The Perils of Valora Finale: Rat Bites Dog Bites Man

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The Perils of Valora Finale: Rat Bites Dog Bites Man

Post by Damselbinder »

The Perils of Valora 5-Prologue: Tempus Fugit

The building was a simple one. When she entered it, it became a temple; a ziggurat. Those who worked in it were ordinary people. When she passed them, when she acknowledged them, they became honoured custodians of sacred duties. The briefing room where she found her colleagues was plain, and functional. When she entered it, it became a great hall of stone, of marble severity, where the smallest voice was magnified to the echoing boom of the greatest rhetoricians of the ancient world. Around her, a loose association of superhumans that she had gathered under her banner. When she cast her eyes upon them, they became noble, chivalric warriors – guardians of the innocent, mighty enough that this charge really was within their strength. The seat in front of her was nothing more than a simple office chair. When she sat down, it became a throne: earned, yet surely hers by birthright. None present begrudged her this honour. For she was, now, among the very mightiest of her kind, and spoken of quite seriously as the greatest superhero of their time – perhaps of all time. Of any other, speaking in such terms would have sounded like obsequious hagiography.
But of Mariko Asakura, exaggeration seemed impossible.

She was tall, very tall, coltishly slender, moving with a liquid grace that made it look like she was floating. She had dignified, feminine features, at once delicate and strong, with sharply intelligent eyes, like cool, clear jades. She wore silver, a colour which had become so much associated with her that few others felt they had the right to use it. The material clung to her body like a second skin, covering her from her feet to just below her jaw, so tight that it would have looked absurd on anyone who did not possess her extraordinary, preternatural beauty. At her shoulders, she wore a shimmering cloak, made of a material that did not exist, in colours that the eye did not believe. She had, also, a thin, fashionably crested mask, a slightly duller grey than her bodysuit to stand out better against her eyes. But it was symbol merely, not disguise. For five years now, Spectra and Mariko had been one and the same.
“I call this quorum of the Sentinels,” she said, pausing to lend appropriate gravitas to the occasion, “to order.”

To be quorate, only three of the six needed to be gathered, but five were present that day. After Mariko, there was Felicity Chalfont, otherwise known as Falcona, a deadly martial artist in possession of the most powerful vision in the world. She wore a form-fitting, faux-leather bodysuit over her trim, petite figure, and a helmet swept back in the approximate shape of the head of a hawk. She brought the Sentinels guile, wit, and a unique and potent source of information.

Then there was Tamar Barzillai, or ‘Zayin’; a raven-haired swordswoman, wielder of powerful magnetic energies. She wore an armoured tunic, leaving her smooth, olive shoulders and thighs bare, with heavy steel greaves and steel gauntlets to take full advantage of her unique fighting style. She brought the Sentinels battle-experience, a mastery of tactics, great physical power in battle, and total loyalty to Spectra’s cause.

After her, Celeritas, real name Steve Sandale. He was a speedster of great power and skill, clad in a heavy cape that, with his speed, was often a surprisingly effective weapon in its own right. He was not the fastest man alive, and he had been surprised when Spectra had asked him to join her. But though he had less speed than some with similar powers, he was a cunning warrior, and brought a down-to-earth perspective to the Sentinels’ meetings which Mariko – who was now so grand and so famous – was concerned her group might have otherwise lacked.

Then there was Impulse. He was least often present at these meetings, for he divided his time between the Sentinels and other teams in other nations, which was one of the most valuable assets he provided. But he was also a touch-telekinetic of great might, and probably the strongest of them, save for Spectra herself, and save for their last member, who was not present. He wore a mask covering his entire face, and an elaborate, crested costume with a high collar. He fully embraced the drama of superheroism, and took its conventions most seriously. He was, for instance, the only member of her group of whom Mariko did not know their true identity.

They were not like other such groups: Mariko laid no expectation on them that they should always fight as a unit. They gathered monthly to share intelligence and pool their resources, but the only other law of the Sentinels was that any one of them could call upon any other at any time to assist them. Mariko had been very insistent when she had first gathered them: she was, at most, chairwoman - not commander. And yet while her comrades wore the same costumes they always wore when acting independently, when they were acting as Sentinels, they all wore the silver-and-white that had become Spectra’s signature. She hadn’t asked it. It had just sort of… happened.

“Thank you for coming,” Mariko said. She nodded respectfully to the gathered heroes, a motion she repeated exactly every time these meetings took place. It made her seem insincere to the uninformed; but those who knew her better understood that her expressions were sincere. She was just a little… different. “Impulse, would you care to begin?”

Impulse nodded, stood, making a dramatic gesture before beginning to speak. Though he was a little younger than Mariko, he came across as something of a throwback to the old days.
“Until three weeks ago,” he said, “I had never fought a superhuman wearing one of these… suits.” He spoke through a synthesizer that disguised his quiet cadence and his Chadian accent. “Since then, I have fought four of them, and if I had had to fight any two of them at once, I am sure I would have died. We can no longer write this off as the remnants of stock from the original military experiments. Someone is making more and selling them.”

Mariko frowned. She had come to this conclusion herself some time ago and had been doing everything within her power to prove herself wrong. The suits of which Impulse spoke were biomechanical weapons, shells that could drastically enhance the powers of their superhuman wearers. She had hoped that this lingering shadow of an old and hated enemy was just that: a shadow; a remnant merely. But Impulse was right. The shadow was gaining a body of its own.

“They’re saying it’s a paradigm shift.” Celeritas sat forward sharply, meaning to stand, but the noticed that nobody else had stood when they talked, and slumped back again. He found it hard to gauge what level of formality was expected of him. “That this is just how things are going to be now. That maybe all capes are going to need pretender-suits if we don’t want to get killed.”

“Well whoever ‘they’ are,” Zayin said, “we’d better hope ‘they’re’ wrong. ‘Cause I’m not wearing one of those things. Not if my life depended on it. People get scared of supers enough as it is without us walking around in suits of scary-ass armour covered in knives and missiles and shit.” Beneath the table, Zayin clenched a fist. “We need to find whoever’s selling these suits and deal with them before this gets any worse!” She had only encountered one such suit before. That once had been more than enough.
“I don’t think they’re being sold at all,” Falcona said. “Each of these monstrosities must cost a fortune, but some of the people wearing them have been the pettiest of the petty.”
“Not always,” Impulse responded. “The Roach had one when I last fought him. He’s always been tough, but with the suit… I have had few battles more difficult.”
Celeritas and Falcona both assented. They too had faced old rivals in these suits, and on both occasions had almost been killed by the massive increase in power their enemy experienced.

“I’m afraid to say I had a similar experience as well,” Mariko said. “I encountered an old foe, Regulus – you remember her, Felicity, she was there during the battle of the Needle – and she had a pretender-suit as well. She had never been much of an opponent but this time she was a real threat. It took much longer than it ought to have done to put her down.”
The others folded their arms and matched Mariko’s grave frown. Except for Falcona, who was smiling, coyly.
“Now, Mariko,” she said, “you know you shouldn’t fib. Did it really take you a long time to beat Regulus?”
“Oh, er…” Mariko blinked. “Well. Not that long, I suppose…”
“Did you beat her in one blow?”
“… I might have.”

There were groans from the assembled company, and Mariko began to feel a little hot under her mask.
“It – it was a much stronger blow than I’d expected I would need,” Mariko said. “I had to use my soul-light, even,” she added, as if this were an admission of fault.
“Uh-huh, whatever,” Zayin laughed. “You don’t have to spare our feelings, eh? We’re okay with you being tougher than us.”
“Yes, of course. Forgive me,” Mariko said, very earnestly. “I didn’t intend to be condescending.”
“Mariko,” Falcona replied, “we get it. You were trying not to sound boastful. I was just teasing, sweetheart.”

Even after all this time, Mariko still found these things so difficult. She was aware of an inner tendency towards vanity, but she guarded against it much too assiduously. That was one of the reasons she had not wanted to command the Sentinels, and why the gulf of power between herself and all but one of them concerned her, even though none of them were weaklings. Those who loved her best called it her ‘Persian flaw’, and Mariko tried to listen – but even though she was old enough and wise enough now to understand her own foolishness, part of her still demanded perfection of herself. She was pleased, then, when Impulse returned to more serious matters.

“That doesn’t sound like coincidence,” he said. “That we have all had these encounters with old rivals. It sounds to me like someone is giving deliberate assistance to our enemies.”
“You mean a plot against us?” Mariko asked. “Against the Sentinels?”
“Perhaps. Perhaps just against famous superheroes.” Beneath his mask, he raised an eyebrow. “Has the Pauldron been attacked in this way as well?”
“They’ve fought supervillains in pretender suits, if that’s what you mean,” Mariko replied. The Pauldron had, once, been the most prestigious league of superheroes in the world and Mariko had once been a member. But even as an alumna, she and Sara, the Pauldron’s leader, were still close friends. She even played squash with Panhellius occasionally. “I don’t believe there’s been anything more targeted.”

Mariko made a sweeping motion with her hand, as if brushing the digression aside like a cobweb.
“I must be frank,” she said. “At this stage, our enemies’ motives are irrelevant. Whether we or the Pauldron have been targeted is irrelevant. Conspiracy or not, we must stop this before it gets worse. I submit that we devote the full resources of the Sentinels to this matter. Let us get as much data as possible on the spread of the attacks; let us hire psychometrists to examine confiscated pretender-suits; let us interrogate those in custody who have been using them. Most importantly, I need to consult with our analysts; find if this problem is bigger than we think it is. The fact that all these attacks have been so public, so obvious… disturbs me. I am wary of grandstanding. I am wary of theatre.”

Mariko rose, and the others all did the same. The sight of them all assembled never failed to stir something in Mariko. They were all strong. All dedicated, earnest champions of their cause. All good. How wonderful it was to stand amongst equals.
“Let us hope that it is a conspiracy against us. If so, then this danger is being directed against those best equipped to deal with it. But we are all too aware, now, of the things that lurk in the shadows while we dance our costumed dances, so we must ensure that this is not another smokescreen for some fouler evil. Power is duty, as all of us know, and we here have much of both. We—”

Mariko had not started her speech intending for it to be a speech. Yet she’d rather liked the sound of it once it had got going. She was not delighted, therefore, to see that Felicity was looking at her phone.
“Oh, sorry,” Felicity said, noticing Mariko’s glimmers of umbrage. “But I have a feeling you’re about to forgive me.” She tossed the phone to Mariko and waited for the penny to drop. When it did, and she looked up, her face was white with fear, or fury.
“Wh – this is happening now?” Mariko exclaimed. “Why didn’t she call us?”
“What, what’s going on?” Zayin asked.

Mariko didn’t answer. She ran to the nearest window.
“Steve,” she said, “please get to San Diego as quickly as possible.”
“Sure,” Celeritas replied, “but could one of you please tell me what’s happening?”
“Either our problem has is now even worse,” Mariko said, “or….” She made a gesture of baffled frustration, and ran a hand through her short, jet-black hair. “Or… it may have just been completely resolved. I won’t know until I get there.”
Mariko opened the window, and closed her eyes, focusing. She had mastered this new power only recently, and it still required intense concentration. The raiment about her shoulders began to glow, with a soft, golden colour that spread across her body in a shimmering tangle of intricate, fractal patterns. She floated a few centimetres off the ground, her fingers entwined as though she were meditating. Her eyes opened, transformed into burning, emerald torches.
“Damn,” Mariko muttered, vanishing into a shimmering mist of photons.

Until earlier that day, there had been a small textiles factory on the outer edge of San Diego’s industrial district. It had ticked away, quietly, in the city’s economic background, producing a great deal of argyle, for which there was presumably still a market, somewhere. When it was bought by a South American textiles concern in the year 2019, nobody paid the slightest attention. When its output of argyle, and its number of employees, had begun steadily to dwindle, nobody paid that very much attention either. When the machinery was emptied out, steadily, over several months, and when new equipment was brought in, and – in early 2021 – the first of the third-generation pretender suits had rolled off the assembly line, even then no-one paid any attention to the quiet factory on the outer edge of San Diego’s industrial district. It was the chiefest and most delectable of ironies that it was only noticed when it wasn’t there anymore.

Mariko coalesced on the roof of a factory on the other side of the same industrial estate and found that things were even worse than she had feared. The factory had been completely destroyed: its roof now lying in a crumbled mess on its floor. Brick and metal were scattered everywhere, spilling dangerously onto the road as well as covering much of the rest of the estate. A police cordon had been set up around the outside of the estate, but they were keeping a far distance. Just in front of and just inside where the shipping entrance to the factory had stood, there were a series of deep, distinct craters that looked like they had been left by meteors.

Mariko descended, lowering herself to the ground on shimmering platforms that came into being and then dissolved into nothingness at her command. She entered the ruined factory, and found that her guess had been correct. For among the ruins of the building itself was its ruined merchandise: huge suits of obsidian armour, crushed, smashed, or just torn to pieces. This was it, then, this was the factory where the suits were being constructed.

Mariko turned in the direction of the sound, raising spinning, razor sharp shields around herself. But though the man she saw was indeed an enemy, he was not a threat. He had been wearing a pretender suit himself, but it had been ruined in battle, split open to reveal his chest and face. He was covered in wounds – but shallow ones. He was beaten, but his life was not in danger. As Mariko eased her guard, she saw that he was not the only one: there were four others, two men and two women. Mariko began to understand that the destruction was not just her colleague’s doing. There had been a great battle here. In fact, the battle was not quite over.

There was a sound of warning, but it was too far away to be distinct. It was the shadow falling across her that made Mariko turn around. When she did, a terror rose in the pit of her stomach that she had not realized was still in her; she froze. For the figure that descended on her, the hulking behemoth in sleek, spiked, obsidian armour was so like the figure of Hades that for a fraction of a second Mariko thought he had somehow returned.

But reality broke through, and that so swiftly that Mariko’s fear scarcely had the chance to register as anything more than surprise. And even if she had maintained the delusion, it would have been dashed when the man in armour smashed headfirst into the ground, throwing up a great cloud of dust, and spraying concrete in all directions. Mariko was about twenty metres away from where the man had landed, but even so she was almost knocked off her feet. She wasn’t hurt, but her sartorial dignity had been offended by a thin layer of dust that had settled on her clothes. Grumbling, Mariko tentatively approached the armoured figure to make sure they were truly defeated – and only the did she see the instigator of this chaos.

It was late afternoon, so the sun was still bright, but it was low enough and orange enough that her golden hair burned, and the dark blue of her leotard stood out vibrantly against the colour of the light. She was thirty-five now, and though she didn’t look much different to how she had a decade earlier, there was a depth and richness in her countenance that made her, if anything, even more beautiful than she’d been at twenty. She was a woman’s woman and a hero’s hero: powerful, voluptuous, confident and gorgeous, one of the few who could carry off the most straightforward, unpretentious vision of superheroism which so many now scorned. Mariko achieved the same effect with style, and grace. Valerie did it with chutzpah.

She jumped lightly from the perch on which she stood, but landed heavily.
“Hey, Mariko!” she called out. “What are you doing here? Not that I’m complaining.” She strolled over to the ruin of her conquered enemy, kicked him. He groaned but didn’t move. He turned his face up, and Mariko realized that she recognized him – it was Griseous, one of Hades’ old subordinates.
“I saw a news bulletin about your battle,” Mariko said, flatly. “I’m here because I thought you might need help.”
“Come on now,” Valerie replied, “you’re here because you thought I’d do too much damage.”
“That’s what I thought you might need help with.”
With her arms folded and her chin raised, one might have thought that Mariko was displeased – but there was a small smile on her face.

“Did you have to demolish the entire building?”
“Hey, I only did… some of the demolishing. The weirdos in the suits did most of it. Their powers were jacked up, but none of them could handle it properly.”
“I see.” Mariko pinched the bridge of her nose. “Valerie – how did you find the factory? How did you know the suits were being produced here?”
“Oh that,” Valerie said, grinning. “See that guy?” She pointed to the inside of the factory, to one of the men lying unconscious on his back. “He – wait, no. That guy.” She adjusted her aim slightly, pointed at one of the others. “He jumped me while I was helping some cops with a drug bust. But he, uh, might have bit off a little more than he could chew.”
“I don’t doubt it.”
“So yeah. I cracked the shell, and the nut inside freaked out and ran away. Flew away. Don’t think he thought I’d be able to keep up.”
“…And he led you straight here? Straight to his base of operations?”
Valerie laughed.

“You have no idea how pissed off his buddies were. They were screaming at him and calling him a moron and stuff: it was hilarious. You should have been there.”
“Yes, I rather think I should have,” Mariko replied. “From what you say things clearly happened very quickly, but at the very least Steve and I could have been here in time to help. Your foes were obviously very powerful. You could have been captured, or hurt, or – well… you know what I mean.”
Valerie couldn’t help smiling. When the two had first met, she’d found Mariko to be very arch, and very vain, and even by the time she’d been asked to join the Sentinels, she hadn’t had the highest opinion of her as a person. If they’d had this discussion a year ago, Valerie would have assumed that Mariko was annoyed about the ‘optics’ of Valerie’s victory, that her team or Mariko herself wouldn’t get any credit. But she’d come to learn that Mariko was a very easy person to misjudge. True, she liked things to be in their proper place, and was often put out or irritated when events conspired to surprise her, but her concern about Valerie’s safety was completely genuine. She was young, too, still in her mid-twenties, and so she still took everything very seriously.
“I appreciate it,” Valerie said, patting Mariko on the shoulder. “If I’d thought I was getting out of my depth, I would have happily demanded that you pull my ass out of the fire.”
“I’m glad you said that,” Mariko replied. “If your ass were to catch fire, I’m sure I’d never forgive myself.”


The two spent the next couple of hours in the dull aftermath of battle. Celeritas arrived soon afterwards to help pick up the pieces – dealing with police, helping to process arrests, and even spending a little time on the phone with a city councilwoman irritated that part of her district had been made to explode.

When all was dealt with, they returned to the Sentinels’ headquarters, where Valerie gave Mariko a more thorough version of the day’s battle.
“For what it’s worth,” Valerie said, “I don’t think they could have produced that many suits. Before I smashed it up, the machinery didn’t seem like a full factory floor or anything.”
“That’s something,” Mariko replied. She was sitting at her desk, typing notes for later reference. She’d shed her silver warrant for a white blouse and tight, black pencil skirt. She put Valerie in mind of a young, enterprising C.E.O.
“Still,” Mariko said. “At best, we will be cleaning this problem up for a while. Griseous… he never seemed like a criminal mastermind. I find it difficult to believe he was the only one behind this.”
“You think they’re gonna start up production somewhere else?”
“It’s a distinct possibility,” Mariko said. “But we have Griseous and his cohorts in custody now: we may yet get more information from them. Even if the threat isn’t fully over, we’re in a tremendously advantageous position.” She looked up from her notes. “Thanks to you, Valerie.”
“I really did get lucky,” Valerie replied. “If the guy who attacked me hadn’t panicked I’d never have found the factory.”
“But you made him panic,” Mariko said. “Luck certainly has its part to play in all of our lives, but my impression is that that part is smaller than most of us like to think.”
She leaned back in her chair, rubbing her eyes.
“Something the matter?” Valerie asked.
“Yes. No,” Mariko said. “I just wish we could be surer that we’d brought a real end to it.” She looked upwards. Valerie found that she looked very tired.

“One sometimes forgets how things have changed,” Mariko said. “Don’t you find? One thinks that everything is back to how it was in the early tens, in our brief little golden age where everyone seemed to adore us, and every problem seemed soluble - and then something like this happens.”
“Mm. Those suits bring back bad memories for a lot of us.”
“It’s not just the suits,” Mariko said. “Even… when I’m walking down the street, sometimes people give me these looks. It’s not hatred, exactly. Oh, one gets that too, but it’s easier to deal with, isn’t it? Because it’s so obviously unwarranted. But suspicion – how can I begrudge them that?” She laughed. “D’you know, there’s quite a popular conspiracy running around that I am Hades? Oh yes. The truth, you see, was just propaganda, and the Sentinels are some sort of insidious, radical feminist cabal?”
“Do… these people not know there’s two men in the Sentinels?”
“Oh but that’s what makes us so insidious.” She and Valerie both laughed, but Mariko didn’t maintain her good humour. “It’s very, very stupid,” she said, “but it makes one feel like we’re still all in Imperion’s shadow.”

Valerie sat down in the chair opposite from Mariko, and locked eyes with her.
“I get where you’re coming from. I know Imperion did us a lot of damage, but it’s not like how you think it is. That golden age you talked about? It wasn’t real. It just seemed that way to you because you did your thing in Seacouver. The eye of the storm. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: California is bullshit. Things are better now, overall. It’s less glitzy, I guess? But I’d much rather be a superhero now than when Jackson Morrow was at the peak of his powers. And a lot of that has come from the work we’ve done, Mariko. From what you’ve done. Besides,” she said, speaking with the authority of many years of struggle, and battle, “reality is always better. Even when it sucks.”
“Yes,” Mariko said. “You’re right, of course. Thank you, Valerie. I know you were hesitant to join us at first, but I am very, very grateful that you did.”

Mariko’s phone rang.
“Excuse me,” she said, lifting the receiver. “Hello?”
Valerie was close enough to hear the voice on the other end of the line, but she would have been able to tell who it was either way. From the way Mariko’s expression softened, from the way her eyes lit up, the way her whole body seemed to smile, and from how she carefully stroked the golden ring on the finger of her right hand, it was obvious that Mariko was talking to her wife.
“No, no-one was hurt,” Mariko said, “No-one who didn’t deserve it, anyway. It’s all dealt with. Well. Perhaps not all, but I’ll, uh, debrief you when I get home.” Whatever the response was, it made Mariko blush. “No that is not what I meant by ‘debrief’. I – Valerie is in the room with me.” She looked up. “Sophie says hello,” she said.
Valerie smiled, warmly.
“Hello back,” she said. “Do you want me to leave you to it?”
“No, no,” Mariko said. “I’ll only be a moment, if you don’t mind.”
“Go for it.”

She gave Sophie a brief going over of the day’s events, asked her if she had encountered any relevant information in her own work, and asked her if she wouldn’t mind getting some catfood on her way back. Just before she hung up, Sophie said something that made her laugh. And yet, as she put the phone, Valerie noticed something on Mariko’s face – a glimmer of worry.
“Sorry about that,” Mariko said.
“Ah, don’t worry. I haven’t seen Sophie in a while, actually. How is she? Didn’t you say her mom was sick?”
“Oh, yes,” Mariko said, surprised that Valerie remembered. “Yes, Pamela was very ill for a while. Sophie went to stay with her for a few weeks – that’s why you haven’t seen her. But all’s well now,” Mariko said, trying a little too hard to sound positive. “Sophie’s mother is on the mend now, thankfully.”
“That’s good,” Valerie said. “But there’s a ‘but’, isn’t there?”
Mariko tapped her fingers against the desk. She wasn’t sure whether she and Valerie were close enough to share these things. But it had been weighing on her.

“Sophie… has her struggles,” she said. “I think her mother’s illness was very hard on her.” Mariko was not willing to share the extent of her worries completely. She did not, for instance, tell Valerie that Sophie hadn’t been in a very good way even before Pamela’s sickness. Nor did she say that she had considered discussing with Sophie the prospect of her going back into therapy.
But Valerie was intelligent enough not to push the matter.
“I’m sorry Sophie’s not doing so great,” she said, “but she’ll be okay. She’s strong – and she has you.”
Mariko smiled. She looked a little relieved to have shared.
“Hey, I need to go,” Valerie said.
“Oh, yes, of course you do,” Mariko said, getting up. “I didn’t mean to keep you for so long.”
“It’s cool,” Valerie replied. “Drop me a line if you need me to smash something.”
“Oh no you don’t,” Mariko replied. “You got to do all the smashing today. Next time I’ll make Impulse do it.”

As Mariko watched Valerie leave, she was again very glad indeed of her presence in the Sentinels. She had come to like Valerie much more quickly than Valerie had her. She liked Valerie’s brusqueness. She liked her straightforwardness. She liked that, while Valerie didn’t enjoy the theatrics of superheroism as much as Mariko did, she took their role and their duty very seriously. She liked that Valerie, who had been famous even when Mariko was a child, acknowledged and respected her as an equal. She liked her bluntness, her honesty, and had come to like her unshakeable self-confidence. Valerie was exactly what she should be, doing exactly what she should be doing, and she seemed at peace with herself in a way that Mariko sometimes envied.

Not being an intrusive person, Mariko didn’t know much about Valerie’s personal history. So if you had told her about Valerie’s past, about her expulsion from the Bombshells, about Valerie’s battle with Lupus, about her awful, wonderful night with Oliver Blane, or about the aftermath of Milo Patáky’s final gambit, Mariko simply wouldn’t have believed you.

For Valerie, it had been a good day. To have a good fight and a clean victory for a good cause was about the best one could hope for. She did not regret joining the Sentinels, and she was pleased by the growing friendship between herself and Mariko. But while she believed everything she’d said to Mariko, she did sometimes think about the way she spent her life. She was young – but she wasn’t that young. In one form or another, she’d spent her entire life fighting, and she felt that, surely, it would start weighing on her soon. Alternatively, it would not, and that would mean that she was the same that she had always been. Thinking back on her time in Maine – sometimes her old self still frightened her.

As so many people found, the wealth that came with fame was one of the only things that made it tolerable. She had a nice house, in a nice part of San Francisco, and even now that still felt like unbelievable luxury. And, aside from the house itself, there was another reason that Valerie particularly looked forward to going home these days.
So Valerie was smiling when she turned onto her street, and still smiling when she saw her home, the one with the door painted a bold, haughty fuschia, at the insistence of its other occupant. Valerie would have smiled all the way to that door, had she not seen the shadow emerge to block her way.

It was not as tall as the other pretender suits had been. A little bulkier, but less ostentatious. The head, though, was still that awful, blank oval that had terrified so many on its most infamous bearer.
Valerie snarled, and closed her fists.
“You motherfucker,” she said. “You’ve gotta be some fatal kind of stupid to think it was a good idea to try hitting me where I live. I don’t care how much that suit jacks you up, either. I’ve already beaten five of your buddies, and I don’t think I need to be—”
She didn’t actually stop talking when the figure in the armour took their helmet off, because at first Valerie didn’t recognise them. It was just another face. It was only when they stepped forward, and their face was fully illuminated by a streetlamp that Valerie’s voice caught in her throat.
“Hey, Valora,” said Lupus.
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Re: The Perils of Valora Finale: Rat Bites Dog Bites Man

Post by Damselbinder »

Hey y'all. In a bit I'm going to be posting the next part of Valora 5, and since the last chapter was just a prologue, I thought I'd again do what I did at the beginning of Valora 4 and give a dramatis personae of the characters in this tale. I have to be honest, I don't advise starting here, as it's the conclusion of Valora's tale, but, hey a refresher probably couldn't hurt longtime readers either.

Valora: Real name Valerie Orville, Valora is an immensely powerful superhuman, with vast physical strength and durability. A grim, and not very happy young woman, Valora had to leave college to support her sickly father. For this reason, she joined a superhero team - the Bombshells - that was effectively a propaganda exercise (pretty ladies in skimpy outfits posing next to American flags, etc etc). She was kicked out for assaulting one of the project's organizers in a fit of rage, and went back to her home state of Maine. There, she ended up tangling with the gangster Milo Patáky, specifically his subordinate James Oleander, who kidnapped a friend of hers. However, in battling with Patáky - a wealthy and increasingly powerful crime lord - she gained some real celebrity, and seemed to be on the fast-track to success given how powerful and skilled she was.

However, a confluence of two devastating events threatened to put paid to all that. In an encounter with her father and stepmother (who had divorced Valora's father prior to the series), she discovered effectively that her efforts to support her father had been pointless, as her (relatively wealthy) stepmother would have been perfectly willing to support him in Valora's stead, had she known what was going on. Her parents devolved into a bitter row, and Valora - believing her hardship, poverty and struggle had been utterly meaningless - was shellshocked. Then, she was attacked by one of the only people capable of matching her strength: Lupus, a superhuman who can mimic the powers of others. Valora was defeated, kidnapped, and tormented by Lupus, until she was rescued by fellow Bombshell Hypatia. However, a rematch ended very much in Valora's favour, so much so that she devolved into a fit of apoplexy, and would have strangled Lupus to death had Hypatia not again intervened.

Taking a 'sabbatical', Valora tried to find some kind of stability in herself, though she struggled to. However, an encounter with an old friend, former marine Oliver Blane, allowed her to come to terms with herself to some degree. When last we saw her, she had resolved to return to Maine to finish what she started: defeating Patáky once and for all.

Milo Patáky: A nebbish, physically cowardly, anxious, but devious and intelligent gangster, Milo when first we saw him controlled a fair portion of the drug trade in Maine, and aside from trying to get into entirely legitimate business for his own safety, was a man of limited ambition. However, a betrayal by his most trusted confidant ignited a kind of controlled madness in him, and after brutally murdering the traitor, Milo has embarked on a campaign of astonishing violence against every conceivable rival. Whenever he's about to reach a goal, he invents another one - and the violence continues. He has a strange charisma, and has managed to inspire loyalty in his underlings, despite his fragile sanity, and his bitter self-loathing.

Hypatia: Real name Cecily Rothschild. An elegant, well-educated young woman from a wealthy family, Hypatia was a member of the Bombshells alongside Valora. She is telekinetic, and though she's not very powerful, she is immensely skilled and precise with her abilities. She was the first to realize its true nature, but elected to stay nevertheless, partly because she believed in the cause to which its deception was dedicated, and partly because of her growing affection for fellow Bombshell Freebird. After the team imploded, Hypatia pursued former member Lupus, who had been responsible for the team's humiliating end. Quite by chance, she discovered that Valora had fallen into Lupus' clutches, and freed her. After witnessing Valora's near-breakdown, however, Hypatia elected to remain in Maine despite Lupus disappearing, to continue the fight in Valora's absence, given that she was in no position to be using her powers for the common good.

Recently, Hypatia managed to gather up a number of other Maine superheroes ('the Dregs'), into something of a team.

Freebird: Real name Maria Okonedo. She was, originally, the leader of the Bombshells. Taking her duties very seriously, Freebird was hit hardest when the team collapsed. She too found herself attracted to Hypatia, but was unable to express her feelings. A committed, though unconventional, Christian, Freebird has the power to project blasts of radiation from her hands, and genuinely believes that she is meant to have her power, and is therefore duty-bound to use it.

Recently, Freebird was kidnapped by a group that was experimenting on methods to take powers away from superhumans. They attempted to do this to Freebird, but the process backfired, and Freebird's powers were permanently supercharged, their upper limits now unknown. She, too, went to Maine, explicitly to join up with Hypatia. Not only did she do this, but she began a relationship with Hypatia as well.

Lupus: Real name Charlotte (or Charlie) Korhonen. Lupus is as savage as her name suggests. Not, perhaps, truly evil, but violently narcissistic, vicious, selfish, and wanton. Valora initially joined the Bombshells after rescuing them from capture, and Lupus was so humiliated by this that she quit the team on the spot. She then got into bar fight, and seriously injured a man. She was charged with grievous bodily harm, but the charges were dropped when certain military officials decided to use her as part of an experimental project to use superhumans in black ops missions (illegal according to the Madrid Treaty). This too, was a failure, but only because Charlie found herself - to her own surprise - morally incapable of killing.

She was, however, morally capable of kidnapping, and she abducted the three remaining Bombshells at the behest of ousted impressario Lance Van der Boek, publicly humiliating them. However, in an argument about pay, she accidentally broke Van der Boek's neck, and had to flee California immediately. She found out that a hit had been put on Valora, and decided to take advantage. Using her ability as a power mimic to replicate Valora's strength and another Bombshell's power of indefatigability, she defeated her and took her prisoner, delighting in her captive's sumptuous beauty. But she could not kill her, nor even could she allow her to be killed by Milo Patáky. But after Hypatia rescued Valora, and a rematch ended in terrifying disaster for Lupus, she once again fled - only to be tricked by Patáky. Lupus can only hold one strong power at a time, and one other if the second is very weak. Patáky tricked her into discarding Valora's strength for an immunity to poison, and immediately had his men capture her. When last we saw Lupus, she was Patáky's captive, being forced to use her powers to cloak in invisibility large shipments of drugs, for easier trafficking.

John Mann: Milo's second in command. A perceptive, intelligent young man, though also a man of casual brutality, he seems to be being groomed by Milo for greater responsibilities and leadership roles. He is the only one who suspects the truth about the 'improvement' in Patáky.

Saskia Dubois: Valerie's journalist friend. A fae, playful, teasing woman, Saskia grew to like Valerie very quickly, and encouraged her to investigate Milo Patáky. Initially she found herself very attracted to her beautiful friend (though, she has a partner and never intended to woo Valerie), but their relationship has changed over time into something almost a little more maternal.

Piper Monaco: Saskia's girlfriend. Raised a Catholic, she still harbours some residual guilt about being in a lesbian relationship, as well as some guilt about the fact that, when she met and fell in love with Saskia, she had had a partner at the time. Nevertheless, she and Saskia love each other deeply, even if their hang ups - Saskia's flightiness; Piper's guilt - do cause them problems.
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Re: The Perils of Valora Finale: Rat Bites Dog Bites Man

Post by Damselbinder »

The Perils of Valora 5-1: In Fair Portland, Where We Lay Our Scene

Fourteen years earlier…

A superhuman was frightening: they were powerful, and you were not. A telepath was frightening: they could steal your secrets. A geomancer was frightening: they could take away the earth beneath your feet. A phaser was frightening: they could laugh past any lock. But Cecily Rothschild didn’t find any of those things anywhere near as frightening as a bullet.

It was their invisibility that frightened her most. If you didn’t see the person shooting you, getting shot was like a magic spell, like someone snapped their fingers and a hole just appeared in you. Even if you were behind cover, even if you knew you were being shot at, hearing the bullets zip past you, or hearing them impacting into whatever you were hiding behind – Cecily feared she’d never be able to stop finding it terrifying.

She and the others – the ‘Dregs’ – hadn’t wandered into a trap, Cecily felt. Their enemies had just been better prepared for their intervention than they had expected. Cacophony’s sonic powers had been rendered more or less useless by Patáky’s gangsters wearing industrial-strength earmuffs. They all had a pair, and had put them on as soon as Cecily’s group had revealed themselves. Cacophony had tried to get closer to the gangsters to increase his powers’ effect, but it had just got him shot in the leg. Red Fang and Buzzsaw had had to abandon a promising ambush attempt to rescue him, and now the whole group was on the backfoot, taking cover from rifle fire sustained enough and powerful enough to turn them into red paste. That, too, showed new preparedness: for the first time, Cecily found that all of Patáky’s men were carrying military-grade hardware.

Cecily tried to stay calm, to be as tactical as possible. An advantage of battling in a parking complex was that the large, concrete pillars made more or less impenetrable shields. She and Lamia were hiding behind one; Buzzsaw with the injured Cacophony behind another. Red Fang and Blue Bacchus were further forward, more able than the others to return fire: Red Fang with pulses of energy from his palms; Bacchus by taking control of the sprinkler system and harrying the gunmen with high-powered jets of water. Bacchus had the advantage of being able to attack without emerging from cover, but neither he nor Red Fang was very powerful, and the group was in danger of being completely overwhelmed.

Cecily looked down at the woman next to her, who was making a courageous effort not to seem afraid.
“Hey,” Lamia said to her, feigning good humour, “did I ever tell you that Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is my favourite film?” She laughed, entirely from nerves, making her bare, light-brown shoulders quiver. Her green-and-gold snakeskin costume, and the golden brace that held it up just underneath her clavicles glinted in the harsh lighting of the parking complex. She peeked around the side of the pillar but was immediately shot at. She withdrew quickly enough, but one bullet came so close that the shockwave around it made a tear in her thigh-high boots.

“Okay, okay, bad idea…” Lamia clenched a fist. She didn’t mind danger – she’d happily own to getting a thrill out of it – but there were limits to her tolerance. “Right. I’m going to get the jump on these bastards.” She grinned, and began to concentrate, activating her powers. She felt the end of her tongue splitting, felt her costume blending with her skin, and felt her canines thinning and lengthening into fangs. “By the pricking of my thumbs,” she muttered, “something ‘invisible snake’ this way comes…”
But before Lamia’s body became very serpentine, she felt Hypatia’s hand on her shoulder.

“No,” Hypatia said. “Lamia, I don’t doubt your skill, but even if Patáky’s men can’t see you, you could be hit in the crossfire.”
“I’d be low to the ground,” Lamia replied, hesitating between forms. “I could get behind one of them and hold him hossssstage. Make the others drop their weapons.”
“It… could work,” Hypatia said, “but it’s too dangerous. They might shoot the man you grabbed just to make sure you were dead. It wouldn’t surprise me if Patáky had given them orders to that effect.” Cecily had never met Milo Patáky, but she was beginning to understand the way he thought. She was pleased to see Lamia returning to her human state: she was grudgingly convinced.

Hypatia herself looked round, using a nearby car’s wing mirror to get the measure of their foes. There were at least a dozen of them, and they were in very favourable positions, close to being able to encircle Hypatia’s group completely. Victory would be impossible without great risk. But risk was her stock-in-trade.

She waited until Red Fang and Blue Bacchus were in the middle of an attack, then jumped out. She’d correctly calculated that her hair and her costume would briefly fade into the flash of Red Fang’s powers, and she used the opportunity to reach out with her abilities. She was too far away to pull the gangsters’ weapons from their hands, but that wasn’t her intention. She focused on the closest man, and tugged at the barrel of his rifle, yanking it upwards just as he started firing again. The effect was exactly what she’d hoped for: the gunman massively overcompensated, and jerked his weapon around, almost shooting two of his comrades in the back. There was such confusion that the weapons fire stopped completely, and Red Fang was able to get off five good shots, knocking out one man with each. Bacchus joined him, concentrating all the pressure he could muster into a single burst of water that punched right through a concrete barricade, and nearly killed the man on the other side of it.

“YES!” Red Fang laughed, about to rush forward to press the advantage. He glanced backwards and saw Hypatia making the ‘cut it’ gesture. Over the small radio attached to his left ear, he heard her telling him to retreat, appealing to the fact that Cacophony was wounded. Red Fang couldn’t deny that it made sense. But he found that he didn’t much care. The thrill was back in him after a very long time, and it was thanks to Hypatia that this was so. Who was she, now, to deny him? Besides that, he didn’t much like taking orders from someone so much younger than him. Besides that, he didn’t much like taking orders from a woman.

So, he ignored Hypatia, ignored Bacchus looking at him in confusion, ignored Buzzsaw behind him screaming at him not to be an idiot. He stepped out, and just started blasting. He was very happy for a few seconds, as his enemies began to fall into a rout, and he remembered what it was like to be powerful. He began to remember the difference between himself and the normals. Then he was shot in the back.

“What?!” The cry did not come from Red Fang. His legs had crumpled beneath him, and he had fallen silently onto his front, blood oozing from a little hole just underneath his right shoulder blade. The cry was from Buzzsaw, who had been Fang’s friend – sort of – for many years. Shocked, she looked for where the shot could have come from – it had definitely been from Fang’s right, but there wasn’t anyone there who could possibly have hit him. There was just the opening that looked out onto the street. Yet it clearly had happened, so she helped Cacophany to a position that – maybe? – would protect them better from whoever had shot Red Fang. It was only when she heard him grunt ‘sniper’ that she realized what had happened.

Hypatia had realized it too. There was at least one of Patáky’s men with a sniper rifle, in the building on the other side of the street. She hadn’t even considered that possibility, but she should have, she thought. For every day her enemy’s tactics grew more brutal, more sophisticated. For the moment, though, guilt was pointless, so she moved forward to try to pull Red Fang to safety with her powers. But she wasn’t able to get close. There was another shot, and it would have gone clean through Hypatia’s skull, but for the passive field she kept around herself, redirecting the bullet just enough that it missed her.

“Oh god.” They’d been completely outmaneuvered. It was still possible for them to retreat, but there was no way they could rescue Red Fang. She saw Bacchus trying to pull him away, and indeed he was in a position where the sniper wouldn’t be able to get him. But that left him open to the other gunmen. Hypatia tried to extend her power to shield him, but she could feel that it wouldn’t hold to sustained gunfire. Bacchus and Red Fang were going to die.

There was a small, red flash, just in front of Bacchus. He thought it had been from Red Fang, making one last attempt to defend himself. But he was in no position to speak, much less use his powers. When he looked closer, Bacchus saw that it was a small, glowing red orb, that had apparently manifested from nothing. It swirled around, its shape distorting like unattended clay on a potter’s wheel. But instead of flying apart, it resolved itself into the shape of a rose. To Bacchus this meant nothing, but a few metres away, Hypatia’s heart swelled.
“Maria!” she gasped, just as the rose detonated.

It didn’t go off like a bomb. It detonated only in one direction, knocking the gunmen on their backs, spitting fire at them, and sending those it did not instantly defeat into flight. Bacchus and Red Fang were actually closer than the orb’s intended targets, but they were so unharmed by the blast that they didn’t even hear it at first, only hearing its echo a second later. Bacchus was astonished but had enough presence of mind to use the chance to pull Red Fang to safety from the sniper. But even in this he needn’t have bothered.

What looked like a swarm of glowing, red insects was diving in and out of the building in which the sniper lurked. In the distance, Hypatia and her allies heard gunfire, but from a handgun, not the rifle which had harried them. There was a distant sound of a cry, and the heroes gathered that the sniper had been vanquished. And only then did Freebird appear to them.

She could not truly fly, even with her enhanced powers, but she could float on a cushion of the energy she produced and move freely through the air at low speeds. The effect was that the athletic heroine looked as though she were walking on steps of crimson flame that gathered at her feet. Carefully she floated through the opening of the parking lot and set herself down on her feet.

Strong, taut, athletic and clad in crimson flame, who now could have mocked Freebird for her past? Who now could fail to respect her courage and her skill? She was a crimson storm, beautiful and terrible, and all enemies fled from her. Freebird herself was the last doubter, but even she protested compliment with less and less enthusiasm. She walked taller. She held her head higher. Yet she was Maria still, and when she saw Red Fang and Cacophony’s wounds, she cursed herself.

“I’m sorry!” she cried, rushing to Red Fang’s side. “I got here as fast as I could, I—” She stopped herself. Now was not the time for excuses, though she did have one. “Oh my God… !”
Fang was hurt very badly. He’d already fallen unconscious, and he was bleeding fairly profusely. The bullet appeared to have gone right through him, which Maria supposed was a good thing, though she couldn’t remember why.
“He’ll be alright,” Bacchus said. “Just let me…” He held his hand near Fang’s wound, and the bleeding seemed to slow, and then almost stop completely, of its own accord. It wasn’t easy for Bacchus to manipulate blood with his powers, but he could do it.

It was just as well that Bacchus had this ability. A parking complex was mercifully accessible to ambulance, but it still took nearly half an hour for one to arrive. Red Fang would certainly have died if Bacchus hadn’t helped him. Cacophony’s wound was much less serious than Fang’s, but at the others’ insistence he still allowed himself to be taken by the paramedics.

It was a victory, then, but a costly one. Cacophony would probably be alright soon enough, but Red Fang would be out of action for weeks. When the group took stock, they were much reduced: Buzzsaw had gone along with Fang, so only four of them remained.
“I suppose this was inevitable,” Hypatia said. Her arms were crossed, and even with her mask on it was clear that her expression was very serious. “We’ve been in an arms race with Patáky since we first gathered, and he’s beginning to catch up with us.”
“Not just arms,” Lamia said. “It’s a question of tactics. I don’t think this was a trap. I mean, I think they were expecting us, but I don’t think it was a setup. They had those weapons and the sniper as a precaution.” She kissed her teeth. “Bastards,” she added.

Hypatia turned to Freebird. She saw immediately that Maria felt responsible. Her new power, or rather her better relationship with her powers, had helped her in some ways, but it was another imagined responsibility on her shoulders. She would blame herself for all this, and she would probably do so silently, out of fear of seeming self-absorbed.
“Lamia is correct,” Hypatia said, with courteous self-assurance. “Our strategy needs to change. We must expect very heavy resistance in all our encounters, now, so there’s no longer any virtue in splitting ourselves.”
“I understand,” Freebird replied. Initially, the group’s strategy had been to use Freebird as a kind of firefighter, dealing with problems that had nothing to do with Patáky – for there were plenty of them – while the others focused entirely on him. That was why she hadn’t been with the group at the start of the battle. But that, obviously, was no longer a viable tactic.

Hypatia pinched the bridge of her nose.
“They’re brave, aren’t they?” she said.
“Patáky’s men. They know they’re fighting dangerous enemies – very dangerous, in our way - and yet they face us all the same.”
“There’s a big difference,” Lamia said. “They’re trying to kill us. We don’t kill them.”
Lamia stretched her slim arms over her head, as a way of channelling some of her frustration. She was angry that she hadn’t been able to contribute much to the battle.
“Not that I’m at all suggesting that we alter our policy,” she said, slapping on a few layers of irony, “but they’re not risking their lives to anything like the extent we are.”
“They’re still risking their freedom,” Hypatia said. “I just don’t understand why. I don’t understand why this man inspires such loyalty.” She shook her head. “Pointless musing, I know. Please, go home. Get some rest. It is well-earned. A hard battle can feel like a defeat however it goes, but do remember we won a victory today.” She meant it, but she was struggling to feel the truth of her words just as much as the others were.

As often happened when the Dregs were gathered, Hypatia and Freebird were the last to leave. They made sure they were alone. They unmasked. They became Cecily and Maria again, and they embraced.

“Are you alright?” Maria said. “I know you weren’t injured, but are you, you know, okay?”
“Oh, I’m fine,” Cecily said. “If anything, I’m getting a little too used to all this. One doesn’t like to think of oneself as being accustomed to violence. But it’s better if I am. There will only be more.”
“I just don’t understand how Patáky has the resources for all this. I know he makes a lot of money but… surely he can’t keep this level of resistance up.”
“My hope is that you’re right,” Cecily replied. “He must be devoting huge resources to arming his people so heavily… if nothing else, perhaps we can force him to dial back.”
“Things aren’t quite so bad as they were before, though. We’re having an effect. Aren’t we?” she added, after Cecily failed to reply.
Cecily frowned, rubbing her eyes with her thumb and middle finger.
“I think we’re having an effect, yes,” she said. “But we’re not the reason the violence is easing up. It’s easing up because Patáky is running out of enemies. From what I gather, his monopoly on the heroin trade in Maine is near total. We denied him a piece of the arms trade when we intervened last week, but we effectively eliminated his rival. So, he still doesn’t have any real opposition. Except for us. I… fear what might happen when we become his only powerful enemies. But,” she said, smiling with exquisite gentility, and taking Maria’s hand, “we have you. I have you.”

“I am sorry I wasn’t here sooner,” Maria said, stroking Cecily’s palm with her thumb. “I was tied up with a break-in halfway across the city. So to speak,” she added, lest Cecily fear history had repeated. “If I’d got here more quickly Red Fang might not have been hurt at all…”
Cecily gave her a look which Maria had come to recognize, and come to be very fond of: affectionate, but a little stern.
“Maria,” Cecily said, “we all agreed to divide our efforts. If you’re at fault, then you share it with all of us.” She was to have gone on, but she realized as she was speaking that she’d made a misjudgement, for Maria was smiling, wryly.
“I don’t blame myself,” Maria said. “I blame him. I’m just frustrated.” She kissed Cecily on the cheek. “Okay?”
“Oh, ah, yes.” Cecily blushed, half because she was embarrassed that she’d misjudged Maria and started on an unwarranted lecture, and half because she was still getting used to the fact that she and Maria were actually together, now. When Maria touched her, or kissed her, or was just naturally more open with her than even a close friend would be, it still caught Cecily off guard. But it was always delightful.

“I like this,” Cecily said. “I like seeing you like this. I like seeing you letting yourself be strong.”
Maria shrugged.
“I don’t know,” she said. “I mean, I’m glad you think so and… I agree, I guess? I just don’t know how much of it has come from me, and how much is from the… upgrade. It’s easier to feel stronger when you are stronger.”
“Silliness,” Cecily said. “Complete silliness. As though feeling more confident because of a piece of good fortune were somehow a bad thing.” She sighed. “Only you could find a way to feel unconfident about feeling confident.”
Maria considered arguing, but there was little point. Cecily could be very stubborn when she wanted to.

“What’s the plan now?” Maria asked.
“In a general sense? I’m not sure. In a vague sort of way I think we need to go on the offensive – to try to catch Patáky, but I don’t know how yet.” She thought for a moment. “We need to consult with law enforcement again. See how close they are to building a case against him.”
“Do you want me to do that?”
“No, I think it would be better if I did it. They already know me, a little. I’d like you to check on Red Fang.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Maria replied.
“Oh, damn – I’m sorry, Maria, I didn’t mean to order you about. Oh!”
Maria had taken her by the shoulders. The two were very close.
“I was teasing,” Maria said. “And it’s fine anyway. You are our leader, and I’m glad that you are. I’m fine with following your directions. I mean it.”
“Right,” Cecily said. She swallowed. “Of course.”
“Besides,” Maria continued, more quietly. “I’m um…” Her soft, brown cheeks grew a little redder. “I’m not, you know, all that against the idea of you giving me… orders.”
Maria’s blush was subtle. Cecily’s was not. Suddenly neither of them could look each other in the eye, and they pressed their foreheads together, quietly giggling.

“Yes,” Cecily said, “I mean. Well, I mean, that is to say – uh… yes. Um…” It was the first time either of them had said anything so suggestive to the other. For someone who often held herself at a distance from these things, it was a little overwhelming.
“Too far?” Maria asked.
“No, no. In fact, I – uh…” She was trying to say something teasing in reply, but she was overcome by shyness, and she put her face against Maria’s neck. But, she felt Maria tilting her chin upwards, and Cecily just about managed to look at her. She went still, held fast in the power of her attraction, locked into gazing into Maria’s soft, hazel eyes. She was paralysed, until Maria leaned forward to kiss her. Lightly, and quickly, but enough for Cecily to feel something in her melt.
“Alright,” Cecily said, moving away to try to cool the heat in her cheeks and in her chest. “Alright, I – I’d better – better get down to uh… you know.”
Maria was beaming. Given what had just happened and given the enormity of the task in front of them, perhaps such pleasure was inappropriate, but she couldn’t help herself. She thought she had been in love before, but it was clear to her now that she really, really hadn’t been. What a unique character Cecily had. What a powerful, beautiful person she was.
“I’ll see you later?” Maria asked.
“Of course. Mine or yours?” Though they had considered staying together while in Maine, they’d ultimately chosen not to. Maria and Cecily both felt that the other needed care, and time, and both were right.
“Mine, if that’s alright?” Maria said. “I’ve got some fresh crab in the refrigerator.”
“Perfection itself,” Cecily replied.
“Awesome. I’ll see you later, then.”
“See you.”
It was a mundane exchange, but the most pleasant kind of mundane: a confirmation that they were now really and truly part of each other’s lives - a bright light in the darkness that they’d united to battle.
Last edited by Damselbinder 5 months ago, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: The Perils of Valora Finale: Rat Bites Dog Bites Man

Post by Damselbinder »

“How bad?”
“Bad. Two of Hypatia’s team were shot, but we didn’t manage to kill any of them. That new one – the one with the energy powers – if we’d had twice the guys there and snipers on every roof for a half mile I’m not sure we could have taken her out. She’s almost as bad as Valora.”
“How many did we lose?”
“Nobody died, if that’s what you mean. Ten arrested, but I guess we’ll get a few of ‘em back soon. That’s the one good thing about fighting supers, I guess. They don’t kill.”
“That depends how far we push ‘em. I don’t guarantee it or nothing, but if we do end up killing one of them, I wouldn’t be all that surprised if a few of our guys were dead on the next go-round.”
“Can we afford that? With everyone else we’re fighting too, I mean. Maybe we should hire some more mercenaries or something, take the pressure of our own muscle.”
“Fucking – you talking strategy with me now? This a war room? You want to take out your little model tanks, General Patton? Man, get the fuck outta here!”

But when his underling had departed, tail betwixt leg, John Mann still had a grim frown on his face. They had weathered the storm unleashed by Milo’s all-encompassing ambitions, and now that their enemies had finally begun to accept Milo’s hegemony, now Hypatia had turned up the pressure on them. He had badly underestimated how much of an issue she would be. He had some ideas on how to deal with her, but he needed to speak to his boss before implementing them. There was no problem there. None at all. No issues about talking to Milo. John definitely wasn’t afraid of him.

You could rarely find Milo Patáky at the Falmouth Grand anymore. Everyday his men swept his office for bugs, but he wasn’t satisfied. For similar reasons, John couldn’t even meet Milo at home, for he adamantly refused to talk business there. He used a rotating series of hideouts to do his official business, and it was at one of these that John expected to find him. And find him he did – but not alone.

For a storage container, it had been made relatively cosy. It was well heated. There was a decent looking desk, fresh from Ikea. There was even a mini-fridge, containing can after can of iced coffee, for which Milo had developed a taste. But it was a storage container nevertheless, and though John was surprised indeed to find state senator Bob Barker within its confines, he was not surprised to see him looking so uncomfortable.

“I—I—I don’t understand why you—you—you felt the need to drrrrag me out here!” Barker shouted. “Do you know what would happen to me if I was seen with you a—a—a—a—again? I’d be no good to you tha—a—a—a—a—t’s for damned sure! You can say goodbye to planning permission for a new casino, or—or—or—or any more heads-ups about Portland’s housing plans or—or—or anything!” Barker did not have a speech impediment. He was just very scared.

Half of the reason why people found Milo Patáky so frightening was perfectly and immediately explicable. He was a gangster. The head of a huge criminal empire that swelled in wealth and power day by day. He had large numbers of people at his command who would kill at his orders and was of sufficient wealth that corruption shielded him as well. But there was something more, now. Something that anyone with sense could detect, something which made more sensitive and intelligent observers, like John, more afraid than most. The simplest way of putting it, one supposed, was that sickness was frightening.

There were circles under Milo’s eyes so deep and so dark that it looked like pieces had been cut out of him. He had become gaunt to the point that every time his facial muscles moved it looked like his cheekbones were going to slice through his skin. He had started to go grey, but the effect was strangely patchy, so he didn’t look distinguished. There were scratches on his face that he had not bothered trying to hide for some weeks now. His eyes were bloodshot, one much more than the other. But even when his mouth was firmly downturned, as it most often was, he always seemed to be smiling.

“Mr Barker,” he said. “Bob.” He spoke slowly, and hoarsely. The hoarseness was genuine. The slowness was for Barker’s benefit. He was not a man in whose wit Milo put much stock. “I am a person of interest to the FBI. Do you… know what FBI stands for?”
Reasonably enough, Barker assumed this question was rhetorical. But Milo didn’t continue. He just stared.
“Wh—yes,” Barker replied, since appeasing Patáky was probably the easiest way of ending the conversation. “Yes, I know what it stands for.”
“Tell me.”
“Tell me what it stands for.” Milo did not blink. He just stared.
“Federal Bureau of Investigation,” Barker said, trying to sound impatient, instead of afraid.
“Right,” Milo replied. “Good. You’re familiar with them then. I’m very glad. The FBI, as you may know, are a fairly well-funded organisation. They can, I am sure, afford to splash out on a little electronic surveillance. My home. My office. My phones. Mr Mann’s home,” he said, nodding at his subordinate. “Sorry, John,” he added, his eyes flashing like little camera bulbs.

He turned back to Barker.
“Do you understand now, Bob? Let me explain just to make sure. Since you’re the most prominent public figure with whom I’ve been associated, I can well imagine that your home, your office, and your phones have been bugged as well. If you’ve an adjutant as worthy as Mr Mann, I’m sure he’ll be in a similar situation.”
Barker didn’t reply. He fell into a chair, covering his mouth with his right hand.
“Oh Christ,” he said. “Christ, Milo, I didn’t know it was this bad!”
“It is indeed as bad as it, in fact, is,” Milo replied.
“This is—” Barker wrung his hands. “This is not what I signed up for, Milo! A few months ago you were…”
“You were sane! You weren’t at war with everybody in the fucking state. You weren’t attracting ridiculous amounts of attention to yourself, and—and—and—and murdering famous superheroes!”
Milo did not reply to that. Barker was referring to Valora, who had disappeared a few weeks earlier. He had never gone out of his way to take credit for this, but he was happy for the rumours to remain intact.

“Look, Milo,” Barker said. “I have to distance myself from you. I—I—I—I don’t want to sound ungrateful—”
“Oh don’t you? I’m touched.”
“Wh—look, surely I can’t be that valuable to you at the moment. I mean, what the hell do you need me for now? You own half the state!”
“That is an unhelpful exaggeration,” Milo replied. “Most of my… holdings, shall we say, are illegitimate. I still need you to help me expand into legitimate arenas.”
“But surely—surely we need to back off until the FBI lose interest. Right now it doesn’t matter what I say on the senate floor, everyone thinks I’m doing it for you! I know you got me elected. I know I owe you. But I can tell you right now, being associated with you means I don’t have a chance in hell of getting elected again! I mean - don’t you want to make it easier for the feds to want to give up?”

Milo leaned back. He tented his fingers.
“John, what do you think?” he asked.
“Me? Uh…” He hadn’t expected to be called upon. Milo was doing it to mess with Barker some more, but he probably really wanted to know what John thought. “Honestly? I think Mr Barker’s right. When you were just, like, a ‘controversial figure’ I can see how he’d help out but… a state senator doesn’t have any real clout. He can’t get anybody off our backs. So, what’s the point in keeping him on the payroll? No offence,” he said.
“None taken!” Barker laughed, almost manically. “You see? You see? Your man knows it as well as I do!”
Milo nodded, looking down at his desk.
“No,” he said.
“No.” Milo looked back up. His mouth was twitching, flickering between a couple of different kinds of smile. “You will continue to support me. You will continue to help me. You see, Bob, being in trouble with the law is like having one’s head stuck between two railings. You know, like some feeble child trying to sneak through a fence. The only way out – is through.” He gave a little flourish with his hands. “So, we continue.”
“God damn it, Milo, I can’t!”
“Oh, go on, Bob. If you do, I’ll give you lots of money.”
“That’s no good to me if I’m in jail!”
“Oh, I don’t know about that. It’s certainly more good to you incarcerated than dead. Oh, yes, I’ve not been explicit about that, have I? I suppose the criminal etiquette is to deal in veiled threats, but since you’re a Republican I suppose I’d better be as clear as possible: if you don’t continue to support me, I’ll kill you.”

Bob assumed he’d heard wrong. He looked Milo in the eye, waiting for himself to work out what Milo had really said. But the words would not unhear themselves.
“You’re absolutely right, Bob. So are you, John. You’re not all that valuable to me anymore. You’re a relic of ancient strategies. You’re an anachronism. To me, and to most of the rest of the world, I daresay. But I consider you one of my holdings. I may decide to jettison you at some point, but it will be at a moment of my choosing, if it happens at all. Until then, you do as I say, when I say. Or you die.”
“You—you—you—you can’t… you… you can’t…!”
“Why not? Oh, because you’re not a gangster, is that it? Because you’re a private citizen? ‘You can’t threaten me – I can just go to the police!’ Yes?” His smile snapped. “No. You threw away your only real defence the moment you got into bed with me. And while I’m loath to brag about my sexual prowess, you are fucked. Contact with the police will mean confessing your sins. You can’t do that, Bob. Some might. Some could disgrace themselves for the greater good. But not you.”

Bob looked at his feet, at Milo’s desk, at his own hands, even at John. He found no salvation in any of them. He stood up, sat back down, stood up again, flapped his mouth open and shut a couple of times, and then walked out.
“My love to the kids!” Milo shouted after him.

John sat down where Bob had been. His mouth was closed very tightly.
“I know what you’re going to say,” Milo replied. “But you can’t begrudge me a little fun.”
“That wasn’t smart, sir,” John said. “I agree it’d be stupid of him to go to the cops, but people do stupid shit when they’re scared. He’s more scared of you than the cops, that’s for damned sure, but… he’s used to being a big man, know what I mean? Being afraid of you’s like… he’s losing status. He could turn on you outta nothin’ but ego.”
“What do you think I should do?”
“Now? I don’t know. Do you care about losing face with him?”
“Not especially.”
“Then maybe you could just tell him you were fucking with him, or somethin’. Or… tell him to leave the country for a while. He probably wants to do that anyway.”
“You’re right, John, of course. A leash doesn’t have to be a short leash.”

He went to his fridge and grabbed another can of iced coffee.
“I have the exact same relationship with this concoction that a sadomasochist does with their mistress. Want one?”
“… No thanks.”
“Suit yourself.” He sat down, cracked it open, downed about half of it, and stared upwards at the ceiling. “Well? What’s gone wrong now?”
John shifted. More and more he was unsure of how Milo would react to bad news.

“The new hardware wasn’t enough. We had twenty guys – and a sniper – going up against Hypatia’s group. They took some hits, but no fatalities. With that new one on their side I don’t see how we can outmuscle them.”
“What do you suggest, then?”
“I’d say try to get some supers of our own, but... that didn’t work out too well last time. So I could try to pull together some Day of the Jackal shit, I guess. Try to find their identities and assassinate ‘em.”
“I’d rather not. When superheroes are getting assassinated, that tends to attract attention. This Hypatia person… well, she’s a clever girl, and I’m always a sucker for a classical allusion, but I’d rather be dealing with her than with Imperion. Still – we’ll put a pin in it. You never know.”
Hearing Milo speak like this was relieving. He hadn’t gone completely mad, then.
“There is one other way we could deal with ‘em,” John said.
“Surrender. Give ‘em nothing to fight.”
“… Go on.”
John planned his words carefully.

“This team, right? Hypatia’s people. There’s something weird going on. Like, they registered as a trade union or something. Supers don’t get paid too well in this state, yeah? I think they’re using all the shit we’ve been stirring to like… lobby. Get people to be grateful for ‘em, give them better pay and shit. Hypatia was fighting us alone for a while, right? My guess is she came up with the union thing to attract more people, ‘cause who wants to get shot at for chump change? So I say we back off for a while. Let people lose interest. Maybe her team breaks up or something, and she’s not that much of a problem by herself. ‘Sides, who we got left to fight, anyhow?” He hoped Milo would be convinced. For one brief moment he thought Milo might have been. But he saw his boss’ mouth twisting into a grin, and realized he had failed.

“There are always more battles to fight,” Milo said. “Perhaps I’ve not made my plan clear to you yet, John. But we can never stop. Do you know why?”
“… Why?” John replied, wearily.
“Because we’re so big. We’re – we’re like a new country. A brand-new country with a huge population. We have governors. We have senators. We have mayors and ombudsmen and soldiers to feed. But where do new countries come from, John?”
“You make ‘em out of old countries, I guess.”
“Right you are. There are rivalries. There are enmities. You yourself used to work for one of my enemies, John. If the expansion stops, if there are no more enemies for the country to unite itself against, it will cease to be a country. It will cannibalize and Balkanize itself, and I, John, have no particular wish to end up as the president of Montenegro.”

There was something to what he was saying. Partly to shield himself from law enforcement, Milo had divvied up and compartmentalised his empire into a number of cells, which might indeed devolve into internecine strife. It made sense. And yet still John could smell the scent of disease in Milo’s thinking.

“So!” Milo said. “Onwards! Onwards and upwards! Always upwards, John, because there is no other way to go. Do you understand me? After all these wasted years, I have finally grasped that truth. Don’t make the mistakes I did. Don’t settle for stability. Stability is stagnation. Stagnation is death. And death – well surely I don’t need to tell you why death is bad, do I John?” He laughed, but his eyes remained still. “As for Hypatia and her merry men… there’s another option. Or rather… think of it as a version of the first thing you suggested.”
John had to think to remember what that was.
“Hiring superhumans?”
“Indeed. Well. Not hiring. Not in this case.”
John realized what Milo meant. His face fell.
“Sir… I… really don’t think this is a good idea.”
“Good,” Milo said. “If you’ve two men who agree on everything, one must be useless. It’s so nice to know one isn’t useless. Isn’t it, John?”
John didn’t reply.
“Make the call,” Milo ordered.
Resignedly, John nodded, and made to leave, but Milo stopped him.

“I’ve changed my mind,” he said. Suddenly his face was grey, and completely humourless. “Kill Barker. Make it look like suicide. Make him write the note himself, and if he refuses choose a relative and kill them. Don’t do it yourself, though,” he added. “No point risking you for the likes of him.”
“…Alright.” John left, and closed the door behind him. But it wasn’t all that thick. As he got into his car, John could hear him grunting and hissing. He was clawing at his face again.

A moment later, John heard him laughing.
Agent Lorelei Lorenzo of the FBI was a patient woman. She could put up with long hours, cold weather, the dullest of stakeouts, and even her husband’s mother, who was about as dull as a person could be without being in a medically induced coma. But even Agent Lorenzo’s tolerance was being tested by the dull grind of trying to build a RaCA case against Milo Patáky.

When Agent Lorenzo had first interviewed him, in the waning days of the previous year, Patáky’s criminality, or at least its scale, had genuinely been in question. The bloody chaos that had engulfed Maine since then had eliminated all doubt. But he was so scrupulous that despite every relevant law enforcement agency knowing perfectly well that he was responsible for it all, they couldn’t make anything stick. It was like the worst days of the Chicago mob, minus the widespread police corruption. Patáky got by on sheer fastidiousness.

Agent Lorenzo had been through dozens of interviews with dozens of men who’d been arrested since the Boston office of the FBI had started taking Patáky seriously. These interviews fell into two distinct categories: the ‘perps’ were either stony-faced and silent; or smug and silent. The latter type, though, would sometimes reward their interviewer with a ‘no comment’ or, if they were feeling particularly pleased with themselves, a ‘heh’.

There were ‘hehs’ a-plenty during the interview of Dan Arbuckle. Dan, or ‘Arby’ to his friends, was one of the highest-ranking members of Patáky’s organisation that Agent Lorenzo had had the chance to speak to, and the highest-ranking member of whom conviction was basically certain. He had been caught in the middle of an attempt to assassinate one of Patáky’s rivals, disarmed and arrested by the superhero Hypatia. Chances were that he wouldn’t breathe the free air again for at least twenty years. Not only that, but Lorenzo’s sources had it that Arby hadn’t worked for Patáky for very long. He was the best shot that Lorenzo had had since the beginning of her investigation; but he just wasn’t biting.

“There’s no chance of any deal,” Agent Lorenzo said. “You do know that; don’t you sir?”
Arby didn’t reply. His lawyer, a broad-shouldered woman who seemed as frustrated as Lorenzo was, drummed her fingers on the table in front of her.
“When this goes to trial,” Lorenzo said, “you are going to be convicted. There is absolutely no way around it. The only way that you are going to be a free man before you’re in your sixties is to give us something on your boss. You know it. I know it. Your lawyer knows it.”
“No comment,” Arby said. He seemed astonishingly pleased with himself.
Agent Lorenzo pinched the bridge of her nose.

“I don’t get it,” she said. “I really don’t get this gangster-pride thing. You’re not in Venice. You’re in Portland, Maine. You’re not in the Mafia. Your boss is just… some guy. Who owns a casino. Why the loyalty? Because I can tell you right now, men like him don’t give a shit about men like you. You’re nothing to him. You know how I know that?” She pointed at Arby’s lawyer. “Because your lawyer is your lawyer. She’s as irritated by the fact that you’re not helping yourself as I am. Everyone else I’ve spoken to has the same two or three lawyers from the same couple of law firms – which Patáky is obviously paying for. With you he didn’t bother.”

Lorenzo thought she might have been getting through to Arby, because he stopped smiling, leaned back in his chair. He looked pensive. But it wasn’t for the reason Lorenzo thought it was. Arby knew full well why Milo hadn’t sent him a lawyer: firstly because Milo didn’t want to leave too much tangible evidence that his men were his men, and secondly because Milo correctly assumed that it wasn’t necessary. Arby didn’t need to be told to toe the line. What Arby was wondering was why this was. He had only met Milo in person once or twice, and he wasn’t what you’d have expected from a man with his reputation. He was small, twitchy, and while everything he’d said in their one conversation had been pretty normal gangster stuff, Arby had had the impression that Milo wasn’t taking things that seriously. He didn’t understand why he felt so loyal, he just knew that he did. For him, that was enough.

After another half an hour, Agent Lorenzo had given up. She’d let someone else have a crack at him at some point, but little would be accomplished. In her years of training and experience, she had never heard a satisfactory answer to the question ‘what do you do with someone who’ll take a 20 year prison sentence on the chin out of spite?’.

The FBI didn’t have a field office in Portland, but Lorenzo and the rest of the agents in her taskforce had taken over a good chunk of the department building on Middle Street. It wasn’t as much as Lorenzo had wanted, but to get even her team of six agents she’d had to play up the political corruption angle of Patáky’s activities to her superiors. But she had been on this case for weeks now, and she was worried those superiors were losing patience with her.

She sat down with a loud thump in a chair that wasn’t quite large enough for her and buried her face in her hands. She feared, now, that she might fail, and that Patáky would continue to operate unimpeded until he was so entrenched that he was just a fact of life. She didn’t know what difference it would have made, but she wished that she’d realized how dangerous he was the first time they’d spoken, when she’d interviewed him about the murder of James Oleander. Somehow, she’d have been more… prepared.
Lorenzo still had her head down, but she recognized the voice.
“Branscombe,” she said, “if you’ve brought me coffee I will be very, very pleased with you.”
Branscombe indeed put a cup down by Lorenzo’s elbow. He was the youngest agent on her taskforce and had fallen into a quasi-partner, quasi-personal assistant role. Lorenzo was not the most highly regarded agent in the FBI, nor her assignment the most prestigious, but Branscombe liked her.

“Bless you,” Lorenzo said, taking the cup and hurling it back like a shot of whiskey. She had a way of smiling where she didn’t actually raise the corners of her mouth, giving her the aspect of a slightly rotund zen master.
“I’m afraid coffee’s not all that needs your attention, ma’am,” Branscombe said.
“We’ve got a visitor.” He made a face that suggested a pronouncement of great significance.
“Oh,” Lorenzo said, feigning comprehension. “Oh,” she repeated, when the real thing arrived. “Fuck, uh, right.” She rose, straightened herself up a bit, smoothed down the crumpled portions of her jacket and skirt. “The roof?”
Branscombe nodded.

The door to the roof of the building was a little stuck, so Agent Lorenzo stumbled through it gracelessly after a miscalculated shove. She hoped her clumsiness hadn’t been seen, and was embarrassed to find that it had: her visitor was already waiting. Lorenzo wasn’t normally self-conscious, but it was very difficult not to be in present company.
“Good afternoon, Agent Lorenzo,” Hypatia said. “How are things?”
Lorenzo answered only with a grimacing smile. She scratched the back of her head, stepped forward. She had never had to interact professionally with a superhero before, and she found it made her uncomfortable. Not because she had anything against superheroes, but the opposite. She had nothing but admiration for most of them. They were a kind of rarefied representation of everything young agents like Branscombe hoped to embody. For Lorenzo, meeting with Hypatia was like a president having to give an accounting of his policies to the actual Uncle Sam.

“I head you and your pals got into a real ruckus this morning,” Lorenzo said, shuffling forward. “Nobody dead?”
“No, thankfully. Have your interrogations yielded anything useful?”
“Not a thing,” Lorenzo said. “I don’t know how Patáky does it. They’re sealed up as tight as clams.”
“As solitary as an oyster,” Hypatia muttered to herself.
“Oh, nothing, my apologies. Please go on.”

There wasn’t, however, that much more to tell. Just one pointless interview after another, all falling into much the same pattern.
“My guess is I’ve got… two weeks left on these wiretaps before my bosses give up. Especially with the violence easing off. I’ve spun the political corruption angle as much as I can, but that’s running out of scheme. The FBI doesn’t normally deal with racketeering cases at all anymore: we’re on corruption, and terrorism, and that’s more or less it. I’m surprised they’ve let me get this far.”
Hypatia had feared Lorenzo would say something of that sort.
“It’s not easing off all that much, Agent Lorenzo. Please – please there must be something. Some unexplored lead with which I could help you.”
Lorenzo thought for a moment.

“…There is one thing, I guess,” she said. “I couldn’t get it to stick to anything, but maybe you’ll know something I don’t.”
“Please, do go on,” Hypatia said.
“We did pick some stuff up from the wiretaps. Apparently, someone – we’re guessing it’s Patáky – has being paying for… blood. Superhuman blood. No idea why, but… we had it from a couple of separate sources, so I’d say 70/30 in favour of it being true. Does that mean anything to you.”
“Actually… actually it does,” Hypatia said. “Recently, I was… abducted by a woman who went by the name Lot. She told me she intended to sell a sample of my blood. I can well imagine that it might be valuable to someone, but not to Milo Patáky, surely.”
“Could he be trying to figure out your weaknesses?”
“Only if he’s exceptionally ignorant. My blood would probably tell you that I’m a superhuman, but it wouldn’t tell you anything about my powers. How strange,” she said, turning away. She was trying to give herself space for thought. There was something… some hazy notion at the edge of her mind, but she couldn’t quite make sense of it.
“No progress on the other thing, either, I’m afraid. The trail’s cold.”
“Hm? Trail?”
“Yeah, you asked me to tell you if I heard anything about that woman you were chasing. The superhuman, the one Valora fought who wrecked up the I-95. What was her name again?”
It was difficult to read Hypatia’s expressions. She had a very formal manner, and she had a mask over most of her face. And yet Lorenzo could tell that something had happened, for she had gone completely still, and her lips were pinched as tight as a fist.
“What? What is it?”
“I… I’m not sure,” Hypatia said. “I need to think. Forgive me, Agent Lorenzo,” she said, quickly, even nervously, “but I must take my leave.”
“Oh, uh, sure,” Lorenzo said, but by the end of the sentence Hypatia had already left, leaping off the building, and disappearing from view. But even as she leapt, she pondered. She pondered why an ordinary gangster like Patáky would be collecting samples of superhuman blood. Useless for analysis. Useless for anything. Certainly, useless to a crime lord who seemed to turn his nose up at everything superhuman.
But not useless, Hypatia realized, to a superhuman who could mimic abilities by touch. Not useless to the woman called Lupus.
Milo disliked going home. It was always night when he went home, and he disliked the night. The night hid danger, but it never hid him from danger. The night seemed bigger than the day, and it made him feel smaller. And now, his home was empty. He had sent his wife away, so it was just him, his furniture, his food. Those were the only features of his home of which he made any use, so they were the only ones with value. He had already started getting rid of the art, and the books. The art had always been Harper’s, but the books he had once enjoyed. He had read voraciously, once. But not anymore. If he picked up a novel, or a play, or anything less mundane than a tax form, his ability to read deserted him. He was genuinely incapable of understanding what was on any given page.

So when he got home, he drank. He drank whiskey, and when that was too sharp he drank vodka, and when that was too dull he drank sherry, and when he remembered that he hated sherry he drank wine, and he drank wine until he passed out. It was the closest thing he could get to sleep. This time, when the stupor passed, he found only an hour had passed, and he wondered if he had died and gone to Hell.

Concluding that he had not, he wondered if he would be used as an example by moralists of later generations. A clear and straightforward proof that crime really didn’t pay; and that evil led only to misery.
“Don’t be stupid,” he said, aloud. “I will be forgotten.” Did that matter? No, probably not.
He couldn’t tell if he was still dissociating. He knew that he had been, that he had been in a state of extended shock since he’d murdered James Oleander and OH GOD OH GOD OH GOD OH GOD OH GOD OH GOD SOMEWHERE HIS BODY IS ROTTING OH GOD OH GOD OH GOD OH GOD OH GOD

Ah. Not dissociating so much anymore then.

Milo rose, still screaming to himself. For a moment he thought he might shoot himself, but that wouldn’t have enough bite. First, he thought, he’d blow up the offices of that paper that had published all that shit about him – true shit, but shit nevertheless. Then he’d find that FBI woman who’d been leading the investigation against him and kill her – kill her children in front of her, then kill her. Then he’d kill John, because it was only fair to balance the scales of the universe by destroying something he liked. Then, if he could manage it, he’d kill Hypatia, but she was low on his list of priorities, and he didn’t even imagine anything particularly gruesome. Then he’d kill whoever it was who was responsible for inventing those birthday cards that sang when you opened them, not necessarily because they annoyed him, but because he was sure they annoyed someone, and he wanted some good to come out of his life. Then he would find wherever James Oleander was buried, dig him up, crawl into his coffin, and shoot himself. That was best.

He went outside, onto his first-floor balcony. The night had been calm, but almost as soon as he went outside, a wind began to pick up. He pulled out a cigarette, but he was still drunk, and wasn’t holding onto it tightly enough. It was blown out of his hand, and he stumbled to the edge of the balcony after it, but watched it blow away across the street. He peered across and saw that someone was looking at him.

They were hidden almost completely. Standing in a small, not-quite-alley between the protective outer walls of the two properties opposite his. They were almost completely in shadow. But Patáky knew. He knew straightaway who it was. He grasped the edge of the balcony, his knuckles turning white, his jaw clenched so tightly that it felt like it would snap. She must have realized he had seen her, because in the dark he saw the glinting blue lights of her eyes widen. And then she shouted.

Milo could not believe the volume. Could not believe that a mere voice almost knocked him off his feet. Alarms went off in every car within a mile’s radius, and Milo heard glass crack in two of his windows. And yet for all that, no other lights came on. No angry neighbours put out their heads. No sirens blared. Only Milo had heard it. The wind, as though spurred by her, became half a hurricane, and swept about him, making him look grand and ridiculous all at once. He met her monstrous gaze, though, and he howled back, tearing at his voice with manic violence. His voice was infinitely weaker than hers, but the wind caught it and carried it and magnified it.

She stepped forward. Not enough for Milo to see her properly. But enough to see her point at him. Enough to see the flash of her white teeth as she smiled, before disappearing again into the shadows.

Milo was giddy. He was grinning. He giggled, then laughed, then spat, and then bellowed again, though there was no-one now to hear him. It was awful. It was terrible. It was the worst news he could have received, delivered in the most chilling way. She was his nemesis – in the classical sense – not a personal rival or enemy – but a punishment, created just for him. It should have made him weep in terror, and it did – but he was overcome with joy.

Valora had returned.
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Re: The Perils of Valora Finale: Rat Bites Dog Bites Man

Post by Damselbinder »

The Perils of Valora 5-2: Rat Bites Dog Bites Man

Charlie couldn’t remember the last time she had had a thought. She knew where she was. She knew what was happening. She had feelings, sensations, even emotions, though those often blurred into undifferentiated cognitive sludge. Anger, fear, more anger, disgust, contempt, more fear, more contempt, etcetera, etcetera, passim ad nauseam. But she didn’t have thoughts. She didn’t need to. They kept her drugged up, off her head in a dull stupor that made everything feel… easy. So easy that it had taken her four weeks – not that Charlie had any idea how much time had passed – to string together enough of her vocabulary to have the following thought:
“Maybe it’s better this way.”

Charlie Korhonen had never made a good decision in her life. You’d have thought that looking out entirely for yourself, and not caring even remotely about other human beings that ran into your path would make things easier, would simplify matters, creating a life with fewer variables and a lower general quotient of bullshit with which to deal. But her attitude to life had led to disaster after disaster. Giving up a lucrative job because of petty rage. Committing GBH to amuse herself. Letting herself be drafted into a badly-thought-out military project. Agreeing to kidnap her old teammates for a bit of cash. Accidentally murdering someone. Pursuing Valora out of a sense of revenge so ludicrous that even at the time Charlie hadn’t really understood it. Cheating Patáky. Trying to cheat him again. After all that, she was lucky not to be dead. So maybe it was better that this was her life now. Half-consciousness. Quarter, even. Just… existing. Like an animal. Or a pebble.

She didn’t appreciate when the effect began to dim. More thoughts came to her. Memories. The ache in her limbs from being sat in this fucking chair for hours and hours every day. Going from this room, where they kept her high as a kite and made her cloak the stuff they put in her hand, to the room with a mattress and the ‘en-suite’ where she slept. For about a month, now, that had been her life.
“Here.” They didn’t talk to her often, so Charlie was confused. But she realized that something was being held out to her. Haltingly, suspiciously, she took it.
“Ugh…” It was a store-bought protein shake. Not the worst thing in the world, but not very pleasant. It made her feel a bit more awake, though, a bit more aware.
It was a weird awareness, though. She didn’t feel awake. There was still this… curtain in front of her. She couldn’t think properly.

“Charlie,” one of the men said. “Charlie, can you understand what I’m saying?”
“Yeah,” she replied. It was easier to answer than not to answer. Easier just to let it all happen. Fine by her.
“There’s someone here to talk to you, Charlie. Someone who wants to offer you something.”
“Yeah, whatever,” Charlie said, not really paying attention to the words. Instinctively, she held her hand out for another brick of whatever-it-was-today, but nothing was put there. She looked up and saw a face she dimly recognized.

She didn’t know John Mann’s name. No-one had ever said it in front of her. But he was strikingly handsome, so she remembered the man himself. He had his arms folded. He was scowling.
“You were supposed to make her lucid before I fucking got here,” he said.
Charlie didn’t understand what he meant. She was supposed to… huh?
“She’s been under for a while, Mr Mann,” said another voice. “It takes a while to wear off.”
“Or you’re incompetent.” He sounded like he was already at the edge of his patience. “Leave us alone.”
“Man, I really don’t like repeating myself. You ain’t a doctor. You got no expertise that makes you anything more than a really screwed up kind of manual labourer. Now follow my fucking orders.”

A moment later, John and Charlie were alone in the unpleasantly warm, unpleasantly bright room. He pulled up a chair in front of her, and sat, watching the sense return to her over the next fifteen minutes.
“Ugh…” Charlie must have passed some kind of threshold, because her face went from listless and unfocused to just plain miserable. Tears welled up in her eyes. “J…esus,” she muttered. “I’m still in this hole!” She gave an aggressive, ugly moan, and fixed John with a disconcertingly vicious expression.

“Oooh… look at… you… fancy-man…” She laughed. It started fake, but she was so doped up that it became real after a second, and she was giggling for the next few seconds. “You here to take advantage, baby? Have at it, I don’t got nothing else going on!” She sneered at him, but the sneer collapsed into blubbering dejection.
John still didn’t reply. This made him feel sick. Half of him wanted to let her go, and half of him wanted to shoot her: put himself out of her misery.

No. Not half. Nowhere near half for either impulse. They were both fleeting, and unimportant. He’d thought about why Milo keeping Lupus captive bothered him so much plenty of times before, and he’d figured it out weeks ago.
“It’s weird.” That’s all it was. He was used to violence. Used to beating the hell of people or killing them or whatever. This was a kind of evil he hadn’t encountered before, that was all. He’d thought it might have something to do with her being a woman – the same hypocritical squeamishness that had led to the downfall of his predecessor. But he’d hurt women before. Killed one, even. That wasn’t the issue. It was just… holding a superhuman prisoner? Enslaving them? It was fucked up, but no more fucked up than all the shit John had done over the years. It was just that Milo had found a way to take something cartoonishly villainous and make it as cold and as grey as the rest of the world around them. John just needed to get used to it.

“You awake enough to understand me?” John asked.
“Hey hey, uh… the guy… what’s his—Professor Finkelstein or whatever… huhuh… what did you call you? I mean, uh… he call you? Mr Man? Your name is ‘Mr Man’? Like, what, like… ‘Oh, hello everyone, I am Ian Man, a male human. I’ve a Y-chromosome, don’tcha know! Huhuhuh…”
“There’s two ns. ‘Mann’. And my first name’s John.”
“‘John Mann’?” Charlie screwed up her face. “Seriously? I said ‘Ian’ ‘cause I thought ‘John’ was too on-the-nose.” She spoke in a lilting, wavy fashion that suggested to John that she was at any moment going to ask him to pass the kouchie . He didn’t find it funny, though, and waited for Charlie to be less giddy.

“Lupus,” John said, deliberately trying to hold her at a distance, “I’m… here to offer you something you’re going to want.”
“Don’t tell me what I want, bitch,” Lupus mumbled. “You don’t know me. You don’t know shit.”
“You want to live, right?”
Suddenly Lupus lunged at him, the first forceful movement she’d been able to make in some time, but she was unable to break her restraints. It still made John jump out of his chair – he hadn’t forgotten he was dealing with a superhuman.

“Fuck you! Fuck you, I don’t care what you’re offering! Go to hell! You chain me up in your fucking basement and drug me up until I don’t know up from down and now you’re all courteous? You’re a nice guy, Mr Mann? Reasonable, not a thug, not a p—piece… a piece of shit criminal scumbag, right?” Lupus had stammered because John had taken out his pistol. He wasn’t aiming at her, but he had it in his hand. “You’re… you’re not gonna kill me. Your boss-man wants me alive.”
“Yeah,” John said. “He does. Thing is, he’s not here right now. I am. And he ain’t the type to kill my ass just for pissing him off. I don’t mean to brag or nothing, but I’m a pretty important piece of the machine, you feel me? You know how fucking easy it would be for me to shoot you and make it seem like you broke out, make it seem like your handlers’ fault for not keeping you caged right? I could do it. Hell, I want to do it. I’d have done it the second we caught you, ‘cause that’s just how it’s got to be someone tries to cheat you. You know. In ‘scumbag’ world.”

He sat down again. He kept his gun in his lap. Lupus growled at him – actually growled, like a dog. It was frightening, and pathetic.
“I still think we should just kill you. But that’s not what the boss wants, and a lot smarter than I am,” John said. “He’s mad, of course,” John didn’t say.
“… What does he want?”
“He wants to put you to work, Lupus.” He rubbed his eyes. “We’ve got a problem with superhumans, and Mr Patáky wants you to deal with them.”
“Wh… what do you mean ‘deal with them’?”
“Fight them. Defeat them. Kill them if you want, but I seem to recall that ain’t your style. That’s fine. Just incapacitate them and we’ll do the rest.”

Charlie stared at this ridiculous man, this idiot spewing nonsense from his pretty mouth, this big bad gangster-man who presumed to threaten her, who did threaten her, who terrified her, who made her want to cry and made her want to tear his throat out. She laughed at him for saying such a stupid, stupid thing.

“Oh… right. Right, I get it. You think I’m some kinda dumb, huh? You just… you just want to kill me! You’re going to… untie me or whatever and then kill me the second my back is turned!”
“Why would I do that? I could just kill you now.”
“Wh—but… but I’ll stab you in the back the second you let me out! I’m not even gonna fucking pretend I’m not gonna do that! You’ve… you made me your slave and you think I’m gonna start working for you?! Fuck you! FUCK YOU!”
She started thrashing in the chair, straining and spitting and growling and crying, flitting between despair and wrath. This went on for several minutes. All John could do was wait.

“…fun…” Lupus mumbled, lowering her head and sinking back into a sullen despair. “…just… making fun of me. This is a game. You’re bored and you came down here to fuck with me. Just ‘cause you’ve got nothing better to do, right?”
John had been wrong. He hadn’t felt uncomfortable because Lupus was a woman. It hadn’t even entirely been because of the weirdness of his situation. It was because Lupus was young. She couldn’t have been older then 22, probably more like 20.

“How the hell did she get here?” John thought. “What’s she doing chained up down here? She should be at college or something.” It wasn’t pity, precisely. It was just that John got a sudden sense that Lupus had been wildly out of her depth as soon as she’d entangled herself with Patáky’s affairs. She was a stupid kid who’d thought that physical power made her a big player. In John’s brutalist ethics, that still made her the orchestrator of her own downfall. But he didn’t feel so contemptuously inclined just to kill her to erase the problem she represented.

“You keep trying to talk me out of this,” John said. “Just listen. Mr Patáky isn’t stupid. There are… conditions. We’re gonna implant you with a tracking device. We’re not letting you out unsupervised. But you can say goodbye to this place. No more shit in your arm. No more handcuffs.”
“You’re… you’re fucking with me. It’s a trap. It’s a trap, you piece of shit!”
“How could you be more—” John stopped himself. He could not expect someone in Lupus’ position to reason effectively. She wasn’t going to co-operate. Milo’s scheme, thankfully, was a damp squib rather than a catastrophic explosion.

And yet if John’s time in Patáky’s employ had taught him anything, it was the value of simple brutality. He remembered when Milo had ask him to name the man in his organization had liked the least – and had then immediately had murdered the man John had named. At the time, Milo had said it was because he needed a scapegoat to offset his patience with crewmembers that had been arrested. That surely was part of it, but only later had John realized that Milo’s performance had mostly been meant for him. To show him a glimpse of what he was really dealing with. To make him the right kind of afraid.
“There’s another condition,” John said. “See, we know who you are. ‘Charlotte Korhonen’, right?”
Lupus just stared.
“We know where your people are. Your mom. Your dad. Your grandma.”

John had had a funny feeling that Lupus would react the way she did. A girl – that was how he thought of her – like that would definitely have a shitty relationship with her parents. But everybody had somebody that mattered to them. Everybody had a weakness. It was a concession you made so that you could be a human being. A grandparent offered the kind of risk-free relationship of one-sided doting that even a fuck-up like Lupus would find value in.

“Let me be as clear as possible. You betray us, you fail to co-operate with us, you do anything that makes me think that you’re trying to fuck with us in any way – and your people get killed. Sure they’re a bit outta the way but it won’t be too hard to get to ‘em. They’re just… people.”
“I’m sorry?”
“Who do you want me to fight?”

This was it. This was going to be it. She was going to be free. Those stupid motherfuckers. Those dumbasses. Charlie thought that this supervillain bullshit was far behind her. Were they cracked? Like she gave a shit one way or the other about her family! I mean, if you handed her a button that if she pressed it would kill her entire family, and not pressing it didn’t hurt her in any way then… yeah, okay? She probably wouldn’t press it, I guess? But if she was actually going to get something out of letting them die… there was nothing in it. She’d pick herself every time. She was Lupus – the lone wolf. Other people didn’t matter to her. They never had. They never would.
“Oh, boo-hoo, not my dear grandmama!” Was that what he expected her to say? Bet he did. Dumbass. The pretty ones were always dumb. Man, Mann (lol) was actually kinda tasty, wasn’t he? She would happily have done all kinds of shit to him. God damn if she still had Valora’s power—
“I’m not fighting Valora!” she blurted out. “If—if – I’m not doing it, okay?!” She had not been awake, really, in weeks. This was the most lucid she had been since her capture, and it was only now that memory resurged.
The beating.
The rage.
The terror.

It was only now, now that she was really awake again, that Charlie realized that she would rather John just shot her right there and then than that he put her in front of that woman again. No. No she wouldn’t do it. Couldn’t. Even if she had Valora and Maiden-America’s powers again she couldn’t she couldn’t she couldn’t, couldn’t ever, couldn’t ever see her, couldn’t think about her face, her hands smashing and grabbing and choking – couldn’t ever face it again. She was so gripped by this renewed fear that she almost didn’t notice John saying Valora had nothing to do with it.
“If she was around,” John said, “we wouldn’t be having this conversation. What, we’re gonna risk you getting your hands on her power again? Not a chance. No—we need you to deal with a different set of problems.”

He explained the situation with Hypatia’s group. He described her group’s members, and their powers as best as he could manage it. When he finished his explanation, he saw, for the first time, an expression on Lupus’ face that he couldn’t read. For the first time she had the advantage. He didn’t realize that, when he described the powers of Hypatia and of the group’s newest member, he was describing to Lupus two old acquaintances.

Maria? Lupus barely remembered her. A bit quiet. A bit prissy. A bit of a wet blanket. Nothing much more beyond that. Very nice thighs, I guess? But she wasn’t important. The other one was important. Hypathia or whatever the hell she was calling herself now – Cecily. Cecily had been an irritating little spanner in Lupus’ works. She had pursued her all the way from California. She had rescued Valora from her clutches, and intervened again in their second battle, and in no way was Lupus prepared to remember or in any way acknowledge that Cecily had saved her life from Valora. No, fuck that. These idiots wanted her to deal with those lightweights? Fine. She’d do it.

One more for the road.
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Re: The Perils of Valora Finale: Rat Bites Dog Bites Man

Post by Damselbinder »

At long last, a break. Or a hint of a break. An anonymous tip with enough information to be useful, but not so much that it was obviously a setup. Delivered to Portland P.D., and from them to Agent Lorenzo, and from Agent Lorenzo to Hypatia. It was an answer to a question that had been puzzling Agent Lorenzo for some time now: where did Patáky actually do his business? Anytime they managed to tail one of his people to a hidey-hole, it was too late. By the time they got warrants for bugs and so on, he was already gone. But now, finally, they had got the jump on him.

And so it was that Vanessa Gray, otherwise known as Lamia, was slithering her way through the ventilation pipes of an unassuming office building at 2:30 on a hot afternoon. For obvious reasons, she had the best chance of being able to sneak in and plant bugs unseen. She’d have been happy just to hang around until Patáky turned up and spy on him herself, but as a registered cape there were rules about these things. It wouldn’t have been admissible as evidence or some other such yawn-inducing fuckery.

This would do, though. As long as it meant Vanessa could nail this preening would-be overlord. And she took pleasure from knowing that this was yet another thing that only she could do. If Vanessa had been born with Hypatia’s powers, or Freebird’s, or even ones as strong as Valora’s, she probably wouldn’t have been all that interested in them. But as far as she knew, she was the only person like herself in the entire world. There were people who could become invisible, and there were even people who could shapeshift into animals . But she was the only one who could do both, and that made it all the more satisfying.

There was no species of snake that quite matched the one that Vanessa could change into. Its scales – when she allowed them to be seen – were too brilliant. It had heat-pits in front of its eyes, though it was not in any other respect like a viper. It was too slim for an anaconda, and its head was the wrong shape for a python. But it was a snake. In this form, Vanessa could barely hear, but she could feel vibrations through her whole body that sometimes gave her useful information. She could see better than most real snakes, but still not as well as a human. What she gained, sensorily, was like an inbuilt night-vision camera – she could see heat.

For this reason, as she slithered her muscular, ophidian shape through the vent, she was not completely blind. She could see the differences in temperature when the pipe she was in was intersected by a vent. It was still difficult, though. Vanessa’s mind took a while to catch up with her transformed body, and she had to move slowly to be sure she was on the right path. Ideally, she would spend half an hour to an hour after transforming just waiting for her snake-body to feel natural, and then again once she turned back. But she’d make do.

Eventually, Lamia managed to find the right part of the building, after a couple of false starts. She waited for a minute to make sure she was alone, then emerged. She changed back, her serpent form elegantly melting into a supple, feminine figure. Even though there was no-one to observe her, Lamia felt a pleasure in the grace of her change, and once her head was fully human, she threw back her thick, glossy, sable hair. She had deep, dark eyes, that seemed always to be smiling with good-humoured irony. Her lips were plush, and deep, dark red, her finely tended skin a milky brown, confidently flaunted by her glinting, snakeskin leotard. She was classically lovely, classically feminine, but the humour in her countenance gave it all a delightful, cinnamon twist. Its golden brace held it in place around the centre of her bust, leaving bare the upper halves of Lamia’s bosoms, her upper arms, and her well-shaped, slim shoulders. She wasn’t very tall, but her height was subtly exaggerated by her heeled, knee-high boots, which had the added benefit of revealing Lamia’s soft, warm thighs, all the way to her slinkily sensual hips. It was partly for this reason that Lamia was so pleased to be a superheroine. In no other walk of life could she have got away with dressing like this.

“Check-check, one-two, one-two,” Lamia said, tapping the receiver attached to her inner ear. A useful side-effect of her abilities was that objects she kept on her person in human form would vanish into the aether and then reappear when she shifted back. She’d been incommunicado, therefore, until transforming.
“Hypatia here,” came the reply. “How’s it coming?”
“I’m in,” Lamia said, doing her best impression of a trenchcoat-clad, Hollywood hacker.
“Excellent,” Hypatia responded, missing the joke. “From what I can tell, you’re alone.” She was watching from across the street with a pair of binoculars. Even though, or perhaps because, Lamia was the one at risk, Hypatia felt her heart in her throat.
Lamia felt a little excited about playing the secret agent, but she wasn’t nervous. As if the office were her own, she strutted about, looking for places to hide the bugs she was carrying. Lorenzo had pulled some strings to get Hypatia some really top of the line stuff. These were so minuscule that even someone as paranoid as Milo wouldn’t be likely to find them. Secrecy was still essential, however: if Milo got the slightest hint that his hidey hole was unsafe, he’d be scared off again.

Lamia set bugs in the frames of the windows, under the desk, in the soil of a pot plant, on the underside of a wastepaper bin, in the vent she’d emerged from, and even embedded between the ceiling tiles. She moved to a surprisingly well-stocked bookshelf, not quite having decided if it was too obvious a place to plant bugs.
“Oh my god,” she muttered.
“What? Has something happened?”
“Hm? Oh, no, no, no. I’m just looking at Patáky’s little library.” A tall set of shelves was packed with history books, expensive-looking first or second editions, and a copy of every worthwhile novel that had been written between 1900 and 1950. In addition, there was a copy of The Art of War sitting right next to a copy of The Prince, which was a proximity so brazenly pretentious that it actually made Lamia like Patáky a little more: there was no way in hell he hadn’t done that as a joke.

Out of curiosity, she pulled out the copy of The Prince. It was very well-worn: either Patáky had bought it used, or he’d read it a number of times. Lamia flicked it open, thinking that she might somehow get an insight into Patáky’s mind. She did, though not in the way she’d hoped.
“What the fuck?” she muttered.
“Did you find something?”
“You could say that.” She put her hand to her mouth. “Hypatia, I don’t think we’re just dealing with an evil man.”
“What do you mean?” It was Freebird’s voice. While Hypatia was watching from the other side of the street, Freebird was waiting on the roof of Patáky’s building, ready to intervene if something went wrong.
“What I mean,” Lamia said, “is that Milo Patáky is completely insane.”
On almost every page of Patáky’s copy of The Prince, he had scrawled something. At the start of the book it was just aggressive – sentences were highlighted with the word ‘bullshit’ or ‘idiocy’ or ‘inane’ attached at the side. But as it went on, it was madder and madder, with bizarre non-sequiturs scrawled in, or childish little pictures or, eventually, just violent nonsense covering most of the page. The last cogent sentence he’d written was ‘I’m going to sue Italy for wasting my time’, and everything after that was just a scribble.

“Tell us about it when you return,” Hypatia said. “If you’ve hidden enough bugs, then you ought to leave.” She and the others had agreed that taking this opportunity was worth the risk, but she was naturally suspicious of any good fortune when luck had been otherwise so sparse.
“Alright,” Lamia said. She kissed her teeth: she wanted to take the book with her to show the others, but it was probably unwise to disturb anything. She put the book back, careful to leave it exactly as it had been, pulled slightly outwards relative to the books on either side.

But as Lamia was replacing the book, she noticed something on the shelf that she was very surprised not to have noticed before. She initially took it for one of those automatic air-fresheners, for it was roughly the right shape, and had a little spray-nozzle thing at the top. But it was unusually large and heavy-looking, and stood out so much that Lamia had a small moment of cognitive dissonance: she just couldn’t believe she hadn’t seen it the second she’d entered the room. When it suddenly spritzed a sweet-smelling vapour into her face, she jumped back, hissing and instinctively raising her arms to fight.
But Lamia was being paranoid. The thing that looked like an automatic air-freshener was just an automatic air-freshener. All it had sprayed at her was some combination of fragrances that were probably marketed with the name of a biome, or possibly some particularly wholesome-sounding species of tree. Lamia hadn’t noticed it because she just hadn’t noticed it. The only danger it presented to her was indirect: it stopped her from seeing the other person in the room until they forced a rag over her mouth.
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Re: The Perils of Valora Finale: Rat Bites Dog Bites Man

Post by Damselbinder »

Charlie felt like she was dreaming. Her neck still stung from where they’d injected her with the tracking device. Her ears still rang with John Mann’s threats, with the brusque instructions she had been given. And for the last two hours she had been lying on her back, tucking herself into a corner of the room that was unlikely to be stepped in. She could not turn herself invisible as Lamia could, but she still had the ability that she’d been forced to use so many times by Patáky’s acolytes: to cloak other objects. To make herself unseen, all she’d had to do was wrap herself in a tatty old blanket and cloak it.

She kept expecting herself to wake back up in the chair. Handcuffed with more piles of drugs to turn invisible for her masters. Had her conversation with John Mann really happened? Was she really here? It had been… what, two days since then? Something like that. She’d slept for most of it. Slept in a real bed. Under guard, but not cuffed. Not drugged. The ache in her limbs was not so bad now. Her strength had returned, mostly. But since, until the moment of her abduction, she had had the strength of tens of thousands of men, she felt atrophied almost to nothing.

That dreamlike feeling did not abate when a multicoloured serpent appeared out of thin air in front of her, nor when that serpent shifted into the form of a beautiful woman. Charlie watched her, for a while, and she was so pretty and so pleasant to look at that she felt like she was watching television. Like she was at home somewhere, on a normal afternoon, having a bit of weed and watching MTV or something. Not happy, but comfortable. Safe. Charlie had not felt safe in a very, very long time. Not since… probably not since all this started. Not since she’d been talked into joining the Bombshells.

She kept watching as this woman – Lamia? Was that what John had called her? – placed her bugs around the room. She looked… warm. Her bare thighs jiggled a little with each step, her half-exposed bosom bouncing. Charlie knew absolutely nothing about Lamia at all, but she already preferred her to every other superhero she had ever encountered. It was a bit like when you eat a meal after going hungry for a long time: it doesn’t matter what it is, it’s going to taste like the best thing you’ve ever eaten. Into Lamia Charlie injected every virtue that she could imagine: courage, strength, beauty, confidence, stubbornness, self-assurance, self-reliance and unintellectual intelligence. She did this simply because, even though Lamia was her unwitting enemy, she was the first person Lupus had seen in weeks who wasn’t threatening her. She was also the first person she’d seen in weeks who smiled without sneering.

There was a mask over Charlie’s face. Nothing fancy. It itched. Probably a bit better than the fancy one she used to have, though. Didn’t restrict her vision. There was a belt around her waist, with little glass slides in heavy duty, leather boxes. On each of these boxes, there was a small window, with a just-visible red dot imprinted on the slide within. The dots were dried blood.

Charlie rose, took the blanket off herself. Lamia didn’t see her. Uncloaked, Charlie came closer, but Lamia still didn’t see her. It still felt very much like a dream, like Charlie was gliding through the air, like mist. She reached down to one of the boxes at her waist, tapped it with one finger. In doing so, Lupus took on a new ability, shedding her cloaking power for the power of enhanced agility. It was not really agility that Charlie wanted, but the modest increase in strength that came as a side-effect, to make up for the weeks of total inactivity.

She came close to Lamia now. The hero was speaking, saying something about Milo Patáky, actually. Lupus didn’t pay much attention. She was just looking at Lamia, looking at her warm, milky-brown skin; looking at her shoulders, her back, her round hips. She was close enough to smell her now, smell the scent of some bold perfume Lamia wore, that was just… perfection. She wanted to hold this woman. To have her. And then just as Lupus began to fear that she could not get closer without being detected, something startled Lamia and she jumped back, jumped so that Lupus was only an inch away from her if it was even that. Lupus found herself moving automatically. Found herself already with the cloth in hand, having not even noticed that she had prepared it. She wasn’t even moving that quickly when she reached forward and put it over Lamia’s face.

The reaction was perfect. Full of anger and character, not pathetic. Not yet – that could come later. For now, yes, let her fight. Let her make Charlie work for it, just a little. Lamia lifted her arms to grab at the cloth, and managed to get both hands around Lupus’ wrist, but she couldn’t pull it away. The power Charlie had taken was enough to outmuscle her. Charlie used her other arm, and wrapped it around Lamia’s body, compressing her victim’s arms against her chest. She growled and thrashed, trying to slip from Charlie’s grasp, but it wasn’t enough. She kicked and stomped on Charlie’s feet – and it actually hurt, which Charlie kept forgetting it would, kept forgetting she didn’t have Valora’s invulnerability anymore. But it didn’t hurt enough to make up for the pleasure Charlie was experiencing.

What Charlie couldn’t see, but could guess, was that Lamia was trying to shift, trying to wriggle out of Charlie’s grasp in snake-form, but she didn’t seem to be able to concentrate, not with the soporific drug surging through her, stealing her focus and her strength. But even robbed of her power there was something ophidian about the way she wriggled, her naked shoulders sinuously shifting, her hips writhing as she struggled, rubbing herself against Charlie’s body so tight and so warm.

Oh God, it felt good. God it felt good to feel this woman moving in her arms, struggling so bravely and so uselessly. Every time she tossed her hair back and brushed it against Charlie’s face, every time her shoulders rubbed against Charlie’s breasts, every time her perky, heart-shaped backside pressed against Charlie’s waist it was like she was reconnecting circuits, reawakening something that had for far too long been dormant.

“Mmrghhhh! MRGHHHHHH!! Mhh… mhh… mmphh…”
There. It had started. She was being seriously affected now. Poor thing. Lovely thing. Charlie craned her neck and looked over Lamia’s shoulder, looked down at her breasts, saw them rising and falling deeply and slowly, pushing at the restrictions of the brace Lamia wore. Testing her control over her victim, Charlie let go of Lamia’s arms, and they went slack, though her fingers still tenuously clung to Charlie’s wrist. But all Charlie had to do was tug them, and they dropped, swinging for a few seconds before coming to a rest.

“Nhh…” Lamia mewed, apparently lamenting her encroaching weakness.
“C—” Charlie started, but her voice caught in her throat. She’d meant to taunt Lamia, but the words just wouldn’t rise to her throat. For a moment she felt embarrassed, but that embarrassment boiled immediately into anger. It was, of course, actually Lamia’s fault, and so Charlie exacted just punishment.

She put her hand on Lamia’s midriff, and glided it up, over the pleasantly rough, segmented fabric of the heroine’s leotard, until she had reached the dramatic swell of Lamia’s breasts. She put her hand on them, and she shivered. They were soft, and gently yielding; womanly, but not so large that Charlie could not encompass one of them in an outstretched hand. She kneaded them between her fingers, and like she was pressing buttons in her victim’s mind, each squeeze drew out a sleepily indignant moan. Lamia was weak now, so weak, weak enough that Charlie was willing to risk taking the cloth off her mouth, and push her up against the nearest wall. For the first time she got a really good look at Lamia from the front, and Charlie almost cried out in giddy pleasure.

Her dark eyes were fluttering, like Lamia was being deliberately coquettish. Her mouth was slightly open. Her shoulders still moved a little as she tried so ineffectively to fight, and her thighs rubbed against each other as she expended uselessly what little strength remained in her.
“Wh… what… what are you… doing to me?” Lamia mumbled, floating between unconsciousness and wakefulness. But Charlie didn’t answer. She was just staring. Staring at this woman who was so ripe, so fulsomely, slinkily feminine. For the first time in what felt like an age, Charlie was the one with the power over someone else. And she took gleeful, manic advantage.

“Unhh!” Lamia grunted, as Charlie pounced on her, tugging her mask upwards so she could press her lips against Lamia’s skin. She kissed Lamia’s face, her bare shoulders, her breasts. She grasped Lamia by her feminine hips and pulled her closer, before ducking down to run her tongue up and down Lamia’s gorgeous thighs, feeling them jiggle and quiver as Charlie tugged Lamia this way and that.

“B… bitch…” Lamia spat, finding venom even in her weakness. “D… don’t you… fucking touch me… my… fucking suit’s… worth more than… y…” But to the hero’s chagrin, these protests only made Charlie more voracious. She shot back up, burying one of her hands in Lamia’s thick, black hair, twisting it between her fingers and yanking it up, pulling Lamia’s head to the side before forcing kiss after kiss on the hero’s smooth neck, licking and even lightly biting it.

“Unnhhhhhhhhh…” Lamia let out a heavy, sleepy moan, her neck and her breasts flushed red, but still she found it in herself to mumble: “Dead… you’re a… dead woman…”
‘Dead’. The word was like a needle in Charlie’s eye. ‘Dead’ was what Lamia would be, this sumptuous little beauty, once she handed her over to John Mann. ‘Dead’ was what Charlie’s family would be if she didn’t co-operate. ‘Dead’ was what Charlie herself would be if she put even a foot wrong. ‘Dead’ was what she felt that, basically, she already was.

With contempt, then, rather than with pleasure, Charlie pressed the cloth over Lamia’s mouth once more, and as soon as she did this Lamia’s last resistance was destroyed. Her arms and soft legs went limp. Her eyes rolled back two, three, four times, before her body went momentarily stiff and, with a little quiver, she gave in. Her eyelids fell shut, and she surrendered to unconsciousness, falling against Charlie’s chest.

Charlie ducked down, letting Lamia flop meekly over her shoulder, her body bouncy and spry – tight and soft all at once. She carried her a little way across the room, little tremors travelling through Lamia’s bare thighs as Charlie carried her, her arms swinging, the brace around her torso struggling to fight gravity as well as the swell of Lamia’s bosom.

Charlie laid her down, carefully, onto Patáky’s desk, bending her over it. Her right cheek was pressed against the surface of the desk, her breasts too compressed slightly into her chest by the hard wood underneath them. Her legs had gone slightly pigeon-toed, her rear made even more prominent by her position. Charlie felt an instinct to take further advantage, but – something stopped her. Nothing moral. She just felt squeamish. She turned away. It was probably for the best, though. If she hadn’t, she would have been hit dead-on by Freebird’s attack.
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Re: The Perils of Valora Finale: Rat Bites Dog Bites Man

Post by Damselbinder »

“Get away from her!!” Freebird cried, surging forward at full speed, wreathed in a fiery aura, body surging with power. She was still in the hallway of Patáky’s office, about fifteen metres away from where Charlie was standing. But it was close enough to attack. She let out a dazzling, scarlet lightshow from her hands, and though Charlie suddenly found her enhanced agility was useful after all, Freebird did not stop there. She tossed out a series of little balls of light which flew through the air, and then burst into hundreds of pieces – which then exploded like cluster bombs.

For a moment Charlie thought Freebird had gone mad, for surely there was no way her bombs wouldn’t hurt Lamia as well. But they just didn’t. Somehow Freebird could just will them not to harm her. Indeed she could – and did – will them not to harm anything else around her. The explosions didn’t even knock over the bookshelf. But they sent Charlie flying.

“AAGHH!” Only a last-second thought had saved Charlie from serious injury. She’d touched another of the slides at her waist, and become able to coat herself in a rubbery gel that absorbed much of the impact, both when the bombs went off, and when she landed. But she still landed hard, ten metres from where she’d started, and not even in the same room. She’d crashed right through the wall, and into another, a large, undecorated space - part of the building that was still under construction.

Charlie rose, furious, and saw Freebird standing by Lamia’s inert figure, guarding her. She too was furious, if a little perplexed at how Charlie was able to stand. She stepped forward, and Charlie made to step forward to match her. But she couldn’t. She’d thought Freebird, of all people, would be easy. She hadn’t really paid attention when John Mann had described her powers, and so hadn’t realized that she was much stronger than she had once been. The surprise, and the fact that she lacked Valora’s power, which she had come so much to rely on in battle, and the spectre of the gun pressed to the back of her head by her captors stole away her courage. She screamed, half in rage and half in fear, and began to run. It was only when she turned around that she realized how badly she’d been outmanoeuvred.

“Stop at once!” Such was the command of Hypatia, and such was her authority – both bred and forged – that Charlie froze in place. Hypatia’s eyes, and so much of her expression, was hidden beneath her black mask, but her mouth was turned downward in a grim, threatening frown. The red gauze over her eyes glittered, reflecting the red of her companion’s powers. It was as if they were one, and it was as one that they had come to Lamia’s rescue – for they had heard every moment of her capture on the intercom in Lamia’s ear.

“You cannot escape,” Hypatia said. “Surrender. Now.”
Charlie didn’t reply. She was held in place by the crushing pressure of contradictory emotion as she looked upon Hypatia’s face. Hatred. Anguish. Fear. Revenge. Cowardice. The frustration of being robbed of the rush of power she’d felt when she’d knocked Lamia unconscious. The result was complete inertia.
“That belt around your waist,” Hypatia said. “Remove it and throw it on the floor.”
Charlie had almost forgotten it. Hypatia’s words broke the mental deadlock, and she began to think, to try to decide which one would be best, if she could get to any of them before Freebird shot her in the back. There was another thing, too: did Hypatia somehow know who she was? Is that why she’d asked her to take off the belt, because she’d guessed its function? Or was she just being careful?

A test was in order. Slowly, Charlie’s hand began to edge towards the belt, and Hypatia made no attempt to stop her.
“She doesn’t know.” Beneath her mask, Charlie made an expression a touch too animal to be a smile. “She just thinks it’s some weapons or something.” She continued lowering her hand, and even made it look like she was unclipping the belt.

What Charlie did not know – among many other things – was that Hypatia was testing her as well. Cecily remembered well what Agent Lorenzo had told her, that Patáky had been buying superhuman blood. The possibility that was before her was indeed something that she had considered, that it was Lupus who was attacking them. But if that was so, why was she so weak? She had considered the possibility that Lupus was working for Patáky, but not that she had been forced to, and since she could not have guessed at the accident that had robbed Lupus of Valora’s ability, she could not then think why Lupus would have deliberately shed it. It was for this reason that she allowed Lupus to tap her fingertip against one of the boxes attached to her waist. It was for this reason that Cecily again found herself plunged into a void.

For Freebird, waiting for Hypatia’s direction, the effect was totally disorienting. Everything around her vanished. The wall, the floor, the ceiling, the daylight, Hypatia and Lamia’s attacker – everything. It was as though she were standing in space, floating in complete emptiness. She could see nothing – except her own body.
“What?!” Even her voice sounded strange – flat, like there was nothing echoing it. She couldn’t even hear anything but herself. She extended her hand, ready to attack, but could see nothing. She knew that she was vulnerable, that she was in a perfect position to be attacked, but she didn’t know what to do about it. She felt a sudden fear that her new power was insufficient, that even with all this might she was still vulnerable. She’d seen what had happened to Lamia, and she remembered well her own history: at any moment she expected to be smothered by a drugged cloth, or injected with a needle, or just hit over the head with a blackjack. It was not so much that she was suffering from martial pride – it was just that she believed utterly in what she and Hypatia and she were doing, and she was afraid of failing.

Even standing still, she found it difficult to balance with no frame of reference, and she almost fell over. As she stumbled, she felt herself knock into something, and she reflexively turned to attack it.
The voice was almost as startling as the silence had been, and Freebird was no less disposed to attack, until she felt something slip into her hand: it was another hand. The fingers were slim, delicate, and familiar.

“If you can hear me,” Hypatia said, “try not to move too much. I’m using my powers like a sonar: it’ll be easier for me to sense her if you keep still.” She squeezed Freebird’s hand. Freebird squeezed back.
“Were you wrong?” Freebird asked, trying to keep her voice low, even though for all she knew her enemy was just as close to her as Hypatia was. “Isn’t this that woman you fought before?”
“Lot? It’s her power, certainly,” Hypatia replied. She kept her grip on Maria’s hand: it seemed they could hear each other as long as they touched. “But I don’t know that it’s her.”

Freebird understood the implication, for Hypatia had shared her suspicions with her. She remembered well what Lupus had done to them back in California, and it was not an experience she had any wish to repeat. She left aside the whys and wherefores for the moment, and carefully guided Hypatia to stand behind her. She would guard her, if nothing else.

Hypatia’s would-be sonar was not functioning as well as she had hoped. She could feel only the vaguest of disturbances in the telekinetic field she generated around herself, and though she was pretty sure that Lupus – if it was she – was standing somewhere in front of them. She was fairly confident that she would have been able to tell if Lupus moved, but she wasn’t certain. And if it was only a small movement, say to reach for a concealed pistol, then Hypatia was not sure that she’d be able to feel anything. She decided, therefore, to take a risk.
Hidden in her void, Charlie stopped moving. Hypatia’s sonar was not quite as effective as she’d hoped, and she had slowly been getting closer. But she stopped dead when she heard her name.

“It is you, isn’t it?” Hypatia said. “I don’t know how you have come to be in the employ of Milo Patáky, but you must realize how foolhardy it is. I don’t know what he’s promised you, but a man like that cannot possibly be trusted. He will use you as his thug, and when his fortunes turn – and they will – he will drag you down along with him. I won’t insult you by feigning a wish to ally. For what you have done I’m sure I will always be your enemy. But I am his enemy first. Don’t risk your own destruction for the sake of such a small man, Charlie!” The words were sincere, but even to Hypatia herself they rang a bit hollow. There was too much anger in her voice. She was very slow to hate, but she realized as she spoke that she did hate Lupus. She had come to California in the first place to bring her to justice. She remembered how hard it had been for Maria after Lupus had attacked them, and Cecily wanted… restitution. She wanted to avenge Maria. But that was not what Maria wanted.

“Can you hear me?” Freebird said. “I… don’t know how this power you’re using works. But if you can…” She hesitated. It was so strange that Lupus should be here now, that destiny should have united the three of them once more. Oh, she knew that there was a sequence of events that had led them all here, that it wasn’t mere happenstance, but she still felt like there was something akin to fate in it. It was important. This moment was important.

“We were never friends,” Maria said. “I know that. Even when we were all in the Bombshells together I know you looked down on the rest of us. But I don’t think you’re an evil person. But the man you’re working for is. I’m sure he wants you to kill us. But you don’t do that, do you? Cecily told me about what happened between you and her and… and Valerie. You did some awful things, but you’re not a murderer. Even Lance,” she added, making Charlie feel suddenly nauseated. “Even he was an accident, wasn’t he? I don’t know if you feel guilty about anything. I suppose that’s none of my business. But maybe you feel trapped? By everything that’s happened, everything you’ve done. I know you made fun of my faith,” she said, finding that there was more emotion in her voice than she had expected, that Charlie had affected her life more profoundly than she had realized. “But I really believe everyone gets as many chances as they look for, as long as they’re sincere. Would it matter if I forgave you? Would that mean anything to you? Charlie, if it’ll make you feel a little freer, if it’ll let you give yourself permission not to… debase yourself by working for this man, I will. I’ll be happy to. I’ll be happy to, Charlie, I mean it!”

Behind Maria, Cecily was squeezing her hand, feeling like she had just glimpsed inside her lover’s soul. In front of Maria, Charlie lowered the veil of night.
She had taken off her mask. It almost made her harder to recognize, for her face was thinner, more haggard than the one Maria and Cecily remembered. Her hair was completely brown now, and untidily long. There were tears welling in her eyes.
“It is you,” Cecily said.
“No shit,” Charlie replied. “No, shut up!” she screeched, when she saw that Cecily was about to speak again. “God you’re stupid. You’re so fucking stupid. God, listen to yourselves! ‘Oh, how moral and noble I am! Wouldest thou partakest of mine forgivenesse, oh woe-begotten maiden!’ Christ! How can you stand it? How can you stand listening to yourselves?!”
“You haven’t answered me,” Maria said, gently. “Would it make a difference?”
“No, you dumb bitch!” Charlie shrieked. “That’s what I’m trying to tell you! You don’t understand! You don’t understand anything!!”
“What?” Cecily said, sensing that this was a matter of grave importance. “Tell us then, Charlie. What don’t we understand?”
Charlie did consider answering her. She did consider revealing all. She considered throwing herself on Cecily’s mercy. But though she felt small, and frightened, and helpless, she was still Charlotte Korhonen. She had to feel bigger than someone. So she moved backwards, and when Cecily and Maria followed her, she waited for them to walk forward one and a half metres, and snapped her fingers. In doing so, she revealed why she hadn’t sprung on Freebird and Hypatia the second she’d blinded them.

She’d been laying a trap.

“AAHHH!!” From two unassuming bits of metal on the ground that blended in quite seamlessly with the detritus of the construction around them, arcs of blue lightning spat forth into Freebird and Hypatia’s bodies. As it surged into them, both women went stiff, Hypatia’s arms tightening against her sides, and Freebird’s against her chest. But both of their backs arched, both of them threw their heads back, crying out in something that was not quite pain. This was another of the powers Charlie had brought with her: to turn almost anything she liked into an improvised taser.

“Ahh! Ahhh-ahhh!” the lovers’ voices joined in anguished chorus as the trap took hold of them. They could feel a force passing unresisted through their nervous systems, into every muscle, every fibre of them. They couldn’t move at all, convulsing and quivering in helpless symmetry, bodies juddering and shaking in an obedient dance, as Charlie laughed at them, cackled with vicious hysteria as the two maidens were so utterly overpowered, cast in an ethereal, unnatural blue light.

“N-no, I – ahhh-ahhh!” Maria moaned, trying and failing to summon her powers, feeling as the energy of the trap coursed through her, taking control of her whole body, paralysing her, and making it almost impossible even to think. It was like there was a fusebox in her head, and every fuse was blowing, shutting her down bit by bit.
Next to Maria, Cecily felt the exact same thing, felt her body betraying her, her powers deserting her, her whole body tense to the point that it felt like it would burst. Through the veil of her mask, Cecily looked into Charlie’s eyes, and expected to find mockery, expected to find cruelty. And she did – but she found something else too, something she could not identify. Whatever it was, though, frightened her more than everything else.

As quickly as it had started, it stopped. The lightning ceased, the blue glow blinking out. And for a moment it seemed like Cecily and Maria were unharmed, for they still stood. But they were motionless. Their arms were hanging by their sides. They stared blankly forwards, as though hypnotised. And then, both at once, as though their bonding joined them even in this, they fell.

With long, slow, whimpering sighs, Freebird and Hypatia dropped to their knees. Hypatia was lighter, less athletic, so she swayed and wavered as she fell, her long, red hair flying up behind her. Freebird went down quite straightly, hitting her knees harder, her bosoms jostling for Charlie’s enjoyment as the shock travelled through her. But from there, the symmetry returned. Both of their heads rolled back as they tumbled onto their fronts, and both of them let out a quiet little ‘no’ as they prostrated themselves. As they hit the floor, their faces happened to face each other, and in their last moments of consciousness they each saw the other. They both tried to reach for each other’s hand. They both tried to give courage or comfort – or something – to the other. They both failed. They both swooned. They were both defeated.

Above them, Charlie bellowed in wrathful triumph. Even as her scream collapsed into a desperate wail, she felt that she was Lupus again. Even if she was on a leash.

There was already a van waiting for Lupus, backed into the loading zone on the ground floor of the building. Its hold was open and, soon, triply occupied.

Lupus threw Hypatia down first. She fell gracefully, like a dancer rehearsing a dramatic swoon in a ballet. She seemed to drift to the floor, like a feather, landing with one hand on her chest, her curtain of shimmering red hair spreading out like a fan. Her long, svelte legs crossed elegantly at the knee. Her hands fell neatly, politely into her lap.

Next, Lamia. She Lupus threw down with more force, to enjoy the vigorous bounce of her breasts and her thighs. She fell halfway on top of Hypatia, face-up, landing with her head resting in the crook of Hypatia’s right arm. Her feminine face was robbed of all her wit and candour, resting gently and blankly in deep, dark sleep. Her legs fell askew, thighs together and calves splayed out, one of her arms reaching upward, and the other fallen onto her own soft, generous bust.

Last, Freebird. Lupus tossed her roughly onto the others, not to please herself, but simply out of contempt for the kindness and mercy that Maria had so sincerely offered her. She fell straight on top of Hypatia, her lips ending up right next to Cecily’s cheek, one of her hands on Cecily’s chest, while the other was tucked underneath Maria’s midriff.

Lupus regarded them, these three who had thought they could stand against Patáky. Who thought they could stand against her, even if they didn’t know it was her they were standing against. Pretty maids all in a row. Or rather, pretty maids all in a pile, beautiful bodies falling against each other as if for comfort, breasts heaving against each other, legs all entwined, so soft and so gorgeous and so fucking done. Lupus grinned, trying to transmit all her own fear onto them, into them.

“Uh… hnn…”
It was Hypatia. She was beginning to stir, just a little. Beneath her mask her eyes fluttered, and when she saw Maria’s face next to hers, when she felt the skin of Maria’s taut, smooth thighs against her legs, and when she felt Lamia’s silky body lying against her as well, a maidenly blush spread across her cheeks. Lupus saw it peeking out, and decided she wanted to get a better look.
She knelt down, and ripped the mask from Hypatia’s face, tossing it aside. She unveiled a pair of large, blue, half-open eyes, looking up at her with sleepy, helpless meekness, pure and innocent and absolutely pathetic.
“P…lease,” Cecily whispered. “Lupus… they’ll… th… they’ll…”
“I know,” Lupus replied. “And I don’t care.” She took something from a pouch in her trousers. “You know what’s crazy, Hypatia? After all this time, after you get yourself a sexy new outfit, a cool name, a new team – nothing has changed. You don’t know shit. You don’t have a fucking clue about anything. You know what you are?” She leaned over, held the small spraybottle over Cecily. “You’re still a fucking Bombshell.” She pressed down on the top of the spraybottle, and a thick, pink mist issued forth, right into Cecily’s face.
“Oh!” Cecily cried, eyes going wide as the sweet gas overwhelmed her, but not for long. She was already so weak, it was easy for the drug to take hold of her. “Oh, oh no! Oh… no you… Lupus… oh… ohhhhhhhh…” Fair and forlorn, Cecily wavered, whimpered, and softly faded back into slumber.

Lupus stood over them, crowing, laughing, pacing back and forth with glee. Hordes of tough guys had tried to take these pansies on, and they hadn’t stood a chance. Half an hour and an assortment of shitty, two-bit powers? Lupus had kicked their asses. Knocked them out. Captured the shit out of them. That was it. That was how it should be. She didn’t have to be as powerful as Valora. She was still the fucking best. The smartest. The most cunning. Who cares what the gangsters did with them afterwards? Who cares if they end up dead? Lupus had beaten them and she’d enjoyed it, and that was all that counted.

Yes! Yes! This was it. This was what she needed. She was back. She was Lupus. She was Warg. She was the big bad wolf, and she’d eat your fucking grandma if that’s what she felt like. Man, to hell with her grandma. To hell with it all. To hell with Ian Man and Milo Patakak or whatever the fuck. Those stupid motherfuckers had let her out! Well now she was going to thank them, now she was going to—

Charlie turned around. It wasn’t John, but one of his immediate underlings, a thin, wiry man with a shaved head. He had two more guys behind him.
“Y-yeah?” Charlie stammered. “That’s right. Fucking check this out!” She stepped aside. Showed them the three women she’d defeated. “You were absolutely god-damn right to—”
“Get out of the hold.” He was holding a gun. “Now.”
Still keeping a cocky grin on her face, Charlie acted as though it meant nothing to her either way, but she obeyed.
“Hand over the belt.”
She obeyed this too.
“Touch the slide.” He was holding another glass slide, much like the ones in Lupus’ belt. The only difference was that this blood belonged to Lupus herself.
For the first time Charlie’s face betrayed a grimace, for she knew if she did this, all power would leave her. She could not ‘reset’ by touching herself – but it had been discovered that, if the blood she touched was dried, her powers registered it as a different person, and she effectively ‘copied’ her own power, shedding whichever one she was carrying. She was tempted not to. She was tempted to try to attack, or even just to grab the gun. But then she thought of what would happen if she failed and, to her horror, even of her family. She obeyed.

Hypatia, Freebird and Lamia left the building unconscious. Lupus did not. Otherwise, there was no difference between them. They were all prisoners.

They were all helpless.
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Re: The Perils of Valora Finale: Rat Bites Dog Bites Man

Post by Blx »

I don't say it enough, but I love the universe you've built and the stories you write. I'm not knowledgable enough about writing to go in depth, just want to let you know I enjoy it.
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Re: The Perils of Valora Finale: Rat Bites Dog Bites Man

Post by Damselbinder »

The Perils of Valora 5-3: Don’t Call it a Comeback

In a blue, medium-sized, recently purchased van, on an empty road, in the city of Portland, in the state of Maine, in the year 2006, three men were looking at three women. The women were dressed in colourful, attractive costumes. The men were wearing tracksuits, hooded sweatshirts. The women were superhumans – radiant and powerful. The men clung onto handguns, fearing that at any moment the superhumans would rise up and destroy them. The women served nothing but their own sense of righteousness and decency, an abstract moral responsibility. The men served a callous master, one totally willing to sacrifice their lives or freedom if he judged it to be to his benefit. But the women were unconscious captives. The men were –

No, wait, shit. Not even that. The men hadn’t even done any of the capturing. They’d had to bring in another superhuman for that.

It was a weird feeling, looking at Hypatia and the other two. Pleasant – sure? Very pleasant, in a way. They were gorgeous women. Hypatia herself was slender, long-legged, and elegant. Freebird was taut, athletic, trim. Lamia was curvy, feminine – sensuous. And Lupus had even captured them attractively, piling their helpless, unconscious bodies on top of each other, leaving the three vanquished beauties coiled in each other’s limbs, noses brushing, skin pressing against skin. They were so fair. So soft. So vulnerable.

But the three men, the three criminals, the three thugs, the three gangsters, the three ruffians, the three scallywags, were hesitant. None of them were crazed psychopaths or madmen – it probably would have been easier if they had been. They were bad people, but they were people. They had grown up in the same world as their captives. As boys they’d all been enchanted by people like Hypatia. They’d prayed that they themselves might be among the lucky ones, one of the happy few that were gifted power, that they too might be special, that they too might get to dazzle the world with some magical brilliance of their own. When that hadn’t happened, they’d comforted themselves by attaching themselves vicariously to some local hero or other until – just in time for them to be teenagers – the Dark Days had started, and all their local heroes had been murdered. Like the Supremacist had broken into the childhood bedroom of their generation’s collective subconscious and smashed up all their favourite toys.

So, once the bloody nineties were over, their corner of the world had been left grey. Even the superheroes that remained were unhappy stragglers – either peanut-circuit pissants or thugs hardly better than those they fought. People sometimes argued that the presence of superheroes – for all their childish moral simplicity, for all the contradictions – kept people honest. Served as a great big red-white-and-blue lightbulb in the sky saying that goodness was real, and achievable. But if that was so, what then was the message when the heroes were absent?
“Anything goes.”

Did it actually make anyone a criminal when they wouldn’t otherwise have been? No. The usual things did. Poverty or lack of opportunity – all the things that superheroes were utterly incapable of really fighting – you know. Hell, there were still plenty of superheroes in the world. You couldn’t get away from them if you watched any television at all. But—there was still a difference. When you only fought other gangsters or policemen – mere mortals even at their best – it was easier for the common or garden thug to comfort himself that everyone was as bad as he.

And then these heroes appear. Real ones, like Hypatia. Noble, good, and other ordinarily cringeworthy adjectives. Suddenly it was impossible for you to pretend that you weren’t one of the baddies. Suddenly the thought in each of the minds of the three men looking at the three women that in short order the three women would be dead was a more disturbing one. Colour had broken into their world as an unwanted intruder. It was hateful.

For this reason, the first man was scowling when he pulled Freebird off Hypatia, peeling her from her comrade as though they were unwilling to part. When she did fall away, it was flat onto her back, both arms thrown up in loose, dishevelled surrender. Her skirt had fallen upward, revealing the toned, shapely musculature of her legs, and the pair of bicycle-shorts she wore under her costume. There were beads of sweat on Freebird’s thighs, on her neck, and her face did not quite look peaceful in its slumber. The sting of defeat still pricked her.

Freebird’s captor knew enough of her power to be afraid of it, so that every time he touched her, he winced, anticipating revenge. No revenge came, but he still felt like he was handling a temperamental, loaded weapon: he had to make sure the firing pin really had been removed. So, he knelt down by her, tentatively put his hand on her face. He shook it a little; no response. He prised open one of Freebird’s eyes; it was rolled deeply back, the iris barely visible. As relieved as he was going to be, Patáky’s gangster took Freebird’s wrist, but he was still holding it so gingerly that he dropped it, and it fell with a loud slap against her thigh, the sharpness of the sound testimony to the well-earned tone of her runner’s legs. Her captor noticed this and, glancing around like he was afraid of being caught with his hand in the cookie jar, even allowed himself a quick squeeze. Freebird felt sublime—but her captor didn’t touch her again.

The second gangster, the one standing over Hypatia didn’t feel afraid. His chief emotion was hatred, much of the sort that one would expect. Hypatia was responsible for the imprisonment of some of his friends. She was even indirectly responsible for the death of one, who’d been killed in a meaningless brawl with a fellow inmate. That she was a superhero rather than a rival criminal or ordinary lawwoman both waxed and waned his hatred of her. It made him furious that a colourful cartoon character like Hypatia had him and his ilk so much grief, but it made him less able to feel angry with her, with the actual woman lying at his feet.

Hypatia’s beauty made it difficult as well. It was not the mere fact of it: the gangster would not have felt the same looking at, say, Lamia. It was that Hypatia looked so innocent. She lay with perfect symmetry: her arms lay by her sides; her legs were long, straight, and slender; her bronze-red hair spread out in a neat semicircle. Her unmasked face was peaceful, extraordinarily pretty, and a little sad. Stripped of her disguise, Hypatia was naked and chaste; sensuous and pure; hateful and beautiful.

Only gangster #3 was having any fun. He, too, checked that his charge was truly unconscious, but he did so with much more relish. Trying to look as if he were patting Lamia down for weapons, he let his hands travel all over her. Grasping the slinky contours of her hips, he scraped his palms on the surface of her snakeskin leotard, only to soothe them on the sumptuous texture of Lamia’s thighs. Her head fell from one shoulder to the other as her captor’s hands jostled her about, her bosom positively bouncing as the gangster shook and pawed at her. She had such a simple, unpretentious sexuality that her captor couldn’t resist an equally unpretentious exploitation, and he grasped both of her breasts in his hands, his fingers not quite able to encompass them completely.

“H…nn…” Perhaps because she’d not been rendered unconscious the same way as her comrades, perhaps because the man touching her was taking such liberties, Lamia showed signs of stirring. She winced a little when the man standing over her touched her chest. Her plump lips curled. Her soft, light-brown shoulders shifted with sleepy, serpentine languor. Her eyelids even quivered like she was trying to force herself to awaken. But this resistance didn’t even last long enough for her captors to notice. With a soft mew, Lamia tumbled back into a yawning chasm of slumber.

They bound all three the same way. They took both of each heroines’ wrists, crossed them then lashed them together with thin, white cord, leaving a long stretch of cord trailing away like a leash. There was a little variation - Hypatia’s bonds were more cruelly tight, Lamia’s were a little messier – but in all relevant respects the three were one. For each, once their wrists were bound, their hands were allowed to drop, falling neatly in their laps. Then they were dragged, pulled by their ankles into the rough centre of the van’s hold, the sleeping damsels silently obedient to their abductors’ whims.

Once their captives were in place, the gangsters took the trailing lengths of rope, and fed them into the wheel of a pulley hanging from the van’s ceiling. With three hard tugs the heroines’ arms were jerked upwards, their shoulders pulled inward, pulling their bodies a small way off the floor. Each of their necks tilted a little way back, taut from the weight of their heads. There was something pleasing about just how well their postures matched each other; like dancers or cheerleaders, maybe. It was somewhere between laughable and tragic.

From there, the symmetry was broken somewhat. The lengths of rope attached to the heroines’ bonds were drawn through the pulley as, grunting with effort, Patáky’s men hoisted their captives up to their feet. None of the men were superlatively strong, and none of their captives were especially petite, so the process was not a neat one. The unconscious maidens bumped and jostled against each other as they drew closer, pretty faces brushing as their heads bobbed about; long, limp legs caressing as gravity straightened them; slinky hips coming into brief, intimate contact as the heroines swayed closer.

By sheer happenstance, both Freebird and Lamia happened to spin inwards, twirling against Hypatia like ballet dancers. Lamia was shorter by some way than her leader, so her nose and forehead fell against Hypatia’s white neck. Freebird, though, was almost the same height, so her face and Hypatia’s were level. The weight of Freebird’s body on her shoulder made Hypatia lean towards her, and for a moment the two were so close that their lips very slightly touched. It was a pretty tableau, but an inconstant one. The three fell away from each other again, and if any of Patáky’s men had been paying attention, they might even have heard a soft cry from Hypatia’s mouth.

With three sharp jerks, the three heroines were raised to their full heights. Higher, as their arms were suspended above them, stretched as high as they would go without cruelty. The captives’ arms were taut, but their wrists slack, fingers curling gently downwards even as their arms pointed up in perpetual, bound surrender. Their heads were bowed, so that Hypatia’s hair obscured her face in a rust-coloured, gossamer veil, while Lamia’s was buried under a thick, black curtain.

For a short time, the three were left motionlessly hanging, carted off; bowed, defeated prisoners of war in a conflict that seemed to be approaching its end. But their prison had taken now to the road and, when it hit any kind of bump, the heroines’ suspended stillness was disturbed. They swung lightly into each other, sometimes with enough force to throw their heads back, to be cushioned by their upstretched arms before inevitably dropping again. Their feet dragged against the floor of the vehicle’s hold, Freebird and Hypatia seeming always about to straighten themselves up and plant their feet, only for their legs’ strength to fail them each time in a continuous, stumbling dance. Lamia was excepted from this simply because she was shorter – her feet only barely touched the floor. For this reason her bare, sugar-coloured arms were held especially taut, making every rise and fall of her bosom seem deep, and effortful.

Despite this constant jostling, gracefully clumsy movement, there was a calm in the aspect of their captivity. Even as their supple, helpless bodies struck against each other like a lazy Newton’s Cradle, there was no sense of resistance. It was just the opposite: with all their power taken away from them, they were vulnerable to every tremor, cast about like leaves on the surface of a river: fragile, and subject entirely to the water’s currents. There was quiet, too: all their breaths muffled, even the sound of the van’s engine reduced to white noise, making the hold a coldly private prison. And if just for a moment one thought, perhaps, they were struggling, one had only to look at their hands, dangling tied, and limp.

Their captors watched them, morbidly spellbound by the shock of having these warriors, who had vexed and vanquished them so often, as their prisoners. The men were held, too, by the physical delight of looking at them, for each of their captives was in her own way a great beauty. There was even a petulant, goblinish thrill whenever the heroines happened to touch, especially when their thighs brushed together, for whenever it happened they seemed always to shiver at the feeling of each other’s skin, and a white spark of sensuality was ignited in the darkness of the hold. But every time it happened the spark seemed duller, and each of the heroines’ jailors felt less and less excited by it. It soon lost its power completely, leaving the three men in the dark of their own resentment and pseudo-moral discomfort.

And yet. For all that their grim duty disturbed them, for all that the surface-level pleasures of handling and binding three beautiful women scratched at the back of their impotent consciences, there was a satisfaction in what they were doing that went beyond the puerile. Without his subjects knowing it – perhaps without really knowing it himself – Milo Patáky had held out to those under his control a primally appetizing morsel. The reason they put up with the violence and danger, why none of them would betray him, why even those in the inner circles put up with his ever more obvious problems.

He offered them conquest.
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Re: The Perils of Valora Finale: Rat Bites Dog Bites Man

Post by Damselbinder »

There was another of Patáky’s subjects who had been watching Hypatia and the others. Or at least, watched them being driven away. Lupus’ eyes followed them until they had vanished entirely from sight, and she continued to watch the space in which they’d been. She felt hungry, envious of the men who’d been allowed to take Hypatia and the others away. Like those lumbering manimals would know what to do with a woman like Cecily! ‘Hurr-de-hurr we put rope on pretty girl and touch, har-har-har we are the Big Villains, har-har.’ Twats.

God Lupus wanted to be the one in the van with them. Let herself really cut loose. The last time she’d had Cecily in her clutches it had been only briefly before Valora had – er… that is, before the situation had become disadvantageous. She hadn’t had the chance to really taste her. Mockery aside, that new outfit looked fantastic on her, and Lupus wanted desperately to curl her fingers around its borders and slowly peel it away from Cecily’s perfect, pale skin.

You know, now that she came to think about, she and Cecily probably had exactly the same shade of skin. Cecily’s was nicer, truthfully, and a bit softer, but the actual colour was basically the same. But she still found it hot on Cecily. Like – was that weird? Someone has the same feature as you but you find it hot on them? Was that like… reflexive incest or something? Eh, it was probably fine. Now, that new one, Lamia, oh fuck me her skin was just the best. God it had felt good knocking her out, feeling her wriggling and fluttering and jiggling those gorgeous—

“Hurry up.”
Oh right. Not Lupus anymore. Had to give it back. Just Charlie again. Charlie Korhonen, 22, of no particular education or qualification or distinguishing feature of any sort. Charlie Korhonen, ex-superhero, ex-supervillain, ex-everything. Charlie Korhonen, slave. Unbound slave, for the moment, but her handler – ‘Marshall’, would you believe it – had one hand on a pair of cuffs, and the other on his pistol.

“Hey, uh, you think you could, uh, maybe, uhhhh, show some fuckin’ courtesy?” Charlie puffed herself up a bit. “In one afternoon, I fixed a problem that had been kicking you guys squarely in the dick for, like, a month. And just for the record, this is the second time I’ve done this!”
Marshall didn’t look like he cared.
“I don’t care,” Marshall said. “We need to leave now. Your fight might have attracted attention. Get in the car,” he said, indicating an object to his right that was, indeed, a car.

“Whatever,” Charlie grumbled. She walked past her handler, only for the man suddenly to seem to take his job title inappropriately literally, grabbing her upper arm. When she protested, however, he immediately released her. At no point did Marshall’s expression change.
“Wow, mister!” Charlie said. “Did you read Baby’s First Basic-Bitch Psychology too? ‘Cause like, oh man, I am so intimidated of you right now. You absolutely let me know who the boss is, sir. My liege.”
Marshall shrugged.
“Worked, didn’t it?” He opened the door of the car, pointed inside. Charlie stood still for a moment. She got in.

Marshall sat opposite to his charge. His gun was still holstered, but the holster’s clasp was undone. His orders from Mann had been, in content, au fait with Patáky’s intentions for Lupus, but Mann had turned up the volume as high as one could on the undertones of his instructions. That is, if Lupus gave Marshall the slightest excuse to kill her, then he ought to do it. But Marshall didn’t share Mann’s sentiments. For there would always, Marshall thought, be another Hypatia or another Valora. Milo’s rising star made that inevitable. They needed Lupus, and the peculiarities of her particular power outweighed the risks of her personality. Besides, anyone could be broken in eventually.

“Marshall.” The man speaking was in the driver’s seat. “Are we following the others?”
“No,” Marshall replied. “We get Lupus back to the safehouse.”
“Fine, but—” The driver hesitated. He wasn’t sure how much was safe to say in front of Lupus. “Won’t they need her for…?”
“Doubt it,” Marshall replied, understanding the implication. “Red Fang and Cacophony are in hospital. That leaves us with Buzzsaw and… the water guy, and neither of them are real threats. Far as I can tell, it’s over.”

As the car pulled away, Marshall looked again at Milo’s pet superhuman. He didn’t know the details, but rumour in the organization had it that Lupus had once been a cape herself, if only briefly. It was conceivable that the prospect of Hypatia and the others being murdered would disturb her conscience. But Marshall didn’t think she looked particularly concerned, just frightened. He obviously had been successful in intimidating her, too, because she wasn’t able to meet his gaze. Her eyes squirmed past his, and she looked out of the window. Her eyes flickered from side to side as she watched other vehicles go past them, then down at the road, then up. Then she screamed.

It was so loud and so sudden that the man driving their vehicle almost lost control. Marshall drew his weapon, but Lupus’ fear was so manifest that it never even occurred to Marshall that she was trying anything. She threw herself down against the seat, trying to hide, but her eyes, locked open, were still fixed in the direction of whatever it was she’d seen. Marshall pressed himself against the window, looking up to see what could have provoked this fit of madness. All he could see was a row of apartment buildings lining the entire street, all the same height, as ordinary as you like. Marshall looked up at their roofs, but still he didn’t see anything.

Immensely irritated, he turned back on Lupus, now suspicious that the screaming had been some kind of subterfuge.
“What the hell is wrong with you?!” he growled. “I really hope you’re just crazy, because if you’re trying anything, I swear to God…!”
Charlie was not trying anything. She barely heard Marshall’s words at all. She did not move, but for her shaky, manic breaths. She did not make a sound, save for the fearful whimpers. She saw, and heard, and thought of nothing but the figure that she had seen for those three quarters of a second, the figure whom she prayed had not seen her too, the woman who had haunted her nightmares, the woman who had even made Charlie’s imprisonment bearable because, if nothing else, at least Patáky’s men were keeping her hidden. She had barely even been able to make out the figure’s shape, but the colours had been enough: red; blue.

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Re: The Perils of Valora Finale: Rat Bites Dog Bites Man

Post by Damselbinder »

It took an hour for the van bearing Hypatia and her fellow captives to reach its destination. Partly this was because they’d been instructed to go to the outskirts of the city, and partly it was just because of careful driving: you don’t want to attract police attention when you’ve got three kidnapped superheroes in your hold.

The destination was an old holdfast of one of Patáky’s most persistent rivals . Now that he was dead, his bases of operation were useful hiding spots. What had once been a motorcycle garage and tattoo parlour was now little more than storage space, though some accoutrements of its old purposes remained. Its chief advantage, however, was just that you could drive a vehicle right into it and unload its contents without being able to be seen from the street. Sometimes that was drugs, sometimes it was weapons. Today it was three bound, unconscious women.

One of the three unlocked the pulley keeping their captives suspended. The heroines’ bodies went slack, and they fell quietly to their knees, one after the other. The rope holding them up slipped out of the pulley entirely, and their outstretched arms dropped down, their hands falling neatly into their laps. As all the tension suspending them was released, the three women surrendered again to their limpness, and tumbled prone onto the floor, hips slightly raised from the pressure of their bound hands beneath their abdomens, bodies moving only a little from quiet, deep breaths.

Their captors didn’t let them rest there long. Lamia was the first to be taken, small enough and light enough that the man who took her only had to flip her over and tuck his arms under her body to haul her right up into his arms. Lamia’s breasts and her sugar-brown legs shook from the force of being taken so roughly, the gold brace around her chest struggling to protect her modesty. The gangster held Lamia by her bare thighs and by one of slim, silky shoulders, pressing her hard against his chest, keeping her slinky figure entirely under his control. But her head dropped, loose, dark lips slightly open, neck curling backwards over the fulcrum of her captor’s arm; thick, black hair sinking towards the floor. Even knocked out there was an air of provocative sensuality about her, and the man holding her delighted in the feeling of her skin against his hands, of her snake-hipped femininity against his body. Unlike his fellows, Gangster C was quite able to put out of his mind the reason that Lamia and the others had been captured in the first place.

The same man who’d bound Hypatia, Gangster B passed her by this time, making a show of having no feelings whatever towards any of their captives. He took Freebird instead, finding to his displeasure that he wasn’t strong enough to do with her what his friend had done with Lamia. Straining himself, he lifted Freebird by the waist, bringing her nearly back up to her feet before letting her drop over his shoulder. Her body was exceptionally flexible, and she nearly bent double as he folded her over himself. She was slim, and springy, and even though she was unconscious it felt like every muscle in her was ready to snap into action at a moment’s notice. The man holding Freebird was not particularly trying to grope her, but with one hand on her bare legs and another on her rear, he couldn’t help but notice the astonishing tautness of Freebird’s body. She was slim and feminine, but her body felt like it had been sculpted from clay, then fired to perfect hardness. Her legs were beautifully, perfectly toned. Her backside was so prominent, such a flawless admixture of hardness and softness - the product of years of tireless conditioning - that without meaning to he found his fingers curling against Freebird’s small, lycra shorts to get a better feel, finding the flesh beneath to be tight and springy, and he had a puerile urge to smack it. He only didn’t because he felt so ridiculous.

Finally, Hypatia. Though the man carrying Freebird felt uncomfortable at what he was doing, he hadn’t felt bad – not so with the third of Pataky’s men. Something about the way Hypatia looked – her white skin, her forlorn expression – made him feel sympathetic. He had an intense awareness of his own immorality, and how it deepened with every moment he spent in Patáky’s employ. He knew that the woman lying at his feet was an honest one, that she was the genuine article, superheroically speaking, and that there was no conceivable justification for taking her life. But this knowledge would not motivate him to betrayal. All he could do was try to ignore it.

Yet Hypatia’s aspect demanded gentleness, and so he gave it to her. Very carefully, he turned Hypatia onto her back, then slipped his hands underneath her. She shifted obediently under his touch, as easily as leaves being moved about on the surface of a stream. He put one hand under the small of her back, another under her thighs, and slowly lifted her into his arms. For a woman as tall as she was, Hypatia was surprisingly light, allowing herself to accede quietly to her captor’s whims. With his hand on Hypatia’s back, instead of supporting her shoulders, much of her upper body dipped back over the arm supporting her. Her head fell back so far that her captor had to crane his neck to see her face. Her red hair trailed softly almost to the floor. Her neck was outstretched as far as it would go, slender, smooth and vulnerable, the tautness forced on it by Hypatia’s posture unwittingly displaying the artisanal elegance of her body. With the slightly unnatural serenity of her lovely face, the prayerful clasping of her slim, bound hands, and the marble whiteness of her limbs, Hypatia did not seem wholly real. Holding her was like holding a painting of a woman. Destroying her would make of these men not just murderers, then, but iconoclasts.

All three were brought into the garage. All three were taken further, to a small, emptied out room that had once been an office, that now contained nothing but an old couch, marked with cigarette burns. All three were sat down on this couch, propped up against each other with Lamia in the centre, Hypatia and Freebird’s fair faces falling onto one of Lamia’s warm, bare shoulders.

Their abductors now bound them more securely, wrapping the same thin, white cords around their ankles that already bound their wrists, creaking against the material of Hypatia and Lamia’s boots, and pressing visibly against Freebird’s skin. This done, Patáky’s men took the length of rope that trailed from each heroine’s wrists, and ran it between their legs, looping it around the ropes binding their ankles, keeping their hands secured to their laps, forcing onto them a prim, meek passivity. They rested sweetly against each other’s bodies, as if trying to offer comfort, to distract their fellow captives from the brute fact of their helplessness.

Their captors were enchanted by this sight for a little longer than they ought to have been, long enough that their prisoners began to show signs of stirring.
“Fuck,” expressed the general sentiment. If any of the three woke up, especially Freebird, they were for it, ropes or no ropes. But they weren’t fools: they’d come prepared.
In the centre of the room, they placed three large, steel canisters, turning them so that their nozzles were facing the three women. They unscrewed the valves, letting loose a sharp, cold hiss, the first wave of pressure high enough that it brushed a few hairs away from Lamia’s face. Covering their mouths with their sleeves, the three men retreated before the gas began to affect them, not only shutting and locking the door behind them, but covering the gaps of the doors with a thin, foamy sealant to stop the gas from leaking out. There was, also, a small window through which they could view the three heroines – just in case.

“Why are we doing this?” asked Gangster A.
“They’re our enemies,” replied Gangster B. “Just because they’re women, just because they’re pretty, that doesn’t mean anything.”
“No. Idiot,” said Gangster A. “Not what I meant. Why haven’t we just killed them?”
“Red Fang and Cacophony are out of action. That only leaves Buzzsaw and Blue Bacchus. If they show up, they’re weak enough that we can just – you know, kill them. Our orders are to wait two hours to see if they’ve tailed us here. If not, then we just shoot those three,” he concluded, inclining his head towards Hypatia and the others. He didn’t quite find the courage to look at them.
A didn’t seem very satisfied with B’s answer, but he shut up at the mention of ‘orders.’ C kept his eyes on the ground. He didn’t want to be drawn in, in case they suspected that he was feeling bad about the capes. He didn’t need that kind of aggravation. Yet there was part of him that hoped they had been tailed. If a fight broke out, perhaps their prisoners would die in the crossfire, and C wouldn’t have to murder them himself.
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Re: The Perils of Valora Finale: Rat Bites Dog Bites Man

Post by Damselbinder »

Half an hour passed. The gas that had seemed colourless at first was saturated to the point that a faint, pink hue hung in the air of the room in which the three heroines had been sealed, along with a faint, sweet scent. It hung heavy in the air, heavier and heavier with every moment. So when Freebird awoke, she could not at first make sense of where she was, nor what had happened to her. All she remembered was Lupus screeching at her, then the shock of the trap that had overpowered her, and then darkness.
“Where… am I?”

Maria lifted her eyes, heavily. She raised her head, heavily. She tried to stand, heavily, but lightly she fell back against the couch on which she rested.
“Unh…” She was panting, the merest effort exhausting to her. She couldn’t focus, couldn’t think properly. Everything was hazy, jumbled. It was only when she tried to raise her hands to waft this strange pink mist away from her face, and felt a sharp pinch against her wrists and her ankles, that she realized what had happened to her.
“I’ve been captured…”

She tried to shake herself awake, tried to find enough adrenaline to return some clarity to herself, but it wouldn’t come. She shifted about, pulling on the bonds around her wrists, hearing them squeak and groan against the rubbery, wetsuit-like material of her costume. She strained as hard as she could, pulling not only with her arms, but lifting and stretching her legs, normally so lithe and so strong, hoping at least to snap the cord connecting her wrists to her ankles. But she could not find one one-hundredth of the force that this would have taken. After a few seconds, she had expended what little strength she had, and she sank again against the couch. She might have passed out again, had she not heard another sound on her left.

The voice was as light and gentle as spring rain. It could not have belonged to anyone but Cecily, and Maria’s heart sank as she remembered that Lupus had ensnared both of them. She turned her head, and saw Cecily, but saw Lamia sitting between them, still unconscious, dark, long-lashed eyes still, and shut. Cecily didn’t look that much more awake, though.
“Are you… alright?” Cecily asked. Her eyelids were quivering, fluttering, as Cecily hung on the very precipice of wakefulness. “Have they hurt you?”
It took Maria a few seconds to have the energy to reply.
“No,” she said, though it still came out as a whisper. “You?”
“I don’t think so,” Cecily replied. “But I… I feel so weak... I can’t use my powers… I can barely… barely even move…” She looked down at her bound hands, trying the ropes and being instantly defeated by them. She looked so forlorn. Maria wanted to hold her, to comfort her. But Lamia was still between them. She might as well have been a concrete wall.

They were silent for a little while, each trying to regather a little strength. But if anything, they only felt worse the longer they waited. Fearing that she might lose consciousness again, Maria tried to summon her own powers, but they would not answer her call.
“I can’t… I – I can’t…” she mumbled. “It’s not… it’s not just that I’m weak, it’s… it’s like a block.” It was a sensation that only a superhuman could have understood. It was all the more frightful, all the more galling, for the gulf between her full strength and what she’d been reduced to. “Even like this,” Maria thought, “even with my new power, they still… took it away… they still caught me…”

“The gas,” Cecily said. “It’s not just to make us drowsy… it… muffles everything… muzzles it. Makes… hard to think… impossible to fight…” She wasn’t articulate enough to explain that she’d been dosed with this stuff before, when she’d been kidnapped by the woman pretending to be Shatterqueen.
“Then… we’re helpless?” Maria asked. She wanted the answer to be ‘no’. She wanted Cecily, in whose leadership she put such total faith, to have a strategy, to reveal she had a trick up her sleeve. But what could one do, absent all power? Cecily made no answer, and Maria saw and knew well the look on her face, the guilt of a commander at the end of a losing battle.

The two fell silent again. In the misty, hothouse darkness of their confinement, one could hear quiet creaks as the two fought with what strength they could against the ropes keeping them bound, and endured defeat after defeat after defeat. Only this broke the thick silence, that and a quiet chorus of maidenly whimpers, soft, somnolent, and powerless. Sometimes these whimpers were from the effort of trying to escape. Sometimes they were completely reflexive. Sometimes it was because, in the humiliation of their weakness, Cecily and Maria just wanted to hold each other.

As meagre as these efforts were, the light jostling of the two fair captives either side of her did, after a few minutes, begin to stir Lamia as well.
“Christ,” she muttered. “What… happened to me?” She began squirming, rolling her silky shoulders as she struggled without even quite being aware of what she was struggling against. “Why… why am I tied up…? H-hey… someone help! Someone… someone… oohhhnnn…” She had tried too much too fast and was swiftly overcome. Her dark eyes rolling upward, Vanessa fell against Cecily, almost yielding up her consciousness completely.

“Lamia,” Cecily said, nudging her comrade with her shoulder to stir her. “Try to stay awake. Can you… can you hear me?”
“What… the fuck is going on?” Vanessa said, more than half asleep, rubbing her face against Cecily’s neck like she was snuggling against a pillow.
“Patáky’s men have captured us,” Cecily said. “We need to—”
“No, I know that,” Vanessa said, again sounding less like a forlorn captive and more like someone irritated to have been woken an hour early. “Just wondering… why they haven’t killed us already… is all…” She passed out again, leaving her words ringing in her comrades’ ears.
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Re: The Perils of Valora Finale: Rat Bites Dog Bites Man

Post by Damselbinder »

Blue Bacchus had not become a superhero because he was a brave man. He had become a superhero because he was a coward, and he was trying to force his cowardice out of himself. Despite his educated airs, he knew that he wasn’t actually all that clever, or handsome, or good. He knew that his parents had spoiled him, and that people tended not to like him very much – other than those he found uncomfortably similar to himself. He’d hoped that meeting danger often, which he did more than ever under Hypatia, would make a better person of him. But it had only made things worse.

But he kept trying, and to the others he seemed no less courageous than any of the rest of them. He had acquitted himself admirably in the battle that had wounded Red Fang and Cacophony, and Hypatia had made sure to tell him so afterwards. She, actually, did quite like him, but because she was reserved and quiet, Bacchus didn’t realize this. He’d taken it personally, therefore, when Hypatia had told him not to go with her and Freebird into Patáky’s base when things had gone badly, even though she really and truly was just keeping him in reserve in case something went wrong. Which it had.

Bacchus had pursued Hypatia’s captors all the way to their headquarters, not using his powers – which didn’t help him move quickly – but in his ’88 Chevy. This very fact almost thwarted his pursuit just by itself. He’d kept a careful distance – but too careful. If he’d stopped them in the middle of Portland, or if he’d confronted them as they pulled up to this garage, he’d have had a much better chance at rescuing his comrades. But now they were entrenched. Now there were five or six other men with them, guarding their base, all heavily armed. And here was Bacchus, with the ability to make water move about a bit. Buzzsaw hadn’t come with him – she’d stayed with Red Fang and Cacophony to make sure no-one tried to off them as they convalesced. The situation for Patáky’s gangsters was even more favourable than they had suspected. Bacchus was alone.

The best way to treat the situation, he thought, was just to assume he was going to die. If he did that, then he might be able to find the courage actually to go in and make the rescue. There were things he could do: his powers weren’t destructive, but they were flexible. If he focused hard enough, he’d be able to burst the pipes in the building, distracting them enough that he could rush in, maybe free Hypatia and co. from their confinement before he got shot in the back. That would be something, wouldn’t it? A fitting final entry in the story of Blue Bacchus: not a well-read story, but a good one. Probably. Sort of. A bit.

He was about two-hundred metres away from the garage. He had circled it, at a distance, three times, and determined that the south entrance, which led into an alleyway, was the best point of approach, because it was too narrow for his enemies’ numbers to give them an immediate advantage. As he approached, he muttered ‘I’m going to die’ to himself, over and over, not as an expression of fear but as a litany against it.

He got into position. He’d pressed himself against the southmost wall of the garage, keeping himself just out of sight of the guard of the nearest entrance. He sidled along, creeping as slowly and as carefully as he could. His heart was beating so loudly that he couldn’t believe he hadn’t been heard yet. He tried to calm himself down: his powers required good concentration at the best of times. He stretched out his senses, allowing himself to feel every droplet of water within a three-hundred metre radius: the water that flowed through the pipes on the street; the water running in little rivulets in the earth beneath their feet; the water in the bellies of his enemies. Any of it was his to command, but not all of it. He could marshal perhaps four per-cent of the water he could feel at any one time, and despite his best efforts, he hadn’t made himself measurably more powerful since he was seventeen. Directing his focus as usefully as he could, he sent his will into the pipes of the building. He could even, very limitedly, sense what was in proximity to the water he was controlling. But all he could feel was that there were some people near the pipe – not how many, or how well armed they were, or whether Hypatia, Lamia and Freebird were still alive.

God, they could – god, they could be murdered any moment, couldn’t they? Jesus what had he been doing? Why had he waited for even a second? He had – he had to go in now! Before – and what if they – before killing them what if – no, no, no, he had to save them, had to try anyway. Had to – oh god, why was he so frightened? Why wasn’t he like the others?

We should admire Bacchus for fighting against the worst aspects of his nature. We should not, however, necessarily admire his tactical acumen. In his battle against his cowardice, he had completely forgotten about his actual plan, such as it was and, broiling with the nearest thing to courage that he could muster up, he was about to round the corner and just charge. But he didn’t get even that far.

A hand closed around his shoulder, and all the bravery he’d gathered up evaporated. He didn’t turn around. He couldn’t. He knew he was about to die, and he didn’t want to see it happen. Just a quick pop to the back of his head. That wouldn’t be so bad, would it? Couldn’t they just get on with it? Couldn’t they just get it over with?
“Hey. You’re with Hypatia, right?”
Bacchus didn’t answer.
“Is she inside?”
“…yes? D-didn’t you know that?”
“Hm? Oh, no, not for sure. Thanks, pal.” They relaxed their grip. “You hang back. This shouldn’t take long.”
“Wh—” When Bacchus turned around, they were gone. For a moment he thought he’d imagined the entire thing.

Then he heard the explosion.
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Re: The Perils of Valora Finale: Rat Bites Dog Bites Man

Post by Damselbinder »

Milo was smoking. It was his third cigarette in the last twenty minutes, but only because he kept stubbing them out after puffing on them a couple of times. He was sitting with his feet on his desk, arranged so that there was a large window immediately behind him, giving John Mann, sat opposite, a view of nothing in particular. This latest HQ was in the town of Mexico, a fact of which Milo had made much mirth, and it was not a particular attractive part of the world. But it was sufficient.
“Well?” Milo said, grinning. He seemed to think it was obvious what he wanted.
“Well what?” John eventually prompted.
“How was she?”
“You mean Lupus?”

John waited a long time before answering. He was trying to think of a way to spin it to make her sound less effective than she’d really been.
“Well, she won,” John said, “but you already knew that. Marshall says… her attitude wasn’t the greatest. Wasn’t easy getting her to cancel her powers.”
“But she did it, didn’t she? Yielded up her abilities when so ordered?”
“…Yeah, she did.”
“Well then, uh… what’s the expression… ‘job’s a good’un’, no?” His mood had been bright all day. It was unnerving.
John covered his face with one hand. He hadn’t slept well. He didn’t imagine he’d sleep well that night, either.

“This is going to blow up in our faces. Badly.” John didn’t altogether notice, but he had never spoken so directly or so brusquely to Milo before. “I know we’ve threatened her family. I know she’s scared of us. But she don’t strike me as someone who gets more rational under pressure. Sometime soon she’s gonna snap, and it’s gonna be a fuckin’ disaster. She’s a liability.”

“Faint heart never won fair maid, John,” Milo replied, unperturbed by John’s verging on insubordination. “Come now. The venture’s only just started, and it’s been a tremendous success so far. Her very first action in the field, and Hypatia’s already been vanquished. What more do you want?” He stubbed out his cigarette again, took out another one, offered it to John, then lit it and stuffed it in his mouth before John could answer. “I know,” he said, swishing the cigarette around in his mouth like a lollipop stick, “that the current status quo can’t stand. But it needn’t. Give it a little time, and we can relax the threats. She’ll be a loyal member of the family.”
“That is never going to happen. She fuckin’ hates us. She should hate us! We stuck her in solitary confinement with an IV drip in her arm for a whole month. If I was her I’d have already turned on us. Fuck, I might have asked Hypatia for help, and the more I think about it the more I gotta think we are real lucky that didn’t actually happen.”

For the first time during their conversation, Milo seemed to notice what John was saying.
“Do you know what your problem is?” he asked.
“What?” John replied, failing to hide his impatience.
“You’re strong. A real ironclad, grim, hard-nosed roughie. Testicles the size of medicine balls and so on.”
“My point, John,” Milo said, “is that there is a vast, cavernous gulf between someone like you, and someone like Lupus. It’s not just that she’s irrational. It’s that she’s weak. Weak like a chocolate bunny in the midday sun. You could tell that from the moment you met her, I’d wager.”
“I guess.”
“Of course you could. But you still find it difficult to imagine how she’ll act under pressure, because her form of life is so alien to you. You’d never countenance working for people who’d done to you what we’ve done to her. You’d look us dead in the eye and spit in our faces and make it so that we just had no choice but to kill you.” He leaned forward over his desk. His eyes flashed. “But Lupus is different. She’s terrified. You can tell from every word that comes out of her mouth. She wants a protector, whether she knows it or not. She’ll latch onto us, if she hasn’t already, as long as we offer her a little succour, and as long as we never let her forget how frightened she really is.”

John didn’t answer. He felt that Milo was talking complete bullshit – in fact he was certain of it. But he couldn’t quite articulate why. Worse, he had a sense that Milo didn’t believe it either. That he was playing some kind of game. A game with John? With Lupus? With himself?

Milo stood up, turned to face the window. It was a simple enough action, if a little dramatically done, but something about it made John feel like he was being goaded.
“Have you ever looked at a woman, John? I mean really looked?”
John had to resist the urge to throw up his hands and walk out of the room.
“What do you mean, boss?” he asked, wearily.
“I don’t know if it’s like this for you,” Milo replied. “But for me looking at a woman is like looking into a void. It’s like looking into the night sky – or what the night sky would be without any stars. Visible, but… meaningless. Uninterpretable. I’ve known as many women in my life as the ordinary person, I suppose, but – it’s a blank. It’s sort of frightening. It’s also very, very funny, I think.”

John was perplexed. I mean, firstly he was perplexed because Milo was rambling in this half-sane fashion in the first place, but he was also perplexed because Milo seemed to be directly contradicting himself. First, he gives a fairly convincing analysis of Lupus’ character and the way that she was likely to behave. Then he says that every woman he’s ever met is a complete blank to him. It was, momentarily, baffling – until John had an unpleasant presentiment.
“Mr Patáky,” he said, “we’re not talking about Lupus anymore, are we?”
“No John,” Milo replied. “We’re not.” He turned around. “Aren’t you going to get that?”

John’s phone was, indeed, ringing. He picked it up, unnerved by the fact that he’d needed Milo to point it out to him.
“What?” he barked, feeling no particular need to disguise his impatience to his inferiors. “Slow down, motherfucker, I don’t speak ‘panicky-hamster’. E-nunciate.”
His underling obeyed. It didn’t take long for him to convey the substance of the message. In fact, all he really needed was a single word.
“Oh, Jesus,” John said. “Oh, Jesus Christ!” He hung up. “Milo - Milo we’ve got a really big fucking problem!”

Yet Milo already seemed to know. He was shaking – quivering like he was having a seizure. He’d crossed his arms tightly across his chest, and his cigarette was burning a hole in his jacket. His jaw was locked shut like he was suffering from tetanus, and he was looking John dead in the eye with such mania that John physically recoiled. When he opened his mouth, John thought he was crying in distress. It wouldn’t have been a temperate reaction, but at least it would have made sense. But he wasn’t crying. He was laughing at the top of his lungs. He was screeching with wild mirth, suddenly snapping out of his rictus stillness and collapsing in his chair, pointing at John and now laughing at him, his yellowing eyes wet with tears.
“Milo!” John pleaded. “Milo, what the fuck? Snap out of it!”
“I-I-I’m sorry!” Milo gasped. “It’s just-it’s just – the look on your face! You’re s-s-so frightened! You’re so frightened of her! Even you! It’s – it’s—” He couldn’t keep it together and collapsed back into a fit of hysterics.
For the first time in his life, John felt helpless.

She bounced lightly on her toes, like a boxer getting ready for a bout. She popped the joints in her neck, then each knuckle. She felt creaky: it had been a minute since she’d done this sort of thing. For that reason, she was a little nervous, but more than that she was excited. She didn’t get off on danger, exactly, but she never felt more herself than when she was using her powers.

She paced up and down on top of the roof of the building. She wished she had a little more information: knowing where exactly the gangsters were keeping their captives would have been helpful. But she couldn’t pussyfoot around. Every moment wasted was another in which their lives were further in jeopardy. There was part of her that wanted to relish this return, to showboat and have some real fun with it – but now wasn’t the time for that. Her powers could be grand, and sometimes that was helpful. But now she needed them to be simple, and brutal.

So she stretched, made sure that she was as limber as she was going to be. Then simply, and brutally, she stomped down on the masonry beneath her feet, and collapsed much of the roof over her enemies’ heads.

This first blow had already taken down two of the gangsters, and had killed most of the lights, leaving the others so startled that they didn’t understand what was happening. One of them had the presence of mind to realize that he and his fellows were under attack, and he wheeled around, brandishing his weapon as threateningly as he could. But before he could even find a target to shoot, the weapon was plucked out of his hand, tied roughly into the shape of a pretzel, and then used to club him over the head.

The next man to fall was the one who had carried Lamia into their lair. He actually fired, and though he didn’t hit any of his companions, the muzzle flash in the sudden darkness made them even more disoriented. They all thought him a fool – but he’d actually hit his target twice. It just hadn’t done anything. Certainly he thought he’d missed, right up until his target closed in on him and hit him so hard she cracked his sternum in three places.

Only now was there some kind of co-ordination, and the guards rushed in from outside, torches helping the remaining men to encircle their attacker and trap her(!). None of them intended to pause. They were just going to shoot – I mean, why not, right? The problem was, once there was light on her, they could see her. And once they could see her, they all recognized her.

She wasn’t dressed as she usually was. Her leotard looked different, simpler than the one she normally wore. Her cape was a different colour, her knee-high boots a darker than usual shade of red. Even her mask wasn’t quite the right shape. But there was no mistaking her. She was tall, proud, strength seeming to come off her in waves. Her body was thrillingly, astonishingly feminine. her bosom high, shapely, and overflowingly feminine. Her torso swept from strong shoulders to high, shapely, womanly, gorgeously buxom breasts, down to a tapered, dramatically curvy waist. Her legs were long, soft and pleasingly substantial, but with hints of tone that suggested the true power that lay within her beauty. Her eyes were grey-blue, but seemed to flash brighter in certain lights. Her hair was long, wavy, flowing and bouncy, the colour of finespun gold. Hers was the kind of beauty that would have sat just as well in a pin-up poster as in a Renaissance painting, and it and she demanded respect. From these men in particular, it demanded terror.
“Valora,” one of them whispered.
“Absolutely right,” she replied. “Now shoot!”

They obeyed. All at once they squeezed their triggers, emptying their clips at the woman standing in their midst. Bullet after bullet slammed into her, leaving little tears in her costume, but bouncing harmlessly off her skin. It was not painless, and Valora’s teeth were gritted as the bullets stung at her – but stinging was all they could do. When her enemies had expended their ammunition, she did not have so much as a welt.
“Now run!” she commanded. She was obeyed.

She stood in place for a few seconds. She was shaking a little, which never normally happened to her even after a hard fight, which this had not been. She’d just become unused to being shot at, she supposed. She looked at her hands, flexed and unflexed them. She felt strong. It was a good feeling.

Too good?

Hard to say.

Valerie next attended to the men she’d knocked out, cuffing them to nearby railings and so on, intending just to leave them for the police. She checked the perimeter, making sure that there were no sneaks waiting to ambush her. Once this was done, she realized she’d run out of ancillary tasks, and there was nothing else to do but to open the door to the room where Hypatia and the others were being kept. This would be the hard part.

She covered her mouth when she opened the door, as there was a rush of a threatening sweetness when she prised the door open, the sealant no match for even a fraction of her strength. But she was in little danger from the drug – it had dissipated enough now that there wasn’t much chance of it making her feel more than a bit light-headed. She walked inside, and found three women, all sleeping now, vanquished by the mist that hung about their helpless bodies. Among them were two familiar faces.

Valerie had kept abreast enough of events in Portland that she’d known to expect Maria as well as Cecily, but it was still weird seeing them both together again. Rescuing them again. All the shit that had happened, and it had all looped right round on itself again. Thank Christ for the lady between them, whoever she was. If it had been Maiden-America sitting there Valerie probably would have turned and left.

She strode in, easily but carefully snapped their bonds, letting them fall limp against each other.
“Okay,” she muttered. “How am I gonna actually do this?” Their weight would be easy enough to bear, but where on her person could she actually… fit them? Her shoulders weren’t that broad. She supposed she’d just sort of have to… pile them on.

Slowly, she took the stranger first, placing her curvy figure over her left shoulder: a warm, soft, and easy burden. Maria next, her athletic body slipped over Valerie with as much dignity as she could muster. Finally, Cecily, and Valerie found herself reticent to touch her. She didn’t want her to wake up – didn’t want to deal with her reaction to seeing Valerie again. Not after the last time Cecily had seen her. But needs must, and necessity made Valerie take the slender redhead, and drape her svelte body across her shoulder as well, almost lying completely on top of Maria.

When Bacchus saw this legendary superwoman emerge from the hideout with his comrades unconscious, but safe, over her mighty shoulders he fell to his knees from sheer relief. Certainly he was pleased that Valora had returned to Portland. She felt the same, she supposed.
She just wished it was that simple.

“Cecily? Cecily, can you hear me?”
There could scarcely have been a sweeter awakening. When she had succumbed at last to the gas, Cecily had been a bound prisoner, and one awaiting a cruel and imminent death. Now she found herself untied, lying on a bed instead of a shabby couch, with her lover’s voice and touch carefully urging her to wakefulness.

“Maria?” Cecily sat up, trying to brush away the haze from her eyes. “How…?”
Maria was indeed sitting at her bedside, hands clasped around one of Cecily’s. It looked like they were in a motel room – cheap, but clean.
“How long have I been asleep?” Cecily asked.
“I’m not sure,” Maria replied. “Only fifteen minutes longer than me.”
“Oh… I see. Is Lamia alright?” She tried to get up, but wooziness stopped her, and Maria had to ease her back down onto the bed.

“She’s fine,” Maria said. “Everyone’s okay. Which is something I am very, very relieved to be able to say.” She squeezed Cecily’s hand tighter. “I thought we were going to die, Cecily.”
“Yes,” Cecily replied. “Yes…” It was only now that she realized how afraid she’d been, and she covered her eyes with one hand. “Would it be selfish of me to ask for a hug?” She heard a soft laugh, and then felt arms around her. She tucked her head under Maria’s chin, nestled closely against her. She felt small, in a nice way.

When Cecily withdrew, she’d become a bit more cognizant, and a very obvious question suggested itself to her.
“How did we escape?” Cecily asked. “Did you—?”
But Maria shook her head.
“Bacchus and Buzzsaw, then?”
“Bacchus is here, but it wasn’t them either. It was… I suppose it was a miracle.”
Before Cecily could ask what Maria meant, the door opened, and Vanessa walked in, wearing streetclothes, and carrying two Styrofoam cups.

“Oh good,” she said. “You’re up. You’re a heavy sleeper for such a slip of a thing.” She walked in, smiling, handed one of the cups to Cecily. “Sweet tea,” she explained. “Now drink up. Oh go on,” she said, when Cecily hesitated. “What are you, English? It’s not like I just gave you the deed to my house. Drink!”
Cecily had not hesitated out of misapplied social graces, however. She had hesitated because she had seen a fourth woman enter the room.

She, too, was dressed in streetclothes, but that only made her reappearance feel all the stranger. It meant that she didn’t quite look how Cecily pictured her in her mind’s eye, and so it didn’t quite seem like she was really there. Cecily had almost forgotten just how striking her old comrade’s appearance was, and so she was doubly caught off guard.
“Hi, Cecily,” Valerie said.
“Hello, Valerie,” Cecily replied. Valerie couldn’t tell if she sounded tentative, or cold.
“I uh… think we need to talk, yeah?”
“Yes,” Cecily replied. “I rather think we do.”
In fact, neither of Valerie’s potential reads of Cecily’s emotions had been correct. She wasn’t being tentative, and she wasn’t being cold.
She was afraid.
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Re: The Perils of Valora Finale: Rat Bites Dog Bites Man

Post by Damselbinder »

The Perils of Valora 5-4: “I Said Nope”

Lupus made no further trouble for her handlers on the ride back. There was no cursing. There was no grousing. There were no swear words. When they introduced her to her new digs, which could be with some imagination described as ‘modest’, she made no complaint about the peeling wallpaper, the smell of disinfectant, the blinking lightbulbs. She just went into the bedroom, squeezed herself between the small bed and the ugly wall, and sat there, hugging her knees.

“What’s her problem?” The man asking was Terrence, one of two that Patáky had assigned to keep watch over Lupus. The leash had been lengthened, but a leash it remained.
“I don’t know,” Marshall said. “She saw something that freaked her out. I doubt if it matters very much. Just keep an eye on her, make sure she doesn’t do anything stupid, okay?”
“Fine. How’d the operation go?”
“Swell. Our friend did some good work today.”
“So Hypatia’s dead?”
“Far as I know.”
“Huh. Good.”

It was all a bit anticlimactic. To their knowledge, Lupus’ victory had destroyed the last of Patáky’s serious opposition. Most of his criminal rivals had been subjugated or chased off. Neither of them were in any doubt that it was a good thing, but it was a little like hopping off the boat at Normandy Beach only to discover that Herr Hitler had had an overnight change of heart and surrendered. A good thing, but it made one feel a little surplus to requirements.

“So, what now?” Terrence asked. “What are we gonna do about the other capes?”
“No orders yet,” Marshall replied. “If I know Mr Patáky, he’s not gonna want nothing too drastic. Without Hypatia and uh… the new one, the black girl with the energy powers, we can maybe go back to just ignoring them. Probably just get themselves killed or give up now: they were never a threat to us before.”
“So if Hypatia’s dead—”
“She’s not dead.”

Neither Marshall nor Terrence had expected Lupus to join their conversation. Terrence scowled, and move towards Lupus – with a clenched fist. But Marshall stopped him with a look.
“What do you mean?” Marshall asked. He stepped halfway into the bedroom.
“Actually let me take it back,” Lupus said. There was no detectable emotion in her voice. “She might be dead, but you need to hope and pray that she isn’t.”
“Because if Valora got to Hypatia in time, there is no way in hell your goon squad fought her off. And if she didn’t get to Hypatia in time, then we’re probably all dead.”
“Valora?” Terrence interrupted. “I thought you killed her.”
Lupus made no reply.
“Well if you didn’t kill her, where’s she been?”
“You tell me, cunt; I’ve been in a cage for the last month.”

The two gangsters stepped away.
“There’s no way,” Terrence said. “She’s just trying to spook us. Make us – I don’t know, give her more powers or something.”
“It’s not a trick,” Marshall replied. “She might be nuts, but she’s not lying. She saw Valora, or thought she saw her anyway, and she was scared out of her mind.”
“Out of her mind is right. This is horseshit.”

Then Marshall’s phone rang.

Valerie tried to imagine how she’d have felt in Cecily’s position. The last time the two had seen each other, Cecily had been trying to stop Valerie from murdering someone. Then Valerie had swanned off to recuperate, and Cecily had been left to pick up the pieces. Had Cecily just told Valerie to leave she would have been well within her rights. Had she been angry, Valerie would have understood. But this… austere courtesy was difficult to deal with.

“Thank you,” Cecily said, once she had recovered from the immediate surprise of seeing Valerie’s face again. “Those ought to have been the first words out of my mouth. Forgive me,” she added, rising, Maria helping to support her since she was still a little woozy.
“What? Jesus. No. Nothing to forgive,” Valerie replied. “Can’t blame you for being startled.”
“Still,” Cecily said. She tried to recompose herself completely, to reset her emotions. She oughtn’t have been afraid. She should have been pleased. She forced a smile, and hoped it was convincing.
“How did you find us?” Maria asked. She knew all that Cecily knew, but to her it was second hand. She was delighted that Valerie had come back.

“I got back to Portland two days ago,” Valerie replied. “Been getting the lay of the land, trying to work out Patáky’s holdings and territories. Basically, I pick a face I know, one of his goons, I tail them across the city, and I take notes. One of them led me right to you guys. I would have interfered sooner, but until they arrived at that garage I didn’t even know they had you. ”
“Our lives do always seem to end up in your hands, don’t they?” Cecily said.
“You don’t owe me anything,” Valerie answered, quickly, “I owe you.”
Cecily tilted her head slightly. She had not expected Valerie to express such a sentiment. She expected – oh she didn’t know what she’d expected. Just not this. God, this was strange!
“Valerie,” Cecily began, but she was interrupted.
“Where have you been?”
It was Lamia.

“Vanessa, perhaps this is a conversation for another time,” Cecily said, but Lamia ignored her.
“I’m not saying you didn’t have your reasons, Valora,” Vanessa said. “Maybe they were very good reasons. Hypatia only told us that we shouldn’t blame you for your absence. But…” She swallowed. She had been so delighted to be rescued. So starstruck by the radiant beauty and grim, mighty bearing of this hero of heroes that the shock of what had happened to her hadn’t quite sunk in. “But… there are a lot of people like us who weren’t as lucky as we were. A lot of people could really have used your help.”
Valerie didn’t answer. With a downturned mouth, she just waited.

“I’m sure I’m being a complete bitch,” Vanessa said. “I’m sure I’m being completely unfair. But just the threat of you still being around would have stopped most of the violence we’ve had here in the last few weeks.”
“You know it doesn’t work like that,” Maria said. “Just because someone has a superpower… you can’t - you know what I mean.”
“I know,” Vanessa said. “I know – but… for whatever reason she decided to come back today. If she’d decided to come back yesterday, I imagine we’d never have been captured. If she’d decided to come back tomorrow, we’d be dead. I just… want to make sense of it!”

Valerie remained very still, her arms folded across her chest. She stared at Lamia, at this woman of whom she knew nothing who apparently knew enough of her to stand in some kind of judgement. She expected herself to be indignant – Maria and Cecily clearly feared she would be - but she wasn’t.
“I have nothing to say to you,” she eventually said. “Nothing that would matter to you, anyway.”
“You’ve just been through a horrible experience. Like you said, you almost died. If I’d been any later, you would have. What, I’m gonna blame you for being upset? In fact, let’s say right now I pull the perfect defence out of my ass. It wouldn’t matter to you now. You’d just feel worse. And, for the record,” she said, “I’m not indestructible.”

Vanessa wanted to keep arguing. She wanted to shout and scream, not so much because she was angry with Valora, but because she wanted Valora to rebut her. She did not have the same history with this superwoman that Cecily and Maria did – to her Valora was a living emblem of the power and splendour of their kind. She was a figure of authority, and Vanessa wanted her just to order her not to be angry, to tell her to shut her mouth and keep a stiff upper lip. But then Valora had actually spoken and… what do you know? She was a person. And Vanessa had probably hurt her feelings. She couldn’t even really apologize now, so she just looked down at the floor, cheeks burning. She might have stormed out of the room in tears if not for Maria.

“Hey,” Maria said. “Why don’t we get some air?”
Vanessa could only nod, and try not to look Valora in the eye as Maria led her out.
“Thank you,” Cecily mouthed as Maria passed her, lightly touching her hand. She was pleased when Maria and Vanessa had gone – it made things easier, in that it meant postponing the inevitable difficulty impossible.

Valerie sat down, resting one of her legs in a rough L-shape over the other. Opposite her, Cecily crossed her legs with neat, stately elegance.
“You look well,” Cecily said.
“Thanks,” Valerie replied. “You too.”

A pause.
“I hope you don’t misjudge Lamia,” Cecily said. “She’s a little choleric, but… nice, I think. I suspect, once she’s had a bit of time to process, you’ll be on the receiving end of a very forceful apology.”
Valerie smiled, crookedly.
“She wants to be mad at me, she can be. So can you, if you want.”
“I don’t. I’ve no reason to be.”
“Oh. Uh… good.”

The two women regarded each other closely. It was difficult to know how to talk, for they were not close friends; hardly friends at all. And yet because of what they’d experienced together, because of what Valerie had revealed of herself in Cecily’s presence, they were intimately connected.
“Your time away,” Cecily said, “was it… what you were hoping it would be?”
“I think so. It’s hard to be certain about stuff like that, but… yeah.” She drew a sharp breath in, sat up straighter. “Whatever I got out of it would have been impossible without you. Knowing you were here – if I’d had to come back sooner, if I hadn’t got my head on straight… well you saw me with Lupus. You know it would have been a disaster.”
Cecily didn’t answer.
“And this – this team you’ve put together. Jesus, that’s an achievement in itself. I would never have thought that was possible here. I sure as hell wouldn’t have thought of making it a union!”
“Thank you,” Cecily said, inclining her head slightly.
“So… I just…” Valerie frowned. Scowled, even. She locked eyes with Cecily, like she was trying to burn her sincerity straight into Cecily’s brain. “I have so much fucking respect for you, Cecily. I know you didn’t do all of this for me – I know you didn’t even mostly do it for me. But I’m grateful. Do you…?” She trailed off. Every word felt clumsy. She wished she didn’t feel like she had to say anything at all.

“Those are very kind words,” Cecily said. “I fear I’ve not handled things here quite as masterfully as you say, but… yes, I’ve certainly met with some success.” She tented her fingers. “To be honest, part of me is immensely relieved that you’ve returned. Patáky has me at my wit’s end. I’ve been working with the F.B.I. and even they’re struggling to pin anything on him.”
“You said ‘part of me’.”
“…Yes.” Cecily’s finely plucked eyebrows furrowed. “The other part of me is… concerned.”
“You’re frightened of me. Of what I might do.”
Cecily flinched. She’d forgotten how blunt Valerie could be.
“I wouldn’t have put it like that, but yes. I am.” It was not pleasant to say. From the look on Valerie’s face, she could tell that it was no more pleasant to hear.

“If it were anyone else,” Cecily said, “I would ignore these misgivings. It’s – it’s just your strength, you see. I—”
“The last time you saw me I was out of my mind,” Valerie said. “Madness and power are a bad combination. I… you know, I didn’t expect a ticker tape parade. I get it.”
“No, you don’t. I’ve been stupidly unclear. In many ways it’s wonderful to see you again. I’m delighted that you’ve found at least some of what you were searching for. And on top of all that, you saved me from being brutally murdered. You saved Maria. I should be falling at your feet in gratitude.”
To Cecily’s surprise, there was a small smile on Valerie’s face.

“Cecily,” she said. “This is a complicated situation. I am okay with that. I came back because I’m confident I can handle it. But you have a right to feel how you feel. Sure, I’d like it if you shared my confidence, because you’re a good person and I value your judgement. But I’m okay with you feeling how you do. After what you saw, after how I acted, after you had to stop me murdering someone – I mean I’d have to be some kind of moron to expect you not to be a bit conflicted. To say the least.”

Cecily was taken aback. She had heard Valerie be forthright, clear, respectful, commanding, curt, fierce – but never, exactly, kind. That this was within Valerie’s capacity wasn’t surprising. That it seemed now to come so naturally to her was. She would much rather have just ended the conversation here with a cheery ‘welcome back’ – but there was something she’d already put off for too long.
“Did Maria tell you how we were captured?”
“No. Why?”
There was no way to soften the blow. Cecily just had to say it.
“It was Lupus.”
Valerie didn’t speak for about thirty seconds. She looked not-quite-at Cecily, unblinking. She crossed her arms. For a few seconds it didn’t even look like she was breathing.
“Are you absolutely sure it was her?” Valerie said, looking up at the ceiling.
“Is this the first time you’ve seen her since I left?”
“Yes. Until today I had only… suspicions.”
Valerie nodded. She stood up, holding her hands behind her back. She went to the window, then folded her arms, then unfolded them, put the heels of her palms on the windowsill. She muttered a few swear words. When she turned around again, she looked perfectly calm, but for the fact that even when she looked at Cecily, she was looking through her.
“Tell me everything,” she said.

Cecily did as Valerie asked. She went back as far as her encounter with Lot, when she had first found out about Patáky’s organization collecting superhuman blood. Then her actual encounter, the belt Lupus had worn letting her swap between powers, the way she had reacted when Maria had offered her forgiveness.

Valerie took it all in, silently. She remained silent for a couple of minutes after Cecily was done, just cogitating.
“Valerie,” Cecily said, but hesitated before continuing. She wanted to put her question as neutrally as possible. “Would… knowing that Lupus is here have affected your decision to return?”
“I don’t know,” she replied.
“If you don’t want to face her again there’s no shame in that. She doesn’t have your powers anymore so—”
Suddenly Valerie stood up. For a moment Cecily thought she’d taken offence, but she didn’t seem angry.
“She doesn’t have my powers,” Valerie repeated. “… Huh.”
“What is it?”
“Nothing. Well, maybe something. I don’t know. I need to think.” Without another word, she walked out of the motel room.

Cecily stood up as Valerie left, but she didn’t pursue her.
“I didn’t handle that well,” she thought. “I ought to have apologized more for Vanessa. I ought to have been more grateful.” More than anything, she wished she didn’t have that anxiety in her stomach. She had not, she realized, been afraid of Valerie exactly – but she was still afraid that something bad was going to happen.
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Re: The Perils of Valora Finale: Rat Bites Dog Bites Man

Post by Damselbinder »

Boscoe was not quite what you would call an old man, but he was just past what you would call ‘middle-aged’, too. His hair, what was left of it, was white. His eyes were sunken. He didn’t stoop yet, but his large, long arms seemed to weigh him down. He had recently spent a short spell in prison, and that hadn’t done him any favours in the spring-in-his-step department. When John Mann showed up at his door, that didn’t do him any favours either.

“What the hell do you want?” Boscoe grunted.
“Oh, I’m sorry, bad time? You entertaining guests? Hosting a society ball or something? Man, let me the fuck in, I don’t got all day.”
Grumbling to himself, Boscoe assented.
His house was small, cold, and smelled strongly of damp. It was poorly lit by lamps with dirty shades, and there were marks in the wallpaper that looked very much like cigarette burns. Boscoe guided John into his living room, not so much out of hospitality as because that’s where he wanted to go anyway. He sat down on a shabby sofa, and directed the entirety of his attention towards his television. All John was left with was a folding chair, and even that had seen better days.

“Whatcha watching?” John asked, almost smiling. “Matlock?”
With weariness one might have expected from an Easter Island statue, Boscoe turned and scowled at his guest. He opened his mouth to speak, but was interrupted by a jolt of pain down his back.
“You okay?” John asked.
“No,” Boscoe replied. “That… cape who arrested me before, the redhead—”
“Whatever. She threw me on my ass and it fucked up my back.”
“You should have told me before,” John said. “I’d have sent flowers.”
“Go to hell.”
“For real, I would have lightened your duties.”
“You still haven’t answered my question,” Boscoe said. He was uncomfortable with John’s munificence – which had been part of the point of it. “What do you want?”

John’s smile vanished. He folded his arms, and met Boscoe’s scowl with one of his own.
“I need to speak to someone about the boss,” he said. “I need to understand something.”
“Mr Patáky?” Boscoe juddered in a way that vaguely suggested laughter. “You’re his number two, aren’t you? What could I know that you don’t?”
“You’ve been a triggerman for him since all he had to his name was a tiny-ass betting shop. I need… information about him.”
Boscoe inclined himself more in John’s direction.
“If I recall,” he said, “we’ve had a conversation like this before, haven’t we? I offered you my advice, and you told me where I could stick it.”
“I didn’t say I needed advice. I said I needed information.” He squirmed in his seat. He was in a… delicate position. “I don’t know how in the loop you are, but we’ve got good info that Valora’s back in town.”
“What, the superhero? Isn’t she dead?”
“Oh. You’re right. I forgot. Silly me, it slipped my mind. Man, I’m fucking telling you she’s not dead.”
Boscoe grunted.
“So? I sure hope you didn’t come here looking for information about her.”
“Not exactly. But…” Fuck it. For the sake of his own sanity he had to confide in someone.

“There’s something wrong with Mr. Patáky,” John said. “Like… I don’t know how, but it’s got something to do with Valora, ‘cause when he found out she was back he…”
“He started screeching and going apeshit? That’s how he is when he’s threatened. He was like that near every day during our feud with Novak.”
“No. He wasn’t like that at all. He was like… happy she was back. He was laughing like a maniac.”
“Oh.” Boscoe blinked. It was a heavy, creaky motion. “Okay. That is new.”
“Do you know any reason why he’d be like that? Why she’d make him go so nuts? Like… he got a phobia or something?”
“Not that I know of. Look, kid—”
“Don’t give me that shit. I’m thirty-two.”
“Okay. Fine. Look, adult, he was always a bit unstable. Maybe this is the moment for you to get while the going’s good. ‘Smart’ and ‘crazy’ are not a good combination to be around.”

It was not a bad suggestion. Why should John stay? Milo had been pretty good to him, but it wasn’t because of anything personal. John was, he believed, the best man for the job Milo had assigned him, and like any sensible employer Milo had cultivated his underling’s talents and rewarded his successes. John had made a hell of a lot of money already – give him three days and he could get something in the region of the low six-figures together and be on his way. Yes. Boscoe was right. He’d leave.
“I can’t leave,” he said.
“That’s not important. Not to you, anyway. I just want to know if you know any reason why Valora would be such a big fucking deal to the boss. Far as I know the only time they met Valora was unconscious. So what’s the deal?”
Boscoe shrugged.

“Mr Mann, I have absolutely no idea what the deal is.” He was tempted to leave it there, to just tell handsome John to be on his merry way – but there was something about him that made him… almost sympathetic. It wasn’t just his loyalty to Mr Patáky – that could be perfectly self-serving if read a certain way. It was that he actually seemed, to some extent, to care about their boss’ welfare.
“All I know,” Boscoe said, with a long, tired breath, “is that she had something to do with the death of your predecessor.”
“Valora did? Thought she was a face .”
“Oh, she didn’t kill him. But my understanding is that she featured somewhere in the chain of events that got James Oleander killed.”
John was sitting very still. Looking at Boscoe from underneath his brows.
“It was Milo who did it, right?”
“That’s what I hear.”
“Were they… close?”
Boscoe’s eyebrow went up.

“Oleander was in your position for years, so… yeah, I guess so. If you mean more than professionally, I don’t know if you’d call them friends. I think Milo sometimes liked to pretend that he fancied Oleander. Make all the tough-guys squirm for his own amusement. But I don’t know. Maybe it was a double bluff. What does it matter now?”
John had no answer as to why it mattered. He just knew that it did.
He got up.
“Thank you,” he said. “I don’t know if that’ll help, but… I don’t know. It might.”
“Drop round anytime,” Boscoe replied, with all possible sarcasm. “Think you can manage seeing yourself out?”
“I don’t know. Think you can manage getting through a sentence without being an asshole about it?”
Boscoe shrugged.
“Probably not.”

As John left, he felt pretty unsatisfied. He’d been hoping Boscoe might have had some sort of key, some crucial evidence that would allow John, Sherlock Holmes style, to figure everything else out with a nice, dramatic flourish. All he was left with was more ambiguity. The riddle of his employer’s madness, and of their deadly enemy – they were one problem. That he knew. For whatever reason, Milo was incapable of thinking clearly – or sanely – about her, or anything to do with her. There was even, he sensed, a logic that ran all the way through Milo’s sudden ambitions, his scheming, the expansion, his deluded scheme to ensnare Lupus, and his cackling insanity at the spectre of Valora. It wore many faces, but it was all one problem, like a Rubik’s cube. It all had to be solved together, or not at all. There were two things that John had to do if he was, at least, going to begin to solve it all. Firstly, he had to find some way of beating Valora, one of the most powerful superhumans in the world, without superhuman aid. In a way, that was the easier thing, because it didn’t mean going behind Patáky’s back. The second thing did, though.

He was going to kill Lupus.

Valerie supposed that she expected Portland to have changed in her time away. To feel different, at least. But she hadn’t even been gone long enough for the seasons to change. She walked familiar streets, sighted familiar sights, and wondered if she’d really left at all. If nothing had changed without, then maybe within… well. You can guess what she was thinking.

Actually, one thing had changed. The streets were less busy than normal for that time of night, especially on a Friday. Even the people who were about, even those revelling and making merry, looked a little nervous. Bouncers outside clubs were openly carrying handguns. A car backfired, and for a moment the entire street went silent. People were afraid.

Valerie wanted to spare them more of her thought. That would have been the superheroish thing to do. When her star had begun to rise, and the people of her city had started to be proud of their foremost hero, Valerie knew that part of the reason why people had attached to her. It was the same reason why police had been so eager to work with and so deferent to her. It was because, without particularly meaning to, she’d taken on the aspect of a hero of an older world. Simple powers. Simple outfit. Primary colours. Blonde. If you’d cobbled together a kind of cultural aggregate of the most famous and beloved American superheroines of the 40s, 50s and 60s, you’d have got something very much like Valora . It was not a bad thing to want someone to believe in, Valerie thought; not a thought it had particularly occurred to her to have before.

But there was no room in her feelings for the citizenry of Maine. If she were better, Valerie thought, if she were worthier of the manner in which people looked at her, there would have been. But there was one face in her mind’s eye, one laugh that she heard ringing in her ear, one grasping, greedy touch that she felt running all over herself like a blanket of ants. Lupus, who had captured her. Lupus, who was the only person to have bested her in single combat. Lupus, who had almost made a murderer of her.
That was pretty much the size of it, yes.

It had not escaped Valerie’s imagination, prior to returning, that it would be possible she would run into Lupus again. But in her mind she’d separated the issue of Lupus and the issue of Milo Patáky, and she was having difficulty reconciling the problem of facing both at once. Could they really have joined forces? It was… conceivable, at least. Lupus needed money. Patáky could benefit in all sorts of ways from a powerful superhuman in his employ. But as far as Valerie had been able to piece things together, Lupus had cheated Patáky by taking the payment for delivering Valerie to him, and then taking Valerie back anyway. Could Lupus have talked her way out of it? It didn’t seem likely. Even if she had… she’d have hated taking orders from anyone. It didn’t make sense.

As she walked, Valerie did something she’d not done before. She allowed herself to remember, as clearly as possible, the events of the worst day of her life. Everything, not just the battle with Lupus. Her father. Her stepmother. The blankness of the hours between that and Lupus. The fight, the defeat, the rescue, the rematch. She was, in a way, testing herself, and she was displeased to find that these memories still had a great deal of power over her. She felt herself sweating. She felt herself breathing harder. She felt her eyes stinging. She felt a vicious, animal anger. Lupus still had her claws in Valerie’s head.

But she kept at it. She wasn’t just torturing herself: she was trying to see if she could recall anything useful. What did she really know of Lupus? That she was unstable. That she was a sociopathic narcissist. That she had a puerile love of power, and of lording it over others. That she was violently irrational, to the point where she had pursued a grudge against Valerie for reasons that, even now, Valerie didn’t really understand. She was desperate. She was miserable. She detested herself.

Yes, Valerie was sure of that. But it wasn’t just because of all the circumstantial stuff: the fact that she’d killed Lance Van der Boek; the fact that she’d failed so badly as a superhero; all the litany of stupid, evil shit she’d done. It was because Lupus was an idiot. Valerie had tried more than once to work out how their brief interaction when she’d joined the Bombshells could possibly have made Lupus hate her so much – but the answer was that there was no answer. Valerie hated Lupus because of what she’d done. Lupus hated Valerie because of what she was. Or rather, what she was perceived to be.

Just like the citizens of Maine who thought of Valerie – of Valora – as a spotless champion because she’d accidentally slotted into a couple of evocative archetypes, Lupus saw Valora in the same way: as everything she was not. The way she’d spoken to Valerie when holding her captive, or what little of it that Valerie could remember, had swung wildly from hateful and insulting, to embarrassingly, artlessly complimentary. She’d coveted Valerie: coveted defeating her, coveted touching her, and had coveted her power. A power that she’d now given up. Now how the hell had she been persuaded to do that?

No. Enough of this. Enough of this fucking woman occupying space in her mind. She hadn’t come back for her. She didn’t want it to be about that. She didn’t want it to be ‘about’ anything. It wasn’t… therapy, and it wasn’t about giving herself a clear conscience. She was here because of him, because there was a problem to be dealt with that she could help to resolve. She was here because Cecily and Maria needed her assistance. She was here because she didn’t want Saskia and Piper to be driven out of their home because they were afraid. For so long everything had been about herself, about her own needs or failures. Even when it had been about her father it had been about herself. Perhaps that hadn’t been Valerie’s fault – but she still wanted nothing more of it. She’d told Cecily she could trust herself now, and she’d meant it.

“But you didn’t know about Lupus yet when you said that, did you?”
Struggling to get herself out of her own mind, Valerie looked for a distraction, and was grateful to find one when her phone twittered at her. She had a message: a single word.
Once she remembered the conversation of which this was a fragment, Valerie smiled. It was Saskia: her outburst had been in response to Valerie telling her what her plans were.
“Yes. Motel,” Valerie replied.
“I sent something to you. To your apartment. Little welcome back present. Assumed you’d be there.”
“Oh fuck, I’m sorry. That was really nice of you.”
“Got notification it was delivered. Maybe still there? Perishable, though.”
Valerie looked around to get her bearings. She wasn’t too far away from her old place.
“I’m close. I’ll swing by, see if it’s there.”
* * *

It felt a bit odd going back to her apartment. It was the nicest place she’d ever lived, including the three houses she’d lived in during her childhood. It had been a shame to lose it. She had left so suddenly she hadn’t even had a chance to pack up her stuff, calling her landlady to explain the situation, and to tell her she could help herself to Valerie’s deposit for the inconvenience. Seemed fair.

She knocked on the door. There was no answer. Either the new tenant was gone, or the landlady hadn’t had a chance to find a replacement. She looked at the floor for any signs of this package that Saskia had sent her, but there didn’t seem to be anything. Nothing, that is, except for a key – sticking out of the lock.

“Weird,” Valerie muttered. She knocked on the door again. “Hello?” she called. “Hey, if anybody’s in there you left the key in the lock!” Still nothing. “I’m coming in to make sure everything’s okay! If you’ve got a gun or something, then don’t shoot or… or this is gonna be a very weird night for you.”
She went in. The lights were off, and the air smelled cold, but like the cold had settled into the place. It hadn’t been lived in since Valerie had left.

“Hello?” she called out one more time, just in case, and was met with a definitive absence of reply. She switched on the lights - and was stunned by what she found.
Everything was there. All her furniture. Her throw pillows. Her tv. The photographs she’d hung on the walls. Even that stupid dreamcatcher that had been a birthday present from her father that she’d hung up out of sheer obligation. They’d gathered a bit of dust, but otherwise were completely unsullied. She went all about the apartment: her bathroom, her kitchen – her fridge had been cleaned out, but even that was a favour – and, finally, her bedroom. Everything there was the same too, even down to the half-arsed fashion in which she made her bed.

It didn’t make sense. It should have been emptied out. The best explanation was, presumably, that her landlady just hadn’t bothered moving the stuff out yet, but it was a nice apartment – leaving it fallow for a whole month seemed absurd. Bewildered, Valerie went back to the front hall to see if there was something she’d missed. There was a bunch of mail by the door, mostly junk, that she hadn’t noticed when she’d entered. Most of it looked like it had been there for a couple of weeks – but there was one small letter that looked newer.

Valerie picked it up, turned it over. No stamp, no address, just her name – it had been delivered by hand. She opened it, found a small note inside. It just read:
Because we love you,
S & P

Valerie read the note over again. Then a third time, a fourth, a fifth. She looked again in the envelope to see if there was anything else, some small gift to which the envelope was meant to be attached, not because she was ungrateful, but because the alternative – that Saskia and Piper had covered her rent while she was away without telling her, entirely out of their own pockets, just so she could have a home to return to when she came back to Portland, when they’d had no way of knowing how long she’d be away and how much in the end they’d have to pay for – was beyond Valerie’s comprehension. She genuinely could not imagine how anyone who was not unfathomably wealthy – which even combined Saskia and Piper were very far from being – would have been able to summon up the good-heartedness and generosity to do what they had done. Valerie thought, and she was right, that if the positions had been reversed, she would not have done the same thing. It wouldn’t even have occurred to her to do the same thing.

When she called Saskia, Valerie heard a carefully prepared list of justifications and modifications – they’d explained the situation to Valerie’s landlady, they hadn’t actually had to pay a full month’s worth, they indeed wouldn’t have kept it up indefinitely, and so on and so on – but Valerie didn’t want to hear it. She barely could hear it. She could barely speak. She tried to get the words ‘thank’ and ‘you’ out of her mouth, but they were so drastically insufficient that her throat did not permit their egress. ‘You’ eventually got a pass when it appeared between ‘are’ and ‘free’.

When, half an hour later, Valerie showed up at Saskia’s door, she’d more or less accepted that what seemed to have happened had happened. But she still had absolutely no idea what she would do when the door opened. When it did, and she saw Saskia looking both delighted to see her and also immensely pleased with herself, Valerie looked her up and down, and grinned from ear to ear.
“You cheeky bitch,” she said, and hugged Saskia as tightly as she could without breaking the woman.
* * *
It was a situation that demanded wine, and wine there was, in generous supply. The trio moved from the kitchen to the dining room, and from the dining room to the living room, and soon enough the encounter had melted into total informality. Piper was lying on the couch, her head in Saskia’s lap. Valerie was curled up in a comfortable armchair, barefoot, her jacket hanging off the back of the chair.

“So, you and Hypatia have properly teamed up, have you?” Saskia asked, after Valerie had explained a little of the new status quo.
“I guess? She’s got a whole gang of supers now—”
“Right, the union. Such a clever idea!”
“Yeah, yeah, but like… I don’t know exactly how it’s gonna work. It’s her show, and I don’t want to step on anybody’s toes. I’m gonna be working on catching this piece of shit either way, don’t get me wrong, but… it’s not a big deal. Just gotta work out the technicalities.”
“She seemed very nice,” Piper said. “Hypatia, I mean. I doubt she’d refuse your help out of ego.”
“What? Oh god, no, that’s not what I meant at all. Just… the history between us is a little complicated. And me suddenly showing up… you know. I’d have phoned ahead if I hadn’t had to jump in and rescue her. Like maybe you should have done!” she said, pointing an accusing finger at Saskia, who only laughed.

“I have to apologize,” Piper said. “If I’d had it my way, we would have just told you as soon we knew you were coming back to Portland. But nooo,” she added, batting Saskia’s face with her index and middle fingers. “Someone has a flair for the dramatic.”
“Look,” Saskia replied, tweaking Piper’s hair, “if I’m going to be saintly in my kindness and generosity, I also reserve the right to be a complete diva about it.”
“No but – for real,” Valerie said, “you so didn’t have to do this. I’m probably not even going to be in Portland for that long!”
“I beg your pardon, darling, but how can you be sure of that?” Saskia replied. “Patáky has proven fairly resistant to defeat. I’d like nothing more than for you just to walk up to him and squash him like a bug, but it’s probably going to be a lot harder than that. So, you need – you know. Headquarters. Like any good superhero. If you’re risking life and limb on a daily basis then you should at least have a nice place to hang your hat.”

Valerie didn’t bother objecting. Since Saskia and Piper’s gratitude had not involved mere expenditure, but also effort, there was no way to rebuff it.
“But I am paying you back, okay? Like – you have to let me pay you back for this.” She was rubbing her arm with one hand, and seemed to find it intermittently difficult to look at her hosts.
“Don’t—” Saskia began, but Piper pinched her before she could go on.
“Alright Valerie,” Piper said. “If you like. There’s no urgency, of course.”
“Okay,” Valerie said. “But still… this isn’t just the nicest thing anyone’s ever done for me. This is probably the nicest thing anyone’s ever done for anyone since like… the… the thing? The debt thing. America… gave… you know, to Germany? After World War 1?”
“The Dawes Plan?”
“Yeah. That. You two are like… Mrs and Mrs Dawes… Plan.”
Valerie put down her wine.

“You don’t even know – like, you don’t even know how much of a difference this makes. I wouldn’t have known how much difference it made until you did it.”
“All the better then,” Saskia said. “Just do me one small favour?”
“Bring that rat down for us, eh?”
“Yeah,” Valerie said. “Yeah, damn right,” she added, when she realized how flat her first confirmation had sounded, hoping that it hadn’t been noticed. Alas, Saskia perceived all.
“Valerie, are you sure everything’s alright?”
“It’s…” There was no sense lying. “There’s been a complication. The woman who captured me before… it looks like she’s working for Patáky now.”

Piper and Saskia sat up.
“What?!” Saskia was nearly shouting. “Oh god, Valerie…!”
“Hey, it’s… actually not as bad as it could be. She doesn’t have my power anymore.”
“Oh, so her powers sort of… wear off after a while then?” Piper asked. “Could she have lost them by accident?”
“I didn’t think so. She had my powers for months the first time, and she didn’t seem like she had any trouble holding onto them.”
“We haven’t heard anything about Hypatia and her team fighting any other superhumans,” Saskia said. She was sitting very straight, with her hands on her lap, like she wanted to pounce on something but didn’t know what. “The timing does seem a bit suspicious for her reappearance, doesn’t it? Just when you arrive?”
“I don’t know. Hypatia made it sound like Lupus set a trap – but it was set for her and her team, not for me. None of the goons seemed to be expecting me to show up either.” With wine and thoughts of Lupus sloshing about in her mind, it was only later that it would occur to Valerie how strange this was, that she hadn’t been expected. Because Milo had seen her, hadn’t he? She’d not meant him to, but he had spotted her. When she’d bellowed at him, he’d bellowed back. He’d smiled.
“Look,” Valerie said, “I’m not happy about it, but it doesn’t change anything. Patáky’s still gotta go down. In the end, Lupus is just another goon.”
“Yes, but she’s not, is she?” Saskia said.
“I… I have to admit I don’t know what it’s gonna be like to run into her again. But I’m not… I mean, I wouldn’t – not again, I—”
Saskia got up. She walked to where Valerie was sitting. She knelt down in front of her, took her hand.
“I know,” she said. “You nearly did a terrible thing. I wonder if you really came as close as you think you did, but that’s beside the point. Let’s say you’re in the very same position you were in before – it’s not going to go down the same way. It’ll take strength for it not to – but you’ve got strength a-plenty. The only reason you snapped before is because all that strength was going somewhere else, wasn’t it?”

Valerie looked her friend in the eye. She felt the touch of her hand. She saw the warmth and wisdom in her eyes, and felt that they were challenging her to look within. She found the usual uglinesses. She still felt… rotten. Diseased. Still felt very much like the same person who had made Lupus beg in terror for her life. But because of Saskia, and Piper, and her dear Oliver, it just wasn’t possible for her to think of herself as wholly bad. They wouldn’t let her, not because they loved her, though they did. Not even because she loved them, though she did. It was that she wanted to.

“Yeah,” Valerie said, eventually. “I know. It’s not going to be like how it was.” She squeezed Saskia’s hand. “But hey. Let’s not talk anymore about Lupus or Patáky or any… superhero shit.”
“Sure,” Piper said. “I doubt we’re going to figure anything out tonight anyway.”
“Mm. And like, okay we’ve fought, but what do I really know about the woman?” Valerie said. “Nothing. Okay, I know she’s a fuck-up, but—”
Wait a minute.
“What?” Saskia said, seeing Valerie’s brows furrow. “What is it?”
“You said something.” Valerie was talking to Piper. “You said something about her.”
“I did?” Piper blinked. “Uh… just that we weren’t going to figure anything out tonight?”
“No, before. About her powers.”
“Oh… that your powers could have worn off, or that she lost them by accident, or something. Why?”
Valerie stood up, ran her hands through her hair. She had an extraordinarily serious expression.
“She’s a fuck-up,” she muttered. “She’s a fuck up.”
“Would you stop being enigmatic and just tell us what you’re thinking?” Saskia said. “And don’t you dare just say something mysterious and then walk out. I don’t need that in my life.”
“It’s just a possibility. I could be dead fucking wrong, but if not…” Valerie clenched a fist. She almost looked angry, but for the sly smile creeping up her face. “If not,” she said, “then I know how we nail Milo Patáky.”


Author's note: check out this spiffy new logo designed by an anonymous pal! Would also be fab to get some people's thoughts on how the story is going. -DB

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Re: The Perils of Valora Finale: Rat Bites Dog Bites Man

Post by Damselbinder »

The Perils of Valora 5-5: Mission, Uh… Difficult

It was a little after dawn, and Maria already been awake for an hour. She didn’t do it every day, but she was trying to get herself to the point where she could. The runnings and the crunchings and pullings-up and so on were important, keeping Maria as wound and as agile as a whipcord, but they were no longer her main focus. She was trying to become more powerful.
There were not many places where she could test her limits safely. She needed open space, and she was wary of being spotted: if it was discovered that she came to a particular spot regularly, it was not paranoia to think that her enemies might set a trap for her.

There was a disturbance in the swirling, crimson maelstrom of Maria’s power. It flowed from her in thick, red sheets; a sphere of brilliant violence that would have annihilated virtually anything in contact with it, but its symmetry had begun to waver. The sheets came out in less and less regular pulses, and though there was little danger of Maria actually losing control of her powers, she didn’t dare take chances. She snapped her fingers, a kind of psychological cut-off switch, and the red sphere vanished into a gossamer mirage.

Slowly, Maria lowered herself to the ground, blanketed by steam and wavering heat shimmers – scars that she had left in the air around her. She was, at first, irritated that her focus had been disturbed by a single unpleasant thought. But once she had left the intense, meditative concentration of her training, she realized that she’d been pushing herself much too hard. Her heart was pounding to the point of genuine discomfort, her breath was ragged, and her body was drenched in sweat. She had a strange pain in her head too; a pulsing, jolting pain that would be alien to most human beings, one that only came to Maria when she had overtaxed her powers.

She bent over, putting her hands on her thighs, trying to catch her breath. The air was cool, and the dawn light was a comforting change from the stark blood-colour of her own energies. After a couple of minutes, she had recovered herself enough that the aftertaste of her exertions was a pleasant one. She felt her strength, and she felt it increasing. But it still wasn’t enough.

In a little over a year, Maria had been kidnapped four times. In a perverse sort of way she was lucky: each of these captivities could have ended in her death, and in each she had been delivered from danger by sheer chance. Once because her captor intended only to humiliate her, once because of the strange luck that had magnified her strength – and twice because Valora had jumped in to rescue her.

Would it have made a difference if she’d been stronger still? If her power-up had been double, triple what it was? Probably not. Not the most recent time, anyway. Lupus was stupid in a lot of ways, but she was wily. Who knew what other abilities she’d had attached to her belt, how many other ways she might have incapacitated Maria? No, power wouldn’t have made a difference, not unless she’d been genuinely invulnerable. It was that she had allowed Charlie to get the drop on her: Maria just didn’t have a killer instinct, and she was beginning to think she would never get one.

“I should have just attacked her.” That was the essence of it. If she’d just downed Lupus, as she easily could have, she and Cecily – and Vanessa too – would never have been captured. She hadn’t seen an enemy when she’d realized who her opponent was: she’d seen a comrade. A friend, even. Maria had never liked her; she had winced at Charlie’s sense of humour; she had been relieved when Charlie had quit. And now she had done terrible things – killed a man; allied herself with murderers; done… foul things to Valerie – and she had known all of that when they’d faced off before. Still, she had not just struck. If she had been alone, it would have been mercy. But with two other lives at stake? It had just been weakness.

That was why she trained. Not because she could exercise her weakness away – but with enough physical power, perhaps she could at least mitigate its consequences.
* * *
It was still very early when Maria returned home. It wasn’t as nice as her apartment in Renning City: it was smaller, not in as nice an area, and the neighbours were a little less disposed to keeping civilised hours. But it did come with one quite large advantage.

When Maria entered her bedroom, Cecily was still asleep. She was lying very straight, one hand on her chest, one still upturned, waiting for Maria’s hand to return to it. The covers were still slightly disturbed from how Maria had left them, so one of Cecily’s legs was bare through the slit in her nightdress. Cecily’s hair, long and red, trailed down over her chest, reaching all the way to the bottom of her ribs. It had got quite frizzy: Maria had discovered, once she and Cecily had started living together, that Cecily keeping her hair as faultlessly straight as she normally did was a brutal, endless war. Maria hadn’t realized until a little time afterwards, but Cecily letting her see past her elegance’s veneer of effortlessness had been quite important. She wasn’t exactly secretive, but she was private. Even now, Maria felt, her lover’s petals were still unfurling.

“Mh…?” Cecily was not roused by the sound of Maria coming in, or by her weight on the end of their bed. She was roused by the smell of her – the smell of her body, of sweat and the sharp, peppery scent of her favourite soap. It was sweetly, powerfully physical. Powerfully Maria-ish. Cecily felt for Maria’s hand, found it, slipped her own hand around it, and then held it to her cheek.
“Hi,” she whispered.
“Hi,” Maria replied. “Sleep well?”
“Too well. You’ve been out training, and I’ve…” She paused to yawn. “…I’ve been lying here like a lump.”
“A pretty lump,” Maria said, squeezing Cecily’s hand and drawing from her a small, shy smile.
When Cecily opened her eyes, seeing Maria sitting by her, she couldn’t help but be a little stirred: there was something special about the sight of her that morning. Her strong, heavy breaths, the sheen of her dark-brown skin, the straightness of her slim back and the hard tone of her arms. There was a dignity in her, a quiet pride that Maria herself did not always see, the counterpoint to the heavy responsibility she put on herself: like an even-tempered, powerful stallion.

“I…” Cecily was biting her bottom lip. “…think that…”
“I think you that need to be closer.”
“Wh- oh!”
Pushed in the back by invisible hands, Maria fell forward, and was swiftly wrapped up in a billowing bundle of duvet, blankets, and two soft, white arms; a spring-rain of kisses falling upon her cheeks. Laughing, Maria slipped her arms around Cecily’s waist, holding their bodies together as tightly as she could. She rolled Cecily onto her side, feeling her partner shiver with delight. Maria tried to catch Cecily’s eye, but Cecily hid her face against Maria’s neck. With her powers, she swept one of the sheets over them, and only in the warm dark did she dare to let Maria see her eyes.
“Am I close enough?” Maria asked.
“Mm… no, not quite.”

Cecily moved her face nearer. She put the very tip of her nose against Maria’s, and held herself there, not yet wanting to release the tension that gave her so much pleasure. She felt Maria’s fingertips drawing patterns on her shoulder-blades, such a simple gesture that Maria probably didn’t even realize that she was doing it. But it was blissful. She could easily have fallen asleep again, cradled in Maria’s touch and Maria’s scent, but she didn’t want to. She could see Maria’s eyes in the dark, just about, and she saw the excitement in her. She was nearly quivering with it, and Cecily was held fast by her passionate magnetism. It was thrilling, and beautiful, and there was part of Cecily that wanted to give into it, to lose herself completely in the power of her lover’s sexuality.

But there was a – a barrier around her. It was almost too intense. She was sensitive to touch, delighted in it, but every time she and Maria were about to take it past play, Cecily withdrew. She knew how much Maria wanted them to make love, could tell that it meant a great to deal to her; that sex was an important part of who Maria was, and of how she expressed affection. Not that it was unimportant to Cecily, but – it wasn’t the same. When they held or kissed it was exciting, but Cecily wanted closeness, affection. Sex was something that Cecily just hadn’t quite… computed yet. Perhaps that was alright. Maria wanted them to go further than they had, but she wasn’t pushy. She’d be patient.

“No,” Cecily thought, displeased with this shyness. “She’s been patient enough.”
Cecily suddenly threw back the covers, bathing her body in morning light. She kept her eyes on Maria’s, and lay back on the bed, allowing one of the straps of her nightdress to slip from her shoulder. She tossed her hair back, and reached out to Maria with her right foot, extending an invitation that she warmly, eagerly accepted.
Maria didn’t see Cecily’s ambivalence. She saw what she’d hoped to see: that Cecily wanted what she wanted. She pushed back the skirt of Cecily’s nightdress, uncovering acres of flawless, silk-spun skin. Lowering her head, she pressed her lips against Cecily’s calves.

“You have… beautiful legs,” Maria whispered, cupping one of Cecily’s slender, pale thighs, gently gripping it. She remembered the accidental, guilty glances she’d given Cecily when they’d just been friends, the tentative half-flirting that had gone on for months. It was such a pleasure to have cut through the ambiguity. It was such a pleasure to have Cecily’s body against hers.
Maria’s lips met Cecily’s inner thigh, and Cecily let out a sensual gasp. No, it wasn’t a gasp – it was a grunt. It was an uncontrolled surge of wanting, and it made waves of goosebumps surge up her body. She threw her arms around Maria’s neck, pressed her lips against Maria’s mouth, coiled her up in her legs and pulled her down, sandwiching herself between the mattress and Maria’s body. She felt something soft pushing against her chest, tickling her skin, and she realized that somewhere in their cavorting, Maria had pulled off her top, baring her breasts.

“You’re staring,” Maria said, smiling. She stretched her arms above her head, arching her back and making her bosom even more prominent. She was proud of her body, delighted that it seemed so much to delight her girlfriend. “Is that all you want to do?”
“No,” Cecily replied, not quite lying. She lifted her hands to Maria’s chest, feeling it naked for the first time. Her breasts were round, firm, springy, all the firmer for the flawless conditioning of Maria’s body. She kissed them, and it felt wonderful. She felt Maria’s buds hardening at her touch, and that too was wonderful. She heard Maria tell her she loved her, that she wanted her, that she was sexy, that she was ‘perfect’, and that was heavenly. Then Maria began to peel off Cecily’s underwear – and suddenly it was too much.

Hating herself for it the second she did it, Cecily pulled back, half-covering her face with her right hand.
“I’m sorry,” she mumbled. “I wanted to – I just…”
“No, it’s – it’s alright.” Maria sighed. She moved to the opposite end of the bed from Cecily, and sat down, supporting herself with her hands. “We’ve both got a lot on our minds. Maybe this wasn’t the right time.”
It would have been very easy to have let that been the reason. Just to smile, apologize, and say ‘maybe next time’ – but Maria deserved more than platitudes.

“I’m sorry,” Cecily said. “I did want to, but…. Oh, hell, I don’t know exactly how to put it. It’s just a bit – sort of… overwhelming. I really am sorry,” she said. “It must be very frustrating.”
“It’s fine. Cecily, I hope I haven’t been putting pressure on you,” Maria said, misunderstanding what Cecily had meant by ‘overwhelming.’
“What? No, no – but I’ve been keeping you waiting, haven’t I?”
Maria cocked her head to the side.
“You know,” she said, “we haven’t been dating for very long. I’ve been in relationships where we didn’t have sex for months.”
“Oh? I mean… yes of course.” Cecily covered her eyes. She felt stupid. “I’m making a mountain out of a molehill. I just… find it difficult to let go, I suppose.”
“It didn’t feel like that before,” Maria said. “It seemed like you’d let yourself go completely. It was – really nice to see. You’re normally so controlled and, you know, classy and put-together and everything. I don’t get to see you cutting loose, really… ever.”

Cecily didn’t reply. In a way, Maria had basically described exactly what the problem was, and Cecily found it a bit disturbing. She was not new to sex; nor was she new to this problem she had with it, but she had never had sex with someone she really loved before, and she’d – well it… it hadn’t always been good. She’d hoped that her feelings would have been enough to get past the issue, but they hadn’t. She didn’t like this. She didn’t like there being part of herself that she hadn’t mastered.
“Are you sure I haven’t been pressuring you?” Maria asked. “I know I’ve been quite… touchy-feely. I always got the impression you liked it, but if you don’t—”
“I do. I do. I just – I’m a bit funny about sex. I don’t know why, and it’s very annoying, and it must be twice as annoying for you to find me all— hot and cold.”
“I think everyone’s a bit funny about sex,” Maria replied. “It’s so many things to so many people – it’s always like having a conversation in two different languages. It’s one of the great things about it, to me anyway – but… I know that it can be hard for some people to fit it into their heads. It’s like… it’s like a pressure point. We’ve all got so much stuff clustered there. So— oh, Cecily!”

Maria had never seen Cecily cry before. Even when she’d badly cut her hand in an accident in their kitchen, she had grimaced and just bandaged herself up. Even now, tears weren’t streaming down her face. She wasn’t sobbing. Her lips were pursed, her face was rigid, and she was obviously trying to force herself to stop, but her eyes were still full of tears.
“I don’t want you to think I’m dispassionate,” Cecily said. “Sometimes people find me a little strange… a little cold – and that’s alright because I know it’s not really true. But if I can’t do this, then—”
“Cecily, hey.” Maria came forward a little, but not too close. “Ultimately, what are you saying? That you don’t want to have sex until you feel comfortable. That’s not cold. It’s normal.”
“Yes, yes, of course,” Cecily replied. She very suddenly stopped crying, with a jerk. It looked unpleasant: the emotional equivalent of forcing down vomit. “You’re very kind.”
“I’m not doing anything special,” Maria said. “It’s fine.”

Everything that Maria had said, she had meant. She was perfectly willing to be patient. She did think Cecily was being unfair to herself. She did think people very often had very weird relationships with sex. But part of her did mind. She wished she didn’t, but she couldn’t help it. It wasn’t that she resented Cecily needing time, or that she thought her cold – but they were a very odd pair. She knew they loved each other, deeply, but that wasn’t always enough. Certainly, they wouldn’t have already been living together if it hadn’t been for their unusual circumstances. She was afraid that, when Patáky was dealt with, without that pressure holding them together, they might drift apart again.

After the two had showered – giving each other a pretty wide berth – and dressed and so on, a little of the uncomfortable tension had dispersed. Maria came into their front room to find Cecily looking out of the window. She was in a tight, black and white dress, buttoned up high to her neck, and dark sheer tights. She held herself very straight. She had tied her hair back. There was something of the ascetic in her, Maria thought, and she admired it. It was part of her strength. Put Cecily alone on a desert island and after a month you’d probably come back to find she’d re-invented the aqueduct and had opened up a prosperous trade agreement with the local crustaceans. But Maria wondered if Cecily wasn’t being unnecessarily hard on herself, in the name of being the sort of person she wanted to be.

She tried to push the issue from her mind. Like as not this day too would have its share of dangers; she and Cecily both needed to be focused.
“What’s on the itinerary today?” she asked.
“Only one thing,” Cecily replied. “Valerie sent me a message: she asked me to gather everyone together. Apparently, she has some important information. ‘Vital’, in fact.”
“About Patáky?”
“No. Well, yes, indirectly, I’m sure. But she said it was about Lupus.”
Ah yes. Lupus. The thoughts that had been pestering Maria during her training came right back to her. She’d hoped that time with Cecily might have eased her worries but, if anything, it had just made things worse.
“Good,” Maria said, deciding not to pester Cecily with her worries. “When are we meeting?”
“In an hour. I’ve already told the others.”

Cecily turned around, and for a moment Maria was reminded very much of Cecily as she’d first known her. She’d said little, had seemed to hold herself apart from the others. Charlie had dismissed her as a ‘weirdo – a boring weirdo’, and Maria herself had to confess that she’d found her a bit strange, and hard to approach. It had taken Debra, in fact, to get Maria to look at her differently.
“She’s a warm person, isn’t she?” Debra had said. It had seemed a strange remark, but once the idea was in her head, it had seemed absurd that the thought hadn’t occurred to Maria before.

“Oh,” Cecily said, “I’d forgotten. I meant to say something to you about our last battle with Lupus. Everything that happened afterwards, I suppose it just slipped my mind.”
“What is it?” Maria felt she knew what was coming: a genteel, but firm request that Maria not offer Charlie mercy again, that she’d had her second chance, and she’d thrown it in their faces.
“When you said you would forgive her. When you offered her mercy.” She thought for a moment, trying to find the right way to put it. “Just…” She looked Maria in the eye. The light behind her came through her hair like stained glass. She didn’t look austere anymore.
“Please never change,” she said. “Um,” she mumbled after a pause, “…that was it, I suppose.”
It was enough.
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Re: The Perils of Valora Finale: Rat Bites Dog Bites Man

Post by Damselbinder »

If Valerie had been the leader of a team of superheroes, she would probably not have chosen a leafy, overgrown gazebo as her super-secret headquarters. She was surprised that Cecily had managed to find such a structure at all. It didn’t match the Portland she knew; like Cecily’s very presence had made it manifest itself to serve her needs. It only made Valerie feel more like she was intruding into something.

There were five others who had gathered to listen to her: Cecily, Maria, Lamia, the serious-looking young man Valerie had met the previous day, and an older woman in a yellow flak-jacket. Remembering Lamia’s reaction to her, Valerie wondered what the rest of them thought of her. Hoping for a saviour to take care of everything for them? Resentful of her absence? Annoyed that she was horning in on their racket? Could have been anything.

“Is this everyone?” Valerie asked.
“More or less,” the older woman replied. She stepped forward, a severe look on her face.
“Great,” Valerie thought. “Here it comes.”
But she didn’t yell. She took four swift steps, stopped in front of Valerie, gave a short, respectful bow, and extended her hand.
Blinking, Valerie took it.

“I go by Buzzsaw,” the woman said. “It’s an honour, Valora.”
“Thank you,” Valerie replied. Buzzsaw was so obviously sincere that Valerie couldn’t think of anything else to say.
“No,” Buzzsaw replied. “I ought to have done this a long time ago. There used to be conventions for this sort of thing. When a new superhero was in town, I mean - especially someone of your calibre.”
Valerie smiled.
“Don’t mention it,” she said. Buzzsaw, clearly, was an old-school cape. Her respect meant something. Well – anyone’s respect meant something, but hers meant something… different.
Put at ease by Buzzsaw’s courtesy, Valerie stepped forward.
“Thanks for coming,” she said. “I’ll get right to the point. The superhuman that attacked you guys – Lupus – you all know about her?”
“We know the basics,” Bacchus said, glancing at Hypatia.
“Good. Well, the way I figure it Lupus is going to be the way we beat Milo Patáky.”
There was a flutter of murmuring. Valora had said her say so matter-of-factly that they weren’t sure they’d heard her right.
“Let me make it a little clearer,” Valora said, but then hesitated. She hadn’t exactly lost confidence in her scheme-to-be, but once she said it to the others, they might agree. And if they agreed, it might then happen. If it happened, then there would probably be no way Valora could avoid encountering Lupus again. And then –


One thing at a time.

Take a breath.

“Let me make it clearer,” Valora repeated. “She’s gonna testify against him.”
There was a very, very long silence. At the end of this silence, Valora was being met with uniformly bemused stares.
“Uh… no she’s not?” Lamia said. “She… works for Patáky. She’s his thug. He probably pays her pretty well. She’s an actual supervillain. Also, she’s a lunatic. Right?” She looked to Hypatia, who gave reluctant confirmation. “Right. And, maybe more to the point, she’s currently… not… under arrest? What am I missing?”
“Tell me this,” Valora replied. “When she attacked you, how strong was she?”
“Strong enough.”
“As strong as me?”
“No,” Lamia admitted. “Why?”
“Well she should have been.”

Valora stepped forward. She noticed that all of them – even Lamia – were hanging on her every word. Because of who she was, what she was, even other superheroes saw her as a figure of authority.
“As far as I understand it, Lupus can copy two powers at a time. One of them has to be weak, too, if she’s gonna hold onto both. She can copy a power for as long as she wants. And she had mine. Unless she found someone even stronger than me to, like, trade up, she’d have no reason to get rid of my power. And she didn’t have anything like that. Right?”
“Right,” Freebird said.
“So someone like her, someone who was laughing like a little kid about how big and tough she was with my ability? There’s no way in hell she got rid of it unless one of two things happened: either she was forced to, or she just fucked up. The first one is possible, but given that Lupus is a complete fucking disaster, my guess it’s the second. I think she tried to swap out her second power – Debr- uh, Maiden-America’s power – and she got rid of mine by mistake.”
“Okay, fine,” Lamia said. “That’s possible. I’d… still be tempted to think there’s quite a leap from there to ‘she’ll testify in a court of law against the ruthless crime boss who employs her’.”
“He doesn’t employ her. She’s his slave.”

It was Freebird. She looked right at Valora, deliberately resisting the fear of being told that she was correct.
“That’s what you mean, isn’t it?” she said. “She’s not working for him because she wants to. She’s being forced to.” She turned to Hypatia, touching her on the arm without noticing herself doing it. “You remember how she was when we fought, right?”
“Mm,” Hypatia replied. Her eyebrows were deeply creased. “It’s true, Lupus did come across fairly desperate. And she said that we ‘didn’t understand’ something about her situation.” She folded her arms. “Yes,” she said, “I think it’s very possible that you’re right. That she’s being forced to work for Patáky against her will. But I take it, then, that you’re suggesting that we try to apprehend her. Indeed, I can well imagine she’d be able to put Patáky in the frame for all sorts of things. But however it was done, capturing her would be extremely dangerous. She may not have access to your abilities anymore, but she has others. You seem very sure that she’ll react the way you predict and—” She stopped herself. She’d been about to say ‘and, though I trust your judgement…’, but actually, she wasn’t sure that she did trust Valora’s judgement all that much. Even she had got a bit swept up by the magnificence of Valora’s presence, but nothing she knew of Valora suggested that she had a gift for strategy. She eventually settled on: “Can you help us understand why you’re so sure?”

Valora looked away. She had a strange expression, halfway between a grimace and an ironical smile. She slipped her hands into two small pockets in her leotard, and for a moment the heroic light about her flickered. She looked thinner.
“I don’t know how much Hypatia has told you guys, but when I fought Lupus before, she managed to capture me. Which means I spent a pretty long time with her. When you’re in that kind of situation, you get to know things about a person, especially if they’re like Lupus and they absolutely will not shut up. I know that she’s scared out of her mind, and I know that she’s a weak person. We get her away from Patáky, and she’s going to be desperate for a way out. If we make her think testifying is the only way she’s gonna survive, she’ll do it. Well?” she said, after a pause, to Hypatia.

Hypatia didn’t reply immediately. Masked, it was difficult to tell what she was thinking. Hers was not the only opinion that counted, but if she and Valora were of one mind it would probably persuade even the doubters among the rest of their number. She knew it, too.
“I think,” she said, carefully, “that you are… probably right. She probably would agree to testify if the rest of what you say is true. Which… I think it likely is.”
“But would she actually do it?” Lamia asked. It was a genuine question. “If Lupus is as weak-minded as you’re suggesting, couldn’t she easily clam up at the last moment and waste all of our time?”
“So what?” Buzzsaw interjected. “She’s a threat. We’d have to deal with her at some point anyway. Even if she refuses to testify, we’ve still neutralized Patáky’s best weapon against us. What have we got to lose?”

The conversation proceeded in this fashion for a little while, arguing the merits and demerits of using a known criminal as a witness, whether she’d be believed, whether in some putative trial Patáky’s defence might be able to discredit her, what they’d do if Patáky fled the country and so on. Only Freebird didn’t join in. She just listened, with increasing irritation, until Valora suggested distastefully that they might ‘have to’ find a way to get Lupus to be offered immunity.
“I’m sorry,” Freebird said, “but how can we talk like this?”

The others looked at her in confusion.
“This is a person. A person who is, at the moment, being enslaved by a crime lord. Valora, I’m sure everything you’ve said about her being terrified and desperate for a way out is right, but that we’re just going to use that? To hope she’s been broken and abused enough that she’ll cower at our feet and do whatever we say? It’s… ugly.”
“Ugly?” Valora took exactly one step towards Freebird. “Lupus is a criminal. And not a petty one either. What are we talking – multiple counts of kidnapping? Murder? Assault?”
“I don’t think she murdered Lance, but—”
“Fine, manslaughter then. Whatever. Is that not bad enough?”
“You’re missing my point,” Freebird said. She took exactly one step towards Valora. “If you’d come here and said ‘I know where Lupus is; let’s arrest her so she can stand trial for her crimes’ I would have agreed on the spot. But if we make her do this, we are putting her in harms’ way. If Patáky has her killed it would be on us.”
“No,” Valora said. “It would be on Patáky.”

Before Freebird could demur, Hypatia stepped forward.
“Please,” she said. “I know that, especially to we three, Lupus is not just another enemy, or another criminal. Freebird, if we did this we would not just chew Lupus up and spit her out. Valora, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say that that even someone as vile as Lupus is needs to be treated humanely.”
“No… no, of course,” Valora said. She backed away a little. She hadn’t quite lost her temper, but she’d come much closer to so doing than she would have liked. “Look, you know I’m not going to be objective. I absolutely have a grudge against Lupus, but I also can’t think of a better way to get the guy we’re really after.”
“On that I agree,” Hypatia said. To Freebird, she added: “And if there is any help that can be given, this may be the only way to do it.”
“Alright,” Freebird said. “Alright. It’s not even that I think this is a bad idea. But if we have to be cruel to do this, it’s not worth doing.”

Hypatia was not sure she agreed.
Valora was sure that she didn’t.
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Re: The Perils of Valora Finale: Rat Bites Dog Bites Man

Post by Damselbinder »

Milo hadn’t gone completely mad. That is, he hadn’t collapsed into gibbering, mindless lunacy. He was still capable of having thoughts, of directing his subordinates, and using the toilet at appropriate moments. He could even have meetings with people, though his appearance – sunken-eyed, ghoulishly sleepless, bone-white – made even the toughest tuff uneasy.

So, the presence of his deadliest, most intractable foe, back from the dead and out for his blood like some sort of morbidly voluptuous bogeyman, did not fail to register in his mind as a matter of some importance. In his weaker moments, in the slow hours between 4 A.M and 4:05 A.M, he was even consciously, comprehensibly afraid. But even in such moments he never did anything. It was all so… stupid.

In the past few weeks, Milo had achieved more than in the previous fifteen years put together. He was wealthier, more powerful, better connected than he ever had been. And it had been easy. All he’d had to do was tell people to do things, and they’d done them for him. Instead of the careful, measured, patient paranoia that had served him so well all his life, Milo had started acting like a spoiled brat demanding things from a bad, rich parent. And he’d obtained all of them. Fortune favoured the brave, insofar as it favoured the greedy.

Basically, Milo had been having an argument for the last few months with a man he’d murdered. He didn’t know if he was winning or not, or, indeed, whether he was on his own side. For he was, now, doing pretty much exactly what James Oleander had always wanted him to do. To be strong and big. Bold and brash. It was a shame that James had such a well-ventilated skull now. He would have been proud.

No. Idiot. What was to be proud of? It was so easy! Even the fanatical loyalty he commanded from his people, even that was stupidly simple to come by. All he’d had to do was puff out his chest, do some violence, and demand things be given to him, then do more violence if they weren’t. That, as far as Milo had been able to piece it together, was what manliness actually was, and as long as he sellotaped more manliness to himself than anyone else, then all his merry gangsters would fall at his feet in admiration. You know. In a manly sort of way. With handshakes, brisk nods, and erections.

Hear that, James? You stupid, vacuous, clutching little shit? You were worse than Milo, really. It was one thing to hide behind James, who was so powerful and beautiful. There was logic in that. But you, James, you hid behind Milo Patáky. How many opportunities did you have to brush him aside - that weaselly, wretched, rotting, spiteful, cowardly little shit – on how many occasions could you have just pushed a knife into his gut or shoved him in front of a car or yelled ‘boo’ at him at an especially nervous moment? But no. The one time you finally plucked up the courage, you made a total hash of it. You were no good at being you. Look – look, you smarmy, oiled-up fornicator, even Milo’s better at being you than you are! Thank God for Valora. Thank God she was about to waltz in and squeeze his head off, otherwise James would have been vindicated.


The invective had not come from Milo himself. Milo had prompted it, though, by throwing his glass of gin and tonic at the door of his office. He had been bellowing with manic fury when he’d thrown it, but when the door had opened and the glass had whizzed past the proud, Roman nose of John Mann, bouncing off the doorframe without damage to doorframe or glass, it took the wind out of Milo’s fury.

As he watched John unscrewing the grudge from his face, Milo slumped backwards into his chair, feeling embarrassed and stupid. It was a comforting feeling, briefly, even nostalgic. He was the small man again, who really wanted little more than to hide under his desk and be left alone by all the mean boys, insisting that he deserved the bullying to which he imagined that he was being subjected. But it didn’t last. There was a vomitous giddiness inside him, and it spilled out into a gut-grey river of laughter when he saw John balancing his fear of his employer, his pragmatism, and his dignity. When the peals had fallen silent, the zombified corpse of the old Milo was back in its coffin.

“John! Dear man, I’m terribly sorry. Did I hurt you? Did I offend your honour, perhaps?”
“It’s fine, Mr Patáky,” John said, impassively. Collected, he sat down opposite Milo, waited a moment to see if his boss wanted to expostulate some more, then said his say.
“I’m… looking into some options for solidifying our position,” John’s say said.
“Why so mealy-mouthed? I’ve every faith in your judgement.” It was true, but he was still joking. “Do whatever you think is best.”
“… I need some new hardware.”
“Fine. Whatever. Have whatever you desire, John.”
“It’s a little… pricier than usual. Maybe six figures. Probably seven.”

To his own surprise, Milo felt the urge to refuse. It seemed that, while the rest of his selfhood was negotiable, he would forever be a miser. But he fought the impulse.
“As you choose,” Milo said. “Just try not to break the bank!” He laughed, magnanimously.
“Thanks,” John said, about to get up, grateful that it had all been so easy. Now he just—
When John met his employer’s eye again, he had a sudden sense of the weight of the pistol at his side. He felt as though Milo were making him feel it, as though he were making him all at once aware of just how many things he’d have to do if he decided, then and there, to kill Milo. He’d have to move his jacket aside. He’d have to put his hand at his belt. He’d have to lift it from its holster without dropping it. He’d have to switch the safety off. He’d have to raise it a million miles from the floor to actually pointing at Milo. He’d have to squeeze the trigger. Like the self-conscious millipede, John suddenly felt as though he’d forgotten how to do all of these things, which ordinarily he could have done with the most brutal ease. And it was not that he wished to kill Milo – he didn’t – but it occurred to John for the first time that he might need to defend himself from him.

“You’ve been very polite,” Milo said. “By which I mean you’ve been very vague. But this hardware is for Valora, isn’t it?”
“Which, I take it, you didn’t mention because you didn’t want to see your dear old boss lose his marbles again. Yes?”
John didn’t answer.
“Well you needn’t have worried. You’re only being a loyal subordinate.” He leaned forward on his desk. “Does it thrill you, I wonder? The prospect of conquering her? Toppling a superheroine of such unfathomable power? Bringing her low? Crushing her under the fearsome weight of your Y-chromosome?”
“I’ll be pretty happy if I can kill her, if that’s what you mean. I don’t know about any of that macho shit.”
“Hmm.” Milo sat back. Boringly, John was probably being truthful. “Well. Tell me, uh… what you’re planning then.”
“It ain’t much of a plan yet,” John said. “I know a guy who knows a guy who works at Peerless. They make uh… you know, handcuffs, leg-irons and shit. Well they got a big-ass government contract supplying superhuman-specialty jails too. It’ll be expensive as hell, but we might be able to get some of their heavy-duty stuff. Enough to subdue her. Enough to restrain her.”

A slow gash of a smile appeared on Milo’s face, squashing his left eye up towards his forehead.
“Why you mendacious rascal!” Milo said. “You’re making it sound like you want to catch her. Is there a supervillain lurking under all that pragmatism, I wonder?”
John adjusted his collar.
“We can’t shoot her. We can’t stab her. We can’t blow her up. Poison? Maybe, but we don’t know what’ll work. Lupus knocked her out with chloroform, so maybe nerve agents or something might do it – but when Lupus did that she had Valora’s powers herself. Looks like they fought for more than an hour before she was able to take Valora down. So however we do it, it’s gonna be unreliable, and it’s gonna take a while, and if we get one chance and we blow it, I doubt very much we’ll get a second.”
John meant every word, and he hoped very much that Milo would just accept it. But he could see that that was what John hoped for, and it amused him to stretch the encounter out.
“Isn’t there another answer hidden in all that self-justification?” Milo said. “Use Lupus.”
“Yeah, we may have to. I don’t trust her, and I’d be worried about her being able to grab Valora’s power again, but it might be necessary.”
Milo was surprised. He’d made the suggestion partly to tease John, expecting him to argue.
“Very well,” he said. “If you think it’s best.”

John didn’t risk a reply. He was a dishonest man insofar as he was unprincipled, but he wasn’t by nature mendacious, so he was a poor liar. He had tried to act reluctant enough to Milo’s suggestion that his agreement would seem sincere, but he’d either under- or overplayed it. He had no intention of allowing Lupus anywhere near the Valora situation, and now he was afraid Milo knew it. John intended to kill her before she could become the liability he knew she would be. God, this was stupid! Why did he have to tiptoe around Milo for this? It was for him that John was going to do it! Why was he so intent on creating this massive vulnerability for himself?

You know what? Fuck it. If Lupus made it all blow up John was probably caged or dead anyway. Even if Milo knew exactly what he’d done, and even if he blamed him for it, and even if he had him killed for it, it didn’t put John in much of a worse position. And there was always another possibility. Every conversation he had with Milo was a test of one form or another – perhaps he wanted John to kill Lupus. To see if he had the initiative. Any way you sliced it, putting that dog out of her misery was the better option.
John made the polite mumblings. Milo flashed his eyes and returned to whatever it was he was doing, and John haltingly made his way out. He spent the rest of the day chasing a financial discrepancy in the money they’d got from their Parkside dealers that, astonishingly, turned out to be an innocent counting error and, when that was done, he went to stay with one of his girlfriends.

He had mutually aggressive sex with this girlfriend, and when he was inside her he thought he was going blind, because he couldn’t see her face while she was doing him. Even when he pulled out and splashed water on his face and surprised his girlfriend by staring furiously into her eyes in what she mistakenly took to be an expression of romantic passion, he could see her only vaguely. He felt he almost knew what was happening to him and groped helplessly for the words ‘counter-transference’, but he didn’t actually know them. Exhausted by the search, he fell asleep. In the morning, he broke up with his girlfriend, and by the time he left her apartment he couldn’t remember her name.

He checked he was carrying a reasonable amount of ammunition, and then he went to go kill Lupus.
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Re: The Perils of Valora Finale: Rat Bites Dog Bites Man

Post by Damselbinder »

Convincing everyone of the principle of her plan had only been the first step. Now Valerie actually had to find some way of catching Lupus. She did not have a gift for stratagem, but she tended to think like her powers: brutally, simply, and effectively. She had needed a day to gather intelligence, and now she was ready to address the troops.

“What I’ve got here,” Valerie said, jabbing her finger down on a map of Portland, “is every building I’ve got anything better than an inkling that Milo is using as a base. Hypatia’s got her contacts in the Feds to give me a few more too. Way I figure it, Lupus is being kept in one of them.”
“Which one?” Bacchus asked. “If we hit the wrong one, they’ll just move her.”
“I have no idea.”
“Then… I don’t get it. What’s the plan?”
“To hit all of them at once,” Hypatia said. “That’s your intention, isn’t it Valora?”
“Essentially, yeah.”
This announcement did not necessarily meet with delight from the others.

“Look, before you tell me it sucks,” Valora said, “I know it sucks. My first thought was to lure her out, spring a trap that way, but I don’t think that’s going to work. Now that Patáky’s crew know I’m around, I don’t think they’re gonna send Lupus on missions anymore. They’re not gonna want to risk her being able to snag my power again.”

“So the mountain has to go to Mohammad, hm?” Lamia said. “I think you’re probably right. It’s even possible that they’re worried that Lupus is a vulnerability. If they know she had a chance to speak to us during our last fight, they may even fear she told us about her situation.”

“Right. Right, exactly,” Valora said, pleased that it seemed easier to bring people round this time. She gave Lamia a grateful nod, and Lamia seemed grateful in turn to receive it. Maria had warned Valerie that Lamia was likely to give an aggressive, effusive apology for the hostility she’d initially shown, and sure enough that was exactly what had happened at the end of the previous day’s meeting.
“You must forgive me,” she’d said, “or I’ll never forgive you.”

“How are we going to hit them all at once?” Buzzsaw asked. “Even if we took one each, there’s too many.”
“The way I figure it,” Valora said, “I’ll be taking a few myself. These ones,” she added, pointing at a small cluster of dots on her map. “And not just because I’m strong, or whatever – my powers let me move around pretty quick. I can bust in, look around, and be a the next spot fast. Oh, uh… Freebird?”
“You can uh… fly now, right?”
“Oh… yes. Sort of. Not that fast, but yes.”
“Then would it be okay if you took care of these ones?” She pointed at another cluster, slightly smaller than the one to which she’d assigned herself. “Between the two of us, that covers most of the rest of the places she’s probably at.”

“Give one to me too. I’ll do my part,” Bacchus said, guarding assiduously against the slightest suspicion that he might be uncomfortable at being given a dangerous job.
“Same here.” Lamia wasn’t entirely unafraid herself, but all this Mission: Impossible stuff made it even more exciting than normal. And after being captured the last time, she rather hoped that she would be the one to find Lupus to… illustrate why it was not altogether wise to cross someone who could turn into a muscular, two-and-a-half metre long reptile. “When do we start?” she asked.
“That’s not for me to say,” Valora replied. She turned to Hypatia. “You’re the boss. What do you think of all this?”

Hypatia didn’t answer immediately. She was thinking, and with her mask on, she looked very severe.
“Since yesterday,” she said, “I’ve been trying to think of a plan of attack as well. And, broadly, I came up with something similar to this. But I’m uncomfortable with the risks. If we’re all engaged at in battle at once, there’ll be no-one to come to the others’ aid if things go wrong.” She shook her head. “I’m not risk-averse, Valora, but ultimately our plan is grounded in educated guesswork. It’s not certain enough for this level of danger. I know it reduces our chances of success, but we need to work at least in pairs.”
“Not me,” Valora said. “No insult to you guys, but if I’m paired up I’ll just be moving a lot slower.”
“Not me either,” Freebird said. “If we’re right about Lupus’ situation, and they catch wind of what we’re doing, they might kill her on the spot. I have power. Let me use it.”

Cecily looked into Maria’s face, and understood well why armies had rules against fraternizing. If she approved this plan, there was a sense in which Maria’s life would be in danger because of her. But she couldn’t refuse, either. Maria was right. It was necessary, and if it was necessary for their purpose, Cecily would even risk the life of someone she loved. But she might still have insisted that Maria take backup with her, were it not for the fact that Maria was the only one of them who genuinely wanted to save Lupus, and slowing Maria down would reduce the chances of this happening. She couldn’t take that away from her. It was too close to what she loved about her.
“Very well,” she said. “I’d still prefer for someone to stay in reserve to support you if you run into trouble but… I just wish our numbers weren’t already depleted.”
“Can I help with that?”

A large man in his late thirties had just entered their company. He was bandaged, but he had concealed this beneath a black t-shirt and a dark jacket. He was wearing a sort of combination mask/woolly hat over the top half of his face. There was a kanji on the hat that meant, roughly, ‘Cacophony’, and there were cheers at his appearance loud enough that they drowned out Valora growling ‘what the fuck’ under her breath.
“Cacophony!” Hypatia ran to his side, delighted and appalled that he had come. “You can’t have been discharged as quickly as all this, could you?”
“I wasn’t that badly hurt,” he said. He dared to glance at Valora and, seeing her, did not so dare again. “Thanks to you,” he said, addressing Bacchus. To the others he said: “Hypatia’s filled me in on what’s going on. You’re trying to catch this Lupus girl, right?”
“Right,” Hypatia said. “We’re just discussing our plan of attack.” She let him in on the rest of what they’d planned.
“So, you need someone waiting in the wings, right? Jump in if something goes wrong?”
“I’d wish to have you on the frontlines if you were in better shape,” Hypatia said. “I’m not delighted about involving you at all.”
“Are you gonna order me not to help?”
“Would you obey if I did?”
“Then I don’t suppose I will. But I will say this – jump in only if it’s absolutely necessary. That is, if one of us calls for you, and not before.”
“Fine.” He lifted his head to address the whole room. He saw Valora was staring at him. He lowered his head again.

“Alright,” Hypatia said. “This is the plan, then. We attack the most likely places first. If you find Lupus, and you absolutely cannot wait, then engage her. If it is at all possible for you to await backup, do so. Valora and Freebird are working alone. Bacchus will go with Lamia. Buzzsaw will go with me. Cacophony will stay in reserve to be called upon immediately if one of us needs support. Any objections?”
There were none.
“Very well. We’ll begin at… seventeen-hundred hours. Er… dismissed,” she added, with a little smile.
The others began to file away. Valora didn’t move.
“Hypatia,” she said, “I’d like a word.”

“Before you say anything,” Valerie said, “I know. I know I have absolutely no right to say shit about Cacophony after what I did. I know that, actually, what I did was a lot worse than what he did.” She started pacing, stopped, and turned to Cecily, her features grim. “But it’s just… not in the same category. He attacked another cape. That’s a line you don’t cross. Look,” she said, before Cecily could reply, “it’s your crew. I’m not… saying I have the right to a veto, or anything. In fact, I don’t have a right to say anything. But—”

“Valerie, you have every right,” Cecily said, taking off her mask. “Cacophony attacked you. He turned his powers on another superhero because he was desperate for money. The fact that, at some point in your life, you have done something wrong, doesn’t mean you’re unentitled to be angry with Cacophony for what he did.”
Valerie turned away again. This was not a problem she had expected. She had never expected that she would come across this man again. The fact of it was that she’d barely remembered the incident with Cacophony. She’d been so focused on Lupus that this second, pretty minor, source of umbrage had caught her completely off-guard.
“This is my fault,” Cecily said. “I don’t just mean because I asked Cacophony to join us. This is a man who assaulted you, and you saw me bounding up to him like a puppy and clapping him on the shoulder. That was stupid of me.”
“You were happy he was okay,” Valerie muttered. “It’s fine.”
“No, it was thoughtless, and crass. I ought to have talked to you about this before. I can well understand why you’re angry.”

She was angry. For just this. Just this small thing. Or – well no, it wasn’t small, was it? Cecily was right, Cacophony had assaulted her during her duties, and she was quite right to be angry, to distrust him. But – how angry? That was the problem, now. Now that she knew that her rage was so often her enemy. It had made her throw away her career in California. It had made her blind to Lupus’ trickery. It had almost made her a murderer. She couldn’t tell what was proportionate anymore. Didn’t trust herself. And if it was disproportionate, if she couldn’t swallow even this little pill, what would happen when it was something big?
What would happen if she were the one to find Lupus? What would happen if she found her and there was no-one else watching?

“Can I ask you a question?” Cecily said.
“Hm? Oh, yeah, I guess.”
“In your career as Valora, what’s your proudest single achievement?”
Valerie blinked.
“I don’t know,” she said. “Probably… man that is tough…” She ran her hands through her thick, yellow hair. “Probably catching Sinistrus. It’s the first time I defeated an enemy who was actually a threat in a fair fight.”
“I see,” Cecily replied. “I don’t have too many of those sorts of victories under my belt, alas. But I do have Cacophony.”
“What do you mean? Did you guys fight too?”
“No,” Cecily said, laughing lightly. “Nothing like that. But I, somehow, managed to help him out of a very dark place. I inspired him. This inspired him,” she said, touching the upsilon on her chest. She paused. “Oh my, that does sound arrogant when one says it out loud, doesn’t it?”
Valerie huffed out a laugh.
“No, I get you. So, he’s what you’re proudest of?”
“As Hypatia,” she said, glancing at Maria, who was standing a little distance away, listening. “Valerie, I know that you are still wrestling with yourself. I don’t presume even to begin to understand this struggle you’re having. But, if I may, you seem more troubled by your own feelings than by Cacophony himself. Well I think there’s nothing wrong with your feelings. He deserves your anger. If you ask me to exclude him from our mission, I will do it, because this is not an unreasonable thing to ask. But I hope that you don’t.” She smiled at Valerie, in that fae, slightly distant way of hers. “You see, I haven’t as many victories as you.”
Valerie shook her head – but she wasn’t refusing.
“You’ve got a hell of a way with words,” she said. “Look, I was never going to ask that. You’re right: we need all the help we can get for this mission. I’ll… set it aside. Whether I’ve got a right, whether he deserves it – whatever. You trust him, yeah?”
“In battle? Yes.”
“Good enough for me.” She started to leave. She could sense that they had a difficult fight ahead of them, regardless of her personal shit. She needed to get herself in the right frame of mind, to allow herself to be comfortable with violence, to let herself be a warrior again. But there was one more thing.

“Hey, Cecily,” she said. “Can I ask you a question? You and Maria, actually”
“Of course,” Maria said, coming a bit closer. To her surprise, Valerie looked a little sheepish.
“Are, uh, are you two like… a thing?”
“Oh. Oh! Uh, well,” Cecily stammered. She looked to Maria for rescue, but found her equally flustered. “Um… yes,” she eventually said. “We’re… together, if that’s what you mean?”
“Okay, so I’m not just going crazy, then.”
“Not as far as I can tell.”
“Okay. Huh.” She looked from one to the other, as if scanning them. “And you’re sure?”
“Yes,” Maria said, with a little laugh. “We’re sure. Why?”
“Oh, nothing. I just would never have figured you two for a couple. Well,” she said, before they could reply to this, “what the hell do I know? I’m gonna… I’m gonna go get a burger before the shit goes down.” She started walking off. “You two watch your backs, yeah? With any luck Lupus’ll be in the first place we look and we’ll have Patáky in handcuffs by the end of the week.” She sighed. “Yeah, right…”

As she walked away, Valerie left Maria and Cecily in a state of some consternation. Most of it had nothing to do with what she’d just said: they were about to embark on an extremely dangerous mission, and their lives were likely to be in serious peril. But they remembered what had happened the previous morning, too, and when Valerie said that she had difficulty seeing them as a couple, it rang with some volume in their minds.

But they did not have the luxury of pondering this problem. There was a battle ahead.
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Re: The Perils of Valora Finale: Rat Bites Dog Bites Man

Post by Damselbinder »

Author's note: would be delightful to get some feedback. We're very deep into the story now and I'm not sure at all how people are responding to it.

The Perils of Valora 5-6: “A Day for Violence”

Charlie was not making a very good go of making her peace with death. She’d been the sort of child who would happily make other children cry by reminding them that one day their mummies and daddies and puppies and kittens were all going to die, as though being willing to point this out made her better than others, when the prospect frightened her just as much as it did anyone else.

Still, once she’d outgrown this habit – or rather, found other ways for it to manifest – Charlie didn’t really think about death again until she turned twenty. On her twentieth birthday it had occurred to her that twenty was half of forty, that if she lived again all the life she’d had she would no longer be young, and that had made her want to vomit.

But the chances of her reaching that point of her life seemed decreasingly likely. The conditions of her slavery had improved – they’d given her a television, access to halfway-decent food and so on - but she was still a slave. Her windows were bigger, but they were barred. She had a bed, but she was fearful of falling asleep and waking up again with the needles in her arm. One day, she thought, Milo’s mood would turn and he would order her killed. Or Valora would come to finish what she’d started. It would be soon.

For preference, she hoped it would be Valora. If that happened, there was a chance that she could touch her in the battle, get her powers – she did think of them as her powers – back. She no longer believed that she could defeat Valora even re-empowered, for Valora was no longer Valora to her. She could not be both an object of terror and a human being who could legitimately be compared with Charlie at one and the same time. Charlie’s ego would not permit it. So, she made her a demon. No – an ogre. A troll. Ugly, brutish, stupid and cruel in its overwhelming, monstrous power.

Maybe it wasn’t so bad. Dying, that is. Maybe Maria was right and there was a God and a heaven and after a moment or two of contrition Charlie would get into heaven. Maybe it was just nothing, but even that was okay. What, after all, did Charlie want anymore? Nothing. There was nothing. Just the horror of what was happening to her – she wanted that to end. And it could end only, it seemed, through her destruction. And, for forty or so minutes of most hours, Charlie was sure that this was comforting. For the rest of the time, she remembered that she wanted to eat ice cream, and have a dog, and she couldn’t bear that she basically did want to live.
“It’s not my fault,” she’d whimper, and though she mostly believed it, it brought less and less comfort.

Marshall walked in. He roused what there was left of Charlie’s courage, simply because she loathed the sight of him so much.
“What do you want?” Charlie balled her fists. Marshall was bigger than her, and she didn’t have her powers, but she wasn’t totally helpless without them. She’d been looking for an excuse to blacken an eye or two of his: she hated him. But Charlie didn’t seem to rouse any emotion in Marshall at all, so he just got to his business.
He set down a large, empty crate on Charlie’s bed, tapped the top of it.
“I need you to cloak this,” he said. “And I need you to rig it as a trap.”
“Lethal?” Charlie asked. She could, with one of the powers her masters supplied her with, turn objects into electrical traps, but they were designed to debilitate, not kill.
“It doesn’t matter. It just needs to catch fire. Give it ten hours.”
Marshall was holding her belt, the one with the vials of superhuman blood in each slot. He held out the one that let her make traps, and she touched it, feeling the power washing into her blood. It was a weaker one, but it felt comforting just to be superhuman again. She touched the crate, accessed the power, and did as Marshall asked.

A thought occurred to her. Using this ability, she could set the crate to go off as soon as someone touched it. She could fry Marshall like a piece of bacon, immediately, grab the belt off him and run for it. She could use the cloaking power and slip by her guards easily. Why not? What was stopping her? Nothing. They’d kill her family. So what? She didn’t care. She was bad, right? She was a villain. She was evil. In fact, they probably deserved it. Her gross old grandpa with his brains dripping out of his nose. Her fat fuck father who thought that paying half the taxes he was supposed to made him a libertarian revolutionary in the tradition of an ill-remembered version of what he claimed to understand George Washington was sort of meant to have stood for, maybe. Her stupid mother who spent half her time throwing back can after can after can of Coors Light and the other half of her time watching shitty soap operas.

No but let’s really talk about those, though. The soap operas. Have you ever actually sat down and watched a full episode of one? I don’t mean soap-ish stuff like Dawson’s Creek, or The O.C. or whatever – those are just, like, melodramas. I mean the ones that literally air every day like Days of Our Lives or The Young and the Restless. It’s not even that Charlie thought that they were… especially more stupid or evil or vacuous than other kinds of television. They were just incomprehensible. They were supposed to be, what, escapism? Living vicariously through other, slightly more attractive people than yourself. But people were getting murdered and falling into comas and turning out secretly to be their own incestuous twin brother and that shit. It was worse than real life most of the time. Which… like, again, okay, sure, it had to be dramatic so that stuff would actually, you know, happen – but then what was the point? But my god, people felt strongly about this stuff. There were like… magazines devoted to nothing but gossiping about pretend people. She’d seen her own mother, in response to some undesired fictional development, shout and scream and cry as desperately and authoritatively as her father did when Local Sports Team lost to Slightly Less Local Sports Team. At least the sports were happening in real life. They were trivial, but actual. God what a pair! Perfect for each other. Fuck ‘em. Let them die. Pop pop pop and bye-bye mummy and daddy and grandpa and grandma. She’d do it. She’d escape. She’d escape now!

Charlie placed the trap exactly the way Marshall had ordered her. She politely held out her hand to exchange the trap power for the cloaking power, then she rendered the box invisible, even adding a sort of mirage-y gloss to it that would fade in a few minutes so that Marshall could still just about see the crate himself. He held out the slide of Charlie’s own dried blood, from which she could ‘acquire’ her own power, trading her abilities away for a vacuum. She watched Marshall take the box, leave with it, and lock the door behind him. She sat down on her bed. She turned on her television. General Hospital was on.

It was in such wise that John Mann found Lupus, and even before he reached her he was anxious. Since the last time he’d visited Lupus’ accommodations, the guard had been increased from three men to ten, and they were significantly more heavily armed than before, too. It made sense: Valora and Hypatia’s team knew that Lupus was working for them now. But John couldn’t shake the feeling that it had something to do with him.

Lupus’ ‘quarters’ were in a first-floor basement underneath an unfinished office complex. It was not abandoned – but the construction had been put on hold by a contracting issue, and Milo’s men had crawled in like woodworm to take advantage, forewarned and forearmed by Milo’s connections in local government. It would be as much as a year before they had to move out, and until then they had an easily defensible concrete bunker. A bunker that, with every step deeper into it, became more and more difficult for John to escape.

Nevertheless, John made every effort to make his presence as impervious to questioning as possible. He affected the aspect of a colonel inspecting the troops, looking displeased in a vague and official sort of way. All the men looked at least a little nervous of him: some of them almost cringed. John had status, and power – in this rarefied little world, at least.

John went straight down to where Lupus was being kept, marching with a manner at once brusque and easy, as though it were the most natural thing in the world that he should visit with their prisoner. Everyone who saw him thought exactly as John had intended, including Marshall, whom John found wrestling vainly with a crossword puzzle with his back against the counter of an unused kitchenette. He, too, yielded entirely to the impression that John was trying to give, that he was a figure of power. Unfortunately for John, if people think you have power, they often come to the unreasonable conclusion that this means you’re capable of doing things.

“Hey, Mr. Mann.”
That Marshall was trying to get his attention bothered John a little less than the fact that he could see an actual emotion in Marshall’s face.
“What?” he replied, trying not to show any emotion back.
“Didn’t know you were coming down here.”
“Seeing as I didn’t tell you I was coming down here I ain’t all that surprised.” He glanced at the door to Lupus’ room. “How is she?”
“Hm? Oh, uh… quiet, I guess.”
“Good. I need to speak with her. Wait out here.”
“Sure, but, could I… have a word?”

John turned slowly on his underling, trying to say ‘this had better be good’ as loudly as possible with his countenance alone.
“This had better be good,” he added, for safety’s sake.
Marshall shifted uncomfortably, made sure he wasn’t in earshot of anyone else.
“People are saying things,” he said. “About Mr Patáky. That he’s… that he’s lost it. I mean gone really, full on nuts.”
“People say shit all the time. What’s your point?”
“My point—”
“Nah, man,” John said, his face covered with a dark cloud. “You don’t got a point. Because if you had a point we wouldn’t be in the situation we’re in now. You know, with this large, rich-ass criminal enterprise we all a part of. Is everything falling apart? Has he started chopping people up with chainsaws? You see the rafters falling down around us? Ship capsizing? Something rotten in the state of Denmark, you gossip-hungry motherfucker?”

Marshall recoiled a little, surprised by the quiet ferocity of John’s response. But he was not easily intimidated.
“All I mean,” Marshall said, quite calm, “is that you’re closer to him than anyone else. So if you say he’s not crazy, he’s not crazy. You’d know best, Mr. Mann.”
“You’re god damned right.”
“’Cause me and the others, Mr. Mann, up until now we’ve really felt like we’re going somewhere. That Mr Patáky was sailing us through some rough waters, and El Dorado was on the other side. But if he’s, uh, lost control of the helm—”
“Look at your wrist,” Milo said.
Marshall did so. He was wearing an expensive, silver watch.
“We already in El Dorado.” With a look, he added ‘now shut up and get the hell out of my way.’ This time, there was no need for verbal reinforcement.
Still, the exchange was disquieting. This was the first time that John had observed anything other than vague unease from Milo’s men about their employer. If word was starting to get around about Milo’s… state, though, it would not be the last time. Up to this point, Milo’s raw ambition had commanded astonishing loyalty. He had, too, an air of invincibility about him – he had fought off powerful superhumans, had confounded the FBI, had stretched forth his hand to grasp everything in his sight with ease. They were all afraid of him, but so far that had been productive fear. If they started to think of him as a madman, then everything was threatened. Why expect a madman to plan intelligently? Why expect a madman to reward loyalty?
Why indeed, John?

Trying to steel his resolve, John unlatched the door to Lupus’ room. Just before passing the threshold, it occurred to him that Marshall could lock him in if he wanted to. But, increasingly paranoid, he began to suspect that all around him could sense his thoughts, and was careful not to hesitate, for it might have betrayed his purpose.

Shutting the door behind him – and keeping an ear out for the sound of a latch being shut – John found a young girl sitting with her knees up, staring dronishly at a television in front of her. Her hair was dull brown, her eyes listless. John had to perform a kind of perceptual volte face when he remembered he was looking at Lupus, because she wasn’t a ‘girl’ at all – she was about twenty-two. But there was something repellently childish about her.

“Oh,” Lupus said. “What do you want?”
John could have pulled out his pistol and shot her dead on the spot, but it would have made justification hard to fabricate if he was so quick. His intention was to pretend that Lupus had attacked him and that he’d shot himself in self-defence, and that probably needed more time if it was going to be convincing.
“Well?” Lupus grumbled, when John failed to reply. “You just gonna stare, or what?”
Having waited for so long anyway, John elected to play it as though he were being deliberately intimidating. Keeping stony-faced, he found a chair on the opposite side of the room, and sat down on it, so tall that he could just swing one leg over the top.
“You know Valora’s come back,” he said. “Right?”
Lupus’ only answer was to grimace.
“Don’t worry. I ain’t gonna ask you to fight her or nothing.”
“Worry? Fuck off. I beat her before. I – I just know you chickenshits wouldn’t let me near having her power again.”
“Right. Right…” Lupus was obviously terrified, and John felt another stab of nausea at what they had done to her. And yet it wasn’t him she was scared of – it was Valora. Given, as she’d said, that Lupus had beaten Valora, John wondered why she was so frightened.

“That’s what I’m here for,” he said, stumbling on an easy lie. “We’re not letting you anywhere near Valora, like you say. But we still need to deal with her. How did you do it?”
Lupus looked at him like he’d just dropped a really nasty fart.
“You know how I did it. I had her powers. I beat her up, fair and square. I only drugged her after she’d already lost.”
“What did you use?”
“The usual shit. Chloroform. Worked a dream. She was out like a light.” She licked her lips, and noticed John shifting a little in his seat. “Oh, you like the sound of that, huh? Want me to describe it to you, big man? You into that? Two hot chicks getting down and dirty with each other, huh? Sweating and grunting as we wrestle, until the poor, innocent blonde bimbo gets knocked right the fuck out… big boobs heaving… wriggling and moaning… getting touched all over her helpless body… mmmmm, I bet you love the sound of that, big man. Especially,” she added, “since there’s no chance in, like, seven Chinese hells of you getting to do it yourself.”
John didn’t react. He was wondering if he’d waited long enough. But Lupus took his calculation for genuine impassivity, and she jumped forward on her bed with a sudden bark.

“Oh come on! That shit doesn’t get you in the mood at all? How much more fucking obvious do I have to be?” To John’s disgusted astonishment, she took off her top, and began undoing her bra.
“Whoa, hey, what the hell are you doing?”
“Oh, please. You know you’ve got no reason to stop yourself. What, you wouldn’t go there? Got some kind of fucking standards now? You’re keeping me as a slave and you’re gonna kill my family if I don’t do what you say. You’re evil, Mr Man. Real, bigtime evil. So why not?”
John just stared.
“Come on! Look, it’s not like you’re forcing yourself on me. I’m asking. I’m asking, okay? I am so fucking bored in this god damned place, you would be doing me a favour! C-come on! What are you waiting for? What are you waiting for?! You’re like me. You’re like me! You’re all exactly like me so don’t even pretend—”
“Put your fucking clothes back on!” John bellowed, shocking even himself with the violence of his command.
For a moment, Lupus went dead still. She stopped undressing, put her top back on, and swung her legs round so that she was sitting on the edge of her bed, facing away from John.
“It’s not fair,” Lupus whimpered. And, for the first time, John felt real pity for her.

His resolve did not fade, but its character altered. Even as it did so, he wondered at the sincerity of this change, for it ended up being pretty morally convenient, but even when prodded, it did not alter. John still wanted to kill Lupus, but now it was for her own good more than his. It was impossible for him even to contemplate giving Lupus her freedom, for she was a potential threat to him, and pity would never motivate a man like John to put himself at risk. She was, then, surely beyond saving. It would be a release. A mercy. She was facing away from him, too. Her head was down. He didn’t even have to look her in the eye. He moved back his coat and put his hand on the holster of his pistol. Then the door swung open behind him, and John heard Marshall’s voice, and he was so fantastically irritated that he almost turned around and shot Marshall instead.

For a moment John feared that he’d sabotaged himself, that he’d drawn Marshall’s attention when he’d shouted at Lupus, but that had had nothing to do with it. Wrenching himself out of one problem and into another, John composed himself only barely in time to understand that he was being told they were under attack. As Lupus shrieked, and cowered, John had the presence of mind to utter only one word.
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Re: The Perils of Valora Finale: Rat Bites Dog Bites Man

Post by Damselbinder »

Bacchus sat cross-legged in a blind alley behind a building he suspected of being filled with people who wanted to kill him. Granted, few of them were likely to have heard of him, and even those two or so who had didn’t know he was there. But he still imagined them harbouring murderous thoughts, thoughts about him specifically: mocking his powers; throwing darts at crudely drawn, Bacchus-shaped target; inventing insults about him so devastating that it would take him decades of therapy to recover.
“God, was I always this nervous?”

The answer was no. He concluded, rightly, that this was because of Hypatia. For the others, or some of them anyway, Hypatia had been a source of inspiration, but for Bacchus she was something to fail to live up to, professionally and morally. If he’d felt that he could have simply quit without potentially sabotaging their efforts against Patáky, he would have.
“Maybe that’s something,” he thought. “I am contributing. Maybe that’s enough.”

This personal revelation ended up having a profound effect on the life of Blue Bacchus. Nothing, for him, ended up ever being quite the same again. And, had the title of this story been Blue Bacchus: A Bildungsroman rather than The Perils of Valora, that might have been a good place to add ‘The End’. But Bacchus’ internal fade to credits was interrupted by an impatient query.
“Are you going to take a thousand years to do this, or only a hundred?” ran the query.
“Longer,” Bacchus replied, “if you interrupt me.”

Lamia scowled, and went back to the brisk pacing with which she’d been occupying herself. Her snakeskin leotard glinted green and gold, her pupils were wide in her dark eyes, and every so often her black-red lips would part to show teeth that looked just a little sharper than the standard. Her plan was for Bacchus to use his powers to take control of the water in the hideout’s pipes, then burst them all at once, giving Lamia a perfect opportunity to attack. But the going was slow, and Lamia’s patience was running thin.

Bacchus watched Lamia pacing, appreciating the liquid tension in her tan-brown limbs, the coiled, impatient confidence. Her heeled boots tacked against the concrete in a hard, catwalk rhythm, her movements boldly, curtly sensuous – distinctly serpentine. He had no idea how she’d come by her bizarre powers, whether she was born with them or whether they’d hit her out of nowhere in early adulthood like his had. But he didn’t want to ask, for he had it in his mind that one day Lamia had been so suited for these abilities that she had just demanded them of the universe, and they had been given to her.
“Stop staring and hurry this up,” Lamia said, with just enough caramel dipped into the acid that Bacchus would know she wasn’t wholly serious.
“I’m trying as – oh. Oh.” He stood up. “It’s done.” He tried to make himself blank – the only way of resisting his fear.

“Finally!” Lamia clapped her hands together, her pleasure lacking even a trace of ambivalence, her. She tensed every muscle in her body, and then released, letting the pleasure of relaxation double and triple and quadruple on itself, until it was like she was melting, until she was melting. Arms elided into her sides, legs merged, mouth and teeth extending until her whole body was one single, powerful limb. She dropped to the ground, leaving her mouth just human enough to say ‘wait two minutes’ to Bacchus before her tongue could no longer form words. Her scales glinted in the light, and then faded into the mirage of her invisibility.

Curling around a drainpipe, Lamia slithered her way up to a half-open second floor window and slipped silently inside. There was one man in the room in which she found herself, though with her serpent’s vision Lamia couldn’t tell much about him. All she could see was that it wasn’t Lupus. More than anything, Lamia wanted to be the one who found her, the one who brought her in. Her capture at Lupus’ hands still stung, and revenge formed much of the basis of her desire. But there was mercy in it, too: Freebird, Hypatia and Valora all had history with Lupus, and none of them seemed to relish the prospect of facing her. Lamia would be happy to spare them some anguish.

Beneath her serpent’s belly, Lamia felt several loud bangs, then the rumbling rush of flowing water. Bacchus had done it. The man inside with her heard it too, and he ran to the door, not seeing the snake sinuously pursuing. He opened the door, and Lamia heard him swear as water splashed his shoes. Soon, though, he wasn’t too worried about his shoes. He had bigger problems. Problems like a 7-foot-long snake wrapping its tail around his neck until he passed out.

Another man saw. He drew his weapon, but it didn’t matter. Lamia lunged at him, sinking her teeth into his shoulder, and hauling him down to his knees, slamming him into the ground hard enough to draw blood. She shot off down a flight of stairs long before any of his buddies could check on him and found three men struggling to contain the gushing water, water which seemed impossibly high in pressure for a mere burst main. One of them did actually think something was wrong, and when he heard a soft splashing near his feet, he drew his weapon, rightly fearing that he was under attack. His initiative was commendable, but ultimately useless. Lamia had broken his right leg in two places before he could get a single shot off.

The first two only noticed their colleague falling over in pain, and they’d thought he’d just slipped. Both laughed. Then, Lamia wrapped her midsection around one of their necks, wrapped her tail around the pipe they’d been vainly trying to fix, and slammed her victim headfirst into the ceiling. He stopped laughing, and in short order the other man stopped laughing too.

Out of intelligence or cowardice it was hard to say, but the third man bolted, in a series of lurching, gasping strides, towards the back door. This door happened to be aligned almost perfectly with the sun, and so through the door’s clearances a golden, holy light shone through, promising the fleeing goon salvation from the monster pursuing him. Against all odds, he managed to keep ahead of Lamia’s jaws. Against all odds, he managed to confuse Lamia by accidentally kicking water into her eyes. Against all odds, he frustrated Lamia’s wrath and made it to the promised sanctuary, to undo the bolts and the latches and unlock it with a key clutched in a trembling hand and open the door itself all before Lamia could catch up with him. Delighted, he began to make good his escape, only to realize that, for reasons he could not quite comprehend, he was travelling in the opposite direction to the one in which he’d intended to go. Indeed, there were a number of things that were strange about the manner in which he was moving. He seemed to be being propelled by something in the pit of his stomach, for one. For another thing, his motion was somehow more… aerial than usual. And lastly, he was not generally caused to move by having a superhero called Blue Bacchus shoot a jet of pressurized water into his abdomen until he crashed in a broken heap a few metres away.

“Take that!” Bacchus laughed, delighted that his abilities had proven so effective this time. “Lamia! Wherever you are, I think this part of the building’s clear!”
Bacchus was answered by a momentary glimpse of Lamia’s reptilian head. It flicked its tongue at Bacchus, made a motion that was probably supposed to be a nod, then recloaked, and slithered rapidly away. As Lamia vanished, Bacchus took a moment to admire her handiwork, at the large, armed, well-built men she had left groaning, broken, unconscious, or various combinations thereof. It was true, Bacchus had assisted her, and was pleased to have been able so to do. But she had dealt with these villains in, what, a minute and a half? The eccentricity of Lamia’s powers made one forget just how lethal a combination they were.

Lethal the combination may have been, but it was one that, alas, did not come with hands. So when Lamia slunk down to the lowest level of the building, and encountered a thick, heavy door barring her path, she found that the handle, and her scaly body, were too wet for her to get any purchase. She turned as quickly as she could back to her human form, wincing from the pain that such a swift shift demanded. But, with her human vision restored, she noticed something she’d not been able to before: the door was fastened shut from the outside.
“Like a vault,” she thought. “Or – a cell?” The hairs stood up on the back of her neck. “Lupus!”

She didn’t have another articulate thought after that. Like the predator she could become, she saw only her prey. Furiously, she flicked back the latches keeping the door shut, even as she triggered her transformation again, intending to cloak and to strike the very instant that it was possible. She undid the final latch just as her legs fused into one long, muscular coil, and she truly resembled the mythological creature after which she’d named herself. She threw open the door just as she had fangs to bare.
Behind the door –
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Re: The Perils of Valora Finale: Rat Bites Dog Bites Man

Post by Damselbinder »

Freebird tried to think as little as possible as she fought. She tried not to notice that Patáky’s men were afraid of her – not afraid of an enemy, not afraid of battle, afraid of her, of Freebird. She tried to ignore the fact that, when she struck one of her foes with her powers and it happened to draw blood, the blood became invisible against the light of her own energies. She tried not to think at all – simply to battle.

For none of the men who fled from her, who watched as their bullets turned to vapour against the blazing shield that Freebird wrapped herself in, who watched as swarms and clouds of scarlet light chased and harried them - burning, blasting, stabbing, piercing - none of them could have imagined that she feared them as much as they feared her. Her fear was of a different species though; not so much fear of injury or death, but of failure – of capture.

Who knew what means they might have had to trap her? Nozzles embedded into the walls to spray her with sleeping gas; taser rifles to shock her into submission; special top-secret weapons that could pierce her veil of strength and steal it away; hidden, superhuman allies who could laugh aside her defences and defeat her, drain her, subdue her – take her. Her enhanced power still felt new, still felt fragile, and Freebird had been toppled in the fashions she imagined several times before. Lupus, too, if she was here, would have perhaps a dozen ways to take Freebird down.

“Not this time,” Maria thought – a prayer, rather than a promise. “This time, don’t let them get the better of me…!” It wasn’t just that lives were at stake. Lives were always at stake. She just couldn’t help imagining Lupus – imagining Charlie – languishing under Patáky’s thrall, alone and desperate. No captivity that Maria had endured had lasted more than a few hours, and all of them had been… awful. But being enslaved as Charlie had been for, what, weeks? The thought was hideous, and it was why Maria wanted very much to be the one that ended up finding Charlie. She knew that they were only rescuing her to use her against Patáky, but she really did want to save Charlie for her own sake – and, when Charlie was found, Maria wanted the first face she saw to be someone who cared what happened to her. She wanted that very much.

As for the gangsters, none of them had the slightest thought of capturing Freebird. They wanted either to kill her, or to flee from her; generally the latter. Though Maria was nervous of defeat, after a few minutes of battle that possibility seemed remote. Too remote: the ease with which Maria cast her enemies aside, the immediacy with which their resistance crumbled – they couldn’t have put too much value on whatever they were guarding. By the time Freebird had descended to the lowest level, that resistance had not merely crumbled, but disintegrated. The only thing that stood in front of her was a thick, heavy door.

“If there’s anyone on the other side of that door,” Freebird called out, “get out of the way!” She waited for as little time as her ethics would allow her, and with a thick surge of crimson light, blasted the door off its hinges.

Behind the door –
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Re: The Perils of Valora Finale: Rat Bites Dog Bites Man

Post by Damselbinder »

Hypatia had never been dissatisfied with her powers. Telekinesis was a wonderful gift – unobtrusive, safe, a potent weapon and a tool of infinite use and variety. She would never have wished to trade them for another’s, nor did she particularly wish them to be deadlier or greater. But as she hid behind a wall of ever-decreasing consistency, deafened by the sound of automatic weapons-fire, she had to own that she wouldn’t have minded the teensiest little upgrade.

Nor, indeed, would Buzzsaw. Neither she nor Hypatia had expected such fierce resistance, and Buzzsaw was feeling almost useless. At least Hypatia’s powers worked at a distance, but all she could do was sit there hoping not to get shot. She and Hypatia were each pressed against a wall perpendicular to the corridor they were trying to move down, separated by the. The first two guards of the building they’d attacked had been easily dealt with, but the others had immediately hunkered down for a siege, with weaponry that had been purchased in hope of being able to kill Valora, much less Hypatia and Buzzsaw.

As often as she dared, Hypatia would retaliate, sending the chunks of concrete and plaster that their enemies’ weapons had gouged out of the walls right back at them. But she didn’t dare stick her head round to aim properly, so when she hit at all her strikes were glancing blows at best.
“This can’t go on,” Hypatia thought. “Even if we last long enough for them to exhaust every bullet they have, if they have Lupus here they might sneak her out while we’re fighting. I have to turn the tide somehow…”

She put her mind to work, but the best she could come up with on short notice was a gamble. She and Buzzsaw had taken out the first two men quickly – so quickly that she thought it likely that they hadn’t been able to say much to their compatriots. And since only Hypatia had been able to retaliate against the men they were fighting, it was possible that they didn’t know that Buzzsaw was there. And if so…

Hypatia moved closer to the edge of the wall shielding her. Catching Buzzsaw’s eye, she motioned at her to move further back. Then, using her powers, she gathered up as much debris as she could to form a makeshift shield, and – to Buzzsaw’s horrified surprise – stepped out into the line of fire. Immediately, she was met by a hail of gunfire, and leapt back, her shield shot to pieces, falling on her back with a loud and anguished cry of pain. Buzzsaw was about to rush to her aid – but there was no aid to give. Hypatia wasn’t hurt. Thanks to her powers, she hadn’t even landed that hard. Buzzsaw only understood when she saw Hypatia look her dead in the eye, press her fingers to her lips, and then start moaning in pain.

“Help!” she cried, pretending to talk into her earpiece, and making sure to speak only when there was a gap in the gunfire. “I need backup!”
At first the barrage didn’t stop, but gradually it started to die down. Buzzsaw overheard some muttering, and then even some distinct words:
“- and check she’s really—” was all she caught, but it was enough. They were taking Hypatia’s bait. She heard footsteps, perhaps three or four goons, wavering between hurried and tentative as they approached. Hopefully, when they peeked round looking for Hypatia, they would ignore Buzzsaw, and give her the opportunity she needed.
“No,” Buzzsaw thought, “that won’t work. These guys are well-trained for mobsters – they’ll know to clear the room.” If she waited until they looked round, if she wasn’t quick enough on the draw, they might kill her on the spot.

So Buzzsaw edged forward, and she listened. She heard the footsteps coming, faster and faster, more and more confident. Maybe more nervous? Faster, anyway. Buzzsaw needed to be faster still. Carefully, quietly, she unfastened the long, yellow slot on the sleeve of her left arm. What looked like long wires slipped out, each almost as long as her forearm. They were attached to her forearm like hairs, and something kept each wire-hair from touching the other, as though they were coated in static. Then, as in a breeze, the hairs began to sway in a perfectly even, perfectly synchronous rhythm. They began moving faster, and faster, and faster, until they were making a low hum, and then faster still, until they were moving so quickly that they were completely invisible. They were so impossible to see, in fact, that a passing fruit-fly happened to wander into their path, and was reduced instantly to a fine, brown mist. Silent and still, Buzzsaw waited for her enemies to be as close as possible – as close as she dared. No other in Hypatia’s group – not even Valora – would have had the nerve to leave it so late, for none of the others had served as long as Buzzsaw had. She had mastered her powers long ago, and though the years had taken a little of her old speed and athleticism, they had taken nothing else. When she struck, therefore, she struck true.

She did not actually attack her enemies directly. She did not need to. When the blade that extruded from her arm made contact with the solid, concrete wall it spat a violent stream of debris right into their faces, badly injuring an eye of the nearest goon, and enshrouding all others in a thick, choking dust that left them hacking and weezing, their lungs filling with aerosolized concrete. While they were still disoriented, Buzzsaw slipped from her hiding place, and sliced the weapon of the nearest man in two, before breaking his nose with a brutal, solid headbutt. One of the other gangsters managed to gather her wits, and she surged forward with a hard shout. But, by this time, Hypatia had taken stock of the situation as well, and the woman was caught in a telekinetic mesh. Buzzsaw sliced the barrel off her gun, snatched it out of her hand, and smashed its butt into the gangster’s stomach, disabling her as well. Another tried their luck, but this time Hypatia snatched his rifle from his hands before he could even think of using it. From her position, however, with the cloud of concrete dust still hanging in the air, Hypatia could not see this man draw a pistol, and level it in Buzzsaw’s direction. But it didn’t matter – Buzzsaw knew that the next man would have a chance to attack her, and long before he’d trained his sights on her she leapt back behind the safety of the concrete wall. Momentarily confused, the gangster tried to switch targets as he was firing and shoot Hypatia instead. But she was hidden too by the time he squeezed the trigger, so his bullet ricocheted off the wall, going nowhere near where he’d intended. After all, he’d decided to aim at Hypatia. One could hardly give him credit for hitting Buzzsaw in the head.

For about ten seconds, Hypatia thought she’d just seen Buzzsaw’s murder. From her perspective, it looked like something had hit Buzzsaw in the temple, there had been a gruesome spurt of blood, and that she had fallen down dead. It was only when Buzzsaw, shivering, had raised her hand to her wound, that Hypatia realized that the bullet had only scraped Buzzsaw’s skull, not pierced it. But for those ten seconds, when she thought Buzzsaw was dead, something in her hardened, and for the rest of her life it never really softened again. Maria would have been choked with guilt; Valerie would have been wrathful. Cecily wasn’t either of these things. Cecily just felt cold.

By the time she stepped out, she had already seen that Buzzsaw was still moving, but some of her hadn’t quite got the message. Carefully, skilfully, and with a harmonious stillness, Cecily reached out with her mind for the weapon of the man who had shot Buzzsaw. She took it from him, spun it around, and shot him once through each kneecap. As he howled, the last gangster to participate in the advance turned back and ran, firing wildly over her shoulder as she retreated. Cecily deflected these shots easily, and just stood there for a moment, on the edge of something she could not quite perceive.

Whatever Cecily was in, Buzzsaw’s groan snapped her out of it. Remembering herself, she rushed to Buzzsaw’s side. Cradling her head, she slipped off one of Buzzsaw’s yellow-and-black sleeves, and wrapped it around her head, as tightly as she could.
“Can you hear me?” Cecily said, forcing Buzzsaw to make eye contact with her. “Can you understand me?”
“Y-yes…” Buzzsaw groaned. “I’m… okay, we can—”
“You are not okay. Don’t be absurd. We’re getting you out of here, now.”
“No,” Buzzsaw said. “No, I can… I have to—” Somewhat undercutting her own protests, she was suddenly and violently sick, thankfully being polite enough to spew her innards away from Hypatia, rather than into her lap.
“Buzzsaw – Carla – you are badly hurt. You can’t keep fighting. We’ll fall back for now – I’ll call in Cacophony, then he and I can take another shot.”
“Don’t be stubborn. You were magnificent, Carla – you were just very, very unlucky. But we have to retreat.”
“Listen to me!” Buzzsaw, still quivering, and in horrible pain, managed to stagger to her feet. “I – I know I… can’t help – but… I’ll be okay on my own.”
“You’ve been shot. In the head.”
“It doesn’t matter.” She fixed Hypatia with a stern, bloodied gaze. “You… need to keep going. If Lupus is here and you retreat, they’ll… take her away or – or kill her.”
“If she’s not here, and I abandon you, and you pass out before you can escape and you bleed to death then you’ll have died for nothing.”
“I’m the one abandoning you! It… it doesn’t… that’s the risk! That’s the mission.”

It was true, and Hypatia knew it. If it meant defeating Patáky, stopping him once and for all, she had to be willing to gamble with her life, and others’ too. Through her mask, Hypatia didn’t show Buzzsaw much of her expression, but she showed enough. Enough for Buzzsaw to realize that Hypatia had already made the right decision.

Hypatia covered Buzzsaw’s staggering, disoriented retreat until she was out of sight of the gunmen, hoping only that she didn’t run into any reinforcements. It really was possible that Buzzsaw would collapse, and die, and Lupus would not be here, and yet for all that Hypatia could not make herself even consider abandoning their task. Even if the entire operation was a failure, it was still – necessary.

At the other end of the corridor, Hypatia heard movement. Daring to peek round, she saw that they were making ready for another assault. Now she had no backup, and could not retreat herself for fear of just drawing the enemy right to Buzzsaw. If she had been less kind, she thought, she might even have accused Buzzsaw of abandoning her. Now she, a twenty-two year old superhuman with, maybe, a year of experience under her belt and powers that were, at best, modestly potent, was about to go up against at least ten hardened criminals armed with military-grade automatic weapons. She flitted through a range of strategies, generally starting off with a low-rent version of the trick that Buzzsaw had pulled off. But regardless of which version she entertained, she was led to only one possible conclusion:
“I can’t win.”

It was true. Her powers weren’t like Valora’s or Maria’s. They were a finely tuned precision tool, and only secondarily a weapon. One on one, perhaps even up to one on four, she’d have the advantage, but she couldn’t think of a way to fight this many. They would be on her in seconds.

But she wasn’t afraid. She still felt that coldness that she had felt when she’d thought that Buzzsaw was dead. It washed through her like mercury, sloshing into every vein and corpuscle. She found that she was walking out into the line of fire, her breathing slow, and calm. Her long legs carried her with stately dignity. Not one red hair was out of place. The coldness grew deeper, and she found her mind wandering to the previous morning, to the moment with Maria that never happened. There was a kinship, Cecily realized, between how she felt now and how she’d felt then. Only when she realized that the coldness was not coldness, but burning, white heat, did Cecily understand this kinship. Only then did Cecily realize that there was music in her that she had never played. Only then did Hypatia discover her passion.

With a rebel yell, Hypatia tore great chunks of concrete from the walls, condensed them into spheres, and hurled them at the oncoming gangsters, who were so startled by seeing Hypatia running at them that they didn’t immediately counterattack. The concrete spheres didn’t hit any of the gangsters, but they didn’t need to. They hit the ground, and exploded like grenades, blasting the nearest few men with shrapnel. Not all of them were completely disabled by this, and they counterattacked, levelling at Hypatia a hail of gunfire that would have reduced her to paste. But none of the bullets hit. Hypatia did not, as she usually did, subtly guide the bullets to miss her by millimetres; she just slapped them aside with a forceful burst of raw energy.

Not quite understanding why the attack hadn’t worked, one of the gangsters pushed forward ahead of his comrades and fired at her, but only two of the ten bullets that burst out of his rifle actually went anywhere near his target. Before he could work out what was happening, he’d spun 180 degrees, and didn’t release the trigger of his weapon quickly enough to avoid shooting two of his own men. In a sudden panic that he would be thought a traitor, he dropped his rifle, shrieking that he hadn’t meant to do it. This caused such confusion that, by the time someone with more presence of mind had shoved him out of the way, Hypatia was already on them.

As though her mask hid the eyes of a basilisk, every time Hypatia looked at one of her enemies, they crumpled. Some felt a searing pain in their skulls and collapsed from pressure that Hypatia applied to their brain. Some felt their lungs betray them and fell wheezing and gasping to the ground. One man got close enough to try to stab Hypatia with a concealed knife, only for his blade to shatter under Hypatia’s stare, its shards embedding themselves in his chest. Five of them thought that, at last, they had Hypatia’s number, surrounding her. But their weapons leapt from their grips, an invisible hand seized each of them by the throat, and, with an inner trumpet blast, Hypatia smashed each of them into the ceiling with enough force that none of them even had the chance to cry out. Hardly even registering the brutal glory of her victory, Hypatia left her vanquished enemies, and pressed on to the final barrier: a thick door. Behind it –


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Re: The Perils of Valora Finale: Rat Bites Dog Bites Man

Post by Damselbinder »

Hypatia had never been dissatisfied with her powers. Telekinesis was a wonderful gift – unobtrusive, safe, a potent weapon and a tool of infinite use and variety. She would never have wished to trade them for another’s, nor did she particularly wish them to be deadlier or greater. But as she hid behind a wall of ever-decreasing consistency, deafened by the sound of automatic weapons-fire, she had to own that she wouldn’t have minded the teensiest little upgrade.

Nor, indeed, would Buzzsaw. Neither she nor Hypatia had expected such fierce resistance, and Buzzsaw was feeling almost useless. At least Hypatia’s powers worked at a distance, but all she could do was sit there hoping not to get shot. She and Hypatia were each pressed against a wall perpendicular to the corridor they were trying to move down, separated by the. The first two guards of the building they’d attacked had been easily dealt with, but the others had immediately hunkered down for a siege, with weaponry that had been purchased in hope of being able to kill Valora, much less Hypatia and Buzzsaw.

As often as she dared, Hypatia would retaliate, sending the chunks of concrete and plaster that their enemies’ weapons had gouged out of the walls right back at them. But she didn’t dare stick her head round to aim properly, so when she hit at all her strikes were glancing blows at best.
“This can’t go on,” Hypatia thought. “Even if we last long enough for them to exhaust every bullet they have, if they have Lupus here they might sneak her out while we’re fighting. I have to turn the tide somehow…”

She put her mind to work, but the best she could come up with on short notice was a gamble. She and Buzzsaw had taken out the first two men quickly – so quickly that she thought it likely that they hadn’t been able to say much to their compatriots. And since only Hypatia had been able to retaliate against the men they were fighting, it was possible that they didn’t know that Buzzsaw was there. And if so…

Hypatia moved closer to the edge of the wall shielding her. Catching Buzzsaw’s eye, she motioned at her to move further back. Then, using her powers, she gathered up as much debris as she could to form a makeshift shield, and – to Buzzsaw’s horrified surprise – stepped out into the line of fire. Immediately, she was met by a hail of gunfire, and leapt back, her shield shot to pieces, falling on her back with a loud and anguished cry of pain. Buzzsaw was about to rush to her aid – but there was no aid to give. Hypatia wasn’t hurt. Thanks to her powers, she hadn’t even landed that hard. Buzzsaw only understood when she saw Hypatia look her dead in the eye, press her fingers to her lips, and then start moaning in pain.

“Help!” she cried, pretending to talk into her earpiece, and making sure to speak only when there was a gap in the gunfire. “I need backup!”
At first the barrage didn’t stop, but gradually it started to die down. Buzzsaw overheard some muttering, and then even some distinct words:
“- and check she’s really—” was all she caught, but it was enough. They were taking Hypatia’s bait. She heard footsteps, perhaps three or four goons, wavering between hurried and tentative as they approached. Hopefully, when they peeked round looking for Hypatia, they would ignore Buzzsaw, and give her the opportunity she needed.
“No,” Buzzsaw thought, “that won’t work. These guys are well-trained for mobsters – they’ll know to clear the room.” If she waited until they looked round, if she wasn’t quick enough on the draw, they might kill her on the spot.

So Buzzsaw edged forward, and she listened. She heard the footsteps coming, faster and faster, more and more confident. Maybe more nervous? Faster, anyway. Buzzsaw needed to be faster still. Carefully, quietly, she unfastened the long, yellow slot on the sleeve of her left arm. What looked like long wires slipped out, each almost as long as her forearm. They were attached to her forearm like hairs, and something kept each wire-hair from touching the other, as though they were coated in static. Then, as in a breeze, the hairs began to sway in a perfectly even, perfectly synchronous rhythm. They began moving faster, and faster, and faster, until they were making a low hum, and then faster still, until they were moving so quickly that they were completely invisible. They were so impossible to see, in fact, that a passing fruit-fly happened to wander into their path, and was reduced instantly to a fine, brown mist. Silent and still, Buzzsaw waited for her enemies to be as close as possible – as close as she dared. No other in Hypatia’s group – not even Valora – would have had the nerve to leave it so late, for none of the others had served as long as Buzzsaw had. She had mastered her powers long ago, and though the years had taken a little of her old speed and athleticism, they had taken nothing else. When she struck, therefore, she struck true.

She did not actually attack her enemies directly. She did not need to. When the blade that extruded from her arm made contact with the solid, concrete wall it spat a violent stream of debris right into their faces, badly injuring an eye of the nearest goon, and enshrouding all others in a thick, choking dust that left them hacking and weezing, their lungs filling with aerosolized concrete. While they were still disoriented, Buzzsaw slipped from her hiding place, and sliced the weapon of the nearest man in two, before breaking his nose with a brutal, solid headbutt. One of the other gangsters managed to gather her wits, and she surged forward with a hard shout. But, by this time, Hypatia had taken stock of the situation as well, and the woman was caught in a telekinetic mesh. Buzzsaw sliced the barrel off her gun, snatched it out of her hand, and smashed its butt into the gangster’s stomach, disabling her as well. Another tried their luck, but this time Hypatia snatched his rifle from his hands before he could even think of using it. From her position, however, with the cloud of concrete dust still hanging in the air, Hypatia could not see this man draw a pistol, and level it in Buzzsaw’s direction. But it didn’t matter – Buzzsaw knew that the next man would have a chance to attack her, and long before he’d trained his sights on her she leapt back behind the safety of the concrete wall. Momentarily confused, the gangster tried to switch targets as he was firing and shoot Hypatia instead. But she was hidden too by the time he squeezed the trigger, so his bullet ricocheted off the wall, going nowhere near where he’d intended. After all, he’d decided to aim at Hypatia. One could hardly give him credit for hitting Buzzsaw in the head.

For about ten seconds, Hypatia thought she’d just seen Buzzsaw’s murder. From her perspective, it looked like something had hit Buzzsaw in the temple, there had been a gruesome spurt of blood, and that she had fallen down dead. It was only when Buzzsaw, shivering, had raised her hand to her wound, that Hypatia realized that the bullet had only scraped Buzzsaw’s skull, not pierced it. But for those ten seconds, when she thought Buzzsaw was dead, something in her hardened, and for the rest of her life it never really softened again. Maria would have been choked with guilt; Valerie would have been wrathful. Cecily wasn’t either of these things. Cecily just felt cold.

By the time she stepped out, she had already seen that Buzzsaw was still moving, but some of her hadn’t quite got the message. Carefully, skilfully, and with a harmonious stillness, Cecily reached out with her mind for the weapon of the man who had shot Buzzsaw. She took it from him, spun it around, and shot him once through each kneecap. As he howled, the last gangster to participate in the advance turned back and ran, firing wildly over her shoulder as she retreated. Cecily deflected these shots easily, and just stood there for a moment, on the edge of something she could not quite perceive.

Whatever Cecily was in, Buzzsaw’s groan snapped her out of it. Remembering herself, she rushed to Buzzsaw’s side. Cradling her head, she slipped off one of Buzzsaw’s yellow-and-black sleeves, and wrapped it around her head, as tightly as she could.
“Can you hear me?” Cecily said, forcing Buzzsaw to make eye contact with her. “Can you understand me?”
“Y-yes…” Buzzsaw groaned. “I’m… okay, we can—”
“You are not okay. Don’t be absurd. We’re getting you out of here, now.”
“No,” Buzzsaw said. “No, I can… I have to—” Somewhat undercutting her own protests, she was suddenly and violently sick, thankfully being polite enough to spew her innards away from Hypatia, rather than into her lap.
“Buzzsaw – Carla – you are badly hurt. You can’t keep fighting. We’ll fall back for now – I’ll call in Cacophony, then he and I can take another shot.”
“Don’t be stubborn. You were magnificent, Carla – you were just very, very unlucky. But we have to retreat.”
“Listen to me!” Buzzsaw, still quivering, and in horrible pain, managed to stagger to her feet. “I – I know I… can’t help – but… I’ll be okay on my own.”
“You’ve been shot. In the head.”
“It doesn’t matter.” She fixed Hypatia with a stern, bloodied gaze. “You… need to keep going. If Lupus is here and you retreat, they’ll… take her away or – or kill her.”
“If she’s not here, and I abandon you, and you pass out before you can escape and you bleed to death then you’ll have died for nothing.”
“I’m the one abandoning you! It… it doesn’t… that’s the risk! That’s the mission.”

It was true, and Hypatia knew it. If it meant defeating Patáky, stopping him once and for all, she had to be willing to gamble with her life, and others’ too. Through her mask, Hypatia didn’t show Buzzsaw much of her expression, but she showed enough. Enough for Buzzsaw to realize that Hypatia had already made the right decision.

Hypatia covered Buzzsaw’s staggering, disoriented retreat until she was out of sight of the gunmen, hoping only that she didn’t run into any reinforcements. It really was possible that Buzzsaw would collapse, and die, and Lupus would not be here, and yet for all that Hypatia could not make herself even consider abandoning their task. Even if the entire operation was a failure, it was still – necessary.

At the other end of the corridor, Hypatia heard movement. Daring to peek round, she saw that they were making ready for another assault. Now she had no backup, and could not retreat herself for fear of just drawing the enemy right to Buzzsaw. If she had been less kind, she thought, she might even have accused Buzzsaw of abandoning her. Now she, a twenty-two year old superhuman with, maybe, a year of experience under her belt and powers that were, at best, modestly potent, was about to go up against at least ten hardened criminals armed with military-grade automatic weapons. She flitted through a range of strategies, generally starting off with a low-rent version of the trick that Buzzsaw had pulled off. But regardless of which version she entertained, she was led to only one possible conclusion:
“I can’t win.”

It was true. Her powers weren’t like Valora’s or Maria’s. They were a finely tuned precision tool, and only secondarily a weapon. One on one, perhaps even up to one on four, she’d have the advantage, but she couldn’t think of a way to fight this many. They would be on her in seconds.

But she wasn’t afraid. She still felt that coldness that she had felt when she’d thought that Buzzsaw was dead. It washed through her like mercury, sloshing into every vein and corpuscle. She found that she was walking out into the line of fire, her breathing slow, and calm. Her long legs carried her with stately dignity. Not one red hair was out of place. The coldness grew deeper, and she found her mind wandering to the previous morning, to the moment with Maria that never happened. There was a kinship, Cecily realized, between how she felt now and how she’d felt then. Only when she realized that the coldness was not coldness, but burning, white heat, did Cecily understand this kinship. Only then did Cecily realize that there was music in her that she had never played. Only then did Hypatia discover her passion.

With a rebel yell, Hypatia tore great chunks of concrete from the walls, condensed them into spheres, and hurled them at the oncoming gangsters, who were so startled by seeing Hypatia running at them that they didn’t immediately counterattack. The concrete spheres didn’t hit any of the gangsters, but they didn’t need to. They hit the ground, and exploded like grenades, blasting the nearest few men with shrapnel. Not all of them were completely disabled by this, and they counterattacked, levelling at Hypatia a hail of gunfire that would have reduced her to paste. But none of the bullets hit. Hypatia did not, as she usually did, subtly guide the bullets to miss her by millimetres; she just slapped them aside with a forceful burst of raw energy.

Not quite understanding why the attack hadn’t worked, one of the gangsters pushed forward ahead of his comrades and fired at her, but only two of the ten bullets that burst out of his rifle actually went anywhere near his target. Before he could work out what was happening, he’d spun 180 degrees, and didn’t release the trigger of his weapon quickly enough to avoid shooting two of his own men. In a sudden panic that he would be thought a traitor, he dropped his rifle, shrieking that he hadn’t meant to do it. This caused such confusion that, by the time someone with more presence of mind had shoved him out of the way, Hypatia was already on them.

As though her mask hid the eyes of a basilisk, every time Hypatia looked at one of her enemies, they crumpled. Some felt a searing pain in their skulls and collapsed from pressure that Hypatia applied to their brain. Some felt their lungs betray them and fell wheezing and gasping to the ground. One man got close enough to try to stab Hypatia with a concealed knife, only for his blade to shatter under Hypatia’s stare, its shards embedding themselves in his chest. Five of them thought that, at last, they had Hypatia’s number, surrounding her. But their weapons leapt from their grips, an invisible hand seized each of them by the throat, and, with an inner trumpet blast, Hypatia smashed each of them into the ceiling with enough force that none of them even had the chance to cry out. Hardly even registering the brutal glory of her victory, Hypatia left her vanquished enemies, and pressed on to the final barrier: a thick door. Behind it –


Hey all. DB here. Again, we're pretty far in now, and I... think some of you are reading this? Would be great to hear what people think.
A full list of my stories can be found here, with summaries to boot: viewtopic.php?f=70&t=32027
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Re: The Perils of Valora Finale: Rat Bites Dog Bites Man

Post by Damselbinder »

It should say something about the difference between herself and her compatriots that, as Hypatia and the others struggled, Valerie had already breezed through three of her target locations. Only once had she felt as though she might have been threatened: at the second spot she’d hit, one of the gangsters had surprised her by trying to spray her with gas. Whether it was intended to poison or to subdue Valerie couldn’t say, for she had snatched the device off its user and dropkicked both it and him out of the nearest (first floor) window. Still, it was disquieting to see them employ such methods. It was new, and it was worrying.

But aside from that shadow of a threat that might be, nothing Valerie faced could do her the slightest harm. Some of the weapons stung, but even the heaviest couldn’t draw blood. They generally gave only quick bursts of resistance and then fled, as if the gunfire was only there to check that, yes, it was really Valora, and once this had been determined it was better just to run – not that Valerie let them. They couldn’t be allowed to warn their comrades.

Victories were always satisfying, but beyond a few measly jolts of dopamine Valerie didn’t get much out of these ones. Partly it was because of the haste with which she barrelled through Patáky’s forces, leaving her no time to savour any moments of skill or chutzpah. Partly it was because the others – who maintained only intermittent contact as their battles raged – were in so much greater danger than Valerie herself. Partly it was worry that she herself might run into Lupus and the consequences that might follow. Mostly, it just felt too… personal.

Since she had returned to Maine and taken up her mantle again, she had felt its weight more heavily than before. Her opposition to Patáky had too much of the quality of a private feud, and though there was no doubt in her mind that the Maine public would be relieved by his overthrow, that wasn’t what was motivating her. The best, the most superheroic, thing that she could find within herself was a wish to vanquish an evil enemy – to topple the dark lord on his dark throne. Et cetera. What virtue she had would always be fuelled by wrath.

No. Not only by wrath. There was Saskia, and Piper. Even Maria, and Cecily and the others – superhumans though they were – Valerie wanted to defend. Even Oliver. Stupidly enough it was probably especially Oliver. She doubted very much that he would ever be likely to be threatened, directly or indirectly, by Patáky’s organisation. But when she thought of him, when she held the warmth that she had for him close to herself, she wanted to make the world he was in a better one.

It was a good feeling to recognize something benevolent within herself, even if there was still a sort of selfishness in it. It was a shame, then, that she was only conscious of it for about thirty seconds. For she, too, had come to a door, its guards swatted contemptuously aside. She flicked it with her index finger, and it swung open with a bang like a gun being fired. Behind the door –
Behind the door that Lamia had opened were two men, and one woman – a woman who failed distinctly to be Lupus.
Lamia was mid-transformation when she forced her way inside the last sanctuary of gangsters she had besieged. She needed to be fully transformed to cloak herself, so the man who had been waiting behind the door for her was able to press a taser right against her neck. But she was already partly transformed, and with her serpent’s tail she slapped the taser out of his hand before he could switch it on, then raked her fangs across his chest in retaliation. He wasn’t too badly hurt, but the floor was slick with water even here, and he slipped, falling onto his back.

Lamia would have given this fellow a more thorough thrashing, but there were three others in the room with them, and she needed to finish her change. She slipped away from her attacker, feeling herself pass the threshold she needed to cloak herself again. As she did so, however, the man who’d attacked her made one last stab at her with his taser. By this time, though, she was mostly cloaked, and so he missed by an inch. Stupidly, he still turned it on, and thanks to the water sloshing about all over the floor he gave himself a violent shock. Unfortunately, for the same reason, it got Lamia too.

“Ehhhhyyyyaahhhhhhh!!” Lamia cried, the water only enhancing the effect of the taser, sending electricity crackling painfully through her body from the tip of her tail to her snout. She wasn’t prepared for the pain, nor the sheer shock of it, and her transformation was broken. Her cloak splintered, and shattered; her scales retreated from her sugar-brown skin until there was nothing left of them but her mask and her green-gold dress. Her powerful serpent-frame melted back into her slinky, feminine figure; her snout sliding back into a soft, sly face, with dark lips and darker eyes. She wasn’t beaten, though. The transformation helped her to shake off the pain, and with only a moment to recuperate she could change again. But it was a moment her foes didn’t give her.

Lamia had been hoping to find Lupus in this room. What she had found was a store of some of the weapons that John Mann had acquired for dealing with Valora. The high-powered taser had been one of them. Another was in a large, silver canister, about twice the size of your average can of deodorant. Covering her face with her sleeve, another of Patáky’s goons brought one of these weapons to bear on Lamia, who was in the process of struggling to her feet. The heroine had just enough time to look round before the top of the canister clicked, and then sprayed a thick, pink mist straight into her face.

“NO!” Lamia cried out, and with a surge of adrenaline she socked her attacker in the jaw. But that was the last thing she did with any kind of ferocity, and by then it was already too late. Her mouth and her nostrils were invaded with a sweet, chemical vapour, rushing instantly and decisively through her body.

“N-no, not again, I… no… unhh…” Lamia staggered forward, trying to transform again, but not having one tenth of the concentration. But, for a moment, she wondered if perhaps it was working, because she felt a familiar sensation, like her limbs were melting. But this was illusion merely. All that was melting was her strength.

She couldn’t take another step. Her body wouldn’t let her, and its disobedience was intolerable.
“You have to,” Lamia said in a confused, mumbled, but outraged command to her own body. “You can’t… can’t stop…” But with each word Lamia herself became less and less convinced. Her naked shoulders rolled sleepily, her breasts shifting against her golden brace with every languorous breath. Her round hips swayed, with such caramel sensuality that she looked like she was dancing. In fact, it was because with her mind increasingly seized by the effects of the gas, she couldn’t keep track of what form she was in, and her lower body was still trying to move like a snake.

Enslaved to the drug’s influence as though to the flute of a charmer, Lamia continued to ‘dance’ for Patáky’s minions, her eyes rolling back again and again in their sockets with each low, helpless moan. Each time they rolled back a little further; each time the moan was a little softer. Finally, she surrendered to them completely, and tumbled to her knees. But even as she hit her knees her body danced for them: breasts jostling against her leotard and against each other; thighs quivering sumptuously as her knees struck the floor. But even so she was not quite unconscious, and she looked at the three gangsters with hazy, fluttering eyes.
“Do we kill her?” she heard one of them say.
“No,” said the other. “There’s more supers outside that door. If we want to get out of this, we’ll need a hostage: and she just delivered herself right to us. Tie her up.”

“N… no…!” Lamia gasped, just about conscious enough to feel a bloody rancour. “N… nobody’s… I’m nobody’s… fucking… hostage…” she said and rose to her feet. But she had not risen in resistance. It was just that two of the goons had hoisted her up to make it easier to capture her.

With an efficient brutality they bound her, with a series of thick, leather belts. After the first gangster yanked Lamia’s arms behind her, the first belt went around her chest, pinning her upper arms against the edges of her shoulder blades, creaking as it was tightened, squeezing up from underneath Lamia’s bosoms, making them strain against her brace.

“Ooohhhnn…” Lamia moaned, throwing back her head, shifting in her captor’s grasp, only making him tighten his grip on her. Her limp wrists were crossed behind her, a belt wrapped four times around them, with enough of its length left over to fasten it to the belt binding her upper arms, keeping her bound hands stiffly in place, and pulling back against her bare shoulders.
“You… you can’t do this to me…” Lamia protested, in disbelief as well as in umbrage. She couldn’t believe this was happening to her – again! If she hadn’t been so vengeful, so desperate to show what she was made of, she could have won. Now she hadn’t just lost. She was… caught.

Looking down, she saw her legs being tied as well. Already there was a belt being wound around her boots, pinning her ankles, but after only a few seconds there was another around her knees as well, fixing her legs together into one limb. Again, Lamia’s groggy, drugged mind was confused, because with her arms and legs so tightly fastened, again it felt a little like her serpent form – but there was no power. It was a paradox so confusing that it was almost frightening, and it made Lamia feel strangely, shamefully docile.

“N… nooohhhnn…” she whimpered, ever closer to unconsciousness, as another belt was wound around the middle of her thighs, apparently just to give her captor the excuse to grab lustful handfuls of them, pressing and squeezing hard, dry fingers into her silky, sumptuous flesh.
This fondling only stopped when one of them shouted at the other to hurry up, and the larger of the two took Lamia entirely for themselves. They spun her around, and her head dipped back, dark lips parting in silent protest, before Lamia felt pressure on her thighs and her springy backside, and her short, light body was lifted up and over one of the mobster’s shoulders.

“Unnhhh…” she sighed, warm cheeks flushing as she was tossed about like a sack of grain, aghast at how far and how swiftly she had fallen. Only a few minutes before she’d been these gangsters’ worst nightmare. Now she was their prize – no, wait, not prize. They weren’t taking her because they wanted her. She was just a hostage: she was a tool.

Soft legs dangling and swaying across her captor’s chest, and buxom, heaving breasts pressing lightly against his back, Lamia found that she couldn’t make herself move. The drug was exercising its final hold on her: already it had reduced her to moaning, simpering limpness. Now a darkness was settling over her, and consciousness too was about to flee her grasp. In her last moments of cognizance, not sure what else to say, she mumbled:
“Wh… where are you… taking me?”
Her captor laughed, and patted her thigh.
“Don’t worry. Someplace safe. You just go to sleep, beautiful.”
Lamia could do little but obey.
When the door to her cell opened, and her enemy-saviour stepped through, then, it was not Lamia whose visage Lupus was met with. Nor, as it happened, was it Valora’s. But in Lupus’ eyes, the face that she saw – half saw – was almost as hateful.
With beads of sweat on her long, slim neck and smooth, white thighs, panting with a drive and fire that none had seen from her before, it was Hypatia who confronted Lupus at last. As Lupus wavered between attacking and cowering, she began to spit some of her usual, hateful drivel at her flame-haired enemy, but Hypatia spoke first, and with an authority that could not be denied.

“Please do not speak,” she said. “First, listen. I am here for you, Lupus. I – and others – have risked their lives to find you. Have bled to find you. But I am not here to hurt you. I know the situation you are in. I know you are Patáky’s prisoner. His slave. Lupus – Charlotte - I am here to save you.”

Lupus didn’t answer. She didn’t do anything. She just stared. She wasn’t even angry, she was just – baffled. It was such a strange thing to hear that Hypatia might as well have just walked in and said “Charlie you’re actually from Mars, lol” and it would have had the same effect.
“You don’t understand,” she whimpered.
“What?” Hypatia said, gently. “What don’t I understand, Charlotte?”

And Lupus would have told her if John Mann, who had hidden himself behind the door as Hypatia had opened it, had not intervened.
Hypatia noticed him quickly enough to snatch his pistol from him, but he’d seemed to expect that she’d do that, because without even blinking he struck her in the face with every fibre of his considerable muscle.
“Ahhh!” Using her powers at the last instant, Hypatia cushioned a blow that would otherwise have broken her cheekbone to only a fraction of its force, but it was enough to send her sprawling – spinning onto the floor. Even as she fell, John moved to press his advantage, body alive with brutal strength. But this strength, whatever else it was, was only human.

“No,” Hypatia declared, and seized John’s entire body, freezing him like a statue. Never having actually fought a superhuman before, John was astonished – it was like being caught in a magic spell. Hypatia carefully, and deliberately stood up. She approached him until her nose was almost touching his. “Understand this,” she said. “You have lost. Make no further attempts at resistance. I am about to throw you across this room. Since you seem a hardy man, you might be able to get up afterwards. I would strongly advise you, sir, not to do so.” Having said her say, she immediately kept her promise.

When John struck the wall, he didn’t actually break any bones outright. But three or four of his ribs came mighty close, and his head struck concrete almost hard enough to knock him out. By the time he regained control of his body, it was screaming at him in pain, and he wanted to throw up. He looked fearfully up at Hypatia, at the austerity of her beauty, at the fierce brightness of her hair, at the invincible elegance that surrounded her like a satin cloak. There was no question of resistance. There was no question of fighting back. But there was that unusual belt he was holding.
“Lupus!” he shouted, his voice hoarse. “She doesn’t understand – but I do!” With the last of his strength, he tossed her the belt.
Lupus caught it. She looked blankly at John. She looked back at Hypatia.
“Don’t,” Hypatia said. “Lupus, don’t!”
If Maria had made the plea – perhaps even if Lamia had made it – Lupus might have listened. But while Hypatia did hold some real sympathy for Lupus’ situation, she detested her too – and just enough of it dripped into her tone that Lupus could sense it.
“You stuck up bitch!” Lupus cried, and fastened the belt to her waist. “No touchy-touchy this time. No bondage. No chloroform. No kinky shit. I’m just gonna fuck you up!”
Hypatia steeled herself. She responded only:
Maria, alas, found something much less interesting than any of her comrades. Behind the door she blasted open, she found only a pair of accountants, feverishly throwing documents into an industrial shredder.

Valerie, too, found no battle behind her door. All she found was a desk and, behind the desk, a small, pale man whose eyes were red with sickness.
“Oh,” Milo said. “Hi.”


Okay, last update for a while, so uhh... leave your thoughts. Maybe?

Ahh, who am I kidding...
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Re: The Perils of Valora Finale: Rat Bites Dog Bites Man

Post by TheStormCrow »

Hey! Sorry for the late answer, I’ve read both The Perils of Enhancegirl and The Perils of Valora the only thing I can say is that I place both of them in my all time favorite list of stories.
Regarding The Perils of Valora, I really like the tone, it feels a bit more... serious, grittier? There were moments were I forgot I was reading a superheroines in peril story and not a gangsters novel.
The peril is a great as in the Enhancegirl stories, and there was the right amount of it to keep me hooked.
So overall, I’m loving every chapter of The Perils of Valora, and waiting for the continuation after the last cliffhanger.
And that’s pretty much it, this is the first time I gather the courage to send a review or give feedback, so my apologies if it’s a bit awkward, also, English is my second language but it’s been some time since I last communicated with it, so sorry if there are any mistakes.
Hope you keep up the great work!
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Re: The Perils of Valora Finale: Rat Bites Dog Bites Man

Post by Damselbinder »

TheStormCrow wrote: 2 weeks ago Hey! Sorry for the late answer, I’ve read both The Perils of Enhancegirl and The Perils of Valora the only thing I can say is that I place both of them in my all time favorite list of stories.
Regarding The Perils of Valora, I really like the tone, it feels a bit more... serious, grittier? There were moments were I forgot I was reading a superheroines in peril story and not a gangsters novel.
The peril is a great as in the Enhancegirl stories, and there was the right amount of it to keep me hooked.
So overall, I’m loving every chapter of The Perils of Valora, and waiting for the continuation after the last cliffhanger.
And that’s pretty much it, this is the first time I gather the courage to send a review or give feedback, so my apologies if it’s a bit awkward, also, English is my second language but it’s been some time since I last communicated with it, so sorry if there are any mistakes.
Hope you keep up the great work!
Thank you very, very much. This sort of feedback is extremely kind. And yes, I've definitely gone for a grittier tone in Valora than in EG.
A full list of my stories can be found here, with summaries to boot: viewtopic.php?f=70&t=32027
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Re: The Perils of Valora Finale: Rat Bites Dog Bites Man

Post by Damselbinder »

The Perils of Valora 5-7: “Fear and Loathing, But Especially Fear

But Especially Loathing”

Haglund had never got used to living in California. She still had a thick, Swedish accent. She still pronounced ‘ground’ like ‘groaned’, still got annoyed that English didn’t have a proper interrogative, and still found American culture baffling, and annoying. Entering her home was like entering a Swedish embassy: she made it, and herself, a bastion, not so much of Swede-ness in particular, but of non-American-ness. She did this despite the fact that she hadn’t lived in Sweden since she was twenty.

Haglund was an old woman now, and she did not look back on her life happily. She had made too few friends; given up too easily on the kind of life she had wanted; spent too much time doing work that didn’t matter. Hadn’t made enough money. Hadn’t looked after her own health. She’d had two husbands, and she hadn’t been a good enough wife, she thought, to either of them. But since neither of them had been particularly good husbands to her, it wasn’t much of a regret. None of her failures were regrets, really, except her son.

She had never liked him. Even as a boy, Anders had been nasty, selfish, lazy and cowardly in the least sympathetic way possible. Haglund had tried to love him – tried hard – but her manner was cold and severe even to people she did like, and it had been easy for Anders to pretend his mother had made no effort at all. The rift between them had become insurmountable only when Haglund had found him beating a neighbourhood boy three years younger than himself and she had, for the first and only time, slapped him. The boy Anders had been beating had laughed, and it was for that reason that Anders never forgave his mother for the rest of his life. But Haglund was dutiful, and for all her dislike, she never stopped seeing it as her duty to try to fix things. Not until Charlotte disappeared.

Anders’ wife, Tanya, was the one who answered the door. She found a tiny old woman looking up at her, in a grey sweater, with grey hair, and grey eyes. She had a thin, wrinkled mouth, and large, square teeth that made it look like she was wearing two sets of dentures at once.
“Hallo, Tanya,” Haglund said. “Is my son at home?”
“What do you think?” Tanya replied, full of lazy scorn for both mother and son. “Andy!” she shouted. “Your mom’s here!”
If there was a reply from Anders, Haglund was too deaf to hear it, but Tanya more-or-less invited her in. But before she’d passed the threshold, Tanya had petulantly stormed off, and Haglund was left to find Anders herself.

She discovered him where she always discovered him: in front of the television, drinking. He he had inherited his father’s worst vice, and while Haglund’s first husband had at least intermittently – sometimes nobly – fought against his addictions, Anders embraced his with puerile self-satisfaction. He styled himself as a “hard-working, hard-drinking American”, though no boss he’d ever had would own to the former.
“Mom?” he grunted, choosing not to get up. “What the hell are you doing here?”

Haglund, resisting a scowl, made her way to the nearest chair. She’d have stood if she was able, but her ankles did not always agree with her.
“Don’t worry,” she said, sitting down. “I, eh, don’t intend to stay long.” She regarded her son, and was not pleased by what she found. He’d been pretty overweight for most of his twenties and thirties, and she’d been pleased when he’d started hitting the gym after Charlotte had been born. But something about the way he’d ended up was worse to look at than when he’d just been fat. He was beefy and muscular now, but it looked… gristly, and unhealthy. He still had a bit of a beer belly, so his muscly arms and legs looked a bit mismatched.

“So?” Anders said. “What do you want?”
“News,” Haglund said. “Have the police been here? Have they said anything? Do they know anything?”
Anders shot his mother a black look.
“No. They haven’t been here for, like, two weeks.”
“Have you called them? Hm? Do you know who’s in charge of Charlotte’s, uh, case? Do you know if they still think it important, or have they given up? Do they think her alive or dead?”
“I don’t know shit, mom, and I don’t know why you keep asking.”
“Why I keep—?” Haglund caught herself. She’d promised herself that she wouldn’t get angry this time. “I… just want to know if my granddaughter is alright, yes?”
“Yeah, well, I don’t know. What do you want me to do, huh? Hire a private detective? Put up flyers? Put her photograph on milk cartons maybe? Huh? What’s the point of coming round here all the time and making me feel guilty, huh? It’s not my god-damned fault, is it?”
“It is not about you,” Haglund said. It was a lesson that she had been trying and failing to teach her son for forty-five years.

Anders had finished his beer. He crumpled up the can, threw it at a waste-paper basket, missed, groaned, stood up, picked up the can, crumpled it some more, dunked it in so hard that it bounced out again, shouted at the can, slumped back into his seat and opened another can.
“You’re acting like she’s just run away from home or something. She’s not a kid.”
“She is a kid. She’ll be a ‘kid’ when she’s my age, Anders.” She leaned back, one hand resting uncomfortably on her chest. Haglund suffered from a relatively harmless, but painful angina, and it had a nasty tendency of flaring up when she was stressed.

Tanya stepped inside. She’d been eavesdropping on the entire conversation.
“I always said something like this would happen, you know. I told you. The second she joined up with all that superhero shit I knew things would go bad. I always told you, didn’t I, Andy?”
“Did you, hell!” Anders snapped back, not altogether fond of his wife’s bastardisation of his name. “You wanted her to get famous. Take you along to some fancy parties or… premiers or whatever. Make you feel like the homecoming queen again, huh?”
“Oh, fuck you, Andy! You wanted it just as bad as I did. You just wanted her to get rich.”
“I told her not to get involved with that slimy government jerk, and you know it.” He took another swig. “Charlie as a superhero,” he grumbled into his can. “Please. It’s no wonder she ended up killing somebody.”

This pushed Haglund past the point of tolerance. She got up, looking down so that Anders and Tanya wouldn’t see her face. She was angry with them, obviously, for their callous attitude to their daughter’s disappearance, and to her crime. But the horrible thing was that her feelings had all the same notes as Anders’, just in a different order. She too had felt that poor Charlotte was a disaster waiting to happen. So, when she’d heard that Charlotte was suspected of murder, it had been an awful shock, but it hadn’t been a surprise. She’d been afraid of something of this nature as soon as the family had found out that Charlotte was a superhuman. For as much as Haglund had tried to nurture her better angels, had tried to encourage her talent for languages and show her some of the unconditional love that was so dearly wanting in the rest of her life, once her narcissistic side had been given the ripe fruit of her new powers it was hopeless.

“I am going,” Haglund said. “I should not have come in the first place.”
“You only just figure that out now?” Anders replied. “Don’t let the door hit you on your way out.”
But instead of walking out, Haglund turned on her son with wild eyes and a brutal scowl.
“You little ingrate! You talk to your mother like that, you think it makes you a man? You were doing the same thing when you were a teenager, and you were bringing home your halfwit friends. Going out of your way to give me lip in front of them to show yourself to be big rebel, eh? Even they knew to be embarrassed! You bully and you sulk and you swig beer all day, and you marry this brainless tart, and all this—”
“—all this I can forgive. Anything, I can forgive for my son. But not this. Not the way you talk about Charlotte, like she is shit on the bottom of your shoe!”
“Don’t give me that!” Anders growled, finally stirred out of his repose. “You don’t like her any more than I do. You just screwed things up with me, so you wanted to play the doting grandma. Well, you screwed that up too.”
“But I tried, you fool! I tried! You never even bothered. With your own daughter, you never even bothered!”
“Alright mom,” Anders said. He moved two steps closer, sneering with self-satisfaction. “Alright. If you loved Charlie so much, tell me one thing you actually like about her. Just one thing. Hm? You can’t, can you? You’re not angry because of her. It is about me.”
“… funny.”
“She’s funny,” Haglund said. Amid her son’s mocking, petulant laughter, she walked out.

By the time Haglund shut the front door behind her, she was quivering with anger, and guilt. As furious as Anders made her, she was still his mother. All his failures were her failures. So her anger couldn’t be pure. Charlotte had killed a man, and disappeared off into God-knew-where. So Haglund’s grief couldn’t be pure. Sodden with ambivalence, she started her slow walk home – but she’d only got a few feet before she stopped again.

There was a car parked on the opposite side of the street to Anders’ house. A big, black car with tinted windows. It stuck out by its anonymity, and now that Haglund thought about it, she realized that she had seen it before, the last time that she had paid her son an unwanted visit. She had a funny feeling about it. She didn’t know why, or if it was just her anger with her son finding another outlet, but she had a nasty feeling that there was someone inside, and that that someone was watching her. But it didn’t make her afraid.

The two men sitting inside the car were surprised to find an angry, grey old woman trudging towards them at top speed, scowling and grinding her teeth like an ancient, mangy she-wolf.
“What’s your problem?!” she shouted at them, the window not doing much to muffle her bellowing. “Don’t you have anything better to do than the spying on old women? Eh?” To Haglund’s fury, the car started pulling away, and she hobbled after it, waving both fists in the air. “Coward!” she cried. “Skitstövel! Rövhatt!”

A few curious heads peeked through curtains to see what was going on, and something to the tune of ‘mad old coot’ passed through the minds of quite a few, only for them to withdraw when Haglund glared at them. It satisfied her when they fled, and it satisfied her to see the car screeching off into the distance, even as her throat complained vigorously about her abuse of it. She idly wondered who had been in the car, and why, but decided quickly that she didn’t care.
By the time Haglund had got home, though, the car she’d chased off had circled back to its original position.
“D’you think she made us?” one of the occupants said.
“Doubt it. She’s just some old coot.”
“That was the grandma, right?”
“Hmph. Crazy old bitch.”
“Do we need to call in about this?”
“Are you serious? Mr Mann would cut my head off if I bothered him with trivial shit like this.”
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Re: The Perils of Valora Finale: Rat Bites Dog Bites Man

Post by Damselbinder »

In the seconds following Lupus’ boast, and Hypatia’s defiant challenge, neither superhuman made any move at all. Lupus had her hand at the belt around her waist, ready to access any one of ten different powers. Hypatia was waiting for Lupus to choose, to counterattack as decisively as possible once she grasped what Lupus could do. Lupus was twitching, snarling, struggling against her leash. Hypatia was still, calm, serenely gathering her energies to herself. But behind her mask, her eyes were as wide as a hunter cat’s.

Lupus blinked first. She tapped one of the vials at her belt, and a second later, sent gouts of fire shooting from both hands. But before the flame had cleared even half the distance between Lupus and Hypatia it had turned back on its master as if offended. Fire was substantial but weighed almost nothing – there were few things it was easier for Hypatia’s powers to block.

Growling, Lupus tried to switch powers, but invisible hands seized her wrists, and yanked them above her head.
“What?!” She couldn’t break the grip. It wasn’t even like fighting a grip: it was more like her hands had just been fixed as permanent features of that particular bit of space. There was absolutely no way she could break free. She fixed her mad gaze on Hypatia, found her enemy with one arm lightly extended in her direction. She didn’t even look like she was trying very hard. “What the fuck?!” Lupus screeched.

“Indeed,” Hypatia said. “I wasn’t expecting it to end that quickly either. I suppose not every battle can be worth retelling.” There was spite in her tone. She was shivering. Having uncorked her fury, it was impossible to stuff it back in the bottle, and she had to try to remember why she was really here. “Don’t struggle.” She tried to sound as kind as she could, but every time she looked at her face she remembered Maria’s shame after Lupus had humiliated them and shattered their careers. Remembered Valerie’s howling, bloodcurdling anguish. But even if she won, even if she beat Lupus black and blue and dragged her outside in handcuffs, there was what came afterwards. They still needed her to co-operate. They still needed her to overcome their true enemy. “Charlie,” she said, “if you just stop fighting me, there won’t be any pain.”
“Oh, there’ll be pain alright!” Lupus spat, wildly kicking at her foe. “Pain for you!”
The threat sounded pretty idle. Hypatia was not inclined to take it seriously until it was backed up by a jet of fire from Lupus’ mouth.

“Ah!” Hypatia shielded herself in time not to be burned, but this time the fire was less of a problem than the smoke, blinding Hypatia and making her concentration slip enough for Lupus to wriggle free.
“No more kid gloves!” Lupus pressed her finger against one vial, slapped the ground in front of her with her palm, and then swapped to another power. Before she could do anything with it, though, she was hit with an inelegant wave of blunt force, throwing her back halfway across the room.

The blow had been a blind one as Hypatia had cleared away the smoke. She’d just been trying to move Lupus as far away from her as she could. But now she’d had ample time to switch powers.
“I need to get that belt off her,” Hypatia thought. It was attached too tightly just to snatch away. It would take one or two full seconds of concentration to unclip it, and one or two full seconds of concentration to pull it off. And if she was further than seven or eight feet, it would take even longer, and Lupus would have ample time to retaliate.

“You really think you can take me?” Lupus said. She pulled her upper lip back to show her teeth. It would have looked stupid if it hadn’t been backed by such palpable mania. “You’ve got everyone else fooled, Cecily. With the new outfit, and the mask and shit. The cool persona. But I’ve seen underneath. I’ve kicked your ass more times than I can count, and I know what you really are. You’re just some posh bitch who was raised to curtsey, serve tea, and like, arrange spoons and be a good little wifey wife to some city trader or whatever. Apologize for pissing me off and maybe I’ll let you leave here alive.”

“I take it that you’re trying to taunt me,” Hypatia said. “Perhaps goad me into taking a risk. Perhaps, since you’ve wielded my powers before and you understand their mechanics, you know that it will be difficult for me to rob you of your belt without coming closer to you.” She took one step forward. “You’re correct. I can’t safely defeat you without getting closer.” She took another step. “So I’m sure to wander into the trap that you’ve laid for me. You remember. The same type of trap you used to capture me and Freebird the last time we fought, where you charge an object with electricity and it goes off when it’s touched. The type of trap you had plenty of opportunity to create when I was blinded by your smokescreen.”
“The same type of trap,” Hypatia said, stepping exactly on the spot on which Lupus had laid exactly the sort of trap that Hypatia had described, “that won’t work through a rubber soled shoe.” Below her foot, there was a blue-white crackling, and hissing, and a smell of burning rubber, before fading harmlessly into nothing. “You must have expected I’d take some precautions.”

With a furious shout, Lupus demanded vengeance for her offended honour, and – to Hypatia’s horror – clawed wildly at her own arm. For a moment Hypatia thought Lupus had truly gone mad. But there was vile method in it: the blood leaking from her wounds shot out like a high-pressure jet, but a jet that crystallised in mid-flight. Hypatia only barely managed to avoid it, the blood-needle stabbing viciously into the opposite wall.

Thinking rightly that Hypatia would be disgusted by the power she had employed, Lupus quickly switched to another ability. When Hypatia recovered her wits, and turned on Lupus again, she could not see her. She could not see anything.
“Nice moves, Hypatia!” Lupus’ voice did not appear to come from anywhere in particular. It rang in Hypatia’s ears over and over again, subsuming reality with her nasal, lupine screeching. “You know what? I take it back. You are, like, just about good enough to be a kinda-sorta mediocre hero. Good fucking going. But you’re not on my level, and you never will be. Never, ever ever!”
“Stop this, Lupus!” Hypatia cried. “I know you’re Pataky’s prisoner. I am here to help you.”
“Help me? You hate my guts! You all hate my guts! You want me to suffer!”

The words buffeted Hypatia like waves. She was trapped in a black, featureless void, with no up, no down – nothing to hold onto. She was so disoriented that she felt like she was falling in all directions at once - and the voice! Rattling inside her skull and squirming inside her intestines, driving nails into her with every syllable. It was like Lupus was pressing her mind directly against Hypatia’s, like Hypatia could feel the black sludge of her hatred and terror bleeding over from one skull into another.

Hypatia was blinded, but Lupus could see just fine. It was kind of funny seeing Hypatia stumbling around. Like she’d just put her mask on wrong and couldn’t see out of it. Dumbass. She couldn’t possibly really want to help Lupus. Did she not remember all the stuff Lupus had done? Did she not remember Lupus kidnapping her and her bosom buddies? And, like, publicly humiliating them? Did she not remember Lupus choking Slick McCheese to death? Did she not remember the whole thing with Valora? At all? Of course she did. She was just trying to get Lupus to drop her guard. She was a hypocrite. Everyone was a hypocrite. God, she hated Hypatia. Valora was a bimbo, but at least she was actually powerful. Hypatia - Cecily - was just a spoiled little princess. She needed a dose of reality, and Lupus’ fists would give it to her. She got within five feet of her blinded enemy, and prepared to switch to the ability she’d used to ambush Lamia: a boost to her strength, agility and speed. As soon as she took it the cloak would drop, but she was too close for Hypatia to stop her in time. She began to move her hand to the vial containing the power she needed. The only problem was that her hand wouldn’t move. Her whole body wouldn’t move.

“I’ve always thought it was a shame you didn’t stay with us,” Hypatia said. “In the Bombshells, I mean. To think of what you and Valora could have accomplished fighting side by side! Even at the beginning you were the most confident with your powers. It took me years to find ways of using my abilities properly, but you took to them like a duck to water. With this power, too – you use it well. But Lupus, I’ve fought the person you copied it from,” she said, turning and looking straight at her enemy. “And you’re nowhere near as good with it as she is.”

Before Lupus could articulate the insult gushing out of her throat, Hypatia threw Lupus’ body into the air, and smashed it with as much force as she could muster against the nearest wall.
“UUNNHH!” Lupus cried, shocked as much by the sudden turnaround of her fortunes as by the pain itself. She slumped to her knees, stunned, struck so hard that half the vials on her belt had shattered. She staggered to her feet, but was so dazed that she didn’t even notice Hypatia tear her belt from her waist, hurling it decisively out of her reach.
“Don’t try to get up,” Hypatia said, the cloak crumbling around her as Lupus struggled to stay conscious. “It’s over. It’s over, Lupus!”

Lupus could not help agreeing. If she hadn’t been so frightened and so angry she would have been impressed: she had always known that there was potential for brutality in Hypatia’s powers, but she didn’t think Hypatia herself would ever be capable of exploiting it. She could feel pressure around her neck, her diaphragm, her skull: Hypatia was ready just to knock her out if she didn’t comply. It suddenly occurred to her, as she found herself at Hypatia’s mercy, that mercy might be exactly what she would get; that, perhaps, she actually meant what she said about helping Lupus.
“L-listen,” she stammered. “They… they’re gonna… my f—”

But there was another person on the scene, wasn’t there? John hadn’t been quite as disabled as he’d pretended, and he’d been biding his time for the length of Lupus and Hypatia’s fight. He had a chance, now, to kill Lupus and to get away with it completely: it would have been simplicity itself to make it look like friendly fire. But if he shot Lupus in the back, Hypatia would still be there to drag him off to jail. He needed Lupus to win – and then to kill her. So when he was sure Hypatia had her back to him, he slowly, painfully raised his pistol, and fired.

The bullet didn’t kill Hypatia. She had kept up a light, ambient field like a makeshift sonar using her powers, in which she could feel disturbances. This was how gunmen found her so strangely difficult to hit even when trying to ambush her, and this was how she’d been able to detect Lupus even when using her cloak. But it wasn’t by any means perfect, and she only realized what John was doing at the last possible moment. The bullet didn’t even completely miss, and Hypatia was left with a nasty – though shallow – cut on her right shoulder.

“Ahh!” The sound was as much one of indignation as of pain, and before she’d even fully turned, she had seized John’s weapon from him. She wanted to destroy it, but her powers weren’t quite strong enough for that. So, she made do with just belting John across the face with it, and then tossing the gun to the other side of the room.

By the time John had recovered his wits, he was no longer sure that he would end the day with as many teeth as he’d begun with. He knew Hypatia was superhuman. He knew that it was stupid to compare people like them to people like him, but for the first time he really understood the agony of having a superhuman as an enemy. If John wanted to defeat an enemy it took hours of planning; careful co-ordination with his allies; sourcing weapons; avoiding or bribing the law; and even then a lot of the time he had to back off after a brief skirmish like any rational predator. But, while he didn’t doubt Hypatia had had to plan her attack to some extent, it wasn’t the same. She’d just sauntered in and ruined everything with a few waves of her hand – and by superhuman standards she wasn’t even all that powerful! Perhaps that, ultimately, was what being superhuman really meant: just being able to make things happen.

John saw Hypatia looking at him, the blood on her arm and the scarlet over her eyes adding something warlike to her elegant, stately countenance. Once their eyes had met for only a couple of seconds, both he and she knew that John was not going to try anything again.

Hypatia had kept her grip on Lupus even as she’d dealt with her jailor. But Lupus was shivering, and whimpering, and so when Hypatia turned back she couldn’t help relax her grip a little.
“Are you… alright? I didn’t, ah, hurt you too badly?” Hypatia said, but Lupus didn’t answer. Hypatia tried again. “You were saying something to me before. It was obviously important.” Still Lupus said nothing. “Was it… was it about your family, Lupus? Was that what you were saying? Are Patáky’s men holding them to threat? If they are, then—”
“Hm?” At first Hypatia thought Lupus was talking about the wound on her arm, but she wasn’t even looking at Hypatia. She was looking down at her own hand and, indeed, there Hypatia saw a streak of blood. She wished suddenly that Lupus just hadn’t fought back; for that strange roiling of her humours which had let her deal so brutally with Patáky’s gunmen still gripped her. “It doesn’t look serious,” she said, growing ever more impatient. She reached with her powers for a hidden compartment in her right boot, where she kept a small, but strong set of handcuffs. Lupus still had Lot’s power, but if Hypatia kept her in her grip, she wouldn’t be able to get away. Time to end this.

“Oh, no,” Lupus said, and suddenly her tone was discordantly casual. “It’s not my blood.”
Hypatia couldn’t breathe. There was something squeezing her windpipe. Not her neck, not her throat – those were left unmolested. It was like a little crab had crawled down her throat, found her trachea, and was just holding it shut. The handcuffs fell from her invisible grasp, then her grip fell from Lupus too. No – not ‘fell’ – it was like her hold had been shoved aside.
As Hypatia fell, gasping, to the floor, just barely managing to force her windpipe open enough to breathe, she saw that Lupus was standing. She stared down at her enemy with a wild, unblinking grin, and floated closer to her.
“Thanks,” she said. “I’ll make do with yours for now.”
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Re: The Perils of Valora Finale: Rat Bites Dog Bites Man

Post by Femina »

Great chapter! Loving Hypatia's growth. She's starting to feel like a right, if only mildly weaker, Jean Grey
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Re: The Perils of Valora Finale: Rat Bites Dog Bites Man

Post by TheStormCrow »

Oh man, I’ve never been so conflicted by a character as I am with Lupus, I can’t help but despise and pity her at equal parts, still, I enjoy a lot whenever she appears, a beautifully written character.
Also, these cliffhangers at the end are simply evil! In a good way, hehe. Anyway, awesome chapter as always, Sir.
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Re: The Perils of Valora Finale: Rat Bites Dog Bites Man

Post by Damselbinder »

Even though Valora already knew what Milo Patáky looked like, it was still weird. Even though she’d taken a couple of pictures of him for her job at the Sun, it was still weird. Even though he conformed absolutely to all the rumours about him – small, haggard, ratlike, nervous, nebbish, wan, creepy, mad, sullen-eyed – it was still weird. For so long ‘Milo Pataky’ had just been a goal, an abstract obstacle that Valora wanted to punt out of her way for the common good, and so that she could get on with the rest of her life, that it was exceeding strange to find that he was a real man.

If anything, it was even stranger for Milo. It wasn’t so much the shock of a brightly-outfitted, famous superhero bursting suddenly into his office in the middle of the day, although that certainly made part of Milo’s anatomy retreat a little further inwards than it was ordinarily accustomed. It was that he had been waiting for this day for so long, had imagined it so many times in so many alluringly violent combinations that, now it had come, Milo was struggling to keep it straight that it wasn’t just in his imagination.

“I confess!” Milo shouted, springing to his feet. “It was me, it was me all along! O.J. really was innocent. It was me who shoved his wife down those stairs. And it was me that had the affair with Bill Clinton. Poor Ms. Lewinsky had nothing to do with that regrettable tawdriness. And,” he added, putting his hand on his heart, “I did Enron. Mea culpa. That is, er, mea… fraud…a.” This abuse of an ancient and noble language tickled Milo’s funnybone so much that he fell right back in his chair, laughing hysterically and clapping his hands together like a seal.

So, this was it, then. The guy Valora had devoted all her power and attention to catching, the man Hypatia and the others had been risking their lives every day to defeat, and he was some mad idiot. He wasn’t scary insane. Not tragic insane. Not even totally-gibbering-padded-cell insane. Just… pathetic.

“God, I don’t even know what to say to you,” Valora said. “I’ve almost looked forward to actually meeting you face to face. You know, doing the superhero thing, laying down the law, putting the fear of God into you. But I’m starting to get the impression that you’ve been nothing more than a waste of my fucking time.”
“The f-word, Valora?” Milo said, getting a giddy thrill out of being able to address her directly. “Tsk tsk. You’re a superhero! You can’t swear. You’ve got to think about your image. Your brand. What would the theoretical kiddies think if they heard their hero speak so. ‘Valora’? More like… ‘Vulgaria’!” This brought out another wave of hysterics. “I’m – haha – oh, mercy, I’m sorry, that was – ehehehehe – oh that was probably the worst joke I’ve ever made in my life – ahahaHAHAHAHA!! I’m-”
“Quiet!” Valora bellowed, with such volume and such brutality that the very words almost knocked Milo out of his seat. “The pain and the death that you’ve caused, and you try to make a joke out of it?! I know you’re a mob boss; I didn’t expect you to care, but you don’t even fucking take it seriously!”
“Oh, please.” There was a different kind of laughter in Milo’s eyes now. “‘The death that I’ve caused’ indeed! Everyone that you… allege that I’ve killed has been some mobster, some murderous, thuggish toe-rag. You don’t care about their lives. You didn’t burst in here out of compassion for all those dead little gangsters. It’s because I’ve offended you somehow.” Milo’s words were more just an expression of spite than a targeted attempt to unsettle his foe, but it did please him to see that she didn’t have a reply. He’d made a cut, however shallow.

Well. Maybe he had, maybe he hadn’t, but that wasn’t why Valora kept quiet. She hadn’t answered because Milo thought she was there for him. Which meant he didn’t know about the other attacks. Which meant he didn’t know that she was after Lupus. Which meant that if she left, he might start wondering.

So, she pulled up a chair, smirked, and put her feet up on his desk.
“Please, little man,” Valora said, “what could you do to offend me?”

“Oh heavens, yes.” Milo’s eyes flashed. “Is the mighty Valora, the golden and glorious… sparring with miserable, measly, mortal moi? Bless you for your beneficence, oh fabulous one!” He put a cigarette in his mouth, but didn’t light it. He just flicked it about with his tongue.
“I don’t know about that,” Valora said. “I guess I’m just hoping to understand something about you beyond ‘whackjob’.”
“Tsk tsk, Valora. You don’t talk very kindly about the mentally ill.”
“Hm. You’re right. I guess I’m not as sensitive about that kind of thing when I’m talking to someone who tried to have me murdered.”

Milo grinned.
“Oh yes. That. You asked me what I could do to offend you. Would that count? When I – allegedly, of course – hired someone to beat the stuffing out of you. Had you brought to me bound and drugged in a little bag.” He snickered. “My, when you put it like that it sounds like the beginning of an unsavoury sort of videotape, doesn’t it?”
“That thought kept you company on lonely nights, Patáky?” Valora said, meeting Milo’s eyes, unblinking. “Don’t be embarrassed. Lord knows you wouldn’t be the first.”
“No,” Milo said, thoughtfully. “I mean, don’t get me wrong, the thought did occur to me. I tried to do it once: I thought it might be sort of… therapeutic. But I just ended up creeping myself out. I mean look at you. You don’t even look like a - a sexy woman. You look like a painting of a sexy woman. Or a Greek sculpture, or something. Too perfect. Like someone whipped you up from a cauldron into which they’d dunked the collective American male subconscious. No, no, no, I could never get my rocks off to you. It’d be like whacking it to the Virgin Mary or something.”
“You know what the real fucked-up thing about that is?”
“I believe you.”

Milo laughed again, but there was a bit more life in it this time. It made him seem more human, which was creepy in its own way. What was creepier was that it didn’t, now, feel all that unnatural talking to him. Was this really the first time they had ever spoken? It felt like this man had been a part of Valora’s life for years.
“I have to say, Valora, you surprise me.”
“You’re all… tough. Laconic. Sharp. I thought you’d either be completely stone-cold, or that you’d effect some cartoony superhero mien. But you’re actually an interesting person, I think. I’m pleased.”
“You’re welcome.” He leaned over the desk, pulling himself to the side so that Valora’s feet, still resting contemptuously on some of his papers, weren’t in the way of her face. “There’s something else, too, that I really didn’t expect. I suppose I just always imagine superheroes as bored or morally overcompensating rich kids. I’m certain that’s what your pal Hypatia is. Oh, that reminds me! I never understood that name, by the way. ‘Hypatia’. Why is she called that? Do her powers come from math? Do they only activate when she’s murdered by a crowd of Christian zealots? I—” He touched his chin. “I sense I’m getting off track. What was I saying?”
“Something about me being an overcompensating rich kid.”
“Right. Or rather, wrong! You’re not that at all.” He sat back, interlocking his fingers over a stomach that was so thin it was almost concave. “I think, Valora, you’ve spent a lot of your life being very, very hungry.”

Valora didn’t reply. Milo smirked.
“Hit a nerve, have I?” he said.
“A little bit,” Valora admitted. She tapped her foot on Milo’s desk. “Can I have a turn? You know, at the pop-psych thing.”
“Oh, by all means. Ah! In fact, I’ll let you have three guesses about my mental state. If all three are right… I’ll turn myself in to the police. But you can’t say ‘daddy didn’t love you, did he little man?’, because of course he didn’t; that’s much too easy.”
“Aw, man, that’s what I was gonna start with.”
“Fine, fine...”

Valora rubbed her chin.
“Okay, first guess… you were pudgy as a little kid. Like, not fat, just kinda round, but it really bothered you and you’ve made sure you’re stick-thin ever since.”
“Interesting suggestion. Second guess?”
“You paid for a hooker when you were, like, sixteen just to make sure the jocks couldn’t give you shit for being a virgin.”
“Mm-hm. Alright, last guess.”

Valora narrowed her eyes, really thought about it. Obviously Milo wasn’t serious about keeping his promise, but this was the first chance she’d had to injure him. She wanted it to stick.
“You hate women. More than anything else in the fucking world, and you don’t even know why.” It was a shame that the word ‘incel’ wouldn’t enter common parlance for another ten years, or Valerie would certainly have used that.

Milo grinned.
“Not bad! Not bad at all. You’re cleverer than I expected. Forgive me for giving into the whims of cliché, but with powers like yours one can’t help imagining some head-clumping brute.”
“Oh, I can be pretty brutish when I need to be. Your boys know that pretty well.”
“I’m sure they do.” Milo spat out the cigarette and flicked his teeth with his tongue. “You got two out of three.”
“Ah, crap! Which one did I get wrong?”
“I was never pudgy: I’ve always been very thin. If it isn’t alcoholic, I don’t much care to have it pass my lips.”
“Damn.” Valora let out a sad sigh. “Well, it was worth a shot.”
“Indeed. What a positive attitude you’ve got.”
“Thanks, Patáky.”

Milo stood up.
“Well, that was wonderful. But I think we’ve drawn this out long enough, eh?”
“Oh, totally. Thanks for being such a gracious host, Mister Patáky.” She stood up too. It was a shame that she wouldn’t be able to take up more of his attention, but if he wanted her to leave and she insisted on staying, he might have cottoned on that something was up.
“Well?” Milo said.
“Well what?”
“Get on with it.”
“Alright, dickhead, I’m going.”
“Going? You’re not going anywhere.”

Valora jumped back, fists clenched, teeth bared. Her eyes flitted about the room, looking for some kind of trap, expecting a jet of gas or smoke or something, or a hidden superhuman waiting to ambush her. But there was nothing. More than that, Milo was looking at her with genuine confusion.
“Oh,” he said, belatedly understanding. “I wasn’t threatening you. But, you’re not leaving. Not yet. Right?”
“Why not?”
“Why?” Milo said, looking at Valora like she’d gone mad. “You haven’t killed me yet.”

It didn’t seem like a joke. Milo’s eyes went sort of wild and dead at the same time, and it didn’t fit his sense of… humour, I guess you could call it.
“Are you serious? You think I came here to kill you?”
“Of course. I’ve been waiting for you for weeks. Alright, I had my doubts when you showed up, but now that I know a little more about you… what on earth is stopping you?”
“Shut up, Patáky, I—” She stopped herself from saying ‘I didn’t even know you’d be here.’ “I’m just here to understand what I’m up against.”
“Well, now you understand. I’m a madman. I’m going to keep on looting, burning and killing, unless you stop me.”
“Bitch, I’m going to stop you. Just gonna do it in a way that doesn’t get me sent to jail, that’s all.”

Milo laughed, but he still looked mystified.
“Are you… are you an idiot? You don’t think you could kill me and get away with it? With your powers you could probably just… swim out to the middle of the Pacific Ocean with my body and dump it. You could crush me into a teeny-tiny ball and pop me in an incinerator. You – hehe – you could probably just punt me so hard that I’d go into orbit. Be a nice, new, gangster-shaped moon you can look up at at night.”
“Patáky. Dumbass. It’s not about whether I can get away with it or not.”
“Oh, don’t be ridiculous. It can’t just be because it’s immoral.”
“… Yes, because it’s immoral. You don’t need to be the Angel Gabriel to think maybe ‘murder in cold blood = bad.’ I know you’re a gangster, I know that shit is pretty normal for you, but I thought maybe you were smart enough to know it isn’t normal for the rest of us.” She gestured at herself. “Bright outfit. Domino mask. Fashion sense that would get me laughed out of the country in any other profession. Did… none of that clue you in that I might not spend my time going around killing folks?”

And suddenly the curtain fell away. This demon, this monster who had tormented his dreams and his waking nightmares, this avenging angel who had made him hide under his bed, who had forced wicked James from his side and forced Milo to spill his brains all over a grimy, Canadian hotel, was just a… person. And she was a person, he was a person. And if he was a person, his life was real. If his life was real, putting the knife into beautiful James’ beautiful skull had been real, and he really had been there as the closest thing he’d ever had to a friend; a powerful, confident, strong-willed man-among-men had cried like a little boy while he’d been torn to ribbons and murdered, whimpering and terrified.

Milo snapped.

That is, he snapped back.

“You okay, Patáky?” Valora said. She was smirking.
“This isn’t funny,” Milo muttered. “It was never funny.” He walked around his desk, lurched over to where Valora was standing, and slapped her as hard as he could, right in the face.

A long, long time passed. It might even have been as much as thirty seconds, which, if you’re wondering is a long, long time for two people who hated each other as much as Valerie and Milo hated each other to stand still in complete silence.

“… Milo,” Valora said, very, very slowly. “You… are really… pushing it.”
But Milo wasn’t listening. He hit her again. This blow, more confident than the first, nearly broke one of the bones in his palm. Then he backhanded her. Then open-palmed again. And again, and again, staring her right in the eyes. At no point did either of them blink. Milo only stopped when his hand and his shoulder hurt so much that he had begun to cry. But even then he wasn’t done.

Milo went back to his desk, groaning and staggering, tore open the top drawer. There he found a pistol, one so heavy that he could no longer hold it in his injured right hand. So he took it with his left, staggered right back over to Valora, and held it an inch from her forehead.
When Valora spoke, she could barely raise her voice above a whisper. If she had, she wouldn’t have been able to stop herself from screaming at him.

“I was blazé before. I wanted you to feel stupid, to feel small. But you were closer to the mark than I let you think. There is a part of me, a big part of me, that wants to kill you. It would be so easy. So easy. If I breathed hard enough I could kill you. I think of my hands slipping around your neck and squeezing until your head popped off, and it would be… wonderful. You would deserve it. And you’re right, I could probably get away with it. So my conscience is the only thing keeping you alive right now, and if you knew me better you’d know that that puts you in a very, very dangerous place. I let you slap me, what, eight times? You know, I think not cracking you like an egg after the first one is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. If you pull that trigger, if you dare to pull that trigger against me, I will try not to retaliate. I will try not to kill you. But I honestly don’t think I’ll be able to.”
“Whoop-de-doo,” Milo said, and fired four times.
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Re: The Perils of Valora Finale: Rat Bites Dog Bites Man

Post by Damselbinder »

Bacchus hadn’t taken long to realize something was awry. He’d followed Lamia down the only path she could have taken, into a room with only one door, which he had had to use his powers to unlock, and she wasn’t there. Okay yes, she could become invisible, but he knew there had been a battle here. He could just tell. The water… well, look, it was hard to describe the feeling, but water spoke to him, sometimes. Just little hints and nudges. And it hinted and nudged to Bacchus that things had not gone well for Lamia.
He tried to allow the water to flow into his mind, to let its eddies guide him, to slip into the folds of his brain and whisper its secrets to him. He tried to move where it moved, to swirl as it swirled. Immediately he could tell that it had further secrets to yield, but if he tightened his grip it would, as water does, just flow from his grasp. All he could do was open himself to it – and it was not playing ball.

Bacchus opened his eyes, kicked petulantly in the pool at his feet, disturbing the little lake so that its edges splashed against the walls. He would have turned around and gone looking somewhere else, except that he happened to notice something. Against three of the four walls, when the water splashed against it, it did just that: splashed, and then washed back. But against one of the walls, some water seemed to be running underneath the bottom of it. There was a seam.
“A door!”

Bacchus was quite right. It was a door. A door, in fact, which had been made use of only a scant few minutes earlier, by three people plus one, if you see what I mean.
Patáky’s three goons, fleeing at high speed, were not exactly feeling happy about their situation. But any time that a group of smaller than ten defeated a superhuman they were going to feel pretty pleased with themselves; especially when that superhuman was as fetching as Lamia.

Defeated and utterly insensate, the pleasure that Lamia gave the man carrying her far outstripped the burden of her weight. That man and his comrades were descending a steep, narrow set of stairs. So every step was hard, and heavy, and every one made Lamia’s body jump a little from its resting place on her captor’s shoulder. But he didn’t mind one bit, for every time Lamia’s body jumped, it fell right back down again, and reintroduced him to its abundant charms. Her overflowing bosom trembled and jostled within the corset-tightness of her costume; her pretty thighs bounced against her captor’s chest with such plush femininity that it was hard for him to believe she wasn’t doing it deliberately. Even if he looked over his shoulder, Lamia’s face was covered by a veil of thick, sable hair, but he could imagine her flashing his eyes coquettishly at him. Even when they’d been knocking her out with sleeping gas she had been… drenched in sensuality. Even unconscious and tied up with leather belts, she was hypnotic.

The stairway, a repurposed fire escape, led straight down to the house’s garage, where a vehicle was already waiting for them: a slightly out of date SUV. The three gangsters threw themselves inside, two in the front, and one – plus one – in the back.
“Come on,” said the one in the passenger seat. “Let’s get going before the other one catches us.”
“Or more of their buddies show up,” said the driver, fiddling with the ignition. “Only thing worse than a cape is a cape that’s unionized. Hey, Lem, hurry up!”

‘Lem’ was going as fast as he felt he needed to, and as slowly as he dared. He took Lamia from his shoulder, sliding her down his body so that her breasts rubbed against his back, his shoulder and his chest, her skin making a silken swishing sound as it passed over the material of his sweatshirt. He held her up by her shoulders, naked and sugar-brown, making her head fall to the side. The sly, unbridled sexuality of her features was unveiled as her hair swept aside. Her eyelashes were thick, and long, and made her sleep look all the heavier. Her lips were slightly parted, dark red. Every pore of her body was alive with sensuality, and she was completely, devastatingly vulnerable.

Lem took Lamia by one of the belts wrapped around her torso, dipped her backwards, making sure her head didn’t bump against the roof of the SUV. Her head fell back, her neck tensing under the additional burden. Her back arched, and Lamia’s soft, sumptuous bosoms fought even harder against her snakeskin top.
“Mnnnooohh…” The sigh escaped Lamia’s mouth like it had been released from a cage – it almost sounded like there was satisfaction in it. Along with it, she made a tempting, sleepy little roll of her hips, and it so seized the attention of Lem’s eyes that it almost made him fail to realize what it meant: she was beginning to wake up.

Amid the profanities of his increasingly irritated comrades, Lem dropped Lamia so that her head was resting against the vehicle’s seats. Then he took her by the calves and shoved the rest of her inside. Her body was so flexible and limber that she folded right up into herself, curling into a little ball, and making it easy for Lem to throw himself in beside her.
As the motor started, Lamia began to unfurl, like a rainbow-petaled summer flower. Her head rested against the left-side seat, her legs only prevented from lying flat by Lem’s body in the other seat. But, benevolently, Lem lifted her feet, rested them on his legs. He reached across, patted her thighs: plush; silky; surrendering softly to his touch. Pats became strokes. Strokes became squeezes.

“What the fuck, Lem, we haven’t even got away yet!” The woman in the passenger seat was looking over its headrest. Her tone was accusatory, but her eyes were fixed firmly on their captive.
“Cut the crap, Ronnie; you just wish it was you with your hands on her instead of me.”
Ronnie grinned.
“You know what? You’re right!”
Ronnie squeezed herself through the gap between the front seats, almost kicking their driver in the face. She hoisted Lamia up to make room for herself, the heroine falling this way and that as the gangsters toyed with her limp, supple body.

“Nhh… hhh…” The sound and vibrations of the car’s engines, and being so casually tossed about, had started to stir her. Still mostly unconscious, she again tried to move like a snake, rolling her hips and her naked, warm, velvety shoulders, the leather belts creaking, but easily resisting her, hemming in her slim, womanly limbs, trapping and accentuating every curve and contour, showing plainly as they squeezed against her just how soft she was, mocking her with her own overflowing femininity. Ronnie and Lem were bewitched.

Their driver? Not so much. He was as attracted to Lamia as either of the others, but he had somewhat higher priorities.
“You moron!” he bellowed. “We’re trying to get away from being killed by a bunch of superheroes, and you kick me in the face because you want to get handsy with our hostage?”
Ronnie and Lem had a few replies in mind, but the only thing either of them said was:
“Vic, watch out!”

A man of medium height in a blue-white costume was standing directly in the road. He had gathered a swirling torrent of water around his body, and he was waving it at them in a threatening sort of way. The effect was so intimidating that, had Vic actually seen him, he might well have stopped. But since the others were distracting him, he wasn’t looking where he was going. He barrelled right at Bacchus, and since Bacchus knew full well that if he stopped the car with his powers he was just as likely to kill Lamia as her abductors, and he dived out of the way. Barely avoiding being hit, he had just enough time to hear a woman’s manic, mocking laughter, and to get a brief glimpse of Lamia, tied up and unconscious, lying across two laps.

“Lamia!” he cried, but by the time he was on his feet, they were out of his reach. Of course, he was afraid for her. Of course, he was kicking himself that he hadn’t been able to do anything to save her. But once he’d realized that they were in a speeding car, he’d pretty much assumed that how it went was how it was going to go. All he’d been doing was making sure he knew which way they were going.

Inside the vehicle, however, they were wholly ignorant of Bacchus’ machinations, and even Vic was in a mood of relieved merriment. But the noise of the cheering, the belated swerve of the car, and two pairs of hands pawing at her, finally succeeded in stirring Lamia from her slumber.
“Wh… ?” Lamia’s dark eyes blinked languidly, long lashes fluttering as she tried feebly to rouse herself. She tried to sit up, but it felt like something was holding her back. “I… I can’t…” she mumbled. “What’s going on… ? I feel so… so… unh… weak…”
“Don’t worry, doll. I’ll help you.”

Hands gripped Lamia’s bare shoulders a little too tightly to be just friendly, and lifted her up to a sitting position, her head falling against a tolerably comfortable headrest. Beside whoever was holding her, someone was sitting on her right as well. She tried to turn to look at them, but someone took her by the chin and turned her head the other way. The used a pittance of force, but it was far too much for her to resist.

Lamia found herself looking at a woman’s face. Her vision was still blurry, but this woman looked about thirty-three. Quite plain.
“Wakey-wakey, sleepy-girl,” she said.
“Where… where am I?” Lamia whimpered.
“Well, you’re in a car,” Ronnie replied. “But if you want a real answer… just look down.” She poked Lamia in the back of the head, and – whether she liked it or not – looking down was exactly what Lamia did.
“H-huh…?” Lamia didn’t understand what she was looking at. Her body was – she was covered in… belts? She tried to move, but they held her. Her arms were trapped behind her back, and she couldn’t move her legs apart. “B-bound…!” she whimpered, and she tried to struggle again, but her body felt sluggish, and she couldn’t get any purchase.

“Aww,” Ronnie crowed. “Poor little cape.” She lifted Lamia’s head back up, looked into her half-open eyes. “All groggy, and foggy and confused. You don’t even remember that we caught you, huh?”
She was starting to. She remembered being tased, forced out of her snake form, but everything after that was a blur.
“They… they must have drugged me… god damn it, I can’t-! I… can’t think clearly… have to… to… unhh…!” She strained, twisting herself, trying to press herself into herself, but something – something was wrong.

“Trying to do the snake thing?” Lem said, putting his hand back on Lamia’s thigh. “That’s not gonna happen, darling. That stuff we dosed you with? That’s some of the special shit that Mr. Mann ordered. You might be awake now, but your brain’s all mixed up and drowsy, and it’ll stay that way for a good long time.”
“Uh-huh,” Ronnie chimed in. “But don’t worry, hon. You’re as weak as a kitty, but we know how to treat pretty little kitty-kats.” She put the back of her hand on Lamia’s neck, and started stroking it, from the edge of Lamia’s slender jawline, to the borders of her collarbone. “Weak little kitty-kats need to be… petted.” She leaned in, and ran her tongue over Lamia’s shoulder, right up the length of her quivering neck.

“Don’t… don’t do this… to me…” Lamia moaned, but her protests only made Ronnie more excited. Slapping Lem’s hands away from what was fast becoming her prize and hers alone, she put her hands under Lamia’s thighs, and hauled her up onto her lap.
“Oh!” Lamia gasped, surprised at being taken so suddenly, and at the feeling of another body encompassing hers, embracing and grasping, and another nose brushing playfully against hers.
“We are going to treat you so well, kitty-kat,” Ronnie said. “After all the shit you and your pals have put us through, god knows you really… really deserve it.”

Ronnie pulled Lamia closer, lifting her captive’s legs higher and pressing them against her stomach, grasping greedily at them, squeezing and pressing, leaving deep impressions in Lamia’s yielding flesh, making her moan with ever more desperate sensuousness as her beauty was so ruthlessly exploited. Ronnie slid her hand even higher up Lamia’s thighs, until she had reached the fringes of her leotard, then slipped around to grab at her captive’s perky, round backside, pawing, grasping and even smacking at it.

“Oh… oh…” Lamia sighed, sinuously gyrating in Ronnie’s arms, blushing as her futile wriggling made her rub against her captor’s hands ever harder. “Stop… p-please stop…”
“‘Please’, huh? Well at least you know who’s in charge. You – fuck off, Lem!” she snapped, again slapping her comrade’s hand away, leaving him only scraps to be taken when she wasn’t looking. “Where was I? Oh yeah. I’m afraid you don’t really get to ask for anything, honey.”
But Lamia looked at her with heavy, forlorn eyes. She stopped trying to fight, batting her eyelashes prettily at her abductor.
“P-please ma’am,” she mewed, “I know I’m… I’m your captive…. Look, whatever you do I’ll be – I’ll be quiet… I’ll be good… just don’t… um…”
“Don’t what, honey?”
“Don’t… kiss me on the lips… anything else but, not – my… my husband wouldn’t…”
“Oh my god,” Ronnie laughed. “That is precious, honey! I tell you what. Since you asked so nicely, I won’t kiss you on those sweet, red lips…” She brushed them with her finger, cackling as Lamia shyly withdrew. “On one condition. You need to tell me that you’ll be my good kitty. Okay?”
“…I will.”
“No, no, no, honey. You have to say it.”
Lamia swallowed. She blinked her eyes together – whether she was angry or was about to cry it was hard to say.
“I… I’ll be your good kitty…”

Ronnie shrieked with laughter. Lem cackled right along with her and even Vic was smiling to himself. They were schlubs, and they knew they were schlubs, and they’d just turned a powerful superhero into a meek, obedient little hostage.
“Oh honey, that was the cutest thing I’ve ever seen in my life,” Ronnie said. “You just fell right into this captive thing, didn’t you? Like one of those ‘Couvie heroes that get kidnapped every other week, huh? You make me melt.” She turned Lamia towards her, who looked fearfully back at her. “Unfortunately for you, I’m just a real piece of shit,” she said, and thrust her lips against Lamia’s.
“And about as smart as one too,” Lamia thought, and bit down on Ronnie’s lips with her fangs.

“AAAHHHH!!” Ronnie cried, pulling back, shoving Lamia away from her, and nursing her wounded mouth, whimpering.
“‘Good kitty’? You’d… make me sick if you didn’t make me… laugh!” Even as a furious Lem wrapped both arms around her chest, she kept her eyes on Ronnie, and she licked the blood from her teeth. “If you’re going to try to make me… your captive… you should know I’m always a little bit of a snake!”

“Oh god, oh god, oh god,” Ronnie mumbled, holding a tissue against her mouth. “D-did you poison me?”
“Stop… bleating,” Lamia said. “I didn’t even bite that hard… you’ll be fine, you – mmmmhhhh-GHHHMMPHH!”
Lem had pulled a red scarf over Lamia’s mouth, gagging her, covering her face from her chin to her nose.
“No more biting,” Lem growled, “and no more talking!”
“Mmhhh… mhhh-nhhmpphhh…!” Lamia resumed her struggles in earnest, bucking and writhing, shaking her head back and forth to try to loose the gag, but it didn’t work. “Mhh… mhhhphh…” She had had her victory, and she didn’t regret it – but she was still helpless, and now her captors were… not best pleased.

“You… you little bitch!” Ronnie spat. “I was gonna treat you nice before… I was gonna have my fun, but I wasn’t gonna do nothin’ real nasty. But now? Now, I’m not gonna restrain myself. First thing, I’m gonna do is—”
Ronnie did actually finish making her threat. The thing is, nobody heard it. Not Lamia. Not Lem. Not Vic. Not even Ronnie herself. None of them heard much of anything except for an ear-splitting shriek that not only left them all crying in agony – including Lamia, alas – but shattered every window in the vehicle, blew out every tire, and sent them skidding across the road, right into the man who had stopped them. But a wall of low, rumbling soundwaves caught them, cushioned them, and slowed them, until they came to a gentle stop. It was a difficult trick: too little force, and the car would crashed into the sidewalk and taken out half a dozen pedestrians; too much and the car could have been crushed, or at least its occupants permanently deafened. But then, Cacophony had been at the hero game for quite a long time.

On approaching the vehicle, Cacophony was surprised to find that the driver was able to stand. He saw Cacophony as he staggered out, pointed at him, drew a pistol, dropped the pistol, took two steps forward, threw up, and then collapsed into the pool of digestive juices he’d created. But if one of them was still conscious, the others could be too. Cacophony needed to hurry. If another one of them was as conscious as the driver, they could kill Lamia before he got to her. Indeed, he was right to have been worried. He’d been nervous of hurting Lamia too badly, and that first shriek he’d used to disable the vehicle had been a little underpowered. He hadn’t knocked any of them out.

So when he got to the vehicle, he was a bit startled by what he found. One man, two women: the man was clutching his jaw, having had two pointed boots driven repeatedly and forcefully into his face. One of the women was holding perfectly still, quivering with fear, with the other woman’s teeth around her throat. When Lamia saw that Cacophony had come for her, she smiled as sweetly at him as she could without letting go of Ronnie’s neck.
“That,” she would explain later, “is the problem when you tie up someone who’s used to moving like a snake. It’s not all that much of a restraint.”
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Re: The Perils of Valora Finale: Rat Bites Dog Bites Man

Post by Damselbinder »

Milo would happily have fired until the chamber of his pistol was empty. The only reason he didn’t was that the fourth bullet bounced off Valora’s eyebrow, and grazed the top of Milo’s head, leaving a rather comical trail through his hair. His resolve hadn’t wavered, but shock was shock and pain was pain, and with a surprised shout he lost his footing and tripped, banging his head on the edge of his desk as he fell.

Milo sat on the floor for a while. He kept expecting the recrimination, but it never came. He looked straight up at the ceiling, more just because he was too embarrassed to do anything else.
“Well?” he finally said. “What’s it to be, Valora? Heaven or hell?”
She didn’t say anything. Milo thought that she was still deciding, but if he’d looked at her he would have seen that she was smiling.

It was easy. After everything that had happened, it was easy. She was pissed, obviously, that Milo had had the temerity to strike her, to shoot her, and she certainly would have found some pretty powerful satisfaction in squashing him. But it wasn’t that intense, really: more like that feeling you sometimes get when you’re at the theatre, and you suddenly get the urge to start yelling and distract all the actors.
“I’m not… I’m not like that, then,” Valerie thought. “I can be – be…” She didn’t quite know what. ‘Valora’ or maybe ‘superhero’ were pretty good candidates, but neither of them quite got the sense of it. “All that navel-gazing, and I’m still completely fucking inarticulate.”

She turned around, began walking out.
“I’ll see you later, Patáky. I don’t know what I expected to find, but I guess this is satisfying enough.”
“You’re going to regret this, Valora.”
This was laughable enough that Valora actually turned back, but she didn’t see what she expected to.
Milo didn’t look angry. He wasn’t gibbering or frothing at the mouth in a vain attempt to reclaim some dignity for himself. He looked completely calm.

“I mean it,” he said. “I’m not a superhuman, but I’m wealthy, and I control a large and powerful crime organization. If you don’t kill me now, you will regret it. Even if you win in the end, you will regret it.”
“If that’s true,” Valora said, “you’ll end up regretting it a whole lot more.”
Milo smiled. He could tell that she didn’t believe it.
He stood up, brushed himself off. He turned back to say one last thing – and then stopped. He blinked a few times, looked down at the ground, then looked back.
“We’ve met before, haven’t we?”
Valora blinked back.
“Hm? Oh, uh… yeah, I guess? When Lupus handed me over to you. I think I even remember it, kinda, but I might be deluding myself, I don’t know. Who gives a shit?”
“No. Not that,” Milo said. “Before. We’ve met before, Valora.”

But Valora just shrugged.
“Fine. Let me know when you remember, Milo.” She paused, realized she had nothing more to say. “Bye, I guess.”
She walked out.

Milo went back to his desk. He toyed with the pen on his desk, put it down, popped a cigarette in his mouth and actually lit it this time. He looked up at the ceiling, and reflected on the conversation. His fury, his nemesis had tripped at the last hurdle, and he was still standing. She’d never been his nemesis at all. She was just a bog standard superhero. So he was just a gangster. He had fallen from his mad cloud, but he was still mad. Everything, and nothing had changed. He wasn’t going to be burned in purgatorial fire. He was just going to end up getting sent to prison. He was going to have to live.

Burning it down wasn’t enough anymore.

Shoving it in James’ face wasn’t enough anymore.

He would have to win. Oh god, he would actually have to win!

Milo shot to his feet, shaking, and sweating.

“Oh Christ!” he shouted. “Lupus!”
Hypatia realized that she had, for the first time, taken life. When she had charged those gangsters in her passionate fury, she hadn’t been able to be delicate, or careful. One of the men she had forced to spin round while he was firing at her, and he’d killed one of the people he’d hit. But really, it was Hypatia’s responsibility. And she was alright with that. She’d never thought she’d be able to keep herself completely clean by dedicating herself to a calling that required physical violence from her every day of her life. That, then, was okay. What was not okay was that she discovered this by being telekinetically hurled out of Lupus’ room, and landing about an inch from the corpse.

“We’ve done this before, haven’t we?” Lupus said, striding out, popping the joints in her neck. “Me using your powers on you. And… I think I won last time too, didn’t I?” She imagined a clamp, and locked it around Hypatia’s forehead.
“Ahhh!” Hypatia felt the invisible teeth of the clamp digging into her skull, clutching her head, groaning in pain.
“It’s gonna be two for two, Cecily. Give up now and I might not break anything.”
But Hypatia would not relent. And with gritted teeth, she climbed to her feet.
“You’re… a good fighter, Charlie. A natural. You do use my powers very well.” She forced her grimace into a defiant smile. “But you don’t hear the music!”

At once, every weapon within fifteen feet of Hypatia leapt into the air, all trained on Charlie.
“Jesus!!” she cried, leaping for cover, nowhere near confident enough in her powers to think she could block all of them. But she’d overreacted: most of the weapons’ clips were exhausted, or close to exhausted, and Hypatia only managed a quick burst before tossing the weapons aside. Lupus was left completely off-balance, and Hypatia seized the opportunity – and Lupus’ throat.
“Ghhkk!” Lupus was caught off guard again. She didn’t know all the subtleties of Hypatia’s powers, and hadn’t realized she could attack so precisely without line of sight. Once she knew, she tried to do it back, but she couldn’t get a grip. Instead, she directed her powers underneath her, launching herself over her cover, and surprising Hypatia by just punching her.

Lupus missed, but she gave herself enough room to regain her bearings and send a jolt of concussive force right into Hypatia’s chest. She waved off the brunt of the force, but gave Lupus enough room to grab a chunk of concrete that Hypatia had ripped out of the walls earlier, crush it into dust, and hurl it as a powder into Hypatia’s face.

But even then Hypatia was too quick, and she redirected the dust’s momentum around her, back at Lupus.

But Lupus just dispersed it, and then grabbed a knife from one of the men Hypatia had beaten, shooting it like a bullet at her masked foe.

But she telegraphed what she was doing too much with gestures from her arms, and Hypatia managed to slap the knife away, and tried to bring down one of the ceiling tiles right on Lupus’ head while making it look like she was going to use the knife.

But Lupus got wind of the trick, and got out of the way, and she tried to trip Hypatia, and Hypatia fell, but grabbed onto Lupus with her powers and pulled herself back up.

And back.

And forth.

And back

And forth.

And back.

And forth.

And back and forth and back and forth until, finally, the two of them were an inch apart, staring daggers at each other, and imagining them too.

It had become a contest of sheer, brute force. Both of them could feel the other extending their grip into their enemy’s skull, trying to seize at their brain stem, to cut off their powers at the source and incapacitate them at the same time. Hypatia was doing it to Lupus, and fending off Lupus doing it to her, and vice versa.

“There… is no way… you are going to beat me…!” Lupus said. “You’re not a fighter! You’re just some prissy bitch! Rghhhh, I’m gonna rip your fucking head off!”
Hypatia said nothing. She needed to concentrate. She could feel the knife edge she was on – the slightest wavering and Lupus would have her. That, and she had fallen back on her old methods: on total precision, total control. The fire she’d had – it was still there, but she didn’t… she couldn’t just make it come out when she wanted. She couldn’t just let go.

Lupus’ bellow wasn’t just for show. She didn’t have any trouble putting fire in her belly, and more power surged through her.
“Unnhh…!” Hypatia dropped to her knees. She could feel her grip slipping, could feel her power deteriorating. “Nhh… nhhghh!” Her vision was growing dark. Her body felt as though it were slipping away from her, like she was floating away from her own mind. “Is… is this how it’s going to end… after everything?”

“Yes… yes!” The battle wasn’t over yet, but it was heading in that direction. “I can feel you giving in, Cecily. Aww, poor baby! All that effort. All those pretty words. All that time wasted designing a, like, seven-out-of-ten costume, and this is where it’s led you.”
Cecily didn’t answer. She fell forward, on her hands and knees now, groaning and quivering.
“Oh yeah. I like that a lot. Pretty redheads prostrating themselves at my feet. That’s more fucking like it. Man you are pretty aren’t you? With all the bullshit coming out of your mouth, I plum forgot.” With her hand, she lifted Hypatia’s chin, forcing her to look up at her. “I want to see it. I want to see your eyes when I crack your brain like an egg!” With a wave of her hand, Hypatia’s mask leapt from her face. But Lupus did not find fear, helplessness, or plaintiveness. She didn’t see pain or desperation. She saw in Cecily’s gentle, ocean-blue eyes a freezing, boiling fury.

“I do want to help you. I do pity you. I do think you’re a victim of circumstance. I wouldn’t wish what you’ve experienced these past weeks on anyone, and I don’t want you to suffer, Charlotte. But… I need to accept that I do hate you.”
What Hypatia did wouldn’t have looked that impressive from the outside. She suddenly stood up, and Lupus suddenly fell down. But she had, with one wave of vicious, perfectly targeted pressure, effectively paralyzed Lupus’ powers. Before they could recover, she had wrapped a coat of energy around Lupus’ brain – and shaken.

Spasming and writhing on the ground, Lupus tried to hit back, but it was like she had completely forgotten how to use Hypatia’s powers. She couldn’t even remember how to move her body. She clawed wildly and clumsily in the air, but she couldn’t do anything.
“N…nghh!” she groaned. “Not… to you… to Valora… not to you!”
“Why are people always saying that sort of thing to me?” Cecily muttered. She retrieved her mask, put it back on, walked back over to Lupus’ shivering body. “Stop it, please. You’ll just hurt yourself. It’s over, Charlotte. This time, we both know it.”
And this time even Charlie couldn’t deny it. Her face melted from furious to forlorn, and she collapsed into a fit of crying that was at once understandable and, indeed, inevitable; and also sickeningly self-pitying.
When Hypatia hauled her up, she didn’t resist. When she slapped a pair of handcuffs on Lupus’ wrists, she didn’t resist. When Hypatia started to pull her away, worried that she might run into reinforcements from Patáky, only then did Lupus try to pull away.
“I’m not lying,” she whimpered. “My family… because of you th-they’re gonna… my parents and – and my gr—”
“I know,” Cecily said, as comfortingly as she was able. “I assumed that was part of it as soon as we realized you were a prisoner.”
“And you d-didn’t do anything?!”
Cecily looked back at her.
“Who says I didn’t do anything?”
“Alright, boss.” The assassin hung up his phone.
“The parents or the grandma?”
“Just the grandma for now. Boss still wants to have something to threaten the mark with afterwards.”

The two drove all the way across town. Neither of them spoke. Neither of them ever spoke when they were about to do the business. It took them about forty-five minutes, and on the way the guy in the driver’s seat snorted a little coke. Not enough to make him wild, but just enough that he’d feel psyched up about murdering an old lady. The other man couldn’t indulge: he had to drive. It was okay though. It’d be his turn next time.

Any way you sliced it, the job would be easy. Once they showed up, it became clear that it would be really easy. Grandma was sitting in her garden, which was completely hidden from the sight of the other neighbours, and bordered a blind alley that nobody would see the assassins going into. The first man peeked over the fence, saw the old lady sitting with an old dog curled up by her side. Both were fast asleep.
“Alright,” he said, nose still twitching. “I’ll do it. You keep watch.”
“Cool,” said the other.
He watched his partner hoist himself over the fence, and lit a cigarette. He didn’t expect anything would go wrong, but when he heard something that sounded like it might be a nosy parker, he put his hand on his pistol, and slowly approached the edge of the alley.
“Um, excuse me?”
The assassin turned around. He saw something he did not expect. Then he got a nightstick cracked over his skull, and he fell down.
The first assassin, bless him, was beginning to come over a little Lady Macbeth. He had no issue with killing women, but he was a bit squeamish about killing old women, especially little old women with old dogs curled up by their sides, who looked as if they would offer him a Werther’s Original if they woke up. But hey, that was what the cocaine was for, and he raised his gun.

As Haglund woke up, she was aware of three things. First, her decrepit little mutt was doing his vague, lazy approximation of a bark. Secondly, there was a large, armed man in her garden. Third, that man was getting his behind handed to him.
The intruder was between Haglund and whoever was beating him up, so she couldn’t see them, but she saw occasional flashes of blue, and skilful swirls of two telescoping nightsticks, with which they were going absolutely to town on the intruder. Several times he tried to raise his gun, and each time it was smacked aside, until finally it was knocked out of his hand completely. He made one last attempt at victory – a wild, full-power haymaker – but it whiffed completely. He took a nightstick directly to the nads, and then a knee to the stomach. He doubled over, and Haglund’s saviour was revealed to her.

She was a young woman. Curvy, brown-haired, and with a refreshing, sunny sweetness in her expression that was so obviously natural that Haglund didn’t think for a moment that she could be another enemy. She was wearing a red-and-blue leotard, clinging lovingly to a prettily, wholesomely buxom figure, and a gold headband.
“Oh, hi ma’am!” she said, bowing to Haglund. “I’m, um, Maiden-America. I, um, saw this guy hopping your fence and thought I’d help out, you know?”
“Ah… thank you?”
“Oh, don’t mention it, ma’am. All in a day’s work! Oh, hi puppy!” she added, when Haglund’s dog trotted curiously over to her. “Oh, I’m sorry,” she said. “I have to take this.”

She pulled away, keeping her eye on the groaning assassin she had brutalised, and pulled out her cellphone.
“Debra here. Oh, Cecily! Yeah yeah, you were totally right! They were right here, like you said. Nope, don’t worry, I got ‘em. Yeah yeah, she’s fine. I’ll go check on Charlie’s folks too, but I’m pretty sure it was just the one pair of goons. Aww,” Debra added, “you’re awesome too. Say hi to Valerie and Maria for me!”
Debra hung up, and felt like a weight had fallen from her. She was only one of the Bombshells who hadn’t found her way back into superheroing, and while she was confident that she didn’t want that to be part of her life now, she’d always felt bad that she’d just sort of… given up. When Cecily had called her and asked for her help, she had been over the moon that she could still contribute.

She was about to restrain the assassin a little more securely, when she saw that the old woman was on her feet.
“Young lady,” she said, “just now… when you were speaking… did – did you say ‘Charlie’?”
“Uhh…” Debra stammered. “Oops…”
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Re: The Perils of Valora Finale: Rat Bites Dog Bites Man

Post by TheStormCrow »

Hmm, seems we’re reaching the big climax. Btw, great scene with Lamia, good ol “damsel at the mercy of her captors” situation. I’m also glad to see Debra, now all of the former Bombshells are back in business, except “The girl who asked about job’s pay but was asked to leave because she wasn’t a team player”.
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Re: The Perils of Valora Finale: Rat Bites Dog Bites Man

Post by Damselbinder »

The Perils of Valora 5-8: Vincit Qui se Vincit

When Agent Lorenzo was told about what Hypatia’s group had done, that they had captured the superhuman criminal who had torn through East Portland, who had murdered Lance Van der Boek, who had hidden from the prying eyes of powers higher even than the F.B.I., about whom it was rumoured that military intelligence had made some alarmed inquiries, she was eating a sandwich. For this reason, her reply was:
“Who’ff Lupuff?”

Once the sandwich was no more, and Agent Lorenzo’s patient aide had reminded her who Lupus waf, she jumped with froglike energy to her feet, and sped through her subordinates, rounding the corner into the police station they had partly commandeered, just in time to see the prisoner being brought in.

She didn’t look very impressive. A slim girl, in plain, cheap clothes, with a blank expression and dull, brown hair. She might have been good looking – in fact she was good looking, but there was an indefinable veil of unpleasantness surrounding her. She had done bad things, and bad things had been done to her. One could smell it.

She was severely restrained. As well as being led along by two burly plods, she was in handcuffs, leg-irons, and thick, steel shackles over her forearms. She also had a collar around her neck, connected to a metal band around her forehead by four thick wires. It was a pretty new piece of tech, one that Lorenzo had never actually seen in the field before. Its purpose was to restrain a superhuman’s use of their powers, by sending an electric jolt into the spinal column whenever the electrodes in the headband detected the use of a certain part of the brain. Such devices were already notorious for failing to work against only those superhumans against whom they might actually have been useful. Still, from the little Lorenzo knew of this woman, seeing her collared did make her feel a little safer.

“You don’t need to be so rough with her. She doesn’t have any powers at the moment.”
Lorenzo couldn’t see the speaker, but she recognized the genteel refinement of the tone. But when Hypatia actually came into view, for half a moment Lorenzo didn’t recognize her. Every other time that she had seen her, Hypatia had been a study in poise; faultlessly and preternaturally graceful. But now her hair was covered in dust, her costume was torn and grimy, and she was covered in scratches and bruises, and one pretty serious looking cut on her left arm. Even so, when she saw Agent Lorenzo, she spared her a nod and a polite smile.

Lupus saw Lorenzo too. For a moment it looked like she was about to yell, or snarl, but about three-tenths of a second into forming the gesture, she seemed to lose her enthusiasm for it and just looked down at the ground as the officers led her away.
“Hypatia!” Lorenzo called out, beckoning her over, away from the gawking constables. “That was who I think it was, right?”
“It was Lupus, yes,” Hypatia replied. “I – we managed to track her down.” She put a hand over the wound on her arm, not so much because of the pain as because it embarrassed her.

“So she was working for Patáky?” Lorenzo folded her arms, tutted out of the side of her mouth. It sounded like a duck quacking. “Now how do two folks like that wind up in bed together?”
“The situation isn’t quite what you think. For the last five weeks or so Lupus has been held against her will. If you contact Lieutenant Graves of Seacouver’s eighth precinct, she’ll confirm that a colleague of mine apprehended two men attempting to assassinate a member of Lupus’ family – retribution for what they perceived as an escape attempt. So, while Lupus certainly is a criminal, she’s also been through a…” She paused, finding herself unsteady. “She’s been through a horrible ordeal. Besides which, my hope is that, if we’re intelligent about it, we can persuade her to turn state’s evidence against Milo Patáky.”
“Seriously? What would she know that—”
“Forgive me,” Hypatia said, an utterance which took the number of times she’d interrupted someone in her adult life alarmingly close to double digits. “Perhaps I could fill you in on the specifics in a few moments? I… I’m a little tired.”

Only now, with the last of the adrenaline seeping out of her, did Cecily realize how tired she was. Suddenly just reaching the end of the conversation seemed like a Sisyphean task, and Lorenzo’s eyes, looking on her with a completely normal, neutral aspect, were like huge spotlights baking the energy from Cecily’s body.
But Lorenzo wasn’t stupid.
“Yeah yeah. Of course,” she said. “Take your time.”
“Thank you.”

Cecily found the nearest bathroom, and would have locked the door behind her if she hadn’t been inside a public facility. She took off her mask, splashed her face with water. She did it again, hoping that it might help more than it had the first time. She leaned her head back and tried to work out whether she wanted to cry or not. She was willing to, and she was willing not to, but she would rather have known one way or the other.

Cecily heard somebody coming in and felt immediately embarrassed. The glamour of Hypatia was a useful tool in many situations, but not in a police precinct’s bathroom. Her mask had fallen into the basin in front of her, so she just covered up her eyes. She did not, therefore, see that the person who’d come in was dressed just as unusually as Cecily herself. She did not see this person walk up behind Cecily, and put her hands on Cecily’s shoulders.
“Maria,” Cecily whispered, in much the same tone that one might say ‘oh, thank God.’

The two didn’t say anything to each other for a while. They didn’t exchange words of love. They didn’t kiss; or embrace. Maria just kept one hand on Cecily’s arm, and used the other to stroke her back, slowly; up, and then down, and then up again in a smooth, soothing rhythm.
“You’re okay,” Maria said. “You’re okay.”
After about a minute of this, Maria began attending to Cecily’s injuries. She pulled away the cloth covering the wound on her arm, cleaned the wound, wrapped a proper bandage over it. There was blood on Cecily’s face, too, not all of it her own, and Maria wiped that away as well, her girlfriend’s face falling exhausted against her hand as she did.

“Carla told me what you were up against when she had to fall back,” Maria said. “Did you get Lupus to come quietly at least?”
“No,” Cecily said. “She fought like a Fury.”
“And you beat her.”
“Yes. I beat her.”
Cecily gave a brief spurt of a laugh, pinched the bridge of her nose between her thumb and middle finger.
“D’you know this is the first time I’ve fought another superhuman one-on-one and beaten them? I think that matters to me.”
“Of course it does. You won an incredible victory. You should feel proud.”
“I do. I do,” Cecily repeated. “It’s just – I wish this was it. I came out here in the first place to track Lupus down, to bring her to justice. To – avenge us – you, me, Debra – against what she did. And now I’ve done that – I’ve done it, I caught her! It took months, and I almost died more times than I can count, and I had to – be something I still don’t really understand to defeat her, but I did defeat her. I beat her, and I want her to pay, now, for all that she’s done! I don’t want to care about this – this gangster that I’ve never even seen in person. I want it to be over. I want to leave Portland, leave Maine – go back West with you. I want to introduce you to my parents. I want to see your church. I want to leave all this… superhero madness behind us.”
“I know. I know, Cecily,” Maria said.

But Cecily wasn’t so sure. When she’d formed the words in her mind, she’d meant that she wanted to stop being a superhero. By the time they came out, though, she realized that was a lie. Something had happened to her. Whether it was the same thing as what had happened to her during the battle, or whether whatever that had been had just allowed her to notice, she realized that she was irretrievably changed. She would be Hypatia forever.

But forever was one thing. Right now was another. She had been through a terrible battle, and all she really wanted to do was curl up on the floor and sleep. She felt Maria pull her closer, for she had started to shiver, guiding her head down to rest on Maria’s shoulder, letting Cecily’s nose brush against Maria’s neck.
“I’d like to talk to her,” Maria said. “Can we do that, officially?”
“I… don’t know, actually. Charlotte’s lawyer might not like it even if Lorenzo let us. But she wouldn’t listen to any of us now anyway. Let’s give her pride a little time to cool.”
“You’re probably right. Still, we’d better fill Agent Lorenzo in on our intentions.”
“Truly.” Cecily drew herself up, put her mask back on. “I’ll—”
“You aren’t going to do anything, except going home and getting some rest. You’ve been through hell. I’ll let Lorenzo know what we’re planning. I mean it.”
“…Alright. You win,” Cecily said, realizing that she didn’t have even one tenth of the energy to argue the point. She brushed Maria’s arm with the back of her hand, and began to walk out, but Maria caught her hand. She held it for a moment, managing to communicate through her grip precisely what Cecily needed to feel.

Cecily did not want to attract attention as she left, so she found an out-of-the-way spot and changed, covering up her leotard with a dark-blue dress. It covered up not only her uniform, but the wound on her arm as well, and this was more of a relief than Cecily had expected it to be. She still felt… uncomfortable and was pleased to be ignored.

In fact, Cecily was so anonymous as she left that she walked right past an oblivious Agent Lorenzo, who was outside trying very very hard not to have a cigarette. Even when she passed someone she knew better, she almost went unrecognised. Likewise, Cecily almost didn’t notice this person at all, for she too was incognito. It was only the sheen of Valerie’s long, golden hair that made Cecily happen to look up.

It wasn’t a crowded street, but it was crowded enough that Valerie was in people’s way. She was just standing still in the middle of the sidewalk, looking forward. Some people muttered complaints at her, but she either didn’t hear them or didn’t care. She just stared straight forward, straight into the building that she knew had Lupus in it, that had Lupus caged, and shackled, and defenceless. Valerie’s eyes were wide. They were wild, and bright, and frighteningly blue. Her right fist was clenched, and her mouth was either snarling or smiling.

Cecily, standing nearby, did not dare say anything. She did not dare move. She felt that her presentiment was about to come true; that something terrible was about to happen. For a hideous moment it felt as though she, Valerie and Lupus were the only three people in the world. Cecily felt sick.

But the moment passed. Valerie shook her head, and let out a long-held breath. She saw Cecily standing nearby, and fixed her with a severe look. But she was startled merely, not displeased, to see her. On the contrary. She took a powerful stride in Cecily’s direction, clapped her on the arm – the right one, thankfully – and gave Cecily such a warm and friendly smile that it stunned her. She realized that, somehow, this was the first time that it had really occurred to her what a wonderfully beautiful woman Valerie was.
“You unbelievable badass,” Valerie said. Then she laughed, richly and sonorously, for Cecily was blushing.
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Re: The Perils of Valora Finale: Rat Bites Dog Bites Man

Post by Damselbinder »

The two cops led Charlie into an interview room. They were both pretty buff, pretty hot. They weren’t yelling at her either. They started loosening her restraints, until she wasn’t in anything but a normal set of handcuffs, and she opened her mouth to give them both a mocking, sleazy compliment, but she couldn’t find the words. She couldn’t find any words. No insults. No threats. No curses. No swear words. She couldn’t think of anything. She couldn’t feel anything, except a violent, lurching confusion.

Had the last few months been a dream? Was she, in fact, still back in Cali, locked up for beating the shit out of that punk in the bar? Her disastrous spell as a military asset, snapping Van der Boek’s neck, cross-country-ing to Maine, capturing Valora, being Patáky’s slave – and it had just led her right back to where she’d started. Could we just ignore the stuff afterwards? It didn’t matter, did it, since she was just in the same place she’d been in before. So it didn’t count. Like, uhhh… the guy. The Greek guy in Hell with the big rock. You know, with the rock? He had to roll it up the hill or, like, vultures would eat him or something but then he’d fuck up and the vultures would eat him anyway and then, like, sick him up and make him push the big rock again. What was his name…? Sif… Seffie… Suff…?


Yeah yeah. That was it. She was like Sephiroth.

She heard voices outside. Both women. One sounded older, the other was… oh. It was Maria.
“Oh,” Charlie thought. “Great. I’m on This is Your Life.” She tried to work out what they were saying, but she only caught an odd word here and there. ‘Danger’. ‘Witless’ or maybe ‘witness’. Oo, ‘jeopardy’. That was a Serious Word. One of those ones that nobody actually uses in normal conversation. No but be real, though, have you ever actually heard someone using the word before in real life, outside of the gameshow and maybe the expression ‘double jeopardy’? No. Dumb word.

The door to her cell opened.
“Ms. Korhonen, you need to come with us.” It was one of the burly dudes from before.
“Why do I gotta do that?” Charlie muttered.
“You’re not safe here, ma’am. We need to move you to a more secure location. If you want to contact an attorney now, we can let them know where you’re being taken; or you can wait until we arrive at the new location.”
An attorney? Gross.
“…I’ll wait, whatever.”
“As you choose. Please come with us.”
“What’s going on?”
“I said, ma’am, we need to move you to—”
“Not that. Why are you being all polite and shit?”
The cop didn’t answer, and Lupus found it so infuriating that she wanted to leap across the room and beat him up. She didn’t, not just because it obviously wouldn’t have worked, but because the last few weeks had pretty effectively conditioned her to do as she was told when men carrying guns gave her commands.

They led her out through a back entrance, seemingly trying to hide her even from their own colleagues. For a moment Charlie wondered if they were up to something unscrupulous, but when she reached the car waiting for her, she found that dumpy looking F.B.I. lady inside, so they probably were just being cautious.
“You okay?” the dumpy lady asked once Charlie had plopped herself inside.
“Fuck you,” Charlie said, but her heart wasn’t in it.

As they drove away, some of the shock began to wear off, and the reality of the situation set in. There would be no getting away this time. There would be no deals with unscrupulous military men. There would be no outs, in fact, of any kind. The mountain of shit that Charlie had built up was finally going to topple over onto her, and she was going to drown in it. Stupid Charlie. Dumb Charlie. Idiot Charlie. The cops were suddenly staring at her, and Charlie only belatedly realized that it was because she was biting her own right arm. Mortified, she stopped doing it and turned away, looking down to see that she’d bitten hard enough to leave a mark, but not hard enough to draw blood. Crazy enough that she was repulsive, not so crazy that it wasn’t her fault.
No! Not her fault. Hypatia’s. Valora’s. Patáky’s. They’d – they’d all tricked her. They’d all conspired against her somehow and they were taking advantage. It was some kind of plot. Her captors, they – they must have drugged her food. That was the only way she’d lose to a prissy bitch like Cecily Rothschild. Rothschild! Christ, she might as well have been called Rockefeller D. Onepercent. Yeah, Hypatia, how do you like the optics of that? Rich white girl beats up underprivileged… uh… white girl.

Her mind went back over the fight, torturing herself with all the opportunities she’d had to win, growing in fury every time she remembered Cecily dodging one of her traps. Her memory exaggerated Cecily’s haughtiness and spite, and to be fair to Charlie just this once, given that Cecily really and truly had declared that she hated Charlie just before striking the final blow, it wasn’t all that difficult to let it colour the rest of her memory. She remembered Mister Man, too. Did he really only have one opportunity to shoot Cecily in the back? Could he not have killed her when Charlie had used that illusion power? As far as she understood the way that ability worked, John wouldn’t have been able to see Charlie, but he would have been able to see Cecily, and Cecily would have been blind. Fucking – the only person John wouldn’t have been able to shoot was Charlie, so why hadn’t he—

Charlie went very still. A glimmer of understanding flashed in her mind as to why she was being spirited away so quickly. A glimmer of understanding as to why Mister Mann had been so repulsed when Charlie had demanded to sleep with him. A glimmer of understanding as to why he’d been there at all.

When they arrived at the safehouse, the cop looking after Charlie thought that she was being resistant, because despite a nudge, then a request, then a command, she wouldn’t move. But she wasn’t defying his cop-ly authority; she was frozen in fear. She had actually gone stiff, clinging to the armrest of the door next to her. Her handler was only able to snap her out of it by opening the door she was holding.

Charlie was led into an apartment that was disturbingly similar to the one she’d been ‘rescued’ from. Small, bare. Hadn’t been lived in by someone who actually, like… lived there for years.
“Obviously we’re going to be having a long chat about your situation,” Agent Lorenzo said, coming in behind Charlie. “But it can wait a few hours.”
“You’re protecting me,” Charlie said.
“…Do you… do you want me to talk? That’s it, isn’t it?”
Lorenzo shrugged.
“Like I say, we can wait to talk about that. For now, just get some rest.”
“You think this shit is going to get me to co-operate? Not cramming me in a cell with the other freaks? Loosening my shackles a little? Being polite? You think that’s going to make me co-operate?!”
Lorenzo shrugged again.
“Couldn’t hurt.”
She nodded to the agents she’d left, a man and a woman. “Be nice,” she said. “But don’t give her the chance to do anything stupid.” She started to leave.
“Wait!” Charlie jolted towards Lorenzo, so sharply that the other agents stepped between them. “She… Hypatia said that my parents – my grandma – that they were okay. Was she just bullshitting to get me to come quietly? Or—”
“They’re fine,” Lorenzo said. “Being well looked after by Seacouver’s finest, from what I gather.” She frowned. “Miss Korhonen, you need to worry about yourself now.”

With Lorenzo gone, Charlie was escorted into a makeshift bedroom, where they’d laid a futon on the bare, wooden floor.
“Are you kidding me?” Charlie said. “My last digs were nicer than this and I was being held captive by fucking gangsters.”
The agent didn’t answer, so Charlie dumped herself on the futon, turned her face away from the door.
“You gonna be watching me all night?” she muttered.
“Yes,” the agent replied.
It was infuriating. What was even more infuriating was that it was some small comfort. Trying to be as unaware of this thought as possible, Charlie looked around the room, saw a small television propped up on a shelf.
“Hey, Agent-guy. Can I turn the tv on?”
“You can do whatever you want except leave, Miss Korhonen.”
“Oh aren’t you sweet.”

The remote was just lying on the floor, and Charlie grabbed it, flicked through four or five channels so fast that she didn’t actually register what any them were actually showing. Eventually, she just stabbed the keypad randomly and just decided to watch whatever was on.

The agent watching Charlie sat up with a start, and the agent outside ran in. They thought Charlie had started screaming. But she hadn’t. It was laughter. Hideous, toe-curling, screeching laughter that clawed at the inside of Charlie’s throat and made the agents genuinely worried that she might attract undue attention from neighbours. They tried to quiet her down, but she wouldn’t obey. They tried to get her to explain, and she sort of tried to, because she was pointing at the television.

“I don’t get it,” one of the agents said, “it’s just General Hospital.”
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Re: The Perils of Valora Finale: Rat Bites Dog Bites Man

Post by Damselbinder »

It had been four hours since Lupus had been delivered to federal custody, and the Dregs had gathered in their usual spot. All of them were there but Red Fang. He, alas, would never return to the team as an ally. Even Buzzsaw had shown up, firmly against medical advice. Valora was there too and, being new to the group, she did not realize the profound change that had come over them.

None of them were under any illusions. Patáky was still very much a free man. Lupus might not agree to testify. The F.B.I. might decide that she wasn’t a reliable witness. The district attorney might decide that there wasn’t a case solid enough, or Patáky might end up bribing someone and get off with a pissy deferred sentence or something. But more than at any point since Hypatia, in her grace, had gathered them, they actually felt as though they mattered.

“I already told Hypatia what I think of her,” Valora said, “and obviously she’s the hero of the day.”
“Hear hear!” Lamia shouted, always pleased for praise to be directed in Hypatia’s direction. Having been drugged and bound twice in two missions, one might have thought that she’d be in distemper – and she certainly did resent her captures. But the memory of that feckless thug quivering like a mouse when Lamia got her fangs at the idiot’s neck, and that it was in such wise that Cacophony had discovered her, was salve enough for her pride.

“In fact,” Valora continued, “from what I’ve heard you all did amazingly. Actually, let me rephrase that: I dumped a plan on you which, granted, I still haven’t been able to think of anything better than, but still kind of sucked – and you pulled it off. If I’d been you guys I’d have told me to kiss my ass. But we actually pulled it off, no worse for wear. Almost,” she added, smiling apologetically at Buzzsaw.

“Valora is right,” Hypatia said, stepping forward. “I know I’m the one who happened to run into Lupus, but you were all splendid.” She took especial care to make eye contact with Cacophony: more than even Bacchus he relied on the approval of others. “But our work isn’t over. In fact – and forgive me if I sour the mood - but we are now at a very dangerous moment. We’ve backed Patáky into a corner, and when he lashes out, he may lash out directly at us. If possible, warn your families. Obviously, he may try to get to Lupus herself, and for that reason, I’d like to keep her location on a need-to-know basis only. Freebird and I both already know, and for the moment I think it probably ought to stay that way to minimise risk.” Without meaning to, she glanced at Valora. But nobody noticed: she was wearing her mask.

As so often happened, it was the three former Bombshells who were left when patrols had been assigned and administrivia dealt with. But this time it was not as awkward as it had been before. Valerie and Cecily even took off their masks once it was just the three of them, and that uncomfortable tension that had been there when Valerie had first returned was, if not eliminated, then at least eased.

“I don’t think you gave yourself enough credit, Valerie,” Maria said. “It was a straightforward plan, but it was bold. I really can’t think of another way we could have done it.”
“Mm,” Valerie replied. “Maybe. Point is it worked, I guess. I don’t know how, but you actually managed to put together a pretty good team out of these weirdos.”
“We’re all weirdos,” Cecily replied. There was a dreamy quality in her voice, just at the edges of it. “In this business, I mean. There are tens of thousands of superhumans who never think of putting on a cape. Those of us who do… there’s always something different.”
“Looking good in a leotard seems a pretty big part of it,” Valerie said.
“Yes,” Cecily said, looking down without much displeasure at herself, “I suppose you’re right.”
“Aw,” Maria said. “Does that mean I have to quit?” She gestured at her costume – a dress.
“Oh now, darling, you and I have both seen you in a – ah…” It wasn’t so much that Cecily decided to stop speaking as that when she realized what she had just done it became completely impossible. For one thing, it was the first time she had been openly affectionate to Maria in front of another friend. For another, it was the first time she had used a pet name to Maria at all, and that it had been something as fusty as ‘darling’ was – well it was playing a little too close to type.

But Maria took it in exactly the spirit that it was meant. She didn’t make a big show of it, nor would she have even if she and Cecily had been alone. In fact, she decided immediately that she loved it, because Cecily had done it without thinking. It hadn’t exactly come from the deepest, most intimate recesses of her soul, but it came from her. So Maria was delighted to be Cecily’s darling, and with a little flutter of her kind, hazel eyes she showed this. Cecily looked back at her, and she smiled – but it had that filter of Cecilyish strangeness that Maria hadn’t fully pierced, and she had to own that she had no idea what Cecily was thinking.

Whatever it was, though, Cecily put it to one side.
“Valerie,” she said, “what do you want to do about Lupus?”
“I don’t understand,” Valerie said, stiffening against the question. “Plan hasn’t changed, has it?”
“No indeed. I ought to have been clearer. What I mean is… would you like to leave it to us? To put Lupus out of your mind completely and let us deal with all the technicalities.”
“It’s a moot point,” Valerie said. “What’s there for me to do?”
“I don’t know. Perhaps nothing. But if I were to find out that there was something, would you want me to tell you? Would… you be willing to be in a position where you might be in front of her again?”

Valerie had been smiling. Her expression didn’t change all that much, but in a second it was like she was a different person. She looked very still, very grey and very grim.
“I told you,” Valerie said, “that I bumped into Milo today. I didn’t tell you what actually happened.”
“What did happen?”
“I was trying to keep him occupied, so we had a little chat. Well I said something he didn’t like, he got real mad, and he slapped me in the face.”
Maria and Cecily both knew how that had turned out for the last person who’d slapped Valerie.
“I didn’t do anything. That’s the point. It made me want to strangle the scrawny little nerd, but I didn’t. Even when he shot me.”
“He shot you?” Maria exclaimed. “Was he trying to get himself killed?”
“No, I’m serious. The man must be out of his mind!”
“He is out of his mind,” Valerie said, “and yes I think he was trying to get himself killed. But he didn’t get his wish. I didn’t do anything to him. I thought for sure I would, but I didn’t. So, Cecily, if you were asking me if I’ll be able to stop myself from throttling Lupus on the spot, I can actually say yes.”

Cecily pursed her lips.
“That’s not what I was asking,” she said, quietly. “I hope you don’t think I see you… like that.”
“Like what?” Valerie asked. “Berserker? Animal? Shark?” she added, with a weird flash to her smile. “I couldn’t blame you if you did. But – the point is, yes, I am… fully confident that I can control myself.” She smirked. “Hmph. Guess I have one thing to thank Milo for, huh?”

“I mean it, Valerie,” Cecily said. “That’s not what I was asking. I’m asking you if you think it would be a good idea to be directly involved in the processing of someone who… assaulted you. Perhaps it would give you closure. Perhaps it would just be painful, to no purpose.”
Valerie took two steps forward. She looked so severe that Cecily was sure she’d given offence, and Valerie’s next words didn’t do much to alter that impression.
“Cecily,” she said, “cut it out.”
“You’re like… looking after me. Which, I grant, you’ve found a way to do without being condescending, but it’s not your job. You being suspicious of me? Not trusting me? Thinking I’m gonna do something stupid? That I would get. But – what you’re doing now? You don’t need to do.”
It was curt. On paper, rude. But there was warmth in her words.

“I’ll be alright,” Valerie said. “One way or the other, I’ll be alright. If I need to be involved, I’ll be involved. For one thing, you probably need to tell me where she’s being kept. If something happens, if Milo finds her, all else being equal I’m the best defence she’ll have. It’ll… really suck if it comes to that, but I’ll suck it up.” She scratched the back of her head. “Okay?”
“Alright,” Cecily replied. “If you’re sure.”
“Now watch out, ‘cause I’m about to be an absolutely gigantic hypocrite.”
Valerie looked away for a moment. She was choosing her words as carefully as she could.

“You filled the gap when I was gone. You did stuff I’d never have been able to do. You’ve been awesome, and you know how grateful I am. But I am back now, and I can see that you’re exhausted. My guess is you’ve been putting a tonne of pressure on yourself - well you can ease off the gas now. I don’t even mean, like… missions and patrols and shit, ‘cause you were right: we’re in a dangerous spot. But… you know, up here.” She tapped her forehead. “Look, just – for god’s sake don’t let me add to your stress. Know what I’m saying?”

Cecily didn’t know how to reply. Her first instinct was just to say that Valerie was wrong, that she hadn’t been putting any more pressure on herself than her situation demanded. She had the others. She had Maria.

But it was Maria who ended up convincing her. She stood behind Cecily, put one hand on her shoulder. When Cecily turned to her, Maria nodded.
“She’s right,” Maria said. “You know she’s right.”
“…Alright,” Cecily replied, putting her hand over Maria’s. “Alright Valerie. I’ll do as you ask. And I’ll trust you. I do trust you, Valerie.”

Valerie was too moved to reply.
A full list of my stories can be found here, with summaries to boot: viewtopic.php?f=70&t=32027
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