Chapter 17

I would not send a poor girl into the world, ignorant of the snares that beset her path; nor would I watch and guard her, till, deprived of self-respect and self-reliance, she lost the power or the will to watch and guard herself.
 Anne Bronte

 

The Lyft driver was not happy about this particular fare. Dom could tell, and she couldn’t blame him. Dropping off four college girls in a dark, abandoned, warehouse filled area near the airport.

She doubted he was worried they were going to mug him or anything. It was one of those things that the good guys did when they thought they might be putting some woman in trouble.

Young women, and pretty? Well, hell, he must be having a heart attack and keeping it cool.

She smiled as she held out the money to him. “Honestly, Ken, we’ll be alright. It’s for Frat thing. You know how they like to do spooky things like this.”

His frown didn’t budge. “I don’t see any other cars, though. Are you…”

Dom shrugged. “I have a car. It’s in the garage back where you picked us up. The whole deal is no one drives. Late we’ve got a bus or something coming to take us back. Really, we’ll be okay.”

Ken let out a long, uncomfortable sigh, and his face started to relax. Dom kept her smile up until he finally took the money from her and began the slow process of backing out of the parking area. She kept the smile frozen on her face and waved as he finally began to speed off more quickly, his reticence finally leaving.

She dropped the smile immediately, turned and jogged over to the others, pulling out her PED.

“OK, boss, the dude’s gone. What’s it look like?” She said, looking up at Tally, who was focused on her own PED.

“Not good. Chic was right.” She struck the side of her device. “It, it looks like there’s a bunch of them. Chic you sense anything?”

Dom watched the girl close her eyes, raising one hand a bit and using it like an antenna. The curls around her head fluttered in the tiniest breeze, and her face was calm, except for the hints of two tiny lines trying to form between her eyes.

Dom hoped she never knew just how much she wanted to jump her, right now. She was like a perfect girl, with attitude and sass and smart and sexy.

Dom resisted biting her lip, looked around to distract her. Crushes were a dreadful thing. They got in the way. They kept you back.

Love was worse. Love could kill you. Or worse, it could kill your dreams and steal your talent and your hope and…

She pointed. “I think I saw something over there. In the shadows. Behind that one, over there, on the right.”

She watched Chic open her eyes and turn, then focus again.

“Is anyone else getting cold suddenly?”

She looked at Lark. The black woman was so perfectly nonchalant that she was jealous. She tried for that all the time, but only ever seemed to get annoyed as the desired perception. It worked to some extent, but made it hard to get close to people.

Tally folded her PED. “Okay, girls. Gear up.”

The grin was immediate across Dom’s face at the words, and she stepped away from everyone else. She loved this. She adored this. This was her chance for excitement. At least, until she had the stage.

“By the Sounds of Freedom, I am Oceania!”

In her hand, the sparking PED sent a thrill that traveled up her arm as she raised her face to the sky and held her arms back, feet spread and planted firmly. The breeze was light and pleasant as it hit her, the scent of summer evenings and spring mornings, winter breaks and lazy autumn afternoons.

As the winds became stronger, she knew without looking down that she was no longer among the others, her whole being a cloud, weightless and drifting in the winds around her that began to howl and moan as they caressed her, whipping her hair out, trying to coax her into a nothing with power, just as they were. She felt her hair respond to the tugging of the winds, lengthening, as she began to spin in that intoxicating way. It always reminded her of the way they used to train astronauts, a spinning, whirling thing that whirled her around like a leaf.

The clouds formed around her, as they always did, their softness like cotton, hugging her, sliding over her, until they became her boots, her skirt, her top, her gloves, her sleeves. They were never too tight, always just right, the long spikes and steady platforms of her shoes perfect for seeming as if she was going to fall over. Her skirt was short, teasingly so, just perfect, the crinolines beneath giving it extra lift but not so much that it would show off the micro shorts beneath. Her top was tight, corseted, but looked like a rocker tank, wrapped in spiked belts that hung loose on her waist, decorated her thighs, and settled in and around her forearms.

As she whirled and spun, a cycle within a cyclone, she let her twin tails spread, and reached out and felt her staff come to her. She grinned, and it was a mischievous grin, before dropping her front half down and entering a flip over the staff that ended with her spinning it her left hand and striking down, where it hit with a crack like lightning.

She was back, and her tails were tugging at her head as they fluttered in a breeze that only she could feel until she wanted others to.

She might have been named for an Ocean, but she was the wind, the air, the sound of the world, and she was ready to roar.

“You know, you don’t exactly look like a cute girl.”

She blinked, gave Tally a look.

Lark giggled. Chic was doing everything she could to keep a straight face, and failing.

She sighed. “What? I’m a rocker chick. Lita Ford. Joan Jett. Old Pat Benatar. The Cherries. Heart.”

“Crossed with Bangles, early Britney Spears, and every candy pop star Disney ever produced.”

She narrowed her eyes. “Laugh it up, Olivia in Grease…”

Chic winced, flinched. “Okay, you got me there.”

“You have a cape.”

Domino looked to Lark. “I do. So?”

“You’ve not seen The Incredibles, then.”

She turned her head slowly to look up at Tally. “It’s not that long.”

“Okay, okay.” Tally laughed, holding up her hands. “Sorry, we’ve all done this to each other.”

“I still feel incredibly silly in this.”

“Well, Columbia, you could be dressed like Diaspora.” Dom paused, startled that her words had been changed as she spoke them.

Lark smiled sweetly. “And what’s wrong with how I’m dressed?”

“For you, Diaspora, nothing. For me, that would be a nightmare!”

Lark nodded. “Too true, Columbia. You would look silly in this much finery.”

Chicory rolled her eyes. “Yeah, yeah, that’s it.”

Tally gave her staff a spin. “Diaspora, think you can shed some light?”

She snapped her fingers, and a ball appeared above her, began to float towards where Dom had seen the movement.

“That work?”

“Perfect! Columbia, any suggestions?”

“One moment.” She stepped around and lightly touched each girl on the shoulder. “Okay, you guys see what I see?”

They all shook their heads. “Nothing. Just dark and creepy airport.” Dom said.

“That’s just it. Every other time we’ve gone up against someone, there have been genius around. There are none here. And genius are everywhere that people are. Be real careful. I don’t like this.”

Tally nodded. “So, Oceania, got any tricks up your sleeve?”

Dom smiled, and brought her winds. “How about this?”

She began to fade out, as if the wind that was only able to blow on her and keep those amazingly long pigtails of hers floating, was taking her apart a little at a time. It was unnerving, like watching an Agent fade out.

As she did, she rose into the air, arms out at her sides, staff twirling idly in her left hand, until after a moment, she was gone and in the air.

Everyone gasped. “Okay, now that was cool.”

Lark gave a small snort. “It was okay.”

Chic gave her a hip bump. “Uh huh.”

“Okay, then,” Tally tapped her staff. “Let’s do this. Columbia, rearguard. Diaspora, stay close.”

As they headed forward, the ground began to rumble. They paused, and it stopped. Tally’s PED began to buzz.

They moved forward a bit more, into the wide-open space, and the ground rumbled again, ceasing once more as they stopped. Tally tapped her visor, muttered something, and everyone’s screens lit up with tracking.

They were surrounded.

“Oh, Shootfire. It’s a trap.”

“Let’s get out of…” Chic’s words fell away as she, Tally, and Lark fell straight down, the ground beneath them caving away into a vast underground space that seemed impossibly large.

The asphalt and concrete chunks bounced them about as they tumbled, then vanished just before the three gals fell into a gilded cage without a door in it. As she landed and the wind was knocked out of her, Chic watched the parking lot chunks reform themselves above them, and watched the cage top come down over the tiny prison, held by a vast and enormous hand with fingers longer than she was tall, skinny and spider like.

She followed the arm down to a tall, unimaginably skinny man who was laughing, his face a stretched-out parody of a face, leering at them.

“Well, well, well, what have we have here! Little pretties all together. Darkies all, no less!”

There was laughter and a strange skittering noise all about them. Tally shook the bars of the cage. Lark began to sparkle and hum with power.

“Oh, my, look at how cute they are!” The voice was deafening, painful, and he brought the cage around, swinging it back and forth as he did so. It was filthy with sarcasm. In a moment the cage settled, and he peered with an eyeball twice the size of Tally’s head through the bars.

“I swear, if any of these people have scissors for hands, I quit.”

The voice was a whisper, but Chic caught it from behind and outside the cage.

“These must be the ones that sent old Blame back!” The bizarre titan said, licking his lips. “How perfect that they should come to me, now.”

“Come to us, my Master.”

“Yes, us. Toys for the tots, you understand.”

“I do believe we are a team, after all, unless you think less of us.”

The girls spun as the new voices joined the chorus, a dull, lifeless light filling the cavernous space.

It was as if someone had created a theatre with a thousand box seats, all of them filled with minions who had once been some form of genius, but were well beyond the point of formless and shapeless blobs now. They had a semblance of limbs, varied features that might have been noses or eyes or ears, not quite right, as if they were still bubbling into place or shape or form, molten and fluid.

But among them were four others. Agents, without a doubt. None of them having the same old feel as the monstrosity holding them, but all of them exuding a greater sense of power.

“Oh shoot. We are so fluttered. But, no scissors.” Chic said softly.

“You are not Rebels. You are not even Partiers. What sort of pathetic vermin has Genesis sent to me for fun?”

Tally made a face, but was silent. Lark scowled and was stressing, her power causing the bars of the cage to spark.

Chic looked around and realized it was going to have to be her.

“I’m pretty sure that vermin would apply more to your audience here.”

“Vermin, thing, applies to whatever I say it does.”

Chic arched an eyebrow and tapped her staff on the cage’s base. Her scythe shot out. “And just who the heck are you supposed to be? Veidt’s dead and Ledger did it better.”

She could have sworn he grew, right then, even as he laughed, his head back, full throated, his whole body into it, causing the cage to bounce and jiggle and toss around its occupants.

“Smooth, Columbia.”

Chic shrugged. “It was worth a shot, Diaspora.”

His face came back to the cage. “Ah, how wonderful to meet someone who gives power when they mean to take it. So perfect! So precious!  I, pretty pet, am Insolence.” He bowed low, still holding them up. “At your disservice. Allow me to introduce my lieutenants. Harassment, whose work you are all most assuredly family with. Dogpile, who recently joined but has risen through the ranks quite admirably. Tricky Dick, with whom I am certain that you, little goldilocks, are quite familiar. And Geldwin, whom I think shall have first dibs on you this evening.”

“Flutter.” Tally said, quite distinctly and with great feeling.

“Indeed. You should get some Visine for that red eye problem of yours. And maybe look at losing a few pounds. Say twenty, right off the top.”

Tally raised the first two fingers of her right hand at him. Made a face and looked at her hand.

“Oh, you have got to be kidding me.” Chic spat.

“Seriously? Really?”

The laughter around them was not helping matters much.

“I need a diversion.” Lark whispered.

Tally nodded. “There are way too many eyes here, leaning over balconies and what not.”

The titan laughed. “Oh, I think there are just enough. Perhaps after we are done with you, they would like to sample the fine delicacies.”

The crowd went wild. The gals shuddered.

“Be a shame if something blew them off the edges.” Chic said loudly.

“Yes, wouldn’t it?” Dom responded.

The voice outside the cage caused Insolence to jerk his head up and scan around, his buddies suddenly on high alert as well.

“We seem to have a gnat buzzing around. Dogpile!”

“On it!”

The one called Dogpile was extremely heavy set, with a scruffy almost beard and a balding pate covered with lanky reddish brown hair that was too long. He stepped forward, and he seemed to expand in one part of his body, the whole thing elongating, stretching, slowly becoming as if something was erupting from him, then became obviously a part of him separating, and with a popping sound there was another of him, but both were slimmer, more trim. Then they both did it, almost in unison, and they laughed, an eerie echoing sound to hear from both of them.

In a moment, there were four, trimmer by more, and two of them rushed into the space in the center, the damnable smoke curling around them and forming into something, some shape, something familiar.

A breeze had sprung up in the area, tweaking the hair of the titan and his crew and the scattered few minions who had managed to evolve or morph or something that far.

In a moment, as the first of Dogpile began his subdivision, it was a strong, gusty wind, and a chuckle started to echo eerily through the space.

Insolence’s eyes roamed the cavern, squinting, and he snarled. “No!” he hurled the cage aside and reached into the empty space.

The cage soared, and Lark spoke words that crackled in the air like lightning, harsh and sharp, and she was surrounded by the ribbons of her power, the queerly lighted lettering flaring bright on them as the others held on tight to the bars while she somehow stayed perfectly balanced on the floor of the cage, even as it tilted sideways.

It began its descent, tenths of seconds passing, and halfway to the floor it exploded, and Tally was moving before she even hit the floor, striking off it with her staff and summoning her battle axe, long ponytail snapping with whip cracks.

Lark was on another spell already, her light ball flying high, the ribbons swirling about her.

Chic’s visor showed Dom clearly, something she was certain the others could not see. She was in outline, and it was rather stunning to see her idly float away from the massive hand of Insolence that kept trying to find her, blindly groping the air.

Then the shots rang out. It was a deafening roar of automatic firepower, and when she looked they were Uzis or some sort of submachine gun, with enormous clips that had round chambers at the bottom which trailed thick smoke.

They were reloading them as fast as they fired.

Chic began her own spell immediately, the bars of light swirling about her, the peculiar text seeming to get more easy to read each time.

She summoned a shield between the ground and the shooters, and set her own in front of with a movement of her arm.

Dom laughed even as the first bullets grazed her, her clothing puffing away and then tiny clouds restoring it, but was not pleased, as now she had to move more quickly, for the blood trails revealed where she was.

She dropped the invisibility and Insolence’s eyes locked on her and he grinned madly, both hands coming in for the kill now.

His left hand twitched hard, then fell to the ground.

He turned and faced his attacker, a small black woman in a gown with a wicked looking glaive in her hands and a bonnet in black with gold trim resting on her purple curls.

She shrugged at him.

He missed the gold and pink haired girl between them, did not see the whirlwind that was beginning to form in front of her, or the smile that curled the edges of her lips.

He charged, his first step shaking the entire place, his second falling squarely within the whirlwind, and he howled in agony.

Then began to shrink.

Tally screamed a guttural war cry as she came down from an enormous leap and cleaved one Dogpile in two, spinning and letting her battle axe glide in one hand into another as she punched down on one half and kicked the second half.

As she’d expected, the two partials began to quiver, to become two separate wholes, and she cackled as she brought the bloody axe around into another great arc that clove another pair as if they were butter.

Something grabbed her around the waist, and she slammed the butt of her axe into the ground, sparking electricity all along her body, her attacker screaming as the shock shredded him into wrack and murk.

Domino’s wind finally began to lift the minions out of the boxes, and she hurled them into the walls, their soft forms making crunching noises as they struck balustrades and balcony fronts.

Lark’s chanting brought forth hundreds of small, red, bright eyes snakes and she began to rise on a column of water that was pouring up from beneath her when the first body pounded into her.

“So, have you always been this glamourous, or is it one of those temporary things you girls do to trick us?” Her attacker asked as they crumpled into a pile together.

“How dare y…” his fist struck her face like a lead weight, driving her head into the hard floor, which was definitely not wood, no matter what it looked like.

Lark’s violet eyes turned up at him. “Well, since you ask,” He punched her again. “Rather easily, I’m afraid. You black girls just,” Again he struck. “Can’t take a hit.” Another blow.

Lark tasted blood, and she was pretty sure her cheek was shattered. He had her pinned with his legs, one of her arms underneath her, the other held by his free hand.

“Aww, are you gonna cry now?  Like the stupid little …”

He flew into the air and smashed into the wall with enough force to become embedded, a good dozen feet off the floor. He let out a groan.

Lark tried to open her eyes, only got one. She was surrounded by a glowing light, and sweat poured off Chic, staining her sleeves and the front of her dress and matting the curls. In front of her was the still slowly shrinking Insolence, trapped in the whirlwind that was shredding his leg, trying desperately to free it. Her shield arm was cast back towards Lark, staff straight as an arrow, brilliantly lit.

She looked up, and saw Domino whirling like a dervish, her movements sending the tiny squirmy nasty things into the walls, creating a work that would make Jackson Pollock proud.

Across the way, Tally was surrounded by two dozen Dogpiles.

There were two missing. She looked around. Her snakes were surrounding one of them, his arms moving so fast it seemed he had a dozen of them, pulling them off as fast as they could climb up and on him, their teeth flinging bits of gore and smoke everywhere.

The throbbing in her face was receding fast, and she cast about for the missing one, struggling to remember his name.

He had been the last. He was the ugliest, the nastiest looking, pale white with the blonde hair and the blue eyes and the…

… wings.

“Oceania!” She croaked, her throat raw.

The flying woman in green and copper with coral trim paused at the wrong moment as the Aryan launched from a balcony and slammed into her, knocking her from the sky and following her down, catching her and somersaulting about to hurl her by her cape and one pigtail straight down, his vast metal wings spreading out behind him, red and emblazoned with a symbol that was instantly recognizable.

Lark’s pain was nearly gone, and she gently touched her face and found it tolerable. “Columbia, I’m good!”

The blonde didn’t even acknowledge her, just snapped her staff back in front of her and held her shield rigid. She was glowing brightly, too brightly, and Lark saw the rivulets of blood that were running down the back of her legs, crimson stains joining the sweaty ones from bullets that were flying fast.

One of the dogpiles pointed his gun down at the still struggling form of Oceania, who was trying to get up.

A thud beside her made her jump, and she looked to see her attacker starting to rise, shaking his head.

“This one!” Insolence bellowed. “Get this one!” His roars were drowning out even the gunfire, and Lark’s ears were ringing too much from the sounds in the confined space to even hear what her attacker was muttering, but he seemed to find it amusing.

She pointed her staff and gave him a blast. He was shredded almost instantly, beginning to reform as she looked away and saw the winged Nazi son of a boobie zero in on Columbia.

“By the Wand of Freedom, bring the rockets’ red glare!” She tapped her staff four times, and then hoisted an enormous gun multiple times her size.

She sighted, got tone. Five missiles launched.

She blinked, looked at the giant weapon. “Holy shoot! Cool!”

Everything went black and silent.

Chapter 18

Not even girls want to be girls so long as our feminine archetype lacks force, strength, and power.
William Moulton Marston

 

Chic wanted to be pissed, but she knew it wasn’t going to get anything done. Hell, she’d have done the same thing, she reasoned, as her ears finally began to stop ringing and her eyes to clear. She was still shedding healing, which was nice since it stung the person who was behind her, tightly binding her arms after having completed her legs, and he was making it known.

Her attack on Insolence had an effect, at least. She was experimenting now, testing things out, and an idea had formed in her head and it had worked out well. Quite well, in fact.

He was down to a mere 15 feet in size, and furious as he glared at them, striding back and forth. She knew better than to let her own sense of insolence out, as it would empower him.

The secret she held was almost painful, though. As he had shrunk, his power had left him and come into her. It thrummed inside her.

Only she wasn’t going to keep it.

“That one. Kill it. Kill it now.”

She looked up at him and did her best to quiver, even though she wasn’t feeling it.

She started to feel it when the plastic bag dropped over her head.

She tried to squirm, but it wasn’t going to happen; the bonds were too tight, cutting into her upper arms and her feet were already numb.

She could hear the cackling of Harassment as he twisted the bag tighter around her throat. His name was well deserved.

Out of the corner of her eye she could see Tally blanching, Lark struggling in fury, Dom aghast despite the battered and bruised face.

She stopped moving, closed her eyes, and pushed the power towards Tally.

The plastic stuck to her face, her breaths became quick and short, the pain incredible.

There was no air. No breathing.

She tried to move, to get it off, to find something to gasp into.

There was nothing.

She stopped struggling. She stopped breathing.

Well, this wasn’t exactly how I had expected to die, she noted to herself. I was kinda hoping for something more glorious.

She could see the bag being taken off. Could see the leering face of the Agent who had killed her.

She reached up and clawed at his eyes. Because it seemed the thing to do at the time.

Her hand went right through him.

She blinked, looked at her hand.

She was still dressed, still empowered. She sat up, turned to look at herself.

She was dead. She could tell she was dead. IT was seriously unnerving.

She looked around.

Lark was staring at her. Not at her corpse, but at her. Eyes enormous over the nasty looking gag she had been bound with.

Tally was sobbing. Dom was paler than usual, and looked sick.

“That takes care of that problem.” Insolence said, his tone pleased. He held up the staves of the girls in one hand. “Without these, they are useless.”

Oh heck, Chic thought. He’s gonna monologue.

“So, you are the ones that killed my brother, are you?  I must say, I thought you would be much more of a challenge. You nearly were, of course, but as usual, none of you are truly worth a damn. Your incompetence has led you here and look at yourselves. One of you dead, the rest utterly in my power.”

He laughed, and sat down, his bony frame somehow making it seem as if he was folding in on himself as he did so, the weird elongated limbs and fingers just giving the whole routine act a sense of wrongness.

He sat the staves down, leaning them against his seat. “So, what shall we do with them?”

Chic shot a glance at Lark, who flashed her eyes towards the staves. She nodded, and got up.

It was a surreal experience to stand up outside your own body. She moved carefully at first, gained confidence after a moment, and then strolled across the room.

“String them up. Let’s play a game!”

As she walked, Chic paid attention to the layout of the place for the first time. Above, it was what appeared to be an old-style theater. Balcony seating was crammed in everywhere along the walls, all of it facing a stage, on which rested the giant chair of Insolence, as if he was the center of attention.

The floor, however, was not quite so simple. It was a vast circle, through which two sets of three parallel lines ran, one set vertically, the other horizontally. The circle was large enough that it touched the stage, the far wall, and both sides.

Beneath this construction were the seats in this place, a good ten to twenty feet lower, and among them glowed hot coals and the remnants of bone and clothing and uniforms. The expected fume like miasma was there, roiling below, and here and there she could see the writhing of genius still struggling to find escape from the horrors that infected them.

Along the top of the construction, certain genius moved in varying directions, and she finally realized what they had been turning into under the influence here.

Camera men.

Or at least, vague depictions of them. The few that were there were fairly obviously parodies of local reporters who had been critical of the current administration. And in all cases, their arms and hands had merged and formed into mockeries of their holding cameras, and they were spending their time recording the five Agents that were holding court.

One of them came close to her as she moved forward. She tried to step out of the way, but the path was too narrow and she started to feel as if she was losing her balance and then he started to pass through her.

She blinked, windmilled her arms, and reached into him trying to find support.

She found it. He froze, twitched, spasmed, obviously in pain of some sort. She felt something inside him, like a wire or a string, it had a bit of give to it, but not much, stretched taut.

She pulled on it as she gained her footing. The minion, former genius, let out a near inaudible sigh or gasp, and crumped to the floor.

In her hand, she held something that seemed to be made of gold, but had some form of rust or discoloration all around it.

Chic’s eyes went wide and she stifled a scream and flung it away.

It had been the thing’s soul.

She looked back, and the Agents were pulling hard on ropes that the flying one, Geldwin, had hauled up to what was fairly obvious a chandelier conjured into being sometime after their capture.

The girls were being raised slowly, by their feet. Her friends were being raised up like sides of beef.

Chic turned towards the stage again and strode forward, confident now that if Insolence had not seen her thus far, he wouldn’t.

“Perfect! Perfect!” He reached to the side and pulled one of the staves around. It was Lark’s. “They like to beat on others with these sticks so much, let’s see how much they enjoy it themselves!  Time for a little piñata action, boys!”

She walked around his legs and reached the remaining staves.

Her hand passed through all but one, no matter how hard she tried. Only her own could she touch. She frowned, and began to wrap her hand around it.

It came to her. She looked up at Insolence sharply, but he paid it no mind. She could feel it’s power thrumming through her.

That he thought their powers were absent without the staves said much about how little he knew about them. She grinned and tapped hers on the ground, springing out her scythe.

The gals were a good four or five feet off the ground now, and as she watched, the other Agents conjured tie downs into the wall from smoke. These were not the weak creatures they had fought before. Or at least, she had fought before. Lark had come to the last one ready for war.

They were laughing as she crossed over the orchestral pit again, and something out of the corner of her eye caught her attention, causing her to glance down to see people writhing in pain. She paused, jaw slack.

“There are people here!”

“Mmmmfph! Mmmm. Mmmm, mmmmm!”

Lark’s noises shook her from her shock, and she focused again, looking back at the team dangling as the agents began to circle, hopping across the gaps easily.

A shadow fell over her and she dove out of the way instinctively, holding on tight as Insolence strode past, before struggling back onto the pattern.

He held the other staves, and he walked past the others to stand over Chic’s corpse. “This one. Her staff must have vanished when she passed.” He kicked her, and Chic gasped, feeling it, falling to her knees and holding her side, looking up in time to see her body roll of the edge and into the pit beneath.

“Flutter!” she yelled.

The room became silent. The Agents looked around, eyes narrow, the minions constant, droning chitter silent, the camera crews moving slowly, searching the room.

Chic froze.

After a few moments, Insolence shrugged. “Echoes. More tricks from these three. Here,” he tossed the staves into the air, allowing his servants to catch them.

Smoke roiled from where they touched them, but the agents ignored what had to be painful losses. They were not as strong or as fully present as Insolence.

Chic thought carefully. She wasn’t up against what she had fought before. These ones seemed to be able to distort reality, to shatter what was real and bend it to their whims.

Demigods. That was what they were. Like the ancient Greek personifications. Powers of the universe.

She nodded. “Okay, then. I think I get it. We’re god killers. I can handle this.”

One of the camera things got close, and she absently let the blade of her scythe dip into it.

It seemed to deflate almost instantly, and she watched again as a tiny golden thread fell to the ground, in two pieces.

She looked at her scythe. “Wow. Okay, then, let’s see what it does to the big guys.”

She stalked up behind one that was waiting his turn, and as she did, she came close to her body, and she could feel it again, and within it the power she had stolen.

She blinked, looked down. She could see it, lying crumpled in what had to be an uncomfortable position. She tried to think. She had been struggling to escape while she had been trying to push the energy out, trying to…

“Oh shoot. I learned a new trick. Just not the one I was trying for!” she chuckled to herself and pointed her scythe top at Tally with her right hand, then reached towards her body with her left, and closed her eyes.

She felt the power began to shift. Sluggish at first, as if it was water in a huge container, slowly sloshing about, then it became lighter, and began to swirl about, and then shifted yet again into a kind of spout that flowed up and out of the body and into and around her arm, crossing around and through her, a swirling force that made her feel even more powerful, before exiting once more in a wave that traveled along her arm and then her staff and then leaped like lightning at Tally.

Tally jerked hard, a muffled scream of some sort burrowing through her gag, her eyes wide opened and startled.

The one that had hurt Lark laughed. “Heh. Look at this one. It’s already screaming and we haven’t even hit it yet. Let’s see what it does when we do!”

He grabbed the staff, Oceania’, like a baseball bat and leaned way back in wind up, then let loose with an enormous swing that whistled through the air. Chic closed her eyes and turned her head.

There was an incredible cracking noise, a shredding sound. And then a low giggle.

“Oh, Wow! I don’t know what that was, but Gosh do I feel awesome!”

Chic looked. Shock was across the faces of all the Agents, and an enormous smile was spread across Tally’s face. She still hung in the air, but one hand held the staff fast, and the bindings were straining against what was pretty obviously a much, much larger Tally.

“No!” Insolence bellowed, and charged her.

Chic used the moment to get close to Lark, and stared at the bindings. The black girl’s eyes were flashing at something and she followed them. Her Scythe.

“You think this will work?”

Lark nodded. Chic shrugged. She stepped back, let the tip of the scythe dance through the bindings in several places.

Nothing happened. She made a face. “No dice. They…”

Lark flexed and twisted and dropped to the ground, then yanked the gag from her mouth.

“You are astral, Sister.” She whispered. “That around you is but a representation of the world, and your scythe cuts through its essence.”

Chic hit herself in the head with the palm of her hand. “Of course.”

She turned towards Oceania and felt herself yanked backwards by her scythe. She turned to look, and saw it had caught inside the one Harassment, who was squirming and gasping as if he was drowning.

“H, what’s wrong?” The one called Dogpile called, mockingly. “Another attack of invisible sna- hey!  Look out!”

While Lark was being freed, Tally had flexed, and the bindings around her snapped. She dropped into a somersault and in the process hurled Geldwin into Dogpile through the staff, landing in time to release the pole and respond to Insolence’s punch with one of her own, the two fists colliding between them and giving the entre arena a shock that caused bits of balcony to fall before vanishing into smoke in their descent.

Lark whipped out a card from one of her sleeves and in a moment was running it along the bindings of Oceania, carefully avoiding stepping on her pigtails, which trailed the ground around her.

Her face was much less bruised, but still a bit distorted, though that could have been the anger she was feeling as she hit the floor hard, then scrambled to pick up her staff, passing over and tossing Lark hers.

Oceania slammed her pole into the ground and the top of it became a massive hammer, which she promptly used to crush the head of the Geldwin as he began to rise from the floor.

“You ain’t no Red Baron!” She screamed as the agent’s red wings with their emblazoned swastika twitched like beetles’ wings on his back.

As she lifted the hammer, the smoke began to reform around his head. She giggled and spun in a tiny dance, then blew a kiss at the smoke as it began to resemble a shape, scrambling it again.

Tally lacked the full height of Insolence. She was still about five feet shorter, which gave him greater reach, but she was Tally, and once the game was on, she was going to play it to the end.

The game was most definitely on. Minions began to drop drown, and the cameras scrambled to avoid the two titanic beings who traded blows that shook the air itself.

Lark’s glaive was nearly invisible as she spun it and moved forward, the whistling of it becoming a kind of halting chant itself, and Chic realized that she was, in fact, using it to cast one of her spells as the ribbons began to coalesce around her.

She chuckled and turned her attention to Harassment, who was still dancing at the end of her scythe.

She got up close to him, and ran a finger along his neck. His eyes bugged out, little rivulets of smoke drifting away from them like tears in no gravity.

“Oh, so you felt that, did you?” She gave a tiny jerk to the scythe, and he made tiny noises. “You shouldn’t have killed me, darlin. Killing me just makes me mad. And you wouldn’t like me when I’m mad.”

“Columbia!  I heard that!  Stop playing around and get to work!”

Oceania looked around. “Columbia’s still alive?” Her eyes gleamed.

Tally glittered as she took another blow, a tiny bit of her size decreasing. “Well, now, that explains tons!  Go, Columbia! Get these pugfers!”

Chic blushed, and stepped back from the still paralyzed Agent. She reached inside, to seek the sense beyond, and it came as easily as breathing, which she noted that she still wasn’t doing. She centered the scythe between the two of them.

“I am Columbia, the Hope of Freedom, the Voice of Genesis, the Herald of Spirit. Agent of Oblivion, your flesh and bone and blood and wastes are mine, and I consign you back to the Otherness from whence you came!”

She gave the scythe a sharp tug, and Harassment screamed. It was sharp, piercing, wailing, and it drew the attention of everything smoky in the room.

His cord was bloody, and he deflated around it, the smoke becoming liquid and then ash, and she looked at the pulsing, red thing that squirmed in the ashes like a worm caught in the sun or a maggot in decay.

“Oh, my Gosh, she really is alive!” The cheer in Oceania’ voice was undeniable. She gave Geldwin another smash, turned and waved her arm, a dozen minions hurled away by her winds. “But where is she? And why isn’t she dead?”

Tally used the distraction to deliver a full body upper cut to the underside of the chin, and a spinning kick to the groin that hurled Insolence back, crashing into the ground, which cracked beneath him, pieces falling away into the hot pit beneath.

She turned and dove for her own staff finally, the pole flying to meet her outstretched hand, which spun it about, knocking minions away with ease, before she tapped it hard on the ground and the blades of her axe sprang forth.

“How you doing, Diaspora?”

She vaporized another of Dogpiles bodies with a blast from her staff. “I have been better, Hispania.”

“On it!” Oceania called, and she spun, floating into the air and coming down next to the dark girl.

Chic jogged over to where Geldwin lay, and lay her scythe inside his body once more. She felt the give, and the headless body flopped around, twisting to try and escape.

“Now we know why I have a scythe.”

Lark nodded. “Time and death, Sister! Time and death!”

Chic blinked as she realized it. She cut the cord and turned. “Wait, you can hear me!”

“I can see you, as well, Columbia.”

“But the others can’t?”

“I do not know all, merely,” she grunted as she dodged a fist that flew around her, severed from its owner. “What the powers allow me.”

She and Oceania were surrounded by Dogpile, and Chic looked around for the missing one. What was his name?  He was the one that had been after Lark, earlier.

Tricky Dick, that was it. She puzzled on him for a moment. He was like the trolls who were generally smarter when it came to wordplay, but usually faking it, and would run if they were caught out, so…

She looked up into the balconies.

He had a bazooka. He was aiming it at Lark and Dom.

“By the shield maidens of Freedom, I summon Protection of the Innocent!”

She hurled her hand out and formed the shield a moment before he pulled the trigger, and the blast shattered against it.

She felt it. It was as if she herself had taken the blow, and it knocked her completely down, her eyes blinded, her ears ringing.

She could feel it thrumming throughout her.

She needed time. Time to recover. Time to get back on her feet.

It became silent.

She blinked, struggled for a moment to turn her head, and through a haze and blur could vaguely make out a tableau.

Time and Death.

Her sigil glowed brightly beneath her, and she checked her levels.

Nothing was moving.

She groaned loudly and forced herself to roll over. Her entire body felt as if it was afire.

This was not a side effect she had anticipated. She glanced over. The shield was still there. Lark and Dom were safe.

Her vision cleared, and she forced herself to relax, letting out a deep sigh. Her healing spread through her. The pain began to fade. She glanced at the others as she found she could make things out, and called up a status on each of them.

Tally was hurting. Dom wasn’t doing much better, and Chic worried a bit about her, as there were cracks in her skull.

Lark was fine. As she found herself able to move, Chic rose and focused her sigil on first Dom and then Tally.  Then she turned her attention back to herself.

She breathed a sigh of deep relief as the last of her pains faded, and rose, using her staff as a lever to pull herself up.

“Ok, now how do I undo this.” She said aloud. Her screen lit up with the advice of her PED once more.

She laughed, and gave her staff a twirl and willed the world to go again.

Tally drove home a blow to the solar plexus that brought Insolence to his knees.  Dom’s hands weaved an intricate pattern, and a half dozen dogpiles grasped their throats, struggling for air, while another half dozen toppled and tumbled away. Lark decapitated two, then moved into a space that was basically clear, giving her the thing she needed to do her stuff, which was time.

Chic zeroed in on Tricky, who was climbing, no, slithering seemed more accurate, around on the balconies, positioning himself. She tapped her staff twice, and raised an enormously long barreled sniper rifle’s scope to her eyes while kneeling.

She began to drop the world away, one bit at a time.  Windage wasn’t a problem. Range was decidedly not a problem. She exhaled, let the crosshairs settle, slow and long inhale, follow, exhale, now lead, inhale, finger on trigger, exhale and squeeze.

He plummeted, his form exploding into a massive, billowing cloud as he struck the construction over the audience, then beginning to coalesce.

Chic tapped her staff again to give her a push as she leaped, the rifle becoming a staff, a scythe snapping out, and she dipped it into the shifting, swirling mass as she landed.

It solidified almost instantly, wisps of it breaking free, the whole form twitching and shuddering, eyes wide and sliding around, trying to identify the source of pain, of paralysis, of terror.

Not being able to be seen was more or less messing with her whole mood, Chic decided as she cut the string that bound him.

This way was, however, much easier and more efficient than the other way.

Except for the whole dying thing.

They were down to two now.

Although one of those two was currently about 50 guys in number, albeit thin and weaker, and the other was currently pushing Tally back right in front of Chic.

She dabbed her scythe into Insolence, who jerked back, letting go the staff he was pushing down on her with, whirling about.

His eyes narrowed. “What the hell is this.”

Tally walloped him upside the head with the flat of her axe head. “I’d say you prolly shouldn’ta, oughtn’ta killed my friend there, big guy. Seems to have upset her a little.”

Chic grinned and leaped again, landing near Lark.

“Got any ideas on how we are going to handle these guys?” She asked of the black gal.

Lark flicked her eyes at her. “Working on it.  Stay ready.”

“I’m always ready, Diaspora!” Dom laughed, and puffs of smoke billowed away from her as others flew from the force of her hammer.

She was having a blast. She positively radiated it. And something else.  Something that was even making Chic feel better, more happy, more motivated, more unbeatable.

She heard it, ever so faintly, then.

Music. And Dom was moving and striking to the beat, the fight a strange form of conducting for her, a symphony of smashing that filled her with a joy and a glee that in turn flowed from her like a song of defiant power.

Each of them, it seemed, had a critical role, a special place in the team, and together they added up ever more.

If she was feeling it while astral, how powerful was it in whatever regular form was?

“You will need to return to your body soon, Sister.”

Chic broke from her reverie.  Lark was beginning to sweat, the ribbons around her flashing and swirling hypnotically, her skirts ruffling and rising slightly, her sigil glowing a deep blue color and floating off her chest.

“What?”

“Your bond to the flesh weakens the longer you stay astral, Columbia.”

“You mean my corpse over there?”

Lark gave a curt nod. “You must rejoin it, soon.”

“What about gangland, here?”

“I did not say now.”

Chic laughed. “Got it. One problem at a time then. Say when.”

“Oceania, be ready. Hispania, one more moment.”

Tally laughed. “Oh, I’m good, darlin!” She hooked a leg around one of Insolence’s and toppled him. Chic raised eyebrows; the two were nearly the same size.

“Do”

“You”

“Really”

“Think”

“That”

“We”

“Are”

“Going”

“To”

“Be”

“That”

“Easy?”

Dogpile’s forms spoke in a strange cadence, each expressing a single word, as they began a massive push to break through and around Dom.

Lark grinned. “Chile, where I come from, dogpiles are what you carry a baggie for. By the feast of Freedom, Kalfu, enjoin!”

The ribbons about her exploded into an intense shower of glittery sand that began to rush about the room, building up momentum and then colliding hard with the various forms of dogpile, pushing them into each other, over and over again, a riotous, sparkly show that began to overwhelm the nearly five dozen of them, shoving them into one another, driving them together.  They stopped coming after the gals and began to focus on trying to fight the sandstorm, and above the whispering, grinding roar of the sand, Chic could hear the laughter of her friends.

The glee of Domino. The almost malicious vengeance of Lark. The battle fever of Tally.

Her own excited warble.

The connection, the bond, was unmistakable, a tightly wrought sense of unity and shared purpose, and from it came a power that seemed to charge even them.

She shivered, and a multi syllable cry she hadn’t used since a child erupted and her eyes flashed, and she dove into the midst of the sandstorm and her scythe cut a furious path around her, unstopped and irresistible as she wailed and destroyed the dogs of the pile, until she saw one that screamed in horror with each blow, one that was separated, one that was the heart of the whole.

She leaped. The scythe whipped around as she spun about.

Dogpile vanished in a splash of oily ashen waste.

The sandstorm gathered into itself, forming a massive ball that slowly drifted through the air.

Tally crashed down as she was body slammed by Insolence, who then looked up, realizing he was alone save for the minions, who now cravenly hid among the balconies and quivered in the edges of the vast theater of his mind.

The girls moved around him.  Tally wiped blood from her mouth, eyes glittering like wet diamonds.  The sandstorm floated over him.

He looked around.  He was surrounded on three paths, but a fourth was open.

He could not see Chic.

He feinted towards Dom, who rose and brought her hammer into striking position.

He feinted, again, towards Lark, who pulled three cards into each of her hands from her sleeves or somewhere.

He feinted towards Tally, who caught her fist with one hand, then waved him forward.

His eyes slid towards Chic’s direction.

“You think you have beaten me?” He threw his head back and laughed. “I am Insolence! For ten thousand years I have tread the lands and seas of this world, and I have devoured wretches and wenches such as you countless times!”

“Ah, spare us the dramatics.”

He paused, then smiled. “What an excellent idea.”

The world around them exploded. The floor erupted in a geyser, the balconies collapsed, the stage exploded into a million sharp edged piercing shards, the Chandelier came hurtling down, the whole thing an enormous cataclysm.

He laughed at them.

Smoke billowed around them everywhere, the thick, sticky miasma and wrack of the manifestation, the whole of it beginning to twist and then crack and groan and creak and shudder and shake.

He kept his feet as the gals scrambled, their balance and points of reference lost, the very world around them unraveling.

It stopped.

Tally slammed down into the pavement, the asphalt shattering under the impact, hurled there by him with a single hand that had plucked her from the ground, whirled her over his head, and dropped her down.

As he did so, he kicked Lark, then brought his foot around and slammed it down on Tally’s chest.

Lark screamed as she slid across the parking lot, her head colliding with a bumper stop, the sandstorm exploding into a shower that covered the area and gave a bit more light that the moon and stars above.

Insolence was larger again.  His power no longer limited by the creation of a phantasmal reality, he had grown. Where the sand bounced off him, he sparked in puffs of fire and smoke.

He faced Dom.

“Yes, quite the suggestion. So lyrical.”

Dom scowled, but behind it was a grin. “So, you gonna beat me up too?”

“No. I was expecting you to do that all by yourself. Or maybe a little help from your cowardly friend.”

Dom giggled. “You called Columbia a coward! Oh, damn, dude.”

Insolence tilted his head. “Why not? She’s hiding. She’s sneaking about. She’s not got the balls to face one of us directly.”

“I may be wrong, now, so don’t quote me on this, tall dark and cancerous, but I’m pretty sure she had bigger balls than you ever will, and got rid of them as soon as she could. Seems they cramped her style. You don’t seem to have the same problem. She had her brains a bit higher than you.”

Chic covered her mouth as she kept searching the parking lot. It had to be here, somewhere.

There. At the outer edges of everything. Bodies. Dozens of them. She leaped over, began moving among them.

Smoke was gathering around him, centering on his right hand. “You talk a lot.”

“It’s a gift. Got it from my Dad. He could never shut up. Like you. It ended poorly for him, though.”

Insolence chuckled. “You give me power, thing.”

“Perhaps, but fat lot of good it’ll do you. All you have is hot air, and in case you hadn’t noticed, I kinda don’t have a problem with air.” Dom gave her staff a little flip, ended up holding it with her left hand raised, her right at hip level. “Oh, and there’s one more thing you should know.”

“Oh, and what might that be?” A massive sword was nearly done forming in his hand. “You surrender in hopes I will only keep you for a concubine?”

Dom giggled. “Oh, you wish.  Not even if you were my type.  Skinny and malformed doesn’t do anything for me. Nope, I was thinking that you just don’t have enough music in your life.”

“Music? As if you could play anything worth hearing.”

“Oh, I think this will blow you away.” She raised her right hand and brought it down in front of her staff, and a chord broke from her like a hurricane.

Insolence staggered back. “Off key, as usual.”

“Discord buys time, though. Columbia, honey, whatever you gonna do, do it fast.”

Chic nodded as she moved among the bodies. “I’m trying to as fast as I can, I swear.”

There! She was on her side. She knelt down beside her body and looked hard at it.

A silvery grey cord floated out of her belly button, nearly invisible, coiled around her, and ran into her current forms belly button.

She frowned, looked over at the two combatants still standing. Tally was struggling to get up. Lark was still out cold.

The sword was fully formed, and burst into flames.

“Shoot.” She leaped, came down behind him.

He was enormous. At least twice her size as she was now, and she was much taller in this form than her normal.

Her scythe gleamed, and she dipped it into him.

He bellowed and spun, swinging the sword in a wide, low arc that came right at her, forcing her to hop back.

She felt the heat of it. Not the best sign.

“Come out come out wherever you are, little one. Come to daddy, so I can show you what your place is.”

He went straight down, chin striking the pavement and sending bits of it everywhere. His eyes almost popped out of his head, which deformed in a grotesque way as the hammer head of Dom’s staff drove him down.

“Now see, it figures a toad like you would forget about me.  Didn’t you know? I’m the cute one of the bunch! How could you ever forget about little ole me?”

Chic spun the scythe through him while he was down. She felt the strike on his cord, and it held, the vibrations shuddering through her arms.

His cord was much stronger than the others.

He jerked and twitched and struck out blindly, rolling away from the pain and the hurt.

He started to rise, and again came down the hammer and again the sickle strike.

The sword passed through the air and the edge of it brought a line of red to Chic’s belly, the burning of it doubling her over for a moment.

Insolence gasped. “Got you with that one, little ghost.”

Chic glowered, a growl rising in her.

They did it in perfect timing, the third blow pinning him to the ground with the hammer, the scythe screaming as it tore through him.

“No!” Insolence screamed, an echoing and soul shivering sound, as he, too, turned to ash.

Dom landed, her twin tails flying, and strode over to the ash. She poked at it with her staff.

“Well, Columbia, that was something. I don’t know if you can hear me, but I’m really, really glad you aren’t dead. Though how is something you’ll have to tell me!”

Chic smiled, and headed back to her body. She was feeling lightheaded, dizzy.

She set her staff down next to it for a bit and looked into her own face. She tried to push herself over, watched as her hand passed through the body.

“Dang nabbit!”  She picked her staff back up, used it to lay herself out as best she could.

Satisfied, she lay down in the same position, letting her own body surround her, and willed herself back into her own body, trying hard to remember the sense of desperation she had felt before, the need of it, the intensity of it.

She gasped, hard, her lungs screaming and burning and so desperate for air she clawed out at the sky above her, her eyes burning, her whole form feeling as it had been crushed beneath a thousand giant street rollers.

She dry coughed, choked, tears squeezing out of her eyes suddenly.

A sharp blow on her back, and air came rushing in, blissful, thankful, wonderful, awesome, amazing air.

She coughed again, leaned forward, legs spread wide, skirts a jumble, hair touching the ground around her, and just breathed for a few moments.

“Welcome back, girl. You so need to tell me about it. I’m dying to write that song.”

A. E. D’orsay

Welcome.

My name is Antonia Elle D’orsay, though most people call me Toni. I am black and white and red all over, and I’m here to talk to you about things you might not have thought on before.

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My standard rate is $150 an hour, two hour minimum, plus travel expenses (which can be waived or split).

By training, I am a sociologist and psychologist, with degrees from the University of Arizona. My speaking style is interactive, humorous, and fun, intended to provoke laughter and thought in a situation that is often uncomfortable and sometimes unwelcome for attendees.

I prefer to tailor my engagements to the audience I am dealing with, be it helping to formulate policy or law, speaking on Trans related issues, or guiding a collaborative effort to oppose injustice.

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