate lines in the metalwork, “Pure Orichalcum. These fools have no idea what they had in their hands.”

“Are you sure that your friends will be able to keep Skyhawk and the others busy while we ransack this place?” Vamp coughed, trying to regain her composure.

“For a few more minutes, at least. The toys I gave them should be more than enough to take care of one or two little superheroes.”

Tennyo managed to overtake Chaka and the SWAT vans easily, Hank practically flapping in the gale anchored only by one hand as they shot straight down the road, pedestrians staggering under the force of her wake. The square was plainly visible up ahead, three gunmen milling about taking potshots at bystanders as they cowered behind any possible piece of cover. A police car burned in the middle of the road, peppered with bullet holes, an officer crawling from the wreck trailing blood. His partner wasn’t so lucky.

Screaming, Tennyo launched herself at the nearest gunman, a barrel-chested man holding some sort of weird flamethrower. “TENNYO! NO!” Hank shouted, but she was beyond caring. The robber turned to aim at her as she rocketed down towards him like the sword of Damocles, unconcerned for either her or Hank’s safety. After all, she thought, it’s only fire.

The chill in her lungs caught her off guard, ice quickly encasing her, locking Hank’s hand in hers as it engulfed them. Tennyo quickly discovered that, while she was immune to gravity, Hank and the ice were not. The two ton bolder of ice fell from the sky, rolling down the road and impacting with a tree in a nearby park area, bystanders once hiding in the bushes dived for cover.

The gunmen cheered and hollered until their leader fired his shotgun into the air, “Shut up, assholes, we’ve got company! Vance! Freeze the road!”

Vance turned the power knob of his weapon down just as the SWAT vans broke into the square. Pointing the ‘freezethrower’ towards the earth as he pulled the trigger, a thin layer of ice covered the square in moments, the SWAT vans sliding across the surface, all traction lost. The first armored car skid through a shopfront window, disappearing from sight. The second ran two wheels up onto the fountain in the middle of the square, tipping onto its roof, stopping only when it impacted sideways with a streetlight. The third van lost all control, slamming into the second head on at full speed, folding the other vehicle in half while remoulding itself into a shape more akin to a concertina. Vance stepped forward, showering the armoured cars with ice, a crusting holding the cars in place and trapping the officers inside.

Inch long spikes popped automatically out of the gunmen’s boots, the driver jumping out of their car holding a set of chains and a jack, nodding to the leader, “Have these on in a jiff.”

“KI-YAI!”

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Tennyo glanced frantically around, trapped in the blank white ice. Her limbs were frozen in place, she hardly dared move a muscle. Hank had a death grip on her hand, for some reason he was shaking…

Hang on, she thought, I don’t need to breathe, but Hank…

She fought down the surge of panic that threatened to send her thermonuclear. Now was not the time for panic, it was time to think. Try as she might, she couldn’t move her arms, the ice held her completely immobile despite her strength. The laser sword was useless, even a seventh grade high school student knew what happened when you heated this much ice too quickly. Boom. Hank would be ok, but anyone close enough could die. If only she could let out a little of her energy, but that was the trick she had yet to master.

But she had to think of something! Hank was running out of time!

Chaka’s ki shout staggered the gunmen, one even lost his footing and fell down the steps, landing near the wheel of their car. Vance dropped the freezethrower, covering his ears. He didn’t notice the black girl baring down on him, the next thing he felt was someone’s hands around his throat as they flipped over his body, following through with the momentum of their pivot with an overhead throw that sent him hurtling into the car door, bowling over the driver in the process.

“STEEEEEEEE-RIKE!” Chaka yelled gleefully, her grin almost splitting her face in two.

Chou dodged a shotgun blast from the leader, rolling to the side before leaping over the second shot, Destiny’s Wave glistening in the sunlight. The leader blocked her slash with his forearm, Chou narrowly dodging his return swipe from the butt of his gun, “Watch it, Chaka, they’re armoured!”

“I thought he was a little heavy…” Chaka quipped as she charged forward, jumping the hood of the 4WD while delivering an arcing kick downward onto the gunman wedged between the gutter and the car, still trying to bring his M16 out from underneath him, her scarf fluttering behind her in the chill wind. The hollow metallic CLANG of the impact was an obvious giveaway.

She managed to deliver a shocking blow to his chin with her knee, a right hook to the jaw and finally a swift kick to the back of his knee before he could bring his hands up in defence, denting the metal plates beneath his clothing each time to no noticeable effect.

Vance managed to drag himself to his feet, groping for the nozzle of his weapon as it skittered across the ground. Ducking behind the cover of the Van, he hauled the driver to his feet, “Fuck the chains, get this thing on the road!” The Driver nodded once, carefully opening the driver’s passenger side door, clambering over the gear stick to get behind the wheel.

Chou deflected another overhead stroke from the butt of the shotgun, the leader’s prodigious strength battering Destiny’s Wave aside with each blow. A lightning jab with the gun slammed her backwards, her counter slice cutting deep into his right leg as she stumbled back onto the steps. A quick flip and she was back on her feet…

Staring straight down the barrel of the shotgun.

“Goodbye.” He said, squeezing the trigger.

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Heartbreaker hobbled down the deserted street, half leaning against the buildings as she walked. The shops were dark, people hiding in case the violence spread up the street to where they were. And she was fairly solid evidence that it had, blood dripping down her leg as she staggered forward. There was only one chance for the Masterminds now, she told herself, only one. Team Kimba.

With that, she promptly collapsed onto the pavement.

Tennyo tried to tap her fingers inside the block of ice, to no avail. Her prison groaned and crackled under the constant pressure of her arms, yet refused to yield. If only I had a gem on my right wrist… hang on, she paused, did I actually think that?

 

Hank’s hand squeezed slightly harder, bringing her back to the problem at hand. Right, gross displays of power are out, she ticked off her options in her head, that leaves me with… with… ok, I’m tapped. It’s not like I’ve got a lot of options in the power department! Get outta my face!

 

She knew things were bad when she had to tell herself off. DAMN! I’d give my life’s blood to get my hands on that dirty, rotten, no-good... hang on… was that an idea?

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Sara shot out into the square, the chaos of screaming bystanders, burning cars and gunfire dampened down to an indistinguishable roar to her ears. Sara watched as Chou and a gunman dueled in slow motion on the steps, the air pressing against her body moving sluggishly out of the way as if made of jelly.

Meters became miles as the leader pressed the trigger of his shotgun, Chaka facing in the other direction, trying to deal with a second robber. Sara pumped her legs harder as the hammer struck home, igniting the primer inside the barrel.

Twenty feet.

The air seemed to coalesce around her, pushing back on her body trying to keep her away from the girl. A lick of flame poked from the shotgun’s nozzle, heralding the exit of the projectile.

Ten feet.

Sara strained against the air itself, the slug peeking out from its lair, gleaming red in the shotgun’s accompanying fire. Panic overwhelmed her, muscles straining as the bullet set its course to sail straight through her friend’s brain.

An infinitesimal segment of a moment later, the barrier broke.

Though time froze for one instant, Sara was moving so fast that she couldn’t see what was happening or where she was going. Light faded into darkness beyond night, silence reigned, all that was left was the blur of movement and an indescribable pain. The pain ripped at her clothing and flesh, supersonic winds clawing at her skin. Suddenly, she passed through a wall, then another, slowing slightly with each impact. Finally, she came to rest in the wall on the other side of the bank, embedded in the concrete.

It took her a full minute to re-grow and open her eyes. A great gouge through the floor indicated that the path she had taken was dead straight, a clerk shivering in abject terror to one side of the crater, his clothes smoking from his nearness to the blast, slack jawed and dumbfounded.

Looking down, Sara realized that her own clothes were simply gone. “Oh, God,” she groaned in pure frustration, “not again!”

Meanwhile, Chou was busy picking herself up off the ground. The explosion, or whatever the hell it had been, had thrown her clear of the shotgun shell, depositing her in a nearby garden, her clothes slightly scorched. “It seems I did something right in a previous life.” She quipped, looking about the square.

The four robbers had recovered from the blast enough to clamber into the car, another two ran from the bank, staring at a new smoking hole in the shape of a small girl’s body by the door as they ran down the steps. Chaka jumped up from where she lay on the steps, grabbing the nearest thug’s M16 as he passed, twirling him down the steps with a single twirl of her arms.

Chou broke out of her hiding place, running back towards the 4WD as the tires squealed even before the last robber still standing was half way into the car.

“MOVE! MOVE! MOVE!” The leader shouted at the top of his lungs, the car finally sliding forward before gaining traction on the ice. Chaka didn’t hesitate, releasing a Kiai shout that echoed through the city as she leapt onto the roof of the getaway car just before it took to flight.

WUMPH!

Chou hit the dirt as the boulder of ice that had once been Tennyo and Hank exploded, showering the square with pulverized snow. Someone was coughing hard, loud enough to be heard over the screeching wheels and panicked screams of the robbers as their vehicle span out of control.

“HANK! HANK! ARE YOU ALL RIGHT?!?!” Tennyo’s not-so-dulcet tones (though Chou would never describe them as such to the girl’s face) roared over the din.

Completely out of control, Chaka hung onto the roof racks for dear life as the car careened from one lamppost to another, the ice far too slippery for more than rudimentary control. Hopping over the curb and onto frozen soil, the 4WD gained traction for a crucial moment, suddenly launching itself forward before jumping back onto the road, spinning straight towards a newspaper stand on the other side of the square.

Chaka closed her eyes, bracing for impact as the robbers screamed.

Something tore her away from the car just before it plowed through the paper stand and into the shopfront behind, wrenching her into the air, the soft caress of the wind on her face. Strong arms clutched her to a warm, manly, chest that someone had managed to defile by squeezing it into a blue spandex bodysuit. Surmounting the exquisite chest was the thick neck and square jaw of a typical caped crusader, just like in the comic books. A strange hood, somehow incorporating a beak-shaped silver visor, covered the rest of his head, concealing it from view.

“Good work, young one,” he applauded in a deep, resonant, voice, “but heroing is a dangerous business for amateurs!”

Inside the 4WD, the leader of the gang pulled his head out of the dashboard as Vance groaned in the back seat, blood seeping out of his leg. The world was blurry for a moment before a big, round, hole came into focus. Captain Tilley of the Boston SWAT Division glared down the barrel of his Colt .45 as he pressed it into the gang leader’s eye, leaning out the side window of the SWAT van that had crashed less than a foot away mere minutes before.

“Boys,” he drawled, “this is my lucky day.”

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Rip almost jumped into Chaka’s arms, shooting questions at her in rapid fire mode, “Areyouallrightdidtheyhurtyouareyouok?”

“Fine...” Chaka gurgled, Rip’s arms cutting off her air.

Fey and Jade were busy trying to hold Tennyo back from the crooks, who were cuffed and covered by Captain Tilley’s team, screaming blue murder at the top of her lungs. The media circus had just started at the edge of the square as ambulances carted the dead and injured away by the wagonload. Sara sat disconsolately on the fountain next to Chou and Hank, the three comrades allowing steaming mugs of hot chocolate from the nearby café to warm their hands. One of the bank secretaries had loaned her a disgusting light brown jacket which fit her like a dress while city blankets protected the rest of her from sun and sight.

Ayla was watching with some amusement while Skyhawk, defender of the weak, as the blue-caped superhero called himself, was busy being chewed out by Captain Tilley. “WHERE THE FUCK WERE YOU? This is the sort of thing you freaks are supposed to STOP!”

“Language, Captain, there are women and children present.” Skyhawk stood solidly in the face of the onslaught, one hand firmly on his hips while he pointed at Phase. Ayla fought to suppress a laugh.

“I’LL TEACH YOU LANGUAGE YOU COCK-EYED, CONDOM-CLAD MORON!”

“Please excuse the Captain, girls, he’s just upset by the loss of his men. I swear to you on my grandmother’s grave that he isn’t usually like this.”

“HEY, I’M TALKIN’ TO YOU…”

“Captain?”

“WHAT?” Captain Tilley rounded on a uniformed rookie who flinched in the face of his superior’s rage.

“Uh… Ca-Captain, there’s something you really need to have a look at over here.”

“What?” Tilley followed the rookie, Sara, Hank and Skyhawk close behind. As they passed, Jade had just managed to calm the space pirate down, “Hey, dow did you escape from the ice anyway?”

Tennyo, not yet past the snarling stage, pointed out her sharp canines, “Bit my lip, let loose just enough blood to crack it.”

“You’re scary sometimes, you know that?”

They stopped at a stretcher that held a shapely girl lying half conscious on her stomach, a strange object like a seashell protruding from the back of her calf.

“Hey,” Hank scratched his chin, “I’ve seen that ass before.”

They all looked at him.

“What?”

Skyhawk was about to speak when Sara interrupted, “No, he’s right. She was eating lunch with us at the bistro down the road. What the hell’s she doing here?”

“Got a name for her?” The paramedic inquired, “She wasn’t carrying any ID. This thing in her leg isn’t anything like I’ve seen before, it won’t budge an inch without us ripping her skin off. Found her crawling on her hands and knees trailing blood down the street over there.”

Sara leant closer to the protrusion, a chill running down her spine, “I know what this is.”

Hank blinked. “You do?”

Before anyone could stop her, Sara’s hand snaked out from under the blanket, twisting and wrenching the projectile cleanly from the wound.

“Woah! Woah! Woah!” The paramedic jumped, his heart skipping a beat, “Careful there…”

“This is a poison dart. You’re lucky, this one’s not lethal. See those little blue and purple markings near the tip? If they were red or iridescent, your patient would be a corpse. However, Captain, this thing should not be here in the middle of Boston. In fact, it’s on entirely the wrong planet.”

“Excuse me?” Captain Tilley’s eyes were bulging out of his head. Hank’s were only slightly less protuberant.

“Really?” Skyhawk scratched his head, “It looks like one of The Necromancer’s gauntlet darts to me.”

Sara closed her eyes and tried to keep her cool with the big blue lug, “Let me guess. This Necromancer is a powerful mage who has dealings with dark magic on a regular basis. His actions often seem random and meaningless, yet he places a disproportionate amount of effort into his targets for unknown and inexplicable motives. And, every time you come close to catching him, he slips through your fingers?”

“You,” Skyhawk folded his arms across his chest, a smile on his lips, “must have read his file on the Villain’s Top 100.”

“No,” Sara shook her head, “I don’t need to. I know his type. The reason his motives have eluded you for so long is that the items he prizes above all others are innocuous to the untrained eye. His plans are inscrutable because he has given up a part of his humanity for his goals. And you have never caught him because he has dealings with creatures you could never understand. Hank, you better call the rest over here.”

Hank nodded, moving quickly.

“Mind telling us what the hell you’re talking about, kid?” Captain Tilley thrust his hands into his hips.

“This is a Mi-go tranquilizer dart usually used to capture and harvest humans for transport between the stars. If this Necromancer character has access to their technology, it means that he has contact with things beyond the ken of mortal man and must be stopped.”

“Oh, is that all? And here I was thinking that you were asking me to believe in something difficult.” The Captain sneered.

“Whether you believe or not doesn’t matter to me,” Sara shrugged, trying to keep any trace of annoyance out of her voice, “but if this Necromancer’s plans succeed I can guarantee that the result will be destruction on a scale that will make nuclear war sound reasonable.”

Rip and Chaka were the first to saunter over, arms around each other’s shoulders. “Hey, guys,” Rip started, “what’s… hey, I’ve seen that ass before!”

“She was eating lunch in the same restaurant with us. I remember, she left in a bit of a rush.” Chaka supplied.

“Really? No, I’m sure I’ve seen her someplace else. She’s got back.”

There was an awkward moment of silence as everyone present purposefully tried not to look at the unconscious girl’s (very cute) ass. Fortunately, Hank came back right at that moment with Fey, Jade, Chou and Tennyo in toe.

“Hey,” Chou blinked, “I’ve seen that ass before!”

Fey saved the Asian girl from severe embarrassment by leaping to the unconscious blonde’s side, “Heartbreaker!”

“Who?” Captain Tilley asked, more than slightly confused.

“She’s Heartbreaker… er… Edith something I think,” Fey supplied, “sorry I don’t really know her that well. I’ve worked with her once or twice, she goes to school with us.”

“She was knocked out with this.” Sara handed the elfin girl the Mi-go dart.

The readhead swore under her breath, “It fits. The cold projector and exoskeletons too. Mi-go. What were they stealing?”

The Captain shrugged, “Cash, and some safe deposit boxes. Nothing out of the ordinary, really. We’ve dealt with these thugs before, all ex-henchmen of various super-villains, all have done time within the last year.”

“A stage magician once told me,” Sara began, building up to her conclusion, “that distraction was the fundamental art of sleight-of-hand. Make the audience watch your right hand, then pull a bunch of flowers out of thin air with your left.”

“So these guys,” Chaka waved at the cuffed thugs, “are The Necromancer’s distraction. So where is he?”

“Across the road from where we ate lunch,” Sara smiled sweetly, “robbing the Boston Gallery of Antiquities. Think about it, these idiots inflicted maximum collateral damage on the entire area, even killing cops. You’d have to have a peanut for a brain to hang around destroying things if you could just waltz in and ransack the place in under a minute and be gone before anyone can even blink.”

“So,” Hank picked up the line of thought, “Heartbreaker knows something’s going down. Despite the crack down on students visiting Boston, she and maybe her friends get wind of something and sneak down here to swoop in and put a stop to it before it starts. But they get overconfident and run into The Necromancer…”

“Who puts a dart in her leg to knock her unconscious,” Fey summed up, “but doesn’t count on the fact that she’s a mutant and able to drag herself two blocks down the road before the drug takes effect.”

Skyhawk put his hands on his hips, playing the hero of justice routine to the hilt, “Well done, people, I believe that your line of reasoning is sound. Captain, even if she is wrong about the museum, I think that we should check it out anyway, just to be sure.”

Captain Tilley looked back and fourth from Skyhawk to Sara, then back at Hank, his eyes scanning the rest as his gaze moved between them.

The Necromancer amused himself by kicking Jello in the head again while Vamp watched Lycanthros and Nightgaunt load a carved stone into the back of the van, trying to close the sound of boots burying themselves into molten flesh.

“Ever play with silly putty when you were a kid, my friend?” The Necromancer asked, his skull mask grinning wickedly as always.

Lycanthros’ grin was no less wicked, “Can’t say I did, though it does look like fun from where I’m standing.”

Master!

The Necromancer straightened, becoming immediately alert at his minion’s mental contact, What is it, Wilbur?

Police, Master, from all directions! They’re surrounding the museum, Skyhawk’s…

Quit your sniveling, Wilbur. Attack them immediately, we will be with you presently. The Necromancer broke off the mental link abruptly, calling for his team’s attention, “The police have figured out our ruse a little earlier than expected. They are currently approaching from all directions. Lady Darke and Nightgaunt will take the van. Save what you can but leave the rest, hopefully they won’t realize what has been taken until it is too late. Arch-fiend will attack as soon as he builds up the nerve, the rest of us will reinforce him until we can make good our escape. Vamp, stay close to me at all times. Any questions?”

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Captain Tilley’s armoured SWAT van was battered, beaten and certainly the worse for ware, the engine protesting against any movement with a high pitched squeal. Though the van was intended for carrying a squad of fully armed quasi-military personnel, Team Kimba found themselves jammed into their seats like sardines with the remaining members of the SWAT team, the local caped crusader giving orders. Sara fidgeted with the slightly undersized black singlet underneath a ridiculously baggy hooded jacket, her new clothing purchased in a rush while the cops managed to reorganize themselves.

“Why are we all in here again?” Tennyo snapped, trying to dislodge Ayla’s elbow from her hip.

“Because,” Skyhawk smiled, holding onto the handrails hanging from the ceiling, “for hardened villains like the Necromancer, if that is indeed who we face, being surrounded by the local police is hardly worrisome. A concerted attack by ten superbeings is quite another league, this van is, if you’d like, the Trojan horse carrying us into battle.”

Captain Tilley slammed the window open from his position riding shotgun in the driver’s compartment, yelling over the noise, “SO WE’RE THE FUCKING BAIT?”

“I wouldn’t put it quite like that…”

“GAH! NEVERMIND! Armorlite Security just reported an alarm at the museum. They didn’t report it earlier because the system’s been faulty for months and the curator hasn’t had the money to pay for repairs. However, their guards onsite haven’t reported in for an hou…”

Something hit the van’s side with the force of a cannonball, huge black claws ripping and tearing through reinforced steel like paper. One of the SWAT members screamed, a great bloody gash running down his back from shoulder to hip. The noise of the engine changed pitch as the van was heaved up off the road, the occupants tumbling over inside.

There was a sudden lurch and a sense of weightlessness as the view out of the windows circled over and over. Tennyo curled herself over Jade, who was one of the few to remember their seatbelt, shielding her from flying debris. Chaka held tightly to the handrails while Rip held tightly onto her. Chou wedged herself into a corner with Destiny’s Wave. Ayla was crushed by Skyhawk, the latter’s stomach pinned against the former’s face.

Hank was, unfortunately, sitting closest to the door with the SWAT team, and so it was that Sara found Fey’s head buried in her chest as she shielded the elfin girl from flying debris and flailing limbs under a canopy of tentacles. At least for the brief moment of freefall before the van impacted with the side of a building.

Looking at the impact from outside the van, a spectator could have been forgiven for finding the crash spectacular. Glass flying, brick shattering, steel buckling and dust cascading from the concrete above. As if acknowledging the strength of the blow, an untouched column five feet away simply toppled over, bringing a small portion of the upper story down with it.

For a moment, all was silent except for the slow ticking of one of the rear wheels as it continued to rotate from the momentum, the van upside down. Then someone said, “Ouch.”

“Is everyone all right?” Hank asked, crawling out from under a pile of ammo boxes.

Sara watched Tennyo stand, head lowered and glowing with barely restrained energy, Jade shielding her face from the heat. “NO!” Tennyo’s scream of rage melted its way through the reinforced steel, the enraged girl almost cutting the vehicle in half in her mad flight straight through the wall before her.

Right into the chest of a real, live, honest-to-god Demon.

Tennyo looked up from her position nestled between the huge crimson humanoid’s rippling pectorals. It’s thick, jet black, hair tossed in the chill wind. Spikes protruded from it’s joints and at odd places along its skin, two large black horns curved gracefully from it’s skull. The face seemed relatively normal, except for the glowing yellow eyes, reptilian scales and a mouth full of needle sharp teeth. Two gigantic bat wings swept up from it’s back, blocking out the sun as the creature roared right into her face.

“Hot damn, you need a breath mint.” Tennyo snarled, her punch knocking the creature clear across the street, his impact with the brick wall behind causing it to cave inward. Unfazed, the Demon pulled itself to its feet, wrenching a streetlamp out of the concrete as Tennyo charged forward through the air.

Hank was the first through the hole, Jade tucked under one powerful arm. The little girl blinked, half blinded in the sunlight, “Where’s Tennyo?”

CLOONK!

The streetlight shattered into a thousand pieces as the demon swatted Tennyo into the asphalt, the impact causing more damage to the ground and the weapon than it’s target. Jade, however, panicked, “KITTY KOMPACT! SHROUD DEPLOY!”

Two things happened at once. First, a small make-up compact launched itself out of her pocket, unfolding as it answered ‘SHROUD DEPLOYED’ in a robotic voice. Second, a box exploded out from her backpack, seeming to turn inside out as a dark cape unfolded over a black skeleton, a girl’s blank white face fading into view under the hood.

With a deep chuckle, the demon raised the streetlight over his head to strike again. Jinn let loose a volley of railroad spikes, seeing that she would not be there in time. The cast iron needles simply bounced off it’s unnatural hide, merely eliciting a grunt of annoyance as the pole arced down once more.

And was cut cleanly in half by a blade of pure heat, the top half skittering across the pavement. Tennyo rose from the crater in the earth, raising one hand in a beckoning gesture, rage burning in her yellow eyes, “Come on.”

Chaka was busy checking Rip’s chi.

“Is she OK?” Fey called from where she cradled Skyhawk’s head with glowing hands.

“Yeah, just knocked out, she’ll be fine in an hour to two. How’s Mr. Righteous?”

“Out of action, but he should be all right,” Fey answered, unsure of her diagnosis.

The black martial artist looked around, mentally accounting for the survivors, “Where’s Phase?”

“She fell through the side of the van,” Sara supplied, lifting one of the policemen off of another who’s arm was broken, “how’s the Captain?”

As if on que, the window into the drivers cabin snapped open, a bedraggled and bleeding Captain Tilley sliding into their compartment, “And the lesson is kids,” he quipped in a thick voice, “always wear a seatbelt.”

“He’ll live.” Chou chuckled.

The Captain turned to Fey, “How’s Skyhawk?”

“He’ll live too. The crash hurt his brain, he’ll need to rest.” Fey’s brow crinkled daintily with worry.

A red-hot shaft of steel pierced the cabin wall, flying past Sara’s nose and embedding itself in wall on the opposite side.

The Captain calmly turned back to glared at them, “What the hell are you kids doin’ here. Get out there and kick some ass.”

Chou nodded, leaping into the light, Chaka close behind. Sara stood at the hole, waiting for Fey, “Will you be all right, Captain?”

“Don’t worry about SWAT, girl, we can take care of ourselves. Get going, I’ll take care of the good guys here.”

With that, Sara jumped out of the van, pulling Fey along behind her.

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Tennyo dodged the burning metal as the demon hurled it towards her like a spear, flying low to the ground, her plasma blade leaving a trail across the ground. It dodged her first swipe upwards, the blade merely tagging the edge of it’s torn black trousers, then rolled as she swooped overhead, avoiding the second downward slash.

“Yikes!” Shroud narrowly avoided the thing’s slashing claws as it reached for her, flying up out of his reach.

“THINK YOU CAN IGNORE ME!?!” Tennyo charged, landing a heavy overhead blow, slashing down it’s back from neck to crotch.

It staggered and whirled on her, catching it’s dark claws across her chin, flesh parting like butter. “THINK YOU CAN HARM THE ARCH-FIEND WITH FIRE?” He retorted, the crackle of infernal flames overlaying the demon’s voice.

Spatters of Tennyo’s blood hissed and crackled as it ate its way through the pavement. Lifting her head, she revealed the mess that was now the lower half of her face. In moments, the skin sealed itself over the wound, her tongue growing back enabling her to speak, “It seems I’ll have to do this the old fashioned way. Good, I feel like BEATING SOMEONE TO DEATH TODAY!”

The sword leapt from her hands, blasting away the ground at the Arch-fiend’s feet, toppling the giant over. Then Tennyo was on top of him, fists and feet flailing. She was rewarded with a grunt as a haymaker knocked out two of the thing’s fangs.

Hank, Chaka and Chou watched from the van. Chaka felt a drop of sweat roll down her cheek, “Think we should help her?”

Hank scratched the back of his head, watching the thrashing ball of spikes, wings and limbs, “Think we can without getting killed?”

Fortunately, their minds were made up for them as a white panel van burst from the alleyway next to the museum, three black and white police cars in pursuit. A bolt of green fire punched through the engine of the first car, sending it veering out of control, smoke pouring from the gaping hole in the hood. The second dodged the wreck, accelerating after the panel van, but the third was having problems of its own, a hulking wolf-beast tearing shreds out of the bonnet, taking slugs full in the chest from the cabin, the officers desperately blasting through the windscreen.

“I’ve got the van!” Hank jumped into the air, swooping into full speed low to the ground after the van.

Chaka was moving even before Hank, running towards the third car as it skidded sideways across the road, “Tall, dark and ugly’s mine!”

Chou, Fey and Sara looked ruefully up the steps of the museum at the approaching doom. Green fire licked from The Necromancer’s clawed gauntlets, his purple robe flapping wildly in the gale. A bolt of lightning threw his armoured bulk into silhouette, the media helicopters scattering into the gale as rolling thunder shook the earth. “Well, I should have expected opposition from the Sidhe today. Silly of me, really. However, my pretty little red princess, your interference will prove futile.”

Fey’s face hardened, her glare penetrating as she admonished her enemy, “I am no mewling little princess, peasant mage! I AM A QUEEN!”

Wind whipped around the elfin mage as she drew power from the thunderstorm overhead, extracting the energy of the earth from the ground and even tapping into the essence of the park several blocks away, filling the reservoir in the pit of her stomach for the battle to come.

“Need some help there?” Sara whispered to the Sidhe Queen.

“NO!” Fey snapped, then her face softened slightly, “No, Sara. He’s mine.”

Chou wasn’t so easily dissuaded, interposing herself between Fey and the wizard, drawing Destiny’s Wave from the sheathe on her back, “Not if I get him first.”

Underneath his skull mask, The Necromancer smiled, “Ah, now that is an interesting weapon you are brandishing there. Unfortunately, I have no time for games, but perhaps my own champion could provide you with some amusement?”

An albino girl with smouldering red eyes stepped out from behind the mage, flashing Chou with a seductive, knowing, smile, “Oh, I’m sure we can find some way to amuse ourselves, Master.”

Sara tapped her foot as she watched the groupings face off, Pride goeth before the fall. I should have stayed in the van…

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“HE-YA!” Chaka shouted, her flying kick catching the wolf-beast on the ribs, cracking bone and sending both over the hood of the police car before it span up onto the pavement, ripping a fire hydrant out of the concrete, water spraying high into the air.

Frozen droplets pounded into Chaka’s back as she landed on her feet, dropping immediately into a combat crouch as her opponent rolled, absorbing the impact of his fall. The Were-beast leapt to it’s feet, snapping and snarling. Chaka grinned devilishly, “Niiice, doggie, goood dog…”

Chaka had to bend her whole body backwards at the knees to dodge the gigantic sweeping claws of the oversized werewolf, catching her fall with her left hand while pummelling it’s thin ankles with the heel of her foot.

Though bone snapped and the leg twisted out of shape, the wolf jaws plunged downwards heedless, Chaka rolling left and right to avoid the snapping teeth. Claws gouged great chunks from the concrete, the young girl too busy blocking and dodging to rise to her feet.

Roaring, the great beast leapt on top of her, grasping her hips and shoulders in both huge, powerful, hands, yanking her high into the air, ignoring bone-shattering kicks to its ribs, “I’LL CRUSH YOU!”

All she could do was grit her teeth together as the monster started to squeeze.

Tennyo cursed herself as the Arch-fiend rammed her through a glass window and pounded her back into the thick cement, digging it’s claws into her shoulders for an unbreakable hold. From the floor, it rammed her face first into a mirror, racks full of clothes scattering across the floor.

It pressed forward, bringing them face to face, shark-toothed maw opening wide to lick the side of her face, leaving a sticky slime-trail in it’s wake, “Ooooh, tasty…”

“Heh,” Tennyo chuckled, “’afraid I’m a little too tough for you!”

Her fist shot up between their bodies, catching him square on the jaw. He flew backwards, arms and wings flailing, clothing racks and shelves crushed and splintered as the demon crashed through the brick wall and into the real estate building next door. Tennyo hovered upright through the gap, watching as the fiend spat its own black blood onto the floor.

“You’re quite tough yourself, though, I’ll give you that.”

“Arrogant mortal,” It dragged itself to its feet, clinging to the wall for support, “the Necromancer altered my body to withstand even the most powerful of attacks…”

Tennyo buffed her nails against the remains of her shirt while the Arch-fiend coughed up another pint of blood, “Well, I do have to admit that you are lasting a lot longer than I expected. I suppose I should be curious, but to tell the truth I just find this… frustrating.”

Tennyo’s glare would have frozen the blood of an ordinary mortal.

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Lady Darke slammed on the brakes, the van fishtailing around the corner. Approaching police cars screeched to a halt, turning sharply to form a hasty roadblock. Nightgaunt pulled his automatic pistol out from under his cloak, checking the clip and chamber with the practiced ease of a military man.

“Save it.” Darke grinned, concentrating on the front of the van. A dark field of energy coalesced across the front of the van, allowing just enough light through for Darke to see to accelerate towards the gap between cars.

The indestructible field shouldered the cars aside with ease, breaking through without pause. So it was a complete surprise a moment later when a sudden jolt threw them both forward into their seatbelts. They stole a look at each other, though Nightgaunt remained silent, the whine of the engine revving rising in pitch as the rear wheels were lifted from the asphalt.

Nightgaunt wasted no words of explanation, smashing the sunroof with the butt of the gun and clambering through into the daylight. Clawed gloves and boots allowed him to clamber up the vibrating chassis, gun leading the way as he looked over the edge of the van.

A young man, slightly skinny though well-muscled and wiry, gripped under the tailbar with such force that the metal buckled and wrinkled under his grasp. Nightgaunt reached down and pressed the barrel of his gun against the kid’s forehead.

Hank looked up into the blank surface of the monster’s face, grinning, “Go ahead, punk, make my day.”

Nightgaunt pulled the trigger without hesitation.

Chou stalked slowly, crossing and uncrossing her legs along the weathered grey steps, following the movements of the Necromancer’s champion. The rain drowned out the low creek of the albino girl’s red leather outfit, that left little to the imagination much to her delight.

Concentrate, Destiny’s Wave snapped, watch your stance, this opponent will not hesitate to crush you.

The girl strutted with an air of confidence, her red eyes locked on Chou’s. Chou felt her breathing become heavy, her heart fluttering, need and desire welling up within her. “Come,” the siren beckoned, “drop your pretty sword and come to me. I want you, I need you and you need me so badly…”

Chou tried to shake her head, trying to ignore the tempting voice as it droned, reverberating inside her skull.

“…let me kiss you,” she stepped forward, pushing Destiny’s Wave to one side, white fangs flashing between rose-red lips, one hand caressing the Asian girl’s glossy black hair, pulling forward.

“I don’t think so.”

Vamp felt herself being yanked off her feet, then pain as she tumbled and splashed down the steps, skidding across the wet sidewalk. Looking up, a dark Goth girl stood next to the martial artist, supporting her friend as she shook off the lingering effects of her Gaze of Desire.

Sara leant towards Chou, not letting her eyes move from the albino’s prone form for a moment, “Maybe you should let me handle this one.”

“No, I issued the challenge, I will se it through.” Chou snarled, whipping her sword around to face the albino again.

When, Lord, oh when are these girls going to lose their male ego? Sara sighed to the weeping heavens.

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Fey hit the Necromancer’s green force shield with another barrage of blue force bolts, focusing the power of the city into cohesive blasts of light. A second later, she caused the earth under his feet to shake, disrupting his concentration as he grasped the lion statue perched on the thick stone railing nearby before he tumbled down the shuddering steps.

He hissed, spitting acid into her face. A sweep of Fey’s hand scattered the stream into the harsh gale that whipped around her, giving her time to complete another, more powerful incantation, “Fires of Heaven, descend to earth to punish the wicked! RAIN OF STARS!”

The Necromancer looked up in time to see the cloud above him turn red, spitting fourth burning white chunks of molten rock. He didn’t hesitate to answer with his own spell, “ITHIQUA! Raise a barrier to protect your servant!”. Water jumped from the ground as if of its own accord, forming into a floating lake overhead, intercepting and blunting the attack as rock cooled in the unnaturally cold water.

Still, several of the burning rocks landed nearby, giving Fey just enough heat to work with, “Tongues of flame, grant my enemy the touch of your hot caress! FIRE CONSTRICTORS!”

From each of the burning rocks, a lick of fire burst fourth, forming twisting pillars of flame that wrapped themselves around the Necromancer’s green shield, squeezing, tightening. The force shield wavered and groaned in response, the constant damage slowly draining its power. But the Necromancer smiled, even as his shield collapsed, “FOOL!”

Then he let go of the water, the resulting waterfall sweeping both combatants down the stairs.

Chaka felt the air being squeezed out of her lungs, the precious gas seeping out between her teeth as she tried to block out the pain, her own muscles straining against the pressure. She’d long since lost feeling in her legs, her circulation cut off by iron sinew.

“That’s right, you can feel it can’t you? Life slipping through your fingers? I love this moment, the look in someone’s face when they know they’re going to die. Can you taste the pain? Can you taste it?”

This beast was nothing like Montana. Big, yes, hairy, yes, but nowhere near as stupid, nowhere near as merciful either, which was saying something. Not to mention damn near invulnerable, able to ignore even her best licks. She needed an edge, she needed a weapon, she needed… MOONSILVER!

It hit her a moment before it hit Lycanthros, Chaka’s moonsilver bracelet adding its own magical force to her own back-handed forearm strike to the side of his wolfish face. Bone shattered, flesh melted, an eye even burst, spraying her with sickly red goo.

Chaka was too busy gasping for breath on the ground to worry about her new outfit just yet. The were-beast howled in pain and rage, clutching it’s face and stumbling blindly, falling to roll and writhe in the water, as if bathing the wound would put out the fire it felt in it’s head. She pulled herself to her feet, calling on her Chi to strengthen her body.

“Don’t like that, huh? How about THIS!” Chaka knew that a WWF-style body blow to a prone opponent’s stomach would not be something that Ito Sensei would approve of, but at that moment, it was one of the most satisfying events of her life, particularly with the added power of her bracelet being buried into the werewolf’s stomach, “CAN YOU TASTE THAT, BITCH?”

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The Arch-fiend was laughing. Tennyo glared at the demon, feeling her power seethe and crackle in the air around her as she walked forward on empty air, “What’s so funny?”

“I… know something you don’t.” It gave her a toothy grin as she stepped forward, her hands balling into fists.

“Oh, and what is that?”

It let out another chuckle before releasing a gout of oily black smoke into her face. Tennyo laughed back, “Is that all you’ve got?”

The black smoke, however ineffective it was at choking or poisoning the spiky-haired girl, did obscure her vision, filling the room with an impenetrable darkness. Quickly lashing out, Tennyo’s fist merely met brick and concrete, punching a gaping hole in the wall. Another strike aimed at a flitting shodow shattered a desk into splinters of chipboard, “WHERE ARE YOU?”

She heard the demon chuckle again, along with the sound of tumbling brickwork and collapsing walls. The smoke was quickly replaced by thick, choking, grey dust, the poison air evaporating as it pooled below the ceiling. The Arch-fiend slowly came into view once more, first a shadow, then his bleeding, scaly, form becoming clear. He was breathing heavily, straining, his arms raised up, hands buried inside the smoke.

He was still laughing, “Are you ready?”

With a final heave, the building collapsed onto both of them.

Nightgaunt’s Colt Series 90 Double-Eagle .45 was not a regular specimen of the automatic handgun based on the pistol selected by the US Army for personal defence. It was lighter, more accurate and more powerful than the standard .45 calibre round would immediately suggest. Added to this was the deadliness of the special .45 Winchester Silvertip hollowpoint rounds it was currently loaded with.

The gun was designed with one thought in mind: Killing the opponent. A standard .45 round is more likely to pass straight through a human being unless it embeds itself or ricochets from bone, a hollowpoint round shatters and spreads in the wound, sometimes blowing exit wounds the size of dinner plates out of the victim.

What the manufacturers, customizers and Nightgaunt himself didn’t count on was the barrel of the weapon being obstructed by a solid wall of impenetrable TK force protecting the forehead of a young man like Hank.

As the firing pin struck the ignition cap, pressurized and super-heated gas expanded, the grains inside the cartridge exploding in sympathy to expel the bullet from the barrel of the gun. The millisecond that it took for the bullet to impact with Hank’s TK field was not enough time for the expanding gas to properly exit the chamber along with the spent cartridge. Not to be denied, the gas vented its anger on the gun itself.

The result being that the gun exploded in Nightgaunt’s hand, peppering his body and face with shrapnel and sending him reeling off the top of the van.

Hank chuckled as he was immediately set upon by Shroud, who giggled girlishly as she rained steel-knuckled blows down on the fiend’s back and head, black metal clanging from black metal, “I’ll keep him busy, you get the girl!”

“I always get the girl!” Hank laughed, picking up the van and shaking. There were several meaty thuds and ‘oof’ noises, as well as some breaking and ripping noises from the back of the van, before Lady Darke tumbled out of the driver’s compartment, bruised and battered.

Hank dropped the van, which bounced on its suspension for a minute before settling down. Stalking around the corner, he caught sight of the woman trying to scramble to her feet, but her long cape kept getting caught under her feet.

“Sheesh, haven’t you people ever seen the Incredibles?” Hank laughed as he walked forward, the woman flopping about in the rain like a stranded fish.

From the look on her face, however, she didn’t think her plight was all that funny. Snarling in defiance, she raised her hand towards the adolescent brick and plunged him into darkness.

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Vamp was busy dodging the cut and thrust of Chou’s blade, ankle deep in water from the wizard battle as their own fight moved out onto the deserted road, level ground giving her enough space to avoid the sword with great leaps and bounds, using cars and telegraph poles for cover. Destiny’s Wave wasn’t stopped by these obstacles, but it was slowed enough for the albino vampire to take a safe shot at unguarded areas, slashing Chou’s shoulders, stomach and back with sharp blows from her fists.

Though it was obvious to Sara who was the better trained, it was equally obvious who had more practical fighting experience. Chou’s moves were perfectly executed and graceful, they just couldn’t land more than a glancing blow. The albino’s moves were sloppy, she wasted a lot of energy hopping about and showing off, but her blows landed more than they missed and always in the place that would hurt the most. In the end, Chou was being worn down.

Vamp almost finished the fight with a roundhouse, double-fisted, blow to Chou’s back, slamming her into the hood of a car, the windshield breaking from the sheer force of the blow as the chassis twisted. As tough as Chou was, the blow stunned her for a moment too long. Vamp pulled the Asian girl’s head back from the indentation in the steel, reaching her other hand around to fondle Chou’s breast through her soaked shirt, Destiny’s Wave slipping from the girl’s grasp.

Chou felt like her body was on fire, something whispering deep, erotic, secrets into her brain, calling for her to submit. Vamp licked and teased the pretty girl’s earlobes, hardly feeling the rain hammer her back as she reached her hand down to rub between the martial artist’s legs…

She didn’t expect Chou to ram her head into the hollow right between her eyes, stars and weird lights bursting into her vision as she stumbled back from shock and pain. The sharp sting of the rain pounding her skull burst into stark relief as her other senses fell into a dull roar from the impact. Chou was breathing in gasps as she groped for her sword in the water, finding it lying halfway underneath the wrecked car. With a heave, she forced herself onto her knees, using the tip of the sword as a balance, but that was as far as she could manage for the moment, her muscles aching from repeated blows and frantic use.

“I think that’s quite enough,” Sara stepped down from her observation perch on the roof of a nearby car, “tag, partner, I’m it.”

“NO,” Chou growled, “this is MY fight! Don’t interfere!”

Sara shook her head in disgust, “Baka. Say that to me when you can stand. Now you,” Sara beckoned to the albino, who was shaking her head clear of the dancing lights, “you’re mine.”

“Famous last words. I’ll make sure they’re engraved on your headstone!”

The albino hissed as she charged, bearing her fangs while reaching out with hands like claws.

Fey flipped her dripping hair out of her face, trying to clear her line of sight to the Necromancer who was much quicker to get back onto his feet then she was, the pulsing muscle of his armour assisting his recovery. She barely had time enough to raise a defence shield to ward off another blast of green fire.

“BURN, DAMN YOU, BURN!”

The elf ignored his curses, sending another hail of force bolts in his direction, this volley slamming directly into his armoured hide. Ignoring the impacts that blasted metal fragments from his chest and shoulders, The Necromancer pulled four strange cubes from under his robe, as if the darkness held space rather than fabric. The cubes splashed and skidded across the ground, unfolding into tall, skeletal, robots.

“Attack, fools, Attack!” The Necromancer pointed in Fey’s direction even as he began another incantation.

Another wave of her hand blasted one of the shuffling robots in half as it approached, but even as she backed away, the upper body kept dragging itself forward with it’s skeletal hands. Shouting a word of power, she caused the second robot to burst into flames, yet still they shuffled forward, arms extended hungrily out for her throat.

“ZASHUWAN!”

Fey ducked instinctively as the Necromancer completed his spell, understanding the meaning of his last word. The car behind her exploded, throwing itself high into the air. Flames licked her back, setting her dress on fire and forcing her to roll in the water. A crash a moment later told her that the car had found the earth once more.

Opening her eyes, one of the robots was on top of her, grabbing her throat with cold, bony, hands and squeezing. It was charred and crumbling, though, on its last legs. Fey resolved that by kicking it’s legs out from under it, snapping the thing like a burnt matchstick.

Truly angry now, Fey scanned the scene of destruction for the Necromancer, finding him finally standing in the centre of the road, the burning wreck of the car behind him, the heat of the flames rippling the scene beyond his silhouette, the rain evaporating before it could attempt to quench the fire.

“Last round, are you ready?” Fey snarled.

“Anytime, whelp.”

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Lycanthros would have snarled if either his jaw or lungs were really up to the job. But the fact is, they weren’t, not by a long shot. With his throat a burnt and twisted wreck, he couldn’t even manage a quiet whimper. It was obvious that the girl outmatched and outclassed him in all respects, she even had the edge of the mithril bracelet on her wrist, an item he would covet under any other circumstance.

As it was, he knew the only way to get that bracelet would be to rip off the girl’s arm. Usually, he would be overjoyed to do it too, only no matter how hard he tried, the negro kept dodging his claws and bites, rewarding his attempts with more charred flesh and weeping sores.

Growling deep in his chest, he jumped the hood of a car to avoid another backhanded blow to his ribs, rolling across the road and back onto his feet as he landed, running on all fours.

“KITTY KOMPACT! ATTACK!”

A sting in his shoulder brought his attention back to the gaping hole in the SWAT van, a young girl standing next to the entrance, something buzzing around her like a fly on a carcass. The nigger didn’t allow him any time for respite or distraction, though, rewarding his lack of focus with a whipping blow to the back.

Howling like he hadn’t realized he could, Lycanthros, did the first thing that came to mind, bashing his fist into the edge of the manhole under Chaka’s feet, instinct leading him right where intellect had failed.

The manhole delivered a glancing blow to Chaka’s hip, luckily only knocking her to the ground rather than tearing her in half. Without another word, the beast slipped into the darkness, landing with a splash somewhere below.

“OH, NO, YOU DON’T GET AWAY THAT EASY!” Chaka shouted, leaping down the hole after him.

The Arch-fiend breathed ragged breaths as he struggled underneath the brickwork, lifting several tons of stone and shouldering it aside with his wings, bloody, beaten and tired. He had nothing left, his powers would ebb soon and he’d be back to being Wilbur, the loser, with only the pants overing his legs to keep him warm. It was useless, he’d be captured this time, but The Necromancer would always want him back, would hunt him down no matter where he was taken or what they would do. The only question was, would he return to the fold or be retired forever?

At least he’d finished that annoying, spiky-haired, bitch…

All thought left his brain as said spiky-haired bitch threw a slab of concrete ten foot wide and at least three feet thick off her body, sneezing from the concentrated grey dust that covered her, “Well, that was a trip. Ok, tall, dark and ugly, time for another round.”

The Arch-fiend’s jaw worked up and down, unable to comprehend the power of resilience of the pale, weak, little girl before him. Stumbling back, tripping over a loose brick, he felt his fear take over his body, muscles deflating, scales receding as his hair fell out onto the ground. In the end, all that was left was Wilbur Bunsen, a forty year old bum in torn black pants covered in bleeding wounds and black contusions. He even wet his pants as Tennyo approached, his body too tired and beaten to even move.

“Well THAT was an anticlimax.”

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Hank stumbled around in the dark, the world utterly black and silent as the grave. He couldn’t even hear his own breath, couldn’t feel the beating of his heart or the pounding of blood in his ears. Everything was still in a world where everything should be moving.

“JINN! JINN, I CAN’T SEE!”

Jinn looked around as Hank stumbled into the side of the van, tripping over his own feet. Then she noticed the purple lady gesturing towards her. But nothing happened.

Lifting the faceless man up in her hands, she dragged him kicking and flailing behind her as she stalked towards the dark woman, “What have you done to Lancer?”

She didn’t get the answer she was expecting. A second gesture, directed not towards her, but at the manhole cover ten feet away sent the disk of metal flying a towards her face with impossible speed. Quick as she was, the manhole was faster, catching her metal frame square in the chest and pinning her to the ground.

Nightgaunt was quick to take advantage of the disruption, leaping to his feet while slipping under Hank’s flailing arms, grabbing Lady Darke before jumping down into the sewers. Hank blinked almost immediately, his vision clearing.

“HANK! Are you ok?” Jinn squeaked from under the manhole cover, her voice projector slightly bent causing the change in pitch.

“Yeah, I’m fine. Another psychic mind-fuck, I think I’ll start a collection. Here let me help…”

“NO!” Jinn interrupted as Hank stooped over her, “they got away down the sewers, you’ve gotta go after them!”

He smiled, “Relax, they’re long gone by now. I’ll bet you a hundred bucks that the sewers around here are one big death trap. The way they were moving, it strikes me that the manholes were the plan B escape route if plan A failed.”

“Oh.” Jinn pouted.

“Hey, it’s all right,” Hank smiled, picking up the manhole cover without even breaking a sweat, “at least we stopped the van, right?”

Jinn swooped into the air, “Hey, that’s right! Thanks, Ha… err, Lancer!”

Lancer grinned, stepping over to the van to open the side door to the cargo area. The back of the van was filled with torn paintings, smashed jars and broken sculptures.

Hank slammed the door shut again, “Errr… I think we should get back to the others…”

Jinn realized that if this was an anime, they both would have big sweated, “Ahhhh, yes, why don’t we?”

Sara watched the albino vampire charge, red eyes burning with hatred. The demon princess waited for her to come within range, not even bothering to manifest her tentacles for such a hasty attack. Vamp didn’t even see the first blow connect with her ribs, drawing blood as claws raked over bone, shredding her leather corset. The pain barely had time to register before the second slash to her shoulder span her a full 360 degrees, the last blow delivered by Sara’s elbow downward into the albino’s back as she stepped past, moving faster than the eye could see for less than a second.

Vamp hit the asphalt, spraying Chou with water from the road. Sara let the girl roll to her feet, hands behind her back in a calm, relaxed, manner while her opponent crouched low, clutching her ribs, “Way too slow.”

“Try this on for size then.” Vamp spat, breathing in as if sucking in the ambient energy of the world around her. And perhaps she was, a cloud of darkness exploded from her skin, enveloping the three combatants in utter darkness. Vamp’s follow-up attack was quick and viscous, using her opponent’s surprise to take a leaping slash at her throat, catching her unawares.

Almost. Sara caught the blow easily, twisting the arm like Chaka Simpai had shown her, causing a shriek of pain. Another twist and the girl was in her arms, their eyes locked despite the darkness.

“I can still see your aura…” Sara whispered, smelling the sweet odour of hormones on the albino’s breath even as the purple haze drifted from her skin into the breeze.

“Red eyes, you’re like me… no, you can’t be, you’re a cheap imitation!” Vamp hissed under her breath.

“Which of us is imitating the other, I wonder.”

Vamp squeaked, a clawed hand brushing up her inner thigh to caress the arch between her legs, unused to being the victim rather than the aggressor. She didn’t like the feeling, not at all, but maybe she could use it. Wrapping her knee around the other vampire-girl’s, she reached her hand up to caress the Goth’s cheek, forcing her will into the other’s mind through her smouldering gaze, “Who cares, lover, when we could be together forever? Let me kiss you, let me love you…”

As Vamp tried to press her fangs forward towards the Goth’s pale neck, steeling herself for the taste of oil-based foundation, she was halted as the clawed hand whipped up her body to grasp her neck, holding her back.

“You wish to pit your petty lust against mine?” Sara chuckled, “So be it.”

Vamp’s lips parted slightly with surprise as Sara mashed hers down onto Vamp’s. The albino felt two tongues force her jaw open as far as it could go while a third entered her throat, distending her neck with its sheer bulk. She moaned as the slimy tentacle thrust in and out, coating her tongue with a substance that tasted much like honeyed milk. The thrill of victory tingled down Vamp’s spine as she rapped her lips around the invading member, sucking on the life force of the creature bending over her.

But it wasn’t life force that was entering her. With each drag, Vamp felt a great emptiness grow inside, consuming her energy. Her body felt heavy, gravity dragged her eyelids down, she went limp in the Demon’s grasp as the tentacle raped her mouth. But it all felt too good to let it stop, she loved being taken, loved the taste, the texture of the thing in her mouth. Quietly, she wished that it would move it’s ministrations lower down her body, or that a thousand of its brothers would take up the cause with her every orifice. She was lost, and not only did she know it, she was loving every second. Then the darkness blotted out her consciousness and, for a while, she knew no more.

Sara let Vamp’s limp body tumble to the ground as the darkness faded, the world intruding on her once more. Chou was leaning against the car now, recovering.

“Don’t feel bad about it,” Sara smiled, “she’s an energizer. She was sapping your strength as you fought and effecting your judgement. Quite precocious, really, I wonder if she’s had any formal training?”

“I feel like someone’s been shoving icicles under my skin…” Chou shivered, rubbing her arms for warmth.

“Here,” Sara snapped her fingers, producing a small ball of fire in mid air that floated over to her comrade, “that should help until your chi has time to recover. Try to focus on warming up…”

“Ok, nobody gets to tease me about wrecking anything anymore,” Tennyo grinned, floating down to the ground, dropping a beaten, middle-aged man wearing torn black trousers onto the albino, “did we accidentally catch the express to Beirut this morning?”

A magical explosion answered in the affirmative, though their location would have otherwise disagreed.

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Water rushed past Chaka’s ankles as she splashed down the dark tunnel, using her scarf to cover the smell of rotten vegetables and god knows what else. Things floated past her legs that she was glad were unidentifiable in the gloom.

“Well, there you are! Where the hell have you been?”

Chaka jumped as the slimy, grime-soaked, figure marched out of the shadows, “WAAA! What the!?!”

It tapped it’s foot, “It’s ME, okay? Ayla.”

Chaka blinked, staring at the dirt besotten creature in front of her, “Ayla? Where the hell have you been? We lost you after the crash…”

“Down here, wandering around in the dark. I may be a mutant, but it’s not like I have darkvision, you know. I fell into the street, took me forever to find the sewers. Then there were all these… things down here, I’ve been bashing heads together for ages, must have been a few hundred of ‘em.”

Several shadowy figures shambled silently around a corner up ahead, the martial artist gagging involuntarily as the smell wafted over them, even over Ayla’s own pungent odour. Ayla’s nose twitched, “Oh, shit, not more of them? These things just don’t quit! Wait here…”

“Hang on!” Chaka tried not to think about the slimy feeling or hear the squelch as she grabbed Ayla’s arm, “Did you see a big werewolf come through here?”

Ayla shook her head.

Chaka blinked, a bad feeling welling up in the pit of her stomach.

“There’s a reason for that.” A soft voice gurgled behind her.

“MORRIGAN’S GALE!”

“PORTAL OF FEAR!”

The chill, black, wind that whipped from Fey’s fingertips was swallowed by the black pit that opened before the Necromancer, who snarled his incantations with sheer frustration. For each counter he played, Fey answered with three moves of her own, keeping him always on the back foot. His force shield was weakening as Fey assailed it from all sides, fire rained from the sky, bolts of blue light snaking around to harry his flanks while wind and earth pushed him ever back away from the elfin queen.

Aunghadhail noticed the shift in The Necromancer’s energies before Nikki could react, her sudden, wordless, empathic warning saving them both at the last moment. Hurling herself sideways, the ground cracked and buckled where her feet once were, fleshy talons reaching out of the scar to drag her down. A dirt encrusted skull leered at her in the flash of a lightning bolt, a centipede crawling between its dark eye sockets.

“Well played, young mage, but I have the last move.”

Fey looked up just in time to see the manhole flying like a discus for her face.

“NO!”

There was a clang as the manhole cover clattered to the ground, wobbling on it’s edge like a giant coin. Hank was there, his body blocking the attack. Then the rest of her friends were there, circling the villain who laughed in defiance.

“HA! I have no more time for parlour games! I WILL RETURN!” With a final shake of his fist, thick green smoke exploded from the earth, stinging their eyes for a moment and forcing them to look away. When it cleared he was gone, no trace to be seen.

“The manhole! I saw him!” Tennyo swooped through the air, her sword flickering back into existence in her hand, disappearing down the hole before anyone could stop her.

Hank swore, “Jade, Chou, look after Fey. Jinn, you’re with me.”

“Chaka’s down there too!” Jade called after them as the two fliers swooped down the hole.

Sara sighed, “What am I, chopped liver? Wait here, I’ll be right back.”

With that, the vampire girl walked down an alley away from the group, leaving them with to stare at her back, perplexed expression on their faces.

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Hitting Ayla at the best of times was like hitting a three-foot thick wall of reinforced steel plated with adamantite. Or, at least that’s what Chaka guessed it felt like, considering that she had never been rammed head first into a three foot thick wall of adamantite plated, reinforced steel. What was sure was that it hurt. A lot. Luckily, Ayla had a few things that steel walls don’t have, like hips and a spine, natural crumple points that bent with the force of the blow rather than snapping her own bones like twigs.

Tactically, it was a supurb ambush, though the martial artist did wonder how the beast had avoided her Chi sense until the last moment. Such questions could be answered later, however, when she and Phase had untangled themselves from each other. The beast didn’t bother to follow through, indeed it was amazing that he still had some fight in him with his broken ribs sticking through his chest at such a grotesque angle. It ran, shouldering aside the shambling shadows and disappearing around the corner, “KILL THEM! KILL THEM!”

As Chaka rolled painfully to her feet, the figures multiplied from the darkness, shambling forward in a black wave, groaning, reaching…

“Zombies? This guy’s got an army of motherfucking zombies down here? Gimme a break, where’d he get all the corpses?”

Alya scrubbed a fresh glob of slime from her face, “I dunno, but I’ll say this. When I die, I’m getting cremated. Come on, these things look scary but they’re total wusses in a real fight. Hit ‘em in the head, pop the cranium and they’re down. No brains, but whatever’s animating them resides in the head. Soon as that’s ventilated, they’re gone.”

“Ok,” Chaka grinned, cracking her knuckles and raising her voice, “Resident Evil, we’re here with your eviction notice! KI-YAI!”

Lancer examined the corpse that was trying to gnaw on his arm, “What the hell is animating these things? This one doesn’t have enough muscle mass to even stand.”

“I dunno,” Tennyo cackled gleefully, mowing down another row of zombies with her sword, taking particular delight in the sizzle and pop of exploding, superheated, organs, “but this is so much fun! Snap! Crackle! Pop!”

“Ewwww, Tennyo, you’re scaring me…” Jinn winced as her metal fist crushed another brain-cavity, spraying her with red and green goo.

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The Necromancer stumbled into the cistern, a great pit covered by a heavy grate through which water could fall and be carried swiftly away by the storm water drains deep below the city. In the centre of the grate, illuminated by another heavy grate that stopped pedestrians from falling into the tank and being dragged out to sea, was a red pentagram, the focus of his previous magics.

Stepping forward, he brought the spell key back to the forefront of his mind, five more feet and he would be back in his lair, safe from the accursed fools that had ruined all his careful plans…

“You know, you smell awfully familiar.”

The Necromancer whipped his head around, glaring into the darkness of the lone side passage into the room. A pale white girl with long, jet black, hair and matching clothes glared back at him with slitted red eyes that burned in the skull-pits of her face. She leant nonchalantly against the moss-covered tunnel, stepping forward with unnatural grace.

“I know your countenance also…” The Necromancer stared at the pale face, trying to place the feeling it evoked, even as the face pulled its dark lips back to reveal the fangs beneath.

“It has been a long time, hasn’t it Uncle?” Sara started to circle the armoured man, slowly placing herself between him and his escape.

“Michael?” The voice, usually deep and gravely through its skull-like mask changed tenor slightly, as if the word was gasped.

“Sara now, Uncle Darrow. How is the old family? I have some things to ask them and you…”

“BAH! Dead and gone. Innsmouth is no longer the place of wonder it once was, as if you could ever remember its past glories! Yes, I see your mother in you now, may the cursed bitch rot in HELL!”

The reigns on the beast inside her loosened, fanged tentacles squirming through the pores in her skin, freeing themselves from the restricting clothes to snarl and hiss at the villain in front of her, “A bit much for you, wasn’t she? Yes, I remember meeting old Uncle Charles for a moment at the door of grandfather’s house… what was it? Ten, fifteen years ago now, Uncle? I remember the wreck of a man who fled with his tail between his legs like a whipped dog.”

“So, you do have your father’s blood in you,” The Necromancer cackled, “it’s been so long, Kellith, that I thought you’d never manifest, dying a sad, lonely, little lunatic writing stories of which he had no conception. I have to admit, my friends and I found Incongruity most enlightening.”

“Keep those Nazi scum out of this…”

“Oh, so she told you, did she? I remember so clearly, the golden age of the Third Reich, a time where my expertise was valued! I was hailed as a genius! If the Auschwitz Project had succeeded, Europe would have been ours! An army of tens, no, HUNRDEDS of thousands of walking dead to spearhead the assault!”

“You are mad, just like Mother said.”

“Naturally. You are too now, but you know that don’t you? Only madmen can admit the Truth, know the Truth when they see it. Your madness is making you more, much more, than the pathetic hermit stranded on a barren rock so far from the real world.”

Sara shook her head, “I keep my madness trapped inside. You wear it like a badge of honour.”

“For how long? How long until the mad god wakes, Kellith? It is only a matter of time.” The Necromancer chuckled, calling the green fire back into his hands.

“What were you after here, Uncle? Where is the artefact?”

Sara dodged the blast of green fire, moving too quickly for Darrow to adjust. Wiry tentacles bulged and tightened as she lifted the armoured man from the grate, hurling him into a concrete wall with strength that belied her size. A moment later, she was on top of him, ripping and tearing the fake steel plates from his organic Mi-go armour.

“Your little tricks are pathetic, Uncle. Where is the artefact?!?” A slice from her claws shredded the skull mask, revealing wide, wrinkled, eyes behind the dark visage he presented to the world, yellow spots of age and necrotic slime covering the pale skin underneath. Rifling through his purple robe, Sara grabbed something long and hard in a concealed pocket.

“Ah, here we ARGH!”

A large key made of bright, golden, metal skittered across the grating, Sara stumbling backward holding her charred, smoking, fingers in agony.

“Heh, orichalchum,” Darrow gasped, his voice now that of an ancient man, though still ineffably evil, “the metal of the sun, Child of the Void. LYCANTHROS! FINISH HER!”

Sara felt something lift her off her feet through the haze of pain, long fangs slicing and gnawing through her collar bone as it pulled on her arms. In the end, she was torn asunder like a gigantic wishbone, flung to the far corners of the room as her blood dripped down into the cistern. Her eyes were turned away from the scene, so all that was left to her was the sounds of scraping metal and the wheezes of an old man being helped to his feet.

“Thank-you my old friend.”

“Where are Nightgaunt and Lady Darke?”

“Gone, and we must away as well. Now, come, we talk later. I enjoyed our little chat, nephew, we must soon have another.”

And with that, the two teleported away in a puff of smoke.

It took an hour for Sara to pull herself together after the final wounding. The key was gone when the others arrived, Lycanthros must have taken it with him. However, explaining her presence to the others when they were safely back on street level was quite another thing.

“I can’t tell you how I knew who he was OR where he was going. I just DID, ok?”

“Look, I can’t accept that,” Hank grumbled, watching the clean-up crews and ambulance men swarming over the scene, “you had to have a reason.”

“Women’s intuition?”

Fey chuckled, pouring magical healing into Chaka’s bruises and scrapes, “Forget it, Lancer, package deal psychics just get hunches sometimes.”

Sara stole a quick glance at Fey, their eyes meeting for a moment. Both nodded in silent agreement, the exact nature of her hunches were best left unexplained.

They were in for another surprise when they arrived back to where they had left the two unconscious super-villains sprawled on the pavement. The albino vampire was missing. Too tired to conduct a through search of the area, Team Kimba simply collapsed under the eves of a nearby shopfront as they waited for emergency services to arrive.

The ‘Arch-fiend’ was quickly escorted to The Pit, the FBI’s Mutant Detention Facility outside town, a place that specialized in unusual prisoners.

Captain Tilley lit a cigar, taking a long drag while scratching at the plaster on his arm, “I’ll never get used to these things. Hey, kids, you did a great job here today.”

Tennyo glanced at the wonton destruction and carnage, “Ahhh, you call this a great job?”

“How do you think it’d look if you weren’t here? I’ll tell you: Add to all this a street full of dead police officers. Boston’s only a small town compared to NY, we have a grand total of 4 superheroes, no teams whatsoever. One turned up. ONE! Skyhawk’s been fighting Vamp and the other Children of the Night for years, and they kept getting away. Lamplighter’s been on the Necromancer’s tail for much longer, and that guy makes the rest of the bunch look like preschoolers. Without you, this would have been a bloodbath.”

“I have to agree.” Skyhawk, staggered slightly as he walked, though he hadn’t let any of the paramedics look at his head, “A job well done, we are grateful for your assistance.”

Sara remained silent as the others congratulated themselves. Looking back at her actions, she didn’t see much of anything to take pride in. Lycanthros had simply broken her, even with the wounds that Chaka described. She could never have stood up to Uncle Darrow spell to spell like Nikki. The Arch-fiend would have torn her to pieces in seconds. And she had only defeated Vamp by giving in to her instincts, embarrassing her friend in the process. Was that all she had, cheap tricks and dirty fighting?

Hank’s stomach growling broke her out of her reverie, the noise reminding them all that, despite all the action, lunch was still waiting to be had.

“Look,” Captain Tilley sighed, “the boys were wondering if you’d let us shout you lunch, there are fifteen guys back there who sware blind that one of you saved their lives today, and they’re not in the mood to take no for an answer. And, as for operating as Superheroes without a license, I have a feeling that you’ll never have to worry about that in Boston ever again. Oh, and even though I’m a little banged around, I can still make a pretty mean police escort around town. Whatta ya say?”

They looked at each other, a lump in their throats. Hank was the first to regain control, “Uhh, we’d be glad to…”

“GREAT! Come on, I’m starving!:

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Time rolled on as Sara watched Captain Tilley and her friends winnow down the Bistro’s food supplies like a swarm of locusts descending on ancient Egypt. Somewhere in the back of her brain, that comparison echoed as if from a memory long past, though she couldn’t quite place it.

Chou was looking much better now that she had some food in her stomach, a bar of chocolate helping her disposition immensely. Chaka was, as always, Chaka, gesticulating in an excited, blow-by-blow, re-enactment of her fight with Lycanthros. Tennyo was no less enthusiastic in describing her battle with the Arch-fiend.

Jade did all the talking for Fey, Chou and Sara, describing their own battles in epic form, though she had much more to say about Fey’s spell battle than the fight with Vamp, mainly because she couldn’t see what happened in the cloud of darkness, “Hey, what did you do, Sara?”

Sara shrank inward, unwilling to talk, “I knocked her out is all. Nothing fancy.”

“Oh, come on, you expect us to believe that?”

“It’s true,” Sara shrugged, her words tasting stale in her mouth, “she rushed me with her claws, counting on the darkness to blind me. I could still see her with my aura sight, though, so I just dodged the attack and grabbed her in a sleeper hold, then cocked her over the head. No biggie. She was half-dead from her fight with Chou anyway. I should have known better than to leave her near the Arch-fiend, though, she must have drained him just enough to let her escape.”

Chou sipped her tea contemplatively. Sara was always amazed at how difficult it was to see Destiny’s Wave while it was sheathed across the girl’s back, even though it was right there in plain sight.

Bunny had been ecstatic at their return, giving a particularly aggressive hug to Fey, her voice strained with worry. Now, the blonde seemed to be attached to the redheaded elf at the hip, even as they ate their salad. Rip was recovering well also, though they had failed to console her over missing the fight. “But it was SO my sort of fight,” Rip whined, “all that water…”

As usual, Chaka’s relentless enthusiasm cheered her up, “Not to worry, Rip, we’ve got ALL winter to come up with more fights on dark, stormy, days as yet. At the rate we’re going, we’ll be fighting for our lives all year!”

They all groaned, knowing that the black girl’s prediction was probably not too far off the mark.

As she passed, serving another round of drinks, the waitress gave Sara a wink as she flounced back to the kitchen. Sara suppressed her groan of despair, trying not to think about the ramifications of that one, lascivious, gesture.

Hazard woke to the sound of tires rolling across asphalt and the groans of the wounded and recovering. It didn’t take long for her eyes to adjust to the light, the bright white of the Ambulance stinging her eyes.

“Hey! You’re awake!” The voice echoed weirdly through her ear drums, buzzing with the lingering fog of unconsciousness.

“Who?”

“Hazard? It’s Jello.”

She looked up towards the voice, seeing her friend’s face leaning over her.

“It’s ok now, we’re heading back to Whateley.”

It all came flooding back. Hazard launched herself into a sitting position, ignoring the pain her movement caused. For the first time, she noticed the rest of the Masterminds crowded into the cabin. Dash, was still out cold, along with Stopwatch who was bandaged almost from head to toe. Haywire was cradling his nose in his hands, though he was conscious.

“Who’s driving?”

Jello grinned, “Heartbreaker. She ran to get some help when she saw us losing and Team Kimba fought off those goons. They left a bomb with us while they ran away, but she came back just in time to peel me off the wall and help Haywire disarm it before it blew. Then, we hijacked this Ambulance so we could make it out of the city. I thought we could trade cars once we get out into the country a bit.”

Hazard blinked, “You and Heartbreaker did this?”

Jello nodded like a puppy with a bone, “Yup! Pretty clever, huh?”

“Err, yeah. Look, we better not keep this thing for too long. We should ditch it somewhere and jack a Winnebago or something, something with more space.”

“Gotcha covered, Haz. Now you just lie still and me and ‘Breaker will take care of it…”

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Finishing the shopping with a police escort turned out to be much more enjoyable than walking from place to place by themselves, or having to wait for trains to ferry them around. Sara’s favourite bookshop in particular gave everyone a creepy vibe, the air being thick with incense while the shop itself was stuffed into a dark, dank, basement along the waterfront.

Fortunately, that was the only store the Demon Princess insisted on going, carrying two armloads of books from the unhallowed place. The rest of the trip was taken up by clothes, computers and CDs, aside from the compulsory purchase of Go-go’s Honeydew lollipops. To make matters even sweeter, their escort was only too happy to watch their bags in his car while they browsed, smiling down on them like a patient father figure as they oohed and ahhed over their acquisitions.

Parting from Captain Tilley at the station was a fairly cheerful and happy affair, the girls giving the gruff policeman a few parting kisses on his rugged cheek before saying their farewells and promising to keep in touch. Though it was dark out by the time the Great Miskatonic pulled out of the station, they were all nice an comfortable in their seats, the group alone again in the middle of the carriage. It was doubly pleasant for the warm air spewed out of the air conditioning, melting the icy chill that had crept into their bones.

For some reason, Sara found herself shrinking into her seat, subconsciously counting the rain droplets streaking down the glass, wobbling in the harsh wind outside. Beyond the glistening droplets was darkness, almost as if the train were floating through space, the regular rectangles of illumination from the train the only clue that they were grounded as isolated houses bobbed and wavered past like nearby stars as they slowly climbed and descended the hills toward Dunwich.

“Did you see that move? It was like… BLAM!” Chaka was still high on victory and shopping, naturally. The only thing that could make her worse would be a bar of chocolate, which (if Sara caught Rip’s gaze right) may not be too far in her future.

“And his face, like, MELTED. Then I was like… this is the way we roll up in here, bitch, and bam! Straight in the cjones!”

Hank winced.

It might not have been so bad if Tennyo weren’t encouraging her, “So then, he’s breathing out all this smoke and I’m trying to bash his skull in only there’s these darn tables everywhere! So I’m smashing stuff trying to find him and all of a sudden the smoke clears and he’s pulling the whole building down on top of us!”

Jade was busy jumping up and down on the seats, mimicking their moves, Jinn providing a very neat impersonations of the villains dying over and over in her Kimba form. Ayla was caught between listening to the braggarts and pretending to be gruffly uninterested and humourless. Bunny was busy fussing over Fey, cringing at the thought of every slight description of her girlfriend’s battle with The Necromancer. Fey herself seemed to be lost in thought, hardly paying attention to their antics.

Sara shrank inwards even more when Jade got started into her description of the battle with Vamp.

“So, she’s moving so fast and Chou’s starting to slow down! I couldn’t believe what I was seeing! It was like her sword was getting heavier and heavier, then she sees the opening and WHAM! Right into the hood…”

Chou rubbed her nose, her face going slightly red in the cheeks.

“…and she thinks she’s got her on the ropes, so she grabs her from behind and cops a feel! Like anyone ’ed stand for that! Then, crack, right between the eyes with the back of the head…”

Jinn reeled as Jade snapped her head back into the flying plushie.

“…so it looks like it’s all over when Sara steps in from left field with the attitude all down pat and she’s all ‘come get some’ and she charges and it’s like 1-2-3, so quick I couldn’t see what she did. Then the white girl pulls this move and everything goes black… and... well, next thing we know the cloud just fades away and Sara’s the one still standing.”

“Which reminds me,” Hank’s voice hardened slightly, “what the hell happened between you and the Necromancer down there, Sara?”

It was inevitable. “I figured that the Necromancer would be heading for the waterfront. That’s the only logical place for him to run to in the sewers. So I thought I’d cut him off and followed my hunch to a manhole not 2 blocks away. I found the pentagram in the cistern that I knew was a teleport key and waited.”

“How’d you know that? We haven’t covered teleport keys yet.” Fey interrupted.

“I… knew, ok?” Sara dodged the question clumsily, “anyway, I was right and he turned up. I got in his way, we bickered to and fro, I thought if I kept him talking the cavalry would show up and we’d have him dead to rights. He let fly with the green fire first, I dodged and rammed him into a brick wall. Next thing I know, the key’s skittering across the floor and the werewolf’s all over me like chocolate on a violet crumble. Snapped me in half like a wishbone. They got the key and left. Once I had enough of myself together, I went to find you all finishing off the zombies.”

“Hang on,” Fey shook her head, “you had The Necromancer dead to rights?”

“Excuse me?”

“The opponent I had to use everything I knew to hold back, you simply slapped down without a by-your-leave?”

“It wasn’t like that.”

“Or the fighter I lost against…” Chou injected.

“Woah! Guys, this isn’t a competition! Look, they were both exhausted from their fights with you. If I wasn’t so fast, the Necromancer would have nailed me. If Vamp had been a little less confident, she might have nailed me as well. And if it hadn’t been for Lycanthros, The Necromancer would now be waiting to die in a four by four cell. AND, if I hadn’t been a regenerator you would be burying me in a hundred matchboxes. Did any of you consider that?”

They all looked at each other sheepishly. It was all too obvious they hadn’t.

“What we just did was reckless and foolhardy.”

“It was also the right thing to do.” Hank answered.

“I’m not disputing that. But those were REAL villains, face it. The Necromancer makes Don Sebastiano look like an altar boy. Lycanthros makes Bloodwolf look like a puppydog!”

“And, face it, we STILL kicked their asses!” Chaka rebutted.

There was much back-slapping and hollering shared between the comrades at that.

Sara almost hated to spoil the mood. “Can any of you imagine Don Sebastiano regretting Auschwitz as a lost opportunity?”

They all blinked.

“He was skiting while we were trading jibes in the cistern. We would have won Europe if the Auschwitz Project had succeeded. Imagine a hundred thousand zombies spearheading the Nazi assault,” Sara curled back up in her chair, turning back to the rain, “think about that.”

Dash dug a pencil under his cast and scratched away. Stopwatch looked at his 47-function timepiece (which even told time, unlike the previous version) and snarled, “Well, where IS she? She’s the one who wanted this meeting!”

Even before he’d finished saying it, the door to the conference room opened, and Amelia Hartford stepping in, looking as brisk and no-nonsense as ever. She spared Stopwatch a frigid glance. “I may have asked for this meeting, Mister Ridgely, but you pack of idiots NEED it. Well, do you have any excuse for this FIASCO? You *ahem* ‘Masterminds’ wanted a real heist, to prove that you had what it takes to operate in the real world. So I went to no small amount of personal inconvenience to set you up with a cakewalk, an easy target in an under-funded, unguarded museum with out-of-date security measures to get ONE little trinket! And what do you do? Not only do you LOSE the trinket, but your Lookout had to go and get Team Kimba, -TEAM KIMBA, of all people!- to come and drag your ashes out of the fire! Why, the only reason that you’re not in Boston Juvenile Lockup is that Miss Hilton here managed to suggest that you’d gone there to prevent the heist, and you had the minimal intelligence to shuck your ‘working clothes’, so the Security Guard couldn’t ID you! So, what happened?” Hartford sat down with her arms crossed, the very picture of incensed authority.

Hazard glared back at her. “No, that’s OUR question! ‘What Happened?’ WE got in, smooth as baby oil, took out all the security measures, dealt with the ONE guard who was on the ball enough to find us, and got out, no problem. Then, when we were free and clear, we got jumped! The Necromancer was waiting for us! He knew who we were, he had a good idea of what our powers were- Crikey, he even knew that we called ourselves ‘the Masterminds’!” Hazard’s polished British Upper Crust accent slipped a touch as she became agitated, “HOW could he know all that? What happened?”

Hartford raised one eyebrow haughtily and asked glacially. “Why are you asking ME?”

“We had backups and contingencies planned for interference from Security,” Hazard snarled back at her, “Security Backup Units, regular Police, SWAT, and State Troopers. We researched the local superheroes Speed Queen, Dynaman and Skyhawk. Any of those we could have handled! The Lamplighter, maybe not, but he’s in Louisiana, and should be there for another week. But, we were NOT prepared to go up against Number 42 on the bleedin’ Super-villain Top 100 List!” Hazard let herself calm down a little. “The only person that we told about our plans was YOU.”

Hartford looked like she was sucking on a lemon. “You take chances, little missy.”

Hazard smiled, though it obviously hurt her face. “Nature of the beast. Now, I won’t insult you by suggesting that you played both ends against the middle, selling out your client by selling the information to the Necromancer.”

“How kind of you.”

“And the idea that you’d hire the Children of the Night to take it from us, just so that you wouldn’t have to pay us is ridiculous. All that we wanted was Ten Thousand a piece and a listing as a functioning Covert Operations Team on the Syndicate and Whateley Alumni Association lists; the Children of the Night would have wanted much more. Did you pass along to our client the details that we gave you?”

“Yes, of course. I had to, seeing as how you are such a raw, inexperienced group.”

“Well, then. Obviously our client somehow let it slip to the Necromancer for some reason, probably a lapse in his security. Whatever, the fault was on HIS side, not OURS.”

“How can you be so sure of that?”

“Uncanny bastard called Stopwatch by his proper name. Now, that could only have come from the client’s briefing or Whateley’s files. And Computer Security is YOUR job. So, we did what we were supposed to do, so we want to get paid. NOW.”

“Why?” Hartford replied airily, ‘Our Client doesn’t have the Key of Nimue, so why should he pay? And an unmitigated failure is hardly what you tykes want on your track record, now is it?”

“WE did not fail. WE filled our brief completely. The sole reason for the failure of the mission lies squarely on the client’s side. Because of our client’s blunder, Stopwatch, Dash, Haywire and I got the crap beaten out of us, Jello here is still wonky and can’t verbalize properly from getting kicked in the head, -KICKED IN THE HEAD!- repeatedly and Heartbreaker is still in hospital from that bleedin’ dart! We held up our part of the bargain; it’s time that our client held up his. If we have to, we’ll track him down and MAKE him fork over.”

Hartford pursed her lips. “You do have a point. However, the bottom line is that our client doesn’t have what he was paying for. In the Real World, people don’t pay for ‘Nice Tries’.”

The assembled Masterminds growled at her, except for Jello, who was gazing off absently.

“However, a deal is a deal. The fault IS with the client, as you say. Your team will be listed with the Syndicate and the Whateley Alumni Association as a Covert Ops team. However, as to the pay,“ She tossed envelopes to each of the would-be ‘master criminals’, “I’m afraid that a thousand a head is the best that you can expect for a mitigated failure.”

Hazard took the extra pay envelope for Heartbreaker, checked the amount of money inside and left, the dark-skinned girl glowering over her shoulder, followed by the others.

When she was absolutely sure that the Masterminds were gone, Hartford swept the conference room for any listening devices they might have left behind. She found the one by where Stopwatch had been and deactivated it. Then she pulled out a cell phone and activated a multi-phasic scrambled link that even the NSA would have been hard put to track, let alone tap. “Hello? Is Dr. Darrow there? Wonderful! Would you be a dear, and put him on? RIGHT NOW!”

There was a pause, and a voice like nails on a blackboard came on. “What?”

“HOW DARE YOU ATTACK MY KIDS? I sent my BEST team of Break and Entry Artists, who do a top drawer job of getting your little gewgaw for you, and you DOUBLE-CROSS us?”

“Ah. Miss Hartford. Well, you knew perfectly well whom and what you were dealing with.”

“Yes! I THOUGHT that I was dealing with a PROFESSIONAL! You know, Darrow, you may be hot shit, but you still have certain standards that you have to live up to. The Syndicate has guidelines for that sort of thing. You’ll find it a lot harder to operate if it gets out that not only did you screw over a crew of sub-contractors, but a crew of kids on their first professional mission! And then, there’s the reaction among the members of the Whateley Alumni Association… we Whateley Alums tend to get very touchy about people abusing the kids.”

“Are you threatening me, Hartford?”

“Not yet, but NOW I am! Darrow, I just paid off the Masterminds and I made a very considerable concession for them. They did their job, you have your dingus, and I just shelled out sixty thou, so it’s time for you to make good. That is, unless you want ALL those people that you’ve pissed off for all these years to have the ENTIRE dossier that I’ve compiled on you, including the location of the future operations sites that you’re currently bidding on, the firms that you contract with to build them, the names of your usual suppliers, financiers and sub-contractors, your medical needs, and the fact that you prefer flannel boxers to linen ones.”

There was a pause on the other side of the connection. “You can expect the packet with the information that I have divined on the Palm by FedEX by 4 PM.”

“Nice doing business with you.” Hartford concluded snidely in a tone much like treacle.

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As the group came down from their combat high and crashed, they all fell asleep one by one. The more that fell off, the more Sara regretted how harsh she had been with them. Who was she to lecture them? She was a kid herself, now, and like them her emotions were running high. The return of Uncle Darrow into her life made sure of that. Mom had told stories about him, a living boogie man, an ancient relic from the past humanity had rejected along with his Thule comrades. After his single visit, Mother had told him to call her name three times if he ever saw her again. He had been ten at the time, and her desperation and earnestness had left an imprint on his soul.

Something caught her attention from the corner of her eye. Allowing a third eyeball to open from just underneath her hair on the side of her neck allowed her perfect vision of the rest of the cabin. Most of Team Kimba were now sighing peacefully in their sleep, Hank snorting occasionally. Then she caught it. The sword was there.

Destiny’s Wave was always there, of course, just very hard to see when it didn’t want to be seen. Though the two had parted on fairly friendly terms after their last meeting, Sara knew much better than to trust the sword, who was in fact her natural enemy. Much like Fey or Tennyo may have been in another time and place. There was only one explanation. It wanted a chat.

“What is it?” Sara knew that the sword would know that it was being addressed.

“I would know your intentions, demon, away from prying ears.”

It was one thing to intellectually understand that a mystical object could talk, it was quite another to be hearing it with your own ears. “To whom?”

“To all these young ones. And to Chou and myself. Your Chi is at odds with your words, while your emotions undermine your words, while your actions undermine your emotions while your actions undermine your Chi.”

“A vicious circle.” Sara quipped.

“Do not mock me…”

Sara giggled, “I should not expect for humour to work on a sword.”

“Humour is part of the Tao,” Destiny’s Wave continued intensely, “but one must pick the appropriate time to use it. For example, when one wishes to divert a questioner from her rightful answers.”

Sara’s eyes narrowed, “Well, very clever. Very well, sword, my answer to your question is ‘I do not know’. To place it in terms your archaic frame of reference might understand, I was a hermit before I came to Whateley, in search of the truth of myself in my artistic creations. Admittedly, I explored the dark side of human nature in all my works, so I may have been an apostate from the very beginning. Now I have… other people in my life beyond simple bedmates or business partners. Even now, I find it hard to call these people friends.”

“If one does not choose a path, it is chosen for her.”

“Spare me. I could debate the inns and outs of destiny with you for the next thousand years and neither of us could come to a middle ground or even agree to disagree. Besides, I have a distinct feeling that we would bore Fey to death with our philosophizing.”

Nikki sat up, glaring at the natural Goth, “How long did you know I was awake?”

“As soon as you made yourself aware that there was an interesting conversation taking place while you were away with the faeries. Sleeping light lately?”

Nikki extricated herself from Bunny’s arms gingerly to pick her way over into the empty seat next to Sara, “None of your business. I can’t believe that you don’t consider us friends after all we did for you, we saved your life!”

“You misunderstand me,” Sara sighed, “I do consider you all friends, only I have problems saying it. I see you cringe from me at lunch every single day, yet there I am every, single, day. Lesser beings would drive me away in fear. Though I also catch the sidelong glances, both of you should know by now that nothing escapes my cursed mind. I know that there are influences that seek my demise, and the greatest threats to my existence lie no more than a few feet from me right now.”

Fey glanced at the sword, who did nothing. It is hard to read a sword’s body language.

“And so, I am stuck between loving you all and killing you all. If I followed my instincts, would I rape and murder each of you in turn? If I ignore my instincts, am I allowing the knife to press against my heart? I must warn you both that, despite my self-loathing, I no longer wish to die, though my death would solve everything,” Sara held the palm of her hand up in front of her face, flexing and extending her fingers, “to be honest, I love this new body, the thrill of movement without pain, the scent of blood pounding through veins, my skin, my claws, it is all my dreams come true. So, what are my choices from here, sword? What are my paths? If the Tao is the tree of life, and I am the errant leaf, do I break the pruning sheers and strangle the gardener? Or do I allow myself to be shorn from the tree for the greater good? OR do I search for another way? The unbeaten path?”

Fey looked at the sword and somehow, the sword looked back without needing eyes.

“The truth is,” Sara sighed, “that I love my new life and I love my new friends. And the only thing I know is that I will fight beyond my last breath for both.”

Headmistress Carson walked over to the bookcase in her office and turned a photo in a standing frame face down. She returned to her desk, took a deep cleansing breath and let it out slowly. Then she hit the intercom button. “Okay, send them in.”

The door to the outer office opened and Henry ‘Hank’ Declan, a.k.a. ‘Lancer’, walked in, followed in single file by the rest of Team Kimba and friends. Mrs. Carson glowered at them from behind her clasped hands as the group arranged themselves in a single row in front of her desk. “Do you know why you have been called in here?” she asked ominously.

Toni took the initiative, as usual, “Er, isn’t this about the fight that happened down in Boston?”

“Fight?” Carson echoed, “Fight? That wasn’t a fight, it was a DEBACLE!”

“What are you talking about?” Tennyo asked, “We kicked ASS!”

“You rushed into a high risk situation, where you knew that deadly weapons were being used, when you KNEW that SWAT was already underway! What were you thinking?”

“We were thinking that the news report said that Skyhawk wasn’t known to be anywhere near,” Hank answered, as if he didn’t know that the question was rhetorical, “If SWAT was sending three armoured vans, and they were all but sending up the Skyhawk signal, then the situation was so bad that paranormal response was called for. And since Skyhawk wasn’t showing up, we-”

“You are High School Kids! You are not policemen! You are not even deputized paranormal police auxiliaries!”

“Well, actually,” Ayla cut in, “we sort of are. Now. SWAT Captain Tilly swore us in.”

“Captain Tilly,” Mrs. Carson said with a snide lilt, “was covering is own backside for taking minors into a near-certain firefight. Mutant powers or no mutant powers, you’re still minors! He had no business allowing you to endanger yourselves that way. By allowing yourselves to be deputized, you’ve severely reduced his liability to a lawsuit.”

She leaned forward across the desk. “Kids, your problem is that you’re lucky. Your first week here, you catch a bunch of Yama Dojo ninjas, which is, I admit was very impressive. But you did it because you were lucky! So far, you’ve skated along through a bunch of scrapes and managed to keep from getting too badly banged up. But this!” She held up a newspaper. “This is STUPID! You went up against a crew of professional super powered criminals! Most of them have multiple warrants for Murder out on them! They would have killed you without blinking an eye!”

“You’re telling me.” Sara muttered under her breath.

“What was that?”

“Nothing.” Sara said innocently.

“You managed to pull through this scrape without anyone getting too badly hurt. But that could have gone very differently. The Necromancer is a Class A-Minus Felon. His being at large is regarded as a Clear and Present Danger to the General Populace,” Carson paused and gave them all a raking look, “However, you are all too young to really take such things as Death seriously. So, try this. You were photographed.”

“Oh, really?” was the general response.

“That’s NOT a good thing!” Carson snapped. “While nobody got close enough to get a good shot of you, there were several long shots of Miss Wilson, Miss Reilly and one of the Sinclair projections. Your general likeness is now out there. People know about you. They think that you’re powerful enough to stand up to a team of professionals like the Children of the Night. They will be interested in you.”

Carson glared at Tennyo. “Miss Wilson, as I remember, there are warrants out in Colorado for a person matching your rather distinctive likeness, aren’t there? Now those people know that a person matching that description is in the greater New England area. And New England isn’t that large an area. How hard would it be for an intelligent person to link up your presence in Boston and the fact that Whateley is only a few hours away from Boston by train?”

She looked harshly at the other teenagers. “Beyond that, you’ve called attention to the fact that there is a group of super powered teenagers running around in New England. Whateley manages to survive mostly because we keep a low profile. Things like this,” she held up the newspaper again, “do not constitute keeping a low profile.”

Carson took another deep breath. “And it doesn’t stop at endangering the security of the school. Foolhardy cowboy stunts like this get other kids thinking that it’s some sort of game. If Team Kimba can go out and play superhero, why can’t we? One stupid stunt leads to another and eventually kids are getting killed.” Carson’s deep blue eyes went hard. “I won’t have that. You all show a lot of promise. But you HAVE to learn discipline and restraint! If not, then you’re all a danger to this school. I will not allow that. If you won’t straighten up and actually THINK before you do something, then I’ll expel you! Individually, or as a team, it doesn’t matter!”

“Excuse me, ma’am,” Ayla interrupted again, “but I believe that we can’t be punished for things that happen off-campus, unless it’s a class field trip.”

“Don’t split hairs with me!” Carson snapped. “This is about the safety of this school! Some of you have very powerful patrons, but that doesn’t count for more than the safety of my students! If you think that you’re all hotshot superheroes, and you don’t need the classes that we offer, then I can cut you loose, and let’s see how long you last in the real world!”

The Team hung back. Obviously Carson wasn’t in a mood for talking. “Well, as Miss Goodkind pointed out, I can’t penalize you for things that happen off campus. However, risking exposure of the school IS a school offense! You all have a week of Detention at Hawthorne! And don’t even THINK about trying to go out on another shopping trip this year!”

“ah, Excuse me,” Nikki cut in, “but we have to go back to Boston next month. We’re scheduled to give depositions at the Arch-Fiend’s arraignment.”

Carson ground her teeth. “Listen up. You think that you’re clever, but you’re not. I warn you, if you insist on charging in every time that something dangerous happens, I will throw you out without a second thought. Now, get out of here, and for the Love of God, will you at least TRY to put as much thought into what you’re going to do as you put into picking out a dress?”

Team Kimba filed out quietly. Carson watched them go. Internally she said, Hypocrite. She walked back to the bookcase and picked up the picture. One of the frames held a white domino mask and a matching hair bow. Back in 1943, she’d thought that silly bow was the very thing. But by 1964, she had been embarrassed of it. It was amazing that this one had managed to survive.

The middle frame held a black & white photograph of herself in her Miss Champion outfit, Harry Holbrook, the original Champion in his outfit, and Ted Trent in his Junior Champion outfit. How young and happy they looked in this picture. How sure they were of their own immortality and indestructibility. How wrong they were.

The last frame held a black & white portrait of Harry Holbrook without his Champion hood on. Sometimes she forgot how handsome he was back then. It wasn’t hard to see why an impressionable 15-year-old girl could conceive a massive crush on him. He’d meant everything to her. But he’d said no. The pain of that refusal still hurt her, sometimes. And it only got worse, when he let himself get killed. She spent a lot of time and effort, and a lot of pain, trying to become someone who was more than a pale copy of him. She had blamed him for everything that went wrong in her life. Only some forty years, three marriages, and more super heroic identities that she really cared to remember later could she finally look back and appreciate him for the kind, honourable and above all else fundamentally decent man that had been. A man who was too decent to take advantage of a 17-year-old girl. A slow tear dropped down one cheek. “Well, Harry,” she told the photograph, “it looks like we have another crop of good ones.”

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