Chapter 13.4 - 'For Those About To Rock, We Salute You'
There is much speculation on how our world – our reality - was spared from the ravages of the extinction-level event that was the solar imbalance of 2006. Furthermore, there is question on the focal point of our world's survival – the Aberrant known as Andrea Hecuba-Thorne – and how the entity known as Chrona failed to incapacitate her, as she did so many other Aberrants with the same ability.
Perhaps Corona failed to notice her because of the extreme range of her power, as opposed to the others' abilities. Perhaps there was something about Miss Hecuba-Thorne that shielded her from the entity. Perhaps it was the length of time between the use of her ability and the point when that information was used that kept the entity from acting against her, or perhaps an outside force or agency stepped in for some unknown reason and interfered with the entity's plans.
Perhaps – just perhaps – the entity simply decided to give our world a chance to save itself, or some other force a chance to save us all. In any event, the possibility exists that we will never know what happened.
- Major General William Dorn, in a report to National Security Naomi Elliot on the Sapphire Dawn incident
I'm telling secrets
I remember how it used to be
And I realized how much I miss you
And I realize how it feels to be free
Now I see I'm up to no good - no, no, no
And I wanna start again
Can't remember when I felt good, baby
No I can't remember when
No, only in my dreams
As real as it may seem
It was only in my dreams
- Debbie Gibson, Only In My Dreams
For once in her life, Andrea Hecuba-Thorne agreed with Daria Morgendorffer.
The obliteration of Lawndale High School had shaken her up so badly, Andrea did something that she rarely did – not only did she go to Pizza King and order pizza, but she actually sat down in a booth and ate it there, so she could be around people.
In the next booth, she could hear Daria and Jane Lane talking – more to the point, she could hear Daria talking and the sounds of Jane eating. She went to get a refill for her rice water – she was actually shocked that a hole in the wall would have something like that on the menu – and as she came back, the look on Jane's face echoed her own: why is it that sometimes, if for no other reason than out of consideration for the feelings of other people, Daria Morgendorffer can't just shut the hell up?
As Andrea stared down at her second slice of vegetarian pizza, Daria was talking as if the disappearance of Lawndale High School was the answer to her dreams. "I'm going to enjoy my freedom while I still have it!" Daria said. "That explosion was my Emancipation Proclamation."
I can't believe that I agree with the snotty little bitch. That was Independence Day – for her, and for me.
The next day, Andrea hopped on her big BMW touring motorcycle – which would have shocked her fellow students if they knew she had it, or how it came into her possession – and roared out of Lawndale.
Well, I'm out of here. I don't need this place anymore.
As she packed the few items she cared enough about to take with her into the bike's saddlebags, one of the stray cats that always hung around the area came up to her and meowed loudly as it hopped onto the seat.
"Hey. It's you."
She recognized the cat – a slender silver tabby with eyes that were all black, not that it bothered her – as the stray that always hung out in her yard when it was hungry, and after she fed it something, would lick her hands and scamper off. It didn't act like it wanted to stay around, like most strays people would feed – it seemed to just show up when it was hungry. Weird... it's been like that ever since the cat showed up, a few months ago.
"Come for your tribute from your favorite minion, hmm?" she said, taking a slice of roast beef from the sandwich she had made as the stray stood up on its hind legs. "Well, you'll have to enjoy this one – the cafeteria's closing. You'll have to find another sucker to feed you, because I'm out of here."
The stray rubbed against Andrea's hand, licking it gratefully before it took the slice of roast beef with unusual grace – even for a cat - and hopped to the sidewalk and began to enjoy its breakfast. "Here," Andrea said, setting the remainder of the sandwich down for the cat, before tucking her things away and mounting her bike. "Vaya con dios, little guy. Hope you have a nice life."
As she rode away, there was no way that Andrea could have noticed the way the cat's eyes shifting colors as it ate. The cat's irises went from black, to a shining bronze, to a brilliant scarlet red... and as it finished its meal and went to lie in the cool, grassy area beside several shrubs, enjoying the shade as it began to wash itself, the cat's eyes had taken on a beautiful azure hue.
The next few months were happy ones for Andrea. Rolling up and down the East Coast; bed and breakfasts in Maine, hanging out with people on the Jersey shore, partying with Alpha Phi Alphas in Atlanta and beating the crap out of some pretentious, grabby grad student in Boston, spending time in the Florida Keys... Good times.
Things took an interesting turn five months after she left Lawndale. Andrea was in Pensacola, lying on the white sands and sipping ice-cold kiwi-mango juice, totally unaware of the happenings around her on the beach... until a pair of women and a man with 'coke-bottle-bottom' glasses came up to say 'hello'.
The conversation that followed, to say the least, was interesting. They worked for a top-flight agency on the East Coast and were just taking an afternoon off on the beach when they happened to see her... and the way men were looking at her. They departed almost an hour later, leaving Andrea with a business card and several questions in the young woman's mind.
That evening, in her hotel room, Andrea took a look at herself – a serious look at herself – in the mirror, the first time in a long time that she had done so.
Her eating habits had changed somewhat since leaving Lawndale – not that she was trying to diet, eat healthier or was even a vegetarian, she simply liked fresh vegetables and fruits, and didn't care for waiting for cooked meals. Her weight had dropped, she had lost at least thirty pounds, but didn't think of it because she simply bought new stuff that fit whenever she needed it. There was no vanity involved, just efficiency and comfort.
As for looks – she didn't think about it much. Of course, there was Charles Ruttheimer, who had chased after every girl in sight and had approached her once or twice – but for the most part, she was sure that most guys had never noticed her. They certainly didn't, back at LHS; the shallow boys let their tongues hang out over cheerleaders, those stupid Fashion Club bimbos – and when the Morgendorffers showed up, oh, the attention they got!
Quinn was just a standard 'teen queen' – but Daria really had the boys' attention. Of course she was attractive, and she had to know it; the way she kept that auburn hair of hers screamed 'look at me', not to mention her love of skirts. Anybody who paid attention knew that she had great legs and a decent rack, clamped down by those sports bras and hidden by those baggy, drab outfits she practically lived in – as if those hideous clothes and glasses would actually hide how she looked. Maybe if she'd worn a normal bra and blouse once in a while and let herself get close to Mack (of course she had a little thing for him!), she wouldn't have been such a bitch. A few good make-out sessions, and the entire school would have been happier.
It was the image of Daria - that smirk, that 'Mona Lisa' smile that appeared on her face whenever something happened – and the way that boys looked at her, but quickly looked away, before she tore them apart with her monofilament tongue, that made Andrea reach for her cell phone, and the business card...
Three months later, she was 'Hecuba'. Slender and curvy, with dark hair and eyes that captivated, she was an exotic, mysterious, sultry beauty that found instant success in the industry, with her Hawaiian 'Hot Fun In The Sun!' spread in Free Surf magazine making her an instant celebrity.
She would never be thin enough to become a haute couture model, and Tyra Banks would never cross her path – but she was becoming 'a name'. The work became steadier with time. Men's magazines. Calendars. Promotional material. She never even had to "drop her top", but what she wore usually left little to the imagination.
Suckers. Because I lost some weight, let them touch up the makeup I used to wear anyway and put on a couple of thin, tiny bikinis so they can take my picture, they give me truckloads of money and fly me all over the world. What a scam. Shame I didn't think of it years ago. I wonder if any of those Fashion Club girls have seen the photos – I'm surprised that Upchuck - Charles - hasn't tried breaking down my door yet. Maybe most of the people I knew might not recognize me... but he would.
It was all very nice – she didn't let any of it go to her head – but there was one thing that kept it all from being the perfect vacation from reality.
There were the dreams.
The dreams that kept Andrea from allowing herself to sleep sometimes, even when she was so tired that she couldn't even walk, the dreams that she started having, even when she knew for a fact that she was wide awake; the dreams that kept coming true.
Even stranger than that was how her hair was changing colors... for some strange reason, her hair was becoming lighter, shading into a brilliant whitish blonde. She tried dying it back to her normal shade, but even thousand-dollar trips to the best hairstylist in New York only resulted, within several days, a week on the outside, in her hair returning to its blonde color. (It sucked that her agent really liked it; he pointed out that a number of other people had seen some of the shots he insisted on having her take with the new hair, and they were getting calls about her from 'name' people...)
The worst of the dreams kept coming back, repeating over and over; she experienced it as if she were watching a sci-fi movie of some kind, about people with super-powers ... In her dreams, she saw several of the kids she'd gone to high school with – all with powers, fighting a woman whose powers seemed to come from her ring... a woman who seemed to be as powerful as all the others combined. It was the same dream, every night for almost two weeks, and it only went away when she did one simple thing.
She wrote a letter and gave it to her lawyer, with instructions to personally hand it – on a certain day, at a certain place and time, to one of the few persons she'd ever met who didn't make her want to vomit in her mouth when thinking of their name.
The delivery address on the letter read: Lawndale, Maryland.
Mack Mackenzie walked away from the Landon household when he saw the limousine parked behind his Corvette – the four men in black suits standing around the vehicle - and the hairs on the back of his neck stood up.
"Michael Jordan Mackenzie?"
One of the men stepped forward; Mack tensed, and barely kept from igniting his powers as the man stopped in his tracks. He repeated the ludicrous phrase that his client told him to say. "We are not here to harm you, sir. There's no need to use your solar powers."
Mack blinked in surprise. "There's very little time, sir. I have a letter for you from a friend of yours. It is vitally important that you read it and take action - quickly."
The man opened the attaché case he carried, and handed over a legal-sized envelope. "My instructions are to make sure you read it now, and leave as quickly as possible."
Mack took the letter warily; he opened it, never realizing that his mouth was open wide as he read... or the melted sidewalk beneath him as he soared skyward on a column of superheated air, moving at top speed in the direction of Legion Tower.
As the four men looked at each other in amazement, the man who handed Mackenzie the envelope resolved that the next time his firm had a model for a client, he'd ask for a higher retainer.
Fran nibbled away at the plate of warmed microwave lasagna as Helen set a glass of milk in front of her. "Thank you," the tiny girl said, something in the manner she spoke and glanced about the room all but breaking Helen's heart.
She's as thin as a rail, pale as a ghost and flinches every time I come near her - thank God Jake isn't here, or the child probably wouldn't have come inside, given how he behaves, Helen thought, noticing how Fran regularly marked her position – but not Daria's – every few seconds. She acts like she expects someone to snatch her food away from her, that she'll have to do God knows what just because we fed her something, or that she'll have to make a break for it at any moment... what kind of monster had their claws in this poor girl?
<Mom – I know that you mean well, but don't start questioning her>, she heard Daria say, her voice more forceful – and a bit louder – than she could remember it being in quite some time. <I think the reason she came here, more than anything else, is because she thought that she could escape... and that means adults that are forcing her to do things... even talking when she just wants to be left alone >.
Helen blinked hard, realizing that it was the very first time since Daria had developed her powers that she had actually used them to talk to her telepathically.
It wasn't as strange, or invasive, or scary as she thought it would be; it was like hearing her daughter's voice through a very good set of earphones that almost let one hear music inside your head... and then, realizing that you weren't wearing any. <I'll stay with her, > Daria continued. <She just wants someone that she can feel safe around; for some reason, she thinks that that's me >.
Okay, Helen responded, surprised at how fast she could adapt to the idea of talking with only her mind instead of using her mouth. I'll go upstairs and fix the guest bedroom for her and your room, too – I expect you'll be staying the night?
<No. I'll take her to the Tower after she finishes eating. I don't want Dad to accidentally scare Fran, and the Colonel can talk to her. He's a psychologist, so he can probably find someone to help her with the abuse from this Appleton guy - and there's also the fact that she's got powers >.
Appleton. Helen's eyes narrowed. I know I've heard that name somewhere before. Somewhere unpleasant.
Daria walked over to the kitchen table and sat down as Helen went upstairs; as the older woman's footsteps signaled that she was on the upper floor, Fran visibly calmed and she took another bite of pasta. "Thank you for taking me in," the smaller girl said, barely able to look up at Daria.
"I – I saw what he was making you do," Daria said, feeling sickened by the sensations from the psychometric vision she had received when she touched Fran's arm as she helped her inside: the way Fran cried out with pleasure as William took her, the shame and pure hatred she felt for both herself and him afterwards as she lay awake next to him, running her fingers over her smooth skin and feeling so dirty, not only for giving herself to him so she could have a perfect face, but for being weak, and enjoying everything that she had done with him in bed... "I'll help you, with anything that you need."
It seemed as if a weight had suddenly lifted away from Fran. "Thank you, Daria," she said, hope appearing in her voice. "I knew that you would help me."
Her wings lifting her into the night air, Julia Carlyle stared at Danielle Todds with shock and disbelief. "Cadet Todds? Danielle? What are you doing - my God, you look ten years older! What's happened to you – and where did you get that ring? What's going on?"
"That's not the person you know, Julia!" Mack called out, soaring around the Tower and placing himself between the Ringbearer and the others "Hello, Danielle. Looks like I got here just in time!"
"Hello, Michael," the Ringbearer said, genuine pleasure in her voice. "It's been some time since I've had the pleasure."
"Mack? You know her?" Sandi Griffin called out to him. "Who is she?"
"Calm down, Danny," he replied, ignoring Sandi as he decided not to activate his flame powers. We do not want to provoke a Master Ringbearer. Besides, if this letter is right, we have to have her on our side. "What are you doing here?"
"I wouldn't be here if it wasn't work-related, Michael, and if it wasn't important," she told him. "You were always a reasonable man – can you talk some sense into these people? You know what I can do..."
"No threats, Danny – and besides, you know it wouldn't look good in certain eyes if you started acting like you're wearing a Vengeance Ring, right?" Mack crossed his arms as he floated in front of the Ringbearer – thank God I've been practicing flying on heated air currents; making myself lighter than air is stealthier than just 'flaming on' and letting everyone see me flying past. "Look – I know what you're here for, and why, and you need to calm down and listen to us."
Danielle was unmoved. "I'm sorry, Michael, but the mystic artifact you have is too dangerous to be left unsecured – do you really understand what you have under your roof? Do you have any idea what it can do, or what it can release into your universe?"
A sonic boom caused everyone to look upward as Tom Sloane suddenly dropped from the sky "Young Master Thomas," Danielle said, her voice suddenly arctic as she took in his appearance. "I see that you have your full powers now. Even so - you know what I can do, so stay out of my way."
Tom's face registered no emotion as he felt the eyes of Colonel Armalin and the other Legionnaires boring into him from below. "Danielle – what are you doing here?"
"Tom – be quiet and chill out, man," Mack said, trying to remain calm as the words 'mystic artifact' bounced around in his head. He remembered the things that he'd seen, and from stories he'd heard (from an Alyssa Milano in another reality, who was also a Ringbearer – among other things), how the Corps of Ringbearers – an extra-dimensional force that acted as a deterrent against creatures and events of unnatural origin – were so single-minded about securing or eliminating potential mystic threats that they would, if necessary, incinerate everything on a planet to eliminate the threat. Or worse, he thought, remembering the Beta Sol story Alyssa told him one night... and how a Daria from another Earth used one of those Rings to turn her own planet into a minature star in order to kill off thousands of the 'evil Ringbearers' called Ringwraiths, and the metahumans that served them. "Two words, man," said Mack as a warning. "Property damage."
"I'm doing my job," she hissed, her eyes glowing blue as she ignored Mack's warning to Tom – not electric blue like Daria and the other telepaths' eyes glow, Mack thought, but still scary. "I'm following my orders. That's something you never understood – did you, prep boy?"
Tom barked off a scornful reply. "Screw you, Todds."
"One – business before pleasure. Two – you're not my type, and you never were." She smiled at him, and her voice took on a faux-Southern flavor dripping with pralines and cream. "Why, young Master Thomas! Are you still annoyed about that? Why, with all the favors you collected traipsing all about that wide, wide world while you and your gallant friend Michael were there, I am just so surprised and so, so flattered that you'd take offense to my declining your... generous offer of a place to rest for the evening."
Both Quinn and Brittany reached out to keep Jane, her face registering her inner fury for all to see, from stepping forward – although neither was sure if her anger was directed towards the Ringbearer or Tom. "Sorry, lady," Jane interrupted. "Not happening. We're keeping it."
Another voice interrupted Jane. "But, Jane – are you sure?"
The raven-haired young woman turned to face her teammate; she looked at Brittany as if she had just gone insane. "I mean," said Brittany, "you know what it can do, and how it can control people-" The slight wavering of fear in the bouncy blonde's voice made the cold anger Jane felt flow out of her. "If she can take it somewhere where it can't make people do bad things, or hurt anybody, maybe we should let her."
Jane's answer was lost as Tom cut in. "I don't know what you're here for, Todds – but whatever problem you're supposed to deal with here on this Earth, we'll deal with it - and from what I remember reading over there, you're not even supposed to be here! You're prohibited to be on any world with no active mystic dangers OR worlds with the means to defend themselves against them!"
Danielle's eyes went wide at Tom's words; Jane felt a slight sliver of affection for him as he continued to speak. That's my walking library – you cheating SOB. I understand that things happen, but still...after this is all over - we're going to talk.
Oh, yes. We are going to talk about everything that woman just said – about the girls, and your powers.
Tom had the bully pulpit, and he was using it. "Yes – I've been to Nova Valdris! I've read the Charter! I know the rules! The fact that there's an active, regulated metahuman community here that knows of the mystic and metaphysical dangers out there AND has strategies in place to contain or eliminate them means that the Ringbearers have no jurisdiction on this Earth! The very fact that the Legion exists, and has whatever you're whining about contained-"
Danielle's face reddened with anger as he spoke. "-Means that you're not even supposed to set foot on the planet unless you're invited," Tom continued, "or unless you're here to warn us of impending danger! Since neither of those has happened – we don't want you here, and we don't need you here! Now, get the hell out of our reality!"
"Cribbing from Babylon 5, hmm?" Danielle let a bubbling laugh flow from her. "I'll never understand any woman who lets you get close to her; after all, nothing original has ever come out of your mouth... or happened in your bed, from what I've heard. Get out of my way, all of you. I have work to do."
"Let's not fight, Danielle," Tom said, rising into the air. "Let's have a drink and discuss this reasonably."
Unseen by anyone but Danielle, Tom's eyes flickered over to Quinn before turning back, a cruel smile on his face. "Or are you mixing business and pleasure? I understand that you've always been fond of a little red whine at bedtime."
Tom never saw the gesture Danielle made; the full force of the Ringbearer's telekinetic blast blew his clothing into shreds as it sent the Legionnaire soaring out across Lewis Bay and off into the distance.
It was Tom, whispering into Danielle's ear, making her eyes go wide as he returned at super-speed almost instantly (grabbing a new uniform from his room in the interim), grabbed her by the collar of her jumpsuit and threw her off into the direction he came from with all of his strength.
"What did you do that for?" Quinn screamed out, not understanding why she was suddenly more concerned for the intruder than Tom – or why the glance the woman gave her when she first appeared made her feel so, so different, and she didn't understand how... "She came to talk!"
"You don't understand," Tom said, turning to look down at Quinn. "From what I know about Ringbearers, if we've got something that they want -"
"Go get her!"
Armalin ended his silence and Tom drew back from the anger radiating off the Marine. "You don't think I know how you just provoked her into a fight? Dammit, Sloane, use your head!"
Tom stammered as he tried to find the right words. "But – sir, I was just-"
"Oh, shut up!"
Tom became a blurred missile, flung downward at hypersonic speeds as Danielle emerged from a disappearing flash of darkness, grabbed him by the collar and threw him at the beach below Legion Tower – sending him burrowing into the quarry floor!
"Oh, my GOD!" Stacy cried out, she and the Colonel the only ones not falling to the ground as a massive shockwave shook the ground for miles around, causing a flurry of rock to spray across the area. "Did you see that - MACK!"
Stacy leaped to catch Mack, who had been knocked cold as a chunk of rock struck him dead center in the forehead, and Danielle suddenly found her force field under siege by a maelstrom of magnetic force, electricity, PFT blasts, hypersonic energy and a hail of bullets.
"Get her!" Quinn cried out, almost blinding everyone around her as heavy arcs of blue lightning sizzled away from her hands and torso. "Bring that tramp down!"
"What the hell was that?"
The Arcana operatives known as Gouka Ryuu and 'Mr. Veggie' picked themselves up from the floor of their 'duck blind' – a top-floor room in an abandoned office building in Lawndale's Shopping District, which faced the quarry and Legion Tower. "I didn't know they had earthquakes here in Maryland!" Veggie said.
"It wasn't an earthquake," Gouka replied, checking the secured tripod and the expensive-looking video camera mounted on it as he recalled the firestorm of activity in front of Legion Tower. "A woman with powers appeared in front of Legion Tower a few minutes ago. There was a scuffle, and now, she's-"
"About to kick some Legion arse," Mr. Veggie said, his sleepy demeanor disappearing as he looked through his binoculars to see the Legionnaires going into action – and smiled as he took in the exotic beauty of the woman they fought. "Nice. She reminds me of Victoria Todds. Gods, she was a stellar romp, before she began working for Dynell-"
Gouka cut him off with a snarl. "Stop thinking about bedding everything in sight, set that second camera up, and begin a live feed to Samuel out in Vegas. They should know about this."
Schloss Morgendorffer shook as if a giant had just fallen directly in the street in front of the house; inside, Fran immediately shrank to six inches in height and took to the air, while Daria picked herself up after the shaking stopped.
The sound of her mother's voice turned Daria's head towards the front of the house. "Daria! Are you all right?"
"I'm fine, Mom," Daria deadpanned, putting her glasses back on as Helen, panic in her eyes, rushed down the stairs. "We're both okay."
Helen picked up several magazines and a plastic cup that had fallen from the table in the living room. "I thought that we didn't have earthquakes here in Maryland!" she said, an edge of fear in her voice.
Fran spoke up, her soft voice barely audible over the sound of car alarms going off outside. "That wasn't an earthquake."
The two Morgendorffers looked at Fran. "I grew up on the West Coast. Earthquakes last longer and feel different. That was something else – something hitting the ground – but not an earthquake."
Daria turned to her mother. "Mom-"
Helen nodded in understanding. "Go, Daria. I understand."
Fran spoke out loud. "I'm coming with you."
Daria turned back to Fran. "I don't – I want – I'm coming with you."
The Legionnaire looked at her new charge for a long moment, and then nodded. "Okay."
After a full minute of setting the air alight with firepower and energy, the Legionnaires and security guards stopped firing – only to see Danielle hovering overhead unharmed, her force field intact. "Are you done yet?" was all she said.
Jane glanced upwards. "No."
The Ringbearer's eyes widened as two gigantic, flaming masses, moving faster than the eye could follow, appeared from the nighttime sky
Touching a control on her force-field belt, Jodie expanded her force field outwards to protect her fellow Legionnaires and the others as the two meteors slammed into Danielle's shield and exploded!
As the smoke cleared, Danielle turned to look at Jane, unfazed by the force of the exploding meteors Jane had pulled from low Earth orbit. "Well, that was interesting," Danielle said, a smile on her face, "like watching a kitten hiss and claw at someone. Can we stop this now – what the hell?"
The Ringbearer almost tumbled from the sky as her head – only her head – disappeared; a shrill cry of shock escaped from her lips. " I can't – I can't see!! – What did you do to me?"
Readying his weapon, Armalin smiled as Brittany appeared behind Danielle -- she had her hands on the force field and was using her power through it!
"Nice work, Taylor," he muttered to himself as he set his weapon's charge. "CLEAR!"
The AK weapon he hefted into the air barked twice; the heavy rounds crashed into the Ringbearer's force field to deliver a violent electrical charge through thread-thin fiber-optic cables that should have allowed the rounds to penetrate like a hot knife through butter... but they fell harmlessly to the ground. "That won't work on me," Danielle said, annoyance beginning to show in her voice. "I'm not like the other Ringbearers you might have met – my elemental affinity is Quintessence."
The Marine glanced down at his useless weapon, and then turned his attention back to Danielle. "Really. I'm sorry to hear that."
He dropped the weapon. "Guess there's no way to keep this from being messy."
Jodie's voice made the Marine pause. "Colonel, wait."
Danielle turned a cool eye on Jodie as she touched another control on her belt, and placed a force-bubble around the Ringbearer. "Child, please."
"Turn the page, fashion plate," Jodie said. "Nothing can get through my force field!"
The Ringbearer snorted; a beam of blue light from the Ring she wore flashed out over Jodie. "Humph. I've run into a couple of twelfth-level intellects like you before, out on Colu," she observed. "You would think that I'd have to destroy your shield to get to you, or that you could hold me with your force fields."
Jodie's eyes went wide as Danielle extended her hand; a bluish telekinetic 'arm' reached out to grab Jodie's force field and begin to shake her violently inside it! "Age and experience always beats youth and intelligence - get the point, moron?"
She tossed an unconscious Jodie towards the beach; she hit the sand and lay unconscious, her force field still active. "Maybe I shook some common sense into her."
Danielle turned towards Jane. "And as for you, Miss Blue Eyes-"
Unending thunder suddenly seemed to fill the air.
Danielle was blown from the sky, tumbling end over end as a continuous stream of bluish-pink blasts smashed through her force field and sent her rolling across the area until the blasts kicked her up and out into the waters of the bay!
"Leave my sister alone."
Everyone present turned – some of them lifting their heads from when they dived for cover – and stared at Trent Lane, who stood in front of the doors of the Tower with a PFT-M4 assault rifle in hand! "Are you all right, Jane?"
"Trent?" Jane lifted herself up from the quarry floor. "What the – where the hell did you get that thing?"
"A girl at the Academy fixed it up for me," the older Lane said, as Jane ran up to him. "She thought that, well, since I'm helping out around here, I might need something to keep everyone from having to worry about protecting me."
Julia looked over at the weapon Trent held; a smirk went across her face as she suddenly put together why her Academy roommate Sherrie Klein had been so happy during the weeks after the Legionnaires left, and why she had taken every opportunity for weekend liberty during the summer session (from what other cadets had told her).
So that's why she didn't go on vacation to Alaska with the rest of Training Cadre 3000 this summer. More money to help her folks out by working in the tech labs for civilian wages, and playing kissy-face with the cute musician.
Damn, Trent – you must work it like Zeus in the sack, if she rebuilt and upgraded a M4 rifle for you with her special touches! That thing fires at close to the same rate of a Vulcan cannon!
Danielle rose from the waters of Lewis Bay, her expression showing true annoyance for the first time. "That's your first strike."
The air was alive with light as Danielle soared towards the two Lanes, a corona of fire surrounding her. "So, you're brother and sister, hmm?" she called out.
Trent responded by squeezing the trigger; a six-foot long corona of pulsing energy mushroomed from the weapon's muzzle as the PFT went into rapid-fire, spraying Danielle's path with energy pulses that the Master Ringbearer evaded with unnatural agility!
Corkscrewing upwards as everyone else began to fire, Danielle cut hard across the sky and back towards the crowd.
"Oh, man," Trent said, watching how the Ringbearer began a power dive through the hailstorm of energy and lead. "Get out of here, Janey!"
A white-hot fireball ejected from Danielle's Ring and spiraled towards brother and sister. "The family that fights together should ignite together!"
Quinn and Brittany screamed, and Sandy let a howl escape from her as the Lanes disappeared in flames!
Behind them, the front entrance of the Tower and a thirty-foot section of the wall surrounding the doors collapsed, crumbling inward with a loud roar!
The flames dissipated to reveal Jane and Trent, safe behind a curved magnetic field that had left their backs protected only by the Tower itself.
"Are you okay, Janey?" Trent asked, eyes wide as he saw Danielle circling back for another attack."
"I'm fine – damn, I didn't know my powers blocked fire like that!" Jane said, her breath visible as she spoke. "I didn't know that I could pull cool air down that fast out of the sky!"
Trent was about to reply when he saw the Colonel look in their direction, and then, turn to face the approaching Ringbearer with blank, dead eyes that any sane person would have immediately fled from.
Armalin's voice held the same lack of expression that the look on his face conveyed. "You just crossed the line."
Brittany gasped, drawing Danielle's attention as she looked down to see the Colonel change... his face contorted, becoming more primal, more violent in appearance as his incisors grew out into sharpened points, his fingernails extended into four-inch talons and the boots he wore split in the front as his toenails extended out through the boots' toes!
Blackness filled Kyle Armalin's eyes.
The Legionnaires had never seen their advisor use the full extent of his powers, or the physical changes that he went through... As he looked around with eyes that were totally black, the Legionnaires gave him a wide berth, suddenly more afraid of him than of the Ringbearer.
"Oh, Lord," Julia said, letting her wings carry her back slightly as Armalin glanced in her direction for a moment before he sprang upwards at Danielle, moving faster than the eye could follow. He's moving as fast as the Daxamites we studied – almost as fast as Jeffrey!
About damned time, Sergeant Nemec thought, inserting a fresh magazine of hypervelocity rounds into her weapon as Danielle's agility allowed her to dodge Armalin's first attacks. I know you don't like using your full powers around most people – it freaks them out – but you need to put this chick down and fast before she does real damage – or sends for friends...
"No!" Danielle screamed, firing bolts of flame and lightning at the blurred, attacking form, searing him with energy and yet still not stopping him as he actually began to slash through her shields with his talons. "Get – away – from – me!"
A thick cocoon of soft blue material appeared and enshrouded Armalin; moments later, he tore through the omnicloth in a violent blurring of motion and leaped skyward to continue tearing through the Ringbearer's reinforced shields! "Fine!" Danielle shouted. "Hard way!"
Danielle's Defender Ring began to flash with blue pulses; the security guards, Legionnaires and Armalin all found themselves trapped in body casings (that didn't cover their heads) of solid iron and pure gold that were loose enough to allow them to breathe, but kept them from moving!
The Ringbearer stopped, and took a deep breath. "Okay. Give me a moment. I'll get the Crystal, and be on my way-"
The metal casing that held Armalin exploded in a shower of shrapnel, spraying across the area; Danielle gasped as the blur leaped for her – and soared through a disappearing flash of black! "Don't you damned Nightbreed ever quit?" she hissed as she reappeared fifteen feet in front of him, blasting Armalin almost point-blank with a solar-intensity burst of pure white light that temporarily blinded most of the people on the ground and should have knocked him cold...
The Alpha Nightbreed known as Kyle Armalin ignored the flash of light – and his claws sparked off Danielle's shields a split-second before she disappeared into shadow; on the ground, Julia and Stacy were using their powers to release their fellow Legionnaires and the guards from their restraints.
Sandi was the first to be freed from her restraints of gold; before any of the others could react, Sandi leaped into the air towards the Ringbearer!
She telescoped her PFT baton into a fighting staff in mid-leap, and Danielle shrieked as the glowing tip of Sandi's weapon easily penetrated the force field to smash hard against her right temple! "Bitch!" she growled, the cut above her eye healing in a flash of blue light. "That's strike two! You asked for it!"
Sandi screamed as her flight ring was jerked from her finger and she was telekinetically flung in a wide, curving arc over Lawndale towards Oakdale; in a flash, Julia shot into the air to retrieve her teammate as electrical bolts so bright that they lit up the sky crackled angrily against the Ringbearer's shields!
"You can't hurt me, Quinn," Danielle called out, moving closer to where the Legion Leader stood and poured even more electrical power into the shields – to no effect. Not that I would ever hurt you, either, she thought. I'd die before I let you be hurt. "Please, just give me the Crystal, before someone gets hurt – AHHHHHGGGGHHHH!"
Quinn's stomach heaved; she vomited on the spot as the blur that was Armalin flashed past Danielle, and a spray of blood and gore fell over the redhead as the Legion Advisor slashed deep through the shield and disemboweled the Ringbearer with one slash!
Shocking everyone in sight as a truly vile curse word escaped her lips, Stacy launched himself forward to catch Danielle – and screamed with pain as a burning bolt of Quintessence flew from the Defender Ring to blast her back and sear her to the wall of the Tower! "akkkkk... bastard... huuuukk...oh, God, it hurts," the Ringbearer gasped, tears flowing and her every word laced with pain as she dropped to the ground. "It hurts... oh, God, Quinn... it hurts...help me..."
It only took a millisecond. Stacy pulled herself away from the wall, leaving against the surface a mixture of burnt uniform and burnt skin. As her body transformed into a more...feral appearance, Stacy could feel the skin, the scalp, her power and strength returning to recover and heal from what should have killed her. Yesssss...don't be scared of this...you WANT this....
Stacy's ears perked up as her enhanced hearing caught the barely-audible words; she blurred out as she leaped forward, and barely managed to change course as a dome – a dome composed of what appeared to be the largest diamond that anyone there had ever seen – materialized around the fallen Ringbearer in a blue flash. "I think we won," the transformed and semi-feline Stacy said, her nostrils filled with the scent of Danielle's blood as she noticed Julia and Sandi's return. "She's hurt badly – help me get this off her, and we can call a doctor-"
A brilliant blue glow from inside the dome drew everyone's attention; it intensified as Stacy's nose twitched. "Everybody! She's-"
"She's healed herself," Armalin said, narrowing his eyes. "Julia – get her out of there."
The blue glow suddenly blinked out moments before a tightly focused sonic blast from a seething Julia shattered the diamond dome. "Where is she?"
The Legionnaires glanced upward at Danielle's words. "And that's strike three," the Ringbearer said, her voice grim. "Burn."
Armalin turned to leap in her direction - but his nose twitched at the pungent scent of sulfur, the rancid smell of rotting eggs, and began to dodge the heavy, glowing rain of magma that began to shower over the entire quarry!
"Okay, I know most girls will do anything to get their hands on jewels like that, but this is stupid!" Jane snapped, her magnetic shields protecting the people on the ground as torrents of superheated liquid rock showered over the area; the grass in the pocket park around Legion Tower ignited, vehicles in the open caught fire and exploded, and the intense heat began causing the beach below to liquefy into blackened, bubbling pools of glass as clouds of smoke began to build across the area. "If anybody's got an idea...!"
Thunder roared across the city.
Residents of Lawndale who hadn't been drawn from their homes by the earlier sounds of battle now gazed in wide-eyed wonder – and fear – at the sight of the glowing shower of liquid over the abandoned quarry where Legion Tower stood, and the massive cloud of steam rising from Lewis Bay.
Daria's hands gripped the steering wheel of her borrowed car even tighter as she saw blue-white lightning that she instantly recognized as Quinn's blasts – though nothing like she's capable of, she thought, seeing similar blue-white blasts striking all about the Tower. If someone's attacking, why is she choosing now to hold back, when she usually tries to turn everything into charcoal?
"Why don't we just fly there, Daria?" Fran asked; moments earlier, she had squealed in terror as Daria turned a corner on two wheels at almost sixty MPH. Daria had given her a cool glare, and Fran had asked the question to divert the bespectacled girl's attention.
"I'm not that good at flying," she finally admitted. "Can you carry us both?"
"No," Fran said – a bit too quickly, Daria thought – but that disappeared from her head as a bulldog started out into the street. "Watch out for the dog - watch out, Daria!"
Daria jerked at the steering wheel, and barely avoided hitting the dog that froze in terror as the car missed it by inches! "Oh, my God, did I kill him? I never even saw him! I'm a dog killer!"
Fran gripped the handle of the car door so tightly that her knuckles were white. Of course you didn't see him – driving at the speed of sound...
The sound of the dog barking caught Daria's attention; in the rear-view mirror, she saw the dog as it ran off. "Look, Daria," Fran said, glancing back at the bulldog. "No harm done."
Daria seemed to calm down as the dog's image quickly disappeared from the mirror. "God, that was close."
Fran leaned back in her seat. "No harm done."
"I couldn't live with myself if I hit a dog," Daria said, Fran drew back as the auburn-haired Legionnaire glanced over at her. "After you meet her - would you mind telling Quinn I killed him?"
There was a moment of silence, broken by the sound of thunder, the screeching of the car's tires, and sirens heading in the direction of Legion Tower. "Didn't you see him?" Fran asked. "He came running right up on your side of the car!"
Daria jerked the steering wheel; the two girls bounced about as the car went over train tracks. "I don't see way off to the side too well," Daria told her. "My glasses sort of block the view."
"I didn't know that," Fran replied. "Isn't that a problem?"
Daria shrugged. "It is for dogs."
Fran looked over at her - seriously considered shrinking down and flying far, far away for a brief moment – and then, saw the smirk on her face. Sarcasm. It's Daria's preferred way to deal with bad things happening.
I wish she were a better driver, though...
As a small dragon, Charles Ruttheimer watched from high above as the blur that was Armalin – who seemed unaware of the fact that his uniform and skin were aflame - dodged globs of magma and bolts of Quintessence raining down upon him as he continued to attack the Ringbearer. He's like something out of a vampire movie... the bad guy, he thought, as the Marine tore long, scoring gashes through Danielle's fields with every successful slash. If her force field didn't regenerate each time the Colonel hit, she'd be dead by now...
He felt a chill as he suddenly recalled how easily Armalin had bested them in an exercise; last year, when the Legionnaires had wanted to go assist in New Orleans, and he told them that they weren't ready... He was holding back. He beat us so easily that it was probably embarrassing, for him as well as us... and he wasn't even trying. He was being kind – trying not to hurt our feelings – but he could have killed us all.
Mack's voice caught his attention. "I'm okay – let go of me!"
Charles turned to see two guards, safe beneath Jane's shield, as they were checking Mack over; he saw one of them give the other a 'thumbs-up, and glided down towards him.
"Mack," the dragon said, " that woman's powers are magic-based?"
"Charles?" Mack blinked hard, and then nodded. "Alchemy – it's a long story-"
"Okay," he said, cutting Mack off sharply. "Sandi – I think that I can stop her, but I need your help...you too, Jane, and – Stacy! Go dig Tom out of the ground!"
Dodging the red-hot splashing of liquid rock raining down over the area with inhuman agility and speed, Stacy pounced into the large crater Tom made when he struck the ground. She returned moments later with a shaken Tom, as Danielle fought valiantly to keep Armalin from getting to her.
"Never... been... hit... that hard before," Tom muttered, inwardly thanking David Allen Farrington for unlocking his full powers. "God... hurt all over..."
Charles watched as Sandi and Quinn blasted away at the Ringbearer, and made a decision... At the Academy, they said to never go past a certain point with my powers, to shape-shift into certain creatures or try to copy certain powers, because it could tear me up inside – at best – but I don't think we can stop her any other way...
"Oh, this is going to hurt," he thought aloud. "Really hurt..."
"Charles – hold on," Mack managed to say, allowing Brittany to help him up. "When I give the word, grab the Colonel so he doesn't kill her!"
Mack raised his hand, and Danielle's force field immediately began to flicker out as the black Legionnaire began to drain her Ring's solar energy charge. "Charles! Jane! Now!"
Shifting forms in the blink of an eye (and giving Tom an eyeful as he looked up and immediately wished that he hadn't), Charles took the form of a giant Labrador Retriever - but made of pure titanium! He soared past Danielle, snatching the Colonel from the air in his mouth like a Frisbee as Jane jerked the Defender Ring off the woman's finger, and Sandi knocked her out of the sky with two PFT blasts to the face!
The sky began to clear. The fight was over. Danielle Todds was out cold. But Sandi wanted to finish the job...!
"What – are you trying to kill her?" Mack snarled, pushing Sandi's weapon away as she was about to shoot again. "We've got her under control – now we can talk!"
Mack turned and gave Tom a searing glare. "You remember what that word means, don't you? We've got real troubles coming, and you have to – oh, forget it. Stupid asshat."
As they talked, Stacy inched closer to their downed foe, sniffing the air as if approaching prey, but stopped as Julia stepped in front of her. Their eyes locked; the feral Legionnaire let a low growl rumble in her throat as emerald-hued points of energy extended from her fingertips like claws...
She took a step back, a lesser predator making way for a bigger, stronger one, as Julia silently unfurled her wings and let her fingernails extend out into slender, six-inch talons.
Stacy slunk away as Julia turned, retracted her talons, and knelt besides Danielle; as she examined the Ringbearer, a scarlet-faced Tom, remembering the origin of Mack's insult, returned his angry glance.
"You don't get to-" Tom began to speak.
Mack, however, had already turned away with a dismissive wave - and Jane walked past Tom as if he wasn't even there to wrap Trent in a monster bear hug.
"Easy, Janey," Trent said, smiling at his sister. "I need to breathe so I can sing."
"Oh, shut up!" she said, holding him tighter. "Coming out here like you're Rambo with that gun, against her – when did you get brave?"
"Hey - nobody messes with my sister," Trent said; Tom took that moment to walk several paces away from Trent's scorching glare.
Jane finally broke her embrace. "After this is over, I'm taking you off somewhere and finding you the biggest, softest, nicest bed out there!" she told Trent. "I might even find someone to fill it with, too – maybe Daria!"
Trent coughed; images of a soaking-wet Daria and several very vivid dreams came racing back to him. "Come on, Jane – don't start that again."
Sandi sheathed her PFT weapon. "What do we do with her, then?"
"Oh, yeah - I've got her Ring," Jane said, holding up the engraved silver band. "What else can she do with this thing?"
"Blow up a planet," Mack said, taking the Ring and slipping it on his own finger as the other Legionnaires watched; the giant metal Labrador turned its head to look as Armalin shifted back to normal form. "I'll hold onto it, Jane. It's not safe for anyone else to even touch – hold on. You were able to hold onto a Defender Ring without it reacting... "
The sound of the Marine's voice drew Jane's attention away from Mack's comment. "Charles – put me down!"
The Marine dropped to the ground as Charles shifted back to normal form. "I've read about Ringbearers," Armalin growled, looking down at the unconscious woman. "Get her to the security chamber. Sergeant Nemec – have her sedated and under triple guard. She's never to be left alone, or allowed to regain consciousness until I say so."
The Marine then turned to give Tom a stare usually reserved for gods about to punish mortals. "In my office, Mister Sloane. Five minutes."
Tom nodded mutely as he followed Armalin, Julia and Nemec (who carried Danielle) inside the Tower; Jane watched the scene with grim satisfaction, and then turned to Quinn and Sandi. "We have something to check up on."
"I'll take care of the cleanup around here," Mack said, rising into the sky as the Defender Ring he wore flashed blue; the car with Daria and Fran entering through the front gates just as a thin blue field of energy expanded outwards from him like a bubble, enveloping Lawndale and expanding even further...
Thirty seconds later, the field disappeared and he lowered himself to the ground. "You did a 'temporal reset'," Tom said, a touch of jealousy in his voice.
"It's the best way to avoid trouble – and you know that," Mack said. I also did a bit of memory work on most of them – except for Tom and the Colonel, Mack thought, turning away from the others. After Danielle leaves, it'll kick in; they'll remember everything that happened, except what she specifically looked like.
I remember running across a Danielle Todds at the Academy – and if what Alyssa said is true, she and Quinn will probably meet here. Can't have her older version's appearance messing that up. "As far as the rest of the world knows, nothing happened up here tonight."
Mack turned to Quinn, and Tom once again seethed inwardly at the way he was once again dismissed. "And speaking of 'cleanup..." He raised his ring hand, and drew the blood and dirt that covered the redhead out of her clothing and off her skin with the Ring's telekinetic ability. "Never let it be said that I didn't give you anything, Morgendorffer..."
Quinn's eyes went wide as Mack transmuted the blood and gore into a small bar of gold, which he then telekinetically lowered into her hands. "And, because I don't want to play favorites..."
Using the power of the Ring, Mack drew the dirt and grime from the uniforms of all of the female Legionnaires' uniforms, the uniforms of the security guards and the clothes Trent wore; small bars of gold were levitated into their hands as well. "Consider that 'hazard pay', everyone."
Charles patted him on the back. "Whoa – nice work, Mack! You handle that thing like you've always worn one!"
"I had a friend who let me practice with hers," Mack said, smiling as he saw the stunned expressions of people looking at the gold in their hands. "Oh, and the fragments of diamond littering the area? I'll get those up later; there's probably a few charities that we can give some cash to."
"It looks like it," Charles replied, "You're a one-man repair crew with that thing. The entire area looks the same as it does before the fight started!"
It was then that the other Legionnaires noticed Mack's handiwork with the Ring: the entire area – the quarry, the beach, the area around the Tower, including the pocket park and the destroyed front entrance - was back to normal... just the way things happened when Black Majesty restored everything after his fight with Quinn inside the Tower.
"Daria! You missed the fun!" Quinn said, giving Fran a quick once-over as she and Daria reached the others before turning to her sister. "Who's your friend?"
Daria brought Fran over to her teammates. "Fran, this is the Legion. Guys, this is Fran Lawrence. She really needs our help."