Fandom: Sky High
Characters: Warren, Monica, and the Redeemers
Word Count: 7,550
Spoilers: All of the film
Warnings: Language and violence
Disclaimer: Sky High is owned by Disney. I make no money.
Notes: This is the third transitional piece between the end of War and Peace In Mind and the beginning of the sequel. This won’t make a ton of sense if you haven’t read WaPIM, so you were warned!
Summary: Monica's new group of reformed villains has yet to face a hero's trial, and she's not sure if they can...
“Seriously, my ass is not my own,” Warren was saying.
Monica Peace managed to keep herself from snorting coffee up her nose by a thin margin. She set the mug down out of harm’s way as she laughed at the expression on her husband’s face. It had only been a month since the wedding, and she was still happily getting used to be able share easy laughter with him. Warren scowled impressively, and she assumed a more serious mien, her eyes still dancing with merriment as she took a safe sip of coffee.
“Phoenix’s ass is public property,” Monica pointed out, and Warren rolled his eyes. “You should be used to it.”
“Yeah, but I used to work nights! Less people…”
Monica smiled. Warren liked to convince everyone that he hated public adulation and that all his “phans” scared him. She knew better. He lived for his fan letters and gratitude he got as Phoenix; he would have been a hero for free if the Bureau hadn’t existed. But even the biggest narcissist, which he wasn’t, didn’t want to be smothered under a wave of pink and red “phans.” Or be constantly groped while posing for pictures, which was his current complaint.
“You live for it, and you know it,” Monica pointed out.
“I thought you’d be jealous.”
“Please. I told you before, ‘phans’ are business. As long as they aren’t stripping you naked for a ‘Superheroes Gone Wild’ video, what you do about it is really your decision.”
Warren blinked at her for a second.
“Of course, if I find out you’ve been taking liberties, I will hurt you. Badly.” She said the last with a salacious smirk, turning the threat into a playful joke. Her powers weren’t funny, but for too long they’d been an anchor around her neck, a boogeyman in the academy’s closet. Joking about them, even if it made her uneasy, let other people feel free to joke about them too. That, in turn, made it less scary.
“You had me worried for a sec,” Warren said, shaking his head.
“Still doesn’t let you off the hook,” she admonished, going back to what had started the conversation about people groping Phoenix. “Next week is Superhero Week. The Champions of Justice have invitations to both the climax of the Maxville Superhero Convention and the kick-off of the D.C. Convention. Guardian accepted both. And you’re going to attend both.”
“Going to the Superhero’s Ball was bad enough…” Warren rubbed a hand over his face, shoving his hair back.
“Your phans are dying to get a look at you and the Champions. They deserve that. I think the Redeemers can manage to keep Maxville from burning to the ground while you’re gone,” Monica said.
“It’s not that,” he pointed out, sobering.
“Warren, the Redeemers are barely two weeks old. We barely got an invite for the Westville Superheroes’ Convention, and that’s only so that public can get a good look at us and see we’re not toxic to citizens. You got two invites to two of the most famous superheroes’ conventions in America. Suck it up and go be famous.” The expression on his face after Monica’s speech suddenly clarified Warren’s reluctance.
“That’s just it, isn’t it? You’re afraid I’m jealous?”
Warren sighed and nodded. “You guys got a raw deal and-.”
“This is the best thing to have happened to most of us it. We’d like to be famous, but it’s only been half a month since we went active. There’s time. Besides, I like watching you on stage.”
Warren smiled, looking down into his coffee when Duke poked his head into the kitchen. Or, to be specific, three snakes poked their heads in, then Duke, then the rest of his head snakes.
“Quinn home yet?” Duke asked, barely nodding at Warren.
“Within a half-hour. I haven’t forgotten,” she said cryptically. Duke disappeared, and Warren looked at her curiously. “Team-building,” she offered in explanation. “I’m still running all of that, nearly every day.”
Warren didn’t need to be psychic to see her conflict plain on her face.
“Talk to me,” he said softly. “What’s going on?”
“I never asked to be a leader,” Monica said carefully, trying to put into words everything she’d been holding back. She and Warren talked about a lot of things, but with both of them on active duty, they weren’t often afforded the luxury for an in-depth conversation. “My team still won’t give me a straight answer why they picked me, and it’s been close to three months since they ‘appointed’ me.”
“You might never get a straight answer,” Warren said, and suddenly smiled a bit. “They might be doing it on purpose, you know, keeping you guessing.”
“I get that, but it makes it harder to lead them. I just can’t lead the way you and Guardian do,” she explained earnestly. “You know they were never friends, and everything we learned about fighting as a team we learned just a couple months ago. I’m still acting like a drill sergeant half the time to make things work. I don’t want to do that if I don’t have to.”
In actuality, Monica knew it was worse than that for the Redeemers. The trauma of academy training ran deep. They had all learned a combination of near-blind obedience to a more powerful villain along with a set of no-holds-barred survival instincts on how to cut and run when the odds got bad, regardless of orders. That was counter to the hero mentality of each person deferring but not suborning themselves to a group leader, yet having enough independent initiative to strike or rescue when you thought it was right. Also, heroes didn’t run at the first sign of possible defeat.
Just doing the complete opposite of their academy training wouldn’t serve either. Monica hadn’t ever said anything to Warren about it, but she didn’t want all those years in the academy to have gone to waste. Regardless of how it had happened, the academy had made them incredibly tough in some areas, and it would have been criminal to just let that lie fallow. It was the one thing that her and all the Redeemers had agreed upon unequivocally.
Monica knew each of her team’s weaknesses, some of them in excruciating detail, and that gave her an uncomfortable amount of unspoken power over them. They needed her to direct them through the tangles of heroism. On their own, most of them started to panic and freeze if anything went wrong. But given direction, they did great.
Paradoxically, the praise and adulation they were getting from being heroes added to the problems. The Redeemers found they craved it, welcomed it like parched earth welcomed rain. If something were to happen to jeopardize their hero standing, Monica knew they would panic. She would probably be leading the way.
“If you have to be a drill sergeant for now, then that’s what you have to be. You can change things later when you get used to it, you know? It hasn’t even been that long yet. Will and everyone… we started shaking up how we trained together when we were still in school,” Warren said.
“It’s not just me either. They’re scared, Warren,” Monica said. Scared, and hiding it well. Superheroes were good at hiding fear. Supervillains, even ex-villains, were spectacular at it.
He looked at Monica with confusion. He hadn’t seen it either, even though he could read her like an open book most of the time. “After all they’ve been through. I really thought they wouldn’t be scared of anything.”
Monica looked at the kitchen door over Warren’s shoulder. She didn’t have long until Quinn got back, and then they had a lot to do. As a team. She needed Warren’s advice. Anyone else she could ask, Joy Peace, any of the Bureau staff, already knew more about her team than was healthy. Warren had a talent for understanding without having to have every single detail.
“You’d think that, but it’s not the same. They aren’t afraid of getting hurt or a fight or throwing themselves into the line of fire. They’re afraid of making mistakes. You made a mistake in the academy and you could end up maimed or dead. Now they’re afraid of waking up one day and finding out the public hates them. It hasn’t been very long, but trust me, they’ve already gotten very used to being praised instead of reviled.”
Warren’s brow was furrowed. “Why do they think they’re suddenly going to be hated?”
“In their- our –minds, we don’t have any leeway. One wrong move, and we’ll be back on the run again. And we’re a lot less ruthless, less… heartless than we were,” Monica tried to explain. Warren was understanding, but he didn’t know how it felt to have finally numbed yourself to atrocities, and then finding yourself feeling the consequences again. But at least he wouldn’t say anything stupid like, “You never were heartless.” Warren might be a romantic, but he was also practical, and getting into a verbal slap-fight of, “You had a heart,” “No I didn’t!” “Yes you did!” wouldn’t help anything.
“You guys have been doing great, and trust me, the public is going to be fine if things aren’t perfect. They’re ok with that, really. No one expects picture-perfect heroics. Not even from the Commander and Jetstream,” Warren said sincerely.
Monica tightened her lips, frustrated at her word choice. It wasn’t that the Redeemers had caused some property damage in the course of their heroics, or a couple villains had escaped. It was more a nebulous feeling that if something big and tragic happened, that the public wouldn’t forgive them. When the hero Silverhawk hadn’t been able to save a pair of kids on a collapsing bridge, her city had forgiven her and mourned with her. Monica was afraid that if something like that happened to the Redeemers, the city would not side with them. She had lurid nightmares about being stoned from the gates.
“I’m talking about bigger tragedies,” she said, waving her hands expansively. “I don’t think- I worry Westville wouldn’t forgive us.”
“You guys all work your asses off, and all the other heroes in the city know it. Half the citizens know it. If you keep doing your best, they can’t fault you for things outside your control,” Warren said with conviction.
Monica sighed, knowing Warren had a point, but still feeling uneasy. She would never tell Warren he’d had it easy on his path to becoming a hero, because he hadn’t. For sheer tenacity in proving himself, none of the Redeemers could compare yet. But though he’d had to fight his way through his father’s reputation, he’d never had to fight he way through on his own. He’d had a school that would teach people to use their powers without turning them into psychos. He’d had a family, and friends, and a welcoming environment that at least tried to understand him. The Redeemers hadn’t had that. But it was a fine line. Playing the game of “Who’s the Most Miserable” usually ended up with someone feeling monumentally righteous and someone else feeling like a heel.
Besides, she should feel gratitude that her husband, who had logged more hours of brooding than any ten reformed villains put together, was so optimistic and hopeful for the Redeemers.
Maybe it was just them. It was the inherent mindset of the villain to look for the negative, the worst-case scenario, the dark side. And even though they were reforming, the Redeemers still tended to look for flaws and fault before virtues. It was actually what made them effective as heroes: because they were always prepared for the worst, they rarely underestimated danger and never had to call for help. By the same token, it also made them incredibly self-critical.
“I know,” Monica said finally, conceding defeat. “I’m just a little paranoid that someday this will all come to a screeching halt.”
Warren leaned forward and gripped her hands, looking her straight in the eye. “Even if something does happen, I think you’ll be all right.”
Monica looked at him with challenge in her eyes.
“Talk it out with me,” Warren said, leaning forward earnestly. They knew this was nothing more than a round of Champion Debate, but even a theoretical discussion would give him ways to help talk down her fears. She couldn’t help her team if she was keyed up about this. She nodded at him, and he started the opening volley.
“What happens if a villain dies because of your actions?” he asked.
“Honestly, some citizens would be relieved,” Monica said frankly. She was under no illusions about that.
“But, some others…” Warren prompted.
“Would wonder if we’re getting revenge through our positions as heroes.”
“Some would wonder if we’re just bloodthirsty.”
“So what would you do to stop that?”
Monica sighed, knowing the answer was easy to say, but hard to do. “Fight clean as we can. Fight straight. Give the villain chances to surrender.”
“You already do that,” Warren said encouragingly.
“Also…” Monica added, steeling herself again fear. “Use every chance to prevent citizen death. But don’t hesitate, if you have to.”
All of that was true, but it seemed so cold.
“You never hesitate,” Warren said, squeezing her hands.
“Villains are one thing, but what about citizens? What happens when a citizen dies on a hero’s watch?”
Warren looked troubled. They’d lost a few people when they’d been EMTs together, and that had been bad enough. Seeing someone’s eyes close for the last time was chilling, and when you were supposed to be responsible for their lives, it was devastating.
“You know, Will talked to us about this one time-,” Warren started.
“Will never lost anyone!” Monica said sharply.
“His grandfather did… It’s a long story, but the Iron Fist had a choice between saving a small town, or letting a nuclear device burn over half the eastern seaboard. He was the only person who could make that decision, and he didn’t have more than a split second to think. He had to go with his gut reaction to save as many people as he could,” Warren explained.
Monica clenched her jaw. “We’re still working on our ‘heroes’ gut,’” she said without humor.
“You. Can. Do. This,” Warren said emphatically. “You’ve been doing it fine. Westville doesn’t hate you. You know that.”
Monica finally took three deep breaths, and tried to let her anxiety flow out of her. She didn’t need to lay this on Warren’s shoulders right before the conventions, but he was the only one she knew she could talk to about this. The only one who could give her a fighting hero’s perspective on everything, who could break down “being good” to a few, tiny, fundamental steps.
And besides, he was the only one who’d vowed to be with her in good times as well as bad, which included last-minute heroic panic attacks.
“Ok,” she said finally, squeezing his hands back, feeling their intense warmth radiate into her. “I’m ok.”
Warren only smiled at her and slowly stood up.
“And you better get your grabable ass back to the rest of your team, or you won’t get to D.C. in time,” she added with a mischievous smile, and grinned to see Warren wince.
“Don’t remind me. Are you sure I can’t just stay here?” he pleaded.
“Bureau wouldn’t like it. Go on!” Monica said, tugging him towards the door. He leaned down for a quick kiss, a fast exchange of, “I love yous,” and he was gone.
Monica sighed silently when he had gone; as soon as he shut the door behind him, she had to put on a mask. Her team was depending on her. Less than three months out of the academy, half a month as active heroes, and she had a lifetime of work ahead of her.
She hadn’t gone into great detail about the Redeemers’ training and trust building, mostly because her team valued their privacy. It was more than learning how to fight together, it was learning how to trust each other, and how to overcome their individual fears.
Monica knew them all, in far greater detail than anyone should, from their time together in her workroom at the academy. Quint didn’t want Warren to hear about how he was trying to overcome simultaneous fears of closed spaces and crowds of people, or how hard he had to work to tolerate a rider. Particularly when Monica was that rider. Brittany didn’t want other heroes to know about her trust issues, Michael didn’t want to broadcast his depressively low self-esteem, and Ash didn’t want anyone, including her, to know he hid his problems of inadequacy behind a blustering façade. And Warren definitely didn’t need to witness what they were about to do to Duke.
“Ash, let’s go!” Monica called upstairs. Grumbling, Ash made his way to the basement, followed by the newly arrived Quint, who was carrying a box that squeaked pathetically.
Duke was already sitting in the middle of the basement floor, knees drawn up to his chest, snake hair unbound. Brittany and Michael were already standing at a respectful distance, out of strike range, arms crossed nervously.
“Ready?” Monica asked Duke softly.
“Yeah,” he said tonelessly.
Quinto opened up the box to reveal a dozen mice. “Poor little guys,” he said, shaking his head slightly.
“Hungry head, get over it,” Duke snapped.
Monica reached into the box, grabbed a wriggling mouse, and threw it towards Duke. One of the snakes snatched it from mid-air and began to swallow. Duke grimaced, and Monica could feel the utterly bizarre pain of having part of your head stretching and gulping something down.
“How much do you need?” she asked. This wasn’t easy, and she’d channeled the pain for this exercise several times before.
“Just take the edge off,” he said tersely, and Monica’s skin darkened with pain energy as she drew away the sharpest edge of agony. This wasn’t easy for Duke, but every time they did this, he got more control over his curse. The snake used to be less a part of him, more like angry parasites, and they’d strike anyone who got within range. It literally made it worth your life to get within an arm’s reach of him.
But by trying to accept his curse, or at least work with it, he got better at control. It was changing him; she could see a stronger green tint to his skin sometimes, and the echo-like quality of his voice was more prominent now, but even that was better than being unable to touch anyone.
This was probably the weirdest thing she did for her team, but it was also the least she could do. All of them had problems, phobias, neuroses, and other issues, many of the exacerbated by Painbreaker when they had been in the academy. She owed it to them to try any idea to help them out. Even if it involved feeding Duke’s head.
Everyone took a turn feeding the snakes a mouse; Monica had made this as much a team bonding exercise as a test of personal nerve. It made Duke feel less singled out if he wasn’t the only one doing something odd. It was the same when Brittany had to practice using her powers; they had to trust her not to drop them or mash them into the ceiling. All of them had to learn to trust the others, with anything.
They didn’t need the public to know their problems. Half of what make you an effective superpower, hero or villain, was appearances. Just appearing to be in control was often enough in public. That’s what exercises like this were about. They couldn’t have Meduka standing off to one side during a team photograph and warning off everyone around him, or Nightsteed freaking out if someone wanted to pet him when they met their fans, or Bruin choking up during an interview.
Once the mice were gone, Ash left almost immediately with only the most perfunctory of good-byes. To all intents and purposes, he was the most stable of the Redeemers both mentally and powers-wise, and he took advantage of those facts to have a broad a social life as he could.
Of course, he didn’t bother to tell her where he was going. Punk. She’d catch him later.
Duke wouldn’t leave the basement until he’d had time to do his own private exercises with his curse, whatever that was, and everyone else left him in peace. Brittany and Quint left together, heading for his paddock. Monica was almost certain about those two, but hoped she wouldn’t have to say anything. She couldn’t very well speak out against them without looking like a hypocrite. And in most ways she was glad they were trying things out together. She just hoped it wouldn’t affect them in combat. Supervillains were very good at compartmentalizing, at least the successful ones were, and that was one trait Monica didn’t mind co-opting for the Redeemers.
Warren trained with his friends from a stance of mutual like and respect. Monica trained her team as both a superior officer and pleading supplicant, based more on necessity and trust given, rather than trust gained. Monica was not, strictly speaking, friends with the Redeemers. They were her assigned colleagues, students, fellow heroes, and her penance.
Between each other, at least, her teammates were having actual friendships. Monica was their leader and their den mother, not their friend. Considering how she’d met most of them, it would have been a new and interesting level of being screwed up if they had tried to be friends.
Going back upstairs, Monica resolutely tried to concentrate on some Bureau reports, in the back of her mind wondering if the Redeemers were going to be needed tonight
Much later that night…
Monica tapped the fifth speed-dial button on her phone with a feeling of exasperation. Being the leader of a team of converted supervillains wasn’t easy even at the best of times, and at its worst, had her holding onto her morals with her teeth and toenails to avoid doing something she’d regret. But holding back her urge to revert to academy discipline was a cakewalk compared to the seemingly simple task of trying to keep her team together sometimes.
“Yo!” Ash’s businesslike casualness had a tendency to grate to anyone who had to spend more than a day in his presence. For those unfortunate enough to have to live with him, it was a constant uphill battle.
“Ash, where are you?” Monica asked, trying to leave the bite out of her voice that would turn it into a demand. Background noise of music and shouting voices let her know damn well where he was, but she held her peace.
“Does it matter?” he asked in return, the cockiness in his voice and stifled feminine giggles in the background letting her know that he was probably rolling his eyes at whatever girl he’d taken to Club Skylife.
Monica repressed the urge to start swearing and yelling. It wasn’t that she begrudged him a night out, or having a date. It was the fact that this was the seventh time in ten days, and he had yet to inform her of where he was going or when he’d be back during any of those occasions.
“Yes, because I need to know where you are in case we get a call,” she said with poisonous sweetness.
“You’re not my mom. I’ve never shown up late yet, have I?” It wasn’t that the comments were typical of a rebellious teenager, or the tone of voice might have sounded better on a snotty Ivy League graduate, but the fact that Ash never varied his script that had Monica approximately two minutes from wanting to march down to the club and haul him out by the hair.
If she kept up with the questioning, he’d come up with reasonable answers to all her protests until she’d talked herself into a corner, and then hang up on her when his date wanted to dance. Yes, he’d never been late to an emergency call. Yes, he didn’t need transport like the rest of the team. Yes, there’d been an occasion where he’d actually shown up before the rest of the team and had subdued Toxic Vixen by himself.
But that didn’t make up for ditching the rest of the team whenever he felt like it. Duke couldn’t leave the house because of his powers, and Brittany never left because she was just too recognizable, even out of her costume. Michael’s choice of a “fun activity” usually involved more hard labor than the rest of the team wanted to deal with (chopping wood or making hunter’s blinds for the local hunting store did not appeal to any other of the Redeemers). And quiet Quint didn’t like Club Skylife. Monica would, and if Ash weren’t such a pretentious jerk, she would have invited Warren along…
“I’m not your mom, Ash. I’m your leader. I’m not asking you to stop being a player, or stop going out, I’m asking you to show me the common courtesy of letting me know where Flamewing is going to be in the next three hours!” she said, the last with enough emphasis that she should have melted the phone.
There were a few beats of silence, respectful silence, broken only by the background thumping of the music.
“Club Skylife. Seriously, where else would I be? Not like there’s anything else to do in Westville…” Ash said with a bare hint of contrition. Monica savored the small victory, but Ash’s voice suddenly changed from reluctant contrition to hard-suppressed nerves.
“Blue Blazes is here,” he said, and hung up.
Monica didn’t need to hear any more than that. Ash, by dubious virtue of having been the only Redeemer that had ever been a fully willing supervillain, recognized more villains on sight than the rest of the team combined. He didn’t know everyone, but there was a good cross-section that rarely got past his radar. He must have partied with a good quarter of the known supervillain world.
And Blue Blazes, according to Ash’s stories, never left a party until he had set a building on fire. No need to wait for the mayor’s call on this one.
Monica slapped a button on the wall, tripping an alarm all over the house. By the time she’d get to the Sanctum downstairs, the rest of the Redeemers would know to be there, in costume. She ran to meet them, vaulting over the landing and even sliding down the banister in an attempt to get their first. As usual, everyone else beat her there. Though very fit, Mercy was still the physically weakest of the Redeemers. She made up for it being the toughest mentally.
“Blue Blazes is at Skylife. Flamewing will meet us there,” she greeted them, pulling her charcoal-gray mask into place. Meduka rolled his eyes behind his own thin domino mask, and the others made exasperated noises. “No casualties yet, but I don’t mind getting ahead of the game on this one. Voidhammer, go!”
This was where their years at the academy combined with the intense teamwork of the past two and a half months came into place. For all Monica’s concerns, when push came to shove, the Redeemers delivered.
A hatch opened in the ceiling of the Redeemer’s Sanctum, revealing the cloudless night sky. With a downward gesture to reverse gravity, Voidhammer launched the Redeemers into the air. Voidhammer’s gravity manipulation abilities made for fast transport, but it took some getting used to. They had to “fall” upwards to gain height, and then “fell” sideways to travel where they wanted to go, with Voidhammer changing the orientation of the “ground” to steer. It was like skydiving without a parachute, like being trapped in a dream of falling without being able to wake up. Frankly, it was terrifying.
Mercy never thought she’d want to see Cutter again before working with Voidhammer. Cutter might be a crazy, sadistic bitch, but at least her teleports didn’t leave you wondering if you were going to projectile vomit when you finally faced the bad guys.
The city of Westville flashed below them, streetlights and signs illuminating the way. Club Skylife was near the city center, and all too visible from the spotlights stabbing skyward. The place was an open-air club, with multi-level transparent dance floors. Clever use of fans or heaters made it tolerable in any season, and clever use of roof baffles deflected most rain and snow. It was popular and always packed, which would make the Redeemers’ job harder. All those high dance floors (the equivalent of VIP rooms) would be hard to evacuate, even if most of them were maybe a quarter of the size of the huge ground floor. There were so many ways to fall…
Voidhammer sent the Redeemers into a null-gee hover over the club, hunting for any sign of Blue Blazes’ distinctive azure flame. Blazes’ powers were extremely chaotic, rarely manifesting in the same way twice, other than the fact they always involved blue fire somehow. Flight, telekinesis, super-strength, true pyrokinesis, one never knew what he was going to throw at you, hence his name, from the expression, “What in the blue blazes?”
It only took a moment for Blue Blazes to show himself. As if the Redeemers’ unseen arrival had been a signal, a column of blue fire appeared in the middle of the club, bearing the supervillain aloft. A second later, golden-orange wings of fire flew to harass him, to give him a target other than the club’s patrons. Whatever else Ash’s vices, as Flamewing he wasn’t a coward.
“Go!” Mercy shouted, and braced herself for nausea as Voidhammer plunged the Redeemers to the ground, passing close enough to the dueling flamists to make them both falter. The rest of the Redeemers had to be on the ground so Voidhammer could give her powers free play.
The floor of the club was pure chaos as they landed, with people screaming and pointing up, running in all directions, and generally in a full-fledged panic. Panic that was only slightly mitigated by the Redeemers’ presence.
“Everyone out now!” Meduka bellowed, nearly in chorus with Bruin. Their loud voices broke through the din, and someone, somewhere, had the presence of mind to turn off the music.
Clubbers ran for the exits as the Redeemers tried to keep the doorways from getting clogged, and helping out those that had gotten hurt from the general panic. But more patrons were trapped on the raised pyramid of dance floors, wisely having decided not to move while Blue Blazes and Flamewing dueled for aerial supremacy.
Flamewing tried to keep himself between Blue Blazes and the cowering clubbers, feinting and slashing at him with his wings. If asked later why he’d been so eager to be a living shield, he’d likely respond with something like, “So all the ladies could get a good look at my glutes.” Ash played a better hero on TV than in face-to-face interviews.
Voidhammer soared up to start bringing the patrons to the ground, and Blue Blazes looked around to see the rapidly emptying club. He snarled in frustration before getting an evil smile on his face.
“Let’s see how you like playing with fire!” he roared, and heaved two huge fireballs, one straight down to the ground, and the other right at Voidhammer.
Mercy shouted as the fireball impacted into the ground, thankfully not hitting anyone, resolving into two huge, four-legged, toothy lizards, like supersized blue-scaled komodo dragons, which began to attack the panicked patrons. The one above them burst over Voidhammer, scorching her mechanical suit, before forming into what looked like an enormous, blue-scaled eagle. With horns. With a screech, it began to rip at Voidhammer, and she had to focus all her concentration on fending it off.
“Let’s ride!” Mercy called, not as a retreat, but for one of their attack strategies. And what the hell is that power? Flame conjuration? Mercy thought inanely.
She ran after Nightsteed, while Meduka ran after Bruin, all of them pelting for the lizards. Mercy grabbed for a band on the back of Nightsteed’s costume as she leapt, looking like she was about to leap-frog him, as he shifted into his stallion form. She clung for all she was worth as he charged one of the lizards. On the heels of the other lizard was Bruin, Meduka hanging on grimly to the shaggy bear-back. Bruin’s fur was thick enough to mostly deflect Meduka’s snake fangs if there were any accidents, and Meduka was the only one in the group strong enough to keep himself from falling off a galloping grizzly.
Together the two teams lashed out at the lizards with claws and hooves, Mercy trying enhancing the pain of each of Nightsteed’s kicks, and Meduka swinging himself around close enough for his snakes to bite their foes. Both Mercy and Meduka carried stun rays, but they were virtually impossible to use while riding. Nightsteed couldn’t tolerate a saddle after his time at the academy; he could barely tolerate a balancing strap for Mercy, so she had to spend more concentration and strength riding than aiming. And no one had figured out how to get any kind of riding gear on Bruin. He didn’t have the control to leave things out his shift like Nightsteed.
The club patrons on the floor had managed to clear out after the lizards had been distracted by the Redeemers, finally leaving the place to the super-battle. The terrified VIP clubbers still clung to the suspended floors above, watching the four-way fight with wide eyes. Flamewing and Blue Blazes were spiraling around each other, dipping and weaving through the dangling dance-floors.
Mercy knew she couldn’t possibly help the people up above until these damn lizards were dealt with. She hung on for dear life as Nightsteed shied away from the lizard’s claws and kicked him hard in the side. Again she tried to send black pain energy to turn a powerful hit into a crippling strike that would floor the creature, but it wasn’t working. She could barely feel any pain out of the lizard at all. Whatever it was, it wasn’t something she could deal with.
“Nightsteed, you’re on your own!” she called, and turned her attention to the rest of her team. Though she couldn’t aid the battle directly, Mercy could make her team fight longer and harder than they could normally. Minor injuries wouldn’t slow them down, not as long as she could take the pain herself. She sent her pain-sense stabbing in all directions, evaluating the state of her team with cool calculation. Minor cuts and bruises that might slow someone down, she channeled to her. Abrasions, even cracked ribs, anything that wasn’t major, anything that could impede their ability to fight Blue Blazes’ creations and save the clubbers, she took onto herself. The Redeemers knew they’d pay for this later, when it all hit them at once, but during a fight, it was priceless to be able to fight without distraction.
Bruin finally managed to corner his lizard and all but fell on it, digging his jaws deep and roaring when it exploded into hot ashes and blew away. Nightsteed twisted underneath her, rearing up when the lizard scuttled in to try to hamstring him, and crashed down upon its head with all his and Mercy’s weight. It vanished into stinging sparks, and finally the rest of the team could spare a glance upward.
Flamewing and Blue Blazes were close to the top of the club, and Voidhammer was still entangled with her eagle, but she was trying to use their tangle of bodies to slam as close to Blue Blazes as she could get every time. The rest of the team had a tiny window to get the clubbers off the raised floor, if they did it fast.
“Let’s move!” she bellowed, sliding off Nightsteed’s back, and heard her cry being taken up by the others. Nightsteed and Bruin, both unshifted, all but leapt onto the first raised dance floor and began to steer people down the shaking stairs. Running up, Mercy and Meduka did the same for the upper floors, prying people’s hands away from the railings and getting them to move.
“Come on, you have to get out of here, down the stairs, out the door, come on,” Mercy chanted over and over, hearing Meduka match her almost word for word. He held onto control very tightly, his snakes pressed to his scalp as he gently pushed the clubbers in the direction of the stairs.
Someone screamed, and Mercy instinctively dodged as something rained down from above. Sparing a glance up, the aerial battle had taken a turn for the worst as all four combatants slammed into the huge metal rain baffles, knocking the plates loose to fall into the club. If a bigger piece hit the dance floors, or God forbid, the support cables…
“Go, go, go!” Meduka yelled, and chivvied the clubbers ahead of him, Mercy right on his heels as they frantically began to run back down the stairs.
Crash! The floors titled dangerously, and Mercy could feel pain from up above as someone took a hard crack to the ribs.
The clubbers were sliding and shrieking as a couple of them actually slid right off the third story. Nightsteed and Bruin caught them and practically tossed them right out the door into the hands of slightly calmer citizens that were helping them get the rest of the VIPs out.
Something shattered up above, and the Redeemers sprinted down the last set of stairs, shoving the clubbers to safety as the floors collapsed. Nightsteed and Bruin sprang to the sides as the floors came down, Meduka and Mercy leaping high as they could to wrench themselves away from the worst of the debris. The few remaining clubbers leapt with them, all but two, who zigged instead of zagged.
Mercy could feel an agonized burst of pain from them as they were buried, bodies mortally wounded in a dozen different ways-. Then it stopped. Just ceased, as if a switch had been turned off. Mercy froze. They were dead. Everyone in the whole club had been watching them, and the Redeemers had failed. When she looked upward, the eagle had disappeared into a shower of sparks, and Blue Blazes was burning away through the night sky.
No! No, no, no!
There were identical expressions of panic on everyone’s faces, and Mercy had never been so thankful for the fact she wore a full-face mask. By sounding calm, maybe she could prevent a riot. Blue Blazes was gone, they probably wouldn’t be able to catch him, but they had to do something here.
“Help me,” she whispered to the others, her voice firm. Slowly, Nightsteed, Bruin, and Meduka moved the rubble covering the dead clubbers before Voidhammer’s frantic voice from above stopped them.
“Blue Blazes, come on!” she cried. Mercy and the rest of the Redeemers found themselves born suddenly aloft. “We have to go!”
Mercy was launched with the others before she could even protest, and quickly scanned the skies for any sign of Blue Blazes. Maybe Voidhammer had spotted him nearby, and there was still a chance they could capture him…
“Where did you see him?” Mercy asked.
“Flying north like had a turbo jetpack. He’s long gone by now,” Flamewing said flatly.
Mercy wasn’t sure she’d heard that right.
“So what are we doing up here?”
“We have to get out! People died, it’s over. We’re through,” Quint said, shuddering.
“Yeah, I’m not hanging around to find out how long they’re going to jail us. We have to get out of here!” Voidhammer said nervously.
Mercy looked back at Club Skylife receding in the distance. Saw, in her mind’s eye, the clubbers that had actually stayed to try to help the rescue. To try to help the Redeemers. Remembered the few citizens that had cheered them after a fight, the few that sent them fan mail. She weighed that against those that disapproved, wrote hate mail. And she weighed all of that against being fugitives, after all the chances they’d been given.
“No, we have to go back,” she said with conviction.
“Look, you fucking promised!” Flamewing snarled.
Mercy felt a shard of ice in her gut. She had made the Redeemers a promise, right after the academy fight, that if the Bureau didn’t work out, she’d help them stay free. She had sworn that on her heart’s blood as atonement for her crimes against them, and in recognition of their courage to stand against the academy. She’d sworn it again to them later, saying that as long as they stayed on the side of right, there was nothing she wouldn’t do to keep them free.
That was supposed to take priority over everything.
Even her husband.
But they weren’t at that impasse yet. “Would you all stop imploding the building before it’s condemned?” she snapped.
Voidhammer stopped dead, listening.
“Dammit Redeemers, we didn’t do anything wrong. We did everything we possibly could to save them. There were just too many. A few steps to the right, and we would have died,” Mercy said.
“They saw us run, they’ll think we’re cowards,” Bruin moaned.
“No!” she said firmly, with a whipcrack inflection they all knew well. It was the tone of voice she’d used on them back when most of them had been her “work,” and it never failed to bring instant obedience. She didn’t like to use it, and they were better at standing up to her now, questioning her, but it was still something that never failed to get their immediate and undivided attention.
“We had yet to lose anyone until now. We’re superheroes, not gods, remember that. The people will understand.”
Warren, please, be right about this.
“How do you know? What if they don’t?” Nightsteed asked piteously. Bruin shuddered.
“Villains run when the going gets tough. Heroes stay. Let’s go back and show them we’re heroes,” Mercy said persuasively.
“Seriously screwed-up heroes,” Flamewing muttered. Nightsteed’s laugh at that was almost a bray.
“We have to keep trying. We knew this wouldn’t be easy. Come on, Voidhammer, take us back,” Mercy said.
Bruin sucked in a deep breath. “We have to get those kids back to their families,” he said, nodding sadly.
“And try to figure out why Blue Blazes was there tonight,” Meduka added, looking more thoughtful.
“Ok, then let’s go back and do that,” Mercy urged, and sighed in relief as Voidhammer got them back to Club Skylife.
As they touched down a second time, the now-present cops along with the clubbers look at them in confusion, some faces already showing signs of accusation.
“We went after Blue Blazes, but he escaped,” Mercy said quietly in explanation, bowing her head. The expressions around them immediately softened. It was more or less the truth; full disclosure wouldn’t help anything.
Carefully, the Redeemers moved the rubble, revealing the bodies of the two citizens they hadn’t been able to save. Bruin and Voidhammer picked them up and gently lay them on the waiting gurneys, their heads bowed along with the rest of the team.
“Are you ok?” a police officer asked, startling Mercy out of her reverie.
“No,” she said frankly, running a hand over her mask and cowl.
The officer nodded and held his hat between his hands as the bodies were covered and carefully taken out.
“The kids here told me how you battled those creatures, and how you got damn near everyone out of the club before things got bad. You even beat the mayor’s call,” the officer said.
“One of us was already here and recognized Blazes,” Mercy said tonelessly. Not many people recognized supervillains out of costume unless they themselves were supervillains. It was an unwelcome reminder of the Redeemers’ origins.
“Ah. We’d wondered,” the officer said, his voice neutral.
Mercy turned to see some of the bolder clubbers around her teammates, their expressions apologetic, and also euphoric at having escaped death. Reporters moved in the crowd, and Mercy quickly disentangled herself from the police to help field questions.
She looked at the faces of everyone in the crowd as her team explained their fight, seeing no hatred in the faces of the reporters, hearing no malice in their questions, not when the Redeemers were battered and bloody and bruised from having given everything they had, everything they’d trained for, to try to save the citizens that had welcomed them, origins and all. Some people in the crowd were still looking disapproving, even scowling, but no one was denying their right to be here, to have saved the entire club from being burned to the ground. Mercy knew they were going to get hard questions about this, from the reporters and from the Bureau, but there was one thing the saw in the crowd that gave her hope.
Curiously, not a single person amongst them was carrying stones.