Part of being a norm hero — prosahuman! they heard Cozy Wight correct in the back of her head — meant constant physical training to keep up with the parahumans she dealt with on both sides of the aisle. DETAILS called it ‘discipline’ based super powers, which always made Crosspointe imagine a bunch of super-Dommes. And, admittedly, Crosspointe never missed with a whip.
But then, Crosspointe never missed. It was kind of their thing.
It has been decades since Paragon and the other heroes had emerged into public consciousness, revealing the existence of parahumanity in the process. For much of that time the general public had adored Justice Wing and the other heroes, their battles a thrilling spectacle for all. But after Freya and her sidekick Amulet had betrayed Justice Wing, the Jack O’Knaves had cut a bloody swath across Greystone City, and the mad god Urizen had almost destroyed the multiverse itself, public sentiment turned and turned hard. This is Justice Wing in nadir…
…leading to this. After all. Even endings have a beginning.
Crosspointe hit the stairwell by way of the emergency exit. They flipped snooper lenses onto her HUD-mask — IR and UV, filtering out visible light while auto-highlighting any anomalies — and silently went up one floor. From here, they could lean out into the center of the stairwell and get a decent view of the landings above above. No movement, no sound, but they saw heat patterns on the top landing. And, since none of them were leaning over the rail the way he was, they almost certainly hadn’t seen Crosspointe. Maybe they’d hacked the security system. Crosspointe had seen signs of that when they hacked it themself. They were betting that their own control over the surveillance trumped theirs, because Crosspointe was amazing and most crooks were ‘okay’ at best.
Still, they couldn’t mask their own presence through the cameras and also use them to find the bad guys, and there were people up there. They slid back against the wall while quietly locking a high-eye quarrel into their right railbracer. Sliding back to the bannister, they leaned out, aimed, and fired nearly straight up. The magnetic launcher was nearly silent — so quiet, in fact, that they usually played digital sound effects when they fired them. It was craftwork of course – bad guys got used to the ‘twang’ from their railbracers and figured they’d always hear them coming. It was the little details that made a hero a hero.
Besides, it helped build a brand. Crosspointe was fantastic at building brands.
The high-eye quarrel they’d fired had baffles to muffle the sound of impact. Assuming there was soft acoustic tile or something similar at the top of the stairwell—
Apparently there was. The quarrel hit, and a window opened on their snoopers’ display. It was a panorama, giving her a complete view of the top landing.
Three of them, toting flat black metal weapons — energy-casters, standard Guild issue, and they were in unbranded Guild assault gear. So henches, high end loadout. Their boss had cash — these guys were maybe one or two notches below a police PATER unit’s gear.
Still, henches were henches, and these guys were clearly more interested in the door and listening for people on the stairs. The rear guard, in other words. The high-eye had a high speed camera that kicked on in flight, which let them do a fast review in another window. Yup. No guards on the lower landings. Nice.
Still, if there were guards at the top, Crosspointe couldn’t use a line quarrel to pull themself up the stairwell. Something capable of either gripping or embedding and then holding their weight was hard to baffle, especially right over someone’s head, so if they did things the fast way they’d hear it. Even locking onto a lower rail would make too much of a clang. Crosspointe knew they could take those three, but they didn’t need to beat the benches. They just needed to stay awake long enough for one of the group to push a panic button.
So that meant climbing the stairs. Crosspointe thought for a second. Get high enough to take those three henches out? Nah. They weren’t dangerous enough compared to the actual villains in the atrium beyond, and there was always a risk one of them would loudly announce Crosspointe’s arrival to the real threats. Crosspointe preferred creative control over their entrance, thank you very much.
So that meant they couldn’t go all the way to seven. They’d wanted to get up there – it would give them the best angle to see the atrium and give them a chance to get a few high-eye quarrels in place. Information was a hero’s second best friend, right after violence. But, no use crying over it. Go to six? Probably not. They were confident in their stealthy, stealthy ways, but if nothing else the atrium door might click or thunk when they opened it.
Five? Yeah, five.
Climbing another four flights of stairs, even at their quietest, didn’t take much time or even raise their heart rate that much. Part of being a norm hero — prosahuman! they heard Cozy Wight correct in the back of her head — meant constant physical training to keep up with the parahumans they dealt with on both sides of the aisle. DETAILS called it ‘discipline’ based super powers, which always made Crosspointe imagine a bunch of super-Dommes. And, admittedly, Crosspointe never missed with a whip.
But then, Crosspointe never missed. It was kind of their thing.
They made it to the fifth floor in short order, and checked both the high-eye window and the security system. Checking their HUD, they saw their hacks were still churning along – so neither the actual security office nor the criminals who’d compromised the system could see what they were doing. Nice.
They looked at the metal door to the atrium, then examined the wall on either side. No sign of heat traces through them, but it wasn’t likely thermal imaging would see through the wall or door anyway — not what they had on these snoopers, anyway. So they were going in blind, but then no one said this line of work was safe, right?
They slid over to the door, toggling their snoopers back up and off, protective lenses taking their place on her mask. This set made their eyes look solid white, which was always a fun, creepy look — they could even toggle a backlight to freak out onlookers. Their practical use was both a filter for dangerous light and a good backdrop for the HUD. They could even toggle crosshairs for any of her different ranged weapons. Sometimes they even did.
So, they adjusted the HUD slightly – moving the security status terminal window and the high-eye vid window off the corner of the display and over to the side augmented-reality style. A glance would let them see the video feed of the henches on seven floating in the air, and it dimmed when they weren’t looking right at it, so it wasn’t a distraction. Glancing now, they could see the bad guys hadn’t reacted, which meant they still hadn’t heard them. And that meant it was go-time.
Crosspointe checked their loadouts on their railbracers. Each could fire from several different barrels that circled their wrists, the magnetic acceleration pushing the quarrels out far faster than even the best crossbows. But then, that just meant the old man had kept at least one promise to them.
They’d been doing this since they were thirteen years old. They knew their job. They primed the other railgun-mounts in their shoulder epaulets and checked any number of other weapons both visible and hidden. It was a running joke among their friends — they liked to take bets about how many weapons they were carrying at any given time, regardless of what they were wearing. Crosspointe always laughed. They’d never once heard a correct answer, mind, but telling people that kind of missed the point of hiding them.
They carefully worked the door-latch. The click was quiet — the henches on seven didn’t react. Awesome. They opened the door carefully, peering out. No one immediately ahead – time to go.
Crosspointe rolled forward into the atrium. The seven stories had plenty of office and hall doors on the balconies overlooking the open space and the balconies themselves were L-shaped. They didn’t see any sign of henches or villains on their own balcony, so they stayed low, creeping up to the guard rail. It was made of thick, dark, smoked grey glass panels with gold finish posts and rails… which meant it was crap for seeing through. Heat traces wouldn’t be enough this time, and Crosspointe didn’t dare try to fire another high-eye quarrel from down here — too many villains had enhanced senses and would notice it even from the floor.
Fortunately, Crosspointe was prepared. Crosspointe was always prepared. They slid a tube out of one of their stashes. Adjustable, full image enhancement – a nice piece of kit. They worked the ends, shifting lenses and prisms into place to make it a periscope. The tube itself was coated in vantablack, meaning it had almost no reflections to call attention to itself.
They switched the viewport to digital, and a window opened on her HUD. They lifted the tube slowly, moving along one of the posts, until it just peeked over the rail. With their free hand, they toggled a control scheme on and used it to angle the objective and adjust magnification, looking down…
There. About twenty more henches surrounding the perimeter. Checking for primaries… Crosspointe could see Bandolier — he was intimidating the poor volunteer manning the information desk. Not far away from him, there was a flying woman in dark iridescent green and gold armor with four solar panels coming off the back like wings — that was Damselfly. Damselfly was mostly looking over the crowd, no doubt using her armor’s sensors, trying to find any pesky heroes sneaking around. Still, she hadn’t seen Crosspointe yet.
A small group of civilians on the North side of the lobby were huddled together. A truly scary woman in scrap-metal armor yelled at them while threatening them with an energy-enhanced hooked sword. Crosspointe had fought her before — that was Billhook. A big bruiser in green tac-gear who went by Barricade was there too. He looked a bit aimless. Clearly he was there to add muscle if they needed it, because he certainly wasn’t there for his brains. Finally, Lapis and Lazuli slunk around the perimeter. They were telepathic thieves in suits patterned after their namesake, and while they weren’t much of a threat they were really good at running for the crooks’ goal while the heroes were busy with more dangerous villains.
A field leader, a lieutenant, two heavy hitters, two thieves. Crosspointe frowned slightly. They knew those weren’t were the only villains in the hospital, but even on their own there were too many. Bandolier and Damselfly working Group would usually mean Anchor’s Marines, but Anchor liked to put one of his own lieutenants in the field alongside the Marines, and with no sign of Boatswain, Sextant, or Malie the Destroyer…
Crosspointe took a moment to think. The group was weird — they had no thematic ties or common philosophies. There were no uniform changes to tie them all together. There were none of those little touches that said ‘we’re a new group.’ And they were all second tier except for Bandolier, who was eternally stuck in the third tier thanks to a bad financial history with the Service.
This was an ad-hoc group, and it was too expensive to be random. Crooks at these tiers didn’t form ad-hoc groups – if they teamed up, it was deliberately. That meant the villains were probably hired individually, and that meant this group didn’t have a group discount to bring down the cost. Between the villains, the henches, and the gear, this was well financed.
And with those villains down there, Crosspointe was outnumbered. They hated to admit it, but even going full sniper they couldn’t take on all six plus at least twenty-three henches. They were going to need help.
Crosspointe took a moment to scan the balconies — at least the bits they could see — with their periscope while they tapped out a specific code on their wingcomm. They didn’t enable full two-way — this wasn’t the time to have a conversation. While a burst transmission would probably get out fine, an extended connection even using Temple’s tricky frequency would show up on Damselfly’s sensory like a flare.
Code finished, packet sent. Now Crosspointe just had to wait it out. They considered priority targets while waiting for Justice Wing proper to show. Bandolier was the veteran — not to mention the closest in training and style to Crosspointe themself. But Bandolier and Damselfly were all business except where their respective nemeses were involved. Barricade was excitable and liked breaking things, but didn’t hurt people just to hurt people. Lapis and Lazuli were thieves and support, not combat or assassins. They wanted stuff, not murder charges.
And then there was Billhook. Sweet, kind, utterly psychotic Billhook.
For all that Billhook’s cybernetic armor and weaponry looked like a scrap metal yard had come to life, that was mostly aesthetic. Her gear was first rate, her skills were top notch, and her brain was pretty broken. She liked hurting or killing people, and more to the point she got angry really easily. When she got angry she lost discipline, and when she lost discipline innocent people got cut.
Right. The moment Justice Wing engaged, Crosspointe would focus on her — get her down then pick off henches while the speed team hit the other villains. If they could put them all down before the support and strike flights got here, they could set a perimeter in the lobby and Crosspointe could fill the others in on why a pack of supervillains were attacking a hospital.
“What the Hell did you just call me?!”
Well, crap. That was Billhook, naturally enough. She was waving her sword up over her head, while sparks arced between the sword, the pointy bits of her armor, and the ground. What looked like a middle aged man in a lab coat was lying on his back in front of her, clumsily trying to crawl backwards away from her shrieking.
“Billhook!” Bandolier’s voice was sharp. “We’re not here for that!”
“Don’t tell me what to do!” she shouted back. “And no one’ll care about this guy!”
Crosspointe waited — would Bandolier clamp down harder? Would Billhook back down?
“Whatever! Just don’t get out of position!” Bandolier turned away, clearly washing his hands of the incident. Another sign this wasn’t Anchor’s Marines, since Bandolier would undoubtedly been a field team leader with them, and Anchor held his team leaders responsible for everyone. Anchor didn’t like waste.
Buuuuuuut Anchor wasn’t here and that meant that doctor-guy was about to die. Waiting for the speed flight was no longer an option.
Rolling back to the wall and sliding their periscope closed and into its holder in the same fluid motion, Crosspointe unhooked their launch rig — a metal bracket that they slid their arms down, which went palm-to-elbow, while two spheres snapped out into the top of each of the brackets. That made a sharp clack which meant she was on the clock — they triggered twice, causing a magnetic pulse to send the spheres out — two hitting the edge of the ceiling above her, two hitting the tops of posts on the guard rail.
Crosspointe bent their legs even as the four spheres all made a loud ‘power-up’ sound — more sound effects, but Crosspointe wanted Billhook in particular to get distracted from killing that guy. The spheres had powerful electromagnetic ‘tethers’ that locked onto Crosspointe’s rig and began to pull. Crosspointe resisted for a moment, letting the pressure build even as they heard people running around both upstairs and down below—
Crosspointe sprung up, letting the magnetic tethers yank them forward, the brackets splitting apart as they were flung high into the middle of the atrium. Flipping in air, Crosspointe fired one line off their right shoulder epaulet railgun — it had been fed into place from the back feed when they’d deployed the catapult rig. It flew high, angled to embed into a support strut along the atrium’s ceiling. They ignored it, still moving in their forward roll, even as they fired eight fast quarrels out of her railgauntlets. One-two-three-four from the right railgauntlet, each quarrel tipped in a resin-cast egg-shaped payload. The quarrels hit the ground, shattering the resin and letting two suspended compounds combine — the result was a sharp concussive charge designed to knock people over. Those first four had been fired at Bandolier, Damselfly, and Lapis. They fired four more off their left gauntlet — this time at Barricade, Lazuli, and at two packs of henches. Eight booms from eight shots, Bandolier diving for cover even as he spun up his own belt-fed weapons.
The line bit into the ceiling and went taut, turning Crosspointe’s dive into a swing from a point on their back. They spun on the line, a second line quarrel firing from their other shoulder, this one going at an angle and hitting the fifth floor balcony. Crosspointe wheeled around, arms going down and legs extending into a stretch above them as they fired another four shots, two per gauntlet — this time aiming for Billhook and aiming closer to the woman than she had the others.
The second line pulled hard — yanking them back the way she came and not coincidentally pulling them out of the line of fire. Bandolier was taking shots now, and Damselfly had fired an energy beam at her, but they all ‘hit’ the point in space they were swinging to before they used the second line.
The four shots hit in sequence, close enough to knock Billhook away from one explosion straight into the second, which knocked her into the third, which itself knocked her into the fourth, which blew them backwards and caused them to roll and skitter on the ground away from their intended victim. Crosspointe finished their second mid-air turn, even as they fired net-quarrels out to catch some of the henches at least briefly – they were the taser nets so hopefully some’d get knocked out. They felt the top-line go taut again but this time played it out, letting their momentum carry them down before the second line pulled hard and the first released. That let them swing back and hit the rail of the second floor’s balcony. They kicked back off, the second line released, and Crosspointe went forward into a parkour roll.
Hitting the floor and rolling forward and up, they were facing Billhook, who was back up and snarling, a hooked energized blade in each hand as she ran for Crosspointe. Crosspointe fired six times — concussive shots that rang off Billhook’s armor even as she spun the railgauntlets’ feeds, locking their next load into place.
“I’ll destroy you!” Billhook shrieked as she ran, ignoring the explosions.
“Yeah, maybe put a pin in that!” Crosspointe shouted back. “Or better yet, let me!” So saying they fired two discarding-sabot quarrels, which flew out at Billhook–
The cyborg monstrosity had built a jagged set of armor to help terrify people and make even her passive bits pointy enough to cause pain. The price of aesthetics were gaps in the armor, as intentional ‘mismatched’ pieces slid past each other. They were small gaps, but Crosspointe never missed, which meant the two shots seemed to disappear into the armor, biting into a bit of Billhook’s remaining flesh.
Billhook bellowed, still running, and Crosspointe dove to the side in a roll. By the time Billhook had turned, her movements were broader and less controlled, and before she could even scream another angry challenge she collapsed forward, the tranquilizers taking her out even faster than a normal human — the ‘advantage’ of a cybernetic vascular system, Crosspointe supposed.
Crosspointe didn’t take time to gloat, finishing their roll before handspringing behind a row of chairs on the side of the atrium, then diving behind one of the foyer’s reception stations for good measure. Their acrobatics were punctuated by gunshots whizzing past them, one of which hit them in the small of the back, though it was a straight up bullet without a payload and the body armor absorbed it with only moderate pain. Crosspointe’d hate to explain the bruise to a significant other, but they’d have to have one for that to be an issue.
Bandolier was moving too — keeping his own gun-bracers up and deployed, eyes on the reception station Crosspointe was using for cover. “Hey ‘Pointe!” he shouted. “Nice moves, though that’s a lot of bolts fired, right? You can’t have that many left!”
“I have plenty for you if you’re feeling left out!” Crosspointe shouted back. The crook wasn’t wrong — that had been an expensive entrance — but Crosspointe had prepped for a siege. They were glad Bandolier was talking, though — it gave them a chance to slide quick-load packs and boosts into her feeds.
“Yeah, yeah!” Bandolier shouted back, sliding behind a matching reception station on the far side. ”But Barricade’s flanking you, Damselfly’s on high guard, and I’m pretty sure the twins have knives or whips or slingshots or something! Did you seriously try to solo this mission?!”
“Hey — you’re the one who brought the psycho! First rule’s clearing the civilians, right?!” That much had worked, at least. The civilians had largely fled after Crosspointe’s attack — even that poor volunteer at the center reception station had gotten out. “Who brings a firefight to a hospital!?”
“We go where the job takes us, ‘Pointe!” Bandolier sounded slightly distracted, which meant he was probably reloading too. Or was getting orders from a higher-up. “But we don’t want anyone to get needlessly hurt, right? And you’re literally one skinny cape shooting knitting needles and we’re a pack of top dog villains! Maybe you should disarm, come out, and lie down on the floor with your hands behind your head? For the civilians’ sake! No one has to know you pussed out!”
“Man — between ‘skinny cape,’ and ‘pussed out,’ I have to say — your respect’s top freakin’ notch!” Crosspointe shouted back. “And maybe you guys should surrender! You think I would jump in here without having a giant hammer ready to fall on you?” Crosspointe shifted under the desk, staying out of Damselfly’s line of sight. The reception desks had marble countertops — with luck that’d stand up to Damselfly’s initial attack and give Crosspointe a chance to move.
“You’re funny, ‘Pointe!” Bandolier shouted back. “You always have been! We’re a lot alike, you’n’me! Both average joes running around superbattles with weapons strapped to our arms! Punchin’ above our weight class just by showing up to work, dealin’ with crap from bigots all the while! I really don’t want to kill you!”
“Then don’t!” Crosspointe dropped their snoopers back into place, getting what heat traces through the side of the desk they could. Not enough to target Bandolier or see where Barricade had gone. “You’re a pro, Bandy! You don’t kill people!” Well, he tried to kill the Beacon whenever they met, but that didn’t count.
“Depends on the job, doesn’t it?! Sometimes… you do what you gotta do, like jump off a balcony into a deathtrap to save a bunch of nobodies! Last chance! Surrender or we put you down hard!”
Crosspointe flipped the snoopers back off — they needed peripheral vision right now, and the snoopers weren’t giving them decent information. Damn it, they should have put another high-eye quarrel on the ceiling during her launch. Rookie mistake – they let herself get distracted by–
Crosspointe was still under the heavy wood, formica and marble reception desk, so they had no way to see anything coming. So, when the entire desk itself was smashed towards the wall it caught them flat-footed – suddenly they were being slammed forward by a pile of rapidly shattering particle board. They and the desk both slammed into the far wall, Crosspointe gasping as the air was knocked out of their body. They’d instinctively rolled up to protect their head – their uniform took the worst of the rest, but damn…
There was a hail of energy pulses down from above, slamming apart the remains of the desk. Crosspointe managed to dive forward — Barricade jumped to intercept, but they managed to roll under his attack, letting him smash into (and pulverize) the drywall past the remains of the desk. Clearly Barricade had smashed the desk into the wall and Crosspointe along with it.
Crosspointe tucked up into a leap, letting another line quarrel fire from their shoulder launcher — if she could yank themself away from the ground forces—
Damselfly swept to the side, her armor’s flight-field letting her make sudden, unexpected moves seemingly without interia getting in the way. She fired a pencil thin blue beam from a point between the multiple-sensors on her helmet, and it autoswept to the side, neatly severing Crosspointe’s line and making them crash into the floor. Lazuli was waiting and swung that energy whip of hers around – sending a concussion charge and way too much voltage into Crosspointe. Crosspointe screamed, their muscles locking, then going slack — they dropped like tossed laundry, not unconscious but everything hurt and besides, making them think they were unconscious might buy her a few seconds…
“All right!” Barricade shouted. “Squashing time!”
“Shut up,” Bandolier snapped, rotating his own wrist-guns, letting new ammo loads slot into place. “We kill them, we get Justice Wing hunting us down as priority one. The boss wouldn’t like it.”
“Normally, I’d disagree,” Damselfly said from above, her voice modulator both making her voice ‘buzzy’ and acting like a loudspeaker. “But come on, Ollie! Do you think there’s any chance we won’t be Justice Wing’s top priority after this? If anything, taking her down delays them!”
Crosspointe forced themself not to react — not to move. Barricade sounded anxious to crush her into pulp, but that might be adrenalin at work. Damselfly? Had a reason. Still, Bandolier was clearly in charge, and he—
“God damn it,” Bandolier muttered. “Fine!” he shouted.
“Wait a moment,” Lapis cut in. “Li and I aren’t partial to murder!”
“And their little stunt cost us our hostages,” Lazuli purred. “Crosspointe can take their place.”
“Almost anyone else? I’d agree.” Bandolier sounded halfway between regretful and annoyed. “Crosspointe always has a plan B. They always have a holdout or something they set up in advance or God knows what else.” He sighed. “God damn it all. “
“Oh, come on,” Lapis said. God, her voice just grated on Crosspointe — why did she have to be the one trying to keep Crosspointe alive? “Plan A was to jump off a balcony into the middle of a pack of supervillains! Does that sound like they had time for plan B?”
The building PA crackled on. “I don’t know,” a female voice said with more than a little cheer. “As Plan Bs go? I’m pretty good.”
“What the Hell—” Lazuli said, swinging her energy whip back into an attack coil.
“Oh God, no no no no no!” Bandolier said, backing for the wall and rechambering his guns.
There was a burst of light, followed by a light trail arcing through the building, hitting Damselfly right in the power exchange manifold she had between her solar panel vanes. It rebounded off, leaving sizzling plastic and metal in its wake, changing vector instantly as it flashed down to the floor, then through the henches, throwing them in all directions, hitting Barricade and bursting into pure candlepower as it did so, and then darting to Bandolier just in time to resolve into a flesh and blood woman in orange. She hit the ground literally running, blurring at speed to hit Bandolier in the stomach, then around behind, then superkicking him into the reception desk, taking him down, and dropping an elbow on him before bursting back into light and going straight up.
“The Beacon!” Damselfly shouted, managing to correct her flight even as a polychromatic wave flowed over her armor’s surface – some kind of protection? Crosspointe didn’t know.
Not that it mattered as a red and white concussion blast slammed into Damselfly from above, hammering the armored villain down to the floor. A woman in a dark red and grey powersuit with full helmet flew down, following and firing off multiple red/silver pulses from the gauntlet she wore on her left arm. “Aw, don’t I merit an introduction, Damselfly? And after we had so much fun the last time.”
Lapis and Lazuli backed away from the group, moving their energy whips up to be ready to attack. “The Beacon and the Centurion?” Lazuli snapped. “They aren’t beginning to pay us enough to take them–”
“Are you calling me cheap?” Crosspointe shouted, rolling to their feet and firing off one quarrel from each of her railshooters. The twins were each hit in the neck, the powerful sedatives taking effect even as they shrieked and tried to react. Crosspointe ignored them as they ran forward, firing a taser-quarrel at Barricade. “Cent!” Crosspointe shouted. “Knock Barricade into the wall under the balconies!”
Centurion flew down to ground level, speeding along the floor even as she fired another concussion blast, hitting Barricade from behind and throwing him into the wall right where Crosspointe wanted. They loved working with professionals. With a savage yell of glee, they did a forward roll, firing off eight quarrels as they did – four from each railshooter…
Barricade managed to right himself just as the quarrels started hitting above him. “Hah!” he shouted. “I thought you never missed!”
As if on cue, the four quarrels Crosspointe had fired into the third floor balcony’s underside exploded, dropping a large section of balcony down. The four quarrels embedded on the second floor balcony burst a half-second before the collapsing third floor balcony hit, dropping both balconies down on top of Barricade in a clatter of construction debris.
“Huh,” Crosspointe said. “Looked like a hit to me. We’ll have to ask a line judge.”
The Beacon appeared next to Crosspointe with a flash of light. “All right – is this the whole threat? Because I don’t see what their goal was. I mean, conquering a hospital atrium? What’s the point?”
“There are others,” Crosspointe said. “I know at least Adonis-Five and Ms. Mesmer are deeper in the building. They’re here to kidnap someone, but I don’t know who. Bandolier’s happy gang was the rearguard and set a perimeter.”
“Past tense,” the Centurion said, landing next to the pair. Her helmet retracted into her suit, though she wore a mask underneath – for tech reasons, not identity reasons, since the world knew the second Centurion was Sydney Pennington.
“Oh man, Cent. That helmet does not do good things to your hair,” Crosspointe said. “You should – I dunno. Get a haircut.”
“Are you nuts?” Centurion said, running a hand over her hair, pushing it back into proper shape. “It took more than a year for the loc to really set. You think I’m gonna wreck it now?”
“If there are others and this was a perimeter, then we’re probably not alone,” Beacon said.
“There were at least three henches at the top of the fire stairs, seven floors up,” Crosspointe said. They flipped up the display from the high-eye she’d set before. “They’re–”
Crosspointe paused. “They’re… still standing there. Guarding the door. They don’t even look tense. But they had to hear…” they paused. “They’re illusions. Full spectrum, even infrared, but illusions.”
“Then who–” Centurion started to ask.
A figure in red leather slammed into the floor behind them, her impact creating a musical thrum like a thousand pianos all playing the same chord at once. The floor and even the air near it seemed to buckle and flow like a wave, lifting and hurling the three heroes down. Even as she rolled, the Beacon was suddenly caught in a red cocoon of power that wrapped tight, screaming in pain even as she tried and failed to energize into her light form.
The Centurion managed to roll up into the air, her helmet redeploying even as red and silver energies reinforced her powersuit. She fired three pulses at their new attacker, whose hands blurred as she slammed the pulses off to the sides, leaving her unhurt. Her red leather bodysuit was low cut enough to show an ancient metal artifact lodged in her chest, burning with a red fire along what looked like cracks in her skin – cracks that looked more at home in stone, but then that made sense. She was beautiful, brunette, and heartbreakingly familiar.
“Amulet,” the Centurion said in a half-whisper. “Dissy, what are you doing?”
“My job, Cent,” Amulet said, throwing herself up so fast she was a blur, slamming into the Centurion’s stomach hard enough to break her energy matrix and double her over.
Once, Amulet, Crosspointe, Centurion and the Beacon had all been what the press called Junior Justice Wingers. Back then, Crosspointe went by Quiver, the Beacon by Splitsecond, and the Centurion by Conduit. Crosspointe had never been closer to anyone in their life. Amulet had been part of that.
But times change.
Centurion hit the ground hard, and Amulet landed on top of her, slamming her with her incredible strength. She threw herself back, magical force wrapping around her arms and locking around Centurion before she could recover.
Crosspointe fired off three quarrels – one diamond tipped, one explosive, one acid. The diamond tipped quarrel just bounced off, and the explosive went off without any noticeable effect. The acid managed to burn a hole in the leather, that was something at least.
Amulet spun and blurred forward, slamming a hand around Crosspointe’s neck hard enough that Crosspointe could feel the armored neck brace they wore cracking and bending. Amulet scooped up and lifted Crosspointe high up into the air by that neck.
“–s’not my fault you buy cheap clothes,” Crosspointe managed to croak out.
“Quite,” Amulet said. “Vee?”
“I hope you realize… I continue to hold you in the highest esteem.” Amulet looked somber.
“…yeah well you’re also holding me in a choke-hold so–”
“That’s a sign of respect,” Amulet said. “Really.” And she threw Crosspointe straight into one of the atrium’s supporting columns, which cracked with the impact even as Crosspointe’s world went dark.