Blades & Barriers: Chapter 31

                Barrier darted around a cement wall, nearly colliding with Charon as she came bolting out from the inside of the warehouse. They fell into pace next to one another, several steps behind Bloodfyre, as they turned another corner to where Unseelie was fighting. The sight of what awaited them nearly caused Barrier to stop in surprise, only training and the moving forms of his teammates keeping his feet working properly.

                At least a dozen people were on the ground, some with cuts, others who looked to be knocked clean-out. The conscious ones were in the grips of Panic’s power, which made the smell of the area almost intolerable. Barrier was going to have to invest in nose-plugs pretty soon, especially if he was going to be dealing with this in close-quarters combat at some point. Still, striking as the stink was, it had nothing on Unseelie.

                Her skin was sparkling in the early afternoon light, as was the twinkling blade in her hand, as she wove her way around the final three criminals trying to attack her. Barrier had seen a lot of fights, both in his HCP days and when learning from his father, but there was something almost mystical about the way Unseelie moved. So much grace, so much certainty, like she knew every step the attackers would make and for her this was all some choreographed dance. Had she been holding back that much against Bloodfyre and Bayou, or were her teammates really that much stronger than the common crooks they were fighting today? Whatever the case, it was clear at a glance that she had this battle sewn up, even if two of her three opponents hadn’t been losing their last meals from both ends.

                A quick slice of the blade took out the hamstring of a vomiting man with spikes growing from his skin, and another swing of the sword took down a woman who was desperately trying to run at an accelerated speed while soiling herself. That just left one more opponent, a shifter whose snake-like form was apparently immune to Panic’s influence.

                “Be ready,” Bloodfyre cautioned, stepping back to be closer to Barrier and Charon. “One on one, against an opponent like that, we’re more likely to get in the way than help. But if things go south, we need to be ready to jump in. As much as Unseelie is strong and skilled, in the field you can never take victory for granted. One surprise is all that’s needed for a safe situation to turn deadly.”

                Barrier glanced over at Charon, who’d materialized a pair of axes in her hands. It was impossible to see her face through the golden helm covering her head, so he had no idea how she felt watching this fight. Probably excited, knowing Angela, although she sure looked ready to spring into action the moment she was needed. With all the smiles and casual attitude she showed out of costume, it was easy to forget that she never would have made it so far if she didn’t at least take combat seriously.

                A streak of movement drew Barrier’s attention back to the fight. The snake-shifter was a lot faster than he looked; he closed the gap between he and Unseelie with impressive speed, jaws opened and fangs extended as he prepared to take a chunk out of her. Before they could snap down, however, the sharp tip of her blade pressed against his mouth. She’d seen the attack coming and been ready for it, turning her sword into a trap. Before the shifter could backpedal, Unseelie grabbed the back of his thick scaly neck, drawing blood with the edges of her diamond nails.

                “Unshift and surrender now. If you try to bite, you’ll impale your brain on this sword, and if you try to run I’ll dig in deep and tear out a piece of your spine. All your friends and enemies are finished; you’re the last one standing. Reward yourself for that feat by skipping a trip to the hospital.” Her voice was calm, almost reassuring, really. It sounded more like she was trying to talk someone off a ledge than get them to give up. The way she said it, it was like she’d done him a favor by beating him. Now he didn’t have to feel compelled to fight anymore.

                “Swooor.” The noise that came out of the shifter’s mouth was a half-choked gurgle. It sounded like gibberish to Barrier, but as Unseelie pulled her blade a few inches back the pieces fell into place. He was saying “sword” as best he could with one jammed in his mouth, because if he shifted as things were he’d end up with the blade halfway down his throat.

                As soon as Unseelie moved the weapon, the snake-man began to shift. In seconds there was no sign of scales or fangs, just a bald guy around Barrier’s age, staring at the Heroes around him with unmasked fear in his eyes. “You really beat both crews?”

                “Kid, this was nothing to us.” Bloodfyre took a step forward; his own gruff voice a stark contrast to Unseelie’s warm one. It was interesting to Barrier the way his teacher shifted to fill various roles depending on what the situation demanded. Before, he’d been a cautious voice of reason, but now he was acting as the bad cop to counter Unseelie’s gentle approach. “Unseelie or I could have stopped you all by ourselves. The only reason we bothered calling the rest of the team in is because nothing good was on TV. Think about that when your time in prison is over and people start calling on you to use that power of yours for crime again. Remember that we wiped out all of you without even breaking a sweat.”

                Except that there absolutely had been sweating. Bloodfyre was acting like they’d rolled through flippantly, when in fact every inch of the operation had been carefully communicated and safety was considered at all times. But that, Barrier was starting to understand, wasn’t what the world needed to see. Heroes had to appear unbeatable, like forces of nature governed only by the DVA and their duty to the people. Because if no one thought they could beat the Heroes, then maybe they wouldn’t try. Or even better, maybe they’d avoid getting into crime at all since they didn’t think they could get away with it.

                It was beginning to occur to Barrier that maybe he should have taken a few theatre classes during his time in college. They might have been good preparation for this job. Then again, Bloodfyre was doing the heavy lifting in terms of acting, so maybe each team just deferred to whoever had the most talent for it. It was something to hope for, at least.

                The sound of sirens caught Barrier’s attention, as a half-dozen black and white DVA vans began pulling onto the scene. From inside came men and women wearing coveralls while hefting around sizable briefcases. One stopped at the nearest cluster of injured, but conscious, crooks and started pulling various cuffs and headbands from within the briefcase.

                “DVA is here for cleanup,” Unseelie announced. “Panic and Hammerspace, you two are dismissed back to your normal schedules. Bloodfyre and I will stick around with our interns until everyone is secured, that’s more than enough Heroes for the job. Barrier, our task now is to make sure no one gets any crazy ideas about attacking DVA agents or bolting for freedom. Keep your eyes peeled. Generally by this point they’re too hurt or tired to fight, but we’ve always got to be alert.”

                “And after that, you get to enjoy your first DVA debriefing,” Charon said, slapping Barrier on the back of his shield. “Word to the wise: bring snacks. Sometimes those things can really drag on.”