Blades & Barriers: Chapter 29

                Shifters were a common type of Super; some speculated them to be the most-common type of all, although it was hard to get an accurate census with so many other countries refusing to share data about their variant-humans. When she was in college, Angela had two in her HCP class, four if one counted all those present during freshman year, which she didn’t. Since graduating and becoming Charon, she’d dealt with at least a dozen or so. Gangs were a big issue in Port Valins, and most shifters tended to be good muscle. Most were animalistic, replicating the look and abilities from some section of nature. Others were a little more peculiar, though. She’d considered the shifter who took the form of what looked like a concrete scarecrow to be the oddest of the bunch, up until today. Now there was a new contender for that crown, and it was the scuttling creature whose body seemed to be entirely composed of clawed hands.

                “I wish you all could see this, it looks like Lovecraft designed a Super. Damn thing is freaky as hell,” Charon said, nimbly avoiding a blow from the rolling mass of hands. It was as strong as it was unsettling, which meant every blow left chunks in the concrete floor knocked away.

                “Freaky and with no stomach, which means Panic can’t slow it down.” Hammerspace opened a portal overhead as she spoke, letting a torrent of rubber bullets rain down on the hand monster. As she did, Charon threw a few blades into the mix, mentally weaving them around to chop away some of those arms, hoping to reveal a gooey punchable center. Unfortunately, the limbs had barely hit the ground before new ones were growing in their place. Fucking thing had an impressive regenerative capacity.

                Charon took a few steps back, surveying the inside of the warehouse. Every other member of the gang who’d been inside was either knocked out, seriously injured, or full-on trampled. The hand-shifter wasn’t particularly careful as it thrashed about, smashing down on allies as it tried to crush the Hero in golden armor. Right now, the thing was contained, but if it broke out then it could cause serious trouble in a populated area. And that regenerative capacity was making non-lethal neutralization look less and less viable. While no one had said it out loud yet, the truth of what needed to be done was growing clearer by the second. Still, she didn’t want to resort to killing just yet. Not when there was another option yet to be tested.

                “Dispatch, I’m requesting permission to escalate against my target. Regeneration like we’re seeing is bound to sap the Super’s stamina. I’d like to start lopping off limbs at a high rate, forcing it to heal and hopefully tiring the thing out. There is a risk I’ll do too much too fast and kill it, though.”

                “Do you need any help in there?” Unseelie asked. As her mentor, she was privy to every conversation Charon had with Dispatch, even when the comms weren’t set on team communication mode.

                “I’m fine, just getting proper clearance before I let loose. This thing is annoying, not difficult. I’ll clean up here and come help you all outside.”

                “Don’t worry about it too much,” Panic’s voice said. “Since the interior is done I’m getting in position to hit the outer forces.”

                Good, if Panic was there too then they’d have an easy go of it. With a new Hero on the team, they needed to stack the odds in their favor. Teamwork and synergy were going to be off with this new element, and every layer of safety they added minimized the chances of someone getting hurt.

                “Charon, your request for escalation has been authorized.” Dispatch sounded calm, as always, which was a nice influence to have when staring at a creature composed entirely of limbs. “With the strength and regeneration your team has reported, it is conditionally assumed to be Demolition Class. Given your proximity to population, you are to stop it with non-lethal means if possible; however, it cannot be permitted to escape.”

                “Got it. Play nice if I can, but if push comes to shove I do the job,” Charon replied. She then looked over at the hand-shifter, who was tilting toward her, preparing for another charge. Part of her wondered how the thing could even see, but that was a question for when the work was done. “Hey you! I don’t know if you can hear me without ears, but we’re done screwing around. Shift back and surrender right now, or I have to get rough with you. The kind of rough that doesn’t heal back.”

                The hands started to… wave? No, they were shaking. Was this thing laughing at her? It was impossible to tell, not that it mattered anyway. Her enemy hadn’t shifted back to human form, and that was the only gesture that would have changed how Charon had to proceed. All around her blades began to form. She brought it up to a dozen, then began to spin them rapidly as they floated in mid-air. Charon could call and control more, but it was smart to leave herself with options if things went south. No sense in over-committing to an attack and leaving herself vulnerable.

                “Well, can’t say I didn’t warn you.” Charon made a quick motion with her hand and the whirling blades shot forward, just as the hand-shifter began charging toward her once more. Her blades met its flesh in a series of wet, squishing sounds as arm after arm tumbled to the ground. It was tough, getting through those arms took more effort than it should have. Too bad for the shifter, a big part of Charon’s training under Unseelie was learning to hone every weapon she created, making them as sharp and deadly as possible.

                The first round of limbs were on the ground before Charon had finished getting out of the hand-shifter’s path, and while a new batch was already growing from the stumps she didn’t slow down her assault in the slightest. Arm after arm slapped to the concrete as the blades continued making passes. A couple of the blades were knocked aside by some of the clawed fists bashing into them, but the efforts only delayed the inevitable.

                By the time she was on her fourth pass, Charon noticed that the rate of new arms growing back had begun to slow down. Thank goodness, this thing did have a limit. She continued to press her attack, no longer worrying about having to dodge as all of the shifter’s attention had gone to trying to swat away the spinning blades hacking away at it. Charon’s focus was rapt, never wavering from her enemy. If one of the other crooks woke up, she had to trust Hammerspace to cover her. This was going to take every ounce of concentration to time correctly.

                Finally, the moment came. The hand-shifter seemed to shudder, a brief spasm that ran through all the remaining limbs, of which there were significantly fewer. As soon as she saw that tremor, Charon dismissed the weapons in a shower of glowing light. It was a good thing she did, since seconds later the hands all collapsed in on themselves, reforming into a human woman who fell onto the rough concrete.

                Charon raced over to check her condition. The woman had a plethora of cuts all over her body, but none of them looked more than skin-deep. Without pausing, Charon created a new golden object, this one a collar around the unconscious woman’s neck with a sharp edge inside.

                “Dispatch, shifter has been rendered unconscious. I also dropped a blade-collar on her, so if she tries to shift again she’ll decapitate herself the minute she starts to grow. We probably need something a little less lethal for long-term incarceration.”

                “DVA agents will arrive momentarily for transportation, they’ve been briefed to bring necessary equipment,” Dispatch said.

                A small sigh of relief left Charon’s lips before she turned and began running toward the nearest door. The fight wasn’t over yet; her team would be counting on her to enter the fray. Rest would come when the job was done, and not a moment before.