The Hunt Is On 3.6

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Cameron winced. Gladwell was licking the blood off her bladed hands, in a cat-like manner. She didn’t need to up the level of her super-vision to tell the connection between them was getting stronger the more blood was cleaned off her hand. She felt it, the tendrils of Gladwell’s power under her skin, digging deeper, entrenching themselves.

It was like Gladwell was off in her own little world, she hadn’t spoken since she started licking. Too busy expanding the connection to pay attention.

Using what little strength she had left, she raised her arm. The shaking made it harder to aim properly. Fuck it. She couldn’t wait until she got her shot lined up properly, she pulled the trigger. A headshot would have been ideal. She got a chest shot.

Gladwell stopped and looked down at her, startled.

For a second, Cameron felt another blade go through her, higher up this time. But no, there was nothing sticking out of her chest. The pain was there regardless, and this time it burned. She gasped. She couldn’t breathe, it felt like there was a hole in her chest but rationally, she knew there wasn’t one.

Gladwell’s lilting voice was barely audible through the haze of pain. “Should have thought that through better Cammie. Superpowers and memories aren’t the only things I can make us share.”

Being called Cammie annoyed her more than having her own attack turned against her.

That annoyance sharpened her focus. She teleported one of the tables blocking the door, placing it above Gladwell’s head. It did little damage.

The pain lessened, all of it. The sudden lack of it was disorientating. Her head felt heavy, like she was about to fall asleep. Gladwell gently placed her hands on the sides of Cameron’s helmet, turning it so their eyes met. “I still do like you. I think I’ll play around with you for a little bit, go through your head and take some of your memories away from you, until you become the kind of person who’d accept the offer I made. I bet they’d be really fun to hang out with.”

Cameron thought about the blond guy who had rampaged through the mall. Was that the result of Gladwell’s playing around?

She tried to pull away but Gladwell’s grip was tight and she felt so weak.

Nothing happened when she tried to teleport away. God, she couldn’t think clearly.

It reminded her of Dad. His stupid spirit tossing her in the closet, trapping her there. She had pushed as hard as she could but she was powerless against the spirit. She was weak and useless, too panicked to think of a way out.

All these years and what did she have to show for it?

She used that feeling, anger at herself for being so pathetic, as fuel.

Superpowers didn’t work well against superhumans, but with practice, they could train their natural resistance, lessen it when it became inconvenient or if they were really good, they could turn it off completely. She had plenty of experience with it.

Doing the reverse, increasing her natural resistance to superpowers, well, that would be new.

It had never, before this, come up. The strength of her power resistance was strong enough to deal with everything she had went up against. It was only the rare exceptions like Gladwell, who were able to directly use their power on another superhuman.

She felt those tendrils worm their way into her skull, shoving themselves into her brain.

For a moment, time became inconsequential.

Gladwell stepped away and smiled. “I didn’t know you had such interesting friends, Cameron. I’ve met Creed, you know. He was alright, but his boss pissed me off. Condescending asshole. You’d think he would be smart enough to know not to piss me off. I’ve been trying to kill him since but he’s surprisingly hard to find. You wouldn’t know where he is, would you?”

She needed to concentrate but answering gave her a little more time before Gladwell decided there was no time better than the present to mentally destroy someone until they became crazy psychopaths. “Shouldn’t you know if I did?”

“I did some digging through your memories but not through all your memories, there are a lot of them. I do know you’ve got reinforcements coming.” Her smile widened to show her sharp, white teeth. “It’ll be a good chance to add to my collection.”

A hand suddenly thrust out of Gladwell’s chest. Another soon joined it. The hands grabbed onto Gladwell’s hips and pushed, then, inch by inch, another Gladwell climbed out. It – she – fell to the ground at Gladwell’s feet, fully formed. It felt like the new Gladwell should be naked but she wasn’t, she wore the same clothes the original Gladwell did, clothes that surprisingly didn’t have a giant hole through them from a human being coming out of them.

The sound of metal scraping against metal. Gladwell whipped her head around toward the source of the noise.

The new Gladwell was rising to her feet, when a white blur went through her skull, gore splattering everywhere.

Cameron wiped off a few tiny drops that hit the green visor over her eyes on the helmet she wore. A white sword had impaled the ground where the new Gladwell’s dead body had fallen. It, like the other duplicate, seemed to die once significant damage was done to their brains.  She was hardly an expert on the subject but the sword looked similar to one she saw a gladiator wielding in a movie, except a thin red beam of light covered the very edges of the blade.

“Well, this is an unpleasant surprise,” Gladwell said. She was looking at a newcomer, a tall man dressed in a brown leather jacket and jeans. Looking to be in his late thirties or early forties, he was still very much in shape, on the same level or better than a pro athlete. His black hair was cut short, a fuzz covering his head. He held a sword identical to the one stuck in the ground in his left hand. “I was hoping for a power I didn’t already have.”

He went to retrieve his other sword, stepping on the dead Gladwell in the process. Gladwell let him.

“I’m not going to let you escape, this time,” he said.

She scoffed. “You said that last time, too and look, I’m still here, still alive. I know you’re old, Reckoning, but changing things every once and awhile won’t kill you.”

Reckoning.

Cameron frowned at herself. How did she not realize who he was before Gladwell identified him? This was Reckoning, a mercenary on the same level as Gladwell. An Ultra, a superhuman whose power far stronger than their peers. His face used to be plastered all over the news before he went into retirement five years ago.

Creed must gotten in touch with him somehow. It looked like there was a lot of history between Gladwell and Reckoning, Creed probably used that to convince him to come and help out.

He surged forward, every movement tight and controlled, and swung the sword in his right hand. Gladwell blocked it with her left bladed arm. The sword dug into her skin.

She set him on fire. Reckoning didn’t seem bothered, and stabbed his other sword directly into the arm she used to block. While it was difficult to see at this angle, Cameron swore she saw the skin on his face repair itself the second it was burnt.

Gladwell vanished and for a moment, Cameron wondered if she had teleported. Reckoning pulled out his sword and swung again at the air in front of him. Blood dripped to the floor from an invisible source.

Somewhere, in the middle of everything, Cameron had to have accidentally turned off super-vision.

Reckoning had no problems hitting Gladwell despite her being invisible. He chased her around the kitchen and swung one of his swords and every time, more blood would hit the floor. It wasn’t a one-sided fight, Gladwell got some good hits in too but every wound inflicted healed in seconds.

In the midst of their game, Cameron was forgotten.

They were too close to the door to the outside for Cameron to go through there. She retreated to the basement. The fire had went out, dying along with the Gladwell that created it.

Gladwell had shared some of her regenerating power with Cameron. The nasty hole in her stomach was gone, nothing but unblemished skin there now.

A fight between two high-level regenerators was going to take a lot of time, if it ever ended at all. This was the perfect opportunity to try severing this dumb connection between Gladwell and her, without anyone distracting her.

It also gave her time to try and figure out what the hell she was supposed to do.

Decreasing her power resistance required intense focus to get it to the level where people could actually use their abilities on her. Ian had taught her how so he could use his power on her so they could ride around Avocet at speeds so fast, no one was able to catch them.

She breathed, in then out, until her mind quieted. Like this, she could feel it rolling over her, similar to how steam felt against the skin. She thought of it as a fog, because it looked like fog when she first saw it using super-vision, but it was energy, the energy powers used to make their abilities work.

Controlling it without using her power was hard, unnatural. When decreasing resistance, she forced the fog to stay still while some other fog rolled over and seeped into her. Then to increase, she’d try and make the fog move and push against the foreign fog.

Easier said than done.

She activated super-vision. It helped when she could see it, made it feel more tangible. She quickly went through each level of super-vision until she saw the fog with her own eyes.

Cameron tried to push outwards with her mind, all while focusing on an idea, a concept. Defend.

She watched as one image grew larger and larger around her. The fog moved around the image, until it grew even bigger and started sucking the fog into it, feeding on it to increase its growth. Empowered by the fog, the image changed, became more solid, clearer.

It grew, stopping only when it the image covered Cameron from head to toe. A barrier, similar to a forcefield. Everything that wasn’t the image either was absorbed into it or bounced off of it. The not so little strip of light, connecting Cameron with Gladwell, wasn’t unaffected.

The strip fought harder than the fog did and she couldn’t get it to detach from her completely but it did shrink back to its original size.

Not ideal, but like this Gladwell couldn’t mess with her head.

Shutting off super-vision so she could see, Cameron noticed the smoke for the first time. The smoke was coming down from the kitchen and was pressed against the ceiling of the basement. Gladwell wasn’t going easy on the pyrokinesis. Cameron went up the stairs, anyway. She felt sore all over but it was especially noticeable around her stomach. Lowering the connection had also made it so Gladwell couldn’t share her healing factor.

Shit, the entire kitchen was on fire. She could barely make out two silhouettes in the midst of the flames and smoke.

Her costume was fireproof and had an air filter built into the helmet but staying inside a burning building wasn’t smart.

With her super-vision on, set to the lowest level, everything around her became clearer, crisp.

Cameron raised her gun, aimed, and fired. The beam cut through everything in its way. She adjusted her aim then fired again. She wasn’t one hundred percent certain which silhouette belonged to Gladwell, so might as well hit both.

The ensuing path created by the beams showed her who she managed to hit.

A smoking hole was in Gladwell’s chest and Reckoning’s nose was blasted out of existence.

Reckoning recovered first and used this chance to lop off Gladwell’s head.

He didn’t stop there, his swords sliced through limbs. Gladwell was reduced to a messy, crimson pile of body parts.

Cameron kicked up her super-vision a few notches until she could see the strips of the light connecting the pile to distant locations. There was one strip, thicker and brighter than all the others.

Then the strips were gone, in an instant.

The one connecting to her remained, but it wasn’t leading to the pile anymore but to some far off place.

Gladwell was far from dead.

Her strip disappeared too, at that realization. Gladwell severed it, to prevent Cameron from using it to track her down later.

Reckoning glanced in her direction and nodded at her. Already on fire, he ventured further into the flames, disappearing, the only thing visible was a silhouette of his retreating back.

She needed to leave too. Teleporting out would be a no go, she couldn’t see well through all this smoke and fire. She never tested how fireproof her costume was before. This was as good a time as any, she supposed. Cameron ran through the flames as quickly as she could, toward the only exit.

Overall, the costume was pretty fireproof except for the hole Gladwell had made when she gutted Cameron. It stung like a bitch but she pushed onward. She didn’t have time to deal with the pain right now.

Reckoning had torn through her barricade on his way in.

A few jagged edges hit the sides of Cameron’s costume as she ran past and out the door.

The other door, the one leading to the alley, had been knocked off its hinges. She stumbled out into the alley.

Falling onto all fours, exhausted, she heard the sound of sirens, off in the distance, getting louder by the second.

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The Hunt Is On 3.5

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It took Cameron a couple of minutes to decide what to do next. Telling the agent assigned to ensure she didn’t leave her room that she discovered a way to track Gladwell might not go over that well. There was a chance they would all think this was a trap, orchestrated by Gladwell to lure them somewhere and kill them. They wouldn’t believe her and when they saw she had broken out of her restraints, they’d be doubly suspicious and lock her up somewhere far more secure, somewhere she could never break out of.

So she’d do this without the SAA’s help.

They had left her in her room, with all her belongings exactly where they should be. She took her burner phone out of its hiding spot, the inside pocket of a jacket tucked in the middle of a pile of clothes. Cameron sent Creed a text, telling she needed people willing and strong to go up against Gladwell.

He was always so good about responding to texts in a timely manner.

Already done. Do you have a location for me?

She replied:

not yet but will soon i’ll be in touch thanks

First things first, Cameron needed to get out of this room and arm herself. She normally kept her equipment in her room but agents had taken all of it after the Gladwell fight to clean it. It was standard procedure, couldn’t have their heroes walking around covered in blood, that didn’t help to make the public feel safe. A little inconvenient but fixable, she had been a highly successful thief, after all. Sneaking around here was no big deal.

Not all her weapons, she realized, spotting a gun sitting on her desk beside the keyboard. On second thought, no, this wasn’t her gun, a regulation stun gun given to her by the SAA. Its design was different, much sleeker with smooth curved lines and a nice round barrel. It was painted green and black, matching her costume’s color scheme, and had a dial on the side. There was a note attached, written in incredibly neat and precise handwriting. I had some extra time and finished early. A manual is in your desk drawer.

It didn’t seem all that complicated. Point, pull the trigger, then someone got hurt. Cameron opened up her drawer and took out a thin stack of stapled papers. She glanced at the sub-headings. A lot of dealt with how to take care of the gun and the rest was on its features. She read the section on the dial. The higher the number the dial was turned to, the more damage the gun would do. On its higher settings, it’d be strong enough to kill a person.

Cameron tossed the manual onto her desk and tucked the gun into the pocket of her jacket, checking to make sure it was off first. This would be a good offense, now she needed to go get her defense.

There were two options for escape, either through the window or the door. Going through the door required knocking out every agent stationed out there, which, honestly, she could do. It would take time though, and be loud. A black screen covered the window from the outside, blocking her view. She needed to see to use teleportation. The screen may or may not have some kind of alarm or sensor, going off the instant someone messed with the screen. Both options had different risks attached.

Window was definitely the smarter choice.

Cameron teleported the screen to the floor of her room, being careful to have it laid flat against the floor so it wouldn’t make any noise and alert anyone standing guard outside. From there, she teleported herself onto the rooftop across the street from her window. Another series of teleports, using other rooftops as landing points, brought her to the other side of the SAA building where she got a clear look at the inside of a window. And then she was inside again.

It was a workout room, full of equipment. A row of treadmills faced the window and the three agents using them were startled as she suddenly appeared. She gave them a quick smile and ran out, not giving them time to question or stop her. She didn’t know if they were informed about the current situation about Gladwell and her being connected. Cameron walked briskly the rest of the way. Running would attract too much attention but she did have a time limit here.

There were agents guarding the equipment room where costumes and weapons were repaired, washed, or made. Their hands immediately went to the guns – only stun guns – at their sides. They knew. Cameron teleported the closest stun gun to her hand and shot the other agent. She fell, and her partner joined her a second later. Quickly and efficiently, she searched for one of their access cards and then used it to get inside the equipment room. Her costume was still there, sealed behind a glass case and worn by a mannequin. Another use of her power had her costume against a long table, laid out nicely.

She changed fast and holstered her new gun onto her utility belt, tossing her phone into a pouch while she was at it.

She rushed out of the room to the nearest window to teleport herself outside, giving only a second’s thought to how easy this was. Cameron was probably only a minor concern compared to Gladwell.

After moving a safe distance from the SAA, Cameron stopped to figure out the next phase in her plan.

Obviously finding Gladwell was what she needed to do now so she could tell Creed and he could send in his guys but there were some problems she needed to sort out. Deeper level super-vision and teleporting didn’t mesh well together. Deeper level super-vision didn’t mesh well with any kind of action, really. It was too hard to focus on the super-vision and anything else that needed to be done.

But she didn’t have a whole lot of time to waste. Who knew when Gladwell wised up to what Cameron was about to do?

If she didn’t already know.

As long as Gladwell move around too much, Cameron could use super-vision to find what direction the strip of light headed to and then moved in that direction, stopping occasionally to see where the link was pointing to now.

The idea worked even if it got annoying when she accidentally went too far and had to go back and then move in the correct direction. Throughout it all, Gladwell mostly stayed where she was.

Cameron wanted to laugh when she realized where she ended up. Of all the places Gladwell could have chosen, she had picked the stupid Italian restaurant Cameron visited the other day, the one she searched and overheard an oddly familiar voice talk over the phone to an employee, the one Michael went to because he had business there. It was a scary thought, Testament and Gladwell working together to kill Creed and those loyal to him or worse.

Never could leave out the worse part.

Criminals didn’t tend to be nice to their enemies.

Her heart was pounding hard enough Cameron worried she might pass out. Come on Pierce, keep it together. It’s just one crazy supervillain, not like you’re fighting an army of them.

She took a deep breath.

Wait, shit, Gladwell had the power to duplicate herself.

It was intimidating, to face someone who had been inside her head, knew about the complicated feelings she had for her dad, maybe knew all about the insecurities she tried to ignore until they went away, although they never did. Con men were hardly as effective when people knew they were cons, and Gladwell knew. She took a deep breath, then another until her nerves calmed down.

Cameron retrieved her cell phone from one of the pouches on her belt. She only needed to keep Gladwell distracted for awhile, give time for Creed’s reinforcements to arrive. That was doable, it had to be.

She texted Creed the location and told him to hurry before putting the phone back in its spot.

Now or never.

She teleported from the roof to the ground, right in front of the locked alley door she used to sneak in the first time she was came, looking for Gladwell. There was a nice sort of symmetry to it. Ending where it started – sort of, technically it really started with Ian pissing off Gladwell. The knob turned easily in her hand. Ominous, maybe Gladwell had left it unlocked intentionally. She was cocky and arrogant, of course she had a right to be. You could act however you wanted if nobody had the power to stop you.

This time, she didn’t try to be stealthy. Cameron walked forward, back straight, shoulders squared, boots pounding against the ground. The sounds of her boots were drowned out by a TV, a violent, explosive show or movie playing in the kitchen. She supposed it wouldn’t all that busy at this time, too late for lunch but too early for dinner. She peeked into the kitchen and saw employees sitting around the small TV, attention focused solely on the screen.

Cameron turned on super-vision. No images, just at a level where she could see through invisibility.

Gladwell wasn’t among the employees.

A quick look at the strip of light, and she knew where to go. She teleported to the corner of the kitchen, a few steps away from another door. Her teleportation was silent, it didn’t come with some dramatic visual effect. They wouldn’t realize she was there unless one of them happened to look in her direction. They didn’t. That had to be one entertaining movie, maybe she ought to get the name of it on her way out.

If she got out.

The door didn’t budge when Cameron tried opening it. She sighed, turned her head a little, before teleporting it off its hinges, doorknob included. It fell to the ground beside her with a loud clatter. The employees were looking at her now, warily. One or two pulled out guns, another reached for a knife sitting on top of an unused cutting board.

Definitely weren’t ordinary restaurant workers.

Cameron felt a surge of confidence. It was kinda cute that they thought they stood a chance.

Their weapons were out of their hands and on the ground in front of her before they knew what hit them. Just as easily, she could have teleported it into their skulls and killed them all, provided one of them wasn’t secretly a power.

She smiled at them and her helmet lit up with a smiley face. “You’re missing the good part,” she said, pointing at the television. “Go ahead, watch, I’ll try not to make too much noise.” She winked and the smiley turned into a winky, one eye a dot, the other a straight line, a line curving upwards for a mouth. She bent down and picked up one of the guns. She lightly tossed it up in the air and caught it, for dramatic effect. “Can’t make any promises, not with the company you’ve decided to keep.” One of the employees, a older man with huge arms, slowly inched toward the walk-in freezer, eyes still staring right at her helmet. Cameron lazily pointed the gun at him. He stopped in his tracks.”If I were you, I’d rethink that decision. If I were you, I’d go in the other direction, out that door and into the alley.”

She changed targets, pointed and shot pearly white plate in the sink. The sound of it made most of the employees jump, except the few experienced ones. She had plenty of experience with guns, too much to be surprised at the noise they made. A classic scare tactic, it would make them consciously aware of how easily their brains could be reduced to a bloody smear on the wall.

It took Cameron waving the gun in the direction of the door for the employees to start to leave. She waited until they were gone before barricading the door with all the furniture in the room. She sent another text to Creed, to clarify where in the restaurant Gladwell was. Whoever he was sending shouldn’t have too much problem breaking through the barricade.

Cameron walked through the threshold, down the stairs and into the basement.

Gladwell was waiting for her. She sat on a lumpy sofa, feet propped up on the table, looking like a blonde bombshell. “Well, Cameron, I don’t know what to say. I gave you such a nice offer, I even said I wouldn’t kill you for it, and you decide to spit in my face and come kill me.”

Gun still in her hand, Cameron fired off two shots, one in head, one in the throat. Gladwell’s skin shifted, flowing like waves to push the bullets out so she could heal properly.

Bullets were going to do shit. She dropped the gun and drew the laser gun out of its holster. She turned the dial to five and squeezed the trigger. It wasn’t like the lasers she was used to seeing. There was no brightly colored beam of light shooting through the air. One second she was pulling the trigger and the next, Gladwell was clutching her stomach, in genuine pain. The laser had torn through entire layers, her internal organs visible between the gaps of her arms. The couch she sat on and the wall behind her were untouched.

Cameron followed up with more lasers. If she had an advantage, she was going to take it.

She didn’t get a chance.

Arms from behind her encircled her throat, a choke-hold. Cameron teleported out of her grasp, a foot away from where she had stood. She spun around and saw another Gladwell standing at the foot of the stairs.

Stuck between a Gladwell and a Gladwell.

The one sitting on the couch had recovered and rose to her feet, her hands morphing to deadly sharp swords. She swung and Cameron barely got out of the way in time. There wasn’t a whole lot of room to move here in the basement, especially with another Gladwell standing on the sidelines, eyes gleaming with a predator’s excitement.

Each wave of her arms was calculated to drive Cameron closer to the other Gladwell. The swings came too fast, dodging took too much of her focus for her to teleport away. Guns wouldn’t be useful at this range and the baton was even more useless when Gladwell had the strength to easily knock it out of her hand.

This time, after dodging another swing, Cameron jumped forward, tackling her. There wasn’t enough force behind it to knock Gladwell off her feet but it broke the rhythm they had settled into. Her head was positioned in just the right way to look over Gladwell’s shoulder while their bodies collided. She landed on top of the table, far away from both Gladwells.

The other one already had her hand out, flames extending from her palm to light the table on fire. Instead of jumping off, she teleported again, this time to the foot of the staircase. Then she was back in the kitchen. She turned to face the staircase and shot the ground at the bottom of the steps, a warning. The Gladwells stayed put, out of her line of sight. It gave her time to fiddle with the gun. There wouldn’t be a manual if this was all there was to it. Allison wasn’t that crazy. The gun had a trigger and the stupid dial, no other thing that screamed push me for maximum destructive capabilities.

Push. The thought triggered a memory, a line she saw when she glanced through the manual. If this worked she was going to slap herself later when she wasn’t in life-threatening danger. With her index finger, she pushed the center of the dial down. It moved.

A pillar of flame so big it filled the entire staircase shot out at her. Cameron hurriedly backpedaled. It was dumb, in retrospect, her costume was fireproof.

The Gladwells walked out of the flames, were wreathed in it, smirking as fiendishly as any devil.

Cameron pulled the trigger.

The laser itself was too fast for Cameron to see but the path it left behind wasn’t. It pierced through Gladwell’s head and kept going, cutting through the flames and the wall behind her. That Gladwell fell to the ground.

The other Gladwell was nowhere in sight.

Most of her anyway.

Cameron saw the crimson blade coming out of her stomach before she felt it. Then it was gone and her strength went with it. She fell to the ground, the hand not holding the gun moved to press against the wound.

Gladwell raised her hand above Cameron’s head, like an executioner’s blade, ready to deliver its sentence.

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The Long Way Home – B

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Felix did end up getting more girls to entertain them. A good mixture of brunettes and blondes. They kept him up late which meant he was snoring like a baby when David woke up early. His spirit messed up yesterday by attacking and being forced to retreat. Now Gladwell knew there were people aware she was here and they wanted her dead or gone. She would be more prepared for them when having the element of surprise was an advantage they needed against someone as strong as her.

Some people just had all the luck.

David didn’t need luck, he’d make his own. Bitch was going to pay for making him look like a fool in front of the rookie.

This time he wouldn’t let his spirit do the work for him, this was a job only he could do. He summoned his spirit but seized control immediately. Most of his attention was on it and its body but he could still move his own body, was still aware of it and what was happening there just not to the same extent he had normally. He had his spirit go through the walls and grab him a cup of coffee. If he fell asleep or someone disturbed him and he lost his concentration then control of his spirit went back to it. David couldn’t afford to make a mistake here, his pride wouldn’t allow it.

He swallowed mouthfuls of coffee before he let his spirit leave the apartment. If Gladwell was smart, she would have found a new place to stay while she was in town, somewhere people wouldn’t expect her to stay at. No abandoned warehouses or sketchy motels. He decided to recheck every location on the list anyway. If she was smart, she wouldn’t be there but people like Gladwell got arrogant. Too used to being top of the food chain.

David lost track of time, it wasn’t like his spirit wore a watch. As expected, she wasn’t hiding in any of the locations on the list or maybe she was just out for awhile, doing business. He flew around Avocet, using his spirit’s unique way of perceiving the world to search for Gladwell. Yesterday’s fight had let him get a good look at Gladwell’s mist. Every power’s mist was different from the mist surrounding everything and the mist of other powers. That was just how it was. David didn’t care about the whys.

Felix had woken up while David was searching and made some noise in the kitchen before returning to his room. The kid was smart enough to keep to himself and not disturb David.

He felt his stomach growl. Well, considering all the work he had done, he deserved a break. His spirit could manage for a few minutes. He released control of his spirit and went to the kitchen to make himself a sandwich. Nothing too fancy, he didn’t have the time or patience to sit around and cook a good meal. His wife had usually done most of the cooking but he had been forced to learn after she left him and their daughter.

Ten minutes to make then eat the sandwich, go to the washroom, and some stretching. David returned to his room and made himself comfortable before he tuned back into what his spirit was doing.

It had been productive while he rested, continuing the search. The search was so boring David felt like dropping down to his knees and thanking the universe when he spotted bright flashing mists. Powers fighting each other. Had to be Gladwell, barring one exception the city was too peaceful for it to be anything else.

Gladwell was soaring through the air chasing after a ship, the size of two vans stuck together with glowing blue lines running across it and coated with mist. Inventor made. The ship had been damaged and was struggling to stay in the air as Gladwell pelted it with more energy blasts. The people in the ship owed him one. David swooped down and slammed into Gladwell. He didn’t give her an opportunity to get her bearings. He dug his fingers into her skin, ripped through it. One of her hands sliced through his fingers when he moved to do it again, the other cut off his spirit’s shadowy arm from the elbow down.

He flew backwards to give himself some space and she let him.

The ship was falling to the ground, too much damage done to it. David didn’t know who exactly was in there but chances were high that they were superhumans and he could use their help. His spirit wasn’t at one hundred percent. They needed his help more than he did theirs. It felt alright when he thought about it like that.

David went over and gave them a hand, helping to slow their descent by pushing it up. It opened fire on Gladwell, preventing her from stopping him. Whoever was aiming was frighteningly accurate, David noted, even when Gladwell became invisible. Huh, they had someone capable of seeing through invisibility like he was. That tended to be rare.

Gladwell managed to get a few blasts out but a forcefield soaked up most of the damage. Where the hell was that when they were getting pummeled?

Once he had gotten the ship safely on the ground, he charged at Gladwell. She had grown, nearly five times as bigger as she was before. She bisected him with a wave of her arm.

Fuck, he hated people with more than one goddamn power.

He felt so cold as his spirit fell to the ground. The two separate pieces were pulled together and his spirit was back on its feet. David let his spirit have control, he needed to go get Felix. He rushed out of his room and barged into Felix’s, uncaring. “I got Gladwell, fighting her right now. You need to get your ass over there.”

Felix looked up from the bowl of popcorn resting on his stomach as he laid down on his bed. “Where?” David had already pulled out his cell phone and punched in the location. Felix wasn’t a native to Avocet like he was, he’d need directions. He tossed the phone onto the bed. Felix grabbed it and left, pausing to grab a mask.

David returned to his room and took control again.

It took him a second to figure out what had happened. The people inside the ship had gotten out and were doing as much damage to the giant Gladwell as they could. Superheroes. He recognized Violet Knight and Ionic, the third one was new. Violet Knight was the most recent successor of the Color Knight identity. What made him notable enough for David to remember him was that he was a superhero, while the previous two knights – the Orange and Red Knights – were villains. Dangerous ones, too.

He was on the ground again, waiting as his body healed enough for him to fight again. Gladwell had chopped his spirit into itty bitty pieces.

Another embarrassment. What if Felix had been there to see his spirit get dominated like that? It stoked the anger inside of him and it didn’t take much to set him off. He could feel it building under his skin, demanding release, retribution for what she had done to his pride.

He rose and hit the back of Gladwell’s knee like a torpedo. For a moment, he lost awareness of what he was doing, could only feel the slickness of his fingers as they were coated with blood.

A merging between him and his spirit. He was still there, still inside his spirit’s body yet it was his spirit in control. It was savage, brutal, more animal than man. It cared only for violence, no strategy, no finesse. It was this that made him dangerous, one of the best enforcers in their group.

Gladwell lit up, covered herself in flames, and he caught fire too. He didn’t stop even as he could feel his real body shake from the cold. He did as much damage as he could, literally ripping heaps of flesh off of her. The only thing that stopped him was another bisection. His spirit fell from the sky and he saw a second Gladwell, smaller than the other one, floating in the air behind where he had been. Duplication.

He laughed manically, the sound only reached his real ears. His spirit was incapable of speech.

Fucking power thieves.

The other Gladwell chased after him, ready to take him apart. David didn’t know how much more his spirit could handle, it had sustained a lot of damage from the flames but he couldn’t retreat, not with Felix on the way, not with those heroes watching. She landed beside him. She raised her left hand above her head, like an executioner’s blade.

The third hero, the one he didn’t recognize, materialized above Gladwell, a sword in her hands. It was pointed downwards. Gravity did the rest, plunged the sword into her chest. It didn’t make it all the way through. The hero vanished before Gladwell could turn around and return the favor. The hero reappeared to Gladwell’s left and took a swing. She blocked it but the hero disappeared again the second she did. A teleporting hero came from another angle, and managed to stab Gladwell in the back again. It went all the way through, right where the heart was.

“Nice try, sweetheart but I’ve moved the location of my heart,” Gladwell said, smiling.

The hero disappeared, not making a sound but taking the sword with her.

It gave him enough time for his spirit’s body to pull together.

He leaped up from the ground and grabbed Gladwell’s head, ignoring her hands cutting into him. He squeezed as hard as he could, until he felt her skull collapse between his hands. For good measure, he ripped off her arms and legs. They came off as easily as the limbs of a barbie doll. It would have been harder to do if this Gladwell was still alive.

“You helped us not crash, I bought you time to recover. We’re even.” He spun around and the hero was standing behind him. The voice made him think it was a girl. “I don’t owe you anything else.”

He shrugged. Didn’t matter, he didn’t plan on needing her help again.

She vanished again. David looked around and found her beside her companions. The sword had remained deadly sharp even in her hands.

The giant Gladwell had shrunk back down to her regular size. Her and another copy were flying through the air avoiding small round balls shooting blue beams. Not just those balls, there was something else up there. A bolt of lightning was shooting through the air in straight lines, chasing after the Gladwells, trying to turn them into burned crisps. Small cracks sounded as the lightning changed direction. Felix, in his lightning form.

Felix got a few good hits in before the bolt hit the ground in front of David, reforming into his human shape. He had to shift back into his human form after a minute, unless he wanted to be trapped in his lightning form forever. He flashed David a grin then changed forms again, continuing the fight.

He wasn’t going to let Felix have all the fun and credit. He took to the air and slammed into the closest Gladwell while she was distracted.

The Gladwells glanced at each other then split up, flying in opposite directions. Divide and conquer, wasn’t a bad strategy to use in this situation. Felix moved to the ground and changed forms. David shook his head, he seemed to get the message and stayed put. She had more stamina than he did, chasing after her would be stupid. At least this way he could say she ran away from them.

Those balls came down to surround Ionic. She kept her distance but she was looking at them. David landed beside Felix, to give them more presence. He doubted they’d start a fight, but some heroes played dirty. They could use this opportunity to take him and Felix down, to make up for the fact they didn’t manage to capture Gladwell. It’d be a real feather in their cap too, if they got Felix in jail. Felix was new but he’d made a splash a few days ago back in LA.

“Thanks for the help,” Ionic said. “We appreciate it, regardless of whatever motive you may have for hunting Gladwell.”

Hard to tell if she was really sincere with a device altering her voice or if she was just being polite, secretly angry a criminal had to come to her rescue.

“Not a problem, not a problem,” Felix said. “We’ll be leaving then, got things to do. You know how it is.”

“Of course. We’ll let you go regardless but would you mind answering a question for me?”

Felix turned to him, looking to him for instruction. Wouldn’t hurt to listen to the question, especially if they were going to end up staying here for awhile, could earn them some goodwill. David nodded.

Ionic took that as a cue to continue. “Are you here in Avocet for Gladwell? A grudge?”

“Yeah,” Felix said. “That’s all we want. We won’t be causing you any trouble, if that’s what you want to know.”

“Fair enough. Thanks again for the help.”

David nodded at the three superheroes as Felix transformed and headed off in the direction of their apartment. David left in a different direction. He didn’t want to give them any clues on where they might be staying. Heroes were never to be trusted.

The teleporting girl watched him go.

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The Long Way Home – A

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Most hated working with rookies, but they were idiots, unable to recognize the perks that went with it. David wasn’t an idiot. He sat down and enjoyed the sight of some very beautiful women with a very beautiful lack of clothes prance around their apartment.

There was a certain power that came with being a part of an organization like theirs, made them confident, bold, daring. When someone asked if they needed anything at all, they didn’t hesitate to answer. Some would scoff at the lack of professionalism and tell the rookie off, get them to do it on their own time, not when they have a mission to accomplish. David liked to kick back, grab a beer, and indulge in whatever fun the rookie planned. There wasn’t a point to this life they were living if they couldn’t enjoy themselves.

This rookie, Felix, preferred the simple pleasures, women and cars. All of this was on their gracious host’s dime, of course. It was the least they could do, considering David and Felix were only here at their request. Avocet City was having some troubles – completely unsurprisingly to anyone who paid a lick of attention to Avocet – and it changed from being the kind of trouble criminals like them thrived in to being the kind of trouble they hated and needed to deal with. Avocet survived because it was a lucky city; its villains were, mostly, committed to keeping it peaceful. It was a tourist hotspot and that meant a lot of cash flowing into the city, and the pockets of its villains.

The setup was good for the local SAA branch, the criminals, and the tourists coming to gawk at fancy inventor made shit but the nobodies on the fringes suffered. If they ever got too uppity, made too much noise, they’d get taken care of before they knew what hit them. David knew from experience. He used to live in this dump, the places carefully hidden and kept away from tourists, and he didn’t have a lot of options when he lost his job when the factory closed down to make room for another fucking tourist attraction. He borrowed money from the Russian mob to feed his family and when he couldn’t pay, they gave him a choice. Leave Avocet and work off his debt in another city or have his corpse dumped into the river.

Best decision he ever made in his damn life.

Mostly.

Sometimes, very late at night, it was the worst thing he had ever done and would ever do.

The women left after Felix and David got their money’s worth. He grabbed a beer from the fridge and tossed one to Felix, who sat on the couch, a manila envelope in his hands.

“That from the kid Park has looking after us?” David asked as he popped open his can. Park – their host and a business partner of their boss – ordered a waiter from one of the restaurants he owned to attend to their every want and need while they were in the city working on this situation.

“Yeah,” Felix said. “They’ve got Gladwell’s hideout narrowed down already, wants us to check them out and fight her if she’s there.”

Answering an unspoken need, his spirit stepped out of his body. It looked like him, if he was a featureless mass of black smoke shaped like a human. Despite what it looked like, it was as solid as a truck if it wanted to be. It strode forward and read the paper in Felix’s hands over his shoulder. Then it was off, phasing through the walls, to hunt down Gladwell.

It acted on its own most of the time, doing whatever David wanted to be done, even if he wasn’t aware of that want. He could sense it, feel it doing something but the details were fuzzy. Years of experience let him take over or see from its perspective if he concentrated. It was the reason why he got picked for the job. Gladwell needed to make a physical connection to use her crazy ass ability and she couldn’t do that if he was safely hidden in this apartment, far away from the fight.

Felix got chosen for a similar reason.

“You can relax, enjoy your beer. It’ll do the searching for us while we relax,” David said, grinning.

Felix returned the grin. “Maybe I should get some more girls. Brunettes, this time.”

“Later. After my spirit is done with the list.”

Felix shrugged. That was one of the other perks of working with rookies. A lot of the time, when working with more experienced people, David tended to butt heads. He liked being in control, being the leader. He was good at it, despite what people might think. So many dismissed him because of where he came from but he’d show them, someday when he saw the perfect opportunity. He’d show them. Behind this skull of his was one hell of an intellect.

He downed the rest of his beer. “I’m going on a walk. Don’t trash the place until I get back.”

David grabbed his jacket from off the other couch and left. If he was in town on business, he might as well check things out, see if anything changed in the years he’d been gone. Maybe he was looking for someone. It didn’t matter if it had, he couldn’t, wouldn’t come back, stay here. There was still the matter of all the money he owed to the man he was working for and he wasn’t sure he could handle it, all the awful memories he made here.

But if he stayed, maybe he’d get a chance to fix what he had done. A chance to find his daughter and make things right, be a family again if she was willing. He hated leaving her, just like his wife had done after she found out about the affair, but what choice did he have? She would understand, wouldn’t she?

She was better off without him. He wasn’t a good man or a good father, too little patience, too much anger. How could someone who knew fuck all about – and experienced just as little – good parenting grow up to be a good parent?

He stopped in his tracks, brought out of his thoughts by a sudden sensation. Wasn’t pain, but a chill. Shit, guess his spirit found Gladwell. David took a deep breath and concentrated, shifting his attention over to his spirit, not enough to take over just enough to see what the hell was going on over there.

It was Gladwell alright, sharp blade-like hands carving chunks out of his spirit. Every smoky pound of flesh grew back within seconds of being chopped off but there was a limit to how much it could endure before having to retreat. Didn’t help that in the moments before the spirit healed itself, it was less solid than it usually was, dealt less damage. His spirit was mindlessly punching Gladwell. It wasn’t doing much good, Gladwell’s wounds were repaired as easily as his spirit’s.

His spirit saw the world differently. It could easily see the mist invisible to most. The mist surrounded everything, grew a little bit denser every day, and was especially thick around powers. With it, he saw through invisibility and illusions as if they weren’t even there. Whenever someone was using their powers, the mist around them would flare.

When the mist around Gladwell flared, brighter than most, he – and by extension the spirit – knew to hightail it out of there. This was a fishing trip, meant to figure out where Gladwell was hiding, he didn’t need to stay and fight til his spirit couldn’t anymore. It flew away from Gladwell. Not fast enough. A beam of energy, very concentrated mist, ripped through the lower half of his spirit. It didn’t feel pain. It kept going, phasing through the wall and headed straight for him.

Fuck, he was going to make Gladwell pay for the damage done on his spirit. The damn thing would take hours to get back into fighting shape, days to fully recover.

David hated to lose even if it was up against a badass like Gladwell.

He returned his focus back to his own body and grabbed his phone out of his jacket pocket. He dialed Felix’s number. The kid picked up promptly. “Something wrong, D?”

“I found Gladwell but the asshole wreaked my spirit. I did some damage to that motherfucker. We’re going to wait until tomorrow to launch our actual attack and drive her out of town. Put her into the ground if we can,” David said.

“Cool with me, I was about to watch a movie,” Felix replied. “Gonna be a pain in the ass tracking her down tomorrow.”

David’s eyebrow twitched. “You let me handle that, Felix. Won’t even be a problem.”

“Sure, sure. Call me before you get into a fight with her, so we can kick her ass and get this job done, alright?”

“I was testing her, seeing if she was as tough as everyone says she is. We weren’t planning on taking the bitch out today anyway,” David said, defensive.

“Yeah, of course. Gonna start that movie, see ya later D, when you get back.” Felix hung up.

David frowned as he stuffed his phone back into his jacket. Damn, damn, damn. Now the rookie was going to think he was weak and David couldn’t stand the thought.

He was going to fucking devastate Gladwell tomorrow.

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Home 2.6

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Sometimes Cameron really wished life worked like it did on TV. There, it’d either be the first, third or last location on the list, a number with significance. One of those would be where Gladwell was hiding.

It turned out to be none.

They still didn’t find anything when they looped back and did a more thorough search. Frustrating. Cameron sighed as Allison’s Ion drones hovered in the air above a bunch of storage units, the last location on the list. Maybe Creed’s intel was off. Rare for it to happen to him but nobody was perfect and if Gladwell was easy to predict, she would have gotten caught a long time ago. Still, it would have been nice if the universe did her a favor for once and had Gladwell be in one of those places they checked.

Cameron leaned against the side of the ship and watched Matt pace back and forth. Allison stared at the storage units, unusually still. Lost in thought or communicating with Hayes privately. What would people think of them, a bunch of teenagers with no clue what to do next were their only line of defense against one of the more terrifying villains around? Lucky for them, nobody was around. No one in this side of town stayed when they saw superheroes approaching.

“You’re talking to Hayes?” Cameron asked Allison.

“I was. He told us to stay here until he decides what he wants us to do next,” she answered.

“Which should be calling for backup, right? Get some other heroes to come and do the grunt work for us?” Cameron smirked, a smiley no doubt appearing on the front of her helmet. “Or instead of running around, getting nothing done, we get Gladwell to come to us. Challenge her, see if she shows up.”

“Eager to rush into danger for people you claim not to be your friends,” Allison replied neutrally. “Or is this for the common good of the city?”

Cameron shrugged as nonchalantly as she could. Ian didn’t need the scrutiny that would come from the SAA knowing they were friends, more than that sometimes. “It’s neither. I’m a girl of action and I don’t like to be pushed around. That’s all she’ll do if we give her the chance to. She’ll push Avocet around like we’re puppets on a string.”

“We don’t have to do anything right this second,” Matt cut in. “We can call Agent Hayes, get his opinion. He might even agree.”

Allison took a step forward, her Ion drones coming to meet her. “If we had more time, perhaps.” She didn’t get a chance to figure out what that meant before the answer appeared right in front of her.

Gladwell looked like a person. No horns or tail to clearly mark her as something different, something evil. She wore stylishly ripped jeans and a white tank top, her blonde hair tied in a ponytail. She greeted them with a wide smile, friendly. Despite herself, Cameron flinched. Gladwell came out of nowhere, standing in the center of the triangle they had unintentionally formed. “I thought I was doing a good job of hiding myself. What gave me away?” she asked.

“My drones didn’t find anything. They should have at least detected Point Blank’s energy, but they didn’t. Whatever you’re doing to mask your energy is working a little too well,” Allison answered. Cameron didn’t know what freaked her out more, Gladwell trailing her all this time or Allison having such a calm, casual conversation about it.

Gladwell was essentially the boogeyman. The very idea of her power would freak anybody out. Once she made a physical connection, the means varied but reportedly she preferred to drink their blood because of some gross vampire fetish, she could share her power, skills, memories with you, and you with her. She never left it at that, instead of sharing she took everything. What happened to the other person after wasn’t pretty. Being superhumans meant they had some level of protection against Gladwell’s power, more than the common person, but they weren’t immune. Her power was strong enough to bulldoze through resistance, given a strong connection.

“It’s new, it’ll take awhile for me to master it,” Gladwell said. “Now, what was that about a challenge? I love challenges, personally.”

It took Cameron a second to find her voice and speak with the same casualness Allison and Gladwell had. If Allison could do it, so could she. No way was she going to let herself look weak in front of these people. “The challenge was supposed to get you out of hiding. No point to it if you’re already here.”

“And now that I’m here, what are you planning on doing?”

Wasn’t that a good question? This would be easier if Matt and Allison weren’t here with her. They were deadweight if she needed to escape and leaving them wasn’t a good option. Things would get really messy if she left them to die at the hands of Gladwell.

The problem with having a brand new costume was Cameron wasn’t sure of all the commands and features like talking without it being broadcasted by the speaker built into her helmet. She would just have to hope Matt or Allison had this covered and were talking to Agent Hayes right now.

“Well?” Gladwell prompted, when no one spoke up. “I don’t have all day, you know. I’m being nice, giving all of you the chance to make the first move.”

Allison stood, rooted to where she stood, so very still. Planning? Matt didn’t seem sure of what he should do. “Don’t suppose we can get a rain check, do this tomorrow or something?” Cameron asked.

“And what would I get out of that?” She crossed her arms.

Cameron’s power required either touch or sight to be able to teleport an object and she needed to see where she would be moving it. With her already leaning against the ship, it felt obvious what she should do. She drew the stun gun. “You won’t get squished.” She teleported the ship, putting it above all their heads. Predictably, they looked up to see the ship falling down, ready to do the squishing. She used this opportunity, fired a few shots, hitting Gladwell in the face. She didn’t expect it do more than distract her for a second or two.

Matt and Allison both moved to get out of the way, not fast enough. She teleported the ship again, moving it up and more to the right, so it wouldn’t squish her too.

It gave Gladwell too much time. Cameron blinked and Gladwell wasn’t under the ship anymore, wasn’t anywhere. When the ship hit the ground, there wasn’t a sign of a person being under there. For a horrible moment, images from the news flitted through her mind, images of people, dead in mind if not body. She looked around, finding nothing but Matt and Allison seeming equally alarmed.

This was why she hated power thieves or copiers. They were like Swiss army knives, a power for every occasion. So hard to counter when you didn’t know what they were hiding in there. Doubly annoying when they had irritating powers like fucking invisibility.

She switched on her super-vision. It came easily. Something she might worry about if she wasn’t concerned about being ripped to shreds then absorbed.

Gladwell was watching them leisurely, enjoying the spectacle, a foot away from the ship. One shot. She had one shot before Gladwell realized she could see pass her invisibility and act accordingly.

But what the hell was she supposed to do? She wasn’t a heavy hitter, couldn’t make the insanely durable hurt. The stun gun was little more than a short distraction at best against Gladwell.

She grabbed a cartridge of sticky rope from her belt, and loaded it into the gun. Gladwell’s hands shifted into razor sharp blades, her eyes moved between the three of them, assessing. Cameron aimed for the face and like always, she hit her mark. Maybe it was surprise or arrogance that stopped her from dodging it, either way Cameron wasn’t complaining.

Matt charged. He swung wildly at the space surrounding the sticky rope, cutting her open.

“We need to go!” Allison ordered. The ship moved on its own, backing away from Gladwell and Matt, its doors opening. She sprinted to the ship. “Violet Knight!”

Cameron unloaded more sticky rope on her, emptying every cartridge she had stashed in her belt. Matt reluctantly stepped back, and ran toward the ship. She covered the retreat, pelting Gladwell with stun blasts. A distraction was a distraction, no matter how little of an effect it had. And it was little. Under the sticky rope, Cameron swore she was smiling.

“Point Blank!”

She turned her head. The ship was already in the air, about to fly away. Its doors still open. Cameron teleported directly inside.

The ship took off at – what Cameron was guessing was – full speed. The doors shut behind her. Cameron rushed to the window and stared at the scene they were leaving behind.

Gladwell had burned through the ropes. She gave them a wave with her bladed hand and jumped, then soared into the air. Of course she would be able to fly.

“Fuck, fuck. She’s chasing after us. Can this thing go any faster?” Cameron asked.

“Backup? Do we have backup?” Matt said.

Gladwell wasn’t that far behind them, closing the distance a little more with every second that passed. The tip of her sword hands pointed at the back of the ship. It glowed and the glow kept getting brighter.

The entire ship rattled from the hit. It knocked her off balance, and Cameron fell to the floor.

Not long after, she could feel the ship falling too.

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