Glyph 4: Putting Pen to Paper (Part 3)
A Second Generation Whateley Academy Story
Glyph 4: Putting Pen to Paper
Whateley Academy, Sunday early afternoon, Oct 23rd, 2016
Carrie sat at the large table in the middle of the Intelligence Cadet Corp’s clubhouse, staring at that small box in the middle of the table. There were numbers on the box, arranged just like the ones on her cell phone. This was a keypad, though it hadn’t actually been connected to anything…except for being glued to a wall.
“I can’t believe we fell for that trap,” Mister Blank grumbled as he gave the disconnected keypad a fierce glare.
“I can’t believe YOU fell for it,” Flipside responded with a faint smirk. “I mean, don’t you have a danger sense?”
Mister Blank turned red at that and muttered something in embarrassment. “It’s not his fault,” Miss Violet rushed to his defense. “His danger sense must have known the shock might be painful but that it wouldn’t actually be dangerous…”
“Exactly,” Mister Blank added a few seconds later. Then he grimaced a bit before admitting, “But I did sense something dangerous… Just a bit. But I thought it was warning me about what was on the other side of the door…”
“So, you ignored your danger sense and got zapped,” Flipside commented with a chuckle.
“You weren’t there,” Miss Violet reminded him sharply. “Perhaps if you’d been helping your clubmates, rather than whatever it was you were doing instead, then we might have been able to avoid that entirely…”
Carrie slid down a little further into her chair, strongly tempted to shrink down to avoid notice. She didn’t want to get caught up in this arguing, or even listen to it. She let out a sigh of relief when Perfume cleared her throat.
“I think that we all underestimated Glyph’s security,” Perfume pointed out.
Mister Blank nodded agreement. “You’ve got that right.” Then he shook his head. “I didn’t think her security would be rubbish, but she’s a mage… I never thought she’d even consider a decoy keypad…”
“Or a technology-based trap,” Miss Violet added with her own nod.
Carrie nodded along as well, sparing another look at the decoy keypad, which they’d brought with them so that Cyber Swarm would be able to study it. Unfortunately, once they’d removed the keypad, they’d all realized that there was no sign of any real keypad, lock, or other mechanism to open the door. They’d tried a few attempts to force the door, but that hadn’t done anything either.
“As you pointed out,” Perfume told Mister Blank. “Glyph is a mage, which means that she probably has magical security…” She paused for a moment before correcting herself. “Further magical security on the door…”
“I might be able to get around it,” Flipside offered, not sounding as confident as Carrie would have expected.
Mister Blank seemed to catch that. “And here, I thought you could warp the laws of physics and turn door into liquid…”
“Or make it as fragile as glass,” Miss Violet added just a little smugly.
“Your powers are good for altering the rules of a problem,” Perfume said as well, though she was more curious than mocking about this.
Flipside just shrugged, not seeming to be bothered by their comments. “True,” he responded without a hint of embarrassment. “My reality warping abilities are rather impressive…” He hesitated a moment before he continued. “However…”
“However?” Carrie asked before she even realized that she was speaking.
“My powers aren’t exactly predictable…even to me,” Flipside admitted. “And when magic is involved… Well, magic is already messing with the normal rules, so when you add that to my powers, the results are even less predictable. Sometimes, nothing happens at all. And other times… BOOM!”
“Now you almost sound like Cherry Bomb,” Perfume commented with a look of amusement. “But I understand your point. It may not be safe for you to try bypassing that door.”
Miss Violet tapped her chin thoughtfully for a moment before suggesting, “Then maybe we should talk to one of our magical leaning associates and see if one of them can help.”
“That sounds like a plan to me,” Perfume agreed with a nod of her head.
Carrie just frowned, then cautiously asked, “Isn’t this breaking and entering?”
“What was that?” Perfume asked her.
Several sets of eyes immediately settled on Carrie, which always made her self-conscious and uncomfortable. She was usually able to ignore that feeling whenever she was focused on doing one of her routines, something that she’d practiced doing countless times. However, this was not such an occasion.
“Um,” Carrie squeaked out. “We’re talking about breaking into Glyph’s lab…and we don’t have any kind of warrant. Isn’t that kind of illegal?”
Mister Blank let out a loud snort while Miss Violet responded, almost as though offended by thee question, “This is completely different.”
“Isn’t it always?” Flipside mused.
“We’re the good guys,” Mister Blank blurted out. “She’s the bad guy. It’s as simple as that…”
Perfume hesitated a moment before looking at Carrie and responding. “You do have a point, and admittedly, at other times, we might be pushing things a little…”
“At other times?” Carrie asked, a little confused by that.
“At the moment,” Perfume explained, “we are on school property. And Glyph’s hideout isn’t like her dorm room or gym locker. The school didn’t give her that hideout and never gave her permission to claim the space. What she did is really no different than going into some random closet in Schuster and declaring herself the new owner. We have every bit as much legal right to access that space as she does.”
“Exactly,” Miss Violet added with a smirk.
“Then by that reasoning,” Carrie pointed out, just because Miss Violet’s smug attitude annoyed her, “then doesn’t Glyph have just as much right to come in HERE?”
Perfumed smiled faintly at that, Flipside burst out laughing, and Mister Blank gaped at her in disbelief. Miss Violate glared at Carrie and exclaimed, “That entirely different…”
Berlin NH, Sunday early afternoon, Oct 23rd, 2016
“Where is she?” Hardcore demanded as he looked around.
Everything was obscured by smoke, making it difficult to see anything at any reasonable distance. He shifted his armor to thermal vision to cut through the smoke, but it was too late. The target had already run off.
“Find the target,” Hardcore ordered his men over the radio. “We can’t let her escape…”
Miller responded, “I see a couple girls on the move, but I can’t make out if either of them are the target.”
“Don’t let the target escape,” Hardcore repeated before pausing to glance back at the jewelry store. “Sherman. Mitchell. Clean out the jewelry shop. It will help with our cover. Everyone else, find that girl.” He hesitated a moment before adding, “Kill her companions too… We need to create some examples and make it look like our target wasn’t targeted specifically.”
With that in mind, Hardcore turned and fired a short burst of plasma from his forearm mounted weapon. The blast went through a man who looked like he was thinking about playing hero. Once he hit the ground with a hole through his chest, Hardcore looked around for any other convenient decoys.
Suddenly, a voice came over the radio. “Tyler here. I have eyes on the target.” Hardcore smiled.
Berlin NH, Sunday early afternoon, Oct 23rd, 2016
“I think we lost them,” Janine gasped, out of breath from our run.
We’d stopped running a couple blocks away from the robbery, on a side street that seemed mostly empty. I looked back the way we’d come but couldn’t see much through the smoke. Then, I looked around, my eyes going wide in realization.
“We lost Morgana and Laura too,” I blurted out in horror. “I thought they were right behind me…”
“They were,” Cherry responded, reaching into her pack for a couple more of her bombs. “I think we got separated at that last turn.”
I nodded at that, already starting to walk back the direction we’d come from when Cherry put out her hand to stop me. “Nope,” she told me in a firm tone. “Head back to the bus…”
I gasped at that, immediately protesting, “I can’t leave my friends…”
“And I can’t risk you getting hurt,” Cherry insisted. She stared back the way we’d come with a determined expression. “I’ll find our stragglers…and create a few more distractions in the process.” She flashed a grin. “We’ll meet back up at the bus.”
“But…,” I started to protest, not happy about this plan.
However, before I could finish arguing, a figure stepped emerged from the chaos behind us. It was one of those goons we’d run from, though thankfully, I didn’t see his armored friend, Hardcore. The goon pointed his weapon at us and fired. A burst of energy shot past, just barely missing me.
“Not on my watch,” Cherry exclaimed, throwing one of her red cherry bombs at the man.
To my surprise, our attacker stepped to the side, caught the grenade as though it was a baseball and threw it right back. This happened so smoothly, I had to wonder if our attacker was a professional baseball player. But Cherry wasn’t bothered by this at all and simply caught the ball in her own hand before gently tossing it back.
“Oh, a game of hot potato,” Cherry cheerfully announced.
For a moment, it looked like our attacker was going to catch the bomb again, but it suddenly exploded right in front of him, sending the man flying backwards pretty far. He collapsed to the ground, still moving but clearly not in any shape to continue the fight.
“I win,” Cherry announced with an evil grin. “Of course, its not smart to play hot potato with the person who controls when it goes off…”
“Why didn’t he just use his gun?” Janine asked in confusion.
“He got caught up in the moment,” Cherry responded with a grin. “It happens.”
“Laura and Morgana are in trouble,” I reminded Cherry, gesturing back in the direction where I’d last seen them. “We need…”
Cherry shook her head. “You two need to get to the bus…” I was about to protest again, but she ordered, “RUN! Run like Wondercute is coming to give you a makeover…”
“They already got away from those guys,” Janine told me, looking as though she was on the edge of panicking. “They’re probably already going to the bus…”
With a grimace, I nodded and reluctantly agreed. “Fine.” I gave Cherry a flat look and my most imperious ‘White Lady’ look. “They had better be safe.”
Cherry nodded, already heading back the way we’d come. Just a few seconds after she turned the corner, I heard another ‘BOOM’, with more smoke flooding the area immediately after.
“I guess we head to the bus,” I told Janine a little awkwardly, sparing another glance back in the direction Cherry had just gone.
Then, I paused, suddenly realizing that my hands were empty. I’d dropped my shopping bags during all the confusion, which made me curse under my breath. I’d spent almost all of my money on this trip, and now it was all gone because of those robbers. I couldn’t help but noticing that Janine had lost her shopping bags as well, including the clothes that I’d bought for her.
Janine nodded agreement, fear and worry clearly visible in her eyes. “Yeah…” She looked back the way we’d come as well and forced a smile. “They’re going to be fine. I’m sure of it.” Then in an almost conspiratorial tone, she added, “They’re really tough…”
“Yeah,” I agreed with a nod. “They are.”
I absently wiped my face with my sleeve, then paused upon noticing that I had makeup smeared all over my sleeve. I grimaced, having forgotten that I’d been wearing makeup to hide my skin color.
Then, without another word, we began heading back towards the bus, walking at a brisk pace rather than running. If we were trying to keep a low profile and avoid notice, then running was the last thing we wanted to do.
Janine and I had barely gone another thirty yards when she suddenly yelled, “WATCH OUT!” and tackled me, knocking me to the ground. A moment later, there was a flash of light above me, which would have gone through where I’d been standing.
“What the…?” I started, only to realize that two more of Hardcore’s goons had shown up. Fortunately, Janine had spotted them in time. “Thanks…”
One of the two goons had his short energy rifle pointed at us, obviously the one who’d taken that shot. The other one was raising his weapon and as one, they both fired again. Janine and I scrambled to the side and behind a car, trying to get cover. Windows shattered and holes started burning through the metal. My eyes widened.
“If they hit the gas tank…” I pointed out.
“No…,” Janine gasped in horror.
“But Cherry Bomb might enjoy the show,” I weakly joked, though Janine didn’t laugh.
“They’re gonna kill us,” Janine cried, actually shaking and looking like she was about to faint. “We do this kind of stuff in survival class…but the real thing is a LOT scarier…”
I nodded at that. “Yeah, it is.”
Training in class was almost never like real world situations. For one thing, Tolman could end a match if things started to get too intense, and for another, you were a lot less likely to be killed in class.
An image…a memory suddenly flashed through my mind. I could see the Messenger walking through a ball room while slashing his sword cane. People…family members fell in a spray of blood with each and very swing. Mom. Dad. Paige. Grandma…and so many others.
Then I realized that my eyes were closed and I was shaking. I forced my eyes open and took a deep breath, reminding myself that this would only get me killed. I wasn’t going to allow that kind of thing to happen again. I wasn’t going to just sit there and watch as people I cared about were murdered… NEVER AGAIN!
I glanced at Janine, who was staring at me as though I could save her. “Never again,” I repeated aloud.
Two more energy blasts shot out, one hitting the car and the other on missing and hitting the wall behind us. I noted that one of the blasts had come from a different angle. One of the goons had shifted position and was moving to get around the car.
I took a deep breath and activated one of my built-in spells. The watermark ‘tattoos’ scattered across my body began to glow with a faint silvery light, an indication that the stored magic had been released for my use. And with that, I stepped up and threw up a wall of air between us and the goons. An energy blast went right through the wall of air, which should have been no surprise. Solidified air could stop bullets but not energy. Fortunately, he hadn’t been aiming at me specifically when he fired, so the blast missed me and hit the wall instead.
“What are you doing?” Janine asked with an expression of both awe and concern.
“Fighting back,” I responded, releasing the wall of air and sending out a powerful burst of air instead.
Both of the goons were thrown back, where they hit the ground and tumbled. One of the two lost his weapon in the fall, though I was disappointed that the other one hadn’t lost his as well. And unfortunately, since the two of them had spread out away from each other, it had taken every last bit of my air power to hit them both. Now my air magic was down and wouldn’t recharge for about an hour.
At that moment, I really wished that I had my gun with me. Unfortunately, it was locked up in the armory back on campus, where it wouldn’t do me any good at all right now. When I got out of this, that was going to change.
“Come on,” I told Janine. “Now’s our chance…”
I reached for one of the pouches on my belt and pulled out the entire stack of cards that was stored in it, about two dozen of them. And without looking at the cards, I began pushing essence into each and every one until the entire stack of spell cards was now active.
“Have you ever played fifty-two pickup?” I asked Janine as I threw the whole stack into the air between us and the goons.
Janine gave me a confused look. “Yeah… I have a cousin who likes to spring that on everyone…”
“Well, we don’t have to worry about picking up these ones,” I explained, noting how each of the cards landed on the ground, the symbols that were painted on them glowing. Once they hit, the cards turned black and crumbled away, though the glowing symbols remained. “Now come on…”
The goon who’d lost his weapon scrambled to his feet and went for the weapon he’d dropped, but he stepped on one of the glowing symbols I’d scattered about. As soon as he did, there was a small explosion and a scream as he was sent flying up into the air, only to come down on another of the glowing runes. This resulted in another explosion with him slamming into the ground a short distance away.
“Instant mine field,” I explained to Janine. “Just add essence.”
Of course, this looked quick and easy, but it had been anything but. It had taken me hours of work to prepare that many spell cards ahead of time, but at that moment, I was thankful that I’d invested that time and effort.
The second goon was back on his feet as well, but he’d seen what had happened to his friend, so he stayed where he was and raised his weapon. I scowled in annoyance since I’d planned on running for it while they were down, using my magical landmines to keep them from following. Unfortunately, they’d gotten back to their feet a little quicker than I’d expected, so I wasn’t about to run and leave my back exposed to being shot.
“Why couldn’t I be the kind of gadgeteer who builds weapons?” Janine exclaimed in frustration as she pulled me back towards cover.
“Then you might end up like that idiot, Weaponeer,” I pointed out.
“Good point,” she agreed. “I wouldn’t want to be ANYTHING like that idiot.” We shared a nervous grin as we both ducked down behind another car.
I was already reaching into the second pouch of cards that I had on my belt, ones which were quite different from my minefield cards. Those were all copies of the same spell while my second pouch contained a variety of useful spells. I’d taken to organizing them in a way that would make it easy to find what I wanted, so it only took me a couple seconds to pull out the card I wanted. I gave it a quick glance to make sure it was the right one.
Once another blast hit the car, I came out from cover and slapped my glowing spell card onto the side of the car. This was a ‘look here’ spell, drawing the shooter’s attention, which would hopefully give us the distraction we needed. It worked because he immediately took aim at that spot on the care and opened fire. I jumped back, cursing the fact that I hadn’t considered that reaction to my spell.
“Come on,” I told Janine again. “We don’t have long…”
The goon blasted the car again and again, stepping forward as he did so to get just a little closer. Then he stepped on one of the spells I’d tossed out little earlier and the explosion threw him up into the air. Debris was scattered about in the process which set off more of my mines. There was a series of small explosions, which used up most of my remaining mines.
“I think we have a little longer now,” Janine pointed out cautiously.
“Or not,” I corrected, pointing to the goon who’d first gone through my mine field. He’d recovered enough to get back to his feet, though one arm was bent at a bad angle and he was limping.
“Why are they doing this?” Janine demanded in frustration. “We didn’t do anything to them…”
My eyes narrowed at that. She was right. We hadn’t done anything to them, nor had we gotten in the way of their robbery. They could have continued with their robbery, but instead, they’d dropped that to come after us. No, I corrected myself. To come after ME.
“They’ve got to be after me,” I gasped, knowing that Morgana would probably call me paranoid for think it. “This is another hit…”
“WHAT?” Janine blurted out, staring at me in surprise and horror. “What do you mean another…?”
I snorted as I reached into my pouch for another card. “Just another day in my life.”
Janine suddenly looked angry…furious. Then before I realized it, she was running right at the goon. She floated over a few remaining mines and reached the goon before he could get his lost weapon. He took a swing at her with his good arm, but he was injured and off balance, so barely even grazed her. But then, Janine retaliated by kicking the man between the legs and dropping to the ground. She didn’t hesitate to kick him again, right in his masked face, which knocked him over.
“Wow,” I exclaimed, both surprised and impressed. “I didn’t know you had that in you…”
Janine turned back to me with a blush on her face. “I grew up with a brother and a couple boy cousins who liked to pick on me…” She snatched up the energy rifle that the man had dropped earlier. “I know how to take care of myself.”
I couldn’t help but grin. “I can see that…”
Janine floated backwards, keeping the weapon pointed at the two men, though she held it a bit awkwardly. Obviously, she didn’t have a lot of experience in using that kind of weapon, which was no surprise. Still, she fired a couple shots in the direction of the goons, not hitting them but making a clear statement anyway.
Once Janine was back by my side, I announced, “I’m going to make sure these guys can’t cause us any more trouble.”
With those words, I activated another of my built-in spells, causing my tattoos to glow green. I stepped forward, getting closer to both of them and then bending down to put my hands on the ground. Only then did I unleash my activated earth power. The road softened and both goons sank into the ground, only a couple inches, but enough to keep them locked in place. This was probably overkill since neither of them seemed to be a threat anymore, but this did give me a chance to show off a little for Janine.
A side effect of this action was that a couple of my remaining mines detonated due to the shaking in the ground, not that they were close enough to do any damage. Only one or two mines still remained, but the essence would burn out in just a few more minutes and then they’d fade away on their own.
“I just hope Laura and Morgana don’t have this kind of trouble,” I said, giving a worried glance back in the direction where I’d last seen them.
There was another loud BOOM in the distance. “I think Cherry is still looking for trouble,” Janine pointed out.
I was worried, and though I was tempted to run back to find my friends, I remembered our instructions. Cherry had been very clear when she’d told us to get to the bus, and as our escort, I was trusting her to find Morgana and Laura. Trusting her with that wasn’t easy though.
“Or she already found it,” I muttered.
I shook my head, then wiped my forehead with my sleeve. But once I looked down at my sleeve and all the makeup that was now smeared on it, I realized that this was probably a bad idea. There probably wasn’t much makeup left on my face, and I wasn’t sure it would be a good idea to waste any time touching it up.
Just then, a voice called out, “What’s going on here?”
I snapped around and saw a man standing there, having come from around the corner. He was middle-aged, dressed in a nice suit, and he was leaning on a cane.
“I heard the explosions from my office,” the man announced, gesturing back the way he’d apparently come from. “And they knocked one of the paintings off my wall…” He scowled at that, though his eyes remained locked on us.
“Great,” I grumbled with a wince. The last thing I wanted to deal with now was a witness. The smoke and explosions had done a good job of keeping witnesses away…until now. “These guys attacked us and we defended ourselves.”
Janine dropped the energy gun with a guilty look on her face. “They tried robbing a jewelry store, then came after us…”
“I see,” the man said, staring at the two goons who were partially sunk into the ground. “Well, they certainly seem to be dressed for that kind of work.”
I nodded at that, no longer looking at the man. Instead, I grabbed Janine’s hand and gently pulled her in the direction of the bus. “Time to get out of here before anything else happens…”
Berlin NH, Sunday early afternoon, Oct 23rd, 2016
Hardcore scowled as he fired a blast of energy at a parked car, burning the door nearly completely off while destroying the inside. This petty destruction made him feel a little better, even though it did little for this mission.
This mission was a complete and total clusterfuck. Killing a teenage girl while making a show of it should have been a quick and easy paycheck, but everything that could go wrong with this mission had.
At first, Hardcore had planned to use a nearby bank as the location of the hit. After all, nobody would think twice of an armored villain and his crew hitting a bank. That kind of thing was expected. But the target didn’t cooperate and wasn’t going anywhere near a usable bank, so he’d been forced to change plans and use a jewelry store instead. He and his crew were definitely overkill for a jewelry store robbery, but it was the best cover he could come up with on such short notice.
Then someone cut loose with smoke bombs and explosives, creating complete chaos in the process. None of his men could see through the smoke, and half of them kept diving for cover because they couldn’t see the source of the explosions. And of course, the target ran, getting away in all the chaos.
Hardcore cursed under his breath, making sure that his radio wasn’t keyed before doing so. It wouldn’t do for his men to see him getting frustrated like that.
His men had chased after the target, so she wasn’t going to escape. Unfortunately, this would destroy the cover story of her simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. They could still obscure the real target of this mission, but that would require a lot of collateral damage. In fact, all the explosions and smoke bombs might actually help with that.
“But first and most importantly,” Hardcore reminded himself. “We need to eliminate the target.”
Berlin NH, Sunday early afternoon, Oct 23rd, 2016
Cherry Bomb stood in the middle of the street as she looked around for her wayward charges. She’d already led two of the other girls to safety…well…relative safety. Unfortunately, she’d lost track of the other two and needed to make sure that they were safe too.
The streets and sidewalks were empty, much to her relief. The smoke and explosions had done their job, driving everyone inside where it was safe. That meant, there were less people to get in the way and fewer witnesses for what was going on.
Small bombs were clutched in each of her hands. One held a cherry red signature bomb, which could generate a nice healthy ‘boom’ with a balanced mix of heat and force. The other was one of her plain black smoke bombs, useful for obscuring the battlefield but lacking that je ne sais quoi that made most of her toys so entertaining.
Of course, Cherry did have some better toys, though she’d been forced to leave them back on campus, along with her combat suit. That was quite a shame because this would have been a great opportunity to test out a few new toys under real world conditions. But as it was, she was left with only a few of her toys and she was almost out of those.
“I keep telling them that they should let students come fully geared out whenever we go shopping, but NOOOOO…” She mused with a roll of her eyes. “It would make things SOOOOO much easier when these situations pop up…”
Once Cherry was sure that she didn’t see her missing kids, she threw her signature bomb down the street as hard as she could, and as an exemplar, she had a great throwing arm. She kept a close eye on the bomb, making sure that there was nobody nearby when she activated the remote detonation. It exploded in the air, creating a nice loud ‘BOOM’, which was sure to draw attention in that direction. Only then did she toss the smoke bomb, making it more difficult for anyone to see what was really going on.
“I hope this was worth it,” she muttered. Those were the last two toys she had on her, except of course for her secret weapon. “Now, to find those girls…”
Cherry’s grin turned into a worried frown. She hoped those girls were all right, and that they were already heading towards the bus. That had been the arranged meeting place if they got separated on the trip. However, Cherry wasn’t one to just sit back and hope. She much preferred to take matters into her own hands.
She caught sight of two costumed henchmen running down the street, only getting a glimpse of them through the smoke. Those smoke bombs were a bit of a double-edged sword, though they wouldn’t have been any problem at all if she’d brought the goggles from her combat suit. Well, she had thought about it…but had then decided to use the space to cram in one more explodey toy instead.
When these guys had first popped up and surrounded them, she’d thought that they were after her because of that thing in Boston the previous year, though they hadn’t actually seemed especially interested in her. Of course, she wasn’t the only one on this trip who had enemies.
Though Cherry didn’t know the details, she did know that Morgana had gotten into some kind of trouble back in Britain. The kind of trouble which might end up following her halfway across the planet.
Smurf Girl…who would probably throw a fit if she ever heard Cherry call her that…had that whole devisor chocolate fiasco that had half the campus mad at her…and the other half cheering her on. But not only did she have enemies on campus because of that, she was also involved in some kind of business in Japan, though Cherry didn’t know any details. It was possible that someone might come after her because of one of those things.
Bianca, of course, was the White Lady, the figurehead of a crime family back in Chicago. She’d already been involved in some nasty business and even had a price on her head. The Cape Squad had talked about it during one of their meetings.
Cherry knew a little bit about what Bianca had gone through…and who she’d been before she inherited the title of the White Lady, and she felt sorry for the girl. It wasn’t Bianca’s fault that the world took a dump on her old life, and she was just trying to get by. This was why Cherry had been running interference for Chalk Girl on the sly, keeping the other Capes from messing with her.
And then there was Tinker Bell…who was way too plain and boring to have picked up any enemies. Well, not unless she’d gotten mixed up with the potato mafia back in Idaho. But as far as Cherry knew, Janine was the only one of their group who didn’t have enemies gunning for her.
“Lucky her,” Cherry mused as she hurried down the street. “And kind of sad too…” Everyone needed a good enemy or two.
Just then, Cherry saw something emerge from the smoke. Someone, though it was a very large someone. Hardcore was walking down the street, though he casually opened fire on a store window, destroying it and the display within.
A moment later, the armored figure noticed her. Hardcore turned and opened fire, sending blasts of energy in her direction. Cherry leapt to the side, easily avoiding one blast that went through where she’d been standing, then she dashed over to take cover behind a car that had been abandoned in the middle of the street.
“Ah, the star of the show,” Cherry mused with a grin. She reached into her pack and pulled out the very last toy she’d brought with her. This was her secret weapon, the one she’d reserved for a special occasion. “And the big bad super villain is perfect for it…”
Cherry’s last bomb looked much like the rest of the ones she’d used, a round main body with an antenna that resembled a fuse. However, the main body of this one was a bright blue and a gold letter F was painted on the side.
Then, with an almost maniacal grin, Cherry leapt out from cover and raced down the street towards Hardcore, wanting to get closer so that she wouldn’t miss. She dodged another of his blasts and picked up the pace.
“Hello daddy, hello mom,” Cherry loudly sang, “I’m your ch-ch-ch-CHERRY BOMB!”
With those words, Cherry dropped the F bomb, tossing it at Hardcore. At this range, she couldn’t miss…and she didn’t. The bomb hit him in the chest and exploded in a massive ball of fire.
“F you!” Cherry exclaimed with an excited laugh.
Hardcore was completely engulfed in flames, as was the ground around him. Spots of embers were scattered about nearby, burning with a white-hot intensity. Her furnace bomb had a relatively small boom, but it also contained a highly concentrated napalm-like gel, as well as some magnesium shrapnel. And it had just blown up in Hardcore’s face.
Cherry came to a stop and just watched the show, thinking that this would have to be a rough way to go. Still, Hardcore had been shooting up the street with no care at all about collateral damage, so she didn’t feel too bad about this.
But just as Cherry was congratulating herself for stopping the villain, Hardcore stepped out of the flame. His armor was still burning, at least for a few more seconds, before those flames went out. The armor looked a bit charred, but not badly damaged.
“How the…?” Cherry demanded, gaping at the villain in surprise.
Obviously, his armor was a lot tougher than she’d thought, though she suspected that he probably had another trick or two as well. The flames on his armor…including the burning shrapnel that had embedded in it…had all gone out. That wasn’t normal behavior.
“He probably has some kind of energy suppression field,” she mused, her devisor side taking the reigns as she tried to figure this out. Suppression fields were somewhat like force fields, but they tended to dampen one kind of energy or another. In this case, it looked like it might be heat or fire. “Damn. I wasted a good F bomb then…”
Hardcore held out his armored arms and opened fire with a series of energy blasts, one after another, almost like a machine gun. Cherry dodged and ran, jumping behind one parked car and then another. Blasts burned through each so she kept moving until the barrage finally stopped.
“Well, that was interesting,” Cherry gasped. “It looks like I got my daily cardio in…”
When she finally popped her head out from behind a car to see what was going on, she was relieved to see that Hardcore had turned away from her. After what he’d just thrown at her, he probably assumed that she was dead now.
But then, Cherry saw that Hardcore was not just walking away…he was heading in the direction where she’d last seen Janine and Bianca. Suddenly, he shot up into the air…flying away. No, she quickly realized, not flying. Leaping. Hardcore went up and then came back down again about half a block away.
“Well, that didn’t go as planned,” she muttered.
Cherry looked at the still burning spot on the ground, then at the surrounding cars and buildings, all of which had been torn up. There was still enough smoke to make it difficult to see very far, though fortunately, nobody remained in the streets to get caught up in all this. In the distance, she could hear the sirens, which made her let out a sigh.
“I just know they’re going to blame this whole mess on me,” Cherry said with a long sigh. She looked around at the destruction and shook her head. “Again.”
And with that, she began to follow after Hardcore. She still hadn’t found Morgana or Laura, but now she had to go find Bianca and Janine again…before it was too late.
Berlin NH, Sunday early afternoon, Oct 23rd, 2016
A faint hum filled the air, though it quickly grew louder…and closer. The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end as I snapped around, looking for the source of this humming sound. Mere seconds after I first heard it, something dropped from the sky and crashed into the ground about thirty yards from me.
A huge, armored figure stood there, back in the direction we’d just come from. Hardcore. And he was staring right at us, or at least, he seemed to be. It was nearly impossible to tell where his eyes were actually looking because of the helmet.
Janine grabbed my arm in fear, gasping, “Oh no…”
I let out a gasp of my own, my eyes narrowing as I stared at the villain. If he was there to rob a jewelry store, then why was he coming after us? That didn’t make any sense at all…unless we were the real goal. I was the real goal. I’d thought that was the situation when I first saw his henchmen, and I was only growing more and more certain of it. This was another hit.
Hardcore suddenly reminded me of Overstrike, another armored villain who’d been sent to kill me…back in Chicago. And this time, I wasn’t going to count on some random superhero showing up to save me like the last time.
Without another word, Janine and I turned and ran away. The humming sound kicked up again and before I knew it, a shadow passed overhead as Hardcore actually jumped over us. He landed up ahead and then turned back to us again. Obviously, we weren’t going to be able to outrun him.
“YOU GIRLS HAPPENED TO SEE SOMETHING YOU SHOULDN’T HAVE,” Hardcore called out, a lot louder than he needed to. It was almost as though he wanted people to overhear. “NOW I NEED TO ELIMINATE ALL WITNESSES. THIS IS NOT PERSONAL.”
“What is he talking about?” Janine demanded. “He was pulling a robbery right out in the open… Is he going to chase down everyone who was there?”
“I don’t think he was ever after that jewelry store,” I pointed out grimly, already reaching into my pouch for a spell card. “If he was, he would have just grabbed the jewelry and left…instead of wasting his time chasing after us.”
I held up my spell card and charged it with essence so that it would be ready to use as soon as I got close to Hardcore. This was one of my most reliable spells, and I wish I’d had it back when Overstrike came after me since it was ideal for dealing with power armor.
Hardcore held out one of his hands and fired a blast of energy from the back of his arm. Janine and I both dove to the side to avoid the blast.
“Good thing he telegraphs his attacks,” I muttered.
Then I realized that I’d dropped my spell card while diving, and it had landed against the side of a parked car. I stared at the car, my eyes going wide as I saw the car door rusting and crumbling away.
“NO,” I exclaimed in frustration.
That had been the only spell card that I’d prepared with that spell. Of course, I could draw another rust spell on the ground, but I didn’t think that Hardcore would give me the time to do that…nor conveniently walk into it once I was done.
Hardcore opened fire again, though Janine and I were both watching his arms. The energy weapons began glowing just a second before he opened fire, letting us know that it was time to move again.
“In our urban escape and evasion class,” Janine said, her voice shaking, “our teacher said that you should always try to run or hide…to lose whoever is after you.”
“We tried that,” I pointed out, though admittedly we’d done a lot more running than hiding. “I don’t think we’re gonna run away from this gun…”
Janine nodded, but continued anyway. “She also said that if you got stuck and had to fight…that you should fight dirty.”
“Good idea,” I agreed. “But I don’t think that kicking him in his nuts is going to do any good.”
“Probably not,” Janine agreed, a little flustered. “I really should have kept that energy gun…”
I pulled Janine back behind a car, trying to stay out of Hardcore’s sight. That would make it harder for him to target us…and possibly easier to escape.
I thought about how we could fight dirty, but all I could think at the moment was my built-in earth spell. And unfortunately, I’d already used it up on those goons…along with my air spell. That left me with three built-in spells and a handful of prepared spell cards…most of which would be useless against an armored opponent.
“All those weeks of BMA,” I grumbled, ducking down as an energy blast struck the car I was hiding behind, burning a massive hole through the front end. “And as soon as I run into a real-world situation…I can’t use ANY of it…”
That wasn’t completely accurate, though it certainly felt like it at the moment. There was one thing I had learned in BMA though, and that was to hit your opponent hard and fast if you could, with whatever your best attack was for that moment.
Once again, I flipped a mental switch and activated one of my remaining built-in spells, causing all of my ‘tattoos’ to glow a reddish-orange. Fire was my most powerful remaining spell, and it was time to see if Hardcore could take the heat.
“When I jump up,” I warned Janine, “run. Get away while I distract him…”
“What?” she gasped. “What are you going to…?”
Before Janine could finish, I leapt out from behind the car, focusing all of my fire magic into a single focused blast and sending it right at Hardcore. He was standing still, making him an easy target, so I hit him right in the chest, burning through every ounce of energy that had been stored in that spell.
“GOTCHA!” I exclaimed triumphantly, sure that I had him.
The armored figure just stood there, and for a few seconds, it looked like the heat was starting to char his armor. But then, it abruptly stopped. In an instant, the air around him shimmered and the fire vanished. His armor was a little charred and lightly damaged…but it had already looked like that before. I wasn’t sure that I’d added any extra damage to that.
“Not good,” I gasped, taking a terrified step back. I’d just hit Hardcore with my most powerful attack…and he’d simply shrugged it off.
Now I only had two remaining elemental spells I could activate, and neither of them would do much. First, my light power would be completely useless against Hardcore, while my water spell could control water…not create it. And I didn’t see any bodies of water I could use.
“Is this what Vic always feels like?” I muttered, desperately trying to think of what I could do next.
This was not my kind of fight. My powers simply weren’t made for going head on against an armored opponent. If I wanted to beat him, I needed to get away…to draw a bunch of spells on the ground and wait for him to walk into them. However, I had no illusion about getting the time to do something like that now. Maybe if I’d started setting my trap as soon as we’d finished dealing with those goons…
Hardcore held out his hands and I could see the glow forming in his weapon, giving me another warning about what was to come. Then to my surprise, the glow flickered a little and an energy blast came out…but it was weak compared to the previous ones.
I leapt to the side again, avoiding the blast, though I tore my hand open a little when I hit the ground. I was already pretty bruised and scraped from all this fighting, though I didn’t pay it much attention since my regen was already taking care of it.
Hardcore paused for a moment, then shifted position and tried for another blast. This one flickered and came out even weaker than the last one.
“He’s running out of ammo,” I gasped in realization. “Or power…or whatever he uses for that thing…
I felt a surge of relief at that…and hope. So far, Hardcore had just been standing back and blasting us, so if he could no longer blast us… Well, this could be a game changer.
“It’s broken,” Janine exclaimed. “Now we can get away…”
“Maybe,” I responded without much confidence. I remembered how well Hardcore could jump…and how easily he’d cut us off. “Maybe if we go into a building…” I gestured at a random building. “He’s too big to follow us inside…”
“But we could also end up trapped in some random store,” Janine pointed out. “Until he busts in after us…”
In spite of that, this seemed to be our best chance to escape. I picked out a nearby building that looked like it might have a bunch of offices, the kind that would have a couple side exits we could escape through. But before Janine or I could head towards it, the humming sound started again and Hardcore launched into the air.
I was already reaching into my pouch as I moved away, trying to find a spell that could help. About half my spell cards were ones for security…to keep me from being spied on in one way or another. I did have a few more spells like those land mines, and even some utility spells. I charged a couple of those and threw them to the ground, right where I thought Hardcore was going to land.
Hardcore landed right where I expected, smashing into the ground and activating two of my spells. One exploded while the other released a concentrated burst of kinetic energy, the kind that would toss a normal person up about five feet into the air. Combined, they caused the armored figure to stagger back a couple steps.
When Hardcore stepped forward, his foot came down onto one of my other spell cards, activating the spell I’d stored within. This was a quick binding…the magical equivalent of super glue. If a normal person stepped on that, it would hold their foot in place for half a minute, long enough for me to either attack them or escape. Unfortunately, it wasn’t nearly strong enough to hold that power armor and he easily tore free.
I scrambled backwards, trying to put more space between me and Hardcore, though I’d given up any hope of outrunning him. Instead, I desperately searched through my stack of spell cards, trying to find something…ANYTHING…that could slow him down.
Suddenly, an empty beer bottle flew into Hardcore’s head, shattering into glass shrapnel. “RUN!” Janine shouted as she threw another bottle at the armored figure, even though she had to know that this couldn’t hurt him. Still, I appreciated her attempt to distract him.
“YOU RUN!” I shouted back, wishing that Janine would take the opportunity to escape while she could.
“I’M NOT LEAVING YOU!” Janine responded, throwing the second bottle along with that looked to be chunk of broken masonry, probably broken loose from one of the buildings during all the fighting.
“YES!” I suddenly exclaimed, realizing that I had one card in my stack that would be absolutely perfect for this situation. I did have a second rust spell prepared… “Now I just need to hit him with it…”
Just then, another familiar voice yelled out, “BIANCA!”
I glanced around while I continued backing away from Hardcore, quickly spotting Morgana and Laura running towards us. My roommate was back in her dragon form, and her clothes looked a bit torn and singed, though honestly, I would have expected them to be a lot worse. In fact, I was a little surprised that she hadn’t burned all of her clothes to cinders yet. Laura, of course, was in much better shape.
“I CAN’T LEAVE YOU ALONE FOR FIVE MINUTES,” Morgana called out.
“POT MEET KETTLE,” I responded.
A moment later, I heard the now familiar humming. That drew my full attention back to Hardcore, who looked like he was about to do another one of those leaps. I was out of his reach but not far enough away to bother with that kind of powered jump. Maybe he was going to go after one of my friends next… But then, instead of launching up into the air like I expected…he shot forward…straight at me.
I tried to jump out of the way but couldn’t move fast enough. Before I knew it, Hardcore slammed into me, causing me to drop all of my spell cards. All but one, and I wasn’t even sure which one I’d managed to keep hold of. I just hoped it was my rust spell, because if it wasn’t…
The impact knocked the wind out of me and left me dazed for a few seconds, long enough for Hardcore to get a good grip on me. The next thing I knew, he’d grabbed me around my midsection using both hands, one on each side of my rips…and lifted me off the ground. His grip was strong enough that my ribs ached and I knew that he could easily crush me.
“No,” I gasped, having a hard time breathing.
My friends were calling for me, but I didn’t pay them much attention. Instead, I turned my attention the card I still held in my hand, the last chance for me to escape this situation. I hoped it was my rust spell. I wasn’t religious, but I silently prayed for it to be the right spell. And then as I looked at the card, I let out a pained sigh. It was my silence spell. That would be a great one if I wanted to keep Hardcore from communicating with his people or calling for reinforcements, and maybe even if he had some kind of sonic weapon. But for this situation… It was useless. Without bothering to charge the spell, I let go and it fell to the ground to join all the others that I’d lost.
“Who are you?” Hardcore asked. His voice was lower than the previous times I’d heard him speak. This time, he seemed to be speaking to me alone rather than to everyone nearby. “Not that I care, but you hardly seem worth this effort…”
I blinked in surprise. “You’re trying to kill me…and you don’t even know who I am?”
This confused me a little because I’d thought he was another hitman. But if he didn’t even know who I was…then was I really his target? This whole situation had only become even more confusing.
While Hardcore was talking, he wasn’t pressing his hands together and crushing me like a grape. As long as he was talking, I still had a chance. I glanced to my friends, hoping that they could take advantage of Hardcore’s distraction. However, what I saw was that all of them were holding back, staring at me with worried looks. Of course… I was effectively a hostage. They couldn’t come at Hardcore without risking me further.
“I’m on my own,” I whispered in dread.
For a moment, I nearly collapsed at the hopeless situation. Then, I suddenly realized that this might actually be an opportunity in disguise. I’d lost all my spell cards, but not all my weapons. In fact, my most powerful weapons were stored in another pouch on my belt…one that I could reach.
“ONCE I KILL YOU,” Hardcore announced, once again raising the volume so that other people could hear, “I WILL KILL ALL THE OTHER WITNESSES. THIS IS NOTHING PERSONAL.”
Those words sent a chill down my spine. An image flashed into my mind of the man who’d previously spoken those words to me. Fear flooded through me at those words…at that memory. However, that fear quickly turned to anger and determination.
“Nothing personal,” I spat out bitterly. “The Messenger said the exact same thing before he slaughtered my family…”
“The Messenger?” Hardcore asked in his quieter voice. His voice was modulated through the armor, but he still sounded surprised.
“He said that when he tried to kill me,” I continued in a cold even voice. “But I killed him first… Then I had his head cut off and sent to the person who’d hired him…”
There was a moment of silence before Hardcore responded, “The Messenger was killed by…” Then he went silent again.
I could feel his eyes locked on me as the wheels turned in his mind. My white hair was loose and spilling all over the place. Most of my makeup had been lost during the fighting, letting my ‘natural’ skin color show.
“You’re HER,” Hardcore gasped, the surprise and even fear now clear in his voice. His grip tightened on me, painfully so. I was sure I’d cracked a rib or two during the impact, so this hurt even worse and made it nearly impossible to breath. “You’re the new White Lady…”
Hardcore was starting to get worried, which admittedly, made me feel a little better. However, now that he knew who I was, he probably realized that there could be consequences for killing me…such as retaliation by the Family. Not that this would do me any good if he killed me…and he was clearly about to do that anyway.
With that, I held my hand out, revealing my secret weapon. That caught Hardcore’s attention, though he was probably confused as to why I was holding out a red crayon. And while his attention was on the crayon, I reached out with my other hand and pushed essence into the symbol that I’d just drawn onto his chest.
I kicked Hardcore as hard as I could, causing his armor shatter where my foot struck. I followed that up by slamming my elbows down, cracking his arms and forcing him to let me go. I dropped to the ground, where I immediately rolled to break the fall. It looked like BMA was good for something after all.
“WHAT DID YOU DO?” Hardcore demanded, obviously confused by how easily his armor was breaking.
I just grinned triumphantly. My rust spell would have been useful, but I had no idea how much of his armor was corrodible metal and how much would be made of things like ceramic or fiberglass. That was why I’d used my new ‘fragile’ spell. That one briefly made nearly the whole thing become as brittle as delicate crystal.
“NOW ITS MY TURN!” Morgana yelled as she rushed forward, flames flickering over her body.
Morgana reached Hardcore a second later and gave him a good punch. His armor crumbled beneath her fist, breaking into large shards of material. But my roommate wasn’t finished and hit him again, sending the armor flying back into the side of a car. The side of the car was smashed in while the armor practically exploded into splinters and shrapnel.
“What the hell did you do to him?” Morgana asked me in an aside. “That was one nasty spell…”
“I’ll have to add it to my usual repertoire,” I responded with a weak smile. “I only found it recently but didn’t think I’d use it much since I already have my rust spell…”
I stared at Hardcore, or at least, at what was left of his armor. Now, it was so broken up that it would barely even qualify as scrap. Pieces of the armor, both large and small…mostly small…were scattered all over the road. Only part of the core body remained semi-intact, and even the outer shell of that had been removed. What little that remained, didn’t look like it could be any kind of a threat.
But as I watched, the remaining core began to crack open as something started to emerge, almost like a bird breaking out of its egg. But the figure that emerged was human, a man wearing a green and grey jumpsuit similar in style to the armor than those henchmen had worn. This was Hardcore, the man inside the armor. Or at least, the man who’d formerly been inside the armor.
Hardcore looked shaken and a bit disoriented, but also determined…like a man who wasn’t about to give up just because his power armor had been peeled off him. He reached for a gun that was strapped to his side, but before he could even draw it from the holster, he suddenly collapsed to the ground. My eyes went to Laura, who’d just shot him with her neural neutralizer.
“And who says shopping trips are boring?” Morgana joked, flashing me a broad grin.
“Not the way you do them,” I said with a sigh. “Next time, can we skip the crazy villain part…?”
“But that’s the best part,” my roommate protested.
Suddenly, Janine threw her arms around me, making me wince in pain from my tender ribs. “You made it,” she exclaimed, hugging me tighter. “I was so worried…”
“Me too,” I admitted awkwardly.
“I was afraid you were going to die,” she cried out, still not letting go of me. “And I never even got to…”
When Janine abruptly cut off, I asked, “What?”
Janine was still hugging me tightly, though thankfully, no longer around my tender ribs. She was also blushing brightly as she pulled back and looked into my eyes. Then, without warning, she leaned in and surprised me with a quick kiss on my lips. It was just a quick peck, but I gaped at that…and the implications.
Before I could gather my wits, another familiar voice exclaimed, “I can’t believe it!” I looked over and saw Cherry coming towards us. “I finally find everyone, only to find that you had all the fun without me…”
“Um…sorry?” Janine responded awkwardly. She was staring at the ground, bright red, and not looking at me at all. I probably would have been blushing just as much if I’d been able to.
“It looks like you didn’t leave anything for me,” Cherry grumbled as she joined us. “Not that I have any more bombs on me, but the point still stands.”
“About time you showed up,” Morgana teased. “Too bad, you missed the party. We saved you a piece of cake though…”
“But she ate it,” I added, gesturing to my roommate who just shrugged.
“Laura ate the last piece,” Morgana disagreed, gesturing to Laura.
I glanced at Laura, who was staring down at the shattered remains of Hardcore’s armor with an expression of immense disappointment. “Such a waste… I wanted to study this armor, but this is completely useless…”
“It could be worse,” I pointed out wryly. When Laura gave me a curious look, I added, “I could be dead.”
“And I for one am glad you’re not,” Morgana told me. “I’d hate to have to break in a new roommate…”
“Nobody else would put up with you,” I respond with a faint smile.
Then I paused as I saw something from the corner of my eye. Someone else was coming towards us. My first impulse was to get ready for another fight, though I quickly realized that this wasn’t another of Hardcore’s goons. It was the same man Janine and I had run into earlier, the middle-aged one with the cane. He glanced at the wreckage and then gave a longer look at Hardcore before nodding in approval.
“You kids should get back to Whateley, as soon as possible,” the man announced as he came to a stop in front of us. He scowled as he took another look around. “Campus security has been notified and should be here soon…”
“What?” I gasped in surprise. “You know about Whateley?”
He chuckled at that, looking amused. “Oh, I’m quite familiar with the school…” He looked over at Cherry and added, “I see that you’re just as bad at staying out of trouble as ever.”
Cherry shrugged, not looking the least bit ashamed of herself. “I tried.”
“I’m sure you did,” he responded wryly.
I stared at the man, examining him a little closer than before. He was well-dressed, wearing a professional looking suit. However, there was one spot of whimsey that I’d missed before. His tie pin looked like a cartoon character that I remembered from those old Looney Tunes cartoons. It was that little brown bird that always gave that big rooster a hard time.
Was this guy a teacher? He obviously knew about Whateley and he even seemed to know Cherry. However, I couldn’t remember ever seeing him around the school, not that I actually knew everyone who worked there.
“I lost my bags back at the jewelry store,” Janine told me apologetically. “All those new clothes you bought me… I’m sorry…”
“I lost mine too,” I told her with a sigh. “And it looks like everyone else did too…”
“Unfortunately,” Laura agreed, staring at a shard of shattered armor before shaking her head and dropping it onto the ground. “All those new parts…”
“Any chance we can go back for our bags?” Morgana asked Cherry, who merely shook her head.
“Not a chance,” Cherry said. “Hear that…?” She gestured down the street. “Sirens. Sounds like the cops are finally heading this way and we REALLY need to get out of here before they arrive.”
The man nodded agreement. “That would be a good idea.”
None of us needed to say anything more about that. The sound of the sirens spoke loudly enough. And as the sirens got closer, we all began hurrying back towards the bus.
Once we were away, Janine cautiously asked, “So, what do we do now?”
“Paperwork and lectures,” Cherry muttered bitterly. “And probably a LOT of detention…”
To Be Continued