She'd had made a mistake. Pushed too far too fast without even thinking about it.
Erich was not Hard-Light.
"Been so wrapped up in plans and schemes, and plans within schemes, that I forgot that."
Just making sure that the shapeshifting fuck was where they said they were was a task in and of itself. She could never really know if the person she was talking to was actually one of her own people and not Zigzag in disguise. Which meant her only real window for subterfuge was when Zigzag was out fighting, and she had confirmed reports of a big white and yellow multi-limbed abomination cutting Kings to pieces.
So of course, eventually she had let her guard down for just a moment, and she'd fucked up. A single errant demand and the stack of cards she’d built up was in danger of crumbling.
All over a fucking street rat...
Put simply, she was furious.
Fortunately, as the roar of the crowd washed over her, she knew she was in the right place to work it out.
"Here she is, the currently undefeated champion! The lady of lightning! The one and only, Bronte!” The commentator announced as she stepped into the cage, his voice powering over the cheering and booing of the crowd, as it echoed out through the many speakers that surrounded the dingy arena they found themselves in.
A former ice rink if she didn’t miss her mark.
Looking around, she could see rows upon rows of cheering Saints on the bleachers behind her. The vast sea of yellow clad gangsters only slightly smaller than the crowd of booing purple clad Kings illuminated by to her front.
She would have preferred somewhere a little more upstate, but the Kings had been the one to pick the venue. In the end she supposed it didn’t really matter, the place had the Dome’s seal of approval, and that was what really counted.
No one would dumb enough to cross the Dome by starting something in one of their venues. Or at least, she could only wish the Kings were that stupid.
“Our Lady of Lightning might have crushed all opposition to date, but will her luck hold true when she comes across her latest opponent?”
Purple smoke billowed out across from her, “representing the Three Quarter Kings in tonight’s match, is the bane of villains and heroes alike! The great equalizer! I present to you, Anathema!”
Bronte watched as a young woman strode out of the smoke, looking like some kind of unholy union of paladin and stripper. Of course, Sarah could hardly blame her for that. She didn’t look much better herself. In return for providing the venue and enforcing the neutrality here, the Dome had some conditions of its own for the fights that took place.
One of which was the maximum amount of surface area that could be covered by fabric or armour.
God forbid the Dome’s viewers be forced to satisfy themselves with a simple match in which two meta-humans beat each other half to death. No, they need to be titillated too.
"You might as well give up now and save yourself a beating blondie,” the woman called out. “Your pretty powers won’t help you now.”
And thus, the inevitable trash talk begins.
It was a given really. Just as in ancient times, when opposing armies met and champions from each side duelled before battle in the hopes demoralizing the enemy and inspiring their allies, the gangs of Portland did the same.
The loyalty of a gangster was a fickle thing, after all. When a soldier from either side come switch loyalties with but a change in wardrobe, destroying the fighting spirit of a gang was usually easier than killing the members in their entirety.
After all, is it not the pinnacle of a military victory to capture the assets of an enemy intact rather than outright destroy them?
Most gang leaders probably didn’t have as elegant a phrase to describe the phenomenon, but the general sentiment held true across most conflicts.
Hence the reason why she was here, about to beat the snot out of this little cunt in front of an audience.
“I would say the same, but I’ve no idea what yours even are, given that I’ve never heard of you,” She snorted disdainfully.
“You will.” The woman shot back, unrattled.
Then the bell rang, and the time for talk was over.
Bronte immediately brought up her gauntlets, ready to blast the woman within an inch of her life.
Her last two opponents had tried to zig-zag rather than tank her lightning like the first bruiser did. It hadn’t helped them, but Sarah was still surprised when her opponent refused to do the same.
Instead, the woman charged straight at her, legs pumping as fast as they could. Bronte simply let rip with her powers, blasting the easy target with the concentrated power of an electrical storm, afterimages searing across her retina as she did.
Those after images tended to blind her when she wasn’t wearing a polarized helmet, and this time was no exception. Which was why, when an arm batter aside her own, and a fist slammed into a stomach, she was utterly unprepared.
Blinking away tears and gasping for breath, she back peddled furiously, ignoring the pain in her stomach as she blinked rapidly to clear her vision. Although not before she took another half dozen punches in quick succession.
“I told you your cheap trick wouldn’t work.” The woman gloated as she continued to lay into the blonde, thought not before Sarah managed to grab a wrist victoriously.
Power Nullifier, Sarah realized as she found herself totally incapable of summoning up even a spark of electricity. Instead, she dropped to her knees as her assailant hit her with a powerful hook, continuing her relentless assault.
Her plan obviously being to keep hounding the electricity user, to give her no opening in which to respond. Sarah lurched forwards, gripping the other woman around the waist.
“Look at you!” Anathema just laughed, unmoved as she continued to rain down more blows, Sarah hissing as she caught one to the head, leaving a deep cut that bled profusely, further clouding her vision. “You’re all the same. So confident in your abilities that your powerless without them. You’re nothing without them!”
Of course, that was the moment, Sarah pulled her leg out from under her, sending them both to the ground.
“How’s this for nothing, bitch.” The blonde grinned through bloody teeth, as she wrapped herself around the leg, and using the woman’s own body as leverage, twisted.
Cries of dismay, excitement and disgust echoed in time with the damp crack Anathema’s knee popping out of place, followed moments later by a guttural scream of pain.
A scream of pain that was drowned out the cries of the crowd and the chatter of the commentator.
Sarah casually clambered to her feet, wiping blood from her eye, even as she spat a wad of bloodied phlegm into the dirt below.
“I don’t know why you assumed I was defenseless without my power?” She asked the woman who cradled her leg as she sobbed in pain.
If anything, the opposite was true. Anathema might have caught her off guard with that first punch, but everything thereafter had just been wild swinging.
If anyone was using their ability as a crutch, it had been the brunette.
Seeing the Dome’s medical staff were already hurrying over with a stretcher, the fight clearly over, Sarah took the opportunity to get one last stomp in.
“My dad was Hard-Light bitch. I’ve known how to fight since I was twelve years old.” She muttered, before slamming her foot into the woman’s floating ribs, grinning with satisfaction as she felt something give with a crack.
Turning back to the Saints - ignoring the Dome representative who was frowning at her after that last kick - she raised both her arms in triumph.
The roar she received in return was electrifying.
“How many of them do you think will be swayed when the chips start falling?” Sarah asked as she pressed an icepack to her head.
The man she was looking at shrugged as he counted out the night’s winnings, prompting her to sigh in disgust, before taking a swig of her drink.
Stephan was a poor replacement for Grey. He wasn’t half as competent as the diminutive Filipino woman had been, as an administrator or a combatant.
The man was popular amongst the rank and file though, and as such she had moved to secure his loyalties early. Unfortunately for her, the price of said loyalty was a promised position as her second when all was said and done.
In different circumstances she might have been leery of making that promise, but given that neither Erich or Gravity would want it, it hadn’t been beyond her means to provide.
The TV blaring away in the corner wasn’t doing her headache any favours, but she knew better than to tell the man watching it to stop.
As if prompted by her eyes laying upon him, the masked figure spoke up, a distinct reverb distorting his voice.
“Send them out girl.” He said, eyes still on the television, where the latest stream from the Death Race blared. “We need to talk.”
A few of the Saints present in the room raised an eyebrow at the man’s disrespectful tone, and she had to raise a hand to stop a few of them from reaching for their guns.
Portlanders, she thought derisively as she gestured for the gang members to clear out.
It seemed that when it came to people on the West Coast, violence was their first, third and last solution to any given problem.
It’s certainly not the criminal wonderland I imagined as a kid, she sighed.
She wasn’t even in control of the organization yet, and she already felt like she juggling a herd of cats. It said a lot about the types of personalities she was dealing with that Erich wasn’t the most prickly one of the bunch.
“Alright, they’re gone.” She murmured, “you can take that ridiculous costume off.”
The figure scoffed, but did as she asked, pulling off the helmet to reveal the familiar features of her father.
A little older looking, and with a few more scars, but undeniably the same Hard-Light she’d grown up in fear and awe of.
Then again, he’s not the only one sporting a few more scars, is he? She thought with a hint of resentment.
“Disrespectful brat.” The man muttered.
“Lazy old man,” she shot back. “Would it kill you to help out even a little in setting up your future organization?”
The man scoffed, “and have the Queen discover I’m in her city before we’re ready?” He shook his head. “Both our heads would be on pikes before the day was out.”
“You could be subtle,” she suggested.
The older supervillain shook his head. “I don’t do subtle.” He point a thumb over his shoulder. “Something me and your boytoy have in common.”
Sarah glanced over to see a racer tearing around the track, to the furious excitement of commentators and fans alike.
“Overdrive,” she scowled, recalling the name of the Artificer that Erich was receiving his parts from.
And hadn’t that been a… surprise.
“Didn’t expect him to find a supplier on his own, did you?” The old man chuckled.
No. She hadn’t.
A massive oversight in retrospect.
Because of which, her plan to ‘locate a supply of Artificer parts herself’, thereby making Erich dependent on her for his work had died before it could even begin.
And he would have been dependent on me, she thought. The man was practically driving himself up the walls with out any tech of consequence to play with.
She’d set him to the task of finding an Artificer to try and drive home how difficult it was. Which would have made her own success all the more impressive.
And with me as his sole supplier of parts, he would never have thought of acting out like he did today.
The thought still burned her.
“How’s your sister doing?” Her father asked.
The question served only to irritate the blonde further.
“Same as the last time you asked. Bumming about the place and trying to avoid doing any actual work. I think she might have gotten another fling or something. Damn near constantly chatting with someone.”
And wouldn't Sarah kill to know just who. It could be a fling like she said, or it could be something significantly more dangerous.
She would have already asked Erich to bug the pad if she hadn't been worried about giving him ideas.
Because then he might get it into his head to bug mine.
And that would end well for no one.
The old man frowned at her statement, but his interest returned to the screen as Overdrive passed the finish line in first place.
“Mechromancer will need to visit her again if he wants her to survive.” He pointed out. “Her opponents are already adapting to the changes he helped her implement. At this rate she will be eliminated before she wins her freedom.”
Sarah grinned at that. The redheaded skank was middle of the road as far as talent went. She had only gotten as far as she had before Erich showed up due to luck and sheer roach like tenacity. At this stage in the game she was so outclassed by the competition that it was laughable.
Which presents an opportunity for me to alleviate my current issue.
“Don’t worry dad, I’ll see to it that it’s taken care of.” She said. “Now why don’t you show me what you’ve managed to get working since I last saw you.”
The man smiled, all thoughts of anything else forgotten as he took the opportunity to speak of his true passion.