- January 15, 2023
The Wolf Pack (Chapter 17)
The Untouchable Stoneman
I’m used to looking up at the sky and seeing that rich princess flying around, and I always think ‘of course God gave her powers.’ Why save anything for the rest of us? I figured the same about the ice chick too, she just has the actual logic to cover her face.
The Hood, he’s a fucking psycho, murdering everyone in the Red Devils, killing off my income, killing off the poor kids who grew up with nothing. Never mind how we got here. he only sees the things we have to do to survive and punishes us on that. It’s only the ‘what,’ never the why. Not saying there aren’t any who deserve it, but all of us? No way.
Then there was the fire boy, Pyre. I wondered, for a moment, was he like us, like me? A North Egger? Then he lets his fire go out and his name was Tommy Rodriguez, the white boy who stole my last chance.
That’s when I knew God had favorites.
God has favorites, and it’s not the ones who need his help, not the ones who need a break. The ones who keep getting a break, the same pretty white boys and all of their friends… the ones with all the necessities, and the powers without having to worry…
I bet Tommy hasn’t worried once in his life.
How about me? How about David goddamn Sanchez? I got a dead druggy for a mom. When I was a kid, any thug on the street corner could say ‘I fucked your mom’ and it was probably true. She did more to get high than to take care of me. Still more than dad, but what did I expect when she wouldn’t tell me who he is? More like couldn’t, I bet.
Yeah, God has favorites. God may be all-powerful, but he’s a dick like everyone else.
After Pyre threw me into a train, I ran, damn straight I ran. Where the hell else was I supposed to go? If I go home, that… freak, psychopath who killed my payment, he would have found me with more of his friends. I went to the next best place, the new construction at the edge between North and South Aeg.
Burkestone knocked down an old apartment building, one of the last hints of North Aeg in South Aeg. It was where the poor kids who somehow got into South Aeg schools lived in. That asininely large company said they wanted to make a better place to live. More like a place people from South Aeg would like to send their friends.
Construction stalled for some reason, probably the Savaage, my bosses. They use this place to meet me and the other dealers like me. That’s where I’m wait for one of them. I sent them a message through the emergency phone they gave me, told them what happened and that I’d meet them at our usual place.
I’m not going to pretend like they’re good people, they’re demons, like actually evil people. They do it for world domination or something like that. They’re the kind of group a superspy would fight, but they’ve treated me good, and if they’re product has gone bad, I gotta hope that they would want to fix it, fix me. You don’t want bad product out there or else no one buys your good product. That’s simple, real economics.
I’m only a couple stories up, three tops. If I survived a train, I could survive this fall… maybe. I’m not stupid, if the Savaage wants me dead like in any crime movie, they’d shoot me and knock me off the ledge. I’m not going to the top.
I swing my legs over the side, wrapped around the railing, my hands gripping the railing tightly. Idiots would hang really close like I am, and fall off. Unbelievable.
But I feel the stone under my thighs meet my shin. I would never have noticed how it feels if it were skin, but I feel every crack now. I’m still in my wrecked clothes from before, and I look down at my chest.
I lean over, I curl my fingers, I do anything to bend and my joints will move like it did before, but my exterior cracks, it hurts like a paper cut does, or gash from a knife. Depends on how much I stretch. I can move like I did, but it hurts, it shouldn’t be like this.
Rodriguez, Pyre, I guarantee that he doesn’t feel pain when he burns.
There is one good thing, one good thing that my life has never failed to provide me. This good view.
Aegis City is gorgeous, during the day, dusk or dawn, but especially at night. The lights of the skyscrapers are pretty, whether they’re filled with bastards or not. If I could die looking at this, it wouldn’t be the worst.
Having said that, I have no plans to die today, or tomorrow.
“I don’t see the emergency.”
The voice of my supplier enters my ear and runs through my veins like ice. My body grows colder around her, even when I’m already stone.
I turn around to face Hundress Dawn, in her black blouse and red pants, illuminated under her black eyes.
She doesn’t care so much now though, because now she’s the one who’s fucked me over. I have so much pent-up anger, I don’t have a problem telling her, “About damn time.”
She walks out of the shadows, arms cross, with that bored look in her eyes. She doesn’t care, but then again, I never expected her to. She’s got this face of stone, more solid and unmoving than mine, and I’m actual stone. It’s strange when she talks, it always seems to me like only her lips move, instead of her whole face.
“Patience is a virtue you know.”
She has some nerve.
“Why is patience a virtue?” I ask, so sick of people giving me that excuse whenever they’re late. I get up from my spot and ask the world, “Why can’t ‘hurry the fuck up’ be a virtue?”
Hundress isn’t fazed by me, I don’t think she’s fazed by anything. She starts moving closer to me, asking me, “Mr. Sanchez, what do you-”
“I’m not Mr. Sanchez!” I interrupt her. “I’m David, I’m your employee, and I’ve been screwed by your product! I want you to fix me!”
Hundress Dawn is many things, fearless seems to be one of them. Not only does she step within swinging distance of me, standing taller than me, she leans her face close enough for me to feel her breath. Or, close enough that I should feel her breath.
“Let’s make something clear, Mr. Sanchez is not a term of respect, it is a formality of professionalism that I keep. You are dealer, a street hood, a thug, nothing more. You don’t matter anymore than the pair of shoes I wore once yesterday then threw out. You don’t make demands, you don’t place blame, you do your job, you get paid, and you fix your own mess.”
She lifts her head away from mine. Her face moves behind the pillar, causing a shadow to block her face so that her glasses are the only thing catching the light. She brings her finger to fix her glasses and tells me, “That is what your situation is, your own mess.”
“You got some balls, lady,” I tell her, “getting this close to me.”
She’s not fearless, she’s an idiot for turning me away when her and her gang owes me a cure. If she’s not going to help me, she should pay for what she does, like the rest of those who work for her. She doesn’t wear any gloves so I grab her hand, and wait for the curse to work.
And I wait, and I wait, and I wait, it’s seconds but it feels like minutes considering it was instantaneous before. I’m holding her wrist, and she raises it, holding her palm before her face, her knuckles before my eyes, refusing to be petrified.
She closes her fleshy fingers into a fist, the squeeze of her skin making me internally scream about what the hell is going on.
“Why does everyone consider ball sacks to be a sign of toughness? The fragile, Achilles’s heel of any man lucky enough not to be eunuch?” Hundress leans forward and I feel my own breath reflecting off of her. “I bet if I removed you of your ball sacks you would be tougher, smarter, and you would know your place among the rats.”
With her seemingly immune skin, she pimp slaps me!
Like, she actually backhands me like a pimp does his bitch and I go flying across the ground. This woman, this… she has powers, but what kind? Her hand feels like the Hood, no, stronger than that.
I’m a little dazed, too dazed to stand up straight, but not so much that I don’t see her move to stand over me. She doesn’t even give me the respect of facing me, I get a sideways look. She brings her hand to her pocket and pulls out black gloves to slip on.
She tells me, “I think we’re done here,” without a twinge of a smile or frown, just a thin line. She has a good poker face, but I know she’s enjoying herself. She’s too good at making me feel small not to be.
I haven’t answered her yet, so she turns away and takes a step forward. “You know,” I start with my eyes facing the dirt, “I used to live in the building that was here.”
Hundress stops where she stands. I raise my head and I’m looking at the back of her head, she won’t grace me with her eyes.
“I used to live here before the fucking Burkes came in and took that away from us rats too. It was the nicest, affordable place to live, but we were a stain on their eyes, the damn pretentious, filthy fucking rich snobs of South Aeg. They bought it, kicked us out, and told us they would make it better, but if they ever finish this place, we won’t be the ones staying here. The rich, the politicians, the orphanage, the volunteers, everyone who has something, who says they want to help, they never do, they never mean it.”
I wait, I wait for her to turn her eyes to me, to see me. She’s needs to meet my eyes to hear the question I need to know. Her head turns so slow, she’s reconsidering even as she’s doing it, but Hundress gives me this one thing if not my life back. She gives me the recognition of her eyes.
She looks into my eyes and I ask her, “Ain’t it all a bitch?”
“It’s what you deserve,” she says.
“Trouble in paradise?”
Hundress and I both turn our heads, back to the railing where we were standing, and we realize we’ve been found out.
Squatting on the railing with his black helmet and knives to match, is the Hood, the psychotic bastard, just itching to gut us. I can just tell.
Behind him is the spoiled bitch princess, floating as easy as breathing, arms crossed, with her stupid little cape flowing behind her, Emily Burke, Espada. Bunch of goddamn tools.
“Looks like we’ve got enough for everyone to have fun,” the girl says, “you take Hundress, I’ll take the Stoneman.”
Stoneman? Is that the stupid name they’ve given me? Alright, I’ll give her a stone fist if she wants.
The Hood wants to fight me, I can tell by how he looks at her sideways. A stink eye if I ever saw one.
“By the looks of it, seems I’m getting the stronger one,” he comments.
That gets me off the ground and to my feet. “Why don’t you come and find out?!”
The Hood hops down to the ground, twirling his knives to show how ready he is. Espada floats to his right and places her hand over his chest. “If you couldn’t knock him out before with help, you’re not going to now. Fight Hundress, avenge Uub.”
Who the fuck is Uub?
Whoever that is, it gets the response the Burke princess wants. He focuses his eyes on Hundress and walks to the other side of Espada. So, the princess is mine, alright, let’s see if she’s as immune to turning to stone as she is to bullets.
I charge at her and the stuck-up princess stands there with her arms crossed. Stupid bitch thinks she can wait till the last second? I’m gonna knock her lights out as I throw my fist towards her face-
Oh no, no no, dear God no.
She caught my fist with her gloved hand, and I anticipate the counter punch. I don’t receive one.
She tosses me backwards off the building.
I go flying down the three stories, heading towards the unfinished pillars with dirt still between them, right next to the cement pit.
I go through a pillar, that hurts a lot, and faceplant into the ground, where I tear it up.
The only saving grace is that my stone skin never falters, it doesn’t crack from the impact. It’s strange, super strength doesn’t do it but fire did.
I let out an uncontrollable groan as I push myself up, and I hear the wish of the wind before I feel it collide with my back. I look up and Espada is floating over me, arms crossed, looking down at me with that judgmental look she gives from her damn tower.
“I heard you cracked the Hood’s helmet, I haven’t done that,” she tells me, but then with a tilt of her head, “but seeing you now, maybe I just wasn’t trying hard enough.”
Goddamn… tease, she’s teasing me, trying to get me to freak out. I fell right into the Hood’s taunt, so she’s teasing me now to keep me angry.
Speaking of teases, there are her legs, uncovered by that stupid unitard, vulnerable to my power.
I go to grab said legs, and it turns out she’s much faster than I thought. As fast as I can blink, she’s floating directly above me, stepping on my back, pushing me into the ground. I feel her grab what remains of my sweatshirt and throw me face first into the pillar.
My head slams against it, and before my feet touch the ground, her gloved hand grabs my shoulder and throws me into the direction of the cement pit.
I’m sliding across the ground as I scream, “No, no, please-ACK!” I thought she was going to let me fall in, let me get consumed, eaten up. That’s like being buried alive but there isn’t even room from the coffin to move.
Espada stops me from falling in by planting her boots on my wrists, pinning me under her. Then, like always, she looks down on me, with that bored fine line across her face.
She looks down on me just like I always imagined she did… this look of disappointment. She a fucking psycho too? Looking to get in the next shot of adrenaline?
They’re monsters, the wannabe-superheroes, the billionaire dickheads, the cops, all monsters, whether they know it or not.
And Espada is one of the worst, her and the psycho she keeps on a leash.
“Go on,” I say, as she holds me down, “keep beating on me, you’re not the first rich bitch and you won’t be the last!”
The Burke girl puts more pressure on my wrists as she mocks me. “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t realize that as you’re killing people and selling superpowers to criminals, I’m supposed to feel sorry for you!”
“What else am I supposed to do?!” I scream as I try to struggle to free myself, but she’s just so fucking strong. “Hope a billion fucking dollars is dropped into my lap from some daddy I never met?!”
“I… I don’t know,” she admits, as if she actually gives a shit now that I say it. I feel the pressure on my wrists come off and I throw my fists around as I sit up. I look up and see her floating there in front of me, watching me with these unmoving eyes.
“Are you trying to tell me your terrible backstory makes it okay to hurt me? You purposely attacked my friend and took his sister’s arm, are you supposed to just get away with that? Am I supposed to just let you skedaddle your ass back home?”
I’m having trouble breathing as I climb to my knees. All this fighting is making me feel hot. “I-I don’t know, I didn’t mean to, I didn’t mean to hurt Sofia!”
“So, you did know who she was!” Espada yells down at me, like flying high gives her the right to be all high and mighty. “Did you also not mean to go to a murderer, a homicidal maniac for help?!”
“Who else am I supposed to go to?!” I scream back at her, making her float back in shock. “They may be mad fucking crazy, and Hundress is a stone-cold bitch, but they’re all a guy like me has,” my voice breaks as my knees giving out. My stomach feels as sick as I am of life, of everything…
But still want to scream, to rage, to give her a piece of my mind… “Whose fault is that you billion-dollar bitch…”
“Is bitch the only thing you can say?” I hear her say under her breath.
“If… if you really feel trapped…” she says, as I’m doubled over, probably looking like I’m kneeling to her, “someone would help you, someone like me…” I hear the whoosh of wind, and I see her hand there.
“Take my hand,” she tells me, “I know people who might be able to help you with your powers, and life after that.”
Is she, is she absolutely fucking nuts? What self-respecting man would take handouts form her?
I smack her hand away. “What? The feds?” I taunt her back as I wipe the drool from my mouth, “The same fucking people protecting exactly what put me here in the first place? Fuck you.”
“No!” she gets mad at me, “people like us, superhumans.”
“We’re not the same,” and she can’t trick me into thinking we are, not as I find a way to stand on my own two feet.
I point my thumb at her chest as I rip her from her fantasy. “Nobody is going to help me!” As I do that, I feel the adrenaline, the rage, the desire to turn her deserving ass to stone.
“I can help you!” she says. “I can make them!”
“But I don’t trust you either,” I say as I make a fist, and she’s there to grab it, throw off my momentum. She steps on my foot too, keeps me from falling.
I bet she thinks she can make anyone do what she wants because she’s Emily Burke and she has all the powers. She gets everything, and the rest of us fight for scraps… this stupid, goddamn…
Not me… I won’t be…
That sound, it sounds familiar, but I’ve never been able to hear it so clearly before. It’s the sound that’s always getting drowned out by screaming. Espada hears it too, and I realize that I hear it on both sides of my face. I look to my left, and I see where her boot meets my skin. That sizzling sound…
… that’s her boot turning to stone.
“What?!” she yells, flying up and away from me, and tears her boot off, her glove touching the portion that’s turning to stone. Her gloves don’t turn to stone from touching it, and her socks don’t seem to either. Maybe it has to be direct contact, no second-hand touches.
Then I realize the sizzling is still going all around me, and I realize the remains of my clothes, they’re turning to stone too.
“No, no, no, no,” I panic as I try to shed my sweatshirt, keep it from getting stuck to my skin, but I feel my boxers fusing to me, and everything…
“Aaahh, aaahhh, aahh!”
It all fucking burns.
I hear the Stoneman crying out in pain. Did Emily finally grow a pair or was it just an accident?
She has been getting stronger… still…
She’s not my priority right now. Hundress Dawn is.
Standing ready, I wait for her to make the first move. I don’t expect it to be a direct attack, this woman killed Uub in his home when he was defenseless so I don’t expect her to play fair. When Emily and I got here, she was standing over him, she must have knocked him down, so she’s stronger than normal. I can use the energy charger I developed for Emily on her, but I doubt Hundress is strong enough to warrant that.
That will be a last resort.
Hundress doesn’t move to look ready, she waits, watching me, studying me, looking at me the way I look at her.
The supposed head of the Savaage seems to go for psychological warfare as well, asking me, “You wouldn’t hit a lady, would you?”
“Even if you were a lady, I don’t discriminate.”
After judging her capabilities and clothes, there’s no way she’s wearing Kevlar unless she’s made the thinnest protection in the world. Before she can respond I draw out a handgun and fire.
I aim for her head and she ducks under it. She has speed, not as fast as Emily, but she’s dodging bullets. I rush and leap to kick her.
She crosses her arms to block.
She doesn’t budge, it’s like kicking a truck. So she’s gotten heightened dexterity too, not good for me.
I take more shots with my gun as I flip backwards off of her. She moves her arms to catch them with her arm. They embed in her skin… but there’s no blood.
Okay, I don’t like things that don’t bleed. If I had to guess, I’d say she’s a robot, second guess, a ghoul. Magic or science basically. Either way… I’m not as prepared as I want to be, as I should be.
I need to reload as she somersaults backwards, heading towards this hole in the tower where the future elevator shaft will be.
As I chase after her I see droplets of blood on the floor. Maybe she’s wearing some protection if the wounds are minimal? But why did it take so long to show? This isn’t making sense.
“The more you try to understand, the more you’ll just confuse yourself,” she warns me.
I jump into the elevator shaft and ride the chains down. “Sure, I’ll let the rich white lady fighting in heels tell me what to do.”
“You say that like you wish you weren’t privileged.”
Below me comes the end of a chain, the sharp end. I wasn’t ready, it almost hits me in the face!
It sends me spinning, but I see her, tangling in the chains like a spider in a web. She must have found a broken chain, and she’s twisting her body to swing it around.
“That looks more complicated than its worth,” I tell her.
“Sure, I’ll listen to the homicidal kid who thinks the helmet is his face.” She talks as she swings the chains with the movements of her body. Talk about hips that can move, she definitely has superstrength.
“You talk as if you make more than two expressions,” I tell her as I jump between the chains like Tarzan, making slow progress down to her.
“Touché,” she tells me.
As I’m bobbing and weaving between the chains, it’s clear I can’t move like her. I’m on the defensive, a place I don’t want to be, but… I can’t say this isn’t fun.
As she swings the chain at me again, I push off one to grab another, letting them hit each other.
As I swing from one chain to the other, riding my way down a bit more every time to get to her, I take a shot at her.
Hundress twists her legs to bring two chains in front of her face. The bullet snaps and deflects away from her.
“Hmph,” I mutter. “You know, when in doubt… fuck it.”
I let myself drop, and rushing to grab an explosive from a compartment on my side. Hundress tries twisting the chains, but now that I’m in free fall, I’m just bouncing around.
Then I attach the explosive to my gun and fire. I do the whole thing is like four seconds, I’ve been practicing.
Hundress lets go as the explosion hits a chain. My helmet switches to infrared to see her… cold body catches herself before her fall. She twists to face the ground and sticks her hand out for a ledge. Then swings herself to the bottom floor.
Is this how villains feel when heroes just don’t die?
I dive bomb with a glide at the end to land on the floor after her.
“Have I annoyed you yet?” she calls up to me.
“Your existence does that.”
I pop out my knives as she’s running at me. She tries to take my head off with a kick, but I duck. The wind from her kick sends a chill down my back, one so strong it almost stops me in place.
I manage to get it together and slice her Achilles tendon.
She immediately twists around, hops on one foot and goes to rip her pant leg to wrap it around her wound, all before I can get a good look at any blood. She falls into a roll over her back, getting away from me.
If it wasn’t apparent that this woman is an expert at making her body do whatever it wants when it needs to, that complicated yet successful maneuver did it. I don’t know if I could pull that off.
What I do know, is that rolling on the ground gives me the chance to catch up to her.
The only recognition of me getting the jump on her is the way she widens her eyes, just for a split second before standing back up.
How does she not collapse with a severed Achilles tendon?
Hundress pushes me back as she inches closer to a ledge without any railing a few feet away. “I expected more, I must say,” she says.
“Really, that’s it? That was the best taunt you could come up with?!”
Hundress pauses for a moment.
“You’re a douchebag? Does that suffice?” Then she goes to punch me.
It seems easy enough to dodge and jab her in the nose, but she doesn’t slow down and follows up with two jabs that barely miss.
Great, now it’s a game of tag.
How the hell do you beat someone who doesn’t flinch at your strikes? Try hitting her somewhere else.
I duck under her swing and shoot my palm up into her chin. She’s an average hand to hand fighter at best, relying on her powers. She seems to be nothing against a more skilled opponent-
I stand corrected. She grabs my wrist and lifts me up like I weigh nothing.
Then she punches me dead in the chest. She punches like Emily used to, sending me sliding back, crumpling, folding like a steel chair. Thank god, she doesn’t have Burke’s speed.
It’s easy to realize that Hundress just needed a warm up. She rushes me and lands a flurry of punches to my gut and arms as soon as I stand up, slowly fueling the energy in my suit. I need a better name for that.
I manage to catch a punch to my shoulder with my armpit. I bring my knee up into her elbow and…
… I break her arm at her elbow but she doesn’t even flinch. I get that women have a naturally higher pain tolerance, but this is insane.
I twist her arm over my shoulder with nary a grunt from her and break it the other way.
I elbow backwards into her stomach and turn around to bring my knee into her face. Nothing.
Not a grunt, not a scream, not even a bruise, does nothing hurt this woman? Is her power a lack of nerve endings? Might connect with why she has the emotive range of a starfish.
The moment my leg touches the ground, she brings her other hand down on my knees, and I sure feel it.
I feel her leg come and slam into my left side. I try to catch it with my arm, but she kick me up off the ground. I land on my back but manage to roll as she flips away, putting some distance between us.
This… is not going how it was supposed to.
The second she stands within running distance she shoots her arm straight out, the same one I broke into pieces, and twists it back around. With a bend inward and a…
… her arm is good as new.
“That’s not fair,” I say, “like, that’s beyond not fair.”
Without a bit of emotion in her face, she says, “Cry.”
You know what, let’s try a new gadget I made. It might kill me if it malfunctions, but I’d rather kill myself than let her kill me.
It’s her turn to charge after me, running like an Olympic gold medalist. What happened to that Achilles tendon I cut? It doesn’t look healed?
Doesn’t matter, I have to act fast now.
I place my hands over a compartment on my side, and two disks barely bigger than my palms pops out. I have them in both hands as she charges me.
I block her first punch with my forearms, and stop up a follow up of her knee with a swipe of my hand, and strike her in the gut.
Truly, every time I hit her she hits back harder.
The lady freakin’ uppercuts me with her elbow, and punches me in the chest with her other hand. I slide back.
The only plus is that she gives my suit more kinetic energy to store. Not only that, I got her with my repulsor disk, I stuck it to her gut.
With a flick of the arm, it turns on and blasts her like a rocket, the hell away from me.
Her heels dig into the concrete floor, and she slams her fist into her gut to break it pretty quickly, but I was following after her. She goes to kick me in the face and I duck and slide.
As I slide right under her leg, I take the other repulsor disk and slam it right where a tramp stamp would be.
It activates before she can turn around and she flies straight up into the ceiling, face first. As she comes down, I’m there to grab her neck and leg to slam her back over my knee.
That doesn’t sound right, it sounded wrong in face. Almost as wrong as Hundress bringing her knee into my face when her back should be broken.
Not only that, she grabs my head as it flies back, and brings it down to headbutt it. She sends me to my back with that blow alone.
I lay spread eagle for a moment longer than anyone should.
I don’t get it, she’s strong, she’s fast, she can fight, she feels no pain, she can mend her body back together, there’s gotta be a key to defeating her. I don’t have any more atom grenades, I only have a handful of repulsor disks, a knife, and bullets in terms of weapons. I have the energy charger, but that’s not full, if I want that to be full… then I need to take a beating.
Hundress is ready to give me just that. She’s on me before I get up, and she throws me towards a pillar right before the edge.
I slam into it, back first, and I see her coming before my feet touch the ground. I cross my arms and she punches me right through the pillar, full strength. My arms almost give out, but the energy charger is ready.
By ready, I mean that my need has exceeded my capacity to wait… so no problem I guess. My body just hurts all over.
I don’t get to fall off the building, she grabs me by the neck after she uses my body to break the pillar, like I’m some human jackhammer. Hundress squeezes my neck as she twists her other wrist, flexing it.
“I haven’t used this much strength on a normal human before,” she admits to me, as if I should be proud. “If only you were as strong as you think you’re smart.”
I’m not dead yet.
With a click, repulsor disks are sent out of the side of my suit and into my hands, and I slam them over her ears. They ignite, and they begin to crush her skull as I kick myself off her chest.
I flip over a one story drop to the ground, so not high at all. I pop out my wings again with a boost from the jet pack, I fly right towards her and bring my knee into her face.
My knees are going to be so sore tomorrow. It rattles after that last hit.
She flips backwards as the repulsor disks help her skid across the ground back towards the elevator shaft. She smacks her hands into her face to destroy the disks.
With smoke around her head, she stands up slower than usual. The first and only signal of pain or exhaustion.
Like I said, I’m not waiting any longer, I’m using the energy charger to fuel the blaster in my chest.
As she takes the worst moment to regain herself, I charge towards her, the lines over my chest lighting up with the kinetic energy the cantorium in my suit has been storing.
Hundress doesn’t move in the seconds it takes for me to get to her. She stands in front of the elevator shaft, her arms rising from her side. She thinks she can get me with a surprise swipe.
Before I come within firing distance I fall to my knees and slide. I was right, because I dodge this slice of her hand. With her face turning inside the smoke, all I see is this red dot.
I squeeze my hands into fists, causing electricity to flow and go back from my chest to my hands, then back again. When the electricity reaches my chest, it sends forth all the kinetic energy the suit has been storing through the battle.
The force is invisible like the wind, the effect is not. Hundress Dawn’s chest is blown apart, blood flying everywhere, the smoke flowing all around her from the repulsor disks stuck to her face. Her body goes up as her head falls in a different arch.
I watch as the Savaage’s leader, literally her head and body, flies into and down the shaft, two stories to the basement, where all the chains lie in the dark.
I didn’t expect to use this beta feature on Hundress. I also didn’t expect her to pack that much of a punch. Let’s find out why.
THUD! THUD! RUMBLE!
Jesus Christ, Emily and Sanchez, they’re going to bring the building down. I look down the elevator shaft, where I can see a faint light over Hundress’s body. She’s not going anywhere.
THUD! THUD! THUD! THUD!
I think Emily needs me more.
THUD! THUD! THUD! THUD! THUD!
“Stop, stop, stop, stop!”
I wonder if there’s anyone else who knows what it feels like to have a bus slammed on top of you, over and over again, for five minutes straight. I wouldn’t know, I’m the one slamming the bus.
I’ll admit, I think I was nervous to fight him, but I figured I was fast enough to take down the Stoneman, and the shit-talking? Play the part, you become the part. At first, it seemed like everything was going right, and then his powers evolved.
They all evolved in ways not all that different from my own. He turned my boots to stone, and when I punched him and he turned my glove to stone, and that was it. I wasn’t going to run a third test.
I can’t touch him… I can’t risk it…
If he touches my skin and he turns my skin to stone… I don’t have the luxury of cutting off a limb. I can’t be cut, and I can’t tear off my own limb! This is the first fight where I’ve ever been…
It’s too shameful to admit.
The longer this drags on, the more he grows more monstrous. For God’s sake, he’s even turning his clothes to stone!
The fact that he seems to be losing his ability to feel pain, to fall unconscious… it’s making me sweat.
I keep saying, “Stop, stop!”
As if telling him is going to change anything. I slam the bus, crushing it to half its size, and every time I lift it up it’s turned more into stone itself.
And then the Stoneman reaches his arm out from the ground.
I hear someone scream as I slam the bus down on him, and I scream.
I turn my head and I see the Hood, landing on a pillar my height. He looks me up and down, taking in the situation. I have no doubts, he sees that I’m cracking under the pressure, the first time I’ve been under any pressure having to do with my safety.
“Why are you yelling, ‘stop?’” he asks me.
Stop, that’s what everyone yells. You yell at someone hurting you to stop, someone scaring you to stop, someone threatening to hurt you to stop. No one ever really does though. Why would ‘stop’ not be the thing I say? No one said I have to expect someone to listen.
But that’s definitely not what I tell him. I’m still enough put together to tell him what’s happening. “I-I-I’m trying… to knock him unconscious, but his powers, they’re-they’re growing. Clay, I don’t know-”
There’s that noise, the noise from when my foot almost turned to stone, but what is it?
“Emily, the bus!” he yells to me, and I drop it. How, how is he turning everything into stone?!
First, it was only supposed to be people, then it was clothes, and now a bus!
I fly around it, and I watch as the bus turns to stone, faster than my shoes did. I turn to the Hood and he-
“First,” he interrupts with a point of his finger, “Clay is not a name you call me, ever again, forget where you heard it, two, you need to calm down.” He gives me a summoning gesture of his hand, and I float closer.
He surprises me when he grabs me by the shoulders because I didn’t know I was shaking. “You’re alright, you’re invulnerable, not to say that you should test it out, but the odds that he can hurt you are small. That being said,” and he flicks his wrist to pop out his knife, “I think it’s time for my approach.”
He wants to kill him, I haven’t let him do that before, never in front of me. Anytime he tries, I catch the bullet, block the knife, smash him, or… or I fail, but I still try. I do what I can to get in the way because I can fix any other situation.
I don’t know how to stop the Stoneman. Standing aside, it’s not… it’s not what I do.
“I’ll try to end it quickly, I won’t make it hurt, no funny business, only what’s necessary.” I believe him, I just… this is like with Atlas and the child. We needed to kill to fix the problem, someone else had to kill to save everyone, but it was never me.
The bus falls over, knocked over really, and the first thing I see from the crater is a hand that wants to grab me.
The Hood brings his hand behind my head and turns me back to him. He offers me the knife, telling me, “I’ll do this for you, say the word.”
I hear the thuds, the groans, the scratching and climbing until the Stoneman calls for me. “Where are you, bitch?! I’m still here!”
“Please,” I tell him.
“Consider it done.”
He boosts his jetpack over my head, and my eyes follow him as he comes down, both knives out now, upon the Stoneman. Will his armor hold? The Stoneman holds his arms up and the Hood’s knives come and stab into his shoulders, their arms slammed against each other. The Hood’s armor doesn’t turn to stone with contact.
The Hood brings his knee into the Stoneman’s face and he falls back, but with complete ignorance for pain. Instead of groaning, he just runs right back. He roars as he charges, telegraphing his moves at the same time, raising his arms to dog on the Hood, but the vigilante backflips away before the Stoneman is even swinging.
“Started out a drug dealer, then a weapons dealer, then a powers dealer. It’s time you were dealt something, like a permanent good night sleep,” the Hood taunts, wagging his finger for the Stoneman to come hither.
The Stoneman throws a tantrum by slamming his hands against the ground. As he climbs out of the hole, he’s screaming, “I’ve never been given anything but shit! But that’ll change tonight!”
He runs and throws a punch over the Hood’s head, and the Hood slaps him on the back. I don’t know how, until I see a rocket fly the Stoneman face first into the pillar. Whatever gadget the Hood used, it turns to stone and falls to the ground.
The Hood doesn’t worry, he finishes his threat. “Well then, let me put you out of your misery, because guess what?” As the Stoneman turns around, the Hood flips his knife and throws it right into the Stoneman’s knee, somehow hurting him. “When I fight someone more than once, I don’t sit on my ass waiting for the next time, I study for the next. It took me seconds to realize something from our last fight.”
“What?” the Stoneman yells at him, kneeling down as he clutches his knee with the knife in it. The Hood flips and brings his foot down on the knife, making it sink in deeper. “Aaagh-ah-aha-ha!”
The Hood rips out the knife and kicks the Stoneman in his stomach. “Should have never have gotten so close before incapacitating you. You can’t fight, you’re not fast, and you can’t petrify my armor, you’re just a thug with super strength and thick skin.”
“There’s something else,” the Stoneman grunts as he grovels on the ground, “I don’t actually feel pain.” He’s playing the Hood, and he shows it by grabbing his ankle to lift him over his head. “You’re fighting a bullshitter, and you fell for it hook line and sinker, you fucking scum wad.”
“Haaa,” I gasp as he slams the Hood’s stomach over his knee, and then chucks him into the opposite pillar.
The Stoneman has only been growing stronger, showing it by leaping after the Hood, and tackling him through the pillar, sending the Hood tumbling.
He’s, he’s losing. He can’t do anything more than I could! But I’m just watching, sitting up here in the sky. I watch as the Stoneman walks over to the Hood, struggling to stand. He grabs him by his neck and he-
He punches him across the helmet again, causing it to start turning to stone. The helmet’s not cantorium too?! The second hit dented the helmet, cracking the stone spot he’s made and the third-
No, no, no, the third time he breaks the mask over the Hood’s face, revealing his brown eye underneath. The Stoneman points his one finger.
I have to save him; I have to stop the Stoneman.
He’s pressing his finger as I fly straight towards them. He moves in slow motion at the rate I’m going, but that’s not fast enough. His finger is too close. I won’t let him kill the Hood; I won’t let Clay die for me.
I’m there as the Stoneman’s finger is moving into the helmet’s hole and I press my hand to the Hood’s chest to push him away with all my strength. I send him flying away, but I watch as the Stoneman’s finger leaves the Hood’s helmet.
The Hood skids across the ground, sticking his knife into the cement to stop his momentum, but I’m left standing next to the Stoneman. This boy, this… man, who hurt two of my friends and killed a dozen people.
He moves his arm to hurt me. He’s strong, he can do it, he can kill me and turn me to stone. I watch as he moves his arms towards my face, and it’s all moving so slow.
I pull back, move my head back, and float backwards, and watch as his hand moves through the space where I was.
I had forgotten. I can fly, I can move faster, I can think faster.
And I’m strong, probably stronger.
I’m Espada, I can’t let myself be afraid of this asshole who calls me names. Worse, I can’t let myself be afraid of this asshole when my non-powered friend ran at him head first. He was brave enough to risk it, I have to risk it too.
I reel back my right fist, my gloved fist, and I let him have it. I flatten him.
I turn him into a concrete angel, and tear the glove off my hand.
But the Hood.
I turn my head to him and see him scratching at his helmet. It’s still turning to stone. I fly over to his side, grab his chin in my left and dig my fingers into his helmet with my right. I rip off half of the mask he calls his face. I see the black mask underneath, that covers everything but his eyes.
“Are you okay?” I ask him.
“Yeah,” he huffs, without the static and deepness of his voice changer.
That normal voice, his human voice, I always imagine it would sound demonic. The fact that he sounds like just a guy should make me shake.
He sits up and I take him by the shoulders to hold him up. “I’m fine, I think, but you didn’t have to worry about the helmet. You touched the stone part and your hand is fine, I don’t think there’s second hand stoning.”
I didn’t even think about it. I look at my hand, I was so worried about turning to stone but I didn’t think twice about smacking it off to save him. I guess I’m lucky I can only turn to stone by touching the main source, probably.
Speaking of the main source.
The Hood points behind me as I’m already looking, and the Stoneman’s right-hand wretches itself from the prison I punched him into. I don’t have any more gloves, I don’t want to risk it, but he’s getting out.
The Hood places a hand on my shoulder, and I turn to look right into his mortal human eye. “Smash the ground, with all you have,” he tells me.
“What, are you nuts?!” I yell at him. I don’t need to tell him, but I do anyway. “The whole city might feel that! Jesus fuck, the building will collapse!”
“I value our lives more than your family’s property, your family can afford to lose it.”
He places a hand on my shoulder, as the Stoneman wretches his other arm out. The Hood reminds me, “This is California, this state practically is a fault line. The buildings around us were made to survive an earthquake, do it.”
The Stoneman pulls himself up, and all I see is the hate and savagery in his eyes as he screams and roars with the rage of an animal.
I raise my hands over my head, and let go of all inhibitions like I never have before. When I do that, I don’t feel overwhelmed with power, I feel normal. I feel like I weigh as much as I did without powers, I feel my muscles relax and unclench.
These feelings of normalcy haven’t been my normal since I had to start actively paying attention to my body. I have to always keep control in this paperweight world. It’s every other moment that I feel like I’m restraining myself, in every single way.
When I let myself go, I feel like how I’m supposed to.
The ground collapses underneath my fist. An air wave goes out and everything goes flying. The ground turns to falling pieces, the radius expanding in each second. It only takes one second for the ground beneath the Stoneman to crumble, two for me to grab the Hood, and five for the wave to reach the building and consume it.
I watch each and every bit of the building.
I hold the Hood by his waist, bringing us high above, watching together as the Stoneman falls into the darkness, to the sewers or whatever else lies below. As he’s consumed by darkness, dust from the building comes and sweeps over everything here too. The ground becomes consumed by dust as the damage I caused becomes clear.
The streets surround the property, and the streets themselves all collapse, leaving buildings with stairs that lead to cliffs, and a dirt cloud that causes me to rise even higher to keep from being consumed.
The Hood wraps his arm around me, and in a low huff asks, “Please, set me down somewhere.”
He’s in pain and I fly us to the nearest roof.
I see the door, and fly right to its side where I can lay him against it. He groans as I set him down and that’s the sign that I can’t leave him. I place my hand on his leg as he brings his hands to his insides, feeling around to see what hurts.
“Damn, I don’t know who was worse, the Stoneman, or Hundress,” he complains.
Hundress Dawn, that’s right. “Did you beat her, or did she escape?”
“Killed her,” he tells me, “but I doubt you’ll find her body under that rubble.”
I look into his eyes and I see that he’s looking over at the destruction we caused. For once I get to see where his eyes are looking for sure. There’s no doubt, he’s looking at me.
Usually I’d think he’s judging me, but in reality, he’s looking out, judging himself… I think. Maybe he is judging me, but more politely than I thought.
“I’m so sorry,” I tell him, it’s my fault that he went through the worst of it. I really lost myself, I let myself be afraid and be crippled by fear… and he paid for it. “I never should have let you take him on, I shouldn’t have lost it.”
He turns his eye back towards me, I see his eye focus as he chuckles.
“I had to get you to let loose anyway, to get you to really let him have it,” he tells me. I hear that classically condescending chuckle he always has ready. Turns out, it’s not the voice changer that makes it asinine. “I mean, in all honesty, if you couldn’t hurt him, what chance would I have?”
That’s… that’s smart, but it’s too far.
I bring my hand to his chin, and he doesn’t flinch or try to pull away. He looks me in the eye, he has to. He looks as if he’s ready for whatever anger I’m about to give him, but I don’t want him to be ready for me. I don’t appreciate him being one step ahead and manipulating me, even if it is for the greater good.
“Listen to me, if you ever do something like that… I’ll only call you Clay, and I don’t mean that as a joke.”
It’s the only thing that snaps his demeanor without being a piece of shit supervillain. He could shrug it off, pretend it doesn’t bother him to trick me and convince me I’m wrong, or he can pay me the respect of promising to respect my intelligence.
“Alright, I promise.”
Sitting in my lab, working on this same project for weeks has made the classroom lab look more than a little pedantic.
Worst thing is that the metal is wrong, it doesn’t matter how many cheaper materials the university tries to give me instead, I need something else to put in these arms. My life’s project, the way I was going to help…
I wipe everything off the table in a rage.
I’m supposed to be the esteemed Dr. Ray, geneticist and engineer, the pride of Aegis University of Science and Innovation. Some joke that is. The one time I’m needed, a bullet proves more useful than me.
The others don’t say it, but the respect for me has… dissipated.
They like to all think they can judge me because my failure led to a child’s death, but they’re like me, they don’t give a shit. It wasn’t their kid, wasn’t their family, they don’t actually stay up all night because of it.
Yet they judge me all the same, and aim to weaken my standing, my research, my projects and inventions…
It’s not fair, but my life hasn’t ever been, so I can’t say I’m surprised.
“I hope none of that was important,” a woman says from behind me.
I spin around, looking throughout my lab to see that some of the lights have cut off. Maintenance was supposed to fix that. With or without the light, my eyes see fine, and I see no one.
“Am I losing it?”
“The Savaage would hope not,” a woman’s voice says behind me just as a hand rests on my shoulder. It takes most of my willpower not to jump and turn around. My mind justifies to my body that I’m safe, that if there were danger the hand would not have been placed so gently on my shoulder.
I turn around slowly, and try not to jump at the woman in front of me. Tall, intimidating, and cold, a few choice words to describe the raven-haired woman standing in front of me. She makes no move to harm, that should calm me and it would…
… if it weren’t for her empty eyes. They’re the abyss, or something familiar. Instead of calming, there’s this weird longing, immediate kinship.
I’ve only ever felt that once.
She holds out her hand and introduces herself as, “Hundress, Hundress Dawn, my boss would like to make an offer for your unique abilities.”
I don’t know the name Hundress, but I know of the Savaage from that painfully short stint with S.I.L.A.S. They’re the ones who poisoned the baby, now they think they can be the ones to scoop me up after they’ve destroyed me.
Why not let them make it up to me? Who’s to say, maybe I can use them.
I do know one thing for sure, “Weren’t the Savaage involved in the fight with the Hood and Espada? I haven’t seen it but I hear it ended up with four blocks being leveled. Does this have something to do with that?”
Hundress tilts her head back and walks past me to my prototype mechanical arms and everything else I pushed onto the floor. I get a look at the nape of her neck. Marring her strangely smooth skin, is this barcode.
This member of the Savaage squats down to pick up a container with the top broken, something I’m going to have to pay to replace. She lifts it up, and I can sense a comparison coming.
“You’re right,” she informs me as she raises the container. Her eyes shift to me as she explains, “I need a container for the superhuman the children fought. He has abilities that need to be contained, and as the foremost geneticist and engineer in the country, you’re the perfect fit.”
“Flattery won’t pay for this, what do I get out of doing this for you?”
Hundress places the glass on the table, and stands up straight to hold her hand out. It becomes clear that she isn’t lying about having a boss. She’s the middle woman, the one who makes the pitch.
Out of nowhere, a small portal, a swirling blue circle of light appears beside her hand. Blue winds swirl as a black hole appears, causing chaos throughout the room. Winds, in my laboratory, following no natural pattern. Hundress’s hair flies all around but it doesn’t faze her. Is this science, or some magic development?
From the portal comes this briefcase, large and thick, full of something that I want. It floats out and over her hand, and in a moment it’s completely out of the portal.
Then the portal stops and it falls into her hand.
Without missing a beat, she undoes the latches and opens it to me, a pure silver metal, bricks of it, and a container.
She informs me, “The container holds the outer layer of the Stoneman’s skin, as of now, he turns organic flesh, material, and several metals to stone.” A man who turns others to stone with a touch. If it were gold, he could have been called Midas. “He can be contained by plastic, liquid and other metals. One of them being Ionium, a metal that would help you with your research and experiments.”
They’ve been watching me closely that much is clear, so maybe it’s time for a clean wipe of everywhere I go after this. I’m already in.
For the sake of not seeming too eager, I ask, “What is this Ionium?”
“One of the most valuable metals in the solar system, not found naturally on Earth,” Hundress says, as if the fact that this is a foreign material means nothing. “It’s malleable under the right conditions of pressure and heat, but once hardened it’s stronger than titanium. It doesn’t have the absorptive properties of cantorium, but you need dexterity, and there’s nothing on Earth more dexterous and useful than this.”
I have the urge to rub my chin as I think about all the factors I should be aware of. The properties of the metal and the sample are ones I aim to find with research. In terms of the task ahead of me, I should know a deadline.
“How long do I have to create this, container of sorts?”
Hundress closes the briefcase as she informs me, “We would prefer within a few months, but we can make amends on that front. The container should be in suit form, as you can guess.”
That seemed like a given considering it’s for a person.
I should be able to make it in that time, maybe less. With Ionium, my project will be finished within a week of crunch, and then this suit should be child’s play. I’ve been studying the superhuman gene since the incident, and I’m ready to correct my mistake.
I tell Hundress, “Consider it done.”
She nods her head and places the briefcase on the table. She tells me, “We’ll be in touch,” and as she walks past me, another portal much the same as before appears before her.
She stops in front of it, and makes a point to tell me, “Make no mistake, you’re making this for the Savaage. You’re making a device that will control the Stoneman we have, and we will make more of said device for the Stonemen we will make.”
“That doesn’t matter to me, somehow I doubt our interests will ever come into conflict,” I assure her, “others aren’t my priority anymore,” haven’t been for a long time.
Hundress nods her head, and as she turns her head back to the portal, she leaves on one last note. “That is good, I believe you will do quite well for the both of us, Dr. Andrea Ray.” She leaves through the portal, and now thinking of the fight with the Stoneman, I do wonder, did he fight Pyre too?
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