The Perils of Valora Finale: Rat Bites Dog Bites Man - Now Complete

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Re: The Perils of Valora Finale: Rat Bites Dog Bites Man

Post by Damselbinder »

The next couple of hours were a miasma. The mask went down, the mask came up. The screen went on, the screen went off. John cajoled her. He threatened her. He tried to persuade her. He tried to bully her. He screamed at her. He whispered to her. He put his hand around her throat. He stroked her hair. Several times he had dosed her too much and left her virtually unconscious for long periods. Then she would wake up, and the process would begin again.

With the deadline approaching like the ground after falling off a cliff, John had still met with absolutely no success. Sometimes Valora gave him stony-faced, complete resistance. Sometimes she got loopy and giggly, rambling about nothing in particular. She’d forget where she was, start talking about her favourite kind of cameras, would complain about Maine’s weather, and at one point said that John was ‘really hot, but looked like he had sandpaper wrapped around his dick’.

Sometimes, though, Valora seemed to teeter on the edge of surrender, and she would mutter things that made John feel embarrassed to have to hear them. She said that she didn’t want to hurt anyone again, then seemed to change her mind, get angry, say that she wanted to hurt everyone: Milo, John himself, and even someone called Ulysses. Then she said she was sorry, and asked if she could ‘trade’. Only after a bit more rambling did John realize Valora was talking about her powers.

“Something… something softer,” she said. “Fixing or healing or… or… I don’t know… talking to animals or some shit…”
“Valora. Valerie. Listen to me. We don’t have much time,” John exhorted, and Valerie did turn to look at him. She didn’t hear him, really, but she did see him.
“I’m like you,” she mumbled. “Like all of you…” She had said before that she felt that she was her powers, and that declaration had been not only true, but something she’d said with warmth. Valerie had an ambiguous relationship with her life as a superhero, but her powers as such she loved – the feeling that there was something magic in her.

But what good was that to her now? Her strength hadn’t even been enough to keep her safe from ordinary men. It had been taken from her. It had abandoned her. So why should she care for it? Why, when all it had done was give her reason and method to be violent? If she was her powers, then give her different powers and let her be something else.

For the first time in a while, Valerie’s anguish propelled her into actual, physical struggle, and John watched with bewildered awe as the beauty lying shackled before him continued to fight. Her skin was shining from the wasted hours of struggle, the heat of being wrapped up and contained by the metal sleeve imprisoning her. Her cheeks were flushed, and the slow, opium-den somnolence that John had forced on her made every movement awash with sensuality.

Even now there was grandeur in her. She was captive, and fallen, but that fall wasn’t pathetic, or amusing. It was tragic. She was John’s enemy, and he didn’t regret his actions, but there was pathos in seeing her like this. He felt like an admiral watching his enemy’s proud ship-of-the-line sinking in flames beneath the waves. It was victory, but grim victory.
No. It wasn’t even victory, was it? Not really. John now had scarcely an hour and a half before the deadline Milo had given him. He could feel that he was at a nexus point in his life. If he failed, if he didn’t get Lupus’ location before it was too late, he knew that everything would go to shit. Maybe it already had.

Sighing, he pulled the gas mask over Valerie’s face again, and switched on the screen. Maybe this time it would work.
The courthouse on Federal Street hadn’t seen attention like that day in many years. The press knew comparatively little. Only Saskia Dubois, who had bullied, bribed and threatened the Sun’s usual court reporter to be allowed to represent the paper, had an above average idea of what was happening.

What they all knew was that Milo Patáky had been subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury, that he was being charged with a slew of serious felonies, enough to put him away for life. They knew that there was some involvement from Hypatia’s new superhero-union, and even from a returned Valora. What they did not know, that Saskia did, was that yet another superhuman was the material witness in the case.

So Saskia, more than anyone, understood the significance of the appearance of an armoured car, which drew a frenzied rush of cameras and shouting. One photographer fancied they saw Hypatia inside the car, but only briefly. The car was ushered around the back of the building, and a wall of official looking people seemed to rise directly out of the ground to stop any of the press from pursuing.

Saskia wasn’t interested in the mysterious vehicle, though. She was there for one reason: to be able to see Milo Patáky’s face in person when he squirmed his way into the courthouse, and even more so when he squirmed back out again. She wanted to be able to see in his eyes that he knew exactly how boned he was. Alas, anxiety was spoiling her fun. Firstly, she’d heard from one of Hypatia’s allies that Valerie was missing, timing which Saskia could not help but find exceptionally suspicious. Secondly, Milo had been due at court some time ago – and there was no sign of him. Moreover, Saskia’s instincts told her that these two issues were probably one issue.
“Please just be passed out drunk somewhere,” Saskia thought. “Please be alright. You’re so close…!”

On the other side of the building, Charlie was hurried into the building, flanked by her two handlers, and by an especially vigilant Hypatia. The agents had come over distinctly agent-y, wearing dark glasses and those earpieces with the big wires and so on. They brought her through a corridor that smelled powerfully and headily of turpentine, into a room not much larger than a storage closet.

“You guys are… really freaking me out,” Charlie complained. “You really think I’m still in danger here?” In a parallel world where a synapse in Charlie’s brain had fired a few milliseconds earlier, she was making the opposite complaint.
“I’m sure you’re safe here, Charlotte,” Hypatia said. “But Patáky is unpredictable. It’s best to be sure.”
Charlie didn’t seem particularly pleased with the answer, but she merely grumbled, rather than groused. She had to sit around for a while, and the boredom of that threatened to make her erupt in complaints, like hives. But just before her patience expired, she received her summons.

The courtroom was empty. The jury hadn’t been summoned yet. A nervous looking defence attorney, sans client, was sitting in one of the front benches. A lean and hungry-looking set of prosecutors were sitting a couple of metres to her right. Charlie was ushered to sit on the bench immediately behind the prosecutors, and she felt violently self-conscious. Suddenly she was in a serious room full of serious people. They were wearing suits. The men were wearing cologne. Look. A flag.

She’d expected more attention. The serious people didn’t even seem to register her. Charlie got a couple of confused glances from the defence attorney, but she seemed more worried about her client’s absence than anything else. As much as it was a hearing for Milo, in Charlie’s mind this was her big day. Puffing herself up had been one of the only ways she’d been able to cope with it. But the reality was boring, and cold, and she hated it. She wanted to go to sleep. She wanted to curl up in a little corner and go to sleep, for twelve hours. More. She wanted to sleep until it was all over. To skip the hard stuff and just wake up when it was all done and she was off in her new life.

What witness protection would actually be like was irrelevant to Charlie. In her imagination, it consisted of, in descending order of importance: getting away from Valora; getting a dog; getting to live somewhere warm again. The question of how she would look after herself, what she would do for money – these were too frightening, and she ignored them. The possibility that she would be lost, bored, and frightened, and would end up doing something stupid again and would wind up right back where she was, only without the mercy she’d been shown – that was so frightening as to be genuinely inconceivable. Charlie did not cope well with fear.

Hoo boy, if she’d known about that bomb under her seat…
A full list of my stories can be found here, with summaries to boot: viewtopic.php?f=70&t=32027
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Re: The Perils of Valora Finale: Rat Bites Dog Bites Man

Post by Damselbinder »

Sorry all - edited the last post again, replaced it with a largely new section. The part I've removed will appear again later.
A full list of my stories can be found here, with summaries to boot: viewtopic.php?f=70&t=32027
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Re: The Perils of Valora Finale: Rat Bites Dog Bites Man

Post by Damselbinder »

John had made up his mind. He would lie. He would tell Milo that Valora had given him the information to get him to forestall his plan, and then deal with the consequences later. He would do it again – or rather do what he had failed to do, thanks to Hypatia. He would save Milo from himself. All he had to do was call, make up an address, and Milo would call it off. He could talk to him later. Persuade him.

But Milo wasn’t being insane this time. Not exactly. In its twisted way, this was an expression of his carefulness – making absolutely sure that, whatever else happened, Lupus would be dead and her secrets would die with her. It would make the question of Patáky’s guilt completely obvious to anyone in the world, but it would conceivably buy him a bit of time as the authorities regrouped. It just seemed so excessive: a lot of innocent people would die – people completely unconnected from the world of violence and infinite reprisal in which John, Milo, and all their merry gangsters had chosen to live. It sat ill with John, ill enough for him to risk Milo’s fury when the lie was discovered. He dialled.

But as he lifted his phone to his ear, his courage failed him. Moral, not physical, for he did not exactly fear Milo’s revenging himself upon him for his deception. Rather, he was a victim of his own success. He had been born in poverty, and because he had always been more intelligent than his peers, his siblings and his parents, that poverty had been especially humiliating. For the first time in his life, as Milo’s second-in-command, he was living in a manner that felt compatible with his dignity. He had two girlfriends, one of whom he almost loved and the other of whom was ravenously attractive. His life had trended steadily upwards because he was never willing to give anything up unless it was in exchange for something more precious. He had traded nebulous hopes of a decent education for the concrete prospect of wealth. He had traded his older brother for Novak. He had traded Novak for Patáky. He had traded a conscience for wealth and power. Maybe there was something in what Milo had said about masculinity and acquisition, for Mann found it impossible to let go of anything.

John tried again, and again, and again, and again. Maybe thirty times Valerie came close to answering. Each time she had the presence of mind to think anything, she thought that there was no reason to refuse.
“Just let them kill her,” she thought. “Let them do it. She deserves it. You deserve it. Let them put a bullet through her – the world will be better off and you know it. Let them do it. Do it for them! Indulge yourself. Why not?”
Valerie answered that the world was probably worse off with Milo.
“So? It’d be even better if you could rid of cancer, but you can’t. You can’t really get rid of someone like Milo. There’ll just be another one. He might even get off. At least Lupus is a one-of-a-kind freak!”
Valerie answered that if she gave the information away, then she might as well have given in and killed Lupus herself. She might as well have killed Milo when he’d slapped her. It would have made what moral courage she’d shown completely meaningless.
“It’s meaningless anyway. They both should be dead, and the only reason you didn’t kill them is so you don’t have to feel guilty. That’s more important to you than the people you’re supposed to be protecting. Not that you ever think about them. It’s all about you.”
Valerie answered that it would mean betraying her allies and friends. Surely she did care about them.
“Maybe. Maybe camaraderie and friendship would be enough for some people. Loyalty - fellowship. But it’s not enough for you. It’s not a reason in itself. Besides, they’d forgive you, right? You’re all drugged up and shit. So just tell him…”
Okay, Valerie answered, just before refusing again.

John gave a great shout of frustration, kicked the nearest object on which he was unlikely to break any toes.
“Come the fuck on!” he yelled, only half at Valora herself. “Why are you making this so hard on yourself? Huh? I ain’t pump enough of that shit into you yet? I don’t know how much is a fatal dose, but I gotta figure I’m gonna reach it eventually.”
“I can’t… I can’t…” Valerie muttered. “I’m Valora… I’m supposed to be a… a hero, I…”
“What the fuck does that mean?” John said, scraping his fingernails against his scalp. “That’s no god-damned reason at all. No-one takes that shit seriously anymore except the crazies and people writing wistful op-eds in the New York Times.”

“…I need to… I need to be… need to be… good…” Valerie gave a strange lurch as she said this, a motion which couldn’t have been intended to free herself, but which her articulated prison still had to exert effort to suppress, locking her back down in place. It was a brutally effective metaphor, wasn’t it? Because she wasn’t good and she never would be. Maybe she wasn’t as bad as she’d thought, maybe she wasn’t an animal, maybe she was better than Lupus – like that was much of a bar. But she wasn’t good.

Something that she had forgotten, something that had been lost in the general awfulness of her captivity at Lupus’ hands bubbled back up into her mind; freed, perhaps, by the visual and chemical tandem acting like a solvent on her mind. She had said something, at the lowest moment of her imprisonment, something which she still, she supposed, believed: that you could be a bad person without doing bad things. It was only now that she realized how dangerous this was – she felt it like a chasm opening in front of her into which she would tumble at the slightest push. If you could be bad without doing bad things, then doing bad things didn’t matter. And Valerie was tempted, desperately tempted to do something bad. That she kept not doing it just didn’t seem to register with her as being significant.

John had one more option, one he’d been holding in reserve, because he couldn’t predict how Valora would react. But there was nothing else for it now. He switched off the flow of gas. He switched off the screen. He watched, and waited, until a little more of Valora’s character had returned to her face, and some of her hazy confusion was turned to umbrage and fury.
“I’m gonna lay it on the line for you,” John said. “Whether you talk or whether you don’t Lupus is dead either way.”
“There’s a bomb at the courthouse. It’s gonna blow up, taking Lupus and a whole bunch of other people with it.”
“…Bullshit… there’s no way you – you’d be able to pull something like that.”
“You probably thought there’d be no way we could pull something like this, either,” he said, adjusting Valora’s headrest so that she had a good view of her helpless, bound figure. “But we did. So, I don’t know where you get off being, uh… incredulous.”
A bomb? Jesus Christ, were these people that serious? No. John had to be lying. It was insane. It was monstrous. Moreover, it was irrational – and surely that would stop Milo from doing it, if nothing else.
“Don’t you know… how suspicious that’s gonna look? Everybody’s… gonna know… it was you guys!”
“Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe we get someone to confess after the fact and say Milo didn’t have anything to do with it. He was acting alone or, hell, maybe he pretend he was trying to kill Milo. Wouldn’t be the first time we’ve pulled that shit. And from what we understand, Lupus got plenty of enemies. Given the method I doubt we’d be able to pin it on you, but you get the idea.” The more he talked, the more he realized that Milo wasn’t so insane after all. Yes – yes, they might actually get away with it, mightn’t they? But he still didn’t want to. John Mann was an evil person, for some value of ‘evil’ – but not quite as bad as Milo. “But you’re right it ain’t ideal. A nice, clean assassination – one bullet, one corpse – that’d be much better for everybody. So you see now, Valerie, you won’t be responsible for anybody dying. You’re saving people. You said it yourself – you’re a superhero! Ain’t saving people what superheroes are for?”

It was impossible. Not the bomb – John had been quite convincing, in the end. Valerie’s choice. Possibility one: John was telling the truth, Valerie gave up Lupus’ location, and all but ensured that the case against Milo failed, but saved dozen or more innocent lives. Two: same as one, except John was lying, and Valerie had given Lupus up for no good reason. Three: Valerie kept her mouth shut, the bomb was real, and innocent people were dead because of her. Four: same as three, except the bomb was fake, and the case against Milo proceeded. In only one of these possibilities was her and the others’ victory preserved. In all of them she herself still perished.

That wasn’t true, actually. There was a fifth possibility: Valora, the Mighty Maiden of Maine marshalled magnificent muscle against malicious Mr Mann, and broke free of her constraints. She grabbed that ruffian by his collar, wagged her finger in his face and told him that it was high time, sonnyjim, that he mend his evil ways and tell her where – if anywhere – the bomb was to be found. She showed everyone what it meant to be a true hero and flew on a curtain of rainbows over to the courthouse on Federal Street and punted the bomb over to the Moon. It was the kind of thing that she ought to have been able to do. It was the kind of thing that Valora should have been able to do, anyway. She felt so close, sometimes, to living up to everything she seemed to be – but just never quite there.

In the end, Valerie would have chosen option four. To co-operate, to surrender, to just meekly give Milo and his cronies what they wanted – it was just incompatible with everything that made Valerie herself. She might have ended up regretting that decision. She might have ended up hating herself. But note the subjunctive: it never even came to that.
“Shit,” John said, with breathless finality. He was looking at his watch. “That’s it. We’re out of time.”
“The deadline’s up, Valora. I had until now to get the info out of you. And now it’s too late. That bomb’s gonna detonate, and now there’s nothing you or me can do about it. Congratulations, hero. A whole bunch of people are gonna die when they didn’t have to, because you were too fucking stubborn. Congrats.”

With slow horror, Valerie realized that John was telling the truth, for if it was a lie, there was no reason to tell it.
“Oh god… oh god!” Valerie gasped, realizing the depth of her mistake. It wasn’t just that innocent people were going to die – that was bad enough. But doubtless, Cecily and Maria would be there. Probably a couple of the others. They were going to die. They were going to die violent, horrible deaths because of Valerie. An image flashed into her mind of Maria howling in grief, holding Cecily’s dismembered figure before succumbing to her own horrific wounds. Oh god. Oh god in heaven, what had she done? Why hadn’t she talked? Why hadn’t she believed him? Why hadn’t she just put aside her pride for once and done as she was told?!

“No… no, no, no!!” Valerie cried, and with a desperate, vicious fury, began writhing and bucking and fighting, thrashing her body in its fiendish shackle, rolling and squirming and thrusting, shouting with panic and rage, fought and fought and fought and fought and fought. The shackle shifted feverishly around her, cupping and restraining, the pistons beneath her groaned and whirred and thudded in response to her, and for a few seconds it looked like maybe, with sheer will, Valerie could break free after all. But after a while, she could not keep up the effort. She could not summon energy that was not there. And now, to John’s astonishment, in her fury there were tears, for she could not believe that her power was betraying her like this. Were Cecily and Maria not enough? Did they not deserve some final burst of heretofore unknown power? Was this really all she had?

As she struggled, John watched her, and felt a vicious disgust in the pit of his stomach. The rage he could bear, but not the tears. He had to stop them somehow, so he flipped on the screen and dialled it up to full blast.

“NO!” Valerie screamed, and tried to pull her eyes away, but the patterns just drew her right back in. It didn’t feel like before. It wasn’t a warm blanket, or a relief, or a comfort. It was just like someone had stuck electrodes into her brain and switched the voltage to max. It didn’t even obliviate her anguish. It just froze it in place. Slowly, though, her body stopped squirming. She stopped fighting, stopped being able to think of fighting. The images in her mind, no less horrific, begin to melt into a heady, vaporous slime, thin enough to slosh about and cover everything like paint, thick enough to trap her. Thick enough to make sure that when John decided to kill her, she was totally unable to resist. He clamped the mask on her one last time, and this time no gas surged forth. Nothing whatever surged forth. It sucked the air out – and Valerie began to suffocate.

Even in the worst, blackest moments of despair, Valerie had never wanted to die. There had been times when she hadn’t specifically wanted to live, but never a positive desire for her own destruction. There were things she wanted, still. Small stuff, like going on a rollercoaster, which she’d never done before. Medium stuff, like becoming a better photographer. Large stuff, like seeing if she had it in her really to love someone: a friend; a partner; a child, maybe.

There was vanity in it too. It wasn’t just that Valerie didn’t want to die. She didn’t want to die here. She didn’t want to die at the hands of a bunch of gangster shitheads. If she was going to die young, she wanted to die big. In an atomic explosion, or going six rounds with the Supremacist, or rescuing the President from falling into a volcano, or something. Not here. Not alone in some shitty basement after getting kidnapped from her house with such hateful ease. It would be humiliating, and it would be a wretched anti-climax.

By this time, any normal human being would be dead, and John didn’t understand why Valora was not. He didn’t know that her lung capacity was far greater than his, that she had swum under the Atlantic for half an hour without surfacing. But she wouldn’t last anywhere near that long now. She hadn’t been prepared. Hadn’t compressed the air into her lungs as she had then. For the first five minutes, she’d seemed like she’d needed no breath at all. After that, she’d started slowly to die.

But there were no tears for this. There was no hint of them. Her anguish, such as it was, was all internal. There – there at last was a reason, after all, for her to keep resisting, even now, even in her shame. To spite her captors. To spit in their eye. To die, if die she would, with courage. Surely her nom de plume wasn’t just a riff on her name. Surely valour meant something to her. No-one would see – not Cecily, not Maria, not Saskia, not Piper, not Oliver. Even if she was killed and her murder was discovered, no-one would know the manner of her resistance. And though there was anguish, there was no fear. Dying a violent death, even if it was not in battle, even if its manner was totally ignominious, would be… purifying. Yes, if death were like that then Valerie wouldn’t just be able to face it – she could welcome it. She could embrace it like a bridegroom.

But she couldn’t, could she? Not now! Not now that it wasn’t just her life, if Maria and gentle Cecily were going to die as well. If only they could see. If only they understood how wrong they had been about her. They admired her. They, even now, looked up to her. All of them did – Lamia, Buzzsaw, Bacchus, Cacophony.

Even now they still saw her like she appeared. The standard against which all of them were to be measured. It was absurd, but even now they set their watches by her.

Just because she happened to fit the image in people’s minds of what a superhero was supposed to look like. Primary colours. Cape. Pretty.

Just because she happened to speak with authority sometimes, and because being invulnerable all her life had made her look like she was courageous. Just because she was powerful. Just because she was charismatic, and beautiful.

Really,though? Really, Valerie? Even now? Even after, what, four-hundred-thousand words? Do you still think that’s all it is? Do you still think that people are that easily impressed? After all the hardship and bloodshed and misery, after a million or more lines of wrestling endlessly with me, do you not yet get the point?

Doesn’t it matter that you didn’t kill Lupus? Doesn’t it matter that you tried for years and years to be good and loving to your father? That you wouldn’t even let yourself realize you were so angry with him, and with Victoria? Doesn’t it matter that a traumatised, half-broken man found acceptance, solace and affection in your arms? Didn’t it matter that you came back to Portland when you had every excuse not to? Didn’t it matter that you’ve tried to make ‘Valora’ mean something, even if it’s against your character? Am I not getting through to you at all?

Don’t you remember?

Yes, actually. She did. The sloshing, sludgy waves being forced upon her mind began to put Valerie in mind of something else, and as she began to think of it, she felt strange. She remembered the water. She remembered the deep, endless dark that had held her, immersed her, caressed her. That night in the ocean where the coals had finally been cooled, and Valerie had gone looking for something that she could not name, had found something that could not be real.

She remembered her night-time visitor, her dream, her phantom. Vicious, violent, damaged, mad. Scarred. The most beautiful thing Valerie had ever seen in her life. She had caressed it. She had wanted to kiss it. But she hadn’t needed to. That sweet boy she liked with the fluffy blonde hair had done it for her when he’d made love to her. Saskia had when she’d told her she should do anything she liked. Cecily had done it when she said that she trusted her.

And a long, long time ago, in the B.C.E. of Valerie’s heart, before Milo Patáky and John Mann, before Hypatia, Freebird and Maiden America, before Lupus, before Oliver, before Colonel Doyle and Lance Van der Boek and James Oleander. Before Valora. Before Ulysses. A barely remembered face, now, but enough. Enough to lay the pattern. Enough that her greatest fear, that love was something she would never be able to give anyone, would be ridiculous to anyone who knew her.

And finally, finally, finally, as even Valerie’s powerful lungs cried out and her heart pounded, and her vision started going white, then black, and her muscles had less power than they’d had at any moment in her captivity, she thought of a reason for Valora to exist.

John had turned away. He intended, in fact, never to look at Valora again. He was about to order his men back in to make sure she died – then wait another half an hour just to be safe – and then to start disposing of the body. He only turned back around when he heard a dull ‘thunk’ sound. It wasn’t loud enough to worry him much, but it occurred to him that Valerie might possibly have been struggling enough to get the mask off her. Grudgingly, he turned, just in time to see.

At first it was not clear that anything was happening at all. Valerie’s eyes were shut, but her chest was still moving, so she wasn’t dead yet. John wondered if she was in her death-throes, until her eyes opened, and they burned with an azure as deep as the Atlantic. John was more perceptive than most, and something in him was terrified without him knowing why. Then Valora made a sound like nothing John had ever heard: not strain; not rage; not passion; not hatred; not violence; not anything. Not human; not even superhuman; and why should it have been? Valora was beyond other superhumans – and at last was willing to accept what that really meant.

All her will, all her might and fury, she put into one movement. One movement of such power that every cell of her mesh was overwhelmed and, as it reeled for one split second, Valora tore through it like paper.
“AAGHHHH!!” replied John, his scream summoning his allies, who made similar protests.
Valora said nothing. Shaking, she rose. She flexed one hand, then the other. She put one hand around the contraption that had bound her, and tore it from its housing, hurling it with such force that it bounced off the wall she’d hit with it, the now dislocated drill-pylons flailing comically in the air.For most of John’s men, this was enough to send them into panicked retreat, but a couple tried to attack. One of them even had a canister with the gas they’d used on her before. But Valora dealt with all of them at once, by raising a foot, and then lowering it again.

There was a sound like a god’s hammer striking the earth, and those who did not hit nearby objects hard enough to be knocked unconscious fell to their knees in horrified awe. She did not bother with them. She went straight for John. She hopped, lightly, but she covered the fifty feet between herself and her enemy with just that one step.
“Don’t—” Was all John was able to sputter, before Valora slapped him across the face. The bones in his skull rang like bells, the pain reaching so deep into him that it felt for all the world like Valora had slapped him directly in the brain.
“Where are we?” Valora growled.
“I… huh?”
“Where are we, dumbass?! Still in Portland? Still in Maine? Answer!”
But John didn’t answer. Couldn’t. So Valora grabbed him by the scruff of his neck, and jumped.
Moving too fast to understand what was happening to him, John was battered by chunks of concrete, brick and plaster, as Valora hurled herself through the floors of the building in which she’d been kept like it was a castle of vapour. She tossed John to the floor to examine her surroundings.

“What the… Mexico?” It was the town in which she’d been born, and one about which she harboured no romantic illusions. “Why the hell did they bring me here?” Whatever. The point was… where was Portland, relative to Maine? About… what, seventy-five miles south? God damn it, why was this state so fucking big?

She turned around, saw John was trying to crawl away.
“HEY!” Valora leapt to him, hauled him up again. “No you don’t, scumbag. No you don’t!” She held him by his neck, and dangled him over the top of the building. It was five storeys high. “Where’s the bomb, John? You’re the one who said lives were at stake! You don’t tell me, I drop you, jump down, and put you right back where you are now – only then I’m guessing I’d be a little more persuasive!”
“I-it’s in the courthouse,” John stammered.
“Where? Where exactly?!”
“I don’t know! I swear I don’t know! It’s… probably where Lupus is sitting or under the witness stand – man I don’t know where you’d hide a bomb, man!”
“Fine,” Valora said. She dropped him – behind her, on the roof.

“Ugh!” Still reeling, John pulled himself away, scrabbling for the part of the roof furthest from the edge and furthest from the hole Valora had made bring him up here. He watched her, wracked with pain, but transfixed. She was barefoot. Unmasked. Her costume was a little ripped. She looked exhausted. But she – she burned. He didn’t know how else to put it. She burned.
“When does it go off?”
John looked at his watch. Its face was broken, as was his.
“F-five minutes.” Then, to his astonishment, Valora started walking backwards, fixing her eye on the horizon. It was like she was taking a run up. “What the hell are you doing?”
“What does it look like?” Valora said. “I’m gonna deal with your bomb.”
“It’s in Portland. We’re half the state away.”
But she aimed herself.
“You know how fast you’d have to go to make that?”
She crouched.
“I know you’re strong but – but not even you – not even you can do that!”
She smiled, but her smile was a battle-cry.
“I am going to do it,” Valora said, and she found that her voice was shaking. “You know how?” She reached deep, deep, deep in, channelling the innermost core of her, the wellspring of her ethereal might. “Because I’m Valora, you son of a bitch! Because that name means that shit like this does not happen. Because everything they say about me is true!

Now you just fucking watch me!”

She leapt. She leapt so hard that the roof she’d jumped from crumbled into dust. She leapt so hard that the air around her caught fire, like the re-entry burn of a spacecraft. She leapt so hard that the shockwave left John Mann deaf in one ear for the rest of his life. She hurtled through the sky so hard that the world beneath her melted into a blur, and the sky darkened into an ocean. And when she finally hit the ground, she leapt again, leaving a crater from the titanic forces that entered the world through her body. She found that it was easy. She was so strong – and she was so light.

Others looked up to her. They would continue to look up to her. Hypatia, Freebird, Lamia, Spectra, the Gymnast, Nova, Enhancegirl, Askancepoint, Impulse. The good ones. The true believers. Valerie could never, would never be like them. Could not accept wholeheartedly, even half-heartedly, the bizarre world of the superhero, the lofty ideals, the theatrics, the unwavering standards. But it was good that they did. Someone had to. So that was what ‘Valora’ would be. That could be the meaning for her strength. She would show them all what they needed to see. She would let them see her as they insisted on seeing her. If she was cynical, she would let them be naïve. If it was not wondrous to her, she would still show them wonders. Even if she could not believe, even if she wrestled against her own strength for the rest of eternity – she would give them all something to believe in!

I’ve been asked a couple of times if Valora can fly. Each time, I said no. And it’s true, she can’t. It’s not within her power. Look at the abilities listed on the official documents sitting primly in the Maine Confessors’ Office, and you won’t find flight, no siree. But what’s a superhuman if not a wad of spit in the eye of such things.
So, fuck it. Today she could fly.
A judge had appeared. There were some official and unhappy noises being made. Charlie looked to her right, and saw that Milo’s attorney was making desperate and apologetic gestures, while a panicked paralegal sitting next to her tried and failed to raise him. The judge muttered something about contempt of court, and said that they would start without him.

The jury was led in. Twelve men and women honest and true, half of whom looked bewildered by the discovery that their case was going to be important, the other half looking listless and blank. Charlie’s eyes were glazing over, and the day had only barely begun. All her rehearsal now seemed to fly away from her. If you’d put her on the stand then and there, she would have flapped her mouth like a fish, that is as articulately as a fish.

Far behind her, Cecily – now incognito – sat, waiting, waiting for something to happen. Still no-one knew where Valerie was, and now no-one seemed to know where Milo Patáky was either. It was bad, obviously, but the question of how bad remained unknown. Everyone seemed nervous. Even just the public in the gallery could feel something was up.

When the something did happen, Cecily at first didn’t notice. There was a bit of noise at the back, almost at the level of a hubbub, but it didn’t sound too different to the bubbling of impatient journalists that had happened before. It was only when she heard the distinct sound of jostling, and then saw someone in a blue leotard run to the front of the courtroom that she realized what was happening.
“Wh – Valora!” she cried out, and suddenly all heads turned in her direction. She was dishevelled. Barefoot. She looked frenzied.
“What is the meaning of this?!” bellowed the judge because, being a judge, there wasn’t really any other appropriate expression for conveying his displeasure. “Young lady what is—”
Valora’s bellow was so forceful and so loud that even people outside heard it. The judge looked at her in shock, the two counsels both frozen mid-objection.

“Listen to me,” Valora said. “All of your lives are in danger. I mean right now! So absolutely nobody move. You all stay exactly where you are!”
“What’s happening?” Cecily thought. “Where have you been? What – what in god’s name is going on?” She looked like a woman possessed. She was drenched in sweat. Her leotard was ripped. What had happened to her? She was looking around for something, and she looked truly desperate. Until she happened to look in the direction of the prosecutors, and the bench behind them. She hadn’t recognized Lupus all dressed up.

It was a nightmare. It was, courtroom aside, exactly like a nightmare that Charlie had had. She was there. Valora was there, coming straight towards her. She looked insane. She wasn’t even wearing any shoes. Oh god, she was coming right towards her. Oh god, it was actually happening! Charlie tried to get up, tried to run, but she couldn’t. She was paralyzed, her whole body stiff, her eyes wide in rigid terror, her mouth open but unable to scream. Valora was coming right towards her. Nothing could stop her. Nothing in the world. Charlie was going to die. She was going to die she was going to die she was going to die she was going to die she was going to die-
“Don’t move,” Valora said. “Not one inch. Not one millimetre.” Then she crouched and, rather to Charlie’s surprised, looked under her seat. She looked back up, and fixed her eyes on her, eyes which flashed in Charlie’s mind as symbols of torment and wrath.

“Lupus,” she said. “…Charlie. There is an explosive under your seat. If you move, you will probably die. Stay perfectly… still.” She stood up. “Everyone else,” she said, “stand up and get out of the building. Do it right now.”
There might have been fatal delay, if Agent Lorenzo had not been there.
“Alright folks,” she said, as calm as you like, and flashing her shiny, authoritative F.B.I. badge. “You heard the lady. Everybody out.”

Sensing the mood, red-hair and idiot-hair joined their superior, and against the force of a superhero and three F.B.I. badges, even the judge could not resist. Only Cecily and Maria, as well as Tucker and Vanessa, tried to disobey, still bewildered and confused by the events transpiring in front of them. But the force of the increasingly panicked crowd pushed them back, until not a soul remained save for Charlie, and the woman who hated her more than anyone in the world, who just so happened to have her life in her hands.
“A… are you serious?” Charlie said.
“How – how did you know?”
“John told me.”
“What? Mister Man? How did he—”
“Please stop talking. There’s a timer on this thing, and it says forty seconds.
“Twenty s—”
“Shut up! Shut up, Lupus! Shut up if you want to live! Shut up!”
She stared. The seconds were ticking down. Suddenly, Lupus blurted something out that was not, in fact, altogether stupid.
“Let me touch you.”
“Let me touch you! Let me copy your power! I’ll survive even if the bomb goes off!”
“I don’t know that that’s true,” Valerie said. “This thing is pretty fucking serious, Charlie. And I’m not risking you getting my powers again.”
“What choice do you have?! It’s either that or I’m dead. You’re here to save me, right?! Because the world wants to rake its fucking nails over my eyes, you’re here to save me! So let me—”
“There’s another way,” Valerie said. “I’m pretty sure it’ll work.”
“Then hurry the fuck up!”
“You’re not gonna like it.”
“Why?” Lupus said, before Valora backhanded her across the courtroom, and leapt on top of the bomb.

Everyone outside heard the explosion and shrieked as the cloud of dust billowed threateningly from the courthouse’s every orifice. Saskia, who had pushed her way right up to the front of the hastily assembled cordon, cried out in anguish when the bomb went off, calling Valerie’s name with the desperate terror that one generally reserved only for lovers, or immediate family. Silently, but with no less horror, Cecily and Maria watched as well.
“She – she can survive that, right?” Maria said. “She’s Valora. There’s no way she could be dead from just that.”
Cecily didn’t answer. Cecily didn’t know.

After a couple of minutes, a figure emerged from the smoke. Blackened with soot, and nursing what would become a pretty nasty, hand-shaped bruise on her midsection, but pretty much unharmed, Charlie staggered out. She looked like she didn’t know where she was, like she would have just kept on walking in the direction she happened to be pointing. If her red-haired handler – usefully exempt from cordons thanks to that handy badge – hadn’t come forward, she might have done exactly that.
“You’re okay Charlie,” the agent said. “You’re okay. Just come with me, alright? We’ll get you someplace safe.”
But Charlie didn’t hear her. Not her fault this time: her ears were ringing painfully, and she couldn’t hear her handler speak. But she was talking. Repeating the same few words over and over again.
“I don’t get it,” she said. “She saved me. I don’t get it…”

Five more minutes passed, and no-one else came out. Finally, Maria managed to push her way to the front but policemen blocked her path.
“You have to let me in,” she said. “Valora is still inside!”
“Ma’am, we can’t do that,” a policeman replied. “As far as we can tell part of the building is on fire, maybe even in danger of collapse. Nobody’s going in except for the fire department.”
“Listen to me,” Maria said. “I’m a superhuman. My powers mean that fire can’t hurt me.”
“Lady I don’t care if you’re El Santo, you’re not going inside.”
“No, sir, you don’t understand. I’m not asking,” Maria said, and enshrouded herself in a scarlet aura twice as high as herself. “Move aside!” she commanded, and when they did not obey, she simply lifted herself over them.

Over their shouts, Maria glided up the stairs leading up to the courtroom, but the closer she got, the more her dismay grew. For there was smoke billowing out, and she could feel intense heat. In all likelihood, the building was about to catch fire. And though she had not lied to the officer, for flames could not harm her with her enhanced powers, she had no protection against smoke. She would have to try anyway. Mustering her courage, and trying to make a kind of shield with her energies, she prepared to go inside. She was so determined that she almost missed the woman going the other way.

She was limping. Her arms and legs were bleeding. Her neck and her face were heavily bruised, and she was clutching her stomach. Her teeth were gritted, and she was obviously in pretty serious pain. Her leotard had been mostly burned away, so she was naked from the navel up.

“Valerie!” Maria rushed to her side, and if Valerie might at other times have been too proud to lean on another’s shoulder, she was not then. She put her arm around Maria’s shoulder, and almost collapsed – but the strength of her legs did not give way. “Oh my god… oh my god, Valerie are you alright?”
“Uh… no?” Valerie said. “I, uh… this hurts…”
“Of course it does!”
“I… heh, I don’t think… I’ve ever been in this much pain before…” But she didn’t’ stop. “Hehe… so uh… this is what it’s like for the rest of you, huh?”

As Maria helped Valora forward, the crowd watching them was utterly silent. They just watched as Valora slowly approached them, the radiant hero charred and bloodied. At one moment she seemed to fall, and there was a collective wince. But she steadied herself, and stood.

Valerie looked at them. The crowd was large, and still growing. A couple of hundred people now. Why were they looking at her like that? Did they expect her to say something? Jesus, no! She just had a bomb go off against her stomach, and, what they wanted her to give a speech? Don’t be stupid. Don’t be ridiculous.

And then she saw Cecily, standing in the crowd, smiling, looking up at her with awe despite all she knew of her. She saw Tucker – Cacophony – the superhero who’d once tried to attack her, now looking at her just as Cecily did. With awe. She saw ordinary citizens, citizens who’d looked at her with scorn and impatience when she’d first arrived in Maine, now looking at her like – like a superhero. And she saw Saskia, which was such an unexpected pleasure that the loveliness of Valerie’s smile shone through the ash and the blood. She had a sudden desire to sleep, to put her head on Saskia’s lap and sleep, and though it was a thought that embarrassed her, that she dismissed, it was an honest thought, and warm. She saw admiration. She saw faith. And she remembered the vow she had made. She remembered what she had promised as she had soared.

Valerie took Maria’s arm from around her shoulder, muttering that she would be alright. She staggered forward, bare-breasted and darkened with ash, with bruises, and with blood. But still beautiful. Still the warrior. Still Valora.
“I…” she began, but the strength of her voice failed her. She almost fell. But it was better. She would have said something maudlin, sentimental, andstupid. Just because she had to inspire them didn’t mean she wasn’t herself.
“Someone,” she said, only barely able to speak loudly enough to hear, “someone find Milo Patáky! Someone tell him – someone tell him this – doesn’t – happen – here! Not on my turf! Not on my watch!”

Their cheers were bliss.
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Re: The Perils of Valora Finale: Rat Bites Dog Bites Man

Post by TheStormCrow »

Well, as Jake Peralta once said “Chills, literal chills”. I don’t know how much of Valora’s story is left, but I’m sure I’m gonna enjoy it. Outstanding job, as always.
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Re: The Perils of Valora Finale: Rat Bites Dog Bites Man

Post by Damselbinder »

The Perils of Valora 5-12: Rat Bites Mann

Funny how things work out. If Valora hadn’t hurled him up to that rooftop, and then collapsed the roof underneath him, he probably would have been arrested already. The cops showed up frighteningly quickly, and John knew that the bomb must at least have gone off, because it summoned a swarm of police, both the Mexico P.D. and Maine state troopers. John’s men were rounded up to a man, and the cops were smart enough to check the roof, so they would have found him too if he hadn’t been covered in rubble.

He was badly hurt. He was barely able to stand, much less evade the authorities, but somehow he managed to drag himself outside where – thank god – his car was still waiting for him. He crawled inside, lying across the front two seats, breathing heavily, and crying out once he realized just how much pain he was in. He stared at the ceiling of his car for a while, hoping that with time the pain would become less intense. But it didn’t. He looked down at himself and realized that he was bleeding quite seriously. He couldn’t just walk this off. He needed medical attention.

Thankfully, there was someone nearby that could help him: an old-fashioned mob doctor who had been in business longer than even Patáky. John could barely hold himself up enough to drive, and he couldn’t hear at all out of his right ear, but he was able to cover the three miles from himself to the doctor without losing consciousness.

“Oaahhh… you’ve been through the wars, haven’t you?” The doctor was old, wizened to the point where some parts of him looked like they were melting, and some looked like they had been sharpened into crags. He wore dentures, he stooped, his hands quivered – which didn’t altogether delight his patients – but he still had a full head of thick, curly black hair. The tragedy was that this beacon of the doctor’s strength, health and youth-at-heart was universally believed to be a very bad, very cheap wig by absolutely everyone who saw him.

But the old man still had his skills. He patched John up without too much difficulty, made a splint for his broken arm, cleaned up his cuts and bruises.
“’Fraid there ain’t much I can do about your ear, my boy. You’ll need to get that looked at by a specialist. But from the looks of things, you’re gonna spend the rest of your life with a crick in your neck.”
“What’s wrong with my neck?”
“Nothing.” The doctor then mimed the action of tilting his left ear towards John. “Get it? Dyeeehehehehehe!”
John glared at the old buzzard, but he had seen to somewhere in the region of five thousand tough guys just like him over the course of a long career. He wasn’t impressed.

Once he was bandaged up, John tried to leave. But now that his body had tried lying down and not moving for a while it had got something of a taste for it, and it would not allow him to move. He lay back, his only mercy that the doctor had given him something a lot stronger for his pain than he’d have been likely to get from his G.P.

He fell asleep, waking up an hour later with that disorientation you get when you take a nap in the middle of the afternoon. It was darker when he woke up, and he thought for a moment that he’d slept until the next day. The doctor was nowhere to be seen, and John felt better enough that he was able to get back on his feet.
“What the hell do I do now?” John muttered.
“What indeed?”

John swung round, drawing and levelling his pistol with speed that would have made Clint Eastwood grunt, but with a slightly impressed inflection. He saw who was behind him, but he still didn’t lower the gun for a few seconds.
“Hello, John,” Milo said.
“How did you know I was here?”
“Herr Doktor is an old acquaintance.”
Milo stepped out of the shadow. For once, he actually seemed quite well dressed, in a thin suit that had been skilfully tailored to his bony frame. He was wearing a black shirt, and moved with unusual grace.

“The day’s events have taken a turn,” Milo said, moistening his lips like a fingertip about to turn a page, “not necessarily to our advantage.”
“The bomb didn’t work?”
“Only in the sense that it exploded. But it didn’t kill anyone. Valora intervened. Tell me, John – how did she know to intervene?”
“I told her. I was trying to use it as leverage to force her to give Lupus up. I thought she was helpless. Ain’t no way to slice this other than that I fucked up real bad.”

Milo smiled.
“Oh hush,” Milo said. “We all… fucked up. After today, I don’t think it matters if Lupus is a plausible witness. Unless every juror at my trial just so happens to be one of my employees, I don’t think there are twelve good men and true in the land who wouldn’t convict me.”
“Why haven’t they arrested you yet?”
“They’re trying. There’s a warrant out. My assets have been frozen. My home has been raided. I am now Milo Patáky: outlaw.” He snickered. “Perhaps I should learn how to tie a lasso.”
John covered his eyes. It was a disaster. It was a complete disaster, and despite Milo’s ironical nostra culpa, he felt mortified. If there had been a sword nearby he might have lunged over to fall on it.

“What now?” John asked.
“Now? Now nothing. It’s over,” Milo said.
“What? No, Mr Patáky, you can still fight this. God knows you can get some decent lawyers. Better ones than you got now, even. All they got is one witness. You’re in a shitty spot, but you can still—”
“Oh, you don’t know. Of course.” Milo smiled. “Your men. The ones that were there when Valora made her stunning escape. They’re talking. They’re all talking.”
“…What?” These weren’t just tuppence halfpenny thugs. These were John’s best, most loyal footsoldiers. Some of them he even considered friends. “They’re talking to the cops?”
“Yes. About you. About me. About each other. About all and sundry, from what the grapevine whispers to me.”
“I don’t believe it.”
“Do. The magic is broken. Valora smashed it. They’re more afraid of her than of me. Or you. That’s what I mean when I say ‘it’s over’, John. There is no going back. Even if, somehow, the case against me were to vanish into the aether it would be impossible for me to keep everything going. I’ve shown blood, John. Not cool blood. Not a handsome, rugged scar that shows that I’m a man of action. Gross blood. Blood that smells a little bit of bile. Exactly what I – I prophesied will come to pass: the cells will turn on each other, the centre will not hold, and my little empire will come over all Macedonian.”

Milo walked to the nearest window.
“There’s another thing as well, John.”
“You’re fired.”

John laughed. First out of surprise, in a sort of macho ‘heh’, but then a real, mirthful belly laugh. After a few seconds, Milo surrendered as well, and the two men dissolved into roaring, raucous laughter that rang so hard and for so long that after a while it didn’t even sound like laughter anymore. Just noise.
“I mean,” John said, once he’d recovered his wits, “I can’t argue or nothing. I fucked us real bad, but like… given where we are, what’s the point?”

Milo didn’t answer. He turned around, walked to John and looked at him much like the doctor had, inspecting his face.
“Poor old John,” he said. “You’ve been beaten black and blue by every superhuman in the state, near enough. I suppose that’s what you get for going behind my back. I suppose that’s what you get for your ingratitude. I suppose that’s what you get for failing so badly!” he shouted, with incredible violence, and from the way he jerked his hand to his mouth it was clear that his rage had been totally involuntary. He got a wild, mad look in his eye, and bore his teeth like a wrathful chimp. It was ridiculous, but frightening, so much so that John was rooted to the spot.

But the moment passed swiftly. Milo composed himself, tried to look John in the eye, and succeeded, but couldn’t hold his nerve. He seemed to go through a dozen drafts of the next possible sentence that was to come out of his mouth, but nothing seemed to satisfy him. But he touched John on the arm, and shot him a brief, squirming leer that was about the closest that Milo ever came to a smile.
“If they catch you,” Milo said, “don’t be stupid. Don’t be loyal. Talk. Talk much, talk loudly. But try to run. I don’t like to think of you in prison. It would be… a waste.”
John shook his head.
“I don’t get you, Milo. And I don’t think I ever will. I don’t know – maybe that was the problem all along.”
“Maybe,” Milo said.
John walked out. The two would never see each other again.

But Milo lingered for a while. The room was cold, the sun low, and most of his body was in shadow, apart from a sharp triangle of light on his eyes and most of his nose. He moved back to the window, widening the triangle until one could see his eyebrows and his upper lip, a lip that was being held as stiff and as straight as a ruler. He rested his forehead against the window. Then he headbutted it until it smashed.

Screaming and bellowing, Milo trashed the doctor’s office. He opened every cupboard, he smashed every vial, he scattered every tool onto the floor, he kicked over the bins, he turned over the chairs, and he threw the heavy, outdated computer monitor onto the floor so hard that the screen shattered and the plastic housing cracked. He fell to his feet and started pounding what was left of it, covering his hands in cuts, then rubbing the blood all over his face. He put his thumb in his mouth, not to suck it, but in a concerted effort to bite it off, before he ran out of energy and started banging his face against the floor.
Hearing the racket, the doctor ran in, finding Milo on the floor, covered in blood.

“Wh – oh my word!” he stammered, totally misunderstanding and thinking that the chaos had been caused by John. “Milo, are you alright? What did he do to you? H-here let me have a look at you,” he said, running as fast as his arthritis would allow him. He was startled, however, when Milo jumped to his feet, drew a gun, and fired three times into the doctor’s chest.

The old man reeled more like he’d been punched than like he’d been shot. He fell on his back, wheezing, gasping. He wasn’t crying or swearing vengeance or lamenting his demise. He was just lying on his back like a fish in a boat, his mouth flapping open, his eyes dull, and animal. Milo ignored him completely. At the first gunshot the doctor had ceased to exist.

What now? Nothing now. It was over. His empire was about to leap from a high cliff and do a flip on the way down. His servitors were turning against him. His imprisonment, his destruction, were all but assured. There was nothing left to him, if he had ever had anything in the first place. He pressed his pistol against his temple and tried with all his might to will himself to pull the trigger. If only to get that image out of his head. If only, finally, not to have to think about it anymore.

You weasel. You smarmy, slimy, would-be-stud, this was your fault. This was all your fault! If you’d just kept your ambitions to yourself. If you’d just quit or something – anything! If you hadn’t gone mad and thought it would be a magnificent idea to abduct three women and drive them around for a day because you were too much of a snivelling coward. He wouldn’t be here now. He wouldn’t be sitting amidst this ruin. He’d have just been keeping on as usual. He wouldn’t have made his war. He wouldn’t have had to send Harper away. He would have had the distinct pleasure of never even having heard of Lupus. He’d be ratty, cowardly, pathetic – but extant. Not broken in half. So, Milo was glad, see? He was glad he’d had to rip you up and listen to you cry. He was glad that he’d had to break open that finely shaped skull like he was shucking an oyster. His only regret was that he’d had his revenge in advance. He wanted more. He wanted to turn his blood into poison and melt into the town water supply. He wanted set himself on fire and walk into a lumber mill. He wanted to rip his organs out one by one and throw them at people. He wanted to become spite incarnate.

And looking around the doctor’s office, looking at the vials and jars he’d strewn about on the floor, he realized that he’d thought of a way to do it.
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Re: The Perils of Valora Finale: Rat Bites Dog Bites Man

Post by Damselbinder »

For the first time since a pregnancy scare she’d had when she was fifteen, Valerie allowed herself to be taken to the hospital. The greatest fear of her doctors had been that Valerie might have been suffering from internal bleeding, which they would have had no idea how to treat given that any scalpel would break against her. But she was hardy all the way down, and though she was badly bruised, and in a state of mild shock, she was in no serious danger. They cleaned her up. They wiped the grime and soot and blood from her face, her body. They gave her a clean, soft gown. They gave her a comfortable bed. She had fallen asleep as soon as they had started examining her, and it had seemed a deep, heavy, and doubtless extremely well-earned sleep. But as a nurse had come by to check on her, she had suddenly bolted awake, and seized the nurse by the arm.

“They know my – they know my identity!”
“Y-you’re okay ma’am,” the nurse stammered, “you’re safe. You’re in hospital.”
“No, not me – not me!” She pulled herself out of bed, shoving aside the curtains, and frightening the wits out of the whole ward. “A phone – someone get me a phone or… or a cop or something!” She began stumbling down the hallway, almost knocking down a doctor or two, before running into a familiar face.

“Valerie!” Saskia beamed. “You’re alright! You’re—”
“Saskia, they knew who I was – they came to my home—”
“Slow down. Who knew?”
“I was – I was abducted from my apartment, Saskia, they knew exactly where to – to find me: they must know who I am.”
“Oh – oh, that’s awful. But you got away, didn’t you? You’re safe. You showed them what for, I’ll bet!”
“I’m fine, but if they know who I am, then they probably know about him – they probably know about my dad! He could be in danger. He could be dead.”
“Alright, Valerie. Alright. You leave it to me.”

Like she was flagging down a waiter to order another bottle of wine, Saskia summoned the attentions of one of the two police officers that were guarding Valerie’s ward.
“You. Officer Man.”
“Send word to your superiors. Or send out an APB or whatever it is you people do. You need to check on the safety of a man named Hercules—”
“Oh, sorry, my love, Ulysses Orville. We have good reason to think he’s in serious danger. Valerie, honey, what’s the address?”
Valerie gave it.
“Alright, ma’am,” the officer said. “I’ll – I’ll call it in.”

The other officer stood off to one side as if the extra six feet would give him some privacy. They heard him ask for a sergeant, a sergeant who evidently passed him to a lieutenant. They heard him repeat what Saskia had said. He listened for a bit, then looked confused.
“Yes, sir, I’m sure. Yeah, Ulysses, definitely.”
Valerie’s stomach tightened. The name meant something to this officer’s superior. Why? Had something already happened?
“Oh. Oh, okay, sir, sorry to bother you.” He paused. “Peterschmidt, sir. No sir. Uh, no sir, I’ve never been to Cancun. Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.”

When he turned back around, Valerie looked about ready to throttle him.
“Uh, it’s the weirdest thing,” he said. “We’ve already got a car watching that house. They called in about three minutes ago: apparently he’s still fine.”
“How – how did they know?”
“Someone called ‘Hypatia’ asked us to.”
“Oh,” Valerie said. “Okay. Cool. Thank you.”
She turned around, walked back to her bed, in something of a daze. She lay down, and when Saskia found her, she found her with her hand over her eyes.
“I didn’t think of it,” she said. “While they were holding me captive. Not once. I didn’t even think of it. I mean – I guess it wouldn’t really have made a difference but… it didn’t even occur to me. But Cecily thought of it. She didn’t even know I’d been kidnapped and she still figured it out.”

Saskia sat by her bedside.
“Come now, Valerie. No recrimination. Not today. Not now. Not now that everyone in the world thinks you’re as fab as I do. Nearly, anyway.”
“Yeah,” Valerie said, which was something of a surprise to her friend.
“Did I,” Saskia said, “just detect a hint of acknowledgement of your extreme excellent-ness?”

Valerie took her hand off her eyes. She entwined her fingers with Saskia’s, held Saskia’s hand against her chest. She was hurt. She was bruised, and exhausted. But she smiled at Saskia with a lightness that Saskia had never seen in her face before.
“Before,” she said, “I, uh… I almost died.”
“From the bomb? I didn’t think it hurt you that badly.”
“No. Not the bomb. The guy – Milo’s number two. He had me strapped to a… thingy, I don’t know. Some sci-fi bullshit. Well he had me dead to rights and he started suffocating me. And… I don’t know, I just thought about a bunch of stuff, and about being Valora, and about – the people in my life. I don’t really know how to explain it, but…”
No, hang on. Yes she did. She absolutely knew how to explain it.
“Now don’t you take this the wrong way,” Valerie said. “I don’t want Piper getting paranoid. But,” she added, “I… uh…” She clutched her friend’s hand a little tighter. “I love you, Saskia.”
“Oh, sweetheart,” Saskia said, making no attempt to hide the tears welling up in her eyes, “I love you too.” She put her arms around Valerie’s neck and embraced her.

* * *

When Valerie was discharged a few hours later, the first thing she did was to track down Cecily. She found her with Maria by her side, of course, but with the others too. They had gathered to take stock, to bring those more on the periphery up to speed on the developments. When Valerie arrived, she did it so understatedly and quietly that most of them didn’t notice her until she was already among them. Someone (“definitely Bacchus”) tried rather cringeworthily to start a slow clap, but Valerie hushed them.

“Don’t,” she said. “I know I did the big dramatic thing at the end, but don’t get this backwards. We’ve won, it looks like, but we all won. Everything you did, for all this time, was working up to it. It’s our victory. And like, hey, I’m a fan of glory as much as the next guy, but – looking at all of you, I think there’s plenty of glory to go around.”

Imagine that you were the President of the United States, and that Uncle Sam popped into the Oval Office, winked and said: “You’re alright, kid”, and you might understand something of the effect that Valerie’s words had on the assembled company. Even Cecily, whose history with Valerie one might imagine could have prevented her from being dazzled by her, even she was overawed. But of all of them, she was the only one to sense – something. Something different about the way Valerie was talking. It was, somehow, artificial. But this was not an evil thing, Cecily sensed. It was – well it was like Hypatia’s mask. It was part of the mystique – not something that Cecily had fancied mattered to Valerie very much. Something had changed.

“Thank you, Cecily,” Valerie said, when the two were able to be alone. “I don’t know if, uh, if my old man was actually in any danger, but – he could have been. For all I know, you saved his life.”
“Not at all,” Cecily replied. “All I did was make a phone call.”
“How did you even know to do it?”
“You have Lamia to thank for that. You must forgive me, Valerie, but since you were missing, I asked her to slip into your home to see if anything was amiss.”
“Oh right. Yeah, it was all messed up.”
“Not when she found it. She said it was spotless – but she could she smell something lingering on the air that reminded her of – well of what she and I were dosed with when Lupus kidnapped us. The advantages of being able to turn into a snake are legion, it would seem.”

They filled each other in. Valerie described the events of her abduction; Cecily explained the status quo as far as the case against Milo went, that he was missing, that there was a warrant for his arrest, and that his incarcerated men were turning against him.
“It is beginning to look as if it’s over,” Cecily said. “Even if Patáky jets off to Patagonia, his empire in this state is almost certainly finished. We’ve done it. I think we’ve actually done it.”
“When he’s actually rotting in a cell, it’ll be finished – but… yeah. I think you’re right. He’s done. Maybe this is stupid, but it does kind of feel like we just threw the ring in the volcano, huh?”

Cecily laughed. She looked on Valerie with a very strange, very sweet smile.
“Valerie,” she said. “if you’re truly grateful to me, will you forgive a moment’s eccentricity?”
“Uh, okay?”
“Excellent,” Cecily said. She took Valerie’s hand, and shook it; formally, but with sincere enthusiasm. “Thank you, Valerie, for standing at my side and allowing me to stand at yours. Without your power, and your heroism, we would never have won the day. Thank you, my comrade.”
Smirking, Valerie matched Cecly’s straight-backed officiality.
“Well then thank you, Cecily, for your strength, for your intelligence. For never breaking, so that I could. Without the belief you inspired in your crew, we’d never have been able to bring Patáky down. Thank you, my friend.”
They unclasped their hands, and Cecily giggled.
“Oh my,” she said, “we superheroes do come over very pretentious sometimes, don’t we?”
“Eh. Comes with the territory.”

When Valerie left Cecily and her champions, she found that she was relieved. She didn’t immediately know why, but it was – she realized – because she’d just put her new vow to the test. She had sworn to inspire, to bear the flag for those like her, and she pretty much just had. It was a first step, but it was something. It was pretension, like Cecily had said, but it was sincere pretension.

And then it hit her – what she had tried to avoid thinking about since she had woken up in that hospital bed. The panic she had felt when it had occurred to her that he was in danger. The relief she had felt when she’d found out that he wasn’t. Had her feelings changed? Did she no longer hate him? No – she did. It just… I don’t know. It didn’t scare her as much.
She stopped dead where she was walking. Was she about to fall into another trap? If she reached out to him again, would it just be like before? Would she sink back into that… misery again?
That was all the answer she needed. No, because she wouldn’t let it. No, because she knew better, now. No, because if, as she feared she knew, Ulysses didn’t really love her, it wasn’t because she couldn’t be loved. It wasn’t because there was anything wrong with Valerie.
So she would reach out again. And odds were it would end badly. Odds were she would end up regretting it. Odds were it would be painful, and end in tears for all and sundry. But she had to try. Because she was Valora, and Valora was supposed to be good.
Because she still wanted one more moment of catharsis.

* * *
A day to the second after a bomb had gone off against his daughter's stomach, Ulysses Orville was sitting in his armchair. The lights were off. He didn’t need to keep them off; he had enough to live on; but when he felt miserable, he wanted everyone to know he felt miserable. He wanted everyone to be able to see, even if no-one was looking. It was the only thing now that gave him any pleasure.

He was not that much unhappier than he had been when Valerie was part of his life. Since his relationship with her had been one of feckless, uninterrogated exploitation, and since Ulysses was still a human being who needed love and affection as much as anyone else, even if all of his behaviour was guaranteed to push it away from himself, his treatment of Valerie had not made him happy.

When he thought, as he often did, about Valerie slamming the door on him, it did sometimes occur to him that he had mistreated her. But he somehow morphed this into thinking that it was all the fault of his artistic temperament, that prosaic, gruff Valerie had simply never been able to connect with him.

He did not quite forget all the times she had held him when he had one of his fits. He did not forget when she had cleaned vomit off him after he had got too drunk. He did not forget the dutiful attentions she had laid upon him. But he dismissed their significance. He didn’t blame her exactly. Oh, he blamed himself. As high-handedly and as patronisingly as possible, but he didn’t exactly blame her. And sometimes, when he lay between inebriation and soberness, or between sleep and waking, he thought of her going up against dangerous criminals, and he feared genuinely for her safety. Once – and only once – in the time since Valerie had walked out, he had found himself wondering if she was happy, and hoping she was.

And then one day he was sitting on his armchair, thinking about the next book he was not going to write, and there was a knock at his door. He didn’t get up at first, but when they knocked again, he was stirred into rising. He approached his door clutching his stomach – his Crohn’s had not got any better recently, and felt quite sick by the time he got to the door. He opened it, and blinked in surprise.

“How do you do, Mr Orville?” said the man at the door. “My name’s Milo. May I come in?”
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Re: The Perils of Valora Finale: Rat Bites Dog Bites Man

Post by Damselbinder »

As soon as Ulysses called her, in the middle of mostly aimless patrol, Valerie knew that something was wrong. There were plenty of innocent explanations that defied wild coincidence – perhaps he had seen the bombing on television, for example, and was more-than-usually concerned for her physical welfare. Perhaps he was calling to ask why there was a patrol car parked across the street from his house. But she had a cold feeling in her stomach as soon as she put the receiver to her ear, and it grew only colder when she heard her father’s voice.
“Valerie,” he said. “Please come over. Please come over now.”

She answered the request as literally as she could. She covered the fifteen miles from her home to his in one desperate leap.
When she saw there was still a patrol car outside her father’s house, she was relieved. When she saw that it had been joined by four others, and that the officers were using their vehicles’ doors as shields, pointing their weapons at her father’s windows, she began to feel numb.
“Valora!” The most senior officer present rushed to her as soon as she landed, bewildered by her presence but not altogether displeased. “Boy, am I glad to see you!”
“What’s happening?” Valora asked. She didn’t look at him.
“This is going to sound crazy, but we think that Milo Patáky is inside that house. He’s holding the owner hostage.”

Not dead then. Okay.
“I thought there were people watching this place. How did he get in?”
The officer swallowed.
“He… he had one of his men rear-end the car we had on watch. When the officers got up to deal with it, he must have slipped inside.”
“Right. Well, don’t feel too bad.”
Over a panicked protest, Valerie jumped over the cordon, walked right up to the front door, and stepped inside.

The front room was a mess. Everything had been knocked over: furniture; bookshelves; a small, old CRT. The only pieces of furniture that were still the right way up were a coffee table, and a chair, which had been moved to a strange position. Placed, Valerie reasoned, so that a lurking sniper wouldn’t be able to get a good shot. On the coffee table were eight vials of various sizes and shapes. On the chair was her Ulysses, badly beaten, with a gun against his head. Holding the gun, was Milo Patáky.

“Ah, Valerie,” Milo said, “delighted to see you. Well done on all your heroics yesterday. Inspiring.” His face was cut up. From the shape of the wounds, they were obviously self-inflicted. He looked like he hadn’t slept for a week. He stank – it was partly body odour, but it was something else, too, something rank and sharp which the senses could not identify as anything but ‘disease’. His thinness no longer made him look fragile, but unnatural: a monster from a fairy tale.
“V—” Ulysses began to say, but Milo jabbed him with the gun’s barrel.
“Hush now,” Milo said.

Valerie was not exactly afraid. Nor was she exactly angry. She was just focused, focused as one might be when walking a tightrope over a chasm a mile deep.
“What is this, Milo?” she said. She spoke quietly. Slowly. “Why are you doing this? What does it get you?”
“Hm? Oh! Oh, I see. You mean ‘is this part of some Machiavellian scheme for victory?’ Er… no. I’m finished. I know that. There’s no way I’m walking out of here free and living. You and I both know it. No, no, no, Valerie, this is an act of petty, infantile revenge. It’s as simple as that.”

Valerie tried to think of some way just to get the gun out of his hand. Could she cross the distance in time? She was fast, but she didn’t know if she was fast enough. Even if Milo got frightened and twitched the gun might have gone off. Could she do what she’d done before? Give an earth-shaking stomp and knock him off his feet. Maybe. Again, that might make him fire – but she was sure she could actually do it before he reacted. Okay. If it came down to it, and there was no other way, she’d do the stomp thing. But for now she just had to keep him talking.

Valerie stood taller. In her full regalia, with her cape at her shoulders, she had a large and intimidating profile.
“Listen to me, Patáky,” she said, “I don’t care about you. For me, this was never personal. You say you’re finished? Fine. Great. Good enough for me. I don’t actually give a crap about you being in jail. So walk out. Just walk out of here. I won’t chase you. The only person in this room that I care about is in that chair. Once he’s okay, I won’t give two shits about the destiny of Milo Patáky.”

Milo looked at her for a moment. Then he smiled.
“Oh, bravo. Bravo! What a performance! Just the right mix of heroic high-handedness and grimy, salt-of-the-earth, old-fashioned grit. Oh, how people must love you! What a hero! What – indeed – a superhero!”
“I’m telling the truth.”
“I’m prepared to believe that. But you misunderstand the nature of the situation in which you find yourself.”
Milo put his free hand on Ulysses’ head, twisting the man’s thinning hair between his fingers.

“You know,” Milo said, “when I walked in here looking for the father of the Great and Mighty… Valora! - I can’t say I expected… this. I thought he’d be some gargantuan, all-American quarterback, but – this? This squealing little whelp? It’s ridiculous. It’s delightful! I didn’t even have to draw my gun to subdue him.” He started chuckling, then giggling, then full-bore laughing. “I beat him up! I won a fight! I’ve never won a fight in my entire life, but the father of Valora is such a miserable creature that even I can punch his lights out!” He turned his head upwards. “You hear that, James? You hear that? It finally happened! I’m a man at last! Aren’t you proud?!” Hooting with glee, he raked his nails across Ulysses’ scalp, making him cry out, and making a hot, grey ash of hatred vomit itself up Valerie’s throat.

“Did you say… James?” She spoke slowly, through gritted teeth. “James? James Oleander? You motherfucker, is this about James fucking Oleander?! Is that why you’re doing this?! Huh? Because I lost you an employee?!”
“Lost me an-? Oh. Ohhhhhhhhhh. Right. Of course. You don’t know, do you? Why should you? James is dead. I killed him myself. I cut him up and then I put a knife through his skull. In fact, I’m still doing it. I’m doing it right now. I’ve been doing it for the past six months.”
“Am I supposed to give a shit?”
“No, I daresay not, but I do, you see, I do, I give all the shit, I take the shit and rub it in my face until it sinks into every pore and it’s all I can smell, that’s how much shit I give, Valora, and I give it because of you, because of you, because you had to stick your nose into my business and make him do something so stupid that I had to chop up his brains with a pointy stick so NOW you should care, Valora, because this is my revenge!” he said, with an hysterical flourish, pointing at the vials on the coffee table.

Only now did Valora actually look at the objects Milo had placed there. Some of the labels on them meant nothing to her. Some of them did. One in particular that stood out was a label that said ‘digitalis.’
“I don’t know,” Milo said, “how many of those will affect you. But I’m quite sure at least one of them will. And in each of those vials is many, many times a fatal dose. So, drink. Drink, and die, and I won’t kill your daddy.”

Valerie wanted to laugh. Who knew her prediction would come true so quickly? The one she’d dismissed. The one where she went right back to doing just what she’d always been doing – sacrificing herself for her father. How perfect. How like a circle one’s life always found some way of being. In fact, Milo had been needlessly tentative – any of the drugs on the table would kill Valerie. It was possible – just possible – that her constitution would let her hold out long enough to survive until she got medical attention. Her intention was to take one, and immediately act as though it were killing her to make Milo drop his guard. Maybe that would work. But in Valerie’s heart, she knew it wouldn’t. In her heart, she knew that her universe had become utterly binary.

Could she refuse? Maybe. Ulysses was an old man, now. Ill. Weak. Probably not all that long for this world anyway. And his being in mortal peril did not fool Valerie into forgetting the truth of her emotions. She did hate him; and the world would have much rather had Valerie in it than Ulysses. He wasn’t a good person. Trading her life for his was no trade at all. The problem was that Valerie was a superhero, and that meant something to her. The problem was that, despite her protests, she was good. Milo needn’t have bothered going after her father. If he’d grabbed an anonymous civilian from the street, and made the same demand, Valerie’s dilemma would have been effectively identical. Valora did not jealously fear her own mortality. She did not make utilitarian calculations on a person’s worth. When someone was in danger, she saved them. That was all there was to it.
“Alright, Milo,” Valerie said.
“Excellent,” Milo said.
The gun went off.

The bullet went right through Ulysses’ neck, and out the other side. His hand was on the gun, and when Milo tried to pull his hand away, Ulysses kept a completely rigid grip on the weapon, so that Milo had to abandon it. The gangster staggered back like he had been the one who’d been shot, looking at Ulysses with utter confusion. He turned to Valora, helplessly.
“I – I didn’t mean to fire,” he said, truthfully. “The idiot grabbed my hand – I – it was an accident.”

Valerie didn’t cry. She didn’t shout. She didn’t scream. She just walked to her father, kneeled next to him. She looked at the wound, and found that it was devastating, and obviously fatal. He was beyond saving. His jugular vein had been shattered, and he could no longer breathe. He was heaving, and gasping, and it looked like his head was going to tear itself off. He looked hideous, but Valerie held him anyway.

“I… ghhkhh… dhh… dhhd I…” Whatever Ulysses was trying to say was completely unintelligible. His face was too drained to convey anything other than his pain.
“Hey now,” Valerie said, gently, as his blood began to soak the brilliant blue of her costume. “You don’t need to speak. You don’t need to say anything. It’s alright. It’s alright, dad.”
Ulysses began shivering, so Valerie took her cape from her shoulders, and wrapped him in it.
“You’re okay,” she said, repeating it, more and more softly.

Milo watched from a few feet away, his hands trembling, the muzzle flash still going off in his eyes. At this last, Milo felt like he had woken up, and raw, physical terror gripped him with about as much force as Valora herself might have done.
“I didn’t mean to,” he mumbled. “I didn’t mean to! It was an accident!” he shouted as if this, somehow, might save him. He only stopped when Valora fixed him with a glare that might have cracked a continent in half.
“Don’t speak,” she said. “Not a word. This man is not going to die with your voice in his ears. He is going to die with his daughter’s voice, because – thanks to you – that’s all I can give him now. So do not speak.”
Milo obeyed.

Valerie looked upon the ruin of the man in her arms, of the human being half of whom made up half of her. He was clinging on only very, very tentatively to life now. The colour had drained from his face, and his eyes. Valerie expected that he was no longer even aware of her presence. But, at the last, he turned his eyes to her. He held up his hand. With the last of his strength, he extended and then contracted his index finger, and after a second Valerie realized that he was miming the action of pulling the trigger of a gun. He was trying to show her that it hadn’t been an accident.
“I know, dad,” Valerie said. “I know. Thank you.”
A few seconds later, Valerie was holding a corpse.

When she rose, covered in her father’s blood, Valerie kept waiting for something to happen. Kept waiting for the fury. Kept waiting for the explosion. She walked over to Milo, picked him up by the throat, and drew back her hand. He begged her for mercy. He pleaded with her. Then he snapped and started screaming at her to get on with it and kill him, and started scratching uselessly at her, absolutely like the rat to which he so often compared himself.

“Come on!” he screamed. “Do it!”
“No,” Valerie said, dreamily. “I don’t want to. It’s not even hard. You just don’t… matter enough.”
She brought him to the front door, opened it. Police immediately surged forward, seizing Milo from Valerie and bundling him away. He stared at his enemy the entire time, not understanding why he was still alive.
Valerie did not touch her Ulysses’ body again. She stood to one side as policemen ran in to clear the house and to check his body was indeed just a body. They asked her questions, and she answered them truthfully, and automatically. She even revealed, without thinking, that the dead man was her father. She watched as paramedics inspected him, discovered for themselves what Valerie could easily have just told them. She watched as they lifted him onto a gurney, soberly covering him with a white sheet. One of the police officers handed Valerie her cape, and he begged her forgiveness, which Valerie didn’t understand until she realized he’d been one of the officers guarding her father’s house. She smiled at him and told him it was alright. None of this, she said, was anyone’s fault but Patáky’s.

When Cecily and Maria found her, Valerie did not cry. When Saskia found her, Valerie did not cry. When she gave a statement to the authorities, she was the picture of calm. When she formally identified the body, she did so in complete control of herself. When her mother-in-law appeared, crying tears of her own that were pretty much completely genuine, Valerie was the one comforting her. Only a day later, when Oliver appeared to be with his lover in this moment of tragedy, did Valerie begin to feel anything but shock. But even then, she didn’t cry.
Between the time of Ulysses’ death, and his funeral, a few things of note happened. Charlie, finding out about Valerie’s bereavement, had of course been concerned only with herself. She was worried that the deal would now no longer be honoured, because her testimony was basically completely unimportant now. In fact, the prosecution decided that – with so much other evidence – Charlie’s testimony stood the risk of hampering their case, rather than helping it. But Lorenzo honoured the agreement. Three days later, she left Maine, and was taken to a large-ish town in Utah. As you might expect, she hated it, and within a month, she had broken the conditions of her deal, and disappeared.

John Mann was almost caught three times trying to cross the border. He spent one long, harrowing night in the woods with as many as twenty state troopers searching for him. But he evaded them and made it into Canada. He stole a car and drove himself to Ontario. He found a cheap motel to crash in for a couple of days. As luck would have it, he got the very room in which James Oleander had been murdered. Thankfully, it served John’s comforts a little better.

Milo Patáky tried to kill himself three times – once by hanging, once by cutting his wrists, and once by finding the biggest, ugliest, meanest fellow inmate he could find and saying some very amusing things about his parentage. The hanging was foiled by a passing guard; the chiselled down toothbrush wasn’t sharp enough to do him a serious wound; the big, ugly mean inmate got his head kicked in by a few of Milo’s loyalists who didn’t understand that their once-boss wasn’t just trying to establish himself. When all that didn’t work, he did the next best thing to dying and told his solicitors that he was going to plead guilty to all charges. But even that didn’t work. When he lay in his cell at night, not sleeping, he still saw James brighter and more real than the walls around him. And now he saw Valora too. Saw her eyes. Saw him looking upon her with godlike indifference. Saw her condemning him – cursing him – to live.

* * *

The funeral was a bitterly strange affair. People turned up that Valerie had never met before; publishers, fellow authors and anonymous literary types. A couple of distant cousins. Friends from college. Some friends of Victoria. One or two, even, who had been friends of Esther, Valerie’s birth mother. Valerie was astonished at how many of them wanted to speak. Some of the speeches painted a man who seemed totally incompatible with the one she’d known. Someone witty. Someone with talent. Victoria even read out a poem that Ulysses had written as a younger man, and Valerie was surprised to find that she didn’t find it all that bad, even though she saw a couple of more accomplished writers wincing.

But there were some commonalities. Beyond a couple of faintly amusing anecdotes about things he’d said to certain people, no-one who spoke seemed to be able to remember Ulysses actually doing anything worth retelling. No-one spoke of him with affection, even though some of them made poor efforts to make it seem like they were. Some idiot asked Valerie if she wanted to speak, and was frightened by a glare not unlike the one she had given her father’s murderer.

But though she stayed silent, she was the first in line to spread earth on his coffin. When Ulysses had, in his maudlin, self-pitying way, talked about what he wanted to happen when he died, he’d said he wanted to be cremated. But since he hadn’t written anything down, Valerie had asked that he be buried. She wanted him to be somewhere in particular. Somewhere she knew where he was – it made her feel safer, somehow. It was a long, black day. God knows how she’d have got through it without Oliver.

She and he stayed by Ulysses’ graveside long enough for everyone else to leave. They stayed, in silence, until the sky darkened, and the grey clouds parted enough for the graveyard to take on a faintly pink-gold hue.
“Thank you for being here,” Valerie said. It was the first thing she had said since the funeral started.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Oliver replied. “Of course I’m here.” He felt Valerie take his hand, so he gave her the other one too. “Is, uh… is there anything you want to talk about? Or do you just want to sit here?”

Valerie did not want to speak. But now that Oliver had given her permission, she couldn’t stop herself.
“I feel relieved,” Valerie said. “That’s the worst thing. It’s a relief.”
“It’s pretty natural to feel like that,” Oliver said. “Considering what your relationship was like.”
“Mm,” Valerie said. “You’re right. I still think I’d hate myself if that was all, but… uh… I guess I’m kind of relieved for him as well, you know? He was always so… so fucking unhappy. Half of it was his own fault, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t real. No more of that. Nothing more to fear. And like… he kind of saved my life, right? If he hadn’t made Patáky shoot… I would have died. And – and I don’t feel guilty, exactly, right? I feel – uh… grateful, you know? That’s good. That’s a good thing to have. That’s a good thing for a daughter to feel towards their father, right?”
“So – so I’ll let him have that, right? I’ll let him have that. I’ll give him my gratitude, because he deserves it. He deserves it!” She was shaking. The grip on Oliver’s hand was beginning to become painful. “But – but I know him! I know him – god damn it, I know him!” Her teeth were bared. Her eyes were fixed on her father’s grave. Her knuckles were white. “He’ll have died thinking it made everything okay. He died thinking none of the rest of it mattered. He died thinking – thinking he was a good father! I don’t want to give him that! I’m so – angry, Oliver… Oliver, I’m so angry! I’m so angry! I’m so angry! I’M SO ANGRY!”

She twisted like she’d been poisoned, throwing back her head and clutching her skull, so hard that it was like she was trying to take her own head off. She bellowed – a brutal, animal sound that made the whole graveyard shake. She got to her feet and roared until her throat was hoarse, shaking and doubling over like she was convulsing.

Oliver watched her in a mix of pity, and horror. He had never met Milo Patáky, and he had never met Ulysses Orville, but he had never hated any two men more. How dare they do this to her? How dare they make her feel like this? How dare they hurt her so violently? He felt helpless, and small, and utterly insufficient, much in the way that one always does when a loved one feels a grief that one doesn’t themselves feel or understand. He wanted to say something – anything – but there were no words that would not be drowned in that scream. He began weeping.

When the red mist faded, and the bellow faded to a moan, and then to nothing, Valerie heard Oliver crying. She spun around, startling him, and took his face between her hands.
“Kiss me,” she said, and he did. He pressed his lips against hers, letting her tongue into his mouth, feeling as she embraced him with furious, passionate intensity. She put her hands in his hair, slipped her hands under his jacket and stroked his back. She felt his tears on her cheeks, and loved him for them, for crying them in her place.

When Oliver broke the kiss, and Valerie let her face fall against his chest, she shivered with a wave of tingling goosebumps that travelled over her body in surges.
“Oh, thank god,” she said, her voice cracking. “It’s still true – it’s all still true… it’s all still true…”
“What, Valerie? What’s still true?”
“Everything I – I thought I’d found… everything I thought I’d realized – I thought maybe… maybe this had broken it – taken it away, but it didn’t… it didn’t… I can still be – I can still love you…”
Oliver felt her fall heavily against him, and after a few seconds, realized that she had fainted.

You couldn’t have all this happen without attracting some attention from the rest of the world. When Milo’s empire collapsed and, its components turned on each other, there were those who scented opportunity. And now that Maine had established itself as a place where superhumans mattered again, the conflict took on a deadly new element.

A portion of Novak’s old crew had hired a superhuman to turn things in their favour. Some of Milo’s inner circle had done the same, and so – the day after Ulysses’ funeral – Portland played host to a brutal, old-fashioned supervillain slugfest.
In the red corner, Panzer, so named because there were gruesome looking holes in his palms through which he could launch powerful explosives, like organic rockets. In the blue corner, Golem, so called because his body was made of a clay-like substance that was extremely resistant to lasting injury, and which could regenerate if seriously damaged.

Their battle had started in the outskirts, but over the course of their mutual brutalisation, they had manged to make it all the way to Federal Street. Panzer seemed to have an endless supply of his explosives, and hapless civilians ran desperately for cover as he laughed, raining destruction on the city. Golem had a calmer head, but he was just as brutal. In his efforts to crush his foe, he swept aside traffic with a massive, clay-grey hand, tanking Panzer’s attacks, but having to shift himself around them when they became too much for even him to withstand, only spreading the destruction further.

But, at one point, Golem made an elementary mistake. He’d tangled with superheroes before, and more than once he’d turned around a losing battle by taking a hostage. Without thinking, he did the same, grabbing a middle-aged pedestrian from the street and threatening to crush them. But Panzer didn’t give a shit and, laughing, he just launched two rockets at villain and hostage alike. But something strange happened. His rockets exhibited a property they did not normally exhibit. They froze in mid-air, and once their propellant was expended, exploded with disappointingly mediocre force.

“Stop this at once!”
Both villains turned, and realized that they had drawn unwanted attention. A woman stood before them, elegant, refined, and slender, with straight, red hair, tall boots, and a black mask. There was an upsilon on her chest.
“Who the fuck?” growled Panzer – but Golem was less ignorant.
She strode towards them, all dignity and confidence, totally unafraid.
“Surrender now,” she said. “Both of you. Or you shall deal with me.”
“Back off, hero!” Golem commanded. “I have a hostage!”
“No,” Hypatia replied. “I don’t suppose that you do.”
“Wh – URRAAAHHH!!” His head was gripped by a sudden, searing pain, and he lost his grip on his captive, who scrambled away, screaming.

“You idiot!” Panzer spat. “Alright – truce until we deal with the cape?”
“Fine,” Golem replied. “I know your reputation, Hypatia. I know you’re nothing to fuck with. But neither am I, and neither is he. You could take either of us – but not both.”
“We’ll have to see,” Hypatia replied. She steeled herself – but then, suddenly, she smiled. She was looking up, her hand against her chest. “Or perhaps not,” she said, in breathless wonder, looking upon the figure standing above them.

The sun was at her back. Her cape billowed. Her face was proud, and beautiful. Her shoulders were strong. She looked down upon her city, her friend, and the two fools who were about to challenge her might, and she took a slow, heavy breath.

No matter the burden. No matter the fury. No matter the pain. She was Valora, and Valora bore it.

She was Valora, and Valora fought.

She was Valora, and Valora struggled.

And in that struggle, Valora really was invincible.
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Re: The Perils of Valora Finale: Rat Bites Dog Bites Man

Post by Damselbinder »

The Perils of Valora 5-Epilogue: “Tempus Non Fugit”

The union that had been established by Cecily had taken on a life of its own. In the years to follow, Maine would come to be considered the best place on the East Coast for a superhuman to make a go of using their powers for good. It wasn’t as glamorous as California, and you weren’t likely to get very famous. But you could live, and you could live relatively well.

Cecily and Maria had stayed for about six months following the downfall of Milo Patáky. By this time, they did not need to shepherd their creation. The others were sad to see them go, especially Cacophony, but, as Cecily had explained:
“We were always guests here. We had a mission, and it’s over now. What we have built belongs to all of us – but especially to you.”

Returning to California was, for Cecily, a little bittersweet. True, she had missed her home. True, she did feel like her task in Maine was complete. True, she wanted very much to start laying down a pattern for her life that would continue on into the future. But it was difficult leaving something into which she had invested so much effort and so much blood. Maine was where Hypatia – a vital part, now of Cecily’s soul – had been forged. Maine had been where she had built the thing of which she was most proud. It had been the arena for her greatest victories. It had been where she and Maria had fallen in love. But to all things there was a season, and Cecily could feel hers changing. Still – there was one friend she’d left behind about whom she, occasionally, worried.

Lamia, from whom charisma flowed in great waves, took charge of her remaining comrades in Hypatia’s absence. By all accounts she did this very well, though when some of her allies reflected on their time under her command in later years, they remembered her being a lot less diplomatic than Hypatia had been.

Saskia and Piper stayed in Maine. As the passage of time began to turn against print journalism, Saskia shifted accordingly, and ended up quitting the Sun to establish a fairly successful current affairs website. She didn’t find her true calling until much later, however, when she became a fairly celebrated author of non-fiction . The two never married, but they adopted two children, a boy and a girl. When Valerie visited them, as she often did, the children couldn’t tell if they thought of her as an aunt, or as a big sister. Either way, Saskia intended to make sure that Valerie never felt like an orphan when she was in their home.

The fame of Valora only grew. As there was the Titan on the West Coast, there was Valora on the East, and soon enough it was not just Mainers who thought of Valora as an icon of superheroism. She won a string of famous victories, the most celebrated being her defeat of the man who would later bear the name Dextrus – not so much because of her conquest of him, but because of its aftermath. The two had fought in New York, a city not traditionally privy to these superhuman contests, and during the battle, Dextrus-to-be – sensing imminent defeat – had unleashed his powers on the Chrysler Building, shattering its foundations and ultimately destroying it. But though this was a tragedy for New York’s skyline, it was not one in terms of loss of life: for six hours Valora had acted as a support for the building until it could be evacuated and then safely, if sadly, demolished.

As the years went by, the number of victories that were put to her name could not easily be counted. There were, of course, a few defeats here and there, for Valora’s beauty and her reputation painted something of a target on her back. But she would always rise again. It was just what Valora did.

Valerie’s relationship with Oliver lasted for three years. Neither regretted them, but there were a few things that had begun to become… difficult, by the end. Firstly, Oliver was just a bit older than Valerie. By the time she turned twenty-two Oliver was nearly thirty, and he was at a different phase of his life from her. He was getting to the point where he wanted to settle down, but Valerie was still figuring everything out. She ended up going back to college, too, to get a proper degree in photojournalism, and that kept her a whole state away from Oliver for some time. It let them both realize that a wedge had formed.

Whenever they were together, it was always passionate; maybe too much. They bore their souls to each other; maybe too much. They loved each other deeply and – well, you can probably never have too much of that, but it was a love that had too much to do with wounds. It meant that they never quite trusted the other not to be hurt by them. The end had come when Valerie discovered that Oliver had bought, and then returned, an engagement ring.
“Why did you return it?” she’d asked him.
“Because I realized that you’d say no,” he’d replied.
“You were right,” she’d replied. They spent the next six months breaking up, returning to each other in the middle of the night for wild, desperately loving sex, not talking for weeks, then doing it all again. They only really broke it off once that dance became intolerably painful – which, one supposes – had been the point.

After this, Valerie had a string of relationships, some semi-serious, most fleeting. For a few weeks in 2008 she was seeing a woman; but this ended up as one of her most serious regrets: Valerie had been deceiving herself and her partner about what was romantically possible for her. Moreover, she realized much later that she had only been trying to have something she wouldn’t compare to Oliver, which she had found herself doing anyway. After that experience, Valerie made very few attempts to have serious relationships again.

Oliver spent two years chaste, then suddenly got married to a friend of his brother’s. He was good to her – very good to her, and he was able to love her in a very different way from that in which he’d loved Valerie. But for all that, he and Valerie were never able completely to extricate themselves from each other’s lives. A little less than once a year, they would meet. Less often than that, they would find an empty, open space, and silently make love.

But we need to go back a little way. To 2007. If you want to know what kind of year 2007 was, well… that was the year Microsoft released Vista.

There were some, however, for whom 2007 was important. Valerie had a photograph published in National Geographic for the first time. Cecily had an encounter with a superhuman called Hawkmoth, which turned out to be memorable for a few reasons, not all of them pleasant. John Mann – now going by the name Alan Carl – opened a nightclub in Vancouver. Milo Patáky was formally institutionalized. A woman named Rachel met a man named Ricardo. A girl named Mariko used her powers in combat for the first time, claiming the first of thousands of victories. And – this being more germane to our chronicle - a man named Jackson Morrow attended a book signing.

The book was ghost-written, of course. Jackson Morrow was far too busy to compose 200 pages of guff about himself. He had a business to run, interviews to attend, charities to patronize, photo-ops to appear in, MTV reality shows about himself to film, a wife to gradually wear down into a shy and obedient nub, a criminal empire to expand, a political lobbying firm to manipulate into making the lives of his fellow superhumans as miserable as possible outside of California and as good as possible inside it, and a pottery-class that he attended every other Tuesday to make it look like he was just like you and me, you know?

Jackson was already extremely famous by 2007, even if he was not quite the “Mr Superhero” he’d be by the mid-tens. He was only thirty, and he looked younger, so some of his publicity still played up the teen-heartthrob angle he’d gone for back in the nineties when he’d first become a celebrity. But unlike Hanson, Jackson was still relevant, and so the wispy, pretty-boy haircut he was sporting on the cover of his new book irked him.

But he showed no signs of irksomeness or indeed of anything but winning, boyish charm in the bookshop that day. As fawning teenage girls, awestruck superhero-fanboys, grotesquely flirtatious old women, and uninterested middle-aged men who just wanted something to be able to sell on eBay lined up one after the other to have their copies signed, Jackson gave a smile and a friendly remark to each. Sometimes he even permitted his wife to do the same.

Anya Morrow was remembered, when she was remembered at all in later years, as a tragic fool. People were not too cruel: everyone had been fooled by Jackson Morrow, so his wife’s being deceived was never held very heavily against her. But people either assumed that Jackson had been horrendously abusive and intimidating, which he hadn’t, or that Anya was a complete idiot, which she wasn’t. She knew that something was wrong with her husband.

Jackson’s affection, which had been so convincing at first began to reveal itself as affectation, although excellently acted. His magnanimity in victory was betrayed by the black moods brought on by his vanishingly rare defeats. His sweet words were betrayed by the total lack of interest he seemed to show in her when they had sex, despite her being a strikingly attractive woman. But he was Jackson Morrow. He was Imperion – a great man. Even now, Anya thought that this was true, that the unhappiness was the price she paid for her proximity to that greatness. Her flaw was not idiocy, but a puritanically old-fashioned notion of what it meant to be a wife to a husband, so submissive and devoted that it would have made Ben Shapiro blush.

So, even when Jackson would disappear for hours at a time – ‘on patrol’ he claimed – Anya thought he was just having an affair or something, and she didn’t begrudge him that, since his other burdens seemed to weigh so heavily on him. How could she possibly have suspected that he was a master criminal; that his apparent narcissism was full on megalomania; that he would one day be one of the most notorious supervillains in American history; or that he had hideously evil intentions for Anya’s own fate? Whose mind would leap that far?

A young man, maybe sixteen or seventeen, approached, clutching a copy of Jackson’s book between both hands. He was so obviously and so genuinely starstruck that Anya, at least, couldn’t help but be endeared to him.
“Oh my god, I, like, can’t even breathe.” He was almost on the point of tears. He gave Jackson his copy of the book with trembling hands.
“Easy now, buddy,” Jackson said. “I’m not that famous.” He winked, and the young man put his hands over his mouth. Jackson signed the book, and tried to hand it back, but the young man pushed it back into his hands.
“Um… I’m sorry,” he stammered, “but would you mind signing it too, Mrs Morrow?”

Anya was surprised. He was the first person to have asked this all day. Many of the fans had barely seemed to recognize her presence.
“Oh, of course, honey,” Anya said, taking the book from her even-more surprised husband. “Are you sure?” she asked. “I didn’t write any of this.”
“Well, neither did your husband,” the young man said, making Anya laugh from the chutzpah. A second later, Jackson joined in. He made himself sound almost completely genuine.
Anya did as the fan asked, and he thanked her profusely.
“This is amazing,” he said. “Mrs Morrow—”
“Please, call me Anya.”
“Okay. Anya,” he said, giggling, “you’re such an icon!”

Indeed, Anya had been something of an it-girl once upon a time, and her photographs were still to be found frequently in the classier fashion-rags. It made her happy to know that this part of her identity was still recognized independently of her attachment to Jackson.

“Alright, hot-shot,” Jackson said, with that rakish, sidelong smile of his. “Don’t you go stealing my girl, now.”
The young man laughed again.
“You bet,” he said. “Thank you. Thank you so much!” He backed away from them like he was in Buckingham palace, before dancing out like he was walking on air.
Jackson watched the young man leave, and Anya saw her husband mutter the words ‘mincing little faggot.’ But when he turned to her he was so relaxed and innocent looking that she thought she must have been mistaken.

Jackson noticed though. He made these slips only very occasionally, but he had been married to Anya for four years, and had dated her for three before that. The other side of himself – for he did not consider the face he presented to the world to be entirely false – bled through only very rarely, but when one spent as much time with someone as Jackson did with his wife, the little slips began to add up. Jackson was, he observed, a gifted student of the art of the masquerade, but he was not yet a master. If he was going to take Imperion to the next level, to do what he had always planned to do and start a team of his own, he needed to be better at fooling people. But that was part of what Anya was for: to practice. She wouldn’t be around for too much longer, anyway.

When the next person in the line stepped forward, Jackson didn’t pay them much attention, just flashing the usual smile and saying something charming. They said something complimentary, and he said something bashful. They handed over their copy of his book, he signed it, and handed it back. He only sort of noticed them a bit more because their hand lingered on his for a while. He looked up into dull-coloured, wild-looking eyes, and a sneering smile.
“Thanks, bitch,” they said, and walked out.

“What a nasty piece of work,” Anya said, before anyone else got into earshot.
Jackson didn’t reply. He was staring, peering intently at the door through which the rude customer had walked.
“Hey, Jackie,” Anya said. “Don’t let it get to you.” Her husband hid it very well – so well that Anya had not realized this about him for four years after meeting him – but he could be quite sensitive about his pride.

But pride, in this case, had nothing to do with it. Something strange had happened, and it had happened the moment the rude customer had touched him. He’d felt a sort of tingling against his skin – and then he felt himself becoming ever so slightly more powerful.
“She’s a superhuman,” he said to himself, but loudly enough to be heard.
“Oh? Should I have recognized her?”
“No,” Jackson replied. “I have no idea who she is.”
He intended, however, to find out.
Last edited by Damselbinder 1 year ago, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: The Perils of Valora Finale: Rat Bites Dog Bites Man

Post by Damselbinder »

When Charlie walked out of the bookstore, she’d thrown her copy of the excrement disguising itself as biography away and had smiled like she hadn’t smiled in a very, very long time. She had been on the run for months, and though no-one was really spending much effort trying to find her, one did not have to be Lupus to be both a runaway and paranoid.

Well not anymore. She’d spent months with no power at all, then traded up for an okay-ish thermokinetic ability which had so far served her only in that it had once protected her from burning her hand on a hot stove. But now? Now she’d just entered the big leagues. She’d taken the power of Imperion – one of the most powerful superhumans in the world. Probably the only person in the world who was even physically stronger than Valora.

Not that Charlie was planning on going after Valora again. No – for real. She didn’t have any specific plan for what to do with her incalculable new might. She was not like the man from whom she had drawn this power – she had no ambition to conquer worlds. She had no intention of setting herself up as a supervillain. She didn’t know what she was going to do – just that whatever it was, it would be much easier now that she had godlike power. That was a pleasure in itself. Or it would have been, had Imperion’s powers not turned out to be a thunderous disappointment.

“What the fuck?!” Charlie kicked a big, metal skip, hard enough to leave a dent in it, and hard enough to send it sliding right across the full length of the alley. The skip, along with all the rubbish in it, weighed more then 300 kilograms, so being able to kick it so hard was a pretty impressive feat. But it wasn’t that impressive. She’d been trying to lift the skip to test out her new powers, but she’d barely been able to get it an inch off the ground before it had defeated her.

Man, this sucked! She’d been stronger with Valora’s powers. No – she’d been way stronger. Like… hundreds of times more powerful. It didn’t make sense! Imperion was supposed to be like… one of the absolute top superhumans in the world. Like… top ten. But his strength was totally mediocre. Not even mediocre – this was at the lower end of what you could call superhuman. How the hell was Imperion this weak?

There had to be a trick. Charlie normally had a savant-ish talent for understanding how to use the powers she copied, but some were a little trickier to get her head around. This had to be like that. Maybe like… did he draw strength from something else? Were there conditions? She’d heard of superhumans who had to ‘charge up’, sometimes by bathing in sunlight, sometimes from microwave radiation, sometimes from something weird like touching water or metal. Fuck. If it worked like that, she might never be able to figure it out.

In fact, Charlie realized, Imperion’s power was so weak that she hadn’t even traded. She still had the thermokinetic power she’d taken before, could still project waves of heat from her body. This old power wasn’t very impressive, true, but it was far above the very weak ones that she could hold alongside another, stronger power. She could sort of… feel the amount of ‘space’ each power took in her metaphysical hard-drive, and Imperion’s barely took up any space at all.

Whatever the explanation, Charlie was furious. Through all the stress and exhausting listlessness of wandering, this had been the one hope getting her through it all. That she would get an opportunity like the one she’d had that day, that she’d be able to get her hands on some fantastically high-level power and then… well she hadn’t really worked out step two. But it wasn’t so stupid to think that whatever step two was, it’d be easier with a phenomenally impressive superpower. At the very least, she’d be… you know. Safer.

At one moment, Charlie thought she’d made a breakthrough. She’d felt a sort of… surge inside herself, and having focused on it, was able to draw it out. She thought that she’d discovered the secret to Imperion’s strength, but all she did was make some little red sparks appear in her hands. She tried again, making something a bit more substantial this time, but she realized that she was draining her physical strength whenever she did it.
“What the fuck?!” she repeated, brutalising some nearby masonry. “This power fucking sucks my ass!”
“Oh, I don’t know. It has its uses.”

Normally when Jackson made a dramatic entrance in his full, jade regalia, as he had got quite good at doing, people either yelped in fear or grimly steeled themselves for a very hard, and usually very brief, battle. But this woman didn’t. She turned on him bearing rather the expression of a Midwestern mother of three demanding to speak to his manager.
“You!” she said. “You asshole! Your powers suck dick!”
“… Alright, I admit, that’s not quite the reaction I expected—”
“No, bitch, I mean it. I couldn’t even lift up a semi with this noodle-arm bullshit.”

Imperion stared at her. Seeing this glamorous, famous superhero in a skeezy back-alley was kind of funny, but his glare was – well, Charlie would never admit to being intimidated, but let’s compromise and say she was… unsettled.
“I knew there was something weird about you,” Imperion said. “It feels like… like you’re two superhumans in one place.”
“What of it, dickhead?”
“You’re a mimic. Right? You can copy other superhumans’ powers, and right now you’re holding mine and one other.” He smiled. “That’s quite a trick, Miss. How long can you hold onto them for?”
“As long as I want,” Charlie replied. “But I’m trading yours out as soon as I can. It sucks! You’re weaker than—”
“Than Valora?” Imperion’s smile suddenly took on a very different character. “That’s what you were going to say, right? It’s the obvious comparison. Similar powers. Similar vibes. And yeah, I am weaker than her – for now. But you didn’t make that comparison ‘cause it was natural. You made that comparison because you know for certain. You’ve had her power before. Let’s see now… history with Valora… can copy powers… shitty attitude…. Man, I just cannot remember the name…” He put his hand under his chin, Rodin’s Thinker style. “Oh!” He snapped his fingers. “Lupus.”

Charlie froze. It had never occurred to her that she would be recognized. Never occurred to her that someone as famous as Jackson Morrow would have had the slightest idea who she was.
“You seem surprised,” Imperion said. “But even all the way on the West Coast, we heard about the bombing in the Portland courthouse. Valora saving the day and all. But I admit, I know more about these things than most. I keep an eye on potential… rivals.”
“Rival my ass. You’re not shit compared to me.” She squared her shoulders. That she would have to fight her way past him was becoming a distinct possibility.

“Hey, hey, hey, we’re just having a friendly chat,” Imperion said. “No need to get all cross-eyed, missy. Say… can I ask you a question?”
“Ooh, I think you’re gonna…”
“From what I was able to piece together, you were a superhero – briefly – then you disappeared off the map… and then you showed up again in Maine, attacked Valora and kidnapped her. So, my question is—”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah ‘why did you do it?’, blah blah blah, whatever. I don’t have to—”
“What was it like?”
Lupus blinked in surprise.
“What… was it like? The hell do you mean by that?”
“Did you ambush her, or beat her in a fair fight? Did you knock her out? If so, how? Did you tie her up? If you did, what with? Did you gag her? If she did, what were the noises she made like? Was she asleep the whole time, or did she know that you had her? Did you touch her? If you did, what did she feel like? What’s the texture of her skin? Did she know what you were doing to her? Did she try to fight back? Was she brave, or cowardly? Did she plead? Did she beg? Did she whimper? Was she meek from the start, or did you have to break her down? Were you able to? Were you looking into her eyes when she realized you wanted to capture her? Did you see her shoulders sinking when she realized she was helpless? I’d love to know. ‘Cause someday I’d just love to do it myself, and it’d be nice to know what I’m in for.”

For a moment Lupus stared at him. Then she burst out laughing.
“Yo! Yo, you’re – you’re a heel, aren’t you? You’re a bad guy!” She clapped, gleefully. “Okay, I don’t normally say this kind of thing, but that is so badass! Even though you’re… kind of a gross perv, I still dig it. You’re just a gi-gan-tic piece of shit, and nobody knows it! The whole cheesy superhero thing? It’s an act! And like – not in a crappy hypocrite kinda way neither. You’re just straight up lying to everybody. I always thought you were a joke but I didn’t realize you were in on it.”
Imperion shrugged.

“It’s pretty good, right? It’s like… floating through the world on a cloud. Everybody adores me. Thinks I’m the bee’s knees. And… you know. I kinda am, I guess. I’m just something else too.”
“Yeah. A total fucking charlatan. Is it like… does your old lady do the actual superheroing for you, ‘cause no way you could pull that off with the level of power you’ve got.”
“That’s not a bad guess,” Imperion said. “But that’s one thing I don’t fake. I really am powerful. You just haven’t worked out the kinks, yet.”
“Well you’d know all about kinks, huh?”
Imperion laughed.
“I guess so. Man, it feels good talking about this stuff out loud, doesn’t it? Makes a body feel like going into therapy.”
“Well first you can go into out of my face,” Lupus said. “I don’t care about your fucking secrets. I’ve got all I want from you. You say your power is actually strong? Cool. I’ll work out the particulars myself.”
“Yeah…” Imperion said, scratching the back of his neck, sheepishly. “Can’t… really let you do that.”
“Oh, you’re gonna stop me, tough guy?”
“Kinda,” Imperion replied.
Lupus heard a metal foot clanking against the ground behind her. She turned around.

She screamed.
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Re: The Perils of Valora Finale: Rat Bites Dog Bites Man

Post by Damselbinder »

Sara Goldberg was an estimable woman. Despite the shock of her treatment by Hades, the agony of knowing that her tormentor was one and the same as Jackson, and the humiliation of the public disgrace she suffered when the truth about Imperion was revealed, she had borne it all with impossible strength. She had taken charge of the Pauldron. She had maintained a home for its heartbroken, grieving members. She had endured the pity, the accusations, the shame and the long, hard tedium of just getting back up again. Even when Spectra’s star had come to eclipse her own, when Sara’s own, crucial role in Jackson’s defeat had been forgotten, and the Pauldron were relegated to definitively ‘also-ran’ status no matter how much good they did, she endured. More than that – she lived.

But even she found it difficult to be where she was, in an old and musty bolthole once used by the man who had put her through the most painful ordeal of her life; the man she had been deceived into falling in love with. It was not only Mariko and her Sentinels who had been troubled by the number of criminals using pretender-suits, and not only they who had been investigating their rise.

Though the Jackson Morrow affair was now five years old, his effect on the world had been so sprawling and multifaceted that there were still ancillary investigations into his associates and dealings that were large in their own right. For this reason, when it had occurred to Sara that the new pretender-suits might not be being manufactured, but being found, gathering the evidence the prove it had been immensely time-consuming. The officiality that Sara’s still-prestigious position gave her had been helpful, but given that she was who she was, sometimes the authorities were stubbornly unhelpful. Sometimes they were suspicious, and sometimes downright accusatory. But, eventually, the relevant parties had relented, and given her access to Jackson’s financial records. It was they – after nearly a month of analysis – had led her here.

It might once have been a laboratory. It was dark even when lit, smelled terribly of mould and of decay, and had relics of things that looked like scientific equipment. Some were innocuous enough: microscopes, a heart-rate monitor. Others looked more… gruesome. Sara walked past an unpleasant smelling stain on the floor that she could not identify – it wasn’t a bloodstain – but that made her skin crawl. Forensic investigators would later determine that it was the remains of a human body, a body that had melted when it was put in an incompatible pretender-suit.

“Yo Sara, if I throw up, am I contaminating the crime scene?” This came from Sara’s deputy, Farah – otherwise known as Hydrocita.
“I think it’s been contaminated already,” Sara replied. “And recently.” The bolthole was so dusty and so filthy that the signs of disturbance were like footprints in the snow. They couldn’t have been older than a few weeks. “I think whoever was here raided the useful equipment. Maybe taken suits, or at least the means to produce them.”
“Like British people in an Egyptian tomb,” Farah replied, before adding, to Sara’s dismay, “Lmao.”

Having established her theory to have been at least mostly right, Sara concluded that there was little left for them to do: time to let the police go over the place with a fine-toothed comb and see if the thieves had left any less visible evidence of themselves. But just when she thought the hideout had no more stories to tell, she found a strange, circular knob in one of the walls. It was covered with so much dust and grime that Sara could not tell at first that it was actually a small window. When she did realize, she wiped it clean, and saw that it was fixed not to a wall, but to a door, and behind this door was something she had hoped never to see again.
Her body acted completely independently. Before she was even aware of what she was doing, her hand was extended, and starlight had gathered into her palm. It radiated out like a comet’s tail, and smashed the door – thick, reinforced steel with all its hinges rusted shut – aside.
“Hey hey hey, Sara, what the hell!” Farah barked. “I get you being mad, but you might be spoiling evidence!”
“Farah,” Sara said, her face flitting between fury and shock, “there’s a stasis tank in there.”

For a few seconds, Charlie was physically awake before she was exactly conscious, so when she came to, she was already standing up, which was weird. The first thing she was aware of was the state of her clothes. They were soaking wet, to start with, but they felt, like… crusty. Like they’d been lying in an open landfill for a year. When she took a step, bits of the soles of her shoes crumbled off like powder.

Someone was talking to her. She couldn’t make out what they were saying. She looked down at her own hands, and she felt like she didn’t recognize them. Her whole body felt weird. Like she couldn’t tell where all the parts of it were. She looked up and saw two women. The first was quite short, in her late twenties or early thirties. She had fuchsia hair, cut very short, and was wearing a halter-necked, black dress, with a long loincloth that left the sides of her legs bare. The dress was interlaced with golden, filigree patterns, and leather stockings of the same colour and style covered most of her legs, leaving only the upper parts of her thighs exposed. It was she who was talking, but there was another woman standing behind her. She was much taller, wearing the same colours, but on something like a stylised flak-jacket. Her hair was dirty-blonde, and she had a hard look to her. Charlie didn’t like her. She liked the other one, though. She was pretty.

“What?” Charlie said, only realizing after the fact that she had been asked for her name.
“What’s your name?” Sara repeated.
“Uh…” Wait… fuck, what name was she using right now? Uh… shit, she couldn’t remember. She had to make something up. “… Fa… For… Fiona…”
“Hello, Fiona. I go by the name Nova. Fiona… do you have any idea where you are?”
“Huh… what?” Charlie shook her head, trying to get the sleep out of her eyes. “No… I… I’ve… why do I… feel so weird?”
“You’ve been asleep,” Sara said. “For a… long time. There are aftereffects. You should be back to yourself in a few minutes, though.”
“Okay, cool,” Charlie said, trying to gather her thoughts. What was the last thing she remembered? She couldn’t get it clear. A… a suit of armour…? A big, blank oval – and – and someone… powerful. Blonde. Strong.
“Valora?” she muttered, making Sara and Farah glance in confusion at each other. But no, that wasn’t it. It had been a man. A man in jade armour. “Mother…” Charlie said, eliciting sympathy from her rescuers until she added: “…fucker! Imperion! Jackson fucking Morrow! I’m gonna rip his goddamned head off!”
Sara was taken aback. Firstly that this ‘Fiona’ knew the identity of her captor: most that had been rescued from Hades knew him only as Hades. Secondly, the woman’s… manner. Sara was finding it difficult to believe that they had found yet another imprisoned superhero. This was something else.

“You’re too late for that, I’m afraid,” Farah said. “Jackson’s already dead.”
“What?! Aww, man! Who got him?”
“Kingslayer. Oh, wait… you won’t know that name, will you? I mean Enhancegirl.”
“Who the fuck is that?”
“You know. Spectra’s wife.”
“Who the fuck is Spectra?!”

“Oh god,” Sara thought. If this woman had truly never heard of Spectra, she must have been under the proverbial rock for a very long time. Sara had known it was at least five or six years, probably more from the state of the bolthole they’d found her in, but this was even worse than she’d feared.

“Fiona,” Sara said, putting a hand on the young woman’s shoulder. “What I’m about to ask you is going to be very frightening. I’ve seen it make people faint on the spot. So you might want to sit down.”
Charlie immediately did so, flopping to the damp floor and crossing her legs like an elementary school student in an assembly. Sara knelt down beside her.
“Alright, lady, what is it?”
“Fiona,” Sara asked, “what year do you think it is?”
“2007,” Charlie said, and when she saw Nova’s face, she went cold.
“… This is going to be a big shock. You might not believe me at first, but I assure you I’m telling the truth.” She took a breath. “Fiona, the year is 2021.”

Charlie stared at the ground. She looked back up at Nova as if checking her for glitches.
“Oh my god,” Charlie said. “Oh my god.” She stood up. “Oh my god!” She turned around, looked in horror at the pod that had been her home for the last fourteen years. “Oh my god!” she cried. “Imperion… built a time machine!”

When, slightly better informed, Charlie stumbled outside over Nova’s protests, she expected an irradiated wasteland; or for America to be completely flooded; or for bird-men from Neptune to have conquered the planet. But it looked – it looked normal. Nothing, in fourteen years, appeared to have changed at all. In fact it had gone backwards. Charlie did not know the sight of San Fernando from this vantage point, but from the smell, the heat, and the quality of the air, she knew that she was right back where she had started. She was back in California. She was back where she had started. She fell to her knees and threw up.
“Hey, kid,” Farah said. “You’re okay. You’ll be okay.” She put her hand on Charlie’s back, patted her.

But in the half-madness of her shock, Charlie interpreted this as an attack. She slapped Farah’s hand away, hurting her much more than it seemed like she should have been able to. When Farah stumbled backwards, Charlie – completely forgetting about Jackson’s power – rapid-fired waves of heat in all directions. Some grass nearby caught fire, and when Hydrocita stopped to put it out, Charlie ran screaming away from her.

“You little jackass!” Farah snarled, and began to give chase, but Sara stopped her.
“Don’t. She’s obviously superhuman. If we give chase now someone could get hurt. Let’s just… let her cool down.”
“She’s dangerous.”
“So are you. So am I. Let’s just… give her some space. She’s not a criminal.”
“Says who?”
“…Fine. Don’t blame me if this comes back to bite us.”
They watched her go. Farah did, at least, persuade Sara to call it in, and let the San Fernando P.D. know about the confused, disoriented superhuman wandering among their citizenry. But neither the San Fernando P.D., nor Nova, nor Hydrocita, ever found her.
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Re: The Perils of Valora Finale: Rat Bites Dog Bites Man

Post by Damselbinder »

She wandered wildly for several hours, she stopped only to rip newspapers out of people’s hands and ask them what the fuck was up with the stupid, flat-ass cellphones they were carrying. When the modern world became too frightening, Charlie hid in an alley much like the one in which Jackson had stolen her in the first place, on her knees, crying like a little child.

“I’m thirty-six,” she kept saying, even though – physically – she hadn’t changed at all. But everyone else would have. Her parents would be old now – really old, not middle-aged. Her grandfather had to be dead. Her grandmother was… ninety-one now? Conceivably alive but probably rotted to the core by Alzheimer’s or something. She was too frightened to check. Too frightened of seeing that she was right, and too frightened that someone might still be looking for her.

She did not sleep that night. In fact, she didn’t sleep for the next six days. She didn’t need to – a strange side effect of her long-term stasis. She spent that time in a kind of purgatory, knowing that all she had to do to learn the fates of her family and to bring herself up to speed with the modern world was to go to a library and sit down at a computer. But she didn’t want to. She didn’t want to know. She wanted it all to be a dream – everything since she had met a man named Lance Van der Boek.

The only comfort was that she retained Imperion’s ability. For whatever reason, it was suddenly much, much more potent, though it seemed to vary depending on which town she was in – generally the bigger the town, the stronger she became. In San Fernando it was respectable. In San Diego it was really spicy, and when she rolled through Seacouver on a bus she felt herself become so powerful that she was almost giddy – so powerful that she got a violent, splitting headache, and when it subsided, she had lost her other power – she just hadn’t had ‘room’ for it. But she’d only been in Seacouver for a few minutes, and when she’d left, she felt weaker again – and the other power didn’t come back.

But it was enough for a few petty squabbles to end decisively in her favour. Enough for her to muscle her way into earning some cash as a bouncer to an establishment of ill-repute. Enough that when a local supervillain, who seemed to think he was steaming-hot-shit, tried to wrangle some protection money out of this establishment, Charlie was able to send him backing with little more than a glare – and a jolt of red lightning right up his ass.

The first night that she was able to sleep, she broke into an off-season hotel. There were no lights, and she had to pull dust sheets off the furniture, but it had a comfortable bed. But sleeping in a big, empty building, in total darkness, was not easy, and Charlie felt terribly frightened until she finally sank into sleep out of helpless exhaustion. When she woke up, she did actually feel a little better, for the sleeplessness had made everything seem surreal. But there was someone standing at the foot of her bed.
He was as tall as Goliath and as skinny as David, and he looked like every edge of him could cut glass. He was dressed like a concierge from a horror movie, and he wore small glasses over two black voids where eyes ought to have been.

“Do not scream,” he said, unnecessarily, since Charlie was so frightened that she couldn’t even move. “I am not your enemy. But some advice – you may wish, in future, to be more careful. You use your abilities openly. You do not hide your face. You choose to live in a city surrounded by potential foes. You have been noticed – Lupus. But, in this case, your carelessness has served your advantage. Being noticed by… us is not always a bad thing.”

Charlie swallowed. This too, was surely a nightmare.
“Wh… what… what do you want with me?”
“Not much. My masters wish to neutralize a powerful enemy. Our understanding is that you have some history with this enemy. We wish you to lure them to a particular location, where my masters will take care of the rest. In exchange, we will supply you with a suit of armour that will bolster your powers and provide meaningful defence against even the most potent superhuman ability.”
“…Who?” Charlie asked. But she didn’t need to ask. Of course she didn’t need to ask. She’d been transported into the future – but she’d been taken back in time.
Who else could it have been?
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Re: The Perils of Valora Finale: Rat Bites Dog Bites Man

Post by Damselbinder »

For Valerie, it had been a good day. To have a good fight and a clean victory for a good cause was about the best one could hope for. She did not regret joining the Sentinels, and she was pleased by the growing friendship between herself and Mariko. But while she believed everything she’d said to Mariko, she did sometimes think about the way she spent her life. She was young – but she wasn’t that young. In one form or another, she’d spent her entire life fighting, and she felt that, surely, it would start weighing on her soon. Alternatively, it would not, and that would mean that she was the same that she had always been. Thinking back on her time in Maine – sometimes her old self still frightened her.

As so many people found, the wealth that came with fame was one of the only things that made it tolerable. She had a nice house, in a nice part of San Francisco, and even now that still felt like unbelievable luxury. And, aside from the house itself, there was another reason that Valerie particularly looked forward to going home these days.

So Valerie was smiling when she turned onto her street, and still smiling when she saw her home, the one with the door painted a bold, haughty fuchsia, at the insistence of its other occupant. Valerie would have smiled all the way to that door, had she not seen the shadow emerge to block her way.

It was not as tall as the other pretender suits had been. A little bulkier, but less ostentatious. The head, though, was still that awful, blank oval that had terrified so many on its most infamous bearer.
Valerie snarled, and closed her fists.
“You motherfucker,” she said. “You’ve gotta be some fatal kind of stupid to think it was a good idea to try hitting me where I live. I don’t care how much that suit jacks you up, either. I’ve already beaten five of your buddies, and I don’t think I need to be—”
She didn’t actually stop talking when the figure in the armour took their helmet off, because at first Valerie didn’t recognise them. It was just another face. It was only when they stepped forward, and their face was fully illuminated by a streetlamp that Valerie’s voice caught in her throat.
“Hey, Valora,” said Lupus.

She looked – she looked exactly like she had fifteen years earlier. Her hair. That grin - that shit-eating grin. That stupid, vile, repulsive face. The way she stood. The way she breathed. The smug manner in which she folded her arms. The stance. The manner of her breathing. It was all exactly as Valerie remembered it.
“Lupus,” Valerie said. She stepped forward. “Lupus.” She took her bag off her shoulder, dropped it onto the floor. “Lupus.”
“That’s right, Valora. And now—”
“No it’s not.”
“It’s not right. You’re not Lupus.”
“What? Yes, I am!”
“No you’re not.”
“What the—”
“Nope. You’re not Lupus. Lupus wouldn’t be here. Lupus got away scot-free. Lupus got an unbelievably generous deal. She got witness protection and full immunity from prosecution. The world smiled so fucking kindly at her despite all the shit she’d done, there’s no way that even she would be stupid enough to come back now, after all this time.” She turned away. “I’m going to look back, and you’ll be gone.” But when she turned back, Lupus was still there.

Fifteen years. Fifteen years dividing Valerie between then and now. That was enough time for a baby to develop into a person – I mean, you’re already mostly who you’re going to be by fifteen, right? So you wouldn’t be that crazy for thinking that fifteen years was enough to change an adult a lot too. And Valerie had changed. Of course Valerie had changed. She’d lived, and living is change. But old things are like layers of rock: they can be buried, and even altered, by the weight of what’s above them, but they don’t go away. And if you use enough force, you can reveal them again.

“Wait!” Lupus cried, but Valerie did not heed her. Surging forward, she struck Lupus with the kind of force she’d use to deal with a human enemy. When that force did as little to Lupus as it would have done to Valerie, she struck again, hitting her in the stomach, and sending her flying back across the street, then again, then again. These strikes didn’t hurt much – it just seemed like Valerie was trying to move her away from where they’d started as much as she could. By the time Lupus recovered her bearings, they had moved more than a mile away.

“Hey, cut it the fuck out!!” Lupus shouted, but when Valora ran at her again, she too felt old fears and furies returning, and for Lupus, these were not so old. “You dumbass!” she screeched. “You want a fight?! Fine!! I have Imperion’s powers now! And I know he beat your stupid – agghh!”

Valerie had closed on her with terrible speed, and had seized her by the chin, lifting her with one hand and pressing her fingers into Lupus’ jaw with every intention of snapping it. Lupus managed to break free, and she fought back, but – but it wasn’t like before. Everything she did, Valerie anticipated. Every movement was cancelled out, every thrust parried, with brutal agility. When Lupus dodged, Valerie had already adjusted to negate it. When Lupus feinted, Valerie ignored it. When Lupus remembered the other aspect of her powers, and let loose with a stream of lightning, Valerie had already kicked up a chunk of tarmac to block it, and when it exploded, Valerie had already positioned herself to use the dust-cloud to get behind Lupus, and seize her in a brutally effective armlock, then slam her down against the ground. Lupus had slept for the last fourteen years. Valerie had not.

“Wow,” Valerie said, “you really do have Imperion’s powers. That’s good for you, Lupus. That’s good. That’s fantastic. Except there’s about half the number of superhumans in this part of Cali now than there were when I fought him, so that means you’re shit out of luck, doesn’t it?!”
“…Huh? So what?”
“What – what do you mean so what?” Everyone knew that. Everyone knew that Imperion’s powers increased the more he surrounded himself with other superhumans. This wasn’t obscure trivia – this was wide and public knowledge. But then Lupus really was fatally stupid, wasn’t she? Certainly she had to be to dredge this up. Certainly she had to be to tempt Valerie’s profound and ancient wrath. And with that wrath powering her – against which Imperion even at his full might could not have withstood – she threw Lupus to the ground and drew back her fist. Then she really looked. Then she really saw Lupus’ face.

“You… you haven’t aged – you haven’t aged a day…” Valerie stood back. And suddenly it made sense why she didn’t know how Imperion’s powers worked, despite having them herself. Suddenly it made sense why she appeared now, like a vengeful ghost, after having been hidden for more than a decade. “That woman that Nova found in the stasis tank – it was you, wasn’t it?”
Lupus didn’t answer, but her lower lip was trembling. For she now got a really good look at Valora’s face too. She had aged strangely, her beauty acquiring some of the richness and depth of a woman beginning to approach her forties, but without sacrificing anything of the beauty of a twenty-year-old, giving a dash of the eternal to her countenance. But she had aged, and this was the first time that Charlie had seen a face she knew well since emerging from her prison. Finally, in Valora’s face, it became real.
“Fuck,” she said, in lieu of tears.

Valerie stepped back. She could not, now, see Lupus as a bitter enemy returned from the shadows. No time had passed for her at all. She was still a kid. Valerie had been beating up some stupid, feckless kid, all anger and rage and thoughtless emotion. Someone who got into pointless fights. Someone who made stupid-ass decisions basically every day of her life. Someone who hurt and was hurt in more or less equal measure. Someone who – deservedly or otherwise – suffered.

“Why are you here?” Valerie asked.
“I don’t know,” Lupus said, getting to her feet. “Does it fucking matter? Come – come on and beat the crap out of me again! That’s what you want, right?! To finish me off after all these years? Aren’t I just the best for giving you another shot? Come on, put your hands around my throat again. Bet you’ve been itching to do that for the last decade, yeah? That’s what you want. That’s what you want, right?!”

How strange to hear her talk so! How strange to hear the very same voice in the very same way, saying the very same sorts of things. It curled the edges of Valerie’s anger and tapped old and still unexhausted wells of guilt for the terrible thing she had almost done. But… it didn’t fill her with bile in the way it had. It couldn’t. It was all too absurd.

“…No,” Valerie said. “No, Lupus, I don’t want that. But you came to my home. What did you think I would do?”
“Of course I came to your home! How the fuck else was I supposed to find you?”
“…How long were you waiting for me?” Valerie asked.
“What? I don’t know… half an hour? Why the fuck does that matter?”
Valerie didn’t answer. But what fury she still had seemed to dim a little.
“No reason,” she eventually said. “What are you doing here, then?”

Lupus waited a while before answering. She kept thinking Valora was going to attack her again, or that she herself would be unable to resist her own vengeful impulses. Plus, her instinct was to lie, and so it took her a bit of time to realize that there was no reason for her not to tell the truth.
“…The guys who gave me this armour,” Lupus said. “They did it for a price. They want me to lure you somewhere. It’s, like, a trap or something.”
“Why would you tell me that? Why wouldn’t you just do what they paid you for?”
“Because fuck them!” Lupus shouted. “Because I don’t take orders from nobody, alright?! Because they think they’re some biiiiiig scary cabal and they can frighten me into playing their shitty game? No, fuck that. So sure, I’ll tell you. Just to spite those assholes.” Even now, she was not exactly lying, though if she’d had an ounce of self-reflection she would have realized that her words were untrue. She was warning Valora because Valora had once saved her from death at serious risk to her own life. Even if Lupus had spent those fourteen lost years meditating under a Tibetan waterfall on the nature of all things, she would not have been able to admit that she was capable of gratitude towards Valora. But she was.

“Can you tell me anything else about them?” Valerie asked.
“No. Seriously!” she added, when Valerie looked dubiously at her. “The… the guy who hired me was super tall and he had all-black eyes. That’s all I know.”
“Alright,” Valerie said. “Thanks. Where were you supposed to lure me?”
“Uh… like… this scrapyard-thing in Santa Monica.”
“Tomorrow night. Like, ten. Why?”
“Tell them it worked.”
“Whoever your contact is, tell them it worked, and that I’ll be there.”
“You start getting senile or something? These guys are serious.”
“So am I.”
“… Alright, whatever. No skin off my ass.” She began to turn away, but Valerie called after her.
“Lupus!” She spoke the name with anger, but the anger was payment: a concession to her worse angels for what she was about to say. It was so much against what was natural to her that she had to start the sentence several times, and even when she got through it all she spoke the words through gritted teeth, and wasn’t able to look at the woman to whom she spoke them. “Are… you alright?”
Lupus staggered like she’d been hit.
“Oh, fuck off!” she cried, as tears squirted gracelessly from her eyes. “Fuck off, Valora!” she shouted, and before another word could be said, had leapt high into the darkness, and vanished.

When Valerie lay in bed that night, she tried to feel good. Could she have asked after Lupus’ welfare fifteen years ago? No. Could she have restrained herself once battle had begun? No. Could she have avoided feeling like she was vile, black sludge after seeing Lupus’ face for half a second? No. Of course not. Of course she was different. She knew that. So much of what she treasured now would have been impossible if she was not different. But it brought it all back. The poverty. The struggle. Her captivity at Lupus’ hands. Milo. The blood of her father soaking red her cerulean warrant. Lupus had made it all alive again.

Time didn’t fly, Valerie thought. It just… hovered.
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Re: The Perils of Valora Finale: Rat Bites Dog Bites Man

Post by DrDominator9 »

I will set time aside next week to read your Valora work and try to catch up, damselbinder, but I just want to thank you for all your work on your stories and for being such a steady contributor to the story section. Believe me, I know the dedication it takes and it's incredibly appreciated.

Any lurkers out there who are reading this man's work, give him some love here, eh?
Follow this link to descriptions of my stories and easy links to them:

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Re: The Perils of Valora Finale: Rat Bites Dog Bites Man

Post by Damselbinder »

The Perils of Valora 5-Epilogue-2: “Valora 6, and 7, and 8, and 9, and 10, and…”

It was a beautiful day. Los Angeles was not a city where one could reliably find beauty, especially of the natural kind, but there was something uncharacteristically fresh in the air. The sky was a clean blue, dotted prettily with clouds, and the miasma of smog had eased. It felt to Valora, as she arrived in the city, that a stage was being set for her, and she did not much like the feeling.

The scrapyard was huge – almost like a little city in itself. There were vast islands of the corpses of once loved cars; huge mountains of girders and other building materials. One pile seemed to be reserved entirely for prematurely bucket-kicking Chevys, around whom seemed to swirl a vengeful phantom moaning ‘caveat emptor’. Besides that were hundreds of little continents of unidentifiable, rusty nothingnesses.

Valerie found her surroundings to be hellish, in a dull way. It astonished her sometimes that even a city as large as L.A. could produce enough detritus to fill a scrapyard the size of this one. Valerie wasn’t, perhaps, the most environmentally conscious person in the world, but she disliked waste. Still, being surrounded by something like death felt appropriate when one was going into battle.

A breeze blew past her, strong enough to make her cape flutter, and a little smile appeared on Valerie’s face. There was something a little Wild West about this, and it wasn’t a displeasure to imagine herself in the role of Clint Eastwood. The only question was whether the enemies she had come to face were just the schmucks Eastwood could breeze past at the beginning to show what a badass he was, or if they were the serious guys who beat the crap out of him near the end of the second act.

“Yo!” Valerie called out. Then, having something of an idea of what her enemies’ plan had been, she shouted: “Well? I’m here! Come on, Lupus, are we gonna fucking finish this, or what?”
For a few moments, there was complete silence, but for that increasingly powerful wind. Valerie kept walking, until she was roughly in the centre of the scrapyard’s radius. Then, and only then, did her enemies make themselves known.

There were five of them and then one more, if you see what I mean. All were wearing pretender-suits, but they were different from the ones Valora had seen before. Each was a different colour, and each had some sort of ornamentation on them. Some were tight fitting, smaller and slimmer than most suits, so it was obvious that one of the five was a man, and obvious that one other was a woman. With the others it was hard to tell. One had great big sphere things on its shoulders, which looked so over the top that Valora reasoned they had to have some practical purpose.

But the largest of the suits belonged to the sixth of the five. He stood a little way back from the perimeter the others had formed, wearing a suit that looked more like it was made of porcelain than of metal. It was pure white, inlaid with golden lines and markings, and the uppermost part of the helmet was obviously meant to resemble a crown. It had absolutely massive pauldrons, extending far beyond the width of the wearer’s shoulders. There was also a symbol on the back of the right hand, a series of interlocking triangles – a triskelion, if Valora remembered a tenth-grade art lesson correctly.

Each of Valora’s enemies bore a symbol on one hand or other, and each was different. One looked like an Egyptian hieroglyph of an eye; another something that looked a bit like ‘24’ if you mashed the numbers together; one like an inverted ‘J’ with a circle attached; one like a bull; and the last something that looked vaguely like a Japanese letter.

Valora folded her arms. She grinned.
“Well, look at all of you,” she called out. “It’s the fucking Power Rangers!”
One of them bristled, but the one in white raised a hand to check them.
“Well met, Valora,” the one in white said. “It pleases me that you have come ready for battle, even if we are not the enemy you expected. Your courage is—”
“Come on, get it out of the way,” Valora said. “What’s your deal? What’s the plan? What are we all doing in the middle of a scrapyard.”
“The plan? Nothing but what it seems.”

The one in white shrugged, his giant pauldrons exaggerating the gesture to comical proportions. “You’re an enemy powerful enough to oppose us, and we hope to defeat you through overwhelming numbers. She is alone, yes?” they said, inclining their head slightly in the direction of one of their comrades.
“Yes,” said the figure with the eye on their hand. “I don’t see anyone. Thaddeus Murderball is trying to talk someone down from a ledge about eight miles West of us, but I doubt he has anything to do with us.”
“Excellent,” said the figure with the triskelion. “As for our ‘deal’, as you put it, we simply have business to conduct to which you and your ilk are a potential obstacle. If you must put a word to it, think of us as… lords. Crime lords.”

Valora suppressed a laugh.
“What… you’re just, like trying to make money?”
“What else is there?” one of them said.
This time, Valora did laugh.
“Man,” she said. “I thought I was dealing with some full-on take-over-the-world supervillains – but you’re just a bunch of jackasses! What’s with all the – symbology, then? You guys into horoscopes, or what?”
“Theatre is necessary,” the one in white said. “Hades taught us that, though one like you should have learned it as well, Valora. Hades also taught us the value of reputation. The value of fear. Even the value of hubris. For this reason, we too call ourselves gods.” He spread his arms wide. “I am Odin.”
“I am Ra.”
“I am Jupiter.”
“I am Marduk.”
“I am Baal.”
“I am Amaterasu.”
They began to close in - all but Odin.

“You may think our choice of names foolish,” he said. “And I admit, none will take us seriously if we simply announce ourselves – but with you at our feet… these names will not seem so ridiculous.” He stepped further back.
“Aw, man,” Valora said. “Aren’t you joining in?”
“Not this time,” Odin said.
“How come?”
“Because I would finish you in an instant,” he said, “and the others need the practice.”
Valora popped the joints of her neck. She shivered with excitement. The weight of her meeting with Lupus, the fears and doubts that it had made swell in her breast, were still hanging on her mind like fresh and sticky cobwebs. But in the brutal necessities of battle, Valora had found, anything could be made to wait its turn. But Valora was, herself, no brute. Nor was she a fool.
“You know,” Valora said, “for guys who are so into theatre and all that stuff, you don’t seem to know shit about misdirection.”

In front of her, there was a disturbance in the air. It wobbled and shimmered like a mirage, pulsating and flowing, until it began to take on something like a definite shape. Just when it became obvious enough that even Odin, standing nearly forty metres away, could see it, the twisted air shattered like ice, its fragments falling as glittering diamonds to the ground, revealing the sorceress who had cast the illusion, and making the knees of the armoured gods collectively take on the consistency of blancmange.

She was tall, taller even than Valora. Her limbs were shapely and lithe; the contours of her figure feminine, slender and impossibly elegant. Her hair was short and black, her skin light-tan and utterly flawless. Her jade eyes were bright, witheringly intelligent; made even lovelier by the ornate domino mask she wore over them. Her body was covered in a silver garment that hugged like a second skin to every inch of her from her feet to her long, smooth neck, clinging lovingly to the refined, graceful perfection of her body, adorned only by a shimmering raiment of light that she wore about her shoulders. She was stunningly, impossibly beautiful. She was stunningly, impossibly mighty.

“I am Spectra,” she said, the words at once a declaration, a promise, and a threat. Like a matador she cast the raiment from her shoulders, letting it dissolve into a shimmering glitter of photons before it even hit the ground. “Gotterdammerung is today,” she said. “And the twilight – is I!”
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Re: The Perils of Valora Finale: Rat Bites Dog Bites Man

Post by Damselbinder »

Spectra snapped her fingers, and from her fingers there was a dazzling flash – one from which Valora was somehow shielded – and though all were disoriented, one of the gods, Ra, cried out in pain. Spectra’s attention snapped to him, and her eyes flashed in controlled, radiant fury. This was all it took to trigger a spectacular, multicoloured explosion that left great cracks in Ra’s armour, and sent him flying into a pile of scrap. The other gods stared astonished, and when they looked back at Spectra, she did not need to be able to see their faces to know they feared her. She looked back over her shoulder at Valora.
“It is not just,” Spectra said, “that I think it was a good idea for you to bring me along. It’s that I’m starting to think I didn’t even need to bring you.” She was smiling.
“And people say you’re arrogant,” Valora replied, also smiling. “Where the hell do they get that idea?”

One of the gods, Marduk, finally rallied. The armour around his chest opened and shifted, forming something that looked, and indeed turned out to behave, like a cannon. Marduk yelled something unintelligible, and then launched three glowing orbs at high speed towards his two enemies.

With contemptuous confidence, Spectra stepped forward, and raised a shimmering barrier, like a spiderweb of glittering light. When the orbs struck the barrier, however, it did not break, nor even stand firm against the assault. It warped, and stretched, and then – like a trampoline – sprang back, launching the orbs back at Marduk. Growling, he detonated them harmlessly in the air with a moment’s focus – then fired again, this time a huge swarm of orbs pouring out of him like rain.

Spectra anticipated that the same trick would not work twice, not if Marduk could detonate his bullets on command. Instead, she opted for something simple, and just responded in kind, firing a swarm of her own, a hundred glowing bullets from her palms. Most of Marduk’s shots met most of Spectra’s, and there were a hundred little explosions in the air. But, to Spectra’s surprise, some of Marduk’s attacks moved in mid-air, dodging hers, before reorienting themselves back to an attack vector. Whether this manoeuvre was much of a danger to Spectra was hard to say, because Valora just stepped into the way of the shots. They detonated violently, but uselessly, against her body.
“Uh-uh,” Valora said. “This is not gonna turn into another episode of the ‘Mariko Show’. These assholes came for me, and it’s me they’re gonna get.”

Valora launched herself forward with enough force that the nearest piles of scrap started collapsing. She closed almost instantly with Marduk, sticking her fist right into his cannon just as he was about to fire.
“Shit!” Marduk was quick-witted enough to abort the launch, saving himself from a gruesome backfire… but he still had Valora’s hand in his chest. She lifted him a few feet in the air, and drop-kicked him, sending him tumbling end-over-end into the air. That might well have been it for him – had it not been for the interference of Jupiter.

Neither Valora nor Spectra had ever seen a flier move so fast. She rocketed up into the air so quickly that even Spectra’s eyes, somewhat more attuned to such things, struggled to follow her. She caught Marduk mid-flight, sharply decelerating until they had both come to a dead stop.
“You idiot!” she barked. “Next time, I won’t catch you. Next time I’ll help kick you off into the stratosphere!”
“Shut up!” was the wittiest response he could think of, so Jupiter just dropped him. His armour protected him from damage, but he still wasn’t too happy about it.

As soon as Marduk was out of her hands, Jupiter spun around, and launched herself right at Valora. Valora didn’t wait for her, though, leaping at her with just as much speed as Jupiter herself. It surprised Jupiter, but not enough. With agility that spat in the eye of the physics of g-force, she circled around Valora in the same time it took her to swing her arm, and shoulder-checked her in the back.
Valora slammed into the ground, sending up a great cloud of dust, and scattering a huge pile of rusted sheet metal. When she got up, she realized that Jupiter had actually hurt her.
“Well how about that? At least one of you isn’t a joke.”

Jupiter wheeled back round, and struck Valora again, dodging even the most well-timed attempts at retaliation. She struck two, three, four times, frustrating Valora with every pass. None of the blows hurt that much – but they were starting to add up.
“Marduk!” Jupiter shouted. “Focus on Valora!” She turned back on her foe, making dazzling dragonfly-patterns in the air, making it impossible for Valora to tell where she was going to attack from. She dived, and just when Valora thought she had a bead on her, Marduk fired one of his explosive shells at Valora’s feet, kicking up a great cloud of dust that made Valora lose any sight of Jupiter’s position. The flier was able to approach from behind, taking her enemy entirely by surprise. But Jupiter didn’t strike Valora, because suddenly Jupiter was in a cube.

The cube was made of six gossamer thin sheets of golden light, but their thinness was more than enough to contain her.
“Wh—” was all that Jupiter was able to get out, before the faces of the cube all slammed inwards with extraordinary force. When Spectra, watching her construct from a few metres away, saw that Jupiter was still moving, she commanded the faces of the cube to move outward again and repeat the process a few times, until Jupiter felt like she was getting pounded by six vengeful jackhammers. When Spectra finally released her, however, Jupiter got right back into the air. She was in it, however, for about five seconds before she collapsed back onto the ground. She took her helmet off so that she could safely throw up.

Spectra intended to defeat Jupiter conclusively, since she seemed by far the most threatening of the group. But before she had the chance, another of the armoured gods approached her from behind – the black-clad Baal. Whatever their ability, though, they were no master of stealth, and Spectra didn’t have to look at Baal to sense his approach.
“If you’re going to be a coward,” she said, “be an effective one.” Only half-turning, Spectra opted for the simplest attack she could think of, and just let out a thick, multi-spectral beam of light, right into Baal’s midsection, powerful enough to melt through his armour whatever it might have been made of. It hit them dead on - and did absolutely nothing.
“Nice try, Spectra!” Baal shouted. “But you won’t be able to do anything against me. I can—”
“You can absorb electromagnetic energy,” Spectra said. She flicked back a lock of her hair, all the better to reveal the eyebrow which she had nonchalantly arched. “And, I daresay, your armour bolsters your ability to do this. But this, Baal – it is Baal, isn’t it? – is not my first rodeo. I have encountered people with your powers before – all of whom thought they had my number. But let us say you do have my number this time. It’s possible. I’m not invincible. But even if you do, it won’t matter. Do you know why?”
The chassis of a BMW struck Baal, knocking him away so fast and so hard that it looked as though some celestial editor had just highlighted him and pressed ‘ctrl-x’.
“Exactly,” Spectra said.

Spectra and Valora met back up, in the centre of the now largely haphazard ring of ‘gods’. Ra could barely walk. Marduk was okay, but didn’t want to get anywhere near either of his enemies. Baal managed just about to stagger back to his feet, though it took him a while to get back to the others. Jupiter would have been a fine paste if her armour hadn’t protected her. The only unknown elements were Amaterasu and Odin, the latter of whom still showed no signs of being willing to join in.

“Hey, Mariko,” Valora said. “That absorb-y guy – Baal. He could be a problem for you, right?”
“Okay. I’m gonna divide ‘em up. Keep Baal on one side, keep the flying lady on the other – I don’t want to have to deal with her shit. Might not work so well with her, but just – take her out first, yeah?”
“I understand, I think. How will you divide them?”
Valora smiled.
“Oh. Oh!” Spectra focused for a moment, and then raised herself a few feet into the air on a little, shimmering platform. “At your convenience, Valerie.”
“Man,” Valora said, “I wish more people talked like you.” Her remark made her think briefly of Cecily. With that happy thought in her mind, she brought her two fists down on the ground.

It was like two continental shelves had just slammed into each other. There was a great eruption of earth, making a rough and crumbling wall about twenty feet high, dividing the armoured gods in half – Baal, Amaterasu and Odin on one side; Jupiter, Marduk and Ra on the other. That, and it collapsed every pile of junk in the entire yard, and knocked everyone but Jupiter, Odin, and a well-prepared Spectra off their feet.
“Have fun,” Valora said to her companion, before leaping over the divide she’d created to engage Baal and the others.

As he watched her land, Odin smiled beneath his white helmet. Over his intercom he said, quietly:
“Alright, team. No more holding back.”
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Re: The Perils of Valora Finale: Rat Bites Dog Bites Man

Post by Damselbinder »

Spectra approached her foes with a proud, equine strut. She could not help it. It was such a perfect marriage of the truth of her character and the persona she wore that it was impossible for her to present herself otherwise. She saw how her enemies were nervous of her, and it gave her pleasure. She struck a pose – perfectly natural and perfectly calculated – with one hand on her hip and the other extended with the threateningly open palm of a warrior-buddha.

When Valora had told her of her intentions, Spectra had been quite worried. Valora had never told her about Lupus before, but Spectra had been able to see that there was more to it than ‘she’s an old enemy from back in Maine’. That was all the explanation that Valora had given her. However, when Spectra had suggested that this enemy might have been double-bluffing her, that Lupus might be waiting for her there along with her mysterious employers, Valora had laughed.
“Yeah, no, she uh… is not capable of that level of forward planning,” Valora had said, and her confidence had been, in the end, what had persuaded Spectra to accede to her request, even if she had made one small addition to the plan.

Thankfully, it all seemed to be turning out extremely well. Their foes were formidable, but not that formidable. Spectra was still a little concerned about this Odin person, and whether or not his boast had had any bearing on reality, but the chance to deal once-and-for-all with the masterminds behind the distribution of all those pretender-suits, and indeed to claim another well-earned victory, made that concern stand politely aside, if not out of the room completely.

To Spectra’s surprise it was Ra, whose only power seemed to be some kind of farsight, who stepped up to the plate first. Spectra did not immediately dismiss him, though: she knew that the Pauldron member Sam Sparr derived much of his combat power from his pretender-suit itself. Perhaps Ra had some kind of powerful hidden weaponry in his.
“Go to hell, Spectra!” Ra shouted, and, to Spectra’s surprise, the chest-piece of his armour, began to extend and segment, until they had formed a cannon rather like Marduk’s. Exactly like Marduk’s. For a moment Spectra wondered if she’d just got mixed up, but when she looked at Marduk himself, he was deploying his cannon too.
“Then Marduk’s attacks just came from his suit? No… he could detonate them with just a glance – that must have been a superhuman ability. Do they just both have it?”

The barrage began immediately, both Marduk and Ra unleashing great torrents of energy at their slender foe. This time, Mariko cast a shield shaped like the ends of two lacrosse sticks, so that when the orbs hit it, they rolled back out, right back at their casters. In this way, the two men’s barrages worked against them – they fired so many shots that they couldn’t keep up with them all, and though they blew up many of the returning shots with their own ability, some they just couldn’t keep track of, and about twenty per-cent of the firepower they’d unleashed exploded back at them.

Seizing her chance, Spectra shifted her body into a radiant stream of currents of light, shooting through the smoke caused by the impact, shifting back right in front of Ra and Marduk, and blasting them each with enough energy seriously to risk killing them. But when her light faded, and there hiss of steam from the boiled vapour in the air rose from Ra and Marduk’s bodies, they were otherwise completely unharmed.
“Uh-oh, Spectra,” Marduk laughed. “Uh-oh! What’s that? I-impossible! They both have Baal’s power too? How can this be? I have n-n-n-n-n-no way of fighting them!”
“It’s over!” Ra shouted. “Give up now, and maybe we’ll spare your life!”
“Don’t look down,” Spectra replied.
“Huh?” Marduk said, just before discovering that he was 50 metres in the air. As he and Ra had gloated, Spectra had formed small discs of light under their feet – not directly touching them, but about a foot under the ground so that the discs weren’t actually touching their bodies. Once they were established, it took only a thought for Spectra to hurl them violently upwards.

Spectra turned on Jupiter, anticipating another mid-air rescue. But Jupiter wasn’t aiming for her comrades. She was aiming for Spectra, and with dizzying speed she shot forward at her. Spectra had less than a second to defend herself, but she just barely managed it, again encasing Jupiter in a prison of light – a simple sphere this time. Jupiter was able to avoid crashing into it when it formed around her but appeared trapped again. That is, until she placed her hand against it, and the sphere collapsed like a star into a black hole, sucked into her palm.

“Are you starting to get it, Spectra?” Jupiter said. “Are you starting to understand the trap you’ve blundered into? Are you starting to understand why my comrades haven’t landed yet?”
Spectra looked up. Both Ra and Marduk were hovering in the air, for they too could fly. It wasn’t just that those two shared their powers. It was all of the gods. All of them shared all of their powers, so each of them had the power of six superhumans combined.
“I do understand,” Spectra said. “I understand that there is no longer any room for restraint.” Spectra turned on Jupiter – and deployed her deadliest weapon.

From her back, a figure emerged, like unto a god in its own right. It was nine feet high, and far broader than the broadest man who had ever lived. Its limbs were an ever-shifting, gleaming cornucopia – sometimes arms, sometimes spears, sometimes axes, sometimes weapons that had heretofore existed only in the mind of Mariko Asakura.
“Come then, Jupiter,” Spectra said. “Array yourself against the might of Spectra. Earn your name, if you can!”
Grinning, Jupiter launched at Spectra like a cannonball. She saw this construct her enemy had created and did not fear it in the least. Now that Odin had given the command, permitted her to access Baal’s power, there would be no attack that Spectra could produce that would not fall like air against her body. Even if it could, there was no way that Spectra could hit her, not when Jupiter was already so close, not at this dist-

Jupiter did not just get the force of the blow that Spectra levelled against her. She got all the force of all the speed at which she was travelling, turned in an instant against her body. The chest-piece and helmet of her armour shattered like glass, and she was sent tumbling back with enough force and speed to kill a normal person a hundred times over. She used her powers to slow herself, but with her armour so damaged it lost its power-enhancing effects, and she wasn’t able to stop on a dime the way she had before. She landed in a heap, groaning in pain, her armour crumbling to bits around her. It had done its job – it had protected her – but without it, things were going to get much more difficult.

“I wonder,” Spectra said. “Without your armour, will you be able to absorb my attacks so easily?”
“You won’t get the chance to find out. Ra! Marduk! Get her!” Having given the command, she launched herself at Spectra once again – but this time she was not alone.
Time seemed to slow down. Ra and Marduk were further from Spectra, but they were moving faster. Jupiter was almost certainly the best flier of the three, but she was weakened by the loss of her armour. Either way, they had an advantage over her. She could not attack them all: if only her soul-light affected them now, she had enough time to strike two – she could only get all three if one of them lost their nerve and slowed down. There was, in the end, little choice. She would have to attack Marduk and Ra, and hope that Jupiter no longer had the strength to take her out of the fight.

The pair approached. They had seen what she could do, now. They would be more careful. And indeed when Spectra turned her soul-light on them, they tried to weave through its array of mighty arms, to slip through the shimmering blades. But Spectra’s weapon obeyed no laws of shape, and it simply reconfigured itself to flout their attempts at evading it, striking them with hammerblows that sounded like bombs going off.

Since the attacks had come two at once, they were not quite as powerful as the one Spectra had struck Jupiter with, so Ra and Marduk’s armoursuits were splintered and broken, but not utterly destroyed. But it was more than enough to send them hurtling away from her. As Spectra had feared, Jupiter was too close for her to get her soul-light in position in time, but she already started making constructs of elastic, absorptive consistency to break her momentum once Jupiter struck her. But she didn’t strike her. She stopped right in front of Spectra, and put her hands on her shoulders. Then she began to drink.

“Aaahhhhhh!” Spectra cried. “Wh-what are you doing you – unnhhhh!” It was like her body had become a waterfall. Strength was falling from her with the same heavy, irreversible force as a river surging over a cliff.
“What’s wrong, Spectra?” Jupiter crowed. “Did you think you had to attack me for me to absorb your light? Not so, I’m afraid. I can just take it.” She tightened her grip on Spectra’s slim shoulders, and Spectra’s body began to pulse with rings of light, travelling from her feet, up her legs and torso, through her shoulders and right into Jupiter’s hands.

Spectra already felt weakened. Her slender limbs were starting to feel heavy, her focused, delicate control over her abilities disturbed and fuzzy. Looking down, she watched – could actually see – the light travelling out of her, sucked from her body into Jupiter’s hands.
“I… won’t let you!” Spectra cried, regathering her control over her soul-light, and swinging its many arms right at Jupiter’s neck. But even as she took control of it, she could feel it buckling. Even as she commanded it, she could feel it fading. By the time it made contact with Jupiter’s body, it had collapsed, dissolving into golden mist, then vanishing completely. Using her soul-light, even at the best of times, was tiring. Having it ripped from her like this made that cliff even steeper.
But Jupiter did not relent. Seeing and feeling Spectra’s weakness, she began to drink faster, intent on taking everything Spectra had.

“N… no!” Spectra protested, trying to resist physically. But, physically, Spectra was no stronger than her slim and graceful build suggested, and she could not get Jupiter off of her. One attempt at wrestling Jupiter’s hands from her was all she could manage before her arms fell to her sides, swinging limply.

Mariko’s sharp mind was being dulled, her consciousness fading as her body weakened. Confused, she tried to attack using her powers again, but this only accelerated the precipitous collapse of her strength. Her shoulders sank. Her legs started trembling. Her swanlike neck grew weak, and her head began swaying softly from side to side. Jupiter pulled her closer, feeling Spectra’s modest, pert bosom pushing against her chest, the contact efficacious as well as pleasant.
“N… no…” Mariko moaned, “you can’t… my… my energy… my… unhh… my power…”
“Not yours anymore,” Jupiter said. “In fact, you aren’t even yours anymore. You’re ours.” Grinning, she shoved Spectra in the chest, the heroine stumbling backwards. She shook, but did not quite fall, suspended as though on air. She looked at Jupiter with an expression of dazed, somnolent anguish, that Jupiter could not help but find very fetching indeed. She nodded at her two comrades, who had been watching with delight as Jupiter had taken Spectra’s strength. They aimed their gauntlets at Spectra’s body, now all-but-inert – and fired.

Mariko heard a whistling noise, but didn’t know what it was, because Marduk and Ra were behind her. But when the projectiles struck, she understood, showing her comprehension with a small, soft cry. Looking down, she saw the cords of the bolo whips seizing her, their weights making them whirl around her like little tornadoes. The first had hit Mariko just below her shoulder blades, and its cords spun in both directions, coiling around her torso, covering in swift criss-crosses the material of her silver bodysuit, forcing her arms against her sides, pressing them hard, forcing Mariko’s shoulders inwards and upwards, so that one could see just from her shoulders’ positions how tightly Mariko was tied.

Her lower body, too, were ensnared. A second bolo whip hit Mariko just above the knees, ruthlessly binding her long, long legs, squeezing them against each other, forcing Mariko’s thighs and calves together in intimate contact, tying them irrevocably tightly.
“Oh!” Mariko gasped, watching herself ruthlessly and instantly tied up, her beautiful body captured and bound with humiliating, devastating speed. Dark brown ropes bit into the gleaming silver of her bodysuit, visibly compressing its skin-thin, ethereal fabric. “Oh… oh no I… I can’t… I… unhhh… uhhh… oooooohhhhhh…”

She fell. She was so tall, so long-limbed, that it seemed to take forever. But eventually the fall did finish, all at once, Mariko falling right onto her back, felled as slowly and definitively as a redwood. She lay on her back for a few seconds undisturbed, shifting weakly in her bonds, her eyelids fluttering as she tried to stay awake. But she did not remain fallen for long.

Jupiter knelt down.
“I thought we’d only get Valora today,” she said. “But you are an exquisite bonus.”
“No… no you mustn’t… can’t let... let you, I – mh? Mhh… mph?” Blinking in surprise Mariko looked down to see that a single strip of tape, the very same colour as her bodysuit, had formed a seal over her soft, delicate lips. She blushed, seeing herself gagged, and turned her eyes away.
“Huh. You know, you’re pretty cute all tied up like that, Spectra,” Jupiter said. She put her hands on Spectra’s head, and tousled her soft, black hair.
“Mphh…!” Mariko complained, blushing even brighter.
Jupiter laughed.
“Okay, now you’re adorable.”

Jupiter lifted Mariko back up to her feet. Divested of her armour, it was more obvious how much shorter she was then her captive, and Mariko was only shamed further by the disparity.
“Okay cutie,” Jupiter laughed, “you’re our hostage now. Are you gonna be good?”
“Mhh… mhhphh!”
“Eh. Didn’t think so,” Jupiter said, before peeling the tape off again, and pressing her lips against Spectra’s.
“What? No, don’t – MPH! MMHHHH!!” The shock of it, the indignation, briefly roused Mariko, and she began wriggling with more intensity in her bonds, writhing even as Jupiter hooked Mariko’s waist with her arm to hold her closer. “Nhhmmph! Mmhhh… mhhh… mh…” The resistance could not last long. Jupiter was draining her again.

As she kissed Spectra, Jupiter drew from her all that remained of her strength. As the protests Spectra breathed into Jupiter’s mouth faded into moans, and then into sweet, almost inaudible mews, she could feel the burden of her body getting heavier. She was going completely limp.
“Can’t… can’t stay… conscious…” Mariko thought. “Too… weak…” She couldn’t move. After a few more seconds she could barely think. She felt her energy being drained out of her, felt the few embers left being swept up into Jupiter’s greedy embrace. Only when there was truly nothing left did the ordeal stop. She felt Jupiter withdraw, felt the tape slapped back down over her mouth, the strip reaching from one cheek to the other, smoothed down by Jupiter’s thumbs. Her eyelids were so heavy now, and she had no more strength to hold them up. No more strength for anything at all.

“That’s it, cutie. Off you go,” Jupiter said. “You must be so tired. You’re drained. You’re beaten. You’re completely… and utterly… helpless.”
“Mhhh…” Mariko sighed, as one last pulse of shame defeated her entirely. She slumped forward against Jupiter’s chest, totally unconscious.

Jupiter grinned, and let Spectra dip back. She curled one arm under Spectra’s legs, and lifted her captive up into her arms. She felt lighter than she looked, and Jupiter found that she could bear the fallen heroine quite easily. She supported Spectra’s torso by her shoulder-blades, so that Spectra’s neck bent back, extending as far as it could, the elegant musculature tensing, even if the expression on the head it supported was calm, serenely somnolent. Mariko’s willowy legs rested against Jupiter’s right hand, her fingers making a slight impression in the softness of Mariko’s thighs, her supple calves dangling in the air, her legs extending so far past the hand supporting them that from certain angles it looked like Mariko was floating. Even knocked out and bound up, Mariko seemed to shine with a kind of ethereal flawlessness. The arch of her back, the tilt of her head, the surrender of her tall and elegant frame – it was like Mariko was posing for a great artist, displaying her beauty like a stage-whispered secret. For a while, therefore, her captors could not help but just… stare.

“Alright,” Jupiter said. “Now let’s get the blonde.”
A full list of my stories can be found here, with summaries to boot: viewtopic.php?f=70&t=32027
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Re: The Perils of Valora Finale: Rat Bites Dog Bites Man

Post by Damselbinder »

Valora figured out what was going on a bit faster than Spectra had done – but only because Baal and Amaterasu had no interest in being subtle. Valora went for Baal first, figuring that if Spectra dealt with her three first and then came to aid her, Baal could still cause problems. She figured out the gods’ trick, though, because Baal immediately flew up into the air, and started shooting balls of energy at her. He flew clumsily, and he fired inaccurately, but Valora got the gist of it.

“Well, isn’t that cheeky,” Valora said. “Not a bad trick. It’d work plenty good on a lot of opponents. But since you’re fighting me… you’re probably gonna want bigger guns than the ones you got.”
“Oh, our guns are plenty big, Valora,” said Amaterasu, with a deep but obviously female voice. “You think we’d all but invite you here if we didn’t have a way to deal with you?”
“I don’t know,” Valora said. “Wouldn’t be the first time I’ve fought a terminal dunce.”
“I’ll show you dunce!”

The battle-cry had come from Baal, who used Jupiter’s power to rocket himself at Valora. He couldn’t fly nearly as well as she, but his clumsiness made him unpredictable, and he avoided Valora’s punch, managing to get behind her, and put his hand right against the back of her neck. And then, he began to drink.



Look, you’re gonna have to bear with me on this one because I’ve got a simile for you, and it’s going to get rough.

Right, look you know when you’re at McDonald’s? And the milkshake is more milk than shake? Or… more shake than milk? Whatever. Anyway, you know when it’s so gloopy that it just will not go through the straw at all? And you suck real hard and you make, like, a Renée Zellweger face? Okay imagine that, but… metaphysically. That’s what happened when Baal tried to drain Valora’s energy.
“No,” Amaterasu said, over Baal’s intercom. “No, idiot. That’s not going to work on her. That’s for Spectra, remember?”
“Oh,” Baal said, before Valora backhanded him into the wall she’d created, almost hard enough to knock it over.

Valora, her upper lip curling with impatience, strode towards Baal, who was still very much in the process of remembering how his legs were supposed to work, let alone his powers. But Amaterasu, in brilliant, gleaming orange armour, threw herself in Valora’s path, arms outstretched.
“You’ll not get past me!” she shouted.
“Yeah,” Valora said. “Right.” She struck Amaterasu in the stomach – but Amaterasu did not move. “What the hell…?!” She struck again. And again. She rained down her fists in a brutal torrent against Amaterasu’s chest, but each blow was completely ineffective.
“You get it now?” Amaterasu said. “You can’t hurt me. I absorb any kinetic energy directed against me – no matter how powerful it is. You can’t even move me. And if you can’t move me, you can’t move any of us. You’re done, Valora.”

Valora stopped trying to attack. She put her hands on her hips.
“Hm,” she said. “Alright. I get why you weren’t all doing that at first. You were trying to make me and Spectra think you only had one power each. Pretty smart. But you’ve drawn back the curtain now. Why didn’t your buddy use that power when I hit him just now?”
Amaterasu didn’t answer. She just made a kind of ‘hrm…’ noise.
“Oh, wow, okay,” Valora said. “He’s just incompetent, huh?”
“You’ll find no such weakness in me!” Amaterasu shouted, raising her arm. A hatch on her forearm opened, deploying a small, grey nozzle. “Now sleep, Valora!”

But Valora just stuck her thumb over the nozzle, causing the gas within to spray harmlessly everywhere except at her.
“So I can’t move you, right?” Valora said. “Man, that’s a tough one. How am I ever gonna get around that? Guess I should just give up now. Oh wait!”
She put her right foot right between both of Amaterasu’s and stomped down. Indeed, Amaterasu was not moved as such by the attack, but a two-metre hole had appeared underneath her.
“What?!” Amaterasu tumbled down, banging her head on just about every conceivable obstacle on the way to the hole’s bottom. She looked up, and saw Valora wave at her, before the heroine kicked down again, causing the pit she had created to collapse right on top of Amaterasu.

“Idiot!” the god shouted, and accessed Jupiter’s power, strong enough to push through the earth with ease, cutting through it like water as she flew back up. However, while Jupiter’s power was plenty strong enough for Amaterasu to cut her way through the earth, it was not enough to get her past Valora’s foot.
Valora looked down at the wriggling pile of earth beneath her, adjusting her foot’s position from time to time when Amaterasu tried to get around her, and she shook her head.
“Hey,” she said, calling out to Odin, still standing some distance away. “We’re kicking your pals’ asses. Are you ever gonna help?”
“I admit,” Odin replied, his armour magnifying the volume of his voice, “you’ve done better than I expected. As has your companion. You are worthy adversaries. More than worthy. Formidable. Mighty. Extraordinary! But not, alas, invincible.”

Odin inclined his head in the direction of the wall of earth Valora had created – just before Marduk blasted it down.
It took a while for the dust to clear. When it did, Valora found herself again surrounded. Baal, Marduk, Ra, and a woman with shattered armour that Valora supposed had to be Jupiter. She was not particularly concerned by the increase of numbers, not until the dust had settled down completely, and she saw the figure draped across Jupiter’s arms.

Of course. Stupid! If all of them had all of each other’s powers, they could all do the energy-absorbing thing that Baal had done. They’d been waiting for exactly what Valora had done – waiting for her and Spectra to split up.
“For one thing,” Odin said, “you can release our comrade. Then—”
But Valora had obeyed Odin faster than he had expected. No longer thinking of Amaterasu at all, she leapt forward to rescue her companion. But Jupiter was too fast, and she lifted herself off the ground before Valora could reach her.
“Careful, Valora!” she laughed. “You wouldn’t want me to drop this precious cargo, would you?” She held Spectra’s limp body closer, lifting her head so Jupiter could brush her cheek against Spectra’s. “She’s so soft… so delicate… why, she’d shatter like glass if I let her go, wouldn’t she?”

“Nghh!” Valora growled, fixing Jupiter with a deathly, grey-blue stare. But she took no action. Certainly, she could reach Jupiter with a leap. Moreover, if Valora landed with Mariko in her arms her body would absorb the force of the landing. But Jupiter was too agile. If Valora launched herself fast enough to get around that agility, she ran a far too serious risk of killing Mariko herself.
The other gods closed in. Amaterasu scrabbled furiously out of the ground, swearing that she would have restitution for her embarrassment. Baal, too, housed ever bloodier thoughts towards his enemy. He, she, Marduk and Ra surrounded Valora.
“Bludgeon her,” Odin commanded – and the barrage began.

No-one shot, no-one explosion, was enough to do Valora any real harm at all. But ten? Twenty? A thousand? With more pouring into her every second, a terrible hailstorm of light and colour smashing into Valora’s body as the cannonade pounded her, she began to feel it. The pain began to build. The rage began to build.

Not once in the fifteen years since her awful battle with Lupus, not even against the most mighty and infuriating enemy, not even against those few who had bested her, had Valerie felt a rage like the one she’d had on that day. But, every once in a while, the fear of it would resurface. When her relationship with Oliver had collapsed, for example, or in the days after her own captivity at the hands of Hades. But this was not such a black day as those had been – or rather it would not have been if Lupus had not shown up on her doorstep the previous night. If she had not been given such a stark, cruel reminder of the most hated parts of her past, and forced her to compare her situation with Mariko to one she had been in those many years ago, which had ended in blood.

So as Valerie looked up at Jupiter, and felt explosion after explosion smashing against her body, as she felt her costume tear and a little trickle of blood oozing down over her left eyebrow, she began to fear that she would not be able to stop herself. She would not be able to prevent her fury from making her leap from where she stood and brutalize her enemies one by one, even if her defiance cost Mariko her life.

It was not really a possibility. Even at twenty Valerie had never been so pig-headedly stupid. But you didn’t have to be Lupus to skew your memories of your past, and sometimes Valerie remembered her younger self pretty uncharitably. It was a fear, then, not a risk, that had Valerie in her grasp, and prevented her from taking action that might have saved Mariko, a fear from which Valerie could not extricate herself, for even the mightiest of us need rescuing sometimes. Fortunately for Valerie, this was California.

There was always someone to rescue you.

At first, Valerie did not realize that anything had happened, except that the barrage had relented. At least one of the gods had stopped firing at her. She heard shouting, and something like muffled growling. When she looked up at Jupiter, just barely visible through the smoke, she had something wrapped around her face, and was struggling to remove it. She was no longer carrying Spectra. Thinking Jupiter had just dropped her, Valora leapt up, out of the field of fire, and sent Jupiter flying into the ground with a two-knuckle punch that would have caved in a normal woman’s skull. Only now, though, free of the cloud of earth and smoke that had been thrown up by the gods’ barrage, did Valerie see. Only now did she understand.

She stood immediately underneath where Jupiter had been standing. She was of medium height, lithe and slender, but her arms and her shapely legs had the whipcord strength of a gymnast. She wore black: long, black boots reaching halfway up her thighs; tight, black trousers that clung lovingly to her thighs and her rear. Above that, she wore a tightly-buttoned jacket, like a hussar’s, still black. But it shone, too, with a colour she had never been able wholly to abandon. Her buttons, her cuffs, her epaulettes, and swirls of ornamental gold trim on the jacket itself, were all gold.

On her wonderfully pretty, wonderfully intelligent, freckled face, she wore a domino mask. It was the same shape she had always worn, itself now a mixture of black and gold. Around her neck, an odd-looking, segmented choker. She stood – she balanced – on only one heel, resting on the pommel of a strange-looking sword, a sword with strange properties, such that – standing on it - its wielder had been able to catch Spectra with no ill-effects to either. And she bore Spectra, now, with exquisite gentleness and care, adjusting her body to rest as comfortably and safely in her arms as she could. She had fierce, open green eyes. She had long, red hair.
“Kingslayer!!” bellowed one of the gods.
“You bet your ass,” said Sophie Scott.
A full list of my stories can be found here, with summaries to boot: viewtopic.php?f=70&t=32027
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Re: The Perils of Valora Finale: Rat Bites Dog Bites Man

Post by Damselbinder »

Hopping off her sword, Sophie tapped it with her foot, and it vanished with the same flash that happened when she summoned her powers. She laid Mariko down, propping her head up against the most solid piece of scrap that she could fine, brushing her cheek with the back of her hand. She turned back to her enemies, who were looking at her, and each other, with obvious apprehension. But they weren’t her chief concern.

“Hey, Valora!” Sophie called out. “You doing okay?”
Valora shrugged.
“I think I’m gonna have to get my suit repaired,” she said. “Again. But it’s alright. I’ll just get Mariko to give me a raise.”
“Oh, fuckin’ – yeah do it. Be real insistent about it, too; she can be such a Scrooge.”
“Is she okay?”
Sophie glanced back, scanning her lover with her preternatural senses. It took less than a second to find that Mariko was drained, but in no danger, for Sophie knew every fibre, every cell, every pulse and rhythm and habit of Mariko’s body, more deeply than Mariko – or anyone else – could ever know it themselves.
“Yeah,” she said. “She’s safe. Which – by the fucking way – is a lot more than I can say for you assholes!”

The remaining gods could not help but be intimidated, but Marduk at least stood forward, readying his cannon again.
“Worry about yourself, Kingslayer!” he shouted. “So you have super-senses. So you have a fancy sword. So what? That’s not going to make a difference against the gods!”
“I kinda think it is.” Sophie stepped forward, the tails of her coat flowing behind her. “See, I don’t just have super-senses, y’dig? I have, like… real fucking super senses. I can see all kinds of shit. For instance,” she said, suddenly turning and pointing at Odin, “I can see that your boss-man is a total fraud.”
Beneath his mask, Odin made a sound roughly equivalent to ‘eep’.
Sophie stepped closer to him, close enough that Marduk and Baal flew into her path to block her.

“It’s a nice trick,” she said. “Real nice.” She turned her head to catch Valerie’s eye. “These schmucks can’t actually share their powers. Odin’s doing it for them.”
“Ah, crap!” Baal exclaimed, making the others bellow at him to shut the fuck up.
“Hey, hey, don’t be mean to him!” Sophie said. “I didn’t need him to confirm shit. I can see it.” Indeed she could. To her senses it was plain as day – a complex knot of ethereal ribbons flowing from each of the gods to Odin, and from Odin out to the others, his body a nexus point from which dozens of channels, like little purple ribbons, flowed.

“How about that?” Valora cricked her neck. “You really had me fooled, Odin! You weren’t bullshitting – you are good at the theatre thing.” She began advancing on Odin as well, and with every step she took, Odin felt his knees become less and less likely to obey his commands. “Can he use their powers too?” Valora asked Sophie.
“Don’t think so. He’s like a chess king. Real important, but he can’t do shit by himself.”
“Can he give the others our powers?”
“Oo, good question.” Sophie scanned again. “I think he’s trying to.” She could see the wispy beginnings of a trail between Odin and Valora, but it was fragile, and kept fading.
“Well,” Valora said, “we can’t have that, can we?” She popped the knuckles in her hand, and gave Odin a distinctly ursine grin.
“S-stop her, you idiots!” Odin cried. But it was too late.

Valora leapt over their heads, dodging the wild and panicked fire of their cannons. Marduk shot up into the air to stop her, and he was good enough with Jupiter’s power that he was able to intercept her. Moreover, once he’d barred her path, he activated Amaterasu’s power as well, and when Valora crashed into him, all her momentum was lost in a second.

“That’s—” was all Marduk was able to get out, before Valora simply climbed over him, and used him as a mid-air springboard, rocketing off him faster than three Jupiters combined could move. She landed right in front of Odin, eyes alight, fists quivering with the anticipation of a really solid impact.

Odin wasn’t completely defenceless. His suit was bristling with weapons, and he started to prime them. He might have started doing so a little sooner, however, since Valerie tore his oversized pauldrons off his shoulders, discarded one, and struck him so hard with the other that his brain, in anarchic protest, erased his ability to drive a car. He staggered for a moment, then fell with a catastrophic crash and, a little distance away, Sophie watched those shimmering ribbons fade into nothing.

“You idiot!” Baal screamed, turning wrathfully on Ra. “You were supposed to be keeping watch! How the fuck did you miss her?!”
“I – she’s a shifter!” Ra protested. “She probably just looked like a – a normal person.”
“Normal person?! How could you not recognize Sophie Scott?! She’s – JESUS!”

Baal did not mean to imply that Sophie was the Christ. It was that he had been directly underneath Marduk. And Marduk, skilled as he was with Jupiter’s powers, was not so skilled that he could use them without having them.
“Ughh…” he groaned, barely protected by his armour, and by his own powers’ slight increase to his hardiness. “C… crap! I don’t – I don’t have any of your powers…! What are we supposed to do now?!”
“We still have our own powers,” Baal said. “And we still have our suits. Amaterasu – slow Valora down. We’ll deal with Kingslayer!”

Amaterasu obeyed. She couldn’t fly anymore, but her suit still let her move pretty quick. She intercepted Valora, and when Valora tried just to get around her, she grabbed her by the shoulders, and activated her powers, clamping herself like a magnet to Valora’s body.
“Urgh – what the – hell?!” Valora growled, trying to shake Amaterasu off, but not able to move her at all. “Oh man, you are really ticking me off!” she growled, and began smacking Amaterasu into any heavy object she could find, not threatened exactly, but wary of any gadgets her suit might still have concealed. And, as she wrestled, the others closed in on Kingslayer.

“Your powers aren’t going to help you,” Ra said. “Not against us. Not against these suits!” From his wrist, he deployed two gunbarrels, and he fired a hail of bullets that would have torn through Sophie’s body had they hit her. She did not appear to do anything to protect herself. Yet, somehow, every bullet missed.

“You incompetent!” Baal shouted, before deploying weapons of his own. This time, Sophie did move, but it didn’t seem like her movements were enough to dodge the attack. Even when Ra and Baal both fired at her, she only took a few steps, in a weird, swaying, staccato dance that didn’t seem to make sense to her attackers. Even Ra, whose vision was almost as good as Sophie’s, couldn’t understand his enemy’s movements. Had his senses been better tuned, he might have realized that she was doing three things: one, she was keeping herself in the tiny gap between the twin gunbarrels of each god’s weapon, the little blindspot too small for them to have accounted for; two, she was making absolutely sure that none of the bullets went anywhere near Spectra’s still-inert body. And, finally, she was manoeuvring such that the field of fire would eventually include the flat surface of a scrapped truck-trailer. When it did so, the bullets ricocheted off it like hail bouncing off a pavestone. Sophie leapt out of the way, pirouetting over the four streams of bullets with all the grace and quicksilver-beauty of a leaping cat.

Sophie landed out of harm’s way, but Baal and Ra were both struck by their own streams of bullets. Their suits were much hardier than the surface of the truck-trailer, so neither were damaged, but they were so surprised that they both stopped firing, and raised their hands protectively to their faces to defend themselves. It was completely unnecessary, and it gave the Kingslayer all the opportunity she needed.

With a sprinter’s speed, Sophie closed the distance between herself and Baal, leaping on top of him. She caught his helmet between her thighs, and twisted, spinning it off with strength that belied her svelte figure, revealing an alarmed, tattooed face. Using the collar of Baal’s armour as a brace, she flipped onto her hands, tossing the helmet up slightly to catch it between her ankles, then bringing it down with the full force of her legs right onto Baal’s now unprotected head. He collapsed in a heap that sounded amusingly like a heap of tin cans falling from a supermarket shelf.

Leaping from Baal before he had even hit the floor, Sophie closed in, now, on Ra instead, landing right in front of him, less than a foot away. He flinched, and stumbled backwards, raising his weapon again. But Sophie made no move to attack him. She stayed perfectly still.
“G-get back!” Ra shouted.
Sophie grinned. She glanced down at Ra’s hip – a part of his armour that was particularly reflective.
“You’re the boss, dumbass.”

From a standing start, Sophie leapt forward, high enough that she was able to kick off Ra’s chest, flipping backwards in the air. It seemed like needless, if impressive, artistry. But it meant that Ra was looking at her. He was not looking at the ball of explosive energy that Marduk had fired at the Kingslayer’s back. And he did not look at it until it hit him in the chest. Divested of Marduk’s powers himself, he no longer had any special protection from them, and he was hurled backwards, his chestpiece shattered, until he had made a fine addition to great big pile of junk.

Sophie closed on the last of them. Marduk fired a volley of explosive bolts at her, but she weaved skilfully between each one. He fired a stream of bullets, but she ducked it. He fired a dart, but she snatched it out of the air and flicked it to one side. But then, suddenly, he stopped. As Sophie closed on him, he made no effort to attack her at all. He just let her get closer.
“You know the thing about being a superhero,” Marduk called, as Sophie continued her approach, “is that you get famous. We all know you. We all got scared shitless when you showed up. Everyone knows you’re a big badass, Kingslayer. Problem is, that’s got its disadvantages.”

As he spoke, suddenly a figure burst back into the field of battle. Jupiter – covered in bruises, with one black eye, and blood trickling down her face – fired herself like a missile at Sophie, so fast that even she almost didn’t see her. But it wasn’t quite fast enough, and Sophie slipped underneath Jupiter just as she was about to make contact, turning her in mid-air so that she crashed into the ground, her speed no match for Sophie’s reflexes – certainly not without her armour. But then, not all of her armour was destroyed. Below the hip she was still protected, and one of her gauntlets survived as well. It was this that, righting herself, Jupiter pointed at her enemy. When Sophie looked back at Marduk, she realized he was doing the same thing.

“Main disadvantage? We know your history, Kingslayer. We know all about when you used to suck. We know about all those times you got your pretty ass beat.” A small nozzle extended from both gods’ gauntlets. “Goodnight,” Marduk said, “Enhancegirl.” And then they sprayed.

“Sophie!” Valora cried, seeing her ally covered in a thick, white mist. But Amaterasu still clung to her. “Oh my god, would you just get off?!”
“Not a chance!” Amaterasu laughed. “I’m not going anywhere!”
Then Valora had a thought.
“Hey,” she said, “you can hear me, right?”
“Uh… yeah. So?” Amaterasu said.
“So,” Valora said, “don’t feel too bad. I’m pretty sure they’ll give you hearing aids in jail.” Then Valora smacked her with open palms on both sides of her head.
“AAGHHH!!” Amaterasu screamed, falling from Valora and curling up on the ground, shivering in pain. Valora gave her no more mind, and leapt to Sophie’s aid.

But by the time Valora had crossed the distance, the mist had dissipated. Between Marduk and Jupiter, Sophie was standing, wavering. She stumbled, seeming barely able to stand on her long, slender legs.
“Uhh…” she moaned, her eyes clouded and hazy. The back of her hand was against her head, like she was trapped in mid-swoon, surrounded by the remnants of the mist, and by the hooting, mocking laughter of her enemies.
“That’s what I thought!” Marduk shouted. “You’re the same that you always were! Just one little puff of this stuff and you’re as weak as a kitten!”
“Get away from her!” Valora commanded, fearing that she was about to be put right back in the same situation she’d been in when Sophie had arrived. But then something strange happened.

Sophie was shaking. Not the helpless quivering of someone about to pass out. More like shivering from the cold. Her body was tense, and her choker seemed tighter, pressing into her neck. One of its square segments seemed to be pressing tighter than the others. Then, suddenly, Sophie’s eyes snapped awake, and suddenly her sword had appeared in her hands.
“Same… as I always was?” she said. Her eyes were wide, burning. Her lips were contorted into a vicious, hateful snarl. “Same as I always was? Alright, shithead – let’s see. Let’s just fucking see!”

With a bloody roar, Sophie launched herself at Marduk, far too fast for him even to begin attacking. She sliced open his armour with one stroke, and slashed him across the chest with another, not quite deep enough to kill, but deep enough that he cried out in pain, and fell defeated onto the ground. But he hadn’t even fallen before Sophie turned her attentions to Jupiter. She, now caught between an apparently un-drugged Kingslayer on one side, and Valora on the other, decided to flee. But Sophie would not allow this. With both hands, she hurled her sword through the air. For a moment, Valora thought that Sophie was about to have killed Jupiter, but she did not quite. Her sword caught Jupiter right where her shoulder connected to her chest, and with a great spurt of blood, Jupiter fell, landing hard onto the ground not one foot from where she’d taken off.

Sophie strode over to her, still snarling, and pulled the sword from Jupiter’s shoulder.
“Don’t you move,” she said, over the sound of Jupiter’s cries. “Don’t you fucking move, or the next time I might not aim so mercifully.” She kept her sword hovering over Jupiter’s chest. “Do you understand me?”
As if awakening from a spell, Sophie’s head snapped up to see Valora.
“Wh… Valerie?”
Valerie’s look of concern faded into a gentler one.
“Hey there, badass,” she said. “You did it. You won.”
“Yeah,” Sophie said, looking down at Jupiter, shivering and moaning at her feet. “Yeah…”
A full list of my stories can be found here, with summaries to boot: viewtopic.php?f=70&t=32027
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Re: The Perils of Valora Finale: Rat Bites Dog Bites Man - Now Complete

Post by Damselbinder »

Within half an hour, the vans had arrived. Statements were made, pretender-suits were confiscated, a spectacularly irate junkyard-owner was apologized to, and six gods were loaded – cuffed and, in some cases, bandaged – into one police van each. Odin was left to last, and taken far from the others – he would be processed as a mundane, not a superhuman, for safety’s sake. He didn’t curse his enemies, or threaten them, or swear vengeance against them. But don’t give him too much credit: it was mostly because Valerie had given him a concussion.

And so, as the sun began to set, and the last of the vans drove away, Valora stood with her arms folded, looking at the strangely clear sky, leaning up against the corpse of a big ol’ truck. A few metres away, Sophie sat against another junk pile, resting. Mariko had still not recovered her senses, and she was lying with her head in Sophie’s lap, as Sophie lazily teased her fingers through her wife’s short, black hair.

It was not strange, in retrospect, that Sophie should have been where she was now. When Valerie had met her, seven years earlier, it had been in fairly ignominious circumstances. She’d found her paralyzed and wrapped in spider-webs, the captive of a superhuman named Arachna, along with fellow superheroine Stellar. Then, Valerie had not given Sophie much mind, seeing ‘Enhancegirl’ as, at best, just part of the general fabric of the Seacouver superhero scene. She was also jetlagged, having just arrived in California, so she hadn’t had much patience for introductions. But she’d begun to notice her as her star rose and was never displeased to cross her path. Perhaps it was later experience colouring earlier memory, but Valerie wondered if she’d even noticed the first time, when she’d unbound the apparently hapless Sophie, that special quality in her which, if nurtured, could blossom into greatness. Something in her countenance: a dignity; a strength. All the best heroes Valerie had known – Spectra; Freebird; Fahrenheit; Hypatia; Nova – had some version of it. The same quality that Valerie strove to project and that, of course, was really present in great abundance.

Valerie strolled over to Sophie. There was a tension in the redhead’s face that Valerie had not seen before, or at least never noticed.
“Hey, champ,” Valerie said. “How you feeling?”
Sophie smiled, without opening her eyes.
“I’m okay,” she said. “This thing works a dream, but it’s got a hell of a kick.” By ‘this thing’ she meant her choker, which was resting by her side.
“What is it, exactly?”
“Adrenaline injector. Flipside of being sensitive to sedatives is that I’m just as sensitive to stimulants. The choker’s tied to my vital signs. If they dip like I’m being drugged, the choker acts automatically, and shoots me up with the right dose. It’s like, uhh… you know like in a cartoon where a kid drinks a cup of coffee, and they go nuts like they just snorted a bunch of coke? It’s kinda like that. Only, y’know. More violent.”
“Nifty. Wouldn’t mind one myself?”
“You? Why?”
“You’re not the only super to get nailed with chloroform, you know.”
“Fair point.”

A few moments passed in silence.
“Alright,” Sophie said. “I’m okay. Let’s get out of here.” She stood up, then stooped again to lift Mariko.
“Sophie, you still seem pretty bushed. I can carry her if you want.”
But Sophie ignored the offer. She put one arm under Mariko’s neck, the other under her thighs, and lifted her – as she had many times – into her embrace, carrying her with strong, well-practiced tenderness. She caught Valerie’s eye.
“Mine,” she said, and stuck out her tongue.
“Yeah,” Valerie said, laughing.

As they began to leave, Valerie settled into a pace behind Sophie. It was nice seeing that she cared for Mariko so much, for one of the things that really had changed about Valerie over the years was that she had grown fond of seeing other people’s intimacy, other people’s happiness. Especially in ‘the young’, which was how she still thought of Sophie and Mariko, twenty-five and twenty-six respectively. But there was a… tension in the silence, and after a while, Valerie felt the need to break it.
“Hey Sophie,” she said, “what’s with the costume?”
“Oh yeah, you’ve never seen it before, have you?” she looked over her shoulder, flashed a sly smile. “Miss the mini-skirt?”
“Both good looks,” Valerie said. “Just… what made you want to change?”
Sophie didn’t answer for a few seconds.
“When I first got my powers,” she said, “the gold dress was kind of… part of the package. Way I figured it was because it was similar to Lady Luck’s, and she was always my favourite superhero when I was a kid. Figured my brain just sort of… spat it out. But… I don’t know. After a while that just wasn’t how I imagined a hero anymore. One day I transformed… and I looked like this. I looked like Rupert.”
“Who’s—” Valerie began to ask, but she bit her tongue. Sophie meant Rupert Scott. No relation – but he had been connected to Sophie all the same. She had first heard of him under the name Doctor Arrhenius – most knew him now as ‘Captain Cur.’
“I can change back if I want,” Sophie said. “But… I don’t know. I just don’t really feel it.”

For a few hundred metres Sophie seemed to bear her spouse’s weight easily, but suddenly she flagged.
“Okay, I, uh… maybe need a minute,” she said, laying Mariko down, and not getting back up again. “Geez,” she said, sitting on her hands, panting. “Okay, maybe I need to get my adrenaline-thing tuned up a bit…”
“We’re in no rush,” Valerie said. “Take your time.”
“No yeah,” Sophie replied. “It’s just…” She grimaced. “God damn it, I shouldn’t be this… weak!”
“‘Weak’? Sophie, what the hell are you talking about. You kicked six degrees of behind.”
“No – I mean… yeah, you’re right.” She smiled, unconvincingly. “Ignore me. I’ve just got a case of the capes.”
“You know. The capes. When you’re a big badass like you or Mariko. Or me,” she quickly added, “and you start to feel you can never ever show weakness absolutely ever and you’ve got to be The Big Superhero all the time. Never lose. It’s dumb. I’m just being dumb. It’s fine. We all take a loss sometimes.”
“I mean… sure. But you didn’t lose.”
“Yeah! See? Extra dumb.”

Valerie frowned. It wasn’t her business. It wasn’t for her to concern herself with – but she could see that something was wrong. She could not help but ask.
“Sophie,” Valerie said, “I hope this doesn’t seem like a breach of confidence, but… I talked to Mariko yesterday. Hadn’t seen you in a while, so I was asking after you. She said you’d been… kinda having a tough time of it lately.”
Sophie had a very open face, and it was not difficult to read the thought process through which she went. She started with the intention of denying the claim entirely, then shuffling down to a brief concession but one played off as relatively unimportant, then a brief spurt of earnestness to shut the conversation down – and then, not having the energy for anything else, just the truth.

“Did Mariko tell you about my mom?” Sophie said.
“She said she was sick,” Valerie replied, “but that she got better.”
“Well, that’s true. But she was… she was really sick. She almost died. Like… one time I really thought I was sitting by her deathbed. But she pulled through, and everything was fine. But… I wasn’t fine.” She swallowed. “Look, I… I don’t want to dump a load of my bullcrap on you. I think you’re hot shit and I absolutely love you, but we’re… we’re not that close.”
“Close shmose. Talk, bitch.”
Sophie laughed – genuinely this time.

“Alright, you asked for it, I guess.” She put her hands behind her head, rested it on them. It was an excuse not to have to look Valerie in the eye. “I used to be… I used to go into a really dark place sometimes. And it would be a long time before I was out of it. Even Mari—” She stopped herself. She couldn’t bring herself to say that out loud. “Point is, I hadn’t been like that for a long time. Not since… well not since I brought down Jackson Morrow. And then my mom gets sick – and gets better – and suddenly it’s like it never happened.”

She stood up. Not so much because she wanted to as because she couldn’t keep still.
“And suddenly everything was back. I was going into fights feeling like I didn’t know what I was doing. I was facing shitheads that I could punk in my sleep and I was – sure I was gonna lose. I would… compare myself. It was like I was nineteen again. It… it is like that.”
“Have you talked about this with Mariko?”
“Uh… yeah, kinda? I don’t know, I don’t want to make her think she’s… doing anything wrong. I mean, I love her to bits, but if there’s anybody disposed to getting a case of the capes, it’s Mariko.” But even that, as Sophie said it, she realized was just another element of exactly what she was talking about.

“Sophie,” Valerie said, “looking at the way you fought today, I gotta tell you everything you just said sounds rock stupid.”
“I know,” Sophie replied. “I know! I’m a… fuckin’ stone cold BAMF, right?” She grinned, but the expression sat only very briefly on her face. “It’s ridiculous. But… fuck. I just – rghh, I just thought I was – I just thought I was done, you know? The day after I beat Jackson, I walked into a big fucking auditorium of people, and I got a standing ovation, and I felt like I was on top of the god damn world. I didn’t life would suddenly be easy. I didn’t think I wouldn’t have any problems anymore. I just thought… I just thought I was done! I—”

“You thought you’d moved past some heinous and heavy shit. You thought that all the challenges you’d face would be new challenges, and that beating the old ones meant that you were strong enough to face all of the new ones. You thought that you’d moved on. Moved past. And then later something… shitty happens and you realize that all that old shit is still there, and at worst you feel like an overgrown child ‘cause it’s the same shit that you’ve been wrestling with since you were a kid and you still haven’t beaten it, and at best you just feel bored. You feel bored that it’s the same shit you’ve been saying to yourself for thirty-five years. It’s the same shit that you have to keep finding different ways to deal with, because god knows the same thing never works twice, and it’s the same thoughts and the same feelings over, and over and over and over again – like reading the same book from cover to cover and then back again your entire life. And it’s not even a good book. Not even a sad one. Not even a tragedy. Just the words ‘I feel like shit’ repeated endlessly in… differently shaped paragraphs.”

Sophie didn’t speak. She couldn’t. She just stared. Never had she thought she would hear such words, such a stark and brutal reflection of her own inner world. Never in a thousand years would she have thought she would have heard them from Valerie.
“Hey,” Sophie said, softly. “Are… are you okay?”
Valerie smiled at her.
“Yeah, Sophie. Yeah, I’m okay.” It was nice for her to discover that the words were true. “I… maybe I’ll tell you more about it sometime.”
“Sure, Valerie.”
“Look… I’m really not normally the kind of person you come to advice for. Unless it’s about smacking people upside the head. Or maybe if you want to buy a camera, I don’t know. But I guess I’ve been through… maybe something a little like what you’re talking about. And in my experience, no-one ever moves past anything. Not in the way I think you wanted. You’re gonna keep feeling the same shit, and you’re gonna keep asking the same questions. You’re never ‘done’. You’ll never be done as long as you’re still you. And the shit that makes you feel that way, makes you ask those questions, makes you… sad or pissed off or feel like shit or whatever – don’t knock it, ‘cause you bet your ass that’s a big part of why Mariko is so crazy about you. And she is crazy about you.”

Sophie was crying.
“I… I know,” she said. She looked at her wife, still slumbering peacefully on the ground. The sun reflected tenderly off the silver of her suit, so that Mariko seemed to glow with its deep amber. “You know, she writes me poetry?” Sophie said, tenderly. “God, she’s going to kill me for telling you that! But… it’s… it’s sweet, and it’s beautiful, and it’s so strange. I’ve been married to her for four years and I… I still… it’s hard to face that sometimes. Do you know what I mean?”
“Yeah,” Valerie said. “I know exactly what you mean.” She put her hand on Sophie’s shoulder, and Sophie put her own hand over that.
“Man, I always just thought you were a big lunkhead going around smashing stuff. How did you get so smart?”
“Okay, A: rude. B: same as you.”
“How’s that?”
“Loving someone.”
Sophie shivered. It was a good feeling.
“Amen to that,” she said.

When Mariko woke up, she woke with her head resting on Sophie’s thighs.
“Hm… good morning, my love,” she muttered, before remembering herself. “Wait. Not morning.” She blinked. “Ah. There you are. Took your time, rather, didn’t you?”
“Eff you. I was waiting for a dramatic moment.”
“I’d protest, but I fear you’d call me a hypocrite.” She sat up, but somehow this gesture shifted with no particular effort from either party into Mariko putting her arms around Sophie’s neck. They kissed, and spent the rest of the conversation at most one inch apart.
“I take it we won the day,” Mariko said.
“Big time.”
“Well. That’s good.” She seemed a bit miffed about having been bested, but she didn’t raise too many hackles.
“Don’t feel bad,” Sophie said, reading her easily. “The leader dude, uh… Odin. He was swapping all the other guys’ powers around. That’s how they could all do the energy drain thing.”
“Oh,” Mariko said. “Hm. Alright, yes, that does make me feel a bit better.” She touched Sophie’s face. “You were wonderful.”
“Yeah, I was pretty good, I guess.”
“No, Sophie. I wasn’t asking a question. I was telling you.”

Still a little weak, Mariko had to be helped up.
“Where’s Valerie?”
“Went home. She did wait, but… you were out for a while.”
“No, no, of course,” Mariko said. Standing independently now, she entwined her hand with Sophie’s. “She wasn’t injured?”
“She was a little scuffed up, maybe. But nothing too bad.”
“And you? Are you alright?”
“Yeah, you know me. Dodgy dodgy.”
“Yes, but…” Mariko did that thing she often did when she was nervous, or when she didn’t know how to say something she felt she needed to, where her eyes would sort of dart around yours, before finally, with effort, settling on them. “Are… are you alright?” She looked worried.

Sophie turned to Mariko, face on. She took off her own mask, then Mariko’s, and Mariko gave a very quiet, but sharp intake of breath: for her, letting someone else touch her mask, much else remove it, was an intimate act.
“I am alright,” Sophie said, and it was true. “Sometimes I’m not gonna be alright… and that sucks… but most of the time I’m alright. And even when I’m not alright, I’m alright. You know?”
“I… believe so.” She tilted her head to the side, peered into Sophie’s eyes like her own eyes were brilliant, powerful microscopes. “Yes… yes you are, aren’t you? Did something happen, my sweet?”
“I just had a chat,” Sophie said, “with someone very wise… and very, very strong.”
“Don’t be absurd,” Mariko said. “I’ve been unconscious this entire time.”

Sophie groaned, then laughed, then kissed Mariko, then kissed her rather more seriously, pushing herself into her, melting her tongue into Mariko’s mouth. When their mouths parted, they put their foreheads together. The two had long come to accept that they needed each other. This is an unfashionable way to talk about love, I think, but it remains an absolutely and unshakeably essential aspect of it.
“Hey, uh… Koko… can I ask you something? It might sound dumb.”
“Of course, my love.”
“If I… uh… if I… sometimes switched back to my old look… to the Enhancegirl-dress – like, would that be bad? Would it just be, like… nostalgia, or whatever?”
Mariko considered the question.
“Does it still mean something to you?”
“Yeah, I think so.”
“Mostly something good, or mostly something bad?”
“… I don’t know. I’m not sure that it matters. Something important, anyway.”
“Then by all means,” Mariko said.

“Ah,” she said, as the two began to walk off together. I… I suppose I might have one objection.”
“Oh yeah?”
“Well one advantage of this costume… is that those pants make your backside look unbelievably hot.”
“Shit,” Sophie said. “That’s a good point.”
Sophie had been mistaken in one thing only. Valora had not gone straight home.

When she found Lupus, she found her crying. Valerie was wary of… provoking her in this state, but what she could not see – what she could never have guessed – was that Lupus’ tears were not ones of sadness. She had just seen her grandmother – her still-living grandmother – and through a haze of dementia, she had recognized her. She had seemed to think, however, that Charlie was still a little child. She had braided Charlie’s hair. She had called her ‘alskling’. She had given her a disgusting, but treasured, peppermint. Charlie knew that she would almost certainly never see her again, but to have seen her at all was a pleasure she could scarcely have believed possible.

“I know you’re there,” she said, as Valerie skulked behind her. “It’s these powers. When a superhuman’s close to me I can sense it.”
“All the better,” Valerie said. “It’s your powers I’ve come to talk to you about.” She stepped out into the open. She was really not sure how this would go.
“I figured,” Charlie said. “Hey, how’d you find me, anyway?”
“You have the abilities of one of the most powerful and dangerous superhumans who ever lived,” Valerie said. “The second you left yesterday I had Spectra put guys on you. I always knew where you were.”
Charlie turned around. She stood tall, puffing out her chest.
“Hey,” she said, noticing the tears on Valerie’s leotard, the scuffs on her skin. “Who fucked you up?”
“Doesn’t matter,” Valerie said. “Lupus… Charlie. I… man I can’t believe I’m saying this… I am okay with letting you go. Pretty sure the statute of limitations has passed on you breaking your deal, anyway. And you got immunity for everything else.”
“Hey, yeah,” Charlie said, smirking. “I never thought of it like that.”
“But there’s a problem,” Valerie said. “I… can’t let you go while you’ve still got Jackson Morrow’s powers.”

Charlie froze.
“Don’t give me that shit. I’ve got ‘em. They’re mine. Nobody’s taking them away.”
“Somebody fucking is, Charlie, and that somebody’s gonna be me. Be smart – if that’s possible for you. As long as you have them, you’ll be a problem. I’ll make sure there’s always tabs on you, because I know your history, and I know – and you know – you can’t be trusted with what you’ve got.”
“So what? You’re gonna let me have yours instead?”
“Wouldn’t be a very meaningful downgrade.”
“What then? No powers at all? Gonna make me a fucking normie? No way no how, bitch, I’m—”
“No. Not that either. Mostly just ‘cause I know you’d never accept it. I… thought I’d give you a choice.”

Valerie held out three little evidence bags, donated by a friendly officer when the gods were being arrested. In each of these bags was a small lock of human hair. “These come from the fuckers I was fighting today. Three powers. Pick any one you want.”
Charlie stared suspiciously at them.
“…What are they?”
“Number one: farsight. You can see super long distances. Through walls too, I think.”
“Lame. Next.”
“Okay… second one is pretty alright, actually. Flight. No wings or nothing just… zipping up into the air. Really fast. Really agile. Makes you a bit more durable, too.”
“Valerie Orville: cliché dispenser. Lame. Next.”
“… Alright. Next one’s kind of weird. You can like… cancel momentum? Or… kinetic energy or something, I don’t know exactly how it works. It sounds lame, but it was pretty strong. Turn that on, even I wouldn’t be able to knock you around.”
Charlie considered.
“And if I took one of these,” she said, “you’d really leave me alone?”
“Scout’s honour,” Valerie said. “I don’t… want to hurt you. But only because I just don’t want to have to interact with you at all. Does that—”
“The flight one. I want that. I… I want to fly.”
Valerie narrowed her eyes.
“Alright, Charlie.”

She handed the bag over. Charlie opened it, took the hairs out.
“Ew!” she said. “These have fucking dandruff all over them!”
“Oh, I’m sorry, would you like to complain to my manager?”
“Fuck you,” Charlie muttered. She concentrated, and sure enough, felt herself change. New instincts took hold, new understanding. She felt – she felt a sort of instinctive grasp of the principles of aerodynamics. Even without doing it, she could feel it. She could fly. “Ow!”

Valerie had scratched her with one fingernail, just hard enough to draw blood.
“Wh-what the fuck was that for?”
“I’m not falling for the same shit again,” Valerie said. “I was checking you weren’t doubling up.”
“Well I’m not, alright! Bitch…”
There was nothing more to say. Valerie watched Charlie tentatively lift herself in the air. She giggled, did a playful pirouette.
“Hey, alright!” Charlie laughed. “Okay, Valora, no fooling – you didn’t gyp me. This is pretty good.”
“Great,” Valerie said, “now please… please promise me I will never have to see you again.”
“Fine! Why would I fuckin’ want to?”
“Good. Great. Good.”

She turned around, but at the last moment, Charlie called out to her.
“Hey!” she shouted. “I… I heard Milo killed your dad. I never saw you after that. It sucks. That sucks.”
“…Yeah,” Valerie said, croakily. “It does kinda suck, doesn’t it?”
“And uh…” Charlie breathed in. “Fuck. Man, just ‘cause I’m feeling sentimental…”
“Spit it out, Lupus,” Valerie snapped, decreasingly patient.
“Alright, geez! I was…” She looked down. “I was gonna apologize, actually. But now that I say it – I wouldn’t mean it.” She recalled that Maria had said something to her once, something about forgiveness. But she couldn’t quite remember what.
Valerie let out a long, heavy breath.
“You know what, Charlie?” Valerie said. She shrugged. “It’s a start.”
Valora and Lupus never saw each other again.
When Valerie finally got home, and opened her distinctive, fuchsia door, she saw that someone was sitting on her couch, waiting for. This person did not live with Valerie – she was employed by her.
“Hey Miss Orville,” she said.
“Hey Maddie,” Valerie said. “Everything good.”
“Sound as a pound.” Maddie was a thirteen year old girl, which one would have thought might disqualify her from the employment with which Valerie furnished her, but she was uniquely qualified: Madeleine was already a superhuman of staggeringly immense power, with the ability to create localised pockets of antimatter – antimatter which, once created, behaved exactly as a physicist would tell you it would. There was no question that, by adulthood, she would be the most powerful superhuman in the world. But for the moment, she was just a good natured, if slightly snot-nosed, teenager.

“Money’s on the table,” Valerie said. “But… fuck it, here’s a bonus,” she said, slapping another twenty onto the table.
“You know my folks would get real mad if they knew you had such a potty mouth Miss Orville.”
“Look, do you want the money or not? And stop calling me ‘Miss’ Orville!”
“You’re not married.”
“I’m thirty-five! Call me ‘Ms’ or just call me Valerie, you little toe-rag. Now go on, get.”
She got.

Valerie strolled through the front room, into the kitchen, where she found the person with whom she shared her apartment.
“Hey Cecil,” Valerie said. “How’s it going?”
“It is going – it is – it… is good,” Cecil replied, but he then turned around, and put his finger to his lips, with a very serious expression. “Please to – please would – please quiet, mama,” he said. “I am… um… thinking.”

Cecil was not quite two years old and he was an extremely serious little boy. Sometimes he would be silent for hours at a time, sometimes he would babble about anything that came into his head. He laughed infrequently. He had dark hair, and dark eyes. He wore fuchsia often, since it was his favourite colour, and he was continually frustrated by the fact that he was small, and could not talk to grown-ups without the grown-ups having to stoop. He imagined that this was very inconvenient for them. He had tried to explain it once, but he found speaking a little more difficult than most boys his age. Since he was otherwise a very clever fellow, this frustrated him even more.

Fortunately, this was a moment that required thought only – not words. He turned back around, staring intently at a shimmering sphere of a hundred tiny crystals. Cecil could produce these crystals at will, literally blinking them into existence. For a while this had confused him, because he thought it meant anything in his imagination could become real, but he soon realized that there was real; there was imaginary; and there was the in-between area of his crystals, his mother’s strength – which other mothers appeared not to have – and the fact that the baddies were always punished in the stories he was told which was, Cecil imagined, not true, but edifying nevertheless.

He was trying to do something with his crystals – which he could move about with some effort – which he had been trying to do all day.
“Whatcha doin’ Cecil?” Valerie said, kneeling down next to her son, booping him with her nose.
Cecil smiled, but put his finger to his lips again. The sphere in front of him swirled and twisted, and at one point almost collapsed. When that happened, Cecil bit his lip instead of making a noise, because he understood that good children did not fuss. But his concentration returned. He closed his eyes, and imagined the shape he wanted to make as clearly as he could. And, after a few seconds, that shape formed. He grinned when he opened his eyes, and pointed at the object. It consisted of a disc, slightly folded up at the sides. In the centre of the disc was a dome, but the dome dipped in the middle, having a valley that ran through it from one end to the other. Cecil turned to his mother, delighted, but he needed to explain his creation, or she would not understand.

“It – I did – I – I made – I was…” He stopped. His mother never rushed him. She encouraged, and sometimes let him know when he was being a bit of a scaredy-cat, but she was never frustrated with him. Beyond the love that all little children have for their parents, that quality was the first thing which it specifically occurred to Cecil that he loved about his mother. He tried again. “I did… I made – I – I could – I did—” But his hesitation, Cecil realized, was not due to his difficulty, exactly. It was genuine ignorance. He just didn’t know the expression ‘cowboy hat’. “I…” He could think of only one way to describe it. Pointing at the creation, and looking his mother right in the eye with intense seriousness, he said. “I did – I – um… Texas.”

Valerie shrieked with laughter, so loudly that Cecil worried at first that he’d done something wrong, but she was smiling so much that this fear was quickly dispelled. She picked him up, hugging him tight, and he started laughing as well. She picked up his crystal cowboy hat, and put it on her head, racing around the house going ‘yee-haw!’, with which Cecil occasionally joined in.

After these revels, and some chattering, and Cecil trying but not quite succeeding at understanding what a cowboy actually was, and dinner, and some more play, and Valerie reading him a new story – more than which Cecil loved nothing more – mother and son found themselves on Valerie’s couch. She held him, because he was getting very sleepy, and his head kept bumping against her shoulder, after which he would always mumble ‘sorry’. Valerie would tell him he didn’t have to be sorry, he would say ‘okay, mama’, and then it would happen again. Eventually, however, Cecil dozed off completely, where he would dream of spaceships, and big friendly lions that lived in the spaceships, and invisible rats that were the best friends of the lions.

In the waking world, Valerie stroked her son’s hair, and watched the sun sink lower, and lower, through the big window in her living room that had made her buy her house in the first place. She thought about what she had said to Sophie, and she wished that the sweet girl had an easier time of it. And she knew, because he was already strange and serious and marvellously different, that her little boy would have a difficult time of it in some ways too. The absence of his father – no man mentioned in this chronicle – would make things harder too, even if there was an important sense in which Valerie had chosen to raise him alone.

She wondered, sadly, what demons would still be haunting him when he got to thirty-five, and whether he would deal with them with strength, or just with toughness – by far the less effective of the two. Like all parents worth half a grain of salt, Valerie wanted to protect her child from the sadness she knew he would, at least sometimes experience. But she couldn’t do that. All she could do was love him.

Which she did.

The End
A full list of my stories can be found here, with summaries to boot: viewtopic.php?f=70&t=32027
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Re: The Perils of Valora Finale: Rat Bites Dog Bites Man - Now Complete

Post by TheStormCrow »

So... yeah, this is it, Valora’s story has concluded, it is a strange sensation, it was part of my routine get thrilled seeing the next update, but all good stories must come to an end.
To tell the truth, the first time I read this prequel I wasn’t very impressed, the tone was different, Valerie was too different from Sophie...
But after re-reading Enhancegirl stories, and giving it a second chance, I truly embraced that contrast. The Perils of Enhancegirl has an epic feeling to it, Sophie faced big bads, mad scientists and whatever lovecraftian horror is Féa, I could perfectly see it as a comic story. And then we get to the Perils of Valora, were the main villain is just a “simple” gangster and the fictional Seacouver is substituted by a Portland were being a superhero is just a means to get food on the table. I can’t say I know anything about Portland, but during this story I always pictured it as a Gothamesque city: decadent and with a semi perpetual gray sky.
Also, Valerie isn’t Sophie as I said, I saw Valora as more... cynical? Sophie has her demons, but she comes from a loving background and I never saw her as anything sort of “heroic”, but Valerie struck me as a tormented and sometimes resigned soul, who became Valora because it was what see had to do, a duty, not a vocation; despite having the looks of a superheroine, she seemed more of a vigilante to me, I felt brutality in the character, she gave me the vibes that she was perfectly capable of killing someone. And that personality just feels so right with the tone of the story.
I may be wrong, but the PV seemed noticeably less peril heavy than the PE. The Bombshells are clearly the damsels in distress of the story, but towards the end, when Valora is last captured by John Mann it actually made me remember that this was a superheroine in peril story, not that these was a bad thing, for me, it meant the plot was excellent and the peril scenes, although less numerous were quite intense.
The story is pretty self contained, but as with the Perils of Enhancegirl, there is a beautiful universe behind the tales, which I feel, has more stories to tell.
I ended up making a small analysis when intended to say I loved the story, but I hope you find it entertaining, at least a fraction of how your stories entertained me.
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