“-you conscious yet?”
I groaned and forced my eyes open. Ugh. Why do I taste… cherries?
Dr. Mind’s right hand hovered over my face, snapping occasionally as he scribbled notes into a tablet with his left. His hands and arms had splotches of darkness across them. Did he carry me?
“Whas happen?” I mumbled, prompting Dr. Mind to look up from his tablet.
*Click* Dr. Mind snapped his fingers again.
“Stop that,” I said, enunciating carefully through a thick tongue. “What happened?”
“Oh, you’re awake.” Dr. Mind pulled his hand back. “Sorry, it’s hard to tell with you.”
I sat up with my power, snapping upright in an instant. I immediately regretted it as my head started to swim.
“Easy,” Dr. Mind cautioned. “It’s going to be another couple of minutes until your system’s clear.”
“Clear of what?” I asked as I laid back down gently, head pounding. I had what looked like a larger, industrial-strength version of Dr. Mind’s blood scrubber clamped around my arm.
“Good to hear you don’t know. The alternative is that you pumped yourself full of a massive amount of semi-legal combat Chems deliberately.”
“Combat Chems? How…” I trailed off as it dawned on me. A suit of armor and a sample of their combat Chems- that was the job description. The Chems were in the armor- that’s why they wanted it, even though they couldn’t use it. They want to replicate Temple Sun’s combat Chems. “Oh,” I said out loud. I hadn’t even noticed any effects.
“What happened to you was probably the result of coming off the Chems without the proper detox procedure or the Temple Sun training regimen to get the residual chemicals out of your system,” Dr. Mind explained. “You would have experienced a racing pulse, increased aggression, and eventually unconsciousness as your brain started to swell.”
That sounds at least partially right. I remained silent.
Dr. Mind continued, “Within two hours, had I not been available, you would have either recovered and sustained serious brain and liver damage, or gone comatose and eventually died. In other words, you’re welcome.” He said this without sarcasm, simply stating the facts.
Okay, not going to be getting into strange armor in the future without reading the manual first. I wonder if Mafic and Felsic knew that would happen. If they did I’ll… Good God my head hurts.
“Thanks,” I said with a chuckle. “Jamisson, I need to make a report,” I called up to the ceiling.
“Here,” Jamisson replied. Intercoms are weird. Must be activated by his name or something.
“I have Charity marked. I can break her out her any time, but she’s guarded, and dosed with Denudine.”
“I might be able to help with that,” Dr. Mind interjected. “Neuraplast can reverse the effect- it repairs the synapses blocked by the Denudine.”
“That’s a good idea, Mind, but I think it would be better to avoid open combat. You’ll be in their territory, and they captured her once.”
Dr. Mind rushed off to another part of the infirmary to prepare the Neuraplast.
“We need to get Charity so she can testify at the trial on Sunday if she does know something, so tomorrow, or later today, I suppose, is the only option. We’ll mount an assault on their base so you can get Charity out while they’re distracted. We can fight them on both fronts, get them surrounded, give you a better chance of getting out. For now, get some sleep. It’s late and I’m too tired to organize anything today.”
Dr. Mind said, “And you need to flush the rest of the Chems out of your system. I filtered most of them out, but you’re going to need to drink a lot of fluids and sleep it off.” Dr. Mind strode back over to me and released my arm from the blood-scrubber.
“You could barely sit up earlier,” Dr. Mind interrupted me, predicting my protestation. “You’ll be better now, but you’re still in no shape to do anything more tonight. Go home.”
I checked the mark I’d left on Charity- still there. I had been worried it would fade if I was unconscious, but it looked like it wouldn’t fade until I banished it. I acquiesced. “Fine. I’ll be back here tomorrow.”
I sat up again, more cautiously this time.
“That thing works fast,” I remarked, impressed. The headache persisted, but I had none of the original nausea.
“I should hope so. The first run is going out to clinical trials this month, and they should be in hospitals early next year, luck willing,” Dr. Mind said proudly. “I’m already working on a version that could work as a permanent fix for diabetics.”
“Woah,” I said appreciatively. “That would be big.” My grandfather -on my mom’s side, not the supervillain one- had been diabetic.
“That’s the hope.”
I stood up from the cot and for the first time noticed that the cot was covered in shadow which flowed down the cot legs and pooled on the floor. It started to fade when I stepped away from it, and in a few seconds had vanished completely. On the floor coiled the rope I’d grabbed at the warehouse. I thought I’d lost that.
I left the Wardens’ building and banished my disguising darkness. It was a relief to be impermeable again. I shivered. Winter is not going to be fun.
I made it back to campus and climbed the stairs up to our dorm room. I opened the door quietly and slipped in.
“Where where you?” Sean mumbled.
“Party,” I replied, to tired to come up with a better excuse.
“I hadn’t heard of anything,” Sean accused, sleepily.
“Not that kind of party,” I said as I changed.
“Ok.” Sean said and rolled over.
I flopped into bed. How am I supposed to…
I woke up abruptly, sun illuminating the room through the blinds. I looked around the room to find Sean gone already. I checked my marks. Dr. Mind and Jamisson were in the Wardens’ building, and Charity was in about the same place she’d been in before. I could feel conversation through the marks on Dr. Mind and Jamisson.
I threw on my body armor and cast my shadow across myself, getting into character. On a whim, I grabbed the rope and looped it around my shoulder. I reached through the shadow and appeared beside Jamisson. I seemed to be in the console room, where it looked like Jamisson was briefing Guardian Angel.
“I- ah!” Guardian Angel jumped back and curled his wings in front of him.
“What?” Jamisson asked, alarmed.
“Hey,” I said. “Behind you.”
Jamisson glanced over his shoulder at me then looked back at Guardian Angel.
“You may have to get used to that,” he said wryly. “Shadow, Dr. Mind has something for you.”
“I’ll be back shortly, then,” I said, and jumped to Dr. Mind.
Dr. Mind glanced up from his workbench.
“Ah, Shadow,” he said. “I’ve been studying this substance you produce.” He moved out of the way so I could see what he was looking at. A black blob scurried around inside a glass cage. I could feel it moving, I realized, now that I was aware of it. “It seems to spread almost indefinitely over living things.” Dr. Mind gestured to the glass case. “I coated a rat and it seems to have no ill effects.” I leaned over the cage. A rat? That’s what it is?
I teleported the rat to my hand like I did with the lockpicks. It squeaked, but I muffled the sound reflexively. “Huh,” I said, and let the rat go. It scurried away, but I teleported it back. “Neat.” I dropped the rat back into the cage and tried to do the same to Dr. Mind, with no success. Not enough coverage.
Dr. Mind coughed politely to get my attention. “I don’t suppose you would be willing to get it off my hands?” He asked. “My nose itches, and I don’t want to touch my face.”
“Oh, sorry,” I apologized and let the darkness spattered across Dr. Mind’s arms from the night before fade.
“Thanks,” he said, relieved. “Oh, and before you leave,” he strode over to another desk, picked something up, and handed it to me. It was a sleek grey tube with air intakes around one end and a tight nozzle on the other end. “A jet injector for Neuraplast delivery. Straight to the temple, press the button here. It has two doses, just in case.”
“That it?” I asked, turning the injector in my hands.
At Dr. Mind’s confirmation, I teleported back up to Jamisson.
“-ready to retreat quickly once Charity’s out.”
“I’m back,” I told Jamisson.
“Good, you ready?”
“Jeez, first we had the thing at Davis Academy, now this?”
“Jet, focus. Keep comms clear unless it’s important.”
I paced around the conference room table nervously, spinning the jet injector in one hand.
“Hey, what was up with Lilith, anyway?” Dame Danger asked.
Lilith? What did I miss?
“I’ll tell you about that later,” said Adam. “Old face from my past.”
“Oh man, I just made the connection!” Kismet burst in. “Adam and Lilith, isn’t that a Jewish thing? Is there an Eve somewhere? Oh shit, I’m sorry- I didn’t know.”
“We’re at the location.” Said Guardian Angel over the comms. “Shadow, you ready to go?”
“As I’ll ever be,” I subvocalized. I felt a flutter of nervousness. It was the anticipation that always got to me. Once in the field, I’ll be fine.
Sigil? Oh right. Emily.
“All good here. You want a clean hole, or maximum collateral damage?”
“Go for the collateral,” Guardian Angel instructed. “We want to draw their attention. Shadow, get in there. Give us a signal when you’re ready. Go!”
I reached out to Charity mentally and rushed through the darkness, collapsing into my shadow and emerging beside Charity.
“Charity,” I spoke quietly.
“Oh, you’re back,” she spat, venom in her voice undisguised.
“First off, I’m really sorry for earlier,” I started, genuinely apologetic. She snorted sarcastically. “I am. And I really am here to help this time.”
“Stay the fuck away from me,” she swore.
“We, uh, we might have a problem,” came Sigil’s voice over my comm. “Look.”
“Crap, Is that Dark Archon?”
Gotta hurry this up.
I spoke to Charity. “Okay, but I’m on a timetable so, uh, don’t kill me, okay?”
I teleported to her and placed the injector to her temple in one step. Before she could jerk away, I hit the trigger and with a hiss it discharged a dose of Neuraplast through her skin. Charity head-butted the injector out of my hands to clatter on the floor.
“What did you do? What was that?” she demanded.
“Hey quiet,” I hissed. “We don’t want any attention yet?”
“What was- ohh,” she started again, and stopped, letting out a throaty sigh. “That’s better.”
I backed off, not eager to be close to Charity. Wow, that stuff works fast.
The temperature in the room dropped a few degrees suddenly and Charity’s shackles cracked sharply. She stood, chains falling away, and rubbed the blood back into her hands. She rounded on me, eyes narrowed suspiciously behind her white mask.
“Why did you do that?” she demanded.
“Believe it or not, I really am here to help you,” I said in a hushed voice. “I have a team outside that’ll pull the Blackwell muscle away from us. I can-”
A *Crash!* interrupted me, followed by shouts.
“That your team?” Charity asked.
“No. I haven’t given them the signal yet,” I said to her.
“What just happened?” I asked over the comms.
“Dark Archon just attacked,” came back Guardian Angel’s voice.
I swore under my breath, then realized the subvocalizer would probably pick that up. “Can you hold him off?” I asked.
“No, he attacked them.”
“We’re ready here,” I said over the comms. To Charity I said, “Looks like our schedule’s been moved up.”
There was another crash that marked Emily blasting a hole in the wall, and the sounds of battle commenced.
“We’ve got Mafic, Seep, and Felsic out here,” Guardian Angel informed me. “Look out for Myriad and the tinkers.”
“Okay, we may run into Myriad, Lumen, and Opiate,” I repeated for Charity. “You ready?”
“Take out Seep! We can’t let him build up of full power,” I heard Guardian Angel command. I muted the comms. I didn’t need the distraction right now.
“Out of the way,” Charity said.
“Out of the way,” she commanded again.
I stepped away from the door. Charity advanced, on the door, draining heat from the room.
“Hey, I don’t want hypothermia here,” I commented, but she ignored me.
When she reached the door, she placed her hands to it, palms flat, and pushed. The metal coating the door groaned, and condensation started to form on the rapidly cooling metal.
“Hey, what’s going on?” came a voice from outside. “Shit, did we miss a dose?”
The door gave one last protest before giving way under Charity’s strength and tore out of its hinges to land heavily on the carpet of the hall. The pair of guards opened fire with what looked like some kind of assault rifle, the sound of gunfire deafening in the enclosed room. I dove for cover, but stopped as I realized I didn’t need to. Bullets dropped to the floor in front of Charity as she drained them of kinetic energy. Man, that’s useful.
One of them realized how useless the assault rifle was and drew a smaller weapon- some kind of energy weapon, at a guess. He never got to use it. Charity dashed across the hall in a burst of sudden speed and smacked the weapon out of his hands, then dislocated his arm with a brutally effective arm bar. The guard screamed in pain as she twisted around the guard to get behind him and kicked him into the second guard. As the two guards went down in a tangle of limbs, Charity kicked the dropped energy pistol up into her hand and fired it at the second guard, who grunted in pain and surprise.
“You coming?” she asked me, not looking back.
“Right behind you,” I said and followed her out, watching for air currents that might betray an ambush.
“Good. I don’t trust you not to walk me into a trap, so I lead, okay?”
“Sure,” I said. Why not?
The sounds of battle continued outside. The distraction seemed to have worked- there weren’t many people here, and those we ran into, Charity dispatched easily. I unmuted the comms as we snuck through the halls.
“-look out!” came Kismet’s voice from the comms immediately.
“Yeah, got it,” said Sigil. “These crystals shatter nicely.”
“How are you holding up?” I asked them.
“Pretty well, actually,” replied Guardian Angel. “Adam and Dark Archon are punching it out with Mafic, Plateau and Sigil are keeping Felsic boxed in, mostly. I’m trying to find Seep and handling the goons with Kismet. Bastard’s hiding somewhere around here.”
“Good. We’re on our-.”
A flash of light interrupted me and my body seized like a full-body cramp. The Cocatrice. I had to use my power to stop myself from falling, and in front on me, Charity stumbled, and recovered. She glanced around stiffly, looking for the source of the attack. How can she still move? I wondered. My teeth started to ache again as my jaw clenched.
“Hi!” called a voice. “I don’t think I can let you go quite yet.” I searched for the source of the voice, and failed to find it.
Myriad stepped out from the doorway that had hidden her. Oh crap. She smiled, cocking her elfin head.