Part 8

63. Paragon

Sister Andrea does this handy trick where we step into the front window of a shop and step out right across the street from Sentinel HQ. It’s not as much fun as flying, but it’s faster and easier. People are already starting to gather on the pavement in front of the building; fallout from Hawk’s unmasking. This is going to make things difficult.

Mom’s news van is pulling up; that means Dad won’t be too far behind. If they follow the usual pattern she’ll get just enough time to set the scene before Guardsman shows up for a statement. All we have to do is figure out how to get into the HQ without being seen by about thirty people here and a hundred thousand on TV.

Peregrine sums it up nicely. “Damn. I was hoping we’d get here sooner. We need to know if Hawk has arrived yet.”

“I think I can sneak in the back way, provided Dad hasn’t disabled my access.”

“Try it, but be careful. Remember, Protocol’s still in there and he’s about as close to a friend as Hawk’s got.”

“Okay, where do I go once I get in?”

“It’ll be in Hawk’s quarters. Be very careful, I wouldn’t put it beneath him to booby-trap his room.”

“Right.” I fly up and around the building, coming at it from the side opposite the plaza. The back door recognizes my handprint and I get in. I head for the monitor room; that’s the best place to see what’s going on. It’s a fairly short trip but the door is locked. I’ll have to do this the hard way.

The living quarters are spotless, as expected, and it’s not hard to find Hawk’s room. Everything looks quiet; there’s not even any sign of Protocol. I open the door and find myself face to face with Bombshell.

Bombshell is six foot two and in her early twenties, with blonde hair down to her waist, gorgeous features, and a huge chest. Her outfit consists of sandals, extremely short short cut-offs, and a halter top that barely holds everything in. She also wears a butterfly mask that wouldn’t conceal her identity even if anyone did think to look at her face. Today she’s supplemented her outfit with studded leather straps pulling her into a kneeling, back-arched position and shackles holding her wrists and ankles. She’s got a ball gag in her mouth and her struggles to get free are the stuff of teenaged boys’ dreams. I reach down and undo the gag.

“Get back! I’m going to …”

The entire world dissolves into white light and concussive force.

64. Guardsman

I land on the edge of Sentinel Plaza. There’s a crowd forming here, and they don’t look like supporters. Melanie and her news crew are in place and delivering a preliminary talk to set the scene. There’s a group of young supers about fifty yards back; several are unknown, and from what I’ve seen of the rest I don’t like the looks of them. There’s still a chance to salvage this morning’s fiasco, even though it means throwing Hawk under the bus. That’s why I’m here.

I stride purposefully up to Melanie; so far her crew’s the only one here. Good. It helps keep the situation under control. Everything’s going to plan.

“Guardsman! Over here!”

I step up to my wife. “Hello, Melanie.” I hope I’m doing the dejected look right; it’s been a while since I needed it.

“Guardsman, do you have any comment on this morning’s shocking revelation that Hawk is in reality convicted serial killer James Quentin Mallory, believed to have been executed twenty-three years ago?”

I sigh. “Yes, Melanie. I was shocked at that revelation, as were my fellow Justice Sentinels. Hawk’s always been the type to operate in the shadows, and I guess now we know why. His presence has done a great deal to bring justice to this city, but that is no excuse for the unforgivable crimes he committed in his previous life. I vow right here at this moment that we will not rest until we bring him to Justice!”

This gets a cheer from the crowd. Good; they haven’t totally turned on us yet. I wait for Melanie’s next question; this will be the kicker.

“But Guardsman, the people demand to know: are there any other surprises in store for the people of Capital City? How can they trust their heroes after this revelation?”

Murmurs; still on plan. “Because I’m going to do something I should have done a long time ago. After today I will no longer be the masked champion of Justice. I will no longer hide my face from the people I protect. I will no longer keep myself secret from the good people of this great City. Today I am unmasked!”

I pull the helmet off to the astonished gasps of the crowd. “My name is Gary Howe, Vice-President of Capital City Energy Corp.”

They’re gasping, surprised. I’ve been in the news working to make their future a brighter place. I’m a respected man in the city. But now it’s time for the other rough part.

“Not only do many of you know me, but it explains another thing. The reason Melanie could get so many in-depth exclusives with me is that she is my wife, my loyal and steadfast companion of all these years. I hope you can forgive us the deception. She has helped me preserve the anonymity that allowed us to have a home as safe as I’ve made yours. We even have a lovely son who’s grown into a fine young man, and will one day be taking on the mantle of the Guardsman from his dear old dad.”

They’re buying it. One more thing and we’re home free. There’s a peal of thunder and Lightning Lady and the Phantasm are on scene. Dramatic entrance, right on schedule.

“Hello Capital City! You all know me as Lightning Lady, and my husband as the Phantasm. I’m afraid we’re not so famous in our civilian lives, but in the spirit of openness, no more secrets! My name is Ann Carrington, and this is my common-law husband Peter Moon.”

There’s applause at this. They have a connection to someone they haven’t heard of; it brings home to them that even nobodies like them can save the world. All in all it’s going remarkably well. I take back the spotlight.

“Bombshell is currently on a mission,” meaning I couldn’t raise her on the communicator, “but in the spirit of openness Protocol will also be unveiling his identity this morning. Everyone, make way for Protocol!”

I wave toward the building. Damn. Protocol’s missed his cue. I don’t want to look foolish here.

There’s a movement by the door. At last. But instead of Protocol stepping out, the whole building shifts on its foundations, then explodes into millions of pieces of flying shrapnel.

65. Emo

Sandy and I are crossing the street to confront the Hypocritical Heroes when I suddenly sense something very wrong. A split-second later the building explodes, blasting itself to nothing in an instant.

Not exactly to nothing. Shards of glass and steel radiate from the blast point in every direction, including toward the small crowd gathered here. As if that weren’t bad enough, smoke and chunks of concrete and other building materials are following. I’m knocked off my feet by the initial shock wave.

As I sit up I see something amazing. All the shrapnel headed toward the crowd is slowing to a stop and falling to the ground. I glance back; Artificial Gravity is holding his arm out and concentrating with all his might. Andrea and Callisto are holding onto Tyler, who seems to be shouting and gesticulating wildly. Sexy Beast is looking stunned and Reflex is running toward the building.

Mom and Dad are gone. Guardsman is standing in front of Melanie doing his heroic “bullets bounce off me” pose, even though none of the shards are coming anywhere near him.

At least the ground has stopped shaking. I jump to my feet and run toward the building with only one thing on my mind.

“Jake!”

I can feel the emotions of the people around me. Lots of fear and alarm, slowly changing to relief as the people realize they’re not dead. But all they’re doing is masking the one emotional trace I want to sense. Jake was in that building; is he invulnerable enough?

My arm is caught in a grip of iron as I pass the news van. Guardsman whirls me around and scowls into my face.

“This is YOUR fault! Why did you do it?”

“No! Why would I do something like this? Let me go you oaf!” I thump on his chest ineffectually.

“You’re not getting away that easily. Once a villain, always a villain!”

“No! I didn’t do it! I have to go and find Jake! He was in there!”

The grip tightens to a crush. “What? You blew up my son?”

“No! I’m trying to save him, you asshole!”

I let loose a full blast of pain into him but he barely flinches. Instead his grip tightens and I feel a snap. Fire spreads up my arm and my hand goes numb. I don’t need a doctor to tell me it’s broken. The thought of blasting him with pain and fear until he’s a mass of jelly crosses my mind; that way he’d feel like I do now. Not quite, but I don’t know how to project heartbreak.

Through the pain I try to remember what I can do. I project drowsiness onto him. He starts wobbling on his feet but doesn’t let go. I scream in frustration and beat on his chest with my free hand.

Suddenly Peregrine is beside me. She stabs at Guardsman’s hand with her finger and he loosens his grip enough for me to get free. I run toward the ruin, into the smoke and dust. It plays hell with my lungs but I don’t care. I run until I start tripping over rubble.

Finally I fall to my knees on the edge of the heap of detritus. I touch the ruins with my working hand as if that will somehow enhance my power and pour all my concentration into trying to sense Jake’s emotions.

Nothing. Not even a flicker. That can only mean one thing. I fall onto the ruins and start sobbing.

66. Artificial Gravity

Things are going straight to hell. Somebody’s blown up the Sentinels’ HQ and Guardsman is pissed off and blaming it on Emo – Mom. I haven’t even had a chance to tell her I’m her son yet! At least Peregrine got her free, though I don’t like the way Emo’s letting that one arm dangle. Now Guardsman’s trying to squash Peregrine. This has to stop.

I crank Guardsman’s gravity to my max but it’s not even slowing him down. He swings a left at Peregrine and when she ducks he grabs her. He throws her at me, but I manage to slow her enough on the way to cushion the impact. We’re both knocked out of the air and drop near the news van.

Guardsman is on us in an instant. “Now, villain, you pay for interfering with the law!”

I roll out of the way as his blow shatters the pavement where I just was. “Interfering? Like when I saved some of the Maroni Gang from your murderous rampage?”

“Those scum had it coming! That’s the price of being a criminal!”

I attempt to float him upwards but he’s somehow resisting. “They were only guilty of attending a party!”

“That’s enough! Never come between a hero and a villain!”

I ramp the lifting force to maximum but it only holds him a foot or so off the ground. Enough for me to back out of fist range. “And you’re going to kill me now?”

“Damn straight. You don’t deserve to live, scum!”

“Did you get that, cameraman?” I turn to the guy with the TV camera. He’s white as a sheet. Guardsman looks shocked, then suddenly disappears straight up. It takes me a few moments to bring him under control; whatever he was using to resist my power seems to have let go.

Melanie Chambers runs up. “That doesn’t go out, Ted!”

“Too late, ma’am. It’s only a five second delay.”

She turns on me. “You worthless bastard! You are not going to destroy everything we’ve built here!”

This is too much. “I don’t have to! You did! And then your insane husband had to attack us while we were trying to save your son, who was inside that damned pile when it blew up!”

“Jake?” She looks stricken.

“Was in there trying to stop Hawk from getting to his arsenal.”

“But Hawk isn’t even coming here!”

“And how do you know that, Melanie?”

She’s caught. The problem with building a web of deception is that it’ll trap you just as readily as anyone else. She does like any good spider and turns on her helpers.

“Ted, that camera is off, isn’t it?”

He flips a switch. “It is now.”

“Now?! Now is too late! What the hell have you just done, you idiot?”

“It looks like he just struck a blow for honesty in the press.” I slam Guardsman into the ground as hard as I can. He’s still breathing, but he’ll be out for a while. “Now tell me, if Hawk isn’t coming here, where is he going to be?”

67. Peregrine

Number 87 Evergreen Drive. An ordinary looking house in an ordinary neighbourhood. Until yesterday I called it home; now it’s where Hawk, Phantasm, and Lady Lightning are holed up. We can’t do the glass transport thing – there’s not an unshattered pane within a five-block radius of Sentinel HQ, and cracked glass goes even further out. So instead Artificial Gravity picks us up and flies.

Leandra won’t go. She’s staying at the HQ, helping coordinate rescue efforts and trying to find any trace of Jake. Just because we protected the crowd in front of the building doesn’t mean the explosion didn’t do damage in every other direction. Four people in cars were killed outright, and rescuers are searching the nearby office towers for security guards and anyone else who might be working on Sunday. Thank god it wasn’t a work day.

There are seven of us on the way to Evergreen drive. One experienced hero, one sidekick, and five newbies, against three experienced heroes. I don’t like the odds, but that’s another thing that perverted bastard taught me. If you do like the odds, you’re halfway to losing the battle.

“We need a plan. Does anybody have any ideas?”

They’re all looking at me. Shit. I’m not a leader, I’m a sidekick! What can I do? I spend the flight thinking, trying to divide us up effectively and trying to figure out who can counter whose powers. Our only break is that Hawk will still plan on taking out Paragon and Emo, so he’ll be wasting effort.

We land about a block away. “Okay, we’re going to have to wing part of it because we don’t know how they’re going to define their perimeter. Reflex and Andrea, you take Lightning Lady; Gravity and Callisto, you’re on Phantasm; Beast and I are going after Hawk. Tyler, your powers are the slowest to activate, so keep an eye on everything and join in to help whoever needs it the most. I haven’t a damned clue if this is going to work, but we have to try. And watch out for ugly surprises.”

68. Reflex

Today went from zero to intense pretty quickly. This morning Sexy Beast called me to meet a news van at a crime scene. Now Hawk’s on the run, Justice Sentinel HQ is a ruin, Guardsman’s sucking pavement, and we’re chasing down the remainder of the group. I don’t know if I’m excited or scared. Maybe a bit of both.

Me and Andrea are going after Lightning Lady. I wish Lily were here to see this, but I guess without powers she’d be Bystander Girl. Lightning’s at the back of the house, so we head in from the back yard. Andrea fires some kind of energy bolt that hits the wall and causes it to ripple like a pond. Maybe a second later Lightning Lady is here.

“What was that, girl?”

“I needed to get your attention. I thought being swarmed by insects would do it.”

“I hate bugs.”

“I know.”

Lightning Lady is true to her name. She fires a blast of electricity at Andrea, but I block it. That’s why I’m here. The bolt hits my skin, making my hair stand up in a halo and tingling a bit, then bouncing right back at her. She’s totally unfazed.

“I’m not affected by my own powers, child.”

Aw, crap. Distracting her so Andrea can do her magic stuff is going to be a lot harder. I run up and grab her arm before she levels another shot. My attempts to grab the other one are keeping her distracted. Her costume feels really nice against my skin; I think it’s silk, not the spandex I was expecting.

She finally realizes what she’s fighting. “Are you naked, girl?”

“Yup. I got this turn-everything-silver force field, why bother with clothes?” Especially when I can wrestle with a hot babe like her. And anyway, Sexy doesn’t wear clothes, why should I have to?

“Ugh! You’re even worse than Mistress O’Payne!” She punches at me but it just bounces off and hurts her fist. Then she blasts me with her shock field, which seriously tickles me. I haven’t had this much fun in years!

“Andrea, why aren’t you blasting her?”

“I don’t want to hit you, Kelly!”

“Go ahead! It’ll just bounce off!”

“And back at me!” Right. That could be a problem.

Keeping the old girl distracted is a major job. I grab her hands and kick my legs out, meaning to pull her arms down and give Andrea a clear shot. Instead she flexes and I end up just hanging from her arms.

“You are so annoying, girl! Your power is just like the Human Mirror. I’m going to have to stop you the same way I stopped him the first time.”

I remember back to all the internet vids I watched last night. Every time Mirror got taken out it was by getting him restrained. What’s she going to do, tie me up in a garden hose?

She grabs me in a bear hug so tight it squeezes the air out. A couple of hard thuds on the chest finishes the job. As I start gasping for breath she grabs my head and mashes my face into her cleavage. That sounds like it should be fun, but right now I need to inhale more than anything else. She’s using her own body as a pillow to smother me. Her grip is so strong I can’t even turn my head. And the worst part is she’s using my body to block any chance Andrea might have at a clear shot.

It’s only a few seconds before the world starts spinning and going dark around the edges. My arms and legs feel like rubber and she only needs one hand to hold me in place. I hear a lightning crack and a scream from Andrea, but it’s all far away. I feel another all-body tickle from the lightning field and that makes me want to giggle and squirm but the attempt to draw in breath consumes all my energy and the world fades to black.

69. Artificial Gravity

“Petra Lunam, Rock of the Moon, I summon thee!”

At Callisto’s words Phantasm winks into existence in front of her, just like she told me would happen. The first thing he does is punch her in the face.

“Nobody summons me, witch!”

“I’ll summon you when I want, Peter. I made you, and that gives me the right!”

I wish I had a camera to capture his shocked expression. “Sister Callisto? What happened to you? Where have you been?”

“The question is why didn’t you bother looking? Why didn’t you try to rescue me?”

“I had no idea where to start! Look, we’re in a bit of a situation now and could really use your help.”

“I don’t think so, Peter. I’m one of the causes of that ‘situation’. Your team has gone far astray from righteousness, and you need to pay for your crimes.”

“Not going to happen!” He touches her and I can see the crackle of energy flowing, weakening her and feeding him. “We did what we had to do!”

I have to act. I’m not sure how I’m grabbing a ghost, but it works. I give him a gravitic yank backwards. “Hands off, Phantasm!”

By the time he’s whirled to face me he has his Ghost Gun out. I push his hand so his aim is thrown, but a decidedly un-ghostly bullet goes through my side.

He starts shaking like he’s just stuck his finger in a light socket. Callisto is pointing at him.

“How does it feel to have your life force drained, Peter?”

He shifts to the left so we’re not on opposite sides of him anymore. A couple of gas pellets go off but I’m able to react in time and prevent the vapours from rising to where either of us inhale any. He cracks another pellet and I give it the same treatment, forcing the gas downward.

Big mistake. The new gas reacts with the others and turns into a sticky gelatinous mess. A surprisingly strong sticky gelatinous mess. Callisto and I are totally gummed up by it; he moves through like it’s not even there.

“Bit predictable, aren’t you, biker boy? Artificial Gravity, natural stupidity.” He levels his gun at my chest. I doubt I’ll be able to dodge this one.

He pulls the trigger and the gun falls into about a dozen pieces.

“Bit predictable, aren’t you, ghostie? I think your brain’s a too phantasmal.” Callisto mimics his tone exactly.

He snarls and cracks another gas capsule, this time right in Callisto’s face. Not much I can do about that. She looks like she’s about to throw up. He turns to me and takes out a whip.

“Now that the Mystic is taken care of, it’s your turn boy. Gravity this!” The whip lashes up and cracks right against the gravity bracer. It’s not hurt, but I instinctively pull my hand back, leaving it out of position. The whip comes around again, this time wrapping my other arm up with my torso so I can’t move it. He grabs my bracer arm with the intense grip of a man who exercises regularly.

“Now, Mister Gravity, how about I reach into your chest and just stop your heart. Have I got the grip strength for that, do you think?” He sticks his hand into my chest, through both the outfit and the skin.

“Kayac wab!” Phantasm is pushed away from me as Tyler runs up. I don’t know why the kid has to spout gibberish to make his powers work, but that’s his business.

Phantasm is turning on the boy. This time I can see him reaching for another damned gas pellet. I burst it in his hand. He growls and charges Tyler, hands out to crush the boy’s throat. I pull him backwards with gravity, but he’s fighting it with every ounce of his strength.

Callisto finally gets a hold of herself. “Tyler! Hit him with this!” A long flat wooden paddle appears in the boy’s hand.

“A mutant ping-pong paddle?” He looks totally confused.

“Just do it!”

He swings and the bat actually connects. Phantasm is just as surprised as everyone else. He starts backing away from the kid’s onslaught.

Callisto laughs and turns to me. “That belonged to the Ghost of Old Trafford. I have kept a few souvenirs of my own over the years. Never thought I’d need a spectral cricket bat, though. Just a moment and I’ll have us free.”

She hums a little tune and her eyes glow; after a very short time the glue dissolves like smoke in a breeze. Once it’s clear she turns to me.

“Can you pin Phantasm down? I have a spell that should stop him but it takes a bit of time to cast.”

“I can try. Tyler’s doing a good job of keeping his attention.” I watch the boy chasing Phantasm around whacking him with the cricket bat and can’t help but chuckle.

“We need him to actually stay in place. See what you can do.”

I increase the weight of Phantasm’s jacket to about 350 pounds; he immediately sags. Tyler sees that something’s changed and switches from striking to threatening.

I address him as I drift up. “Phantasm, we’ve got you on the ropes. Give up for your own good.”

“I don’t think so, newbie. Any minute now Hawk or LL is going to come in like the cavalry and we’re going to collectively take you creeps apart.”

“So you admit you can’t do it alone.”

“Sometimes you can’t; that’s why I’m on a team. I normally work by stealth, not in open combat. You, on the other hand, are a typical dimwit who uses powers as a substitute for brains and grand gestures as a substitute for planning. My main job here was to stall you, and I’ve only got to do it for …” he looks at his watch “… about five more seconds.”

I hope whatever Callisto’s doing finishes before that. But it doesn’t. Five seconds later every streetlight on the block explodes; there are muffled explosions from behind several houses. Car alarms and burglar alarms go off up and down the block, though only for a moment before dying. My bracelet shuts down and I drop about three feet to the grass while Phantasm stands up straight.

He looks down at me as I’m standing up. “Electromagnetic pulse. Too bad for you my powers are based on magic.”

“Mine are too, Peter.” Callisto’s floating in the air now, an invisible hurricane whipping at her dress and hair and crackling black torrents of energy swirling around her like a cyclone. Dark clouds centered above her shroud the whole block. Small bolts of lightning dance from her body and go to ground on anything metal.

Her voice echoes like thunder. “Petra Lunam, you have taken what was given and used it wrongly. The spirits of the dead called to you for justice, and you have offered them only vengeance. Now is the time to be called to account for your stewardship before the Black Council; and so I take you there!”

“No …” Phantasm gets out only that one word before he and Callisto vanish in a peal of thunder and the world returns to what passes for normal.

Tyler sits down on the grass. “Wow.”

“That might be a bit premature, son. Go check on Andrea and Kelly, I’ll see how my wife’s doing.”

70. Emo

People are actually listening to me. I don’t really understand why; it’s not like I have any special knowledge of how to run a rescue operation. They seem to be following my orders because I’m in a funny outfit and have a super power. I guess they’ve just gotten used to doing what heroes tell them to, even if it’s only common sense.

My “command post” is the rubble pile, and I spend all my free time reaching out to see if I can find any trace at all of Jake. But there’s nothing. I don’t want to even think of him being dead, but that’s the only explanation that fits the facts. Sister Andrea did something that healed the crushed bones in my arm, but it can’t heal my crushed heart. To the people working I must really look like someone called Emo, with the red eyes and the tears running down my cheeks.

There’s a boom of thunder and Mom appears. For just a moment I think everything’s all right, then all the stuff that’s happened comes back to me. Hawk, Guardsman … the Justice Sentinels are out to get us, and that includes Mom.

“Got your powers, have you girl? Does it tax your concentration keeping control of all these people?”

“But I’m not …”

“Don’t lie to me, O’Payne. You’re controlling them and you love it. Your true nature is coming through at last. It’s like Hawk said: once a villain, always a villain.”

Lightning sluices through my body, bringing physical pain to match my emotional agony. I collapse to my knees. “Mom, what are you doing?”

“Don’t call me that, bitch.” The second blast brings darkness, but somehow I manage to keep hurting even while I’m unconscious.

71. Sexy Beast

Peregrine and I rush into the house and come to a stop. There’s no immediate sign of Hawk. That’s not a good sign, since either he’s hiding, he’s left booby traps, or both. Most likely both. I hear a voice from the kitchen, followed by the ‘whoomph’ of inrushing air. That would be Phantasm; Callisto said she could teleport him against his will. There’s a boom from upstairs, repeated a split-second later on the back lawn. That would be Lightning Lady.

I use my fine tiger sense of smell. I can’t identify who’s who, but I pick up five distinct scents in the house other than mine and Peregrine’s. I tell her so.

“Can you tell anything about them?”

“No. Too new at this.” It’s nice to be able to talk in tiger form, though I still have to keep it short and simple.

“Well, at least it lowers the chance of traps. Just be careful before stepping on any rugs.”

Pretty soon we’ve cleared the main floor. She gets my attention and whispers.

“You go down, I’ll go up. Don’t go into the southwest corner of the basement until I’m with you; that’s where the entrance to Hawk’s cache is.”

She takes off upstairs, running on top of the baseboards rather than the stairs themselves. She’s pretty paranoid, but since she learned it from Hawk that means he is, too. I open the door to the basement and look down.

On the lower landing there’s a policeman. I can smell the fear from here; he’s terrified, but being very careful not to move. A closer look shows thin wires stretching from him to small boxes mounted on both walls. If he moves in any direction he pulls a wire. It doesn’t take much reasoning to deduce that pulling the wires is a bad thing.

I switch from tiger to human to squirrel. In the kitchen I find a heavy cast iron frying pan and take it down the stairs with me. Holding it in front of one of the boxes I bite through the wire. There’s a clunk as the wire goes slack. I open the box and it holds a bunch of nails sticking out of some putty. I pull the putty out and scamper up to the kitchen, depositing it in the oven.

The second box is the same thing. As I take the second heap of putty up I hear some thumping from the second floor. I guess Peregrine found someone. Only two boxes to go.

When I bite through the third wire the box it’s attached to goes off, spraying nails into the frying pan. At least they don’t spray into the police officer. Rather than test the fourth box I open it without biting through the wire. In addition to the putty and nails there’s a stick of dynamite in there. I’m staring at it when Peregrine calls quietly from the top of the stairs.

“What’s wrong?”

I step out of the way so she can see. She studies it for a moment, then reaches in and takes the dynamite out, carefully cutting its fuse cord.

“Set the rest off; it should only be moderately unsafe. Hawk didn’t have time to rig this stuff up properly.”

After the explosion I change to human. “Okay, officer, get out of the house and don’t step on any rugs.”

“You know you’re not …”

“Yes, I know.” I assume tiger form again. Once we’re sure the officer has made it out Peregrine and I head downstairs.

The basement appears empty, but there’s no shortage of hiding places. There’s only three scents down here now – mine, Peregrine’s, and the one I remember from the Aerie, which must be Hawk. I motion Peregrine to stand still while I look and listen carefully. She was right; he’s in the southwest corner.

“It’s a shame you didn’t take the form of a wolf, Beast. Then my comment about finding a couple of bitches in here would make better wordplay.”

I growl. Peregrine points and we split up silently.

“Now I’m guessing Peregrine will try to sneak around behind me while you draw my attention. Predictable. But I intend to face the more dangerous opponent. Sorry, Beast.”

My roundabout route leaves me right in front of him. He’s a big man, but well-toned and with the lithe stance of a jungle beast himself. He’s wearing his Hawk armour, including the cowl. If he were in a loincloth I’d mistake him for Tarzan. If fact, if he weren’t such a sleazebag I’d even be tempted to cheat on Derek.

I step out to where I’m visible and charge. He looks surprised and gets halfway turned when Peregrine’s boot heel hits his chin. He grabs for her ankle but she’s already out of reach. That girl is fast.

I charge at him, but he avoids me without even looking. I stand and swipe, but he simply isn’t there when my claws pass through. As a kid I would enjoy watching his super-fights, the way he so effortlessly avoided attackers. Now it’s just damned frustrating. The only thing I’m doing at the moment is allowing Peregrine to hit him with the occasional love-tap. This isn’t working; I need something more intimidating.

I shift to human and start to go to bear when he makes his move. I’m suddenly doubled over backwards with my spine twisted at an unnatural angle and his hand between my legs on an extremely painful and extremely private pressure point. And to add to the indignity he’s using me as a human shield to block Peregrine.

“Well Peregrine, I’ll leave the choice to you. Do I cripple her, or kill her? Your call.”

“Don’t I get a say in this?”

He twists and a spike of pain runs up my back. “No. Now stay out of this, you’re just a bystander.” He does something with his fist on my chest and all the wind goes out of me.

“Let her go, Hawk. If there’s any decency left in you, let her go.”

“Decency? I live in the shadows and stare at the dark places in men’s souls. But I’m not looking into that dark place, I’m looking out. Decency? I gave that up for Lent when I was twelve!” He does something with his hand on my groin and pain infuses every part of my body. If there was such a thing as a reverse orgasm, he’s found it.

“Hawk, stop it! Now!”

“Why, girl? Don’t you recognize the exquisite intensity of the sensation I’m giving her? Don’t you remember how wonderful it felt? Better than sex, you said.”

“Better than sex with you! The jury’s still out on human men unless you count the little boys you forced on me, and even they were lots better than you. This has to stop, Hawk. No more rape, no more torture, no more murder. Forgive me, Beast. I hope you’re regeneration’s as good as I think.”

She leaps at him; everything goes numb from mid-back down and I can almost hear the snap. At least it stopped the other pain. He drops me to the floor and whirls into a defensive kick, but Peregrine grabs his leg and gives him a quick rabbit-punch between the legs. I hope it hurt him.

I lie on the floor trying to move anything in my lower body while the fight goes on. It’s not happening. Peregrine’s savagely lashing at him, forcing him to stay on the defensive, but it still isn’t enough. Now she’s backing him toward me, going to use me to trip him.

I’m going to help; after all, he deserves it. I go to bear form as he approaches. His foot comes down too near my head so I chomp on his leg.

An icicle of horrible pain slices down the length of my body from neck to toes. Toes! I can feel them! The lingering pain from the other hold is there too, combining its fire with the ice. I try to scream but there’s something in my mouth so I bite down harder.

I feel a crunch and a grinding, and suddenly blood is spraying all over the side of my head as Hawk falls on me. Rage and fury and pain take hold of me and I savagely attack. For some reason, some stupid thing Derek read to me once comes into my mind.

In the middle ages, the most fierce Viking warriors would dress up in bear pelts, thinking this would give them the strength and fury of the bear. They called these men berserkers, meaning ‘bear shirts’, and nobody in their right mind would go anywhere near them in a fight.

The smell of the blood is intoxicating. The leather hide tears away easily, revealing the delicious flesh beneath. I lose myself in the fury and the hunger, tearing out the choicest, most delicious parts. It’s only when I swallow the still-beating heart that I realize what I’ve been doing.

I try to throw it back up, but my body won’t have any part of that. Hawk, or at least a fairly large part of him, is lying on the floor in tatters, blood strewn everywhere. A lot of it’s on me. They won’t need a body bag to get his remains, they’ll need a garbage bag. The pain is all gone. I’m physically and emotionally exhilarated; I’ve never felt better, more alive, in all of my life. I let out a roar of satisfaction, just because I can.

Peregrine is several feet away, looking worried. “Sexy Beast?”

Of course I am. I could go all day on this buzz. If Derek were here I’d ride him into the sunset and straight on till next morning. Instead the only one here is this rival. She can’t have my kill! She can’t take the meat I’ve brought down. She can’t…

No! The human part of my mind finally surfaces. She’s not a rival, she’s a friend! Her cubs won’t compete with mine. We were fighting a man, not prey. And we did it, not just me. And I killed him. And I ate part of him. Ugh! But I still can’t throw it back up. A part of him is now a part of me. My snarls turn to sobs, and I shift back to human form.

I’m still covered in blood, and no amount of wiping will get it off me. I’m Lady MacBeth. Who would have thought the old man had so much blood in him!

Peregrine comes over and puts her arms around me. Now the blood is on her, too. The child holds me to her while I cry and gently strokes my back, telling me it’s going to be all right. That everything will work out in the end. That even if it’s wrong to kill, sometimes it has to be done. And that sometimes we get so angry that vanquishing the evil seems to make us strong, and we can’t spend our lives regretting it.

“Oh my God.” It’s Derek’s voice. I know he’s going to hate me for this.

“She was in extreme pain. She went berserk. I’m pretty sure she’s come down, but she needs someone to hold her. She’s pretty shaken up.”

His familiar arms wrap me up and my sobbing is renewed. “Don’t worry, Dear. It’ll all work out. You and me together, we can do anything.”

“Like murder, Derek?”

“No Dear, not murder. What we do when someone gets killed is work through it. We get better, and we heal. This is one of those ‘for worse’ times. But we’ll make it get better, I promise.”

That’s Derek; ever the optimist. That’s why I married him.

Contents - Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4 - Part 5 - Part 6 - Part 7 - [ Part 8 ] - Part 9

(c) 2013, Tim Smith. All rights reserved.