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.”

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