Ribbon 2: All Knotted Up
A Whateley Academy Tale
Ribbon 2: All Knotted Up
Whateley Academy, Wednesday afternoon, Nov 21st, 2007
“Not bad,” I said as I stood back with my arms crossed in front of me. My hands were dirty from working on my new engine, but I didn’t care about getting my clothes dirty. There was a reason I was wearing my usual shop jumpsuit. “Not bad at all.”
I looked over my project car, which I’d been working on for the last couple weeks. It was an old-school Volkswagen Beetle, which hadn’t worked in years. There was a good reason that I got the car for almost nothing. The previous owner had been sick and tired of it sitting in his driveway and gathering rust.
As a former mechanic… Hell, as the best damn mechanic in Pittsburgh, I’d brought more than a few cars back from death and got them on the road again, and it wouldn’t be too difficult to do the same to this one. It would take a bit of time, sweat, and hard work…not to mention the cash for replacement parts, but it wouldn’t be difficult. However, unlike every other project car I’d ever had, I didn’t plan to simply fix it up. I had something…special…planned for this one.
Maybe it was because I was surrounded with gadgeteers, devisors, and kids who were designing high tech cars from the ground up, but I was feeling a bit ambitious. For once in my life, I wanted to do something custom, which meant replacing the engine with something a bit non-standard, not to mention, everything else.
While I was looking over my car, I almost missed the woman walking up behind me. “Looking good,” Donna said, nearly making me jump in surprise.
“Thanks,” I responded, glancing to the engine that was sitting beside the car. “I’m almost finished putting this thing together, but I won’t be able to put it in until I finish the frame.”
“I can’t wait to see that,” Donna said with an eager smile.
I chuckled at that, absently reaching into my pocket for a cigar, even though I didn’t have any in my work outfit. That just made me mutter a silent profanity or two, which probably would have come out if there hadn’t been a lady present. Not that Donna hadn’t shown herself perfectly fluent in the use of profanity herself, but that wasn’t the point.
“You know,” Donna told me. “You’d be a great mechanic if you wanted to make a living at it.”
That made me chuckle again because she had no idea that I had made a living as a mechanic, for over three decades. However, that life was over and I had a new one now.
“I like working on cars,” I admitted with a wry smile. “But this is just a hobby anymore. I have other plans for a career.”
Donna waited a couple seconds for me to explain further, and when I didn’t, she asked, “So, do you think you’ll finish this up over the weekend?”
“Tomorrow is Thanksgiving,” I reminded Donna. “I’m gonna be home with my family.”
“Of course,” Donna responded with a smile that seemed a little forced. Though I didn’t know the details, I knew that she’d lost her family and would be staying at the school over the holiday. I felt bad for her. “Since you were here working, I’d just assumed you were staying on campus.”
“Naw,” I responded with a shake of my head. “I was just about to go get cleaned up and changed, because I’ve got less than an hour before my ride gets here.”
“Have a good weekend then,” Donna told me. “And happy Thanksgiving.”
“You too,” I told her, giving a polite nod before leaving.
It didn’t take long for me to get back to Poe, which was a little on the empty side since I wasn’t the only one going home for the weekend. However, not everyone was leaving.
“Hey, Gwen,” I said, greeting the green-haired elf-girl as I passed her in the hallway.
Gwen nodded in acknowledgement, then gave me a curious look. “I thought you were going home for Thanksgiving.”
“I am,” I responded. “My ride will be here in just a bit.”
“My folks don’t want to spring for a plane ticket when I only got here last month,” Gwen told me with a look of annoyance. One of the little green faeries that always followed her around, landed on her shoulder and sat there with her arms crossed, nearly making me chuckle. “Oh well. More time for me to study.”
I snorted at that. “Why do I doubt that?”
“Because you’re not as naive as you look,” Gwen pointed out with a grin. “Actually, I’ll probably practice a couple spells, but since Dana is sticking around too, we’ll probably do our own thing for Thanksgiving.”
“Well, good luck with that,” I told her before I continued to my room.
Twenty minutes later, I finished my shower and got dressed again. Thanks to my powers, getting dressed was as easy as snapping my fingers…literally. With little more than a thought, I manifested a new dress, based off one of my standard designs. It was dark purple and a bit frilly, and once I’d put in my cute skull hair clip, I was almost ready to go.
“Too bad I can’t manifest shoes too,” I muttered. I could do silk slippers, but there wasn’t much I could do about a proper sole. “And of course, my jewelry.”
With that, I reached for the pair of black metal bracelets that were sitting on my dresser. Each one weighed about thirty pounds, not that I really noticed the weight anymore since I was an exemplar. I slipped one onto each of my wrists, finishing off my usual look.
Once I was ready, I grabbed my backpack, which contained everything I’d need for the next couple days. Most people would be surprised at the fact that I was going on a trip, but not bringing a single piece of extra clothing. With my abilities, that would just be a waste of space. Instead, I had my school laptop, a couple cigars, and a bottle of Shine’s finest, not to mention a couple small presents for my granddaughters.
I slung my backpack over my shoulder and made my way out of the cottage, pausing just long enough to wave to Dana and Gwen, who were standing around and chatting in the hallway. When I passed Horton’s office, I made a point of stopping to talk with her for a minute.
“I’m taking off,” I told Horton. “I’ll be back Sunday.”
“Have a happy Thanksgiving, Alyss,” she responded. “I’ll see you Sunday.”
After this, I went out front and checked my mental clock. It was always counting down in my head, and so far, it seemed to be extremely accurate. That saved me from having to carry a watch everywhere.
“Ten, nine, eight,” I started counting down, continuing this until I reached, “Three, two, one.”
As soon as I finished the countdown, I held my hand out…and nothing happened. I scowled in annoyance and checked my mental clock again.
“He’s late,” I announced.
In spite of doing the dramatic countdown, I still had to wait for another twenty seconds before the portal finally appeared in the air. A familiar figure immediately stepped out of it.
“Rich,” I exclaimed, greeting my son with a grin.
I hurried over and gave him a hug, which was something I’d never really done in my old life. Back when I’d been ‘Big Al’, I’d never been all that touchy-feely, but now that I was a girl, everyone else seemed a lot more eager to hug me, and I found myself less self-conscious about doing it too.
“We’d better hurry,” Rich told me. “Kaylie and Kimberly are impatient to see you, not that Kaylie would admit it.”
“Not at that age,” I responded with a chuckle, remembering that all three of my kids had been about the same. Kaylie had just turned thirteen, which was around the age that all kids started pushing for their independence.
Rich and I stepped through the portal, and a moment later, I was far away from Whateley Academy. I glanced around, immediately recognizing the back yard that I found myself in, not to mention the familiar faces that were all staring at me.
“ALYSS,” Melanie exclaimed, rushing over and giving me a hug.
Before Melanie could even let go, my granddaughter Kimberly practically threw herself at me, grabbing both me and her mother into a tight hug. I chuckled at that, grinning as I did so.
“Hey, how are you doing, kiddo?” I asked.
“Good,” Kimberly responded with a broad grin before leaping back and spinning around. “I got a new dress…”
“And it’s very pretty,” I assured her, which made her grin even more. Then I turned my attention to Kaylie, who was standing back. “And how are you doing?”
“All right,” Kaylie answered in a distant tone. But in spite of that, she smiled at me, then cautiously came over to give me a quick hug.
“It’s nice to be home,” I said, looking around and smiling up at my daughter. Then I turned my attention back to my granddaughters. “Now, why don’t we go inside and you can tell me all about how things have been for you.”
Pittsburgh PA, Wednesday late afternoon, Nov 21st, 2007
People say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and while I don’t know who those people are, they’re damn wrong. Dinner is the most important meal, and not just because it’s the biggest and most filling. Dinner was when the family sat around the table and ate together, sharing details about their daily lives and building the bonds that really made them into a family. Or at least, they should.
There had been a time in my life when I hadn’t understood just how important dinner was, but with age and experience, I’d learned. Now, I appreciated a good family dinner, especially after spending so much time away from the family.
“Good chicken,” I told Melanie. The lemon pepper flavors were pretty noticeable but weren’t too strong.
“Yeah,” Kimberly agreed cheerfully while flashing me a grin. “Yummy dinner…”
Mark nodded in agreement, though his mouth was too fully to answer. Still, he gave my daughter a thumbs-up to show his own appreciation.
“These mashed potatoes are pretty good too,” Rich said, looking at me. “I’m still surprised you know how to cook now.”
I felt a little self-conscious about that. Cooking wasn’t exactly in my wheelhouse, but I was happy for the compliment.
“My friend Amy is really into cooking,” I explained with a shrug. “I hang around with her enough that I can’t help but picking up a few things…”
“Are these onions?” Kalyie asked, poking at a small piece in the otherwise smooth and creamy potatoes.
“Shallots,” I answered. At her blank look, I gave her the same explanation that Amy had given me when I’d watched her make the same thing. “Sort of a cross between onion and garlic.”
Kaylie had a skeptical look on her face but she continued to eat and didn’t complain. As far as I was concerned, that was a win.
“Mom would have been proud,” Melanie told me.
“She would have been shocked,” I responded with a snort.
Rich just burst out laughing. “That would be an understatement. I remember when I was a kid and you were going to make us boxed mac and cheese…and ended up burning the water.”
Everyone began laughing at that, not that I could blame them. I had been pretty bad in the kitchen, though give me a grill or smoker to work with, and I could hold my own.
“What can I say?” I said with a shrug. “Sometimes old dogs actually can learn new tricks.”
“Well, now you can help me fix dinner tomorrow,” Melanie told me. That made me wince a little as Thanksgiving dinner was probably pushing things a bit. “And you’ll be helping me too, Kaylie…”
“But MOOOOM,” Kaylie protested in a familiar whining tone that reminded me so much of her mother at that age. It brought a smile to my face.
“Can I help too?” Kimberly asked enthusiastically.
“Can someone pass the salt?” Kaylie abruptly asked. Then before anyone could respond, she added, “Never mind. I’ll get it myself…”
With that, a green a glowing green mist began to pour out of Kaylie’s skin and spread out so that a few seconds later, the table almost seemed to be surrounded with a green fog. My oldest granddaughter had a look of concentration on her face as she used her recently manifested powers.
“I told you not to do this at the dinner table,” Mark warned her with a stern expression.
Some of the glowing mist concentrated around the salt shaker, which floated up into the air and then across the table to Kaylie’s hand. After this, the mist began to thin out and fade away.
“But DAAAAAD,” she whined, bringing another smile to my face.
“So, you’re learning to control your powers,” I said, not sure if I should be proud of Kaylie or worried.
I still had a lot of bad memories of when Rachael had first manifested and had been learning to use her powers. And though Kaylie didn’t seem to have Diedricks or any other issues with her powers, I was still concerned. After all, I’ve seen the kinds of complications that could come with powers, and I saw them on a daily basis.
Instead of sharing my worries, I said, “So, it looks like you’ve got some kind of telekinesis along with that gas thing…”
“Yeah,” Kaylie answered proudly. Obviously, she’d done that whole thing a few seconds ago just to show off for me. “Those guys at the test center aren’t sure if I’m a manifestor…or if it’s some kind of PK thingee…”
“They think the gas is probably a PK manifestation,” Rich explained, “but they aren’t sure. Either way, it seems to act as a conductor for her telekinesis. She can only use it inside the fog.”
“I’m still not even sure what that all means,” Mark admitted with a shake of his head.
“Yeah, I know what you mean,” I told him with a sympathetic nod. “I was totally lost when Rachael first manifested, and I’m still learning a lot of that crap.” I glanced to my granddaughters and quickly added, “Pardon my French.”
“Can I be a mutant too?” Kimberly asked. “I want powers too…”
“Maybe when you’re older,” Melanie told her with a forced smile. I could see the worry in her eyes, because like me, she’d seen what could go wrong with mutant powers. She’d seen what had happened to Rachael every bit as much as I had.
“You know,” I abruptly announced. “While I’m here for the weekend, I was thinking of stopping off and seeing Rachael.”
Everyone went silent at that, at least for a couple seconds. Obviously, I wasn’t the only one who’d noted Rachael’s absence at the dinner table, an absence that would only be even more noticeable tomorrow. We might not be able to have her with us for Thanksgiving dinner, but at least I’d be able to see her…even if I had to visit her in prison.
“I…,” Melanie started. “That’s a good idea. I want to go visit her too…”
That brought a faint smile to my lips, though it was a sad one. My youngest daughter was a supervillain, but she was still my baby girl and I wanted her to know that we were still thinking about her, especially on a family holiday like Thanksgiving.
Pittsburgh PA, Thursday morning, Nov 22nd, 2007
Thanksgiving was a celebration of family and tradition, and this morning was full of both.
We started off with a nice pancake breakfast, a family tradition that Megan had started back when Melanie and Rachael had been little girls, and which Melanie had continued with her own family. Then we all sat around and watched the big parade on TV, commenting on all the balloons and floats.
Now, Melanie was in the kitchen, starting preparations for dinner while the girls helped her, even if Kaylie did so a little reluctantly. Before long, the football games would start, then Rich would show up late and pretend to be interested in the game while we waited for dinner to be ready.
Everything was so normal that I almost could have forgotten that I was now a ten year old girl, and that my eldest granddaughter had manifested as a mutant too. In fact, the only thing that kept this day from being perfect was the absence of Rachael. She should have been here too.
“Do you know if Rich is bringing Min?” I asked, referring to my son’s girlfriend.
“Who knows,” Mark responded with a shrug.
“Rich said that she’ll probably come with,” Melanie called out from the kitchen, having heard my question.
“I like Min,” Kimberly announced excitedly coming out of the kitchen. “Do you think she’ll show me her powers again?”
“Maybe if you pester her enough,” I suggested with a chuckle, thinking that this could be amusing.
“Don’t encourage her,” Melanie told me, though she was smiling as she said it.
“What else am I going to do for entertainment?” I asked with another chuckle. “You won’t let me drink in front of the girls, so I have to amuse myself somehow…”
Melanie stood there with her hands on her hips, glaring at me with the same expression her mother used to use. I absently wondered if I’d be able to learn that expression myself since I was stuck as a girl now.
“Well,” Melanie finally responded. “Why don’t you play dress-up with Kimberly and show her all the new dresses you can make.”
Mark burst out laughing at that, so I gave him a glare, which only made him laugh harder. I might have argued, but Kimberly was already getting excited by the idea, and there was no way that I was going to disappoint her.
I watched Kimberly bouncing in place, smiling as I did so. “You know,” I commented, “I just might have to introduce you to my friend Melissa someday. The two of you can wear each other out.”
“Who’s Melissa?” Melanie asked curiously.
“A classmate,” I answered with a shrug. “And we’re on the same training team now. She’s called Mischief…for good reason.”
“Why do I have the feeling that there’s a good story there?” Mark asked.
“There are a lot of characters at Whateley,” I stated with smile and a shake of my head. “Including everyone on my training team. There’s a reason we’re called Shenanigans.”
Kaylie snickered at that. “They sound like fun.”
“With a name like that,” Melanie commented, “they must be…interesting.”
“Interesting,” I repeated, nodding in agreement. “That’s one way of putting it.”
After this, I began making new outfits for Kimberly, in spite of the fact that I’d already made her a new dress a short time earlier. Still, it made her happy, and that made me happy.
“How about this one?” I asked my granddaughter, forming a new dress in my hands. This one looked much like the others, but in a lot more colors. The sheer number of different colors…seven of them…was a bit of a challenge because I’d never done that many at one time.
“It’s SO PRETTY!” Kimberly exclaimed in delight.
Just then, the doorbell began to ring. “Get the door,” Mark told Kaylie, who grudgingly did just that. After raising two girls and living through their teenage years, I could already tell that the next few years were going to be a challenge
When the door opened, Kaylie greeted the Asian woman on the other side, “Hey, Min.” She looked around before asking, “Where’s Uncle Rich?”
A moment later, Min Hinaka came into the house, looking a lot grimmer than I would have expected for Thanksgiving. And as Kaylie had noted, there was no sign of my son, which was a little surprising.
“I already called Rich,” Min said with a serious expression. “He’ll be here as soon as he’s able.”
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
From the look on her face, I had no doubt that something was going on, and that it was NOT good. Hell, the day had been going too well so far, so it was about time that something took a nice big crap on it.
“I’m afraid that I’m here on business,” Min announced, looking between me, Mark, and Melanie. “I don’t know how to tell you this, other than to just come right out with it…”
“Rachael,” I stated grimly.
My heart jumped up into my chest at the realization that this had to do with my daughter. The only reason I could think of for Min to show up like this ‘on business’ was because of Rachael.
“Is it Rachael?” Melanie demanded.
Min hesitated a moment before nodding. “There’s been an…incident at the prison. Lady Havoc is missing.”
Pittsburgh PA, Thursday late morning, Nov 22nd, 2007
The Freelancers are the local hero team, though it was probably a stretch to actually call them a team. It would be more accurate to say that they were a loose alliance of heroes who sometimes worked together when things got a little too big for any one of them to handle themselves.
At the moment, I was in the Freelancers’ headquarters, though again, calling it a headquarters might be pushing things. The place was actually more of a clubhouse where the local heroes could meet up, socialize, and make contact with each other.
I scowled as I remembered the last time I’d been there and the reason for that visit. A villain called the Marquis had kidnapped Rich and a lot of other people, and the Freelancers helped to take him down and rescue my son. However, that son of a bitch hadn’t gone down without a fight. One of the heroes was killed while several others had been hurt pretty badly, physically and mentally.
The Freelancers still hadn’t fully recovered, which was one of the reasons that only about half of them had shown up for this. Of course, the other one was the fact that it was Thanksgiving and even heroes want to spend the day with their families.
Min was present, though since she was in costume, she was going by her codename of Mystery Woman. I couldn’t actually see most of her costume since it was obscured by the green cloak she wore, with the hood covering her head and helping to hide her face.
Ceasefire was Min’s brother and sat beside her, though he didn’t look thrilled to be there. Still, he couldn’t turn down his sister’s request for help.
Next was Pinnacle, a tall man who was rippled with heavy muscle. With his looks and physique, he looked every inch the hero in his red and white costume, especially with his red cape hanging behind him. The only thing he was missing was a breeze to make his cape flap in the wind.
It was natural that Pinnacle would be here for this, regardless of the holiday, because he and Rachael had been enemies for a long time. In fact, he probably could have been called her archenemy, though ironically, they’d actually become pretty close since she’d gone to prison.
The last Freelancer present was one I’d never met before, a black woman in gold metallic armor. Her hair was pulled back in tight braids, and in her hand was the golden spear that gave her the codename of Spearhead.
Rich had finished up with his Trin and Macintyre business and had arrived just in time for this meeting. He was sitting right between me and Min…Mystery Woman, looking just as worried as I felt.
“What happened with Rachael?” Rich demanded, beating me to the punch. “You said she’s missing…”
Spearhead gave Rich a suspicious look before turning her attention to Pinnacle. “I’m here because Lady Havoc escaped prison…”
Pinnacle stood up and looked to me and Rich, giving us worried looks before admitting, “I’m not sure that escape is the correct word…”
“What do you mean?” Ceasefire asked.
Instead of answering, Pinnacle went to a TV screen on the wall and turned it on. He’d obviously prepared this ahead of time because a video began to play almost immediately.
“Security footage from the prison,” Pinnacle explained. “Taken early this morning.”
The footage showed a bunch of monsters bursting through a wall and rushing INTO the prison. And though the monsters didn’t seem very big, no more than a few feet tall, there were a Lot of them. Dozens of them.
“Someone launched an assault on the prison where Lady Havoc was being held,” Pinnacle stated, though we could all see that for ourselves.
Then as if the dozens of monsters weren’t enough, three large ones came through the hold in the wall. These ones looked much the same as the others, being vaguely humanoid in shape and appearing to be made of rock or clay, but these ones were also much larger. From the way they towered over a couple terrified guards, I guessed them to be seven or eight feet tall.
I scowled, clenching my fists and staring intently at the screen. It shifted to other cameras, showing these monsters rushing through the prison, obviously having a destination in mind. Then it showed Rachael, dressed in a bright orange clothes, with a metal collar around her neck and a high-tech bracer around her forearm.
“Rachael,” Rich gasped.
“Damn,” I spat out.
“That’s Lady Havoc?” Spearhead asked. “She doesn’t look so tough.”
“Someone broke her out,” Ceasefire added.
However, a moment later, the videos showed the monsters tearing into Rachael’s cell and pulling her out. She fought against them, or at least tried to, but it was no use. One of the big ones picked her up, in spite of her kicking and punching, and carried her away.
“It doesn’t look like she went willingly,” Min pointed out.
“It looks less like a breakout,” Pinnacle agreed, “and more like a kidnapping.”
“WHAT?” Spearhead exclaimed. “Someone kidnapped Lady Havoc?”
“Who the hell would do something like that?” Ceasefire asked.
“Someone kidnapped Rachael,” I said, standing up and absently smoothing my dress. After wearing dresses almost nonstop for the last few months, that had become something of a habit. Still, once I was done, I clenched my fists together so tightly that I could have crushed a pool ball to dust. At that moment, I was absolutely furious, as well as worried out of my mind. NOBODY was going to hurt my little girl. NOBODY! “Someone is going to get their ass kicked.”
Pittsburgh PA, Friday late morning, Nov 23rd, 2007
I stood outside the entrance to a bar, though it sure as hell wasn’t any normal bar. This one was more like a social club for villains, a place where they could hang out, socialize, and conduct business without having to worry about any police or heroes. In fact, it was something like the bad guy version of the Freelancer’s clubhouse, though it seemed to have more regulars.
“Hey, Lenny,” I said, greeting the bouncer.
Lenny was a big guy, tall and bulging with a bit too much muscle for it to be natural. The faint glow in his eyes added further evidence of that, though he was dressed in slacks and a nice shirt, not some spandex costume.
“Baby Havoc,” Lenny responded, giving me a look of annoyance.
I’d met Lenny the last time I’d been here, and he’d been a bit of an ass when it came to letting me in. Of course, I looked like a ten year old girl, so I couldn’t really blame him too much for that.
“Your mom ain’t here,” Lenny continued.
A lot of people seemed to think that Rachael was my mother, and most of the time, that was a bit of a problem since she was a known supervillain. However, when it came to dealing with villains, or even bouncers at a villain bar, that could work in my favor.
“I’d be surprised if she was,” I responded. “But I was kind of hoping someone here would know where I could find her…”
“Did you try prison?” one of the nearby patrons asked with a snicker.
I glanced past Lenny and into the bar, then announced, “Someone broke her out yesterday morning…and she didn’t go with them willingly.”
Lenny looked a bit surprised at that, though he quickly covered it up. After a moment of hesitation, he gestured for me to go on in. “Feel free to ask around, but make it quick.”
“Thanks,” I said, going inside.
The place looked the same as the last time I was there, though I was disappointed to see that Jack Hammer wasn’t around this time. I was on pretty good terms with him and had been kind of hoping that he was hanging around again. In fact, the only familiar faces were Lenny’s, and a waitress with red hair and glowing blue lightning tattoos on her arms. Other than them, there were only a few patrons and the place was fairly empty, which should have been no surprise for this time of day. However, there were still a few people who apparently liked to drink before noon, though they could also be there to conduct a little business.
“Does anyone here know where I can find Lady Havoc?” I asked loudly. “Or who took her?”
One man who sat alone at a table with a whole pitcher of beer in his hand, snorted loudly. I turned my attention to him, noting his size and muscles, and deciding that he was probably a brick.
“There ain’t no snitches here, girlie,” he said with a sneer.
The waitress smacked him in the back of the head. “Watch it, Earl. That there is Havoc’s daughter, and she’s just looking for her mom.”
That wasn’t exactly true, but it was close enough that I didn’t bother correcting her, especially since it made her more likely to help me. I just gave ‘Earl’ my best innocent look. I wasn’t sure how well I pulled it off, but he grunted and took a long drink of his beer, now pretending that he didn’t notice me.
“I heard about the breakout,” a quiet voice hissed from the back corner.
The speaker seemed to be a slender man, though it was hard to make out any details since he was wearing a dark green cloak that hid his entire body, along with a hood that covered his face with shadows. However, when he looked at me, his eyes glowed green.
“Golems were used,” the cloaked man said. “There are few in this area that are capable of creating such things, and only one that I know of who has an interest in Lady Havoc…”
“Yeah?” I asked eagerly. “Who’s that?”
For several seconds, the cloaked figure just stared at me with his glowing green eyes, before finally stating, “Rumpelstiltskin.”
“Rumpelstiltskin,” I repeated with a scowl, not sure whether that was actually someone’s name, or if this guy was just fucking with me. When codenames were concerned, you never knew for sure. Hell, I lived down the hall from a girl named Cinderella.
“Oh yeah,” one of the other customers said. This was an Asian woman in a skimpy black and white outfit which could have been a supervillain costume…or a bathing suit. “Rumpel and Havoc have been feuding for years, and this definitely sounds like something he’d do…”
“A thousand bucks says that he kills Havoc this time,” Earl exclaimed.
“And I have fifteen hundred that Lady Havoc finally kills him,” another customer added.
Seconds later, nearly everyone in the bar was calling out their wagers and placing their bets. I looked around then shook my head. While I would have liked to put my own bet on, on Rachael’s side of course, I didn’t have that kind of cash on me, nor did I want to get distracted.
“Does anyone know where I can find this Rumpelstiltskin guy?” I asked loudly, though nobody seemed to be paying me much attention, other than the scantily dressed woman who shook her head ‘no’.
I had a feeling that the cloaked guy could have told me, but he remained silent and didn’t volunteer any further information. I scowled in annoyance, but reminded myself that I was a lot better off than I’d been when I came in.
“Thank you for the help,” I told the cloaked man. “And what should I call you?”
“I am…the Curse Master,” he answered in a quiet but dramatic tone. “If you do find your mother, let her know that I would be happy to curse Rumpelstiltskin or any of her other enemies…for a fee.”
“I’ll let her know,” I told him before I turned and left the bar, giving a polite nod to Lenny on the way out.
I hadn’t walked more than half a block before a figure in red suddenly dropped form the sky and landed beside me. “Did you learn anything?” Pinnacle asked me.
“Rumpelstiltskin,” I answered in a grim tone. “They said it was probably a guy named Rumpelstiltskin.”
“I’ve heard of him,” Pinnacle admitted with a thoughtful expression. “But I’ve never actually encountered him. However, the Occultist has mentioned Rumpelstiltskin several times, so those two have a history…”
With a nod, I continued, “All I got was the name, and that he is some kind of magic user.”
“We knew it was magic from the security footage,” Pinnacle responded with a scowl. “Those things that went after Rachael definitely looked more magical than devisor…”
“Then, how about we go have a talk with the Occultist?” I suggested in annoyance.
This whole thing would have been a whole lot simpler of he’d actually bothered to show up at the Freelancer’s headquarters for that meeting yesterday. Hell, he probably would have recognized Rumpelstiltskin’s handiwork right away, or at least, he might have realized this guy was our likely suspect.
“I wish we could,” Pinnacle told me with a frustrated shake of his head. “He’s been on sabbatical for the last couple weeks…or a least, he’s been off on some kind of personal quest, which he does every year around this time. I’ve tried calling him, but there’s been no answer.”
I grunted at that, then absently formed a two-foot length of ribbon which I began to absently play with. It was a good way to keep my hands busy when I couldn’t have a beer or a stogie. Needless to say, I did this all the time during my classes.
“Maybe Rich will find something,” I said hopefully.
Rich worked for a company that did a whole lot of things for some very rich people, including detective work, and he was going to ask his boss if there was any way they would help locate Rachael. However, just because he worked for them as a courier, there was no guarantee that they’d help without a hefty payment, or that they’d be able to find anything in time.
“I’m gonna go home and check on the family,” I told Pinnacle. “Mel and the girls are pretty worried about Rachael.”
“I’d imagine,” Pinnacle said in what was probably supposed to be an even tone, but which betrayed his own concerns. Pinnacle was worried about Rachael too, and not just as a villain who’d ‘escaped’ prison. This hero had actually come to care for my daughter as a person.
“You know,” I commented with a forced chuckle. “If circumstances were different…”
Pinnacle gave me a curious look, waiting for me to continue. I paused for a moment, realizing that I couldn’t really finish with that thought. If things had been different, I’d invite him over for a beer, then make a show of polishing my shotgun as I asked him his intentions towards my daughter. I’d done something similar to that with Mark when he’d first begun dating Melanie. Somehow though, I didn’t think it would have quite the same impact on a superhero, especially with the way I looked now.
“Nevermind,” I grumbled. Then I looked up at Pinnacle and gave him what I hoped was a reassuring smile. “We’ll find her, then heaven help the poor bastard that took my little girl…”
Pinnacle smiled back, though it was just as forced as my own smile. “Yeah,” he agreed. “We’ll find Rachael, and whomever took her, whether it was Rumpelstiltskin or someone else… Well, I think we’ll both have a nice long talk with them.”
Pittsburgh PA, Friday afternoon, Nov 23rd, 2007
“Is Aunt Rachael going to be okay?” Kimberly asked me with a pleading look.
“She’s going to be fine,” Melanie answered her, though she looked to me with a hopeful expression, as if looking for confirmation.
“Rachael is pretty tough,” I assured them, not completely sure I believed it myself. “She’s going to be just fine.”
I forced a smile for my daughter and granddaughters, but the truth was, I was every bit as worried as they were. Sure, Rachael was a supervillain who’d killed a lot of people, but at the end of the day, she was still my daughter. She was still my baby girl, and nothing would ever change that.
“Aunt Rachael is a total badass,” Kaylie exclaimed almost defiantly.
“Kaylie!” Melanie snapped, fixing her with a flat look so much like what her own mother used to give her. That expression gave me an ache at the memory of my beautiful Megan. Even after all these years, I still missed her.
“Um…pardon my French?” Kaylie responded with a faint smirk. Melanie turned her gaze to me, as if it was my fault. I just shrugged.
“I think we know who has her,” I said, thinking about my conversation with the Curse Master. “Min and Pinnacle are looking into it.”
“I just wish Rich was back,” Melanie said with a sigh.
“Yeah,” I agreed, going to the fridge and pulling out a beer. My daughter didn’t like me drinking in front of the girls, but I figured that this was a good time to make an exception. As I popped off the cap, I added, “Who knows. Maybe he’ll find out more…”
“Aunt Rachael will probably get away on her own,” Kaylie said. “She’ll kick this guy’s as…butt, big time.” A wisp of green mist floated up from her head.
“Maybe,” I told her with another smile, this one a bit more genuine. “I hope you’re right.”
Just then, Kimberly suddenly screamed. When I snapped around, I saw her staring out the front window, right before she cried out, “A monster…”
“What?” I demanded, though I was already rushing to her side.
A moment later, I saw what Kimberly was referring to. Out on the front lawn, there was a massive creature made of stone, one of the ones who’d taken Rachael from the prison. And unfortunately, it was one of the large ones that stood about eight feet tall.
“What the hell?” I demanded in surprise. A moment later, I snarled, “Everyone out the back…NOW!”
With that, I ran for the front door and was in such a hurry that I momentarily forgot my strength and accidentally tore it from the hinges. However, I couldn’t afford to worry about that now, not when my family was in danger.
The stone creature was still standing in the middle of the yard, but now that I was out of the house, I was in a better position to see that it wasn’t alone. There was another of the large creatures in the road and nearly a dozen of the smaller ones scattered about.
“Ah, crap,” I grumbled, looking around at all these stone monsters and suddenly realizing just how outnumbered I was. At that moment, I REALLY wished my friends were there to watch my back.
I couldn’t help but remembering last weekend, when we’d fought those Triangle assholes in Berlin. We’d been badly outnumbered then too, but at least I hadn’t been alone.
“They’d better be running,” I muttered, hoping Melanie and the girls were able to get out the back door in time.
I clenched my fists and glared at the monsters, determined to hold them back…and find where they took Rachael, even if I had to beat it out of them. In fact, that seemed like a damn good idea.
“So,” a voice called out. It was a man’s voice with a faint accent that sounded like it might be German or Austrian. “This is Lady Havoc’s daughter…”
It took me a few seconds to find the guy, because one of the stone monsters was standing between us, making it hard to see him through the thing. However, what surprised me the most was that the monster was one of the small ones.
The speaker was short…even by my new standards. But not only was he just about three and a half feet tall, he was also bald, ugly, and twisted, with limbs that that weren’t quite the same length or proportion to each other.
“It seems overkill to bring this much force against a child,” the ugly little man announced, “but I’ve heard she had a part in taking down the Marquis, and as Lady Havoc’s child, she surely has other protections…”
This creepy midget seemed to be talking to himself more than he was to me, but that was all right. It gave me an idea of what he was thinking.
“Rumpelstiltskin, I presume,” I commented.
“Correct,” Rumpelstiltskin answered with a toothy grin that stretched wider on one side of his face than the other. “I should have known Havoc’s daughter would be intelligent. Now, to collect her first-born…”
With those words, the stone monsters all charged at me, though they moved slow enough that I wasn’t too worried. I kicked one of the short ones, then picked up a second and threw it at one of the two large ones as hard as I could. It smashed into the large one’s chest and both shattered.
“I don’t remember bowling being this fun,” I exclaim, jumping forward right before several small monsters came at me.
From my new position, I got a good look at the wreckage of the two monsters I’d destroyed and realized that something gold and shiny was gleaming from within. I moved closer and saw that there was a heart made of gold. The heart was like one from a medical book I’d read, not one of those cutesy ones they use on Valentine’s day.
“Strong,” Rumpelstiltskin said. “Very strong.” The twisted little man was watching me intently.
“You have no idea,” I muttered, making a show of cracking my knuckles. First I was going to bust up all these walking statue monsters, then I was going to go and kick his tiny ass. “Where’d you take her? Where is she?”
More of the small stone creatures came at me, while the other large one wouldn’t be far behind. Fortunately, it was moving as slowly as it was, because that gave me time to deal with the other ones first.
I grabbed one of the small creatures and threw it into a group of other ones, smashing them to pieces. A smirk formed as I thought about making a joke about getting a strike.
“Those golems are difficult to make,” Rumpelstiltskin commented in annoyance. “And I do hate to waste valuable resources…”
A moment later, the remaining stone creatures…the golems…stopped where they were and then slowly stepped back. At the same time, Rumpelstiltskin began to come towards me, apparently deciding to handle things himself.
“This shouldn’t be too hard,” I said, forming a long length of ribbon between my hands. Once I had him tied up, I’d make him tell me what he did with my Rachael.
Rumpelstiltskin held out his hand and a golden staff appeared in it. It wasn’t very big, only about as long as he was tall. Then without a word, he swung the staff in my direction. There was a flash of light and something hit me. The next thing I knew, I was thrown back a good twenty feet and landed on my ass.
“Damn,” I grumbled, quickly getting back to my feet.
“Resilient,” the midget commented. “Good. I would hate to kill the child before using her against her mother.” He smirked, though it was an especially creepy expression on his twisted face. “I will have to thank the Curse Master for telling me of her quest…and for planting that tracking spell for me…”
“That bastard,” I spat out with a snarl. I should have known better than to trust someone called the Curse Master.
I held out my hands and summoned a long ribbon in each one. Rumpelstiltskin was going down, and he was going down hard. I didn’t know what he’d done with Rachael, but I wouldn’t find out until I kicked his ass.
“Be an obedient child and surrender,” Rumpelstiltskin said. When I started towards him instead, he merely added, “Unruly children need to be disciplined.”
The twisted midget swung his staff at me again and this time a wave of fire exploded outward. I tried jumping to the side, but I couldn’t move fast enough. My ribbons immediately dissolved, as did my clothes, leaving my skin to be burned before the fire stopped. Fortunately, my regeneration was already at work, healing my burns.
“ALYSS!” Kaylie yelled out from the door of the house, right before she ran towards me.
“Kaylie, no!” Melanie yelled after her.
“Begone, child,” Rumpelstiltskin snarled at her.
“Get away,” I ordered Kaylie.
However, Kaylie ignored me and ran to my side. Rumpelstiltskin waved his staff again and a blast of red energy came right at us. I grabbed Kaylie and leapt aside with her, just barely avoiding the attack.
“Get out of here,” I warned her, terrified that she was going to get hurt.
Then I glared at Rumpelstiltskin, clenching my fists in anger. I wanted to tear that guy to pieces, but I still took a moment to summon some new clothes, a dress just like what I’d been wearing before he burned it off me, though I couldn’t do much about my charred shoes. As soon as I was dressed, I threw myself at him as hard as I could.
Rumpelstiltskin was really starting to piss me off, because every time I tried getting him, he hit me with some kind of magic. I didn’t know a lot about magic, but I was really starting to dislike it…especially when this twisted midget kept using it against me.
The golems began coming at me again, mostly getting between me and their master. Before I could reach him, I was surrounded. I kicked and punched, taking the things out pretty quickly, though unfortunately, the midget wasn’t just standing back to watch.
“I dislike fighting children,” Rumpelstiltskin said, once again, seeming to be talking to himself more than me. “So, I shall end this…”
“Go get him, Alyss,” Kaylie exclaimed.
“Oh, I plan to,” I said.
Suddenly, a burst of green light came crashing down on me from the sky. An instant later, I was face first on the ground, smashed into the ground as if by a giant hammer. My entire body hurt like hell, and I felt like I’d just been hit by a car.
“Shit,” I muttered, struggling to get back to my feet.
However, before I could manage to recover, the ground suddenly turned into quicksand and I began to sink. I desperately fought and struggled to get loose but only sank deeper. But before I could go too deep, I remembered my ribbons, and summoned a new one that I used like a lasso, wrapping around one of the small monsters, which I used as an anchor to help me pull myself loose.
“That was a close one,” I gasped for breath, suddenly feeling worried. It was like nothing worked against this guy.
A moment later, I floated up into the air. I scrambled around but there was no ground for me to stand on and nothing to give me leverage.
“My ribbons,” I muttered, creating another long ribbon.
Before the other end of my ribbon could grab hold of anything, there was another flash of green light from the sky, smashing me back down into the ground. This time was even worse than the last time, and it was all I could do to gasp for breath.
“Enough struggling, child,” Rumpelstiltskin commanded. “Your fight is done. Soon, you will be reunited with your mother…”
I struggled to get back to my feet, or at least, I tried. I was too tired to put any real effort into it. In fact, I was completely and utterly exhausted…without any warning. In the end, all I managed to do was look up at Rumpelstiltskin, who was standing a short distance away, clearly gloating.
Though I didn’t have much energy, there was just enough for me to silently curse myself. If anyone should have known better than to underestimate someone because of their size, it was me. My last thought before I faded into darkness, was to wonder if this was what it felt like for Aegis.
Friday evening, Nov 23rd, 2007
I woke up with my cheek pressed against a cold stone floor. My head was pounding and everything felt a bit hazy, which meant that I must have had a nice bender last night to wake up with a hangover like this.
“Great,” I grumbled under my breath, making no move to get up just yet.
A couple seconds later, a voice called out, “Time to get up, lazybones.”
The words were familiar, though I was usually the one saying them. In fact, that was what I used to tell my kids whenever I had to get them out of bed in the morning.
“Just ten more minutes,” I responded with a groan as I finally sat up. As I did so, I remembered my fight with that twisted little bastard. “Crap…”
Once I sat up, I realized that the headache and dizziness were rapidly fading. The next thing I noticed was that I was inside a cage with gold bars surrounding me. When I looked closer at the bars, I saw that there was strange writing etched in the metal of each bar.
“Fucking magic,” I spat out bitterly. I didn’t have any problems with Amy or Darqueheart messing with the stuff, but they’d never used it on ME. “Damn midget bastard.”
Someone burst out laughing on the other side of the room. I blinked as I tried to finish clearing my head, then I looked through the bars of my cage. I was in what I could only describe as a dungeon. The room had stone floors, walls, and ceilings, and not a nice smooth concrete either.
My eyes went to the second golden cage, which seemed to be identical to my own. And like my cage, there was only one person inside.
“Rachael,” I exclaimed in relief.
“Sorry you got caught up in this,” Rachael said with a sigh.
She looked much the same as she had in the prison security video, still wearing the orange jumpsuit as well as the devise she’d built to control her Diedricks, or at least, the latest version of the device. This one had a metal collar around her neck instead of a tiara on her forehead, though she still had the bracer on her forearm.
“And you might want to watch your language,” she continued a little wryly. “There are delicate ears.”
I snorted at that. “I think you’ve heard worse than a little salty language.” Of course, I was going to watch my language anyway, because supervillain or not, Rachael was my baby girl.
“I didn’t mean me,” she responded, gesturing to the other side of the room.
There was a sinking feeling in my gut as I turned around, and a moment later, I let out a gasp. There was a third cage that I hadn’t noticed before, and one that seemed to be made of steel rather than gold. It was of a different style as well and appeared to have just been thrown together quickly. However, what really caught my attention wasn’t the cage, but the person inside.
“KAYLIE!” I blurted out in horror.
Kaylie was on the floor of the cage, sprawled out on the floor the same way I’d been just a couple minutes ago. However, she wasn’t moving, so she was either out hard, or… No, I quickly shut that thought down. There wouldn’t be any reason to keep her in a cage if she was dead.
“Bastard must have grabbed her when he took me,” I muttered.
“Are you okay?” Rachael asked, looking worried. She looked from me to Kaylie and could see her scowl deepening.
“What the hell is going on?” I demanded of Rachael. “Who is this assh…guy?”
“Rumpelstiltskin,” Rachael answered in a flat tone. “He and I have…history.”
I snorted at that. “I figured that much.”
Rachael let out a long sign, then admitted, “A few years ago, I raided him for materials. He took it rather personally and has been coming after me ever since.”
For several seconds, I just stared at Rachael without saying anything. So, this was a bit of trouble that she brought on herself, and on Kaylie and me. I wasn’t surprised. Rachael was a supervillain, and that came about due to some bad decisions as much as her Diedricks. From the guilty look on her face, she was blaming herself.
“I’ve always been able to protect myself,” Rachael explained a bit self-consciously. “And I’d assumed I’d be safe in prison…”
“How many other enemies to you have?” I asked in exasperation.
“Too many,” Rachael admitted after several seconds. “And most of them have legitimate grudges.”
I didn’t bother to lecture Rachael because she knew how much she’d brought on herself and she’d been trying to fix things as much as she could. Her Diedricks was definitely responsible for most of her problems, directly or indirectly, but not entirely.
“Well,” I announced, stretching out a bit. “Time to get out of here…”
With that, I grabbed hold of the bars on my cage, intending to bend them enough to get through. However, as soon as I touched the bars, there was a flash of light and I was thrown back onto my ass. My hands tingled painfully for several seconds.
“What the hell…?” I demanded.
“Magic,” Rachael explained with a sneer. “I should have warned you not to touch the bars…”
“That would have been nice to know,” I grumbled.
I got back to my feet and glared at the bars for several seconds before nodding to myself. There was a way to get through the bars without touching them, or at least, to get something through them.
“Let me try something,” I muttered to myself.
After taking a deep breath, I summoned a long length of ribbon, making sure to keep a firm hold on one end. As long as I kept contact with a new bit of fabric, I could control it a bit, almost like telekinesis. Once I lost that contact though, I wouldn’t be able to reconnect, so I had to make sure not to let go until I was done with it.
“What are you doing?” Rachael asked, watching me with a curious expression.
“Watch,” I answered, feeling just a little smug.
I carefully controlled my ribbon and had it slide between the bars, wriggling around on the ground as though it was a snake. Or at least, I tried to because the ribbon couldn’t go past the bars. It was as though it ran into a glass wall. And when it bumped up against the bar, there was a burst of sparks, and my ribbon began to burn and disintegrate.
“Somehow, I don’t think that was what you wanted,” Rachael pointed out.
“Yeah,” I reluctantly admitted. “That wasn’t quite what I had in mind.”
“I never would have guessed,” My daughter responded with a roll of her eyes.
“Hey, Kaylie,” I called out to my granddaughter, though there was still no movement from her cage.
I was worried about that, though continued to remind myself that she had to be alive. Rumpelstiltskin probably used the same hoodoo on her that he had on me. The only real difference was, I was an exemplar, so I’d probably just shaken it off a lot sooner. Still, I continued to worry.
“Get up, lazybones,” I tried again.
Kaylie twitched her hand a little but made no further move. Still, it confirmed that she was still alive, which was a huge relief.
Turning my attention back to my cage, I muttered, “Right now, I’d give my left nut for Melissa’s powers…” Then as an afterthought, I added, “If I hadn’t already lost both of them.”
“Melissa?” Rachael asked curiously.
“A friend from school,” I answered with a wry smile. “She can teleport…and a few other things that might be useful right about now.”
Rachael nodded at that. “That would be useful.” Then she let out a sigh. “I just wish I had some of my equipment…”
She glanced to the bracer on her wrist, the device that worked with the metal collar around her neck, to control her Diedricks, or least keep her out of trouble whenever she had an episode. I just wished that she’d had that thing a long time ago. If so, her life would have been quite a bit different.
“Yeah,” I agreed. “But if wishes were horses, we’d all be wearing hip waders.”
My daughter snorted at that. “It’s good to see that some things never change.”
I just nodded. “Don’t worry, Pumpkin,” I promised. “We’ll get out of here.”
“I hope you’re right,” she responded with a scowl. “Rumpelstiltskin isn’t someone to be underestimated though, and from what I can tell, he took a lot of precautions to make sure we wouldn’t escape.” She gestured to the cages. “It won’t be easy.”
“Maybe,” I agreed with a snort. My eyes went to Kaylie. “But nothing worthwhile ever is.”
It was about ten minutes after this when Rumpelstiltskin made his appearance. There was a heavy iron door for the dungeon, and it began to creak as it slowly swung open. A moment later, Rumpelstiltskin stepped through, only to pause and look around. The little bastard was still holding that golden staff from earlier, though now he was using it like a walking stick.
“Havoc,” Rumpelstiltskin exclaimed, his eyes firmly locked on Rachael. They seemed to burn with hatred. “I told you that you would suffer…and I am a man of my word.”
Rachael merely glared back, sneering as she did so. There was a difference to her body language, one which I attributed to her Lady Havoc persona.
“Once I get out of here,” Rachael said in a cold tone, “you’ll be the one to suffer…”
Rumpelstiltskin quickly moved towards her cage, spitting out, “I’ve already suffered… You made sure of that when you TOOK MY GOLD!”
“All I did was raid your lair for supplies,” Rachael responded with a dismissive sneer. “You shouldn’t take it so personally…”
“SUPPLIES?” the midget yelled, spittle flying out. “YOU THINK THIS IS OVER STOLEN SUPPLIES?”
“It isn’t?” Rachael asked, looking surprised.
“This is about my son, Gold,” Rumpelstiltskin snarled. “YOU MURDERED MY SON!”
“Shit,” I muttered, staring at Rachael. I should have been surprised but I wasn’t.
Whenever Rachael went into one of her episodes, she became violent and uncontrollable. She killed people…dozens of them. This is what led her to becoming a supervillain in the first place. Now it seemed that one of her victims was the son of another supervillain.
“Great,” I growled. “We’re up shit creek. I just hope we can find a paddle in time.”
“I didn’t kill anyone when I raided you,” Rachael protested. “I destroyed a couple of your golems, but…” Then she paused and a look of realization suddenly passed over her face. “One golem looked like a gold statue…and was shaped more human…”
“Gold,” Rumpelstiltskin stated in a hard tone. “My only child.”
Rachael snorted at that. “Your ‘child’ was a seven-foot statue that nearly killed me. If I hadn’t blasted it with a plasma rifle, it would have…”
“She mocks my loss,” Rumpelstiltskin said, apparently talking to himself more than Rachael. “Oh, she will feel my wrath…” Then he took another couple steps closer, until he could reach out with his staff and touch Rachael’s cage, though he made no move to actually do so. “For five years, I have sought revenge, but always, you are too well hidden...too well protected. I should thank you for placing yourself in that place, where I could finally reach you…”
“You’re welcome,” Rachael responded sarcastically.
“She will not be thanking me for long,” Rumpelstiltskin laughed to himself. It was a cruel and twisted laugh which hinted at some very bad things to come. “You have taken my child, so I will take yours.”
With that, the twisted midget turned to face me, and even pointed at me with his staff. His eyes seemed to dance with a malicious glee. I met his gaze, which seemed to surprise him.
“You can kiss my ass, you twisted little fuck,” I said. Rumpelstiltskin looked surprised by that while Rachael let out a faint snicker, though she still looked worried.
“Lady Havoc will know my pain,” Rumpelstiltskin said as he looked back at Rachael. “She will watch as I torture her child to death, before her very eyes. Only then will she follow…”
“No,” my daughter gasped, her eyes going wide. She stared at me with her fear and concern clearly written across her face. “Leave her alone…”
“Do not fear,” Rumpelstiltskin said with a dark chuckle. “The child is very resilient, so she is in no danger of expiring too soon… Oh no, her torment will last quite some time…”
“Come on in here and try me,” I dared him.
Rumpelstiltskin glared at me for a moment, then gestured with his staff. Suddenly, there was fire all around me and I could feel myself burning. Every inch of my skin was burning and blistering. I dropped to my knees and screamed from the searing agony which seemed to continue forever.
When I collapsed onto the floor of my cage, the fire vanished though much of the pain remained. I gasped for breath and absently noticed a horrific burning smell, which I only vaguely recognized as coming from me.
“ALYSS!” Rachael screamed frantically. She grabbed the bars of her own cage, only to be thrown back with a flash of light.
“Impressive,” the twisted little man commented. “That would have been enough to kill most children…and adults. This will give me the opportunity to practice a few spells I rarely have cause to use…”
“Let her go,” Rachael demanded, slowly getting back to her own feet. “I’m the one you want…” When she saw that wasn’t going to do any good, she seemed to deflate. “Please…”
“Save your pleading,” Rumpelstiltskin responded with a look of contempt. “It will do no good for you or these children. Now, look upon them and know that every scream that erupts from their throats, is the price of your actions.”
“Go ahead,” I gasped, barely managing to get the words out. I slowly got back to my knees, wincing at the pain but refusing to give up. “It takes a real powerful man to hurt a little girl who never did anything to you… Pathetic.”
Rumpelstiltskin glared at me as he raised his staff, obviously intending to punish me for my insult. However, just as he was about to do whatever hoodoo he had planned, a phone began to ring. His phone.
The midget pulled a cell phone out of his pocket and demanded, “WHAT?” He listened for a few seconds, then in a calmer voice, he added, “I see. Yes, I was busy, but I can discuss that now. Business before pleasure.”
With that, Rumpelstiltskin turned around and began to leave the room, still talking on the phone. However, when he reached the doorway, he paused long enough to glare at Rachael and then me. And though he didn’t say a word, we both understood the silent promise that we’d continue whenever he returned.
Saturday morning, Nov 24rd, 2007
I sat sitting cross-legged on the floor of my cage, alternately looking between the Rachael, Kaylie, and the closed door. Rumpelstiltskin hadn’t come back since getting that phone call last night, much to my relief.
“I’m scared,” Kaylie said. She’d finally woken up a couple hours ago and had been shocked to find herself in a cage. However, she was taking it a little better than I would have expected.
“We’re gonna get out of here,” I promised her, much the way I’d made Rachael the same promise last night. Unfortunately, I had absolutely no idea how we were going to do that.
Rachael stared at me and then Kaylie. “You’re both here because of me. I’m sorry…”
I just grunted at that. There was some truth in Rachael’s words. After all, if she hadn’t raided Rumpelstiltskin’s lair and killed his kid…or golem…since I still wasn’t sure which it really was, then he never would have had reason to take revenge. However, that twisted little bastard was the one who’d decided to kidnap Kaylie and me…and planned to torture us to death, so I was giving him the biggest chunk of blame.
“And here, I just thought it was my bad luck,” I joked weakly. “I mean, this kind of shit happens to me two weeks in a row…” Then I paused in order to glance at Kaylie. “Pardon my French.”
Kaylie giggled at that, though it was a nervous giggle. “You’re pardoned.”
“What do you mean, two weeks in a row?” Rachael asked.
I gave her a wry smile and shrugged. “Last week, I was in Berlin…”
“You went to Germany?” Kalyie blurted out. “Did Uncle Rich take you?”
“No,” I responded with a chuckle. “Berlin, New Hampshire. I was there with some of my friends and classmates, when a group of goons tried to kidnap us. They had power armor and heavy firepower. We managed to beat them, but only because they were playing with kid gloves and trying to take us alive…” I shuddered at the memory, thinking about how close some of my friends had come to getting kidnapped or killed. “Anyway, afterwards, we decided to become a training team.”
Rachael was staring at me with a look of surprise. “Somehow, I have a hard time picturing you fighting off goons in power armor…until I remember how you fought the Marquis.”
“I know I don’t look it,” I responded, making a show of flexing my muscles. “But I’m pretty damn tough now…”
“I wish I could have seen that,” Kaylie said.
Kaylie was staring at me with a curious expression, no longer seeming afraid. I smiled faintly at that and decided to keep distracting her from our current problems.
“It may be hard to believe,” I said, “but I’ve got a pretty odd group of friends…”
“They’d have to be, to hang out with you,” Rachael responded with a faint smirk.
“Amy used to be my roomie…for a couple days,” I started off. “Her mom is a devisor with pretty bad Diedricks, and her power is a time bomb that could kill her at any time…but she’s got a good head on her shoulders and never lets any of it get her down.”
Rachael nodded, pointing out, “You mentioned one of your friends yesterday…”
“Melissa,” I agreed with a nod of my own. I looked around my cage, once again wishing that I had Melissa’s powers. “She’s called Mischief…for a damn good reason. She’s a real prankster, but also has some powers that would be really useful right about now…”
“Sapphire is…unique,” I continued. “Apparently, she was born with severe GSD and only grew out of it after she manifested as an exemplar. She’s the only person I know who complains about not having scales or a tail…”
“Really?” Kaylie asked in surprise.
“Yeah,” I agreed with a chuckle. “Let’s see… Chris is a wannabe hero who gets his a…butt kicked nearly every time he gets into a fight…which is damn near every day. Still, he doesn’t give up, and I’ve got to respect that.”
“Then there’s Darqueheart,” I started. However, before I could say anything more, the dungeon door began to swing open. I suddenly went silent and watched it carefully.
Rumpelstiltskin stepped into the dungeon and looked around. He leaned onto his gold staff and announced, “Where did we leave off?”
“You were about to let us go,” I offered.
“The child jests,” the midget mused before giving me a nasty look. “But not for long.”
As soon as Rumpelstiltskin raised his staff, I knew what was coming. There was a flash of light and I immediately collapsed to the floor, spasming with uncontrollable muscle seizures and pain, feeling as though I’d just been struck by lightning. Maybe I had been. It was hard to tell with magic users.
“ALYSS!” Rachael and Kaylie yelled at the same time. Kaylie followed that up with, “Leave her alone, you butt ugly asshole…”
“Watch closely, Lady Havoc,” Rumpelstiltskin commanded. “And listen to your child’s screams…”
By this point, the seizures had stopped and the pain was starting to fade. However, I knew that this wasn’t the end of it. This was just a brief breather before that sadistic son of a bitch came at me again.
Rachael began screaming in rage, though her voice abruptly cut off. I stared at her, seeing that she was frozen in place with a blue glow surrounding her body. I’d seen this before and knew that it wasn’t because of anything Rumpelstiltskin had done. This was her own device, which she’d designed to incapacitate herself whenever she had a Diedricks episode.
The little bastard glanced at Rachael but didn’t seem surprised by her condition. I could only imagine that she must have already dricked out a time or two before I was even captured. Unfortunately, the pint-sized psycho turned his attention back to me.
Kaylie screamed, and a moment later, green mist began pouring out of her cage. The thick green fog spread out from her cage and was soon covering half the room. However, I wasn’t the only one to notice it. Rumpelstiltskin saw it too.
“What is this fog?” the little man demanded in surprise.
Rumpelstiltskin was now turning his full attention on Kaylie, but there was no way I’d just stand back and let him hurt my granddaughter. Then I realized, Kaylie wasn’t in the same kind of cage as Rachael and I were. Her power was actually able to get past the cage.
“Kaylie,” I yelled. “Use your power on him…”
Kaylie gave me a look of fear and confusion, then she seemed to get what I meant. She nodded, then stared at Rumpelstiltskin with a look of concentration. By this time, her mist had spread out through half the room, and now surrounded Rumpelstilskin. Suddenly, the twisted midget began to float up into the air.
“Let me down,” the tiny villain screamed frantically.
“He’s heavy,” Kaylie gasped. “I can’t hold him…”
“Then just get his staff,” I told her.
Rumpelstiltskin abruptly dropped to the ground while his staff floated away from him. He quickly recovered and scrambled back to his feet, though he snarled and gestured for the staff. It started floating back to him. From the look on Kaylie’s face, she was fighting to keep it away from him, though she seemed to be losing that battle.
“Hey, asshole!” I yelled, trying to get the midget’s attention. Unfortunately, my attempt at distracting him didn’t work, which meant that I had to try a little harder. “Good thing Gold isn’t here to see what a loser his old man is. I mean, kidnapping innocent little girls like some kind of chickenshit pervert…”
“SILENCE!” Rumpelstiltskin yelled as he snapped around to glare at me. “You have no right to speak his name…”
My plan worked because at that moment of distraction, Kaylie was able to get a better grip on the staff and pull it towards her. Unfortunately, the little bastard didn’t remain distracted long enough and tried pulling his staff back again.
“Let him have it,” I called out, hoping that Kaylie got what I meant. She did. The staff suddenly went flying straight at Rumpelstiltskin, and this time, Kaylie was pushing it.
Rumpelstiltskin’s staff slammed into him with a lot more force than he was expecting, and it sent him flying back where he landed on his ass. He didn’t even get a chance to grab hold of the staff before Kaylie pulled it out of his reach again.
“Gotta do better than that,” Kaylie exclaimed a little smugly.
“Throw it against Alyss’ cage,” Rachael called out, apparently having broken out of her episode and restraint her devise put her in.
Kaylie did what Rachael said the staff flew right at me, where it smashed into the bars of the cage. There was a burst of sparks where the staff touched the bars, then a burst of light and heat. When it passed, several of the bars were dull and melted, as was much of the staff.
I stared at the bars for a moment before taking a deep breath and muttering, “Here goes nothing…” With that, I grabbed the dull bars, but this time there was no flash of light or pain. With a grin, I began pulling and the bars bent and snapped, creating a space big enough for me to climb through.
“Now for a little payback,” I said, cracking my knuckles and glaring at Rumpelstiltskin. I was going to enjoy this.
“Ahem,” Rachael said, gesturing at the bars of her own cage.
With a grunt, I picked up the staff, which was now laying on the floor. It didn’t shock me or anything, much to my relief, so I threw it against the bars of Rachael’s cage and there was an immediate burst of sparks before several of the bars melted and turned dull. Once I saw that, I repeated the process from my own cage and pulled the bars out, creating an opening for Rachael.
Rumpelstiltskin snarled at us and glanced to his staff before he abruptly turned and ran out the door. I wanted to follow the bastard, but instead, I looked back at Kaylie’s cage. There was no way in hell I was going to leave her locked up for a moment longer than I had to.
“I’ll get you out in a second,” I promised Kaylie, giving her what I hoped was a reassuring smile.
Kaylie’s cage didn’t have any of the weird magic symbols on the bars that Rachael’s and mine had, so all I had to do was grab hold of the door and tear it open. In just a couple seconds, Kaylie was free too, at least from the cage.
“Now to haul a…butt out of here,” I stated, glancing at Kaylie.
“Agreed,” Rachael said with a scowl. “Now, if I only had some of my weapons…” She looked around the room, as if searching for something she could use as a weapon, though she didn’t seem to find what she was looking for.
“It looks like it’s up to me,” I muttered with a fierce determination.
I started for the door that Rumpelstiltskin had left through while my daughter and granddaughter followed behind. Rachael paused to pick something up, though I was pretty sure that the little bastard hadn’t left anything she could use. After all, she was a devisor, and I didn’t see anything even remotely high tech around here.
On the other side of the doorway was a large room, which seemed to have the same stone floors, wall, and ceiling as the dungeon we’d just left. There were a couple other doors, nearly identical to the one I’d just stepped through, one along each of the other walls.
“Knowing Rumpelstiltskin,” Rachael commented from beside me as she pointed to the other doors. “That is probably his supply storage and labs, that one is probably his living area, and the far door is probably the exit.”
“And what’s this room?” Kaylie asked.
“A pain in the butt,” I answered gruffly.
At first glance, this large room appeared to be empty…except for the statues lining all the walls. But of course, they weren’t statues. These were the same golems that I’d seen before, and they were all starting to move and step away from the walls.
“The courtyard is for additional security,” Rachael answered flatly.
“Recapture them,” Rumpelstiltskin yelled out.
I finally saw him on the other end of the room, holding his staff. On second thought, it wasn’t the same staff. It looked pretty similar, though this one had some kind of red jewel on top.
“You can crush their bones,” he continued giving his orders, “but take them alive…”
None of the golems responded to that, but I would have been surprised if any of them had because not only did they seem to be mindless lumps of rock, but none of them even had a mouth. Still, the stone creatures started walking in our direction.
“What a time to be without a plasma blaster,” Rachael growled in frustration.
“I…I don’t know if I can do much,” Kaylie admitted.
Green mist was already starting to leak from her body, though it was still thin and whispy. Either she’d already pushed herself too hard with her earlier demonstration or she was too scared to focus. It could even be both.
“I’ll deal with these guys,” I said, confident that I could handle the golems. However, I gave a nervous glance at the midget, remembering how easily he’d taken me down before. Still, I’d be damned if I showed fear in front of the girls, especially when they were counting on me.
Since the golems were moving slowly, I took a few seconds to remove my bracelets and to wrap short lengths of ribbon around them, each about a foot and a half long. I swung both of my weapons around before giving a nod of satisfaction. This would do.
By this point, a couple of the smaller golems had gotten close, so I lashed out with my homemade flails and smashed them to pieces. My bracelets were extremely hard and dense, each weight about thirty pounds, so when I swung them around, they could do some serious damage.
“Wow,” Kaylie gasped.
More golems were coming at us, and not just the little ones. A couple of the bigger ones were coming too. I leapt forward, still swinging my weapons and smashing the stone to pieces. Golem pieces went flying as the stone creatures shattered beneath my attack.
I slammed into one of the larger golems, hitting it with enough force that it toppled backwards and onto its back. The sight made me laugh since it reminded me of the time I went cow tipping with a couple buddies, back when I’d been a kid.
“Golem tipping,” I commented with a smirk. “I wonder if that will ever catch on.”
Kaylie and Rachael stayed back, letting me fight, though Kaylie did have more of her green mist spreading out, just not enough to do much. That was okay though because I didn’t expect her to fight these things.
“My golems,” Rumpelstiltskin exclaimed with an angry snarl. “The child destroys my golems…”
“If you think that’s bad,” Rachael called out to him. “Just wait until I get my hands on you.”
Golems continued coming at me, though I just kept swinging. One of the big ones hit me hard enough that I was sent flying back and smashed into the wall. I grunted at the impact and the momentary pain. I’d probably have a few bruises from that…though they’d also probably heal up before I really noticed them. There were advantages to being an exemplar.
“This child has become more troublesome than she’s worth,” the twisted little bastard snarled. “I should kill her now, while her mother watches…”
At this point, I’d already gone through nearly half the golems in this room and was pretty sure I could handle the rest. However, the golems began to pull back a little while the pint-sized psycho was raising his staff again. I gulped at the sight, knowing that it wouldn’t be good for me.
Rumpelstiltskin fired a ball of red energy at me, and though I saw it coming and could have jumped out of the way, the girls were standing behind me. With a grimace, I braced for impact, knowing that I had a much better chance of surviving this than they did.
My entire body exploded into pain and I screamed as I dropped to my knees. Fortunately, it faded quickly. The bastard had previously hit me with much worse than that. So with a grimace, I got back to my knees.
“Are you okay?” Rachael nervously asked.
“I’m fine,” I told her with a forced smile.
The little bastard raised his staff and muttered several words in a language I didn’t recognize, obviously casting some kind of spell. I didn’t want to see what he had in store for us next, so I grabbed one of his little golems and threw it straight at him. Rumpelstiltskin dove to the side and barely avoided being hit.
“It’s like softball,” Kaylie exclaimed, making me chuckle a little.
“You will die, Havoc,” Rumpelstiltskin snarled as he scrambled back to his feet. “You and these girls…”
“Perhaps,” Rachael responded with a look of contempt. “But not today, and certainly not by your hands.”
I picked up a chunk of rubble that had been part of one of the larger golems and prepared to throw it at Rumpelstiltskin. As long as I could keep him off balance and dodging these things, he wouldn’t be able to hit me with another spell. And maybe I’d even get lucky and hit the little bastard.
Rumpelstiltskin slammed his staff into the ground and yelled out a single word. The air rippled in front of him, and a moment later, the chunk of golem slammed into this ripple and shattered.
“Force field,” I spat out in annoyance.
There were a lot of kids in school who used force fields in one way or another, like Dana, who lived on my floor in Poe. At the moment, I suddenly wished that I could talk to Dana and ask her how to get around these things. Unfortunately, that wasn’t an option, so I’d just have to keep pounding on the damn thing until I broke through.
I picked up another chunk of golem to throw, but Rumpelstiltskin muttered something else and gestured with his staff. Suddenly, the ripple moved through the air, coming towards me like a wave until it slammed into me and sent me flying back. I scrambled back to my feet and saw that the wave was still there, now forming a wall which stretched across the entire room.
Rumpelstiltskin laughed, though it was a bit more like a mad cackle. He glared at Rachael with a look of pure hatred and didn’t even bother to spare me a glance. That kind of pissed me off since I was the one he was actually fighting. Then again, if someone had killed one of my kids, I’d be pretty damn focused on them too.
The problem was, or at least, one of the problems was, this guy was so nuts that I had no idea if Rachael actually had killed his kid…or if she’d just taken out one of his golems. In the end, it probably didn’t matter, because regardless of whether or not he had a legitimate grudge, he wanted to kill us all, and I sure as hell wasn’t going to just stand there and let him.
The twisted little bastard didn’t say a word as he swung his staff and sent a blast of blue energy at Rachael. She dove to the side and avoided being hit, though only barely. I snarled in anger and charged forward…until I hit the shimmering air and was bounced back.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I snarled in frustration.
I glared at the force field, then around me, realizing that Rumpelstiltskin had trapped us. His force field formed a wall that blocked off our section of the room so that the only way we could possibly go, was back into the dungeon.
In spite of my failure to get past the force field, I wasn’t about to give up yet. I launched myself at it, punching and kicking as hard as I could, all to no effect. This continued for a good half minute…until a blast of light hit me and sent me flying back with a burst of pain through my whole body.
“This is taking too many of my resources,” Rumpelstiltskin said, once again talking to himself. “But I cannot leave this unfinished… Havoc will pay, even if I have to use every last bit of essence I possess…”
“You bastard,” I snarled. “I’m gonna shove my size five shoe right up your ass…” Of course, I wasn’t actually wearing shoes anymore since the bastard’s attacks had turned them to ash, but that was beside the point.
“Language, Alyss,” Rachael said with a chuckle.
“You’re pardoned,” Kaylie added with a forced giggle, before asking, “How do you say that in French?”
“I shall burn them to death,” Rumpelstiltskin announced with a cruel gleam in his eye. “They shall all burn at once…”
Once again, Rumpelstiltskin began reciting his spell while holding his staff up. I gulped at the sight, suddenly terrified of what he was about to unleash. I might be able to survive a bit of fire, but neither of the girls would be able to.
I threw myself at the force field again and pounded at it with a desperate frenzy. I had to get through it. I had to save the girls. There was no other choice.
But then, I suddenly noticed something that caught my attention. My bracelets were still tied to ribbons that were dangling from my hands. The bracelets swung as I attacked the force field, and for a moment, I was sure that one of them had actually passed through the shimmer…at least a little.
“Ebidium,” I gasped in sudden realization. Mal Diabolik had once told me that these bracelets were made of ebidium, and though I hadn’t known anything about ebidium at that time, I’d read about it since then. “Rachael,” I demanded. “Are these ebidium?” I held up the bracelets.
Rachael stared at me without understanding, though her eyes quickly darted to the evil midget, who was still reciting his spell. He was taking long enough with that one that I was sure it was going to be a doozy.
“Yes,” Rachael answered, trying to hide the fear and worry, though I’d known her for her entire life and wasn’t fooled. “They are…”
While I was waiting for Rachael to answer, I’d already torn the lengths of ribbon off my bracelets. I didn’t want to risk the ribbons getting caught. Then with a deep breath and a silent prayer, I threw both bracelets at Rumpelstiltskin.
My bracelets went right through the force field as though it wasn’t even there, which was proof that they were made of ebidium. Ebidium was a rare metal known for being extremely dense and heavy, and for having a few odd properties…such as being completely immune to magic.
Rumpelstiltskin was cackling with a sadistic glee while a massive ball of flame, about three feet across, formed right above his head. My first bracelet zoomed right past him, making him jump in surprise. The second one hit him, sending him flying back with a yowl of pain while the fireball exploded. At the same time, the shimmering vanished from the air.
“It’s gone,” Rachael stated, waving her hand through where the force field had been.
“Is he…dead?” Kaylie asked with a shocked expression.
“Oh, he won’t die that easily,” Rachael assured Kaylie. “That lawn gnome is tougher than he looks.”
“He’d have to be,” I grunted in response while absently brushing off my dress.
A couple seconds later, Rachael was proven right when Rumpelstiltskin scrambled back to his feet, grabbed his staff, and hurried out the exit. The three of us followed after him, simply because, that was the way out, though I did pause long enough to grab my bracelets and slip them back onto my wrists. I had a feeling that I was going to need these things if I wanted to take down that evil little prick.
After I stepped through the door, I looked around and saw that I’d just come out of a large brick building that was about three stories tall. In front of me, there was a large open courtyard, and the whole area was surrounded by a brick wall.
My eyes swept the area and I immediately noticed two things. The first thing I noticed was that in the middle of the courtyard, there was a fifteen foot tall bronze statue. The second thing I noticed was that Rumpelstiltskin was sitting on the statue’s shoulder.
“Why do I get the feeling that the statue is gonna be a problem?” I asked Rachael.
“Probably because you’re right,” she responded grimly. “Damn, I really wish I had my weapons right now…”
“HAVOC,” Rumpelstiltskin yelled out. “I will destroy you and everyone you care for. You will watch as I crush your daughter beneath my heel…”
“You already said that,” Rachael yelled back, “yet here we still stand.”
The little bastard waved his staff, which was glowing brightly. He touched it to the statue and suddenly…but not unexpectedly…the statue began to move.
“Run for it,” I told the girls, not taking my eyes off the statue. “I’ll keep them busy.”
“I can’t leave you,” Rachael gasped.
“Keep Kaylie safe,” I insisted.
“But Alyss,” Kaylie tried to protest as Rachael pulled her away.
Rumpelstiltskin and his statue ignored me and charged straight at Rachael. I immediately threw myself at the statue, slamming into one of the legs and trying to knock the thing over. It didn’t work, but I definitely slowed it down.
“I’m thinking its time for a little percussion maintenance,” I exclaimed, backhanding the leg to see if my bracelet would do any extra damage. Nope. Ebidium might be immune from magic, but it didn’t do anything special against magic, or at least not against magical golems.
Before I could hit it again, the giant golem kicked me and sent me flying back. My whole side hurt from the impact, but I was tough enough that it was more annoying than anything else.
“Damn, it moves fast,” I muttered. This big one moved faster than the smaller ones.
“First I will crush the child,” the little bastard announced, “then the mother…”
The giant golem stomped towards me and I braced myself to jump out of the way, but then there was a flash of blue light. My feet were suddenly stuck in place, as though glued to the ground, while a giant foot started coming at me.
“This is gonna hurt,” I said, raising my fist to hit back as hard as I could. I didn’t know if it would do any good, but I was damn well going to try.
Just as the giant foot was about to connect, there was a flash of motion from the side. A second later, the statue toppled over and hit the ground. Rumpelstiltskin was knocked off the shoulder and hit the ground where he landed with a loud grunt.
A voice called out from above, “Are you okay?”
I looked up and was happy to see Pinnacle, floating in the air above the downed statue. He was definitely a sight for sore eyes.
“Glad you made it,” I responded, relieved to see that I could move my feet again. “But how the hell did you find us?”
“Asset tracked the phone call,” he responded.
I blinked at that. “What phone call?”
Pinnacle gestured to Rachael, who held up a cell phone. I immediately recognized Rumpelstiltskin’s phone, which he must have dropped when Kaylie tossed him around. So THAT was what Rachael had picked up in the dungeon.
“I’m glad to see your timing has improved,” Rachael added with a smirk.
“I can’t believe we’re rescuing Lady Havoc,” a new voice said.
I glanced over and saw Ceasefire, who was glaring at Rachael. Spearhead, who stood next to him, nodded agreement. However, Rich and Mystery Woman, who were also nearby, both looked amused.
“This is none of your concern,” Rumpelstiltskin snarled, glaring at Pinnacle with a look of rage.
“Considering you broke into a prison,” Mystery Woman commented, “kidnapped a prisoner, and then kidnapped two girls…”
Pinnacle added, “Not to mention, the multiple warrants out on you for the various robberies and murders you’ve been involved in over the years…”
“Yeah,” Ceasefire finished with a smirk. “Stopping you is definitely our business.”
Rumpelstiltskin swung his staff and a wave of fire shot out, obviously intended to wash over Rich and the heroes. However, Ceasefire stepped forward and gestured. The flames instantly vanished.
While this was happening, the giant golem got back to its feet. Pinnacle flew at it, but the statue backhanded him, knocking him back, though it didn’t seem to do much harm. The hero just shook it off and flew at the monster again.
“DESTROY THEM!” Rumpelstiltskin howled. “REVENGE!”
With that, the twisted little bastard pointed his staff at the giant golem. Glowing symbols appeared all over the statue, which suddenly radiated an even greater feeling of power.
“Great,” I grumbled as I stared up at the towering metal figure, feeling even smaller than usual, which I really didn’t like.
“Look out,” Mystery Woman warned, right before the golem swung its fist at Pinnacle. The hero dove out of the way, only to get hit with a blast of energy from the midgets’ staff.
Mystery Woman attacked the midget, using her telekinesis to fling random debris at him. He swung his staff around, creating a force field around himself while firing blasts of energy at her. Her brother stayed close, though I knew that Ceasefire wouldn’t be particularly useful unless Rumpy threw another fire spell or pulled out a gun. There was a reason he usually dealt with street thugs rather than supervillains.
Spearhead let out a fierce warcry before throwing her spear at the golem. It hit the golem’s chest and bounced off, while the glowing symbols all flashed brighter for a second. Pinnacle threw himself against the statue, but again, the symbols momentarily glowed brighter and his attack didn’t seem to do much of anything.
To my surprise, Spearhead’s spear vanished and suddenly reappeared in her hand. It glowed with a golden light for several seconds before she threw it again. This time, I saw that it flew with a lot more force than what a normal human would be able to throw a spear, though I didn’t know if that was because of the spear’s power…or because she was just that strong.
For several seconds, I just watched what was going on around me. Rich had run for Rachael and Kaylie, which was a relief. He’d be able to get them both out of here.
“Last time, you came for me,” Rich told Rachael. “This time, I’m returning the favor.”
Mystery Woman seemed to be doing a good job of keeping Rumpelstiltskin occupied, mostly by throwing random crap at him from a distance. And with her telekinesis, she was even able to pick him up and shake him around a bit herself.
“Take his staff,” Kaylie called out helpfully. She was a lot more confident now that the reinforcements had arrived.
“Good idea,” Mystery Woman responded with a smirk.
At the same time, Pinnacle and Spearhead were still going at the golem, which seemed pretty tough. I scowled at that, deciding that I’d have to give them a hand.
“If you want something done right,” I muttered, pulling my bracelets off my wrists. “It’s time to cut him down to size…”
I created a long stretch of ribbon and tied one of my bracelets to the end, then I created a much shorter stretch of ribbon and repeated the process. As soon as I was done, I began spinning the long ribbon over my head, letting the weight of my bracelet give it enough heft that I was able to get it spinning pretty good. Only then did I leap forward.
“What are you doing, girl?” Spearhead yelled at me but ignored her.
The side of my long ribbon caught on the side of the golem’s leg and the weight of the bracelet kept the rest of the ribbon moving until it wrapped around both legs. I braced myself and pulled hard, pulling the ribbon tighter until both legs were bound by the ribbon, and then I yanked more, pulling the golem’s legs out from beneath it.
“Good thinking,” Pinnacle announced, right before he dove down and smashed into the golem as hard as he could. Again, the symbols on its chest grew brighter and somehow protected it from taking the damage.
“Good thing I’ve got a cure for that,” I said, looking at the other bracelet which was tied to a two-foot length of ribbon.
With a snarl of determination, I scrambled up onto the golem and began wailing on its chest with my weapon. At first, I was worried that this wouldn’t work, but then my bracelet hit the chest and left a dent on impact. That filled me with even greater determination and I continued beating on the damn thing until several of the glowing symbols were so dented and bent out of shape that they exploded with a burst of light. Then all the glowing symbols vanished.
“This is for Rachael,” I snarled, smashing into it again. “And Kaylie…”
I was so focused on attacking the golem that I wasn’t paying enough attention. A giant metal hand came down and sent me flying. I hit the ground at least twenty feet away, my entire body hurting from the impact.
“That’s gonna leave a bruise,” I gasped before scrambling back to my feet.
Before I could take a single step back towards the golem, I saw Pinnacle dive down and smash into the creature, hitting the head so hard that it snapped off. The glowing symbols had all vanished during my attack, so it looked like the thing was no longer being protected. Spearhead threw her spear, hitting the golem in the chest. There was a burst of golden light, and suddenly, there was a hole melted all the way through the statue.
“Now, to finish this thing,” Spearhead announced, holding up the spear which had suddenly appeared back in her hand.
“My pleasure,” Pinnacle agreed.
Even without a head, and with a hole all the way through the chest, the statue was still moving. It tried getting back to its feet, but the two heroes attacked it at the same time. In mere seconds, twisted metal scraps fell to the ground, no longer moving, or even in any recognizable shape.
I felt a little left out since all I’d been able to do was stand there and watch them finish the golem off. And when I turned my attention back to the twisted little bastard behind this, I saw him sprawled out on the ground, apparently unconscious. At least, he wasn’t moving or resisting in the least while Ceasefire cuffed him.
“Is that it?” I asked, still looking around and half expecting a bunch of the smaller golems to come at us again. However, there was no sign of that happening. “Is it over?”
“You’re safe now,” Mystery Woman told Kaylie, who nodded at that.
“Thank you,” Rich told his girlfriend while holding his niece’s hand.
Kaylie looked around, leaking a little green mist as she did so, before half pleading, “Can I go home now?”
“Yes,” Rachael answered with a forced smile. “You can go home.” Then she looked at Pinnacle with a resigned look and added, “It’s time for both of us to go back.”
Pittsburgh PA, Saturday afternoon, Nov 24rd, 2007
I was in the Clinic, a couple floors below the Freelancer’s clubhouse. At the moment, I was sitting down in the waiting room while Kaylie was being examined by a doctor, to make sure she hadn’t been hurt from what had just happened.
A length of ribbon was stretched between my hands as I played with it to distract myself from my worry. Normally, I’d prefer to drink a beer or smoke a cigar while waiting, but that wasn’t an option at the moment, so the ribbon would have to do.
My eyes went down to my bare feet and I scowled in annoyance. I’d lost my shoes yesterday, when the little bastard had set me on fire, along with my favorite hair clip. Fortunately, my feet were tough enough that I could do without shoes, but the clip had been a gift from Kaylie and I regretted its loss.
Finally, the door opened and Kaylie stepped into the waiting room, along with Dr. Franklin. Dr. Franklin was a petite black woman, and the same one who’d helped me get through my change. I was pretty sure that I rubbed her the wrong way, probably because I’d mistaken her as a nurse the first time we’d met, but she was professional and really knew her stuff.
I gave Kaylie a reassuring smile, then asked, “So, Doc, what’s the situation?”
Dr. Franklin gave Kaylie a faint smile of her own before announcing, “Kaylie has several bruises, but is otherwise in good health.”
“That’s great,” Rich said from beside me. “I mean, not about being bruised, but about being good…”
“I think she knows what you mean,” Mystery Woman said.
I glanced to Min, who was still in costume. Of course, she wasn’t the only Freelancer who was present. Her brother had taken off as soon as we’d arrived at the Clinic, but Spearhead and Pinnacle were keeping close…mostly because Rachael was with us.
After Rumpelstiltskin had been defeated and the cops had been called to pick him up, Pinnacle had insisted on having Rachael checked out at the Clinic before returning her to prison. The truth was, I was pretty sure that he wanted to give her a little more time outside the cage, and maybe spend a bit of time with her.
Rich got up and hugged Kaylie, before they both sat down. She flashed me a grin, much happier now that she was no longer locked up in a cage. Funny how that was.
“I suppose I should get this over with,” Rachael announced, standing up slowly so that she wouldn’t startle Mystery Woman or Spearhead. Mostly Spearhead.
“We never took her weapons,” Spearhead exclaimed, pointing at the metal bracer on Rachael’s arm.
“This isn’t a weapon,” Rachael explained wryly. “It’s a restraint.”
“A restraint?” Spearhead demanded suspiciously.
Pinnacle told the other hero, “It disables her whenever she has a Diedricks episode, so she’s unable to hurt anyone. It requires a special key to open up or remove it, so she can’t just take it apart for parts.”
“Good,” Spearhead responded with a nod. “Whoever came up with that seems to have some intelligence then.”
“Thank you,” Rachael said with a faint smirk before she went into the office with Dr. Franklin.
After this, the waiting room was silent for several minutes. I noticed Spearhead giving me odd looks, and then overheard her whispering to Pinnacle. “Is that girl really Lady Havoc’s daughter?”
“Something like that,” Pinnacle whispered back with an amused look on his face.
I could have corrected the assumption that everyone seemed to have, but it wasn’t worth the effort. Besides, having everyone think of me as Rachael’s daughter was awkward and embarrassing, but not nearly as much as if everyone knew I was actually her father. I shook my head a little over just how damn weird my life had become.
Rachael’s examination was finished a short time later, and she came out of Dr. Franklin’s office with almost the same condition as Kaylie. She had a few scrapes and bruises but was otherwise in good health.
“If we leave now,” Rachael told Pinnacle with a wry smile, “I’ll be back in time for dinner. Tonight is meatloaf night, and I don’t want to miss that.”
“Of course not,” Pinnacle responded. “Everyone loves a good meatloaf.”
“Prison food,” Mystery Woman said with a look of disgust. “Yuck.”
I chuckled at that, though I knew that Rachael had a somewhat different perspective. My eldest daughter had never been a good cook like her mother or Melanie, and I’d seen the kind of things that she’d been eating since becoming a villain. Canned and microwave meals. Compared to that, prison meatloaf was probably pretty good.
“Damn,” I muttered, wishing I could get Rachael at least one good meal before she went back. Maybe a second Thanksgiving dinner. Unfortunately, I knew that wouldn’t be possible. Pinnacle had bent the rules a bit just to bring her to the Clinic instead of straight back to prison, and he couldn’t afford to bend them any further.
Just as we were about to leave, someone new entered the waiting room. This sandy blonde teenager was slim and androgynous looking, though leaning towards the feminine side. He was also quite familiar.
“Erin,” I said with a smile. “I didn’t expect to see you here.”
“Alyss,” Erin responded with a look of faint surprise. “What are you doing here?”
“Oh, we were just getting checked out after being kidnapped by a supervillain,” I answered with a chuckle.
“Again?” Erin asked with a disbelieving look. “Didn’t that happen to you last weekend too?”
“What?” Pinnacle demanded, giving me a surprised look. I just shrugged.
“I take it that you know the young lady,” Rich said, indicating Erin.
“Erin and I go to school together,” I explained. In fact, Erin and I were in the same cottage and even on the same floor, though I didn’t bother to point that out.
Erin looked at the group before saying, “I guess that would explain why you’re surrounded by superheroes…”
Rachael offered, “Actually, I’m a supervillain.”
That got Erin’s attention, and since he knew that I was related to Lady Havoc…though not exactly how…he probably realized who she was.
“This is Rachael,” I told Erin. “AKA Lady Havoc.” He gulped a little at that but offered a nervous smile. “This is Rich…”
“I’ve seen you on campus, haven’t I?” Erin asked as he looked Rich over. “You delivered some packages.”
“On occasion,” Rich agreed.
“This is Kaylie,” I said, putting my arm around my granddaughter. “She’ll be coming to Whateley next semester.”
“Really?” Erin asked, giving her a curious look. “It’s a good school.”
“And these colorful people,” I continued, gesturing to the costumed heroes, “are Pinnacle, Mystery Woman, and Spearhead.”
“Nice to meet you,” Pinnacle told Erin.
“We don’t have time to stay and socialize,” Spearhead reminded everyone. “We have a prisoner to deliver.”
Erin glanced to Rachael, then back to me. “Well, it looks like your weekend has been pretty eventful.”
“You have no idea,” I told him with a sigh. “It’s fu…freaking insane.”
Erin nodded again. “Well, I’ve got an appointment, so I guess I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Later,” I told him.
“Aren’t you going to get checked out too?” Kaylie asked me.
I just shrugged. “I’ve got regen, so why waste the doc’s time?”
As we started to leave the clinic, Spearhead took the lead, obviously eager to get this done and over with. Nobody bothered to point out that Rich would be the one teleporting Rachael back to prison, so her impatience was pointless.
Mystery Woman and Rich went second, and I noticed that they briefly held hands, though only for a second. It wouldn’t do to show their relationship in public while she was in costume. That kind of thing could blow her whole identity if the wrong people noticed. And then Kaylie and I went after them.
Rachael and Pinnacle trailed behind, and like Mystery Woman and Rich, they momentarily held hands. And then, to my surprise, Pinnacle pulled her to the side, out of view, and gave her a kiss, before the two of them hurried to catch up.
“Here we are,” Rich announced once we’d all stepped outside the Clinic. He held out his hand and a portal opened in the air. “This goes straight to the front of the prison.”
“It was good seeing you again,” I told Rachael, giving her a hug. “I promise to visit when I get a chance.”
“Thank you,” Rachael told me with a weak smile.
“I’ll miss you, sis,” Rich told Rachael while Kaylie gave her a quick hug and said, “I hope you get better…”
“Time to go,” Pinnacle said.
With that, Pinnacle and Rachel stepped through the portal and vanished. I just watched them leave with a sad smile, wishing yet again that things could have been different for my daughter.
Pittsburgh PA, Sunday late morning, Nov 25th, 2007
I was sitting in the living room, leaning back in the recliner with a beer in hand and a game on the TV. In fact, I was even thinking about lighting up a cigar, though I’d have to take that outside since Melanie didn’t like the smell of smoke in the house.
At the moment, I had the house to myself. Mark and Melanie had taken the girls out shopping, mostly to take Kaylie’s mind off what she’d been through. It would take more than a new pair of shoes to do that, but it was a good start.
After taking a long drink from my beer, I set the empty bottle down and removed my bracelets. I looked them both over, pleased to note that even after using them as weapons against all those golems, there were no real dents or scratches.
Just then, the doorbell began to ring. With a faint scowl of annoyance, I set my bracelets down on the coffee table and got up to see who it was. When I opened the door, I found myself looking up at a very tall and muscular man in slacks and a nice shirt.
“Pinnacle,” I greeted him, realizing that this was the first time I’d ever seen him out of costume.
“Roger, when I’m out of costume,” he responded with a smile. “I didn’t want to attract attention when I came over.”
I looked up at him and snorted. “You’re an exemplar,” I pointed out. “You’re always going to draw attention.” Then I invited him inside with a gesture. “So, what brings you over?”
“Honestly,” he responded, “I wanted to make sure that you and Kaylie were doing all right. I know that you’re much tougher than you look, but being kidnapped by a villain can’t be easy…especially not for a young girl like Kaylie.”
“I’m fine,” I told him honestly. “But Kaylie… She seems to be doing all right, but she might need to talk to a shrink.” I saw Roger glance around, so I told him, “She isn’t here right now. Her mom took her shopping.”
Roger nodded at that. “I’m glad to hear she’s doing all right then.”
“So,” I abruptly asked, “you want a beer?”
“Sure,” he responded.
I went to the kitchen and grabbed a couple beers, then we sat down in the living room. At first, neither of us really said anything. We just took a couple sips from our drinks and watched the TV.
“You know,” Roger said, “I half expected you to be gone already.”
“Rich is gonna give me a ride back this afternoon,” I told him with a shrug. “I wanted to spend as much time back home as I could.”
Roger nodded at that and then chuckled. “I can’t imagine what it must be like, going back to high school…”
“It’s…pretty damn weird,” I admitted. “But I’m learning a lot, and I’m even making friends with some of the kids there. Some of them have it even weirder than me, if you can believe it.”
“That is hard to believe,” he agreed with another chuckle.
“But true,” I assured him before taking a drink.
There was another minute of silence before Roger pointed out, “You know, you’ve been getting into enough fights that I’d almost think you wanted to become a hero.”
I snorted at that. “Hardly. Crap just keeps popping up. I don’t go looking for trouble, but it keeps showing up on my doorstep anyway.”
Roger chuckled again and took a took another drink. “And that is how it starts.”
I just chuckled in response. I had absolutely no intention of becoming a superhero or doing anything along those lines. Sure, my powers seemed pretty good for that kind of thing, but I had bigger goals for my second life. I was still going to help people, but I wanted to do that in a different way entirely.
“Rumpelstilskin was a real pain in the ass,” I admitted with a scowl. I’d underestimated him because of his size, and he’d kicked my ass because of it. If anyone should have known better than to underestimate someone because of their size and looks, it would be me. “All that magic…”
“Magic is hard to deal with,” Roger agreed with a grimace of his own. “You never know what a mage can throw at you. Every one seems to have their own tricks, and no two is quite the same.”
“That reminds me,” I mused. “I should probably have a word with the Curse Master. That bastard sold me out to Rumpelstilstkin.”
“I’m not surprised,” Roger said. “He has a reputation of not being very trustworthy…even among the other villains.”
“But I have to admit,” I responded with a grin and a chuckle. “I actually had a lot of fun busting up those golems… For once, I wasn’t the smallest one in a fight. I actually felt tall again”
“I can see that,” Roger grinned at me.
“Trust me,” I said. “You have no idea what it’s like to always be the shortest person in a room. It gets a bit old.”
“Yeah, I’d imagine,” Roger said, still grinning.
After this, we went silent for another minute as we just drank beer and watched the game. I used my power to create a square cloth and began to clean up and polish one of my bracelets. It might not have been damaged during the fight, but it had still been scuffed up and dirtied a bit.
“You know,” I mused, fixing Roger with my gaze while I continued to polish my bracelet. “While you’re here, I do have an important question for you…”
“What’s that?” he asked.
I thought about the way he’d kissed Rachael and asked, “What are your intentions towards my daughter?”
Pittsburgh PA, Sunday afternoon, Nov 25th, 2007
The tall black woman walked down the sidewalk with a swift and decisive pace. Several people stepped out of her way as though instinctively sensing she was dangerous.
Once she reached her destination, she paused just long enough to adjust her jacket and hair, then stepped inside. She went up the stairs and down a hall to where a couple men were playing cards at a small table. They looked like they were so caught up in their game that they were oblivious to everything else, but she knew better.
“Gentlemen,” she said politely as she absently touched the pin on the collar of her jacket. It was in the shape of a blue triangle.
“Ms. Bello,” one of the men responded with a nod. “Go right in. You’re expected.”
“Thank you,” she told him.
She knocked on the door across from the two men, then went inside. The room was a large office, or more accurately, a small suite of offices, though the primary room she found herself in was the one with a large wooden desk.
The man behind the desk was short and stocky, with naturally tanned skin. And though he wore no uniform, other than the pin on his shoulder, he had the bearing of a soldier. A few feet away from the man was a teenage girl, his daughter.
“We’ll finish this in awhile, Luna,” the man said to the girl, gesturing for her to leave. “And please close the door behind you. I’d like a little privacy.”
“Okay, Papa,” the girl said before hurrying out the side door and closing it behind her as instructed.
“Colonel Estevez,” the woman greeted him with a smile. “I’m glad to see you made it back after what happened last week.”
“Admittedly, I almost didn’t,” he responded with a sigh. “I left a lot of good men behind, but our lawyers are working on it.” Then he gave her a serious look and asked, “And how have things been here, Spearhead?”
“Please,” she responded with a faint smile. “Olivia, when I’m not in costume.”
“Of course,” he agreed, gesturing for her to have a seat. “Now Olivia, you said in your email that you had something to report.”
Olivia smiled faintly. “Yes, I do. In the report you sent about last week’s engagement, you described one of the mutants involved as being a little girl with white hair and a frilly dress, who demonstrated enhanced strength.”
“Yes,” Estevez said, giving Olivia a curious look.
“I encountered a girl who fits that description,” Olivia explained. “And I even overhead her referring to being in a fight last week.”
Estevez leaned forward, his expression hardening. “Very interesting…”
“Unfortunately,” Olivia continued, “there are…complications.” He gave her a raised eyebrow but didn’t say anything, so she continued. “The girl in question happens to be the daughter of Lady Havoc.”
“That is indeed a complication,” Estevez admitted.
“And what’s more,” Olivia added, “she has a few other local connections which would make it problematic if she was to disappear.” She hesitated a moment before clarifying. “Some of the other Freelancers seem to consider her an honorary member.”
“I see,” Estevez mused thoughtfully. “Aggressive recruitment would be far too risky, and after last week, I can assume that subtle methods wouldn’t be well received.”
“So, what do we do?” Olivia asked curiously. “From what I’ve heard, our window of access is very limited.”
“We leave her alone,” Estevez answered. “Learn what you can of her and those other mutants from last week but do nothing to compromise your position.”
“Understood, Colonel,” Olivia responded. After a few seconds, she smiled faintly. “Then I suppose I’d better get back to Freelancer headquarters. The world won’t save itself.”