I ran to the car that one of the world’s most famous and powerful superheroes had crashed into from 7 stories up.
Liberty had a nose bleed. She sat up on one elbow on the ruined metal roof with an imprint of her whole body in it, wiped her nose on her hand, and looked at it quizzically for a moment. “I didn’t know you could fly,” she said after a moment, like she was irritated with me.
“Yeah, I don’t advertise,” I said, relieved beyond words that she wasn’t badly hurt.
“I need to know things like that if we’re going to work together." She shoved her crown back into place. "I wouldn’t have made that risky a move if I’d known you weren’t about to be killed.”
“Oh.” I looked up at the tall building above me. Bobcat jumped across the little sliver of parking to the adjacent building. “Crap.” I blew it, and the bad guy was getting away.
Liberty held up a hand for a second, listened intently, then sighed. “He’s gotten past our perimeter. I wish I had a flyer who could follow him.” She blinked, and looked at me. “He’s headed northeast. That way!” she snapped, pointing.
I hesitated. She wanted me to take off in the middle of town in early evening when hundreds of people were out.
“If we don’t catch him tonight, more women will die," Liberty said.
That was the essence of it. It didn’t matter if someone saw me in the sky and realized I was a dragon. It didn’t matter if someone posted pics of me on the internet and the Georgians hunted me down later. What mattered was pretty young women with their whole lives ahead of them getting ripped to pieces by a psycho because I messed up.
My jacket and shirt were toast, so I tossed them aside. I leapt as hard as I could using my wings to get higher, grabbed onto a third story window ledge on the other communication building, the one that’s only four stories tall. I leapt again to the edge of the building, pulled myself up to the roof, and used it as a launching point to leap as high as I could into the air. With that much altitude to start with I was headed in the right direction with good speed in seconds.
The mic in my ear crackled with static, then I heard Liberty’s voice. “Do you see him yet?”
“No sign,” I said. I scanned like a hawk hunting a mouse, widening my search in desperation, and saw a flash of movement far ahead. “I see him! He’s already up to 30th and Speedway. He’s heading into a neighborhood. Damn, that guy is fast!”
“I’m right behind you, Dee. Don’t lose him.” I could hear her breathing hard and realized she was running, following me as fast as her super-strong legs could carry her.
I flapped like a maniac until I felt like my arms were going to fall off, then dove again trading my altitude for more speed.
I saw him, jumping from roof to roof in a small neighborhood.
I saw him, but he didn’t see me. My wings were quiet as a whisper as I let the momentum I’d already built up be enough, and glided.
He sensed me somehow, at the very last second. He stood on the peak of a suburban house, about to jump to the next one, hesitated and turned around.
I hit him doing maybe thirty miles an hour.
“Mine!” I shouted in triumph. I flying tackled him off the roof of the unfortunately only one story house, riding the weight that was more than my wings could hold to the concrete of the street.
“Dee, no!” Liberty shouted in my ear. “Don’t engage him until I can get there to back you up!”
Too late, I thought, as I rolled in the street with a snarling, spitting, clawing demonic blond monster thing.
Those claws flew and slashed so fast that I couldn’t keep them off me. I raised my left arm up to cover my defenseless face. Without my jacket to conceal my vulnerabilities, the places that weren’t armored were all too obvious.
Bobcat found the bare section of my torso, just over my right hip. His claws ripped deep into flesh instead of scraping over scales.
He laughed as I screamed and bled.
I do not like being laughed at.
I growled in his face, overwhelmed with rage even more intense than the pain.
I got bigger. I didn’t exactly stop and analyze it right then. I was a bit busy fighting for my life, but I felt the shift in my body. My fangs popped out of their own accord, and I’d swear I had more and sharper teeth in my mouth, and it felt distorted, too. I have no doubt my eyes were as bright red as flashlights. My feet ripped through my shoes, the claws on them growing longer and sharper. I stopped trying to defend myself and returned the mad frenzy of claws.
I curled up, protecting my vulnerable torso with armored legs. I dug my feet into his belly and shoved, ripping flesh and fur as I launched him through someone’s rose trellis and into their living room window.
Without even stopping to think, I launched myself right after him.
Bloody gashes marred his furry belly where my foot claws had gotten him. He had a dozen small cuts from the window glass. The flickering light of a television set showed him snarling insane rage at me, bloody saliva dripping from his fangs.
I snarled my own rage right back and dove on him.
He rolled out of the way, and clawed at my armored back.
I twisted, grabbing for him, but he evaded.
He slashed my face, opening my cheek to the bone in three long gashes. My blood splattered onto some normal’s flower print couch.
Bobcat got to his feet, jumped, landed in the middle of my chest, and used me as a launching pad to hurl himself out the window again.
I tried to grab for him while I gasped for air, but only managed to scratch his ankle with the venomous claws of my left hand.
It was enough.
I saw him land in the large tree branch he’d been aiming for in the front yard, saw his foot, give under him, and saw him fall.
He tried to escape in a stumbling run, but Liberty tackled him. His claws didn’t do him any good against the queen of invulnerability.
She got super-cuffs on him in less than three seconds.
Then she looked up at me.
I stood in the darkness of the living room, the light of the television flickering over me, my wings half extended, wearing just my slashed blue jeans. Blood streamed from my ripped belly and my face and dripped from my clawed left hand.
I heard a noise behind me, footsteps.
I whirled to face the new threat. I snarled defiance.
A lady in pink bunny slippers and a blue velour robe dropped her cup of coffee on the floor and fainted.
I caught her before she hit the ground, laid her down gently, outside the spreading circle of the scalding hot spilled coffee. That was going to stain her rug, no doubt.
Liberty frog-marched Bobcat to the window. His right leg dragged like a dead thing. He looked woozy. Liberty’s hand might have been the only thing keeping him vertical.
Sirens closed on us from three sides.
Liberty looked at me crouched like a gargoyle over the lady in the bunny slippers. “What are you?”
I felt a flush of … I’m not sure what to call it. Embarrassment? Sort of. Shame? Not exactly.
The way Liberty, who I’d begun to think of as a friend, looked at me… It hurt. It hurt worse than the raw open wounds in my face and side.
I felt my body shrink back to its normal size and shape. I grabbed the bunny-slippered lady’s living room curtains to wrap myself up in. I covered myself, not out of fear of discovery, but because I didn’t want anyone looking at me like that.
Bobcat looked at me, too, but all I saw in his dazed yellow eyes was a perfectly normal hate. In that moment, I had more kinship with Bobcat than with Liberty.
“Like I told Bob, I’m a freak like him.”