Glory still just hovered there, holding me, not reacting to the Earth Mage, not even reacting to me beyond the fulfillment of her last order to capture me. The Earth Mage spoke her name, asked her what she remembered. She didn’t say a thing.
“Listen, the only one that’s going to make her talk is Knock-Off, her creator,” I said. “Get me loose, get me on the ground, and I can take you to her.”
The Earth Mage had to tear his attention away from her. He looked at me for a moment, floated to the ground, paused, then floated back up. With a surge of strength, he pried Glory’s fingers from my neck and wrist, letting me drop from her grip. He then grabbed me to try and float me down to the ground, but Glory instantly snatched me back up, this time holding me up by the shoulders.
“Shit,” I muttered.
This action startled the Earth Mage, who brought his staff up in a defensive posture, but he paused seeing that Glory had only been interested in holding me. That seemed to snap him out of his funk.
“I see,” he muttered. “Just a robot.” He took a breath, then nodded to himself, and his features hardened. “Alright, she’s weaker than the original, like the rest of Knock-Off’s clones. But she’s still incredibly tough and strong, and she’s zeroed in on you. How tough are you?”
“Not as tough as she is.”
“I can try to blast her with a focused shot, but this will take some time to charge.” He held his staff, aiming the gnarled crook at the top towards Glory’s head. Crimson fire began to appear around the crook, and gather into a point.
“Hold on, I got a better idea,” I said. “You can move the elements, right?”
He paused his spell. “Yes.”
“Can you, like, raise the ground up to the two of us?” I said. “Do it really fast, before she realizes what you’re doing.”
The Earth Mage cocked an eyebrow at me, but complied. He pointed towards the ground and his staff quivered for a moment. Then, suddenly, two columns of earth shot straight up towards us. Glory didn’t realize what was happening until the tops of the pillars touched our feet, but at that moment, it was too late.
I terraported us both, stepping a mile southwest, and bringing me within range of where I had dumped the clones underground. The one female super clone that had survived the experience had cleared enough space to start actively digging her way upwards. She’d already gotten ten feet up, and was tirelessly still going. I figured she had to be at least as strong and durable as Glory. I hoped.
Glory, perhaps confused because she still had a hold of me, but didn’t realize what was happening around her, didn’t react in time to pull me off the ground. I managed to terraport the other woman back to the surface, right into the space Glory was standing. At the same instant, I stepped backwards a thousand feet.
There was loud, wet explosion as too equally tough and strong superhuman bodies attempted to displace one another. Neither won out, and both ended up in pieces. I made sure their heads and torsos shared the same space, just to make sure they’d both be thoroughly destroyed.
A few seconds later, the Earth Mage came flying at high speed over the rooftops and trees. Currently, I was standing in a small patch of grass separating the street’s sidewalk from the road. He reared back from the massive gore stain that had splattered the street and the lawn where I’d terraported the two women together.
He looked at me, then back at the mess, then back at me. He frowned and stroked his chin, before floating down to join me. He stayed hovering a good foot off the ground. “A fascinating power.”
I smiled slightly. I’m sure most people would be thrilled to be complimented by the Earth Mage. Then again, most people couldn’t say they’d taken down Glorifica, clone or otherwise. “It has its advantages.”
“A shame we had to destroy it,” he said, motioning to the gore. “We could have learned what happened.”
“We can ask her creator,” I said. “If you set down, I can take us right to her.”
He hesitated a moment, looking towards the ground, then complied. I cast my ground sense about, then stepped us into the bank, a couple feet from the vault door. The morning sun shone away from the windows in this section, and the Earth Mage waved his staff, causing a crackle of electricity across the top again. The lights in the building flickered on.
“She’s in here,” I said. “I can bring her out, or I can take us in.”
“Better to bring her out,” he said. “Before you do that, though, how strong is she?”
“She didn’t seem very strong,” I said. “Rank—I mean, Class 1, if that?” She’d gripped my throat, but I had barely felt it. It was her breath that had nearly choked me.
He nodded. He waved his staff again, and outside, I sensed a ring of thick re-enforced concrete bars extend up from the street. “I take it you sensed that?” he said.
I nodded, impressed that he had already guessed the function of my power.
“Teleport her there.”
I did so, porting the large hag into the middle of the ring. Immediately, she tried to break free, but her crooked hands couldn’t force apart or break the bars. We could hear her howl in rage from inside.
I stepped us out to join her, setting us a few feet from the bars.
“Knock-Off!” the Earth Mage said. He didn’t shout, but his voice was carried in a way that made me think a trick of his power amplified his words.
The hag wasn’t impressed, just startled at our sudden appearance for a moment, before sneering at. “Rrrr, pretty boy sorcerer, you think you scare me? You think even you can handle my Glory? GLORY! KILL THEM! FREE ME!”
He motioned to me. “Your clone of Glorifica has been destroyed.”
“What? NO!” Knock-Off beat her old fists against the concrete bars. “Impossible! Glory was my prize, my champion! Glory was—”
The Earth Mage talked right over her. “From what I was told by various witnesses, in order to make your clones, you must have physical contact with them. This means you must have had contact with Glorifica before.”
She cackled. “I had contact with the entire Fem Force! Your pretty little girls were all under my care. I got to keep a few of ‘em too. Glory, that North woman, the one that had the screams.”
The Earth Mage looked disturbed again. “When was this? When did you encounter the Super Fem Force?”
Knock-Off eyed him for a moment, then made what I think was a grin. “What’s it worth to ya, boy? Hmm? What’s it worth to ya, to know what happened to your little girlfriends?”
The Earth Mage just stared at her for a moment. Then, his free hand twitched, and a lightning bolt shot out from a nearby street lamp and blasted Knock-Off in the back. The old woman gave an ear-splitting shriek and collapsed, gasping raggedly. I jumped back, nearly terraporting away.
The Earth Mage’s expression and tone were dark. “There was a time when I would have had the patience to deal with the trickery of villains. That time is over. Do you understand me? Tell me what happened to them.”
Knock-Off struggled to her hands and knees, gasping raggedly. Her tattered, filthy clothes were smoking. “Ah… ha… ha… the boy scout… not so pretty… off camera…”
Another finger twitch, another lightning bolt shooting off a street light, striking her again. She shrieked, her voice weaker this time, and trembled on the ground.
“Tell me what happened,” he said with an icy calm.
“Uh… ah… the bitch… uh… she had me… clone them… ugh… to trick… the doctors… ah… she had me…” She coughed hoarsely, until I thought she was going to pass out.
The Earth Mage stared down at her. “So I was right. Their deaths were faked. Your clones were used to make fake corpses in the wreckage. Why? Who did you fake them for? Where are they now?”
The hag shook her head. “Where? I don’t know. Why? I don’t know her purpose. I did it for the money, and because she let me keep a few of the good clones for myself.”
“Who is she?”
She grinned and cackled weakly again “Who knows… haha… who knows… hahaha… hahahahahaha…” Her laughs dissolved into hacking and coughing again, doubling over.
The Earth Mage set his jaw, but seemed at a loss for words. “Despite your little reign of terror, it appears that no one has died from your actions. If you surrender now, the authorities can get you the help you need.”
“Help… hahaha… there is no helping… people like us… none of us deserve it… she showed us… hahahaha… she showed us what we are…”
“What does that mean?” he said.
She clutched at her chest, still hunched over. “One thing I… I will tell you…” She pointed to me. “A Queen… she’s one of… the
He glanced at me. I gulped and took a step back. “Listen, that was just her crazy cover stor—”
There was a gunshot, and both of us jumped. We looked to Knock-Off as she slumped forward, blood streaming from a hole in her temple. A heavy revolver clattered to the ground out of her hand. She must have kept it beneath her cloak.
“Shit.” The Earth Mage stepped over and bent down inspect her. I didn’t need to. I could tell she was dead as soon as the trigger was pulled. Both of us could have stopped her easily, if we had not been distracted by her accusation. I scolded myself inwardly for falling for such a trick. But then, I hadn’t been expecting this.
The Earth Mage let out a sigh and stood, turning towards me. His expression softened a bit, but was still firm. “Whoever she is, she’s good at covering her tracks.”
“Looks that way,” I said. I suddenly felt like someone who had walked into a movie halfway through the screening. There was a lot more going on here than I had bargained for.
“So, Atalanta. You’re a long way from home.”
“She was delusional,” I said. “I’m just a rookie bounty hunter. She somehow got it into her head that I am a Queen. She was going to try and turn me into the military to get a reward and a pardon, or something.”
He shook his head. “I know who you are. In fact, I came here to find you.”
“Um… uh…” was all I managed. Anyone else, I might have kept up the denial, but somehow, I just knew there would be no fooling this man.
Instead, I tried to run. Instinctively, I stepped—
—and I didn’t go anywhere.
I blinked, then glanced down in shock, then looked to the Earth Mage. I tried to step again, to no avail. I tried to terraport the Earth Mage away, not to kill him, just send him away. And then I realized, not only could I not terraport, I couldn’t even sense through the ground anymore.
I took a normal step back, then another. I still had my strength and durability, but against the Earth Mage, that would be nothing. He might not be on Glorifica’s level, but he was a close second.
“Relax,” he said. “I won’t turn you in, as long as you agree to do a simple job for me.”
I swallowed nervously. “What job is that?”
“Help me find the Super Fem Force and figure out what’s going on.”