“How did you break out of my nightmare?” Nathaniel asked, regarding Alice far more warily than before.
“That two-cent illusion? Please, that kind of piss-poor power won’t hold someone like me. So, what’s your deal, you make people hallucinate their fears?”
“Feeds… off… them…” Nicholas added from his prone position on the ground.
“Not sure what that means, but it doesn’t really matter,” Alice said, keeping her eyes fixed on Nathaniel. “Because you picked the wrong fear.”
“Did I?” A wild grin cut across Nathaniel’s face, the orange glow from his eyes reflecting slightly off the veneers of his teeth.
“Yeah, you did. You had me tumbling toward the ground from a mile or so up, spinning helplessly out of control.” Alice returned his expression with a dazzling grin all of her own. It would not have looked out of place plastered on the cover of a magazine, worn by an airheaded celebrity. All the same, it filled Nathaniel with a sense of unexpected dread, which only served to prove he wasn’t quite as stupid as Nicholas thought him to be.
“Your turn.” At Alice’s softly spoken words, Nathaniel blasted off into the air, a short yelp of surprise and an expression of unmitigated panic the last they could see before he rose out of sight. Alice turned to Nicholas, who was trying in vain to pull himself off the parking lot. “Are you going to be alright? Should I get you to a hospital?”
Nicholas shook his head. “Short… term… paralyze… not… poison.” The one upside to his current near-incapacitated state was that he didn’t have to explain how he was so well versed in the effects of various drugs and poisons.
“Good.” Alice smiled at him, not the false grin she’d given Nathaniel, but a genuine expression of affection. This also induced a feeling of dread, though for very different reasons. “I don’t want anything to happen to you.”
She looked up at the sky, where Nathaniel was now suspended in a zero gravity field. Her summer with Mary truly had improved her level of control beyond what she’d ever expected. Last year’s final match had been a hell of a motivator. She just hoped it would be enough to see this through to the end.
“Stay put for a second, I’ve got to finish this.”
“No…” Nicholas protested, desperately willing his words to come out faster. She didn’t realize what she was doing, the danger she was stepping into.
“Hush now,” Alice instructed him. “You know as well as I do that if I leave it like this, he’s going to come back sooner or later. I realize you don’t remember, but this is sort of what we do.”
“Life is dangerous,” Alice replied, rising a few feet from the ground. “But I’ll be damned if I’m going to let someone come after one of us. Especially you. Now shut up and watch, because today the princess is going to be the one doing the saving.” She was off, soaring into the sky like a blonde bullet in a green metal jacket.
In that moment, as Nicholas took in her words and watched her fly, bursting through the light fog that settled in the parking lot, he understood why Nick could have fallen for this girl.
Nathaniel had nearly recovered from the initial shock of being hurled from the ground when Alice appeared, floating with graceful ease as she circled him. She was almost close enough for Nathaniel to reach into her mind once more, when an unexpected new force exerted itself on him, sending him into a rapid spin. He stayed put as he twirled in place, but the speed increased continually, and within a few moments his dinner had exited through the entrance.
“What’s wrong,” Alice called, close enough to be heard but still out of physical reach. “Having trouble focusing that mental power in a spin cycle?”
A quick retort was washed away in another burst of vomit that emerged as soon as Nathaniel dared to open his mouth. Mercifully, the spin slowed, and Nathaniel found himself merely floating at a deadly height and horribly dizzy, which spoke to how bad the previous situation had been that this was an improvement.
“Or heck, maybe you’re smarter than you look,” Alice theorized. “Maybe you’ve realized the only thing stopping you from plummeting to the ground is me, and you aren’t certain if I’ll continue to be so gracious once I’m stuck in a hallucination.” In the back of her mind, she could practically hear Professor Pendleton’s advice: Never use idle threats when intimidating someone, use rational outcomes.
Nathaniel had actually not considered such a possibility; however he was keenly aware of the point she raised as soon as the words left Alice’s mouth. With his ability rendered useless, Nathaniel decided to attack the girl through another venue.
“Do you have any idea who you are trifling with? I am Nathaniel Evers, member of one of the most powerful crime families in all of the Northwest. If you beg me for forgiveness, slowly, I might be willing to overlook your idiotic antics this evening.” Nathaniel waited for her to pale and tremble at the realization that she’d inadvertently bitten off a feud with real criminals.
Instead, Alice threw back her head and laughed. Long, giggling peals of laughter that filled Nathaniel with a burning ember of hatred.
“A gang? Or, sorry, mafia? That’s what you threaten me with? Mother fucker, my father keeps an entire private army on speed-dial, and he is not shy about using that button. You think I don’t know what I’m messing with? I could make three calls and have you bankrupt by morning. But I won’t do any of that, because I don’t need someone else to fight my battles. See, Nathaniel, you seem to think that this is a fluke, that you lost this one out of sheer bad luck.”
Alice extended her hands, showing off the manicured and painted nails at the tips. “Not even a chip. That’s how little effort you are to me, Nathaniel Evers of the mafia; you didn’t even require me to chip a nail.”
Nathaniel’s body began to spin again, but this time it was a slow, deliberate movement. Alice matched his rotation, eyes gleaming in the moonlight as she stared at him.
“Do you know why I had a strategy prepared specifically to incapacitate someone who induced hallucinations? Do you know why your shitty illusion couldn’t keep me fooled for more than a few seconds? Do you know why you have been so amazingly, miserably, ineffective? Because while I’m sure you’re hot shit in Vegas, this town is out of your league. While you steal, and plot, and do whatever it is criminals do, I’m training. While you sleep, I’m training. While you obsess unhealthily over Nicholas Campbell, I’m already miles ahead of him, because I was training. You think your power makes you unstoppable, but that’s because you’ve only used it around humans or unskilled Supers. You’re like an idiot with a knife, one who kills unarmed people and thinks himself unstoppable. But you left your little town where you were so scary, and in this place, you won’t find such easy prey.”
Alice was only a few feet away from him now. She exerted a gravitational field that pinned his arms to his sides, then leaned in, pressing her hand to his chest. Her lips continued forward, until they were only an inch away from his ear. She whispered to him, breath warm and words cold, filling Nathaniel with the sort of uncertain terror he hadn’t experienced since childhood.
“Welcome to Lander. Here, there be monsters.”
Alice pushed, sending Nathaniel in a downward arc to the ground. She took care with his descent; he would land in a nearby dumpster hard enough to bruise and perhaps break a bone or two, but nothing that would kill or permanently maim him. Alice had certain ethical standards to uphold.
After all, she was training to be a Hero.