All in all, we got to enjoy the house for about three days, before the next supervillain attack. In that time, I tried to run the group through some combat teamwork exercises, and it went slightly better than expected.
Strider was phenomenal at tracking multiple people moving within range of her ground sense and transporting them all at once. We could even communicate with her at a range; if we just spoke towards the ground, she could create writing in the dirt to respond. Even if she was only as strong and tough as I was at my baseline, her teleport and sensing power was almost the ultimate defense, offense, and support. I say almost, because that minor detail of needing to touch the ground at all times could be a very devastating weakness in an unexpected moment. If she got punched into a tree or glued to the side of a building, there went our greatest support unit.
Shoggoth had demonstrated his monstrous transformation power. I remember seeing the report on his original freak out, and obviously, I’d seen the devastation he’d left in the gang hideout, but this was the first time I had actually seen his mutated battle form. His name was well-chosen. When he wanted to be, he became a roiling mass of crushing flesh, roving eyes, and serrated teeth, whipping about like a frenzied nightmare of death. Of course, against most people, he wouldn’t even need to use such a transformation, as he could just knock them out with a touch by triggering a sleep impulse.
The Earth Mage, of course, was our true power house. Given the chance to absorb enough mana from the area, he could be as fast, durable, and strong as me at my max, all at the same time. His direct manipulation of the elements was even more impressive. I saw him create tornados of fire, jets of chilled sand that scoured what it touched while also leaving it frozen, make the earth flow like water then harden into iron to trap something. I had to admit that as much as I think he wasn’t especially competent at as a superhero, he had at least honed his powers to an art. His ability to synchronize his earth mana power with Strider’s abilities was also a great boon.
Hitchhiker proved the most troublesome. Her powers were a real x-factor, given that they varied with every guy she possessed. We weren’t about to just kidnap some local guys from town and let her practice on them. She also couldn’t use her power on us, which I thanked god for. If she could possess women, I wouldn’t have let her within a hundred feet of me at all times.
Despite his appearance, Shoggoth apparently still counted as a woman, enough for Hitch’s power to not take hold. She tried to convince James to give it a shot, but he refused at first. She kept teasing him about it, until finally, he told her to try it. She put her hand on his shoulder and vanished for a whole two seconds.
Then she burst out of his body as though she’d been hit by a truck. She smacked into the ground on her ass, gasping. I laughed my ass off, while James gave her a grim smile. Even Strider and Shoggoth smirked a bit. Superhuman men, apparently, took a lot more effort to possess. And whatever caused that strain was apparently so strong in James that her attempt had failed outright.
Unfortunately, from that point on, Hitch seemed to take a new interest in him. I could only feel annoyed. I knew some women liked a challenge in the form of a stubborn man, but the last thing we needed was more interpersonal drama than we already had. Thankfully, James had zero interest in her flirtations, and she gave up on them pretty quick. I suppose it was good he was still hung up on his old lovers, because I could easily see Hitch getting her hooks in him otherwise.
Despite the brief amount of training, James didn’t want to delay the investigation. As soon as Strider and I got an alert through the bounty hunter network, our group was immediately off to confront the latest villain attack.
It was a big one this time. Three different super women had decided it would be a splendid idea to just take over the city of
that afternoon. As usual, the bounty hunter network fed information from
eyewitnesses as events happened, categorized by “rumor” and “confirmed.” Missouri
Rumor was anything the escapees from the scene thought they saw, usually in regards the powers of the offending superhuman. It was, of course, not necessarily true, but with superhumans, anything was possible, and more often than not, being prepared for things that had been Rumored had saved a cautious bounty hunter, even if it turned out to be not entirely accurate.
Much preferred, of course, was the Confirmed category, usually facts about the superhuman from multiple witnesses, and even better, camera footage. Confirmed was prioritized over Rumor, of course, and Rumors were only listed if they seemed plausible, but there weren’t quite enough witnesses to confirm it.
Right now, the only thing Confirmed was that a woman was firing lightning around downtown, while another woman was teleporting and knocking people out, while yet another woman appeared to be entrancing people.
Even though there were bounty hunters closer to
than our team,
we could get there much faster. James charged up Strider with his earth magic, boosting
her teleport to hundreds of miles. In just five quick jumps, we found ourselves
standing in the middle of a tiny park set between several tall buildings. St. Louis
People were already being evacuated from the area, with police forming a barricade along the street to the west end of the park. According to Strider, the building to the east of us was a courthouse, followed by another longer stretch of park, an underground museum, and then the Gateway Arch, which towered above.
The landmark was a shining monolith built as a symbol of the western expansion of the United States, and probably the only thing anyone knew St. Louis for. I suspected that it usually wasn’t crackling with enormous bolts of purple lightning that would randomly blast chunks out of the buildings nearby.
Immediately, James took to the sky and started whipping his staff this way and that, catching the chunks of stone and showers of glass that descended upon the still fleeing crowds. More bolts of lightning shot this way and that, in attempts to further destroy the buildings around us, but the power of the Earth Mage overwhelmed whoever was casting the deadly energy bolts. With a few hand motions, he was able to redirect the lightning into the sky.
Meanwhile, Strider was already teleporting people en mass to behind the barricade. Shoggoth and Hitchhiker didn’t have much to do at the moment, so I took the liberty of approaching the cops, dashing over to them at max speed, before switching back to full durability.
The cop I approached jerked back and raised his gun at me, startled by my suddenly appearance in front of him. I raised my hands. “It’s alright, we’re here to help.” I had already taken out my bounty hunter ID card and held it up for him to see.
The officer blinked, then cleared his throat and hesitantly lowered his gun. “A-alright,” he said. “Glad you made it, um,” he glanced at the card again. “Max-Out?”
“That’s me,” I said, slipping the card back into my wallet. “What’s the situation?”
“They’ve already made some demands,” said the man. He pointed to a civilian who was standing on the wrong side of the barricade, He was an overweight guy in touristy clothes, staring slack jawed into the middle distance.
“Hey!” the officer. “What was it your boss wanted again?”
The man immediately became animated. “My mistress wants total control of the city! No more will we be subjected to the indignity of mere human life style! We shall—” he started going off on some rambling tirade about how working life sucked, and men were pigs, and why should Queens only be in New Gondwana and so forth.
I motioned to him while looked back at the officer. “So, some kind of control power?”
He nodded. “There’s a woman with the power to control people if they look at her naked body. She’s calling herself La Luste. She’s already ensnared a few hundred people, most of whom she’s used as living shields. She’s out in the open, on the ground, but the other two women have her covered. With the lightning, and several of her new minions acting as shields, we can’t get a clear shot with our snipers.”
Another officer came up to greet us. “We just got confirmation, the other two are on top of the Arch. One of them is the lightning generator/magnet controller. She calls herself Magnetorra. We think she’s using the Arch as some kind of amplifier for her power. The second can teleport and knock people out with a touch. She’s calling herself Knock-Out. We saw her take down the first responding officers in just a few seconds.”
Well, that was just great. I looked back, where the other three were still standing in the middle of the small grassy field. “Did you get that, Strider?” I saw her raise a hand and give me a thumbs up.
“Alright, we’ll take care of this,” I said.
“You guys a new team or something?” said the first officer. “Didn’t know you bounty hunters came out in force like this.”
“Is that the Earth Mage?” the second said, a little dumb struck. Having hung out with him for a few days, I almost forgot that James had somehow managed a respectable reputation over the course of his hero career, despite his less impressive track record. I guess it was easy to look cool for the cameras for a couple minutes, and then fly off over the horizon before people could really get to know you.
I chuckled. “Yeah, just call us the Earth Mage and his Earthateers or something.” I zipped back over to my teammates.
“Okay,” I said. “Here’s the plan. James keeps the lightning woman busy, while you—”
Strider cut me off. “I already transported La Luste and her minions into one of the museum’s galleries, and barricaded them inside.”
“Ah. Okay, then. Um, well, I guess we try to see if James can keep Magnetorra busy before—”
Strider teleported us a dozen feet to the left, right as another figure appeared where we had been, thrusting both hands out. Had we not been moved, Shoggoth and Hitchhiker would have been knocked out by Knock-Out in that moment.
Instead, Knock-Out, a stocky, short-haired woman in all denim, stumbled forward, not expecting her target to have not been there.
She vanished, but then reappeared the next moment, gritting her teeth angrily. She took a step, then vanished again, only to reappear a moment later. This time, she disappeared, and Strider jumped us forward another dozen feet, facing the other way so we’d see Knock-Out reappear and stumble again.
Strider frowned, then Knock-Out vanished again. This time, it took a few seconds for Knock-Out to reappear. Strider just bounced her away again. She glanced to me. “I think she can only teleport at a short range. She must have had to drop down from a building, because when I first sensed her, she hit the ground and made three quick jumps towards us.”
Once again, Strider bounced us to another location, this time to a random street in the city. Some people were milling about, watching what they could of the spectacle, while traffic had ground to a stop. This seemed to be about as close as anyone dared to get, though, and many of them jumped and started running when we appeared in their midst.
From our vantage point, I had to guess we were only a couple streets to the north, because I could still see part of the Arch.
“Oh my fucking god, can you stop that?” said Shoggoth. He put a hand to his pretty face, cupping his forehead and closing his eyes as if he had a headache. “God, I hate teleporters.”
“Okay, well, how do we hit her?” I said.
“I think she can only teleport herself, but that still means I can’t just trap her somewhere.” She paused, then said, “I could try to teleport her into the ground, but I don’t know if that will kill her.”
“Better idea. When I say so, teleport her right in front me, facing away.” I took a step back, took off my jacket, and wrapped it around my fist. I wasn’t sure what the limits of her knock-out-touch power was, but hopefully the jacket would be enough of a barrier to protect from it. I reared back my fist, shifting my power to Strength 1 and Speed 1.
Strider nodded in slow motion by my accelerated perspective, but then her brow furrowed. “Uuuuhh-ooooh, ssssheeezzz ooooffff theeee grroooouunn—”
And then Knock-Out appeared right behind Strider, her hand already extended to touch the back of her neck. I thrust my fist forward, and socked the woman in the jaw. She went flying back, but bounced off a car, and teleported, reappearing behind Hitchhiker and Shoggoth, touching them as well.
Okay, so she was apparently super tough as well. My Level 1 strength was equivalent to what the Department of Superhuman Affairs called Class 2, so she was at least above that. In the time it took my three teammates to start falling to the ground, unconscious, I was already whirling, chucking durability to raise my strength to Level 2. Each of my Level’s was equivalent to a Class, so Level 2 was equivalent to Class 3. I really hoped she wasn’t any tougher than that, because I didn’t dare slow down to normal speed when she could instant-teleport.
I thrust my hand towards her face, moving just fast enough she couldn’t get away in time. My fist connected, and she went flying even farther, being thrown clear across the street and slamming into the stone side of the building across from us. She had hit about ten feet up and left a cracked dent, before falling and hitting the ground. As I jogged over to follow up the hit, she vanished.
I jacked my speed up to Max, and whirled around, trying to see where she was. I couldn’t tell at first, but then I looked up. She was twenty feet above the street, her body splayed out as it had been the moment she hit the ground. Her eyes were wide open and she was grimacing in pain, but clearly still conscious. She had teleported herself into the air to get the lay of the land and see where I was. At this speed, though, I was too fast to even register to the human eye unless I stood perfectly still for a very long time.
Okay, so she was tough enough to take a Class 3 punch, but it clearly put the hurt on her. And her teleport seemed truly instant, so I really couldn’t drop my speed.
I frowned. The problem with such mismatched durability is that fights could easily become lethal, and there was almost never a good way to tell just how much damage a person could take. A Class 4 punch could kill her. On the other hand, I couldn’t make another wrong shot if I compromised my speed, or she might very well knock me out, and then James would be on his own.
One shot to do this. I flickered my speed off and on for a subjective instant, ducking as I did so. In that moment, Knock-Out noticed me, and teleported closer, teleporting from twenty feet up to just half a foot to my left, her arm outstretched to touch where my head had been.
Perfect. I moved out from under her, came back around, then reared back my fist again. As I threw the punch, I sent my power all the way into strength, and rammed my fist into her back. It went through like hammer through a watermelon. Her chest exploded outward in gore. I had missed the spinal cord and heart, favoring the right side of her body, but it still pulverized her ribs and lung. The shock stunned her at first. Then, the pain hit as I withdrew my fist and jumped back. She hit the ground and started writhing, wheezing through her chest wound as she tried to scream. She teleported a few inches back and forth in rapid succession, but it only took a couple seconds before she passed out.
I sighed. Generally speaking, the bounty hunter network didn’t care if you killed another superhuman, they just cared that the threat was stopped. In fact, with the growing supervillain problem, people seemed to prefer if the problem were stopped for good.
This woman had been another innocent life until just this morning. She hadn’t deserved this fate. And yet, this was the nature of superhuman battles. You tried not to just kill your enemy, but when lives were on the line and you didn’t have time to suss out each others’ limits, you didn’t pull punches. More often than not, that ended with one of you dead in the space of a few seconds.
No time to lament it now, though. I quickly went over to try and wake up the rest of my team.