Dave opened the stairwell door to find Joey Giordano, Madame Morphine, and another goon coming up the steps. The four of them stared at each other for a fraction of a second before all hell broke loose. The goon started shooting, and Dave yelled at the others to run.
Chung and Attwater pulled Puebla back down the hallway as a bullet stung Dave’s side. Giordano charged up the last few steps, and Dave braced himself. The sleeve of the other man’s suit jacket had a bloody tear (Moreen? Was she okay?), which would make him stronger than normal. Dave sidestepped when Giordano swung at him, trying to use the man’s own momentum to throw him. But Giordano was too good a fighter; he didn’t overextend the punch. When he missed, he pivoted and threw another.
Dave raised his arm to block, then used the fist of the same arm to pop Giordano in the jaw. Giordano lurched back and hit the doorframe, knocking the door off its hinges. Judging by that reaction, he wasn’t as strong as Dave yet. But this was no time to play nice. Dave aimed another punch at this head, but Giordano jerked out of the way at the last second. Dave’s fist hit the wall—and went straight through it.
Dave wrenched his hand out of the hole, but it cost him a precious second. Giordano brought down both fists onto the back of Dave’s head. Dave’s vision went white, and he staggered. Pain spiked through his skull, and he tried to shake it off, but Giordano didn’t give him a single instant. He socked Dave in the stomach. Continue reading
Moreen walked down the hallway slowly. Ostensibly, she was taking her time so she could observe every detail of her surroundings. In reality, she wanted to spend as much time outside of their rooms as reasonably possible. Every second was a blissful reprieve. Moreen had barely been able to handle one roommate in college; now she was sharing living quarters with four of them. It was a good thing the trial wasn’t far off, because if she didn’t have that to look forward to, the DSA would show up at the hotel to find four murdered bodies and Moreen laughing maniacally.
At least she had her own room in the suite, and the guys were all acting professionally. Being the lone woman of the group, there were a lot of ways the situation could get shitty. (She didn’t worry about Dave, but she’d never met Agents Attwater and Chung before.) But she’d only been bothered by the standard roommate stuff: people leaving their dirty dishes lying around, the TV being turned up too loud, yada yada. She reminded herself that Puebla, Attwater, and Chung had been stuck together for weeks now. If they could stay locked in a hotel room for that long, then Moreen could handle it for a few more days. She’d just keep taking every opportunity to go do recon and stop by the lobby for coffee and cookies.
A door opened in front of her, and she tensed. Then a mother dragged two children into the hallway, scolding them for goofing off instead of getting ready to leave. Probably not working for Belmonte—unless he was recruiting a lot younger these days. Moreen returned the mother’s distracted smile as they walked past each other, the family to the elevator and Moreen to the stairs. A flight of stairs wasn’t much compared to her usual daily exercise routine, but she’d take any chance to stretch her legs that she could get.
The stairway was empty and quiet except for Moreen’s echoing footsteps. When she reached the lobby, it was almost the same. The man at the front desk spoke to someone over the phone about cancelling a reservation, but there were no other guests. The tables and chairs that were normally full during the morning’s breakfast buffet were deserted, and empty luggage carts sat along the wall. Moreen spotted the cookie basket at the front desk, but first she went to get coffee.
She was pouring cream into Dave’s when the automatic front doors opened, and the man at the front desk cut off mid-sentence. Moreen turned surreptitiously to see who’d walked in. Continue reading
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. Continue reading
Dave barreled down the stairs. Lightblade’s footsteps pounded ahead of him, but the man himself was just out of view. Dave had to catch him soon, before he got outside and into a car and vanished like Death. There. He caught a glimpse of the man’s gaudy uniform on the next flight down. Dave pushed himself to go faster. He was younger, stronger. There was no reason he couldn’t catch him.
The stairwell vanished, replaced by something…well, Dave had never done drugs, but he imagined this was what an acid trip looked like. The sky above was a pulsing swirl of neon colors, and he stood in a hilly grove of twelve-foot tall mushrooms. Everything was hazy and swayed in a way that was going to make him nauseous.
He tripped, missing the next step because he couldn’t see it. When he finished falling and hit the wall hidden by the illusion, he found himself lying in a field of flowers with cartoon smiley faces in their centers. Dave focused on the feeling of the hard floor under his hand, even though it looked like he was lying on green grass.
“What do you think you’re doing?”
The Illusionist must have been walking down the stairs in real life, but it looked as if she walked down a rainbow. The girl got an A plus for creativity.
“He’s getting away!” Dave got unsteadily to his feet.
“Leave him alone. What’s wrong with you? Are you brainwashed or something?” Continue reading
The back of Dave’s skull felt like a cash register that had been smashed open with a crowbar. He put a hand to his head, groaning, and tried to get his bearings. His eyes were closed. Why were his eyes closed? Well, that was easy enough to fix. He opened them and saw a hole in the ceiling, sparks jumping from torn electrical wires. When had that gotten there?
Jeffries spat a curse.
Dave pushed himself up so fast that dizziness nearly took him back down again. But it wasn’t fast enough. Jeffries was already on his feet. His massive fist swung at Dave’s head, and Dave knew instantly that he wouldn’t be able to dodge in time. He flinched back on instinct, but Jeffries’ fist never made contact.
The bulky man screamed, clutching his head as if someone had set his brain on fire. Movement caught Dave’s eye near the hole in the ceiling, and he saw the Black Valentine glaring down at Jeffries like a vengeful goddess. Either she’d just saved Dave, or he’d hit his head so hard that he was hallucinating.
Jeffries’ eyes widened as he saw her, too, and he jumped a good four feet into the air. His meaty hand grasped for her feet, but she scrambled back just in time. Instead, Jeffries grabbed the edge of the hole and tore off a chunk of ceiling as he came down. The same chunk that the Black Valentine was standing on. She fell with a startled cry. Continue reading