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The interview between Miss Militia, Dinah, and Gary Nieves continued on the screen, the timestamp marking it as having happened ten minutes in the past. The onlookers who’d gathered to see what Golem was showing us had peeled away, turning their attention to other, more current feeds at the front end of the bullpen. On those feeds, if I squinted to see, Gary had pulled off his jacket and stood in the corner, arms folded.
On our feed, Miss Militia stepped out of the room. Gary turned to Dinah, and spoke, “The more you talk about how people with the ability to see the future can manipulate things, the more I question why I’m here, in this nightmare of a place.”
“You’re worried I manipulated you.”
“Not to get you here. To get you to change your mind about things? Some. But you have to keep in mind, I used my power to find someone with the power and ability to change the course of things. A brainless patsy who didn’t believe or have any convictions wouldn’t have worked.”
“I can only ask so many questions a day. My biggest manipulation was in choosing you in the first place. I couldn’t function if I had to manipulate your every move, and if I picked someone weak willed who easily changed their mind, then I’d have to constantly watch that their mind didn’t change back.”
“You could still be manipulating everything I say, finding the best numbers.”
“Gary,” Dinah said. She twisted around in her chair, and she lifted her blindfold to give him a serious look, eye to eye. “You aren’t that important. I have other things to focus on.”
He seemed to absorb that. I thought there was an opportunity to ask a question without interrupting our watch, but then he said, “A very blunt way of putting it.”
“I’m being honest. I’m not going to pretend we’re equals or fluff up your ego.”
“Yeah,” he said. That small face on on a fifteen inch screen didn’t look happy, but it didn’t look mad at her either.
“This thing about the Harbingers killing Citrine at Contessa’s command?” I asked. “That’s the message she sent?”
“I wasn’t there, but I read the notes you guys gave us,” Golem said. “Contessa tells one Harbinger to leave, the Harbinger left to communicate with Jeanne and Kurt Wynn, who were making calls from their office, calling in favors and resources. They had assumed a leadership and tactical role, and were making their last preparations before joining the fight.”
“They were going to ask me where they were needed as soon as they were back,” Kenzie said. She stared at the screen without blinking, which was part of why I studied her more, and which played into a double-take on my part. I looked closer, and the image reflected on the surface of her eyes wasn’t what was on the screen. One glowing screen was in front of her, and four were arranged on her eye.
“They left as soon as they got the report, trusting Contessa. The anti-parahuman faction had prepared a bomb. Kid Cassandra alleges they wouldn’t have missed the bomb if they hadn’t received the message. By that logic, sending them the instruction killed them as surely as if she’d pulled the trigger of a gun. Do I have that right?”
He’d asked Rocketround, who stood nearby. Rocketround, wearing the PRTCJ uniform with his stylized rocket icon on his chest, only nodded.
“Do we know what else Contessa’s done?”
“No,” Golem said.
He tapped a button on the keyboard a few times. Each press seemed to tick things forward by ten seconds.
Miss Militia re-entered the room.
“We’d like more information on what you’ve been doing and why, if it’s no trouble,” Miss Militia said, while taking her seat.
“Sure. If you could avoid phrasing things as questions, I’d appreciate it.”
“Doable. I imagine you’ve asked a number of questions today.”
“Three. I anticipated coming here and I wanted to keep my options open. I’m not ruling out that the Wardens, PRTCJ or any of the subordinate teams might try to kidnap me. I hired mercenaries to get me out, just in case.”
“Among others. I am a target.”
“Understood. I understand you can ask more questions than you used to.”
“Forty to fifty. It’s not as many as it sounds like, but it’s more than it used to be.”
“It might get easier as you work with the anti-parahumans or other high-conflict factions.”
“Some. Is this leading to you painting me as conflict-seeking and dangerous?”
“I didn’t mean to give that impression, no. I think you came here at what you see as great risk to yourself because of what you see as a critical danger.”
“What I ‘see’.”
“We’re absolutely looking into this, Dinah. But as clear as your power is to you, we have to make our own judgment calls. We have two people with very credible powers with apparent agendas, sitting opposed to one another.”
“My agenda is and always has been what’s best for humanity. I predicted the end of the world. I positioned the right people in the right places. Khepri.”
“You did. But I could ask two people what the perfect end result looks like and get two very different answers. This is why I need to question you about things like your involvement with and focus on the anti-parahuman movement.”
“They were a bigger threat than anyone was aware, because they’re a massive weak point that nobody on our side is aware of, while foreign powers are eager to foster them. They were the biggest factor with the least noise around them.”
“Tell me about this noise.”
“Other thinkers, complicating factors, power-induced randomness, blind spots. An example would be how I couldn’t act against Teacher as long as he had Christine Mathers. If I look at her future then she starts appearing in all futures I can see. I slowed him down when I could but that was a lot of effort and a lot of risk he’d target me. There are a few things like that.”
“My colleagues want to know how you started and how this is supposed to end.”
“I started by identifying key players and figured out the courses of action that helped them climb. Up until the election I was putting a lot of time and energy into working out if I could put Gary or one of the other two in charge, but I didn’t like the numbers after that point.”
“You manipulated the election.”
“No. I could have, but it wasn’t worth it. I changed my focus to putting things in as positive a place as they could before the portal disaster.”
“Tell me more about that.”
“Massive interdimensional effect. I couldn’t see past it and I didn’t know what it was. I planned things and ensured everyone was as healthy and safe as possible before it went off. Then I steered things after.”
“Only a little. The movement was rising around him and people were angry. Cheit’s theocracy desperately wants Gimel and interfering with their agents has been a major focus of mine. Keeping them in the background. Keeping the anti-parahumans they were fostering as a thing that was simmering. Keeping Shin’s role in things simmering.”
“My colleagues will want proof.”
“I can send you my redacted notes on questions asked, with the when, why, and who, as it pertains to that.”
“Will you talk to a thinker?”
“No. No mind control, no interference, no powers or people I don’t know and trust.”
“It would be a thinker, not a master. Someone who reads, but has no other impact.”
Dinah shook her head.
“You have to realize this makes convincing people much, much harder, if you refuse.”
“Let’s go back to the process and end goal.”
“You realize how scary we are, right? How scary you are, Miss Militia?”
“I think I see where you’re going with this, Dinah, and I know what you’ve been through and how it might color your perceptions. But don’t make the same mistake the anti-parahuman groups do. We aren’t our powers. We’re people.”
“If you picked twenty random people out of a crowd and asked me to put my life in their hands, I wouldn’t be able to,” Dinah said. “The difference is that when they have powers and they have an incredible amount of say, the ability to take my life into their hands no matter what I want, there’s no choice in the matter. Believe me, I get the irony of it being me who is saying that. I know how much power we have.”
“Do you drive?” Miss Militia asked. “Sorry, that was a question.”
“Yeah. I drive.”
“Then you put your life in the hands of more than twenty people every minute you’re on the road.”
“I have car insurance, Miss Militia. My car has seatbelts and airbags. There’s no insurance against what a parahuman can do to you except being very wealthy and hiring competent mercenaries. I can do that. Gary can’t.”
“You want rules in place.”
“Laws, consequences. The goal was to have all violent retaliation fail, to put Gary Nieves at the head of an outraged and energized majority of the population, letting him choose a course of action. Gary?”
“You’re asking what I’d do?”
On the screen, Dinah could be seen wincing. “No questions, please. And yes. Your actions, assuming you were in charge.”
“Sorry. If I was going to go with the most extreme idea, because I don’t think small could have any impact…”
“Do,” Dinah said.
“A city-wide strike. Or… a strike across the resettlement camps. Peaceful resistance, work limited to subsistence only. Shelter for ourselves, food, clean water. Parahumans want amenities, clothes, convenience, they want to reap the benefits of the society the rest of us build. It’s a long shot, we would be opening ourselves up to being preyed on and to retaliation, I know that, but…”
“The Wardens would do their best to stop any predation or retaliation. Most of the heroes would,” Miss Militia said.
“I can’t help but doubt that,” Gary said. “But I would respect it if you did.”
“They would have,” Dinah said. “You could get the message out at a time shortly after the internet is online at the new settlements, when a pair of videos are making the rounds. A man and a woman talk about how they wish they’d struck out on their own, and discuss self sufficiency. I went and looked.”
“Going to look for specific futures and eventualities devastates you,” Miss Militia murmured.
“Yep,” Dinah said. Her smile was slight but confident. “But it was important. The words inspire people who need inspiration and who want to do something different but don’t want to leave the settlements. Which is most. Gary has the capacity to direct that inspiration to something they can do. The weeks that follow the resulting strike are ugly, but only two people die, and they’re people who would have died regardless. Mostly it would have ended up being about control, with the worst instances resembling hostage taking or tyranny, and the Wardens would have stopped those instances.”
“I don’t necessarily believe you,” Gary said. “It sounds too neat.”
“That’s fine, I get that a lot,” Dinah answered. “In the aftermath, fences mend, the worst villains are gone, a big disaster I can’t clearly see sits in the middle of where the city used to be, but the damage to the city is controlled. Nothing suggests it reaches further in the next five to ten years. Not in that course of events. Not so long as the most reckless villains are dealt with and everyone’s focused on cooperation.”
“That’s your goal,” Miss Militia said.
“It was,” Dinah’s voice had a touch of anger to it, even through the computer’s speakers. “She ruined it.”
“By killing Kurt Wynn.”
“Gary can’t take power, there are no numbers that scale those steep odds now. Violent anti-parahumans will precipitate the disaster you’re worried about in the center of the city. Now ask me what our new odds look like.”
“You want me to…”
“I want you to ask me, Miss Militia. It’s fine.”
“What are the odds?”
“Eighty point three six one five percent chance of mass death that extends across realities. That remaining nineteen percent? Fifteen percent of it is worse. Where we don’t even get to die. The other four percent isn’t pretty either. Do you see why I’m upset?”
“I run the risk of sounding overly aggressive by bringing this up, but someone could charge you with playing with fire, with a very incendiary group, and put yourself in a position where this sort of chain of events or disaster on this scale was possible.”
“I took every precaution,” Dinah said. “I double checked every major move I made. I triple checked they wouldn’t lash out, and I mitigated the damage if the anti-parahumans had to act, except when I was blinded. There were two instances where I had to let Teacher use them unfettered, because he would have found me if I’d stepped in. Those times excepted, I kept them out of your hair. I would have kept Kurt Wynn alive and Jeanne Wynn uninjured. I was as careful as you could expect me to be.”
Miss Militia wrote something down.
“I made no mistakes. I wasn’t reckless. I was careful and she woke up, blinded me, and slapped everything I was setting up out of my hands, and she did it for a reason. And in every one of those eventualities I talked about? She makes it through. She’s there, after all the blind spots pass, and she leaves us to our fates, for as long as we still exist in any sense.”
Through the speakers, Miss Militia’s chair scraped against the floor. “I’m going to go talk to my team.”
Kenzie reached over and hit the pause button.
“You can see where we’re concerned,” Golem said.
“Yeah,” Capricorn said.
I expected Kenzie to say something because she’d been the one to pause, but instead, she sat there, staring at the screen.
I crouched, and I brought my face closer to hers, to look at the reflection of the screens on her eyes. Each one moved independently, the tiny black silhouettes that were Miss Militia, Gary, and Dinah all at different points on different screens. Eight screens at once, and-
“Done watching,” Kenzie said.
“You watched the entire recording,” I said.
“How?” Golem asked.
“Split it into parts and watched all the parts at once, with some lipreading tech, because that’s easier than dealing with sound. Um, Breakthrough needs to go.”
“We do?” Rain asked.
“I had questions,” Golem said, “And frankly, I have way more questions since you’re apparently wanting to leave right away.”
“It’s nothing bad,” Kenzie said. She grabbed the mouse and selected a point on the time bar for the recording.”
“-can do, with the curfews-” Gary said.
“That’s before…,” Kenzie said. She moved the bar again, twice in short succession.
“-either the group attacking the evacuee caravans or a group making a move tomorrow morning. I can help you with the caravans.”
“Tell us about the caravans.”
“They’ll be raided by a group calling itself Deathchester. Reckless power use, violence, they’ll steal from people who only have the most precious things they could afford to bring with them, and those people aren’t in a position to fight back. You can save some lives right now by sending some people to go recruit heroes and send them to the location. The Inwood highway.”
“We’d need to vet you first.”
“Send them now, vet me in the meantime.”
Kenzie hit the pause button. She twisted around to look up at the rest of us.
“I don’t get it,” Rain said.
“Deathchester. It’s the area of Boston the original Damsel of Distress tried to take over. This is new Damsel, Sidepiece, and Nailbiter, along with, uh…”
She reached over to the computer, opened a browser, and typed in a long sequence of numbers.
“You know,” Golem kept his voice quiet, “It’s a good thing I like and trust you guys, because the way Lookout was talking about the recordings, she had database access to play multiple recordings at once and relay it to whatever tech she’s using. And now she’s-”
Kenzie hit the submit key, and surveillance footage from a camera outside a store showed a group of capes striding along the sidewalk, a couple of them hopping up onto cars in deadlocked traffic. Black clothes, torn clothing, and blood seemed to be a dominant theme. Some had armbands, scarves, or coats in checked white and black.
“-doing that,” Golem finished.
Kenzie rewound a bit, bringing up the shots with clearest views of faces and masks. As the camera tracked each face, it stuck names over their heads.
Torso. Gibbet. Nailbiter. Trophy Wife. Sidepiece. Backwoods. Mockument. Hookline.
“Most of these guys are ones we’ve been dealing with off and on in the heart of downtown,” Golem said. “You’ve got ones like Trophy Wife who start up an enterprise or something and other low level villains will join in.”
“What enterprise?” Tristan asked.
“Poaching, animal slaughter. We sent in people from the city core who have some familiarity with them. They’re a small team but they’re smart and reliable.”
“Yeah, that’s super great,” Kenzie said. “Um, so can we go?”
“Why is this so important?” I asked. “You want to see Damsel?”
“Kind of, yeah, but also because we know how to deal with a lot of them, and because there’s no way she didn’t account for us going in the numbers, since we have to go once we hear about this, obviously.”
“Kenzie, slow down,” Sveta said. “Why do we have to go?”
“Because there’s no way we don’t go if we think Cassandra mentioning this is meant for us to hear and us going to help,” Kenzie’s voice was rapidfire. She saw Sveta motion to take a breath, and paused to do so. “And because Damsel’s there, and others we know how to beat are there too. And Damsel.”
I reached out and touched her forehead. “You’re warm. I got you sick.”
“Nope. No. I’m fine. I overheated my brain a little bit by watching all that video at once, that’s all. Really. So you don’t need to worry.”
“Kenzie. That’s far more worrying,” I told her. I looked at Golem. “Is there water?”
“On it,” Tristan said. For a split second, I thought he would absentmindedly turn into Byron and we’d have another health crisis. “Point me the way to the office cooler?”
“I want to call in my brownie points. Every time I’ve been good or helped or put a smile on your faces, or did what I was told, or made a machine to help Tristan talk while deep in his brother, or held back or shut up or any of that, if I got any points at all I want to spend them now and I want to go.”
“Codenames,” I told her. “Golem’s trusted, but…”
I saw her put the brakes on, which was really my point. We were being really sloppy, even with Rain’s introducing of us to Bullet Time, and Golem was trusted, but I was tired and the shitty thing was that when I was sick and tired, I became more like my mom. Rules and petty manipulations.
Her having to stop to rein herself in and check her words meant she wasn’t rambling or getting worked up.
She visibly slowed herself down, but she looked anxious.
“Sorry, I shouldn’t have said that,” I told her. “We’re being pretty loose with those rules. That was a kneejerk thing from me.”
“Okay,” she said.
Tristan made it back, and handed Kenzie a glass of water, which she downed. He took a paper towel he’d wet and folded, and pressed it against her forehead while her head was tipped back to drink the water. She lowered the cup from her mouth but kept her head back, eyes closed. She sighed, full-body.
“I want to go,” she said.
“Really? You seemed a bit wishy-washy about it,” Rain said.
Kenzie’s eyes opened, and she moved her head fast enough she nearly lost the paper towel compress, catching it with one hand. All energy, almost alarmed at being misinterpreted.
“I was kidding,” he said.
“You want to do this?” Golem asked.
“Possibly,” I said. I looked at the others. “Probably. Unless we get an objection as strong as Kenzie’s desire to go for it.”
“Let me run it by people,” Golem told us. “Decide in the meantime, and don’t leave so fast you don’t tell us something about Contessa.”
“Deal. Thank you,” Tristan said.
“The other group of heroes are five minutes away,” Kenzie said, as she brought up an overhead map of the city. “We’ll be six minutes behind them.”
“If we go,” I said. “Look, I don’t want to be paranoid, I know we technically met Contessa’s predicted outcome of having two members of Breakthrough out of action for the long term, but I’m not positive, I’m worried. Nothing says we were out of danger the moment Teacher ran. I know this is a touchy subject so soon after Swansong-”
Kenzie drew her shoulders in together a fraction. I put my hand on one of those shoulders.
“-But one of us could still die as a direct consequence of the events we set in motion during the fight.”
“We could die anytime,” Tristan said.
“Let’s just be mindful of the risks. These are some unpredictable, violent, and dangerous villains. Some of them are goofballs, but not all of them are,” I said. “We’re not at the top of our game, or I know I’m not, and…”
I trailed off.
“I’m not, I’ll admit that,” Tristan said. “I’m going stir-crazy.”
“I really want to though,” Kenzie said.
“On a scale of one to ten, how are you doing?” Sveta asked her.
“…Four? But I won’t be fighting. I just want to be there and help people and then see her after you’ve all kicked her ass.”
“Making us do the hard work,” Tristan said.
“Unless you’ve got a way to age me up by six years,” Kenzie said. “Yeah. That’s how it goes.”
“I’m just teasing,” he said.
“Not super great then,” Sveta said. “Seven for me?”
“Six,” Rain said. “I prefer to tough things out than complain, but… six. Maybe seven since I’m happy to have met a guy I can talk to about workshop stuff with.”
“Putting all of us between ‘poor’ and ‘good’, with an average that’s below par,” I said. “Yes?”
“Yeah,” Tristan said.
Kenzie tapped on the computer. It brought up the meeting room, the time differential replaced with a ‘live’ icon.
Golem was knocking on the door to the room in reality and in the video feed.
“Come in,” Miss Militia said. “Hi, Golem. Problem?”
He shook his head.
“Heya,” Dinah said. “It’s been a little while.”
“Hi,” he said. “Good to see you. Been too long, yeah. I’ve been listening in with Breakthrough. They’re considering going to Deathchester, should…?”
He stopped himself.
“Sorry, that was almost a question.”
“It was a question. It clarifies the numbers,” Dinah said.
“I don’t know if that means it improves them,” Miss Militia said.
“It does. Just… working on clearer terminology and understanding of my power. Yes.”
Miss Militia looked up at the camera. She seemed to think for a long second. “I wouldn’t object. Except they need to know the rules. Did they overhear the restrictions we put on the other team?”
“Yeah,” Golem was audible through the speakers. “I’ll go over them. Sorry to interrupt.”
Guess we’re doing this, then, I thought to myself. Hearing it improved the numbers was maybe more inevitable a thing than Contessa telling us it was so. We had to.
I looked at the others. They seemed to get it too. Kenzie was bouncing.
Fuck. I’d have to get my costume.
Tristan punched one fist into his palm.
Golem was out of the meeting room, and started toward us. When we all headed his way, he stopped, waiting for us to come to him.
“What are the restrictions? Minimal power use?” I asked.
“The powers you can use are restricted based on the power,” he said. “Powers you willfully use or turn on are a no. That would be your aura, Antares. Probably your power, Capricorn. Sveta should be fine. Lookout should be fine. Precipice…”
“I turn on all of mine,” Rain said.
“Are there any you can turn on now and keep on?”
“Do that, then. This way. The portal at the end of this hall will put you close to the Inwood region. We opened it ourselves.”
“I can keep my flight on?”
“Same idea, yeah,” he said. “Someone had a metaphor for it.”
“The ice is cracked, it’s fine if we spread out our weight and don’t make any sudden movements,” I said. I started flying.
“I think their metaphor was about animals on the other side of the glass at the zoo, and not wanting to tap or tap so much it irritates whatever’s on the other side. Yeah. If you have to use a power, don’t use it while everyone else around you is.”
“The villains aren’t going to be playing by these rules,” Tristan said.
“No. We instructed the Huntsmen to communicate with the villains if they could. They should warn them of the risk.”
“That’s not going to work, knowing Damsel,” I muttered. “And if she’s in charge-”
“No guarantees,” Golem said.
“She likes to be in charge,” I said.
“Yeah,” Kenzie said, still bouncing.
Fuck. Fuckity fuck fuck.
“That’s about it. She says the numbers get better and I trust her,” Golem said. “Before you go, is there anything you can tell me about Contessa? Stuff I can pass on? I let you through security and I tacitly signed off on this… it’d be nice to throw the skeptics a bone.”
“I hate that we have skeptics,” Sveta said. “You guys already know this, probably, but she let her guard down before she got caught. Gave herself a day without using her power, and that’s the day Teacher attacked her. Or so she says.”
“You don’t believe her?”
“I think the words that come out of her mouth are engineered just as much as she engineers every last action to produce an outcome. Dinah has a limit to the number of questions she can ask. Contessa doesn’t. She can manipulate every last detail.”
“I don’t think we got into the nitty-gritty details when we briefed you after the raid, but when it came to deciding how I should deal with Saint, she immediately assumed I’d kill him. Then she shut off her power before I could ask whether I had to. I think that’s an ongoing problem. She takes the most efficient route, regardless of the casualties or side effects. What Dinah is talking about, with how her plans were spoiled? I think that might be a side effect.”
“Something that happens regularly,” I elaborated. “If she isn’t mindful about it.”
Sveta nodded. “Maybe Contessa gets stronger when she can build up plans over days and weeks, and she was just woken up when we met her and she didn’t have a backbone of pre-existing plans and safeguards in place. So she took the cutthroat route. And maybe it gave her an added two seconds of confusion for Teacher if she killed someone she had worked with for decades. I think that would be okay in her books. That’s why I think she’s awful.”
Golem looked at me, then at Tristan and Rain.
“…I’ll pass that on.”
“I’m biased,” Sveta said. “But I don’t think I’m wrong.”
I could see the staff and the general effect that surrounded one of the portals in and out of this place.
Kenzie had her coat over her arm, and pulled it on, wrapping her scarf around her neck. I still had my coat on, and made sure to button it up.
Fuck. I wasn’t even going to get to put on my costume.
“Here,” Golem said. He indicated the portal. It was the same rip-in-reality style that Kenzie’s cube made, rather than the electricity-framed doorway that Teacher’s tech tended to produce, or the three-dimensional-hole style that Faultline’s group and Khepri had made.
I did have to wonder if putting more actual fucking holes in the glass or the cracked ice wasn’t a really questionable idea.
But they had to have thought of the same thing. They’d have taken precautions, especially if they had Teacher’s tech for tracking all of this stuff.
Golem’s word was enough to get us through the checkpoints. It put us in the city.
He walked with us right up to the tear.
“What you said about that two seconds of confusion? It might line up. Some of our thinkers were there in the room before he ran. They reported he was distracted.”
“Makes sense. We were pressuring him,” Tristan answered.
“They also reported that your group showing up was part of what made him decide to shut down. You, specifically, Antares.”
“I don’t know why and I don’t know what it means, but I figured you’d want to know,” Golem said.
“I have no clue,” I said.
“The guns,” Sveta said. “You picked up six guns, using your forcefield.”
I looked through the portal at the distorted picture beyond it. I thought of the rising anger, the frustration at Byron’s condition and not fucking knowing. Then the black mood that had settled in, as Kenzie had reported that Swansong was dead.
In the midst of that mood, the Wretch hadn’t moved how I’d wanted it to.
I’d moved like it wanted.
“Thanks, Golem,” I said. “You’re the best.”
I flew through the portal. Even remembering the black mood left my own attitude today touched. Being grumpy as fuck because I was sick, my eyes closing in the face of the sudden cold, it certainly didn’t help.
The top of the building was protected by a fractal forcefield that looked like a blooming flower. Layers peeled away to give us an avenue out and forward.
I could see the traffic that had stopped, three blocks away. The people that had left their cars and backed away, but who weren’t willing to abandon their vehicles entirely.
Rain had his silver blade out as he emerged with a bit of swagger, Tristan right behind him. I gave him a look.
“He’s happy because he has two friends. Golem wants to hang out,” Tristan said.
The others followed. Kenzie all bundled up, tech in each hand. Sveta looking normal, though she’d had her mask in her pocket.
“I’m scouting ahead. You guys okay making your way down? I’d carry you down but my arms and hands are a mess right now.”
“Aha, I don’t trust you to haul us around while sick,” Tristan said. “Fuck me, I don’t even get to use anything except my strength?”
Kenzie said something, but Sveta talked over her. Kenzie was talking to Tristan and Sveta to me, so I listened to Sveta.
“Yeah,” Sveta said. She put an hand on my arm. “We’re okay. Scout.”
A small part of me wondered if she was telling me to go because she had something to say. A suspicion.
Except that wasn’t Sveta. My mood was just dark, my interpretations the worst.
I flew away, over rooftops, and closer to the scene of the ongoing crime.
A group of ten villains who weren’t holding back. I could see Trophy Wife with her rack of animal parts and keepsakes mounted on her back and sweeping up behind her head and shoulders. I could see Hookline, who we’d chopped up the last time we’d run into him. No Kitchen Sink. I’d caved in his chest, and he apparently wasn’t in good enough shape for mass robbery.
And Damsel, with Sidepiece and a cape I didn’t recognize in her company. Having the time of her fucking life.
I flew closer to watch her and see if they had a clearer agenda, and the jester-type figure I pinned as Mockument pointed at me, calling out a warning.
She twisted around to look, and I didn’t miss that her expression changed. A fleeting look, more Swansong than Damsel. I’d thought of white behind black or black behind white, of villain and hero and the layers behind layers, and here I caught it, manifest and clearer than ever.
Just for a moment.
Damsel, too, seemed to catch it. Her expression twisted, anger not just at me, but at that same moment. She raised a hand, long blade-fingers pointing.
What a fucking mess this all was.
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