Serenity had seen and performed some pretty incredible displays of power since joining the Spirit Guard. She had seen light stretched and shaped into a bubble that blocked a river of quarters despite it’s immaterial nature. Wreaths of pink flames had been summoned from the ether without the aid of combustion or even lithium chloride. Impossibly red electricity had sparked and crackled on the edge of a sword that should have been too heavy to lift, let alone wield. Even Serenity herself had, through the power of tranquility itself, pulled moisture from the air around her and coalesced it into powerful geysers.
All this, however paled against what she witnessed Valor do now. She had assumed Valor’s purple, glowing sword had been in preparation for some energy attack directed at Cell-celia. Instead, she made two quick swipes pointed at the ground, as if she had been haphazardly dusting it. No, she hadn’t actually touched the ground with her sword. In fact, had Serenity been only using her natural eyes, she wouldn’t have thought Valor had done a single thing… especially because one of her eyes was completely covered.
However, with her EKP, Serenity could feel both swipes charge a deep, long line of earth with empathokinetic valor. Along those empathokinetic lines, she could feel rock, iron, dirt, and cement sever and sheer. It wasn’t violent; on the contrary, it felt more like polite, deferential subjects parting as their beloved queen asked them to make way. It was a precise, yet bold empathokinetic technique that Serenity hadn’t seen before… so what did it do?
Cell-celia clearly was as confused as Serenity. The monster’s eyes had narrowed to a wary slit. She wondered if the monster could even truly see what Valor was doing. It saw via some strange interaction with cell signals. There’s no way those would normally penetrate something as thick as…
Serenity knew exactly what Valor was doing.
Valor slid her sword into the ground beneath the two slices of empathokinetic valor as easily one would a knife into peanut butter. Then, like Arthur pulling Excalibur from the stone, she pulled her sword out. The building shuddered as a curved wall rose from the earth. Aisles of merchandise scattered waves of an ocean as carpet, padding, cement, rebar, clay, soil, and stone rose to form a geological cross-section so perfect it looked like a display at a science fair… if that display had been twice as tall as Serenity. It’s surface, despite what Serenity would have expected, was curved and as smooth as polished marble, like the world’s largest curved monitor.
It was brilliant. The cement was thick and the reinforcing rebar acted like a Faraday cage. Serenity could feel the corrupted cell signals emanating from Cell-celia dying right at the wall. The monster wouldn’t be able to see them! Though it wounded Serenity’s pride a bit that she hadn’t thought to try something like this. She was a donut engineer major! Why did it take Valor, a law student, to come up with something like this?
Serenty could hear, not see in a text bubble, but hear Cell-celia growl on the other side of the wall. “Oh, I bet you think you are sooo clever.”
Valor spun around. Her demeanor was that of a field general. It struck Serenity that she had never actually seen Valor lead a normal fight. Against Polygal she had been distracted by Robert’s glowing and against Day LaMode they had been busy trying keep the trio of boys safe. But now it was just herself, her soldiers, and a monster. This was her element. This was where Valor’s talents as a leader could shine… and she kind of reminded Serenity of the shotcaller any good PvP team needed in an MMO or MOBA.
“Okay, this is the plan,” she ordered. “Charity, you got enough for one more bubble?” Charity gave a tired but firm nod.”Good. On Serenity’s signal, leap over the wall and put a bubble around the monster. If it breaks out, pepper it with arrows.”
Valor’s blue eyes focused on Serenity and she could practically feel her looking into her soul. “Serenity, on your signal I’m going around the right of the wall. You go around the left. Get the monster’s attention.”
“You think you can just hide from me behind there forever? Oh… I’ll teach you to mock Cell-celia.” Serenity could feel a massive buildup of static. They didn’t have long.
“Valor! Gotta warn you, she can see everything without her eyes. You can’t just sneak up on her and…”
Valor turned from Serenity and headed for the right side of the wall. “I know,” she barked with a little more bite to her voice than Serenity was used to. “I gathered that from how you were fighting before walking in! Just put her in check! I’ll worry about putting her in checkmate.”
Time was up. Serenity sprinted as fast as she could for the left side of the wall. She could feel a giant, wreckingball sized orb of static about to crash into the wall. Seemed a waste of what was a perfect work of art to let it get smashed. She held her tongue until the last… possible… moment…
“Now Charity!” The center of the wall exploded behind Serenity. She felt Charity leap above the spray of debris with her EKP. Serenity herself got a light pelting of pebbles. She hadn’t rounded the wall yet. Valor already had. Whatever Valor’s plan was, it wouldn’t work if she didn’t get the monster’s attention first. She had to motor.
Serenity crouched lower as she rounded the corner. She stabbed the floor with her dagger. Anchored, she pivoted and darted at the monster like a blitzing linebacker. For a brief moment, she enjoyed the pure feeling of moving at her superhuman fastest. The last time she had run this fast, it was to save Spirit Guard Tenacity’s life against Day LaMode.
Moment over. She had to distract Cell-celia. To put her into check. Smart. Using a gaming metaphor. Serenity would know exactly what she meant. Valor knew what she was doing.
Cell-celia shattered Charity’s dome with a barrage of static bullets. The monster leveled her antennae at Serenity and Valor. That couldn’t be allowed. Be flashy. “Halcyon Streams!” Serenity breathed deeply and kept her mind sharp as she whipped out two long trails of empathokinetic water out of her daggers. She flicked her right wrist, nearly slicing through the antenna aimed at Valor.
“OMG! Wud u just stop bimbo?” The monster was still talking in text bubbles. She wasn’t. That was weird. Five more steps and she’d be in Cell-celia’s face. She was closer than Valor now. Serenity hadn’t realized she was this much faster than the others. Cell-celia fired with the antenna pointed at her. She deflected the bullets away with her left whip.
Four more steps. Cell-celia twitched to its right, trying to get distance from both Serenity and Valor. Serenity flicked her right whip upwards into Cell-celia’s path. Hairs from the monster’s bangs fell. Close.
Three more steps. Cell-celia tried to roll under the rising water-whip. Serenity lashed out with her other whip to cut her off.
Two steps. Cornered and crouched, Cell-celia rolled backwards and popped onto her feet. Ready to fight.
One step. Monster was ready to fight Serenity then dodge Valor. Needed distraction.
Serenity swung both daggers down in an obvious arc. Her grip on the left dagger was loose. Antennae clashed with dagger. The left dagger flew from her hand. But that was the plan. She needed a distraction because the monster was ready to dodge Valor’s attack.
She balled her left hand into a fist. Momentum carried it forward as Vivian’s voice echoed in Serenity’s mind, “… if you want to drop a girl, punch her in the boob.”
So she did.
She clocked Cell-celia smack dab in the center of its left breast. The monster gasped in shock and pain. It’s cell-phone screen eyes flashed intense anger. “U bitch! >:O,” it texted over its head. And for a moment, it had forgotten about Valor.
Valor launched her sword at the monster like a spear. The monster realized its mistake, arching it’s back and leaping backwards like a pole vaulter. The sword barely missed it’s target and nearly hit Serenity who hadn’t expected Valor to throw her sword. Why would she throw her…
Valor slid on the ground like she was stealing second base. She braced her shield between herself and the mid-air Cell-celia. Mid-air. The monster could no longer dodge.
“Avalanche of Truth!” A cluster of diamond-like spikes shot out of Valor’s shield like an exploding pin cushion…. if the pins were pointing the wrong way.
Dozens of spikes missed… but eight or nine of them pierced Cell-celia. “AGH! U bitches! XO I’ll kill u all,” she emoted. The spikes rocketed the monster upwards. Then she struck the ceiling. The spikes impaled the monster, splintering it’s plastic skin.
The monster thrashed and emoted more, throwing out insults and some choice epitaphs like it was the stereotypical mean girl in a teen movie. “OMG! >.< U bimbos can't do this 2 me. I'll make u regret this! U think u can do this 2 me?" Serenity snorted. Just like that hypothetical mean girl, its words could no longer hurt her.
Cell-celia twitched. It twitched again as tears filled its eyes. “;.; no. I wuz going 2 b a goddess… I wuz…” Then a black orb fell from the monster’s chest and shattered. The monster’s cracked body hung there, pinned to the ceiling like a Halloween decoration.
Valor sighed and picked herself off the ground and stared at the monster’s husk for a silent moment. “You were created for destruction, Cell-celia. You were a monster. But it was never your fault. I pray that whatever bit of Investiture that was truly yours may find peace in the next life, whatever that is.”
Serenity squinted. “Valor, are you eulogizing the monster?”
Valor shook her head. “I’m mourning Cell-celia’s cruel, but unchosen purpose. All that Investiture… wasted on destruction. It wasn’t the monster’s fault though. It’s Platicore. She was a rabid dog that had to be put down. It doesn’t mean we can’t feel bad that it had to die.”
Serenity blinked. It was easy to forget sometimes how sincere Valor was. “You’re too pure, Valor. Sometimes I wonder if you’re real.”
She smirked. “Oh trust me. I’m real, Serenity.” Then she frowned. “Really mad at you that is. You attacked a monster on your own? What the honey were you thinking? I expect this rash behavior out of Felicity or Tenacity! You’re supposed to be the serene one. The smart one. A tactician!”
Serenity did her best to not roll her eyes. She knew how serious Valor took all this past life stuff. “Valor, I’ve told you. I’m not the Shrine Maiden. I–”
“Ugh! Serenity! I’m not talking about the Shrine Maiden! I’m talking about you! You’re supposed to be super smart and think well under pressure! You wouldn’t shut up about how much patience it takes to do your combat right in your video game!” Serenity winced. Sure, she had kicked herself during the fight for screwing this up but it didn’t make Valor’s words sting any less. “Then you go and take on a monster without us? Judging from how tired Charity looks, you must have had a rather sizable wound when she showed up, huh?”
Charity nodded and kept a tired yet disappointedly condemnatory gaze on Serenity. This was bad. Serenity had been hoping this would turn into a good cop-bad cop routine. Instead this was morphing into mom cop-responsible cop routine. “A big one. Do you realize how much danger you were in?”
Serenity threw her hands up. “Well I realize that now. Clearly I didn’t before. I had no idea the monster would follow me in my civilian form into the bathroom!”
Valor’s eyes narrowed. “Followed you? It transformed into it’s monster form before you transformed?”
“No,” Serenity explained, “it didn’t trans… well it did transform into Cell-celia before I popped out of… I don’t know what to call it. The transformation bubble?”
Charity’s face softened. “Felicity calls it the Spirit Stick Psychodelic Studio..”
Serenity rolled her eyes. “Of course she does.” She shook her head, trying to get herself back on topic. “That’s not important. What is important is that the monster had a human form before that. It was disguised as a woman working the cell phone booth. It wasn’t just, like, an arcade machine or mannequin or something. It was a full-fledged human-suit selling product to people like my friend Stacy to get access to her phone and infect it with, like, I don’t know, an Investiture virus or something.”
Valor squinted so hard Serenity could swear she would form wrinkles. “Are you sure?”
“Swear on my Aspect Realms account. I’m that sure.”
Valor sighed and shook her head. “This is big. This could mean Platicore is escalating his strategy. We need to go report this to Kunapipi. We also have to get out of here. Cops were already forming a perimeter when I arrived.” She pointed a finger at Serenity. “But understand that we are not done talking about how dumb it was to attack a monster on your own… unnecessarily, I mean. The conversation will be unpleasant! You are on a team now. Quit trying to take things on by yourself.”
“Sheesh, Valor. I get it. You think I wasn’t accosting myself for my boneheaded move already? I received a sucking chest wound in exchange for my misplay. Pain, it turns out, is an amazing teacher. Trust me, I’ve learned the moral of the episode. I’ll stop trying to solo the boss.”
Valor pursed her lips but still frowned. Clearly she was still mad but mentally balancing her need to let her anger out against the fact that Serenity had already learned her lesson. Charity let out a tired breath. “Not to belabor the conversation but this will bug me if I don’t say something. You didn’t have a sucking chest wound, Serenity. You had a gut wound. For a wound to be sucking it’s got to let air into the chest cavity. Tenacity had a sucking chest wound. You didn’t.”
“Really? Huh, I thought it was just any wound that was big enough for air to get in.”
Valor groaned, clearly having worked through her need to lecture Serenity. “Okay, we need to split up and take different Stones to the Circle. Charity, you can still move right?”
Charity nodded. “Yeah. I’m just tired. This isn’t anything as bad as the surgery I had to perform last time.”
“Okay, you go out the back through the employee entrance. Go use the stone under the Fifth Street overpass. I’ll head out the emergency exit and use the Stone by the Adamson’s View Golf club. Serenity you’re on decoy duty. Use whatever Stone is most convenient.”
“We brought it up briefly last week.” Valor sighed. “Judging from your tone it probably wasn’t smart to bring up some of these items while you’re playing Aspect Realms.”
Serenity looked away sheepishly. “That’s not as inaccurate as I’d like it to be.”
“You’re going out the front where the authorities can see you. Sometimes they will give chase. It’s just to make sure the rest of the team can leave without being followed… come to think of it seeing as you can go invisible, you’ll have the easiest time of ditching them after a bit of a chase anyway.”
That… was a very good point. And now that she thought about it, Vivian had done a similar thing after the Polygal attack. “Okay. So we’re meeting at Kunapipi’s office?”
“All right.” Serenity turned to the front door. “Do I have to say anything?”
“Nah. The less the better. Remember, the more cameras that get on us, the weaker the Disconnection Effect gets.”
“Right… and you’re sure if they shoot at me I’m bulletproof?”
Despite her frustration with Serenity, Valor couldn’t help but smile. “They’ve only ever shot at us once and that was when they unfortunately had a cop car fried by Tenacity’s lightning when they got too close to a fight. They opened fire, both of us felt the bullets hit our auras but sustained no damage.”
Serenity nodded. “Okay, that makes sense. As a former guy I can tell you that if you mess with a man’s car it gets violent real quick.” With that she turned and walked out into the daylight. With the sun setting, it took a moment even for her superpowered eye to adjust. As it did, she viewed a sea of police lights and cops, all of them staring directly at her.
She kept her head down so it would be hard to get a picture of her face. There was at least one positive to her hair being in her face. Besides, she didn’t need to look at them. She had her EKP. She could feel each and every one of them as clearly as they could see her.
A voice blared though a bullhorn. “Okay Spirit Guard, please come quietly. We need to ask you a few questions. We have you surrounded. We don’t want to make this difficult for anyone.”
We have you surrounded? Really? Cory was likely having an ulcer somewhere at how stereotypical that was. Besides, hadn’t the Spirit Guard been evading them for over a year?
Then, she heard it. The buzz of helicopter blades slicing through the air. Coming from… the southwest? Hmm… that could make things trickier.
“We have our helicopter in place, Spirit Guard. You won’t be able to escape us. You’re just going to lead us to wherever it is you have as your base of operations. Don’t make this difficult.”
Uncle Taylor had always warned Robert that he had many virtues but one big flaw: he fed off of spite. Truth be told, part of his standing up to Evelyn’s tyranny in high school was just because everyone told him he should be afraid of her. And now, here was the Kessia City Police Department telling Spirit Guard Serenity what to do after she, Charity, and Valor did them a service… a messy service but a service nonetheless.
Serenity rolled her neck and felt a satisfying crack. “They are just doing their job,” she reminded herself. However now they were telling her what she had to do… and what she could do. And her ego was still bruised from her huge strategic mistep against Cell-celia.
Well, nothing healed a bruised ego like winning. So she was going to have to have a nice little game of keep away… from a helicopter. “Match… start.”