Moreen clenched shut her eyes as the Illusionist made a flash bomb.
It was a handy trick, and one Moreen had told her beforehand to use the instant they entered the house if things turned hostile. Yuna’s powers were an ability to manipulate light. Most often, she bent it to create her illusions, but she could also remove it to create pitch darkness like she had earlier. Or she could do the opposite and create a quick, blinding burst of it. Moreen’s eyelids couldn’t completely block the brightness, and when she opened them, a red afterimage swam across her vision.
Men were scattered around a cozy-looking living room, covering their eyes and swearing. Moreen’s team moved in. They tackled the blinded Kurodas, knocking away weapons and wrenching arms back into handcuffs. Moreen stayed near the wall, gun out but trained on the floor as she surveyed the chaotic room. Where was Yasunaga? She scanned the wrestling bodies, aware Yuna was doing the same thing.
A figure came in through the sliding glass door on the opposite side of the room. Moreen took one look at his stylized headphones and green costume and raised her gun.
The supervillain, Howl, attacked faster.
He shrieked, and it was like someone scraped a razorblade down the inside of Moreen’s skull. Her gun dropped to the floor as she clamped her hands over her ears. Make it stop, was all she could think. Then she wondered if a tidal wave had hit, because the house was swaying. The burger and fries she’d had for dinner made a strong attempt to come back up.
Decades later, the sound stopped, and Moreen realized she was crouched down and hunched over. She lowered her hands from her ringing ears and tried to stand, but the house was still swaying. No, the house was still. Those soda cans on the table would be rolling if it wasn’t. Was Moreen the one swaying?
Someone—and Moreen didn’t know if it was one of her people or Yasunaga’s—threw up noisily. Moreen swallowed to keep from following his example. Holy hell. When she’d read Howl’s file, it had said his cries caused “nausea and discomfort.” Whoever had written that ought to be slapped for the understatement.
Howl helped one of Yasunaga’s men to his feet—no, that was Yasunaga himself. Howl pulled him towards the door. If he used his yell again to incapacitate Moreen’s backup, Yasunaga could get clean away. Moreen raised her gun, but her vision swam and her arm drifted. She couldn’t risk shooting; there was no telling who or what she’d hit. She pushed herself up, stumbling several steps to the side as the floor seemed to reel beneath her.
She staggered across the room, navigating around the people groaning on the floor like a particularly queasy obstacle course. Howl dragged Yasunaga through the door and onto the patio outside. Would they go for a boat or flee on foot? Moreen couldn’t let them do either. She tried to move faster without toppling forward onto her face. How long did the effects of Howl’s scream last? If her inner ear was permanently damaged…
Someone slammed into her side, and she crashed onto the floor. One of Yasunaga’s men. Dammit. He landed on top of her, and she only had an instant to struggle before his hands wrapped around her throat. She jerked and hit him, but his grip only tightened. Her every instinct screamed for air. Then she got control of her panic and jammed a thumb into his eye.
He reared back with a scream, and Moreen slammed her forehead into his nose. It was easy to shove him off after that. She coughed, sucking in air and trying to find the strength to stand.
“Grenade!” someone shouted.
You have got to be kidding me, Moreen thought.
The boom rattled her tender eardrums and rocked the room. Moreen put her hands over her head as dust and debris flew through the air. In the aftermath, she couldn’t hear anything, and the house seemed to be tilting again. Had her inner ear finally bitten the dust?
A pen rolled off a side table next to her, hit the floor, and kept rolling. Hold on. The house really was swaying this time.
Moreen pushed herself up to her knees and looked around. The site of the blast was obvious: a chunk of wall between the living room and the kitchen had been blown away, the surrounding wood blackened and burning. Some of both Moreen’s and Yasunaga’s men lay on the floor near it, and Moreen smelled their burns before she saw them. Dammit. What kind of idiot set off a grenade in close quarters like this?
The house lurched, and Moreen saw the problem. The blast had taken out part of the floor, and water was pouring in. Fantastic. Moreen staggered up, her legs wobbly. Around her, others were doing the same. Yuna used the wall for balance as she stood. She had a bloody gash on her forehead, and the illusion of her costume no longer covered her jeans and T-shirt. Several Kurodas took one look at the hole in the floor and wisely ran for the door.
“Everyone who can move, grab someone who can’t and get off this piece of junk!” Moreen shouted, pleased to be able to hear the sound of her own voice, though it seemed muffled and distant.
She waited just long enough to make sure her orders were being followed then rushed to the porch after Yasunaga and Howl.
It took a moment for her eyes to adjust to the darkness outside. The narrow porch wrapped around the house, and there was no sign of either Yasunaga or Howl, but Moreen had seen them turn left after going through the door. She went in that direction as fast as she could, keeping one hand on the porch’s railing for balance. Between the lingering dizziness from Howl’s cry and the fact that the floor was actually slanted now, she could barely stay on her feet.
The porch turned a corner from the back of the house to the side, and Moreen rounded it—and almost slammed into Howl. He and Yasunaga were pulling a tarp off of a small motorboat. The instant Howl saw her, he opened his mouth.
She punched him in the throat.
He made a choked sound instead of a scream, and Moreen followed up with a blow to his jaw. It knocked him back two steps into Yasunaga, who pushed him roughly aside.
Yasunaga thrust a hand inside his suit jacket. Moreen lunged to reach him first, but he grabbed his gun and pointed it squarely at her chest.
“Shit,” Moreen said, which, as far as last words went, wasn’t the greatest.
Yasunaga smiled. “Nice try.”
Lightblade stood up from inside the motorboat and thrust one of his blazing swords at Yasunaga’s head. Yasunaga jumped back with a shout and fired at him.
The bullets didn’t have the slightest effect. And without Yasunaga pointing a gun at her, Moreen was free to pull out her trusty taser. A second later, Yasunaga was cursing on the floor. Moreen kicked his dropped gun away from him.
Lightblade flickered and vanished. Moreen turned to find the Illusionist behind her.
“Didn’t you hear me tell everybody to get out?” Moreen asked.
“Oh, were you talking to me, too?” Yuna blinked innocently.
The house heaved, and Moreen was thrown forward into her. Yasunaga and Howl tumbled into the back of Moreen’s legs, and Yuna slammed into the railing—which was now halfway underwater.
“Abandon ship,” Moreen ordered.
She and Yuna managed to pull the stunned Yasuanaga and Howl into the lake and away from the sinking deathtrap of a house. The water was shockingly cold, and Moreen’s heavy bulletproof vest forced her to kick her legs furiously to keep from being pulled under.
“To the shore,” she said, pulling on Howl’s collar as Yuna grabbed Yasunaga.
Howl took a deep breath and opened his mouth.
Moreen shoved his head underwater. He came up a second later, coughing and sputtering.
“Make so much as a peep, and I’ll drown you,” she growled.
Howl shot her a death-glare. Moreen wasn’t impressed.
“Enough, Howl.” Yasunaga’s voice held the sort of weary frustration only achieved by a man who’d been tazed and dumped in a lake. “Enough.”
Moreen agreed with the murderous yakuza boss. She started swimming, and together the odd group made their way slowly to the shore.
Somehow this update ended up a week late, sorry. My first week back at work after vacation was hectic.
An yes, I’m going to make you wait another week to find out what happened with Dave and Val’s first kiss. I’m evil like that. 😉
Fun fact: I had a lot of trouble writing this scene until I came up with the idea to sink the houseboat. It actually took an embarrassingly long time. I ask myself why I would even bother writing a houseboat if I wasn’t planning on sinking it spectacularly. It’s like failing to fire Chekhov’s gun.