New York, Thursday April 12th, 2007
I sat on top of the tall building, staring out at the distant skyline as I considered my situation. It was late afternoon in Manhattan, which meant that I didn't have any peace and quiet, even this far above ground. However, that was perfectly fine as I'd always found something soothing in the background noise of a busy city.
I absently felt my side, where my ribs had been broken yesterday, and though I'd already healed from my injuries, I still felt a bit of an ache. I knew that it was just psychosomatic, but it was a reminder of what I'd gone through...of what Hexagon and his buddy Scott had done to me. Memories of the pain and humiliation made me snarl in anger, though I tried to control my emotions as I planned my next move.
Since I'd escaped from Hexagon and still had the painting in my possession, I could easily just disappear, thwarting his plans in the process. I knew just how much it would frustrate him to be that close to succeeding, but to have it remain just out of reach. I smirked faintly at the knowledge that I could screw him over without having to do anything at all. However, there were several flaws with that plan. There were three major reasons that I couldn't just walk away from this now.
The first reason was revenge. Hexagon had hurt and humiliated me...and I definitely wanted to get back at him. The idea of just sitting back to do it didn't feel right...and it wouldn't be satisfying. I'd always thought that chasing revenge was unprofessional and sloppy...that it could be a distraction from your real goals. However, there were times that it was necessary, and this wouldn't be my first time going after someone in revenge.
Monster Max had been freakish looking, a brutish thug, and a dangerous rager...but he'd also been my friend. Max had been sweet on me, calling me his pretty little Imp and trying to act like a gentleman when I was around. Though I hadn't been interested in him romantically, he'd always made me feel like a lady and I'd liked him. That was why I'd been furious when I found out what that so called hero, the Crimson Kid, had done to him.
I wasn't the type to go after someone directly, so I'd been patient and followed the Kid, finding his real identity. Then the real fun had begun. I'd gone into his home and his civilian job when he was away, and changed things around...just enough to drive him nuts at first. I destroyed his credit and finances, sabotaged his job and reputation, and then I'd stepped up the game further. I left his driver's license at the scene of a big job, then told some of Max's other friends who the Kid was and what he'd done. The Kid barely survived their attack on him, and afterwards, he'd gone on the run. The last I'd heard, he was now a drunk, living on the streets of Chicago and desperately trying to hide his identity from everyone.
The second reason was reputation. In my line of work, a good reputation was invaluable. It could open a lot of doors and provide a great deal of protection. On the other hand, a bad reputation could make you a target and get you killed. Once a villain gets a reputation as being an easy mark, their career might as well be over. I've spent thirty years in the business, building my reputation as a skilled thief, and there was absolutely no way that I was going to let a group of second rate idiots destroy that.
And then there was the third reason...Alicia. If I walked away now, there was absolutely no doubt in my mind that they'd kill her. Even if Hexagon couldn't use her as a sacrifice to complete his ritual, he'd just kill her out of spite. Sure, I've only known the girl for a few days, but I kind of liked her. Maybe it was just loneliness speaking, but it was nice having someone else around, someone who I could actually be myself with. And oddly enough, I actually had a lot of fun teaching her about art and painting.
"I'm not going to turn my back on you," I promised.
Unfortunately, I was fully aware of the fact that getting Alicia out of that place alive was easier said than done. Hexagon had three powered subordinates working for him, not to mention those baseline gunmen. Sneaking past them wouldn't have been much of a problem, but they were bound to be watching Alicia pretty closely, especially after my escape. There was no way that I'd be able to sneak her past them...at least not without help. I was going to need someone else to help with this job...to provide a distraction if nothing else.
I considered all my options, but I didn't really like any of them. I didn't really have many friends, and certainly none that I could count on to help me with this, or at least, none that would be able to arrive in time. I could try recruiting some local muscle of my own, the same way Hexagon had, but that wasn't a good idea either. After the way Bob had turned on me, I wouldn't be able to trust anyone else with this either. And just as bad, after what Hexagon had done to me, I'd probably come off looking weak...which I couldn't allow.
"Rescuing someone isn't a job for villains anyway," I mused to myself. "That's what heroes are for."
Unfortunately, I was well aware of the fact that trying to get heroes involved in the situation would probably make things even worse. Sure, groups like the Empire City Guard or the Sentinels would easily be able to deal with Hexagon and his goons, but I seriously doubted that they'd treat me any differently. And besides, I didn't need that much firepower, especially not when I didn't know the players well enough to predict what they might do. I needed help...but it had to be on a smaller scale and more predictable.
Then I saw my target in the distance and grinned. "There he is. Chickenhawk."
This was an area of Manhattan where Chickenhawk was frequently seen flying around on patrol, so I've spent several hours in place, waiting for him to come by. Whether he realized it or not, he's been drafted to help me save Alicia. Of course, I probably could have just come out and asked him, but he'd never take me seriously enough to listen, and even if he did, it would take far too long to convince him. Besides, my way is much more fun.
"Now to get his attention," I mused, knowing that I had to give him a reason to stick around the area long enough for the second part.
I flung one of my throwing spikes at Chickenhawk, using my PK aura to add enough oomph so it could reach him. Unfortunately, my aim was off, so it took three more spikes before one hit him. His armor easily stopped the spike, but it definitely got his attention. He stopped where he was and began to look around more closely. I grinned, pulled out a big red flag and began waving it back and forth so he'd notice me. And then as he started flying in my direction, I did the smoke bomb thing and vanished.
"I hope I wasn't too obvious," I muttered, scrambling down the wall to a specific window, then letting myself inside.
The office I was in was owned by a company that sold some rather nice pieces of jewelry, and by nice, I meant really expensive. Unlike a lot of women I knew, I'd never really been all that interested in jewelry. Sure, I'd wear some earrings or a necklace on occasion, but I wasn't really all that flashy. What really got my heart racing wasn't a shiny little bauble, but a beautiful piece of art. However, I'd always liked stealing jewelry because it was a lot easier to sneak out with some diamonds than with a large painting.
I quietly slipped down the hall, pausing when I heard a couple people talking in the side office. I listened in for a moment, unable to make out much through the closed door, though a woman was talking about some kind of large amethyst and getting excited about it. I frowned slightly at that since an amethyst wasn't something to get bent out of shape over, especially not compared to the things these people usually dealt with. However, the fact that she was getting excited over the thing was enough to catch my interest. After all, if these people got excited about it, then that meant it would probably be quite profitable for me.
"Not now," I reminded myself. I was on a tight schedule and didn't have time to get sidetracked.
A minute later, I found where they kept their goodies, a vault with the heavy metal door locked tight. It took me almost no time at all to get through it so I could enter the room. There were shelves, drawers, and cabinets filled with jewelry of every sort. I quickly looked over the small room, immediately going to a display case that had the largest and most gaudy necklace I'd ever seen. I clearly screamed out, 'I'm REALLY rich and have no sense of taste'.
"Perfect," I mused, popping open the case and taking the necklace. It would be a real pain in the ass trying to sell it through a fence, but I could still make a small fortune selling the individual stones. And then, just because I didn't want to waste the opportunity, I grabbed a few loose stones as well. "A pity I can't take the time to clean this place out..."
With that, I set my business card onto the display case where the gaudy necklace had been, making sure that the side with my logo was facing upward. My logo was just a black circle with little devil horns on top and a squiggly devil tail coming out from the bottom on one side. I used to use the thing whenever I wanted to brag about having done a robbery, but I'd ceased doing that much over the last couple years. However, this seemed like the perfect time to bring the symbol out of retirement.
"Now riddle me this," I said with a smirk as I turned to leave. Then as I reached the vault door, I paused, realizing that I'd deactivated the alarms when I came in out of habit. Since that wouldn't do for what I had planned, I reached over and hit the manual alarm, then continued walking out of the vault, singing, "Ooops I did it again..."
Mere seconds later, a security guard raced around the corner, pulling his gun and yelling, "Freeze..."
I stopped where I was, gave him a charming smile and exclaimed, "I am the fabulous Imp." I gave a dramatic bow, followed up with evil laugh number three, then I threw a smoke bomb at my feet. Before the smoke had cleared, I was crouched down and motionless in a corner where I could watch and wait.
Chickenhawk had been flying around the building, trying to figure out what I was up to, so he arrived in almost no time at all, well before the police. As soon as he arrived, he announced, "I'm Superhawk...and I'm trying to catch the Imp..."
"She just left a few minutes ago," the security guard told him, giving Chickenhawk a suspicious look, as though worried he might be my accomplice.
Chickenhawk scowled in obvious frustration before asking, "What did she take this time?"
A man who seemed to be the manager responded, "We haven't checked our inventory yet, but I think she took the Carhart necklace, some loose stones...and a few diamond bracelets."
I wasn't at all surprised that he threw in the bracelets to the list, nor would I be surprised if a few more pieces were added by the time this was reported to their insurance company. This certainly wasn't the first time that I'd seen my victims turn around and do a little stealing from the insurance companies in return. In fact, quite a few of my victims ended up making a profit from my thefts.
"She left something behind," the security guard said, pointing out my business card. I was relieved that someone had noticed it, because it would have been really embarrassing if I'd gone through all that and Chickenhawk hadn't even seen it.
Chickenhawk picked up the card, not seeming to be concerned with such things as fingerprints and maintaining evidence. Then again, he was wearing gloves. He looked the card over, scowling as he did so. After several seconds, he finally announced, "She left clues on the back... Some kind of puzzle"
"Clues?" the security guard asked in surprise. "Like in a comic book?" He actually looked skeptical that anyone would do that kind of thing in real life.
"This is the Imp," Chickenhawk responded wryly. "She's playing some kind of game. This will probably lead me to whatever she's planning next..."
The security guard shook his head, then cautiously asked, "Think it could be a trap?"
"Probably," Chickenhawk agreed. "Knowing Imp, she might be planning to tar and feather me...or smother me to death with bird seed." The security guard stared at Chickenhawk, who to my surprise, actually chuckled faintly. "Imp is insane...but you can't say she's boring."
I just grinned at that, making a mental note to try the tar and feather thing with him someday. That could be a lot of fun, especially if I got a lot of chicken feathers... Then I paused, fighting back the urge to either laugh or shake my head. I had to remain perfectly still so I didn't risk giving myself away.
Chickenhawk put my card back where he'd found it, then told the security guard and manager, "Make sure the police see this. I'm going to try finding her."
Once Chickenhawk was gone, I carefully made my way out, creeping around the corners and moving at an absolute crawl until I finally had my opportunity. Then once I did, I slipped out a window and was on my way. All I had to do now as get to my bike, ride to the warehouse, and hope that Chickenhawk was able to follow the series of rather obvious clues that I'd left for him.
I arrived in plenty of time and then did a little scouting while waiting for my unwitting backup. I was a little concerned that Chickenhawk might take precautions for this being a trap and bringing backup of his own, and though that might make taking care of Hexagon and the goons easier, it would also make it more likely that I'd get caught in the crossfire too. Fortunately, Chickenhawk arrived by himself, though he hovered in the air, not making a move.
"It looks like I'm gonna have to get the ball rolling," I mused.
I ran out into the open, made a show of looking up and acting as though I'd just noticed Chickenhawk for the first time. "You found me," I exclaimed. "I wasn't expecting you for another hour..." Of course, the truth was that I'd actually been expecting him to arrive at least half an hour before this.
"What are you up to?" Chickenhawk demanded suspiciously.
"You'll have to catch me to find out," I responded with a grin. Then I turned and ran for the warehouse entrance, yelling out, "He's here my loyal minions. Prepare the tar and feathers..."
"Imp," Chickenhawk yelled at me, but I was already running through the door.
Muscle and Crash Test Dummy were standing in the middle of the warehouse, looking over the blood soaked spot where Scott's body had been the last time I'd been here. It looked like they'd been talking about what happened yesterday, but they both stopped and stared at me with looks of surprise. Obviously, they didn't expect me to come back after escaping, and certainly not by marching through the front door.
"You shouldn't have come back," Muscle stated, almost looking disappointed.
"Come on guys," I joked. "Is that any way to greet an old friend?"
Muscle and Crash Test Dummy both starting towards me with grim expressions, right as Chickenhawk came through the door behind me, announcing, "I know this is a trap..."
I just grinned evilly and yelled, "Now my minions, destroy my enemies..."
"She brought backup," Crash Test Dummy told Muscle as he pulled a large weapon from his back, one that looked something like an oversized energy blaster.
At the same time, Chickenhawk responded, "So this time you brought friends..."
With that, the fight was on. Crash Test Dummy aimed his weapon at Chickenhawk, only to have the hero hit him with a ball of warped gravity. Crash Test Dummy suddenly went flying back, as though his gravity had been turned sideways. He only went a dozen feet or so before the effect ended, but it was enough to have him thrown way off balance. I knew first hand just how difficult it was to fight when you kept getting hit with those things.
"You're going down," Muscle snarled as he charged at Chickenhawk.
Chickenhawk lunged forward, and to Muscle's surprise, grabbed him and picked him up, lifting the large thug over his head as though he didn't weigh anything. Chickenhawk levitated up into the air, nearly to the warehouse ceiling, then he bodyslammed the villain to the ground. I winced at the impact, knowing that must have hurt. Muscle might be a lot stronger than a normal person, but he wasn't some invulnerable brick. In fact, when Muscle was fully pumped up, he was probably about the equivalent of an exemplar 4.
"Muscle, I believe," Chickenhawk commented as he landed on the ground again.
"I'm gonna stomp your ass," Muscle said as he got back to his feet with a grunt of pain. Then he began to swell larger, his height and muscles all pumping up until he was eight feet tall and buff enough that he even made the Hulk look small in comparison.
"Shouldn't that be Muscle smash?" I asked with a grin, distracting him just long enough for Chickenhawk to grab him...then send him flying back all the way across the warehouse until he slammed into a wall. "Ouch. That's gotta hurt."
Crash Test Dummy was back on his feet, and when he used his weapon, a stream of flames shot out. He was using a flame thrower of some sort, though there didn't appear to be any fuel tank for it. Who knew what devisor or gadgereer built it either since it could have been anyone from the Crazy Cog to the Iron Queen. Well, maybe not the Iron Queen. Her standards were much too high to use someone like Crash Test Dummy to test her toys.
Suddenly, Hexagon arrived, along with three of his baseline gunmen. "Imp," he exclaimed, looking both furious and pleased to see me at the same time. "You've returned..."
"And I brought Chickenhawk...just like you wanted boss," I responded with an evil grin, knowing full well that I'd just caught Chickenhawk's attention with that.
"So you're the one behind all this," Chickenhawk exclaimed, shooting one of his gravity spheres at Hexagon.
Hexagon gestured with his staff and a glowing hexagon appeared in the air in front of him, blocking Chickenhawk's attack. He immediately retaliated by firing a blast of red energy at the hero, who had to fly back in order to avoid Crash Test Dummy's flames. Then Hexagon fired a blast at me, though I saw it coming and jumped to avoid it.
"You know, this place still looks like crap," I commented with a cheerfulness I didn't really feel. "You need to spruce it up a little. You know, put a big honking throne over here, a tank full of sharks over there...and sprinkle in a few death traps. Voila...instant evil lair."
"SHUT UP," Hexagon yelled, firing another blast at me.
"You should see the Imp Cave," I continued, knowing full well that I was pissing him off...which was the entire point. "I mean, it's loaded with all the options. I've got a disco room, a great home theater with surround sound, and even sharks with friggin laser beams on their heads."
Hexagon snarled and fired blast after blast at me, which I kept dodging, not only his attacks but Chickenhawk's. My unwitting patsy had obviously realized that something was going on since my supposed boss and minions were attacking me too, but he was a little too caught up in the fight to stop and ask what that something was.
Now that most of Hexagon's people were out there playing, it was time to make my move. I flung one of my throwing spikes at a gunman, hitting him in the shoulder and sending him flying back with a scream of pain. Since that was the arm he'd been using to hold his gun, he was mostly out of the fight. I leapt at the next gunman, slicing my nails across his face, then kicking him in the balls. I yanked the gun out of his hands, gave him another swift kick, then tossed the gun as far as I could. I might have used the gun myself, but my aim with firearms sucked.
I waited until Chickenhawk picked up a large crate and sent it flying at Hexagon before I turned and ran away from the fight and towards the back of the warehouse. I knew that Alicia was tied up in the back room, and now was my opportunity to reach her. There was one gunman by the door, but I hit him before he realized it, tearing the gun from his hand and breaking his nose.
"You aren't getting paid enough to fight people with powers," I told him, hoping that he'd take the suggestion. He stared at me with a look of fear and nodded his understanding.
When I stepped into the room, I found it was an office with a desk, computer, and even a filing cabinet. Alicia was in the corner, sitting on a chair though her hands and feet were both locked up in the same kind of metal manacles that I'd escaped from myself. She had a gag over her mouth and a blindfold over her eyes, probably to prevent her from actually using her powers on anyone.
"Just a minute," I told her, relieved to see that she didn't appear to be hurt.
Once I got Alicia's blindfold and gag off, she exclaimed, "Bout time ya got here... Ah was startin to get worried." But in spite of her casual words, she looked more than a little relieved. Then she admitted, "Ah heard what they did to ya..."
"Don't worry about that," I told her with a forced grin. "I even brought a super hero to help rescue you...though he probably doesn't know that yet. Now stay close to me so we can sneak out of here."
We'd barely left the office when I was suddenly hit with a wave of dizziness and nausea that caused me to nearly drop to my knees. "Deliria," I spat out in annoyance, looking around until I saw her...or at least three blurry versions of her. It was hard to focus on anything when everything was blurry and moving around. I threw a spike at her, but my aim was pretty off at the moment. I knew I missed her, just not by how much.
"I can't believe you came back," Deliria stated, sounding rather smug. "You were free and clear...but you came back for this kid. Why? You aren't a hero."
"Who says she ain't?" Alicia demanded, and suddenly Deliria staggered and dropped to her knees while my sense of dizziness quickly faded away. "Now, let's see how y'all like a taste of yer own medicine..."
I shook my head to help clear it the rest of the way, then looked over as Alicia jumped on Deliria, punching and kicking the villainess, who barely seemed capable of fighting back. I was stunned as Deliria, a professional villain, was getting her ass kicked by a teenage girl. After watching for a few seconds, I burst out laughing, looking forward to telling the story the next time I was having some drinks at the Black Mask.
"I take it you've had some experience fighting," I commented with a smirk.
"Ah take a class at school," Alicia responded proudly. Then she glared down at Deliria, who was curled up in a ball on the ground, and announced, "Mah teacher would flunk mah ass if ah fought like that. Ah mean, the first thing Ito Sensei says is that ya can't rely on just yer powers..."
I leaned down beside Deliria and said, "You know, if I was you, I'd take this opportunity to reconsider your career options. I mean, you obviously aren't very good at this villain thing. Maybe you should consider a career in fast food..."
"It's pretty sad if yer letting an Underdog knock ya around," Alicia agreed with a grin.
"Come on," I told Alicia, half hoping that Deliria tried something again, just so I could watch the rematch. However, I suspected that Deliria was used to taking out threats with her power and that this was the first time she'd actually had to deal with what happens when that didn't work. "I think the back door is this way."
Hexagon and all of his people were now fully occupied by Chickenhawk, which meant that the side door was completely unguarded. It was locked up tight, but that was absolutely no problem. A few seconds later, the door was open and I was ushering Alicia out.
"Now we can haul ass and get out of here," I told Alicia.
Just then, I heard a yell from the other side of the warehouse, one that had come from Chickenhawk. I froze at that, suddenly feeling a little guilty for tricking him into being my distraction, and then abandoning him like that. Chickenhawk was pretty tough...but he was facing three powered opponents. I'd been pretty sure he could handle those clowns when I brought him, but now...
"Damn," I exclaimed, looking to Alicia. I shook my head, hardly able to believe I was even considering this. "I left a motorcycle around the corner. Go wait there for me and I'll be back as soon as I can."
I hurried back towards where I'd left Chickenhawk to fight Hexagon, and to my surprise, I found that they'd captured the hero. Chickenhawk was floating in the air, held up inside a cage made of glowing red energy, with each side of the cage being a flat hexagon shaped shield, just like the one Hexagon had previously used to protect himself. Though Chickenhawk was punching at the cage and trying to escape, it seemed to be holding him pretty effectively. I was surprised since I hadn't realized that Hexagon was capable of something like that.
Muscle stood to the side, having deflated back down to his seven foot size, which wasn't quite as large and intimidating as how I'd last seen him, but he was probably more maneuverable. Crash Test Dummy was a short distance away, trying to pose as though he was a tough guy though he wasn't able to really pull it off. The mismatched armor definitely helped to make him look less than threatening, but the largest part of it was that he was simply a dork.
"No," I muttered in disgust. "Don't you DARE make me rescue the hero..."
"Where is it?" Hexagon demanded furiously. He was standing in front of Chickenhawk, holding his staff in hand and pointing it at the hero in a threatening manner. "You're working with that devil woman, so she must have told you where she hid the painting..."
"I have no idea what you're talking about," Chickenhawk responded defiantly. Then he paused, "Unless you're talking about one of the paintings from the museum... The police said that all of them had been recovered...except one."
"Of course I'm talking about that painting," Hexagon snarled. "Your friend has run off and abandoned you, but I will get my hands on her again. After what she did to..." His expression was frantic and filled with hate. He was desperate to get the painting so he could finish that ritual, but I had a feeling that there was more to it than that. Hexagon was also pissed over what I'd done to his buddy.
"Superhawk and Imp ain't exactly friends," Muscle told Hexagon. "I can't believe they're working together..."
"We're not," Chickenhawk snapped.
Muscle just grinned, "So, you didn't come to rescue that hostage?"
"Hostage?" Chickenhawk responded, the tone of his voice changing. "The one from the museum... You still have her..."
"Oh yes," Hexagon responded in a cold voice. "And once I have that painting, I'll complete the ritual...and all of my enemies will be destroyed. One by one, they will fall before my power..."
Chickenhawk stood there for a moment, staring down at Hexagon defiantly. "Then even if I did know where that painting was, there is no way I'd tell you."
"Then you're of no use to me," Hexagon stated dismissively. "Once I finish you, we'll simply find the devil girl and continue her interrogation..." With that, he raised his staff and was about to blast Chickenhawk.
"Chickenhawk is MY toy," I called out loudly, "And I'll be very cross if you break him."
With that, I stepped out from where I was hiding to where they could see me. Everyone turned to stare at me in surprise, but I just grinned and held out my leverage so they could see it. One of the things I'd done when I was scouting around the warehouse was to hide my leverage near the warehouse entrance, right within easy reach if I needed it. And unfortunately, I definitely needed it...at least if I wanted to keep Chickenhawk from being killed.
"Imp," Chickenhawk exclaimed angrily. "What kind of game are you playing here?"
"Pictionary," I responded, holding up the painting in my hand so that everyone else could see the face of Alistaire Duccard staring out at them.
"My painting," Hexagon exclaimed in clear excitement.
Hexagon started for me, raising his staff with the obvious intention of using his magic. However I waved a finger at him and said, "I wouldn't do that if I were you. Not unless you want to see grandpa go up in flames." And with that, I held a lighter up next to the painting, causing Hexagon to freeze.
"Give me that painting," Hexagon demanded, glaring at me with his hate filled eyes.
"Or what?" I asked with an evil grin. "You'll have your boyfriend torture me again?" His expression grew even darker, if that was even possible. I'd just thrown the boyfriend comment out there to mess with him, but maybe there was actually something there after all. "Ooops... I guess that's out of the question..."
Hexagon snarled and was about to blast me, but I flicked the lighter and held the flame near the painting. He froze again with a worried look on his face. He didn't dare do anything that risked the painting, not when he needed the rest of the ritual to keep the demon from screwing him over. Of course, having the painting wouldn't do him much good now that Alicia had escaped, but he didn't know about that just yet.
"I know," I exclaimed with mock enthusiasm. "Instead of Pictionary, we'll play...Let's make a Deal."
"A deal?" Hexagon asked suspiciously.
"Sure," I responded with a grin. "Just a little trade..."
"I won't give you the girl," Hexagon stated firmly. "I...require her assistance."
"I'm sure you do, Hexagoner," I told him. "But I can do without the girl... How about..." I paused as if trying to think about it. "I know, I want my favorite toy back. The painting for Chickenhawk."
"No," Chickenhawk snarled. "You can't let him have that painting..."
Hexagon gave an evil smile, and I could see the wheels turning in his twisted little mind. Why should he have a problem making the trade and letting me walk out of here, when after he completed the ritual, he could have his pet demon take care of Chickenhawk and I both?
Just as he was about to agree to the deal, I announced, "On second thought..." And with that, I put the lighter to the painting, which I'd previously sprayed with a highly flammable coating. The whole thing burst into flames, so I dropped it to the ground in front of me while Hexagon cried out a shriek of horror. Then in my best Urkel voice, I asked, "Did I do that?"
"I'll DESTROY YOU," Hexagon screamed, firing one blast of energy at me and then another.
"I guess I'm a little imp-pulsive," I said, jumping to the side and running for the nearest warehouse wall. I quickly scrambled up the wall, singing, "Spider Imp...Spider Imp..."
"Get her," Hexagon ordered.
Crash Test Dummy opened fire with his flame thrower, which had a much finer stream than any flamethrower I've seen before, and much greater range. However, I was still able to get out of range, then I braced myself against the wall, focused as much of the energy from my aura into my legs as I could, and jumped...using my power to give me an extra boost.
"Cowabunga," I called out, throwing a handful of iron shavings ahead of me, right onto the cage that was holding Chickenhawk. Sparks flew and the cage was disrupted enough that he was able to break out. I rolled in the air, then focused on my aura again, using it to absorb the impact when I landed. "Courtesy of your fabulous neighborhood Spider Imp."
"What in the world are you doing?" Chickenhawk demanded as he landed back on the ground.
"Imp-provising," I responded with a grin. "Now to imp-lement the rest of my brilliant plan. Run."
Muscle chose that moment to charge at Chickenhawk, who hit him with another of his gravity warp balls. Suddenly, Muscle went flying through the air, right towards me. I wasn't sure if Chickenhawk had aimed him that way intentionally or not, but I certainly wouldn't have put it past him.
The effect wore off before Muscle reached me, but the momentum kept him going right through where I'd been standing. I dove to the side, watching as Muscle hit the ground and slide face first for a few more feet before coming to a stop. I barely let him get back to his feet before I threw a spike at him, adding a little extra oomph to it from my aura and sending it right through his massive thigh.
Muscle yelled out in pain, then looked at me as though I'd somehow betrayed him. That was pretty ironic since he'd gone to work for a guy who'd tortured me and had just stood by while it happened.
"Nothing personal," I told Muscle. "But the next one goes through your forehead."
Muscle was clutching his injured leg as he stared at me, then he nodded faintly and took a knee. "Understood."
Crash Test Dummy and Hexagon were both trying to get Chickenhawk, but the hero was doing a good job of staying out of their reach. The fact that Hexagon was halfway across the warehouse and picking himself up off the ground was a good indication that he'd just taken a hit from Chickenhawk's gravity ball.
"I'll burn your ass," Crash Test Dummy called out, tempting me to make a joke about spicy chili. He was still using the flame thrower gun, shooting at Chickenhawk, who was using a chunk form a crate as a shield. Then Crash Test Dummy gasped, "Damn... It's jammed..."
"Hey Dummy," I yelled. "Didn't your mother ever teach you not to play with fire?"
Suddenly, Crash Test Dummy's flame thrower was no longer firing in a stream, though the barrel was still on fire...and there were a few sparks from the back. Crash Test Dummy threw the weapon away from him and turned to run, but the gun exploded in a massive ball of flame. The idiot villain who'd just been using the thing screamed as his entire backside was engulfed in flames.
In my best Yosemite Sam impersonation, I exclaimed, "My britches are burning. My britches are burning." And then, just to rub salt into the wound a little more, and because I thought it was funny, I added, "Liar liar pants on fire..."
Muscle remained where he was, perhaps because of my threat of a spike through his head, but more likely, because he knew that without the painting, there was no way Hexagon could really win. Still, he called out to Dummy, obviously trying to help as he told him, "Stop drop and roll..." I just started to laugh since that was the next thing I would have said.
Hexagon created a glowing hexagon on the ground beneath Chickenhawk, but the hero flew up and over the invisible walls, which obviously didn't extend that high. I was surprised since I'd never even considered trying something like that. A moment later, Hexagon was creating a shield in the air to block the gravity warping ball that was sent flying at him.
Crash Test Dummy finally seemed to realize that he wasn't actually hurt and that his armor had protected him from the quickly fading flames. However, that meant he also had enough presence of mind to remember that he was in the middle of a fight. He pulled another odd looking weapon from his harness, one that looked like it might be some kind of energy pistol. It didn't do him any good though since I was already in his face, knocking the gun from his hand and then using my tail to yank his foot out from underneath him.
"You bitch," Crash Test Dummy exclaimed, already reaching for another weapon and trying to get back to his feet.
"You really are a dummy, Dummy," I told him grimly. "Hexagon can't finish the spell or summon that demon. Even if he walks away from here, he won't be in any position to pay you..."
"Maybe not," Crash Test Dummy responded. "But that's not the point. Besides, if I cap you, that will do wonders for my rep..."
"You mean the reputation for being a brain dead idiot who uses himself as a human crash test dummy?" I asked with a smirk, which only pissed him off.
Crash Test Dummy activated his weapon, which was revealed to be some kind of energy sword. A massive blade made of glowing white energy emerged from the hilt, extending about six feet in length. It was a good thing for the dummy that the blade was made of energy, because if it had been made of metal, it would have been way too heavy and unwieldy for him to actually use. Then as he swung the blade, it was immediately obvious that he didn't know what he was doing. That was one of the problems with testing other people's weapons for them.
"The Teknight will be pleased to know his sword works," Crash Test Dummy stated smugly. "Of course, he'll want to know how well it actually cuts through an opponent too, so I'd better test that for him..."
I ducked and dodged as Crash Test Dummy swung the sword at me, definitely not wanting to see how well it actually worked. I wasn't even sure if my PK aura would be able to block it at all, even with every ounce of energy being focused into one spot. And unfortunately for the dummy, his armor protected him from most of my normal ways of fighting, which left me with very few options. That was bad for him because it meant I couldn't hold back.
"This is your last chance to back off," I warned Crash Test Dummy, who acted as though he hadn't even heard me.
This time as I dove to the side to avoid his slash, I concentrated on my aura, focusing all the energy at the tip of my tail. Then as I swung around, the PK blade I'd formed around the tip of my tail sliced through Crash Test Dummy's wrist. His hand and the weapon he was holding both fell to the floor while he screamed and used his remaining hand to grab at the stump.
"Now that I've disarmed you," I said, not feeling all that amused as I made the joke.
I looked over to where Chickenhawk was dealing with Hexagon, seeing that the hero definitely had the advantage. Hexagon had lost his staff and was grasping the hexagon shaped medallion around his neck with a strange desperation. He muttered a few words and a rather weak looking blast of energy emerged from his hand, though Chickenhawk used a chunk of broken crate as a shield to block the attack.
"Almost out of essence," Hexagon gasped, looking exhausted. He looked away from Chickenhawk and at me, his expression dark and filled with hate. "I'll destroy you..."
"You and what army?" I teased, knowing that he'd already sent his army after me. I couldn't resist giving him a raspberry, which pissed him off even worse.
"You're done," Chickenhawk stated. "Now where is your hostage?"
Hexagon just stood there, glaring at him defiantly. He'd already lost both his hostage and the painting, so there was absolutely no way for him to win this, even if he did get away. And from what he'd just said, he no longer had the juice to even keep fighting. Still, he wasn't just giving up, so I had to admire that at least.
Just then, there was a loud cracking sound that drew my attention upwards. Then as I watched, a chunk of metal from the warehouse rafters suddenly snapped and fell, right onto Hexagon. There was a deafening crash as it hit...and a huge mess. One glance was enough to confirm that Hexagon hadn't survived it.
For a moment, I just stood there, staring at Hexagon's body, feeling a little stunned at the weird accident that had just killed him. Alistaire Duccard's enemies had all died in strange accidents, and Hexagon had been convinced that it was due to a demon...a demon that he had been trying to make a deal with. If I'd had any doubts about the existence of this accident causing demon before, this had removed them.
"Now for you," Chickenhawk said, finally turning his attention to me. "I don't know what game you're playing, but I'm finally taking you in..."
I braced myself to deal with his attack, but suddenly, he just staggered instead. "Ah don't think so," Alicia exclaimed, standing by the warehouse entrance. She looked a little uncertain at first, and she was holding her arm where she'd previously been shot. However, in spite of that, Alicia gave Chickenhawk a defiant look and stated, "Ah'm not letting ya take her anywhere..."
"Let me introduce you to the girl that Hexagon took as a hostage from the museum," I smugly told Chickenhawk, who looked at Alicia in surprise. "She has a pretty nifty trick, don't you think?"
"The hostage...?" Chickenhawk repeated, obviously confused. "What are you doing? She's a criminal...a villain"
"Ya might be a hero," Alicia said, looking nervous yet still defiant, "but Imp saved mah life twice. Ah'm not gonna let ya take her..."
"Thank you for the help," I told Alicia, appreciating it more for Chickenhawk's reaction than anything else. I was about to say something else, but then I heard the police sirens a short distance away. I frowned for a moment before asking, "We didn't have the music up that loud, did we?"
This time, it was Chickenhawk who smirked. "I knew you were leading me into a trap, so I made...arrangements. If I didn't call within fifteen minutes of arriving, the police were to be notified of our location."
"Ooooh, sneaky," I commented, definitely approving.
"I am bringing you in," Chickenhawk said again.
"We don't have to fight," I pointed out. "I take out a rival, you stop a dangerous villain and rescue the hostage, and she gets to go home. Everyone wins..." Then I gestured towards Hexagon. "Except Hexagoner that is."
I looked over the scene of our fight, noticing that all of Hexagon's hired gunmen were gone, having snuck out early in the fight. I was pretty sure that Deliria had departed with them. Muscle was gone as well, having left in just the last couple minutes. I knew that if he took off his costume and deflated back to normal size, he could step into a crowd and disappear. He'd done that very thing numerous times before. And then there was Crash Test Dummy, who was sitting in the middle of the warehouse floor, holding his stump.
Chickenhawk took a step towards me, no longer under the effect of Alicia's power. He was being cautious, probably trying to decide what tactic to use. I just smirked, swinging my tail back and forth. My confidence made him hesitate as he considered what I might be up to.
"You know," I said, "The dummy over there is going to need some medical attention. The police are going to need some statements about what happened here since you do have a dead body and all. And of course, the girl is going to need someone to look after her arm and get her home to her family. You can't do all that and chase after me at the same time."
Alicia snickered at that and then covered her mouth to try hiding it. Chickenhawk was obviously not happy, but he couldn't deny the fact that I had a point. After all, he was a hero, and I was pretty sure the hero handbook said something about taking care of hostages and the injured as soon as possible. Of course, he could try to catch me first, but he knew me well enough to know that I'd lead him on a merry chase, then simply 'teleport' away when he got too close, resulting in nothing but wasted time for him.
I winked at Alicia, then started backing away, singing a little something from the Sound of Music. "So long...farewell...auf weidersehen...adieu"
"This isn't over," Chickenhawk snapped in frustration.
"Yeah, yeah, yeah," I responded with a roll of my eyes and an exaggerated sigh. I flashed him a grin and promised, "We'll continue this next episode. See you then...same Imp time...same Imp channel..." And with that, I did my smoke bomb thing and vanished.
Alicia looked around with an expression of surprise...and oddly enough...of disappointment. I felt a little disappointed as well, since after spending a couple days with the kid like that, I would have liked the chance to at least say a real goodbye. However, the situation didn't exactly allow for it, not with Chickenhawk standing right there.
"Can ah really go back to my folks?" Alicia hesitantly asked Chickenhawk.
"Of course," Chickenhawk told her with a gentle smile. "But first, I think you should have someone look at your arm, and I'm sure the police will have some questions for you as well."
I remained where I was for another minute, then as Chickenhawk led Alicia out of the warehouse and to the police who'd just arrived, I turned and made my own exit through the back door. It didn't take me long to reach the spot where I'd hidden my bike, and after that, I was on my way home, eager to get a hot bath and something strong to drink...not necessarily in that order.
New York, Saturday morning, April 14th, 2007
Being a thief was an exciting and challenging career, one with high risks but great rewards, and where no two jobs were ever exactly the same. One job may require me to scale a skyscraper and then let myself in through a window, while another might mean crawling through an air duct or cutting my way into a vault from beneath. And then there was my current job, where I simply walked in through the front door.
I was in disguise, using my magic medallion to hide my odd features, then adding glasses, a blonde wig, and a professional looking outfit to the mix in order to present just the right image. To anyone who saw me, I merely looked like another business woman who was staying at the hotel while I was in town. Few people bothered giving me a second look, and those who did were all male.
It was late at night, or more accurately, the early hours of the morning. Most of the hotel residents were asleep and the hallway was completely empty at the moment. I'd already taken the liberty of neutralizing the security cameras, so there were no witnesses as I casually walked up to a hotel room door and listened. Once I was sure that it was clear, I picked the lock, then extended my aura through the door in order to nudge the deadbolt open as well. Mere seconds after I started, I slipped inside.
Though I crept through the dark hotel room while humming the theme music for Mission Impossible in my head, I was actually deathly silent. I knew the occupants were still present and I didn't want to risk waking them. After all, getting caught that way would have been really embarrassing.
I stopped in front of the large TV that hung from the wall and decided that this was the perfect spot. With that, I carefully took the painting I'd brought with me and placed it in front of the screen. The painting had recently been created as the first piece from a young amateur. It wasn't that attractive to look at, but what the artist lacked in skill, she'd made up for with enthusiasm. In fact, I was so pleased by Alicia's efforts that I'd even provided a nice frame for the painting.
After Alicia had left the painting behind, I'd been tempted to keep it as a reminder of my young houseguest. However, it had been her first piece, and I suspected that she would have wanted to keep it as well. That was why I'd gone through this effort to bring it to her, placing it so that she and her parents would see it first thing in the morning. Of course, I could have mailed the painting to Alicia or just dropped it off at the front desk, but this was much more fun. And with that, I carefully slipped out of the hotel room, even locking the deadbolt behind me again as I left.
I left the hotel a few minutes later with a broad grin on my face, wishing I could see their faces in the morning. I hadn't been able to say goodbye to the kid, so I figured that this would do instead. If nothing else, it should leave them all wondering how I got in with the door still locked from the inside.
Having Alicia as a houseguest for a couple days had been very strange, but surprisingly pleasant. I wasn't used to company, or with having other people in my personal space, but oddly enough, her presence hadn't really felt like an intrusion. Instead, it had been nice to have someone around, and a lot of fun being able to share my passion for art with her.
Then my thoughts turned to the other paintings, such as Waking at Dawn, which was being held by the police as evidence, though it and the other pieces were to be returned to the museum in just a couple weeks. It would probably be a few more weeks after that before they were back on display. However, I was considering whether or not to break into the police evidence locker so I could take the piece home with me again.
Of course, there was also the painting that had occupied so much of my attention during the past week...the portrait of Alistaire Duccard. Since Alicia had already been freed, I could have gone through with the trade and given Hexagon the painting in exchange for Chickenhawk, however, one look at the back of the painting would have told Hexagon that it was just a forgery. I spent a couple days making the copy, though I hadn't included any of the magic notes on the back.
That spell Hexagon was working on was dangerous and I hadn't wanted to take any chances at all that he'd be able to complete it, even without Alicia. After all, the entire point of the spell was so that he'd be able to kill all his enemies, and after our encounters, I knew that I would have been near the top of that list.
The truth was, I didn't like the idea of anyone else getting their hands on that particular spell either. I had a lot of enemies, or at least a lot of people who were less than happy after I'd relieved them of some of their financial and artistic burdens, and didn't want to take the chance that one of them might ever find that spell either.
Destroying the painting would have been the simple solution, and quite easy to do while it was in my possession. However, Muscle had been right when he said that I couldn't destroy a piece of art, or at least not an original. That was why I'd created the forgery to destroy instead, and why I'd done so in front of multiple witnesses. Now as far as everyone else was concerned, the painting and the spell that was hidden on the back of it were destroyed. The real painting was safe in my condo, and I'd tuck it away somewhere even safer once I had the time.
I was feeling quite pleased with myself and my cleverness as I made my way down the sidewalk to the place where I'd left my bike, positioned for a fairly quick getaway if necessary. I'd actually driven to the hotel in a 'borrowed' sports car, and it was still parked in valet parking, where it would remain until the valet realized that no one was picking it up.
"It's so easy to steal a car when everyone is running for their lives," I mused with a chuckle.
Earlier today, or more accurately...yesterday, there had been a huge fight where half the super heroes in New York became involved. Everyone from the Empire City Guard to Miss Liberty had gotten caught up in some giant free for all, which meant that I'd avoided that entire area like the plague. Most people had either locked themselves inside or had run away as far as they could, but a lot of enterprising criminals had taken advantage of the opportunity.
"And I got a really nice car out of the deal," I reminded myself, even if the thing had been too much trouble to keep. After all, it had been a bit flashy, and though I was a professional thief, most of my contacts specialized in handling items that were a little more...compact.
When I finally reached my bike, I paused as I suddenly noticed the nearby graffiti. The sight of graffiti was nothing unusual, however, this time it really caught my eye. Someone had spray painted a circle onto the wall, with little devil horns on top and a squiggly devil tail from the bottom.
"My symbol," I said in surprise.
I walked closer to the graffiti so I could get a better look at my logo, then frowned at the sight, wondering who put it there and why. Had some gang decided to mark their territory with my symbol? If they had, then I would definitely need to have words with them.
"That's copyrighted, trademarked, patented, and...," I paused for a moment, scowling in annoyance as I tried to think of something else that fit. "And I claimed dibs on it. If someone is trying to steal my symbol, I'll sue...or cut of their balls. Whichever hurts more."
The fact that my symbol had been spray painted on the wall definitely had my attention, but any questions about that could wait until later. For now, I had more urgent matters to consider, namely one final task I had to perform before I could go home and grab a glass of wine before bed.
My eyes narrowed and my tail twitched back and forth as I thought about Bob, the 'buddy' who sold me out to Hexagon. Bob's betrayal resulted in my being tortured, and in Alicia and I both nearly being killed. Now that I've finished my business with Alicia, it was time to have a little talk with Bob. With that, I climbed onto my bike and grinned evilly, and as I drove off, I was humming the tune for the song Mack the Knife.
Whateley Academy, Monday April 16th, 2007
Elizabeth Carson, headmistress of Whateley Academy was in her office, sitting behind her solid wooden desk. Franklin Delarose, the head of school security was sitting at the side of her desk, using the desk to hold the laptop he was entering notes into. They both looked to the third person in the room, the girl whom they'd just spent the last half hour questioning about the events that occurred while she was away from school.
Alicia Thacker squirmed uncomfortably under the scrutiny, knowing that they told her this was just a debriefing, but students didn't usually get pulled out of class and sent to see Mrs. Carson unless they were in trouble. The fact that Chief Delarose was there too only served to confirm her worries. But so far, all they'd done was ask her about what had happened on her vacation, and neither had said a word about detention yet.
"So," Delarose said once Alicia was finished. "Basically, you were kidnapped by a super villain, rescued by a second villain, kidnapped again by the first villain, and then rescued a second time by the second villain."
"Yeah," Alicia agreed with a nod. Then she grinned and added, "And Imp was really nice too. Ah mean, after she saved me the first time, she brought me home, fixed up mah arm, and taught me how ta paint..."
"Okay," Delarose responded with a faint smile. "Imp saved you...then gave you painting lessons?"
"She was really nice," Alicia repeated defensively. "And she knows a whole lot about that art and paintin stuff."
"I imagine an art thief would," Mrs. Carson responded wryly.
Alicia just grinned and continued excitedly. "Miss Imp told me all about this Monet guy from France and how he did this whole impressionist thing... He's got these really pretty pictures too, but ah guess he mostly liked paintin pictures of ponds and stuff. And she told me about a bunch of other artists too. Ah never knew there were so many different kinds of paintins..."
"Okay, Miss Thacker," Mrs. Carson said, cutting her off. "Thank you for answering our questions."
Alicia hesitated a moment, then asked, "Am ah gonna get detention?"
"No, you're not in trouble," Mrs. Carson assured her with a gentle smile. "But next time you go on vacation, please try to avoid getting kidnapped again."
"Ah will," Alicia promised.
"Good," Mrs. Carson told her. "Now you'd better get back to class."
Just as Alicia was about to step out the door, she paused to muse, "Mah roommate is from France, so ah wonder if she's ever heard of this Monet guy... Ah guess ah'll have ta ask her..."
Once Alicia was gone, Mrs. Carson rubbed her temples and commented, "She certainly was...enthusiastic."
"And not exactly a student I would have picked for being interested in French impressionists." Delarose chuckled lightly, then half joked, "Well, you did say that you've been looking for a new art teacher..."
Mrs. Carson gave him a flat look, but after several seconds it turned into a calculating one instead. She leaned back in her chair, tapped her nails on the desk, then admitted, "I had a brief run in with the Imp a few years ago..."
"Really?" Delarose asked, more as an indication to continue than out of surprise.
"If I remember right," Mrs. Carson told him with a sigh, "she was annoying but relatively harmless." She sat there for a moment with a thoughtful expression, then said, "I want a full report on the Imp. Everything that you and your people can find on her."
"I'll put Everheart on it," Delarose responded, not at all surprised by the task.
"Good," Mrs. Carson said, letting out a faint sigh. "Now then, who's the next student on the list...?"