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War and Peace In Mind, Chapter 12: Interlude, Cutter's Crew
Sky High
Drama/Sci-Fi

Interlude: Cutter's Crew

Author’s Note: And now for something completely different, my dear readers. A songfic of Linkin Park’s “Numb” focusing on how Cutter’s Crew was gathered together, along with a few brief training vignettes from Royal Pain’s villains’ academy, along with a mirror of the battle in the previous chapter from the point of view of Cutter’s Crew. I know that battle was somewhat confusing, particularly near the end, because I was constrained to a single viewpoint in a fifteen-person combat, and my narrator was blind for half of it. Hopefully this will clarify the Homecoming fight somewhat. If you couldn’t care less about Cutter’s Crew, or hate songfic with a passion, then I pray your indulgence and direct you to the next chapter where our regular story continues.
I’m tired of being what you want me to be…

“Dad, I’m tired of doing this!” Kristina Cutter folded her arms rebelliously, ignoring the skimpy sequined costume on the rack behind her.

“It’s almost showtime Crissy, can’t we talk about this later?” her dad asked tiredly. They had this argument at least once a day, sometimes more if there was more than one show.

“No we can’t because it always ends up the same way. I’m sick of wearing these stupid costumes, sick of this whole damn life! You never let me in on any of the missions, never even let me use my powers in the show-“

“Be quiet! You want the whole circus to hear you? We’re in hiding for a reason Crissy, because-“

“Because you botched your last job and had to lay low! You keep saying you want me to be better, but you never let me!” she yelled.

“Crissy…” her dad said coaxingly.

“No! I’m not doing it this time,” she snapped, and turned and walked out of the tent. Behind her, her father sighed and left the opposite way.

Cutter waited only until she was out of sight of the tents before starting to teleport. Maybe her dad refused to let her use her powers except when they were alone, but she had learned enough to get out of there fast, at least. The circus had been in town long enough for her to have her own hideaway out here, a small grove of trees cut off from the world. It was small, quiet, private, and the perfect place for her to practice throwing. If her dad wouldn’t let her go with him when he got his jobs… well maybe she would just make her own way.

The Vanisher wasn’t really powerful, as supervillains went anyway. Sure, line-of-sight teleportation was fairly nifty, if you knew how to use it right, but her dad had no guts. In fact, he was a coward. That was why he acted as a damn “escape car driver” for other villains that actually had the balls to pull off some real capers. Cutter knew she would have been living the high life by now if her dad ever let her do anything other than just smile and throw steel in his pathetic magic acts.

It was her knife throwing that brought the real attention anyway, and she knew it. The looks of awe she got weren’t entirely due to her abbreviated costume. She had begged throwing lessons from the last trick knife thrower the circus had before he retired, and now did the throws in her father’s little magic act. It was the one thing she did very well, and she practiced obsessively. Hitting the target blindfolded, or backwards, or while spinning was even getting too easy, and she wanted to try adding teleporting between throws to give herself a challenge. Predictably, her father found this too dangerous.

Dangerous for him, maybe. I can take care of myself. What did it matter that she was only thirteen? She had the fighting skill, super powers, and twice the brains of most living supervillains. She could be living the easy life, taking what the world owed her, but couldn’t because her father was a damn coward! Snarling to herself, she took out her knives, closed her eyes, and began throwing, smiling each time she heard the blade strike wood.

“Very impressive,” a deep, metallic voice said behind her. Cutter whirled and stared at the cloaked and helmeted figure standing there, and unthinkingly two knives were in her hands.

“I understand you find the circus life a little too confining, Cutter. What if I were to offer you something better? Something all your own? Something different than being the daughter of a half-failed super villain?”

Perhaps she should be angry with this person for insulting her father… but she couldn’t. The Vanisher was a failure; he was barely more than a joke. Cutter lowered her knives in interest.

“I’m listening…”



Feeling so faithless
Lost under the surface

Monica Keller was in a battle royal with her own conscience, and this time she was winning.

You know what you can do. You’re killing them a little at a time, all to make yourself feel better.

But after they feel the pain I give them, the rest of their pains are so small by comparison that they get better faster. I’m doing them a favor!

You just keep telling yourself that. You know you like to hear them scream.

No! No I don’t, it’s just therapy…

For them or you? You’re sick Monica, you’re sicker than they are. You argue with yourself because no one else will do it. You’re too weak to stop on your own, because everyone is terrified of you.

I need to do this. Once they break through their pain barrier they always get better.

Or they die or go insane.

It’s not like that!

“Ms. Keller? I understand you’re the pain therapist?”

Monica looked up from her own internal argument, surprised to see the young woman standing in front of her desk.

“Yes, that’s me.

“I have a proposition for you, maybe something that you’ve been looking for for a long time…”


I don't know what you're expecting of me

 

“What am I supposed to be doing?” Frieda Olaf snapped at her father.

“Learning. You have my powers, so you need to learn my skills. Now try again.”

“I don’t have your powers, not exactly.”

“But you will Frieda, and you must be ready.”

He can’t honestly expect me to do this well, can he? I’m more likely to break if I swing that axe. I’m like Mom, I have bird bones. She had her father’s red hair and fiery temper to match, but she had not inherited his build. The Berserker was a giant amongst men, massive and muscular as the Vikings of old. Frieda already matched him in height, but was skeletally thin and frail-looking.

It wasn’t that she didn’t want to learn how to fight, but Frieda was barely competent with her father’s chosen weapon, and was getting no better despite her practicing. And every time he forced the same lessons on her, she felt the walls around her closing in. It was her mother’s blood, the curse of her twin powers. Her mother’s ability to shapeshift into an eagle gave her a disinclination for the closed spaces in her own house. And her father’s powers…

Her father had yet to invoke his berserker rage on her to get her to fight “properly,” and Frieda knew it was only a matter of time before his own temper caught up with him at his daughter’s lack of progress. He said he wanted her to have skills with weapons before he did any “real” sparring with her.

She didn’t care to be around when he finally lost his temper; she’d seen him go through a solid wooden wall without even breaking a sweat when the rage was on him. And if she dared to invoke the rage in him to relieve her own frustration… He’d kill me. Damnit, if I dared I’d do it... I don’t know how he handles it day-in, day-out. It’s like fire in my chest sometimes. I want to use it, and I’d even want to use his bloody axe, but there’s no way in hell I can learn when I’m trapped in here with him!

She left the only way she knew how, diving for the window and out, shifting on the way down, and soaring up on eagle’s wings. The roar of outrage behind her showed she was really going to regret that little stunt later, but now the freedom of the skies called. If she had to spend another minute trying to master a weapon she couldn’t lift with powers she wasn’t allowed to use…

She soared and wheeled above the forests surrounding her father’s lair, and only dived down when she spied something interesting. A young woman, a brunette, along with a man old enough to be her dad, were walking casually along one of the game trails in the woods. Frieda’s sharp eyes could spy no weapons on them, and she landed in the tree above to watch them. To her surprise, the woman turned to watch her land… and gestured for her to come down.

“Frieda, I know you don’t know me, but I know a little something about you. I have something perhaps you’d like to hear…”


Put under the pressure
Of walking in your shoes

 

“Try again Lawrence. Calling the wind is just like calling the lightning, but with less force behind it. You can’t just go around blasting indiscriminately; you know that. Now, once again…”

Lawrence O’Brien stood on the wind-swept mountaintop, his arms stretched to the sky, his whole body straining to make the breakthrough his mother promised him was just around the corner. He had been able to call lightning since he was ten, but his mother, the Stormwitch, was absolutely certain he’d get the rest of her weather control powers.

She was so damn certain it would happen, but it hasn’t, he thought to himself. For three years he had tried and practiced, standing out here in all weathers, all but begging for the powers his mother swore he had. The Stormwitch had even dragged him along on her own trips, hoping that the stress of combat would force the breakthrough, but nothing had happened. Nothing helped, no wind answered his call, no rain fell at his command, no snow fled from his thoughts. Only the white-hot lightning had ever come at his bidding. Sure he had managed to toast a few meddling do-gooders, but his mother never approved.

Frustrated at yet another day spent in fruitless, pointless concentration and disappointment, Lawrence opened his thoughts to the power in the sky and called the lightning down. The mountain was crowned with a fantastic display of fiery fury, and for a few brief moments, a smile crossed his face. He turned to see his mother, and his heart sank into his shoes. She simply stood by, scowling at him until his display was done. Then she turned her back on him deliberately.

“You’ll never amount to anything if you keep up these childish displays. Learn what I teach you or you’ll never inherit my title,” she said scornfully as she walked away.

The Stormwitch had made a very comfortable life for herself, built off the tributes (never bribes or ransom, that would have been crass) she received to protect those around her from terrible storms. She was dead-set on her son following in her footsteps, on taking over the family business, hence the endless testing and training no matter what Lawrence wanted.

He closed his eyes, fighting back tears, lingering on the mountaintop until he was certain she was gone. Then he felt eyes on him from behind, and whirled. A strange figure, armored and traced with intricate gold circuitry, stood before him, its hands out to its side.

“Perhaps you would rather be in a place where you would be the best at what you do well, rather than third rate in what you can never be…”


Caught in the undertow / Just caught in the undertow

 

Park Ranger Michael Lewis turned away from the mutilated carcass of the bear, a familiar anger filling him. Far too many times for his comfort trophy hunters had managed to get into the park and claim their “big prize of a lifetime.” In this case it was the massive paws and teeth of a sub-adult grizzly, a young bear just barely a few years away from his mother.

Why can’t they leave them alone? Don’t they know what can happen to them? Have they forgotten the last time already?

Ranger Lewis kept heading deeper into the woods, following the hunter’s trail. When it went cold, he took a deep breath and let the change come over him. He didn’t know why he could do this, why he could take on the form of a grizzly bear, but in an obscure way he was grateful. He was a freak of nature, no one knew he could do this, but he couldn’t have done his job without this strange power.

With his bear’s nose he sniffed out the trail, the blood now clear on the wind, and began to gallop. The greedy bastard that had dared to shed blood on park land wouldn’t be able to resist two such prizes, though he wouldn’t realize until it was too late that the hunt was going the other way entirely.

This time the hunt was short, the hunter weak and terrified. Lewis took his time and made sure the body (and the gruesome trophies) would be found. Remorse came to him far too late, as usual, and his delayed conscience yammered at him that the deaths he created, while viscerally satisfying, only made more trouble for the bears. He’d agonize over it later… he always did.

“Ranger Lewis? I believe you and I had much to discuss.” A slender young woman, dressed in an outrageous costume, stood before him in his path. She addressed his bear form by his real name, showing no fear whatsoever. Lewis froze in terror. He had kept his strange power and secret hunts to himself for years. How had she found out about them? And what price would she demand for her silence?


Every step that I take is another mistake to you

 

“What is your problem? This is the third time in three months I’ve had to bail you out!” Alan “Viper” Roberts stood in the exact center of his living room while his father, King Cobra, paced around him, yellow eyes staring and accusing. This got worse with every confrontation, and Viper wasn’t sure how much more he could take.

“You always said no one could stand up to us. I was just trying to get that guy’s head on straight-“

“By poisoning him? You have the foresight of a mayfly, the maturity of a spoiled kindergartener, and the impulse control of a spastic strobe light. You’ve caused me nothing but trouble since you powered up, Alan, and I’m sick of it!” Viper clenched his jaw as anger flashed through him. The thick, heavy poison in his veins surged with him, seeking an outlet, seeking to destroy. His father’s powers of poison seemed to extend to his poisonous words as well; he always knew exactly what to say to hurt his son the worst. And the same damn powers protected him from his son’s retribution.

There was nothing he could do; he had no money, no education, no life outside his father’s patronage, and that was wearing thin. He found himself locked in his room, grounded and forbidden to leave or even answer the phone. Caged, Viper switched on his computer, wanting to write hateful letters to all of his friends… if he had any friends… damn it!

Yet there was something waiting for him, a curious e-mail from someone he did not recognize…


I’ve
Become so numb

 

Michael Lewis roared again and charged the other shapechanger. The guy was an ape, literally, a gorilla, nearly as massive as Lewis and far more agile. Rage burst within him when he felt fangs sink into his shoulder, and he put his head down, bull rushing the gorilla, his thick fur turning away the worst of the bite. Once he used to take down poachers, once he used to justify his actions, he remembered that. But now… Survive the next fight, survive, because you know what happens to your sister, your job, your life if you fail. Roaring, Lewis charged again.

How Royal Pain had found him, he was only now beginning to understand. Many of the people here were the children of supervillains. Real supervillains, the ones that people like the Commander fought on TV and saved cities from. Apparently the children of the heroes were taught in some kind of school, something Royal Pain was making an opposite of. A supervillain academy, filled first with the children of villains, rather than heroes. And then filled out with people like him. People who thought they were freaks, unique, born with powers that they didn’t understand. And when they found they had them, they hid them instead of using them.

That put them under the radar of the Bureau of Superpowered Affairs, which only had so much manpower to investigate every strange occurrence. But Royal Pain apparently had limitless money, time, and patience, and scoured every record, every discrepancy within those records, searching for the signs of a concealed super-powered being. How many she had sifted through before she found the few genuine ones, he didn’t know, but it had to be a lot. She had not taken no for an answer when she found him, having quickly found all his weaknesses and used them ruthlessly.

His baby sister was still in college, and it was Michael’s job that helped pay for some of her tuition. His own job was one that he loved and did well. The twin clubs of exposure of his secret to his family and the loss of his job were more than sufficient to cow him. And now he found himself run harder than ever before, literally fighting for his life, in more ways than one, every day…


I can't feel you there

 

Become so tired

“Again Monica. You want your title, you have to earn it. Break them, break them with pain.”

Monica did not sigh, only watched the two pitiful forms on the floor with a sad and distant feeling of pity. She liked using her powers… but the consequences of them… She learned to not be moved, to shut out the screams, to only feel the flow of power. She had to; there was nothing else. She was a shadow, to be taken along with whoever would give her power its purchase. It was the only way to keep going.

It hadn’t been this way at the hospital; it didn’t need to be. There her power could flow strongly and without interruption, because everybody there was in pain. Here it was harder, and the longer she went without using it, the worse the backlash became. That was why she was the tester, the torturer. Students that failed tests of character, of skill, of will, they became subjects for Monica’s own studies. Was it so bad she was so good at it?


So much more aware

 

Viper had never been so tired in his life, but when he shoved his hair out of his face and saw the time on the clock, he smiled. So maybe this academy didn’t allow him much free time, maybe the rules were harsh, but the rewards… He was the winner in this little game, and the punishment for the loser got to be administered by the victor. The poison was singing in his veins as he strode across the floor, ready to merge and boil within the blood of the loser of this race.

His father had never told him that his powers could be used like this, that his poison could be tailored to his victims, that he could change the effects if he wanted to. Amazing what you could learn when motivated. Of course, avoiding bloody death was always a very powerful motivator.


I’m becoming this

 

Cutter’s last knife was a quarter-inch too high in the target, and she snarled at it as she snapped forward retrieve it. It was supposed to be perfect! She needed it to be, each and every time. Teleporting in between knife throws was harder than she thought, and throwing blind after each teleport even more so. But she wasn’t the only knife-fighter here, or the only teleporter. Her worth was calculated in her ability to hit what she aimed at, and to avoid being hit in return.

Here she had learned to do so much more with her powers, teleporting many more people so much farther than her father ever could. The more she used her powers, the easier it was, and the stronger she became, and the more accurate she was forced to be. Perfection was easy to strive for, because she had a goal. In this place obedience was a necessary evil, but if Cutter were good enough, smart enough, perfect enough, soon she would be the one being obeyed for once…


All I want to do
Is be more like me

Lawrence, now calling himself Skybolt, stood once again on a mountaintop. Now the lightning around him had free play, now it crashed down from the sky in a breathtaking and extravagant display of power, free for all to see. Why should he be subtle? He was wanted for this power, for his sky-scorching potential, for the distraction he offered his enemies. Maybe he was using too much, maybe he was becoming power-saturated, maybe his brain was getting rewired with all the power he called down upon himself… It didn’t matter now. He would take it as it came.

His mother had warned him about this, that even as he affected the weather, the weather would affect him. And because he could only control lightning (he heard his mother in his mind, her tones disapproving), she warned he would literally burn himself out if he continued to use his powers without restriction. Too late for that now… There is no room for weakness here…


And be less like you

Frieda Olaf soared high amongst the clouds, eyes beginning to mist as the rage within her demanded an outlet. Had her father ever felt like this? His power never seemed to need an outlet, but Frieda’s did. Bloodtalon is what Cutter had named her, an apt name, too apt. She needed blood to be shed, for the chase and anger, the way some people needed oxygen. The stronger the rage, the better it worked. Her and Painbreaker were the same, needing their powers too much to sit still, forced to become the best lest they be left behind when there was a fight.

Cutter had given her the lead position, to find and eliminate any watchers, to give her the best chance to use her power. Frieda’s beak gaped in an avian grin as she saw the young boy flying high above the earth. New enemies- Cutter didn’t mention anything about this! Yet he was there, unmistakably a guardian of the detention center below. He looked so innocent, so fresh and young. Let’s see how you fly when you’re angry, child! She dove, struck, and euphoria filled her as the rage drained away. Try and catch me, little one; I have such a merry chase to lead you on


Inside the car the rest of Cutter’s group rode in uncomfortable silence. Skybolt had tried to turn on the radio a few miles back and Painbreaker had objected. He had been nursing his throbbing hand in silence for the last fifteen minutes, and no one had dared say a word. Bruin was flatly scared of Painbreaker, even more so than he was of Cutter. She rarely talked unless Cutter asked her a direct question, and when you looked her in the face, she never met your eyes. She kind of looked through you, as if deciding on the spot how much you could take. Bruin avoided her at all costs.

 

He knew that he wasn’t playing with a full deck; how could he, with the life he had ended up with? Painbreaker would probably admit the same, if he could get her to actually venture an opinion. The other four were probably even worse off than them, but they wouldn’t admit their own insanity even at gunpoint. Then again, that was how Cutter ended up as the leader of this mission, because she wouldn’t admit any weakness to anyone. The academy awarded the confident, the creative, the intelligent, and the ruthless, and Cutter was all of that in spades.

“Bloodtalon just tagged someone, a flyer,” Painbreaker said into the tense silence. That was her other talent. In addition to being able to amplify pain, she could sense it very easily, even at a distance. Cutter cursed and peered out the window.

“Damn, who did they get to guard the prey?” she snarled. Bruin and Viper exchanged glances. Only three people were designated as “prey” for this mission, but if they were guarded as well, this could get messy very quickly.

“Botanopath!” Painbreaker exclaimed suddenly, and jerked the car to the side. The car rang with curses as everyone braced for impact, then went silent when they saw the reason for her erratic behavior. Vines were running all over the road, reaching for the car as if they had a mind of their own. Despite her erratic driving, the car slowed and stopped, vines covering every window.

“Link hands, I’ll get us out of here. Scatter once we land and watch out for any more surprises. Painbreaker and I will make for the center. Delay any pursuit!” Cutter commanded, and turned to look out the window through one of the chinks in its vine covering. The rest grabbed hands immediately, Viper forcibly breathing carefully to keep his poison within his own skin when the others touched him. Obedience to the team leader in the field was part of the reason they were the hunters and not the prey in this exercise.

In a flash of blue light and a brief sensation of vertigo, they were sitting in the middle of the road. Everyone scattered even as the vines and bushes began to lash out in all directions. Cutter kept Painbreaker with her, teleporting through the wreckage before she could be caught. Bruin began pounding in the opposite direction when the vines caught him. Taking a deep breath, he let the change come over him, roaring when the vines around him shredded.

Viper let the poison surge to his skin, making the vines whither and die as they touched him. Skybolt wasn’t so lucky; the vines started to bury him, but all he needed was a single glimpse of the sky, a single finger free to point… Lightning flashed downward and struck him, incinerating the vines and freeing him at the same time. Bruin jerked his eyes to the sky, seeing Bloodtalon up there, leading some flyer on a rage-induced chase. Thank God. At least we don’t have to worry about any more attacks from above… he thought.

This “easy kill” was turning into a huge fiasco. Not that they didn’t anticipate resistance, but this much of it? Where had they gotten the guardians? How many were protecting the prey?


Cutter and Painbreaker made it to the detention center doors as the others freed themselves from the vines. Cutter whirled as two small somethings fell somewhere off to her right. She strained to see what they were or where they went, snarling mentally as she saw more and more plants whipping in to bury Skybolt. Damn, damn, damn! There was a rattle of keys as Painbreaker finally got the door open, and Cutter grabbed her wrist to teleport her inside.

 

The gym was likely where the prey was hiding, so the gym was the first place Cutter checked. The fire startled her at first when she saw it, and she squinted her eyes against the glare. There was the prey, within the ring of fire, along with another young boy, tall and dressed in silver, and the very pretty pyrokinetic standing within the flames themselves. No one I’m supposed to know… wait… the pyro… Baron Battle’s son! Cutter thought in triumph. They tapped students to guard the prey! Brilliant.

Brilliant was right, as Battle’s son yelled out something and the world erupted in white light. God DAMN it! Cutter thought, crouching and listening hard for the faint shuffle of feet. I can still tag one of them, where are they, listen Cutter, listen…

“Cutter, Cutter where are you? I can’t see!” Painbreaker cried. She had let go of her wrist when they entered the gym, and was several feet behind her now. No time to get her and point her, Cutter was just going to have to do this the hard way.

“Here, here! Focus on me, follow the sounds, Painbreaker!” Cutter yelled back, and finally locked onto a faint sound past the crackle of the flames. Someone moving… She drew and threw in a single smooth motion, and heard it strike wood on the far side of the gym. Damnit, not a solid shot…

“Ow…” she heard faintly. Cutter smiled cruelly, Painbreaker would have heard that. She was tuned into the sound of someone in pain like it was her own personal radio station. The air shivered near her head as a burst of her power flew by, and agonized screams filled the gym. Got you…

Bastards!” someone yelled, close. Battle’s son, must be. “Lash!” Then someone grabbed her ankle and pulled hard, knocking the wind out of her and hurting like hell. A second thump a half-second later came from Painbreaker’s quarter, and some of the glare in her eyes began to fade.

“Zack. Zack!” Battle’s son yelled into the resounding silence. Someone murmured a response as Cutter picked herself up. They are going to pay for that!


 

Outside Bruin shook himself free of the last of the vines and began galloping for the center doors. Something had fallen from the roof there, and he wanted to check out what it was. If they managed to sneak up behind Cutter or something… anything they could do to him would be small potatoes next to Cutter’s wrath if he let her get backstabbed.

Bears were fast, faster than humans, particularly over rough ground, and though Viper started out next to him, he was soon left behind. Bruin’s vision narrowed as he tried to sniff out the others that were there… they had to be there. Then there was a faint sting, and blackness.

Viper cursed creatively as he saw something small rocket out of a bush and slam into Bruin’s side. He kept running, hoping to catch whoever it was… He almost tripped as he saw a guinea pig (A guinea pig?) stumble away from Bruin, shifting back into the form of a dark-haired girl in body armor. And her back was to him.

Viper smiled cruelly and let the poison surge forth on his hands. He went to one side and brought down a hand on her arm, the poison soaking quickly through the material between her armor plates. She stiffened and fell, shifting, and Viper quickly turned to Bruin to get him back up. There had been two bright flashes of light from the detention center, but he ignored them for now. He had to get Bruin up. He was their tank, and Skybolt had to be freed. If Viper tried to do it himself, he’d end up tagging Skybolt by accident.

It only took a moment or two for him to shake the bear awake, and he pointed over to Skybolt. “Get him free, we need him!” he yelled, and Bruin shook his shaggy head a couple of times, then took off. That done, Viper turned to the little guinea pig and got ready to deliver the finishing blow. He hadn’t had time to tailor his poison, and the faint twitches showed she still lived… for now.


Cutter got back to her feet, hearing Battle’s son saying something about how someone’s girlfriend had stunned the bear. Stunned Bruin? Not for long… Vague shapes were becoming visible again, and she saw the bright glow from the silver kid on the floor. Then he screamed a name, and the world went white again. Cutter and Painbreaker collapsed in pain, cursing and scrubbing at their eyes. There was a whoosh of air near her, and the faint, fading sound of padding feet. The worst of the glow was gone… He sent out Glowboy… good. Just Battle’s son and the prey. We can still pull this off.

 

Cutter stalked closer, tracking Battle’s son by the heat and faint movement. Even if she couldn’t see clearly, she didn’t have to if she could get close enough. Heroes, even students, were so very much infected with a sense of fair play… The edges of the ring of fire were visible now, and it looked like there was a faint gap, just there

“You can’t win. With Bloodtalon up there with Flyboy, he’ll be chasing her from now until next year and never even notice. Stunning Bruin won’t slow him down for long; he’s too damn big. And once he’s free, he’ll free Skybolt and then Flyboy will be nothing but a roasted chicken,” Cutter told him, eyes fixed on a middle distance, tracking the shadow-gap with her peripheral vision. I can get in through there, cut the prey and be out before he can turn…

She concentrated hard, wanting to snap to her left and forward… Burning pain seared along her body, and she snapped back to her original position, screaming. Fuck, I ran right into the damn thing. Goddamn useless line of sight shit!

“Bastard! Give them to me!” she snarled, pulling out her knives. If she couldn’t get him one way, she would get him another.

“Come get them yourself,” Battle’s son taunted. Cutter gritted her teeth at the determined look on his pretty face. Going to wipe that damn look off his face, and take a few more things for good measure.

“Why protect them? You know what they wanted to do to you? They wanted to steal your life. Royal Pain would have raised you as another Baron Battle, as a psychotic flame-throwing monster under her own control. They aren’t worth saving,” she snapped at him, stepping right up to the fire. The heat hurt her scorched skin, but it didn’t matter, not as long as she could get close enough to stick him. He could be kicking my ass right now if he wanted, but he won’t leave the prey. Damned hero mentality bullshit.

Cutter waited a half-second for him to get angry, then lunged for the kill. The knives went low… the kiss was mostly for fun, as to not waste the pretty face before he died. Then the knives turned, tangling in fabric, not flesh, and Battle’s son flared up with a look of hatred and disgust so strong Cutter froze. He reached out and grabbed her wrists with his burning hands, jerking her hands away from him and shoving her away.

She screamed and clutched her wrists close to her chest, almost missing the expression of shock on the pyro’s face. Too late for that now. Screw this, we’re leaving. Cutter snapped back to Painbreaker, grabbing her wrist again and teleporting them out. The pain was intense, and even the instructors at the academy wouldn’t insist that they stay for the kill when they were going to get hurt this badly. No punishment they’d ever inflicted could match this pain…


Viper leaned down over the body of the guinea pig, taking a moment to be sure his poison was going to work the way he wanted to. Non-humans were harder, but not impossible after all his practice. A light distracted him, and he glanced up to see a tall, blonde kid in a silver coat practically on top of him.

 

Get off of her!” he screamed, and a single punch brought Viper’s world to blackness.


Bruin began to bull through the leaves and trees surrounding Skybolt, using his massive weight, strength, and sharp claws to shred the foliage like paper. Above him he heard a scream, and jerked his gaze upward to look briefly. Heading right for him was a young boy, flying with incredible speed, Bloodtalon right on his tail. Crap, got to get Skybolt out… He redoubled his efforts to get through the vines, hoping to give Skybolt the tiniest edge.

 

He saw Skybolt raise his arm as he finally partially freed him, and quickly turned his head away. Lightning flashed down, and he heard a faint thump from above. Daring the light, he had just enough time to get himself under Bloodtalon’s falling body. Lightning flashed thick and fast, and Bruin tried to get himself out of the line of fire. He only had a tiny glimpse of something orange before blackness descended.


Skybolt screamed as the lightning crashed around him almost randomly, having lost the flying kid in the extravagant display of power. Where is he? He’s here somewhere; no one can take this kind of punishment, no one… This time he didn’t even get a glimpse of his attacker, only a burst of pain and darkness.

 


Cutter was cursing the mission, the prey, the guardians, and almost everything else that crossed her mind. She was so focused she nearly missed her next chance, but Painbreaker stopped her with a hiss. Glowboy was back, and now that her eyes were clearing up, she wasn’t going to waste an opportunity like this. A knife was out and at his throat before he could protest, and Painbreaker took the small limp form of a guinea pig (A guinea pig?) from his hands.

 

“Don’t hurt her,” he whispered, and Cutter laid the edge of the knife harder along his throat.

“Shut it. Now move,” she snarled. Cutter hauled him along to the gym, his bright glow making her eyes smart anew. Battle’s son watched them come back into the gym with an expression of horror on his face. Scared now, pretty boy?

“Say a word, and I slice his throat and the rat dies in agony,” Cutter said with deadly quiet menace. “Now, drop the fire and let those three decide how they’re going to die.”

The pyro looked frightened, stunned, alone, and the flames along his arms died. Cutter felt a moment of triumph, and a cruel smile stretched across her face, despite the pain in her wrists. Then the prey moved, for the first time. From docile to hostile in the blink of an eye, the leapt the firewall and went straight for her and Painbreaker.

The cloner surrounded her, kicking her hard in nearly every limb. Her right forearm went numb to the elbow as one smacked her funny bone, and she felt something tear in her left knee. Glowboy broke her grip and stumbled from the circle. Next to her, a long, striped arm plucked the guinea pig from Painbreaker’s grasp, as a whirling blur whipped around her. The older girl began to gasp and fall to her knees as Cutter struggled to get her hands on her knives again.

Distantly she saw the long arm drop the guinea pig in the pyro’s hands, and watched in amazement as red fire sprung along his arms, somehow not consuming the rat. Then a crash from above distracted her and the prey, as the flyer Bloodtalon was supposed to be covering broke through the ceiling. Everyone was distracted for a single critical moment, and Cutter seized it with both burned hands. One snap over to Painbreaker, and two more to get out of the gym, and she was out of their sight.

Got to be fast, no evidence… Crap, the car is still trapped. I have to teleport everyone out. She snapped outside, the world flying by quickly. Her teeth were gritted in bitter disappointment, anger, and pain as she realized the rest of her group was down for the count. Came here and were fucking outnumbered! Outgunned, outnumbered, outplanned, overconfident idiots! She snarled to herself as she picked up first Viper’s body, then Bruin, Bloodtalon, and Skybolt.

It must have been several dozen miles of teleports before Bruin came out of the stun-reaction, cranky and whining about needing to be at work tomorrow. She nearly stabbed him out of frustration, but held onto her temper with both hands. Bruin was their tank, their bruiser, and in fights like this he could turn the tide. At the very least he had stopped Bloodtalon from serious injury, freed Skybolt, who had prevented Flyboy from capturing them all for a few critical seconds. The headmaster had made his value clear to her, and she didn’t dare gut him just because he was frustrated. No matter how much better that would make her feel.

Cutter bared her teeth mentally at her prey’s guardians, cursing to herself and knowing next time they fought, it was going to go so much worse for them…

Cause everything that you thought I would be
Has fallen apart right in front of you

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